Space Station 76

space_station76Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.

– Warning. Dr. Bot must remind Misty not to become… too close to her therapist bot.
– I’ve gotta be close to somebody.
– We must keep this professional.
– Don’t be so cold.
– I must maintain objectivity.
– But I feel like…  I just feel like you and I have really been going through it here, you know? I feel like I have really been connecting with you. You know me.
– Emotion overload.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– I’m a leg man, you know?

(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)

 

Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came. And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.

 

What I liked. It’s actually easier to describe ”Space Station 76” by saying what it isn’t.

 

It’s not exactly a comedy – at least, not if you understand modern comedy only as ”21 Jump Street” or Seth Rogen-like comedy. It’s more of a Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station-like film. Deadpan humour. You never know when the characters are actually joking – well, probably except for the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot, the true gem of the film.

 

It’s not really a science fiction, or, at least, not in first place – the film mostly mocks its retrofuturistic sci-fi setting and ridiculous 70-s costumes, but in a nice and elegant way. It’s not a pure parody – the film really cares about its characters, never using them just as subjects of ridicule. It’s not an art-house movie – the film is not that experimental and distant from the viewers. Last but not least, it has R rating and uses it smartly – no dick jokes, but deadpan humour. The scene with the frozen dog was just nuts.

 

Combination of all this makes ”Space Station 76” pretty unique – and as it often happens with movies of  this kind, the audience hardly got it. ”I wanted to explore what it was like to be a child growing up in the summer of the 70s, which was my experience, but I wanted to tell it in sort of an artistic way by setting it in the future as we had imagined it would be in the 70s”, said Jack Plotnick in an interview.

 

There’s a weird funny episode when Liv Tyler’s character, Jessica (who just arrived at the space station) and Matt Bomer’s character, Ted (who has been living there for a while with a psychotic wife) are trying to approach each other and having a meaningful intimate conversation. Ted has an artificial arm that sometimes goes out of control. When Jessica, following her romantic impulse, puts Ted’s arm on her heart, the hand goes rogue and starts to squeeze Jessica’s left tit. All of this showed with in a deadpan manner, finishing with Jessica finally saying ”I think I should go now”.. If you like that kind of humour, you’ll find ”Space Station 76” brilliant.

 

Visually it’s a beautiful film. You may accuse it of anything but the style. It really squeezes most of its tiny budget, citing 70-s science fiction classic like Logan’s Run and Star Wars. And Dr. Bot, oh! That’s the quintessence of artificial intellect and a good parody. It reminded me of another oddball movie ”Dark Star”, the episode when Sgt. Pinback was trying to convince the Bomb N. 20 not to explode.

– I need to tell you I have just been feeling… so much better since we started treatment. I mean, like, even just my dreams  have just been better. You know, like, I haven’t been having all those feelings… and I’m just really feeling in the now.
-Feelings can sometimes pull one out of the now and put them in the then. Live in the now, not in the then.
– I don’t wanna be in the then. I wanna be in the now.
– Talking about the now can put one in the then.
– I don’t want to be in the then, I want to be in the now. I wanna move forward…
– Don’t move too far forward, you’ll be out of the now. Not too far forward.  Stay in the now.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– What are you thinking in the midst of this silence?
– Actually, I was thinking about smoking.
– Cigarettes contain carcinogens which may cause cancer in carbon-based life forms.
– Right.
– You are a carbon-based life form… therefore, cigarettes may cause cancer inside you.
– Thank you.
– You’re welcome.

(The captain visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

What I didn’t like. Space Station 76” is at times uneven, especially in the first part. The photography, the acting, the music – all is well-crafted and you feel the movie was made as a passion project, but it’s the screenplay that occasionally sags, running out of fuel – maybe because it was written by 5 different people? Some scenes intended as funny left me perplexed. Some felt really unnecessary. Some plot lines got lost in the middle and didn’t get the development. A more carefully crafted screenplay would really help the film. It’s especially seen in the first half of the film, with the second being more juicy and concentrated.

All the actors created memorable and bright characters – maybe, even too much, as at times they seemed little bit too monotone in their role, like playing the same note over and over. Of course, it was intended as a part of the movie’s style, but a little more versatility wouldn’t harm the film. Liv Tyler (superhero satire “Super“, sci-fi “Robot & Frank“, “Armageddon“) was a nice exception to that, as her character was actually alive, with doubts and flexibility. It was great to see Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl in “Watchmen“, “The Conjuring”) who added a weird touch to the film with his pseudo-sexist obsessions.

The production. The project was originated by Jack Plotnick at his house while experimenting with his friends and favourite actors. This is his debut film, but Plotnick is by no means a newbie – he is in first place an actor with 20+ years of experience (”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, ”Drawn Together”, ”Wrong”).

Worth watching? Decide by yourself. ”Space Station 76” is an interesting project, but definitely not for everyone. If you like weird and touching humour of ”Super”, ”The Lobster” or ”Defendor” combined with a retrofuturistic sci-fi look on the 70-s, definitely yes. I started to watch it with bias but learnt to appreciate it more and. Visually stylish and delicate, ”Space Station 76” still leaves weirdly good aftertaste, even far from being perfect. It’s an odd little movie that is trying to find its own tone.

2.5/4
Watch also: if you want too see a weird sci-fi comedy, have a look at “American Astronaut“, “Dark Star” or “Kin-Dza-Dza“.

Get Out + some notable sci-fi debuts

GetOutDirector: Jordan Peele. Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams,  Katherine Keener. Budget: $4.5 mln. Box office: $252 mln. USA, 2017. IMDb: 7.8. My rating: 3.5/4. Social commentary with elements of thriller, horror and sci-fi.

– The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
 (a quote from the movie and the motto of the United Negro College Fund)

– If there’s too many white people I get nervous.
(one of the main characters)

There were, without doubt, some prominent sci-fi debuts that marked the history of cinema, like…

  • Mad Max” (which I don’t really like a lot, but it was hugely influential)
  • Silent Running” (which was undeniably cool in 1972 but didn’t age well)
  • THX 1138” (a disturbing art form of ”1984” by George Lucas, which wasn’t received well but that changed later, as it often happens with dystopias).

There was a huge wave of many good low-budget independent debuts released recently, such as…

…and many other cool flicks. Some of them had mighty figures behind or even directly involved in the production, for example..

Finally, there were some weird and hard to classify sci-fi debuts like…

A full list will be published soon. Anyway.

I doubt whether “Get Out” will become a cult movie like some of these, but it’s an oddball and perfectly crafted movie, mixing all the genres – a bit of comedy, a slice of horror, some sci-fi – all wrapped into a caustic social commentary.

Also, I wouldn’t call it a horror, rather a thriller. It’s not that scary and has little to do with what is intended as modern horror (luckily!) where people like to go in the dark basements and put their limbs in dark holes.

And Samuel L. Jackson’s rant about casting black British actors when plenty of Americans were available is incredible indeed… but more about that later.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

a53c13372cc8d6fbcc97829b65d226f4.jpgDirector: George Miller. Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells. Australia, 1981. Budget: $2 million. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 2/4. Post-apocalyptic gory gasoline obsessed car chasing sci-fi.

– I’m just here for the gasoline.
(Max Rockatansky)

There are some things I cannot understand. Premise: I enjoyed “Fury Road”, I love post-apocalyptic themes, I fully comprehend that in 1981 it was ground-breaking (and in 1979 as well), that it was shot for laughable $2 million, it had the cutie Mel Gibson and it was an Australian movie.

But how the hell in a cult film that is widely recognized as one of the best action movies ever made there is so little action and so much talking?

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City Zero (Zerograd)

zero-cityDirector: Karen Shakhnazarov. Starring: Leonid Filatov, Oleg Basilashvili, Vladimir Menshov, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Evgeniy Evstigneev. USSR, 1988. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 4/4. Theatre of the absurd, mysterious tragicomedy & black metaphor.

– I need one first class ticket to Moscow.
– There are no tickets.
– I don’t care which one,
first or second class…
– I have neither of them.
– Where is the manager of the station?
– The manager won’t help.
(a dialogue between the train ticket seller and the main character)

20170614_070542It’s called a silent hysteria. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially for the rock music, when so many original bands appeared whose heritage is still relevant today. But mostly they were still prohibited, while the the cinema was changing… ”Of all the arts, for us the cinema is the most important”, as Lenin once said. The censorship became less strict – occasional nudity, freethinking or just weird stuff were allowed.

”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. It wasn’t appreciated by the masses at that time (which is not a good symptom by itself, given that in large part the movie is about crowd manipulation as well…), being an intellectual, allegoric and metaphoric dark tale. It was the 4th feature film by Karen Shakhnazarov, already a successful and experienced director, and he managed to capture the spirit of the falling empire in this theatre of the absurd. As he admitted later, portraying the Perestroika and fall of the USSR wasn’t his priority, but the film outgrew the original intention of the director.

What’s most remarkable, “City Zero” is normally classified and sci-fi/mystery – and if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. The famous cake scene actually happened once. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mullholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere.

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Augmented reality. Day 4. Weakness and strength

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Let them laugh at their passions.

Because what they call passion actually is not part of their soul, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world.

And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a giant, and strength is nothing.

When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies.

Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.

(Stalker, 1979)

Kong: Skull Island

kong-skull-island-posterDirector: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson. USA, 2017. Budget: 185 million. IMDb rating: 6.9. My rating: 2.5/4. Giant gorilla vs. giant everything.

– Kong’s a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly. This is his home, we’re just guests. But you don’t go into someone’s house and start dropping bombs, unless you’re picking a fight.
(John C. Reilly’s character)

It’s interesting to note once again the Hollywood’s tendency of last years to invite young indie directors for blockbuster production – Garreth Edwards/Star Wars, Colin Trevorrow/Jurassic World, James Gunn/Guardians of the Galaxy – probably hoping they will deliver a fresh breath.

And forget the bearded romantic from New Zealand, who was responsible for his own beautiful and canonical version of King-Kong. Peter Jackson, of course, was relying on the classical King-Kong story of 1933, even though with a more modern and refreshing approach. New Kong is several times bigger, stronger, more dangerous and more… boring.

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Dark Star

dark_star_ver2Director: John Carpenter. Screenplay/story: Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter. Starring: Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm. USA, 1974. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3.5/4. Odd science fiction space comedy.

– Now, Bomb, consider this next question very carefully… What is your purpose in life?
– To explode, of course.
– And you can do it only once, right?
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

– All right, Bomb… prepare to receive new orders.
– You are false data. Therefore, I should ignore you.
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

I must confess – I have never really liked John Carpenter. And I barely enjoy horror movies (with some notable exceptions like “The Shining”). I watched “Halloween” recently and enjoyed it at times, but if we forget for a moment its heritage, I find this cult slasher pretty mediocre. While admitting Carpenter’s immense influence, I’ve always seen most of his films made with little creativity, without that special sparkle that would lighten up everything. He is too technical in his approach, like an artisan, not an artist, who is methodically repeating similar feel and techniques in different movies. Note: I didn’t watch “Halloween”, “Escape from New York” or “The Thing” when they were released – movies that I don’t find bad, but just… pretty average in everything and with superficial characters? I’ve always felt Carpenter cares most about showing what happens to his characters, but not really the characters themselves.

But “Dark Star”, Carpenter’s and O’Bannon debut movie, made me change my mind about him. This little space comedy is like a fireworks show that you setup by yourself on a New Year’s Eve in the backyard. It’s an extravagant parody on space movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in particular. Fresh, well-crafted, wry and weirdly funny. Continue reading

Triangle

TriangleDirector: Christopher Smith. Starring: Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Rachael Caprani, Henry Nixon, Liam Hemsworth. UK, Australia, 2009. Budget: $ 12 millions. IMDb: 6.9. My rating: 1.5/4. Unscary horror wrapped in a dull time-looped puzzle.

– Well listen we don’t have to go today if you don’t want too.
– No I do… I… I… I wanna go.
– You sure?
– Yea… yea!
– Yea? OK!
 Lets go sailing!
(a typical dialogue)

Most movies about time travel/time loops share one thing in common. No, it’s not what you thought. It’s an immense and inexplicable character obtuseness. I mean, what would a normal person do if he travels in time and meets his friends or even himself? Of course, kill everybody, do odd stuff he wouldn’t normally do, write scary messages to your counterpart and maybe slaughter him as well! Otherwise time travel is not fun, right?

It’s also the first thriller I have ever seen that takes its own plot so carelessly – the poster itself is already a spoiler. Continue reading