Embers

Director: Claire Carré. Starring: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernandez, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots. Poland, USA, 2015. IMDb: 5.3. Budget: unknown, but very small. Box office: none (direct-to-video). My rating: 2/4. Research about the human identity through memory loss epidemic in a post-apocalyptic world.

“How can a person who has no memories show up with shaved pits?”
(Bartolomeu from Portugal)

“Toward the end I was hoping to see some kind of point to justify the favorable reviews – instead the movie just ended.”
(J-J N from United States)

“…it was not that generic Hollywood garbage.”
(A1CashFlow from East Coast USA)

In the near future a virus has infected most of the population, causing a dysfunction of the short-term memory and the creation of new memories. That is the whole plot of the movie, which consists of several stories about how people survive in this world. I found “Embers” through various festival nominations (about 30 of them!) and decided to give it a try, despite quiet low Imdb rating. I couldn’t find any info about the budget, but the film raised $23,000 on Kickstarter.

Embers” is a very minimal movie. Mostly it tries to follow the mood of “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky but with a more romantic flair. The ideas (and there are quiet many of them) are good, but the realization is not perfect. Unfortunately. When something is made of bare20170404_142135 bones, every millimeter should be of a perfect beauty. Otherwise… don’t do it that minimal? Tarkovsky was a master of long, haunting scenes with stunning visuals, photography and music, thus, he could create endlessly slow scenes where barely nothing happened. In this debut film by Claire Carré, this kind of maturity is missing.

20170404_142058The reception. The biggest problem of “Embers” is that it is desperately trying to look like an art-house movie or a video installation. It reminds me of people, who do various efforts to look smart/cool/intellectual – you know, meaningful quotes and pauses, unusual look, weird hipster pants, whatever. After few minutes of talking it’s pretty easy to recognize who is trying to imitate something and who is really different. Unfortunately, “Embers” is balancing very unevenly between both types – hence the festival success where all this artsy stuff is highly adored, but low ratings from the public (80% RT / 5.3 IMDb). IndieWire praised it as “the best sci-fi discovery of the year”. Just to remind you for a sec, that in 2015 were released such sci-fi movies as “Ex Machina“, “The Lobster“, “Chappie“, “The Martian“. What are they smoking there?

Screenshot_20171105-150346

Maybe these people weren’t informed that “Ex Machina” was released the same year too?

batman-v-superman-trinity-rising

20170404_142154The ideas and the plot. Let’s talk about the ideas. The film consists of several story lines. A guy and a girl, who supposedly are a couple and do not recognize each other every morning as they wake up. The do not remember their names and mostly sleep in abandoned buildings. As the day goes on, they find a way to restore the connection, but the next day the story repeats. Then there is a scientist, living in the forest with his everyday reminders how to heat up the water or start the fire. He is working on the cure to defeat the virus, but he struggles to keep all the things is his mind as they fade out too soon. A young fellow, who has unstoppable rage and violence inside, pouring it on anyone and anything he sees. Finally, 20170404_142321a father and his daughter, who managed to hide from the epidemy in the high-tech bunker and are only characters, who escaped from the virus. The daughter struggles with her boredom. Locked inside, she cannot create new memories because every day seems exactly the same to he. We don’t know more than that, the characters shown are pretty blank, just like their memory.

What I liked. The movie uses the memory loss as a metaphor, how people are locked up in a certain circle of behavior. In most circumstances, a person acts only in certain way and cannot see itself from the outside. It’s like for every event a human is programmed for several different reactions, but is it possible to overcome and do something else?20170404_142116 This reflection reminds me of brilliant “Ex Machina” by Alex Garland (the conversation about Pollock, remember). Every character in ”Embers” represents a certain commonplace – a romantic couple, a professor, a bully, a bored daughter seeking adventure. Most probably they would follow the same behavioral patterns in a normal world. So what makes them human? Memories? The ability to create new memories?

What I didn’t like. The realization of the movie is far from being perfect. Almost everything was shot with a shaky camera and from a very close distance. This was a little embarrassing (I do not have anything against a shaky camera, but what was the purpose of it here?). The music could be 20170404_142435much better and create more atmosphere. The location sets are great (Poland and USA), but the photography seems to be not that careful (again, why so many close-ups? Show us more of the abandoned city with abandoned streets). It’s not visually interesting enough to be a video installation either. All this prevents from enjoying the movie fully and connect with the characters who are pretty blank already. Many scenes could have been cut easily, being repetitive or just dull. So I can understand many negative reviews. The movie for sure is not just for some random moviegoer. But a science fiction and independent cinema fan (like me) may see it differently.

Spectacularity: 1.5/4
Acting:  3/4
Directing: 2/4
Originality: 3.5/4
Final vote: 2/4

Worth watching? Maybe. If you want a slow non-Hollywood dystopia. Well, “Embers” is not completely flawed for a first step. I’d definitely have a look at the next movie by Claire Carré though, because this debut feel a little bit incomplete and too artsy. Ironically, just like its characters who are struggling to create new memories, most viewers would do the same after watching “Embers”. The ideas are there and maybe for somebody it’s worth exploring this reflection upon human identity. I’d love to enjoy it more, though.

You can stream or buy “Embers” online here.

Watch also: “Sleep Dealer” is a very curious Mexican dystopia worth checking out. Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (which I consider one of the best films ever) seems like an obvious recommendation. Debuts as “Moon” by Duncan Jones and “10 Cloverfield Lane” by Dan Trachtenberg  are also excellent minimal dystopian thrillers.

Screamers

Director: Christian Duguay. Screenplay: Dan O’BannonMiguel Tejada-Flores. Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, Andrew Lauer, Charles Powell. Canada, USA, 1995. IMDB: 6.4. Budget: $20 mln. Box office: $5.7 mln. My rating: 3.5/4. Post-apocalyptic old-school science fiction B-movie about androids, horror and nuclear wastelands.

– Well, you’re coming up in the world – you’ve learned how to kill
each other.
(Colonel Hendricksson about two androids fighting each other)

– Jefferson, you must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit.
(Colonel Hendricksson)

For a horror story set on a faraway planet, where almost nothing alive is left and killer robots keep on furrowing the ground in search of a new prey, “Screamers” is a very sentimental movie. Under a bloody and violent disguise one can easily feel that it’s also a story about alienation and loneliness. Then mix enough dark humour, abandoned wastelands on a faraway planet, robots with human-like disguise and extreme cynicism. Yes, it’s a sci-fi B-movie – exactly that type of B-movie that we sometimes need so much.

The story. 2078. Sirius 6b, once a prospering mining colony, is now some kind of an abandoned wasteland – a result of a long civil was between 2 fractions who couldn’t find agreement on how to proceed. One of them, Alliance, created AMS (Autonomous Mobile Swords) that are 20170223_193019so effective and hunting down their enemy fraction. These self-replicating machines are called screamers because of an incredibly high sound they produce during the attack. Few people are still left on this planet and try to find a way to escape from it. It seems that 2 fractions finally managed to reach some truce. But colonel Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller – “Robocop“, “Naked Lunch“, “Star Trek Into Darkness“) feels that more probably both sides have abandoned their armies, leaving them to slowly vanish here.

The visuals. The world here is full of rust and despair. It looks dead. Abandoned facilities. 20170223_193143Empty deserts covered with snow. Nothing moves here. Nothing happens. Almost everyone has left or died. Many got killed by each other, others by screamers. There are still some people who exist here… yes, “exist” would be the right word. Great, remarkable decorations (mostly Quebec industrial areas). Just seeing how lonesome people cross these hollow landscapes is impressive. Sentimental, but not cheesily melodramatic music and the dialogues – mostly highly cynical small talk – greatly underline their loneliness.

20170223_193547Pretty soon both sides realized that screamers learnt how to improve themselves, replicate and create various kind of disguises that look absolutely human, like a small boy with a teddy bear (type 3), the wounded soldier (type 4). We still don’t know though what type 2 looks like. It makes the atmosphere pretty tense as everybody suspect each other, finally that leads to shooting one of fellow soldiers. He repeatedly used same phrases over and over (it was thought that screamers’ vocabulary is very limited).

20170223_193348What I liked. The good thing is that “Screamers” never over-concentrates on something (that would made it a failure). It doesn’t try to develop complex concepts about human identity like “Blade Runner. It’s not a 100% horror but it has its tense moments that will make you nervous. It has enough plot twists and till the end you don’t know who is who, when even Hendricksson himself suspects he is a robot. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects – the CGI looks pretty dated here, but it looks like 20170223_193815an integral part of the movie. It has enough romantics and humour too. Simply put, “Screamers” does a little bit of everything without trying to be exceptional in it, and it does it so well, that it makes it versatile and remarkable – you just never get bored.

Peter Weller plays a cynical and experienced soldier who still 20170223_193123has some hope in getting out of this planet. Great and memorable role. As the story unveils, under the mask of a cynical soldier starts to appear a sentimental and lonely man. Speaking mostly with short rough one-liners, he nevertheless accepts to take the boy they found in the ruins (to find out later that it’s a disguised screamer), he begs Jessica to continue their trip because “you’re the only thing I have left”.

20170223_193331Other actors are really good as well. All of them have brisk and memorable characters. Some reviewers mentioned thst Andrew Lauer was a miscast (he plays a chatty sidekick), but I didn’t feel so. The music is surprisingly good (mostly orchestral, by Jerry Devilliers – I found out that he mostly just did some lesser known TV series and that’s all) and contributes really well to the overall atmosphere. I actually don’t like the overused orchestra soundtracks in the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi, but here it’s perfect. Jennifer Rubin’s beauty (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors“, “The Crush“) was a lovely addition to the desperate world, and Roy Dupuis (“Shake Hands With the Devil“, “The Barbarian Invasions“) was just fine as a cynical soldier.

The production and reception. The movie, directed by the Canadian director Christian Duguay (“Human Trafficking“, “The Art of War“) is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, where the action took place on Earth and was more about the post-Cold War era. Dan O’Bannon, the sci-fi veteran (he wrote “Alien“, co-wrote Carpenter’s “Dark Star” and did one of main roles, co-wrote “Total Recall“) initially wrote the screenplay that was later reworked. The production was painful and it was a box office failure (roughly $20 million budget vs. $ 5 million box office), criticized20170223_193722 by almost everybody upon its release. Nevertheless, “Screamers” gained a cult status with time, regularly being part of various 90-s sci-fi tops. I can understand that. The movie didn’t look groundbreaking or innovative when it came out, nor it had big fast-paced action scenes. But they are not needed here.

Worth watching? Absolutely, if you like good old 80-s sci-fi like “Outland“, “Inquest of Pilot Pirx” or “The Abyss“. I wouldn’t really consider it a horror movie, but the atmosphere may get very creepy. “Screamers” has all the ingredients in the right place and doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving enough space for gore, darkness, robots, fun and just a good human story.

Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2/4
Final vote: 3.5/4

3.5/4

***

If you want to learn more about “Screamers“, Den of Geek did a brilliant lengthy article here. A sequel, “Screamers: The Hunting” was released in 2009 ( but it seems to be pretty bad, just recycling the first movie (with Lance Henriksen though).

 

Kill Command

fcd8861acdbf8bbb9d79dd7a098acbdfDirector: Steven Gomez. Starring:  Vanessa Kirby,  Thure Lindhardt, David Ajala. UK, 2016. Budget: $1.5 mln. IMDB: 5.7. My rating: 3/4.  Creepy sci-fi thriller about military guys and 1 cyborg vs huge rogue robots on a remote island.

– It’s like watching 1.5 hour long cut scene from some shitty video-game.
(ola_norsk)

– This is exactly what a B-movie should be like.
(InterArmaEnimSilentLeges)

– If you remember your feeling from watching the Predator for the first time – you will certainly enjoy Kill Command.
(Stasulos)

I didn’t have any kind of expectations from “Kill Command”, one more movie about the military guys vs the robots. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much? Probably, but that would also diminish the movie’s quality.

Just look at this beautiful picture. It says it all. Those who still are not fully convinced, scroll below…there are more pictures.

wp-image-747162713png.png

Do you smell death in the air? No?

giphy-downsized-large

Well, now you do.

The plot. In the not so distant future, a military group is sent to an island for training. The purpose or type of training is unknown. They are accompanied by Mills (ice-cold Vanessa Kirby) – half-human, half-android, who has significant difficulties in gaining the trust of the others humans due to her ‘impure’ nature. As the unit deploys on the island, they unexpectedly lose any connection with the outer world. Soon the group encounters robotic creatures they did not expect.

The production. “Kill Command” is a debut by Steven Gomez (responsible for both directing and writing), who has built a career in visual effects. It has a budget of around $1.5 million (it was hard to find the precise info, but it’s about that), which is very low for a movie that includes massive robot fighting scenes. But it looks as great as $150 million movies. Visually, I enjoyed ”Kill Command” much more than “Passengers”. Only that is a great praise already. The location is outstanding. It’s an island with hills, deep forests and some abandoned facilities – a perfect place for a sci-fi scenario like here. The movie was shot entirely in the UK.

Kill-Command-Movie-Wallpapers-7

Of course, technically it is still one more movie that explores the idea of a group of people going somewhere remote where they encounter something scary and unknown. But somehow ”Kill Command” still manages to be an original movie. It leaves a good aftertaste. When you watch these kind of movies, it often happens that it’s actually fun to watch, but they quickly fade out of your memory and the impression worsens as time passes. Strangely, with “Kill Commando” a reverse effect happened. What makes it stand out?

Several things. It’s quiet slowly paced. You will not see a continuous sequence of extremely quick cuts that resemble more a video clip, than a movie (hi, Michael Bay!). It somehow reminded me of the sci-fi wave of the 80-s/90-s. Even the action scenes are not that fast. You have enough time to see everything in detail and I think, it was more typical of a good old sci-fi film of 20-30 ago, than some newer stuff. In one of the interviews, Gomez said he tried to show the robots in all the detail from close distance – and he succeeded.

Kill Command” is quite a minimal movie – remember, it’s set on a tiny remote island – but what you see has great design and lots of details, starting from abandoned facilities, uniforms, weapons and, of course, robots. Reminds me of Far Cry in a way (well, except for the robots, but that’s a mino-or detail). The other thing is the location set and it’s used to a great extent. I would even dare to say that I had a feeling – pardon – that some scenes come close to being almost meditative. Maybe I am wrong. But even remote feeling like that says a lot about the impression you can get from a movie. I still remember well one of the scenes – in the light of a sunset, the soldier is on the roof of an abandoned building, aiming with his rifle somewhere faraway, waiting for the enemy. His body posture is tense. Around him you see the see, the sunset, the forests. In a “normal” low budget robot movie, that scene would last half a second, here it lasted 3 or 4 and seemed like an eternity, but in a good way. And there are some scenes like that that here and there – it’s not something straightforward, but more of something you understand later.

20170210_020340

The main problem of the movie comes from here too. I don’t know though if it was Gomez’ intention to film in that way  (from trailer and posters, it seems no and probably that’s why some part of audience didn’t like it that much – they didn’t see that was expected compared to how the movie was promoted). That would be interesting to know and it’s a pity that the movie did not develop more in this direction. It looks like it can’t decide whether if wants to become an action movie or something slower and deeper. The acting is quiet good, but uneven. The characters could have been developed more. You could easily find other things to criticize. But should you?

The reception. The movie has a whopping 5.7 on IMDb – totally undeserved, but 67% on RT may render some justice. I guess most IMDb bad reviews come from guys from were expecting a fact-paced action robot movie, but ”Kill Command” is better than that. Most reviews over the web are quite positive too, check out here, here and also this amazing insight here.

Worth watching? Yes! Far from being perfect, it’s a beautifully shot and richly detailed warfare movie. Tense, minimal and with its own nerve. No useless philosophizing about what makes human a human or robot a robot bla bla bla because it’d ruin the movie. Just keep in mind that it’s just not an average fact-paced sci-fi flick with humans and robots, like the recent hypnotizingly beautiful but rather soulless “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation, nor it is an arthouse film. So if you are a fan of “Terminator“, “Predator” (which reboot is coming out in 2018!) or, maybe, “Far Cry”, definitely have a look.

3/4

Event Horizon

Director: Paul W. S. Anderson. Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan. USA, 1997. Budget: $60 mln. Box office: $27 mln. IMDB: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. Sci-fi/horror/thriller in deep space.

– Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes to see.
(Dr. Weir)

– You will never be alone anymore. Now you are with me. I have beautiful things I want to show you.
(Dr. Weir’s dead wife)

Darkness, space, hell, madness and obscurity. Such a cheerful company. Welcome on board of the “Event Horizon”.

Before Paul Anderson entered the endless Resident Evil epos, he did some other notable films as well, like “Mortal Combat” and “Event Horizon”. We all know how his films look, right? I suppose almost every teenager (well, I speak mostly for boys) had a period, when he is eager to watch stuff about zombies, strange creatures, space and stuff. So what happens when these boys grow up? Some make movies, others watch them. Mostly, without being too serious about it. If there is a movie for each occasion, so for me these movies are perfect to watch late on a Friday, when the brain protests against any kind of work. Or after a late party, when you come home late but still not sleepy. But… “Event Horizon” is not exactly what you would expect from a typical Paul Anderson’s film.

It’s also has a very curious and bleeding produciton history, probably one of the best I’ve ever read together with ”The Island of Dr. Moreau”.

20170212_04244120170212_04275620170212_04264420170212_042535

Continue reading

Never Let Me Go

never_let_me_goDirector: Mark Romanek. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley. UK, 2010. Budget: $15 million. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 2/4. A love triangle story in a dystopian society.

– We didn’t have The Gallery in order to look into your souls. We had The Gallery to see if you had souls at all. Do you understand?
(Miss Emily)

There is something deeply weird with “Never Let Me Go”, the third feature film by Mark Romanek. Mostly, it’s the tone. Continue reading

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.

20170528_200545

Continue reading

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