Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

Space Probe Taurus (1965)

Dir: Leonard Katzman | Cast: Francine York, James Brown, Baynes Barron, Russ Bene | US Sci-fi 81′

Watching Space Probe – Taurus is a salutary reminder of how lucky American International Pictures were to have been associated with the gifted Roger Corman. Without Corman, what we get is perfectly competent but thoroughly routine and uninspired, without the budget to create convincing spaceships or even to plunder a Soviet sci-fi picture for its effects. And it’s not even in colour. The crew is the usual combination of three middle-aged looking men to one hot chick; the hot chick in this case being the late Francine York as Dr. Lisa Wayne, who wears the same unisex coverall as the men, but unlike them accessorises it with silver go-go boots instead of the lace-up army boots the others wear (presumably the quartermasters back on Earth didn’t have them in her size). The name of the ship is apt, as she resembles a piece of porcelain in this bullpen. Dr. Wayne is initially charmlessly cold-shouldered by skipper Hank Stevens (James Brown) because he hadn’t wanted a woman on board, before he eventually mellows and charmlessly falls in love with her instead. (Ho Hum…) 

The early scenes resemble Season One of ‘Lost in Space’ when it was in black & white. It then becomes ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ when – forced to make an emergency landing on an alien planet – they end up on the bottom of one of its oceans, to be attacked by crab monsters and a cousin of the gill-man from ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’.

Considering how excited scientists get at the slightest suggestion of moisture in outer space, they take the presence of oceans on this new planet in their stride. Dr. Wayne’s supposed to be a scientist, but when they encounter what are obviously enormous crabs her first question is to ask “What are they?” We’re told early on that the equipment the ship can carry is severely circumscribed by weight, yet it fortunately turns out to include scuba gear. Naturally the new planet has a breathable atmosphere, but I wouldn’t relish sharing my new home with crabs the size of elephants; presumably any other gill-men would be dealt with the way the settlers saw off the American Indians.

Bearing in mind that this was made the year that Malcolm X was assassinated, the most striking observation made by anyone in the film is by Dr.Andros after they’ve just killed a hostile alien whose ship they’d been trespassing on. He makes a number of comments about the unlikelihood of different species being able to peacefully co-exist that are remarkably near the knuckle (“We’ve got enough troubles on Earth now. I mean we’re barely keeping from killing each other off…pretty soon someone on Earth decides that we don’t like the way they look…after all, one of us is going to be a minority group. And the next thing you know, Whammo, we’re trying to blast each other out of existence.”), and remain as scarily pertinent as ever over half a century later. @RichardChatten

Hell’s Gate (2021) Red Sea Film Festival 2021

Dir: Amin Dora | Cast: Cynthia Samuel, Adam Bakri, Fadi Abi Samra, Hassan Farhat | TV Series | 8 Episodes

When it comes to the niche genre of Arab Sci-fi this new TV series is one to watch out for with its surprisingly captivating characters and inventive production design, make-up and costumes.

Blending horror and sci-fi with an edgy love story, it takes place in a post apocalyptic Beirut in the year 2052, where an authoritarian regime has taken hold of the population. A struggle for power breaks out between a group of shrewd investors who have assumed control of the Lebanon and a bunch of revolutionary young men and women eager to overthrow them. The story centres on Adam (Adam Bakri) whose path crosses with a mysterious young woman Alia (Samuel)  who claims to “tick all the boxes”, and she certainly seems to with her intelligence, mesmerising beauty and emotional strength.

Emmy Award winning director Amin Dora has us hooked from the opening scenes with his cast of really impressive Middle Eastern actors made more intriguing for Western audiences by their exotic looks and strong characterisations – the women are certainly no wallflowers here, often calling the shots.

Hell’s Gate is on Shahid VIP, Shahid’s subscription-based service, now available worldwide 

Ultrasound (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Rob Schroeder | Wri: Conor Stechschulte | US Sci-fi Drama 103′

Ultrasound is a curio: a visually stunning sci-fi psychodrama that often feels like several films rolled into one, a loose storyline connecting its diverse narrative strands and characters.

It seems the protagonists are as confused as we are, taking part in a  bizarre experiment masterminded by one Dr Conners (Adebimpe). There is a dreaminess here suggestive of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. But this desire to be inventive doesn’t necessarily make for a satisfying conclusion, although some may be intrigued by the hypnotic weirdness of it all.

Starting off straightforwardly, Glen (Kartheiser) breaks down in a rainy remote backwater after his tires puncture on a bunch of nails. Shaken and disorientated by the collision, Glen finds refuge from the elements in the home of a welcoming couple – the rather too friendly Cyndi (Lopez) and Arthur (Stephenson) who even suggests Glen stays the night in the master bedroom with his wife. Reluctantly Glen agrees to the arrangement, out of politeness rather than any sexual frisson between him and Cyndi. At some point later Arthur appears on Glen’s doorstep with the news that Cyndi is pregnant. Soon Glen and Cyndi are the bewildered central couple but whether Cyndi is actually ‘with child’ is up for grabs.

Elsewhere, and in a seemingly different film, Katie (Rainey Qualley) is in thrall to her older businessman boyfriend who works all hours while she waits for him in needy isolation. Shannon (Wool), meanwhile, is a research assistant running a human experiment while trying to unravel a subversive plot within the medical establishment where she works for the sinister boss Dr Conners.

Schroeder employs an exotic electronic soundscape to drive his mysterious vehicle forward, but at times it seems to spin out of control, not unlike Glen’s car, although ‘the science’ is the reason for the mayhem rather than nails. Certainly Ultrasound has some interesting ideas and a distinct visual flair but that doesn’t mean it makes sense as a cohesive fantasy drama. MT

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 

 

 

In a Quiet Place: Part II (2021)

Dir: John Krasinski | Cast: Emily Blunt, Noel Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, Cillian Murphy | US thriller 97′

It’s a novel idea: an anthropod alien attracted to earthbound prey merely by sound. In a Quiet Place (2018), essentially a survivalist Sci-Fi thriller, was the brainwave of John Krasinski who wrote and stars alongside his wife Emily Blunt. As Evelyn and Lee Abbott they spend the entire film cowering in silence in the family farm in New York State while the predator  – who arrives from the heavens – rages outside. Part II sees Evelyn and the kids escaping across the Appalachian mountains where other dangers lurk.

Thriller-wise there are some clever beats here: the exquisitely sound-sensitive predator is an animal – not a robot – and can be destroyed by gunfire – keeping the story grounded, relatively speaking. This spider-like critter can also be repelled (for a time) by a loud transistor radio, held up like a cross to a vampire. Meahwile its horrified potential victims tiptoe around – in the serene splendour of the bucolic Buffalo countryside where they hide out in a disused factory. The well-honed family members feel real and relatable, Evelyn and her clever kids Marcus (Jupe) and hearing-impaired Regan (Simmonds) love each other, and it shows. There’s also a newborn in tow.

Krasinski successfully develops the storyline with a sequel that combines likeable heroes with stunning Sci-fi set pieces moving on from the ground-breaking reveal of ‘part one’. Pitting man against monster in a post-apocalyptic world feels entirely ‘now’. Horror lovers will enjoy plenty of jump scares and skeletons popping out of nowwhere to a pounding soundscape that jostles thunderous vibes with suspenseful interludes of silvan silence. Somehow this could be happening to you. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Day of the Triffids (1963)

Dir: Steve Sekely, Freddie Francis | Cast: Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Mervyn Johns | Sci-fi 93′

Nobody ever points out that John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel actually contains two apocalyptic catastrophes for the price of one; either of which would have provided ample material for an entire book in its own right. The whole population suddenly going blind would have been hard enough to deal with even without the survivors also having to fend off giant carnivorous plants going on the rampage! (As the night watchman at Kew Gardens devoured by one of the exhibits, Ian Wilson without his usual glasses ironically has one of his largest roles ever, with plenty of close-ups, but no dialogue).

Described by Raymond Durgnat as “hideously botched, but interesting”, this, the sole big-screen version yet attempted of Wyndham’s book, had a troubled production, plainly lacked the budget for adequate special effects and has a very abrupt tacked-on resolution. (The original itself lacks any sort of tidy conclusion.) Inevitably it pales by comparison with either of the two films derived from The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) or the TV versions since made. But it treats the original with respect and generally captures it’s mood. Were it’s source not so renowned, it would probably be considered more sympathetically on it’s own terms.

The film suffers from the same problem as the original novel that once the wonderful central situation has been set up it bogs down somewhat and runs out of plot: hence the addition of the scenes in the lighthouse. And it has the affliction of most modern creature features that the triffids themselves are deprived of their original elegance by making them just too slaveringly revolting compared to those in the book; although the noise they make is cool.

But the scene where the word ‘blind’ causes sheer feral panic to sweep like wildfire through a plane in flight is alone powerful enough to justify the film’s existence. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO |

Archive (2020)

Dir/Wri: Gavin Rothery | Cast: Theo James, Stacy Martin, Rhona Mitra, Toby Jones, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Lia Williams

Just before my father died I thought about how brilliant it would be if I could download his personality along with all the vast knowledge and experience gathered during his eventful life, and save it for posterity. Gavin Rothery has taken that idea and made it into an impressive AI Sci-fi drama, and it’s the human element that makes Archive so appealing.

It persuades us that sex and romance still exist in 2038, and so does humour. It’s also got Toby Jones which is always a good thing. And the robots are surprisingly intuitive, with acute sensibilities, and also enjoy listening to rock music.

Theo James plays George Elmore, an American computer working on a  human-equivalent AI. Holed up in a remote Japanese facility deep in a snowbound forest he has been tasked by his draconian boss Simone (Mitra) with finessing the model of a rudimentary female robot, who has also cleverly sussed Simone out (“I don’t like her, she’s a bitch”).

But he’s actually more focused on another state of the art humanoid prototype which is at a critical stage, and this personal and highly secretive project will reunite him with his late wife Jules (Stacy Martin) who he speaks to through a system called ‘archive’ that allows the living to communicate with the dead for a brief space of time. Her personality and memories have been downloaded into the robot’s shell. It’s a brilliant idea and the ideal solution for preserving the essence, vast experiences and knowledge of the people we’ve loved. But woman are complex, especially robot ones, and so Elmore really has his work cut out. Then Toby Jones arrives to inspect the archive and George realises his days are numbered.

Archive is the feature debut of Gavin Rothery who also wrote the script. Rather like the recent Sci-fi outing Ex Machina it looks stylish and wizzy largely because Rothery is also a graphic designer and special effects guru but it’s his plotting and a strong cast that makes this enjoyable, although Elmore doesn’t get the happy ending he’s hoping for. MT

ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 18 JANUARY 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (2020) Apple TV

Dir: Werner Herzog | Doc 97′

Close encounters of the cosmic kind are the focus of Werner Herzog’s latest documentary as he joins up again with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer (Into the Inferno) for a peripatetic odyssey into the world of asteroids and meteorites that could fall to Earth and one day destroy us. Captured on the pristine camerawork of Herzog’s

collaborator Richard Blanchard, whose wizardry makes this all the more astounding.

Arcane and sometimes darkly amusing in its fervent boy’s own adventure style of cosmology – you wonder whether Ulrich Seidl has been involved – this is another of Herzog’s mammoth undertakings and the protagonists get very excited about their subject, often waxing lyrical – in the case of the ‘Brothers of the Stone’: “meteorites have a meaning and it’s up to us to interpret what this is”.

Werner Herzog is obviously deeply worried but remains chipper while communicating his concern about this planetary devastation through a series of eager talking heads compered by Oppenheimer himself. There is Bavarian four-times cancer surviver Jan Braly Kihle (straight out of Im Keller), Jon Larsen, a Norwegian violinist with a penchant for cosmic dust (“Cosmic dust looks eternity in the eye, it is the oldest thing that exists on earth”); Brother Guy Consolmagno, a jolly Jesuit astronomer who heads up the Vatican Observatory; and Paul Steinhardt an expert in natural ‘quasicrystal’ whose field experience had hitherto not extended beyond the lawns of Princeton University but he bravely undertakes to locate and prove these crystals had actually been formed in space.

But the principle concern of Fireball is the exploration of things that fall from space, and the myriad artistic rituals and myths associated with these “visitors from darker worlds”. In tones that can only be described as conspiratorial and febrile, Herzog delivers a killer statement: “We do not know what in the future is coming at us, eventually destroying us” but “untold numbers are still on their way.”

Although Fireball may at first seem rather glib and ridiculous the film soon takes on a more contemplative vibe laced with moments of sheer joy and wonder – visually speaking. We visit no fewer than 17 of the planet’s most remote  geographic corners, not to mention university laboratories and  government facilities. In Mecca we experience the religious fervour when pilgrims are able to touch the famous Black Stone in the Kaaba (here Herzog relies on footage from ‘a believer’). In Mexico (where people believe that shooting stars transport the souls of the departed) we join a Mayan ceremonial procession featuring a fireball on the famous Day of the Dead. But most impressive of all are the sites where asteroids have actually wreaked palpable damage. An enormous crater in Australia has inspired local native aboriginal artist Katie Darkie to create some highly colourful paintings. And according to local folklore another 300 asteroid purportedly fell on a field in Alsace back in 1492. But the most extraordinary comes later.

Occasionally even Oppenheimer seems fazed by the boyish enthusiam of the experts, especially one who hands him a meteorite called ‘The Dog House’ that apparently fell on a dog’s kennel in Costa Rica (luckily the dog lived to bark again). Apparently heavier meteorites landed in the same region the ground underneath was totally destroyed and turned to glass: “if you were sitting there having a cup of tea, you would undoubtedly be turned to glass” he reflects joyfully. Elsewhere in the same Arizona facility, Oppenheimer gets rather flirty when he meets a highly attractive female meteor expert who giggles excitedly when he points out that some of the samples look like the work of Barbara Hepworth. “We’re all stardust – eventually”; she retorts, and at this point Herzog cannot help joining in the cheeky banter.

In a crater in Rajasthan – near to 11th century Hindu Temples — geochemist Nita Sahai comments that meteorites actually contain protein. “What do you think of Panspermia?” asks Oppenheimer rather sheepishly. Nita answers gamely that Shiva is a god of both creation and destruction in the Hindu religion.

Narrating, Herzog judiciously keeps a firm control on pacing, cutting away from experts who are getting over-excited. From India we move to Chicxulub Puerto on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the most cataclysmic asteroid hit ever occurred over 66 million years ago leaving a hole 30 kilometres deep. Although dinosaurs were destroyed in the event, mammals made it through the catastrophe and were able to regroup – although the crater was not discovered until the 70s.

What is certain is that “a big one is going to hit us fairly soon”. That’s the view of a couple of scientists in Maui who have got it covered when it comes to watching out for these ‘unwelcome visitors’, using telescopes equipped with the world’s largest digital cameras. Luckily NASA is also active in this regard with their Planetary Defence Coordination Office responsible for letting us all known when the moment of doom finally arrives.

Fireball includes footage from recent feature films picturing the arrival of unwelcome celestial visitors and a final sequence that sees Herzog back on top form as a master documentarian in a film that needs to be seen to be believed. MT

NOW ON APPLETV

 

Silent Running (1971) ***

Dir: Douglas Trumball | Cast: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vinterberg | US Sci-fi, 86′

Douglas Trumball’s ecological Sci-fi outing s now nearly 50 years old yet feels more relevant that ever despite its slightly wacky mise-en-scene and a score performed by Joan Baez.

The year is 2001 and 36 year old fresh-faced blue-eyed Bruce Dern plays an evangelical botanist adrift in space in a Garden of Eden. His message is loud and clear, re-working that of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Trumbull was in charge of the special effects): The planet needed saving – and humans were the ones to do it. The Garden planet ‘Valley Forge’ has been carefully nurtured by Dern’s Freeman Lovell to nourish and preserve plant specimens rescued before Earth’s apocalyptic meltdown during nuclear war. But afterwards Lovell defies orders to destroy his nurtured slice of paradise, instead taking off for a spin around space (with Drone robots Huey and Dewey), on a mission to save the Earth in perpetuity.

Working with Deric Washburn, Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) and The Deer Hunter‘s Michael Cimino, Trumball’s feature debut is a fabulous ground-breaking idea full of fun and fantastic visuals. Dern brings a  febrile intensity to the part keeping things weird and wonderful, striking the perfect tone for a fantasy thriller with more up its sleeve than just space travel. MT

OUT ON DVD | 9 NOVEMBER 2020

War of the Worlds (1953) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Byron Haskin | Wri: H G Wells (novel) Barre Lyndon | Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite | US Fantasy/Sci-fi 85′

Although a brash travesty of H.G.Wells’ original 1898 novel, and despite Steven Spielberg’s 2005 ‘upgrade’ and last autumn’s well-received TV version, George Pal’s original big screen version is still for many the last word in fifties Technicolor destruction on the grand scale (blessed as John Baxter described it with “the smooth unreality of a comic strip”).

With Oscar-winning special effects (which took so long to complete the award went posthumously to Paramount special effects veteran Gordon Jennings), the elegant fire-spewing war machines like dragons based on manta rays by Japanese-American designer Albert Nozaki bring a touch of eastern elegance to their menace, while the sophisticated use of sound throughout to mount up suspense at key moments remains exemplary.

In all it adds up to a film with a power that remains in the words of critic Richard Mallett “in places quite hypnotic”. And it can now be savoured in all it’s pristine glory on Blu-Ray! Richard Chatten

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 7 JULY 2020

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) **** BfiPlayer

Dir: Val Guest | Wri: Wolf Mankowitz | Cast: Edward Judd, Janet Munro, Leo McKern, Michael Goodliffe, Bernard Braden | Fantasy Sci-Fi | US 96′

Valmond Maurice Guest (1911-2006) was an English film director and screenwriter who started his career on the British stage and in early sound films. He wrote over 70 scripts many of which he also directed, developing a versatile talent for making quality genre fare on a limited budget (Hell is a City, Casino Royale, The Boys in Blue). But Guest was best known for his Hammer horror pictures The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II, and Sci-Fis The Day the Earth Caught Fire and 80,000 Suspects which nowadays provide a fascinating snapshot of London and Bath in the early Sixties. Shot luminously in black and white CinemaScope the film incorporates archive footage that feels surprisingly effective with views of Battersea Power Station and London Bridge. A brief radio clip from a soundalike PM Harold MacMillan adds to the fun.

The central theme of this energetic and optimistic fantasy thriller is nuclear paranoia that plays out in flashback in the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Express newspaper reporting on a crisis involving H-bombs tests in Russia and the US, causing the titling of the Earth and leading to cyclones, dangerously rising temperatures, and a lack of water with fears of a typhus epidemic : “and what about all this extra Polar ice that’s melting”  (a prescient reference to global warming).

The opening scenes rapidly sketch out the febrile tension in the air and introduce us to the voluable characters involved through some extremely zippy dialogue between science editor Leo McKern, Bernard Braden, and bibulous reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd), who then falls for savvy telephonist Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro) who gives him the firm brush off. The real-life Express editor is played rather woodenly by Arthur Christiansen. There’s even an uncredited vignette featuring Michael Caine as a traffic officer – his voice is unmistakable.

NOW ON Bfi Player

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 FEBRUARY 2020

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham
https://youtu.be/eKy7Iaco_rU

Invasion Planet Earth (2019) ***

Dir.: Simon Cox; Cast: Simon Haycock, Roxi Drive, Toyah Willcox, Julie Holt, Sophie Anderson, Danny Steel; UK 2019, 93 min.

Director Simon Cox (Driven) has spent seventeen bringing this labour of love to the big screen, and his perseverance has paid off. Shot over six years, mainly in Birmingham, and with two years in post-production, Invasion was heavily dependent on crowd funding hence the 136 credits you can study on IMDB. The result feels like a pilot for a TV series, with the audience reactions anywhere between a sub-par Dr. Who and a cult movie.         

In a futuristic Britain the Dunn family has been hit by a series of setbacks. Thomas (Haycock) and his wife Mandy (Drive) are mourning the loss of their young daughter Rebecca. He works as a psychiatrist in a private mental clinic under threat of closure, and she is a kindergarten teacher who has just become pregnant again, just as Aliens invade the planet, threatening to separate them in the chaos. Meanwhile, rogue general Lucius is threatening to explode a nuclear bomb. Tom’s plea to continue his work is refused, he and his assistant Clare Dove (Willcox, who also wrote the music) are made redundant. Tom soon finds himself in turmoil with three of his patients Harriet (Hoult), Samantha (Anderson) and Floyd (Steel). Finally, when the Planet’s superpowers decide to go to war, after Lucius detonates a nuclear bomb, Tom comes to a surprising discovery and must take Mandy on a race against meltdown.

Originally titled Kaleidoscope Men, after a TV series, which is watched by young Thomas and his friends in the prologue, Invasion plays out very much like a run-of-the-mill SciFi film with CGI playing a big part, hiding the minimal budget. The twist in the plot helps to overcome the restrictions to a certain extent, but the scenes featuring the emotional conflict of doctor and patient relationship keeps Invasion from being just another run of the mill Britflick. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 5 DECEMBER 2019

Aniara (2018) ****

Dir.: Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja; Cast: Emilie Jonsson, Blanca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Arvin Kananian; Sweden/Denmark 2019, 106 min.

This Swedish dread-fuelled sci-fi debut feels like Solaris directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Adapted from an epic poem by Swedish Nobel prize laureate Harry Martinson Aniara is both unsettling and beautiful to look at, embued with the melancholy of its original author who committed suicide after learning that he would have to share his Nobel Prize with his countryman Eyvind Johnson (both were members of the prize giving Swedish academy). Martinson had rather a dim view of humanity: a staunch progressive, his first wife left him “because he lacked political engagement” – hardly a reason for divorce, but something that was clearly vital for the success of their marriage.

Aniara is a slow burner in many ways: having watched it, one is satisfied, but not overwhelmed. But the film stays with you, the audacity and originality dawning slowly as you cast your mind back. A space transporter ferries wealthy Earthlings from our own now uninhabitable planet to a docking station somewhere in the firmament whence they will be transported to Mars. Alas, the three week  journey is interrupted in the first few days when the Aniara, a sort of luxury mall, has to dump all its fuel to avoid a collision. The only chance of getting back on course is to locate a celestial body. Captain Chefone (Kananian) promises this for the near future but a wise, old astronomer (Martini) tells her roommate Mimaroben (Jonsson) that this will never happen. Mimaroben (or MR) is in charge of MIMA, a sentient computer system which allows humans to see viral images of the old Earth, by way of using the memories Earth-dwellers. After the astronomer is shot for “spreading panic”, MIMA shuts itself down, and MR and her lover Isagel (Cruzeiro), a pilot, are put in prison. They are released when the Ariana encounters a foreign body and Chefone hopes that the object will contain fuel. When this turns out to be wishful thinking, the space voyagers are filled with doom and gloom. Cults and anarchy reign, and Isagel becomes pregnant during a ritual. It falls to the two women to raise the child, and for a time, this nuclear family promises a sort of future.

Divided into chapters, Ariana is a slow descent into night. Visually this is a stunning endeavour and credit is due to DoP Sophie Winquist and PDs Linnea Pettersson and Maja-Stina Asberg. Instead of spending vast sums on interiors, the team make use of   local malls, office blocks and amusement parks, Winquist always finding new angles to conjure up the passengers’ sheer terror at seeing their surroundings vanishing bit by bit. The ensemble acting is really convincing, with Martini’s cynical astronomer (“I was never impressed much by humans”) outstanding. There are no monsters populating Ariana – just talented humans beings. AS       

ANIARA is released in Cinemas and on Digital HD from 30th August

High Life (2018) ****

Dir Claire Denis. Germany/France/US/UK/Poland. 2018. 110 mins

Women filmmakers are fascinated by Sci-Fi. Back in 1995 there was Kathryn Bigelow with Strange Days, Mimi Leder followed with Deep Impact, and Karyn Kusama with Aeon Flux (2005. Meanwhile in Europe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic brought us Evolution (2015) and Jessica Hausner has made this year’s Cannes Competition line-up with her thriller Little Joe (2019).

Claire Denis’s first foray into science-fiction is a cold, violent, enigmatic affair. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey springs to mind and so does Solaris but this is more brutal and provocative despite its lush colour spectrum and virtuoso visuals that come courtesy of Yorick Le Saux. Human desire and pent up sexual energy is expressed with a baleful malevolence that occasionally erupts into livid outbursts. But many will struggle to comprehend its fractured narrative, arcane motives and curious timeframe, despite it being Denis’ first English language feature, you come away none the wiser but bemused and enriched and by its visual allure.

Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche anchor an eclectic cast which includes Agata Buzek (The Innocents). He plays the most sympathetic, accessible character – Monte – who is stranded in a spaceship after a gruelling mission that has left him with a gurgling baby daughter who needs to be cared for. And this he does well. The spaceship has a lush vegetable garden, the only natural environment to speak of, with juicy courgettes and cabbages kept alive by an ambient mist.

There is a strange sense of danger brought on by the feeling that something tragic has happened leaving the rest of the crew to stifle and repress their bitter resentment and lightly veiled hostility towards one another, made worse by their claustrophobic surroundings. Flashbacks vaguely allude to this sense of unsettlement but no explanation is offered.

The space ship is bound on a journey to reach the nearest black hole to planet Earth. Binoche plays Dibs and has clearly asked Denis to give her a complex and foxy role and she excels with her black glossy tresses and zip-up uniform that reveals plenty of cleavage. There’s an odd scene where she mounts a steel phallus, having careful slipped a Durex over it, her muscular body girating in feral pleasure. She seems to be conducting some sort of sexual reproduction experiment on the crew, and is called “the shaman of semen” as she’s tasked with injecting the women with semen produced by the men in a cubicle. None of them seems very keen on the idea or why it’s being done in the confines of the spaceship. She even forces the slumbering Monte to capitulate by mounting him and then extracting the fluid with a large pipette and injecting it into another sleeping inmate.

As Monte gets rid of a growing mound of corpses, we realise that the crew’s mutual hostility has actually ended in tears. As he pushes the bodies out of the craft the sound of silence is one of the gratifying high points, courtesy of Stuart Staples (Minute Bodies). The scenes in Space are straight out of 2001, or even Gravity (2013). Robert Pattinson and his child who eventually reaches puberty during  are the only sympathetic characters in a film which is clever and daring but ultimately leaves you empty. Such is Space. MT

HIGH LIFE IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 17 MAY 2019

 

Silent Star | First Spacecraft on Venus (1960) **** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

Dir. Kurt Maetzig; Cast: Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe, Michael Postnikow, Kurt Rackelmann, Günter Simon, Hua-Ta Tang, Lucyna Winnicka; East Germany/Poland 1960, 93 min.

In many ways SILENT STAR is a cult classic oddity. East German director Kurt Maetzig had had his career put on hold due to his Jewish background. The Rabbit is Me (1965) was seen as too critical of the socialist East German leadership and was banned along with ten other films considered equally “subversive”. Classified as the “Rabbit Films” they were greeted with avid applause on their re-release in 1989, at the end of the Cold War. In 1954 Maetzig had also directed the lauded two-part biopic Ernst Thaelmann, about the German communist leader murdered in a concentration camp. He was eventually allowed to continue making films again, but some of the other directors were relegated to TV. Maetzig died in 2012, at the age of 101.

Many of the East German feature films were also considered rather tedious – people wanted to watch Hollywood blockbusters – although the mostly black-and-white political films did find an audience with intellectuals in the West. First Spacecraft, or The Silent Star, to give it the translated title of the US version, suffered the same fate. Popular in all Eastern block countries, particularly the GDR, were it was watched by over four million people, it was shunned in the West as a “populist melodrama in the Hollywood style”.

Set in the “future” of 1985, an artificial ‘spool’ is discovered in the Gobi-desert. Aeronautics Professor Hawling (Oldrich Lukes) deems it originated in Venus. And Professors Sikarna (Yoko Tani) and Dr. Tchen-Yu (Hua- Ta Tang) come to the conclusion that it’s a flight recorder. But failing to make contact with Venus, they decide to use the Soviet spaceship ‘Cosmostrator’ to fly to the planet and investigate. During the journey Sikarna attempts to translate the text. The rather cold-blooded message turns out to be a declaration of war: the inhabitants of Venus had been trying to colonise earth, and exterminate the human race. A model toy computer, rather like R2/D2 from Star Wars, then turns vicious, attacking German pilot Brinkmann (Simon); his spacecraft lands on Venus, finding no form of life, but a totally destroyed city in a huge crater. One of the scientists triggers the still-functioning computer, programmed to destroy Earth and mayhem ensues.

PDs Alfred Hirschmeier and L. Kunka must take most of the credit for this terrific Sci-fi adventure, along with  composer Andrzej Markowski and DoP Joachim Heisler. Obviously it looks dates in today’s eyes, but no more so that some other US Space outings of the era. But Stanislaw Lem, author of the novel on which co-writer Maetzig based his script, was not impressed, and claimed: “not even children would be frightened by this film”. AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4-18 APRIL 2019

A Trip to the Moon (2018) **

Dir.: Joaquin Cambre; | Writer: Laura Farhi | Cast: Angelo Mutti Spinetta, Leticia Bredice, German Palacios, Angela Torres, Micela Amaro, Luis Machin; Argentina 2017, 87 min.

A teenage boy struggles with his traumatic past in Joaquin Cambre’s rather hit and miss feature debut which looks spectacular but is let down by implausible plot-lines and tonal flaws. The main character Tomas (Spinetta) is keen on astronomy and Space travel and manages to escape his dysfunctional childhood and fraught family life in with the help of a vivid imagination and anti-psychotic drugs. But things start to improve when Tomas claps eyes on  Iris (Torres) thanks to his trusty telescope, and after the usual setbacks, the two fall in love. Suddenly everything changes and reality and fantasy being one: Tomas packs his family into a spaceship and they all fly off to the Moon, where the secret of his trauma gradually unfolds. Cambre illicits strong performances from his able cast but sadly the abrupt shift between social realism and sci-fi leaves the audience stranded in ‘outer space’. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 22 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

  

World on a Wire (1973) Welt am Draht

Dir: Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Sci-fi | Ger, 1973 | 204′ 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s noirish sci-fi curio was way ahead of its time with themes that are still relevant today, and would later be explored in the likes of The Matrix, Bladerunner, and TV series Westworld.

Originally created for TV by the prolific but short-lived radical filmmaker, this futuristic film explores the nature of reality. It does so through Simulacron 1, a type of projected reality considered to have some revolutionary potential, such as predicting the price of commodities, and consumer habits in the future – both would later become mainstream realities.

When the Simulacron project leader Henry Vollmer dies, Dr Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch (Cross of Iron) become his successor. As the new doctor realises probes and realises he’s on to something ground-breaking, the company’s head of security (Ivan Desny) also disappears during a louche party, and the line between the real and virtual worlds increasingly blurs. Stiller is compelled to dig even deeper for answers to this unfathomable mystery.

With a theme-tune from Pink Floyd’s drifty surreal album ‘Albatross’ to ramp up the atmosphere, the look and feel is stylishly evocative of the ’70s: all opulent white leather and steel. Blueish computer monitors flashing away in the background, DoP Michael Balhaus creates a hostile and alienating aura, and would go on to shoot other dark thrillers such as Goodfellas and The Departed .

Even the characters here are hard-nosed and unlikeable: men posture around in fedoras and wide-lapelled suites; vampish women are invariably tight-lipped and ash blond. There are roles for Fassbinder’s longterm collaborators Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab, and Mascha Rabben (Salome) and Barbara Valentin (Our Man in Jamaica) also star. This is a compelling and watchable film, richly thematic and aesthetically avantgarde for its time. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECONDSIGHT FILMS. This latest restoration comes supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, 

 

 

 

Magnetic Pathways (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Edgar Pera; Cast: Dominique Pinon, Alba Baptista, Pauko Pires, Ney Matograsso, Albano Jeronimo; Brazil/Portugal 2018, 90 min.

Avant-garde Portuguese auteur Edgar Pera follows his weird and wonderful adaptations of Rio Turvo and O Barao with this mystery drama screening as part of a retrospective of his work here at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Again he indulges in the creation of a Lynchian universe, where past and future amalgamate in an anarchic dance of loss and angst, all held together by the overwhelmingly monstrous images of DoP Jorge Quintela.

Elderly Raymond (Pinon) lives a nightmarish life without escape: he is either drowning in his dreams, or running helpless and disorientated through a dystopian Lisbon. His main obsession is his daughter Caterina (Baptista) who is getting married to Danio (Pires), one of the henchman of the autocratic regime, which runs on the lines of Orwellian surveillance, the TV anchor giving out the orders for the day. During his nightly sorties Raymond encounters the past and present Portugal, meeting among others General Spinola (Jeronimo), who was one of the Generals in the successful revolution of 1974, before he turned against the socialist government and joined Ex-president Caetano and his fellow generals in exile. Raymond is never quite sure if he is living through the period of post- or past revolution. Raymond falls under the spell of Andre Leviathan (Matograsso), a mixture of religious leader and revolutionary. But Raymond develops a jealous obsession with Caterina and Danio. When the couple have sex, Raymond kills Danio with a knife, only to wake up with a feeling of joy despite realising that Caterina would have never forgiven him. 

Whilst the couple are on a barge, Raymond jumps into the water, but is rescued. Fearing the worst, he is amazed not to land up in prison, but back home, which by now resembles a brothel.

Dissolves dominate this spectacular poem of male madness: Raymond is straight out of L’Age d’Or, and Lisbon is a rather drab background, the city’s modern architecture An emblem for the soul destroying world of the Regime. The religious fanaticism of the President echoes Bunuel; Raymond’s hallucinations are the reflection of male impotence. Some music by Manoel de Oliveira embellish this unique feature, directed by a masterful and uncompromising Pera. AS

SCREENING as part of the EDGAR PÊRA Retrospective | IFFR 23 January – 3 February 2019

Lajko in Space (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

LAJKO – GYPSY IN SPACE (LAJKO – CIGANY AZ URBEN)

Dir.: Balazs Lengyel; Cast: Tamas Keresztes, JozsefGyabronka, Tibor Pallfy, Anna Boger, Bohdan Benink; Hungary 2018, 90 min.

Director/co-writer Balazs Lengyel shows no fear: his satire about the first man is Space – of course, a Hungarian, not Gagarin, as claimed by the Soviets – is a relentless attack on Stalinism, but the re-write of history is always funny, even if not always done in the best taste.

Young Lajko, a gypsy growing up in the Hungarian country site, has always been interested in Space travel. Unfortunately, one of his first attempts sends his Mum into space, together with the outdoor toilet. As a young man Lajko (Keresztes) has designed a moored balloon to take him into the stratosphere – but he ignores the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and is shot down by the Red Army. He is the victim of waterboarding, but his torturer has shot through too much money over the previous year, and is put in prison. Lajko can count on the help of his father Florian (Pallfy) and uncle Jeno (Gyabronka), the latter a party functionary. The three are sent to Baku, where the Soviet Space programme is being developed. Lajko has to compete with a Mongolian monk, a Baltic counter-revolutionary and Helga Mengele (Boger) to be the first one in Space. Helga is very upset, that “the good name of her father is by now forgotten”, even though he created ten different prototypes of an Aryan super-woman – of which she is the only survivor. When Brezhnev (Benink) arrives at the Space station, Florian steals his ring, and Jeno falls in love with the Soviet leader, admitting that he is gay for the first time. Lajko finally wins the race to be the first man in Space; meeting his mother there in the process. Needless to say, the beastly Russians put Lajko, Florian and Helga in a work camp (so that Gagarin can claim to be the winner), and poor uncle Jeno is shot dead, having just come to terms with being gay.

This is a romp, sometimes crude, but always enjoyable. DoPGyorgy Reder is very inventive, using different formats for the historical scenes, sometimes speeding up the tempo, like in silent movies. It is obvious that everyone had fun shooting this feature, and Lengyel always manages to keep the careering plot on the road. AS

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Prime Video

Dir.: John Frankenheimer; Cast: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Edmund O’Brien, Betty Field, Telly Savalas; US 1962, 147 min.

Director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) came from a TV background and retains his documentary approach once at Hollywood which was nominated for several Oscars and went on to sweep the board at Venice in 1962.

There were various setbacks – Charles Crichton actually started at the helm but the British director fell out with the film’s star and de-facto producer, Burt Lancaster, and left alongside his DoP John Alton.

There were script issues too: Frankenheimer was told that Guy Trosper’s screenplay would run for four and half hours, so clearly scenes had to be re-shot later to fall in line with a new narrative, Birdman still running for well over two hours.

Lancaster plays Robert Stroud (Lancaster) spent 53 years of his life in prison and mostly in solitary confinement until his death in 1963. His life-long tormentor was Prison Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Malden), the two clashing on numerous occasions.  Stroud’s original sentence was for the murder of a bartender who did not want to pay for one of Stroud’s prostitutes. In prison he killed a guard for not letting his mother Elizabeth (Ritter) visit him. Originally sentenced to death, his mother’s campaign eventually saved Stroud’s life. 

Ironically, Birdman is shot mostly in Leavenworth Prison, where inmates were allowed to keep pets. After his transfer to Alcatraz, Stroud could not look after birds anymore. In Leavenworth, Stroud had became a self-taught ornithologist, developing  medicines for his bird patients. He was so successful that he and his wife Stella Johnson (Field) founded a company for the supply of the pharmaceuticals. In spite of his running battle with Shoemaker, Stroud helped to put down a prison revolt in 1946. He would also meet his future biographer Thomas E. Gaddis (O’Brien), on whose work the film is based. Telly Savalas also makes a moving impression as one of Stroud’s fellow prisoners and bird keepers.

Frankenheimer shot his masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate in the same year, proving his versatility as a director. He would go on and direct a trio of features (All Fall Down, Seven Days in May, The Iceman Cometh), which like Manchurian Candidate, would feature Trump-like politicians, ready to overthrow the constitution of the USA by manipulation and force. 

Birdman is hyper-realistic, but Stroud’s exclamation “You ain’t got much, but you keep subtractin”, is proven wrong in the end. DoP Burnett Guffey’s (Bonny & Clyde) black-and-white images are cast in deep shadows and as stone cold as the prison walls. in spite of his brush-up with Crichton, Lancaster is brilliant, winning the Volpi Price for Best Actor in Venice 1962.AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

eXistenZ (1999) | Bluray release

Dir: David Cronenberg | Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe 
Visionary director David Cronenberg (Videodrome) challenges the boundaries of reality in sci-fi thriller eXistenZ. During a closed-door demonstration of her new virtual reality video game, brilliant game designer Allegra Geller survives an attempt on her life by a crazed assassin. On the run with Ted Pikul, a young marketing trainee who falls into the role of bodyguard, Allegra convinces Ted to join her in her game, eXistenZ. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur, the real-life dangers they sought to escape start to merge with their virtual world.
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• The Leader: An interview with Christopher Eccleston
• Commentary with Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie
• Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Enemy of Reality: David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ’ by Alex Morris, and ‘Of Fabrics and Flesh: An interview with Denise Cronenberg’ by Phillip Escott.
 
Additional Extras
• Audio commentary by David Cronenberg
• Making-of documentary
• Promo Featurette
• Special Effects Featurette
• Backstage interviews with Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, Jim Isaac (visual effects) and David Cronenberg
• Trailer
 
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Christopher Nolan presents a Warner Bros 70mm print struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative in Cannes this year. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. Stanley Kubrick’s daughter, Katharina Kubrick, his coproducer Jan Harlan and director Christopher Nolan were in attendance.

But who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 50 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position. Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are still  topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SPECIAL SCREENING

Anon (2017) **

Dir.: Andrew Niccol; Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger; Germany 2018, 100 min.

New Zealand born director/writer Andrew Niccol (The Host) has managed to create the ultimate misogynist feature where baddies rule the world, and women are just sex objects. On the same lines as his previous features, Gattaca and In Time, Anon is set in an imagined future, where crimes are unheard of due to a surveillance system that records everyone, and digital footprints are freely available to the law enforcers whose brains have been computerised. 

In this dystopia we meet Sal Frieland (Owen) is a detective working for the squad who tracks murderers by accessing the cloud-based visual memories of killers and their victims. He encounters a woman, known as Anon (Seyfried), who has no digital identity so threatening their security. Unleashing a sting operation he pretends to be a potential client but in so doing exposes his own troubled past. But The Girl soon finds out his profession and intention, and makes life hell for him. As the situation escalates, Anon leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

Apart from the gratuitous sex scenes and the nearly all-male police squad, Niccol manages to ruin the images with a bombardment of graphics and texts, keeping the audience reading instead of watching. DoP Amir Mokri (Transformers) finds inventive angles to show this absurdist functional world, which looks like laboratory for animal research. But Anon is, at the same time, frightfully old-fashioned when it coms to vices: Sal and his pals smoke, drink and snuff Coke, somehow the male dominated future world is as unbearable for the buddies, as the present. Hint: there are other emotions apart from guild and paranoia. AS 

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 4 MAY 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Ron Howard | Writers: Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan | Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany | US | Action adventure | 135′ 

In 2002, it was Star Wars – Episode II – Attack of the Clones and in 2005, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In 2018, what is one of the greatest legends in the history of cinema has returned to the red carpet here at Cannes, presented Out of Competition.

The saga’s second spin-off is the latest film of the Star Wars galaxy by Ron Howard bringing together Han Solo, his faithful Chewbacca, the crooked Lando Calrissian, the Millenium Falcon and of course the droids. This adventure takes us back to the youth of the famous smuggler, ace pilot and charming scoundrel, Han Solo. Written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, and directed by Ron Howard, who starred in George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti and directed numerous popular and critical hits such as Apollo 13 (1995) or A Beautiful Mind (2002, Oscars for best film and director).

Alongside Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, 2013) who plays Han Solo, it has local Hampstead resident Thandie Newton (Jefferson in Paris); Woody Harrelson (No Country For Old Men), Emilia Clarke (Terminator Genisys), Donald Glover (The Martian), , Phoebe Waller-Bridge (The Iron Lady), Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi) and Paul Bettany (Dogville).

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Dir: Terence Fisher | Write: Harry Spalding | Cast: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters, Anna Palk | UK | 62′

The Earth Dies Screaming is not a cutting edge sci-fi in the traditional sense just a delicate amuse-bouche of British black & white nostalgia (that would lead Fisher to his blow-out banquet at Hammer). Special effects are graciously subtle rather than gobsmacking and there’s some priceless dialogue and a solid cast who are sadly no longer with us: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters and a captivating vignette of Anna Palk (The Main Chance).

Financed by American producer Robert L Lippert, Terence Fisher’s low-key approach showcases his laudable auteurist credentials in a sci-fi fantasy that unfurls elegantly in early Sixties Surrey, and a far cry from the lurid Gothic fare he went on to make for Hammer Studios. The Earth imagines a prescient vision of England invaded by aliens possessing the power to re-animate and control those who had lost their lives in the rural apocalypse. Willard Parker plays a masterful American test pilot who marshalls the survivors in an upmarket uprising against the alien invasion. Parker makes for an impressive hero, and Virginia Field plays attractive female lead Peggy, in control but also vulnerable to Dennis Price’s snide and supercilious Quinn Taggart, who is desperately trying to sneak her away from the rest of the group in a cheeky subplot (she was actually married to Willard at the time).

This is a classical production dressed by The Avengers costumier Jean Fairlie with dialogue that is terribly twee, despite the ominous tone throughout, Harry Spalding raises titters rather than shocks with lines like: “I’ve got your dinner warming in the oven”. Fisher makes the most of a minimal budget with glowing black and white camerawork from Arthur Lavis. The robots look more like deep sea divers in their natty quilted boxes. than scary monsters from outer space but when the dead characters start to reanimate their eyes glow opaquely in a really unsettling and convincing way, and Elisabeth Lutyens’ atmospheric score completes the picture of middle-class meltdown. That said, The Earth is about as terrifying as a fireside chat with Terry Wogan but equally entertaining. Watch it for the cast and the craftsmanship rather than the chills. MT

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING IS ALSO ON DVD DOUBLEPLAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native (2017) * * *

Dir.: Daniel Fitzsimmons; Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellie Kendrick, Leanne Best. Joe Macaulay; UK 2016, 88 min.

Daniel Fitzsimmons’ low budget, minimalist Sci-Fi debut is not so much a futuristic undertaking, more a here-and-now psychological drama better suited to the stage than the big screen.

Cane (Graves) and Eva (Kendrick) are travelling in a hexagonal space ship to an unknown planet, tasked with killing off the local civilisation with a larva-like virus, stored in their craft. Cane and Eva have a strong telepathic relationship with their respective partners back on Earth, and when Cane’s wife Awan (Best) dies together with four of their unborn children, Cane is gripped by grief, losing all interest in the mission. Meanwhile Eva’s husband (Macaulay) communicates intensely with his wife, keeping an eye on the erratic Cane, more or less suggesting that Eva should terminate him. After a failed suicide attempt, Cane removes the inplant in his neck, freeing himself from his Earth-based controlling authority “The Hive”. After landing on the planet – there are no prizes for guessing which one – Eva kills a female of the species, but starts to become unfocused in her eradication task.  She has to make a decision between the orders of the Hive, and her newly found consciousness.

Set nearly all the time in the cramped spaceship, NATIVE is overly verbose whilst also tying to be enigmatic,  telegraphing the few twists available. Graves and Kendrick do their best to breathe life into the proceedings, but cannot deal with the limpness of it all: too much time is taken up with Eva gyrating like a lap dancer, and Cane walking around endlessly, like a stroppy teenager. DoPs Nick Gillespie and Billy J. Jackson introduce some magical effects with light and forms, but they can’t hide an overriding visual emptiness. NATIVE is a well-meaning nonentity. AS

NATIVE ARRIVES ON SCREENS IN FEBRUARY 2018

Downsizing (2017) **

Dir: Alexander Payne | Wri: Jim Taylor | USA / 135’ | cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig

Matt Damon headlines a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Laura Dern in Alexander Payne’s unconvincing sci-fi social satire about a man who chooses to shrink himself (literally) to simplify his life.

Shot in Toronto the magnificent Norwegian fjords, Downsizing provides a startlingly speculative and outlandish Sci-fi adventure that sounds intriguing on the drawing board but throws up issues that are unattractive and downright unpalatable in practiceAs the film opens, Damon’s amiable character Paul Safranek is hit with a brainwave – downsizing not only his family home – but also himself – will cut costs as his placidly mediocre lifestyle with wife Audrey (Wiig) rapidly becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, let alone finance. Payne widens to premise to include themes of human consumption and depletion of the Earth’s precious reserves with one radical and idiotic solution – miniaturisation, the idea being that a small tin of baked beans can suddenly feed the entire family for a whole week (living in a shoebox in their previous garden). Welcome to the grotesque future of Downsizing, where a wet-wipe will suddenly become an environmental hazard of even greater proportions. Once Paul is reinvented as a midget, there’s something unpleasantly grotesque and indelicate about the whole idea of giant rosebuds and diamonds as big as your head. The phrase “small and perfectly-formed” also loses appeal especially in the pastel world of Paul Safranek. There’s nothing glorious or admirable about his insipid existence as a phone salesman in the new “Leisureland”, where even he takes offence at a customer who says: “Don’t get short with me”. Meanwhile, his rather uncouth neighbours (Christophe Waltz and Udo Kier) feel too far-fetched and glib to make this new existence appealing; a better word would be ‘sad’. There could be some really appealing aspects to Payne’s thoughtful projection, but somehow he and co-writer Jim Taylor settle for a mediocre, mealy-mouthed and small-minded drama rather than a bitingly witty microcosmic satire, along the lines of previous features Sideways, About Schmidt and Nebraska. And given that most of us are already tired of the relentlessly onward march of digital technology and the dehumanisation of our daily lives, the idea that this could be taken further simply has no future in the real world. Thanks Mr Payne, but no thanks. MT

OUT ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26 JANUARY 2018

Mirror | Tarkovsky Retrospective ICA London

MIRROR is a stream-of-consciousness, totally without any narrative. The narrator, on his deathbed, looks back on his life. The only structure is the time-setting: pre-war, war and post-war. Mirror is the best example of the director’s  “sculpting in time” approach to filmmaking: images and sound (in this case classical music) melt into a memory lane in which the time frames are interchangeable. Sometimes the film is labelled as metaphysical and it is hardly surprising that the USSR censors even tried to ban any export of the film, helping to make it into a legend.

CURRENTLY IN RETROSPECTIVE AT THE ICA LONDON JANUARY 2018

Attraction (2017)

Dir.: Fyodor Bondarchuk: Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Alexander Petrov, Alexander Petrov, Rinal Mukhametov | Sci-fi | Russian Federation 2017, 117′.

Director Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of the late Sergei (Waterloo), has filmed a script by Andrey Zolotaryov and Oleg Malovichko about a Moscow teenager falling in love with a stranded alien as an outlandish extravaganza that completely relies on the brilliant widescreen images of Mikhail Khasaya for its entertainment value.

An alien spaceship is shot down in a suburb of Moscow and teenager Yulya (Starshenbaum), living in a high rise block with her father after the death of her mother, just gets away with her life, being surprised by the attack whilst in bed with her boyfriend Artyom (Petrov). Her father, high-ranking officer Lebeder (Menshikov), is put in charge of containing the space ship, and finding out the intentions of the aliens. Yulya falls in love with Hekon (Mukhametov), one of the alien survivors of the crash, who has saved her life. Meanwhile, Artyom and his group of teenage hoodlums chase the alien, whom Yulya is hiding. In a grand finale, Artyom, having stolen the impregnable shield of Hekon, chases the lovers until the bitter end.

ATTRACTION was a big hit in Russia, earning around a million Roubles at the box office. Undemanding, to say the least, it is just the same eye-candy Hollywood aims for, but is even more prudish than its equivalent US products, and also shares the laborious dialogues about the meaning of it all at the end – these are supposed to be relevant, but are as banal as everything gone before. The characters are one-dimensional, and there are no twists in the narrative, every move is well telegraphed. Even the glittering technology employed cannot hide the emptiness of this spectacle, which is strictly for the genre fans. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2018 | Reviewed at THE UK RUSSIAN FILM FESTIVAL | 19 NOVEMBER 26 NOVEMBER 2017

Jupiter’s Moon (2017)

Dir|Writer; Kornel Mundruczo | Cast: Merab Ninidze, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Monika Balsai, Zsombor Jeger | 110min | Sci-fi | Hungary

After success with his Cannes Un Certain Regard winner White God (2013) Hungarian auteur Kornel Mundruczo mades it into the festival’s main competition last year with this flawed sci-fi thriller that sees a young immigrant shot down while illegally crossing the border into Hungary. Terrified and in shock, he finds his life has mysteriously been transformed by the gift of levitation.

Clearly the director has honed his craft since his previous arthouse winner with its strong amd imaginative narrative . JUPITER is visually more ambitious and technically brilliant but narratively a mess. The bewildering storyline starts off with a great premise – a Syrian refugee becomes an angel in one of Jupiter’s Moons where a cold ocean known as Europa spawns new forms of life. The metaphor is clear and cleverly thought out yet the film tries to be too many things, a political commentary and an action thriller: less would have been far more effective than more. After a blindingly intriguing opening scene, the shaky handheld camera continues in a tonally uniform almost continuous take that eventually feels exhausting, and hardly ever gives up, detracting from the enjoyment of the stunning set pieces.

Zsombor Jéger is the central character but not a sympathetic or particularly engaging one as Aryan, the Syrian refugee who is gunned down by László (György Cserhalmi), the nasty leader of a refugee camp in Budapest. Aryan survives his injuries and then discovers an uncanny ability to float, and from then on desperately tries to find his father with the help of a nefarious doctor, Stern (Merab Ninidze), who has been struck off for medical malpractice. Aryan is inveigled into a plan to defraud Stern’s rich patients into believing he has faith healing properties, but this is a tenuous ploy that again feels too gimmicky.

White God had a believable plot with engaging characters but Jupiter’s Moon, although a far more technically skilful film, feels hollow, glib and also frankly quite laborious despite the arresting visual wizardry of White God cinematographer Marcell Rév. Ninidze Stern’s Gabor is a quixotic and cunning rogue and far and away the most exciting character in an ensemble of cardboard cyphers. Along with the visual mastery there is an impressive atmospheric score that helps to ramp up the tension and also adds a certain gravitas. A shame then that the whole things feels so underwhelming and unwieldy as a story. Clearly the director is trying to up his game but needs to establish whether he wants to go for arthouse audiences or the mainstream crowd. White God was starting to build him a fanbase, but this seems like a step backwards. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 5 January 2018

Hidden Reserves | Stille Reserven (2017)

Dir: Valentin wolrd Hitz; Cast: Clemens Schick; Lena Lanzemis, Marion Mitterhammer, Daniel Olbrychski; Austria/Germany/Switzerland 2016, 96′

HIDDEN RESERVES sees Vienna 2033 as a frightening dystopian landscape where even dying is not for free. Inspired by Fahrenheit 451, Valentin Hitz’ brilliantly abrasive scenario is stunning to look at and only diminished by his choice of femme-fatale.

This is a world where the capitalist state is greedy beyond the dreams of avarice: we watch as wagon-loads of humans on life-support are ferried into giant warehouses, where they are stored Amazon style. And that is just what these cocoons are: debt-ridden bodies waiting waiting to be harvested for organ donation, surrogacy, or even data storage. Little wonder then that death insurance is literally ‘to die for’, it’s the only surefire way of guaranteeing the ‘right to die’.  

Vincent Baumann (Schick) sells death insurance salesmen, and he will go to any lengths to get that signature on the dotted line. Emotionally he is nearly catatonic, sexually he is casual and promiscuous:indulging with his boss Diana Dorm (Mitterhammer) in the company bathroom.
Naturally, this sort of environment needs a counterforce, and it comes in the form of a guerrilla unit, led by the enigmatic nightclub singer Lisa Sokulowa (Lanzemis). The group try to cut off the warehouse power supply to put an end to those suffering on death’s door. Dorm instructs Schick to infiltrate the ‘terrorists’, but once exposed to new blood from outside the sterile insurance system, he falls for Lisa and things get complicated when her father Wladimir (Olbrychski), who invented the depot technology, enters the fray.

DoP Martin Gschlacht (Teheran Taboo) creates an intelligent and visually impressive Sci-fi world where the guerrillas live in a noirish ’60s , and the technocrats’ in hues of chilly blue, the identification installations look like blocks of ice. Schick is superb in his alien mien, even when he turns human – and the scenes in Prater Park, having fallen into disrepair, are magical. This remarkable feature is marred by the choice of Lanzemis as the chanteuse. Singing “Teach me Tiger, or I’ll teach you” – composed by Nino Tempo in 1959, and sang by his sister April Stevens – as a diva Lanzemis’ Lisa channels a cabaret singer of the Weimar Republic, her sole expression throughout is monotonous, tight-jawed annoyance. Have a look at the lyrics of “Teach me Tiger” and you decide: they are extremely daring for the late 1950s, and Lanzemis brings absolutely nothing to the party with her reckless lack of emotional range, seriously putting the whole endeavour in a bad light light. A perfect exercise in miscasting. AS

WINNER | BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY | AUSTRIAN FILM AWARDS 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; Cast: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Davis; USA 2017, 164 min.

Ridley Scott set his original Blade Runner in 2019; and since we are nearly there, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) has had to catapult us another 30 years into the future where LA is a chaotic ruin, where snows falls regularly with a permanent orange halo in the sky. Climate change has taken its toll. But this is nothing, because north of the metropolis, including San Diego, everything is, literally, just a dump populated by human scavengers. Canadian director Villeneuve has come from art-house cinema, and proves successfully that you can make a blockbuster costing 180 million dollars with the aesthetics and quality of an indie movie.

In this dystopian nightmare, a narrative emerges more or less where Ridley Scott (who is an executive producer) left off. LAPD officer K (Gosling) – himself an android (Mark Nexus 9) – is hunting down the rebellious model Nexus 8 survivors, and we witness him successfully executing a contract. But the aftermath is much more important: K finds evidence that the distinction between humans and androids has been breached. Reporting to his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Wright), he is told to forget the whole affair: all evidence is being destroyed. But K is himself a rebel and goes on researching. Niander Wallace (Leto), who more or less owns the country and the plant where the much more pliant Nexus 9 model is produced, is not amused, and sets his executioner Luv (Hoeks) on Joshi. K. Luv is a killing machine who never moves a muscle in her angelic face. On his way back into the past, K first encounters a mind technician (Davis), whose identity will be of absolute importance, and finally Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, who has gone missing for thirty years, and now lives in the ruins of Las Vegas, gambling with himself and watching holograms of Elvis and Frank Sinatra.

Much more important than this wild chase – K still uses Ford’s battered mini-plane – is the relationship between K and Joi (de Armas), an inferior service android, who serves K on every level. But Joi develops feelings for her master, and finally even sacrifices her life, just to be with him. For me, the highpoint is the scene where K invites a hooker to the flat, and Joi wraps her holographic self around the woman, while they love together: all three of them longing for a human experience. When K finds the small wooden horse that has been a feature of his dreams, he’s not sure if this memory was implanted in the factory; ironically, Wallace the designer is calling the androids ‘angels’, wanting to develop them further, so they can reproduce.

The soullessness is astonishing: the wooden horse is a sensation because nobody has seen a tree. And naked women ply their trade with building-sized holograms. K, like his namesake in Kafka’s castle – is lost in the power play, but still yearns to be a human. Considering the state of the species, he should have second thoughts.There is lot to admire here, and Villenueve’s subtle, sensitive direction makes one forget the substantial running time. Writers Hampton Fanchor (who scripted the 1982 version) and Michael Green keep the focus and take their time developing each character. The music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer supports the eerie atmosphere, and British DoP Roger Deakins (A Serious Man) creates a ghastly shadow world in bleached colours, creating an atmosphere of permanent darkness and fog. Gosling and de Armas are a couple from an inverted Sodom et Gomorra, by Proust. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE.

The Untamed | La Region Selvaje (2016)

Dir: Amat Escalante | 100min | Fantasy drama | Mexico Denmark |

Amat Escalalnte follows his Cannes-awarded Heli with a community based sci-fi fantasy drama inspired by the machismo, homophobia and misogyny of his native Mexico.

THE UNTAMED is an obscure and unsettling piece that deftly manages its tonal shifts – from grim social realism to sinister fantasy – in a mysterious narrative slowly unfolds, taking its characters to unexpected places while leaving them firmly rooted in contemporary Guanajuato, weighed down by their reality of poverty, overcrowding and crime.

In the outskirts of a town a large crater has opened up filled with animals that appear to have been affected by an extraterrestrial force. One of these has morphed into a benign tentacled creature capable of giving ultimate sexual satisfaction to the women who visit its cabin in the woods. But the creature can also turn nasty, like a disgruntled male. In this way, THE UNTAMED could work as a metaphor for Mexican oppression and the dire social issues facing the country, or for any other Western country caught in the current climate of political and social uncertainty.

We first meet Veronica (Simone Bucio) a willowy waif in the throws of ecstacy, courtesy of our alien-like tentacled tempter in his darkened cabin. This is one of the most bewildering scenes of the film and is captured by the same cinematographer who worked on Nymphomaniac. In a further twist, the creature is being looked after by a weird couple who are purported to possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, back in town, young mother of two Ale (Ruth Ramos) is being abused by her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), a brutish civil engineer in a sexual relationship with her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works in the local hospital where Veronica turns up later with a strange wound on her torso. The two are clearly attracted to one another and decide to meet up later, where it emerges that Fabian is unhappy with Angel.

The trio’s situation grows all the more desperate due to the Sci-fi occurences in the nearby woods: nothing is clear, everything seems to be degenerating both ecologically and societally for the country and its people who are caught in the grip of circumstances beyond their control.Despite the underwritten characters, Escalante’s attempts to chanel Mexico’s serious social issues into this Sci-fi drama are convincing and exciting marking him out as one cinema’s most visionary contemporary filmmakers.  MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

Jupiter’s Moon | Cannes Film Festival 2017 | Competition

Dir|Writer; Kornel Mundruczo | Cast: Merab Ninidze, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Monika Balsai, Zsombor Jeger | 110min | Sci-fi | Hungary

After his UCR hit White God (2013) Hungarian auteur Kornel Mundruczo makes it into the main competition line-up with this sci-fi thriller about a young immigrant who is shot down while illegally crossing the border into Hungary. Terrified and in shock Aryan finds his life has mysteriously been transformed by the gift of levitation.

Clearly the director has honed his craft since his breakout arthouse piece White God, that had so mqny pleasing elements. JUPITER is visually more ambitious and technically brilliant but narratively a complete mess. The bewildering storyline starts off with a great premise – a Syrian refugee becomes an angel in one of Jupiter’s Moon’s where a cold ocean known as Europa spawns new forms of life. The metaphor is clear and cleverly thought out yet the film tries to be too many things, a political commentary and an action thriller: less would have been far more effective than more. After a blindingly intriguing opening scene, the shaky handheld camera continues in a tonally uniform almost continuous take that eventually feels exhausting, and hardly ever gives up, detracting from the enjoyment of the stunning set pieces.

Zsombor Jéger is the central character but not a sympathetic or particularly engaging one as Aryan, the Syrian refugee who is gunned down by László (György Cserhalmi), the nasty leader of a refugee camp in Budapest. Aryan survives his injuries and then discovers an uncanny ability to float, and from on desperately tries to find his father with the help of a nefarious doctor, Stern (Merab Ninidze), who has been struck off for medical malpractice. Aryan is inveigled into a plan to defraud Stern’s rich patients into believing he has faith healing properties, but this is a tenuous ploy that again feels too gimmicky.

White God had a believable plot with engaging characters but Jupiter’s Moon, although a far more technically skilful film, feels hollow, glib and also frankly quite boring despite its arresting visual wizardry from White God cinematographer Marcell Rév. Ninidze’s Stern Gabor is a quixotic and cunning rogue and far and away the most exciting character in an ensemble of cardboard characterisations. Along with the visual mastery there is an impressive atmospheric score that helps to ramp up the tension and also adds a certain gravitas. A shame then that the whole things feels so underwhelming and unwieldy as a story. Clearly the director is trying to up his game but needs to establish whether he wants to go for arthouse audiences or the mainstream crowd. White God was starting to build him a fanbase but this seems like a step backwards. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION 2017

 

 

The Creeping Garden (2015)

Dir: Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham | Nature Doc | 84min | UK

“Being Slime Mould”  a workshop where participants are actively encouraged to engage with this baffling organism and transform themselves into a ‘human’ slime mold”

THE CREEPING GARDEN is a feature length documentary exploring the work of fringe scientists, mycologists and artists who explore the extraordinary world of plasmodial slime mold, a single cell organism that has the ability to form into armies in search of nourishment. The slime mould is being used to explore biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot controllers and a chap called F. Percy Smith who pioneered the use of time lapse (or time magnification) photography to make a series of instructional films such as his 1931 masterpiece Magic Myxies (that followed The Bedtime Stories of Archie the Ant (1925).

Entirely learned while also being ironically ominous in tone, in a way that scratches at the realms of Sci-Fi, THE CREEPING GARDEN is geekdom at its best in completely avoiding a user friendly approach to its subject matter. Earnestly scientific in its approach, with a bizarrely tonic score (by Grizzly Man’s Jim O’Rourke), it endows the slime with human qualities, claiming that the impressively versatile organisms are capable of “emotional responses” and have been able to reanimate even after long periods of inactively due to unfavourable growth conditions.

International scientists are fascinated by the mould and its capabilities, but are singularly unable to convey this fascination to the viewer, who is unable to appreciate the weird beauty of the species, deriving only humour from the extreme intensity of the scientists’ fervour. Mark Pragnell spends many hours searching a forest for slime mold, occasionally taking photos to prevent people from thinking he is doing something strange – in his own words – when actually he is. Meanwhile, the experiment encouraging participants to engage with the organism: ‘Being Slime Mould’ was unable to gain critical mass for its experiment to be seriously considered groundbreaking. But the handful of participants did bond together in a way that was similar to that of slime mold behaviour, so it was not a complete waste of time. And the organism’s behaviour was also likened to a motorway network according to a Russian study.

Arcane and at times uneven, THE CREEPING GARDEN may not be everyone’s cup of tea but as far as slime mold documentaries go, this is unique and compelling, possibly providing hours of entertainment for afficionados and scf-fi enthusiasts or those of a nerdy persuasion. MT

AVAILABLE AT ARROWVIDEO@FETCH.FM | 13 MARCH 2017|

A SELECTION OF F. PERCY SMITH’S FILMS ARE AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH THE BFI

 

Donnie Darko (2001) | re-release

Writer|Dir: Richard Kelly | Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Patrick Swayze | US | Fantasy Drama Horror | 102min

Richard Kelly’s debut DONNIE DARKO is a strange and wonderful beast. The story opens in the wealthy family county of Middlesex, New Jersey where Jake Gyllenhaal’s rebellious teenager Donnie lives with his parents and younger siblings in a plush and leafy part of town. This is no straightforward fantasy but a dark and tonally complex curio seeped in unsettling anxiety that scratches at the edges of horror, and seems even more relevant today in our unpredictable social climate, than it did back in 1988.

Assigned to a kindly behavioural therapist (a middled-aged Elaine Robinson/aka Katherine Ross), Donnie seems to suffer from mild paranoid schizophrenia manifesting in daytime visions of a fierce grey bunny rabbit, who exhorts him to commit crimes and misdemeanours in the upmarket residential backwater where Donnie’s pleasantly straight-laced parents only want the best for him and his sisters Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Harvard hopeful, and Samantha, who is part of a slightly inappropriate dance troupe.

Donnie is a gifted and smart adolescent whose sleepwalking habit actually saves his life when he narrowly avoids death on the night when a 747 engine lands on the family house. This is weird for two reasons: the rabbit told him to make himself scarce before the event, and, there is no trace of the engine’s plane. And when Donnie’s doc discovers he has stopped taking his meds, she recommends hypnotherapy, which ends embarrassingly – on the verge of Donnie playing with himself.

Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast in the lead: far from geeky, his face has a compelling quality that is both wholesome and otherworldly depending on Steven Poster’s clever lighting techniques. He also conveys a dreamy sexuality that feels entirely natural as he falls for Jena Malone’s troubled teenage crush, Gretchen Ross, who father is a criminal.

But the underlying theme of the narrative is teenage anxiety in all its forms. And Patrick Swayze’s inspirational school mentor Jim Cunningham aims to counsel the kids on how to realise their true potential, adding a very prescient and modern day touch to the proceedings.

Where Donnie Darko slightly goes off the rails is in scenes featuring the ‘wormholes’ as described during the physics lessons. These are shown in  bubbles that extend from each character’s torso, yet move the film from its disturbing psychological agenda to an unfeasible fantasy territory that feels unconvincing and lacks the charm of, say, Michel Gondry’s magic realist moments in Mood Indigo. 

But Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising and mystical performance carries the film through these flaws, making Donnie’s sinister world of worry a compelling and

twisted portrait of teenage anguish and a convincing parallel universe to his upbringing in conventional suburban America of the 1980s. MT

DONNIE DARKO is on Arrow Films and Mubi. 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival (2016)

Dir: Denis Villeneuve | Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker | US Canada | Sci-Fi | 120min

We can always expect something fresh and exciting from Canadian filmmakers and Denis Villeneuve delivers just that with this Venice Competition entry: a Sci-fi thriller based on a positive premise: that non-verbal communication has the power to save the world.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as academics hired by the US military to attempt a parly with the aliens that arrive in a mysterious pod-shaped spacecraft that lands in the Montana farmland. This is a crisp and pristinely packaged piece of kit that brings no blood-letting or gruesome images in its wake. Instead it feels like a dreamily intelligent vision giving an uplifting image of an imagined future where our scientists and, particularly, our linguistic specialists can use their brainpower and training to bring about good and heal our troubled, wartorn planet.

And it is a woman who naturally will bring this into being. As a professor of linguistics, Amy Adams gives a deeply sensuous and emotionally intelligent performance in this adult drama whose tension and palpable terror rises out of the cherished hope that human communication could be the answer rather than malign or nefarious forces. Suffering from an intangible loss or beareavement she harnesses her innermost intuition and professional training in an attempt to reach out amicably and sensitively to the seven legged shapeshifters or heptopods that emerge from the summit of the pod. Scripted by Eric Heisserer, ARRIVAL is based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life,  and feels very much like Close Encounters in its subtle approach to the interplanetary arrivals unspooling as a peaceful and intelligently nuanced arthouse outing. Ambitious in scope and exquisitely mounted, there are minor flaws and ambiguities in the plotting that occasionally arise out of the parallel narrative of present and future. That said, the spirit of adventure and compromise is laudable in this decidedly upliting and inventive film that will make you leave you with a smile, if not the odd tear. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Native (2015) | East End Film Festival 2016

Director.: Daniel Fitzsimmons

Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellen Kendrick, Leanne Best

85min | Sci-Fi | UK

First time director and co-writer Daniel Fitzsimmons’ debut is a low budget Sci-fi  his hand where two Aliens arrive to conquer Earth. But somehow neither the design nor the cliché-ridden script is very convincing.

Cane (Graves) and Eva (Kendrick) hurtle towards our planet in a spaceship packed with deadly viruses intended to kill off mankind. But the lovesick Cane is over-emotional and pining for the loss of his partner Awan (Best) on their mother planet whence a Big Brother like metallic Voice issues order to the co-pilots while Cane tunes into Beethoven’s Fifth, driven to despair and a suicide attempt, hanging himself from a noose and rescued by Eva and the last moment. If this all sounds rather unimaginative – it is. The main problem with NATIVE is the dialogue – for no apparent reason, it’s in Italian – it also seems clumsy and in short hand: When the two are eating food from a plastic tube, in a brief break from arguing, Cane asks Eva “Do you like the food?, she answers brusquely “Whether I like it or not – this question is irrelevant”.  The metallic Voice is equally to the point, advising Eva to “sedate and restrain.” Cane. Later, Eva screams at Cane “Do not touch me!”, whilst he answers “I want to feel somebody”. When Cane hangs himself, he is still under the influence of Big Brother’s Voice “This is the rational solution” he tells himself. But the Voice can be soothing too, telling Eva “I will be with you, when you need me”. Eva is remorseless about Awan too: “She is dead, disposed off, we should not speak about the dead”. When Cane is “turning emotional”, Eva puts him in a contraption rasembling an electric chair. Which brings us to the production design that utterly fails to recreate an environment worthy of a species so superior. The set-up is not much more than an arcade playground, where coloured lights are in playful interaction.

Nick Gillespie and Billy J. Jackson try their best to inject appropriate atmosphere with their cinematographer, but only manage to create second-hand images – which –  like the narrative, are a regurgitation of everything that has gone before in this underrated genre: Fitzsimmons is not so much a victim of his mini-budget, but also his lack of creative imagination. AS

THE EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 23 JUNE – 3 JULY 2016

The Ninth Configuration (1979)

Director.: William Peter Blatty

Cast: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders

USA 1979 | Fantasy Drama | 117 min.

“I’ve been a lot of places but I think I’ve always known, that I’ll always come back to San Antone”: thus starts author turned filmmaker William Peter Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Mainly renowned for three novels turned into mainstream movies: Twinkle, twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane (filmed as The Ninth Configuration directed, written and produced by the author); The Exorcist, filmed under the same title by William Friedkin and ‘Legion’, directed for the screen by Blatty himself as Exorcist III. This strange and quirky horror drama, has some ‘laugh out loud’ moments and is so weird it’s certainly worth a watch as a cult outing of the most bizarre (it includes such choice lines as “far too numerous to enumerate”; “the Man in the Moon tried to fuck my sister” and “You wouldn’t know the Devil from Bette Davis”).

Situated in a Gothic castle in the Pacific North West of the USA (along the lines of the one in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers with the same kind of zany humour), Center 18, a Military Psychiatric Establishment, is run by Hudson Kane (Keach), who delivers his lines with deadpan nonchalence. He is tasked with to finding out if the inmates are simulating their illnesses or are truly insane. Capt. Cutshaw (a brilliantly perverse Scott Wilson) has adapted the whole works of Shakespeare for dogs (he has a Hungarian Vizsla), and Lt. Frankie Reno (Miller) is an astronaut, who is obsessed with the existence of God, asking Kane to show him a single act of self-sacrifice, to prove His existence. The medical office, Col. Richard Fell (Ed Flanders) finds out that Kane has murderous phantasies and declares him insane.

When a new inmate Gilman arrives, he points out that Hudson Kane is in fact the notorious Marine Killer Kane. Dr. Fell admits that he is Kane’s brother Hudson and that the killer, Vincent, has taken his personality to make up for his crimes, becoming a healer like his brother. All this was known to the authorities who treated Killer Kane like a laboratory rat in an experiment, leaving Dr. Fell in charge. Soon afterward Cutshaw escapes and in a fight with bikers Kane saves his life giving him the example of self-sacrifice and the proof of the existence of God.

Any film with lines like “You remind me of Vincent van Gogh – either that or a lark in wheat field” (Fell to Kane), is asking for a comparison to a Max Brothers comedy, but there are also strains of Blazing Saddles here. This impression is underlined by the long discussion between Cutshaw and Reno about Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Lynch’s Twin Peaks are also in the mix: Blatty directs as if he’s piecing together excerpts from the most outrageous films in history. His religious beliefs are no obstacle to him: he creates Hell on Earth, and gives the most unrewarding character a chance in order to show the astronaut a way to God.

British D0P Gerry Fisher (Highlander) is adept at mixing all genres in stunning images – while the ‘plot’ is more of a hindrance to the enjoyment of script; his is an “all or nothing” approach to filmmaking and the audience will either love it or hate it. A true Marmite film; in spirit and in humour. AS

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION IS OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD, DOWNLOAD AND ON DEMAND ON 25 APRIL 2016

Seconds (1966) | Dual Format release

19861908044_ec68b13227_mDirector: John Frankenheimer  Writer: John Carlino | David Ely (Novel)

Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer

106min | Sci-fi Drama | US

Seconds tick away in the hopelessly fragile, trivial life of an unhappy suburban middle-aged banker but when he agrees to an elaborate procedure that will fake his death and grant him a new life, there is naturally a price to pay. The title sequence alone to Sci-fi thriller SECONDS must have seemed highly original and unsettling at the time, with its eerie masks that were surely to influence Tobe Hooper in his Texas Chain Saw Massacre that was to follow eight years later. There is an febrile alienation to SECONDS’ opening scene where the camera tracks Arthur Hamilton’s sweating face as stares distractedly through the train window on his way home to Scarsdale station but when he arrives, his wife is there to meet him with her calming if rather formal banter about rose pruning and events of the previous evening. Later they are seen embracing in a way that acknowledges that strain and tedium has obliterated their physical relationship.

The third in John Frankenheimer’s unofficial “Paranoia Trilogy” after The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964), SECONDS (1966) is a subtle, unsettling ‘JG Ballardesque’ Sci-fi thriller that takes the paranoia-laden premise of the first two outings further to suggest that ultimately, the individual is his own worst enemy: or more explicitly: the ‘soul’ or ‘essential nature’ is an atavistic force that cannot be suppressed no matter how hard we try. So Nature will always triumph over Nurture.

After undergoing the procedure to become a “Second”, Hamilton turns into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) a younger, more vigorous (and let’s face it, a better looking) man who is given a new life as an artist in a hedonistic California beach community where he also has a butler (who sounds mysteriously like Joe Turkel in The Shining). But there’s something strange about this new neighbourhood and the reason is that all his local friends are also ‘seconds’. One of them, Nora Marcus (Salome Jens), has also left her unsatisfactory life (“I had a new house with a microwave oven”) until she left 4 years  to become a second.

Rock Hudson has hidden depths as Tony Wilson, a disappointed, tortured soul who doesn’t seem that delighted to have been reincarnated or to have met the exuberantly unhinged yet ravishingly attractive Nora, although after spending a day at a strange pagan-feeling wine festival during which ‘What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor’ is played in a minor key) the two become an item. But things take a sinister turn soon after when Tony’s mental state starts to unravel.

Celebrated cinematographer James Wong Howe’s camera angles, fragmented editing and Jerry Goldsmith’s sinister classical organ score is a enough to have you rushing to Harley Street for session on the couch with a…calming psychotherapist.

RELEASED ON DUAL FORMAT DVD BLU-RAY | 26 OCTOBER 2015 | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

The Nightmare (2015)

Director: Rodney Ascher

91min  US Documentary

After ‘weirding us out’ with Room 237 and ABCs of Death 2, Rodney Asher turns his documentary camera to the phenomenon of ‘sleep paralysis’ with THE NIGHTMARE. A word of caution: those who are salivating for enlightenment on the condition will find this foray deeply unsatisfying; veering between mild tedium and rampant hilarity, it fails both to terrify or to inform. Instead Ascher trawls through the twilight backwaters of the US and Manchester (all look the same) to provide an unedifying array of interviews with weirdos who bore on endlessly about their experiences with the debilitating nocturnal state.

It emerges that sleep paralysis occurs between wakefulness and deep sleep. Drawing examples from worldwide literary sources indicating that the condition has ancient mythological origins, Ascher suggests incubi and black cats are to blame, along with a shadowy figure of ‘the hatman’: a black silhouetted figure menacing the transfixed slumberer, who is also plagued by neurological symptoms of tingling, strange visions and ringing in the ears.

Ascher occasionally appears in the frame as he conducts these endless interviews in semi-darkness, using techniques of the kind seen in CSI Investigation (images of neurones buzzing etc), while actors replicate the ghastly experiences in various bedroom scenes. Jerky camerawork, unorthodox framing and jump cuts provide a sensation of otherwordliness ramped up by the characters themselves who are actually more scary than their dream characters: they range from the plain odd to highly strung and stressed individuals from troubled backgrounds. Jonathan Snipes provides an ambient soundtrack of buzzing and crackling. Sufferers seeking help from the medical profession have largely been greeted with scepticism, and suggestions that the condition may be contagious also appear to be unfounded: I slept soundly after the screening.

So Ascher’s film is inconclusive in its attempts to explain the phenomenon and, for the most past, THE NIGHTMARE fails to provide any real chills once we have become acclimatised to the shadowman images, which are repeated, ad nauseam. There are laugh out loud moments to be had from the sheer weirdness of the characters involved who become increasingly unbalanced as the film unspools. A missed opportunity, then, to shed light on a clearly debilitating condition. It appears that sleep paralysis is largely ‘mind over matter’ but those of a nervous disposition should probably give THE NIGHTMARE a wide berth: no pun intended. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS

 

Narcopolis (2015)

Dir.: Justin Trefgarne; Cast: Elliot Cowan, Robert Bathurst, Jonathan Pryce, Elodie Yung, James Caliss, Molly Gaisford, Cosima Shaw; UK 2014, 96 min.

NARCOPOLIS is a potent cocktail of Sci-fi and film noir and the feature debut of writer/director Justin Trefgarne who reminds us what cinema can really achieve. With a budget of around one million pounds, Trefgarne’s visionary approach is in stark contrast to many UK films which tend to be anaemic, ‘atmospheric’ studies lacking a narrative, or bland, TV-like unimaginative genre products.

Set in a dystopian London of 2024, burnt-out Detective Frank Grieves (Cowan) can hardly keep his family together, let alone fulfill his professional duties: in a society where drugs are free (and presumably safe), the police are consumers like everybody else. When Grieves finds a body with half its head missing and no recognisable DNA on the database, he stumbles into a mystery. His superior Nolan (Bathurst) pulls him off the case, but Grieves is stubborn and when he meets Eva Gray (Yung) who claims to be from the future, he starts to uncover a plot leading to Todd Ambro (Caliss), owner and CEO of the almighty drug company Ambro, who is controlling the police force and trying out an experimental drug aimed at dumbing down the population (surely this is the present?) . With the help of Sidorov (Pryce), an elderly scientist, Grieves must learn to time-travel: not only to save his son Ben, but the entire world in a show-down set in 2044.

Every scene in Narcopolis is stunning, Trefgarne pulls a powerful punch, even when sometimes less might have been more. DOP Christopher Moon has created a London that gleams and glitters on the outside but seethes in dankness where the action unfurls below.

A drug-riddled Grieves scuttles like a water rat running through a labyrinth, erratic and irrational. Everyone here has a function, Ambro’s wife Ellen (Shaw), a frosted beauty, who helps to represent her husband’s commercial façade of clipped respectability. In contrast, Grieves wife Angie (Gaisford), is harassed from the outset, pleading with her husband to leave the city for the sake of their son.

There are glaring plotholes: the time-travel mechanism is not very well explained, and Trefgarne quotes from classic noir and Sci-fi films are overdone – but the sheer brilliance of the images and a committed cast keep the audience engaged. logic only comes into play when the film does not convince (Hitchcock’s North by North West is simply barmy from a rational viewpoint), and Narcopolis’ low budget is in stark contrast to its high emotions and visionary images. Trefgarne might have put too much into Narcopolis, but that’s what first films are for. Recommended.

REVIEWED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL |

Self/less (2015)

Director: Tarsem Singh

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber

116min   Sci-fi thriller   UK

SELF/LESS imagines a future where brilliant minds can prolong their lives by re-incarnation using bodies grown in a laboratory. Or at least that’s what we’re led to believe in Tarsem Singh’s remake of John Frankenheimer’s vastly superior 1966 outing, SECONDS. Ben Kingsley is masterful as Damian Hale, a trumped up but simpatico Donald Trump-style mogul who lives in a gilded penthouse but is unable to vanquish cancer.

Under the auspices of a crisp-vowelled Matthew Goode, as psycho-scientist Professor Albright, Hale undergoes a risky procedure and is beamed up as Ryan Reynolds’ dishy dime a dozen denizen of middle America – a young Damian in a muscly new physique. Whisked away to New Orleans with a cache of pills to keep his new persona intact, he soon starts living the high-life in a chic townhouse in the French quarter where he beds young babes and mingles with the locals. So where’s the glitch? It soon transpires that his brand new body was donated to science by Mark, a man with a wife and daughter who needed expensive medical care. When the new Damian forgets to takes his pills, memories of this former life come flooding back.

So far so good, but when did Ryan Reynolds look anything like Ben Kingsley? Reynolds does his best as the new man – easy on the eye and appealing in a part that stretches the imagination to the limits, even if we suspend our disbelief – but this promising drama gradually morphs into a misguided mêlée of tedious punch-ups, car chases and shoot-outs as the new Damian attempts to extract truth from trickery. Why? Apart from an inept script (from Spanish brothers Alex and David Pastor), this Sci-fi conconction is impressively-mounted and rhythmically scored by Tarsem Singh who once made REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’. Here he demonstrates his inability to make a film that’s as engaging and intelligent as it is good-looking, despite a dynamite cast.

SELF/LESS loses its way after the first 40 minutes and takes another hour to reach a schematic finale. A decent idea gets lost somewhere in between. Like Damian Hale, sometimes the original is better than the re-make. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM JULY 17 2015

Dawn (Morgenroede) 2014 | Sci-fi Weekend 29 – 7 June 2015

Writer/Director: Anders Elsrud Hultgreen

Cast: Torstein Bjørklund, Ingar Helge Gimle

70min  Norway  Sci-fi Fantasy

Norwegian auteur Anders Elsrud Hultgreen found his way into filmmaking from a Fine Arts degree from Bergen University and brings this craftmanship to his feature debut DAWN, which he has directed, written and produced on a shoestring budget of £5000.

Set in an imagined future, DAWN is primarily a Sci-fi mood piece that developed from an intended short. With a two-handed cast, Hultgreen conjures up a strong sense of place in the rugged and desolate moonscape of Southern Iceland, where it was filmed and later selected for Reykjavik Film Festival and Bergen International Film Festival. The tale follows two survivors wandering vaguely in this hostile terrain, where a threadbare narrative focuses on their search for water, driven forward by a sinister and brooding tone that pervades the early scenes of ‘first light’ gradually becoming more doom-laden as the film draws to a slightly unsatisfactory finale in the full glare of high noon.

Nicolas Winding Refn’ Valhalla Rising comes to vaguely to mind as the younger of the two men, Rehab (Torstein Bjørklund) – and this is very much a tale of age versus youth – is pursued by an older man, Set (Ingar Helge Gimle), across the barren scenery. Bound by a daily ritual of drawing a circle in the sand and setting himself a frame between three silvery stones for prayer and protection, Rehab is completely shrouded from head to foot. In a nod to silent film, Bjørklund relies on the expressiveness in his eyes as the only indicator of his state of mind which ranges from fear to delirium. This is a slow-paced affair that occasionally drags, stretching the limits of its dramatic tension to near-breaking point, with no release from a pounding ambient score as the two search for aquatic Nirvana in the barren wilderness.

Landscape has always been a crucial feature of Norwegian films, and nowhere more so than in DAWN. Shot on the widescreen, Hultgreen has taken a wilderness and turned it into somewhere quite magical and alien with the help of titled angles, purple tinting, and inventive framing which has a pleasing sense of rhythm. For speakers of other languages, Norwegian has an ancient ring to it and these elements coalesce to create a sense of ‘otherworldliness’. The inclusion of a wrecked aircraft is the only thing that brings the piece into the context of the 20th century, slightly puncturing the mystical reverie. Clearly, Hultgreen has done his research and created an inventive piece of genuine Sci-fi with an impressively low budget, marking him out to be a  talent in the making. MT

DAWN SCREENED DURING SCI-FI WEEKEND AT THE BFI 29 MAY – 5 JUNE 2015

Cannes Film Festival| Projections for 2015 | 13 – 24 May 2015

In a months time the World’s most well-known film festival will once again be rolling out the Red Carpet and bringing you the latest in World cinema. Meredith Taylor speculates on this year’s programme hopefuls, ahead of Thierry Frémaux’s official unveiling in mid-April.

salt

Joel and Ethan Coen will Chair the Jury this year, so let’s start with American cinema. Todd Haynes’ glossy literary adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s novel Salt: CAROL (below) has been waiting in the wings since being a possible opener for last year’s VENICE Film Festival. Starring Cate Blanchett it is a glamorous choice for this year’s Palme D’Or. Terrence Malick made his entrance earlier this year at BERLIN with the divisive (amongst critics) drama Knight of Cups and it’s possible that his next film, a documentary on the creation of the Earth, VOYAGE OF TIME, will be ready to grace the Red Carpet this May. Narrated by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, this mammoth project is currently in post production. Cannes habitué Jeff Nichols also has a new film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a father and son Sci-Fi road movie starring Adam Driver and regular collaborator, Michael Shannon, who discovers his boy has special powers. For star quality, Cannes thrives on US stars, and who better to add glitz to the Red Carpet than George Clooney. He stars in Brad Bird’s  TOMORROWLAND, a Sci-Fi adventure that also has Hugh Laurie. Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES, a story of friendship between an American and a Japanese man (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) is another possible contender. William Monahan’s lastest, a thriller entitled MOJAVE, (Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac) could also bring some glamour to the Croisette. Natalie Portman’s will bring her Jerusalem set screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS to the Croisette. It is a drama featuring an Israeli cast including herself, as his on-screen daughter, Fania Oz.

imageMost of this year’s films will be come from Europe and Italy has some brand new offerings from their côterie of well-known directors. Nanni Moretti was last on the Croisette in 2011 with his comedy drama WE HAVE A POPE, this year he could return with another drama co-written with Francesco Piccolo, MIA MADRE, in which he also stars alongside the wonderful Margherita Buy (Il Caimano) and John Turturro. There is Matteo Garrone’s long-awaited THE TALE OF TALES, adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th Century work and featuring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek in the leads. Another literary adaptation from Italy, WONDERFUL BOCCACCIO, is a drama based on The Decameron: the tales of ten young people who escape to the hills during an outbreak of Plague in 14th century Italy. A stellar cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts appear in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, A BIGGER SPLASH, a thriller that unravels in Italy – when an American woman (Tilda Swinton) invites a former lover to share her villa with onscreen husband Ralph Fiennes, sparks fly, particularly as Matthias Schoenaerts is the love interest.  After Cannes success with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino could be back with YOUTH (La Giovenezza), a drama of trans-generational friendship that takes place in the Italian Alps with a starry cast of Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. Definite Red Carpet material. And Marco Bellocchio could well be chosen for his latest historical drama L’ULTIMO VAMPIRO which stars Italian actress of the moment, Alba Rohrwacher – recently in Berlinale with Vergine Giurata.

The Scandinavians could well be on board with Joachim Trier’s first anglophone outing LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a wartime drama in which Isabelle Huppert plays a photographer. Tobias Lindholm’s follow up to the nail-bitingly  rigorous A Highjacking, is A WAR. It has Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek as soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, with echoes of Susanne Bier’s war-themed drama Brothers. Russian maverick Aleksandr Sokurov could present LE LOUVRE SOUS L’OCCUPATION, the third part of his quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001) and filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the Parisian museum. And Greeks could bear gifts in the shape of THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian love story set in the near future and forecasting a grim future for coupledom, with Léa Seydoux, and Colin Farrell. There’s also much excitement about the long-awaited follow up Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, with his 1001 NIGHTS, a re-working of the legendary Arabian tale; certainly destined for the auteurish “Un Certain Régard” sidebar together with Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski’s Sintra-set COSMOS, a literary adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’ novel and starring Sabine Azéma (the former partner of Alain Resnais).

macbeth-Further afield, it’s unlikely that Taiwanese fillmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien THE ASSASSIN will be ready to grace the ‘Montée des Marches’ but from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s drama fantasy, CEMETERY OF KINGS, could well make it. Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is in post production. The Japanese director is best known for award-winners, Tokyo Sonata and The Cure. Many will remember Australian director Justin Kurzel’s incendiary thriller debut SNOWTOWN, and his recent drama THE TURNING that is now on general release. His latest outing MACBETH (right) featured strongly in the Film Market at Cannes last year, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, so it could well enter the fray. For star quality and sheer impact MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (below) will make a blast onto the Riviera. Starring Britons Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult and the lovely Charlize Theron, the fourth in George Millar’s action thriller series could will certainly set the night on fire, in more ways than one.

 

SUNSET-SONG-premieres-images-du-nouveau-Terence-Davies-avec-Agyness-Deyn-47013From England there is Donmar Warehouse director, Michael Grandage’s GENIUS, a biopic of the book editor Max Perkins, who oversaw the works of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F Scott Fitzgerald. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law all take part. Asif Kapadia has two films currently in production: ALI AND NINO starring Danish actress, Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin, and adapted for the screen by scripter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a book by Kurban Said. But his anticipated biopic on the life of Amy Winehouse UNTITLED AMY WINEHOUSE DOCUMENTARY is sadly not quite ready for screening. Other British titles could include Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a Sci-Fi drama based on J G Ballard’s eponymous novel centred on the residents of a tower block and starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Millar and Jeremy Irons. Veteran director Terence Davies could also be back in Cannes representing Britain. In 1988, he won the FIPRESCI Prize for his autobiographical drama Distant Voices, Still Lives. His recent work SUNSET SONG, (above left) is a historical drama based on the book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and stars Agyness Deyn (Electricity) and Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur).

 

Cannes PicAnd last but not least, the French have plenty to offer for their legendary ‘tapis rouge’. Cannes regular Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who escapes to France and ends up working as a caretaker, Gaspar Noé’s first film in English, a sexual melodrama, in which he also stars, LOVE, is ready for the competition line-up. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s BELLES FAMILLES is the latest vehicle for Mathieu Amalric to showcase his talents. After his stint at directing made the Un Certain Régard strand in the shape of Blue Room, he appeared in the recent English TV serial ‘Wolf Hall’. Here he plays a man who is sucked back into his past while visiting his family in Paris. Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) and veterans André Dussollier and Nicole Garcia also star. And what would Cannes be without Philippe Garrel’s usual contribution. This year it will be L’OMBRE DES FEMMES, a drama co-written with his partner, Caroline Deruas. Palme D’Or Winner 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche, latest film, LA BLESSURE, starring Gérard Depardieu, it not quite ready to be unwrapped. But the well-known star may well appear on the Croisette with THE VALLEY OF LOVE, Guillaume Nicloux’s California-set saga which also stars the luminous Cannes regular Isabelle Huppert, never one to shirk the Red Carpet. I’ll be bringing more possibilities as the filming year takes shape, so watch this space. MT.

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FRM 13 MAY UNTIL 25 MAY 2015

 

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Joe Turkel, M Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah

117mins  Fantasy Sci-Fi   US

BLADE RUNNER was considered so ‘out there’ when it originally ignited our screens back in 1982. Now, like that Thierry Mugler eighties suit, it feels dated despite its iconic status as a piece of finely-crafted history. Ridley Scott’s finely detailed Sci-Fi outing looks very ‘Now-Fi’ as his definitive ‘director’s cut’ takes to our screens, gleaming back at us with its bleak and cold-eyed vision. The replicants of yesteryear feel like the call centres operatives of today, minus their superhuman strength: they are ‘people’ who appear to be real but fail to engage on any level making us feel every sympathy for Harrison Ford’s character as he fumbles around in the new age darkness trying to make sense of things.

Based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, BLADE RUNNER is set in Los Angeles, but filmed at Burbank Studios – a HongKong shoot proving too expensive. It follows a detective called Rick Deckard who is brilliantly played by a permanently perplexed Harrison Ford. His sweat-soaked brow be-knitted with angst, he is tasked with tracking down ‘androids’ or replicants, as they are re-badged in Scott’s fantasy thriller. With all the semblance of flesh and blood humans, apart from their ‘shining’ eyes – created using a technique (the Schüfftan Process) that had actually been invented by Fritz Lang – they are robots from outer-space colonies where they have been investigating alternative living quarters for our over-crowded Earthbound population.

Rutger Hauer gives his ‘one hit wonder’ performance as a startlingly appealing yet lethally dangerous android, Roy Batty, with his now-iconic line “All those moments will be lost in time…like tears in the rain”. Daryl Hannah plays a female she-devil android whose initial cutesy mannequin charm turns deadly as she unravels in the final scenes and there is another memorable turn from Joe Turkel (as Dr Eldon Tyrell), the infamous barman from The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel. But the standout here is Sean Young as Rachael. Her spiky vulnerability and shimmering red lips are a legend in their own lunchtime and test Deckard’s male instincts to the limit. The final cut abandons the pseudo happy ending of the original version, opting instead for an unsettling unspooling of gradual dehumanisation. How prescient Scott’s vision turned out to be. MT

BLADE RUNNER: FINAL CUT IS IN CINEMAS FROM 3 APRIL.

HARRISON FORD WILL RETURN TO STAR IN A SEQUEL BY DENIS VILLENEUVE.

The Signal (2015)

Director: William Eubank

Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne, Lin Shaye

97min  US  Sci-Fi Thriller

Deep in the countryside, three ramblers cross paths with a strange and unworldly encounter in William Eubank’s slick indie that starts as an compelling weird Sci-FI mystery thriller but gradually joins the highway to mainstream city, veering off the path of arthouse intrigue.

Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp) are MIT students who seem to be involved in a computer virus dispute with someone called Nomad. When Nic agrees to take his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) back to University across country, Jonah goes to share the driving because Nic seems to be on crutches. On their way they pick up intelligence that may lead them to Nomad’s whereabouts. Against their better judgement, they take a detour into the desert.

This takes them through some glorious widescreen visuals and a retro vibe as we cruise zen-like along in the fields  of big mountain country, enjoying David Lanzenberg’s gorgeous cinematography until arriving at nightfall at an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. And this is where proceedings go pear-shaped as the mood becomes edgy and sinister. Haley is abducted by an alien-like being before and they all space out and loses control. Nic gradually comes to his senses in a space-age hospital staffed by men in white overalls. He can’t feel his legs.

The doctor in charge of Nic is Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). Apparently Nic and his friends came across an “extraterrestrial biological entity,” and it is vital for Nic to remain within the confines of the hospital for his own safety. But Nic, in a performance of palpable paranoia (by Thwaites), is not convinced and desperately tries to escape the sinister surroundings and endless white corridors and weird doctors. In vain. Then after an eerie dreamlike sequence of events where he is unable to move and is pursued by a very spooky-looking Fishburne as the doctor, Nic takes charge and breaks away from the hospital along a series of narrow tunnels and finally to freedom. But his troubles are far from over. Despite a delightfully off the wall turn from Lin Shaye as a religious nutter, this Sci-fi mystery fails to deliver the satisfying denouement that we’re hoping for as our interest gradually wanes in the last half hour. It’s watchable and wacky all the same and Nima Fakhrara’s ethereal soundtrack lends a surreal atmosphere.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015 | DVD FROM 13 APRIL 2015

 

 

Coherence (2013)

Dir.: James Ward Byrkit

Cast: Emily Baldoni (as Emily Foxler), Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria

USA 2013, 89 min.

Shot on a micro-budget with handheld video cameras in the living room of first time writer/director James Ward Byrkit, this would-be “Twilight Zone” product is proof that nothing can replace talent.

Somewhere in North California, eight friends are meeting in a suburban house for a dinner party on the night a comet is in a unique constellation while passing The Earth. Fifteen minutes pass with nothing but small talk until Em (Baldoni) tells us a creepy story about the last time a comet appeared in this constellation in 1923. The lights fail and some of the group sets out to a neighbouring house, the only one left with electricity. Looking trough the windows from the outside, they see their own group dining in the stranger’s house. From then on the the story shifts into paranoia: personal and scientific. The “quantum de-coherence theory” is ‘explained’, but marital tensions interfere in the process of solving the mystery. Em, a ballet dancer who has suffered a professional setback, and her partner Kevin (Sterling) are somehow forced into the spotlight; their relationship is not helped by Kevins’s ex-girlfriend Laurie, who snogs Kevin. Not surprisingly, it is Em, who tracks down her double for a violent confrontation.

The clues are overwhelming but lead to nothing: photos of the eight, with numbers attached are found in the strange house, and their cars are attacked by strangers, glass shattered. Long lost objects are found and disappear again, and the camera tries to evoke a claustrophobic feeling, which never really materialises. Worst of all, the constant babble of conversation ruins any sense of developing fear since the protagonists are constantly analysing proceedings, any frightful occurrence is discussed and dissected in a lengthy group discussion, robbing the piece of any dramatic tension or mystery. The confrontations seem to be staged and, apart from Em, the characters are one-dimensional and to be pedestrian. COHERENCE is anything but the title suggests: a banal, overly wordy and utterly unchilling amateur production. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Days of Fear and Wonder

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 46 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position.

Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are very topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) blu-ray

Dir: Don Siegel  | Wri: Daniel Mainwaring | Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter | 90min  Sci-Fi/Thriller  US

Don Siegel’s sci-fi noir, based on Jack Finney’s novel, is one of the best screen metaphors for collective paranoia in fifties America, and possibly the most glamorous and well-dressed. Shot in pristine black and white, it showcases the creeping undercurrents of fear that permeated the anti-McCarthy era from a melodramatic opening sequence right through to a stunning denouement. Further adaptations followed on, from Philip Kaufman (1978), Abel Ferrara (1993) and Hirschbiegel & McTeigue (2007) but none match the edgy exhilaration of Siegel’s elegant outing.

Dr Miles Bennell investigates alien duplicates that surface to replace their real-life owners in the starchy, middle-class town of Santa Mera, California. The aliens are almost attractive in their surreal perfection, making them seem eerie rather than horrific, and their mysterious arrival feels otherworldly and serene, giving INVASION an unnerving and strangely magical feel. Well-paced and gripping, Siegel’s thriller also serves as a tender love story between Dr Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) who conform to the traditional macho male and submissive female roles consistent with the era.

An atmosphere of disorientation and fear pervades this cosy bourgeois corner as a gradual dehumanisation creeps into the ordered lives of a trusting close-knit community that gradually morphs into a climate of downright hostility and alienation. The “pod people” look and act the same, but progressively lose their emotional engagement. Crime novelist, Daniel Mainwaring, cleverly scripts the piece to reflect these subtle mood changes from slight cognitive dissonance through to full blown paranoia. Carmen Dragon’s moody score primps moments of romance with shrill melodrama to fabulous effect. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS not only reflects the socio-political zeitgeist of the era, it is a story that feels evermore timely in the middle America of today: When Dr Miles Bennell pleads with the police he could so easily be speaking to audiences here and now. MT.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – first UK Blu-ray release, out for Halloween on 25 October

 

Lucy (2014)

image003 copyWriter/Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt

89min  Fantasy Sci-Fi

One of the pivotal figures of the ‘Cinema du Look’ movement, giving his films a highly visual style, LUC BESSON is also fascinated by the human brain; so much so that he has funded research on the subject and made it the focus of his latest fantasy sci-fi LUCY.

It stars Scarlett Johansson as a woman who gains access to 100 percent of her brain’s potential (instead of the average mythical 10 percent) after being forced by to ingest a massive quantity of the naturally occurring human hormone CPH4 (produced by women during pregnancy). Don’t worry: LUCY doesn’t require any deep probing of your grey matter. Just sit back and enjoy a roller coaster ride and Johnsson’s dynamite performance as a velvet-voiced virago cutting a no-nonsense swathe through the all-male cast of baddies. As a plus point, her intellectual superiority has the vicarious effect of making women everywhere feel they too, for once, could rule the World.

Lucy’s story is quite simple: while trying to fit an early night and some studying in around her dodgy new boyfriend (a smarmy Julian Rhind-Tutt), she ends up as an unwilling drug-mule for gang-leader Jang (Choi Min-sik) when a bag of blue crystals (CPH4) is implanted in her stomach wall, after an impromptu ‘kidnap’. After a dust-up with Jang’s nasty security guards, CSI-style CGI footage kicks in to reveal the drugs entering her system, activating her brain cells to Einstein levels and beyond.

As luck would have it, Morgan Freeman happens to be lecturing over in Paris on the very subject of ‘brain access’. As visiting professor, Samuel Norman, Besson taps into his knowledge, illustrating the endless possibilities of Lucy’s enhanced human status and how ‘homo sapiens’ is linked to the Animal Kingdom – all illustrated in a glorious technicolor-style nature sequence.  Lucy’s transformation from frightened student to powerful superwoman is impressive. She painlessly removes a bullet from her shoulder while scoffing a pile of sandwiches and struts into a local hospital, demanding that the bag be removed from her body, while telephoning her mother to describe the minutiae of events and emotions leading back to her birth. The effects of the drugs are increasingly transformative as Lucy’s physical movements and facial expressions reflect her bionic physicality and intellectual superiority. This is Johansson at the top of her game developing her skills not just a human actor but as a seriously impressive being without the assistance of make-up or special effects.

Even if your lip curls at the thought of sci-fi or CGI-enhanced visuals, Besson’s LUCY is a fun-filled joy ride with some worthwhile elements although it all gets rather silly in the end. Despite becoming less emotional and more analytical after absorbing the drug, Besson avoids transforming his heroine into the distant, psychopathic alien from Under The Skin: this is an upbeat and strangely empowering piece of filmmaking; and will have particular appeal for female audiences.  Using her new-found powers, Lucy sets out to assist the police in rounding up batches of the drug, involving an enthralling car chase where she skilfully drives against oncoming traffic with a French detective Del Rio (Amr Waked) who asks her, desperately, if she normally adopts this strategy on the road : “I’ve never driven before”, is her candid response. So despite a rather over-excited denouement where Lucy’s capabilities involve time travel, as she wizzes ‘God-like’ backs through the centuries, waving the Taiwanese drug fiends away and locking them behind imaginary glass barriers. There’s an altruistic outcome for her drug-fuelled frenzy: eventually she finds a way of downloading her extensive knowledge and passing is on to future generations.  The future’s bright – the future’s LUCY. MT

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LUCY IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 AUGUST 2014

 

Snowpiercer (2013) Coming soon….

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Producer Park Chan-wook

Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton and comic author Jean-Marc Rochette

South Korea

When Bong Joon Ho first opened Jean-Marc Rochette’s comic “Snowpiercer” in a Seoul bookshop, he supposedly devoured all three volumes on the spot. Eight years later, the French comic has been made into the most lavish Korean film of all time. Seolguk-yeolcha (Snowpiercer) describes an impending ice age caused by human hand, whose last survivors are left circling the earth in a non-stop express train. The rich are in the front carriages and the poor ¬– from whose perspective the story is told – at the back.

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