In the Shadow of the Moon (2019): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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Three unexplained, identical murders in the city of Philadelphia will make a police officer devote his life to finding the mysterious serial killer behind them.

It piqued my interest from the opening scene. By the end of ‘1988’ – a very well structured and powerful first act –  it already had my undivided attention. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about the plot. If you know nothing, keep it that way. In the Shadow of the Moon is a must for sci-fi, mystery, and crime lovers as well as lovers of intricate, non-linear narrative that needs exploring and thought aplenty past the end credits.

I will say that one thing that bothered me though without going into details and spoiling it for you. I can’t remember last time I watched a film… having such a convoluted, mind-bending narrative… keeping a great pace up to the revelation of a brilliant twist… and delivering it in such an anticlimactic way… Shame…

I will conclude by applauding all thespians believing in the project, giving such amazing performances.

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Brightburn (2019): Horror / Sci-Fi

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A young couple who struggles to have a child adopts an alien boy who crash-lands on their farm and proves to be anything but a blessing in disguise.

I’m gonna give it a shot in the dark here. I will speculate within reason but I couldn’t think of it any other way. The film’s origin is common knowledge: DC’s Injustice timeline. DC belongs to Warner Bros. The question that arises is how was Brightburn able to get made without getting a colossal lawsuit from Warner Bros? Here’s where my speculation comes into play. James Gunn asked to produce it only after he signed for The Suicide Squad (2021) – Warner Bros/DC. Which was after he was fired from Disney (and before he was hired back). Warner had no plans for that timeline, they gave it up disguised as an independent project to Sony, there will be no prequel nor sequel, and everyone will be talking about the ending.

Keeping that in mind, the film is brilliant. It cost approximately $6,000,000, it made $32,893,421, and David Yarovesky and the Gunns gave birth to a child that will never grow up to… (watch it to find out). Brightburn is a horror/sci-fi and the haters/doubters should understand that the project has never had a future; neither dark nor bright – pun intended. For both genre fans, the film is a must! Well acted, well directed and edited, and great visuals. Enjoy the gore!

 

I Am Mother (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

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Years after the extinction of mankind, a girl, born in an underground facility and raised by an android she calls “Mother”, discovers one day that the outside world is not what she was taught it was.

Very interesting feature directorial debut from Grant Sputore. I Am Mother is a small budget, one-location sci-fi that definitely worths your time. Many questions are raised with some of them answered and, purposefully, some of them not. Read between the lines. Information is carefully revealed and spread throughout the three acts, and that is what paces the story brilliantly.

Excellent performances by Clara Rugaard and Hilary Swank. A huge congratulations to Rose Byrne for providing her voice for Mother but also Weta Workshop for creating her. Last but not least, kudos to all producers and Netflix who spent every penny wisely, proving (once more) that low budget films have as much or more to offer than Hollywood mega-budget blockbusters.

Hint: Who is the woman that inexplicably shows up knocking…

Captive State (2019): Sci-Fi / Thriller

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Nine years after alien forces invaded and colonised Earth, an underground movement, stealthily, plans an attack to fight back.

This is not “cinema of attractions”. No “Independence Day” (1996) effects with marching songs while shouting “we will fight” narrative. “Captive State” focuses on the world’s political and socio-economic state after the extra-terrestrials’ colonisation, leaving out the early terraforming practices. As stated next to the title, it is a sci-fi/thriller and not an action film. Political-espionage case scenarios resembling Europe just before WWII cannot be avoided.

The acting is solid and so is the photography and directing. If you asked me what I think it lacks the most I would say emotional investment. I felt hard to engage as the main characters are underdeveloped. Also, the masterplan gets too complicated on occasion even though it offers the desired twist. I guess the script could have gone through maybe a couple of more rewrites.

A perfect example of a groundbreaking sci-fi/thriller came only ten years before “Captive State” and it is none other than “District 9” (2009) – Neill Blomkamp’s finest film to date.

Bumblebee (2018): Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

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With Cybertron at war, Optimus Prime sends B-127 (Bumblebee) to Earth to establish a base for the Autobots and protect the planet.

Prequel to “Transformers” (2007), Travis Knight’s first live-action film “Bumblebee” takes a more classic look of the original cartoon series. The opening sequence reminded me of my childhood years but my nostalgia faded away upon Bee’s arrival on Earth. Memories were temporarily restored half-way watching again the tunnel from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) and “Back to the Future II” (1989).

Stereotypical American bimbos meant to be hated, stereotypical American jerks no one could care less about, stereotypically American army being thick as pigshit, and main characters that I would love if it was actually 1987 and I was 5. Did I mention that the storyline was so predictable?

To be fair, Bumblebee’s final battle against Shatter and Dropkick was quite impressive.

 

P.S. OK, it was funny when “Bee” ruined blondie’s car.

P.P.S. Steve Jablonsky where are you???

Serenity (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A struggling fisherman, obsessed with catching a particular fish, finds a new purpose when a mysterious woman suddenly shows up in his little island.

Difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. Acting and cinematography are “Serenity’s” strong suits. Directing and editing do their best to reveal the right information at the right time, keep the suspension at the highest level, and the viewer constantly engaged. Does it work? Not for the majority of it. Why?

I have the suspicion that by reading the script, the film’s good intentions would be revealed. On screen, this is not the case. The story itself is all over the place and that heavily affects character development. The film is definitely not as bad as some claim it is but with A-list cast and crew certainly one would expect more.

As with any other film, watch it and shape your own opinion. You might like it, you might not. At least, you’ll know the reason(s) why.

Upgrade (2018): Action / Sci-fi / Thriller

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In a world that technology controls every aspect of life, a technophobe not only finally embraces it but also upgrades himself to solve his wife’s murder.

Producer/Writer/Director Leigh Whannell, who penned the script for “Saw” (2004), and Blumhouse Productions bring to life an action/thriller that mustn’t go unnoticed. Logan Marshall-Green gets into the role and does a brilliant job as an ordinary man who’s going through… an upgrade and comes out extraordinary.

Visual effects that help the story move forward and the story itself easily avoids cliches and gimmicks. A highly recommended, low-budget sci-fi set in an ostensibly utopian future but with a lot more realism than meets the eye.

Contact (1997): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A scientist who has devoted her life to discovering extraterrestrial life form not only has her breakthrough but also uncovers a secret message.

Carl Sagan:  “The astronomer of the people”. Astrophysicist, author, researcher, and controversial figure regarding his scientific, political, and religious views.

Robert Zemeckis: The enormously talented director of films such as the “Back to the Future” franchise, Forrest Gump (1994), and “Cast Away” (2000).

Two and a half hours of lessons about life… on this planet or the next. And Carl Sagan was there since day one to make sure that everyone got the science right. And that everyone got a glimpse of what he “saw”. Of what he envisioned. Unfortunately, halfway there, cancer beat him and left his last breath. He was 62.

Fortunately, his adaptation, his vision, was left in the brilliant hands of Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis grasped Sagan’s concept of the “Encyclopaedia Galactica” which is based on the science fiction novel “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and delivered a heartfelt drama about a girl who turned into a woman with the brightest of minds and who wouldn’t stop until she discovered the truth.

The truth that science should be seeking. And not at the expense of people. The same truth that faith in something higher than ourselves should be doing. And again, not at the expense of people. “Contact” is a sci-fi/drama that doesn’t patronise, exploit, manipulate or try to impress with fake, non-coherent, uneducated scientific jargon. It takes its time to find a middle ground between science and religion and make it about not who is right and who isn’t but about respecting the fellow human being who just happens to have a different view of the “cosmos” than ourselves.

It is amazing how the real-life discovery of an arctic meteorite from Mars coincided with the film’s shooting and how Zemeckis grasped the opportunity and adapted Bill Clinton’s actual interview which looks like it is custom-tailored to the film’s discovery. Luck and talent are beyond understanding here.

Lastly, I find it really interesting how in a film that is primarily sci-fi, having so much to offer to our way of thinking, the best shot (my opinion anyway) is a young Ellie running up the stairs, after having found her dad lying on the floor, to get his medicine.

“Contact”… One of the best political, social, humane science fiction you will ever get to watch.

The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018): Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi

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An aged American war veteran is sent to the Canadian wilderness to kill… the Bigfoot.

I had no idea this film existed until I came across the title. And then I said… “Damn! Now I have to know how Hitler and Bigfoot co-exist in the same sentence”. I’ll tell you this, ostensibly, the film makes no sense whatsoever and one would think that writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski smokes way too much. But this is not the case!

This is purely my interpretation of what the film is about so, feel free to have your own should you decide to watch it. An old man who once achieved so much and a nation owes him is left with nothing but his dignity and loneliness in a world he does not understand anymore and no one to share it with. And when he is just about to bite the bullet, the government knocks on his door to assign him with an unfathomable mission, and the opportunity to once more save the world.

Did I say too much? Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin Barr respectively and Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine deliver subtle yet powerful performances making this film with the confusing title an existential drama on the painful feelings of loss and regret. So, what is the rest all about? That’s up to you to figure out.

P.S. The last flashback scene is heartbreaking…

Prospect (2018): Drama / Sci-fi / Thriller

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Father and daughter land on a planet’s remote, exotic moon to harvest precious gems and get rich but between merciless people and dangerous forest dwellers, escaping becomes the ultimate goal.

Directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl shoot the feature version of their homonymous short, on a $3.9m budget. And the result pays off. Well directed, well paced and well acted, “Prospect” invests in a claustrophobic opening sequence and amazing shots from space. While on the ground, intentionally or unintentionally, the film can be pitched or could have been pitched or maybe it was as “Mad Max in an alien moon”.

Films like “Prospect” make me more optimistic. It is an indie, low budget sci-fi that pays respect to the genre and the art of cinema with cast and crew fully supporting and believing in it. And so did the fans who applauded its minimalism at the festivals and didn’t care if props and costumes were handmade by, among others, cosplayers!

Inspirational! Well done!