Review: ‘Reminiscence’ (2021), starring Hugh Jackman

September 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rebecca Ferguson and Hugh Jackman in “Reminiscence” (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Reminiscence” (2021)

Directed by Lisa Joy

Culture Representation: Taking place in Miami and New Orleans, the sci-fi dramatic film “Reminiscence” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos and one Māori person) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A private investigator, who is in the business of helping people recover memories, becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to a former client/lover who suddenly disappeared. 

Culture Audience: “Reminiscence” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Hugh Jackman, but even he can’t save this boring sci-fi drivel.

Cliff Curtis and Daniel Wu in “Reminiscence” (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The sci-fi drama “Reminiscence” features several people submerged in a water tank as they recover or relive their memories. Ironically, this ill-conceived movie is utterly forgettable, as it submerges viewers in a story that’s both convoluted and predictable. Hugh Jackman’s charisma as a leading man is stifled as he plays a grim private detective who is obsessed with finding an ex-lover who suddenly vanished from his life.

Adding to this film’s muddled tone, “Reminiscence” (written and directed by Lisa Joy, in her feature-film directorial debut) can’t decide if it wants to be a futuristic adventure or a tribute to classic noir. The movie looks like it wants to be an action thriller, but there’s more mopey drama than action. The fight scenes are extremely formulaic and almost mind-numbing.

Mostly, the pace drags in this jumbled story where bitter people sulk and get angry because they think their lives have gone downhill in some way. Almost every character in this film dosn’t have a memorable personality. Good luck to anyone who tries to stay awake during this 116-minute snoozefest.

“Reminiscence” takes place in Miami, in an unidentified future year when climate change has caused unbearable heat outside during the day, and Miami is close to being swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the extreme daytime heat from the sun, Miami and the surrounding areas in Florida have become more nocturnal than ever before.

But apparently, in this futuristic version of Miami, no one wants good lighting, because it’s constantly dark indoors. The darkly lit cinematography is “Reminiscence” is supposed to evoke a society that’s on the brink of an environmental disaster. The only disaster going in is how this awful movie wastes the talents of the cast members.

It’s in this darkly lit and depressing Miami where private investigator Nick Bannister (played by Jackman) lives and works. Nick is a never-married bachelor with no children. He owns a detective agency that’s small (only two employees, including Nick) and struggling to stay in business. Nick’s specialty at the detective agency is helping people recover their memories. The agency’s work space (which looks more like an abandoned warehouse than an office) is predictably dark, cluttered and dingy in this dark, cluttered and dingy movie.

For this memory recovery process, Nick has a massive water tank that’s not widely available, and he doesn’t want too many people to know that he has this tank. Therefore, he doesn’t advertise and gets most of his business through word of mouth. The tank was originally designed to interrogate people who were detained by the U.S. military. Nick is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he worked in border patrol. It’s implied that he got access to this tank through his military service.

In order to a use this memory tank, a person must first be injected with a sedative, then submerged in the tank, where a special helmet must be worn that can connect to brain electrodes. When someone is reliving a memory, it’s depicted as being a participant in a virtual reality experience. Memories while in the tank can also take the form of looking like holograms.

It’s possible for someone to stay in the tank for long periods of time and have a state of being that’s very similar to someone in a coma. Nick has found that his regular clients have become addicted to accessing happy memories. Watts is more concerned than Nick is about people getting addicted to using the memory tank. Nick thinks Watts has no place being judgmental about addiction, considering her alcohol addiction that she doesn’t seem too concerned about stopping.

All of this sounds like the basis for a good story. However, “Reminiscence” becomes very disjointed and often illogical. Viewers will get the impression that “Reminiscence” writer/director Joy came up with separate ideas for this movie and then tried to make them all fit into the overall narrative. The result is like looking at a jigsaw puzzle where too many of the pieces obviously don’t belong.

During his time in the military, Nick injured one of his legs, so he walks with a limp. This limp magically seems to disappear during some of the action scenes. A better director would’ve noticed this discrepancy and corrected it. Nick’s only employee is a cynical alcoholic named Emily “Watts” Sanders (played by Thandie Newton), who is also a military veteran. Even though Watts is an alcoholic, she’s more responsible and more business-minded than Nick is.

In the movie’s first scene with Nick and Watts together, she abruptly scolds him for being late. Nick says in response that being late is a construct of linear [time], which is a concept that he doesn’t think applies to the work of this detective agency. Watts snaps back sarcastically, “And yet, we charge by the hour.”

One day, right before they close the agency for the night, a mysterious woman suddenly arrives and says she needs their help to find her missing keys. Watts tries to tell her to come back during open business hours, but Nick is immediately attracted to the woman and tells her that they can accommodate her request.

She introduces herself as Mae (played by Rebecca Ferguson), and she says that she’s a cabaret nightclub singer. She’s wearing the type of slinky red evening gown that looks like she just left a nightclub or she raided the closet of animation seductress character Jessica Rabbit from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Mae’s sensual nightclub singing scenes and how she’s styled for them look very much like they were inspired by Jessica Rabbit.

At the detective agency during Mae’s sudden appearance, Watts offers Mae a swimsuit, because it’s what people usually wear inside the water tank. But to the surprise of Nick and Watts, this woman they just met has no qualms about stripping completely naked in front of them before she gets in the tank. Mae confidently tells Nick that he’s going to see her naked anyway. And she’s right. At least this movie doesn’t try to play coy about Mae and Nick inevitably becoming romantically involved.

With the help of the memory tank, Mae finds out where she left her keys. But since she essentially told Nick that she wants to get to know him intimately, he’s not going to just let her walk out of his life. He shows up at one of her nightclub gigs to see her perform, he asks her out on a date, and they end up having a hot and heavy romance.

Meanwhile, Nick makes extra money by assisting the Miami district attorney Avery Castillo (played by Natalie Martinez) in getting information from witnesses. Avery is currently involved in a high-profile case where a wealthy land baron named Walter Sylvan (played by Brett Cullen) has been accused of masterminding arson of some of his property, in order for him to collect on hefty fire insurance payouts. Walter has pleaded not guilty. His wife Tamara Sylvan (played by Marina de Tavira) and his young adult son Sebastian Sylvan (played by Mojean Aria) loyally stand by him and are unwavering in their support.

Another member of law enforcement whom Nick is in close contact with is Miami police officer Cyrus Boothe (played by Cliff Curtis), who seems to be on a power trip where he has a lot of disdain for disenfranchised people. In a city that’s on the verge of an apocalypse, Cyrus wants to wield as much power as he can. It should come as no surprise what he’s willing to do to fulfill his ambitions.

And a movie about a private detective and law enforcement in Miami predictably has a storyline about drug dealers too. In “Reminiscence,” the world is plagued by the abuse of an illegal opioid-like drug called baca. One of the top distributors/sellers of baca is a drug lord called Saint Joe (played by Daniel Wu), who is a stereotypical drug lord in a movie. Unfortunately, Wu’s stiff acting doesn’t make him look convincing as a dangerous drug lord. It just makes him look like an actor who needs more acting lessons.

After getting involved with Mae and thinking that their romance could turn into a long-term commitment, Nick is shocked to find out that Mae has suddenly moved away without telling anyone where she went. Upon investigation, Nick discovers that Mae was not kidnapped but left on her own free will. This discovery sends him down a rabbit hole of obsession to find out where Mae is.

Nick’s investigation eventually leads him to New Orleans, where he finds clues about a mysterious and vulnerable woman named Elsa Carine (played by Angela Sarafyan), who has a pivotal connection to someone in the story. There’s also a do-gooder named Frances (played by Barbara Bonilla), who lives in a house on stilts in the Atlantic Ocean. As Nick tries to solve the mystery of Mae’s apparently deliberate disappearance, he becomes addicted to using the memory tank to bask in his happy memories of her. His addiction gets in the way of his detective agency’s business and prevents Nick from being present in the real world.

Because Nick spends so much time in the memory tank, expect to see many flashbacks to the good times that he had with Mae. It’s his way of trying to remember any possible clues or hints of Mae’s disappearance. However, because Mae’s abrupt disappearance has deeply hurt Nick, Watts knows there’s more to Nick’s fixation on remembering Mae than trying to gather clues. He’s using his addiction to being in the memory tank as a way to avoid his emotional pain, just like the clients who are also addicted to using the memory tank.

“Reminiscence” has a very superficial way of dealing with these psychological issues. Instead, the movie seems more fascinated with having dream-like visual effects (which are good, but not outstanding) and showing recurring images of people being immersed in water in some way. “Reminiscence” writer/director Joy is one of the showrunners of the HBO sci-fi series “Westworld” (Newton is an Emmy-winning “Westworld” co-star), and Joy seems to have struggled to find a way to make the story she probably had mind into a two-hour movie. It’s why “Reminiscence” tries to cram in too much in the last third of the movie, while the middle of the movie is a long and monotonous stretch of repetition.

“Reminiscence” also misses the mark in casting decisions and in the characters’ witless dialogue. Jackman and Ferguson had more chemistry together when they co-starred in the 2017 movie musical “The Greatest Showman” (where their characters weren’t lovers but had some sexual tension with each other) than they do as portraying lovers in “Reminiscence.” The lines that Jackman and Ferguson have to utter in “Reminiscence” sound like they were rejected from a bad romance novel.

Jackman is a very talented actor, but he seems miscast as someone who’s supposed to be an emotionally damaged and stoic detective. He delivers his lines flatly, as if his character has a dead personality. Only in Nick’s scenes with Mae does Nick doesn’t show any hints that he could be passionate about anything. Ferguson is perfectly adequate as the enigmatic Mae, but her “seductive diva” singing scenes in “Reminiscence” seem overly contrived and pale in comparison to Ferguson’s more appealing “seductive diva” singing scenes in “The Greatest Showman.”

“Reminiscence” hints at but never really follows through with the notion that Nick has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his military background. He’s definitely not getting therapy for it. Watts is Nick’s unofficial counselor, and she’s the one who points out to Nick that he’s using the memory tank to “self-medicate.”

The movie tells more about Watts’ own troubled history than it tells about Nick’s turbulent past, even though Nick is the story’s protagonist/central character. Newton’s Watts is the only character in “Reminiscence” that comes close to being depicted as complex, with Newton capably handling the role of an emotionally wounded person who tries to hide her pain in alcohol and a tough-talking persona. All the other characters in “Reminiscence” are quite two-dimensional.

Ultimately, “Reminiscence” could have been a much better movie if the story and dialogue were better-crafted. The writing seems like it was made for a comic book rather than a feature film. In a comic book, it’s easier to get away with chopping up the story in a boxy manner. In a movie, the story needs to flow more seamlessly, but “Reminiscence” fails to do that because it’s a film with an identity crisis of not knowing what it wants to be in the first place.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Reminiscence” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on August 20, 2021.

2021 Fantastic Fest: programming slate announced

September 9, 2021

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

The following is a combination of press releases from Fantastic Fest:

Mechanophilia, possessed nuns, possessed children, hallucinations, ghostly hauntings, time travel, exorcism, cerebral expansion, heavy metal, friendship, yakuza, canine trauma, multiple serial killers, coprophagia, cannibalism, tender embraces, vampires, copious bodily fluids, superheroes, warm laughs, disco-dancing firemen and more, more, more!  Yes, this can only mean one thing: Fantastic Fest is back. After 18 months of isolation and uncertainty, this year’s “Post-Apocalyptic” edition of Fantastic Fest is here to remind us of the joy of cinema, community, and weird and wonderful movies.  The first wave of films is headlined by the truly extraordinary 2021 Palme D’Or winner “Titane” from “Parasite” distributor Neon. It might not have seemed possible to top her staggering debut “Raw” (Fantastic Fest 2016), but Julia Ducournau has somehow done just that. A poignant study on loneliness, isolation and gender identity wrapped in a constantly surprising world of body horror, muscle cars, violence, and disco-dancing firemen. Fantastic Fest is so proud to share this singular vision. Fantastic Fest 2021’s opening night party will be dedicated to the instantly iconic visuals of “Titane.” Muscle cars will be on hand, and metallic-themed or “French firefighter” costumes are highly encouraged. “Titane” opens in US cinemas on October 1. 

Mondo Records is also celebrating its 10 year anniversary at Fantastic Fest this year and will be on-hand with a very special “Titane” soundtrack giveaway ahead of the official Mondo vinyl release later this year. Additionally, on opening night there will also be a Mondo Records pop-up featuring rarities from the vault. Additional studio premieres include A24’s “Lamb,” winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize of Originality at Cannes (opening in theaters on October 8); “Bingo Hell,” part of the Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series; and Netflix’s “The Trip,” starring Noomi Rapace in a delightfully twisted Norwegian mind-bender.

“We’re thrilled at how the program is coming together,” says Fantastic Fest Director of Programming Annick Mahnert. “For this Post-Apocalyptic edition, we’ve scoured the four corners of the globe to find weird, silly, terrifying, entertaining and fantastic movies directed by established and emerging filmmakers. Opening this year’s fest with a Palme d’Or winner from a Fantastic Fest alum is a real treat.

As always, we also try to find unforgettable repertoire titles, and we couldn’t be happier about hosting the US Premiere of the new restoration of Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession.” This first wave is but the tip of the iceberg and we cannot wait to unveil the rest of the program to y’all!” 

Sidebar Programming

“Master of the Flying Guillotine”

The first sidebar will launch Lars Nilsen and Kier-La Janisse’s epic tome “Warped and Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive. To celebrate the book, Nilsen and Janisse will present 35mm screenings of some of their all-time favorite exploitation classics, including “Snakes” and “The Visitor.” The second classic film sidebar comes courtesy of authors Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali, who will be in attendance to debut their new book “These Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed The World.” Hendrix and Poggiali will premiere two of their favorite kung fu classics – Kino Lorber’s and the 3-D Film Archive’s brand new 3D DCP of “Dynasty 3D” as well as the rarely seen Jackie Chan-choreographed “Dance of Death.” They’ll also host a brand new event called “BingoDome” with the crown jewel of Bruceploitation films, 1977’s “The Dragon Lives Again.” As Bruce Lee inexplicably fights against Popeye, Clint Eastwood, James Bond, the Godfather and undead zombies in purgatory, participants mark matching squares on their bingo cards to win fabulous prizes, including signed copies of the new book! 

Also supporting the release, 36 Cinema is presenting “Master of the Flying Guillotine,” with live commentary by RZA, who provided the intro to “These Fists Break Bricks.” This event will be live-streamed for global audiences online to enjoy. 36 Cinema brings together film screening with live in-depth commentary with directors, actors, critics and fans. RZA will be joined by film programmer and historian Dan Halsted to dive deep into one of the greatest kung fu movies of all time. The Press Room will also be live-printing “Master of the Flying Guillotine” posters after the event. BingoDome is only the beginning of the movie-themed fun. Fantastic Fest will continue the time-honored tradition of daytime entertainment in The Highball including board game parties and podcast recordings.

As each day of movies comes to a close, The Highball really fires up its engines for eight days of raucous parties — live music, karaoke, 100 Best Kills, Fantastic Feud, Scripts Gone Wild, TriviaDome, Nerd Rap, feasts, games, disco-dancing firemen and more, more, more are all being crafted for your delight by the crack Fantastic Fest events team.  

“The Black Phone” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Leading the studio titles in the announce is the World Premiere of “The Black Phone,” penned by Scott Derrickson (“Doctor Strange,” “Sininister” franchise) and Austin screenwriter C.

Robert Cargill (“Doctor Strange,” “Sininister” franchise), based on the short story by Joe Hill. Universal Pictures, Blumhouse and Crooked Highway’s much-buzzed-about horror film reunites director Derrickson and four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (“Sininister”) in one of the most terrifying Blumhouse films ever.

Additional studio titles include the U.S. Premieres of IFC’s “A Banquet,” a chilling psychological horror where a mother’s love for her daughter is pushed to the limits, and “The Innocents” (Cannes – Un Certain Regard 2021), a stunning Norwegian drama about children with supernatural powers that will shake you to the core. World Premieres include Netflix’s “There’s Someone Inside Your House,” a bloody and highly entertaining slasher from director Patrick Brice (“Creep”), and SYFY’s “Slumber Party Massacre.” a contemporary and fun reimagining of the 1982 slasher cult classic directed by Fantastic Fest alumna Danishka Esterhazy (“Level 16”).

Last but not least, Fantastic Fest is thrilled and excited to close the festivities with the U.S. Premiere of Camille Griffin’s pitch-black comedy “Silent Night,” starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Roman Griffin Davis (“Jojo Rabbit”). In sync with this year’s festival theme, you’re invited to witness the strangest holiday celebration of the year, when a family gathers for a high-stakes Christmas dinner in Griffin’s directorial debut.

This final wave of Fantastic Fest films presents 37 feature film titles and 56 short film selections, showcasing world, US and regional premieres, and one pre-fest screening.

We are excited to offer a special pre-fest presentation on September 22 of Utopia’s brand new 35th anniversary restoration of RAD, with star Bill Allen in attendance. Arrive early and check out a radical pre-screening bike stunt outside the theater featuring the riders of Austin’s 512 Wheelie Crew along with some surprise guests, sponsored by Rambler Sparkling Water.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has partnered with GroundUp Music to present seven silent film classics reimagined by five different artists from the label. The festival will World Premiere the 1924 Soviet silent classic AELITA: QUEEN OF MARS with a new score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock. Four additional film pairings will play on Fantastic Fest @HOME: House of Waters with the three shorts MENILMONTANT (1926), LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (1902), and BALLET MECANIQUE (1923); PRD Mais with WAXWORKS (1924); Sirintip with THE LOST WORLD (1925); and Bob Lanzetti with NOSFERATU (1922). All seven titles will then be available on Alamo On Demand. Select projects will be presented as live score events at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s soon-to-be-opened Manhattan theater later this year.

After a successful virtual event in 2020, the decision to go hybrid in 2021 was a no-brainer. Fantastic Fest @HOME will take place 9/30-10/11 on Alamo On Demand. Rev.com will be sponsoring our new accessibility initiative.

“The first step to creating access was offering a virtual option with an affordable badge price,” says Ahbra Perry, Head of Alamo On Demand. “With help from our friends at Rev.com we’re going to be able to provide Closed Captions for the films and shorts playing virtually that can’t provide their own. That is a big step in the right direction and hopefully just the beginning.”

Over 30 films from the current festival lineup will be available virtually, including “Alone With You,” :uzifer,” “After Blue,” and “Baby Assasssins.” Badge holders will have access to films for 48-hour windows. We are also excited to include a special curation of Fantastic Fest films from years past, many of them hard to find, that will be available for the full duration of the virtual festival, and a virtual closing night party hosted by Fantastic Fest @ Home sponsor Alter.

COVID Safety Protocols Update

While we strongly prefer proof of vaccination, by state order, the festival will now also accept a negative COVID test from a state-approved test provider taken within 24 hours of each day’s screenings. Festival staff will check for either vaccine cards or test results as attendees enter the theater for all Fantastic Fest screenings. Attendees with a vaccine card will be given a wristband to make this process more efficient for attending multiple screenings. Additionally, masks must be worn at all times indoors when not eating or drinking.

FILM LINEUP

“After Blue”

AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE)

France, 2021

US Premiere, 130 min

Director – Bertrand Mandico

On a mysterious new planet populated entirely by women, teenager Roxy and her mother undergo a fantastical journey in pursuit of a murderous criminal.

AGNES

USA, 2021

Texas Premiere, 93 min

Director – Mickey Reece

Fantastic Fest favorite Mickey Reece is back with his most ambitious production yet, the story of a headstrong young nun accused of possession and her best friend who’s left to grapple with the aftermath.


ALONE WITH YOU

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 83 min

Directors – Emily Bennett & Justin Brooks

As a young woman painstakingly prepares a romantic homecoming for her girlfriend, their apartment begins to feel more like a tomb when voices, shadows, and hallucinations reveal a truth she has been unwilling to face.

BARBARIANS

United Kingdom, 2021

World Premiere, 90 min

Director – Charles Dorfman

An alpha male social media influencer and his beta brother meet for an explosive dinner with their significant others – one where secrets are revealed, lives are ruined, and chaos reigns (fox included).

THE BETA TEST

USA, 2021

Texas Premiere, 93 min

Directors – Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe

Jim Cummings is back as co-director and star in this pitch black film biz satire. Cummings revels in the full spectrum of bad behavior, leaving you laughing and gasping in equal measure.

BEYOND THE INFINITE 2 MINUTES

Japan, 2021

North American Premiere, 70 min

Director – Junta YamaguchiKato is a cafe owner in Kyoto who suddenly finds his bedroom computer screen linked to the one in his cafe, showing him exactly what’s going on downstairs – two minutes in the future. Things get really absurd when his friends find out and devise a way to go … BEYOND THE INFINITE 2 MINUTES.

BINGO HELL

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 85 min

Director – Gigi Saul Guerrero

The big, steel-toed boot of gentrification won’t stop one determined locally-grown advocate as a new building owner offers Bingo as a portal to financial prosperity – but the price is something far more sinister and much less liberating.

CANNON ARM AND THE ARCADE QUEST

Denmark, 2021

US Premiere, 97 min

Director – Mads Hedegaard

Kim Cannon Arm sets out to shatter records by playing Gyruss for 100 hours straight on a single coin and he can’t do it on his own in this funny and philosophical documentary about the importance of friends and community.

DANCE OF DEATH

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1976

Repertory Screening, 90 min

Director – Chi-Hwa Chen

At the nexus point where Jackie Chan’s star began to rise and Angela Mao’s (ENTER THE DRAGON) was waning, they collaborated on this wild, rarely seen gem. Channeling Chan’s own acrobatic style, Mao avenges the defeat of her teachers using a powerful “dancing girl” kung fu style inspired by the gyrations of brothel attendants.

DEAD & BEAUTIFUL

The Netherlands, Taiwan, 2021

North American Premiere, 98 min

Director – David Verbeek

Five wealthy, fashionable friends wake up from a wild night in Taipei to find they’ve become vampires in David Verbeek’s aesthetically gorgeous thriller.

DYNASTY

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1977

Repertory Screening, 92 min

Director – Chang Mei-chung

Now! DYNASTY! On the surface it looks like just another indie kung fu flick from Taiwan, but within minutes this crazy train has picked up a full head of steam and is on its way to a Never Never Land of wild weapons, mass mutilation, and major mayhem … all in 3-D!!!

THE EXORCISM OF GOD

USA, Mexico, Venezuela, 2021

World Premiere, 98 minDirector – Alejandro Hidalgo

When children in a small Mexican town start dying of demonic possession, the inhabitants seek the help of Father Peter Williams, a priest haunted by a past exorcism gone sinfully wrong. What follows is an epic battle between good and evil.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON

United Kingdom, 2021

US Premiere, 102 min

Directors – Sarah Appleton & Phillip Escott

Whip out your phone cams and prepare to get immersive: Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott’s THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON is a documentary-shaped crash course on the wobbliest horror films out there.

HELLBENDER

USA, 2021

US Premiere, 82 min

Directors – Toby Poser, Zelda Adams & John Adams

Fantastic Fest favorite filmmaking family Toby Poser, John Adams, and Zelda Adams return with their newest creative endeavor HELLBENDER, a witchy, heavy metal coming-of-age thriller.

IKÉ BOYS

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 88 min

Director – Eric McEver

Two self-proclaimed geeks and a live-in Japanese foreign exchange student procure a long-lost anime classic that inadvertently turns them into superheroes … just in time for a Y2K-era Kaiju face-off!

KING CAR

Brazil, 2021

US Premiere, 97 min

Director – Renata Pinheiro

A young man’s ability to surreally “be one” with cars sparks a revolution that could save transport in his community. When his invention inadvertently accelerates the underlying problems, our hero’s quest must grow bigger than his own personal ambitions.

KNOCKING

Sweden, 2021

Texas Premiere, 78 min

Director – Frida Kempff

Molly seems to be the only one who hears strange knocking day and night in her apartment. But she won’t be deterred by unbelievers until she’s discovered the cause of the noises tormenting her.

LAMB

Iceland, Sweden, Poland, 2021

US Premiere, 107 minDirector – Valdimar Jóhannsson

On a remote farm in Iceland, a couple that experienced recent loss is caring for their flock of sheep. One day, one of their sheep gives birth to a very peculiar lamb that will change their lives forever.

LAST OF THE WOLVES

Japan, 2021

Texas Premiere, 139 min

Director – Kazuya Shiraishi

A hard-won truce between rival yakuza gangs threatens to erupt into bloody violence when a psychopathic hoodlum is released from prison and vows to avenge the death of his boss.

LET THE WRONG ONE IN

Ireland, 2021

World Premiere, 97 min

Director – Conor McMahon

Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning when one brother is turned into a vampire and has to rely on his younger brother to protect him. Will brotherly love win out or is someone getting staked?

LIMBO

Hong Kong, 2021

Texas Premiere, 118 minDirector – Soi Cheang

A burnt-out cop and a by-the-book young detective team up to catch a vicious serial killer lurking in the garbage-filled alleys of Hong Kong in Soi Cheang’s grimy monochrome masterpiece.

MAD GOD

USA, 2021

US Premiere, 83 min

Director – Phil Tippett

An adventurer descends into a pit reaching the bowels of the Earth, searching for a spot on a crumbling map. On his journey in an apocalyptic world, he meets and fights monsters and creatures out of your worst nightmares in this passion project from stop-motion legend Phil Tippett.

THE MARCO EFFECT

Denmark, 2021

North American Premiere, 125 min

Director – Martin Zandlivet

When Marco, a Romani kid without papers, is caught at the Danish border with the passport of a man who went missing, Detective Carl Mørck from Department Q unknowingly opens Pandora’s Box on what was supposedly a simple case.

MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE presented by 36 Cinema

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1975

Repertory Screening, 93 min

Director – Jimmy Wang Yu

A blind assassin armed with a vicious flying guillotine is out to kill the legendary one-armed boxer (martial arts superstar Jimmy Wang Yu). 36 Cinema presents MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE with live commentary by RZA!

MIDNIGHT

South Korea, 2021

Texas Premiere, 103 min

Director – KWON Oh-seung

Discover the twisted nighttime alleys of Seoul in the tense and thrilling MIDNIGHT, the gripping tale of a Deaf woman and the serial killer who has underestimated his opponent.

MOTHER SCHMUCKERS

Belgium, 2021

Texas Premiere, 70 min

Director – Lenny Guit & Harpo Guit

Issachar and Zabulon are two not-so-bright brothers who never manage to do anything right. When they lose Jacques-Janvier, their mom’s beloved dog, she gives them a day to find him … or else. And of course nothing goes smoothly.

NAME ABOVE TITLE

Portugal, 2020

North American Premiere, 59 min

Director – Carlos Conceição

A serial killer is propelled into fame after he kisses a dying woman who has just thrown herself off a balcony. Viewed by the world as an act of kindness, that gesture may well be hiding something far more sinister.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA

USA, Uganda, 2021

World Premiere, 94 min

Director – Cathryne Czubek & Hugo Perez

Documenting the rise of Uganda’s Tarantino and his complex relationship with a middle-aged white dude from New York, ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA tells the amazing story of a micro-film industry making $200 action films that have traveled the world, and how it happened almost by accident.

POSSESSION

France, Germany, 1981

US Premiere of 4K Restoration, 124 min

Director – Andrzej Zulawski

It took 30 years for people to catch up to POSSESSION’s bizarre, gelatinous majesty, and now it graces the Fantastic Fest screen in a breathtaking 4K restoration.

POUPELLE OF CHIMNEY TOWN

Japan, 2020

US Premiere, 100 min

Director – Yusuke Hirota

In this animated adventure, a young chimney sweep meets a sentient pile of junkyard scrap one Halloween night, raising questions about the world outside the isolated, walled-off community the boy has known his entire life.

PREMAN

Indonesia, 2021

Texas Premiere, 91 min

Director – Randolph Zaini

After Pandu witnesses a murder by a local gang – the unsavory mini-mob that his father works for – Deaf criminal Sandi has to turn against his own crew and flee town to protect him. Unfortunately, his boss Guru is not about to let go so easily.

THE SADNESS

Taiwan, 2021

US Premiere, 99 min

Director – Rob Jabbaz

As Taiwan succumbs to a viral pandemic that transforms ordinary peaceful citizens into sadistic, bloodthirsty maniacs, a young couple must battle to be reunited before they too become infected in this gleefully gory, morally reprehensible late-night splatterfest.

SHE WILL

United Kingdom, 2021

North American Premiere, 95 min

Director – Charlotte Colbert

After a double mastectomy, actress Veronica Ghent travels to a remote place in Scotland in order to recuperate. However, the land around the retreat radiates with a dark power that will ultimately help liberate her from a traumatic past.

SNAKES

USA, 1974

Repertory Screening, 83 min

Director – Art Names

An exceedingly odd rural snake revenge movie — made on a zilch budget and scored by electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani — that will make you question your relationship with reality, relativity, and reptiles.

THIS IS GWAR

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 110 min

Director – Scott Barber

GWAR is the galaxy’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, an intergalactic troupe of marauders who crash-landed in Antarctica and are committed to rocking your face off. But they’re also a bunch of amazing artists from Virginia determined to put on the wildest, bloodiest show you’ve ever seen. This is how.

TITANE 

France, Belgium, 2021

US Premiere, 108 min

Director – Julia Ducournau

A car accident irreparably changes the course of one woman’s life, sending her down a bizarre, twisted path in the search for love and acceptance.

THE TRIP

Norway, 2021

International Premiere, 113 min

Director – Tommy Wirkola

A married couple travels to their isolated cabin in the woods for some peace and quiet, with the husband planning to murder his wife. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and things only get worse from there ….

THE VISITOR

Italy, USA, 1979

Repertory Screening, 108 min

Director – Michael J. Paradise

This Italian-made horror/soap-opera/psychedelic light show was made to scoop up any stray dollars that THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST may have left on the table. Featuring an amazing will-work-for-food cast that includes John Huston as a kind of cosmic child pimp for the lord, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen, Sam Peckinpah (!!!), and of course Franco Nero as Jesus Christ.

YELLOW DRAGON’S VILLAGE

Japan, 2021

International Premiere, 67 min

Director – Hugo Sakamoto

And now for something completely different: Cannibal cultists and vengeful martial artists lead the way as found footage horror gets a cult film makeover courtesy of Hugo Sakamoto’s inventive and spirited debut.

ATTEND:

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For the latest developments, visit the Fantastic Fest official site www.fantasticfest.com and follow us on Facebook & Twitter.


About Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S., specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. In years past, the festival has been home to the world and US premieres of PARASITE, JOJO RABBIT, BONE TOMAHAWK, JOHN WICK, FRANKENWEENIE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, APOCALYPTO, ZOMBIELAND, RED, SPLIT, HALLOWEEN, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, MID 90s, and SUSPIRIA while the guest roster has included such talent as Tim Burton, Nicolas Winding-Refn, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Bong Joon-Ho, Taika Waititi, Robert Rodriguez, Rian Johnson, Bill Murray, Keanu Reeves, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Edward Norton, Ryan Reynolds, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Karl Urban, Josh Hartnett, The RZA, Dolph Lundgren, Paul Rudd, Bill Pullman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kevin Smith, Jon Favreau, George Romero, Darren Aronofsky, Mike Judge, Karyn Kusama, M. Night Shyamalan, James McAvoy, Vince Vaughn, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jonah Hill, Barbara Crampton and Jessica Harper.

Fantastic Fest also features world, national, and regional premieres of new, up-and-coming genre films. Fantastic Fest has seen the acquisition of many titles, including BULLHEAD, KILL LIST, MONSTERS, KLOWN, THE FP, PENUMBRA, HERE COMES THE DEVIL, NO REST FOR THE WICKED, VANISHING WAVES, COMBAT GIRLS, I DECLARE WAR, THE PERFECTION, and TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID. Fantastic Fest is held each year at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Alamo Drafthouse has been named the best theater in the country by Entertainment Weekly, Wired, and TIMEVariety included Fantastic Fest in a list of “10 Film Festivals We Love” and was also named one of the “25 coolest film festivals” by Moviemaker Magazine.

About Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was founded in 1997 as a single-screen mom and pop repertory theater in Austin, TX. Twenty-four years later, with 38 locations and counting, Alamo Drafthouse has been called “the best theater in America” by Entertainment Weekly and “the best theater in the world” by Wired. Alamo Drafthouse has built a reputation as a movie lover’s oasis not only by combining food and drink service with the movie-going experience, but also introducing unique programming and high-profile, star-studded special events. Alamo Drafthouse created Fantastic Fest, a world-renowned film festival dubbed “The Geek Telluride” by Variety. Fantastic Fest showcases eight days of genre cinema from independents, international filmmakers, and major Hollywood studios. Alamo Drafthouse’s collectible art gallery, Mondo, offers breathtaking, original products featuring designs from world-famous artists based on licenses for popular TV and movie properties including Star Wars, Star Trek & Universal Monsters. Alamo Drafthouse continues to expand its brand in new and exciting ways, including the American Genre Film Archive, a non-profit film archive dedicated to preserving, restoring and sharing film, and Alamo On Demand, a new VOD platform boasting a growing and carefully curated library of entertainment for rental or purchase.

Review: ‘Settlers’ (2021), starring Sofia Boutella, Brooklynn Prince, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Jonny Lee Miller and Nell Tiger Free

July 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sofia Boutella and Brooklynn Prince in “Settlers” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Settlers” (2021)

Directed by Wyatt Rockefeller

Culture Representation: Taking place on Mars over an approximate 10-year period, the sci-fi drama “Settlers” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and indigenous people) representing humans who have settled on Mars.

Culture Clash: A husband, a wife and their young daughter live in isolation on Mars when their worst fear comes true: They become victims of a home invasion.

Culture Audience: “Settlers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “danger in outer space” movies, but viewers should be prepared for a movie that quickly loses steam halfway through the film.

Ismael Cruz Córdova in “Settlers” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

The sci-fi drama “Settlers” seems like it was an idea that was originally conceived as a short film, but somehow it got stretched into increasingly dull junk that trudges to an unsurprising and lackluster end. There are moments of suspense early on in the film, but they’re not enough to compensate for a movie that wastes a lot of time showing unhappy people isolated in a house, or people running from the front yard to the house and back again. The movie repeats these scenarios too often for its own good.

“Settlers” (which takes place on Mars) is the feature-film debut of writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller, who shows some potential in being able to come up with an intriguing concept for a movie. The problem is that the follow-through in the storytelling is very weak. “Settlers,” which has a small number of people in the cast, needed better character development and more realistic human interactions.

More thought seems to have been put into the film’s first of three acts rather than the second and third acts. The result is an uneven movie where viewers will be disappointed at how much the story deflates into a nonsensical bore. “Settlers” doesn’t even explain how humans can survive in Mars’ atmosphere (which is 95% carbon dioxide) without any type of breathing devices.

“Settlers,” which was actually filmed in South Africa, doesn’t even look like it takes place on another planet. It just look like a typical desert area on Earth. The deficiencies in the movie’s production design can be somewhat excused by the movie having a low-budget, but there are low-budget sci-fi movies that take place on a planet other than Earth that still make more of an effort to simulate a planet that looks different from Earth. What’s more detrimental to “Settlers” than the unimaginative production design is how badly it bungles the “home invasion” part of the story.

The three chapters in “Settlers” are named after the three adults who have the most screen time and the most significant speaking roles in the movie. Chapter 1 is titled “Reza,” Chapter 2″ is titled “Ilsa,” and Chapter 3 is titled “Jerry.” Who are these people? By the end of the movie, you still won’t know too much about them except the basics, such as where they came from and why they’re living on Mars.

Reza (played by Johnny Lee Miller), his wife Ilsa (played by Sofia Boutella) and their curious 9-year-old daughter Remmy (played by Brooklynn Prince) are living in isolation in a house that looks more New Age than Space Age. Remmy’s only companion is a young pig named Cassie, which is kept in a small fenced-in area in the front yard. It’s eventually revealed that this family of three settled on Mars as refugees from Earth because Reza has a shady past and he wanted to start a new life on another planet. Don’t expect details on what Reza’s past misdeeds were, because the move never reveals that information.

Reza and Ilsa seem very afraid of anyone finding out where they are. They are armed with guns and knives. They always seem to be on the alert for sounds of other people who might be in the vicinity. In an early scene in the movie, when Reza is saying good night to Remmy before she goes to sleep, she asks him, “Are there people nearby?”

Reza seems nervous when he replies, “No! It’s just us.” Reza reminds Remmy that they’ve come to Mars because “we wanted more” than what Earth could offer. He also assures Remmy that someday, Mars will be just like Earth. In the meantime, the family has a greenhouse where they grow their own food. There’s no explanation for where they get water in this very desert-looking environment.

One day, the family wakes up to see that the windows at the front of their house have been vandalized with large block letters that read “LEAVE.” Funnily enough, the letters look like they were written from inside the house, which is a detail that the filmmakers didn’t think through, because it’s implied that the vandalism was supposed to took place outside the house. Unless the vandals knew how to do mirror-reverse writing, it doesn’t make sense that the words “LEAVE” would be written as if done from the inside, not outside.

Soon after discovering this vandalism, people can be heard howling like wolves in the distance outside. As a frightened Ilsa asks, “What if it’s the son?” Reza abruptly replies, “Don’t!” He grabs a gun, runs outside and yells, “Come on!,” as if it’s a dare for any strangers to come and get them. It’s a puzzling move from someone who’s trying to protect his family from a home invasion.

Remmy has a tendency to wander outside in the barren yard (usually to play with the pig) when her parents aren’t looking. Ilsa notices that Remmy has been missing while Reza was foolishly daring possible home invaders to go to the house. In a panic, Ilsa calls for Remmy, who’s in the front yard, just as some shadowy figures come out of nowhere and chase after Remmy, who’s running desperately back to the house.

An unnamed woman (played by Natalie Walsh) and an unnamed man (played by Matthew Van Leeve) have run the closest to Remmy. The woman snatches Remmy in attempt to kidnap her. Reza begins shooting, while Ilsa runs outside with a knife. And some people end up dead. It’s enough to say that Remmy is one of the survivors.

The character of Jerry (played by Ismael Cruz Córdova) is a man in his late 20s or early 30s, and he shows up unexpectedly at the house not long after this invasion. He’s armed with a gun and a knife, but he doesn’t hurt anyone in the house. However, one of the parents attacks him, but Jerry doesn’t kill that person in self-defense.

Instead, he makes a bargain: If he gets to stay in the house with the family for 30 days without being physically attacked or ambushed, he will leave his gun behind and leave them alone permanently. In the meantime, Jerry expects to be fed and taken care of in the home, and he offers to protect the house residents in return. He eventually reveals that his parents used to own the house, and he grew up there, which is why he came back.

Are Remmy’s parents squatters? And what happened to the house’s previous residents? Those questions are answered in the movie, which shows that there are reasons for Jerry and the house residents to feel anger and resentment toward each other. Jerry comes across as someone who is capable of doing very bad things and who has secrets of his own, but he seems to be sincere about keeping his end of the bargain. He has a primitive robot that Remmy has named Steve, which she treats like a pet dog.

Meanwhile, the movie has a somewhat useless subplot where Remmy sees something that makes her angry, so she runs away from home. There’s a badly filmed sequence where it looks like she gets trapped in a tunnel-like area that has a door that suddenly comes down in the entrance. But then, the next thing you know she’s back at the house, with no explanation how she got herself out of that predicament. The movie never goes beyond a limited area, nor does it explain what other people on Mars might be doing outside this house or how many other settlers from Earth might be on Mars.

The movie’s last chapter is a fast-forward of about 10 years, with Remmy in her late teens (played by Nell Tiger Free). It’s by far the most ill-conceived and uninspired chapter of this story, because the plot doesn’t really go anywhere until toward the end when Remmy does something that is very easy to predict. All of the actors are given unimaginative and stiff dialogue, so they don’t really get to show much talent in this movie, although Prince fares the best in trying to depict a believable array of emotions.

If your idea of an entertaining Mars sci-fi movie is to watch people prepare meals in a very Earth-looking kitchen, climb on rocks, hang out in a desolate-looking front yard, and have boring conversations in a very Earth-looking house where everyone looks uncomfortable, then maybe you’ll find some enjoyment from watching “Settlers.” These tedious scenarios make up more than half of the movie. But for everyone else who might expect an unpredictable story with interesting characters, you shouldn’t have to settle for “Settlers.” There are plenty of better and more memorable movies about life on Mars.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Settlers” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘A Quiet Place Part II,’ starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Djimon Hounsou

May 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place Part II” (Photo by Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)

“A Quiet Place Part II”

Directed by John Krasinski

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York state and unnamed parts of the U.S. East Coast during a post-apolcalyptic time period, the horror sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widow and her three underage children try to survive giant lizard-like monsters that have taken over Earth, but her eldest child decides to run away from their shelter to find other survivors. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of people who saw 2018’s “A Quiet Place,” the sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” will appeal to people who are interested in watching suspenseful “creature feature” horror films that aren’t too gory.

Cillian Murphy in “A Quiet Place Part II” (Photo by Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)

“A Quiet Place Part II” (written and directed by John Krasinski) doesn’t fall into the sequel trap of recycling too much of the same story as its predecessor, but it definitely helps to see the first “A Quiet Place” movie, which was released in 2018. “A Quiet Place Part II” is a more action-oriented thriller than “A Quiet Place,” because so much of the horror in “A Quiet Place Part II” is happening at different locations at the same time. Thanks to skillful film editing from Michael P. Shawver, “A Quiet Place Part II” viewers will often feel like they’re in a dimension where they can experience what’s going on in more than one place simultaenously, as the tension ramps up in each scene.

It’s a big contrast to “A Quiet Place,” which focused on one location at a time, during one family’s fight for survival in an apocalyptic world where giant lizard-mutant-looking aliens have taken over Earth. In “A Quiet Place,” viewers aren’t shown what life for this family was like before the apocalypse. But it’s eventually revealed that the creatures that have invaded Earth and massacred most of the world’s humans are blind and can’t smell but have an extremely acute sense of hearing. Therefore, when outside, apocalypse survivors have to be very quiet because any sound can attract the alien monsters, which show no mercy in devouring any living being.

“A Quiet Place Part II” was made with the assumption that most people seeing the movie have already seen “A Quiet Place” or know what the movie is about, including the spoiler information. This sequel is best appreciated with full knowledge of these details, or else viewers might initially feel a little bit lost or confused by what’s going on in the story. The ending of “A Quiet Place” shows the discovery of a way to fight the monsters, and this defense mechanism is used a lot in “A Quiet Place Part II.” Knowing what happened in “A Quiet Place” goes a long way in explaining key aspects of “A Quiet Place Part II.”

The family at the center of this crisis are the main human characters who were in “A Quiet Place,” which takes place somewhere in the suburbs of upstate New York. The family members are Lee Abbott (played by Krasinski, who directed and co-wrote “A Quiet Place”); Lee’s wife Evelyn Abbott (played by Emily Blunt, who is married to Krasinski in real life); their daughter Regan Abbott (played by Millicent Simmonds); son Marcus Abbott (played by Noah Jupe); and son Beau Abbott (played by Cade Woodward). In “A Quiet Place,” Regan is about 12 or 13 years old, Marcus is about 10 or 11 years old, and Beau is about 5 or 6 years old.

In “A Quiet Place,” the Abbotts spend most of their days in a remote, abandoned farmhouse that has an underground bunker rigged with ways to alert them if the alien monsters are nearby. The family members venture outside when they need food, medicine or supplies. Even though they have a truck that works, they usually travel by foot, so as not to cause any noise that will attract the monsters. (One of the plot holes in “A Quiet Place” is a pivotal part of the movie where Regan has to drive the truck back to the farmhouse, and the engine noise unrealistically doesn’t attract the monsters.)

[Spoiler alert] In the beginning of “A Quiet Place,” a tragedy occurs where Beau is killed by one of the monsters. The movie then fast-forwards to about year later. Evelyn is pregnant, and her childbirth scene is one of the most tension-filled highlights of “A Quiet Place,” considering it’s nearly impossible for someone to give birth silently. And near the end of “A Quiet Place,” Lee dies when he sacrifices himself in order to protect his children. [End of spoiler alert.]

The beginning of “A Quiet Place Part II” gives a glimpse of the alien invasion when it began, so Lee is briefly shown during this terrifying opening sequence that was teased in the first “A Quiet Place Part II” trailer. The rest of the movie, which starts on day 474 of the alien invasion, shows a widowed Evelyn and her kids Regan, Marcus and a newborn son (whose name is not mentioned in the movie) trying to find a new shelter and other survivors. Evelyn ha a shotgun rifle with her for protection.

The Abbotts leave the abandoned farmhouse, which was destroyed in the monster battle that took place in the first movie. The house is set on fire, which is symbolic of the Abbotts trying to burn away the painful memories of a place they can no longer call their home. As in the first “A Quiet Place,” the family members don’t wear shoes when walking outside, because shoes make noises that the alien monsters can hear.

Regan, who happens to be deaf, is the most intelligent and most analytical member of this family. Just like in the first “A Quiet Place” movie, Regan figures out ways to save lives by outsmarting the monsters. For now, the Abbotts are on the move to find other survivors.

The trailer for “A Quiet Place Part II” shows a lot of what happens in ths movie’s plot: While walking in a field near an abandonded building, Evelyn’s foot sets off a booby trap that was placed there by another survivor. The man who set the booby trap is a deeply cynical loner who is at first hostile about letting the Abbotts or anyone else stay with him in his bunker. Regan and this man end up traveling somewhere together. And there are other survivors who encounter the monsters in a recreational park.

The man who lets the Abbotts stay with him is named Emmett (played by Cillian Murphy), and he happens to be someone who knew Evelyn’s late husband Lee as a friend. It’s strongly implied that if Emmett had not known Lee, Emmett might have treated this family more harshly and probably would have refused to let the Abbotts stay with him. Emmett (who also has a gun for protection) is bitter and grieving because he lost his family during the apocalypse. Emmett says out loud to the Abbott family that whatever humans are left in the world aren’t worth saving.

Of course, there’s a lot more that happens in the story—always with the threat of the monsters showing up when they hear any noises. Marcus gets his foot caught in a bear trap, so it’s easy to imagine what happens when he screams out in pain. While his foot his healing, Regan comforts Marcus by having him listen to music on a transister radio with headphones. Marcus tells Regan that the Bobby Darin song “Beyond the Sea” is playing on a repeat loop. She doesn’t think it’s a mistake or coincidence.

Regan decides to leave Emmett’s shelter when she figures out that there are other survivors hinting at their location through the repeat playing of “Beyond the Sea.” The movie explains how she’s able to decipher this clue and get a general idea of where the other survivors are. And when Evelyn finds out that Regan is missing, she begs Emmett to go looking for Regan.

It’s why Regan and Emmett are separated from Evelyn, Marcus and the baby for most of the movie. And, as revealed in the movie’s trailer, there are many other human survivors. Some are friendly and welcoming, while others are most definitely not. The alien monsters aren’t the only deadly creatures roaming around, because some of the humans are very homicidal too.

Because the characters in “A Quiet Place” have to stay silent when outdoors, there’s not a lot of dialogue, as there would be in a typical post-apocayptic horror movie. The character development is at a bare minimum, because these humans are just trying to survive and don’t have time to sit around having deep conversations. Evelyn is still a fierce and brave protector of her children, Regan is a fearless risk-taker, and Marcus is a mostly obedient child who finds his inner strength in this sequel.

However, the addition of new characters in “A Quiet Place Part II” was necessary to advance the story. Emmett represents the devastation of someone who has isolated himself from the rest of the world because he’s lost everyone he loved. He’s not suicidal, but he’s lost faith and hope in humanity.

Djimon Hounsou depicts an unnamed character who’s introduced toward the end of the movie. In other words, viewers should not expect Hounsou to have a lot of screen time in “A Quiet Place Part II.” Scoot McNairy is briefly in the movie as an unnamed man who encounters Regan and Emmett at a marina. All of the actors in “A Quiet Place Part II” do well in their roles, but Simmonds and Murphy have the scenes that carry the most emotional weight.

The visual effects in this sequel are more challenging and frightening, since there are more creature attacks and more people who are killed in “A Quiet Place Part II,” compared to the first “A Quiet Place.” Nothing is too gruesome, but there are enough deaths that these scenes might be too disturbing to viewers who are very young or very sensitive. And it’s easy to keep track of the simultaneous action happening in different locations because the film’s editing won’t let you forget it.

Visually and tonally, “A Quiet Place Part II” has more frantic intensity than “A Quiet Place,” because there’s the added tension of an underage child (Regan) separated from her only living parent while deadly creatures are on the loose. Regan’s independent streak is the biggest personality evolution of the members of the Abbott family in “A Quiet Place Part II.” And based on how “A Quiet Place Part II” ends, Regan is going to be a driving force of future sequels in this franchise.

“A Quiet Place Part II” shows how in this post-apocalyptic world, people can choose to reach out and find strength in helping each other, or people can choose to isolate themselves in a “survival of the fittest” mentality. It’s an obvious metaphor for how people in the real world can respond to global crises. The creature rampages are a big attraction of “A Quiet Place” movies, but what will keep viewers hooked the most is the believable humanity in this survival saga.

Paramount Pictures will release “A Quiet Place Part II” in U.S. cinemas on March 28, 2021.

Review: ‘Voyagers,’ starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

April 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers”

Directed by Neil Burger

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in a spaceship from Earth, the sci-fi drama “Voyagers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) who portray American scientists and crew members involved in exploring a new planet where human beings can possibly live.

Culture Clash: A power struggle erupts among the crew members, and it turns deadly.

Culture Audience: “Voyagers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies that borrow heavily from dystopian young-adult novels with “survival of the fittest” themes.

Quintessa Swindell, Reda Elazouar, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe and Lou Llobel in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers” is a disappointing space travel movie that’s the equivalent of being stuck on a pointless road trip with bickering 20-somethings from a bad soap opera. “Voyagers” is not an adventure story about exploring a new planet. The movie is really about a group of young people isolated on a spaceship in a bland ripoff of “Lord of the Flies.” The cast members’ overall serviceable performances can’t quite save “Voyagers” from the movie’s annoying “bait and switch” in its story, which has too many plot holes and not enough originality for it to be a truly enjoyable film.

Written and directed by Neil Burger, “Voyagers” begins with a captioned intro that explains why this space voyage is taking place: “As the Earth grows hotter, and drought and disease ravage the population, scientists look for a new planet—one that can support human life. In 2063, they find it. The human voyage to the planet will take 86 years.” Although the movie never says which government is spearheading this voyage, viewers can assume it’s the United States because all of the people involved have American accents.

Leading this experimental voyage is a scientist named Richard (played by Colin Farrell), who tells people in a meeting that the plan is to have 30 qualified crew members—all who were born and bred to live on a spaceship. These crew members (who were born from artificial insemination) will have a pre-determined number of children and grandchildren during this 86-year journey in outer space. During this time, these voyagers and their descendants are supposed to learn enough about this new planet to return to Earth and bring back this knowledge so that other humans from Earth can possibly start relocating to this new planet.

From the start, there are some major problems with the story. Richard is the only person who’s shown interacting with and educating the children who were selected to be born and and bred for this program. He has been involved in raising them since birth. The movie should have had more scientists and government officials involved in this training. Just because “Voyagers” is a low-budget independent film is no excuse for this lack of credibility. If you can afford Colin Farrell to be in your movie, you can afford to hire some more cast members to portray the people training the children.

The children, who are in the same age group, are first seen as 4-year-olds in a sterile spaceship simulation environment where they are solving puzzles on computers. Richard interacts with them while wearing a hazmat suit. He is kind and patient with the kids, who have deliberately been raised indoors their entire life. The reason for always keeping the children indoors is because if the kids knew what it was like to be outdoors on Earth, it could have negative effects on their mental health while they’re in outer space if they knew what they were missing on Earth.

There’s a scene early in the movie that completely contradicts what happens later in the story. During a teaching session, all of the kids are happy to see Richard when he enters the room. Most of the kids run up to him and hug him, and he hugs them back. But later in the story, when the children begin the voyage when they’re 24 years old, they act as if they’ve never expressed public displays of affection before. It doesn’t ring true at all, but it’s the basis for a huge turning point in the movie.

Richard, who is a bachelor with no kids of his own, has grown attached to these children. He’s so attached that he wants to go with them on this voyage. His supervisor Marianne Sancar (played by Veronica Falcón) is very reluctant to allow it. However, Richard tells her that he really won’t miss living on Earth at all. And the next thing you know, Richard is the only adult over the age of 30 who’s with the crew members who were bred for this voyage. Once Richard and the crew members live on the spaceship, he no longer has to wear a hazmat suit when he’s around them.

Here’s another problematic part of the story: No government would realistically allow a bunch of 24-year-olds who don’t have any life experience outside of a spaceship environment to be on their own to explore a new planet. It’s what would have happened if Richard had not insisted on going on this voyage too. Any scientific exploration like this one would require people who would know what it’s like to live on Earth (indoors and outdoors), to make informed decisions on whether or not a new planet could be inhabitable by human beings whose biology was wired to live on Earth through centuries of evolution. It’s basic science for any scientific exploration to have that comparison point.

The “bait” part of “Voyagers” starts off misleading viewers into thinking that these young people, who’ve been trained specifically to explore this new planet, will get to do this exploring in the movie. But no, here comes the “switch” part of the movie: “Voyagers” has absolutely zero screen time of these so-called explorers doing any exploring. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal this fact about “Voyagers.” It’s a fair warning to viewers that this so-called “new planet” is never seen in the movie. Instead, “Voyagers” is essentially a predictable and often-dull soap opera on a spaceship.

Out of the 30 young people who are the crew members, three are the main focus of the story. It’s telegraphed early on that these three are the main characters, in a scene with the future voyagers as 4-year-olds. They are the only three characters Richard is shown tucking into bed and calling them by their names when he says good night to them.

The three main characters at 24 years old are:

  • Christopher (played by Tye Sheridan), who is even-tempered and analytical.
  • Sela (played by Lily-Rose Depp), who is the group’s assertive and intelligent chief medical officer.
  • Zac (played by Fionn Whitehead), who is the group’s rebellious chief surveillance officer.

And because “Voyagers” is really a soap opera in space, you know what that means: love triangle. There are some other crew members whose personalities are given some notable screen time. They include:

  • Kai (played by Archie Madekwe), a mischief maker who likes breaking the rules.
  • Julie (played by Quintessa Swindell), a flirtatious engineer who has a mutual attraction to Kai.
  • Peter (played by Viveik Kalra), who becomes a rival to Kai for Julie’s affections.
  • Phoebe (played by Chanté Adams), who is the group member most likely to stick to the rules and protocol.
  • Edward (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a nerdy control room officer who’s the most “book smart” one in the group.
  • Anda (played by Madison Hu), a level-headed type who is good at negotiating.

All of the crew members except Richard are given a blue liquid called (unimaginatively) The Blue as part of their dining routine. Christopher finds out through some computer hacking that The Blue is really a drug that dulls human senses. It contains a toxin called T56j, which makes people docile and eliminates sexual desire and other sensual urges.

Zac is with Christopher when this information is discovered. Christopher then confronts Richard about it. Richard admits that The Blue is a medication that was given to the crew members to make them less likely to rebel or get distracted.

It’s also explained in the movie that the outer-space program doesn’t want the crew members to conceive children naturally. All conceptions are supposed to be by artificial insemination. It’s been pre-determined how many children and grandchildren each voyager will have, in order to prevent over-population.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sit too well with Christopher and Zac to find out that their lives have been strictly controlled and manipulated by being given The Blue drug without their knowledge and consent. They decide to stop taking The Blue. And eventually, Christopher and Zac tell some other crew members that The Blue is really a drug to keep them complacent. And, of course, the word gets out to everyone else, and they also stop drinking The Blue.

Remember that scene of the cute and cuddly kids running up to Richard and hugging him? Well, the filmmakers of “Voyagers” want people to forget that scene, because (plot hole alert) they want viewers to think that these kids have now grown up to be people who don’t know what it’s like to express affection. It’s unclear how long the voyagers were taking The Blue, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a drug that causes amnesia where they would forget childhood memories.

There’s a scene on the spaceship where Christopher sees Richard and Sela talking, and Richard has his hand affectionately on Sela’s shoulder, like a father would for a daughter. Christopher gets a little freaked out and acts as if Richard is one step away from being a sexual predator because Christopher can’t believe that someone is actually touching Sela in this way. When Christopher asks Sela in private if there’s anything inappropriate going on between her and Richard, she denies it, but Christopher doesn’t look completely convinced. It’s all just sloppy and contradictory screenwriting.

Keep in mind, these voyagers are the same people who, when they were children, were jumping up and hugging Richard and letting him tuck them into bed. It’s quite an unrealistic stretch that Christopher, now in his 20s, would suddenly act like he’s never seen Richard touch Sela in a fatherly way before, when Richard is essentially the only father these kids have ever known. By the way, this movie never shows the young voyagers being curious about who their biological parents are, even though Christopher mentions in a conversation that they’ve inherited physical and personality traits from their unknown parents.

After certain characters in “Voyagers” stop taking The Blue, the movie makes a big deal of showing them acting out as they lose their inhibitions. For Zac, that means a touch can’t just be a touch. When he touches Sela’s face affectionately, it quickly turns into fondling her breasts without consent. Zac and Christopher suddenly get the urge to wrestle each other a lot. And there are multiple scenes of the crew members running playfully through hallways, as if they’ve never done it before in their lives.

Through a series of circumstances, the voyagers also learn about violence. And the rest of the movie plays out as predictably as you think it would. Christopher and Zac go from being friends to being bitter enemies. And in true “Lord of the Flies” fashion, people take sides, and there’s a battle over who’s going to be in power.

And what about the mission to explore this new planet? That gets lost in the arguing and fights that take up almost all of the last third of the movie. And there’s some nonsense about a possible alien that’s invaded the ship, which is a fear that Zac uses to manipulate people to do what he wants.

While all of this childish drama is going on, no one seems to be operating the spaceship. It must be on auto-pilot, just like this formulaic, substandard sci-fi flick is on auto-pilot for almost its entire duration. Out of all the actors portraying the young voyagers, Whitehead seems to be the one having the most fun (probably because he’s playing a villain role), and he smirks it up to the hilt.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the movie where the voyagers have been taking The Blue drug require them to talk in almost-robotic monotones. And so, there are long stretches of “Voyagers” that are quite boring because the actors are supposed to be portraying “numb” people. Richard is the only character on the spaceship who maintains a strong sense of lucid humanity, but the power structure ends up changing on the spaceship, so Richard isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he would be.

The cinematography and visual effects for “Voyagers” aren’t terrible but they’re not outstanding either. The movie’s production design for the spaceship isn’t entirely convincing. The interior rooms often just look like a shiny and sterile cafeteria, office building or lounge space. There aren’t many exterior scenes in the movie because the voyagers spend more time quarreling or goofing off inside than actually working outside.

You know that “Voyagers” is a terrible sci-fi movie because it cares so little about this mission to explore a new planet. Not once do any of the voyagers talk about any hopes or fears that they have about what they might find on this new planet. You’d think that people who were raised to be these pioneering explorers would be curious. But no, not in this movie. “Voyagers,” just like the space mission in the movie, was badly conceived from the start and should have been aborted.

Lionsgate released “Voyagers” in U.S. cinemas on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Enhanced’ (2021), starring Alanna Bale, George Tchortov, Chris Mark and Adrian Holmes

April 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alanna Bale in “Enhanced” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Enhanced” (2021)

Directed by James Mark

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi action film “Enhanced” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and Africans) portraying mutants and humans.

Culture Clash: An elite military squad is tasked with rounding up and imprisoning mutants who have deadly powers, while a “super mutant” is looking for more mutants to absorb their energy so he can take over the world.

Culture Audience: “Enhanced″ will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative and forgettable sci-fi movies.

Patrick Sabongui, George Tchortov and Eric Hicks in “Enhanced” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The filmmakers of “Enhanced” should have titled this movie “Flimsy X-Men Ripoff” if they wanted more truth in advertising. It’s a formulaic and mindless flick about mutants being hunted by humans. The visual effects are weak, most of the acting is mediocre-to-terrible, and the action scenes are just filler as one scene clumsily lumbers to the next.

Directed by James Mark, “Enhanced” has almost no suspense because it’s obvious which characters will survive in this “humans versus mutants” war that is going on in an unnamed city in Canada. How do viewers know who’s going to survive until the end of the movie? Time and time again, there are two characters in the movie who could easily be killed when they’re cornered by the “enemy,” but these two characters inexplicably are allowed to get away. It’s all so that movie can drag along to its very predictable conclusion.

“Enhanced” (which has the title “Mutant Outcasts” in Germany) was written by “Enhanced” director Mark, Matthew Nayman and Peter Van Horne. And having three writers for this lackluster and unimaginative screenplay just makes “Enhanced” look worse, because three minds were clearly not better than one in this case. There’s almost nothing that’s original in this movie, which recycles ideas from other, much-better movies about persecuted mutants. By the way, the humans in this movie have a very bland name for the mutants: The mutants are called “subjects.”

“Enhanced” begins with an elite military squad hunting down a mutant named Joseph or Joe (played by Patrick Sabongui), who works as a janitor in an office building. Leading this squad into action is George Shepherd (played by George Tchortov), who is the type of generic “alpha male” who’s supposed to be the story’s hero. George’s closest sidekick in the squad is Scott Cromwell (played by Eric Hicks), who is more laid-back than “take charge” George. Scott, George and some other members of the squad ambush Joseph while he’s doing some janitorial work when the office is closed for the night.

This is the type of bad dialogue in the film. George tells Joseph that they know his real name isn’t Joseph, and that Joseph’s number is 78-934BRAVO. Apparently, he’s escaped from a secret prison that the government has for mutants. Joseph, or whatever his name really is, shouts to the squad: “I’m not going back there! I haven’t hurt anyone!”

Joseph’s eyes turn a glowing blue (it’s how the movie shows the mutants unleashing their powers) and replies in desperation, “You don’t understand! They did this to me!” George says, “Joseph, this is your last chance.” Joseph answers, “No, this is your last chance!”

Joseph runs away and ends up using his mutant powers to burst onto the rooftop of the building. But the squad is right behind him, and Joseph is cornered and captured. He’s taken back to the secret prison, which is is shown later on to be just a space with several glass-enclosed rooms. It looks more like a modern office building than a prison.

Usually in movies like this, the mutants would be held captive so that the government can do secret research on them. But no, not in this dimwitted movie. These mutants are just being held captive until the government can figure out what to do with them. Taxpayer money down the drain.

Meanwhile, there’s a mutant named Anna (played by Alanna Bale) in her late teens or early 20s who ends up being one of the hunted. She works as a mechanic in an auto body shop owned by her boss Danny (played by Jeffrey R. Smith), who doesn’t know that she’s a mutant. For example, he doesn’t notice when Anna uses her mutant superpowers to do things like unscrew major auto parts with her bare hands when it would take tools and a lot of human strength to do it.

Danny is targeted for extortion by some local thugs, who gang up and assault him one day at the auto shop while Anna is there too. You know what happens next. Anna uses her mutant superpowers to kill the thugs, but it’s not enough to protect Danny, who has been shot during this brawl. Anna makes a phone call for emergency help. As Danny lies seriously injured on the floor, he asks Anna, “What are you?” She doesn’t give an answer because she’s already out the door as a fugitive on her bicycle.

During her time on the run, Anna meets a guy named Eli (played by Michael Joseph Delaney), who’s a stereotypical nerdy researcher who always seems to be in movies like this one. The researcher fulfills the role of explaining all the “secrets” that they’ve uncovered in their research. When Eli first meets Anna, he already knows that she’s a mutant. However, Anna doesn’t trust Eli at first because she think he’s another human who wants her to be locked up.

Eli has found out that there’s a “super mutant” on the loose who’s been killing other mutants to absorb their energy. This “super mutant” can sense other mutants’ presence and track them down like he’s got some inner mutant GPS system or psychic ability or some other nonsense that’s explained in the movie. And guess who finds out about the secret prison filled with mutants?

This “super mutant” has the very unremarkable name of David (played by Chris Mark), and he’s an extremely dull villain with no personality. Glaring into the camera doesn’t count as having a personality. Chris Mark’s performance as David is so lifeless that you almost wonder if he thought he was playing a zombie, not a mutant. The actor shouldn’t get all the blame because the director didn’t cast this movie very well and should have given better direction to the cast members.

Meanwhile, George clashes with his supervisor Captain Williams (played by Adrian Holmes) over something, so George ends up going “rogue.” It’s not a spoiler to reveal this information, because how else would it explain why George and Anna work together when they inevitably cross each other’s paths? And let’s not forget about Eli, who has to play the role of the “computer/technology expert” so that someone can conveniently tap into secret computer networks when needed.

Bale gives the best performance in the cast, but that’s not saying much when her Anna character, just like everyone else in the movie, is as two-dimensional as a cartoon character. Don’t expect any of this movie’s characters to have interesting stories about their lives. And the fight scenes aren’t very impressive when you consider that certain people could be easily killed during certain fights, but they aren’t killed because the movie obviously wants these characters to survive.

Mutant villain David has the ability to regenerate when he’s wounded, but the movie isn’t consistent in showing this ability in some of David’s fight scenes. This movie is called “Enhanced” because the mutants have enhanced physical powers. But the movie is so woefully lacking in originality that the quality of the movie is diminished to being creatively bankrupt.

Vertical Entertainment released “Enhanced” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on March 26, 2021. The movie was released in Brazil in 2019.

Review: ‘Come True,’ starring Julia Sarah Stone and Landon Liboiron

April 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Julia Sarah Stone in “Come True” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Come True”

Directed by Anthony Scott Burns

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi drama “Come True” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A runaway teen enrolls in a university’s mysterious sleep study and finds out that she could be part of a dangerous experiment. 

Culture Audience: “Come True” will appeal primarily to people who like atmospheric sci-fi that is deliberately ambiguous until toward the end of the story.

Julia Sarah Stone in “Come True” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Come True” is the type of sci-fi movie where the movie revolves around experiments that you know immediately aren’t what they first appear to be, but the movie takes its time to reveal the true meaning of what’s supposed to be happening. With its aqua-tinted scenes and dreamlike stylings, “Come True” has an otherworldly feel, but the story takes place on Earth, in an unnamed Canadian city. It’s the type of movie that is best enjoyed if people don’t mind if the story doesn’t really explain what’s going until the last third of the film.

Written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns, “Come True” definitely has influences from David Cronenberg, a filmmaker who has a penchant for sci-fi/horror stories that make Earth look disarmingly normal and futuristically dangerous at the same time. According to the “Come True” production notes, there were only five people on the film’s on-set production crew (about seven times smaller than the movie’s cast), and the results are very impressive with the movie’s visual style.

Less impressive is the often-muddled storytelling that tends to be a little repetitive until things become much clearer toward the end of the movie. The movie’s protagonist is 18-year-old Sarah Dunn (played by Julia Sarah Stone), a rebellious student who’s a misfit and loner at her high school. Sarah keeps having dreams where she sees a mysterious tall and faceless creature that resembles Slenderman.

As a result of these nightmares, Sarah has had a hard time sleeping at night. In an early scene in the movie, she’s dozed off in class and has another nightmare and wakes up startled. The other students notice and start to laugh, while a student in the class calls Sarah a “freak,” and Sarah tells the bully to “fuck off.” Sarah’s home life is barely shown (her parents are irrelevant to the story), because the next thing you know, Sarah runs away from home with only her bike and a few basic possessions. She sleeps in a park and somehow doesn’t get in trouble for loitering or vagrancy.

It’s never really shown how Sarah gets her meals as a runaway, but something comes along where she doesn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, at least temporarily. A friend of Sarah’s named Zoe (played by Tedra Rogers) tells Sarah about a local university that’s doing a two-month sleep study where the participants have to sleep in the study center. During an interview with a sleep study staffer in her 20s named Anita (played by Carlee Ryski), Sarah says that she drinks five to six cups of coffee a day and that she used to sleepwalk when she was a kid.

Sarah is accepted into the study, and she has a roommate in her 20s named Emily (played by Caroline Buzanko), who doesn’t interact much with Sarah. The head of the sleep study is Dr. Meyer (played by Christopher Heatherington), a meticulous and intellectual type in his 60s. Anita and a man in his 20s named Lyle (played by John Tasker) are among the assistants who work closely with Dr. Meyer.

One day, Sarah is in a bookstore when she sees a bearded man in his late 20s, wearing glasses and a trenchcoat, who seems to be following her. They make eye contact and she assumes he’s just a random creep and manages to slip out of his sight. Later that evening, Sarah and Zoe go to a movie theater to watch the 1968 classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” And Sarah sees the same man in the movie theater, and he’s sitting not too far from Sarah and Zoe. Sarah tells Zoe about seeing this man earlier, because she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.

It’s not. It turns out that his name is Jeremy, nicknamed Riff (played by Landon Liboiron), and he’s part of Dr. Meyer’s team. Why was he following Sarah? He won’t say, but Sarah eventually meets him at the sleep study center. She’s annoyed with Riff because she doesn’t know why he was stalking her, but he makes an attempt to be nice to Sarah, who has her reservations about him.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions that Sarah has during the study. When she asks the sleep study staffers something basic, such as, “What are you studying?,” she usually gets this answer: “I can’t tell you that.” After a while, it becomes repetitive and frustrating for Sarah, as it will be for viewers of this movie.

Sarah’s dreams start to get worse until she wakes up with panic attacks and minor convulsions. At one point in the movie, her left eye starts to bleed, so she has to wear an eye patch. And in an unexpected incident, Sarah passes out in a laundromat.

One day, Sarah finds out that her roommate Emily has disappeared with no goodbye. When Sarah asks about Emily, Sarah is told that Emily dropped out of the study. Anita tells Sarah that it’s fairly common for people to not complete these types of studies because they want to go back to sleeping in their own homes.

Gradually, it becomes apparent that Riff is starting to become attracted to Sarah. It’s a little creepy, because although Sarah is legally an adult, she looks like she’s about 15, and Riff is in his late 20s. The movie doesn’t acknowledge the breach of ethics of someone conducting a scientific study who then gets romantically involved with a study subject and how that could compromise any data gathered.

Because it takes to so long for the movie to get to a meaningful explanation of what the real reason is for the sleep study, a great deal of “Come True” involves a lot of hallucinogenic imagery of what Sarah is experiencing in these dreams. These visuals will either keep people interested or it will bore people who want the mystery to be solved at a much quicker pace.

The music of “Come True” was composed by electro-pop duo Electric Youth and writer/director Burns under his musical alias Pilotpriest. (Electric Youth’s song “Modern Fears” is featured prominently in the film, and it sums up the atmosphere that “Come True” is trying to convey.) The music and visual effects greatly enhance the mystical haze of questionable reality that permeates throughout the movie.

Stone’s performance as Sarah makes her a believable character, but the movie skimps on details about Sarah’s interests and life goals, because so much of what viewers see of Sarah consists of her dreams/nightmares. The last 20 minutes of the film are a bit rushed when the mystery of the sleep study is revealed. But the ride getting there is fairly captivating for those who have the patience to find out what happens in the end.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Come True” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Little Fish’ (2021), starring Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell

March 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Olivia Cooke in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” (2021) 

Directed by Chad Hartigan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle from 2020 to 2022, the sci-fi drama “Little Fish” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British woman and her American husband struggle with fear and health issues during a global pandemic of the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA).

Culture Audience: “Little Fish” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-acted apocalyptic dramas that have romance and surprises.

Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” is the type of plot-puzzle drama that appears to be straightforward in its intentions but turns out to be quite different from what was initially presented. The movie succeeds largely because of commendable acting from Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, who play a newlywed couple struggling with a health crisis when one of them becomes afflicted with the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA) during a global pandemic. Because the movie takes place primarily in 2022, with flashbacks to previous years, the parallels are eerily similar to the real-life COVID-19 pandemic, although “Little Fish” was written and filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic existed.

Written by Mattson Tomlin (who adapted the screenplay from Aja Gabel’s short story) and directed by Chad Hartigan, “Little Fish” is told from the point of view of a lively Brit named Emma (played by Cooke), who works as a veterinary technician in Seattle. The movie’s tone is fraught with anxiety because Emma starts to see signs that her worst fears are coming true: The two people she loves the most have become afflicted with NIA, a viral disease that causes dementia.

The movie is a series of scenes in non-chronological order, with the “present day” scenes taking place in 2022. Emma gives voiceover narration during much of the story, and there are many scenes where she is articulating her memories so that she can write them down for herself and her American husband Jude (played by O’Connell), a photographer who is slowly showing signs of having NIA. It’s an activity that she does with a heavy heart because she knows it might be a matter of time before Jude will forget who she is and everything about their relationship.

In addition, Emma’s mother, who lives in England, is also showing signs of NIA. Emma’s mother (whose name is not revealed) is never seen in the movie, but her voice is heard when Emma speaks to her on the phone or leaves a voice mail message for her. Emily Stott is the voice of Emma’s mother in the movie.

In the world of “Little Fish,” NIA does not have a vaccine or cure. And there doesn’t seem to be much knowledge about how it is spread, although people occasionally wear masks as a precaution. Because a lot of the movie takes place in flashbacks, viewers see in bits and pieces how Emma and Jude met and how their relationship evolved.

Emma and Jude met while she was sitting by herself on a deserted beach. She sees a dog nearby and asks the man walking near her if the dog is his. He says no. The way that Emma and Jude look at each other, there’s an obvious attraction. Emma is talkative, while Jude is a little bit more emotionally reserved.

Jude has a camera with him and asks if he can take her picture. She obliges, they talk, flirt a little, and they exchange numbers. There’s only one problem. Emma already has a boyfriend, but she doesn’t tell Jude that the first time that they meet.

Shortly after Jude and Emma meet each other at the beach, Emma is at a Halloween costume party. She’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat, the French doctor who was considered a pioneer of veterinary medicine in the 1700s. Emma looks bored at the party, and her boyfriend Tim (played by David Lennon), senses that she’s become emotionally distant. However, Emma insists that everything is just fine.

While at the party, Emma gets a call from Jude, who asks her to come over to his place because he’s feeling kind of lonely at his apartment. Emma doesn’t hesitate, so she ditches the Halloween party and goes to Jude’s place. Once he sees her, he immediately guesses that she’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat. It’s one of many indications of why Emma fell for Jude so quickly.

Jude and Emma then head to a nightclub, where she tells him that she has a boyfriend named Tim. When Jude asks Emma if she loves her boyfriend, she says no. Jude asks Emma why she’s with this boyfriend if she doesn’t love him. Emma tells Jude that it’s complicated. More than once Jude gets Tim’s name wrong (Jude calls him Tom), which could be a mental block or a deliberate attempt to show Emma that he’s so unconcerned about Tim that he can’t be bothered to remember Tim’s name.

While hanging out at the nightclub together, Jude and Emma’s attraction to each other continues to grow. They share a similar sense of humor, such as pointing out people in their sight and trying to guess what these people’s stories are. The movie doesn’t delve too much into Jude’s family background, but it’s implied he’s on how own, while Emma (who has a working-class northern England accent) only has her mother has her closest living relative.

During their flirtatious conversation at the nightclub, Jude asks Emma if she can kiss her. She says no because she has a boyfriend. Not long afterward, Emma says she has to leave, and then she surprises Jude by giving him a romantic kiss on the mouth.

Needless to say, Emma’s relationship with Tim doesn’t last. Jude and Emma’s romance quickly heats up, they end up moving in together, and then they get married. Emma mentions in the movie that their wedding was on October 14, 2021, which means that they were married for a year or less when Jude began showing signs of having NIA.

At first, Jude’s forgetfulness is about little things. For example, Emma and Jude have a dog named Blue. One day while riding together on a bus, Emma says it would be great if they could adopt another dog as a companion for Blue. Jude says no because they don’t have room in their apartment. They get into a minor argument about it, but Jude is firm in saying it’s not a good time for them to get a second dog.

But then, on another day not long after that argument, Jude mentions to Emma that they should think about adopting a second dog. Emma is shocked and reminds Jude that this has been an ongoing disagreement with them, with Jude being the one who was against the idea of getting a second dog. Jude tells Emma that he honestly can’t remember them disagreeing about this issue.

Emma and Jude never do get a second dog, because they have much the more pressing matter of how to deal with Jude’s disappearing memory. Jude shows other signs that his memory is slipping. He forgets where he lives and doesn’t think about looking at his driver’s license to get his home address. On another occasion, he’s very late for an important job to take photos of a wedding. And speaking of weddings, there’s a pivotal scene where Jude and Emma have very different memories of their wedding day.

While all of this is going on, Emma confides to her mother about her suspicions that Jude might have NIA. But to Emma’s horror, her mother starts to forget names and experiences too. And then, Emma gets a phone call from England and finds out how much her mother’s health is deteriorating. Emma has to decide if she should go to England to try to help her mother (who apparently has no other relatives to turn to) or stay in the U.S. to help Jude.

Emma and Jude’s closest friends are a couple named Ben Richards (played by Raúl Castillo) and Samantha (played by Soko), an alternative rock duo who are musical partners and love partners. Ben plays guitar and Samantha is the singer. Ben and Samantha knew Jude first, because Jude used to go on tour with them as the duo’s photographer.

As Jude reveals later in the story, during their touring days, Jude and Samantha got caught up in partying too much with alcohol and drugs, and they decided to “dry out” in Seattle, where Samantha’s parents live. By the time Jude met Emma, he had been clean and sober for a few years. In flashbacks, Samantha and Ben are shown to have a loving and harmonious relationship.

Unfortunately, things change when Ben’s mental state does downhill because he has NIA. At first, Ben’s forgetfulness shows up as not remembering the musical notes of his guitar strings, so Jude comes up with an idea to tattoo this information on Ben’s arms. But then, Ben’s memory loss results in a very disturbing incident that has Samantha questioning if she should continue to be in a relationship with Ben. And the dark turn in Samantha and Ben’s relationship has Emma worrying about how she and Jude need to prepare in case something similar happens to them.

Shortly after Jude began losing his memory, it’s in the news that the government is doing a clinical trial for a possible NIA vaccine. The clinical trial is open to people who show NIA symptoms. Emma immediately encourages Jude to apply for this clinical trial, but he’s reluctant, because he’s still somewhat in denial that he has NIA. How this issue is resolved is one of the turning points in the movie. There are a few scenes that also show how desperate people can become when they think there’s a chance that they or their loved ones have a chance to be cured of this terrible disease.

The heart of “Little Fish” is in the scenes that show Jude and Emma’s romance. They have a relationship that’s very realistic, such as an ease with one another in how they live as a couple, share emotional intimacy, and even how they handle disagreements. Despite their occasional conflicts, Emma and Jude are very much in love and committed to each other. And as NIA starts to take over their lives, the decisions they make are a direct result of their fear of losing each other.

The movie is titled “Little Fish” because of a scene in the movie where Jude proposes marriage to Emma. They are at a fish aquarium store when he pops the question, and she enthusiastically says yes. However, Jude tells her that he doesn’t have an engagement ring.

Emma is so happy that she doesn’t mind. She replies, “Then buy me a fish.” Later, Emma and Jude get matching tattoos of little fish on their respective right ankles to commemorate this special day. It should come as no surprise that there’s a scene in the movie where these tattoos are a way to see how much Jude remembers about his relationship with Emma.

“Little Fish” can be described as a sci-fi romantic drama, but there are parts of the movie that have the qualities of being an apocalyptic horror movie without all the bombastic “run for your lives” scenes that are usually in these types of apocalyptic movies. In “Little Fish,” the NIA horror sneaks up on people but shows up in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

In one of the flashback scenes, Emma is at her job and signs paperwork for a stray dog that is turned in by a city employee named Frank (played by Toby Hargrave), who works for the city’s animal control department. Emma is a little surprised that Frank can’t remember her name. Observant viewers will not be surprised later in the movie when another driver named Annie (played by Angela Moore) shows up and tells Emma that she’s Frank’s replacement because he stopped showing up for work. The implication is that Frank has NIA.

The horror of NIA is exemplified in real life-or-death situations. While taking a tourist-type boat ride to get their mind off of their troubles, Emma and Jude witness a woman run hysterically toward them because the woman doesn’t remember her husband and thinks he’s a stranger trying to kidnap her. The woman on the boat is so distraught that she does something desperate and tragic.

And there are also missing-person flyers that start to become more prevalent as the NIA pandemic worsens. That’s because the disease has spread at such a rate that more people forget who they are, wander off, and go missing. It’s something that Emma fears might happen to Jack, her mother, and other people she know, including herself.

Cooke and O’Connell (who are both British in real life) have the type of natural chemistry with each other that give their performances considerable authenticity. Because Jude and Emma are a very believable couple, audiences will be rooting for Jude and Emma to somehow make it through this crisis against all odds. “Little Fish” director Hartigan and film editor Josh Crockett skillfully weave the story in such a way that viewers of “Little Fish” will be engrossed in putting all the flashbacks together to find out who Jude and Emma are. What makes this movie memorable is how these perceptions compare from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie.

IFC Films released “Little Fish” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.

‘Avatar’ reclaims title as biggest-selling movie of all time

March 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in “Avatar” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Thanks to a 2021 re-release in China, the 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar” (from 20th Century Fox) has reclaimed the title as the world’s biggest-selling movie of all time for ticket sales. In 2019, Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Endgame” had broken this ultimate box-office record, with $2.797 billion in worldwide ticket sales, compared to Avatar’s then-total gross of $2.790 billion. With the re-release of “Avatar” on March 9, 2021, worldwide ticket sales for “Avatar” currently stands at $2.84 billion, according to Box Office Mojo. In the U.S. and Canada, ticket sales for “Avatar” total $760.5 million, while the total for “Avengers: Endgame” is $858.4 million.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar” tells the story of a paraplegic U.S. Marine named Jake Sullivan (played by Sam Worthington), who is sent to the planet Pandora. Using an avatar disguise to fit in with the residents, he encounters conflicts about his mission and other choices when he falls in love with a Pandora resident named Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana). The movie’s cast also includes Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez. “Avatar” was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie ended up winning three Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects.

“Avengers: Endgame” easily became the world’s highest-grossing movie of the 2010s decade, surpassing 2014’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” whose ticket sales totaled $914 million in the U.S. and Canada and $2.1 billion worldwide. (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is still the No. 1-selling movie of all time in the U.S. and Canada.) “Avengers: Endgame” then became the world’s No. 2 highest-grossing movie of all time, surpassing 1997’s “Titanic,” which had $659 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales and a total haul of $2.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

Review: ‘Parallel’ (2020), starring Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Mark O’Brien, Alyssa Diaz, David Harewood and Kathleen Quinlan

December 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King and Mark O’Brien in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Parallel” (2020)

Directed by Isaac Ezban

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Seattle area, the sci-fi drama “Parallel” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black and Hispanic people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four housemates discover that their house has a mysterious mirror that leads to a parallel world where every person on Earth has an alternative look-alike counterpart in the parallel world, which operates at a slower time pace than Earth does.

Culture Audience: “Parallel” will appeal primarily to people who like twist-filled science fiction where the characters in the story have ethical dilemmas.

Martin Wallström and Georgia King in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

What would you do if you could take knowledge from a parallel world that’s almost identical to Earth and bring that knowledge to Earth? And how would it affect your life and the lives of others? Those are the major questions behind the plot and character actions of the sci-fi dramatic thriller “Parallel,” which brings suspenseful and philosophical moments to a flawed but overall entertaining story.

Directed by Isaac Ezban and written by Scott Blaszak, “Parallel” has a few plot holes that aren’t resolved by the end of the movie. However, these unanswered questions don’t take away from the overall storyline, which is held together by the entirely believable premise that people will often go to extremes if they think there’s a shortcut to what they think will make them happy. “Parallel” throws in the complications of greed and loyalty to demonstrate that this shortcut to happiness isn’t as simple as it might seem.

The story in “Parallel” essentially revolves around four friends/co-workers in their mid-to-late 20s who live together in a house in the Seattle area. (“Parallel” was actually filmed in Vancouver.) Noel Eggerton (played by Martin Wallström) is the group’s “alpha male” who think he’s the smartest one and always acts as if he should be the one to make the most important decisions for the group. Devin Parkes (played by Aml Ameen) is also very intelligent, but he’s a lot more sensitive and compassionate than Noel. Leena Fortier (played by Georgia King) is a free-spirited artist who used to be Noel’s girlfriend, but she decided that it wasn’t a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Josh Resig (played by Mark O’Brien) is a laid-back, creative type who has a mischievous side to him.

The four pals work together as the founders of a start-up tech company that’s trying to sell an app where people can rent private parking space to the public. (The name of the company is never mentioned in the movie.) Their goal is to eventually incorporate the app into technology for voice-activated cars.

Noel, Devin and Josh are the main developers of the app, while Leena and Josh share artwork duties, with Leena being the lead artist. Noel and Devin are in charge of sales and marketing. So far, the four friends haven’t had much success with the business. Money is running out, and the four friends might be evicted from their home if they can no longer pay their rent and other bills.

Near the beginning of the film, Noel and Devin are seen giving a sales pitch for the parking app in a boardroom full of bored and skeptical businesspeople. The leader of this business meeting asks if Noel and Devin can have the app ready by a deadline that Noel and Devin admit that won’t be able to meet. To Noel and Devin’s dismay, they find out that an acquaintance of theirs named Seth has put in a competitive bid with the company to develop a similar app. Seth has guaranteed that he can make the company’s deadline.

Adding insult to injury, Seth had previously interviewed to work at the four friends’ start-up company. But instead, Seth took the intellectual property information that he found out during the interview and used it to develop a similar app. Seth’s backstabbing move is an indication of the four friends’ lack of business savvy that they didn’t patent their idea and make Seth sign a non-disclosure/non-compete agreement when he interviewed for a job with their company.

The four friends had been counting on selling the app to the company that has now rejected them. Without this sale, they have reached the dejected conclusion that they can no longer afford to pay their house rent, and their start-up will probably have to go out of business. To drown their sorrows, the four pals go out for drinks at a local bar. Devin tells the other three that he’s thinking of taking another job.

One of the employees of the bar is a bartender named Carmen (played by Alyssa Diaz), who is somewhat aware that Josh has a big crush on her. However, Carmen has a boyfriend, so Josh doesn’t want to make any moves on her. Carmen is friendly to Josh, but she’s not flirtatious. This love triangle ends up being a pivotal subplot to the story.

When the four housemates go home, they find out through a series of random circumstances that the house has a hidden room that contains a mysterious full-length mirror. And they get very freaked out when they see that the mirror’s glass is actually more like a liquid substance. When someone puts a hand through the “liquid glass,” it disappears into a void, but the person is able to pull the hand out of the mirror.

Devin puts his hand in the mirror and describes the feeling as a “warm tingle, like your foot’s asleep.” And when Devin video records the mirror on his phone, he sees that the video shows the room without the four friends in it. Finally, curiosity gets the better of Josh. Before his housemates can stop him, Josh declares before he jumps completely into the mirror: “Neil Armstrong’s got nothing on me!”

What Josh finds on the other side of the mirror is a parallel world where he sees alternative versions of himself, Noel, Devin and Leena in the same-looking house. The four “alternatives” don’t see him though. The four friends in the parallel world have the same names as their Earth counterparts and look exactly like their Earth counterparts. Noel watches as the four “alternative” friends spend time in the backyard for a barbecue, which is something that the real Josh, Noel, Devin and Leena are not currently doing on Earth.

Josh makes his way back to the mirror and returns to Earth in the house’s secret room, where he tells his three friends what he saw. Of course, they’re very shocked at first. But when they see that Josh doesn’t seem to have any side effects from his trip, they decide to get more information about this parallel world. Through a few experimental trips back to the parallel world, the four friends find out that one minute on Earth equals three hours in the parallel world.

In this secret room that they’ve discovered on Earth, the four friends also find diaries from the house’s previous occupant: a hermit named Marissa Widdicomb (played by Kathleen Quinlan, in a cameo), who mysteriously disappeared before the four friends moved into the house. By reading Marissa’s diaries, the four friends discover that Marissa also found out about the secret powers of the mirror. Marissa was a widow grieving over her dead husband, and she decided to find out if her husband was still alive in the parallel world. She tracked down her alternative self in the parallel world, began stalking her alternative self, and found out that her husband’s alternative self was alive and well.

Marissa became so obsessed with wanting her husband back that she planned to murder her alternative self and secretly take her place. This murder is shown at the very beginning of “Parallel.” Viewers find out later in the movie who the people are in this scene and why this murder was committed. In her diaries, Marissa cautions against anyone coming face-to-face with their alternative or “alt” self because it will probably lead to the death of one of the selves.

Despite the tricky and possibly dangerous outcomes of messing with fate in two different worlds, it isn’t long before the four friends decide it’s worth the risk to use this mirror portal to their advantage. Because they’re desperate to sell their app to the company that rejected them, the four friends come up with a scheme to finish the app in the parallel world in order to beat Seth in the deadline. They call the mission “Operation Fuck Seth.”

Sure enough, the plan works. They finish the app before Seth does, and the sale is made. The four friends celebrate by driving to Seth’s house and gloating to him by telling him the news. Seth is incredulous that they made the deadline before he did. And he becomes increasingly suspicious when he sees the four friends’ fortunes go from bad to “too good to be true.”

That’s because greed inevitably takes over, especially with Noel, Leena and Josh. At first, they decide to go to the parallel world, pretend to be their alternative selves, and go on spending sprees by buying things that the alternative selves will have to pay for but the real selves on Earth can enjoy. (There’s a montage of all the gifts that the greedy pals buy for themselves and bring back to Earth.)

And then, two of the friends decide to take knowledge from the parallel world that isn’t known yet on Earth, and use that knowledge to get rich and famous. Noel decides to steal technology ideas, while Leena (who has always dreamed of being the type of celebrated artist who has her own exhibit at an art gallery) steals art ideas. They both get a lot of praise, recognition and financial rewards for their stolen ideas that they pass off as their own.

Josh doesn’t get as deep into stealing as Noel and Leena do, but Josh doesn’t disapprove of what they’re doing either. Josh’s main concern is how to win over Carmen. Meanwhile, Devin is the only one of the four friends who has a conscience and refuses to steal ideas from the parallel world. He warns his friends that they could face serious consequences if they’re caught, but his warnings go unheeded.

Devin has a reason for feeling as guilty as he does: It has to do with his father Martin Parkes (played by David Harewood) and something that haunts Devin that’s explained in the movie but won’t be revealed in this review. It’s enough to say that although Devin won’t steal ideas from the parallel world, he does have a very big motive to use the parallel world to possibly change things about his life.

One of the four friends ends up becoming the worst of the group (it’s easy to predict which one) and there are several things that happen in the story that indeed become life-or-death situations. “Parallel” somewhat devolves into the type of formulaic thriller where certain people turn against each other and loyalties are tested. However, there’s still enough suspense in the story to keep viewers interested in what will happen and how the story will end.

To distinguish between scenes on Earth and scenes in the parallel world, “Parallel” uses different techniques from cinematographer Karim Hussain. The scenes on Earth have a warmer hue, with a lot of gold and brown coloring. The scenes in the parallel world have a bluish glow, with tilted camera angles and slightly warped effects on the camera lens. Viewers who are paying attention will easily be able to notice the differences between these two worlds.

Out of the four actors playing the main characters in “Parallel,” Ameen does the best in portraying a well-rounded person. And that’s mainly because his Devin character is the only one who has a significant backstory. King also fares quite well in portraying Leena, who at times appears to be complicated because she could go either way in some of the decisions that she has to make.

“Parallel” clearly has influences from “The Twilight Zone” and taps into age-old questions about how much in life happens because of fate versus free will. The ending of the movie is a jumbled rush that could have been improved by answering a few questions that remain unanswered. However, the movie is enough of an interesting sci-fi jaunt that’s worth watching if viewers don’t mind keeping track of characters that have look-alike counterparts in a parallel world.

Vertical Entertainment released “Parallel” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.