Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Movie Night #5 Logically if you can go backwards you can go forwards. STOP ARGUING WITH ME ABOUT THIS!

Here again with another installment of Movie Night. Life is beginning to get back to normal but each day brings new emotions. That being said my family and friends have been so supportive I could not ask for more. The other thing that keeps me grounded is my passion for films. Being able to lose myself in cinematic bliss is a welcome change from sitting with my thoughts, and the opportunity I have here at Portemaus definitely necessitates that my blu ray player is spinning discs constantly.

Ok on to the task at hand. Today I want to talk about science fiction. I recently mentioned that my dad was the reason I read comics, well my dad is definitely the reason I like sci fi. Just like comics, we would watch star wars together and then grab flashlights and play lightsabers for hours. As I got older he showed me aliens, and predator and blade runner and so on...we began to talk about the "truth" behind the science fiction presented before us. We would watch shows about space and advancements in alien research even now when "the universe" is on, he calls me so we can geek out about the latest episode. I know I'm being nostalgic again so bear with me a bit more.

This piece is about exploring indie sci fi. These movies are not big budget spectacles like star wars or star trek, they don't take place on crazy planets and have multiple alien races with complicated languages. They all take place on earth most of them in a reality just like ours, except in these luck is a superpower, or time travel is possible. Each of these films takes a simple yet serious approach to sci fi and the directors manage to craft some superbly entertaining and engaging films exploring the "what ifs" of our reality.

Here are the films

Intacto - Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Time Crimes - Nacho Vigalondo
Primer - Shane Carruth

Intacto takes us into an underground culture in which games are played and luck is your only tool. In this world there are certain people who have the ability to take luck from others through touch or proximity, also much like a soul they can steal luck through photographs. Max Von Sydow is at the center of it all, he plays a holocaust survivor who has a file cabinet full of photos and is "the luckiest man alive." Federico, his estranged protege who was robbed of his "powers," finds a survivor' named Tomas from an airplane crash who is his ticket back into this subculture.

Fresnadillo develops this subculture so well without beating the audience over the head with this "luck as a superpower" theme, rather he takes us deeper into this world as we experience it through the eyes of Tomas with Federico as our guide. The further down we go the more intense the games get, what begins as a molasses game culminates in the craziest battle of Russian Roulette I've seen. There's also subplot involving a detective dealing with tragedy of her own as she chases after our two heroes.

I've never seen a film like this. Not that it is perfect or even anywhere near my top ten of all time, but the story and where it went caught me completely off guard. He takes a theme such as luck and approaches it in this way with subtle supernatural undertones to create an intelligent film that challenges the viewer to stay engaged and experience something completely different. He pays close attention to setting, the further along we go in t he plot the farther away we are from society. Beginning in a city and ending in the middle of the dessert, he uses this to parallel the state of our character. In the beginning we're in a city with tons of people but as we progress and we see how special Tomas is, the further away he is from society and the rest of the world ending with a nice chat on a rock.

Much like Demo by Brian Wood i don't want to get into too much detail with this one because i want you all to experience this for yourself. I urge you search out this film, if anything google the trailer and you get a sense for the type of style Fresnadillo utilizes. He keeps the tension high throughout as each game becomes more dangerous the closer we get to Max Von Sydow and his "lair" in the basement of a casino.

Time Crimes by Nacho Vigalondo is a low budget riff on an old theme. Time travel will only lead to problems, and using time travel to go back and fix what went wrong the first time will only make things worse. I have been recommending this film for years, ever since I saw it, and here I am urging all of you to see it and share it with your friends.

This story definitely takes place in the real world. The characters are normal people and we begin by seeing Hector drive home from the grocery store with his trunk not closed all the way, groceries falling out as he makes his way home. We gather that his wife and himself are in a country home fixing it up. The film really only has a few locations, the house, the woods behind the house, a road, and a structure at the top of a hill. These are connected together by probably less than a mile of distance.

The main character, Hector, witnesses what he thinks is a crime in the forest. Upon investigating it he begins to be chased by a man with a bandage wrapped around his head. He runs away and finds himself in a strange structure at the top of a hill, the worker there instructs him to hide in a weird looking machine at which point Hector wakes up out of the machine and its the beginning of the day we just saw. Needless to say this process keeps repeating as Hector tries to find out what happened and set everything straight, but no matter how hard he tries he ends up having to go back around again to fix something.

I'm not going to talk about plot anymore because the fun of this film is figuring out all the connections for yourself or seeing the film multiple times with the new knowledge that you've learned. Vigalondo lays it all out for you and after you have the answers you can go back and see just how complex his story is. His steady direction is amazing. For this subject matter he never tries to be flashy, instead he shoots very straightforward using the camera to give the viewer clues as to what's really going on. Sometimes he will hold a shot a few seconds longer only to reveal later on what that item means in the story.

I love the opening scene to this movie. I mentioned that Hector drives home with his trunk open and groceries spilling out. As arbitrary as the scene seems it sets up the theme of what we will see for the viewer and Hector. Hector keeps driving oblivious to the fact that by continuing to drive he keeps making things worse, just like his continued use of the machine only draws him further into trouble of never setting time right. For us the viewer it foreshadows the necessity for observation. We see everything and as long as we pay attention we could figure out Hector's problems before he does. This is a very simple approach to opening a movie and it shows us just how simple of a film we are about to see, but underneath how the complexity builds and builds. Unlike the following film which demands to be seen over and over to understand what is going on, this film you'll be dying to put it back in your dvd player so you can see all the clues and interactions you missed before.

The last film on here is Primer which won the Sundance film festival a few years back. This is another low budget tale of time travel. Unlike Time Crimes which is relatively straight forward as long as you keep up and pay attention, this film DEMANDS you pay the utmost attention at all times. It is as low budget as you can get with one of the main locations a garage and the other a storage unit. The script from first time director Shane Carruth is very heavy in its scientific lingo. Don't let that deter you though, because with hard work will come a reward in the form of a new take on time travel and what people might use it for if it were stumbled upon.

The film follows two young entrepreneurs starting a business which through their experiments they discover that their machine can create "time loops." They then begin experimenting with the machine themselves and from there the film just explodes with complexity and doubles and lies and deception. I would venture to say this film necessitates watching it over and over.

I'm fairly certain the first two films will be enjoyed by most everyone as they create compelling stories with a sci fi backbone. This film will be the hardest sell to the masses since an interest in science is a necessity for enjoyment. If you have no desire to hear the theoretical science behind time travel then you probably won't enjoy the film at all as it is very dense.

Personally though I love it. If you couldn't tell I have a thing for time travel, especially those that use time travel in the real world and not huge Star Trek like films. So Time Crimes and Primer resonate with me quite a bit. Again like Time Crimes, Carruth uses the mundane as a backdrop to his story so that the complexity of his science can shine. The story really is just about two friends who upon success discover there is no trust between them.

There is a definite "homemade" quality to the film, which at times can turn some people off but I feel it adds to the charm of the film. The director is very intelligent and speaks often of how he wanted to show what happens when innovation occurs to the inexperienced. He was smart in having his story not exist beyond his reach, here his homemade film pieced together from whatever bits of 16mm he could find reflects these young businessman embarking on their first big discovery. We get a sense that the young men don't know what they're doing and the director speaks about learning the process of film-making as he went along. Again this is definitely the film on here that is not for everyone but the subject matter and the way it was made makes it a fascinating film and one I've revisited time and time again.

Like I said before I love time travel especially time travel in the real world and not in crazy space operas. Although there is a place in my heart for those as well. As always I urge you to check out these films, take a chance on something, that's how I find gems like Intacto. So this post was definitely inspired a bit by my father and his never ending speeches about teleportation becoming a reality, my last post was obviously a dedication to my mother(love you mama bence), and I'm not sure yet what my next will be. I have an article about Watchmen that I've been working on, and excitedly I've received my first request from my brother Jacob which is definitely on the horizon. Thanks for reading especially all you new people out there we appreciate your readership. Be sure to follow us on facebook to get the inside scoop on everything PORTEmaus.


One last thought - Fresnadillo went on to direct 28 Weeks Later, which for me was a worthy follow up to Boyles already awesome take on zombies. In fact 28 weeks later, Dawn of the Dead, and Zombi 2 would be an awesome movie night of good zombie sequels.

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