Dinosaurs, androids, darkness and superheroes factor into this months sci-fi picks.
By Elisabeth Vincentelli
‘Tales From the Apocalypse’
Rent or buy it on most major platforms.
Anthology movies are, for the most part, wildly uneven, so it is worth noting how consistently good these five shorts are, despite being very different from each other. (All have been available to stream for free on YouTube but this new collection gathers them all under one convenient roof.) The umbrella title suggests we’re in for stories about the end of the world but only the Brazilian director Gabriel Kalim Mucci’s “Lunatique” fully fits that description. Wordless and depressingly evocative, the film follows a woman (Lila Guimarães) trying to survive in a blasted city. Mucci uses a monochromatic palette to create nightmarish tableaux, with haunting details here and there (I won’t soon forget that ferret). His film leaves you wanting a lot more, and when do viewers ever feel that way?
More women try to make it on their own, albeit in space, in William Hellmuth’s “Alone” and Damon Duncan’s “Cradle” — both shorts have satisfying surprises that “Twilight Zone” fans will appreciate, and Steph Barkley gives a startlingly good performance as a pilot stranded at the edge of a black hole in “Cradle.”
The dangers of emotions running amok undergirds both Susie Jones’s “New Mars” (a settlement on Mars attempts to regulate love for the greater good of the colony — with yet another final twist) and Lin Sun’s “AI-pocalypse” (starring a dimension-hopping android). For lovers of the short form, this is a real treat.
Stream it on Film Movement Plus.
A stern father (Valerio Binasco) protects his three daughters from the postapocalyptic world by making sure they remain safely in the family house: The streets of their city are too dangerous for them, so only he goes out, in a hazmat suit, to forage for food. Emanuela Rossi’s film, from Italy, unfurls like an allegory for patriarchal power keeping women in the dark, figuratively and literally — when the girls venture to their garden for some fresh air, their dad makes them wear goggles that have been almost entirely blacked out as protection from the now-lethal sun. This could easily be about young women being raised in a fundamentalist sect.
This kind of movie relies on creating a convincingly claustrophobic and unsettling vibe, and Rossi excels in the world-building first part, with the father yielding an ominously cultish authority. “Darkness” takes off in a different direction when he mysteriously goes AWOL and the oldest sister, Stella (Denise Tantucci), must leave the home to find something to eat for her siblings, Luce (Gaia Bocci) and Aria (Olimpia Tosatto). The movie’s twists and turns will be somewhat familiar to experienced sci-fi viewers, but Rossi gives them an effective art house bent, and maintains enough ambiguity to create a lingering sense of unease.
Stream it on Netflix.
Boris Kunz’s “Paradise” is set in a near-future where people in need of quick cash can sell years of their life, which can be purchased by those who want to extend their longevity. Max (Kostja Ullmann) works at a sleek company specializing in such “chrono transfers,” and he’s very good at his job: convincing people to sell their time. Except that he and his wife, Elena, are using her life as collateral. When the couple’s overly expensive apartment burns down and the insurance doesn’t come through, they are in hock for the mortgage and Elena must undergo a “forced donation” of 40 years at once. Almost overnight they have lost everything, and Elena has aged into an older woman (Corinna Kirchhoff takes over from Marlene Tanczik to play her). As if this weren’t enough, the recipient of her years is Max’s own boss, Olivia Theissen (Iris Berben).
But wait, there is more! Elena and Max find themselves involved with the Adam Group, a terrorist organization combating what it sees as time theft, manifesting its opposition by executing recipients. This may have been an unnecessary flourish for this German movie, which is less interesting when it ventures into thriller territory than when it deals with the ethics (and practical consequences) of selling and buying time.
Stream it on Netflix.
You might have noticed that “65” did not get rave reviews when it came out a few months ago. Pay them no mind: Contrary to what you might have read, this is a rather good dinosaur action movie that will stand the test of time better than “Jurassic World Dominion,” the latest entry in a franchise now officially lost to tedious bloat.
For starters, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’s film is just 93 minutes long and uses that zippy running time wisely. Second, it has dinos and aliens. Third, those extraterrestrials are a little girl, Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) and Mills, a spaceship captain played by Adam Driver — whose intensity makes him look simultaneously out of place in this bucket of buttered popcorn and entirely right for it. Both characters are humanoids from faraway planets who crash-land on Earth. Since the movie is set 65 million years ago, they find the place crawling with prehistoric beasties eager to tear them apart before they can make it back to their escape pod. And that is the entire plot. Beck and Woods added a fun little flourish by having Koa not speak English, so she and Mills can’t communicate, but aside from that the film is entirely straightforward — and entirely entertaining.
‘Smoking Causes Coughing’
Stream it on Hulu.
Like “65,” the latest movie from the prolific French director Quentin Dupieux tackles a subject familiar to summer blockbusters — in its case, superheroes. But while “65” follows the precepts of the dinosaur subgenre, albeit in a streamlined fashion, “Smoking Causes Coughing” mocks the very idea of superteams. The one here is an assemblage of attitude-laden avengers squeezed into cartoonishly bright outfits inspired by the likes of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Ultraman” and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”
The general idea is that the Tobacco Force, whose members have such names as Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier) and Méthanol (Vincent Lacoste), is sent out on a forced bonding retreat by its boss, Didier — a rat puppet voiced by Alain Chabat. The movie is essentially a series of misdirections: Every time you think it heads one way, it makes a left field turn. Dupieux takes the basic building blocks of the superhero movies (there is also, naturally, a villain with galactic ambitions, played by Benoît Poelvoorde) but instead of assembling them into a regular story line, he gleefully spreads them around. “Smoking Causes Coughing” is a funny delight if you give in to its madcap logic.
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