Embers


Lonely amidst the rubble.

Lonely amidst the rubble.

(2015) Science Fiction (Papaya) Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots, Dominique Swain, Matthew Goulish, Silvan Friedman, Derrick Aguis, Brandon Bowens, Ryan Czerwonko, Nathaniel Andrew, Kirsten Kairos, Arianna Messner, Janice Culver. Directed by Claire Carré

Florida Film Festival 2016

It is said that we are really only the sum total of our memories, and there is some validity to that. But what happens when we take memory away? Are we still the same people we were with them?

In the not too distant future, a neurological epidemic has damaged the hippocampus of most human brains, leaving the survivors unable to form new memories. Everyone is forced to live in the present other than the privileged few like Miranda (Fernández) and her father (Cots) who live in a high-tech bunker with no other human contact.

Everyone else survives in a gutted wasteland, the crumbling ruins of a society no longer equipped to maintain itself. Wandering through are a girl (Gocheva) and a guy (Ritter) who are in love, but wake up every morning not knowing who the other one is, forced to fall in love all over again. There’s also a teacher (Smallwood) who is trying to find a cure, using logic and memory aids to help him remember what he is trying to do – and what he needs to do to survive. There’s also an angry, destructive teen (Glusman) who brings chaos wherever he goes. Finally there is a young boy (Friedman) who is trying to find someone to bond with, although he isn’t all that sure why.

For first time director Carré, this might have been a daunting prospect but she wisely tackled it in phases. I can’t say that it results in a cohesive whole – some of the stories simply do not mix with the others – but the results are impressive nonetheless. In fact, most of the characters don’t interact with others for the most part and the stories remain separate, rather than an anthology in which all of the threads end up coming together. Rather here, the threads are unraveling. Good science fiction isn’t necessarily about the technology (although the bunker sequences show some off nicely) but more about exploring who we are as individuals or a society. Our connections with other humans are largely based on memory; take that away and the anarchy depicted here is almost certain to result.

There is a tone here that can be likened to a malaise, although there are moments of action (particularly when Chaos is around) and conflict (between father and daughter). There is also some heartrending emotional sequences and even occasional bits of humor. Cinematographer Todd Antonio Somodevilla utilizes a lot of blues and grays in his palate, giving the film a feeling of further decay.  It also serves to make the mood a little more depressing and it is already not the most uplifting of films, if that’s what you’re looking for.

The performances here are tight and contained with a cast that is largely unknown (other than Ritter, who bears a resemblance to Ethan Hawke here, even more than to his own famous father). In this situation, even the adults become child-like, exploring the world for the first time. Carré elicits a good deal of pathos, but while there are moments of humor, there aren’t enough of them to give the movie the variety of tone it desperately needs.

This is more a movie for intellectual stimulation than emotional, which isn’t in itself a bad thing but sometimes the viewer needs a little of both. In some ways, the movie is terrifying – I can’t imagine anything worse than losing my memories and in the process, losing my self – and in some ways, it really does ask us to define who we are without the marker posts of our memory. I can’t complain about that to be fair – I do like to be challenged at the movies from time to time, and this movie certainly does that. All in all, this is a terrific debut from a promising talent.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating concept. Excellent set design.
REASONS TO STAY: Far from uplifting.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, rape, violence and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the events of the film theoretically occur in the same place, the movie was shot in three separate locations – Gary, Indiana, Lodz, Poland and upstate New York – in three separate sections, which were then interwoven during editing.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blindness
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Newman

Road to Nowhere


A noir setup.

A noir setup.

(2010) Thriller (Monterey Media) Tygh Runyan, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominique Swain, John Diehl, Cliff De Young, Waylon Payne, Robert Kolar, Nic Paul, Fabio Testi, Fabio Tricamo, Moxie, Peter Bart, Pete Manos, Mallory Culbert, Beck Latimore, Thomas Nelson, Bonnie Pointer, Jim Galan, Jim Rowell, Gregory Rentis, Larry Lerner, Lathan McKay, Michael Bigham, Araceli Lemos, Sarah Dorsey. Directed by Monte Hellman

I have heard it said that movies are a reflection of real life, and as time has gone by, real life has become a reflection of the movies. There is an awful lot of truth in that, sometimes more than we know.

Mitchell Haven (Runyan) is a moviemaker working on a film in North Carolina about a crime scandal. He has hired virtual unknown actress Lauren Graham (Sossamon) to play the role of Velma Duran (Sossamon), daughter of a Cuban national involved in an embezzling scheme with politician Rafe Taschen, played by actor Cary Stewart (De Young).

But art may well be imitating art as the director begins to fall for his leading lady, who may know more about the original crime than she lets on. And as flashbacks of the original crime tell us, the lines between movie and life are starting to blur significantly.

There is a definite noir feel here almost to the point of parody. Hellman is well-known for more anti-establishment sorts of films that tend to break rules and take chances. This is as mainstream a film as he’s directed (at least that I’ve seen), Silent Night Deadly Night 3 notwithstanding – it was subversive for its time as I recall (I haven’t seen it in almost 20 years).

I have to admit that most of my impression of Sossamon has been fairly rote, but she really shines here and proves that she is well-suited to a mysterious femme fatale role. She tends to get more sexpot roles and while she does well with those, the added air of mystery and potential mayhem really suits her. Not that Shannyn Sossamon is planning to murder anyone, mind you. She just plays someone like that on TV….or, in this movie.

One of the big problems here is that Hellman jumps back and forth from the movie to the crime (using the same actors playing the actors who committed the crime) and very often you are confused as to what you are watching which I suspect is deliberate on Hellman’s part. Fiction and reality collide and merge until it is impossible to tell which is which and perhaps that’s the whole point. It didn’t work for me however, possibly because I was being overly analytical about it. Sometimes it’s best just to let things kind of happen and allow them to wash over you without overthinking them.

This is a bit intellectual as noir films go, and a bit noir as intellectual films go. It’s really neither six of one nor half a dozen of the other and curiously unsatisfying when all is said and done. This isn’t the movie I would have expected Hellman to mount a comeback on. Not that I want to see him rehash his old style but I would have hoped for something a little less pedantic than this.

WHY RENT THIS: Sossamon is at her very best.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Often confusing, particularly as to timeline.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language (though not a ton) and a brief scene of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Hellman’s first feature film in 21 years.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A Q&A from the Nashville Film Festival and on the Blu-Ray edition, an interview with Sossamon.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $161,619 on a $5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shameless
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Bank Job