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

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Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

(2013) Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Douglas Smith, Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion, Anthony Head, Leven Rambin, Jake Abel, Missi Pyle, Connor Dunn, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Ron Perlman (voice), Octavia Spencer (voice), Shohreh Aghdashloo (voice). Directed by Thor Freudenthal

When you’re a demigod (the offspring of one mortal parent and one Greek God or Goddess), life pretty much sucks. You can save the world and still end up feeling like a loser.

At least, that’s the way it is for Percy Jackson (Lerman). The son of Poseidon who saved the world from a plot to use the world’s most dangerous weapon to kickstart a war between the Gods that would have devastated the planet is kind of moping around a year later, wondering if he was indeed a one-quest wonder. Upstaged in nearly everything by Charisse (Rambin), daughter of the God of War, his friends Grover (Jackson) the satyr and Annabeth (Daddario) the daughter of the Goddess of Wisdom have his back but the headmaster at Camp Half-Blood, Dionysus (Tucci) can’t even remember Percy’s name let alone his fame.

When the camp’s defensive barrier is attacked (a magic tree), it appears that the only way to sustain it is to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece of Jason and the Argonauts. However, that rests on an island in the Sea of Monsters (what we humans call the Bermuda Triangle) and the way there and back is perilous indeed. He will have to deal with traitorous demigods, crazed cabbies, monsters of all size and shapes and a dorky half-brother (Smith) who happens to be a Cyclops. With his friends at his side, how can he be beaten? Well, quite often actually…

The second movie in the series based on Rick Riordan’s wildly popular young adult books, like the first film, uses Greek mythology as a jumping off point. However, that film was kind of poorly written with plot points that lacked coherent explanation and suffered a bit from too close to Harry Potter for comfort. Those sins are still very much in evidence here and while the special effects are more spectacular in the sequel, the thrill factor is much less in the second film than it was in the first.

Lerman has blown hot and cold as a young leading man. His sad sack Percy doesn’t have the heroic qualities of a Harry Potter although he does find his inner hero by film’s end (that’s not much of a spoiler). Here, he doesn’t hold up well to Rambin, who is sexy and charismatic and whose character exceeds Percy in nearly every category as Rambin does Lerman here. Lerman is beginning to remind me of Shia LaBeouf in a negative way.

A movie like this needs to be exciting and thrilling and the issue is that I never felt those things even once during the movie. It’s just kind of there – I don’t really care much about the characters, the visuals can be nice but ultimately they are like seeing a single red rose in a snowy garden; the color is beautiful but it doesn’t change that the rest of the setting is bland and colorless. The series, beloved by many, deserves better movies to be made from it.

REASONS TO GO: Some spectacular effects sequences. Fillion and Tucci are fun.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too Harry Potter-esque. Lacks chemistry. Percy not nearly as heroic as Harry.

FAMILY VALUES:  Here there be monsters; also some mild foul language, fantasy action sequences and a few semi-scary images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rambin, a natural blonde, wore a wig for her role as Charisse; Daddario, a natural brunette, dyed her hair blonde to play Annabeth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Story of Us