Thursday, March 23, 2017

Our Final Days Together - Short Film Series (2017)

It always fascinates me that a genre like zombie films, which is so overcrowded, still regularly provides interesting reimagining of their main premise. From under-the-radar films like Maggie to TV shows like The Walking Dead that became global phenomena, it looks like we just can’t get enough of these brain-craving monsters. But, even more interestingly, the same genre works quite well in the domain of low-budget filmmaking and Our Final Days Together series provides a perfect example.

Written, directed and shot by Jonathan Vargas, a young film author from Florida, the series currently includes two parts, both of which follow a girl named Claire, played by Vania Vieta, as she navigates the world of Miami after a terrorist unwantedly triggered a zombie outbreak which quickly destroyed practically everything. In the reality where the undead reign supreme, surviving often comes with a heavy price and series examines the same toll in great detail.

Vargas is now a veteran author in the domain of filmmaking, which is seen through his work - a constant stream of improvements and upgrades is a clear trend. In his previous big project, Gaby’s Revenge, Vargas took on a neo-noir thriller web series. This time, he clearly wants to explore the areas of zombie horror, but at the same time, cleverly, he also pushes into a drama that is cut with a great chunk of the vintage suspense thrillers.

From the construct of both films, Vargas aims to merge genres into something that is part family drama, part Hickok film, all with a healthy dressing of zombie tropes. The form in which the films are made also serves this purpose - shot in black and white, with practically no props besides a few guns, the films are bleak and bare, just like the world of death and senseless loss in which humanity finds itself in after the collapse. The gist of the films takes place mostly in the dialogues between the characters, in which the notions of old and new collide forcefully. In the old order of things, lives and murders carried a different weight than in the new one.

Now, as the zombies roam the streets and the minds of survivors become polluted and/or diluted with the horrors that the apocalypse brought, there are no good choices or correct answers. In the films, it’s like Vargas tries to say that in this type of event, we all lose, regardless of the fact that we can die right away or kill to live another day. Still, his writing, like in his previous works, manages to end up at the notion of a family and what means to lose it or protect it when the danger is the greatest. The series shows one way or the other, protecting that safe harbor is no longer possible, in spite of the sacrifice some are willing to make to protect their loved ones.

But, while the general sentiment might be pessimistic, the tension of individual films is the strongest suit of the series. From the set up to the framing, everything in these moments underlines the fact that something wicked is approaching the characters. In these pulsating, unnerving segments, Vargas shows he can master the moment with just his shots and some ambient sounds, giving the films a very engaging trait.

At the same time, Vargas steadily builds a greater narrative which will clearly follow Claire into a very uncertain future as well - like always for her, there she can find either death or safety. That is why, at the very end of each episode, the pessimism still gives way to a glimmer of hope, no matter how much doubt and violence comes with it. I can only wait for new episodes and hope Claire will not lose her life or something even more precious - her soul. 

Watch the first part here and the second part premiers in April 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Film Review: Logan (2017)

Copyright: 20th Century Fox
Getting old is a tough thing to go through, apparently even more so for super heroes. Set some 20 years in the future, Logan explores the moment when powerful and relevant individuals lose all of that and just become frail people who desire nothing more than to rest and forget about their waking hours.

For Logan, now a limo driver in an increasingly crumbling US, that rest is hard to come by as his main task in life is to provide to Professor Xavier, now demented and (because of that) very dangerous, a peaceful end to life. However, a mechanical-hand-owning mercenary puts a dent in those plans when he appears, looking for a particular little girl.

Action and sadness are merged in this film is a great way, while its director James Mangold obviously wanted to make a superhero film like no other. While Nolan brought darkness and maturity, Mangold brought melancholy and resentment to the formula, both of which work like a charm. Logan is jaded and past caring (but not in that cool, rebel way), while Patrick Stewart does a marvelous job as a sick father figure who can give nothing more aside from a small grain of wisdom.

In all, it is this bitterness that builds the road on which Logan has to travel to redemption and purposefulness, no matter how tiresome or painful this might end up being. As an action film, Logan misses the mark only with its collection of villains, which are somewhat prosaic and not really engaging as the good guys.

But they don’t spoil the film, which is all about relationships. When Mangold placed all of this smart script-writing in a dystopian future that is only starting to become a real hellhole, the film ended up being something very unique and it resonated with me completely.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Crowdfunding Push – LIGHTSTEP CHRONICLES – Retro Futurist Space Opera Comic Book

Lightstep Chronicles is not a movie, but an interesting hybrid crowdfunding process that aims to firstly get its brand-new sci-fi universe into a comic book form. As the project unravels, the same universe should get its own novel, game and much more, all through its production company, Imagine Incredible Comics. Here’s how the project’s Kickstarter page pitches its campaign:

Lightstep Chronicles is a dystopian space opera devised as an ongoing comic book series. It is meant to be only the first of many series taking place in the same universe and joining together to form an expansive narrative that will tell the tale of a strange and colorful world and the secret hidden in its inner mechanism. 

Lightstep Chronicles take place in a future age, eons after our days and far away from our ancestral home, when time itself is the ultimate form of class distinction and oppression. Our galaxy, ruled by the omnipotent entity known as the Primogenitor, became a place in which the entire lifespan of the meek and underprivileged lasts as much as a single day in the life of the high and the mighty. In the midst of such a world, a young woman – an exile from a planet of fanatics bent on genetic purity – joins forces with an enigmatic Radio Pirate in order to unravel the mystery of a 1930’s radio program that seems to predict future events with eerie accuracy.

There’s definitely a huge potential in this kind of greenfield universe-building process that will quickly branch out to multiple media formats. The sum beings asked for is at the low end of the spectrum so hopefully the project will get off the ground. Check out LIGHTSTEP CHRONICLES – Retro Futurist Space Opera Comic Book official page and check out how you can help.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Film Review: Arrival (2016)

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
Let’s lay down the fact in a clear and hard-hitting way, like a good news reporter covering an event. 

Firstly, does Arrival include kids getting a terminal disease? Yes, it does. Does the film begin with the same notion, opening directly into this illness and all the tragedy and sadness that come from it? Yep.
Well, for a lot of people, this is equal to emotional manipulation on the highest level. Most of those people hated the film or they didn’t even complete it. But, at the same time, this is the only major element that can be claimed to be a problem for this film.

I’ll grant that sick kids immediately provoke something in us and they are not there by accident in any film, including Arrival, but for me, there was an intrinsic beauty in this masterpiece that didn’t even allow me to wallow on this opening cheap shot (which is not that cheap when the plot completes itself).

In the film, the best things from the fiction of Michael Crichton, including all those moments that induce a sense of wonder, fear and non-verbal amazement all at the same time - all of them are in this film. Whether it is Contact or Sphere, Arrival has that grand feeling about itself and it manages to use it with dignity and grace. As the team of scientists approach the alien spaceship, one of a dozen that just appeared above the earth’s surface, the audience steps inside with them, not only visually but also with their emotions. Here, the film sinks its hooks and does it perfectly.

The plot of the film and its captains, which includes not only Denis Villeneuve but also Amy Adams, steer it delicately yet decisively into a very personal story where all the cheap shot(s) from the start suddenly fall into place. Yes, Arrival is a film about alien visits and the magic of language, but more than any of that, it is a film about hope and love. Interstellar and Arrival begin in a similar manner, but the second movie then sheds its shallow skin and really immerses itself into an endless universe – not the physical one, but the one that is in the hearth of just one of its characters.