I fell into a vat of weird movies this past week -- and I'm not even ready to talk about The Zero Theorem yet. The best explanation I can think of for this turn of events is my willingness -- nay, insistence -- on trying movies that it's clear that the haternet has failed to understand. Sometimes a negative review from an evident moron on IMDb is more motivational than a rave from a reviewer of less distinct pedigree.
Coherence - 2013
Written & Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Perhaps Coherence will live up to its name a little more on a second viewing. It's not that I misunderstood the concepts involved or even failed to track the twists related to numerous parallel universes opening up, but a sudden change of character in the 3rd Act left me feeling somewhat cheated by the cheapness of resolution, or at least the kind of movie it suddenly decided to turn into.
As a comet is passing extraordinarily close to Earth, four couples gather for dinner. When the power goes out and their cell phones cease to function, two of them head out to find the only house in the neighborhood that still has lights and to ask to use their phone. They conclude that they must have gotten lost, because they find themselves back at their own house. They decide to leave a note at the other house, but before they can leave, they find that someone has left the exact same note on their own door. What house did they go to? What house are they in? How can they know? And just what the hell is going on here?
Coherence is a puzzle box that may or may not be solvable. The science of multiple dimensions and the mystery are all pretty fascinating. Sadly, the characters are much less so. There are strange and sudden conclusions jumped to, and the one character who seems the most even-keeled of the bunch suddenly goes haywire toward the end. Sure, we can appreciate part of the choice made, but there's a certain line cross that baffles human behavior without better establishing that within the character. Yes, I'm being deliberately vague.
I really wanted to like Coherence, but for a movie that put SO much thought into the logic of some elements to put so little logic into its characters simply displayed a lack of, well... [see title].
ETXR - 2014
Written by Herb Ratner & Trevor Sands
Directed by Trevor Sands
Bix the Bug (Samuel Caleb Hunt) is a DJ (but don't call him that to his face, apparently) on the electronic dance music scene. He's getting by, but struggling to freshen up his sound in order to make that big break he needs. Bix is a refugee from MIT doing what he loves and hanging out with his idiot manager Danny. Out of the blue, a former classmate shows up to talk to him about a device he's built, based on Nikolai Tesla's plans for a machine capable of communicating with other worlds, and he needs Bix's help because the signals coming back are more like music than distinct language. Bix sees the opportunity to exploit the device, a "Teslascope" as the musical breaktrhough he's been looking for. Danger follows, as a group of radicals, a wealthy investor unaccustomed to taking "no" for an answer and a pair of menacingly friendly agents all get onto Bix's trail.
ETXR is another mystery that fails to stick the dismount, but it had me up until then. Clocking in at a light 80 minutes, it really could have taken another 10 minutes to explain, oh, anything. I don't consider myself to be a person who is easily flummoxed by obscure plot points, so I feel fairly confident in saying that ETXR just didn't explain itself, or if it did, it did so in so obtuse a manner that it obscured its own trail of breadcrumbs. This is a shame, because whatever was going on with Bix and the Teslascope seemed like it should have been pretty interesting. Something astronomical? Something spiritual? A new dawning for mankind? A fat groove that all the world can dance to? Nope, The End. Bummer, dude.
The Scribbler - 2014
Written by Dan Schaeffer
Directed by John Suits
Suki (Katie Cassidy) suffers from multiple personality disorder, but with the help of her therapist and a controversial shock treatment known as "The Siamese Burn" treatment, she is now able to leave the hospital for a new kind of madhouse. The Juniper Tower (renamed The Jumper Tower by its residents) is a 16 story halfway house for psychiatric patients somewhere between ranting and raving. It's filled entirely with women (although we only ever see a half dozen of them) and one man, Suki's friend Hogan ("I checked the wrong box" but clearly enjoying the opportunities) with a variety of ill-defined mental conditions. As we learn from beginning at the end, several residents have exited The Juniper Tower via the express elevator with that one, sudden stop at the bottom, and the investigating officer is convinced that Suki's alter-personality The Scribbler is behind them... literally, in a pushing way.
The Scribbler was, evidently, adapted from a comic book, and it goes all-in on that source of influence so don't go looking for gritty realism here. You'll get the grit, but realism was the first to be shoved out the window. Think... a slightly less monochromatic and misogynist Sin City, with all the exaggerated characters and broadly interpreted mental illness. There's nothing wrong with the stylistic approach. It befits the deep Noir homage at play. It spends its time establishing what, exactly, the mystery is, at it's core, and by that time, there are only so many characters still alive to target for blame. Along the way, the film has changed shape at least twice, deciding in Act 3 to become a twisted superhero tale. Despite its flaws, I found myself drawn into the story's momentum, largely due to its quirks, but in the end it was the theme of healing and becoming whole that paid off the emotional investment.
Space Station 76 - 2014
See link for Writing credits
Directed by Jack Plotnick
Space Station 76 takes place in the kind of future imagined by the 1970s. Just don't expect it to behave like a science fiction movie or you will surely think you've been tricked.
Jessica (Liv Tyler) is the newest arrival at Space Station 76. She's to be the second-in-command to to Captain Glenn, who is coping poorly with the departure of her predecessor, Daniel. In fact, the only person having a harder time with her arrival than Captain Glenn are all the women on board, who are struggling to get their heads around the idea of a female officer. Most disturbed by this is Misty, who spends more time trying to self-actualize with the help of Dr. Bot than raising her curious and lonely daughter, Sunshine.
Virtually everyone on the station is unhappy, largely because of themselves, and this shapes the core of the film. It really isn't a plot-driven vehicle, but a sketchy ensemble piece where characters continue to search for happiness outside themselves, generally doomed to self-sabotaging failure. This is the theme that most strongly ties the film to its 1970s tone and influences, as demonstrated by Dr. Bot's prescription of "Valium... as much as you want."
I would have liked a little stronger plot line that developed some of the relationships better (through interaction), but all in all I enjoyed it. Those who expect it to be a "pew-pew" sci-fi or a "hyuk-yuk" comedy will be disappointed, and I question whether anyone who didn't live through the 70s will really get the satire, but for the most part, I found the space oddity to be a source of appeal.