Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film or series available on DVD or instant streaming service. This month are two films available on DVD or instant streaming services. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
July is Sci-fi month. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Science Fiction film series at the Sie Film Center and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I host the series, and we have a scientist from the museum on hand to talk about the actual science (or lack thereof) in the film. It makes for great film viewing, an educational experience, rewarding discussion, and a fun time for all. This year’s installment starts on July 13 with an interesting and eclectic five-week program. Find more information on the Film Center website or the DMNS website. Hope to see you there!
In honor of the series, I am reviewing two Science Fiction films this month, both of which are small-budget, interesting, and thoughtful films. Please enjoy.
Women do not get treated equally in the workforce. Yes, this is common knowledge, and yes, it is an outrage that should be corrected. Yet seeing the machinations of that dynamic in action is still shocking, frightening, and well, just plain outrageous. Science Fiction has not been the most progressive of genres when it comes to gender equality, with women usually relegated to secondary roles or stock characters that merely served the males. Alien (1979) began to change that, but the genre has always been slow to join the rest of society. Advantageous, directed by Jennifer Phang, takes film, and Science Fiction film, one giant step forward.
Jacqueline Kim stars as Gwen, a 30-something single mother working as the PR face of a large, multinational corporation sometime in the near future. Her daughter is of the age where she must enter a prestigious school or her own future will be grim. The society is facing record unemployment, men who are beyond misogynistic, and aging women are rapidly replaced by younger versions. Gwen loses her job and fails to find another. Desperate, she is given a choice by her former employer—they can take her consciousness and place it into a younger body. She can then get her job back and offer her daughter a positive future. But she will not be herself.
It’s an intriguing plot. But stop. If you enjoy movies that explain themselves in the first five minutes, this film is not for you. If you enjoy movies that have complicated plots with complicated people in complicated situations, you may very well enjoy this one. Kim’s performance is intimate and alluring—she is able to draw you into her situation and keep you there. Phang’s direction is precise and timely—she is able to let the story and the acting do the work. The camera is always well placed, the lighting in particular is very good, and the settings give us just enough to satisfy our need for verisimilitude. It is a solid film in every way.
Science Fiction has always been good at placing contemporary issues in the future, just far enough away that we don’t get squeamish about their proximity. We have time. But Advantageous takes away that advantage. It presents us with issues we are dealing with now. Time to get squeamish.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Primer, Moon, and/or Upstream Color.
Available on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.
Approaching the Unknown (2016)
“The mission is a failure, and I can’t go back.”
Mark Strong may be the best actor you don’t know—his turns in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and The Imitation Game (2014) were noteworthy and memorable. He seemed destined for A-list, leading roles, but that has never really come to fruition. He is a thoughtful, intense, and emotive actor who eats screen time and leaves us wanting more. In Approaching the Unknown, a small-budget, intimate, heady Sci-Fi film from first-time director Mark Elijah Rosenberg, we get more. Now we want more.
Strong plays William D. Stanaforth, an astronaut/engineer who is sent to Mars on a one-way ticket; his mission is to start colonizing the red planet. Another mission with a lone astronaut sent directly after his own quickly fails, and now he is really alone in space. The loneliness and monotony of space, along with several system failures, takes its toll on the lone explorer. He is forced to make some difficult decisions.
There is not much else to the plot, save the ending. The real draw is Strong, his performance, and how he is able to captivate us while much of the film simply has him alone in the craft. There is a heavy dose of real science, a sense of the starkness and languid rhythms of such a mission, and an intimate character study. The visuals are tense and claustrophobic, the brief CGI shots are passable, and the editing is nicely compatible with the inner workings of our hero. This film rewards.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Europa Report, Moon, and/or Monsters.
Now available on Amazon and iTunes.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at MSU Denver.