It’s hard to define science fiction as a genre when the goal posts keep moving and yesterday’s far-fetched scenario becomes today’s headline. It helps to think of any movie that asks “What if?” as belonging to the genre. And this month’s selection of streaming under-the-radar science fiction will make you ponder many more questions.
Set in an indeterminate country at an indeterminate time, the Spanish writer-director Chino Moya’s dystopian fable keeps the viewer in a state of uneasy puzzlement. The costumes and bombed-out streets are drenched in a grim Iron Curtain aesthetic, and the general atmosphere suggests a parallel universe that is either totalitarian or abandoned by the state.
“Undergods” loosely weaves together distinct stories, with the first one kicked off by K (Johann Myers) and Z (Geza Rohrig), garbage collectors who pick up bodies instead of trash. While each of these segments has an off-kilter internal logic redolent of a morality tale, Moya is less interested in traditional narrative than in creating a coherent, albeit enigmatic universe.
The film will be anathema to those who need clear-cut — well, clear-cut anything. But Moya has made something rare: an oddity that feels both familiar and completely sui generis. Fans of “Delicatessen,” “Brazil” and “Eraserhead” should give it a shot.
What cozy mysteries are to hard-boiled pulp, this movie is to flicks about alien battles: the gentler side of a vast fictional universe.
At first, “Long Weekend” looks like a traditional rom-com. Bart (Ryan Murphy regular Finn Wittrock) is an endearingly struggling writer reduced to living in the garage of his best friend (Damon Wayans Jr.). One day he meets-cute with Vienna (Zoe Chao), who comes dangerously close to being a manic pixie dream girl, complete with cool bangs and quirky attributes — she doesn’t have a credit card or a cellphone!
The director Stephen Basilone (a writer on the TV series “The Goldbergs”) is self-aware enough to include a metajoke about said stock character. The relaxed, fluid rapport between the two leads is more important than any meta irony, though: It’s easy to root for Bart and Vienna, while wondering what kind of obstacles Basilone will throw their way.
Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a performance from Shakespeare in the Park and more as we explore signs of hope in a changed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series has followed theater through a shutdown. Now we’re looking at its rebound.
Which, of course, is exactly when the movie twists the romance into a sci-fi pretzel. Best of all, the ending feels earned.
‘Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula’
Five years ago, “Train to Busan” juiced up the zombie genre with a seemingly simple move: The unrelenting action was set on a moving train. Luckily for the film’s many fans, the director Yeon Sang-ho was not done with that specific universe: He also helmed an animated prequel “Seoul Station” (available to stream, buy or rent on several platforms) and then expanded his zombie playground with the fast and furious “Peninsula.”
This is not a random description because eye-popping car chases figure prominently in the movie, set in a ruined city overrun by hungry undead hordes and gangs of crazed thugs — it’s hard to tell which are worse, though they all pale next to a trio of ultracool female characters led by a badass mom (Lee Jung-hyun).
The title refers to South Korea, now four years into a mysterious zombie pandemic that has turned it into a wasteland sealed off from the rest of the world. But there’s gold, or rather millions of dollars in cash, in them thar streets, and a ragtag team with nothing to lose is dispatched from Hong Kong to steal the loot. Yeon takes it from there, working in various set pieces at a breakneck pace.
And there you have it: zombies + heist + “Road Warrior” + “Escape from New York” = winning formula.
Speaking of rejuvenating an exhausted genre: based on this greatly entertaining movie alone, Indonesia may do to superheroes what Korea did to zombies. The writer-director Joko Anwar wisely anchors the title character (played by the lithe, charismatic Abimana Aryasatya) in a dystopian Jakarta where bosses and crooks, protected by corrupt legislators, brutally lord it over factory workers and market vendors — the film has a strong Dickensian vibe and its treatment of children is bracingly unsentimental by American standards. This is where the superhero Gundala fights on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden, first thanks to his martial-arts skills then with a little help from powers derived from lightning.
His nemesis is the ruthless Pengkor (Bront Palarae), whose right side is disfigured à la the Batman villain Two-Face. He is trying to taint the city’s rice supply with a very special drug — the plot is straight out of a 1960s Silver Age comic book, which is fitting since that’s when the Gundala character was created.
The movie’s ending suggests a sequel is coming. No complaint there.
Welcome to an alternate reality in which Earth gets destroyed by a comet and Gerard Butler is in a pretty good movie.
What propels films that describe an extinction event is not whether our planet will be saved — it won’t — but who will somehow make it through, and how. Usually we follow a small group of people and the one in “Greenland” is down to a nuclear nub: John and Allison Garrity (Butler and Morena Baccarin) and their diabetic young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). This helps prevent Ric Roman Waugh’s movie from getting too scattered, even when the Garritys are separated: The tight focus, compounded by a relatively restrained filmmaking style, creates an anxiety-inducing atmosphere. We are a far cry from movies that show catastrophes of such a gigantic scale that they become abstract; here, human decisions drive the story.
Sure, “Greenland” recycles some clichés of the genre (bickering couple reconciles in adversity, for example) but it also raises thorny ethical and practical issues, partly because of Nathan’s condition. Who gets a chance to survive is not an easy question to answer.
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