“I’m totally fine”
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Vanessa (Jillian Bell) is a wreck after the unexpected death of her childhood friend and business partner, Jennifer (Natalie Morales, from Dead to Me). Until Jennifer suddenly reappears fresh as a daisy. “I’m just an alien who took her form,” she tells the stunned Vanessa – the alien is a “species observation officer” and was sent to study earthlings.
The premise is similar to 1984’s “Starman,” and both films deal squarely with grief and renewal. But while John Carpenter’s film was a romance, Brandon Dermer’s I’m Totally Fine borrows its structure from the buddy comedy genre. And it’s actually quite funny and sweetly touching too.
Bell mostly plays it directly, while Morales’ performance is endlessly inventive and every line feels unexpected. The actress even breathes new life into a sci-fi stock character — the alien whose connection to emotions is theoretical. Jennifer 2.0 looks strikingly like her dead host, but that doesn’t mean she thinks or acts like her. And although she downloaded Jennifer’s original memories, these are not translated into experience, and Jennifer 2.0 must learn as she moves on. For example, friendship is real and it’s best not to eat a whole sandwich in one huge bite.
An info dump around the 50-minute mark helps somewhat, but there’s no denying that the plot of Park Hoon-jung’s latest feature film is convoluted. At least the entertainment factor is high. Technically, this is a sequel to Park’s The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion, although the characters are new, with the notable exception of Dr. Baek from the great Jo Min-soo. It’s worth starting with The Subversion anyway, since we’re in the same universe – and a post-credits epilogue to The Other One suggests the director is planning a trilogy.
This expanded saga centers on young women who escape from a laboratory where they were created, raised and given super powers, and the various factions trying to find them. Park throws everything he’s got onto the screen: nefarious secret organizations, tight-mouthed mercenaries, a thoughtful wheelchair-bound scientist, surprising twin siblings, and of course, gallons of blood and an increased body count. There are so many groups of rival jerks it can be difficult to keep track of, but the director, who has a keen eye for stunning visual compositions, leaves viewers wondering what could possibly be next.
‘Among the Living’
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Harry (Dean Michael Gregory) and his little sister Lily (Melissa Worsey) head off to visit their father. Harry estimates that the journey across the countryside will take about two weeks, which seems a bit long, but they go and, well, there’s been a zombie apocalypse.
Mind you, we don’t see many of them on Rob Worsey’s indie release – just enough to learn that they move quickly and don’t respond to sound, as common lore has it, but to smell. The slightest hint of blood is a particularly large bait. In a nice example of frugal world building, we discover that duct tape has become a necessary commodity because it can be used to seal wounds.
The story mostly deals with the small details of survival as the siblings make their way into an eerily empty world. And with guns not lying around everywhere in Britain, people have to make do with whatever they can find – Harry, who was an accountant, doesn’t suddenly become a sniper. Fans of zombie slaughter may be frustrated at emphasizing the drudgery of living in a disastrous new normal, but that’s what makes this film so worth seeing.
Stream it on Tubi.
Like “Among the Living,” this free-to-stream, low-budget tubi original by Daniel Byers is a humble effort that strays off the beaten post-apocalyptic path. Again, the smell of blood is a strong draw for very hostile creatures. David (Harry Aspinwall) somehow managed to survive a pandemic that has pretty much devastated the United States. There are a few other survivors, but David is different: he was infected but remained seemingly healthy.
Hidden away in a house in the woods, he periodically sends blood samples to his wife Sam (Anita Abdinezhad), a scientist working in a Washington DC lab looking for a cure. After two years of this routine, David starts receiving strange calls on his landline and begins to realize that his situation is not quite what he was led to believe. “Eradication” is at its best when it describes the decaying psyche of a man cut off from everyday interactions while being monitored – an exaggerated version of how many of us are living now. After all, what really bothers David isn’t so much monstrous ghouls created by a virus, but being alone.
Some sci-fi experiments with plot and some with form; “Neptune Frost” by Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams does both. Set in Burundi, the story revolves around Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), whose brother was killed in the open-air mine they worked in, and intersex hacker Neptune (Elvis Ngabo, then Cheryl Isheja).
The film, which features songs written by Williams, is a head trip that refuses to be tamed in convention but eschews the “craziness for madness’ sake” that offers so many directors a safe, no-strings-attached haven. Fluency is key here, starting with dialogue and songs in languages like Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, English and French. The boundaries between genders, different dimensions, even between man and machine are similarly permeable – the costumes look as if they were made from recycled electronic parts. The film often feels like an overly cryptic flight of fancy, but it also offers a startling vision of a realistically chaotic near future (or alternate present) made up of jury-rigged scraps and hardy souls fighting oppression. This is the rare pamphlet that feels political and poetic in equal measure.