Forgotten Films: Predestination (2014)

The Australian sf film Predestination isn't old, but it may not have cropped up on your radar screen.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 153rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week we have a film that is again not very old but may not have cropped up on the radar of many of our readers. Predestination is an Australian film that was screened at South by Southwest in 2014 and opened in the U.S. in January of last year.

It is a tricky film with lots of twists and turns and I will try not to spoil too many of them. The story begins when a young man named John (played by Sarah Snook) enters a bar in 1975 New York and encounters the bartender played by Ethan Hawke. John reveals that he writes confession stories for the various true confessions pulps. There follows a bet with the bar tender where John says he has a weird story and bets a bottle of booze versus $20 that it is the wildest he has ever heard.

The story begins when John says, “When I was a little girl …” and goes forward. He had been a foundling, dropped at an orphanage where he was named Jane. Jane excelled at math and physics but failed miserably at relationships and getting along. Upon leaving high school, Jane applied to work for SpaceCorp, where young women entertain spacers on their return from missions. Essentially, this is a brothel for spacemen seeking intelligent women. But Jane has trouble getting along and eventually is kicked out of the program.

Jane then took a job as a servant for a family and enrolls in classes at a charm school. Here she meets a strange man whom she falls in love with and, in a fit of passion, has sex with. When he disappears, she chalks it up to experience until the skirts get tighter and she finds herself on the road to motherhood. When the child is born, Jane is informed that the delivery was a caesarean section. The doctor informs her that she was an unusual case. She had two sets of organs within her body — male and female. They were both underdeveloped. The pregnancy has messed up her female organs and she has had to have a hysterectomy. To save her life, the doctors make her a man. Also, while she was in the hospital, the baby is kidnapped.

Jane (or John) is now a fish out of water. A person with few social skills and no experience in her new identity, John becomes a secretary and, while typing up a true confession story, decides that he can do better at it and begins to write a column as “The Unmarried Mother.”

So far, it’s a pretty odd story. But the bartender offers John a chance to kill the man who caused her all this grief, made her pregnant, and cost her the life she knew. She leaps at the chance and finds out that the bartender is actually a time traveler for the Temporal Bureau and takes her back in her life.

If this sounds familiar, Predestination is based on the story “All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein. And if you read that story, you know where this is all going. And, if you haven’t, you should.

Sarah Snook is great as Jane and John in her various incarnations. She is a lovely young lady and not a bad young man (bringing to mind a young Leonardo DiCaprio). There is a story about the “Fizzle Bomber” whom Ethan Hawke is tracking. The bomber has blasted him at least once, burning his face significantly in the early moments of the film. Overseeing it all is Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), acting strange and mysterious in much the manner that William B. Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man handled the X-Files weirdness.

I enjoyed the film. I had initially heard about it on Facebook and found a Blu-Ray copy for less than $10 at Amazon, which still lists them at that price. It’s not a perfect film, but it is fun and odd and well worth your time.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Films: Coherence (2013)

Coherence offers some interesting twists, but its characters are yuppie scum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 132nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week I back with a new review of a Forgotten Film, after a wild week of trivia contests and the like. If you check yesterday’s post here on the blog you’ll find my long report on the event. My team conquered the world and became the first National Trivia League champion, defeating more than 200 teams from 91 different cities around the country.

Anyway, this Labor Day weekend I was invited to a friend’s home with some other friends to watch some science fiction and fantasy films. We saw five films during the day and Coherence indicates that this film came out in 2013. I missed it totally at that time, not even hearing the name or anything about it. IMDB shows that it only took in $68,000 in its domestic release.

The film deals with a single evening in the life of eight people, four couples, some of whom know each other, though no one really appears to know everyone. Four men, four women of various ages. There is a comet passing close to Earth overhead. One of the guest, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) has a brother (not shown) who is an astronomer or some sort of scientist.

Weird things start to happen. Cell phone screens break for Em (Emily Foxler) and Hugh. There are tensions among the group. Mike (Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an actor from the old Roswell TV series (not really) but he can’t find work. Em’s old boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) shows up with Laurie (Lauren Maher), whom none of the ladies like.

Things start slowly (really slowly, enough that I made some comment about My Dinner With Kahoutek in relation to the film) and then the lights go out. Candles get lit, women scream, glowsticks are found, and hysteria starts to raise its ugly head. Hugh looks outside and sees that there is a house up about two blocks that has lights on. He wants to call his brother and let him know what is going on. Hugh and Amir (Alex Manugian) go to check things out. They are gone for a while.

When they return, Hugh has a cut on his head and Amir has a locked box. Hugh claims not to have seen anything at the house and Amir says Hugh told him to take the box though Hugh denies this. Once the cut is treated, the box is open. Inside are photos of all eight dinner guests, including one of Amir that could only have been taken that evening. There are numbers written on the back of the photos in handwriting that Em recognizes as her own. Hugh then reveals that he saw something at the other house. He saw the eight of them inside.

Hugh’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) remembers that Hugh’s brother left a book when he visited the other day and she has it in their car outside. It’s an odd physics book and they open it at random and start talking about coherence and decoherence in a quantum physics sort of way. There are discussions of Shroedinger’s cat and the quandary it posed.

From here the film takes a very dark turn. Mike is concerned that the other him must be drinking and he is not a nice person when he is drinking. He wants to make a pre-emptive strike to prevent the other him from murdering him. That’s about as sane as it gets the rest of the way. A group visits the other house, which is of course a doppelganger of the house they are in. They see two sets of themselves, each carrying different color glowsticks.

Overall, this was an interesting film. Unfortunately, the first act is where we might get to know and like each of the eight guests. They are all annoying yuppy puppies and I had no sympathy for any of them. I kept hoping they would all die, several of them sooner than others, but I wanted them all dead. You might like them better.

The whole first third of the film just drug, hence the Dinner with Kahoutek reference. There is a wonderful Philip K. Dick paranoia through the last third of the film as it becomes apparent that the dinner guests are not always the same ones that started the evening earlier. People don’t remember significant things or identifying objects and numbers.

Overall, I think I’m glad I saw it. It ended up being much better than the final film of the evening, Under the Skin, which I found hopelessly muddled and making no sense whatsoever. But I am quite sure I will never watch this one again. And, as always, you may get better mileage than I did. I hope so.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.