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Night Sky

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Laced with intrigue, the new science-fiction drama series, Night Sky, follows an array of characters, centring on an elderly couple, Irene and Franklin York, played by Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons.

The Yorks lead a simple life in their quiet hometown in Illinois. Except, their mundane exterior is not quite as it seems. Many years ago, Irene and Franklin discovered an ancient chamber concealed in their garden shed, with the ability to transport them to an observer station, overlooking a desolate alien planet with an exquisite night sky. However, this mysterious chamber turns out to be much more than either of them had initially imagined.

The pair have been coming here for years to sit in awe of the planet’s beauty and ponder the possibilities of its existence. But this shared secret that has long bonded their union is now becoming a dividing factor in the Yorks’ marriage. As Irene’s health is steadily declining, Franklin suspects that these frequent trips are beginning to take a toll.

On one occasion when visiting ‘The Stars’, as the Yorks have dubbed it, Irene finds a bloody and unconscious stranger in the hidden chamber. Shocked at his appearance, the Yorks bring him home. Once awake, the perplexing young man introduces himself as Jude. He claims to suffer from amnesia and have no recollection of his former life. While Franklin is suspicious of the newcomer’s inexplicable existence, Irene is reminded of her late son Michael and embraces him with open arms, and proceeds to help Jude with his pursuit of answers about his hazy past.

In the second episode, the series takes an unusual shift that will have you wondering if you’re still watching the same show. In rural Argentina, we are introduced to Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and Toni (Roco Hernández), a mother and daughter who live an extremely secluded lifestyle. As Toni comes of age and enters high school, she begins to desire more from her sheltered upbringing. This creates a tumultuous relationship between her and mum as Stella battles to keep Toni unaware of their family’s secret legacy and why they must guard an ancient chapel on their land. However, upon the arrival of a shady figure from Stella’s past, she is forced to introduce her daughter into a world of turbulence and danger.

The stories run parallel as the show continues, before inevitability converging in later episodes.

Spacek and Simmons give Night Sky its gravity, their onscreen partnership demonstrating a warm affection for one another. Spacek in particular shines as Irene, conveying a tender presence in every scene, while Simmons brings a vulnerability to his portrayal of Franklin. Kiah McKirnan plays the Yorks’ concerned granddaughter and Adam Bartley plays the sceptical neighbour, but these characters feel like unnecessary filler against the Yorks and mother-daughter duo Stella and Toni.

While Night Sky has an alluring sense of mystery, the sluggish pace and scattered tone, switching between the Yorks in Illinois and Stella and Toni in Argentina, make it difficult to view the series as one cohesive story and not two totally different shows. Also, Night Sky’s focus on relationships and themes of love and loss overshadow the hollow sci-fi plot – a McGuffin if you will. Although it takes its time to build to any real tension, Simmons and Spacek continue to keep audiences engaged.

Performance driven and not particularly ground-breaking, the slow burn sci-fi drama Night Sky relies on its drawcards of Simmons and Spacek to foster its appeal, and thankfully, the two seasoned actors make the trip worthwhile.

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After Yang

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After Yang begins like a song that’s two bars in – it leaves you clutching at the beats to work out what this number is about. It doesn’t take too long to reveal itself as a near future sci-fi, but it isn’t until the thirty-five minute mark that it starts to take off – well, just a little.

The movie initially has a vibe similar to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, with the fly-on-the-wall look at a dysfunctional family. However, most of that feel evaporates as soon as we realise that one of the household members, Yang, is an android.

The film is based on Alexander Weinstein’s story Children of the New World: Saying Goodbye to Yang, intentionally dealing with issues of racism, and a future peppered with new forms of bias. The future in Weinstein’s book is a speculative fiction narrative where androids take their place in everyday society, with families purchasing them to aid, if not enrich their lives. It also brings into focus medical advancements allowing people to clone other people.

There are definitely overtones of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, with a central relationship between a child and her robot ‘bestie’. However, as far as the movie adaption is concerned, there is little to draw from any of the relationships on display.

After Yang captures the essence of the original story, with married couple Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Jake and Kyra decide to purchase a ‘pre-owned’ android, Yang, for their daughter to grow with, acting as a surrogate big brother and cultural teacher. Yang is a ‘Chinese’ android and is not just a big brother to Mika, but a beloved mentor. Yang’s database is filled with cultural facts, and he is able to pass on his knowledge to Mika as they interact each day. Beyond this, Mika seems to be closer to Yang than her adoptive parents.

Jake and Kyra’s marriage is strained, with Kyra always busy with her career, and Jake with his tea shop. Neither seem to have time to play with Mika and are emotionally cold throughout the movie, with barely a hug between any of the characters. It doesn’t take long for Yang to malfunction, and the journey begins to repair and bring him back to his old self. Jake eventually finds a specialist who helps him uncover Yang’s true memory. Jake journeys through Yang’s visual memory and sees the world through Yang’s eyes, and finds their android has had a romantic relationship with an unknown young woman from a local café. As Jake pieces Yang’s life together, it becomes clear that there is more to Yang than anyone knew.

At the outset, After Yang is a meandering attempt at tackling issues we might face in the future, bringing home contemporary biases we face now. However, it tries too hard to feel complicated when it is not. The resolution is uneventful, and the cultural issues it attempts to tackle are tiring and pedestrian. The premise is more preachy than intriguing, despite the usually interesting sci-fi android set up. Even as Jake joins the dots with his investigative work, the reveal barely makes a ripple, let alone a wave.

After Yang is a movie served cold, with an idea that could have delivered much more.

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Loveland

Australian, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

A truly gifted writer/director, Ivan Sen (who also shoots, cuts and scores his movies to boot) has beautifully and disturbingly chronicled the Australian indigenous experience via his genre-jumping work on the stunning local crime one-two of Mystery Road and Goldstone, the haunting visual poetry of Beneath Clouds, and the gritty realism of Toomelah. Along with Wayne Blair, Warwick Thornton and Rachel Perkins, Sen is unquestionably one of this country’s essential indigenous filmmakers.

As evidenced by his 2009 sci-fi curio Dreamland, however, Sen has concerns far outside the here and now. And this is where he goes with his latest film, Loveland, a sci-fi mini-epic rumbling with all manner of ideas and conceptual flights around where the human race is headed.

In a futuristic Hong Kong riven with squalid neon and bustling streets filled with people from all around the world, young but world weary assassin Jack (Ryan Kwanten) is instantly smitten with beautiful nightclub singer, April (Jillian Nguyen). But as their relationship deepens, Jack’s body inexplicably starts to crumble and fail. Desperate for answers, Jack tracks down reclusive scientist Doctor Bergman (Hugo Weaving), whose research will take the young assassin down an even darker emotional road.

Weaving in themes of artificial intelligence, machine domination, paranoia, corporate rule and malfeasance, and the diminishing value of the human race, Loveland is high ambition on a mid-level budget.

Sen wrings every cent out of it, creating a wholly believable futuristic world by building upon existing real world streetscapes with ingeniously utilised VFX and studio creations.

The characters, meanwhile, are richly engaging, while the performances are across-the-board superb, with Kwanten doing some of his finest against-type work yet, and Weaving at his rumpled, magisterial best.

Obviously echoing Blade Runner with its dystopian flourishes and burnt out narration, the stylish and impressively realised Loveland is a  very strong entry in Australia’s way too small sci-fi canon.

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