Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous takes place in a future with many familiar aspects, both social (extreme wealth stratification, unrest among the politically powerless) and technological (privately owned surveillance drones, nonhuman tech-support operators). The most speculative aspect of the film is grounded in similarly resonant circumstances. Star and cowriter Jacqueline Kim plays Gwen, a corporate-exec single mother about to be let go by her bosses at the “Center for Advanced Health and Living” just as she’s struggling with the costs of educating her world-weary but fearsomely gifted daughter Jules (Samantha Kim)—the right private schools are the only way anyone knows of setting a kid up for an adulthood of material self-sufficiency, let alone happiness. Gwen is, however, presented with the option of becoming the first public face of the Center’s new product, a consciousness-transfer into a donor body (without giving too much away, the big-eyed actress Freya Adams is identified as a face of the future as Gwen leafs through an album of head shots). An affecting mother-daughter indie drama with an engrossing philosophical hook and dystopian details, Advantageous plays at BAMcinemaFest on June 21, and opens at Cinema Village on June 26. Phang answered some questions of mine over email.
Piotr Szulkin’s Apocalypse Quartet
Showtimes throughout May at the Spectacle Theater
Polish filmmaker Piotr Szulkin, currently the subject of a four-film retrospective at the Spectacle Theater in Williamsburg, is sometimes labeled as an Eastern European Ridley Scott. The parallels between Szulkin’s films and Scott’s, particularly Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner, abound. Both filmmakers elevate the sci-fi genre, and both, watched some twenty years later, are an uncanny mix of futurism and gothic retrograde (old-fashioned fans whirring in Blade Runner, grainy television sets in Szulkin). There are key differences, however. Scott’s film, swathed in purported darkness, still conveys how precious it is to be human. No matter into what ecological or geopolitical decadence our world descends, our memories and innate capacity for love redeem us, enough for the powerful Replicants to want to imitate us. Szulkin’s world, by contrast, contains no mutants aching to rise to our psychological apex. It is the humans, rather, who invent escape routes—distant planets, which promise cleaner air and freedom from corrupt politics, but which, inevitably, are shams, i.e. propaganda invented by governments to control us. In this sense, the Szulkian world is a ruthless matrix, a prefabricated brain-in-a-vat experiment, with no promise of moral vindication.
Directed By Michael and Peter Spierig
Opens January 9
There is no movie star who more fully embodies the “one for them, one for me” ethos than Ethan Hawke. In the past year he’s alternated between subtle and challenging work in Before Midnight and various Shakespeare productions, performances that sandwich his sleepwalk through Getaway. How unfortunate that Boyhood, which has him literally moving through the years, should be followed soon after by Predestination, a warmed-over Timecop that seems desperate to be considered a cult item.