5 science-fiction movies to stream now
By Elisabeth Vincentelli
Before you get to any of this month’s selection of off-the-beaten-path science fiction, do watch the trailer for “Trump vs. the Illuminati.” The plot summary starts with “A Chinese clone of 45th U.S. President Donald J. Trump survives the Earth’s destruction,” and that is pretty much all you need to know.
Stream it on Hulu.
Alone in a vast universe, a small dot is hoping that someone will spot it: Such is the fate of the brilliant Swedish movie “Aniara,” quietly floating around a dark corner of the Hulu galaxy.
And such is the fate of the title ship, which loses power and communications shortly into a three-week journey from Earth to Mars, then spends years drifting through space.
Based on Harry Martinson’s 1956 book-length poem, Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja’s film emulates its source material’s ellipses and disdain for explanations, not to mention plausibility: It will likely frustrate practical-minded viewers and reward those interested in existential ruminations.
The lead character is a quiet woman (Emelie Garbers) who operates the Mima, a kind of holodeck that accesses people’s memories to summon the bucolic vistas of “Earth as it once was.” As time passes on the marooned ship, once a temple of consumerism and mindless distraction (some of the interiors were shot in shopping malls), she watches relationships form and get tested (including her own), obscurantist cults appear, despair spread. This is a bleak, haunting film that casts a surprisingly potent spell.
‘James vs. His Future Self’
Stream it on Hulu.
Most time-travel movies work hard at trying to deal with the paradoxes that result from their central premise. Refreshingly, this Canadian comedy does not even bother, as if to say, “We can’t really rationalize any of this, so just go along.”
As the title neatly sums up, James (Jonas Chernick) has a fraught relationship with an older version himself (Daniel Stern) who suddenly materializes from the future. That Stern is taller than Chernick is dismissed with a wink.
James is a scientist who may be driven to the point of selfish rudeness, but, as it turns out, he will invent a time machine one day. The hirsute visitor, whom the pair call Uncle Jimmy as a cover, sets out to persuade his younger version to reshuffle his priorities. This involves, for example, tutoring James on how to properly enjoy eating a croissant and better flirt with his colleague Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman, from “The Last Man on Earth”). Much of the humor derives from the movie being about an odd couple that is basically made up of just one person.
While “James” does slack around the midway point, it nicely recovers before ambling toward a poetically rewarding conclusion.
‘The Wanting Mare’
Buy or rent it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
Warning: Do not watch this indie movie’s trailer, which could be used to illustrate “cheesy” in an online dictionary. Some films just do not fare well in two-minute bites of cobbled-together scenes, and “The Wanting Mare” is one of them. Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s oddball feature debut is set in the heat-stricken, downtrodden city of Whithren. A character named Moira is somewhat confusingly played by different actresses, there’s some kind of matrilineal order, shared dreams are passed down the generations and — I give up.
Bateman is less interested in storytelling than in world-building, and he certainly came up with a project of an ambition and scope unlike most of what’s out there.
In a feat of single-minded determination, Bateman shot a lot of his movie in a New Jersey warehouse, later adding time-consuming computer-generated effects. The unlikely result is like a fantasy mixing video game and documentary aesthetics. (Bateman is credited as a visual effects supervisor on the new David Lowery film “The Green Knight.”) The opaque result can be hypnotic, and it can be frustrating. It cannot be dismissed.
Buy or rent it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
It’s hard to ignore a frequent science fiction theme: Earth is doomed. And in a thriving subgenre, the sun has become humanity’s greatest threat.
Solar radiation has reached such a lethal level in Guy Moshe’s “LX 2048” that only clones can withstand it. Most of humanity lives at night, when it’s safe to go out, but that won’t stop Adam Bird (James D’Arcy) from going to work in a top-down convertible in daylight — in a hazmat suit. This early scene illustrates the movie’s dry humor, as well as the fact that midlevel executives are still alive, if not well, 27 years from now. Adam has been diagnosed with a heart ailment, which is of course endangering his family’s financial stability. While this low-budget movie often struggles to keep its narrative on the right side of the line between compelling and incoherent, especially toward the end, it also raises fascinating questions about a society in which it is hard to tell apart the virtual from the physical, the human from the genetically engineered. In case you missed the ambitious existential message, Moshe works in a very sci-fi spin on the famous monologue from “Hamlet.”
Stream it on Hulu.
At first, this sci-fi/horror hybrid looks like a blatant rip-off of — sorry, tribute to — “Alien.” It’s hard to avoid the comparison when your central conceit involves an icky, malevolent creature extricating itself from a man’s body.
But Egor Abramenko’s “Sputnik” quickly takes its distance from the famous franchise to forge a distinct identity. We are in 1983, at the peak of the Cold War, and Doctor Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina, discovered in Lukas Moodysson’s heartbreaking “Lilya 4-Ever”) has been summoned to a remote outpost in Soviet Kazakhstan. Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) has returned from an orbital mission with a gross beastie inside him, and he doesn’t even seem aware of it. Col. Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), who admires Tatyana’s unorthodox methods, has asked her to separate the man and his excess luggage and make sure they both survive.
The premise is familiar, but Abramenko steers it through satisfying twists and turns with a steady hand. He wrings a lot of anxiety out of the slow pacing, washed-out palette and muted soundtrack — everything feels ominously muffled. You can watch “Sputnik” as an allegory about a dying Soviet empire simultaneously manifesting self-destructive impulses and aggression toward others. Or you can just enjoy the scares.