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Five science fiction movies to stream now


Austin Lewis in “Tiny Cinema.”

By Elisabeth Vincentelli


Amnesiacs and French-history time travelers are among the protagonists in this month’s sci-fi picks.



‘Tiny Cinema’


The movie “Butt Boy” was fairly divisive when it came out a couple of years ago, but the least you can say is that director Tyler Cornack fully committed to the story of a man who becomes obsessed with — let’s just say the title was pretty descriptive. Now Cornack is confirming the warped singularity of his vision with “Tiny Cinema,” an anthology of six stand-alone shorts that straddle the line between sci-fi, horror and comedy. (The movie derived from the Tiny Cinema videos Cornack has been posting online.) What links the chapters, as they are called, is the sense that the characters are stuck in nightmares that have their own comically horrific — or horrifically comic — absurdist logic. A common setup is to take a word or an expression literally and see what happens, as in “Game Night,” where Bert (Austin Lewis) becomes obsessed with the sentence “That’s what she said,” and the chapter with an unprintable title referring to a common insult. Few movies have described some single people’s desperation to find their soul mate as economically as “Edna,” in which the title character (Olivia Herman) starts dating a corpse she found floating in a river. Despite its tight duration, “Edna” even manages a hilarious second act. Cornack balances storytelling economy with an expansive approach — a rare feat.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)



‘Blank’


A successful novelist paralyzed by writer’s block, Claire (Rachel Shelley, who played the wealthy Helena Peabody on “The L Word”) decides to spend a month at a luxury countryside retreat so she can focus on her work without distractions. Her only company there consists of Henry (Wayne Brady), a holographic concierge, and Rita (Heida Reed, from the series “Poldark”), an unflappable android assistant who looks as if she has stepped out of the 1950s. One night, Henry tells Claire that malware has been detected and the operating system must be rebooted. As anybody who’s ever had to update a computer or even a phone knows, technology has a way of going awry. While Henry merely flickers in and out, Rita goes into a spin, locks all the doors and informs Claire — who is plagued by nightmares of a little girl and a terrifying mother — that she must complete her manuscript if she ever wants to leave. The movie, directed by Natalie Kennedy, makes the most of its premise, with amusing references to “The Shining” and a final reveal that would not have been out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan film. Think hard next time you want to blow a deadline.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)



‘Control’


Another movie with a satisfying plot twist is James Mark’s “Control,” which effectively combines two major contemporary film tropes: amnesia and the small, locked environment. Eileen (Sara Mitich) wakes up in a padded cell, not knowing who she is or how she ended up there. She is given tasks by a disembodied voice (Karen LeBlanc) and is told that if she can’t execute them, her daughter, Eve (Evie Loiselle), will die. The scenes in the mysterious room are interspersed with others showing Eileen and Eve frolicking on a beach, though it’s unclear whether these are flashbacks or visions. Mark keeps adding layers to that fairly simple starting point as Eileen learns a huge thing about herself, and both she and the viewer try to figure out why she is kept captive, what the experiments are leading to and who is orchestrating the sadistic scheme. Unlike many puzzle movies that rely on self-important obfuscation because, let’s be honest, it’s easier than coming up with an explanation, “Control” does tell us what’s going on — not entirely, but enough to both satisfy and give the ending a sense of gravitas that feels earned.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)



‘Flashback’


When it comes to cinematic time travel, it’s usually men who have fun hopping around the decades or centuries while women are stuck in place, waiting for the guys to change history. Not so in this comedy, in which a lawyer named Charlie (Caroline Vigneaux, who also directed and co-wrote the movie) finds herself hopscotching from one major event of French history to another. After she got a client acquitted from a rape charge by cynically arguing that the victim had been wearing a thong and thus was consenting (this really happened, in Ireland), Charlie meets a cabdriver (Issa Doumbia) who points out that she has a few things to learn about women’s rights. Voilà: She’s sent back in time, where she meets a series of influential figures, including Joan of Arc (Emy Ltr) and the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges (Sylvie Testud). Charlie even turns up at the 1972 trial, in Bobigny, that played a big part in the decriminalization of abortion in France, and lets us hear a fiery speech by real-life firebrand lawyer Gisèle Halimi (Sophia Aram). Vigneaux, a practicing lawyer before becoming a comedian, has cooked up an unabashedly, surprisingly pointed feminist story wrapped in good-natured, broad humor. And it bears repeating: How refreshing to finally watch a woman move forward by turning back the clock.

(Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)



‘Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy’


Officially, this delightful Vietnamese family movie was inspired by a 1978 Czech children’s TV series. Unofficially, you can see the fingerprints of “E.T.” all over Ham Tran’s caper. Life is getting complicated for a boy named Hung (Phu Truong Lai): His mom has recently died from cancer, his dad (Ngoc Tuong) is struggling to keep a small repair shop afloat, and a pair of goons are trying to buy people’s apartments on behalf of a developer. So when a weird little girl (Diep Anh Chu) drops out of the sky, Hung is more than ready to welcome a new friend. Since she doesn’t have a name, he calls her Maika, after the home world she longs to return to. Don’t let the presence of subtitles deter your kids from enjoying a movie so clearly made for them — then again, many got over that hurdle to watch “Lupin,” so where there’s a will … Despite running a little too long, “Maika” has enough high jinks, cartoonishly goofy characters and spirited cheer to translate to a wide audience. And besides, fart jokes are part of the intergalactic language of comedy.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)

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