Tag Archives: MaddWol

Back in the USSR


by Hope Madden

For low-key, throwback sci-fi horror, Sputnik is a fine time.

A Russian film, Sputnik takes us back to Soviet Union circa 1983 in all its concrete walls, dirty snow and drab greys. Comrade Tatyana Klimova (a formidable Oksana Akinshina) is brought to a secret military facility to consult on a strange case: Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) has partial amnesia and can’t fully explain his mission’s failure.

First of all, I love that these guys always call each other by their entire first and last names, usually with the prefix Comrade. It requires that they get right to the point, otherwise conversations would become just too long.

Little details like these, along with a convincingly oppressive set design and performances of understated perfection, convey the repressive, even terrifying conditions of the time. It’s a fascinating atmosphere to evoke when introducing something as wondrous and horrific as the film’s little monster.

That’s right, Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov did not return from space alone, but separating the Soviet hero from the alien visitor is proving very difficult.

Part Venom, part Alien and all manner of Russian, the film pulls in images and ideas that feel familiar—sometimes too familiar—but the execution maintains your interest.

Akinshina’s stoic and unimpressed doctor is at the center of a film concerned with heroism and adaptability. Comrade Tatyana Klimova carries with her an unerring and unemotional sense of what’s right, which is often at odds with the sense of purpose that drives this mission. It’s a solid emotional center for the film, but let’s be honest, who wants to see a monster movie unless there’s a cool monster?

There is! Director Egor Abramenko, working with FX and puppetry, creates something almost del Toro-esque. All phalanges, tail and teeth where teeth ought not be, the creature’s creepy design scores Sputnik plenty of points.

As true to the period as the subdued tone feels, it also robs the movie of a sense of urgency. But Abramenko weaves in elements of an indie drama that work better than they should to round out this picture of Soviet heroes and monsters.

Survival Island


by Hope Madden

As little Anna tells viewers and her elementary school classmates, Madagascar is the 4th largest island on earth, and likely the single poorest country. Ninety three percent of Madagascar lives on less than $2 a day and half the population is children.

Madagascar is also devastatingly beautiful, not unlike Cam Cowan’s documentary Madagasikara.

Beautifully photographed and expertly edited, Madagasikara introduces you to a world you just didn’t know existed—one that’s never been site to war and yet grows more ravaged by poverty daily. It’s a world where breaking quarry rocks with hand tools offers the most stable occupation, for as long as your body holds out. The world of this film is one so impoverished it may as well be medieval—part of a long forgotten period where a family’s best hope for the survival of their children is the convent.  

For all the destitution, Cowan’s film is surprisingly joyous at times, primarily because of the beautiful little faces surrounding the three mothers—Deborah, Tina and Lin—that are the documentary’s main focus. It’s hard to watch so many sweet, cute children and not feel joy.

Their pain is also more punishing.

A decade of botched elections put the island nation at the center of a tug of war between a millionaire looking to exploit what he can for his own gain (sounds familiar) and a pro-military dictator even less interested in the wellbeing of his citizens. It also put Madagascar in the crosshairs of a global community more focused on sanctioning its leaders than in feeding its population.

Wisely, Cowan humanizes the tale of strife by dropping us into the day-to-day of three different women. Their struggles, joys and heartaches breathe life into statistics that could otherwise overwhelm, their resilience and their frailty speak powerfully to the human condition.