Sleep Dealer

Director: Alex Rivera. Starring: Leonor Varela, Jacob Vargas, Tenoch Huerta. Budget: $2.5 mln. USA, Mexico, 2008. IMDB: 5.9. My rating: 3/4. Realistic cyberpunk about politics, immigration and cheap labour.

– We give the United States what they’ve always wanted. All the work without the immigrants.
(Memo’s employer)

– Is our future a thing of the past?
(Memo’s father)

A very realistic look in our not so distant future. Water terrorism, drones substituting cheap foreign labor, real-time TV shows about military drones controlling suspicious areas, anti-immigration laws, Mexico-USA wall (ha, ha, ha…), plus electronic nodes that connect to human body for ve-ery various purposes. It’s and old kind of sci-fi – the one that operates with ideas and possible development of our world. “Sleep Dealer” won’t give you groundbreaking effects or scenes (and they aren’t needed here). It won’t entertain you, at least, not in first place. Instead, you’ll get something to reflect upon. Everything what’s needed is portrayed really well, and it looks damn real.

Actually, Alex Rivera has been making films about immigration and labour since mid 90-s, but mostly they were documentaries or mockumentaries. You can easily read his background in ”Sleep Dealer” through similar kind of photography and overall feeling.

What I liked. ”Sleep Dealer” was definitely influenced by the noir colour decisions of ”Blade Runner” and from this point of view the film is a delight to watch. Neon acid glitter.

The ideas are captivating… Welcome in Mexico. Water dams were built  due to the water shortage on most territory. The agriculture became difficult or impossible, plus the locals have to pay sensible amount of money to get some water. More and more people are struggling and try to move somewhere else, thus USA made it almost impossible for them to get inside the country. But thanks to a new system of electric nodes that connect to a human body, the real presence of a worker is not needed anymore. By installing the nodes directly on your body, you can operate a special drone than can be multi-functional – from cutting the grass to building the skyscrapers.

This kind of labour type is extremely harmful for the health, so many workers are discarded quickly and the others take their place.  The electric nodes can be used for other purposes as well, like trading your own memories or connecting to a body of other person (yep for new sex feelings as well). Tijuana, where most of the film is taking place, is as dirty and criminal as it has always been, even with all these technologies brought here. But the locals still call it the city of the future…

What I didn’t like. After the first part, when Memo decides to emigrate, most of the plot will be build around the story of Memo and Luz. This is where the movie starts to sag a little. The premise and the background are excellent and overwhelming with a realistic look on our future – compared to most sci-fi, “Sleep Dealer” pictures something very real. And we should praise it for that. But somewhere in the middle, it becomes more some kind of a love story and drama, instead of researching more about this kind of society. The screenplay and the acting are very uneven and it’s still shot with the same documentary approach, so… it doesn’t involve that much. But the film still has enough to say. Give it a try, it deserved it.

Reception. ”Sleap Dealer” received good ratings from critics (70% on Rotten Tomatoes) and several awards on festivals, including Sundance. Don’t let the IMDb low rating deceive you. It’s a thinking low budget sci-fi, so not all general public will like it, of course. And not everybody will like the things shown in the movie. The budget is approximately $ 2.5 million with the box office of just $ 100,000.

Worth watching? It’s clumsy, but sincere. And this makes a difference. ”Sleep Dealer” is a good example of a ”thinking” sci-fi. It won’t entertain you, although the film neon acid colours are a true delight, but most importantly, it will make you think. The ideas are excellent and the photography is there, but the acting and screenplay are not always at the same height though. It’s a pity that at the halfway point the film loses it’s energy and concentrates more on the love drama. Still, I can recommend easily to everybody for the vision of the future that it offers, for its sincerity and beautiful scenes.

3/4

Peter Stormare / Constantine

While “Constantine” wasn’t a perfect movie, Peter Stormare’s performance there was a true delight, as always.

stormare constantine

It’s funny though that in a Keanu Reeves’ film – Tilda Swinton, Rachel Weisz and Peter Stormare weren’t even mentioned on the posters – he was easily outplayed by their performance. I think the best Stormare’s role was as a cold-blooded weirdo in “Fargo”, and that was wa-ay different from “Constantine”.

stormare fargo

Well, Reeves’ eternally doleful and dismal face expression barely changes from one movie to another. But we can forgive this guy everything for “The Matrix”, don’t we?

The Man from Earth

man_from_earthDirector: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, John Billingsley, Tony Todd, Ellen Crawford, Annika Peterson, William Katt, Alexis Thorpe, Richard Riehle. USA, 2007. Budget: $200,000. IMDB: 8.0. My rating 4/4. Intellectual imaginative dialogue-based science fiction.

– There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it.
(one of the film main characters)

– I am going home and watch Star Trek for a dose of sanity.
(one of the film main characters)

It’s often said that a good science fiction should in first place activate our imagination and not rely merely on being a visual stimulator. “The Man from Earth” is a minimal dialogue-based intellectual science fiction at its best. But it will provide you with more fantasy, drama, thoughtful remarks about biology, religion and psychology than you could expect from a film shot almost entirely in one house with zero action or special effects for $200,000. Continue reading

Primer

primer-movie-poster-2004-1020241222Director: Shane Carruth. Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden. USA, 2004. IMDB: 7.0. My rating: 1/4.

Abe: Did you notice those? When you were controlling the feeds, did you notice the parabolic? Hey, it’s important. Parabolas are important. Here, look at this.
Aaron: I don’t know, Abe.
Abe: Now, I’m gonna start it up and let it run for sixty seconds with, with nothing in it, okay, it’s empty this time.
Aaron: [watching the time] That’s twenty-two.
Abe: In all the equations that describe motion and heat…
[They start to cross-talk over each other]
Aaron: Now, just one minute, just a second…
Abe: …in all the Feynman diagrams, what’s the one variable that you can turn into negative and still get rational answers from?
(a conversation between main characters)

Aaron: You know that story, about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing this pen that writes in Zero G? Did you ever read that?
Abe: Yeah.
Aaron: You know how the Russians solved the problem?
Abe: Yeah, they used a pencil.
Aaron: Right. A normal wooden pencil. It just seems like Philip takes the NASA route almost every time.
(a conversation between main characters)

Primes is one on remarkable examples of where independent ultra low-budget science fiction can get. It was made by Shane Carruth for just about $ 7,000 (he also wrote the script, the soundtrack, played one of main characters and lots 20170214_140511of other stuff as well). It gained good recognition on festivals (including Sundance grand jury prize, oh yeah) and still holds 7.0 with almost 80.000 votes on IMDB. Sounds like a great deal for a true low-budget sci-fi fan? I also thought so. But it’s fascinating to see how high a movie like “Primer” can get, gaining recognition between geeks. Continue reading