Version 1.0 (Paranoia 1.0, One Point O)

one-point-0-1417958542Directors: Marteinn Thorsson, Jeff Renfroe. Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Unger, Udo Kier, Lance Henriksen, Bruce Payne. 2004, Iceland, USA, Romania. Budget: $1.7 mln. Box office: unknown. IMDb: 6.2. My rating: 3.5/4. Surreal cyberpunk.

– I’m full of bugs. I’m full of mistakes.
(one of the movie’s main characters)

– You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?
– All the time. It’s called mescaline.
(a dialogue from “The Matrix”)

“Is atmospheric but in a way that made me nervous, I wanted to tear the seat and theater apart.”
(p_imdb-238-926380 from Germany)

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Has it ever happened to you to spend days while you are trying to get a certain information or a document? The office rats send you from one office to another (“Sure, ask my colleague from room 867 on the 16th floor“), you spend hours on the phone, then from one building to the opposite side of town (“Yes, we are open on Tuesday from 16.00 till 18.00 and on Thursday from 10.00 till 12.00“), and days pass and you feel being sucked in some insane surreal bureaucratic vortex. I experienced it more than once and – while I hope it didn’t happen do you – I bet you went through this too.

Now imagine of experiencing this kind of feeling in your own apartment, located in a somewhat post-Victorian post-communist gloomy house full of surveillance cameras, weird dark holes and obscure personalities. Every day you receive a nicely packaged box which is perfectly empty. Every day. You spy your neighbours, install the surveillance, but… the packages keep appearing. And THE MILK. You are just obsessed with milk now. “Nature Fresh” brand milk. Continue reading

TRON, TRON 2.0 and TRON: LEGACY comparison / sci-fi designs

As if I haven’t published enough posts about TRON universe just recently, here’s more of it. A quick comparison between ”TRON” (1982 movie), ”TRON 2.0” (2003 videogame) and ”TRON: Legacy” (2010 movie).

TRON designs comparisontron COMPARISON

(Am I the only one who thinks the images on the right look…just a little duller?)

However, the latter disc designs are an exception. They look pretty cool.

tron COMPARISON3Because the old version just makes me think of mosquitoes…

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The light cycles look awesome too. In all versions.

TRON designs comparison

Note that in 1982 they didn’t wear a helmet when riding the light cycle, but just the same helmet as in any other scene. The same applies to 2003.

tron COMPARISON5

Let’s hope for the sequel, it seems we have all grounds for it now.

 

TRON 2.0 / sci-fi designs

I guess most people reading this post have watched (or at least have heard of) “TRON“, a 1982 movie produced by Disney and starring Jeff Bridges. It wasn’t successful at first, but it was a visual masterpiece with a very original and distinctive style, that had foreseen a lot in the technology development that came later.

The film had a commercially successful sequel in 2010, “TRON: Legacy“. Most of you have heard for sure of this one too.

But not many know that there was another release in 2003 and it was considered for a while an official sequel to the original 1982 film, just to be later declared non-canon right before the release of “TRON: Legacy” in 2010.

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This is how Internet was imagined like in 2003.

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The kernel and the antivirus guards.

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The virus has corrupted the system.

Here’s some background. In 1982, “TRON” performed worse than Disney expected – $33 mln box office with a $17 mln budget… The film didn’t appeal to the major public at its time since in 1982 the computers were not as wide-spread as now. It was too early. With years the film gained a cult following though… and it took just about 17 years before somebody started to consider making a sequel/reboot. In 1999, there were rumours that Pixar was interested. But the thing didn’t work out. And for a film, a much bigger budget was required, thus too much risk… So in early 2000-s Monolith Productions (“No One Lives Forever“, “F.E.A.R.“, “Blood“) initiated developing something else.

 

It was a 2003 videogame, “TRON 2.0“, and not only it contributed to and developed the TRON universe in a significant way (you bet it did, with +20 hours of gameplay vs 96 minutes of film…), but it successfully solved the main problems from which both movies suffered. The characters, the plot, the story.

It wasn’t my intention to write a game review, so I will just sum up main points:

  • Main characters were voiced by the same actors as in 1982 movie – Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan.
  • Sid Mead, who worked on designs of “Aliens” and “Blade Runner” developed the new “light cycle” designs
  • “TRON 2.0” is a very rare case when the game was developed not as a cash-in
  • The music, or rather the electronic ambient soundtrack, perfectly fits the digital world. It really makes you feel like you are inside, among the bits and bytes.
  • The style is a mix of a quest, role-playing game and action
  • It goes without saying that the visuals were stunning
  • Just like the original film, the game didn’t sell well, although it received excellent reviews and with years gained a cult following too. But for the most public it was something too original. It wasn’t a pure action, it wasn’t an RPG, and finally it wasn’t just a faithful adaptation of the original film, but the development of it, maintaining however the essence and the spirit.
  • Like the best cyberpunk game “Deus Ex” (2000), the world is full of details, secondary and tertiary characters, dialogues and it’s just up to you how deep you want to enter this world.

Due to an extensive gameplay and the technologies present in 2003 in our real world, the game expanded the whole concept of what it means inside the computer. You will find yourself sneaking through the firewall, literally portrayed as a giant red wall, escaping the disc format and fighting the viruses by joining your forces with a local antivirus program. Heck, there is even a level when you are transported to a PDA (anyone else here still remembers palmtops?!). Obviously, that level features a very minimalistic design and limited space. 😊

 

What happened next? Disney finally had the guts to develop a real blockbuster, with a score by Daft Pank, $170 mln budget plus Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles. “TRON: Legacy” received mixed reviews, but who cares, because it grossed $400 mln worldwide, thus being the first commercially successful product in TRON universe (although I am sure Disney expected much more). The film for praised for special effects, but you can also find it often in various top lists of missed opportunities. And I can understand why – it suffered from exactly the same problems as the original film.

 

The future of the franchise is unclear right now. A spin-off animated series “TRON: Uprising” premiered in 2012. Some sources say that “on February 28, 2017 during a Q&A session with Joseph Kosinski, he revealed that Tron 3 has not been scrapped, instead saying it was in ‘cryogenic freeze’. A few days later, it was reported that Disney is supposedly looking into rebooting the franchise with Jared Leto attached to portray a new character named Ares, who originated from the Tron 3 script. Disney has not officially announced as to whether a reboot is officially in development.”

Here I did a comparison of various TRON design versions.

P. S. Read an interesting opinion about Disney and their attitude towards TRON here: Disney/BVG didn’t have the balls to stick by their product and see it through the rough times…

tron1982

 

Children of Men / posters

Allow me a small personal note this time. When the film was out, it didn’t make such a big impression on me. I don’t recall the exact reason. It just didn’t. I was a naive 17-year-old teen living in a…let’s call it, well, a rather badly developed second-world country with no immigrants and no terrorism (they just weren’t interested, ha, ha).

Now, 11 years after its release, I consider it a prophetic masterpiece. The reasons are simple. I moved to a place with a much higher GDP. I watched the news and I read the newspapers. Then I rewatched the film just recently and it almost made me cry.

”Children of Men”, at its core, is a horror movie. The dystopias often portray the future that is too distant or mutilated. Here everything is just so familiar…

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A gloomy poster by Jock.

But it wasn’t a really successful picture when released though. Almost a flop.

The film, in hindsight, seems like a documentary about a future that, in 2016, finally arrived,” says Abraham Riesman in a freaking awesome film analysis that includes his interview excerpts with Alfonso Cuaron:

“The hope is something that you create,” says Cuaron. “You live by hoping and then you create that change. Hope is trying to change your present for a better world. It’s pretty much up to you.” The gap between our world and that of Children of Men is closing rapidly, but he refuses to give up his faith in our wayward species. There are dark days ahead, to be sure, but perhaps they will also be days of transformation. “Look, I’m absolutely pessimistic about the present,” Cuarón says. “But I’m very optimistic about the future.

***

Coming back to the poster… visit Jock’s official website. He does an amazing artwork. And here Ryan provides some good insight into Jock’s poster for “Halloween”.

Avalon

Director: Mamoru Oshii. StarringMalgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko. Japan, Poland, 2001. Budget: $9 mln. IMDb: 6.5. My rating: 1.5/4. Boring to death cyberpunk with occasionally interesting visuals.

As someone who is a gamer, a computer and sci-fi enthusiast, I found this to be a pretentious long winded bore.
Puddncakes T

The makers should be sued for comparing this piece-of-crap with a cult-movie like The Matrix.
mrspock79

Oshii uses the camera like an artist uses his/her brush and canvas: this movie is a painting.
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“Avalon”, a Japanese-Polish co-production, may not be the most renowned sci-fi movie, but its director, Mamoru Oshii, must be well known to anyone even remotely interested in cyberpunk and virtual reality, as he originated “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), considered to be one of the cult fundamental pillars of the genre.

Let me be honest – I didn’t like the film. It suffers from the same problems as the recent “Ghost in the Shell” (2017) film adaptation, “heavy on style, but lacking in thought and intelligence”. But at lest ”GitS” has fast-paced action and big budget that helped to masquerade it’s emptiness. ”Avalon” doesn’t have it. Basically, it’s all about a videogame cyberpunk mode on and nothing else, and I can’t say I was very impressed by the style. Let me save your time…

…these are some of the most impressive scenes of the film. There a couple of others, but that’s it. The rest is much duller and looks like a bad melodrama. There’s little action and lots of awfully written dialogues. Yes, almost the whole movie is shot in a yellow sepia tone.  The visuals strongly remind of the videogames of early 2000-s. Decide by yourself whether it’s a compliment…

AvalonUnfortunately – and I say it with sincere bitterness because it sounded promising – “Avalon” did not live up to my expectations. It has 3 major problems. All of them are really just the basics of a decent filmmaking:

a) it is secondary to so many other films, stories and that could even pass if it wasn’t such a…
b) …melodramatic congestion of characters with stony faces doing…
c) …stuff that you just don’t care about.

Here’s Ash, the main character of the movie, played by Malgorzata Foremniak. She has one face expression for any kind of emotion. Just like Vladimir Putin.

Now, it’s a whole bunch of problems here, isn’t it? And what or who can save all this? Well, there’s one guy called Mr. Style.

…because what Mamoru Oshii was trying to create here is style. And style is like the wind breeze, often you cannot describe it, taste it, see it, yet you can’t stop feeling it. There are some die-hard cyberpunk fans that claim that “Avalon” is another Oshii’s masterpiece. Don’t believe them. It’s not a totally flawed movie… but it’s just boring.

And it looks horribly dated. “Alien”, shot in 1979, does not look dated. “Terminator 2” (1991) does not look dated. “Avalon” does, and I am sure it looked dated just few years after the release.

I have no idea who could be an audience of this film. The gamers didn’t like it – there are literally dozens of games out even in 2001 that were smarter, cooler and exciting. Japanese didn’t like it – the movie was a huge fail in Japan, it seems that they are not really into the classic atmosphere of a “moribund socialism” of Eastern Europe. Only die-hard cyberpunk fans may find something here or somebody who has never seen a VR movie. For everyone else the movie offers little, except for occasionally interesting visuals.

The production. “Avalon” was a weird co-production between Poland and Japan. All the cast, setting, dialogues and decorations were purely Polish and you can feel it straight from the first frames. I have no idea why Poland was chosen – probably because it was cheap (only $9 mln) to shoot there and the army even allowed to use their tanks and equipment for the filming.

The plot. The youth of the future is becoming increasingly addicted to an illegal and lethal virtual reality game “Avalon”. Ash, one of the best players, hears of rumors that a more advanced level of the game exists… Even if she discovers the next level, will she ever be able to come back to real life?

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Worth watching? If you are not a die-hard cyberpunk and virtual ritual reality fan… then no. Not really. As for the visuals – maybe in 2001 it looked original and fresh, but I would rather replay ”Deus Ex” one more time. The original 2000 game. Which I have replayed at least 10 times already.

Watch instead… just to be honest about the technology advancement, here’s a selection of films released before “Avalon” – “The Matrix“, “Ghost in the Shell” (for anime lovers), “eXistenz“, “Dark City“, “Truman Show“, “Johny Mnemonic” – all these were much better movies about virtual realities (or just fake realities). Heck, even “13th Floor” was better. Far from being perfect ”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, the first big computer-animated feature film and a huge box office bomb with $137 mln budget was a better movie!

Check also:  Top 10 Mamoru Oshii’s films that are not “Ghost in the Shell”

1.5/4

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