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

Kill Command

fcd8861acdbf8bbb9d79dd7a098acbdfDirector: Steven Gomez. Starring:  Vanessa Kirby,  Thure Lindhardt, David Ajala. UK, 2016. Budget: $1.5 mln. IMDB: 5.7. My rating: 3/4.  Creepy sci-fi thriller about military guys and 1 cyborg vs huge rogue robots on a remote island.

– It’s like watching 1.5 hour long cut scene from some shitty video-game.
(ola_norsk)

– This is exactly what a B-movie should be like.
(InterArmaEnimSilentLeges)

– If you remember your feeling from watching the Predator for the first time – you will certainly enjoy Kill Command.
(Stasulos)

I didn’t have any kind of expectations from “Kill Command”, one more movie about the military guys vs the robots. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much? Probably, but that would also diminish the movie’s quality.

Just look at this beautiful picture. It says it all. Those who still are not fully convinced, scroll below…there are more pictures.

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Do you smell death in the air? No?

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Well, now you do.

The plot. In the not so distant future, a military group is sent to an island for training. The purpose or type of training is unknown. They are accompanied by Mills (ice-cold Vanessa Kirby) – half-human, half-android, who has significant difficulties in gaining the trust of the others humans due to her ‘impure’ nature. As the unit deploys on the island, they unexpectedly lose any connection with the outer world. Soon the group encounters robotic creatures they did not expect.

The production. “Kill Command” is a debut by Steven Gomez (responsible for both directing and writing), who has built a career in visual effects. It has a budget of around $1.5 million (it was hard to find the precise info, but it’s about that), which is very low for a movie that includes massive robot fighting scenes. But it looks as great as $150 million movies. Visually, I enjoyed ”Kill Command” much more than “Passengers”. Only that is a great praise already. The location is outstanding. It’s an island with hills, deep forests and some abandoned facilities – a perfect place for a sci-fi scenario like here. The movie was shot entirely in the UK.

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Of course, technically it is still one more movie that explores the idea of a group of people going somewhere remote where they encounter something scary and unknown. But somehow ”Kill Command” still manages to be an original movie. It leaves a good aftertaste. When you watch these kind of movies, it often happens that it’s actually fun to watch, but they quickly fade out of your memory and the impression worsens as time passes. Strangely, with “Kill Commando” a reverse effect happened. What makes it stand out?

Several things. It’s quiet slowly paced. You will not see a continuous sequence of extremely quick cuts that resemble more a video clip, than a movie (hi, Michael Bay!). It somehow reminded me of the sci-fi wave of the 80-s/90-s. Even the action scenes are not that fast. You have enough time to see everything in detail and I think, it was more typical of a good old sci-fi film of 20-30 ago, than some newer stuff. In one of the interviews, Gomez said he tried to show the robots in all the detail from close distance – and he succeeded.

Kill Command” is quite a minimal movie – remember, it’s set on a tiny remote island – but what you see has great design and lots of details, starting from abandoned facilities, uniforms, weapons and, of course, robots. Reminds me of Far Cry in a way (well, except for the robots, but that’s a mino-or detail). The other thing is the location set and it’s used to a great extent. I would even dare to say that I had a feeling – pardon – that some scenes come close to being almost meditative. Maybe I am wrong. But even remote feeling like that says a lot about the impression you can get from a movie. I still remember well one of the scenes – in the light of a sunset, the soldier is on the roof of an abandoned building, aiming with his rifle somewhere faraway, waiting for the enemy. His body posture is tense. Around him you see the see, the sunset, the forests. In a “normal” low budget robot movie, that scene would last half a second, here it lasted 3 or 4 and seemed like an eternity, but in a good way. And there are some scenes like that that here and there – it’s not something straightforward, but more of something you understand later.

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The main problem of the movie comes from here too. I don’t know though if it was Gomez’ intention to film in that way  (from trailer and posters, it seems no and probably that’s why some part of audience didn’t like it that much – they didn’t see that was expected compared to how the movie was promoted). That would be interesting to know and it’s a pity that the movie did not develop more in this direction. It looks like it can’t decide whether if wants to become an action movie or something slower and deeper. The acting is quiet good, but uneven. The characters could have been developed more. You could easily find other things to criticize. But should you?

The reception. The movie has a whopping 5.7 on IMDb – totally undeserved, but 67% on RT may render some justice. I guess most IMDb bad reviews come from guys from were expecting a fact-paced action robot movie, but ”Kill Command” is better than that. Most reviews over the web are quite positive too, check out here, here and also this amazing insight here.

Worth watching? Yes! Far from being perfect, it’s a beautifully shot and richly detailed warfare movie. Tense, minimal and with its own nerve. No useless philosophizing about what makes human a human or robot a robot bla bla bla because it’d ruin the movie. Just keep in mind that it’s just not an average fact-paced sci-fi flick with humans and robots, like the recent hypnotizingly beautiful but rather soulless “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation, nor it is an arthouse film. So if you are a fan of “Terminator“, “Predator” (which reboot is coming out in 2018!) or, maybe, “Far Cry”, definitely have a look.

3/4

ТRON / posters

While the sequel rumours with Jared Leto involved keep on circulating, here is an awesome double retrofuturistic poster by Eric Tan for “TRON” / “TRON: Legacy”.

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Plus some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious unofficial artwork.

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TRON artwork by Sam Hetherington.

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By unknown author.

***

Here I made a comparison of various TRON designs and here I talked about the lesser-known but absolutely brilliant 2003 installment of this fascinating universe.

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).

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(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.

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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…

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

The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. Box office: $322,000 DVD sales. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about a thin line that separates humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent.

I have often been harsh with independent sci-fi about A. I. There hasn’t been much of it in last decade – I mean, the good one that makes think and feel, like ”Automata’ or ”Ex Machina”. Most of the others failed, taking the easy path of violence like ”A. I. against humans” or puzzles like “guess-who-is-robot-who-is-human”, which I find it incredibly boring.

So I prepared for the worst after watching the trailer of ”The Machine”, but found out something completely different. And it seems not only me. I have no idea why it was promoted (according to the trailer and poster) as an action-based sci-fi about A. I. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turns out to be dense, smart and sensible science fiction, and in the last place it’s about gore and rampage.

The plot. Near future. The West is in state of a Cold War with China. British scientists are working on creating android killing machines that will help in case of a real war that seems inevitable. Implants and artificial limbs for humans are being developed. Ava, a young scientist, joins Vincent in the hidden research facility in the attempt to develop the first self-aware artificial intellect. But they are on the edge of something bigger.

What I liked. The Machine” feels like a spiritual sibling of ”Blade Runner”, but consciously done in a harsher way. What surprised me most is that often it felt really scary – and not because of some cheap thrills. It’s because of how well it shows a thin line between humans and androids. Fear of the unknown. Few examples…

  • The guards that work as security in this research facility are for the most part wounded or partially disabled war veterans. They were given artificial limbs to substitute missing body parts or special implants that help to recover whatever sense they miss (in case their brain, sight, hearing etc were damaged), but it has certain side effects. Pretty soon they lose the ability to speak – nobody knows why, but a brilliant explanation is given later in the movie – and it seems that they start to have more of the machine than of human.
  • As the Machine (the main character) is ”born”, she behaves almost as a normal human, with small subtle differences that feel incredibly weird. There is a brilliant episode when the Machine is thinking that she is smiling to Vincent, but in fact her ”smile” looks like a sinister grin because she doesn’t know how to smile – but she doesn’t realize it, saying that she smiles it in  the same way as humans. The Machine doesn’t see the difference, so she heads to the mirror in order to learn how to smile. It looks creepy. This scene alone feels incredibly powerful.

Plus there are many episodes that feel really tense as they show broken, distorted human emotions, as if seen through a broken glass. Very creative and thoughtful approach. ”The Machine” shares a lot with the recent adaptation of ”Ghost in the Shell”, but it explores things in a deeper and more original way. Shame on you, Hollywood.

The acting is much better that one could expect from a $1 million budget directional debut of this kind – and not only from main protagonists Caity Lotz (awesome double role here), Toby Stephens and Denis Lawson, but from incredible background characters as well. Iranian-born Pooneh Hajimohammadi and Sam Hazeldine did especially a great job, portraying people with mutilated and warped senses and emotions, avoiding any kind of cliches that are typical for the genre. Kaity Lotz was very good (nothing to do with awful ”400 Days“), taking the role more seriously than portraying just a newly-created A. I. She managed to show a very wide array of emotions, from childish first steps and mistakes to delusions and learning how to survive in a cruel human world.

The movie is beautiful visually as well. It borrows a lot from “Blade Runner” visual style, and thanks God it does. It never becomes the end in itself though, blending the visuals with the narrative and using them as an integral part of the story. Everything feels organic here. With a tiny $1 million budget the Welsh director James W. Caradog and his team did really a good job. The movie never looks cheap. The synth-based soundtrack gives the warm 80-s feel as well.

What I didn’t like. There are certain moments that feel a little bit like a cliche (mostly the villain part that felt strained), but compared to the overall creativity and thoughtfulness put into the movie, let’s just close eyes to it. Finally, you cannot want everything from such a good debut like here.

Worth watching? Yes. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most original and well-crafted movies about A. I. of the last decade. It may not be as delicate and refined as ”Ex Machina” – and we don’t need another ”Ex Machina” anyway, don’t we? – but feels fresh, original and creative. Good old dense cyberpunk with an intense texture and often scary feel. A must-see for anyone who’s into thinking sci-fi.

Watch also: ”Automata”, ”Ex Machina”.

3.5/4