Natural City / Blade Runner rip-off

naturaal cityDirector: Min Byeong-cheon. Starring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Seo Lin. South Korea, 2003. IMDb: 5.8. My rating: 0.5/4. ”Blade Runner” rip off.

If somebody ever creates a list of ”Blade Runner” rip-offs, please put ”Natural City” on the first place.

We all know that ”Blade Runner” and another obscure movie by R. Scott did had a long-lasting effect on cinema, cyberpunk and science fiction.

We all know what is the difference between a homage and a rip-off.

”Natural City” was probably intended as a faithful homage – even the poster’s line said ”The Blade Runner era finishes and the Natural City myth starts” – but unfortunately ended up being a bad rip-off.

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THX 1138 / faceless numbers

”The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

 

1t is n0t exactly clear, whether it was Erich Maria Remarque, the gre4t German writer of war, sadness and l0st generation, or Joseph Stalin, the blo0dy Soviet mastermind, to pr0nounce these painful w0rds, although surely b0th had the right f0r it. E4ch fr0m the opp0site p0int of view.

”THX 1138” is a perfect illustration for what it means to be a N° in an ill, mechanical, drug-oppressed society that is even more deadened than “Fahrenheit 451”, “1984” or “Metropolis”. Heck, people even had names there.

Here… everybody is just a number. Numbers are perfectly intertwined in the stunningly sterile visuals of the story, crawling here and there, mixed with muffled camera surveillance footage and faceless chrome police robots that keep on repeating “we are here to help you”.

We are here to help you.” A recurring nightmare motif now.

 

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

Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi.

In Italy ”Silent Running” was released under this name… ”2002: la seconda odissea” ( = the second odyssey). That’s really classy sassy.

”Silent Running” suffers from many problems, like Bruce Dern with his cheesy lines and overacting, inaccurate scientific part and folk songs by Joan Baez that make look those scenes like an ecological New Age propaganda/hippie’s dilemma. It’s a naive flawed story with many drawbacks, yet somehow it still manages to transmit its kind emotion. The film was indeed influential, being an inspiration to ”Wall-E” and C-P30 and R-2D2. Duncan Jones, the director of the beloved ”Moon” also admitted that ”Silent Running” was one of the influences.

How does all that look now? Well… surprisingly all spaceships, technologies and special effects still look fine, even if obsolete. The real problem of the movie are the characters, their motivations and the scientific part. And the script, which obviously seemed to be covering just about 30 minutes of the time – the rest felt like a badly prepared improvisation.

Too many times during the viewing I had to ask myself: “Why would they do that?” (that is normally a very bad sign). But hey, it’s a naive 70-s’ sci-fi about a bunch of guys floating on a special spaceships that contain all kinds of flora and fauna because, ehm, Earth is full of glass and concrete and the temperature is the same everywhere. Add long haircuts and funny costumes. That is so 70-s.

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The climax of the stupidity is somewhere in the 3/4 part of the movie, when all the plants carried on the spaceship are dying for no apparent reason. The main character – who is a top-notch scientist who has spent the last 10 years of his life with his beloved plants and as the movie shows that’s the only thing he cares about – tries everything to solve the problem but nothing works. And you know what?

He didn’t know that the plants need light to grow. Yep, you didn’t mishear. A top-level biologist didn’t know that plants grow with light.

All this stuff really prevents you from enjoying the movie because it’s not that kind of film that has enough action or mind-blowing special effects. The storyline doesn’t help – it’s divided in 3 parts, 2 of which feel like a time-filler and are completely unnecessary. Some scenes made me feel like they were there just to show ”look how we can shoot that”. The acting is pretty annoying, I didn’t like Bruce Dern’s performance here as it felt strained and laboured with some weird psychopathic hints and for the 80% of the movies you’ll observe only him and just a couple of droids.

The folk – FOLK – soundtrack by Joan Baez felt completely out of place, luckily there were only a couple of songs. But those scenes made me feel like I am watching an ecological New Age propaganda.

Some of this could be explained with the limited time for shooting and just 1 or 2 takes for each scenes, as cinemaincloseup notes: ”The film was made under extremely trying circumstances, as every cent had to be fully accounted for and a great number of scenes had to be shot each day, to meet the thirty two day shoot schedule. This stipulated that most shots had to be got in one or two takes, which in all honesty is blatantly obvious throughout the movie, as Dern overacts on occasion and fights appear staged.”

But even apart of that, Dern’s lines felt incredibly cheesy.

”Look at that little girl’s face. I know you’ve seen it. But you know what she’s never going to be able to see? She’s never going to be able to see the simple wonder of a leaf in her hand. Because there’s not going to be any trees.”

”You know when I was a kid, I put a note into a bottle and it had my name and address on it. And then I threw the bottle into the ocean. And I never knew if anybody ever found it.”

Anyway… with all this criticism, there are still many things to be enjoyed. Really. The droids were interesting and felt more alive than humans. In fact, the robots that you see in the movie were projected specially for three amputee actors.

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The most beautiful part of the movie is the flight through the Saturn’s rings. Originally that part was intended to be developed for ”2001”, but Trumbull didn’t have enough time to finish it so another one was developed. He later came back to the original sequence and used it in ”Silent Running”.

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Worth watching? ”Silent Running” is a showcase of why old sci-fi movies often look so horribly dated – the problem here is not with special effects or technology, but with its characters that feel unnatural, the script that seemed to be expanded on a Procrustean bed, the scientific inaccuracy and some typical elements of the 70-s culture.

Trumbull’s obviously inexperienced in directing and you can feel that. Ultra-low budget (for this kind of project) with just 1-2 takes for each scene don’t help, obviously. The central premise is naive, although still valid and relevant. With all its drawbacks, there’s still a lot to enjoy in ”Silent Running”. I wouldn’t consider it an all-time classic movie, but it surely may be a good insight into the early 70-s sci-fi.

2/4… for the lovely robots and the incredible flight through the Saturn’s rings

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P. S. Here and here is a very comprehensive movie analysis.

Get Out + some notable sci-fi debuts

GetOutDirector: Jordan Peele. Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams,  Katherine Keener. Budget: $4.5 mln. Box office: $252 mln. USA, 2017. IMDb: 7.8. My rating: 3.5/4. Social commentary with elements of thriller, horror and sci-fi.

– The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
 (a quote from the movie and the motto of the United Negro College Fund)

– If there’s too many white people I get nervous.
(one of the main characters)

There were, without doubt, some prominent sci-fi debuts that marked the history of cinema, like…

  • Mad Max” (which I don’t really like a lot, but it was hugely influential)
  • Silent Running” (which was undeniably cool in 1972 but didn’t age well)
  • THX 1138” (a disturbing art form of ”1984” by George Lucas, which wasn’t received well but that changed later, as it often happens with dystopias).

There was a huge wave of many good low-budget independent debuts released recently, such as…

…and many other cool flicks. Some of them had mighty figures behind or even directly involved in the production, for example..

Finally, there were some weird and hard to classify sci-fi debuts like…

A full list will be published soon. Anyway.

I doubt whether “Get Out” will become a cult movie like some of these, but it’s an oddball and perfectly crafted movie, mixing all the genres – a bit of comedy, a slice of horror, some sci-fi – all wrapped into a caustic social commentary.

Also, I wouldn’t call it a horror, rather a thriller. It’s not that scary and has little to do with what is intended as modern horror (luckily!) where people like to go in the dark basements and put their limbs in dark holes.

And Samuel L. Jackson’s rant about casting black British actors when plenty of Americans were available is incredible indeed… but more about that later.

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Augmented reality. Day 11. ”La Jetée”

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”La Jetée” (1962) is a very unusual project. It is…

…a photo novel  – a science fiction short film made almost entirely in still photographs. 29 minutes of brain-penetrating painful stills.

…a dystopian science fiction movie made by Chris Marker, a French director whose career spanned for 5 decades and his most notable work were documentary essays, not feature films – let alone science fiction. Yet ”La Jetée” was interconnected with his later works in terms of the spirit.

…incredibly long-lived for a film with such an unusual form – no action, no stars and no actual video – that directly inspired one of the best Terry Gilliam’s films ”12 Monkeys”. Yes, the time when Hollywood still had the guts of making these kind of weird ‘remakes’.

…a grim philosophical story about human perception of things and memory, madness, love, time interchangeability and bleakness.

”The victors stood guard over an empire of rats.”

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A Boy and His Dog

a_boy_and_his_dogDirector: L. Q. Jones. Starring: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Tim McIntire (voice), Jason Robards, Alvy Moore. USA, 1975. Budget: $400,000. IMDb: 6.6. My rating: 3.5/4. Eccentric post-nuclear black comedy.

– Civilization lies smother and decaying under an ocean of mud, belonging to anyone who’s strong enough to kick and fight and take it for their own. God, that’s dramatic, I like it.
(Blood the Dog)

– Now let run through the modern presidents.
God, what good’s all this history crap gonna do me?
– Just do the presidents.
(a dialogue between Vic and Blood the Dog)

– You’re still constantly overreacting. I’ve absolutely no idea how I managed to keep you alive so long.
(Blood The Dog is commenting Vic’s actions)

According to the pet ownership statistics from 2012, 36.5% of American households (43,346,000) own an average of 1.6 dogs. That means 69,926,000 dogs living with families in the United States.

It would be impossible to write about “A Boy and His Dog”, remaining a refined and delicate narrator, so let’s set it straight – we have a nuclear holocaust movie about the survival of a female-obsessed illiterate teen Vic who scavenges for food and his misanthropic telepathic dog Blood with a highly developed intellect and odd sense of humour. It’s also a story about friendship, love and helping each other (yeah, I am still talking about the same movie). The combination of both makes it an unusual and touching experience.

I really liked this film. It feels different and odd compared the most of the 70-s sci-fi (which I often find cheesy) and stood well the test of time. The film was also a huge inspiration for lots of cult stuff like ”Fallout” game series and ”Mad Max”. George Miller once said, ”to make Road Warrior, I took a Boy and His Dog and went commercial.”

”A Boy and His Dog”, with all its oddness and decay never feels too commercial or action-driven (nor too brainy/artsy) and you’ll actually see little gore – mostly, only reverberations and repercussions of the nuclear war.

”I like to talk to the audience for two or three minutes before showing the movie. I say, ‘I hope you like the movie. If you don’t, you’re screwed, because you’re never going to be able to forget it.”
(L. Q. Jones, the director)

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