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. Continue reading

Turbo Kid

turbo_kid.jpgDirector: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Starring: Laurence Leboeuf, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright. Canada (Quebec), New Zealand, 2015. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. An eccentric childish post-apocalyptic sci-fi with lots of gore.

– I thought all robots were evil.
– Depends on the model.
(The Kid and Apple are getting to know each other)

– You want to see something cool?
– I always want to see something cool.
(a conversation between The Kid and Apple)

“Turbo Kid” is  a faithful homage to the 80-s, a naïve love story occasionally slipping into a gory bloody post-apocalyptic trash. Sounds dorky? Well, it looks dorky too, and is entertaining as hell from the first frame.

The film doesn’t hesitate to borrow everywhere it can, but you don’t blame kids at the nearby playground for copying chases and fighting they saw on the TV screen, do you? Especially if they have a super-blaster-glove and BMX bikes.

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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

 

Metropolis

1927-Metropolis-2Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Germany, 1927. IMDB: 8.3. My rating: 4/4. “The mediator between head ad hands must be the heart”.

– Who is the living food for the machines? Who lubricates the machine joints with their own blood? Who feeds the machines with their own flesh? Let the machines starve, you fools! Let them die! Kill them – the machines!
(The Machine Man, disguised as Maria)

The grandaddy of all science fiction cinema. First ever blockbuster. The above quote is not from some 90-s cyberpunk movies, it is ”Metropolis”. But the dark and haunting creation of Fritz Lang is not only interesting due to its age, cult status or influence. It’s simply a breathtaking movie to watch, regardless of its heritage. Even 90 years since its first release.

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Planet of Storms

Director: Pavel Klushantsev. Starring: Vladimir Emelyanov, Geogri Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov, John the Robot. USSR, 1962. IMDB: 6.5. My rating: 3/4. A naive space travel adventure.

– The world government will rule the world according to the laws of mathematics.planetofstorms
(a cosmonaut gone crazy)

– According to quotes from the Smith corporation, the cost of building a highway to the Sirius is 37 million dollars.
(John the Robot)

– Where are your masters?
– Slavery is forbidden by the Constitution, I am a free thinking machine.

(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)

– Inform us on the position of your co-travellers.
– Position horizontal.
(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)

There are several scenes in “Planet of Storms”, for which you can forgive it everything. 20170324_060800 Continue reading

Uncanny

uncannyDirector: Matthew Leutwyler. With: Mark Webber, Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers. USA, 2015. IMDB: 6.3. My rating: 1/4. Guess-if-it-is-a-robot-or-not science fiction.

– Your lack of focus on what’s important means you miss the big picture. And that made you lose the game.
(David Kressen)

This movie belongs to the great category called “one more movie”. What is it, you will ask me? Oh, one more movie where we have to guess:
a) if it is human or robot/android/vampire/monster/somebody else
b) who exactly is the robot and who is the human
c) after the final plot twist – oh this beloved trick, the final plot twist! – guess again who is the robot.

So… A scientist (Mark Webber) created a human-like robot (David Clayton Rogers) with perfect AI. As the scientist falls in love with the journalist (Lucy Griffiths) that visits his laboratory, the behaviour of the robot becomes stranger.

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Passengers

passengers_ver2Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne. USA, 2016. IMDB: 7.0. My rating: 1.5/4.

– Jim, these are  not robot questions.
(Arthur, the robot-barman)

– We were woken too soon… Ninety years too soon!
– We have too go back to sleep!
– We can’t!
(typical dramatic dialogue between main characters)

A second movie in Hollywood by a Norwegian director Morten Tylden, who made great and brutal “Headhunters” (which I highly recommend, a thriller with really Norwegian spirit) and his most famous film “Imitation Game”, both received well on various festivals and public. Tyldum mentioned few years ago that he has been dreaming to make a sci-fi movie for a long time. Did he manage to do it well? Barely.

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Hardware

Director: Richard Stanley. Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, 238de25db1c5f601cbe1b1d56673a304John Lynch, William Hootkins, Lemmy, Iggy Pop. USA, 1990. IMDB: 5.9. My rating: 3.5/4. 100% natural cyberpunk.

– My heart…it feels like an alligator.
(Shades)

– This is Angry Bob, the man with the industrial dick, coming to you loud and clear on W.A.R. Radio with the good news and the bad news. Bad news is the heatwave’s not going to let up. As for the good news – there is no fucking good news! So let’s just play some music!
(Angry Bob, the DJ)

Post-apocalyptic future. The world became one big slum covered with radiation. Most seas and oceans have dri20170213_031230ed, leaving just a devastated radioactive desert. The space marine Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) buys a robotic cyborg head that some nomad found in the desert. It’s a gift for his girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), who creates works of art of various metal garbage and broken robots. Pretty soon, the head of the robot reactivates and he starts to rebuild himself, preparing for a violent massacre.

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