Automata, the Quest of the Sentient Robo-Hooker

Automata

Automata does what countless robot-centric movies wish they could do; take a big bumbling ball of clichés and turn them into something decent. I can’t say fantastic, owing to the severity of said clichés, but I can say that I enjoyed everything about this film except for the plot and its devices. Although… plot constitutes the largest portion of any movie, doesn’t it? Oh dear, perhaps “decent” is too generous. Regardless, the issue with Automata’s grand scheme lies in its predictability; once you discover that the docile and obedient robots are strictly programmed not to hurt humans or self-alter, the remainder of the movie is guaranteed to focus on the fact that one or both of these rules have been broken. On the bright side, with expectations that low, anything Automata cranks out will seem all the better.

AutomataSince you can’t shoehorn in less-than-subtle reminders of humanity’s reliance on technology without a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, the state of the world in Automata is less than peachy. Set in 2044, the world has been scorched and irradiated by the sun, and humanity has been forced to rely upon the automatons – known as Pilgrims, or “clunkers” – produced by the ROC (Robotic Organic Century) robotics corporation. Originally intended to help humanity return to its former glory, the Pilgrims fell from grace promptly, earning them their less pleasant title. With Earth’s human populace reduced to 2.1 million, the best plan changed from rebuilding to preserving. Hidden behind walls meant to fend off the encroaching nuclear desert and overshadowed by artificial clouds that regularly spray rain acidic enough to warrant protective coats, the human race is all but cooked.

AutomataJacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is a ROC insurance agent, tasked with ensuring Pilgrim functionality and compliance with their two big rules: No hurting, no self-alteration. In no time at all, a ROC enforcer by the name of Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) encounters a Pilgrim repairing itself in a subway station and shoots it in the head. A little investigation into the matter reveals a plot to usher in a new generation of sentient machines, though ROC quickly assumes the villain’s mantle and tries to crush the robotic revolution. Gotta keep that bottom line strong, and you can’t do that if you can’t charge for repairs! I’d tell you that Jacq winds up in the crossfire, and that his pregnant wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) portrays a one-dimensional hostage, but the clichés are about as sentient as the Pilgrims at this point.

I found Antonio Banderas’s acting to be over the top, even creeping into awkward territory at points, though I can’t imagine it was easy to keep a straight face while having a dramatic conversation with a life-sized remote-controlled puppet. Especially one with funky plastic nipples who moans in ecstasy while dancing. I- I couldn’t make that up, but you’d definitely need to see it to believe it. No amount of cheesy acting could prepare one for the very cheesy feel-good ending, however, and don’t feel obligated to stick around when Vaucan has his final flashback of some kid playing on the seashore. Seriously, they don’t even explain that. Is that him? Did he lose a kid? What’s with the turtle…?

Jonathan Holland of the HollywoodReporter believes Automata to be appropriately titled in that it proceeds mechanically. That’s to be expected when the most creative aspect of the film is the little air-breathing pill bug that constitutes the revolutionary “next-gen” Pilgrim line, and when your antagonistic force consists of a bunch of nameless corporate goons. As I said before, predictability is what made this film fall short of its ambition. Read more of the Hollywood Reporter take here, if you’re interested.

Serenity and Psychic Secrets

Serenity

Serenity feels like it’s an episode of a sci-fi something that I wouldn’t mind watching regularly. Then again, I’m an absolute sucker for space mercenaries; the merc charm just gets me. On the flipside, I’m not really a fan of political themes, but sci-fi tends to harbor them all but reliably. Serenity is a ship full of Alliance dissenters, Alliance being the powerful and controlling organization that’s trying to swallow up the known universe. Of course, they’ve got some deep dark secrets that a member of Serenity’s crew might just know, so they engage covert operation “murder the shit out of that person really fast.”

SerenityDr. Simon Tam, with the help of Serenity’s crew, counter-kidnaps his sister River from an Alliance training facility, where she was being mentally programmed for nefarious purposes. The Alliance is not pleased with this loss, especially considering River is a high-grade psychic who happened to peek into the minds of everyone around her during her training, which includes politicians. Politicians who held highly classified secrets that would critically drop the public opinion of the Alliance if they were to be released, at that. The Operative is hired to kill everyone who came in contact with River after her escape, and ensure her safe return before the Alliance’s dirty laundry is put out to dry.

Initially, the crew of Serenity has no idea why they’re being hunted down by government assassins, or why River suddenly flips her shit and starts killing everyone after seeing a cheerful octopus themed commercial. Simon puts her to sleep with a code word, which raises all kinds of questions, eventually shuffling them to Mr. Universe for answers. Mr. Universe is an infamous hacker who hides in a nebula-encased outer planet and broadcasts pirate signals. He decodes the commercial and reveals it to be a subliminal message meant to activate River’s programmed combat training.

SerenityAfter that, it’s a battle against time, the government, and battle-hungry insane cannibalistic rapey Reavers to figure out the Alliance secret and make it public before the crew of Serenity is collectively subjugated and/or wiped out. Hint: The secret has something to do with the Reavers. But I’m not telling you anything else! It’s a great watch, so you’ll enjoy the ride. Plenty of emotional ups and downs, and a conclusion worthy of a top-notch sci-fi thriller!

So, it turns out Serenity is the movie of a failed TV series that didn’t make it past its first season. Coulda fooled me! Olly Richards of EmpireOnline says that whether you’re genre savvy or just looking for some fighty space-action, Serenity is the movie for you. Though it relies on worn but beloved character archetypes, it has a feel all its own. Here’s the alt review! Not that you need to read it: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=10125

Devil’s Pass, Ignore the Box Art

Devil's Pass

There are no naked brunettes buried waist-deep in snow. You should know better than to think that.

Devil’s Pass was one of those few shockumentaries that I was was better. It had a good premise and an excellent buildup, but fumbled the big reveal. It’s one of the few movies of its kind that is neither horrendous nor outright amazing, which is an achievement all in itself. I imagine it would have been on-par with the Blair Witch Project if it hadn’t been so eager to explain the supernatural goings-on within. I lost interest at the halfway point, when the team discovers a mysterious something in the snow and eventually decides to investigate it. I’m sur eyou’ll agree with me when I say that the ambiguous unknown is a greater spook factor in horror movies than being chased around by some creature. That in mind, let’s begin.

Devil's PassDevil’s Pass follows a group of students who are researching the disappearance of nine Russian skiers who vanished mysteriously in the Dyatlov Mountain Pass of Russia in 1959. Some initial news reports and illegally acquired video footage suggest that the students vanished just as the skiers had, which isn’t much of a spoiler, because we all know how horror movies like to repeat past tragedies. Introductory spookfest noted, I feel the real tension begins to build when the crew first has drinks at the base of the Ural mountain range. They tell the bartender about their project, and he offers them the very same drinks the Russians had on their way up. Blatant foreshadowing, perhaps? Oh yes. On top of that, the hints at a government conspiracy certainly amplify the viewer’s sense of “just what the crap went on up there?”

Once they’re up in the mountains, eerie things start happening, and their technology begins to malfunction. Can’t have a good sense of isolation with all these communicating gadgets and gizmos in the way! It’s moments like these that make me ask myself if I really want an explanation. After receiving one, my immediate response was no, but that’s the trouble with magic tricks. Once you know how they’re done, the wonder is gone. Anyway, one of the greater lines is dropped during a nighttime camping sequence, not minutes before the discovery of the mysterious thing in the snow. That was the highest point for me.

Devil's PassNow, despite the fact that the big reveal was disappointing, I’d rather avoid spoiling it. If you end up watching the movie, please leave a comment and tell me what you thought of the buildup and the latter half. I’m aware of the fact that I compare absolutely every found footage movie to the Blair Witch, but that sets a high bar, damnit. Part of the charm was that the characters and plot were so down-to-earth you could imagine yourself there with them, shivering in a tent, afraid of the fucking baby out there. With Devil’s Pass? Not so much. I can’t envision myself running away from Russian soldiers or being haunted by a yeti.

Scott Foundas of Variety wound up getting the same mediocre-positive impression; they could have done MORE with the film. More in this case means less, because explaining everything isn’t a very good idea when you’re trying to scare people. Unless the explanation is scary. But it wasn’t. Bit of an image-spoiler in the coming link, but it doesn’t give anything critical away! http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/devils-pass-review-1200586363/

Rosemary’s Baby is Throwin’ Up the Horns

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby comes from a tiny, self-generated time period where Satanic horror flicks were considered pretty in-fashion and thus deserved a nice cast and crew. It tells a tale of an innocent Catholic girl who moves into an apartment with a dark past, and slowly descends into a conspiracy against God and humanity. That sounds pretty epic, I’m sure, but the story progresses cautiously, giving you time to notice the oddities and signs that lead to the Devil. I like the acting, I like the setting, I like the film. Let’s roll.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are a young married couple looking to rent an apartment in Manhattan. Guy’s looking to secure a better career as an actor, but his luck isn’t doing much for him. Rosemary’s a child of strict Catholic upbringing, estranged from her parents due to their detesting Guy’s mixed Jewish/Protestant upbringing. She is satisfied to be a housewife to her husband.

Rosemary's BabyGuy’s career takes off when his rival suddenly goes blind, a very spontaneous misfortune indeed. With his future growing brighter, he decides to ask Rosemary to have a baby. Hence the movie’s title. Apparently having had studies Rosemary’s ovulation cycle, he holds a “baby night.” On that very night, Minnie Castevet, an older woman met earlier on, brings over a chocolate mousse for the two to eat. Rosemary doesn’t like it because of a chalky undertaste, and Guy gets pissy at her for being ungrateful. She eats what she can and dumps the rest.

Enter the dream sequence. You see a lot of things here, like the Pope, Rosemary sans some clothes, a Satanic ritual, and Satan getting funky with the poor, drugged lass, and a bunch of old yet familiar people standing around and watching. One could infer that the perceived events are false, but this is a Satanic horror movie. Anything that would make the main character look “crazy” is obviously real.

The pregnancy doesn’t go well. Rosemary experiences excruciating pains, but her doctor (recommended to her by Roman and Minnie Castevet, their nosy neighbors) says that it is normal. Fearing for her baby’s well-being, she invites a bunch of her young friends over for a small party to get their opinions on the matter. They immediately show concern and practically order Rosemary to stop seeing the quack and get a second opinion. Once the party is over, Guy is particularly vehement that Rosemary sticks with her current doctor. Right as she’s about to shout him into a corner, the pain stops.

Rosemary's BabyIt isn’t quite all well and good from that point, though. Signs of a Satanic cult begin to pop up, centering around a strange book that hints at a plethora of anagrams. Suddenly, Roman Castevet’s name begins to ring quite a different bell. But I’d rather not spoil the end of the movie for you.

After doing a bit of reading on the film, the entire plot could very well be an analogy for Rosemary’s discomfort with marrying a man who wasn’t Catholic born and raised. Think about that. Marrying a Jewish/Protestant man to a very devout Catholic might make her associate him with the Devil. But that’s just fan speculation, so don’t put too much faith in it. No pun intended.

Drew Morton of Pajiba points out that Rosemary’s Baby is more of a religious psychological thriller than a horror movie, since elements like visual terror and startle factor are completely absent. As it were, the film itself is almost a word-by-word cinematic adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ira Levin. Very rarely do you see such fantastic book to movie transitions, so even if you haven’t read the book, Rosemary’s Baby is probably worth the watch. And, as I mentioned, Mia Farrow is cute as hell. Gander hither: http://www.pajiba.com/film_reviews/rosemarys-baby-review.php

Sublime: Not the Band, but Just as Trippy

Sublime

I have never been so confused in my life. What the hell is Sublime about? It just takes a whole bunch of at-the-time fears and stirs them up in one melting pot of “what the hell is going on?” Everything comes together in the end, but getting there is just a pain in the ass. One thing I CAN establish is that there are far too many freakin’ flashbacks, and that in order to make any sense of the movie, I’ll need to spoil everything. Let’s get this synopsis over with.

On the day after his big 40, IT consultant George Grieves heads to Mount Abaddon Hospital (note the conspicuous demon name) for a colonoscopy, but doesn’t quite get one. Instead, he gets a perforated colon that turns into an infection that turns into a coma that turns into a vegetable state. All throughout, he’s tormented by insane images of his social phobias or something of the sort. Begin commentary.
SublimePsyche. FLASHBACK. During his 40th birthday party, he’s given a genie picture viewer, a knife-holder that looks like a person being stabbed, and an olive tree. Even further flashback! He sees his son watching a video of an African crude surgery and gets a little freaked out. Yet another flashback! Everyone talks about unnecessary surgeries secretly performed on immigrants in order to get insurance money. Even more flashbacks! When will it end? George says he can see that his stay-at-home wife is truly happy because he can see it in her eyes, and is proven wrong.

PRESENT. George is experiencing vivid hallucinations based around his social fears. In his comatose delusion, he believes he has received an unnecessary surgery in the place of an immigrant with a similar sounding name, and as a result, he sees some pretty hilarious stuff. He sees his daughter making out with some goth chick called Ravyn, and then he gives a touching speech. Then he finds out he’s lost a leg. The nurse that’s been taking care of him suddenly decides to diddle him, and he finds out that she’s got an olive tree tattoo on her back. Relevance? No idea. Must be profound.

SublimeNext up, he goes to the “in construction” East Wing of the hospital and uncovers the illegal surgery operation, only to be captured by a black doctor who slices the skin between his fingers and goes on a gigantic rant about being black, and making fun of George for being xenophobic. The entire scene is stupid and annoying and it drags its ass and serves no real purpose. Then, George suddenly remembers a seemingly irrelevant conversation he had with his wife about dying in his dream and subsequently dying in real life. So he breaks the imaginary window and jumps to his imaginary death. Then he dies in real life.

That’s all I’m giving you. Do I think it’s a good movie? No, absolutely not. I don’t find this movie scary, deep, or even the slightest bit interesting. It’s a 113 minute yawn fest that tries to preach about at-the-time close-minded phobias, but winds up offering little more than an a heap of moldy ideology. Lesbian jailbait, sexy nurses, sadistic black men, poor immigrants getting cheap surgeries for made-up illnesses! It’s like someone plucked stereotypes from a hat and threw them in all motley. In short, Sublime is a terrible movie. Don’t waste your time.

Lee Roberts of Best Horror Movies calls Sublime thought-provoking; something that not a lot of people get. While I don’t get it (because it feels like Quentin Tarantino mixed with booze and narcotics), I think its message was better understood at the time it was released. So hey, I may have been harsh with Sublime in my review, but it can be put in a better light. Maybe. Check out the friendlier review here: http://www.best-horror-movies.com/review?name=sublime-2007-review

Super 8: Can’t Trust Prestige

Super 8

Super 8 may be two hours long, but it drags like none other. I have no beef with Stephen Spielberg, but this movie’s tough to stomach. The focus is constantly forced back and forth, the action is inconsistent, and the cliché corniness skyrockets when the “thrilling conclusion” comes around. I mean out of place, overdramatic, bad kind of corny. The kind that makes everyone look away from the screen and become nonspecifically distracted until the moment in question is over.

It’s not that hard to summarize, so I’ll do so in increasing levels of specificity. The first one won’t even take more than a sentence. Ready? A bunch of kids make a movie and witness a train crash, become involved with a military scandal involving an alien, and then main boy gets the girl and sends the alien home. Easy, right? Now for the longer version.

Joseph Lamb’s mother died in a steel mill accident, and his police officer father Jackson blamed this on Louis Dainard. Joseph’s friend Charles likes to make movies, and he invites Louis’s daughter Alice to play a new part he recently added. Their cinematic adventures take them to an abandoned building alongside train tracks, and they find themselves witnessing a terrible crash.
Super 8The military then invades the town, withholding as much information as possible while trying to clean things up. And by clean things up, I mean ineffectively deal with power flickers, kidnappings, and assaults while starting a wildfire to evacuate the town.

All this is due to an alien breaching containment because of the crash. The generic military bad guy apparently experimented on this alien in a way as close to torture as possible and made it loathe mankind. As such, the alien begins stealing people and storing them underground as food while trying to reconstruct its ship.

Alice gets kidnapped, which inevitably forces the whipped Joseph into trying to save her, and leads Jackson and Louis to forgive each other in the manliest way possible. During Joseph’s attempted escape, he confronts the alien and gives one of those cinema-sweet empathy speeches, which causes the alien to stop killing people and leave their planet forever. It uses a magnetic field to pull a bunch of crap into a water tower and convert it into his ship’s propulsion system. Joseph, in a “tear-jerking” act, lets fly his dead mother’s locket. Why? As the annoying sub-character kid in the movie says repeatedly, “mint production value.”

Super 8I think I’d feel more comfortable with Super 8 if it were a darker Disney-style 3D animation. I feel like I was watching some terrible children’s movie that just happened to have blood, aliens, and the army thrown in for the hell of it. It’s a mish-mash of clichéd movie themes that don’t blend well together at all. Military conspiracy alien story plus kid romance does not blend. These things do not blend well at all. That should be obvious, seeing as the movie is bisected down the middle. On the left, drama. On the right, alien violence and corny lines and hugs.

Super 8 earns one great big NO from this side of the ring.

I’m not attaching a second review this time around, because every single instance of criticism I’ve read regarding Super 8 is as kiss-ass and corny as the movie itself. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: Prestige does not translate into quality. Just because J.J. Abrams and Stephen Spielberg were involved in the production doesn’t mean it has to be gold.

Iron Man 2: Modern Living with Robot Suits


Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2
! It’s like Iron Man the first, only with more robot fighting action, more corporate conspiracies, more babes and booze, and more political dilemmas. In a nutshell, upscaling sequel syndrome. But labels can be deceptive; this is a good one. Mickey Rourke takes on the role of Ivan Vanko, the bad guy of the movie, and damn if he isn’t wonderful in the role. His Russian’s not too bad, considering he manages to throw in a Slovakian accent. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s cover a bit of plot.

Tony Stark, played by the magnificent Robert Downey Jr., is dying. His miniature arc reactor core is slowly poisoning his body with palladium. As such, he’s planning ahead for his demise and giving away what he can before his time comes. The US government wants to take seize Tony’s suits because they don’t want to rely on him. Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries wants Tony out of the way so he can lead the technology race, so that’s another force set against our protagonist.

What’s that? You want another enemy? How about Ivan Vanko, the son of the man who worked with Tony Stark’s father to create the original arc reactor? Yeah, that’ll do. After Ivan attacks Tony in his own, personally made suit, the US government moves in to claim what they think is theirs. Strangely enough, Tony hands over one of his suits to Rhodey, who then hands it over to Hammer Industries.

Iron Man 2Hammer, originally allying himself with Vanko to aid development of his battle-suits, abandons the project and instead weaponizes one of Tony’s Iron Man suits. As it turns out, Ivan didn’t care about the resources Hammer offered anyway. He just wanted a means to exact vengeance on Tony for what Howard Stark did to his father. Anton Vanko worked with Howard on the arc reactor, but Tony’d pop had Anton departed when he discovered the Russian scientist saw their project as a get-rich-quick scheme. As a result, Ivan grew up dealing with his father constantly drunk and furious.

Looking back, this movie feels much shorter than the first. A lot goes on, but it all happens simultaneously. I guess you could really call this a high-density, action packed sci-fi thriller. It’s true, there’s hardly a point where you’re bored. Oh, side note: Don Cheadle assumes Terrence Howard’s former role of Rhodey, causing some inconsistencies in flashback material, but nothing to derail your movie experience. Aside from that, everything flows well.

Iron Man 2Finally, the easter eggs. There are a crap ton, and all of them reference the Avengers movie. You have a prototype shield of Captain America, Dr. Nicholas Fury founding the Avenger Initiative, a cameo of Mjolnir, Thor’s beatstick, at the end of the credits… Yeah, the filmmakers know what’s up. Also, Samuel L. Jackson wanted more screen-time, so they used that as sort of a promise that he’d be in further movies. Good for Samuel L. Jackson.

Peter Travers of RollingStone paints glamour all over Iron Man 2 with his review. He also comments on the sheer density of the plot, but sums it up as tolerable and enjoyable. Indeed, Scarlett Johansson definitely puts on quite the show as Black Widow. Here’s the link: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/iron-man-2-20100430

Minority Report: Just Cruisin’

Minority ReportThat’s right, folks! Welcome to the future, and the future is Tom Cruise. First time I saw this movie, I was mainly paying attention to Mr. Cruise and his overdramatic performance. The guy takes himself a little too seriously, and I think even that statement’s a little modest. But hey, every once in a while his tone and the movie’s hit it off in perfect harmony. This is one of those cases.

Pre-Crime is a futuristic organization that works with with three very special individuals called the Pre-Cogs, who can see murders long before they happen. Pre-Crime uses the images produced by these future-seers to apprehend criminals before the incident actually occurs. It’s an incredibly effective system, and as such, it’s placed under investigation for flaws.

John Anderton works for Pre-Crime. He lost his son at a public pool, his wife left him, and because of all this he has taken to using a drug called Clarity. Despite all this, he’s a good cop. That is, until the system declares that he will kill a man named Leo Crow in less than 36 hours. Anterton has no idea who this Leo Crow is, let alone why he would kill him. All the same, John is hunted by his police friends, and by the federal investigator Danny Witmer.

Minority ReportOn his run, Anderton encounters one of the makers of Pre-Crime, who discloses that minority reports for alternative possible futures exist within the Pre-Cogs who make the predictions. So now, he has to run back to Pre-Crime and retrieve the female of the three Pre-Cogs, Agatha, in order to find a way to extract the minority report from her. Of course, in order to even get close to Pre-Crime without being eyescan identified, he has to have his eyes plucked out and replaced.

Skipping a bit, he manages to get her, and he quickly discovers that no, he does not have a minority report. He does, however, pick up the trail of a greater conspiracy hiding behind the mask of the honorable Pre-Crime organization. Soon, John discovers that the other creator of Pre-Crime, Lamar Burgess, his old friend, used his own system to get away with murdering Anne Lively. He manages to use Anderton’s lost son and Leo Crow to cover his tracks… But no spoilers here as to whether he gets away or not.

Anne was the mother of Agatha, and a Neuroin addict. Her daughter was born with brain damage, a common issue with children born of those addicted to Neuroin, though she was saved by Lamar’s original partner, then used by Lamar as the foundation of Pre-Crime. When Anne Lively came clean and tried to reclaim her child, Lamar made sure that she wouldn’t meddle with his system.

Minority ReportThat’s all of the plot I’m giving you, but that’s all you really need. For a Tom Cruise movie, this sci-fi conspiracy thriller really manages to hold your attention without making you say, “Really…?” Well, at least not as often as you would in War of the Worlds or Valkyrie. Quality effects, good characters, intriguing plot, and you have a win.

A word of warning, though. There is a considerable amount of corny-mushiness contained. It might get a little overbearingly obnoxious at some points because of the aforementioned dramatic tone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll kill the entertainment value entirely. It might make you roll your eyes, but you’ll be pretty content with the conclusion, I think.