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.

Equilibrium: Christian Bale Gets Mushy

Equilibrium

Ever wanted to see Christian Bale in The Matrix? Well, now you can! Equilibrium: It’s like the Matrix, only with less robots, and more emotion-related drama and allusions. There are black squeaky outfits with too many buttons, there are teeming hordes of expendable soldiers, and there are firefight scenes that are painfully lopsided; everything a good futuristic dystopian movie needs. The plot’s quite simple, and despite the fact that the end twist may throw you for a loop, it really does nothing to offset the intended conclusion. Let’s get this segway spinning.

Some time in the distant future, mankind is recovering from the devastating effects of World War III. An influential group of military individuals has blamed the world’s ruin on human emotion, and as such built a colossal society revolving around the removal of all empathic bonds. Through drugs and propaganda, humanity is steered away from its destructive path and into a hopeful future by the powerful Librian government. Yeah, right. There are a lot of hypocritical moments in Equilibrium that I’d love to point out, but I’ll save it for after the synopsis.


EquilibriumJohn Preston
is a high-ranking cleric serving the Librian government, specifically under the Tetragrammaton Council. The Father’s objective (subsequently all clerics’ objective), is to eliminate all members of the Resistance. These rag-tag heart-feelers smuggle emotional content and experience the world as it was before the Prozium revolution. Prozium is the drug that makes everyone emotionless, by the way. It is the duty of the clerics to hunt down and kill the Resistance fighters, and burn all the emotional propaganda. As such, it is John Preston’s duty, and he does it well.

However, one day, John misses a dose of Prozium. He begins to experience incredible bouts of attachment and sentimentality, which he sweeps under the carpet of official conduct with a fake heartless demeanor. Eventually, he misses another dose. Then another. Before you know it, he’s stealing poetry books from evidence, storing perfumed ribbons in his pockets, and hiding puppies in his trunk. Where once he didn’t care about his wife then later his colleague being executed, now he can barely keep himself composed thinking about them. So what does he do? He finds and joins the Resistance.

I can’t continue without giving away all the juicy secrets, so instead, I’ll make clear all the allusion and hypocrisy stuff. Okay? Okay. First of all, the symbol used by the Tetragrammaton Council is curiously similar to the swastika insignia used by the soldiers of Nazi Germany. Mixed with the heartless dictator, Father, you could say this entire thing is a reference to the Holocaust. Could. Doesn’t mean you have to.

EquilibriumHypocritical is the fact that the clerics have to kill the Resistance fighters, whereas injecting them with Prozium by force would completely remove their opinions and sentiments regarding the maintenance of the world’s emotional past. Seriously, inject them and they won’t give a damn. Then again, that wouldn’t allow the Tetris-Grammar-Tron to be exceedingly cruel, thus making the protagonist/antagonist aspect of the movie clear. I’m not complaining, I’m just nit-picking. It’s still a fun movie to watch.

On the whole, Equilibrium is just below the line of “too preachy.” It doesn’t get in your face and rant about how human emotion is the best thing ever, it doesn’t command you to think with your heart, and it doesn’t call people who veer towards general apathy jerks. It calls them Nazi jerks. That’s a joke. The acting is as good as it can be for an emotional movie about non-emotion. In its defense, a movie in which everyone’s voice is monotone would produce nothing less than utter irritation. It’s not perfect, but it’s damned good. I would recommend Equilibrium to anyone with a taste in action movies like The Matrix.

Aditya’s Movie Review Blog describes Equilibrium as boring up until the climax, excluding the action scenes, and I’m inclined to agree. When not beating the living crap out of nameless faceless soldiers and major antagonists, Christian Bale’s emotional moments can get pretty redundant and predictable. Well, technically the action scenes are even more predictable, but that goes without saying. Here’s the review link: http://adityasmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2010/03/equilibrium-2002.html

Tekkonkinkreet: About Kids, For Older Kids

TekkonkinkreetTekkonkinkreet is very deceptive. The cover makes it look like a kids’ story about two cheerful boys who spend all their time running around a ragged city, having a grand old time. This is incredibly and mind-numbingly incorrect. This movie contains bloody violence, people being shot, people being bashed with poles, burned alive, stabbed with shortswords, and generally transported to places of physical discomfort.

Black and White are two street urchins that make up a gang known as the Cats. Black is savvy, bold, and harsh, while his counterpart, White, is a regular innocent daydreamer. In the run-down city of Treasure Town, they fight to control a turf they call theirs, fending off other gangs, yakuza… even aliens. Several characters in particular are of great importance to the plot and subplot, so they get initial coverage.

Kimura is a young member of the yakuza group trying to claim Treasure Town. He’s spent a fair portion of his life doing dirty work, and he’s starting to grow sick of all the crime. He wants to abandon the yakuza and travel somewhere far away with his pregnant wife, but fate won’t have it. Poor guy.

TekkonkinkreetThe Rat is a mob boss that Kimura works under; a sort of world-weary father figure who’s on his last legs, just trying to do what he can for his organization before his time is up. Surprisingly, he comes off as a very positive protagonist helper sort of character, which makes the impact of what happens to him all the more powerful.

Snake is the antagonist here. He represents an enigmatic though incredibly powerful organization that wants to change Treasure Town into a huge amusement park called Kiddie Kastle. In order to do that, however, he needs to have all competition put down. He uses Kimura and his two alien assassins to strike out against the Cats and the yakuza, deciding that the only way to get them out of the way is to kill them.

Snake is the basis of the plot, because it’s he who uses Kimura’s wife as leverage and orders him to kill his old boss. It’s he who has his two alien assassins try to take the lives of Black and White by gun and blade. This contributes to a fairly terrifying development in Black.

TekkonkinkreetWithin Black is a demon referred to as the Minotaur; a creature of impossible darkness and power that is kept in check by the purifying presence of White. When an assassination attempt pulls Black and White apart, everything starts to look bleak. Black finds the strength to murder the two assassins with whimsical ease, but where his physical struggle ends, his mental struggle begins

That’s about all I can tell you about the plot. Tekkonkinkreet is a very surreal anime movie, one with a unique art style and tone that you really can’t find anywhere else. Many of you will notice an obvious focus towards visual appeal, which may very well have taken away from the complexity of the plot and characters. From a neutral standpoint, I believe that Tekkonkinkreet is a great movie with a lot to offer to its audience, from plot to characters and shiny backgrounds.

Also worth mentioning is that Tekkonkinkreet is a three volume manga series. For those of you who’ve seen the movie and know that cinematics never perfectly reflect their work of origin, the manga might be a good place to turn. I hear there’s even a three-in-one graphic novel for those of you that don’t want to worry about three separate books. Whether you get the movie or the books, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. If you get nothing, then poo on you.