The Machine is No Terminator… Or is it?

The Machine

The Machine skirts the dangerous boundary between philosophical sci-fi and artificial intelligence cliché Hell, as is common of creative works that try to humanize the inhuman: The weapon or person conflict, the discovery of love, the inevitable phasing out of humanity… Though these obnoxious, omnipresent A.I. tropes have a presence in the film, they don’t receive a lot of screentime. Perhaps the film just wasn’t long enough to encompass them in entirely? If so, be thankful; The Machine is quite enjoyable as a result.

The MachineVincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) works for the British Ministry of Defense, developing advanced artificial intelligence to aid the war against China while simultaneously trying to cure his daughter Mary’s Rett syndrome with brain implants. While running a secret audition to recruit new programmers for the MoD, he meets Ava (Caity Lotz), an aspiring A.I. developer with a promising quantum computer. Not long after she and Vincent begin their true work on the new and improved quantum A.I., Vincent’s boss, Thomson (Denis Lawson), has Ava assassinated by a group of Chinese hitmen in order to secure her technology.

The film’s true protagonist emerges when Vincent creates the machine using Ava’s likeness; the product is a curious, childlike humanoid robot capable of killing a person with her pointer finger. I have dubbed her Avatron. The first major cliché crashes through the nearest wall when Thomson begins scheming to remove the humanity from Avatron, wanting her to function solely as a weapon of war. Of course, his arbitrary cruelty results in Avatron starting an anti-humanity revolution, resulting in major cliché number two.

The MachineThe third is tactfully hidden between the first two; in order to prove to Thomson that Avatron is human and deserves to be treated as such, Vincent unwittingly discovers that his creation loves him. It’s not nearly as bad as the first two, as Avatron sees Vincent as more of a father figure than a lover, but you’ll still probably get that reflexive eye-roll when she utters the humanoid A.I.-adored L word.

The Machine is a solid movie, but I found that I was most entertained when Vincent was performing the Turing test on pairs of A.I. to find viable candidates for the MoD. It was clever, amusing, and had lots of personality. More personality than the film’s vague, depressing conclusion, to be sure. While it did narrowly avoid being consumed by sci-fi cliché, it didn’t quite fill the void the clichés left behind. Worth seeing, but I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Kim Newman of EmpireOnline enjoyed Caity Lotz’s portrayal of Avatron, and I think I’m going to have to disagree. A.I. are anthropomorphized enough as it is in modern and not-so-modern sci-fi; Avatron’s sweet and innocent demeanor turned robot revolutionary felt hokey, almost like a bait and switch. What is the machine, an adorable little learning robot, or the harbinger of the new world? Regardless, check out the EmpireOnline review right through here.

The Grudge 2, Everybody Dies

The Grudge 2

Also known as Curse of the O Face in some obscure subcultures.

The Grudge 2 is the sequel to an American remake of a Japanese supernatural horror flick. That’s two layers of “Crapetize me, Captain!” that this movie has passed through, and it came out marginally okay on the other end. Fresh scares, new characters, larger body count; the Scream 2 formula applied well, unlike in Scream 2. But can the sequel to an iffy horror movie be any more than iffy? Likely not, but it isn’t that bad!

Continued directly from installment one, Karen is visited by her crappy sister Aubrey, who is under orders from their sick mother. Aubrey is to take Karen out of the country because her dearest sister is, for lack of a better phrase, cursed to insanity. It doesn’t work so well, because Sarah Michelle Gellar goes splat on the pavement from the hospital’s roof. The blood effect is pretty funny. It looks like someone spilled a slim-necked vase full of hot sauce.

The Grudge 2A couple of American students studying abroad in Japan play a prank on another student (played by the cute-as-hell Arielle Kebbel), which results in the curse being pulled from the burned down house and outward. As it turns out, burning the house only served to remove the spatial restriction on the curse. Now, Kayako’s got her work cut out for her. She needs to kill everybody in the entire world. Just kidding. That would take too long. She makes a mean cheerleader bitch pee herself so… wowie zowie.

You do get an explanation of how Kayako’s spirit actually blossomed into a life-taking curse, which is nice. Plot, eh? Kayako’s mother was a spiritual medium, taking darkness from the bodies of the afflicted and feeding it to her young daughter. Thus, Kayako was slowly filled with pure evil. There is a brief revenge scene in which her mommy dearest dies, but it’s sort of unceremonious. I mean, by this point, a girl was pulled into a mirror. That’s much cooler than just slumping over and being made dead.
The Grudge 2I’m actually watching The Grudge 2 as I’m writing this, so bear with me. Probably a little scatterbrained. It seems as though the different groups in this film aren’t at all related to one another. A married couple and a kid, a teen couple, Aubrey and her family, the kids at the school… The only connection is Kayako. It would be a lovely web of intrigue if any of them had anything to do with the curse, or if more than ONE person tried to lift the curse. But nah! They’re just meat for the grinder. The more people you introduce, the more people you get to kill, right?

Psh. Favoring the villain isn’t a bad thing, but the issue here is that Kayako is more an animal than a living curse. She just kills everything she touches, no rhyme or reason. It’s slasher movie logic embodied in a ghostly horror figure. “No salvation” can be a powerful phrase if hope of salvation actually exists, but you know from the very beginning that Kayako ain’t gonna stop ‘til everyone drops. Why bother?

Josh Tyler of CinemaBlend compares Kayako’s Grudge 2 curse to the common cold, which is true. The house used to be evil, but now everyone who touches someone who touched the house previously gets cursed. It’s explained that the fire changed that, because upscaling, right? It’s fun for the scares, but if it isn’t scary to you, you’re wasting your time. Click this linkpoo for more information, okay:

The Grudge, Whack-a-Mole Contortionism

The Grudge

I remember a time when The Grudge was considered the latest and greatest horror movie. Looking back on it now, Sarah Michelle Gellar seemed a bit out of place in the American remake of the Japanese horror flick Ju-on. That could just be because I don’t care for her, but alas; this review’s more about the film than the cast. I’m sure most of you probably already know the story, but for the sake of formality, tallyho.

The origin of the curse is the most important aspect, as you’ll often see it reflected in the curse-killings. Kayako Saeki was locked in a loveless marriage with Takeo, and found herself growing obsessed with Peter Kirk, and American college professor working in Japan. One day, Kayako comes home to find Takeo reading her Peter-crazy (tee hee) diary. He doesn’t seem very happy. One snapped spine, one drowned Toshio Saeki (their son), and one slit cat’s throat later, Takeo hangs himself. Thus, the curse is born from Kayako’s rage. Toshio can come too.

The GrudgeFun fact: The Grudge uses noise triggers to tap into your fear centers. The guttural inhaling sound Kayako makes and the high pitched meowing sound Toshio makes show up in moments of great tension. Thus, the sounds become scary. You may get goosebumps the first or second time you hear them. Maybe. The more you know!

The Grudge has a lot of throwaway protagonists, which is rather unfortunate, because if you don’t wind up liking any of the main characters in a horror flick, you can’t feel bad for them when they die or go insane. Kayako chews through a whole bunch of throwaways before going after the main main character, letting her go, then performing one final scare just before the credits. Honestly, you watch this one for Kayako’s creepy shenanigans, not the plot or characters.

Because of how absolutely BORING all the characters are, I’m not going to describe them. They just die anyway. Instead, I’ll talk about the aforementioned Kayako monkeyshines! Hooray! Warning: May contain gurgling noises, kitty screams, black hair, and being pulled into nowhere.

I suppose it would ruin your entire experience if I called Kayako a whack-a-mole contortionist. She pops out when you least expect her, and sometimes she goes up and down stairs doing THE most uncomfortable inverse crabwalk you’ve ever seen. It’s almost adorable. I can’t say a lot for Toshio, aside from that he’s got a good creepy stare. And that he meows.
The GrudgeHijinks! Right-o. These are the main focus of the movie, and they aren’t too shabby. You never see Kayako or the mighty morphing Cat Ranger physically kill anyone, but they like to appear in beds and doorways and grandfather clocks. Sometimes they put their victims into a catatonic state and steal the life from them. Sometimes they pull their panicked prey into nowhere. Imagine that! You’re sleeping in a bed, when suddenly you notice a swell near the end of your mattress. What could it be? You lift up your sheets to find Kayako’s pale and bloody face nestled on your sternum, and she suddenly tugs your ankles and pulls you into nowhere.

Should you laugh? Be afraid? I have no idea, and because of that, I LIKE The Grudge. It has earned the Softcore Horror Seal of Approval.

Bill Beyrer of CinemaBlend hates The Grudge with a passion. HATES it! Says the cast should have been a bunch of unknowns, and that the DVD case is scarier than the movie itself. It’s true, eventually you get used to having Kayako’s dead face shoved in your face. Eventually, you just want to lean your head forward a little, give her a peck on the forehead, and say, “Okay, you can stop now.” Read up here:

Dracula 2000, Not Quite Bram Stoker

Dracula 2000
, despite its sci-fi sounding name, is a contemporary rendition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is dark, religious, surreal, and sexy (painfully so), to say the very least. While it could have very well been the resurrection of the vampire movie genre, it did have some sharp shortcomings that managed to anchor it away from glory.

We begin with a heist, in which several smugglers break into the vault of Abraham Van Helsing, hoping to make away with something of value to sell out of country. Unfortunately, all they can find inside are dusty books, furniture, crucifixes, and an ominous coffin surrounded by traps. Figuring that the coffin contains whatever treasures they’re hoping for, they blow the vault and escape.

A disorienting leap into a vivid nightmare of a bland looking girl named Mary nearly derails the suspense of the last set of scenes, but the save goes to Dracula for making a micro-appearance. Just an introduction interlude leading up to the Vampire Lord’s grand return while the smugglers fly him back. Gerard Butler shirtless. Right on.

Dracula then proceeds to haunt Mary’s waking dreams while slowly accruing “attractive” (yucky) female followers via the bite of night, I’ll call it. He only gets guy followers because of his initial bloodthirst, and they die quickly anyway. It’s all about the sexy girl vampires, right? Besides, Gerard Butler! He don’t need no competition.

Abraham books a flight to follow the smugglers, leaving his partner Simon to ponder just what the hell happened. Instead of running the business in Helsing’s stead, he follows him to find out just what. His travels cause him to cross paths with Mary, whose nightmares have been worsening because Dracula’s out and searching for her. Their connection (Mary and Drac’s) remains unspoken until the final parts of the movie, and they do register as quite the spoiler, so I’ll leave you in the dark for that one.

After a while, the plot spirals downward into one great vampire hunt, and Abraham Van Helsing winds up dead, one of the more disappointing parts of the movie. Simon and Mary face off against Dracula and his vampiress trio, discovering his origins and just how to destroy him. But with his power returning so quickly, do they stand a chance against him? Well, I don’t know, you watch the movie and tell me.

A few words on actors, then I’ll leave you to it. Christopher Plummer makes an excellent Helsing. I found that I preferred him out of all the other characters. Justine Waddell is probably the low point of the cast, by my speculation. Her performance is dull, almost lifeless, and clashes with that of Plummer and Butler. Hell, even Jonny Lee Miller (Simon) manages to overshadow her. Basically, if not for Mary, Dracula 2000 would actually be a pretty okay Dracula spin-off..

Oh, and one final thing. Omar Epps, who plays Marcus, the head honcho of the heist brigade, is hilarious as a vampire. He goes from cold, calculated criminal to fangly standup comedian instantly. Absolutely brilliant.

According to James Berardinelli of ReelReviews, Dracula 2000 is basically a butcher job of every last aspect of the original Dracula, Gerard Butler doesn’t do his part justice, and everything else fails just as badly. I suppose you could say my review was a mite lenient because I (don’t hate me) have yet to see the original Dracula. Here, distract yourself with this before they start throwing rocks at me:

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.