Overview. At first glance, Gamer would seem to be about first-person shooters (FPSs) taken to new extremes… and the people who play them. Beneath all the explosions, spent bullet casings, and piles of fragged corpses, there’s a story about how one man is using nanotechnology for more than just sick entertainment. While the concept of technology to control humanity is nothing new to cyberpunk, how it is being used to that end in this movie may make you look at Quake and Unreal Tournament (and maybe The Sims series and Second Life) differently.
The Story. Ken Castle is the mastermind behind Nanex, the nanotechnology that fuses to human neurons in the brain to effectively control it. With this level of control, one person can make a Nanex-infused human his/her personal meatbot-slave. This results in the creation of the two largest, most successful live-action MMORPGs: Society, a Sims style RPG, and Slayers, the FPS where convicted death-row inmates fight to survive thirty matches where they win their freedom.
Kable, convicted of murder and separated from his wife and daughter, has won 26 matches already, thanks in part to his “controller” Simon. Kable has become a virtual god worshiped by the world, while Simon has become a rock star equivalent. But as Kable closes in on his 30th victory, a hacker group called the Humanz inform the duo that Kable’s appearance in Slayers is no accident as he hold information that can bring Castle’s empire down.
“This is not something you can control. It ain’t just a game, we’re all slaves.”
Who’s playing you? The potential danger of Nanex becomes all too obvious near the end of the movie, with Castle seeking godlike status. The immediate problems can be seen as Angie (Kable’s wife) is often seen as a Society meatbot to a controller who… let’s just say that which once seen cannot be unseen.
Kable: “You pull all the strings around here.”
Castle: “I think it, you do it.”
As if to drive the point of control home, you should see the “Under My Skin” scene with Castle and some of this personal meatbots doing a little song and dance for visiting Kable, a’ la West Side Story.
Also worth noting: The contrast of the bright neon-and-flesh colors of Society vs. the blood-drenched gray war zones of Slayers.
Conclusion. Some people might love watching meatbots fight for their freedom. Some might be turned away from the movie’s explosive (literally) battle scenes. But if you look past the blasts, you can see how it makes for a pretty good cyberpunk film.
Lead Slave Hunter/Labor Camp Guard/Slave: Aidar Sydykov
Slave Hunters: Yerbol Zimanov & Yerbol Alkhanov
Slave: Tengiz Sydykov
Labor Camp Guard: Erden Zikibay
Rating:7 out of 10
Any similarities between this and certain movies… was probably intended.
Overview: Somewhere is a budding Steven Spielberg, Riddley Scott, Cecil B. DeMille, or Laszlo Kovacs sitting in a classroom, secretly (or not-so-secretly) dreaming up the next Blade Runner or Matrix, or some similar mash-up of cyberpunk media. Erden Zikibay and Mohamed Talaat make their case with this cyberpunk short.
The Story: It’s mid-21st century and Earth government begins an ambitious space exploration endeavor, but getting people to join the effort proves difficult… until they revive an old institution: Slavery.
I’m going to stop it there since you are already familiar with Blade Runner (And if you’re not, WHAT THE F&^@ IS WRONG WITH YOU???). Forbidden Dreams draws heavily on Blade Runner, and to a lesser extent, The Matrix (the hunters’ outfits and shades). There’s no Roy Batty speech at the end, but a quote from Phillip K. Dick that makes the connection obvious.
Being a student film, the quality is far from the multi-megadollar Hollywood fare. But for its ten minute run, they use what they had to its best effects.
The Bottom Line: You have to give Erden and Mohamed credit: To make a low-budget version of a legendary movie takes some balls. Hopefully they got A’s for their effort.
For the rest of us, Forbidden Dream would probably be best described as the Cliffs Notes to Blade Runner: It gives you the basic idea behind BR in a ten minute snippet, but you really need to see the full movie, if only for Roy Batty’s death speech.
Note: The Star rating is based on the cyberpunk content of the movie, not it’s quality. Personally, it would only be a 4 or 5 out of 10.
Salvation is better than T3, but still falls short of T2. Maybe it’s because of the way it is presented. From the trailers one gets the impression that Salvation would be about John Connor’s rise to leadership of the the human resistance. In actuality, Connor’s rise is more of a side-story…
The Story: The movie starts in a death-row jail cell in 2003, where a murderous convict named Marcus Wright awaits execution. He is being visited by Dr. Serena Kogan who wants Wright to donate his body to “science.” Wright agrees and signs the papers (with Cyberdyne letterhead) before being put to death.
Now, it is 2018, and John Connor leads an assault on a Skynet facility. Connor’s team is exterminated while he barely escapes, but someone else manages to leave the facility after the devastation, Marcus Wright. Wright wanders the wastelands until he reaches what’s left of Los Angeles, and encounters a young teen named Kyle Reese. Meanwhile, Connor has his own problems with the current leaders of the human resistance, then learns that he is on Skynet’s hit list, number two behind Kyle Reese.
Wright tries to get help Reese find Connor, but Reese and his deaf-mute friend are captured, leaving Wright to try to find Connor and possibly find a way to save Reese. When the two finally meet, we learn that Wright isn’t human… only Wright himself doesn’t know it …
Who’s Salvation Is It Anyway? Like said before, Salvation isn’t about Connor’s or humanity’s salvation. Rather it’s about Wright’s salvation; His trial by post-nuclear fire in the robot ruled wastelands to learn that he is not a monster we are first lead to believe…
“He saved my life. I saw a man, not a machine.” - Blair Williams
After being shot down by Skynet’s forces, Blair Williams finds herself and her parachute tangled in a high-tension wire tower. Marcus finds her and helps her down to the ground. She asks if he is one of the good guys, but he says no. She tells him “You’re a good guy. You just don’t know it yet.” She soon falls in love with Wright as they travel back to Connor’s base, and even helps him escape when his mechanization is revealed.
Later, after helping Connor rescue Reese (and some other captured humans), Connor is critically hurt and needs a new heart. Wright offers his. The last words we hear from him are along the lines of “there’s something about the human heart that can’t be programmed into a chip” (Quotes are still coming in). This act of sacrifice would complete Wright’s transformation from death row douchebag to a hero for the resistance. If only the same can be said for the rest of the movie.
The Bottom Line: It’s hard to say that Salvation is bad. It’s not T3 bad, but no where near T2 level. Maybe if McG focused more on Wright’s story than Connor’s… that story would seem be more about salvation than Connor’s rise to resistance leader.
“Humans have a strength that cannot be measured. This is John Connor. If you are listening to this,you are the resistance.”
Synopsis: With Terminator: Salvation coming this Thursday, it’s time I got my review circuits ready by doing a short review of a short movie, Maya. I found this short while searching for cyberpunk music on YouTube. A vid for a song called “Organics (Slowmotion Mix)” by Evil’s Toy had a link to MetaCafe and Maya. Note: The version embedded and reviewed here is the Final Cut version.
The film starts out with Maya, decked-out in some near-future laser-tag gear, stalking a structure with some guards. She manages to take out one guard, but winds up getting shot dead, only to awaken back in reality… or what we think is reality. From there, we witness Maya “reawakening” with different outcomes, like a dream within a dream. [Obligatory “Yo, Dawg!” goes here]
While the philosophical use of VR is nothing new, this piece does make the best of its ten minutes of low-budget cyberpunk. It certainly fills a need for a shot of cyberpunk when you need more than a music video but you don’t have the appetite for a feature-length film.
Here’s the video that lead me to Maya. Lady-bots and gentle-borgs, I give you German EBM band Evil’s Toy with “Organics (Slowmotion Mix).” Enjoy!
Overview: OK, so the Terminator franchise was pretty much killed off with the storyline train wreck that was T3, right? Think again. The luminaries at Fox have decided to wipe the thought of T3 from our collective memories to try again. While I would have preferred something taking place in the fucked-up future, this was not the direction taken (clearly the budget for a futuristic TV series would be cost prohibitive). This one takes place in modern times, with a potential bevy of bad terminators once again attempting to waste John Conner while he, mommy and their cute little teenage Terminatrix sidekick try to force crib death on Skynet before it becomes self-aware. While the initial pilot was less than inspiring, the second episode was significantly better – so much so that its worth giving this thing a viewing or two.
The Story: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2, and ends up pretty much obliterating the Terminator 3 storyline from existence. Starting in 1999, in this “version” of the future past, Sarah (played by Lena Headey) and John Conner (Thomas Dekker) have settled down to a life of sorts, where John goes to school and Sarah waitresses and falls in love with a regular guy. While they have kept out of sight of the police, Sarah never feels safe, an decides to leave when her fiancé gives her a ring. Soon after settling in their new digs, John befriends a nice girl at school named Cameron (Summer Glau), and then almost gets blown away by his substitute teacher who turns out to be a Terminator. Luckily for him, that cute girl he befriended ends up being his protector teenage Terminator chick.
Cameron informs them that the new world expiration date (when Skynet becomes self-aware) is April 19, 2011. After a bit of terminator action, Sarah, John and Cameron agree to find out how Skynet gets revived. Strangely, this involves raiding a bank built in 1963 to find weapon parts that can kill the current “red shirt” terminator (there appear to be lots of them), and then use the time machine left there to transport them to 2007. Cameron “supposedly” did this to ensure they would be safe – NOT.
As the second episode ensues, Sarah, John and Cameron are working to get legit-looking IDs, meet up with a bunch of Connor’s staff from the future, who also came back to 2007, and then to eventually stop Skynet. Unfortunately, it turns out that another Terminator has already wasted three of the four warriors from the future. Even worse, the red-shirt Terminator wasted with the cool ray gun in episode one somehow had its parts scattered into the future when the time travel occurred – now he’s rebuilding himself.
Evaluation of The Cast:
Cameron: Most of the early buzz around the Sarah Connor Chronicles concerns Summer Glau’s staring role as the mysterious but good terminatrix chick. In the pilot episode, she has a very mixed – mostly off – performance. Her deliverance of the signature “Come with me if you want to live” line had a quavering voice – hardly the stuff of terminators. Further, the awesome fighting we associate from her Serenity performance wasn’t on display. That said, Summer was significantly better in the second episode. Her face was more terminator-like, and she seemed to grow into the role more in a number of ways. Still, Summer is clearly not your Aaaahhnold’s Terminator - the bad guy terminators don’t even recognize her model number, for instance. She doesn’t even seem to have the same basic instruction set in that she seems to process information differently. There are already allusions to her having a very close relationship to John in the future, including a slight amount of sexual tension between Cameron and John. She could evolve into an interesting Data-like version of a “what dose it mean to be human?” terminator, or she could end up being John’s hawt android sexbot who just happens to pack a nice punch - who knows at this point?
Sarah Conner: Lena Headey plays a fairly interesting character, but is one which bares very little resemblance to the character played by Linda Hamilton. This Sarah Connor is a waif who struggles to be tough enough to do what is necessary. Emotions are always just under the surface for this character. In truth, Headey plays a Sarah Conner FAR closer to the first Terminator instead of after the second one. I don’t know if I like the change, but besides the occasional English accent switch, Headey does a decent job playing whoever this character is supposed to be.
John Conner: Thomas Dekker’s John Conner is FAR preferable to the monstrosity played by Nick Stahl. So far, Dekker is by far the most believable character. He seems pissed off, tough, smart and screwed over – exactly like we’d expect from the kid from Terminator 2. I’m interested to see how he “grows” into his leadership role.
James Ellison: Ellison is an FBI agent played by Richard Jones, who seems to be discovering that the future that psycho-Sarah seems to have told everyone might actually be coming true. So far, he hasn’t had enough face time to be relevant, but there appears to be some interesting possibilities.
Problems With The Dress Code: OK, call me crazy but Sarah Conner in skirts and the Terminatrix in miniskirts just doesn’t work for me. Here’s a thought – I know its cliché but how ‘bout we try making Summer look tough. How? Hmmm, I dunno, how’s about using the traditional black leathers motif? That seemed to work for Kristanna Loken, not to mention virtually every other female action star since Catwoman in Batman Returns. Considering the number of clichés they’ve used already, this one seems like a “slam dunk.” And just another thought – have they considered possibly combat fatigues (or something similar) for Sarah Conner? Whatever they choose – PLEASE – stop the skirts.
Forget the T3 Fate - Now the Future Timeline is Fucked Up: Similar to T2, the message again is that the future is unclear. That said, if the future is sooo unclear, how is it that John Conner in the future is able to keep sending back his cronies to different times (1963, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2007 so far)? You’d think there would have been “some” change on the future, especially since apparently the 1963 machine is the way people can go back to the future. Again, one has to ask, if Skynet has the ability to send a significant number of people back (they always seem to be able to create that “one” more time machine…), why not send someone back to Sarah’s mother’s time and wax John’s grandmother? But far more troubling is the idea that all these things in the past simply haven’t affected John’s actions in the future. The world expiration date has now been pushed back to 2011 - how did that affect the people alive when John originally sent his father Reece back to 1984? Such questions are clearly beyond our understanding, but it just goes to show, that we can modify the signature line of the series (“We’re never safe”) to “We’re never safe from sequels in a previously successful franchise. Given this reincarnation, its only natural that the timeline issues so wonderfully explored in the first Terminator are now totally rendered nonsensical and silly.
They Actually Ripped Off Hardware!!! Yes, that long, lost, forgotten low-budget cyberpunk flick from Richard Stanley has been ripped off here. In Hardware, set in a dystopic future, a guy finds a cool looking robot head which he brings back home to give to his girlfriend. The head ends up being a low-budget Terminator-like robot (yes, it ripped off the original Terminator, so go figure), who ends up being able to slowly rebuild itself. Once it does, it wreaks havoc on the the wierdos living in this truly bizarre apartment building (I highly recommend this movie). The red-shirt terminator who gets wasted in the first episode apparently didn’t really get wasted (so much for the red-shirt analogy). Instead, he slowly rebuilds himself in a very cool zombie-like way…
The FX: Similar to T3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles are rescued by high quality FX – far better than we should expect from a TV series in fact. The time travel Terminator bubble looked excellent, as did the initial world destruction dream sequence. For the most part, the damaged terminators look decently realistic, and the battle sequences believable. Nice touches like the open arm and leg shots really do serve to finish this off. However, some stunts like the stupid terminator not noticing the 200 mph car hitting them have already been way overdone (twice so far). Truly terminators have learned how to look both ways before crossing at this point, ey? It looks cool and all, but give it a rest already.
The Bottom Line: For the pilot episode, I’d give it 4 stars at best. The second episode rates at least 6 stars – probably 7. While the pilot was really problematic, the possibilities exist for this to become a pretty good series. Some of the minor characters and plot points might end up working well. The whole mysterious terminator thing that Summer Glau engages in could end up being very interesting, or, if they pursue the whole love interest with John thing, it could turn into a truly sour dud. And even though the show has problems both in minor plot issues and believable characters, the well-known Terminator score really helps build suspense. We “know” what the music should sound like when a bad guy terminator approaches – we aren’t disappointed here. Bottom line, the series is worth giving a watch at this point. I’ll re-evaluate as the 12 episode season gets to its mid-point.
Overview: So you’re really into big breasted chicks getting gored by robots, ey? If this is the variety of fetish porn you’ve been hankerin for, then Exterminator City is probably an automatic buy decision. One word of caution - you aren’t really getting robots, you’re getting a cheaper version of the old Muppet’s skit, Pigs in Space-style robot puppets. Basically you get shiny plastic robot heads (are these supposed to be metal?) with movable jaws, mounted on dressed clothing racks. A real person wearing gloves is shemping the hand movements, while the lower jaw goes up and down to mimic talking (robots MUST have working jaws, right - I mean who would believe that robots would have speakers embedded in them!). Outside of this small, select market segment of geeks lusting after robot puppets bloodily whacking big breasted chicks off-camera, Exterminator City will probably get a hearty “WTF” from everyone else.
In the one intentionally funny moment of the film, Julie Strain dies by being bludgeoned with an Oscar statue (which occurs off-camera of course, as I don’t think any of these girls even knew they were in this flick until after it was released).
The Story: In the near future (2027), the population is solely comprised of deranged robot puppets and big-breasted chicks who can’t stop rubbing themselves. Worse, these chicks don’t seem to be able to keep clothes on. Robot puppets handle all the work in society, while the bare-breasted chicks hang around their apartments waiting to get randomly gored in some bloody, off-camera moment. While this doesn’t seem like all that successful a society on the face of it, we can only wonder what happened in the previous 20 years that led to this!
Unfortunately, the poor pesticide robot puppet has nightmares about hell. His response to the rubber demons? He treats them like big breasted chicks and chops them up!
Enter our star - the deranged robot exterminator puppet. For his day job, he’s supposed to be killing the large rubber cockroaches that keep frequenting the bare-breasted chicks’ apartments, but due to a eeeevil after-market robot parts salesman, now he looks at these chicks as bad girls who need his special services. But this is no ordinary deranged robot exterminator puppet. He’s also a master hacker and top micro-electronics expert - he can create his own robot bugs that break into bare-breasted chick apartments! Better yet, he can instantaneously rip out a wall in the exact size of his human-sized robot puppet body, but can also shrink small enough to sneak through the small air ducts that permeate every big-breasted chick abode.
Exterminator City Dialogue Moment: Police Detective Robot Puppet: “I knew this girl.” Mad Psychologist Robot Puppet: “You did?” Police Detective Robot Puppet: “I put her away on three counts of drug violations.” Mad Psychologist Robot Puppet: “I’d say she’s cured.”
Meanwhile, a bumbling police detective robot puppet is on the case. He may seem useless but he’s sure he’ll catch the bad guy. What’s his strategy for success? He hangs out with a mad psychologist robot puppet (who used to have the pest control robot puppet as a patient) and discusses each gruesome murder after it takes place. Usually they like to mount the most recent dead, bloody and now skinned big-breasted chick on a poll between them (see above) so they can discuss the specifics of her death.
This is the “Blade Runner” police HQ. Yes, in fact it does look like a cardboard box with squares cut out, covered with overlapping strips of spray-painted construction paper. But at least the light stays on, and the zippy things, which are supposed to be the police car, wiz by fast enough that you never get a good look at them.
The Pacing: The pacing in Exterminator City mimics standard porno movie. There is a brief, incoherent beginning scene, followed by a series of action shots that are broken up by brief, incoherent interludes. In this case, robot/bare big-breasted chick slasher porn comprises the action shots. The ending resolution ending scene bookends the front in that its also an incoherent moment that nobody cares about. Between each slasher porn sequence, he interlude shots in Exterminator City always start off with a fast light-car zipping past the cardboard building above followed by an inane puppet dialogue moment. Most often, the dialogue moment involves ridiculous conversations (or sword fights) between the detective robot puppet and the mad psychologist robot puppet, but sometimes we get a “hell” fantasy from the mind of our anti-hero pest control robot puppet. I’m guessing Cohen was trying for a “Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast” type feel for the interludes, but this is just a guess (he failed).
You can tell this scene is still early in the movie because the chick is hawt, can scream well and eventually takes off her top. Later on we get semi-ugly chicks, chicks that can’t scream or worse, ones that won’t disrobe!
Where Did the Big Breasted Chick Footage Come From?: While I know nothing about the making of this movie, I’d bet money that director Clive Cohen has never met any of these chicks. Far more likely, I’m guessing that Clive contracted with some cheesy modeling agency that had pre-made clips of all their “actresses” in a horror-scream type setting. In NONE of the 20+ bare-breasted chick killing scenes do we get any sense that they have a clue what’s going on. Basically, each of them are in some kind of current-day house setting (working out, taking a shower, watching TV, etc.). After a few seconds of relaxation, they look toward the camera and start screaming. The scene then cuts to the deranged robot puppet axing, chopping, chainsawing or bludgeoning through fake skin of some kind. Julie Strain is the only one given more than 40 seconds screen time (she gets like 3-4 minutes). What’s truly funny about this approach is how bad these chicks really are - not only in acting, which is expected, but in screaming. Some are truly horrid.
Robots need keyboards to hack into the police database!
Exterminator City Dialogue Moment: Police Detective Robot Puppet: “He ain’t coming back here no more”
“What makes you so sure?” Police Detective Robot Puppet:”He had a trace on our trace. He knew we were watching him.”
“So he won’t hack the system again?” Police Detective Robot Puppet: “He don’t have to. He downloaded all files on route to the kill.”
“So no stopping him now?” Police Detective Robot Puppet: “You must be sooo proud.”
“No detective. I am not.” Police Detective Robot Puppet: “I’ll get him”
“How can you know that?” Police Detective Robot Puppet: “That’s my job, bitch.”
And then a random plastic sword fight breaks out between the police detective and the mad psychologist. Why you ask? Um, don’t ask why…Incidentally, in the close-ups of both puppets, they each have those crossed swords behind them (apparently the walls move quickly to keep the crossed swords in the shot). I think this is to help the viewer recognize that they are having a sword fight.
The Bottom Line: Often when watching a truly horrid flick, you find yourself wondering, “What did this director really want to accomplish?” In this case, its pretty clear - Cohen wanted to make robot slasher porn. Unfortunately he didn’t have a budget, so he settled for robot puppet slasher porn that occurs off-screen. As bad as this “movie” is, I must say that a good number of the big-breasted chicks look really good. And I suppose there’s something to be said for having massive quantities of big breasted chicks to make up for the monstrosity that is this movie. I honestly doubt that anyone besides Cohen actually worked this thing.
But give Cohen some credit: like any good porn movie he knows to keep the better action shots near the beginning, as most will tire of the movie long before the ending comes. As we get to the last third of the movie, the women are either uglier, really awful screamers or won’t take off their clothes. For this organization philosophy, I’m giving Cohen an extra star in my rating (which brings my review to a grand total of 2 stars!). Unfortunately, this approach also means that near the end, we’re stuck with a higher dose horrid dialogue between the detective and psychologist, along with the occasional rubber hell monster. Bottom line, if you do have a hankerin for big bare-breasted robot puppet slasher porn and need to see this, don’t feel guilty in turning it off just after the halfway point.
Overview: There have been some truly interesting projects in the no-budget Sci-Fi indie movie business. One of the most impressive is Jason Tomaric’s Cl.One. Made for a budget of only 25,000, Tomaric tapped into the power of mass collaboration to solicit help from half the city of Cleveland, Ohio. While I might have a number of issues with the movie itself, nobody viewing the effects and look of Cl.One would ever think they were produced on a shoestring. In short, the Tomaric was able to pull together a far more professional looking movie based on personality alone. In a Wired article, Tomaric guestimates that he received somewhere between 1.7 to 2 million in free goods and services. The tagline for this movie is “3,000 extras. 48 locations. 650 digital effects…. Made by one kid out of his parents’ basement.” Count me as impressed!
The Story: Due to a horrible nuclear world war, the last vestiges of humanity can no longer procreate. The damage caused by radiation has genetically mutated the remaining inhabitants. So now, humanity exists in pockets of globed cities that are administered in a surveillance-type society mode. The cities are connected via a series of high—speed tunnel trains. The hope is that genetic research and cloning will offer a continuation of the species. Unfortunately, an anti-government resistance movement called Spectrum has also arisen.
Unfortunately, cloning seems to yield fully formed, but soul-less, mindless humans. In essence they are empty shells. To transform these clones into living beings, it is hypothesized that a human will be found who’s DNA has not been irradiated, and who’s genetic sequence will be an exact match needed to give life the clones. In doing so, humanity’s future will be restored.
Chancellor Derek Strombourg, the head New Athens who is beset by the loss of his only child who died due to radiation damage, has created a school of the best and brightest. But this is just a front for his real goal – to test all students with the hopes of finding the “one” – the one with the genetic match necessary to bring the dormant clones to life. After four years of searching, he finally has a match - Student Orin Stalward. To make this work, he has to initiate the experiment right at the moment that Stalward is planning on taking his own life. To make matters worse, Spectrum, the anti-government “terrorist” organization headed up by Joshua Adams is causing significant problems to Strombourg’s leadership, both in its attacks and in its intrusion into Orin’s life.
The Pacing and Story Issues: From a pacing standpoint, Cl.One starts off with an impressive “bang” and goes downhill from there. Cl.One is at best a very complicated story. I consider myself fairly astute at this point in picking up various cyberpunk themes and storylines, but still found that it took me two or three viewings just to get the jist of Cl.One’s basic plot (this is different from say, taking two or three viewings to “figure out the meaning” of movies like Oshii’s Avalon for instance). Adding to this is the relatively meandering pacing, where most of the story complications are narrated. If you aren’t awake enough to catch and assimilate a myriad of facts in seemingly innocuous dialogue moments, you’ll miss the meaning of the later scenes. In totality, the project doesn’t come together. There are a lot of interesting themes and ideas, but the execution falls short. Had they done this over, my suggestion would be to transform more story points into active story points versus narrating or orating them over a the first third of the movie. Even more problematic is the change in actor focus near the end of the movie – the “exciting mindfuck twist” finish at the end is always cool, but the change of context really muddies the overall experience.
The Acting: The acting in Cl.One is certainly nothing to write home about. Jeff St. Clair as Derek Strombourg is really the only one who delivers a consistent performance. That said, there are very few clunkers either. Nobody truly embarrass themselves, and you never really get the feeling you’re watching a cheesefest trainwreck. While this isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, keep in mind that this cast is almost comprised completely of amateurs. Not even the director had any experience prior to this shoot. While there were few clunkers, there was also distinct lack of emotional “umph” that really detracted from the overall experience. The stilted, uneven dialogue dialogue contributes to this in that it really doesn’t give the cast much to work with. Everyone was playing their parts but the performances as a whole came off as flat, which reflected poorly on an already slow-paced flick.
The FX: One of the best ways to cut corners on low-to-no budget science fiction projects is the selection of interesting locations. Cl.One excels in transforming seemingly ordinary locations into cool science-fiction settings. In all, fourty-eight Cleveland locations where used, including a nuclear power plant, a jail and Nasa locations. But perhaps the most interesting was the laboratory, which was created in a beer brewery. While one or two of the FX scenes look cheap (primarily the train sequence), the majority of the CG used in this Cl.One worked wonderfully. The FX and overall production values were generally what you would expect from a professional film, not a no-budget indie flick. Cl.One creates a look similar to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, in that the entire film has been sent through digitized color filtering. While the overall look was professional, it served to drab-down the picture, which didn’t work well when combined with flat acting and slow pacing.
Blank Clone Bodies? One of the “take on faith” science points that Cl.One asks the viewer to swallow is the idea that they can make cloned bodies which are “blank” – meaning they have no soul, no memories and no personalities. The big challenge involves figuring out how to make these blank bodies get magically filled by finding the right matching genetic sequence to give life to a thousand frozen embryos. . All sorts of questions that might go through your head are all bypassed – why can’t the way that cloning today works still work in the future? Also, if they have all this expertise at genetic engineering to the point that they “know” the match they need, why can’t they modify the genetic code prior to uploading? Even more problematic, if they are transferring DNA sequences, why does the state of the person whom the DNA is from matter (Orin needed to be suicidal for his thoughts to not transfer to the clones)? You can ask those questions if you buy-in to the idea that clones can be made without souls or thinking, etc. This is an extreme version of the blank-slate approach, one which is nonsensical on its face, and one which they provide absolutely no rationale for in the narrative.
The Bottom Line: Cl.One has some terrific things going for it, but in the end, I like the background story of its production far more than I like the movie itself. Truly, I absolutely loved the “making of” featurette. That large segments of Cleveland pitched in for free to make this movie is a crowing achievement, one which should be celebrated. In orchestrating this dynamic, Jason Tomaric shows himself to be a true film making talent. And while the lighting and production values are high quality, the movie itself just doesn’t come together. The score is way too emotional and dominating when matched with the scenes, the actor performances and dialogue. The story doesn’t hold together, and the “twist” near the end makes you seriously question the character focus choices throughout the movie. On a positive note, the lighting and visuals were consistently interesting. Because of this and the background of the production, I would recommend Cl.One to anyone interesting in indie Sci-Fi flicks.
Overview: One thing I love about Indie movies is the opportunity for complete originality. Indie director Hiroki Yamaguchi delivers a strange, but very well made micro-budget movie that is truly unique. From viewing the extras, virtually every part of the set was designed by searching through junkyards for throw-offs. Similar to the Cube, Hellevator: The Bottled Fools largely takes place on a single set. Similar to Brazil, the world of Hellevator is a bizarrely dystopic surveillance society where things just don’t seem to work right. Nobody got paid who worked on this, but you wouldn’t know it from the quality. Hellevator definitely has its own feel.
The Setting: Hellevator takes place in a non-specific dystopic near future, where a colony of people have long ago decided to move underground. While some aspects of life clearly involve advanced technologies, there is a strong analog, mechanistic component to society. Now, all life takes place in a very large megalopolis comprised of a set of very large levels and tunnels. Life is fully governed by an omnipresent security force, who have cameras in all key locations. Over 130 levels in all, each has a specific purpose. Some have hospitals or schools, others are power centers, and Level 99 is the prison ward. Because everything is underground, issues related to air quality are at a premium. Smoking is illegal, and merits a death sentence. To get from each level, people use these very large, mechanical elevators.
The Story: The beginning of Hellevator starts off with a television report of a set of explosions on Level 138, which ends up killing over 100 people. The police have pegged a few suspects of causing this crime, both of which ended up stuck on an elevator which malfunctioned during the explosion. Flashback to Luchino (played by Luchino Fujisaki) who is a troubled teen-age girl living on Level 138 who is on her way to school, which is on Level 4. She has a penchant for rebelling against the system and starts her day by illegally purchasing cigarettes from a drug dealer. Unfortunately, she almost gets caught, and ends up leaving her still burning cigarette butt at the power center near a set of flammable fluid containers.
Luchino gets on the elevator to take her to level 4, which is where the rest of the story takes place. On each floor, new people get on while others leave. Eventually when the elevator gets past 110, the elevator operator announces that they have entered the “express mode” – no more stops should occur for a long time. At this point, the elevator is holding the white-gloved elevator operator (Ninalada Mochiduki), a business man (Viblio Sawatsukumori), a woman with a baby carriage (Alamocia Nakaji), a quite guy with headphones (Nocosh Utsunomiya) and Luchino. Unfortunately, the elevator is force-stopped at level 99, the prison level. Two prisoners, one a bomber (Calpico Teranouchi), and the other a serial rapist (played wonderfully by Zitacock Obitani) get on with a very unstable young prison guard. Shortly afterwards, the explosion on Level 138 occurs. This causes the elevator to malfunction, and the small group is now stranded.
The malfunctioned elevator becomes a powder keg for runaway paranoia. The prison guard starts to lose it, and through a strange sequence of events, causes the prisoners to become free. The rapist quickly beats the guard to a pulp, which ends with a sequence where he takes a bite out of the guard’s neck. From there the prisoners sadistically start to impose their will on the beleaguered elevator participants. The rapist starts to do his thing on the elevator operator and eventually starts kicking Luchino. Luchino starts to have flashbacks of times when her father abused her similarly - Luchino eventually snaps. She picks up the gun and starts to repeatedly shoot the bomber prisoner.
From there, the story devolves into a repetitive set of sequential events which cause various people on the elevator to lose control. Some result in murders while others result in interesting character expositions. Throughout, the mood is high tension paranoia. Eventually, the THX-1138-like guards break the remaining few left alive. The story then connects back to the police detective, who is in the process of interviewing those that survived the elevator trip. The ending, not discussed here, provides a different take on the world which this future takes place.
The Acting: The acting in Hellevator is far better than one would expect in a movie where nobody was getting paid. Luchino Fujisaki turns in a solid performance as a person devolving back into psychosis. Zitacock Obitani is terrific as an extremely bizarre serial rapist, and almost makes the movie a must-watch all by himself. The rest of the cast works. The only stand-out lousy performance is turned in by the blond haired prisoner guard, but he doesn’t last long enough to matter.
The Cinematography: Hellevator, uses two omnipresent color schemes: within the elevator, everything is dingy yellows and greens. For the police interrogation scenes, everything is dark blue. Yamaguchi makes liberal use of perspective shots, sometimes involving fish-eye lenses, and frequently looking down or up at the participants. In short, Yamaguchi makes the most of a very limited budget and set. He even throws in a Matrix slo-mo shot that was apparently filmed with a single camera.
System Service Staff as Robots: In Hellevator, the elevator lady acts completely robotic until the convicts break things. Her overt disposition is of a person who never gets rattled, never intimates a personal connection, and never changes her demeanor regardless of the surroundings. In a sense, she is the perfect employee for the underground megalopolis. Similar to movies like Brazil or 1984, the elevator lady represents the humans as machines metaphor. In this view, we are nothing more than a single redundant part – a cog in a massive machine. For the ideal system employee, individualism has been quashed in favor of ritualized, repeatable routines.
Telepathy: Hellevator does a good job of integrating telepaths into its strange world. The majority of the people are normal, and do not recognize the telepaths. In Hellevator, the Telepaths are able to notice when another uses their sensory perception. What makes Yamaguchi’s view of telepath’s somewhat interesting is he also touches on their ability to see others’ memories. This leads to some interesting flashbacks of others’ experiences on the elevator. More interesting though is the fact that Luchino’s personal psychosis colors her views of the others’ memories. This turns reading thoughts into something far less precise, and in the end makes it more believable.
Repression Exposed by Extreme Psychological Pressure: Hellevator explores extreme psychological pressures on a group of already unstable people. Everyone stuck on the elevator is hiding something significant about themselves. The businessman is potentially a bioterrorist; the woman with the crib is hiding groceries instead of a baby, and the quiet guy in the corner is masquerading as a cop. Luchino had been abused by her father to the point that she eventually flipped and killed him. She has since repressed her issues but when placed in a similar circumstance, Luchino responds similarly and goes on to murder one of the convicts. Her perception of reality starts to bear little resemblance to the rest. The robotic elevator woman turns into an emotional basket case. Although this is a fully reasonable reaction to an attempted rape, the contrast shown is with her earlier robotic persona. In fact, everyone, when thrown into this circumstance acts in wholly strange ways.
The Bottom Line: If you like Extreme Japanese Cyberpunk movies, Hellevator: The Bottled Fools is well worth a watch. There’s quite a bit of blood and gore, but not when compared to some of the more extreme straight Japanese horrors. The plot is pretty straightforward once the movie gets moving – I would have wished for a bit more interplay between the plot points. Also, there are a number of plot points which were touched on as significant, but were never completed. But overall, the movie is original and interesting. Little throwaways like the child’s pet brain only add to the fun. Yamaguchi and crew really make the most of their set and the overall shoot. This one will stay with you for a few days.
SFAM NOTE: We welcome new reviewer hughie522, who uploaded this review into the Review Forum. If others are interested in joining the review team, please post a message in the review forum.
Overview: Few would consider Singapore to be the home of cutting-edge science fiction and even less would be swayed by the island nation’s first science fiction film, ‘Avatar’. The first forty minutes are cringe-worthy; poorly constructed characters, dodgy VFX and some of the worst dialogue outside a Ishiro Honda film are likely to put many viewers off straight away. However, ‘Avatar’ offers a little more than your cookie-cutter tale of good vs. evil wrapped in a sleek (if not cardboard-like) sci-fi setting. Transhumanism, corporate greed, social engineering, cheating death – all feature in an interesting little science fiction romp that unfortunately suffers from a very limited budget. Our story begins…
Synopsis: In the early 21st century, the entire free world is connected through the CyberLink (think ‘internet meets cyberspace’), the backbone of all communication and financial trading (ie. the stock exchange). The influence of the CyberLink is most felt in the city-state of Sintawan, a sprawling metropolis where corporate greed and personal gain rise above all else. Men (and women) such as Joseph Lau (David Warner, ladies and gentlemen!) are practically Gods over their own domain, the CyberLink ensuring their continued dominance over Sintawan through the megacorporations. Five megacorporations in particular – one of which is owned by Lau - appear locked in an epic game of wits with the people of Sintawan as the chess pieces.
Not that the people actually realize this, oh no. They are too busy with their own private agendas to even notice! Although a vast majority of CyberLink users are legitimate, illegal users do exist and often use ‘SIMPLANTS’ to hide their true identities (sort of like using a disguise and a false ID). ‘SIMPLANT’-users are often tracked down by freelance bounty hunters such as Dash MacKenzie (O’Reilly) or, more commonly, by Ident cops such as Detective Vic Huang. Dash is contacted by Joseph Lau – as are the Ident Police – to track down an illegal ‘SIMPLANT’-user, Edward Chang. It seems straightforward enough, until Dash and Detective Huang discover a massive conspiracy involving the CyberLink, Joseph Lau and the other megacorporations. This game just got deadly…
Analysis: To be frank, ‘Avatar’ is hardly ‘award-winning entertainment’ (though apparently it has already picked up two at a Spanish film festival) and will not blow anyone’s socks off. It is not destined to become a sci-fi classic or even a cult film, and is likely already forgotten by those that noticed it to begin with. Though it is not without its merits; the technology is fantastic: holograms are often used to hide the truth (such as disguising the fact that a prominent, five-star hotel is in desperate need of an exterminator and a few coats of paint), handheld communicators for video calls, micro-scale robots disguised as insects (such as beetles and dragonflies) that are used to project holograms and undertake surveillance, the concept of people that live inside the CyberLink and those that have augmented their bodies with technology (such as my friend below)…it is absolutely incredible that so much was achieved on such a limited budget.
Cyberpunk Musings: There are a number of interesting aspects of Avatar which benefit from further exploration.
Ravers: Ravers are part of Sintawan’s subculture. Augmented human beings with a gang mentality, they are fiercely anti-corporate and anti-government. Ravers are all connected through a telepathic link-up that is separate from the CyberLink and frequently use ‘crash-bangs’ (handheld electromagnetic pulse devices) to damage the city-state’s infrastructure (ie. at one point in the film an organised group of ravers attempt to take down Sintawan’s mass transit system and partly succeed). All appear to have the same ‘left-brain implants’ that have an almost ‘retro’ feel to them. Possibly the coolest part of the film.
City-states: There already exists cities with populations and gross domestic products (GDPs) greater than that of most third- and second-world countries. Sintawan appears to be governed by an organisation similar to the United Nations, though the corporations have been challenging this seat of power for some time. It is not too far fetched to stipulate that a large enough city (such as New York) could break off from the mainland and declare itself an independent state in the near future.
Avatars/Holograms: Though never referred to as ‘holograms’ as such, these feature predominantly in the film. For example, one of the corporate heads is suffering from terminal cancer and has had his body put in a state of hibernation. His mind, however, remains fully function and an ‘avatar’ (a holographic representation of him) continues to act as the functioning head of the corporation, albeit only within the confines of his office. As mentioned before, holograms are also used to ‘cloak’ certain objects and sometimes create very believable deceptions (such as the six-star hotel).
Surveillance and ‘Bugging’: Mini-robots disguised as very believable imitations of dragonflies (and to a lesser extent, beetles) are used throughout the film for audio and visual surveillance and the projecting of holograms. If you think that you have been ‘bugged’, then you are probably right!
The Spirit and the Flesh: Several characters (and one in particular) practically live inside the CyberLink. One such character’s body is a complete mess (he is severely overweight and is always ‘jacked in’) while his ‘spirit’ seems almost free within the virtual confines of the CyberLink. The CyberLink also offers a sort of perpetual ‘afterlife’ for those who have died in the real world (much like Armin Mueller-Stahl’s character in ‘The Thirteenth Floor’).
Social Engineering: Suppose that chaos theory is true; that every action and every decision radiates outwards and has an effect on other things and other actions and other decisions, exponentially increasing as it pushes out. Now suppose that chaos theory is somehow controlled. That someone higher up is pushing all the buttons, willing us into certain actions and certain decisions that is slowly shaping our culture. Now imagine that person ‘higher up’ is one of five corporate heads, who are all out to win a game of wits with human beings as the game pieces. Scary, no? This is the BIG issue in ‘Avatar’, and the one that ninety percent of the film is structured around. So what if the game has brought great prosperity to the people of Sintawan; it’s still motivated by greed, is it not? Is destroying the game worth the cost destroying modern society? You decide.
The Bottom Line: If you watch this film as I did – whereby I was expecting your typical, low-budget sci-fi action romp – then you might be pleasantly surprised. Though not that greatly. ‘Avatar’ is a film possibly best suited to die-hard sci-fi fans with no sense of taste (like moi) and who are easily impressed by a few interesting ideas and flashy set pieces (also like moi). Otherwise, steer clear and stick to the bane of ‘thinking-man’s science fiction’ (yes, I am referring to ‘The Matrix’ sequels). ‘Avatar’ has plenty of ideas, though permitting it any more than six stars would be a crime and an insult. The bottom line: CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Overview: Rarely do we find low-budget horror movies aspiring to be as intelligent and ambitious as Magdalena’s Brain. Reportedly shot on a shoestring budget of $25 - $30K, Magdalena’s Brain is a professional looking film with some interesting man-machine interface ideas. To limit costs, most of the movie takes place in a single warehouse setting. Unfortunately, this psychological horror is probably a bit too slow for most, and doesn’t have enough gore for the average horror fan (although there are a few good freak-out scenes). But if you do stick with it, you get treated to a fascinating ending twist.
The Story: Former brain surgeon, Magdalena (played wonderfully by Amy Shelton-White) is now a reclusive alcoholic, living in a warehouse, who continually changes out shrinks in the hopes of gaining some semblance of peace. Four years after a tragic accident that left her brilliant husband-scientist, Arthur (Sanjiban Sellew) a quadriplegic and their research in tatters, Magdalena has persevered in the fleeting hopes that things will improve. Magdalena has designed an implant that allows computer-assisted dialogue with her husband. With communication restored, they have been able to continue their research in developing a synthetic brain that processes information 1000 time faster than humans. While the last four years have been slow going, recent advances have shown promise. Currently a blank slate, the organic, crystalline brain structure appears ready memories implanting. Andrew (David Joseph), a love struck former patient of Magdalena (he has inoperable brain cancer), seems to be an obvious test subject, as he will do anything to win over Magdalena.
Magdalena reluctantly takes Arthur’s advice and accepts the help of her creepy brother, Jim (Robert Weingartner), in working out how to kick-start the organic crystalline brain. First, they will download Arthur’s memories into the crystalline structure, then insert the structure into Andrew’s brain, and finally they will remove the tumor. As the story continues, Magdalena becomes more unstable. As everything comes to a head, it appears as if the same issues that led to the tragic accident four years ago might be recurring.
The Pacing: The pacing in Magdalena’s Brain is problematic in places. The first half of the movie crawls at a snail’s pace. In part it’s due to the plot, but the editing decisions certainly contribute. Eventually, it picks up in the second half. The middle of the second half is really where Magdalena’s Brain hits its stride, both in plot and pacing. The movement is brisk and the scenes really tie together well. Unfortunately, the ending action sequence comes across a series of jumbled scenes (again, I’m blaming the editing here). Instead of the frantic chase, they would have been better served having their victim do the slow, bloody crawl, with Magdalena walking after while engaged in her personal struggle. The story would have worked the same either way, but the chosen course asks us to believe that a brain surgeon can’t determine if someone is dead, and that a guy who just had a hole drilled in his brain can run for his life.
The Acting: If there’s one decision that Director Warren Amerman made that other extremely low budget film projects should consider emulating was hiring a real actor/actress to play the lead role. Even with having only a $25,000 budget, a large chunk of that went toward hiring Lost-Angeles based actress, Amy Shelton-White. Had they not done this, Magdalena’s Brain might have been a disaster. Shelton-White shines to the point that she single-handedly carries the project toward respectability, while adeptly displaying a wide range of talent and emotion. The script is problematic in places, the pacing is too slow, and the rest of the cast are role players at best, but in the end this film still works due to Shelton-White’s performance. Being in virtually every scene, she seems to bring out the best in the rest of the cast. I say this because the rest of the cast suffers when in monologue type situations, but generally hold up well when interacting with Amy. David Joseph (Andrew) in particular looks really shaky in places where he’s basically on his own, but gets lots better when interacting with Shelton-White. I haven’t seen Shelton-White in anything else, but clearly she has the chops to go places. Other the lead, the only performance with mentioning is Robert Weingartner – the “look” he generates as a creepy side-kick really worked well.
The Cinematography: Often indie films that venture into the Science Fiction genre attempt to make up for low-budget effects with innovative cinematography and lighting. This definitely is the case for Magdalena’s Brain. The use of lighting and shadow always seems to be in the forefront of Amerman’s thinking when composing a shot. Some scenes, such as the bowling scene, really don’t seem to have a place in the film from a story standpoint, but are probably left there due to the wonderful lighting and composition. Throughout the film Amerman is able to take a truly dingy set and come up with some wonderful shots. Also interesting is the lighting and sound choices for the flashbacks, although the horror shots have a cheesy low-budget feel to them. This, along with Shelton-White’s performance is able to help get the viewer through some of the pacing and editing issues.
Problems With Organic Brain Design: Magdalena’s Brain uses a different approach toward creating AI. Instead of building a set of programs that mimic some trait of humanity (referred to as the “brute force method), they attempt to replicate the operations of a brain. Through the creation of a “crystalline lattice work in a gel suspension” – the thought is to create a structure that supports the firing of electrodes in a way that allows it to build its own pathways and connections. This part of the techy “mumbo jumbo” was wonderfully thought out, sparking interesting thoughts on how one might go about connecting such a “blank slate” learning structure artificial senses so that it might interact with the outside environment. One can imagine that a structure such as this, once connected to sensory input could grow at an impressive rate
Unfortunately, this is where their science falls apart. They “solve” the blank slate problem by simply “downloading” Arthur’s memories into the crystalline brain. Worse, the brain will apparently make its own pathways using a “first-come, first-served” method of storage. Not only does this approach smack of a “miracle occurs here” scaffold, it also removes most of the innovativeness of the crystalline brain learning structure – as opposed to the pathways being organically grown based on ongoing input from its environment, they simply load a bundle of memories (which are apparently discrete chunks of data) up in sequential fashion. In doing so, they seem to be valuing the mass-storage view of the brain while discounting the interconnectedness of the pathways and concepts. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem accept that their synthetic brain seems based on creating its own connections based on organic growth.
Integration of Synthetic Processing Structures with Human Brains: The most interesting cyberpunk thought in Magdalena’s Brain involves integrating synthetic processing structures with human brains. In the movie, the integrated structure will already have a sentient presence in it (see the downloading memories part above). This is an interesting approach toward building a cyborg with synthetic thinking capabilities, and is a somewhat different approach from say, the Ghost in the Shell method of increasing human capacity. In the GITS Cyborg model, computers are essentially integrated into the human mind, almost as a huge memory bank. The action thinking and decision making largely remain with the human portion of the brain (there are also fully AI processors like the Puppet Master, but they aren’t cyborgs). In the Magdalena’s Brain approach toward cyborgs, one wonders what happens when the two brain structures (synthetic and natural) occupy the same body – will they work in harmony; will one dominate the other; or will a type of schizophrenia emerge? This is all the more interesting when transposed against the psychological struggle Magdalena is undergoing.
Is Magdalena’s Brain Cyberpunk? Magdalena’s Brain is one of those movies that I think barely makes it into the genre. It takes place in the present, not near future (at least that we can tell), and has no connections to evil corporations. Nor does it have much in the way of cyberpunk visuals. It does however have negative impact of technology down in spades, and an interesting take on the fusion of man and machine. For these reasons, I’ve decided to include it, but just barely.
The Bottom Line: Magdalena’s Brain puts forward a terrific production considering the virtually non-existent budget. It’s very difficult to do a convincing science fiction movie on that type of shoot. I would like discuss the psychological horror aspect of Magdalena’s Brain, but won’t for fear of ruining the ending. The high points are definitely Amy Shelton-White’s performance, and a good number of some well-shot scenes. The audio FX are also worth mentioning, but the score doesn’t always fit. That said, the pacing issues will significantly reduce the potential market for Magdalena’s Brain, as most horror (and many cyberpunk) fans won’t stick with it long enough to get to the fast-paced ending. While it certainly has its problems, Magdalena’s Brain gets a passing grade. There is enough here for indie fans to give it a go, and enough of a jolt at the end that many horror fans will enjoy as well.