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Blame! explained in context
First there was "The Creation of the Humanoids", then "Blade Runner", and "Terminator". These helped to spawn "Ghost in the Shell" and "Appleseed". If we built a timeline and placed Masamune Shirow's GITS first and Appleseed second, then Tsutomu Nisei's NOiSE would be #3 with Blame! being the latest entry on the timeline -- taking us to Earth's the far future.
The film starts with the Electro-Fishers. They are descendants of what were known as The Planters. This is likely a name that they received when they used to work for Toha Heavy industries, managing the 'growth' of humanoid exterminator cyborgs that were used as a security force by the city. Hence the armor and the spears that are capable of killing an errant exterminator. In the film, the Electro-Fishers have long since forgotten their role in the city and are concerned because they are both running out of armor and no longer know how to make more armor and weapons. They're also running out of food and are on the brink of extinction. They live on the outer shell of Toha Heavy Industries. However, if they were to enter the core of Toha (as in the manga), they would find new suits of armor in storage.
At the beginning of the film, a group of young Electro-Fishers are looking for food and they're concerned about being spotted by watch towers and being killed by exterminators/safeguards. This is because the city is autonomous and its programming went haywire some time in the past. Originally, all humans had a special gene that allowed them to connect to the net and (if they had sufficient privileges) control the city. Hence pretty much all humans were registered citizens. In the NOiSE graphic novel, there were police detectives that would investigate cases in which there were people who were not registered. Somewhere along the line, a net-controlled security force was created called The Safeguards. These cyborgs were eventually given complete autonomy and instead of simply investigating cases of non-registered humans, their instructions were warped to instead kill all humans that were not registered citizens. Originally this would have been a very small number of people. However, a virus wiped out almost every instance of the gene that allowed people to connect to the city (destroying their registration status/citizenship in the process). From that point on, the city and the safeguards began mass-killings of humans. The Planters/Electro-Fishers were some of the few humans with sufficient armor and weaponry to survive. They live in a protected zone; once they step out of that zone, they're a target as well.
The young group of Electro-Fishers get in over their heads and it looks like it's the end for them when a mysterious figure clad in black shows up. He raises a gun and fires -- annihilating the exterminators and cutting a swath of destruction that extends for kilometers. In the film, he introduces himself as Killy (his actual name is Kirii : Pronunciation, "keedy"). He is a cyborg that is using an unregistered prototype high-level safeguard body and is on a quest to find a human with the net terminal gene and connect to the city to set things right again. Along the way, the administration/authority try to help him out as best they can. Similar to network administrators today, there is an administration in the world of Blame! that would like to help; ever since the decision to make the safeguards autonomous, the administrators have had limited powers and are essentially locked out. The remnants of the administrators exist mainly in the NetSphere (the web or internet of the future). The NetSphere has become so expansive that it is possible to have one's consciousness uploaded into the NetSphere and then downloaded into a cyborg or android body. There is also the option to simply exist in the NetSphere without a body in our (base) reality.
The Electro-Fishers take Kirii to their settlement where he gives them a unit of compressed food. They expand the food and marvel at the technology behind it. He identifies himself as human, although he isn't strictly human. Kirii's memories are foggy and fragmented since he's been revived a number of times over thousands of years. One thing he knows with certainty is his mission and he will stop at nothing to complete it.
Kirii tells the Electro-Fishers his mission objective. In turn they tell him about a place near their settlement where a strange voice emanates from a 'ghost'. Kirii goes with a small group of Electro-Fishers to investigate and finds the remains of an android named Cibo. She is a high-level scientists who has been waiting for someone to come along who could help her. Kirii picks up what is left of her body and sets off on a mission to a factory (with a group of Electro-Fishers in tow). Cibo grants access to the factory and executes commands to both manufacture more units of food as well as generate a new android body for herself. Unfortunately, her use of the console alerts the safeguard exterminators. Kirii, Cibo, and the Electro-Fishers barely make it out of the factory and they board a train back to the settlement.
Back at the settlement, things seem normal. However, one of the Electro-Fishers turns out to be an impostor. Back at the factory, a female high-level safeguard had killed and then copied the form of one of the Electro-Fishers. She is seen dragging a large gun to the edge of a cliff and firing at the perimeter generator that Cibo had created many years ago. The generator is destroyed and the settlement is now accessible to the exterminators. Meanwhile, Cibo was already on her way to try to log in through a terminal that she's brought back from the factory. Kirii was originally slated to protect Cibo's body while she jacked into the terminal. But the distance to the safeguard was too far and he had to move in for a closer shot. Kirii and the female high-level safeguard (Sanakan) duke it out with Sanakan pinning Kirii to the ground. She is confused by Kirii since he appears to be a high-level safeguard as well. In an attempt to salvage him, Sanakan asks him if he will agree to re-join the high-level safeguards. Kirii refuses and their battle continues.
Ultimately, Kirii and the Electro-Fishers end up having to evacuate the settlement and are led by Cibo and Kirii to an elevator that leads to a new location within the city. Kirii waits for them to enter the elevator and then stays behind to fend off the safeguards. The film ends with Kirii raising his gun to fight a massive exterminator as the elevator descends to a lower level of the massive city.
My take on this film is a positive one. It's expertly put together and I was happy to see that the original writer/artist was very involved with the production of this movie. The level of care shows in every frame and sound. The Japanese voice-acting is phenomenal with the voices of Kirii, the Electro-Fisher elder, and Cibo stealing the show. Use of camera angles and lighting is excellent. And the sense of scale of the graphic novel is well-represented. The movie successfully takes a slice of the manga series and presents it in a relatively-understandable format. The challenge with a story like Blame! is to take elements that will work in a film and not clutter it too much. Hence it makes sense that they would leave out potentially confusing elements like the silicon life of the manga. having yet another faction added to the film's story line would have been too much for most audiences.
The pacing of the film is good (and actually reminds me of the pacing of the first Terminator movie). It has a nice balance of action and slower periods in which the viewer can relax and take in the extraordinary surroundings offered by the future-city. For those who enjoy sci-fi and cyberpunk, I highly recommend this film (and the manga of the same name). This represents a significant contribution to the genre embedded with an important warning for the future development of artificial intelligence and computer-controlled autonomous systems. Let's not make this the future.
I Am Thor (2015)
Even if you don't know the band, this is worth a watch
I thought I knew a lot about music (and I even spent time in a band myself). So I feel kind of embarrassed that I didn't know about this band until watching this documentary.
It was super late at night and I was thinking of stopping and getting some shut-eye. However, I'm glad I stayed up and watched this through until the end. It turned out to be quite the story of highs, lows, and sheer determination. No matter how bad things got, how questionable the situation, how tattered the band became, or how ridiculous a scenario was that was playing out in front of your eyes -- rest assured somehow and some way Jon Mikl Thor would face things with a positive attitude.
The unabashed honesty in this documentary is fearless. Here's a person who wears his heart on his sleeve and is truly likable. And he's willing to put the good and the bad times out on display for everyone to see. No publicist filter here at all. It's actually really refreshing to see in this age of carefully scripted and curated presentation. It makes you laugh, cry, worry, and cheer. And that folks is entertainment.
Bravo to Thor and all the musicians and loved ones that helped him on his journey here in midgard.
White Girl (2016)
You want acting? You got it!
As the review title suggests, I was impressed by the acting in this film. In fact, the performances are phenomenal -- especially from Morgan Saylor. Absolutely fearless.
It's nice to see a movie that depicts people as real people in real places instead of as hyper-real, campy, or contrived. I personally know people who made the move from small towns/small cities to the big city and this story rings true on a number of levels.
Watching the characters descend into what seems to be an unrecoverable downward spiral is fascinating both by the tragedy of it and the accelerated pace that this film presents. As such, the tight editing in this movie should also be mentioned. The narrative flows smoothly throughout.
Leah's encounters with the various 'pitfalls' of the big city proceed to take a notch off of her over-confident view that she is an invincible thrill-seeker -- free of consequence.
So it is then that the final scene of her sitting down to the first day of the second year of college is all that more jarring. It makes you really wonder what kind of history your classmates have. Behind each face is a story, and hers is so extreme that it threatens to rip her right out of functional society. One change that I think might have resulted in even more impact would have been to make it the first day of her first year at college. She could still have been the same age (perhaps taking some time off after graduating high school). That way she'd truly be moving into new territory with a nearly-destroyed frame-of-reference. As it is though, it's still an effective ending that leaves the audience to ponder what is either her new beginning or the start of a new crash.
What is most haunting is that Blue will probably always hate her and will never know the sacrifices that she made to try to help him (however misguided her methods were).
A fun Spaghetti Bond film
I started out thinking that this was going to be yet another poorly- executed Bond clone. But once the movie got rolling, it turned out to be a lot of fun.
The two lead characters are both cool and charismatic in their own ways. There's a neat 'buddy-cop' vibe happening here; for the most part -- they're opposites. Tony Kendall's character Jo Walker resembles George Clooney (or maybe George Clooney resembles him) and Brad Harris' Tom Randall almost looks like a classic Bond villain's henchman. Of course, in these movies, he's one of the good guys.
There were moments during this film that I couldn't help but think of Cowboy Bebop for some reason.
Things progress at a good pace. There are plenty of the usual Bond tropes, including scorchingly hot girls, great locations, fast cars, witty dialog, close calls, a classic bad guy (complete with henchman, uber-lair, and nifty hardware), a catchy tune, descent cinematography, and surprisingly good fight scenes.
In short, it was better than expected and features a great dynamic between characters.
Certainly worth a look.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
A big movie
Finally, a major motion picture for a change.
There are very few films that get higher than a 7 out of 10 from me. Hence a rating of 8 indicates films that I highly recommend.
The big challenge for film makers these days is that the production levels of TV have gone up so much that a lot of movies seem like just one big episode of a television show. There aren't many films that are able to impress the viewer with the feeling that they're watching a classic big motion picture.
Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 succeeds in putting itself into the Motion Picture category.
This is a film that takes you places and makes you think. The acting's nicely done and all homages to the original are subtle enough to come across as sophisticated instead of cheap. There are plenty of nice glory shots in here and the scenes take their time. They even allow the ends of scenes to linger for a while in order to immerse the viewer in the material. This is something that the director of The Empire Strikes Back highlights as an important technique and one that less experienced directors often forget to do. He should know, since he used to teach cinematography. You see this technique also used extensively by Tarkovsky (1972's Solaris).
The editing is good and you get a lot for your money with a running time of almost three hours. The pacing is surprisingly well executed, considering the long duration of the movie. It uses a very interesting sequence of scenes ranging from medium to slow to fast to slow again. Seriously, there are meetings that film makers have just to figure out how to properly pace a film and what sequence to put the various intensities of scenes in.
Topping this off is a sound track that is true to the original material and also calls back to the 1982 film's score. Nicely done.
Something that certainly helps this movie feel enough like the original is the involvement of the director of the original (now in a producer role), one of the producers from the original movie, plus one of the two main writers from the 1982 feature. All of this pays off and is coupled nicely with the style of the new director (kudos to him for handling the material properly).
In conclusion if you enjoyed the 1982 Blade Runner movie, then there's a very good chance that you'll like this one as well.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
This film's a bit unusual in that the peripheral actors outperform the lead actors.
Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Josh Harnett, and Aaron Eckhart turn in over-the-top performances that tend to repeatedly rip the viewer out of the movie.
In contrast, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, James Otis, and Fiona Shaw did a great job. To be fair, the more subdued scenes with Aaron Eckhart were quite good.
The style of filming is pretty cool. I'm certainly a fan of noir films. However, there's something about the exterior period sets that don't seem quite right. Maybe it's that they're so squeaky clean. As hard as this film tried to be genuine, it still felt contrived -- both in performance and appearance.
Then there's the character development side of it. It would have been nice if some time was cut from the boxing match and a bit more time spent on the characters and their interactions. Things happen between characters in this film as if almost instantaneously. Some kind of method of showing that time has passed before major shifts in attitude take place between characters would help a lot. The current cut makes it seem like the characters change their minds suddenly and almost without explanation. It's pretty confusing to watch -- and that's not even factoring in the convoluted plot.
Black Dahlia is a movie that wants to generate atmosphere, but it can't.
If a person wants a modern take on noir with a bit of camp, they're probably better off playing through Bioshock 2. For Black Dahlia to really work, any and all camp (and any hyper-real portrayals) need to be eliminated. This is a film that would have worked if it had instead been a bit understated.
Good, but lacks single-player campaign
I was going to give this title an 8 out of 10. However, I dropped it two points because it doesn't include a single-player campaign mode and it also doesn't include any way to play against someone else over a local network (cross-wired connection of two consoles, for example).
In fact, Titanfall won't even allow you to start the game on a console unless you have both an active internet connection and a paid-up XBOX live account. This alone is a disappointment and a terrible foreshadowing of what the future of gaming is likely to be. That's right -- the game that you paid for is only good to you as long as you keep paying for additional services to enable said game.
Now that I've railed on the unfortunate decisions that a committee arrived at, I'll talk about the good aspects of the game.
Titanfall builds on the best aspects of multiplayer first-person shooters. And, more importantly, it builds on the successful aspects of games like MechWarrior, MechAssault, and GunGriffon: Allied Strike. The latter is what is of most interest to me, since nothing beats a really god mech combat game.
At first I thought the mech combat would be simply superficial (like in games like Armored Core). However, it turns out that Titanfall's mech combat is excellent and has the added depth of allowing players to latch onto opponents' mechs and sabotage them. Additionally, you can leave your mech and command it to follow you. While it follows you, its A.I. will continue to annihilate enemy targets. Multiple mech types are available, and they can be upgraded as the game proceeds.
Although running around as a ground soldier is not my thing, I have to give kudos to the refinements in this game that alleviate some of the death, respawn, death speed-cycle behavior that you see in other Call of Duty/Battlefield-type games. Once you get your bearings and play as the tutorial instructs you to, you can stay in the game longer without being offed. The mechs also help extend uninterrupted game play and they make for a change-up in the style of fighting. Alternating between ground combat and mech combat makes for a nice balance. And you can be certain that mech combat is far and away superior to simply jumping into a Halo Jeep or a simple flying machine like you see in other similar games.
Titanfall is an evolution of the first-person combat genre and it clearly illustrates the advantages that mechs have over tanks and infantry.
This game is fun and well worth picking up. Most surprising is how very close the XBOX 360 version is to that of the XBOX One.
In short, this game is highly recommended.
As a closing note to current and future software developers: Be sure not to make the mistake that Titanfall made. Instead, make your game future-proof and allow players to game off-line or using a local network. Mech Assault's cross-wired connection between two consoles with the two human players teaming up to fight computer A.I. mechs is a good example. That plus a level editor and you'd be presenting the world with a near-perfect mech-combat experience.
Appleseed Alpha (2014)
Not bad. A bit uneven in some areas.
The positives of this film are the CGI model of Briareos, the drones, Two Horns, the hot cyborg chick, and the gun platform. The fight against the drones, the character interplay, and the final fight are all well done. That and the ending credits music is really cool.
However, there are a number of things that hurt this film (and most of them are pretty easy to fix). Duenan's CGI character is one. Her face is modeled incorrectly. Not sure what happened there. And then there's the issue of the musical score during some of the fight scenes.... There's this odd frenetic bubblegum pop music playing during some of the early fight scenes. It's totally inappropriate and is even mixed wrong. Very odd. I also found Deunan's hesitation to help the world a bit strange. It seemed at odds with the more confident personality she exhibited in the graphic novels.
The other element of this film that kind of bothers me is the tone of it. It's much too light -- especially in comparison to the graphic novels. I'm really not sure why Ghost in the Shell has been adapted well to the screen while maintaining its atmosphere and tone, yet Appleseed seems to be too much of a challenge for studios to faithfully bring to the screen. Of all the Appleseed films, Appleseed: Ex Machina is the best (and there are a few things about that one that I'd like to augment as well).
I'm still waiting for a studio to properly present books 2 and 3 of the manga to the screen. That would be amazing and would actually introduce the current movie-watching generation to what Appleseed is really about.
Lastly, it's a bit amusing that the name "Appleseed" has been changed to a warm and fuzzy metaphor for the two protagonists spreading hope whereas the original meaning of the name came from using an appleseed to adjust the balance of a bullet to increase its destructive power.
Science fiction for the thoughtful viewer
Don't let the rating I gave this movie dissuade you. I actually think people who like 'thinking' science fiction should check this out.
Some have suggested that this 1962 feature should be remade. If someone did do a remake, they'd have to just accept the fact that many casual viewers would claim that this movie's remake was ripping off Blade Runner, The Questor Tapes, Ghost in the Shell, and the 2000s Battlestar Galactica. However, it looks very much like all of those shows 'borrowed' from this 1962 motion picture.
Clearly the concepts in this film were really coming to a head in the 1960s. "Do androids dream of electric sheep" was talking about a lot of this stuff in 1968 (and who knows how long the book took to write). Captain Future of the 1940s and 1950s touched on some of this too. Every time I dig a bit deeper, I find out that someone's tackled many of these concepts. Heck, even Fred Saberhagen's Berserker novels tread similar territory.
I've written this in such a way that I don't give too much away. I think the best thing is to see the film for yourself. Be prepared though, since certain aspects of it are certainly dated. The preliminary robot designs during the film's intro are primitive looking (and almost comical). And the pacing is somewhat difficult at times. Stick with it though. The thesis comes out in the end and it's pretty entertaining to watch it unfold. This is a movie that could actually be done as a stage play. To that effect, I really enjoyed the sets and the lighting. With such a deep message, I felt that even more dramatic lighting and higher contrast ratios would have added even more gravity to certain scenes.
So yes -- check this out. It must have come as quite a shock to audiences of the time. For audiences today, it covers topics that we're quite used to so the impact won't be as great. Still pretty neat though.
El sueño del mono loco (1989)
I saw this film as part of a set of cheap-o movies. So far, the films in the collection had been total crap.
Then I dropped this one into the player and did a double-take when I first noticed that the dialog and acting were both good.
The next question that popped into my head was, "Am I imagining things, or is this movie also well shot and well lit?" Followed shortly by, "You know, I think this is actually a good film." By the time it reached the scene where Goldblum started screaming, I was totally sold. What a wicked little movie.
1989 was a bad year for film, so I certainly wish I had known about this one back then.
Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
Run, do not walk to your nearest television
and see this movie!
Man I love this film.
I had no idea what to expect when I pressed play. What followed was one of the quirkiest entertaining movies I've ever seen. It's a mix of awkwardness and brilliance at every turn. There are scenes that are expertly lit and shot interspersed with others that appear almost no-budget. Holding it together are characters that are genuinely fun to watch -- each of them speaking absurd yet awesome lines. The effects vary from good to awful.
To top it off, it has great pacing. There's so much going on in this movie. Never a dull moment.
Man this film is cheesy. Yet it clearly was a labor of love for the people who worked on it. The lead actress was remarkable and she played it straight right on through to the end. I commend her for playing such an earnest character and really going for it. It actually helped the film a lot. No matter what happened, she read her lines like she was living the story.
In short, this film is fun. I have a feeling that this actually influenced a number of notable science fiction directors of the 1970s and 1980s.
Kill Command (2016)
Shows good effort and attention to detail
This film is actually pretty good. The acting is solid for most of the characters and the effects are very well done (especially considering the budget). The flying drones are the only elements that I would have considered changing. They were over-done and had too much screen time. Using them more sparingly would be nice. Even if they were in the same number of shots, showing them as something simpler and for a shorter duration per shot would have helped. They were so tarted up that they seemed difficult to believe as a real-world element. Part of it was their movement which screamed "CGI motion curves" (yes, I used to be part of the visual FX industry -- sorry). Note: Great job on the drop ship.
The scenes in the forest bordered on being a bit too long. However, once the characters made it to the built-up compound, things started to become more interesting mighty quick. I secretly hoped that the big black dude with the mega-gun would have survived. It looked like he was going to make it near the end, but alas....
And here's the key thing that I think would have helped the film a lot (and I wouldn't be surprised if it was considered in an earlier draft): The cyborg girl should have died and the C.O. should have mourned her loss at the end. That would have wrapped the story up nicely and have completed his character's transformation. The moment she died would have been the moment he truly realized that he should have given her the benefit of the doubt earlier. The audience would also have experienced a similar emotion; those who were suspicious of her character would have come to the conclusion that she was trustworthy and that it's unfair to judge too quickly. Plus, her death would have added weight to a story in need of a little more gravity.
Ultimately, I gave this a 7 instead of a 6 because I can see that it was done on a low budget and that the people who worked on it put in a great deal of effort. They proved that you don't have to break the bank to make a good film -- you just have to have determination and discipline.
American History X (1998)
Pretty good. A few minor tweaks would make it even better.
** This contains spoilers! **
Edward Norton is frighteningly believable as a skinhead in this movie. In general, I thought the acting was good. This movie is kind of like The Shawshank Redemption -- except with less hair.
It's well shot and edited. The pacing slows down a bit for the second half (which is pretty typical of most film plot arcs). However, it delivers the goods.
One issue I had with this movie is that it borders on being a bit too soft in certain areas. For example, Derek's character changes a bit too quickly. I understand that there's limited time in a single film to explore a person's change of heart. To that end, having him not cry after he gets prison-raped would have been a better way to go. A guy that's actually that pis*ed off and aggressive would not cry in a situation like that. He'd be upset -- no doubt, but he wouldn't break like that. It would be more believable if he reacted like someone who was injured in a fight and genuinely insulted and even embarrassed (but not willing to show it). More stoic is what I'm thinking here. The crying should have only happened once in the film and that's at the end when his brother dies. That would give the death scene at the end even more weight.
At the end of the day, Derek cares about his family and that's the secret to cracking his armor.
Talking' 'bout my generation
** This review kind of contains spoilers **
I watched this again recently and I liked it even more the second time. While I agree that this film isn't totally original, I really don't mind. Even the films that a number of people claim that this "rips off" did the same thing themselves. Those films also lifted ideas from previous works (like Silent Running, which the director flat-out mentions in the production video). Perhaps people should be less concerned with originality and more with whether or not the film resonated with them.
In this case, I'm even more willing to let some things slide since I see a huge influence here from Saberhagen's Berserker series of stories. I may actually be the first reviewer to mention this connection. If that's the case, there are a lot of people who really should go out and read more books. I'm happy to see anything that resembles his works on screen. This is also why I really enjoyed the end sequence for this film. Nicely done.
The pacing of the film was fine. I can appreciate a film that takes its time. The look of the film was pretty cool too, in fact it reminds me of Syd Mead's American Steel paintings. The score was pretty good and had some really inventive elements. However, it was the sound design that really was remarkable -- especially for drones (very cool). It's rare that I see good sound design in modern films. Thankfully they spent the time to nail down those details.
Acting was fine. I didn't see any glaring issues. It was suitable for the genre. Visual effects were mostly seamless. Again, nothing glaringly problematic.
Cinematography was good, although not to the level of Geoffrey Unsworth or Jordan Cronenweth. To that end, this film feels more like a big episode of the Twilight Zone than like a massive epic film. Regardless, it's an enjoyable watch.
If you approach this as a sci-fi short story that was adapted to the screen, you'll likely enjoy it (especially if you've read your share of 60s and 70s science fiction). I should mention that I'm the same age as and have a similar background to the director, so perhaps that's contributing to my affinity to this film.
Hoshi o ou kodomo (2011)
This film was a pleasant surprise to find and watch. The story is compelling, the Japanese voice acting is excellent, and the level of imagination is fantastic.
I was struck by the sheer attention to detail in this film: gradual changes in daylight within individual scenes, subtle dirt and weathering, precise animation of water effects, accurate animation of wildlife, and excellent use of light and color. These little extras did not go unnoticed. All of this helps to create a richer visual experience.
The characters were interesting and quite nuanced and the musical score suits the film well.
Now here's what really surprised me.... This is the director's first full-length feature and first time working with the larger-scale studio system. Couple this with the fact that he's a young director and you have someone with a very strong career ahead of him.
The style of this film is similar to that of Miyazaki, and this is intentional. Miyazaki's style was chosen because it is recognized worldwide and it has proved itself effective for dramatic story-telling. Watching the behind-the-scenes information for this film was fascinating and it was amazing to see how young the crew were. Certainly there is a great deal of talent in Japan today -- talent willing to make 'classic' high-production-value anime. And for that I'm grateful. The next generation is sure to enjoy animation of the level that I enjoyed in my youth.
In summary, I like this film a lot and I highly recommend it. If I were to nitpick this movie, I'd say that a few scenes were cut short a tiny bit too soon. I recommend the director watch the director's commentary for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In there is a discussion about holding the camera at the end of a scene and why it's important for dramatic shots. I should also mention that although this is an animated film, there are scenes of violence and some sequences that children may find frightening.
So if you're a fan of Miyazaki's work or simply a fan of imaginative drama and fantasy films, be sure to check this one out.
A well-refined and challenging game
The 1982 TRON arcade game was developed in 1981 and released in 1982 in association with the motion picture of the same name. It uses multiple Z80 CPUs has the graphics separated into two system boards, along with a sound board. The full-size upright cabinet was one of the more complex designs of the day and features four fluorescent lights (some of them black lights to help create the glow effect).
The game is essentially a combination game. Four different game play types are included. For each wave/level (or rack as the manual refers to it) there is the randomized choice of Grid Bugs, Master Control Program, Tanks, and Light Cycles. Each of these echo a plot point from the motion picture (although the grid bugs only appeared briefly in the film and were not the subject of any formal battle or escape scenes). Tanks are subbed-out for Recognizers on some racks.
The control system consists of a flight stick and spinner combination. This makes this machine quite difficult to emulate effectively.
Subject to mixed reviews and criticized for effectively re-packaging what were essentially existing games, the arcade-goers of the 1980s proved this machine's worth. Indeed, similar games like Breakout, Surround, and Tank pre-dated TRON. However, the level of refinement and the use of added elements like variable speed for the Light Cycles as well as reflective shots, teleporter, and rotating turret for the tank combined with the sheer 'gloss' of the packaging resulted in a high-energy gaming experience.
Part of the secret to this was the quick game play and high skill level. The game begins at a fairly low skill level for the first and second racks and then abruptly jumps in skill level from the third, on. Despite this steep skill ramping, the machine kept the interest of arcade game players and maintained a great deal of replay value. Ultimately this arcade machine earned more money than the film's initial box-office gross.
One of the stand-out features of this machine is the sound. Tones are strong and interesting. The bass frequencies are intense and the sound-design is very memorable. This was fairly typical of arcade machines of the 80s. Many featured bold sound-design elements, and TRON is no exception.
This tradition was to continue with the sequel "Discs of TRON". As an interesting note, Discs of TRON was originally intended to be included as part of the 1982 TRON arcade machine.
TRON is a fast and furious game that is known for almost alienating new players. I use the word almost, since most come back to play it "one more time" in the hopes of being able to master it.
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
A world that never existed
Well I hate to have to give such a low rating to a movie filled with (mostly) good actors. However, I can't ignore the fact that the audio mix was terrible, 90% of the shots in the nightclub were too bright, the general vibe of the time period being depicted was wrong, the dialog sounded like it was from the 1930s (complete with numerous lengthy monologues), the street fashion was almost completely inaccurate, and that pretty much every male character in the film talked in almost the exact same manner.
There were at least five points in this movie at which I said to myself, "What the hell is this film?" This is one seriously bizarre production. It's almost like if Woody Allen was asked to write and direct a double-episode of "Friends". It's clear that either the writer was never actually there in the late 1970s and early 1980s or they have no memory of it and had to reconstruct their 'experiences' based on watching old black and white movies.
Ultimately, if you want to watch a warm and fuzzy film filled with lengthy overly-formal dialog then this is the one to see. On the other hand, if you want an accurate depiction of the late 1970s and early 1980s, you're better off watching "That 70s Show" and the movie "The Informers". I can safely say that these two recommendations are in fact accurate to the time-periods they depict. And for something a bit more surreal yet indicative of the attitude of the early 80s, check out "Flash Dance" and "Purple Rain".
Over and out.
The Machine (2013)
Better than expected
I actually enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, although the first half-hour didn't really work on me. I could see the low-budget in the initial shots. Because of this, I wasn't fully paying attention. However, I kept finding that I needed to keep rewinding to check out what I missed since the plot was actually moving along quite fast.
Then at about the half-hour point, this movie really captured and kept my attention throughout. I really like the acting and the way the lead actress moved (including her dance and combat movements).
As for scenes, the interior shots were set up well. The dark lighting was really effective and the eye glows worked very well. Editing was actually pretty quick and the story was compelling. I was actually concerned for the characters (which doesn't seem to happen for me very often in movies today).
One of the real standouts is the visual effects work. It's phenomenal (especially considering the low budget). The intro credits look fantastic, the robot-creation sequence is just amazing, and the glow effect on the robot was pretty phenomenal. I have a feeling that the VFX teams did some serious overtime on this one. I also suspect the effects houses didn't make much on this production although I suspect the shots they did will make great portfolio material.
If I had a qualm with this movie, it's the soundtrack. On one hand, it uses very cool CS80 sounds, similar to Blade Runner. Unfortunately the shots that used this instrument didn't have the 'weight' to warrant that sound. Believe me, I love that synth, but it needs to be used strategically. Then there's the other style of music which is typical of movies like Her or Ex Machina. I didn't think that score worked particularly well either. Perhaps something in-between the two styles would have worked better. The Blade Runner style was more mysterious and haunting than this film's presentation and the more modern score was too light and nondescript for the shots it was attached to. Regardless, there were sections of music that did work nicely. I seem to recall the music near the end of the film being spot-on.
In general, this is a film that I can recommend to people who like science fiction and the topic of A.I., androids, cyborgs, etc.... It's actually quite a thoughtful film. Interestingly, I found that I prefer this movie over both Her and Ex Machina.
See this movie!
Who would have thought that one of the most imaginative films of the last five years would be a film targeted at children? Tomorrowland was a pleasant surprise. There were a ton of really amazing scenes and a grand sense of scale. The cast is magnificent. George Clooney is great as always. However, it must be mentioned that Raffey Cassidy almost steals the show. She is definitely one to watch and as long as she avoids the pitfalls that go with fame, she is pretty much guaranteed a very bright future in the acting business.
The story is compelling and has a good message -- without sounding preachy. Lots of great classic science fiction homages in here, plus plenty of very cool modern ideas. It was great to see three generations of future aesthetic in the same film.
In general, the pacing is pretty good. There are a few parts where it drags a bit. It makes up for it in spades in the last half of the film. Editing was expertly done with plenty of quick reaction cuts between actors to thread things together neatly. As usual, Disney's shot choices are very good (very textbook actually) and the score suits the film nicely.
Be sure to treat the kid(s) in your life (your children, nieces, nephews) and or course, yourself to this movie. It's one of the few modern family films that's actually genuinely enjoyable for all ages. Plus, you'll get to see some of Santiago Calatrava's more extravagant architecture.
984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)
I've been looking for this film for decades
Many years ago I saw this movie on late-night television. Finally, after all this time I stumbled across it on a compilation. It was a pleasure to see this low-budget yet atmospheric film again.
The lighting is well executed, editing is solid, acting is descent, and the robot designs are very cool. Shot selection is great, with lots of up-angle shots to add to the scale of the prison. This film has a great hard sci-fi short story feel to it. It's as if it was ripped from the pages of a science fiction serial from the 50s or from a plot by Harlan Ellison. It's nice to see something that hasn't been watered down by committee.
Based on the credits it looks like this is a Canadian production. An interesting side-note is that there are very few Canadian productions that even come close to approaching USA Hollywood productions. Besides the relatively small budgets and general lack of infrastructure in Canada for film-production, there's a bit of a story behind the disparity between the two country's movie industries. The way it was relayed to me is something like this: Believe it or not, Canada's film industry started out as a pioneering force in film production and filming techniques. For example, there were some hot-shot crews working with the National Film Board of Canada figuring out advanced techniques for doing night shots and a variety of difficult weather shots and lighting setups. At some point, pressure was put on the NFB to move away from shooting movies and focus pretty much exclusively on documentaries and short films. Some suggest that it was a sort of non-competition clause between Canadian film productions and USA film productions. Hence the NFB is generally associated with very low production-value documentaries and short 'student' films. This gave the impression that Canadian film makers were somewhat inept.
The reality of situation is that most of the talented Canadian film makers ended up being assimilated by Hollywood. Hence the vast number of Canadians living in L.A. Pull up a list of Canadian directors and cinematographers and prepare to be blown away. The conclusion is that if you actually supply these people with suitable equipment and a descent budget, they'll actually deliver the goods.
Strange Invaders (1983)
This is one of those movies that seems to be hard to find and as a result, one that few people seem to have actually seen. I saw this one as a kid and the scene where the aliens turned the humans into balls of light was terrifying.
Having re-watched it, I was still pretty blown away by the effects. The creature work was amazing, and even the comps are really good. This movie has a bit of a different vibe than its contemporaries. Apparently the director was trying to capture some of the character of the classic 50s sci-fi films. It certainly shows. However, as one might expect, it became sort of a hybrid between the 50s and the 80s. As for production design -- it's really cool. The only choice that I thought was a bit odd was the steam powered equipment in the space ship. I'm not sure I buy that. Of course, we only see a bit of the ship's interior, so maybe there's some super high-tech in there powering things.
Watching this, it's refreshing to see a slightly different take on the 'alien invasion' concept. I like what they did with this and I can't think of any other film quite like it. Despite a few of the early scenes having somewhat odd line delivery, this is definitely a film to see. That and it's shot in full wide screen. If you can, try to get it in its original aspect ratio.
Lexx: I Worship His Shadow (1997)
This pilot episode of Lexx stands out as the best of all episodes. The universe presented here is stunning and is as if it was torn directly from the pages of Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated. How they managed to get this onto the screen without having to cut or censor a ton of material is beyond me. However, I certainly do appreciate it.
Not only is the world amazing to look at (despite the limitations of the budget and what they could do with CGI at the time), the story is fascinating and the characters are engaging. A great mix of tension and comedy, mixed with horrific elements and dire consequences for the characters. There's a real feeling of danger here and the society that's presented is truly intimidating. The bug bomb idea is both brilliant and funny, Eva Habermann is radiant and witty as Zev (I only wish she had stayed on for the rest of the series), and the cast of characters are a joy to watch (with perhaps the exception of the rather annoying Giggerota).
There are more inventive and bleeding-edge ideas in this one episode than are typically to be found in an entire season of most science fiction TV shows. Hats off to the creators of this show for having the guts and the imagination to bring this to the screen. It would be neat to see the exact same show, with the same actors, but with new renders for certain scenes. The actual Lexx ship looks fine even today and doesn't really need to be re-rendered at all. It certainly represents an achievement in 3D computer-generated modeling for the year. On that note, the treatment of biomechanical concepts in this series is amazing.
I highly recommend this episode to anyone who is a true fan of high-test sci-fi. If you've been disappointed in the bulk of the science fiction in film and television and want something with more muscle, then this is the show to watch. Lexx never pulls its punches.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000)
Good with the potential to be great
I would have given this series an 8 instead of a 7 if it was able to stay on track and not veer off into fart joke land.
Seriously, this show contained moments of sheer brilliance in seasons 2 and 3. Then, quite suddenly, it started to go off the rails in season 4 (volume 5). Writing that was once clever and genuinely funny became a string of gross-out humor (without the humor). It became tougher to find even small bits of content that were either inspired or genuinely entertaining. I think "Dickesode" was the point at which I started to feel like the writers were wasting my time.
It's unfortunate that this sort of thing happens so frequently with animated comedies: Family Guy, Robot Chicken, ATHF, Metalocalypse, etc.... I see the same pattern over and over again. First, the writers have a ton of cool ideas and actually show a level of sophistication (albeit the first season production values are typically a bit lacking). Then they figure out how to increase production values as their well of good ideas begins to run dry up. Next, in what appears to be either a fit of desperation (or just an attempt to please themselves) they engage in a form of unfiltered script-writing diarrhea. And at that point, the show in question really starts to stink.
Speaking of Aqua Teen Hunger Force specifically: when it's good, it's really good. The "Broodwich" is an example of a truly inspired and well-executed episode. And the various insane robots from the future are a total blast (complete with pop-culture film references). Then there are the various space aliens that grace the show; all of them are awesome in their own right. And of course, the main characters. Each character is unique and well-defined. If someone handed you a script with no names on it, you'd still know who was saying what.
This show was one of my favorites. It just irks me that the writers couldn't save the really gonzo unfunny potty jokes for a side-project and keep ATHF in the realm of hilarious and clever entertainment. I guess what it shows is the potential for greatness, but an unfortunate lack of consistency. Perhaps it's the pressure of always wanting to 'raise the bar' when writing scenes that are supposed to get the audience's attention. Maybe raising the bar isn't the secret to success. Instead, a look at Chuck Jones' approach to maintaining the look and feel of a show is worthwhile. He wrote a guide for his staff to follow, in order to keep the show consistent. It worked. The guy's a legend for a reason and so is his work. It seems that even modern shows could learn a lot from him.
In summary, ATHF is pretty awesome. That is, if you delete out the episodes that do nothing more than detract from it's merits.
Ex Machina (2014)
Google me Pink
Unless you don't care about hearing important plot points before seeing this movie, do not read this review until you see the film.
Alternate titles for this movie could have been "Google me Pink" or "My Ex-Machina".
At first viewing, I thought this movie was not bad. I wasn't really blown away by it. Certainly, I appreciated it more than the similar film, "Her". It's obvious that a lot of thought and effort went into Ex Machina. It wasn't until after a night of sleep that this one started to seep into my unconscious mind. I actually like this movie even more now than I did while initially watching it. The tone of the film is engaging, the cinematography is nicely done, and the CGI/composites are very good. Even the kinetic movements of the androids were carefully considered. Acting was good too, although the characters were a bit quirky. The story's treatment was along the lines of the more thoughtful 50s science fiction (reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone series).
Quite a bit of dialog was dedicated to the topic of whether or not Ava could convince someone that she was sentient. IMHO, it was at the point that Ava easily convinced the helicopter pilot that she was human that she passed that test. And her abandoning Caleb was when she truly transcended from robot to pretty girl -- complete with archetypal ambition. Just as Nathan had mentioned, the A.I.s would have the humans figured out before long. Watch out world.
Related works: Having a long-time interest in this sort of topic, I can recommend a few similar films, including Gene Roddenberry's "The Questor Tapes" from 1974 and the more recent "Automata" from 2014. Of course, for more of a campy take on this type of thing, there's always the enjoyable Fem-bot episodes of the "Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman" as well as the 1976 film "Future World".
Jurassic World (2015)
Not bad. Not great either.
I almost turned this film off during the first 20 minutes. The formulaic cotton-candy intro was a bit too much to stomach. Instead, I walked to the kitchen and grabbed some food. By the time I got back, the movie had started to gradually get on its feet.
As it turns out, this is a film that gets better as it progresses toward the ending. There are a number of warm-and-fuzzy family moments where characters try to develop through talk. This would work better if it wasn't so obvious that this was the intention of these scenes. I guess if there's a word that describes this film, it's "overt".
No surprises here. Pretty much what you'd expect from this series.
On a hair and make-up note, I see that the same pink lipstick is being used on the men. To the departments and the manual that you're consulting for color codes, please be aware that WE CAN SEE THIS COLOR ON SCREEN. It's worth updating the color so that it isn't so obvious on both the big and small screen (unless the tranny look is what you're aiming for). This is the third high-budget film I've seen with this phenomenon.
So yes, go ahead and watch this film if you liked the other Jurassic films. However, beware if you're into hard-core dinosaur films -- you might find this to be a bit fluffy.
I enjoyed this more than the first Jurassic film. It's much better than the second movie. However, it's not as good as the third. So far, Jurassic Park 3 is the winner.