Repo! The Genetic Opera

April 5, 2010

Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2008

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Written by: Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Moderate

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

Key Cast Members:

  • Shilo Wallace: Alexa Vega
  • Nathan / Repo Man: Anthony Stewart Head
  • Rotti Largo: Paul Sorvino
  • Blind Mag: Sarah Brightman
  • Amber Sweet: Paris Hilton
  • Luigi Largo: Bill Moseley
  • Pavi Largo: Nivek Ogre
  • Graverobber: Terrance Zdunich
  • Rating: 7 out of 10

    Overview: I was hoping to see this movie before seeing Repo Men so I could at least see how close to each other they were. While there are some minor similarities (primarily a megacorp, their organ financing, and the use of repo men) the visuals, story-lines, and this being an opera make the two movies vastly different. While Repo Men’s visuals draws more from Blade Runner, Repo! is definitely goth with frequent scenes involving corpses and/or graveyards.

    Repo! city

    The Story: Geneco becomes the top company when an epidemic of unexplained organ failures sweep the planet. They manage to make organ transplants affordable, but they also manage to get a law passed that allows the organs to be repossessed. Another product Genco makes is Zydrate, a highly addictive pain killer often used by surgery addicts. Geneco is the only legalized source of Zydrate, but a black market exists where grave robbers extract the drug from the brains of corpses.

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    The current head of Geneco, Rotti Largo (Sorvino), is terminally ill and plans to name his successor at “The Genetic Opera” when popular singer Blind Mag also plans to make her final performance. His three children, the violent Luigi (Mosley), the mask wearing Pavi (Skinny Puppy’s Ogre, FTW), and surgery-and-Zydrate addicted Amber Sweet (Hilton) hope to inherit daddy’s company, but he is disappointed with his kids and has another person in mind: Shilo Wallace.

    Pavi Largo (Nivek Ogre)

    Pavi (Ogre) gets his game face on. Well, he gets someone’s face on.

    Shilo (Vega) is the daughter of Nathan (Head), who is not only trying to find a cure for the blood disease that Shilo inherited from her mother, but is also Geneco’s repo man. He keeps her locked in her room, fearing she might die from the disease while he goes out for repossessions. Shilo sneaks out anyway and in her nightly journeys she meets a grave robber (Zdunich) who introduces her to the Zydrate underground and reveals that Blind Mag, Shilo’s favorite singer, is going to lose her eyes because she will no longer be working with Geneco.

     

    A tangled web. With several different story lines going on at once, it may be hard to follow them with all the singing. They may seem unrelated to each other at first, but thanks to comic-styled flashbacks they show how they are connected to Nathan’s dead wife and the upcoming Genetic Opera.

    Speaking of the songs, it’s been reported that there were some 65-75 songs made for the film. Not all of them have been used, but do appear on the various soundtracks (memo to self: find the soundtracks.). Most of them are short, only a minute or two, but often involve at least two cast members singing together with different lyrics. This may add to the confusion of following the stories, but not too much to follow if you pay attention.

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    Blade Runner or Count Dracula? The distant city scene above may make one think of Blade Runner’s future Los Angeles, but the closer-in scenes is very much goth inspired. The Wallace house could very well be a haunted house (just needs some more cobwebs) while Shilo frequents a graveyard where her mother’s tomb is (side note: Shilo also collects insects). People are often dressed like they’re going to a funeral or an S&M club. There’s an area called “Sanitarium Square,” where a festival is happening before the Opera, that has brightly lit tents amid the darker streets. Not quite the cyberpunk visuals I was expecting, but does make the dark atmosphere… darker.

     

    Conclusion: To be honest, Repo! wasn’t quite what I expected. It felt more goth than actual cyberpunk, so much so that I’m tempted to tag this as “not cyberpunk.” Then again, with goth style being closely related to cyberpunk lately it can almost be expected. In this case, it helped rather than hurt, as it made the operatic aspects more intense. Repo! is a bit of a bloody mind bender, but certainly worth watching… and listening to.

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    Exterminator City

    June 18, 2007

    Movie Review By: SFAM

    Year: 2005

    Directed by: Clive Cohen

    Written by: Clive Cohen

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

    Rating: 2 out of 10

     


    Exterminator City Screencap

     

    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.

     

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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!

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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 Screencap

    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.

     

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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).

     

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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.

     

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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.”

     

    Exterminator City Screencap

    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.

    This post has been filed under Horror, 2 Star Movies, B Cyberpunk Cinema, Android Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 – current by SFAM.
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    Magdalena’s Brain

    February 5, 2007

    Movie Review By: SFAM

    Year: 2006

    Directed by: Warren Amerman

    Written by: Warren Amerman & Marty Langford

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

    Key Cast Members:

    • Magdalena: Amy Shelton-White
    • Jim: Robert Weingartner
    • Arthur: Sanjiban Sellew
    • Andrew: David Joseph
    Rating: 6 out of 10


    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    Magdalena's Brain Screen Capture

     

    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.

     

    This post has been filed under Horror, Man-machine Interface, 6 Star Movies, Good low-budget movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 – current by SFAM.
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