Overview: Ever see a short movie and wished it could be made feature-length? OK, 9 made that jump in 09. Now, a new short has similar designs. Thieves made its debut in film-festivals in July, claiming audience choice at the Mitten Movie Project with a nomination for short of the year, and is now available for online viewing (like above).
The Story: America has created a new prototype energy cell that is now powering New Detroit. To protect both the cell and the city, an agency known only as “Butterfly” is formed to foster patriotism and stability, and to “recruit uniquely skilled people” to make it all possible. However, a terrorist organization has taken the prototype cell and plan to dismantle it. While the world waits for Armageddon, Butterfly has captured a high-value terrorist and plan to “recruit” him.
Sheldon Simmons: Remember his name. I got a feeling his name will be called at some future Oscar ceremony.
A Piece of a Larger Puzzle. Fourteen minutes hardly makes for a feature, so this short may make you feel like you’re missing a lot. THAT was intended:
From the beginning, Thieves was conceived as an excerpt from a much larger saga of feature films. As such, Thieves is not a self-contained piece. It’s made quite clear from its opening moments to its closing frame that there is most certainly a hell of a lot more going on before and after the events showcased in the short film.
Of course, there is the danger that if Thieves does become feature length it may become another Snakes on A Plane. But as long as the Zenisphere crew keeps true to their vision (and creative control of the project), that danger should be minimal.
Conclusion: If you haven’t heard of Thieves before, be ready to hear more of it in the future. Zenisphere has made a slam-dunk short that’s going to leave you wanting more. Already gathering high praise from indie film bloggers, Thieves is set to garner even bigger accolades (like ours), and possibly become the next Blade Runner, or at least The Matrix.
Overview: In the first of many cyberpunk (hopefully) movies to come out in the next year or two, we see Wolverine (aka Hugh Jackman) trying his hand at some futuristic Robot Wars/BattleBots action. Make that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, as these machines are boxers as opposed to the spinners, flippers, etc. of the former TV programs.
The movie is based on Richard Matheson’s short story, but you will find it more closely mirrors another famous boxing movie.
The Story: Charlie Kenton used to be a prize fighter, but that was before fight fans wanted more violence and bloodshed leading to more extreme fighting like MMA and WWE wresting done for real. Before long, robots entered the arenas and forced humans out to the sidelines. It is now 2020 and Charlie is roaming the countryside with a beat-up rust-bucket robot called Ambush that gets destroyed by a bull in a county fair. He finds out his son’s mother died and he is to get custody, but wants the boy’s aunt to take him instead. He blackmails the woman’s rich husband to take Max when the couple return from Europe at the end of summer, and uses the money to buy a former world-champion robot. Charlie’s ego and inexperience with the robot’s voice-command system causes his new robot to be destroyed as well. While raiding an industrial junk yard for parts, Max finds a second generation sparring robot named Atom and believes he can be a champion fighter. Charlie is reluctant at first, but when Atom wins his first underground fight, he begins training it for bigger matches, including a World Robot Boxing title match with the champion, Zeus. All the while, he learns how to be a better father for Max.
“You’ll be able to spit nails, kid. Like the guy says, you’re gonna eat lightning and you’re gonna crap thunder. You’re gonna become a very dangerous… um, robot.”
Yo, Adrian! If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, you must have have watched Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky series. From IMDB’s Real Steel trivia section: You might recognize the moves in the championship fight coming from Rocky IV. The basic plot of Rocky is also present here. Even the champion robot’s name is an indirect reference.
All this similarity to Rocky has to make you wonder if Hollywood has run out of original ideas. Then again, Matheson’s short story has been turned into a Twilight Zone episode which in turn was parodied by The Simpsons.
On the ropes. Calling this movie cyberpunk wasn’t an easy decision. Themes like technology’s negative effect (the robots taking over a career path), man-machine fusion (the various robot controls, the autonomous Zeus), underground focus (the underground fight clubs), and the visuals are present. Themes of control over society and ubiquitous data access are not there, though a couple of times I felt like the all-mighty dollar was all that mattered to anyone. This might be the result of Levy’s decision to set the story in 2020 as opposed to further into the future:
“The whole reason it’s 2020 and not further in the future is because I knew this movie was going to be an underdog story and I didn’t want the distant futurism of extreme sci-fi. I wanted the world to feel really familiar, so that the characters would feel really relatable.”
USELESS FACT: The Crash Palace is actually an old Ford Model T assembly plant in Highland Park, Michigan. Sean Levy thought it was perfect for the movie.
Speaking of the characters, they do work for this movie. Of course, it’s the robots who steel… steal the show, but the estranged-father-son-trying-to-reconnect story should give the non-robotic a few laughs and tears.
Conclusion: If you’ve watched Sly’s work, you’ve already seen this. Boxing-movie fans might find this worth adding to their video collection. For cyberpunk fans, it’s not a complete knockout, but those unfamiliar with Rocky might give this underdog their decision.
Overview: Billed as a “Tribute to the cyberpunk genre,” Perspective gives us a rather unique… perspective… of a cyberpunked future, where VR is the drug of choice to escape the harsh reality of… well, reality. Mehmet Can Koçak shows us one person’s escape to a VR fantasy by not just following him with a camera, but with the person AS the camera as we look through the hobo’s eyes. It’s perfectly understandable if you suddenly feel like hunting shamblers, cyberdemons, or zombies with roast-turkey headgear…
After all, it’s called “Perspective” for a reason.
We “watch” as the hobo purchases a cartridge from a shady dealer then heads into a wreck of a building where he jacks into his Commodore 64T…
64 Terabytes of RAM… on a Commodore 64… it can happen.
… and dives into a fantasy encounter with a redhead girl. Until an apparent glitch causes more than a program crash.
There once was a girl named Alice… At a running length of only ten minutes, Perspective doesn’t have much time to present in-depth themes. The one main theme is the mirror; How we see ourselves in reality and fantasy, and how the two can suddenly become fused together to cause no end of confusion. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Conclusion: Short-n-sweet. ‘Bout all I can really say. Koçak’s piece shows some potential for something more like, let’s say, a whole series of first-person movies; Short, interwoven films showing life in this future, and the viewer gets to choose what character’s eyes they would like to experience it. Might be a challenge to make, but it would a radical new way to “watch” movies.
Overview: Our forum member Burnt Lombard brought this net short to my attention earlier this week. Actually, I had a bookmark to it on Vimeo for a while, but that version is now password locked. More recently, I seen the trailer for it on Kovac’s screener of UCF: Abstract Messiah. Now that I’ve invested the 17.5 minutes to watch, I got to give Lombard his creds for getting me to watch. Imagine, if you will, a little of what a live-action System Shock movie could be like…
The Story: ASEMS pilot James Donner has spent the past 1000+ days (3 years) in space and is now on his way home for some hard-earned R-and-R. Then he gets a call from some corporate dick:
“We’ve been out of contact with the Valley Isis colony for eight months now. We just received a distress signal and…”
So much for vay-kay. Against his better judgement, Donner boards the colony when he hears a female survivor, Ora, over his radio.
I’d rescue that for a dollar!
When Donner finds Ora, that when he has to make a choice…
But, is it cyberpunk? Rust Valley has been tagged as cyberpunk on Vimeo, and it does make its case well. We have the ASEMS corp, though the full extent of their power and influence wasn’t revealed. There’s a bit of man-machine fusion (won’t say where due to spoiler possibility). But it’s the visuals that makes the short cyberpunk. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why it’s called RUST Valley.
The audience is now deaf. Being an amateur production, and shot on 35mm film, some technical glitches are expected. But when you have to turn up the volume to hear the monitor voices, you might want to consider amplifying the microphones for the monitor actors.
UPDATE: Burnt Lombard has uploaded the official video on Vimeo, with improved audio. It’s a bit different in other ways as well, but with the improved audio I’ve decided to upgrade its rating to 7.
Conclusion: While not the most polished production, this short still manages to make for good cyberpunk viewing. And for a bonus, there’s an alternate ending that was supposed to be the original ending. This could make for a good feature… just pray that it doesn’t become the next Snakes On A Plane.
Overview: Our resident Cecil B. DeMille, Lazlo Kovacs, and his pals at Key Pixel have brought us the follow-up to the short underground fave UCF: Toronto Cybercide. The second chapter, Abstract Messiah, continues the story of Toronto’s rebuilding struggles as a new enemy come to the forefront determined to stop the cyborgs.
Kovacs said that the movie was about 98% complete and wanted to send a screener to preview. From what I’ve seen, it looks fairly ready for prime-time. Like many low-budget films, there are some issues to deal with, but they’re easy to overlook as long as you’re not expecting Blade Runner-quality fare.
Duct tape is just a good as a band-aid.
The Story: Pax is called back to Toronto to retrieve the body of his former partner, and gets to meet up with his UCF mentor, a history professor. The professor is reported as kidnapped when he misses an appointment. Pax and company are called in to investigate when a member of the Luddites is considered the prime suspect. The investigation leads the UCF team to a prison for cyborgs where the Luddites plan to use the inmates in their ultimate plan; To use retrieve the nanotechnology in Pax’s deceased partner.
The game. A recurring theme is the chess game; Specifically, how the action is equivalent to moves and counter-moves on a chess board.
If that’s true then Equilibrium’s gun-fu scenes should be considered hands of Texas Hold-Em.
Seriously, every action movie would like to be compared to chess; That all the gun-play and violence has some intellectual reason and not just eye candy. For Abstract Messiah, they take the comparison to a new level starting with a real chess match between Pax and his Foundation mentor.
“While you were watching us learn, we were watching you teach.”
Such back and forth banter isn’t uncommon in action movies, as each side tries to impart their vision to the other. But when the two are bitter rivals, diametrical opposites of each other, that’s when the chess game quickly becomes an NBA-style trash talk fest, right before everyone STFU and lets their guns speak for them. Fortunately, Abstract Messiah doesn’t get to the trash-talk even though Crom does come off as the right-wingnut zealot type (nicely played). In fact, I keep getting this feeling that this movie is just one minor move in a much larger game.
Knuckle dusted. If there was a major problem with Abstract Messiah, it was the fight scenes. The fisticuffs weren’t all that convincing, but when a limited budget limits the use of professional stunt people you just have to use what you got and keep them safe for a possible part three.
“The Luddites refuse to be slaves to the cybernetic machines, and I refuse to continue being a slave to the machinations of the Foundation.”
Conclusion: Since the original UCF short was released back in ‘06 there was a call for more of the Luddites. This should satisfy them for a good 80 minutes as the Luddites are now front and center.
Everyone should consider getting Abstract Messiah even if just to support indie movie makers like Key Pixel. Even with amateurish production on a shoe-string budget they still manage to make a movie that’s more watchable than what some major distributors with trillion-dollar purses have been cranking out lately.
One has to wonder what UCF 3 would be like, especially if they get a larger budget. Dare to dream… until Kovacs sends a PM saying he has a screener ready to preview.
“The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they traveled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day… i got in.” - Opening lines spoken by Kevin Flynn (Bridges)
Overview: Thirty years is a lllllllllloooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggg time to wait between movies in a franchise; Lots of changes happen in such a time period, especially in technology. After a concept “trailer” for Legacy was leaked to the nets after appearing at ComiCon 08, Disney gave the sequel the green light. Was it worth the effort?
Visually, Legacy makes the original look obsolete thanks to the past thirty-year advancement in computer and cinema technology. The storyline probably could be better, though the concept of one’s vision of Utopia being usurped in the name of godlike power still makes for some good cyberpunk fare in a virtual world.
The Story: Since taking over Encom in 1982, Kevin Flynn (Bridges) had been dividing his time working on “The Grid,” running Encom, and raising his son, Sam. Then he disappeared, leaving Encom in chaos and Sam without a father. Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) receives a page from Flynn’s Arcade which had been shut down twenty years ago. Sam goes to the arcade and discovers a secret lab in the basement, complete with the digitizing laser that sent Flynn into the Grid. Sam activates the laser and is uploaded into the Grid himself. After being made to play games, he finds his father, who explains why he was stuck in The Grid… and the tragedy caused by Clu.
Eye and Ear Candy. As mentioned before, the advances in computers and movie making has given Legacy a vastly superior visual look. Gone are the clunky looking gray “armor” suits with post-production rotoscope effects in favor of skintight leather/latex jumpsuits with embedded lights. The Frisbee “identity disks” are now chakram-style rings. Light cycles, recognizers, … everything now has a sleeker, updated look. They look more like real models relying less on computer generation… but then again… can you tell the difference?
Even Jeff Bridges gets a CGI “facelift.”
Also, the movies was shot entirely in 3D as opposed to being shot in 2D and converted post-production.
At the End of Line club, you’ll get some brief glimpses of Daft Punk rocking the data block. You can hear their music throughout the movie… that’s assuming your ears haven’t been blown out by the extra-loud crashes and explosions.
Conclusion: Comparing Legacy to the original would be like comparing a modern, quad-core multi-gigabyte machine with a terabyte hard drive and NVIDIA graphics (no offense to ATI fans) to the original IBM PC model 5150. Comparing it to the more recent cyberpunk fare, Legacy is certainly better than what has been coming down the wires lately. Any cyberpunk fan should see it if just for the eye candy, maybe for the story too. Tron fans will definitely want to see Legacy.
Do us a favor Disney: If you’re going to do a Tron 3.0, don’t wait another thirty years. Some of us may not be around to see it.
Overview: With the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, one has to wonder how far our security-surveillance panopticon prison planet has come. Britons have seen a rise in the Orwellian nightmare, while Americans have had something of a reprieve from the “Patriot” Act, although other forces may be taking over that role. Eyeborgs breeds 1984 with The Matrix to create a new form of high-tech overlord scenario.
I probably would have missed this one if it wasn’t for my DVD club. While the “borgs” of Eyeborgs caught my initial attention, the description of the story is what sold me on it. After watching it, I was glad I had a chance to see it, even if it was direct-to-video. While not up to Terminator or Robocop standards, this is one of the better movies to come down the wires in some time.
That’s no punk, that’s President Hewes’s nephew.
The Story: The on-going threat of terrorism has led to the adoption of the “Freedom of Observation” act. This gives the Department of Homeland Security new weapons in their surveillance of US citizens. Among them are the “Eyeborgs,” cameras with robotic legs that allow them to move around. Coordinating them, and the millions of already existing stationary cameras, is the Optical Defense Intelligent Network… “O.D.I.N.” for short.
DHS agent R.J. “Gunner” Reynolds (Paul) is observing a gun sale to a possible terrorist whose targeting President Hewes. The person gets away, but is later caught when eyeborgs see his bike at a punk show where the President’s nephew, Jarett, is playing with his band. The person is captured for targeting Jarett and interrogated at a DHS office. Leaving the man alone for a few minutes, he manages to escape when the eyeborgs in the room attack him. He dies later when the eyeborgs force him over a railing and causing him to fall six stories to his death. It was determined via surveillance cameras that Reynolds left the door unlocked allowing the man to escape, but Reynolds did lock the door. He begins questioning the integrity of O.D.I.N. as other people involved with the investigation die in mysterious ways while the eyeborgs give a very different version of the truth.
“See with your own eyes… not theirs.”
O Say Can You See? Just when you the plot is pretty much cut-and-dried, the big twist comes when Reynolds tries to get Jarett from the Presidential Debate. That’s when Reynolds, and the viewers, figure out what the truth is. O.D.I.N. has been manipulating reality, or whoever is manipulating O.D.I.N. to manipulate reality, for their own end.
“Everybody knows that videos can be faked. Regardless of the motives of the people, they’re designed to confuse you, so you must ask yourself, each and every citizen of this country, ask yourself one question and one question only - Who do you believe? A government that is sworn to protect you, or a ratings-hungry media beholden to no one?”
For the most part the movies works well, but you might see a problem with some of the eyeborgs late in the movie. The colors reflecting from the machines feel “off,” and some of the eyeborgs appear to be two-dimensional sprites instead of 3D during the rescue scene. Probably a result of being rushed to video.
Conclusion: Given the current state of terrorism-generated paranoia, Eyeborgs seems like just the ticket to stoke those tin-foil hat fires. While it may have avoided theatrical release (and competition from Iron Man 2), it shouldn’t be left out of your home video collection, especially with recent disappointments from Hollywood.
“Relax, it’s totally painless! I won’t feel a thing! Besides, once you’re dead you won’t even notice.”
Overview: The timing of this movie’s release is eerie. Originally scheduled for April 2, it was instead released March 19, the same weekend that the US Congress scheduled a vote on Health Care Reform. Coincidence? Maybe, but this film could be considered a vision to what could happen if HCR fails (or succeeds, depending on how you want to look at it). No, cities won’t turn into a Blade Runner landscapes, but a corporation does finds a way to make its “customers” live on borrowed time… literally and figuratively… while they profit.
The Story: Megacorporation “The Union” has apparently cornered the market on artificial organs, or “artiforgs.” This, plus a (continuing) global economic meltdown, has made such implants a very expensive purchase, even to save a life. To make them affordable to those who can’t buy outright, The Union has financing plans available similar to today’s car and/or home loans. But there is a downside to such financing; Fail to make a payment for 90 days, and The Union will send repossession men to retrieve the organ. The organs have an RFID-style tracking system installed, so repo men can track down the delinquent, cut them open, and retrieve the organ. Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker), former schoolmates and soldiers, are The Union’s best repo men.
Remy has a wife and a son, and lately, she has been pressuring Remy to switch from repossession to sales which doesn’t pay as much but would allow him to spend more time with his family. During one repossession mission, a defibrillator malfunctions and nearly kills Remy. He awakens in a hospital with a Union financed Jarvik artiforg heart… and the bill for it.
The Corporate Brand: Not just for salarymen.
Tin Man. A new heart wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but when Remy tries a repossession he couldn’t go thorough with it. Physically, his normally steady hands start shaking, and mentally his tell-tale heart can be heard. It’s as though losing his heart actually gives him a heart; Losing part of his humanity made him more human. His new Jarvik heart must have had an empathy attachment, since he is now unable to do repossessions… or even sales as his graphic descriptions of repossessions scares customers.
Unable to make money, Remy soon finds himself being hunted by repo men, including his friend Jake.
The cat in the… box? At a couple of moments in the movie, Remy refers to an experiment where a scientist places a cat inside a box with a machine that emits poison gas at some point. We are simultaneously alive and dead, was the scientist’s conclusion, but Remy didn’t understand what that meant until he was being hunted himself, and found himself identifying with the cat:
We can either lick our paws and wait for the inevitable, or we can fight and claw our way out of the box.
Remy chooses to fight his way out, and hopes to liberate other repo targets from the system.
“Welcome to your world, repo man.”
OK, should be go see it? There’s not much new to see. In fact, some of the city scenes could be confused for Blade Runner, only without the spinners flying about. There is the contrast of the sterile environs of The Union’s offices (especially the “clean room” that doesn’t stay clean) and the run-down part of town known as the “black hole.” There’s also Beth, the woman who is almost nothing but artiforgs, including enhanced eyes and ears. And of course, The Union and its payment-and-repossession program that can be called predatory. Pretty much standard issue cyberpunk stuff.
UPDATE: After having seen Repo! The Genetic Opera, I can say there is not much similar between these two movies. With Repo Men’s cyberpunk tomes vs. Repo!’s goth atmosphere, we can keep this at 5 stars.
Conclusion: Can’t really say Repo Men is a great movie, or even a good one. It does it’s job well enough, but lacking originality, the current politics with health care reform… and some obligatory operational blood… may be enough to turn many off. Adequate enough to waste a couple of hours on, but only IF you’re not into operas.
“You owe it to your family. You owe it to yourself.”