Weekend Roundup: The Machine (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! I’m slacking off a bit here, I was hoping to get my Breathe-In review this weekend but just couldn’t find the time to do it. But I was supposed to catch the Brendan Gleeson/Taylor Kitsch comedy The Grand Seduction on Friday but I made a snafu that I didn’t order an extra ticket for my hubby so I have to go to the Sunday night screening instead. So I’ll post my review of Breathe-In together with that one as soon as I get around to it 😀

Well, this weekend I got to see a pretty cool sci-fi indie The Machine: TheMachinePoster

This British dystopian sci-fi has obvious nods to Blade Runner. In fact, it says right on the synopsis and the marketing itself. As a fan of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, I was naturally intrigued. Instead of a story of a cop hunting down replicants aka robots, The Machine‘s protagonists are two artificial intelligence (AI) engineers who are working together in a futuristic era where a world is in an economic crisis and a cold war with China is brewing. Their boss is the Ministry of Defense Thomson (Denis Lawson) who’s hellbent on winning the arms race by creating a robotic soldier. The main scientist, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is morally conflicted about his job, but he does it because it’s the only way he could have technological access to help his ailing daughter.

The meat of the story takes place after Vincent’s new science partner Ava (Caity Lotz) is brutally murdered and he then created a cyborg in her likeness. Soon Thomson’s real motive is quickly revealed and Vincent’s life is endangered as he becomes a potential victim of his own creation.

TheMachine_Toby_Caity

Despite the low-budget production (less than $2 mil), I think writer/director Caradog W. James‘ did a nice job in creating a thought-provoking film that’s also visually arresting. The homage to Blade Runner is evident in his stylish visual style with the bleak futuristic setting and use of neon lights, as well as its use of synthesizer music that evokes Vangelis’ theme. I like sci-fi films that’s more atmospheric and even a little bit moody, instead of an all-action extravaganza like Elysium, and that’s partly why I enjoyed The Machine. There’s a lot of heart in the relationship between Vincent and his daughter, as well as with Ava even in robotic form. The developing relationship between a human being and an AI is nothing groundbreaking and foreseeable, but when done well, it’s still fascinating to watch. The love story is also not overblown which adds to its realism.

Both Stephens and Lotz did a nice job in their respective roles. Stephens’ got that brooding, tortured soul thing down pat which works well for this role, and Lotz whom I’ve never seen before is especially impressive. Her transformation from a curious scientist to an AI with childlike vulnerability but deadly power is quite convincing, and I find her struggle with the loss of her humanity pretty moving. She obviously looks more robotic than any of the replicants in Blade Runner, and Lotz gets the mechanical mannerism perfectly. Action fans would certainly appreciate her dance-like but lethal kickboxing moves. The film is rated R for some brutal and bloody action sequences from start to finish.

TheMachine_stills

The story is not perfect though, it gets predictable as the film progresses and some things are not explained too well. The side effect of the sensor-restoring brain implants on the fatally-wounded war veterans *recycled* for the project is that they render them mute as they become cyborgs. For some reason they can still speak in intelligible robotic voice to each other, though later they regained their speech ability and it’s never fully explained why. Despite that, it’s pretty darn entertaining and I highly recommend it if you’re into this genre. The intimate feel of the story gives a nice lingering effect after I watched it, and the ending is perfectly eerie as we imagine what a plausible future shared with an AI could be. The Machine proofs that you can still make an engaging film even on a shoestring budget, I’m curious to see what James would do with more resources at his disposal.

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Has anyone seen this film? Curious to hear what you think.

5 Films That Are Better Than the Books They Are Based On

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Every time Hollywood studios turn popular books into films, most fans of the books will always coin the term “The book is better”. I’m quite sure fans of The Hobbit and Jack Reacher books are already saying that. Most of the time they’re right, as an avid reader myself, I used that term many times after I saw a film based on a book that I read and liked. I believe some books just aren’t meant for the big screen, for example Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was an excellent novel but the film version was average at best. I think the story just fit better in the written form and just didn’t transfer well onto the big screen. Then there are Stephen King’s epic The Dark Tower books which Ron Howard is still trying to get off the ground. I’m a huge fan of the books but I just don’t know if it will translate well into films.

Once in a while though, Hollywood actually made films that ended up being better than its original source. Below are the films I thought were better than the book version.

 

5. The Hunt For Red October

HuntforRedOctober

This film was based on Tom Clancy’s popular book was one of the biggest hits of 1990. I have to confess that I saw the film version first before reading the novel, but usually I ended up loving the book more. But for this one I firmly believe the film version is superior. To me the book has too much going on with introduction to so many characters while the film only focuses on the hunt for the submarine, Red October. Also, with the excellent performances by Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Scott Glenn, Sam Neil and James Earl Jones and a tight direction by John McTiernan, it’s a great thriller.

4. Misery

Misery

Stephen King was one of my favorite writers growing up, I think I’ve read most of his novels, even the bad ones. So when it was announced that the film version of Misery was coming out, I decided to read the book before seeing the film. I thought it’s an excellent novel but I had second thought about seeing the film version. If you read the book then you know how gruesome it was. To my surprise when I finally saw the film, most of the gruesome stuff was never shown and I think that made the film much better than the book. Kathy Bates was perfectly cast as the crazy Annie and James Caan was excellent as the helpless Paul Sheldon. Rob Reiner decided to turn it into a psychological thriller instead of horror worked perfectly in my opinion. Yes he showed us the infamous leg smashing scene but in the book, Annie chopped off one of Paul’s legs with an axe, so yeah I did not want to see that on the screen.

3. Children of Men

ChildrenOfMen

Based on P.D. James’ 1992 novel The Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón did a wonderful job of capturing what James wrote on the pages and also injected his own interpretation to the story. The book start out kind of slow but once the plot kicked in, it’s very similar to the film version. Of course the film cut out a few things from the book, for example in the book, all young people was viewed as celebrities because of their youth and that old people were forced into committing suicide. I was hoping to see that get a mention in the film. But the main reason I thought the film version was better is because it didn’t have a clichéd Hollywood ending, while the book’s ending has this sort of high noon standoff shootout that I didn’t think fit the story whatsoever. I’m glad Cuaron changed it and made it into sort of open to interpretation as to what’s going to happen to that society.

2. No Country for Old Men

NoCountryForOldMen

I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and I’ve never thought that anyone could ever turn one of his books into a great film, let alone made it better than his written words. But that’s what happened here. The Coen Brothers’ film version is to me a near masterpiece, they were able to translate McCarthy’s beautiful written words into an almost flawless motion picture. The casting of Tommy Lee Jones as the old man who can’t seem to grasp the ever-changing violence in modern day society is pitch perfect. Then of course the performance by Javier Bardem as the unstoppable killer Anton Chigurh was pretty incredible. I can watch that scene where he picked on the clerk at a gas station over and over again. I went back and read the book again after seeing the film and I still believe the film’s better.

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a.k.a Blade Runner

BladeRunner

I’ve read a lot of Phillip K. Dick’s work and this book may have been his most straightforward story. In the film, Ridley Scott was able to expand some of the concepts in Dick’s book and made them even better in my opinion. I think one of the main reasons why I prefer the film version is because the book has too much religious theme for my liking. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; just that I’m not a religious person. Also, in the book the Replicants or robots that Deckard was hunting for didn’t have a personality, while in the film they acted and talked like humans. But the main reason why I prefer the film is because I believe it has a deeper meaning than the book. What I got out of the film was that we as human takes life for granted while these Replicants would do anything, including murder, to live longer. The tears in rain speech Roy gave to Deckard near the end sums up nicely of why he saved Deckard’s life, a beautiful scene.

[rtm note: Check out my related Blade Runner musings… What Does It Mean to Be Humans?
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– Post by Ted S.
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So those are some films I thought were better than their original source, do you have other films you’d like to add to the list? 

Musings on the case of Great trailers, bad films & Bad trailers, great films

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Movie trailer is the greatest selling tool in marketing for Hollywood. Heck even tech start-up companies today are using short trailers to sell their product. Case in point, a start-up company I’m involved with just got done with a short intro/trailer about the product, I saw it and I thought it was awesome, well maybe I’m biased since I’m part of the company and I designed the site. Anyhoo, back to movie trailers, they’re meant to get audiences excited and film bloggers, critics and cinephiles everywhere will talk about it for months before the actual film hits theater.

PrometheusHDtrailerThink back to last spring when Fox unleashed the trailer for Prometheus, many people got excited and said it’s going to be the greatest sci-fi film ever and so on. Well when it finally hit theaters, those same people were disappointed and blame Fox for duping them into thinking the film was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well that’s their goal, to dupe you into theaters and pay to see the film, they don’t care if you like or not, they already got your money. Heck I got duped into seeing two bad films because their trailer looked great, the remake of Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy.

Ruth’s note: Now, just as I was prepping this article, another trailer for Pacific Rim came out. I like Idris Elba but I thought the trailer is terrible, and Ted aptly called it ‘Transformers meets Godzilla’ ahah. We’ll see if this would end up in the ‘Bad trailers, Good Movies’ category.

Once in a while though studios tend to release some not so great trailers but the actual films were quite good. Anyway, here are some good examples of what I’m talking about:

Great trailers, bad films

Mission: Impossible 2

First off I would like to confess that I enjoyed this film but I also have to admit that it’s a lousy film. The trailer made it look like it’s going to be a non-stop thrill ride but most of the action scenes didn’t happen until the last 40 minutes of the movie. I like the concept of IMF team taking on the evil pharmaceutical company and a rouge agent but the love triangle between the hero, villain and heroine just didn’t work and it’s way too cheesy. But I love the motorcycle, cars and helicopter chase near the end and Anthony Hopkins delivered the best line in the film: “It’s not mission difficult Mr. Hunt, it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”

Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace

Nothing much to say here since most of us have seen the film and we’re pretty much in agreement that the film sucks. But the trailer was pretty great, hearing that famous theme music by John Williams, seeing light sabers and space ships just got everyone excited. Unfortunately the actual film was filled with bad dialogues and wooden acting. But the light sabers battle between Darth Maul, Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn was pretty great.

Fun fact, the trailer played in front of Meet Joe Black and a lot of Star Wars fanatics paid just to see this trailer. I took my then girlfriend to see Meet Joe Black and I remember a few people left the theater after EP1 trailer finished. Just FYI young readers, this was few years before internet trailers became the norm, people would actually paid tickets just to see trailers, I know it’s stupid and I’ve never done it myself but that was the only way to see trailers of big films back then.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

After the awful X-Men: Last Stand, Fox was hoping this film will reboot the franchise in the way that Batman Begins did for Batman. With Hugh Jackman back as Wolverine and a respectable director behind the camera, all of X-Men fans expected greatness. Of course our excitement jumped to new heights when a trailer debuted a few months before its release. The trailer made it look like the film is going to be a gritty take on the popular character, I must’ve watched it like 10 times when it debuted.

Unfortunately when the film finally opens, it was an incoherent mess; there were rumors that Fox didn’t like the dark tone of the film and demanded director (Gavin Hood) to make changes. Whatever happened behind the scenes really destroyed what could have been a great film about Wolverine’s origin.

The World Is Not Enough

The last Bond film of the 20th century looked great and since I’m a Bond fanatic I was stoked to see this film. With the promised of a new great villain and a respected director, many thought this could be an excellent Bond film. Even with the silly casting of Denise Richards as a scientist, I was still convinced this could be a great film and after seeing the trailer, I got super excited.

Well as we all know the actual film was pretty bad, I actually thought the franchise might be over because of this film. Of course I was wrong since it’s a box office hit and it took another awful Bond flick to convince the producers that they need to reboot the franchise.

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Bad trailers, great films

Batman Begins

With the huge success of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, most people often forget that the first film in the series was a modest success. In fact, this film’s opening weekend was a measly $47 mil. When Warner Bros. announced they were going to reboot the franchise, I was super excited because Batman is my favorite comic book superhero and I needed to get the bad memory of Batman & Robin out of my mind. With a young and upcoming director Chris Nolan behind the camera and a new Bruce Wayne/Batman, all Batman fans everywhere were super excited.

Unfortunately when the trailer came out, I was very disappointed. I thought it looked clunky and wasn’t well put together. The pacing was a bit off, too much of the plot were revealed and it just didn’t flow well. Compare that to The Dark Knight’s and The Dark Knight Rises’ trailer, Begins’ trailer was quite weak in my opinion.

The Bourne Supremacy

In my opinion this film is the best of the franchise but when I saw the trailer, I thought it looked awful. Just like Batman Begins’ trailer, it wasn’t well-edited, very clunky and sort of gave away too much of the plot. Again fortunately the actual film was great.

Blade Runner

Most trailers of older films tends to give away too much of the story and this one is no different. Seriously this trailer is over 3 minutes long! If I was old enough around the time this film came out, I might’ve skip seeing it in theater. I thought the final cut trailer that came out back in 2007 was much better, see them for yourself.

Original trailer


Final cut trailer

– Post by Ted S.


So those are some examples and I know there are tons of other great trailers, bad films and bad trailers, good films out there. Feel free to share your own list of trailers in the comments section.

Guest Post – Forgotten Box Office Misfires Part I

[rtm’s note: Who knew that the little blue people can actually take on Cowboys & Aliens? The Smurfs and the hybrid Western tied at the box office with $36.2 mil. It’s perhaps too soon to call it a flop, but given the $163 production budget for the Harrison Ford/Daniel Craig starrer, it definitely underperformed.]



With today’s bloated budget in Hollywood, when a film tanks at the box office no one really blinks an eye, for example last year Hollywood released a few stinkers: Prince of Persia with a reported budget of $200 mil but earned a paltry $90 mil here in the States; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice cost $150 mil to make but only earned about $60 mil; and Robin Hood with a $200 mil budget only made about half of that. Now some of these films actually made more money overseas so they can perhaps justify their bloated budget, but still the studios had to take a loss because they didn’t make as much from overseas earnings, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Well, here are some forgotten big budgeted films that people either don’t remember or just don’t know about. These were the films that had a huge budget for its time and some even bankrupt the studio and ruined the director’s film career:

1. Heaven’s Gate (1980): This is the godfather of movie failure, it not only bankrupted United Artists studio but also ruined the film’s director and its star’s career. The film was directed by Michael Cimino and starred Kris Kristofferson. The film’s original budget was set at around $15 mil but it ballooned up close to $50 mil. Remember, this was way back in 1979/1980 so that kind of number was unheard of. Cimino was the ‘it’ director around that time, he’d just won an Oscar for directing The Deer Hunter, which also won best picture at the 1979 Oscars. United Artists was in need of some prestige picture and also in need of some box office hits. So they figured why not try to get both by hiring a young hot director who’d just won an Oscar and the film he directed was also a box office hit.

They also hired Kris Kristopherson, who at the time believe it or not was fast to becoming the go-to actor for big-budgeted films. Well, what looked like a sure-fire hit for the studio turned out to be a nightmare. First, Cimino turned in a very long script that would’ve made the film’s runtime close to six hour, and he demanded a huge budget for it. Then when they started shooting, Cimino acted like a madman on the set. He demanded that a building be torn down and rebuilt because it didn’t match up with other buildings on the set. This of course took time and cost more money. If you want to know more about what happened with this movie, there’s a great documentary that you can find on YouTube.

So after Cimino finished the movie, he showed his first cut of the film to studio executives and it was over 4 hours long. I this cut the battle scene at the end lasted over an hour and of course the executives told him there’s no way they could release the film with this cut. Cimino went back into the editing room to trim down the runtime but by this time the damage was already done.

The media caught wind of what went on behind the scenes and ran a story of how Heaven’s Gate was the most expensive film ever made and the United Artists went bankrupt because of it. Of course all of it was true and United Artists actually sold their shares to MGM so they could promote the film. By the time the film hit theater, it had gotten so much bad press that most critics and audiences alike ignored it.

I finally watched the film last year and it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. I think this was the perfect example of how a director’s ego got in the way of his talent. I mean the film also starred Jeff Bridges and Christopher Walken, so there were some real talents involved, but the ego of the director got in the way and prevented him from making a great film. According to boxofficemojo.com, the film earned a measly $3 million! Cimino never recovered after this film, he directed a few films after Heaven’s Gate but never regained his status as an A-list director again. Kris Kristofferson also suffered as the result of this film’s failure. He never became the top leading man like a lot of people thought he would be; he appeared in a lot of films since but mostly as supporting character or a sidekick, i.e. the Blade films.

2. The Cotton Club (1984): This was Francis Ford Coppola’s first true big-budgeted film (starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane) since Apocalypse Now. It cost around $60 mil to make and it only made about $25 mil back. The film had such a high hope for the studio, they released it in December hoping it will get lots of Oscar nominations and make a ton of cash. Of course it didn’t turn out that way and I think Paramount was just happy that most people didn’t remember anything about this film . I also think it destroyed Coppola’s career as an A-list director, after this film he never get to make another mega-budget movie.

3. Blade Runner (1982): This film is now considered one of the best sci-fi films ever made and it has a huge cult following after its release back in the summer of 1982. Now it did earned back close to its budget, the film cost around $28 mil to produce and earned around $27 mil. But considering the hype of the film for its time and it starred the very popular Harrison Ford—who just came off two box office hits in a row, Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark—the film was huge failure.

Also, it was directed by an up and coming young director Ridley Scott whose previous film Alien was a huge hit a couple of years earlier. I’m sure the studio thought, ‘hey we got Harrison Ford, Ridley Scott and a sci-fi action flick, money in the bank right?’ Wrong, the film turned out to be more of a thinking man sci-fi thriller and it hardly contained any action scenes in it at all. After this film came out, Ridley Scott’s career was stuck in neutral for many years. He didn’t have another big hit until the year 2000 when he made Gladiator.

4. The Abyss (1989): The king of big-budgeted films James Cameron actually had a box office misfire, believe it or not. After two big hits in a row, The Terminator in 1984 and Aliens in 1986, Cameron got a huge budget from Fox to make this film.  It cost around $70 mil to make but only made about $50 mil. I think this film was the victim of Batman dominance that summer. Had Fox released the film at a later date, it could’ve been a box office hit. You see, the Summer of 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s Batman; seriously the film was everywhere that summer. Also I think another reason The Abyss was a dud was because it wasn’t an action flick but they marketed it that way. So when people actually saw the film, they were disappointed. Well of course this film didn’t ruin Cameron’s career, he bounced back right away two summers later with T2: Judgment Day.

Sources: imdb.com, boxofficemojo.com, youtube.com and Wikipedia.org


That’s the end of part I, stay tuned for the last half of the list of box-office misfires you might not know about coming tomorrow.

So have you heard about any of these stories before? Feel free to share other misfires the average moviegoers might not have heard about.

Musings on Blade Runner: What does it mean to be human?

As promised in my Friday post, I finally saw the cult-favorite Blade Runner last Friday. I see what all the fuss is about now, and to those who vouched for its important place amongst the best sci-fi movies ever made, glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

It’s impressive given this was made 20 years ago in 1982, the cinematography and art direction of the futuristic world is striking. Instead of opting for a slick, polished look, Ridley Scott’s vision of Los Angeles in 2019 (heck, that’s less than a decade from now!) is dark, gritty and downright bleak. Gone is the warm, glowing sunshine, the city’s now assume the climate of London or Seattle 🙂

To those who aren’t familiar with this movie based (as I was until a few days ago), here’s a brief summary from IMDb:

In a cyberpunk vision of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants, human clones used to serve in the colonies outside Earth but with fixed lifespans. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he is forced to re-enter the force when six replicants escape from an off-world colony to Earth.

Deckard with the Voight-Kampff machine, a polygraph-like device to test whether a person is human or replicant

We’ve seen a lot of sophisticated science fiction movies since then that deal with a similar subject of rogue bio-engineered creatures, but this film based on Philip K. Dick’s novel seems to stand the test of times because it’s more than just about gadgets and special effects, so even when the technology feels dated, the theme is a timeless one. There are so many thought-provoking themes open to analysis, but one that filmmakers and audiences alike still grapple with and will perhaps continue to do so is…

What does it mean to be human?

Rutger Hauer in one of his most memorable roles

The common theme that countless sci-fi movies about man-made robots/clones share seems to be that the conflict stems from the inherently-human ability to feel. These bio-engineered robots are created with a purpose to serve their human masters, and as long as they are obedient and just do as they’re told, things are fine and dandy and we can co-exist peacefully. But of course, stories after stories tell us that the robots develop emotions, and that’s when problems arise. For if they have the ability to love, automatically they too, have the ability to hate. In a pivotal ‘tears-in-the-rain’ scene involving Deckard and the ‘villain,’ a replicant named Roy, the very human Deckard looked at his opponent and reflected upon what Roy’s kind is all about: “All they’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us wanted, where have I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”

Deckard & Rachael… is it love?

Interestingly, whilst all these inhuman androids in sci-fi movies want to feel and see feelings as a privilege they wish they have a right to, a lot of romantic comedies with real people seem to want to do the opposite. Even within the last few weeks alone, there are three upcoming rom-coms dealing with the same theme: can we just have sex without emotion? Because let’s face it, feelings just complicate things, right? As you can see in the Friends with Benefits trailer (you can find it on YouTube), the guy asks the girl ‘why does [sex] have to come with complications?’ to which the girl agrees, ‘… and emotions!’ The guy continues, ‘It’s a physical act… like playing… tennis.’ The other two movies No Strings Attached and Love & Other Drugs are no different, they’re toying with the notion that in this modern, career-oriented, busy world, people just have no time to be emotionally-involved. Come on, feelings are only for the radically conservative and old-fashioned folks who should have better things to do with their life. It’s apparently more hip and in vogue to keep relationships strictly physical.

I’m not singling out these movies as it’s by no means a groundbreaking concept. I just find that this no-strings-attached notion mind-boggling, and to be honest, quite tragic… the fact that people even want to deny what it means to be humans… one that separates us from the rest of God’s creations. To rid ourselves of the gift of emotion, whether it’s joy or sorrow that comes with every relationship, romantic or otherwise… it seems not only pointless but futile.

In any case, for a movie about mechanically-engineered beings, it’s a very ‘human’ story that takes a poignant look at our humanity. No, it’s not warm and fluffy the way most rom-coms are, but this movie is certainly not heartless.


Those who’ve seen and loved Blade Runner, feel free to add your own thoughts about it below.