Monday, 7 April 2014
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE MACHINE (2013), THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), FRIDAY 13th (1980), FRIDAY 13th PART 2 (1981)
This has been hailed as the best British Science Fiction film since Moon. Well, I thought, on reading that comment, it wouldn't take much as I thought Moon was very overrated, admittedly one of the few who had that reaction. So it's hardly going to be surprising when I tell you that The Machine is certainly a lot better than that film, though it's not exactly perfect either.
It's set a couple of decades in the future when the West's economy is on the skids as a result of a cold war with China. A secret government unit is trying to create cybernetically enhanced soldiers by experimenting on those severely injured in battle. If they don't work they're callously disposed of. Computer expert Caity Lotz is hired by cyberneticist Toby Stephens (who works for evil Denis Lawson) because she's created a computer which can pass the Turing Test -i.e. when talking to it from elsewhere it's impossible to tell if it's human or not. He uses an experimental machine he's created to map her brain (which he also uses on his young dying daughter) and when she's murdered by Chinese agents uses it to create a humanoid robot. What's interesting is not that Lotz's personality reappears in the machine, it doesn't, but the machine appears to have a consciousness and begins to the explore the world around it -not the physical world, but the world of moral choices which naturally brings it into conflict with Denis Lawson who wouldn't know a moral choice if it bit him on the arse.
What's not so good about the film. The science for one thing. It's not bad science, I was just a bit confused about exactly what science they were doing. It's almost all set indoors/underground/at night which makes for a murky viewing, though it's tonally appropriate for the film. I was never really sure about a group of subjects as to whether they were humanoid robots with/without bits of brains in them or cybernetically/surgically enhanced humans. Maybe I should watch it again and pay more attention. Though it could be because there are no fucking subtitles on a fucking Blu-Ray disc which is fucking inexcusable and fucking annoying as hell when you're somewhat deaf like me!
Still, there's a lot good about it too.
The cast for one. You'd expect Stephens and Lawson to be good and they are. But it's Caity Lotz who is the revelation. A friend of mine (also called Ian but isn't me) saw her first appearance in the TV series Arrow and declared her to be a useless actress. All I can say to that is: her and Jennifer Lawrence, crap, crap, crap. She is good as the human scientist but her part as the machine is subtle and nuanced and riveting. Plus, as a trained gymnast, she also does most of her own stunts. Plus, she's gorgeous. Up yours, other Ian.
Despite the low budget and the murk, it looks good. And sometimes hideous. A character who appears early in the film has had part of his skull blown away and just covered with skin -I've seen this in real life, though here it's cgi, and to my shame I find it repulsive to look at.
And there's Caity Lotz. And a bitter-sweet sting in the tail.
So, flawed but good and intelligent, which, when you see what abortions pass off as SF movies these days, is no mean achievement.
Every so often I like a dose of authentic samurai drama and/or a fix of legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
This is what passes for Kurosawa being playful. Two farmers have gone off to war thinking they'll get rich but their side loses. General Toshiro Mifune has to save the Princess and the gold in order to get the clan's ruling family up and running again and get back home all the while being hunted by the victors. The farmers join up with General and Princess. And that's the plot in full.
The two farmers, however, are actually the main characters and they are as venal and as stupid people as you've ever seen in a film. They think of nothing but themselves and not even of each other. If one can gain something over the other (usually gold) they'll try and get it. Throughout the film whenever there is a chance of them to gain an advantage without hesitation they take the selfish option and every time it makes things worse for them. And they never learn. They even consider raping the princess while she sleeps and while the general is off somewhere.
For all that it is quite a likeable film if, for me, a touch overlong at 138 minutes. There's an introduction by George Lucas because, as well all know, don't we, it was one of the inspirations for some little SF movie of his.
Surprisingly, given my love of horror movies, this is the first time I've seen this one. I have seen Jason X (or Jason in space) which is a highly enjoyable piece of gory fun, though it isn't canon as there were more FT13 movies made after, and Freddie Vs Jason which has its moments but not enough of them. I did see a clip of one of the killings not long after it originally came out and thought it was hideous and that put me off for quite a while. However, I've reading a few books/magazines that deal with exploitation cinema like the older (British) Shock Xpress and the newer (American) Weng's Chop which put me in the mood to check out stuff I hadn't seen before.
Over 30 years on Friday 13th is far less shocking than it was at the time and that includes the scene -Kevin Bacon is lying on a bunk when an arrow erupts from the front of his throat makes a mess- that made me want to run over the hills and far away. Now I just admire how effectively it's done and it still looks convincing even by today's standards thanks to gore effects maestro Tom Savini.
There's really not a lot to say about this film. It's a highly competent slasher which holds the attention throughout. It also introduces tropes which have become cliches. I do think the blurb on the box shouldn't have given away the killer's identity as, possibly, even now there might be someone who doesn't realise that Jason isn't the killer in this first installment.
Friday the 13th Part 2, unlike the previous film, holds back a while on the killing after the initial opening which is mostly a recap, otherwise it's the same stalk and slash now with added Jason who hasn't yet found the iconic hockey mask. Apart from a mean-spirited killing of the nice guy in the wheelchair, it's pretty much same as it ever was.
I've got Part 3 on my pile to watch but I may quit while I'm ahead after that as I've plenty more films to watch. Like the recently acquired super-special edition of Dario Argento's Inferno to watch among others.