The Spacewalker (Blu-ray release 2017-10-27) is a Russian movie that tells the story of the mission of the first astronaut who walked in space. This is as close to a Russian version of Apollo 13 (1995) as one can get. This is a beautiful movie, and its cold war perspective offers something different that we do not usually see in Hollywood space movies – at one point a general suggests to let the astronauts die to protect the interests of the country. Although the movie is respectable, it lost money. It suffers from slow pacing, and does not have as much tension as its American masterpiece counterpart. I do not know if this is a cultural thing or not, but once again the Russian wives of the astronauts show distinctly less emotion than I expect when they learn bad things happen to their husbands.
Tau (Netflix) is yet another one-character against Artificial Intelligence (AI) movie, a little bit like 2036: Origin Unknown. This time it is a horror movie. The protagonist is captured by an evil scientist trying to advance the state of the art of AI. Although both the bad guy and the protagonist make stupid decisions as people generally do in horror movies, and there is not much tension, there is one single idea I like. How do you seduce an AI? By giving it information.
Rampage (Blu-ray release 2018-7-17) is inspired by a video game about giant animals destroying a city. In this movie, some animals are accidentally affected by weaponized DNA editing made by an evil corporation. I think this is an average entertainment for those who like seeing CG monsters, but the previous two King Kong movies (2005, 2017) and the two Godzilla movies (2014, 2016) were distinctly better. The screenplay feels like an excuse to get to the climax of seeing the city getting destroyed, which is understandable considering the source for the inspiration. The best scene is the CG Gorilla giving Dwayne Johnson’s character the finger.
骨妹 (Sisterhood) (Blu-ray release 2018-6-22) is Macau movie that details the strong friendship between two women via flashbacks. One of them got pregnant so they even tried to raise the child together for a short time before breaking up. At the end, the child is given a choice, with his birth mother wanted him to make the right choice. Having a choice now and not having one in the past also drastically changed the life of the protagonist. All these happen while contrasting with the huge changes of Macau. For those who like to watch female relationship movies, this one is very competent, unlike the disappointing 閨蜜2之單挑越南黑幫 (Girls vs Gangsters).
As a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (Blu-ray release 2018-6-19) has a few good ideas late in the movie, and honors the Japanese roots for giant robots and monsters. However, the characterization is weaker with the conflicts among the team members being a waste of time without achieving much. We also get a repeat but much weaker version of the lead heroine backstory. In this movie, the battles occur in daylight and the limitations of the CG are more obvious. As a giant robot vs kaiju movie, I think the kaiju appears far too late. Although another sequel seems unlikely given the box office disappointment, I’ll still be interested in the third episode if that becomes a reality.
Watch out for an Easter egg involving a giant robot from a different universe and its associated electronics company, and another Easter egg involving a certain classic monster movie (1979).
A Wrinkle in Time (Blu-ray release 2018-6-5), an adaptation of a novel, manages to have everything I hate in a kid’s movie: bullying, annoying children, evil children, preachiness and stupidity. I’m not surprised it bombed at the box office. Consider this: after arriving at the totally evil planet, in the beach scene the protagonists eat food given by the manifestation of pure evil. Snow white could be forgiven because she did not know the witch is evil. Here they knew the planet is evil, so it absolutely does not make sense. The movie is clearly not meant to be watched by adults. I cannot think of a weaker and more boring climax about good vs evil in the last two decades.
2036: Origin Unknown is a somewhat interesting low-budget sci-fi movie. Practically the whole movie occurs in one room, where we see the protagonist running a mission to investigate things on Mars. Her companion is ARTI – an artificial intelligence – similar to the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Right from the beginning it is clear the AI is central to the plot of movie. Enough dramatic things happen at regular intervals to keep it from becoming boring. The final twist is what makes it interesting.
2036: Origin Unknown Explained
As the sister said early, the protagonist lives in the world of AI. AI outlives human and explores space. So the whole movie before the twist is a simulation of the protagonist (i.e. she is not a “real” human any more) run by ARTI – similar to Matrix (1999). She (the simulation) is briefed by her actual human self on video just before dying – so the human asked ARTI to recreate her inside the AI and make her as human as possible. It is a turing test, not for ARTI, but to test whether the protagonist has become human enough and has consciousness to continue with the mission. Since the movie said it takes as many times as required, the simulation in the movie is likely not the first simulation, again similar to Matrix.
Air Doll (2009) (Blu-ray release 2018-5-25) features a sex doll who gains a heart and consciousness. She goes out of her home, imitates other people, learns how to be human, and gets a job at a video rental store. In spite of the sex doll and some necessary nudity, this movie is not really erotic.
Through the life of the protagonist and the lonely people around her, this poignant movie examines what it means to be human. Unfortunately, as an old man points out, many people are empty inside, i.e. not so different from the doll. Upon learning the sex doll gaining consciousness, her owner no longer wants her around because human relationship is too troublesome. A middle aged woman’s job role is diminished as she is replaced by a young woman, just as an old doll can be replaced by a new doll, and is ultimately disposed.
With the success of the HBO Westworld series, I decided to watch the original Westworld (1973) (Blu-ray release 2013-3-5) and its sequel Futureworld (1976) (Blu-ray release 2013-3-26).
Westworld is one of the three areas inside an amusement park for the rich guys to play cowboy, have sex with the robots and/or shoot them. The malfunction rates of the robots go up as they somehow get a “disease”, which is now usually called a computer virus. Even though they were programmed not to kill the human visitors, you can expect what happens in a movie that is a precursor to the Jurassic Park novel.
The 1973 movie was ground breaking with digital imagery, and influenced later movies such as Terminator (1984). It even got good reviews and was a financial success. However, I am not especially thrilled with it. In particular, I think a simple “disease” explanation is not enough to account for the robot behaviors. The movie also established that human visitors are safe because the guns cannot be fired if it is pointed at something with a body temperature. After establishing this rule, the movie neglects to explain how this rule is broken. Unlike the 2016 TV series, in the 1973 movie the robots do not get memory wipes after they are shot by visitors. This leads to the climactic sequence of a killer robot chasing the protagonist. However, this setup does not make sense to me. If every robot remembers who shoot them and harass the visitors everyday, this must be very annoying even if they cannot hurt the visitors.
The Futureworld (1976) sequel reopens the park but leaves Westworld area closed. Two reporters uncover a conspiracy. The problem is that the movie reveal enough things early so there is no mystery any more. There is not much tension in the movie either. So it is just a dull park visit, and is a flop.
The Hurricane Heist (Blu-ray release 2018-6-5) manages to make a disaster movie even more unbelievable than the average ones, by combining an unbelievable heist – the stealing of huge piles of cash before they are shredded by the treasury. At one point a good guy critically injures one of the two bad guys nearby. Normally we expect the other bad guy to fight back, but this does not happen. A few scenes later, the healthy bad guy helps save the good guy. That’s not all. At one point a good guys tries to save innocent people who are locked up but he failed. Eventually those innocent people are forgotten are are left to die.