Sunday, 19 February 2017

Android

Aaron Lipstadt, 1982, USA

A hugely enjoyable excursion into 80s B-movie sci-fi from the Roger Corman stable: an android lives obliviously with his master on a space-station until three escaped convicts appear and change everything. With the winning directness of a short story and as a product of the 1980s, ‘Android’ is of course going to look dated – look at those computer games Max plays! – but the effects are mostly decent and, more importantly, the set design is no-nonsense and convincing in its limitations; they avoid looking too futuristic and trying too hard (it’s a case of budget restrictions being an asset) and with the company colours and strips all over it resembles living inside a canister bearing a logo.

Android Max 404 (Don Opper) is a blank slate, a technological medium only as good as his programmers, his innocence and mildness a means of making him compliant, but nevertheless this is unable to stop his natural curiosity for pop culture. There are undertones of film noir not only in Max’s aspirations but also at times in the lighting. This leads him to want to go to Earth and in the three new arrivals, he sees his chance. In fact, Max 404’s malleability is his major asset. It’s another plot with robots that cannot help but anthropomorphise – the who/what is human? is a staple intrigue of the android narratives – but it’s more a part of the pulp conceit rather than investigative as in something like Alex Garland's ‘Ex Machina’. This is a coming-of-age story for androids.

Don Opper, who wrote the script, is riveting and naturally charming as Max 404. Opper is a likeable and knowing presence that should have been one of the era’s genre cult heroes but didn’t really develop this promise. Klaus Kinski is admirably level as Dr Daniel in a role that could have easily introduced over-acting; having said that, perhaps that’s just how Kinski is – in constant deluded-and-mad-scientist mode and he’s just dialling in the performance. He’s busy trying to kick-start his supreme female android – which, it turns out, can be triggered by a dose of android sexual energy. But indeed, all the cast manage to step back a few steps from complete hamminess even if it is clunky at times. The convicts are the type immediately recognisable from the Eighties with only Crofton Hardester being straightforward villainous without nuance, and it’s fun that as the audience you can see they don’t realise what they’ve stepped into.
As with ‘Ex Machina’, the queasiness of the gender politics are somewhat mitigated by the overall exploitation aesthetic and moreso by the obvious intelligence and wit of the script. 


Monday, 13 February 2017

Amusements

"Under the Shadow": article on influences and Q&A with director Babak Anvari. How pleasing that such a great little horror film is getting such recognition.


Vic Pratt on his love for "Night of the Demon", which is a more-or-less just an excuse to post this picture.









Favourite songs #1


Favourite Songs #2

Thursday, 9 February 2017

St Vincent

Theodore Melfi, 2014, USA

Antisocial old guy babysits a bullied but bright kid for selfish reasons and, after hijinx, is redeemed by this friendship.

Ah, you know this one. A comedy based upon the premise that it is inherently funny to have an antagonistic older guy teach an innocent kid about name-calling, booze, gambling, prostitutes, etc. So the bar isn’t set very high but the main actors are a likeable bunch so it takes some time to realise that there aren’t enough gags to elevate the shenanigans before they give way to an uninteresting sentimental denouement where the full saccharine potential of the title is reached. Of course, although many characters call him such, we don’t really believe Vincent is an irredeemable asshole because he’s played by Bill Murray (or Bill “Fucking” Murray to give him his full chive.com name). His assholishness is put down to a broken heart and it is all resolved with social recognition, a hug and a makeshift family unit. But he’s also been rude, selfish, thieving, irresponsible, manipulative, etc. As Bill Murray the celebrity is a symbol for a kind of counter-culture japester devil-may-care machismo, Vinnie’s general unacceptable behaviour gets quite a pass, but this isn’t so much sticking-to-the-man as it’s taking advantage of and insulting working people.  

Elsewhere, Jaeden Lieberher as the kid Oliver has an appearance and manner that manages to mitigate his obvious precociousness into something more vulnerable and appealing, but like ‘Midnight Special’ there is the sense that this doesn’t use the most of him.
Naomi Watts has fun hamming it up as a Russian tart-with-a-heart and Melissa McCarthy grounds things immensely as if she’s stumbled in from a more earnest film – but of course this is Murray’s show and it’s a shame that it’s in the service of such slush. Beneath its bright superficiality, director Theodore Melfi’s script is only moderately funny with the kid mostly gets the best material (even with the amusing deleted scene where he and his pal discuss the origins of acting-up; his introduction to his new class struck me as perhaps the film’s funniest scene): Murray insulting and manipulating everyone isn’t instantaneously hilarious in itself, surely (?). You’re left with the feeling that there’s an emotional reconciliation because *shrug* that’s just what this stuff does. It’s all so by-rote (this is the bit where Vinnie tries to sabotage their friendship; here is where the kid overcomes the bully; here is a stroke overcome by a montage, etc) that it’s hard to be genuinely moved as the film seems to desire.