Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Artificial Intelligence is better than NO intelligence at all!!!

The following review is an old one from my previous site. I was talking to my girlfriend about this movie last night about how both of us pretty much didn't like this movie and I wanted to dig up this old review to see what my thoughts had been about it. I actually was easier on it than I remembered. Though I still stand by my opinions on the negative comments, I do not even remember ANY of the positive things I mention, which is weird.

On with the show...

D. Steven Spielberg

I must state up front that if you plan to see this film then do not read this review until after. In the process of explaining my decision regarding this film’s worth I will give away major plot points and even the ending. Regardless of my opinion, you as an audience member deserve to make up your own minds and see a film with it being spoiled by a critic. So if you want to see A.I. stop reading now.

This much anticipated adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s former project by his supposed buddy Steven Spielberg has polarized audiences from coast to coast. The film could easily be summed up with a new title of "DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC TEDDY BEARS" as it shamelessly pulls plot ideas and situations from Phillip K. Dick’s story DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTIRC SLEEP which went on to become the seminal Sci-Fi film BLADE RUNNER.

For those who don’t know A.I. stands for Artificial Intelligence. The film is about a robot boy played by Haley Joel Osmett (of THE SIXTH SENSE). He is real in every way (well almost but we’ll get to that later). He is placed into a home of a family whose son has been in a coma for a long time and looks like he will not be coming home. The experiment is too see if human’s can learn to love something that is not human, and can it love them back.

The first 50 minutes of the film cover this quandary in the typical Spielberg fashion. Which is to dump the robot kid into as many jeopardizing situations as possible to pull at your heart strings. Actually interesting arguments such as whether or not it is a good idea to play god by creating an artificial person are left by the wayside so the film can be packed full of tearful interludes as the parent’s begin to fear the robot because he doesn’t understand their world. Essentially it is E.T. with a robot kid. Much is made early on about imprinting the robot kid’s memory with emotions. Only the Mother can do this and it is made very clear it is irreversible. The mother spends the first few minutes of her screen time appalled by the very idea of the child robot. But after spending a day with him annoying her she decides she does want to be his real Mommy and imprints him. No reason is given for her change of heart. She just does it to set the plot in motion. Almost immediately the Father begins to resent the little light box of a kid, even though it was his idea to bring the thing home and keep it in the first place. These are just examples of emotional inconsistencies that are present only to further the film into the area of forever flowing audience tears.

Next the child who was in the irreparable coma (the child we have not scene since the beginning of the film) is magically okay and moves back home. He immediately begins to destroy the family life the robot kid has made and instills the very easily planted seeds of dissent in the parents.

The climactic moment of the first act (the movie is very carefully structured in the Hollywood blockbuster acceptable three act screenplay) is the Mother abandoning the robot kid in the forest cause she simply cannot live with his robotic menace anymore. She loves him, but her real child is back, so it’s the highway for Haley the Roboboy.

The remainder of the film (nearly two hours) is the kid’s journey to get back home and to become a real boy just like Pinocchio (which is hammered so far into your skull that you want to go back in time and murder all involved with Pinocchio just so you never have to hear it referenced in the movie ever again!).

Then the movie really begins with roboboy’s journey to discover who he is and what being and Android is all about. But lets stop a minute and look at the first third of the movie. The crux of the rest of the film hinges on the idea that the kid wants to be reunited with his flesh parents and be a real boy. These are the same people who favored sending him back to the factory to be killed (the Dad wants that) and the Mom who can’t deal with the guilt of that act so SHE ABANDONS HIM! Its okay though because she can’t die he’s not a real boy! So as an audience we are supposed to take the next two hour journey with this character to find something that is pretty much reprehensible. The movie really could have taken a turn here and made some statements about child abuse and learning to be an adult. But it doesn’t.

Instead it becomes a typical action, sci-fi extravaganza that on a purely visual level is actually very entertaining. The next hour of the film sets up a very believable future full of sexual overload (though this is only hinted at really) and burnt out cites where destroying robots has become sport and competition. The scenes in the flesh fair (sort of Robot Gladiatorial challenges) are some of the best stuff Spielberg has done since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Too bad we had to sit through not one but two faked death scenes of the robokid before getting there (and don’t worry there are more in the film to come!)

This is also where the film introduces Jude Law (who I find to be an immensely annoying screen presence anyway) as the Android sex machine who gets framed for murder in the second scene he is in. I’m sure in the original source material this character played an integral part, but not anymore. He is in the film to guide the kid around from point A to point B. The biggest reason he is in the film (and the reason he is framed for murder by characters we never meet again) is so there can be a climactic tear jerking scene where he is carted off to prison after befriending the kid. There is no reason what so ever for him to be a sex android in this final version of the film.

Here in lies the film’s biggest problems. Whenever a real issue with relevance or importance rears up Spielberg deflects it in his constant barrage of smaltz. Why bother telling a story that makes comments on child Abuse, the idea of Humans playing God, the inability of mankind to communicate emotionally and sexually, when you can have some kids throw the little robo-bastard in a pool so you think he might die. At least then you’ll gasp and maybe shed a tear in relief!

Once again do not read further if you intend to see the film!

In the third act the film literally bends time, space and reality to make sure the kid can be briefly reunited with his bitch flesh Mother. But this has to be the ultimate tear jerk moment, so instead of just letting the kid find his mother (cause then they would have to actually deal with some of the above issues mentioned) they jettison him into a future where he is found by Aliens who can clone his mother but she will only be alive for a day. That way they can spend a perfect day together, she can kick the bucket and everyone walks out bawling. Except it doesn’t work because the Mother has done such a heinous act in abandoning the kid that we feel no sympathy for her.

Is the movie terrible? No, it is not. As per usual with Spielberg’s work the design is breathtaking. The vision of the Future is still BLADE RUNNER light, but at least it is pretty to look at. The midsection of the film really picks up as it becomes a pure sci-fi movie by creating another world were new rules exist. Yet Spielberg sees fit to fill these moments with unneeded audience pleasing clutter that suck you right out of the movie such as the Dr. Know animated character voiced by Robin Williams. Or the convenient way the kid traps himself underwater for two thousand years just so he can be woke up and have his little happy moment without confronting the real issues at hand.

Ironically the best thing about the film is the one element that looks to be the most annoying at first glance. The walking, talking, thinking animatronic teddy bear (simply Named Teddy) is the film’s saving grace more than once. Why? Because it is a character that could have easily been played for cutesy laughs and smaltzy interaction, but instead is played as the brain of the film. He is cute, for Christs’ sake it’s a teddy bear, but he never over does it in a film where everything else does.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding how Kubrick would have never allowed the film to become the three hanky weepfest that it is. I believe that to be true. His last film was one were audiences flocked to see Nichole Kidman and Tom Cruise buck naked and were disappointed when they were faced with an obtuse movie that dealt with real issues, emotions and the extreme complexity within. I’m sure he would have treated the material with the same depth he showed in all his work.

Unfortunately Spielberg is not capable of that kind of depth. Even his best films are simply entertainment pictures (DUEL, JAWS, RAIDERS) that exist to entertain and little else. That is fine, people need entertainment. But when faced with material that demands more the answer is not to rework it to a breaking point so audiences can feel all choked up. It’s a problem Spielberg faces every time he tries to do something serious. Even a film as important as SHINDLER’S LIST is hurt (though not destroyed) by his overbearing need to manipulate the audience into tears and reactions. For God’s sake we are watching a film about the Holocaust, we do not need any manipulation to feel something! We don’t need the little kid we don’t know running from the Nazi’s and hiding in shit, we don’t need the light shinning down from God on Shindler as he gives a speech that explains every point you were supposed to have gotten out of the film.

I suppose my biggest complaint with A.I and Spielberg’s work is that he treats the audience like they are feeble minded by watering down actual ideas in his work and overstating the elements that he really wants you to feel. Let me feel something on my own, don’t force my attention into it. His work is the epitome of the Hollywood ideal that Audiences are stupid and have to have everything spelled out for them. Its insulting.

I also have a beef with his use of Kids in his films. Most of the time they are there simply as a focal point for the young audience. I understand that and it is fine. My problem is that he uses kids whenever he feels the need to twist an emotion out of an audience. E.T. is the worst for this as the kids are chased, threatened, abused etc. all to get the audience to cry along with the movie. E.T. himself could be seen as a big kid that Spielberg ultimately KILLS to elicit a reaction, but then back peddles and for no reason at all, brings back to life for the triumphant resurrection! I would hate to see what Spielberg would do to the Christ story!

But back to the kid thing. In abusing the kids for the audiences pleasure (and kids are very often abused in his pictures, both JURASSIC PARK flicks, E.T, HOOK and now A.I.) Spielberg shows a very sadistic instinct. Its almost as if he is inviting you the audience to enjoy the degradation of the children (in fact in JURASSIC PARK the scenes in which the little boys are threatened or hurt it is the good guys doing it and usually ends with an audience laugh). In A.I. this is taken to ridiculous extremes since the kid can’t die. There is even a scene where the kid confronts another robot made to look like him (why would the company looking to market robot children make all of them look exactly the same. Wouldn’t that make keeping track of them really more difficult that it would be worth) and he literally rips off his face and knocks off his head! But it gets worse! I find the way he handles the sexuality of children to be very creepy as well. Especially the scene in A.I where all the kids gather around Robokid and touch him repeatedly. Yes within the context of the story it makes sense, but did it have to happen by the pool so all the little boys are almost naked. Did it have to be shot and blocked so it feels like a rape scene? Did the big bully kid need to look in Haley’s shorts to see if he had a dick? Did Spielberg really need to abuse all those half naked native kids in INDIANNA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM? Was the scene where all the kids gather around and paint Robin Williams body really need to be there in HOOK? These are just questions to ponder the true meanings of.

If you catch A.I. in a theater make sure it is a matinee or second run and you probably will not hate it. But if you are like me and have a real problem being manipulated instead of honestly engaged by a film then stay away at all costs! I think I should go read some Phillip K. Dick now to cleanse my palette. (AC)

And here is a clip of Haley Joel Osmet's finest work outside of The Sixth Sense...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Headpress, What Happened to you?

ISBN13: 9781900486644

I've been a faithful reader of HEADPRESS since the days when it was just a magazine style publication. I think i came on board with issue #8 or #9. It has always been a favorite of mine and a breath of fresh air when a new issue came out. I've always felt it was worth the long wait for a new installment. But with issue #26 things started to change. The focus seemed to drift away from the long standing periodical of "Sex, religion and Death" to the new mantra of "The Gospel of Unpopular Culture" which seemed fine. A broader approach if you will. But that issue's broader approach seemed to be to just include more or what I would call travelogue pieces. Writers recollections of "wacky" episodes in their lives traveling in foreign lands of basically doing naughty things like getting high, having illicit sex and annoying the locals of said land. If you read one article, you basically read them all. With issue #27 long standing editor and creator David Kerekes, unwisely brought on board a co-conspirator (aka new money man)who further changed the focus of the magazine/imprint. Issue #27 was almost entirely made up of these kinds of article, this time written by the editors in an attempt to sound like some sort of modern Hunter S. Thompson. The design work on the issue was outstanding, but the content seriously lacked the insight and bite of any of the previous issues. to call it lightweight would be an understatment.

Which brings us to issue #28. The very first issue of Headpress I have ever put down in disgust. almost every single artilce in the issue is the fluff travelogue filler that has plagued the previous two issues. It's as if they cannot pay writers anymore so they are just jamming the issues with this tripe now. Vacations stories of the wacky financial man getting high in Amsterdam that have no conclusion whatsoever. Anything of worth is relegated to literally two page spreads while these other bits run on and on and on. The only article of interest is a longer bit on the blow job bars of Bangkok which would have been at home in the older issues.

Also the high quality of layout and design is gone this go round. A note on the first page claims a fire caused all the art to have been lost. Perhaps it is true, or perhaps it is a cost cutting measure and a cover story. Who knows?

It is a sad day for me, because this was seriously my favorite periodical in the entire world. Something I've cherished close to my heart and look forward to like a visit from an old friend. I really don't see me picking up this again in the current state. If you look back at the classic issue #22 "The Funhouse" issue and this one, it is hard to believe it was done by the same people.

Andy Copp

Monday, June 15, 2009

Man that was a LOW BLOW!!!!

LOW BLOW (1986)
D. Frank Harris

Part of the Maximum Action 10 pack (now out of print)

Before reading the excellent one two punch books GODS IN POLYESTER and GODS IN SPANDEX I had never heard of Leo Fong. I had maybe seen his name here and there, but never knew who he was. But after reading his recollections of making kung fu styled action films with pennies on the dollar I fond myself really fond of the guy and had to find some of his films. Then after checking out the movie movie WILD RIDERS in one of the BCI DRIVE IN CULT CLASSICS packs there was a trailer for LOW BLOW and I was completely sold. My girlfriend and I HAD to see this movie! We become more than a little bit obsessed with seeing our first Leo Fong movie. I almost didn't get to as the MAXIMUM ACTION set that I found on Ebay never came and after a little research I found that it was out of print. I sent some emails to the company I ordered it from explaining that I NEEDED my Leo Fong fix! That I would not be a complete cult film fan until I got Leo Fong into my life! And they came through, in some dusty corner of the DVD warehouse, hiding under a million copies of GIRLS GONE WILD THE CATHOLIC YEARS was one last copy of MAXIMUM ACTION with not one but TWO Leo Fong movies in the set. Joy was about to set in my peoples!!!

We were not disappointed at all. Within five minutes of the opening of LOW BLOW it had lived up to the what we had expected. The movie hits the ground running, not unlike the vastly inferior LETHAL WEAPON 2 with the action already in progress. A thugs are robbing a coffee shop, roughing up the patrons and generally being loud pricks. The next building over is the office of tough guy Private Investigator Joe Wong (played by our hero Leo Fong) who is aggravated by the noise and ruckus. He throws on his members only jacket and tells his pretty and perky secretary "I'm gonna go see what all the noise is about!" Within two minutes those trouble makers are eating the floor with much foot being put to ass, and Mr. Wong has barely broke a sweat at all. But low and behold some nasty bastards are taking some old ladies purse outside, so they are gonna have to be taught a lesson too! But it is all in a day's work for Mr. Wong. Ass kicking is a way of life! He also has a comic relief car that only he can start by popping the hood and whacking it with a tire iron.Leo Fong's screen presence is a strange one at best, with his pinched up face that consistently looks like someone in the room has just farted, and stiff walk like he may flip out at any second. He's wound tighter than the rubber bands holding the roll of twenty's that was the budget of this flick. His line delivery, all ten of them, is fast, and to the point. Like lines are just a waste of time to get to some ass kicking. He might very well hop out of the screen and punch you at any moment.

The plot finally kicks in when a blond California bimbo is being indoctrinated into some Johnstown styled cult run by a blind Cameron Mitchell and his African Princess named Karma (played by respected black actress Akosua Busia, who actually gives a great performance here). It is never really explained what the cult is actually doing, but it is all about love, enlightenment, and digging in the fields all damn day long. At one point it is revealed they are planting, wait for it, asparagus! Evil bastards!!! Seems the bimbo is the daughter of a rich industrialist played by Troy Donahue and he wants his little girl back. After witnessing Mr. Wong whopping the ass of some Latino's who were trying to steal his hub caps he decides that Wong is the man for the job!

But wait! After some shenanigans in the camp where Mr. Wong gets mildly roughed up (and Karma is clearly enjoying herself, because her nipples clearly get hard after every bit of torture she inflicts on Mr. Wong!) he decides he cannot do this alone. So he holds a tough man contest to find some teammates to help him infiltrate the compound and get the now drugged and wigged out babe to safety. So now it is THE DIRTY DOZEN street style!

Weird thing about this movie is that it is almost family friendly in some ways. The violence (outside of one nasty head squishing) is mostly hand to hand combat kung fu stuff. The gun play is very toned down. There is no bad language or sex to speak of at all. Watching it you can't help but to feel like Leo Fong was trying to appeal as wide a base as possible. And make no mistake, this is Leo Fong's show. He wrote, produced and starred in this bad boy. He raised the financing and made it happen.

There's tons of weird moments to recommend here, like several of Karma's freak outs, the bad guy who gets thrown into a pile of cute puppies who proceed to lick his unconscious body, Leo Fong's attempts at breakfast table comedy, the REALLY out of place macho bonding casual racism that will make you uncomfortable, the muscle bound blond pit fighter chick, that head squishing i previously mentioned, or the incredible compilation worthy action scene were Fong chases four bad guys into their car. He gets so pissed he rips the cables out of the engine, beat the CAR up, smashes all the windows out with a two by four and then buzz saws the top of the car itself off just to kick them all in the ass and send them on their way! Truly it is one of the most amazing scenes I have ever seen in an action film!

So before Seagal, before Van Damme, there was Leo Fong! And he did it for the among of money those guys spent on hair stylists.

Leo Fong, APPROVED!!!

Andy Copp

Friday, June 12, 2009

First you try to fuck it, then you try to Eat it

Interscope Records

Marilyn Manson returns with an album that is as personal as it is experimental, landing a disc that is his most satisfying since the eclectic (and much shit upon) MECHANICAL ANIMALS.

After the huge disappointment of EAT ME DRINK ME, this comes as a relief that he still has what it takes to deliver a good record. This time he wisely has reunited with former band mates Twiggy Ramirez and Ginger Fish who had added a vitality that was clearly missing on the last go round. But also extremely smart was using Chris Vrenna and Sean Beavin (both who have contributed mightily to NIN in the past) to work heavily on this record. The results are an album that stretches Manson's creative muscles in ways he has clearly not tried before, incorporating blues, some carnival sounds, torch songs, many heavily layered sounds and even a 80's styled heavy metal balled or two. Scary thing is that all of it works, just when the disc threatens to dip into cheddar cheese territory of self parody Manson reels it back in, let us understand that He understands just where he stands in the whirl of material and sees a certain amount of humor in some of it. Songs like "Arma-God Damn-Mother Fucking-Geddon" seem like they are trying so hard to be anti-conformist offensive until you realize that it is indeed a pot shot at the actual selling of that rebellion itself, then the humor shines through, even if it it rather black hearted. Manson's normal targets such as the positions of Authority, terrible parenting and the ass backward media all make the expected appearances such as the blistering "We're From America" with lyrics like "We don't kill our unborn, we need them to grow up and fight our wars".

But the album is at its best when it gets down and almost confessional. The last disc EAT ME DRINK ME, tried so hard to feel like a rock show to impress Manson's new 19 year old girlfriend that it seemed embarrassing at times. But occasionally dipped over into some semi personal territory. This time the whole disc feels like a full blown self examination of who he is and why he ended up at this place he is in life. Much of it clearly aimed at former wife Dita Von Teese (and perhaps Evan Rachel Wood, who I know next to nothing about, so it is hard for me to comment about that). Take for example the lyrics to the playful sounding "Wow" (pronounced "Woah" in the song):

I was happy for a while
And I stopped being scared
And ashamed to say what's on my mind
But you though I changed after a while
And said "you better treat me different or else"
"Or Else" seems like a stupid fucking thing to say to someone like me

Or from the mysteriously titled "15" that closes the album:

I can get a try now
I'm not really dead
But I really needed someone to save me
Leaving me alone to die
Is worse than having guts to kill me

The album closes with the refrain:

This time I won't hesitate
To kill to protect what I believe in

Not letting you win
Won't satisfy me
I'll teach you about the loss

If you look at Marilyn Manson's most interesting album's they have been influenced by the women in his life at least indirectly. MECHANICAL ANIMALS was from the era, and she seems to be in some of that material. His break up with her influenced certain songs Rose MagowenHOLY WOOD (though to be fair that album is largely made up of his negative experience dealing with being blamed for the Columbine massacre). Then THE GOLDEN AGE OF GROTESQUE is both heavily influenced by the fetish scene and glamor from new girl Dita Von Teese as well as some residual anger from the former break up sneaking its way into songs like "Slutgarden".

So for him to open himself up so raw, honest and at times vulgarly so, is an engaging experience this time out the gate. It is easy to stand outside the world of a celebrity and shake your finger and make judgment calls. But to see those judgments from the artist and to see them made into art is compelling. It can be a train wreck, but this time the artist strikes gold with it.

Here's the URL for the new video. (Embedding disable by request of the Record Company)

Andy Copp