Tag Archives: Computer


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DIRECTED BY: Lynn Hershman Leeson

FEATURING: Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Davies, , Karen Black

PLOT: Dr. Rosetta Stone creates three “self-replicating automatons” in her image, who generally stay hidden away in her apartment except when one goes out to harvest the Y-chromosomes they require to survive; her creations’ growing dissatisfaction with their confinement threaten this arrangement.

Still from Teknolust (2002)

COMMENTS: Years before Zoom culture, Teknolust latched onto the power of screens to bring communication to those trapped in their rooms. Rosetta’s isolated, phosphor color-coded creations – unsurprisingly named Ruby, Marinne, and Olive – speak to her through large flatscreens mounted in each of their matching bedrooms, and she peers back down at them and their silly antics through her own screen. The catch is that, rather than a phone or a tablet, Rosetta’s viewscreen is the disguised window panel of a  microwave oven. It’s not exactly Star Trek, but then Teknolust is only interested in enough science fiction to get things going. After that, it’s devil-may-care.

Consider that title, for example, which suggests a neon-accented erotic thriller on early-90s Cinemax. Teknolust is a much lighter, frothier confection. Once we get past the opening minutes, in which one of the automatons uses her sexual wiles in a steamy modern-decor bathroom to extract valuable “nourishment” from an unsuspecting male, the movie settles down into something closer to a romantic comedy. In fact, it’s remarkably evocative of 1987’s Making Mr. Right, which also features an asocial scientist who constructs an empathic android in his own image.

Even if we focus on the “lust” part, the strongest emotions held by Rosetta’s three creations (it is never clear if they are actual robots, clones, or computer-generated beings) are not their sex drives, but their compulsion to see the world beyond their window. It’s surprising that femme fatale Ruby jettisons all of her powers of seduction (which she gleaned from watching three public domain films) for Davies’ hapless copyboy, but given her lack of a life otherwise, it’s only logical that she latches on to his dweeby innocence. (His mother’s surprise that this angular, statuesque vision would take up with her scruffy, underachieving son is worth a chuckle.)

The roles of Rosetta and her creations point to Teknolust‘s gravest sin: wasting the bottomless reservoir of weirdness that is Tilda Swinton. Casting her to play four separate roles – three of which are constantly interacting – seems like a masterstroke, but the four women are given precious little opportunity to assert themselves beyond surface-level characteristics. Rosetta is your classic flustered nerdgirl, right down to the terrible perm and oversized glasses. Marinne is a petulant schoolgirl, Olive is eager to please, and Ruby is mainly the one who gets to go outside. Swinton can’t figure out anything else to do with them, which suggests these underdeveloped parts might have worked better with someone a little closer to the comedy genre they seem to be stereotyping, like Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon.

A number of oddball characters populate Teknolust, who all turn out to be little more than their affectations. The script develops bit parts, like the doctor who speaks exclusively in an ASMR whisper, just as much as prominent figures like Karen Black’s cellar-voiced private detective Dirty Dick. There are interesting depths to be plumbed in such characters, but we never delve deeper than their surface oddness. They probably wouldn’t hold Leeson’s interest anyway, as she repeatedly demonstrates by crosscutting between storylines with almost no regard for timing or narrative flow. She’s always got a new thing she wants to show off – little hints in the story about an entire family being wiped out by a virus, or the implications of a disease that manifests a barcode on the victim’s forehead – and she’s in an awful hurry to get you there.

Like a sugar cube, Teknolust is pleasantly sweet in the moment and gone in a flash. There are some intriguing ideas at work here, but don’t get too attached to them. It’s got just enough in it to hold the attention of someone staring at the video screen on their microwave, waiting for the tea to steep.


“This sweetly surreal futuristic comedy definitely marches to the beat of its own bizarre rhythm!” – Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

(This movie was nominated for review by Motyka. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


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DIRECTED BY: Steve Barron

FEATURING: Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, Bud Cort

PLOT: A socially inept architect buys a newfangled home computer to help him in his work, but an accident bestows sentience upon the machine and inadvertently helps spark a romance with the cellist who lives upstairs; tensions flare when the computer’s newfound emotions blossom into jealousy.

Still from Electric Dreams (1984)

COMMENTS: Steve Barron has multiple feature film credits, including the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. He has also directed several TV miniseries and episodes. But who are we kidding? If you really want to talk about the man’s directorial c.v., then you need to recognize that Steve Barron is an MTV god. From the dawn of the genre, some of the most memorable, enduring music videos ever made find Steve Barron in the director’s chair. That’s where Barron’s career truly excelled. So it’s only appropriate that when he was hired to helm his first feature film, the result was akin to an extended music video.

Like any decent video, Electric Dreams lives and dies by its montages, and fortunately it has many of them. Whenever nebbishy Miles (Lenny von Dohlen in full proto-David Schwimmer mode) wants to do something, it’s likely going to be accomplished in a montage: wiring his apartment to be controlled by his mainframe Alexa ancestor;  struggling to design an earthquake-proof brick;  romping around Alcatraz with his new girlfriend. The film’s most successful sequence is a literal music video, a duet between cellist Madeline and Miles’ computer that showcases the work of composer/electronica pioneer . As editor Peter Honess splices together clips from cinematographer Alex Thomson’s swooping camera to the beat of a propulsive pop tune, the sequences are genuinely energizing, only to be cooled off by the return to the Cyrano-lite plot. It’s not that the movie lacks for dialogue scenes or traditional means of delivering the story. They’re just not where Electric Dreams shines. Those little 3-minute morsels of video ecstasy give the film its juice.

The movie knows it, too, because they let a lot of the story ideas fall by the wayside. Early on, Miles’ technophobia seems like it might be a justifiable fear of a too-powerful computerized singularity with omnipresent cameras and techie doodads, but that concern is quickly abandoned. Miles appears to have a rival for Madeline’s affections, a classic 80s villainous blonde hunk in the person of Maxwell Caulfield, but that, too, never amounts to much. It sometimes feels like nothing that can’t be delivered via montage is worth following. Indeed, the film falters when it has to engage in dialogue, such as Madeline’s determined ignorance toward Miles’ behavior, or the arguments between Miles and his increasingly whiny computer Edgar (although God help me, I chuckled everytime Edgar called him by his typo-induced moniker “Moles”). Electric Dreams is a high-concept movie that doesn’t want to go any further than its concept.

That said, there’s an extraordinary level of foresight at play. Our first look at Miles’ world is one where technology is pervasive and everyone has outsourced their attention to electronics; this is 1984, but the fears of then could easily be the complaints of today. And the breadth of abilities that the computers of 1984 can accomplish are startlingly forward-looking, from the internet of things to CAD to catfishing. A scene where Edgar vengefully destroys Miles’ credit must have seemed like the stuff of fantasy 40 years ago, and yet here we are, in thrall to and afraid of our machines. A lot of science fiction movies have tried really hard to see the future in ways the Electric Dreams pulls off almost as an afterthought.

It’s a genuine shame that Electric Dreams doesn’t have a more prominent place in the conversation when it comes to identifying the most 80s movie ever made. Whatever qualities the film you think deserves the title holds, I can assure you that Electric Dreams has it in ample supply. The fashion and hairstyles, the steady use of jingle-laden advertisements, a young and effervescent Virginia Madsen. And most of all, that synth-fueled song score featuring luminaries of the day like Culture Club, Jeff Lynne, Heaven 17, and a real earworm of a theme song sung by Human League’s Phil Oakey. All that adds up to a movie that has aged into its weirdness over time, reading as stranger in retrospect thanks in part to its unexpected precognitive abilities and Mr. Barron’s skill with a montage. So it’s not a great movie. But it is, like, totally awesome.


“Perhaps it’s because the world resembles our own so much, that the fact that everything is just slightly wrong seems intensely magnified. Perhaps it’s because computers are no longer mystical, and the things that the movie tries to sell as ‘what the hell, who knows how these damn things work, anyway?’ do not seem plausible in any way. Perhaps it’s seeing people doing what we do, only they have ’80s clothes and ’80s hair. Whatever the hell is doing it, it means that Electric Dreams is like reading a transcript of an opium dream – you can see real life underpinning it, but the effect is otherworldly and uncanny, and it’s the most amazing damn thing.

Which is exactly why I feel like I’d have ignored if not hated this movie when it was new: all of the things that seem dazzlingly weird about it now were just the world outside in 1984.” – Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy

(This movie was nominated for review by Brad. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


DIRECTED BY: Andrew Bujalski

FEATURING: Patrick Reister, Robin Schwartz, Myles Paige, Gerald Peary

PLOT: In the early 1980’s, computer programmers gather in a hotel to compete in a computer chess tournament.

Still from Computer Chess (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Computer Chess has a few bizarre moments and boasts oddly creative editing techniques that make it worth mentioning on this site.  However, the weirdness is too mild to be seriously considered for the List.

COMMENTS: Witness the birth of the cyborg, the collision of man and machine. The 1980’s were the decade that saw the explosion of the tech industry. With the acceleration of hardware design and subsequent rapid development of more efficient calculations by programmers, the initial platform of humble computers created during this time period blossomed exponentially within a very short time frame. The movie Computer Chess, which takes place in this era, is as close an analysis as we are going to get about the rise of modern tech-culture and the consequences that we may face (or already face) because of it. Computer Chess presents its take with exuberant humor and smudges of dark trippiness.  In other words, welcome to geek heaven!

The movie’s minimal plot concerns a group of early techies competing in a chess tournament for a cash prize, only the moves are determined by computer programs and not the players themselves. Besides the tournament action, scenes are filled with philosophical conversations about programming, the future of computers, and human nature. The artful editing (cracks and glitches), set design (Lynchian hallways full of cats), and the physical appearance of the participants are some of the movie’s strengths in the weird department, offering a balanced tone of subtle eeriness and quirky humor. The on-screen font signifying the different stages of the event gives the picture a retro-technological vibe, while the programmers wear thick-rimmed glasses and consume drinks like Scotch and red wine.

Peter (Patrick Reister), the central protagonist, acts as a sort of human calculator, staying up for days at a time trying to debug the flaws in his computer program, while his mentor, a seemingly stable family man who has brought his wife and kid along to the tournament, guides him through the fiasco while reminding him not to let his own personal ideas interfere with the process of fixing the problems. Peter remains completely focused, obsessing to the point where each consecutive scene makes him appear less human. The sole female participant in the tournament shows him considerably more attention than she does the others, and this seems to have no effect on him at all; his face is expressionless and contemplative at all times. Sharing the same space as the tournament competitors is a spiritual marriage counseling group led by a soulful and charismatic African man. The group represents the purely humanist side of the scenario, as the aging and uncomfortably erotic couples avoid scientific notions of progress, standing opposite the nerdy and repressed machine fetishists competing for mathematical dominance. One scene shows the couples fondling warm loaves of bread while they moan together in ecstasy: a starkly humanistic counterpoint to the exacting and calculated behavior of the chess competitors. A sense of unity is developed between these two paradigms through a metaphor likening the movements of people to the movements of pieces on a chess board, signifying the absurdity of the vast and chaotic mathematical outcomes within the two.

From an early point in the movie, there is a central message given about the definition of human consciousness and how it translates to the creation of artificial intelligence, and it’s precisely during the resulting conversational junctions between characters when vague but powerful feelings of unease begin to surface. This hyper-modern anxiety is fully embodied by Peter, who is competing in the tournament but having trouble getting his computer to work properly. The black and white picture and utterly bizarre snippets of alien-synthesizer can sometimes recall other computer/science films such as ’s Pi, but instead of giving us a manic character study about obsession we are given a series of quiet, somewhat dark suggestions that these calculating machines we depend on for all sorts of human needs are actually entities. Luckily, the heaviness of these concepts is delightfully balanced with oddball humor and ample substance abuse. The movie even dips into meta-fiction a few times, making references to the conceptual dynamics between digital and analog technologies (the guy in charge of filming the tournament tells the cameraman not to point it at the sun), and it is effective because we already know where the technology is headed—to a place where boundaries between people and machines appear to grow thinner by the second. Today, one doesn’t have to be geeky to have a deep relationship with a computer, or a camera for that matter.

A single scene is shown in color, in which the compellingly off-putting (albeit humorous) moocher/programmer Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige) searches his mother’s home for money that he owes some of the other programmers. The picture abruptly changes back to black and white, triggered by the vocals of Pat Henderson (Gerald Peary), who recites the phrase, “lost in a loop.” The theme of looping, previously mentioned in a stoned conversation between the team members in a hotel room, could be seen as a convergence of human cognition and mechanical calculation. Key philosophical questions are raised about the nature of the human brain and its relationship to computer technology—thinking machines. The relevance of these kinds of philosophical inquiries is powerful in an age where technology has come to define what a person is, whether it’s through the use of cell phone apps or social networking profiles.

The ending is pleasantly funny and wickedly surprising with an insane punchline that has miles of implications, both about the main character and about the future of humanity. It’s almost creepy in its quietly dry delivery, but is outrageous enough to remind the viewer not to take everything they just saw too seriously.


“Dryly humorous and wonderfully weird, this is a preternaturally mundane evocation of early 80s nerdery and an almost scary peek at the history of AI.”–MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher (contemporaneous)