Tag Archives: Robot

366 UNDERGROUND: DEEP ASTRONOMY AND THE ROMANTIC SCIENCES (2022)

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Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences can be watched for free courtesy of the Red Planet Planning Commission.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rudy DeJesus, Michi Muzyka, the voice of Meredith Adelaide, Cory McAbee

PLOT: Rudy sits down with a quiet woman drinking, who shares with him the history of the bar they’re in, and its relation to the “romantic sciences.”

COMMENTS: “Techno-Mysticism”. No, it’s not a musical genre where Industrial meets New Age; nor is it a term used at any time during the Deep Astronomy experience. This is a designation of my own making, which I put forward because it is accurate, succinct, and there’s no one to stop me. In this film, Cory McAbee has assembled some few dozen snippets of his live performances of… well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Boy, Rudy, meets girl, Grace, at a trendy bar, flawlessly executing that immortal opening line, “Hey, my buddies and I have a bet. Are you a robot?” Turns out she is, and she claims to know everything about him. Rudy and Grace proceed to have a conversation about reality, particularly the intersection of physical reality and artificial reality. This primarily takes the form of her discussing Cory McAbee: his origins, his professional trajectory, and his Techno-Mystical viewpoints.

From all examples on display (and there are many, culled from various performances over the years), McAbee is an awkwardly charming fellow, with novel views on humanity and existence. Taking his talks at face value—the performances hover between symposia and stand-up—he believes, among other things, in trans-dimensional sliding, eternal existence, and that his observations on transformation are best conveyed through song.  Humans are composed of the light they absorb, and are doomed to pass through this existence to become light spreading eternally. We are, he opines, creatures living in an increasingly artificial social and mental construct—and the only way is forward. He is also the inventor of “the Norman”, a the-last-person-Polka-ing-wins kind of dance floor body fight. Techno-Mysticism is all these things: our machines and constructs, and our greater relationship with the cosmos. And a heapful of silliness making the whole exercise enjoyable.

Grounding the movie audience, and in delightful contrast to McAbee’s nerdful enthusiasm, is Rudy DeJesus’ performance as the man in the bar talking to the robot in the bar. Rudy’s charm is easy-going, and always feels genuine; Grace, the robot (?), has her own charm (“Thank you for sitting with me, I like you”), and provides a third, artificially artificial perspective on the proceedings (these proceedings being both her conversation with Rudy, but also, to the best of my understanding, the current social-technological proceedings of the species). Deep Astronomy is blunderbuss cinema, divotting the audience with many styles—mumblecore romantic comedy, T.E.D. talk, stand-up, and advertisements—but as if one had attached a laser sight to the projectilator in question. McAbee has themes he explores. Over and over. And Deep Astronomy and The Romantic Sciences is an entertaining and thought-provoking means for him to distill his manifold musings.

El Rob Hubbard and Gregory J. Smalley interview Cory McAbee about Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences (among other topics)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I have no idea what to make of this film… [MaAbee]’s been making weird and innovative films and music videos for years now, not to mention several albums of equally strange songs, and a busy schedule of live performances… But even those who’ve followed his sui generis career will not have expected anything this far removed from everything else he has ever done.” — Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ANALOG (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Ebbëto

FEATURING: Fábio Norat, Giovanna Velasco

PLOT: An android tasked with guarding a lone man in hibernation on a deep-space journey takes radical steps to protect his charge, including creating a female companion and acting to protect the pair from sin.

Still from Analog (2012)

COMMENTS: Surely we’ve learned by now that leaving an artificial intelligence in charge of the future of all life on a lengthy space voyage is a risky proposition. The supergenius mainframe might become homicidal. A highly damaged android might implant the embryos of a malevolent race of unstoppable killers. An autopilot might plot to prevent humanity from returning to its ancestral home. There’s a good argument that those pesky AIs can’t be trusted with our safety at all, and Analog provides us with a new reason to be skeptical: the dang thing might try to become God.

Filmmaker Ebbëto (in addition to directing, he also takes credits for screenplay, cinematography, editing, and 2D animation) makes his intentions clear in his own description of the film: “Strange events with biblical analogies begin to occur, disturbing the machine and making it rethink its priorities.” The obviousness is not overstated. Sensing his charge’s loneliness, The Machine extracts a rib for the purposes of crafting a companion creature. Later, he will probe the minds of the pair and discover desires that he cannot sanction, as though they had new knowledge of themselves. What Analog brings to the table is an appalling realism: the cutting, bleeding, and growing attendant with these procedures are made explicit. So, too, is the humans’ punishment for their sinful thoughts. This is Adam and Eve retold as horror.

Analog is a marvelous example of the remarkable potential of DIY filmmaking. Ebbëto creates a number of immersive settings, including the cramped, industrial spaceship. It’s not always completely realistic – the green-screen technology sometimes gives off that DVD-ROM cut-scene vibe – but it’s thoroughly otherworldly and cleverly overcomes its limitations. There’s a lot of mileage to be gotten out of smart cables, rotating tubes, and robot repair.

But what little story there is amounts to a kind of grotesque punchline. The biblical beats hint at critique or satire but are really just the excuse for an outline, and once you’ve admired the bang-for-your-buck ethos, there’s not much more to it. Analog works best as a proof-of-concept for Ebbeto’s filmmaking skills; that’s the more interesting genesis story going on here.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Analog definitely isn’t going to be for everyone. It is slow and obtuse, and while I tend to dig that kind of deliberate, cautious tempo, I’ll admit, the whole thing does feel too long… Analog is still an interesting watch. There is a creepy ambience, and while that blanched out visual style can overwhelm your eyes from time to time, the look is consistent and unique.” – Brent McKnight, Giant Freakin Robot 

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

CAPSULE: ROBOT CARNIVAL (1987)

Robotto kânibaru

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DIRECTED BY: , Atsuko Fukushima, Kôji Morimoto, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Manabu Ôhashi, Hidetoshi Ômori, Yasuomi Umetsu, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Takashi Nakamura

FEATURING: N/A

PLOT: Robot-themed animated shorts are assembled under the banner of a traveling “Robot Carnival.”

COMMENTS:

What do you call a robot made out of all kinds of things?

A Smörgåsborg!

It’s a dark day when the “Robot Carnival” comes to town. In a windswept desert, a young boy finds the torn remains of a poster. Who can say what the year is? All that is on display is a little village peopled by survivors: survivors who immediately suss the danger of the coming attraction. They flee to their homes, nail jagged bits of wood across doors and windows, and wait out the menace. The menace is in the form a gargantuan machine chuffing its way to the center of town; chuffing and crushing, leveling half the homes before the true fireworks begin. Yes, the Robot Carnival is here: featuring a full band, with rocket trombones; bomb-dropping ballerina-droids; and a fireworks display that will leave you flattened.

This dark whimsicality is Robot Carnival‘s opening salvo. Among the collection’s attractions is the nebulous “Clouds” segment (dir. Manabu Ôhashi), the most non-traditional of the spectacles. A series of old-photograph sections come to life, as a robot boy travels ever leftwards with meditative, and possibly mythic, imagery playing in the background. “Presence” (dir. Yasuomi Umetsu) is the longest of the bunch, and starts off with a gang of hooligans severing the head of a passing toff to use as a football; rest assured, the decapitated automaton minces no words about his displeasure at being kicked around by these young jackanapes. The tone shifts to tell the story of a steampunk toy maker who crafts a robotic companion, and who then makes an immediately regrettable decision which haunts him the rest of his days.

The crème-de-la-crème (or whatever a robot-preferred dessert substance may be) is “Nightmare” (dir. Takashi Nakamura), a beautifully eerie fantasia with a cartoonishly comic undercurrent. A strange ‘bot astride a hovering mono-cycle travels the night, zapping power transformers, vehicles—anything electrical—to summon therefrom smiling prowlers. (The sight of dozens of jaggedly lithe metal gremlins springing from an earth-mover will happily haunt my memory for years to come.) This eldritch summoner, whose manner and appearance suggest the fabled Pied Piper, is interrupted by a drunk, who espies the massing mechanical monsters and tries to hie to safety on his scooter—only to zip headlong into the massive puppet-master-bot for a sequence worthy of “Merry Melodies.”

As with any mixture, the quality varies from section to section. However, considering these anime shorts were produced by the director/animator team behind Akira, there is much comfort—and much robot—to be taken in the fact that they are one talented team among many involved in this cavalcade of clankinous and creepy contraptions . Across the seven short films, flanked by Katsuhiro Ôtomo and Atsuko Fukushima’s paired intro and outro, Robot Carnival clatters along at an occasionally uneven, but never dull, shambling of hisses, humor, gears, and grandeur.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If you’re a core anime fan, these shorts may be a little too alien and unfamiliar, but if you have a soft spot for creative animation then there’s plenty to love here… The animation is exemplary, the art styles wildly original and the stories support the madness.” -Niels Matthijs, Onderhond

CAPSULE: HEARTBEEPS (1981)

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DIRECTED BY: Allan Arkush

FEATURING: Bernadette Peters, Andy Kaufman, Randy Quaid, Kenneth McMillan, and voices of Jack Carter and Ron Gans

PLOT: Two humanoid robots from the “GM” factory get distracted by the view of the outdoors seen from their storage repair bay, and head out to explore the woods.

COMMENTS: There is an insurmountable, glaring problem with the movie Heartbeeps, in the form of an animal designation by “Val” (Andy Kaufman). Ostensibly a stocks/bonds/accountant-bot, he misidentifies a forest predator that any stocks/bonds/account-bot (human or otherwise) would know: a bear. There is a bear, in a bear cave. Stocks/bonds/accountant-bots would know what a bear is: they would be programmed with the knowledge of a “Bear Market,” and as such have an awareness of the underlying animal. But, no: Val identifies the bear as a “camel.”

Were it not for this glaring flaw in the scriptwriting, Heartbeeps would… still be utterly terrible! My word, I cannot express how drawn-out this movie felt at only seventy-eight damn minutes. I have always been suspicious of Bernadette Peters (who played “Aqua”, the lady-bot), so now if anyone waxes eloquent about her in my presence, I’ll finally have some tangible ammo. I’d be hard on Andy Kaufman, too, but considering much of his shtick was pushing the audience to hate him, I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Let me see, let me see…something worthwhile in this wreck of robot-isms, family creation/bonding, junkyard nerds, and a psychotic ED-209/Dalek hybrid law-enforcement “Crimebuster” tank-bot… Ah yes, almost something: every time the synth music cranked up for the Crimebuster robot, it almost sounded like it might segue into ELO’s version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” But it never quite did, and so I was left disappointed—much like I was during the rest of the movie.

All right, there was one actually worthwhile element: Randy Quaid was pretty good, despite being limited to the secondary pursuit-of-wandering-robot-family story line. So, maybe eight salvageable minutes. But being 10% bearable is too low a bar; or as Val might say, “camelable”.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Heartbeeps… is a three-minute television sketch stretched to last nearly 90 unbearable minutes and fitted out with enough futuristic hardware to stock a short trailer for a science-fiction film.” -Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “John,” who, perhaps facetiously, called it “strongly recommended.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

TRANSFORMERS (2007)

“What I look for in a script is something that challenges me, something that breaks new ground, something that allows me to flex my director muscle.”–

DIRECTED BY: Michael Bay

FEATURING: Shia LaBeouf, , ,

PLOT: Giant robots attack a military installation. Shia LaBeouf buys a muscle car, but it’s actually a giant robot in disguise. A team of good giant robots from outer space battle a team of bad giant robots from outer space for control of a Rubik’s Cube.

Still from Transformers (2007)
BACKGROUND:

  • The movie Transformers was so successful that it launched a toy franchise and a Saturday morning children’s show.
  • Against the studio’s wishes, director Michael Bay deleted thirty minutes of explosions from the final cut, then added an additional hour of character development. A yet-to-be-released director’s cut incorporates all the explosion footage that was shot, and runs for over four days.
  • Jon Voight was once a respected actor.
  • Shia LaBeouf is a pseudonym which roughly translates from the French as “Made-up name the beef.”
  • Within five months after receiving her paycheck for Transformers, Megan Fox declared bankruptcy. Reportedly, she spent all of the money on unlicensed Mexican plastic surgery, including $500,000 for an experimental procedure which would have installed an expression on her face.
  • Stephen “Schindler’s List” Spielberg executive produced, haters.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oh, how about just a freakin’ awesome muscle car transforming into a bad-ass killer robot, is all.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: One of the basic tenets of Surrealism is its insistence on juxtapositions and transformations of unlikely objects. As poet Pierre Reverdy said, “the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be — the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.” In Un Chien Andalou, we see breasts that turn into buttocks; is this any stranger or more poetic than souped-up yellow Camaros that turn into giant missile-shooting bipeds?


Original trailer for Transformers

COMMENTS: Although some snob critics disparage the work of Continue reading TRANSFORMERS (2007)