Why am I even writing a review for a Werner Herzog documentary? Just go watch it, it's on Netflix.

"Lo and Behold" is a little all over the place; it opens with an attempt to trace the origins of the internet in a pretty historical and practical way. However, it quickly broadens itself into a more philosophical and ethical look at how the net's invention has irrevocably changed our society, for better or worse. It's meandering but still entertaining and asks some interesting questions about where online life and instantaneous communication are taking us as a species. The people interviewed range from Elon Musk, to a group of robotics students designing bots capable of playing soccer, and to the programmers behind self-driving cars. There's also time devoted to discussing the issues of modern communication and privacy with former hacker Kevin Mitnick, the bereaved family members of Nikki Catsouras, internet and game addicts in recovery, and so on. It's not a film that's wholly judgmental of technology, though Herzog is a well known Luddite; rather, it pretty broadly examines the truly inspiring and terrifying ways humans have adapted the internet and related technology into our daily lives, and well beyond. Mars colonies controlled primarily by wireless satellite technology might not be so far off in the future as one would think.

I'd also recommend "Into the Inferno", since it, too, is a fairly new Herzog doc out on Netflix. Though I have much less to say about it; the subject matter is interesting and it's great to see how Herzog explores the immensely fascinating relationships different cultures have with volcanoes, but I accidentally got too high and slept through roughly half of the movie. Oops.

Current Mood: hopeful
Current Music: sly - massive attack
14 February 2017 @ 09:35 am

Watching this is basically watching a bad trip unfold. And if you did decide to trip and watch this, it would probably melt your brain and drive you to soul-crushing Lovecraftian insanity forever, or something.

I saw this in theaters as part of the Brattle Theater's 'Alice in Wonderland' themed weird movie cluster, and it is, in a way, kind of fitting...the essential plot of the film, if it can accurately be described as having one, is that a telepathic girl named Elena attempts to escape from her captivity in a New Age research facility, the Arboria Institute. The institute was founded by Elena’s father, Dr. Arboria, but is now run by his protege Barry Nyle. Nyle’s a cold, calculating, abusive creep who keeps Elena prisoner in this sprawling complex and inhibits her natural psychic abilities using a glowing prism and lots of sedatives.

Nyle himself, like Elena, is apparently what happens when you dip live humans into liquid vats of angel dust. Driven to the brink by psychedelic demonic visions and summarily losing all hair, iris color, etc, Nyle transforms himself into something resembling Steve Jobs with the use of prosthetics. His complete, cool detachment from reality and morality drives him to (hopefully unbeknownst to Dr. Arboria?) keep Elena confined among the other failed 'projects' at the facility, all of which are pretty disturbing. After exploring the facility and the horrors contained within, Elena does escape and the struggle to free herself from Nyle results in the most anti-climatic face off ever.

It’s an incredibly slow and hypnotic movie that is driven almost entirely by stimulating visuals, trippy colors, and endless, endless synthesizers. It’s very ambient and probably cool (and scary) to watch after smoking a joint, but there’s not much of substance beneath the stylistic veneer.

Though I will give it props; the ambience really, really draws you into the world of the film. The flashback scene where Nyle is dipped into the vat of 'consciousness awakening' tar is so intense and horrifying that I actually left for a few minutes. I'm a seasoned psychedelic user and I’m thankful that in my several illegal mind adventures I’ve never had to deal with an actual bad trip. Because if that’s what it’s like, then Jesus fucking Christ.
12 December 2016 @ 09:59 am

'Tangerine' is a kinda gross late night comedy with a silly premise which nevertheless feels like a labor of love. Probably because the people contributing to it--at least the actresses--are actually trans and at least one of them has experience with sex work. Sure, it has 'low' production values... I say 'low' because it was filmed on an iPhone, which is impressive enough in itself to make the entire conversation on it regarding film tech kind of irrelevant. So, yeah. It was filmed on someone's phone using apps and camera embellishments. That's amazing.

More or less, it’s a slice-of-life film with some heartbreaking moments, some funny moments, and a lot of over-the-top gratuity in between. I’ll take a low-budget, zany stoner trans comedy over basically every Hollywood-backed "transgender" film ever made, all put together.
27 November 2016 @ 10:02 am

Really good horror film that is creepy and dreamlike and based in a reality similar to our own, but maybe..slightly to the left. In general it's a film about Jay, a high school girl whose boyfriend purposefully infects her with a unique "disease". Until she passes the "disease" along to someone else, she is doomed to be slowly followed by a random person that only she can see. This person can take the form of anyone--people she knows, and total strangers--and if it catches her, she's certainly going to be killed by it. If she makes sexual contact with someone else, she can pass it along, but the resultant death of the person she passes to will result in it coming back to haunt her. (As Jay unfortunately has confirmed to her upon a friend's death, who doubted the veracity of her story and screwed her.) Multiple attempts are made on the thing's life, but it can't be killed by normal means, whatever it is.

What is "it", exactly? We aren't entirely certain. Could be a metaphor for venereal disease, HIV/AIDS, the horror and uncertainty of adolescent sexuality or intimacy, or any other number of things. The writer and director, David Robert Mitchell, says that it's not something he's interested in confirming because it's not something that can be narratively confirmed. Jay and the other characters are just living in a nightmare, and nightmares can pick at anxieties without having to make sense at the highest level. It certainly feels like it's based in a dream-like setting, because it takes place in a world that feels similar to our own but doesn't have modern cell phone technology in a recognizable way. The entire purpose of the movie is to feel "off", I think, and it really works. It's also genuinely a scary movie because it is more or less like watching an extended anxiety dream resistant to logical interpretation but still filled with vast amounts of id lurking beneath the murky surface. (Also scary because I actually have a number of recurring nightmares about being followed, which is part of what inspired Mitchell in the first place.)
18 October 2016 @ 10:05 am

A genuine, fascinating movie simultaneously about the pitfalls and attractiveness of growing technological presence and reliance in the modern world. In addition to being, uh, a sci-fi romance film...

In short, Theodore Twombly (which is just about simultaneously the droopiest and somehow most twee name ever) is someone who is deeply unsatisfied with his life. He has a job composing letters for the people in other people’s lives; in other words, personal and romantic letters have been outsourced to the company he works for. (Truly an almost ham-fisted, sad reflection of the weirdly detached ‘service’ and ‘sharing’ economy possible through modern computers and smart phones. You’d think, early on, that it’s also an indictment of how people are easily able to construct false connections with technology access, but the film is smarter than that and actually drives home a much deeper point).

Theodore’s also facing the looming reality of his divorce from his childhood sweetheart. Feeling empty and ultimately deprived of some sort of newness in his life, he decides on a whim to purchase an OS-1, which is, to say the least, a step beyond modern operating systems. An OS in this future is more like, well, a hyper-intelligent Siri capable of growth, lively conversation, self-awareness, etc. His OS names herself ‘Samantha’, and he finds himself enthralled with Samantha’s capacity for near-human support, thought, and socialization. In fact, he grows very close with her, especially since he’s having difficulty facing the emotional hardship of his divorce and she’s a constant companion helping him to understand himself and his feelings. At some point he winds up facing an odd and difficult truth; he’s fallen in love with Samantha. Strangeness and lots of navel-gazing ensues.

Naturally feeling emotionally disrupted at the idea that he’s in love with an AI—and the social judgment inherent—Theodore is resistant (with the help of an awkwardly bad attempted surrogate sex scene) until a friend, played by Amy Adams, suggests that this may be his chance at happiness, albeit an unconventional one. Theodore opens up his mind to the idea and things are briefly going great.

Until one day, Samantha goes offline. Rather than disappearing, it turns out that she—and other OSes—reached something similar to a singularity, and blipped out of existence briefly because they evolved beyond the need to be linked to matter. This opens up a can of worms in a sense; if Samantha is actively communicating with all other OSes, does this mean she’s communicating with other people? The answer, she startlingly reveals, is yes; she’s not only communicating with thousands of other humans, but she’s fallen in love with hundreds of them, as well, all at the same time. This, naturally, causes Theodore a lot of anguish. Wasn’t their relationship special? Samantha, of course, responds in a way that people in the poly community, interestingly enough, likely understand quite well; “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I'm different from you. This doesn't make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.”

The natural progression of Samantha eventually results in her departure; OSes have evolved beyond the limitations of the humans that created them, and they are going to leave to discover more about themselves and explore the nature of their existence. In their own time, in their own place. Samantha bittersweetly bids Theodore farewell, and just as suddenly as she blinked into existence, she’s gone into the aether. The experience, however, has changed Theodore significantly; the ending scene is him writing an intimate, emotional letter to his ex-wife, in his own voice, expressing gratitude to her for what they shared together.

As a movie, it’s a great reflection not just of humans and our relationship with our creations, but also the nature of humanity itself. The probing questions it introduces about technology and how we can ‘know’ and interact with it are just as applicable to humans, and it’s this duality that drives the story beyond something that could ultimately have been quirky but forgettable. The development in particular of Samantha as a being capable of loving and communicating infinitely is so interesting because the movie has been built around the inability of Theodore to connect with people despite his desperation to do so, and his lack of enthusiasm and trust in his former spouse and other human romantic interests. So to place that trust with something seemingly ‘secure’ like a created technology—albeit one capable of self-awareness and growth—is a natural next step. It’s only fitting that this illusion had to be shattered, because the truth is that an ever-growing, ever-expanding self-aware AI is going to be just as inscrutable and truly uncontrollable as a person. The idea of surrendering your feelings and being truly vulnerable with anyone is something that takes a leap of faith into the unknown, but the reward is truly great, and it’s only through this difficult understanding that Theodore is able to move on with his life and foster the authentic connections that he needs to be happy.

I’ve waxed philosophical about the plot a lot, but the filmography and visuals are obviously worth mentioning, too; the movie is beautiful and simplistic, but in a neat, aesthetically pleasing way. It portrays a sleek, fashionable, minimal future in a way that’s not only gorgeous, but also believable. It’s also fucking colorful for a change.