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The Machine (2013)


“They rise, we fall”

Directed by Caradog W. James
Starring Toby Stephens and Caity Lodz

Vincent McCarthy (Stephens) recruits Ava (Lodz) to help him work on an AI project. Their goal is to create implants to help people with brain damage live a full life, and in particular to reverse his daughter’s Rett syndrome, but the MoD who are funding the experiments want an AI to drive an infiltration android. When Ava is filed as a security risk and killed by alleged Chinese agents, Vincent creates the Machine in her image. He tries to teach Machine to be a moral agent, but as a confrontation between Vincent and project director Thomson (Dennis Lawson) becomes inevitable, it is by no means clear which side the Machine will be on. Continue reading The Machine (2013)

Cyborg 2 (1993)


“Future Beware: The Soul is in the Software”

Directed by Michael Schroeder
Starring Elias Koteas, Angelina Jolie, Jack Palance and Billy Drago

In the future, cyborgs have replaced humans in all jobs (except for all the ones we see anyone doing in the film) and two corporations struggle for dominance of the cyborg market. Casella ‘Cash’ Reese (Jolie) is created and trained to be the perfect corporate infiltrator, with the goal of inserting her into Kobayashi Electronics and destroying their entire board with an undetectable explosive, called Glass Shadow, loaded into her circulatory system.

80% of this plot setup will never be relevant in any way, as with the aid of the mysterious Mercy (Palance) and her human combat instructor Colt (Koteas), Cash escapes. Hunted by fellow cyborg Chen (Karen Shepherd) and cyborg-hunter Daniel Bench (Drago), she must find a way to get rid of the Glass Shadow then make her way to the Cyborg Free Zone in Mombasa.

There’s a whole Romeo and Juliet thing with Colt and Cash, but… meh.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, it’s a super-cheap, video-shot dystopian action movie from the early 90s, so the picture quality is for shit and the cyborg PoV shots are hilarious. I’m pretty sure they’re running DOS.

Jolie – in her first starring role – is… okay, but nothing to write home about, and with Koteas being pretty bland the lack of chemistry is pretty crippling for a Romeo and Juliet flick. Plus, he’s about thirty and she’s seventeen. It’s hard to put that out of your mind in the sex scene.

Oh, and yes, there’s another sex scene which even the movie admits is gratuitous. The Glass Shadow demonstration takes the form of a female cyborg who detonates at climax, and the lead creepy scientist admits this is because ‘it seemed the most entertaining way’.

What’s right with it?

Jack Palance is… pretty damned awesome in this one. Sometimes he chews on the scenery, but here he’s nicely reserved. It’s quite surprising. Billy Drago is… Billy Drago; he’s a smiling psychopath, just like always.

In fairness, Cash is pretty badass; no faux action credentials here.

How bad is it really?

It’s mostly just dull, especially in the bits which have neither Jack Palance nor Billy Drago in. It’s also pretty nonsensical, and spends an awfully long time setting up a plot which has almost no relevance whatsoever.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Having spent most of the film as a disembodied mouth on a TV screen, Mercy shows up to lay some hurt on the Pinwheel Robotics goons hunting Cash. He steps out of the shadows, chuckles dryly at the heavily armed opposition, and growls:

“If you want to dine with the devil, you’re gonna need a long spoon.”

And somehow he makes it work.

What’s up with…?

  • The universal prevalence of cyborgs, when we don’t actually see that many of them?
  • Mercy’s cyborg beagle?
  • The palm reader? Cash wanders into her consulting parlour unbidden, she gives a slightly sinister reading, says she can offer Cash a job, and then Cash beats her and her assistant up and leaves. Why?
  • Danny Bench and his plastic surgery? There is apparently some major backstory there, but it’s not really explained that well, and certainly isn’t tied into the rest of the film. Neither does it have anything to do with Cyborg, despite the clips of Van Damme.


Production values – The effects are cheap, and only saved by the low resolution of the 90s video shooting. Film; it just ages better. 13
Dialogue and performances –  Jack Palance is stealing the show here with a low key performance. He also gets the only real quotable of the film. 14
Plot and execution – The setup is overly complicated and largely pointless, and the Romeo and Juliet plot is largely unconvincing, but it’s pretty much by the numbers and that’s hard to screw up too badly. 12
Randomness – Cyborg dog? Random palmist? Cyborg flashbacks? 16
Waste of potential – A sequel to Cyborg could at least be a sequel to Cyborg, you know? 13

Overall 68%

Prometheus (2012)


“The search for our beginning may lead to our end”

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba

This is going to be a more in-depth summary than usual, because the devil in this film is most definitely in the details.

On primeval Earth (I think, but it might be somewhere else), an alien who looks kinda like Mark Strong is left behind by his ship, drinks black goop, disintegrates and his DNA creates life (well, animal life, there are already plants). Well… maybe. See below.

In 2093, an expedition on the starship Prometheus reaches the moon LV-223, following an ancient star map discovered by archaeologists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and funded by by-now-totally-dead-so-not-showing-up-unexpectedly-at-all industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in gratuitous old-guy make-up). Their mission is to find the ‘Engineers’, whom Shaw believes created humans and left the maps for their creation to follow when sufficiently advanced. In accordance with the requirements of long-haul, long-term deep space missions into the unknown, the crew are a mismatched pack of squabbling, psychologically unstable pillocks who have neither worked nor trained together, nor even met before waking out of cryosleep in a tin can the size of a farmhouse, surrounded by hard vacuum.

The crew includes Weyland’s creepy android protege, David (Fassbender); corporate executive Vickers (Theron), who has clearly been mainlining books on how to get ahead by being an unsympathetic ice-queen; and the ship’s captain, Janek (Elba), a slacker with integrity. Lesser roles go to an idealistic young Scottish doctor (Kate Dickie), an uptight security specialist who gets pouty about not being allowed to bring a gun to the dig (not conspicuously named, so I don’t know who played him), mad as a bag of spiders geologist Fifield (Sean Harris) and Pollyanna biologist Milburn (Rafe Spall). Of the crew, at least two are Englishmen doing American accents for no discernible reason.

Landing on the moon, they find and enter an alien structure. Fifield sends a group of drones to map the complex, and they then find a recording of the Engineers running from something. This leads to a chamber full of cannisters – which looks a lot like the egg chamber in Alien – and the discovery of an alien body and head and some black goop.

And this, sadly, is where it starts to get stupid.

A storm forces them back to the ship, but without Fifield and Milburn, who got separated from the rest because they left earlier and got lost, despite Fifield being the one who controls the mapping drones. The alien head explodes for no adequately explored reason when they do bad science at it, then Fifield and Milburn are killed by Freudian snake-things.

David infects Holloway with the black goop, because he has been given bad orders by the totally mysterious person still in cryosleep, which causes him to knock-up the previously infertile Shaw and then begin to decompose. Shaw uses a ‘men only’ medical pod installed in Vickers’ personal quarters/lifeboat to cut out the ‘child’, which is a squid.

David also finds a living Engineer in stasis, wakes Weyland from cryo (what! It was Weyland! And Vickers is his daugher? No way!) and takes him out to meet his maker, which ends up way more figurative than planned.

Realising that the facility they have found is a WMD factory and that the Engineers intended to unleash its weapons on Earth before they had a breakout, Janek crashes the Prometheus into the Engineer’s ship. Everyone dies but Shaw and Vickers, and the latter is promptly squashed by a falling spaceship when she forgets how to corner.

The Engineer tries to kill Shaw, but is glomped to death by the now-grown squid-baby/face-hugger.

Shaw and the decapitated David set off in another Engineer ship to find the Engineer homeworld and learn why they wanted to destroy their creation.


What’s wrong with it?

Prometheus was heavily sold as ‘a return to the universe of Alien‘ for director Ridley Scott. This promotion weighs on the film like a lead albatross, forcing the parts that work to conform to a pattern which does not suit them. Also, Scott clearly gives not a fuck for anything after Aliens, so that gets confusing for anyone unlucky enough to have seen Alien vs Predator.

There are a lot of WTF moments, and some of the science is iffy – the ‘map’ is a set of five stars which match a given constellation invisible to the naked eye, but a constellation is not a location; David opens the cockpit blast doors especially to pass by a planetary ring system – although some of the apparent inconsistencies make sense in retrospect.

Guy Pearce is unrecognisable under his old man makeup, but there are no scenes of the young Weyland, so I’m not sure why they didn’t cast someone older. Speaking of Weyland, his motivations drive much of the plot, but are batshit crazy. Sure, he wants to cheat death and sees the Engineers as his ticket, but why not crew his ship with people on board with that idea and link it to Shaw and Holloway’s goals, instead of sneaking around and hiring a crew of barely-functional misfits? Is this just part of his habit of being a total douchebag to anyone who cares for him?

David’s fixation with Peter O’Toole.

Idris Elba’s accent? If they needed him to be American, why not get him to do the Stringer Bell Baltimore drawl he was so good at? Likewise, why is Rafe Spall doing an accent? Why was it so important that character be American?

Vickers’ fling with Janek. It comes out of nowhere, goes nowhere, and adds nothing to the film.

Holloway is a complete arse. He mocks his girlfriend’s faith, is moronically insensitive of the feelings of inadequacy her infertility clearly engender in her, and calls David ‘boy’. I guess that could be a reference to Aasimov, but damn.

The Freudianness of it all! An incomplete Freud count is:

  • daddy issues all around
  • the facility is shaped like a boob, complete with nipple
  • it is also full of shafts which are explicitly warm and moist
  • the penis-vagina snakes; they look like ambulant penises, then open up to reveal their vagina dentata jaws. The double act of sexual fear.
  • the infertility subplot
  • the monster miracle pregnancy
  • the giant, extra-Freudy face-humper, which basically makes to engulf the Engineer with its vagina-jaws and then deep throats him with its ovipositor.

Someone must have unlocked the idiot multiball, because… Well, again an incomplete list:

  • Weyland’s pointless and ultimately self-defeating scheming
  • Holloway takes off his helmet out of impatience, then everyone else does the same when he doesn’t instantly drop dead
  • Fifield and Milburn completely forgetting the existence of a map so as to conveniently get lost
  • The security team just walking over to Fifield when his corpse shows up at the foot of the ramp, bent over on itself like unto a pretzel
  • Milburn trying to pet the penis-vagina snake
  • Randomly running current into the Engineer’s head, pretty much to see what happens
  • Vickers hiring this useless crew!
  • The abject failure of an entire crew to contain a traumatised, sedated, pregnant woman and to prevent her reaching a medical pod in a sealed lifeboat
  • Vickers and Shaw both running directly away from a falling spaceship, made worse by the fact that Shaw gets out of the way in the end by rolling sideways about three feet

Shaw remains incredibly badass for a woman who has just had major abdominal surgery with only local anaesthetic.

The black goop does pretty much whatever it wants, acting more like the monster in a supernatural slasher movie than a scientifically-based bio-weapon. Once more, a list:

  • causes complete genetic and cellular breakdown and reconstruction
  • engenders monster pregnancy
  • that leads to face-humpers
  • which impregnate victims with Aliens-like aliens
  • spontaneously generates vagina-penis snakes
  • animates corpses

The movie offers no explanations for anything much, which is fine, but in this case is more confusing than mysterious.

And why do the aliens look so much like Mark Strong?

What’s right with it?

Fair play to it, this film looks great. I mean that, it is gorgeous to behold, from the majestic sweep of the planet in the opening crawl to the Prometheus‘ descent over LV-223, to every aspect of production design, the cinematography and the shot compositions, this is a masterclass in technical film-making.

Some of the things that bothered me on first viewing make sense in retrospect. Most of Vickers’ unpleasant characteristics pan out as the result of being second-string to a robot because her dad wanted a son so much he wouldn’t legitimise her, and David’s super-creepy behaviour, which seems odd in a robot, makes sense as the result of Weyland’s creepy instructions (although see above re Weylan’s creepy instructions). Even the overarcing plot makes more sense when you realise that the planet at the beginning isn’t named as Earth, and maybe that scene is actually the start of a purge, not the creation of life.

Or not. It’s not explained.

How bad is it really?

Prometheus is its own worst enemy. If it had just knuckled down to its own story of aliens and faith and identity and not pissed about with Alien, it would have been a much better film. It would still have had problems, but they would have been fewer and easier to ignore in the grand sweep of the visuals.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Any given long shot of landscape, but especially the landing shot on LV-223, as the Prometheus passes vast mountains and descends through the clouds.

What’s up with…?

  • The fixation on lionising or tearing down faith?
  • The crew?
  • The goop?
  • The stupid decisions?
  • Idris Elba singing badly in a cod American accent?


Production values – Pretty much flawless. 0
Dialogue and performances –  There are some weird accents on display, which is odd, because otherwise a top-notch cast gives top-notch performances of a mostly-coherent script. There are a few pseudoscience clangers and pretty much every assault on Shaw’s faith is hamfisted, but nothing too egregious. 8
Plot and execution – There are no clear explanations, which comes across as messy, not enigmatic. People forget stuff when it is convenient to the plot, and the idiot ball in this film is a sharer. The second half of the movie is a mess after a pretty tight opener. 14
Randomness – The Freudian symbolism; the goop; the Engineer ship being controlled by a flute. Every plot development brought on by stupidity. The entire corporate conspiracy plot. The attempt to pretend Weyland wasn’t the one in the pod. 16
Waste of potential – This film promised so much, literally as well as figuratively. It is not terrible, but it is terrible compared to what it offered. 19

Overall 57%

From the Archive – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)


Directed by John Mostow
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Clare Danes and Kristanna Loken

So, in 1984 a cyborg was sent back in time to assassinate a waitress named Sarah Connor before she could give birth to her son John, the man who would lead the human race to victory against intelligent machines of its own creation. But – and this was the clever bit – the humans sent back a soldier named Reese to protect her, who ended up fathering John, as John, something of a father figure to Reese, always knew he would. The future cannot be changed, you see, because for those trying to change it it has already happened, including their intervention.

In 1991 a second cyborg was sent back to kill John as a young boy. This time the defender was an older model of cyborg, because Arnie was a big star playing heroes now. With the aid of the good Terminator, Sarah and John stopped the machines ever being created. You see, the future can be changed because it is not written.

But now another machine has come back, a foxy female ‘Terminatrix’ with a taste for fast cars and leather. With John Connor an untraceable cypher in the system, she goes after his support crew, including future wife – I apologise if you think this is spoilery, but seriously; duh –  Kate Brewster. Another T101 is sent to protect John and Kate, with the twist…Well, I’ll leave this unspoilered since it’s the movie’s one good idea. Anyway, car chases and gunfights, then John and Kate try to stop Kate’s father allowing Skynet to take over the world, because you see the future can only be delayed. Events can be changed, but some inexorable force of fate exists that brings on Judgement Day and draws Kate and John together.

Judgement falls, and the once-doubtful John steps up to the plate swinging. It’s all kinda uplifting.

Okay, the issues with the schitzophrenic nature of time travel now dealt with, I shall leave them aside and judge the film on its other merits or lack thereof.

What’s wrong with it?

T3’s problems are many, but first of all it’s redundant. The need for Terminator 2 was questionable; sure the end of Terminator was dark, but it was supposed to be. Nevertheless, T2 picked up the story, took it in new directions, and did something new; mostly – as noted – by reversing the central conceit. With T2 over, the story felt even more closed than before, and the only real reason to make T3 is to make money. The fact that of the central participants in the first two movies only Arnie was on board for this one suggests it might also be an ego thing.

Next up is Sarah Connor, dead these five years of leukaemia. Save the world, die of leukaemia; great. Right up there with survive the nest of aliens only to die in a shoddily-built Marine strike vessel.

Poor bloody Newt. What is it about women who survive James Cameron films and are felt redundant for the sequel that they have to die?

But I digress. The point is that, even if you feel this is no longer Sarah’s story, she deserves better than to have died offscreen of cancer. And don’t tell me the world isn’t fair; this is a movie, and dramatic rules should apply. She at least deserves to die on Judgement Day doing something meaningful. To me, they were clearly just pissed at Linda Hamilton for not doing the movie.

T3 lacks structure. It’s essentially a sequence of chase and fight sequences, strung together without a coherent arc to support and bind them together, with the result that the film does not really stick in the mind. Good thing, too, since it doesn’t hold up to too much consideration. If you stop to think you really start to wonder – for example – how a veterinarian, a delinquent-looking fugitive from justice with no official existence and a heavily-armed Austrian with metal showing through the skin of his face manage to not only gain swift and easy access to a top-secret, maximum security military research facility, but manage to show up unheralded in the nerve centre of the operation with a shotgun.

The main characters manage to be likeable, if not particularly engaging, and you kind of care about them. The incidentals are a different matter however and whether it’s a directorial issue or just changing times, in Terminator and even T2 you felt something for the poor schmucks who get wasted during the Terminator’s hunt for it’s true quarry. In this film, you couldn’t care less about the schlubs who might have grown up to be John Connor’s inner circle, in part because they’re such a pack of losers that you just know they’d grow up to be the whiney anime heroes with entitlement issues.

What’s right with it?

Redundant or not, T3 does manage a different take on the time-travel plot with its quasi-religious overwhelming destiny notions. As noted above, the characters are fairly sympathetic for this genre, perhaps because Arnie is the focus of the crass machismo. And okay, I kind of felt for the poor woman with Munchausen’s syndrome by kitty.

Oh yeah, and the special effects are pretty goddamn good.

How bad is it really?

T3 is the ultimate candyfloss movie. Good enough while it lasts, but no real substance and swiftly forgotten. It’s a fun movie and not a complete waste of time if you don’t want anything earth-shattering.

Best bit?

When Kate briefly escapes her strange captors she is introduced to post-trauma councillor Dr Silberman, another hold-over from both previous movies. When she tells him ‘he wasn’t human’, Silberman assures her that he’s been in hostage situations himself. He then goes distant and strange as he explains how they make you see things: “Crazy things. Impossible things.Insane things.”

What’s up with…?

  • The TX being able to control mechanical machines? I mean, I get it can monkey with electronics and computers, but how is it driving those cars?

  • Arnie and friends just strolling into a top-security base?

  • The TX expanding her breast size to distract a traffic cop? This is not a machine working through subtlety here. I mean, it’s not like she isn’t just going to kill him anyway; why bother trying anything else first?

  • Kate being able to command the Terminator, but it refusing to let her go?


Production values: Top notch. Absolutely no complaints here. 0

Dialogue and performances: Actually fairly decent, although some of the jokes are a little flat. The TX lacks a little of Robert Patrick’s reptilian menace, but Arnie is right at home here. Stahl and Danes seem a little ill at ease, but do pretty well. 5

Plot and execution: Oh dear; and it was all going so well. This film doesn’t have a plot so much as it does a premise and some action scenes. It’s an extended chase, as are the other two Terminators, but more disjointed; less coherent. It also suffers from an error of conception, in that it never needed to be made at all -in as much as any movie needs to be made. 14

Randomness: Strange ramblings on destiny, lax security in the most sensitive government installations. Captain; there be randomness here. 15

Waste of potential: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand I didn’t expect too much, on the other I felt there was a better movie in there. I have to go to the middle ground I think. 10

Overall 44%