Film Review : A.I. Rising
I was always wondering whether I was able to create life.
It seems that I am.
Take any porn movie and you can be sure there’ll be some plumber who not only tries to repair the drain but also will examine the installation of the innocent housewife. A solid storyline with inventive twists and turns isn’t the most important thing in such films. That’s nothing new. And you can say the same thing about “A.I. Rising”. Only this movie is a kind of a soft-sex version where you see Stoya more naked than dressed. Not that there’s much to see because she isn’t exactly blessed with voluptuous curves. Apparently, she’s a porn actress herself so she didn’t have any problems with parading around naked and acting in steamy love scenes.
Porn is boring.
But after 40 minutes, I started to wonder if something was going to happen. Because there’s no real variety. First a bit of psychological talking between Milutin (Sebastian Cavazza) and the android Nimani 1345 (Stoya). Then intense and titillating images of their love games. And then Stoya has to recharge her batteries by standing in a niche naked (of course). And this cycle repeats itself several times. To me, Stoya was a sort of humanized dildo. Charge it regularly and then use it to satisfy your indomitable desires. But just like porn, it’s monotonous and annoying after a while.
What’s this trip about anyway?
The ultimate goal of the trip to Alpha Centauri isn’t entirely clear. Milutin apparently has to install “Juche” there. A kind of ideology for experts. It seems to me it’s something abstract. However, it’s becoming clear during Milutin’s conversation with a social engineer from Elderlezi Corporation, that it’s going to be a miserably long trip. That is why Nimani is involved. An android with customizable moods and with advanced artificial intelligence. In the first instance, her function is to be a companion to make the long journey more bearable (and pleasant of course). After a while, however, it seems more likely that she’s there to dampen Milutin’s animal drive and instincts.
She’s in control.
Her main task, however, is to keep everything under control (both the spaceship and the commander) so that the mission is brought to a successful conclusion. Now, if you look at the design and layout of the spaceship, it’s a good thing she went along as a playtoy. I fear that Milutin would otherwise be bored to death. The spaceship certainly doesn’t look like the Enterprise. It is more like a steel colossus without a luxurious interior. The rusty looking steel walls do not look particularly cozy. The austere design is fairly depressing. It looks like a factory. Even the entire cockpit is limited to two solitary driver’s seats and a bunch of futuristic looking monitors. There’s no holodeck, bar or leisure space. The only physical effort and entertainment there is for Milutin, takes place in the bedroom.
It’s not only about seks.
But if you break through the erotic aspect, you will see that this Serbian SF also wants to address a more profound subject. The interaction between a person and an artificial creation. Not that they tread new ground here because this same subject was also the basis of films such as “Ex Machina“, “Uncanny“, “The Machine“, “Zoe” and to a lesser extent “Her“. Also, the phenomenon of a non-human creation gaining awareness is dealt with. But the central theme (and perhaps the most fascinating one) is the emotional relationship between man and machine. At first sight, Milutin appears to be an emotionless, anti-pathetic person, who in the first instance doesn’t want any female company. However, as soon as he realizes the benefits, his obsessive and manipulative behavior begins and he uses (even abuses) the android. To his surprise, however, the lust turns into passion, which leads to anxiety, sadness, and even self-sacrifice.
A not so fascinating SciFi.
However, in the end, this SF isn’t really fascinating. It’s repetitive. Boring and long-winded. And the erotic scenes are too stretched and after a while downright annoying. And then the moment you think the story will develop further, Stoya appears naked again. Too exaggerated for my taste. But I have to admit that Stoya’s acting was far from bad. She managed to show a human side while being an android. The image that will stay with me is the moment she demonstrates an android-like dance to Milutin. So tempting and at the same time so robotic. I would fall for her too at that point. Sebastian Cavazza was excellent at times but overall I found his character incredible. But apart from those few positive notes, this film was disappointing. Despite the sometimes beautiful space images, the emphasis was a little too much on the sexual aspect. Not something that I actually expect in an SF.
My rating 4/10
On Sale Today: The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai
The perfect tie-in for the fifth season of ‘Cobra Kai’ is here.
This feature was made possible by an advance copy from Harper Collins and Dey Street Books.
As the holiday season approaches and fans of the wildly-popular Cobra Kai have likely binged the show’s fifth season, a new addition has arrived that is a must-have for any true sensei. That would be The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai; a new book chronicling the history and making of the Netflix series.
Serving as the official companion to the series, The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai is filled with vibrant page-turning designs with complete character breakdowns, interviews (including an insightful chat with stunt coordinator Don Lee) and beautiful pictures from the show and behind-the-scenes.
For a complete synopsis of what to expect from the book, see the official one courtesy of Harper Collins below:
The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai is a celebration of the superfans — an essential companion to the show acting as a master sensei ready to guide readers through the karate-crazed San Fernando Valley. The legacy of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai continues with never-before-seen photographs and illustrations as well as interviews with Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso), William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence), Martin Kove (John Kreese), Xolo Maridueña(Miguel Diaz), Mary Mouser (Samantha LaRusso), and MUCH MORE!
The show’s creators will give an unprecedented look inside the making of Cobra Kai: the writing, directing, and production of this beloved franchise that has grown from scrappy underdog to a global phenomenon. You will hear directly from the show’s crew, including our stunt team who will give you an exclusive behind the scenes look into fight choreography, journey through the Valley from the magical retreat of the Miyagi-do dojo to the humble strip mall that houses the Cobra Kai dojo with our set designers, and hear from our composers how the badass soundtrack for the show was conceived. And much more!
What better time than while you wait for the sixth season of the show to read through this incredible guide to all things Cobra Kai? Plus, what would your sensei likely suggest you do? Strike first and get your copy of The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai today.
Check out their official website for more information, including where to buy the book.
‘A Haunting in Venice’ Marks the Return of Branagh’s Poirot
Production on 20th Century Studios’ “A Haunting in Venice,” an unsettling supernatural-thriller inspired by Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, is set to begin next month. The film, which is directed by Oscar® winner Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”) and features a screenplay by Oscar nominee Michael Green (“Logan”), will shoot at Pinewood Studios outside London and on location in Venice. A brilliant acting ensemble portraying a cast of unforgettable characters will be featured, including Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen (“Rosaline”), Camille Cottin (“Call My Agent”), Jamie Dornan (“Belfast”), Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), Jude Hill (“Belfast”), Ali Khan (“6 Underground”), Emma Laird (“Mayor of Kingstown”), Kelly Reilly (“Yellowstone”), Riccardo Scamarico (“Caravaggio’s Shadow”), and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”). “A Haunting in Venice” will open in theatres nationwide in 2023.
Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, “A Haunting in Venice” is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.
Kenneth Branagh will once again reprise the role of Poirot and will direct the movie as well. Michael Green penned the script, based on Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party. And Production will take place at Pinewood Studios outside London and on location in Venice. In a statement, Kenneth Branagh said:
“This is a fantastic development of the character Hercule Poirot, as well as the Agatha Christie franchise. Based on a complex, little known tale of mystery set at Halloween in a pictorially ravishing city, it is an amazing opportunity for us, as filmmakers, and we are relishing the chance to deliver something truly spine-chilling for our loyal movie audiences.”Kenneth Brannagh
Steve Asbell, president of 20th Century Studios, added, “We are enormously privileged to continue our long collaboration with the incomparable Sir Kenneth Branagh and couldn’t be more excited by the bold new creative direction Ken, Michael, and the rest of the filmmaking team have taken with this latest film. We also remain grateful to James Prichard and the rest of our friends at Agatha Christie, Ltd., for their partnership and for once again entrusting us with, as Poirot modestly calls himself, ‘probably the greatest detective in the world.’”
I’m such a huge fan of Agatha Christie and of what Branagh has done with the last two films. He’s brought Christie into a contemporary era as we’ve ventured from a murder aboard the Orient Express to a Death along the River Nile. His adaptations are beautifully stylised and this Haunting aesthetic is going to be perfect for an October release maybe?
Interview: Director Rob Jabbaz talks “The Sadness” Ahead of Fantasia Film Festival Premiere
Having been selected for numerous festivals including Fantasia, Locarno and Fantastic Festival, The Sadness is the latest extremely violent Taiwanese horror film. The film sees a virus spontaneously mutate giving rise to a mind-altering plague causing the streets to erupt into violence as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. The age of civility is no more. There is only “The Sadness”. We were lucky enough to talk to the film’s writer/director/editor Rob Jabbaz about his process making the film during the pandemic.
How does it feel to have your first feature film being selected for big festivals like Fantasia, Locarno and FrightFest?
At the risk of sounding pompous, it seemed pretty obvious to me. I’m very critical of my own work and I think the film is really good. When I made The Sadness, I was really uncompromising and just running on pure willpower. Anytime I ran into an obstacle of people trying to tone something down or make something less hard, I just had to bulldoze over them. And I really stressed myself out. I didn’t realise that I was getting so stressed until after it was all over. I was sleeping 16 hours a day for a couple weeks; I was just so tired. I was like, why am I so tired? And then it obviously dawned on me, like, oh, it’s because you’ve just been stressing yourself out for six weeks. Not necessarily physically, but just mentally and emotionally too.
When I was editing it, I thought, this is awesome, this is working exactly the way that I wanted. When I finished the first cut of the film, I felt really strongly about it like this is gonna make people shit their fucking pants. And then once I found Raven Banner as our distributor and seeing real horror people appreciate the film as opposed to just the casual horror audience like the Taiwanese horror audience and them realising what I had done, it was awesome. And then at that point, when they said that they wanted to do a festival run with it, what other movies got made during the pandemic? So I knew even just by default I would have at least one of the top 5 horror movies of 2021. So that’s part of what informs me to say it didn’t surprise me that we got into Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. Locarno did surprise me; it was really nice to see it get picked up by arthouse festival like that. That was the one that was really flattering.
How did the idea for the film come about?
I was working as a staff writer for this entertainment company, writing scripts that may or may not get made. This was before the pandemic when being able to work from home was cool and attractive at the time. But then when the pandemic happened, my boss was like, okay, Hollywood’s closed, we can make a movie right now and we won’t have any competition but we need to release it soon. And then he says it has to be a virus or zombie movie. I thought I don’t want to write a zombie movie, that’s boring, it’s all been done to death, what’s left to say with that? So I started thinking about ways to push the envelope without pushing the small budget. And I thought, what if we make them really cruel and really sadistic. They’re sadists, they take pleasure in harming other people. This made me think of a comic from years ago called Crossed. I took a look at those comics and I was like, this is cool, but this isn’t quite right because these characters are still being treated like zombies. They’re not talking enough, they’re not expressing themselves enough. So I tried to give myself memorable villains to work with and some ideas, but what you need is that one auxiliary idea connects it all together.
It really was just based around creating a lot of good gore gags and very painful effects and set pieces and stringing them all together. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies and I know where I can cut the fat. And I know where I could give a second helping. I really just thought let’s give the audience all the good stuff and keep the story enough there so that we know what needs to happen next. But I don’t want the story to trip over itself. Because there’s nothing worse than in a horror movie when you just you halt everything and then all of a sudden there’s an explanation and it’s about this and that. Show me someone getting their fucking lungs ripped out, show me something cool. Or show me something I’ve never seen before. Don’t just show me these stupid obvious emotional beats. If you want to show me an emotional beat, do it in a way that I’ve never seen before. And that’s what I tried to do with the very end of the film.
Given your background in VFX and animation was there ever a tendency to rely on VFX or did you try and do things practically?
You use the right tool for the right task and The Sadness was all gore. I’ve yet to really see CG create realistic effects. It just doesn’t feel painful enough to me. What that boils down to is it needs to be messy, and you need to see the mess go all over the place and get stuck in hair. I knew right from the beginning that it needed to be practical effects. There are a couple of things where we use some VFX and there’s a bit of an amalgam of VFX and practical effects. You’re just trying to be practical and figuring out what works best and what is the cheapest, but at the same time not at the expense of it looking awesome.
I was pushed against trying to do like a lot of this stuff practically. One of the people who was working for me had a lot of experience and he was said you shouldn’t do practical effects, because maybe the blood isn’t going to work the way that you want it to and if one of those things doesn’t work properly, it’s going to take a long time to reset. Every day when we make a film like this you’re just shovelling money into a furnace essentially so you have to be efficient with time. I was just like, what the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever heard of editing? We just shoot everything. We do every gore gag as an insert so the audience can see it. It’s not like I want these things happening in the background. I want the camera in there so you can see it. I’m not trying to do some bullshit like The Revenant where the cameras are doing everything in one take. It’s distracting, I don’t like that shit. Ironically, I think that a long take for an action scene is less cinematic then if it’s edited because editing is part of cinema. I don’t want to do any of this all in one take. I want to do this like a movie. I told them one thing you need to remember, I don’t want to run out of blood. I want to always have at least 15 gallons of blood on hand every day so that we never run out.
How did you end up directing The Sadness? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I wrote the script, and I gave it to the guy. He said he liked it and then he went to go look for a director and no one wanted to do it for the price that we had. And then he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Rob, do you want to try doing it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know.’ We hear all the horror stories of directing a film and then getting fucked with the whole time, people telling you not to do this, or people telling you that you’ve got to do it this way. You end up stressing yourself out every single day and then in the 11th hour, they give it to some fucking shithead to do the edit and you don’t get final cut. I said I can do this film but there’s only two ways I can do it. The first way is I can phone the whole thing in, and I’ll show up to the job, I’ll facilitate the production and I won’t give a fuck about it but I’ll get it done. Or I can make it my life and I can take it to heart as much as one can take something to heart. But in order to do this, you need to let me do it exactly the way that I want and you need to give me final cut. He said I don’t want you to phone it in, I want to give you number two.
Once I had that, I felt happy about it. I’ve done shorts and I like telling stories and I can create worlds so I I’ve always wanted to do a feature. I liked this script and I like the energy of the film and how it works as it is, but if you were to read the screenplay of The Sadness, it’s not the best screenplay to be honest. It’s decent, but it’s not showcasing my ability as a writer as much. I knew that if anyone was going to do it properly, it was going to be me. And I’m looking forward to The Sadness heralding the beginning of my feature filmmaking career. I look at some of my favourite filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and I just think ‘how does he do that?’. That’s what I aspire to be like. I don’t know if that’s really possible for me but it’s about having an aspiration and working towards that.
When you were making The Sadness did you ever have any second thoughts about how extreme and violent you were making it?
For me that kind of just seemed like fair play. There’s a particular tone to it, maybe my film feels more violent because it’s happening to innocent people, and it’s presented in a more realistic way. Whenever you’re making a horror movie you’re trying to tap into people’s fears at the time. And at the time, the spread of the virus actually wasn’t really a big concern in Taiwan. People weren’t wearing masks, people were out at bars dancing with no masks and the rest of the world was fucked. You guys were all inside, depressed, and meanwhile Taiwan is having outdoor music festivals and stuff. The virus aspect of the film was not really that much of a big deal.
For me, what was kind of a big deal was tapping into a fear that is very specifically Taiwanese and East Asian, this fear of unprovoked violence. There’s this idea that you just mind your own business and you do your job, work hard, and don’t get involved in someone else’s affairs if you don’t have to. It’s like a fundamental foundation for morality in East Asian culture from my perspective at least. The idea of just a random act of violence, like somebody on the train, just pulling out a knife and starting to stab people. And then you’re like, holy shit, and next thing you know, a guy is stabbing a pregnant woman with a set of keys and then another guy is biting off a guy’s Achilles tendon and some guy’s stabbing a girl in the face with an umbrella. It’s just completely senseless. There’s no political motivation, there’s no reason or logic to any of it. It’s just mindless, senseless violence. I was trying to tap into that fear of unprovoked violence. And I think that a lot of people here in Taiwan might have thought that crossed the line. But you know, that’s the price we pay for the freedom of artistic expression.
I’ve been spoiled. I wrote it, directed it, edited and had final cut, I’m spoiled. I’m like when the Coen brothers did Blood Simple and they didn’t have to listen to anybody. It’s kind of like a precedent was set, I don’t go backwards, I go forwards. I’m going to try to maintain that kind of control over the work that I do. And my argument for that would be in order for you to get me to create something like The Sadness, you’re going to have to try to recreate the similar circumstances. I can’t work feeling like the shit’s gonna get pulled out from under me. I have to feel in control of the work. I have to be in love with the work.
The Sadness had its European premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and will have its North American premiere at Fantasia later this month.
Read our review of The Sadness HERE
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