Tagged Dystopian

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”
Directed by Jonathan Nolan
Written by Jonathan & Lisa Joy Nolan

* For a review of the next episode, “Chestnut” – click here
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First of all, dig the opening sequence and title song. Very eerie in a sci-fi sense, yet also beautiful, too. Excellent tune.
Someone talks to Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). She’s in “a dream.” He’s testing the equipment so to speak. He asks general questions about whether she’s ever questioned the truth of reality. More specifically, her reality. She lives in a gorgeous vision of the old West in America. We meet the “newcomers” such as Teddy Flood (James Marsden). He comes in on a train to where Abby lives in her town. Everybody’s there to enjoy a bit of the old life.
The place: Westworld. Outwardly, it appears as a real slice out of time. Everyone talks the talk. Teddy goes for a drink and checks out the local landscape. He meets a young lady named Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) – ladies of the night. He’s more interested in Abby after he catches a glimpse of her through the saloon window. They’ve clearly had some kind of relationship already. They continue it together, gallop through the picturesque America West. Later in the night, Flood comes across a dirty bastard named Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his partner, who he guns down; they’ve killed the Abernathy family. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) turns up cryptically taunting Dolores about not knowing him. He stands toe to toe with Flood, who shoots away and does nothing to the Man in Black.
That’s because Teddy isn’t real.

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See, Westworld isn’t real. It’s a futuristic getaway where people can experience life as it was during the frontier days when America was still gaining its proper legs. People like Dolores and Teddy, they’re park products. They’ve been engineered to provide services for those willing to pay a ton of money. And some of those people, like the Man in Black, are absolutely horrifying. Dolores, she goes on thinking about “how beautiful this world can be.” It starts all over again each damn day. She and Teddy wake up, then go on about their predetermined routes. Sad, right? They’re merely little pawns on a massive scale of operations. Outside Westworld is the real world, where a company makes and designs robots to serve as people, horses, whatever they need. What a gorgeously eerie sequence, as director Jonathan Nolan takes us through the toyshop of Westworld’s company.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is checking some of the robotics, such as gestures on Clementine the prostitute. He talks about Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and the “tiny things” that Ford does to make the robots feel real for the customers. A genius, it seems. Called up to the operating floor, there’s talk of “critical failure.” So Lowe heads out to do some maintenance. Down in the lower levels, he goes with a team of armed men into a storage facility filled with naked “hosts.” They come across Dr. Ford with a cowboy, drinking and having a chat. The cowboy’s Bill, one of the first hosts ever built. Looks to me as if Ford is starting to get sick of what he’s done. Who knows.
But still, things go on as they always did inside Westworld. Dolores and her family wake up, they go about their business like usual. The Man in Black, he’s living it up in his sick dream every day, over and over.

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The visitors get to experience all aspects of life in the old West, from prostitutes and saloons and riding on horseback through treacherous territories. When one couple is out riding the Sheriff goes into a hard malfunction, scaring them a bit. In the real world, Lowe inspects the malfunctioning host. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), obviously in charge of the narratives in Westworld, is livid that Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) might want to haul out a ton of hosts. What Lowe does is reassure there’s no threat of violence towards the guests. “If theres so much as an unscripted sneeze, I wanna know about it,” Cullen advises.
What I love is the focus on people going to Westworld, how they’re affected by being able to do what they want to these hosts. Some are there for the mere experience of a time in history they’ll obviously never get to experience otherwise. Some are sick fucks, like the Man in Black and others, who go there to rape, murder, do all kinds of awful things to the hosts. Things they can’t do in the real world. Then there are innocent little things, such as a visiting boy who asks Dolores to her face if she’s real. Will this cause a glitch? Or are they programmed to simply walk away, deflect if that happens?
Stranger still is when Dolores’ father finds a picture buried in his field. A photo from the future. It’s likely Times Square by the looks of things. This perplexes the man, although Dolores passes it off. Very curious how the real world might intersect with Westworld in different ways.
Theresa and the others stay, in shifts, on a huge sort of skyscraper set atop a mountain in Westworld. She and Lee debate a bit about Dr. Ford and his “demons.” Lee starts dropping suggestion that he knows the further reach of Westworld for those who manage it – the “bigger picture,” as Theresa puts it. But she is one bad ass woman. No mincing words with her.

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The player piano plays a version of “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, as Westworld goes on and on into oblivion. Love, love, love that.
Things are getting quite serious in Westworld. The Man in Black isn’t only there to do in hosts. He kills one of the hosts he meets across a table playing cards, though there’s something more behind it.
In the meantime, there’s bad stuff happening elsewhere. One of the bandit hosts is going buckwild. So production is shut down, a couple terrified guests are assuaged, and Lowe tries to fix the situation. He determines it’s the latest update. Just needs some touching up. The “minor improvisation” here has turned into something more, and Theresa isn’t having that shit. They only need a good swerve for the narrative, to make things feel natural for any of the guests curious as to what’s happening.
Ford’s let in on the whole thing by Lowe. He doesn’t feel bothered by being alerted of his mistake. They talk about evolution, natural selection, all that fun stuff. Furthermore, Ford ruminates on how far they’ve come. “This is as good as were gonna get,” he laments. Something more is going on behind that man’s eyes. You can tell just through the way Hopkins plays him.
Out on the open plain, the Man in Black is bleeding his host friend dry. He’s got questions that need answering. I guess the perfect place to do some dirty work would be a place like Westworld. Like, say, if you wanted to scalp somebody the way the Man in Black does. But why?

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The next day, Dolores finds her father still captivated by that picture. He’s been broken. He rambles to Dolores before going into a troubled state: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” This sets Dolores’ world on fire. She rides to find a doctor, only to find Teddy. He goes with her to try and help. At that moment, cloaked strangers on horses head into town. Out in the real world, Lee talks about a man named Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) arriving. In the background, a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays while Hector begins his assault on the Westworld town. Oh, he’s a bad dude. Nasty. A massacre begins, as he and his crew lay siege to everybody in sight. In the crossfire Teddy is shot and dies in the arms of Dolores. Then one of the guests steps out to blow Hector away bloodily. Scary is how the guests rejoice at how real the murder feels, enjoying the sensation. Sick stuff.
Outside, the host recall is starting. They check everything thoroughly now to assess the damage. Lowe brings Theresa’s attention to Dolores. She’s malfunctioning a bit. We’re back at the beginning with her being questioned by maintenance man Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), as the picture is pulled out from her father and he’s brought to be checked by Ford and Lowe. The father host rambles more, as Ford commands him to look into his configuration. He goes back to normal briefly, though continues stuttering into his rambling. He talks about “warning” her. He knows too much. And he wants to meet his maker. That’s some eerie stuff. He goes on about wanting to get revenge on them all – “terrors of the earth” and that type stuff. But eventually Ford determines it was the host being previously used in a horror gimmick, quoting Shakespeare. Case closed.

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These violent delights have violent ends,” is the whisper between Dolores and her father last she saw him (a Shakespeare quote!). She’s been put through all the questions from Stubbs, as her father gets a few readjustments and she’s cleared to go back home. We discover that Dolores is the oldest host in the park.
And she goes back to waking up every day, to the same old place, the same people, the same situations. Except now she’s got a new dad. Though she doesn’t notice. Her old one is herded into storage, along with the malfunctioning bandit. A sad end for the equipment of Westworld. Speaking of equipment, when Dolores begins her day all over again she does something the hosts aren’t meant to do: she kills a fly lingering on her face. She’s changing, even in the slightest.
Oh, and the Man in Black, he’s uncovering more secrets for himself. What’s his endgame? He has a scalp now. One with a labyrinth printed on the inside. Intriguing.

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An amazing premiere episode! Wow. Never expected such awesomeness right off the bat. Nolan is doing good stuff already. Excited for the next episode titled “Chestnut” and it’s directed by Richard J. Lewis.

Come Get It in the Yarbles: Criminality in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Can we ever rehabilitate a criminal mind? Is some supposed rehabilitation too invasive?
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE goes beyond either question with a look at a young man primed for ultra-violence.

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The Lobster: A Terrifying Vision of Lovers in a Dangerous Time

The Lobster. 2015. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Screenplay by Efthymis Filippou & Lanthimos.
Starring Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Colin Farrell, Rosanna Hoult, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Ewen MacIntosh, Imelda Nagle Ryan, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Rachel Weisz, & Ben Whishaw. Film4/Irish Film Board/Eurimages.
Rated 14A. 118 minutes.
Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of those writer-directors I wouldn’t consider palatable to everyone. Of course he has his fan base, after people discovered his uniquely odd stories and compelling way of directing them onscreen. But still, even with a movie featuring performances from big names such as Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, among others such as great character actors like John C. Reilly and the equally wonderful Michael Smiley, The Lobster both defies universal appeal and also fully concrete explanation. It isn’t one of those arthouse films that is completely unable to find explanation. Rather, Lanthimos has a definitive idea of what the story is, what it means, its implications. Yet it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.
If you’ve ever seen anything by Lanthimos, you’ll know his style is abrasive, disturbing, unsettling. It’s also very thrilling if you let his atmosphere and tone set in. They aren’t easy films to digest. For instance, I personally hated his weird indie darling Dogtooth; it absolutely just did not work for me, and I even gave it a couple chances. His 2011 follow-up Alps was much more intriguing to me. Although it’s not much less weird, if at all. Through both these pictures, never mind how I feel about the first, his strangeness settles in and you start to understand, and expect, the oddities he brings out with each subsequent movie. The Lobster is an exceptional work of romance and science fiction mashed into the oddest of stories. Lanthimos works it into a genuinely magical cinematic experience that is both beautiful and a scary prediction of how a society exhibiting unhealthy preoccupations with the personal (and sexual) relationships of its citizens can breed a confusing existential situation for those who feel they exist outside the system. At the bottom of its intentions, The Lobster is a story which stands for love against all odds, love at any cost – love, love, love!
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The marriage industrial complex has run wild in Lanthimos’ screenplay. In this dystopian future, not far off, being single is reprehensible. Is it because of sociopolitical views? It is out of necessity in a society where human life is waning and procreation is a must? Who knows. But this vision of society’s trajectory imagines the fixation on coupling, the idea that people must find a partner in order to live a human life, as having gone to the extreme. If these people at the Hotel cannot find themselves a mate they’re cast off, turned into animals. It’s hilariously absurd. Initially, the singles are cast out of society, literally ejected from the city and brought to the Hotel. After David (Farrell) experiences a divorce, he finds himself whisked off and given his societal ultimatum, forced into finding someone to live the rest of his life with – again – or else wander the wilderness. The even greater hilarity comes out of David and his decision to become a lobster, should he be cast out into nature.
What’s most intriguing is how everything people feel pressure about from society’s expectations becomes amplified. Now the threat of losing hair is suddenly the number one superficial threat against finding a partner. A sad conversation between David and a woman verging on her last night at the Hotel sees her questioning his possible future hair loss, bringing out a truly depression scene that’s also darkly funny. The entire thing is dark and comedic; sometimes one more than the other. And that’s part of The Lobster‘s appeal is the delicate balance between pitch black plot and the almost effortless, riotous comedy of the dialogue and interactions between characters.
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Heartless Woman: “Theres blood and biscuits everywhere
David: “I hope she dies right away. On second thought, I hope she suffers quite a bit before she dies. I just hope her pathetic screams cant be heard from my room. Because I was thinking about havina lie down. And I need peace and quiet. I was playingolf and Im quite tired. The last thing I need is some woman dying slowly and loudly.”
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The dystopian horror of this future is not so much the almost quarantining of single people, forcing them into choosing a mate. More so it is the existential horror of being forced into molding oneself to the whims of someone else. And essentially, that is the bending of our personal will to society. David and the Heartless Woman are driven together, eventually discovered to be futile after David shows emotion – because she kills his brother – and they find out he’s let societal expectation push him to a fake love. In a sense, David is like the escaping prisoner trying to execute the plan to escape his chains. Likewise the Limping Man (Whishaw) also gets into a relationship under false pretense, only his is a bit easier to hold up against scrutiny. Regardless, the point is the same. People are pushed into relationships by the state’s system and they manufacture neat little families, fit for procreation, economic consumption, and so on. This is the ultimate dystopian element is that society is controlling every last aspect of life, down to the family, down to sexual impulse and control. One fo the more horrifying moments, to me, is when the Lisping Man (Reilly) is caught for frequent masturbation in his room; as everyone sits around eating their meals in the big dining hall, the Hotel Manager (Colman) and her waiters come out, burning his masturbation hand in a toaster.
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Yet for all the Hotel/society’s madness, once David gets himself out into the forest and meets the rebel group, the Loners, he discovers there’s as much madness out there, too. People are subjected to the Red Kiss if they’re found flirting or kissing, et cetera: each person has their lips sliced open with razors, then they are forced into a kiss. Yikes. Worse than that, there’s something alluded to as the Red Intercourse. Not explained, though as the Loner Leader (Seydoux) suggests we can easily figure that out on our own. So even as David escapes the Hotel, the Loners are equally as strict. The movie has as much to comment about rebel and dissident groups as it does on the controlling arm of society.
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While the Loners fight that good fight, their methods are no less controlling, nor are they any less cruel; in fact, their punishments are almost a little more hardcore than even the nastiness of the Hotel. So in a way, the Loners represent the idea that in this dystopian world being single is just as horrific as being forced into/doomed to a married life, willed into companionship. And above everything else thematically, Lanthimos expresses the futile existential struggle of worrying about whether or not finding a life partner is the be-all end-all of our existence on Earth. Because in the end, neither option is good for everyone. You cannot prescribe a system for discovering a lover, a lifetime friend and soulmate. It happens differently for different people, and the more society puts a hold on traditional, cookie cutter relationships the closer we get to a dystopian nightmare like The Lobster. This is why the burgeoning relationship between David and the Short Sighted Woman (Weisz) represents something outside the box. They’re drawn together outside the normal systemic process of relationships. And even though the Loners don’t approve, they still do it, so there’s no small box where these two can be crammed in and defined. They find love on their own terms. On secret missions to the city they’re even required to act like lovers, to make their appearance feel real and proper to anyone looking on. So within the system, and outside, they work towards a lasting, loving relationship. At least until the end where we’re left with an ambiguous moment: does David make the final commitment, or does he run from this relationship like the last to try and find another one? There’s no telling. I like to think he took the plunge, dedicated to his loving partner for all time; no matter what.
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This is one of my favourite films of 2015. A veritable 5-star work of cinema. Lanthimos allows a romance to come out here while simultaneously exploring his vision of dystopian future. Some dystopian fiction feels far off. Somehow, Lanthimos makes The Lobster feel odd and science fiction-like in a social setting, all the while giving it a feeling that this is a future so close that it’s eerie. There are moments of very futuristic thought in terms of social and romantic relationships, as well as deeply affecting scenes of emotion. With people turning into animals, a rebel group living amongst the forest, a Hotel where singles are imprisoned in order to find a husband or wife, Lanthimos has a distinct concept of a couple-obsessed society where the government has completely breached the wall separating the bedroom and the state. While many might find this movie, and others like it, off-putting or too strange to enjoy, for those willing to get weird this is a fascinating work of art. Totally worth the experience.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a Dystopian Vision of Not-So-Distant Future

Brazil. 1985. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, & Tom Stoppard.
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown, Derrick O’Connor, Kathryn Pogson, Bryan Pringle, & Shella Reid. Embassy International Pictures.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
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Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘bureaucracy’ as the following: 1) a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected; 2) a system of government or business that has many complex rules, an administrative policy-making group; 3) government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is the filmic epitome of a not-so-far off future, nearly a dystopian present, where bureaucracy has created such a perfectly tailored society for the upper echelons that they can do just about anything they want, to whomever they please. What Gilliam does so well is expose the saccharine sweet surface of such a society, as a disturbingly rotten core lies further at its core. Since my dad introduced me to them at a early age Monty Python have always been a big influence on me. Partly a reason why when Gilliam made films on his own, they intrigued me immediately. At a young age I also saw his movie The Fisher King, and that had a tremendous impact on me, both due to the whole story and plot, as well as the fact Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams did fantastic jobs in the lead roles.
However, with all the great work he’s done in cinema it is always Brazil to which I return, that always keeps me coming back and wanting more. It’s funny because, as great an actor Jonathan Pryce is, I’ve never considered him a leading man; more a supporting guy, even a character actor at times. Yet here, he is perfect. It’s as if all pistons were pumping, every thing in its right place, and this masterpiece of dystopian film fiction came to us in all its quirky, unabashedly strange glory.
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The bureaucracy is utterly skewered by this screenplay. And while it’s right there, so open, that doesn’t make it any less funny. An entire system is made out to be incredibly inept through all the different departments, the divisional hierarchy making one hand completely unaware of what the other is doing. What’s so great is that Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard do their own thing, but much of their madness also does feel Kafkaesque at times. From the beginning mix up between Buttle and Tuttle that causes a man to, eventually, lose his life, to the various fuck arounds Sam has to through, there is no shortage of incredibly wild existential grief. One thing I’ve always loved is that the bureaucracy is epitomized in the fact there’s no Orwellian figure at the top, the hierarchy goes nowhere. It’s a perfect little touch. Not only that, there’s a vaguely futuristic, sci-fi element to the entire production, yet the story feels extremely contemporary rather than something being predicted. That truly aids the entire movie, as it feels like this bureaucratic, totalitarian society is just one step away. Especially when you watch it now, as the U.S. Presidential campaign is underway, getting zanier, more dystopian than possibly ever before at times. Even in ’85, Gilliam put this out there at the right time, as people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were running their respective countries and things, though sold in a pretty package, were looking quite bleak underneath the political rhetoric and doublespeak.
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Spoiler Alert: Do not go on if you haven’t actually finished the film, or else be spoiled.
Ultimate irony, though dreamily, ends with Tuttle (De Niro) eventually being swallowed up by paperwork; the very thing he’d earlier told Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) was a reason why he hated the system nowadays. I love a lot of the imagery like this. Sam goes to help Tuttle only to find nothing in the mound of papers that seemed to be choking him. This entire sequence during the finale is actually something I remember seeing on Showcase, a Canadian channel, years ago. For some reason Brazil was on in the late afternoon, I’d landed on the channel after school. I caught the last few minutes or so right after Tuttle disappears, so out of context it looked like absolute insanity. It was creepy. Years later when I was seventeen or eighteen, I tracked this down and watched the whole thing. Then it went on to be one of my favourite films, ever. But those crazy moments with the casket, the eerie masks, all that stuff, it stuck with me. Because you finally get a look totally beneath the mask of that society. The rotten core is visible, fully. We still see bits of the sweet slip in, only Lowry is hallucinating, off in the Brazil of his mind, as the physical body remains back in the dingy, dark tomb-like auditorium where he’s likely to waste away.
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The world of Brazil is part camp, part visionary, part horrific. A 5-star bit of dystopian fiction on film. Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python brain comes together with an even more sophisticated sense of satire resulting in one of my picks for best films of all-time. Absolutely on my top list. The acting is terrific, from Jonathan Pryce to the fantastic Ian Holm and equally awesome Robert De Niro everybody pulls their weight, and then some. The set designs, the dream sequences, all of it is just downright perfect. At the same time it’s liable to give you nightmares remembering those creepy fat faced masks. To this day I’ll have a bad dream where those faces show up. Seeing it so randomly on television when I was young it always crept into my brain when least expected. But after actually watching it through, many times and on Criterion at that, Brazil has presented itself as one of the more chilling and daringly accurate visions of a near future that I’ve personally seen onscreen.