Automata (2014): Evolution of a Different Sort

Film poster for Automata
Directed and co-written by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas, the 2014 film Automata takes the ideology behind I Robot and makes it darker; the result of a different sort of evolution. Set in a Dystopian future where mankind has shrunk to just a few million survivors on an inhospitable Earth, the story follows one man’s investigation of an “impossible” crime. With shades of Blade Runner, the film has a protagonist that is not a cop but an insurance investigator, criminals that are not cyborgs but robots who have gone against their protocols and evolved.

Jacq Vaucan (Banderos) is a married man whose wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is heavily pregnant and an investigator that is fed up with his job and wants to be moved. His work consists of proving that the robots manufactured by ROC cannot be altered or perform against their protocols.

There are two protocols that each robot must adhere to. The first does not allow it to harm any living thing and the second does not allow it to alter or repair itself. A cop named Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots and destroys a robot that he claims was repairing itself. The policeman, who was high on drugs at the time of the shooting, swears that he did not imagine the incident; that the machine altered itself right in front of him.

Robert Bold (Robert Forster) tells Vaucan that this is impossible and the investigator starts looking for someone who disabled the second protocol; a clocksmith. Jacq finds one, a Dr. DuPre (Melanie Griffith) but it turns out that she is not modifying the robots and she learns that it has happened “naturally.”

This film is very dark and brooding in its delivery and with its depiction of a future-earth burnt and dried out by solar flares. Automata does a brilliant job showing the fickle nature of mankind. In the backstory, humanity cheer the new “pilgrim” robots that were made to help “push back the desert.” When the machines fail, the same people who cheered them on turn and their praise becomes hate and disgust.

Similar to I Robot, the machines are part of everyday life although in the that film, the cities are clean and full of successful, happy people. In Automata , like Blade Runner, the towns are dirty, full of acid rain, the unemployed, worn-out robots and is segregated from the ghetto, which is “out of bounds” to the city dwellers.

While the message is bleak, for mankind at least, the robots seem to be the future. Banderas acts his little cotton socks off in the film and his performance alone is worth the “price of admission” as they say. Griffith has a small role and while she still has the chops to impress, it is her character’s outcome that is remembered best. Shocking and sudden, it sticks in the mind and fits this future of grim reality.

Kudos to two favorite Brit actors who have worked together before, although they do not share any real screen time here, Tim McInnerny and Andy Nyman. The actors appeared in the 2006 horror film Severance and it was a delight to see them in this film. McInnerny as the long dust coat-wearing killer for ROC and Nyman as the partner of Wallace, the drug addict cop. Both actors can play “Yanks” quite convincingly.

Oh, and Keep an ear out for Javier Bardem as the “blue” robot.

Automata is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is a real 5 out of 5 stars film. This one, as they say, is a keeper and should become a cult favorite if it has not done so already. Watch this one you will be glad you did.

The Expendables 3: Antonio Banderas Saves Saggy Middle (Review/Trailer)

The Expendables 3: Antonio Banderas Saves Saggy Middle (Review/Trailer)

The Expendables 3 feels a little flat without Bruce Willis as Church and the middle is a bit saggy, perhaps as much as Kelsey Grammer’s middle but Antonio Banderas saves the entire film as the best action-man/comic relief imaginable. It never helps a film when an actor who was in the first two installments of a franchise leaves suddenly with a good portion of bad publicity. Willis was fired from the third segment of this popular escapist action “series” amid producer Sylvester Stallone’s Twitter tirade where he accused Bruce of being greedy and lazy.

Jennifer Lopez Reacts Smartly to Casper Rumor?

Jennifer Lopez Reacts Smartly to Casper Rumor?

The same week that Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas have split after 18 years or so of marriage, it has been reported that Jennifer Lopez has reacted smartly to the Casper rumor of his dallying with a transsexual model. Or is that models? According to the Internet, Casper was conversing with a number of transsexual’s via Instagram.

Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas Not Uncoupling but Divorcing

Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas Not Uncoupling but Divorcing

18 years of marriage have come unravelled for Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and this celebrity couple is not “uncoupling” but divorcing, albeit in a “thoughtful and consensual” manner. Outsiders looking in will find no new age and hippified terms to this dissolved relationship, nothing except for two grown ups, spelt mid 50’s adults, who are calling it quits after a long time together.

The Skin I Live In (2011): Revenge Eaten Cold

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar this 2011 film is an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet‘s novel Mygale (published as Tarantula in English) *information courtesy of Wikipedia* and is about tragic death, madness and revenge.

Almodóvar first read the book ten years before the film was made and he was impressed by  “the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard’s vendetta*information courtesy of Wikipedia* and that is what he made the focus of the film.

The plot revolves around plastic surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard. At the beginning of the film he is experimenting with developing a “tougher” artificial skin that is impervious to insect bites and burning. He gives a presentation to a medical symposium and states that he is experimenting on athymic mice but later reveals that he is using human subjects as well. This admission results in his being denied permission to continue his work.

Ledgard is quite obviously extremely wealthy as his house also has a modern operating theatre as well as other high-tech medical facilities. He keeps a young woman in a room that he watches via CCTV and she is obviously being “treated” with the new tougher skin. It becomes apparent that he is obsessed with his patient, who wears an all-in-one protective “second skin” and practises yoga and some sort of fashion art.

Home chemistry with style.
Home chemistry with style.

As the film progresses, we learn more about the doctor, his staff and his circumstances. His first wife was horribly disfigured and almost died as the result of burns sustained in a car accident. As her health improves she hears their daughter singing in the garden, she gets up from her sickbed and goes to the window to observe the girl singing. Opening the curtain allows her to see her own reflection in the glass; it is that of a monster. Screaming, she flings herself from the window; landing at her daughter’s feet.

A few short years later the daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez) meets a young man who has “gate crashed” a party she is attending. The gate crasher is Vicente (Jan Cornet) and the two young people hook up. While they are headed to the gardens of the house, Vicente reveals he is high on pills and asks Norma if she takes pills. Her reply, in its innocence, shows how deeply her mother’s suicide and death at her feet has affected her. The girl is on a cocktail of drugs and is obviously a mental wreck.

A short time later the sexually aroused Vicente starts having sex with a dazed Norma, when the song that she sung when her mother killed herself is heard. She starts to panic and begins fighting Vicente and screaming. He panics and strikes her several times till she passes out. Quickly he adjusts her clothing and leaves. Ledgard goes searching for Norma and finds her unconscious. As he is bringing her around, it is apparent that she thinks he raped her.

Years of therapy commence, but, ultimately she has been damaged beyond repair and suffers her mother’s fate. Meanwhile, Ledgard searches for and finds her “attacker” from the party.

Throughout the film we learn more about Ledgard and the young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya); his housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) and their connections and the tragedies that intertwine their fates.

This film, if not done correctly, could have come off as a Soap Opera with wild tangents of plot running throughout. Watching the movie is like listening to a concerto being performed by drugged artistes who, despite their narcotised state, evoke deep dark emotions of brilliance. Despite the overall theme of retribution and tragedy, the film appears to really be about madness and obsession.

Zeca leaves no doubt as to his intentions for Vera.

On a side note here, Roberto Álamo as Robert’s half-brother Zeca, provides a short hideous comic turn as the criminal who thinks that Vera is Robert’s dead wife resurrected (Ledgard has performed surgery on her to make her resemble his dead wife) and in a suspenseful build up, he rapes Vera and dies for his effort.

Almodóvar specializes in these types of “off-kilter” films that are filled with odd and flawed characters and he does it well. The film never fails to mesmerize nor does it disappoint in plot; a plot that, despite its convoluted nature, is easy enough to follow and is impressive in its depth and scope.

The score, provided by Alberto Iglesias moves the film along well and is almost like a second skin to the events that are taking place on the screen. The movie had an estimated budget of 13 million dollars and had a box office return of over 30 million dollars. Not quite a “runaway” success, but one that shows the film was well received.

A brilliant tour de force of off-kilter characters that are all the helpless flotsam and jetsam of fate’s cruelty and worth every second spent watching it.

Vicente just beginning his penance.