Robo-CHIC

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“Overdrawn at the comedy bank”

robochicDr. Von Colon (King) has completed his life-work, a female robot called Robo-CHIC (Shower and/or Jennifer Daly – we’ll get into the logic of this later), the second half of her name standing for Computerized Humanoid Intelligent Clone. At the same time, nerd terrorist Harry Truman Hodgkins (Ward) has planted a dozen nuclear bombs around the United States, times to go off at regular intervals. While he’s easily arrested, he is busted out during transit to the federal pen, falling under the control of evil overlord Quentin Thalian, who decides that if he holds Hodgkins hostage, he’ll then hold the nation hostage. And his demands won’t stop at getting girls to like him: he’ll also demand the police stand down so he can do whatever he wants. An unguarded remark by the Doctor – more or less along the lines of “somebody needs to do something!” – sets Robo-CHIC in pursuit of Hodgkins, along with TV reporter John Kent (Baker), and they have to resolve all this mess before any more stock footage of nuclear explosions occurs. And I haven’t even mentioned the biker gang, Satan’s Onions. They should be Satan’s Minions, but there was a screw up with their jackets. This does, however, provide a good indication of the extremely low-hanging comedic fruit at which this film aims.

Even given this, it misses more of than it hits, in particular with Dr. Von Colon, who comes over as some bizarre cross between Albert Brooks and Lloyd Kaufman – and not the good aspects of each, either. The only two people who have the right approach are Ward, and Rita Gonstodine as stunningly stupid newscaster and colleague of Kent’s, Bambi Doe. Those offer about the only times you laugh with the film, rather than cringing at it. Then, you have the fact that two entirely different actresses play the heroine during the film. It appears Shower, despite receiving a production credit, bailed on the production midway through shooting, but it was decided to replace her and keep shooting, on the basis the audience either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care. The blonde, curly wig worn by both helps, and it’s not as blatant as, say, Bela Lugosi in Plan 9, yet they also decided this was a story which needed to be told at a length of more than 100 minutes. Even if this was now a sunk cost, the correct decision when the lead actress left, would have been to shoot the bare minimum necessary with the replacement to qualify as a feature. Trust me, future generations of viewers would have thanked you.

This is so lacklustre, it barely qualifies as an action film. However, this is also so unfunny, it barely qualifies as a comedy, and long before this reaches its climax, your attention will be sorely taxed, because it feels perilously close to an idea rejected by Troma. And given the films Troma did make the same year this came out (1990) included Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, that would set the bar so low, a limbo-dancing midget would encounter problems. Avoid, at all costs.

Dir: Ed Hansen + Jeffrey Mandel
Star: Kathy Shower, Ranson Baker, Kip King, Burt Ward

Perfect: Android Rising

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“Future imperfect.”

androidFeeling mostly like a fan-film located somewhere between the universes of Robocop and Terminator, this starts with a military project to create a soldier-android, which goes wrong and ends with the creation killing the wife of its creator, Dr. Peter Hess (Lombardi): it’s then abducted from a storage facility, and vanishes. Fast-forward a few years, and Hess tries again, this time creating Lia (Talbott), in the image of his wife: the military, led by General Arken (Zahn)  remain interested, because America has collapsed into internal strife and civil war, with group of rebels taking on the larger forces of the government. As a test, Lia is sent out to exterminate one of their nests, but with the help of an EMP gun, the rebels’ leader, Kass (Williams) captures the attacker. Can she be re-programmed from a mindless killing machine into something bearing a closer resemblance to a human? And what will Lia do if Kass succeeds?

Having enjoyed Notarile’s previous GWG film, Stand Off, this one was somewhat disappointing. The sci-fi oriented theme attempted here requires a little more in the way of production values, than the urban crime one of Stand Off, even if it’s simply to give the impression Lia is stronger, faster or more powerful than a human. That doesn’t happen, and she simply appears bulletproof, so you wonder why they bother. The other main problem is the dialogue. You know how some films sound like people speaking, and in others, it sound like characters saying lines from a script? This definitely falls in the latter department, with too many lines that seem necessary to the plot, rather than flowing naturally from the situation. The re-wiring of Lia is also way too easy: this is supposed to be bleeding-edge military technology, unseen in the civilian world, but I’ve installed browser plugins with more difficulty. Delete one file, tell her, “Hey, you shouldn’t be killing us,” and she goes, “Well, I’m convinced”, then changes sides. And the Genesis subplot is abandoned entirely in the middle, before showing up again at the very end, for no apparent reason beyond foreshadowing a sequel.

This isn’t to say it’s totally without merits. Talbott is rather better as Lia than as Mrs. Hess, capturing the emotionless android well, and the lack of wire-fu or other artificially-enhanced action sometimes does work for the movie. Notarile captures the blasted post-industrial landscape well, getting good bang for his (relatively few) bucks. But unlike Stand Off, this never escapes its low-budget origins. If you’re into fan films, this is respectable enough, and I remain interested in see further work from his Blinky Productions studio – Assassinista looks particularly interesting. However, you need to set your expectations appropriately, and if you’re looking for something reaching the level of a fully-professional feature, you’re going to be disappointed.

Dir: Chris R. Notarile
Star: Roberto Lombardi, Samantha Talbott, Kasey Williams, Rick Zahn

The Machine

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“Rise of the Robots”

the machineA little way in the future, a cold war between China and the West is beginning to heat up. In an underground base, Vincent McCarthy (Stephens) is doing research into cybernetic implants that can help injured soldiers lead productive lives. He’s also working on a fully self-aware android. His boss, Thompson (Lawson) likes this because of the potential military uses; McCarthy is actually doing it as a potential way of helping his mentally-disabled daughter. He gets a new assistant, Ava (Lotz), whose radical politics are viewed with suspicion by Thompson, yet there’s no denying her knowledge, and McCarthy also uses Ava as the template for his android’s persona. When she is killed by a Chinese agent, McCarthy activates the android, called “Machine”. and Thompson sees his chance to shape into a prototype for a new generation of artificial soldiers., super-strong, lightning fast and unburdened by that pesky morality thing. He blackmails McCarthy into removing Machine’s conscience, only to find she has entered into an electronic alliance with the soldiers that received implants, who are now working as guards on the base.

The start of this rang bells. I think I made an effort to watch this before, and gave up for some reason, likely related to it taking a while to get anywhere beyond its obvious low-budget limitations, i.e. early on, it forgets the need to show, don’t tell and is frankly, too chatty. However, once Ava turns into Machine, it becomes a good deal more interesting. It remains somewhat derivative in certain aspects, though it’s hard for any low-budget SF film ever to be entirely original: Species and Blade Runner would appear the most obvious inspirations, asking what it means to be human, yet taking the form of a very non-human life-form. Chuck in some Frankenstein, a bit of 2001, and it seems to have some Eve of Destruction in there as well, through the “military experiment gone rogue” angle. However, it’s most effective when going its own way, whether in storyline or style: there’s one stunning sequence where Machine isn’t doing much beyond walking, and is literally glowing from within. Beautifully executed, it shows what imagination and ingenuity can do, even on limited resources.

The movie’s other strength is Lotz who, as the picture above shows, genuinely looks like she could kick your ass if she wanted to, a refreshing change from some of the wispier action-heroines I’ve seen recently. [I’m looking at you, The Lady Assassin…] I may have to start watching Arrow, on which she plays Black Canary: her background as a dancer serves her well, and she also projects a wide-eyed innocence which appears appropriate to her “newborn” status. But the latter might be as much for show, since it’s coupled with a steadily escalating awareness that the things Thompson wants her to do, might be morally ambiguous, at the very least. More intelligent than the average genre entry (if perhaps not as smart as it thinks), Caradog and his crew demonstrate a clear talent for making a little go a long way. I look forward to seeing what he does in future – and Lotz is likely also a name on which to keep an eye, as well.

Dir: Caradog W. James
Star: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi

Cyborg 2

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“The film that launched a thousand lips…”

cyborg2Before there was Salt, before there was Mrs. Smith, before there was even Lara Croft, there was Cash Reese. For Angelina Jolie got her start as a grown-up actress in this 1993 sequel to a Jean-Claude Van Damme action film. She plays a cyborg pumped full of liquid explosives by her creators, Pinwheel Robotics, with the aim of being dispatched to assassinate the board of their Japanese rivals, Kobayashi Electronics. However, Cash is busted out from their complex by employee Colton Ricks (Koteas) along with a mysterious virtual guide known as “Mercy” (Palance). Unwilling to let their investment go, Pinwheel unleash psychotic bounty-hunter, Danny Bench (Drago) to track her down, before the pair can escape to Mombasa, a free zone for independent cyborgs.

“After I saw it, I went home and got sick,” said Jolie. Really? Damn, she must have hurled like Regan MacNeil after watching The Cradle of Life then, for this isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s cheap, and rips off Blade Runner shamelessly in its visual style. However, it benefits immeasurably from an above average cast, who are all good for their roles. While Jolie’s lack of acting experience is certainly apparent, this doesn’t work against her character, an artificial person who is getting to experience the real world for the first time. Koteas is decent as the rugged hero – even though Cash is obviously stronger, quicker and probably smarter than he is. This does make the film’s finale somewhat dumb: in it, Ricks takes on Bench in a fight to the death, in order to win money for their passage to Mombasa, even though the rest of the film strongly suggests it’s Cash who would have a better chance of beating the hunter.

However, we must not forget the supporting cast who certainly help carry this, in particular Palance. His is mostly a voice performance, his lips appearing on video screens along the way to direct and assist Cash and Ricks, and brings an understated gravitas to proceedings they really don’t deserve. At the other end of the performance spectrum, yet equally fun to watch, is Drago, chewing scenery in memorable fashion. And we mustn’t forget Karen Sheperd as Chen, another hunter trailing Cash, leading to some good action there too. The script was originally intended as a standalone film called Glass Shadow [the name of the bio-explosive], which may explain why there’s no apparent connection to the original movie – as the not necessarily entirely accurate sleeve shown suggests, it was released this way in some territories. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and purely for opening the door to Jon Voight’s little girl, and the much bigger, (mostly) better things to come, definitely is deserving of a certain regard.

Dir: Michael Schroeder
Star: Elias Koteas, Angelina Jolie, Jack Palance, Billy Drago

She Are the Robots: the top 10 female cyborgs in film and television

slice-metropolisFor the purposes of this list, I am deliberately using a fairly vaguer definition of the term “cyborg”, probably looser than the Wikipedia-approved one of “a theoretical or fictional being with both organic and biomechatronic parts.” While some of those discussed below certainly fall into that description, I also include entirely artificial creations – whether mechanical or “vat-grown”, shall we say – even if the former may technically be robots rather than cyborgs, and the latter are, in the words of the Tyrell Corporation, “more human than human”. I’m really not interested in getting hung up on specific terminology, and will cut anyone who decides to whine about it. And no, I wouldn’t dare do other than put these in chronological order…

Maria – Metropolis (1927)

The original, not least because the term “cyborg” wasn’t actually created until 1960. Heck, even the word “robot” was only invented earlier that decade, by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. Must confess, I find sitting through the restored version of Fritz Lang’s classic highly soporific. Blasphemy it may be, but I prefer the shorter, Giorgio Moroder edit. But there no denying the pivotal role of the Maschinenmensch built by the inventor Rotwang, in memory of his one true love. However, she is used by the authorities to replace a workers’ leader, Maria, and foment violent rebellion which can then be crushed by Metropolis’s leaders. She may be the first, but Maria – played by 19-year-old Brigitte Helm, an actress with no previous film experience – combines two frequently seen aspects in the genre: the ‘perfect woman’ and the deceptive snake.

Galaxina (1980)Galaxina – Galaxina (1980)

Not to be taken seriously at all, but a surprising amount of fun, following the space-cop crew of the Infinity, as embark on a 54-year mission to save the powerful Blue Star [Ahh-aaaah… No, I’ve not had a seizure: every time it’s mentioned in the film, a choir erupts] from falling into the wrong hands. Galaxina is the ship’s pilot, and only real competent member; when the rest of the crew comes down with a nasty case of whiplash, she has to venture out onto a prison planet by herself. Despite starring Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten – tragically murdered by her estranged husband just a couple of months after Galaxina opened – this is chaste, but no less entertaining for it. Spoofing everything from Dark Star to Alien, for me, this is a good deal more amusing than Spaceballs.

Pris – Blade Runner (1982)

Has there been a single more influential film in the SF genre over the past forty years? It’s easy to forget this wasn’t a big hit on its initial release – 27th at the US box-office that year, just above Airplane II – but is now regarded as one of the all-time classics. Of the three female replicant characters, I wish they’d given more time to Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy), as she may be the baddest-ass of the bunch, more than capable of taking on Deckard until he unsportingly guns her down. But Daryl Hannah’s Pris Stratton turns out to be a great deal more than the “basic pleasure model” she is initially disparaged as, proving both smart and deadly alongside Roy Batty in their quest for more life. Has not just stood the test of time, this has actually improved significantly with age.

Eve – Eve of Destruction (1991)

While largely a cheerful B-action flick, this also contains elements of the Frankenstein myth, with scientist Dr. Eve Simmons (Renée Soutendijk) creating new life in the form of a robot, that doesn’t just look like her, it also contains much of her mental attributes, both good and bad. When things goes wrong – this is my unsurprised face there – the inhibitors are cast aside, and Robo-Eve is free to deal with all the insecurities and psychological detritus that Human-Eve would never dare handle. It’s almost liberating – or would be, if not for the high body-count left in Robo-Eve’s wake, which triggers more angst than anything. Add Robo-Eve in a bright-red leather jacket, and you’ve got the stuff video-store dream displays are made of.

Cash Reese – Cyborg 2 (1993)

While not the most critically-loved film on the list, to put it mildly, this is the film that launched the career of a very young Angelina Jolie. Not that she appears particularly grateful, saying, “I saw it and I threw up. Just nausea… But I was 17 and I think I thought I was making a real movie.” It’s not actually that bad. Sure, it’s almost a role-reversal of Blade Runner with a psychotic hunter chasing after our two leads, albeit lacking the big names and high production values, and Jolie is a mere fragment of what she’d go on to become. However, it’s hardly the worst film with a future Oscar winner: the supporting cast certainly help pick things up, with Jack Palance (just a couple of years after he won his own Academy Award) and Billy Drago especially entertaining.

Battle Angel Alita (1995)Alita – Battle Angel Alita (1993)

There are a million good reasons to hate Avatar. The relevant one here, is that production on its sequels has stopped James Cameron from his long-reported adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga, published in 1990, which became a pair of OAVs, and that I really must get round to reviewing here.  It’s about an android, found on a garbage heap and repaired, and her quest for identity in a 26th-century dystopian world where the elite live in the sky, far above the grimy surface. Spine-theft, hyper-violent sports and painful loss ensues. Cameron first approached Kishiro in regard to an adaptation back in 1998, and had a “very good” script as long ago as 2009. But with two Avatar sequels to come first [oh, be still my beating heart], maybe… 2020? Sheesh.

Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Much like Dirty Pair, Masamune Shirow’s manga has spawned a confusing network of spin-off adaptations, which may or may not be related. There are two animated features (with a third due out this summer); a television series which ran for two seasons and concluded in its own movie; a prequel OAV series, Ghost in the Shell: Arise; plus further books, manga based on the adaptations, video games, etc. Its universe, set in a near-future where cybernetic augmentation has become common, as seen in its heroine, a squad leader in Japanese law enforcement. Beyond that… Well, I clearly have a great deal of catching up to do, before the live-action version scheduled for release in April 2017, starring Scarlett Johansson.

Number 6 – Battlestar Galactica (2003)

One of the twelve known Cylon models, this one could have been Number 3 (played by another renowned action heroine, Lucy Lawless) or Number 8. But, let’s face it, #6 is the most striking and photogenic. What I remember most about the early going in this series, was the paranoia it induced – because anyone could be a Cylon, and they might not even know themselves, which is a hell of a defense against discovery. Interesting trivia note: while Number 6 was played by Canadian model Tricia Helfer, another candidate for the role was Melinda Clarke, who would go on to the role of Amanda on Nikita. Would have made for a rather different vibe, I think, though Helfer is great, playing the multiple incarnations of her character with a fascinating range of subtle differences.

T-X – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Just as T2 upped the ante on the original by switching Arnie from villain to hero, so T3 did so by adding a “gender war” component to things. Played by Kristana Loken, who has subsequently carved out a minor career for herself as an action heroine, most obviously in the Bloodrayne franchise, but also in Bounty Killer and Mercenaries. She’s just about perfect here, and the battles between her and the T-850 are just hellacious, lengthy brawls. With both being artificial, there’s not the creepy “spousal abuse” vibe you sometimes get with male vs. female fights, and everyone just goes for it. I would admit, this is somewhat short of the first two films, though that’s mostly a testament to how near-perfect those are. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than Terminator: Salvation.

Äkta människor (2012)Bea – Äkta människor (Real Humans) (2012)

I wobbled over whether to include this, since its mere presence is a big spoiler. However, the name by itself won’t give away too much, and the odds are you won’t have seen this Swedish TV series. Though that’s a shame, since it’s an enthralling exploration of a society where androids are part of everyday society, and what happens when a tiny percentage of them are given full self-awareness. For some, this is a good thing; but for others, it causes resentment as they appreciate their inferior place in human society, and they prepare the ground for a battle to take what they see as their birthright. There’s scheduled to be an English-language remake on AMC (US) and C4 (UK) later this year: it’s going to have to go some, to live up to the high standards of its inspiration.

Honorable mentions:

  • Jamie Summers (The Bionic Woman, 1976 + 2007);
  • Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager, 1995);
  • Annalee Call (Alien: Resurrection, 1997)
  • Max Guevera (Dark Angel, 2000);
  • the Buffybot (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2000);
  • KAY-Em 14 (Jason X, 2001);
  • River Tam (Firefly, 2002);
  • Cameron (The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008);

And androids also appear…

Maidroid 2: Maidroid vs. Hostroids

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“Maid in Japan”

maidroidPart one was deemed by the qualification panel as falling short of the necessary minimum level for inclusion here, being a mix of poignant drama about an elderly man whose lifelong companion’s battery is running down, and porn. The sequel, however, just about does enough to qualify, albeit while retaining a hefty dose of the latter aspect – and you don’t need to have seen part one either. Here, disgruntled scientist Professor Uegusa (Horiken) hatches a plan to destroy the appearance-based culture of romance, and to finance this sends out his “hostroids”, attractive male androids, in a variety of guises, e.g. office manager, door-to-door salesman, etc. to seduce woman and bilk them of their savings. He also sends them to kill rival researcher Dr. Kouenji, who had been building a countermeasure, in the form of a maid android, Maria (Yoshizawa). Before his death, Kouenji sends Maria to geeky student Shotarou (Haraguchi), but she isn’t ready, needing her “love circuit” activated before she can attain her full potential needed to defeat Uegusa and the hostroids. Can Shotarou manage that final step before the hostroids take him and Maria down?

After a fairly wobbly opening period, where it looks like the balance is going to tilt firmly towards the fleshly, this recovers nicely, demonstrating a nice sense of absurd humour, and with good lead performances from Yoshiwaza and Haraguchi. Shotarou comes over as likeable but lonely, rather than dysfunctional, and (whether by accident or design!) Yoshisawa’s stilted performance is perfect for Maria – a name which is an obvious nod to perhaps the first cinematic female robot, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It poses an interesting moral question too: you would think Shotarou would be right behind Uegusa’s plan, but the moral appears to be, that there’s something for everyone. Admittedly, it is somewhat undermined by Maria being emotionally attached to whoever is the first person she sees after being activated, but let’s not get into a discussion of free will in artificially created life-forms, shall we?

The action is limited, this clearly not being Yoshisawa’s forte, but is enlivened by imagination; for example, her maid head-band transforms into a lethal sword, and the hostroids have drill weapons that are… Well, I trust there’s no need for a diagram. After the film hits its stride (which takes maybe 15 of its 64 minutes), this manages to achieve a nice level, acknowledging the obviously prurient interests of the viewer, without pandering to them excessively. In a surprising twist, I actually found myself… Well, I wouldn’t go as far as “caring about”, but let’s say, “not entirely disinterested in” the protagonists and their fate, which is a rare occurrence in a movie of this kind. Maybe it’s just seeing this after the hell of Cat Girl, but by no means was this as terrible as I thought it might be.

Dir: Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Star: Akiho Yoshizawa, Daisuke Haraguchi, Hiroshi Hatakeyama, Horiken

Robogeisha

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“‘I, too, have an ass-sword.’ That quote about sums this up.”

Having been largely unimpressed by Iguchi’s other work, which seemed to have little to offer except megabytes of digital blood, I likely wouldn’t have watched this except an accident involving beer and my Apple TV remote has stopped me from much of my usual viewing. I could still stream from Netflix, however, though when I saw this was dubbed in English, I almost didn’t bother. But surprisingly, this has easily the best plot of his movies, with a slyly-twisted sense of imagination that’s very effective.

It centres on sisters Yoshie (Kiguchi) and Kikue (Hasebe), the latter a geisha who is cruel and vindictive to her younger sister. They are taken by Hikaru Kageno (Saito), the scion of Kageno Steel, to his castle and inducted as recruits into a geisha army, which he is using to take out opponents to his plans for national domination. Yoshie has an innate skill for assassination, soon surpassing Kikeu, who begs Hikaru to “upgrade” her mechanically, so she can best her sister. Yoshie, to keep up, is similarly enhanced.

The scenario shifts when Yoshie is sent to take out a group of senior citizens and discovers they are the families of other members of the geisha army – far from being willing volunteers, they were abducted and brainwashed by Kageno and his father. After narrowly escaping a suicide mission, Yoshie switches sides and joins the senior citizens, who add further to her artificial armoury. It’s up to her to stop Kageno, before he can drop a massive nuclear weapon into Mount Fuji, completing his plan.

This is certainly out there, but is a good deal lighter in tone than expected, often crossing the border into an outright silliness that is actually endearing. For instance the whose “castle-shaped robot” concept is beautifully ludicrous, not least as the building rampages around, whacking building that then spurt blood, for no readily apparent reason. There’s also shades of 60’s spy thrillers like Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs in the basic concept of the geisha army, though there’s still a certain ass-fetishism which I could have done without – swords and shuriken both come flying out of there.

Complaining that this is, to quote Monty Python, “too silly,” would be missing the point, and the fight sequences are well put-together, not least when involving Kageno’s lead henchwomen, the Tengu Twins. At over 100 minutes, it is likely a little too long and these are less performances, than hangers, on which to place lurid visuals of questionable taste. However, you will want to keep watching, simply to see what the heck Iguchi will come up with next.

Dir: Noboru Iguchi
Star: Aya Kiguchi, Hitomi Hasebe, Takumi Saito, Taro Shigaki

Black Magic M-66

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“Aliens meets The Terminator in a brisk, head-on collision.”

Shirow has certainly done his fair share of anime works that are regarded as classics – his best-known creation is probably Appleseed. This is from relatively early in his career; indeed, coming out in 1991 made it one of the first anime to be ‘properly’ distributed in the West [and, by that, I mean subtitled and not cut down for a child audience]. It centers on the titular pair of military androids, who are released after their transport craft goes down in the middle of a forest. The army cordon off the area, which draws the attention of Sybel (Sakakibara), a reporter, unwilling to let anything stand in the way of her story. She witnesses a hellacious fire-fight in which one ‘droid is destroyed, while the other escapes, and discovers the goal for the android is to kill the inventor’s young grand-daughter, Ferris. As the only person who knows the current location of the daughter, it’s up to her to save the child.

Barely half the length of an average movie, this fairly gallops along, towards an extended climax in a high-rise block, where Sybel is the only thing left standing between the relentless robot and its target. This is when the film is at is best, with action sequences that wouldn’t shame most Hollywood action movies. Less successful – in fact, basically absent (admittedly, no real surprise given the running time) – is any real effort at developing the characters. We know Sybel is focused, because she leaves her apartment with her camera, yet forgets to put on clothes. That’s about the extent of it, and she is the best-served of anyone in the film; Ferris, for instance, does little but squeal in an irritating manner. It’s also a product of its time: originally made in 1987, animation has changed radically in the more than two decades since, and the style now looks somewhat clunky, especially when it tries to simulate camera movement.

Still, the storyline holds up nicely, and given America’s fondness for remaking Japanese genre films, one wonders why they haven’t bothered to mine the animation vaults further [though Speed Racer probably acts as a good counter-argument!]. It’d certainly be very easy to see this as a James Cameron movie.

Dir: Masamune Shirow
Star (voice): Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shinji Ogawa, Yû Mizushima, Chisa Yokoyama

Eve of Destruction

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“Known as Terminator Woman in Spain, I can see their point.”

While undeniably a product of its time – which would be 1991 – this has stood the test of time very well, and remains a solid piece of action SF. Eve Simmons (Soutendijk) is a researcher working for the US government on creating life-like robots for surveillance missions, and her creation, Eve VIII, not only looks like her, but has her memories and psychology too. When on a test run in San Francisco, Eve VIII is caught up in a bank robbery and a bullet sends her off the grid, and on her own mission. Jim McQuade (Hines), something like a proto-Jack Bauer, is brought in to track down the lost little robot, who has all of her creator’s complexes, but none of the social restraints, leading to a fondness for automatic weapons, which she uses with abandon as she works out her psychiatric issues [cheaper than counselling, and a good deal more fun]. Oh, and Eve VIII also has a nasty little surprise package tucked away inside. It’s up to McQuade and Simmons to stop the killing machine before things really get out of hand.

Former pop-video director Gibbins [he did Wham’s Club Tropicana] makes a smooth transition to the action genre, and keeps things moving at a fine pace. It’s Soutendijk’s first European role – or rather roles, since she plays both human and cyborg, and she does a good job of splitting and defining them. Eve VIII has the kind of unfettered approach that’s fun to watch, wielding a Mac-10 with delightful abandon, and the image of Soutendijk in her red leather jacket, blazing away, is justifiably an icon of the genre. I particularly recall seeing the cardboard standee in the video-store which advertised the film. Sure, there are a number of convenient plot-holes [it’s never quite explained how Eve VIII tracks down her father through an army associate] and occasionally the budget and effects don’t prove quite up to the ideas the script wants to express. The subplot involving Eve’s son learning about genitals should probably have been removed entirely too: in these more-sensitive days, it comes across as creepy rather than anything.

But as a straightforward B-movie, it works nicely, with Hines having a nicely sardonic wit: “A spinach lasagne, in a light tomato and basil sauce,” is the reply, when Simmons asks dubiously what is McQuade’s “specialty” as a government agent. I’m still trying to work out if the film is feminist or chauvinist: you could read it either way, with the ‘liberated’ (if robotic) woman a free spirit, though the ending firmly puts Even back in her place, to say the least. She also emasculates one man, somewhat familiar territory for Soutendijk, who previously wielded a scissors to leg-crossing effect in The Fourth Man. Gibbins, meanwhile, died in the 1993 Hollywood fires, while trying to rescue a cat. Guess there’s never an unstoppable robot around when you really need one.

Dir: Duncan Gibbins
Star: Renee Soutendijk, Gregory Hines, Michael Greene, Kurt Fuller

Armitage III: Dual Matrix

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“Oppressed robots = clumsy social metaphors, despite some very cool fights.”

It’d probably be best to watch the original film, Poly Matrix, immediately before this, as otherwise, you’ll be kinda hitting the ground running. After those events, Ross Syllabus and “Third” [a model of android which can reproduce] Armitage have set up home with their daughter, who doesn’t know her mother is anything by human; meanwhile Ross operates under an assumed name as a security guard. However, an incident turns him into an unwilling spokesman for robot rights once again, and when he is sent to Earth as a Martian delegate, his daughter Yoko is kidnapped by a faction seeking to reverse his vote. It’s time for Armitage to put aside her chores and kick butt.

If I’m flaky on details, it’s because chapters 10+11 on the DVD were faulty and refused to play. But I don’t think it made much difference. This improves slightly over the original, since it doesn’t get bogged down in android angst, and the action scenes are lengthy and largely entertaining, particularly a finale in which Armitage takes on two relentless, giggling android killers (whose teamwork reminded me of Bambi + Thumper from Diamonds are Forever!). However, despite flashes of brilliance, the coherence of the story, and occasionally the animation, leaves a lot to be desired; too often, you’re left going “Eh?”, in the dark about what’s happening, and why.

For example, the climax takes place on a space elevator, a concept familiar in SF – but there’s no-one at all around. No security, customers, or staff. And Yoko’s kidnapping seems due to sloppy parenting as much as anything. Similarly to the first, there’s little original thought here, though in its defense, the recent release of I, Robot may make this seem less novel than it was on its 2002 release. In the English dub, Armitage is this time voiced by Juliette Lewis, but we stuck to the Japanese track, so can’t comment on her animation debut.

Dir: Katsuhito Akiyama
Star (voice): Ryôka Yuzuki, Hikaru Hanada, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Yuka Imai