Category Archives: Movies

Cyberpunk Matrix Movies and Films

Upgrade (2018): Movie Review

Upgrade was a movie that immediately piqued my interest when it first came out, but that I figured would be a typical action revenge slug-fest where the main character, through the help of an AI enhancement chip, would give him something akin to Kung Fu moves as it took over and helped him unleash all kind of badassery.

Thus I was very pleasantly surprised by the range and scope of this movie. Although still a self-contained revenge story, there were a lot of surprises that I didn’t expect, and a lot of artistic choices that I found made this movie rise up as much more than a simple revenge action flick.

Grey Trace is a mechanic whose wife is suddenly and tragically murdered, and he is left quadriplegic for reasons unknown.

MOVIE REVIEW UPGRADE

After attempting to recreate the semblance of a life after his injury, he is offered an AI chip called STEM that promises to give him full mobility of his body back, billed as a ‘second brain’ of sorts. Once implanted, Grey goes on a quest to find out why he and his wife were attacked, through the help of STEM.

One of the things that really makes this film work is the chemistry between the AI, called STEM, and the main character, Grey Trace. STEM is voiced by Simon Maiden, whom I hadn’t heard of before, but his voicing is excellent. Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) also gives an excellent performance, with both a wide range of emotion, action, and his ability to move his body in a highly wooden fashion as if STEM were controlling it. The way he moves his head, arms, and complete body as if it were a robot controlling parts of a whole, helped reinforce the illusion that STEM truly was in control. Another cool effect was how I experienced hearing STEM for the first time. Not only does it take you by surprise when he does speak, but only the speakers in the back of the theater projected his voice, whereas all speakers projected Grey’s voice, further creating the illusion that STEM was inside all of our heads.

The second thing that I loved about this movie was the pacing. Too many action films, in my view, rush all of their action sequences and don’t take their time, either via multiple scenes or too many shots. Not so with this movie. They take ample time to introduce characters and build up the relationship between Grey and his wife Asha.

Upgrade romance2

I noticed that after about 30 minutes, the catalyst of his wife being murdered still hadn’t happened yet. Considering the movie’s run time of 95 minutes, this was clearly a choice the director made and couldn’t have decided lightly.

Finally, the third surprising element of the film is how it delivers the right dose of humor between all the action. Many movies have been able to be successful in this endeavor, injecting the right dose of humor to lighten up the gravity of the action, usually through quirky and witty banter from the main characters (ahem Marvel), but this movie doesn’t do that. Rather, the humor is shown through Grey’s reactions to everything that is happening to him. He reacts to the AI sentience of the chip much like any one of us might react: with surprise, alarm, incredulity, and then a slow begrudging level of trust due to the abilities and polite nature of the AI. As a result, when the AI does things that are perhaps logical but also inhuman and unpredictable to the rest of us, Grey serves as a vessel of the audience in sharing that mutual reaction of “WTF is happening right now???” In this way the movie’s humor works really well.

Adding to these three elements are simply a lot of little things that work well. Technology is advanced, but not ubiquitous, as is well represented in the dichotomy of Grey’s love for mechanical diesel engines and the simplicity of a tech-free life, in juxtaposition with his wife’s big embrace of everything advanced, electronic, and technological. So when he chooses (without much of a choice) to be implanted with STEM, it makes his situation that much more ironic, but not unfamiliar for cyberpunk fans who might have seen similar situations play out in movies such as RoboCop.

As I left the theater, I found that I was struck by the question¬†does this count as cyberpunk? There are low life elements, and high tech elements, although it’s not chock-full as Blade Runner or The Matrix is. However, the technology that is ever present is a lot more biopunk than cyberpunk.

Like, for instance, what I like to call “Hand-Guns”.

Upgrade hand-gun

 

Although there was a bit of cyberpunk, such as incidental shots of people in VR and a few VR scenes, these didn’t contribute that much to the story and therefore I’d call it Biopunk with some Cyberpunk elements.

Upgrade VR

This scene, with people randomly ambling about in the back using VR but not relevant to the story, is as close to VR as the movie gets. Although there are some drones, the most advanced tech again is implanted in bodies, thus I stand by my statement that it’s Biopunk with some cyberpunk elements. Although we do get some fun bits of dialogue such as when Grey asks “why would people want to be in VR for so long?” to which a hacker replies “maybe because for some people reality is more painful”.

Overall, I would give this movie a 9 or 9.5 out of 10. Although it’s not deep or profound like my favorite movie of all time, The Matrix, it does so much more than your average Revenge Action flick set in a quasi-cyberpunk setting. The score is good, and there are some truly beautiful scenes as well. Also, their use of camera angles to accentuate their action scenes was so much fun.

I’d highly recommend seeing it in theaters if you still can!

Check out the trailer that made me think it was nothing more than an action-revenge flick here:

Ready Player One (2018): Movie Review

Ever since I read Ernest Cline’s excellent book by the same name, I had been so excited to see this movie ever since I saw its first trailer in the movie theaters. Ready Player One was the kind of book that I finished in a couple weeks, couldn’t put down, and found myself saying “Man, this would be an amazing movie!” as I read it.

So here’s my SPOILER-FREE review of the movie, and some thoughts about how it was different from the book.

First off, let me say that I really enjoyed the movie. Perhaps part of the reason why I really liked it is because it’s different enough from the book, that watching the movie felt like a different piece of entertainment altogether. Sure, the story was still basically the same, but a lot of the action sequences were completely different, leaving me to guess and experience the same surprise and thrill as the rest of the crowd.

A little about the story, in case you have no idea what it’s about. The basic premise is that this movie is about a young man who’s searching for a hidden “easter egg” (read: treasure) within a virtual reality world that serves as place of commerce and entertainment for the majority of human civilization in the future. Although it takes place in a dystopian future, there isn’t much in the movie that addresses that, neither was there in the book. The virtual world, conveniently called the OASIS, is a place to escape the real world and both works leave it at that. The real story comes in the chase for the treasure, as both forces of good and evil race against time to get the hidden egg before the other. In the movie Steven Spielberg masterfully crafts his characters, although they do feel a bit simplistic at times, as if the target audience is primarily young adults.

Which makes sense. After all, the book also felt like a fun bubble-gum kind of story, with little suffering or grit or real violence. This is also mirrored in Cline’s irreverent, lackadaisical writing style.

The other thing that is quick to notice, and the media will also be quick to point out, is how chock-full the movie is in references. From Jurassic Park to Back to the Future, the movie adds to the 80s references with more modern, often video game, references like Halo or Overwatch.

It was definitely fun to see these references pulled out in the movie, sometimes literally from thin air (such as a weapon from one of your favorite video games you’ve spent hours using and picking up suddenly appear on-screen in the main character’s hands). I also thought the direction was very well done, with the camera swiveling to catch fluid actions and angles of the action, especially in the virtual world’s action scenes.

The transitions from virtual to real also felt very fluid, and overall the pacing was excellent as well. There were a few scenes that I felt needed a bit more gravitas, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.

Overall it was a very fun movie, highly enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously, and an excellent adaptation. My final verdict: 9/10.

Ready Player One and its Utopian Educational World

ready_player_one cover

A captivating read

In case you’re unfamiliar, Ready Player One is a novel that was written by Ernest Cline and is being adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg. The story follows Wade Watts in his pursuit of finding a hidden treasure in a worldwide online virtual world called the OASIS. The OASIS is where people play games, escape their reality,¬† do their business transactions, and learn in school. It’s also a huge ode to video gamers and is chock full of pop culture references.

This book was so much fun for me that I read it twice (which never happens) and it’s a very fast read, too.¬† Quite the page turner. I remember thinking how exciting and interesting a film adaptation would be, which is why I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the trailer for this movie for the first time in theaters.

Beyond describing the love videogamers have of completing a game and all of its fun referencing, there’s a lot that can be gleaned out of this book as thought pieces, even if the book itself never takes the time to consider the ideas.

Ready-Player-One-Oasis

A Beautiful Education System

I remember the first time I read the book, I was amazed by the educational world described in the book. In the OASIS, the government has online virtual classes where a program monitors student language and behavior, allowing the teacher to simply teach and nothing more. This means that bullying becomes a thing of the past, and enables teachers to do much more than they traditionally are able to do.

As a teacher, a virtual world free of bullying, fully immersive and with the ability to engage and inspire students in such novel ways is like a dream come true. But here’s the thing:

This could actually happen.

Why not? We’ve already seen students use ipads more and more in classrooms, and now the VR setting on anyone’s smartphone simply requires a headset to view it with, and we’ve already got visual VR which can connect to headphones to become audiovisual VR.

Imagine if teachers could use this VR system in their classrooms to take students to the surface of Mars. Or take them inside a cell to observe a mitochondria. Or take them back in time to witness the rise and fall of Ancient Rome. Imagine if teachers didn’t need to act as counselors, or disciplinarians, and could simply teach the content they love!

What are your thoughts? Do you think this will be the future of education, or is it unlikely to become a reality?