Friday, 25 June 2021

Murder By Decree

Cast: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, and Donald Sutherland 

Director: Bob Clark 

124 minutes (12) 1979

Studio Canal Vintage Classics Blu-ray

[Released 28th June] 

Rating: 8/10

Review by Christopher Geary

London after dark. A nightmarish stalker on fogbound streets. Women are slaughtered in Whitechapel. Gruesome death lurks in alleys where a gothic atmosphere often blocks out sunlight, even on some beautifully designed urban sets. Scenes on docks and wharfs are particularly effective. Murder By Decree remains the finest film about Sherlock Holmes, here tackling his greatest (non-Arthur Conan Doyle) crime story, the real-life scandals of the world’s prototype serial-killer, Jack the Ripper. This very welcome hi-def edition (that includes English subtitles) begins with an on-screen ‘trigger warning’, about its ‘historical attitudes’ that might cause offence.

 

Bob Clark’s admirably straightforward direction benefits from the efforts of a superb cast, who are more than a match for the leads of Herbert Ross’ stylishly eccentric The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), where an addicted Holmes met Freud. Although, traditionally, Sherlock has been played by top British actors, it’s fascinating to see how well Canadian star Christopher Plummer (who died in February 2021), portrays the most celebrated of fictional detectives. As Dr Watson, the usually formidable James Mason is also excellent, with a supporting performance so confident, like he’s part of a timeless double-act, that this pair illustrate a genuine friendship as few partnerships from 221B Baker Street ever managed before, or since.

 

Prompted by local merchants to investigate the East End murders, Sherlock consults the psychic medium Lees (Donald Sutherland), a man with haunted eyes who claims to have visions of the Ripper. Scotland Yard’s own dogged policeman Lestrade is played by Frank Finlay, returning to the role he had in the movie A Study In Terror (1965), a previous version of this Ripper mythology. Case-book policeman Inspector Foxborough (David Hemmings), fronts a secret plot by radicals against the monarchy, while Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle) adopts a stridently corrupt position as Holmes’ authoritarian nemesis, protecting a source of ghastly mutilations. 


Holmes takes on a chimney-sweep disguise. Dr Watson gets himself arrested. Crushingly traumatised victim Annie Crook (scene-stealer Genevieve Bujold) is barely coherent, and committed to an asylum. Despite a balancing of spontaneity in its comedy-drama with creepy mystery-horrors, this Victoriana movie avoids the grisly slasher mentality, as explored in From Hell (2001), except for just a few scenes of bloody violence. Atypically, melancholy heroism emerges from gallantly re-active desperation, rather than any astute planning or keen-eyed judgements. Holmes is nominally polite in society but rather less coldly calculating. Plummer makes him far more compassionate, and too intelligently liberal for Tory snobs when he’s quietly dismissive of titled toffs. Obviously, Plummer is the people’s Sherlock.

 

From a wonderful bit of character-building about Watson eating a last pea, to an ultimate confrontation with a sinister conspiracy of a Freemasons order, this movie scales up from a wholly mundane modernity, to an esoteric and yet compelling answer to London’s most infamous unsolved crimes. “Imagine a more malign influence at work.” Clearly, this most human champion of all the Holmes on screen feels obliged to speak truth to power. For a negotiated showdown with the Prime Minister (John Gielgud), the soloing Holmes asserts, “I would prefer some more reliable authority”, when only token ‘justice’ appears possible.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

The Babadook

Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, and Daniel Henshall

Director: Jennifer Kent

94 minutes (15) 2014

Second Sight 4K Ultra HD

[Released 26th July]

Rating: 7/10

Review by Christopher Geary

Expanded from the 11-minute B&W short movie Monster (2005), witty Australian chiller The Babadook is writer-director Jennifer Kent’s feature-length debut. A marvellously compact effort, its plot is centred on a mysterious pop-up picture-book - about a weirdly intrusive stranger, that’s not a very wise choice as bedtime reading for any little boy already prone to worrisome nightmares. Six-year-old orphan Samuel (wonderfully played by newcomer Noah Wiseman) irritates his mother Amelia (Essie Davis, from Billy O’Brien’s Irish horror movie Isolation), unable to cope with her son’s increasingly unruly behaviour. Without a wink of sleep, her depression worsens rapidly as the cartoonish, and yet menacing, ‘Mr Babadook’ looms up from the shadows to admirably surrealistic effect. 


When Amelia’s maternal neuroses lead to psychotic episodes, this becomes a delicious frightener of domestic terror and mental disturbance, fuelled by TV of genre horrors and epic toothaches. Young Sam fights his mum’s apparent possession with various Home Alone tricks and makeshift weapons. Sadly, after building up a considerable momentum, Kent’s movie falters and almost flat-lines with its bargain-priced poltergeist showdown, as the screaming Amelia conquers her fear (with the Oz power of she-la, or something) and practically tames the black-hat demon. It’s a clever surprise, and a twist that’s fully in keeping with her original short film (helpfully included on this disc), but I couldn’t help wondering if a wholly darker, more pessimistic, ending might have worked rather better.

 

In the end, though, this is a haunted-house melodrama partly about struggles to overcome the crushing distress of grief and, as such, the movie is both artistically extraordinary as a moody genre piece, and satisfyingly worthwhile as a reflection on modern widowhood, stranded amidst uncaring relatives and unsympathetic neighbours. Davis’ performance is emotionally raw, at times, but leavened by directorial humour that embraces the styling of typical art-house cinema. Kent remixes that familiar European brand, imperfectly, but very enjoyably, switching effortlessly between hysterical screaming fits and wacky puppet-theatre antics. 

There are similarities to Walter Salles’ spooky Dark Water (2005), the superior American remake of Hideo Nakata’s delirious Japanese horror, where an innocent girl is stalked by an imaginary ‘friend’. However, the cultural tone of this movie is determinedly Australian (yes, that’s a clip from Skippy on Amelia’s TV) even though the single-mother’s sleepless hallucinations conjure up mooda of hopeless dread. Although its uncompromising 'western' story is something very different, Kent’s second movie, The Nightingale, continues the essentially gloomy aesthetic.

4K UHD disc extras:

Commentary track by critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson

An excellent package of cast-and-crew interviews...

  • This Is My House! - interview with Essie Davis (26 minutes)
  • The Sister - interview with actress Hayley McElhinney (10 minutes)
  • Don’t Let It In - interview with producer Kristina Ceyton (12 minutes)
  • Conjuring Nightmares - interview with producer Kristian Moliere (26 minutes)
  • Shaping Darkness - interview with editor Simon Njoo (14 minutes)
  • If It’s in a Name Or In A Look - interview with designer Alex Holmes (10 minutes)
  • The Bookmaker - interview with designer Alexander Juhasz (20 minutes)
  • Ba-Ba-Ba...Dook! - interview with composer Jed Kurzel (14 minutes) 

Archival bonus material:

  • They Call Him Mister Babadook: making-of featurette (35 minutes)
  • There’s No Place Like Home: creating the house (10 minutes)
  • Illustrating Evil: creating the book (6 minutes)
  • Special Effects: stabbing scene (3 minutes)
  • The Stunts (3 minutes)

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Shock Wave: Hong Kong Destruction

Cast: Andy Lau, Sean Lau, and Ni Ni 

Director: Herman Yau 

121 minutes (15) 2020

Cine Asia Blu-ray 

Rating: 7/10

Review by Christopher Geary 

A follow-up to Shock Wave (aka: Shock Wave: Tunnel, 2017), stand-alone sequel Shock Wave: Hong Kong Destruction (aka: Shock Wave 2), is not actually a typical disaster-movie, as its title might suggest, but a hi-tech cop thriller that’s closer to US movies like Stephen Hopkins’ Blown Away (1994). Intrepid bomb-disposal cop Fung (Andy Lau, from Island Of Greed, House Of Flying Daggers, Infernal Affairs), rescues victims from devices planted in their building, but a booby-trap takes off his left leg. Five years later, terrorist gang Vendetta launch their campaign with a suicide-bomber at a government building in Hong Kong.


Working as hotel porter, Fung becomes a suspect after another bombing but he claims to have amnesia and escapes from a secure hospital, while the counter-terrorist unit, led by Ling (Ni Ni, The Flowers Of War), begins a manhunt for him, codenamed Blizzard. Details of the baddies include a white-haired mastermind ‘Maverick’ who is just like a 007 villain. The cleverly unfolding sci-fi plot is based on suspicion, paranoia, implanted thoughts, and plenty of twists that keep us guessing about corruption, memory loss, PTSD, under-cover agents, and Ling’s crucial role in a top-secret mission. Lau is mightily impressive as Fung, playing out a character-arc of increasingly obsessive behaviour with ranting and rages to concern his friends and perplex his colleagues. CID Inspector Tung (Sean Lau, so great in Johnnie To’s excellent mystery Mad Detective) remains loyal to Fung, no matter what any of the authorities or news media are saying.  


There’s crisply edited cinematography of spectacular stunts, physical effects, and visuals, including photo-real animation combined with briskly paced direction, making slick action sequences in this extraordinary blend of gadgets, betrayal, duplicity, and heroic sacrifice. A shoot-out in a car park, a hijacked train, maintain levels of tension, further elevated by armed police raids enacted with clockwork precision. The tremendously exciting climax delivers a fine display of electrifying professionalism, complete with a suspension bridge demolition for maximum jaw-dropping style. The supremely efficient director Herman Yau (Ip Man sequels), somehow manages to cram all of this, from the first sparks of anger to a city on fire, into a mere two hours.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete

Voice cast (English): Steve Burton, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Steve Staley 

Directors: Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue 

126 minutes (12) 2009

Sony 4K Ultra HD

Rating: 7/10

Review by Christopher Geary

This genre picture is entirely unreal. It was state-of-the-art digital animation for the year it was first produced and, even putting its fantasy content aside, it’s impossible to review this kind of movie fairly without commenting upon the visuals and the medium they were created in. Said images frequently achieve surprising degrees of photo-realism, with skin (though, admittedly, too free of random blemishes for convincing people) and eyes being presented with quite impressive clarity, opacity, reflectivity, and luminosity. Hardware is particularly well served, throughout, whether tangled detailing on stained or dusty ruins, or the appealing lustre of shiny futuristic machines. Textiles are imperfectly rendered but less attention is given to drapes and looser clothing (patterned after top designers?) than is awarded to flesh and muscle tones. 

Sadly, voice-actors (whether they speak Japanese or English) sometimes fail to properly sell an emotive or sympathetic performance by the animated characters half as well as relevant sound effects help convince viewers that splashes in pools and puddles, or the random noise of rainy weather are entirely natural and synchronous with environments. Of course, decades of exposure to audio tracks generated entirely by sound design, and the remarkable work of Foley artists, ensures that a majority of viewers should have few problems in accepting digitally-generated backgrounds as location settings for unfolding dramas, but - for these animated characters - there remains the viewing problem of the ‘uncanny valley’.

Somewhat perversely, the harder that such 3D anime strives to produce any believable human figures and faces, the more that - even unskilled - viewers might unconsciously  ‘reject’ the delicate balancing act of creativity and software which blatantly attempts to accurately imitate life. When such presentations approach perfection, their tinniest flaws simply loom ever larger than life itself. Discernable ‘imperfections’ in this illusion of life are not to be confused with commonplace human faults. They are, instead, entirely the flaws of something inhuman, and their manufactured state is always readily apparent no matter what the context, so any illusion of life here remains only partial and viewers are likely to instinctively disengage from the drama. 

As ever with such genre productions, the biggest single flaw in the filmic narrative is not the presence of hackneyed dialogue or lack of believability for some fantastic aspects, but the movements and placement of virtual cameras. Simply put, there is just far too much ultra-fast cutting from one angle to another, and jittery whizzing about in midair, or swirling around in circles (that on a real film set would expose the ‘fourth wall’), and this amounts to a rather childish misuse of the possibilities available for such animation. Virtual cameras unwittingly compromise the - sometimes passable - test of basic physics within portraits of imaginary worlds. 

It does not help matters that the main plot is wholly incomprehensible. Viewer might struggle to make sense of mystic nonsense crashing into explorations of otherworldly SF themes, such as the ‘geo-stigma’ disease that’s somehow being passed onto humans by the ailing planet. Visually, if not quite thematically, the influence of The Matrix films is evident in fighting scenes, where both the sword-play heroes (how do the spindly-limbed youngsters wield unfeasibly over-sized weapons?) and unarmed combatants lurch across the screen with gravity-defying leaps over tall buildings, and rather wretchedly silly notions of boot-strap help-mates who each hurl the hero upwards, like throwing a relay-race baton flung up the side of a skyscraper.

Nevertheless, this newly revised 4K edition is the director’s cut of the 2005 animated movie (100 minutes, cert. PG), and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete is hugely enjoyable, if you can overlook the amusingly ridiculous character names, like Cloud and Rude, and your appreciation of genre action cinema is not hindered by much intolerance for the confusing absurdities of variously convoluted and lengthy 3D-cartoon sequences. The planet’s mythic Life-stream infecting humans with geo-stigma disease as the central problem is a worthy ecological metaphor (a witty riff on the Gaia hypothesis) and it means the plot seems less vital to anime movies like this. FF7:ACC is best viewed as a collection of action sequences and visual poetry - like visionary vignettes of digital art - on SF themes of survival. Its fantastical artistic qualities and stunning exercises in stylish photo-real animation are of much greater importance than story-telling and genre-narrative concerns. Most effective as an expression of artistry inspired by the possibilities and impressions from game-play in an extraordinary fairy-tale franchise, this is basically an atypical sci-fi movie. Although it delivers frequently astonishing images of post-industrial city-scape and giant monster-fighting in a dystopian world, it hardly matters that many scenes defy the natural physics of motion and gravity, because it's the hyper-kinetics of super-hero traditions that are most clearly being respected here, not any conventional reality.

Magically fabulous, this movie boasts PRA (photo-real animation) of superior quality than 3D-styled ‘Hypermarionation’ for Gerry Anderson’s TV series New Captain Scarlet (2005). Despite its complete lack of actors on-screen, there’s more genuinely imaginative artistry here than can be found in Disney’s techno-fetishistic TRON: Legacy (2010), although that was more about quest gamers and explanatory narrative than this. FF7:ACC was followed by Takeshi Nozue’s equally impressive Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016).

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Parallel

Cast: Aml Ameen, Martin Wallstrom, and Georgia King 

Director: Isaac Ezban 

100 minutes (15) 2018

101 Films DVD    

Rating: 7/10

Review by Steven Hampton

Reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), this Canadian thriller has young techies discover a secret room with a kind of magic mirror that’s a dimensional portal to a multi-verse of possibilities and career opportunities. The kids develop their unfair advantage by exploiting differing clock-speeds in some mirror-world timelines. From stolen inventions to copied artwork, creative industries are a potential goldmine, but is theft from alternate worlds just a victimless crime? The childish indulgence of blowing up $1 million sounds like fun, until creepy doppelganger antics result in sudden death.


Like a next-gen version of TV show Sliders (1995 - 2000), Mexican director Isaac Ezban’s Parallel is perhaps the best wonderfully witty sci-fi movie since Looper (2012). It brings out dark paranoia in the protagonists that ramps higher with every new level of deception folded sideways into their original reality. Somewhat unavoidably, determination soon becomes obsession when emerging characters develop complicated ambitions into money-spinning solutions to problems and needs that didn’t exist before. It cleverly fulfils a precept of all the best SF about extrapolation of any fantastic idea to its logical conclusion. Intelligent sci-fi does not have to be a confusingly intellectual puzzle. Parallel is instantly engaging, like a heist-movie with a moral dilemma, and it succeeds at being hugely entertaining without ever losing its appeal to fans of Twilight Zone-style mysteries.

 

“I know that sounds crazy, but you have to believe me.” Oh yes - it’s just not possible to avoid such dialogue in a movie that makes unreasonable demands on the viewer’s sense of ironic humour. Made in 2018, Parallel might have been overlooked for an international release until now because it lacks any Hollywood star names, although Kathleen Quinlan appears briefly, in a prologue sequence. It could be this year’s re-watchable Tenet on DVD. Look out for the strange mirror’s final and weirdly fatal tilt. It’s gruesomely slippery when wet.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot 

Director: Zack Snyder 

242 minutes (15) 2021

Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD 

Rating: 10/10

Review by Christopher Geary

Contrary to a well-known and often-quoted designer aesthetic, less is not more. More is actually often much better (unless you’re a weight-watcher on a crash-diet). Quality not quantity, is another highly relevant saying that might help form a thoughtful judgement of something’s value, but twice as much is assuredly going against a minimalist creative ethos. There is no escaping from a confrontational approach to any comparison between this version, the definitive edition of Snyder’s unfinished or abandoned picture, and the earlier movie ‘completed’ (supposedly) by Joss Whedon as contracted writer-director for hire. Whedon’s mercenary work on the essentially disappointing two-hour film Justice League (2017) could now be seen as Hollywood’s longest-ever trailer, a rather simplistic prelude for this magnificent new classic of superheroic movies. The most clear precedent for this kind of re-building a previously finished and released movie is (also from Warner Bros), Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006). Credited to Donner’s replacement, Richard Lester, Superman II was released in 1980, and its original director’s cut remained a fandom daydream, until the makers of Bryan Singer’s tribute movie Superman Returns found unused footage by Donner in the studio archives. Well, at least, for Justice League, we didn’t have to wait so long this time.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League picks up plot-threads from the climactic sequence of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016), when the dying Superman’s yell echoes round the globe. Much more than another modestly enhanced, or just expanded edition (as seen in versions of Singer’s X-Men movies), this four-hour director’s cut unfolds into an expansive epic that almost outgrows the whole superheroes genre, never mind the DC films’ canon. Wrapped in the media’s cultural peak of science fiction, this supreme example of modern American mythology fields an unholy Unity of three mothers (in magical boxes), bringing apocalypse from the stars. Only the second coming of a space messiah, as crisis prompts resurrection, renews 21st century hope for the Age of Heroes. The big story-arc that Marvel accomplished for the Avengers in five adventures (including Captain America: Civil War), DC has now done with the Justice League in just two movies. 

This ‘Snyder cut’ includes clever segues, linking different scenes, as melancholy becomes a thing of universal experience, before a progressive resurgence of trust spins a society’s grief into a state where six meta-human outsiders might become civilisation’s defenders. ZSJL delivers on the promise of Man Of Steel and BVS by giving fans a greatly improved, captivating drama with vastly sophisticated sci-fi action chaptered for up-market appeal. More than another great super-team origin, the movie ushers genre showmanship into an emotionally resonant exercise of group dynamics and story-telling excellence. It’s broadly independent of pop-cult references, and other typically mediocre concerns, like Whedon’s colourful lighting set-ups, blatantly fetishistic sexism, and hyper-masculine fights, lacking a genuine style or poetic grace. Whedonisms of light-hearted and frivolous wit, dialogues often based on quips, and in-jokes, are weeded out, happily replaced with fresh lines that fully respect all characterisations with an in-depth veracity, instead of casually poking fun at DC’s premier line-up of thoroughly modernised heroes. It must be noted, though, that butler Alfred’s (entirely welcome) sarcasm, always at the expense of Bruce Wayne’s ego, is assuredly more prevalent, and effectively deflating, here. 

Although lots of scenes remain the same, significant editing, during the movie’s renewed post-production phase, means that even already familiar elements are freshly presented with gritty vigour and surprisingly richer ambition. The primary villain Steppenwolf is very much a case in point. Previously, the role relied on an actor’s distinctive voice to provide the obvious animations with a suitably life-like presence, but here this alien character’s portrayal depends far more on superior visual effects, including a constantly twitching ‘active’-armour suit. Many pivotal sequences are revised from Whedon’s frequently-contrived effort, and this work eliminates any superficial and irrational twists, to embrace convincing subtlety in characterisations, with responses to tragedy that embody objectives more positive than any form of vengeance. 

Now suitably frightening, death-cult terrorists in the Old Bailey are a grim foreshadowing of alien menace. Scenes that looked quite random choices in the earlier ‘Josstice League’ are now fully matured, and alive with a purpose, seemingly logical, or perhaps inevitable considering all the forces at work, connecting events, agendas, or often fateful decisions. The meeting of Barry Allen (alias, the Flash), and Iris West, during a car crash in a slow-motion sequence is elevated for wonderful visual poetry here by romantic ballad Song To The Siren, a well-chosen cover-version by British singer Rose Betts. If it’s remembered in years to come, for nothing else, ZSJL deserves critical attention for breathing astonishing new artistry into the cinematic cliché of love at first sight. A brief, yet sublime, encounter it’s one of those very rare but iconic combinations of images and music with spellbinding affect - a bewitching 'pop-video' experience that’s almost certain to link this movie to that song, forever.       

Spectacular effects and exceptional super-stunts accumulate into dazzling thrills. A vastly improved colour palette is only one of the upgrades deployed here with careful reverence for world-building elements and the back-story developments of varied characters. Of course, ZSJL also benefits from the hindsight of knowing what worked, flawlessly, or better than usual, in Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame, and so wounds are bloody here, and decapitation is a final solution. Despite his robotic appearance, the troubled hero Cyborg, short-changed as a newly-minted character by the 2017 version, is revealed as being far closer in aptitude or philosophy to Marvel’s android the Vision, so he’s not DC’s answer to hip genius Iron Man.

In several important moments, Darkseid appears as a monstrous being rather ghastly in aspect, and ultimately more menacing than overly-talkative Thanos in Avengers movies. Instead of being over too quickly, now the united League’s final battle is an extraordinary feat of cosmic justice. Its impact on the DC universe feels profound and looks awesome. The worthwhile multi-part epilogue offers plenty of scope for another sequel, although at time of writing, it seems unlikely. Perhaps if this movie proves hugely successful enough, the producers will think again. Like a 'Change Machine' in human form, Zack Snyder acquits his grandiose ambitions with tremendous ability. This UHD edition spans two discs with a four-chapter block (totalling 142 minutes), and two closing chapters on a second disc (adding 100 minutes). Disc one includes featurette extra: Road To Justice League (24 minutes).

Monday, 10 May 2021

A Glitch In The Matrix

Director: Rodney Ascher 

108 minutes (15) 2021

Dogwoof Blu-ray

Rating: 6/10

Review by Steven Hampton

One of the greatest philosophical questions that emerged from science fiction’s concerns and considerations about Virtual Reality is, basically: if nothing’s physically real in cyber-space, must we then simply abandon all morality? Where’s the harm in ‘torture’, slavery, and/ or ‘murder’ by termination if there’s no actual victim affected by apparent ‘crimes’? As if this crucial genre riddle wasn’t disturbing enough what if ‘nothing’ we know is ‘real’?

Is our Earthly reality just a simulation running on cosmic machinery of a super-advanced computer system? Kardashev’s theory of mega-civilisation types might suggest how it all could work. If there’s no practical difference between type IV (universe-spanning) and/ or type V (Ω) multi-verse scale civilisations, and our various notions of god, then (probably?) we cannot know for certain, anyway. This brain-smasher wraps itself in enigma and mystery. 

Seen here in archive clips, author Philip K. Dick’s popularisation of genre theories about a potential multi-verse of parallel worlds form a cornerstone of argument that’s rarely been questioned, although one seemingly-baffled man’s emergence from a (reportedly health-related) personal crisis with claims of cosmological visions now looks, in a cynical century decades later, like a headline-grabbing publicity-stunt. Neurotic reactions to intense déjà vu, and fervently grandiose delusions of devout faith, in organised or cult religions, ropes in other extreme possibilities, yet some of the commentators interviewed for this movie’s array of viewpoints appear to confuse possibility with probability. 

Although several Twilight Zone (1959-64 ’85-89/ 2002-3/ ’19-20) motifs are hardly even judged as relevant here, Wizard Of Oz (1939) is cited by a clip, while versions of Alice In Wonderland and Lewis’ Narnia books should have got a mention just for adding their own similarly hallucinatory contrivances, and blending blatant fantasy themes into genre lore. Reading such fairy tales while growing up is still a mind-expanding route to appreciations of adults’ genre literature, if not always lessons in worthy moralities and ethical thinking. A notable jumping-on point for V.R. in SF was Daniel Galouye’s 1963 novel Simulacron-3, adapted for German TV as Fassbinder’s World On A Wire (1977), and then filmed as The Thirteenth Floor (1999) by Josef Rusnak. The original Star Trek episode The Cage (1965) can nowadays be easily re-interpreted as a prison in dream-space, while McGoohan’s cult TV series The Prisoner (1967) - especially its ‘western’ styled episode Living In Harmony, offered a proto-VR, that led SF development in Crichton’s theme-park Westworld (1973), and Sasdy’s Welcome To Blood City (1977).


While Disney’s visual futurism in TRON (1982) opened the hidden curtains of cyberspace, Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1982), and his later eXistenZ (1999), exposed the new-fleshy layers of trickery. Trumbull’s Brainstorm (1983) demoed recordings of ecstasy and death, Verhoeven’s surreal spy-fi Total Recall (1990) plugged us into a pseudo-holiday machine. Later, forming a tidal-wave of duplicity or derangement, Bigelow’s millennial actioner Strange Days (1995), Leonard’s unboxed Virtuosity (1995), and Proyas’ nightmare-movie Dark City (1998), explored increasingly dystopian trends, while Carpenter’s witty comedy They Live (1998), expanded from Ray Nelson’s story Eight O’Clock In The Morning (1963, matching Galouye’s book - and completing a 'cyclical' timeline). Media fun, at the expense of ideas, took centre-stage for Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), before the Wachowskis’ The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) re-articulated most of the SF texts and media that we’d got, so far, into an endlessly-debatable idealistic thriller of humanity unknowingly enslaved by A.I. 

When 21st century technology rarely does what it’s actually made to do (and never mind whatever users wish it could do), it’s simply no wonder that a century of SF cinema, plus a lifetime of genre TV shows, and the complexities of game-player media now undermine human (already limited) perceptions of reality. Sometimes when the unreliability of memory, anti-social boredom (factor in the side-effects of drink and drugs), results in a conspiracy theory of global scale (faked missions to the Moon, climate-change denial?), can so easily prompt depressive paranoia, and nihilistic responses, with down-spiral thinking only good for circling the Libertarian drains of social order. (See how easy it is to slip into a ranting mode?) The fascinating subgenre continued in very different ways like Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018), Finnegan’s horrific Vivarium (2019), and in TV remakes such as Westworld (since 2016).


A Glitch In The Matrix fields various escapist fantasies of isolated obsessive nerds, and social-maverick outsiders’ undiagnosed mental problems, as if assorted video-phoned-in contributions, about whimsical “OMG-U-guys” maybes, by sundry weirdoes, should really count for... well, something. Undeniably, there’s an entrancing alienation theme set free to run wild here, but as too many discordant or self-regarding, or masked for anonymity, voices pile-on with repetitions of rants as story-telling, a lot of this flashy documentary’s raving-mad narrative coherence evaporates, quite ironically. Anecdotes are presented as evidence with no scientific rationale, and so tall tales and ripping yarns lack any shreds of credibility. 

Peculiarities accumulate, alongside theoretical musings that date back to Plato, instead of studying the undoubted impacts on our consciousness of all these SF ideas from books or media (there are too many exemplars to list here), quite likely to have surprised readers, and stunned watchers, with phildickian concepts they’d never imagined. As previously, in Ascher’s feature-length debut Room 237 (2012), a critical assessment of Kubrick’s iconic horror The Shining (1980), the director’s approach is wholly inconsistent with any typical non-fiction. Digressions and diversions are strewn throughout, and so fairly logical trains of thought often derail into an unfortunate incomprehensibility. Still, this crazy ride to an entirely unreachable destination is worth its sensory-ticket for some remarkably abstract scenery.