2081, 2009, Chandler Tuttle
2081 is a science fiction short film, running at approximately 25 minutes. It depicts a dystopian future in which, thanks to the 212th Amendment to the Constitution and the unceasing vigilance of the United States Handicapper General, everyone is ‘finally equal….’ The strong wear weights, the beautiful wear masks and the intelligent wear earpieces that fire off loud noises to keep them from taking unfair advantage of their brains. The film revolves around husband and wife George and Hazel Bergeron (James Cosmo and Julie Hagerty), and the struggle of their son Harrison (Armie Hammer). A genius and a fantastic athlete, Harrison has received both the heaviest physical and most distracting mental handicaps of any citizen, prompting him to rebel against what he sees as a violent repression of individuality.
Produced on a budget of roughly $100,000, it is based on Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story Harrison Bergeron, and received universal critical acclaim after premièring at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The film’s extensive original score was performed by the Kronos Quartet, famous for its work on Requiem For A Dream, and was recorded entirely at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
Incidentally, director Chandler Tuttle first came across the original story upon learning that Kurt Vonnegut was the favourite author of a girl he wanted to date.
The Decline Of Western Civilization, 1981, Penelope Spheeris
This documentary, filmed through 1979 and 1980, deals with the Los Angeles punk rock scene; featuring concert footage of legendary Los Angeles punk bands and interviews both with band members, the publishers of Slash, and with the punks who made up their audience, the film offers a look into a subculture that was largely ignored by the rock music press of the time. Bands included are Black Flag, Germs, X, The Bags (billed at the time as The Alice Bag Band), Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, and Fear.
The film is the opening act of a trilogy by Spheeris depicting life in Los Angeles at various points. The second film covers the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1986-1988, while the third film chronicles the gutter punk lifestyle of homeless teenagers in the late 1990s.
In 1981, the LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates wrote a letter demanding the film not be shown again in L.A. Regardless of its criticism over the years the film has gained cult status.
The Darwin Awards, 2006, Finn Taylor
Written and directed by Finn Taylor, The Darwin Awards is a fictionalised retelling of the real-life, tongue-in-cheek Darwin Awards, a series of books and website that recognize those who have contributed to human evolution by exceptionally negative means. The website explains that “in the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.”
The film’s story examines several of these posthumous winners and their fates, as examined by Michael Burrows (Joseph Fiennes) and Siri Taylor (Winona Ryder), two insurance investigators who travel cross country, investigating dubious insurance claims. Shot in documentary style, the film is ostensibly a dissertation by a film school student who follows Michael throughout the story. Fired from the police force after his hematophobia allows a serial killer to get away, Michael wallows in a deep depression for several weeks before coming up with a way to combine his Darwin Awards obsession with his talent for profiling - he will help insurance companies detect people more likely to accidentally end their own lives, so they are not sold insurance policies.
The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and was generally disliked by critics for its formulaic nature. Amongst several references to the real Darwin Awards, it also features American heavy-metal band Metallica. To celebrate the premier of the movie, the band played at a private party following the screening that day.
Yamato, 2005, Junya Sato
Makiko Uchida (Koyoka Suzuki) arrives in a southern Japanese port hoping to find a boat that will take her to the final resting place of the Japanese Battleship Yamato on the 60th anniversary of its sinking. She is rebuffed by all until, by chance, she meets captain Katsumi Kamio (Tatsuya Nakadai) and discloses that she is the stepdaughter of Officer Nagoya Uchida (Shido Nakamura), with whom he served aboard the Yamato. Kamio is surprised for he thought unlike himself, Uchida had been lost when the Yamato was besieged and sunk on 7th April 1945 by American aircraft. As Uchida, Kamio, and his teenage apprentice Atsushi (Sosuke Ikematsu), travel to the site on his fishing boat, the narrative shifts between the present and Kamio’s memories of his service as an air defense crewman in the Imperial Japanese Navy on board the Yamato, the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever constructed.
Production for this Japanese war film included construction of a 1:1 set of the forward section and the portside anti-aircraft guns of the Yamato, at a cost of roughly 600 million yen (against a 2.5 billion yen budget). The set was opened to the public on 17th July 2005, which was visited by approximately one million people by the time it closed doors on 7th May 2006.
The film was a commercial success in Japan, taking in a record 5.11 billion yen at the domestic box office; it was also nominated for and won several awards, including ten nominations at the 2007 Japan Academy Awards, as well as Best Director at the 2006 Blue Ribbon Awards.
Bringing Up Baby, 1938, Howard Hawks
When Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), a scatterbrained young woman, takes a shine to Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant), a sober palaeontologist, mayhem ensues. Dr. Huxley, engaged to be married and intensely interested in the arrival of the brontosaurus bone required to complete his project at the museum, is inextricably bound up with Susan’s escapades when she finds herself responsible for Baby, a tame leopard shipped to her New York apartment and intended for Susan’s aunt in Connecticut. The plot thickens when George the Terrier steals the priceless bone and buries it, Baby escapes, and an untamed leopard escapes from a circus convoy, resulting in a twist on the mistaken identity ploy.
This American screwball comedy, adapted by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde from a short story by Wilde that originally appeared in Collier’s Weekly magazine on April 10th 1937, was an infamous box office catastrophe. The film’s failure at the box office is one of the major reasons Hepburn was named ‘box office poison’, yet, the movie went on to now be considered a classic ahead of its time, and it continues to generate revenue for Hepburn’s estate.
Most famously, the film is debated to have been the first work of fiction, aside from pornography, to refer to the word ‘gay’ in the context of homosexuality. In the scene in question, Cary Grant’s character is wearing a woman’s marabou-trimmed négligée, and when asked why, replies, in an exasperated tone, “Because I just went gay all of a sudden!”, leaping into the air on the word “gay”.
Cargo, 2009, Ivan Engler
In this Swiss science-fiction film, the earth has become uninhabitable due to an ecological collapse, and the remaining population lives on overcrowded space stations in Earth’s orbit. The young doctor Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) is one of them. She hopes for a better future alongside her sister on the distant planet Rhea, but to get there, she needs money. She signs up with Kuiper Enterprises for a job on the decrepit cargo ship Kassandra, delivering raw materials to unmanned Station #42 on an eight year journey. The crew consists of five members: Captain Lacroix (Pierre Semmler), Lindbergh (Regula Grauwiller), Yoshida (Yangzom Brauen), Prokoff (Claude-Oliver Rudolph), and Vespucci (Michael Finger). Crew members spend most of the fully automated flight in deep cryosleep while one person stays awake in 8 ½ month shifts to monitor the space ship. Due to the current terrorist threat from the radical Neo-Luddite group ‘Maschinenstürmer’ (‘Machine Strikers’), there is also an additional security person aboard: Samuel Decker (Martin Rapold). Toward the end of her shift, Portmann hears unusual noises from the cargo bay, and she feels observed. Her colleagues are awakened, and together the crew sets out to investigate the cold cargo space.
This German-language film is the first Swiss science-fiction feature film ever made, and is Ivan Englers directorial debut. Produced on a budget of only an estimated four million and a half Swiss francs, it was met with mixed reactions on release, albeit with reviewers uniformly drawing focus to the film’s visual style and striking cinematography of Ralph Baetschmann.
It won Best Sci-Fi Movie and Best Visual Effects at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Pirates of Silicon Valley, 1999, Martyn Burke
Pirates of Silicon Valley, a made-for-TV docudrama produced for TNT, documents the rise of the personal computer through the rivalry between Apple Computer and Microsoft. Starring Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates and Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs - the former a crafty Harvard dropout, the latter a hippie with a job at Hewlett-Packard and a yen to sell miniature versions of corporate mainframes to small businesses and at-home enthusiasts, the film recounts how Jobs and his business partner Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick) ‘borrowed’ key concepts from a Xerox computer lab, eke out their success as countercultural businessmen, and finally fall out with one another over the pressure of success. All the while, Gates learns from, then surpassed, the brains behind Apple and begins turning his company into the global powerhouse that it is today.
Based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer, it was nominated for the 1999 Emmy Award in several categories including Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or a Made for Television Movie.
On release, there were mixed interpretations and views on the accurate portrayal of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. While both parties were reluctant to comment on the film, director Martyn Burke commented in an interview that he chose not to speak with any of the central figures portrayed in the film, claiming that he “embarked on a seven-month research project that encompassed virtually everything we could find on the history of both companies… I intended every scene to be based on actual events, including such seemingly fantastic moments as Bill Gates’ bulldozer races in the middle of the night and Steve Jobs’ bare feet going up on the board room table during an applicant’s job interview.”
SS Doomtrooper, 2006, David Flores
Originally aired on SyFy (Sci-Fi Channel at the time) as a made-for-TV movie, SS Doomtrooper is set during the Second World War and tells the story of an attempt by Nazi scientist, operating out of the ‘Citadel’, a castle in France, to transform soldiers into monstrous, vaguely Hulk-like super-soldiers. Transformed by scientist Dr. Ullman (Ben Cross), their first attempt is sent to battle the invading Allied troops but quickly turns on its creators and goes on a rampage. The Allies, meanwhile, send Captain Malloy (Corin Nemec) to destroy the Citadel, forming a misfit team of British and American prisoners who are offered their freedom in exchange for participation. They run into trouble though when the super-soldier crosses their path.
Produced in part by low budget production company Nu Image (Cyborg Cop, Operation Delta Force, Shark Attack), this film has become a somewhat cult classic amongst made-for-TV movie enthusiasts. The focus of the film is the mutated super-soldier, created entirely through CGI. It is equipped with an auto-cannon attached to its right arm and is able to produce an electrical shock capable of electrocuting anyone in its grasp. Incidentally, the creature has a very similar appearance to the ‘Ubersoldat’ from the 2001 computer game Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
Aside from the laughably low-quality CGI used to create the super-soldier, it is the over the top acting and (unintentional) slapstick mannerisms of the actors that has made this film ‘so bad it’s good’.
The character of Private Parker Lewis is an homage of the main character of the Fox comedy series Parker Lewis Can’t Lose; Corin Nemec played the part of Parker Lewis in the sitcom.
The Delicate Art Of Parking, 2003, Trent Carlson
The Delicate Art of Parking is a Canadian mockumentary comedy that revolves around Grant Parker (Fred Ewanuick), a Parking Enforcement Officer, who - despite constant abuse from the public - finds truth, honour and serenity in the act of ticketing. His religious devotion to the work is challenged however, when his best friend and personal mentor is run down by an irate motorist and knocked into a deep coma. With the help of Lonny Goosen (Dov Tiefenbach), a documentary filmmaker whose car just got towed, friend Gus (Andrew McNee) as his camera-man and Gus’ cousin Olena (Diana Pavlovská) as their sound person, he sets out to make a film about what people think of parking enforcers.
Shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, the film received numerous awards, including ‘Best Canadian Film’ and ‘Most Popular Canadian Film’.
They Live, 1988, John Carpenter
They Live revolves around a nameless man referred to as ‘Nada’ (Roddy Piper), a quiet drifter who finds work on a Los Angeles construction site. One of the workers, Frank Armitage (Keith David), takes him to a local shantytown. After eating at the soup kitchen and spending the night, he discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is: people being bombarded by media and government with messages like ‘Stay Asleep’, ‘No Imagination’ and ‘Submit to Authority’. Even scarier is that he is able to see that the ruling class within the moneyed elite are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast that is concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media.
Based on Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning, the film echoed contemporary fears of a declining economy, within a culture of greed and conspicuous consumption common among Americans in the 1980’s. Professional wrestler Roddy Piper, whom Carpenter met at Wrestlemania III in 1987, was cast in the lead role; according to the director, “unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.”
Commenting on the concept of the alien threat in an interview, Carpenter remarked: “They want to own all our businesses. A Universal executive asked me, ‘Where’s the threat in that? We all sell out every day.’ I ended up using that line in the film.” The aliens were deliberately made to look like ghouls according to Carpenter, who said: “The creatures are corrupting us, so they, themselves, are corruptions of human beings.”
Incidentally, the ‘Cripple Fight’ from episode 67 of South Park is based on the now infamous fight scene between Piper and David, which took three weeks to rehearse. When overdubbed with the original audio, the fight sounds and much of the dialogue match up almost perfectly with the animation.