UNCANNY

(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/SHORELINE ENTERTAINMENT/EMERGENT BEHAVIOR-ACCELERATED MATTER PRODUCTIONS/AMBUSH ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

UNCANNY_DVD_HIC

As much as I love science fiction movies, I’m not big into the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing; cyborgs, robots, androids are okay (Deathlok, that canned dude from LOST IN SPACE, the Vision) but, a lot of times, the attempt to make these types into a “normal” human-like construct just leaves me cold. With that as background, I wasn’t sure about UNCANNY and where it would fall on the spectrum; the advance publicity and trailer promised a creepy sort of stalker thing with the possibility of a very violent second half. Uh… kinda.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The story has a rather claustrophobic feel… it mostly takes place in one location (an apartment/suite/laboratory called Workspace 18) with only three characters for roughly ninety-eight percent of the movie. David Kressen (Mark Webber, who strikes me as a younger version of the brilliant Jeffrey Combs) is a reclusive (and amazingly well-adjusted) boy genius who has been left to his own devices for the past ten years, charged with creating the ultimate robotic AI; his roommate, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), is the result of Kressen’s work and has taken his creator’s last name. The introduction of a third individual, reporter (and failed roboticist) Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), is initially met with trepidation and mild annoyance from David and confusion from Adam. Joy has been sent to conduct a week’s worth of interviews for a feature story on Kressen and his work. She is totally taken aback when David reveals the truth about Adam and, thus, the three embark upon an intellectually stimulating few days; as the continued interaction leads to more intimate feelings between Kressen and Andrews, Adam begins to exhibit some very human reactions: Love, jealousy, confusion and, finally, hate and revenge. By the fourth day, the situation has become a bizarre lovers’ triangle, with Adam infringing upon and, at times, outright sabotaging the others’ time together. Adam also develops some new voyeuristic tendencies, which come to a head when he gives a gift to Joy, in the form of a prototype robotic eye with, naturally (and completely unknown to the receiver), a camera. The better to secretly watch you mediate in your underwear, my dear.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The whole movie is very quiet and serene, three highly intelligent beings discussing the things that they enjoy most and interacting in the most reasonable fashion imaginable… until the final twenty minutes or so. When Joy discovers what Adam has been up to, she takes Kressen aside to let him know what his creation is capable of; Kressen tells her she shouldn’t worry too much… it’s just Adam adjusting his learning curve and adding new stimuli and knowledge to his matrix. David does, however, confront Adam about his actions; Adam apologizes and – as far as Kressen is concerned – the incident is forgotten. Adam hasn’t forgotten and, when he tries to stick his tongue down Andrews’ throat, she objects and David chastises Adam, sending him to his room like a misbehaving child; a very childlike outburst from Adam stuns creator and reporter alike. That’s really the extent of the violence, though there is a nice (if rather anticipated) twist-ending that delivers the “evil corporate construct” message like a very quiet sucker-punch to the solar-plexus. That message, delivered by Rainn Wilson as the deliciously sinister Simon Castle, Kressen’s benefactor/employer, will send a chill down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder as you conduct your day-to-day life for, at least, a few days. And, that, friends, is what a good piece of science-fiction should do… leave you questioning the reality of the subject matter at hand; first-time screenwriter Shahin Chandrasoma (who is a surgeon specializing in robotic urology) and acclaimed director/editor Matthew Leutwyler have certainly accomplished that.

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY succeeded in holding my attention and stimulating my mind much more than I would have thought possible, given the subject matter and the subtly delicate approach. This kind of story probably isn’t for everybody… teens and young kids will undoubtedly be bored out of their gourds waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen and, by the time it does, will probably have given up on the whole thing. However, if YOU stay with it, I think that you’ll be grateful you didn’t give up on UNCANNY too soon. The movie is available on DVD and as a digital download.


AVA AND LALA

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT (80 minutes, Rated PG); produced 2012, released 2014)

Ava & Lala 2D

So… this is what I get out of this movie: A bunch of Asian dudes are sitting around in – uh… are opium dens still a thing? – and one of ’em says, “Hey, let’s make, like, an anime version of that Disney thing with the monsters… ‘cept let’s make ’em animals.” “Dude, that would be, like, so wicked! What if they kicked each others’ butts up and down, like POKEMON… but with more drugs. We can put it up in the sky and call it, like, Cloud World or something,” exclaims another. A third coughs and giggles, “Huh… yeah, but with more drugs! And George Takei.” “Oh, absolutely,” concurs the first, “You gosta have some George Takei, dude! Oh! Oh! Let’s make everybody, like, martial arts masters like in that KUNG FU PANDA movie. Also… I think there should be more drugs.” (For some inexplicable reason, that’s the way Asian dudes talk in my head; that’s probably how I sound in their heads, too). And, thus was born AVA AND LALA. By the way, George Takei is totally unrecognizable in all that – what is that thing supposed to be… a muskrat? An anorexic hamster? – makeup. I mean, if it weren’t for his voice… uh… what? Ooh! It’s a cartoon! Never mind about the George Takei thing, then.

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

Ava is an obnoxious, rude little girl who cares about nothing except herself; Lala is a liger (part of the way a lion and not all together a tiger) that looks like one of the bit players from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Ava sneaks out of her house, sees Lala trying to hide, chases him (presumably because he didn’t want to be seen or bothered in any way), falls over a cliff, is saved by Lala, wanders into the mouth of a “cloud whale” and is, thus, delivered to a world in the clouds, inhabited totally by animals. One of the first animals they meet there is a grumpy old bear with a heart of gold who looks a lot like someone in a Tom Arnold costume; Mister Bear (or Uncle Bear… he’s called “Mister” in the movie, “Uncle” in the synopsis), freaked by the appearance of a human (and monumentally annoyed by this particular human), tells the pair that Ava must leave the world within three days or become an animal herself. There’s also a wicked tiger with massive supernatural powers who is seeking the death of all humans (like Ava… a sentiment that I wholly encouraged until the very end of the movie) and the supremacy of the entire universe. Along the way, Ava, Lala and the totally not-down-with-this Mister Bear meet up with a variety of animals: A tough bulldog enforcer, his minions (including a boar, a wolf and other such mean and nasties), and – my favorite – a herd of kung pao chicken… wait… that ain’t right. A flock of kung fu chickens… yeah… that’s it.

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

Okay… look, here’s the deal: AVA AND LALA has some fun, even scary and exciting, moments; the problem is, as much as I love animation, I’m not a big fan of anime (the post-apocalyptic brutality of NEON GENESIS EVANGELION being one of a few exceptions), especially computer animated anime and the story and plot are way below my age level. So, what’s a reviewer to do? Why, call upon his six year old niece and a couple of her friends to give him the skinny on what’s really up with this kinda-sorta family-friendly kid’s flick.

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

Unfortunately, they pretty much share my opinions (though they won’t openly admit to the same weird dream sequence that I had with the Asian guys) about most of the movie. First, they couldn’t believe that someone as jaded as Ava could actually exist; how could a person, especially a little girl who is so loved by her father, be so consumed with self-importance that she would laugh at her father’s doting and defy him at every turn and, even when her only friend is facing certain death, she is so easily diverted by something shiny, something that she didn’t have, but wanted. All of this, by the way, knowing that she was losing her humanness (I can’t call it humanity because she doesn’t appear to possess any attributes that would apply) and Lala and Bear were her best chance of returning to Earth. Throughout the movie, the girls were wondering if Ava would ever learn her lesson. It isn’t until the very end of the movie, when her life is inextricably linked to Lala’s survival that she finally does the “heroic” thing and saves him from certain doom. Oops! I just spoiled the ending, didn’t I?

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

AVA AND LALA (publicity still)

AVA AND LALA is rated PG for, according to the people who decide such things, rude humor and some action. However, other concerns involve the over-the-top violence in the final third of the movie: While it is fairly mild by adult standards, the kids were really frightened, especially by the murderous General Tiger. Apparently, this is a pretty popular franchise in its country of origin, China (which explains all of the gasping and grunting noises… remember the original US airings of SPEED RACER?), under the title YUGO AND LALA, where it saw theatrical release in 2012. I just don’t see the appeal; neither do the kids I used as “more age appropriate eyes.”