Morgan

Although an artistic director discussed adding a “human element” during his interview in the making-of portion following the trailer for Morgan, we here at the DMS still give IBM’s Watson credit for creating the chilling companion piece to SunSpring.  A truly terrifying artificial intelligence (“AI”) would probably never let on that it existed.  IBM’s Watson has failed in that regard (much like Olympic Games), but if we are to believe the marketing campaign accompanying Morgan, Watson created the trailer below by analyzing the film.  Aside from the visual allusions to Silence of the Lambs and musical accompaniment from the Twin Peaks Children’s Choir, the most unsettling part of this trailer is that a computer created something so manipulative.

Morgan

 

 

 

 

Borderline autonomous cars are gradually seeming more like an inevitability and less like a machine that might end up making kill decisions.  At the least, the US, UK, China, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Hamas, and Hezbollah all have armed drones that fly through the air at their disposal.  It takes little imagination to read Stanislaw Lem’s Fiasco and its featured planet, Quinta, with rogue autonomous defense systems as a forgone conclusion.

Stranger Things

While there must be close to 1,000 micrograms of nostalgia in each episode of Stranger Things, do not watch it because it triggers all those fuzzies from your childhood.  Watch it because it is a fantastic show that ups the bar for content in a world where Two and a Half Men was consistently one of the most watched shows in the United States for more than a decade.  Watch it because, much like Olympic Games, it plants ideas.  Stranger Things happens to plant positive ideas about gender identity, people with different colored skin, and generally how humans should treat other humans.  Unlike Olympic Games, Stranger Things mostly delivers its payload without detection.

With that disclaimer, we will indulge in a bit of nostalgia.  If the only thing we know about something is that it is a bit twisted, we sometimes like to consume it in a non-linear fashion.  The first episode we watched was the fifth, which we were told was the penultimate episode.  Still thinking we had watched the second to last hour, we watched the first episode before watching the surprisingly long (to us) conclusion.  Then we went back to the beginning and watched the initial installments sequentially.  Consuming media is not something we do for fun, we do it to probe our physical, emotional, and intellectual limitations.  In this case, it was like eating dessert first when your parents were not paying attention.

Set in 1983, the real evil confronted in the series is a human with an all-too-real backstory.  The period-correct brands and references up the score on the realness scale even as Akira-level madness starts to mix with a narrative that will remind you of Flight of the Navigator, ET, The Dark Crystal, and several other experiences from your childhood.  Our non-linear viewing method led us to believe the narrative would end up in an extremely dark place.  The parallels with Grant Morrison’s recent 6-issue comic book series, Nameless, and the story scattered across Reddit one chapter at a time by a user named 9MOTHER9HORSES9EYES9 are a bit on the nose.  It does not get that dark.

The end, in fact, is in many ways extremely uplifting.  One of us found ourselves sobbing because of one character’s flashbacks and his own memories of a younger sibling who was not expected to live.  There are a lot of positive messages packed into this narrative.  One of the reasons we focus on dystopian films is that by learning more about the way our world works, we hope to avoid the versions of the future (or past) that we see reflected in such films.  Is it naive to think that the more we learn about how terrible humans are to each other, the better the world becomes?

Zero Days

In case you did not know, everything you have stored digitally is public.  While this has probably been true for at least a decade, it is an ironclad fact today.  Zero Days is an excellent documentary examining one of the most sophisticated cyberattacks ever launched as far as the public knows. It also features a nice gentleman from Cyber Command, NSA’s offensive upstairs neighbor, stating that even Cyber Command realizes that its data is not safe.

I would like to believe that, since we are all living in the same glass house, we will learn to stop throwing rocks and feel a little less ashamed or frustrated about things that truly do not matter.  I want to believe in us, the way Rocky believed he could single-handedly end the cold war (and did!), but optimism feels misplaced when the United States, Russia, and China are busy amassing small nuclear arms.  I am sure they are safe.  Not like those clunky cold war nukes that only the United States has used.

In the ever crystallizing glass house, I think it is much more likely we will live to see a president’s genitals than any kind of cease fire.  While much of this documentary has been reported in the past, like the massive s.f. cyber attack the United States had in place and may have turned on had negotiations with Iran failed, the documentary is thorough, well paced, and brings together a lot of information with an elegance rarely seen in fiction let alone non-fiction.

The film starts with a detailed look at the discovery and dissection of what us civilians called stuxnet and NSA types who built the bugger referred to as Olympic Games.  Despite being an OG, the subtle attack on Iran’s centrifuges was only a tiny piece of a much larger, terrifying whole.  The s.f. cyberware of the future is here, and it is just a matter of time before a major attack has devastating consequences for countless civilians.  Of course, we are all complicit.  What floor do you live on?  Those elevators probably will not work if you upset the wrong people.  At this point, it is probably out of your hands.  You might be delightful, but wars have casualties.  Cost of doing business.

We insist that you watch this movie for your own good.  If you stubbornly refuse, at least buy a motorcycle and have an exit strategy.  I will be waiting for you in north-central Florida.  You will know when to meet me.

Fandango

Watching a herd of people on my roof watch fireworks through their cell phones immediately reminded me of this scene in Fandango.  Though not technically dystopian, we might do well to remember that some of our parents may not enjoy a celebration involving loud, colorful explosions.  This film follows a group of kids taking a road trip across the country before shipping off to Vietnam.

I would have been drafted had I been born on the same day but the year of my father’s birth.  He watched the draft with several neighborhood kids huddled around a boxy television.  During my lifetime, I have only seen groups of draft-age children stare at a television with that intensity when sports and binge drinking were involved.

The next time you are tempted to yell at a distant athlete through a one-way flatscreen, pretend your friend’s life is in the balance.  Then remember how lucky we are that we can pretend.  Also, maybe call your parents if you can and tell them that you love them.

Curious what your draft number would have been?

It’s Hard to be Good

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.47.47 PMJared from “Silicon Valley” is a pretty nice guy. He is the most compassionate voice on the show. Sometimes to get a laugh the show will also have him say something incredibly dark and tragic about his past. His childhood, thru several grim anecdotes, was a bleak affair referencing intense loneliness and poverty.

One example painted so dark we can only laugh follows:
Jared: I had a stuffed animal named Winnie.
Winnie: Oh, wow.
Jared: I mean, it wasn’t technically an animal, I took a Ziploc bag and I stuffed it with old newspaper and then I drew a smile on it.

Its super sad, but it also reveals how even then Jared was an eternal optimist. I have had several favorite characters on this show. The entire cast is very funny and each person is a well thought out and acted character, but Jared really won me over this season as favorite.

SPOILER AHEAD

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.23.26 PMIt was completely crushing to see Jared’s final action of the season, but it also felt so real.  Jared knows poverty better than anyone else on the team and his action shows us he is willing to go further than anyone else on the team to never be poor again.  For the rest of the team success is movable swimming pools and celebrity, for Jared it is finally killing the ever present specter of poverty he has known all his life.

If you haven’t seen the show I’ll briefly explain.  The main cast of characters in “Silicon Valley” have been trying to release what they hope will be a successful new technology and make them the next Apple, Google or Facebook.  They finally launch the app and after a brief initial success the app fails to attract and grow it’s userbase.  This is very bad for a want to be technology giant.  Jared secretly hires an offshore clickfarm service to make it appear that the app is successful.  A clickfarm is essentially an internet sweatshop where hundreds or thousands of humans sit in front of computers repeating menial tasks over and over for third world wages.

Jared knows exactly what it means when he hires this company. Poor people, even well meaning poor people, will continue to screw over poorer people as they claw their way up for the chance to be slightly less poor. And technology remains a revolutionary product for a very few already very well off westerners.

Ghost in the Shell

With the upcoming live action Ghost in the Shell three dimensional experience approaching, it feels like a good time to revisit the ghost hacked garbage truck driver who asked “[w]hat does a virtual experience mean then?”  Probably not a three dimensional movie, but those kids at Dreamworks and all the punks who have the skills but moved to New York to cut their teeth on freelance benders are making it pretty damn difficult to tell if the pixels I see on the way to work are forming Time Square in my reality or yours.

“I am a life-form that was born in a sea of information.”

Speaking of Times Square, school is out, and teenagers instinctively know that Times Square is their territory.  I am more afraid of a group of teenage boys than anything else I encounter on a regular basis.  When they suss out that deep dark insecurity you didn’t know still lingered, they let their insults fly casually so you know how easy it is for them to hurt you.

These kids.  They were born in a sea of information.  They don’t, as far as I can tell, have George Church’s sili brains, but they do carry a rough draft around with them like the rest of us.  Will they give us a choice when they merge?

Released at the end of 1995, which began with the opening statements of the OJ Simpson trial, Ghost in the Shell was both ahead of its time and right at home in the same year that witnessed the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber when some of us were naive enough to believe that tragedies on US soil were by definition outliers.

The film did not depend on special effects or violence to the same extent The Matrix franchise would a few years later, instead, it asked a serious question about the future of humankind.  These Times Square kids might be surprised at how much dialogue is in this film.  It is thoughtfully constructed, and its spirit is more in line with Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker than most stories involving cyborg assassins with ghost cloaks.

Ghost in the Shell was visually inspired by Blade Runner, and that is beautifully evident in the final scene, which takes place in a large room with a domed ceiling that intentionally or not looks like a sly nod to the impossibly fresh view of LA’s iconic Bradbury Building seen in Ridley Scott’s masterful adaptation of PKD.

If you’re feeling broken, take an evening to re-watch this classic before the marketing blitz for the live action remake assaults you.  Watch the subtitled version and, if you can, try to get a teenager into it.

Sunspring

Although the short film Sunspring is more s.f. than dystopian, it belongs here because of its author, Benjamin.  I suspect that the last thing a truly terrifying artificial intelligence would do is let us know that it exists.  It would probably spend more time learning to hack our brains to distort reality.  The two humans who created Benjamin, which named itself and ensured a victory at the annual film festival Sci-Fi London by voting for itself 36,000 times per hour, fed Benjamin a list of scripts from a variety of s.f. films and television shows.  The resulting short film and what it teaches us about the scènes à faire for the genre should not be ignored.

Watch the full short film here.

Sunspring