Saturday, October 17, 2009

Circuitry Man (Dystopia Week Part 7)

As noted yesterday, we’ve been cyberpunk for a few decades now — yet, oddly, not so hip as a society as to avoid creating things like the terrible poster ad I saw near work featuring a young girl in oversize shades that were never cool with a cute dog and the painful slogan “That Internet is so YOU!” — all advertising Yahoo. Shit by committee, plainly, from a company that should be big and rich enough by now to avoid such things. Maybe they should replace the dog with Poochie in future iterations.

Just slightly better-crafted was the 1990 movie (sorry I said 1989 yesterday) Circuitry Man, one of numerous films around that time that lacked polish but definitely earns points for getting the conventions of the cyberpunk genre right. Do not let the stripped-down, glitzy nature of the Matrix cause you to forget that a decade earlier, it was all about putting a layer of postmodernism over film noir conventions — such as trying to get to the neon-lit big city with the contraband before the hired goons rub out you and your girl.

In a veritable one-man crossroads of cyberpunk culture, the goon in this case is actor Vernon Wells, playing an assassin nicknamed Plughead with literal plugs in his head for sampling high-priced microchips and the like. Wells also happens to have played Wez, the gay barbarian restrained by Humongous in Road Warrior, noted in my Tuesday entry. (And Circuitry Man is such a shoddy production that Wells here has an American accent in indoor scenes and an Australian accent in a couple outdoor scenes in which he’s driving a truck.)

Speaking of Kevin Bacon-like pop culture connections, Wells spoofed the role of Wez in the 1985 comedy Weird Science — written and directed by John Hughes and produced by Joel Silver, who produced (among other things) The Warriors (also mentioned in Tuesday’s entry), the rather cyberpunkish Streets of Fire (with end credits song by the Fixx), Commando (featuring a character named Matrix played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appears in tomorrow’s blog entry), Predator, dystopian Demolition Man, and the Matrix movies.

Getting back to Circuitry Man, though: the dame on the run is played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, a New Yorker now residing in Austin who happens to be the granddaughter of DC Comics founder Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who presumably outranks Captain Atom (she does not appear in the even more obscure sequel, Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II). In one year she turns fifty, and I suggest that Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez throw her a party or cast her in something as an aging but beautiful stripper/cop.

I do not know why IMDB lists Circuitry Man as having the alternate title Circulatory Man. If it sounds lame, here are…


•Jesuits like hobbits, apparently, or at least Fordham University is having an exhibit of original J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts, my co-worker Judy D’Agostino tells me. As I am apparently dating someone who spoke Elvish in middle school, I should probably go see it.

•It was not J.R.R.T. but J.R. Taylor who gave me my VHS copy of Circuitry Man — J.R. is a generous guy — and remember that you can learn about all sorts of B-movie wonders like that on his valuable site RightWingTrash. He also recommends the Brooklyn-shot Italian post-apocalyptic film Rats: Night of Terror, or at least its final scene.

•J.R. and I exchanged e-mails yesterday about the mockumentary films Paranormal Activity and Fourth Kind, both of which may be effective but which I fear will derive some of their power from the nigh-fraudulent pretense that they depict real events (particularly Fourth Kind, which features ads with Milla Jovovich actually telling us — falsely — that the film is based on real abduction reports, which it is not, not even phony real abduction reports, if you follow me).

By contrast, I find myself very tempted to watch the exploitative series Scare Tactics in which guests (who had previously signed releases but didn’t know when things were going to get weird) are scared out of their wits and made to think terrible things are happening. The list of episode titles alone leaves me as entertained as if I’d read several dime novels in one sitting.

•Speaking of reality and lack thereof, I think that whatever the balloon-building father of that briefly-missing boy says in his press conference today, whether it was all a six year-old’s prank or a father’s desperate media-attention gambit, we can count on one thing: It will be bizarre. How educational to have the nation’s eyes turned upon a man who hunts extraterrestrials, did a Wife Swap involving a “psychic,” and best of all appears to believe schizophrenic David Icke’s conspiracy theories about reptilian shape-shifters — possibly including Hillary Clinton — controlling the world.

And it occurs to me that impressive as it is that Paranormal Activity has already made something like $10 million on a $15,000 budget, the people who believe in the reptile invasion suggest that we could eventually bring sci-fi thriller budgets down to zero. I mean, if you can sit these people in front of a TV showing Hillary or whoever on CNN and their imaginations are so active that they see an alien invasion, who needs Steven Spielberg anymore?

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