Advantageous proves disadvantaged

advJennifer Phang’s Advantageous is a cautionary sci-fi film set in the near future, taking current trends and extrapolating them into a narrative that seems both plausible and worrying, in just the same way as the Black Mirror series does, but what really springs to mind watching Advantageous is Andrew Niccol’s far superior Gattaca from 1997. 

I suppose you could describe the film as High Concept- it envisages a future of high population, the resulting pressure on resources, wealth and jobs and how this impacts ones position in society and self-worth. Advances in robotics and AI have left jobs scarce, and positions in schools, the quality education which facilitates  upwards mobility in society, also marginalised by resources and cost (there’s a neat wall-advert running in one scene that highlights subscription to a lottery for school places). Its all very interesting and intellectually plausible, in just the same way that Gattaca was when it examined genetics and eugenics in future society when science can shape ones place in that society if one only has the wealth.

Advantageous is the story of a single mother, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) whose successful career as a spokeswoman for  a medical research company is brought to a halt when her bosses decide that she is simply too old to represent the company any longer. At once this crushes any hopes she has for her daughter, as without her salary Gwen will be unable to finance her daughters place in her new school, damning her to an uncertain future. The only lifeline offered to her by her clearly coldly manipulative boss Isa (Jennifer Ehle) is for Gwen to be a spokesperson and test subject for the companies latest initiative, in which customers who are either old or ill can have their consciousness placed into young fit bodies, presumably genetically engineered.  The technology is not quite the boon it claims it to be -one of Gwen’s other superiors, Fisher (James Urbaniak) warns Gwen off, admitting that it is deeply flawed and quite dangerous, but Gwen is backed into a corner as without her job and her salary she will presumably lose her apartment and her daughter will  fall out of the education system that her future depends upon. 

Where Advantageous comes unstuck is in its execution- the budget for this film was obviously very low and the film-makers struggled to realise its ambitions. With its fairly ideal vision of the future its hard to see the nightmare horror that Gwen is trying to avoid- where are the poor huddled disenfranchised masses without jobs, education or food? While we are told that the woes of the world are due to population and pressure on resources, we only see empty streets and few poor and disadvantaged people- everything we see is very idyllic and calm and pleasant, rather undermining the central premise. Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1973) had a similar theme and while limited by its own budget it nonetheless portrayed population problems with far more success, depicting crowded streets and apartment buildings where the homeless majority sleep on the stairs and in corridors. The ills of its world are clear at all times, we witness it clearly. We don’t see any of this in Advantageous, and indeed the inferior quality of its CGI cityscapes prove so poor it probably could have done without them completely, the imagery pulling one out of the film whenever it segues to them- likewise the police drones that are shown in the sky are no doubt intended to suggest an intrusive authority and a possible police state run by AI technology but its all to little purpose as far as the narrative is concerned. While its perhaps commendable that the film doesn’t feel the need to explain everything -we see explosions suggesting a terrorist underclass rebelling against the status quo but it isn’t expanded upon- it really suffers when its only graphic scene of the ills of society is a cloaked, presumably starving girl sleeping in a flowerbed. Hardly a terrible dystopia.

Which is a pity because the cast are fine and the central storyline is involving, albeit undermined by awkward pacing and troublesome editing; the latter particularly an issue in an uneven last third in which the film pretty much falls apart just when it should be reaching for its intended emotional and intellectual finale (the film rather spluttering to a halt without any real resolution). 

Clearly there are allusions to ageism, and abuse of corporate power and its ability to sell deeply flawed technology to further its own wealth and position. The public are just consumers to be lied to and taken advantage of without any reproach from any authority, which has a familiar ring to it. The films narrative is clearly endeavouring to explore these subjects but its execution is really so deeply flawed its hopelessly spoiled. Gwen’s desperation and love for her daughter is clear and their bond is convincing with emotional resonance that goes nowhere, ultimately: it fizzles out in its last third without any tension. Its a real shame because Gattaca is one of my favourite films and timely, cautionary sci-fi films should be welcomed in a marketplace and genre dominated by superhero antics and empty-headed bubble-gum blockbusters. Sometimes films manage to succeed in spite of budgetary limitations but its inevitable that sometimes they are badly undermined by them, and sadly such is the case with Advantageous.

Advantageous is streaming on Netflix


Future becomes Past

esc1I am still beyond irritated that I never re-watched Blade Runner during November, 2019. It feels like something vaguely heretical that I never watched that film in that, of all months. Once upon a time, that film was of the future, now its not even of the past, but some alternate past, like the 1997 of Escape From New York, or the 2001 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alternative histories, of the future become past.

Perhaps that’s more powerful. It is, after all, the problem when predicting the future in science fiction movies. You can get judged by what you get right, what you get wrong, and maybe that’s missing the point- the films really tell us about when they were made. In the decade that gave us Taxi Driver, it wasn’t perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine New York becoming a maximum security prison to dump all the criminal filth of America into. Likewise when Kubrick and Clarke made 2001 in the 1960s, with America pumping so much money and effort into Apollo, it was no doubt easy to imagine the Superpowers with bases on the moon by 2001. In just the same way that Escape From New York shows how grim society seemed to be getting in the grim late-1970s, 2001: A Space Odyssey betrays the sense of hope and ambition of the 1960s.

In any event, its easy to re-watch 2001 imagining that Vietnam never happened and that political will championed an ambitious space program for decades to follow, or that when economic collapse threatened the America of Escape From New York,  far-right politics condemned society’s ills to the solution of a city turned into a prison. Or, in the case of Blade Runner, that perhaps the Axis won World War Two and set the world into the different path of a German Space Race, and an Off-World solution to the climate collapse of Earth.

In this way the films actually become more powerful, separated from the weight of prediction, instead benefiting from the freedom of dreaming what might have been. I think its something that film-makers etc should perhaps consider when contemplating possible futures: don’t make them ours, make them someone else’s. If the opening crawl of Blade Runner had been something along the lines of: “1946: The Axis wins WWII, 1954: The first man on the moon is a German,  2019: Now” then people would perhaps have been more open, even in 1982, to accept its future noir vision. Its an approach that Villeneuve and his team clearly seemed to relish when making BR2049 and furthering its alternate history/future, something that the film benefits from with its retro tech.

I note that perhaps the next film to join the distinguished company of Escape From New York, 2001 and Blade Runner is Soylent Green, whose grim future of 2022, of devastating climate change, pollution and overpopulation is next to become an alternate past. Mind, as predictions go they possibly weren’t terribly far off with that one.

The 2017 Selection Pt.3

2017s3Here’s the latest state of the 2017 selection. There’s been a few additions since my last update. And hey, I’m still trying to curtail the spending this year.

Heat: God, another copy. Its just one of those movies. I think I have a VHS copy up in the loft somewhere, a widescreen version that came in a big box, don’t know if anybody out there remembers that edition. Studios must love idiots like me. So I buy this thinking it might be definitive and before it’s even arrived people are moaning about colour-timing and sound issues. I don’t know. At least it was strangely (suspiciously, maybe?) cheap. So I’ve got it in HD for something like a third of what I paid for it back on VHS. I won’t mention the DVD  thats lying around someplace. And no, I haven’t watched this copy yet.

The Leftovers- Season Two: I mentioned this awhile ago, as its what finally got me around to watching season one, and (hurrah!) I’ve also watched this too- review coming soon. Yeah, I’ve watched something in the 2017 selection- will this catch on? (he wonders, noting he still hasn’t watched Assault on Precinct 13 or Vampires or Garcia yet) .

Dr Strange: Actually, yes, I’ve watched this too, as my review a few weeks ago will attest. Well, I hadn’t seen it at the cinema and I’d been curious about it for months.

Logans Run/The Omega Man/Soylent Green: A triple-feature blu ray set, with each film coming in at under £4 each. Well, I’m always a sucker for deals like that. These are three 1970s dystopian science fiction films, each flawed in their own way but each having redeeming features making them worth re-watching, at least for someone like me who grew up with them on tv- I guess  viewers born post-1990 needn’t bother, they’ll likely hate them. Their loss; hell, they are worth watching if only for the soundtracks (which I have on CD for all three- yes I am that nerd in the corner).

Arrival: The best film of last year. A compulsory  blu ray purchase. I watched the disc the other night and yes, it just confirmed Oscar had it all wrong- Amy Adams deserved a nomination at the very least, and quite possibly the statuette itself too. This is a science fiction film for the ages and deserves to be ranked up there with CE3K. I should probably do another review based on the home experience. Indeed, I could watch this all over again already. There’s something strangely rewatchable about this film, the way it flows, the direction, the acting… wonderful sound design. This film has me so excited for Blade Runner 2049 (if only they could do something about that title; it still feels awkward to me). Its made me wonder though, how rare it is to watch a science fiction film these days and think it’s one for the ages.

So anyway, as we tumble towards April, this is the latest photo of my disc purchases this year. And yes, by year’s end, I vow to have watched everything in this photo.

Listening to the Last Man On Earth

om1Today I’ve been listening to the FSM disc of Ron Grainer’s The Omega Man score. Maybe it was due to listening to the Silent Running score before Christmas, but I’ve been meaning to dig out this CD for several days now, as its another 1970s soundtrack that sounds quite unlike anything else you might hear today. Its funky and jazzy and is sprinkled with elements of pop and orchestral music… its such a melting-pot of different kinds of music it shouldn’t really work but it does. Its also, yes, utterly of the 1970s. Not that this dates it particularly but you always know it’s from some other era entirely from the one we are living in. It feels a little like a time capsule.

There’s a few other CDs in my collection from the 1970s that ‘feel’ rather apart from the John Williams/Jerry Goldsmith/John Barry scores that are likely more fondly remembered from genre films of that decade. Fred Myrow’s Soylent Green score for instance, which shares the kind of folksy, funky sound and jazzy source cues of The Omega Man in places (the ‘Prologue/Opening Music ‘ track is one of my favourite pieces of film music from that entire decade) and Lalo Schifrin’s unrelentingly melancholy score for George Lucas’ THX 1138. These scores and their ‘music of the future’ (at least as they saw it then with limited budgets and orchestra sizes)  are, incredibly, fast approaching half a century old now- THX 1138 dates from 1970, The Omega Man 1971 and Soylent Green 1973. Music of the past that used to be the music of the future- it’s a funny thought; odd to think it’s how they thought the future would sound.

I think THX 1138 came closest to sounding like the future- it’s about the perfect soundtrack to world events of January 2017.  So dark and depressing… makes the Last Man On Earth of The Omega Man sound distinctly jolly.