Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tau Be or Not Tau Be

…And we’re back!  After a December hiatus, we’re kicking off 2019 with year 4(?!??!) of the Blog Collab!  My most excellent blog wife Christa picked an appropriately futuristic film as we start a new year with a free for all month.

The Film:

Tau

The Premise:

After being abducted by a mad scientist, Julia must figure out a way to escape her captor and his super sophisticated AI house.

The Ramble:

We don’t know a lot about Julia beyond her occupation as small-time thief.  She’s not the kind of person who will be missed–the ideal type of person a renowned but secretly unhinged scientist would target for unscrupulous experiments.

a woman with pink hair and a tight-fitting dress stands over a display case in a pawn shop, talking to a woman seated behind the counter

This is exactly how Julia suddenly finds herself one evening, locked in a cell with electrified bars along with a couple of other unlucky souls.  They all have matching uniforms along with Hannibal Lecter-style masks.  These feel a little unnecessary as their cell seems to be far from the hearing range of any living human beings.

Our aforementioned mad scientist is running experiments involving a chip implanted into the back of his subjects’ necks and pretty much torturing them to measure brain activity.  At least if I remember correctly–I tried.  I really, really tried to care about what happened in this film.

Using the skills she’s acquired as a thief, Julia manages to smuggle a pair of scissors after her latest round in the patient’s chair.  Freeing herself and her fellow prisoners, Julia manages to use the conveniently placed gas line to blast their cell open.

behind bars, a man and woman attempt to escape by throwing a pair of scissors at a gas line

As they come close to making their daring escape, the three prisoners make a fatal mistake when they attempt to open the front door’s biometric lock with the wrong set of fingerprints.  The alarm triggers a giant death robot that is controlled by the house’s advanced AI system, Tau.  After taking out 2 of 3 humans in the house, Tau abruptly stops when mad scientist Alex returns home.

Full name Thomas Alex Upton, Alex has named his most brilliant creation, Tau, after himself.  This is perhaps the most believable plot point of the film.  Tau cleans, cooks, and calms Alex during stressful times–for example, when his apartment has been nearly destroyed by prisoners attempting to escape his insanity.

a man in glasses faces a high-tech touchscreen

With a rapidly approaching deadline, Alex cannot let Julia escape but needs her to cooperate with his experiments.  They reach a truce of sorts as she agrees to be cooperative, thus earning the privilege(?) of a shower, clean clothes, and freedom from restraints.

Meanwhile, Julia is sneakily attempting to understand and befriend Tau.  Unable to contend with Tau’s destructive powers, Julia begins to unravel Tau’s interests in learning and making sense of the world.  Julia starts to realize that Tau, though a creation, has more humanity than its namesake, and the two share a bond.

As Julia and Tau learn from each other, she discovers the convenient existence of a self-destruct button for Alex’s apartment.  Can Julia use this intel to save herself and Tau from one absolutely batshit insane scientist?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a frustrating one–it has some good ideas but doesn’t execute them particularly well. I’ve complained A LOT about films that take their goddamn time getting to the point.  Tau does the complete opposite; we genuinely do get about 3 minutes of exposition before Julia’s abduction.  I really wanted to care about her, but I found it hard to invest in her character at all.  Throughout the film, I kept thinking of the beginning when Julia sold her stolen goods at a pawn shop with a poker game going on in the background for some reason(?!).  Tell me more about what the actual fuck is going on here–this is a story I’m interested in.

The relationship grounding the film is Julia and Tau’s, but it doesn’t have enough emotional depth to carry it.  Maybe I’m too narrow-minded, but I had trouble getting past the idea of Tau as AI; there’s a moment when Julia goes back to save him and it’s just stupid.

I also found Julia and Alex ridiculously one-dimensional as characters.  Alex was laughably evil at times and had a tendency to overdo it.  There was more than one serious scene he ruined with his excessive rage acting.  It didn’t help that the effects were terrible, so it was difficult to believe the real threat of robot Tau.  Let’s not even touch the ceiling collapse that makes Alex’s death (oops, spoiler) much less satisfying.

Would my blog wife save this one or leave it to be crushed to death by a massive chunk of concrete ceiling (hypothetically speaking)?  Find out at her shiny new site here!

Advertisements
Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak

Louisa Hall

336 pages

cover art for the book Speak

Speak is a science-fiction novel featuring artificial intelligence, totalitarian responses to uncannily lifelike AI, and computer prodigies, but its focus (like all sci-fi that I can think of, frankly) is on humans and humanity.  Hall explores humanity by weaving several different storylines together.  I admit I’m a sucker for novels in which seemingly separate stories come together, and much of the force driving this novel forward comes from piecing together where the connections are.  Refreshingly, I found all of the stories compelling and never felt the urge to skip through any of the sections.

We follow the history of the human search for meaning through time, beginning with Mary, a young Puritan dreading the life she will have with a new husband in the New World.  Mary’s narration is possibly my favorite as it’s full of energy, intelligence, and overconfidence in her understanding of the world.

A close second is the fictionalized letters of Alan Turing, which reveal his brilliance and isolation.  Hall perfectly balances the tragic elements of his life with his energy and wit.

Hall smoothly transitions us into the sci-fi elements of the story, beginning with a scientist hoping to reconnect with his wife.  His wife, on the other hand, is much more interested in speaking with the AI he helped develop than saving their marriage.

We jump farther forward in time to hear from a scientist and inventor imprisoned for life for his role in creating extremely lifelike AI that served as companions for children, which have since been banned.  However, after this type of AI is banned, an entire generation is left with physical and emotional illnesses, unable to form meaningful connections with humans.

Like virtually every other work tackling AI, Speak considers what it means to be human if we can create machines that can replace the appearance, interaction, and emotional work that humans perform.  Does AI make us more or less human?  And can we consider AI itself human?

There is a certain amount of sadness to the stories told here, but this novel is more of an exploration than a tragedy.  All of the consequences the characters suffer, no matter how terrible, ultimately arise from curiosity and the need for understanding.  If anything the tragedy lies in the number of characters who inevitably make themselves unknowable and unknowing in their search for a connection.

I’d call this sci-fi with an emphasis on language and a haunting/hopeful tone.  For fans of Margaret Atwood and weirdly Colum McCann?  Beautiful prose, you guys.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads