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Tribeca 2005: Sheldrake is a goofy PUZZLEHEAD at THE RECEPTION and here as well!

Hey folks, Harry here with the ever glowing Sheldrake. You see, its his lotion he puts on at the bottom of the well. This time he's got a really neat sounding film to start off with... avant garde science fiction is too few and far between... this time it's called PUZZLEHEAD!


directed and written by James Bai

Sheldrake here, live in New York reporting from that Triangle Below Canal Street, Tribeca and it’s film festival. This particular area of New York has been changing for fifteen years now, but this spot is still a strange, barren place. DiNiroland, the lofts of the superrrich and highways are to the West, Chinatown is to the right. You see some skinny overdressed woman walking a tiny yappy dog in a high dust wind in the middle of nowhere, you know you’re near Tribeca. We used to drive through here at night in the late seventies and early eigties with the windows rolled up; overhead were shot out street lamps and the shattered windows of abandoned lofts become junkie flophouses. In the days before the right money changed hands, past a certain hour it was hard to find anybody in downtown Manhattan unless you knew where to look.

In PUZZLEHEAD, it’s even harder to find anyone in Brooklyn, where the story takes place not too many years from now, after The Decline, whatever that was, and most technology-production has been backburnered to allocate resources to the repopulation effort. (Oh, so THAT was The Decline!)  Walter, the hirsute bored and depressed hero (looks like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, or maybe Stephen King in Creepshow), lives alone in a brownstone in Brooklyn that, if he were to buy it now, would have cost him something like ten-to-twenty million dollars. Judging by the vacancy rates after The Decline, he lost a bundle on taking a mortgage for the place before the bottom dropped out of the real estate market; plenty reason enough to be depressed. Still, something of the old gung-ho speculative spirit still burns in Walter, and  he’s living a little less alone every day because, you know, because he’s, heh, he’s making a new friend.  Insert evil laughter here.

Well, not a friend, exactly: he’s making a robot, the eponymously named Puzzlehead, that looks exactly like the clean-shaven version of himself. It turns out that making a new friend is rather like installing a new operating system, and that there are various kinks to be worked out and support releases to be installed. Phonetics must be taught, music, scrubbing floors: like that. Now, get this: you’re the planet’s state-of-the-art new life form, sui generis, a towering achievement of technology and humanity and what are you stuck doing by your creator? Grocery shopping. Going over all the cracks in that nasty toilet with a little brush. Mopping and waxing. In this world, people are scarce, but apparently finding skilled building maintenance engineers is like finding GOLD.  I would have though, given the non-functioning economy of post-Decline Brooklyn, that a janitor would give you a solid eight hour day for a couple of Sabretts.

None of this would be a problem if the robot were just mnemonic circuits and memory banks, but his brain appears to be positronic (doesn’t it sound like I know what I’m talking about?) Like the M5 Multitronic Unit, which, as you’ll recall, must survive, human engrams have been impressed on Puzzlehead’s circuits, or something, because he’s a lot more Walter than not. It’s not as if Walter cares if he is or isn’t: Walter turns out to be a tyrant and a brute, as we find out by the unceremonious manner with which he begins a sexual relationship with the girl who works at the deli down the street. Walter has one rule only for Puzzlehead: do as I say, not as I do. Now, when I was kid and my father told me that, he almost guaranteed that I’d shut down on him and rebel, and Puzzlehead has a similar, if slow-building, reaction. Saying that I understand Puzzlehead’s rebellion doesn’t mean that I don’t get Walter’s complaint too: having your own home-built robot get all individual rights on you must be rather like having the toaster suddenly inform you that it’s gonna start demanding paid vacation and overtime unless we make some changes ‘round here. I’d throw out the toaster, or at least fire up the arc-welder and turn the upstart appliance into passive garage art.


Puzzlehead is a good low-budget science-fiction movie in the tradition of Godard’s Alphaville – it’s sci-fi ‘cause it says so, right on the label, though there’s little in the way of special effects—the high end is a tv remote control that turns off the robot. Actually, it’s Alphaville, Delicatessen and Brazil, all sort of rolled up into a Frankenstein/Jekyll and Hyde  puffy pastry shell baked on a thick layer of Good Kirk/Bad Kirk cheese. The movie also reminded me of the kind of short story that appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) when I was a kid—not too many characters, not too big an idea, but very well worked out. The mood of the film is somber and meditative,  not horrific, and it moves slowly and deliberately over it’s plot. Some of our audience found the lead actor’s acting somewhat wooden, and the pace of the movie too slow.  Now, granted, Walter speaks formally and slowly like a self-important ass, but, first, he is a self-important ass as written, and, second, that’s partly a deliberate style choice the script makes—unless you know you’re operating in a certain kind of sci-fi tradition here, some of the lines in the film sound dated. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to sound, you may not.

One cool note: the beard is real! They filmed all the beard parts first, then shaved the actor and filmed all the non-beard parts.

Go see this one. If you're in the right mood, you'll enjoy it.



directed and written by John G Young.

This is probably my favorite movie at the festival so far, in terms of just being a good popcorn romance movie that I could really get into, and it’s in part because the relationships are so well done and surprising (the writing and acting are also just about perfect).  This thing is JUICY.

A man and a woman are living together out in the country. She’s French, stylish, about 45 and wow, she should NOT drink. He’s bald, black, hot, butch, about 35, and paints pictures. They’re leading a quiet snowbound life together this winter, then one day the woman’s estranged daughter shows up with her new boyfriend, a young bald, black, hot, boyishly-thin guy about 25, about the same age as the daughter. Now, let’s just get our class prejudices straight here: we’re not talking Jay-Z and The Game here (whoever the hell they are), these guys both remind me of a rich black guy I knew named Benny in the Columbia University Glee Club (I didn’t go to C.U. but was in the glee club, LONG story)—way  better looking, more sophisticated, talented and educated than I was. Then, anyway.

Anyway, there’s more interesting class and race stuff to deal with when white daughter/young black guy announce that they’re married to white mom/her  black guy. Hmm. Is this a statement? If so, what’s the director stating? One of the things that makes this movie absorbing and interesting and several cuts above the other comedies I’ve seen at the festival is that he’s stating nothing at all about racial relations between black men and white women. What can be said that that towering achievement MANDINGO didn’t say? Anyway, that absence of theme is the huge elision that spins at the center of the structure of the story, and that leaves the movie free to deal with every OTHER thematic issue. It’s a truly brilliant conceit – I’ve heard of the hollow center of a story, but an unrecognized relationship that begs to be discussed and never is, and is irrelevant to the story—wonderful. Sparks fly off this thing, sending giddy good feeling into the audience as these characters struggle to get at each other’s mysteries and their own.

The couples going to be there for a few days. Turns out the daughter  had to get married to get her hands on the family pursestrings, and seems that mom has to throw a reception to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. So everyone settles in, and the next night they throw a party where everybody gets drunk and then, something happens that MAY surprise you unless you’ve noticed that both the black, bald, hot guys are WAY too good looking, if you get my drift.

This is a really good small ensemble character movie, fun to watch and with lots of beautiful things to look at, very good acting and very good production values. There’s some naked gay black bald sex  goin’ on, which may thrill you or may chill you, but it’s discreetly photographed. You’ll get over it.

Go see this one! You’ll have a lot of fun.

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