I Am Human


The brain remains the most mysterious organ.

(2019) Documentary (1091) Bryan Johnson, Bill Kochevar, Anne Shabason, Stephen Shrubshall, Stan Shabason, Denise Vanier, Ramez Naam, David Eagleman, Bobby Kasthuri, Richard F. Kirsch, Nita A. Farahany, A. Bolu Ajiboye, Miguel Nicolelis, Dustin J. Tyler), Andres M. Lozano, Ana Leffel, Kate Allen, Claude Clément, John Donoghue, Sara Goering, Tracy Laabs. Directed by Taryn Southern and Elena Gaby

 

Despite all the issues that beset us from a fractious Presidential election to climate change to the coronavirus, we still manage to live in amazing times. We even may one day soon begin unlocking the secrets of the human brain.

The brain is the most mysterious of organs, one we even now know very little about. We still have a hard time figuring out why things go wrong for some people neurologically, while we’re at a loss of how to treat let alone cure them. It is frustrating for medical professionals who can offer patients little hope of any sort of meaningful life change when their lives have been altered fundamentally.

Bill Kochevar was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Unable to move his legs or arms, he lived in a 24-hour care facility, using voice commands to lift the curtains or raise the top half of his bed so he could sit up. He agrees to undergo a radical surgical procedure to implant electrodes that would stimulate damaged areas of his brain and reconnect neurons that are no longer working, allowing him to move. Bill’s hope was to one day be able to feed himself.

Anne Shabason is a Parkinson’s disease patient whose life has ground to a halt. Barely able to function due to near-constant tremors, she has had to give up her artwork, and being an active grandmother and mother. She doesn’t even like seeing friends because her smile muscles don’t work right, giving her a stony expression when she attempts to smile. She worries about being a burden to her mega-supportive husband Stan. She is also having electrodes in her brain, undergoing a treatment known as deep brain stimulation, which has only been performed on a handful of patients to mixed results. She hopes she can get the tremors under control so that she can live a relatively normal life.

Stephen Shrubshall had a genetic disorder that didn’t manifest itself until he was an adult, turning his entire world white. He rarely leaves his apartment and his sister Denise Vanier is essentially his sole contact with the outside world. He hasn’t seen his sister’s face in years; he longs to regain the independence he lost when he went blind. Doctors are trying a radically new procedure in which an electrode is placed just in the lens of his eye, and another behind the eye itself. Wearing special glasses with a video camera implanted, technicians tweak the electric flow in order to restore his vision somewhat.

The filmmakers do a good job of making sure that we don’t see these procedures as a panacea, but rather as promising developments. The improvement in the lives of the subjects is considerable but not enough for them to meet their goals. To the credit of the filmmakers, they present their subjects in an even-handed way; in their own way they are courageous, but they are also understandably cautious and skeptical.

At times resembling a Nova episode, sometimes the material gets a little dry. Also, the final third of the film examines potential applications for this kind of technology – the ability to create “superpowers” in ordinary humans, the ability to connect with the Internet without using a device, or to change one’s mood with the aid of a thought-activated interface. If it sounds like science fiction, know that people like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Kernel CEO Bryan Johnson are already investing in making this science fiction into science fact.

Some ethicists warn that this kind of technology comes awfully close to the line of playing God, and we know that man’s hubris generally speaking is much more developed than man’s common sense. I don’t know that this is necessarily a brave new world, but like all technological advancements, we will find a way to live with them whether we want to or not.

REASONS TO SEE: Has the feel of a well-done Nova episode.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the dry side.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the surgical procedure footage may be a bit much for the squeamish, although there isn’t much blood shown.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kochevar passed away shortly after filming was completed as a result of complications from the injuries of his original accident.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Icarus
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Swallow

Advertisement

Pacific Rim: Uprising


Giant robots are inherently cool.

(2018) Science Fiction (Universal) John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorham, Charlie Day, Jing Tian, Max Zhang, Rinko Kikuchi, Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Ivanna Sakhno, Mackenyu, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriguez, Rahart Adams, Levi Meaden, Dustin Clare, Chen Zitong, Calvin Yu, Qian Yongchen, Zeppelin Hamilton, Jiaming Guo, Lyric Lan. Directed by Stephen S. DeKnight

 

This sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 giant robots versus giant aliens Japanese cult film lovefest Pacific Rim isn’t going to overtax your intellect nor excite your imagination much; rather it operates on a completely visceral level, relying on eye candy special effects and chest-thumping militaristic dialogue from every action film ever.

]Set ten years after the original, the world is emerging from the invasion of the kaiju behemoths that nearly wiped out humanity. The fleet of giant robotic jaegers, piloted by two humans with minds linked by a neural bridge, are largely for show as the world rebuilds. Then, a rogue kaiju shows up and the world is woefully unprepared. Not only that but there is a giant conspiracy afoot. What is a war-weary world to do?

\Most of the cast of the original is absent, notably lead Charlie Hunnam whose character is mentioned in passing. Boyega plays the son of the first film’s Idris Elba character. Kikuchi, Gorham and Day are the only returnees of note. More importantly, Del Toro was off winning himself an Oscar and therefor had no time for the sequel.

The first film did boffo box office in China, rescuing it from red ink so the sequel is set mainly in China and has a predominantly Chinese cast. Fair enough. However, there is a Chinese reliance on oversold humor and shouted dialogue. This is a very loud movie indeed. It is also predictable as it seems cobbled together from a variety of movies. Having four writers will do that to a would-be blockbuster.

The special effects are what rescue the film; they are indeed impressive. You also can’t go wrong with giant robots battling Godzilla-like creatures. However, this sequel gets perilously close to doing just that.

REASONS TO SEE: The special effects are pretty nifty.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sadly predictable and goes completely off the rails in the final third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi action violence and a bit of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Several of the supporting actors appeared in the Spartacus series, including DeKnight who created the cable TV show.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Go, Vudu,YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews: Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Transformers: The Last Knight
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Bored in the USA