Rental Recs: Robot Round of Applause

The video of a monkey controlling a robotic arm with its brain is, as far as I'm concerned, the cool meme of the week.

According to the Beeb, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine implanted thin, electronic tendrils directly into the monkey's motor cortex. Then the monkey's own arms were restrained and after some training the monkey was able to feed itself.

OK, so maybe it's cruel. But it's still awesome.

This week, my rental recommendations all revolve around robot arms and hands (but I'm not going to waste your time with the obvious Skywalker connection):

Strange Parallel (1998)

First the bad news: after about 10 minutes searching around the ol' series of tubes, I couldn't find a DVD version of this short indie documentary about the tragic songwriter Elliott Smith. Now, the good news: the entire 20-odd-minute film is available in its entirety on YouTube. What place, you ask, does a robot hand have in a documentary? Let me clarify: it's an experimental doc, and as such, director Steven Hanft includes a fictional subplot in which Smith becomes increasingly obsessed with a late-night infomercial for a rudimentary robot claw-hand.

I, Robot (2004)

I was going to qualify this recommendation with the caveat that this isn't the best Isaac Asimov adaptation, but then I realized that, as flawed as the film is, that Asimov really hasn't been portrayed well in Hollywood. I mean, could I live with myself if I claimed that Bicentennial Man was a better treatment? Hell no. This Alex Proyas film stars Will Smith as a Converse All Star-wearing detective who has, you guessed it, a cyborg arm that he loathes, but that ultimately gives him the edge on a species of renegade automatons that are trying to dominate the human race.

El Mariachi (1992)

Robert Rodriguez's first feature-length film was, at the time, regarded as the lowest-budgeted action masterpiece of all time -- made while Rodriguez was a film student on summer break with money raised from medical experiments. The film follows an aspiring mariachi who wanders into a small Mexican town only to be confused with a hit man who carries his weapons in a guitar case. In the final showdown, the mariachi's hand is blown in half. In the last scene we see him revving up a motorcycle with a robotic hand. It's just a shame that Rodriguez abandoned that concept in the sequels, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Army of Darkness (1993)

In the second installment of the Sam Raimi-Bruce Campbell cult-trilogy, Evil Dead, Campbell's character Ash's hand is possessed by an evil demon and, like any rational K-Mart (or S-Mart in the Evil Dead universe) employee, he amputates it and then replaces it with a chainsaw. In the final installment, Ash is transported to the medieval past to wage war on an undead army. For some reason, the chainsaw becomes no longer feasible and so Ash constructs a robotic hand using a knight's armor.

Total Recall (1990)

Who can forget Benny, the mutant taxi driver Arnold Schwarzenegger meets (and is soon betrayed by) on the surface of Mars? Well, probably everybody. Played by Mel Johnson Jr., the wise-cracking cabbie has a long insect-like arm which he only reveals after removing his robot hand to prove that he's a member of the mutant-resistance underground.

Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

I'm not sure if this even counts. First of all, we're talking about the mini-movie, Fistful of Yen, in the middle of the larger John Landis sketch comedy. A spoof on Enter the Dragon, the villain is Dr. Klahn, a Kim Jong-Il-styled dictator with a prosthetic hand. That's my second point of doubt: is it really a robot hand? If he can attach a flame-thrower, an electric razor and a vibrator to the end of his wrist, I figure that counts, especially considering his final weapon, a claw, looks exactly like the robot hand from Strange Parallel.