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Tag: sci-fi

Interviews

Interview: Luke Armstrong & Johnny Sachon Discuss Sci-Fi, Space Travel & “Solitary”

July 31, 2020
Solitary Movie

‘Solitary’ is a contained sci-fi film about a man who wakes up inside a room
to discover he’s a prisoner sent into space to form Earth’s first colony, and
worse – his cellmate Alana is hell-bent on destroying everything.

Writer / director, Luke Armstrong and lead actor Johnny Sachon talk about their new dystopian sci-fi thriller on the Big Picture Film Club.

Solitary is available everywhere on August 31st on digital and disc in all major retailers.

Big Picture Film Club Podcast

Also Read: Dr Parvinder Shergill Discusses Mental Health & Movies

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Editorials

Top 5 Black Mirror Episodes

July 29, 2020
The Best of Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror first aired in 2011 and has been scaring us ever since. It’s depictions of the dangers of technology and potential future of society can be shockingly accurate. Even from the first episode. As the world has descended into chaos, the later seasons have actually had some episodes with a happy ending. The series has looked at everything from dating to politics but it’s main focus is on technology. It’s looked at things like VR gaming and China’s Social Credit System. And even had an interactive experiemntal episode about video games with Bandersnatch.

With the show taking some time off, now seems like a good time to revisit the series, and take a look at 5 of the best.

5. Fifteen Million Merits (1.02)

Black Mirror - Fifteen Million Merits
Fifteen Million Merits stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown Findlay (2011)

Taking a look at the future of talent shows and advertisements, this episode features a pre-Get Out Daniel Kaluuya, riding an exercise bike. Every few pedals of the bike earns the rider merits, which they can spend on food and drink as well as items for their digital avatars. The sleeping quarters are walls of screens with adult advertisements constantly intruding, and a paid fee to skip them, rather like paying for subscription services in real life. This is one episode that has proved rather timely as streaming and subscription services have come into our lives

4. Be Right Back (2.01)

Black Mirror - Be Right Back
Domhall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell in Be Right Back (2013)

Grief is something that everyone, unfortunately, goes through at some point, and everyone deals with it differently. The final and most important aspect of grief is accepting the loss. This episode shows one way of dealing with the loss of a loved one, use their internet history to make an android with their personality. This is one of the most human and relatable episodes of the series, and one of the most thought-provoking.

3. USS. Callister (4.01)

Black Mirror - USS Callister
Jesse Plemons channels William Shatner in USS. Callister (2017)

Riffing on both Star Trek and VR technology, this is one of the most imaginative episodes of the show. A lonely programmer lives out his space captain fantasy in VR, modding in his co-workers as his crewmates. The episode focuses on this power fantasy and spills into the real world, with allusions to Harvey Weinstein. It is one of the highest concept episodes, with Brooker describing it as “The Black Mirror version of a space epic”. This episode even won several awards, for its performances, cinematography, and sound design.

2. San Junipero (3.04)

Breakout perfomances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davies in San Junipero (2016)

The first episode conceived for season 3, this was written “as a conscious decision to change the series“. The episode is at its core, a love story between Yorkie and Kelly. It is also unique for being a period piece (with the exception of the interactive Bandersnatch). This episode is a great example of how the show can expand from its study of the dangers of technology and actually shows hope. This episode also garnered awards and topped a lot of “best episodes” lists.

1. White Christmas (2.04)

Jon Hamm talks to a “Cookie” in White Christmas(2014)

This festive special takes three different stories and connects them, unlike other episodes which just reference other stories. As the two characters share their life stories over Christmas dinner, the stories slowly connect. This episode is a soap opera, sci-fi and romance all in one. Although the individual stories are very short compared to regular episodes, the quality remains the same, and each of them could easily be fleshed out into full-length episodes.

Also Read: The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

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Editorials

The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

July 25, 2020
2001: A Space Odyssey

In 1968 Stanley Kubrick released a ground-breaking sci-fi movie which is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time.

We previously reviewed 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 2019 and offered an opinion on the movie. This time we’ll be taking a closer look at how the movie came to life and what makes it so special.

Path to Glory

The late Stanley Kubrick was an American Film Maker born in 1928. A New Yorker born and raised. A child of Jewish migrants from Austria, Romania and Russia. His father gave him a camera for his 13th birthday, which sparked a keen interest in photography and eventually led to a job as an apprentice photographer at Look magazine. In 1958 Stanley used his savings to create a documentary film Day of the Fight (1951). He continued financing his own films and in 1956 his work caught the attention of Hollywood. Soon Kubrick would be directing the likes of Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).

Kubrick decided to move to England and his first UK release was Lolita (1962). After gaining much critical and commercial success from movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick earned the artistic freedom to work on whatever projects he desired, some of which never materialised.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was a collaboration with English sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. This was followed by A Clockwork Orange (1971), which rivalled Lolita in controversy. Kubrick went on to release a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Kubrick passed away before he could complete A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) so his friend Steven Spielberg helped the movie to cross the finish line. Kubrick discusses much of his early life and films in the documentary The Lost Tapes (1966).

Stanley Kubrick: The Lost Tapes

One Small Step for Man One Giant Leap for Mankind

Let’s consider what was happening at the time 2001 was made. The Vietnam War (which claimed the lives of over 3 million people) was being waged and did not end until 1973. The Hippie counterculture had emerged in opposition to the war. The Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. The Equal pay Act of 1963 was signed by the Liberal President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in the same year. Jim Crow laws from the late 19th Century were abolished when the Civil Rights Act was penned in 1964. The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th 1968. 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted in theatres on April 6th 1968. Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon in 1969.

The Making of a Myth

Hal 9000, the fictional AI in A Space Odyssey.

Arthur C. Clarke is a well known sci-fi writer who Stanley Kubrick partnered with to write the screenplay for 2001. In the documentary 2001 the Making of a Myth (2001), Clarke shared that Kubrick believed there had been no great sci-fi movies made before theirs. Other Sci-Fi movies of the time included Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Kubrick must have been aware of those notable Sci-Fi movies but is thought to be directly inspired by the documentary Universe (1960) and a movie shown at the New York World’s Fair – To the Moon and Beyond (1964).

Captain Kubrick assembled a crew to embark on a mission to create what he believed would be the first great Science Fiction Film. Key personnel were brought in to advise and engineer. Space Scientist Fred Ordway was brought in as a scientific consultant. Illustrators Chesley Bonestell, Roy Carnon, and Richard McKenna created concept drawings, sketches, and paintings of the space technology. A 55 foot long model of the Discovery One spacecraft was built. Engineering company Vickers-Armstrongs were hired to construct a centrifuge that would simulate artificial gravity. Design consultants who had worked on films for NASA and the US Air Force were brought in and 4 Special effects Supervisors were appointed: Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Tom Howard and Wally Veevers.

In 1966 filming began at the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood. The production team developed and used a number of techniques including:

  • Slit-scan photography
  • Rotating Movie sets
  • Front Projection
  • Motion Control
  • Rotoscoping

Production costs soared to in excess of $10m and went $4.5m over budget. The screens we saw in the spacecraft were made to look like computer graphics but were actually a combination of photography and animation. Actors were attached to wires and filmed from beneath to give the illusion of floating in space. The psychedelic Stargate Sequence was achieved by using a custom-built machine and thousands of high-contrast images. Kubrick opted for creating all the visual effects “in camera” to avoid degradation of picture quality which may occur when using Blue Screen techniques. Kubrick’s demands are what led to the project costs spiralling out of control. But this also resulted in the visual effects of 2001 looking spectacular and ahead of its time. A video essay published by Vulture gives a brilliant overview of the feats of engineering that were required and how the innovative cinematographic techniques were implemented in the Space Odyssey production.

To the Moon and Beyond

2001: A Space Odyssey is a sci-fi movie that tells a story of mankind, our relationship with progress, technology and the idea that there may be extra-terrestrial life. The movie builds on Darwin’s theory of evolution and asks us to question what the next stage of human evolution could be. Kubrick gave 2001 a curious ending that is open for debate. You can watch an expert panel give their take on what the movie means to them here. Does the ending suggest there will be another stage of human evolution? One that enables humans to travel through space without the use of technology? In a rare interview more than a decade after the film was made, the reclusive Director gives us his own take on the ending of the movie.

Stanley Kubrick interview (Credit: Wendelle C. Stevens)

Whatever your thoughts are on what the ending means and what the movie represents as a whole, it is a fantastic look into the future told with masterful visual storytelling. A movie that gave us a glimpse of Video Calling at a time when that technology was not available. A movie that modelled the future with photorealistic realism but contained no computer graphics to achieve that goal. A movie that has inspired filmmakers and viewers alike. A movie that will be remembered as one of the greatest movies of all time.

Also Read: The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

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Editorials

The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 23, 2019
Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

‘Dredd’, dir. Pete Travis (2012)

Dredd (hollywoodreporter.com)

As with some of the other films on this list, Dredd deserved to be a massive hit. It is a brilliant, intense and brutal film that dealt with one of the most unappealing comic book “heroes” there ever was – Judge Dredd. I think part of the reason of Dredd’s lack of success is it came out around the same time as The Raid and both films had a similar plot, that being you’re the police trapped in a building and surrounded by enemies. Karl Urban is sensational as Dredd especially as he never removes his helmet and many actors might understandably not want to do this. As brutal as Dredd is he also comes across as very fair, which is important to broadly staying on his side. This has to be one of the films of this decade that I have rewatched the most.


‘Arrival’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2016)

Arrival (credit: Paramount Pictures)

Denis Villeneuve is on something of a roll and there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. This film starts off with the premise of Independence Day, big alien spaceships arrive hanging over Earth but that’s where all similarity ends. Whereas Roland Emmerich just wanted to blow stuff up Arrival is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and emotional science-fiction films ever made. Most of the drama is around learning how to communicate with the aliens who not only have a very different life and understanding of the universe but perceive it in a completely different way. Amy Adams stars as an expert linguist in what is the performance of her career in my opinion, where she deals with the entire gamut of human emotion and experience.


‘Rogue One’, dir. Gareth Edwards (2016)

The cast of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (source: www.beckett.com)

This is the only Star Wars film to make the list and I feel this is easily the strongest of the new films. Rogue One neatly dealt with the biggest plot hole in Star Wars, namely, why did the Death Star have such a weakness. It had a great cast with Ben Mendelsohn on superb villain form and even bringing in actors of such calibre as Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker for what are quite small roles. As we get into the final quarter of the film it becomes pretty apparent what is going to happen to virtually every character in the film and yet it is not a downer ending. The end of the film directly matching up with the beginning of A New Hope was a brilliant idea.


‘Ex Machina’, dir. Alex Garland (2014)

Ex Machina (mashable.com)

Amazingly despite a long Hollywood career, this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut. A film about the creation of artificial intelligence which leads to the viewer asking themselves all sorts of questions about what it means to be alive. A very small cast of Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Domnhail Gleeson and Sonoyo Mizuno, all of whom are superb but especially Vikander and Mizuno. The film is essentially an example of the Turing Test, Alan Turing’s thought experiment about how you could judge if a computer had become intelligent. The scene of Isaac and Mizuno dancing was at once entertaining and deeply unsettling and is one of the most memorable scenes of the decade. There is a lot of mystery in this film with questions being asked about exactly what, and who, is being tested. The 2010s have been a very good decade for Oscar Isaac, starting with a small part in Drive to starring in the Star Wars trilogy.


‘Blade Runner 2049’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2017)

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is what Denis Villeneuve did after Arrival, creating a sequel to possibly the most influential sci-fi film ever, and in my opinion, he pulled it off. Blade Runner 2049 is a great film in its own right as well as a suitable continuation of The Blade Runner story. Whereas the original had Harrison Ford playing someone who hunts replicants, Gosling is a replicant who hunts replicants. Not surprisingly this brings up mixed feelings in Gosling’s character over the course of the film. The film brings in it’s own original ideas like Gosling’s holographic girlfriend Joi and the prospect of an evolution in replicant, and human, life.


‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, dir. James Gunn (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (credit: Disney)

I had a long think about what, if any, superhero films should be on the list. I normally consider most superhero films a sub-genre of sci-fi but I decided to exclude most of them, one of the two exceptions being Guardians of the Galaxy, as this felt far more like a space-adventure Sci-Fi film than a superhero one. This film was a wonderful surprise, it was not a comic I was at all familiar with and when I saw a trailer with a talking raccoon and walking tree I admit to not being terribly enthusiastic. My reservations were blown away from Peter Quill’s scene dancing across an alien landscape. All of the other “guardians” made their mark from the literal-minded Drax to even verbally challenged Groot. As well as being action-filled there was a surprising amount of emotion.


‘The World’s End’, dir. Edgar Wright (2013)

The World’s End (source: rogersmovienation.com)

The partnership between Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg must surely be one of the greatest between director and writer. The World’s End is the last of the so-called Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and while this is the weakest of the three it is still an amazing movie. In a film about robots duplicating people and trying to take over the world it could be argued the film is more about friendship and trying to deal with life. Pegg plays the often very unsympathetic character of Gary King who has never really gotten over his life as a teenager, still chasing that feeling. King reunites his old school friends for a pub crawl which includes emotional moments about bullying, alcoholism and the meaning of life with pulling the heads off robots.


‘Edge of Tomorrow’ dir. Doug Liman (2014)

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat) (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is a truly sensational film and in any sensible universe would have been one of the biggest hits of the decade. Based around the very clever idea of time resetting itself whenever the protagonist died everything in the film is practically perfect – Tom Cruise’s smarmy advertising executive who slowly becomes the hero, Emily Blunt as outright badass and the wonderful playing around with time, death and causality. The “jacket” – the slightly over the top metal exoskeleton leads to some of the best action scenes of the decade with Cruise and Blunt having enormous fun exploring just what these jackets can do. Like I said, it’s a practically perfect film, if this passed you by watch it.


‘Inception’, dir. Christopher Nolan (2010)

Christopher Nolan - Inception
The cast of Inception (credit: Warner Bros.)

I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan who I think is one of the most important and talented filmmakers of the 21st century, equally adept at intricate and unusual films like Memento and The Prestige to huge blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. Inception was made coming off the high of The Dark Knight and it was a worthy followup. A film about entering dreams to steal knowledge or even implant ideas – inception – it handles dealing with numerous different levels of reality deftly while creating stunning and groundbreaking special effects. The gravity distorting fight scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and various bad guys is truly exceptional. And then we start thinking about the clever games Nolan played with the soundtrack and trying to distinguish what is reality just elevates it to an even higher level. It’s hard to imagine another director taking on this project and being commercially and critically successful.


‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, dir George Miller (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road ( source: nytimes.com)

To me, this is not only the best sci-fi film of the decade but the best film. A film that had dazzling non-CGI special effects, spectacular action scenes and unforgettable cinematography that also had an unbelievable amount of heart and great characterisation. The instant the film finished I knew I had to see it again as soon as possible and that it was already one of my favourite ever films. Charlize Theron and George Martin deserved Oscars for this film and credit is due to Tom Hardy in being able to accept being the supporting player in a film with his character’s name in the title. If there is any doubt about the fact that it is Theron’s Furiosa who is the central character those are blown apart when Furiosa literally uses Max as a gun rest. Often when asked the question of what is my favourite film ever/of the year/of the decade I go down a long road to weighing up many different great films but not for this list- Mad Max; Fury Road was always going to be first.

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade.

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Editorials

For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

November 24, 2019

As the year nears its end we head towards what is perhaps the most magical time of the year – Oscar Season. This is when studios tend to release the films they want to be seen as Oscar contenders as apparently academy members have very short memories so being recent helps a lot.

The Oscars

The Oscars have been going on for decades, the first being held in 1929, and has been held every year since, not letting war, industry strikes and indifference get in the way. Importantly, the Academy, the people who vote for the Oscars are all in the filmmaking industry. This is in contrast, to say, the Golden Globes, which is voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Membership to the Academy is by being nominated or winning an Oscar or being nominated by two existing members.

Campaigning

Being nominated or winning an Oscar is not simply about being the best. Studios, and sometimes individuals, campaign for an Oscar. There is a small industry in Hollywood around this with millions of dollars being spent on advertising and promotional events. There’s not only campaigning for your own but if you want to do a little to damage to another film’s campaign so be it. When Good Will Hunting was looking like a strong Oscar contender a rumour started that the film wasn’t written by the stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, but by their friend and filmmaker, Kevin Smith. The Oscar business can be pretty cut-throat.

The Right Sort Of Film

I do have a couple of axes to grind with the Academy in terms of who wins Oscars. And while I am still angry The King’s Speech beat The Social Network for Best Picture that’s not what I’m going to talk about. There are certain types of films that win Oscars. They tend to be dramas. They tend to be on weighty topics. They have tragedy in them. Films are often described as Oscar contenders before anyone has seen them simply by knowing what the film is about. And in my opinion, there are two genres that do not get the level of respect from the Academy they deserve: science-fiction and comedy.

Annie Hall (source: oionline.com)

To deal with the latter first, as I said, the Academy loves tragedy. Give them a sad story full of death, illness and struggle and you’re halfway to your Oscar. But if you make them laugh, they might enjoy it but you’ll probably not win any awards. Judging by my own criteria the last comedy to win Best Picture was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in 1977 (films like The Artist or Argo may have comedic moments but are not comedies). So no nominations for The Man With Two Brains, This Is Spinal Tap or Shaun of the Dead, films far superior to some Oscar winners. I think comedy is far harder to do than drama, to paraphrase a famous quote that has been attributed to many people – Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

Next up is science-fiction. I went back to 1950 and couldn’t find a Best Picture Oscar winner film that was science-fiction, in Best Director only Gravity comes close to that category. 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most iconic and influential movies ever made, wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture and while I’m sure actual nominees Rachel, Rachel and The Lion In Winter are great films I feel the Academy made a mistake there. The categories that sci-fi films do traditionally get nominated in are technical awards. Only recently have superhero films managed to crack into Oscar awards territory, Logan was nominated for Best Screenplay and Black Panther for Best Picture. Many people think that The Dark Knight‘s omission from Best Picture nominee was what prompted the Academy to increase the number of nominees.

Mad Max: Fury Road (credit: Warner Bros.)

One of the most egregious Oscar snubs of recent years was the film The AV Club recently put top in their list of films of the decade – Mad Max: Fury Road. The film did win some Oscars, e.g. Costume Design, Sound Mixing and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director but I was stunned that there was no nomination for Charlize Theron. Not only was Theron brilliant (and already an Oscar winner) but the film ticked a lot of boxes for Oscar films – there was tragedy, there was suffering and there was drama. Theron’s character, Furiosa, even managed to upstage Max, whose name is in the title of the film.

Groundhog Day (source: nofilmschool.com)

The comedy equivalent is a bit further back but the truly brilliant Groundhog Day which got a grand total of zero Oscar nominations. What more do the Academy want? Groundhog Day is a hilarious comedy, with a unique premise, an amazing central performance from Murray, and is a film that somehow manages to tread a careful line of being funny whilst musing on the meaning of life. And has numerous suicides.

As I said, Oscar season is soon upon us and we shall see if this year bucks the trend.

Also Read: Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul?

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Interviews

Danny Steel Discusses His Role In “Invasion Planet Earth”, Sci-Fi & Crowdfunding

November 20, 2019
Invasion Planet Earth

Invasion Planet Earth (formerly Kaleidoscope Man) is a crowdfunded British Sci-Fi film from writer / director Simon Cox. The film follows Thomas Dunn (played by Simon Haycock) a man who has lost his faith, following the death of his young daughter. On the day he finds out his wife is pregnant again, aliens invade the Earth. We caught up with Danny Steel, who plays Floyd, in this Sci-Fi adventure to let us know what to expect and more about the film’s remarkable journey from a crowdfunding campaign to the cinema screen.

Presh Williams: The Kickstarter for the film campaign received phenomenal support (backed by almost 200 people). As an independent film production, how does that support make you feel about the public wanting to see this story come to life?

it’s so amazing to see the phenomenal amount of public support for the project – it shows there’s a huge audience for Sci-Fi and independently made cinema and encourages me to want to do more. There have been waves of support from all around the world, ever since I was involved I’ve met people passionate about this project! Simon (Cox) and I were talking about this and we spoke of how countless times we’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of people wanting to see the film to fruition.

PW: A lot of the film, as is the case with Sci-Fi films, relies on CGI. How was is it like working with writer/director, Simon Cox, to act out those scenes without actually knowing how the final cut of the film would look like?

I’ve worked in CGI previously and knew how it worked, however, I had, and have, a lot of faith in Simon and his vision. I knew from the moment we met over a coffee and he spoke of how he wanted ‘Invasion’ to look, I had 100% trust in him – I had a fair idea of how it could end up and having seen the final film, it has over achieved my own expectations!

PW: What was your favourite scene to film?

DS: I’d have to say the part where Europe is slowly being destroyed – we are watching it happen high up from the Spacecraft. None of us spoke, there was no dialogue in the scene and as the camera pans across all of us watching this horror down on Earth, in instinct I reached out and held Samantha’s (played by Sophie Anderson) hand. It wasn’t in the script that I do that but felt absolutely right to do that. There is an eerie silence as this was happening. We did this several times and I was allowing myself to go deeper each time. I was thinking about how relevant the scene is now in this awareness era of climate change and political uncertainty to show how it affects us all from a macro to a micro level has never been more important.

Danny Steel
PW: Invasion Planet Earth does draw a lot of influence from 70s/80s Sci-Fi, what can people expect when they see the movie?

DS: Ha! I think people can expect to see homage’s to certain well-known films both in the style and narrative of ‘Invasion’. If you love these certain films (not mentioning any names here, you’ll love this one basically). Like any good story, ‘Invasion’ is a story of connection, of resilience and the power of a shared collective.

PW: You’re follow up film that you are co-starring is quite different to Invasion Planet Earth, it’s called L’age D’or and based on 60s St Tropez. Can you tell us more about that film?

DS: In L’Age D’Or I play a French-speaking British musician who arrives in St Tropez in 1967 wanting to set up a band and explore life in the South of France. My character is an essential part of the narrative.
The film is very big on the musical numbers and 60’s cover songs feature heavily throughout the film – as a huge music fan, this was great to film and be a part of (although no CGI was used this time!)

I’m also very excited to be in pre-production on a new horror ‘Creaks’, directed by award-winning director Joe Camereno and written by Anne-Sophie Marie, I play an eccentric Ghost Hunter we are looking at making this next year..watch this space!

Invasion Planet Earth (Official Trailer)

Invasion Planet Earth will be in cinemas on 5th December 2019 at select cinemas within the U.K.

More: Actors / Filmmakers, Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe Discuss Their Film “Greener Grass”

Also Read: Advice For First Time Independent Feature Filmmakers

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Reviews

Retro Review: Blade Runner 2049 (Spoilers)

September 18, 2019
Blade Runner 2049

The original Blade Runner has proved eerily predictive of many things for its 2019 setting. OK, there are no flying cars or high functioning androids. But the images of smog-choked streets, ruled by mega-corporations and a workforce that is treated as subhuman because of their origins feel very relevant today. And there was, of course, the unfortunate passing of actor Rutger Hauer. Who died in the same year that his character Roy Batty did.

With the first film making a monumental impact on popular culture, and it’s increasing relevance based on unfortunate happenstance I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at the long-awaited sequel to blade runner. Which picked up the story 30 years later and took 35 years to be released.

It’s always difficult making a sequel to critically acclaimed films, especially when they are released so long after the original. But during its release, Blade Runner 2049 was called one of the best sequels ever made. Perhaps even better than the original. But two years on does the sequel still stand as sturdily as its predecessor?

Synopsis

In 2049 old replicants (human-like androids used for manual labour) are being hunted down and killed by newer models. However, when K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant employed by the police to retire other replicants, discovers that a replicant was able to produce a child he begins to tug on the threads of the mystery. Eventually leading to him to the attention of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his nefarious forces. And into the path of former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

What did I like?

Firstly, Blade Runner 2049 continues the originals trend for stunning visuals. Everything about this movie looks amazing. Whether it’s the set design that perfectly blends the futuristic, the modern and the mythical into a unique world that feels thematically appropriate for the characters and story or the beautiful Oscar-winning cinematography from Roger Deakins. Which makes every frame look like a piece of art. Or the special effects that never once look fake or out of place. Everything in this world feels authentic and organic, doing a lot to tell the story without dialogue.

The cast is also fantastic. Everyone does a great job inhabiting their roles. Making their characters feel like characters and not merely actors reciting lines to you. The standouts are Ryan Gosling, who does a great job inhabiting the stoic replicant K and Harrison Ford who reprises his iconic role as Rick Deckard; even with his comparatively limited screen time, Ford still manages to steal the show.

And like the first film, 2049 also concentrates on both weighty philosophical questions about identity, technology and corporate greed that feel truly relevant to today’s world. But it also incorporates spectacular action sequences. Which makes for a very entertaining and thought-provoking watch. There are some very interesting set pieces and concepts peppered throughout this film which will give you much to think about and remember long after the ending credits. Including, holographic AI and the question of their sentience. Underground replicant resistances and a tense fight scene taking place in a glitching hologram nightclub.

In fact, as its own standalone film, 2049 works quite well. Creating a fully functioning world with some good performance and great philosophical ambitions. While never forgetting to be an entertaining movie.

What did I not like?

However, as a sequel to Blade Runner (1982), 2049 really falls short. With the main problems being the story, pacing and characters.

2049’s story is unfortunately bogged down by lots of exposition. With several characters frequently explaining the plot to each other, something noticeably minimal in the original Blade Runner. And it never fails to draw the viewer out of the experience because of how obvious it is. The story is also rather lightweight because of the lack of significant consequences. For example, we are told that replicant reproduction will break the world. But aside from one scene with the replicant resistance, nothing in the film’s world indicates that our characters actions are having any impact. Lessening the tension of the film’s story.

There are also plot elements that feel extraneous e.g. K’s hologram girlfriend who can almost pass for being human. An interesting concept, but it serves no narrative purpose aside from illustrating that no one is special. Something which is already dealt with when K learns his true origins. This concept feels like padding. Which makes the narrative feel unfocused and causes the pacing to drag significantly.

Lastly, 2049 suffers from bland characterisation. K is a boring lead. He’s stoic and by-the-books, lacking the edge that made Deckard a compelling protagonist. The occasions when he emotionally conflicts with himself are too few and far between to make him engaging. And because he’s a virtually invulnerable replicant, the movie lacks any sort of tension on a character level. But the worst offender of flat characterisation are the villains. Niander Wallace is a typical capitalist with a god complex and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is your typical hard staring badass. Compared to Blade Runner’s replicants who had relatable goals, wanting more time to live their lives, these villains just come across as dull.

Verdict

Blade Runner 2049 is not a bad movie. The set design, cinematography and special effects are all fantastic. Nothing feels out of place in the world they’ve created, and it makes for very stimulating viewing. Everyone in the cast gives a good performance with Ryan Gosling really fitting the part of K and Harrison Ford doing particular justice to his iconic role from the original blade runner. And the blend of action and interesting concepts will definitely keep you entertained.

The problems come when you begin viewing the film as a sequel to blade runner. When faced with the memorable characters, cinematic storytelling and overall cohesiveness of the original, Blade Runner 2049 really feels like an unfocussed pale imitation.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Blade Runner 2049 (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

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Editorials

Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

September 3, 2019
Harrison Ford

When I was a child my favourite actor was Harrison Ford. I mean, how could he not be? This was before I knew of Blade Runner, Frantic or any number of great Ford performances. My opinion was based on two sets of films: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Star Wars was the huge monolith of space opera sci-fi perfection and Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero from the past – fighting Nazis, battling evil cults and outsmarting his enemies. It is rare than an actor gets such an iconic role, Harrison Ford has two (let’s leave Rick Deckard for another article). Such was the cultural might of these characters both were brought back for more adventures but which is the more iconic character?

SPOILER WARNING – It’s hard to imagine someone reading this who isn’t fully up to date but there will be spoilers for Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Han Solo

Harrison Ford as Han Solo (source: comicbook.com)

Han Solo is the lovable rogue of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker may have been the lead character but Han Solo was cooler, funnier and far more handsome. Introduced as little more than a dodgy freighter captain with a bad-ass best friend he becomes one of the heroes of a rebellion and wins the love of a princess (and senator, general and many other awesome things). I think for a lot of people Solo is the most identifiable character in Star Wars – he doesn’t have magic powers, he’s not a princess or emperor and he’s not an alien. He was an ordinary guy trying to make the best of living through a bad time but couldn’t just do nothing when confronted with evil.

Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (source: thewrap.com)

Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones is a prominent archaeologist and professor known to be popular amongst his students. He is also a ravine-jumping, Nazi-punching, evil-defeating hero. I always loved the combination of intellectual and action-hero and while it has been done before and since nobody did it better than Indiana.

Iconic Moments

Both have a plethora of iconic moments, ranging from the funny to the brave to the romantic. Han Solo’s frantic conversation on the Death Star intercom trying to explain away a gun battle is hilarious but does it beat Indiana posing as a ticket inspector who promptly throws a Nazi off of a zeppelin?

Han Solo dressed as a Storm Trooper (source: youtube.com)

The moment where Han shows up to save Luke at the end of A New Hope is the defining image of the hero riding in at the last minute to save the day. For romance, Han wins easily – he has a moment that is arguably the most well-known in all of Star Wars: Leia- “I love you”, Han- “I know.”

Indiana Jones has at least two of the greatest action sequences of all time – the first is in Raiders of the Lost Ark where he races after the truck carrying the Ark and takes it over. He jumped on vehicles, fought soldiers and at one point was hanging onto the front of the truck while the metal he was desperately holding onto snapped off. The second being Indiana rescuing his father from a tank in The Last Crusade which is another all-round amazing sequence.

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc (source: youtube.com)

Han Solo also has something Indiana doesn’t have (not yet anyway) – an iconic death. Being murdered by your own son while you try to reach any goodness still within him is brutal and heartbreaking. Han already seemed to feel like he had failed his son and there was no way he was going to try and fight him (I do love that just after Kylo Ren kills Han, Chewbacca shoots him, as he had no qualms about fighting him).

The Look

(movieweb.com)

Both characters are instantly recognisable and have surely been used millions of times as cosplay and fancy dress. Han Solo’s simple black trousers, white shirt, black waistcoat is so good that when everyone else wore full camouflage on Endor he chose to wear his normal stuff with a camouflage coat. As for Indiana, again simple but it’s the hat that makes it and because of Indiana Jones, the fedora is officially the world’s coolest hat. What’s amazing about Indiana is not only the default treasure seeker outfit, he also has the default old-fashioned professor look too.

Harrison Ford in his iconic Indiana Jones attire (source: bbc.co.uk)

The Character

There are a lot of similarities between the two – both are charming risk-takers who like doing things their own way. Both started out as mainly being concerned for themselves but their innate goodness takes over. Both are people who fight the bad guys, even when they outnumbered and almost certain to lose. They differ in background – Indiana’s parents were both academics and had a better life than young Han Solo, who even before his past was filled in a bit more in Solo was safely assumed to be fairly tough. Indiana has a respectable side – as well as an adventurer he is an esteemed academic, while Han does become a general this is part of a rebellion and as The Force Awakens showed he fell back into his old and more questionable life.

The Winner Is…

Which is the more iconic role? And which did more for Ford’s career? It’s an incredibly tough choice but I’d have to go for Indiana Jones, the clinching argument is the film isn’t called Han Solo and the Return of the Jedi. In acting terms, the success of the Indiana Jones films rests entirely on Harrison Ford.

Also Read: Star Wars: Course Correction

Editorials

The Human Brain Is Hard-Wired To Think In Genres

July 25, 2019
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When scrolling through streaming services or wandering around Blockbuster Video if you’re from the past, what are your go-to genres? Science-fiction is usually my first choice but there’s something good in every genre. But why do we have these genres, and why do they exist in the form that they do? Danish film and media professor Torben Grodal might have the answer.

Evolution

Professor Grodal makes a case for evolutionary psychology as to why we have the genres we do and why they have persisted. While The Iliad (an ancient Greek Poem) is thousands of years old and written in a culture drastically different to our own we can see that it has many elements that would overlap with modern storytelling – action, fighting, love, revenge etc. Grodal argues this is because evolution has made us susceptible to these sorts of stories and essentially we’re the same people we were when The Iliad was created – a few thousand years is nothing when compared to evolution.

For Grodal there are three basic emotional structures that help make-up, and then react to genres

  • The Reptilian Brain – fear, anger, lust, seeking
  • Caregiving – love, pair-bonding, family
  • Separation/Grief – dealing with death and loss

These three systems are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, this is particularly true of Caregiving and Separation/Grief but you can find films that hit all three systems.

Humans Are Weird Animals

The Lion King (123tix.com)

Unlike many animals, humans care for their young for years as human infants are essentially helpless and utterly dependent on caregivers. If we want our DNA to continue in future generates, which the Theory of Evolution says we do, then we must protect our children. Evolution has hammered into humans that caring for their offspring is of paramount importance, so many films also have this message. Films are full of parents making sacrifices, up to and including dying, to protect children. Sophie’s Choice is considered so heart-wrenching because the choice will lead to the death of a child.

For most animals it is only the female that bears the burden of caring for children, humans are different in that males continue to provide for them, they will protect them and hunt or gather food. Due to the huge cost of raising children in terms of resources this makes evolutionary sense. This lead to a very strong pair-bond between parents and a successful pair bond is very important. So we have romances, where finding true love is amongst the most important things in all of life. There are few films that lack any romantic component, with “love interest” being a familiar description of a character. Hot Fuzz is one of the few films I can think of that has no romantic component and with this film, there was a lot of focus on the “bromance” between the two lead characters.

Saving Private Nemo

Finding Nemo (cornel1801.com)

What is the defining moment of the film Bambi? I’m sure most people will think of the moment when Bambi’s mother dies. Finding Nemo is entirely about reuniting a parent and child. The film Aliens add a whole layer of emotion and drama by introducing a child for Ripley to bond with and then protect. Separation and loss in films can be emotionally devastating because these are terrible evolutionary outcomes. How will Nemo survive without his father? How will Marlin survive without his son? This is already after the genuinely horrific deaths of Nemo’s mother and siblings. When the two are reunited there is absolute joy. Sometimes the sacrifice of parents for children can be widened to a whole tribe, and today that could mean your country, and again, nobly sacrificing yourself for others who are part of your “tribe” is a staple of films and is the entire premise of Saving Private Ryan.

The Reptilian Brain

Then there is the influence of the “reptilian” brain, the part of the brain that developed first, that we share with reptiles. The four emotional systems we share with reptiles are anger, fear, lust and seeking – as in looking for food, for a mate, for a predator etc.. At least three of these factors are integral parts of action films – and often lust gets thrown in as well. Seeking, basically looking for what you want/need is present in action as well as crime and mysteries.

Action, crime and mysteries are also important in what Grodal calls HTTOFF Scenarios – Hiding, Tracking, to Trap, being Trapped, Observing, Fighting and Fleeing. In these scenarios, the protagonist is constantly working out the interactions between themselves and the world and other agents within it. Grodal points out that while few people watching films in the modern world will have to regularly fight, flee etc., those mental processes are still within us. A lot of children’s games involve HTTOFF scenarios, so Hide and Seek or play-fighting, it is enjoyable to recreate these situations in a safe way.

Rituals

Films can act as shared, ritualistic experiences, so that seeing death, grief etc on screen prepares us for when they happen in real-life. This can also be true of comedy, a lot of comedy consists of bad or embarrassing things happening but in a film that’s okay, we know it’s not real, and in a sense is a form of playing and pretending.

An Alternative View…

The Godfather (padrino.fandom.com)

A little while ago on this site was published an article “The Formula of a Successful Film“, which looked at a different study which analysed thousands of films and found that they tend to fall into distinct categories like Rags to Riches, Cinderella and Icarus, describing how they handle emotion and the protagonist’s journey. So an Icarus film builds to high positive emotion and then drops down with a sad, or sort of sad ending. The most successful financially was found to be Man In A Hole. This is where a person falls at the beginning, leading to success/triumph at the end, the classic example being The Godfather. Michael starts happy, faces disaster and ends up winning. This research suggests something different going on to Grodal’s, here it is the journey of the character(s) that is crucial and evidently seeing someone triumph over adversity is very satisfying.

Taken (Empire.com)

Looking at all of this research I think potentially the film that should have been the most successful and critically acclaimed was Liam Neeson’s Taken. For Grodal it satisfies all three emotional systems – action, caregiving and separation and matches The Man In A Hole dynamic. While successful enough to spawn two sequels and a whole genre of older action hero films I don’t think Taken managed those heights.

Also Read: The Formula For A Successful Film

Reviews

Review: The Silence

May 27, 2019

New Netflix film The Silence tells the story of a family trying to survive in a country ravaged by monsters that hunt by sound and to have any hope of survival you must be silent.

The Elephant In The Cinema (or Netflix in this case)

The plot outline of The Silence sounds very similar to recent horror hit A Quiet Place and the word “mockbuster” has been thrown around describing The Silence. A mockbuster is a film that has a plot and title similar to a very successful film and is not a coincidence but a very cynical attempt to leech off the success of the blockbuster. It should be pointed out The Silence is based on a book that predates A Quiet Place. Personally, I would say the quality of the film and its origins means it isn’t a mockbuster but it’s still impossible not to directly compare it to the other film.

What’s Going On?

The film follows a single family and how they deal with a nationwide catastrophe; strange winged creatures are spreading across the country and killing countless people. After watching news reports it becomes clear that the creatures hunt by what they can hear – meaning if you can be quiet you’re safe. As the family has a deaf daughter they are used to communicating non-verbally. After a tense few hours of deliberation, the family decides to drive out into the quieter and presumably safer countryside. To their horror, they find that the monsters are not far behind and not only that but there are other things dangers to be wary of.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by John R. Leonetti a cinematographer and director with a history in horror, his biggest directing credit being for 2014’s Annabelle. The writers are Shane Van Dyke and Carey Van Dyke whose involvement in Transmorphers: Fall of Man and The Day The Earth Stopped (films that, surely coincidentally, are reminiscent of Transformers franchise and The Day The Earth Stood Still) has somewhat added to the perception problem as a mockbuster.

In Front Of The Camera

I’ll admit that it was the cast that made me interested in this film – namely Stanley Tucci, who plays Hugh, the Dad, and Kieran Shipka, who plays Ally, the daughter. Stanley Tucci is a great actor, that’s just a fact, his monologue in Margin Call about building a bridge is one of my favourite scenes of all time. Whereas Kieran Shipka is best known for her phenomenal performance as Sally Draper in Mad Men and more recently as the eponymous character in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Unsurprisingly Tucci gives a great performance as an ordinary Dad in extraordinary circumstances, a calm, gentle man, who while retaining his decency shows he is tougher than people might think. Shipka’s performance was good, as was most of the cast to be honest, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Does It Work?

The film is moderately enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of this post-apocalyptic, or in this case during-apocalyptic movie. This is, in fact, the main difference between The Silence and A Quiet Place, the latter is set some time after the problems started and the complete collapse of civilisation, whereas The Silence only gives us the first moments of what is happening. After all, throughout most of the film Ally talks via Skype with a schoolfriend discussing what is happening and surely if Skype is still working things haven’t got that bad yet.

The film is quite predictable and offers little in the way of surprises. The monsters are CGI created and are not always terrible fearsome, the film making the mistake of many monster movie in that they show the monster far too often. The most terrifying monsters are only glimpsed by the viewer. Overall I wasn’t convinced that the monsters posed an existential threat to humans, they did not seem that fearsome or dangerous, yes they could kill a person but they were described in the film as unstoppable nightmare creatures.

The film takes an odd turn away from the danger of the monsters to the danger of other people. Now, this is a fairly common trope of disaster/apocalyptic films that humans can be as bad as the monsters. What is absolutely bizarre in this film is that the normal, civilised people got completely batshit crazy in literally two days. While scavenging Hugh and Ally encounter a creepy man and it turns out he has a bunch of creepy friends who have already started mutilating themselves and talking about women in terms of “fertility”. This has to be the most rapid descent into apocalyptic madness I have ever seen and it is simply too much to accept that people would turn so bad so quickly. I’m not even sure the old adage that a civilised man is only three meals away from barbarity as I don’t think they had missed that many meals.

So, the big question, how does it do compare to A Quiet Place? Not well is the quick answer. A Quiet Place was hugely enjoyable and genuinely tense and The Silence just doesn’t match up in any way. But even without this comparison The Silence barely feels like a film and more like a long episode of a moderately successful tv show. At best it will only appeal to fans of this genre and will not be remembered as a particularly worthy addition but still too good to be a mockbuster.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

The Silence (Official Trailer)

Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror

Editorials

Star Wars: Course Correction

May 10, 2019
Star Wars Episode 9

Spoiler Warning – this article will contain massive spoilers about The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi divided opinion while still being a tremendously successful film, but you would assume in an ideal world Disney would want both the money and the fan approval. I had mixed feelings on the film – parts of it were undeniably great with some amazing ideas, first-rate fight scenes and stunning visuals. But I was also annoyed by a lot of it. An article about the criticism of The Last Jedi has to deal with the issue that some (but not all) of the criticism was awfully misogynistic. I liked the addition of Rose, she was a character that to me represented the grass-roots of the organisation, she wasn’t a Jedi, a general or a cool fighter pilot but she believed in the cause. Kelly Marie Tran was subject to such abuse she abandoned social media. This was absolutely appalling but I have never understood anyone’s specific problems with her (of course, no one should have to go through that). The first trailer for the concluding part of this trilogy has just been released so should be different in The Rise of Skywalker?

Rules Exist For A Reason

The controversial light speed collision tactic (medium.com)

The Last Jedi seemingly broke the accepted rules of the Star Wars universe in a couple of ways. First, General Hux announced they were able to track ships once they jumped to light speed. Second, Admiral Holdo light speed jumping into another ship to destroy it. These might seem like minor points but they are potentially hugely important. Regarding the first point, this effectively means no one can ever get away. At the end of The Empire Strikes back the Millenium Falcon jumps to light speed and escapes – if they had had the technology Hux has Darth Vader would have found them easily. Of course, that’s in the past, but it is still true, how could anyone ever escape again?

Using light speed to jump into another ship raises the question that why had no one ever done this before? Why didn’t the Rebels do that to the Death Star? In any good science-fiction or fantasy, there need to be rules to how things work otherwise it’s just nonsense and you can get out of any situation just by saying there is a new bit of technology. It might seem – and probably is – a bit pedantic to dwell on how made up technology works but it suggests it hasn’t been thought through by the writer.

No more “Casinos”

The much maligned Casino Planet (bizjournals.com)

I don’t literally mean casinos, I mean no more weird side-plots that take up a lot of time but don’t really serve much purpose. The side-plot in which Rose and Finn looked for an expert hacker on a casino-planet to help the Resistance fleet escape is universally unloved. The only purpose I can see for in the film is to provide a visually pleasing spectacular of aliens, droids and people in fancy outfits to contrast with most of the rest of the film taking place on spaceships. And look, each and every one of us would, given the opportunity, write in a part for Benicio Del Toro but he could have been used so much better.

No More Rehashing Scenarios From The Original Trilogy

This is a hard one as they get criticised either way – if they try and forge their own path and come up with new ideas people are upset – or absolutely furious in the case of The Phantom Menace. If they rely on setups from the original trilogy they are criticised for bringing nothing new. The Force Awakens had a huge world-destroying superweapon. The Last Jedi saw an assault by the bad-guys on a remote base. We’ve seen this before and I want something new even if it’s just drawing from films other than Star Wars. I thought it was a such a missed opportunity that we ended up with the exact same dynamic of the First Order (which is virtually identical to the Empire) fighting a handful of Resistance/Rebels.

There Better Be Something About Snoke

Supreme Leader Snoke (pinterest.com)

Who was Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he become so powerful? To introduce him as the mastermind behind the First Order but be eliminated so easily seems odd and I really want answers, as it stands he just seems like a lazy Palpatine rip-off.

Stay The Course – Things The Last Jedi Got Right

  • Rey’s parentage – the obvious and easy route would be to tie Rey to someone already mentioned in the saga, make her a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, maybe even a Palpatine. I know for many fans this was the biggest issue but I really liked it and Kylo Ren explicitly stated that she wasn’t part of the story. Well, you know what? The fate of the galaxy shouldn’t just be the concern of the extended Skywalker family.
  • The End of the Jedi – well, maybe not the end, but I loved how it was pointed out by more than one character that the Jedi weren’t all they were cracked up to be. They never saw who Palpatine really was, they let themselves be manipulated into fighting a huge war and were then so easily eliminated. Maybe the Jedi Order as it was had run its course.
  • Luke Isn’t Perfect – Luke was essentially the main character of the original trilogy. He was good, noble and had amazing superhuman powers but The Last Jedi showed he was still a flawed human. He made a terrible mistake with Ben/Kylo Ren and essentially drove him to the Dark Side. I’d also say his confrontation with Kylo Ren at the end of the film was genius – Luke had already confronted Kylo Ren with violence once and made things worse, his solution seemed a very Jedi thing to do.

The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect but it was a very enjoyable film. The problem is when it comes to Star Wars films it seems the fans want something amazing or nothing at all.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those That Didn’t) – Part 4 [Star Wars]

Reviews

Review: Alita: Battle Angel

February 21, 2019

Written by James Cameron (Avatar) & directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), YouTuber & Presenter, Rachel RNR reviews the Sci-Fi adventure film, Altia: Battle Angel.

What’s it about?

Set several centuries in the future, the story picks up when the abandoned Alita is found in the scrapyard by Dr. Ido, Alita has no memory of who she is, or the world she has found herself in.

Rachael RNR reviews Alita: Battle Angel (YouTube)

Alita: Battle Angel is out in cinemas now.