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Tag: sci-fi

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.

Editorials

Mark J Blackman’s 5 Must See Sci-Fi Films

May 6, 2018
Neon Short Film - Big Picture Film Club

Big Picture Film Club screened Neon last year as part of our Hidden World event. Neon is a Sci-Fi / Fantasy Drama, which tells the story of Elias, A man is forbidden by higher powers from pursuing love, culminating in the plan to end his life and finally escape his heartbreaking existence. Writer / Director, Mark J Blackman’s short film takes the idea of Cupid and masterfully embellishes the underlying mythology and transplants it into a new dark and twisted world.

We caught up with Mark J Blackman’s to give us his 5 Must-See Sci-Fi Films, which he feels are important in understanding and contributing to the genre, here are his recommendations:

1. PI (1998)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

I don’t think any film has ever succeeded in a more intense juggling act. As far as debuts go, this – for me – is the one. Fusing faith, math, stocks, stock (16mm) and a post-industrial jungle soundtrack from former PWEA boy (one Clint Mansell) the result is pure punk filmmaking of the highest order. A film that I obsessed over and decided would be a terrific first-date film many moons ago. Suffice to say, the success of the date was not a sealed deal. A life-long love of all things Aronofsky on the other hand…

2. TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (1992)

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

I was far, far, far too young to see this on bootleg VHS when it came out. It repulsed, fascinated and inspired me beyond words, Tsukamoto’s ethic becoming something that I have long since admired. I get a lot of flack for preferring this over the body-horror of his more revered original, but this one has a nauseating control of its audience, pummelling away with its sound and fury as it explores parental paranoia and deformed masculinity in a manner that elevated Tsukamoto from Japan’s DIY Lynch to Asia’s Cronenberg: films about national displacement and isolated identity rather than just pure viscera. Tsukamoto’s themes are – along with Tarkovsky’s – perhaps the most beautifully presented within the genre.

3. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Whilst 2001: A Space Odyssey IS the better of Kubrick’s two forays into science-fiction (how many films are about life itself?), it’s Alex’s journey that I always find the more pressing picture: featuring a structure only ever once almost bettered (Goodfellas), its exploration of unapologetic sadism, deconstruction by the state and un/deserved rebirth is a pitch-perfect horror-show that always tears me up inside as a viewer. A cinematic Molotov, it’s at once a hypnotic, nauseating, humorous, sickening and wonderful ride. It also earns an absolute aesthetic salute from me due to its mesmerising use of stark, scummy brutalism.

4. MIRACLE MILE (1988)

Miracle Mile

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

I was invited to present an introductory talk on this mostly unsung gem at the amazing Sci-Fi Theatre that runs once a month in London. Actually, let me rephrase that: I strong-armed my way into presenting an introductory talk on a film I have been obsessed with since being utterly terrified of it as a child. I’ve always been a romantic. I’ve also always adored apocalyptic nightmare fuel: fuse them together, add Tangerine Dream’s best score (yes, even over Thief and Sorcerer) and you end up with a film that uses the beating heart of love as the countdown to the ultimate nightmare. Whilst some of the film has not aged well at all (hair. HAIR), Miracle Mile is a real diamond in the dark. Watch at your peril. A huge influence on me and what love stories can be.

5. STRANGE DAYS (1995)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Scripted by Cameron yet directed with a mix of emotion, rage and pitch-black playfulness that I could never imagine him mustering, Strange Days is a perfectly dense 140 minutes of mini-disc MacGuffined, death-squad-promising, immaculately soundtracked neo-noir. An almost-cyberpunk almost-epic that presents a window into what people thought the last days of 1999 were going to be, it’s now a frightening mirror as to what America has almost become: wired into the feeds of others for entertainment, oblivious and/or indifferent to the increased police presence and a progression of race relations that – in the light of the likes of Charlottesville – feels like the country truly needs a thunderbolt from God. Bigelow’s best, hands down.

Mark J Blackman’s own short film, Neon will be released on Wednesday 16th May, available on www.neonshortfilm.co.uk

Interviews

First Look: “Anti Matter” by Keir Burrows

October 11, 2016

 

At Big Picture Film Club’s First Look we take a sneak peak at a film’s premier screening, or trailer, and give you a glimpse of what to expect and what to look out for! This week’s First Look is Worm by Keir Burrows.

Anti Matter is a sci-fi noir take on the Alice in Wonderland tale. The film centres around, Ana, an Oxford Physics PhD student, who makes a groundbreaking scientific breakthrough – creating a ‘wormhole’. Things take a dramatic turn for the worst after her first experiment. Writer and director, Keir Burrows, excels in creating a tense environment where anything is possible, and everything is subject to question. As we follow Ana in her journey of understanding, the film aims to explore the questions – what makes us who we are?

Following the screening at Raindance, we had a brief chat with Keir, to find out more abut this intriguing film…

Big Picture Film Club: What was the inspiration behind Anti Matter?

Keir Burrows: Anti Matter started off as a short film script – what is now much of the opening act – wherein I wanted to see if I could bring an audience on a real-time journey of scientific discovery, trying to evoke the same responses in them that the scientists might be feeling as they slowly realised they were inventing a wormhole generator. After writing the short I realised I had the foundation for something bigger: I’d created a world and a means where I might explore some really interesting, I guess philosophical questions, about what makes us human, is there more to us than matter, this sort of thing. Ahh, I can’t say too much as it gives away the plot!

BPFC: In the spirit of science-fiction, the film creates a wonderful story based on pushing the limits of science as we know it. However, stylistically the film doesn’t feel like a fantasy / sci-fi film – was this a conscious decision?

KB: I guess it was a conscious decision in so far as we were working within the limits of our budget. The story, the ideas in Anti Matter, are quite big – this isn’t some single-location, chamber piece of science fiction. It has some scale. With a much bigger budget we might have set it in space, or the future, I don’t know, given it more traditional sci-fi flair. But we couldn’t, so instead we tried to go the other way, use the ancient architecture of Oxford, the simple garrett laboratory, conversations in dark pubs and so on, to tell the story.

Once the science is set up, we then make the film about people, and relationships, and the failing human mind. If you think of a movie like Inception – which is pure science fiction – Inception, that story could have been made on a micro-budget, with no-name actors, without the train in the middle of the city and everything scaled down, and it still would have been absolutely amazing. It was great not because of its budget or its wonderful cast, but because of the stunning concept and the smart storytelling. I’m hoping (ha!) that people enjoy Anti Matter in the same manner.

BPFC: The film deals heavily with quantum mechanics and particle physics – did you have to consult anyone for this?

KB: Did a crap-ton of research. Genuinely, I have a dozen fat books on these subjects – quantum mechanics and the like – weighing down my shelf. My wife is like, your movie is done can they go now? Hell no they make me look smart! So no, it was mostly self-navigated. I did both Chemistry and Physics at A-Level, so I had some basic grounding, it wasn’t a completely foreign language. Then with the writing it was a process of knowing where I needed to end up, using the internet to understand the questions I needed to ask, then delving into the journals to make sure I was being coherent. The sole aim being that every step of the journey my scientists take, everything they do, is logical and scientifically comprehensible, even if by necessity it’s all pure fiction.

BPFC: How has the feedback of the film been?

KB: Amazing. Ah, we’re glowing. Raindance was great, audiences really seemed to enjoy it – it’s nerve-wracking as all hell watching with a roomful of strangers, but it was very well received. Unexpectedly we’ve had a whole lot of really good reviews. I wasn’t expecting reviews, not from a film festival, and not as positive as this. Kudos to the whole team!

BPFC: What are your plans for the film moving forward?

KB: So we’ve had distribution offers, which we’re firming up, the hope is 2nd quarter next year, but I’ll let you know more when things are more concrete. And we’ll keep submitting to festivals of course – they’re always so much fun, getting to see Worm on a big screen. It’s what I started making movies for – that moment the lights go down, the score kicks in, the audience engages. It makes it all worthwhile.

BPFC: Who are your filmmaking inspirations?

KB: So Anti Matter is inspired in a big way by Chris Nolan’s work, definitely. The sort of stories I aspire to tell are big, complex tales, entertaining but with a human core, which is what he does. Visually Nolan as well, and David Fincher, whose mastery of every aspect of the entire form just blows me away. So aye, stylistically those two inspire me the most. John Carpenter for the way he stokes and manages suspense, Tarantino for his flair and wicked sense of humour, Danny Boyle for the glorious eclecticism of his career, Terence Malick for the poetry, Cuarón for the adventure, Innaritu for the soul, Kurosawa, Leone… Ah, there’s too many!

You can follow “Anti Matter” on Facebook, or visit Keir & Dédé Burrows’ film production website: http://www.castironpictures.co.uk