I am Human [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“What does it mean to be human? To me it means we can become anything we want…”

This documentary film, directed by Elena Gaby and Taryn Southern, explores the technological advancements of the world’s first cyborgs: Bill, Anne and Stephen

The film opens on Bill who became tetraplegic (unable to move his arms and legs) after a tragic accident. The film shows him currently living in an assisted facility and he explains that he just wants “to move from this point to that point” by himself.

Anne suffers from Parkinsons disease which affects the nerve cells making it very difficult to move about or do anything that requires fine motor skills. We also meet her husband who explains that Anne used to be an artist and hospital volunteer and that this disease has been detrimental to her life. She says “the biggest thing for me was that I would become useless…. a burden in the world” and that symptoms like not being able to smile made it impossible for her to connect with people, that it made her exhausted both physically and mentally.

Stephen has a vision impairment where all he sees is white, and he relies heavily on his sister for emotional and physical help.

We also meet a team of amazing scientists/engineers at a neuroscience organisation focused on “addressing a broken brain”. We see that the technology, which centres around using electrodes to stimulate the brain, hopes to solve some of our biggest problems with regards to diseases that inflict a lot of people. The life-changing impacts this technology has will affect millions of people; it was so cool to see what they’re doing around turning our brain impulses with its 100 billion neurons into digital code which could be manipulated to make those who can’t walk, walk again, those who can’t see, see again. It looks like the tech is in early days and is very experimental – and to some it may seem a bit Frankenstein (“for some people it’s a Sci-Fi step too far”) – but just imagine what we can do if we master our own brains!

They asked an interesting question in the docu: “Are we about to change what it fundamentality means to be human, and if so, are we okay with that?” I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes us human, during this film festival, and it’s not possible to attribute it to one thing. In “Mirror Human” earlier in the week, one of the subjects said that once you had a name you were human, and this docu suggests it’s our ailments that make us human, but it’s cannot be a single element. We’re too complicated for that to be the case. I wonder who we could be if we didn’t have to worry about health implications. Perhaps we would be free to be our truest, most evolved selves if we were free from health inequalities?

The docu also touched on the ethical questions that arise where this technology is concerned, particularly with corporations like Google and others vying for personal data… It warned of the “unchecked power” that they hold and asked us as the audience to really think about what we want for this technology in the future, because it belongs to all of us. With so much science fiction around the subject of implants (Black Mirror et al) and the potential corruption that comes with it, these are questions that require global, intelligent discussion. It concerns me that it would be targeted by any Elon Musk type personality who stands to gain financially from a patent like that which should be used for the good of humankind. Greed should not even factor into decisions of this magnitude. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I frickin love Google. I have Google everything, but do I want them in my brain as well? Hell no.

In conclusion, it was amazing to see these technological advances, the massive health benefits given to the subjects we met earlier and to consider the theoretical implications. I’m really excited to see how this technology develops in the future. Thanks so much to the directors for making this because it’s an absolute gem of a film.

You can watch ‘I am Human’ here. But you’ll need to purchase a film or festival pass.

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Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse [2018]

So good, this film gets THREE quotes:

“Wherever I go, the wind follows. And the wind smells like rain”.

“I’m taking this cube thing with me. I don’t know what it is, but I will do.”

“You got a problem with cartoons?!”

I don’t usually love a film at first sight, but within one minute I was truly in love. Into the Spider-Verse became one of my favourite films of all time in a flash! I open-mouth laughed. I cried. I was moved to heck. And I deeply loved this film and thought it was phenomenal. That’s how excellent a film it is.

So that ^ was the short version, but for the long version…

The soundscape is so excellently paired with the pacing of the action and it’s weird to say this but the levels were perfect. I watched the film with my partner and she usually reacts negatively where films get very loud for the action parts and then become quickly quiet which happens with most films, but there was no reaching for the remote. She didn’t need to because it was just really well done. I know, weird praise but it was just so good.

The film has a really great comic-style visual feel to it, with that classic comic lettering style prompting you throughout the story and showing the main character, Miles’, inner thoughts and feelings. The graphics are UN.FREAKING.BELIEVABLE. At times the colours are so vivid that it just blew my mind. Look closely and you’ll see the shading on the faces, which is a classic comic-move that make the characters come alive and feel like you’re reading a comic, except if a comic was in 5D… The fifth dimension is emotionsssss. Or it could be sleepiness. I’m not sure.

Kingpin is a mountain. He’s a goliath of a man. I felt intimidated by him just watching him and my hands got real clammy… I mean just imagine you’re a kid and you’re approached by a massive tank-man who is extremely dangerous and unhinged. That’s part of the reason why I loved Miles so much. When you first meet him, he’s much like every version of Peter Parker/Spiderman you’ve ever met in previous origin stories. He’s a kid. But he goes through this transformation while he’s trying to work out who he is in the world, he’s learning from mistakes and soon you see he is amazing, strong, fricking selfless and brave af. He does not hesitate to go toe to toe with anyone if it means securing someone’s safety. And that’s really what sets Kingpin and Miles apart. Kingpin is so selfish and is destined to repeat the same mistakes he has made in his life into perpetuity because he hasn’t accepted that he cannot control things, does not accept his part in his own downfall and will not learn. Kingpin’s vulnerability is his family, but then so is Miles’. The difference is that threats to Miles’ friends and family just make him stronger, not weaker like it does for Kingpin.

Anyway, my takeaway and life hack from that would be: Be more Miles.

There are lots of references to different styles of animation later in the film (like funny little ACME bits). It’s just so endearing and those fond little touches show you how much the makers love comics and animation. I know you would expect them to, but there are loads of animations that just feel like someone has banged out another film. Into the Spider-Verse feels like it was a little sprout that was fed and grew and fortified into greatness. Also the different styles worked seamlessly together.

The final boss fight scene begins literally like a platform game fight, and it was just one of many things that made me LOSE MY GODDAMN MIND watching the film.

I could go on and on.

The only ONLY criticism I have is that I wish the film was called INTO THE SPIDEY-VERSE. I’m just gonna call it that and you can’t stop me. You’re not my real daddy.

So all in all… it was alright…. said nobody because they all said it was AMAZING. Really excellent film. If I was to give stars, I would likely give it five stars out of five. But I would say just go see it. Even my partner – who is not a science fiction or animation fan – thought it was amazing which is not common. So it gets the TOUGH CROWD thumbs up!

Easily one of my top twenty films of all time. Maybe even top ten. Go watch it now. It’s on NOW TV. Hey you. Go, stop what you’re doing. That’s unimportant. Put that down. Okay you over there, finish what you’re doing in the bathroom and then bloody go do it now. In fact, I want to go watch it again too…

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Quick update! Today I launched two new monthly events on the site/fb/insta starting November. Check them out below:

First off is THE WATCHERS, a monthly science fiction watch party which will be hosted on TeleParty. It’ll happen on the second Wednesday of every month @ 8pm (UTC+1, aka London time) and details about the film will be shared on the post and the link sent to attendee just prior to the event. You just need TeleParty to join!

The second is THE READERS, a monthly science fiction book review club which will be hosted on Zoom. It’ll happen on the last Sunday of every month @ 13:00 (UTC+1, aka London time) and details about the first book will be shared via the post and the link to discuss sent to attendees just prior to the event. You just need Zoom to join!

Check out the EVENTS LISTINGS page on this site to be taken through to the Facebook event page. Please register your interest if you intend to attend! All links will be sent privately for your security and so we can create a safe space free from internet jocks.

See you there!

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Star Trek Discovery S1 [TV series, 2017/18]

Emperor Georgiou: “What’s wrong? Are you scared, Number One? Where I’m from, there’s a saying,’Scared Kelpian makes for tough Kelpian.’ Have you gotten tough since we served together on the Shenzhou, Mr. Saru?”

Saru: “Affirmative, Captain. Very tough. So much so that many find me simply unpalatable.”

You’ll probably notice a pattern. If I really love a particular series, it usually takes me a long time to really finish it; I guess I like to savour things. Star Trek Discovery is no exception. I watched half the season on Netflix when it initially came out. The second half, I put off until now until I could re-watch it in one go. I said to myself I wasn’t going to write a long review, but I love Star Trek too much not to, so here goes…

Firstly, before I delve into the series itself, I just want to note that whoever thought of the name of the show and the eventual acronym it would become known for… I mean, Star Trek Discovery… Could you not have thought of literally any other word instead of Discovery? Some ideas: Star Trek Encounter / Star Trek Explore / Star Trek Vision / Star Trek Sporedrive… etc etc? STD is such an unfortunate acronym to be known as… I know that officially it is DSC, but Star Trek fans all laugh about the STD-ness of it all.

Back to the show itself. I was brought up on Star Trek TOS, TNG and VOY. I’ve not seen much of DS9, Enterprise or the more recent Picard series (I know… SHAME!) so I can’t really speak to the way their shows were shot or the character portrayal. That said, what I have loved about STD.. ahem I mean DSC, is that other offerings of the Star Trek universe I have watched generally follow a captain, the deck and some notable exceptions (being the medical doctor, transporter people and very occasionally a kickass and extremely knowledgeable bartender). Ultimately though, the focal point is the captain. In fact, when I talk about Star Trek to other fans, often we do away with referencing the actual name of the series and refer only to them through the name of the captain. Oh I loved Picard era Star Trek etc etc. With DSC, the focal point is actually on Michael Burnham who starts out as the First Officer of the USS Shenzhou and then events take quite a turn. She’s extremely complicated as a protagonist and exists in her a great moral ambiguity and sometimes unlikability – as you learn more about her, you just love her though (I do). So that was quite unusual to me, and I really loved the fresh sort of change in this direction.

There were a couple great ‘what the fuck’ moments in the series – without giving anything away – that I wasn’t expecting where I was totally surprised and I thought generally the first season offering was really well written.

The character progression also allowed us to see and be opened up to this warm tenderness, particularly through its LGBTQ characters. In fact, this is the first season of Star Trek that saw openly gay characters feature through Paul and Hugh (fun fact: Paul, played by Anthony Rapp was the original Mark from the musical RENT, which happens to be my absolute favourite musical of all time and I listen to the soundtrack ALL. THE. TIME… and he also has this really quirky single/music video called ‘Out Out Damn Spot’ which is one of my go-to songs when I want to dance about. Go check it out. You’re welcome). HALLELUJAH! It’s really about time. Like what? You can imagine a species of peoples that look like wood? You can imagine a room people can use to pretend they are Sherlock Holmes and then Moriarty accidentally gets out and somehow is self aware even though he is just a computer programme? You can imagine an android finally getting his emotion chip and losing his damn mind? You can imagine Sulu going crazy and trying to fence people to death while maniacally laughing? You can imagine a Captain and a Borg being Best Friends Forever? You can imagine Captain Kirk sleeping with all manner of lady-alien? But you can’t imagine gay characters until two thousand fricking seventeen?! I know I don’t sound grateful… I’m REALLY grateful, and even more grateful that I know season two introduces trans and non-binary characters, but good grief Star Trek writers! Buffy the Vampire Slayer was literally writing about LGBTQ characters in the 90s, and that was a children’s TV show… I feel like we all deserve better but I guess at least Star Trek are representing a real spectrum of characters, which is more than a lot of other shows are doing. I just hope that other shows will take note! So yay? And thankyou? And about time? And please don’t take this away from us? But please normalise this? We need this? Also please represent more prominent characters with disabilities? Indigenous characters liken to our own?!

Last thing to mention is that it felt like the season was very top heavy, in that there was a lot happening along a couple story arks and the final cherry felt rushed with regards to mentions/resolution of a Klingon war and seemed a little unlikely and tacked on but the outcome of that ending led the season to be in a nice place for season two so…

Anyways, I loved it. Great characters, yay LGBTQ, really cinematic and epic visuals. I would really have loved to have watched the season in a cinema. I bet it would be GLORIOUS. Story was great. There are some fricking kickass women in this season, curveballs and concepts in space travel that haven’t been explored before, Michael Burnham is a literal joy to watch. All in all, really enjoyable. Would watch again. I’m watching season two now which is even better. More on that soon.

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UPLOAD [TV series, 2020]

“This is the first day of the rest of your afterlife.”

For some reason, I wasn’t keen to watch this series initially but I’m glad I did because it proved that sometimes you can be surprised.

The series follows the trials and tribulations of Nathan (played by Robbie Amell) who I completely thought must be of the Hemsworth line, with his squinting good looks and his charming ways.

It’s straight out of a ‘Black Mirror’ episode, exploring the concept of prolonging life beyond death and VR in a hilarious tongue-in-cheek sort of way, with lots of twists and turns. It has everything you could need from a great series. It’s the creation of Greg Daniels, of Parks and Rec/The Office/King of the Hill/The Simpsons so is really funny as you would expect. A great script, great characters, amazing and beautiful visuals, diversity, science and romance. Honestly it was such a surprise to me that it deserves a massive KUDOS.

Very enjoyable and the science bits are smart enough that I imagine hardcore sci fi nerds would give it a good thumbs up. I do, anyway! Find it on Amazon Prime and go watch it. Watch it now!

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Venom [2018]

“He has shit you have never seen…”

I have to be honest, I was a little put off of watching Venom knowing that Tom Hardy was on board, hence the two year gap. I’m a massive Marvel fan, but Tom does not have a good track record for playing characters with unusual accents, and Eddie Brock/Venom have strange accents! I think setting the bar low in my mind meant that whilst it was not an amazing film, I did really enjoy it.

Brock/Venom was actually really likeable. I’ve played Spiderman games and Spidey comics, and Venom being Spidey’s antagonist means he is painted as a monster. But in this version of the origin story, Brock starts out as a journalist and he has a lot of integrity. It just so happens that Brock merges with Venom for a good reason and they realise they are simpatico, two sides of the same coin, Brock’s Ying to Venom’s Yang!

There’s a really good scene early in the film where Brock is angry at his neighbour’s loud music playing. As we all know, Venom really dislikes it too and it rips him apart from his host. I like to think that Brock and Venom bonded over their severe dislike of rock music… Brock: Like Black Sabbath? Venom: No, hate them. Hate all rock music. It sux. Brock: Me too! We have so much in commonnnnnnn!

What I found interesting was that the original Venom story was that he was tracking a killer and Spidey thwarts his progress and that’s how Spidey becomes his enemy. But in this version, there IS no Spidey. It’s like a complete re-writing of the thing. I’m looking forward to see how Venom’s story develops with the Carnage sequel and how Spidey is introduced into that.

Overall, a lot of fun. Not Marvel’s best but definitely not their worst. Pacing of the film is good and Tom Hardy’s Venom is both likable and humorous.

P.S. No video for this post today unfortunately! But I’ll be back making my vid cliffnotes soon!

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Ghost in the shell [1995]

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”

I remember first hearing about this film in 2004 at university. Everyone was talking about this film and the opinion was always the same. YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT. IT’S AMAZING. IT INFLUENCED THE MATRIX. I put off watching it for a long time. The impression I got from people was that it was a superior animated film and I assumed that if it was that great, it had to have been made a long time ago. Imagine my surprise seeing today that it had actually been made in 1995, only nine years before I had heard of it. Obviously it made a lastly impression on everyone as soon as it came out and my own impression similarly is that it is timeless, extraordinary and beautiful.

On the face of it, this film is about detectives/agents trying to get the bad guy called The Puppet Master. It’s set in a future where there are cyborgs and science has advanced to the point where humans can upgrade their body with computer/digital parts and upload their consciousness into machines, called ‘shells’. The Puppet Master has been hacking its way into shells, getting them to do its bidding, implanting false memories into them before jumping into new bodies to prevent capture. What I love about this film though is that it’s so much more complicated than just a chase… Really this film is a bunch of beautiful philosophical questions: What is a soul, how do you define consciousness and on the verge of the digital age – which the film was at the time, it also posed a question – can digital programmes become sentient? Can machines also have souls?

Puppet Master: I refer to myself as an intelligent life form because I am sentient and I am able to recognize my own existence, but in my present state I am still incomplete. I lack the most basic processes inherent in all living organisms: reproducing and dying. Major Motoko Kusanagi: But you can copy yourself. Puppet Master: A copy is just an identical image. There is the possibility that a single virus could destroy an entire set of systems and copies do not give rise to variety and originality. Life perpetuates itself through diversity and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary. Cells repeat the process of degeneration and regeneration until one day they die, obliterating an entire set of memory and information. Only genes remain. Why continually repeat this cycle? Simply to survive by avoiding the weaknesses of an unchanging system.

Having watched it, I can see how The Matrix series was influenced by this film, but obviously it lacks the weight and depth that this film does.

Lastly, the film has this wonderful, beautiful soundtrack which sounds ethereal and uses ancient japanese language. There are these amazing shots where you hear the soundtrack amidst the bright lights, synthetic and decaying part of the city. To watch it is like a spiritual experience.

Wonderful film. Watch it. It’ll have you questioning your very existence.

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The Fly [1986]

“I will say now, however objectively, that human teleportation, molecular decimation, breakdown, reformation, is inherently purging.”

I feel like I saw this film when I was very young but it was probably one of those films that would have seemed very inocuous at first to my parents and then it became sexy and scary and my parents decided it was TIME FOR BED. Due to this policing I have some memory of it, but obviously none of the good sexxxy scarrry bits.

So this film is your typical film. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Boy gets jealous and jumps into his transporter with a fly. Boy becomes fly. You know, standard.

I feel like this is a sci-fi/gore film of two parts. On the one hand, it is obviously pretty gorey and really gross but I feel like it isn’t gore for the sake of gore and has good humour about itself. For instance, in one part, Seth as The Fly (played by Jeff Goldblum) pukes on his food in Roni/Veronica’s (played by Geena Davis) presence and says “that’s gross”. I feel like he is referring to all gore films in that moment, and it’s so well comically timed. The second part to it is it’s surprisingly moving. I was way more moved by the story than I thought I would be, considering how ridiculous a film it is. There’s one moment where The Fly is watching Roni talking to an ex and then she gets in a car; he’s on top of the roof looking down, and it was like a Hunchback of Notre Dame moment. He has become an outcast, which unlike HOND is largely his own doing, but you can see this same sadness in him and it made the film – for me – deeply touching and tragic particularly as the movie develops and comes to its climax. A lot of gore films paint creatures as monsters and things to be scared of (which I personally think is pretty basic), but in this film Cronenberg painted it as something to be pitied and empathied with which in contrast is very loving and complicated and wonderful. I also enjoyed the fact that the creepy ex boyfriend – who throughout the film is lechorous to Roni – doesn’t come away unscathed from his altercation with The Fly.

Lastly, no one else could have done The Fly justice than Jeff Goldblum. His intensity and his little physical ticks make it what it is. Absolute must see.

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Color Out of Space [2019]

“A dream you dream alone is just a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

I’ll be honest, when my bro suggested we watch this film, I was worried it would largely feature Nicholas Cage just being Nicholas Cage.. and I was not disappointed! Except space!

SPOILERS! So this ‘Cosmic Horror’ film centres on a family who have moved to a rural house in America and features a hydrologist named Ward, who – hilariously true to his name – ends up driving back with the cavalry to try to save the family from a bunch of scary stuff. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on. A meteor falls from the sky onto their lawn and inexplicably disappears. There’s a weird thing in the well that only the youngest can hear and is completely mesmerised by it. There are weird bugs. Flowers suddenly growing everywhere and no one seems to even question it. Gross out scenes. Wican. Scenes that will stay with you in your nightmares. And through it all, Nicholas Cage just being Nicholas Cage. Part of you doesn’t believe it is happening, that really they’re tripping balls because they drank the water that Ward says is contaminated, but gradually as you see through Ward’s eyes and his reactions to what is happening, you realise it’s real.

Also sidenote but important note, really adored that Ward was a black guy and that he was left last man standing. More of this.

All in all, really fun film, really really enjoyed it. Would definitely recommend.