Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 1 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 1-10.


A MODERN MAGICIAN

This story, directed by Mark Heller, focuses on Jim, a quaint, nerdy kid who has obviously been bullied for much of his life. He takes a shining to a fellow schoolkid called Helen and it seems like he continues this crush or obsession into adulthood. He’s determined that he is different to others and that he has some sort of paranormal ability but it’s not totally clear if that’s the case. His main focus upon realising this is to exert as much power and influence of himself onto animals, in the form of killing them and he soon moves to larger targets. Or does he? I really found this short very uncomfortable, and I know this was the intention… even the narrator was saying how pathetic the protagonist was, but I think that creating this sort of character can be quite harmful because it seemed like Jim actually had quite severe and destructive mental health problems, even if his abilities were true. The abusive, stalker nature of his relationship to Helen as well… As someone who has been the subject and focus of unwanted attention, I didn’t really enjoy this unfortunately.

ADAM& EVE MK II

This very short story, directed by Sebastian Kuder, follows an android called Adam. He has just woken up from a human brain data transfer and is alone. He ventures around the ship that he is on, only to realise he is far from earth or any other planet. Even though there was no dialogue, it was quite an emotional thing to see Adam reach out and touch the window whilst he looked at far away planets. That sense of isolation really came through, and the emotion felt very human. But he realises he is not alone, for he has Eve. I thought that the colour schemes was a bit gendered which to me is quite basic, like it needn’t have been that way, i.e. Adam was blue and orange, Eve pink and purple. That idea of gendered colours doesn’t seem very futuristic. That said, the CGI was top notch, I liked the ethereal soundtrack and the symmetry of the shots was really good. Would be interested to see this as a feature. It’s so short that I had a lot of questions that went unanswered like who, what, how, when and where!

APPYNESS

This short, directed by Ryan Turner and story by Kathleen Roosa, follows protagonist Cassie who is applying for a job at a friend’s company and is using an experimental implant called APPY BETA (“Control your emotions, control your destiny!”) to control her emotions. Cassie has a Stepford Wives look to her, and in fact embodies the same desire for perfection. The film has pleasing colour tones, this blueish hue. I thought that it was acted in an over-the-top, forced Americanised way but I think this added to it. I really liked the ending, where the app glitches and Cassie is stuck in this DC Comics, Joker-esque, laughing gas mode. It’s for quite uncomfortable watching but in a really excellent, intense way. The smarmy Michael Buble-type music to end it on was a super nice touch as well. Good job, would watch again. I think it’s perfect as a short though. Nice and punchy.

BROTHER

This short, directed by Tulsi Shivaanand, follows two Chinese brothers living in what looks like London. The narrator at the top of the short film talks of an entity called Baku who dwells between the waking and the dream world and says to take this charm if you have a nightmare, use it to call the Baku but don’t call too much or you will invite the cold into the waking world. One of the brothers is having severe nightmares so, of course, calls on Baku to spare him these terrors which brings the cold… I thought this story was so original. I’m personally really interested in peoples dreams (message me your weird dreams, I love them). I just recently read ‘The word for world is forest’ by Ursula Le Guin with SOPHFIFEST’s THE READERS club, which was all about an indigenous people who believe the dream world and waking world are one. Check it out, dream-lovers. Anyway, I digress, check that book out. But also check out this short. I hope this gets made into the larger film. The concept is very cool and there’s scope for expanding this world. It would be cool to see what he is seeing in his dreams and explore this topic more because it could be a really spooky sci-fi/horror/thriller.

BUGS & NIXON

This short, directed by Jackson Lowen, follows two agents who are trying to trick a psychic into thinking they mean him no harm, dressed up as, you guessed it, Bugs & Nixon! The childlike look of the film is offset by the darkness of the film, i.e. their intent to murder this unusual child. I really enjoy the look of the Psychic, James, as I enjoy DIY films that look like they’re made with bit of vacuum cleaners and stuff like that though this is extremely budget. It’s obviously just a storage container filled with balloons and red paint and fake blood, and the acting is quite corny but it’s an enjoyable watch!

CEPHALOPOD

Directed by Lewis Peake, this short film follows the story of an experiment at N-CORP. It features someone called subject V22 who must complete tests using a special ability bestowed upon him through genetic/cyber enhancements. It appears he is doing so without consent and has to be ‘disciplined’ to take part, before he revolts and destroys the voice in the tannoy. It has the same grimey, handmade feel as an episode of Robot-Wars and I really liked it. Good stuff.

CIRCLE OF STONE

Directed by Mark Andrews, this short follows the case of missing girl, Maddy, in a rural town somewhere in the United States who reappears some 60 years after she went missing. She is found by a cop and they both find themselves in the middle of a strange, supernatural world of beings that look like black and white deer gods with swords called The Golden Ones. More cops are called out to the woods when the aforementioned cop is attacked but the strange beings pick them off one by one. The only survivor, Parker, wakes to find himself NOT IN KANSAS ANY MO’. Excellent choreographed sword fight scene and whooshing sound effects. Even though it’s set in the daytime, it’s no less gruesome. Could be spookier though. Props looked realistic and gross. Acting was a little corny but would be cool to see where this film goes because it could be a cool Sci-Fi/Horror feature with a bigger budget. Nice twist at the end.

CLEAR GOLD

Directed by James Copplestone Farmer, this Qatarian (yay!) short film follows the story of a dystopian water shortage and an astronaut who is on a mission on the moon to find a solution to this. The CGI is so good between the tech, the space suit and the landscape of the moon… The protagonist explains the dire situation humans are in and the wars that came out of this problem, as well as logging his findings as time is running out. It looks very futuristic and seems topical right now following the the SOFIA observation findings of the moon which shows us that the moon DOES have a viable water source (not just in shadowed craters but also on the surface where they had expected water to evaporate). I like that the short is exploring a real, human problem and condemns humanity’s failings: poverty, war, neglect, fucking up the planet and inequality, and it asks one important question: “Why do you deserve it?” Really excellent and important work. Well done to those who made this happen.

DEUS OTIOSUS

Directed by Mat Brady, this short translates to The Idle God, follows a pregnant hunter who has recently lost her husband. She is tracking a reclusive self proclaimed “gardener” who the others think has magical powers. The people need his help to get rid of a blight. Her journey leads her to a mystical small pyramid with ‘dangerous technology’ and she makes a discovery that will change her flat-earth world forever!! Costumes are excellent and I enjoyed the characters/script. It has Willow, Maid Marion and Lord of the Rings vibes to me and it was refreshing to see strong female and POC characters (mainly the lead protagonist)! I have so many questions that will go unanswered but mainly, what is the technology?! Is that what happened to us after things fell apart?! What happens when you put the headpiece on?! Nice short!

DOPPELBANGER

Directed by Sofian Khan, this black & white futuristic short starts with a human man having sex with a sex robot(?) which malfunctions during intercourse. His George II unit comes home from his human job and recharges after a long day working in real George’s job. George attempts to investigate what has gone wrong by contacting the owner of the serial who agrees to help him and they have a nice interaction. George II reports George to the cops after a perceived illegal action and a fight ensues. Excellent! The programmer is a woman (woohoo!) The look of the short is one of the most polished shorts of the festival so far that I’ve seen, the CGI/visual effects for the short are really well done, as well as the use of light/colour for emphasis. This HAS to be made into a movie!! Like who is George, where did the girl take the robot, what happens to her?! So many questions! Please make this into a feature because I want to know more about this world!

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

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The American Astronaut [2001]

“It is here where the story began.. the story of how I became a father…”


This 2001 film, directed by and starring Cory McAbee, is a really fun film and I’m so thankful that it was part of SciFi London 2020 festival’s feature films because I’ve been wanting to watch it for a long time.

The film follows Samuel Curtis, a merchant who deals in the procurement of odd and exotic items. He’s been tasked with bringing Monkeypuss the Cat from earth to a saloon on an asteroid to his old dancing partner and friend, the Blueberry Pirate. His friend pays him for the cat with a cloning device which can make a ‘Real Life Girl’ and tells him that he should take it to Jupiter and swap it for ‘The Boy who actually saw a woman’s breast’. You see, this planet seems to be full of working class, possibly miner men and there are no women there. The boy is brought out to them from time to time to sing and dance and describe the boob he saw as a way of motivating them to work. The Blueberry Pirate suggests Curtis take The Boy to Venus, which is inhabited by women and a ‘stud’ who they use to impregnate themselves. Apparently the stud has died and his family (on earth) want his remains so they can bury him. Curtis agrees to this plan.

Meanwhile he is being pursued by The Professor who also acts somewhat of a narrator for the film. Apparently he is pissed because it’s his birthday and he wants Curtis to sing Happy Birthday to him. He seems quite psychotic.

Curtis gets the boy and exchanges the case for him to the person running the joint who grossly says he will grow this girl and then marry her when she is 15, after which he will describe what the sex is like to the masses. But his plan is cut short because The Professor kills him and steals the case, still in Curtis’ pursuit. I’m actually really glad he did tbh…

Curtis comes across a space station where he is asked by miners to take another kid with him, who appears to be wearing some kind of gimp suit(?) and he agrees. Eventually they make it to Venus to make the swap and The Professor is there, but does he make the exchange? Does he have to sing Happy Birthday to the prof? Check it out to find outttttt.

This is such a fun, quirky film and having seen Cory the director talk, you can see it’s his own quirkiness come alive! He’s such a bubbly, nice person.

I really liked the music in the film. Most of the music was rock. Sounds like some Bruce Springsteen sort of influence at times, but also alternative or indie rock in there. It feels like a music video, and it could very easily be turned into a musical of some sort because there are lots of scenes where characters are singing and dancing. I wasn’t anticipating this but it was so joyful to watch. The lyrics are really weird and endearing (just my kind of lyrics) e.g. “how can you keep on smiling while you see yourself in the mirror smiling” or “the girl with the vagina made of glass”. It’s the sort of film I imagine would be played a lot at this place called Prince Charles cinema in London, where they have a lot of quirky film sing-a-longs.

It’s filmed in black and white and has a old feel to it. Even the way people talk in the film comes off like it was shot in the 50s, which I enjoyed. Even their speech has the same timbre and spacing as a 50s film. It also has an old ‘Spaghetti Western’ feel to it for me particularly with the opening being in an old timey bar (though I know some people also think it’s more like Film Noir). It has that same grimey, dirty, gun-slinging, rough and ready feel that I remember from the Westerns I used to watch as a kid. Having seen the Q&A with the director, though, this was not intentional and it was actually inspired by his family who works/worked as car mechanics. He wanted to get that grimey, grease-monkey feel into the film.

What I especially like about this film – if you take out the singing and the dancing – it kind of feels like normal, working class people just getting on with living in space. Curtis flying about seems as ordinary as someone driving a car or a bus, like they’re all just normal people; some of them go to bars, they work, they listen to music, they have phasers that turn people into sand… you know, like normal stuff!

So all in all, I really enjoyed this movie. It was just a joy to watch. There’s not much too it. It’s not some complicated plot, but I loved how down to earth and quirky this space movie is and I can tell I will love it again and again and again in the future. I can see getting better with repeated watching. Definitely check it out.

Oh, and you should check out some of the other projects that Cory McAbee is working on. Stingray Sam is another of his past project’s. I haven’t seen it yet but apparently the series is really worth watching. He’s also working on this totally radical project related to terraforming Mars. The suggestion is to send your dearly departed’s corpses to Mars, to help terraform the planet. Isn’t that amazing?! Anyway, there’s more to read here.

Lastly, you can check out American Astronaut here. It’s available to watch for free!

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