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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Mirror Human [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“Please remember me…”


There is a LOT going on in this film and I feel like I didn’t do it justice watching it (my concentration wasn’t 100% in it), so I think I need to re-watch this.

This film follows three different interlocking stories around genetically modified replicas/androids called Transcendants. Their lives are tragically short and it explores their complicated stories. From the offset we find out that the world is quite barren and that these androids have been created with excellent genes for a variety of reasons, but at some point they become unacceptable to human society and the Mirror project (which is what they are called) is suspended.

There’s this evident sense of otherness for the Transcendants compared to humans. At one point someone says that they are “the epitome of the human condition”, that they are “not like us” and they are not capable of loving in the way that humans do. However, we see very quickly that they definitely are, for instance through Xiao-Sun (the Boxer) and Tien’s relationship which is so endearing. The interesting thing about Xiao-Sun as well is that as the android, he is totally being used by the system/the man as a form of entertainment for the masses. You see him being physically beaten for others’ financial gain and it’s obvious from this that Transcendants are considered the lowest of the low. Like they’re disposable.

The film explores what it is to be human. There’s one part of the film where one of the androids says “once you have a name, you can call yourself human” (the androids are assigned numbers) and that sentence really made me think is that the only thing that sets us apart? Perhaps it’s the self awareness of our identities? I was reading recently about why we can’t remember the first years of our lives (don’t ask me why, I just was!) and that our earliest memories don’t start to form until approximately three onwards. I believe it’s the New Zealand Maori who have the earliest record of childhood memories which is something like from 2.5 years old onwards, and that’s simply because their culture places importance on indigenous and family history. There’s this theory in all of this that our memories only form when we have the language to do so, that memories are connected to language and not feelings/emotions and so when I heard them say the sentence about humanity and your name, it reminded me of that theory. Because having a name is more than about identity, it’s about connection to memories and history and kin and collectivity. This is the rabbit hole I went down having watched this film…

Liang (who calls himself the delivery driver) and his best friend Jay who is an android have a great dynamic which I enjoyed. Jay says that he has perfect genes yet he cannot beat Liang in a race, and Liang says that fear of death is what pushes him to drive faster. I feel like this is something that you see in sports people a lot. In order to compete at the highest level, to run your fastest, swim your farthest and so on, you have to feel like you are putting everything of yourself into it. Like you are pushing your body to the absolute limit so that idea definitely resonated. Perhaps androids aren’t capable of doing that, or perhaps it’s that the Transcendants sole desire is to live so why would they push that far (to the point of imminent death)? Also, such a cute little Star Wars reference (BB8) through the little robot friend of Liang’s.

I enjoyed the soundtrack which was lead by very elegant piano bits and it swung between very whimsical and then super determined sounding.

There was one bit of the film which I didn’t quite understand, which was that at parts people were wearing breathing masks. When the Boxer died, they all turned to face the camera with these masks on and it was acknowledged that he was no longer alive. I might have missed that but I wasn’t sure what the ecological reason was behind that. Who were the people with the masks? Was the earth unlivable, or was it a specific area? And there was an unspeaking, smiling girl with pigtails handing out masks. Was she a Transcendant? What I got from that was that she was, and that her purpose was to sit in an area that would be harmful to breathe if you were human, but because she’s like this disposable android her job is to do just that and hand out masks. I might totally have my wires crossed about that though… I really wish that there was a Q&A for this film because I would have liked to question this.

So all in all, this film definitely gave me some things to think about but I’m not sure how I feel about the film. Nice soundtrack. I liked the concept. I found it a little too complicated for a single watching, so I’ll definitely need to watch it again. I liked the dynamics between the characters and I know I will be thinking about this film for a long while. Really polished film, seemed like it had high production values and I really felt the tragic nature of the android’s lives. If you have any thoughts, would love to hear from you readers!

Check out Mirror Human here. To watch it, you’ll need to buy a film or festival pass.

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