Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 2 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 11-20.


EXISTE!

Directed by Luca Zuberbühler, this short film centres around the destruction of a small theatre. A construction worker enters the site, only to find an underground world beyond his imagination. Really pleasing blueish hue to the opening section to the film. I think it was probably the old timey-ness of the music and the degrading dusty buildings but it reminded me of playing Bioshock but it was a similar creep factor. Enjoyed it!

GUARDIAN ANGEL

Directed by Günter Heinzel, this short is more like a horror with a sci-fi edge. A man gets a whatsapp message from an unknown sender, telling him to leave or he will be killed (which he ignores). The messages get progressively scarier, after which he flees leaving his lover in bed. Nice twist to the end. I’m glad I wasn’t watching this in the dark. Classic tense horror soundtrack using plucking and screeching violins. I feel like a lot of people are writing about this particular topic at the moment though so I’m starting to get a bit unfazed by it, but I did enjoy this.

HYPERNOVA

Directed by Tate Young, this short film is about a woman struggling to connect. From the offset we see her going about normal chores, working and so on wearing a spacesuit, which seems to be a metaphor for this struggle. It’s as if she is all alone floating in space with nothing but stars, until she actually does connect with someone just like her which gives her the strength to break away. It seems more like a commentary on the human condition and a desire to be seen as you are, than being anything in particular about space though it is told through this metaphor. Nice little story. There’s very little dialogue but still that emotion and intention comes through. Enjoyed the ending.

IN ABSENTIA

Directed by Peter Chownsmith, this short animated film follows a man’s struggle to make sense of the surreal please he finds himself in. I like the style of animation, and the landscapes are pretty surreal. The sound effects paired to the action on screen are not what you would expect which adds to the weirdness of it. And there’s repeated references to the heart in this; there’s a hole in his chest where his heart should be, he finds himself climbing amongst what looks like tubes, and then he’s confronted with a massive red pyramid that is covered with either tendrils or veins… so there’s definitely something in there about the heart. Also I say he, but that’s not clear. It could be also a she or they. There’s no dialogue to know this either way. It’s only a three minute film but I really enjoyed the ambiguity of it and it was just well made.

LIVING THINGS

Directed by Tom Cozens, this short film is centred around a world fallen to disease. The narrator is supposedly the only being who is immune and he is trying to find something called “The Beacon” where he might find others like him. There’s always a ‘beacon’, isn’t there. People always need a hopeful monolith to gravitate towards… Anyway, when the disease hit, the protagonist was a child and he has to learn how to survive for himself, hunt and study into his adulthood, all alone. He tries his hand at growing sunflowers but the snowy conditions he is living in are not right and they all die. “Maybe miracles only look that way because there’s so much bad in the first place… but if miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be called miracles” he says. After hearing a yell out of the blue, he decides to leave the warmth and safety of the hut he has been staying in to once again find this ‘Beacon’. It’s a very endearing film, and even though through most of this story he is an adult man, it still has this childlike nature to it because we’ve seen him grow up and also because he interacts with nature like he’s in awe. The same way a child would, like they’re seeing something for the first time. Really enjoyed this. It’s not conclusive to us as viewers if he ever found another human again because we don’t see one. We just see his reaction to something but we’re not sure what that reaction means; I really like that ambiguity. Good stuff.

LOGAN LEE & THE RISE OF THE PURPLE DAWN

Directed by Raymond C. Lai, this short film is about a spliff called Purple Dawn and also about record scratching/hip hop! It centres around an DJ called Logan Lee who is in love with his best friend Beatrice. Beatrice is dating a douchebag who might be one of The Darkness, which is like this creepy alien species. It is built on sections that are introduced like a scratching tutorial. With the help of his mum, and weed, he takes on the beast who seems (like Venom) to dislike music! It’s a mix of They Live and ‘Harold & Kumar go to White Castle’ (basically a weed film lol). AMAZINGGGGGG FILMMMMM. I was blown away by how funny and colourful and interesting it was and I immediately told my bro about it. I really want to see it expanded. I think it could make a very popular feature film. Just wow.

M1DAS

Directed by Razan Takash, this short film is about AI. It’s filmed in UAE and the lead protagonist is a woman called Cybele. It opens on Cybele being instructed to lead on an AI project called M1DAS run by her company Ex Nihilo, which supposedly allows you to create a cyborg child. There’s no explanation but I’m guessing in this world, humans are no longer procreating(?) and the hardware was created because of that. Anyways, shortly after booting up the AI, Cybele is instructed to terminate the AI child who progressively matches to her look. Cybele decides to ignore her directive and save the child. The film has a super futuristic look and the ending is well done and pretty bleak. I was willing something else to happen and staring intently at the screen, but it never happened. Great short.

MOMENT

Directed by Geoffrey Uloth, this short follows the story of a homeless woman and her interactions with two masked crusaders. The woman is dating a drug dealer who tells her to carry some drugs for him because ‘women don’t get frisked by cops’. She’s jumped and attacked by three masked men. Just when one of them is about to hit her, time stops and the two masked crusaders who can astral project, talk the woman through combating these assholes so she is ready for it when time resumes. Both parties talk about their own individual struggles. There’s a chase scene which is really really good and the story is so emotive that I was moved to tears and cried buckets of mixed emotions all the way to the end. Could really see this being picked up by Marvel and being made into an origin story. Cool references to Star Trek. Excellent short.

MUSE

Directed by Azhur Saleem, this sci-fi/horror short follows the works of an artist in a technologically advanced world. The artist has recently been turned down by an art exhibitor who does not like the art, which depicts faces in various stages of terror. The police are called after screaming is heard and asked to see what the artist’s android has seen, like it is being used as a type of surveillance. The police realise that he is lying to them and a fight ensues. The ending has a really nice, super creepy twist. The look of the android seem very influenced by video game Detroit, which features android’s with a similar chip on the temple and similar premise (specifically around breaking their coding) so I enjoyed this dark short. Worth a watch.

NEXT TIME

Directed by Talia Shea Levin, this short follows a couple on a road trip across the United States. There is a hint to the theme of the film through the clicking timepiece which you can hear at various points in the film, if you didn’t get it from the title or the billboards… There’s obviously a tense-ness between the two characters. It seems that their relationship is coming to an end. They stop at at a Time Travelling depot which you can use if you deposit 10 cents, although there’s no way for you to control where or when you end up in history so it doesn’t seem that safe… I like the billboards on their journey that talk about TIME TRAVEL as if it’s a normal part of their reality, which say things like “You were there tomorrow, come back yesterday!” Apparently the journey through time is exactly what they needed because they stop fighting after that. Nice little short. Not really much to it but enjoyable.

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. My particular faves from this lot were: ‘Logan Lee & The Rise of the Purple Dawn’ and ‘Moment’ which I really get picked up into full features films. 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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