Devs [TV] [2020]

“The box contains us. The box contains everything. And inside the box, is another box.”


Oh man. I usually write these little posts straight after I finish a film or TV show but life has been a little strange of late so I hadn’t had the chance. Therefore my memory of the comings and going of this show are a little hazy but here goes…

This show centres around a high tech department (DEVs) of a company called Amaya, run by Nick Offerman’s character named Forest. Forest has various ‘disciples’ who, it would appear, would do almost anything to protect Forest and the company, and you quickly learn that Amaya seems to operate ‘above the law’ helped by a close relationship with the government. Though he won’t admit it, much of the impetus behind Forest’s vision for Amaya is to turn back time and absolve himself of a terrible tragedy which took the lives of his wife and child.

There are going to be big SPOILERS from now on so look awayyyy.

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Okay, so with that in mind, the story begins with a character called Sergei who is a bright coder with great potential. He is dating a woman called Lily who is a fellow engineer at the same company. Sergei is invited to progress to the DEVs department but on his first day attempts to steal information, which triggers a MASSIVE chain of events starting with his death and affecting a great many people. Lily attempts to uncover the truth with the help, weirdly, of her jilted ex-partner, all while being pursued by Kenton – Forest’s very own version of Odd Job – trained in cleaning up aka murdering problematic people.

There’s also a sub-plot in there involving Russian spies, a very cute worker-friendship between Stewart and Langdon, a tense romantic energy between Forest and Katie (his chief engineer) and as the story goes we uncover more and more about what this extraordinary machine in their department can do… which as it turns out is a mix between televising (to an nth degree of certainty) the past or potentially representing a multi-verse of potential outcomes… it’s not entirely clear, but it is clear that it is extraordinary!

I was also super excited to see a character I perceived as trans or potentially non binary in the show through character Langdon, only to find out that this was not the intention. In addition, the actor was in fact a cis women so was a little confusing about this choice but apparently Garland just wanted to cast a cis gendered woman in that role and it’s as simple as that. Very happy to see Janet Mock playing the senator in this show though <3

What’s so intriguing to me about this show is how it is largely about death. There’s something hopeful about the way that the Amaya engineers are looking to this machine and it’s possibilities but the series starts with death and ends with death, and death is peppered throughout. It’s in both super violent, brutal and dark ways, in schrodinger’s cat take-a-chance sort of ways and then also more matter-of-factly (like here is a dead mouse… it is dead…) scientific representation of death. But even though it is dark, I never came away from watching it feeling put off by the amount of death there was. And I think that is a testiment to how exciting and novel the show turned out to be. Also, having recently read the book ‘The Space Between Worlds’ by Micaiah Johnson which also explores multiverses and the infinitesimal choices in our lives that make massive impacts on the people we turn out to be, it was super interesting to see an alternative viewpoint on this theme so soon after. It’s kind of mindblowing when you think how your life could have changed if you took a different bus one day, or if your parents had not met or things like that. I have been thinking about this quite a lot lately since reading Kindred by Octavia E Butler as well, in light of my own families struggle for survival on both the maternal and paternal side. What if my maternal ancestors had been slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire and not made it to safety on my mum’s side? What if my Chinese grandad never made it on the boat to the Caribbean? What if my great great grandad was murdered by his enslaver or died on the boat over from Africa, or my great great grandmothers line had been wiped out when the English and French colonists murdered her tribe. It boggles my mind how precious life is, and how rare and lucky we all are to be here today and read these silly words about some TV show! haha

Anyways, enough of the deep stuff.

I know Garland has a reputation for being a bit pretentious and I can see some thinking it’s a bit too slow or a bit much or a bit flat or monochrome, but I really enjoyed this show. It was heartbreaking, captivating and at times really beautiful. Not to mention the soundtrack. I joke about the making of the soundscape on my insta/tiktok, but there is something to be said about having a film director produce a TV show, and the results are similar to that of The Mandalorian which had the same dealio, in that it creates epic, cinematic TV shows. Not saying I liked it as much as Mando tho. haha

So in all, really enjoyable show. Well done. Exciting. Very sexy lighting and look to the show. Really confused about the comments from viewers calling it an indulgent show tbh. ALL OF FILM AND TV IS INDULGENT. IT’S A CHEEKY BONUS! IT’S NOT NECESSARY FOR SURVIVAL, OF COURSE IT IS INDULGENT! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, NO ONE IS FORCING YOU TO CONTINUE WATCHING APART FROM YOURSELFFFFFF. Unless there is a ‘Clockwork Orange’ thing going on here… in which case I’m sorry, but there’s worse shows to be forced to watch. I can think of a few at least (**COUGH** Replicas **COUGH**) Anyways, well worth a watch.

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The Room [2019]

The only thing more dangerous than a man who can’t get what he wants, is a man who can get whatever he wants.


Not to be confused with one of the worst films of all time with the same name, The Room, directed by Christian Volckman, follows Matt and Kate as they embark on the exciting new venture of HOMEOWNING. Matt is some sort of artist which seems pretty irrelevant tbh and they talk about how he’s gonna make a shit-tonne of money one day so she can stay at home. Which she kinda does anyway… Anyways, back to the plot! They move into a massive, old manor and as they are decorating realise that they have a strange room in there that appears to give you everything you wish. So they go on a bit of a bender before realising that the thing they truly wish for is the one thing they can’t have… a baby. Before long they realise that nothing created in ‘The Room’ can survive outside; that there is some sort of mystic power that exists only in the house. Matt, meanwhile, seeks to find answers from someone called John Doe, the previous occupant of the house who reportedly murdered his parents who tells him that in order to live, his parents had to die (suggesting that anything made in the room has to kill its creators in order to live) like some sort of ultimate sacrifice.

Kate wishes for a baby and starts to care for it like her own, calling it Shane. Over time we see the child grow older, completely cut off from the world. They tell Shane that he cannot go outside because it’s not safe to do so. Tensions grow stronger over time and in one moment of rage, Shane manages to get outside and ages rapidly and painfully.

Soon the kid learns about the room and intentionally ages himself into the body of man (whilst still having the mind of a child). He fights Matt and knocks both parents out before taking on the guise of Matt, pretending that the child had in fact died in combat. Then ensues a long scene of the real Matt trying to find Kate, and both of them running through a labyrinth of houses being chased by Shane, all within The Room. Eventually, they manage to beat the kiddo and make it out alive.

Or do they?

I found this film fairly enjoyable. I thought it was a pretty decent film and a good premise, quite tense, helped by the growing tensions of these three characters locked away in a small space.

I enjoyed that once Matt and Kate had worn out the novelty of the room and the capitalist desires they initially had, that they turned to more wholesome desires. Just goes to show how quickly that sort of meaninglessness can burn.

There’s one scene where Shane(?) is trying to get into the door – Matt has removed the key and locked it away – and he breaks down the panels next to the door and crawls through tree roots, which it turns out are intertwined throughout the house. Something about that scene, and the look of the door to the room, how Matt initially finds it and the key itself really reminded me of this 2010 horror/thriller ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark’ starring Katie Holmes. In fact, in that film, Katie and her family move into an old manor. There’s vines and shrubbery everywhere. They tear down a wall hiding THE SCARY DOOR to a room not with wishes, but instead spooky toothfairies… so quite a different film but it had very much the same feel to it, aka secret door thriller. There’s something about that old adage, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, in these types of films. You see the characters punished for their curiosity by opening the door that obviously shouldn’t be opened… it’s literally the oldest story in the book, you know the one where Eve was told not to eat the apple and she did, and then Adam and Eve were banished from heaven… or when Pandora opens the box she’s told not to open and unleashes all the evils unto the world. It’s a strange trope to keep repeating in horror or thriller films because humans are curious by nature, and our curiosity literally invented the wheel and other cool shit, so to repeatedly punish ourselves through these films is pretty humorous to me.

I liked the twist at the end, though I gotta say I saw it coming and I wish it was a little more subtle than it played out. Lots of directors are following in Christopher Nolan’s shoes, post-Inception, which really set the/a bar in terms of how thrillers should be. It feels like in the last 10 years I’ve seen a lot of thrillers which hamfisted their way through endings with a OR IS IT moment, which could have been way. more. subtle. I really enjoy the ones that get it right, because they get me thinking a lot more, or reading into moments questioning what I think I saw a lot more. This was not one of those films… it was more like IS IT? YES IT IS. No questions. TBH I completely forgot I watched this film within about four days of having watched it, so even though overall I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it whilst I was watching it, it became pretty forgettable.

Overall, enjoyable film but pretty formulaic. I read someone review this as an act of genius, but perhaps they were watching a different film, because that’s not the impression I got. Still worth a watch, but take it with a pinch of salt!

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Ch-Ch-CHANGES!

Hai, what’s new with you?! SOPHFIFEST.com has some new changes. Check them out 🙂


EVENTS

Events have moved from FACEBOOK.com and are now at MEETUP.com! Users can get easy notifications about upcoming events and join in on discussions there. I’ve re-jigged the website to streamline this change.

Check out the event pages here which will take you through to MEETUP.com

THE WATCHERS

THE READERS


SHOP

Like SOPHFIFEST’s logo? Like t-shirts, hats or hoodies? Want to support DIY movements?

SOPHFIFEST’s shop is coming in February in partnership with Printful.com. All profits made on orders will go straight back into running SOPHFIFEST.com events!

Countdown below!!! So excite!!!

2021-02-01T10:00:00

  days

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until

SHOP OPENING!

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension [1984]

“Sealed with a curse as sharp as a knife. Doomed is your soul and damned is your life.”


Thanks to Sam for hosting this watch party! This was on my watchlist and I was so happy to watch it with the gang, finally!

Buckaroo Banzai, directed by W.D. Richter, features a star studded cast of Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jonathan Banks and much, much more! The story follows Buckaroo Banzai, “an adventurer, brain surgeon, rock musician” and his band of merry men, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, as they dash to protect the planet from a bunch of evil aliens looking to take over the world!

Hmm what can I say about this film? Well… Dr Hikita and Buckaroo are trying to perfect a machine (called an oscillation overthruster) which will allow people to pass through solid matter. Buckaroo drives the machine in his car and ends up in the 8th dimension. He finds something under the car which seems to be an alien creature. Meanwhile, learning about their tech successes, Dr Lizardo (a scientist who had ALSO attempted to create the same machine, and was in an insane asylum) decided to break out. Apparently in creating the same machine he had found himself in the 8th dimension as well, was attacked by aliens, and his body was taken over by an evil alien. There’s a bit where a messenger called John with a Caribbean accent comes to Buckaroo and crew and lets them know that he is from one group of aliens called the Black Lectroids that has been at odds with another evil group of aliens called the Red Lectroids, and it seems like earth is about to get caught in the crossfire. Also a bit in there where Buckaroo gets electrified and can see the aliens in their true form, a bit where he finds a love interest in a bar, some slug torture, Banzai tries to kiss an unconscious woman and he gets immediately and painfully electric shocked (honestly served him right) and then at some point, the film finishes and the gang do a catwalk past a sign saying Buckaroo Banzai and it rolls to credits…

There’s a lot to unpack there, but mostly one big question… What the hell did I just watch? This film has a big cult following and is a lot of fun, but it’s a very silly film. There’s a lot going on, and also nothing going on. I believe one critic called it “unintelligible” which I would have to agree with, because it was pretty hard to follow. It seems like the writer(s) threw everything they had at this film and that Peter Weller and friends were just having a fun old time in front of a camera; meanwhile John Lithgow goes through a whole gambit of European accents, never really landing on the one he is attempting to nail (Italian).

Parts of the film gave off the same vibe I felt when I watched ‘American Astronaut’, which was this grease-monkeys feel. Though I thought that AA was excellent, whereas this film went on a weird journey that was all over the place.

Also, how can a film have that many stars and yet feel so low budget?! In one scene, the characters put ‘glasses’ which were clearly made of bubble wrap, supposedly to protect their eyes or help them see an alien. It’s unclear why. At one point all the scientists were wearing glasses to illustrate how smart they were, and then later abandoned that idea apparently. There was a moment at the end where – after the characters strutted past in slow-mo – the camera pans to the Buckaroo Banzai sign and I said “nothing says high budget film like gaffa”. You could clearly see a K on the brick wall, showing where the makers had attempted the sign prior lol. There was this level of pride they seemed to have in the film at that point, like they were collectively saying “nailed it” as they walked away. Did they nail it? Well that’s up for debate!

So all in all, great cast. Very fun, weird film. Probably the most diverse 80s film I’ve ever seen, including lots of ace Black and Asian peeps <3 though only one woman… who ended up only being the romantic element of the film. There was literally a scene where she is kissed by Buckaroo into consciousness, like some sort of sleeping beauty. It’s one of those films you need to watch with pals for maximum banter. I’m really glad I watched it with a group because it made it a lot of fun. Don’t watch it after taking drugs because you will trip out. You have been warned. I’m usually a big fan of weird, but even this was a bit too weird for me but maybe I need to watch it again. Jeff Goldblum in every scene was probably the highlight. Particularly dressed up as a cowboy in the end.

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Flatliners [2017]

“What happens to us after we die? The only way to find out is to see for ourselves.”


Thanks to all the WATCHERS who joined me for the January watch party of this little gem. We had such a lot of fun and banter-galore!

So this film is both a remake and sequel to the 1990 film of the same name, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and stars Elliot Page, Diego Luna (of Y tu mamá también) and some other peeps!

First things first. If you’re coming into watching this thinking ‘wow Elliot Page? It’ll be a gem’, I gotta pre-warn you that this is not gonna be one of those films… I’m not one to usually suggest people don’t watch films. I think you’re an adult and can make up your own mind, but this one was pretty basic.

Medical student, Courtney (Page), is looking to crack the code behind what happens to your mind when you die and decides to rope in a couple fellow students. Page is hooked up to a neuroimaging machine, tells the two colleagues to stop Page’s heart and then resuscitate in 60 seconds. They begrudgingly do so after Page explains a waiver has been prepared and that they need not worry about repercussions. Page’s pals do the deed and Page survives. Then #hardpartayyyyy. Thus starting a cycle of subsequent students in the friend group trying the same, tensions around will they/won’t they save them from dying in time and then the group go into party mode. There’s a plot in there where all of the students who tried the experiment end up seeing what appears to be malevolent ghost but they don’t really address this until pretty much the end of the film but don’t worry they all learn something in the end…

Sooooo…. This film wasn’t what I was expecting. I love Page and he normally has a good track record for starring in at the minimum ‘average’ and at best ‘excellent’ films… I was really hoping that this ‘remake’ would extrapolate from the original – an already average film… maybe make it even better? But from all accounts that’s not the case. The scriptwriting was weak. I mean, I had a lot of fun watching it with all the fun WATCHERS and I don’t regret watching it, but had I watched it alone I think I would have thought it was a waste of time!

Erm so pretty big spoilers ahead: I really hoped, like a lot of the WATCHERS, that more of the sciency bits would have been expanded on. It felt like they threw in some well-known parts of the brain and said they flared up on the monitor, but didn’t really expand on that in any way when there was certainly opportunity. The budget for the film showed that they had money for a great deal of technology, the visuals and the soundscape (more on that later) were decent. Where it fell short was the reductive script… It seemed like jump scares for the sake of jump scares tied together with a few scientific terms and everything else was a footnote or an afterthought.

The experiences the characters had after death were so inconsistent that it didn’t seem believable. Some became haunted by people who had died (one at fault, the other not), others by living people who were apparently still on their mind and the take away is YOU GOTTA FORGIVE DUDEEEEE JUST FORGIVEEEEEEE. None of them had any redeemable characteristics. They all seemed like thoroughly terrible people from start to end. The main and supporting characters seemed two dimensional. There were two Black women/POC/BIPOC in the film which I was excited about and the script seemed to focus on at least one of them a little (Sophia), showing her to have a little dimension as a studious and anxious person… And THEN, following from her out-of-body experience, they have her fuck the shit out of one of her co-characters. Who doesn’t like a sexy scene? However, the choice they made for the only POC/BIPOC character to play that role, and the focal, uncomfortable and aggressive way it is done further builds on this hypersexualised stereotype in film that comes up time and time again that Black women are somewhat sexually deviant. This is further contrasted when we see a second sexually romantic relationship between two white people in the film but their sexual endeavour is portrayed in a gentle way. It creates this idea that Sophia is animalistic, fetishising something that is actually healthy. And then there is her mother figure, the only other POC character in the film who is desexualised and to me came off a bit like a mammy stereotype. They’re too pretty pervasive stereotypes in film so…

The only saving grace of the film is that the soundscape composed by Nathan Barr is pretty stellar.

So in conclusion, great soundtrack, very little storyline and pretty poor characters though fairly acted well despite what they were given! Jump scares actually made me jump even though I knew they were coming. That said, it felt like the film did neither the horror, nor the science fiction that well so… I personally wouldn’t recommend watching this. If you’re gonna watch any Flatliner, make it the original but listen to the 2017 film soundtrack so you get the best of both worlds! Also I still love you Elliot Page.

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Skyman [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“I looked up and there it was, just hovering, a giant black triangle…”


Only one more day left of SciFi London 2020, I’m so sad! I decided to only watch one feature film today after four straight days of science fiction, so I hope you enjoy this review of the second science fiction film of the day, Skyman.

Skyman, directed by Daniel Myrick (who was co-Director of the cult classic supernatural horror, The Blair Witch Project) is a documentary style film following Carl Merryweather who is famous in his town for having made contact with an alien. This alien supposedly spoke to him telepathically when he was 10 years old. The film starts 30 years later and interviews Carl, his family and people in the town to hear the story and see if there is any truth to it. Carl talks about his experience and describes the meeting, that he heard a low hum which he has heard multiple times since the interaction and that the alien had told him not to be afraid, that it was looking for someone like him. The film later follows him as he goes about his life, visiting family, at a UFO convention and while he is creating tech with a friend to help capture what he describes will be a return of the alien. He is convinced this will happen on his 40th birthday.

The fictional docu-makers don’t offer up their own critical perspective of Carl, but rather leave it totally open for viewers to make up their own minds. The style of this movie is quite DIY looking and at times appears quite rough like it’s made with a camcorder, but this add to the charm of the film. The ending of the film appears conclusive as to if Carl was right or not – but I won’t spoil the ending for you…

There’s not much to say about this movie. I really enjoyed it. It’s not a complicated film, with a complicated plot, but it was just done superbly. I didn’t stay for the Q&A this time unfortunately, so I missed what the director said of the film, but I loved that Carl wasn’t painted to be the ‘town idiot’ like many abduction type films out there. He seemed quite competent, and his resolute belief wasn’t creepy. It was endearing and almost childlike. I found myself wanting to believe too, for Carl’s sake.. I think that perhaps he had been stuck in the past his whole life, stuck in that moment when he was 10 years old, so his childlike, excited nature really came through in this film. Like even the fact he calls the alien a Skyman is something that a ten year old would do. An adult would call it an alien, but children say it like they see it. He came from the sky, he was a man (as far as young Carl knows) so he is SKYMAN.

So yeah, excellent film. Really glad to have seem it. Very endearing, well done film. Definitely, definitely go check it out.

For more info about the film, go here.

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Alone [2020]

“You don’t realise how quiet space can be until you’re drifting in it…”


Firstly, if you haven’t heard about it and you LOVE science fiction like I do, then please subscribe to this amazing short film channel called DUST on YouTube that I just learned about through Google recommendations… Thank you Google for tracking my every whispered desire! DUST features films which explore humanity through the lens of science and technology with series, short films and podcasts! For more, check out the DUST YouTube channel here or you can watch their films on their instagram here. Obviously DUST has been going for a really long time and I cannot believe this is the first I’m hearing about them.. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME.

So, I stumbled onto this film not knowing anything about it other than like a tardis it came in a small package but was MUCH, MUCH LARGER INSIDE!

Alone, directed by William Hellmuth who may possibly have the most rad surname for a director to date, follows Kaya Torres a spaceship engineer. As the viewer, you’re thrown straight into the reality that Kaya has escaped near death in an escape pod circling what appears to be a black hole as she explains that her crew has perished and she is the sole survivor. I really liked being thrown straight into the deep end with this story. It felt like it took me straight to the crux of the problem. Feature length space films usually involve a big lead up. The lack of this, plus the lack of massive booming soundtracks actually meant I felt oddly calm watching it. There’s no build up of tension and though I know Kaya’s situation is dire and I wasn’t sure how she would get out of this substantial pickle, it was almost serene. That in itself was tense. The line which she utters above is like the icing on the cake and was excellently done.

Kaya manages to connect with a stranger who is stranded on a nearby planet and together they give each other comfort, acting as cheerleaders to one another and exploring each others fears and past lives. Kaya struggles through one failure after another as she circles through her options before the crescendo ending (which I won’t give away).

All in all, excellent short. Beautifully shot and acted. Really great, moody colour scheme and close shots which give an impression of how small/cramped the pod is. The film packs a punch and doesn’t waste any energy on faff. The science is sound and I’m super glad that the director/writers didn’t try to explain the concepts of travelling through certain things that shall not be mentioned with THAT tired paper explanation (you know which one I’m talking about). I hope one day this is picked up by Hollywood and that the story is expanded because it would be an excellent feature film.

You can watch ‘Alone’ here (Enjoy!):

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