I am Ren [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“They want you to think you did it…”


Directed by Piotr Ryczko, this film follows Ren (Renata), mother to Kam and wife to Jan. As a family, they seem like the image of contentedness and perfection until one day Jan comes home to a house in complete disarray and Kam and Ren in a state of despair and shock. Ren is bruised all over her body as is Kam, and she has intrusive memories of two men she doesn’t know observing her. Whilst recovering, she overhears her husband talking to two men that she has malfunctioned and that she should be packed up and thrown away. Ren is taken to a psychiatrist who asks her what has happened and she tells him that she is REN, an android and that it is an error. Her memory is fractured and she is unable to remember what went on that day. A woman called Ela tells her “humans might have some memory loss, but not you” and asks her if she can run a diagnostic and access her memories with a special key to find out what has happened, further insinuating that Ren’s husband cannot be trusted. Ren goes to her son Kam to find answers saying she believes she has been with him for only three years, but he shows her pictures which contradicts this belief.

Later, Ela accesses her memories and Ren sees the father Jan beating the child and talks Kam into running away with her. To prevent capture, she jumps into a frozen lake but is caught and has to remain for further psychiatric care. Whilst in care, she sees an advert for REN androids that ends up being about a toy and her belief structure begins to fall apart. The film ends on her seeing her family but there is someone with them. DUN DUN DAHHHHHH!!!

Wow what can I say. I thought this was a well made film, and what a great film to close the festival with. I know I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come, because the ending was really ambiguous. I’m not sure which parts of what I saw was actually real. You could view it as a film about mental health and the ending is about a broken women seeing what her mind is projecting or she really was a REN android, and the unit she was taken to was for broken androids or they’d be turned into parts eventually. I like that ambiguity of the whole film. Particularly because the person REN befriends (Ela) feeds into her and my own (as the viewer) paranoia.

I don’t remember much of a soundtrack so I think it was pretty low key, and the visuals were kept pretty normal with quite monochrome and dull colours in the cinematography and costuming. So it’s really all about the story. The lake scene where you see her in the water after she has jumped in looks pretty rad. It’s quite an iconic looking scene. They hold her there for a while to savour the moment of her sinking.

So all in all, top film. Really enjoyed it. Nice concept and twists. I don’t know what to believe happened, even now. Nothing super flashy about the cinematography, but it was a well written story I thought. Go watch it.

Thanks SciFi London 2020 for putting these feature and short films up. I’ve got a few more short film reviews to share, but I’ve had such a ball watching all of these stories. The bar has been very high this year and I cannot wait for 2021. I liked having a virtual viewing just because I’m quite a home-body and I like writing/typing my thoughts as I go, which you can’t do in a real cinema, so I hope you have a virtual offering for future fests (thank you plz plz plz)! See you next year!

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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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Minor Premise [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“I’m talking about a machine calibrated to the individual… perhaps changing yourself, for the better…”


This film, directed by Eric Schutz, follows neuroscientist Ethan Kochar (played by Sathya Sridharan) who is attempting to complete his late father’s legacy, advancing his R10 technology which can map legible memories. When we are first introduced to Ethan, his experiments are hazy at best and it appears he is somewhat of a chaotic recluse, holed up in his house obsessed with his experiments. It is clear that the experiments are having a massive toll on his body as he experiences multiple blackouts and internal bleeding. He is determined that something is missing and he will find the answer.

Ethan starts to spiral as the experiments unfold. One day he receives a previously unseen notebook (which appears to have belonged to his father) and finds an equation which could be the missing link. He hopes that the technology will be able to booster cognitive functions. However, the equation causes his blackouts to become more frequent, and soon he realises that his consciousness has been fractured into separate emotions, each capable of controlling six minutes at a time. With the help of his (ex?) girlfriend and colleague Alli, he struggles to make sense of the situation as it becomes more and more dangerous and time is running out!

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a new concept that I’ve not seen explored except for in the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’, but it would be like if ‘Inside Out’ had a seedy underbelly(!) Like if Happy decided, unlike its actual end where Happy realises you need all emotions to be a healthy person, that instead it was going to try to MURDERRR all the other emotions… Pretty dark. Ethan becomes more and more erratic as the film goes on and I thought he acted these conflicting emotions really well. There’s one bit in the movie where Ethan is laughing and it’s repeated later. Someone mentioned that there was a spooky shadow to look out for in that scene, but for me repeating this scene made me question where in the timeline we as viewers were experiencing the story. I wondered if the beginning was actually the end at one point. Very cleverly done. It’s disorientating when you take a memorable scene like that and intersperse it in multiple points of a movie because you then have nothing to pinpoint where you are, like you have a broken compass.

The fact that most of the film was shot in Ethan’s house really adds to this darkness, both actually and metaphorically. It added to this idea of Ethan being this cooped up recluse.

I loved seeing Sathya in this role. It’s uncommon to have a South Asian person playing a lead in a film, so this was refreshing to see. Sci-Fi definitely needs more diversity so I commend films that celebrate diversity and show real loving family dynamics of People Of Colour and not some shitty caricature. At the Q&A I asked if this was an intentional move, and Eric mentioned that he was just the right guy for the role; that they found him in the casting stage and he perfectly embodied the intellectual and brooding that the character needed, so the script was adapted accordingly.

I enjoyed the soundscape of the film as well. The film seemed to use a lot of nature sounds. Obviously there was whoosing sounds of (what appeared to be) blood in the margins of emotional changes Ethan was experiencing, but there were also prominent sounds of rain and water. It was done in a way that felt as if it was a call-back to an earlier memory. You know how memories are sometimes dreamlike and you’ll remember things in a vague sort of way… The sound of a babbling brook, the rain on a window… and often you only remember a snippet of it. That’s how I interpreted those different sounds. I don’t know if that was intentional, but that’s how I experienced it.

I do have a couple criticisms. I felt like the inclusion of Ethan’s line manager (I forget his name) might have been a bit unnecessary. I get that he was being used as a device to show just how lost Ethan had become, but it’s as if there were zero consequences to Ethan’s actions towards this guy. We see him later and he’s hobbling a bit but it seems like there should have been more dire consequences, particularly to Ethan for having done what he did to him. I dunno, I guess a lot of ‘mad scientist’ science fiction films take a path where the scientist is hauled off to prison and I definitely did not want that for this film, but it was a bit strange to me that there were zero academic consequences. He does hand off the project, but that’s his choice. It’s not imposed on him. Secondly, at one point I thought maybe the periods of emotions could have been defined in a clearer way with text, e.g. SECTION 1, SECTION 2, but I realised that probably wouldn’t work considering how the story later unfolds. It would take away from the confusion about which emotion was coming next. It’s great, though, that Ethan/the director used time as a function to pinpoint the changes because it meant there were anchors that you could get a hold of as the viewer.

So all in all, great concept. Well acted. The science was legit; it was interesting to consider what version of self we are from one emotion to the next. It’s a nice identity thought-exercise. The hazy nature of the film was enjoyable and it represented the nature of memories well. The ending was super chilling and made me question everything. It’s an enjoyable watch! Check it out! I hear there is going to be a sequel called Major Premise (rad title, by the way) so look out for that. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes in future.

FYI Minor Premise is available to watch on Amazon Prime (for USA residents).

Or watch it here. You will need to purchase a film or festival pass.

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Sci-Fi London 2020

SOPHFIFEST’s December 2020 WATCHERS club has been pushed back one week, but for a very good reason!


SCI-FI-LONDON 2020 is happening 8-13 December and due to COVID it’s going to be virtual this year. Cannot wait. Also, tickets are super cheap at £20.20 for the whole festival, or £5 per film if you only want to watch the odd film.

I’m particularly excited about the feature films (synopses below):

  • Live (08/12) – a dystopian story where humans aren’t allowed to be in contact with one another, which given our current COVID/lockdown situation seems very on the nose.
  • Mirror Human (09/12) – this film follows the lives of three characters and explores androids. The synopsis is quite elusive so I guess I will watch and find out!
  • Cosmic Candy (09/12) – a film about a hallucinogenic candy which looks really vibrant and trippy and full of action.
  • Minor Premise (10/12) – this film is about scientific experimentation gone wrong. Ethan finds himself fragmented into different timelines after trying to finish his father’s invention and has to rely on partner/colleague Dr Alli Fisher to find the answers. I’m excited to see how this thriller unfolds.
  • A report on the party and the guests (11/12) – this is a film about a creature on a secret mission but is also about a pandemic and humanity destroying itself.
  • I am human (11/12) – this film is about cyborgs living as part of humanity and explores the human brain and what makes us human.
  • The American Astronaut (11/12) – on my current watchlist. This is one of the top 100 science fiction films of all time, so I’m excited to finally see this.
  • Truth or Consequences (12/12) – the film is set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (yes, this is a real place!!) and explores the concept of humans colonising new planets but what if you were left behind. I’m really interested in this idea, the further we advance into space exploration and I’m looking forward to this offering.
  • Skyman (12/12) – this film follows Carl who believes he will be the victim of repeat alien abduction. Is he right? Let’s find out! It’s also co-directed by Daniel Myrick of The Blair Witch Project! Woah!
  • I am Ren (13/13) – this film is a thriller about Artificial Intelligence and follows Renata trying to find answers to a mysterious event.

There are also 30+ short films this year to explore. Check them out here.

I’m really excited to see so much diversity in this year’s offering. This is the direction that science fiction film needs to be moving into. More women, more BIPOC/POC, more LGBTQ, more disabled, more neuro-diverse creators and actors. Representation FTW!

Get your pass soon: https://sci-fi-london.com/ SOPHFIFEST will be chatting about films seen on this site and normal social networks so check those out coming soon 🙂 ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK!

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Interstellar [2014]

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”


This film (written and directed by Christopher Nolan) follows engineer and pilot, Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey who I thought was an excellent choice… the lofty way he moves and talks makes it seem like he has no gravity in his body so was totally believable as a spaceman) in a time not too far in the future. Humans have ravaged the earth and along with food shortages, all their fun times are being broken up by damn dust storms. DAMN YOU DUST STORMS! These shortages have necessitated people to concentrate on survival which seems to impact all areas in life, including what pathway kids take in school. NASA has all been shut down but are operating in secret to think of ways to save humanity. Inexplicably, Cooper’s path crosses with NASA and they send him on a journey to save everyone.

The rest, as they say, is history. OR IS IT?

Okay, so I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was really engaging, the CGI and acting was excellent. It was beautiful and had me on the edge of my seat, and I’m guaranteed to enjoy ANY film that has a robot in it… Apart from Prometheus which I thought was a bag of dicks…

Anywho… the problem I had with it is that I had trouble suspending my disbelief throughout because of certain parts of the storyline. SPOILERSSSS!

***

Why would NASA be shut down as being too frivolous and expensive if their aim was to save humanity? Why would educators change the history books and teach children that space exploration was faked and didn’t happen? Wouldn’t they want, if anything, to get the best scientific minds on the planet working out how to save everyone which if anything would mean putting MORE resources into science? It seemed like the problem fell solely on Michael Caine’s character’s shoulders…

The blight has destroyed all but corn, apparently, but they still have beer. Is it corn beer? Is everything they’re eating just corn? Is the only reason it is surviving because it’s Monsanto GMO corn?

Anne Hathaway’s character tells her crew that LOVE IS THE ANSWER when asked to make a major decision which impacts literally humanity’s survival. Like, dude, you’re a scientist. But screw all your stats and figures and equations, amirightladiessss. She did end up being correct though, and this spirituality of love saving the world really echoed the film Contact, which also suggested that love was the one thing through the darkness and expanse of the universe that connected us all. This felt like an epic eye-roll moment, but maybe I’m just a cynic…

We know that time is of the essence in this film. Like Michael Caine’s character says: “I’m not afraid of death, I’m an old physicist. I’m afraid of time.” It feels like Nolan is also afraid of time, and indeed the film really wastes no time; not even to flesh out some of the major characters that appear later in the film after Cooper goes to interstellar space…

I have many more questions than answers with this film but when all is said and done, I thought it was really enjoyable.

The soundscape of the film did an excellent job of making it pretty tense and accentuating key moments, to the point where it felt like a real kick in the chest.

The science of the film was sound, i.e. how wormholes sort of work (nice paper explanation of how they work, which I remember seeing explained the same way in Event Horizon), the idea of time swelling or changing relative to black hole proximity and the multi-dimensional theory was also sound. Albert Einstein once said “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Interstellar did an excellent, creative job of showing what that might look like and how time could be manipulated. That if humans were able to perceive more than the three dimensions we currently can, that we might perceive the past, present and future all at once! Though I sincerely don’t believe he would have survived travelling through a singularity…

The presence of scifi/horror elements in the film personally made me feel uneasy and my impending doom-ometer was going wild. I really don’t know if it was intentional, but the aforementioned Event Horizon bit… the presence of cornfields… a robot in space who I suspected any minute would turn on the crew whilst they were in stasis… all of these elements added up to create a pretty tense film.

But what I loved the most was that Interstellar prompted really deep questions in my mind about the universe and reality and time.

***

So in conclusion, I think it’s an insanely epic undertaking of a film. Some say that Nolan shot for the stars and missed with this film and that it was overly ambitious. Despite its flaws, I think it was wondiferous and imperfect all at once and I would definitely recommend this thought-provoking film.

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