Stowaway [2021]

“What are we gonna do, ask him to walk out of the airlock?”


Oh man, I meant to do a post about this one film a long time ago when I watched it back in June 2021.. Stowaway is a science fiction thriller which came out in 2021. You can see it on Netflix now, if you want to. I really meant to do a post about it straight away when I saw it because it had a big impact on me, but life took over, and I kept saying I would write something but never did. So, anyway, I’m doing that now; here I am writing a post about this! 

So, just to give a little synopsis about the film, here goes!

The film stars some pretty big names in Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson. It’s directed by Joe Penna and written by both Joe and Ryan Morrison. 

The story is about a crew of three people who are on a two-year mission to Mars, headed/piloted by Toni Collette’s character, a biologist in Daniel Dae Kim and Anna’s character as the medical researcher, Zoe. They take off from Earth and quickly find themselves in trouble when Michael, a stowaway, is found unconscious in a module somewhere in the ship sort of entangled in something that takes carbon dioxide from the air. As he falls from this module, he ends up destroying it which basically renders the ship unable to scrub carbon dioxide from it, so the longer that this extra person exists on the ship, the higher likelihood there is that they will suffocate. They move quickly to trying to think of various ways in order to scrub the CO2 from the air such as using lithium hydroxide canisters but the load is too much for them to handle. David then sacrifices part of his algae experiment which is literally the whole reason for the mission. Half of the algae die in the process and only provides enough CO2 scrubbing for a third person. Mission control suggests they try a dangerous mission to recover liquid oxygen from the spent upper stage rocket, which is not the ideal situation because it is so darn risky. So they spend time considering their options including whether to sacrifice Michael. Eventually they run out of time… all the algae has died which means they don’t have an option here. Presented with this, both Zoe and Daniel volunteer to try to retrieve the liquid oxygen. The mission is a total failure – predictably – and they barely make it back alive. Zoe ends up sacrificing herself, goes back to retrieve the canister, exposing herself to a lethal amount of radiation and the last scene is her looking at the stars and succumbing to death.

So, what did I think this film? 

I think it’s an interesting take on a conundrum, which I’m sure we’ve all seen, where there’s a wild trolley hurtling towards a split track and you are given a scenario of either killing one person who you don’t know or many who you do. What do you do? If Star Trek and Spock have taught me anything, it is that the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few and this is the core argument throughout much of the film.

I find it very fitting that Anna Kendrick’s character being a medical professional and therefore altruistic role ends up both pleading for a caring outcome (rather than killing Michael) and ends up herself volunteering to what is ultimately her own demise. I guess all the characters in this live up to the roles that they play and in the ways in which they ultimately approach this challenge. Toni’s character leads them to this difficult solution… Daniel’s character being the scientist tries to come to a scientific solution.. Anna’s character, as mentioned, takes on the caregiver role. And Shamier’s character Michael is the innocent in this situation; being the least experienced of the team. I found it interesting as well that one of the reasons for Anna’s character to sacrifice herself is that she did not have a family and I think that plays into an archaic gender role. Toni and Daniel’s characters can’t sacrifice themselves because they are core to the mission. One of the suggestions is that as Anna’s character does not have a family, that this makes her the preferred candidate. Does that devalue her as a person? It seems like that is implied. I guess it would be almost too easy for Michael, the person who stowed away, to sacrifice himself. It would be quite a boring ending. 

I also found it interesting that basically all of the algae had died because of this situation, so their whole reason for going to Mars at all (for, I assume, terraforming Mars) is destroyed.. It makes me wonder what happened afterwards when they got to Mars. I mean, it’s sort of implied that they would have gotten to Mars in the end because the end of the film is Anna Kendrick looking out at the stars and you can faintly see Mars in the distance. It feels hopeful despite this great tragedy. But then when they get there, what are they even gonna do? Are they just gonna turn around and go back? I always find this question of terraforming other planets quite ridiculous anyway… It’s an age old theme but I find it so silly because we have a perfectly habitable planet that we live on right now but we just treat it like shit. If we just looked after the planet that we lived on, perhaps we wouldn’t need to have conversations about terraforming anything because the planet that we live on literally has everything that we need in abundance. 

I really like that they never truly address why Michael has stowed in the ship because it almost seems irrelevant. It’s a mystery but knowing ‘why’ would not actually help them in their situation. I mean, I assume Michael was desperate to be part of this mission and that’s why this happened but equally he could have been fixing something and got stuck there in the module. Often in films where there is a stowaway, usually they’re young, maybe they’re trying to run away from something, or it’s something or someone evil putting the crew in danger intentionally. And so I think this was a really nice twist because this character Michael was actually very innocent. You can tell he is very troubled by his presence causing such a consequence, and that he did not wish to hurt anyone.

So all in all, simple concept and interesting moral conundrum. Well acted. At times stunning CGI. But quite a predictable film I would say. Still worth the watch.

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12 months of Kai [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Begin setup…”


Sci Fi London 2021 is over! Just catching up now on posting about the last two feature films I saw. I had such a great time and I thank all of the writers, directors, actors, as well as Louis, Marta and the Sci Fi London crew for putting on such a great festival. The standard of films was so great and it was lovely to be able to see everyone in person.

Sci Fi London will return next year to its usual time of year (late spring/early summer). Look out there for more.

Directed by Matsumi Kameyama, 12 months of Kai is the story of the relationship between a human and an android. Kyoka, played by Ayaka Kawaguchi, lives in Tokyo and meets with her friends for coffee. It’s clear from the start that there is pressure on them all to be with someone, as they talk about potential boyfriends and husbands, even stopping to make eyes at the coffee shop dude which was a pretty humorous moment. Kyoka lives alone and it seems like her work is pretty much her life, so it’s not all that surprising when she decides to purchase/rent a ‘Personal Care Humanoid’ to take care of her needs. The humanoid, played by Kosei Kudo, arrives and is every bit as flawless and gorgeous as you can imagine. Kyoka begins setup and names the humanoid Kai. Meanwhile, she continues to date and her owning a PCH is met with horror from both her prospective partners and her friends who think Kyoka is wasting her time being with someone who cannot father her a child. Kyoka seems to genuinely care for Kai and Kai struggles with concepts of the future but otherwise seems pretty content. There are some uncomfortable moments when Kyoka’s mother comes to see her and later tells her she has cancer – which we find out later is a lie. Soon, we discover that Kai is pregnant …DUN DUN DUHHHHHHH and she informs her friends and family who are shocked and dismayed and encourage her to have an abortion. She decides to keep the baby and informs the corporation who created Kai which reveals to us that this has all been an experimental plot and that Kai is working exactly the way he was programmed to behave. Kyoka has the baby, which ends up looking Borg-esque. Kyoka is obviously super depressed and disgusted by herself and this baby, and tries to destroy it but is stopped by Kai. The corporation then moves in and drugs her and takes the baby from her. She awakes in this moodily lit room watched by a humanoid who asks her to set it up, to which she says “Begin setup” and the whole process starts all over again.

Oooooh, thinking about that ending gives me chills.

Enjoyed this one. Despite the low budget, the lighting in some scenes made the film glorious.

I could really feel the pressures on Kai in this one. It was like everyone from all angles was up in her bizness, telling her to find a REAL MAN but Kyoka seemed quite content with Kai. Her needs were pretty basic. She wasn’t looking for a kid. She was pretty content talking to Kai and could dismiss questions she didn’t want to talk about… which is pretty easy living if you think about it. How many relationships have you been in where there was something you didn’t want to talk about for whatever reason and your partner just let it go? It doesn’t really happen, at least not in my experience so I guess that’s why the relationship seemed so peaceful… haha.. but obviously nothing lasts forever. Kyoka found herself in unchartered territories where she didn’t know what to do. Her friends were split between being astonished and telling her to get rid of this baby. Her mother was complete trash. She lied about having cancer, or at least Kai said that she had. You could potentially read into that and suspect Kai is trying to pull Kyoka away from her support mechanisms and the loves in her life as it is Kai who tells her that her mother lied to her, but I couldn’t be sure. Whatever Kai’s intention, he lets it go and you never hear about it again. It probably contributes to Kyoka feeling like she really had no one to turn to by the end of the film, which contributes to her resigning herself to starting the whole process again. It really had me asking WHAT IS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND KYOKA?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF AGAINNNNN?!?!?!

One cool thing I noticed about the film, was that Kai’s scenes were filmed with the actor keeping his eyelids open the whole time… which I would not have even clocked had I not heard this cool factoid about the film ‘Scott Pilgrim v the world’ the same weekend, in that the actors in their scenes were instructed to not blink while on camera, and that was to mirror the comic in which obviously none of the characters blink on the panels. The effect that had on the Scott Pilgrim film, and on this particular film is that there is a strange intensity about the character. It’s almost like that sensation the ‘uncanny valley’ where you see a human-like animation and it’s so close to real life but your brain is looking at the resemblance and trying to tear it apart.

Anyway, there’s not really much to say about this film so I’ll leave it there, but it was a strange but enjoyable concept. Well acted. The baby was particularly gruesome which shocked a lot of the people watching including myself, which I enjoyed! Really appreciate that the director came all the way from Japan to talk about the film as well and answer my question about the blinking(!) and it seemed like the writing of the concept was a very collaborative process which I love to hear.

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Wargames [1983]

“Is this real or is it a game?”


WarGames is a 1983 film, written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. It follows the protagonist David, played by a very young Matthew Broderick (pre-Ferris Bueller). David is intelligent but rebellious and has very little interest in school. He ends up hacking a game system with his phone which sets off a chain of events with a super computer that appears to be starting geothermonuclear war. Believing him to be a soviet spy (classic American hijinks), the feds look him up but he manages to get away and reaches the original creator of the super computer to try to have him convince the powers that be that it is all just a game and that they shouldn’t retaliate…

So, I have seen this before when I was a young kid who didn’t quite understand what the film was about, but I remember feeling really in awe of David because he had all the markers of someone who was really cool. And I guess when you’re a kid you feel pretty darn uncool 100% of the time so any mention of cool will turn your head. In the context of this film, cool looks like an early to mid teen, academic underachiever but actually really bright dude who sneaks into tech he shouldn’t do so he can play games. Which in hindsight, is exactly who I became after I saw this film. I don’t know if I was influenced by the film but looking back I must have been. I mean, not insomuch as intentionally underachieving in school… I attribute that to undiagnosed ADHD, but more the sneaky, sneaky computer behaviour. When I was a kid, my dad – an IT teacher – forbid computer games in the house. He thought they were a waste of time. So I would sneak and install games on his computer, play them for a while and then uninstall and wipe all traces of the game from existence. Which was all fine, until one day it corrupted the hard disk and my plan was discovered…

Anyways, I digress… There was something about David’s character in this film that was effortlessly cool and it’s all down to the actor, right? Because he had that same glib and charm when he did the film Ferris Bueller. You were rooting for him to get away with it, with that darned smile, and those sparkling eyes and his boyish butter-wouldn’t-melt. It feels a bit like WarGames was the prequel to Ferris Bueller. I like to think that, anyways. That he’s still out there, messing shit up and not learning his lesson.

I have to say though, watching it with older eyes this time round, it was pretty hard to suspend my disbelief. I remember saying out loud when they guessed the scientist’s password “well that’s a really shit password, of course they cracked it”. And when David managed to get away from the feds so easily I was like “is that honestly the first person they ever arrested or something?” The incompetence! Also the romantic element was a bit redundant but that’s old films for you.

There were a lot of moments like that but none of that takes away from the joy and exhilaration watching this, of the anticipation for David to convince the adults. And I guess in a way when I was a kid, I left the film feeling like – as a kid – I could do anything. If you could convince an an adult fed or scientist/engineer that what you had to say had merit, even if you needed to get help from someone to vouch for you, then maybe you could do just about anything. If only the adults would listen.

Anyways, overall very fun film. Obviously a cult classic. Loved the ye olde 80s bit computer graphics, particularly when the super computer was flashing map after map. That’s total edge-of-your-seat watching right there. Love that the computer in the end is really poetic. Would watch again (probably many times over).

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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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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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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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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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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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Flight of the Navigator [1986]

“I’m sorry, but I don’t belong here now. I love you.”


Thanks to Sam for hosting a great watchparty on Plex and letting me see this long-forgotten gem.

This film follows 12 year old David, played by Joey Cramer. David wakes up after falling in a ravine in the woods and finds out that he has been gone for 8 years and has no memory of what happened! At the same time a mysterious space ship arrives, and NASA are fumbling to find answers.

There’s really not much to say about this. On second watching, this film was a really fun watch.

It has dated quite a bit and there are some scenes which, if the film was made now would be totally inappropriate e.g. Carolyn the adult intern flirting with David, but I didn’t think any of it took away from the film.

The CGI (for its time) and look of the inner ship was so so so good. The ship looked a bit like a clam shell but was pretty believable. The soundtrack was excellent and catchy in an electro-80s sort of way. There wasn’t really much to the story; it wasn’t complicated at all but the simplicity made it fun to watch. It felt like such a fun adventure, and at times was really moving and heartfelt. I loved the relationship between David and his brother who were incredibly sweet. I remember when I watched it as a child, it felt like a naughty adventure to be on, defying the adults and NASA’s orders in the way David did. To be honest, NASA seemed totally incompetent like they had no idea what was going on throughout, even less than David did, which was pretty amusing and David’s instincts felt spot on. The film really has it all… time travel, aliens, space, mind transfer, technology, robotics… what more could you ask for? Oh and lastly the little puppet alien monsters in it look like they came straight out of a Jim Henson playbook so were gnarly but also super cute!

This is a must-watch film and I LOVE IT. It’s dated but utterly charming. I would recommend it a million times over. Don’t expect too much of it, but it’s just really fun and a completely underrated film.

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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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Replicas [2018]

“What if something horrible goes wrong?”

“Something already has…”


There aren’t many actors where I would watch anything they do regardless of what the negative reviews say of one of their films… but Keanu Reeves is one of them for me. The ratings on this film were startlingly bad but I decided to push through, because Keanu…

This is an age old story. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Start a family. Boy creates technology that can transfer memories onto an android…. You know, classic… Well it is classic in science fiction! It’s that question that sci-fi often asks: Could humans live forever? If brain activity is just electricity firing in our brains, can we transfer that? Store it on a data chip? Synthesise neurotransmitters and the like? Or would we lose something in the process? Our soul perhaps? What even is a soul? This film’s existence poses those questions, but not in a very thorough way.

Really it’s a stereotypical ‘crazy scientist’ gets in over his own head bit. Keanu’s human experiments have all failed, but when tragedy befalls him he decides to try one more time, because he’s GOT A GOOD FEELING ABOUT THIS ONE. Unsurprisingly, the subjects who are the guinea pigs in this attempt are not consenting and have verbally opposed his tinkering prior, so what he ends up doing is extremely unethical, and then it becomes a fight to survive…

There’s a lot in this film that doesn’t make sense. SPOILERS! Firstly, his life’s work is based around human to android transfer, but following the tragedy he decides to grow human clones in tanks of fluid and transfer their memories that way. Why would they have bothered using cadavers and building complex androids in all experiments prior rather than just growing humans in the first place if that were possible the whole time? Wait a second? Whatttt?

There’s one part where someone who disappeared early in the film, and is mourned for having done so, turns up and you’re like HOW IS THIS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE. It’s not. Keanu made sure of that. So why the 180 degree shift? There are loads of these WHO WHAT HOW questions, with plot holes that make no sense.

There was a nice little easter egg in the form of a sneaky Kurios picture in the background of one of the scenes. Kurios was a scientist (called The Seeker) who believed there was an “invisible world in his larger-than-life cabinet full of crazy ideas and grand dreams”. Sounds a lot like Keanu’s character in this film, eh.

All in all, I think that this was an experiment better left alone. Decent CGI but the massive plot holes and a confused storyline really left this film in the mud. Even Keanu couldn’t pull this film into life. Would not recommend..

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