Space Sweepers [2021]

“Who cares if a million lives are lost?”


Oh man, this film is incredible. Where do I even begin? So Space Sweepers is a South Korean space western film. It was released in 2021 and directed by Jo Sung-Hee. Apparently it’s regarded as the first Korean space blockbuster, which is amazing, and it’s available to watch on Netflix if you haven’t seen it. Obviously the next bit of this post is very spoilery (as per usual) so you know… continue at your own peril.

So the premise of the film is that it’s the year 2092 and the earth has become pretty much uninhabitable evidenced by people having to wear breathing apparatus when they’re moving around earth. UTS Corporation, run by their CEO/overlord James Sullivan, has built a new home for humanity which orbits earth and sort of mimics the ecosystem but as with most utopic cities, it is only available to the few elite people allowed to ascend. Meanwhile, the rest of Earth are left to suffocate and struggle. The film follows the shenanigans of a group of society known as Space Sweepers… which are kind of like road sweepers but in space. They’re tasked with collecting the space debris that floats in the earth’s orbit and they can then sell it to the company factory so big items are a big deal. The main characters work on the ship ‘The Victory. There’s Kim Tae-ho, Tiger Park, an android and Captain Jang. The backstories of each of these characters is really rich and very different. Tae-ho was a soldier who finds a baby and adopts it (a girl called Su-ni). He turns his back on being a soldier and then is made a non-citizen leaving him and his daughter homeless. This is so reminiscent of the way that a lot of countries treat their soldiers, that once they become useless to the state, they turn their back on them; so this specific backstory emphasises this reality. Anyway, he becomes neglectful and is therefore not paying attention when Su-ni is caught up in a collision between space debris and their sector. Su-ni is violently ejected into space and the government refuse to help find her body because he is considered a non-citizen. Tiger Park used to be a drug baron but has a heart of gold. Bubs was once a soldier bot. Jang was a child genius, but discovers how UTS works and decides to attempt to assassinate Sullivan, nearly dying in the process.

The crew pick up what they think is normal space debris, only to discover a child inside who the authorities are searching for. It is claimed that she contains a weapon of mass destruction created by the terrorist group Black Fox. They find a phone in her bag which they trace to a person willing to pay them two million dollars in exchange for the child. They arrange to meet the person at a nightclub but in the chaos, they lose the child Dorothy (Korean name Kot-nim) and UTS soldiers swarm the area, massacring people at the club (blaming it on the Black Fox group). It becomes obvious that Kot-nim is not just a normal kid and that she has some sort of power to manipulate nanobots and grow plants. The crew disagree about what to do as they attempt to make another exchange attempt. They are ambushed by masked people who reveal themselves to be fellow Space Sweepers working as part of the collective Black Fox which they explain is an environmental group; not a terrorist group. The group explain that the child was born of a disease and in an attempt to save her life, her father injects her with nanobots which gives her this special ability. It is revealed that UTS have been using this child to terraform Mars. that Sullivan plans to kill Dorothy and that this will be cataclysmic for Earth. They decide to work together to save humanity and reunite Kot-nim with her father and are momentarily successful but are then met with UTS soldiers who murder everyone save for the Victory crew and Kot-nim is kidnapped. Initially Tae-ho takes Sullivan’s finders fee but then realises he’s better than that and decides they must save the girl. The crew get to the bomb that Kot-nim is strapped to and free her but realise it cannot be diffused, that the only way to save her and the planet would be to separate the child from the bomb by 5,000 kilometres. Jang calls on all Space Sweepers to help on the emergency frequency. The Sweepers come to their aid and fight the troops. Sullivan intercepts them but they still manage to get away in time, revealing that they did a switcheroo.. That they gave the child to a friend and that instead they had the bomb. There’s a moment where you hear the inner dialogue of Sullivan as he says “Why? I did everything right” before he is destroyed. Kot-nim manages to protect them in the blast using her super cool powers, and the last scenes are of The Victory in the aftermath, Kot-nim happily living amongst the crew and the crew continuing to chase space debris.

So, there’s a lot going on this film and I really don’t even know what to say about it other than I thought it was just an incredible film.

Okay, I do have a lot to say. I have so many feelings.

I don’t want to be reductive but there is something so reminiscent in this film about Star Wars, specifically the ramshackle crew of Han Solo and co, the adventure of the Millennium Falcon. There’s moments in Star Wars where Han Solo is speaking in English, and Chewy in his language and they just get each other, and they move in and out of these dark corners of the universe with exotic creatures and it’s just incredibly mundane and ordinary seeming to watch it, even though it’s obviously like nothing you have ever seen before. I get that same feel when I watched this film. They’re kind of thrown together and everyone’s very different. At times they speak different languages but the Space Sweepers are just trying to survive. They have those jobs that seem really exciting but in this world, they’re considered the lowest rung of society. There’s this moment at the end of the film where the Victory spaceship whooses off after space debris and it brought me back to the whoosh of the millennium falcon. That same feeling of adventure and excitement that was so special it actually made me cry.

The cast are incredibly diverse. The version I watched was the original South Korean audio, with English subtitles, but throughout the film you hear a variety of different languages and accents. Russian. English. Middle Eastern. Spanish. German. And they all understand each other, which I thought was really cool. And then when you see the Black Fox group, that’s also represented by different skin tones and different accents, sometimes broken English/Korean. It’s not some homogenised version of the future like the colony is promising. It’s diversity and difference, coming together for a common cause, and I find that really quite beautiful.

I enjoyed very much the fact that the peripheral characters are so well fleshed out. I find often with blockbuster films that the main characters and their stories/dialogues will be fleshed out, but then all of the peripheral characters are very two-dimensional. A good example of that is in the Alien Prometheus film, and the end result of that is you don’t care about anyone except the main people… but what this fails to realise is that if you invest in more of your character building, that enriches the whole film. Some people see it as a sunken cost and merely a waste of time… but it creates such a rich film, it makes you get behind the story, it makes you invested in the story.. There are so many cool examples of this. For instance, the leader of the Black Fox group is also an accountant(?) for the UTS Corporation. You start off thinking he is a terrible pencil-pusher but he’s basically been working undercover this whole time. Then there’s the android Bubs, who the child instantly recognises is not a boy bot but a girl, and Bubs blushes and confides in her that she has been saving money from their jobs to upgrade and change her physique to one that represents her femininity. It makes her triumph in getting rich so much more endearing. Like at one point before that backstory was fleshed out, I was like why would an android want to be rich, but then you realise it’s for a very ernest reason which approaches the concept of transness in a way that I think both illustrates the feeling of otherness and also tells a story which endearing, and doesn’t use Bubs as just another joke at trans peoples expense.

All of the main crew also have different motivations for why they agree to sacrifice themselves for the child. Captain Jang wants to thwart the corporation and specifically Sullivan. Bubs has that sweet connection with the child where Kot-nim is probably the first and only person to see her as she truly is. I guess similarly Tiger Park is not seen as an object of fear by Kot-nim, where society does view him that way (which UTS plays off of with the propaganda they share with Earth as they scapegoat The Victory). Lastly Tae-ho sees his own daughter in this child, and decides to ‘step-up-to-the-plate’ in a way that he probably feels he was unable to with his own daughter in her final moments. So yeah, they all have different motivations but they ultimately add up to the same moral alignment. And I find it funny that despite the fact that these characters quarrel and fight amongst themselves and squabble after space trash, they still look out for one another. They sacrifice themselves without thinking, knowing that it is a suicide mission and have this deep integrity whereas society would suggest because of the line of work that they are in and their class status, they have no integrity. That they are simply vagrants and losers. If it wasn’t for the story having been leaked on the emergency frequency, you can guarantee that UTS would have spun that story that the explosion out on the edge of the universe was caused by someone else. Maybe even the Sweepers themselves! And then no one would have known about Sullivan’s evil plans. Which makes me wonder if the collision that killed Su-ni was even caused by space debris in the first place. What if there was some other reason and it was blamed on the Space Sweepers not doing their job correctly?

The one question I don’t think was answered properly, and forgive me if I missed this but what the absolute fuck was going on with Sullivan and the bulging veins?! He gave me vibes of white man saviour, like in the game Bioshock Infinite… you know where the guy becomes a prophet and claims to be the answer to humanity’s problems and builds this ‘utopic’ floating city but it turns out he is an absolute dick… Yeah you know the one..

Anyways, there’s so much in this film. It was really a joy to watch. Overall, this film is so exciting and complicated and heartwarming. On the face of it, if you look no further than the surface, it’s an adventurous romp across the universe, but not that far undearth.. a mere scratch below and it highlights af myriad of the current problems that exist in our society now such as class systems, inequality, how profit is reverred above all else, the fact that we are killing our own planet, our uncertain future, the ways in which we treat our most vulnerable… all in a fun and colourful South Korean package. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I adored watching this film and would absolutely watch it a million times over.

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Sci-Fi-London.com 2022 – Shorts

sophfifest.com on the best of sci-fi-london.com’s film festival shorts for 2022


I’ve been on a little sophfifest.com hiatus so I’m doing a little catch up now. You might notice quite a few blogs released today. Enjoy!! Life took over but now I’m back! Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me and have been reading and subscribing to these blogs. This is really just a hobby for me so I appreciate your support!

So, SciFiLondon came back with a vengeance this year, returning to their normal summer-ish schedule. I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked to have seen this year so I was really grateful that they put their shorts programme online so I could watch everything at least from that programme. I also managed to watch ‘The Innocents’ which I will do a separate post for. Excellent film. Deffo recommend you check it out if you haven’t. I was really stoked to see it is already streaming, so go find it.

This year’s programme was separated into themed groups. In the past I’ve written a brief synopsis and feels post for each film but I decided this year that I would just make special mention to those shorts hich I particularly enjoyed.

Signal Dark

So, the first film that I really enjoyed was called Signal Dark. It was directed by Alex Murray and released in 2022. It’s based around a character called Lucas Anderson, whose life has turned upside down when he stumbles across a mysterious email and its reality bending contents. Lucas seems to work as an IT guy in a server room and he opens an email, sees a mysterious transmission which he plays and in almost Alice in Wonderland proportions, he ends up discovering that this weird sound transports him to another time in the future. He obviously gets very spooked by that and tries to not play it again but it seems that he gets transported regardless and finds himself on a beach, confronted by a tentacled monster (which is where the film ends).

I thought overall the visuals for the film were really spectacular. I enjoy shorts that transcend or don’t use any language, so any person from any country can participate. I think that’s what makes this film so accessible. A couple things did bother me about the film though. I think anyone who works in IT would know that you don’t open random email attachments especially when working with servers. That struck me as not being totally realistic lol. I also think more could have been left unsaid in terms of the final monster. I think part of what is so scary in film sometimes is what ISN’T shown to the viewer. In this case, the end monster comes out of the mist and it reveals its face and that was reductive for me. I kinda wish just the tentacles as I think that was spooky enough. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this short.

Apotheosis

This film was directed by Max Pearce and debuted this year, 2022. So the premise is that Selene dreams of working on the first space colony. However, she is a ‘naturally’ born human living in a world that favours the genetically engineered. This obviously means she is not super privileged; she lives in a very small apartment with her engineer mother who works in what sounds like a warehouse and has a bionic arm she made herself. On the offset, we learn that her mother has lost her job at the plant and Selene promises to pull them out of the funk they are in by making it to this space colony, which appears to be an impossibility as a ‘natural’ human. The impression given is that the genetically engineered have a significant leg up in life and it is unlikely Selene will be able to compete. There’s also early reference to a friendship Selene has with a rich guy, GM human called Fabrizio. You know the type… Rich guy, rich daddy. Selene and Fabrizio both take the theory test to work on the colony. She performs pretty well and is telling Fabrizio she did the test in 20 or so minutes and is proud of herself, and he smugly tells her he performed it in less time which I thought was really rude and is a precursor to how he will behave later on. That he can’t be happy for his friend tells you everything you need to know about the guy. In the physical element of the test, participants are required to swim a number of lengths within a certain amount of time (I think it’s like five minutes) and he finishes well before because of his modification and she ends up falling short by maybe 1 second. Everyone tells her she should be proud of the results but of course she just narrowly lost out on her dream and a lot was at stake so she can’t really be happy in that moment. She and Fabrizio hang out at his rich person house and she is obviously still upset, but then the his father Rusk comes to talk to them and tell her how impressed he is with her, offering to pull some strings at the space colony to allow her a second chance (turns out he is the magnate who owns it, so you best believe he has the power to make this call). This does not go down well with Fabrizio who completely flips out and he says he doesn’t think she should get the opportunity. Regardless, she ends up being successful in the physical, and both of them are required to do one final test (sorta like a virtual reality zero gravity test where they spin them a number of times and get them to do space scenarios). To help her out, her mother engineers a modification which attaches to Selene’s spine. In the programme, Fabrizio ends up fainting and despite a malfunctioning modification which makes it hard for Selene to move, Selene ends up saving him and the test, and you can see this leaves her feeling sort of vindicated because despite not being modified, she was the one who had to help HIM. The end scene is of Selene and her mother at the colony.

So, there’s obviously a big influence on this film by the film Gattaca, which if you haven’t seen you should watch. I liked how real the film felt in terms of the tech. Obviously it wasn’t a very high budget film but I thought that made it charming. I felt like I did want to get behind Selene and her challenges, which I think is a testament to the great writing of this story. I had a couple issues. Firstly I was really curious to know what happened to Fabrizio, did he make it through. I guess it’s one of those things where it doesn’t really matter if that loop is closed or not at the end, and it’s just as good to imagine what became of him but I was still curious. I was also wondering why there weren’t more people shown competing for a position at the end phase. I thought perhaps that spoke to just how challenging it is to get there but it turns out that the film was shot during the pandemic and restrictions made for siginificant challenges in filming! I think all in all this lended itself to the idea that the programme was extremely challenging so it probably worked out in the director’s favour! I wondered what would have happened if Selene hadn’t been given a pass to try again with the physical. If she hadn’t, Fabrizio would have flaked and she wouldn’t have been there to help him, which I guess would have meant NO ONE would have gotten to the colony!

I did question the credibility of their being friends. In an elitist dystopia like this, I wonder if two people from such different backgrounds COULD be close friends, like they appeared to be. Wouldn’t the disparities get in the way of their friendship? Or maybe I’m judging him too harshly, because Selene’s character resonates more with myself and I couldn’t see myself being friends with someone as privileged. Hmm. Anyways, as you know I like when films give me a lot to reflect on, and I liked that this film made me question my own position in society and what I would do. Overall, really enjoyed this short!

Saint Android

This animated film was directed by Lukas von Berg, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Norman’s wife is laying in hospital dying and in these final moments, he calls for guidance but it’s not exactly what he hoped for. It is suggested that Norman call for religious assistance as she will likely die momentarily. Norman accepts this and is met with a high tech android who speaks very quickly and tells him that he can recite scripture from any religion. The whole process is obviously very exasperating for Norman who tells the android he is Catholic, and in the ensuing chaos, neither of them end up noticing Norman’s wife reach out to him for support and then shortly thereafter, die.

It’s not a super complicated premise but it is incredibly well done. The animation itself is stellar. There’s something so timeless about the style of animation that the creators of this short went for. It looks very hand drawn, which I think lends to that. I think contrary to what you would imagine, a lot of modern animation ends up looking very dated. I think that the more love you put into animation, the more time that is spent meticulously drawing and inking and painting, the more timeless it is… but I am a staunch Miyazaki fan so I guess I would say that. Anyays, there’s something so humorous and tragic about this storyline… that in messing around with technology, we lose out on the human, living experience. I think this message was subtle enough that it didn’t come off as preachy (fnar fnar, religion joke) whereas other stories that focus on this subject matter sometimes do go a little far.. The problem is we have to work with what we have, with means co-existing with technology. Not shunning it.. All in all, a perfect little short.

Fieldtrip

This film was directed by Soren Bendt, released in 2022. The premise is that a man is on a mission with some comrades but the ship they are in unfortunately crashes and he has to make his way through a mine field. Little is known about the protagonist.. I don’t even remember if he had a name, but he ends up being the sole survivor of the crash. His suit is fast falling apart and he ends up having to steal certain elements for his suit from others who are dead or dying, which is sort of a moral conundrum. He ends up having to fight with his suit to gain control of it, as it comes perilously close to destroying him. Somehow he ends up fooling the suit – whose primary function is to protect him – into defaulting to its secondary objective, i.e. to dismantle these mines. The way that he does so is by basically destroying himself. He steps intentionally onto a mine. And with that, the suit goes off across the land, dismantling the mines.

The contrast between the very beginning of the short where the men are all joyously singing, and then the chaos and aftermath of the crash where you see men strewn this way and that, dead or dying is pretty stark. It’s hard to know in what capacity they are there. Were they prisoners? Were they soldiers? Volunteers? I guess it doesn’t super matter. They are there working for the government in some sort of capacity, but you don’t really know much about them besides their sense of duty. But I really wanted to know where these people were from, what were the mines keeping out, or keeping in? I believe that they were meant to be dismantling mine, which makes me wonder… if the suits were perfectly capable of dismantling the mines by themselves, why did the humans need to be there in the first place? Why bring human beings into a dangerous task that a roboto could do perfectly well? It was also interesting seeing the shift in the man when he realises that there’s no way that he is going to have a happy ending, even after all the struggle to survive, and how he sacrifices himself. Anyways, lots to think about with this one. Beautifully filmed wide, landscape shots. Nice idea. Enjoyed this a lot.

Green Food

Oh man this film lol. So this was directed by Xiaoli Liu and released 2021. The premise is that three astronauts are stranded in a spaceship with an alien corpse and have to find a way to survive while they wait to get rescued. It’s quite a simple concept. They end up being stranded for quite a long time and they have this conundrem… to eat or not to eat. They’ve been told they have to bring back the corpse for monitoring so the majority of the film is them bickering and it’s really funny/ridiculous. At one point, one of them suggest that they shoot each other to take the temptation off the table and so they don’t ruin the mission, but of course they cannot. They end up agreeing to eat this alien – to their disgust – and all that’s left is a bit of bone that they give to the astronaut when he saves them. They then discover that the alien is essentially a plant. Rejoice!

I don’t have anything really to say about this other than it was very entertaining to watch. Much of the programme was very serious so it was just fun to have a goofy reprise.

Stones

This film was directed by Joseph Brett, released in 2021. The premise is that a brother and sister have a reunion picnic at a stone circle in the English countryside. He’s returned from abroad after a failed relationship, and the sister comforts him as they drink and eat. Some time later, the sister has fallen asleep and the brother is looking at the interesting patterns on the stones. It’s sort of like it has mildew or moss in yellows and greens all over it. Soon the pattern appear to move and the brother is entranced by them. The next thing you know, the sister wakes up to find her brother gone. She tries to get everything together to go, probably assuming that he’s left her, and then when she goes to pull the picnic blanket away, the stone is sitting on the blanket and it tears. She looks at it aghast and then looks up and slowly realises what happened. That’s when the film ends.

Omg so spooky. I have chills thinking about that ending. I like that it leaves it open at the end. You don’t know if she ends up being turned to stone too, though it implies she’s about to be turned into stone as well. It doesn’t explain what the stones are, where they came from, if the brother is still alive in there or if he is killed in the process. And it’s all done in this sort of mix of animation and puppetry. I loved that the characters, whilst being British were also Asian ethnicity and you could see little references to both those senses of identity. The little bao buns, the stacked lunchbox. The hot tea in the flask. It’s really unusual to see Asian characters in anything, particularly depicted in this format and it is just really really well done. Also that idea of the stones being the spooky feature is unusual as well. I tried to think of films or TV where I have seen that happen and Medusa came to mind but that was a human/snake turning others into stone. And I thought of Doctor Who with the angels who follow and destroy you… but they were stone angels who devoured others. So, I couldn’t really think of something as unique as this. And lastly I wondered if the brother and sister end up turning others to stone? SPOOKEH!!! I really enjoyed the concept, visuals were amazing. So well done.

Good Morning Stonus

This film was directed by Christian Nicolson, released in 2022. The premise is that the main character Stonus finds himself smack in the middle of a group of people embarking on an epic battle when he only came for a free breakfast. The cast is quite sizable for a short film, which is pretty unusual. It’s set in the future, but has a real corny 70s-idea-of-space vibe, like Terry Gilliam meets Star Wars meets New Zealand. Anyways, Stonus realises that the gathering has been called forward to battle, and it is clear that this is a battle they cannot win. There’s a funny moment where this fancy schmancy Spaceman (above picture, right) is talking on his communication device, and tells someone he doesn’t think he’s going to take part on this because it’s not going to end well. Stonus tries to sneak off but then he’s caught and brought back. He offers to blow the battle horn, thinking this will keep him out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, as the action with Stonus is unfolding, a one-eyed ogre is trying to entice a lady ogre. I can’t even describe how ridiculous this side story is and how it looks, but he tries everything to get her attention. In the process, a rock is thrown which lands on Stonus. You’d think that he would be dead but he is actually fine in the end.. and that is genuinely how it is. Oh and the ogre lady ends up getting to ogre man in the end. She clumps him on the head and drags him away lolllll. So weird..

So yeah… goofy as fuck, lighthearted film. It’s definitely got a Monty Python vibe to it and everything looks like it’s been made with paper mache which I enjoy. If I can’t see the vaccum cleaner parts, I don’t wanna know. It was a great contrast to the other shorts in the festival, which as I mentioned before were on the darker or more serious side. This was pure comedy.

Rachels don’t run

This film was directed by Joanny Causse, released in 2021. The premise is that a woman called Leah works for an AI companionship organisation, fielding customer service calls. She appears to have developed feelings for a particular caller and inserts herself manually into what is normally an automative call which uses a complicated system to determine the best path of conversation. She does so without the consent of the caller. She thinks she is hitting it off with the caller but before long he interupts the conversation to ask for client services, and she is forced to switch gears to accept the call, with him not knowing that both are the same person. He tells her he thinks the AI is different and she would never say the things that she has been saying and wants it switched back, that her laugh is annoying and basically is incredibly insulting about Leah. Leah has to just accept it because, you know, she probably shouldn’t have inserted herself into it anyway.

The technology/sci-fi elements of this film are kind of irrelevant because it’s really all about the human connection, which I really enjoyed. She’s absolutely mortified by the caller’s feelings about her, and it feels so uncomfortable to watch, because there are real people behind this tech, and I guess sometimes we forget that. That awkwardness is all too relatable.

U-Run

This film was directed by Edward J Douglas, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Jody wants a healthy destraction from a bad breakup with a real toxic douche. She signs up for a 10K training course, led by AI. The film doesn’t really explain how the tech is done but the assumption is she has an implant or a contact lens with the tech in it, implied with comparative shots. I like that this isn’t outright explained but shown; because it’s unnecessary to the plot to know how. I assumed it was an implant because Jody doesn’t seem to be able to just take the tech off, and there are points in this short where you think she should or that she might want to.. Anyways, so the AI trainer is a sort of hologram and is very attractive and fit. He motivates her and most of the scenes show him training with her over an unknown passage of time. Before long, it appears she has become unhealthily obsessed with this. At first it’s a fun distraction where she celebrates herself and feels really good about herself, but she then signs up for the next big challenge (a marathon) and she ends up running every day, watching what she is eating, cutting out communication with friends and work. There’s something so insiduous about the way the AI gradually changes as the story progresses; it reads like he is an abusive domestic partner. And of course, she’s the only person who can see him so it’s not like she can get help. Even when people reach out to her, the AI shuts them out and inevitably she chooses to isolate herself. There are points when she wants to give up and she’s like, no, I’ve had enough, I want to stop and he intentionally changes the scenery and intimidates her into thinking she is somewhere she is not, or about to be harmed. The thing is you see this behaviour from the AI when she is tired early on in the film and he makes it seem like zombies are chasing her… and at the time you think ho ho ho that’s funny, and Jody laughs about it, but the way that behaviour escalates is so spooky. She ends up refusing to continue and he stops physically being there in her line of sight. She tries to compete in a marathon without his help, thinking maybe she can do it of her own volition (all the while she can hear him sort of taunting her in her head). She ends up making it to the end. The last scene is where the AI is encouraging her to sign up for an ironman comp, and you never see what she decides to do.

Really liked the concept. It’s a nice spin on this theme of tech sort of taking over our lives, and I like how it starts really innocuous and becomes much more spooky as the story progresses. I kind of assumed that she does end up going to the next stage because by that point she is so addicted to the pain she is in. Very uncomfortable to watch in the best possible way.

Can I help? * [cn: suicide, self harm]

This film was directed by Rupert Ratcliffe, released in 2021. The premise is that a man is very lonely. He obviously works for a big organisation and is very well paid. He has been restricted from seeing his child from a previous relationship, and it is apparently the child’s birthday. You can sense the desparation in this man. He vocalises how unfair it is that his ex is preventing him from seeing his child, and is upset that her new partner has a better relationship with the kid than he has. So throughout this film, you see him kind of beating himself up about this. He asks his AI to call this woman mimicing him, because he wants to talk to his child and numerous attempts to contact the ex have been ignored. The AI says it’s against policy but that it might be possible if he upgrades. The man agrees, but decides instead that he cannot take it anymore and decides to hang himself. In the process of doing that, he hears the AI call his ex and she apologises for mistreating him and promises that he can have a relationship with his child. The film ends with the man dead.

Oh man this film is so tragic and really traumatizing because you see him reacting as he realises he has made a terrible mistake that he cannot undo. It made me wonder, hy was it the AI was able to talk his ex into reconciling in this way, where the real human had failed? It seemed like it was well within his power to turn his relationship with his ex around, if he had only held on for a little bit longer. Heartbreaking film. The tech seems secondary to the main focus of the film which is the theme of isolation and mental health but I guess this is a common theme with tech. Over-reliance of tech instead of real human connection is so isolating, and I guess this is the particular outcome of this difficult situation.

Bebe A.I. [cn: ableism]

This film was directed by Rebekah Fortune, released in 2021. The premise is that a young couple with Down’s syndrome want to adopt an AI baby and are denied one (by a very surprising character/actress… the great Amanda Abbington.. I actually did a squee when I saw her). Presumably the couple have been unable to carry their own birth child or it is common for people in this dystopian future to be unable to carry. Abbington’s character tells them they are not the right calibre of person to look after such a baby because of their disability. Honestly it’s pretty upsetting to hear her turn them down in this prejudicial way, and I fully believed her to be a dick in this role. A rogue android, dressed as a sort of matron, ends up helping them get an AI baby and the end scenes are of the couple running away, pursured by Abbington’s drones.

There’s a lot of questions I had about about why this particular android turned on the overlord. Like was there something wrong with its circuitry? Or does it have the autonomy to choose? On the outside it seemed very animatronic and thoughtless. There wasn’t much to the film, but the idea of being denied something that is a human right because of something out of the couple’s control, something which has no bearing on their abilities to parent, was jarring. I imagine it speaks to a lot of people with disabilities in a very real and present-day sort of way. I’d really like to see more of this particular film because it was so short and want to know they escaped.

Submittan

This film was directed by Susumu Kimura, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Chase is an artist and she takes a job to design a poster for an ad campaign which turns out to be total propaganda… Chase is a single parent with two children trying to make ends meet. In the first scene, you see her making lunch for her children and putting two slices of bread and the tiniest squares of cheese in the middle to spread out what seems to be incredibly limited resources. So obviously they are very poor. At first it seems like the norm in this world as everything is dusty and lots of people are without, but then when you see the more affluent classes, you see that is not the case… The world she lives in relies on this software which says your age and status in the world. Everywhere she goes, you can see posters for something called The Mountain. It’s painted in a fantastical way like a mecca for old people and characters in the film talk about their perspective of the place, that it must be like some sort of fun party. In one scene, Chase is on a bus, and it is stopped by police who check everyone’s wrist IDs and end up hauling an older man off, presumably to take him to The Mountain. He protests, saying he had wanted to go to the river. It’s not really clear what these things mean at this point, but obviously there’s something weird going on. Chase has a close relationship with the people in her community, and you can see she has empathy for her older neighbours, who offer to help her. Anyways, so she shows the execs she is freelancing for this poster art she has made for them which is of an older person on the back of someone else with wording on it like devotion or dedication (I can’t remember, but that sentiment). At first they are mocking of it, but then Chase explains the story behind it, that when her grandmother was old, she was carried to The Mountain so her family would not starve and that this sacrifice was a measure of devotion to one’s society. The executives thought that was amusing and she is paid for the work. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that this actually happened, and it shows the true nature of The Mountain. That in this dystopia, older generations are ritualistically sacrificed so that there are more resources to go round for the rest of the population. You never get to see the gruesome end of these older peeps (like in the film Midsommar) but the premises they are taken to near The Mountain are ominous-looking enough that I was certain that it was much like a concentration camp. The end scene is of Chase taking her elderly neighbour to the supposed safety of The River to escape, and Chase’s defiant face as you hear the authorities approaching.

This was one of my top faves from the festival. It’s really well shot and I think this could (and should) be turned into a full feature film. I really think that it has good bones and I want to know more! Like does Chase take on the government? Who is behind this? Why did they take this path in the first place? Does her neighbour survive? What actually happens to people who get taken to The Mountain? The ominous peak of the mountain, the way that it looms in the shots is so spooky, and the film- as do I – yells: Please, please give me more. Excellent film.

Special mentions:

  • Excellent monologue in ‘The last mechanic’ – not one of my faves but really well acted.
  • Bunker: The last fleet – Probably the only film in the festival which featured indigenous peoples. Entertaining. Mad max vibes but better. Super badass characters.

As ever, thanks Sci-Fi-London.com to bringing so many entertaining and thought-provoking films to my life <3 For more stuffs from SciFiLondon, click here for their website.

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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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