See you yesterday [2019]

“Aren’t you too old to be playing with toys?”


I watched this as part of the WATCHERS club in December and it has taken me so long to process how great this film is!

Produced by Spike Lee and directed by Stefon Bristol, this 2019 film follows science geniuses CJ Walker and her best friend Sebastian as they prepare for a technology expo. They’re trying to crack the key to temporal relocation or TIME TIME TIME TRAVEL TRAVEL TRAVELLLL. Then one terrible day, CJ’s big brother Calvin and his friend are leaving a party when two local kids who robbed a store run past them. The police mistake Calvin and friend for the thieves. Though not shown initially, we discover that Calvin is shot by them when he takes out his phone attempting to video the police as they brutality attack his friend. Grief-stricken, CJ throws herself into her work, thinking that she can save her brother. She and Sebastian fixes the tech and successfully jumps back a day, but there’s a catch. The wormhole is only open for a short time and she and her bestie have to get back to it before it closes. They jump and try to save her brother, but every time they do, they have limited time before the wormhole closes and changing the past causes unintended consequences.

I thought this was an incredible film. Whilst it is science fiction, that felt almost secondary to the social aspect of the film. I pre-judged the film from the poster. I didn’t know anything about it other than knowing it was about time travel and I mistook the film to be light-hearted. Boy was I wrong. The colourful and youthful poster made me think that it would be a childlike jaunt and I guess a part of me thought as I watched it that seeing as it focused on the future, maybe the future would be kinder to CJ and her family as they jumped further into the future but it just got harder and harder for them. I feel like the adult-type theme definitely speaks to current reality in USA. African American children are taught from a very young age that they need to be extra careful because racism is systemic. It’s so all encompassing that it is impossible to unpick it from positions of power like police, so African American parents teach their kinds from a young age what they need to do to stay alive. I don’t know about you, but my parents never had to warn me about the dangers of walking down the street, jogging or opening the door to my own house. African American children are not afforded the same right to a peaceful, innocent childhood like white people are. This film served as a poignant reminder of that and it was absurdly well done.

Really great soundtrack of BIPOC music of all different genres. I particularly loved the science montage to reggae. That was ACE.

Excellent cameo game from a certain someone (“Great Scott!”) It really felt like he was passing the torch to the next generation of time travel nerds.

So all in all, See you yesterday is a super vibrant and colourful film that you just never see the darkness coming but it is there everywhere, and it takes you like a kick to the chest. I loved that the film didn’t paint a Black mono culture. It showed how utterly diverse Black people are; the dialects, the food, the music`, the personalities, the histories, the heritage! Absolutely excellent film and really well done. I can tell this is going to be one that I will watch over and over and over.

Go watch it, yesterday,

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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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In Paradox [2019]

“Have you ever experienced memories that aren’t yours?”


There are very few Arabic science fiction/fantasy films out there, so when I noticed this film available to watch on Netflix, I had to watch it straight away. 

The film follows the main character, starred by Faisal Al-Ameeri. There’s a little mystery about who this character is because no one ever says his name, and it’s not mentioned in the credits which I thought was interesting. The film begins with Faisal driving down the street when memories that are not his own come to him and catch him off guard. We learn that he has had these intrusive memories his whole life, and also that Faisal has recently lost his father. 

He goes looking through his father’s things and finds a small notebook in which it says “I’ve lost control over myself, but the ring of consciousness has given me control over everything. It took control of everything.” Faisal then goes looking for answers with the help of Laila, a journalist friend of the family, and is met with resistance at every turn. He is told he needs to go through a labyrinth which I thought to be the ‘old city’ itself, but it turns out this is merely symbolic as the labyrinth is something else. 

I really liked the concept, and thought that Faisal acted in the character very well (as well as Laila and the mystery woman). He showed a good range of emotion throughout from fearful, to determined and was believable, though I thought his sudden turn to knife-wielding (towards the mystery woman) seemed a bit out of character. On the flipside, some of the peripheral characters simultaneously under and over-acted scenes and this came off quite cringe-worthy. There’s one part where the character Mr Saif appears to be tortured by the ring, but his acting makes it look like he’s reeling in to sneeze… It was pretty underwhelming. Some characters were introduced to advance the story only and then ditched, which seemed unnecessary also. 

I found the film generally slow. The soundtrack was not well suited to the action that was happening on scene, for instance in a scene where Faisal and Laila are chased by armed guards through the city, are shot at and fearing for their lives, the paired soundtrack was mediocre instead of exciting. This was unfortunately to the film’s detriment. 

I had a lot of questions throughout. Like why is Faisal so determined to find this ring? Why does he know it will help him at all? Maybe it’s unrelated, what then? All of this becomes clear with the ending, which was a nice twist and turns the whole perceived genre of the film on its head. 

All in all, I liked some of the ideas in film. I really liked the twist and I think the concept and Faisal’s acting kept me watching longer than I would have if it had been a different lead. I did think the soundtrack let the film down, and think that the script/some peripheral characters could have been cut to improve the film, making it more exciting. Faisal lifted the film up, but as we all know, one man cannot carry the weight of a whole film himself. Overall, it’s an okay film but with some large caveats (different supporting actors, better soundtrack, large swaths of the script edited) could have been a great film. 

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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler [book]

“Books could be awesome mysteries to her, or they could be dangerous time-wasting nonsense”


CN slavery racism & also spoilers……

I just finished reading Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and I was really moved by it. This book is about time travel but it is so much more than that. It’s about slavery, race, class, love, power dynamics and the transformative nature of education. I have a LOT of feelings to unpack here and they are quite disjointed so please bear with me…

The story follows Dana, a 1970s black woman who finds herself transported to another time. She is drawn to a young, white boy called Rufus who she discovers is – SPOILERS – her ancestor. She realises that she must protect him at all costs for the sake of her bloodline, whilst trying to survive the antebellum/plantation (slavery era) south.

I won’t talk much about the story but am instead going to unpack the themes…

Slavery & education: In slavery times, it was discouraged/illegal for black slaves to be educated. Enslavers believed that educated black slaves were dangerous… Octavia also says in Kindred that “repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of ‘wrong’ ideas” like liberty and autonomy and this is SPOT ON… I was reminded that education is an absolute privilege and something we cannot be complacent about. Even today, the disparity in levels of education benefits the (overwhelmingly white) elite, rich and powerful whilst minorities are not given the same consideration or opportunities. Racism and classism still exists today. Slavery still exists today around the world, which still impacts the lives of People Of Colour. In Britain, the government until very recently were still paying corporations for ‘loss of earnings’ caused by abolishing slavery in the UK, as if those corporations had any right to those earnings in the first place… I think that says a lot about how recent it all was, and how it is all just barely below the surface…

The book also made me think that it’s extremely important we know how grim history really is so that we can be better now and in the future, and how woefully inadequate history lessons at school are to speak honestly of our past. Unfortunately, history looks to white-wash over reality so that we don’t realise how abusive colonialism/slavery was and the generational trauma that it caused. Instead we are taught little ditties about Kings and Queens…

Style & Technology omissions & Power: Regarding the style of this book, I know that others have criticised it for being too conversational and also not explaining how Dana came to travel through time or why. Firstly on the style of writing, Dana is an author and mentions writing her story down so I truly believe the style is a reflection of that. We’re hearing the account from Dana’s perspective as if she is reading out the account she wrote down. Secondly, I really enjoyed not having the technology side put on a platter for me, and indeed I believe that this speaks to Dana’s lack of power. There are frequent references to power dynamics throughout. I believe that if Dana knew why this was happening, if she knew the science of it, she would be able to stop it but she is powerless so she must accept her fate and the reality that she may never know what happened or why.

Love: And lastly, this book told of great love. The love between mother and child. Love beyond limitations of time and space. Love that protects. Love that bonds. And on the flipside, we see the abusive, possessive, dysfunctional love that the Weylins exhibit both among themselves and towards Neil, Alice and Dana. It was inferred that Dana should be thankful for this so-called love, that she was being treated differently because of it, but love cannot exist in such a power struggle. I really think that Dana believed that the education and love she brought would be enough to change history, but did it? Great change only comes to those who want it, to people who are open to accept love and have a willingness to change which comes from an awareness that they are somewhat broken. The irony that the book was called Kindred was not lost on me. Kindred has many meanings. It, of course, means family but it also means similarity as in ‘kindred spirit’. However, there was little kindred spirit between Dana and Rufus. Instead she found family and love in those around her who had a similar, shared trauma that she had and by rejecting the so-called love Rufus would go on to give her, she really risked her own survival.

Questioning my own ancestry: REWIND. For those who don’t know me and my background, I’m mixed and sci-fi was something I reached for to make sense of feeling this otherness. I know that my ancestors/relations were definitely slaves and I believe there may have been slave overseers in my black bloodline (though to the naked eye, I am white passing). I personally felt very uncomfortable feelings reading this book because of my own bloodline but there’s a lot of growth to be had in uncomfortable feelings so I really am thankful for it.

In conclusion, I loved this book. It is profoundly important. Due to the intentional conversational style of writing, it makes it a super easy to read. I was touched by the love that came off of the pages, despite the traumatic story. It reminded me that I am privileged to be educated and I should never forget it, and it made me question my own ancestry and what I can learn from the past to create a better future. This book should be on the national curriculum.

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Flight of the Navigator [1986]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interstellar [2014]

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


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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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