Thursday, April 30, 2009

What I saw at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, by Fiona aged 34 1/2

As mentioned, Alan and I got some complimentary tickets to The Sci-Fi London Film Festival this year. Here's what we saw:

Eyeborgs: Surveillance paranoia thriller about a future America where all CCTV cameras are linked in a super-surveillance network, supplemented by a network of little mobile cameras called Eyeborgs; a Department of Homeland Security agent gets suspicious when he realises the physical evidence of a number of crimes doesn't match the video evidence. This was really quite good; the effects suffered in places from a limited budget but were generally fine, the cast were good and the topic timely and well-dealt-with. Better than 90% of mainstream thriller movies.

Cyborg She: Sort of like Terminator: TSCC with humour and pathos. Lonely Japanese university student meets quirky girl who claims she's a cyborg from the future sent back in time by his future self to protect him; he teaches her about humanity and love, she teaches him about compassion and caring. Spectacular effects, good characterisation and casting, beautiful directing, and a few interesting time-travel twists towards the end. A mainstream movie in Asia, but unlikely to get a mainstream release here, however, it's definitely worth forking out £10 for a DVD if you find one.

Recon 2023: The biggest disappointment of the festival. We had high hopes for this film, as the subtitle was "The Gauda Prime Conspiracy" (which should have all Blake's 7 fans pricking up their ears) and the description and trailer made it look like a BSG-style space-war story. However, the acting was generally not great, the effects problematic (e.g a chicken retro-engineered into a sort of dinosaur; nice idea, but it's hard to find something terrifying when it's clucking and shaking its wattles), the story largely lacking in humour, and too many plot holes, unexplained actions and just plain improbable elements for me to enjoy it (e.g., a politician character who is clearly loosely based on Servalan, but who somehow seems to be raping and murdering half the cast without the other half noticing, or a soldier deciding to take himself off behind a tree and masturbate to a porn video right in the middle of a jungle battle). The locations were good, though, and it seemed to have a bit of a fan following, so who am I to judge.

Cryptic: Definitely the highlight of the festival, despite stiff competition. The premise is simple and the stuff of many lesser movies-- young woman finds a mobile phone which allows her to communicate with her child self and change her own past-- however, as the story unfolds you realise that it is in fact a detailed and merciless character profile of a murderer, which is gradually revealed through the changes in history. Shot on next to nothing with an unknown cast, this film deserves awards, recognition, release all over the world and huge amounts of publicity, none of which I can provide so I'll just rave about it here.

Angels and Idiots: A simple animated morality tale for adults, about a criminal who magicaly receives angel wings which force him to do good. A premise like that could lead one easily into treacly he-sees-the-error-of-his-ways territory, but this instead takes it off into a morally complex and often terrifying universe of consequences. Hand animated in pencils, which gave it a spare, innocent quality which contrasted nicely with the mature content of some of the story.

A Bunch of Short Films: Too many to review in detail, but the ones we liked best were Marooned (about a LARPer who becomes convinced he really is his role-playing character, and the killing spree which ensues), The Day the Robots Woke Up (a really cute stop-motion piece about robots in a deserted future London and the pleasures of low-tech lifestyles), Death In Charge (a black comedy about Death working as a babysitter for an evening), Simulacrum (about a man whose robot duplicate is better at being himself than he is), Die Schneider Krankheit (a fake-1960s newsreel about a plague from outer space arriving in East Germany courtesy of a Soviet space mission gone wrong), Attack of the Robots from Nebula 5 (another one about the vague boundary between science ficution and madness) and The Story of Sputnik (a stand-up routine about the Cold War). So obvious themes are childhood, identity, madness and the 1960s. Look out for these online soon at Sci-Fi London's website.

Other highlights: Meeting Pat Cadigan (a feminist hero of mine) and Liz Williams, as well as hearing from the horse's mouth all about Bryan Talbot's latest project, Grandville (which looks cool as all get out, being Rupert Bear as imagined by Quentin Tarantino) and being given a ton of free books, DVDs and T-shirts. Here's looking to Sci-Fi London 9!

Looking at the Sky

Alan and I recently got a Sky box-- we actually did it for the cheap broadband (when we did the math, we figured out that the full Sky package, including HD, broadband and phone, is about £30 a month less than we normally spend on phone and broadband). To my surprise, it has actually changed my viewing habits. Before getting the box, we would usually have to make decisions over which TV show to watch in the evening if there were two or three on at the same time, and also, since videoing is such a pain in the neck, we'd often not bother videoing a programme if we were going out if it wasn't something we absolutely had to see. Now, though, with the box, we can record two programmes and watch a third, so suddenly our TV viewing has expanded exponentially, even though we don't actually watch much that's on the channels we're paying for.

This, along with our DVD player packing up, has cut into our film viewing activities somewhat-- but since we've gotten complimentary tickets to the London Sci-Fi Film Festival (comprehensive review post coming next week), I should be making up for that this weekend.

Annie, Karaokely

Happened to catch about 20 minutes' worth of the film "Annie" on television recently. Featuring 1980s people dressed up in 1930s style, periodic random song numbers, child abuse, vaguely paedophilic dancing by a chorus of girl orphans, (attempted) murder by throwing someone off a bridge, and Albert Finney with a very strange head....

This is the Bizarro Universe version of Dennis Potter, isn't it?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Planet of the Recyclingwatch

For those of you who have just joined us, Recyclingwatch is a handy guide to everything that you might be finding, well, a little familiar, whether from past seasons, the old series, or something else entirely. Whether you call it homage, pastiche or out-and-out blatant ripoff, it's out there, and we're looking for it.

The Unquiet Dead: Malcolm's “fanboy” gush at the Doctor is a strong parallel for the Doctor's own treatment of Dickens, with equivalently bemused-but-pleased reactions on the other side.

The End of the World: Mobile phones that work through time and space

Father's Day: The Doctor is galvanized to intervene when he finds out about people's ordinary mundane lives and thinks they're wonderful. Person being gobbled up by armoured flying creature

The Parting of the Ways: Swarm of alien creatures descending upon Earth.

The Christmas Invasion: seasonal references, to highlight that this is a holiday special. Someone getting skeletonised (also: pretty much any Dalek story since the new series started). “Press the big red button.”

New Earth: ...also "Gridlock," "Smith and Jones," "The Doctor's Daughter" and anything else featuring an alien which is basically a human in an animal mask: the Tritovores. “New Earth” also has the Doctor being forcibly snogged by companion, and a sudden ascent through a lift shaft on wires, as here.

The Runaway Bride: the Doctor going all emo over the departure of a companion

Daleks in Manhattan: Animal-headed creatures wearing boiler suits for no logical reason.

Voyage of the Damned: 70s disaster-movie action, with a small group of interchangeable survivors and a temporary companion who fancies the Doctor. Improbable vehicle flying through London's aerospace. Implication that the Doctor gets on rather well with Queen Elizabeth II.

The Fires of Pompeii: Psychic whose prophecies foreshadow the Doctor's future

Planet of the Ood: More prophecies, and a visibly recycled title.

The Sontaran Strategem: UNIT return, and they're all fanboyish over the Doctor. Soldiers saluting the Doctor (despite him being a civilian) and the Doctor getting anal-retentive about it.

The Doctor's Daughter: Temporary companion with dubious morality, who ends the story by flying off with the potential of a return later.

The Unicorn and the Wasp: Giant insect aliens.

Silence in the Library: fast-moving, all-consuming group of creatures; temporary companion who fancies the Doctor and goes on about their similarities.

Midnight: Small group of diverse people, stranded on a bus, turning on the Doctor in panic, and one of them starts getting psychic messages from the outside.

The Stolen Earth: prophecies of death and doom for the Doctor, again. Also the Doctor translating the animal-headed aliens' dialogue for his companion.

The Next Doctor: The Doctor again announcing that he doesn't travel with companions anymore, but picking up a temporary companion for the duration.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mobiles saving the day, over and over.

Old Skool Who: “Delta and the Bannermen” (bus stranded on alien planet); “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” (ditto, with deserts); “Battlefield” (return of the Brigadier Bambera-alike); “The Demons” (Malcolm is basically Corporal Osgood in a lab coat); Big Finish/BBC Books (Iris Wildthyme, a slightly amoral but charming female Time Lord who travels time and space in a London bus); “The Ark in Space” (this episode's "homo sapiens" speech is the one about chops for dinner being much more important than alien planets); “Ace” (a companion who's a juvenile delinquent and the Doctor doesn't particularly censure her for this; always carries a backpack with various unlikely but useful items in it; also, Andrew Cartmel has said that her replacement was intended to be a female cat-burglar); “The Ribos Operation” (descending through a hole in the roof to rob a museum); “Planet of Fire” (the production team at great expense and with much fanfare travel to a foreign location to shoot it, and never let you forget it, but frankly they might just as well have gone to Camber Sands for all the difference it made*); “City of Death” (art theft, plus bumbling detective); “Remembrance of the Daleks” (skeletonising weapons); “Time Flight” (Tegan repeating airline landing safety info as the Concorde approaches the 1980s = the Doctor repeating bus driver instructions as the bus approaches modern London); “The Caves of Androzani” (excrement as valuable commodity).

Everything Else: “The Langoliers” (ill-assorted group of people who land somewhere strange, to discover there's a swarm of omnivorous creatures), “Pitch Black” (desert planet with swarm of all-consuming aliens and catsuited heroine); “Mission Impossible”, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” series 6, “The Return of the Pink Panther” (sequences in which a black-suited thief drops from the roof of a museum to remove an artifact); “Buffy” series 7 (“from beneath you, it devours”); “Raffles” (who also stole a well-guarded antique gold cup from a museum, but much more amusingly and plausibly; also, a minor aristocrat who steals for fun and excitement); Lara Croft (antiquity-robbing well-endowed action heroine); the 1953 version of “The Fly” (oh, just look at the Tritovores); “Summer Holiday” (the archetypical Brits on Buses film); “The Time Traveler's Wife” (person making use of psychic powers to supplement their income by winning the lottery); “Primeval”'s season premiere this year featured long action sequences in the British Museum and surrounding area, and regularly involves time rifts with nasty creatures coming through; “Alien” (all-consuming aliens with metal bones); “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (carefully replacing a valuable object with a cheap one of equal weight).

*Seriously, one of Britain's main assets is that, for a country that tiny, it packs an amazing amount of varied landscape. Want snow? Go to Scotland. Want tropics? Go to that weird microclimate in Northern Ireland. Want beaches? Go to Southampton. With a bit of CGI it could be anywhere in the world. No need to go to Dubai and support morally dubious political regimes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Train to be a 1980s film star...

Watched "Night of the Creeps" recently, which is one of those bad horror films that's aware of its own badness and enjoying itself thoroughly. The weird thing about it, though, was that the casting director quite clearly had in mind particular high-profile, but expensive, actors of the era (mid-eighties) for the key roles, and was casting cheaper lookalikes. In a parallel universe somewhere, there's a mega-budget, mega-hit "Night of the Creeps," which features Michael J. Fox as the hero, Rutger Hauer as the villain, Geena Davies as The Girl, the Jewish one from Parker Lewis Can't Lose as the best friend, Stacy Keach as the hardbitten police detective and Morgan Freeman as his sidekick, with Danny Devito as the comic-relief coroner (are there any non-comic-relief coroners in popular culture, except perhaps Dana Sculley?) and a cameo by Jeff Goldblum as the research scientist who's the first to die.