Saturday, April 30, 2011

What I saw this year at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival

Remember, people, support the festival. In these days of arts funding cuts, great things like this are vulnerable.

Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death: Not actually a film, but a stand-up comedy show about mortality statistics. Which is audacious enough, but the show itself was both informative (most deaths in airplane crashes are actually from smoke inhalation, who knew?) and a laugh riot. They're on tour right now, check and see if they're visiting your area.

Robotica: A short film compilation by the One Dot Zero art collective, on the theme of robots, ranging from the silly to the surreal. My favourite was a steampunk Russian fantasy piece-- sort of like I Robot crossed with Grant Morrison-- but there were also some great music video pieces and animation tests featuring giant mecha.

Gantz: One of the two standout features this year. A Japanese superhero film, which uses the idea (a mysterious entity seemingly kidnaps people at the point of death and uses them as an army to combat a series of aliens) as a jumping-off point to ask what it is to be heroic, and how we can all be heroes. Features an attack on Tokyo by a giant statue of the Buddha of Compassion, and gets away with it.

We Are All Cylons: Clever documentary on Battlestar Galactica fandom, and how they use the series not just as a form of escapism, but to inform the moral codes of their everyday lives in a world where the boundary between human and technology is increasingly vague.

Sharktopus: So-bad-it's-good Roger Corman badflick in which a Mexican resort town is terrorized by a CGI monster shark/octopus hybrid. Visibly paid for by the local chamber of commerce (as the film not-so-subtly highlighs the vacation fun opportunities in the area while cheerily dispatching as many tourists, preferably attractive ones aged 18-35, as possible), and starring Eric Roberts, who quite visibly gets drunk during the filming.

Dinoshark: Variation on the above theme, also by Corman and involving a revived pliosaur terrorizing the same Mexican resort town. More of an effort went into making this a serious film than "Sharktopus", which is mostly to its credit (there's a subplot involving the corrupt local police chief which is absolutely sparkling and could have come out of a much better Third World crime thriller), but occasionally to its detriment (the attempts to give "characterisation" to the main players are just boring and pathetic). Some lovely CGI of the dinoshark (sic) coursing along under the surface of the water, and a hilarious sequence involving stunt surfers.

You Are Here: The other standout feature, a surrealist Canadian piece (shot, and set, in Toronto, hooray) which, I suspect, is about the human brain and the question of what consciousness is. Cleaning up at film festivals worldwide-- go see it, it defies description.

Short Films: Standout pieces this year were "The Interview" (pointed topical satire in which the last man on Earth goes for a job interview), "Virus" (cute animated short about computer viruses in love), "VortX Inc" (clever low-budget take on literal technological wizardry), "Death of the Real" (just a lot of evocative shots of a deserted New York), "Once Upon a Time on Earth" (a couple split up, then the Earth is invaded... will they get back together in time?), and "Goodbye Robot Army" (a charmingly ironic take on the mad-scientist genre).

Other Stuff: The freebies are back in spades this year-- I scored five magazines (including SFX's True Blood special, hooray!) seven books, one DVD (albeit of an anime series that looks dreadful) and a couple of inflatable swords promoting a new fantasy RPG from EA. Plus we got to play with the new 3D portable game player from Nintendo.

Movie Count for 2011: 64