Tag Archives: Sci-fi

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

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For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

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Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018 – including: Alone in Berlin (2018), Call Me by Your Name (2017), Leave No Trace (2018), Testament of Youth (2014) and many more.

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018

I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.

 

ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA

Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (

Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)SKY CINEMA

Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX

Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX

This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX

This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.

(Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX

Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE

The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX

Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX

Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX

Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 2)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 2)

Having written extensively about my love of Star Trek (The Original Series) in this article HERE – I have over the last few months completed the viewing of the second season.

My mission was to boldly watch every Star Trek episode ever made and report back with the findings. The second season, as a whole, compares favourably to the first in terms of writing and performance and concepts. One could say that season 2 drops slightly in quality toward the end. This could be explained by the uber-producer Gene L. Coon leaving as the day-to-day showrunner, plus Gene Roddenberry was less hands-on  too. Nonetheless, while the ratings continued to dip, the consistency of dramatic, comedic and science fiction or fantasy on show was in my view of an excellent quality. One notes that certain repetitions of format had obviously come to the fore in the format. I mean we still get Spock, Kirk, Bones and the rest of the crew fighting a slew of alien life forms or mad computers, yet such genre familiarity is also part of the major appeal.

With the budget (still sizable for its day) of each episode being lowered and NBC moving the second season to a later time slot on an unfavourable day the ratings suffered somewhat. So much so the show came perilously close to being cancelled. However, a core of Star Trek and science fiction fans protested physically and in writing to the studio and eventually they relented and gave the crew of the Starship Enterprise a third, and alas, final frontier season.

With regards to Season 2, there were some excellent episodes and I noted a move toward more comedic tones. Here are SIX episodes which captured my imagination in terms of narrative, drama and humour.

AMOK TIME – Episode 1

This classic episode is the only one of the Original Series to feature scenes on the planet Vulcan. It also is the first time the Vulcan hand salute is shown. It further marks the first appearance of the phrase which accompanies the Vulcan hand salute, “Live long and prosper.” The story finds Spock with a form of Vulcan heat and it demands he finds a mate to marry. Cue some wonderful acting from Leonard Nimoy and classic hand-to-hand combat between Spock and Kirk. The exploration of Vulcan culture adds a depth to Spock’s characterisation and this adds texture to an already fascinating character.

MIRROR MIRROR – Episode 4

The episode involves a transporter malfunction that swaps Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. It’s a wonderfully nifty sci-fi concept and has the cast stretching their acting chops playing nefarious versions of themselves with gleeful abandon. Moreover, the Trek theme of duality of psyche and split personalities is explored in a very entertaining fashion. When I first saw this it reminded me of the Red Dwarf episode ‘Parallel Universe’; but of course sci-fi is full of doubles, parallel and mirrored narratives within the genre.

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINEEpisode 6

This very cinematic episode is an absolute storming drama with echoes of Moby Dick and Jaws (1975) in space, as the crew of the Enterprise are caught within the path of a gigantic monstrous machine dubbed ‘the Planet Killer’!  All throughout the stakes are incredibly high because if they do not stop it whole galaxies could be destroyed.  The episode is intense and nail-biting with  Shatner absolutely nailing his performance, while guest actor William Windom brings an impressive mania to his role as Commodore Decker.

 

METAMORPHOSIS – Episode 9

This is a wonderful episode for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the photography by Jerry Finnerman was absolutely beautifully lit with warm hues, ambience and glow. The lighting compliments the gentle nature of the story which finds the Starfleet trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy pulled down to a planet by a mysterious alien force called “The Companion.” There they find a missing Starfleet scientist Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett) and discover he has not aged at all; but the price is he cannot escape “The Companion”. The drama plays out gently and is assured in its thematic exploration of loneliness, romance and the curative powers of love.

JOURNEY TO BABEL – Episode 10

This multi-layered episode finds us meeting Spock’s parents for the first time as the Enterprise ferries an array of Ambassadors within the United Federations to the Babel conference. Throw into the mix Spock’s dispute with his father and a murderer on board attempting to derail an important mining contract between the planets, and you get a mature work of political science fiction writing. The screenplay from Star Trek stalwart DC Fontana is full of great dialogue and a suspenseful murder mystery. Having already appeared in Season 1, as a Romulan Starship Captain, Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek is the stand-out guest star.

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES – Episode 15

Aside from a wonderfully alliterative and fun title, The Trouble with Tribbles is often cited as one of the most entertaining and humorous Star Trek episodes ever. The episode was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1968 Hugo Awards, with the award instead going to The City on the Edge of Forever. Tribbles are of course, hamster-like-rodents which mate like rabbits and through sheer mass cause havoc on the Enterprise. Shatner is on top comedic form as Captain Kirk, dealing with the furry pests and a raft of Klingons sharing an uneasy truce; that is until a right-royal bar-fight breaks out in this laugh-out-loud fifteenth entry of the season.

 

 

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

As well watching loads of films and television programmes I also write scripts and produce low-budget short films. This year and last was quite productive.  My horror short Flatmates (2018) was shot and completed and having got a couple of festival screenings it still awaits an online release.  In the meantime I shot a 90 second micro-budget science-fiction thriller called Don’t Trust Me (2018) which can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE.

Furthermore, my short film C’est Fini (2018) was produced by the Northern Film School and our Star Trek Fan film The Holy Core (2018) found a backer and is currently in pre-production. Finally, myself and actress Melanie Gayle decided to work together again to produce a script for another 90 second short film competition Depict! This competition screens micro-shorts at the Encounters Film Festival and so we shot MISDIRECTION (2018), with that in mind.

MISDIRECTION (2018) was shot in June in a day with a small crew; not that they are short but there was only four of us!  The crew were great and so was my leading actress Melanie Gayle. My wife also provided wonderful voice work as the SAT-NAV. The 90 second version was edited and then submitted to Depict. Yet, I also had a slightly longer version cut and I think, despite the low-budget, it works well as a little twist-in-the-tale story that’s both funny and sinister too. There are obvious homages to the works of Philip K. Dick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Black Mirror and Tales of the Unexpected. Here it is – hope you enjoy:

 

PITCH

A short, low-budget science-fiction comedy film with a twist.

SYNOPSIS

Valentine Ford is meeting her boyfriend, Dave, for dinner. However, her SAT-NAV has other ideas.

CAST / CREW

Starring: Melanie Gayle, Melissa Zajk

Written and directed by: Paul Laight

Camera: Inigo Berron

Sound: Tom Fisher

Editor: Joseph Martin-Kelly

Production: © 2018 – Fix Films

Website: http://www.fixfilms.co.uk

 

CONTRASTING DREAMS: REVIEWING THE WORK OF AUTHOR – PHILIP K. DICK

CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK 

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

― Philip K. Dick

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INTRODUCTION

For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.

The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.

With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.

I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works.  How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?

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NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS

Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat.  The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.

The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.

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CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES

**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**

Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is…  both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner.  Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.

Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.

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Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.

Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.

Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise.  Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.    

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

CONCLUSION

Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.

*Article originally appeared on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com*

 

LONDON SHORT FILM – 90 SECOND SCI-FI CHALLENGE SCREENING!

LONDON SHORT FILM – 90 SECOND SCI-FI CHALLENGE SCREENING!

I’m writing this as a thank you to the London Short Film meet-up group who kindly screened, along with 15 other brilliant films earlier this week, my short film DON’T TRUST ME (2018).

DON’T TRUST ME (2018) is a 90 second short sci-fi thriller made for the LONDON SHORT FILM – Meet-Up Group competition.

Written, directed and edited by Paul Laight it starred the brilliant MELANIE GAYLE. She stars as a temporal scientist faced by her worst fears when an experiment goes wrong.

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It was shot one fun Saturday in a few hours, for a budget of around £20 and a bag of crisps!! Please check out the film here:

The competition winner was brilliant too and called THE PERFECT CURE (2018) – that can also be seen here:

Do check out www.londonshortfilm.com for film screenings and competitions and loads of fun stuff.

Also check out my website too: www.fixfilms.co.uk

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #1 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 1)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #1 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 1)

Having re-watched the whole of the new Doctor Who seasons a few years back I decided, this year, to boldly go and watch every season of the long-running Star Trek show from the original series onwards. There’s no time limit to this project as the original, Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and Discovery seasons are all available on Netflix. So, save for the occurrence of World War 3, the Zombie Apocalypse or Netflix going bust, I expect this viewing pastime to last the next few years.

The show has given birth to all manner of prequels, sequels, sidequels, and cinema releases. Indeed, it continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today with festivals, exhibitions and conventions dedicated to this cultural phenomenon. This demonstrates the genius, long-standing quality and sustainability of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train to The Stars. Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeist approach to the themes of the day. Many of the episodes really shone and while the special effects are obviously dated the imagination and themes still maintain their power today.

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Watching the first season of Star Trek space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth. As entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!). This, in no small part, is down to the solid premise, rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang; played perfectly by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard to representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Containing thirty episodes the first season is metronomic in its delivery and structure. Each show would begin with the Starship Enterprise continuing its core mission of travelling around the many galaxies and planets seeking out new life forms as well transporting supplies, equipment and people from planet to planet. Invariably encountering a new star system, colony, planet, race of aliens or an evil scientist would bring rise to a conflict with which Kirk and the crew must overcome. Many episodes are inspired from a genre perspective; while others are driven by powerful themes which reflect the socio-political, gender, race and psychological fears of the late 1960s. Many of these themes are still relevant today which is why the original series remains highly watchable and is not just kitsch sci-fi to be mocked.

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Of course, a genre formula was followed closely with the Enterprise and crew always overcoming their various foes by the end of the show. The Enterprise would also more often than not sustain damage which would threaten the lives of the crew and “ticking time-bomb” plot device would up the narrative ante too. Kirk would usually show his bravery and physical prowess often finding his uniform ripped during physical combat. Simultaneously, the ever reliable and logical Spock would provide the mental strength to overcome any negative situation. While the status quo is always maintained by the end of an episode the crew would always learn something about themselves and Aliens such as the Romulans, Archons, Klingons etc. They would also make important scientific discoveries relating to: Artificial Intelligence, time and space travel and alien technologies. To keep the quality the show employed various writers of high renown to boost the narratives including: Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Jerry Sohl and Richard Matheson to name a few. Consequently the first season is full of exciting episodes with many fascinating storylines of excellent quality.

From a genre perspective Star Trek used science fiction, drama, horror, and at times where Kirk was concerned, romantic tropes throughout. Rogue Frankenstein-type scientists featured in episodes such as: Dagger of the Mind and What Little Girls Are Made Of.  In The Enemy Within, Kirk splits into two different personalities echoing Jekyll and Hyde; while in The Conscience of the King we witness a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal. Balance of Terror is brilliantly shaped around the beats of a submarine war flick and Arena reflects the structure of Roman Gladiatorial films. Court Martial too, does what it says on the tin, with court room dramas used as the model for the episode.

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Thematically, as aforementioned, Star Trek was not shy of examining the scientific, political, consumer and sociological events of the time. For example: Mudd’s Women contains a damning critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery; Operation: Annihilate presents an alien invasion which could be interpreted symbolically as highlighting the threat of religious or political hysteria. Indeed, the dangers of the lust for war or invasion are featured also in Errand of Mercy; nuclear threat is critiqued in Taste of Armageddon; while the deadly potential of technological advancement features in The Return of the Archons. Of course, environmental threats are also prominent as seen in The Devil in the Dark; with plants threatening peril in the episode This Side of Paradise, where the warnings of recreational drug use are implicit within the subtext. Comedy is also used to support the drama as the Bones and Spock often lock metaphorical horns overs the latter’s lack of emotion.

Thus, Star Trek – Season one, original series – contains a wealthy of intriguing themes, ideas, narratives, worlds and characters within the thirty episodes. I personally enjoyed them all but to close this opening piece on my Star Trek voyage I would like to nominate my favourite six episodes of season one.

MIRI (1966) – EPISODE 8

A brilliant episode finds the Enterprise crew discovering an exact duplicate of Earth, where the only survivors of a plague are some of the planet’s children

THE MENAGERIE (1966) – EPISODES 11 & 12

A two-parter which expertly splices events from the original pilot called The Cage and finds Mr Spock going rogue, defying both logic and Starfleet orders.

TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY (1967) – EPISODE 19

A superb temporal paradox narrative finds the USS Enterprise travelling back to 1968 Earth and correcting damage they caused to Earth’s timeline.

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SPACE SEED (1967) – EPISODE 22

Kirk and Spock et al meet an incredibly charismatic foe who threatens to take over the Enterprise; with Ricardo Montalban stealing the show as the deadly Khan.

ALTERNATIVE FACTOR (1967) – EPISODE 27

I loved the Sisyphean plot as the crew find “reality-jumper” Lazarus, a man trapped between parallel universes threatening the whole of existence itself.

CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – EPISODE 28

An incredible episode full of brilliant time-travelling concepts and a heartfelt love story, with Kirk finding he has an almost impossible choice to make.