Sunday, 27 February 2022

Flower Duet - Open Theremin

 Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Léo Delibes, played as a double recording on Open Theremin V4. I'm still getting used to the V4 - overall it's a lovely instrument to play but occasionally the pitch field can misbehave, whereas my V3 was always very stable and obedient. Adding a 3D-printed case seems to have helped.

Sunday, 20 February 2022


 Flat Earthers, I'm afraid I don't follow

Your theory is too hard to swallow

It seems clear to me

So why can't you see

The Earth can't be both flat and hollow!

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Roland Limmerich III

 Roland Emmerich's new film is called Moonfall

The Moon's going to pay us a close call

But where will it land?

And where should we stand?

I'm steering clear of the White House, y'all.

A typical Emmerich film features

Lots of rockets and heroes and creatures

What drives this mad artist?

In the depths of his heart is

A desire to annoy physics teachers.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Your Message Could Not Be Delivered [Review: You've Got Mail!]

 I have always cited Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail! as being the worst film of all time. But everyone deserves a second chance. I gave it a second viewing to see if I had been too harsh. TLDR: I had not.

I should say that I am quite tolerant of bad films in general. I am a fan of The Asylum's brand of cheap and cheerful mockbusters, and I even sat through most of Shark Exorcist before giving up. My problem with Shark Exorcist was not the poor script, acting, CGI or editing, but the fact that this is a movie about a shark possessed by a demon (which incidentally makes no difference whatsoever to its predator behaviour) and disappointingly not about a shark who is also an exorcist.

Also, despite my love of sci-fi and fantasy I am not opposed to the romantic comedy genre in principle. Brief Encounter, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Four Weddings, Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally... are all great films.

So why does You've Got Mail! bring out the same reaction for me as others have described when watching The Human Centipede: First Sequence? Let's consider the evidence:

  • Everyone loves a goofy screwball romcom, right? Here's a goofy screwball romcom about a manipulative creep who gaslights a vulnerable adult. Cute!
  • There is no character development. Both Kathleen and Joe are exactly the same people at the start and the end. They don't grow. They don't even learn that women can fake orgasms or overcome their fear of heights. Dramatic journey? More like an hour and twenty minutes on a roundabout.
  • With one exception, all the cast appear to be half asleep, wandering through the scenes in a daze and delivering their lines on half-speed. Did Ephron have to drug them all to get them to participate? Or are they dosing themselves up to forget?
  • With one exception, all the supporting characters are zero-dimensional. Their only point (Ha! Geometry joke!) is to distract from the dopiness of both lead characters.
  • Above all else, this is a Nora Ephron film. Nora smegging Ephron! Ephron is a legendary writer and director, responsible for some truly great films, including When Harry Met Sally... one of the most well-loved films ever. Her uncredited work on Shark Exorcist aside, her writing always, always hits the mark - so this film's greatest crime, and greatest disappointment, is that it doesn't live up to the Ephron standard.

I challenged myself to find something positive to say about this terrible film. I found two things:

  • It's a highly effective Internet safety video. I'm sure if You've Got Mail! was compulsory viewing at school, the next generation would happily abandon their TikToktagrams and their Snapcords and re-discover the delights of wooden spinning tops and Knock Down Ginger.
  • One character in this movie only appears in three scenes but is a delight. She's quick-witted, dynamic, energetic, superficially evil but actually extremely thoughtful. Happily she makes her escape from the manipulative creep, but this means we barely get to know her. Personally I would rather see less of Creepy Joe or MPDG Kathleen and spend the whole hour and twenty minutes in the company of someone who makes coffee nervous.

I cannot give this truly awful piece of cinematic history any more than a mediocre three stars out of five.

Score: Three stars out of five.

All movies reviewed on The Sci-Fi Gene blog are awarded three stars out of five.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Next Phase, New Wave, Dance Craze, Anyways [Open Theremin V4]

Open Theremin V4 kit arrived today!

This is the kit. All the components of the V4 screw or click together so there's no need for dodgy soldering.

Like the V3, the V4 is a digital theremin based on an Arduino. Cleverly, as both Arduino and Open Theremin are open source design projects, the Arduino is included in the circuit for the V4, so there's no need to buy one separately. For more information or to buy a kit you can head to the project website here.

Side by side comparison: the V4 is taller, slimmer and lighter than the V3, and doesn't need to sit on a separate Arduino. Controls are basically the same but the play/standby control is a finger touchpad instead of a switch. Power is now USB-C, and there is now a CV line for synthesizer as well as the mini-jack audio.

I am completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly. Assembled, up and running after just a few minutes, and I've started playing. Feels and sounds very similar to the V3 so far. I will however need to order a longer USB-C cable. I might build a LEGO case later, but for the moment I'm enjoying the sleek, minimalist design too much. I shall record some videos and inflict some "music" on you soon.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Bad Teacher [Review: Battle Royale]

A Japanese high school class runs riot, with all sorts of behaviour in classroom and corridors, and pupils bullying and even stabbing their teacher. But this is all in a near-future Japan where, following an economic collapse attributed to a failure of discipline in schools, a law has been passed allowing classes of misbehaving pupils to be kidnapped, sent to an island, given a weapon (or in some cases a harmless item such as a shield or a torch) and some basic supplies, and left to fight to the death, with only the last child standing allowed to return home. And who should appear as the sadistic director of this particular Battle Royale but that same stabbed teacher, glorying in revenge on his former antagonists.

Battle Royale is a Japanese movie released in 2000, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda as students Shuya and Noriko, and Takeshi Kitano (the presenter of the original Takeshi's Castle) as teacher Kitano. It's a violent and darkly humorous horror movie, with frequent and graphic deaths. While it's clear that Shuya is the protagonist, most of the class are also given well-rounded characters and their alliances and duels are all played out, so the high number of characters can make the film a little hard to follow in places. Obviously this gets easier as the film progresses and more of the cast are eliminated.

Battle Royale isn't the only movie to portray gladiatorial games - of course Roman gladiators feature in Spartacus (1960) and Gladiator (also 2000), while Arena (1989) gives the concept a sci-fi twist. However there are a lot of similarities between Battle Royale and subsequent gladiatorial stories, particularly the Hunger Games books and films, and the recent Korean TV series Squid Game.

I enjoyed this movie although it does require a strong stomach and a pitch-black sense of humour. I would recommend it as an excellent revenge fantasy for any frustrated teacher. Three shuriken stars out of five.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Killing Me Softly [Reviews: The Love Witch and Season Of The Witch]

Witches are an endless source of fascination. Despite the attempts of Hans Christian Anderson, centuries of overzealous missionaries and Roald Dahl to paint them as agents of evil, our culture is full of more positive examples of witchcraft, whether in books, films, or in the real world with the modern day resurgence of Wicca. As a child I learned to read with Meg and Mog and later enjoyed reading about Mildred Hubble which should allow you to calculate my age. TV is full of portrayals of witches as powerful but sympathetic figures, such as Julia Wicker in The Magicians, or the magical cadets of Motherland: Fort Salem. Meanwhile there are plenty of films that use the concept of the witch in interesting ways - here are two recent examples I enjoyed.

The Love Witch

The Love Witch (2016) stars Samantha Robinson as modern-day witch Elaine Parks who sets out to start a new life and find love - with unfortunate, deadly consequences for her would-be lovers. It's filmed as a stylish tribute to 1960s Technicolor, with lavish settings and exaggerated colour schemes. Parks is literally a femme fatale but also a complex character, vulnerable, lonely and driven, and mesmerizing to watch. In some ways she reminded me of Alice Lowe's character Ruth from Prevenge, but Parks is not actually driven to kill (well, not often), it's just that her love is too intense for the men she charms.

The Love Witch also celebrates another form of witchcraft - that is, obsessive auteur-driven filmmaking. Anna Biller wrote, directed, scored, edited and produced the movie, spent several years finding, restoring or making the furniture for each scene, and made her own foray into witchcraft. The result is a unique and powerful vision combining feminine and feminist themes.

Season Of The Witch

Season Of The Witch (1973) is an early George A. Romero film. It's curiously deficient in brain-eating swarms of zombies, instead the story revolves around dissatisfied and Wicca-curious housewife Joan (Jan White), her controlling husband, and her daughter who is having an affair with a teacher. Joan is introduced to Marion, a newcomer to the suburb who practises witchcraft, and gradually becomes drawn into witchcraft herself. This is more of a drama than a horror film, although there is threat and violence in places, and Joan experiences some creepy dream sequences in which she faces exaggerated or metaphoric versions of her everyday life. 

Romero described this as a feminist film, and I think this is justified: it is the story of a woman in a controlling relationship who finds a way to empower herself and change her life (this escape theme also qualifies it as Science Fiction TM). The feminist aspect is simpler and less sophisticated than The Love Witch, and arguably the feminist credentials are further eroded by the release history, as a cut-down version was published and marketed (I think misleadingly) as softcore porn.

Both films portray witches as powerful and unintentionally dangerous, while at the same time portraying witchcraft as a positive feminine role and as an alternative to patriarchy and convention. I awarded both films three pentagrams out of five.