Tuesday, 20 January 2015

New Brains For Old [Review: The Machine]

Military scientist McCarthy's (Toby Stephens) research into artificial brain implants is not going entirely to plan - recovered bionic soldiers become inexplicably mute a few weeks after surgery, and one experiment goes on a killing spree. To save his scientific bacon, McCarthy recruits quantum computer expert Ava (Caity Lotz) and together they work towards the creation of an android which, for dramatic or possibly budgetary reasons, bears a striking resemblance to Caity Lotz.

The Machine attempts to tell a complex and dark story - plot strands include McCarthy's motivation for his research, his relationship with the android as she awakens and discovers the world, as well as what appears to be a power struggle amongst the sinister bionics.

This film bears a superficial resemblance to Alex Garland's film
Ex Machina which will be released later this month, if the Ex Machina trailer is anything to go by. It also reminded me of Splice, as both deal with the twisted relationship between creator and created, as well as other recent films touching on the love between man and computer - Her, for example, or The Imitation Game.

I enjoyed this film, particularly Lotz' performance as both Ava and the android - a perfect Uncanny-Valley performance, neither clearly human nor inhuman.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Let Slip The Bats Of War [Review: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies]

Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy concludes as Douglas the wisecracking dragon pilot from Cabin Pressure meets his fate at human hands, and a massive capture-the-flag grudge match begins between an odd number of Middle Earth factions trying to gain control of the dwarven mountain and a large stash of chocolate money. The trilogy ends on a high note - easily the most entertaining of the three, even when seen through 2D specs and at a mere 24 frames per second.

An issue I may possibly have mentioned in my reviews of Hobbit 1 and 2 here and here, was the fact that almost all lead characters were guaranteed a place in the final episode - so they were never really in danger. Once you reach the final battle, though, all bets are off. I'm not saying I want to see gory deaths for their own sake, I have a Game Of Thrones boxset for that! but finally, there is some actual peril, the stakes are raised and the drama is much better as a result. Now please can we have a Radagast The Brown spin-off?

Sunday, 4 January 2015


2015 has arrived and this year The Sci-Fi Gene has only one, modest New Year's resolution: to achieve total world domination. I promise to be a benevolent dictator and to treat all my subjects equally, although favouring loyal blog followers would not be out of the question.

First progress report:

Domination of the world via Ingress: in my first few days of playing I took control of a small Essex town, activating mind control units between the seven XM portals. I continue to hold this zone thanks to the intervention of some higher-level players and I will be expanding and fortifying it in the New Year. I also took control of a historic water pump elsewhere in Essex and a selection of landmarks in London, including (briefly) Nelson's Column. These portals quickly came under attack by enemy forces and are no longer under my control - for now.

Domination of the music and film industry: work continues on my music video for Ariel Undine's Broken Bird. This project is taking shape and I hope to have a finished or near-finished version ready in the next few weeks. Work also continues on Reply To All, and I am considering a number of new film projects for 2015.

Domination of the blogosphere: The mission continues with sci-fi reviews and reflections, filmmaking and animation, and limericks, or possibly no limericks. 2015 should be an interesting year for sci-fi as Jedi Knights everywhere come to grips with their new crossguard lightsabres - expect a lot of self-inflicted wrist injuries.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

We Wish You A Mirror Christmas [Review: Black Mirror]

Two men sit in an isolated cabin exchanging stories about their past. Their past is our future, a post-Google Glass world where mobile technology is implanted directly into the optic nerve so, for example, it becomes possible to "block" other people, preventing communication in real life as well as online. Black Mirror is back for this one-off Christmas spec-fi drama.

For the unitiated, Channel 4's Black Mirror is a series of speculative fiction TV dramas created by Charlie Brooker, a twenty-first century Twilight Zone with stand-alone dramas inspired by the rise of digital media tech. Brooker has always been the ultimate hatchet-wielding reviewer - for this episode, satirical targets include friend-blocking, online pick-up gurus, and personal assistants such as Siri or Cortana.

As with previous mini-series, the acting in this episode is super: great performances particularly from a creepy Jon Hamm. The combination of the three subplots is OK but personally I think the ideas would have been better suited for three full episodes.

However all the sci-fi concepts and subplots are a diversionary tactic. Brooker has used this episode to declare war on one primary target, and by the end of the episode you will hate it as much as he does. It is of course the soundtrack - Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day."

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Five Miles From Woodstock

Five Miles From Woodstock performing at Howl At The Moon in 2010, filmed in glorious Standard Definition:

Five Miles From Woodstock are playing the Horse and Stables London on 6th December - find out more on their Facebook page.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mortals! You Defy The Gods! [Review: Interstellar]

Heroic archetype Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey) leaves behind his family and pilots a ring-shaped starship through a wormhole created by mysterious, godlike entities. His voyage takes him across an unfamiliar galaxy, accompanied by a crew who spend most of their time in stasis and a robot with a disturbed sense of humour. Yes! As you have probably guessed, Chris Nolan's new film Interstellar is pretty much a re-make of Ulysses 31.

Interstellar is space opera with a 21st century feel. The first act takes place on a bleak, near-future Earth where the farming ecosystem is slowly failing. The interstellar mission of the middle act is never a voyage to seek out new life and new civilizations but a desperate last chance to avert the death of humanity, and the story remains personal at all times, helped by some soul-wracking performances by McConnaughey and Anne Hathaway.

There are one or two silly scenes - the father-promises-daughter-he-will-return-home subplot (although it's there for a good reason), and the scenes where the Endurance crew brainstorm complex maneuvers and solve physics problems too quickly - it might be totally justified but it sounds like plot-hole technobabble.

On the other hand this is a compelling vision of the future, with so many elements that do make sense, including the technology. No Ulysses 31 remake would be complete without NoNo, but TARS and CASE are worthy additions to the canon of science-fiction robot companions, with their original physical design and programmable levels of honesty, sensitivity and humour. As you would expect from yet another Chris Nolan / Lee Smith collaboration, the cinematography, effects and editing are superb.