Wednesday, 20 May 2015

I've Got A Brand New Alien Harvester [Review: Evil Aliens]

Sometimes you need to turn your brain off and just watch something stupid and bloody...

Evil Aliens is a comic horror film from 2005 starring Emily Booth as a cynical TV journalist and featuring Red Dwarf's Norman Lovett sadly only in a minor role. Booth and her crew are sent to investigate an alien abduction story on an isolated Welsh farm, accompanied by an eccentric UFO expert played by Jamie Honeybourne. It soon becomes clear that the aliens are somewhat hostile, and the film progresses into a series of close encounters of the messy kind.

This film is an unashamed gorefest, and it's very clear the budget has been spent mainly on realistic blood-and-guts effect shots which are detailed, delightfully inventive and utterly gratuitous. Everything else is cheaper - the script is perhaps not as fine tuned as it could be, the aliens appear to have bought cheap Predator costumes on eBay and rendered their spaceship CGI on Microsoft Paint. The acting is all hammed-up melodrama but it carries things along while you wait for the next bloodsplattering, and I think you've got to admire the endurance of the actors in this kind of film - some of those scenes would have involved hours spent in fairly disgusting set-ups.
This is not a film to watch with the kids, due to all the extreme violence and whatnot. Also, Evil Aliens isn't a porn film per se but does contain two or three sort-of soft-porn scenes involving sex with either aliens or camera crew. Which is weirder? You decide. Overall this film was strangely compelling to watch, plus any film that ends on as bad a joke as this one gets my vote.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lost Vikings [Review: Dragonfly]

Greeta is a Northlander, a Viking living amongst Native Americans. The Shining Star Nation has welcomed Greeta and her people into their midst but acceptance is not universal, and suspicions and superstitions remain. Without warning, Greeta is rejected by her tribe and discovers that her own family has concealed an important truth about her identity.

Dragonfly by Resa Nelson is part alternate history and part magical fantasy, drawing on the folklore of both populations. Within the unusual setting, Greeta's story is about self-discovery and growing up in many senses - becoming an adult woman, discovering her past and identity, and making choices about who to trust and who to love.

This novel gripped me from about the third chapter onwards right through to the end and I would highly recommend it. Dragonfly is the start of a second trilogy in this setting (the three Dragonslayer novels come first) however I had not read these novels so I didn't see the twists coming and I particularly enjoyed this aspect - the secrets and reveals are handled extremely well throughout. I also thought the descriptions of the various tribes were credible and there was a real sense of tension between the two cultures.

You can find out more about Dragonfly and Resa Nelson's other books on her website here.

Friday, 1 May 2015

St. Albans Film Festival Preview

The Romans were forward thinkers. When they founded their settlement at Verulaneum, who knows - perhaps in their minds' eyes they could see, in the distant future, a time when their descendents might recline in the local forum, taverna or caldarium watching a finely curated selection of entertainments, while an army of slaves fed them grapes and sweetmeats and attended to their every whim.

We will perhaps never know if they did indeed ponder on such a prediction, but if so those Roman thinkers would be gratified to know that they got it broadly right. The third St. Albans Film Festival is already in full swing (admittedly with surprisingly little slavery), and there's an exciting programme coming up this weekend. On Saturday, choose either Monsters Vs Aliens or Alien Resurrection while you swim at Westminster Lodge, head to the Maltings to see the first three Star Trek movies in their non-reimagined, pre-reboot glory, or make your way to the Town Hall for the music video programme including live music from several of the featured artists.

On Sunday look out for the Young Filmmaker short film screening, where the next Steven Spielbergs and Kathryn Bigelows are taking their first steps.

Programme and tickets via the St. Albans Film Festival website here.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

International Music Video

So pleased to announce that Steampunk Girl has won the International Music Video award at London Independent Film Festival 2015.

This is my first film festival award in any category so it's a major bucket list item ticked off - probably don't need to do the parachute jump or the threesome now.

Shortwave Cinema, the location for most LIFF screenings and events including the awards ceremony and closing party.

Congratulations to all the winners:

No-Budget Feature — THE MILKY WAY by Tor Mian
UK Feature — SOLITARY by Sasha Krane
Best Actor – Pearl Chanda in THE FINAL HAUNTING
Best Director – Simon Blake for STILL
International Feature – VERTICAL by Steven Savage
Sci-Fi/ Horror — UNHALLOWED GROUND by Russell England
Micro-Budget Feature — THE LAST SPARKS OF SUNDOWN by James Kibbey
Documentary — ALFRED AND JAKOBINE by Jonathan Howells
Short Documentary — Jordanne by Zak Razvi
UK Short — BEVERLEY by Alexander Thomas
International Short — THE WHEEL OF TIME by Kagan Kerimoglu
Horror Short — THE HERD by Melanie Light
Sci-Fi Short — AIR by Emma E. Maclennan
LGBT Film — PLAYING THE GAME by Jeremy Timings
Experimental Short — PEEP DISH by Darragh Mortell
Short Short — KILLER ROAD by Marco Clay
Animated Short — MY STUFFED GRANNY by Effie Pappa
UK Music Video — ALL IN THE VALUE by Geej Ower
International Music Video — STEAMPUNK Girl by Joshua Westbury
Best UK Screenplay — THE COMPETITORS by Ruth Greenberg
Best International Screenplay — Shimmy by P.A Flanders
Best Short Screenplay — DREAMS OF TOMORROW by Cindy Walters
Best Screenplay Pitch — ZOG THE MAGNIFICENT by Prahib Sukoro

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

London Independent Film Festival Preview

As Niels Bohr once said, prediction is very difficult - especially about the future. Still no hyperdrives, flying cars, hoverboards, dolphin translators or dystopian gladiatorial contests, but according to this article head transplants are on the horizon - props to the makers of Worzel Gummidge for being such unexpected visionaries. Someone had their thinking head on...

However I can confidently predict that cinemaphiles will have plenty to enjoy at this year's London Independent Film Festival, which opens this Thursday. Horror fans should check out the programme on Friday 24th April, which includes the haunted-school feature Unhallowed Ground as well as a selection of horror shorts.

For science fiction fans, there will be a selection of sci-fi shorts on Saturday 25th April. Also try and get to the festival on Saturday 18th April, when the programme will include Emma Maclennan's dystopian short film AIR, winner of Phoenix Film Festival's Best Sci-Fi Short Film award earlier this year.

London Independent full programme and tickets here.

Monday, 6 April 2015

"Steampunk Girl" Festival Screenings

Programmes and tickets for both St. Albans Film Festival and London Independent Film Festival are now available on their websites. "Steampunk Girl" will appear at both festivals in their music video events: first at London Independent on Sunday 19th April, then at St. Albans on Saturday 2nd May. I'll post more about these great festivals soon, in the meantime please check out the websites and programmes as both festivals have some great features planned.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

When The Cat's Away [Review: Gone]

I previously reviewed The Speed Of Dark, Elizabeth Moon's near-future novel about adults with autism, here. As this week is World Autism Awareness Week I've chosen to review another novel featuring a character with autism: Gone by Michael Grant.

Suddenly and without warning or special effects of any kind, all the adults and over-15s living in Sam Temple's town Perdido Beach have disappeared. A mysterious barrier has also appeared around the town so no-one can leave or contact the outside world in any way. And there's more: Sam, and some of the other children have developed a range of superpowers, apparently before the disappearance.

Gone is the first book in Michael Grant's popular series of novels for young adults, set in a present-day world without adults. While the novel explores this scenario, introduces Sam and his companions and other less likeable children, and sets up a long list of mysteries to be revealed later in the series, it also explores some satisfyingly heavy themes. It's been written into international law that all YA fiction must be about social inequality, and Gone is no exception, but as it's set in the present day, the social tensions are perfectly familiar: attitudes towards immigrants, religious intolerance and the gap between rich and poor parts of town, rather than futuristic factions or districts.

Grant is a confident writer, able to tackle real-world subjects that some authors seem to avoid or allegorize: including religious tension and also discrimination over mental illness. A minor character is a teenager with bulimia, and Sam's allies include Astrid and her young brother Pete who is portrayed as severely autistic - either unable or unwilling to communicate most of the time and severely distressed by raised voices or other disturbances. There's a strong protective bond between Pete and Astrid, and without too much infodumping Astrid is still able to communicate the nature of autism to the others (and to the reader.)

The scenario is not particularly original: superficial elements may have been "borrowed" from Stephen King's Under The Dome and the many, many teenage-superpower books and films. It succeeds in mixing these elements to create something that feels fresh, and is willing to take the reader into a fairly dark place - it would be fair to describe Gone as a re-imagined Lord Of The Flies. It's a gripping read that also has something meaningful to say.