Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Film noir et blanc [Review: Renaissance]

Renaissance (2006) is a stylish French animated thriller. The English voice acting from Daniel Craig and Romola Garai is good, however the real star is the futuristic Paris, imagined as if Gustave Eiffel had carried on building towers, walkways and ironworks across the city, and the resultant contrast between Gothic and modernist architecture is toon-rendered in perfect black and white CGI. The storyline is complex and engaging if not particularly original, revolving around kidnapping, corporate conspiracy, and criminal underworld goings-on in the cosmetics industry.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Warped Genius [Review: Surface Warp Factor]

Surface Warp Factor is not the work of sci-fi or fantasy artists or illustrators but an exhibition by a group of artists taking their inspiration from science fiction, recently on display at the Aubin Gallery in London.

"Suncatcher II" Tom Ormond

For me, one of the most powerful aspects of science fiction is the sense of scale: authors such as Larry Niven, Stephen Baxter and Iain M. Banks write tales of engineering on city, country, planet, solar system or even galaxy-wide scales; while often in films we are presented with objects that defy scaling - how big is the Starship Enterprise for instance? Tom Ormond's canvasses play with scale and engineering while remaining abstract and perplexing: his geodesic hemisphere ("Suncatcher II") could be a house, a city or a hollow planet; his floating sphere ("Hardtack Moon") could also be a machine planet or star of some kind - but if so, what is it hovering above? Haunting colour schemes depict sunset and starlight respectively.

"Hardtack Moon" Tom Ormond

Ormond's work was the highlight for me of an extremely creative exhibition that also included Stewart Gough's sculptures from plumbing materials, Gordon Cheung's fractal dragon, Richard Ducker's abstract creations that play with shapes, angles and textures, and Sheena Macrae's video installation "Odyssey" in which iconic scenes from Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" are broken into horizontal bars and combined to mesmerizing effect.

"Fallen Warrior" Stewart Gough

I also enjoyed the gentle humour of Diann Bauer's ink drawing and Juan Bolivar's greyscale images.

"To Boldly Go" Juan Bolivar

Regretfully this exhibition is now closed but you can see other works by Gordon Cheung at the Zero 10 gallery, and by Richard Ducker at the Oblong Gallery and Elastic Residence. I should add that this is the second exhibition I've seen at the Aubin Gallery and both times I've been impressed by the creativity and ingenuity they've been able to bring together - the future is bright.

"Dragon Dance" Gordon Cheung

All pictures are copyright to their respective creators and are reproduced here with the kind permission of the Aubin Gallery.

Monday, 19 July 2010

LOLspeak is l33t, no?

LOLspeak is l33t, no?
It's easier than Arapaho
FTW woo yay!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

It's Gonna Be The Future Soon

Sci-Fi Gene is looking forward to these films:

Tron Legacy: a no-brainer. Even if this film had no dialogue, no characters, no plot and was just a two hour fly-through of the virtual city I would still watch it twice.
Titanic 2: A hundred years after the fateful voyage of the Titanic, a replica ship is retracing the original route when a freak storm throws a giant iceberg into it's path. You can add your own jokes about going down in history, sinking without trace, cold reception etc. here as much as you like, I still want to see this Asylum classic.

Predators: open. I wasn't a fan of the original Predator which was well made but kind of a one-trick pony. However this film, set on the Predator homeworld, looks like a different kettle of fish. Also, has anyone noticed that when hamsters yawn they look like Predators?

Inception: opening now. Leonardo DiCaprio narrowly missed out on the lead role for Titanic 2, instead opting to appear in this potentially mind-blowing film made by the director of The Prestige.

Splice: Looks like a brilliant tale of genetic engineering. Sadly I missed this one at Sci-Fi London but hope to catch it on release.

Mega Python vs Gatoroid: just entering production now so a little further into the future, this is the film that will re-unite 80s singers and monster slayers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Urban Fairy Story [Review: The Blue Girl]

17-year old Imogene is a recent arrival to Charles de Lint’s fictional town of Newford. Along with her brother and their permissive parents she is trying to put her teenage gang past behind her, but this proves difficult when she has to deal with the bullies at her new high school and she is constantly in danger of being drawn back into a cycle of violence. Then there are the fairies.

Charles de Lint is an award winning author who likes to interweave fantastic and urban concepts, often drawing out the most sinister aspects of both. In this case, the high school menace is by no means the last of Imogene’s worries: the school is inhabited by a tribe of house fairies who have lost their moral compass (a consequence of being forgotten by humans) and the ghost of a suicidal schoolboy who develops a crush on her, while mysterious and far more dangerous entities wait in the shadows.

There was a point about a third of the way through where the story suddenly took hold and became compulsive reading: when lovesick ghost Adrian realises that the only way he can save Imogene from the shadow-dwelling creatures that are closing in on her is for someone else to die, he doesn’t hesitate in the slightest. Nor does he put himself forward nobly – straightaway he identifies one of the bullies to take her place, imagining an impossible, happy future with Imogene as a result. This rescue fantasy is exactly what crushes are all about!

There is a lot to enjoy in this book, and it is also extremely sinister in places – the idea of fairies granting wishes in unexpected and dangerous ways is handled well. Imogene and Adrian feel like very real characters and their respective pasts have a strong bearing upon how they approach their situation. The book is also well written, making good, clear use of multiple narrators. However this is very much a teenage read, and sometimes felt a little too lightweight for me. Given the compelling twist above the ending felt like a cop-out – I expected a little more. I can’t help comparing it to China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, a young adult novel which I thought had much more bite, and much more to enjoy for the adult as well as the younger reader. Giraffes, not fairies, are still the new zombies.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Paul of Cthulhu

The hero of this year's footie World Cup (apart from the inventor of the vuvuzela and his or her long-suffering family) has been Paul the Psychic Octopus. Oberhausen zoo's octopus Paul has now predicted the outcome of every German match, including this week's defeat at the hands of Spain. Paul's prophetic rise began two years ago when he correctly predicted all but one German match result in the European Cup

From his tank headquarters Paul is now considering his forecasts for the final and third-fourth playoff game. However, after predicting defeats for both Argentina and Germany he seems to have acquired a number of enemies and the zoo is receiving daily death threats - mostly in the form of recipes. Do these people not know the danger of taking on any lifeform with this amount of psychic power? Have they not seen Scanners? In addition to his own formidable abilities, Paul is also surrounded by a Cthulhu-esque cabal of followers led by zookeeper and high priest Oliver Walenciak who will no doubt lay down their lives, and perform any number of bizarre human sacrifices, before seeing their demi-god deep-fried.

No doubt having made some quiet appointments with his bookmaker, after the final on Sunday Paul will be retiring to his Beverley Hills mansion tank. The rumour that he is currently dating Miley Cyrus has also not been officially denied.

Sources: Metro, Telegraph, everywhere

[Edit 13.7.10 This post has generated unexpected levels of traffic - if you're new to The Sci-Fi Gene then welcome! Thanks for dropping by - stay for a cup of tea and a comment? In other news Paul the Psychic Octopus has been an inspiration all over the blogosphere, including a thread of limericks on The L Blog. Enjoy your retirement, Paul! ]

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Ex-Factor [Review: My Super Ex-Girlfriend]

Superheroes really do get a raw deal. G-Girl here (Uma Thurman) has been written as one of those misogenistic fantasy characters, the neurotic-obsessive-clingy woman, but half-way through the film I found myself rooting for her rather than her boyfriend Matt (Luke Wilson) the supposed hero/victim of the piece, who is only interested in bragging to his best friend about his sexual exploits. The extremely funny scene in the restaurant where G-Girl knows that, if she leaves her table to save the world from a meteorite threat, this will leave Matt free to flirt with his co-worker Hannah (Anna Faris) pretty much sums it up - and she has a point, why can't they just leave it to the military for once?

I would have to say this is not a film that stands out as any kind of classic, although it's original and quite funny. It's always good to see superheroes using their powers for something more inventive than just the common good of all mankind: for example the third act, when G-Girl finally gets round to taking imaginative revenge on Matt for dumping her, is a lot of fun. Actually I think she is relatively restrained given how badly she's been treated.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Divided States Of America Part II [Review: The Man In The High Castle]

The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, also describes a divided America – this time between the German and Japanese forces that have won World War II. Most of the action is set on the Japanese side of the line, while the novel hints at Nazi atrocities committed elsewhere.

While The Years Of Rice And Salt is often about the movers and shakers of the world, this novel is about the under-dogs and middle-men, the Americans under occupation, scraping by and trying to make an honest or dishonest buck. Fakes and fake fakes abound: the Americans are forging historical Americana for the Japanese collectors. The I Ching features heavily again – and yes, I, the author and the cast of the novel are all aware this is not a Japanese philosophy! It’s been introduced to America by the Japanese and is there for a reason. Meanwhile a sudden German leadership contest forces the Japanese colonists and diplomats to choose between supporting different flavours of inhumanity.

The central mystery within the novel is another alternative history novel, banned on the German side of the line, which seems to depict a world in which the Germans and Japanese have lost the war. In the final chapter, a meeting with the author of the novel leads to a subtle, existential twist in the tail, foreshadowed by an earlier scene where a minor character briefly finds himself in our reality. It’s the perfectly executed prestige at the end of a great conjuror’s illusion.