Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Once Upon A Time In Lapland" Screening: Kino London

"Once Upon A Time In Lapland" will be screened at Kino London's open mic film night today 1st December, at the Vibe Bar in Brick Lane. Details at . There are unconfirmed reports that mince pies may be occurring.

Monday, 28 November 2011

It's All About Soul Part II [Review: Slabscape Reset]

Two versions of entrepeneur Louie Drago are revived onboard the Slab, a giant generation ship: Dielle, a cryogenically stored body that has been restored to youth but “reset” with few conscious memories of his past life, and Louie, a computer simulation of Louie’s personality. Dielle is na├»ve, Louie is a born negotiator but culture-shocked, and both have to adjust to reality of life on the Slab.

S. Spencer Baker’s novel Slabscape:Reset describes a future society shaped by a small number of technologies: in particular artificial intelligence and matter transmission. Slab is controlled by the almost omnipresent AI Sis, and there is also a council of lesser AIs and partly digitized citizens. Sis is also part of an Internet-like information network based around neural implants. One major theme is the rise of celebrity voyeurism, a bit like the satirical setting of Ben Elton’s Blind Faith or Richie Chevat’s Rate Me Red - Dielle quickly falls into the hands of a publicist and almost every minute of his subsequent life is scripted, monetized and broadcast through the network. This is not a new idea at all but it’s explored in a playful and enjoyable way.

The other major theme is the soul and this is a lot more interesting. Slab humans believe souls to be an alien imposition. Souls are detectable, at least indirectly, and the Slab is partway through a long journey to their point of origin: its mission is to make contact with the alien source and register some form of complaint. Also while the matter transmission technology can transmit almost anything, humans tend to arrive at the other end without their souls. Apparently on Earth this led to a surfeit of estate agents. Boom boom. Louie has been revived to help solve a mystery that may threaten the Slab, and the fact he that he is not concerned whether he has a soul or not becomes important.

Reset is the first in a series of Slabscape novels. It’s a lighthearted but still well-thought out and well-written fantasy. I will be looking out for the sequels and I look forward to finding out where the author is going with their ideas about the soul. I also learnt an important lesson from this novel: if you’re planning to go into cryogenic suspension, don’t pay your fees with a credit card.

Friday, 25 November 2011

It's All About Soul Part I [Review: Cold Souls]

The soul is invisible, undetectable, unfathomable. Science has very little to say about the soul. Cinema, on the other hand...

Paul Giamatti, playing a mid-life crisis caricature of himself in Sophie Barthes' film Cold Souls, feels his soul is weighing him down. He's in the theatre rehearsing for Uncle Vanya but unable to breathe life into the character - so his solution is to visit the Soul Storage Company, who for a small fee will decant your soul into a glass jar and keep it in a locker. Paul just wants his soul out of the way until after the performance, but it turns out soullessness is a very individual experience and has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sophie Barthes is a writer and director with a very clear vision. As with Inception and the shared dream technology, the script remains focussed on a single sci-fi idea - the soul removal device. The concept is extrapolated - what would life be like without a soul? and, if you can take out your soul and put it back again, what else could you do? These scenarios are, in turn, used to bring human nature under the microscope.

Giamatti is human, and it's the small things that freak him out - he's not at all bothered by the ethical or theological implications of soul storage, the fact that soul storage is "not an exact science" or the limitations - it turns out that as much as 5% residual soul can be left behind. The idea that his soul could be stored in New Jersey on the other hand really disturbs him, as does the shape and size of his soul when he gets to see it, which is one of the best and funniest scenes in the film.

Barthes also wears her love for the films of Woody Allen on her sleeve - the central character and his neuroses, the concept and setting, the soft use of hand-held camera, even the font when the credits roll, are all definitely Woody-ish. I thought the film compared very well to the best of Allen's classic films and it does have a voice of its own - I found the humour darker and more subtle.

Kino Challenge Update 1: Once More, Mit Sleighbells

Take six film enthusiasts, lull them into a suggestive state with hypnotic music videos - some with more horses than others. Add a certain amount of gentle persuasion, and a title selected by the audience - and the Kino Challenge is on. We carried out a very rapid shoot last weekend in Dalston, and our Santsploitation movie "Once Upon A Time In Lapland" is now in post-production.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Cold Caller Love

Probably my favourite of the Kino London films in November - an amazing music video, directed by James Spinney, who described it as "an intergalactic love story."

Saturday, 19 November 2011

On Yer Bike [Review: Deathsport]

Deathsport is a film produced by a certain Sir Roger of Corman, where battles between post-apocalyptic city dwellers and desert rangers take place on dirt bikes or "death machines." It is a safe bet that this film was an attempt to capture some kind of 1978 motocross zeitgeist. It stars David Carradine and Claudia Jennings and was filmed in the California desert.

Deathsport is occasionably watchable but mostly failed for me: as a science fiction film, the plot is confused, the concepts are unoriginal and mundane, the effects are lacklustre, the heroes and villains only ordinarily heroic or villainous, and the script and soundtrack both attempt to sound portentious but fall flat. And if the villain has a penchant for electrocuting naked women in rooms full of hanging phosphorescent tubes, while this is certainly an interesting aspect of his personality, I would like at least some clue as to why. Perhaps in the year 3000 this will be a common pastime or hobby.

As a film about dirt biking it fails to capture the imagination or sell the sport: while about 80% of the film takes place on the bikes, the action is repetitive and pointless, the stunts are not really death-defying and there's no attempt to make the bikes themselves interesting. A short sequence towards the end, where David Carradine rides through a series of tunnels, shows what is missing elsewhere: POV shots providing a sense of speed.

This article at Schlockmania includes some ideas about why the film is such a mess. It's more charitable than my review and points out, fairly I think, that Carradine and Jennings bring a lot of charisma and even some chemistry to the film.

"2007" Screening: Rotoreliefs

I'm thrilled about this one: "2007" has been confirmed for a screening at Rotoreliefs on 30th Jan 2012.

[date corrected 14.12.11]

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Where's Kino?

"2007" was screened at Kino London on 3rd November, alongside some other truly memorable films: a family psychodrama turned out to be about peanuts, an alien stranded on Earth made contact with a horse, a man contemplated his breakfast egg (possibly best film of the evening) and the hunt for a certain bespectacled, knitware-wearing tourist took a sinister turn.

I'll post links to these films when I can. I've also taken on a new challenge making a film with some other Kino Londoners over the next month - watch this space.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Metal Mickey [Review: The Stainless Steel Rat]

Slippery Jim Di Griz is a small-time crook with a big-time ego: one of the last few con-artists in a future where almost all crime has been eliminated, he survives by keeping one step ahead and never running the same con twice. He is proud of his achievements and views his chosen lifestyle in romantic terms, but the rat is an apt metaphor: at the start of Harry Harrison’s space opera, Jim’s current enterprise involves stealing food from the back of a warehouse.

Even with a flair for planning original crimes, not everything goes to plan for the Rat. After falling into the hands of an interstellar police force Jim sets off on a trail across the galaxy in search of a beautiful psychopath who eludes or outsmarts him at every turn and of course steals his heart. An interesting sub-plot is Slippery Jim’s aversion to killing: for Jim this is the final taboo. Nevertheless he cannot outhink his lovely prey unless he can get inside her mind: on one occasion using a mind-altering drug to draw out his own murderous tendencies.

The Stainless Steel Rat is a comedy and a satire but not a spoof: it’s comic sci-fi done right. It’s also classic space opera, and there’s always another FTL spaceship to board, steal or commandeer. Later in his writing career, Harrison wrote several novels spoofing the genre, such as Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers in which the heroes discover a hyperdrive powered by cheese. However his disdain for space opera hasn’t apparently stopped Harrison from writing a further ten Stainless Steel Rat novels, the most recent of which was published in 2010. I have some reading ahead of me.