Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Mars A Day [work in progress]

Working on a Martian landscape, with some help from the Guru:

Someone should sweep up all these rocks...

Produced in Blender 2.76
Based on a Blender Guru tutorial

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Newt Scamander’s never quite tough enough
To catch his pet niffler who snaffles stuff.
Well-meaning, sincere,
And not quite all here:
In other words – typical Hufflepuff...

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

I'm a sucker for a French movie [Review: Evolution]

Nicholas is a young boy, probably eight or nine. He lives with his mother, and other young boys and their curiously pale-skinned mothers, in a town of concrete cube houses on an isolated island. Nicholas' very presence is an enigma - like the other boys, he bears no physical similarity to his mother, and also he likes to draw places and people that he cannot have experienced on the island. He starts to look for answers, but is whisked away to a sinister hospital where he makes an unlikely friend and discovers something truly horrific about the island.

This film has restored my faith in French horror cinema, and I can finally forgive our international neighbours for Eden Log. It's short, at about une heure et quart, and it's beautifully shot in stark colours, interspersed with awesome nature photography. The motif of the starfish recurs throughout the film and adds mystery and menace to the atmosphere - in one scene where the symbol appears in the operating theatre lights, I was dumbstruck.

Evolution is nightmare fuel of a subtle, quiet type. It's not a gore-fest, although some of the scenes in the hospital are bloody enough. It's more of an atmospheric chiller, with a surprisingly tender story at its heart about the unexpected friendship Nicholas finds at the hospital. Meanwhile the precision with which the plot unwinds, and the equally precise cinematography, gives the impression that everything in this enigmatic film is there for a reason, and I suspect I will be returning to it over and again trying to solve the puzzles.

I should point out as a public service that this is a French movie, directed in 2015 by Lucile Hadžihalilović. If at any point a youthful David Duchovny appears on your screen, you are watching the wrong film.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

They're Here! They're Here! [Review: Arrival]

Monolithic alien spaceships appear in twelve seemingly random locations across Earth's continents. The military call on linguistics professor Louise (Amy Adams) for an opinion, and she quickly talks her way onto the contact team and finds herself leading the contact mission alongside physicist Ian (Jeremy Renner).

What follows is a beautifully low-key first contact movie with echoes of both Contact and Interstellar, as the team races against time to decode the aliens' language before the fragile pax between involved nations breaks down. Adams stands out with a melancholy and human performance as a scientist plagued by memories of loss, and this is very much her movie - Renner is here in a supporting role although there's some good chemistry between the two.

Overall this is a well-scripted movie, and there's lots to enjoy - not least the alien language which is realised in depth, and the tension that builds between nations as teams at different sites become suspicious of each other.

There are however a couple of minor shark-jumps. Louise's first successful communication with the aliens is based on such a simple idea, I had trouble believing this hadn't been tried already. Later, despite being set in a military camp with tight security, one soldier manages to connect to a fundamentalist website on his laptop without triggering any alarms. These do not spoil the movie which stands on its performances and eerie atmospherics. The big twist, which I won't reveal here, is a narrative gamble with internal logic that in my opinion just about holds together. I liked it but it may well divide viewers.

The theme of interpreting alien languages is a science fiction favourite, although it can also get swept under the metaphorical carpet (yes, Babel fish, I'm talking to you) and it's a potential pitfall if and when we make contact with aliens in the real world. Of the many sci-fi novels that take up this theme I particularly enjoyed Jennifer Foehner Wells' Fluency, which features a scientist hero not unlike Amy Adams' character in Arrival, and Embassytown by China Mieville, a particularly bizarre tale of aliens who recruit humans to become metaphors in their language.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

"Broken Bird" TV Screening: On The Verge

Ariel Undine's "Broken Bird" was featured on Latest TV's "On The Verge" music video show. The folks at Latest TV have kindly put this episode up on YouTube so you can see it here. Latest TV is a Brighton-area TV channel with lots of fresh art and music strands - you can watch them in Brighton on Freeview 7, or via their website here.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sand And Deliver [Review: The Sand]

It begins with a a group of students. It's always a group of students. How are there any students still living anywhere? These students have a spring break beach party that they think was pretty wild, although the evidence suggests otherwise, and wake up to find the beach deserted and themselves surrounded by an existential threat - anything living that makes contact with the sand itself leads to a sticky end. There's a lot of screaming. Seagulls die. And those students have to justify their 2:1 degrees and use their brains to escape.

I've seen a fair number of low-budget horror movies over the course of my life. This has got to be one of the low-budgetiest I've ever come across. It's actually quite an achievement to come up with a threat that has so little visual impact, much of the time all you ever see are tiny disturbances whipping up from the sand. The actors have to do the hard work, mostly by gurning and screaming, and the screaming in this movie is good quality, reminiscent of those old-school Doctor Who days. Brooke Butler could well have made it as an old-school Doctor Who companion, although I think any of the new batch would have kicked her ass.

This movie fails when it tries anything ambitious - with a fairly low setting of ambitious. The gruesome death scenes are not great, and as soon as the nature of the creature even starts to become apparent, the quality of the effects drops off and the creature effects towards the end are fairly limited. If only they'd had more faith in their original concept. Early on there's a suggestion that the sand-thing might be intelligent - it's able to manipulate surfboards and other physical objects to try to tip the humans over into its zone of influence. That's an idea that could have been developed further and could actually have been more threatening. Similarly, there's a subplot - goodness, what did those naughty students actually do the night of the party? No. Don't care.

This movie was fun in places, with the occasional scene that works really well, and some decent performances making the most of a very basic script, but overall it felt like watching Tremors but without the graboids, the pole-vaulting or the Bacon.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Harry Potter And The Media Convergence Phenomenon [Spoiler-Free Review: Cursed Child]

This is a review of the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, read as a novel. I haven't got tickets to see it on stage and I'd have to kill far too many people to even get to stand outside the theatre. I was going to use my Cloak of Invisibility to get in, but I've put it down somewhere...

This is also a SPOILER-FREE review. This means I'm not going to make the mistake of telling you what happens to Dobby this time.

So first of all, Cursed Child is a perfectly enjoyable read. It's accessible as a play script, in fact after the first few pages you can easily forget and think of it as a story written in idiosyncratic style. To be fair it's more of a novella than a novel, but will still keep you occupied for the duration of a short internal flight. Using some clever plot devices, the plot involves both familiar and new characters, there's a lot of fun, some surprises and, happily, some new discoveries about the characters and the Potterverse. The story arc is satisfying, the ending is a little less so.

Cursed Child also manages to retain that essential J.K. Rowlinguality, even though Rowling only co-wrote the story and did not write the script. Characters are sympathetic, do have more than one aspect to their personality, and do develop during the events of the play. Dialogue is two thirds genius to one third cornfield. I do miss the internal voices that run through all Rowling's actual novels - only used here in very limited ways.

CC does however suffer from being a play script, and in particular a play script that wants to be something else. It's a Media Identity Disorder if you like. CC owes its inspiration not so much to the original Harry Potter novels but to the films. It makes sense that the writers would know that their play will be compared to the films, or perhaps they have ambitions towards a film conversion. It's also true that media are converging - films, TV shows, plays, books, audiobooks, comics, games etc. are all becoming more or less the same thing, and in a world where you can buy Harry Potter wool, a play script that wants to be a film script, looks like a novel and reads like a short story isn't so far fetched.

Either way, CC features ultra-short scenes, with major location changes every few minutes, much action, and many magical effects. None of this needs to make it a bad play, but I suspect it may lose some of the intimacy that comes from the best-written theatrical plays. I would still be curious to see it, if I can find where I put my Cloak, and I'm willing to be proven wrong.

Monday, 8 February 2016

We're Putting The Band Back Together [The X-Files]

I'd rather be liberated
I find myself captivated
[Catatonia, "Mulder and Scully"]

Watching the first episode on Channel 5 - impressively, in this day and age, this is not a reboot, a re-make, a re-imagining, a spin-off or a prequel. It's just a new series of The X-Files. Mulder and Scully have developed, as both characters carry the weight of their past experiences, but this is essentially the same recipe as ever - show something unbelievable, make it appear beyond doubt, then create doubt.

As this is a new series, and some of today's hybrid aliens may have been cloned too recently to have been exposed to the original, there is a need to introduce the characters and set out the stall. Thus Mulder spells out his own optimist-skeptic philosophy ("I want to believe" rather than "I believe") before being ignited by the latest conspiracy theory while Scully checks, double checks and triple checks her facts but is prepared to trust the results. The opening pitch for the new series, meanwhile, is the revelation that conspiracy theories are themselves part of a conspiracy to cover up an even greater conspiracy - or possibly they're not. Nice one.

What really makes this show is the return of Anderson and Duchovny - both superb actors, easily good enough to take this show into orbit. The original series drew heavily on the electrifying chemistry between the two at every level, from the will-they-won't-they sexual tension to the sharp intellectual battles. Now, later in life, they've moved on from that relationship that was too intense to have lasted, but are still bound together - and it's still electrifying.

Can all this be maintained? The original series wrote the book on slow-burning story arcs. Let's give it some time.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Frame Shift Drive Charging [Elite Dangerous]

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a blogger backed a Kickstarter campaign for a sequel to a classic space-opera themed computer game. Despite a rocky start, the campaign proved to be phenomenally successful - and in due course, the game was released to a warm welcome from its many fans. Feeling immensely satisfied, the blogger downloaded his free version of the game, installed it and hit the "play" button on the launcher...

...only to discover that his pre-Bronze Age PC was so low spec he had no chance of ever running it. And so the dream died and the blogger drowned his sorrows and continued with his life. When the pain wasn't too sharp he would continue to read about the game and the exploits of its pilots, and even watched in-game events streamed on YouTube.

The pre-Bronze Age PC struggled on for several few months, occasionally shaking or emitting smoke or sparks, until finally it could calculate no more and departed this earth for the greener pastures of the Cloud. It had served its master well and had had the digital equivalent of a good innings.

While the blogger mourned the loss of his faithful if pathetic companion, his heart was not entirely sad. In fact, while this may appear heartless to some, he realised that finally there was an excuse to buy a half-decent machine!
There was a moment of suspense as, once more, the "play" button depressed and the hard drive fired up - and a whole new world opened up.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
I can't claim to be that far ahead of the curve on this occasion - thousands of people are already playing Elite Dangerous so there's a steep catch-up curve ahead of me. However I can report that my old BBC B docking skills have survived cryosleep and the new game isn't too difficult to pick up. I will write more about the game when I've had more of a chance to try it out.

Right On Commander

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

"Broken Bird" Screening: Selby International Short Film Festival

Breaking: I'm pleased to announce that "Broken Bird" is on the Official Selection for the Selby International Short Film Festival, and will be screened in the Music Video category on 30th July 2016 at the Jorvik Theatre.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

"Broken Bird" Screening: Kino London

My music video for "Broken Bird" will be spreading its wings for a screening on Wednesday 20th January, at Kino London - London's open-mic short film night at Electrowerks club in Angel. Doors are at 7.30. Advance tickets on the website or buy on the door. Facebook event details here.

"Broken Bird" is a song by Ariel Undine - listen to more of Ariel's music here.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Rey A Drop Of Golden Sun [Review: The Force Awakens]

You may be aware of the recent release of this obscure micro-budget arthouse flick - in fact you may have noticed there are already one or two reviews elsewhere on the Internet. A few observations:

History does seem to repeat itself through the Star Wars movies. Certain themes and plot elements, particularly the obsession with genocidal planet-busting weapons, recur quite often. I'd like to think this is deliberate. After all, no-one complains if the recap at the end of a symphony movement sounds a bit like the first part of the movement, do they? It's called structure.

There seems to be a different approach to character-building. Finn, Rey and Kylo all have believable internal conflicts and grey areas, whereas the cast of all six previous films* are easily classifiable into "good" or "bad" (with the possible exception of Lando). It's particularly interesting to see "bad" characters that are so conflicted - in plot terms this might also indicate that the First Order is different from the monolithic Empire. However these characters are only complex for Star Wars - they still seem simplistic compared to many other films.

There's a definite improvement in the quality of the filmmaking. I won't say it was bad but there was always something eccentric about Lucas's approach to direction, perhaps befitting the most successful indie filmmaker of all time, whereas under J.J. Abrams and his team the new film looks - how do I say this? more professional. It's hard to pinpoint all the technical changes but there's better composition, more interesting shots and angles, and it all makes for a more engaging film.

Overall The Force Awakens worked for me - it was a lot of fun, I thought the new cast were excellent and brought something fresh to the series, and there were a lot of new ideas even if there were also a lot of familiar ones. I look forward to Episode VIII.

*The six previous films are, of course:
A New Hope
Empire Strikes Back
Revenge of the Sith
Return of the Jedi
Attack of the Clones
Ewoks: Caravan of Courage

Saturday, 2 January 2016


The Sci-Fi Gene looks forward to an interesting 2016 - but I'm not quite ready to let you know why, except to say there will be more news very soon about both Reply To All and Broken Bird, and I have some promising new projects lined up for the coming year.