Sci-Fi Short: FTL (2017)

Here’s a YouTube link to a 15-minute sci-fi short, FTL, that won a few awards last year. It isn’t wholly convincing- its really more a tech demo, I think, a proof of ability on the part of the writer/director Adam Stern who has a visual effects background from some tv stuff like Almost Human and Childhood’s End. So inevitably it works more as a tech exercise than a dramatic one. It features Ty Olsson in the lead, a face you will likely remember from all sorts of tv stuff over the last few years. Sort of a cross between Gravity and Interstellar, maybe its something that might have been expanded into a movie if some studio saw sufficient promise in it. On the other hand, it just goes to demonstrate that fairly ambitious stuff like this is no longer the preserve of major studio blockbusters as it was back in the Original Trilogy days of Star Wars. Worth a look, anyway-

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Cosmos series 2

Well here’s a surprise, some Comic-Con footage on YouTube this morning led me to the discovery that a second series of the Cosmos reboot from four (that long already?!) years ago is in the making and scheduled for airing in March 2019. While it had its faults, the Cosmos reboot was pretty good and a fitting successor to the Carl Sagan original from 1980. Here’s a teaser trailer for next year’s offering; looks like they have dropped the animated segments, or maybe they haven’t been completed as yet-

The Endless (2017)

endl1Actors/writers/directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson return to the setting of their earlier sci-fi/horror jewel Resolution with another finely crafted tale that perhaps doesn’t really benefit from its larger budget/scale and cast as much as one would think. The strength, for me, of the earlier Resolution was its enforced small-scale; its intimacy and almost claustrophobic sense of remote horror. The Endless opens things up and widens the original’s perimeters and to me it loses something along the way.

Others, though, may have been frustrated by the limitations of Resolution and in particular its ending, and therefore will find The Endless a much more rewarding experience. Certainly there’s a bigger scope, and more ambitious visuals.

Two brothers, Justin and Aaron (played by the film-makers themselves albeit exchanging names) are escapees from a UFO doomsday cult out in the desert- ten years have passed and while Justin has adjusted to living in the ‘normal’ outside world, Aaron has his doubts and is missing his extended family of cultist friends. When a videotape arrives from the cult, seemingly stating that a fabled ‘Ascension’ has either happened or is imminent, Aaron convinces his brother that they should return to the cult just for one day. Hoping what they find will finally make Aaron realise they are better off well away from the cult, and achieve some sense of closure, Justin agrees.

endl2What they find back at the camp where the cultists live on the Indian reservation is at first bewildering, almost comforting (for Aaron at least) but there is, always, a sense of unease (particularly for the doubtful Justin) at the apparent idyll and hints of something being terribly wrong.

The return of Michael (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran) from the earlier film is a very welcome surprise, albeit rather bittersweet. I must confess I always felt a deeper emotional connection with these two compared to the two brothers Justin and Aaron, and the return of the protagonists from Resolution for me only intensified some of my issues with The Endless, but it was certainly very welcome (if disturbing) to learn of their fate after the closing moments of the earlier film.

At any rate, whilst I’m not at all convinced that The Endless was as satisfying as Resolution, it remains an impressive and satisfying low-budget sci-fi/horror with much to recommend it. Arrow’s Blu-ray release that currently (in a limited edition) contains both films is a great package not to be missed, with multiple commentary tracks on both films and various featurettes/interviews that I have yet to delve into.

Resolution (2012)

res1.pngResolution, a low-budget indie sci-fi/horror film with allusions to Lovecraft and others, features as an ‘extra’ on Arrows excellent recent Blu-ray release of The Endless (2017). As the two films are linked by location/themes/characters I watched Resolution prior to the main feature.

Its quite true of the horror genre that low budgets can be a great asset- necessity, it is often said, is the mother of invention, and this film is a clear example of when film-makers make such a lot of so little. Structured rather like a play its mainly a character piece, with a limited cast (essentially just two actors dominate the whole thing) its a psychological horror which starts fairly normal but then slowly starts to suggest all sorts of strange and horrifying possibilities about the nature of reality. I’d take films like this over the standard Hollywood nonsense of horny teens caught in the woods being preyed upon some monster, any day of the week.

Set on a remote Indian reservation, Resolution tells the story of two old freinds, Michael (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran) who reunite in a remote half-completed lodge- Chris is a drug addict well on the way to killing himself and Michael is making one last try at getting Chris clean, taking the opportunity of their isolation to force him to go ‘cold turkey’ over a week. A UFO doomsday-cult nearby suggests that there may be weird things going on in the area, and Michael begins to stumble on strange discoveries and occurrences.  As Chris starts to become more lucid and free of his drugs influence they both begin to realise that they are being watched by something unseen that somehow communicates by offering them ‘found footage’ video etc from what appears to be their future- or indeed, alternate futures. As the mystery unfolds it becomes clear that their lodge, the cult and environs have a darker, stranger history than they can imagine.

To say any more would do the film a disservice, as its a great little movie with some big ideas and on the whole it is executed extremely well that belies its budget and scale. I guess you’d call this ‘intellectual horror’ rather than ‘graphic horror’, and it certainly reminds me of good old ghost stories that suggested more than they showed.

There is a great sense of the cosmic unknown of Lovecraft’s better work and the leads are just simply brilliant, frankly, really doing well with the material. There is a warmth and familiarity between the two leads that convinces of the bond from their shared past, and the strangeness of their isolated location is conveyed well. A few other minor characters make some telling impact, too, making it a rather perfect little horror movie. I liked it very much- it keeps the viewer guessing right to the end and is only slightly marred by a wtf ending that benefits, in hindsight, by having  the latter movie The Endless allow the story to follow on some years later with a largely new cast of characters and some kind of, pardon the pun, actual resolution.

One of the genuine surprises of the year.

Countdown to Dune

gigdune
No, you won’t be seeing this in it.

A countdown to Dune. Well, why not? Lets have a series of posts to chart the countdown for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune to its release. It’ll be rather like my posts regards Blade Runner 2, and that ended well. So here’s hoping lightning strikes twice and we get a great movie. Or two great movies, anyway, as recent reports have it that Villeneuve intends to make Dune in two parts. Alas, there isn’t the funds to make both films at the same time, so he’ll have to make the first, hope it does well, and then get to shoot the second. Considering how fickle audiences are, that is possibly a braver move then going for it and making two films together, but we’ll just have to hope for the best.

So, anyway, what do we know? Well, its being directed by Denis Villeneuve, one of the hottest directors at work today who pulled of the impossible by making a great Blade Runner sequel. Which rather makes him an ideal choice for making Dune, the book of which is still considered unfilmable by many. Many film-makers have tried, and many have failed. I think we’ll get into that in a later post.

Anyway, its two movies, and word has it that Legendary Entertainment want the first movie out in 2020. Which seems ambitious to me*, but news that production is currently intended to commence next February, and that Villeneuve intends to shoot the film at  Orgio Film Studios in Budapest, Hungary, where he shot Blade Runner 2049, certainly bodes well regards quality and infers that 2020 is indeed a target. Casting has started; Timothée Chalamet is in talks to star as Paul Atreides- not an actor I know, but from images he looks right for the role, certainly young enough-looking. So yes, things are moving along and it does seem that the screenplay is pretty much ironed out and things moving forward.

Must confess, this film/s is probably my most anticipated film now. Dune is one of my favourite books and this project has me scared/excited in equal measure. I am confident that Villeneuve can manage something quite extraordinary and only hope he is given the freedom to work his magic. The news its being spread across two movies (its a big, dense book) is great news and certainly a step in the right direction.

I can hardly wait.

*I know, I’m likely betraying my age here, but I remember back when big sci-fi movies took several years to make; Star Wars movies used to take three years back in my day. Production schedules and pipelines have changed a great deal, especially in this digital age with traditional post-production taking place during (or even before) main live-action shooting and how things have been sped up in general. But Dune by 2020? With us nearly in August 2018 already? Wow.

Deadpool 4K

dead4kA few thoughts regards watching Deadpool on a 4K UHD disc. Long-time/frequent readers may recall my less than ecstatic cinema review of Deadpool from 2016. My reservations have cooled somewhat in the years since- its fine for what it is, but if someone really wants to see an anti-hero rip up genre conventions and subvert superhero films in general, you need to get some brave film-maker (and even braver studio with a hit squad of lawyers) to shoot a movie based on Pat Mills/Kevin O’Neil’s Marshall Law strip instead (I recently re-read my copy of the deluxe edition of Marshall Law and laughed myself silly whilst cringing in horror). But Deadpool is fine- pretty damn fine in fact, now that some of that hype has faded somewhat (I still prefer Watchmen though).

Thanks to the recent Amazon Prime Day sales, I’ve gotten hold of Deadpool on 4K and good grief, it looks pretty gorgeous. Now, here’s the funny thing about 4K- what likely hinders the format isn’t so much the debatable difference between standard HD and 4K- its there, but only on the very largest panels will anyone really notice without standing damn close to the screen (the difference between SD and standard HD, meanwhile, is quite another matter, particularly on larger screens, but as HD is always upscaled anyway by the panel, it just makes the difference between HD and native 4K harder to distinguish, particularly from a distance).

What really shows a big improvement is the WGC (wider colour gamut, i.e. more varied and subtler colours/shades) and, in particular, HDR,which ensures brighter, dynamic contrast range between very bright whites etc against very dark blacks. The trouble with HDR though is that it varies in performance pretty widely depending on the quality of your panel (aha, so there really is a reason why some panels are much more expensive than others), or even the source (are you watching it via streaming, and if so whats the compression like, or via a digital download or (preferably, but not exclusively so) via disc). There’s also some variety of HDR formats- the main two being  HDR10 and Dolby Vision, which can sometimes vary between formats even with the same title (BR2049 on disc is HDR10 but on digital its Dolby Vision) and not all panels or players are compatible with all the formats… really, you’d think the studios/tech boys would sort stuff out prior to launch.

So it may sound strange to read that my own biggest  ‘wow’ about watching Deadpool in 4K wasn’t more grisly detail in the violence and gore but rather the exterior daytime scenes and the gorgeously natural-looking lighting. Through the combination of a wider colour field and the depth afforded by the HDR, the sky suddenly blooms and the lighting feels more natural and authentic. The sky just glows, the clouds more vibrant and shades more varied, and the lighting of the overall scene just seems wholly natural. It just suddenly looks real, as if looking out of a window at a real scene. Its a funny thing and hard to explain, but somehow it looks more convincing- 3D was just a diversion, immersion-wise, the real deal is the wider range of colours and dynamic range.  I have a suspicion that if HDR was compatible with standard HD, then that would be so impressive many punters would delay upgrading to 4K at all… aha, those clever buggers at Sony/LG/Panasonic etc, I see what they did there…

 

 

Eddie (again)

P1080592 (2)Well, it’d be rude not to I guess. He does seem to have a knack for posing for photographs whilst enjoying this unusually sunny English summer. Perhaps he should get an agent, pose professionally and keep his owners in such a way as they are unaccustomed. Or at least pay for his own treats by endorsing the products he favours (his food, his treats, his toys, his harness, he’s not fussed, he”ll sell anything). Alternatively, he could just kick back and enjoy the summer and the garden.

The irony is, he’s not yet two, so he likely thinks every summer is like this one. Oh well. He can no doubt look forward to a new raincoat next summer.