strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
Start of term = busy = also tired when not actually busy = still haven't finished writing up the Starburst Film Festival I attended in late August. Friday and Saturday are covered at the links; the schedule for Sunday is here, with what I did below.

Sunday schedule.jpg

Space-flight and puzzle games )

Interview with Toby Whithouse )

23. Aliens (1986), dir. James Cameron )

Red Dwarf series XI: exclusive first episode preview and interview with Doug Naylor )

Finally, it was time to depart, sad that it had already all come to an end, but already making plans for future fantastic film-related adventures as we bid one another goodbye. I'll certainly come back for another Starburst festival if they do it again next year.

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strange_complex: (Darth compels you!)
Seen last Thursday evening at the Cottage Road cinema with the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Zeitgeist Zero. As more or less everyone has said, it is great, basically because it is much the same as the original three films, except that the characters now have new names and faces. There's just the right mix of big plot business, epic battles and explosions, cute robots, soaring music, snarky humour and the personal journeys of the main characters - with the emotional emphasis very much on the latter. And everything else I say about this film is bound to be spoilerific.

Let's start with characters )

Then there is plot )

In short, then, jolly good. I'm certainly looking forward to the next one, and may well go back for another big-screen viewing of this before it finishes its cinema-run.

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
As if a genuine Smell-O-Vision film and an unfilmed Hammer Dracula script hadn't been enough, last weekend's journey of cinematic wonders ended on the Sunday evening in Bradford with 2001: A Space Odyssey, seen as it was originally intended to be seen - that is, in the full glory of Cinerama. I watched, rapt, alongside [ profile] minnesattva, magister and Andrew Hickey, as the wonders of space opened up before us, and pondered idly what it must have been like to live in those heady days of the late '60s White Hot Technological Revolution, when the world of normalised space travel which it depicted might really have seemed like a plausible likelihood for the far-distant future of 2001.

I have seen the film before, of course, but believe me when I say that seeing it in Cinerama is an entirely different experience. Kubrick designed it specifically to be seen on a curved screen, and once you see it that way it becomes so painfully, searingly obvious that he did that you realise you simply haven't experienced the film he thought he was making until that moment. This was perfectly clear to me already in the first half, when I realised exactly why the location chosen for the ape-creatures drinking from their water-hole was a rounded geographical bowl, and why so many scenes of the lunar landscape are designed the same way - because, of course, in Cinerama they would appear to be actually curving out towards the audience, as though we were sitting ourselves on the far side of that very bowl. In Cinerama, when the idea occurs to one of the ape-creatures for the very first time to pick up a large thigh-bone, and use it to smash up the smaller bones of the animal skeleton lying in front of him, the pieces which fly up into the air appear as though they are coming right out of the screen at you. And as for the space stations and planets which cartwheel by to the music of the Blue Danube - watching them is like looking out from the bridge of your own vessel, as vast bodies thousands of miles away float balletically across your field of vision.

Then in the intermission, Andrew too commented that he had never realised before just how much of a Cinerama film 2001 was. Fresh from having seen The Best of Cinerama that morning, he meant something more than my simple observation of curves, space and quasi-3D. Rather, as he pointed out, Cinerama travelogues of the type he had seen that morning regularly introduced their viewers to a rather surreal combination of the wonders of nature, followed by the wonders of technology - exactly like the early ape-creatures followed by the pirouetting space stations we had just seen. What's more, although 2001 was not shot using the three-strip camera technique which The Best of Cinerama used (and which I have experienced myself for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)), he had noticed that some of the shots were composed as though they were going to be - that is, with strong verticals positioned 1/3 and 2/3 of the way across the screen, exactly where the joins between the strips would have been visible. I settled down for the second half with his comment in mind, and he was absolutely right - for example, Kubrick had shot the room on the Discovery One containing the three EVA pods exactly and precisely with its two far corners at the 1/3 and 2/3 positions, just as I remember noticing for every scene which ever featured a room in it during The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. I wasn't particularly surprised later on, when checking the Wikipedia page for the film, to learn that it was indeed originally planned to be shot in three-strip Cinerama, exactly in line with what Andrew had noticed.

Truly, truly spectacular, then. A film with an almost boundlessly-ambitious vision, making the fullest possible use of the technology available in its day, stretching it to create a cinematic experience which would actually do justice to the nature of the story. In fact, we were lucky enough to enjoy not only the film, but (part of) an after-show chat from Douglas Trumbull, who did the special effects for the film, and who articulated exactly the vision Kubrick was trying to create. He explained that Kubrick wanted to create a film which was less concerned than usual with the characters on screen, or the experiences and dramas they are having. In fact, this was deliberately minimised by pointing the cameras relatively little at the actors, and having only fairly limited and largely banal dialogue. Rather, he wanted to put the audience and their experiences at the forefront. This is particularly clear at the climax of the film when the last surviving crewman of the Discovery One, David Bowman, comes face to face with the monolith in orbit around Jupiter, and falls into the strange and psychedelic star-gate which it opens up. During this whole sequence there is actually very little screen-time devoted to David's reactions, and as Trumbull put it, this was because Kubrick didn't want this sequence to be about David experiencing the star-gate - he wanted it to be about the audience, in the star-gate. And in Cinerama, boy, is it!

Even without the Cinerama, though, the care, detail and ambition put into the model-work and the special effects is so impressive that even now, almost 50 years after its release, the only thing which really gives the film away as not having been made this year are some of the fashions worn by the female members of the cast. I'd love to say the treatment of gender was a give-away too, given that women appeared almost (though not entirely) exclusively in subservient roles (daughter, mother, air-hostess, receptionist), and that by the time you get to the elite crew of the Discovery One, they have (of course!) vanished altogether. But the sad truth is that there are more films which still do exactly that today than don't. Only two years ago, Geena Davis (Thelma of Thelma and Louise fame) suggested that modern Hollywood films consistently depict women to men in supposedly mixed groups at a ratio of 1 to 5 or 17%, and that what's more men perceive this as a 50:50 balance, and anything more as female-dominated. Here, too, I noticed that in the board-room scene where Heywood Floyd explains to the Clavius base personnel why it is so important to maintain secrecy around the monolith found on the moon, there were two women and ten men: exactly the 1 to 5 or 17% (to be precise, 16.67%) ratio which Geena Davis pointed out. So, in other, words, the gender balance of 2001 may be heavily patriarchal, but it certainly isn't dated! We're still doing it, just the same. :-/

That is on us, though. While we're working on it, a late 1960s film which makes you feel as though you are actually floating in space remains very much worth watching, and I am once again awed by the power of Cinerama.

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strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
I watched this last night with [ profile] ms_siobhan after a lovely home-made lasagne and over half a bottle of wine. We really needed the wine. It is a hokey sci-fi movie, in which alien beings land on a British island called Fara, and cause a freak mid-winter heat-wave. Doctor Who fans will instantly understand how carefully thought-through and plausible the plot was, how compelling and nuanced the dialogue and how well-delineated the characters if I say that much of the screen-play was written by Pip and Jane Baker. For those fortunate enough not to be familiar with their work, I will simply explain that it displays none of the characteristics referred to in my previous sentence.

I recently used the broadcast of Death in Heaven as a prompt for some musings on the general phenomenon of the New Who season finale, which regularly sees writers boxing themselves into corners which only dei ex machinis and magic reset buttons can get them out of. Well, the plot of this film made every single New Who season finale ever broadcast look sober, realistic and meticulously thought through. The alien invaders were initially described as beings made entirely of light or heat waves (it was never clear which), who had been attracted to a space observation station based on the island because of the radio signals it had been broadcasting. Later, they turn out to generate heat, to be attracted to light, to have physical bodies after all (rather like huge glowing jellyfish), and to burn up random things - sheep, people, car batteries, gas cannisters. So it's all a bit incoherent, really, and not surprising that neither the characters in the film nor the writers can come up with any convincing plan to defeat them. The characters decide to set fire to some haystacks in the hope of attracting the aliens and then blasting them with dynamite, which utterly fails, while the best the writers could come up with was a freak thunderstorm and downpour, which kills the aliens by essentially dousing them out. That's it - the whole plot.

And that would be fine, if there was a compelling and convincing drama going on around it. But there isn't. The main attempt at human drama is a story-line about a couple whose marriage is threatened when an old fling of the husband's arrives on the island and starts trying to seduce him again. But this literally switches on and off from scene to scene, depending on how the main plot is progressing. So for example the wife eventually catches her husband kissing the old fling, and is supposed to be really upset about it. Then we get a couple of scenes where she appears to have forgotten all about it while some expository dialogue about the aliens goes on. And then she is all upset again. And so on. Also, it didn't help that the husband attempted to win his wife back over by saying that the old fling was a "common slut" who meant nothing to him, and that the wife responded to this by smiling and apparently being mollified. Or that the old fling was made to be the object of a gratuitous attempted-rape scene from a heat-crazed islander at one point, either. No indeed.

So why did we watch it? Oh, you know why. Because it stars both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, that's why! Both were playing very much to type - Peter as a kindly local doctor, and Christopher as an arrogant and irascible (though not actually evil) scientist. They even played out a very typically-them gentlemanly hierarchy through their costumes, too. While most of the male characters in the film responded to the heat-wave by unbuttoning their collars and rolling up their shirt sleeves, Christopher Lee's insisted on wearing a tie throughout, while Peter Cushing's kept his jacket on to the last! Bless. Other familiar faces included Patrick Allen as the cheating husband, who also plays the captain of the king's troops in Captain Clegg, Sydney Bromley as an old tramp killed by the aliens, who likewise appears in Captain Clegg as poor old Tom Ketch (and thus dies within the first few minutes of both films) and Sarah Lawson as the wronged wife, also famous as Paul Eddington's wife in The Devil Rides Out. It's quite the Hammer reunion, then, right down to having Terence Fisher as the director. But I guess Terence Fisher didn't have the same feel for sci-fi as he did for Gothic horror, and that there are limits to what anyone can do to bring a flat script to life.

As a Christopher Lee fan, the film offers a certain value. His character appears very early on, remains prominent throughout, and even makes it almost to the end of the film without dying - though not quite. He wears smart-specs quite a lot, exclaims impatiently at people, and does lots of sciencey stuff. Very nice. Actually, in plot terms he essentially serves as the Doctor Who character in this story, since he comes to the island to figure out what is going on, has to convince everybody else that what he claims is happening is true, and concocts a plan to defeat the aliens at the end (though this is a failure). But if so, he is ruder and grumpier than any real Doctor who has ever appeared on screen, including the Sixth for whom Pip and Jane Baker went on to write. Meanwhile, of course, his character, like all the others, suffers from being pretty two-dimensional, and having a lot of extremely banal dialogue to deliver. So it is worth watching once if you really like him, but is neither one of his best performances, nor his best films.

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strange_complex: (Mariko Mori crystal ball)
I saw this about a month ago with [ profile] big_daz, [ profile] nigelmouse and his chum called Andy (I think), and hugely enjoyed rediscovering what a classic it is. It isn't just that it has all the standard elements of a good film (plotting, direction, acting, character, dialogue, setting and that little bit of magic which makes them all work together). It has an energy and freshness which has stood the test of time really well, and packs huge riches of detail and ideas into its two short hours.

I think it has gained something with the passage of time, too. Watching it in 2013 inevitably means approaching the film itself as a form of 'time travel' back to the 1980s )

Lots could be said about all sorts of elements within the story, but I am sure they have already been written about on the internet somewhere, so I will focus on just two particular things which occurred to me on this viewing, but which I had never really thought about before.

One is the portrayal of the black character, Goldie Wilson )

My other line of thought was to wonder more generally what we should make of a story in which the 1980s try to fix their problems by going back in time to rewrite the 1950s )

Anyway, like many an SF or fantasy classic, I think there are good reasons why this film has become something of an icon over the years. It's fun, yes, but has some surprisingly good thinky mileage in it to boot. Here's looking forward to its thirtieth anniversary in another two years' time, when we really will stand in exactly the same relation to 1985 as the film did to 1955.

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strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
And now that I am finally up to date with film reviews and Doctor Who reviews, I can turn my attention once again to my much-neglected book reviews.

I should have read this one years ago, given that I'm a Classicist who loves stories of a fantastical nature, but it took me until 2011 to finally get round to it. And what a fool I was to wait so long, because it is completely ace! I knew that it involved the narrator going on a voyage to the moon, and for that reason has often been viewed as the first (surviving) SF story - but actually he and his companions travel through a whole series of wondrous settings. These include an island with rivers of wine, a giant whale so huge that there are colonies of people living inside its stomach, an island made of cheese, the Isle of the Blest full of Greek heroes, philosophers and writers, Calypso's island, an island inhabited by people with the heads of bulls, an island full of cannibalistic witches and finally a mysterious new transAtlantic continent which he promises to describe - but never does.

In its own time this was probably conceived as a satire on stories of epic voyages like the Odyssey and the Argonautica, so the settings which the narrator experiences are basically an exaggerated parody of places like the island of the Lotus Eaters, Circe's island, the all-female society of Lemnos, or the land of the six-armed giants in those works. Lucian knits his fantastical settings together using the same epic voyage format, but marks his work out as satire by declaring up-front that the entire story is a bunch of lies. This has kept scholars busy discussing ancient conceptions of the relationship between 'fiction' and 'lies' ever since (to little purpose in my view).

Reading from a modern perspective, I found that the succession of wondrous lands full of strange people reminded me more than anything of the Wizard of Oz series. That may simply be because the very lively and engaging translation which I read was published in 1913, though - i.e. right in the middle of the period when L. Frank Baum was writing the original Oz series (1900-1920). Certainly, almost any modern SF series which involves a core group of travellers visiting a succession of fantastical places could be compared to this, including Star Trek, Doctor Who and The Hitch-Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy (which incorporates the satirical element as well) and no doubt many more. Indeed, just as this work in itself relates closely to the Odyssey, the Argonautica et sim., so too do modern works of SF using the same basic voyage format - as Ray Harryhausen surely knew when he closed the circle by positioning Jason and the Argonauts as an SF film. Genres overlap and inform one another, and everything is intertextual.

From the translation I read at least, I can also say that this was a genuinely good read - funny, inventive, and (precisely because it is so fantastical) not really requiring any particular knowledge of the ancient world to 'get' the jokes. The Isle of the Blest section might drag a bit for non-Classicists, because that includes topical humour about particular heroes and thinkers - e.g. Ajax, Theseus and Menelaus, Alexander and Hannibal, Homer, Aesop, Diogenes the Cynic and so forth. But even there the basis of most of the jokes is pretty clear from the context. Otherwise, I can highly recommend this book to anyone - especially since it is available for free right here, and is only the equivalent of a couple of chapters from a modern novel long.

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
15. Iron Sky (2012), dir. Timo Vuorensola

Seen on May 23rd at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy, [ profile] bigdaz, [ profile] maviscruet and most of the rest of the Leeds goth community.

As I'm sure most people reading this know, Iron Sky is a kind of collaborative, crowd-sourced international production, which was initially slated to be shown in UK cinemas on one single day only, before being released on DVD. Whether this was down to a genuine reticence on the part of the distributors, or just a publicity stunt, I don't know, but it did help to generate quite a viral 'buzz' about the film beforehand, and I can't honestly be sure whether I would have gone to see it if it had just had an ordinary release period. Anyway, it certainly added a lot to the fun to be there in a completely sold-out cinema, enjoying what we knew (or thought) would be a one-off event, and to come out afterwards to find myself part of a crowd of over a hundred people standing around on the pavement outside discussing the film.

The story itself is just outright silly, but in a very knowing, tongue-in-cheek way )

If you didn't see this in the cinema, I'm afraid you missed a treat which you'll never quite get the chance to re-capture. But it's still worth seeing on DVD.

16. Prometheus (2012), dir. Ridley Scott

See on Friday night with two Lib Dem chums who aren't on LJ.

This was my second ever experience of a (modern-style) 3D film, and since the previous one was an animation (The Pirates), it was obviously a little different. I really liked it, though, and felt that there were quite a few scenes which would have been quite a lot poorer without it )

Oh, and obviously the title of the film is a Classical reference, but it isn't enormously profound in itself so far as I can see - just one of a number of references to creators and their creations which all help to support the main themes of the film. If you'd like fuller commentary on the Classical and archaeological aspects of the film, I recommend Juliette Harrison on the subject.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Whew! It's taken me a couple of days to type this lot up, as I saw a lot of films on the final day of the festival, and I think we all know I am a bit prone to tl;dr reviews, even when I think the thing I'm writing about was rubbish. But I've managed it now! It's up to you to decide if you are brave enough to read it all. ;-)

15a-f. Short Films )

TV Heaven: Children of the Stones (HTV, 1976) )

16a. Intrusion (1961), dir. Michael Reeves )

16b. The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves )

17. Robocop (1987), dir. Paul Verhoeven )

18. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), dir. Jorge Grau )

So that was a pretty intensive weekend of film viewing all told - in fact, coming out of the other end of it I find that I am now well ahead of 2009's total of 14 films seen over the entire year, even though it is still only June. I absolutely loved it, though, and have found myself haunting Amazon and eBay ever since it ended, swooping up copies of films I saw, or other works by the same actors and directors to add to my collection. Debate is currently raging on miss_s_b's journal about what form next year's festival should take. But whatever the final line-up, unless life conspires to stop me I'm pretty sure I'm going to be there.

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strange_complex: (Nuada)
IMDb page here. Seen at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] la_guapita and Nicolas.

It didn't sound that good from the IMDb plot summary - I only suggested it to Charlotte and Nicolas because I wanted them to have the experience of the Hyde Park Picture House, really. But once Charlotte had reacted with 'Ooh, yes, I really want to see that', and [ profile] johnnydefective had enthused wildly about it over curry, I figured it must be worth checking out after all. Those are two people whose film opinions I usually trust.

See, what the plot summaries just don't bring out (although maybe because it is so blindingly obvious given the setting that they felt they didn't need to) is that this is an example of one of my favourite kinds of film - the 'cabin-fever' movie. Like The Thing, Night of the Living Dead or (best of all) Cube, you have a small number of people trapped in an extreme situation - and the rest is really about their character interactions, rather than about the specific setting.

The science of it all is pretty obviously bollocks, and there was also one point where it felt like a huge chunk of footage had just been taken out, causing us to leap suddenly forward to an event which it had seemed a moment before wouldn't be happening for quite some time (I'm trying to be non-spoilery, here!). But neither of those things really mattered. As I said, it's character-driven, and that side works out just fine. There are some tense moments, some unpleasant realisations, and the consequences of some bad (but plausible) decisions to be faced. And of course there is Cillian Murphy, who's already proved his worth in a Danny Boyle cabin-fever movie in 28 Days Later. He manages to do the 'small, vulnerable human facing things too terrible to imagine' thing very nicely.

So yeah - I wouldn't say re-arrange existing commitments to see it, but if you get a chance, it's a good use of an evening.

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
I've just been out to the doctor to get my annual 'flu1 vaccination. I qualify for a free one every year because of my asthma, and have been having them for six years now: ever since I actually did get 'flu over Christmas 1999, and realised that a small amount of forward planning and a slight prick in the arm was more than worth going through each year in order to avoid it.

So, the jab went fine. I hardly felt it, and that's another 'flu-free winter to look forward to. But while I was there, I noticed the leaflets the NHS have printed up this year to encourage those in vulnerable groups2 to get the injection:

Are you scared yet? )

Let's take a closer look at those little gremlins, shall we?

Fear me! )

Now is that, or is that not, the Jagrafess? Hmm? Is that its goal in the 21st century, then: to take control of Earth through the medium of viral infection? Is that what the NHS are desperately trying to tell us by printing suggestive pictures of it on their literature? Has it had itself cloned and miniaturised a billion times over for an attack not unlike that of the Swarm in The Invisible Enemy? Is it a coincidence that that very story also saw the debut of the lovable K-9, who is set to return to our screens this coming spring? Will he, by then, be deeply involved in a real-life battle against the new and mysterious Jagrafess virus?

And do I now know far more about Doctor Who than I thought I did or ever expected to? I may be protected against the Jagrafess now, but you lot clearly took over my brain some time ago...

1. That's 'flu as in Actual Influenza: not the same as a cold. Even a bad cold.
2. For the record, you qualify if you're over 65, or have kidney disease, diabetes, reduced immunity or any serious chest or heart complaint, including asthma. If that's you, get it! Don't have 'flu.


strange_complex: (Default)

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