Sunday, 23 February 2014

News: Launching People Competition

Well, I'm doing something different today. Instead of a review I wanted to put up a short post about a competition I'm entering. It's called Launching People, its run by Samsung and its giving ambitious people an opportunity to be mentored by the best in four different industries - music, cooking, photography and film. 

I have entered the film section, where you can win the opportunity to produce a short film with actor and director Idris Elba - of The Wire and Luther fame!

My entry is a short sci-fi called Protect and Sacrifice that looks at the ethical and moral dilemma of whether people should let others sacrifice their lives for them, and what it does to the saved person. 

It was inspired by, as a scriptwriting colleague of mine said, the plight of the red shirts. I was watching an episode of a sci-fi series, and as usual a minor character died saving a main character's life. This isn't unusual, but the main character actually thought about it for a second, and then just moved on - I felt this was rather unsatisfactory, and wished the episode had gone further and addressed the main character's feelings more. Sci-fi shows don't often really question or explore the fact that characters in important roles have to cope with many people dying trying to protect or help them - with perhaps the exception of Doctor Who. 

So that's the basic theme of the script. I created two opposing characters to voice the different sides of the argument, two scientists working on a base in the future. The firts, Cooper, is a sensitive and very ethical young man who realises that many soldiers may end up dying for him if he continues to work at the base - making him wish to quit. The second character is Edyson, an arrogant genius, who isn't bothered about the soldiers protecting her. Partly because its their job, and partly because she sees herself as more important than them. Unfortunately Cooper has to talk to her about quitting, and they end up arguing the matter - whilst the base is under attack. 

For the competition I had to create a short 2-minute film pitching my idea, which you can see if go to Launching People on Facebook

I also drew some rough sketches of the aliens attacking the base, futuristic lab coats, ID cards etc, below.

The competition is based on public support/votes, as well as the mentor's judging. So if you feel inclined, I'd really appreciate any support!! 

And if you're a creator of Food, Film, Photography or Music I suggest you check it out as well!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Review: Idiocracy

Last week I reviewed a webseries that took place in the sort of near future we typically predict in films and television - a highly technically advanced one. The film I am reviewing today stands out by looking at the opposite end of this scale, by asking - what if instead of becoming smarter, humanity just became more and more stupid? 

Idiocracy (2006) is a satirical comedy directed by Mike Judge and starring Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers, an average American solider who is used as a test subject for a deep freeze experiment. Meant to frozen for only a year, he instead wakes up five-hundred years later, into future of automated services, and really dumb people. 

I think my favourite thing about this film is the brilliant, fully realised, dumbed-down world. The crumbling unmaintained buildings, the rubbish piled in the street, the buckets of mush that the people eat and the particularly the insidious advertisement. Yes, advertisements are everywhere now, and in other future worlds too, but I've yet to see another world were branded wallpaper is plastered over the walls of a hospital. Or one where an energy drink has replaced water - completely. It's perhaps a little stereotypical at times, but it gets its point across.

What I also think is good about this film is that it doesn't become mean. Yes it is a comedy and yes, the majority of characters are complete idiots, but they are not bad people. They live in an uneducated, semi-automated world were no-one questions anything any longer - and that's the truly worrying thing. 

In other frightening futures' it is organisations or ideologies run by smart people that control society but in Idiocracy there is no-one running the show, its simply a lack of comprehension and understanding instead. Which is disheartening, because at least in the former worlds you can have rebels. In the Idicracy future no-one has the ability to change anything because they have evolved from the least brightest - as explained in the opening. 

Forunately the film does have a hero in Joe who, though he can be quite naive - he believes his a prostitute called Rita (played by Maya Rudolph) when she lies about being a painter - sees that human society helps need. 

His arc is pretty typical and you can sort of see what's coming, but the message I think is a still a worthy one - that you can't remain passive forever. 

The only thing that bothered me about the film, other than the average plotline - a guy arrives, tries to go home, is made to help society etc - was the voice-over. The narration did provide useful information occasional and did enrich the film somewhat, but it also sometimes felt unnecessary to me. After all, the characters may be dim but the audience can guess, without someone telling them, that the court case they've just seen is ludicrous and the justice system imbecilic - there was a hooting crowd for starters. 

In summary: An interesting film that can either be viewed as a slightly crude, silly comedy, or as a rather clever satire that challenges the typical sci-fi idea that our future is going to be one of scientific achievement. I'd recommend watching this at least once, even if it is just to see what the film industry has been reduced to in that world - its worse than you think. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: State of Syn (Ep. 1-3)

This review is about State of Syn, a multiplatform sci-fi webseries that was released along with an App. It stars David Hewlett - of whom I am a fan, check out my review of another his films Nothing, and hence how I found it - along with his Stargate Atlantis co-stars Jewel Staite, Rainbow Francks and Torri Higgson, who does the opening voice-over. Currently there are only three episodes available in the UK, but it hopefully it should be made internationally available.

Unlike other series, State of Syn is not life action per se, but an animated graphic novel with the story told in panels and shots, with some animated movement - such as hands, expressions, walking etc. The effect was created by photographing the actors in front of green screens and then adding backgrounds.

I must admit, I wasn't so keen on the style at first - some of the movements look a little odd, especially character's running feet - but a second viewing has made me appreciate the 'comic that come to life' look, and the series truly does feel like some dark, science fiction graphic novel come to life. The settings have an atmoshperic contrast of darkness and neon colours, and the environments look sleek, whilst being detailed - it just looks great. And let's not forget the cast, who pull off their character's emotions and personalities brilliantly, in the snap shots and through their voice performances. 

Meanwhile, from a production point of view, I think the comic and green screen photography concept is brilliant. It opens up so many possibilities for webseries creators, as you can literally put your actors in any setting you want - as long as you have the time to create it. You could even re-use the same shots, but just change the settings and order to create a new story. 

Anyway, now I should probably explain the story. Basically, its your typical futuristic dystopia, with a giant gap between the rich and poor, and corporate companies now in charge. A new type of drug - or rather techno drug, it looks like a pair of ear buds - called Vibe is being released. It's developer is the father of our hero Annika, and when he dies she begins to uncover secrets surrounding Vibe and her dad. 

This is solid sci-fi stuff, but its not particularly new, in fact its rather typical. The really interesting concept, for me, is what Annika and the drug can do. Annika has synesthesia, a neurological condition where if one sense is stimulated, another sense also kicks in - for example, people with synesthesia see specific colours along with specific numbers, so when they look at 4 it always looks green. I think this is fascinating, and I love it when sci-fi shows use real science concepts.

The other thing I enjoyed about State of Syn was following and getting involved with the series through social media - and I must say, the show engages with its audience really well. They respond to tweets, they've run competitions, they've asked for what people want to see on merchandise, and even got David Hewlett to do an Ask Me Anything interview on Reddit that anyone could participate in. 

Obviously this benefits the webseries, but its also really fun for fans too, so basically everyone wins. I recommend you check them out if you're intending to start your own webseries, as they have come up with some nifty ideas to get people involved - meme competition? Genius!

In summary: State of Syn is a stylish, sleek sci-fi webseries with an excellent cast, a fascinating real life science idea at its core and an engaging online presence. Definitely one for Stargate Atlantis fans (and Firefly fans) to check out - and lets hope the next five episodes reach the UK soon. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: Eat, Pray, Love

We're already a month into the new year and if you're like me, most of your resolutions may have just dissipated into your usual habits. Do not despair though! Instead, let us look for inspiration in a film about travelling, spirituality and discovery - Eat, Pray, Love (2010)

Based on the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, the film stars Julia Roberts, along with James Franco, Viola Davis, Javier Bardem and many other fine actors. The film was directed by Ryan Murphy, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Jennifer Salt - who have recently both been writing episodes of American Horror Story according to IMDb. 

The film follows Liz, a woman who realises she is unhappy in her marriage, and after a painful divorce and rebound relationship decides to go travelling for a year - living in Rome, India and finally Bali - in the hopes of discovering more about herself.

Now, I'm just going to dive in here and say my main problem with this film is it wasn't quite what I expected it be. I thought it was going to be an enlightening, life-affirming but jolly jaunt - basically feel-good fluff. 

Instead, the film is more serious - or at least takes itself more seriously than that - as the emotional journey of a woman who, frankly was possibly depressed, and decided to try and find herself through food, spirituality and love. 

Although I appreciate that this is based on a real person's experiences and this film is probably being honest in its emotions - but for me the film, and Julia Roberts, felt very muted, and the constant emotional stuff, honestly got a little depressing, with moments that could have been warmer, funnier and more uplifting lacking enegry and being dampened by the protagonist's lonely mood. 

For example, at the Thanksgiving meal where Elizabeth gives thanks for being around such happy people. The way she says it, looking at the lovestruck couples in the room, she seems wistful. 

Even the cinematography, though I enjoyed the realism and colour in bustling Naples and India, occasionally looks a little drained from time to time - the sunlight seems to appear to harsh and cold. Unlike say the warmth of To Rome With Love (2012)

Not that there weren't things I enjoyed about it the film. The settings are lovely, and there is some brilliant acting and quirky characters - my favourites being Felipe, Ketut and Richard. 

I also found learning bits and pieces about the different cultures in Rome and Bali fascinating - particularly the scene where the Italians talk about the concept of 'dolce far niente' or the sweetness of doing nothing. 

But in the end, the film was not as fun as I thought it would be, and left me feeling rather unsatisfied. 

In summary: Eat, Pray, Love is an interesting film, with some wonderfully quirky characters, that charts one woman's quite painful journey of self-discovery as travels for a year. Worth checking out at the least for the cultural titbits and the scenery, but its not as light-hearted as the pink boarder around the DVD cover suggests.