Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop

Do you like science fiction stories that put human characters, story and emotion before action, special effects and visual bedazzlement? Quiet, contemplative, episodically interwoven narratives that use SciFi as a means to illuminate hidden truths, internal revelations and complex interpersonal relationships? Lovingly detailed, retro-futuristic artistic creation lifted right off the pages of an iconic novel? Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop has all this and more and is one of the most gentle, low key yet deeply staggering pieces of work I’ve ever experienced in the genre. The story focuses on a small town somewhere that is built above ‘The Loop,’ a mysterious underground research facility home to a subtly sentient A.I. engine used to create and power countless inventions. Each episode shows a story centred around a few families and individuals from this town and how this mysterious power source from The Loop affects their lives in surprising, tragic, metaphysical ways. There’s a teenage couple who find an object that pauses time except for their perception, after which they’re left to their own devices and we see what that can do to a relationship. Elsewhere a lonely man wanders into a parallel dimension and literally (and figuratively too) finds himself. The elderly founder and engineer of The Loop (Jonathan Pryce, fantastic) struggles with his mortality while his daughter (Rebecca Hall) and son in law (Paul Schneider) have their own personal experiences with the forces around them, and so do many others whose lives are woven together organically to create a tranquil, reflective and hypnotic piece unlike any other. The SciFi aspects really only act as background scenery and catalysts for unconventional human experience; we never learn what The Loop really is and most of the robots, structures and tech it creates hover in the background like fish in an aquarium while the human being characters abide in wonderment, learning complex, challenging lessons around love, compassion, self identity, overcoming fear, reconciling one’s own life cycle, coming to terms with death, facing past choices/mistakes and all of that overwhelming stuff that makes us who we are. It’s all set to soul-stirring, mesmerizing and unique original music from maestros Phillip Glass and Paul Leonard Morgan and breathtaking, vintage inspired visual design that brings to life robots, domelike architecture, otherworldly technical ambience and all manner of stylistic splendour that always serves as atmosphere and allows story, characters and themes take centre stage overall. Brilliant piece of work, and the kind of life affirming, empathetic art we need right now.

-Nate Hill

Marvin Kren’s Blood Glacier

Now this is how you do a monster movie. Blood Glacier is a terrific Euro-Schlock horror about scientists at a remote research station in the snowy Austrian Alps who discover a spectacularly troublesome micro-organism that arrives in the glacial thaw and stirs up all kinds of cryptozoological shit. The thawing out of creatures from ice, research station and gooey prosthetic effects will draw obvious comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing which are of course fair, but the biological modus operandi of the organism differs from that of The Thing and this film finds its own suitable groove. Here’s the hook: this life-force invades the cells of multiple creatures at once, stores the genetic data and creates multifaceted hybrid creatures, so you get a big ass fox/beetle cross, a strange goat/human fucker and wood-bug lice things the size of basketballs that attach themselves to humans like face-huggers and devour their heads. The special effects are obviously limited somewhat by budget but are still incredibly creative, blessedly free of CGI and elaborately slimy enough to be aesthetically pleasing. The human actors/characters are an interesting bunch, as the research scientists join forces with a German family unlucky enough to be hiking in the area and go postal on these pseudo-Lovecraft aberrations which Mother Nature has hurled forth at them. A word of caution though: if you have trouble watching animals in pain, getting hurt or killed onscreen you may want to think twice. The research camp has a dog (similar situation to The Thing) that passes away in the kind of heart wrenching, hyper-emotional sequence I haven’t seen the likes of since Will Smith sang his pupper to permanent sleep in I Am Legend, it’s a tough scene for animal lovers to fight through. This is an impressive effort though with a very cool premise, extremely creative monster effects and a cool wintry atmosphere to boot. God times.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Breach aka AntiLife

Alright, the Bruce Willis space movie. Breach (aka AntiLife) isn’t terrible, it’s just not super inspired or original and if you go in with your nose already turned up at it, well that’s on you bud, you silly cinephile you. However, if you’re a periodically undemanding moviegoer who enjoys a nice schlocktastic cheapie once in a while you may just get a kick out of it. This thing riffs on everything from Doom to The Thing to Pandorum and if you don’t have expectations higher than Bruce Willis and Johnny Messner clearly got while filming their scenes then you’ll have just as much fun as the two of them clearly did. So it’s sometime in the future and earth has been all but decimated by a plague, the remnants of humanity are packed into a giant space station and hurtled towards a distant exoplanet called ‘New Earth’ under the stern, hambone stewardship of The Admiral (Thomas Jane). Most of the passengers slumber in tranquil cryogenic sleep save for a barebones maintenance crew managed by Willis’s once great colonel turned disgraced alcoholic janitor. They’re watched like a hawk by a military man (Timothy V. Murphy) that Willis literally refers to as a ‘space Nazi’ (to his face), but somehow a doomsday zealot manages to smuggle some freaky alien parasite onboard which quickly begins infecting the crew and turning them into ink spewing, putrefied space zombies. Willis and his team that includes Cody Kearsely, Corey Large, Callab Mulvey, Continuum’s Rachel Nichols and scene stealing Messner are stuck fighting off legions of what I suppose would count as the undead in a way but they’re more like a hive minded organism, really. Willis is cool here and actually looks like he’s having a modicum of fun compared to other B flicks he’s recently done. He also plays against type as kind of a reverse action hero and I never thought I’d see the day he plays a character that gets referred to as a ‘lover, not a fighter.’ Jane only has a few atypical military A-hole scenes but he fires off his lines with glib, cavalier flair and I find it hysterical how intensely he insists on wearing his pitch dark tinted aviator shades *indoors*, in a dimly lit spaceship no less. Look, it’s junk, I won’t call pretend it’s a great film, but as an avid lover of cinematic junk food it did the trick for me, and I had fun with it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Caller

Want something *really* weird? The Caller is an old Empire Pictures flick starring Madolyn Smith as a young woman alone in some forest cabin and Malcolm McDowell as a sinister stranger who knocks at her door asking to use the phone. This film is so rare you couldn’t even find it on VHS or DVD for decades until boutique, niche distribution label Vinegar Syndrome recently did a Blu Ray. The transfer looks terrific, McDowell and Smith handle the strange, talky, stage-play esque roles given to them by the script as best they can but the film overall is a monotonous, repetitive drag.. until the final five minutes when it goes so thoroughly and dementedly off the rails you just have to sit up straight on the couch after being lulled into a coma by the first eighty minutes and go “what even in the fuck?” The film is structured around a Hitchcockian premise where these two are strangers, alone together in the wilderness and both them and us aren’t sure who might be the potentially dangerous one, but their dialogue and interactions are so inane, random and bizarre we get a sense of neither backstory, character traits or motives for either. It’s simply a brain melting extended vignette of two people talking in circles about nothing until the certifiably bonkers ending that although is flashy, shocking and out of left field, does little to explain the hefty, dense several acres of tin drum dialogue that preceded it. This is an Indiana Jones artifact of sorts for me as a DVD collector, I’m a huge Malcolm McDowell fan and this has always been somewhat out of my reach so I’m glad I finally nabbed it but I wouldn’t really recommend this to casual viewers, it’s too unwieldy and inconsistent. Empire Pictures was momentarily famous for grainy, low-fi retro science fiction horror like the Trancers franchise, and this one only fits that mold in the final few minutes when it goes ape shit, while the rest is chamber piece drivel that desperately needed story and structure that the script just couldn’t provide it with.

-Nate Hill

Andrezj Bartkowiak’s Doom

I mean who doesn’t wanna see Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson blowing up demonic aliens with excessively heavy artillery on Mars? Well plenty of people didn’t if you look at the overall critic and audience reception to Doom, but I kinda enjoyed this cheesy, bloody, dimly lit and shamelessly lowbrow yet raucously entertaining bit of space action horror. Having not played this game series beyond a few vague rounds of Doom3 back when I was a stoned teenager, I can’t comment on the congruency in style, tone or narrative of the film versus the games but if that’s a dealbreaker and you hate the film because for you it betrayed the soul of the source material, more than fair enough. All I know is I put this thing on as background noise and it served as engaging, very silly intergalactic schlock with big monsters, bigger attitudes and *incredibly* big guns to shoot them with, one plasma cannon wielded by The Rock that’s so large it almost veers into parody. Dwayne is effectively tough as Sarge, leader of a ragtag bunch of mercenaries, among whose ranks we see various archetypes like the religious zealot (Ben Daniels), the rookie kid (Al Weaver), the loudmouth clown (a scene stealing Richard Brake) and of course the strong silent hero type Reaper, played solidly by Karl Urban. The pack of them are off to Mars using a weird teleportation device made of soap bubbles (not sure if that was a staple in the games) to engage murky zombie demon mutant things in vicious firefights down dimly lit space station corridors as a perky scientist (the lovely Rosamund Pike) does her best with unnecessary exposition that had me chuckling.. like it’s a film about space marines blowing up nondescript, raving mutant monsters, do we really need a few pages of explanatory pseudo genetic-science based verbal diarrhoea to try and make sense of it? I think not. Anyways, all the shooting, fighting, bleeding, limbs flying and fast-food action horror are kinda fun, especially seeing Dwayne and Karl in shameless early career genre mode set to a bangin’ metal soundtrack.

-Nate Hill

Richard Stanley’s The Colour Out Of Space

I missed out on Richard Stanley’s Colour Out Of Space last year but I’m glad I caught up because wow what a trip into earthbound cosmic madness as only the mind of H.P. Lovecraft could dream up. When a weird meteor thing plummets into the backyard of Nic Cage and his average, slightly hippie family, things start to get strange in the surrounding area as a mysterious ‘colour’ from another part of the universe begins to transform everything around it into something else, sometimes just odd, sometimes beautiful and eventually downright terrifying. I love the idea of a meteor falling and being the setup for a horror film because there’s so much you can do with that concept in the realms of imagination. This film reminded me of Alex Garland’s Annihilation in a sense, but whereas the entity that came from a meteor in that used the genetic codes and biological structures of our planet to create something new, this Colour thing just shows up and begins fucking around with things on its own shocking, illogical terms, like any self respecting Lovecraft monster should. It’s a hoot watching this family slowly start to lose it, starting with Cage in one of his patented full on neurotic meltdowns filled to the brim with maniacal rants, grotesque physicality and pitch black humour. His wife is played by Joely Richardson who I haven’t seen in a while, since Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at least but I always love seeing her turn up. The cast is pretty darn eclectic too and includes the lovely Q’orianka Kilcher as the world’s bitchiest small town mayor and beloved Tommy Chong as a forest dwelling oddball with a cat he calls ‘G-Spot’ (*snicker*). The main draw for me here is the otherworldly, mystical horror elements and director Stanley pulls out all the stops in terms of atmosphere, visuals and things just going berserk. Everything turns pinky purple, the family loses their sense of coherence and time and eventually they begin to transform, and there’s one sequence in particular that is fucking miles beyond how horrific I thought they were gonna go with this film and is disturbing to the core. Great film.

-Nate Hill

“COMPLIANCE, NAVIGATOR”: LISA, JOE AND ANOTHER LIFE AFTER BY KENT HILL

There are many fascinating stories revealed in Lisa Downs’ Life After The Navigator. The difficult second album, as it can sometimes been seen, has done more than just cement the fact that Life After Flash was no fluke. It shows, we the audience that, like in Navigator’s final frames, David (Joey Cramer, RUNAWAY) Freeman, looking up at a sky alive with fireworks and catching a last glimpse of the extraterrestrial that helped make everything in his world richer from the experience of surviving an extraordinary adventure together, that future is ahead….bright and full of hope.

This of course is a formula made famous by that other kids and aliens flick you might have heard of. It spawned so many imitators. But what was different about the imitators then as opposed to now, is that they borrowed the formula sure enough, but they added their own ingredients instead of merely redressing and mixing up the elements.

I don’t wish to spoil this film for you in any way, shape or form (I will struggle, sorry). But, I was fascinated at how, if you read a little deeper, all of these films like NAVIGATOR, like EXPLORERS, like THE LAST STARFIGHTER; while all are a by-product of the success of E.T., they all have ingredients from another human/alien team-up and help each other kinda film I love, THIS ISLAND EARTH, directed by Joseph M. Newman. I was intrigued further learning the original concept of Navigator from its then novice screenwriter, that a plot which cinematically links it to both ISLAND EARTH and EXPLORERS was the scripts original direction. Oops…nerding off…

What you really need to know is like Flash, Navigator is not merely the making of or behind the scenes of the movie that fans have long waited for. Nor is it simply the story of a kid actor who went to jail. Rather, this Life After is about a film that became a cult classic, with all the bells and whistles you are going to love about that. However, like its predecessor, the emotional core at the center of the piece is the story of the boy who tied the movie together.

Joey Cramer has in essence been from Earth to Phaelon and back. After winning the lottery as a child star, cast in the lead role of a Disney movie directed by the man who gave us GREASE, everything should have been perfect. But as we know, real life isn’t scripted, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Joey’s life in the wake of stardom was deep, dark and perilous. However, like Sam Jones is revealed to be a real life Flash Gordon, so to is Cramer the apotheosis of David Freeman, the struggling hero, the pure of heart, seeking to get back to that one place, the best place in the world. The place we call home.

Life After The Navigator splices together these compelling twin narratives that rise and recede almost on cue, flowing as one into the film’s final stages. Both climax in scenes that will have you smiling, overwhelmed with such good will toward Joey for showing us his life deconstructed, for the surviving cast and crew for sharing their adventures in making the movie, and finally to Lisa Downs and Ashley Pugh. This amazing duo are on a roll as far as this dude in the audience is concerned. So get over to the website (https://www.lifeaftermovies.com/) and grab the best gift you can give or receive this holiday season. Hope.

After a year that has been more tragedy than triumph, Life After The Navigator is the perfect elixir. A story about the adventure behind the adventure, how real heroes exist within us….and not solely on the silver screen.

David Prior’s The Empty Man

It’s rare for a horror film to exceed an hour and a half runtime these days, and if it does it better be something unexpected, captivating and unique. David Prior’s The Empty Man is two and a half hours and not only stands as the best film I’ve seen so far this year but also the scariest horror to come my way since Hereditary and It Follows before that. It’s also one of the most ambitious, ‘out there’ films in terms of high concept in the same way that, for example, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness was, another bonkers, reach for the sky horror gem that went well over the two hour mark. First off, ignore the title, trailer and any of the surprisingly scant marketing that might make this out to be another ‘Slender Man’, ‘Bye Bye Man’ or any other cheapie gimmick piece that caters to teens. This is not your garden variety, jump scare laden, watered down young adult fright flick, it’s dark, complex, philosophical, disquieting and altogether soul disturbing. Before the opening title even appears we are treated to an atmospheric, twenty minute opening act set somewhere in the Tibetan mountains sometime in the 90’s, where four ill fated hikers have an encounter with something… well, something so old there’s no name for it in any language we speak. Flash forward to Illinois 2018 where we follow ex cop turned private investigator James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) as he tries to find the missing daughter of a family friend who got mixed up in a spooky urban legend. That’s all I’m going to get into in terms of plot specifics because every viewer deserves to be led down this terrifying breadcrumb trail of a narrative with unspoiled eyes. Badge Dale is a great actor, one who somehow manages to simultaneously subvert and uphold the Hollywood tough guy image with his own charisma, his reactions and methods of finding information are really fascinating to watch from an acting standpoint. What he does find is some of the weirdest shit you’ll ever see in a movie, and some of it so unsettling I almost got up and stood in the hallway of the theatre for a few minutes to decompress. I also saw The Empty Man in an Empty Theatre, I was literally the only person to buy a ticket and that decidedly added to the spook factor. Aside from being fucking scary as all hell, this is a truly intriguing story with imagination, innovation and so many unpredictable surprises it can sometimes feel like a patchwork quilt of ideas, motifs and thematic material stitched together, albeit in a very fluid and naturally flowing way. There’s shades of Lovecraft, references to Nietzsche and other philosophical ideals and even sly references to everything from The Wicker Man to Blair Witch to the Donner Pass Incident to many forms of demonic lore. It’s too bad they barely marketed it and just sort of lobbed it into theatres with nary a whisper of trailers, posters or internet ads beforehand because no one has heard of it d I wouldn’t even have either unless it was recommended to me in a frenzy of enthusiasm, but it deserves to be sought out and, if it’s playing near you and you feel safe, demands to be seen on the big screen. If you like your horror wild, wooly, whacked out, fucked up and worthy of eccentric cult status, this is your bet. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

-Nate Hill

HAVE FUN STORMING THE GALAXY: BRETT KELLY’S LAST DANCE BY KENT HILL

It has been my pleasure, nay, my privilege, to have chatted with so many fine D.I.Y auteurs throughout the years here, on Podcasting Them Softly. It is a battle to get any film made, yet this has not deterred the vast majority of creative individuals from carving out their niche in the every-changing realms of modern independent cinema.

This few, this happy few, this band of renegade artists, who work directly for the market, and who are called upon by producers hungry for content to make films directly for the distributors. Some times they are forced to make genre offerings for peanuts – but this work, while largely panned for its budgetary shortcomings, is one the last strongholds were those who have longed to get their toes wet can. A place to pursue their cinematic dreams in these exciting pockets of explosive B movie-making that is, for now, the poaching grounds for the streaming juggernauts.

Still it can be a grind. And my guest, prolific Canadian filmmaker Brett Kelly, is making one more ode to the cinema he adores so much, before moving on to the kind of creative catharsis, most effectively achieved when one is not making art to serve commerce. The kind of art that is made to fulfill one, on a deeper level.

To this end, Brett has set his sights on a science fiction epic that stirs romantic memories of STARCRASH, THE HUMANOID, SPACEHUNTER: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and METALSTORM: The Destruction of Jared Syn. GALAXY WARRIORS is it’s name, and Kelly (Jurassic Shark, My Fair Zombie) has teamed up with comic scribe/screenwriter Janet Hetherington (Elvira comic, Murder in High Heels) to create a plot inspired by an unmade Jim Wynorski (Deathstalker 2, The Return of Swamp Thing) project.

The story concerns a pair of bounty huntresses. Allowing themselves to be taken prisoner in order to rescue a wrongfully incarcerated inmate from a galactic penitentiary; the huntresses soon uncover a dastardly plot which is forcing those imprisoned to participate in gladiatorial combat.

For this last dance, Kelly is pulling out all the stops. Real effects, no CGI. A true homage to the epic science-fiction-fantasy film-making of a bygone era. Jurassic Shark star Christine Emes, leads the enthusiastic band of fictional adventurers that combine with Kelly’s resourceful collaborators to make this, his curtain call, one for the books. As of the Fall of 2020 the picture in 50% complete and the filmmakers now turn to you, dear reader, to become part of this glorious enterprise. Please visit : https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/galaxy-warriors-film#/ and support this awesome gem of a movie in the making….

And…don’t forget, you can keep tabs on the adventures of the Galaxy Warriors by visiting:

https://m.facebook.com/galaxywarriorsmovie/

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor

Lord help me, this is how you do filmmaking. I haven’t seen a SciFi horror this good since… who knows since when. Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is a sensational, surreal, coldly animalistic, shockingly violent exercise in retro futurism, psychological netherworlds, jarring identity crises, lethal corporate espionage and unnerving body horror. Cronenberg, son of David, isn’t just a chip off the old block but outright surpasses most of his Pops’ work that I’ve seen with this stunningly original, unforgivingly oppressive piece. Andrea Riseborough gives a haunted, waif-like, primordial turn as Tasya Vos, a contract killer whose hunting ground is the mindscape, the price being she begins to lose her own mental footing amidst traversing that of others. She works for a shadowy firm run by spooky handler Girder, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in another one off her increasingly unsettling, opaque turns. Tasya infiltrates the minds of chosen targets, takes over their cognition and motor function, using them as scapegoats to carry out high profile assassinations. Her newest target is a corporate pretty boy (Christopher Abbott) who is dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of a powerful, mean spirited business magnate played by Sean Bean in some of the liveliest, boorish work I’ve seen from him in some time. This job proves difficult once Tasya’s mind begins to meld with her host’s, the lines blur and things get out of hand pretty quick. This is a punishingly violent film, and there’s a few genuine bury your face in someone’s shoulder moments, even for those with strong stomachs. Cronenberg flaunts the same fetishistic fixation on what practical effects can show in terms of physical decimation to the human body that run in the family, and the results of his creative exploration are nothing short of soul-disturbing. He also shows a flair for the surreal too, as you can see by the poster. There’s some otherworldly imagery, sound and tactility at play here that give this a nightmarish atmosphere that is pure and singular, thanks also given to a wonderful, elemental electronic score by Jim Williams. There are some themes that border on the taboo, or at least notions I’ve ever seen so bravely explored in horror, such as letting go of the familial/societal boundaries established in the modern world and reverting back to a predatory state of existence, I don’t know about you but that kinda makes my skin crawl in this context. I suppose my one issue would be that there are no characters to care about, the only one I felt sorry for was Tuppence Middleton’s unwitting girlfriend, her’s is the only performance with any warmth or genuine humanity in it. But I realize that’s kind of what Cronenberg & Co are going for here: this is a cold, pitiless piece of horror extremism that isn’t here to reinforce the core comforts of human nature, but rather to turn over every stone and dig up the long suppressed aspects of it that no one wants to admit are there. An arresting, darkly beautiful piece of trippy retro SciFi splatter bliss, and the best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill