Other Worlds Austin 2016 Recap

other worlds austin 2016 poster

other worlds austin 2016 posterOther Worlds Austin is a dedicated science fiction film festival based in Austin, TX.  A team of passionate scifi film makers, writers, and fans, they put together a curated collection of independent and classic science fiction movies, with a little horror thrown in.  This was my first year to attend, and I am definitely part of the cult now.

I liked almost everything I saw this year, which is not a common experience at most festivals.  The curation was films was very well done.  They brought in some cool people, like Brian Narelle, who played Lt. Doolittle in Dark Star (1974) and has some of the weirdest stories about film making and fandom.  There was a fascinating script writing class by Matt Lohr on Dan O’Bannon’s screen writing style, that dissected the original Alien to examine why it’s such a damn good movie.

Other Worlds is a great little festival, and I can’t wait to see what they put together next year.

I saw nine feature-length movies, and several short films.  I’ll be writing proper reviews of my favorites over the next week, so here is a quick recap, in the order that I saw them:

  • OMG, I’m a Robot! – a quirky Israeli comedy with robots and ridiculous giant guns.  Lots of fun, probably hard to find.  U.S. premier at the festival.
  • The Axe Murders of Villisca – creepy, very creepy.  The Villisca murders were a real historical event, and the house is supposedly haunted.  The film makers explore what happens when bored teenagers break into the house one night.
  • Blood Hunters – A cool concept, but my least favorite thing at the festival.
  • Dark Star (1974) – The classic film school project by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon that launched their careers.
  • We Go On – One of my favorites, this unique ghost story puts plenty of ghost movie tropes in a blender and creates an interesting story that tackles some heavy philosophical questions.
  • Bed of the Dead – As ridiculous as the title suggests.  This weird little horror film came about in an effort to save money and film a movie almost entirely in one room. The constraint pays off, the movie is suspenseful, a good balance of gore to jump scares, with a few mysteries that keep the audience interested.
  • Stille Reserven – Gorgeous, disturbing German about a dystopian future where our corporate masters have figured out how to stop people from escaping their debts even in death.  Also a favorite.
  • Island of Lost Souls (1932) – One of the best horror films of the 1930’s, but Paramount didn’t spend the money on a musical score, or even basic sound effects.  Composer Jay Woelfel decided to fix that, composing, recording and editing an entire soundtrack that fills that gap in the emotional effects of the film.  Good stuff.
  • The Unseen – A cool, weird twist on the idea of the Invisible Man.  This is a film worth seeing.

 

 

Star Trek Beyond: Fun, Flawed, Worth Seeing

starship enterprise above a planet

Star Trek Beyond is fun, lighthearted science fiction, . Full of classic elements, nods to the series’ predecessors, and a story strong enough to carry the over-the-top explosions, the film is a fine piece of entertainment. I’m not saying this film is perfect; it has a few groan-worthy flaws, but is worth seeing despite them.

spock and mccoy in blue uniforms, spock leaning on mccoy as if hurtStar Trek Beyond is not dark and gritty. It’s bright, colorful, and hopeful of the future. Most of the story happens on a planet surface, where the crew is wandering along high-walled cliffs and through forests that capture the feel of away missions in both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation.

Kirk is literally fighting guys who look like lizards while surrounded by boulders. Spock and McCoy have hilarious banter that really lets Karl Urban (McCoy) shine. You’ll see plot elements from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, and The Search For Spock woven a fresh, cohesive whole.

The story picks up during the fourth year of the Five Year Mission, which happens to be where the television show left off. That was a nice touch. The crew is tired, the ship is a little worse for wear, and everyone seems to having an existential crisis after being in space for so long.

Then there’s the Yorktown star base, which took my breath away. Their design and effects crews really outdid themselves; it may be the most beautiful space station ever depicted on screen.  The station is a massive geometric wonder of wide boulevard bridges covered with parks, high rises, and neighborhoods woven into a gigantic sphere, protected by a physical shield. During that initial panning shot, I found myself thinking, “Please let us get to that level of technology, please let us get there.” Absolutely beautiful.

Be ready to cry during the touching reference to the loss of Leonard Nimoy. I certainly did.

blue alien monster - krall from star trek beyondIdris Elba should play all the villains. I really can’t say much about his character without major spoilers, but know that he is fantastic as always, and has a gripping villain back story.

Remember that trailer everyone hated so much? The one with the Beastie Boys song ‘Sabotage’ playing in the background to scenes cut to look and feel like a Fast and Furious movie? Yeah, that trailer was total bullshit. However, song is in the movie, and it’s hilarious what they do with it. I love well-orchestrated space battles.

Overall, the script, penned by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, is clever and witty, with great banter well-delivered by the cast, who have delightful chemistry. There was only one scene I didn’t care for, where the film’s message of friendship, trust, and being part of a crew (team) got laid on a little too thick. I suspect the scene stayed in there in part because it was Simon Pegg delivering the saccharine speech. But again, this is a very hopeful, upbeat movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest installment in the Star Trek series. I do have some criticisms of how the female characters were handled. Uhura, the linguistic genius with highly specialized skills, was reduced to a plot device. Jaylah, the plucky alien female,  is fairly one dimensional, simply embodying the “Jungle Princess” trope. These are the only issues I have with the film, basically a major breakdown in the otherwise high quality of the writing.

Star Trek Beyond is fun, it’s flawed, it’s worth seeing on the big screen. The explosions are great, the men get a lot of interesting, funny banter and character development, and overall it’s good old-school science fiction.