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.



Other Worlds Austin Film Festival Starts Tonight!

owa-logo-529x270We’re about to make the drive up to Round Rock for a weekend of scifi and horror films at Flix Brewhouse, courtesy of the Other Worlds Austin film festival, home of the Mary Shelley award.

Tonight we’re going to see the opening film, OMG, I’m a Robot!, and hopefully get into The Axe Murders of Villisca, written by Austin local Owen Egerton.

The email announcements have been making big promises of a party tonight that features excessive amounts of chips and queso and chicken tenders.  Ah, Round Rock, whirling vortex of Central Texas culture.

Pandemic Microbes, Dark Matter, China on the Moon: Your Weekend Reading

big baby bird in a sweater on a beach

Friday has arrived, with the swiftness of a desert tortoise crossing a state highway. Here is your recommended reading for the weekend.

    1. Mars. Scientists on the space station exposed two types of Antarctic microbes to simulated Mars-like conditions, and found that they’d probably survive if introduced to Mars.
    2. Science Fiction. Some lovely people are making a documentary about science fiction legend Ursula K. Le Guin. The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded them some funds, but won’t pony it up until the rest of the production costs are raised. So, Kickstarter to the rescue, of course.
    3. China on the Moon. In 2013, China sent a lander to the Moon, and took some stunning pictures with modern cameras. They also discovered a new kind of Moon rock. National Geographic has a nice gallery of the images.
    4. Pandemic. You may have heard recently of the Zika virus, a mosquito-born illness that might be causing a birth defect called microcephaly (small heads and brain damage), at high rates in babies born in Brazil. The link between Zika and these high rates of birth defects is not conclusive, but there is definitely something going on in Brazil.
    5. Only in Texas. That said, the Zika virus has now appeared in the US, but not through mosquito transmission. Texas has the honor of having the third known case in the world of sexually transmitted Zika virus, because of course we do.
    6. Cute and Deadly. On a lighter note, oh my gods I need all of these incredible vinyl toys from Shinbone Creative in their Thimblestump Hollow collection.
      They’re cute and terrifying, with deep, adorable eyes that could easily draw you down into a sweet, sappy doom of being disemboweled and eaten alive.
    7. Time and Dark Matter. According to Frank Wilczek, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the nature of Time probably has something to do with dark matter. I read this article three times before I really wrapped my head around the idea he’s getting at. It’s a great think piece, and my head’s spinning with the possible implications for time travel fiction.
    8. Humans are less special. A recent experiment indicates that ravens have a form of empathy, in that they can imagine another creature’s point of view.
    9. Horror. Have you heard about the upcoming horror movie Ava’s Possessions? No? How about Spirit Possessions Anonymous? Learn how SPA can help you with your demons in the video below, then go watch the teaser trailer.


Iron Sky is getting a sequel with dinosaurs!

I just found out that there’s going to be a sequel to Iron Sky (the brilliantly hilarious Nazis on the Moon film).

It has dinosaurs, that are ridden by Nazis, inside of the Hollow Earth.  And their President Sarah Palin stand in is actually a Reptilian overlord.

2016, you cannot arrive soon enough.

Chappie is no Jonny Five and that’s great

I liked Chappie. It’s a very solid contribution to the science fiction subgenre of robot and artificial intelligence movies. It may not appeal to folks who are not well versed in robot movies, and that’s ok.

It makes me sad to see the degree to which formal reviewers have been ripping this movie apart, calling it a tropy ripoff of other robot movies.  It’s a robot genre movie, people, come on! Anyone who insists on labeling Chappie as a ripoff of the 80’s classic Short Circuit hasn’t seen Short Circuit in 29 years.  As a science fiction loving child of the 80’s who owned a VHS copy of Short Circuit, which got pulled out anytime I was tired of She-Ra and couldn’t whine my parents into renting Gamera again, I can state with great authority that Chappie is no Johnny Five, and it’s a good thing.

Chappie and Johnny Five are both military robots who achieve consciousness, but that really is the one connecting plot device, a similar theme being explored.  Johnny Five wakes up sentient somewhat miraculously after basically being hit by lightning, while Chappie’s consciousness was the result of an intentionally installed experimental AI.  They both explore the question of what happens after said military robot becomes sentient and starts learning and interacting with people, but they do it in very different worlds, surrounded by very different characters and influences.  There are probably four shelves worth of books in the scifi section of my local library that explore this very theme, and they are not considered ripoffs of each other.

There is also the fact that pretty much no one who is more than five years younger than me has ever seen Short Circuit, and it really is ok to recycle old ideas for a modern audience.  We have a very different concept of Artificial Intelligence in 2015 than we did in 1986, and I am the sort of person who will probably enjoy any attempt to explore the consequences of AI consciousness in film.

Now that I have defended the hell out of this movie against what I think are empty criticisms, let’s really talk about it.

Chappie is a good science fiction movie.  It is not, however, a great piece of scifi, and it will have little or no appeal to people who aren’t really into science fiction.  It is possible that it won’t really appeal to anyone who doesn’t love almost any movie with a robot in it.

Neill Blomkamp delivers a disturbingly realistic future where a robotic police force is being tested in Johannesburg. The robots in and of themselves are magnificent works of art.  They are covered in minute details from being used in combat, and the way they move is just alien and fluid enough to communicate their status as walking, talking, uncaring weapons. It turns the subtle differences between the normally functioning robots and sentient Chappie into some of the greatest evidence of Chappie’s individuality and character arc.

For reasons I may never understand, Neil Blomkamp and cowriter Terri Tatchell decided to write the stage characters of the South African band Die Antwoord into the film as violent criminals.  It’s more than a little distracting to watch Ninja and Yo-Landi play themselves in this movie, and there are scenes that feel like some of their crazier music videos.  It does detract from the movie, and I would have enjoyed the story more if the gangster couple had been cast by actors inspired by the band instead of actual rockstars taking up much of the screen time.

Dr. Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, is a slightly crazy but well-intentioned scientist with some pretty intense naivety about the world.  He has some scenes where he’s trying to imbue Chappie with morals, and I can’t decide whether they were meant to be serious or funny, because they’re right on that line of comical but don’t quite make it there.  Other than that, he’s a great character with a different spin on the mad scientist/Dr. Frankenstein trope.

Hugh Jackman is in this movie, has no sideburns, and he’s evil!  Really, really evil, and the craziest person in this movie.  I found watching him play a different sort of character than I’m used to seeing him cast in to be a delightful treat.  Evil Hugh Jackman let me forgive the weirdness of Die Antwood.

To recap:

This is not a movie for everyone.  It is a movie for people who love scifi movies about robots and have a tolerance for ridiculousness. Two of the main characters are rock stars playing themselves. This is balanced out by Evil Hugh Jackman. Chappie is, in no uncertain times, in any way a ripoff of Johnny Five from Short Circuit, and the five year old version of me will kick anyone in the shin who keeps trying to argue about that.

Ben Templesmith’s The Squidder – a review

Covers of the comic book The Squidder Issue 1 and Issue 2Behold the writhing, shuddering horror that is The Squidder, a nightmare made possible by Kickstarter and the darkness of Ben Templesmith‘s brain.

From the horror artist that brought us 30 Days of Night, this graphic story is every post apocalyptic, tentacle-covered horror fantasy you have ever secretly had. It’s Mad Max versus Cthulhu! (Seriously, that’s how Templesmith describes it.)

The story is twisted across the remnants of Earth long after a bloody alien invasion by the Squid that left the broken mess of human survivors as a few scattered lumps of terrified peasantry worshipping their overlords, no memory left of the old world or the war that cost everything.  But there are some who remember, soldiers who have lived too long, still burning with the hate for the Squid. These soldiers were the Squidders.

There are cyborgs, there are grotesque tentacled genetic experiments, plagues, intense sword and gun violence, and giant flying squid overlords.

Ben Templesmith’s art is so creepy surreal that it’s a little anxiety inducing.  He gets horror.  I get chills looking at some of the panels.  There’s something organic about this world of shadows and filth that just drills into you.

If you’re into horror comics, you must read this book.

If you enjoy H. P. Lovecraft or anything even remotely tied to Cthulhu, you must read this book.

You must read this book.

IDW is currently publishing it in a 4-issue run that you can pick up at most comic shops. Issue 2 came out last week.  It will be available in hardback in September, from 44Flood, and is available for preorder now.