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Friday, 24 May 2013

In loving appreciation of 'The Time Machine' (1960)

I decided this week to take a break from championing all things independent sci-fi & horror filming to talk about another one of the many loves of my science-fiction life. I think like many children, I chanced upon the works of H.G.Wells through some wondrous movie adaptations before ever reading his books; The first men on the Moon, The Island of lost souls, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man…… and this beauty, my favourite of them all; The Time Machine.

The movie holds a special place in my sci-fi affections for two reasons. Firstly, it seems to have served as a much needed 'crutch' to lean upon in times of emotional uncertainty. For some reason, it has always been one of my 'go to' films where I could be certain that it would either soothe, inspire or provoke whatever emotions needed to be provoked at that particular time. I'm not sure why other films that I love with equal measure aren't on that 'go to' list, while this has one pride of place on that list……….hmmmm, maybe this blog entry will serve as yet another much needed self-indulgent analysis of yours truly :-).

This masterpiece was made in 1960 and directed by the excellent George Pal, who had not only already directed the first H.G Wells adaptation of The War of the Worlds, but was also responsible for a notable body of work with perhaps most famously, the wonderful When Worlds Collide.

OK lads, but size isn't everything you know...…

The story begins at the very beginning of the 20th century as a group of well-to-do individuals meet at the house of a certain George Wells ( see what they did there?), who has asked them to attend his dinner party. However, George isn't yet present so, in accordance with his prior wishes, they begin without him. Not before long, a clearly stressed and exhausted George stumbles into the dining room and so begins to recount a quite remarkable tale of time travel and adventure. 

Only a week before he had tried to persuade his friends that he had mastered the the problem of time travel, even to the point of showing off his time machine. The problem was that his friends didn't exactly take him seriously, both on the notion of time travel, but also on the little fact that his time machine was, well, little. It measured only a few centimetres high and when he set it to travel in time and it disappears, they mock him believing it to be nothing more than a cheap parlour trick- poor George.

And not a flux capacitor in sight…..

Undeterred, our idealistic hero, who is disillusioned with modern industrial society that seems hell bent on destroying itself, decides to use the larger version he has already built to travel to the future. George finds himself roaming in time through London via two world wars until the year 1966 when nuclear holocaust is finally on the way to destroying humanity. Trapped by the consequences of global catastrophe he has to travel to the far distant future - to the year 802,701 to be exact. Here the world is divided between the surface-dwelling, simple, and without exception, good-looking Eloi and the hideous, underground, Eloi eating, nasty looking Morlocks. Soon, he meets Wenna (Yvette Mimieux) one of the Eloi people and confronts the Morlocks - It's not exactly yippie Kai yay from this moment on, but let's say George kicks some arse.

Take That haven't aged well by the year 802,701..
For those two of you in the world who haven't seen this movie, I won't give away the ending….well actually I will, kind of….. The film ends where we began, at the dinner party. It turns out that George has used the time machine to escape back to January 5, 1900 in time to meet his old friends for dinner and to tell them of his time travelling adventure. Naturally, they really don't believe a word of what he tells them and abruptly leave, with only his closest friend, Filby, showing some belief in his story. The very last scene of the movie sees George departing again in the time machine, but this time possibly forever. Filby and the housekeeper see that three books are unaccounted for from the library. It seems that George needs these three books for life with the Eloi and Wenna.  We are all are left to hypothesise which books were taken and why. Who says that Science fiction cannot be intelligent and thought provoking?

There is much debate amongst Wells aficionados in regard to the this, or any for that matter, adaptation of his books. Whilst it is true that this movie moves away at times from his often bleak dystopian story about how society was on a one way road to oblivion if steps weren't taken to change our way of thinking. At the same time the story contains a thinly veiled vilification of British class system. Yes, the movie deviates at times away from Well's vision, but it still retains enough both in plot and acting performance to retain some of the original story's premise and message. 

Not only that, the cinematography is sumptuous, as is the director Pal's eye for the meticulous detail of Victorian life and whilst the special effects may seem a little dated in some parts (as does the make-up of the Eloi) there is THAT sequence that still never fails to deliver an emotional punch. 

The scene shows George in the initial joy and excitement of travelling through the early years of the 20th century. Across the street from his time machine is a clothes shop, in the window of which is a mannequin. The time travel scene remains a triumph of filming to this day, with the shop window mannequin demonstrating a succession of fashion and style as the years fly by in seconds. The sequence is adorable, ingenious and effective in equal measures. This particular sequence, plus other equally inventive time-lapse scenes were enough to earn the best photography Oscar that year.

Originally, the film's producers wanted an established star for the lead role - David Niven to name but one, was muted at the time for the role. However, it was decided that a younger, more athletic actor was needed and the Australian actor Rod Taylor is simply magnificent in the role. It could be a disservice to Taylor in saying that he never

bettered himself as he enjoyed a rich and varied career as an actor. All I would say is that the mixture of action, sensitivity and humanity needed for what is a deceptively complex part was carried off with distinction by a fine actor.

However, for myself and many others,  the real star of the film is the time machine itself. It is a thing of genuine beauty.
I want this and I want this now...

MGM art director Bill Ferrari created the Machine, a sled-like design with a big, rotating vertical wheel behind the red plush seat, together with with a plethora of knobs and levers that is a attention to a detailers wet dream. It is a movie prop that has become an integral part of the wider entertainment history. Even those few that may never have seen the whole of this wonderful movie will recognise the truly beautiful design of the machine and from which film it comes from. It is a contraption that quite simply screams out Victorian Steampunk charm. 

If anyone was to give me a full size, half size or even mini-sized Time machine copy, I would love them forever.

Monday, 13 May 2013

15-05-08 - How to make an excellent short movie

In my last blog entry I wrote how Nikki Chatwin from the Nottingham-based company Sick Bunny Pictures had asked me to promote their latest venture into movie making, their 16 minute short horror flick, 15-05-08. 

Well today I received a sneak early look at the now finished product. I'll do my best to reduce any spoilers as it doesn't go on full release to youtube until Wednesday of this week. You know me, discreet is my middle name….well it isn't, but you know…..

What I will say is that I was surprised when I watched this for the first time today. "Why were you surprised Stuart?" I hear you ask. Well as i mentioned in my previous entry, 'found footage /hand held camera POV' movies such as Blair Witch etc aren't really my horror bag. So I experienced a fair amount of trepidation when Nikki sent me the movie today and asked me to give it a review - after all, my intention was to be honest, and i wasn't looking forward to telling all and sundry that I didn't like it. Well, I had absolutely no need to worry. This movie is something of a treat. 

Considering that we are only witnessing just over 16 minutes of movie time, a huge amount of emotional experience is packed into it. At first, when the group of friends in a very normal suburban house on a very normal suburban road witness a light going on in what they thought was the empty house across the road, they treat it as a bit of fun. It's all giggles and bad taste jokes at first. 

However, before we the viewer have time to realise it, the tension is being raised as the mood subtly  changes, not only amongst the group of friends in the film, but also at the same time for the rest of us watching . We all begin experiencing the same rising unsettling feeling that something isn't right, until the suspense and tension has been raised to such a level before we witness the final few moments of, well, terror. The ending is simply excellent.

I wish I had more time to write about this movie. I love my independent low budget productions, often even though the filming may not always be great and the acting may not always be exactly top notch. But these guys at Sick Bunny pictures may give indie movies a bad rep - for the camera work is excellent, as is the acting. To say this is a debut feature belies the quality of work behind , and in front of the camera. The delivery of the dialogue is natural and convincing from this group of players, almost to the point that I was wondering just how much of the dialogue was scripted or improvised.

This is a fine movie experience. If you like your suspense built upon suspense until you're hit full in the face with the finest of brutal film climaxes - then this is nearly 17 minutes of just what you ( and I it seems) like.

I really can't wait to see what the future holds for this company.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Part 2 of the current Independent Sci-fi and Horror movie scene.

The second part of the feature on some current film productions is a short entry on a Nottingham-based low budget horror company, Sick Bunny pictures, founded by brother duo Nikki and Jason Chatwin..

Nikki is the writer/director/camera having a background in art and film education making many short films prior to the sick bunny banner.  Jason's roles include editor/camera with a background in music.

The brothers are extremely passionate about film of all sort but with SBP they are are focused on their true passion of horror and exploitation films. As Nikki told me; "we at SB also believe that the horror community is so loyal the indie horror film makers that we are almost like a "family" so for their loyalty we will listen to our fans and bring them exactly what they want to see".

The newest release from Sick Bunny pictures is a short film called 15-05-08

5-05-08" is a 'found footage' slasher film and is intended to be the first in a series of short films. The film is due for official release May 15th ( see what they've done there?) which will be free to watch online. This will be followed with a DVD release at a later date.

The plot as I know it goes something like this. The story takes place on the 15th of May 2008 when a group of 4 young adults witness a break in at a neighbour's house, which they believed to be empty for the weekend. Being the type of nosey teenagers that would make Scooby Doo proud, the group continue to watch the neighbour's house recording it which their video camera as evidence……...

So that's as much as I know at the moment. Nikki has been quite understandably restrained in how much he could divulge about the proceedings. I'll be interested to see how the well trodden sub-genre of 'found footage films' is treated here and whether is brings anything new or fresh in it's approach. For every 'Blair Witch' and 'Cloverfield' there are a plethora of others that seem just formulaic pale imitations and I will be honest in saying that it hasn't really been my favourite style of film. However, there are many film goers out there who disagree with me, plus, if Nikki's passion and enthusiasm is anything to go by, I am more than willing to be converted on the 15th of May!

So what of the future for these sick Bunnies?….. Well the next few days there is a huge amount of last minute work and publicising taking place, with new clips and information being added to their Facebook page literally as I write this piece. 

After the DVD release of 15-05-08 they have a number of other ideas that they want play with, including a sequel to 15-05-08 called "untitled tape". There has been a hint of a production of a more traditional slasher movie, some plans for zombie films and sand intriguing plan for a more extreme topic called  "Tools of the trade" (a progression of a short promo that they have previously made). 

In addition to that, Nikki tells me that the most exciting thing about their future though is working with an extremely talented local effects company N-FX who will help bring the "Sick" to Sick Bunny Pictures. They can be found HERE
So all it leaves me to say is that in just a few days time, we'll find out just what happened to those pesky kids!

Sick Bunny Pictures can be found on;
Twitter: @SickBunnyPics

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The current Independent Sci-fi and Horror movie scene…..

One of the unexpected joys that I've experienced since beginning this blog at the end of 2012 has been the completely unexpected outcome that anybody has wanted to read my self-indulgent ramblings. I was something of a nerd in my teens - when it was nowhere near as 'cool' to be nerdy or geeky as it is these days - and I find myself in my late forties and still a nerd at heart. And the great thing is, thanks to the social networking explosion, the Internet et al, there are many like-minded people out there. 

Another side effect of the fact that this blog hasn't been an unmitigated disaster has been my growing appreciation of the thriving independent movie scene around the world. I've always been wary of being one of the mainstream and perhaps my nerdiness and teenage immersion in all things science fiction and horror was something of a barrier against the bland beige ordinariness of mainstream existence. Don't get me wrong, when it comes to science fiction, fantasy and horror, just because it may be mainstream, that doesn't necessarily make it bad. I really don't want to jump on the "there's too much reliance on CGI and special effects' bandwagon. While there may be some truth to that viewpoint, there is still great mainstream sci-fi & horror being produced. And don't even get me started on the joys of The Hobbit and LOTR.

However, ever since I can remember, I've had a special place in my twisted little heart for the more independent of film productions; John Waters, Russ Meyer, John Carpenter to name but three have all born testament to the bravery, inspiration, creativity and sheer bloody-mindedness it must take to fight against the expectations of the movie establishment to get a 'lesser' low-budget piece of work not only completed, but accepted. For there is a view held by many that is less than charitable when it comes to opinions towards low-budget independent movies, especially low-budget science fiction or horror. I won't list the plethora of 'accusations' again that I often hear directed towards these sub-genres - it has a rather unhealthy effect on my heart rate. Besides which, many in the indie movie field probably couldn't give a flying toss about peoples opinions, they just want to create the best work that they can.

So I guess that its up to the likes of me to fight their corner - whether they like it or not! Last week my latest blog entry was the result of being lucky enough to have been in contact with the makers of 'Spidarlings', a soon to be released comedy/horror musical. For which their Facebook page will give you the latest information on their project.

This week I'm highlighting 2 productions; one science fiction one horror. The first of which is in pre-production, the second one was released towards the end of 2012.

Iron Cloud

By Nikodem Wojciechowski

This group of independent filmmakers from Poland are led by the writer and director Nikodem Wojciechowski. The team is in the early pre-production stages of a short film Science Fiction drama 'Iron Cloud' - the sci-fi drama which is now in pre-production phase. The film begins shooting in June / July of this year . 

A short while ago Niko contacted me and asked me if I would help spread the word about his upcoming science fiction production. As yet there are only a few details that I can share with you as Niko is understandably cautious in overdoing the amount of detail in regard to the plot and filming. So in the meantime we'll have to be satisfied with a few snippets of information for this soon to be filmed 30 minute long movie.

The film is set In a future of an unspecified date. Two brothers live in a poor, Eastern country which is ruled by corrupted caste of dignitaries.  It seems that life for the brothers has taken a turn for the worse after the younger brother gets beaten during an interrogation and the older one’s home destroyed by a police raid. The boy manages to arrange a plan of escape to an unnamed free, technologically advanced neighbouring country. There will be no return. He goes on this one-way trip with the older brother and his wife and daughters they manage to evade the soldiers and break trough the closed border. However, during the walk through  no-man’s land, when immigrants are so close to their dream goal, things get decidedly worse. Ultimately, the Technocratic West will welcome them with open arms and give them shelter but not exactly in a way they have always expected.
It will soon turn out that their new home - apparently a perfect place to live - is only a new version of prison which people build for one another.

Niko has told me that the inspiration and theme for the story are deeply rooted in the works of such science fiction luminaries such as Philip Dick and especially Stanislaw Lem. Writers who have also asked questions such as whether the physical elimination of violence, made possible by advanced nanotechnology, will result in a pure Utopian society? Or does the the nature of human behaviour mean that there results will be nothing more than dystopian?  

The Iron Cloud team doing some pre-production location work
The film is intended to be less reliant on the CGI infested mainstream of science fiction and intend to delve into the psychological and social existence of a futuristic society as Niko says;

"It’s all about deliberately showing fragments of our world, and building the effect of strangeness like Jean Luc Godard - by placing foreign objects (props or behaviour) in it."
The film won’t give clear answers, won’t moralise. It will leave room for interpretation.

The Facebook page link for Iron Cloud can be found here here

The very first  teaser trailer below doesn't give any information at all - except for the stunning piece of atmospheric music that accompanies the simple sound formation film. However, if the rest of the production is as half as effective and emotive as the music, I can't wait to see more!

The first teaser video for Iron Cloud

Behind The Cross (2012)
by Macabre Media

Behind the Cross - Trailer [HD] (2012)

BEHIND THE CROSS is a 38 minute long 2012 independent horror film from Finnish director Tomi Kerminen. I can safely say that it's like nothing I've seen for some time.
Tomi - looking far less mad than in his movie

It is a film that, when I watched it for the first time today, simply blew me away with its relentlessly aggressive assault on the senses. That assault still lingered after the second viewing and left me with more questions than answers - which is something all pieces of art should do.

It isn't easy viewing, and nor should it be. Some people, even those well versed in the horror genre, will find the visual aspect of the movie brutality upsetting. Not only that, it isn't straight forward step by step story telling - oh no, it jumps cunningly from point to point in the story. Not only does this give us a sense of the insanity of the main protagonist, it also serves to install in the viewer a true feeling of not being in control of what we are seeing. 

Beneath this brutal and unrelenting surface of the degradation, there are other things happening. Questions that Tomi Kerminen isn't at all afraid to ask us. But before I explore those questions, the story itself.

So how do I begin describing the plot? 

Essentially it is the story of Father Michael, who when we join him in the movie, is already well down the road on his personal journey into the depths of insanity. To say that he is having a crisis of faith would be something of an under-statement. 

It seems that a life that has been somewhat disturbed ( curtesy of some horrifying flashback episodes to his childhood) has now manifested itself beyond simple spiritual breakdown and become the literal definition of atrocity and horror. Father Michael's monstrous acts of violence and murderous depravity mirror his continuing ability to still find a psychotic link to his faith in the hope that god will still absolve him from the terrible sins he is committing.

So we have themes in this movie of sex, torture, insanity and religion. So no one to upset there then? Still not offended? Well ok then, as we also have scenes of a priest masturbating in his car, masturbating also to a shop mannequin, or him urinating over his still sleeping gimp. Jolly good. What is truly interesting about this film is the connection between the murderous mind go a madman and the world of his religious life. The film is rich in the symbolism of his faith and how it interacts with the priest's descent into insanity - this truly is a voyage into the ocean depths of a madman.

Yes it is brutal. Yes it is relentless in it's depiction of murder and madness. However there is also a genuine hint of the humour from Tomi and his approach to the subject matter. The humour my be on the black side, but it is humour nonetheless, and certainly not at the expense of the victims.

Tomi has described to me the style of his film as experimental, aggressive and even avant-garde. There is a definite nod to some of the masters and era's of horror - the influence of Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chainsaw massacre fame is certainly apparent. It is certainly all of those things, and more. It is beautifully shot, which together with the clever editing and lighting serves to continually unbalance and unsettle the viewer. Not only do we witness the priest's madness and depravity, we by virtue of the film's style, almost became part of the depravity itself.

It's not looking good for the Father….

I truly admire the risks that Tomi takes in producing a movie of this subject matter. Yes it is dealing with themes and actions that will offend many people. It is not for the faint hearted, nor is is for the closed-minded. For the movie is asking questions and it makes you think. But don't take my word for it, find it and watch it for yourself.

The Facebook page link for Behind The Cross can be found here.