The masterful short films of Neill Blomkamp and Oats Studios!

Okay so it is Sunday 30 July 2017, and it has been a minute since I posted.

One of the things that has been occupying me (besides today’s POWER and ELEMENTARY marathons):

OATS STUDIOS

I do not like You Tube if I have to go to its web page, for the simple fact I hate its un-moderated comments and ignored idiocy and stupidity. But the YouTube channel on Amazon Fire or Roku is something else. I find it actually useful, and nice to view on my big screen TV. And no un-moderated comments to deal with.

The main thing I go to YouTube for is short films, followed closely by movie trailers.

But for short films YouTube’s Roku or Fire Channel, is a great boon. Giving a stage and platform for filmmakers who would otherwise go undiscovered to develop an audience and a name, through short films that wow you and stay with you far more viscerally than most feature length films can.

That brings us to OATS STUDIOS, a production company created by Neill Blomkamp of DISTRICT 9 and ELYSIUM fame.

I am not a fan of the feature films of Neill Blomkamp, they have wonderful core ideas, but tend to get lost under poor Hollywood casting or unnecessary backstory. However in the short film is where Blomkamp’s OATS STUDIOS shine.

Sporting cutting edge world class visual effects, great actors and performances, and big screen direction the films of OATS STUDIOS are, 30 minute or less, masterpieces of creativity and speculative fiction, of science fiction mixed with war, mixed with horror, mixed with a cautionary mirror tainted with pressing concerns, both moral and material.

 

FIREBASE

RAKKA

ZYGOTE

Those Oat Studio short films form a loose trilogy, united by a common theme of mankind pushed to the brink by powers unearthly. And the films are also united by being superlative and imaginative, and gems of 21st century short films.

FIREBASE (which I have also titled DREAMS OF THE RIVER GOD), the 2nd film released, is a little over 26 minutes, and set in Vietnam War era Vietnam… combines so many mind-blowing concepts, and creates one of the screens memorable creations, in the character of… The River God. I can see this spawning a lot of spin-off short films, set in this universe.

RAKKA, the first film released, moves several decades ahead to a world on the brink of extermination by a threat otherworldly.

and ZYGOTE, the last film released as of this writing, further still in the future, sports one of the most imaginative and horrific monsters since Carpenter’s THING. I like RAKKA but I love FIREBASE and ZYGOTE.

All this to say if you are looking for something to watch, then make it to the Oats Studios site and find the aforementioned films by Neill Blomkamp.

As of this writing they do not yet have a BLURAY up for these films, but I urge them to release one. Quality productions such as this deserve a quality Blu-Ray production with special features and director’s commentary, and not simply the ephemeral availability of websites and streaming.

Today’s Recommended short films!

 

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THE CINEMA OF STATUES : The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder


“He was a personable looking man. First your eye said he’s not young anymore, he’s not a boy anymore. Then your eye said : he’s not old. There was something of youth hovering over and about him, and yet refusing to land in any one particular place… In short the impression was agelessness. Not young, not old, not callous, not mature – but ageless. Thirty Six looking fifty six, or fifty six looking thirty six, but which it was you could not say.”

FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE by Cornell Woolrich

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Have you ever watched a film, and mere moments into it been so captured by its construction, its strangeness, and its audacity that it earns a spot in your pantheon, your metaphoric showcase of worthy things? I’m guessing the answer for some of us is yes. I say some, because the strange, by its very nature, will not be the cup of tea of everyone.

MARTHA based on a Cornell Woolrich story “FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE” was my first introduction to the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and what an introduction. I’ve been a huge devotee and fan of all things Cornell Woolrich since discovering his pulp fiction a few years ago. I own and have read a ton of Woolrich stories and novels. When I heard about this movie based (illegally it seems) on one of his stories, I had to try it.

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And MARTHA finally seen, I was blown away by the strange, nearly alien craft and audacity of that film, and that led me by fits and starts to today’s review of Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE.

I’ve watched movies all my life, I consider myself well informed when it comes to cinema. I’ve seen all the great genres, and most of the great directors. I can speak to you about German Expressionism, Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo-realism, the Pan-African and Post-Colonialism movements. I can talk to you about blockbusters and straight to VOD masterpieces. And when you have seen as many films as I have, to get me through a movie these days… you have to either a/tell the familiar in a captivating way, or b/create something vibrant and unfamiliar.

Most movies and all Blockbusters are the former, they are variations on types of movies and a thematic structure that we have seen time and time again, since the dawn of cinema; what makes them successful is the ability to do the ‘rescuing the girl from the train track’ in a fresh and innovative way.

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Much rarer is the latter, films and filmmakers that fundamentally challenge and expand are definitions of the scope and pathways of cinema.

I’ve seen two of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films all the way through, and both of them have struck me that way. Now admittedly they are from phase 1 of the three loosely defined phases of his career. Phase 2 being his Melodramatic phase, Phase 3 being that melodrama morphed into his identity films, dealing with themes of national, sexual, and familial identities in collusion and in conflict. (for more on this and for an overview on the films of Fassbinder please see the excellent Film.com article by Daniel Walber here!)

Phase 1 is arguably his most experimental and innovative films, here you’ll find the genre infused stuff, tinged with film-noir, horror and scifi trappings, the genres that I enjoy. Pro-active genres. I find myself generally not the audience for his phase 2 or 3 films, I’m not a fan of melodrama or just statement films. But with most of these later films not yet tried, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

But Phase 1, his cinema of statues and stylization, static but wonderfully composed frames, filled with actors who are at times more statues than men, and when they are animated it is often in very jerky, stilted ways. His women, leading ladies, are variations on a theme, big eyed, statuesque but often emaciated to the point of boniness, strawberry blonds, odd beauty bordering on the antithesis of beauty, mannequins and masks, and a wonderful use of angles and reflections.

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In pieces the movies should not work, stilted, unnatural performances, what is generally considered signs of amateurish or bad acting. However in WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT, 1973), that ugliness and unease, the uncomfortable pauses, the shots held too long, the awkward pacing, inappropriate and at times overbearing use of music, things we typically identify with bad films and bad filmmakers, in these two films of Fassbinder all these flaws are stylistic choices and become instead function, negating themselves and becoming calling cards of a fundamentally different definition of cinema.

WORLD ON A WIRE, which virtually nobody talks about, is this outrageous and ambitious and way long mini-series of a movie, equal parts science fiction, mystery, and avant-garde film, that has this incredibly intriguing and prophetic premise about a world in which they create not just an artificial intelligence, but an artificial world peopled with artificial intelligences.

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The intelligences are programed to be perfect representations of people, and have a based in time and motion relation to each other, and capable of sex and love and procreation. So an AI universe that is self propagating, and more predictive, as the world is designed to be on a 20 year curve, so the shopping habits and economic changes and housing changes and conflicts that occur in the artificial world today, will be predictive of what happens in our world in 20 years.

It’s a brilliant, mind blowing concept, that you’ll find in better science fiction stories, but not in movies; particularly not in movies of the period, the early 1970s. On top of which the AI universe is viewable and interact-able by means of downloading someone into one of the AI inhabitants of the AI world. What??? That is mind blowingly brilliant and audacious premise for a film, even today in 2016 in an age of avatars, much less for a film made nearly 50 years ago.

And all of that, is not even what the movie is mostly about: it’s a film-noir movie. With a scientist trying to get to the bottom of his coworker’s disappearance. And then there is all the Fassbinder weirdness going on this movie, that just adds yet another level to the movie.

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The doll like women who never seem to blink, random moments of strangeness, [a party scene, where people seem not to move, and the few who do, do the same movements over and over again. A scientist called into his bosses office for serious conversation which they have while not looking at each other and spinning in circles in their chair. a night club with mostly nude attractive Black Men and women dancing while the clothed patrons walk past feeling them up… it is just craziness that comes out of nowhere, but all of it leaves you gobsmaked and off-kilter and not knowing what is coming next.} And it’s not comedy, Fassbinder isn’t just taking the piss or going for laughs here, he is telling a straight story, but he is using a crooked path, fueled by dream logic, he wants the delivery not to be what you are expecting and in WORLD ON A WIRE he succeeds.

Fassbinder, very much the spiritual predecessor to later avant garde filmmakers such as David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, was a young maverick director who died way before his time at the age of 37, however in less than a score of years (before his untimely departure) he would make 44 films, 39 of those being feature films. It is a staggering body of work to have produced by the age of 37. How many of us will ever make one film, much less 44 of them. And to make such across the board unique films, love them or hate them, is a great testament to someone who obviously ate, drank and slept cinema.

600full-rainer-werner-fassbinder Image courtesy of film.com

I can see people not liking or dismissing Fassbinder’s 3+ hour Sci-Fi epic as just flawed. And it is flawed, like I said previously, Fassbinder likes the mistakes, the mistakes of time, mistakes of gender, mistakes of intention, mistakes of moment, and out of all these mistakes with WORLD ON A WIRE he makes, at least for me, something composed of the old, that feels endlessly new.

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Grade: B+. It is definitely not for everybody, but if you like directors who are creative with cinematography (not just 360 degree shots but 540 degree shots), adventuresome in storytelling, and loyal to their actors (Fassbinder works with the same actors repeatedly, including actors of color, such as El Hedi ben Salem, rarely done for the period, and still too little done today) then this is a film for you. Recommended.

The Fassbinder Collection Two – MARTHA

World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Speak to Me of Death: The Selected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich, Volume 1 (Collected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich)

Movie Throwdown : EX MACHINA vs THE UNCANNY

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While Alex Garland’s debut film EX MACHINA was the AI film receiving all the acclaim in 2015, it was the relatively unseen film the UNCANNY by Matt Leutwyler that I found the superior film.

Now while visually it is the sexy and sleek and futuristic visuals of EX MACHINA that are poster memorable, it is The story of THE UNCANNY, that I find is the more compelling, haunting and ultimately daring and rewarding film.

uncanny

While I liked EX MACHINA, particularly the great performance of the unrecognizable Oscar Isaac of STAR WARS fame, and enjoyed its beautiful visuals; it is the UNCANNY that I really enjoyed, and see myself coming back to. But both films are great additions to the genre, followers in the footsteps of ShellEy, and are wonderful cautionary takes on the ramifications of the unchecked hubris of science.

 

Final Grades:
EX MACHINA – B- Ex Machina (Blu-ray + Digital HD)

UNCANNY – B+ Uncanny DVD on Sale!

Both films are available to try before you buy, EX MACHINA is on Amazon Prime and UNCANNY is on Netflix.

Enjoy!

Favorite Televsion Shows: OUTER LIMITS Season 1 What’s Hot & What’s Not!

HOT

THE MICE– The high contrast and deep focus photography of this episode by the brilliant Conrad Hall is a standout, as is the performances of all involved, particularly the always reliable Henry Silva as Chino, a convict asked to volunteer for a decidedly out of this world mission. And the episode is enriched by Diana Sands, a brilliant actress of stage and screen, who simply shines here as Dr. Julia Harrison. Directed by Alan Crosland Jr, a go to director for television for over three decades, it sports one of the more disturbing aliens. A Solidly captivating episode. B.

NOT

DON’T OPEN TILL DOOMSDAY – There has to be a point to this episode, but I find myself unable to locate it. Grade : Avoid. This is a decided miss.

 

Catch these episodes and more at Hulu today!

 

 

Two Chills


I saw two things yesterday that gave me chills.

One happened early in the day when I was traveling through the east coast of the United States. I was driving and I looked up and I saw it, and it undoubtedly saw me.

How could it not? That is what it is designed to do.

It was the stuff of fiction, of dream, and perhaps more truly… nightmare, made real, made concrete… made manifest.

In fiction you would have called it perhaps the Eye of Sauron, if Tolkien’s lore holds sway, or perhaps Big Brother, if Orwellian references are not lost on a world moving dangerously sideways. But in fact it was more amazing and horrific than both those references.

We sometimes do not realize we live in the future, are the future that endured, of a bloody and brutal 20th century, and while that is not the future yet, of flying cars and jet packs and conversing with aliens, the future we are living,… of cloning, and test tube babies, and sexual reassignment, and genetic modifications, and decision making machines designed to kill men, and engineered diseases, and ethnic cleansings, and endless wars, and information super-highway, and super social media, and entertainment systems in most homes that are one code-write away from being constant surveillance and data gathering/marketing tools, this future is as miraculous and as horrifying as any scifi tale of invasion.

It is more terrifying. Because the future we live in is plagued with countless terrors, we are not so lucky as to have a single bogeyman. No… our corporate-beholden governments create countless destroyers of man’s liberties and mankind’s lives, not just one.

I was driving and I saw something that should never float above an American city, or any city, floating there. I saw the Eye of Sauron, I say again, because it sounds romantic, but more… because it feels most true.

I saw this:

FIRST LOOK

And it is a sight that I fear that all of us will be seeing, if we do not with all oppose it. For all the talk of not abusing the rights of the people, the fact is, that is what the blimp is designed to do, its very existence over American cities is an affront to the idea of a government of the people. What I saw in the sky yesterday was Ferguson and Palestine writ large, it is a show of force, it is the act of an occupying army.

Too much to make of it? I fear its existence is proof that we have made too little of our liberties. And time is running out to make more.

And what was the 2nd thing that gave me chills? That night I watched Lawrence Olivier and Gregory Peck give blistering performances in a movie that in 1978, almost 40 years ago, was the height of fantasy, but today feels as close as the next news cycle. I’m talking about THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL.

Between facts that feel like fictions and fictions that feel like facts, the ground feels precarious, and the watchful skies… deserving of being watched.

Perhaps we should watch… together.

Streaming VOD Movie of the Day : UNDER THE SKIN

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Cinema if we are lucky should feel new, feel different, feel visionary, and feel just a little bit strange and brilliant. Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN feels all these things and more.

Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN feels both dangerous and humane, a rare combination that when found in harmony, we call haunting. It’s helped immensely in that it is a film about desire that has the central canvas the stunning face and form of Scarlett Johanson, one of the most desirable women, given a performance you can not take your eyes away from, as a predator consumed by the things she preys upon. A seductress of humanity, seduced by the human condition.

A film that you can watch for free courtesy of Amazon Prime, but screams to be viewed in the highest quality format possible, screams to be owned on Blu-ray/DVD. Grade: It’s largely a movie of pauses and waiting and the mystery, and how well you enjoy this movie will depend on how satisfied you are by those three things. In no way a fun movie, and not one that I see being big for repeat viewings, I do find it a unique and recommended viewing experience. Grade: B/B+.

Streaming TV Show of the DAY : Star Trek CONTINUES

ep2-scene

I’ve covered quite a few fan projects on this blog, some really exceptional ones. Among the best are those related to the Star Trek universe. STAR TREK CONTINUES is a web series that the term fan project does a bit of a disservice to.

This is a full fledged production as smooth and polished as the Original Star Trek series that it revives. Not simply a homage this web series continues the unfinished five year mission of the original series (which was cancelled after three seasons). STAR TREK CONTINUES conceit is that it starts off in the 4th (never seen) season of The original Star Trek.

And going along with this conceit, STAR TREK CONTINUES first episode PILGRIM OF ETERNITY, before watching you really should watch the season two episode of the original series, titled WHO MOURNS FOR ADONAIS. STAR TREK CONTINUES premiere episode is a direct follow-up to that 1967 episode, complete with the actor who played in that episode, reprising his role here.

You’ll have so much more appreciation for exactly how wondrous STAR TREK CONTINUES is, if you precede it by watching that 1967 episode. You’ll also have a far better understanding just how excellent Vic Mignogna is, largely the driving force behind this labor of love, in his role as the iconic James T. Kirk. Vic Mignogna has Shatner’s Kirk down to an alchemy, it’s not science, it’s magic.  From the walk, to the pauses, to the lift of the chin, to the way he sits, this isn’t mimicry, or mockery, it is acting of a very high and compelling level.

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Vic Mignogna understands and loves the role, and that comes across, as does his passion and expertise for the original series. Wearing an insanely impressive number of hats from director, to editor, to writer, to producer, to star, Vic Mignogna has put together an impressive production and a large and varied cast.

From Christopher Doohan reprising, excellently I might add, his father’s role of Mr. Scott, to Kim Stinger doing a lovely Uhuru, to Michele Specht ravishing in her role as new character Dr. Elise McKennah, to the towering 84 year old Michael Forest (with many movie and tv credits to his name) reprising and bettering his 1967 performance of Apollo, it is a series that would have made Gene Roddenberry proud, and makes this fan of Roddenberry’s endearing dream…  incredibly impressed and happy.

Now not everything works of course. Not all the actors do as well a job of bringing to life their characters as the above actors do. But considering everyone is largely doing this for the love, the general level of performances is fantastic, and the costumes, and makeup, and sets and special effects and writing is jaw droppingly good quality! Every bit professional level. Hell, this show is easily better than most of the post-DS9 Star Trek television shows that Paramount paid small fortunes to produce.

Now I like the JJ Abrams STAR TREK movies, I think they both were fantastic. That said, I think there is a place in this digital world, for Chris Pine on the big screen, and Paramount backing the STAR TREK CONTINUES series and having Vic Mignogna on the small screen.

Okay enough praising this series. Go watch the 1967 episode WHO MOURNS FOR ADONAIS courtesy of Amazon Prime for free, then go to the STAR TREK CONTINUES website to view the existing three episodes. If you have Roku, you can go to the Vimeo Channel here for an easy way to view it on your tv.

And once you are as impressed with the series as I am, help them keep it up by swinging by their web page and sharing the love and donating; so that you can help keep this great project coming! And tell em HT sent ya! 🙂

Enjoy!