Culture, Film

Star Trek Beyond review – Shoots for the stars, makes it to the moon

Star Trek Beyond, still 01, Spock, Jaylah, McCoy (2560x1440)Director: Justin Lin  Starring: John Cho, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba

Crash landing on an uncharted planet was never going to look anything but spectacular when the minds behind the last two Star Trek films and the director of Fast & Furious 36 got together. Star Trek Beyond doesn’t wrap up as spectacularly as its bold initial vector, but this sci-fi adventure still manages to be rip-roaring fun.

Culture, Gaming

Replay: Ratchet & Clank

Ratchet & Clank (PS2, 2002), 600x463Publisher: SCE  Developer: Insomniac Games  Format: PS2  Release: 2002

On planet Rilgar, one of two game areas available in the demo for Ratchet & Clank, there is a seemingly impassable tunnel. This tunnel, a platforming gauntlet made all the more desperate by the pressure of a rising water level, can only be passed with a combination of gadgetry, mechanical understanding and flawless timing. Most first-timers aren’t capable of making it through this treacherous challenge with anything approaching casual decorum. But once you attain the skill and understanding to master it, you appreciate this formative sci-fi character action game more keenly than when you first took a chance on its fuzzy-eared protagonist and his robotic sidekick.

Culture, Film

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review – passes the saber in spectacular style

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 02, Chewbacca, Han Solo (1920x1080)Director: JJ Abrams  Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega

History has taught us that anybody attempting to revive a film series as monolithic and beloved as Star Wars was doomed to fail. There is too much legacy, too much expectation and too many stakeholders to please, the naysayers said. JJ Abrams and crew have just proved them wrong, because The Force Awakens revitalises the series with the spirit and spectacle many have longed for.

Culture, Gaming

Moments We Remember: Candy Explosives on Alien: Isolation

Chronicling stories of how gaming has changed us – one moment at a timeAlien: Isolation, Oct 7, 2014, screenshot, 01 (1920x1080)Title: Alien: Isolation (Sega / 20th Century Fox, 2014)
Format: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Spoilers: None

Today’s game has dramatically changed the life of our guest poster, who recently left her nine-to-five job to become a full-time video streamer.

That game is Alien: Isolation, created by the talented team at British developer, Creative Assembly.

Culture, Film, TV & Radio

In memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy, Mar 16, 2010, by Pineapples101 (1331x749)Leonard Nimoy inspired so many generations with his defining role as Mr Spock from in original 1960s series of Star Trek. That’s where I saw him for the first time; sitting on my sofa, as my father, my brother and I absorbed the adventures of the crew of the starship Enterprise.

Culture, Film

Interstellar review – boldly goes where no father-daughter story has gone before

Interstellar_film_2014_01 (1920x1080)Space is a cold, lonely place. Which is why, whenever filmmakers blast actors into the fictional heavens in search of strange new worlds, they’re always after focal points that will make events more human.

That’s certainly director Christopher Nolan’s aim with Interstellar, a film of humongous scope that boldly goes forth to tell another tale of mankind’s struggle for survival, but is ultimately about a father-daughter relationship.


She’s just a Cybergirl

For the past month I have been embroiled in a wondrous chase. A chase so thrilling it feels as though I’ve left the physical part of me behind every time I tune into its hyperactive frequency.

A city, a futuristic metropolis materialises all around me. High-speed vehicles zip this way and that overhead and law enforcement patrols cruise the skyways for in search of troublemakers. Here, down in the grimy low levels things are no less busy, with the streets and back alleys teeming with the homeless, the forgotten and those who scrap a living on the suffering of others. Cleaner bots, gangsters and unlucky merchants fill these streets. Suddenly an android hurtles past disappearing into the gloom of a neighbouring alley. And all at once the sound of sirens can be heard drawing closer and closer. The deathtroopers are approaching…

That’s one instance of how three consecutive songs from Janelle Monáe’s first EP, The Chase, make me feel. Honestly, how can it have taken me this long to discover her transcendent sci-fi music when it’s practically been staring me in the face for months?

Comprising soul, R&B, rap, pop, jazz, dub, funk, dance and a whole blend of other genres that I can’t classify, it would be an understatement to say that her EP and debut album, The ArchAndroid, weren’t meteoric in scope. Yet Monáe navigates and combines these genres with profound skill and purpose. What spurred me to purchase her music was hearing the song ‘Tightrope’ during Edger Wright’s New Year’s Day show on BBC 6 Music. An immediately chatty dance track, I was sold one that alone.

What I didn’t realise was just how deep her emotional touch would be with the breadth of her stupendous sounds. Tunes like ‘Many Moons’, ‘Faster’ and ‘Oh, Maker’ took me on an astral hike like never before. Impossible to resist, these tracks just send my body into overdrive. Even when confined to the drudgery of my commute and expected behaviour on public transport, a brilliant tableau of imagery is flowing in my mind’s eye as Monáe’s music and messages engulf my senses. And this isn’t your usual ‘girl meets boy and falls in love’ lyrics. She manages to express serious social commentary on race, segregation and war through a conceptual allegory which forms the basis for her image. As Tony Renner says, Monáe’s albums are to be listened to in their entirety if you wish to experience the full impact of her art.

Which brings me to the thing that makes Monáe even more special to me: her sci-fi styling. There are few musicians I’m aware of that could pull off the Blade Runner-esque transience that she as accomplished.

And it comes as even more of a surprise, and indeed a huge delight, that it should be a black female artist. Her persona goes against the grain of many of her female peers, who, even if they are intelligent enough to challenge social hegemonies, prefer to conform to the stereotype of ‘hip hop honeys’ which the world seems to feel is their role in life. (Her music contains what been coined as ‘Afrofuturism’.)

Getting back to the sci-fi presentation, it’s so well realised that I couldn’t help but be drawn in. I recall spying her album cover briefly in a print advert last year and thinking nothing of it – I judged it purely the one Isaac Asimov-like image. How foolish I was.

Janelle Monáe is a contemporary visionary.

She inhabits her alter ego of Cindi Mayweather, an android who has fallen in love with a human, Anthony Greendown, in this hash postmodern world, where many of today inequalities still exist. As a result of her affection, she is now on the run from the Wolfmasters and their merciless band of bounty hunters in a city built on social stratification.

Monáe has formed this as part of an overall concept series, called Metropolis, which is comprised of four suites (so far Suite I: The Chase and Suites II and III: The ArchAndroid). In the linear notes of each CD, you can read a brief synopsis which sets up the musical journey you are about to experience. With her lyrical expressions about cybergirls, cold wars and neon valleys, depictions of sci-fi classics bubble up in my brain.

I hear social uprisings, resistance against oppression and that unsolvable conundrum of ‘why’ midway through ArchAndroid. Then, ‘Mushrooms & Roses’ and ‘Wondaland’ take me on an altogether more dreamy escape that feels like discovering a little sanctuary inhabited by those that have fled from the evils of the world. To use a more direct example (lyrics from ‘Many Moons’): “And when the world treats you wrong, just come with us and we’ll take you home…” makes me think of the moment when David is temporarily rescued by a group of outlawed mechas in Steven Spielburg’s Artificial Intelligence.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this pioneering artist, Rockaliser Baby has made some great observations on her and the conceptual direction, BBC Introducing did an early spotlight in 2009, and LaShawn Wanak has more insightful words on the music itself, its influences and how it makes her feel. io9 also spoke to Monáe about more of her sci-fi inspirations.

What I have experienced this month is a euphoric rhapsody of style and substance that’s about as frequent in life as a comet’s orbit. Janelle Monáe is a woman after my own heart. She connects with me on so many levels, be it her exciting blend of musical styles or her science fiction imagery, that I relish the thought of waking up to join her on the run once again. It would take some seriously malicious rewiring for me to resist the call of her future endeavours. All I really want to do now is share her spectacular music with others so we might immerse ourselves in Metropolis together.

‘Set phasers to stunning’

To steal a quote I saw on the front of a film magazine, Star Trek honestly is ‘stunning’. In fact it’s easily the best film of the three or so cinema releases I’ve seen this year. Before I dip into a long, near endless account of Star Trek nostalgia I’ll sum things up for you real quick in the context of my viewing. My dad’s a big fan of the original series and when I was younger it kind of became a ritual thing to eat lunch and watch re-runs of Star Trek on Sunday. I love all the sci-fi paraphernalia in Trek but I’ve never been one to follow the law or canon too closely. I knew practically nothing about this year’s film going in, apart from seeing a trailer two weeks ago.

Confident, stylish and with plenty of fan-pleasing call-backs, I walked out of Star Trek with a feel-good sentiment that not every Hollywood remake or “reimagining” will turn out to be a horrific mess. I fully enjoyed it. No matter how many of these opinion posts I write; I’m no film critic, they are just that, my opinion. Just to play devil’s advocate, one might argue that the film didn’t offer anything new beyond the usual blockbuster expectations – SFX, a predictable plot and stuff going BOOM! But, you know what? That’s absolutely fine by me when the medium is used to its full potential, as it was in Star Trek. It may not win any Academy Awards, because, let’s face it, apparently sci-fi, comic book and blockbuster movies just aren’t Oscar material, but it’s precisely the kind of experience the big screen thrives on.

I do often wonder what other people in the cinema are thinking during the viewing. That middle-aged man in the business suit; hmm, this bar scene reminds me of my carefree student days, the cinema attendant in the corner on his eighth viewing that day ; I wonder if I’ll ever get to make a film like this someday, or the grumpy looking girlfriend; Why did I let David drag me to this? It’s sssoooo boring! Perhaps one day I’ll find out, if I ever inherit the ability to read minds. For me, the answer is quite simple. I haven’t picked up a pirate DVD in years simply because the viewing experience is utter tosh. People work hard to make films and I work hard to earn my money, so I’ve no problem paying the admission fee to see a film if it’s a satisfying experience. And Star Trek fulfilled my pandering need for escapism in moon-sized heaps.

The flashy sci-fi Federation gear was there. The costumes – the science guys in blue, the pilots or commanders in yellow and the red guys, whoever they are, security or something. Olympian shots of the starship Enterprise set amid even grander space phenomena. The on-screen brilliance of going to warp speed, that probably costs tens of thousands. A cast that appeared comfortable and fully aware of the expectation surrounding the film. A well-made script that works beautifully as a standalone film, but still manages to pay homage to the legacy of Star Trek, without feeling like a complete rehash. And enough ‘space action’ to make me want to dive straight into the projector screen as if it were a portal to the film itself.

Purely as a lover of science-fiction, astronomy and all things celestial, the film was gob-smacking. Kirk and Sulu freefalling from orbit to the precarious head of a planetary mining beaming. A black hole consuming a planet from the inside out – obliterating life in one terrifying instant. An octopus-like alien starship that reeked of menace and danger the moment it emerged from the murky darkness. A climactic last minute escape. And all with the usual bravado and gung-ho battle plans from Starfleet’s premier peacekeeping force. All of this and more had me leaning forward in my seat, desperate that my dreams of a projector-screen-portal might come true. Meanwhile a grumpy looking female spouse really was sitting next to me. Clearly her response was completely illogical

It wasn’t only the startling depiction of space and special effects wizardry that impressed me. The cast were far better than I original expected, given the history of Hollywood rebirths and the series’ legacy. Chris Pine as the risk-taking womanising, Captain Kirk, was a prime choice and certainly seems fit to sit in the captain’s chair by the end of the film. Performing less head operations in his role as the emotionless Mr Spock, Zackary Quinto had a LOT to prove. Some gripping scenes of lost, love and regret merged with some classic Spock moments made him a true star on that holo-screen. Karl Urban as Bones, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Coo as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Zoe Saldaña as the voluptuous Uhura; all wonderful interpretations of the original characters, with some semi-comedic references that almost sound out of place at times. Add in an irrefutable Leonard Nimoy performance – that’s more than just a cameo, it actually makes some sense regarding the plot – and you’re done.

Simply put, if you love eye-engulfing space vistas, cross-species romance and stuff blowing up, you’ll love Star Trek. If you’ve played enough video games to know that ‘when in doubt, shoot everything’ you’ll love Star Trek. If you like teleportation, phasers, communicators, and engaging your imaginary warp drive with the broken heater button in your second-hand car, you’ll love Star Trek. If you know enough about the series to enjoy this film trailer with understandable apprehension or this snippet from the original series with fuzz nostalgia, you’ll love Star Trek. Of course, I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy it as much as the space-loving ravings of this daydreamer (whose childhood dream of going into space was crushed by the realisation that technology won’t be advanced enough to make it as easy as hopping in the car to KFC for a good few centuries) imply. Live long and prosper.