2014 Toronto Screenwriting Conference

tsc2014Wow.

Sue and I were fortunate enough to be able to cover the Toronto Screenwriting Conference last year (and learned tons to apply to our own creative writing) and were delighted to be invited back again this year to sit in on it again.

With the amazing guest line-up and the fact that everything we learned would directly impact our writing, Sue and I leaped at the chance, and it was incredibly worth it!!

Saturday, despite starting with some swirling snow coming down, I was eager to get my day underway so I hopped the transit, and hot-footed it to the Ted Ryerson School of Management.

Sue and I met up with Juli Strader, and caught up with her for a bit, sharing our excitement for the weekend, and what we were most looking forward to.

toy_story_three_ver11Things got underway just past 9:30, and within moments, my mind was blown, and in the space of 90 minutes, I took more notes, and learned more about telling stories, than I had ever done before. All thanks to Academy Award winner, for Little Miss Sunshine, Michael Arndt, who also wrote the screenplays for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Oblivion. With cap positioned just off kilter on his head, he looked like a writer, not entirely comfortable being in front of a large crowd, but once he started talking his passion brought him and the room to life, as he presented Toy Story 3: Mistakes Made, and Lessons Learned. He had been brought in to write the 3rd installment of the Pixar franchise, and upon its completion, made this presentation to be used in-house at the Disney titan.

It was simply amazing, keyboards, pencils, pens, were all making noise as each part of the presentation was duly noted, and people began thinking how these amazing revelations would and could affect their own stories.

I was simply gob-smacked, and just kept writing.

In the 2nd session of the day, Executives on Writing, gears were switched as reps from Shaw, Bell and Rogers – Tara Ellis, Trish Williams and Nataline Rodrigues, sat and answered questions about what they look for in a pitch, how they review them, how notes are given, and how to make your pitch stand-out from the rest.

While all of this was going on, my mind was starting to coalesce again from Arndt’s presentation, and I had a eureka moment as a story that I have been trying to break since the early 90s, finally gave me a way in thanks to the things I’d just learned. I sat there, an ear half-tuned to the discussion, flipping electronic pages from taking notes on the panel to making story notes, reversals, reveals, and how the moments I’d seen in my head fit together into a mosaic of a project I’ve always wanted to do.

Still awestruck at the end of the executive’s panel, and brain quickly reaching information overload, it was time for lunch, and a moment or two to allow your brain to reset.

But it didn’t last long!

After that, it was into Comedy Is A Funny Business, with series creators and show runners, Jeff Biederman (Spun Out), Katie Ford (Working the Engels) and Joseph Raso (Seed). There were a lot of laughs, and lots of experience - Katie worked on Family Ties, wrote Miss Congeniality, and both Jeff and Joseph have worked on a number of recognizable titles and series, they know they’re stuff!  They talked about working in the writers room, working to make sure the funny stays in, their vision for the series, the importance of a log line, and the all important pitch.

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We got a moment to catch up with Joseph after the panel, and introduced ourselves to him, which seemed fitting considering we’ve interviewed like 90% of his main cast – just got to get those youngsters into town!

Following this, was the last session for the day, and the other speaker I was really excited about hearing from. I settled into my seat to listen to In Conversation with David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples. These two screenwriters write screenplays as a creative expression, like some people write poetry, and David was involved in the script and rewrite of one of my fave sci-fi films, Blade Runner, and wrote one of my favorite westerns, Unforgiven.

unforgiven_ver1_xlgHe and his wife, wrote the script for a film they felt didn’t really be remade, but threw themselves into it wholeheartedly and came out with the Terry Gilliam classic – 12 Monkeys.

They regaled us with stories from behind the scenes on those films, including the fact that Rutger Hauer added the ‘tears in rain’ line to the end of the “I’ve seen things…” speech his character Roy Batty gives in Blade Runner.

I was stunned to learn that he had originally written Unforgiven in the early 70s, and that Clint Eastwood had purchased it mid-80s but had no intention of directing or starring in it until he was older. But when he did shoot and release the film in 1992, he hadn’t changed the script at all!!

He also spoke briefly about his involvement with Ladyhawke, a film he doesn’t think he should get credit for, and Soldier, which was a script he loved, but when he heard how production was messing with, never had any intention of seeing it.

It was a fascinating and honest look into a world of a professional screenwriter who has been involved with some of the most legendary films of the late 20th century!

Heading home at the end of the day, my brain was still trying to process and put together everything, but after dinner, my brain completely shut down and took me down into the realm of sleep.

The next morning, decidedly much more pleasant, weather-wise, than the previous, I headed in for the second day, stopping at Tim Horton’s for something to eat (those Panini breakfast sandwiches are really good!), Sue and I chatted for a moment with Lost Girl showrunner, Emily Andras before going into the session she was serving on the panel for – The Way of the Future: Writing Science Fiction for Television.

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Joining Emily on the panel was Cameron Porsandeh (Helix), Sam Egan (The Listener) and Alan McCullough (Stargate: SG1 and Sanctuary). For someone who loves a good sci-fi show, this panel was a must, and the trio, and their moderator, Denis McGrath (Continuum) talked about pitching the series (focus on your characters, not the hook) and how grounding the series in its own reality with firmly established rules (that can be bent, occasionally circumvented, but never broken) is key to establishing its voice, its vision, and if you’re lucky, the longevity of your series.  They shared stories about how each of their series are run, taking notes from the studio and network, fan interaction, story detail, and the idea of building an image of what the show is like week to week before introducing heavily serialized plots.

This is another session where I took a lot of notes, and Sue and I simply looked at each other gobsmacked as our brains hit overload again.

Following this, we had the Breakdown of the One-Hour Drama with a man who is going to know how to do it, Leonard Dick.

the-good-wife-posterLeonard has served as a writer and producer on some very huge shows… Lost, House M.D., The Mentalist, and is currently working on the incredibly succesful The Good Wife.

Fielding questions, and carrying on a fascinating dialogue with the moderator, Glenn Cockburn, he talked about the differences in writers’ rooms from show to show, how that works for the show, as well as talking about plotting character and season arcs, which again, changes according to the requirements of the show.

It was a fascinating look at the way shows come together behind the scenes, how plots can be shifted about to better serve the abilities of the season story, or availability of recurring and guest cast.

From there, lunch was called, and it allowed us to regroup before plunging into the two final sessions of the conference, one of which, the final one, I was really looking forward.

Anatomy of a Pilot put Eric Gilliland front and center. Gilliland  has served as a writer and producer on Roseanne and That 70s Show. He’s reviewing a pilot script he wrote, that reteams Roseanne Barr with John Goodman, called Downwardly Mobile. It was pitched, ordered by NBC and eventually shelved. He broke down the approach to the show, how the pilot had to be set up, how it would work, how it was pitched and the concept for the proposed series.

Very interesting.

But at this point I was chomping at the bit for the final installment, another presentation by Michael Arndt, the perfect way to close the conference… Endings: The Good, The Bad, and The Insanely Great. Michael broke down the internal, external and philosophical conflicts of three films. His own film, Little Miss Sunshine, The Graduate, and (YES!!) Star Wars. He showed how all the events of the final came to a 2 minute climax, and in that two-minute climax all three of those things need to be resolved to give you a completely euphoric and spectacularly good ending. And he went in to detail! I walked out with pages upon pages of notes, and once again, it helped me crack another part of the story I hadn’t been able to get into.

little_miss_sunshine_ver4_xlgI was stunned by the breakdown of Star Wars, in fact that classic film resolves its external, internal and philosophical conflicts in 22 seconds! It’s bang! Bang! BANG! And what a insanely great ending!!!

The applause that followed his presentation showed that I wasn’t the only one affected, or educated by what he had taught us this weekend, but I made my way to the front of the room, because I simply had to thank him for helping me to finally break this story in my head open.

“I just wanted to say thank you! You’ve helped me crack a story that I’ve been trying to figure out a way into for twenty years.”

“Wow,” he said. “Really?”

I nodded, “Yeah, thank you so much.”

“To hear that,” he continued, “makes me happy that I came!”

“Thanks again!” giving his hand a final shake, I wandered out, ambling towards home, with my mind completely overflowing with information, shattered by all the things I had learned this weekend, and marveling at the behind the scenes trials and tribulations that happen every day before a show even gets thought about being made.

It was stunning.

Now to plot out this story!!!

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2014 Toronto Screenwriting Conference

tsc2014The annual Toronto Screenwriting Conference is coming up next weekend (April 5 & 6), and I have to tell you, I am getting very excited for it.

Last year was the first time Sue Maynard and I had been to the event, and were intent on covering as much of it as we could, and through it learned a number of things to improve our own writing. We met, and heard some amazing people, and it was a simply, mind-boggling two days.

Well, looks like we’re going back again next weekend.

And I find myself getting very excited about who we’re going to see, what we’re going to learn, and the contacts we’re goig to make…

toy_story_three_ver11The two speakers I am most looking forward to are Michael Arndt, who is talking about Pixar, and has had his hand in the writing of Toy Story 3, Hunger Games: Catching Fire,Little Miss Sunshine and Oblivion. He has two talks that I am eager to cover, one is entitled  TOY STORY 3: MISTAKES MADE, LESSONS LEARNED, and the other is called ENDINGS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INSANELY GREAT.

The Toy Story 3 talk will go through early story reels, talk about the story breakdown, and how plot issues were resolved and worked through.

The Endings talk explores film closures, and how they impact the audience, and what makes them so good, bad, or great.

I also can’t wait to hear what David Webb Peoples has to say during his In Conversation with presentation. This is a screenwriter who has worked on and with the greats! He did a rewrite for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and wrote Unforgiven, Ladyhawke and Twelve Monkeys! I’m looking forward to this one in a big way!

unforgiven_ver1_xlgJoseph Raso, the series creator and showrunner for Seed will be on hand for a chat as well, I’m looking forward to meeting him, as we’ve interviewed practically everyone else on his show, I’d love to say hi in person!

Finally, I’m eager to sit in on Cameron Porsandeh’s talk, Writing For Sci-Fi, something he knows about now with his first television series, Helix!

Leonard Dick will be there, talking about breaking down the one hour drama, something he has a lot of knowledge about considering his work on Lost, House, and The Good Wife.

And that is only the tip of the iceberg!

In fact we just found out that Lost Girl’s showrunner, Emily Andras will be on hand for a talk as well!!

I cannot wait to see the whole schedule listed so that I can get really excited!!!

You can check out the website and buy your tickets here!

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Almost Human S01E05 – Blood Brothers

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This week we take on the ideas of murder, cloning and a medium psychic (though on a good day, she’s a petite psychic)…

Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor) is in court monitoring the trial of a murderer named Avery (Graham Miller), and awaiting the testimony of two sequestered and protected witnesses. When one of the witness is killed in front of the court by holographic projection, things go from bad to worse.

Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) recover the other witness, Maya who thanks to an operation from a company called Cellibex now has the gift of being able to touch an item and communicate with its deceased owner. Kennex, is rightly skeptical, especially when she says the man who murdered the other witness is the very same man who is currently in a court room standing trial.

As our duo start to dig with the help of Detective Stahl (Minka Kelly) and Rudy (Mackenzie Crook), we uncover a motive for murder, and the existence of some smart, an average IQ of 180, and very well-trained clones.

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This one does a really nice number of balancing things we’ve come to expect from the show the byplay of Kennex and Dorian continues, the car discussions are getting to be classic (“all of that is for one person?!”), as was the visit to the MX charging and cleaning section – not to mention a little visually troubling. There’s a nice emotional moment with Maya at the episode’s close, and we get to see a little bit more of the development of the relationship between Stahl and Kennex.

We get to see a little more tech, and that apparently Dorian, much like the MX, can lift a metric ton, as he easily manhandles an escaping van, which elicits the question from Kennex that crossed my mind as well… Why hasn’t he done THAT before?

There are some fun moments, and some chilling moments, like when Avery is pulling his best Hannibal Lecter and trying to shake Maldonado. Though it troubles her, I think she’s a tougher character than that, although she’s given a bit of a hint of something by episode’s end… she didn’t need it. It doesn’t change that she’s a smart, successful woman.

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I loved the show’s opening with a night shot transforming to day, anytime we see a night shot in this world, it puts me in mind of Tron, and hints at Blade Runner. Like I said in my first review, I still doesn’t look like the world is a too bad a place, it’s clean and organized – I still think it should be dirtier if crime is so rampant.

That, however, is the least of my concerns, as I am still greatly enjoying the show, and am loving the chemistry between Urban and Ealy. It’s fun, entertaining and some of the dialogue is just priceless.

Almost Human airs Mondays on CTV.

What did you think of it?

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Almost Human S01E04 – The Bends

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This week’s ep of Almost Human sees Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) posing as a cook for a new and dangerous drug known as the bends, as it is crafted from a deep ocean algae.

Kennex (Karl Urban) first notices the case, when he is informed that a fellow cop that he came up with has been murdered, and everyone believes him to be dirty, and trying to make money off a drug deal he is trying to set up with the mysterious Bishop.

Refusing to believe the worst of his friend Kennex and Dorian (Michael Ealy) dive into the investigation, running down informants to build a cover story for Rudy, and also to prove that his friend was a good cop, right up to the end.

This one was fun, not quite as fun as the previous eps, in fact, this may be the weakest of the bunch so far as it feels more like your generic cop show episode with a little cool tech, instead of continuing to establish the cool world that the show exists in. For all that, it was still enjoyable, and by no means a bad episode.

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The tech that I did like was seeing the Blade Runner style umbrellas, as well as the comm device embedded in Kennex’s friend’s hand. It seems most people are still using flat mobile phones of a type, but this device was active in the palm of his hand. Is it perhaps a direct line to loved ones? Like an instant messaging system that you share with family and friends?

Seems cool at any rate.

The interplay between Kennex and Dorian is still developing nicely, and it’s fun to see that Dorian has a wonderful, teasing and playful sense of humor when it comes to his partner.

Speaking of humor, it was fun to see Rudy go undercover, and want to come up with his own costume, and the fact that everyone denies him the use of a hat. Poor guy.

I thought perhaps Kennex was a little callous in his recruitment of Rudy, and basically throwing him into a sink or swim situation, but I get that he wanted to prove his friend’s innocence and run down the Bishop as well.

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I’m liking where the series is going so far, and while we haven’t gotten a hint of any of the season arc hinted at in the series opener, I bet that we’ll get a glimpse of that sooner rather than later.

So far, this series has taken me quite in. It hasn’t hooked me quite as fully as Defiance did earlier this year, but I’m definitely intrigued and enjoying the show immensely. I want to see more of this world, and see the partnership between Kennex and Dorian continue to develop. It’s obvious that Kennex opinion of his new co-worker is still developing, and he may still harbor some resentment as he lets Detective Paul (Michael Irby) get away with calling Dorian a synthetic, despite the fact that we know Dorian doesn’t care for that term.

A good ep, but I’m all ready for another episode please!

Almost Human airs Mondays on Fox.

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Almost Human – Tim Plays Catch-Up

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I remember being very excited that Karl Urban was going to be starring in a new sci-fi show, and I was rather happy that J.J. Abrams (I tend to like Abrams work. I know its not for everyone, but I enjoy it for what it is, entertaining) was serving as executive producer alongside J.H. Wyman, the show’s creator. I was ready for it, and then, thanks to the fact that I don’t have even basic cable, let alone a PVR, I missed it’s inaugural broadcast.

It wasn’t until I was working on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. checking guest cast names when I saw the IMDB page recommendation that if I like S.H.I.E.L.D. I might want to check out Almost Human.

It had started?!?! When did that happen??!?!?! On November 4th apparently as the above poster suggests, but I didn’t even see any of those.

So, the downside is, I’m 3 weeks behind, but the upside is, I’m 3 weeks behind, meaning I can watch 3 eps back to back and get a really good feel for the show. After the first episode, I’m thinking I am going to like this show.

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Within moments of it starting the show made me think of Judge Dredd, Blade Runner, RoboCop and In the Heat of the Night, and I quite liked the world it exists in, though I do have this little stickler… if crime has risen 400% due to science and tech advancing and spilling out in forms of drugs and weapons… why does everything look so clean? Is part of the new tech stuff that keeps things looking spotless and pretty?

The always welcome Karl Urban plays John Kennex, a human cop, who while not a fan of the fact that his assigned partner is an android of the MX series, always gets the job done, even if it involves bending the rules, and occasionally ignoring his captain, Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor). That right there tends to make him just another in a long line of TV cops, almost to the point of being a cliché (in this case it seems more or a leaping off point), and yet, with the look of the show, and Urban’s charm, he makes this character his own.

After a brutal incident in the series opener that sees him losing his human partner, and his right leg (later replaced by a synthetic one), his distrust of MX are at an all time high – they base all their decisions on laws and logic, they lack that intuitive and emotional instinct…

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So when his latest MX has a roadside ‘accident’, Rudy (Mackenzie Crook), digs out an older model, a little twitchy because of their emotions, but the only android available…

Enter DRN or Dorian (Michael Ealy), an emotional android, who, while not happy about being called a ‘synthetic (there’s that word again), is very eager to be a police officer. So an unlikely partnership is formed.

The first episode, Pilot, sets up what looks to be a season arc, as the gang behind a biologically targeted attack on the police may have a personal connection to Kennex. I like the tech we’re introduced to, just a hop, skip and a jump beyond what we’re using today, but totally believable that such a thing could exist some 30 odd years down the line.

One of the things I love is the holographic police tape, that reads, projects and logs officers’ identities as they pass through it. It’s the little things, and details that for me, will help make this show.

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The second episode, Skin, takes on the abduction of women to harvest their skin and DNA, to make sex machines or the equally distasteful term, bang-bots more life-like, with this DNA and skin, they feel more real, are able to emit pheromones. I’m glad they got this episode out of the way early in the series, they dealt with the issue of sex with machines, quite well. They also dealt with death, whether for human or android, as Dorian watches one of the androids get deactivated.

In the third episode, Are You Receiving?, we get a bit of a Die Hard scenario, some great lines, especially letting Kennex use a classic Star Wars quote, and the continuing development of the relationship between John and Dorian. It’s evolving into one of respect, teasing (the dating profile stuff is hilarious) and loyalty, and it’s enjoyable to watch Urban and Ealy work together.

The series has lots of humor, is a fun police procedural, with some great future tech, and strong performances from some fantastic actors.

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Rounding out the cast alongside Urban, Ealy, Crook and Taylor is Michael Irby and Minka Kelly, all looking like they are enjoying themselves.

So far the only thing I would change would be to make it a little more gritty and lived in, the world, as mentioned, looks too pristine, especially with crime supposed to be so high, but overall, I am enjoying everything they’ve presented so far, and will be tuning in for the rest of the season.

Have you watched it? What are your thoughts?

Almost Human airs Mondays on Fox.

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Gladiator (2000) – Ridley Scott

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The 101 Action Movies brings me Ridley Scott’s Best Picture winner Gladiator for me to re-watch and enjoy. Starring Russell Crowe as Maximus, a Roman general in service to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). When the emperor is murdered by his devious and power-hungry son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Maximus is ordered to be executed along with his wife and son, but escapes.

He vows revenge on Commodus, but is taken as a slave, and trained as a gladiator by Proximo (Oliver Reed). Allying himself with a fellow slave, Juba (Djimon Hounsou), the two form a fast friendship and influence the rest of the slaves in their group, working together to survive in the Coliseum of Rome, as Maximus gets closer and closer to having his revenge on Commodus.

Interwoven with this story, is the politics of Rome, as Commodus attempts to solidify his power, distracting the mob with the breads and circuses of the Coliseum, while stripping away their freedoms. Members of the senate, however, are still struggling to maintain Aurelius’ vision of Rome as a republic. They see in Maximus, in his defiance of Commodus, a symbol, a leader, a fighter, who can help bring the corrupt emperor’s rule to an end.

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Scott has always been an amazing technical director, and this film is no different, the man is a master of his craft, the pacing, the shot composition, the visual effects at work, all marrying perfectly to bring a time to life that we have never seen. Working from a script by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson, Scott has made a powerful film that hits all the notes you would want with an action film, and just as importantly, gives us strong characters and arcs for them as well.

The film also features my favorite score by composer Hans Zimmer, anytime any of the soundtracks tunes come up on my iPod, they always get cranked, there is power in this score, just like in the film.

Crowe is captivating as Maximus, and is surrounded by top-notch actors like Derek Jacobi, Connie Nielsen and David Schofield. It’s a glorious spectacle, whether it blazes across the big screen or in the comfort of your own home.

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It’s wonderfully stunning, gorgeously shot, and it was no wonder that it won the Best Picture Oscar, as well as grabbing a Best Actor for Crowe, Best Costume, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.

There was a time I would watch this film on a regular basis, and it sort of slipped out of the rotation, now though, I want nothing more than to throw it back in and enjoy it over and over.

While Blade Runner will always be my favorite Ridley Scott film, this one is definitely in the top 3, the other being Alien of course! It’s undeniably my favorite Russell Crowe film.

The battle sequences, whether the opening one, in the forests of Germania, or in the gladiatorial arena, are bloody, brilliant, and visceral.

Amazing.

What is your favorite Ridley Scott film?

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Code 46 (2003) – Michael Winterbottom

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The 101 Sci-Fi Movies brought me this little film that is set in the not too distant future, where DNA is monitored, travel is tightly controlled, and those without cover are forced to live outside cities as non-citizens.

Tim Robbins plays an investigator, William Geld, who is on the trail of a forger of papelles. These identity papers allow for people to travel between cities, something that one is unable to do without the proper documentation. Arriving in Shanghai, Geld investigates Sphinx, the company/agency that seems to be the source of global government in this future.

He tracks down his suspect, Maria Gonzales (Samantha Morton), but thanks to the empathy virus he has taken to enhance his own intuitive ability he is unable to turn her in. Instead the two of them have a romantic liaison, before Geld returns home to his wife and son.

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When circumstances require him to return to Shanghai, he learns more than he would like, and finds himself falling in love with Maria despite the fact that doing so would constitute committing a Code 46, an intimate relationship with someone who shares genetic similarities.

I love the fully realized world into which we are thrust with this film. A lot of the tech we see doesn’t seem too far from what we use now, but for the genetic manipulations we hear about and see (the memory book is especially cool).

I was put in mind of a brighter version of the dystopian future seen in Blade Runner, especially when it came to the dialogue, it’s a polyglot of French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, reflecting the melding of the world we see around our characters. It’s a nice touch, and definitely seems to be where we are going as a society.

As these two people struggle to be human in a world that almost seems to want to prevent that, they race across the globe to a free port, but fate catches up with them.

We are left at film’s end with a huge sense of loss, even if one of the characters isn’t even aware of all that has been taken from them.

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This is a gentle, slow-moving science fiction film, that ponders about the nature of humanity and our own freedom, even as it illustrates the wonders of science and technology.

Robbins and Morton are very good together, and there’s palatable chemistry between them, though whether it’s enough to legitimately believe that Geld would leave his wife and son behind, I’m not sure. Nor could I understand why Geld’s company wouldn’t simply extend his cover so that he could leave when his assignment was done, instead of allowing it to expire, causing Geld to pursue a more illegal option of escape…

It’s an interesting look at where we could be going as a species, and a welcome addition to the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.

The film looks great, with fantastic locations, little but exemplary VFX and nice turns by the actors involved.

Have you seen this one? What did you think of it?

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Toronto After Dark: The Machine (2013) – Caradog W. James

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Sci-Fi night at Toronto After Dark, graciously hosted at Scotiabank Theatre this year, continued with a late night screening of the UK science fiction flick, The Machine, starring Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, and Denis Lawson.

Using Blade Runner, Terminator and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica as its launching point, a number of the festival organizers were chatting this one up as their favorite film, the hidden gem in fact, of the festival.

Stephens plays Vincent, a scientist working on a quantum computer as the next step in the creation of a living machine. He has developed implants and prosthetics to help wounded veterans to improve their quality of life, and despite working for the Ministry of Defense, is working hard to try to find a cure for his daughter.

Assisting him is Caity Lotz (who first came to our attention in The Pact), plays Ava who has solved some of the issues that have eluded Vincent. As the Cold War with China heats up however, Ava falls victim to an attack that may have been designed by Lawson’s Thomson who is overseeing the entire project, and is more interested in the military applications Vincent’s work can provide.

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Using Ava as a template, Vincent creates The Machine, and thus begins an exploration on what it means to be human, the idea that our technology is outstripping our ability to control it, and the possibility that a manufactured living machine may in fact be our next evolutionary step.

Despite the highbrow themes behind it, the film works as entertainment as well, and Lotz is in fine fighting form as the Machine is trained for combat, and demonstrates her frightening and deadly skills as an Angel of Death.

It’s interesting that as the film progresses, the human characters, but for Vincent, the evolutionary link between both species, become colder characters, while the Machines become warmer and more human.

The music of the film has overtones of Carpenter and Vangelis, keeping us in mind of the films that it is paying homage too, just as the machines glowing eyes are a direct nod to The Terminator.

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It’s a smart film, written and directed by James in a time not so far from our own, you can see Blade Runner like cityscapes in the background, as we gravel to and from the remote MoD base that Vincent works in, where a lone woman, Mrs. Dawson (Helen Griffin), keeps a vigil, hoping to learn what has happened to her son, a soldier whose body was never returned to her.

There are a number of standout moments for me, Ava says, while Vincent is mapping her brain as a template that dancing makes her happy, and later, we see the Machine glowing from within as she moves and twirls across the floor, expressing her inner joy.

The story wraps everything up nicely by film’s end, all the story threads are tended to, but one feels that we are moving to something heavier than a Cold War with China. The machines are out there now… Smarter, stronger, superior,and what happens when they start manufacturing their own offspring?

A thought provoking sci-fi flick in the best tradition, and definitely worth a look should you have the opportunity.

Tomorrow is Gory Night, what are you watching After Dark?

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48 Hrs. (1982) – Walter Hill

forty_eight_hrsThe 101 Action Movies brings me one of the classic buddy action movies, and despite the fact that it’s really good, it’s really tough to like any of the characters in it.

Almost all of them come across as coarse, racist, and unlikable. Nick Nolte plays Jack Cates, a bit of a loose cannon of a cop, who is trying to hunt down two cop-killers after one, Billy (Sonny Landham) busts the other, Ganz (James Remar) out of prison.

Cates wants to run them down himself, feeling responsible that his gun was used by Ganz, and commandeer a convict, and one of Ganz’s associates from prison for 48 hours, Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy).

Cates is a complete tool to Reggie, who admittedly is a criminal, but Cates crosses the line multiple times, and the two of them actually come to blows.

The two of them are forced to work together to track down Ganz by trailing another member of the gang, Luther (David Patrick Kelly) who is caught up in the action when Ganz seizes Luther’s girlfriend as a hostage.

nolteThe unlikely duo work together, albeit roughly, and constantly give one another the gears as they hunt down the cop-killers.

The action sequences are quick, violent and brutal, the chases are great, and in the end the film is really enjoyable, despite the fact that I didn’t like the characters. The thing that boggled me the most was that someone like Elaine (the lovely Annette O’Toole) would want to have a relationship with someone like Cates, course perhaps that’s probably why the relationship turns out like it does towards the end of the film.

I also liked seeing familiar faces throughout the film, a fellow cop, Kehoe is played by Blade Runner’s Brion James, one of the gals in the film is played by Next Generation’s Denise Crosby, Miami Vice’s Olivia Brown  and the police captain is played by Frank McRae.

One thing I caught early on, I must have missed his credit, was a very familiar feel to the soundtrack as steel drums were employed, allowing me to recall a film that is coming up shortly on the action list, Commando, and yup, James Horner gave us the score for this film.

eddieThe film romps along filling the lean 90 minute film with an excellent pace, it’s just tough watching Cates be a complete tool, because while in the end he learns to respect Reggie, I’m sure he hasn’t changed enough to be a better person himself, let alone a better cop, and I’m sure his relationship with Elaine is probably beyond salvage.

Hill’s direction is sure and strong, and the final showdown in Chinatown looks great, making great use of neon lights, and smoke to make things look increasingly dramatic, and I loved the shootout between Cate’s Cadillac and Ganz’s stolen bus.

Of note, was that this was Murphy’s film debut, and he holds his own against Nolte, and you can see a little bit of Axel Foley in Reggie’s character!

It’s not a film for all, the racial epithets, and the language may dissuade some viewers, but all in all, it was a good flick.

What’s your favorite buddy movie of the 80s?

48

Blade Runner (1982) – Ridley Scott

brBetween Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott has created to genre defining classics, both of which close in on the holy grail of cinematic perfection for me.

The 101 Sci-Fi Movies brings me a chance to revisit this wonderfully dark sci-fi thriller.

I read the book by Philip K. Dick, I bought the Marvel comics paperback edition, but I didn’t get to see Blade Runner until 1984, when my family got its first VCR. Then, as I sat there watching the movie in the dark of my living room I was given my first introduction to the concept of noir cinema, or future noir as its referred to in describing this movie.

Ethics, motives, even the line between good guy and bad guy was all gray. I was intrigued.

Then there is the sheer beauty of the film. This was a long time before computer generated images so special effects were created by model work and matte paintings. Everything has a reality to it that today’s films no longer seem interested in replicating.

deckardRick Deckard (Harrison Ford swathed in a wicked trench coat) is a Blade Runner, a special breed of cop that is assigned to hunt down and retire replicants who return to Earth. They’ve been outlawed since a group of them went rogue and killed people. But that doesn’t stop them from coming back, seeking answers about their lives and longevity from their creators, the folks at the Tyrell corporation. Deckard tracks them down with the aid of a stalk-eyed, breathing machine known as a Voight-Kampff machine, which reads empathetic reactions to questions used to generate an emotional response, something replicants are incapable of.

Led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) a group of Nexus-6, virtually indistinguishable from humans, have returned seeking these answers. At Roy’s side is Leon (Brion James), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), and it is up to Deckard to hunt them down.

Along the way, questions about Deckard’s own humanity arise (could he be a replicant?), he falls for Tyrell’s niece Rachel (Sean Young), and the hunter becomes the hunted in as Roy and Deckard battle through a deserted building and across rooftops.

royEdward James Olmos plays Deckard’s partner (minder?) Gaff, who seems to know more about what’s going on in Deckard’s mind than he does.

The 1982 Domestic version had a voice-over narration by Ford as the distributors thought that the viewing audience would be confused by the storyline. I, of course, grew up with that version, and knew the narration backwards and forwards. It wasn’t until the Director’s Cut (followed in 2007 by the preferred Final Cut), that I was able to see the film without the narration, and it was like a whole new film, an incredible experience, that only served to heighten the noir aspects of the film, now instead of being told what to think by the narration, the viewer could draw their own conclusions about everything that was going on, what things meant. A much more enjoyable experience.

bladeWith a score by Vangelis, the film draws you into a world where it seems to be constantly dark, and constantly rains, with the giant pyramid shape of the Tyrell building dominating the industrialized skyline of Los Angeles. I love this score, in fact, when it rains here in Toronto, I love to have the 3 CD edition playing on my ipod, as I wander the wet streets, the neon reflecting in the puddles, and I can imagine myself in my own little future noir adventure.

Now, some 30-odd years later, and the film’s 2019 setting draws closer, the film still looks fantastic, as I said it generates more of a reality than most of the cg-created worlds we’ve seen on the screen of late.

Scott has always been a perfectionist when it comes to the technical side of directing, and this is one of the finest examples of a filmmaker at the top of his game.

I love this movie.

What are your thoughts on it?

harrison