Neon Dream #11: Kinski – Semaphore


I will never summon ethereal fire spirits to rend my foes, and unless the unknown reaches of physics politely comply with Hollywood, I will never receive a post card from the dark side of the Milky Way. I will also never applaud a director’s effective use of taste and smell, or upload a backup of my memory to external storage in between breakfast and a morning shower, but there is a difference here…

Nearly every cyberpunk story I have encountered begins with an apocalypse shortly after its publication. I guarantee you someone is writing one right now in which, in 2020, either Putin or radical Islamists nuke the shit out of everybody. Now it is 2060, and all of a sudden everyone is rocking cybernetic implants, babies grow in artificial wombs, and Lunar Colony Beta just declared independence. It’s not an absurdity. It’s not as if people just go “it’s the future; of course it will be futuristic!” and ignore the context. The assumption is that a cataclysmic act of destruction will somehow propel technology towards radical progress.

This makes sense, if you think about the forces that drive technology forward. In capitalism, there is always an incentive to stagnate. The longer you can milk a product, pumping out new models with superficial “upgrades”, the less you have to invest into research and development. Especially in oligopolies like America, once you establish a monopoly you can dig in your heels for years, even decades, before competition on other fronts undermines your turf. Technology is also hardballed by the western world’s incoherent, slapped-together code of ethics. Since the 1980s, our society has been pretty thoroughly convinced that free will is an endangered species preservable only in captivity. Half of the potential at our fingertips is illegal to research let alone implement, on the grounds that it somehow violates our sanctity.

The post-apocalyptic setting washes us clean of our old ethics and oligarchs. The society that emerges might be a terrible place to live, but it may well be a technocracy. When capitalism undermined the old aristocracy, revolution created bourgeois democracy. The First World War birthed all sorts of hyper-industrial dictatorships, even at the far fringes of the Industrial Revolution’s sphere. A catastrophic event in the information age should, if the trend holds, generate Google empires. How long can conventionally mechanized warlords withstand against soldiers modified to receive live satellite imagery of their terrain and fully regenerate major wounds in a matter of months? Is 45 years too soon for all this? Mother Russia went from de facto feudalism to Sputnik in fewer. And we have to make some allowances for fiction…

There is nothing fundamental preventing massive progress towards biological enhancement–at least nothing we are commonly aware of. The Cyborg Age won’t emerge in our lifetimes, realistically, but only because of entrenched social, political, and economic conditions. The fictional cataclysm is compelling for a lot of bigger reasons, but plausibility still hangs in the air. Our cozy modern lives won’t take us anywhere, but maybe a little pandemonium will usher in the paradigm shift to a society which praises integration of digital technology into our biological systems.

Kinski are a post-rock band from Seattle that formed in 1998. “Semaphore” appears on their 2003 Sub Pop release, Airs Above Your Station. I am pretty sure that the opening two minutes contains a formula to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity, but I am too old to do acid. At any rate, I hear it as some sort of major shift in perspective inaugurating an era of progression.

Trailer: Snowpiercer (Red Band)


 

Bong Joon-ho is a name that genre fans know well. He has made a name for himself in his home country of South Korea with such critically-acclaimed films as Memories of Murder, The Host and Mother. In 2013, Bong co-wrote and directed the adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. The film is his first English-language film and it has garnered much acclaim when it was released in South Korea in 2013.

Snowpiercer as the film has been titled will now make it’s North American premiere this year and with months of buzz following it’s Asian release many genre fans have been awaiting its arrival. It’s premise is simple enough and involves a train that never stops moving that circles the globe that’s going through a new Ice Age that has killed off most of the planet’s population save those riding on the global train.

It’s a film that explores that ever-popular subject of the “have’s versus the have not’s”. It’ll be interesting to see what new idea Bong Joon-ho brings to an old idea.

Snowpiercer is set for a US release on June 27, 2014.

Trailer: Oblivion (Official)


Oblivion-Movie-Poster

Every year always has a couple of big genre films that seem to continually fly under the radar. This is surprising since people tend to think that films with huge budgets and a cast headlined by one of the biggest names in Hollywood tend to be overhyped before they even reached the big-screen. While I’ve heard of the upcoming scifi and post-apocalyptic film Oblivion for almost two years now it’s still a film that doesn’t generate much talk.

We know several things about Oblivion that came out before the release of the film’s first trailer: 1. it stars Tom Cruise and 2. it’s the follow-up film for Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski. The second part may be one thing that has kept this film from being one of the biggest anticipated films of 2013. Kosinski’s underwhelming sequel to Tron didn’t make many genre fans excited as to what he might come up with next.

The trailer looks to erase some of those doubts as we get to see Oblivion as a very beautifully-shot film. We get see some great looking art direction for the film if the trailer show’s us anything about Oblivion. Plus, it has Morgan Freeman all decked out like one of David Lynch’s Fremen from Dune.

Oblivion is set for an April 12, 2013 release date.

Source: Apple

Horror Review: Day by Day Armageddon (by J.L. Bourne)


The last decade or so has been a sort of renaissance for all things zombies. Zombies have become the “monster of the moment” in the entertainment industry. These shambling undead (or Olympic sprinters for some of the more modern take on the genre) have permeated film, video games, comic books and novels. Even tv has been invaded by the recently ambulatory dead. J.L. Bourne debuts with a fast-paced and exciting first novel that takes the well-known conventions of the zombie tale and gives it a nice personal touch to set it apart from the many other zombie novels flooding the market.

Day by Day Armageddon doesn’t go the usual straight narrative of most novels. The novel’s written in the point-of-view of an anonymous narrator, but told through an epistolary-style Ssmilar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bourne’s novel tells the story of this one man’s struggles to survive the gradual collapse of civilization and then the days in a post-apocalyptic undead world around him through journal entries he has taken up to keep himself sane and focused. Bourne’s choice of writing style lends a bit of a personal touch to the proceedings as it imbues the tale with less hyperbole and flowery language. The journal entries gives the reader just the right amount of look into this man’s life instead of bombarding the reader with everything. Not everything’s explained in these journal entries, but enough clues were hinted at to keep the reader interested in reading more. From the beginning of the crisis (which has a timely feel of today’s current events) to the confusion of the situation spiralling out of control with our narrator as confused as the people in charge seem to be.

Day by Day Armageddon doesn’t lack for action and gory detail, but they seem to be more of affectations to the rest of the tale. Bourne concentrates more on the thoughts of his anonymous narrator. From how to plan for a siege to finding a way to distract the growing undead in his first refuge in order to rescue a neighbor who might be the only living person left the area. When the novel does finally have the narrator and the other survivors place themselves in danger in order to find more supplies or a better refuge, Bourne does a great job of keeping the pace of the story fast and tight. There’s not a lot of overly descriptive passages of the environment and its new undead in habitants. This minimalist style also lends itself to keeping the characters real. They behave with a rational and logical mind in trying to cope and deal with the worsening situation outside their refuge. Plans are thought out in advance and every precaution and angles factored in whatever decision they make in regards to their survival. In fact, Bourne’s characters seem to have either read Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide or at least something similar since they behaved and acted just how Brook’s guide said people need to if they’re to survive a coming zombie apocalypse.

If there’s a bone to pick with Day by Day Armageddon it would be the ending. To say that it ends in a cliffhanger would be an understatement. The last couple of journal entries became so action-packed that it succeeded in raising the adrenaline and making this reader want more of the same. But just when things really got cooking the book ends suddenly and with no resolution. The novel’s suppose to be just the first book in a larger series. Other than that little complaint, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut zombie novel from a new writer who seems to enjoy the zombie subgenre and knows how to handle it well. No running zombies for Mr. Bourne, though he’s hinted at radioactive zombies with abit more oomph than their less glowing undead brothers. Here’s to hoping Bourne keeps the sprinting undead to a minimum. Now where’s that second volume to this series.

Trailer: Resident Evil: Retribution


The Resident Evil film franchise seems to be the franchise that just keeps on going and going. Like the undead which forms the bulk of the danger to the characters in the film, this film series just won’t die. It’s success has both confounded critics and audiences alike. It’s turned Milla Jovovich into an action star whether we like it or not. It’s also a series that despite some major flaws continues because it makes it’s studios money.

We now have the first teaser trailer for the 5th film in the series, Resident Evil: Retribution, and just like the 4th film in the series it will be in 3D. It will also have several characters from past films who we saw die make appearances in the film. Whether they come back as themselves in the film’s present storyline or in flashbacks has yet to be determined. The trailer itself looks like a major advert for Sony smartphones, PS Vita and tablet products. In fact, I’d say that almost 40% of this teaser is all about pushing Sony products.

If that’s the case then this trailer does teach me one thing: Sony products will lead to a global zombie apocalypse. I think this event would never happen if people bought iPhones and iPads.

Resident Evil: Retribution is set for a September 14, 2012 release date.

Horror Review: I Am Legend (by Richard Matheson)


“[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”Robert Neville

In 1954, Richard Matheson published a novel that would influence so many future generations of science-fiction and horror writers and film directors. Matheson’s body of work prior to 1954 could be summed up as good but nothing too exciting. His work thus far overlapped such pulp genres as horror, science-fiction and fantasy. This style would be the hallmark of his brand of story-telling. It would be in his novel I Am Legend that his unique style of combining different genres that Matheson would have his greatest and most epic work to date.

I Am Legend takes the vampire tale and brings it out of the shadows and darkness, so to speak. Set in the late 1970’s, I Am Legend begins its tale with humanity pretty much on the quick path to extinction due to a pandemic where the bacterium or virus involved caused symptoms very similar to what folklore had called vampirism. The protagonist of this tale was one Robert Neville. An unassuming man living in a Los Angeles suburban neighborhood who might just be the only living human being, or at least the only un-infected one, on the face of the planet. Neville’s been reduced to a day-to-day routine of defending his fortified home from the vampire-like infected humans who’ve tried attacking him and his home once night falls. This routine has become so ingrained in Neville that it starts him on a downward spiral to utter despair. He knows that he might just be the only human left and the prospect of such an idea almost becomes too much for his psyche. It’s this growing despair which gradually causes Neville to make little mistakes in his routine that puts him in greater levels of danger from those turned who see him as nothing but cattle.

His attempts to solve the mystery of why he’s the only one not affected by the disease becomes his way of keeping himself sane. Neville’s work in trying to find the answer leads him to take chances in keeping a vampire survivor alive and bound instead of just killing it outright. His experiments ranges from disproving the myths surrounding the vampire creature and acknowledging the scientific and/or psychological explanations to certain behavioral traits of these nocturnal creatures.

Neville’s studies on captured vampires tell him why certain things like garlic and sunlight causes such an extreme reaction on these creatures. Why do they have a certain invulnerability towards bullets but not a stake through the heart is one question he tries to answer through his research. He even surmises that the vampires aversion to crucifix was more psychological than anything supernatural. Neville arrives at this after observing a vampire’s reaction to a Star of David was similar to the reaction of another one towards the crucifix.

It’s events such as these which puts I Am Legend in a category all by itself. It still uses themes of horror which the vampires fulfill to great effect, but it also does a great job of taking the vampire tale out of the supernatural realm and into the scientific and logical. Neville’s attempts to keep himself sane, as his loneliness begin to weigh on his psyche and health, through these studies and experiments adds a level of the science-fiction to this tale. It’s the combination of these two genres which makes I Am Legend such an epic tale in scope yet it’s not that which gives the tale its heaviest impact. It’s Neville himself, more to the point, his desperate situation of being the last man on earth weighing on his mind. This tone gives this apocalyptic vampire tale such an intimate feel that the reader hopes and wishes for some sort of peaceful end to Neville; better yet, some hope that he might find clues that he might not be the last.

As the story moves forward, the line between who is human, who is monster and who is the true survivor become blurred as Neville’s forays into the city for supplies lead him to a community of others who have not succumbed to the monstrous effect of the pandemic. It’s this discovery that gives Neville a semblance of hope which momentarily lifts the heavy weight of inevitability from his mind. But not everything is at it seems at first glance. Neville finds this out as his encounters with this thriving community continue to give him more and more insight as to how they’ve survived. The climactic end to this tale has become such a classic ending that any other resolution wouldn’t have worked. The end worked as the best possible ending to Matheson’s tale. It also gives the books title a deeper and more profound meaning to it.

I Am Legend will continue to go down in literary history as one of the best examples of fantastic literature. It’s seemless blending of horror, science-fiction and the apocalyptic gives the tale both an epic and intimate feel and tone. It’s not wonder the very themes and premise of this story has influenced such horror writers and filmmakers as Stephen King (The Stand, Salem’s Lot) and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead). I Am Legend takes the vampire tale out of the shadows and darkness it usually in habits and brings it out to the light of science and logic with surprising results. A true classic piece of writing from Richard Matheson and one that still stands as the benchmark for apocalyptic tales.

Review: Vanishing On 7th Street (dir. by Brad Anderson)


In the genre world of horror and thrillers there’s been one name who always seem to be on the verge of breaking out. He has done some exceptionally well-crafted horror and thrillers which never could get a mainstream audience to commit to but always gathering a cult-following upon their release. He has done some wonderful work as a TV director for such acclaimed shows as Fringe, Treme, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. His best known work was a thriller collaboration with Christian Bale in The Machinist. While it’s a film more well-known for the extremes an actor was willing to go for to make their performance as authentic as possible it was also a film which showed style and talent in it’s filmmaker. The person I speak of is Canadian filmmaker Brad Anderson whose latest film was another low-budget horror-thriller which looks to be gaining a cult-following once again despite not being well-received by the mainstream critics. Vanishing On 7th Street was a film using the screenplay of Anthony Jaswinski which puts an interesting, claustrophobic and, at times, entertaining twist on the oft-used and well-ridden post-apocalyptic genre.

The film begins with film projectionist Paul in his projection booth reading up on the lost colony of Roanoke and the mysterious word left behind: CROATOAN. It’s through his point of view that we first see the beginning of what could be the end of the world as lights begin to flicker then go out throughout the theater and the mall it’s located in. Paul investigates this event only to discover sets of clothing and accessories where theater patrons and employees used to be in. With each passing moment the darkness — punctuated by just the flashlights of Paul and a lone mall security guard — becomes to take on an ominous tone before the film sudden moves ahead three days into what would become the major setting for the film: a lit bar on a deserted and darkened stretch of 7th Street in Detroit, Michigan.

We meet the rest of the main cast in this bar. There’s Luke who used to be a TV anchorman who discovers to his horror just what might have been the cause of the disappearance of most everyone in the world as he tries to find his girlfriend at the TV station they both worked at. It’s in these flashbacks to Luke’s early experience with the dark apocalypse that we see some of the most perfectly shot scenes of a major city devoid of life. An urban setting where the sudden disappearance of people during the power outage the night before has caused an eerie detritus of crashed vehicles, empty clothing and, in a sudden and violent sequence, a lone airline crashing in the background. It’s through Luke and the lone survivor in the bar, a 12-year old boy named James (Jacob Latimore), that we begin to try and piece together just what might have caused the event which continues to plague those left behind for the last three days.

The film posits the basic concept that darkness itself was the culprit for the disappearance of everyone and what continues to stalk those still left behind, alive and desperate for answers. While the film never really give definite answers as to the cause the two other characters in the back outside of Luke and James bring their own theories. There’s Rosemary (Thandie Newton), the distraught mother searching for her infant son, who thinks what’s going on around them is the the prophecized Rapture and those left behind were those who have sinned and were now being tormented for whatever sins they might have committed. On the other side is Paul from the beginning of the film who Luke rescues from an illuminated bus stop shelter who believes the very thing which caused the disappearance of the Roanoke colony during the 16th-century has now returned on a global-scale. His reasonings run the gamut of scientific causes from wormholes, black holes, gamma ray burst, nanotech gone amok and even an accident from a particle collider.

The audience are left to decide amongst themselves which explanation holds merit since neither one has enough backing to be the true answer. Vanishing On 7th Street leaves much of the questions raised by the dark apocalypse around these surviving characters to be left ambiguous and unanswered which at times becomes a detriment to the narrative as a whole. It’s a testament to Brad Anderson’s direction that the film was able to move past the apparent weaknesses in Anthony Jaswinski’s script and deliver a taut thriller (the film never truly gets to the level of horror) that just builds and builds with tension from beginning to an end that seemed almost too rushed.

With a low-budget and minimal cast the film tries to create some of the tension in the film be a construction of the differences between the four main characters. The actors were pretty game to try and make their characters more complex than what the script have provided, but in the end they still seem too basic for anyone of them to become sympathetic for the audience to truly care for their well-being. The film has to finally rely on just them as the last people on the planet as the main crux for the audience to latch onto. All the actors involved never become too cartoonish or stereotypical in their performance, but some of their decision-making in the middle and latter section of the film were too horror-typical, but they do add to the film’s many scenes of mounting terror as characters drop flashlights, lose light sources and other such problems with the living shadows in the darkness creeping up to try and take those still left. These scenes do look to be too stereotypical of other horror films but under Anderson’s direction there’s a palpable sense of claustrophobia and menace in these shadows.

What truly sells the film despite these flaws outside of Anderson’s direction would be the minimalist score by first-time film composer Lucas Vidal. His composition for the film were at once ominous and haunting. At times his score shows off hints of influences from the more doom-laden scores of Philip Glass. The other component of the film which definitely added to the atmosphere of inevitable doom to the film was Uta Briesewitz cinematography which made great use of darkness and solitary light sources to create islands of safety in a sea of encroaching terror we never truly comprehend. It’s the trifecta of Anderson’s directing, Vidal’s minimalist doom orchestration of a score and Briesewitz’s cinematography which gives Vanishing On 7th Street enough reasons to be a film which stands out as a fine piece of genre filmmaking despite weaknesses in the script.

Brad Anderson truly seem to be a filmmaker destined to remain in the fringes of mainstream cinema. His Vanishing On 7th Street continues to be another example of his great work in the horror-thriller genre. Despite same flaws which could turn off some of those who see this film it doesn’t diminish the fact that even at it’s worst this film was still an entertaining piece of post-apocalyptic work which brings some new ideas into the genre. Maybe a stronger treatment of the script would’ve made for a near-perfect thriller and one which could’ve had more horror to it, but Anderson was able to make a good enough film with an average script that I think deserves for this film to be seen by more people. For every horror remakes we get from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes to the latest in the Saw-like torture porn horror it’s good to see that such films as Vanishing On 7th Street exist to be the solitary beacon of light in a sea of cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers horror films that seem to dominate each film year after the other.