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Thursday, 28 August 2014

[Frightfest Review] - Creep

Stars; Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Director; Patrick Brice
Writers; Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Running Time; 82 mins

A videographer answers a Craigslist ad for one day of filming in a remote location. Despite his client's unusual requests all seems fairly harmless until night falls and the truth behind his client takes a frightening turn.

The found footage genre continues to prove controversial not in terms of subject matter (although Cannibal Holocaust is still an exception) but saturation of market leading to a plethora of poor quality productions. CREEP definitely falls into the high quality category and leaves genre leader Blair Witch Project in the cold. It is also refreshing to have a found footage story idea that steps away from the usual rag tag team of film students venturing into dangerous outlands to investigate sinister and deadly occurrences, which has side-stepped the tiresome trap.



Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass had this idea of improvising the production working from nothing but a ten page outline. This creates a completely spontaneous experience that is as much of surprise to the players as the viewer. The shaky cam point of view works well in creating an uncomfortable attention grabbing feel to the picture making good use of the remote location. There is a welcome dynamic between the leads Brice and Duplass who clearly have an excellent working rapport that comes across in their performances. The improvisation adds unpredictability to the film making Brice's (as Aaron the videographer) shock reactions very real for the viewer.

Brice and Duplass took the notion of less is more on board keeping the focus on themselves with no additional characters except a voice on the phone and the memorable "Peachfuzz." Much effective and chilling use of the remote location is made all adding to the film's foreboding feel. Brice's discomfort coupled with Duplass's Josef increasingly disturbing antics make for edge of the seat viewing with bouts of bizarre humour. The slow unravelling as to the true nature of Josef's character with a surprising finale leaves one breathless at the end.

The success of CREEP lies in its simplicity in every respect and gives the viewer a fresh and genuinely "scary" take on the found footage genre, something that it desperately needed. The atmosphere created is so tense it could be felt in the auditorium making this a truly gripping film so much so that it feels longer than its sparse 80 minute running time. It will certain make people think twice before answering an ad on Craigslist.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

[Frightfest - Review] The Babadook

Stars; Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney
Director; Jennifer Kent
Writer; Jennifer Kent
Running Time; 95 mins

Single mum Amelia is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband at the same time battling her son's obsession with monsters. Strange spooky occurrences start to take place and Amelia finds herself questioning whether she is on the verge of a breakdown or if there really is a malign presence stalking her and her son.

If The Gruffalo ever had an evil twin brother it would most likely be The Babadook since the two are similar yet so contrastingly on the opposite sides of the storytelling fence. Made on a budget of $2million (of which $30,000 was crowdfunded through Kickstarter) this chilling monster story invoking themes of madness using a children's book as the catalyst taps into the viewer's deepest darkest childhood fears and adult worries draws them to the surface and proceeds to smack said viewer firmly across the cheeks. The Babadook, Australian film maker Jennifer Kent's feature film debut, has set the bar to a high standard at this year's Film4 Frightfest.

The success behind The Babadook lies in its simplicity. The absence of big budget CGI, grand locations or even bankable star names (although fans of The Matrix films might recognise Essie Davis aka Maggie) make way for more effective storytelling. Writer and director Jennifer Kent replaces these with focus on characters, creating a real sense of place with the suburban backdrop of Adelaide, and probably the most terrifying children's pop-up book ever devised.

Throughout Kent's tale of malign monstrous spirits lurking in the closet and spelling out in macabre illustrations what horrors they intend to inflict, there is one prevalent theme; descending madness with very authentic undertones of mental health concerns such as schizophrenia and depression. In bringing this across (coincidentally in similar vein to Simon Horrocks' Third Contact) Kent spends much of the film keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not The Babadook is real with incredible performances from her lead players. Essie Davis as troubled mum Amelia turns in a very moving and visceral performance, engaging and watchable throughout. Increasingly losing her grip on reality Amelia's turn from a mum at the end of her tether to something more deadly is truly unnerving to watch and shows in Davis an ability to bring many dimensions to what is a very real character. Noah Wiseman seems to have revelled in his turn as Samuel and Kent manages to draw an incredibly multi-faceted performance from this charming little actor. Wiseman goes from brattish and infuriating (breaking windows and taking weapons to school) to charming and adorable. One's heart can't help but melt when Samuel expresses his need to protect his mother stemming from the fear of having lost one parent already and not wishing to lose another, along with the petrification that overcomes him when facing his monster.

In creating the Babadook, Kent has successfully drawn upon everyone's most deep rooted childhood fears of monsters hiding in the cupboard. What makes this even more eerie is Kent's clever creation of a malign fairy tale and the  juxtaposition of the story of a fearsome monster told through the innocence of a child's pop-up book. The opening line "If it's in a word or in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook. A rumbling sound then three hard knocks, ba ba badook dook dook," is sure to send shivers up a spine or two and is reminiscent of many a limerick that have featured in classic horrors such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman. The book has a sinister character all of its own and in the Babadook itself, Kent has created a monster that is simple yet utterly terrifying more so than the most sophisticated CGI creation. The creature's look, all in black with a top hat and razor sharp teeth is truly sinister even to many a veteran horror viewer. Excellent camera work and conservative use of lighting all contained within Amelia and Samuel's seemingly cramped and dilapidated home add to creating a real sense of atmosphere.

The Babadook is a truly gripping and unnerving story which terrifies on two levels; the possibility the monster is real and that Amelia and Sam could be fighting a losing battle or that it is a figment of their imagination causing them to spiral hopelessly into a delusion that threatens both their physical and mental safety. A chilling story and creature created through the innocence of a child's book, with incredible performances and a real spooky atmosphere all make this a thoroughly enjoyable but nerve-wrecking watch.


Monday, 25 August 2014

[Frightfest Review] - The Sleeping Room

Stars; Leila Mimmack, Joseph Beattie, Christopher Adamson, Julie Graham
Director; John Shackleton
Writers; Alex Chandon, Ross Jameson, John Shackleton
Running Time; 75 mins

Blue, an orphaned 19 year old call girl living in Brighton falls for her latest client Bill and is intrigued by his renovation project of a Victorian house that used to be brothel.  When a secret room is uncovered Blue learns of its link to her family which could hold the answers to her mother's death. As she delves deeper Blue suddenly finds herself at the heart of an unsettled score with only one possible and fatal outcome.

Marking  the second feature from Cardiff-based Movie Mogul Films, The Sleeping Room is the first film to be funded through equity-based crowdfunding, and is an impressive directorial debut from John Shackleton. It is a quintessentially British ghost story with influences from The Shinning and The Haunting of Hill House based on the real life discovery of a Victorian sleeping room  by writer Ross Jameson. Working with director John Shackleton and Cradle of Fear writer/director Alex Chandon the screenwriting trio have crafted a ghost story with real chills and scares.



Steeping the film's story and setting deep in Victorian history anchored in present day Brighton makes The Sleeping Room an engaging tale. Using the Victorian architecture of this seaside town along with some of its most recogniseable  landmarks all give the viewer that feeling of having stepped back in time. The inclusion of the Mutoscope, which features throughout the film is put to especially effective use as a window to the past that en-crouches in the present. The Sleeping Room is a ghost story that is also reminiscent of the British gangster thriller Brighton Rock, encapsulated particularly in the character of Freddie, the husband of Blue's Madame (played by Julie Graham). There is a little nod to Brighton's more recent chequered past of sex scandal in the name of Julie Graham's character, Cynthia - a nod to that infamous Mrs Payne perhaps.

The script and story are brought to life by first time director John Shackleton. He has certainly made his bones on this chilling ghost story by truly creating an atmosphere to hold the viewer's attention and send shivers up the spine. Shackleton's directorial style is clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick and reminiscent of The Shinning coupled with the gritty realism that is only really a trait of British film. There is also an effective use and contrast of scale from the stunning open aerial shots of Brighton to the more claustrophobic setting of the renovated building and sleeping room. All this help create a tense and uncomfortable yet gripping atmosphere exuding from the screen. Shackleton also employs some time honoured tricks of the trade to keep viewer attention and build up tension; the effective use of the two way mirror that hides the Sleeping Room and the lingering slow motion shots of the Mutoscope's machinations coupled with the heightened sound bringing to the fore a foreboding feel.

Where the film also succeeds is in the performances from a largely unknown cast (although TV viewers might recognise Julie Graham from William & Mary or Survivors). Leila Mimmack's performance is interesting with elements of Victorian reserve coupled with what could be perceived to be as traits brought on by Blue's troubled past. Her character evolves throughout the film to someone who is more than the traditional "scream queen" of horror and Mimmack's portrayal guides the viewer on this personal journey. Joseph Beattie as Blue's client Bill is excellent in his equally shy role and excels when he indulges in the darker aspects of his character in a spine tingling turn. David Sibley and Julie Graham although not on film very much are excellent in their roles as enforcer and Madame respectively as is Chris Waller as Blue's friend Glenny. The villainous star however has to be Christopher Adamson who seems to be having entirely too much fun in his sinister role (and which does not in any detract from the feel or execution of the story).

It was pointed out during the Q&A at Film4 Frightfest that The Sleeping Room is the sort of film that the recently revived Hammer studios should be producing. The writers have crafted an engaging spooky tale with real sense of time & place, and under the direction of John Shackleton packed full of tension, atmosphere, all fused together with some fantastic innovative cinematography along with stellar performances from the cast. Where many other such films fail, The Sleeping Room succeeds as a debauched ghostly tale of Victorian revenge.

Movie Mogul Films are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to promote the film to as wide an audience as possible. Click here to read all about the Kickstarter campaign, the rewards on offer and to pledge support.

RIP Lord Richard Attenborough 1923 - 2014

Richard (Lord) Attenborough, who died today aged 90 was one of cinema's most prolific talents both in front and behind the camera. In a career that has spanned six decades Lord Attenborough has entertained, moved, terrified and enthralled movie audiences around the world in many of filmdom's most famous and legendary titles. Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, Flight of the Phoenix, 10 Rillington Place, Ghandi, Cry Freedom, Jurassic Park, and Shadowlands are just the fragment of the tip of the iceberg that is Lord Attenborough's career. He has enjoyed success in the US having worked with many of cinema's greatest living and sadly departed talents. 

Image Credit; Kate Gabrielle
Even though he was a success in Hollywood Lord Attenborough never forgot his roots. He championed the British film industry as chairman of the UK's most prestigious film production companies as well as the BFI, and along with David (Lord) Puttnam lobbied Parliament to aide the industry he worked in so tirelessly. Although he will be sorely missed Lord Attenborough has immortalized himself in some of cinema's finest work in a career that many would be so lucky to have. 

Since Lord Attenborough passed away on the weekend the 15th Film4 Frightfest in London it seems only fitting to pay tribute with a look at a directorial effort that is as terrifying today as it was over 35 years ago.


Magic
Stars; Anthony Hopkins, Ann Margaret, Burgess Meredith, Ed Lauter
Director; Richard Attenborough
Writer; William Goldman

Corky a ventriloquist and magician who is at the mercy of his mischievous doll escapes to the mountains to avoid a medical examination that would reveal his dark secret. There he is reunited with an old high school friend in an abusive marriage. However as Corky's safety becomes increasingly threatened so does the doll's deadly protective instincts.

Although Attenborough accepted directing duties for this film to help him finance the dream project that was to become the Oscar winning Ghandi (1982) the joy must have come from being reunited with writer Goldman, producer Joesph E Levine and star Hopkins all of whom worked together on the war movie A Bridge Too Far (1977). Based on Goldman's original novel Attenborough helmed a terrifying psychology thriller that showed just how masterful he was behind the camera, and for Hopkins it proved in hindsight to be the precursor for his most famous villainous turn as Hannibal Lecter. 

Goldman's script is a terrifying story of one man's descent into an increasing gaping crevice of madness. That feeling of loss of control especially to a more dominant personality (even a seemingly wooden one)  is something many audiences can relate to and as the interactions between Corky and his doll Fats (a multi-faceted chilling performance from Hopkins) intensify Goldman has created a disturbing scenario which with Attenborough then takes the viewer by the shoulders keeping their attention to the screen in tense anticipation of what follows. In his dual role as ventriloquist and the voice of his doll, Hopkins is incredibly engaging and charismatic. His seamless switch between the gentle harmless Corky to the malignant Fats is a true sign of thespian genius and so convincing one can't help but feel both empathy for Corky's plight but also fearful. The script certainly gives plenty of scope for Hopkins to shine as a character actor.  

There is much deliberate ambiguity in the script and story as to whether Corky is suffering from multiple personality disorder & spiraling to a breakdown as a result, or in fact Fats is alive and controlling the controller. This seemingly reversal of roles is even more chilling under Attenborough's skillful direction and effective use of camera. Not since Hitchcock's psycho has an audience been terrified in this way and Attenborough captures the sinister dialogue between Corky and Fats to frightening effect. The trio of Attenborough, Goldman and Hopkins (along with amiable support) created probably one of the most scary films of the 20th Century. Its success lies in its simplicity which Attenborough used to great effect, and as a director who truly understood actors, he skillfully drew raw emotion from his players. 

It is difficult to pick a defining moment from Magic, a standout scene that truly embodies the best aspects of the film and that showcase Attenborough's skillful direction. The scene below in which Corky's agent Ben Green (Burgess Meredith) walks in on Corky's argument with Fats perhaps encapsulates all the angles of the film perfectly such as the remote settings adding a claustrophic sense of isolation, the highly charged performance of Hopkins in the dual role, and the ambiguity of whether or not Fats is in fact alive. There is also the tense, and ultimately heart breaking moment between Corky and Green, with the latter serving as a reflection of the audience's reaction. Attenborough brings all this together in a scene that is truly one of the best in cinema.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

[Frightfest - Review] The Green Inferno

Stars; Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Daryl Sabara
Director; Eli Roth
Writers; Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo
Running Time; 100 mins

UPDATE; The Green Inferno is now available in the UK on DVD, BLU-RAY and VOD

Idealistic suburban student activists travel to the Peruvian jungles in their fight to protect the land and its tribal inhabitants. After a successful campaign resulting in the cessation of mass deforestation the activists fly home only for their plane to crash in the jungle.The survivors are carted off by the indigenous natives where they quickly realise their fate is a culinary one.

Eli Roth's latest foray into the exploitation genre draws on what he has cited were some of his favourite films of the eighties; here it is the infamous and controversial Cannibal Holocaust although there is also some influence drawn from the equally infamous Cannibal Ferox. Both these films with their graphic depiction of frenzied primitives gorging on human body parts, horrific impalements and scenes of torture terrified cinema audiences who believed them to be genuine snuff movies. Roth's latest venture is less a homage but more of a worthy addition to the genre yet never purports to be anything other than a straight laced horror story.

The film spends what feels like half its running time scene setting and establishing characters, like an entre or starter before the much anticipated main course. Given the somewhat uncomfortable nature of cannibalism itself (let's face it most people squirm at the idea of someone feasting upon their person, literally) this probably isn't a bad thing. A slow build up in comfortable middle class setting before relocating to the  the Peruvian jungle where most of us look and feel out of place add to the discomfort. The knowledge that these well dressed, well to do idealists will have their world turned upside down, inside out and weird on top keeps the viewer gripped in anticipation of the inevitable.

There is a familiar theme here from Roth, similar to  "Hostel" also telling of young middle class Americans  venturing to foreign climes without considering the dangers that await them. Here this disdain is aimed at well to do student activists, portraying them as misguided, arrogant and naïve almost to the point you get the sense that their fate is a little deserved. Roth and his co-writer Guillermo Ameodo however are more scathing of the relentless uncaring corporations who tear through natures wonders under the protection of ruthless military-trained mercenaries. Only the jungle natives, even with their savage tendencies and gruesomely horrifying dietary preference invoke any kind of sympathy. Once the hotly anticipated scenes of cannibalism arrive it is clear that the audience should share sympathy for the natives (who mistake their captives for the people behind the destruction of their home) at the same time recoiling in revulsion at the activists' final fate.

As well as a taste and penchant for gut wrenching scenes of brutality and gore, Roth once again (as he did with "Hostel" and "Hostel II") gets tremendous performances from his young cast. Far from being consigned to just panicky screams, the players convincingly portray their survivor protagonists with a heady mix of genuine fear, disgust to sheer madness (one member using hand relief to alleviate stress). The script also taps into some of their worst fears come true and the players bring these fears to life with incredible emotion. The characters' reactions coupled with the macabre and at times nausea inducing scenes of body parts hacked, cooked and devoured make for uncomfortable viewing. If you are little squeamish you should steer clear. The inclusion of intermittent bouts of dark humour take some of the edge off the more horrific moments offering some chuckling respite leaving one repulsed yet entertained thus sealing Roth's reputation as one of the genre's revered film makers.

What is often overlooked but is more prevalent with "The Green Inferno" is Roth's talent as a visual film maker. The film features plenty of aerial shots of the luscious green foliage of the Peruvian jungle hence the title. The awe inspiring beauty of this luscious location captured on film quickly masks a dark and desolate land of uncontrollable fear and excruciating death. Roth has certainly crafted an engaging and unsettling film and whilst it does ask (and sometimes answers) some important ethical questions, it never detracts from the core purpose of the film to shock and entertain. Great British Menu will never seem the same again.

At the time of writing this review it was announced that distribution for The Green Inferno had been cancelled indefinitely putting the likelihood of a general cinema release in jeopardy. The reason for this is unknown but it is a shame since the scenery alone makes it a film worthy of big screen viewing.


Friday, 22 August 2014

[Fright Fest - Review] Zombeavers

Stars; Chad Anderson, Lexi Atkins, Brent Briscoe
Director; Jordan Rubin
Writers; Jordan Rubin, Jon Kaplin, Al Kaplin
Running Time; 85 Mins

Zombie fever gives way to beaver fever as a metal drum containing toxic waste turns a secluded forest's beaver population into bloodthirsty ravenous zombies. A group of fraternity students holidaying in the log cabin fight for survival against the raging Zombeavers.

The secret to enjoying Zombeavers (which received its UK premier at Film 4 Frightfest this year) is to not take it seriously. The absurd plot, cheap rubbery effects and acting more wooden than a beaver dam might at first seem like all the hallmarks of a badly made z-movie but nothing could be further from the truth. Zombeavers' charm is in its blatant silliness that puts it firmly in the so bad it's good category. If nothing else credit should go to the writers for coming up with an original idea.

It is hard to fathom that a film with no bankable names (unless you count C.S.I Miami's Rex Linn), a laughable synopsis, no story and a budget less than the average production of The Asylum, holds any redeemable qualities. As well as its blatant silliness the film is awash with monster movie horror cliches which it extensively lampoons, and features a plethora of nods to well known films including Jaws and Die Hard to name a few. All staples of monster and slasher movies are parodically featured; overly skinny sorority girls, sex mad frat boys, secluded forests and log cabins are all thrown into the mix. The Zombeavers themselves are a blend of the over-sized creatures from Food of The Gods with the comical mischievousness of Gremlins. 

Zombeavers is a switch off the brain and suspend disbelief to unimaginable heights instruction for the audience, leaving them open for a steady stream of fun pokery and laughs. The script is awash with airhead angst and of course the inevitable beaver double entendres some blatant ("I've never seen a real beaver up close"; "maybe you should try going down on me once in a while") and others subtle (Don't you know the purpose of beavers is to chomp down on wood?") The actors play it straight but with tongues firmly in their cheeks, delivering the intentionally terrible dialogue with convincing seriousness. Whilst none of the cast will win an Oscar for their performances, what they lack in thespian ability they make up for with comic timing and delivery which  should keep them off the Razzie's radar for a time. The addition of outtakes and bloopers at the end with a title song so catchy it deserves the monocle of ear-worm all combined make Zombeavers an entertaining cinematic experience that deserves a viewing. 



[FrightFest - Review] The Guest

Stars; Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry
Director; Adam Wingard
Writer; Simon Barrett
Running Time; 100 Mins

Laura and Spenser Peterson, and their children Anna and Luke are surprised by the arrival of David a soldier claiming to a friend of older son Caleb killed in action. When they ask him to stay he at first appears as a source of comfort and support but beneath the friendly demeanour masks a sinister figure with dark motives that could jeopardize the Peterson's lives.

The writer/director partnership of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard is once again proving to be an impressive one having wowed audiences last year with their home invasion flick You're Next. With The Guest, Barrett and Wingard return to home invasion horror but this time the threat is invited in donning a friendly persona and face to boot in the shape of ex-Downton star Dan Stevens. The Guest also pays homage to the quintessential unstoppable villains such as Michael Myers or John Rider (Rutger Hauer, The Hitcher) as well as The Terminator. Barrett once again has scripted a story of tension and terror, interspersed with some sharp macabre humour without losing the pace maintained by Wingard's effective and stylish direction. 


The script by Simon Barrett grabs the audience's attention from the start and holds it captive till the end. Whilst it's known Dan Steven's returning soldier David has more than just the devil's glint in his eye his motives are kept well and truly under-wraps with snippets drip fed until the finale. David's initial success at winning over the Peterson siblings by taking care of Luke's bullies and acting cool with Anna's friends (even seducing her BFF) is juxtaposed with the increasing series of chilling events making Anna suspicious keeping the story engaging. This gripping air of mystery around the Peterson family's surprise guest alone helps to create and maintain the tense atmosphere of the film but is heightened with Anna's suspicious and subsequent investigations. Steven's cool steely performance coupled with Wingard's masterful direction & camera work, and a musical score reminiscent of John Carpenter's soundtrack to Halloween III, also help keep the tension levels up. Audiences are advised to keep a close watch for other homages to a variety of horror thrillers.

Simon Barrett has also created engaging and underplayed yet effective characters avoiding cliché. Leland Orser and Sheila Kelly as the grieving Peterson parents are excellent in their conveying of varied ways the two cope with the loss of their son ranging from drinking to keeping busy with housework. This fractured family avoids cliché even with the younger son Luke (Brendan Meyer) suffering at the hands of school bullies and daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) a rebellious, on the verge of adulthood angst ridden girl hiding her pain in a compilation of 80s Goth rock music. All are credible and convincing drawing the audiences into their plight with sterling performances. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) does steal the show as the charming and psychopathic David exuding cool deadly charm convincingly without ever veering close to over the top. As the story shifts from psychological thriller to all out actioner in the showdown Stevens never changes pace or delivery maintains the cool calmness established at the start. Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson gives an engaging performance and revels in her dual role of troubled angst ridden, and heroine of horror. 

The Guest is a solid psychological thriller with great performances, especially from Stevens and Monroe, and tense action making it gripping viewing from start to finish. It is also another example of the continued growth of the Barrett and Wingard partnership quickly establishing them as big names in the genre.


Appirio [topcoder] Open Innovation Platform Partnership with NASA For Solutions to Intersellar Problems

The challenges of human exploration of space are many from detecting potential threats from passing asteroids to the health and well being of those working and living aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Appirio, one of the world's leading providers of crowdsourced solutions has recently announced its partnership with the Harvard NASA Tournament Laboratory (NTL) to crowdsourcing solutions to the challenges of working and living in space. Appirio's community made up of 630,000 designers, data scientists, and developers are working with NASA and other US government departments, providing thousands of submissions from over twenty countries. To date over $1.5 million has been awarded to community members.

NTL was established in 2011 as part of  joint operation with NASA and the institute of Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. Its goal is to examine the problems associated with human exploration of space and the development of space technology. Using the [topcoder] open innovation platform, acquired by Appirio in 2013 and re-launched earlier this year, the platform's community was challenged to examine and provide solutions to the complex problems contained within the challenge. Areas in which the Appirio [topcoder] community examined included, asteroid detection, improved email and internet connectivity on the ISS, review health problems associated with living in space, and the study of the planet Saturn. Within these areas of study came the following challenges;

Asteroid Data Hunter

Detecting asteroids in space is a difficult undertaking not only due to the vastness of space but also the ability to obtain accurate information as to size and position. The Asteroid Grand Challenge launched in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. (PRI) tasked the [topcoder] community to devise an algorithm that would aide in validating images of detected asteroids obtained from ground-based telescopes and reduce the number of false identifications. The second phase of the challenge, launched on August 11th 2014 calls for the participants to use the algorithm to minimise the number of false images through increase in detection sensitivity and ignoring imperfections in the data. The challenge is open for participation and more information is available on the [topcoder] asteroids page.




Disruption Tolerance Networking (DTN)

Those who followed astronaut Ron Garan though his blogs or his Twitter feed as @Astro_Ron during his time on the International Space Station in 2011 would assume communication between earth and the ISS was simple. The ISS has in fact faced many difficulties with email communication and internet access in terms of secure communications, efficiency and reliability. Over the last year the [topcoder] community has contributed to both the design and implementation of NASA's open source DTN protocol. The process addresses the problem of lack of continuous network connectivity adversely affecting email communications to and from the ISS. The community is using the existing DTN system to change the way email and calendar traffic. By changing the delivery system from packets to bundles making communications more secure and reliable.

ISS-FIT (Food Intake Tracker)

Living and working in zero gravity takes its toll on the human body. In order to maintain their health SS inhabitants have to undergo a structured exercise routine as well as the right nutrients. The microgravity environment of the ISS can have a detrimental effect on the inhabitants well being from nutritional deficiencies to weakening of bone density with risk of osteoporosis. Although proper exercise and movement can reduce the effects  of a diet deficient in the necessary nutrients could increase the risks. [topcoder] developed ISS-FIT, an iPad based app that helps NASA medical experts to efficiently monitor dietary intake and minimise the associated risks of living and working in space.

Scientist Sara Zwart Testing the ISS-FIT App for Ipad

Planetary Data Systems Challenge

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft launched in 2004 en-route to Saturn. Equipped with sophisticated technology designed to carry out 27 diverse scientific investigations Cassini's mission is to capture and record accurate measurements and images of Saturn and transmit them back to Earth for further study by NASA scientists. Whilst much valuable data has been received, learning more about the planet has proven difficult in particular studying the phenomena of Saturn's rings. This challenge tasks the [topcoder] community to create an algorithm to examine images from Cassini-Huygens and provide accurate data to help scientists better understand the rings' composition and structure. Participants will particularly need to seek out anomalies and features of interest in Saturn's rings undetectable by computer due to false positives.

The results [topcoder] has achieved impacting science and technology with NASA, the NTL and OSTP have inspired other parts of government to examine how they can use communities to redefine how research and development is done. Just as many of our enterprise customers are utilising the global talent pool of the [topcoder] community to execute disruptive strategies, the federal government is tapping into that same talent pool to solve some of its most pressing and complex problems. In some cases, the solutions that are created might literally change the world. - Narinder Singh, president of [topcoder] and co-founder of Appirio

The exploration of space continues to reap vast amounts of knowledge about the cosmos at increasing rates and technological evolution works heard to keep up with the flow of new data. The study of space reaps tremendous benefits for humankind but accurate data is vital for these studies. Crowdsourcing and open innovation can provide the necessary resources especially through dedicated platforms such as [topcoder] working in partnership with NASA and academic institutions. Such partnership allows the crowd to become explorers of space.

The Sleeping Room Crowdfunds Efforts for Release to Wider Audience

Movie Mogul Film, the company that succeeded in crowdfunding their latest production The Sleeping Room making it the first feature film to raise funds through equity based crowdfunding, is calling to the crowd again for support. Ahead of the film's premier screening at this year's Film4 Frightfest International Horror Film Festival, the company has announced the launch of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for funds to support the film's print and advertising efforts. The money raised will be used to promote the film to as wide an audience as possible through film festival screenings and other marketing activities. Movie Mogul Films is looking to raise £15,000 in 30 days and in exchange offer donors rewards that would appeal to film fans especially lovers of the horror genre.




Based in Cardiff, Wales Movie Mogul Films Ltd was founded in 2007 by Gareth Davies and John Shackleton with a goal to produce original and innovative  films through the ever changing Web 2.0 digital landscape. The company's first film Panic Button, produced on a budget of £350,000 premiered at Film4 Frightfest in 2011 to critical acclaim. This led to Movie Mogul launching the first 666 Shortcuts to Hell short film competition at Frightfest 2013 and also the upcoming Shortcuts to Hell II at this years London event. In March this year Movie Mogul successfully raised their funding target of £10,000 for their second feature The Sleeping Room, within 10 days through the crowdfunding platform Seedrs. By the end of the campaign over £25,000 was raised offering a total equity of 10.5% and The Sleeping Room made history as the first feature film to be funded through equity-based crowdfunding. Production on the film has completed and will receive its premier screening at this year's Frightfest at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square.

Movie Mogul Films has turned to crowdfunding again to increase awareness of The Sleeping Room to a wider audience by raising funds to cover the cost of marketing and advertising the film. A typical feature film spends five times its production budget but the campaign is only seeking £15,000 for the cost of its marketing efforts. Using crowdfunding in this way Movie Mogul looks to offer every opportunity for the film's potential audience to connect and engage with the project. The funds raised will go towards the cost of screening and attending various film festivals around the world, arrange private screenings, and possibly arrange for a limited theatrical release. 
Retaining the spirit of independence through which this film was created, it now makes perfect sense for us to be the ones responsible for creating a really interesting campaign, attempting to engage with audiences across all platforms, before the film is released. - John Shackleton, Director The Sleeping Room
Film fanatics, particularly lovers of the horror genre and supporters of independent film making will receive in exchange for their donation, acknowledgements of their support as well as digital copies of their first production Panic Button, Sleeping Room signed cast photos, shooting script as well as inclusion on the film's DVD bonus materials and with estimated delivery date of 2015 a digital copy of The Sleeping Room. Supporters who donate more than £200 would receive invitations to the films special screenings and after part celebrations, limited edition merchandise, signed music sheets from the soundtrack and even arrange a special private screening for your organisation along with a Q&A with the film makers.  Movie Mogul Films has already secured a distributor to release The Sleeping Room on DVD and for Video on Demand sometime in early 2015. Click here to visit The Sleeping Room's Kickstarter page.

UPDATE; The Sleeping Room received its premier screening at Film4 Frightfest. Feedback from the audience was positive with some remarking that it is the sort of film the new Hammer Studios should be making. Scenes From The Front Row was there to cast a discerning eye on this crowdfunded picture. Click here for their review.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

RIP Robin Williams 1951-2014

In the film Dead Poets Society written by Tom Schulman teacher John Keating (Robin Williams in what I feel was his best role) attempts to save his class of young aspirants from a life of mediocrity by inspiring them to think for themselves. In it he quotes from Walt Whitman; "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" In answer to Keating's question Williams has contributed extraordinary verses to the powerful play lighting up the screen and our lives with his emotionally charged performances as an actor and his boundless frenetic energy as a comedian. His body of work is immense and although some could rightfully be buried in the landfill of awful forgettable movies (Cadillac Man, Hook) Williams' legacy is a plethora of incredible performances all of which deserved a nod from his peers. 

When Robin Williams debuted as visiting alien Mork on the show Happy Days little did anyone, including Williams himself realise it would open the door to an illustrious and varied career with standout performances gracing the stage and screen (small and large). The show Mork and Mindy made Williams a household name serving as a platform for his brand of frantic improvisation. and zany riffs that became his trademark. Few will recall his earlier film roles, that of writer T.S. Garp in The World According to Garp and his particularly touching role of the defecting Russian musician in Paul Mazursky's seminal comedy Moscow on The Hudson. Both films ironically deal with characters who are trying to find their place in the world, Garp trying to find his own identity in the shadow of his mother's accomplishments (brilliant performance by Glen Close) whilst Vladimir Ivanoff struggles to build his new life in the promised land (New York). Both these roles echoed Williams' search for his own place in the world as an actor, family man all the while battling his own addictive demons. After his notable performance in Moscow on The Hudson Williams seemed to drift into a string of forgettable roles but caught the public's eye with his incredible stand up routine that was filmed and released as Robin Williams Live at The Met (1986). Williams' electric and thoughtful performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera House helped to leave his Mork persona firmly in the past with a set that featured his hilarious views on world politics (suggesting Gorbachev and Reagan hold a summit in a mafia-run clam bar) to his poignant and frank discussions about his battles with drugs and alcohol. 

Finally Williams made his breakthrough as loud mouthed war time DJ Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam. The film served to showcase Williams' incredible talent at improvisation with much of Cronauer's anarchic dialogue, including his radio set, ad-libbed by Williams. Yet this never detracted from the film and the character's moral message about the futility of the Vietnam War and the ethics of news censorship. An emotionally charged and energetic performance garnered talks of Oscar glory. The following year Williams brought poise, thought  and emotion combined with what had become his signatory ad-libbing and impressions to prep school teacher John Keating in Dead Poet's Society inspiring his students to lead extraordinary lives. It was however an unusually reserved performance by Williams with none of the the madcap traits for which he was best known. Nevertheless his performance was praised highly and once again there was talk of Oscar glory but again with no award in sight. In hindsight however, these two praiseworthy performances were the catalyst for Williams future roles and the following decade would prove to be his busiest with a line up of varied and memorable performances, as well as that much earned recognition from the industry.

Image Credit; BagoGames
The term "jobbing actor" could rightly apply to Williams as he found himself working with some of the greatest directors in Hollywood such as Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) and Francis Ford Coppola (Jack), in a vast array of roles. These include the memorable Genie in Disney's animated flick Aladdin and of course everyone's favourite Mrs Doubtfire as the down and out actor going to desperate lengths to spend time with his children. Although his first outing with director Barry Levinson in the eighties gave us the funny and highly charged Good Morning Vietnam, subsequent collaborations the following decade spawned the disappointments that were Cadillac Man and Toys. Williams' partnership with Chris Columbus ushered in one of his most famous roles in Mrs Doubtfire and a like-able cameo in the awful Nine Months. It also produced the disappointing Bicentennial Man.  This pattern of peaks and troughs dominated much of his work to follow but the crowning achievement came in 1998 when he finally won his Oscar as best supporting actor for Good Will Hunting. Yet the films that defined this decade surely must have been as the homeless former professor Parry in Terry Guilliam's The Fisher King and as Dr Malcolm Sayer searching for that medical miracle to revive his catatonic patients in Awakenings. The Fisher King showcased the depth of range of Williams the character actor as he brought to life the madcap imagination and deeply painful tragedy of Parry. It is hard not to be moved to tears when Parry re-lives the most painful day of his life, surely worthy of an Oscar just for that moment alone. For Malcolm Sayer Williams discarded his clownish improvisation antics playing it straight in this story based on the works of Oliver Sachs MD. Although it was a more reserved performance from Williams it was still a multi-dimensional one even coming close to outshining his legendary co-star Robert De Niro. 

The nineties was Williams' busiest decade to date filled with his most memorable roles for a wide array of audiences. Although many film roles came and went it was fitting and a relief that he closed the decade and the century with the heart wrenching Jakob The Liar. Over the last ten years Williams' roles have failed to live up to the breadth of achievement that defined his career, the exception being his villainous turns in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. Audiences were clearly not used to seeing the much darker side of Williams but it was a brave tmove nonetheless and and cemented his reputation as one of moviedoms finest character actors. Despite his subsequent work never quite reaching the same levels of notable success Williams remained a visible and busy performer, lighting up even dull projects such as Night at The Museum and its sequel as well as the abysmal RV: Runaway Vacation.  

Throughout his career Robin Williams has notched up countless performances, too many to list and some of which we'd like to forget. Yet there was no doubting the depth of this man's talent. As an actor he tapped into the deepest heartfelt and sometimes darkest recesses of his soul making us laugh, cry and want to reach for the stars in equal measure. Williams the comedian exuded the kind of uncontrollable energy that captivated and delighted audiences the world over. He was by no means a perfect individual with his personal life dogged by two failed marriages and spells with alcohol and drugs. These were symptomatic however of a man battling his darkest demons, and within the Williams the performer was always masked a sadness that was certainly noticeable to me. He was however a bright light on stage and screen, touching the lives of those who called him friend and family along with millions around the world. .Sadly the light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long, and Robin Williams has burned so very very brightly. Now that light has been extinguished.