A review of Blade Runner 2049

While my blog has distinct areas of focus and associated principles, I like to leave room for movie reviews. Both myself and my brother Amahl love movies, particularly the science fiction and super hero genres. We’ve teamed up on quite a few reviews thus far (see the end of this post). My blog’s last movie review was of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, and prior to that, I wrote a review of the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me. The 1980s was a magical time for movie making, and in this review we’re returning to our childhoods with a review of Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto. Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, and Rutger Hauer.

Amahl: Coming into the sequel I had some questions about how a story that takes place in 2049 would work with our current technologies like GPS, social media, and drones in a post Obama/ Trump America. The sequel answered all of my questions, except for that regarding social media. There was no speculation of how social media would exist in 2049. That was fine, because there was so much more to this film to enjoy.

In the real world, if entities such as the Tyrell or Wallace Corporations created robots that looked and sounded human with the sole purpose of serving humanity, they’d create a minority class. I think that’s one of the underlying themes of both of the Blade Runner movies. There are a couple of scenes in Blade Runner 2049 where Ryan Gosling’s character, Officer K, a “replicant”, is bullied by human officers, verbally assaulted by his human neighbors, and propositioned by a human female co-worker. If real world corporations such as Apple, Google, or Tesla had the chance to create replicants, I think the results would be disastrous. A proper way to integrate robots with humans would be in ways similar to what was seen in the movies Chappie or Robot & Frank. In both films, the robots have sentient-style bodies, but have no use for hair, skin, or blood. By the way, I think Chappie could serve as a proper prequel to the original Blade Runner.

My ‘take away’ story moment from Blade Runner 2049 was when the replicant ‘Luv’, from the Wallace Corporation, entered a police station, removed ‘retirement’ evidence, and then killed a forensic scientist and then the police chief. It was a strange, but subtle moment in the script where I figured law enforcement would pursue Wallace Corporation. The crimes by Luv were never addressed, so I concluded in the Blade Runner future of 2049, corporations had outgrown the government or constitutional laws.

Anwar: First of all, I was fortunate to be able to see Blade Runner 2049 in 3-D for the general admission price due to a miscommunication at the ticket booth, so thank you Regal Cinemas. Secondly, I was disappointed that they didn’t run the latest Justice League trailer before Blade Runner 2049 started, though it interestingly appears that we’re getting a second installment of Pacific Rim. Gerard Butler’s new movie, Geostorm, looked visually interesting to me as well.

In terms of Blade Runner 2049, I didn’t really go in with any hard expectations. I was thankful, as I’m sure other fans were, that it wasn’t an attempt at a remake of the original as we saw with Robocop and Total Recall, which neither lived up to the originals. Seeing Harrison Ford in the trailer let us all know that this would be a continuation of the original story, though much later chronologically.

Without spoiling Blade Runner 2049 for any readers, I enjoyed the film. With total runtime of 2 hours and 43 minutes, I had to really pay attention to all of the plot details as I often get lost and have to see movies twice to take in everything, while my brother, Amahl, can usually catch it all on the first viewing. Blade Runner 2049 kept a great deal of the “Cyberpunk” visual themes that Ridley Scott created in his 1982 classic – the most notable carry overs being the hover cars, the dark and stormy ambiance, in some cases the sexual eroticism expressed through holograms and some actual scenes.

Musically, Blade Runner 2049 also reprised the distinct sounds of Vangelis from the 1982 original. The plot went in a completely different direction than the original and I must admit that I was thrown off a little bit at the end. Ryan Gosling played well as the lead in Blade Runner 2049, though his “replicant” was more robotic than those in the original film who were more human. At times his Officer K, who is shrouded in mystery from the beginning of the film, very much reminded me of Michael Fassbender’s David from Prometheus. While in the first Blade Runner, there weren’t distinct villains – only the replicants who are trying to escape and extend their lives, there seem to be distinct villains in this sequel. While she was evil, I must admit that I did enjoy “Luv” played by Sylvia Hoeks. Harrison Ford’s Deckard returns to play a key role and it’s once again unclear or unaddressed if he is a replicant himself, though the plot suggests he must be. It was also unclear if there will be a third installment, though the door is left wide open for another film.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

Our next review will likely be of the Justice League movie opening in November.

Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. Thank you and we’re signing off. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming

I recently wrote a review of the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me.  Prior to that, shortly after starting my blog, I co-wrote movie reviews with my brother Amahl Dunbar for Marvel’s Dr. Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – both of the Super Hero and Science Fiction genres.  We followed those two films up with a review of Hidden Figures which had a more historical focus.  In this review we’re returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a review of their latest offering, Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man/Peter Parker), Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), and Michael Keaton (The Vulture).

Amahl Dunbar:  This latest version of Spider-Man was designed to fit neatly into the MCU.  For that reason I feel the script was too safe.  It had a couple of twists I didn’t expect, but I felt the biggest surprises were the explanations of his powers for this version of the character which differed from the previous versions.  As an inventor myself, I really enjoyed the winged flight suit worn by Spidey’s villain, the Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton.  Whenever the Vulture suit was on screen, I was almost taking notes in my head regarding designs and how something like that might work in the real world.

Anwar Dunbar:  I think Spider-Man: Homecoming was well worth the wait and anticipation.  I won’t give an overview of the whole movie so as not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Instead I’ll just touch upon what stood out to me.  Spider-Man: Homecoming tells the story of the Tom Holland’s Spider-Man who has had two previous incarnations (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield).  As Amahl stated, the story was now intentionally told as a part of the MCU.

I think Tom Holland played very well as Spider-Man/Peter Parker albeit slightly younger than Maguire’s and Garfield’s renditions.  What stood out to me though was how the writers modified the story in comparison to the previous versions where a key thread was the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben, and his subsequent tending to his elderly Aunt Mae.  In this version, Aunt Mae (Marissa Tomei) is much younger, and there is no mention of Uncle Ben up to this point.  There were other slight changes to some of the other characters – specifically a more ethnically diverse cast.

In Uncle Ben’s absence, Peter Parker’s mentor has become Tony Stark/Iron Man which we first saw in Captain America: Civil War.  It creates a much different dynamic but it causes Spider-Man to contemplate joining the Avengers – a major underlying thread of the story.  Speaking of the Avengers, the writers and director did a masterful job weaving the Spider-Man: Homecoming story into the events of Captain America: Civil War and remind us that Peter’s journey is not happening in isolation.  The same is true for Michael Keaton’s character the Vulture.  His story is also not happening in isolation and instead is a part of the Avengers story arc.

The ending surprised me in numerous ways but mostly in terms of the characters.  As Amahl discussed about the Vulture’s suit, I thought the technology was very impressive, particularly the Stark Industries version of the Spider-Man suit and all it could do.  I really enjoy how the Marvel writers weave science into their stories in general.  Overall I thought the movie was a lot fun and kept the trademark humor and whit of the Spider-Man franchise.  Spider-Man: Homecoming does a good job keeping our MCU stomachs full while we wait for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review.  Our Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful.  If you liked this review, please do click the “like” button, leave comments, and share it.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly in addition to Twitter, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of Hidden Figures

I recently co-wrote movie reviews with my brother Amahl Dunbar for Marvel’s Dr. Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – both of the Super Hero and Science Fiction genres.  This review will switch gears slightly and focus on a film with more of a historical focus; Hidden Figures based upon the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margo Lee Shetterly.  The film starred Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.  Unlike the previous reviews which were done in a conversational format, Amahl and I will independently give our thoughts on what stood out to us about the film.

Amahl:  In terms of Hidden Figures, I was impressed with NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer).  In the story, when IBM first delivers the computer to NASA, the engineers figured out how to assemble it, but they couldn’t operate it.  The computer was critical for expediting NASA’s space travel calculations.  Dorothy saw tremendous opportunity and acted on it.  She had the foresight to learn the programming language Fortran (Formula Translation), from a book at a local library.  When she demonstrated she could operate and program the computer, she was immediately promoted and transferred.  She also had the foresight to teach Fortran to the other female African American mathematicians thus ensuring their long term employment at NASA.  So I think her having the insight to see the opportunity in front of her and then the assertiveness to take advantage of it were huge and great teaching points.  These are two very important ingredients for success.

Hidden Figures is as culturally and historically relevant as all the seasons of the Cosby Show.  I can’t wait for it to come out on Blue-Ray.

Anwar:  As a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocate and professional myself, a current challenge is getting African American students interested in STEM, and then empowering them to stick with it.  Recently at the kickoff for the Toxicology Mentoring and Skills Development Training program’s inaugural weekend, I had a discussion with the chair of the program and we discussed the difficulties in getting minorities involved in Toxicology (and other STEM careers).  At the same meeting one of the speakers noted that the majority of the time when minority students get discouraged and leave the sciences, they usually change their majors to one of the Humanities or the Arts.  This is not a knock on the non-science fields but instead in part is a reflection of how the sciences are viewed by students of color – especially for those who have no STEM professionals in their families – our case as children.  For me, this is the beauty of Hidden Figures.

Without giving away the plot beyond what my brother described above, Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Goble Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Monea) who all greatly impacted the Space Race of the early 1960s between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Each of the three leads played key roles in the United States’ mission to put a man in space – optimization of the space craft (Jackson), implementation of the IMB computer to expedite NASA’s calculations (Vaughn), and performing the initial critical calculations for the astronauts’ space travel (Johnson).  Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of Katherine Goble Johnson seemed to be the main story line as she was central to working out the calculations for John Glenn’s orbit and re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

Hidden Figures is a valuable film in that it shows African American women portrayed in ways that we’re normally not used to seeing them in media.  While she’s most known these days for playing “Cookie” on Fox’s Empire for example, Taraji P. Henson’s role as Katherine Goble Johnson is arguably a more important as it depicts an African American woman performing complex mathematical calculations impacting NASA’s space missions.  Most importantly, the film highlights the contributions of African Americans to one of the United States’ most celebrated breakthroughs; manned space travel.  Unfortunately prior to the movie it wasn’t widely recognized who all contributed to John Glen’s mission – something that occurs often in US History when it comes to people of color.

Hidden Figures is a very important film to see particularly for young children who haven’t decided on a career path.  If they have an inkling of an aptitude for STEM, films like Hidden Figures can definitely help encourage them to pursue a STEM career.  A film like Hidden Figures would have been very valuable in my own youth though I was fortunate to have the pieces in place to allow me to pursue my own careers in Pharmacology and Toxicology – environment and mentors.  It’s not that way for every child/student.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review.  Our Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful.  If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it.  Thank you and we’re signing off.

 

 

 

 

A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

My brother Amahl Dunbar of the Swamp Media Group (producers of The Space Detective), and I recently wrote our first movie review for Marvel’s Dr. Strange.  As promised at the end of that piece, we’re back to review the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story directed by Gareth Edwards.  The following is our discussion and analysis of Rogue One.  Please be advised that if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this may spoil it for you.

Anwar:  First off bro welcome back for our second review, this time of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  We were children when Episodes IV-VI were produced and thus go way back with the Star Wars franchise.  I’m going to further date us and say that in addition to seeing the original movies, we also played with some of the original toys made by Kenner – the action figures, ships, and vehicles.  That was a great time to be a child.  We were also young enough and of sound mind when the prequels were produced – Episodes I-III, and recently the continuation of the series with Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is interesting conceptually in that it isn’t officially one of the “Episodes”, but instead is in itself a prequel which chronologically takes place between Episodes III and IV.  Do you have any opening comments or thoughts?

Amahl: Yes.  The tone of Rogue One was set early in the film when the Mother of the key character was killed off as you’ll describe.   That let the audience know that this was going to be a serious story in the Star Wars universe.

Anwar:  Okay so in terms of what Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is about, it takes place after Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, where we got a glimpse of the early stages of the Death Star being constructed.  By the way in terms of storytelling, at least in the movies, the Star Wars films never really mark time, like Star Trek does.  We only know that the story is taking place, “Long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” the hallmark intro of the films which was omitted from this one in addition to the crawling introductory passage.

Going back to the story, at the end of Episode III, we got glimpses of Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin looking on as the Death Star was being built.  Rogue One starts with Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendhelsohn) traveling to the planet Lah’Mu to re-enlist the help of engineer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to help finish construction of the Death Star.  Erso who hoped to disappear into a life of agriculture and his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) who is murdered during the confrontation, have a daughter named Jyn who escapes, and is found by their ally Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) grows up and is a prisoner of the Empire.  She is rescued by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) of the Rebellion and his reprogrammed Imperial Droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and is asked to help find Saw Gerrera who himself is sought out by an Imperial pilot named Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed).  Rook was actually sent by Galen Erso to reveal that the Death Star was built with a built in vulnerability.  Under orders from the Rebellion, Jyn and Cassian travel to the once Jedi- home world of Jedda where the Empire is extracting Kybar Crystals which were used to power the Jedi’s lightsabers but are now also going to be used as the power source for the new Death Star.  There on Jedda, Jyn finds Saw Gerrera, and learns her father’s secret about the Death Star setting the stage for the remainder of the story which involves some familiar faces and some hallmarks of the Star Wars franchise.

So that’s the basic premise of the film without completely giving away the second half of it which I’m sure Lucas Film will appreciate.  Darth Vader does appear, and in terms of the significance of the name “Rogue One”, you’ll have to see the movie, but it is cleverly woven into the script and story.

Okay bro.  With all of that being said, do you have any thoughts on the movie?  What stood out to you about?  The story?  The dialogue?  The imagery?  The visual effects?  One of the things that stood out to me was the diversity of the cast ethnically, and in terms of the protagonist being female in addition to many of the Rebel leaders and even pilots and soldiers.

Amahl:  What stood out to me was how much Rogue One reminded me of playing the Star Wars video games whether they be of the action or adventure genre – avid gamers understand the difference between the two.  Whenever the main characters (and the audience) went to a different planet for example, there was either a person of interest to contact, or a location to be sabotaged, robbed or disabled.  Also, the martial arts action star, Donny Yen (IP Man trilogy), plays a blind Jedi with no light saber.  If anyone in a Star Wars movie should’ve wielded a light saber, it should’ve been Donny.  That’s like putting Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, in a Star Wars movie without a light saber.

Anwar:  Interesting.  In terms of your reference to video games, Rogue One did remind me of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic which completely sucked me into its world back in 2004 when I was in graduate school.  Hours would blow by when playing that game.  Early in the game, your party escapes from the planet Taris just before Darth Malak’s Leviathan ship destroys it, and in Rogue One, Jyn’s party escapes from Jeddha after the Death Star unleashes its initial deadly blast.

I had to see Rogue One twice to take in all of the minute details and remember all of the names.  It was similar to some of the other movies in that it started off with a character from humble beginnings who ends up being the main protagonist.  It had more of a dark, gritty, and tough feel about it as Jyn starts off as an adult as a prisoner of the Empire.  Cassian is a spy whose main job is gathering intelligence at any cost, and in some instances assassinating targets.  In this regard it really felt like what’s happening in our world now.  I was surprised that Saw Gerrera didn’t last longer in the story.  Speaking of which, I liked how they showed him inhaling that drug through his gas mask showing that the years of opposing the Empire had taken a toll on his soul and spirit causing him to have to self-medicate.

Amahl: Absolutely, Forrest Whitaker’s character Saw Gerrera was very interesting.  They could’ve done a flashback scene showing why he needed full prosthetic legs or the abdomen prosthetic.  That was a nod to the prosthetics Darth Vader needs to stay alive.   In the Star Wars universe, if you need prosthetics the audience is usually shown why the prosthetics are necessary.  Also, all prosthetics are not created equal.  Darth Vader’s robotic limbs look high end and state of the art.  Saw Gerrera’s robot limbs looked like they were bolted on from the Sanford & Son junk yard.

Anwar: That’s a good point.  When the scene opened up showing him years later and focusing on his legs, I thought we were about to see something like General Grievous.

Consistent with Episode III, there wasn’t a strong Jedi presence in this movie as most of them were killed off except for Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi who is alluded to by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) during the film.  It was also interesting that the movie took us to Mustafar and we got to see how Darth Vader’s organics are sustained.  It was kind of eerie to see.

Did you have any favorite characters?  I think my favorite characters were K-2SO and Director Krennic.

Amahl:  The cameos were great for those who caught them.  There were many including Bail Organa as you mentioned.  I didn’t have any favorite characters, but I also enjoyed the droid character, K-2SO.  This droid was wonderfully unpredictable and stole every scene he was in. You never knew what he was going to do or say.

Anwar:  What are your thoughts on the visual effects?  I was impressed by how they CGI’d Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing and Guy Henry), Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer and Ingvild Deila), and some of the other characters.  In the final battle of Scarif, I think they also CGI’d the Red- and Gold-Leaders who were actually in Episode IV: A New Hope during the Rebel assault on the Death Star.   I also thought it was cool that they showed us the two thugs that confront Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Mos Eisley Space Port in Episode IV as well – Dr. Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba.

Amahl:  The overall visual effects of this installment were focused on size and scale.  The director and production artists showed just how large buildings or massive explosions look at the ground level, or points of view from ships and satellites.  The explosions seen from the Death Star’s point of view let the audience know just how destructive and unnecessary weapons of mass destruction truly are.

Anwar:  In terms of storytelling, I really like seeing conflicts between villains and enjoyed the rivalry between Krennic and Tarkin.  The writers also showed us that Darth Vader never seemed to fully buy into the power of the Death Star – something we are shown in Episode IV where he warns Tarkin and the others that, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force,” just before he uses his force choke again as Admiral Motti who belittles Vader for his belief in his “Ancient religion”.  I love that scene.  Oh and Vader uses the choke again in this movie.

Amahl:    Yes exactly Anwar, from a story telling point of view,  characters like Jar Jar Binks would’ve had no place in Rogue One.  This story was too serious for the buffoonery of characters created for children.

Anwar:  What did you think about the ending?  Rogue One leaves off with Princess Leia receiving the plans.  I would have preferred to have the ending a little more open ended and left to the imagination such as Jyn and Cassian transmitting the plans and wondering if they were actually received by the Rebellion – something to that effect.  That’s just me as a writer.

Amahl:  For me the cameo by a digital Leia was too much.  It was kind of like eating a dessert that’s too sweet.   Instead of showing the face of the digital double, they could’ve used an actual human body double with the white hood draped over her face.  Or do an over the shoulder shot (an OTS shot), showing the classic Leia double bun hair style.

Anwar:  Agree.  Speaking of Carrie Fisher, I’d like to dedicate this review to her and her mother Debbie Reynolds who both passed away recently.  Carrie Fisher was an icon.  She was most known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars and was a fixture in many of our childhoods, but she played in a lot of other notable films as well, and she will be missed.

Okay bro I guess that wraps it up.  It’ll be interesting to see if Lucas Film generates any further backstories for us, or if all of the new productions will simply move us forward from Episode VII.  We should try to reconvene and review Hidden Figures – not a Super Hero or Sci-Fi film, but instead and historical piece involving the contributions of a group of black women to Astronomy which is an important story.  After that it’ll definitely be Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Based on the trailer, it looks like it’s going to be great.

What’s your twitter handle just in case other enthusiasts want to follow and interact with you?

Amahl:  It’s @amahldunbar.

Anwar:  My Twitter handle is @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  While my main areas of focus are Education STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.  Thank you and we’re signing off.

 

A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange

As described in my bio for the Big Words Blog Site, both my brother, Amahl Dunbar, and I are “Fanboys” and have a love of science fiction and superhero feature films such as those produced by DC and Marvel.  In addition to having an abundance of books in our home at an early age, we both developed a love for comic books.  These books were important tools for both of us continuing to learn how to read, speak, and even to think, imagine, and ponder subjects like science.  While I ventured away from this love in high school when basketball became my love, and then later salsa dancing, Amahl never strayed from it.  He even started exploring the worlds of animation and visual effects, and eventually contributed to the production of the film The Space Detective produced by the Swamp Media Group.

His sticking with it actually allowed me to come back to the comic book/science fiction world in my early 30s when he turned me on to DC’s classic graphic novel, Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid; featuring the brilliant illustrations of Alex Ross.  I loved that book and had never seen anything like it.  Amahl also shared DC’s The Watchmen with me prior to the movie adaptation.  I also have a copy of the Dark Knight Returns which I’ve yet to read because of my busy schedule.

Over the years we’ve developed a ritual of watching these movies, sometimes independently and sometimes together, and then convening afterwards to discuss what we saw and thought of that particular film.  Our debriefing sessions are either in person or on the phone, but we have them nonetheless.  We’ve thus decided to try our hands at conducting our very first movie review for publication.  The movie is Marvel’s Dr. Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  The following is our candid review, thoughts and reflections on Marvel’s latest film.

Anwar: Well Bro, I’ll start this off and we’ll just see where it goes.  As you know, when we were younger, I was more of a DC guy and was heavily into Batman and the Justice League International.  G (our best friend Gabriel Smith), was more of a Marvel guy.  In fact, I remember him always going on and on about Captain America.  You were kind of a jack of all trades with knowledge of both the DC and Marvel universes, and amazingly, you sat in the middle with knowledge of both.  I’m saying this to say that aside from Spiderman, who was heavily featured in numerous TV cartoon series throughout our youth, and even The Electric Company back in the 70s and early 80s (snippets with real life actors), much of what I know about Marvel and its characters today, I’ve learned through their movies.  And I love The Avengers films.  I would say Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, is my favorite character.  Indeed, their entire cast of actors and characters is stellar.

I’d heard of Dr. Strange and seen images of him, but I didn’t really know what to expect when I walked into the theatre other than the fact that there would probably be an Easter Egg at the end of the movie – a hallmark of the Marvel movies, in addition to cameos by Stan Lee.  We both saw the movie, but can you give an overview of the story?  To any readers, if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to stop reading here.  This might spoil it for you.

Amahl:  Sure.  Marvel’s latest film offering is Doctor Strange, a blend of Jedi-style sorcery, with world shifting special effects. Benedict Cumberbatch leads an ensemble cast as Dr. Stephen Strange, an elite trauma surgeon who becomes a magic wielding superhero.  The film has the typical hero’s journey similar to The Matrix or Harry Potter.  Cumberbatch is smart not to play Dr. Strange in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr. plays Tony Stark.  The mature cast seemed specifically chosen for their ages and educated appearances.

Dr. Strange’s photographic memory and speed reading ability allow him to move through his sorcerer training at an accelerated rate.  If you’ve ever met someone who can speed read or has a photographic memory, you realize how special they are because they can operate at almost a computer-like level.  These two attributes allow Dr. Strange to quickly become a powerful sorcerer.

The role of the mystic teacher is brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One.  She steals every scene she’s in with clever philosophy, comedy, and good hearted unpredictability – the unpredictability that’s required to keep adult students, like Strange, interested in learning.  Swinton’s Ancient One is as good a science fiction mentor as Morpheus, Yoda, or Obi Wan Kenobi in the Matrix and Star Wars franchises.  She takes her mentorship one step further than other mentors by telling Strange and the audience exactly what he needs to do to be great versus good.

Anwar:  Interesting.  What stood out to you about the film?  For me much of the imagery and special effects reminded me of Inception, starring Leo DiCaprio – with the moving and shifting scenery and landscapes.  The costumes and the whole sorcery piece reminded me of the movie The Last Airbender.  I also recognized some of the characters from Spiderman: The Animated Series from the late 1990s such as Mordo, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Dormammu, voiced by Jonathan Adams, the ultimate antagonist of the film.  I really liked the travel through the dimensions, and seeing Dormammu initially was definitely pretty scary with the two ominous eyes in space-time looking on.

Amahl:  I think you hit several of the main points.  What stood out to me is how these sorcerers were presented, and knowing that Dr. Strange would eventually join the Avengers or help them.  Again, these sorcerers were portrayed kind of like the Jedi.  Dr. Strange was likened to Obi-Wan Kenobi without a light saber.  Their manner of dress had an Asian nod to it.  They were not just sorcerers, but also martial artists as well.  Typically when you see Dr. Strange, he’s always wearing his red cloak.  Seeing him without the cloak, underneath it looks like a Jedi-like costume.  So there was a lot of thought given to what they were going to wear and how they were going to be perceived – not as Harry Potter-type sorcerers or like witches and wizards from other franchises, but a very specific kind of a warrior-sorcerer look.

Anwar:  I had to get used to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as a hero because I’m used to seeing him play a villain, such as when he played Kahn in Star Trek: Into Darkness, or playing some kind of high-ranking government operative/spy/politician.  It was similar to when I first saw Robert Downey, Jr. portray Tony Stark/Iron Man.  It was like, ‘Wow.  Robert Downey, Jr. is a hero.’  I was used to seeing him play so many other things – especially in the 1980s in comedic teen movies like Weird Science, and then later as a villain in US Marshals.

Amahl:  Absolutely.

Anwar:  I also had to adjust to watching Cumberbatch exhibit humor.  In every Marvel movie there’s usually huge element of humor in their scripts, though I wasn’t used to seeing Dr. Strange being absent minded at times, and trying to be funny and witty.  I won’t give it away, but his solution to stopping Dormammu was definitely creative, and funny.

Not long ago, we also talked about the fact that in the comic books, Dr. Strange has more of a Latino or Asian look.  Is that correct?

Amahl:  Some friends of mine who know more about the Marvel Universe than I do, told me months ago that the character is supposed to be Latino, which gives a whole new perspective to viewing the film – knowing that the character in the comic book is Latino versus the character in the movie being European or British.  That’s not to say that the movie wasn’t good – it would’ve just given the movie a completely different spin – seeing that character played by Michael Peña who was actually in Antman or Philip De Blanc – any good looking Latino actor – it would’ve given a completely different vibe to the movie.

Anwar:  As I was watching the film, I noticed that The Ancient One told Dr. Strange that The Avengers were the guardians of the non-mystical world and they themselves were the guardians of the mystical world, and I was in fact wondering if this particular story would fold into the upcoming Infinity War.  As per usual Marvel gave a nice Easter Egg during the credits and it turns out that it is going to be a part of the larger story that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is constructing – they’re all going to come together at some point and they’re all going to fight Thanos, I would imagine.

Amahl:  There’s also a shot of the Avengers’ Mansion at the beginning of the movie.  I think the movie opens with Dr. Strange in surgery where he practices medicine.  In the following scene when they show him getting ready to go to the party, there’s a push-in shot in the city and you see the Avengers’ Mansion in the mid-ground.  It’s not in the foreground, nor in the background.  It’s in the mid-ground and it’s large enough for you to see it.  And that push- in shot goes into Strange’s apartment and it shows that he actually lives close to the Avengers’ Mansion.

Anwar:  As per usual with these little details, I completely missed that.  Okay Bro, I think that wraps up this review.  You have a lot of experience working with visual effects, and you’re currently working on your own Superhero trailer right?  How long have you been doing that?

Amahl:  Well, I have been working on a Justice League trailer probably for about two years in my spare time.  Most of it has been during mornings and early afternoons before I go to work while I’m either eating breakfast or lunch.  During those times I figure that the 10-15 minutes that I’m actually eating is time that I can do this; it’s the best time for me to work on it.   It involves ripping footage from DVDs, organizing the footage, and editing it down to shots.  I’ve had to figure out which shots from these movies to use – the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, the Michael Keaton Batman movies, some of the latest Christian Bale Dark Knight movies, and finally Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman television series.

I’ve taken shots from each of these movies and shows, and I’m going to try to tell a narrative through a trailer.  The trailer could also be viewed as a “Visual Treatment”.  A “Treatment” in Hollywood is basically a description by paragraph of what a movie or TV show would actually be.  You can view this trailer as a treatment – of what my ideas would be for a Justice League movie.  I’ve included some of my own visual effects, and there is also some 3-D animation so that every shot that you see isn’t directly pulled from a movie.  Some of the shots have actually been edited or enhanced to further tell the narrative that I’m going for.

Anwar:  When it’s completed it will be on your YouTube channel?

Amahl:  Absolutely.

Anwar:  And will people be able to access that through you Twitter page?

Amahl:  Yes, the links will be available in places where people can easily see them.  I’m actually looking forward to connecting with some Comic Book stores here in the Buffalo area and saying, ‘I’m a local artist and I think you would find this very interesting.  Here is the link.  If you like it, share it with your customer base.’

Anwar:  Making trailers is actually a pretty big deal on YouTube.  There are people making trailers and videos about their favorite franchises just for the hell of it, and sometimes leading up to the release of the next movie.  A lot of fan trailers were made leading up to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, for example, and that’s very impressive.

Amahl:  Absolutely.  If fans have their own episodes or even make their own movies, this is a new way for them to show their appreciation for the franchises.  It’s not just, ‘I’ll buy a movie or I’ll buy a t-shirt or I’ll buy a DVD collection of the show,’ but fans can show their appreciation of the franchise by making their own short videos.

Anwar:  Well Bro, I guess that wraps it up.  Hopefully, there are some readers who enjoyed this.  Star Wars: Rogue One is actually coming out in a couple of weeks.  We’ll have to reconvene and talk about that one after we see it as well.  What’s your twitter handle just in case other enthusiasts want to follow and interact with you?

Amahl:  It’s @amahldunbar.

Anwar:  I also have a personal twitter handle, but I’m trying to grow a following for Big Words so I’m going to offer up @BWArePowerful.  If you’ve read this review and like it, please do leave comments and I’ll respond.  It could be something as simple as saying that you enjoyed our discussion.  Thank you and we’re signing off.

If you enjoyed this review, please leave comments.  We plan to do more.  The significance of this review actually didn’t occur to me until afterwards.  In addition to sharing our love for Superhero and Science Fiction media, this type of review is powerful because it was conducted by two African American men, which may or may not be unusual depending on your set of experiences.  If you go on Twitter, there are actually quite a few African Americans enjoying and partaking in this type of activity.  This year I accidentally discovered on Twitter that there is actually a Black Comic Book Festival at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Brooklyn, NY every year.  Furthermore, this piece communicates to younger African American kids that it is okay to read, write, think, to imagine and to ponder stories, fictional characters, and science and technology.

 

 

Swamp Media Group discusses release of Space Detective film part two

This article is part two of my interview with the Swamp Media Group regarding the upcoming release of its new independent film, Space Detective.  In part one, founders Antonio “Tony” Llapur and Matt Sjafiroeddin discussed how they started the Swamp Media Group, their backgrounds and love for Science Fiction (Sci-Fi), and finally, their full length production, Space Detective.  In part two, Antonio and Matt continue their discussion of Space Detective, in addition to lessons learned, and future creative aspirations.

Anwar Dunbar:  So Matt, you said Space Detective is a Noir story?

Matt Sjafiroeddin:  Yes, it’s very Noir, a very classic conventional Noir.

Antonio Llapur: Film Noir was a movement in cinema in the 1940s and 50s to make dark films.  The themes are usually dark and involve a femme fatale – a lady who is going to screw over, or do harm to, or mess up the life of the protagonist which is usually a cop, district attorney or detective.  So Space Detective literally took all of the elements and added outer space and aliens – it’s pretty much a Humphrey Bogart movie from the 1940s – like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, a Sam Spade or a Phillip Marlow movie; along those lines.

14291715_10154466227454603_5502618745684795128_nWe added this crazy element of it being in the future, essentially in a galactic community.  So rather than our story taking place in some hard-boiled American city, it takes place on this space station called ‘Carina Dawn’ which is floating out in the middle of nowhere close to the Carina Nebula, which is a real Nebula by the way.  It’s like a domed Las Vegas-like pleasure center. We re-interpreted and inverted the tropes of the Noir detective movies and put it in an outer space environment much like what Ridley Scott did with Blade Runner; that involved detectives and took place in Cyber-Punk reality.  But Space Detective isn’t as dire as Blade Runner.  Space Detective is a hilarious fun movie.  It’s serious and it’s funny, and there are all kinds of crazy things going on in it.

MS:  There’s also a lot of mystery going on because the Space Detective is human and he’s in this galaxy, a galactic community of aliens.  He’s a rare breed because humans haven’t been spread out in the galaxies.  There’s a mystery about him.  Why is this human out here in the middle of the galaxy?  He’s got these weird, special alien powers, and so one question is where did he get those powers from?  Some of the questions are answered by the end of the movie and some of them are left unanswered for possible follow up stories, just to keep people interested.  So there’s the possibility of this movie moving forward in other serials, or other sequels, or even a television show that we hope people will be interested in.

13007160_10154091556354603_8070129816005573364_nAL:  But the basic plot of the movie is that Shiro (the protagonist) gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend.  She says, “Come back to Carina Dawn.  I need some help getting away from my gangster husband.  He’s not good.”   And essentially that’s it.  He’s going to help this girl get away from her gangster husband and he gets mixed up in a crazy plot involving space terrorists, mobsters and the fate of the galaxy.

AD:  Tony, give me the name of the Nebula again.

AL:  It’s the Carina Nebula.  It’s actually pronounced Car-I-na, but we pronounce it Car-EE-na.  So what we did for the special effects is went on the Hubble website, and I downloaded a bunch of their free use images.  Their policy is, “Use whatever you want, but just make sure to give us credit for it.”  I think Hubble is the greatest thing in the universe.  Our Nebula is actually based on a Hubble image.  We basically photo-shopped in some of the colors, which allowed us to include some semi real geography.

AD:  That’s really interesting because you guys know that whenever a Sci-Fi movie or show comes out, whether its something like Prometheus or The Martian, there are always Sci-Fi groups who rip the science in that particular production.  Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a lot of that.  So it sounds like you did your research on what’s known about our natural world and universe in the production of Space Detective.

AL:  Yes, a little bit.  We tried to do that.  Let’s face it, it’s a silly space movie-cartoon. You’re going to hear lasers when they’re flying in space. We obviously know that sound doesn’t work in space, but we don’t care.  We grew up watching Star Wars movies and when we can throw something at someone and it’s legitimate, I think it lends something to the movie and it enriches the universe a little bit.  I understand Dr. Tyson’s frustration when he sees something and he says, “Obviously that constellation isn’t there that time of the year”, whatever – and I think that’s cool that he does that.  I don’t hate on him for it.

Matt’s like that too.  I’ll want to do something because it looks pretty and he’ll say, “That planet won’t have rings around it for this reason, this reason and this reason,” and I’ll say, “Dammit Matt.  Curse you and your Vulcan logic (laughing).”

carina-dawnMS:  I’m really big on astronomy, so while making this movie I did want to make sure some of the science was on par. I’ll watch science fiction movies and I’ll say, “Wait a minute, that’s not how that happens.”  But making a movie and telling a story, there are certain things you just have to bend sometimes, like sound in space for example.  If you watch Star Wars movies when the ships are fighting each other in outer space and you do it with no sound, it’s boring.  There are just certain rules you have to bend sometimes in terms of telling the story.  But if you try to keep things as scientifically accurate as possible, then people will enjoy it.  People like Tyson will enjoy it if he knows this and that don’t happen.  He’ll at least know this is right and that’s right.

AL:  But don’t get me wrong.  I wanted to experiment with some stuff with sound too.  In certain parts I’ll say, “Let’s make this a little more realistic.  Let’s make it muffled.”  I’m a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, the new show.  They tried to do stuff like that – muffle the sound when the ships were out in space, but that didn’t work with Space Detective either because it’s so bright and colorful and cartoony that it begged for those engines and those super loud explosions in space.  It was like it said, “No, please treat me silly”.  But things like the nebula and having the movie take place geographically on the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, we incorporated into the back story.  We tried to give it some semblance of reality, but ultimately we just want the audience to have some fun with it.

AD:  Yes you can really see how all of the effects come together in the trailer.

AD:  You used real life actors in the movie, and from the snippets that I’ve seen, it has a really unique look.  Has this technique been done before, or are you pioneering this look?

11988413_10153727330919603_2828824418057083117_nAL:  Oh yes, this is all us, man.  That’s something that we cooked up.  There’s a similar technique they use called roto-scoping where they will trace over actors to creates an animated look.  We didn’t do that.  We did everything in camera.  We put makeup on our actors – almost kabuki style.  The style of film is very striking – we shot it in front of a green screen and then we put that in the computer and processed it a little bit.  We adjusted the contrast, the black and white levels, but its still actors and we didn’t change it that much.  We’re just doing a visual crunch, if you will, on their images.  We use a lot of puppets too.

MS:  It’s funny because some people look at it and it reminds them of Sin City.  And it is like Sin City in space, a detective film which is really dark and Noir.  They say its funny because Sin City is one of the inspirations for this movie, and the actual Sin City comic book illustrations are really high contrast black and white whereas if you watch the movie it’s more shades of gray.  So it’s unusual that people will look at this and say, “Oh, it looks like Sin City in space”.  Making it in this particular style allowed us to get away with so much.  I built a lot of the props and-.

AL:  What you mean you built a lot of them?  You built all of them.

MS:  Okay yes, I built all of them.  In this black and white style I was able to get away with a lot because I built a lot of things with cardboard and trash bags, but it doesn’t look like it.  That’s one of the things about a lot of the Indie Sci-Fi films being made out there. They’re really expensive to make which is why a lot of Indie film makers make dramas and comedies. When they do make Sci-Fi it actually looks like it’s made out of cardboard and trash bags. What’s unique about our movie is that it doesn’t look like it was made of cardboard and trash bags and in actuality, it is. We were able to get away with so much and cut so many corners that that square turned into a circle, and people are really going to enjoy it I think.

AL:  I was more in charge of the visual effects so I did a lot of computer imaging and it allowed me to get away with a lot too.  Like I said, Amahl Dunbar, who created the 3-D animation of our ships, was able to populate one of the scenes with hundreds and hundreds of characters in the background.  The fact that he didn’t have to render different textures and colors and shading, saved him a lot of time and he was able to do the work of ten dudes.

MS:  Yes, a lot of Amahl’s 3-D models and spaceships are awesome.  When you do special effects, a lot of time is taken up with the skins of it – making sure it looks metallic, making sure there are proper shadows, reflections, etc.  But with this movie we didn’t need any of that.  We just needed it to be black and white and that’s it.  Amahl was able to make designs and not worry about making shadows or reflections.  We just needed the baseline model and it works.

14390665_10154492658709603_2194268707253942364_nAL: Yes, so to describe the visual aesthetic of the movie, everything in Space Detective is black and white – high contrast black and white with no shades of gray.  And then the rest of the movie is literally splashed with color.  However, it’s splashed with purpose so anything that generates energy in the universe, that’s a color.  If you see a laser gun, the beam is going to be a bright orange or a blue.  If you see an exhaust from a ship, it’s going to be a bright color.  If you see lights on buildings, they’re each going to be different colors.  The movie has its own unique look.  I remember Matt mentioned the Sin City comic book because I was obsessed with that comic book, especially in college.  I grew up worshipping Frank Miller and his work.  One of the first comics I ever read was Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, for God’s sake.  Anyway, the color has a purpose in it.  Everything found a purpose, not just to cheat, but man did it help us cheat.

MS:  The movie ended up being more colorful than we realized.  It was one of our biggest concerns when we started – if it was going to be black and white and hurt people’s eyes.  Now we’re at a point where we realize how colorful it is.

AL:  There was a French movie called Renaissance which did a similar thing with black and white, and it’s hard to watch.  They don’t have any color in it.

MS:  But that was all animated and they had no live action actors.

AD:  So ballpark, your goal for releasing Space Detective is the next month, two months, half a year?

MS:  We are having our world premiere at the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival in January 2017.  We’re so thrilled about it.  It’s so exciting.

AL:  I really think we have something special and the festivals are really going to enjoy us and want us to be a part of them.  It’s a really unique movie.  It’s a different kind of movie.  The story is fun.  It’s intriguing and it’s funny.  The characters are rich and original and look completely different than anything you’ve ever seen.  It sounds amazing – thanks to the music that Matt’s older brother, Marcus, composed for it.

12260_10153822145274603_7895615237706236118_nMS:  My brother, Marcus, is a classically trained musician.  He played in the Las Vegas Philharmonic.  He has been in bands since he was a kid, and he’s got two decades of recording experience in studios.

AL:  He’s a great rock and roller.

MS:  He really elevated this movie in terms of sound, and a lot of people will tell you that half of a movie is what you hear, so my brother is really responsible for half of this movie.  He helped to record all of the dialogue.  He helped to create all of the sound effects and he helped compose all of the music.  It’s just fantastic.  The quality of the audio and the music is just so amazing that it really elevates this movie to professional levels I think.

AL:  Yeah, and as the director and the producer, it really makes Matt and me look good.  Matt plays the main character Shiro, and it really looks cool when he’s beating up a bad guy and leaping through the air.  I’m like, “Oooh, that’s cool.  We’ve made a real movie here.”

AD:  I’ve heard that before about films and their scores/soundtracks.  I watched a documentary where James Horner discussed composing the music for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.  He described how some of the most memorable films are perfect marriages between the film and the music, and so what you remember is the two together and not separately.

I know that you probably already have sequels in mind, but I won’t ask you about that.  Discuss the major learning points in the production of Space Detective?

MS:  I learned that we could make a feature film. To be honest, I learned what it means to be a producer.  I went through college learning all kind of things and you know what an actor, writer, and editor do, but it’s hard to know what a producer does.  I’ve learned that a producer produces, and that’s what I’ve been able to do over the years whether it’s been producing practical effects, make up, wardrobe or anything like that.  Just to get things done as the producer, you have to be on the ball and get it done.  That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to produce.

tony-directingAL:  I agree with Matt.  We learned that we can do it.  I was always scared of directing growing up.  I would say, “I can’t come up with all of these shots.  I don’t know what I’m doing.”  But I actually do know what I’m doing.  I’m pretty good at it, and Matt’s pretty good at it.  I’ve learned that I think directing is probably the hardest thing that anyone can possibly do.  It is the playing soccer of art making.  It is all about endurance.  It is all about not giving up.  It’s about trying to con your friends into doing insane things, and then trusting them.   It’s about leadership and a lot of other things.

MS:  I think the biggest thing we learned is that we can make a movie on our own for freaking nothing.  We can do it ourselves and we can make it look good.  So I try to think that if we can do it on our own with nothing but chicken scratch, imagine what we could do if someone gave us a real budget, a multi-million dollar budget.  You can imagine what we could do with the actual resources to get things done.

AL:  And I’m not even talking about Marvel money, or Batman and Superman money.  I’m talking about ten million bucks (laughing).  I mean what could I do with ten million bucks?  I could change the world with ten million bucks.  We could change movie making with that, and yeah, I’m not going to lie, I think one day Matt and me should be able to tackle a Batman movie or something like that because hey at the end of the day, it’s just more expensive and it’s just the same stuff we did with Space Detective.  There’s a bad guy, some colorful villains and there’s a town that he has to protect.  And there’s a crap-load of special effects going on in there.  We can handle that.

AD:  Is that what you would like to tackle some day?  A Batman movie?

AL:  Sure, a Batman movie, an X-Men movie, any of those.  We’re both comic book nerds so we love that genre.  Anytime one of those big movies comes out, we’re there.  We’re like excited 11 year olds.  That’s not to say that we’re not influenced by other things.  I’m a big George Lucas fan.  He’s my hero.  I love Akira Kurosawa. I love Terry Gilliam. Orson Welles – I was just reading a bunch of articles today on Citizen Kane.  It’s the 75th anniversary of its release and it’s probably my favorite movie.  That being said, capes and laser guns are where it’s at man.  It’s so much fun and I think those types of movies and those types of stories are great mirrors on society and humanity.  They show the things that we can accomplish in the future, or things that we can do today as far as – I’m just rambling, but I just think that popular entertainment is more important, more artistic than people give it credit for.  And with Space Detective, I think we tried to make a popcorn film that would reflect that kind of movie.

space_detective_poster_a_webAD:  Well gentleman, thank you both for this interview.  I look forward to seeing Space Detective and your future productions.

AL:  Thank you, Anwar.  This is our first interview.

MS:  Thank you, Anwar.

AD:  No problem guys.  I suspect it will be the first of many interviews that you will do, and I’m honored to be a part of the first one.

Visit the Swamp Media Group website to learn more their current projects and upcoming productions.  Thank you to the Swamp Media Group for generously sharing their trailer, and or the photos in this interview.  Thank you taking out the time to read this interview.  If you’ve find value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM, and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Swamp Media Group discusses release of Space Detective film part one

In May of 2016 I conducted my very first interview related to Science Fiction and Cinema.  I talked with Antonio Llapur and Matt Sjafiroeddin, founders of the Swamp Media group about their upcoming independent production The Space Detective – a film created independently with no outside assistance.  The only reason I knew about this project is because my brother Amahl Dunbar worked very closely with the Swamp Media Group to produce the film.  I’m thus also one of the lucky few to have seen the movie, and I must say it is quite impressive.  Part one of this interview was actually published prior to the Examiner closing down its operations, so part two was never published.

At the time of the interview Antonio and Matt were finishing up production of the film, and they are currently actively submitting the film to festivals and looking for a distribution home.  They’re also looking to do a local screening in 2017 in Las Vegas where the Swamp Media Group is based.  The three of us had a lot of fun discussing Space Detective, the Science Fiction genre, and our favorite Heroes, Franchises and TV series growing up, so we covered a lot of ground.  Enjoy.

Science Fiction has long been a vehicle for entertainment – whether through books, television or cinema.  The popular genre serves as an escape from real life; a vehicle to look at science and the cosmos, and a means of speculating on where science is going.  It further serves as a canvas for commentary on humanity and the current social, spiritual and political issues of the times.  Lastly, Science Fiction can simply be a vehicle for storytelling and a means to take part in spectacular and other world adventures.  On May 2, the founders of the Swamp Media Group, Antonio “Tony” Llapur and Matt Sjafiroeddin, granted an interview to discuss their backgrounds and the upcoming release of their new independent Science Fiction movie, Space Detective.

Anwar Dunbar:   First, Tony and Matt, thank you for this opportunity to interview you guys and to help promote Space Detective.  I write for the Examiner on literacy and in many instances Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related topics.  I also volunteer at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium here in the Washington, DC metro area.  With our full dome shows and guest speakers, we promote STEM education and we actually have a Science Fiction (Sci-Fi) weekend every year in the spring focusing on the genre.  At this year’s weekend we had some guests from the Star Wars films including Storm Troopers, an Imperial Commander, and a Jawa.  Sci-Fi is something I grew up with and even now as an adult, I am still consumed by it to a large degree.

When I saw some of the promotional media for Space Detective, I thought the images were very compelling and that it would be exciting to talk to you both about what you’re doing and how you created the movie.  So with that, let’s get started.  Where are you from originally and how did you start the Swamp Media Group?

Antonio Llapur:  I grew up here in Las Vegas.  I was born in New Jersey and we moved here when I was a little kid, when I was four or something.  I met Matt in a production class at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV).  We shared a cigarette and started talking about Batman comics and have been friends ever since.

Matt Sjafiroeddin:  I grew up in Oklahoma and I moved to Las Vegas to go to college.  I followed my brothers out here and that’s where I met Tony, at film school at the UNLV.

AD:  What’s the significance of the name ‘Swamp Media Group’?

swamp-media-groupMS:  It’s funny because we’ve been roommates for a while.  We live in a house now and we used to live in an apartment.  We used to call our place ‘The Swamp’.  Do you remember the Television show MASH?  Hawkeye and BJ used to call their tent ‘The Swamp’. So we started calling our place the Swamp as well, and it just kind of went from there.  The ‘Media Group’ is our production company.  We didn’t want to be called ‘Swamp Films’ because that’s just dumb, so we went with ‘Media Group’ because that involves things beyond just movies.

AL:  The Swamp makes a reference to MASH – whacky doctors and Media Group makes it sound kind of important I guess (laughing).

AD:  What are you backgrounds?  It sounds like both of you have backgrounds in media, production and writing screenplays.

MS:  Both of us have a background in theater as actors.  I was originally a theater major before I switched to film.  Through film, we learned all of the processes of film making: production, editing, and screenwriting.  I think we both fell in love with screenwriting.  We’ve written several things together and it just kind of grew from there.

AD:  What in particular did you like about screenwriting?  Was it the whole creative process or something else?

MS:  I’ve always loved stories and telling stories.  My dad was a big story teller and it was good to be able to finally write my ideas down.  Being able to take a class to learn the format of screenwriting really helped open the doors for me personally to be able to write stories and get things down on paper.

 

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AL:  I’ve wanted to be a movie director since I was a little kid.  I would see things and say, ‘Okay I would do that different and do that different’.  I learned a little bit at a time.  My first thing was drawing, then I learned acting, and then I learned writing and then it all coalesced into directing.  I was born with a pencil in my hand so my stuff is always very visual and it compliments Matt because he’s a strong writer, and we play off each other really well.

AD:  So you said you were born with a pencil in your hand.  Does that mean you grew up drawing and illustrating?

AL:  We both did.

MS:  Yes we both did.  We had a lot in common before we met.  We both drew and we both loved movies.  We both loved Batman, and we were both the weird kids in school and were thus both really connected since day one.

AL:  I think we were both the youngest in our families too.

AD:  You both have a love for Batman.  What superhero or science fiction series had the biggest impact on you?  Was it cartoon series like Robotech or Voltron, or was it movie franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars?

AL:  The earliest memory I have is going to see Star Wars at the movie theater as a little kid.  Star Wars was big for me, but the Star Trek movies were what drove me growing up.   I think Matt and I battled over Star Trek a lot in film school.  I think we were the only two Star Trek nerds in our film school.  Generally speaking, Star Trek and Star Wars were my biggest influences.

MS:  I’m a total Trekkie.  I mean I love Star Wars, but I’m nowhere near as big a Star Wars fan as Tony.  I grew up with Star Trek, and as far as Sci-Fi goes, we’re from that 80s generation so I grew up with the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats and all of that.

mr-blackAL:  Robotech was pretty big too.  I remember Robotech being that first cartoon I saw as a kid and thinking, ‘Wow this isn’t necessarily meant for an eight year old.  This is a little bit more intelligent’.  In the 80s there was a lot of really good Sci-Fi, a lot of good Space Opera, and a lot of the laser gun stuff.

MS:  My biggest influence growing up wasn’t Sci-Fi.  It was actually a comic book called Elfquest.  That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration for stories and characters.  I’ve been reading it since I was ten.  That’s been the biggest influence for me.

AL:  They’re really beautiful books if you ever get the chance to read them.  They’re really, really striking.

MS:  It’s got nothing to do with Sci-Fi though.

AD:  There’s a writer’s center here in Washington, DC where I’ve taken some classes myself and those two genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy, are always grouped together.

AL:  I read a lot of Vertigo comics in high school and college.  I always gravitated towards stuff that was a little weird and a little out there.  What I really loved about comics was that they always gave the chance to be out there and really do some crazy things like multi-verse and have things like clones. They it brings you back and it presents it in this silly caped form of simple morality tales – good guys and bad guys.  I’m a big fan of Jack Kirby.  That was a big influence on me and the look of Space Detective; the same with Frank Miller and a whole bunch of other guys like that.

AD:  Now before we move on, the thing I remember about Robotech was that there were a lot of mature themes in it.  I think Robotech and Voltron were originally Japanese cartoons which they took and dubbed over and created different plot lines for the United States market.

AL:  They rewrote them for essentially American audiences.  The Power Rangers, which is essentially after our generation, were originally Japanese shows that were reworked for American audiences as well.

AD:  We had the Voltron toys and I remember there was a Voltron II.  My brother and I looked at one another and wondered where it came from because no cartoon was released for it in the United States.

AL:  The Voltron with the cars?

AD:  No, that was Voltron I.  With Voltron II when you put the robots together it had multiple arms because it had-.

AL:  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  It was the three dude robots and they stacked into each other.

AD:  Yes, and Voltron III was the lions.

So let’s move on and talk about what you guys have been working so hard on, Space Detective.  First of all, I’ve seen bits and pieces of the concept art and it looks really cool.  The official trailer is pretty hot too.

AD:  Let me know how much detail you want to give about it because I know you probably don’t want to give the whole plot away before people see it.  Talk about the concepts behind Space Detective.  How did you come up the ideas for this production?

12143190_10153667532149603_3174277451153358555_nMS:  Well, we had just recently finished production of one of our other short films called, Joker Does Shakespeare!, which you can see on YouTube. And we were looking to do something new, another short.  We were actually going to do a short for Heavy Metal Magazine which is ironic because when a lot of people see Space Detective it reminds them something they would see on that particular publication.  This heavy metal short was black and white and it was Sci-Fi, and the guys in it had ray guns.  It was just a single guy running around in an industrial complex getting chased by cops and it was all very Noir-ish. It was very dark and there was no dialogue, just voice over.

We were going to make it a short, but somewhere down the line we’re writers and we realized that we like to write so we said, “Let’s just drop this concept.”  But we kept the idea of the black and white Sci-Fi Noir story, so we ran with that, and then we said, “Let’s add a little bit of color and some lasers, and some exhaust and robots.” Then it just started to blow up from there.  So this ten minute short then turned into this feature length film.

AL:  Yes, we just kept running with it.  We read our script and it was 40 pages. So we said, “Let’s just shoot it.  It’s going to run about 20 minutes anyway. So we got our first cut and it went about an hour and we said, “I guess we have a feature film”.  So we added to it and made it a little longer.  It’s a disadvantage that it took so long, but it was also an advantage.  We spent about a decade on it, but it grew a lot, so we just started shooting it and said to heck with it, we’ll just learn as we go.  It just ballooned and over the years we’ve gotten a little more sophisticated and we added some things to it, enriched the universe a little bit, and went with it.  It’s been a long time.

thu6MS:  We’ve joked that this film has been like our graduate school education in that we’ve had to do so much of it ourselves from the writing, to the acting, to the directing, the special effects, the practical effects, the sound, the music – we had to do so much of it ourselves in this tight group of us.   It felt like graduate school you know because we learned some of this stuff in college, but until you actually apply it to something, it’s all theory.  So making this movie has really helped us hone our skills as film makers and storytellers.

AD:  Well, you know when you build something from the ground up, there is a little bit of trial and error, and figuring things out.  It’s definitely not something for people with no staying power.

You know, listening to you guys talk about it reminds me of the documentary, The Making of Alien, where Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett discuss how they came up with the ideas for the movie, and then how they had to shop it around quite a bit before Fox agreed to make the film.  So when you build something from the ground up for the first time, sometimes it can take a while, but it sounds like you stuck with it and its going to bloom pretty soon.

AL:  When we started, we had a pretty cool little ‘short’- a proof of concept video.  Around that time I was writing for a local magazine and I was covering night clubs and stuff.  I wrote under the moniker ‘Digital Tony’, so I spent a lot of time in the night club industry.  I knew a lot of dudes with money and I knew a lot of guys who might be willing to make the investment in a picture.  No one gave us a dime.  I think the most we got out of someone was a broken computer.  We just said, “Screw it,” and kept shooting for a few years until we had another set of stuff to show off.  We found some people who were interested in financing it, but the housing market crashed and the economy went in the toilet and no one had any money to give us.

13782042_10154350899089603_8113530380274121943_nSo we just said, “Okay, let’s just keep at it”.  We got to point where people said, “Hey, we’d like to invest”, but we had come so far and we’re going to finish it ourselves (laughing).  So we own all of it. We paid for all of it and now we have an executive producer to help us with the Post and the Film Festival.  He was our cameraman, Aaron Goodwin.  He’s on the show Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel.  He started off as the cameraman and has been with us a number of years and he continues to help Matt and me out.  For the most part it’s been Matt, his older brother, Marcus, is handling music, Amahl Dunbar has been handling the 3-D animation, our homeboy Charlie Wilson has been our assistant animator and handling all of the lasers you saw, and myself.  Our buddy Rico Lee, Jr. played Zyzzo (the villain) in the movie.  He helped out with the music and all of the other cool stuff.  It’s been a small team and a family affair, but it’s just us.

space-detective-matt-sjafiroeddin-as-shiroMS: Yes, we started this so long ago that it was before Crowd Funding and Kickstarter.  There wasn’t any money anywhere.  Most people who try to start Indie-films today start on Kickstarter or they’ll start trying to crowd fund money.  We started so long ago that it wasn’t in existence so we just did it ourselves.

AD:  I’ll let you guys choose how you do this, but without giving the plot-line away, in general terms, what’s Space Detective about?  I’ve seen some of the footage and I’m looking at one of the promotional pieces right now and it has a kind of Blade Runner look.  So are we in a Blade Runner type of thing or is it something else in terms of the main character and the story?

jinksMS:  It’s funny, because people would always ask us, “What is this about?”  And the title tells you.  Space Detective is about a detective in space.  The title is so simple.  It’s like the Vermeer painting – The Girl with Pearl Earring — that’s what it’s about.  We took this really straight forward conventional approach to a Noir story.  It’s a very classic Noir story – this brooding detective gets hired by a femme fatale that walks through the door and hires him for a case to get her out of some ugly marriage, but then the case turns into something bigger.  The visual style is very basic – it’s black and white.  We took this basic approach to telling a detective story.

This interview will be continued Swamp Media Group discusses release of Space Detective film part two.  Follow the Swamp Media Group on Twitter or visit the Swamp Media Group website  to learn more their current projects and upcoming productions.  I want to thank the Swamp Media group for generously sharing the photos in this interview.

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