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Travis Milloy – interview

Filmmaker Travis Milloy talks all things Pandorum and Somnio.

chris soren kelly in somnio 2016

I recently had the great pleasure of sitting down with filmmaker Travis Milloy, via Skype, for an hour-long discussion on his twenty-plus year career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood; with particular emphasis on his experience as the writer     of Pandorum and his latest soon-to-be released directorial offering Somnio. We covered a lot of fascinating territory and I’m sure fans of Pandorum in particular, will be interested to hear Travis’ story concepts for spin-offs, prequels and sequels which were talked about prior to that film’s release.

(Just a quick word on spoilers. We do go into some detail regarding the ending of Pandorum. But our discussion of Somnio is spoiler free)

In anticipation of his new film finding a distributor, we began by discussing the audience reaction to the first public screening of Somnio earlier this year:

I tell ya, I was a little nervous about the movie. You never know what’s going to work and what’s not and until we showed it to the audience in Boston; that was the first time showing the movie actually to anyone. And I watched it with a crowd there and that was quite an experience. I mean it was amazing. I was really kind of nervous because I hadn’t really thought about it. I had no idea if people were going to accept this movie or if anybody was really going to get it or if they were going to get bored.   It was really electric. It was just fantastic watching it with an audience. And it really boosted my whole confidence level. Looking back, I was expecting to get negative feedback on certain aspects of the movie – but that didn’t happen.

I was interested to know what those particular aspects were which he felt might receive a negative response.

You know I think really it’s the first act that was what I was most concerned about. You never really know what you have on the page till when you shoot it. Well, when we got to shooting and when I did my first edit of the movie – it didn’t work. I followed the script and the movie didn’t work. Just as a writer you always have the tendency to need things to move faster than it may always appear. Originally the movie opened with a dream sequence with him waking in his apartment and we see him going through the whole routine. He goes to the coffee shop. He meets Gabby; the whole sequence and then he’s shot and he wakes up in the cell. But it was about a nine minute sequence, and and I was like, wow, I’m expecting the audience to be patient here in that first twenty minutes of the movie. I sense that this culture is very impatient. I think we live in a world where when you have Netflix and iTunes and things like that which you can turn off; you don’t really have a captive audience any more; where you get people in the theatre and you get them to commit to a movie. You really kinda’ gotta move things along and if people are not interested they will switch off or pick something else. So I was really concerned about the first twenty minutes.

One of the key aspects of Somnio which truly impressed me is the film’s editing,     of which no editor is credited. Prior to our conversation, I learned that it was Travis himself who edited the picture (on the very same laptop he used for the Skype call for this interview by the way). Travis elaborated on this process:

I had a really hard time in editing. It’s tough being the editor. I never planned on being the editor. But just because of money we didn’t really have any other options. So I did an assembly edit and I always assumed I would be able to hand it off to an editor and then they could fix all my junk. But it didn’t work out that way. So I just kept editing the film and in the back of my mind I always kept saying, ‘I have to be objective’,       I can’t fall into that first time director trap of ‘oh I like this shot just because it was difficult to do, or I wanna hold onto these things’, and I think that’s the first timer’s mistake and the movie is just too slow and it drags because we’re so attached to these shots. So I really tried to separate myself from the movie and just tried to focus on what helps propel the story and everything else can go. I went through about ten different versions and then I would show it to different people and they always thought it was fine and I said if I was watching this on Netflix I would stop it. I would probably not commit to ninety minutes of this movie. So that was my goal to make it interesting enough, engaging enough. Like, okay, where is this gonna go? And I think that I’ve succeeded enough at a certain level. But it still bothers me, that first half hour or so because I think there is a point in the movie about forty minutes in where things start to get interesting and that’s where I don’t worry as much. And the last act, I think works really well and it pays off the right way. You know, I could edit this thing till the cows come home. They have to take it away from me. Every time I watch it I still wanna do this and I wanna sharpen that and now when I watch it I think oh that could be quicker or I don’t need that line; I could take a few seconds here. But I just gotta calm down and just let the movie be the movie. It’s the same with writing scripts too. You can over fix it. Actually, I did get to a point where I was over-editing the movie. But I got to a spot where I was fairly happy with it. Then I was going in and I was chopping chunks. I took out entire scenes and then somebody watched it and said no, you’re over editing now. Now you’ve lost a certain amount of magic.       I mean it seems like a certain amount of patience with scenes is needed, letting scenes breathe and have a little room instead of bam bam bam bam – getting to the point. And so I had to back off. But I guess that’s the challenge of trying to find the right balance.

travis milloy

While looking over Travis’ IMDb page, I was intrigued to find mention of a film from 1996 which he wrote and directed called Street Gun. As I was unfamiliar with this particular film, I asked Travis to give me the low down on this.

That was kinda my grad school. I was very young, very naïve. When I first started in the industry I did special effects, I did stunt work, I pretty much did everything and I worked in every department I could get into. I worked in the camera department, I worked in editing, in location scouting, you name it; I did the whole gamut. And then I said, you know what, I am going to make a movie. So everybody that I worked for and did favors for, helped me out. This very little film we shot in Minneapolis for about $100,000. It was my roommates that were in the film and we just went out and, only because I was naïve, we pulled it off. It is amazing because of how many camera set-ups we did and what we did for that amount of money. Looking back, I really didn’t put much into story, I didn’t put much into performance; like we had to get scenes in the can and move on, and it was just like I didn’t worry about that at all, we just had to finish these set-ups. So I look back at the film and, you know, I’m proud of the movie, but it was definitely my grad school.

Street Gun is not a very good movie, but we pulled off a lot of tough stuff with those constraints. The movie itself did really well financially. We made a profit after it was sold everywhere and we were over the moon and it’s what started my career; but only as a writer. And when I went to Hollywood and I sold it I met Jeff Robinov; an agent at ICM and he said I’ll represent you as a writer – but not as a director. And I was like ‘Huh, well, I’m not a writer’. And he said ‘Yeah, well you are now.’ And I was like, ‘okay’. So that’s how it all started. I didn’t intend on writing, but I started writing for him; I won a contract with Warner Brothers and I was thrown into the studio system   in my twenties. I was pretty naïve but I worked on a lot of big projects and I made     a good living. But none of the movies ever got produced. I kinda got burnt out because it wasn’t all that rewarding, since none of the films I was writing ever got made. I realized the politics of the system is so much about doing big budget films and all the moons have to align in order for them to even get made.

Out of exhaustion, really, I just stopped. I wanted to get back into production so I worked in TV; being a cameraman and all kinds of stuff. And while I was doing that I decided to write a script that I could shoot for nothing. So I was like ‘I’m not going to worry about the studios, I’m not going to worry about the demographics. I’m just going to write my own script’. And I wrote Pandorum, and then all of a sudden everyone was interested in the script and they wanted to make the movie and things just took off and I was like a lightbulb went off and I realized a huge part of the problem was that what I’d been doing was writing to make other people happy. I was writing for studio executives; I was trying to guess what other people would like. I wasn’t writing for myself. So when Pandorum took off I thought – hey wait a minute; every script I wrote I pretended like I was going to make the movie myself and all of a sudden I had real success. Every script I wrote after that was either getting purchased or was getting optioned. And all these people were interested in it. So it was kinda funny, because I’d write a movie and I’d go okay, I’m gonna make this movie and I’d go cast, scout locations, starting to put things together. And while I was doing that my agent would step in and say ‘Okay, not this one. I need to take this away from you because I have somebody really interested in this’. And so I’d go, okay, I’d start another project and I’d start writing that one and I’d do the same thing; okay, this is the movie I want to make. This is the movie. And I wrote six scripts that way. And each one of them was optioned and then I was really, like I can’t fake it anymore, I really want to write a movie I want to direct and then this is where Somnio came in.

I was like, I want to write a self-contained script that I can make very inexpensively, one actor, one location, very self-contained. And that one I didn’t give to my agent, I’m not letting this one go no matter what and that’s how it all started. The other thing I did was; the problem with film making is you always try to wait until everything is perfect. Like the right timing, do we have enough money or do we have enough interest and then I’ll make the movie. And then, when you do that, before you know it five years have gone by and you haven’t done anything. So I committed to the project by renting a space. I rented a warehouse and I started building the set. And I knew if I was spending money there was no going back. So I rented this warehouse and I started building the set myself. It took a year to build this set. I built the set while I was writing the script, so I knew that by the time I got the script finished and the set was almost complete – I had no choice – I’d be a fool to give up on everything I’d built so far. I wanted to paint myself into a corner – so I’d force myself into making the movie.

travis milloy on the set of somnio

What was the inspiration behind the concept for Somnio? Where did the spark of the initial idea come from?

You know, I did see a news article about prisons becoming automated down in Florida. That was a spark that got me interested. They were cutting down on the number of guards they had so they would have remotely controlled gates and doors, and they automated this prison. And that got me thinking – what if there were no humans left running the prisons. In my original draft there were ten characters, both men and women and they were all on death row – so their executions were also automated. So I started writing that script. But then I was like, well, it was still a big script; it was a big set; ten actors. So I thought, one night, hey – what if I just did     one guy’s story. One guy, one cell and he never sees any guards or the warden or visitors – and that’s interesting. And so that’s kinda how it came to be.

chris soren kelly as frank in somnio 2016

As I mentioned in my review of Somnio, a big part of the success of the film is the outstanding central performance by Chris Soren Kelly, who, as it transpires was instrumental in getting the film made in the first place:

I don’t think I would have made the movie if I hadn’t have found him. When I was first putting the project together I knew I wanted to go very low budget, which meant I couldn’t have a name actor. So I was going to have to find an unknown who was really interesting. Chris has a certain dark edge to him, so he’s interesting to watch by himself. I met him while I was casting for another film and he just stuck out. He’s amazing. So when I was talking to him about Somnio, he was the one who said we should just go do it. So I said Yeah but would, you know, would you be part of it and he said ‘Oh absolutely’. So that’s what started the whole ball rolling. Once I had him that was a huge relief because, you know, ninety percent is casting. You get the right people in there and that can make it work and he was just wonderful to work with.

I pointed out the similarities I see between Pandorum and Somnio – in that they     are both stories told from the perspective of a character who awakens with no understanding of his surroundings and has to figure out how he got there. This then segued into a more specific discussion of Travis’ writing process and the challenge     of not preplanning where the story is going when embarking on the initial draft of a new screenplay:

I don’t like to know more than the protagonist. And I think with a lot of films I really want to like more make that mistake; where they’re too eager to show the antagonist’s side of the story. In certain movies it works, but certain thrillers; as soon as we know more than the main character, we’re waiting for him to catch up. I think you’ve lost a certain mystery there. So with both Pandorum and Somnio we never really know more than the main character as the story unfolds. Actually, I really didn’t realize the similarities; someone waking up in a strange place and then having to try to figure out what is going on – which both movies are like. That to me, that was a writer’s challenge. I got myself into the character’s position … What would I do? What would I say? And then that made it easier writing Pandorum. Actually, Pandorum was the first script I wrote without any structure or outline. I used to, you know, I used to do a three act structure and do an outline and a treatment and that kind of stuff, but I got kinda tired of that because it didn’t feel unique – it felt forced. So with Pandorum I sat down and wrote. I literally had no idea of where I was going with it. It was as if I was in that character and I would meet characters and then things would happen and every time I would get to a spot where I thought, okay, here we would expect this to happen so I would try to take a different direction. I basically went through the whole script this way and the funny thing was, I didn’t know how to end Pandorum. I literally wrote up to the point where they made it onto the ship’s bridge and then I had no idea what was going to happen. So I took my dog for a walk and we were out at night and my dog was drinking out of a puddle and I was looking up at the stars and I looked at the water and I go, well, that’s about as opposite as that and it’s the least most expected thing. And so I ran home and wrote the big underwater reveal and then realized – it still works. It worked with the rest of the story. So it was kinda one of those happy accidents. I did the same thing with Somnio. I had no idea where it was going to go and that’s generally how I write scripts now. I generally don’t do an outline. I just throw myself into it and start writing. The problem with that though, is you can easily get yourself trapped and you can’t finish it without fixing a bunch of stuff. It’s a risk I think is worth taking though. Because then it makes the twists in the story just feel more unique because you weren’t planning ahead.

pandorum bower in cryo

As it turns out, Pandorum was almost made as a small independent film with Travis at the helm:

I wrote Pandorum with a notion of no-one ever reading it. And I was actually preparing to make that film; shooting it as a low budget movie. In fact I was actually location scouting; we were going to shoot it in this old abandoned paper mill, when my agent called and said, ‘Stop what you’re doing, I have somebody interested in the script’. And I’d heard this before, like, I’d say ‘Yeah yeah, I’m gonna keep making this movie. You let me know how it goes’. And then, when Impact Pictures got involved, he said ‘No – you really have to stop making your little movie, coz these guys really wanna make it’. And I said, like, all right all right.

I mentioned that I had listened to the director’s commentary track with Christian Alvart, where he talked about his collaboration with Travis on the screenplay             for Pandorum. Apparently their working together was heralded by a strange synchronicity:

You know, I learnt a lot from Christian. He’s German and he has a different sensibility. But I really learnt a lot from him. And it was really wild because he was coincidently writing an almost identical script before he was hired! He was writing his own script and our first ten pages were, like, identical. It was bizarre. It was, like, wow it was really similar – but he had ideas about bringing it to another level. Mine was more of a genre film. More of an Escape From New York in space. Originally it was a prisoner ship with 60,000 inmates being sent to a prison and Bower wakes up. Well everyone in the story was a prisoner, so it was more of a thriller. Less of a monster movie. Anyway, then Christian came in and said he had this idea about deep space travel; colonizing a planet and losing our own planet and it really just gave it a whole new spirit and took it to the next level. So we sat and we worked together a few times. Originally we sat in an office in Los Angeles and literally sat laptop to laptop talking about ideas; merging these two scripts into one. Which was great! He was a lot of fun to work with. And then he went off and he did another film. He got Case 39. So Pandorum kinda came to a halt for a while and then it fired back up again and then I went to Berlin when they were filming, and was rewriting scenes along the way. But it was a great experience; amazing experience to see a film at that level. I mean, you know, I was blown away because I’d seen so many movies fail. Getting a script made at a larger budget level is really a one in a million thing; all the moons have to be aligned for that to work. But to see that happen was a massive thrill.

pandorum cast

Pandorum has garnered a considerable fan base since its release in 2009 and I’m aware there is a ‘Fans for Pandorum Sequel’ Facebook group calling for another movie, so I was curious to know if there was always a sequel in mind.

Yeah, we talked about it. And we obviously prepared ourselves. So while we were     in production we talked about, if the movie is successful, what these other movies might be. So I definitely had ideas. We basically outlined a prequel which would show the launch of the ship; dealing with a whole new group of characters and the whole backstory of the Gallo/Payton character; him growing up on the ship and becoming     a self-proclaimed king; becoming an old man; going from a young officer to Dennis Quaid and then putting himself to sleep. And then a sequel was gonna be Bower and Nadia’s life on the new planet; dealing with their arrival which basically picked up right where Pandorum ended. They come to the surface and begin exploring the planet, only to find that civilizations already exist there; warring with one another. Actually it was a cool idea. It was just because of the box office it didn’t work out. But the story was that, I didn’t know if it was going to be Bower or if it was going a different character, whatever, but this character finds these two tribes at war and one tribe is   a little more tech; it has more technology and weaponry and the other tribe is a little more primal, more spiritual. So it’s kind of like a Native Americans versus Europeans type scenario and this character throws himself into the middle of this war; only to realize that both these tribes are direct descendants from survivors of the Elysium from seven hundred years ago; the ship that crashed. Some people escaped to the surface and they grew over seven hundred years into this society, and the reason why there is a war going on is because of their skewed sense of religion which they learned from Payton. There was a lot of mythology to explore and it all tied back to the origins of Pandorum. So it was a really cool idea and I wrote out these story concepts, but then it never came to be because of the poor box office. But a few of the fans have talked about it and have asked me to write it out as a book or as a graphic novel. So I thought about that and it might be something cool to do down     the road.

The other idea was telling another story that happened on the ship around the same time as the Bower story was going on. We’d have another group of characters on a completely different adventure happening at the same time – they would see Bower and Nadia go by when they’re hiding out; so we’d see these two stories are happening simultaneously. And when Payton floods the ship at the end – that would be part of the story as well. So there are these different story lines and battles going on within this huge ship at the same time. I talked with Christian about that and, if you remember, Bower finds this guy Cooper stuck in the vent, dead. I said to Christian; you know, the sequel could be about Cooper; the third guy when Bower wakes up. In Pandorum it’s Bower, Payton and Cooper, and the Cooper pod is empty. I go, what if we have a sequel where that character, Cooper, sees Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid and crawls out and he goes on his own adventure; this whole new thing; a whole other story prior to Bower and Payton waking up. And Christian said yeah that’s a cool idea, but I just want a dead guy in the vent (laughs).

As a side note, Pandorum started out as a very different story idea. When I was in college, I worked as a ground marshall at an airport in Minneapolis. And one day a plane arrived which was a real life Con-Air plane. It was a US Marshall 727 which carried convicted criminals for trials or relocation or whatever. I mean, this plane had chains; they chained all these guys in their seats and I thought that’s really cool. So I started writing a movie about this plane being hijacked while in flight and while I was writing it the movie Con-Air came out. And I was like, naw, I can’t do that anymore. So I left it on the shelf for years and finally pulled it out one day and thought, well, I could change it to a spaceship with prisoners. And so the idea got new life put back into it.

We finished up our conversation with me asking Travis about his hopes for Somnio, his upcoming plans for the future and what his advice to screenwriters starting out might be:

You know, you can’t expect every film to be a huge hit. I just hope Somnio finds its audience. I never assumed it would make a lot of money; I just hope it finds an audience and a fan base and that’s all I can hope for. If it does well, fantastic. I’d love to give the investors their money back and have that to be able to show we can make a movie that makes money. Obviously it gives us a start for the next one, but I’m not interested in going too high of a budget level. I mean, some filmmakers just want to go and become a Gareth Edwards or a JJ or get to do those huge films. But those big studio films really don’t interest me at all. I’d rather stay low budget; there’s just more freedom; you can make bolder choices and take more risks. I know how the name game works in Hollywood; how you chase after name actors and it’s just, uughh, its such a rat race and I’m just not interested in doing that. But what I am interested in is making films outside of California, coz we’ve seen California in so many different ways. It’s just fun to explore different film communities like Denver and Boston and, you know, just to go someplace else. It’s just a lot more exciting, you know, and people are a lot more accepting if you go to a different city. If you shoot in Los Angeles, nobody’s going to do you any favors, so I’d rather just go someplace else. Actually, I want to shoot my next film in Denver coz it’s a really cool city and I work with a post house there that’s just fantastic. They did all the post for Somnio in Denver.

And my big advice that I always give to other writers is don’t hang your hat on one particular project; keep writing because your writing will always get better. I mean, it’s so heartbreaking to see young writers where they work so hard on this one big high-concept project and that’s all they work on, like, just this one thing. You gotta just keep going. You gotta keep writing multiple projects because its going to break your heart regardless. I have probably about ten different projects that are out there; all at different stages of development or preproduction; Exit 147 with director Mike Figgis. Another project with Walter Hill, a script called Monstrum. So yeah, a whole bunch     of projects, all different types of movies, different directors, different production companies, so hopefully one will go sooner or later. So yeah, just multiple projects. That’s my best advice.

A big thank you to Travis for taking the time to talk with me. As previously mentioned, he’s currently in the process of shopping Somnio around to prospective distributors, so for updates on future theatrical screenings, please visit the official website here:

Like the facebook page here:

Check out the Internet Movie Database entry here:

And join the ‘Fans for PANDORUM Sequel’ facebook group here:

article copyright © 2016 Gregory Moss

Not to be reprinted either in part or in whole without prior permission of the author.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Somnio – film review


Pandorum scribe’s directorial offering keenly assured and supremely engaging.

somnio chris soren kelly

Written and directed by Travis Milloy. Produced by Laurie Sheldon and Tom Eberts. Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Cassandra Clark, Cajardo Lindsey and Jesse D. Arrow. Running time: 105 mins

Frank Lerner, a wrongly detained man held captive in an automated prison, is forced to relive the artificially induced memory of his arrest over and over again. While seeking solace in the embrace of a young woman existing only inside his fractured memory, Frank formulates a plan of escape.

As demonstrated with such enduring genre milestones as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, THX 1138 and Silent Running, serious-minded sci-fi has almost always been about exploring meaningful concepts and ideas over laser gun shoot-em ups and space battles. Of course there have been plenty of examples post Star Wars which can also be included in this pantheon; with many of these being independent features (Ex Machina, Moon, Predestination and Under The Skin springing to mind).

Emotionally engaging and structurally intriguing, Somnio is the latest directorial offering from the writer of cult sci-fi favorite Pandorum, Travis Milloy. Prior to penning Pandorum (released in 2009), Milloy had written and directed the little-seen crime drama Street Gun in 1996. He and his producing partner Laurie Sheldon had originally intended to shoot the script which evolved into Pandorum as a low-budget feature before the screenplay was picked up by Constantin Film and Impact Pictures and produced as a major motion picture starring Dennis Quaid.

christopher soren kelly somnio 2016

Milloy’s tightly-written screenplay for Somnio very much mirrors his work on Pandorum in terms of seeing the narrative unfold from the point of view of a character who awakens unaware of his predicament and has to figure things out for himself. And much like Duncan Jones’ Moon or Douglas Trumbull’s Silent RunningSomnio succeeds or fails based solely on the central performance of its leading man. Being on screen virtually the entire running time, Chris Soren Kelly (Ink, The Frame) displays he is more than capable of holding his own; delivering a finely nuanced performance which perfectly carries the film from beginning to end. With a talent as gifted as Soren Kelly at his disposal, it’s little wonder Milloy holds on his performance for extended stretches at a time before cutting away – making Somnio a terrific showcase for Soren Kelly’s abilities as an actor. Refreshingly, as voiced by actor Jesse D. Arrow, the prison A.I. (here dubbed Howard) is not the usual malevolent-sounding computer typically seen in films like these. Indeed, with Howard continually reassuring Frank that his sole purpose as a Life Support Operator (LSO) is to keep Frank alive, this A.I. very much comes across as a sympathetic – even endearing character in his own right.

somnio christopher soren kelly and cassandra clark

This is a film completely devoid of superfluous padding or filler; everything we         are being told or shown is there for a reason. The intricately woven narrative is conceptually rich and brimming with surprises – featuring several key moments     where the reality of certain scenes is revealed to be something else entirely – a     mind-bending technique seen previously in other films (most notably An American Werewolf in London and Brazil) – but done here in such a way as to make it appear surprisingly fresh and original. I’m also reminded of Duncan Jones’ Source Code with regard to the blossoming relationship between Frank and coffee shop owner Gabby (Cassandra Clark.) for, at its heart, Somnio is indeed a romance. Frank and Gabby interact within recurring replays of what appears to be Frank’s memory of the moment of his arrest. And much like the hero in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Frank seeks solace from the monotony of his incarceration by withdrawing more and more into his memories – real or imagined. These scenes between Frank and Gabby possess a refreshing sense of authenticity thanks in part to the chemistry between Soren Kelly and Clark (who is also very good by the way). And rising talent Cajardo Lindsey (soon to be seen in Independence Day: Resurgence) is also very good in a small but pivotal role.

While on the surface Somnio appears to be a cautionary tale of the potential for inhumane treatment of inmates within a fully automated prison industrial complex, Milloy’s film is also, at its core, a celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit. And while it undoubtedly explores serious themes, the film also possesses a lightness of tone which was not abundantly present in Pandorum – the humorous banter between Frank and Howard bringing a big smile to my face on more than a few occasions.

somnio prison cell

For an independent feature, the film’s technical aspects are all top notch; sporting crisp, natural and understated cinematography by Jason Nolte and Marty Mullin, superb and on-point editing by Milloy himself (uncredited), immersive sound design     by Mike Cramp and a terrifically emotive score by Jacob Yoffee.

Featuring assured and confident direction, a beautifully-crafted and compelling screenplay and a terrific showcase performance from the hugely talented Chris     Soren Kelly, Somnio is undoubtedly one of the most supremely satisfying movie experiences of the year.

The filmmakers are in the process of shopping Somnio around to prospective distributors, so for updates on future theatrical screenings, please visit the official website here:

Like their facebook page here:

And check out the Internet Movie Database entry here:

Viewed on-line as a Vimeo preview screener on Sunday June 12th 2016.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Now You See Me 2 – film review


Magician Impossible

Reviewed on Wednesday 1st June 2016

now you see me 2

Directed by Jon M. Chu. Screenplay by Ed Solomon. Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson and Michael Caine. Running time: 115 mins.

It’s been eighteen months since a collective of stage magicians known as The     Four Horsemen pulled off one of the biggest heists in history and subsequently disappeared. Slighted billionaire Arthur Tressler has vowed revenge, setting a trap     to take down the Horsemen once and for all.

Upon its release in 2013, the original Now You See Me was uniformly scoffed at by the critical community, while auds around the world flocked to it in droves; seemingly alerted to its sense of fun via word of mouth; essentially making it the surprise crowd-pleaser of the summer that year.

While the original was more of a heist caper, this new installment could easily be viewed as an espionage thriller along the lines of Mission: Impossible (while still maintaining the playful tone of the original). And the balletic action sensibility of helmer Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) – here taking up where the original’s helmer Louis Leterrier left off – is again very much in evidence. The most impressive scene demonstrating this being the centerpiece Mission: Impossible style computer vault heist sequence; where the action truly ebbs and flows like a dance routine of sorts. The beautifully-staged choreography involving the covert exchange of a palying card between the Horsemen during this scene (while security staff are none the wiser) is breath-taking to behold. Playing upon the performance art of cardistry (or card flourishing), this scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Whereas the original NYSM was a straighforward sticking-it-to-the-one-percenters justice fantasy, this second installment has more of an apparent sociopoltical commentative bent; being something of a commentary on the burgeoning global surveillance state – or at least attempting to be. However, much like other big Hollywood blockbusters purporting to expose the deepstate controllers (Captain America: Winter Soldier being a prime example) – nothing much of any importance is ever really done with these concepts – other than to trivialize them as concerns of no consequence. Interestingly, the big reveal at the conclusion of the original NYSM; being that a secret society of magicians known as The Eye dabble in real magic appears to have been oddly discarded as a plot point in this follow-up. In a yen-chasing move which is becoming more and more obvious these days, much of the second act in NYSM2 takes place in the Far East (in this case the mainland Chinese province of Macau). While the low-contrast cinematography of Peter Demming (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) does well in contributing to the otherworldliness of these locales, ultimately, there is little narrative reason to justify the setting; other than providing a mechanism for the film to be of some interest to the lucrative (and gigantic) Chinese cinema-going market.

As the lone female of the group, comedic actress Lizzy Caplan more than makes up for Isla Fisher’s conspicuous absence. Her character, Lula, is kooky, awkwardly sassy and virtually steals every scene and I look forward to further insights into her character in potential future installments. Not far behind in the scene-stealing stakes is Woody Harrelson with his dual role as his returning character’s cosmetically (and comically) enhanced twin brother. While Mark Ruffalo, whose character provided many humorous moments in the orginal film, is less amusing here; his backstory providing the dramatic trajectory of the overarching plot of this installment.

A major issue people seem to have had with the original was in the way the back-stage mechanics of how the various stage illusions utilized in the heists were achieved were never revealed to the viewer; creating an apparent gap in credibility in some people’s minds. With the sequel this issue has been satisfactorily addressed; with the nuts and bolts explanations behind the illusions being just as engaging as     the illusions themselves.

If you enjoyed the original NYSM then you will most likely enjoy this one too. And likewise the opposite also applies: if you couldn’t care less about Now You See Me, then its probably best you stay away. Me – I’m happy to say I’m an unabashed fan.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, Adelaide, June 1st 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

It’s Official! – ‘Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye’ Was Indeed Meant To Be Star Wars 2!

splinter of the mind's eye

As there really is nothing more that can be said about Star Wars, I’ve pretty much held off posting any thoughts on the subject of Lucas and his saga. Until now.

I remember the first time I saw Alan Dean Foster’s novel Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye on bookstore shelves in 1978 – the sequel to Star Wars – or so I thought. It’s what we all thought – right? ‘From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker’ – that’s what it said on the cover. But no, two years later, The Empire Strikes Back was released.

So where does SOTME fit into the scheme of things? Why does it even exist? If Lucas never intended it to be the official sequel, was it nothing more than a grab     for cash?

splinter of the mind's eye - crashed x-wing

Well now, finally, the truth can be told …

In 2010, a 2 disk remastered dvd edition of Dark Star (The Hyperdrive Edition) was released. It has over two hours worth of extras including a 116 min doco on the making of John Carpenter & Dan O’Bannon’s seminal movie.

dark star - hyperdrive edition

There is also an informative half hour interview with Alan Dean Foster, who wrote a novelization of the movie, which was originally published in 1974. Yes, believe it or not, there was indeed a novelization!

dark star novelization 1978 printing

My own copy of the Dark Star novelization is a reprint which came out after Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye was published in 1978.

Incidentally, if you’re seriously thinking about novelizing your scripts you might wanna check out the Dark Star 2 disk Hyperdrive Edition – if only for Alan Dean Foster’s insights on writing novelizations. He talks at length about the pros and cons and his general approach to adapting screenplay format to prose. He explains it’s not just a matter of changing present tense to past tense – as there is also added scope to flesh out character’s thoughts and feelings and motivations (and back-stories).

So what’s this got to do with Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye I hear you ask?

alan dean foster

During the interview, Foster also talks at length about his involvement in ghost-writing the Star Wars novelization (credited to George Lucas) and its literary sequel. It turns out that Foster was instructed to keep SOTME ‘low budget’ just in case SW was successful enough to warrant a sequel. This is why only one planetary locale is featured in SOTME – the bog planet Mimban (as opposed to the three distinctly different locales featured in the original SW – Tatooine, Death Star, Yavin and in each of the sequels – Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin in Empire and Tatooine, Death Star Mk II, Endor in Return of the Jedi). So it appears SOTME was indeed intended to have     been the basis for Star Wars 2 all along. And it is possibly for this reason particular elements from earlier drafts of Star Wars were utilized in Foster’s novel – the bog planet, the Yuzzem (precursors to the Ewoks), Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the Kaiburr crystal (the original treatment’s McGuffin). Of course, when the original SW became such a surprise box office hit – the idea for a low-rent sequel was nixed with the result being SOTME has been unfairly looked down upon (by some at least) as an unconnected curiosity piece ever since.

Oh yeah, and the hinted-at sexual tension between Luke and Leia in SOTME only goes to show what is now apparent – that George made it up as he went along.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Allegiant – film review


Series integrity derailed by confused and unnecessary complexity.

Reviewed on Wednesday 6h April 2016


Directed by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay by Noah Oppenheim and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, based on the book by Veronica Roth. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels. Running time: 120 mins.

At the conclusion of the previous installment, Insurgent, we learned (as a result of     the heroic actions of Tris and her friends) that the walled-in city of Chicago and its society of factions was in fact an artificial construct of forces unknown, located beyond the wall. In this latest installment, we discover who is responsible and for what purpose. Disappointingly however, the answers are far less intriguing than one would hope from all the eager anticipation and good will generated by director Schwentke’s far superior previous installment.

The biggest problem with Allegiant appears to be the unfocussed and messy screenplay by Noah Oppenheimer (The Maze Runner) and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage (Exodus: Gods and Kings). Although I’m unfamiliar with the source novels,     I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Allegiant book was far more coherent and understandable than this filmed version. The film begins promisingly, with a strong and compelling opening (addressing an issue which could easily plague any social uprising – where revolutionary leaders, filling the post-revolution vacuum of control become just as despotic and tyrannical as the regime they have overthrown) – but the narrative quickly becomes so needlessly complicated, discarding such compelling concepts – as to end up being pretty much incomprehensible. Indeed, I found myself waiting for the penny to drop – only – it never does (well, not to any satisfying degree). If comparison can be drawn between the Divergent series of films and The Matrix, then Allegiant is most definitely the Matrix Reloaded of the series. Aside from forcing auds to shell out twice as much money in order to experience a satisfying conclusion, it is unclear (artistically at least) why the studio decided to leave the finale of this film open-ended. It remains to be seen, but perhaps it was to provide auds with a less down-beat ending than was depicted in the source novel. Apparently there is very little story remaining in the source novel which could concievably be used to flesh out an additional two hour installment, so I guess it remains to be seen exactly what – if anything – a fourth movie could realistically add to the story.

Despite my misgivings regarding a distinct lack of focus in the screenplay, the work of helmer Robert Schwentke once again delivers some beautifully staged action sequences – the over-the-wall sequence during the movie’s first twenty minutes being the stand-out. And, interestingly, Shane Carruth (the celebrated auteur behind indie sci-fi darlings Primer and Upstream Color) is mentioned in the credits as ‘memory advisor’ – presumably having a hand in how the recorded memories of Tris’s mother are presented as a kind of virtual reality.

As with the previous two installments, Allegiant is as equally visually impressive; both in terms of cinematography and production design. Joseph Kosinski’s brilliant,     if – as yet underappreciated 2013 masterwork Oblivion is most likely an inspiration here; with the production design of the flying vehicles and architecture of the futuristc city clearly mirroring the look of that particular film. Also mirrored, incidently, is the score by Joseph Trapenese; who also, as it happens, scored Oblivion (collaborating with French synthpop band M83). Unlike Oblivion, however, none of the high tech presented here appears to have a legitimate reason for being. Indeed, Allegiant is so swamped with technology (the flying targeting drones being a prime example) – it’s almost as if all this superfluous stuff has only been incorporated in order to keep short attention spans stimulated.

Taking the apparent box office failure of this latest installment in their stride, the studio still appears adament in pushing ahead with a proposed finale, Ascendant, which will be released in 2017. Sadly though, I can’t see myself getting anywhere near as excited about it. A major disappointment.

2.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at Norwood Cinemas, Adelaide, April 6th 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos   and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Highlander – film review


Still holds up after all these years.

Reviewed on Friday 1st April 2016


Directed by Russell Mulcahy. Screenplay by Gregory Widen and Peter Bellwood & Larry Ferguson. Story by Gregory Widen. Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown and Beattie Edney. Original year of release: 1986. Running time: 116 mins.

Connor Mcleod, an immortal sword-wielding clansman, alive for four hundred years, finds himself in modern day Manhattan where he faces off against other immortals who have gathered to fight for ‘The Prize’.

It was a real thrill seeing Highlander on the big screen again – for the first time in thirty years (yikes!). And seeing it with a small, but appreciative audience (numbering fifty to sixty – or thereabouts) added an extra layer of fun to the whole experience.     It was also great to see I wasn’t the only one who found the over-the-top depiction     of New Yorkers particularly amusing – the cops in particular; venturing into Verheovenesque caricature (before Robocop was even a twinkle in Verhoeven’s eye).

Highlander is the brainchild of firefighter-turned-screenwriter Gregory Widen (Backdraft) who, at the age of twenty-two, felt compelled to pen the first draft of Highlander as part of his UCLA screenwriting class after visiting the Tower of London’s armor exhibition during a back-packing trip across Europe. He wondered what it might be like if he were the owner of the collection of armor from different centuries and cultures and had personally worn each piece into battle down through the ages. Widen’s then screenwriting lecturer, Richard Walter (who was also George Lucas’ mentor), famously championed Widen’s screenplay (then titled Shadow Clan) and even referenced it in his book ‘Screenwriting: The Art, Craft And Business Of Film And Television Writing’ – citing Widen’s success in finding a major studio buyer the first time out the gate for the then princely sum of three hundred thousand dollars. Tonally, the final screenplay; credited to Widen with an extensive re-write by Peter Bellwood & Larry Ferguson (The Hunt for Red October, Maximum Risk) differs considerably from Widen’s original draft – which was far more serious. As Widen revealed to journalist Alan Jones in Jones’ Highlander article in the May 1986 issue     of Cinefantastique Magazine, “My script was much darker. It has gone from being brooding to something more like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Along the way it has gotten more black and white in the lines drawn between who is good and who is evil. In my version the hero could easily have done evil if he wasn’t careful. Scene for scene it is almost exactly the way I wrote it except the dialogue has been altered to give the characters a different feel. It is now more high-gloss, high-adventure than leaning towards a favorite book of mine, Interview with the Vampire. Immortality plainly sucks and I am not sure that quality will come through in the finished product.” As Widen later revealed in an interview on the special edition edition Blu-ray, Ridley Scott’s 1977 debut feature The Duellists was also a definite influence on his writing of his orginal draft; particularly with respect to his take on The Kurgan’s obsessive drive to duel Mcleod down through the ages – much like Harvey Keitel’s character in Scott’s film. This is an aspect director Mulcahy has clearly picked up and run with; especially evident in the humorous 17th Century flashback where a drunken Mcleod refuses to stay dead during a duel to the death. The cinematography by noted British lensman Gerry Fisher (Wolfen) during this sequence in particular also appears deliberately reminiscent of the look of Ridley Scott’s film.

highlander final duel

It was truly an inspired and, some would say, brave choice in hiring rock video pioneer Russell Mulcahy to helm Highlander – as the Aussie director wasn’t particularly known for visual restraint; as demonstrated with his insanely frenetic (and ahead of its time) feature debut Razorback. While not as wildly out of control as his first feature, Mulcahy still goes all-out incorporating specific visual flourishes from his own music videos: sweeping camera moves, heavy back-lighting, flapping doves, falling rain etc. The helmer also cheekily cribs a moment from his previous feature, during the parking garage scene under Madison Square Garden which features a car’s hub cap rolling past the camera at the climax (after McLeod has dispatched his adversary) – clearly a nod to a similar rolling barrow wheel at the water hole in Razorback. The best-remembered flourishes, however, are the beautifully executed scene transitions back and forth between scenes taking place in mid-80s Manhattan and 15th Century Scotland – a signature effect Mulcahy utilized both in his music videos and also, most notably, in his feature debut. And the subversive streak which Mulcahy shamelessly demonstrated throughout the running time of Razorback is most definitely present in Highlander; particularly in terms of how members of the NYPD are portrayed (as crazed eye-rolling thugs keen for a bit of biffo at the drop     of a hat).

French actor Christopher Lambert brings an appropriately world-weary quality to the role of Connor Mcleod (a role originally offered to Kurt Russell – who turned it down at the behest of his partner Goldie Hawn). And while Lambert’s Scottishness is just as hokey as Sean Connery’s turn as an Egyptian, his being an immortal actually justifies his odd mix of accents. Playing Mcleod’s sage-like mentor, Ramirez, Connery is clearly having fun with this; possibly due to the fact he was paid one million dollars for seven days work. And likewise, Clancy Brown also appears to be having a ball here as Mcleod’s arch nemesis The Kurgan; despite the fact he was less than impressed with last-minute line additions and direction which made his character way more cartoonish than he would have liked. Roxanne Hart as Mcleod’s present-day potential love interest, Brenda, is fine – although her character’s screen time appears pared back considerably from Widen’s original draft.

highlander - connery and lambert

Seeing Highlander on the big screen in a cinema for the first time in thirty years really does accentuate the film’s strengths – as well as its technical imperfections. The (admitedly wobbly) SkyCam shot during the opening wrestling sequence at Madison Square Garden is somewhat impressive on a technical level – being the first (and only) time SkyCam has been utilized indoors in a feature film – but it still appears rushed and clumsy (even with the inclusion of helicopter rotors on the soundtrack     to mask its wobbliness). The Scottish highland locations, however, particularly the crowning sequence where Connery and Lambert spar with swords atop a craggy outcrop of rock jutting out from a mountainside – as a 360 degree helicopter shot reveals these guys (or most likely their stunt doubles) are indeed standing precariously atop that very rock – are truly spectacular and awe-inspiring to say     the least.

While little remains of the core concept at the heart of Widen’s draft that life only has meaning if there is an end, my only real issue with Highlander (and something that’s always irked me) is the nebulousness surrounding the mystical mumbo jumbo known as ‘The Quickening’. Taking their cue from the teachings of Joseph Campbell (and citing Star Wars as a clear inspiration) – it appears screenwriters Bellwood and Ferguson concocted the concept of ‘The Quickening’ as something of an answer       to The Force – albeit a confused one. So what exactly is The Quickening? Connery relays to Lambert during his training montage it is the sheer joy of being alive and being one with nature. But it is annoyingly unclear what is exactly to be gained from the dispatching of other immortal adversaries – aside from compelling every window in the immediate vacinity to spontaneously explode in a shower of glass for no good reason (other than for dramatic effect). While the ultimate Prize is as equally ill-defined – being the ability to know what everyone on the entire planet is thinking and being mortal and able to reproduce … or something. It also doesn’t help that following Mcleod’s dispatching of The Kurgan – when Mcleod experiences The Quickening – he appears to be set upon by ectoplasmic entities resembling demons (clearly a nod to a similar scene in Conan The Barbarian, not to mention the finale of Raiders).

Despite these issues, there is still much to enjoy in Highlander. Clancy Brown makes for a hugely entertaining and formidable villain, while the extended second act sequence detailing Connery’s training of Lambert is perhaps the standout section of the film – featuring terrific on-screen chemistry between Lambert and Connery; made all the more palpable as this sequence was shot in chronological order. And Michael Kamen’s soaringly emotional music score – working in tandem with Freddie Mercury and Queen’s perfectly integrated songs (the standout track ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ essentially being the heart of the film) – truly makes for one of the most memorable and iconic film scores of all time.

Rock video operatics aside, it’s remarkable just how little Highlander has dated over the years. As Gregory Widen states in the Blu-ray special features, “It doesn’t disturbingly feel like a mid-eighties movie.”

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, April 1st 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Deadpool – film review


Gleeful profanity rescues a rapidly tiring genre from itself.

Reviewed on Thursday 17th March 2016


Directed by Tim Miller. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, based on the Marvel character created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano and Brianna Hildebrand. Running time: 108 mins.

When ex-special forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer he is persuaded by a clandestine criminal organization to undergo a horrendous treatment which kills his cancer but also leaves him terribly disfigured and virtually indestructable. Separated from his one true love, Wade reinvents himself as a masked vigilante and sets out to destroy those responsible for ruining his life.

I’ve always been somewhat nonplussed with the modern Marvel movies, being someone who quickly grew bored with their cookie-cutter sameness. So Deadpool comes as something of a real and pleasant surprise. Unashamedly lewd and profane, Deadpool completely eschews the turgid self-importance of many of Marvel’s previous films in favor of, well, unabashed fun!

Sporting a screenplay from the writing duo behind the hit comedy Zombieland, Deadpool is the long-time-coming feature debut from the helmer of the Oscar-nominated 2003 animated short Rockfish and was something of a passion project for its star Ryan Reynolds. I’ve never really had an opinion on Reynolds one way or the other, but I really enjoyed his comic timing here. Being unfamiliar with the comic book background of this character, the closest thing tonally I can compare the character of Deadpool to is Jim Carrey’s The Mask. Although Deadpool’s dialogue is way more adult; almost entirely consisting of a constant stream of profane remarks and sexually-charged wise-cracks; meant to demoralize and belittle his enemies before taking them down. Incredibly violent with plenty of head and limb-lopping to go around, Deadpool gleefully dispatches his enemies with a witty quip, followed by       a bullet to the head or a slash of the sword – resulting in almost balletic carnage.

From the film’s opening moments (featuring an effect similar to the slo-mo sequence in Dredd) – we know we’re in for a subversive ride which doesn’t take itself too seriously. And Reese and Wernick’s screenplay is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. The story begins mid-stream and back-tracks in a well-constructed non-linear fashion; well-placed flashbacks filling in the backstory. Although, once again, as with many of the films in Marvel’s burgeoning canon, the pacing of Deadpool is overtly front-loaded – almost as if the filmmakers are preoccupied with the fear of losing the viewer’s interest in the first thirty minutes.

Miller’s background in directing animation is clearly evident in his staging of various action sequences; the flow of action being beautifully paced and easy to follow. His choice of camera placement and cutting only when absolutely necessary gives the impression that a great deal of planning was involved and therefore every frame here exudes confidence.

Poking fun at recognizable tropes of the filmed superhero genre (and not just the Marvel filmed universe but the DC universe as well), Deadpool could be best described as consciously ‘meta’ – a buzz word which tends to be overused these days; but which definitely applies to this latest Marvel offering. Other pop culture references also abound; even including a couple of none-too-subtle references to Bronies and Cloppers. And there are several moments where the titular hero breaks the fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience) – which could potentially take us out of the movie – but in actuality draws us closer to what could arguably be a fairly obnoxious and unlikeable character.

While the film’s climactic moments do tend to fall back on that hoary old cliche of hero-battling-villain-while-damsel-in-distress-looks-on (a trope which has been around since the dawn of cinema) – there has been so much goodwill created up to this point that the tiredness of this meme hardly seems to matter in the long run.

My only real gripe with the film is a purely minor and aesthetic one – as the high-contrast, desaturated color (very much the current look of big Hollywood movies these days) is, to be perfectly frank; truly a depressingly ugly and unappealing look and one which will undoubtedly date the film in decades to come. Having said this, however, Deadpool still remains clever, fast and terribly naughty – one for those who’ve grown weary of superhero tropes and perhaps the most fun you’ll have in theaters this year while keeping your pants on. Oops … did I really just say that?

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, March 17th 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.