Steampunk

  Editor’s note: With Tai Chi Zero now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 30, 2012. The martial arts genre has always featured period films fairly prominently, but it seems the Hong Kong and mainland China film industries have made a home there in recent years with no intention of leaving it anytime soon. Truth be told the biggest problem with the pseudo genre is that it’s swallowed Donnie Yen whole. He hasn’t made a contemporary film since 2007’s bone-crackingly brilliant Flash Point! But Yen aside, there are so many of these films that it’s getting difficult to tell them apart. Writer Kuo-fu Chen and director Stephen Fung recognized this fact and set out to tell a tale that would stand apart from the herd. The ace up their sleeve is a visual style that brings slow-mo, onscreen graphics and the inclusion of steam-punk elements to their story of a young man who travels to a remote village to learn a very specific and equally powerful form of martial arts. His quest is interrupted by Western-led intruders bent on leveling the town to make way for a railroad. On paper, and in trailer form, Tai Chi Zero seems like a success, but the end result is a mixed bag of frenetic action, humorous asides and a silliness that just won’t quit.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Who’s Victoria Vanderbelt? She’s a steampunk bounty hunter in the old west, making arrests with the help of her copper-plated robo-baby. That’s right. Robo-baby. The style of Ian Pugh‘s short is definitely DIY, with cheap props and kitschy set dressing to spare, but it’s also a delight. It’s a simple series of skits sewn together with a patchwork of green screening and stop-motion that’s old timey and a lot of fun. What will it cost? Only 3 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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Most zombie stories have their own origins for the walking dead, and their own special names for the rotting, shuffling fiends. In Cherie Priest’s novel “Boneshaker” they’re called “Rotters” and they’re created when people are exposed to a toxic gas. That’s one way in which Priest puts a new spin on the old zombie tropes, the other is that she’s set the zombie apocalypse in a steampunk world, creating a mish-mash of genres that should get nerds dressed in black clothes and nerds dressed in brown clothes drooling alike. A more descriptive introduction to the book, from its Amazon page, reads like this: “In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born. But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead. Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.” According to a press release […]

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Why Watch? A brief examination of a growing, brass-filled culture. PBS‘s Off Book series is a wondrous mini-doc collection that examines some fascinating parts about our culture and society. In this installment, they get antique without getting rusty with the growing geek movement or art, music, dance and theater that we know (and love) as Steampunk. It’s a joyous window with a small view into the world, and as an October bonus, there’s even talk of a Steampunk Haunted House. Plus, they close out the doc with 7 Things That Are Better Steampunk’d. Yes, Hello Kitty is involved. What does it cost? Just 5 minutes of your time. Check out the trailer for Off Book: Steampunk for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because all you need is a mechanical horse to get the girl. After a week’s hiatus, the shorts are back, and this is a strong one to lead off with. It’s a curious animation that delivers a story through darkened silhouettes and elaborate backgrounds. Featuring a soaring score, it focuses on a young man and woman finding each other in a world where dirigibles fill the air, but they aren’t perfect for each other. The layered look lends itself both to the joyous moments and the sorrowful, and the music buoys every moment leading up to a severe ending. What does it cost? Just 9 minutes of your time. Check out Invention of Love for yourself:

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