“Mailbox” at DUST by Louis Yin (October 15, 2021, 17:00 min)
An American Chinese immigrant makes contact with his grandson in the future via a mailbox. Together they have to deal with their mutual enemies.
Review: Based on Yanan Wang’s short story, “The Post man,” the story begins in New York City in 1946, where Chinese immigrants are oppressed by a criminal landlord. The gritty, authentically period tale begins to revolve around an old mailbox that turns out not to be time bound.
Not a spoiler: Bo (William Yuekun Wu) can mail things to the future. His grandson (whose life appears to have only somewhat improved by being two generations on… ) can, however, help by mailing back stuff from the future.
Imagine getting a message from the future: “How much money do you need?”
But the grandson (Alex Wu) sends something that will impress the felons far more than money… remember, the item he sends is from the future — and no more spoilers.
One way the story tips the hat to sci fi is that the consequences of time travel emerge in a critical climax scene.
One strength is that the tale flows like a traditional folk tale; it is spare, observing the unities of time, place, and circumstance. That reduces the “believability” problem because we focus on the underlying concepts.
The ambience is excellent and the story remains just this side of believability (that is, our willing suspension of disbelief, as the first drama critic, Aristotle, put it, is not too strained).
One improvement to the production might be to reload the video so as to include subtitles for the Chinese language. Most viewers do not need to read stuff like “[ominous music].” But we lose the thread if we don’t understand what the characters are saying. Unfortunately, the result is that most of the spoken language is from the villains of the piece. So we are left to infer too much about the other characters. Still one to watch, for sure.
We sort films reviewed below by length in minutes and seconds so you can choose them based both on interest and on how much time you have:
Five minutes or less
“This planet is not in our co-ordinates.” (3 min) A space courier crew gets a surprise when delivering a mysterious machine to a strange planet. One could almost see something like “McPherson’s Toys” happening, as an office gag, but 500 years from now. (Animated)
The robot waits for the humans’ return (3:25 min). “Robert” is a household robot who has little to do but prowl the house while the humans are away. This very short film is a meditation on loneliness, with musical accompaniment and a robot as the central character.
A cruel experiment plays with three lives (3:32 min). Rational thought offers no contest, in this minimalist film, to the will to survive or at least get revenge in death. In “2-Bullet Solution,” only one of three people can survive being trapped in a test gas chamber — by shooting the other two.
Fenestra, the aliens land in a domestic drama. (3:49 min) As the alien ships loom worldwide, the cheating boyfriend thinks he can just come back… At under four minutes, Fenestra gives all the elements of a good, lean story against an alien invasion setting.
Can video games save a lone survivor? (3:51 min) “High Score” features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization. The “game” that turns out to be an existential struggle usually benefits from a longer treatment but the animation is well imagined.
When the robot discovers nature. On a ruined planet, a dog robot get caught in a time warp. If a robot dog had a dog mind, wouldn’t it prefer to be as much of a real dog as possible?
What if the future does not include smarter people? (4 min) Comic scenes would dot the aerial landscape, dispelling the usual earnestness of sci-fi films. A brief sci-fi diversion like “Floaters” reminds us that cluelessness is not a problem we can just solve or should even try to. (Animated)
What if an old man could see his mother again? (4:02 min) “Bygone” is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one recently, but worthwhile. The old man is paying to use his own memories, retrieved via neuroscience imaging.
Machine world at its most nihilist 4:38 min This very short animated cyberpunk thriller portrays a world of autonomous vehicles where faces are very rare. In the “Autonomous” near-future world, pretty much everything we see, except the drug dealers, is a machine. (Animated)
Would you become an animal to save a species? (4:13 min) The animation is good and the question raised is interesting. “Floreana” looks at a world where we become the animals we are trying to save .. Would it work?
A choice between saving one’s child and oneself Is life always so simple? Well, we shall see. (4:58 min) Zoe is a pleasant summer view with a happy ending. Well done technically and the actors are veterans. Some questions remain.
Ten minutes or less
Watch what you wish for. There IS a tomorrow! (5:01) Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight. The short film features strong performances by Momo Dione and Samantha Lester, and the surprise ending avoids cliché.
A girl with kinetic powers faces a choice. (5:06 min) Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong? “Kinetic” is well executed but it breaks a fundamental rule of science fiction: There must be a clear science basis for the story premise.
It’s 2075! Our motto: “Ignorance is Bliss” (5:12 min) This animated short asks us to consider a future world in which information is reduced to a sort of haze. An aging neurobotanist struggles to preserve the knowledge of plants in a surreal landscape of clutter flying amid futurist buildings.
In “No Guarantee,” brain uploading proves costly. (5:22 min) In a ruined mid-21st century Britain, a couple gains tickets to a virtual world — if their brains can be uploaded. But can they? In this very short film, the theme of escape by brain uploading is handled in a refreshingly mature way with characters who face serious choices.
When virtual friends are a real addiction (5:31) Animated short “Best Friends” begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man. As is the way with addicts, our hero cannot use his futurist fix for loneliness responsibly and ends up doing desperate things.
What happens if Earth passes through a black hole (5:36 min) This story isn’t exactly about passage through a black hole: It is a meditation on nothingness that crashes headfirst into nihilismThe film prompts thought about why anyone should believe that there is no underlying order behind the universe. It seems obvious from the artwork that there is.
Rescuing lost people. (5:41 min) Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don’t let that deter you. The professional relationships in “Protocole Sandwich” sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. The animation is very good.
The disabled robot vet in “A Robot Is a Robot” gets a job grooming cats. (5:49 min) Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills. In a research paper, Max Planck scientists recently concluded that it is not possible to hobble the danger from intelligent AI. This film offers a good illustration.
“Are we alone?” asks a new sci-fi short. But then why? (5:48) In “Laniakea,” we are introduced to a civilization’s – museum? Or what is it? An intriguing Sci-fi Saturday. The underlying idea of Laniakea is a serious thesis in astrobiology: Extraterrestrial civilizations die out unless they adopt an unconventional solution.
When a simulated world begins to fall apart. (6:11) In “Untitled Earth Sim 64”, Marie has reason to expect trouble when the simulator who explains reality to her cannot get her name right… If Marie has found God amid strange events, as her friend thinks, the God she has found is highly disorganized one.
When God gets distracted — (6:36 min) A clever animated short offers a take on why there is so much violence and chaos in the world
In “Tales from the Multiverse,” Earth is the beta version left unattended by a God who is too busy breaking up fights between his kids, including the devil.
If you met someone in a dream every night… ? (7:08 min) In a sci-fi short, a paramedic must confront a question about the nature of reality. Would a constantly recurring dream that you and another person shared be the equivalent of reality?
When sci-fi gets earnest about colonization (7:12 min) Worth seeing but we never get to find out who the characters are fighting or why some treaty could not be arranged. The “Ripple Effect” looks at rebellion against the colonization of a new planet but the production values create more interest than the intellectual content.
Love among the ruins, for robots. “Left behind” is a beautifully rendered animated short of robots looking for some place to just exist in a deserted, ruined industrial landscape (7:14 min) At 275,000 views, this short film is deservedly popular. Animation eliminates many of the problems otherwise inherent in trying to make robots characters.
A fight for the winning ticket (7:35 min) In “Here comes Frieda,” in a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out. But does the way out really exist? Or is she just hanging on and clinging to a fragile hope?
If we all depended on a few handfuls of seeds… (7:39 min)
Actually, we do. An inventive Norwegian filmmaker has made a short sci-fi film out of a possible outcome. What if aliens got hold of the carefully bred seed stocks that feed the world? No plagues or radiation would be needed to control us.
One day the door to the robot’s shop opens (7:44 min) In “Roy,” the robot, is suddenly confronted by another robot, determined to kill or die. It’s a good short film but, while the special effects are well done, it makes no sense that the characters are supposed to be robots.
A space mission to infinity (7:55 min) After the space station module crash, the astronaut finds himself befriended by a friendly but mysterious neighbor. Who is he really? “Flotando,” which has won many awards, is a blend of sci-fi and near-death experience, reminiscent of the 1960s Twilight Zone series.
Layers of deceit plague a high-tech call center – Sci-fi Saturday (7:57 min) In “Lifeline,” Jess, locked in, must try to save a competitor’s life when she can only contact artificial intelligence choices that are not programmed to provide the needed assistance. Jess is resourceful in attempting to save Keith’s life, despite the constant AI roadblocks. But much more is going on than she really knows.
Human psychology in a world without water. (8:05 min) “Oasis” was filmed as a response to the Capetown Water Crisis of 2018. Good short film — but one can take the “empowered woman” thing too far. That probably doesn’t really work in a desperate struggle for survival.
Killing people for “Likes” on an alien planet: Sci-fi Saturday If only this crisp tale didn’t sound so much like the social media we actually know (8:06 min) “Happy Hunting” follows a social media influencer who murders doomed people to break an online record — and then faces a final, fatal choice.
We have met the aliens and they are… comb jellies. (8:15 min) The alien life form, when it appears in “Seedling,” is very well imagined. Definitely watch it for the sense of isolation when our technology bubble evaporates and for the “comb jelly” space alien.
What if a loved one aged much faster than you? – Sci-fi Saturday It’s one of the implications of faster-than-light travel (8:19 min). Should youthful Cpt. Bernhard take her now very old husband to the new Earth, Gaia? That’s the emotional and ethical dilemma in ARK.
If it’s real, it must be endured. (8:47 min) “It’s Okay?”, using futurist technology, takes a woman back through her time with someone she loves. This short sci-fi film plays around with time — and neatly and deftly avoids the common shortcoming of becoming just plain confusing.
“Kiko”: A great short but key questions unanswered A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store. (9:21 min) An agreeable short but it never addresses the question of how Charlie acquired a robot that would “want” something different from its programming.
When “The Workplace” is anything but (9:32 min) The short film starts with a woman reassuring herself, unsettlingly, “I AM the boss.” This sci-fi short will appeal to many who have had a job at the corner of Rat and Race and sense that’s a blessing compared to the alternative.
What if there were serious wars over clouds? (9:41 min) In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, such wars could happen. The short sci-fi film “Oceanmaker” features pirates who steal precious water from the clouds and a pilot who challenges them.
If roaches formed a miniature civilization… (9:44 min) The roaches have built a rocket, intending to go to the moon, and their activity wakes up a dormant human. In Rocket Roaches, humans have retreated into virtual reality and it is left to the cockroaches to be the smart species that explores the universe.
What if cloning were as easy as shopping? (9:57 min) A couple stumbles on a means of cloning life forms and they get, shall we say, far more than they bargained for… This thought experiment, posed as a film, should make us glad that cloning is technically tricky and used mainly for farm animals.
Fifteen minutes or less
In a Future Market, Time To Live Is Bought, Sold (10:57 min) An employee wants to rebel against the greed and injustice but then she would run out of time … “The Bargain” raises some issues — as a thought experiment — that appear in real life in the illegal organ trade
Terrified by a Scrap Monster (11:09 min) Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, as in “Pinki.” you are clearly missing out. It’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster. Perhaps an allegory of our big environment issues.
What if insects could put humans on trial? (11:11 min) In Science+, a shrunken inventor finds himself facing Ant Justice. In a comic turnabout, the ants, seen face to face, turn out to be roughly like people, of whom — Matt discovers — he has killed nearly 3500.
What if your AI started to talk like a human? (11:12 min) Should you just shut it down and leave the building? And not tell anyone? “Intelligentia” features strong performances and provides a good introduction to the Turing Test (how would we know if a machine had achieved consciousness?)
When the human race is down to its final offer … (11:23 min) The aliens want Earth’s oceans (have they wrecked their own?) and now the fate of Earth turns on a single question: Is Henry really the world’s worst lawyer? The downbeat human lawyer and the alien corporate lawyer in Final Offer achieve artful comedy by the too-little used technique of comic dialogue, not gags.
Could stored memories bring back the dead? A nerd sees a way to bring back his friend Adam from Adam’s girlfriend’s memories (11:45 min) In Adam 2.0, the quest to bring back a dead friend from memory turns on a central question about the nature of human identity.
What would the ruins of “Eden” be like? — Sci-fi Saturday (11:51 min)
Scavenging for artifacts on a ruined planet, a space drifter comes across the ruins of a high-tech civilization. The derelict remains of an advanced civilization are sobering — picture our own civilization looking like that.
If your life could be told in five photos — Sci-fi Saturday
A young woman accepts five key photos concerning a grandfather she never knew, taken at his death via a futurist technology. (11:58 min) It’s a story about what happens when estrangement and loneliness become final, with the death of the one from whom one has been estranged.
Why you do NOT want to duplicate yourself. (12:07 min) “The Unboxing Video” offers philosophy as well as dark comedy around the question of what being “oneself” means. A lonely guy, filming himself unboxing his new android replicant, discovers how hard he is to live with when there are two of him. But can he return himself?
“Speed of Time” at DUST (12:19 min): A computer nerd writing a pizza delivery program discovers that his work is way more important than he, or anyone, thought. Imagine what happens when an accomplished ground warrior busts in from another time on a quiet family at the breakfast table…
Landing back on Earth as the sole inhabitant — unless we count the cat (12:24 min) In “Origin,” an astronaut from an interstellar colony explores the effects of deadly radiation on Earth.
How much can will power do against nature? (12:29) Despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang. The climax will hearten persons who live with a disability though it leaves some fundamental questions unresolved. Maybe they can’t be resolved.
The artist’s android has a surprise in store for him… (12:33 min) He makes the fateful decision to allow her to depart from her programming during a crisis. In “Muse,” the gradually humanizing android Kay raises some interesting ethical and philosophical issues about being/becoming human.
Android asks, is immortality truly a benefit? (12:43 min) He argues that he can never appreciate life if he knows he can never die. More philosophy than sci-fi, “Extent” delves into the question of how much of the meaning we find in life derives from the inevitability of death.
Draper’s chess metaphor seems apt: Life would be endless games where none is intrinsically connected to the previous one in any meaningful way.
Merv is the last man in a ruined radioactive world. (13:05) He’s been alone so long that the thought of another human being panics him. When Merv must confront another survivor, the story takes a classic turn but we might have expected that. Life goes on.
In a world run by robots, a bot becomes a joker (13:12 min) The dull, dystopian atmosphere of an Australia dominated by robots, portrayed in “System Error,” is well done and worth the watch. The story prompted this viewer to consider what thoughts a robot simply couldn’t have without some kind of input from consciousness — always the Hard Problem.
An asteroid lingers near Earth and devours time (13:23 min) Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers in “Flyby.” As the asteroid Chrono-7 hazes Earth, a man wakes up in the morning to find that he is living in his future, one he had never imagined.
In “This Time Away,” a robot helps an old fellow rediscover life (13:24 min) The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course, so finding a helpful robot in the back yard is a pleasant fantasy.
The robot tries to learn about grief (13:37) In “Rewind,” an elderly woman buys a robot to help her when she finds herself all alone, due to tragedy. Investigating the woman’s unhappiness, the robot discovers more than it was, perhaps, intended to know.
What if next-stage evolution children appear? (13:44 min) “Vikaari,” a sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities. The story is very well done as a parable of the social risks of continuous internal warfare.
What if the rescue is the worst part? (14:00 min) Crashed spaceship crew members find themselves on a desert planet with some very strange features. This film version of Stephen King’s 1985 short story “Beachworld” blends the science fiction genre and the horror genre — leaving viewers sharply divided.
Can an alternative universe save a lonely girl? (14:05 min) A girl finds fighting space aliens easier than fighting a brain haemorrhage and a sense of guilt. CARONTE ends as it must — not happily but inevitably, and with at least some sense of redemption.
Can parents get back a dead child as an android? (14:10 min) In “Article 19-42,” they aren’t even united in their grief; they just think they must “do something” to get back a facsimile of what they remember. They have no philosophical or spiritual resources to fall back on in order to avoid this dead end.
What if a new start in life were two pills away? (14:23 min) Would you feel the same about suicide? In “Cam Girl,” a woman whose life is going nowhere, largely by her own choice, learns what it means to be genuinely desperate.
A future where dreams have been privatized (14:26 min) Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants in “I Dream” is to see his missing family again and that’s illegal … More dystopia than science fiction but the post-5G surveillance environment amid mass poverty and oppression is well imagined.
When emergency services are run by AI … (14:38 min) It’s not just that AI doesn’t care; it can’t. And that shows. In “Stuck,” a young woman in a mine accident far from Earth navigates confusing advice from bots to free herself.
What if sweet sleep were a distant memory? (14:51 min) In a world going mad in “Don’t Forget To Remember” and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure. The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to be a cure for it. From the harrowing opening scene on, this film certainly clears that bar.
Twenty minutes or less
Could you be reconstructed from your memories? Sci-fi Saturday If you were, would destroying the digitized “you” be murder? (15:46 min) “The Final Moments of Karl Brant” is an intriguing sci-fi murder mystery crossover that raises intriguing philosophical discussion points.
When you are the only human left— Sci-fi Saturday. Are you the only human left alive or are you the only one who is not alive? (16:19 min) In “Martha,” the stark reality of two girls on the brink of eternity slowly seeps into the viewer’s imagination.
A one-girl war with the total surveillance state —Sci-fi Saturday (17:24 min) The acting, ambience, and special effects in “Bolero” are top quality. “Bolero” tackles the pressing topic of total government surveillance, imagining it in the United States. But it is an everyday reality in China.
“Alone” at DUST. (18:49 min) Space engineer Kaya Torres, the only survivor of a black hole, contacts an “interstellar penpal” to keep her company until she dies. She manages a desperate escape but then experiences one of the astonishing implications of time travel.
When terraforming Mars means “Mars”-forming people. (19:14 min) In this award-winner, the underground humans must, according to the terraforming colony’s rules, deny emotion, which pretty much guarantees a story. The “New Mars” colony embodies a contradiction: The alleged better world created by “science and logic” can’t accommodate the nature of humans.
Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth? (19:31 min) The trouble is, the robot in “Avarya” is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. After 55 habitable planets, the—by then very old—fellow is beginning to suspect something about the robot’s judgment…
Twenty-five minutes or less
“Limbo” profiles a futurist approach to punishment (24:21). The convict must live in a vision, induced during a coma, as the victim (or bereft loved one), in an attempt to rehabilitate him by teaching empathy. For one innocent convict, it’s a nightmare of incomprehensible suffering, from which friends stage a rescue attempt.
Can we live in more than the present moment? (24:42 min) When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors. In “Container,” the time traveler is locked inside his lab and can only get out by repeated, dangerous efforts to go back in time to when the door is unlocked.
“The Beacon” (25:10 min) at DUST. Refreshingly realistic, especially the harrowing Arctic encounter where the grieving husband finds out what really happened. Not to be missed is Mark’s encounter with the bureaucrat from hell.
Forty minutes or less
“The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit in a taut drama. (37:54) The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds. Arriving at a mining station near Saturn, Detective Lennox must interview three suspects in the captain’s murder. All have motives. Who is lying?