Wednesday, 9 September 2015

No Blade of Grass - Post Apocalyptic Movie Review

No Blade of Grass is a 1970 post apocalyptic movie based on the book The Death of Grass by
Samual Youd. I had never heard of the book before, but the premise is quite simple: A virus strain that kills rice crops, spreads across the world and starts affecting other crops and grasses. This puts the protagonist of the story, English engineer John Custance on a journey across England hoping to reach his brother's potato farm amidst the breakdown of urban society.

The storyline of the book had me intrigued, so I watched the movie online. The surprise and fun of watching the movie was that I thought it was a normal 'G' rated Hollywood type of movie - in actuality, the movie has an 'R' rating for the following:
  • Language - Hearing the word 'shit', 'piss' and even  'knockers' put a bit of goofy smile on my face (haven't heard that term since I was a teenager!). Since I thought this movie was rated for general audiences, it took me by surprise.
  • Violence - The violence seemed more Broadway than 'Saving Private Ryan'. And of course who could resist vehicles bursting in flames whilst hitting a solid object - all done in slow motion of course!
  • There is nudity and rape. While the rape seen was disturbing, the survivors of rape seem to be particularly nonchalant about their dramatic experience. The way the father consoled the daughter victim was in the same way that one would to try to console her for not making the cheerleader squad. No dad of the year awards here.
The shining point was that the film had some snappy one liners:
  • "This is a motion picture. It's not a documentary, but it could be."
  • "George, do you know what I think caused the virus? It's because them Chinese fertilize everything with human shit!"
  • "Don't worry, She has a survival kit between her legs."
Unfortunately the zingers couldn't quite save the movie. The acting, script, and overall visual effects were subpar. The acting fell in that greyzone where it was not bad enough to be campy but certainly not good enough to rise above mediocracy.

There was not enough character development to gather any rapport from the audience. When characters have bad things happen to them, it iss hard muster any real emotion from their circumstances.

Finally, the movie feels cheap. This surprised me because the movie actually had a decent budget, $1,500,000, which equates to about $9.25 million dollars in 2015. Not sure where all that money was invested but certainly not in special effects.

Verdict: 2.5 out 5 stars. Fans of the genre will no doubt enjoy this, however, this film has not aged well and is hampered by mediocre acting. Sadly, though the story itself is interesting and timely, the execution of it this movie is hackneyed.

Friday, 4 September 2015

RECILISIB (EX-RAD®) for all your radiation needs

Rad-X from Fallout (1997)

In 2010, a product known as EX-RAD made headlines that it can reduce damage from radiation exposure. It was one of those cases where science fiction actually turned into reality, as Rad-X was the name of an anti-radiation drug from the post apocalyptic game series Fallout released 13 years prior.

Interestingly enough, the drug developed may be even better than the one developed in the video game; it can heal radiation as preventative measure and post exposure. In Fallout, Rad-X is taken prior to exposure while another drug Rad-Away is taken after exposure. EX-RAD can effectively deal with both problems:
Results from the radiomitigation experiment (where the drug is administered after exposure to lethal radiation), using both injection and oral methods of delivery demonstrated that Ex-RAD® treated animals had comparably high rates of survival in both groups.

Hence, oral Ex-RAD® was found to be effective in both prophylactic pre-treatment and mitigation post-treatment settings. Source.

Onconova Therapeutics,  the Pennsylvanian company that developed this drug in conjunction with the US Department of Defense has find an interesting way to to deal with radiation poisoning: Instead of stopping the cell cycle or scavenging for free radicals, it opens up a mechanism to sense damage and repair DNA pathways. The CEO and co-founder of Onconova, Ramesh Kumar, believes this is a better method than scavenging free radicals, as they are short lived and would narrow the window of opportunity to make the drug effective.

How well does it work? Below is an image of the DNA comet assay, which is a way of measuring DNA damage. In this test, the longer the length the of comet, the more damage is done.  here we can see that Ex-RAD reduces the length of the comet tail. 

The lethal dose of radiation for humans is about 4.5 Gy.

So where is EX-RAD today? According to the website 4 trials have been completed in Phase 1 and is currently seeking additional government funding. Typically, there will be 3 more phases after this. A quick overview of these phases are:

Phase Primary goal
Preclinical Testing of drug in non-human subjects, to gather efficacy, toxicity and pharmacokinetic information
Phase 0 Pharmacodynamics and Pharmacokinetics particularly oral bioavailability and half-life of the drug
Phase I Testing of drug on healthy volunteers for dose-ranging
Phase II Testing of drug on patients to assess efficacy and safety
Phase III Testing of drug on patients to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety
Phase IV Postmarketing surveillance – watching drug use in public

As it is still in initial phases, it may be a few years yet before it goes to the market. It takes an average of  12 years for a new drug to go from lab to pharmacy.

Here are some additional facts about the drug:
  • Names: Recilisib, Ex-RAD®
  • Chemical Name:  Sodium (E)-4-(2-((4-chlorobenzyl)sulfonyl)vinyl)benzoate
  • Appearance: white solid powder
  • Shelf Life: >2 years if stored properly 
Onconova Therapeutics is listed on the NASDAQ as ONTX. It was founded in 1998 and became publicly listed in 2013.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Post Apocalyptic by the numbers

Its been a very long time and no post - a few years in fact. Its been difficult to keep tabs on 'post apocalyptic' happenings in the media just because there has been so much of it. As far as my own voice was concerned, I felt like I didn't have too much new to offer with so much new post apocalyptic work being done in the arts. This subject still interests me; just call it a bad case of blogger's block.

So I will put my toe in the water once again and observe what the latest trends and figures are for 'post apocalyptic' over the decades by digging into Google Trends, Wikipedia articles, and Google Keyword Planner (an advertising tool).

Below is the graph from Google Trends showing the interest in 'post apocalyptic' searches since 2005:

What is interesting is the increase of both literature and films of this genre. For instance, a list of movies over time:

We are half to the next decade and it looks like film and it looks like the output of post apocalyptic films will double before 2020. This from another doubling of output from the 1990's - before then it was pretty stable. Perhaps the list isn't perfect - maybe not enough foreign movies or not 'pure' post apocalyptic - but regardless, it an interesting trend.

The chart below is rough (very rough) volume count of a Wikipedia article of post-apocalyptic themes through the decades. It is important to note is that for year, I used year the year of origin as some TV, movie, game and books series can cut across decades.  Below is a quick excel graph I whipped up after collating the decades from the above article:

This shows that we may have reached 'peak post apocalyptia' in early 2000's; if the current trend continues, there will be less original post apocalyptic literature in the current than in the 1980's. So while interest in the subject is trending up, as well as in films, new wellsprings of post apocalyptic art is possibly in the decline.

More specifically, below are some keywords taken from post apocalyptic searches per month from Google; it shows a pretty strong interest in the arts, including fiction, film, games, television and fashion. Not outrageously high number counts, but it displays that there is still a healthy interest in the subject matter.

Keyword Average Monthly Searches
post apocalyptic 33100
post apocalyptic fiction 18100
best post apocalyptic movies 6600
post apocalyptic books 6600
post apocalyptic games 5400
post apocalypse 5400
best post apocalyptic books 2900
post apocalyptic tv shows 2400
post apocalyptic clothing 2400
post apocalyptic romance 1900
post apocalyptic fashion 1600
post apocalyptic mayhem 1600
post apocalyptic anime 1600
best post apocalyptic games 1300
post apocalyptic series 1000
top post apocalyptic movies 880
post apocalyptic films 880
post apocalyptic world 880
post apocalyptic novels 880
post apocalyptic city 880
post apocalyptic definition 880
post apo 880
postapocalyptic 880
post apocalypse movies 720
post apocalyptic art 720
good post apocalyptic movies 590
post apocalyptic survival 590
post apocalyptic tv series 590
best post apocalyptic novels 480
post apocalyptic movie 480
post apocolyptic 480
post apocalyptic shows 480
post apocalyptic mmo 480
post apocalyptic rpg 480
post apocalyptic clothes 480

So based on these rough indicators gleaned from online research tools, it looks like post apocalyptic interest, especially in the arts, is increasing. The only caveat would be that perhaps original work is on the decline, with a greater emphasis on serialised content.

Is this a bad thing? Some very popular films and games spanned decades such as Mad Max (1970's, 1980's, 2010's) and the Fallout Video Games (1990's, 2000's, 2010's). A few have jumped genres across across the decades, such as the Walking Dead - from comic book to TV series. Whilst there is debate whether sequels ruin the original, I do think the cases above the content has remained fresh. That is a testament that the genre is standing the test of time.