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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Boston Science Fiction Festival 4

Monday night consisted of three features and my daughter's 20th birthday. So first off all the most wonderful wishes a father can send his little girl on her first day after her teen years. Like your name you are a Joy in my life. Of course she is off at college and could not be at today's program.

The Boston Science Fiction Festival is in full swing providing a steady stream of features and shorts to New England audiences, festival passes and passes to the Movie marathon can be found at the their website. Individual tickets to screenings can be purchased at the Somerville Theatre up until time of show.

The Collapsed (2011) - A family of four is hiding in a warehouse, the sounds of gunfire can be heard outside. They don't feel safe where they are and the father Scott Weaver (John Fantasia) leads them out into the streets to find a more secluded location. He takes point and stares them around people he sees, its the end of the world apparently and its a dangerous place. With him are wife Emily (Lise Moule) daughter Rebecca (Anna Ross) and son Aaron (Steve Vieira) and they eventually make it to a subway and sleep on the platform. The decide to make for Dovers Bend (or some such place) where they are hoping their other son Daniel is still surviving, it is a less populated center which could also be good. So the next day through the chaos they picks their way through the streets until they find a car they can take. Interactions at this point are about how to get where they are going and it seems Scott is unquestionable more paranoid than he should be. This viewer started to wonder if there wasn't something not quite right with him. Stopping at a gas station they collect supplies. When Dad spies a couple big guys with guns pulling into the gas station he pushes his family out the back door and off into the wood fleeing. Although armed with an old rifle and a revolver the family has limited ammo and fleeing seems like the smarter choice. What was noticeable at this point is that the only one who is actually seeing the threats is Scott which lead to the early conclusion that he is a bit delusional and may be taking his family on a fantasy ride through his paranoia. Then in the woods the family talks about a presence they all feel and you are brought back to the idea there really is a threat of some kind. Could there be an alien invasion of something like that. Conversations reveals that Dad may have killed Rebecca's boyfriend but that it was deemed necessary.
When the two guys head back to the store to find it empty and it is the Scott who checks the gas tank saying it is empty, well I was right back to it being Dad who is imagining things. As they get bad to camp Aaron stops to pee and when he arrives in camp he find his Mother and sister dead. One stabbed and the other with a broken neck, Scott blames the men from the store but his cover is blown. It was so obvious at this point that he has lost his mind and killed them. Now it is just a matter of time before he does the son and then realized that he is the killer. Long... before that though we get lots of walking in the woods by the two men. Scott's dreams push you towards believing his subconscious is feeling mighty guilty about his wife and daughter. Long before Aaron is shot dead by a mysterious sniper and Scott is captured by another group of paranoids it is clear what is going on. So the explanation handed to you of a virus making everyone paranoid killers is not a surprised at all. Scott's anguish at realizing his deeds is belittled because it was figured out way too early. The horrible cliche reenactments as he suddenly remembers his crimes means that this is not really very original. Still some credit is due for creating a mood and following through with the idea. The idea that we could finally be done in by some kind of virus that gives us all mental illness is a wonderfully frightful one. I just wish the script and execution of the script by director Justin McConnell was a bit more stealth. (3.6) 5.0 and up are recommended.

The Book (2010) - This film came with a warning to look past the over the top costumes and acting and pay attention to the plot. Okay if that is what has to be done, its a long festival and sometimes some patience is needed with some of the movies. The film completely created by Richard Weiss, who for some reason wanted to be known as a symbol so we will refer to him as the symbol former known as Richard Weiss, is not half bad. He did just about everything in this film from costume design to editing to directing and producing. This is obviously a film Mr. Weiss had to make. Yes you really have to get past the costumes and strange sets but after you do there is an alien invasion story here that is not bad. It's not good but is a passable little tale with some really rather fucked up ideas. What if we all shared one set of moral and religious values and all interpreted them the same. Would we have a peaceful world without violence and hate?
Sarah (Genevieve Antaky), her father and Bratt (Phil Baradat) are being taken to a secret ceremony where they are going to learn the story of The Book" In the voice over and reiterated at the ceremony we learn that the book has changed the world. All who have read it have were permanently changed by the book and released from negative thoughts. The ceremony has the The Keeper burns the book and then tell its story. The story, 200 years before of a writer Alex Paris (Stan Weston) who with his family, wife Cleo (Felecia Faulkner) and daughter Julie (Pamela Wycliffe) are replaced by aliens in a bit of a "Invasions of the Body Snatchers" style. This so they can get the book published and take over the earth through its ideas. You see once changed by the book you will no longer be the unhappy soul you are now but will be happy and without negative thought. The downside of course is the loss of free will. The majority of the film really looks at this man and his family, his publisher Romeo and his girlfriend Sally as the initial aliens take their places.
Then we come back to the ceremony to learn that these people tell this story as a warning. That none of them have read the book because they are all illiterate, so they still have free will. It is not quite ignorance is bliss but it is at least the dumb shall save the world.
This movie created more conversation afterwards than any so far. The strange style aside it has really a unique message. The illiterate burning the book and feeling they have free will only because they can't read was a turn not expected. When the movie started you thought it might be about the book itself but no, its a story being told by those who have not read the book and see it as harmful to the society. It was proposed that maybe the film was a anti Scientology message. The alien who inhabit the humans are the Thetans and the book is Scientology, the purging of negative emotions i mentioned in the film, and even possible an en meter. Could this be a reference to the engrams of consciousness Scientology believes in? Could the book be Dianetics? No, at his website for the film you can learn the motivations, and they are not about this. It was a strange little film with brightly colored costumes and makeup, strange camera angles (used to give the subconscious feeling of looking up as a child does) and cheesey special effects. I have not read The Book so all I can say is...
" Blessed are the illiterate for we were saved."
All in all not a horrible film but I would not seek it out either so Rating (4.5) 5.0 and up are recommended.

The Last Push (2012) - The last and best film of the night was this story by writer/director Eric Hayden about the first manned mission to find life on Jupiter's moon Europa. Hayden with mostly special effects credits certainly shows us some in this contemplative but compelling story. Nathan Miller (James Madio) and Michael Forrest (Khary Payton) are private astronauts working for Walter Moffitt (Lance Henriksen) a billionaire looking to be the first to send men out into the solar system. Having seen what appear to be whales of some kind on images of Europa he quickly puts his billions to work to get a manned mission to the moon. The idea is to put them into hypersleep and then shoot them around Venus to slingshot back past Earth where they will pick up more speed and head out to Europa a nine year journey. Once past earth they are at a point of no return and have to continue on to do their mission before returning nine more years later.
Unfortunately while in hypersleep on the far side of Venus the sleep / reentry module is struck by a micro asteroid and although Michael makes it into the living capsule Nathan is lost and the mission is a failure. Now awake without a hypersleep chamber Michael must fix the ship, and keep his sanity for the three year journey back to earth where the mission will be aborted. In the capsule without the window Michael only has the delayed interaction with mission control for interaction with other humans. His primary contact Bob Jansen (Brian Baumgartner) does his best to give him a friendly hopeful face in a somewhat hopeless situation. He also has problems to solve, that will mean life or death for him and his return home. The automatic switches that signaled the engine burn that will push him out of Venus' orbit has failed and he must find a way to rewire the system and do the burn manually. He has time and the film spends many scenes showing his growing frustration at failing to be successful. It is a marathon and if not for finding a few things hidden by his dead shipmate in the bowels of the ship he may have completely lost his mind. Still he loses it to an extent and we see his routine slowly deteriorate with each fail test at engine burn. Mixed in the film are messages to Michael of hope for his safe return from people all over the world that are poignant and build our connection to the character.
Through the journey we see Michael the more serious of the to men really become human as he struggles with creating and keeping a routine both physical and mental. He recites the Presidents of the United States, then by first name. He imagines a globe on the walls of the tiny room and where cities and countries would be, recites the periodic table and the seven dwarfs anything to keep his mind focused in the absolute loneliness of space. Still this kind of isolation will have its toll and the hallucination of voice from the burned out reentry capsule drive him a bit nuts. When next to Venus there are some stunningly beautiful effects of what the ship would look like passing that close to the planet. Michael for his part finally gets enough courage to reenter the burned module and clean it up and look out the window at the sites. It is calming to him seeing what no man has ever seen. It is a real reminder what he is there for, to be the eyes of man in the solar system. When after 25 failures or more he gets the burn to work next to Venus he is reinvigorated and just a couple years from home. He has renewed purpose and drive and one could say starts to flourish on the journey. His routines are reestablished with focus and drive. He fixes the landing capsule best he can and it is looking like he is going to make it back to earth. When the time comes though Michael has really been transformed by his experience. He understands who he is as he reaches the orbit of his home planet. He is completely in touch with his motivation for volunteering for this mission. He and Moffitt have there final conversation before the capsule returns to earth and the ship continues onto Europa. Acting was exceptional with Payton capturing the rigidness of a scientist and the frayed edges of a person alone in a desparate situation.The visuals are stunning, space never looking more beautiful and the sound and plot are winners here too. The real handicap was keeping the tension while so much of the film was just Michael in a room, but that was done pretty well. This is such a solid science fiction film just perfect for fans of the genre.
Rating (7.7) 5.0 and up are recommended

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