Friday, March 14, 2008


I've been going to The Boston Sci-Fi Marathon for several years now - started at the Coolidge, followed it to Dedham and West Newton before it landed back at Somerville for what seems like a fairly permanent arrangement - and I admit, I've got some mixed feelings about it. It's the sort of event that is absolutely the most fun the first time, and eventually becomes as much a social event as a chance to see a bunch of movies. That's probably why my love for it has waned a bit since I started going; I don't have a group of friends I meet there, and none of the people I've ever tried to talk into going has ever come. So it has, for me, become about endurance to a certain extent, and that's no attitude to have toward something you mainly do out of love.

This year actually had a pretty nice line-up; I wish I could have stayed awake through the whole thing. Maybe next year I'll have someone to elbow me during whatever the equivalent of 1984 is.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

As I said in my previous review, this is one that grew on me quite a bit even after liking it a lot the first time. A second viewing didn't do anything to dissuade me from that view; although I still wonder about some of the things that Hud films when I think he and sane people everywhere would either turn the camera off and devote all his attention to running, or when it might not be convenient to evesdropping, there's enough slack because the movie needs it.

Also, it's fun to check for the things I missed the first time around but read about later, like the very last scene, which doesn't just serve a fitting coda.

Full review at HBS, along with eight others.

King Dinosaur

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

Later on in the marathon, people were subjected to A Sound of Thunder, which is similarly awful but in a cynical way. The makers of King Dinosaur, on the other hand, lack the resources of both finance and talent that the makers of today's terrible sci-fi movies possess, and that works in their favor a bit. You see the terrestrial animals shot in extreme close-up to make them appear to be giant alien creatures, and admire the attempt to make something out of nothing.

That doesn't make this a good movie or close to it; too much is still laughable - the useless woman who traveled months in a rocket-ship to Counter-Earth an wants to go home ten minutes after landng, the amount of filler necessary to nudge the running time over an hour, the gung-ho use of an atomic bomb that isn't just awful in retrospect. This is a bad movie all around, the type that is only partially excused by the earnest effort put into it.

The Last Mimzy

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

The Last Mimzy doesn't quite rate "buried treasure" status, but it's certainly in the "buried thing worth seeing" category. It's about kids who find a box of toys from the future, which gives them strange powers but also draws out their innate abilities. They draw the attention of Homeland Security, of course, and inevitably escape with the help of a sympathetic teacher.

It's a kids' movie, but one of the good ones which doesn't talk down to its audience or assume they've got ADHD. The adult characters are sympathetic and reasonable. The effects are restrained but nifty when they do appear. It's a fine sci-fi movie whether or not you've got any little guys watching it with you.

Five reviews at HBS

In the Shadow of the Moon

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

There were a couple people talking behind me during this one, which isn't particularly noteworthy in and of itself, although it bothered me more than usual. The manned space program is one of the most fantastic things in human history, and the moon program its greatest achievement. I'm not a religious person, but I suddenly understood the feelings of anyone who ever shushed me for talking in church.

For this really is an exceptional document - there is no narration beyond a title card or two; the film consists almost entirely of the reminiscences of the surviving Apollo astronauts and actual footage cobbled together from NASA, television news, and other sources. The archival footage (we are reminded that it is all the real deal) generally looks to be either exceptionally well-preserved or restored; the interview segments show us lean men who are still capable of inspiring awe despite their age, but are also generally genial and funny. There's anecdotes that even die-hard space fanatics may not have heard, and the familiar ones are well-told. The closest thing to a complaint is one I have with many documentaries that lean on "talking head" segments, in that I'd like to have everyone constantly identified; the nature of this particular film means we're juggling a bunch of old white men. But it's a small quibble.

Now I just have to hope that the UK HD DVD announced for the end of March actually comes out; I've got that pre-ordered and I'm not quite hopeful about a Region A Blu-ray disc coming out any time soon.

One review at HBS

Ever Since the World Ended

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

This faux-doc has a nifty idea - chronicling life after a nasty plague wipes out ninety-odd percent of humanity - and does a pretty good job of making the audience believe that the characters are living in a nearly-empty San Francisco. The trouble, I guess, is that this world-building doesn't really lead to anything. We find out that the world's children aren't really interested in the pre-plauge world's history and the reaction is just "yeah... that makes sense". We wind up kind of short on interesting conflict; what there is is deliberately small in scale.

It's also a movie where I was still trying to decide whether or not I had already seen it until about about thirty minutes in or so. It has been kicking around for about five years, and I do enough events where a low-budget sf-y film like this might show up that it was a possibility. Eventually, I think I decided that I hadn't, but you know what? If I see it again in five years, I strongly suspect that the only way I'll know that I'd already seen it would be because it's documented here.

One review at HBS

War of the Worlds '53

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

Speaking of anti-climaxes, this story in all its forms is predicated on a thoroughly deliberate one. When Matt saw the recent Tom Cruise version, he actually complained about the ending until being reminded that without that ending, more or less exactly, it's not War of the Worlds. I do kind of wonder how H.G. Wells would react to this film's insinuation that the aliens were eventually brought down by prayer, as he tended toward the atheistic.

That aside, this version of War of the Worlds still stands very tall among fifties sci-fi films. It shares many of that group's faults - it treats "scientists" as something close to magicians and tends not to question authority - but its sights and sounds hold up very well.

(And, besides, it inspired that stupid but fun late-eighties sci-fi/horror series. The first year of that holds a special place in my heart for teaching me that gore can be fun!)

Two reviews at HBS

2001: A Space Odyssey

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

There's seldom been anything quite like 2001, either before or since. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke shared both a grand vision and a mania for detail, along with the skill (and obsessiveness) necessary to actually get it on screen. I tend to gravitate toward the detail; seldom has interplanetary flight ever seemed so right, so precisely imagined and reasonably extrapolated, as it does here.

The grander story, the alien monoliths scattered throughout the solar system that guide and boost human evolution, leaves me a little colder; I tend to be pretty fond of the idea that we got where we are by hard work and taking advantage of favorable mutations. I do love how the stargate grabs the audience and forces them to think, while also staring in wonder at what Kubrick and company created with the visual effects and animation capabilities of the time.

I did start nodding off during this movie, though (at least I made it past midnight!). i'm sure of it, because I missed HAL singing "Daisy, Daisy". Ah, well - at least it gives me an excuse to see just how good the HD version is; I've heard great things.

Two reviews at HBS

Black Sheep

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

Some of the SF/33 promotion labeled this as a regional premiere, which wasn't the case - I saw it at the Boston Fantastic Film Festival a couple years back, which is just a quick hop on the red line or 91 bus away. I liked it then, and liked it again on the second go-round It's perfect for the wee hours of a marathon like this - shockingly funny and gross as well as bright and colorful enough to fool your brain into thinking its still daytime.

Some people describe it as a horror movie, but I really don't see it that way - it's never really trying to scare you. Make you jump, yes. Gross you out, yes. But no-one's going to have nightmares about killer sheep gnawing off their dangly bits because of this movie, or worry about anything. It's just a fine, gross, black comedy.

(I was surprised by the people I overheard saying they had trouble with the accents. On the scale of accents being close to "American", New Zealand is way closer to the Canada side of the scale than the rural Scotland side!)

Full review (and four others) at HBS


N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

Here is where I got most of my sleep for the night. Remember how bright and colorful I described Black Sheep as being? 1984 is the opposite of that. It's grey and overcast, populated by serious people speaking in level tones. The voiceovers are probably taken directly from Orwell's prose, and they're dry political theory rather than something that comes from the characters as individuals.

Which, I think, might be a problem with the movie even if it wasn't a 4am death slot. 1984, after all, is about its ideas; the story is close to incidental. It is so thoroughly a lecture on how fascism works and where it ultimately leads that any sort of plot twist would be completely missing the point. That's why I could tell that I had fallen asleep several times during the movie but not really feel like I had missed anything, even though I could see that the story had moved forward without me.

One review at HBS

Journey to the Seventh Planet

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

I'm just not charmed by old, bad sci-fi movies. Some folks are connisseurs, I guess, of such things, and look at John Agar's name in this film's credits as a sort of stamp of legitimacy; he's been in other bad sci-fi flicks and he's a comfortable, reassuring presense. These people tend to be in their forties or fifties or older, and probably don't like the movies themselves as the years in their lives in which they were encountered, whether that be in the theater or on television.

They're not good movies detached from that, and this one is worse than usual, bad enough for the American distributor to actually spring for new visual effects. The film involves landing on Uranus to find an environment that is not hostile - except, of course, for the telepathic creature that convinces the crew that there are some fine-looking women there, in order to lure them to some sort of doom. It's ridiculous, it's been done better, it's just generally not worth the time.

One review at HBS

A Sound of Thunder

* (out of four)
Ignored 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

I generally don't get that much of a kick out of writing negative reviews. I know there are people who do, and the general image most people have of film critics is something like Jay Sherman ("it stinks!"), but I sometimes worry that my reviews cluster in the 2.5-3.5 star range, because even the worst movie still has something within it worth watching.

Not this one. This one is just junk, through and through, and a lot of people were justifiably upset at its inclusion.

I took it as an opportunity to get myself a bacon-and-egg crepe next door and hit up the ATM across the street. This movie's vortex of suck was so powerful that that meant walking out into a downpour, which had mostly cleared up by the end of the marathon. After that was done, I hung out in the upstairs lobby for a half hour or so, enjoying the leg room that you just don't find in the Somerville Theater's balcony section.

Full review at HBS, along with four others.

A Boy and His Dog

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2008 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/33)

Post-apocalyptic stories generally don't do much for me. Not just because many are set in the far-off year of 1999 only to be tripped up by the fact that we didn't blow ourselves up leaving all of North America a radioactive wasteland and it looks less likely all the time so stop making these things even if they are cheap and people think a cynical view of the future is cooler than an optimistic one...

Ahem. Sorry; pet peeve. Anyway, this isn't a genre I'm particularly fond of, but A Boy and His Dog is a better-than-average example of it. The telepathic bond between the title characters is a neat idea, and there's some fun insanity in the underground society where Don Johnson's horny teenager winds up. Curiously, these two things don't intersect much at all - the title characters are separated at this point. Before then, though, there's a bunch of wandering around the desert, encountering various hostile but uninteresting groups. Been there, done that.

One review at HBS

I did wonder if I might have gotten through everything better if the films had played in their intended order - A Boy and His Dog was initially scheduled to play at about 10pm, while War of the Worlds was scheduled to close things out at 10am, but the brand new film print that the director had struck just for the Marathon (it did look pretty nice) wound up locked up in a UPS warehouse until it opened on Monday morning

Ah, well. Another one in the books. As cranky as these pieces generally are, I'm looking forward to next year's.

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