Sunday, February 14, 2010

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, Days 8-9: Lunopolis, Ink

Not spending a lot of time here, as I really should head out for Davis Square now for the Marathon. I'll cover that and Days 4-7 (the shorts) once I get back and get some sleep, but I'll be doing a little live-blogging of it on my Twitter feed, at least as log as Box has a charge in its battery. I see some others will be too; look for the hashtags #BostonSciFiFestival and #SF35.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2010 in the Somerville Theater Digital Screening Room (DVD)

Fair warning: I was part of the group screening potential entries for this festival, and Lunopolis was one of the ones I watched and commented on. That's not just a warning that this could potentially be viewed as me further pushing a movie that I've already advocated for once, but to relate a story about it: We were watching samples of movies, and Lunopolis was the one where we wanted to see a bit more, all the way to the end.

It starts with a strange video, apparently showing some sort of paranormal event. From there we back up twelve days, to 9 December 2012, where two guys who moonlight as paranormal investigators in Redwater, Louisiana - Matt (Matthew Avant) and Sonny (Hal Maynor) - have received a box of strange things from a radio host who got them from a guy claiming to work at Area 51. Most is indecipherable, but numbers scribbled on a Polaroid turn out to be GPS co-ordinates of an abandoned houseboat, which hides the entrance to a secret base where they find a strange machine. Doctor Orin Raymond (Ray Blum), a professor of "Alternative Sciences", helps them investigate, and the trail leads to the mysterious Church of Lunology, with their best source being David James (Dave Potter), who claims to be a "lunar escapee".

We follow Matt and Sonny primarily through their own documentary footage, although unlike many of these faux-found-footage films, they get pretty good coverage, as it's established early on that the pair are documenting their work to the point of having two and sometimes three camera people with them at all times. This allows the filmmakers to cut it together much like a standard narrative feature, although the variable quality keeps the homemade feel. Unlike many films of this type, the filmmakers spend some time and resources building it out, adding documentary elements graphics and interviews with experts.

Indeed, at some points in the midsection,the movie is a little too filled with that stuff as we get a pretty massive amount of information on the Church of Lunology and their tenets. It is, perhaps, necessary: Lunopolis is a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory story, and its GUCT is more complex than most that try to fit within such a relatively compact work, involving not just Roswell and Area 51, but Atlantis, a secret base of people on the Moon, something akin to alien astronauts, and time travel. Throwing that last one in there has the potential to make everything a complete, incomprehensible mess, but I think that ultimately, it holds up. It may take a little stretching by the viewer to wrap their brains around it, but I think most will manage.

If so, they'll probably be impressed with the scale of the story for the budget, considering that this is something perilously close to backyard filmmaking: Co-star Matthew Avant also writes, directs, and performs many of the other jobs, while the camera operators appear to be family, based on the shared last name. Maynor shares some of the work and does a good chunk of the rest, including some better-than-good-enough visual effects and graphics. Nothing hugely flashy, but always a good fit for their relatively lo-res media. I suspect it helps that they likely had a much tighter script than many faux-docs, and that helps immensely in keeping the movie relatively quick-paced.

As one might expect from a locally made, tiny-budgeted film, the cast is likely friends, family, and local community theater people. They're not bad, though - Avant and Maynor come across as exactly the sort of folks that would do this sort of paranormal investigation, with Maynor especially amusing as the more impulsive of the two. Dave Potter is the other guy who gets plenty of screen time, and though he's got no other credits, he comes across with the instant credibility of a seasoned character actor. That's important, as he's got to make James seem both like a crackpot and fairly trustworthy.

Not everyone hits that balance, in front of or behind the camera but even when they don't, Lunopolis always seems worth following through to the end. It takes some wobbly steps on the way there, but seldom falters despite the ambitious story.

Also at EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2010 in the Somerville Theater Digital Screening Room (Blu-ray)

The makers and marketers of Ink are a little bit too ready to call it a cult classic, although given time, I could see it getting there. It's got a better-than-decent urban fantasy set-up, a few extremely impressive visuals, and so much well-meaning philosophy that it might be best enjoyed in an altered state.

Dreaming is the original altered state, and Ink tells us that dreams, at least the good ones, are brought to us by Storytellers, spirits who appear in the world around us as we sleep. Their opposite numbers are Incubi, the bringers of nightmares. On this night, though, something sinister is afoot - an active and creative little girl, Emma (Quinn Hunchar), has been targeted by Incubus-in-training Ink, and when her Storyteller Allel (Jennifer Batter) fails to stop Emma's spirit form from being kidnapped, she is assigned a blind Pathfinder, Jacob (Jeremy Make), to help bring Emma's estranged father John (Chris Kelly) to her side. Fortunately, Ink has lost the means to bring Emma to the Incubus Assembly, and thus has to find a pair of codes, which gives another Storyteller, Liev (Jessica Duffy), a chance to try and convince Ink to let Emma go.

Considering that Ink is a true independent - self-financed and made by a filmmaker in the Denver, Colorado area - it does some really cool stuff visually. The initial introduction of the Storytellers, for instance, is probably a simple enough effect but still looks and sounds pretty nifty, and the moments which follow are suitably mysterious enough to keep the audience intrigued. The Incubi have a simple, yet unsettling design - men with plastic sheets in front of their heads that flatten the faces behind and cast them a sickly yellow, and searchlight eyes that blot out the rest of their faces when the sheets are removed. And the action scene as Allel and her allies attempt to keep Ink from kidnapping Emma is so clever and well-implemented that one might be surprised to find it in a small, independent film, as the physical things that these beings smash reform instantly, leaving no evidence of a spiritual battle in the world.

The trouble with a scene like that is that you can't help but suspect that the movie has peaked early when it's over. There are another two impressive set pieces, but they're not quite so amazing as the first, although they would probably be quite eye-catching in another independent fantasy that didn't have the abduction sequence to compare them to. Even setting the action elements aside, the moments linking them are a little bit of a let-down; the time spent on John's work is profoundly uninteresting, and presentation of his story is too choppy for us to really get the proper impact of how he met and lost his wife, and then lost custody of Emma to his in-laws. Emma, whom we're introduced to as a loud and boisterous kid, winds up a fairly passive kidnap victim.

How much of that is filmmaker Jamin Winans's writing and direction versus the cast is something I'm not sure of. Chris Kelly and Quinn Hunchar both have quite a few good moments, but also have their share where they are unconvincing. Jeremy Make is kind of annoying as Jacob, and while I appreciate that that is part of the character, he never comes off as particularly otherworldly, even with electrical tape covering his eyes. Jennifer Batter, on the other hand, nails Allel as a thoroughly believable dream warrior, tough and kind and human despite being something else as well. Eme Ikwuakor and Shelby Malone are right in tune as her allies; the movie is at its best when this group is front and center. Jessica Duffy's Liev is the spiritual one who sees good in all, even Ink, and she does a fine job of not making that an annoying stock character.

Watching Ink, there's little doubt in my mind that Jamin Winans has a whole bunch of talent, but may be stretched a little thin trying to do everything (Jamin Winans is credited as writer, director, producer, editor, and composer; another Winans is credited with sound, costumes, and art direction). Even taking that into account, he does very well on a project that is probably insanely ambitious for an independent film, and has made something whose best scenes alone make it well worth a watch.

Also at EFC

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