Monday, February 13, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.01 (10 February): Pig and The Millennium Bug

So, where have I been for the past few days?


Not at Cruel Intentions, I'll tell you that.

I want the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival to be great, but I get the sense that it's going to be a long climb to that. In terms of accommodations, we've spent the weekend in the micro-cinema after spending most of last year in theater #2 (the odd-numbered theaters in Somerville aren't great, but they're a step up). I also tend to think festival director Garen Daly is a little too forgiving in his choices. It's not just that the programming of this and the marathon shows a fondness for schlock and an excess of nostalgia that I don't share, but he's spent a great deal of his discussions at the festival as of this writing (after 3 days) praising the acting in various pictures. And, sure, stuff like the ineptitude in The Millennium Bug certainly demonstrates that even the decent work in Pig isn't as easy as it looks, but the latter is still not something to be amazed at. Sure, if you expect it to be terrible, it's an improvement, but I believe that the basic competence we're seeing in some of these should be the minimum we expect. As I've said before, today's audience was not raised on drive-ins and creature double features; I'd hope for higher standards.

That said, the festival still is fun, and the fact that I'm missing short programs and a couple of features this year because it's hard to fit everything on a nine-day schedule is a really good sign.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, Blu-ray)

Pig could probably do with a name change before leaving the festival circuit. That won't make it a better movie, of course, but it deserves to sink or swim for the reasonably well-done (if not exactly remarkable) sci-fi mystery that it is rather than as something else.

The opening credits show us a man making some sort of recording, but the movie proper starts with that man (Rudolf Martin) hooded and with his hands bound in the Arizona desert. He's found by Isabel (Heather Ankeny), a young widow and single mother who lives far enough from town that she has to use a satellite phone to call the doctor (Steve Tom), who pronounces the man healthy despite his apparent total amnesia. The one clue to his identity is a slip of paper in his pocket that says "Manny Elder", and the nearest person with that name is in Los Angeles. So it's road trip time, but encounters with people claiming to be his old landlord (Keith Diamond) and a former girlfriend (Ines Dali) tell very different stories.

It may, perhaps, border on being a spoiler to say that Pig is a movie that has a gimmick in its narrative structure, although that might also fall under the category of "fair warning". As much as this set-up has potential for an interesting story told in an interesting way, writer/director Henry Barrial never quite seems to get a strong hold on it. A mystery needs to parcel out its clues and red herrings very carefully, for maximum impact, and there are long stretches in this movie where the audience may not feel that they are getting enough. Similarly, the fracturing of the narrative is under-used, not doing as much as it could to add intrigue to the situation.

Full review at EFC.

The Millennium Bug

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

Certain audience members will cheer big when the "No CGI Films" logo comes up at the start of The Millennium Bug, and there's no denying that it's thoroughly old-school in its production (you sort of have to be old-school to do a "millennium bug" story eleven years after the fact). As much as the filmmakers do some decent work with their practical effects at times, the rest of the movie is terrible - and the bug's not that great, either.

It's the last day of 1999, and the Haskin family - father Byron (Jon Briddell), daughter Clarissa (Christine Haeberman), and new stepmother Joany (Jessica Simons) - is heading to a California ghost town to ride out the expected chaos to be caused by the Y2K bug. Of course, they don't expect their campsite to be set upon by Billa Crawford (John Charles Meyer) and other members of his inbred redneck clan, and neither group figures on the thing that cryptozoologist Roger Patterson (Ken MacFarlane) is investigating in the woods.

People often talk about how CGI looks less real than model work, but I suspect that much of that is confirmation bias. The practical work in movies like The Millennium Bug looks fake, too, just in different ways: Though the matte work is better than drive-in monster movies of which this film is a direct descendant, there's still the sense that the person screaming in the foreground isn't in the same reality as the giant insect behind her. Items may have weight but they are limited by the flexibility of human puppeteers. Everything is shot on a soundstage, and the way dark and fog are used to attempt to hide this is itself something a savvy viewer picks up on. The result is certainly capable-looking, with the gore and other make-up effects done fairly well too, but not quite to the level where the crew surprises the audience with what they can do.

Full review at EFC.

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