Friday, February 17, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.04 (13 February): The Book and The Last Push

All things considered, this was probably the best day of the festival so far - the bad movie was at least bad in a fascinating way, and the good one is almost certainly the best of the festival.

The Book is bad, in many different ways, but it's bad in a way that's at least sort of charming and authentic. One thing I didn't get to in my review is the music, which, like everything else, is the work of writer/director/etc. Richard Weiss. The tracks listed in the credits have (C)(P) 1979-1981 on them, meaning that they were apparently written during the time period where much of this movie's inspiration comes from.

They're terrible, of course, and as they played out during the end credits, someone walked to the next room, The Museum of Bad Art, and the people looking at the... things... in there were whispering as they discussed what was on the wall. The guy who'd been in The Book said you don't have to whisper in there, to which the others responded "but ...the music!" Yes, the soundtrack from The Book can be mistaken for background music ideally suited for the MOBA.

I did also have to appreciate the way the cast's names were spoken in the main titles, as opposed to appearing on screen. Fit the movie's message.

It was followed by The Last Push, which, yes, is a movie made just for me, as I love interplanetary-era stuff. Aside from being a good, well-made story, I appreciate that the folks involved seemed to sweat some details. I bet that if you measure the rotation period on the Life One and figure out its size, it would in fact be what is necessary to simulate Earth-normal gravity, because FX guys tend to be the sort of people who do that just from pride in their work when they can.

(And, hey, seeing people use good science for good storytelling is a fine antidote to all those English majors who tell me that I shouldn't be bothered by every establishing shot in Another Earth!)

The Book: They Came from Inner Space

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

As remarkably inept as The Book is, I was still willing to give it a recommendation of the "guilty pleasure" variety, almost entirely for its commitment to its retro-bizarre style. A man can only take so much, though, and writer/director/everything Richard Weiss eventually pushed his movie from funky kitsch to frustrating inanity. And yet,it's still kind of fascinating in its awfulness, a terrible movie that's more fun to talk about than many masterpieces.

200 years ago, in 2284, a book was written with the assistance of alien creatures from "inner space" that was unlike any other: Once someone started reading it, they could not stop until it was finished, and the words would purge all negative emotions from the reader - and, some would argue, free will. Tonight, as the eight planets align, a clandestine group meets underneath a utopian city to pass along the true story of The Book - how science-fiction author Alex Paris (Stan Weston), his wife Cleo (Marlene Ryan), and daughter Julie (Pamela Wycliffe) had a strange and horrifying encounter with these allegedly peaceful aliens.

The first thing a person notices about this movie is just how garish the production is - it's cheap-looking, the colors are blinding, the fashion is weird, every ordinary thing has been hand-made or modified in a strange fashion to appear futuristic, with nonsensical names and slang dropped into every line that makes the most straightforward conversations sound bizarre. And it is glorious! Say what you will about societies where a person's caste can be quickly deduced from how large and ornate their hat is, but the device gets the point across quickly. A lot of the design is just batty - if not for a gratuitous morphing effect toward the end, I would suspect that The Book was a lost relic of the 1970s, because why else would Alex write using a "futuristic" typewriter whose keys are unmarked blinking lights? It makes no sense, but a colorful future that has evolved in random ways is just fun to look at, and if Weiss was going for a 70s-sci-fi pastiche, he hit the bulls-eye.

Full review at EFC.

The Last Push

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

The Last Push is a movie by space nuts but for a larger audience, and I very much hope that it will find one on the festival circuit. The filmmakers give themselves the opportunity to do a lot with a little, and then impress with a smooth, and occasionally exemplary, job on the follow-through.

Photographs from unmanned probes have discovered life underneath the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa, and NASA plans more robot missions, Walter Moffitt (Lance Henriksen) has opted to spend a large chunk of his personal fortune to send a manned mission to observe these whale-like creatures. the Life One has a two-person crew - cheerful Nathan Miller (James Madio) and taciturn Michael Forrest (Khary Payton) - who are expected to spend much of the fifteen-year mission in suspended animation. The ship is hit with a micrometeorite in interplanetary space, leaving Nathan dead, the capsule where the astronauts had been in suspended animation uninhabitable, and Michael with a lot of time on his hands.

The "one astronaut alone" set-up is a common one in independent science fiction (see Love and Moon for other recent examples), and for good reason: It lets the filmmakers keep a lid on the budget and gives an actor some potentially meaty material. The Last Push is more committed to this paradigm than most; filmmaker Eric Hayden doesn't use fantasies or flashbacks to get Michael out of the habitation module or to put anybody else inside it with him. It's a well-designed set, too, and not just because Hayden and cinematographer A.J. Raitano can get good shots despite the closeness of all four walls - it's clean, functional, and cramped enough that the prospect of three years in it is unappealing but large enough to give Khary Payton room to work.

Full review at EFC.

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