Saturday, February 18, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.05 (14 February): Whatever Happened to Pete Blaggitt? and Zero One

What's this... A festival report where I don't have to use the "crap" tag? It's a little miracle!


Sorry about the Terrible Photography; even with the new phone, there's just so much you can do when the light doesn't co-operate. Anyway, that's Kareem Gray, a genial filmmaker out of Texas who wrote and directed Zero One, and did a pretty good job of it, considering that he likely didn't have much of a budget and he had some ambitions. He and festival director Garen Daly had a few tales to tell about some of the truly strange things that can go wrong in making a movie independently. Stuff that usually gets kept quiet, actually, but I can imagine it's the sort of frustration that's hard to muzzle.

I liked the guy, though. He still seems genuinely enthusiastic about making movies in general and this one in particular, even with these particular challenges. He was still talking about dreams and art in a way that sounded a little grandiose, but I've seen other filmmakers broken from the frustration, and this is better.

Whatever Happened to Pete Blaggitt?

* * (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

There's the potential in Whatever Happened to Pete Blaggit? for a movie which one can feel strongly about. It may be a black comedy, an earnest melodrama, or a twisty, off-kilter bit of science fiction. Unfortunately, writer/director Mark Jeavons doesn't seem to know which one of them he wants to make, so he tries to stick pieces of all of them in, but they don't fit together well. The most memorable bits, unfortunately, tend to be the least well-handled.

Peter Blagmore (Rob Leethem) inherited his father's wedding-video business, but from what the audience sees of him at work, he really shouldn't be part of a day people will remember forever. His brother Eugene (Andy Pandini) and their co-worker Clive (Adam Rickitt) are not a lot of help, and his behavior finally leads to his ex-wife Tracy (Gabrielle Amies) kicking him out of the house after they've been divorced for six years. It looks like Pete's hitting rock bottom, at least until a series encounters with gangsters, alien abductions, and dimensional portals in refrigerators make things take a turn for the weird.

Many of the elements in Pete Blaggit aren't bad, but it's difficult to overstate how much trouble Jeavons has combining them. The comedy is frequently on the sillly side, with Pete's hair, wardrobe, and video equipment a couple decades out of date, most characters played in the broadest way possible, and the special effects for the sci-fi elements meant to be deliberately campy. The filmmaker wants the characters to nuanced and tragic, though, so there will be frequent moments when the movie slows down, some color drains from the image, and voice-over narration will comment on the flashbacks to how these characters got to this place in their lives. Jeavons doesn't have the killer instinct to make it work, though - the revelations aren't blindsiding, suddenly making the audience reconsider what they think of the characters, and the flashbacks and narration are played too straight to work as self-aware satire of attempts to build up the characters in this sort of comedy. Some movies can work these contradictions to make the audience unsure what they should feel; this one makes it hard to feel anything.

Full review at EFC.

Zero One

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

Nerds are, like most of the rest of humanity, kind of hypocrites. This movie's main character probably tells anybody who ask him for computer advice not to open attachments from an unknown source, but you know what happens if this guy who knows better acts that sensibly? Three-minute movie, that's what happens.

The "attachment" in this case is a large file that network engineer Devon Owens (Jordan Spradley) found while poking around the internet. It unpacks an artificial intelligence whose alphanumeric designation is quickly abbreviated "Zero One". Devon and friend/co-worker Kyle Manning (Jeff Hoferer) put it on an isolated server and attempt to control what information it is fed as it attempts to learn, but AIs have a way of getting around firewalls. And when Devon meets Ingrid (Monica Peña) after having quit his job in part to spend more time working with 01... Well, just like AIs figure their way around firewalls, they tend to have trouble understanding human relationships.

As much as "two guys set up a computer program and talk to it" does not exactly sound like the most engrossing set-up for a movie, the first half or so of Zero One actually bounces along pretty well. In fact, it's not very long at all before one may forget that the film opened with a flash-forward that suggests the stakes will eventually get much higher than some overtaxed routers and awkward man-machine conversations. It turns out that the getting from one situation to the other is a bit clumsy, with danger suddenly appearing out of nowhere despite some awkward foreshadowing, a somewhat-forced lull, and then something else which finally brings to movie full-circle.

Full review at EFC.

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