Thursday, February 23, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.08 (17 February): Sol and "Steampunk'd"

Shall we say, not my favorite night of the festival. There were worse, but this was a one-two punch of a thing I'd hoped to be good that turned out to be terrible and a thing I wasn't really jazzed for that was about what I expected, leaving me to wonder if I was subconsciously seeing mediocrity so that I could be right. I hope not.

Still, Sol was really bad. A fellow sitting next to me actually got up and walked around the lobby a couple of times to escape the stupid, and I probably had a bruise from the number of times my hand hit my head at how what the characters were doing and the world in general just made no sense. Garen said afterward that he didn't hear much complaining during the movie (this fest is about the only place where I hear complaints about there not being enough talking in the theater), only to be answered by somebody saying that eye-rolling doesn't make a sound.

As for the Steampunk'd shots, steampunk was announced early as a theme of the festival, which strikes me as kind of a mistake - themes should emerge from the material you can get, not be determined ahead of time and lead to awkward attempts to fit things in. The shorts were mostly OK, if you like that sort of thing, although one clearly benefited from "awww, aren't the kids making a movie like real actors so cuuuute?"

Granted, I'm not a big fan of the style in general. I suspect that there are very real reasons why things didn't get steampunky in real life, probably material and fuel related (maybe a world with less abundant petroleum would be a more steampunkish world - everything's coal-fired, there's few plastics or synthetic fabrics, although you'd need a substitute lubricant for all the mechanical things). Or maybe the precision machinery necessary to make all those cool-looking devices means that more compact, functional ones are possible.


* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre Micro-cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

Sol has a sci-fi-on-a-budget premise and filmmakers who look like they know how to stretch it, and while that's encouraging at the start, it quickly becomes clear that the things independent films often use to make up for it - clever writing and strong acting - are in perilously short supply. It's one thing to be marooned on a strange planet without food or water; being there without a sensible script is even more dangerous.

The teens in this movie are on this planet for the "Sol Invictus" tournament, where cadets from various academies are sent to a strange world, with the first team to locate Earth's sun in the night sky winning top placements. Something has gone very wrong with the portal, and while one team has arrived more or less intact, the rest are represented by single members. The captain of the main team, Lee (Jake Brown), tells the rest they can follow him or see how they do on their own, an attitude which quickly wears on some of the singletons. They include Kit (Spenser Pollard), the "chronicler" carrying a camera around; Adrian (Aaron Kuban), who has competed and won before but was disqualified; and Eli (Caleb Courtney) & Tyl (Jake White), once close friends representing rival schools. After the party is attacked by the native life, the survivors meet up with a couple others - Lex (Sky King), an engineer from the infamously ruthless Scorpius Academy, and Howard (Tyler Thomas), a cook from Terra Prime.

The structure of Sol - rivals dropped into a situation where they must either work together or perish - is so basic that it would seem resistant to being screwed up, but writer/director Benjamin Carland seems to actively resist doing anything that seems like a logical action for the characters. He knows the basic path this story should follow, but uses a drunkard's walk to follow it: Characters will be able to get along and work together without apparent antipathy in one scene and then completely turn on each other in the next (or even within the same shot!), which inevitably leads to the character who has been banished from the tribe being needed three scenes later. They lie and keep life-threatening secrets for no good reason other than the plot's need for conflict. As a result, the conflict seldom seems natural - and in fact, sometimes the lack of conflict doesn't feel natural, like the filmmakers forgot that a character was a jerk and would likely be a jerk in this spot.

Full review at EFC.


Seen 17 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre Micro-cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

Pretty packed, although no costume contest. Which is bull; what's the point of doing steampunk anything if there's not a costume contest?

The short films themselves were OK, or at least the audience responded to them (I half suspect that the place was packed with people out to support "Steam Driven" and thus much more down for this than the audience for the rest of the fest). Steampunk isn't really my thing - I like my science fiction forward looking rather than fashion-driven - but some were on the fun-ish side.

"War of the Worlds: Goliath" - A sizzle reel for a forthcoming animated movie, filled with plenty of explosions and airships and the like. The animation is sort of interesting, somewhat anime-style although also looking like Flash. As a demo reel, it's kind of hard to get a read on it - it's pretty much all action scenes, without even the rudimentary storytelling of a conventional trailer Might be worth checking out, though.

"The Schlonburger Certainty Postulator" - A not-really-steampunkish-at-all (aside from some improvised tech and goggles) goof on what happens when a time machine/duplicator is misused. Kind of amusing premise, although it vacillates between overly dry and one character being played quite broadly indeed.

"Molly and the Masked Storm" - On the one hand, this is too long and cutesy and doesn't get quite the mileage it thinks it does from its self-referentiality. On the other, the cast is junior high-school kids, which makes the not-inconsiderable number of things they do well even more impressive.

"Doctor Glamour" - A busy, busy thing that starts out with alt-Victorian restraint (to the point of being told without dialogue) to become a loud glam-rocky thing. A big chunk of the audience loved it, though it didn't do much for me - the first half struck me as dull, the second as tacky.

"Steam Driven" - A short big enough to be called a "featurette", running about 45 minutes, shot in New England and with some really snazzy locations, costumes, props, etc. The acting was pretty good, too, although I suspect you can get away with a lot if you shoot something silent, as this was (it's very forgiving of both over- and under-acting). Very slick, decent story...

... but it's got problems, too. It's too long, for one thing, opening with a title card that says "Monday", soon referring to a dance coming up on Saturday, and not really having enough story to get from one to the other . The style of silent movie-making is weird, too - like Time of the Robots on Wednesday, there were sound effects and incidental noise, but not speech, as in "someone drops a hammer and you hear the thud of it hitting the floor but not the yelp of pain because it hit his foot first" (just an example; that didn't actually happen). That's weird, right? If all you've got's the score, maybe with effects implied, that's a style; this is a weird world where people move their mouths without sound but apparently communicate because they are all able to read lips.

No comments: