Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.10-11 (19-20 February): The Marathon

You get early admission to the marathon with the festival pass, and apparently that's what most people by them for - when some of the fest's later shows were sold out, Garen said that technically all of them were, because they sold many more passes than the micro-cinema could hold. That's crazy talk to me - I got there at about 11:50, found a seat that was OK in the balcony, and didn't hang around in the cold waiting for doors to open. Maybe if I were the type that arrived with a large group of friends and a picnic basket and other stuff that I felt the need to spread out, it would be different.

Part of why I was so close to late was because I decided to do a diary thing (like I'd done for eFilmCritic in 2005 and 2006) and was looking for a cheap watch of some kind - so that I could note times without whipping out my bright phone - but I've got no idea where you'd find such things today. Not in CVS or the like. Maybe I should have tried Staples, but I don't know if they're even open on Sunday mornings. I wound up using the not-quite-satisfactory trick of keeping my phone inside my sleeve and hoping the screen was bright enough to show the time through the fabric but not quite so bright that it created light pollution. I'll be getting the cheap watch next time.

I do this not just for ready-made blog entries, but to keep somewhat active as the day stretches into night stretches into day. It doesn't always work (as you'll see around 2am or so), but it's fun. So without further ado...

11:48am - Major Tom appears on stage to lay down the ground rules. I idly wonder what he does with his Martian camouflage outfit the other 360+ days of the year. Fortunately, he's not instructing people on callbacks this year.

(I don't hate all the callbacks, but I say let them happen or evolve organically, rather than because people feel obliged.)

11:52am - I notice the guy in front of me has bought a noisy toy laser pistol in the lobby. I hope I won't have to "accidentally" break it.

11:55am - "Duck Dodgers" begins with the traditional popping of the Atomic Fireball, with a tribute to its inventor, who passed away this past year.

11:58am - I spit the fireball back into its plastic wrap and drop that into my trash bag. Really, those things are gross.

12:00pm - Time for the marathon to begin in earnest...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

12:32pm - Ha! Li'l Caesar has a Statue of Liberty toy!

12:52pm - I get that the thing Caesar drew on the wall of his cell is his window from the house. Either the movie is clever or I am dense.

12:59pm - They've been calling the puzzle where you try and move a set of differently-sized discs from one spindle to the other "Lucas Towers" throughout the entire movie; I've always heard it called "Towers of Hammurabi". Is this some weird "Americans aren't cool with foreign names" thing, or has that always been a commonly-used alternate name?

1:13pm - Okay, this bit is really great, and I'm shocked that I only had it half-spoiled for me a week or so before the 'thon. It's an example of how smart the people involved are in handling the franchise, in that it feeds us a callback to the originals that is kind of obligatory and campy, but before we've really had time to laugh, drops another bomb. That's having fun and taking the material seriously, and precious few sequels/remakes/reboots do one right, let alone two at the same time.

1:17pm - Also, every bit mentioning the Mars mission makes me smile.

1:27pm - Did the CGI guys stick a "Donkey Kong Jr." reference into this? I swear, that ape climbing the Golden Gate Bridge by straddling two cables is trying to rescue his father from Mario.

1:40pm - So, that was really good, which is quite the pleasant surprise; I never really got into the original Apes pictures, but this one stands quite well on its own while calling back to the original with style.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

1:50pm - Wow, the lights went down for this early. With 24.5 hours of film to fit into 24, it looks like no time will be wasted. Also, for a movie made in 1983, this has some downright awesome, modern-looking credits.

1:54pm - Damnit, "Mark" is happening. I hate whoever started that at marathons past so much.

2:00pm - Some major product placement going on here - I think this shot of Christopher Walken going home exists just so he can pass sponsors' billboards.

2:13pm - I'm not sure if this is the first time in the movie that people have put on the helmets and had the images go from "flat" to full CinemaScope, but it makes me really wish (a) the Somerville's 70mm projection was ready and (b) 70mm prints of this were available. I bet that would be amazing.

Also, I wonder how these transitions are handled on video, because going to VR shouldn't make the image smaller.

2:21pm - Louise Fletcher is just awesome in this movie. Seriously, there's nothing not fantastic about her chain-smoking scientist. Meanwhile, Christopher Walken is making me doubt that he ever had a pre-self-parody phase.

2:25pm - Okay, moviegoers, I know we've had this talk before, but let's have it again. When there's a technical problem, don't yell "framing!" (or "focus!" or "sound!", as the case may be). If the projectionist can hear you, he knows about the problem and is trying to fix it. If not, you are annoying the guy next to you. Get out of your seat and tell an usher/manager rather than let the audience know you're annoyed.

2:40pm - (Squints at program) Yep, my parents would have let 10-year-old me see this back in 1983. Seriously, PG-rated nudity is great, just for that moment when your eyes go wide because the MPAA wouldn't have let that through.

2:59pm - The house in this movie is fantastic - it's got a river running through the living room and an observatory.

3:07pm - I didn't actually have a modem with acoustic couplers back in the 1980s, but I think they topped out at 300 bps. Go ahead, figure out how much faster the data on your phone is than that. What I'm saying is, you must have amazing compression to get immersive data through that pipe.

3:32pm - That's what you're ending it with, huh? Well, it's pretty.

A very cool movie; by a nifty coincidence, director Douglas Trumbull was recently honored by AMPAS for his contributions to special effects, and there's no doubt that he made the camera do some absolutely amazing things here. Highly recommended.

War of the Satellites

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

3:44pm - Ah, terrible Roger Corman special effects. Only consume in moderation.

3:58pm - "Applausewut?" That's what I wrote. I'm guessing we were applauding something silly.

4:23pm - "I'll die before joining a race that kills innocent people for abstract ideas!!" This movie was made in 1958, so there may be some Cold War irony here, but Vietnam was a ways off.

4:25pm - Not just a funeral - a space funeral

Overall, a silly Roger Corman feature notable for Dick Miller having a rare lead role and starlet Susan Cabot, who really was good/pretty enough to have a much better career than she had. Mercifully short, at least.

I think this is where I accidentally spilled my Sierra Mist into the popcorn bin. Sorry, good people at the Somerville Theatre.

Endhiran (The Robot)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

4:55pm - That animated credit for "Superstar Rajini" is a thing of awesome ego. Seriously, it's longer, louder, and more elaborate than the logos for either the production company or distributor.

5:00pm - The audience here is more into Aishwarya Rai than Rajinikanth. It's going to be very different from when I saw it with a mostly-Indian audience at Fresh Pond.

5:14pm - Huh, I could have sworn Rai didn't kiss on-screen. Scandal!

5:48pm - Isaac Asimov name-checked in the lyrics; audience cheers. That kind of crowd.

6:09pm - I'm just saying, if I had a girlfriend that looked like Aishwarya Rai, I would not give my android "hormone simulation" subroutines. No good can come of this.

6:34pm - Did she just "just a friend" the robot? Yes, she did. That's going to go well.

6:50pm - INNUENDO!: "You'll be a tree / I'll be a woodpecker ... nibble like a goat!"

(One of the sad things about not having many older movies in the festival as prints get harder to find is the lack of hilarious, obvious innuendo. Chaste Indian musicals are similar, but it's just not the same.)

7:00pm - It gets nuts. "Happy Diwali, folks!"

And from here on, I sort of just soaked up the insanity that is the last act of Endhiran. I must admit, it's a strikingly different experience with two different crowds - both times, the audience was rambunctious, but the intermission and the audience more used to Indian movies' rhythms meant the Fresh Pond crowd was more into it by the end. I think the marathoids just got worn out.

Having seen Dimensions (scheduled for a 7:50pm start time) roughly twenty-four hours earlier, I figured this was a good time to get some food. I'd heard good things about Christo's, so I headed down the street for a couple of slices. When I got back, at 8:15, the movie still hadn't started; getting picture and sound out of the DVD player was driving Dave The Projectionist nuts.

To fill some time (and make sure things didn't fall further behind later), the Alien Mating Cry contest got moved up to 8:25pm from 9:50pm. Now, understand, nobody likes the Alien Mating Cry contest - it was funny once, but there's not a whole lot of variation that can be brought to it year-to-year. Garen keeps doing it because he sees the chance for cheap, easy publicity - why, this year, we almost had NPR come to do a segment for their goofy competitions thing. Me, I have my doubts how many new people come because of a local news story on the silly noises people make to an indifferent audience.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

8:36pm - It's started!

8:48pm - The folks who were there the previous night laugh a bit at something that the filmmakers pointed out but which many of us didn't catch.

9:08pm - I have no idea whether this bit about calling an apple an orange is meant to establish an alternate universe with different rules or show Stephen as eccentric. There's a lot of that in this movie.

9:45pm - Stephen really needs to be on the receiving end of the "you should pay attention to the actual living girl who likes you!" lecture.

9:50pm - Of course, Annie could do with hearing something similar about boys who will never put her first and notice how Conrad likes her more than his memories of Victoria.

Anyway, about as good as it had been the night before.

Attack the Block

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, video)

10:18pm - It's been there all day, but there's a really annoying draft in the balcony. At this hour, wind from outside is not welcome!

10:25pm - I am briefly terrified that someone in this movie is named "Mark". Fortunately, not the case.

10:40pm - I didn't really notice it the first time through, but the first act of this movie really establishes the setting in detail. There are maps, comments about making jumps from one walkway to another... Basically, every bit of geography that might come in useful during later action scenes.

11:43pm - "MOSES! MOSES!" It's funny how this movie has these conflicting themes of working together and protecting the tribe. Good movie, though.

Island of Lost Souls

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

11:52pm - First caffeine of the day, believe it or not!

11:55pm - "Take him to my room." INNUENDO! Take it where you can get it.

12:06am - Worst. Captain. Ever!

12:24am - This is where Star Trek writers learned about evolution, like it was a pre-programmed sequence heading for something.

12:55am - Uplift is just a bad idea, isn't it?

Not bad, although it's not really the best work either Charles Laughton or Bela Lugosi has done

1:05am - Tinfoil hat time. Just as silly as the Alien Mating Call one. Kind of surprised that one contestant didn't win off cleavage.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

1:16am - Cronenberg time!

1:22am - You know, it's it's such a rare thing to see Michael Ironside giving such a low-key perform--HOLY SHIT!

1:25am - That's why I don't drive: Cars just EXPLODE!

1:54am - I'm awake! Really, I am!

2:28am - I need me a giant 80s computer setup.

2:47am - OK, this is just awesomely gross. I miss creepy body-horror Cronenberg. I really hope his son has inherited this knack.

I can't really rate this one fairly; I zonked out at some point. Did you know this is out of print on DVD? I wound up buying a used one from Newbury Comics. Thus, we're almost certain to find out that the rights are now with Lionsgate and they're planning a deluxe Blu-ray release any day now.

Frankenstein (1931)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

3:00am - The warning from Carl Laemmle Jr.: "If any feel like you should not subject your nerves to such a strain..." "Dude, we just watched Scanners!"

3:26am - "It's ALIVE!"

3:31am - Applause for Karloff's entrance.

3:37am - Fritz is an evil f--- who gets what is coming to him.

3:50am - It's embarrassing, but as the villagers start chasing the Monster down, "Kill the Beast!" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast starts running through my head.

4:10am - "Puttin' on the Ritz" for in-between music.

Man, I love this movie, and the amazing thing is that every time I see it, it's like discovering it again for the first time.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

4:15am - I'm a bad nerd for never having really wanted to see this, aren't I?

4:43am - Kitty abuse

... and from here on out, it's "what'd I miss?" Here's another one I'll have to catch up with, because what I saw was a lot of fun, even though I generally don't like its mix of comedy and horror. A catch-up when it hits Blu-ray is a must.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

And I just stopped taking notes here. This is another one where the marathon's going to cost me money; I'm pretty sure that I saw this during its theatrical release, but both then and now I didn't know enough about the series to really get into it beyond "cool music and fight choreography". This is so slick, though, that I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to spring for the "Remix: Complete Collection" of the series on DVD and maybe the movie on Blu-ray after that.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

Liked, but didn't quite love, this one when it hit theaters last spring, so I missed the beginning getting some breakfast (it was 7:30am-ish), vaguely remembering that it got better as it went on, and it absolutely did.

The crowd made a lot of difference. Seeing it in one of the lesser theaters in AMC Harvard Square, I had a lot of "is that really funny, or am I laughing just out of recognition?" moments, especially when the rest of the audience didn't join in. The same questions kind of come up here, but it doesn't matter, because everybody's laughing.

Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, 35mm)

Apparently, this pair of episodes from the original Battlestar Galactica series got edited together for a European theatrical release. It's... Well, honestly, it's better than I expected, without the casino-planet goofiness of last year's movie from the first two episodes. Not quite up to the heights of the newer series, but it kind of works.

Still, stripped of ads and edited to show up the action, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Universal did a few stock effects shots that got repeated throughout the series, and, wow, did we see them a lot.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, video)

It's kind of weird that I've been put in the position of defending this movie on the Festival Message Board, since I really didn't like it that much, and on the second time through, it didn't make quite the good impression that it did the first time. Even then, I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the laughs came from the same two loud ladies directly behind me.

Still, the audience hated this. Or at least, that's the way the herd seemed to go, and I sort of hope that it's a case where those of us who kind of liked it weren't as adamant in our opinions as the people who despised it. Its shortcomings really aren't short enough to deserve the venom people were hurling at it.

And with that, it was time to go home and try to stay awake long enough to get normal sleep for work the next day. Thing that really happened, though: I was writing something, had a nod-off/space-out moment, and looked up to see I had actually typed "ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ". That's almost too good to be true, isn't it?

Anyway, a fun marathon, and here's hoping that the festival and thon are still going strong next year!

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