Saturday, February 23, 2013

Boston Sci-Fi Film Fest 2013 Day 6: Space Milkshake & Motivational Growth

Well. Got a bit to say here, starting with a comment about how star-ratings systems can suck, especially when they're not particularly granular. A quick perusal of my page at EFC will show these two movies as being roughly equivalent, quality-wise, although the reviews have rather different tenors: I'm fairly positive toward Space Milkshake, while Motivational Growth has issues, with the good parts almost balancing out the weaknesses. That's why you've got to read the actual text.

It's a bit telling, I think, that of all the cast with genre connections in Space Milkshake, it was George Takei as the voice of the duck that the festival folks chose to emphasize. Not Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), Robin Dunne (Sanctuary), or Amanda Tapping (Stargate), but the guy who was on something 45 years ago. The festival and the folks who run it can fall victim to good-old-days-ism and not really pay that much attention to what's contemporary.

One thing about Space Milkshake that hit me a few days after seeing it was that even if it wasn't a particularly great movie, it would make a pretty decent TV show. Not just because that's where much of the cast's experience is, but because it has a sort of Red Dwarf vibe; I could really see it going from "trying to stay sane in an empty and uncaring universe" to "adventures of people really not qualified to be space adventurers" as need be. Or it could just play as a sitcom with a science-fictional setting; it seems flexible enough to do a lot of little things with even if a full-size sequel would be overkill.

(And if it did become a series, you'd have to get Brent Spiner in as an officious visiting administrator, right? Especially for the in-joke of the crew hiding that one of their members is now a robot!)

As to Motivational Growth... Wow, I almost feel like I have to discuss it because folks went berserk hating it at the Marathon 2.5 days later, with a "debate"/hating thread on the message board afterward. The thing is, I can't really get too worked up about it. I enjoyed it the first time through, but could see it had problems. And I kind of don't like that I felt like I had to include information from the Q&A in the review; that strikes me as cheating. But, it's stuff I know now, and you don't get that without a good Q&A.

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That's star Adrian DiGiovanni and writer/director Don Thacker; DiGiovanni was called up after Thacker had already been talking for a half-hour or so. They handed out stuffed toys like those that appear in the movie before things started, and talked a lot about stories from filming and things that showed up on screen. I actually cursed them for it at one point, as I had been planning to hit the late show of Lost in Thailand afterward and the long Q&A bumped it to the next night.

There were still a few things he didn't quite reveal; he mentioned that he didn't consider the ending ambiguous, but how can you not? There's three different final scenes, or so it seems. But he genuinely seemed to enjoy being there, hanging around to MC the alien mating cry contest at the marathon and sticking around for the whole thing, even when things turned decidedly ugly during the presentation of his movie at 4am.

That was... regrettable, I guess? As much as calling back to the screen is a 'thon tradition, it's uncomfortable when the filmmaker is in the room and has spent the weekend professing his excitement for the event, and so on. Organizer Garen Daley got defensive about it when talking to the crowd later, and there was talk about it playing at a bad time, and while I enjoyed it well enough on Friday, I did take the opportunity to hit the restroom after I'd checked to see whether The Mold had a sort-of-face before the main character hit his head. I hung around in the lobby for a while after that, with some folks who had actually walked out Friday night, and that did sort of point out that you mainly hear the loudest voices - the folks who liked the movie were loud Friday night, those who hated it loud Monday morning, and I'm not sure what the actual consensus is. I wouldn't be shocked if it averaged out to what I say in the review, of it being nice and shaky in equal measure, with Combs pretty great.

Space Milkshake

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2013 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Fest, video)

As of this writing, Space Milkshake hasn't actually been purchased by SyFy (or its Canadian equivalent Space) to run as a Saturday night original movie, but that's what it is: A low-budget sci-fi movie just long enough that commercials will pad it to fill a two-hour timeslot, with a cast of people perhaps most noteworthy for the other genre productions they've appeared in. At least this one wants to make jokes, rather than content itself with being one.

A couple of shuttles are heading to an orbiting debris-removal space station as the movie opens - one absconding from an Antarctic research base and one carrying Jimmy (Robin Dunne), the new technician reporting for duty. He's not exactly welcomed with open arms; Anton (Billy Boyd), the captain, is generally cranky, in part because his second in command Valentina (Amanda Tapping) has dumped him. The other person on the station, the eminently crush-worthy Tilda (Kristin Kreuk), basically ignores him. It's not the exciting life in space he'd dreamed about - at least, not until they salvage the wreckage of the first ship and things get really strange.

Even as a threat to all life on all Earths rears its head and Valentina's rubber duck starts talking with the voice of George Takei, this is less an action/adventure movie than a "hell is other people" comedy. Anton, Valentina, and Tilda have been cooped up in this box long enough that they mainly irritate each other, and Jimmy's enthusiasm is just going to annoy them further. It's a somewhat mean-spirited form of comedy, but since none of them are really bright enough to plot against the others, it never really gets off-puttingly dark.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Motivational Growth

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2013 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Fest, video)
(Partly) Seen 18 February 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, video)

Motivational Growth ran twice at the festival, with overlapping crowds but different results: Once as a spotlight presentation with the director doing Q&A that was reasonably well received, and once as the 4am leg of a noon-to-noon marathon that produced a lot of angry cursing at the screen. To a certain extent, the opposite reactions are reflective of the people who yelled the loudest, but they both reflect the quality of the work.

Things are pretty off-putting right away; Ian Folivor (Adrian DiGiovanni) hasn't left his apartment in a year and a half, and both he and the unit look roughly as bad as one might expect. When his television breaks down, he decides to end it all, but instead slips, bashes his head on the bathtub, and when he comes to, the mold that has built up in a corner of the bathroom is giving him advice (with the voice of Jeffrey Combs).

Director Don Thacker ladles the quirk on pretty thick, even beyond a talking lump of fungus having a co-starring role. Ian addresses the camera directly, for instance, and the other characters in the movie are one pretty well-exaggerated note each. The movie is set in 1991 (per the post-screening Q&A), but not so obviously that the odd bits that grow from that - the soundtrack composed on a Commodore 64's SID chip, the tacky-looking programming that runs when Ian's console TV is working, and the sequence animated like a video game from that time - feel like part of the setting rather than gags around it. Each of these is okay on their own, but they're a lot taken together.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


Anonymous said...

It's too bad that the Director wasn't given the chance to introduce/defend his film at the Marathon. Very, very, very few folks even knew he was in the house.

But, to compare the reactions of the Festival crowd to the Marathon crowd as far as "volume" of reaction is liking comparing an Ant to a Mountain. There were, what, 20 people on Fest night? Compare that to the 350-400 Marathoners. And, it was at least 90-10 against the film amongst Marathoners, many of whom walked out or tried to sleep.

P.S. If the film is indeed set in 1991 (though there is no real indication that it is), all the talk of Plasma is a bit premature/anachronistic as the first widely available commercial sets weren't introduced until a few years later. HARDLY, the biggest flaw in this turkey.

Jason said...

It might not have been '91 specifically, but Thacker did say it was the early 1990s. I agree, though, that it should have been more solidly established. I think there are some indications (who mentions "faxing" nowadays?), but not enough to ground it, so the things that don't seem quite right just seem more off.

Anyway, I don't know that people knowing he was there would have or should have changed the reaction (although, didn't he introduce himself and mention the movie during the Mating Cry thing?), and I don't know that I would have wanted him to defend it. Garen's attempt to do so was lame and desperate, and given the reaction it earned, it would have just made for an uglier scene.

And 90-10 seems like a bit of an exaggeration; I suspect most of the crowd was just indifferent or only half-aware at that point, and I think once the vocal crowd starts going in one direction, it's tough to go in the other.