Sunday, February 16, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival Day 05: The Tragedy of MacBeth, Echo Drive

Not a lot of time to post this before heading off to the fest's main event (the Marathon), but then, not a whole lot of great things to say about "robot day" at the festival. There's interesting ambition on display in both of these movies, but they both fall short for one reason or another, whether it be a lack of resources or just not having the really solid game plan they need. Tragedy of MacBeth director Dan Gallagher was there, and even if I don't exactly love the movie he made, I am impressed with the ambition and good intentions there.

The Tragedy of MacBeth

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, video)

When introducing and discussing the movie, director Dan Gallagher mentioned that he did this movie to serve as an educational aid, with subtitles "translating" the play into modern, unadorned English. Not a bad motivation, I guess, although I must admit that I would prefer "I did MacBeth with CGI robots because that would be awesome!" Granted, I say this as someone who never needed something external to make Shakespeare interesting, although I have loved when people played with the Bard's works. Focusing on how it's good for you seems like it would suck the actual joy out of plays meant, first and foremost, to be entertaining.

And while I think this version does that for a while, I think it's less as a result of misguided intentions than lacking resources. Gallagher is one of three people doing every voice in the cast of characters, although the real shame is that they often sound like they could be speech synthesizers, so metronomically are the lines delivered. I had a hard time keeping from nodding off midway through because that delivery combined with some pretty cheap-looking animation makes it hard to get attached to characters.

The sad part is, the last act or so gives an idea of just how much fun this could be, even if it does lean heavily on display screens, references to other material, and the like. When MacDuff comes after MacBeth with all his fury, and the exiled princes attack, you get a glimpse of the great space opera that it could have been, especially if I'd had the chance to use the world "laser-claymore" in the review.

Echo Drive

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The festival where I saw Echo Drive had a number of problems getting the sound right at the start of many presentations, so it's entirely possible that I missed some bit of exposition in those opening seconds that causes the movie to really come together and make perfect sense. I'm guessing not, though, which means that even for something that's as played out as misguided robot security, this doesn't really clear a low bar.

The extra security is added after the house day-trader Mike (Dane Bowman) and his family - wife Karen (Jordan Savage), daughter Jessica (Claire Gordon-Harper), and son Jake (Aaron Turgeon) - live in suffers a break-in. Since it's the model home for a new gated community being developed by a man with his fingers in a number of things, this Mr. Aldridge (Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis) beefs up security by adding a robotic security guard, "Dell" (Johnathan Hurley). But, as seems to be the case with most of those things, Dell's programming does not include respecting boundaries, and his directives do not always necessarily match up to the family's interests.

There's some brief talk about Dell being repurposed, which means that androids are apparently not an entirely new thing in Echo Drive's world, although he seems to be an unfinished enough product that giving him a gun that fires actual bullets seems highly irresponsible (you can tell he's an early model, because there are hydraulic noises dubbed onto the soundtrack when he moves and a filter applied to Johnathan Hurley's voices). It's a bit of logical inconsistency that hurts the movie in ways that are not necessarily obvious - does it really matter whether stuff happens because Dell isn't out of beta or because of a fluke with an established product? - but which robs the story of any chance of being about anything other than a "don't trust machines/rich people with their own agenda" idea that is worn straight through.

Full review at EFC

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