Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival Day 06: Point B, Los Últimos Días

Without question, Wednesday was easily the best day of the Festival. I can't speak for the afternoon's shorts, but I think even the people involved will admit that the feature program is often filled out with things that, to be kind, have their shortcomings. An evening when both scheduled features are worth recommending is pretty unusual.

POINT B filmmakers

An enthusiastic group of guests showed up for Point B, and a pretty impressive one considering that Salt Lake City is decidedly not local. From left to right, that's director Conor Long, co-star Eric Fisher, special effects artist Joel Petrie, and production supervisor Elli Legerski (I think). This is the second year in a row that the Festival has featured a pretty good movie from Utah-based filmmakers (even if 2013's 95ers was set and partially shot in and around Maryland), a place I've never really thought of as a hotbed of indie-film activity even if one of the country's biggest independent film festivals happens there - Sundance draws people from outside Park City, and I can't recall ever hearing about a local program in the coverage I've read.

It was also kind of a fun stereotype-breaking one, in that Point B is a breezily vulgar comedy with a fair amount of drug humor, which doesn't quite fit in with the way one thinks of Utah's heavily-Mormon population, although for all I know weed and ecstasy are no big deal and Alan drinking coffee might mark him as untrustworthy to the local audience. It could be set anywhere, and even after saying they were mostly from Utah I didn't really think much of it until Long described Fisher's character as "really Mormon", at which point I had a bit of a laugh at how excited these guys had seemed to get a drink while the movie ran.

Surprisingly, the movies got even better after that with Los Últimos Días, which Garen said he'd been chasing for "years". The only letdown was that it seemed there was a hitch in scheduling - it was booked for a day when the festival only had the screening room, which isn't DCP capable, and since they didn't have a [functional] DVD/Blu-ray/Quicktime copy, it had to be streamed from IFC's site (or Vimeo, or something like that). Not the quality that the movie deserved even without buffering starting to become an issue toward the end. It's worth remembering that not long ago, this was often discussed as the studios' intended endgame in digital distribution - nothing physical sent to the cinema at all, although I think in most cases it would be stored on a local hard drive rather than streamed directly. Let's just say it's not ideal.

One more thing about that movie which didn't fit into the review: I would be pretty screwed if I succumbed to "The Panic" while at home or at work - at home there is almost never much food in my house, it gets cold in the winter, and I've got limited faith in my ability to tunnel my way to a sewer that might bring me to the city center; at work, I'm in friggin' Burlington. My best bet is for it to happen while I'm on the subway, quite frankly, and then I'm still in Boston rather than someplace like Barcelona.

On the other hand, I suspect folks up in certain parts of Canada will do okay for a while, with their underground cities and buildings directly connected to an underground city core. Then it's just a matter of rooftop gardens and greenhouses, raising rats for food, and getting the right people together to build robots to drive the trucks on supply runs.

Point B

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, video)

Back in the 1980s, the first wave of home computer sales and blockbuster science-fiction/fantasy movies led to Hollywood's first real go-round with treating "nerdiness" as a trend, and one of the ways that expressed itself was with a fair number of "college/high-school genius" movies. This time around, the nerd-next-door or the lavish adaptation of a cult property is more popular. Still, every once in a while a fun throwback like Point B comes around and serves as a reminder of how much fun that other fantasy can be.

This one opens with Mark (David Fetzer) defending his thesis about a theoretical clean energy source, only to have it be a disaster because he's twenty minutes late and his best friend and benefactor Alan (Jared Shipley), and even worse, it's a disaster in front of eminently crush-worthy fellow physics grad student Katie (Heather Murdock). It's enough of a mess that he's almost willing to destroy the apparatus he built with Alan, stoner engineer Jason (John McLerran), and straight-edge undergrad Andrew (Eric Fisher) - at least, until he discovers it can be used as a teleportation device. Then things get interesting.

Writer David Gitlin and director Conor Long (both also producers) do not exactly re-invent the wheel with Point B - there's a corporate/government goon (Eric McGraw), friction between Mark and Alan, an amazing scientific discovery used for incredibly trivial things, side effects, and the like. Sometimes it can seem like Gitlin & Long are doing this out of obligation: This type of movie has this type of thing happen, so they put in scenes with those things, even if the motivation for Alan to be at odds with Mark is asserted as something we apparently should have already known. On the other hand, the filmmakers don't exactly stint on the gags or hold back with them, even when they are in hilariously awful taste.

Full review at EFC

Los últimos días (The Last Days)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Earlier in this festival, I saw a post-apocalyptic movie where the nature of the end of civilization seemed particularly incidental, and where even though the stakes were high, the whole thing seemed quite inconsequential. The Last Days (Los Últimos Días in the original Spanish), on the other hand, has a very specific and unusual catalyst for everything falling apart, and it's probably no coincidence that it makes for a much more exciting movie, even if the main characters aren't trying to save the whole world.

It focuses on Marc Delgado (Quim Gutiérrez), a computer programmer who noted some odd behavior but didn't initially think much of it until it became clear what was happening, and he was one of the last to succumb to "The Panic", a crippling agoraphobia that prevents people from gong outside. He's been stuck in his office building for weeks if not months, but he and the others marooned there have finally dug from the underground parking structure to the subway tunnels. Marc wants to find his girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura), but to navigate through the sewers to his apartment building means he'll need a GPS device, necessitating a partnership with the much-despised consultant brought in to organize layoffs (Jose Coronado).

Movie doomsday scenarios are almost always designed to destroy cities, either for visual spectacle or to make some sort of point about how urban folks shouldn't look down on their country cousins - epidemics spread fast, zombies have places to hide, earthquakes topple buildings,and so on. So it's kind of fun that brothers Àlex and David Pastor have devised the rare disaster where the city folk are going to be in much better shape initially, even if the situation will eventually get ugly. Part of the fun, though, is figuring out both unexpected ways in which people are in big trouble and how they might cleverly use the resources at hand to survive. It also lets the Pastors build and reveal their world in a way that's especially satisfying: The Last Days initially looks and feels like a movie that doesn't need much of a location and effects budget - shooting in offices, apartments, and tunnels isn't extraordinarily hard or expensive - but as Marc and Enrique make their way across Barcelona, the world opens up as the city's tunnels lead them to bigger spaces that have decayed/adapted more. Their journey has a time component so that audience can watch that evolution, making the setting something fun for the audience to play with rather than just a way to inject panic and danger into a civilized world.

Full review at EFC

No comments: