Friday, February 21, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival day 08: The Perfect 46, Senn

You'll notice that there no "day 07" post, though I wasn't planning on punting a day of the festival. After all, I try to squeeze as many screenings out of a festival pass as I can for more or less the same reason that I'm probably a bit harder on the films playing said festival than some of the other attendees may be ("I paid money for this"). But when you schedule a multi-day event for Massachusetts in the middle of February, some snow-related cancellations and rescheduling are to be expected. Heck, I suspect school vacation was originally scheduled for the third week of February on the basis of "there are going to be a bunch of snow days anyway!"

And while this wasn't the genuine blizzard that wrecked the beginning of lady years festival, it was enough to keep Garen from making it down from New Hampshire, this canceling a short program and the Doctor Who documentary that was expected to make the day busy enough to justify putting us in a regular theater rather than just the Micro. To be honest, I was considering skipping that one anyway, on the basis that we need more fan-made documentaries that don't just talk about how awesome a thing is but how awesome the fans who kept the awesome thing alive by being incredibly devoted are like we need more documentaries about how being able to play a guitar makes this substance abuser especially tragic. And when I saw online that Coherence would have a second show added on Saturday, in a better theater, because the special guest couldn't make it, I figured I might as well hit the comic shop, go back home, and write some.

That meant I was pretty well refreshed for Friday, although I must admit that I kind of expected it to be a more Valentine's Day-themed program than wound up being the case: The Perfect 46 turned out to be less about finding ideal mates than the program notes implied and more about personal hubris (much to its benefit), while the couple in bed on the poster for Senn does not exactly serve as a true indication of what it's going to be about.

It actually works out for the best, though; The Perfect 46 wound up being one of my favorite movies of the festival, if only for how professional it looked, with good cinematography, actual thought put into how to use its limited resources to not look instantly dated or cheap, and a very solid performance bringing an interesting protagonist to life. Garen likes to talk about the high quality of the movies the festival received as submissions, and I think it really does a disservice to things as well put-together as this.

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We had guests for Senn, and, really, Josh Feldman and Britton Watkins were just the nicest guys. They really seemed genuinely enthused about making this movie, from the technology that lets someone with a little creativity and patience add decent visual effects to their movie to building the kind of detail that includes a synthetic language and alphabet. They knew their stuff when folks asked about science fictional works as possible influences beyond the big name, and they raffled off both T-shirts (I got one) and other props and oddities. If you didn't win anything, they were collecting email addresses so that they could mail out MP3s from the soundtrack.

They said they were submitting to a bunch of festivals and were looking forward to spending the year traveling with the movie. I don't know if some of the bigger, more competitive festivals will necessarily be stumbling over themselves to get the picture, but the film and filmmakers certainly make a nice package.

(I hope they didn't take too much offense at a fellow attendee and I discussing the film's shortcomings while they were sitting right behind me the next day. Small room full of filmmakers that day!)

The Perfect 46

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Science fiction on film often tends to be action-oriented, even when the filmmakers would really like to be focusing on an idea, if only because an hour and a half of someone spewing jargon is not a natural match for the medium. Even when filmmakers do go for something a little more cerebral, they often stumble because they don't surround the concept with the quality of characters and story that they would in a mainstream drama. The Perfect 46 may stumble on occasion, but it's got an interesting, unusual human center that at least merits the viewer's attention.

That would be its main character, Jesse Darden (Whit Hertford). He's the creator of the website ThePerfect46.com, which uses personal genome sequences (something residents of certain states are required to have mapped as a matter of course in this story's world) to determine the likelihood of a couple's children being born with hereditary diseases or other traits. That's controversial enough, but when the site gives users the ability to find optimal matches, it is arguably the start of a disastrous chain of events.

Writer/director Brett Ryan Bonowicz effectively follows two or three tracks in telling Jesse's story, interspersing clips of a TV news special on the rise and fall of the site with non-documentary scenes of what was happening with Jesse both during and after those events, although given that one of the two young men who break into his house spends a lot of time watching a tape of the special, it does resolve into a single narrative more neatly than one might initially expect. Bonowicz moves between these views in a nimble manner, never leaving the audience confused about when he our she is our settling in to the point where moving away is jarring, even when switching to and from the VHS television recording. It does admittedly result in a little bit of bloat and repetition; coming out of the film I felt that the filmmakers either should have chosen either narrative or faux-documentary and stick with it, though it probably just has room for some fine-tuning in retrospect.

Full review at EFC

Senn

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, Digital)

I generally try not to grade the movies I see at festivals that are clearly the result of some amateur enthusiasts doing as much as they can with what little they've got much differently than the more professional world they play alongside, figuring that if they cost the same amount of money and time to see, they should be held to the same standard. I can't quite bring myself to judge Senn quite so harshly as a film with its flaws perhaps merits, though; there's a level of enthusiasm and charm that puts me in the mood to forgive.

It starts with how everything in the movie's world is written in a synthetic language using an alphabet that looks like the offspring of Arabic and Korean. It's a decision that, along with a few well-placed digital additions to some terrestrial industrial areas, makes for some surprisingly effective world-building. The characters are also very matter-of-fact in how they talk about their corporate wage-slavery and how the multi-planet system keeps them down, so even the bits that may seem somewhat bewildering at least give the impression of making that sort of internal sense to the characters. That sort of confidence in one's otherworldly setting is valuable, and it helps director Josh Feldman stretch what he has admirably.

The trouble is that it often seems like Feldman and co-writer/producer Britton Watkins have built a world and the rudiments of a sorry but haven't refined it into a story. They start from a decent place - Senn (Zach Eulberg), his best friend Resh (Taylor Lambert), and girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor) build widgets for almost no pay on the corporately-owned planet Pyom, with Senn trying to hide the weird visions that occasionally cause him to zone out least he get excited to the garbage mountains, at least until an alien ship arrives and says they have need of Senn's ability to make contact with this mysterious "Polychronom". So they hop on the ship - which features an Earth-like environment and helpful artificial intelligence "We" (Wylie Herman) - and head to a mysterious space station built by a long-vanished race. And then...

Full review at EFC

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