Monday, May 19, 2014

Subterranean Cinema: Proxy & The Machine

Boston-area folks: We need to support the "Somerville Subterranean Cinema" program that Chris Hallock and the Somerville Theatre put on better. I was there the past two Saturday nights, and attendance wasn't what it should have been: Two for Proxy, four for The Machine, and the 9:30pm screenings for each canceled due to no-one showing up. And while I admit that neither of these is a movie that can be easily recommended to everyone, they both have something that should at least be interesting to audiences.

I admit, I take the low turn-out for The Machine personally; I recommended it to Chris when I saw it had distribution but no Boston booking, pushed it here as much as I could, and really wanted one of the best movies I saw last year to succeed. I'll probably try and give it another push, this time for the sci-fi marathon next February, because I think this is the kind of actually exciting genre movie that seems like it would have gotten a bit more of a chance a couple decades ago and which is accessible for a mainstream audience but sophisticated enough that the audience knows they've seen something new afterward. I wanted this to attract a crowd badly, and can only hope that the dozen or so of us that did see it will be giving it the sort of word-of-mouth it needs to get a bit more of a push going forward.

Which, I suspect, is what the filmmakers and distributors who sign on for two nights in a room that features Blu-ray projection for thirty people are hoping for. Even if all four shows sold out for $10 a ticket and the studio was getting 90% of the money, that's about a thousand bucks. Not nothing, and even $50 is probably worth the expense of mailing a disc (even using priority mail!) if it leads to a few more Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD orders. Heck, I half-suspect that some of these movies are taking meager bookings so that they can get a push onto the "watch while it's in theaters" menu on the cable box.

And that's sad. Not everything in this series will be great, or even good. But there sometimes seems to be far fewer cracks for movies not produced by the major studios to slip through: All of the multiplexes that can afford to use one screen to show something unusual just show the same movies as each other, while even midnight series are being monopolized by the same familiar hits and "cult classics" that everyone else is showing. We're actually pretty lucky in Boston that we've got SSC & All Things Horror, the @fter Midnite series at the Coolidge, and folks at the Brattle who want to put on cool late shows. But programming these things takes time, effort, and money, and there's still a lot of room for things to slip between the cracks. It's kind of shameful that Special ID didn't play Boston, for instance - it's not just a big Hong Kong action movie with the sort of action people love when they get a chance to see it, but two of the stars have local ties!

There should be room for things like Special ID, The Machine, Proxy, and the like to be discovered, but there's a hell of a gap between playing five times a day, guaranteed, at the multiplex and a couple of shows at a venue or in a series that really can't afford to get the word out beyond the audience they already have. So we've got to build the places showing smaller movies up, make them more viable. If the Somerville Subterranean Cinema series can actually draw a crowd, maybe it could occasionally get a shot at screen #4 rather than the micro-cinema, and maybe it becomes more appealing for the likes of Magnet or Well Go who, because they are trying to get their movies booked at the multiplexes, actually wind up getting no booking in Boston at all, and things that are still built for the big screen despite the rapidly changing landscape get experienced on TV or laptop screens, and that's not seeing them at their full potential.

So here it is, Boston. There are folks showing genre movies that are at least worth a look, and while they sometimes need to be sought out, supporting them with money might just give the next genre film that would look as good on the big screen as The Machine get noticed. The next show in this particular series is Desolate on June 6th & 7th, and while I haven't seen it yet, I did like director Rob Grant's previous two movies. Let's try and get this a crowd.

Proxy

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 May 2014 in the Somerville Theatre micro-cinema (Somerville Subterranean Cinema, BD)

Give Proxy filmmaker Zack Parker this: Unlike many movies that wind up labeled "horror", his delivers something that its audience will want to put out of their heads afterward because it doesn't bear thinking about. Unfortunately, he keeps going, stretching things out long enough that the disturbing idea loses a bit of its punch, and the finale winds up being twisted in a way that is perhaps too familiar.

Things start out shockingly enough, as Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) - young, pregnant, and alone - is brutally attacked just outside her obstetrician's office, losing the baby and gaining an ugly scar. She's referred to a support group for parents who have lost children, where she meets Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), and the pair soon become friends. The thing is, neither of them is quite so alone as they have led the other to believe.

Why would one person lead another to believe she was in such a situation? The title gives a hint, although Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner never opt to bring in a mental health professional to deliver exposition on M√ľnchhausen's-by-proxy. That's fine, helpful even; pointing out that this condition occurs enough to have a name might make the idea that people can crave the attention that comes with difficult circumstances seem less aberrant, no matter how rare it's described as being. That isn't particularly a problem here, as each thing we learn about what is going on is incrementally creepier without ever being linked to something that could qualify as an explanation, let alone a justification, and the situation is set up in such a way that it does not necessarily require constant escalation to keep things tense.

Full review at EFC

The Machine

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2014 in the Somerville Theatre micro-cinema (Somerville Subterranean Cinema, BD)

I loved this movie when I saw it last year, enough to push to get it some screenings, and sometimes I worry that when I'm that enthusiastic, it might not survive a second encounter. Maybe the contagious excitement of seeing it at a sold-out festival screening hid its shortcomings, or perhaps I inserted what I heard during a cool Q&A into my memories of the movie proper. Or maybe it caught me personally at just the right time.

Well, I loved The Machine the second time around. It is absolutely a movie that was built almost entirely out of things I like, but it's put together with great skill and precision. I've seen a couple of sci-fi films over the past few weeks that struggled with their big ideas - the filmmakers had an image, or a concept, but felt that was enough, and that building a tight story would reign their imagination in or take the focus off the characters. As Caradog James shows here, that doesn't have to be the case. He's dedicated to pushing some strange imagery at the audience - this film is actually much weirder visually than I remember it - and pushing in a post-human direction that other filmmakers flinch at, but it's still emotional and exciting and everything that science fiction on film so often is not.

It's out on Blu-ray in about a month (and on demand now). If you like hard science fiction and don't mind a movie that uses a modest budget very well versus one that can throw a lot of money at something that is fairly conservative as science fiction goes, you really should check it out. And, if you're in Boston, kick yourself for not catching it on a good-sized screen when you had the chance.

Full review at EFC

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