Ugh, this is a long time coming. But, hey, my thoughts on some of these things have really had time to crystalize!
Much of these weeks were spent at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, and, man, I spilled enough pixels about my ambivalence toward this event at the time it was going on and as I tried to get the blog updated afterward. I'm purchasing my ticket for the next one this week, because as much as it should be better, it's what we've got.
I covered the first couple days of the festival back in March, and here's what the rest of the festival featured:
Sunday the 8th: "Limbo", Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, Blessid, and Shadows on the Wall
Monday the 9th: Boy 7, in unsubtitled Dutch!
Tuesday the 10th: Shorts and Parallel
Wednesday the 11th: Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150
Thursday the 12th: The Noah
Saturday the 14th: Shorts, I Was a Teenage Superhero Sidekick, Fade to White, and Douglas Trumbull
I did not skip Friday the 13th because I am superstitious in any way, but because I wanted to catch Isabella Rossellini's "Green Porno" live on stage. It's a series of videos (also adapted into a television series) that the actress - who took a break from that business to study zoology - made about the reproductive habits of various creatures which is both very funny (she dresses up in some pretty goofy costumes) and strikingly informative. I'm only half joking when I say that there are things about duck sex that will haunt my dreams for life, but there's something very valuable about this: In addition to how knowing things is simply fun, it de-romanticizes the natural world a bit, and it's also great to see people who have had great success in the arts also having an interest in science despite the traditional narrative being scientists finding greater satisfaction going the other direction.
After that, it was a quick trip to Boston Common for Somewhere Only We Know, a film that served as interesting counterprogramming on Valentine's Day weekend not because it was Chinese, but because it was a sweet little romantic comedy in a year where the big release that weekend was all about kink (remember Fifty Shades of Grey?).
Then, on Sunday, with the T shut down again, the Sci-Fi Marathon (the climax of the Festival and, really, it's main reason for existing) started late, at 4pm. It was a fun, strong line-up: Snowpiercer, 2001 (from a 70mm print), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Fantasticherie di un Passeggiatore Solitario, Them!, Moonraker, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Big Trouble in Little China, The Iron Giant, This Island Earth, and Edge of Tomorrow.
You'd think after that, I'd be done, but the festival had made it hard to get to one of the sci-fi films I'd been most anticipating, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, which bombed pretty hard at the box office and was actually kind of hard to get into a mere ten days after its opening (where it actually had to share Imax screens with Seventh Son) - screenings were being bumped for Fifty Shades of Grey (really, that was a big thing). I first tried to see it at Fenway, saw the show on my app had vanished, and then went up to Assembly Row. Worth it, but, man, was I wiped and ready to drop when that ended at seven or so.
I wasn't seeing movies again until Thursday, when I caught Still Alice a few days before the Academy Awards. Not a great movie, but it was clearly the sort of thing that wins actresses awards, and Julianne Moore would win hers.
The next couple of days had me watching movies from other places in East Asia than China - C'est Si Bon from South Korea and Triumph in the Skies from Hong Kong. Then, looking to catch up on the nominated foreign films before the Oscars, I finished the week in Kendall Square catching Timbuktu, the first nominated film from Mauritania, and a terrific little movie in and of itself.
Well, there's that bit of catch-up. Now to jump forward a month and finish writing about March's Boston Underground Film Festival.
Not happening next year (which is next week!), I swear.
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2015 at AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax 3D)
Writing this the better part of a year after seeing the film in the theater, it's been kind of pleasant to see it start to develop a cult following. Not a huge one - the love for it still seems to be on the fringes, where one has to both love is weirdness but not disdain the fact that it is intended to be an expensive mainstream blockbuster rather than a well-disguised specialty picture - but enthusiastic. It fails in places but fails boldly, with a genuine enthusiasm that has to at least be admired.
As is often the case with movies like this, Jupiter Ascending's problems come from the same place as is potential greatness - Andy & Lana Wachowski think both grandly and in great detail, and they do not like to see any of it go to waste. When The Matrix was the popular ruler by which to find the Star Wars prequels wanting, there were jokes about how the Wachowskis wouldn't have the factions fighting over something like the taxation of trade routes, but time has shown that not only would they, but they would make damn sure the audience understood the tariff legislation in question, because they obsessed over that sort of detail and figured the audience would too. This most obviously shows up in a scene of Mila Kunis's Jupiter Jones navigating galactic bureaucracy that goes on far longer than the joke is funny, even with Brazil director Terry Gilliam making a cameo, but there are other bits that show they just couldn't cut things, like Sean Bean's exiled mentor to Channing Tatum's half-canine soldier having a daughter who doesn't add much. You can see where they're going, but there's just too much left in; it needs to be streamlined.
But those issues are also the root of what makes it a lot of fun. The scale of this movie is huge - it builds from the unlikely concept of Earth being just one human world seeded by an empire that has existed for billions of years, and then builds that with the idea of genocide performed on a massive, regular scale so that the ruling class can extend their own lives in a society that values genetics/oligarchy to such an absurd degree that Jupiter becomes a presumptive baroness for having DNA that matches a dead woman's. The Wachowskis are pretty damn far from subtle here - they are blowing a basic fable up to absurd proportions, past mythology even - but they mean it. They are going to make absolutely sure you get what they are saying about how the kind of greed and isolation of the rich from the world's issues that is killing society even as they are sugaring the pill something fierce.
And, man, they do that as well. This is a movie that starts with the big action sequence that does incredible destruction to a major city - the climax of most sci-fi films - and then shrugs it off because the Wachowskis are going to build to much grander things, like a space battle in Jupiter's Great Red Spot. They fill their world with incredible, exciting sights, have clever folks design awesome tech and aliens, and for all that their detail is overwhelming, it's also a thrill to absorb. Heck, their technobabble, describing flying boots as using "gravitational differential equations", even sounds fresh. Oh, and remember, these siblings did do The Matrix, which means they are awful good at the action, setting up astonishingly clear three-dimensional fields were a ton of stuff is going on but everything is perfectly clear. It is a lot tougher than it looks, and not always obvious until you mentally compare how well the action in this is done compared to other big sci-fi adventures.
Alas, it tanked at the box office, and it looks like their Netflix series Sense8 was pretty divisive as well. I half-suspect that they'll be a classic Marvel buy-low soon (they would seem perfect for The Inhumans), even though I hope that they'll continue doing what they are passionate about, even if it is sometimes on the (very) iconoclastic side.