Sunday, February 21, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.01: 400 Days and The Survivalist

I try to be optimistic about this festival before I'm disappointed, but my most amusing story of this night comes from the disappointment: I walk out of The Survivalist, pretty good and certainly an improvement over the fairly awful first movie of the evening, buy some popcorn and a soda, and walk back to the ticket-ripping station only to be told that they wouldn't be showing Mafia: Survival Game tonight because Garen was unable to download the movie in time. The look on my face as I stared down at my just-purchased snacks, with the next movie at the theater that I wanted to see not straying for 45-plus minutes, was probably meme-worthy.

Since I had to go get my jacket and such, I got to be the one who informed the folks who has just stick around the theater that the festival's first screw-up had come early. Then I walked home, with someone puking down their car window to tell the guy carrying the popcorn and soda that the movie theater was over there.

On the other hand, it could have been worse. They could have shown Mafia and really dragged the day's average down.

400 Days

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Looking at the cast of 400 Days, it's hard not to think something along the lines of "why are you doing this? You've got steady work as superheroes on television, so you don't need this sort of paycheck job!" The production schedule doesn't actually live up, but the point remains that most everyone involved has got to have much better things to do.

The 400 days in question are practice for a manned mission to Mars; astronauts Theo (Brandon Routh), Emily (Caity Lotz), Bug (Ben Feldman), and Dvorak (Dane Cook) will be placed in an underground bunker and given simulated tasks to run and problems to solve. For an extra bit of drama, Theo it's hung over at the start because of the bender he went on after Emily broke things off. Soon after "take-off", they lose all communication with the outside world, adding even more tension to what is already a tense situation.

The trouble is, that situation is never really tense. Writer/director Matt Osterman does just about nothing to indicate why Emily and Theo might have broken up, not even indicating that Theo drank to excess other than that one time. Just hearing that Emily is the woman who broke Theo's heart may change the way that the audience looks at their scenes, but the viewer can't be expected to do all the lifting here. Beyond that (and a half-heated attempt to stir up envy via Dvorak hitting on Emily and being rebuffed), there just isn't much going on in the bunker. Dvorak It's kind of a jerk who starts seeing things, but there's no sense of time going forward or relationships changing as the occasional Day X subtitles jump ahead.

Full review on EFC.

The Survivalist

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

There are several types of survivalist in stories that take place after the collapse of civilization, from the gregarious fellow who knows how to live off the land and aims to share that knowledge and bounty to the outsider who somehow gets by to the guy who at least partially welcomes a situation where he can be entirely self-sufficient and can justify killing anyone who takes any party of what is his. The title character of The Survivalist at least seems to be on the rightward edge of that spectrum, and what makes the film kind of interesting is that it provides much less to push him toward community than most films of its sort do.

He's played by Martin McCann, and while he doesn't necessarily sleep well, he gets by better than many in a simple shed on a plot of land that grows just enough to sustain him. He can also handle a weapon well enough to defend that garden and is not particularly moved by the suffering of those who don't have that much. When Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) comes along, he's not terribly impressed by the seeds she offers in trade, but she does have another commodity to offer: Daughter Milja (Mia Goth) is in her teens or early twenties and it has been a long time.

It's a calculated offer that plays into some stereotypes that, aside from being sexist, don't seem to have much room for showing the audience something new. Perhaps there's something to reducing everyone to familiar types, in that without civilization, there's not much opportunity or reason to have personalities; these people are intelligent enough to think in terms of making it to next year rather than just tomorrow, but when not dealing with people as anything but competition for scant resources, there's little reason to worry about being liked or hated. It makes them into thoughtful animals, acting on instincts but being able to plan.

Full review on EFC.

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