Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.08: Projet-M & Reconnoiter

I don't know if "somewhat homemade but pretty decent" was an official theme for the night, but I gather that if I'd seen This Giant Papier-Maiche Boulder Is Really Heavy, it would have really firmed that up. But, aside from being a 5pm show, I don't do "spoofs of bad movies" any more, and I kind of don't care how many people say it was actually good.

The website says that the director of Projet-M was scheduled for a Q&A, but if he did one, it was in the other room and there wasn't a whole lot of time between them. I might have been curious to ask how well-known the cast was; just looking the up on IMDB doesn't necessarily tell you much, since there's both a decent local commercial film/TV industry there along with a strong homebrew scene (as the massive local shorts program at Fantasia indicates), so folks with a lot of credits may not actually be famous in Québèc, but busy.

Anyway... Behind like crazy on this, and it's a bummer that IFFBoston is starting just as I'm getting to writing about the good stuff.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The festival opened with a film (400 Days) that covers a lot of the same territory - global cataclysm happens while astronauts are undergoing long-term isolation trials - and this one is easily much better, despite having a lot of the same flaws. It's not that a somewhat handmade French-Canadian film is inherently better or more sincere than something made targeting the VOD market with familiar genre faces; it's that the folks making this one seem a lot more interested in their details, even if they don't quite seem sure of what they want the sum of those details to be.

The long-term mission is taking place on a Québèc Space Agency station in preparation for a potential manned mission to Europa. It's commanded by Vincent Kohler (Jean-Nicolas Verreault), the second man on Mars and a national hero. He, flight specialist Justine Roberval (Nadia Essadiqi), mission specialist Jonathan Laforest (Julien Deschamps Jolin), and medic Andrea Sakedaris (Julie Perreault) are scheduled to be up there for a thousand days, but nerves are already rather frayed by the time things start going very wrong in the early 900s.

The pressure cooker is a tough thing for a film to pull off, and director Eric Piccoli seems to struggle with it; he and Mario J. Ramos (his co-writer/co-editor) establish a pattern of creating a little more friction between characters or developing a subplot, and then skipping ahead a few months to when it has dissipated. It's not quite frustrating, but it keeps the movie from picking up the sort of head of steam it's looking for, and even when there are fewer big jumps forward, they still seem anxious to get to the next thing, or a flashback, or something that's neat but a diversion. There are only a few moments when characters act less intelligent and professional than you'd expect of astronauts selected for this sort of mission, at least, and the film mostly works in the moment.

Full review on EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

A fair number of people with the name of "Rowe" appear in the credits for Reconnoiter multiple times each, driving home just how independent a production it was, bordering on trying to make a sort of pre-emptive defense of its smallness. There isn't much way to avoid that, although this one probably deserves more praise for what it achieves than excuses for where it falls short; it's small but intriguing, with the filmmakers getting good results from what they can do.

This particular recon mission is being carried out by a single pilot (Ian Rowe), although tons go just sideways enough that he winds up stranded on an uninhabited planet. Well, uninhabited by biological life forms; though there is evidence that such beings one lived there, all that roams the surface now are their machines, and most of the ones that take notice of the castaway are hostile. Still, these robots point him to a possible way to get a message home, if he can survive long enough.

It's a setting that doesn't need much physical material for much of the runtime, and director Neil Rowe and his crew are pretty excellent at making do. The countryside where they shoot is not likely to be mistaken for any place but rural England - the stone walls and other structures are fairly distinctive - but Rowe makes them feel alien. No bits of terrestrial fauna accidentally sneak into frame, and the noise of mechanical breathing permeates the soundtrack for much of the film's first half. For a small production, the visual and special effects work is quite strong; the robots are good and the abandoned (and occasionally grisly) remnants of this extinct civilization are also well-executed, not calling obvious attention to how much more involved putting those scenes together must have been.

Full review on EFC.

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