Monday, June 13, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.09: Somnio, Native & Tale of Tales

How far behind am I with festival reviews? Well, aside from the literal "four months", it's worth mentioning that Garen told us that reviews of Tale of Tales were embargoed (which is bull since it has shown at festivals and been released in other territories, which in my mind makes it fair game, but publicists who think critics are part of their team), but it was going to open in April. It didn't wind up playing the Brattle until June, and while I got the EFC review written in time, this post has been a while coming. Around the same time, I got an email from a producer about possibly reviewing Somnio, citing its Best Screenplay Award at the festival, and, yikes, I'm not cool with an award from this event being used in advertising. Anyway, I liked it okay, but I don't think I'm going to watch it again so that I can give the finished version a review.

SOMNIO filmmakers at SF41

I believe that's Travis Milloy of Somnio on the left, and a producer on the right (zooming in, his nametag seems to say "Williams", but, man, it's been a while). They wanted a bit of feedback on it, which was interesting - he seemed to really be at the last tweaks stage

NATIVE filmmakers at Boston SciFi

Next up, the makers of Native - left to right, producer Jim Fitzsimmons, director Daniel Fitzsimmons,and co-writer/producer Neil Atkinson - and they made a good one. It wound up being the sort of Q&A that is more or less all enthusiasm. Heck, I even did the question that's arguably more about showing how clever one is as a viewer ("are all the hexagons meant to indicate something insectoid") than really start a discussion.

I probably had more to say back in February but, hey, behind. Next up: the marathon!


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

The version of Somnio screened was a work-in-progress, although it certainly looked like it was in something close to releasable form - maybe a little tightening in the editing bay, springing for a little more on music clearances. I'm half-kidding on that last one, although "hey, they sprung for a second song" is in my notes from four months ago.

It's a decent little movie, with Christopher Soren Kelly as Frank Lerner, a man in a somewhat repressive future who is picked up by the government and wakes up in an automated prison habitat, with his only connection to the world Howard (voice of Jesse D. Arrow), the "LSO" who is friendly enough but apparently incapable of giving Frank much more than a runaround. As days stretch into weeks, then months, Howard tries to get information on Alliance leader Fletcher May (Cajardo Lindsey) and Frank finds himself replaying his arrest over and over, falling for the barista (Cassandra Clark) as she becomes a larger part of that memory.

It's the sort of independent sci-fi movie that proudly plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, and its a credit to writer/director Travis Milloy that, even at 80-odd minutes, it doesn't feel cripplingly stretched, like it's killing time or spinning wheels to get up to feature length. It can't help but get into a bit of a repetitive cycle, alternating as it does between two fairly restrictive situations and not able to subvert either too much.

Both give Kelly a chance to do some nice work; he's got nice chemistry with Cassandra Clark, who navigates the tricky situation of playing a character who mostly exists within another's imagination as neither entirely real nor just her partner in a different guise. Jesse D. Arrow similarly plays an off-screen character meant to be neutral by definition, but moves off that just enough to make his conversations with Kelly's Frank a little bit weightier than they might have been.

I can't imagine too much has changed in the final film - the core is solid, the performances are nice, and it's not as if there's a lot of missing effects - so if it shows up at a festival in its finished form, it will probably won't disappoint.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

For much of Native, I wondered if the filmmakers might be doing the filmic equivalent of a theatrical production where costumes, set decoration, and the like are deliberately understated or anachronistic, to better focus the audience on the more universal aspects of the story. It may be the case, and if nothing else, it means that a particularly peculiar sci-fi tale can be told while spending the budget on a nice cast rather than a lot of ornamentation.

Much of the action takes place on a spaceship crewed by Cane (Rupert Graves) and Eva (Ellie Kendrick), who, like many of their people, share especially strong telepathic bonds with their spouses, enabling faster-than-light communication with mission control back home. When Cane's partner Awan (Leanne Best) dies, that means that he is far more alone than most can fathom, and Eva's partner Seth (Joe Macaulay) relays occasionally conflicting advice to try and get closer to her shipmate while also keeping a close eye on him: It seems likely that the empathetic Cane will start to identify with the inhabitants of the planet at the other end of their journey, which could be dangerous for a mission to establish a new homeworld.

Though not covered with makeup or displaying obvious ticks, it's pretty clear that Cane, Eva, et al, are not exactly human beings as we know them, and finding a way to present that without seeming coy or making the audience dig through details about how their civilization is different can be a pretty tricky thing. Director Daniel Fitzsimmons and co-writer Neil Atkinson find the right balance with their script, though, peppering the film with references to different values, family structures, and societal pressures without it being overwhelming. Still, while Cane and Eva are not like us, they're not beyond understanding.

Full review on EFC.

Il racconto dei Racconti (Tale of Tales)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

The term "dark fairy tale" has likely been applied to Tale of Tales again and again, and it comes by that label legitimately, with director Matteo Garrone and his three co-writers basing the script on a four-hundred-year-old book of Italian folk tales. Yet - and this may just be a lifetime of Disneyfied animated versions speaking - it doesn't quite feel right. There's a point to fairy tales, and while all three stories in this one involve hubris, it too often feels delightfully lush but not exactly pointed.

Its three stories take place in neighboring feudal kingdoms. In Longtrellis, the Queen (Salma Hayek) and King (John C. Reilly) are of different temperaments during a party - he is generally cheerful and amused by the performing clowns, she is more and more consumed by her failure to conceive a child. A necromancer (Franco Pistoni) tells her of a way that she can conceive, involving the King slaying a giant beast and a virgin (Laura Pizzinirani) cooking its heart for the Queen to eat. Sixteen years later, her son Elias (Christian Lees) is a teenager, but much closer Jonah (Jonah Lees), the identical son born to the cook at the same time, than his mother.

All three portions of the film have neat hooks, fine casts, and sleek visuals, and this one is no exception: It's gorgeous, Salma Hayek in particular is riveting in a forceful performance, and the practical effects used for the creature are terrific. The trouble is, the very cool fantasy set-up doesn't have a place to go once the Queen forbids the twins from seeing each other. The point of the story is clear - a parent who tries to keep her child from the people he cares about will, at best, poison their relationship - but the execution is not nearly as memorable as the set-up. The Lees twins are not nearly as captivating as Hayek, and their story just doesn't stick in the mind like hers does.

Full review on EFC.

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