Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2016.01: Anti Matter & Teleios

Another year, another one of these, and since my goal for 2017 is to try and have a healthier relationship with both movies in general and this blog in particular, I’m going to try and not stress out so much over this festival, where I’ve often dragged myself to every possible screening and then spent more time trying to get at least six paragraphs per film onto eFilmCritic because nobody else is likely to review them, even when I can’t muster that sort of enthusiasm for many. That’s not much good for anybody - not a festival I want to do well enough to be able to do better, not filmmakers who are trying to get distribution, not my mental health. That’s not to imply that I’m going to skip over talking about the stuff I don’t like, but I’m not going to force myself to do anything.

So, how’s it going this year? Writing this a few more days into the festival than just the one, things are going okay. I haven’t seen a great movie yet, but only one real stinker (we’ll get to that on day 3), and a fair amount of stuff that the sci-fi junkies who attend this can justify spending their time on for one or two things. Technically, things have gone better; the terrible BD player/office-quality projector/whatever was causing everything not projected from a DCP or film to look terrible last year has been upgraded, which is a real plus. That was a thing that really tainted my enjoyment in years past, which may seem small but which magnified any bad feelings I might have had. Similarly, I kind of remember the blizzard year where Sunday seemed to basically be running things off the schedule in random order for the five of us that made it more fondly because it was at least a good story. There was a slight hitch as Teleios started without sound, leading to some “hilarious” folks feeling free to make comments, which is always a bummer - like the other environmental factors outside the actual film itself, this sort of thing can really mess with how one feels about it.

Anti Matter (2016)

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, digital)

Like a lot of films built around a central mystery, Anti Matter would probably be better off just laying things out and exploring its situation rather than holding things just out of reach. It would solve two problems, diminishing the import of its terrible technobabble and not forcing it to lean so hard on a twist that a large portion of the audience will see coming. Instead, the filmmakers hold back, not as obviously or ineptly as some other films in the festival, but enough that it’s disappointing to see just how little discovery there is at the end.

And that’s something that a decent core cast can’t really overcome. Yaiza Figueroa is capable enough as the grad student whose accidental discovery of potential teleportation suddenly seems to have even her partners turned against her even as her own memory becomes suspect; as those partners, Tom Barber-Duffy is pleasant but bland while Philippa Carson is enjoyably spiky, while all three sell the increasing agitation that the situation has them feeling without it necessarily reflecting frustration with the film itself. Unfortunately, Carson and Barber-Duffy get weaker as the script calls upon them to become more oblique and the lower tiers of the cast are often pretty terrible.

Writer/director Keir Burrows has a decent idea or two - Ana’s calls from Oxford to her mother in America are often awkwardly staged (right down to the flag behind her), but there’s a nugget in there about her history disappearing in her mother’s move even as her ability to create new memories is broken that could use a little nourishment and better connection to the main action. The main story that emerges, unfortunately, is kind of empty; aside from being propped up on a mix of fake physics, chemistry, and biology that never sounds like a possible situation to explore rather than a hand-waving explanation of what the filmmaker wants to do, the finale never quite convinces that its moral compass is aligned, leaving out what seems like an important bit of motivation and having the last important decision made based upon whispered information to which the audience is not privy.

You can probably guess the gist of it, of course, but that’s half the problem - there’s never much in the way of interesting surprises, either in terms of what happens or how it’s done, and in attempting to build a mystery, Burrows holds back what could have made the movie interesting.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, digital)

I suspect that I may be giving writer/director Ian Truitner a little too much credit for clever resource management when I wonder whether, when writing this film, he recognized that he probably wasn’t going to be able to afford both the visual effects he wanted and a particularly great cast, and so built it so that he could get away with just one person in the cast showing any sort of nuance, with the rest mostly robots or genetically-engineered supermen who thus act a bit weird. More likely, he was just able to get what he needed on a relative bargain during the casting process, giving the rest of the movie a little bit more wiggle room.

I suppose it stinks as an actor to be just thought of as “good enough” (at least until you’re Keanu Reeves and casting directors know how to slot you into parts that play to your strengths and make your weaknesses mostly-irrelevant), but it works out to be something of a boon as this film starts, with Commander Reginald Linden (Lance Broadway), hot-for-each-other specialists Emma Anderson & Chris Zimmer (Christian PItre & T.J. Hoban), Doctor Orson (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), and pilot Iris Duncan (Sunny Mabrey), five “GC Humans” just out of stasis on a mission to see what the heck happened on a station orbiting Titan. It’s a group of performances that mostly hit a fairly limited number of notes, but that works for the movie; when the crew has to be condescending to the sole human survivor (Weetus Cren) in a way that’s not particularly helpful, it’s something the audience doesn’t exactly question; it makes the one who has an actual personality pop as things go on.

The rest of the film is capable enough, in some ways fun to look at as it embraces some of the goofier bits of old-fashioned low-budget sci-fi movies: The futuristic uniforms that may technically be unisex but are tight enough to show off the crew members’ assets (they don’t exactly seem to come off the rack), there can be quick jumps from optimistic space exploration to outright nastiness, and pop-culture references that have a sort of knowing futuristic anachronism. At other times, it plays like a bottle episode of Star Trek (or one of many similar shows) where the producers know they might not have the budget to bring everyone back the next season, so all bets are off. Admittedly, that’s not necessarily the most ambitious framework for a feature film - there’s not a lot of new ideas or arrangements of existing ones here - but it at least looks slick enough, with decent effects and production values, that it won’t be a particularly disappointing find for those that have it recommended by the streaming service of their choice.

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