Saturday, February 10, 2018

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2018.01: Junk Head & Ayla

I think the new phone's camera gets cinema marquees better than the old one.

So, hey, it's time for the festival that I want to be so much better than it is, and whose moments of actually being pretty good make the rest harder to swallow. That's this year's opening night in a nutshell: Junk Head is an amazing accomplishment and a nifty movie, and then you follow it up with Ayla, which is pretty terrible. There's also a side of initially claiming Junk Head was a North American premiere despite the fact that I saw it in Montreal last summer and it played Fantastic Fest in Austin.

It's kind of a tough opening night, really - Junk Head is long and Ayla is kind of pretentious, so while there's some potential in both films, but I don't think either is what you'd call a crowd-pleaser.

It might be a few days before the next one of these gets posted, as I'm going to be trying to fit Oscar shorts in before vacation, and that will get posted first.

Junk Head

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, digital)

Junk Head was one of the most striking things I saw at Fantasia last year, but it's also one that has its flaws; it's long for an animated film, and episodic, without actually arriving at a finish, and a second viewing had me a little less bowled-over by the sheer level of achievement that a handful of people (and one in particular) and noting the length a bit more. It's still an amazing-looking movie, well worth catching during its Sunday encore if you missed it on Friday.

Full review on EFC (from Fantasia).


* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, digital)

About ten or fifteen minutes into Ayla, I was wondering when the first really necessary scene would be. There's a flash-forward, a bunch of bits that don't establish much at all, and just generally a long slog until it gets to the actual useful information and gives the characters some amount of personality. Writer/director Elias plays a lot of formal tricks that don't really help, with hallucinations, extremely mannered dialogue and characterization (a couple of scenes with BIll Oberst Jr as extremely different but equally daft hotel managers are the worst offenders, but not the only ones), and things like having dialogue spoken over barely-connected imagery all suggest not that he's a next-level artist but that he can't simply tell the story in a clear way.

And while there's some potential for the story of a man who lost his sister when they were small children somehow has her revived as an adult - or at least, a peculiar woman who looks like the digitally-aged picture of four-year-old Ayla appears in a supernatural event. There's a potentially interesting vibe of her still being a child in there (although, dude, four-year-olds can talk), and a sort of vampirism aspect that suggests both that this Ayla is draining him and that, metaphorically, holding onto that grief is hollowing him out as well. The trouble is, Elias really hasn't constructed a story around that, and the audience is left with an idea that the filmmakers don't really do much with. There's also a weird incest-y thread that needs either a much more detailed and horrific backstory that the audience is given or some sort of exploration of how mixed up things can get inside a disturbed mind.

It doesn't help that the cast really doesn't seem up to this, either - Nicholas Wilder is technically giving a believable performance as grieving brother Elton, but it's so off-putting and seemingly detached that it's hard to figure what his girlfriend (Sarah Schoofs) sees in him. That relationship seemingly only exists in order to put Elton in a place where he can be shocked by Ayla appearing. Tristan Risk handles the revenant's odd physicality well, but never really makes her into anything as either memory or monster. D'Angelo Midili is okay as the more sensible, grounded brother, but Dee Wallace is unable to do much with terrible material as their mother.

By the time it's over - with the trademark slow credit roll to get the movie over 85 minutes - one can certainly see what Elias is trying to do, but it seems undeniable that his opinion of his craft is well ahead of his actual ability to tell a story. We can see what he's going for, but it's boring and sloppy, the work of someone who doesn't seem to have mastered the basics before trying to break rules.

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