Saturday, February 17, 2018

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2018.02: Flora, The Gateway & Andover

Yep, a week later, I get this posted. So much for trying to do it quick by not writing a whole lot, but all three of these movies were just good enough that the "don't pile on" instinct didn't kick in and but also had something in them worth talking about for good or ill.

I skipped the family show in the early afternoon for the Animated Oscar Shorts, but settled in afterward for three movies, two of which had guests.

Left to right, that's Leandra from the festival and Flora cast members/producers Dan Lin, William Aaron, and Terese Marie Doran, with composer Nathan Prillaman on the right. They're a pretty cool group, many of whom knew each other and director Sasha Louis Vukovic in college and were thus able to pull this movie together knowing their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they had access to. Part of that was land, in that they knew someone who would let them shoot on their property without a lot of trouble, although they pointed out that it wasn't quite so isolated as you might think - there are a lot of scenes where, if you turned the camera 90 degrees, you'd see that they were not far from civilization at all. They also wound up having to redo all the sound in post, because it wasn't nearly so animal-noise-free as the plot required. Also, even a movie as low-budget as this can have 100+ effects shots these days, even if it's mostly removing mosquitoes from your eerily still forest or jet contrails from your period piece.

Nobody came for The Gateway, but to be fair, they are Australian, and that is a heck of a flight.

That's Andover director Scott Perlman on the right. Seems like a nice-enough guy. I did find it weird just how much of the film wound up being connected to Jonathan Silverman, who from his filmography just doesn't seem like a guy to get anyone particularly excited.

(Scans further)

Okay, finding out that he's played a character with your name is weird.

Anyway, Perlman talked about how they wanted him at the start, but he dropped out both for timing and because there was potential tension with an ex-girlfriend in the cast, but then she dropped out, he was available when they were finally able to shoot, they talked about getting his wife Jennifer Finnigan a cameo, to wind up casting her as the dead wife who gets cloned multiple times, with Finnigan winding up being the best thing about the movie.

It's genuinely weird how this works out sometimes, isn't it?


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

Flora is a thriller that, like may first films, is built to work around pitfalls and get the absolute most that the filmmakers can out of what they have available, to the point where it sometimes seems that the characters and filmmakers are improvising in the same way. While that's not the most exciting way to present a movie, it can certainly make for one that catches the eye when reading a genre festival's catalog or a VOD menu, and in this case the results are not bad at all.

Some of what makes it eye-catching is the 1929 setting, with four botany students - Ora Blackwood (Teresa Marie Doran), Matsudaira Basho (Dan Lin), Rudyard Corey (Miles G. Jackson), and Charles Horne (William Aaron) - are headed into an unmapped part of the woods to assist a professor on a survey, joined by nurse Avis Tasker (Sari Mercer) and Rudy's brother Haviland (Caleb Noel). When the professor doesn't meet them as planned, they voyage up the river and to the camp as planned, only to find it abandoned, and the provisions that were supposed to last them a month gone. They start to make plans to make do, but after a day or so they can't help but notice there are no animal and insect noises.

The jazz-age setting that writer/director Sasha Louis Vukovic chooses is convenient in a lot of ways, and not just in the obvious lack of mobile phones and a setting where a reasonably-equipped expedition can still venture into unknown territory without the vague hand-waving of having supernatural forces mess up compasses and create impossible topology. It's also fun; it makes for period-appropriate music on the soundtrack, costumes which signal exploration, science, and adventure to the audience without it seeming like an affectation. Characters can drop references to being on the Discovery with Shackleton, and when it comes time to explain the scientific nature of the danger they face and what they're doing about it, it makes sense for it to be within the grasp of most of the audience rather than filled with difficult technobabble.

Full review on EFC

The Gateway (aka Alpha Gateway)

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

The Gateway (also called "Alpha Gateway" because there's a good chance your cable company lists its pay-per-view options alphabetically) is a reasonably capable parallel-worlds bit of science fiction that relies an awful lot on security procedures being terribly lax in all versions of Australia, even the paranoid violent one. It's the kind of thriller that simultaneously hopes you'll be impressed by its twists and not notice the really questionable things necessary to get to them, but at least it's got a decent-enough cast to make the good bits work.

Chief among them is Jacqueline McKenzie, playing scientist Jane Chandler, a physicist working on teleportation in an office she shares with Regg (Ben Mortley). She's got an extremely supportive husband (Myles Pollard) and two kids (Shannon Berry & Ryan Panizza), and while she and Regg haven't exactly cracked teleportation - their most successful attempt seems to have just disintegrated the apple they were trying to move across the room - they eventually figure out that they sent it to a parallel universe. Research is put on hold when that husband dies in a car crash, leading her to transport herself. And when it turns out that Matt lost Jane in this other world, where they have no kids, well, that fits together just too perfectly.

My notes on this movie include some hasty calculations to try and convert the 350 petawatts for six seconds that this machine requires into the same units as my electric bill (at twenty cents per kilowatt-hour, each time Jane uses the device costs over thirty-one billion dollars American, and I kind of doubt that the exchange rate or different voltage makes enough of a difference that it makes sense for her to do so this casually), and that's just one of the many details about this project that don't make a whole lot of sense. As mentioned, it doesn't seem as though the people working on this project even do so much as lock their doors in any universe, and one might think that, even before things went further to hell, someone might ask Jane what her long-term plan was in terms of having a copy of her legally, verifiably dead husband around. There are a lot of things like that in this movie, unimportant if you're caught up and miss them, but kind of hard to overlook once they're seen, especially once director John V. Soto and co-writer Michael White start asking the audience to pay attention to details in the last act.

Full review on EFC


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, digital)

Andover is just good enough that and audience may or may not be able to overlook how thoroughly misguided it is at a fairly fundamental level, to the point where it's actually kind of impressive how precisely writer/director Scott Perlman finds the no-man's-land between a deliberately heightened dark comedy and hiding from the cruelty of the premise. It's hard to recommend despite getting frequent laughs, and probably needs to hit a viewer just right to work at all.

That's not entirely far off from the situation Professor Adam Slope (Jonathan Silverman) finds himself in after his wife Dawn (Jennifer Finnigan) burns to death in her glass-blowing studio and he decides to use his advanced cloning research to bring her back, especially once student Emma Grady (Scout Taylor-Compton) suggests a way around the issue of it taking a couple years for a clone to grow to adulthood. The trouble with that is, even if it only takes Adam three months to raise Dawn #2 to adulthood, she feels more like his daughter than his girlfriend. Which means, starting with Dawn #3, he's got to find various ways around the whole nature-versus-nurture thing.

Perlman doesn't exactly hide from the obvious problem of how, if he wants to explore all the ways that this plan can screw up, he's going to need a lot of dead or abandoned Dawns; it's right in the opening flash-forward, one of the few times that using that trick to get the viewer's head in a certain spot is a net benefit. That's not necessarily even a bad thing; casually bumping off characters in the service of satire or a dark-themed comedy can be a lot of fun if you commit to that tone. And there's an argument to be made that Perlman does, that all the times a Dawn is thrown out as a failed experiment is just expressing the movie's themes in a metaphorical, larger-than-life way (I suspect this movie will play better in France, where that sort of vicious satire is more mainstream, than it will at home) - after all, if the science is patently absurd and dictated by the needs of the plot, why not the morality?

Full review on EFC

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