Monday, February 27, 2012

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. 24 Hours of Science-Fiction, every year!

Yay it's my favorite time of year! That's right, the 37th Annual Boston Science-Fiction Marathon! It's a film festival too but I didn't get a chance to go to any of those, so if you want reporting on that check out Jay Seaver's posts. Anyway, this is a time when a bunch of super geeks gather in the beautiful, historic Somerville Theatre for a full 24 hours of sci-fi. This was my fourth year and I feel like I pretty much have it down, though I've never quite made it the full amount of time. Unfortunately this time around I was forced to spend some time away from movies so I could get home work done (I had a class presentation the next day), so I felt like a total nerd sitting in the upstairs lobby reading about West German Pop Art and Herbert Marcuse's convoluted cultural theory while badass cinema was playing in the next room. But oh well, the good news is the intense anxiety I was feeling about school kept me awake basically the whole time! Good for me!

Also as far as I could tell the general theme was mad scientists/science gone wrong, which is really neat!

1 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
I thought this looked ridiculous from the trailers and my general lack of interest in any of the "Apes" movies kept me from seeking it out in theaters. It's got James Franco as an oddly gaunt-looking scientist trying to cure Alzheimer's but with his new drug he accidentally produces a baby ape with an exceptionally high IQ (eventually named Caesar), and raises him in his home. After several years Caesar is taken by animal control and leads a city-wide revolution along with his fellow primates. This starts off as a thoughtful look at experimental medicine and the line between pet and friend, which was interesting, but it's basically all just a long set-up for the big action-y ending. I felt these two halves didn't quite come together, and I could have done with it being just one or the other. My biggest issue is that I didn't care at all about any of the characters (except maybe John Lithgow as Franco's sick dad), and that made it boring. It did that thing every movie does, where a lady character is added and then given nothing to do and proves totally superfluous- either write a decent female character or don't put women in your movies, guys, I'm sick of pretty actresses just floating around aimlessly next to their fleshed-out boyfriends. There are some really cool moments and the effects are fantastic (with the help of Andy Serkis, of course), but for the most part I was ambivalent.

2 Brainstorm (1983)
Now this is more my kind of movie! It's got Christopher Walken and crazy science and a totally nonsensical plot AND it's from the 80's! Sadly, it's mainly remembered as Natalie Wood's last movie since she died while it was still filming. Walken stars as an overworked scientist who, along with his totally badass best friend Louise Fletcher, invents a device that can relay sights, sounds, and sensations through a headset, meaning a person can experience a road race or skydiving while sitting in a desk chair. (It's very Strange Days.) Of course bad people want to do bad things with it because of military vs science problems, etc. Also he wants to get back with his wife (Wood) and there's sort of a boring romance thing going on. This movie has some awesome ideas but a scattershot execution, leading to a somewhat campy but totally enjoyable experience. Plus Louise Fletcher, come on, she's so in charge. Also it contains what has become maybe my favorite Christopher Walken moment ever? It's sort of hard to explain its greatness out of context, but it basically involves a quick shot of Walken carrying a huge bicycle and yelling "SO I WANNA RIDE MY BIKE, BIG DEAL!" You kinda had to be there...

3 War of the Satellites (1958)
Time for some Corman! There's always room for Roger Corman at the 'Thon, and this is one of the better ones I've seen. It's got familiar face Dick Miller plus a bunch of other stocky white people. The plot revolves around a pioneering space program that is hotly debated once Earth receives messages from an alien race warning them to abandon space travel. The scientist in charge (Richard Devon) is replaced by some menacing self-replicating alien creature who pushes the mission ahead for his own unclear purposes. I kind of lost what his intentions were, but overall I dug the movie. Miller is strong as a suspicious astronaut who tries to figure out what's happened to his boss. The script is decent, the run time is short, the sets and effects are adorably 50's, and I had a fun time. Proper Corman action.

4 Endhiran (2010)
Ok. This is the main super WTF movie of the 'Thon. Seriously, I'm still questioning what is going on and it's been a week. Known on the internet as the "Bollywood Terminator", Endhiran is actually a sort of Frankenstein musical mash-up with Terminator imagery, if that makes sense. It's got wacky inventor Dr Vaseegaran played by Bollywood superstar Rajnikanth, who creates an advanced android in his own image named Chitti. The robot is a hit within his community and especially with Vaseegaran's medical student girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai), but after he implants a hormonal emotional program to give Chitti feelings, his creation falls in love with Sana and then gets destroyed and then put back together as a crazy megalomaniacal killing machine. There are musical numbers and comedic side-trips and some insane action stunts (I believe this is the most expensive Bollywood film made to date for the effects), but it's a really bad movie. It's over 3 hours, the story and characters are incredibly stupid, and several of the musical numbers are unwarranted (and this coming from a person who loves musicals). One of them features uncomfortable ethnic appropriation that I didn't understand at all. BUT at the same time there is enough weirdness and a few truly fun and catchy dance numbers that I couldn't look away. I had to see what the fuck else could happen. Because, seriously, what the fuck? I will be writing a more in-depth review for 366 Weird Movies sometime in the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out for it.

Stay tuned for Part II of the 'Thon, it's got aliens and exploding heads and a new sci-fi movie directed by a lady! A rarity!