The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the Boston Science-Fiction marathon: 24 hours of straight sci-fi, including films, shorts, trailers, contests, and tv episodes. It’s one of my favorite times of year (this was my sixth in a row!) and I was happy to not have schoolwork hanging over me this time around. The line-up was about half and half films I’d seen and films I hadn’t, but there were some festival films and shorts concurrently screening in the basement micro-theater, so I had a place to hang out during films I didn’t feel like re-watching. It was a pretty solid selection of movies, some good classics along with lesser-known gems, and I stayed awake through all but one!

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1 First Men in the Moon (1964)

I knew very little about this one, aside from the Ray Harryhausen effects, and expected a passable space adventure with a crappy script but cool effects. Turns out, it’s a pretty fun film all together! Based on a story by HG Wells, it follows the unlikely adventures of a wacky British scientist, Dr Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), his irresponsible business partner (Edward Judd), and the latter’s perky American fiance (Martha Hyer). Dr Cavor has invented an anti-gravity substance that allows him to build a spacecraft and travel to the moon in 1899, with the other two somewhat accidentally in tow. They discover strange creatures living there and in true human fashion wreak havoc on their civilization before returning to earth. It’s a rather silly movie, made sillier by Jeffries’s hilarious and adorable performance, where he is basically his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang character. All in all it was a really pleasant surprise: I loved the weird visuals, the period setting, and the awesome effects, though I felt the frame story set in the 1960s was completely unnecessary. Most significantly for the Thon itself, it launched the most long-running joke for the night, involving CLOSING THE FUCKING DOOR!… which only makes sense in context.

 

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2 Westworld (1973)

They played this at the Terrorthon in October and honestly I was sort of annoyed they would show it again just a few months later, when I assume some of the audience was the same. I like it but did not feel the need to watch it again so soon so I popped out to look at some short films, read some Ray Bradbury, and waltz back in just in time for the final big chase, which is the main reason to watch the movie anyway. The title links to my original review.

 

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3 Coherence (2014)

All I really knew about this movie is it was one of the festival films and it featured Nicholas Brendan (aka Xander on Buffy, who attended the Thon for a Q&A). It starts out as a bunch of thirtysomething white people having a really boring white people party, and I was like ugh whatever, but then it gets so good! It’s about parallel universes and these awful people keep finding alternate versions of themselves and suddenly they don’t know how to handle anything and they start turning on each other and the main lady (Emily Foxler) has to decide how far she’ll go to regain normalcy. Though it was very gradual it turned into a pretty solid psychological thriller and I was very into it by the end. Also Lorene Scafaria, writer/director of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, was in it! Which is kind of neat since I just watched that movie. And I loved that Nicholas Brendan kind of played a version of himself, an actor known primarily for a lead role on a 90s sci-fi show, though in this he claims to be from Roswell (possibly a dig at similarly-positioned Jason Behr?). Anyway, pretty good movie, with shades of Primer but more romantic melodrama.

 

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4 The Power (1968)

This one sounds better than it actually is, but I can’t say I didn’t find it fairly enjoyable. George Hamilton stars as a scientist who comes to the realization that someone on the board of his organization is a homicidal psychic out to kill him and his coworkers. He and his girlfriend, fellow scientist Margery (Suzanne Pleshette), attempt to outsmart their mystery assailant, narrowly avoiding some telekinetic attacks while their peers are mowed down left and right. And of course the police suspect Hamilton in the whole thing since he always seems to be around their deaths. It’s a sensationalistic thriller with a few hammy performances and a very 60s aesthetic, and I found it interesting enough. It drags at parts but picks up for some exciting and slightly weird sequences, plus George Hamilton is needlessly shirtless a lot. There was a moment towards the end when I thought there’d be an awesome reveal involving Margery, but then it didn’t happen, so I was actually totally disappointed with the actual ending. I need more twisted female villains, please. Also I guess this movie is pretty rare so I’m glad I got to see it at all.

 

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5 Europa Report (2013)

Admittedly we missed the first 10-15 minutes of this to go get dinner but I don’t think I missed anything terribly important. Basically the plot follows an international group of astronaut scientists sent to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, looking for possible signs of life. They discover a lot more than they expected, including weird underwater creatures, but their research comes with the price of several lives. The whole film is patched together from video diaries taken on the ship, so it’s got a found footage horror element to it. I liked that aspect of its storytelling but also saw holes in its construction, which was frustrating. It was also a bit slow for me, with its somewhat clinical approach and “tell, don’t show” kind of style. It had a good cast, though, including two badass lady astronauts played by Anamaria Marinca and Karolina Wydra, and strong tension.

 

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6 Senn (2014)

The main theater actually showed Silent Running during this block, but I decided to check out a screening of independent festival film Senn instead. I like Silent Running a lot, but I’d watched it recently and just felt like watching something new. Plus its co-writer, Britton Watkins, a linguist who consulted on alien dialect in Star Trek: Into Darkness, was there, which was neat. The film is set in a distant future where whole worlds are turned into factories, worked by people sold into indentured servitude, who spend years making knickknacks for the rich, day in, day out. Senn (Zach Eulberg) is just such a worker, but when he begins experiencing strange visions of a complex structure in space, he realizes he is meant for greater things. He and his girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor) take an intergalactic journey with a kind but closed-off alien (Wylie Herman) in an effort to unlock the structure’s mysterious phenomena. It’s a pretty good indie: nice production values but middling CG graphics, some good and some not-so-good acting, and an intriguing script. I liked the world-building and the characters, but am just bored of the idea that a generically handsome white dude is the chosen savior or whatever. Also I’m sick of futures with only white people ESPECIALLY since this movie actually takes the time to talk about class- like how the fuck can that discussion not also include race? There’s a cute gay character as Senn’s best friend, though, so at least there’s a little more representation than usual in sci-fi.

Alright, after this I popped out for more food and then moved back into the main theater for the next batch of Thon films. I think the second half was stronger than the first half, but I’ll talk about them in the next post!

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