Monday, May 03, 2010

What I saw at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival by Fiona aged 35 1/2

Hospital of the Transfiguration: Expectations were low for this one, it being a 1979 Polish adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's first novel, about a young doctor working at a mental hospital in wartime Poland. However, it turned out to be a very clever exploration of reality, religion, death and medical ethics, with the boundary between doctor and patient becoming narrower and narrower as the Nazis increasingly impose their rule on the institution.

Radio Free Albemuth: By contrast, we had high hopes for this one but it didn't live up to them. A film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, the filmmakers argued that doing it as a low-budget indie piece would allow them to stay truer to the book than the likes of Blade Runner and Minority Report. Unfortunately this was the film's main flaw; it was trying to stick as closely as possible to the book, and as such wound up losing most of the book's trippiness and continued ambivalence as to whether the protagonist is crazy or divinely inspired. Setting it in the present also meant that some of the Seventies aspects of the book became rather jarring, and the self-satire aspect of the original was largely absent, not sure how that happened. On the credit side, the hallucination sequences are well done and the VALIS effect is particularly gorgeous.

One: A drama based on a Stanislaw Lem essay, in which all books in a bookshop are suddenly replaced by copies of a single volume, entitled "1", which details what is happening on Earth in a particular minute. The story partly explores Lem's familiar themes of the surreality of the mundane and the enormity of the universe, and partly explores the way in which the system, faced with something it cannot comprehend, looks desperately for someone to blame, as the story's fictional equivalent of the FBI first imprison and accuse the bookshop owner, employees and patrons, and finally turn on their own agents. Interesting, but not exactly emotionally engaging.

Eraser Children: Sort of like what you'd get if you gave the premise of the Blake's 7 episode "The Way Back" to the Monty Pythons and told them to turn it into a low-budget movie shot in Australia. The result includes some moments of sheer creepy, surreal brilliance, but far too many scenes that are just plain tedious. It was probably a mistake to watch this one right after "One," since three hours worth of quickfire, stroby cuts and pounding techno music induced a pretty serious headache.

Vampires: Easily the standout film of the ones we saw, this is a hilarious black comedy about a family of vampires living in Belgium, where they are given free housing and support by the government in exchange for their eating illegal immigrants and children in care. They are then exiled to Montreal, where the vampires are multiculturalists who insist that all vampires must work for a living and encourage them to fraternise with humans. Through satire, the film exposes the way in which well-meaning European welfare policies in fact encourage elitism, racism and corruption, but equally the way in which New World welfare policies also have a hidden social cost. A must-see.

Pax Americana: A documentary about the "weaponization of space," which could have been a polemic but was actually all the more chilling for including accounts by people inside the system who also have considerable doubts about the consequences. It explores how the situation got started, how the anti-nuclear movement has in a sense enabled it through taking people's eyes off of non-terrestrial activities, the level to which everyone is dependent on satelite technology in the here and now, and how globalisation and the post-Soviet world have ironically hastened the process. Buried in all of it, also, is the message that the more missions we send up to space for whatever reason, the more space junk is left in orbit, which will eventually make it impossible for us to use space; an actual war would just hasten this end. We've all got to do a lot of thinking about how to deal with this, and soon.

Drones: Certainly the funniest film we saw, a Whedon-influenced office-comedy about a man who discovers that his best friend and girlfriend are both aliens with designs on the Earth, and the complications which ensue. Office comedies may have been done to death lately, but the performances, direction and especially the script, full of quickfire, quirky lines, gave this one a freshness and a well-observed satirical quality. Give these guys their own TV series, like, right now.

Other Stuff: Of the short films, I quite liked "Life Line," an animated story about love, loss, death and suicide; "X" we never actually got to see more than two minutes of, as the projector broke down; "Reception" was an eerie take on the increasingly-popular digital-ghost genre, and "Reign of Death", an ironically-titled dieselpunk mystery starring Noel Clarke, looked beautiful but I'm still not sure what it was trying to say. Fewer freebies given away this year than last year, but the ones we got were pretty good, and the provision of a seemingly endless supply of free Red Bull was absolutely inspired.

Movie count for 2010: 48