All posts for the day November 3rd, 2013

The Last Days on Mars/The Machine: TADFF13

Published November 3, 2013 by vfdpixie

the last days on mars

2013 (1 hr, 38 mins)

Sci-fi Night brought us two great films. I was really looking forward to The Last Days on Mars and The Machine, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Last Days on Mars takes us to the year 2036, where the crew on the Tantalus Base are wrapping up a six month mission on Mars.  They are all anxious to get off the Red Planet, especially senior systems engineer Vince Campbell (Liev Schreiber), who suffers from claustrophobia and is not looking forward to another 6 months travel back to Earth.  When a last-minute expedition to collect samples slips by their captain Brunel (Elias Koteas), the crew realize that there is a deadly discovery and some betrayal afoot.  A new bacteria has been found and kept secret by crew member Petrovic (Goran Kostic), and he doesn’t want to share the glory.  His greed for success will unleash a deadly infection and doom them to an extended stay on Mars.

If this movie is low-budget, then I’ll buy it for a dollar!  It was beautifully shot, and using the deserts of Jordan as Mars was really smart.  The cast was great. They all portray the creeping onset of what I like to call space madness really well, while also dealing with this new threat of space zombies.  Liev Schreiber delivered as a man who hides his breakdown with cynicism.  I also liked the character of crew member Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams).  She was abrasive, obnoxious, but also the voice of reason and logic that rallied the crew to get to the bottom of a seemingly innocent mission.  And seeing Elias Koteas in a movie always makes me happy.  He was great as the straight-laced captain.  He always puts his signature quirk on every role he plays.  The shrill and symphonic scoring enhanced the suspense flawlessly,  I loved how the infected crew members had an incredible thirst, which creates a very plausible theory of how something deadly gets reanimated on a planet that once had water.  It’s not rocket science, but director Ruairi Robinson made a fun, sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

the machine

2013 (1hr, 32 mins)

The Machine also takes us to a stark future where there is a cold war going on between China and Britain.  Brilliant scientist, Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens), works for the Ministry of Defense, and is close to mastering the secrets of artificial intelligence. In his subterranean lab, he experiments on war veterans, creating cyborg-like, flawed beings that are supposed to regain their lives back after injury.  Vincent hires an ambitious and equally brilliant assistant, Ava to continue his research and to create the ultimate thinking machine.  With her invaluable input they crack the mystery, and Ava agrees to help Vincent secretly restore his brain-damaged daughter’s mind with what they have discovered.  Unfortunately, Ava is killed as a sinister plot unfolds to create the ultimate war machine with their research.  She actually becomes that machine, as Vincent applies all that they have mastered into a cyborg-robotic copy of Ava.  The struggle between science for war and the general good becomes a battle that Vincent must triumph over in order to keep the peace and get his daughter back.

I really enjoyed this film.  The director, Caradog W. James, gave a quick video intro before the screening, letting us know that he did the film for under one million, and did a lot of research on robotics and autism.  It certainly didn’t look low-budget, and the special effects were really well placed throughout the film.  I especially liked the guttural, electronic “language” the re-wired, war veterans spoke, and Suri Luca (Pooneh Hajimmohammadi), the head hybrid soldier that had divided loyalties.  One of my favourite scenes was the creation of the machine/Ava, with its fluid montage of her construction piece by piece.  The director was also hugely influenced by Blade Runner (and I feel to some extent Tron), and 80’s film scoring, so the inspired soundtrack will thrill anyone like me who is nostalgic for that era’s sound.

Caity Lotz did a great job as Ava/the machine.  Her dancer’s background really added to the physicality of the role, and her deadpan delivery of the machine’s deceivingly child-like logic was on the money.  I also enjoyed the fight scenes, which were fast and furious towards the end of the film.  Anyone who loves sci-fi from the 80’s will love The Machine.  I think it’s a well done sci-fi film with shadows of Pygmalion and a dark study on the humans vs. machines debate.

The Battery: TADFF13

Published November 3, 2013 by vfdpixie


2012 (1hr 41 mins)

On Zombie Appreciation Night, the third night of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the standout for me was The Battery.  This post apocalypse zombie flick was made for $6000.  Despite the low-budget, it is an effective “character driven” zombie road trip film that will unexpectedly charm and break your heart at the same time.

Ben and Mickey are ex-baseball players thrown together as a result of a zombie apocalypse.  Not friends, not enemies, they tolerate each other as they move from town to town, looking for supplies on what seems like an endless, isolated camping trip.   Their personalities grate on each other, with Ben, practical, primal and coarse, constantly baiting and egging on the more sensitive Mickey, who, even in the midst of their dismal surroundings, just wants to settle somewhere. When they make contact with other survivors, this event will divide the men even more in their mission to survive.

I loved how simple this film was.  Flashbacks, zombie hordes and gallons of blood were not needed. When I wasn’t laughing at their bickering, all I wanted to see was whether these guys would kill each other before the zombies got to them.  Straightforward and beautifully shot primarily in Kent, Connecticut, the settings really gave the actors centre stage, highlighting the tense relationship between the two men.  Ben accepts their situation for what it is, and Mickey searches for something other than their next meal.  This simple opposition was skillfully played by the actors with the dialogue and the use of isolation not only as a budget saver, but also as an element to keep you focused on the story at hand.

During the Q & A after the screening,  writer, director and lead actor Jeremy Gardner explained that the film came from a short he had created for a competition.  He kept the budget low by making the movie about the men and not about zombies.  Influenced by the film The Children of Men, Gardner wanted the story to stop when the character dynamic stopped.  Adam Cronheim, his co-star and one of the film’s producers, was attracted to the character driven script, and since he was an ex-baseball player, he fit the bill to a T.

The chemistry between them was great as their real life relationship mirrored the characters.  Just like Ben and Mickey, the actors didn’t know each other well before filming, which helped the character dynamic. Gardner explained that the film’s title is actually an old school term that refers to the relationship between the pitcher and catcher in baseball, which adds to the brilliant simplicity of the film.  When ask about the trials of being both a lead actor and the director of the film, Gardner revealed that his D. O. P., Christian Stella, was a good friend, so he trusted him immensely, which gave Gardner the freedom to embrace both directing and acting.

The soundtrack played an important role in the film.  Music was a way that Mickey could escape the horrors of his zombie reality, and at times the hard-line truths that Ben was generous in sharing.  The director wanted to highlight the film’s “weird methodical pacing” by using some of his favourite songs, or music from bands he had connections to through friends.  One such band, Toronto’s Rock Plaza Central, contributed several songs to the film.  The audience got a treat during the Q & A when the band’s lead singer Chris Eaton, sang the song “Anthem for the Already Defeated” while Gardner shared his dancing skills once more for the cheering crowd.  I have to say, that jovial funeral march of a song is still running through my head.  I think it set the tone perfectly for this genuine and subtle horror film.

Favourite Scene:  While on the road, the guys come across some cows in a field.  Ben stops to make friends with one, and the cow acts like a giant dog, relishing the contact with him.  Most likely improvised, this scene was sweet and a little heartbreaking.  To me, it showed that Mickey wasn’t the only one that was isolated and starved for some affection.

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