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.

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