Science Freaking Fiction, there is seriously nothing better. After the opening night for the first annual Other Worlds Austin sci-fi film festival, I think I had the single most unproductive day at my real job. I just couldn’t focus. My mind was filled with stories of exotic locales, a feeling of isolation and helplessness at the hands of post-apocalyptic visions, aliens, robots, space ships; I couldn’t focus on anything else! Luckily my boss wasn’t at the office today, so I was able to sneak away a little bit early to make it in time for the start of day 2 of the festival (hopefully he’s not a fan of this blog, but if he is I’m sure he appreciates sci-fi just as much as myself).
The theme for today at OWA was ‘Passage to the Unknown’, filled with tales of time travel, the furthest reaches of space, and of course a sinister rubber ducky with a penchant for face-eating and inter-dimensional travel (but more on that later). With the dawn of the second day of the festival I found myself more enthralled than ever within the realm of imagination and pining for more, more, MORE!
I was incredibly torn on this particular day for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I found myself neglecting a ridiculously cute girl in order to go sit in a shamble of a theatre with a bunch of nerds – my brethren. I’m sure she would have attended, but unfortunately I only bought one wristband well in advance of the festival and am just a terrible human being. (I’ll make it up to you eventually). Secondly, I found more immediate distress when I was suddenly forced to choose between two seemingly side-splitting sci-fi feature films.
After the second round of shorts and the Texas premiere of Time Lapse (Which was phenomenal by the way), I had a tough choice between seeing two more Texas premieres: Bloody Knuckles and Space Milkshake. Both looked ridiculously entertaining after the previews, but ultimately and shamelessly I picked Space Milkshake simply because it had Billy Boyd in it. You can rest easily though because I immediately added Bloody Knuckles to my watch-list just for safe measure. (It’s about a underground comic book artist that gets in trouble with Chinese gangsters and gets his drawing hand cut off only to have it return from the grave and indulge in the obscene).
Let me just highlight the key dilemma I faced when choosing between these two films:
An avenging S&M homosexual superhero partnering with a decapitated and reanimated hand vs a movie with George Takei as a giant mutated rubber ducky. Yes you heard me right on both accounts. How do you choose?
Space Milkshake – Canada – 85 min.
So for convenience sake, I’m going to review these out of order since we’re on the subject of rubber duckies.
In the not too distant future we find a crew of menial labor astronauts that crew a giant garbage space-station that is designed to clear debris from the orbital lanes of Earth. Soon after they recover a mysterious dimensional device, the crew discovers all life on Earth has ceased to exist and they face even greater crises as a genetically mutated rubber duck terrorizes the station. Starring Amanda Tapping, Billy Boyd, Kristin Kreuk and Robin Dunne, Space Milkshake is the perfect ending to an already perfect day of sci-fi. As previously mentioned George Takei voices the rubber duck named Gary.
I absolutely loved this film and loved that there is still such a thing as a lighthearted sci-fi comedy. It’s refreshing to see space humor at the hands of smaller name actors and TV stars. Sure George Takei is a household name and Billy Boyd was a hobbit, but trust me when I say that it does not cast one shadow on the chemistry between these actors.
Boyd is comically eccentric as the Station’s captain and fuels the blue-collar humor with his various quirks and idiosyncrasies. The fact that the film is set on a garbage space station only adds to the humor as the close proximity of the crew results in hilarious and often ridiculous scenarios. Ridiculous is actually the perfect word to describe this film but it’s also just plain fun. It reminded me a lot of something like the Red Dwarf series only with more sci-fi references and shenanigans. SHENANIGANS!
George Takei is giant fucking mutated rubber duck, what more could you possibly need to make you want to watch this movie? Its delightful fun for just less than 90 minutes, but it still retains an authentic feel to a futurist space story. The audience (*of sci-fi fans) was absolutely rolling in their seats at the various crew interactions and Billy Boyd’s performance. I feel the need to add that asterisk in there just for good measure as your average movie-goer probably isn’t going to find a hodgepodge of comedic science fiction very funny.
The humor is probably on the same level as something as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the before mentioned Red Dwarf, but whether you’re a dedicated fan of those works or not, you’re sure to at least crack a smile in Space Milkshake. Billy Boyd plays the Michael Scott of space albeit with more scenes of him barking orders in his underpants and squaring off with a giant freaking mutated rubber duck.
The Bottom Line:
Space Shenanigans at its finest; that’s what Space Milkshake is. It’s a whole lot of poking fun at your favorite sci-fi films with a flair for absurdist space comedy. You haven’t seen Billy Boyd until you’ve seen him in tightie-whities running about a space station. Campy is the word I’d probably use to describe this movie best. Its campy, slapstick and genuine space fun that’s ducking brilliant.
Time Lapse – USA – 103 min.
For the centerpiece film of the whole festival, I had very high expectations for Time Lapse and am pleased to report that those expectations were blown away. Directed by Bradley King, Time Lapse is the story of jealousy, time travel and the degradation of relationships through power and greed.
The story centers on an apartment complex where roommates Callie, Finn and Jasper (played by Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary and George Finn respectively) discover that their neighbor has died. The twist and central conflict that arises from this discovery is that the neighbor was a scientist that invented a camera that is able to take a picture 24 hours into the future – and it’s conveniently and frighteningly pointed at their living room.
How will they react to such a life-changing discovery? What possible negatives could come from being able to see the future? These are the conflicts Time Lapse deals with and just how the outcomes ultimately test the loyalty and relationships between our three main characters. The film examines their motivations for using the camera, the slavery they build for themselves through it, and the ultimately we find that the real villain of the story is simply Time. Time as a weapon, paradoxes as the consequences, who could ask for anything more?
I was so encapsulated by this film that I’m sure I looked ridiculous to my fellow theatre patrons. I love time-travel movies simply because they, like all good sci-fi, are just vehicles to examine human drama. What if you could use time to your advantage, say…to make a whole lot of money? Biff did it in Back to the Future II. They did it in Primer. Looper even made use of time travel as a means to an end and JGL even made his weight in gold and silver in the process.
The thing that really stood out for me in this film was the fact that it manages to keep track of its internal logic, which as most of you know is no easy task for a time-travel movie. If you’ve seen Primer, which this movie reminded me a lot of, I’m pretty sure you need a fucking diagram to keep track of how that all works. In Time Lapse we at least have physical representations in the form of Polaroid pictures that the machine spits out to keep developing the plot and creating the increased paranoia and tension between the roommates.
This film like all the other ones at the festival has that indie film vibe to it, but I can definitely see why Bears and crew chose this one as their Festival Centerpiece. It’s disturbing, suspenseful and exactly what you’d expect from a Hitchcockian sci-fi thriller. The performances are great, the minimalist sci-fi is great, and it’s refreshing to have a good time-travel movie since it’s been a long wait for a train don’t come the past few years (Excluding Looper of course).
The Bottom Line:
If you like time-travel you’ll love this movie. If you like Hitchcock – you’ll love this movie. In fact, you’re just going to be hard-pressed to not at least appreciate the movie for its valiant effort (and that’s a nod to you uptight theatre patron that sat behind me). It’s smart, well delivered and will definitely be a little easier to digest mentally that something like Primer. If you’re a slave to time then you’ll have plenty of time to slave so see this movie.
Admittedly I was probably more interested in the shorts for day 2 rather than the actual films. The opening night segment had been perfect so naturally the time-travel theme for the second day could only be better. Again it was very easy to identify the best and the worst of these, but they all at least carried enough charm or sophistication to warrant a conversation.
Martian American – Lee Citron – USA
This one was absolutely phenomenal both in terms of production and writing. Basically a Martian travels to Earth to start a new life only to encounter adversity and culture-shock. We watch as Bork or whatever his name is go from over-excited tourist to a depressed refugee of sorts all while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a smile. It walks that fine line of pretention that I normally shy away from, but is saved by its otherworldly charm. Fantastic make-up and a genuine performance for the protagonist make this well worth the watch (and there’s a happy ending too!)
One-Minute Time Machine – Devon Avery – UK/USA
Bar none this was both my and the audience’s favorite for the day. It’s 6 minutes long but is easily the most charming and humorous thing I would ineveitably see all day (and that’s saying something because Space Milkshake was hysterical). Basically a man invents a device that allows him to travel backwards in time by 1 minute, and rather than use it for the betterment of society, he uses it to pick up a woman on a bench. He soon learns the consequences of his actions in this absolutely delightful little production about time travel. My guess is this will take home the audience award.
Crash Course – Simon Heath – UK
A thief gets more than he bargained for when he hijacks a student-driving flying car piloted by the notoriously awful student Gavin. Just imagine any other comedy where there is a scene with a kid sitting with an instructor in the car trying to learn to drive; now turn the car into a flying car and you’ve got Crash Course. It was short, simple and fun with a few tongue-in-cheek laughs towards the end.
The House at the Edge of the Galaxy – Gleb Osatinski – USA
This is one short I just didn’t much care for after it’s 13 minutes were up. Basically the story is something like a kid is stuck living out of a house at the edge of the galaxy and an astronaut comes to visit and gives me a seed he claims will plant a star. This struck me as the most artsy and pretentious of the shorts thus far and just didn’t sit well with me. It coats itself in layers of vagueness and attempted symbolism that just don’t resonate with me (or the audience). I’m pretty sure like one guy clapped when these credits started rolling when the other shorts received thunderous applause. The dialogue wasn’t great, the visuals were…blah, and the story was more confusing than inspiring.
One Last Question – Sean Corbin – Texas
This film was actually shot in Austin which was pretty cool. It’s short, simple and to the point as a man (armed with a portable time machine) gets to ask one last question before he is killed by a sniper rifle. It’s Groundhogs Day-esque as he keeps getting killed and asking one last question that he uses to determine the location of his hostage wife. Nothing overly sophisticated or glamorous, but fairly engaging and charming for a student film.
Moon-Lite – David Dibble – USA
Again, this was one I didn’t initially care for all that much but it was at least whimsical in its approach. Its narrated like a children’s story that deals with a crazy old man at the edge of a village that holds an otherworldly and magical gift that the world will never know because they shun him. More folk-tale sci-fi than anything, this one is definitely still worth a watch, though is probably one of the least memorable of the day 2 shorts.
Little Man of Steel – Larry Ziegelman – USA
I knew something like this would be coming at some point even without reading the schedule for the shorts. The only super-hero sci-fi in the entire festival and it’s about condoms. When Lois becomes increasingly frustrated with her love life (or absence thereof) with Clark, she takes matters into her own hands and takes him to a 7/11 to force the issue of buying a pack of condoms. It had its half-laughs and wasn’t disappointing, but it didn’t really do much after that. At the conclusion of the shorts, the audience is given a scorecard to vote for their favorites. Admittedly I had to ask someone what this one was all about because I had already forgotten.
The Trail’s End – David Rosenbaum – USA
I really was disappointed in the festival for a lack of androids until I got to this little short. When an android gets his termination notice for tomorrow, he is approached by the sultry neighbor next door who harbors her own secrets. This was well acted, engaging, and manages to fulfill my ‘WHERE ARE THE GODDAMN ROBOTS’ requirement. Bravo sir.
Dear Lucas – Winnie Cheung – USA
Another time travel flick – when a man grown is approached by a female fan for the show he did when he was a child with his scientist father, he quickly falls in love until he receives a cryptic message from the future. Given a warning about pursuing her that speaks of dire consequences, will he follow his heart or listen to his future self? I really liked this one but felt it could have been a whole lot better if it had been expanded a little and had kept better track of its on narrative. It gets a little muddled towards the end and I think that’s what lost the majority of the audience.
Earthlickers – Tony Mirza – Canada
Yes, you read that right. Set in a post-apocalyptic vision of the old west, the seven sexy goddesses must correct the balance of love in the universe as no love exists on Earth. Easily the most off-kilter of the shorts, there are very few words to accurately describe this film. It’s bizarre, oddly hysterical, and shows the real range of what it means to be science fiction. Think Barbarella but more kinky. Nope that’s the word to describe Earthlickers – it’s a kinky sci-fi that can only be experienced and not talked about. Done.
So which short was the winner today? Well hand’s down it was One-Minute Time Machine with Martian American coming in a close second. Probably not as good as group overall compared to the first day, but we’ll see the final rankings after tomorrow’s segment entitled ‘On to Tomorrow’.
Tomorrow marks the first full day of features with what promises to be more restrained sci-fi with The Reconstruction of William Zero and The Phoenix Project. So until tomorrow dear reader, I bid you adieu and suggest you go ahead and mark your calendars for next year and the 2nd annual Other Worlds Austin sci-fi festival.
Live Long and Prosper my friends.