Sci-fi needn’t re­quire block­buster bud­get

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

“Avatar,” “Star Trek,” “District 9”— the most fa­mil­iar sci­ence-fic­tion movies of the past year have raised the bar for tech­ni­cal ac­com­plish­ment, from their galaxy-span­ning space­craft to their com­puter-gen­er­ated mon­sters.

But sci­ence fic­tion — or “spec­u­la­tive fic­tion,” to use the high­fa­lutin term pre­ferred by some prac­ti­cioners — is a genre of ideas more than ef­fects, which is why clever film­mak­ers with lim­ited re­sources con­tinue to pur­sue strange vi­sions of al­ter­nate worlds.

As if to prove that point, two home­grown, mod­estly bud­geted “spec­u­la­tive fic­tion” movies open to­day at Malco’s Stu­dio on the Square, in a dou­ble fea­ture in­tended to give more ex­po­sure to Mem­phis film­mak­ers. Both pre­vi­ously have screened at area film fes­ti­vals.

A fu­tur­is­tic fish­net film noir, “Cig­a­rette Girl” is the lat­est and most as­sured fea­ture from long­time lo­cal au­teur Mike McCarthy (whose pre­vi­ous “SUPERSTARLET A.D.” imag­ined a postapoc­a­lyp­tic “Fem­phis” stalked by ri­val gangs of gun-tot­ing blondes and brunettes).

Set in a dystopian Mem­phis in which to­bacco use is re­stricted to ghetto-like smok­ing dis­tricts, “Cig­a­rette Girl” stars strik­ing Cori Di­als as the ti­tle can­cer stick-dis­penser, who be­gins smok­ing en­e­mies — with a gun — when her at­tempt to kick her nico­tine habit be­gins kick­ing her brain.

The other movie is “The Con­ver­sion,” a Cor­duroy Wed­nes­day pro­duc­tion writ­ten and di­rected by Ed­ward Val­ibus Phillips. (DVDs of the film are avail­able for pur­chase through the on­line store at LiveFromMem­phis.com.)

Win­ner of the Best Fea­ture award in the “Hometowner” cat­e­gory of Oc­to­ber’s In­die Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val, “The Con­ver­sion”— orig­i­nally pro­duced as an on­line se­rial — imag­ines what might have hap­pened if last year’s fed­er­ally man­dated con­ver­sion from ana­log broad­cast­ing to dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion had been a con­spir­acy in­tended to plunge Amer­ica into “tech­no­log­i­cal chaos.” The satir­i­cal Philip K. Dick-es­que plot in­volves gov­ern­ment dupes, “cy­ber-ter­ror­ists” and “dig­i­tal an­ar­chists.”

Be­cause the movies are shar­ing the same au­di­to­rium, the films will al­ter­nate show­times to­day through Tues­day, so that “Cig­a­rette Girl,” for ex­am­ple, gets the primetime 7 p.m. slot to­day, while “The Con­ver­sion” screens at 7 p.m. Satur­day.

Wed­nes­day, how­ever, is all “Cig­a­rette Girl,” while Thurs­day be­longs ex­cu­sively to “The Con­ver­sion.” This is be­cause McCarthy does not want his film to com­pete with the Thurs­day open­ing night of the four-day “Si­vads of March” fes­ti­val at the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art, which he is help­ing to or­ga­nize.

Tick­ets prices are $5 for mati­nees, and $7 at night.

Cor­duroy Wed­nes­day

Dan Ball

A dou­ble fea­ture of dystopian fu­tures: Cori Di­als (above) is “Cig­a­rette Girl.” (Left) A shot from Ed­ward Val­ibus Phillips’ “The Con­ver­sion.”

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