Sci-fi needn’t require blockbuster budget
“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.
A double feature of dystopian futures: Cori Dials (above) is “Cigarette Girl.” (Left) A shot from Edward Valibus Phillips’ “The Conversion.”