Friday, January 23, 2015

Living In Different Realities ~ Film Gems from the Sci Fi Genre

Strange Days stars the incomparable Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Lewis as former lovers in a futuristic, bent-for-hell society. Fiennes plays Lenny, whose career is selling vicarious, virtual reality experiences to people. They experience these by putting on headsets with tapes that Lenny has culled from his underworld contacts. Things turn even uglier when a serial killer gets turned on by making his own tapes of his murders, while they are being committed, and sends them to Lenny. Lenny tries to rescue Lewis from the even darker underworld people she now lives with but it is an uphill battle. This is one of my favorite Ralph Fiennes performances plus director Katherine Bigelow at the top of her game.

Knowing  The bulk of the movie is fascinating. Cage's son opens a document from a time capsule which contains a series of numbers. Cage, an astrophysics professor at MIT, works with the numbers and discovers that they are predictions of disasters by dates and longitude and latitude settings. Cage tries to prevent these disasters from occurring. This is the surface gist of the plot but there is so much more going on, much of it metaphysical and spiritual in addition to being sci-fi. This film has some of the most gorgeous sci-fi effects imaginable. For those into action-adventure special effects, those are great too. Cage is quite good here. He has been in a fair amount of bad movies in recent years but this is not one of them. To say anymore would ruin the plot line, which is very engrossing as it unfolds.

Lathe of Heaven. I've seen both film versions and read the novel. The novel by Ursula LeGuin is fantastic if you are a reader.  There are two film versions and it is the one made decades ago that is the really good one. It was remade in 2004 and hated by just about everyone. The major difference between the two is how much more artistic the first film was. It was helped by not having a well known actor in the cast either. In the second film we have James Caan throughout as the psychiatrist.

But what was truly extraordinary was the author's idea. She was the first to come up with a main character who could dream different realities. What he dreamt became true. No one else is aware when these changes take place. In fact, many of these people simply no longer exist after George dreams them away. He can change the weather from constant rain to constant sun. He can give himself a cabin on the beach off the Pacific when no one else has such a thing. He can dream away most of the population in a plague. Add into this mix, a psychiatrist who discovers this ability and begins hypnotizing George and having him dream at his suggestions, which include making him a huge honcho with his own institute. 

Fahrenheit 451.   I first saw this film when it was released a few decades ago and loved it. I just watched it again last night and still loved it. As a HUGE book lover, I was absolutely mesmerized by this tale of a society that not only has censored all books, but also has firemen who hunt down culprits who harbor books and then burn them at 451 degrees, the heat needed to burn paper. It is French director Truffaut's only English language film, which does not hurt it in the least. This is an incredibly dull society of people who don't do much other than sit in front of tv-like screens watching approved programing put on by the state. Some of them also go to work on public transit although they do nothing that requires reading. There are no road signs, no newspapers, no menus, not a shred of visible written matter anywhere in this society.

Children in schoolrooms do solely mass oral memorization. For written matter gives people ideas and this society decides it is better to live without ideas. Why one wants to live without ideas remains an unasked question in this culture. Oskar Werner plays the fireman who gets more and more intrigued by these books he's burning. Julie Christie plays two roles: a rebel who sides with the book harborers and Werner's wife, who is a couch potato living in front of the tv-screen most of the day. I was amazed to see that Werner's clothes and hair looked right up to the minute despite this film's being several decades old. You would think he was a young actor present day. The resolution of this film is absolutely wonderful and thus I won't say a word about it so as to spoil it for you.

The Quiet Earth.  I first saw this film when it came out in 1985 at a film festival. Bruno Lawrence, its star, quickly became the only "movie star" from New Zealand to Americans and we watched him from then on as his films came our way. Sadly, he died in 1995 of lung cancer at age 54 and that was that. This is the film for which I remember him best. He actually could have made the entire film as a one man show and this would be a five star review. For the first fifty minutes he stars in this alone, as a scientist who wakes up to an earth where he is the only one left. Everyone else has disappeared. After that fifty minutes, he discovers two other people and it is not as fascinating as him all alone. They do discover what they have in common with anyone else who might have survived in the world.  It is quite a twist and very clever.  I certainly found it very creative and would never have imagined it on my own.  The ending is quite startling and beautiful too as is the soundtrack. Lawrence was a considerable talent and you owe it to yourself to experience him. He was also well known as a drummer in the New Zealand music scene.

Hereafter.  This film has an incredible opening, one I can see again and again. A French female tv broadcaster is on vacation at a beach paradise on the Indian Ocean. While she is shopping at the stalls, the tsunami which erupted from that ocean in 2004 crashes towards her. She struggles for her life in the water but a car hits in the water and she dies and starts to cross over. This, however, is one of those deaths where she is subsequently brought back with life guard techniques. Yet she now is forever drawn back to that transition point. Hers is just one of three stories but what a bang up opening to this film.

There are two other stories. Matt Damon is a reluctant psychic located in San Francisco. He is the real deal unlike just about everyone else in the field. The reason he doesn't want to do it is that it is absolutely ruinous to one's personal life as it obliterates the distance needed to carry on personal relationships. It is hard to romance someone when you can see her entire life with just one touch. He has such an encounter with a would-be girlfriend played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Finally, there is a boy who loses his twin brother in a fatal collision. He desperately wants to get in touch with his brother. His life is a mess because after his brother's death he is removed from his mother and put into foster care. All three of these people will ultimately come together in London. This too works very well. It is just an astonishing piece of filmmaking and I consider it at the very top of Eastwood's directing efforts.

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