Ah, the "warped reality" screenplay. Kind of the One Ring of screenwriters, it seems to offer limitless power ("Ha! Fooled you! The world is really an illusion created by alien bureaucrats!"), but easily leads to corruption ("Ha! Fooled you again! It's really the fantasy of a English housecat!"). Here, we have a young man who loses his memory of the past few days after a car accident -- which is unfortunate, because he was in the middle of some corporate monkeywrenching, and isn't sure if he completed his mission, or if the authorities are on to him. He volunteers for a new scientific procedure to recover his memories (via the use of a magic hairnet) -- but which memories are real and which are blah blah blah. Wyder is pretty good with the paranoia -- background characters continually turn up at various places, and it's unclear if they're villainous agents or harmless bystanders or figments of the hero's imagination. The straightforward digital photography, all those grey-blue tones that seem to visually define the 21st century, is well done, if not groundbreaking. And, narratively, it moves well, which is always one of my sticking points. But the problem with the warped-reality story is that it, almost by definition, moves well; since we're always unsure what's real, we're always on the edge of our seats, so the problems the screenwriter must solve come after that. How, for example, does one insert disruptions into the story's reality without it seeming arbitrary? And what, ultimately, is the reality distortion for, narratively and thematically? Wyder's script doesn't tackle these problems adequately; the only big revelation here is that corporations will do unethical things to protect themselves [slaps cheek with mock surprise]. Bonus points, however, for scoring a Mission: Impossible-lite sequence to a Young Gods song. Good job, Gods.
[Note to David Pittner, should he be reading: Your script Parson Street was better than this, imo.]
[Yet another note: The highlight of my only 2005 SIFF movie to date was getting to meet socialretard and decadentscholar, two very cool people whom I hope to see again in the future. In the words of Paul Young, "Come back and stay for good this time..."]
The Evil is apparently Victor Buono, looking for all the world like that all-white old dude in The Matrix Rebooted that said stuff like “incontrovertibly” and “paradigm” and shit. (What was his name? Will Ferrell?) Anyway, the idea that a hellish pit of Ultimate Darkness would be a big white room with puffs of smoke on the floor and a fat bearded man on a throne – a stereotypical vision of Heaven, in other words – is pretty interesting, maybe even subversive. Too bad there’s nothing else to support the subversion (the crux of the story – an atheist comes to believe in God to stop the Devil – is in complete conflict with the visuals of the climax), or even make it a good haunted house movie. There’s a scene that suggests – I think – that three possessed characters are about to have sex with a corpse, but it’s shot and edited so haphazardly that I wasn’t sure. And couldn’t ex-Mr. Goldie Hawn find some way to kill off his characters, other than electricity? Alright, only three, but three is still too many, man.
Three films into his oeuvre, three tries for this particular flick (once in a theater!) and I’m thinking I don’t care much for Peckinpah. (No, not even The Wild Bunch.) Something about his mise-en-scene – unadorned and unpretentious, yes, but in an in-your-face, holier-than-thou kind of way. Sam Fuller’s kinda the same, but he’s saved by the pulpy hysteria that infuses his films and performances; Peckinpah’s like the guy who wrote to the Seattle Weekly to complain about the article about hamburger joints; aren’t there any places, he asked, that served, you know, a real burger, just meat and a bun, with none of them fancy toppings or sauces? So combine that with a rather trite revenge-and-redemption tale, and yeah, I’m pretty close to bailing. Luckily, I haven’t seen a Peckinpah with bad performances, and this one’s no exception. Oates exudes a sleazy charm, and Isela Vega is wonderful as his lover; she’s subtle and earthy and radiates genuine warmth (something usually lacking, intentionally I imagine, in Peckinpah films). I’m just embarrassed that it took me three tries to notice.
Nearly goddam perfect, but it should be noted that the following are features, not bugs: Lots of characters in a cross-section of society (in this case, on a luxury liner), which usually means less depth, but here everyone is painted with such deft brushstrokes that they come alive regardless; a cold, distant camera that observes rather than tells the action, sometimes turning stars (like Anthony Hopkins) into scenery; yet at the same time, not above some razzmatazz (like introducing our heroes in front of a huge crimson painting). And of course, a mad bomber with fiendishly clever traps. I imagine the stiff-upper-lippedness of the British characters could grate on some, but the tension is handled with such remarkable aplomb that their reserved nature adds to the film. (Compared with the panicky nitwits of the same year’s The Towering Inferno, Juggernaut’s potential victims, from the steward to the bag man, convey plenty of soul through stoicism.) A shame about the kids, then; loud nuisances all, with the implicit notion that they’re better not seen and not heard, and that’s just a missed opportunity, methinks.