Thursday, July 30, 2015

World on a Wire (Welt am Draht, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)

Pure imagination

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire (Welt am Draht, 1973, from Daniel F. Galouye's novel Simulacron-3), done before he succeeded internationally with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul was--after a TV premiere and a few theatrical screenings--unavailable for the longest time. It was resurrected thirty-seven years later by the 60th Berlin Film Festival  before being released on Region 2 DVD, then on the Criterion label two years after that. 

Along with its many dislocations the film--as if stored in a vault, or catapulted by time machine some forty years into the future--gives us a glimpse of how the '70s viewed virtual reality, artificial intelligences, the digital age, all hazily distant concepts at the time. In some ways their ideas were wrongheaded, laughably caught up in their own fixations (nothing exposes a decade better than its notions of the future); in others they were remarkably on target, even disturbingly prescient about trends still developing today. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ikarie XB-1 (Jindrich Polak, 1963)

Far out

Jindrich Polak's 1963 Ikarie XB-1 (on Region 2 DVD and online) starts off on a strong note: a man with scorched face mutters "the Earth is gone!" follows it up with a cry: "The Earth never existed!" He shuffles through shot after shot of beautifully lit geometrical designs and hallways and artifacts while an offscreen voice begs him to stop. 

Based on Stanislaw Lem's novel The Magellanic Cloud, the film takes the idea of an epic expedition to our nearest star (Alpha Centauri) and gives it the big-budgeted movie production treatment, complete with bizarre electronic music, elaborate sets, intricately detailed miniatures. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Je t'aime, je t'aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)

(Belatedly for Bastille Day: one of the finest French science-fiction films ever made)

 Somewhere in time

Arguably the least seen of his works, Alain Resnais' Je t'aime, je t'aime is also, arguably, his only science fiction feature (though the label could be applied to almost almost every one of his films flirting with the idea of time travel, memory implants, alternate universes).

It's also one of his most underrated. The basic premise has one Claude Ridder (Claude Rich) being talked out of the hospital (where he has just been treated for a failed suicide attempt) and into a car, taken to a laboratory (the Crespel Research Center), injected with a drug called T.5, shut in a time machine that viewers have noted as looking 'organic,' resembling a 'disembodied heart,' or 'large womb' or 'giant brain' (I'd throw in 'humungous fungus' and 'stupendous squash' myself, maybe even 'mutant pig uterus perforated by plastic skewers in preparation for roasting').

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bulaklak sa City Jail (Flowers of the City Jail, Mario O'Hara, 1984)

(Too busy to post something on the third anniversary of his death, but not too busy to remember. An expansion of an earlier post)

Women in prison

In Mario O'Hara's Bulaklak sa City Jail (Flowers of the City Jail, 1984) Nora Aunor plays Angela, a cellmate newly initiated into the prison hierarchy (the initiation ritual is, to put it mildly, harrowing). O'Hara includes a constellation of small stories, from a veteran prostitute who works extra hard to install her son comfortably in the jail's male section to a mother driven mad by the death of her only child to a woman determined to escape, if only to revenge herself on her husband's mistress. Angela's storyline however dominates the film: she's just been informed that she's newly pregnant, which isn't happy news for her--she's more interested in breaking out, perhaps rejoining the man who got her impregnated. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Big Eyes (Tim Burton, 2014)

Small wonder

I can't see Burton doing this for big bucks. Unlike say Dark Shadows (which I did like, more for the visual texture than script or storytelling (the actors seemed to be having fun)) or the even less defensible Alice in Wonderland (which I also liked, if only because it's not as solemn as its apparent role model, Peter Jackson's endless Lord of the Rings movies (low bar I know)), but with Big Eyes Burton returns to his longtime fascination with marginal Americana, and chooses for his subject a once-notorious, now largely forgotten chapter in the country's pop (I hesitate to say 'art') history.  

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, 2014)

Year of living dangerously

Got to hand it to Mr. Chandor: he doesn't do anything the same way twice, from the ensemble thriller Margin Call (set during the '08 financial crisis) to the Robert Redford chamber piece All is Lost to this (released in DVD/Bluray last April), his biggest most daring production yet--daring in that it has the effrontery to invite comparison with Francis Coppola's Godfather films.