sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2014-02-17 11:26 pm

We're not splitting up. We're just going in two different groups

By the time I crashed for a nap after my doctor's appointment this afternoon, I had been awake for thirty-two hours. Nearly twenty-two of those were spent at the Somerville Theatre with [ profile] derspatchel, watching science fiction movies. We were there from noon to noon. Still no Conrad Veidt, but I believe our third 'Thon was a success.

By no stretch of the imagination is First Men in the Moon (1964) a good movie, but it was a fine start to the 'Thon. It is big and brightly colored and doesn't quite know whether it wants to be a faithful version of the Wells novel with a contemporary frame or whether it wants to be a quaint throwback adventure with a lot of goofy science and its ostensible hero is a chauvinist jackass no matter what, but it has wonderful creature effects by Ray Harryhausen and it furnished the first and longest-running joke of the night ("DOOR!"). Lionel Jeffries as Professor Cavor comes in a close second to Christopher Lloyd in the mad scientist hyperactivity sweepstakes.

Given that the Somerville had just screened it as part of their half-marathon in September, Westworld (1973) would have made the perfect dinner-slot movie, but since they showed it at two in the afternoon, we used the first half to buy seltzer and find Rob a snack and got back in time to watch Yul Brynner stalk Richard Benjamin. It's such a stupid movie in so many ways—a state-of-the-art facility and they don't have auxiliary power, manual doors, or a ventilation system independent of the computer grid?—but Brynner is justifiably iconic in his gunslinger's dusty black, his mirrorballed eyes gleaming.

I do not want to talk very much about Coherence (2013), not because I found it as fully successful as the similarly ambitious and minimalist Primer (2004) and Dimensions (2011), but because it is another rare example of a science fiction movie that does not explain itself at every turn. Its initial conversations are a little too on-point (I understand that not all audiences are familiar with the Tunguska event, but at this point I think of Schrödinger's cat as the Gedankenexperiment everybody knows), and I have trouble with a very late third-act turn when the same destabilizing finish could have been achieved without the need for anyone to act out of character, but it negotiates the shift from normally awkward group dynamics to the stress of the genuinely uncanny without a lot of gear-grinding and then we get the exponential explosion of strangeness as the logical consequences of the premise multiply suddenly beyond what the audience can keep track of or the characters cope with at all. Finding out that the film was shot in five days and most of the scenes improvised by the cast made me much more impressed by the whole thing in retrospect. It deserves the chance to speak for itself.

I must have missed the opening credits of The Power (1968) because I ran to Amsterdam Falafelshop in order to procure bowls of delicious chickpea and eggplant goodness for myself and Rob, but everything I remember after arriving just in time for some creepily lit astronaut endurance tests is a curious mix of proto-Scanners (1981) and one of Hitchcock's wrong-man variations with bonus telekinesis. The paranormal requirements of the climax make some promises the special effects can't keep. The sound of "the power" being exercised is nicely organic: a drowning, ear-thudding heartbeat accompanied by Miklós Rózsa's nervous cimbalom, trembling like plucked electricity.

Europa Report (2013) is my takeaway film for this year. If I want to liken it to other movies, its closest recent relatives must be Moon (2009) or Sunshine (2007) minus the jarring third-act stumble; in terms of written fiction, Caitlín R. Kiernan's "Riding the White Bull" or The Dry Salvages (2004). It's not a horror movie, although if I say "nonlinear found-footage reconstruction of the first manned mission to Europa," it's almost inevitable that it will sound like one. It speaks softly, taking the time to build its six-person crew and their relationships as characters with sympathies and contradictions rather than a countdown of plot functions; it is about the awe and the unpredictability of the universe and Rilke's definition of beauty (nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen). It is not shaky-cam all over. Its use of viewpoints is clever and precise. There could have been less in the way of closing narration, but I feel that way about most speeches. As far as I can tell, it played festivals last summer and had a brief theatrical release, after which it was wiped off the map by the higher-profile Gravity (2013). Neil deGrasse Tyson makes a cameo in the backstory, saying enthusiastic things about Europa. The credits thank consultants at NASA and JPL by name.

I'm wondering now if the animated short Superman: The Arctic Giant (1942) is the earliest instance of the resurrected prehistoric monster that wreaks havoc on the city that unwisely brought it home. (I am not counting the 1933 King Kong, since the whole point of Carl Denham's "Eighth Wonder of the World" was the success of bringing Kong back alive.) Even The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms wouldn't be awoken by nuclear testing until 1953. Lacking the benefits of the Manhattan Project, Metropolis' Museum of Natural Science is just foolish enough to let their Tyrannosaurus thaw out.

I had never before seen Silent Running (1972) on a big screen. I hadn't seen it since high school at the latest. The robot surgery scene makes Rob choke up and I get very quiet at the last shot, the green and fragile message in a bottle diminishing in space, tended by something with no humanity and great care. I don't care if it's not fashionable, I love Peter Schickele and Joan Baez's score. I believe originally viewing this film around the same time as The Lathe of Heaven (1980) has been responsible for my longstanding confusion of Bruce Davison and Bruce Dern.

The Truman Show (1998) is still one of the best Plato's allegories I've ever seen. I love the surrealism of the moon turned searchlight, sweeping across the waters; the steps like a Magritte painting the same colors as the sea; sailing to the edge of the sky. I hadn't seen the film since it was in theaters, when it made me notice Jim Carrey. Last night we got a show print. Film is so beautiful when it's properly taken care of.

I went home during the Dancing with the Quarks Contest: my back was in spasm and I needed to put the sheep on it. I believe I also missed the Aluminum Foil Hat Contest because I was buying hot chocolate for me and apple cider sorbet with honey for Rob. I was around for the introductory lecture in Klingon by the conlanger who coached the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). That was cool.

For most of its runtime, Electric Dreams (1984) is a pleasant enough, infrequently poignant Cyrano story about an architect, a cellist, and a home computer that achieves artificial intelligence when the architect dumps a bottle of champagne into its overloading memory core, distingushed primarily by some inventive cinematography and its tendency to treat any sequence with music like a full-blown music video. The voice work for the computer is crankier, more bewildered and more demanding than most fictional AIs of the time, which I enjoyed when I wasn't worrying about the eventual technophobia. Rob kept referring to the lead actor as John Cusack Lite, while I thought he was more like skim Jeff Goldblum (I think it was the glasses). About fifteen minutes from the end, however, the plot seems to realize it has built itself into a corner from which only a great deal of talking will extricate it, and having used up all its available time on montages like the two versions of the love theme and the date on Alcatraz, goes for broke with a climax so dramatic, it can only be expressed visually as a video game in the style of Pac-Man. I became substantially more interested in the movie after that. Points also for the computer gendering itself male—it isn't clear until the last scenes, when it confronts the architect with never having even asked his accidental creation about its name—and not actually committing suicide in order to free up the two human protagonists, both of whom the computer is in love with, for each other. No points for the end credits song, which is a bouncy electronic earworm I am refusing to dial up on YouTube.

It's a fair thing to say about The Visitor (1979) that it's kind of like The Apple (1980) with fewer musical numbers and more diabolically threatening ice skating. It is also a fair thing to say DEAR SWEET MOTHER OF ROTOSCOPED BIRD ATTACKS AND JOHN HUSTON ON ESCALATORS WHAT DID I JUST PUT IN MY BRAIN. Quite early on, when the owner of an evil cult-funded basketball team and the woman carrying the genetic signature of the Devil an interstellar criminal mutant named Sateen were going at it underneath what appeared to be a blanket made out of guinea pigs, I heard myself exclaim, "I've waited half my life for a Lance Henriksen sex scene and this is what I get?" The people in front of me snorted and I muttered resentfully, "I'm just going to go home and watch Aliens like three times." I wouldn't call the movie the standout of the 'Thon, but it was certainly the entry it'll take the most years of professional help to work through.

"The Invaders" (1961) is the first or second episode I ever saw of The Twilight Zone. I know that it's all but silent so as not to give anything away by its choice of language, but the fact that we never hear Agnes Moorehead speak, even murmuring, even to herself, still gives me the sense of her character as a kind of feral child, grown self-sufficient over a lifetime. I still cannot tell her age.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) is undoubtedly problematic, but an extraordinary statement all the same. Harry Belafonte's Ralph Burton is all the things a black protagonist of the time was almost never allowed to be: smart, stubborn, snarky, intensely attractive, and not superhuman. He has the technological resourcefulness to restore power to a block of depopulated New York City and send out daily radio broadcasts in hopes of reaching other survivors, lucky enough like himself to survive the five-day storm of radioactive dust that wasted civilization and left the planet an eerily silent monument to human stupidity (a mine inspector in Pennsylvania, Ralph was trapped by a cave-in when the bombs dropped; the half-life was just the time it took to dig himself aboveground), but he breaks down weeping in an empty church and he is not immune to loneliness, whimsy, or rage. He moves into an expensive apartment, talks to mannequins, plays himself newsreels of the vanished world. He roams the trash-blowing streets, first with a wagon, then with a flatbed truck, collecting books and art to salvage and junk to recycle into the necessities of life. For a good half of the film's runtime, he's the only character onscreen. When others are introduced, the film's focus shifts intriguingly: is a post-apocalyptic world the same thing as a post-racial one? Considering the two new survivors are white, of course not. The friendship that grows between Ralph and Sarah (Ingers Stevens) is a real and living thing—as is their strong sexual pull—but there's always an element of constraint from his side, the anger of knowing that she still sees him through the lens of the old world in which, as Ralph curtly catalogues, "If you're squeamish about words, I'm colored, and if you face facts, I'm a Negro. And if you're a polite Southerner, I'm a Nigrah. And I'm a nigger if you're not." (She had just carelessly thrown the phrase "free, white, and twenty-one" around the conversation. You could hear the audience's breath hiss.) She seems more willing to press for the relationship, but it was her privilege in the world they came from to waive the difference in color between them; it was never his. The presence of Mel Ferrer's cynical, intellectual Ben does not actually spark a triangle, much as Ben tries to push things in that direction; instead it's the impetus for both Ralph and Sarah to decide not only what they want, but what they're willing to ask for. I wouldn't have been as charitable to Ben as the ending is, but I understand the point the film is making. And it is kind of nice that there exists at least one mainstream effort from the '50's which solved its problems with poly.

We did not share our traditional donuts at Verna's at dawn, because the six o'clock movie was Grabbers (2012)—billed as an Irish counterpart to Tremors (1990), in fact much more reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead (2004) crossed with Ealing's Whisky Galore! (1949), an alien invasion ensemble comedy with an outrageously silly conceit that it fully commits to; it suffers slightly from a romance I don't believe, but I let it slide on the strength of the couple's brilliantly complementary tentacle-monster-fighting skills. Instead we waited until Children of Men (2006) and then skipped the entire movie in favor of breakfast with Michael McAfee at Andy's Diner on Mass. Ave., returning in time for Flash Gordon (1980). Which I stared at. I'd seen enough of it years ago on television to retain a vivid mental image of Max von Sydow's Ming the Merciless, but I had not somehow registered the Everest-outshouting monument to upstaging and leather harness that is Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan. I am also regretful that I dozed through at least one of Ornella Muti's seduction scenes as Princess Aura, because in the one I saw she didn't even bother with doubling her entendres. Every time anyone said Flash's name onscreen, the entire audience sang his theme.

And then I had a doctor's appointment, and then I napped for two and a half hours, and then I had to make up for the work I didn't do this weekend, which is why I'm just now getting around to this writeup. I missed the company of [ profile] rushthatspeaks, who was recovering from Boskone. Someday the 'Thon will program a solid twenty-four hours of film I want to see. Still, entirely and always, worth it.
phi: (golden ratio)

[personal profile] phi 2014-02-18 05:20 am (UTC)(link)
That is a whole lot of movie watching. Far more than the last time I tried attending a movie marathon.

Still, entirely and always, worth it.


[identity profile] 2014-02-18 06:06 am (UTC)(link)
If I want to liken it to other movies, its closest recent relatives must be Moon (2009) or Sunshine (2007) minus the jarring third-act stumble;

...okay, so that's on the stack. Moon is almost my favourite, most perfect movie ever. And I really, really wanted Sunshine to be the movie it almost was until Captain Badass died and all swirls down the space toilet, woe, woe.
selidor: (happy astronomer)

[personal profile] selidor 2014-02-18 08:28 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh well sold then. To the blu-ray! (A number of JPL colleagues had been squeeing about it last year: there must have been actual screen releases in LA).

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 07:34 am (UTC)(link)
I had not somehow registered the Everest-outshouting monument to upstaging and leather harness that is Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan.

Thank you. I think.


[identity profile] 2014-02-18 05:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Andrew owns that one so we watch it pretty frequently. Brian Blessed is probably the high point (though the actor who played Voltan in the old movie serial was pretty good, too -- there's a bit where he tries to cheer up his captive, Dale, by making hand shadows on the wall.)

Also if you watch closely you can spot a ridiculously young Robbie Coltrane in the background in the airport scene.
selidor: (chaotic system)

[personal profile] selidor 2014-02-18 06:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh! This has suddenly made a friend's habit of photobombing with cutouts from this finally comprehensible.

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 07:54 am (UTC)(link)
ah yes, Silent Running got me grounded in high school... told the Parental Units I was going to the movies, just forgot to mention that it was the next town over... but I adored Huey, Lewey, and Dewey. Plus I own the soundtrack too..

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 07:44 pm (UTC)(link)
at the time yes, but then, I was only 17. (the grounding was from my car, which I drove Out Of Town... )

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay, again. I have to stop halfway through reading this or I'm not going to say all the things that I'm bubbling up to say.

First: Electric Dreams! I loved that, in spite of the love interest's rather (to my mind) wooden delivery. What I loved was that it was the HCA Little Mermaid story, but with the computer as the little mermaid. Okay, the analogy doesn't really work out in the particulars, but in the overarching story and resolution: achieving a soul through an act of sacrifice--that impressed me. And if it's champagne that first brought the AI to sentience, it's the tears that make it go the extra mile, which may be trite, but I love it. [But how do you get /not/ committing suicide? Do you mean because it lives on free in the ether?]

Second: The Power! I saw that once on late night TV, and it lived on in my half-memory/dreams as a surreal … something. In fact I had forgotten about it until you mentioned the music, and then, whoosh! I remembered the experience of watching it, but none of the details except the music and the carnival setting.

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 10:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, okay: that's what I thought. And I loved that too. What a great ending :-)

[identity profile] 2014-02-18 10:17 pm (UTC)(link)
And now I'm kind of curious about The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.

[identity profile] 2014-02-20 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
Out of that lot, I'd love to see Europa Report. You sold me with the comparisons! Flash Gordon's engrained in me (I come from a family that loved Queen almost as much as Floyd), but I watched Silent Running too young: at ten I found it too dry. I know I'd love it now.

There's a goodish Gatiss-scripted Men In The Moon that's both pretty faithful and ties in with the Apollo landings. (He makes a quite restrained Cavor.)

I think you won LJ with the line about Lance Henriksen's sex scene. :)
Edited 2014-02-20 01:16 (UTC)