27 October 2008

The 12 Movies Meme (Week 2 of 2)

Welcome back, gentle readers. Now that I have completely frightened you and frazzled your wits, I want to expand your mind. For week 2 of our festival, we are traversing into the mighty mystical realms of

SCIENCE FICTION!

Fasten your seat belts, folks, because the rocket ship is about to take off.

MONDAY - "The Man with the Power"




This evening's films deal with the power of the mind. David Cronenberg appears yet again with his second film in the festival, "Scanners". This film represents another blend of science fiction and horror. A medical experiment gone awry produces a group of very powerful telepaths. These telepaths are so powerful that they can cause peoples heads to explode. This is Cronenberg at his finest. "Scanners" makes me wish that the powers that be would allow him to make an X-Men film.

Our second film of the evening is "Pi", the debut effort of Darren Aronofsky. Max Cohen is a gifted mathematician. Through his insight into numbers, he can see patterns in nature. Throughout the film, Max is chased by Hasidic cabalists who are trying to unlock the numerical mysteries of the Torah and by Wall Street extremists who believe that he can predict the stock market. "Pi" is a stellar example of science fiction as metaphor. Aronofsky made this film for $60,000...an unheard of budget for science fiction. He proved that you don't need gee-whiz special effects...you only need ideas and a tight script. This is a fantastic film and well worth your time.

TUESDAY - "The Future is Cancelled"




Tuesday's films deal with a very very bleak future. They are also two of the most notorious and controversial films of the entire festival. My goal for this evening is to traumatize the audience.

Kinji Fukasaku's "Battle Royale" kicks our evening off. Tokyo is suffering from a debilitating economic crisis. Crime is rampant and overrunning the streets, particularly amongst youth. To quell this crime, Japan enacts the Millennium Educational Reform Act, also called the Battle Royale Act. Each year, students from one class are selected. They are ushered onto a bus and told by their teacher that they are going on a field trip. Once the bus is underway, the students are knocked out by gas. They wake up on an abandoned island with strange collars around their necks, a survival pack and one random weapon. The rules are simple. They are to fight until there is only one left standing. If any student fails to participate, their collar will explode. Upon its release, the film ignited a storm of controversy and was condemned by Japanese parliament. To this day, "Battle Royale" has never officially been released in theaters or on home video in the United States.

This evening's second film is Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange". Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, it tells the story of Alex DeLarge, leader of a gang known as the Droogs. The Droogs fancy the ultra-violence, spending their time assaulting, raping and pillaging everything and everyone in their path. When Alex is arrested, he volunteers to undergo the Ludovico technique, an experimental procedure that uses an extreme form of aversion therapy to ween violent impulses. It is impossible to overstate the controversy that this film generated. The Catholic Church condemned it as immoral...Kubrick and his family received death threats (Kubrick convinced Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from British theaters)...the MPAA gave the film an "X" rating. It is important to recognize that Kubrick and Burgess were making a commentary on violence and society. At no point in either the film or the book do they glorify or condone the violence. They are simply holding up a mirror and asking society to take a look.

WEDNESDAY - "The Final Frontier"




This evening features one of my absolute favourite forms of science fiction: space opera.

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is the best film of the long-running series. It is one of the few films based on a TV series that makes a successful leap from episodic to cinematic. I'll spare you a general description of "Star Trek" because it has completely permeated and embedded itself into our zeitgeist. "Wrath of Khan" deals with the operatic battle between Admiral James T. Kirk and his archnemesis Khan. Expertly directed by Nicholas Meyer, this film features great performances by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban. It also has a killer score composed by James Horner. This is one of my favourite films. (Personal Sidenote: The ceti-eel sequence still gives me the creeps.)

"Serenity" is another film that makes a successful leap from episodic to cinematic. Based on the short-lived TV series "Firefly", "Serenity" is the feature film debut of Joss Whedon, one of the world's best storytellers. The series and film tell the story of a ragtag group of space travelers. The story is a little too vast to summarize here (which is typical of Whedon's stories). Suffice it to say that this film and TV series are well worth your time.

THURSDAY - "Tears In Rain"





Tonight, we explore the emotional side of science fiction with two films that are criminally underrated. We will kick off this evening's festivities with a special screening of Chris Marker's half-hour short film "La Jetee". In the aftermath of World War III, a group of Parisian survivors experiment with time travel in an attempt to save humanity. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because Marker's short was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's film "Twelve Monkeys". Marker crafted a haunting, emotional and powerful film.

Our first full length feature, "Solaris", is based on the book by Stanislaw Lem and the 1972 Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film takes place on a space station orbiting Solaris, an oceanic planet. A mishap occurs on the station. Psychologist Chris Kelvin (brilliantly portrayed by George Clooney) is sent to there to assess the mental status of the crew. Kelvin wants to escape from the grief of his wife's suicide. Upon arriving at the station, he discovers that most of the crew is dead. The surviving members won't explain the cause. Later, Kelvin encounters his wife, in the flesh. "Solaris" is an amazing film. Soderberg and company use science fiction as a metaphor for grieving and loss. This also features one of Clooney's best performances.

We close the evening with Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain". The film takes place in three separate time periods: the 16th Century past, the present and an undetermined distant future. The less that you know about this film in advance, the better. Suffice it to say that it, too, uses science fiction as a metaphor for grieving and loss. "The Fountain" also features what is, in my opinion, Hugh Jackman's finest performance. One piece of advice: don't try to figure this film out while you're watching it. Just let it wash over you and talk about it afterwards.

FRIDAY - "Gilliam's World"




We dedicate tonight to the vision of Terry Gilliam. The films, "Brazil (Director's Cut)" and "Twelve Monkeys" are portray two different dystopic futures. In "Brazil", the dystopia is caused by government and bureaucracy. As previously discussed, "Twelve Monkeys" is based on Chris Marker's "La Jetee". The films of Terry Gilliam are better experienced than described. I'll let the films speak for themselves.

SATURDAY - "More Human Than Human"



We close our festival with my favourite film of all time. Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" is the culmination of everything that I love in film. Everything from art direction to music to cinematography to acting to special effects is pitch perfect. The stories behind the making and release of this film are infamous. Principal photography ran over budget. Ridley Scott was briefly fired. Upon release, the film tanked at the box office. However, the advent of cable television and home video gave "Blade Runner" a second chance and a cult following developed.

There are five separate versions of "Blade Runner". The version that we will be viewing this evening is Ridley Scott's "Final Cut". Released as part of a deluxe boxed set last year, "Final Cut" is Scott's definitive version of the film. It is digitally restored. Some of the more obvious continuity flaws have been fixed. (Not to worry...these fixes do not sacrifice the quality of the film or the story in any way.) As a special treat, "Final Cut" will be projected in its new full digital cinema 4K glory.

With that, this festival ends. There are many films that I left out due to time constraints...I might relay them to you in a postscript at some point later on. I invite you to discuss, agree or disagree with my choices in the comments section below.

FIN

26 October 2008

blogus interruptus part tres: the sequel to a sequel

well, it appears that i've, once again, been lax in my blogging duties. we'll chalk this up to general life stuff, being busy, WoW-ing and working.

i am in the midst of capping part two of my "12 Movies Meme" series. if all goes well, i should be able to post it tomorrow.

in other news, chris and i went out to ann arbor last night and started filming.

that's right...filming. chris purchased his camera a few months back. we shot around ten minutes of footage. the plan is to edit the footage into a music video for one of the tracks off of my album. this will be a good way to get used to non-linear editing software.

so, in addition to being more attentive here, i'll be editing film for the first time ever.

i will soon be able to add the word "cineast" to my resume amongst "engineer" and "musician".

suffice it to say, i've been waiting a long fucking time for this moment.

more later.