Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sci-Fi Spectacular: Why I'm no longer a skeptic

I'm going to be honest. I wasn't so convinced going into this thing that I would have a good time. I'm not quite sure what it was either. Maybe I thought I would get tired, or restless, or that some of the films wouldn't entertain me. Or something else equally stupid. However, after exiting the Music Box at 4:00 a.m. this morning and getting slapped with a gust of crisp Chicago wind, shocking my dulled senses into focus, I can say with full confidence that it was one of the most entertaining cinematic experiences I've ever had.

Why for?

-The pitch perfect choice of films and order of screenings?

-The crowd's undying enthusiasm for the silliness and art of the films shown?

-That great moments of each movie were greeted with cheers and applause?

-Me and my friends exuberant filmic comradere and joy in sharing the experience?

-Getting to watch one of my favorite films of all time on the big screen (something I will likely never get to do ever again)?

All of the above. And more. And how!

It was fantastic. It was marvelous. It was... spectacular!

In honor of this event, I will do a mini-review of each film that was shown. Huzzah!

The Incredible Shrinking Man:

Giant cats! Killer tarantulas (who has tarantulas just hanging out in their basement?)!

What a film. The forefront of campiness? I'd say. This movie takes itself so seriously, that it's hard not to laugh at the plights of our melodramatic, tiny protagonist. His narration ranks amongst some of the most overwrought, histrionic inner-thought processes ever premiered on film. He would drag on for what seemed like ages, explaining his struggles and anxieties in hallmark-level poetry, droning on and on for minutes about how difficult it was to be small, and what he would have to do to survive. Spare us! Actually, don't. It's hilarious. One of my favorite parts? When he meets a "midget" woman in a cafe, who actually appears to be just another human shrunken from normal size, much like himself. Whatz? They have a blossoming romance that lasts... two scenes? But the highlight of the film is the microscopically epic fight between the shrunken man and a cat. Whiskers the feline attacks his toy home! Run, tiny man! Run! The audience was in stitches. Perfect.

P.S. At the end of the film everything is OK because although he is becoming increasingly miniscule, bordering on non-existent, our hero reminds us that "God doesn't know zero," and therefore he is as big as any mountain. Yay jesus!

War Of The Worlds (original):

(Dramatic pause, followed by sloth-like sip from cup) Maybe I'm biased because the special effects movies offer today are superb and realistic, but I find it hard to believe this was taken seriously. Sparky lazorz! Eeeeeep! This movie features two actors at their worst. No, I haven't seen anything else they've been in, I just know this was the worst performance from both of them. There should be a drinking game for this movie, where the participants must drink every time the two protagonists stare off into the sky with their mouths agape. No, wait.... people would die. 

The aliens look like E.T.'s deformed cousin with a disco light stuck in their face

Well, I feel threatened.

One of my favorite parts, and the audience's as well, was the countdown to the nuclear offensive on the martians. "Two minutes to bomb time!" Bomb time! Also, the end of the movie features a terrific turn by god and his magical bacteria. Thank you Lord for giving us diseases that ravage humanity, and then creating an alien race to come attack us, but also being gracious enough to make them vulnerable to the same microscopic beings that plague our kind! You are such a wonderful god! All hail the almighty destroyer! Wait, I'm drowning in my own sarcasm.

Planet Of The Apes (original):

"Get your stinking paws off me you damn, dirty apes!" (raucous applause)

One of the biggest surprises for me. I had always imagined this movie was some over-serious, slowly paced exercise in underdeveloped prosthetics. Instead, it was a pitch-perfect, comedic, and slightly thought-provoking sci-fi film anchored by the director's rather light take on the source material (hyphen-happy). And Charleston Heston? Awesome. I did find it a bit odd that he seemed borderline insane in the beginning, but once the apes came, everything was alright. The human prisons, the monkey religion, the simian judiciaries. It was all so great. "Human see, human do." The scene in the courtroom where they are deciding Heston's fate was particularly interesting, not only because of the parallels made between the debate in the film and religious discussions that take place in modern times, but the hilarious inclusion of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" that was homaged by the three residing ape judges. And Heston's love interest was a hollywood-beautiful woman wearing revealing, tattered clothing, who didn't have the brain power to speak. Misogyny! Now we just get to wait until humans nuke the earth and we devolve.... in 2000 years?

2001: A Space Odyssey:

Yes, please. 

I don't even know where to begin. This was a riveting experience. Larger than life. The final act was mesmerizing and transporting, lifting me from my creaky theater seat and catapulting me into the infinite reaches of space and time, allowing me a brief glimpse of eternity viewed through the eyes of a man wholly aware and limited by the crushing weight of mortality. I was transformed.

Alright, now on to Kubrick's masterpiece. Opening act? One of the best of cinema. A wordless expedition through the first stages of human existence. Barbaric creatures scream at each other from across a small pool of water. One tribe scares the other away. The take and devour. They destroy and conquer. The tribe awakens in the shadow of a rectangular edifice. The monolith towers above the creatures, frightening and then enthralling them. It points to the moon. Man discovers the tool. Man crushes bones with tool. Man crushes man with tool. Man throws tool to the sky, the first attempt to reach the infinite expanses beyond our own world.

Cut to outer space. Ships float gracefully through the void. A man boards a pod headed for the moon on a trip to examine an unknown artifact. The black slab sits menacingly in the excavated quarry. We are behind the astronauts, approaching the imposing structure. A million voices scream as we grow nearer. The first man places his hand on its side. His mouth is open. The monolith points towards jupiter. 

Cut to the Discovery, a spacecraft bound for the gaseous giant. Three of its crew are hibernating. The other two move about the ship, defying gravity and the limitations of humanity. The ship's computer, HAL 9000 watches them carefully. HAL attempts to cut communications from Earth, its programing overtaking those who programmed it. The two conscious crew members attempt to dismantle it, and all crew members save for one are killed by it. Once the remaining crew member can overcome the machine, the journey can continue. 

Cut to Jupiter and beyond the infinite. A final monolith floats in space, settling in the balance of an equinox. Man has reached the final stage. A series of indecipherable images are cut between the face of the evolving human and his blinking eye. It's the end. All is noise. A series of discolored and inverted landscapes transport you to the final resting place of the human.

Cut to a white, sterile room. The man sees himself passing through stages of aging. His mortality is compressed into a few, harrowing minutes. His final form rests on a bed, half alive. The monolith floats at the end of the mattress. The man reaches out his hand, begging for the next age to begin. His withering flesh is replaced by a glowing sphere.

Cut to outer space. We are orbiting earth. One revolution reveals an enormous floating being. A fetus surrounded by glowing light. The next stage of existence. The beginning, all over again.


What does that all mean? Different things for everyone. But the fact is that it means something. Kubrick achieved something incredible when he made this astounding piece of art. It shattered conventions and reinvented the possibilities for the medium of film. Some of the effects in 2001 remain jaw-dropping by todays standards, and this thing was made in 1968 (Yeah, a year before we landed on the moon...). It is a towering triumph of filmmaking, and an enthralling take on existence and eternity. 40 years later and its ideas still baffle and bewilder viewers. Seeing this on the big screen was an experience I will never forget. It was perfect.

The Brother From Another Planet:

Wait, what just happened? An after school special? Racial commentary? A goofy 80's comedy? A sci-fi film? A romance? Nothing? Everything? I am so confused.

This film is a mess. A slightly funny one, but a mess. It has heavy-handed commentary on drug use, an overarching racial theme, a horrifically uneven tone, characters that are in the movie for only one scene, very poorly staged action, boggling dialogue, and a drug induced hallucination in which a Jamaican man leads the protagonist around harlem explaining random things to him. Wha?!

Oh, and the brother from another planet can't speak. He also has sex with an R'n'B singer. And can fix pinball machines by stroking their exterior. And he looks exactly like a human, but only has three toes? Double wha?!?!

Also, two aliens, disguised as white people for no apparent reason, who can talk, are hunting down the brother, and are for some reason impossibly strong but incredibly slow. And can explode on command. And in one 30 second scene, we see the aliens talking in their own language, screeching at each other like banshees from hell. This is the only scene in which aliens talk to each other in their language. Triple wha?!?!?!

Oh, and at one point the protagonist removes his eyeball and puts it in a plant and leaves it there all day, then returns, puts it back in the socket, and watches what the eye saw like it's a video camera. And later on in the film he removes his eye and puts it in the hand of a drug dealing business man before smothering said man with his own bag of heroin. Quadruple wha?!?!?!?!




Aliens! Sigourney Weaver! Hooray!

This one had the most cheers during the screening. Deservedly. It has some of the most fist-pumping, badass lines ever uttered in the halls of the sci-fi, and stunning action that holds up to today's ridiculously high standards. "Get away from her you bitch!" Just try not to cheer. C'mon. Try not to. Besides a rather annoying character embodied by the butch marine Private Vasquez, the film has great characters, earned laughter, and is very well acted. It's so blue! And the design of the aliens is still one of my favorite cinematic extraterrestrials ever dreamed up by someone somewhere. Also, fantastic final fight sequence, between Super-Sigourney and Uber-Alien-Queen-Monster. And newt. "RIPLLEEEEYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!"


The Fly:

Well I'll be damned. For some reason the concept of The Fly never truly appealed to me, and I have no idea why. It stars Jeff Goldblum, one of the greats, and is directed by David Cronenberg, a fearlessly grotesque mastermind. And boy was I wrong. This movie was fantastic. Very well paced, brilliantly written and acted, and consistently funny/disturbing/sad/interesting/blah/blah/blah. Jeff Goldblum for the win. Whoever decided to give Goldblum's character the last name "Brundle" deserves a high five. When the teleport computer says Brundlefly successfully fused with telepod" at the end, I nearly died of laughter. Brundlefly! Say it! Yes! And can we talk about the ending? It's incredible. The Brundle-pod-tele-fly crawls across the floor towards Geena Davis and pulls the shotgun that's in her hand to his head. After screaming "No! I can't do it!", she-well uh, she does it. The ensuing head explosion is the most satisfying head explosion ever caught on film. After destroying Brundlewhatever, Ms. Davis falls to the floor crying, holding that damned shotgun, and it cuts to credits. That's it! And it's perfect! And I loved it! Go Brundlefly!

In conclusion, film festivities such as the Music Box's 3rd annual Sci-Fi spectacular are must-experience events for all true cinephiles, and I can definitely say I will be back for more such functions in the future. 

Go film!

Brundlefly! God, I love that.

Alex Deaton - on a cinematic high

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