Thursday, January 29, 2015

Death to Realism!! eXistenZ + Oculus Rift Vs. Marcel Duchamp + Al Jazeera America


With every passing year, Cronenberg's 1999 mindbender eXistenZ grows in its many-tentacled relevance. Back 1999, lest we forget, the internet was still only five or six years old and dot.com bubble hadn't burst. Virtual reality was just beginning to figure itself out and William Gibson cyberpunk adaptations or offshoot homages were popping off right and left--Donnie Download, Strange Days, New Rose Hotel--they all worried about 2000, when the internet was going to explode and cripple the worldWe could hardly wait. We stocked up on bottled water and duct tape. We loved The Matrix and didn't really care about the rest, because we couldn't quite grasp what was at stake unless you could actually die while in the virtual reality (we bough Morphius' sketchy "the body can't live without the mind" adage but on close scrutiny it's crap --what about comas?).


Now, 16 years later, eXistenZ seems to predict everything The Matrix was too busy slow mo bullet dodging to notice. The dot.com bubble burst long ago; nothing happened on 2000, or 2012. The Matrix seems dated and naive. Making the 'real' extra grungy and depressing (lots of grotty grey dreadlocks, short guys. cream of gruel for every meal, leaky pipes, cold grates instead of floors, and constant robot threats, ala the Terminator series' future) so the grungy and depressing artificial reality (corporate skyscrapers, busted down telephone booths) is believable as artificiality, i.e. the fake real as more real than the 'real' (just as 'they' intended!) But recently, in the past two months or so, the symbolic is trumping the real to the point reality is at best a third class passenger to the symbolic and imaginary realms. Cases in point: the storm of bad press over the all-white 2014 Oscar noms; the storm of pro-and-anti-American Sniper sentiment, the sheer weirdness of North Korea-vs.-A Stoner Comedy case lingering in the mind as The Interview pops up on Netflix; the bloody events of Paris earlier and the "Je suis Charlie" response, we're experiencing a Zizek-ish collapse of the boundary between the real and imaginary that's goes much deeper than what the First World sees as a free speech issue, just as it had nothing to do with O.J. Simpson being guilty or innocent at all that caused so many black people to celebrate spontaneously and chill white folks to the bone in the process when the Juice was at last set loose... in 1995, the same year aol.com began messing with our minds... setting the gears in motion for the 1999 Prince party moptop dotcom collapse pinnacle of bidding wars on nothingness.

Today, 16 or so years later, we in America have very little real left, just there is very little symbolic or imaginary dimension left when you live in a war zone, especially when contending with radical Islam, who are--to begin with--so anti-graven image that any kind of representational (non-decorative) art is a signpost straight to Hell. To most westerners, 'thou shalt not kill or steal' are the only commandments worth fussing over. Adultery, lying to your parents, bowing down to graven images, these are negligible sins at best, their potential for evil dispelled most often with a simple apology, certainly you won't be stoned to death for them. But not everybody is as 'evolved' as we are, we who seem never more than a few votes away from reversing every last humanitarian stride we've made since the Dawn of our Democracy and bringing our country back into a kind oppressive fundamentalist Handmaid's Tale-style WASP dystopia.

Al Jazeera America welcomes you to the Desert of the Real
Back to eXistenZ: telling the chronicle of an immersive interactive virtual reality game that's interrupted by a terrorist threat on the life of the designer, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Cronenberg's film is a fine illustration of how western culture's ever-widening hall of virtual mirrors keeps edging out the 'Real' to the point images provoke real life threats just as much as vice versa. The terrorists in Cronenberg's films even call themselves 'Realists.' They seek to destroy the game and specifically game designer Geller, who's just taken it all to a next level mind-fuck. In her world sense of 'alternate' reality is so vivid that they worry our breadcrumb trail back to sanity will disappear altogether, resulting in a collective psychotic break. It's all written in the winds of Jungian psychology, the artist-visionary needs to venture outside the pack but should never go so far they snap the cord, they go outside in service of the pack, as scouts and foragers, ambush-blockers, stray rounder-uppers. If they just go out to escape the pack and that cord snaps, they'll wind up floating helplessly through space like Syd Barrett, or Brian Jones, or Don Birnim, or Dr. X, the Man with X-Ray Eyes. A game too real, that manages the Matrix trick of transcending the real through the performance of realness; "more human than human is our motto," as Tyrell tolds his Roy. "Is this still the game?" asks one bystander after all the presumed layers get peeled back.

But of course that confusion is why the terrorists are there, inside the game working out, in the first place. Post-modernists could have saved the terrorists the worry from the get-go, however, noting with wry consternation that reality's been slipping away since the late 1920s. If they wanted to smash something, they should have started with 'R. Mutt's' urinal, they'd say, taking a pompously pronounced sip of his absinthe. Duchamp's original point was drowned out in the bidding war over it, and eventually Duchamp had to hide his art so well no one even saw it, and at last succeeded with "Trap (TrĂ©buchet)" 1917. a coatrack that went unnoticed. And then Andy Warhol turned lazy silkscreens into the height of post-Duchampian balderdash, and now it's not ask what post-modernism can do for reality, it's what can reality do for post-modernism. Reality bows before the "Fountain" as if its the prodigal golden calf returned from the mountaintop with a dozen teraflops of commandments, each one composed of so many ones and zeros it writes its way right into your subconscious, and just a little tiny speck more of your once vibrant imagination is snuffed to make room.

"Fountain" - Marcel Duchamp / eXistenZ gaming console
"(as we know from Lacan) the Real Thing is ultimately another name for the Void. The pursuit of the Real thus equals total annihilation, a (self)destructive fury within which the only way to trace the distinction between the semblance and the Real is, precisely, to STAGE it in a fake spectacle." - Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real
If there's any point to film theory at all (and there isn't), it should be that the Void/Real Thing, as Zizek extrapolates from Lacan, is approachable only via the fake spectacle, the Perseus Medusa shield, in the living room. To confront the thing in itself means total annihilation. The mistake of the 'realist' terrorists is to think that in killing the fake spectacle, they align themselves with the power of the Void, its tragic raw horror dimension becomes their ally. But we've been subsumed into the screen to the point our fake spectacle doesn't mirror the real at all, and the terrorists are seldom more than images to most of us. We only notice the eruption of the real when passing soldiers on the street, or getting our fingers dusted for... explosives (? - who knows, you don't dare ask either) at the airport. Otherwise the formula mirrors the below chart illustrating the future and past of immersive video game tech, only with terrorists struggling to deliver the void of the real onto more than just CNN, to blow our walls and electricity clear away and force us to watch the slaughter of our kin in first person, up close, to essentially provide a feedback loop that erupts from CNN and explodes our eyes and ear drums, paradoxically opening our senses to 'the Real.'

Source: WIKI

 The terrorists endeavor to widen the sliver by destroying the imaginary just as we (or at any rate, I) narrow it still further by living totally within a comfortable cocoon of movies, letting our reality go all to seed from inattention and considering the terrorists as a direct threat to that cocoon, and with good reason. Perhaps it is because of their rejection of the imaginary realm that fundamentalists mistake satire / humor for genuine attack, and why I become so disinclined to hear unpleasant news. I'm worse than anyone as far as not caring to see the suffering. I turn the channel at the first wide-eyed orphan or emaciated dog on my TV. CNN understands. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, shows images like the ones above, of life in Syrian refugee camps, the carnage of bombings of Palestine. Watch Al Jazeera and CNN in alternating segments and maybe you can get a proper idea of our whole fucked world, but who wants that? That's too much real! We need smaller doses of horror, otherwise we're like Scarlett at the makeshift hospital, we just keep walking.


But the converse is true, not enough 'real' is just as corrosive, you come to crave it. If you ban harsh images you give them power, just ask any Brit who was denied Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) for 25 years due to Britain's ban on 'video nasties' - those nasties became that poor Brit's obsession, sight unseen. Nothing gives an image power like enforcing its absence. No actual 'nasty' measured up to the dread associated with not seeing it. Of all the nasties, Texas comes closest, but partly because it understands, on a deep level, the horror, the horror -- and alas, the extra 'real' smash to the head power it still holds today might have to do with the hell the cast and crew underwent to make it and that's a hard thing to intentionally duplicate. In a way, it rips the screen open to become a whole new thing, a once-in-a-million-tries 'true' horror. But it's the exception. Still, want and curiosity is a powerful thing; images have obscene amounts of power for those denied them, and like the Brit kid squinting to see some bootleg seventh generation dupe of Texas Chainsaw, the imagination never yet met a blank it couldn't fill in. By contrast to Mohammed, Jesus and the Buddha are omnipresent in figurative representations, providing both a comfort at odd moments and an excuse to keep us out of the real (as in we don't have to imagine anymore --every last bank is filled). Mohammed isn't supposed to be depicted for reasons not unlike what motivates the 'Realist' terrorists in Cronenberg's eXistenZ. I forget which of the Ten Commandments says not to bow down to graven images, been bowing to that shizz for so long. I doubt Moses would be on the terrorist's side if he were here, but to his rheumy eyes every animated billboard on Times Square might be for Golden Calf. You got to be quick and ruthless to maintain a holy order, cut the advertisements down at the knee. Because if you don't then even the Commandment tablets themselves will inevitably be worshipped as graven images, or at the very least bid on as collector's items. We had a big marble sculpt of the commandments removed from out in front of a Southern courthouse awhile ago, not that it's the same thing as violating free speech (the atheists didn't try to kill the sculptor) but it shows the same confusion that motivates jihads on cartoonists and hacks on stoner comics.


'Now' at the time of 1999, newly sober and full of angst--uneducated in the tenets of Baudrillard and Lacan--I loved The Matrix and thought Cronenberg's film was meandering and too much like a rehash of ideas he worked over already in Videodrome and Naked Lunch. There was the druggy saga of harvesting amphibious monsters for their organs (for making drugs in Naked Lunch, biomorphic gaming consoles in Existenz), guns made of organic material (Videodrome); a bewildered protagonist shuffling along after a savvy, sexy woman who knows her way around (Judy Davis in Lunch, Deborah Harry in Videodrome, Leigh in Existenz, etc.), a maze of spies and counterspies where, as the talking fly's ass says in Lunch, the best agent is one who is unaware he is an agent at all (hence our hero is caught in the middle and never knows the score); the scene in the garage with Dafoe installing the portal in Jude Law's spine a mirror to the Naked Lunch scene where the Moroccan man sticks the broken Martinelli in the forge and pulls it out as a giant Mugwump head. And on and on. And at least neither 'drome nor Lunch involved actual gross eating of weird monster things (the sight of which makes Leigh gag in the film - and leaves a bad feeling in sensitive viewers like myself).


But it's all come true since then. Hasn't it? eXistenZ, I mean? Once we get over the 'using living organic matter for data transmission' stigma and learn how to tap the inner recesses of the pineal gland and bypass the clumsy ear and eye, we'll be exactly there --using the dream energy to craft something our brain can't distinguish from the reality its used to. We've come a long way since The Matrix (1999) or Ralph Fiennes selling other people's bootleg sensory impressions in Strange Days (1995). Virtual reality isn't just for Michael Douglas breaking into a virtual safe in Disclosure (1994) or falling off a roof in The Game (1991), not no more it's not. Cuz this here's real. Unlike Matrix, though, you can't die in reality just because you die in the Matrix. It's just a damned game after all and maybe that's part of the problem... there's very little at stake. But is it really so little? Really? Reelleeeee?? The point that works is we can't really tell, we just keep waking up out of one reality into another - is that death, or just finishing a level on the game, and there are millions of levels?

Some have argued that showing bloodshed and trauma repeatedly and sensationally can dull emotional understanding. But never showing these images in the first place guarantees that such an understanding will never develop. “Try to imagine, if only for a moment, what your intellectual, political, and ethical world would be like if you had never seen a photograph,” author Susie Linfield asks in The Cruel Radiance, her book on photography and political violence. Photos like Jarecke’s (above) not only show that bombs drop on real people; they also make the public feel accountable. As David Carr wrote in The New York Times in 2003, war photography has “an ability not just to offend the viewer, but to implicate him or her as well.” (The Atlantic "The War Photo No One Would Publish")
You might be shocked but I haven't ever been shot or been in a war, or even fired a real gun more than a handful of times, but I was way into the cap gun artillery as a kid in the 70s-early 80s; but I've had some profoundly spiritual Lovecraftian transdimensional horror/void plunges since I put guns away and picked up guitars and hookahs, I've had some roller coaster reptilian demon devouring soul cleanings that make my worst college acid experiences seem like mild disturbances in the force --mainly because I had them stone cold sober. And they have stripped my soul clean 'til all that was left was a glowing sunlit circle. To dismiss these experiences as just manic episodes or a pure hallucination is the same as presuming there's no subjective-imaginary component to the experience of death, to dismiss the most profound human experience (NDEs) as nothing more than 'mere hallucinations' of an oxygen-deprived malfunctioning brain - which is, to the 'experienced,' like saying getting shot in a war is nothing but malfunctioning of the physical 3-D space-time arc of one particular body. I don't mean to compare a meditation or drug experience to war but either experience can be pretty damned terrifying and traumatic, life-changing in profound ways, so to dismiss either as 'mere hallucination' or 'mere reality' is to convey, clearly, you've never had either experience yourself. If you did then you'd know that what's going on is a deep drinking in of the pure intersubjective real, soul, mind, and body suddenly fused in ways it is normally spared. The horror of constant growth and decay that is our organic, physical world is grasped on a level usually unreachable thanks to our symbolic and imaginary filters. These filters are important. Without them we wind up either penniless spiritual wanderers, or institutionally-committed. But if they're so overused that the real is all but obscured, we turn into pompous a-holes without, as they say, a clue.


For example: a real sunflower beheld by someone with their imaginary-symbolic blinders on is merely a sunflower - identified against one's inner rolodex of flower names as if to impress one's inner grade school horticulture teacher, and its full elaborate mystery screened out since it's neither a source of fear (it won't kill you or steal your wallet) or desire (unless some sexy new lover gave it to you). But for someone without those blinders, like a yogi, Buddha, master painter, tripper, child, or schizophrenic --that sunflower breathes and radiates light and is alive with the little yellow petals around the big stamen center like yellow flames. Just as the digital cell phone snap of the sunflower is a mirror image of the sunflower, the sunflower itself is a mirror that lets us look directly into the radiant crown chakra sun... these are all not 'mere hallucinations' over something a less tripped-out friend might dismiss as "dude, it's just a sunflower!" In fact it is that attitude --that the real is completely contained within its symbolic component--that is the hallucination, a symbolic breaker that's moved from a defense mechanism to a screen that keeps the joy of life out. For those people trapped in a morass of the purely symbolic-imaginary, the only time they feel that joy is when they buy an expensive trinket or paint the bedroom a new color. And even then, it's fleeting. And for those trapped on the outside of the purely symbolic-imaginary, the prisoners of the morass of that real, the symbolic-imaginary is taken as a real threat, hence the Parisian cartoonist massacre. The person for whom an NDE to be just a dying brain hallucination is perhaps also most likely to consider "it's like a painting" the highest compliment they can give an outdoor vista; or, if they behold some surreal carnage or high strangeness in the real, note that "it's like something out of a movie" i.e. the more 'real' things get, i.e. outside their language's dismissive pincers, the more things get "like a movie", i.e. imaginary); the average fundamentalist Islam terrorist perhaps considers the hallucination of the atheist consumer a physical threat, and the purity of the real then becomes its own hallucination and they, in effect, go to war 'in the real' over a purely symbolic representation (i.e. Mohammed). Which would be, in a sense, like arresting Spielberg for depicting war crimes because of Schindler's List. Or being so freaked out by some grotesque cannibal movie you arrest the director and demand to see the actors who were killed show up in court, to prove they're not dead. 

So NOW for my less critical post-1999 eyes and ears, the idea that a newbie to the virtual reality game like Jude Law in eXistenZ would act all amateur hour is not surprising or even that upsetting. These are the types who have some serious resistance to the 'weird' - they hang out with us (the psychedelic surfers) latching onto some girl or guy they like, and fall prey to the first anxiety that comes along. We called them 'wallies' in the day (see: The Bleating of the Wallies) A voice in their head tells them they're drowning, so next thing you know they're clutching at your lapel, begging you to take them to the emergency room when a moment ago you were both fine and chilling out listening to Hendrix, man, and exploring the vast universe between your thumb and cigarette. And who among us in that same situation hasn't heard that same voice in our head? We just know to ignore it, along with all the other panic triggers being pressed. But if you're not prepared, you're like the surfer hypnotized by the size of an approaching groundswell.

As Ted (Jude Law) notes after spending a little time in the game:
"I'm feeling a little disconnected from my real life. I'm kinda losing touch with the texture of it. You know what I mean? I actually think there is an element of psychosis involved here. "
It's silly to think that of course, even if it's true, no one forced him to play the game so he should stop being a little bitch, be more like Bill Burroughs, but when I was leaving my physical body and hovering around on the ceiling over my bed every night after work circa 2003, my first feeling was always 'what if I stop breathing while I'm not in my body?' which is kind of dumb, since we don't worry much about that when we go to sleep at night - and in dreams we're just as outside ourselves, and that shit goes on for hours and hours. These excursions only took a ten minutes or so of linear time, though they seem to go on for hours... in the game and in the InterZone.

Real (pre-symbolic)
So I came to realize Cronenberg's Naked Lunch's InterZone has always been true --anywhere the majority of people have taken or are currently on powerful hallucinogens a kind of group mind outside linear time and space takes over, and the usual layers of symbolic and imaginary are peeled away, denuding the lunch as it were. And even if you haven't taken any substances you start seeing things 'as they really are' which is the same as seeing things as 'they usually aren't' and the result is a profound existential nausea (Sartre was a big mescaline fan).

In this sense, trying to differentiate truth and illusion is like separating an orange from its peel and asking "which one is the true orange?" You might say the 'inside' is the orange and the skin and seeds are just compost, but the outer peel or skin is just as much 'the orange' and will exist far longer than the rest of it, which you will eat and then it will cease to exist. But it's then that it finally becomes real, when it's ground up and cycled through your system before being expelled, then the real is occurring. Wait... wait I know where I'm going with this, it's that Cronenberg has always known this real horror, that biotech is the wave of the future as much as virtual reality. It's already beginning to happen that designers are learning to 'write' DNA. And new steps in virtual reality are always imminent. Imagine vast teraflops of data in what looks like a simple eye drop. "Right now we're at the pong stage" notes Reesonblast39 when discussing virtual reality, "but within ten years we'll be full circle." What the hell do you mean, Reasonblast? I axed. But he didn't exist anymore - just a glitch in the matrix of our lives. (See also Post-Sensory Pong). Similarly, David Cronenberg's allegory for the collapse of the symbolic is now revealed as savvy enough to undersand that only be denuding the lunch, as it were, can the imaginary transcend the symbolic and become 'more real than reality'. It's also the realization that our human nervous system has long been an elaborate immersive experience for higher beings. These demons and angels use our delicate nervous system as video-audio immersive booths with which to experience all sorts of Hellraiser-esque masochistic pleasures. Jesus wept, bra. But he wept our tears. We'll be marching through the traumatic real of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre bone rooms and be impaled on spikes, all just so some far away punk kid robot can thrill with a Batailles-esque ecstasy via our sawed nerve endings.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as close to Traumatic Real as horror can get.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake) - the Re-Staging of the Re-Staging of the real becomes
unreal through excessive realness i.e. the art direction is so so so 'real'
 from the high contrast photography, elaborately stressed wood, and other 
art direction that it becomes commercial jeans ad banal
Because, you see, as in Lunch, in eXistenZ we're dealing with agents and counter-agents, spies, saboteurs called 'realists' who are worried--understandably as it turns out--that once games get too 'real' we'll lose our grip on reality, so are out to kill our heroine. Indeed we will lose our grip, kids. And in that sense the realists aren't too far off from hardcore Islamists who see even an innocent portrait or landscape hanging on a wall as evil - so determined are they to be free of the Platonic cave of illusion confusion that they create their own even smaller cave through a performance of non-caveness. Where do you draw the line between an editorial cartoon of a guy with a big Arabian Night-style turban on his head and the word 'Mohammed' on his chest being an offense worthy of slaughtering six people and, say, someone getting fired at NBC for letting an 'F-bomb' slip during a live broadcast, or a sports team owner getting crucified because his mistress leaks a private phone conversation where he uses the word 'nappy' or is that Don Imus? Also fired for word use deemed unsavory.


I'm not justifying any of it, you understand, everyone in both sides feels their strong emotions demand action, only those of us who've seen the limitations of our own judgement, who've learned to never trust our own feelings ("feelings aren't facts" as they say in AA) can step back and not send that e-mail. But I am just pointing out that if we think we're beyond confusing our umbrage over symbolic representation --either in printed word, speech, or image--with legitimate real life retaliation, then we're blind. Destroying a man's standing in the real world because of what he said in a private conversation to his mistress is just a nonviolent first world cousin to the Charlie massacre, i.e. killing people because of marks and remarks. Names hurt worse than sticks and stones, so the response is in proportion to the sense of hurt, rather than in proportion to the actual offense. In both cases, if we never heard the phone conversation, played obsessively on CNN, or if the terrorists never saw the offending Charlie cover, would they or we be any the worse for it? No. In these cases we can blame the messenger, to some degree, but it's a messenger we can't live without. We created it, a giant amorphous amoeba blob of all our hopes and fears jammed within. The 24-hour news cycle is a bunch of snappy piranha orbiting the latest popular kid on the playground and shunning aloud the unpopular, and instigating each's rise and fall.

The minute / you let it under your skin....  
Ted: We're both stumbling around together in this unformed world, whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly indecipherable or even possibly nonexistent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don't understand.
Allegra: That sounds like my game, all right.
Ted: That sounds like a game that's not gonna be easy to market.
Allegra: But it's a game everybody's already playing.
It's a game everybody's already playing, just no one uses the same rules because in admitting it's a game at all, they lose half their pieces. So shhhh, pretend you didn't read this. It's too long anyway. My mom died yesterday... very sudden, and far away.... and words are just fingers pointing to illusions and skittering away... and this is a time for me when illusions don't work at all, and I'm forced, alas, to exit the Boar's Head, Falstaff's woolen eye coverlets trailing behind me like the last few strands of my latest and last cocoon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Gummo Marx Way: INHERENT VICE (2014)


The sexy girl was languidly gyrating atop our seated hero when the drugs began to take hold. Her every slow deep rhythmic breath sending electric thin twisty second chakra waves through my senses, me buried in a seat next to a giant who never took off his leather coat, my own giant winter coat all around me, contraband spilling everywhere, the image of these two drug-addled lovers, bigger than life on the BAM screen, on Doc's couch, coming deeper into 3-D focus with each inhale; each shadowy spiderweb sketch line filaments of the deep seething photography like a mental brushstroke framing the pair of them against the darkening afternoon of the apartment. Her Tropic of Cancer-style twisted sexual bondage extended single take narrative slowly driving our hero into a ferocious rutting frenzy. Beginning to end of a single take, single shot, it turned me on in ways I forgot were possible for a movie to do, the way being turned on by a pretty girl's breathing can trigger the onset of whatever substance you took as the movie started, the way her whole aura trembles and vibrates, a being of pure delicious energy that works its way into your soul deeper with every inhalation. It's all right there in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, where just being an elevator with a laughing Cameron Diaz is enough to send Benicio del Toro's acidhead lawyer into a slow-building howl of pain that infects his mind and body for the rest of the trip and results in him even pulling a knife on her friend. Ya dig?


GF later tells me I was moaning softly all through the scene. Not the first time I've been told that. I never notice it, but who notices anything when they're so transfixed in the dark of a crowded BAM? I had my first psychedelic moment at a late night double feature of YELLOW SUBMARINE and HEAD in 1986... not knowing what to expect and excited in the dark and then, as the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds plunged down on her carousel horse and the animation shifted into an Art Nouveau Matisse rotoscope, I plunged down with her, the floor opening up beneath me and my idea of what was possible in the realm of my perception and experience widened into a once-in-a-lifetime flash awakening. It was like that again, with INHERENT VICE, in that scene, but sexier. Every strand of her hair and flush of desire in her eyes morphing in shimmering thin spiderweb heat lines. the deep mind-blowing breathing second chakra freak-out of this moment. Everything that came before and after in director Paul Thomas Anderson's crowded canvas impossible to all savvy in one viewing, but this one scene something like the erotic heart of all things, and a reminder that lurid stories of domination and submission often work more powerfully when told (as in PERSONA) and not seen (which is why 9 1/2 WEEKS is so much hotter when you haven't seen it - and why people are going to be laughing all through 50 SHADES OF GREY). Unlike THE MASTER, though where there wasn't any character worth hanging with, especially not all those pink bow-tie cult members, or Phoenix's mangy scrawny townie sailor or Hoffman's bouncy infant. But this is, man... we still got Phoenix but his fierceness has more value since it's brought out only when needed; but more important we got a damned good anima, not just for him but the entirety of PTA's emotionally stunted male character psyches--in the great breakout vividness of Katherine Waterston; a moving and very weird scene with the great Eric Roberts (this is to him what KILL BILL was David Carradine). And most of all, rather than Monterey or wherever the hell in the dullard post-war 40s-50s, this is1970, California, via the literary tripper's choice, Thomas Pynchon.  I want to hang onto everything but most of it is a blur of names and faces and places. A stray streak of sunshine on Doc's face during a drive to the beach, a sunrise reunion of a reformed junky family, the glow of the doorway and the horizon line behind matching in perfect transcendentally lucid pink, and that Waterston monologue --that's what I remember most. Just a stem and a cap to heighten the gorgeous golden magic hour moments, just a little Gordita Beach Turkey Ranch, that's all I got. Just a couple of acres. And the Marx Brothers, weren't they there? Groucho looking out from the ANIMAL CRACKERS arch and talking to Doc like a cross-mediated platform surfer? Stuff was on TVs. I remember that much. Always is in a Pynchon, he'd be a great film critic if he wasn't so high-falutin' - kind of the best part of the books, to be honest. He knows his pop culture shit, and blends it and spikes it with post-modern glug glug glug real nice. 


Mystified critics reasoned English major Generation X stoners who remembered the 70s from childhood as some mystic California consciousness raising half-scam half-dawning of the Age of Aquarius high water mark--an orgy they saw but never experienced as the frigid sexual slasher post-Lennon-getting-shot-AIDS 80s clamped the lid down--would probably dig it more than their bourgeois-kowtowing local paper fusty baby boomer selves. Paul Thomas Anderson, as far as they were concerned, hadn't made a decent movie since HARD EIGHT. The Gen X-ed of us knew better, we loved everything, but 2012's THE MASTER had thrown us for a loop. We dutifully saw it twice thinking it would cohere into genius but no, it was still just gorgeously photographed acting of no more lasting effect than a sleepover at grandpa's house and being made to chop wood and liking it. After that, a sense of existential despair set in for we PTA devotees. The only moment of THERE WILL BE BLOOD-level badass Bunyan truth in the whole film is when Hoffman shouts "Pig Fuck" with a coiled unresolved adolescent fury any frustrated enlightened charlatan knows all too well. The more drivel you speak, the surlier your squirming toad cortex seethes below. But it was hard to buy Hoffman, for all his towering talent, as a cult leader. Neither he nor Phoenix is the sort, for example, you'd want a bedroom poster of, or to pray to on an altar, the way say we would Cary Grant or Russell Crowe.


But this is INHERENT VICE: Ultimately, as the narrating Joanna Newsom notes, a nameless eternal evil has seeped like a vapor out from the ancient opium Pacific and co-opted the Age of Aquarius, which in this part of 1970 California is apparently very near becoming such a dominant culture that cops don't even bat an eye when you spark up a joint in their presence. They do beat you up for having long hair though. Ain't no gettin' around that. So just assume the passive stance of protecting head and fingers and groin and let the billy clubs fall where they may.

Milk
The strange ancient frenemies relationship with Josh Brolin's flat topped cop Bigfoot being all similar to his role as the 'Twinky Defense'-copping assassin Dan White in MILK (2008), just one of the myriad interconnections (Newsom's debut album being THE MILK-EYED MENDER). PTA's always been first and foremost a filmmaker for de facto brother or father relationships, and part of what BLOOD's power emerged from was the relative lack of a feminine element. Certainly, to my memory, no female character has a line of dialogue. Instead it was like a boy scout-cum-capitalist narrative nursing on the crude oil teat of the Paul Bunyan masculine John Henry Steel Driving consciousness to craft the dark father of capitalism. THE MASTER tried to do the same, but Amy Adams' as Hoffman's wife snaked forward with more power perhaps than even Hoffman (as his Clinton-esque hand job indicates). Now, in VICE, it's even narrated by a woman, and not a Spacey in BADLANDS blank slate but a savvy all-knowing Cali free spirit shamaness of no small wit, harp expertise and mystic acumen, albums rich with great existential lines that would stagger Whitman and leave my iPod devastated "and though our bodies recoil / from the grip of the soil / why the long face?" These in short, are not stealth buzzkills like Amy Adams, but wild untamed goddesses of strange alliance, gravitating towards men in motion like moons but belonging to no single planet.


Then there's Joaquin as old Doc, the hippie detective. His office lurks deep in a medical suite, his 'office' including his gynecology chair that he sits in when smoking weed and staring at the window, huffing laughing gas when the myriad threads get too much for a single viewing. Seeing double somehow comes out them focus to. And the weird way heroin and Manson-esque cults were the dead end of the counterculture: ouija board, astrology, all-star cast including Anderson's ex-girlfriend Maya Rudolph as his doctor office receptionist (along with another, real, doctor) whose mother Minnie Ripperton's song "Les Fleurs" rises triumphantly from the soundtrack during Doc's mosey back to his office:

Ring all the bells /sing and tell 
the people everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness 

and rejoice for the darkness is gone...

Of course 1970 it was still possible to be idealistic enough to believe that. And it's Anderson's genius that he can recreate not only our Gen X collective memory of that era, which being when we were children a source of lasting mythic resonance, every flare of a girl's jeans some kind of enchanted forest, her ironed-straight long blonde hair forever marked in our idea of a perfect woman. My mom volunteered at a runaway shelter. My dad's company bought them a coffee percolater. Toots was the name of the girl who came to stay with us for Xmas, a gorgeous thing in a jean jacket and perfectly pressed long blonde hair, my mom gave her two packs of Marlboros as an Xmas present, along with some other things I don't remember. But I remember her, and how she left me forever a-swoon for the type. But that's it right there-- she was a runaway, damaged, seeking some dream and leaving some parental abuse and finding.... us. For Xmas, my rapture over her every movement paralyzing me so I still remember how hard it was to ask her if she wanted to do Doodle Art. But it was mainly that fate had deposited her there, on my orange shag rug, like a gift from the karmic wheel. In the safety of my family, there she was, and able to let it all hang out. And it's a family affair in H.O. double hockey sticks why double-you double Oh-Dee too, in camp PTA: Sam Waterston's sexy daughter Katherine blows the film apart with her hotness as Doc's ex-girlfriend. Is Martin Donovan as the angry dad of a similar hippie chick the stand-in for Col. "I enjoyed that drink as much as you did" Rutledge, or old perma-slur Sam himself? Elaine May's daughter Jeannie Berlin is Doc's savvy New Yorker Aunt Reet, whose 'face' is a mess and who signifies Doc's Jewishness and police roots; Josh Brolin is James Brolin's son; Eric Roberts is Julia's brother; Serena Scott Thomas is Kristen Scott Thomas' sister; Jena Malone is an emancipated minor... her mom had too much Lindsay Lohan's mom-style leeching going on. Some of us remember Joaquin didn't grow so much as appear from the shadow of brother River once he joined the angels outside the Viper Club, and as every lover of old blues knows, 'viper' is what they used to call potheads back in the 20s-30s when weed was the sole proclivity of the negro jazzman. Joanna Newsom as the narrator and Doc's platonic girlfriend friend is married to Andy Samberg who later that same night (that we saw VICE) showed up on Eric Andre Show, uncredited, as Eric's double and their schtick together goes back to 1933's DUCK SOUP, starring the Marx Brothers, and the street name Gummo Marx Way--Gummo famously the only Marx Brother never to appear on film--is on one of the papers looked over by Doc at the Hall of Top Secret Records. And there's GUMMO by Harmony Korine, who also made SPRING BREAKERS, set also on a beach involving pretty people doing crimes while engaging in deep druggy binaural second chakra breathing. Of course that film was set in Florida, where Elmore Leonard set so much of his oeuvre, and that oeuvre a clear inspiration for Pynchon's source novel, along with Hunter S. Thompson (Doc and Duke sharing Benicio del Toro's eccentric lawyer) and The Firesign Theater's How Can you be Two Places at Once when You're not anywhere at all. And back around again. Gummo Marx's film oeuvre, a study through which someone in some Allen film obtained some film doctorate... which brings me back to VICE yet again, and Martin Short's obscene corrupting uncut Cockaine dentist love. 


And a wow of a super sexy girlfriend free spirit played by Katherine Waterston (Sam's daughter) named Shasta Fay Hepworth. She basically owns the movie, no mean feat considering the heavy hitters in all directions. She's the mystery, and by the end we can understand why this stoner but brilliant detective is so crazy about her. Like Lebowski about that rug, or Gould's Marlowe about that friend, or Hackman for poor Melanie in Night Moves. Woke last night to the sound of thunder / how far off I sat and wondered / started gummin' a song from 1970... was it Minnie Ripperton's "Les Fleurs?"

Throw off your fears, let your heart beat freely 
at the sign that a new time is born

Yo, Maya was that fleur? She was born two years after that song came out. So no. She wasn't even a gleam in her father's eye. But Hindustani texts all know Maya is illusion and eternally beguiling. No black coating of terrible weave could hide the value from PTA's eyes. Maya, under the Moorish wall, flower in her 'hair' like the Andalusian girls used; Maya, the woods we must hack our way clear of towards the clear-cut riverside of Nirvana, with no Excalibur machete or golden ankh to wave. And let's just take a look at this fabulous Yucatan Blue, priced only what the traffic will allow, delivered to me, Ralph Icebag, by a brown-shoed square, in the dead of night. Yeah, two Communiss on that cover - one Lennon, one brother of Gummo. Neither one of them into guns or sharp swords in the hands of young children, or frozen bananas sucked on / by Josh Brolin.


By 1970 we had already, in some ways, given up on the utopian ideal for a united and very hip America, one inflated to new heights by the California experiment: love, reefers and LSD would convert every last square to the One True Vibe. Instead: Altamont. Instead: 'free love' grubbers from the 'burbs. Instead: Manson decoding The White Album. Instead: evil cokehead troglodytes dropping by your intimate ego-dissolving LSD party at four AM and drinking all your bourbon, stealing CDs, and harassing the women, and you realizing you need your ego after all, because only your ego could get aggressive enough to get rid of them and all you can do is try, vainly, to formulate a coherent sentence without contradicting the love vibes you've vouchsafed. Instead: peaceful but filthy barefoot hippies clogging ever last public bathroom pore of the Haight and everyone being too cool to work or pay money and just presuming they'll be taken care of by the very social order they spit on. Instead: communes all slowly coming unglued as psychedelic unity and the blazing tribal consciousness that had emerged from the primitive inner rolodex for the first time in 1,000 years giving way to petty squabbles, malnourished infants of uncertain parentage, and tension over undone chores. Squalor, in short, reducing even the most enlightened of near-Buddhacatholichrists back down to grouchy adolescent earth, craving comfort of mom's clean sheets and the now-weakened capitalist behemoth's car keys.

But we had brought all the trappings of the counterculture with us back to our home suburbs, and 1970 signaled the beginning of that smooth Laurel Canyon sound. The radio lit up with songs that managed to be sexy and vaguely dangerous to us kids without seeming to offend or challenge in any way. Parents and children in unison swooned from the emotional connection of "American Pie" or "You Light Up My Life." Vietnam still sulked around but we'd given up on protesting. Instead there was bridge mix, wife swapping, martinis, and above all kids unleashed, you understand. Us. We loved Fleetwood Mac. Whatever dreams Stevie Nicks wanted to sell, we'd buy them. I stole every cent I could to buy Wacky Package. We ran loose in packs, like dogs. We could still get spanked in public and no one bat an eye. One whack for every year on our birthday in front of the whole class. At home, indoors, we towered like Godzilla over wood block towers we'd smash with our tail before sloughing back into the depths. Wood paneling was our sky; orange shag carpet our jungle canopy; couch cushions laid in a line on the floor our Bridge of Toome in County Antrim, Ireland. We'd march up and down it in time and pretend to be hung like Rodney McCorley. PTA was there, I was there. Were were you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith of Anytown, USA?


I don't know how many times I've seen BIG LEBOWSKI.  I don't even like it but it's endlessly re-watchable, some part is always just right for the moment its on, and its always on... Sooner or later though, it grates on my nerves, somewhere around the funeral home. But it's never the same film twice, until now, for Jackie Treehorn's shoe prints are all over the Pynchon PTA's lovingly detailed semi-sordidness. VICE even uses the same Les Baxter-Yma Sumac Tropicalia vibe that was Treehorn's leitmotif to conjure the same crossroads between the Jack Horner nurturing free love spirit and the Treehorn mobbed-up porno-decadence. But that's just one of a thousand twuggy-druggy twiggy-wiggy branches. You can dig it. I can dig it. Cyrus, the one and only, can.... But most of all, Paul Thomas Anderson has exhumed himself from beneath THE MASTER's weighty muck to re-dig it. Who knows what would have been the result if Welles made a 70s stoner detective film. Would it have been INHERENT VICE, or is there just no character titanic enough within the story to hold his interest? In the end, that may be the thing. There's no core or center to VICE, no 'hurrah' moment like the pool party in BOOGIE or the "I'm the antichrist" climax of BLOOD. Phoenix is a great actor, but he's a scrawny shell of a thing, a short wiry little weirdo whose hipster disaffect on talk shows is alienating and less clever than he thinks. We don't gravitate to him like we do to Warren William or Bogart in similar roles, or even Dick Powell or big Jeff Bridges (or his father, Lloyd Bridges, for that matter, alas, Michael Shayne). As for VICE's detective narrative, it's more coherent than some, but trying to explain the plot to my underwhelmed GF, all I could do is relate the anecdote about Hawks calling Raymond Chandler from the BIG SLEEP set to ask who actually killed Owen Taylor and Chandler not knowing the answer either. It doesn't matter. I've seen BIG SLEEP a dozen times at least, and I'm almost ready to blame Joe Brody, but Joe's saying he just sapped him for the incriminating picture from the back of the head of Krishna, So don't even draw the connections, baby, just soak in Eric Roberts' brilliant monologue that rips the guts out of capitalism with an LSD trowel and reveals nothing but jewelry-coated vultures, falcon predators, the breathing, cinematographer Robert Elswit's spiderweb lines of light and shadow haloing around every actor, the visible auras, the great clothes and cars like some old album come to life, and Phoenix like a little monkey wiggling free of his angel dust entrapment cuffs and every drug you have ever done shivering to your DNA surfaces as you watch. You're home, in this murky mythic din of countercurrent flashbacks. Even if you were three years old at the time, for example, you remember the morning when every TV channel was the streaky continuous feed of astronauts bouncing around the moon in molasses air, like they were underwater, the audio just transmitted astronaut chatter and space interference. In some strange way that was true love, that one stretch of continuous time --no commercials, no other option, no sponsor, just this grand globally shared moment. Our whole identity formed in those moments. Harper Valley, we didn't know how much you meant to us until we thought we'd lost you. But a new time has come, we're free to love movies like those mythic moon moments again, free to see you and me again in the same slow motion bouncing astronaut ground zero persona-dissolving mythic glow.  A new go-to comfort food bible is born, if you care to blast for it. It's the Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective, brought to you by Wild Root Cream Oil Hair tonic. Yeah, it tastes electric... crimson... almost like fire. Almost. But were real 70s cars ever this collector clean? Or ever a humor in this woman one? Take this lozenge from my tongue, this quill from out my heart, this pink and blue Tab (languette) of / Purple Barrel Plums / Untie from me the TruCoat, Ralph Spoilsport. Though our bodies may break and our souls separate, why the long face? We don't need no sealant, not anymore. Arise for the darkness has come back! Remember Les Fleurs, Walter! Les Fleurs! Ils brillent dans le noir. And most of all... Rejoice, sisters and brothers and siblings transgendered: there's finally a movie where being a stoner isn't the same thing as being a sophomoric idiot. I never in a million addled years thought we'd overcome that dopey stigma, let alone Washington and Colorado. Let alone, baby.  Let alone.


Al Shean Presents: Vice Grip of the PYNCHON

RIFF INDEX:
1. Jackie Treehorn -(Big Lebowski) Pornographer played by Ben Gazzara (a riff on Eddie Mars in Arthur Gwyn Geiger + Eddie Mars in The Big Sleep) - "I'll Say She Is" - title of the last (unfilmed) Marx Bros. Broadway revue / Jack Horner - Pornographer played by Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights)
3. "when the drugs began to hold..." - opening lines from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing... Vegas 
4. "Turkey Ranch... that's all I got" - Hank Quinlan - Touch of Evil (1959)
5. "Spoilsport Motors," "Where were you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith" - Firesign Theater (How Can you be Two Places at Once...) / IV. "Communiss" - Confederacy of Dunces / 7. "Roddy McCorley" - Irish drinking traditional (via Clancy Brothers album we had as a child)
6. "like the Andalusion girls used..." -"crimson... almost life fire" -  James Joyce, Ulysses 
7. Trucoat - protective coating / sealant - scam extra Lundergaard tries to sell - Fargo (Coen Bro.s)
12. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic - "Again and again the choice for men who put good grooming first" Squaresville, in short. (Sponsor for old radio show "The Adventures of Sam Spade"  / Walter - (John Goodman in Big Lebowski; also Dick Miller in Bucket of Blood)
9. "Take this Longing..." - Leonard Cohen / "quill from out.... my heart" - Poe, The Raven 
42. Tab - common 70s slang for square from a sheet of blotter acid, also one of the earlier Diet colas: the latter of which I am now hopelessly addicted, and for which I blame past use of the former - ya dig?
ii. ".... Why the long face?" - lyrics from "Sawdust and Diamonds" by Joanna Newsom
iv. Purple Barrel... - play on a common form of mescaline from the 80s
xx. "If you care to blast for it" - Ben Hecht - Nothing Sacred (1937)
17. Harper Valley - Cockney-ish slang for Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) - re: "Harper Valley PTA"
21. Al Shean - AKA Abraham Elieser Adolph Schönberg (Marx Brothers' uncle, credited for coming up with their names and schtick) 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

10 Reasons DOOMSDAY (2008)


Every blood moon or so comes a movie I seem to be in the minority of calling great. I'm happy to time and again sacrifice time on the altar of their DVDs. And for them, the ten reasons: 10 Reasons GHOSTS OF MARS ; 10 Reasons TERMINATOR 3 and 10 Reasons THE THING (2011)

The 10 Reasons -- an idea whose time has come... And so... DOOMSDAY.


After the critical and commercial success of his 2005 sleeper hit THE DESCENT, Neil Marshall was Brit-horror's golden boy. Given a big budget for his next project, Marshall chose to go all out and make a big John Carpenter-George Miller-Walter Hill post-quarantine plague semi-apocalypse action thriller. Critics found it muddled and derivative. I never would have found it all had not I checked IMDB to see what he'd been up to a few years ago.

I'll confess it looked terrible from the outside. But turns out this is a film aimed directly at ME, or my demographic, the type who grew up shaped by the same great 70s-80s films that shaped it. Let's examine three films which are perhaps DOOMSDAY's main influences:

1. John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981): JC had scored two big back-to-back hits in HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. He was now a brand name, associated with launching the slasher boom, a sub-genre he had no interest in. So he took his rep and profits and went all out with this gonzo adventure story. His own hero was the maverick iconoclast Howard Hawks, regularly did the same thing, switching genres with impunity. And Carpenter found a cheap source of post-apocalyptic urban wasteland in downtown St. Louis, which had been devastated by a terrible fire and was yet to be rebuilt. He basically had the run of the place!
2. George Miller's THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982) 
MAD MAX hadn't made a big dent here in the US, but was a four alarm fireball in the rest of the world (AIP -the American distributor- insisted on dubbing the voices to get rid of the Aussie accents--a real bad idea). So Miller had real money for the sequel and it's all onscreen. And he found a cheap source of post-apocalyptic urban wasteland in the Australian outback. We kids didn't quite understand what the Outback was in relation to the rest of Australia... but we sure do now. The idea of needing speed to survive in the wasteland is now totally clear - that vast flat desert emptiness makes the whole continent like one big drag strip. 
3. Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS (1979): Hill found a cheap source of graffiti-covered urban wasteland in 70s NYC, which then at its most gang-accursed days since the days of the Dead Rabbits. Crime was so rampant the city cried for a vigilante, and got Bernard Goetz, the Guardian Angels, and (onscreen), Charlie Bronson. In THE WARRIORS, taking the subway line from the far heights of Pelham Bay Park all the way back to Coney Island was (and still is) an Odysseus-style journey, encountering an array of wimps and shoving baseball bats so far up asses the Baseball Furies look like popsicles. Yeah, we all wanted to be Ajax (James Remar) and laughed at the seriousness and narcissism of Swan (Michael Beck). It's still the quintessential New York movie, and those heady days are returning thanks to our mayor Bill "Cyrus" de Blasio.
I've already written of how my own life was changed the Halloween night in the early 80s when my mom rented us both WARRIORS and ESCAPE and had them waiting when we got back from trick-or-treating. We saw them back to back high on our scored candy, the sense of edgy urban danger bringing us higher and higher... and were never the same again. I would never have believed I would ever be crazy enough to want to live in NYC after those two movies, let alone for 20 years. And I've seen all three of the above enough times that this whole blog and my whole life flows with quotes from them - Look at yourself, Max, you're a mess. See what you get, Warriors? See what you get when you mess with the Orphans? You're the Duke! You're A number one. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla... you always were smart, Harold. And to that outfit that had such a hard time getting home, sorry about that, guess all we can do is play you a song. What a puny plan.

Maggie... he's dead. Come on...
Losers! Losers wait!
I'm gonna shove that bat so far up your ass you'll look like a popsicle...
Keys, map of the bridge, hey! hey! Hey!
We're the Lizzies...
Just walk away... just walk away...

I think DOOMSDAY was in the end undone by one of the most derivative titles and posters that ever haunted a great trashterpiece: the biohazard tattoo and crossed sword-anarchy hybrid symbol, the face tattoos and the graphic novel-esque three color style, along with the tag "Mankind has an expiration date." So banal. I remember seeing this poster outside of a theater and thinking "oh brother, again with the Neo-Pagan post-apocalypse warrior chicks engaged in endless slow mo CGI blood-splattering combat" and the whole RESIDENT EVIL, UNDERWORLD, SUCKER PUNCH, KILL 'EM ALL vibe, all the 360 whip-around slow-mo camera CGI shots of CGI carnage and ammunition expenditure and zero count characterization or giving a damn. Even the Imdb.com main film description is lame. Who needs another "futuristic action thriller where a team of people work to prevent a disaster threatening the future of the human race."?

In short, it looked like yet another adaptation of a manga based on a FINAL FANTASY-style rotoscoped CGI animation TV show based on an arcade game, rather than a moody analog return to the 80s Carpenter-Hill-Miller heyday, a loving homage to a more visceral time. Instead of promoting it as kind of retro Tarantino-esque throwback/homage they banked on the idea we'd be intrigued by graphic novel illustrations of body mods and homemade weapons. Imagining yet another incoherent parade of overused CGI and SIN CITY high def black and white graphic novel cannibal combat, my demographic bravely stayed away. They all but redubbed it into 'American' which is the only version we Yanks could get of MAD MAX back before the DVD finally came out.


I only hesitatingly Netflixed DOOMSAY in the end because of seeing THE DESCENT yet again a few years ago and checking up on Marshall's imdb page to see if he'd done anything new. Anyway, here they are, 10 reasons with SPOILERS... so beware.


1. Rhona Mitra as the one-eyed Major Eden Sinclair: She lost her eye as a child at the border between England and Scotland (the latter the site of an unstoppable plague) and was the last civilian to make it out, thanks to a compassionate soldier who traded his seat on the last chopper out. Sure it's familiar - but I like the idea that she basically stays with the Special Air Service (SAS) like an adopted mascot (though this isn't clarified), since she takes the place of one of their own, and now has no mom or family. Growing up to the rank of major while her home country disappears behind a robotic machine-guarded quarantine wall, she narrates as the world turns its back on Britain for being so cold to Scotland, basically turning it into a no-fly zone quarantine prison, killing anyone who tries to escape. The eye she loses near the wall melee is replaced by a detachable camera orb that can record images to tiny discs in her watch. Very cool idea. And I like that there's no 'Eden grows up' montage, just her voiceover detailing the ensuing 'gone dark' status of Scotland.


And Mitra plays the Major dead straight - neither macho nor comical nor boring nor sexualized, instead possessed of smartly British esprit de corps. Bob Hoskins is great as her de-facto father figure, who perhaps was even there during her rescue but at any rate has clearly come to regard her as a kind of daughter but not in a corny way. She's Snake Plissken as a military officer. That she winds up in charge of a mostly male insertion force is never a cause for snickering or her needing to prove herself, and there's no romance, nor sex, consensual or otherwise, in the film. No boyfriend, no spark-baiting. It's glorious.


2. Malcolm McDowell and his younger punk son Sol as the bad guys  (in two separate chapters - they're never seen together) and the levelheaded daughter ('the cure'). Dad is living in a castle and reverted to Medieval basics (including torture devices and gladiator combat), while Saul (Craig Conway - one of the monsters in THE DESCENT!) is more a mix of Cyrus from THE WARRIORS and Wes (Vernon Wells) from THE ROAD WARRIOR. It might be hard to imagine why they'd practice cannibalism when fields of cows are just a few miles away, but there you go... it's ceremonial. I like that Sol doesn't try to get rape or torture porn-ish when he has Sinclair trussed up. For these folk, it's all about the spectacle. And Conway is a little much at first, but by the end we're glad he's around. The dude gives every hiss and sneer 110% and his lean muscular body looks like he's actually doing lots of hard work and exercise -they're not gym muscles like a juicehead drinking whey, they're frickin' punching guys in the mosh pit muscles, i.e. not 'sculpted' all uneven based on what he's doing in the real fucking world. Go get 'em, Sol.


As for the father, whose crowned himself king of a new era of medieval barbarism, Malcolm gets a few good scenes but barely has time to register aside from a few CALIGULA at the coliseum-cum-field of honor-style gladiator arena moments. His steel blue eyes glowing in the shadows of the actual castle location look great though.


3. The crazy cannibal feast scene and Lee-Anne Liebenberg - which meshes punk club antics with cannibalistic orgies, ska shuffles, Satanic strippers, fire eaters, bikes, the captured soldier dinner trussed up on the front of a vehicle like the captured townsfolk strapped to the gang vehicles in THE ROAD WARRIOR. It's funny (the showmanship involved made me think of similar scenes in IDIOCRACY), electric, and gives everyone a time to shine, especially Lee-Anne Liebenberg, who makes such a good impression as Sol's 'first lady' she wound up on the poster (and the top image). Her part is small but that crazy look in her eyes, pierced tongue fluttering like she's devouring the captured soldier's terror as he watches her light up the grill below him, is a great glimpse of someone dancing in the flames of raw Pagan madness rather than the usual 'actress trying to look scary.'


4. David O'Hara (THE DEPARTED) as Canaris - his "thinning the herd" mentality and gravel-voiced iron hardness makes a great gravitas-enriched parallel to Malcolm - three separate bad guys! And his is a much better comeuppance than Snake's pulling the tape out at the end of ESCAPE to screw over the president (Donald Pleasance).


5. The ROAD WARRIOR-style car chase climax -minus one demerit for cheesy addition of a 90s Siouxie and the Banshees (?) song that I think you need to be British to deem appropriate. Imagine if George Miller put some Men Without Hats song over the climax of THE ROAD WARRIOR, Neil! Yeah, now you know how we feel. Otherwise, sublime. And the cars and trucks are so badass you can't even begin to appreciate the detail the first viewing -- as in the human skeleton hand holding the rearview side mirror above.


6. Scotland - it's like an EMPEROR JONES of Scottish history - the troupe traveling (in DAMNATION ALLEY-style assault trucks) through the fields and highways first to TRAINSPOTTING punk rock Pagan Glasgow back to BRAVEHEART-era castles and knights on horses, before returning to the modern highway, and eventually to Eden's intact and untouched aside from dust childhood home.


7. The Time Window - They only have 48 hours to complete their mission, 'otherwise there'll be no 'back' to come home to, as the plague has broken out in London. It means they can't slow down for a second, which explains the crazy heedlong wild weekend racing to catch a train vibe. It's not clear why Canaris would come on so menacing--arriving in a giant combat helicopter--when she finally delivers the cure, and she's so stand-offish, and then two seconds later he's saying "come with us" as if there's no reason she would. Well, why wouldn't she? She's working for them. Why wouldn't she think he would want her back? Did she miss the window? Is it because the PM--the presumed good guy her boss (Hoskins) trusts and works for is dead? Are there script revisions that don't quite cohere? Well, all the above referenced movies have similar problems, and who cares? It rocks.

8.  Ingenious 'collapse of the real' art direction and set decoration- rewards close notice (i.e the 'souvenir shop' signs in the castle - ironically now a sign of ancient history rather than vice versa), all the great body mods and other details. It didn't have to be so rich. But it is. Just take a look at Liebenberg in the top image, look closely and notice the white ink biohazard tattoo on her shoulder. Savor the rich tribal detail.


9. Another moody score by David Julyan - I wish it had pulsed with analog synths more, but I love its subliminal checks and nods towards scores by Carpenter (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), Tangerine Dream (SORCERER), Vangelis (BLADE RUNNER), Bart De Vorzon (THE WARRIORS), just to let you know the references are lovingly intentional. Rather than doing the helicopter score bit, Julyan deftly acknowledges his references rather than dictating audience emotions. The result is a score that's largely invisible in that it never draws too much attention to itself (except in the above-mentioned Siouxie incident)


10. The great ending The way first Sinclair 'breaks' as she finally gets back to her childhood home in Glasgow, to find a picture of her mother --it's not corny since she's been so stoic all the while.

And then the superb "have a piece of your friend!" last line with the head and the punks. Why didn't every great post-apocalyptic movie end that way? Do I stand up and cheer every time and wish for a sequel that will most likely never come?

I do.