Saturday, March 22, 2014

Strange Days


Nurse Tameka has run out to Spago to fetch invalid trays for two, so I've had to drag myself upstairs to baby-sit Norman for a time. He seems to have unearthed an ancient bottle of Benzedrine from the deepest recesses of the medicine chest and, rather than sharing, swallowed them all. He's now perched on the balcony railing, snarling at passing traffic and singing Daydream Believer at the top of his lungs. I've tried to feed him a few Seconal to calm him down but he just keeps juggling them. I am not without resources; I've slipped them into a martini and left it on the cocktail table where he'll find it when he comes in to slake his thirst; that is if the police haven't come to collect him first.

Bad singing put me in mind of today’s second film, Strange Days , a bloated sci-fi thriller from 1995 that was released to tepid response. The film was written by James Cameron of Titanic and The Terminator fame and produced by his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow who is, I believe, one of the many ex - Mrs. Camerons, keeping it all in the family.

In Strange Days , Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, a dealer in a new technology called SQUID (an acronym for some pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo), which allows an individual to share the life experiences of another. People wear these plastic spiders under hideous wigs and their brain waves are recorded. These can then be played back to another person through a similar device allowing the receiver to completely experience vicarious thrills. The technology, as it is addictive, has been banned and exists on the black market as yet another drug to narcotize the rich and weary who, of course, want to experience violence and pornography in the comfort of their own homes.

Nero is plying his trade in Los Angeles at New Year's 1999 (the future when the movie was made). He's an ex-cop who hasn't been able to get it together since his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), left him for a slimy record producer Philo (Michael Wincott). He hangs around the edges of the club scene with his friends Max (Tom Sizemore in perhaps the worst wig ever caught on film) and Mace, a tough limo driver (Angela Bassett). In this vision of LA, racial tensions are at a high and when a rap artist in Philo's stable who is a political force is found murdered, the city threatens to explode in a race riot. Of course, a SQUID tape of what actually happened to the rapper finds its way into Nero's possession and soon he and his friends are on the run, both from Philo's goons and a couple of corrupt cops (Vincent D'Onofrio and William Fitchner). Everything converges on a giant New Year's Eve party centered at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. (Why the authorities would allow a huge street party to continue in a city where emotions are at the flashpoint is not explained).

The film is one of those that I like to call 'Big Stupid Movies' where, anytime things start to flag, there's another, more stupendous car chase, or another sequence with hordes of extras, or a quick-cut MTV fight scene. It's supposed to make us forget that the plot makes no sense and that no one in the film has any trait even faintly recognizable as human.
Kathryn Bigelow, as a director, obviously never met a smudge pot she didn't like. Scene after scene, day or night, is shrouded in cool blue mist, hardly the usual weather for the Los Angeles basin. She tries to keep things moving, but the script keeps getting in the way. There might be a good 90 minute action thriller in here but at 145 minutes, moment after moment goes on sooooo long that you have plenty of time to go make an omelet, paint the den and take the cat to the vet without missing much. Cameron's script feels like it was kicking around from the early 80s. The quantum leaps shown in technology are laughable and he's far too fond of his technology run amok themes. He also seems to feel that rap music can solve the racial problems of the United States and his interracial stuff is so contrived that you want to send him on a pilgrimage to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum to learn what it's really about.

Ralph Fiennes, of the chiseled facial planes, is pretty wooden as Nero. I cared not one whit what happened to him as he spends the entire film mooning over Juliette Lewis as a singer (!). Juliette has magenta hair and looks like she's stuck a few too many spikes in her antecubitals, apparently both on and off screen. Of her performance, the less said the better. She takes her top off twice, she delivers lines without a hint of emotion, and we have to sit through two excruciating sequences where she sings bad nouveau-grunge-rock while everyone on screen talks about her marvelous voice (Ha!). Angela Bassett is the only redeeming quality in the film. She delivers even the most insipid lines with such firm conviction that you want to give her a gold star for effort. The character is another one of Angela's patented badass black chicks with heavy attitude and this one gets to do karate and drive flaming limousines.

I can't recommend the film as it's witless, pointless, misogynist and, ultimately, boring, but it's reasonable mind candy for when you're not feeling well.

Club extras in fashions left over from 70s porno. Street extras in 60s revival outfits. Gratuitous grisly rape/murder sequence. Train dodging. Giant movie screens. Visual answering machines. Sonny Bono look alike SQUID dealer. Fried frontal lobes. Balcony falling. Gratuitous legless man. Tie cutting.

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