Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bigelow Fest: Strange Days

Strange Days might be the most frustrating movie in Bigelow’s frustrating ass career. On one hand it’s a brilliantly prescient Sci Fi movie, with an intelligent premise, great performances, and a unique style.

On the other hand it’s one of the most vilely violent and misogynistic films I’ve ever seen. Let’s just take a moment here, I’m a Brian DePalma fan for the love of Christ, so it’s not exactly like I label stuff misogynistic for shits and giggles.

I am also the man who in this very column has recommended this, and this as well, and oh let’s not forget about this. The point is I’m hardly what you would call squeamish about onscreen violence. So when I say that I actually sold my copy of Strange Days on moral grounds, please consider the source, and take a moment to reflect before you rent.

The fact that you may still want to see Strange Days despite this fact is a testament to its quality. Taking place at the turn of millennium (OOOOOOOOHHHHH!!!!!) Strange Days takes place in a world where anyone’s memories can be experienced by anybody else in the first person, thanks to VR technology called “squids”. Ralph Fiennes, fresh off Schindler’s List, plays a low level dealer of illicit squids, selling the experience of kinky sex and hard drugs to those too timid to take the plunge in real life. Then someone starts sending him snuff, which as you might have guessed is where the vile shit comes in.

The film was written by the current lord of Pandora, and at the time beau of Bigelow, James Cameron and has the distinction of being just about the only thing he has his name on to flop. It has a lot of Cameron’s fingerprints, but the film is all Bigelow’s. It’s interesting to think how the film would be different, with Cameron at the helm. My guess is it would have been less vicious. Cameron has always known when to cut away, and there are some sequences in here that are nigh unwatchable.

This all gets tied, none too well, into an intricate (read borderline incoherent) mystery involving, the Tupac like murder of a hip hop star, Tom Sizemore, the dude from The Crow who seemed to be the bad guy in every 90’s movie ever made (Michael Wincott) and the career of Fiennes ex girl friend played by your favorite braying semi coherent scientoligist and mine, Juliet Lewis. It’s up to Fiennes and his girl Friday Angella Bassett, in one of her best performances, to solve the mystery before LA burns to the ground. Not that that would be, ya know, the worst of consequences.

Strange Days has it’s fair share of problems, like the problem that it made me throw up in my mouth a little. But chief among them is the fact that it stakes it’s emotional core on the idea that Juliette Lewis, who is once again, for the record the worst person in the entire world, is some unattainable gold standard of feminine beauty and grace with the artistic purity of a muse. Indeed the only thing that undercuts Basset’s fine performance, is that she is so clearly the superior person in every way shape and form that the question of whether Fiennes will eventually end up with her seems moot. Still for it’s bracing style, heartfelt performances by Fiennes and Bassett, and prescient ideas (in our Solipsism based society who wouldn’t start pimping out their memories? I mean shit, what else am I doing on this blog?), I have to reluctantly recommend Strange Days. In a lot of ways it’s Bigelow’s career in microcosm. Equally parts bracing and frustrating, electrifying and just plain depressing.


The Film Connoisseur said...

I enjoyed this movie a lot, I loved the premise, and the direction. Theres that awesome opening sequence where its one shot, with almost no editing at all where we follow those criminals pulling off some sort of heist..awesome and intense!

I didnt find it so violent though.

I agree with you on the whole Juliette Lewis thing, I thought it was hilarious how on this film shes supposed to be like this super hot girl, the love of this guys me shes always been anything but sexy. She's kind of loopy.

Neil Fulwood said...

I second that opinion: in the right role, Juliette Lewis delivers the goods, but as an irresistible femme fatale she just doesn't convince.

I'm enjoying this Bigelow retrospective, and - yes - I find 'Strange Days' both impressive and troublesome at the same time. The degree of objectification of women, particularly with a female director at the helm, is curious.

Elwood Jones said...

Personally I'm a big fan of this film, I loved the idea of selling memories as virtual reality experiences.
The vision which bigelow has for the pre millenium L.A. is fantastic and manages to tie together a sci-fi idea without falling into the usual cliche ideas, seeing how the L.A. show is pretty much low tech outside of the SQUID techolgy which Lenny abuses for his own personal gain.

I suppose the other reason for liking it so much would also be the cameo appearance of Skunk Anansie. :)

Evil Dead Junkie said...

@ Film Coniseur: That opening shot is pretty great. But I'm not talking so much about the amount of violence but the nastiness behind it (I mean it basically forces you to view a rape murder behind the perpetrator's eyes. Even Gasper Noe didn't do that)

@ Neil: I find the only roles I can stand Lewis in are the ones that use her natural abrasiveness (like NBK) rather then attempt to hide it. For some reason I didn't mind her all that much in Whip It though.

@Elwood: Yeah the concept and setting is great. The LA actually reminds me a bit of Children Of Men everything's just gone to shit.