April 27th, 2007

Crowley claims Behemoth!

Congratulations to John Crowley, who has been awarded the first Bulgakov Award by the Ukrainian Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference!  Behemoth, of course, is the imperturbably murderous black cat from Mikhail Bulgakov's anarchic masterpiece, The Master and Margarita (which I've only just finished for the first time -- why did I wait so long?).

  More on this honor, and some great photographs (just scroll down through the comments) on John's blog, Little and Big.

  • Current Music
    Wasted Away Again in Margaritaville

Once Were Movies

Once were a director by the name of Lee Tamahori, who made a movie, a very good movie, entitled =Once Were Warriors=, a powerful character study of a deracinated Maori family in the dead-end slums of Aukland.  But that was a long, long time ago, back before he moved from New Zealand to Hollywood, started hanging out at LA fetish clubs, and began churning out pictures like =XXX:  State of the Union=, =Die Another Day=, and =Along Came A Spider=.  Now Tamahori has turned his deracinated talent to a Phillip K. Dick property, =The Golden Man=, a film that has been entitled (exemplifying the fund of imagination that studios employ in such matters) =Next=.  Imagine that title spoken by a harried counter clerk at Burger Death, his face covered by a film of grease that nourishes a fresh crop of acne, and you will have some idea of how the quirky Dickian notions of free will, perception, and the nature of reality have been handled in the film.  But enough has been said about Hollywood’s bowdlerization of Dick, the neutering of everything vital in his work in the service of creating high concept-driven action pictures; so let’s skate past that topic and go right to the heart of the matter.
     Whereas Dick’s original story dealt with a golden-skinned mutant and a government paranoid about his pre-cog abilities, =Next= tells the story of Chris Johnson (Nicholas Cage), a man who’s earning a marginal living as small-time gambler and a magician with a Vegas lounge act, aided in these pursuits by his ability to see two minutes into his future.  Into his nebbish life comes FBI Agent Callie Ferris, played by Julianne Moore, a fine actress who here seems to be taking on a role that Joan Allen rejected and not relishing it at all.  She’s desperate to have Johnson’s help in tracking a gang of Eurotrash terrorists who’ve stolen a ten-kiloton nuke and are determined to blow up LA, an idea I came to have a certain empathy with during the movie.  Why they want to do this is unclear, as is why Agent Ferris thinks Johnson can help (I mean, you can’t do that much in the way of stopping nuclear explosions in two minutes), as is how she found out about him…as is damn near everything else in the picture.  Jessica Biel is along for the ride as Liz, who teaches Native American kids on the reservation and whom Johnson has seen in a vision and believes is key to his future.  With her by his side, he can see more than two minutes into the future, a whole lot more, and this allows for a plot twist so outrageously clichéd that it almost works…but nothing really works in this movie.  It’s basically a chase scene strung together with chunks of exposition and a sliver of love scene during which Cage stares at Biel like an addled goat wearing Tom Hanks’ hairdo from =The Da Vinci Code=.
        Cage is on quite a roll quality-wise with his last few pictures.  First there was =The Wicker Man=, a film that surely will go down as a classic of unintentional humor (Cage in a bear suit, Ellen Burstyn as a bee-woman).  And then there was =Ghost Rider=.  When that icon of the sinister and the macabre, Peter Fonda, plays the Devil, you know a movie is in trouble.  It is jaw-droppingly horrid.  Cage does an Elvis impression for half his screen time, and wears a flaming skull for the other half.  The skull is by far the better actor.  I fantasized about taking the audience hostage, subjecting them to a course in Godard-style guerrilla cinema, and sending the best students on a suicide mission to Studio City.  =Next= falls somewhere between the two…and can’t get up.  It’s substanceless, flat, and totally uninvolving.
          Afterward, I went to see Hot Fuzz, partially as an antidote.  I'm happy to say that it worked.