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A little while ago, I happened to mention that I've recently seen Bring It On. [ profile] ninebelow opined that it was the best teen film ever; I rejoined that in my opinion, the crown belonged now and forever to Clueless. At this point, [ profile] flickgc and [ profile] danmilburn, with backup from [ profile] applez, put a strong word forward for Heathers. Now, I'd never seen Heathers, and said as much, so [ profile] danmilburn offered to lend me his copy. Tonight, I watched it.

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So: any other nominations for the accolade of Best Teen Movie Ever?
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Somewhere, out there, is a world in which science fiction cinema is not defined by special effects. Where a science fiction film is more than just an excuse for pretty CGI and theatre-shaking explosions. Every now and then, a film falls through the cracks in that world and arrives in ours, a film like Solaris or The Truman Show; a film that, against all the odds, actually has something to say.

Such a film is Code 46. Ignore the naffness of the title; ignore too the badly-worded titular legislation as it flickers across the opening credits. You don't need either. One of the many satisfying things about the film is that it lets you learn the world for yourself.

In fact, in many ways it's the world that is the star of this show; Director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce have done a remarkable job of creation. Their future is recognisable yet complex, with a web of ideas that shape and direct the film's characters. The important point there is ideas, plural. Too many sf films have one core conceit, and maybe a bit of pretty window-dressing. The world of Code 46 has at least half a dozen major components, and most importantly they interact in an organic, believable fashion.

The story: William Geld (Tim Robbins) is a fraud investigator who infects himself with an 'empathy virus' to aid his inquiries. Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton) is an assembly-line worker who makes 'pappelles', documents that are a combination of passports and genetically-validated insurance documents. Their relationship, which begins when William impulsively covers for Maria's forgery sideline, is the axis around which the film turns. It's interesting, the more so thanks to the ambiguous perspective (whilst the camera follows William fairly closely, the story is framed by Maria reminiscing in voiceover), but it's also perhaps less compelling than the portrait of the dystopia-through-indifference that they inhabit. Nobody wants William and Maria to suffer; there's no 'bad guy'. It's just the way that things work out.

At least as important is the style in which, and with which, the story is told. The acting is entirely naturalistic, and William and Maria are real people, in a way that's hard to describe, but uncommon in filmed sf. The locations--Seattle, Shanghai, the Middle East--are lovingly, sometimes spectacularly, shot with cinematography that is by turns fragmented and disjointed, or hazy and dreamlike, or clear and sharp.

At times it really does feel like nothing so much as a film from another world rather than about another world. The backdrop may be reminiscent of Gattaca but the atmosphere and focus, a combination of global dislocation, sharp observation, and a sort of melancholy honesty, echo nothing so much as Lost in Translation. It certainly seemed very incongruous to be watching it as part of a Fright Fest film festival. This is a very human piece of science fiction, telling a thought-full, feeling-full story; and when it gets a more general release later this month, it is very much worth checking out.


Jul. 18th, 2003 05:06 pm
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Ang Lee’s Hulk is, as you might expect, somewhat different to other superhero movies. This is, as you might expect, something of a mixed blessing. The nature of the mixture, however, is perhaps not as you might expect.

For example, although the film has a number of strengths, the characters are not amongst them. This is not to say that the characters are bad – indeed, by and large they are decently drawn by any absolute standard, never mind by the standards of superhero flicks. Performances are solid all round, with Bana’s Banner providing a particularly nice line in repressed and broody. It is, however, to point out that nobody is ever, ever going to go and see Hulk for the characters. Lee apparently understands this, and accordingly has focused his energies elsewhere.

The visuals, for instance. There’s the big H himself, of course, and he’s impressive; man (quite literally) writ large, emotional retardation and violent outbursts front and centre. He’s as much a character as any other player on the screen, and if you never quite feel the fear you suspect you’re meant to, you certainly feel the empathy. More important still, however, is the direction. Lee goes all-out to provide a comic-book experience – split-screens and screen-wipes of all shapes and sizes recreating a feeling of moving from one panel to the next. It’s likely that you’ll either love this approach or hate it; it’s true that at times it verges on the distracting, but for the most part I thought it worked well. There’s also a nice level of detail in some of the set design; it struck me that although the science in the film is obviously nonsense, the labs at least looked real, down to the posters of Cell covers on the walls of Banner’s office.

With Lee at the helm this was never going to be an all-action all-the-time film. Indeed, it’s something of a juggernaut, taking over an hour to really build up momentum. Once it does get going, however, it can be an awful lot of fun. Hulk vs the US army is every bit as enjoyable as it should be.

That said, for the majority of the run time the elements never quite come together in the seamless way you’re hoping for. Part of this is not Lee’s fault: He's clearly got a good handle on the metaphorical nature of the material, but beyond a certain point you have to face the fact that superhero origin stories tend to be structurally rather similar, and that none of what’s happening is exactly new. It rarely feels fresh. Part of it is Lee’s fault: He can do character-mode well, and he can do action-mode well, but he never quite nails the transitions. Overall, the film has the feeling of a curiosity – it’s worth seeing to see what it is...but what it is may be something of an acquired taste.

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