#210: The Terminator: To my younger self, The Terminator was the revelation that, sometimes, action movies indeed provide mental stimulation. In the year 2029, machines have nearly wiped out humanity. ‘Nearly’ is, of course, rather unsatisfactory and thus our unflinching overlords decide to utilise time travel to tear out the figurative root of the rebellious human survivors by deploying a cyborg to the year 1984. The so-called terminator (a role originally meant for O.J. Simpson, but the producers feared he wouldn’t be taken seriously as a cold-blooded murderer) is supposed to assassinate rebel leader John Connor’s mother Sarah and the humans have to send an agent of their own to prevent this from happening. Due to the peculiar logic of time travel, the events of the film are cyclical. Sarah and the time-travelling soldier Kyle have barely enough time to fall in love before they manage to destroy the terminator, with Kyle dying from a fatal wound immediately after. The rebel leader John Connor then is obviously Kyle’s son who couldn’t have been born if the machines hadn’t sent the Schwarzenegger bodysuit to obliterate him. Moral of the story: Time travel? Just Say No.
#209: Notorious. Sixteen years before the cinematic dawn of James Bond, Cary Grant demonstrates how government agents are able to pick up women at leisure. Agent Devlin’s target is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a recently convicted Nazi official, whose ties to her father’s business partners in Brazil could prove extremely valuable to US intelligence. Having fallen in love with her by the time his superiors propose to use her as a spy and well aware that she will have to tread on dangerous ground, Devlin reluctantly agrees to send her on an infiltration mission to Rio de Janeiro. By rekindling the old affections of her admirer Alexander Sebastian, she gains access to his illustrious circle of acquaintances and even manages to sneak Devlin into his mansion, but Alexander’s watchful mother immediately becomes suspicious of her son’s new mistress and the charming young man who seems to follow her everywhere she goes. Notorious might not be as fast-paced as a Bond movie, but it compensates the lack of action with suspense (and small wonder it is, since this is one of Hitchcock’s thought products). The love between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman definitely seems too rushed to be believable – but I guess if you look like them, things work out a bit faster. However, once the relationship has been properly established, their on-off affections actually manage to add some variety to the espionage affair, instead of being just an annoying complemental love story.
#208: 12 Monkeys. From the desolate wastelands of the future, the convict James Cole is sent back in time to investigate the virus that nearly wiped out all human life in 1996. I find it remarkable that with most of the earth’s population dead these people still bother maintaining a justice system, not to speak of the intricate mechanics behind offering time travel as a means of mitigation. 12 Monkeys’ primary motif isn’t time travel, though. We already know that the spreading of the virus in the past can’t be prevented from the future because every eventuality has already been acted out on every different layer of time. Cole is rather singularly interested in his own survival and mental well-being, a faculty that is put under immense pressure when the different realities he has to travel through become more and more undistinguishable to him. 12 Monkeys is one of the extremely rare occasions where Bruce Willis isn’t just playing Bruce Willis under yet another pseudonym and he delivers one of his more genuine acting performances by setting aside his indestructible posture for once.
#207: Infernal Affairs – Mou gaan dou. The rooky police officer Chan Wing Yan is sent to infiltrate a powerful branch of the triads. At the same time, another young man rises through the ranks of Hong Kong’s police force to gather intelligence for his criminal overlord. Having done this for a couple of years, the two moles start to suspect each other’s activities and work to expose the spy in their midst before the other party might do the same to them. Story sounds familiar? This is probably because Mou gaan dou is what you might politely call the source material for Scorsese’s The Departed, the latter’s only notable addendum to the script being Mark Wahlberg’s intricate simile about mushrooms. Which one of these two you come to like best probably depends on which you see first, as a good portion of their suspense is grounded on the twists and turns of the plot.
#206: Fanny and Alexander – Fanny och Alexander. Fanny and Alexander grow up in Uppsala at the turn of the 20th century. The death of their father annihilates the upper-class idyll they had been living in, and when their mother marries the bishop Vergérus they come to realise that they ended up in the household of a cruel hypocrite. Ingmar Bergman used the story of these two siblings to weave his own childhood memories into a fictional tale of alternating cold dread and emotional warmth. Unlike other historical plays, Fanny och Alexander refrains from using colourful, saturated costumes and sets as well as the stiff, silly dialogues that some American productions deem authentic. You might call this movie a gem if it wasn’t for its length (the TV version is 326 minutes long), which makes it more of a shiny boulder.
DROPOUT: Gravity. The visual experience makes this film and there is little else besides. The dialogues are bland, which the production team probably knew about and therefore tried to manipulate us into liking the characters in other ways. However, Bullock’s story about her child is too generic to be memorable (which is admittedly alleviated by the fact that I just wrote it down), nor did I feel sorry for the dead astronaut, who gets five minutes of screen time and is then expected to garner my compassion just because a picture of his family conveniently floats by his face after he is killed. The real hero of the movie is George Clooney. Period. He floats into space half an hour into the movie, never to be seen again but it doesn’t even matter. Bullocks’ character is so clueless she wouldn’t know her way around anywhere without supervision, so although her male assistant had already gone afloat he kept around in her dreams to set her off in the right directions. When I first checked the list, Gravity was ranging somewhere in the 230’s and now it’s deservedly out.
Niklas was listening to Vendetta Preps while writing this article.