The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

But first! Read Part I!

So yes, the Thon is about halfway over, many hours have passed. I’ve lost some of my patience with the “Close the door” running joke, and the kids sitting behind me have been way too chatty, but I’m feeling awake, and excited about the next several films, and my companions have been staying strong. Plus I know I’ve got some Dunkin in my future, always a pleasant thought. (God, I’m, like, so New England.) So here we go.


7 The Truman Show (1998)

I always forget how good this movie is, but it’s like, really good. Jim Carrey stars as the titular Truman, a man raised from birth by a television station, with a huge enclosed studio built just for him to create the illusion of reality. Unbeknownst to him, he is filmed every moment of his life, all of the people surrounding him are paid actors, and he is broadcast to televisions across the world 24/7. After a series of strange occurrences, Truman begins to suspect that his seemingly perfect life is not actual reality, and he works to uncover the puppeteers behind it. It’s a strong, scarily believable premise with a great cast and funny script. There’s a lot to like: the blatant commercial satire, Truman’s goofy faces, suburban sitcom stereotypes, Ed Harris’s beret, Ed Harris’s huge face, Ed Harris’s self-imposed deification. And of course, that pitch-perfect final scene. Just gorgeous. This viewing I was struck most by all the people watching at home, as the film frequently cuts to Truman’s viewers and shows their reactions. It’s a good comedic trick, and of course a commentary on our obsession with televised stories, but my favorite thing was the adorable elderly lesbian couple who embroidered pillows with Truman’s face and generally were just cute fangirls in love.



8 Electric Dreams (1984)

I read about this movie ages ago when I was crushing on Bud Cort after my first viewing of Harold and Maude, but couldn’t find it anywhere and forgot about it. The Thon got a rare print, perfectly timed around the recent months’ discussions of Her. The story follows Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen), a nerdy architect who gets a computer and hooks it up to everything in his house but then gets mad at it one day and spills champagne on it and it becomes sentient. Naturally. The computer (voiced by Cort) develops a romantic attachment to Madeline (Virginia Madsen), the cellist who lives upstairs. But Miles falls for her too, and they start dating when Madeline hears the music the computer makes (inspired by her) and assumes it comes from Miles. A wacky comedy of errors follows, full of mega-80s music sequences, weird technology jokes, San Francisco scenery, and demonic computer freakouts. It’s a bizarre movie, simultaneously really bad and really great, endearing itself to me mainly through its totally 80s-ness. And von Dohlen is kinda cute. Plus the music! God, I’m still singing that theme song.



9 The Visitor (1979)

Ok here’s where I get a little (more than a little) pissy. Yes, I’m sleep-deprived and my butt hurts a bit from the seat, but I know I would have been annoyed regardless. So. Remember how I was super into The Visitor when it screened at the Brattle a few months ago, but I was sitting next to these really loud, inane guys who laughed uproariously at every single thing onscreen, like maybe they’d never seen a movie before and were just surprised by the moving images? Yeah so I was really excited to see this film again, on a big screen, with what I hoped would be a more appreciative audience. But instead, Major Tom, the Thon’s host, literally invited the entire audience to make fun of it in his introduction, thus spurring a lot of unnecessary running commentary for the film’s duration. Whatever. I still think it’s a wonderfully weird, inventive, visually stunning film, and I think it’s too bad everyone keeps going into it expecting a laugh. I know it’s not for everyone, but it seems to me people aren’t even giving it a chance because they assume it’s going to be stupid or bad before they even see it. Oh well. I did kind of tell off a dude in the screening room when he said it didn’t make any sense: I took it upon myself to explain some of the plot points to him and also to remind him that’s it’s a really awesome movie. Sorry if I was overzealous, there, stranger, I just have a lot of thoughts about The Visitor! The title links to my original review.



10 The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

This was another one I was really looking forward to, mainly because the concept of a last-people-on-earth movie from 1959 that stars a man of color is pretty neat. Loosely based on MP Scheil’s novel The Purple Cloud, the film stars Harry Belafonte as a miner, Ralph, who, trapped underground for a few days, manages to avoid the apocalypse. He comes up the (seemingly) last man on earth, makes his way to New York City, and does his best to make his lonely life bearable, getting things running again. He finds one other lost soul, a young woman named Sarah (Inger Stevens), and they form a desperate friendship, at times loving and others combative. Though he loves her, Ralph is convinced that race relations can’t change, even in their own new world, and he will always be on a different level than her because of entrenched societal prejudices. When a third survivor (Mel Ferrer) is discovered, Ralph seems content to push them into a romance to ease his own conscience. It’s a dark, somewhat nihilistic film with interesting racial commentary very much relevant to the period in which it was made. I loved the performances, especially Belafonte, who really carries the first half of the movie completely. It’s a bit slow-moving, as these types of stories usually are, but I was totally engaged. Good thing the last surviving people on earth are all so attractive; I really just wanted to see Belafonte and Stevens make out, oh my goodness. And it ends in an implied three-way, aw yeah.

NOTE: I slept through the next film, Irish alien comedy Grabbers. Sorry. I heard it was a fun one, but I was too sleepy.


children of men

11 Children of Men (2006)

I don’t think I’d seen this since it was in theaters, though I remember loving it, and damn was it fantastic to revisit. Set in the near future, the premise imagines a world where women can no longer give birth, and humans are suddenly faced with their own expiration date. Nations close their borders, placing blame on each other, and violent rebels fight for better treatment. When one young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), miraculously becomes pregnant, she knows that everyone will want a piece of her and her baby. She enlists former activist Theo (Clive Owen) to transport her out of England, hoping to find safe haven with an off-the-grid group called The Human Project. They must wade through betrayal, death, sickness, and massive destruction, but both are determined to fight for the survival of her child. Another great sci-fi film that touches on race and gender issues, it is a completely intense, dismal story that manages to be genuinely moving. It’s the kind of film that invites closer scrutiny because its world-building is so interesting (and realistic), but ultimately stays with you because of your emotional investment. I cried a lot. Thanks, Alfonso Cuarón.


flash gordon

12 Flash Gordon (1980)

I get excited about this movie primarily for the Queen soundtrack, it’s true. I just hear that FLASH!… AHH-AHHHHH and I get so pumped up! The movie itself is not that great, it’s kind of boring but I do love the visuals. Based on the classic comics/serials, it stars Sam Jones as the titular football player, who winds up on a distant planet along with scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) and journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). Surrounded by psychedelic color schemes and sexy aliens, Flash must fight against Ming the Merciless, a cruel despot who plans to destroy the earth. Lots of people show up to help out, including the sensual Ornella Muti, Robin Hood-esque Timothy Dalton, loud and winged Brian Blessed, and Richard O’Brien for like five minutes. This is the only version of the character I’ve seen so I’ve never been able to comment on its merits as an adaptation, but on its own it’s ridiculous and passably entertaining pulp, notable especially for the amazing theme song and the elaborately trippy costume and set design. Also it really is weirdly sexy, like everyone is constantly talking about boning. I feel like Flesh Gordon didn’t have to stretch the story too far.

Ok all done, 24 hours of science-fiction, (mostly) bested yet again! See you next year!

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