Deep Outside SFFH - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

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Al Sirois is on vacation, sipping date milk shakes in Arizona with his lovely wife. Al sent me a review for the May issue, but it appears to have been figitized by one of those digital Hack the Rippers, so I'm going to (briefly) regale you with tales of what has recently entertained me.

Books? I had eye surgery about six weeks ago (Lasik) and can't read a book to save my life. I'm not alarmed—the doctor tells me this is normal and I'll be fine in another month or so when my sliced&diced corneas have healed. Amazingly, the day after the surgery, I was able to drive my car around without glasses on, for the first time in my life, and I could see a hawk sitting on a telephone pole a mile away. Because I am a postcinquentannular presbyope, I will indeed require some sort of microscopes for close reading. Some day soon I should be able to read a book without holding it at arms' length and squinting as if my eyeballs had been marinated in lemon juice. Oh, and I wish the Government would think about offering this surgery to all its G.I.s in place of those nukyuler-looking black plastic glasses we had to wear in the old baseball-cap Army of the 1970s. It would be soooo cost effective. Not to mention Køøl!

Films? I haven't gone to a good art flick lately, but I did see a movie I thought was the scariest I've seen in a long time: Joy Ride (Twentieth Century Fox, 2001, dir. John Dahl, written by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R (for violence/terror and language). I don't scare easily, and I laugh at most horror flicks. Joy Ride is ostensibly a suspense thriller, from the director of two of my favorites in the genre, Red Rock West and The Last Seduction (which, guys out there married to angels as I am, but entertaining momentary desires for a bit of devil's food, stars Linda Fiorentino). Joy Ride contains the same unseen opponent and trucker-from-hell theme as Spielberg's early movie The Duel (1971), based eponymously on a famous short story, but Joy Ride succeeds on an entirely different plot and direction. A young man (Lewis, played by Paul Walker) buys a beat-up car to race cross-country to do a favor for the girl of his boyish dreams (Venna, played by Leelee Sobieski of Joan of Arc fame and a distant relative of Poland's patron saint and first king). Along the way, Lewis picks up his ne'er do well brother Fuller from jail (played with the detestable charm of a soured date shake by Steve Zahn) and from there on, nothing goes right. Fuller inveigles Lewis in a silly but mean CB radio prank that leads to murder, mutilation, and mayhem involving a trucker who simply will never relent...and if you're like me, you won't even pause this movie to visit the bathroom. It's one of those flicks that starts with a deceptively laid back pace and winds up to one huge coil of tension that unwinds on you like a cross-country thunderstorm and crackles like ball lightning long after the last credits roll. Brief überpreppy appearance and some off-camera screams by Venna's college roommate Charlotte (former child star Jessica Bowman).

Buy this movie!

To a much lesser extent, I enjoyed Changing Lanes with Ben Affleck, toni Collette, William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Amanda Peet, sydney Pollack, and Kim Staunton (Paramount, dir. Roger Michell, written by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin, 100 min., R for language). This is truly a premise film, in which a fender bender on a rainy city freeway leads two stressed-out minions from opposite sides of the tracks along a wild ride of escalating situations in which each tries to top the other with acts of pettiness. I love Jackson (Red Violin) but personally find his timing always about a tenth of a beat off, and that's how I found the movie overall. Each escalation of meanness left me thinking, a moment too late, 'oh?…oh...okay, yeah, that's sh*tty, so now what?' and the ending is a kind of Hollywood candywrapper to which half your chocolate sticks and you wish damnably they'd make candy just a tenth of a beat more smartly than this, and wishing you'd gotten just a tad more. Wait until the video is out.

A molecule more engrossing was Murder by Numbers (Warner Bros. 2002, dir. Barbet Schroeder, written by Tony Gayton, 119 minutes, Rated R—violence, language, one sex scene, drug use, really gross dead hand with finger cut off). Sandra Bullock seems to be into the geek-she-cop persona lately, as in Miss Congeniality. This time, the intent is not comedy but suspense laced with grossout, so her character has been given a tragic past that hovers ineffectually in the background but emerges as a decently plausible garnish on the ending. Two bored young students, Richard (Ryan Gosling as a creepy genius) and Justin (Michael Pitt as his dumber and creepier sidekick), decide to pull off a thrill murder. Part of the movie's suspense hinges on eccentric Det. Cassie Mayweather (Bullock) figuring who did which, and who egged whom on. At least one scene, at the crumbling cabin overlooking ocean cliffs gnawed at by dental breakers, is right out of film noir. The rest is, despite my affection for Bullock, largely film blah, worth a trip to the video store but little more.

Did I say I had not seen a good art flick lately? Ah, so soon I forget. Last night, on the Flix channel, I thoroughly enjoyed the Brazilian movie Gabriela (1984, dir. Bruno Barreto, based on the novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado, Portuguese with English subtitles, R—nudity). The movie stars Marcello Mastroanni in one of his later great performances, and Sonia Braga at her intersection of great talent and beauty. It's based on a wonderful novel. And its director has rendered such enjoyable fare as Bossa Nova (2000, starring his wife Amy Irving, formerly Mrs. Spielberg), and has directed a conga-line of talent including Alan Arkin, Erik Estrada, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, and Stephen Baldwin. This is a brilliant and successful take on the oft-hackneyed dilemma of whether to keep or let go a caught butterfly (Braga, as tavern owner Mastroianni's cook and lover). Besides all that, it's picturesquely set in the dusty, sleepy port of Ilheus in cocoa-producing, sun-drenched Bahia Province not long ago visited by Paul Simon with a catchy album of samba-infused music (The Rhythm of the Saints). And I had to marvel at the Italian Mastroianni's brilliant delivery of Portuguese—or was that his lovely Roman idioma glossed amatorially into a universal language? See this flick if you can. Then again, Mastroianni easily passes as Europe's mirror image of the most elegant and charming Anglo-American actor Archibald Alexander Leach (okay, okay, if you must—Cary Grant).

There's more, but those are the highlights. Am looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, Enigma by Robert Harris. The movie stars Kate Winslett with Saffron Burrows and Dougray Scott. It's produced by Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and Canada's Lorne Michaels. The novel has one of the most gripping, atmospheric, foggy, British, mysterious, thrilling openings I've ever read in a book, and devolves amid much interesting and loving detail into a kind of techno murder mystery, but then again, according to the much-quoted aphorism passed on to me around 1976 by SF novelist Joe Haldeman, "nothing longer than a limerick ever ends as well as it began." The early movie reviews are, of course, mixed—but isn't there a law that they must be? I do plan to spend the matinee bucks, complete with obligatory popcorn and cola funding, to see this one in my favorite film temple. Maybe Al will take another hike across to the land of cactus and red rocks, and I'll render my humble thoughts. Oh, and yes, date shakes are for real—made right where the dates fall from the palm trees, in the blistering desert…


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