From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

No Objectivity: The Year of Magical Thinking


So ahead of its time people still don’t know what’s going on. A critique of video-game culture? A satire of a society so tech-lustful we’re willing to plug our devices directly into our spines? A chance for Jude Law to act before he descended into a punch line? We may never know. What we do know is that eXistenZ is genuinely disturbing, often darkly comic, and so weird that you can make up a new plot every time and it will probably work out. Jennifer Jason Leigh provides an understated, almost surreal performance as the mastermind behind the immersion game eXistenZ, and the movie hangs its hat on her innate distance, to good effect; the disappearance of a squidgy bio-pod into someone’s spinal cord has never been so downplayed, and is all the weirder for it.

Reign of Fire

Look, they can’t all be masterpieces. This is a B-movie about dragons that take over London; only the presence of Christian Bale keeps this from being a Sci-Fi movie of the week. However, he does all he can, and there’s a sort of charm to the shockingly-well-stocked castle fortress and the raggedy yet still-manly cotton sweaters. As our scrappy character-actor vigilantes run around symbolizing The End of Society (Only With Dragons!), they get to frown a lot and rack up another credit on their resumes. It skirts the edge of dour but manages to pull out an optimistic ending that, naturally, involves blowing some shit up. Best part: you get to watch Matthew McConaughey get eaten by a dragon, which could be more awesome only if it were real. Sadly, it’s not.

The Gift

The dog days of summer make for exactly the kind of sweaty-sheen viewing Sam Raimi intended with his Deep-South potboiler. Cate Blanchett, luminous even through the glycerin, plays a small-town clairvoyant single mom (who says you can’t have it all?), whose consultations seem to be more psychology than psychic. However, when she ‘sees’ the murder of the town’s bad-girl socialite, the race is on to convince the police what she saw before the killer finds her. The mystery is by the numbers (if you don’t know the killer fifteen minutes in, it’s because you left the room to get a snack), but Blanchett’s portrayal of everyday clairvoyance is more than enough to carry the movie – and if that doesn’t do the trick, there’s Keanu Reeves’ cameo as an abusive redneck, which is worth the price of admission.

Dead Man

It’s not often that accountants get to star in Westerns, but it gives you an idea of what you’re in for. Johnny Depp, who flipped a coin that year and came up with Art House instead of Huge Blockbuster, stars in this black-and-white Western that sucks all the romance out of the Old West, and instead layers cynicism and gallows humor. His William Blake (no relation) suffers a bullet to the heart, and then magically survives just long enough to confirm that life is random, ruthless, and cut short. If Unforgiven felt a little too happy-go-lucky, this should do the trick.

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