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Double Feature: October 2013

| October 1, 2013


Big Planet, Scary Planet

Warning! Sitting around watching hours and hours of video will totally fry your brain! But if you do it right, watching movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience and totally BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

Prestige season is gearing up!

So, let’s see, we’ve got Tom Hanks (whose “Everyday Man” persona is never better than when tossed into the terrain of danger and humble valor) partnering with Paul Greengrass (director of The Bourne Supremacy and the gut-wrenching United 93) to recreate that nerve-racking episode of Somali pirates capturing an American ship in Captain Phillips (Oct. 11).

We have Ridley Scott navigating Michael Fassbender (the most thrilling new star of the moment) through deadly Cormac McCarthy country, populated by a cowboy Brad Pitt, a lunatic Javier Bardem and a leopard-printed Cameron Diaz in The Counselor (Oct. 25).

The most striking of these intensely visceral gut-punches, though, is Gravity (Oct. 4) starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, as a pair of astronauts adrift in space after an explosive disaster.

It has been an interminable seven years since Alfonso Cuarón (director of the indie landmark Y Tu Mamá También and the revitalizing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) brought us his masterpiece, Children of Men. Word from the Toronto International Film Festival for Gravity is a little disappointing – more spectacle than thought is the complaint.

But expectations can lead to narrow viewing experiences. So, I choose to treat it still as an unknown, as simply another adventure in filmdom’s most expansive, eerie and wondrous playground: outer-space…

First up:
The Right Stuff
Dir. Philip Kaufman, 1983
Availability: DVD – now; Blu-ray – Nov 5; Amazon Instant

John Glenn is floating in a tin can, orbiting our globe, when suddenly millions of gleaming particles – like extraterrestrial fireflies – begin to flurry past his window. “This is miraculous!” he breathes out in awe. Ground Control, realizing this could be his vessel burning to pieces, listens grimly.

The Right Stuff is woven together by moments like this: extraordinary feats of ballsiness hurtling along the razor-thin line of glory and doom. Writer/director Philip Kaufman (co-creator of Indiana Jones, working here from the classic Tom Wolfe novel) presents this story of real-life, modern-age heroes as something akin to Greek Mythological Epics.

Chuck Yeager sits atop his saddle horse, sizing-up his next challenge to tame the X-1, a jet that will shatter the sound barrier – as though it were his Pegasus. Swarms of reporters buzz like locusts around the Mercury Seven crew, casting them as demigods. A narrator opens this whole story with a tone of ancient warning: “There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die.”

Yet, it is all grounded by the lively, cocky, “all-American dude” performances of the fresh-faced Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, and Dennis Quaid. In a scene of great intimacy, Ed Harris (so fresh-faced it looks as though he should be sporting overalls and a slingshot) gently eases his wife’s mind about this journey they are about to take, about this group of men that history will forever tie him to, about a giant step forward for humankind, about day-trips into the black abyss of space, beaming with quiet wonder and idealism.

Forbidden Planet
Dir. Fred M. Wilcox, 1956
Availability: DVD/Blu-ray – now; Amazon Instant

Three years before the formation of the Mercury Seven, Forbidden Planet took audiences on the first cinematic voyage set exclusively in deep interstellar space. This pioneer of sci-fi (an inspiration for the likes of Twilight Zone and Star Trek), certainly shows its age with wooden performances and cartoonish effects, but ignoring it just because of those crude elements would be missing a wonderful piece of wild, somewhat trippy, imagination of what waits for us out there amongst the stars.

A ground breaking score of “electronic tonalities” by a husband-and-wife team Louis and Bebe Barron, haunts the surreal landscapes of thorny mountains, green skies and endless corridors. The filmmakers tickle their brains with the question “What is out there?” and then, understanding they can dream up anything they want, answer with something that feels completely alien – chilling and majestic.

This is an incredible representation of this season we’re entering, when nights get long and colder, somehow darker. Streets will soon be cluttered with orange leaves and children dressed as monsters, witches, martians, pirates. There’s something breathtakingly innocent and cheesy – like being transported back to the ’50s, that comes along with this ghoulish time of year. Like drifting in space, an experience only the movies can give us, it’s both a nightmare and a daydream.

-Rob Fagin

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Category: Columns, Double Feature, Monthly

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