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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Salem Watches A Movie: This Is Not "TV But Better," This Is Life...

This week, around New Year's Eve, Erin gave a recommendation of the movie Strange Days. I commented that Strange Days is a fantastic movie, and I've been a big fan of it for years. Erin, as she's wont to do, suggested I write about it. This is actually not a terrible idea, as I have a glowing recommendation of this movie as well.

I make no secret of absolutely loathing the 1990s. The weird middle child of Gen-X decades, the 90s always felt like a half-assed attempt at continuing the craziness of the 1980s while toning it down in shame. The 1990s wanted to be as weird as its big brother, but was afraid to commit. A few good things did come out of this period,  though, and Strange Days is one of those memorable genre films that, alongside Fight Club, The Matrix, and The Crow are known for their anti-establishment nihilism and excellent soundtracks.
 
The stars of the show on the craziest New Year's Eve of their life
And the soundtrack for Strange Days is a real cracker, too, the best soundtrack I've heard in a movie apart from The Crow's. It manages to set a mood for the gritty and violent near-real world of the movie while also standing alone as an excellent collection of music. Listing the tracks that aren't top-notch would be shorter (if not more difficult) than the stand-outs, so just click the link instead of worrying about looking it up.

Director Kathryn Bigelow hasn't made many movies that I've seen, but the ones I have, namely The Hurt Locker and Near Dark,  I've thoroughly enjoyed. I don't normally follow movies by their directors, but now that I've sat down and had time to think about it, I'm definitely going to look up more of her films. She's got a tendency to not hold back at all with emotional, impacting moments, and this movie is no different. 

Remember when we all thought this was the end of the world? God, I feel old..
The world that Bigelow built is definitely a product of its time, with a severe but charming case of schizo-tech. Good science fiction, it's said, takes one outlandish or futuristic element and builds around it, and in this case it's the SQUID headsets, that allow people to records and play back memories… from Sony MiniDiscs apparently. Memory capture and playback, but no cellphones? Madness. Then again, if our "hero" Lenny had a cellphone, the entire plot would have fallen apart.

Bigelow certainly isn't pulling her punches with the story, too, which deftly touches on themes that were highly relevant at the time: a famous black performer is executed by two LAPD officers (played perfectly by Vincent Donofrio and William Fichtner, two guys that are always playing 'that corrupt official'), and one of the girls with him was recording it on a SQUID. The evidence finds its way into Lenny's hands, and there's a mad chase that ensues to ensure the evidence isn't intercepted by crooked officials before it can be properly exposed.

Themes of loss, racism, escapism, and family are interwoven throughout the story. There's two stand-out moments in the movie that I guarantee will stay with you: an amputee living out a nice run on the beach, and the brutal murder of a character utilizing a pair of the SQUID headsets that, depending on how strong your constitution is, will either disturb or disgust you. 
 
Yes, that's Top Dollar from The Crow. And yes, I had a crush on Juliette Lewis, too.
This is also one of the most well-casted movies I've ever seen, too. It's got a few big guns in the cast -- Fiennes and Bassett are at the top of their game here -- along with some B- or C-list actors putting on uncharacteristically great performance. On paper, Ralph Fiennes is slumming it, but in reality he's working the room well both metaphorically and literally. His Lenny is gloriously sleazy around 90% of the cast, but when the veil drops, you can see the loss and sorrow in his eyes. Angela Bassett is the other one slumming it, and she has the same dual presentation, all steel and ice around most of the cast and all maternal instinct when they stop looking. Juliette Lewis is totally believable as that weird ex-girlfriend you just can't let go of, and special mention goes to Michael Wincott and Tom Sizemore's performances.

Overall, this movie is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. From the dialogue delivery to riding the absolute bleeding edge of cyberpunk sensibility, this movie will hold your attention the whole way through.  Even if the movie didn't take place on New Year's Eve, I'd still recommend watching it regardless of the time of year.

Strange Days is one of my absolute favourite movies of all time. I am genuinely hard-pressed to criticize this film in any way. It's got nearly everything you could ask for. 

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