Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Wake Me Up I'm Dreaming! Some Good Parallel Universe Movies

It could be argued that parallel universes are the ones we aren’t supposed to be living in ourselves, because to some, reality is merely what we think it is -- but such a premise is not very scientific. If anything the possibility of universes existing beside our own sustains fiction more than it does provable fact, which is not to denigrate the possibility. Merely to suggest that reality is sometimes what Hollywood says it is. And THAT is very disturbing, when you think about it.  This is a list of some movies that I like, because they focus on the possibility that our reality is not the only reality that may exist.  Unfortunately it seems to be only mentally ill people who suffer the most from this delusion, that is, if it is a delusion. H.P. Lovecraft didn’t think so. But then again, he was crazy.

 The Forgotten (2004) When Roger Ebert gives a movie the thumbs down, I usually take notice, but with ‘The Forgotten’ his bad review unintentionally tweaked my interest. Normally wary (as well as weary) of the ‘You must believe me I’m not mad’ or the ‘You must believe me I’m not guilty’ [cue Hitchcock] genre of misunderstood heroes, ‘The Forgotten’  convinced me to suspend my disbelief in its first half hour. I can’t speak for anyone else really. I guess I’m just gullible. I believe what  Julieanne Moore says, and what she’s going through. I also enjoyed putting the boot into all of the [male] characters, who are either deliberately contradicting her, or trying to put her away. I’m not making a case for it as the best movie ever made, but director Joseph Ruben, writer Gerald DiPego and the entire cast put their heart and soul into making the story as believable as possible. Ruben previously directed ‘The Stepfather’. It was pretty good and I think that ‘The Forgotten’ has that same dogged intention to make the audience  consider the possibility that what they  are watching could maybe happen.  What ‘The Forgotten’ lacks in veracity, it makes up for in courage and panache, and to me that can’t be a higher recommendation.

The Others (2001)  This is the scariest ghost movie since ‘the Innocents’, and has a lot going for it. It’s written with a great deal of imagination.  Its leisurely paced (but in a good way),  good to look at and in a nutshell, turns the scary ghost movie on its head. The plot twists do not become stale with further viewing – they still surprise me when I’ve actually seen them before which  encourages me  to watch the movie  again with the same sense of anticipation. The viewer is for the most part as lost as Grace Stewart, played by Nicole Kidman, who is living in a large  house on the island of Jersey in the closing years of the second world war. She is expecting her soldier husband  to return home, while she is left alone with her children, and a strange trio of servants whom we are left to wonder what they in fact,  are doing in the movie. To say any more would be spoiling this bizarre foray into a parallel universe that confounds the viewer as much as the characters. But that’s just part of ‘The Others’ eerie charm and its pervading sense of mystery that has the viewer caught off-guard till the denouement which is as tragic as it is  convincing.  Directed by Alejandro Amenabar.

Johnny Depp's dressing gown is wonderful

Secret Window (2004). There’s an excellent set-up by writer/director David Koepp in the first hour, which loses  momentum by the end, as  it tries to tie up its  loose ends  a bit too neatly. At least for my liking.  Koepp’s affection for ‘Psycho’ and ‘Repulsion’ is apparent. Comparisons to  Polanski’s acclaimed fable of mental illness would be unfair but ‘Secret Window’ is reasonably smart and scary, as it attempts to portray its main character’s descent into a parallel universe, which I think would question the nature of madness itself if it wasn’t for the film’s predictable descent into slice-and-dice by the conclusion.  Johnny Depp is believable and surprisingly subdued as Mort Rainey, a writer of mystery stories who is being stalked by a demonic kind of fan who doesn’t like him very much. The other supporting players are a little off kilter themselves, which makes the audience uneasy about the veracity of anything that seems to be going on in the strange town of Tashmore Lake, where things are not  as they appear. [Cue for raised eyebrows and creepy organ music].

Carnival of Souls (1962) I voted for this when I first went on-line, as the best independent horror movie ever made, and I see no reason to think differently now. Director Herk Harvey appears in his own film as an apparition stalking our heroine Mary Henry, played by Candace Hilligoss,  a church organist who emerges unscathed from a car which drives off a bridge in which she was  passenger. The ‘passenger’ metaphor is continued, as Mary’s dilemma consists of being aware that life and the living of it does not last forever.  There is definitely something strange going on, as she drifts in and out of what we would like to call ‘conventional reality’. ‘Carnival of Souls’ weaves its spell on the most jaded viewer as it draws us into its vortex of uncertainty and impending panic.  The audience is offered little explanation until the end, but  frankly I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I unabashedly love ‘Carnival of  Souls’, even the budget Region 0 version that I own without  special features, and I wouldn’t trade it in for a hundred Matrixes, Minority Reports or Inceptions
My what a big hypodermic you have. The doctor from hell.

Jacob’s Ladder (1990).  The brainchild of writer Bruce Joel Rubin. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’  spent years in development hell, but I think the wait was worth it. Taken with a grain of salt on first release, the film  rises in  estimation with repeated viewings. In other words, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is the kind of film that digital technology was made for, and I think it’s  as perfect as a movie can be, about the possibility of an alternative or parallel reality which exists outside our own dimension.  Jacob Singer as played by Tim Robbins  returns home from Vietnam and works as a postman. His  existence is not as mundane as it seems, as Jacob begins to have hallucinations. What really happened to him in Vietnam?  The hallucinations get worse as director Adrian Lynne pulls out all the stops with amazing visuals that are so real we can understand  what Jacob is feeling, and it is certainly alarming.   Elizabeth Pena plays girlfriend Jezzie without giving  the story away, and Danny Aiello is an osteopath without a halo, telling Jacob he must give up his memories in order to  journey on up the ladder.  I found, and still find ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ a riveting experience, sympathetically played, beautifully presented, and a satisfying example of Hollywood commerciality at its noblest and most artistic.
NOTE: Roger Ebert’s review of ‘The Forgotten’ may be online.  I haven’t checked because it’s included in one of his yearbooks: Roger Ebert’s Movie Year Book 2007, Kansas, pp. 241-242. I haven’t quoted or even paraphrased, but used it as a jumping-off point for my own ideas. It certainly makes for a good read even if like me, you kind of enjoy the film unlike Roger. 

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