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The President is dead. You got that? Somebody’s had him for dinner.

Escape from New York (1981)
(SPOILERS) There’s a refreshingly simplicity to John Carpenter’s nightmare vision of 1997. Society and government don’t represent a global pyramid; they’re messy and erratic, and can go deeply, deeply wrong without connivance, subterfuge, engineered rebellions or recourse to reset. There’s also a sense of playfulness here, of self-conscious cynicism regarding the survival prospects for the US, as voiced by Kurt Russell’s riff on Clint Eastwood anti-heroics in the decidedly not dead form of Snake Plissken. But in contrast to Carpenter’s later Big Trouble in Little China (where Russell is merciless to the legend of John Wayne), Escape from New York is underpinned by a relentlessly grim, grounded aesthetic, one that lends texture and substance; it remains one of the most convincing and memorable of dystopian visions.
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How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

The present will look after itself. But it’s our duty to realise the future with our imagination.

Until the End of the World (1991)
(SPOILERS) With the current order devolving into what looks inevitably like a passively endorsed dystopia, a brave new chipped and tracked vision variously in line with cinema’s warnings (or its predictive programming, depending on where your cynicism lands), I’ve been revisiting a few of these futuristic visions. That I picked the very Euro-pudding Until the End of the World is perhaps entirely antagonistic to such reasoning, seeing as how it is, at heart, a warm and fuzzy, upbeat, humanist musing on where we are all going.

Everything will fall apart. In this world, just as in yours. Again. And again. Because of you. And because of me.

Dark  Season Three
(SPOILERS) Early reaction to the conclusion of the German time-travel saga appears overwhelmingly positive, but I’m less convinced of its merits. On the plus side, a resolution was hatched for the interminable loop. On the minus, Dark’s Season Three plot mechanics felt a little underwhelming, hasty even, just as the resolution for Jonas and Martha proved quite touching.

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

If we don’t stop this thing soon, the whole damn planet’s in trouble.

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)
(SPOILERS) There’s an evergreen lure to the Philadelphia Experiment’s mythos, up there with the Bermuda Triangle for “fact-based” mysteries. A movie version would doubtless benefit from a more literal and “plausible” approach, as would many of the rumoured alt-science ventures of WWII. What we got was much more basic, but the premise itself goes a long way. So much so, it helped mask the movie’s relative averageness at the time of its release – at least, for someone who lapped up the possibility that it was based on an actual event. And we should probably grateful The Philadelphia Experiment is as serviceable as it is; after all, director Stewart Raffill closed out the decade with Paul Rudd’s star-making turn in Mac and Me.

They’re a normal condition of the planet. They’re just not part of our consensus of what constitutes physical reality.

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
(SPOILERS) Movies tackling renowned supernatural or folkloric themes are prone to satisfy no one. Most certainly not the devotees, for whom the key features are inevitably dumbed down or simplified. And more than likely not a general audience either, since despite all available concessions, attempts to convert such material into an accessible narrative still fall short. I remember seeing The Mothman Prophecies at the cinema and being unmoved by Mark Pellington’s snoozefest, the occasional atmospheric moment or two aside. Revisiting the film, I wonder if I might have given it too much credit.

That’s what’s so refreshing. Knowing that you don’t know is the first and the most essential step to knowing.

Synecdoche, New York
(2008)
(SPOILERS) I’d seen all Charlie Kaufman’s other pictures – yes, even Human Nature – and greatly enjoyed most of them – no, not Human Nature – yet had contrived to avoid Synecdoche, New York. Something about it just didn’t appeal. Perhaps it was the writer-director element, the feeling that unfiltered Kaufman might just be a little too rich. Or perhaps it was that the concept, even by his standards, seemed like a lot of hard work, the rewards for which would likely be familiar by this point. Unfortunately, I was proved largely correct. For all its virtues – a fine cast, fitfully inspired explorations of the unravelling of the mind/being and with it, greater reality and its assumed underpinnings – the film is a sombre, indulgent slog. As Jonathan Rosenbaum observed, “it seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realise his surrealistic conceits”. This is true. Kaufman …