Film Stuff

Day 12: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

I’m having to play a bit of catch-up today after falling behind in the schedule over the weekend. Ironically, this was due to attending a film blogging workshop on Sunday, offered by IdeasTap. For those who haven’t come across it before, it’s a funky little website offering a wide range of opportunities for people in the creative industries. It’s primarily aimed at students/graduates/youngsters, but you do get the occasional thing where they forget to put the cap on at 30. So I trotted along to the workshop on Sunday, which was great fun and a bit of an indulgence. As well as providing a useful insight into film journalism, I got to see FIVE FILMS back-to-back. But because they’re not out yet, I had to sign an embargo promising not to talk about them. Sorry.

I had to lie down in a darkened room for a while after that.

But anyway, back to business. Day 12 (which, confusingly, I watched on Day 9), was Twelve Monkeys. This was the second Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi movie of the 1990s which I hadn’t seen before (along with The Fifth Element), and I always used to get the two mixed up because a) they’ve both got numbers in the title and b) I’m a muppet.

This was the more serious and cerebral of the two, although the fact that it’s directed by Terry Gilliam should have given a clue that a degree of wackiness would be involved. Sure enough, the story is by turns profound and zany, with the prospect of world devastation juxtaposed with dream sequences, a babbling Brad Pitt, and a bunch of scientists singing ‘Blueberry Hill’.

Bruce Willis is a convict from the year 2035 who is sent back to the 1990s to gather information on the group (the “Twelve Monkeys”) who engineered the spread of a virus that wiped out most of the world’s population in 1996. Accidentally stopping off in 1990 (where he’s shoved into a mental institution) and sometime during the First World War (where he’s shot by a French bullet), he manages to hook up with Katherine Railly (Madeleine Stowe), a psychiatrist who is sympathetic to his plight. Constantly dragged back and forth between different time periods, and dogged by a recurring dream, he starts to lose conviction in his mission and his sanity.

I loved the imagery in this film: the lion prowling around the ramparts of a desolated department store; echoes of the future constantly appearing in the past; the chilling moment when the psychiatrist recognises the man in the photograph from the First World War. It’s also an interesting insight into the paradoxical stereotypes of time-travel – can the actions of a man sent back in time actually affect the course of events, or is everything pre-ordained? Willis’ character is not sent to change the events, but just to gather information. The fine-tuned ending leaves this question open-ended – will action be taken to prevent the international spread of the disease in 1996, or will they stick to the original plan and take the virus (in its pure form) back to 2035 to find a cure?

On a practical note, the film viewing suffered from my recent defection to LoveFilm, which meant that instead of smooth online buffering, I got a very jumpy DVD which seemed to skip a couple of key scenes. This was frustrating and not conducive to an undiminished viewing experience.

But I liked it and I was even able to tolerate Brad Pitt for his few brief scenes. I’m glad I’ve seen the film, but it’s probably not one I’d rush out to buy (unless HMV has it on special offer). It’s an inventive, imaginative and well-told story that nonetheless didn’t hit me at an emotional level. But it does say a lot for the story’s internal logic and coherency that the most unbelievable thing about this time-travelling, apocalyptic film is watching a man go through airport customs with several cannisters of unidentifiable liquid in his hand luggage.

Suddenly, 1996 feels a very, very long time ago.

Film Stuff

Day 5: The Fifth Element (1997)

Nope, I’ve never seen this before. I was too much of a Trekkie in the mid-90s to even contemplate any other form of sci-fi. More fool me. Although I do admit to a modicum of joy yesterday when someone linked to a Twitter exchange between William Shatner and a serving astronaut:

So, anyway, The Fifth ElementIt’s all a bit mad, really, isn’t it? From a fairly sedate Stargate-ish beginning in early 20th century Egypt (with the bloke from The Vicar of Dibley), it suddenly transmogrifies into a bizarre, futuristic world with fascistic undertones and a nice line in tight leather shorts. Bruce Willis is a blue-collar taxi-driver whose license points are threatening to overcome his mother’s self-pitying phone calls as the routine bane of his life. Into his cab crashes Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), a woman fleeing from the authorities and unable to communicate in any recognisable language. But we can see that her orange hair matches his orange vest, so we know she’s come to the right place.

The pair go searching for answers from Ian Holm’s venerable priest, who reveals that Leeloo is the supreme being, the “fifth element” after air, fire, earth and water, who has returned to Earth to save mankind from destruction. No pressure, then. The only thing that’s missing is four stones representing the other four elements, which need to be in place if there is to be any hope of salvation. It’s a pretty handy “unobtainium”-type MacGuffin that takes them on a pleasure cruise pursued by all manner of bad guys, led by Gary Oldman’s Hitler-coiffed meglomaniac.

This is great fun. Visually stunning, it fore-shadows the futuristic worlds of films like The Matrix and Minority Report with ingenious ideas about corporate monopoly and over-crowded city-scapes. Bruce Willis is on top form as the workaday cabbie who moonlights as a government agent. It’s also good to see Ian Holm having fun as the hands-on priest who combines spirituality with practicality. And Chris Tucker is just mad.

I’ve seen him appearing on “Most annoying character in film” lists, without ever seeing the basis for it. Now that I have, well, it kind of fits. It elevates (or lowers – however you choose to see it) the film into supreme camp kitsch. He’s like something out of Zoolander (a film which, incidentally, also starred Milla Jovovich), which is no bad thing. Combined with Bruce Willis and his deadpan reaction, the result is mad, garish, and frequently hilarious.

I’m sorry I missed this film at the time, but glad I had the chance to pick up on it now.

What I would have seen (if Netflix had the range): Nada – Netflix came up trumps with this one.

Anagram: (The Fifth Element)
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