Fall watching, I

I rarely get to see new movies. My viewing is usually done at home with DVDs from the video store or, more usually, the library, since our local library has a great collection and it’s FREE.

Three recently watched:

LOGAN’S RUN, 1976

Director: Michael Anderson

Writers: Based on the book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Actors: Michael York, Richard Nolan, Jenny Agutter, Peter Ustinov and Farrah Fawcett (when she was still Fawcett-Majors)

This was surely made to be a cult film. The story is set in the 23rd century after an unspecified disaster, when humanity lives in a sealed, domed city.  At the age of 30, people are supposedly “renewed” at a ceremonial event (in fact, they are vaporized).  Michael York and Richard Nolan play Logan 5 and Francis 7, “sandmen,” who track down and kill the smarter ones who flee the renewal (“runners”).

In a complicated and unnecessary plot twist, Logan 5 is told by the central computer to infiltrate Sanctuary, the place runners are aiming for. He and Jessica (Jenny Agutter) go together, with Jessica being the classic tag-along “girl” of seventies’ movies. (She has a thankless part, consisting of looking attractive and frightened. Farrah Fawcett has a brief and even more thankless part.)

At some point after they get outside the sealed city, they encounter the first old man they have ever seen (Peter Ustinov, for some reason reciting verses from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”). Logan 5 finally figures out that something is wrong with the story he was brought up to believe. He goes back to tell the truth. After many fights and encounters, he and Jenny free the population and they all stumble outside, blinking at the sun.

You may have gathered that this is not a good movie. It is, however, entertaining in a bad way. It will remind you of early Star Trek, both visually — the men in jumpsuits and the women in neo-Grecian mini-draperies, the polystyrene sets — and acting-wise.

Because I told my friend JR that I had seen it, she lent me The Island for comparison.

THE ISLAND, 2005

Director: Michael Bay

Writers: Screenplay by Caspian Tredwell-Owen and Alex Kutzman

Actors: Ewan McGregor, Scarlet Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi

Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson are Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta. They are told that the outside world is contaminated and they live in a closed facility where their basic needs are cared for. They wear white jumpsuits (of course). They look forward to winning the Lottery, which will send them to the Island (which they are told is the only safe place in the outside world).

Lincoln is not quite as contentedly zombie-like as his peers. He asks questions. He hangs out with McCord (Steve Buscemi), a technician who works in a behind-the-scenes workshop at the facility. When Lincoln gets into a forbidden area and sees the most recent lottery recipient having body parts removed, he figures out a lot of what’s going on. The residents are clones, being kept in perfect physical condition because they are “products” at Merrick Biotech. When their outside sponsor needs a replacement part, the clone “wins the lottery.”

Lincoln and Jordan escape with the reluctant help of McCord. They plan to confront their sponsors and ask for their help to expose Merrick and don’t believe McCord when he tells them that the sponsors won’t necessarily be glad to see them. “Just cause people wanna eat the burger doesn’t mean they wanna meet the cow.”

McCord is the comic relief and has all the best lines:

McCord: Jeez, why do I always have to be the one to tell the kids there is no Santa Claus?

McCord: I know you’re new to this whole human thing, but … backpacks for boys, purses for girls. Ya understand?
Jordan Two-Delta: We’re not idiots.
McCord: Well, excuse me, Miss “I’m-so-smart-I-can’t-wait-to-go-to-the-Island!”

Lincoln: What’s God?
McCord: Well, you know, when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it? God’s the guy that ignores you.

The Island is a way better film than Logan’s Run, even allowing for the twenty-five years’ gap between them. It has a good story line and better actors. It’s silly at the end, when Merrick loses it, but overall it is entertaining and worth watching without the alternative substances you would need to get the most out of Logan’s Run.

WIT, 2001

Director: Mike Nichols

Writers: Screenplay written by Mike Nichols and Emma Thompson; original play by Margaret Edson

Actors: Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Jonathan M. Woodward, Eileen Atkins, Audra McDonald

Well, there was nothing light or funny about this film. The story consists of what happens in the period between Vivian Bearing’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer and her death. There are flashbacks to her earlier life as an English professor but essentially the film looks at how cancer treatment and hospitalization come very close to robbing a woman of her dignity and her humanity.

The surprising thing is how watchable this movie is. Emma Thompson owns the whole thing: she dominates every scene. Her performance is chillingly real. As a currently healthy person, I identified with her very much in the beginning as she refuses to play the role expected of her by the medical staff. But all those little humiliations and indignities mount up and add to the toll apparently taken on her by illness. She changes; her acerbic personality, assertiveness and wit gradually fade away and are replaced by a different person as her end comes near. It’s the performance of a lifetime.

Those who have seen someone die of cancer may well find that it brings back painful memories.

The doctors are two-dimensional by comparison. They treat Vivian as a case rather than a person. The young doctor, Jason Posner (Jonathan M. Woodward) is a former student of Vivian’s and there is a nice moment just before an examination when she turns to the camera and says “I wish I’d given him an A.” There are a few moments like this, when Vivian interacts with the camera, though I think it could have been handled differently.

 

The Wit Film Project provides supporting materials for medical schools in the US and Canada who wish to use the film as a teaching aid.

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