The Thirteenth Floor, Lord of Illusions, The Darkest Hour

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I am he as you are she as you are me and we are all Inceptional?

thirteenth floor  The Thirteenth Floor, a film directed by Josef Rusnek, and based on the 1964 Daniel F. Galouye novel, Simulacron 3 was released in 1999. Although hard to follow, with a less than compelling conflict and plot resolution, this film was met with enthusiasm by sci fi buffs and it was nominated for the Saturn Award as “Best Science Fiction Film” of 1999. Unfortunately for The Thirteenth Floor, The Matrix was also released in 1999. Rats. I know that The Matrix is beloved by many, but I found it every bit as flawed as The Thirteenth Floor and with its “mysticism,” incredibly pretentious and sophomoric.

Because the intricate plot and guessing what’s going on is the whole point, I’m not going to reveal plot points. The film has a good cast, including Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio and Dennis Haysbert.

The Thirteenth Floor is not a good film but not entirely bad either. Like Inception, a film much closer in structure and concept, the premise is difficult to convey and so the solution is to blend in another, more easily understood genre. Inception gives us car chases and shoot-outs in our dreams within dreams. The idea, I suppose, is that those who lack the patience to follow the film’s complexity, will understand the language of violence.

In hopes of not losing its mainstream audience, The Thirteenth Floor blends in LA noir and a murder mystery. The result, like Inception, is a feeling of disorientation. We don’t get to know any of the characters or care about the outcome; we’re too busy trying to crack the code–guessing what’s what. I like the idea of computer-generated, sentient beings who believe they’re human. Their limited existence reminds me of another hybrid movie–Dark City. Like The Matrix, Dark City has an element of mysticism but I didn’t think it nearly as pretentious. Very weird (in a good way for me) but lot’s more entertaining than The Matrix.

The concept of virtual reality is such a rich one that I hope someone will make a film that explores it on its own terms, trusting the audience and attempting to answer some of the questions it poses, such as what defines a human being. Along with the Star Trek holodek, television has done its own spin around VR territory, including 1995’s VE-5 and the Syfy’s current offering, EUREKA. Science fiction writers have long mined the territory of virtual reality, including my own second book, Babylon Dreams, where a whole industry competes for the consumer dollar by offering “after-death” destinations.

If you haven’t seen The Thirteenth Floor, I recommend it, especially if you like science fiction. It’s worth the elevator ride.

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LORD of ILLUSIONS:

Lordy what a mess! But in a good way.

Lord of illusions  This 1995 film, directed and written by Clive Barker begins as many horror films do with the camera showing us all the creepy things that we know spell “time to go someplace else.” We’re in the desert and looking at an abandoned one story building. There’s an array of small animal bones, skulls, old broken dolls, dead snakes, etc. A group of people drives up and approaches the building commando-style. Inside, there’s a party going on and it’s obvious these gun-toters aren’t there to bring the dip. As these fun-interruptus types barge in, we see someone sitting on the steps. The androgynous figure is a character named “Butterfield” (Trevor Edmond) who is the biggest baddest fan of “Nix.” Nix (Daniel von Bargen) is a mellow-voiced sorcerer who has plans to sacrifice a young girl. The girl cowers in the corner while a large, nasty baboon bares its teeth and tries to bite her. I think the point of the party and the sacrifice is to kill the world and hang around after and gloat, but I’m not sure. All the party goers are having a great time. They’re shaving their heads and looking at each other like good sex is going to happen soon. The head of the commandos is a guy named Swann (Kevin O’Conner). Things get crazy and Nix ends up dead and buried with an iron mask nailed to his head to keep him dead. In the meantime, Butterfield who survives the fracas is getting really mad.

Fifteen years later, Swann is a world famous magician. A new character is introduced-a detective (who knows the “dark-side” we’re told via a flashback and a newspaper headline) named Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) While on another case, Harry stumbles on a murder-in-progress, which happens to be a revenge killing to get back at the people who broke up the party and nailed Nix. Of course Butterfield (now played by Barry Del Sherman) is involved and of course Harry decides to investigate. This takes him to Swann’s Beverly Hills mansion and Mrs. Swann (in name only we’re told), Famke Janssen.

So let’s skip ahead, shall we? Swann fakes his death; Butterfield is fooled but he still manages to dig up Nix and re-book the party with all the same folks invited and of course they bring their scissors and razors. What fun. Swann ends up in a stand-off with Nix, who is disappointed because he had counted on Swann to help him kill the world and afterwards they could just hang out together. Poor Butterfield is so unappreciated. Harry shows up and of course there’s a stand-off and of course the only people left are the best looking–Scott Bakula and Famke. The world is saved. My guess is both Famke and Scott considered firing their agents after this.

Despite the mess and confusion, mostly linked to the dangling plot lines like –the client who paid Harry to investigate the unfaithful husband, the cool woman cop, the helpful Magic Castle magician who helped Harry find some perfectly irrelevant info, I kept watching. I think it was because of Butterfield and the party-goers. They were so passionate, so into whatever Nix was selling, it was seductive. The movie came alive during the party scenes and whenever Butterfield showed up. Otherwise I felt as if I was watching some good actors (Bakula, Janssen, O’Conner,etc.) looking like they would rather be having a root canal. All in all, I’d opt for the movie rather than the root canal, but as far as that party goes, I’m not shaving my head for no one.

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The Darkest Hour

was mostly a dim bulb.

SPOILER ALERT!

darkest hour  I watched this movie on DVD rather than in the theater so perhaps that’s why I feel a tad more charitable than the critics. Rather than experimenting with genre like “The Cabin in the Woods,” an experiment that fizzled, stinking up the lab, “The Darkest Hour,” a joint Russian/American production directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, is a paint-by-numbers alien invasion film. Rather than the US, the invasion is shown from the Russian side of things and we follow the imperiled twenty-something Americans who number among a handful of survivors after Earth is invaded by balls of light that chase people down and shred them into pixie dust (check out Night of the Comet–a much better film with red-pixie dust former people and zombie department store stock boy geeks). As they run from building to building, hiding from the x-ray vision of the light balls, the Americans (okay there’s also one Australian and a double-dealing Swede) luckily encounter English speaking Russians.

It makes you wonder if a few more education dollars ought to be devoted to us learning more than one language. When they encounter an old lady who shouts in Russian and tells them they’re all going to die, I was surprised to recognize a couple of words from those long ago two years of high school Russian. However, too much science knowledge would probably get in the way when they make it to the American embassy and discover a recorded message sitting in a birdcage. Yes I said a birdcage. The message is “There’s a Russian sub coming up the river in a few hours. Get there or be left behind.” Next they meet an old man named Sergei who is a plumber. Sergei has put together what looks like a paintball gun, but instead of paint, it shoots microwaves. The light balls don’t like microwaves. This totally went over my head, but . . . okay. Being from the Russian point of view led to some great early scenes in Moscow, portrayed as an ultra-modern city with great nightclubs. Like here in Los Angeles, you have to look camera-ready to get in. The Russian perspective led to lines like “Eat this Russian bullet” and “I’ll stay here (a good guy Russian cop); I have all of Moscow at my back.” Russian exceptionalism. All in all–mildly entertaining.