Tag Archives: Jeremy Davies

Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris

Concept: Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is not a remake of the 70’s version but a separate adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem, existing as its own vision of that story. Many people ripped on this as being an inferior retread of Andrei Tarkovsky’s strange, deliberately slow film (which didn’t work for me). Now bear with me: in my humble and frequently disputed opinion, Soderbergh’s is not only the better film but the definitive version of this story. It’s shorter, less theatrical, far more accessible but in the end it’s timbre simply struck a far more resonant chord with me, and I never argue with that intuitive barometer. This version is also slow, but finds a hypnotic, mesmeric cadence to the story of psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), his deceased wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) and the mysterious sphere of luminescence, the planet Solaris. Kelvin has been called there by his friend and colleague Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur) after some… odd things start happening to the astronauts aboard, and it’s here on this quiet, near abandoned space station that he undergoes an intense, otherworldly and very personal metaphysical journey that is catalyzed by the forces of the planet sparkling below them and deepened further by the difficult, unexplored regions of human psyches and behaviour. The planet below has a habit of resurrecting Kelvin’s wife who died years before and placing her on the station with him. Why? Who can say, but it certainly provides everyone involved with all sorts of dilemmas both internal and external, starting with the nature of love, loss and grief. This version of Rheya is clearly not Chris’s wife, but a copy made by the planet based on his memory, mental images and unresolved emotions surrounding her. He struggles at first to see this, then he does. She too struggles at first with existential confusion, and comes to a similar realization, with heartbreaking results. This film is thoughtful and ponderous even by Science Fiction standards, there isn’t a single action scene or anything like that, it is solely character based, atmospheric storytelling that draws you in ways some people have forgotten film is capable of. Clooney is at his most vulnerable here, the charm, affability and mile wide smile nowhere in sight. This is a man whose grief has come back full circle to him, and the haunted, staggered reaction upon seeing his wife again for the first time is my favourite work he has ever done. McElhone is an actress who rarely gets the chance to exercise her full potential, but this is a career best for her, she goes to some places that are hard to get to, and her methods of getting there in her obvious scene prep and meditative focus are beautiful to behold. The scenes near Solaris are interlaced with their complicated, stormy yet devoted relationship years prior, which is the lynchpin and mapping schematic that Solaris later draws on for… whatever it thinks it’s doing. Composer Cliff Martinez often works with Soderbergh, and their collaboration here is succinct and tandem, the soft, rhythmic electronic beat pulsing along to images of sleek, still hallways of the station and the vividly coloured planet below, holding secrets that seem just out of reach. The film questions not only love and life but the way human beings perceive each other, whether a tangible person can exist based only upon someone’s dimming memory of them, and what part exactly does the soul play in all of this. “We don’t have to think like that anymore”, Rheya lovingly reassures Chris when he worriedly questions the semantics of Solaris’s plan. Opaque is the nature of this story, but through it we are invited to feel our way to truths that hide behind the swirling pulsars adorning Solaris and the ongoing relationship between these two lovers who are star crossed in more than just a metaphorical sense. Complex, difficult themes to be sure, but it’s all dealt with in organic, rapturous fashion as Soderbergh lets glances, body language, music and affection tell the story instead of heaps of dialogue or obvious beats. A love story wrapped up in a gorgeous musical tone poem gilded by an intelligent, thought provoking science fiction story that questions the essential, reaches for answers in unconventional ways and does things with film that the medium was meant for. One of my top ten favourite films ever made, and up there with the very best Sci Fi’s out there.

-Nate Hill

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Antonia Bird’s Ravenous


Murder. Cannibalism. War. Treachery. You wouldn’t think that such subject matters would make for any sort of lighthearted film, but Antonia Bird’s Ravenous somehow manages it, becoming a classic in my canon along the way. Despite the dark events that unfold, it’s become somewhat of a comfort film for me, one I can put on any old time for a rewatch and enjoy the hell out of. It’s amusingly disturbing, lively, cheerfully gruesome, well casted, oh so darkly comedic and has wit for days. Guy Pearce plays Boyd, a timid soldier who’s banished to a remote fort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after a prolific display of cowardice during the Mexican American war. His superior officer (crusty John Spencer) just wants him out of his sight, and Boyd just wants to survive and forget the horror he endured in combat. Even worse nightmares are just around the corner though, when mysterious drifter Calhoun (Robert Carlyle in Charlie Manson mode) shows up at the encampment and all sorts of depraved shenanigans kick into high gear. Calhoun turns out to be a serial killing, cannibalizing, grade-A certifiable madman, and no one in their company is safe from that moment forward. Jeffrey Jones is a jovial scene stealer as the fort’s commander, getting all the best quips and quirks. David Arquette howls his way through a barely coherent performance as the resident peyote hound, and further colour is added by weirdo Jeremy Davies, Sheila Tousey, Joseph Runningfox and Neal McDonough as the tough guy soldier who discovers he ain’t such a tough guy after all. Again, as dark as this film gets, it never loses it’s sunny, demented disposition. This is largely thanks to one bouncy melody of a score from “, ditching any portentous strains or eerie chords for a purely arcade style, quite pretty lilt that’s catchy, silly, warped and probably the most memorable aspect of the piece. Pearce plays it introverted, keeping his fear close to the chest and using it when desperation creeps in, or whenever there’s a hair raising encounter with Calhoun’s monster. Carlyle is a caffeinated blast in what has to be the most fun type of character to play this side of Freddy Krueger, an energetic goofball psychopath with a lovable side that he jarringly switches off on a whim in favour of his leering demon persona. The gorgeous Sierras provide stunning photography for this peculiar fable to play out in, a perfectly evocative backdrop for a campfire tale of murder and, I should mention, pseudo vampirism. There’s a supernatural element to the consumption of human flesh that runs alongside the vampire mythos, putting a neat little spin on an ages old concept. There’s nothing quite like this film, in the best way possible. Leaking wicked sharp atmosphere and knowingly deadpan performances, while retaining the spooky, blood soaked edge of a great horror film. One of my favourites.

-Nate Hill