Tag Archives: natascha mcelhone

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

FearDotCom


FearDotCom is a thoroughly lazy, deeply awful hunk of excrement. What makes it so bad is the sheer potential of its concept, squandered on a brain-meltingly generic serial killer story that we’ve all seen hundreds of times. After a rainy prologue (the whole thing seems to take place in a perpetual monsoon) involving a short lived and painfully underused Udo Kier, we’re told that multiple victims have begun to disappear 48 hours after logging on to some freaky website called fear.com. The rest of the film could have gone a bunch of different cool and inspired ways, but nooo… instead it plods along with a Detective (Stephen Dorff) and a sanitation worker (Natasha McElhone should know better than to take a second look at scripts like this) as they hunt the proprietor of the web domain, a nasty yet ultimately boring murderer played by Neil Jordan’s thespian of choice, Stephen Rea, who also should know better than to wander into this mess. Now, all that could be forgiven, seeing as how potential is pissed away every hour in Hollywood, it’s just par for the course. But where the film really, truly shits the bed is it’s DVD art. I remember specifically avoiding the aisle that housed this flick back in the days of blockbuster, because the images on the cover were so uniquely scary. There’s a horrific looking mannequin girl, dead bodies arranged in a way that would give Dali nightmares and just a general uneasy look to the box. Thing is, none of that stuff actually shows up in the film anywhere. It’s either a con job, butchered editing or the industry’s hugest distribution error. For years I was petrified by those images, only to finally get a chance to see the thing, and go: “This?! This is the film that that wickedly memorable horror show of a cover advertised!? Weak…” All we get out of it is a dour, boring, barely conscious bottom of the barrel shocker outing that leaves no lasting impression whatsoever. You’re better off buying the DVD, whipping the disc off your balcony like a frisbee and framing the cover on the living room wall to freak your kids out. 

-Nate Hill