By Marie-Renee Goulet
I started this series without realizing it with Contagion (2011) a few months ago. Unfortunately for us, the headlines all seem like the prequel to dystopian movies.
Billionaires are testing ways to get off Earth while our leaders are mismanaging a pandemic and other issues like drunks trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Gore Vidal was right, politics truly is Show Business for ugly people, and they have been nothing but performative. Billionaires have currently had two successful test flights to “outer space” and proudly received their astronaut’s wings – which is ludicrous. I have flown on many planes, and I have yet to be bestowed with my pilot’s wings. Branson is planning an entire business following his test flight, with “the best hotel chain, the best clubs, the best spaceship company — it’ll become very valuable.”
The world’s richest 1% currently have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people combined. Bezos recently acquired a 417-foot super-yacht that requires a second support yacht. Let that sink in. In the last two years, we’ve lived through a devastating pandemic, heat domes, record forest fires and flooding, threats to democracy, bad actors sowing division, and billionaires looking for ways to get off Earth.
If that doesn’t feel like a prequel to Elysium (2013), I don’t know what does.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Elysium takes place in 2154 where there are only two classes of people left: the very wealthy who live in a space station just off Earth, a perfect recreation of the wealthiest neighbourhoods. Everyone else, the non-citizens, live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) enforces the cruelest anti-immigration laws to preserve the exclusive lifestyle on Elysium. Unfortunately, Foster gives one of her lesser performances like a usually great singer who sings off-key. I remember watching the movie when it came out and thinking they went a little over the top with the attempted coup and keeping immigrants in cages, all of which came to pass just a few years later. People of Earth who want access to healthcare and a better life keep trying to get to Elysium. When Max (Matt Damon) is backed into a corner, he agrees to embark on a potential suicide mission that may save his life and re-establish equality. This is not a great film, but it is well made, and Earth is a scary place. Warning: some very gory violence in this film as weapons have evolved. Mankind certainly seems to be inventive when it comes to killing one another. Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is a memorable villain.
One of the COVID vaccine conspiracy theories made me remember Children of Men (2006), where all women have become infertile. No reason for infertility is ever given in the film, leaving us to imagine. Set in the last “civilized” place on earth, London, 2027, the world is descending into further chaos after earth’s youngest person, an 18-year-old dies. Britain has become a police state with refugee camps for immigrants from all over Europe. Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist, is approached by the Fishes, deemed a terrorist group, led by his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), to get his help procuring transit papers for a young immigrant woman. They set out for a mystical boat where the Human Project is working on the survival of the human race. We come to find out why that Julian and Theo’s marriage failed. Their two-year-old son died during the pandemic flu of 2008. This dystopian future, immigrants in cages, a rise in violence, and a government with increased powers doesn’t even feel like fiction anymore. The movie was shot to look like a documentary, and some long takes are pretty effective at placing you in the middle of the action. A friend of Theo’s, Jasper (the great Michael Caine), provides much-needed comic relief. I highly recommend this one.
ROE V. WADE
Dirty Dancing (1987) was not supposed to be the hit that it was. With a measly $6MM budget, it grossed over $200MM worldwide and sent Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to the top of Hollywood royalty. The movie is full of clichés and convenient misunderstandings for the “plot” to work. In a nutshell: A young girl, “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), spending the summer at a Catskills resort with her family, falls in love with the camp’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). The movie was appealing to the right demographic, which I was a part of in 1987, and our group of girls would get together every Friday night for months and watch it in its entirety. So, why I am revisiting it now as part of a from the headlines story?
Because of the plot device that forces Baby, a 17-year-old guest, and a mature resort employee to spend so much time together: illegal abortion. Johnny’s professional dance partner, Penny, gets pregnant from a waiter who immediately abandons her. The movie is set a decade before Roe V. Wade, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. It struck down many U.S. federal and state abortion laws. In the last years, fate allowed Trump to place three ultra-conservative judges on the Supreme Court, which is about to make a sharp right turn. In preparation for this, States legislatures have passed over 90 laws restricting the procedure in 2021 so far, more than in any previous year. Texas went so far as to include pregnancy resulting from rape and incest in their ban. Back in 1963, Penny is unmarried, has no family, and the child’s father refuses to take responsibility. Her income as a dancer would disappear. Abortion was illegal in most states, and she cannot afford to travel to get a legal one; she is forced to rely on a back-alley abortion, where a hack shows up with a dirty knife and a table. Baby has to ask her dad for the $250 fee without telling him what it is for. Another thing to think about, we are stepping back to a time where a woman who doesn’t have $250 to her name, is forced to have and raise a child on her own. Without a social safety net and facing abject poverty, she goes ahead with the abortion and nearly dies. Baby’s father is an actual MD, and the outcome is not tragic for Penny in this Hollywood story where all it takes is a good song to bring all together in the end. Reality will be very different for non-wealthy American women in the near future.
I Am Legend (2008)
Loosely based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, we follow Robert Neville (Will Smith) years after a virus re-engineered to cure cancer becomes a plague that ravages humanity and transforms survivors into cannibalistic monsters. Neville, a scientist, is looking to develop a cure, a vaccine that may reverse all who are already infected. The New York Times recently reported a business struggling to get its employees vaccinated, one of whom express concern over the vaccine turning people into cannibalistic mutants, “just like in I Am Legend.” In the film, the virus causes the transition, not the vaccine. Director Mark Protosevich had to come out and say: “It’s a movie. I made that up. It’s. Not. Real.”
I enjoyed this movie and almost preferred it to the book. Neville is a scientist who failed to stop the spread of the virus, which is incurable. Nevill is the last human survivor in eerie, empty, and half-destroyed New York City. He doesn’t know why but he has a natural immunity to the virus. We do not know if there are others like him, as he fails to reach anyone through radio communications. Mutants surround him at night, and we can hear them screech and cry out. Using his immune blood, he works diligently on testing different compounds on rats. I’ve never been a huge Will Smith fan, but I appreciated his performance in this movie. He’s slowly losing his mind spending so much time alone and trying not to make any mistake that could see him killed. We learn through flashbacks how the epidemic started, and once again, we see a realistic representation of the social meltdown that ensues.
I want to end on a positive note. Back in the spring, #BrendanFraser started trending high on Twitter. I did not click right away. I’ve had to turn off the notifications on my phone a while back after Paul Walker’s, Robin Williams’s, and Chris Cornell’s death; I can’t take instant tragic news anymore. I admit I had not thought of Brendan Fraser in years but seeing his name brought immediate positive feelings. Still, celebrities trending on Twitter usually mean they are dead. After a while, I braced myself and clicked to find out that he was trending because people loved and missed him. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved. I then realized that I was a fan of Fraser before YouTube existed. I had no memory of an interview with him and had never heard his voice other than in his movies. So, when a heat dome and the smoke from forest fires recently kept me inside, I cozied up with my laptop and went down the rabbit hole. Watching early 90’s interviews, he is soft-spoken, sensitive, articulate, and charming with a Canadian self-deprecating sense of humour. You can’t help but fall in love with him. I revisited School Ties (1992), where he proved he could quietly carry a movie on his shoulders early on. The movie was a vehicle for upcoming talent and starred Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser, and Chris O’Donnell. Zach Baron wrote a piece for GQ after getting incredible access to the reclusive actor in 2018, and he expressed the following better than I can: “He exudes a kind of solid decency and equanimity that makes the implausible plausible. His presence in a scene makes you believe it.” I anticipated a different career trajectory for Fraser after Gods and Monsters (1998) and The Quiet American (2002), initially set for a 2001 release but delayed due to 9/11 as the movie’s theme is critical of US Foreign Policies. Hmm…
Many of Fraser’s other films were family-oriented; I was just not in the right demo. I lost sight of him after Crash (2004). Looking at his IMDB and interviews in the mid to late 2000’s, you know some things went really wrong. The poised, sensible young man is gone and I am not sure why some of the films he made were green-lit. I was saddened to read about personal tragedies and health issues that saw him sign up for paycheck movies, lowering his stock. Slowly but surely, he put the train back on the rails, and that is admirable. In recent interviews, he is back to his old self, just a little worse for wear. I’ve just finished Trust (2018) and No Sudden Move (2021); and whereas his presence was always fun and reassuring, he can now make scenes feel unpredictable. In the late 90’s, Fraser’s body was practically a work of art. It is bothersome that many people focus on his weight gain. He is a 52-year-old man who went through the wringer for a few years. Even when he was skinny in School Ties, he made the future Jason Bourne diminutive. His increased size now adds a slight menace to his presence. His days as the hunky leading man may be behind him, but I am anxious to see him realize his full potential as a character actor. He is currently shooting Killers of the Flower Moon with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. I recommend all titles mentioned above.
In the end, Twitter’s business model is based on hate and division. Name another human whose name brings thousands of people to come out to love and support them? I am all in on the #Brenaissance.
Marie’s appreciation for movies & TV began early in life as it offered escapes, laughter, and often an education. It sparked a love of photography, travel, and a general curiosity for the world and everything in it. Originally from Quebec City, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Trebas Institute in 1998 where John H. Foote was her Film History professor. The winds pushed her into a different professional field and on a few adventures around the world. The passion for film and storytelling in all forms continues. Marie lives in the Canadian Rockies.