Monday, January 26, 2015

Strange Days

Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling

 Strange Days was a collaboration between former Hollywood power-couple James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Taking place in the far-off future of 1999, Strange Days imagines a world where advanced neurotechnology called S.Q.U.I.D. makes it possible for individuals to record their memories and share them with others, resulting in a black market where any experience you want is yours for the asking. So what could a movie about the near-future, set our past, tell us about the present day?
  • A Strange Days Scorecard Drinking Game: Try watching this film with the commentary track enabled, and take a shot every time Bigelow uses the word "shredding" to describe the digital pixilation effect that occurs whenever a recorded memory clip begins or ends. Note that the PCS is not responsible for any injury or death incurred during such a game. = +17pts 
  • Number of times criminals say "fuck" during the Chinese restaurant heist in the film's opening: 31 = +31pts 
  • Pausing to smoke rock in the middle of a robbery. = +4pts 
  • Ralph Fiennes' Lenny jacks into the big black. And it's way less dirty than it sounds. = -3pts 
  • Cameron and Bigelow thought that in the future, the economy would be shitty, gas would be over $3.00 a gallon, and 5th graders would be shooting each other on the playground. But the joke's on them, because gas is only $2.48. = +8pts 
  • Lenny apparently decided to take the shortcut home through some Mad Max pick-up footage. = +6pts 
  • Radio talk show host needing a caller to gloss the term "2K." = -7pts 
  • Cops chasing after a runaway prostitute open fire on a crowded subway train like it's an unarmed black teenager. = -17pts 
  • Related: apparently Los Angeles has a subway. = +4pts (Who knew?) 
  • Related: homicidal cops played by pre-Criminal Intent Vincent D'onofrio and the turtley looking guy from Armageddon. = +2pts
  • We wonder what the advent of the iPod would have done to S.Q.U.I.D. technology. The little mini-discs they use to trade clips are just adorable. = +3pts 
  • Back in the safety of his apartment, Lenny wiretrips on a clip from his relationship with Faith (Juliet Lewis), who, in a long-sleeve shirt, black thong, and pair of roller skates, is wearing about as much clothing as she'll ever be throughout the entire movie. = -2pts 
  • Morning news report fills us in on L.A.'s security preparations for New Years Eve and the assassination of prominent hip-hop artist Jeriko One. Related: "Hip-hop" in James Cameron's mind is just a black guy yelling at white people over some loose beats. For correctly (if prematurely) predicting the arrival of Death Grips. = +18pts 
  • Lenny's monologue. Man is the Don Draper of smut peddlers. = +40pts 
  • Tom Sizemore as Max, Lenny's ex-cop-turned-private-eye best buddy. Related: why hasn't Tom Sizemore had a Mickey Rourke-esque shot at a comeback? = +7pts 
  • Iris (the prostitute from earlier) drops the clip the cops were chasing her for into Lenny's car, then goes into the bar to tell him it's there. Which begs the question why she didn't just bring it in and hand it to him in the first place. = -2pts 
  • ...And which would have saved us all a lot of trouble, because she just got scared off by sirens before she could explain anything, and now Lenny's car is getting repoed. = -6pts 
  • Angela Basset as limo-driver/bodyguard/put-upon acquaintance/terminally friend-zoned paramour/all-around badass Mace! = +46ps 
  • Also, in case it's not abundantly clear by now, most of the character's names are super-on-the-nose reflective of their role in the film. It's just something we're all going to have to deal with. = -10pts 
  • Michael Wincott as music mogul Philo Gant, label-runner for Jeriko One and guy-that-Juliet-Lewis-is fucking. Fun fact: up until federal trust-busting action in 2002 dismantled his empire, Wincott had a monopoly on playing dirtbags throughout the '90s.= +12pts 
  • Asking your limo-driving friend to cart your ass around town while she's on the clock. = -4pts 
  • Peddling your black market memory recordings to her client while she scowls at you through the rear-view mirror. = -8pts 
  • Doing all of the above while giving her this look. = -16pts
There's not a definition of "shit-eating grin" in the dictionary, but if there was, this would be right next to it.
  • Lenny convinces Mace's client to swing by The Retinal Fetish with him. Inside, there's a metal band playing, a Nazi book-burning, cage dancing, body-piercing, and some kind of shooting gallery. LA was a wild place in '99. If you went in there, now, it would probably just be a bunch of bored twenty-somethings looking at their phones while someone spliced together elevator music samples on a laptop. = +6pts 
  • After a failed attempt at parlay with Faith about Iris, Lenny gets thrown into the street by one of Gant's bodyguards, prompting this technician's wife to observe that, "in the future everything looks wet." = +7pts 
  • For years, this technician thought that the part of Gant's female body guard was played by Belinda McClory (Switch from The Matrix). It is literally only as of this analysis that he realizes he was mistaken. = No score; just a confession. 
We can't be the only ones...
  • The running clip that Lenny slips to the Retinal Fetish's paraplegic AV guy. = +14pts (*sniff*) 
  • Juliette Lewis performing an outtake from P.J. Harvey's Rid of Me writing sessions. = +25pts 

  • 0:53: Ladies and gentlemen, the Crypt Keeper on violin. = +10pts 
  • While arguing with Lenny in the ladies room, Faith nonchalantly slips her top off, as if we couldn't already see enough of her boobs through her Fredrick's of Moria chainmail tank top. = -5pts 
  • Juliette Lewis is much better at delivering P.J. Harvey's dialogue than James Cameron's. = -14pts 
  • While Mace drives him back home, Lenny watches a clip left for him at the club by some anonymous admirer. The clip depicts its creator sneaking into Iris's hotel room, hooking her up her own S.Q.U.I.D. rig and plugging her into his feed so she can feel what he feels as he rapes and murders her. If there had been trigger warnings in 1999, this definitely should have come with one. = -20pts 
  • Lenny shows the clip to Max, who wants to "work" the clip for clues, saying, "C'mon, Lenny, you used to be good at this shit." From working vice? Maybe if the clip depicted someone selling a shipment of black-market porno mags... = -4pts 
  • To deliver the news about Iris, Lenny and Mace head over to Gant's home. Like most scenes in this film, it ends with Lenny receiving a beating.= +2pts 
  • Mace thinks back to a time when Lenny was more than an eccentrically dressed burden to be rescued from beatings and carted from shithole to shithole. = +9pts 
  • Lenny wakes up to find a new clip from the rapist, this time depicting the man sneaking into Lenny's apartment while he was sleeping and scratching his neck with a box cutter. Could have been worse, Lenny. Guy could have drawn a penis on your forehead. = +3pts 
  • While breaking into the impound to retrieve Iris's clip from Lenny's car, Mace and Lenny are confronted by the two cops who were after Iris. What ensues is a badass car chase that ends with Mace most certainly being out of a job. = +13pts 
  • Holed up with some of Mace's relatives, Lenny finally watches the clip that Iris died over. It depicts the two cops that tried to kill them shooting Jeriko One, his friend, and another prostitute execution style during what seemed to be a routine traffic stop, which...are we sure this movie is set in 1999 and not 2014? = -25pts 
  • "You know what this tape could do if it got out?" Unfortunately, in the wake of Eric Garner's murder, we know EXACTLY what a tape like that could do if it got out. = -25pts 
  • Upon finding Tick, one of Lenny's clip connects ODed on playback, Max informs Lenny and Mace of rumors about a secret "police death squad." Which sounds totally paranoid ah, hell. = -25pts 
  • Faith reveals to Lenny that Gant sent Iris to spy on Jeriko One, that he knew all about the contents of her clip, and that he was most likely the one responsible for Iris' death. We don't really have a joke for this; there's just a lot of plot to this movie, and it's all important for you to understand. = +2pts 
  • Lenny attempts to rescue Faith from Gant's clutches. Predictably, he does a terrible job at it. = -3pts (The man is not a fighter.) 
  • Angela Basset turns James Cameron's overwrought dialogue into something like poetry. = +16pts 
  • Lenny and Mace infiltrate LA's NYE gala in order to trade Faith for the recording of Jeriko One's murder. How they obtained invitations to this exclusive event is not important and you should stop asking about it. = +3pts 
  • Lenny tells Mace to deliver the clip to Commissioner Strickland, the cop responsible for destroying Lenny's police career. Surprisingly, the Commissioner does not react well to a strange black woman offering him contraband in the men's restroom. = -4pts 
  • Lenny finds Faith's hotel room trashed and empty, except for a body underneath a blanket, and another clip from his secret admirer waiting for him. The clip does not contain what Lenny is expecting. = +5pts 
  • Whoof, okay, lot to lay out here, so stay with us. So the big reveal is that the mystery rapist is Max, who seems to be auditioning for a role as a Bond villain, and therefore lays out every detail of his scheme to Lenny: 
    1. Max and Faith have been carrying on a secret affair ever since Gant hired him to tail her.
    2. Gant paid Max to put a hit on both Iris and Faith in the wake of the Jeriko One murder. 
    3. Max killed Gant and intends to put the frame on Lenny by killing Lenny as well. 
    4. All that stuff about a "police death squad" was just a smoke screen to keep Lenny and Mace away from the cops; Jeriko One's murder was totally random.
    = +6pts 
  • Just one thing, though. Being an ex-cop himself, why wouldn't Max just have gone to the police with Gant's murder-for-hire conspiracy? He could STILL have gotten Faith without having to leave a trail of bodies behind him longer than a late-period Stephen King novel. = -12pts 
  • With a little help from Faith, Lenny ends up in a fight for his life with Max, bringing the total number of characters in the film who have not kicked Lenny's ass down to zero. = +8pts 
  • Max does a Hans Gruber off of Faith's Balcony. = +4pts 
  • Watching Mace put the hurt on the two renegade cops. = +25pts 
  • Watching the rest of the police pull a Rodney King on her in response. = -25pts 
  • Commissioner Strickland shows up with back-up to form a protective cordon around Mace and to order the arrest of the killer cops. It's a little sad how even in a bleak, alternate 1999 where society is coming apart at the seams, police officers are held to a higher standard of accountability than in today's world. = +35pts 
  • This whole sequence, by the way, is perhaps the most stunning explosion of light and color in Bigelow's filmography. = +50pts 
  • Lenny finally discovers that the love he's been looking for has been right in front of his nose, breaking the noses of people who want to hurt him, the whole time. = +13pts 
Total Score = +217pts
Available on: Netflix streaming, a series of half-hour S.Q.U.I.D. clips traded through an underground collector's market.

There's a whole lot going on in Strange Days, and we're not just talking about the Chandler-esque plot. You've got the threat of police militarization, institutionalized oppression against the black community, the problematization of violence and sexuality in the media, and that's not even touching on the apolitical themes of memory and our fixation on the past. While the film never exactly gets around to making a profound statement about any of these issues, they all still feel pretty relevant in the wake of the Ferguson protests, the murder of Eric Garner, and countless (literally; no one is keeping count) other African Americans who have lost their lives to police action under questionable circumstances. One can also see in the film's fictional S.Q.U.I.D. technology some premonition of the advent of camera phones, Facebook, and the constant need to document and reshape our experiences (we wonder if Black Mirror's "The Entire History of You" was an attempt to probe this same theme on a deeper level).

Despite spreading itself a little thin, Strange Days holds together thanks to the incredible amount of talent concentrated therein. The cast is the stuff dreams are made of. Ralph Fiennes brings an unparalleled warmth, charisma, and vulnerability to his role as a second-rate huckster, and Angela Basset reconciles Mace's power and weakness into a staggeringly human package. The two of them elevate Cameron's (sometimes waaaaay over-the-top) script to a higher plane. Even the SUPPORTING cast is perfect: Juliette Lewis at the apex of her career, Tom Sizemore before his drug-induced meltdown, Michael Wincott at his most dissipated (which is really saying something). And while we may make fun of Bigelow's peculiar fixation on "shredding," it's exactly this attention to detail that makes the film such a breathless experience--she spent a year planning the first-person scenes and perfecting the technology necessary to shoot them. However you dice it, it's an underappreciated film that you should definitely check out, Scorecard in hand.

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