The Wachowski’s debut feature Bound ducked in and out of theaters pretty quickly back in 1996, but it’s one of those movies that couldn’t remain obscure for long. People kept talking about it. It was sleek and confident and shimmering with the distinctive visual smarts and storytelling élan that would inform their much more mainstream The Matrix three years later.
Bound begins with tough ex-con Corky (a pitch-perfect Gina Gershon) hired to do painting and plumbing work on an upscale Chicago apartment. On the elevator, she locks eyes with neighbor Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and the static electric charge between them is palpable, even though Violet’s mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) is standing next to them, oblivious to what’s happening right under his nose.
Smitten by the encounter, Violet works to seduce Corky – though she doesn’t have to work very hard – and soon the lovers see an opportunity to take Caesar for $2.1 million in hijacked mob money and walk away scot-free. But as any student of crime films will tell you, even the smartest plan can unravel very quickly. And sure enough, Corky and Violet are soon pulled into an undertow of violence, deception and murder.
Bound is a rollicking, stylish neo-noir that toggles between scenes of brutal violence and high camp so quickly you barely notice. It’s also one of the Wachowski’s best films. Don’t miss it. –Michael Popham
BOUND screens Monday and Tuesday, April 13 and 14, at 7:00 and 9:15 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.
Review by Tyrell Corporation prototype Aaron Vehling
I was drinking at a bar in my neighborhood one night when a woman who might be a highly sophisticated, genetically engineered cyborg (no spoilers) took my IPA out of my hand, drank some of it, and then asked if she could have my beer. Now, in real life Sean Young is not even remotely anything but an organic woman, but in Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, she plays one of the most famous characters in film in which such questions are necessary.
Blade Runner, which also stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah, and Edward James Olmos, among others, is the perfect blend of sci-fi, film noir, and philosophy piece that has been copied immensely since its initial, unsuccessful theatrical run. It’s got a neo-noir soul packed in an action-film cover. It raises questions about the nature of humanity, the self, and existence that are comfortable in a Terrence Malick film, while injecting enough action tropes to make us forget that fact.
Panned in its day and re-edited once its cult status became enshrined, now it’s the most natural of sci-fi films against which sci-fi films are judged. Most future adaptations of Philip K. Dick books — this film was the first adaptation of a Dick book, namely Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — take their cues from this one.
Films like Minority Report and Total Recall, both based on Dick stories, took the essence of their source material and modified it in a way that not only represents the ideal way to carry out such a task, but also the best way for any screen adaptation to take place.
It’s loosely like the difference in reincarnation theories in Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism — in the former the bulk of the personality carries over into the next life and in the latter only the very basic traits carry over, like one candle lighting another candle. So too with the typical interpretation of a Dick book: Some of the elements don’t remain, such as the collectivist Mercerism cult of Sheep, or the superfluous space-travel talk of Minority Report, but the core elements that make it Dickian remain: The depth and breadth of the characters and the very basic concerns those characters have. There’s not a lot of high-minded technobabble occurring. These are people stories with a sci-fi dressing, and not the other way around.
The sci-fi-infused films that aren’t based on Dick books can seem like it because of the strong influence of Blade Runner, regardless of the merits of the project. Masterpiece Dark City, The Fifth Element and even Judge Dredd (the one with Sly), all owe their depictions of massive, sky-high futuristic cities to Blade Runner’s depiction of a dystopian future of a city alight in massive skyscrapers, some aerial vehicles, and a darkness filled with the unsavory and the robotic. Dark City even owes its lightless moodscapes and Wilderesque overtones to Blade Runner. The meditations on humanity and all of that come into play fairly quickly in the movie.
In 2019, the so-called replicants, cyborgs that are virtually indistinguishable from humans, are not actually allowed on Earth. They’re relegated to doing menial or dangerous work in colonies on other planets. But the Nexus-6 models, although they lack empathy, they have all the other necessary feelings we humans deal with in various ways: desire, need, umbrage, attachment. They look and feel like humans as well. So cognizant are they of their fates that four of them escaped to Earth in a bid to extend their four-year lifespan. It’s up to washed-up “Blade Runner” (replicant bounty hunter) Rick Deckard (Ford) to track them down and “retire” them.
There are a lot of questions that come up throughout the plot, but in some respects it’s best to leave that to you to go see the film. Spoilers abound in trying relay the questions posed along the way as Deckard picks off the replicants one-by-one. Some of the biggest questions arise with Rachel (Young), the love interest of Deckard who proves that sometimes we don’t know ourselves and that the events of the past that we believe have shaped us into our current and future selves are not at all what we always thought they were.
I can’t proceed without mentioning that Vangelis’ brilliantly dark and emotive synthesizer-laden soundtrack is among the real stars of this film. Along with the work of John Carpenter, elements of this soundtrack ensured that years later everything from the soundtrack to Drive and several TV shows would incorporate the dissonant and gorgeous minimalism of moody synths. –Aaron Vehling
Aaron Vehling operates the music blog Vehlinggo.com, in which he genuflects several times a week toward Italo Disco, synthwave, house, and all that other stuff that makes you dance, cry, and fall in love. He digs the music of the Valerie Collective and Johnny Jewel and the films of Lars von Trier and Nicolas Winding Refn. Though he’s from Minneapolis, he now lives in Harlem, New York, on the same block as the mansion from The Royal Tenenbaums.
BLADE RUNNER screens Friday and Saturday, April 10 and 11, at 7:00 and 9:30, and Sunday, April 12, at 5:00 and 7:30 at the Trylon. Note: there will also be a special book club screening of the film Saturday, April 11 at 10:00 am, followed by a discussion of the film and Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? around the corner at Moon Palace Books. Advance tickets for all shows are $8.00 and you can purchase them here.
In the decade following the release and subsequent canonization of The Matrix, the film was regularly referenced as a key discussion text for the intersection of film and existential philosophy. Five years after the film’s theatrical run, I keenly remember seeing images from the film plastered on textbooks in my college’s bookstore, and hell, even Oxford contributed a tome of their own in this vein. Further, the Christian circles I was in spoke of the film in reverent tones as quite possibly film’s most dynamic Christ allegory. (And one without nudity or too much language, to boot!) As a result, I also heard through the grapevine that a number of megachurches had approvingly incorporated a discussion of the film into the content of their sermons.
Now, it is instructive to assess the reasons for this phenomenon, because in revisiting the film, it seems to me the Wachowskis were clearly more concerned with making a bad-ass movie than deeply exploring any such stuffy concepts. Academic circles may have simply attempted to use the film as a gateway to reach disinterested students, but I would venture to say there is something more interesting going on here. As the film does indeed contain the broad groundwork for a discussion of existential philosophy and Christology, perhaps many who unavoidably enjoyed the film viscerally as a shoot-em-up sci-fi flick simply felt more satisfied in their love for the film if they chose to discuss its metaphysical framework. After all, not many people want to brag about how much they loved the latest Expendables, but comparably it proves damn near dignified to champion The Matrix. It was the perfect movie for the closeted action lover: those who are afraid to admit they like seeing a good showdown. The film not only provided conversation fodder to debate and dissect, it was also purely entertaining and blowed things up real good at just the right times and in just the right ways.
In an age with Christopher Nolan pumping out films with similar reality-bending concepts, it is easy to assume that The Matrix would feel a bit stale at this point, but it is important to remember that despite the tenor of the conversations it fueled, this film is not imbued with Nolan’s sometimes imperious sense of self-importance. This film is from the mind of the Wachoskis, after all – it is first and foremost an action melodrama. Indeed, this is a film in which Keanu Reeves downloads kung fu skills directly to his brain and is then given an unlimited arsenal of high tech weaponry. I implore you, remember and revisit this film not because it is profound, but because it found a logical way for this silly, pure awesomeness to happen. — Dave Berglund
The Matrix screens Monday and Tuesday, April 6 and 7, at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.
With nearly 200 movies to his credit, Dick Miller is one of those guys you’ve seen on screen many times, somebody you sorta kinda recognize from other films, even though you can’t quite come up with his name. Miller was a versatile actor from the earliest days of his career because, as a member of Roger Corman’s repertory company, he had to be: he played a flower-munching kook in Little Shop of Horrors, Boris Karloff’s shadowy aide-de-camp in The Terror, a busboy with dreams of being an artist in A Bucket of Blood, an astronaut in War of the Satellites, and a fast-talking hipster selling vacuum cleaners door to door in Not of This Earth. And while he played the lead in a couple of Corman cheapies, he was usually in for just a scene or two, filling in the background or providing a bit of comic relief. Yet he always made an impression.
Later the directors who worked on Corman’s exploitation pictures in the 1970s turned to Miller to help salvage what they knew were junky projects; he appears again and again in movies directed by Joe Dante, Jonathan Kaplan and Alan Arkush. And many other directors who admired him sought him out, his very presence an homage to his earlier work.
It wasn’t inevitable that all this admiration would lead to a documentary; in retrospect it just seems that way. Elijah Drenner’s That Guy Dick Miller is a rollicking tour through one man’s remarkable life onscreen. It’s a lively and affectionate documentary, peppered with stories from his brother, his many admirers in the film industry and an engaging back-and-forth between Miller and his wife Lainie. –Michael Popham
That Guy Dick Miller screens Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, March 5 at 5:00 and 7:00, at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00 and you can purchase them here.