Sunday, February 04, 2007

Children of Men and Prog Rock's Ultimate Victory

This year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture look like such boring consensus picks that I may try to convince ABC to drop their coverage of the ceremony and instead run a live feed of me sitting in my apartment playing Bubble Shooter and sulking about my impending, sure-to-be-desolate birthday (which I'm hoping will be Sizemore-ically depressing enough to spin off into a VH1 series). I've only seen one of the nominees, The Departed, but while that's a well-executed genre flick its presence on the list must mean that Scorsese could release a gag reel of outtakes from that Kodak commercial he appeared in and get 9 nominations, just so voters could finally give him a useless gold statuette and restore balance to the universe's trivia lists.

A particularly egregious shutout in comparison would be Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, which is also easily the best non-documentary film of 2006 I've seen so far (followed by United 93, a film which is nevertheless akin to mental torture at times), and I suspect it will probably stay that way. CoM is set in England in the year 2027, where the UK is the last industrial nation left standing after a series of calamities have thrown the rest of the world into chaos - information that the film subtly discloses through unobtrusive newspaper clippings and background advertisements rather than clumsy exposition. Worst of all, a wisely unexplained infertility plague has stricken humanity for 18 years, effectively crushing all hope for civilization's future until ex-activist-turned-burned-out-bureaucrat Clive Owen ends up having to escort a "miraculously" pregnant immigrant - who at one point jokingly tries to convince Owen she's a virgin, in a nod to the film's allegorical aspect - across the country. All the while the two of them are pursued by terrorists, as well as the occasional cute dog or cat, which tend to cling to Owen.

Regrettably, the quality of widely released films has degenerated to the point where opening the fucking Departed nationwide its first weekend is considered something of a bold move, which helps explain why Universal dumped this film into select theaters at Christmas. Clearly they had no idea what they had on their hands, since in addition to having a brain, Children of Men is a gripping sci-fi thriller that's almost Spielbergian in its hold on the audience; albeit also in its tendency to nearly undo a few scenes with heavy-handedness or ill-timed wisecracks. Cuarón stages two key, much-talked-about action sequences in long, amazingly choreographed, Steadicam shots, the second of which lasts roughly six minutes and finds Owen running through a warzone on a bad foot and dodging bullets... while also cat juggling (well, they might restore that part in the dvd anyway, as I suspect a more cynical populace will finally embrace the sport by 2027).

One of my favorite details in the film is that despite being set in the future, the music everyone frequently listens to is still dated pre-2006, implying that once young people stopped being born popular music crapped out entirely and the filmmakers didn't have to hire anyone to predict future trends ("How about... Haunted Electrohouse"). In one scene, a radio dj is overheard introducing a "classic" from 2003, a time, he says, when people still didn't comprehend the bleak future they were facing (the Shins evidentally fooled everyone). Meanwhile, Michael Caine's wealthy, hippie cartoonist lives with his near-comatose wife in an isolated cabin and gets down to such golden oldies as Roots Manuva and Aphex Twin in between the Beatles and Stones. Best of all, Owen at one point visits an obscenely rich art collector friend, played by Danny Huston, to ask for a crucial favor. Huston's character has bunkered down at a now progged-out Battersea Power Station along with his hopelessly game-obsessed, medicated son, with such works as Michelangelo's David (now sporting a prosthetic leg) and Picasso's Guernica providing the backdrop for their meals. He also blasts King Crimson throughout the building and has taken advantage of his locale by recreating the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals, complete with inflatable pig, in a permanent tableau outside his window, as seen below.

The Floyd reference is ironic and especially apt, not only because animals seem to pop up in every other scene but because Roger Waters' misanthropic worldview will be well-suited to any of the grimdystopian (hello, Cormac McCarthy, you're not the only hotshot who can randomly combine words) possible futures ahead of us. I guess it could be worse; just imagine if New York were the last city left standing: some zillionaire would no doubt try to recreate Supertramp's Breakfast in America album cover. I don't think any of us wants to imagine that.

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