Strange Days (review)

Story by: James Cameron

Director: Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Blue Steel)

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Lewis, Angela Bassett, Tom Sizemore

Strange Days is a science fiction movie, somewhat outdated because it deals with the millennium - this may make it more interesting to some, less to others.

The movie is set in Los Angeles in the last few days before the year 2000. Racial tensions are at a high and the city is under martial law. It is this dystopian background against which the story is set.

The plot is driven by a single piece of technology, called Playback. The premise is this: using a SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device, a real piece of technology, incidentally), a person's brain activity can be recorded. Through another device (the details of which are not specified), those experiences (in all five senses) can be played back, either to to the same person, or to another party. The technology is black market, and the main character of the story, an ex-cop named Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), is a dealer in recorded experiences. People come to him to purchase a variety of such experiences, ranging from simple pornography to more exotic activities.

The plot is set in motion by a combination of two seemingly unrelated events. The first is the execution style murder of black activist and rapper Jericho One. The second is the anonymous delivery of a Playback clip to Lenny, showing a first person account of the brutal rape and murder of one of his friends.

Using his police contacts, Lenny attempts to investigate his friend's murder, with the help of his bodyguard/limo driver friend, Macy (Angela Bassett). As he does so, he finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into a web of intrigue and deception, in the style of a classic film noir.

As if this wasn't enough, our unfortunate protagonist is also trying to deal with the heartbreak of losing his girlfriend, a singer/ex-prostitute named Faith (Juliette Lewis), whose new boyfriend seems to Lenny to be entangled in the same plot in some unknown way.

Strange Days is, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies made. I have watched it more times than any other movie and have not yet grown tired of it. The plot fits the film noir genre closely enough to be familiar and accessible, but not so closely as to be predictable. The acting is excellent all around, although Juliette Lewis' typecast role as a whiny, white trash junky may irritate some viewers. Macy is by far the coolest female character in any movie I've ever watched - a real badass while still being a believable, three-dimensional woman. Lenny's incompetence and neurosis is a refreshing change from the usual superhuman heroes of other science-fiction thrillers. The premise is original, the plot captivating and the cinematography beautiful and haunting (watch the use of lighting and shadow, and the mood-setting things going on in the backgrounds of scenes). To top it all off, the movie has an awesome soundtrack, featuring Tricky, Skunk Anasie, Deep Forest and others.

If you have not seen this movie, I insist that you go out and rent it immediately. You won't regret it!

The Doors' second studio album, released in October 1967. As the name suggests, it is a strange album, full of disturbing images and sounds that remain in your mind long after the album's 35 minutes are finished.

This album, however, does not dwell exclusively in the freaked out world of hippies- it also has smart, snappy arrangements, and well constructed pop hooks.

The cover art has an interesting tale behind it, too- originally the band just wanted to have the pictures of the circus performers and assorted weirdos on the cover, with no reference at all to the band. But record company pressure forced them to include their likenesses. Oh, Elektra records. They just loved to fuck around with their bands... The Stooges, The MC5... the list goes on. Anyway. Back on track.

The personnel:

Jim Morrison, Vocals
Ray Manzarek, Keyboards and Marimba
Robby Krieger, Guitar
John Densmore, Drums
Douglas Lubahn, Occasional bass.
Produced by Paul A. Rothchild

1. Strange Days
This song manages to compress a whole lotta strange into its 3.05 minutes. Not just the lyrics, which are typical Morrison poetry- chock full of references to both the abstract and physical worlds. But listen to the music- the whooshy little background sounds during the verses are actually heavily treated echo effects on Jim Morrison's vocals.

2. You're lost little girl
Now look at that title. That's creepy. Of course, Morrison's lyrics and singing are equally disturbing- swinging between softly dangerous and melodic pop. Lyrically slight, but still a good cut.

3. Love me two times
The leading single kicks off with Krieger's twangy, catchy guitar riff. Krieger incidentally wrote the lyrics, which also was the first instance of a band member claiming sole ownership of a lyric. The lyrics themselves are heavy on repetition, but the melody holds it together. It also proves that Krieger can trill a note faster than any other human being on Earth.

4. Unhappy girl
Probably the only song this album could do without, as Jim's entreating of the object of his affections to "escape from the prison of her own device" comes across more as blantant misogyny rather than tender, sweet lovin'.

5. Horse latitudes
Yay! This is the business. Morrison wrote this song after seeing the cover of a book, where a ship marooned in the Sargasso Sea jettison horses off the side. Of course, this is the "weird" album, so Morrison begins reciting his poetry, stately at first, until he eventually screams out the final verse, with hellish soundscapes- piano strings being plucked, ghostly screaming, tape manipulation, and weird echo effects. If you can find a DVD with the video for this song, the visuals enhance the experience greatly.

6. Moonlight Drive
Krieger now busts out his wicked slide guitar skills, and Morrison... well, he busts out his Come over here and rip off my leather pants, for I am a sensuous God of rock skills. But listen closely to the end, where the vocals become faded lower and lower in the mix... Morrison garbles it up, but you can hear quite clearly, "We're gonna drown, drown, drown", over and over again. It's a documented fact that the only true fear Morrison had, was of the water.

7. People are strange
This one shows the cabaret side of things- the organ sounds like it's coming straight out of a circus, which ties in well with the cover art. This song reveals a common theme running through lyrically- Verse, Chorus, Bridge. Repeat them. At this point, the repetition in the lyrics begins to drag a little. Still, a good song, one of the more popular cuts from this album.

8. My eyes have seen you
Now we're getting all rawking. I guess that Krieger was getting bored with just playing under the whole "psychedelic organ" thing, and now he just wanted to let rip. And boy, he does. Krieger plays fingerstyle, which lends a unique flavour to his solos.

9. I can't see your face in my mind
Once again, the title to this song is absolutely bloody awesome. The song itself isn't one of the standouts- but it does have a set of wonderfully creepy lyrics, the verses with Morrison crooning about carnival dogs consuming lines, and suchlike psychedelic insanity.

10. When the music's over
And once again, the Doors save the best for last. Like "The end" from their first album, it is a sprawling poetic epic, stretching past the 10-minute mark, but more tight, refined, and controlled than "The end" was. It also helps that Morrison busts out his best poetry/lyric crossover yet, Kriger makes his Gibson SG howl like a acid-tripping banshee, Densmore pounds the life out of his tiny drum kit, and Manzarek channels all of his myriad jazz and blues organ stylings.
The lyrics deal with everything- the powers of acid, revolution, the environment, the dying days of the 60's... it is pure madness, and pure genius at the same time. The only way to end this album.

For what most critics call the Door's best album, the band dug together, and pulled out a tight, controlled 35 minute blast of songs, that found a groove- that is, psychedelic, disturbing strangeness- and stuck to it. The result? The Door's most complete and well thought-out studio album. A stone cold classic.

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