Monday, June 23, 2008

Weirdest Double Feature Ever.

"Teeth" is an indie horror film, and in it, a high school virgin discovers a set of teeth in her vagina. "Sunshine" is an off-beat sci-fi film, in which a group of scientists and astronauts fifty years into the future attempt to reignite the dying Sun. The two films are seemingly unrelated: separate genres, separate leagues entirely. "Sunshine" exhibits an established director in his most creatively exuberant hour; whereas, "Teeth," with its cast of no-names and a director as virginal as its title character, has barely caused a blip on the radar.

So what brings the two together? Well, seemingly the fact that both titles are obscure enough that I had to type "movie" after them in order to find images on Google. But no. It's very simple actually: Originality in vision, style, and execution. While "Teeth" is shot simply, cheaply, and fueled by the pitfalls of Christian suburbia, "Sunshine" is, in itself, an action sci-fi film for those jaded by the action sci-fi film. Both render the rules of their genres obsolete: "Teeth," by using the qualities of a B-horror film and adapting them into a stylish tale of empowerment for teen girls; "Sunshine," by trading the plight of an action hero and the bravado of "Armageddon" for a deeply psychological game in which the twists could not be spun with more mastery.

In any event, this double feature will be sure to give you plenty to muse over with your fellow film-obsessed. It also guarantees crazy, detailed dreams in which you may be attempting to escape a deep space apocalypse while nursing a twisted love story with Cillian Murphy.

"Teeth" (2007)
Here is a movie that most people haven't heard of...or are too nervous to pick up off the shelf. The premise is pretty daunting. A quiet suburb borders a nuclear power plant. Its inhabitants range from the derelict to the celibate. Christian teens wear red rings to symbolize their purity and stalwart abstinence, and they're lead by the pretty but daft virgin Dawn, played with a multitude of daring by Jess Wiexler, an actress you have likely never seen before. Female sexuality is presented with, not homophobia, but xenophobia, as if women are not subjects of biology, but objects of the utmost suspicion. We are the unabashed commiters of original sin and should protect our sacred modesty until our wedding night. Dawn, however, like many girls her age, cannot ignore her sexuality forever. She enlists a love interest named Tobey, and even kisses him while they swim in the lake. He is handsome and sturdy, a perfect future husband. There are a few drawbacks to the equation, however. Most notably: Dawn is unaware that her blessed love womb is endowed with more than just virginity. And it's called Vagina Dentata.

So, anyway, after the swimming and the kissing in the lake, Tobey starts moving a little to fast, and an attempted rape scene gets ugly. What horrors ensue, I can't bear to describe. I will say, however, that some of the most disturbing images I've ever seen in a film fall severed to a blanketed surface several times throughout this film. And while "Teeth" is a movie of bold, usually outrageous horror, it left me feeling strangely empowered. Perhaps it was the brave performance of Jess Wiexler, or the idea that evolution might just help us girls out yet. Teen queen Dawn becomes a sort of female super hero in my eyes. The kind you really really do not want to $%@& with. Especially if you're a man who simply can't keep it in his pants.

"Sunshine" (2007)
There were two things that drove me to rent this movie: Cillian (who's ALWAYS good, because he can be either snake-like and creepy or quiet-eyed and sexy) and Danny Boyle (who did great things for zombie movies in 2002). "Sunshine" is now turning out to be one of my very favorite science fiction movies. It takes place in space, 2057. The sun has begun to burn out indefinitely, causing a solar winter back on Earth. Some time prior, a ship called Icarus I was sent to the Sun with the goal of dropping a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan into its core. Theoretically, the bomb would reignite the sun, or, more accurately speaking, ignite a sort of star inside of a star--one with enough capacity to warm the Earth. After the first mission failed for mysterious reasons, Icarus II is sent for a second try, the last try, as every last scrap of nuclear material on the planet has gone into its vital success.

Aboard the Icarus II is a team of eight scientists and astronauts, including Murphy as Capa, the resident Physicist and only team-member who understands the true ramifications of their mission, Rose Byrne as Cassie, the even-tempered peace-keeper among the ailing crew, and Hiroyuki Sanada as Kaneda, the Captain of Icarus II with a steady hand and level head. Other cast members include Cliff Curtis as Searle, Chris Evans as Mace, Benedict Wan as Trey, Troy Garity as Harvey, and Michelle Yeoh as Corazon. I only mention their names because much of "Sunshine's" success squirms to life through its ensemble cast. The action unfurls on many levels, through human error, death, and disaster. The real tension, however, comes from the characters, how they've been written, and how they're portrayed.

The most important parts of "Sunshine" are those in which the characters recognize the inevitable gravity of the task at hand. At times, life seems to go on quite normally. The crew members talk and steer the ship. They tend to the oxygen garden. They visit the resident psychologist. But these moments of seeming bliss are interceded by those of unimaginable misfortune. One degree of miscalculation leads to a damaged ship and the death of a crew member. Suicidal tendencies overcome one, while fire destroys the oxygen supply for them all. The mission has gone from one-stop shop to a near-rescue mission when the crew stumbles upon a distress call from Icarus I. Countless events ensue, each one as unexpected as the last. Each one taking its toll on the characters one by one. And "Sunshine" becomes a deeply psychological journey, one less futuristic than it is humanistic. In the end, I was so impressed, that I wanted to watch it again. I hadn't expected to be so surprised by a genre that has outwardly lost all recognition.


At the end of the double feature, I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn't be sleeping well that night. I didn't. It was, however, worth it. The theme of the night turned out to be 'Weirdest, Most Pleasant Surprises.' I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Tonight, however, it's "Charlie Bartlett" and "Monster's Ball." How's that for a change of pace?

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