John August and Doug Liman, 1999

I saw this movie back in '99, even though I was expecting it to suck, because at the time I was nursing simultaneous crushes on Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes and here they were in a movie together! Then, to my delight, it didn't suck; in fact, I was blindsided by how awesome it was. The scene that really won me over was the chase in the parking lot. A girl is on the run from a drug dealer she has attempted to scam. She tries to lose him in a crowd. He pops up ahead of her. She tries to negotiate with him. He produces a gun. She makes a break for it. He pursues her. She... is randomly run over by a car. I did not see that coming.

With its tripartite structure, interlocking timelines, and nonstop pop culture refs, Go was naturally compared to Pulp Fiction. In fact, most critics saw it as little more than Pulp Fiction watered down and warmed over. Mike D'Angelo was a rare dissenting voice, giving it a rave review and saying he might have made it his #1 of the year "had it even managed to create the illusion of being about something." Actually, it is about something: the resilience of youth. It's a celebration of a (perhaps mythical) time in one's life when one can make some extremely poor life decisions and come away with no consequences worse than a slight limp and a lesson learned.

It's also, I had to conclude upon this, my fourth or fifth viewing — but my first in about ten years — little more than Pulp Fiction watered down and warmed over. What struck me as wonderfully snappy dialogue back in '99 now sounded to me like actors reciting obviously scripted lines. Which makes me wonder how Pulp Fiction will hold up when I eventually get around to that one.

Also, the idiots who put together the DVD removed the cat's subtitled dialogue, turning one scene from a comedic high point into an unintelligible mess. I presume that they have gone on to busy careers scrubbing the captions off of lolcat macros.

David Cronenberg, 1999

This one, on the other hand, turned out to be better than I had remembered. Maybe because this time I knew in advance that Sarah Polley wouldn't turn up until the very end.

The IF community naturally flipped over Existenz when it came out; its metafictional aspects — the main characters spend much of the running time in a game-within-a-game, commenting on the unconvincing NPCs and so forth — were relevant to the interests of a group of amateur adventure game designers. Probably more noteworthy to laypeople was the way the film substituted organic forms for tech, so that game consoles are big fleshy blobs grown from amphibian eggs that, when opened up, are full of pulsing organs; people play videogames by stringing umbilical cords between these pods and the puckered holes they've had punched in their spines; guns are made of bone and shredded sinew, and shoot teeth. If nothing else, you'll remember the imagery. The one Skandie this movie won was a #7 in Best Scene for the bit in which a character assembles one of these guns out of the skeletons of the creatures he finds in the special at a Chinese restaurant. "Mutant reptiles and amphibians provide new and previously unimagined taste sensations," the waiter explains. Sounds like pretty standard Chinese food to me. I'd ask for a vegetarian option but they'd just give me mutant reptiles made out of soy.

I guess what I found interesting about Existenz is the way that it plays with the notion of "cyberspace vs. meatspace" by making the most avid cybernauts the ones most comfortable with meat. The stereotype is that men are more likely than women to talk about "transcending biology" and the like — I seem to recall that Douglas Coupland, for instance, gave the slogan "YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY" prominent billing in Generation X or Shampoo Planet (or both?). By contrast, I remember Jennifer saying in one of our first conversations that being female kept her from falling into that sort of ideological trap because "it's hard to pretend you're not a biological creature when you can feel your personality changing with your cycle." So the dynamic in which Allegra Geller lovingly cradles her quivering pink blob like a newborn while Ted Pikul blanches at the thought of having a bio-port installed in his spine — "I mean, they open right into your body," he protests, receiving a memorable reply from Allegra — is a familiar one. And yet she's the one who wants to spend all her time jacked into a VR setup! She's a wannabe cyborg in a world where that means getting more "org" than you were before. Part of what I like in stories is the chance to meet interesting girls, and Allegra qualifies. Plus I've always been pretty fond of Jennifer Jason Leigh. We have the same birthday, and she looks like my hot potential sister-in-law. Though I wish she hadn't kept saying "download" when she meant "upload."

The best thing about this movie would have been that one of the games visible in the background at the game shop was called Hit by a Car. I laughed and laughed. But then the camera focused on it and thereby ruined the joke. Boo.

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