Friday, April 27, 2007

I saw "Next" today

I haven’t read the story on which Next is based, but I’ve definitely read enough of Philip K. Dick’s novels and stories to know that the movie remains faithful to his recurring themes and plot elements: the man with a unique ability who just wants to be left alone, yet is the object of an obsessive pursuit by shadowy government agents; a younger woman who inspires the older man to whom she is attracted; and the idea that everything you think you’re seeing is based not on any objective reality, but your perception of it.

Nicolas Cage plays a skeevy Las Vegas magician/mentalist who can actually see events two minutes into the future—but only if those events directly impact him. This is what he tells us in voice over a few minutes into the movie, after we’ve seen a brief prologue in which he’s waiting at the counter of Pann's (it looked like Pann's and I think I saw the name on a menu, but - do they even have Pann's in Vegas?) for Jessica Biel to show up. Turns out he’s actually seen this woman in a vision of the future several days before, and he has to meet her because she disrupts everything he thinks he knows about himself: He usually can’t see this far ahead.

The scene in which he meets her is pretty fun, and shows how such an ability could be put to practical use. He gets to try out various pick up lines on her before settling on a plan that won’t completely freak her out or give her a “psycho vibe” (I think that’s what she says, I’m quoting from memory). There’s another fun scene earlier in the film in which Nicolas Cage evades security guards in the casino where he’s won a few thousand dollars (just enough, he thinks, to NOT attract attention—a typical trait of PKD characters) by seeing where the guards will be just before they’re actually there.

He manages to evade the casino security, but the FBI, led by Julianne Moore, catch up to him and explain that they want his help in locating a nuclear device which is apparently hidden somewhere in Los Angeles. He explains that his powers are very limited, he doesn’t want to help, etc. In reality, he just doesn’t want to be tied to one of those chairs that most characters in PKD movie adaptations end up on. He lams out, meets up with Jessica Biel, and they take off across Arizona, toward Flagstaff.

Eventually, the FBI and the terrorists with the bomb track them down, and there follow some interesting set pieces in which Jessica Biel and the entire city of LA are under threat of being blown up. And there is a twist.

When the twist happened in the half-full theater in which I watched the movie, there were audible groans from a few people in the crowd (they were sitting in the row above mine, to the right of me, the bastards), but I have to say I absolutely LOVED the freaking twist, it elevated the movie from a mostly standard action picture with a few nice surprises to a ballsy, enigmatic character study. It works thematically (nothing is ever what it seems), it works structurally (it’s telegraphed by events that occur earlier in the film, in fact in the first few minutes), but mostly it works for the character Cage plays, serving as it does to finally push him into making a fairly momentous decision after a lifetime spent trying to stay under the radar.

Ricky says check it out!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A thought on "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said"

I am reading a great book by Philip K. Dick called “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” which of course is full of typical dickian dystopia, paranoid nightmare, questionable identity, reality unhinged and unusual technology that sounds almost like what you see around you every day. But when I came upon this passage on page 160, I had a vague feeling like I myself was in the novel:

“Tone arm. Spindle. He got one of his records out of its sleeve and placed it on the spindle. I can work these things, he said, and turned on the amplifiers, setting the mode to phono. Switch that activated the changer. He twisted it. The tone arm lifted; the turntable began to spin, agonizingly slowly. What was the matter with it? Wrong speed? No; he checked. Thirty-three and a third. The mechanism of the spindle heaved and the record dropped.”

There are people out there, not much younger than me, who upon reading this passage might think, “Wow, that’s another one of those far-out never-was inventions (like homeopapes, flipflaps, and simulacra) that Dick dreamed up in his fevered imagination. Maybe some day they’ll come up with these devices that play music like that…”

Is it possible that vinyl records never existed? Or record players? I remember then from when I was a kid, but is it possible that those memories didn’t exist before I read this book?

Friday, April 20, 2007

This Delights Me:

As far as I know, this is my first mention on wikipedia. I'm in the section on comic books, as if you didn't know. Soon, my name will be linked to its own entry, I'm sure, and people will start writing embarassing smack about me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Ricky Sprague swipe file

Here are some panels I swiped in the creation of the "Captain Radiation" comic seen below. Everybody swipes, but who actually shows you from where they swiped? Answer: some jerk whose drawings suck ass, namely me. (swiped from Action Comics #5, reprinted in "The Superman Chronicles" Vol 1) I wanted an old tyme comics feel, so why not copy from Shuster?

By the way, "The Superman Chronicles" is revelatory. Superman started out as a blue collar hero who took on weapons manufacturers, callous mine owners, and football gambling rings! It's interesting to see how the "wish fulfillment" angle of the character has changed in his 70 some odd years of existence.

Sunday, April 8, 2007