March 30, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Mind-Bending Thrillers for April Fool's Day!

This Friday is April Fool's Day, the unofficial holiday that celebrates the practical joke. Oh, how I fondly recall from my youth: the bubble-wrap covered toilet seats, the fake spills on the rug, the pop quizzes administered by my third grade teacher...come to think of it, not very fond when you're on the receiving end. But always fun when you're pulling the prank!

This April Fool's we have Source Code, a new sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyhllenhaal. Gyhllenhaal plays a soldier who wakes up in the body of a stranger and finds out that he has only eight minutes to stop a bomber from blowing up a train. Sounds exciting. A main character, caught up in a mind-bending caper, not knowing if someone is potentially pulling the prank on him! Here at MRQE, we decided to celebrate the prankster with a look back at some of the head-scratching sci-fi movies that have puzzled, tricked and entertained audiences over the years.

Time Bandits (1981) - MRQE Metric: 75

When it comes to disorienting the viewer, director Terry Gilliam is in a class of his own. With an oeuvre of strangely surreal films, everyone knows a Gilliam movie by style alone. Time Bandits is a sci-fi, fantasy epic that follows a young boy who inadvertently travels through time with six dwarves. He encounters everyone from the likes of Napolean to King Agamemnon, while confronting figures like the Supreme Being, and Evil itself! Heavy stuff, but Gilliam handles the puzzling material with whimsy. A few of his fellow Pythons add to this merry and occasionally disturbing experience. Kudos.

Minority Report (2002) - MRQE Metric: 80

Awesome, awesome, awesome film . . . did I mention it was awesome? Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, based on a classic Philip K. Dick short story, puts Tom Cruise in a future society where crimes are foreseen by abnormal "pre-cogs" before they are committed. Cruise plays John Anderton, a cop on the run, trying to clear his name of a murder he has yet to commit. Someone is pulling the strings in this one, but I won't reveal any spoilers. You'll have to see this futuristic action-adventure for yourself. Great output by Mr. Spielberg. If only he'd get back to telling such imaginative stories.

Back to the Future: Part II (1989) - MRQE Metric: 76

This is a personal favorite of mine, and probably the most popular film on the list. Robert Zemeckis left a lasting mark on popular culture with his time-traveling trilogy. Back to the Future: Part II is a fun ride, and of the three films, certainly the farthest stretch of the imagination. Marty Mcfly travels back to the future, then back to the present, then back to the past to alter the present, encountering his "other self" in the process. And along the way, of course, the one, the only . . . Biff:

It won't win any prizes for its time traveling logic (flux capacitor?), but it's fun to follow Marty along in his hi-tops and a tricked-out Delorean. The story is not too tricky on the viewer; it's lighthearted and easily enjoyable.

Total Recall (1990) - MRQE Metric: 71

AHNOLD! The governator makes an appearance on my list as Douglas Quaid in this sci-fi classic. Quaid is a regular guy seeking a virtual vacation to Mars via a memory implantation. No big deal! But the operation goes astray when Quaid instead receives the memories of a secret agent. An awesome adventure ensues and Quaid is trapped in a prank of colossal proportions! With a fair share of red herrings and two-faced betrayal, Total Recall still confuses me to this day. But it's always an excellent watch.

Twelve Monkeys (1995) - MRQE Metric: 78

Gilliam strikes again. I could probably devote an entire post to this smoke and mirrors mastermind. Twelve Monkeys rightly deserves the attention. Rarely does Gilliam tackle anything resembling a straightforward narrative. And Twelve Monkeys might be the closest thing to that. Starring Bruce Willis as a convict in a dystopian future, he is sent back in time to investigate the beginnings of a virus that has wiped out 99% of the population. However, after he is mistakenly sent to the wrong year, ending up in a mental institution, Willis has to figure out an escape while tracking down an underground terrorist known as the Twelve Monkeys. Despite my linear description, the movie is somewhat convoluted. Everything appears very natural and convincing, but it's a trippy ride. Just what Gilliam intends for his audience: admire the detailed wallpaper, as the room is spinning in circles. Based on the French short-film, La Jetée , Twelve Monkeys actually stands well on its own as a deranged sci-fi thriller. And Brad Pitt plays a good loony in a supporting role.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - MRQE Metric: 39

Keanu Reeves' masterpiece! April Fools! A lot of people have seen The Matrix, and Speed (which is making a comeback on cable this month), but many have overlooked this clunker. Reeves plays a courier in a future metropolis who carries around massive amounts of data for companies due to a cybernetic brain implant. When he overloads on information, he faces a 24-hour deadline before his head explodes. And of course a deadly company that wants his data is pursuing him as well. Suffice it to say, it's not very good. However it has achieved something of a cult status over the years. And one can make a case that the future-Neo learned the error of his ways, going on to greater success in the mind-bending genre.

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