The other day I had a ton of work to do. But I had run out of podcasts to listen to while working. So I figured I would hit up Netflix for some documentary action, because if they’re done right I don’t really have to watch them and I can use them like podcasts (sorry, visual directors of documentaries). And wouldn’t you know it? That’s the day that Netflix decides to have a breakdown. Of course. I got some message like “We are experiencing technical issues. Here are a handful of movies you can still watch while we get our shit together.” I could almost feel my computer giving me a consoling pat on the head.
Damn it all, I thought to myself. Why, Netflix? Why? Today of all…ooh, Bradley Cooper… Click. And I watched Limitless. I remember Limitless coming out a couple of years ago, because I was pissed that they’d changed the title from the title of the book (The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn). I hate it when they do that. It was one of those books people bought because of the movie, and I haven’t read it yet because I want to find an older edition with the original title. OCD works in weird ways. But the movie was really great. Unexpectedly great, actually.
Basically, it’s about a down-on-his-luck writer who can’t finish the pages that are due for his publisher’s deadline (oh, the horror!), until he runs into an old friend who hooks him up with a little wonder drug that makes him super smart and extra productive. He gets addicted to being smart (who wouldn’t?) and becomes entangled in the business of producing the drug to fend off some loan-shark types who know its monetary potential. What’s interesting is that he’s playing out the opposite of a junkie shame spiral, becoming wealthy and successful because he’s now a suave super genius. I love this take on the age-old addiction story. I mean, of course the drug is killing him, but it’s worth it.
Drugs and science fiction make awesome bedfellows, don’t they? Brave New World, A Scanner Darkly, Equilibrium, Dune. Even Iron Man had a drinking problem for a little while. I think there’s something more nuanced about these scifi worlds when seen through the eyes of a character who’s not in their right mind for whatever reason. It adds a layer to the worldbuilding that makes it possible to take the story off in completely unexpected directions. I love that. Because mind expansion is important. I’d go so far as to say it’s instinctual. You know those monkeys that eat the rotten fruit so they can get drunk? I’m sure we weren’t too far from that in our infancy as a species. Or maybe it’s like what Bill Hicks said, that aliens put natural hallucinogens on this planet to speed up the evolution of our brains, make us look at the world as more than what’s right in front of us, make us smarter. I don’t know.
So when Limitless was over, having already decided to blow off the rest of my day, I took advantage of Netflix’s nefarious plot to suck all my time away, like that machine in The Princess Bride, and said Why, yes, I WOULD like to see suggestions for more movies like this one. Thank you, dark entertainment overlord…ooh, Cillian Murphy… Click.
And I watched Red Lights. I had never even heard of this one. Apparently it was only released in a few theaters when it came out last summer. In the simplest possible terms: psychics versus physicists. Sigourney Weaver. Robert De Niro. Cillian Murphy. That should really be enough, shouldn’t it? I love debunkers. When I was a kid, I actually wanted to be that sort of scientist who figures out that it’s not ghosts or poltergeists or whatever haunting houses and fucking up lives. I think it comes from my early obsession with bad B-grade horror movies. And Ghostbusters. And the X-files. But then I figured out that I couldn’t do enough math to be a scientist and all hope was lost. Meh, it’s cool. I’d rather write those stories than compete for university funding anyway.
So, De Niro plays this celebrity psychic, one of those 70s-era spoon-bending guys who’s coming out of retirement and gunning for a splashy triumphant return. Sigourney Weaver plays his arch nemesis, the celebrity physicist whose life’s work has been to prove that this guy is a fraud. They both rock these characters. The subtle, simmering hatred between them is really well done, even though they’re only actually in a couple of scenes together. As a side note, hasn’t Sigourney Weaver just gotten more and more badass with age? She’s in her sixties and she’s still the queen of scifi. Amazing. There’s a lot of really cool sciencey stuff in this film, too, which I quite enjoyed. And it’s got a good twist ending, but not in a predictable, later-work-of-M. Night Shyamalan kind of way. The very best thing? There’s a poster in the physicists’ office that looks like Mulder’s “I want to believe” poster, but it says “I want to understand.” Love it. Fucking brilliant. It’s so dorky that those are the kinds of details that I notice.
Anyway, both great movies. Check them out. If you haven’t already. You guys know I live under a rock, so I’m a couple of years behind on my media consumption. Good thing I’ve got Netflix out here on Endor, to tell me what to watch and help me blow off all the work I have to do. Because I couldn’t possibly procrastinate like this all on my own.