Deja Vu is a crime-solving procedural with a time-travel overlay. If that
sounds gimmicky to you, well that's because it is. If that sounds completely
implausible, you win another cigar.
Now stop a second. Are all gimmicky movies automatically bad? No. Memento
has a preposterous concept, but is a good movie because of what it does with
the concept. Does implausibility conflict with merit? No. If we disallow
nonsense, then we will have to throw out every single instance of time-travel
which has ever been conceived, because none of them make sense. If someone
going back in time can alter the present, then he could alter the
circumstances that caused him to be sent back in the first place. But if he
was never sent back, how could he alter those circumstances? Indeed, someone
sent back into the past could alter the circumstances that allow the method of
time travel to be discovered in the first place, meaning that time travel
would never be possible, even though he has already traveled to the past. See
what I mean? There is no way to alter events which have already happened, so
any story which begins with this premise will automatically be filled with all
sorts of illogical and contradictory circumstances.
So, since movies about time travel are inherently implausible, should we
Of course not. Nor should we ban films about other concepts which are
purely imaginary. Imagination is part of art, and it is part of entertainment.
Some would say it is the most important part of both, because we get enough of
reality within actual reality. Maybe too much.
Just as a sidebar - while things which have been done cannot be undone, it
may well be possible someday to view the past, even if we cannot physically
enter it. The key is the speed of light. If the speed of light is an absolute
barrier which cannot be broken, then it would probably not be possible to view
the past, but if it is possible to travel faster than light, then ...
Here's how it would work. Imagine a place in the universe where the light
from Earth takes ten years to reach. If you could get there in three years,
then you would be living in 2010, peering through a powerful telescope at the
year 2000, even though you would have left earth in 2007. Extend the concept
still further. Imagine another place in the universe where the light from
earth takes two thousand years. If you can get there in three years, again
carrying your all-powerful telescope, you might actually be able to watch
Caesar's assassination or Jesus' crucifixion in your own lifetime. Extend it
further. Watch the dinosaurs.
Mind you, there are many problems with this concept. (1) Is such a powerful
telescope possible? Maybe, but it can't be created with today's science. (2)
Even if you could see such things, you might not be able to share what you
have learned. Physicists are not sure whether your six-year round trip from
Earth to there and back would land you in the earth of 2013, or at some point
in the very distant future, perhaps even a point which contains a completely
desolate Earth where there is nobody to care about your discovery. Some
physicists think that such a time-warp would exist if you traveled NEAR the
speed of light. Frankly, they have no idea what might happen if you could
exceed it. (3) Finally, we simply do not know whether the speed of light is an
immutable ceiling to the practical speed of objects, and even if it can be
exceeded we do not know what would happen to objects which exceed it. But
adding all those codicils, we can say that it is not entirely impossible to
conceive that we could someday view the past. Why not? Even now we ourselves
are viewing the pasts of distant planets and galaxies which may no longer even
Deja Vu begins with that very plausible premise. That we can get a vantage
point in space that allows us to view the events of precisely 102 hours ago.
Of course, simply viewing what happened four days ago is about as exciting as
watching C-Span, so the concept eventually had to be pimped out to allow
Denzel Washington to enter the past.
The film can be split into two main parts. In the first, Federal Agent
Denzel uses his view of the past to solve a crime of domestic terrorism and
apprehend the baddie (played by the guy who played Jesus in The Passion of the
Christ). A truly great movie would have stopped there and used what he had
learned to establish some key truths about human nature. Deja Vu is not a
great movie, but merely a very good one, so it continued past that point of no
return into a second part, in which Denzel goes back to the scientists and
browbeats them into using all the power in the known world to test the outer
envelope of their technology and send him back in time to prevent the tragedy
from having happened in the first place.
And, more important, so he can get laid!
I found that annoying, because it just looked the time-travel paradox
square in the face and spit at it. All of a sudden there were two Denzels in
the past of four days ago and they were both after some poontang. Of course,
only one of them was after a criminal, since the other existed entirely in an
alternate time-stream in which the crime had been prevented in the first
place. Since the time-traveling Denzel died, it would be fun to see a
sequel in which alternate Denzel has to identify his own corpse and solve that
mystery, particularly since he was driving the car with the explosives, which
made him seem to be a possible suspect in the bombing!
The first half of this movie is absolutely terrific. The mystery is
mysterious and intellectually engaging, and the screenplay is not weighted
down by gunplay and explosions. There is one car chase scene, but that is
certainly no cliché. In fact, it may be the most creative car chase ever
conceived, in which one man is trying to follow another who is four days in
the past! Unfortunately, the second part of the film indulges in all the
shopworn devices which the first part scrupulously avoids. In addition to the
inevitable time-travel problems, there's a predictable love story, a bunch of
shoot-outs and, de rigueur since Jerry Bruckheimer produced, plenty of
Oh, well, let us not moan about what might have been. The last act of this
film may be uncomfortable, and the ending is downright disappointing, but
there's really no good way to end a time-travel adventure, is there? The fun
of time travel is the journey, not the destination. Along the way, Deja Vu is
an entertaining film, and a gripping one, and occasionally one with some
strong emotional resonance. It manages to overcome the liabilities of its
gimmicky premise by getting the human element right, by focusing on how people
are affected by tragedy, and by some very savvy looks at how a smart detective
might react and adapt when confronted with a new technology he had thought
impossible. The director of this film did one other thing right. He hired
Denzel Washington. Denzel must be the best in the world at two specific parts
of the actor's craft: (1) No matter how ridiculous the premise, he is able to
sell it as reality; (2) No matter how unnatural the dialogue, he can envision
a way to deliver it which sounds completely unaffected and in character. Those
talents made him the perfect actor for this film, which requires the audience
to accept the preposterous as routine. The director identified the right guy
and hired him. Given that the same director (Tony Scott) is a wizard at the
technical side of film creation, that brilliant hiring decision was all he
needed to make his film work.
The proper grade on our system is a low B-. In this case the "minus" is highly
meaningful. It was not a mega hit, but it was a hit (more than $60 million at
the box office). It was not a critical darling, but it got solid reviews
(58%). I really enjoyed it myself, except for the last two minutes, and my
only real complaint is that it was a good movie which should have been a great
one, and could have been with only a little tinkering.
I like Ken Russell's films. Russell is/was as nutty as a fruitcake, but
back in his day he was just about the only guy turning out consistently daring
movies. If there were not always good, at least they were crazy enough to
provide some entertainment, and usually contained vast quantities of nudity by
the standards of the era. Crimes of Passion is a truly strange Black Comedy.
Lair of the White Worm is a rare case of a bad movie which is great fun to
watch, ala Road House or Hell Come to Frogtown. The Devils is a genuinely good
movie, and Altered States is not bad at all. His D.H. Lawrence movies (Women
in Love and The Rainbow) are filled with nudity and capture Lawrence's spirit,
for good or ill.
It is his biopics which are his strangest projects, offbeat, often surreal
portraits of Lizst, Tchaikovsky, Valentino, Mahler and the French sculptor
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. None of these have much to do with the subjects, but
are more about the relationships between artists, their troubled psyches, and
their societies. They are probably more about Ken Russell than any of those
particular men. Savage Messiah is Russell's portrait of Gaudier-Brzeska, and
it is almost impossible to obtain on DVD. I've been looking for it
unsuccessfully for years, but
this film clip seems
to have been obtained from a full-screen DVD, so it must exist somewhere. (I
found the film cilp in USENET.)
The best news is that it is one of Helen Mirren's great youthful nude
scenes, and she is literally strolling around stark naked in good light for
quite a while while engaged in some pompous and fatuous dialogue.
Judi Dench is arguably the most awarded performer in film history. In
addition to her six Oscar nominations, she has something like two dozen BAFTA
But we all know that.
The key point is that she has done some nudity, and Mr. Skin has recently
finished summarizing her two career ... er ... highlights.
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