Wednesday, June 8, 2011

delayed Tuesday's Overlooked Films: LAST NIGHT (1998) and XCHANGE (2000)

...for the list of all this week's titles and links, please see here.

or...the utterly pleasant upper mid-range of Canadian sf films.

(above: Bussières and Baldwin; at right, Oh and McKellar)

Last Night details the last night of the Earth's existence, or at least apparently the last day/night of life on Earth...scriptwriter/director/star Don McKellar keeps the exact nature of the apocalypse vague, aside from lingering shots of a bright Sun in the sky, and so one is allowed to wonder if the Sun is becoming a red giant, or somehow expected to go nova (though the latter wouldn't explain the midnight sun in Toronto), set to destroy the Earth's surface, at least, precisely at midnight Toronto time. This ambiguity, meant to further the metaphorical strength of the film, can be distracting...but in the film, the characters all know, and have known for some time, that The End is nigh, and promptly at 11p Central Time, 9 Pacific (12:30a Newfoundland). Xchange has a very derivative premise, involving personalities being temporarily switched from body to body via a popular if expensive commercial process, and then does a reasonably good job of working up a corporate terrorism plot around it. Both are well-performed by largely Canadian casts, with medium to small budgets, and both have nice touches and are clever and engaging enough to be worth seeing.

The Toronto-dwellers and suburbanites we meet in Last Night are for the most part not frantic in the face of doom...very little of the stylized savagery of most post-apocalyptic films is on display here, perhaps in part because everyone's aware that there will be no survivors, no matter how rugged. Most people are either having last extended parties, or doing or trying to do the things they've always hoped to do, such as Geneviève Bujold's piano instructor having trysts with as many of her former students as have likewise fantasized about that and who have sought her out, before settling in to hear a final recital by another former student. Others, such as David Cronenberg's electric company manager, attempt to go about their regular business as much as they can under the circumstances, fulfilling their responsibilities a last time. Sandra Oh, as the Cronenberg character's wife, gives what might be her best and most moving performance, as one of the few who visibly cannot reconcile with the end of everything and the injustice being visited upon everyone. Even where some of the dramatic business of the climax seems to go a little over the top, Oh's performance as a desperate, terrified, but essentially sane and loving person helps to make this modest film art; she's not alone in elevating the proceedings, but I suspect most people who remember the film remember Oh and McKellar's final scenes best.

Xchange, written apparently by neophyte writers (who had presumably read their Robert Sheckley and John Varley, among many others) and directed by Allan Moyle, a man with good and witty but not too much commercially robust work on his resume (I'm fond of Pump Up the Volume), has some cheesy and obvious aspects to it, but nevertheless it moves, with Stephen Baldwin (the least talented of the Baldwin clan) used well and such fine Canadian talent as Pascale Bussières and Janet Kidder helping smooth over the more purple a man (Kim Coates, more recently seen in Sons of Anarchy), using for business purposes the body-switching technology available to his class of executive, finds himself stranded in a commercial clone, and needing desperately to return to his original body before a rejection process inherent in the body-swapping technology plays out; unfortunately for him, his body is being used by a very connected conspirator in a corporate and political power-play, so that he has no one to turn to for help but an ex-womanfriend and, less reliably but crucially, a recreational sex-partner of some years previous who has some useful connections of her own. Meanwhile, the conspirators are trying hard to wipe him out, unwilling to simply let his time run out in the cloned body...among the methods they employ is a rather clever conception of a very personal drone aircraft with a very specifically targeted small-explosive missile as its cargo. Along with the performances (including Kyle MacLachlan as the Other Token Yank in the cast, playing the body-stealer in his original form), Moyle's direction and the camera work and editing are deft, keeping the film engaging and fun to watch even when the relatively low budget shows through...and there are nice touches throughout, little bits of realism that crop up even in the midst of the more outre events, and some effectively pointed satire.


Yvette said...

Well, Todd, these are TRULY forgotten films - I'd never heard of either. Though I do know some of the actors.

I like Sandra Oh - I saw her in another independent film a long while back in which, I think she played a realtor. That's ALL I can remember. And I think the setting was in New England somewhere. So, Oh has played in TWO forgotten films - TRULY forgotten - one especially has been wiped from my memory (oh-so-easy these days). I wonder how many other Sandra Oh performances will never see the light of day.

I even liked her in that doctor tv series - but only in the first couple of years then the series wore out its welcome around here.

Stephen Baldwin is kind of an odd duck - isn't he? He hardly looks as if he comes from the same family that spawned his brothers. Though they are all talented. Some more than others.

If Netflix has these flicks, I'll take a look. Best I can promise. ;)

Todd Mason said...

I'd say if you put Stephen Baldwin in a lineup with his brothers, he doesn't look as much like Alec, say, as he does like Daniel...but he does look a bit brutish in the face, and at the time of XCHANGE he was certainly in the best physical shape, as far as I know. He might well've followed the typical party-hearty path to evangelical Christianity...and he might even be ashamed of his work in this film, which would be a pity, since it's the best I've seen from him. Being the least-talented acting Baldwin isn't the worst insult one can throw at an actor, but he is the least distinctive.

Yeah, GRAY'S ANATOMY wore out its welcome for me PDQ, despite the cast. I don't know how may truly lost projects Oh has been in, but she's doing OK for herself, getting the bucks out of GA and turning in her second-best performance, perhaps, in SIDEWAYS and decent supporting work in the likes of HARD CANDY. Her early DOUBLE HAPPINESS was also memorable for me.

I suspect you'll find these two pretty easily if you look for them, and hope you like them.

Memory is a charming thing, no?