Revolution in the Days of the Jaguar
Oceans of Epsilon
First off this week is the fiftieth anniversary of the comet that destroyed Los Angeles. The preceding years have been very difficult for this nation and the world. Still we can all be grateful that the famines seemed to be ending and America is even making movies again. True much of that must be credited to the sole remaining superpower, India, whose support has been instrumental in making Orlando our new Hollywood. It likely will never reach Bollywood's standard, but with luck and maybe even the blessings of Vishnu we are getting there. However since their contributions are so well known I'm focusing today on films from Mexico, Australia, and our own US.
Revolution in the Days of the Jaguar is quite topical of my introduction. It concerns the Mayan revolt that occurred soon after the cataclysm. Since that is real history it may not seem relevant to an SF magazine, but the film contains a good deal of magic realism. As well as some elements of horror. The scenes involving the infamous bandit leader, and sometime cannibal, "the Jaguar" especially come to mind there. Angel Mirabel, a well known Guatemalan comedian, does surprisingly well in this rather dark role.
However the person who really shined might be a little known Chiapan Actress named Maria Etxea. She handled the way her character transformed from a sideshow act to the charismatic leader of the independence movement with amazing skill. Much of that transformation happened because of things outside of her control and the bewilderment that caused is well expressed. However so is the amazing competence and charisma the "meter wonder" grew to have. (So named because she had been said to be only a meter tall, but likely she had been more like 1.2 meters) It's therefore difficult to imagine that before this the only role this diminutive actress had was as a living figurine on a Costa Rican soap opera.
Still the film did have some flaws. The supernatural elements added in at times diminished the real events. Also at times it seemed the film revelled too lovingly in the violence and gore of the period. More strange a subplot involving a Brazilian couple seeing the Mayan ruins for the first time never went anywhere. It almost had been like it wandered in from another movie. Still on the whole the film did well with the period and its people. Those more enthusiastic about horror than I will likely find it a treat.
Next comes The Quincunx maneuver. This is a kind of espionage thriller set on one of Saturn's Moon. Or in least it is supposed to be. The whole thing is surprisingly confused, I am not even sure which moon it had been set. More damaging is that it is inexplicably slow. With this kind of movie you want action and this seemed surprisingly tepid.
Essentially the government on this Moon is developing some super weapon and Quincunx had to stop it. What the super weapon is is irrelevant, but I think it might be a kind of antimatter bomb. The real problem though is Quincunx himself. He might be the most annoying spy I have seen in anything. He is basically a talking wombat that always refers to himself in the third person. That could be funny, except this never plays as a comedy. Instead you get eight minute long shots, I timed it--I had to find something to do, that I guess are intended to show you the full extent of the weapon. Then his line "Quincunx sees big thing, Quincunx nap now" I laughed, but then the next five minutes are just watching this thing nap. Why? Well I think it said at the end that he gets ideas from dreams, but the only idea he ever seemed to have was to throw hammers at people.
Just as bad the villains are dull and just as dumb as he is. Basically they talk in slow monotonous tones about how they will get him. That's it though, they just talk about it. They do almost nothing to him. They have guns, lasers, poisonous spiders, and yet never use them. Instead they just bumble around until he hits them with a hammer. The pithiest thing they can say to him might be "We think that it would be good if we hurt you at this point in time"
More unnerving might be Q's main catch phrase "Quincunx will hammer you dirty Abos" I think the film may have named the Moon "Abo" to justify this, but when hearing that line it is hard not to think of the atrocities of their post-cataclysm Apartheid government. Still it is odd that even that government kept that phrase in the internationally released version. Especially considering their recent efforts to reform and gain international respect.
One good thing did come out of seeing it though. As the audience fled from the theater in the middle of it many of them dropped some interesting items. Some of them they have kindly let me keep. Most interesting might be an old Bhutanese coin and a kind of wind up platypus toy I've looked for years to find.
Oceans of Epsilon is the USA entry and it managed to be a pleasant surprise. American films still do not have the money to produce the kind of special affects Indian, Chinese, or Brazilian films do. Perhaps because of this science fiction films have not grown past the B movies of the Hollywood era. However this might be a sign that they have found away to make that low budget work.
The story involved an oceanic world and its colonists. This oceans sings, cries, and produces strange hallucinations in some of the colonists. As time passes the hallucinations leads to what may or not be the truth about this world. Most of this being done rather cheaply, but with good effect. The eerie nature of the singing most of all.
However the film is not a horror. Indeed at times it contains truly SFnal speculation about the future the colonists come from. Including a kind of unusual form of direct democracy involving something they call "Nano-technology". In this computers do not take up entire rooms as they do in the real world, but instead can be small enough to be inside a brain without harm. It also contains an unusual idea about FTL. Somehow these future people can harness the power of an exploding star in such a way as to create a slowly collapsing sphere that allows for FTL. This explains why they are limited in where they can go with it.
The best part however might be the cast and the colonists themselves. Though intensely democratic and egalitarian their society had been far from utopian. Some seemed incapable of any action without a vote of the group, making the oceans affect strangely liberating. Others had been adventurers from world with different systems. Indeed the film had a good deal more action than might be suspected. The best portrayed may have been the scientists though.
As for the actors the cast had been a mixture of Brazilian and North Americans. The Brazilians include some big names, especially Flavio Salazar who has perhaps the main role as the therapist for the colony. The Americans however do have some fine roles. Especially the child actress Joan Marrow who plays a sort of "speaker for the Ocean".
The down side might be the film sometimes came close to Neo-Spiritualists foolishness. Usually it managed to reign that in, but not entirely.
So in conclusion only one of these films was not worth watching. However if they ever show it on TV maybe even that one would be worth a laugh.
Copyright © 2002 by Thomas R.