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Present-day note: This grab-bag of writings was a little different than my usual movie reviewing. Quick thoughts from August 31st, 1999:

There will be no particular rhyme or reason to this week’s column…

The Thirteenth Floor was out a few months ago. I didn’t catch it until some weeks back, when I went to that second-run theater – two bucks a flick (cheap!) – up in the Tri-Cities (Wash.). This movie had some images that stayed with me, and I wanted to talk about one of them:

In Floor, computer programmers, one of them played by Craig Bierko (all I know about him is that he’s the boyfriend of Janeane Garofalo, and let’s just say I like his taste in women), have created a perfectly realized, simulated mini-universe. To be exact, it’s a recreation of 1937 Los Angeles, complete with streetcars and dancing girls — and outskirts that peter out into a green grid of computerized lines, because the world isn’t finished.

A plot twist or two later, and it turns out 1999 is an advanced version of what 1937 is: one of thousands of elaborate simulated existences, inhabited by real people. (It simply is one that became advanced enough to begin creating its own mini-worlds.) And the people in ’37 and ’99 can go back and forth between the two worlds.

It’s a story very much in the tradition of mid-century pulp science fiction (it was produced by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day and Godzilla) — and it shoots itself in the foot with one plot twist near the end I wish it didn’t have — but it features an interesting little comment about our world today that made the film worthwhile.

So here’s Vincent D’Onofrio — you’ll remember him as Edgar the Bug in Men In Black — as a 1937 man who gets into 1999, and what does he find? A conference room in the computer company offices, where there are something like 10 TV screens. When Bierko finds him, D’Onofrio has turned on every single screen and is experiencing late ’90s television.

And he is shaking like a junkie. He looks like he’s OD’ing.

Television. Breakfast of champions, right?

George Carlin likes to remind people that 100 years ago, there were absolutely no radio, TV, cable, satellite or any type of signal (other than telegraph, phone and maybe smoke signals) moving through our air. Think of how many lines of communication were opened up in this century. And remember, they all have to be used, filled…especially television.

D’Onofrio’s 1937 character is not used to experiencing or processing that much information. We’re used to it. But is that necessarily a good thing?

All I’ll add is that I’m writing this a couple of weeks after ending my subscription to cable. I mainly did so to simplify my life.

But that image was in my head as I decided to do that.

— One of several reasons I won’t see Runaway Bride: something is a little off when a romantic comedy is advertised with the ’80s Police song “Every Breath You Take.”

Which is a song about stalking.

Listen to what Sting is saying: “Every breath you take/ Every move you make/ Every bond you break/ Every step you take/ I’ll be watching you.

It’s not exactly “My love/ My love to give love/ And love you, my love/ ’cause you are my love…

R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe once said that this Police song was the
inspiration for his intentionally disturbed “Losing My Religion” (“Tryin’ to keep up with you/ And I don’t know if I can do it/ Oh no I’ve said too much/ I haven’t said enough”). The R.E.M. tune strips away the sheen of calm Sting used when singing “Every Breath You Take” to reveal something a little more nervous and high-strung, but the basic story of both songs is someone who doesn’t love in a healthy way.

Seeing Julia Roberts’ truly glowing smile underscored by a song like this is one of the reasons I found the whole idea of the movie Runaway Bride a little creepy.

By the way, I didn’t like Pretty Woman and I thought the most worthwhile person in it was Laura San Giacomo. So there (said Cranky Critic Man).