Archive for the Thriller Category

SITGES PT. VI: AND THE WINNER IS… ANTIVIRAL, Brandon Cronenberg (2012)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

And this is the last chapter of my Sitges experience 2012. Not bad, huh? I’ve left the final touch to talk about Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg’s full-length debut film. Whay can I say? The family ties attract me too much as to miss the screenings in Sitges. I didn’t want anyone to tell me about the film, I had to see for myself and judge. I tried to ease down my expectations, clinging to the idea that despite who his father is, it doesn’t mean that he receives the baton and is able to go on with the tradition. No matter how I tried to deny myself, I knew I wanted Brandon Cronenberg to succeed as the new baron of blood.

Those who are in regular contact with me, and also because the title of the post is quite self explanatory,  you already know my verdict: EPIC WIN.

As soon as I left the room after the screening, I immediately wrote this tweet:

One thing is for sure. Taste for blood and twisted stories is hereditary. Long Live The New Flesh! Hail to the Young Cronenberg!

In a not so remote future time, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for the Lucas Clinic, a company specializing in inoculating its patients with virus samples taken from the hottest celebrities they adore. This is the ultimate fan experience, to develop and pass through the same illness as their idols.

As security is so strong, the only way to smuggle some of these virus to develop into another sub-products to be sold in the black market, Syd shoots himself with leftovers, in order to sell blood samples.

Things get rough when after visiting the super gorgeous Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) for some samples of an unknown disease she probably caught in China, news announce her sudden death, and he find himself in danger infected by the same disease. March’s body will be pursued as if gold, for many parties will be interested in taking as much advantage as possible from him.

If at this point you don’t think this plot is twisted enough as to be worthy of admiration and recognition as the extension of David Cronenberg’s legacy, now that he’s evolving to more conventional stories, then I’m making you waste your time, because from here you’re only going to read praise to this son’s work.

This is a critic exercise against the fan phenomena happening lately, with the massive media coverage, the narrow line separating fans from stalkers, the pursue of trespassing the intimacy of popular people… women dress like their idols, soccer players are the inspiration for many men, kids named after actors, sportsmen or just yellow press characters… Right now, as in the film, celebrities don’t have to earn it. If they become popular for no reason and people worship them, they go on doing nothing, getting richer and being just famous.

Antiviral goes one step beyond, turning the screw another time: now a guy wants the cold-sore of Hannah Geist, a woman wants to experience the genital herpes of an actress, the man who wants the flu of his idol… and so on. The client pays for suffering, and both the company and the celebrity make profit out of an illness. Could you imagine if that was for real considering what some people are capable of doing for money? Getting rewarded for catching illnesses… it would get out of control, I’m sure.

The film is very aseptic and minimalist, so much it’s disturbing. Blinding white locations are very present, thus any element in contrast, is highlighted. Blood is very intense in the film, for example.

The recruitment of Caleb Landry Jones to play Syd was a great choice, the perfect candidate for that role. His physical features provide the character of more personality. Ginger, freckled, super pale, skinny, and androgynous, with this cold expression as if insensitive… he behaves like a robot, dresses in the same way everyday, sandwich and orange juice are his daily meal, no hobbies, no personal items in his flat but the hidden virus processor, he’s also an aseptic character, only worried for his health as if he was hypochondriac, even though he’s actually monitoring the illnesses he’s submitting to in order to get extra money. The progressive decline, accelerated by this last lethal virus is noticeable: he’s weak, his physical appearance is severely affected, he suffers from paranoia episodes… and cannot get proper help.

Sarah Gadon means perfection in this film. The Cronenbergs’ muse, this time is the celebrity everybody worships. Blonde, perfect, warm and close in the eyes of her fans, adorable… but if you think of it, she’s a rat making money of her illness.

Visually speaking, there are very Cronenberg elements. At some points I thought of Videodrome, eXistenZ and Dead Ringers. Antiviral is suffocating, and those moments when reality conveys with insanity are a clear example.

It has to be hard for Brandon to be constantly related to his father, but the truth is that David Cronenberg is one of the greatest influences in horror sci-fi films, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll always be compared. Beside, Brandon had taken part of the cast of some of his dad’s projects. You’ve learnt from the master in first line, and we the fans love you’ve been so diligent, because the results have been outstanding, surprising everybody with a remarkable debut film. The future of young Cronenberg is promising, and Antiviral has opened the doors to another mad scientist into the business. We only have to wait and see, and hopefully Brandon will be delivering interesting projects which won’t leave us indifferent.

Again, Antiviral is an excellent job, and I just can shout:  LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!

SITGES PT. IV: CHAINED, Jennifer Lynch (2012)

Posted in Drama, Horror, Serial Murders, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

After the previous posts talking about films I didn’t feel passionate for, now it’s time to focus on those which fully earned my respect and recognition. Not only mine by the jury at different categories, which make me feel better meaning my taste and judgment is not so crappy as I might have thought.

Chained was one of the main movies I wanted to watch badly for many reasons. On one hand because Jennifer Lynch is David’s daughter, second because I had recently revisited Surveillance, the film which also awarded in Sitges 4 years ago, and I still enjoyed it, and because disturbing Vincent D’Onofrio was the main actor.

In the era of downloadings and streaming, and because Spain is at the back of the queue in screening speaking terms, there were people who had already watched. A wide range of opinions was floating, and I decided not to take them for granted.

Chained was the first movie in Sitges, and was also the first time I attended a screening with the director introducing the film to the audience. Jennifer Lynch explained the film was about how real monsters are made, and finished asking people to medidate on how we raise our kids nowadays, implying the importance of behavior and discipline, and other concepts she left open to our thinking.

On any random Saturday evening, Sarah (Julia Ormond) and his 9 year-old son Tim, take a cab to get back from the mall, after her husband insists them not to take the bus for not being safe. At some point Sarah panics when trying to stop the cab driver, who’s completely diverted from the route and is taking them to a house in the middle of nowhere.

Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) tortures and brutally kills her, and adopts Tim, renamed as Rabbit, as his slave, after apologizing for not being part of the plan. He will have to do the cleaning, serve him the food, update the newspaper clippings album with stuff related to his victims, and many other terrible things. One word, one forbidden action, and he’ll be fucked up. The servant is watched and recorded by hidden cameras so Bob knows what he does all the time. in a moment of desperation, Rabbit tries to get away but his master is waiting for him, and his punishment will mean carrying a long and heavy chain round his ankle for many years.

Rabbit (Eamon Farren) grows up, and Bob, who is keeping his routine of abducting young girls for his feast of sex, torture and murder, starts thinking of the teenager as his successor, and starts educating him and giving him more privileges. Should he follow the steps of his master? Should he rebel against evil? Raised in an environment of horror, murder and insanity, there aren’t many options.

Disturbing, claustrophobic, insane, terrifying… Lynch was right about the making of monsters. A kid raised cleaning blood puddles, burying corpses of the young victims, being conscious of being locked up while his dad is looking for him, and serving the serial killer who killed his mother… He’s to be stigmatized for life, probably developing all kind of mental issues, and the question of following the pattern he’s been witnessing for so long time, well, seems hard to escape from that fate.

Regarding the reflection on how to raise children, you’ll see and understand what she meant. At the end of the day, children are information sponges, and everything they see, especially if impressive, remains in their memories forever.

The basis of Chained is the relationship between the serial killer and the kid. There are brief characters, which end up buried under the house. It’s outstanding the tension between them, the evolution of both characters after so many years, and the final kind of tenderness Bob feels towards Rabbit, thinking of him as part of him.

Vincent D’Onofrio is disturbing. It’s impossible not to remember him as Pvt. Gome Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, the agony of being bullied and fucked up by his instructor till he blows his head. I can’t forget his face. This time he’s this cab driver, who abducts girls, tortures them and finally kills them. Why? As usual it has to be with childhood trauma. Growing in certain conditions can be mind overwhelming and he just became a serial killer, with the perfect system, starting with his job and the car, to fulfill his needs with total impunity. Bob’s personality and life is absolutely plain except for his secret. Doesn’t talk to much, doesn’t have vices, it’s a very square and monotonous, and hasn’t any passions or hobbies. He’s a grey guy.

What about Rabbit? He’s deprived of any self-thinking, he’s locked down and chained, he cannot talk unless asked, he cannot eat until Bob has finished his meal, and once he’s done he will have the leftovers…when his Master gives him anatomy books to study, he just devours them. He doesn’t want to end as his “stepfather”, but it’s difficult to rebel against the one who’s got the power. How long will he manage to stand firm?

I’m sure Chained is the kind of film which will not leave you indifferent, it’s impossible. It reflects this type of horror which could be real, or at least its origin is too common nowadays. The conclusion of the film left me speechless too. I was in shock.

If you watch it, be in the mood for feeling uneasy, because you will for sure. Still, Chained is a good film supported with great performances and the suffocating atmosphere created. Jennifer Lynch, well done!


Posted in Action!, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

These two stories have nothing in common but just one remark: they are not bad films but I didn’t feel enthusiastic about them either.

I watched The Tall Man on Wednesday morning, after the suffocating and insane Antiviral, I needed something more dynamic , so it was ok. Aurora on the other hand, was the first one of the marathon, right after having a quick lunch while waiting in the queue, and I was lucky not having succumbed to the classic nap, because the dialogues in the original language were too monotonous, the rhythm was super slow, and the atmosphere was perfect for it.

THE TALL MAN, Pascal Laugier (2012)

I have to admit I expected much more from The Tall Man, having in mind its director Pascal Laugier had shocked  the audience in Sitges few years ago with the film Martyrs. This was the first time he directed an English spoken film supported by a remarkable budget.

Right before the screening of the movie, the attendants were given an amazing small book of the film, including the plot, press reviews, the cast and their roles introduced, how the crew was gather, so as the selection of settings. Very interesting and a nice (and expensive) gesture.

Things in the mining town Cold Rock, in Washington State, are rough. Not only unemployment and poverty strike the neighbors, but also the alarming amount of children disappearing in the area, as if abducted. Everybody talks about The Tall Man, it’s become a popular legend which terrorizes Cold Rock.

Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is a nurse performing as the doctor in town, who happened to be her husband dead some years ago. She remainsthere even though she’s still seen as a stranger by the locals. She lives with her son David (Jakob Davies), and her friend Christine (Eve Harlow), who looks after the kid while she’s working.

One night an intruder breaks into the house to take David with him, but this “Tall Man” doesn’t know what Julia is capable of to recover her beloved kid. When she informs the authorities on the disappearance, some doubts and evidences point her as responsible for the disappearance of the children, thus she will have to carry on with reckless search for David, getting away from the locals at the same time. Eventually the truth will be discovered.

Pascal Laugier has explained that this project was born years ago, and was interrupted when he worked on the shocking Martyrs. This time he wanted to focus on a real subject as the source of horror, again the starting point is the abduction of children, but this time The Tall Man is a dark thriller. The director thought of Jessica Biel remembering her performance in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She is an angel face but also has a very athletic body being great in action scenes, in which she tried to avoid being stunted, being more realistic.

It’s true that for most of time the audience is finding their own conclusions that are not valid due to the change of the events and perspectives. The most interesting aspect is that we always tend to identify and label the characters, the good guy, the bad guy…and here this labeling is not suitable till the end. Still, many characters are not relevant, if you pay attention you notice things valid for the final conclusions, but there are other aspects which could be omitted without affecting the final result. The initial plot is not bad, but the development is not convincing.

AURORA (VANISHING WAVES), Kristina Buozyte (2012)

Aurora was the opening film to the marathon at Retiro movie theatre. I didn’t have any idea of what it was about, just the mocking remark of a friend of mine saying he had read somewhere it was erotic.

So there I am, front-centered, ready to enjoy the experience of several movies in a row for about 9 hours, and curious about this Aurora. For no reason, the title was making me of Solaris, something very funny because in essence, the two hours of story were too Solaris inspired.

To start with, the main language in the film was Lithuanian (I thought it was Russian, quite similar and monotonous), with very few lines in English, included in the dialogues among scientists.

Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) has volunteered for a series of experiments consisting  of neuron-transfer transmissions in order to get some response from Aurora (Jurga Jutaite), a young beautiful woman, who is into deep coma after a car crash. The transmissions would be as if travelling into another dimension where Lukas and Aurora will star a secret love affair he will not report to his superiors, putting all the experiment into risk, and also the life of the patient. Of course these strengthened ties will bring out other feelings and situations completely unnoticed in the real world, up to a point all this will be negatively affecting both Lukas and Aurora.

The language, the rhythm, the story in a different dimension, the behavior of Aurora, the sound effects, the work with cameras… everything reminded me as an attempt to create a modern Solaris. It’s undeniable that Tarkovsky’s film was the main inspiration.

It was a rough film to start the marathon, dense, slow, a bit twisted, but the story was quite interesting. Erotic? Nah, you can see boobs, naked bodies and sensual scenes, but not big deal. There were these moments the actors try to create an ideal and allegoric scene of beauty, but the way they move ends up being quite of funny, lessening the effect. Definitely modest in the impact on the audience.


Posted in Directors, Events, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

I woke up this morning with my body still stiff after my first film marathon at Sitges Film Festival yesterday, trying to put things in order so I can tell you about my experience this year.

First of all I have to admit Sitges is the perfect festival for me. There’s too much trash, as it compiles horror, sci-fi, Asiatic films… this is, mostly those non suitable films for standard festivals, but in essence the concept is as if tailor made.

This year I’m unemployed but unfortunately money matters here, and no press registration was available, thus I planned Tuesday evening to watch Chained and The Lords of Salem, and a morning to enjoy Antiviral and The Tall Man. That morning I added one more title, Grabbers, and in the last minute, I could attend this marathon featuring Aurora, Sightseers, Maniac and Johnny Dies at the End.

I still don’t know how to approach the 9 films I saw, because there were great ones I’d like to talk about individually in order to extend the review in depth, and others which, frankly, don’t deserve more than just a few lines. I think I’ll update these minor titles first, to go on with the good stuff.

What I can confirm is that there are several conclusions I reached this time. On one hand, talent and taste for the twisted are hereditary, as Jennifer Lynch and Brandon Cronenberg showed in their visions, and on the other, that great names are not guarantee of nothing anymore, as in the cases of Rob Zombie and Don Coscarelli. And yes, one more remark, there’s still redemption for Alexandre Aja, responsible for the script of the remake of William Lustig’s Maniac, together with his horrorsoulmate Grégory Lavasseur,  one of the best movies I saw last week.

Sitges 2012 has come to an end, but I still have lots of things to tell about, and of course, I’m counting the days already for October 2013.

COSMOPOLIS, David Cronenberg (2012)

Posted in Directors, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

The reason I probably started Popcorn and Movies almost four years ago was David Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, if not the first one. I’ve revised my earliest posts and damn! They are short and terrible. I’m glad this is something I think I’ve improved  as I’ve been feeling more comfortable with what I wanted to do here. Regarding Cronenberg, , I’ve discovered that right after my first post introducing myself to the world, I immediately talked about the Canadian director. Mine is irrational passion for his work.

It’s been many years since the Baron of Blood started working into more conventional projects, such as A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, receiving sharp criticism who were charmed by his entrails, frightening tools, and twisted stories, in which you as the viewer had to put your senses to work in order to differ what was reality and what hallucination.

With a Dangerous Method, many fans gave up on him as there was no action, no sci-fi, and the story about the triangle relationship among Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein was too philosophical and very heavy to stand for many. Since I love subjects related to psychiatry, I enjoyed the film lots, but I knew immediately that fans would despise it.

Cronenberg is presenting  his last work Cosmopolis at Sitges Film Festival these days, before being released at cinemas in a couple of weeks, and I’ve managed to watch it already. After the trailers and despite the presence of Robert Pattinson, I was really excited about the film. I haven’t finished Don DeLillo’s book yet, but as far as I’m concerned, the script is quite loyal to the original story.

Cosmopolis basically tells the story of the decline of a 28-year-old powerful and hugely wealthy Wall Street shark, in just one day.

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has so much money, he can buy everything in life. He’s the atypical man who can hardly understand NO for an answer, so used to have all kind of yes men around. He has barely slept last night and decides he needs a haircut at his favorite barbershop downtown. On an average day such errand would not take much time, but these are restless times, and the city is affected by the presence of the US president, a large funeral, and hordes of anarchists trying to put Capitalism to an end, rioting on the streets. All these events determine the car route to take, which has to be modified at any risk signal Torval (Kevin Durand), his security chief, receives. Thus, most part of the action takes place inside the car, a huge armed  limo equipped high technology, capable of isolating Packer from any outside threat. He receives visits from several counselors and advisers, who consider themselves at a lower lever than their employer, who is defined as a seer. Today Yuen, is behaving beyond his prediction, and the young billionaire is losing large amounts of money at the smallest time measure you might think of, but still he’s calm. Eventually “it will chart”.

He crosses ways with Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), his new wife, a gorgeous poet who barely remembers his physical features and doesn’t feel like having sex with him. Their marriage was actually a transaction, as her family is even wealthier. No matter how much effort Eric puts in having average couple conversations and behaving normal towards her, she’s continuously rejecting and avoiding him. There’s no love nor affection, everything’s a fake. He only seems to be affected by the deprivation of sex, which he quickly eases sexual encounters with a former mistress (Juliette Binoche), who is his art consultant, and a security staff member. It’s remarkable they are both his employees.

Cosmopolis is a series of encounters with different kinds of people, and the cathartic ride of Packer from control and safety to the unknown and dangerous, a ride that he deliberately forced into motion, probably looking for a reason to live and many to keep on doing what he had been doing all these years. As the day advances, not only he’s losing his fortune, but also the unstable situation in the city begins to affect him, and the death threat to his persona is becoming real, so he starts looking forward to facing it the soonest possible.

Again David Cronenberg delivers a work too controversial from the fan point of view. Cosmopolis will never let you indifferent, but there’s one thing for sure: you’ll love it or hate it, but there’s no grey scale you can stick to. My choice is totally predictable: thumbs UP.

If there is something I’ve found disturbing in DeLillo’s book is precisely the coldness of Eric Packer. He’s a control freak and a visionary, and his counselors, real statistics and financial nerdy experts, are way behind him. Every time he asks a question they avoid answering to safe themselves from humiliation for not delivering a smart enough answer. Of the acquaintances he meets throughout the day, nobody stands at his same level, but his barber, Anthony, probably because he’s the only attachment to his past, and consequently to his father. “Destroy the past, make the future”.

His relationship with women is also peculiar. Recently married to Elise, they have nothing in common, and since the very beginning such marriage is doomed to fail. It’s another deal, another transaction, too aseptic, with a complete lack of confidence and affinity. He forces himself to act like an average husband to get what he really looks for in a woman, sex, and she’s constantly rejecting him, as she doesn’t depend on him but on her family, and is free to do so, as she’s not of his property. Eric hardly accepts this, and keeps on pushing, while in the meantime submit his female employees to his will. For instance, Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire), his chief of finance, is summoned to the limo on her day off while training, and she has to discuss yuen issues while he’s having his daily prostate exam, something which brings out a highly sexual tense situation. The only woman who perhaps receives all his attention and we could say respect, is Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton), his chief of theory, during the anarchist riots started by the rat men yelling the spector of capitalism” happening outside the car. No doubt their conversation, her analysis of what going on with capitalism, remarking that the future is inconsistent and something might happen that very same day, is the key of the whole story, the confirmation of Packer’s world collapsing.

In order not to spoil the film, I cannot extend much talking about another essential character, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), a loser who used to be enthusiastic about currency analysis. He aims to see Packer suffering for certain reasons, however, he’s at lower level, he cannot compete in dialectics, and no matter how hard he tries, he’s uncapable of impressing his former boss, it is the other way round.

Packer’s personality and behavior can be easily compared to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, leaving aside all the serial killing. They are both neat, powerful, cold, detached from reality and current society. While Bateman is unable to fit in because of his mental issues and his thirst of blood, Packer is unable to establish boundaries to real world due to his power. When he’s offered a piece of art by Rothko, he doesn’t show any passionate interest, he only wants to purchase a whole chapel to be rebuilt in his apartment just for his own pleasure, regardless the public interest. Everything has a price, and he will yield to his will only if outbid. The billionaire’s actual status would be reduced to his own sentence: “show me something I don’t know”. His wife Elise at some point realizes his main occupation is knowing things. The more you know the more you control, right?

The limo and the city are also relevant in the film. I’d say the limo is an extension of Packer himself, and all the damages it suffers during the riots are a reflection of his own decline. Inside the car remains intact, alien to what’s happening on the streets, protecting and isolating Packer from reality. The car works as an office, a private surgery room, a bachelor pad, a therapy room…and a toilet. The movement is almost unnoticeable, the city is burning while he inside is cold and silent.

Manhattan has been always a traffic mess, however the visit of the president, and the mourning and  funeral of Packer’s favorite rap artist Brutha Fez, seed chaos, which turns into complete mayhem with the riots. The unpredictability, combined with the man’s stubbornness, results fatal for someone who has everything under control to the detail.

I’ve been reading all kind of comments and reviews already, and seems that there’s not a firm and common verdict, which I particularly enjoy. There are aspects very criticized, I personally feel enthusiastic about. The cold tone of dialogues, the succession of visits and characters creating this one to one scenes, the rhythm of the story as a long ride, and the claustrophobic setting of the car…

My taste for this journeys to the lowest level of the human being is known. I also think of Shame here. Characters living a perfect and under control lives till there’s some twisting point which drives them to free falling into fatal decadence.

The story of Packer is the tale of a guy who never paid attention to improbability, the tale of a non so far away inconsistent future, and he fall of the values society was stuck to.

Can’t think of anyone better than Cronenberg to depict the above mentioned. The presence of Peter Suschitzky responsible for cinematography, is essential to deliver such an impressive visual film, beautiful in technique and outstanding in aesthetics, the participation of Howard Shore once again with the soundtrack, is subtle yet fully intense. The director’s special taste to adapt DeLillo’s work in a magnificent way, managing to develop his personal insane atmosphere is out of question. You watch Cosmopolis and even though Cronenberg has diverted from earlier works, or it should be about time to change the term to EVOLVED, you clearly notice his trademark. It’s difficult to recreate a complex story with your personal features remaining almost intact.

It’s taken me many years to understand and feel comfortable with David Cronenberg’s works at first glance, and because I don’t trust myself when dealing with him, I reckon more screenings are necessary in order to hog as many details as possible and be able to announce a final verdict. All I can say 24 hours after my first approach is that once again, Cosmopolis is not an easy film, and lots of people will end up disappointed. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to reviews and critics and would recommend you to enjoy/suffer the experience yourself, trying to isolate yourself in the Packer way form comments and anything which might influence you.

If I get the chance to see the Canadian director in Sitges tomorrow, I will only say to him BRAVO!

Ah! Before I forget… Seems that Pattinson can act.


ANGEL HEART, Alan Parker (1987)

Posted in Film Noir, Horror, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

It’s been too long since my last update. What can I say? I’ve been watching movies all the time but wasn’t too inspired, perhaps because my behavior is usually more erratic in Summer. We’ll see what happens this new season.

Few days ago I saw a couple of amazing tattoos related to Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart, and immediately I felt the urge to watch it again, as it had been years since the last viewing.

Memories came to mind. On one hand Robert De Niro and his terrible nails, peeling and eating a poach egg, that sight used to make me feel really uneasy. On the other hand all the scandal related to Lisa Bonet, who used to play the role of Denise Huxtable, one of the daughters of Bill Cosby, in his show. Due to a couple of very intense scenes, to label them in some way, the powerful and and fatherly man, threw stones against her, because she didn’t fit in the projection of the good side of black people he aimed to spread through his series. She wasn’t the good daughter anymore, she was hot, sexy, and played with black magic. Definitely she was the black sheep escaped from the cattle and on the road to sin.

Alan Parker, the English director, had been able to deliver a controversial film such as Midnight Express, and then work on music oriented stories such as Fame or a project of the classic Pink Floyd’s The Wall. His versatility pushed him to adapt the novel Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg, writing and directing what was to become this mixture of a detective film-noir with a touch of horror: Angel Heart.

The cast of characters was impressive: Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling, Lisa Bonet and Mickey Rourke at the peak of his career, as Harry Angel.

The starting point is New York City in the mid 1950’s. Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is one of these not so lucky private detectives, who usually receive non relevant assignments related to infidelity in marriages, insurance cheats and so on. His presence is requested by a new client, in a church in Harlem. Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro),  is an elegant and proud gentleman, yet mysterious, who asks him to find Johnny Favorite, a famous crooner who vanished after being wounded in WWII, suffering brain damage which drifted away from his contractual  obligations with the gentleman, who thinks he’s still in debt and wants to sort this unfinished business with him. First step is to visit the mental hospital where Favorite, or better said Johnny Liebling, was checked-in for a while. While having a look at the records, he notices that the date of transferring appearing was manipulated later, and goes straight to the doctor who handled the case, named Fowler, a current morphine addict. Right after the man confesses he got paid by a wealthy man to alter he records, he shoots himself, putting  Angel at risk of being charged of murder. Scared, the detective tries to quit but Mr. Cyphre offers him a large sum of money to go on with the case, and Angel, a poor rat seduced by the  offer accepts. It is his lover, an attractive journalist who’d provide information about Favorite’s background, highlighting the name of a black woman he used to be in love with, Evangeline Proudfoot, and a fortune teller who used to live in Coney Island, named Madame Zora (Charlotte Rampling). These two women will make him drive to New Orleans searching for the singer, but the truth waiting for him, will be too hard and overwhelming.

I remember long time ago someone asked in a forum about films closely related to cities. You know, Taxi Driver would be Manhattan, 28 Days Later an apocalyptical London, and Bullit would mean Frisco. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but always have related Angel Heart to Nola. It’s been always said that city is bewitched, due to the tradition of voodoo and black magic rituals which took place during the times of slavery. This Creole city, hosting a multilingual and cross-cultural mixture, has always kept a magical mysterious halo around, allowing uncommon debauchery and frivolity.

In the film, New Orleans atmosphere is suffocating, heat followed by torrential rain, thus the unstable weather condition enhances this feeling of tension and uneasiness. Its role reminds me of Apocalypse Now. The more Angel digs into the mystery finding all the clues which will eventually lead him to the truth, the more unbearable the atmospheric conditions are, and the harder is to distinguish what is hallucination from reality.

Symbolism is the key of the story. To start with, think of the name of Louis Cyphre, mispronounced by Angel all the time, and you’ll get a clue. It’s totally ironic.

Chickens’ presence is constant and reminded all the time, and the detective suffers from an unexplainable phobia, justified when you discover what’s going on. Chicken legs, voodoo rituals conducted by Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet), covering herself in chicken blood after cutting one’s neck, the poached eggs I was telling you about Cyphre peels and eats…

There are visual elements which make you wonder what happens: the slow  screeching fans, Angel in an elevator going downwards, the black faceless nun, the marine kissing the nurse in Time Square on New Year’s Eve, the red room with a fan and the agonizing screams of a man… and the piano sounds whenever someone is about to die. I particularly love that moment Angel gets into Madame Krusemark’s wealthy house and finds her dead, and there’s this kind on the street dancing claque very intensely, till the detective discovers all the horrible mess, and the sequence ends when the kid stops making noise. Brilliant!

The treatment of blood is worth mentioning. In general terms, thefilm is quite dark and contrast of colours quite poor and neuter, however, when there are scenes involving blood, this balance is saturated and red color is extremely intense. Not only that, but the blood is widely splattered, and it’s thick and heavy. There’s a moment when Angel stands with the razor, after fighting with the local musician Toots Sweet, covered in lots of blood. He’s just been cut in the hand, when defending himself, however he’s soaked in blood, super exaggerated.

I had never paid the attention deserved to Rourke’s interpretative style till yesterday, and I must admit I was surprised in a very positive way. He has to play a detective who is a complete loser, but has to look tough, like in film noir main titles. He’s far away from master Bogey, who represented the iconic detective, tough, elegant, attractive, and silent type. Angel is a loser, messy and dirty, he sweats and probably smells, and he’s injured, punched, bitten, and he’s afraid. The deeper he’s into the mud of the case, the darker he becomes. His desperation in the last scenes is unforgettable, the way he cries and yells, how he looks at his own reflection trying to put himself together and failing, he’s awesome.

Of course DeNiro is something different, all the details about him, the nails resembling claws, the stick, the way he eats, his hairdo, the majestic way of sitting on a chair and Cyphre positioned at some kind of raised dais at an upper level than Angel as to show some kind of superiority, everything is there to fit a purpose.

Angel Heart is definitely a film which is perfect to review from time to time, because it’s so full of subtle references and details created to add meaning to the story, with every viewing you discover something new.

Harry Angel was doomed to a spiral of murder and insanity for succumbing to the temptation of money. Greed is one of the most profitable sins in terms of film stories. When the main character accepts a deal or a sum of money, is also opening the doors to the Devil, and even though Catholic religion has been always trying to convince us that the goodness and faith defeated the evil, the presence of the devil is always around, threatening, and waiting for the right moment to recover its power regardless, thus in case of business, the evil powers always take what is of their own, with interests.

VIDEODROME, David Cronenberg (1983)

Posted in Directors, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , on May 15, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

I’ve just realized it’s been too long since I last reviewed a film of Cronenberg for this blog, one year and a half. Can’t believe time goes so fast.  Been checking and lots of good titles need to be commented, so I’ll have to fill the gaps ASAP.

Few weeks ago felt in the mood of watching Videodrome. It was no longer available in my collection because the criterion edition was my ex’s, thus I found it quite cheap and bought it. I want to have  all his films, the Canadian director is one of my favorites, and love most of his works, thus, little by little, I’ll be investing  few bucks in completing the collection. Right now I think I already have four or five. I’m not in a hurry either.

Videodrome is not an easy film. It took me at least 3 times to start enjoying it, and guess at the 5th time I realized I loved it. With this film, the typical Cronenberg’s couple of fiction and reality, is exploited at its most, really putting the viewer on a tense situation of not being able to identify at which point the film is. That’s why I honestly recommend, before making a final judgment on the film, to give it more than just one chance, in order to get a clearer picture of the story.

Don’t panic! My words might sound a bit discouraging, but I can tell you now, I love Videodrome, and the story is terrific, my intention is to advise you properly, so you don’t miss anything.

Max Renn (James Woods), the president of Civic TV, a trashy station in Toronto, focused on porn and softcore, is seeking desperately for new fresh stuff to offer the audience and increase viewing rates. Definitely new product must be shocking, better if extreme, as to catch people attention.

The answer to his prayers is discovered by Harlan, a sort of IT guy in the company, who also runs an illegal station equipped with a satellite able to intercept signals of broadcasts. He’s found out something Renn is definitely going to love: Videodrome. The show doesn’t follow a plot line and is based on extreme torture and death, recorded in a red-orange horror chamber, seems so realistic, Renn can’t stop looking for more of this amazing material, very addictive.

When participating as a guest on a talk show, Renn meets an attractive psychiatrist specialized in S/M named Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry). Sexual attraction among them appears immediately and eventually they’ll start dating. By chance, Nicki finds out about Videodrome and really the tapes get her really hot, putting into practice her knowledge on S/M with  Renn.

On the other hand, when looking for more information regarding the extreme tapes, Marsha, a long term collaborator and well connected in the porn world, advising him first to forget about Videodrome, addresses him to Professor Brian O’Blivion, the only person able to enlighten on the subject.

The more Renn deepens into Videodrome dark secrets, the more he suffers hallucinations, up to a point he’ll barely recognize reality from delirium.

No doubt the plot is genuine, in fact it’s difficult to summarize the film briefly, there are too many events  and concepts bringing out, impossible to refer to all of them without spoiling.

What it’s compulsory when watching Videodrome is you to stay focused, otherwise it’ll be Greek to you.

Cronenberg deals here, with all his typical resources. Loves playing with insanity and reality, the scientific part is also included, and the bizarre is very important feature here. The combination is a bomb, not so clear at the first glance.

And there’s also the subject of brain manipulation by means of images, something not so far from reality nowadays. We’re slaves to images, we’re bombed with so much information, in order to create an impact on us, more shocking stuff is unconsciously demanded. We get used to everything, we swallow and bear cruelty, roughness, and eventually we reach a point where that doesn’t mean anything, therefore, in order to catch our attention, media is constantly innovating and offering new shit so we get shocked.

Remember the innocence of 50’s horror movies? I remember once, a friend of mine started questioning whether people in those years were treated as idiots, and couldn’t believe audiences were impressed or scared by poor disguised monsters. She thought them to be ridiculous. It was a matter of ignorance and innocence, something I don’t find to laugh so much at. People weren’t familiar to certain contents, and didn’t have as much info as we receive now.

Radically opposite is the current situation. We see blood, murder and execution on a daily basis, we’re not so impressed by bombs, blood or death, it’s just normal. Media tends to focus on morbid contents so we can feel moved or disgusted.

And there it goes the issue of  morality and respect. These concepts have been manipulated and they’re actually vanishing. A corpse is just a corpse, a thing, a piece of chunk yet interesting to fill gaps on the news. I find this sick and disgusting.

Cronenberg creates a sci-fi story, yet he’s able to develop some kind of critic. Dichotomies are in constant movement in Videodrome, and at the end, what’s the conclusion?