Archive for David Cronenberg

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!

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.

 

EASTERN PROMISES , David Cronenberg (2007)

Posted in Action!, Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Can’t believe I haven’t talked about  this movie here yet, this is unacceptable! I’ve seen this film at least 4 times and reckon it’s one of my favorite ones of the past decade. Let’s put some remedy to such mistake.

Back in 2005, with A History of Violence, David Cronenberg started the so called Trilogy of Violence, which is still unfinished, and don’t think with the upcoming A Dangerous Method, comes to an end either.

Anyway, Eastern Promises is no doubt another example of violence, but this time from a perspective of the Russian mob in London nowadays, settled for at least 10-12 years and becoming powerful and very dangerous.

The starting point of the story is the death of a young Jane Doe, named Tatiana, at a maternity ward, by giving birth to her baby girl, in unfortunate and extreme circumstances.

The midwife who last assisted her, Anna (Naomi Watts), finds a diary written in Russian in her hand bag, and is determined to find any relatives so the newborn will escape from the bureaucratic adoption procedures.

Despite her Russian  roots, she can’t read the diary, plus her uncle Stepan does not agree to nose at dead people personal values. By chance, she finds a card from a restaurant named Trans-Siberian, so she decides to pay a visit, hoping someone can give her some information about the teenager or at least, get some help to translate the diary.

Once there, she will meet the friendly owner of the place, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who suggests her to come back the following day, so he can help her.  However, behind the amiable mask of a tender old man, the head of one of the most dangerous Russian mafia families, Vory V Zakone.

Problems will start the moment she hands him a copy of the diary, in which both Semyon and his careless and shallow son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel) are named and accused of very terrible things. This little spot in his business is something to be vanished easily, but what nobody takes into account is the driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), very close to Kirill, and acquainted with everything happening, and another two-face character.

Last time I watched Eastern Promises was 4 days ago, with my best friend. First thing she told me was that she hadn’t seen it before for being too sensitive to violent scenes, getting especially anxious when raping involved. Didn’t think much when I reckoned it wasn’t so violent, remembering only the scene at the public sauna. Don’t want to spoil anything, but let me tell you THAT is one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in a movie, if you’ve never seen this movie before, remember these two main adjectives: hard and raw.

Anyway, first scene and I was thinking “Oh My God! This is going to be a mistake I’ll remember for years”. Fortunately, I’ve been training my friend somehow, and she enjoyed the film a lot.

I could praise this film nonstop, there are many aspects to be highlighted I don’t know which one to start with.

There are two main plots which at some point they both meet, but not completely. And which one is more relevant? On one hand the story of Tatiana and her daughter Christina, christened by Anna, the nurse. It works as the perfect introduction to the underworld, but also something as apparently innocent as a diary brings out lots of trouble to Semyon. On the other hand, the affair of Soyka’s murder at Azim’s barbershop, an impulsive command by Kirill which also will cause lots of disturbance. The typical catchy sentence to attract the audience, in this case, is more than appropriate and quite meaningful:  Every sin leaves a mark. well, basically Eastern Promises, depicted in this Russian mafia frame, is all about that. Everything you do, will have consequences, no matter whether your acts involve low or high profile people.

I enjoy lots with the way  the story develops, the different plots getting closer and closer, thus the more you see, the more you understand. Characters are evolving according to the circumstances, and who you think was the nice guy, turns to be a real son o a bitch, and the other way round.

Russian mafia is definitely one of the strongest points in the story. We’ve seen Italian mafia hundreds of times, Irish gangs, ghetto boys, Chinese mob…we know how they deal with their affairs. However, we are quite ignorant  regarding Eastern dirty business and the way they handle and behave, traditions, code messages and whatever stuff you can think of.

Interesting the fact that this family is settled in London. I used to live the 12 years ago and noticed a massive wave of Russian and Polish immigrants. In certain neighborhoods, there were groups of guys dealing and arguing in street corners, with young nice chicks by their side…Here the legal business is the restaurant, but then you find brothels with prostitutes confined, hooked on heroin, pursuing the western dream of getting away from poverty for a better living. Tatiana was one of these girls, her innocence corrupted and her life ruined.

Tattoo code really fascinates me, probably because this traditional feature has almost disappeared. Tattoos not only meant choosing an unorthodox way of life, but also marked the belonging to a dark and exclusive elite. And finally, in this case, beside every inking having a meaning, certain ones were kind of awards, as in the Army, recognition and rising levels.

Along his filmography, Cronenberg has hired services of relevant actors for his purposes: Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Ralph Fiennes, James Woods, Marilyn Chambers and Jennifer Jason Leigh, among others. Truth is that before A History of Violence, I find remarkable the partnership between the director and Jeremy Irons, which delivered two of the least popular of his films, yet to be included among the list of most twisted minded and insane of his works: Dead Ringers and M Butterfly.  I love both, especially the story of the Mantle twins, I had already talked about long time ago on this blog.

With the concept of the trilogy of the violence, seems that the story repeats, with the Canadian and Mortensen creating a strong comradeship. A History of Violence was the starting point, sharing features in common with Eastern Promises. They both show us men, with lives which differ  enormously  from what they really are, and consequently carrying a heavy burdens.

If Mortensen’s act in the first one was outstanding, I reckon as Nikolai he’s over the top. He’s not just the driver, but also the undertaker, the nurse of Kirill, the Russian Mr. Wolf always ready to put things back in their place. From the very beginning my friend  was wondering whether he was good or evil. I think he settles right in the middle. As you’re discovering what he’s into, in order to do good, his methods are wrong.

Rumors say that Cronenberg is planning to work on a sequel. If this is true I feel really curious, it can be a waste of time or a master piece. The end of the film leaves one door open everyone wants to peep through. That could be a good opportunity to discover how the aftermath would be. I’d love it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Once again, Cronenberg does not disappoint. People criticize him for moving away from the body horror he mainly created, and turning more mainstream. I disagree. Nowadays the director focuses more on tough stories, with some kind of lesson behind, and perhaps, rather than insisting on the reality-delusion duality, he’s more into parallel lives, with an apparent front, and a dark side underneath, which eventually comes up to surface. And nevermind what others say, he keeps on with his taste for blood.

Misunderstood and underestimated, in my humble opinion he’s one of the most talented directors, always delivering interesting and different proposals, audience should pay more attention to. Seriously, it’s never too late to discover his work, I encourage you from here.

 

THE DEAD ZONE, David Cronenberg (1983)

Posted in Directors, Drama, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Sorry fellas! I hadn’t realized it’s been near a month since I don’t post anything, time really goes fast and I’ve been quite busy.

As already told, my idea is to review as many possible Cronenberg’s as possible, but it’s going to take a little longer than supposed, because this is the excuse to purchase all of them, despite the fact that I commented on many in the past I don’t have with me any longer.

Anyway, now it’s time for The Dead Zone, probably my favorite of the Canadian. Imagine how much I love this film, I’ve bought it like 3 times by mistake thinking I didn’t have it in my collection yet, however I got a collector’s edition 3 years ago or so.

Cronenberg was assigned to adapt Stephen King’s best-seller, a fact that could had affected negatively to the final result, but wasn’t an obstacle to deliver an amazing film.

Book adaptations are tough tasks, to  summarize hours of reading into a script into 100 minutes, keeping all the essence and portrait what’s in the characters’ minds. Most times I find myself often thinking movies lack of the intensity of the books, yet I cannot stop watching them. Disappointment is an often feeling.

I think I first saw the film ages ago, and then read the book, which I felt in love with, however I must admit I adooore Johnny in the film the most.

Johnny (Christopher Walken), is a literature teacher at a high school, an average good man very in love with his girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams). On a rainy night, he’s involved in a fatal car crash which leaves him out of play in coma for 5 years. Obviously, when he awakes, everything has changed…for worse. To start with, his girlfriend eventually gave up on waiting and got married. Physically crippled, soon he discovers he’s able to somehow foresee the future by means of visions, but these violent episodes have side effects, and his health is weaking progressively. Thus, the unfortunate Johnny is able to change the future, but because of this condition, cannot get along with his personal life.

Johnny’s story is told, since he wakes up from coma, as if divided into the most relevant chapters in his life, stories totally different one from the other, involving different people, and showing the increasing depression Johnny is submitted to, unable to find his place in this changed world.

The only two characters somehow present from the beginning to the end, are Sarah and the ambitious politician running for senator, Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), both essential in Johnny’s fate.

Personally, I find Cronenberg’s decision the role of Johnny should be assumed by Christopher Walken was a complete success. Can’t conceive any other actor being Johnny, to be honest. The way Walken shows this man’s misfortunes, his increasing sadness, impotence, and frustration is none of this world. I’ve found myself crying sometimes while watching this film, Walken moves me too much, his performance as a tortured man is awesome, his tears, his hopeless eyes, his anger…you don’t see him as the typical loser, the audience feels truly sorry for Johnny, he definitely does not deserve all what’s happening to him. At some point in the film, there’s a spark of temporary happiness which will last for few hours in his life, and for him, that is worth having woken up from his dead state. It’s really sad, poor man.

Visions remind me of the insane memories of Spider, another character of Cronenberg’s. Johnny predicts future of people he gets physically (initially) in contact with by means of visions in which he’s also takes part, as if he was present. What I mean is that he’s a kind of witness, he’s there although he’s actually not, because whenever he tries to warn people taking part of them, obviously they cannot see him nor hear him.

The intensity of his visions increases all the same as the episodes in which he gets involved. First of them are casual, by chance, and have to do with just helping someone in imminent danger, but later on, the stories will get more complex, affecting Johnny both physically and emotionally.

His love story with Sarah is one of the saddest, an unfinished one, or better said, an extremely heartbreaking relationship, impossible to find guilt or jealousy encouraging  them to end up splitting ways. For Sarah, Johnny’s extended coma was impossible to bear, and loneliness and lack of faith pushed her to find relief in someone else. If you think of that, she cannot be blamed for that decision, how the hell was she to know eventually Johnny would wake up? For Johnny, on the other hand, It was yesterday when he was kissing he goodbye under the rain, his feelings for her hadn’t changed at all.

I’ve never known any acquaintance who’s passed through a similar experience. I know some induced into coma for a week or so, but never more than 2-3 weeks. You think of people asleep for months or even years and, waking up, rather than being joyful, must be a nightmare, especially when starting been aware you’ve been gone for long time, and the world has kept moving, with you not noticing it. Your reality has vanished, and you have to catch a new wave again. Guess this has to be hard to swallow and manage to overcome.

I don’t intend to spoil anything, in fact I’m not telling half the things I’d love to talk about here, but I’m going to speak out loud something moving in my head, a moral question. In case you felt rejected by people, considered a misfit and a freak, and for some reason you were the only one to change the fate of society, at an unconscious risk, would you risk your life by all your means, to change the course of fate, despite the fact that all those people don’t deserve a shit? Or would you go on with your life, pretending to be unaware too?

The Dead Zone is clearly a sci-fi film, but as many of them, there are many subjects beyond you could interpret as a critic against society, politics and more.

The sad story of a guy whose life changes dramatically and receives a gift, which we could say at the end of the day is a curse. Marvelous film, really, you should watch it.

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?

LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH

 

BLACK SWAN, Darren Aronofsky (2010)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , on March 10, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Last Saturday, eventually I was able to see this film, thanks to a friend who insisted we should go together. It was a great idea, and luckily we found the typical low profile cinema not very packed, offering the film in its original language version. Thus armed with a bag of popcorn (yes, lately I’m up for that, and gotta say I love it) and a Coke, we were ready to dive into the ballet world depicted by Darren Aronofsky.

Honestly, we were both a bit scared considering all the reviews, too much praising but on the other hand some people despising the acting and comparing it to Verhoeven’s Showgirls (I must admit at some point certain scenes and situations reminded me of that film).

The starting point of this film is quite simple: in times of crisis, the established ballet company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has chosen a different version of The Swan Lake, with a new prima ballerina, substituting Beth Macintyre (Wynona Rider), as an attempt to attract more audience and get more private donation to keep the company alive.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is one of the main candidates to get the role of the Swan Queen, her execution as the White Swan is perfect, however she’s not able to get loose and be sensual when performing the Black Swan part.

Eventually she gets the role, causing envy among other colleagues. From this moment, her obsession for achieving perfection will be sickly and insane, affecting her behavior, her relationship with her super protective mother, and creating paranoia focused on the new girl in the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), who will become her private Black Swan, a living threat for everything she’s been fighting for, all her life.

No matter the original idea for the plot is simple, Aronofsky recreates his own view of the Swan Lake focusing on the emotional and psychological aspect, translating it into modern life. This is not new, some months ago I commented on M Butterfly, by David Cronenberg, it was exactly the same idea, the Canadian was reflecting his personal idea on Puccini’s opera on the screenplay.  

To be honest I find many parallelisms among Black Swan and Cronenberg, whose main trademark is playing with fiction and reality, mixing them in such a way, sometimes you cannot distinguish what is and what seems to be. Aronofsky applies this increasing the feeling of madness close to the upcoming opening of the Swan Lake. On the other hand, he also uses the taste for the disgusting, especially remarkable nails and fingers, arggggh!!

The transformation of Nina starts as soon as the vacant for the Swan Queen role is announced. All of a sudden turns unfriendly, weird and suspicious. Sweet Nina must be the star, the rest is worthless.  It’s all or nothing, and she will achieve it whatever the obstacles she has to face. As soon as she’s chosen, the struggle against the world  and moreover  herself starts, bringing out the darkest side of the young girl. Seems like evil is inside everyone, hidden and in lethargy, until something or someone awakes it, no matter your self-control or shyness.

The in crescendo rhythm of the film based on the mental derangement of the girl, is amazing. You know everything will collapse at some point and you’re just waiting to see the highest point, and the devastating fall.

As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky includes some scenes as if recorded for a documentary. He really offers a very realistic view of the inner side of the ballet world. The tough rehearsals with hundreds of repetitions, the typical dancing outfits so exclusive of the dancers, in their own fashion, the customizing of the ballet flats…

I felt quite close to all the references done to this world. A former close friend of mine, when we were teens, moved to my city to study dancing properly in a serious company, if it worked out she’s become pro, otherwise she’d give up ballet and focus on her studies.

She was under so much stress, eight hours a day rehearsing, Monday to Saturday, strict diet she was always failing to accomplish and for that reason became bulimic (yes, she was vomiting after meals all the time. Even though she never admitted it, I caught her several times) and consequently her period vanished for almost six months. She lied to everyone being the perfect girl in weekdays, and going crazy on weekends. When I saw the movie, I flipped for it reminded me my friend most time.

Question is, is it worth so much sacrifice? Does so much competition make any sense? My friend tried hard as hell, but eventually she quitted, unable to bear so much pressure, backstabbing and physical pain. I still can’t understand how she managed to last over 10 months in such condition.

Back in the path of the subject again, as usual, Aronofsky’s work with cameras is outstanding. Takes of Nina dancing surrounded by mirrors are incredible, of course there’s a trick, but in visual terms, these are to be praised. After watching several of his movies definitely I can say he’s a master in terms of effectiveness and spectacular images.

In essence, Black Swan is just the story of a girl who just wants to achieve her most desirable dream, but is unable to cope with pressure and loses her mind through the process with fatal consequences, something that can happen to any of us, but this is told in a splendid way, in an apparent atmosphere of seriousness and professionalism which at the end of the day, it’s not such. I reckon this is a film to review in a while, because the more you see it, the more details and features you miss in your first view, will bring out for the pleasure of your senses. Definitely a must see.

 

eXistenZ, David Cronenberg 1999

Posted in Directors, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , on October 10, 2009 by Toi Brownstone

existenz

It’s funny reading my past review on Crash, Cronenberg’s work before eXistenZ, to realize how the director moves from one register to a completely different one without effort, being the first weird, slow and suffocating, to a super dynamic and interesting  movie which fits into sci-fi genre perfect such as eXistenZ.

To be honest with many   Cronenberg’s films it takes me two times to really enjoy the product I’m watching, maybe I’m a bit short minded and I need an extra effort to get fiction-reality duality so often present and  relevant in his works. This happened again with eXistenZ, first time I felt completely indifferent and cold, however the more I watch it the more appealing and cool I find it.

Probably at the time it was released the concept of virtual reality was very hot, the possibility of enjoying a game as if it was for real was too shocking and sounded sci-fi to everybody. As time goes by, virtual reality is becoming more evident and is constantly evolving to reach the final goal, the perfect game in which the player feels as part of the game, as sourrounded  by the scenario with real characters and situations so greatly recreated as to feel you’re living that experience for real.

Stop wandering about virtual reality and let’s concentrate on the movie.

Antenna Research is about to release the  latest creation by the queen of virtual reality games, designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). As a presentation, a select group of people are invited to have a session with the shy designer who will guide the chosen ones into the amazing world of eXistenZ.

Unfortunately during the session a young boy attempts against her life using a weird pistol made of bones which shots human teeth, hurting her in the shoulder. In the middle of chaos she’s able to run away with a young marketing trainee, Ted Pikul (Jude Law), and together hide in a motel room trying to recover from shock, analyze situation and decide what to do.

Are you friendly?

Are you friendly?

Allegra carries her freak pod with eXistenZ only version of the program and needs to check out whether the program has been damaged by playing eXistenZ with somebody friendly, however Pikul, has an aversion to being penetrated by a pod plug into his body and has no bio port installed at the back of his body, thus in order to help Allegra he accepts to look for a gas station boy (Willem Defoe) to insert it illegally.

Things won’t be easy for them to find out whether the program is ok for Allegra’s head has a prize  and many people are interested in getting the reward.

Obviously with the development of the movie you find out why everybody is trying to kill her, the explanation for the organic gun and you will understand so tiny details once you know how it ends. That’s why it is so cool to watch this movie several times, you keep on noticing and sensing details that for the very first time may you  think irrelevant or weird, but have sense once you see it complete.

eXistenZ  is an attempt to recreate a virtual videogame, in fact the scenes in which Pikul and Allegra are playing in the game are really cool, the way  after each scene the setting changes radically, even the behavior of the two players is exaggerated, the way they stand, how they are dressed…these are so bizarre and weird scenes so Cronenberg stamped!

existenz01

It’s curious and I  hadn’t thought about it till last view, how the places they go to are just called what they are, the motel, the gas station, the Chinese restaurant…the way games were designed time ago, no brands nor names appeared at all, maybe nowadays this has changed for marketing strategies and sponsorship are beyond TV and press ads. Also names for main characters are very exotic, compared to daily life names such as Peter, Joe or Linda. These are a couple of examples of typical devices or features for videogames, also applied to the film.

Reminding of Videodrome,  Cronenberg exploits fiction-reality duality to its most, and he does it  brilliantly, not only allowing the audience to discover that the main plot was part of a game, but also ending the film with a conclusion that leaves the audience doubting if the “real” characters are still living in the reality of another game or the actual reality….Terrific!!