Tag Archives: david cronenberg

Maps to the Stars – Review

24 Mar

Over the years, the glamor of Tinsel Town has kind of lost its luster. Starting with Sunset Blvd., critiques of Hollywood have kept on coming throughout the years, and each one has a unique approach to the nightmare that is celebrity. For this particular review, I’m going to be looking at David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has made a name for himself over the years as one of the most intense and challenging directors, be it in the horror genre or otherwise. Maps to the Stars fits in perfectly with his filmography as it is a horror movie, but also a darkly hilarious and penetrating satire.

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Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress who is determined to play her deceased mother in a remake of a movie that she starred in many years ago. To do that she hires Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a famous new age psychologist, to help her face the demons her mother made her endure during childhood. While he’s not with Havana, Stafford works to keep his son Benjie’s (Evan Bird) acting career together. Benjie has suffered from drug addiction and has been to rehab at the age of 12. Now it’s a struggle to stay clean and keep his acting career from dying. As all of these people deal with their lives in their own strange ways, a mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in town, and her past threatens the stability of all these people have worked to build.

While this does definitely feel like a David Cronenberg movie, it also has elements of Bret Easton Ellis’ writings and a sort of David Lynch vibe that was felt in movies like Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. I really love movies like this because it implements something similar to nightmare logic, if that’s even a thing. What I mean by that is Maps to the Stars feels like a very bad dream. There were many times throughout the movie where I felt like I was watching reality, but it was something different and more sinister. Kind of like in a dream when you’re in your house, but it isn’t actually your house. That’s probably a weird way of putting it, but what I’m really trying to say is that this movie had a really creepy and off putting atmosphere that really hooked me.

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Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has written a very strange movie, but the way people interact with each other in Maps to the Stars might be the strangest thing of all. Some of the things they say and do is so outlandish that you really wish it was a joke just written for the movie. Unfortunately, the media has given us plenty examples of celebrities, like the ones in this movie, saying and doing some ridiculous things that would fit right into this film. Kudos to all the actors in this movie for delivering these lines with complete seriousness. If it wasn’t for their belief in their characters, much of what they say would not have been nearly as funny or hard hitting.

While I do really like this movie, there was one big problem with it that I can’t shake. For the entire movie I was sucked in and really could not wait to see how it ended. When the ending finally came, I didn’t really buy it. First of all, the ending just wasn’t particularly a good one, but that’s not really my main complaint. My main complaint is that they didn’t take enough time to really build up to the ending. It pretty much just sprang up out of nowhere without any real tension happening. There’s tension in the movie, but nothing with any real finality to show that this is the climax of the movie.

Maps to the Stars is a movie that I knew would be right up my alley and I was exactly right. It’s a darkly hilarious look at celebrity life and what it can do to you if you aren’t careful. There’s a lot of disturbing content in the movie that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and the whole atmosphere of the movie is relatively unsettling. While it seems Cronenberg might have been kind of a weird choice for this kind of movie, he was actually a perfect choice. I definitely liked this one a lot.

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Cosmopolis – Review

30 Aug

Anyone with a real interest in film has seen a David Cronenberg film at one point in their lives. From what I’ve seen of his filmography (ScannersA History of ViolenceThe FlyVideodromeEastern Promises), my own opinion of him is a real mixed bag. I love some of his movies and I hate just as many, so I went into Cosmopolis with a blank slate. I wasn’t expecting to love it nor was I expecting to hate it. I was merely going to see what happened without any pre-judgement. Well, unfortunately for me… very unfortunately for me, Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s worst movie yet and shows almost no sign of how talented he really is. This movie is just abysmal.

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Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a 28 year old billionaire who’s interests for the day lie in an investment in the yuan that may crumble his entire fortune, but more importantly, he needs to get across town so he can get a haircut by his favorite barber. Packer’s trip to the barber soon becomes an odyssey into himself and his beliefs that is complicated by the funeral procession of his favorite rapper and also high security due to the president being in town. As Packer travels through the streets in his high tech stretch limo, he comes in contact with advisors, friends, and lovers that he shares deep existential philosophies with in order to better understand his feelings as a human being. After these conversations don’t help him better understand his own existence, he resorts to violence in order to truly feel something real.

What really pisses me off about this movie is that it had real potential to be something really awesome. It’s like Bret Easton Ellis, William S. Burroughs, and Stanley Kubrick had a baby, but something went really wrong during the pregnancy resulting in this mess of a movie. I hardly even want to call it a movie because at times it really didn’t feel like one. Have you ever been reading a book and thought that a particular passage was boring so you kind of just half read it, but mostly skimmed over it? That’s what I wanted to do with a handful of scenes from Cosmopolis, but couldn’t. Instead I had to sit through these scenes and listen to these people talk and not give a shit about what they had to say. This movie was based off a book, so it makes sense that it feels like one and I’m not sure how good the book actually is, but the translation from page to screen just didn’t work at all.

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It’s so disappointing to see this movie fail since the cast and the other talent involved are more talented than this movie would begin to let on. I’ve already said that Cronenberg is much better than this, even though I really don’t like all of his movies. I still respect him as a film maker, but this movie is a bad example of his work. I also don’t have a problem with Robert Pattinson, although I know a lot of people do. He tries his best in this movie, but he just can’t do anything good with what he’s given. I actually enjoyed watching him though. That’s one thing I will say good about this movie. The only persons who actually function well in this movie are Paul Giamatti, who doesn’t even show up until the end, and Kevin Durand who plays Packer’s bodyguard. Everyone else besides the three I just mentioned are terrible. Every performance is stale and annoying, but I don’t think that it’s all of the actors’ faults.

What is really troublesome about this godforsaken movie is the writing. It’s shot nicely and I firmly believe that the actors try and do their best with what they were given, but the writing is just so horrendous that it’s almost unbearable to listen to. It’s like  encyclopedias on finances and basic existential philosophy were giving me half assed lectures for the entire two hours of my life that this movie made up. Listen, I’m happy to sit through a movie that’s loaded with philosophy. Hell, I loved watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but Cosmopolis has no soul or heart. It was so dead pan and detached, that I couldn’t connect with any of the philosophy that Cronenberg was shoving down my throat. If you want to make a movie that’s heavy on philosophy, it’s kind of important that people can connect with it.

Cosmopolis is ultimately a failure on David Cronenberg’s part, which is upsetting since he had a lot of cool ideas to work with. Instead, what I got was a lecture by characters who had no personalities. And you know what? I get it. It may seem cool and edgy to make a film with a rich character who is completely detached from society. Just look at American Psycho and The Social Network. What made those movies great? There was still humanity in them that allowed the audience to connect. Cosmopolis is completely devoid of any humanity making it one of the most boring and pretentious movies that I have seen in a while. I don’t think I could hate this movie anymore than I already do.

Videodrome – Review

7 Feb

David Cronenberg. What can I say about him? It’s pretty indisputable that he’s the master of body horror, and thinks of some crazy ways to creep us out with putting the physical body through some of the most bizarre situations a human being can ever think of. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Cronenberg. I was very excited than immediately disappointed with both Scanners and A History of Violence, but I was blown away by Eastern Promises. In 1983, Cronenberg released Videodrome, one of the strangest movies I think I have ever seen.

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Max Renn (James Woods) is the sleazy president of a UHF television station called CIVIC-TV. Renn believes that it’s his job to give the people what they want, mostly concerning shows that feature violence and softcore pornography. Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), the operator of the station’s pirate satellite dish, discovers a strange show called Videodrome, a program that has no plot to speak of, but instead just seems like some sort of snuff film, which Max automatically thinks is fake and decides it’s perfect for CIVIC-TV. Max also begins a relationship with radio host Nikki (Deborah Harris), a sadomasochist who is turned on by Videodrome, and decides to audition for it. When she fails to return, Max begins inquiring about the show, but everything begins to spiral as he starts having the most horrific hallucinations imaginable and his body starts mutating out of control.

This only is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Videodrome. There’s a lot more I’d like to mention in that summary, but unfortunately it would go on for a while and I would also be ruining some of the experience. Trust me on that one, this movie is quite an experience. Like I said, I’m not always a fan of Cronenberg’s stuff, because despite every movie I’ve seen of his being incredibly strange, but the story and the plotting have to be set up nicely. So far, Videodrome is my favorite of Cronenberg’s work, because not only is it ridiculously strange, it was very much ahead of its time when it was made and the relevance of the movie may even seem more important in our present technological situation.

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By saying that the movie is more relevant now than it was in 1983 isn’t stretching it too much. A lot, if not all, of the technology in Videodrome is completely outdated, from VCRs, Betamax tapes, and cathode ray tube televisions. But what Cronenberg is saying about technology, the media, and the public’s desensitization to violence are now heated issues discussed heavily today.  All of these themes really come across very strongly and are very hard to miss, but I’m still not quite sure I follow everything Cronenberg is saying. All of the trippy insanity, that really makes the viewer question what they’re seeing, sometimes fogs the messages of the movie. I can at least say that about me because sometimes I really couldn’t believe what I was looking at.

Videodrome also reinforced my opinion that the animatronic effects used in the 1970s and the 1980s will always reign supreme because of how they look and the skill it takes to create them. While I really didn’t like Scanners and thought The Brood was passable at best, I have to admit that the effects in both of those movies are outstanding. The effects in Videodrome beat both of them out, and are only rivaled by Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. There are some totally disgusting scenes using crazy looking animatronics and awesome make up effects by Rick Baker, who worked on Star Wars before this.

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a movie that inspires me as someone who wants to make film his career. The story is and outlandish sci-fi horror with themes that not only still hold up, but have become more important. This is a sick and twisted kind of movie that will run your brain in circles as you try to keep up with what’s going on. It isn’t a puzzle film, but it’s so strange it’s almost too weird to fully comprehend until you really let it sink in. Videodrome is now one of my new favorite movies.

Eastern Promises – Review

3 Jan

When it comes to David Cronenberg, I’m pretty hesitant. Scanners and A History of Violence were very disappointing movies for me, and The Brood was only acceptable. Eastern Promises is the fourth movie I’ve seen by this film maker, and it surprised me completely. I was concerned going into it knowing it was Cronenberg. He is a great film maker but just doesn’t catch my fancy too well, but this entry in his filmography is a deeply moving and cringe inducing crime thriller.

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After a 14 year old prostitute dies during child birth, hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is determined to find the proper home for the new baby. She asks Russian restaurant owner, and dangerous crime boss, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), to help translate a diary she found on the dead prostitute. Unbeknownst to Anna, this diary holds incriminating evidence against Semyon and his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). The only help Anna seems to have comes in the form of the crime family’s driver and “cleaner”, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who seems to have a tight grasp on what is actually going on within the family and on the crime riddled streets of London.

This is storytelling at its tightest and its finest. Saying that this movie is about protecting a baby and solving a potential murder mystery wouldn’t be doing the plot any justice. This movie is about the people and how the lives of crime and innocence can blend together. Its a story about strains on families and how violence can take life or save life. Cronenberg doesn’t condemn anyway of life in Eastern Promises by expertly showing the good sides and the bad sides of every character presented in the movie. They’re deep, complex characters who are the real driving forces behind the movie.

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While the violence in this movie is brutal thanks to Cronenberg’s unforgiving film making, it isn’t what the movie is all about. A lot of the violence is actually described in a voice over and not directly shown. While I don’t necessarily agree with the use of a voice over, I will say that the scenes that they describe are brutal and definitely help with the full impact of the story. The violence that is shown onscreen is just as intense as the violence that is described, but never do you think that something like what you are seeing could never happen. It is realistic and an impressive display of brutality.

Viggo Mortensen is out of this world awesome in this movie. In order to prepare for his role, he traveled to Siberia and the area around it without a translator in order to learn how to talk and behave by the people who live there, even if they weren’t the most savory people in the world. Naomi Watts also shows good chops as the sort of eyes and ears into the Russian criminal underworld that plagues the streets of London. Mueller-Stahl is appropriately intimidating, but Vincent Cassel playing his son is more enjoyable. He is borderline psychotic and excruciatingly uncomfortable with himself, which proves to be a dangerous combination.

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Eastern Promises is the first movie I’ve seen by David Cronenberg that I really enjoyed. I recognize that he is a very talented film maker, but I just can’t seem to get into his movies. Luckily, this one brought me hope for my future Cronenberg viewings. It’s a brutal story of violence, but also a tragic story of family. This is an incredible movie that can be ranked with the best gangster movies, and should be seen by anyone who is a fan of the genre or just enjoy excellent movie experiences.