Quick Takes: eXistenZ, Spider, A History of Violence

existenz_1eXistenZ (1999)
fourstar

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu
Directed by David Cronenberg

From what I understand, eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s last hurrah in the body horror genre. While I’m sad to know that there’s no more gross-out delights coming my way, you couldn’t ask for a better film to go out on. I literally loved everything about eXistenZ, start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and while his influence is apparent in other Cronenberg films, eXistenZ is like the best Philip K. Dick movie that’s not actually based on a PKD story. Cronenberg expertly explores the world of video games and the inner workings of our minds, leaving you with much to consider and contemplate. When this came out in 1999, I immediately wrote it off because of its title’s seemingly dumb capitalization, but now I know you should never judge a movie by its title treatment! Super gooey, super fun, I loved it. There are times when a movie feels like it was made just for you, and eXistenZ is one such movie for me.

SpiderSpider (2002)
threehalfstar

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Directed by David Cronenberg

Spider is about as opposite a movie from eXistenZ as Cronenberg could have made as a follow-up. Where eXistenZ is loud and grotesque, Spider is extremely subtle and disturbing. It’s a fantastic film, but probably one that would turn a lot of people off. It’s interminably quiet, with Ralph Fiennes mumbling all his dialogue (to great effect). Cronenberg never holds the audience’s hand and explains much of anything, either. We are an active part of the process, so decoding Spider and getting to know the character hinges completely on your engagement with the film. It’s the kind of film that takes a master craftsman to create, and with it Cronenberg one again proves how wonderful and unique a filmmaker he is.

historyofviolenceA History of Violence (2005)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Heidi Hayes
Directed by David Cronenberg

Even though I’d never seen A History of Violence before, I went into it pretty much knowing exactly what it was about. A few years ago I saw Wu Xia, the fantastic Peter Chan film starring Donnie Yen that is sort of a remake of this film. But while I knew the central conceit, thankfully A History of Violence and Wu Xia are very different films that happen to share a few key plot points. A History of Violence initially doesn’t seem to have much in common with Cronenberg’s other films, but by the end I thought it was one of his best and most accessible works to non-horror fans. Cronenberg masterfully pulls together the threads to create a tense thriller that’s also surprisingly got a lot of humor, too. Definitely check it out! And Maria Bello is spectacular as Viggo’s wife; I can’t believe she’s not a more well-known actress!

Quick Takes: Hardware, Snowpiercer, Brotherhood of Blades

968fullHardware (1990)
threehalfstar

Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Mark Northover, William Hootkins, Carl McCoy
Directed by Richard Stanley

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Hardware over the years. It’s an ultra-fun killer robot movie that is legitimately frightening in parts, and it’s one of those rare genre films made with such visual flair and artistry that it could easily crossover into the more highbrow conversation on film. Absolutely fantastic cinematography is around every corner, as are tons of wicked gory delights. The robot does seem rather stupid at times, but if I reformed myself from a pile of scrap metal and broken parts I wouldn’t be all there either. This is the kind of movie to whip out when someone says disparaging things about low-budget movies.

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (2013)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, Alison Pill
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

After reviewing the Snowpiercer graphic novels, I was really stoked to see what Boon Jong-Ho would make of them on-screen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as thrilled with the results as I thought I’d be. Snowpiercer is a very entertaining film that moves quite briskly, but for a story all about class struggle I found it to be rather shallow. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in her supporting role, though. Definitely well-made and worth watching, but I guess I expected something more cerebral than this was. Even still, a great English debut for Bong.

brotherhood-of-blades-posterBrotherhood of Blades [繡春刀] (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chang Chen, Ye Qing, Chin Shih-Chieh, Wang Qian-Yuan, Ethan Li Dong-Xue, Nie Yuan, Zhao Li-Xin
Directed by Lu Yang

I think I might like Brotherhood of Blades better on a second watch. I would have my 50% knowledge of what was going on to build on, and I wouldn’t have any expectations that it was a wuxia film. It’s actually a period-set action drama with no supernatural elements, so I was rather disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations. As a period drama it excels, though. Fantastic costumes go a long way, and the cast Brotherhood of Blades wear some damn fine duds. The fights aren’t all that special, though, with unhealthy amounts of uninspired choreography, quick-cut editing, and the shutter speed thing from Saving Private Ryan. It makes for action that is VERY modern, and I’m just too old school to embrace it. Yes, even in 2015 when these techniques are at least 15 years old. If you like Chinese costume dramas and modern action, you should definitely try this one.

Gravity (2013)

gravity_5Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Orto Ignatiussen, Phaldut Sharma, Ed Harris, Amy Warren, Basher Savage

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Expectations: High. Everyone loved this, right?

threestar


On the technical side of things, Gravity is an absolutely amazing motion picture. It made me want to love the movie, but unfortunately movies do not succeed on their technical prowess alone. The emotional side of Gravity is a weak link, trading on stereotypical clichés and crafting moments too obviously designed to get a “deep” emotional reaction. This is not just Gravity‘s fault, though, as it’s more of a systemic disease afflicting a good majority of Hollywood mainstream films. But because of the technical mastery on display (especially the film’s 13-minute opening tracking shot), it felt right to hold Gravity to a different standard. Clearly, that didn’t entirely work out.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play American astronauts performing system upgrades on the Hubble telescope. For some reason, the Russians blast a satellite with a rocket, starting a chain reaction of space debris that not only jeopardizes the American mission, but their lives. Sounds like the plot of an ’80s movie looking to reinforce Cold War ideals, but I assure you it just came out last year!

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