Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

The Burning (1981)

The Burning (1981)
AKA Cropsy, Carnage

Starring Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Fisher Stevens, Lou David, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Chodoff, Bonnie Deroski, Holly Hunter

Directed by Tony Maylam

Expectations: High, once again because this features Tom Savini FX.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

The Burning is exactly the type of movie that led me to start writing reviews. I’ve always liked the Leonard Maltin review books, and I referred to my battered copy of the 1998 edition incessantly during my film snob phase. My love of horror movies often led me to search the book for what Maltin thought of the bloody affairs I loved so well, but this generally didn’t end well. Maltin isn’t much of a horror fan and he usually rated the films much lower than I thought they deserved. I can’t fault him for disliking a genre and its sadistic tendencies, and the genre does contain more than its share of shitty movies, but it seems kind of counter-intuitive to give a bunch of low-scored horror reviews when you’re not a fan. This is exactly why you don’t see me reviewing loads of romantic comedies. Anyway, I looked up The Burning in anticipation of watching it for the first time and was surprised to see the word BOMB in bold, dark type. Maltin reserves his BOMB rating for those films he finds unworthy of any rating stars, but thankfully I knew not to fret. The Burning is excellently made, and an absolute joy to watch for horror fans, and Maltin’s dismissal of this type of high-quality genre film is exactly why I felt the need to start writing reviews. It just took me a while to get around to it.

So The Burning is an incredibly simple story. Some might say too simple, but I say it’s just the right amount of simple to allow for a fun, easy-to-digest slasher. The film opens with a group of punk kids plotting to play a prank on their summer camp custodian Cropsy. Apparently he’s a drunk asshole, so the kids get a skull with worms crawling all over it, put lit candles in its eyes, and place it at Crospy’s bedside. They wake him up, and in his flailing he knocks the skull into his bed, lighting the whole thing on fire. He gets horribly disfigured, and after five years of healing at a local hospital, he’s ready to slice and dice his way to some sweet, sweet revenge.

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