Quick Takes: Videodrome, Stereo, Crimes of the Future

Videodrome-posterVideodrome (1983)
fourstar

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwarz
Directed by David Cronenberg

Videodrome is probably my favorite Cronenberg film from what I’ve seen so far, and I doubt anything could replace it. It’s an intoxicating descent into the media and what lengths our desensitized, media-obsessed culture will go to for entertainment. It’s probably more relevant now than ever. James Woods is fantastic, but I was surprised and impressed by Blondie singer Debbie Harry, who really pulled her weight and inhabited her character perfectly. The makeup FX work by Rick Baker is ultimately what sealed the deal for me, though, and moments like Woods communing with the pulsating TV are beyond amazing. What a movie! I don’t even know what to say. Watch it!

stereoStereo (1969)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Iain Ewing, Clara Mayer, Paul Mulholland, Arlene Mlodzik, Glenn McCauley
Directed by David Cronenberg

Stereo is technically Cronenberg’s first feature, but due to the experimental nature of the work, it’s hard to truly think of it in this way. I give those honors to his first “traditional” film, Shivers, but this is beside the point. I’m sure Stereo was very informative and necessary to Cronenberg’s growth as an artist, but as a viewer it is not an experience to relish. The film is mostly silent, with only a sparse, dry commentary chiming in now and then. Stereo is meant to be a series of educational films documenting the experiments of Dr. Luther Stringfellow (who is never seen) at the Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry. There Stringfellow was trying to give telepathic abilities to his subjects. Like actual educational films, Stereo is very dry and hard to stay awake through (and it’s only an hour). For me, its only saving grace is the stunning B&W cinematography capturing the architectural beauty of the University of Toronto Scarborough campus where the film was shot. Cronenberg may not have embraced narrative and entertainment at this point, but he clearly already knew how to frame an exceptional image. I do like the overall premise of the film, and the conceit of filming fake educational materials for a fictional doctor’s sci-fi experiments is inspired, but I can’t really recommend Stereo. If you are so inclined, though, the film is readily available on the Criterion edition of Scanners (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

crimesCrimes of the Future (1970)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty, Jack Messinger, Paul Mulholland, William Haslam, Willem Poolman, Stefan Czernecki
Directed by David Cronenberg

Crimes of the Future can be seen as a companion to Stereo, in that it’s also silent (with sparse commentary) and very experimental. But this film is in color and Cronenberg employs some limited sound design work to spice the soundtrack up a bit. Despite these “advancements,” Crimes of the Future is an even more boring film than Stereo, and the color cinematography doesn’t dazzle nearly as much (although there are some very nice shots throughout). The story centers around a doctor named Tripod, who wanders between various groups of men and tells us about his mentor Antoine Rouge, who somehow created a disease that spread through cosmetic products and wiped out Earth’s entire female population. Again, I have to give credit to Cronenberg for coming up with quite an interesting premise, but this is one hard film to watch. Just excruciating. Like Stereo, I can’t recommend Crimes of the Future, but if you’re a determined Cronenberg fan, the film is available on the Criterion edition of The Brood (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

White House Down (2013)

whitehousedown_1Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Lance Reddick, Jimmi Simpson, Kevin Rankin, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Expectations: Pretty low, but I like the leads enough to watch them in a dumb action movie.

threehalfstar


To call White House Down a variation on Die Hard is an understatement. White House Down IS Die Hard in the White House, but while shameless rip-offs and recycling of storylines is usually a bad thing, White House Down is so much fun that I hardly cared that I had seen this same setup before. Besides… Die Hard is awesome. There are definitely times when the nods to Die Hard are too on-the-nose (such as using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Ninth, with no other context but as a Die Hard reference), but even these moments made me smile instead of groan. And that’s the key thing in a dumb action movie like this: the tone is light enough and the action is furious enough for all those little annoyances to simply roll off your back. White House Down is definitely a whole lot of dumb, but that never stopped ’80s action movies, and it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the best modern “old school” action movies I’ve seen in a while.

As you might expect from the title and the poster, White House Down is about a terrorist capture of the White House and one man slinking around and messing up the bad guy’s plans. Doesn’t get much more simple than that. Unfortunately, because this is 2013 it takes a while to actually get to the plot that matters. Director Roland Emmerich spends nearly 40 minutes setting up the characters and the inevitable takeover of the President’s home. Modern films just can’t seem to get down to business so I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that once the pin is pulled, this grenade of a movie explodes into pretty much non-stop action and thrills. It’s intense, ridiculous and incredibly enjoyable.

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