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!

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fasttimes_5Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Expectations: Moderate.

fourstar


It could just be my age, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a transcendent experience. It would seem that anyone who lived through the ’80s would have already seen this one, but I was too young to catch it initially, and my parents were just about 30 when this came out, so they were perhaps too old for its charms. In any case, I never saw it growing up, and I’ve always kind of indirectly avoided it because of its reputation. I figured there was no way for it to live up to the hype, similar to my experience watching Valley Girl for the first time a couple of years ago.

But lo and behold, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film with strength enough to withstand the test of time. What sets it apart from other high school movies, a genre I generally don’t care one way or the other for, is that it is timeless yet also expertly evocative of the time it was made. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the early ’80s, but even still the film dredged up all kinds of nostalgic thoughts and feelings of my youth. But you can’t simply hang four stars on nostalgia alone, and that’s where the timeless part comes in.

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The Hitcher (1986)

Starring Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn, John M. Jackson, Billy Green Bush, Jack Thibeau, Armin Shimerman, Gene Davis

Directed by Robert Harmon

Expectations: High.


Calling The Hitcher a horror film is a stretch, but as it mostly trades in tension and suspense, and it features an ample amount of gore FX, I think it’s horrific enough to qualify. And let’s not forget all the wonderful explosions and car crashes, of which there are many. Yeah, The Hitcher is just as dope as everyone has led me to believe. Some stupid story elements hold it back from being pure gold, but these moments were never enough to quiet my love for the film. It’s a tense ride, and my predominant reaction to the film was, “Oh shit!” Seriously, every time I thought the main character was getting the upper hand there would come a glorious “Oh shit!” moment, and then Rutger Hauer would assert himself as the true badass of the film.

C. Thomas Howell is driving down a desert road late at night and is finding it hard to stay awake. Thinking it will help him remain conscious, he picks up a hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) who quickly goes from nice to sadistic asshole. When Howell finds an opportunity to ditch Hauer, he takes it, and it starts a movie-long feud between the two that lasts until the bitter end. Hitchhiking fell out of favor a while ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this film had something to do with that, much like Jaws deterred people from the ocean waters.

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