Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

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)
threestar

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)
threestar

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.

Quick Takes: Fast Company, The Fly, Dead Ringers

fastcompany_1Fast Company (1979)
threehalfstar

Starring William Smith, Claudia Jennings, John Saxon, Nicholas Campbell, Don Francks, Cedric Smith, Judy Foster, Robert Haley, George Buza, David Graham, David Petersen
Directed by David Cronenberg

Just a few months before unleashing The Brood, Cronenberg released this love letter to drag racing. It is easily the least “Cronenbergian” film from him I’ve seen, but even if I didn’t go into it knowing he loved cars, Fast Company would’ve told me as much. The film’s cinematography is superb, capturing wonderful, wide vistas of the Canadian roadways, as well as close-up shots of gleaming engines, smoking tires and all kinds of other machinery. I was especially taken by an intense close-up of a spark plug gap being checked. Also of specific note is an in-car shot of a complete funny car run, with a timer on-screen to further add to the wow factor. I’m not an experienced fan of drag racing, so I was quite impressed with the speed and the precision with which everything is carried out. The film’s story is relatively cliched, and it gets super campy — AKA Fun! — as it goes along, but during the racing segments it actually feels closer to a documentary. It is real cars with real drivers doing some real racing, after all. I think it would be a fine choice for a rumbling double feature with Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus there’s a Springsteen-like theme song, what more can I ask for? Anyone that loves cars, specifically when they were hulking beasts of steel and thunder, should check this forgotten gem out.

theflyThe Fly (1986)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo
Directed by David Cronenberg

As I worked my way through Cronenberg’s films, I was eager to re-visit his take on The Fly. It was the first Cronenberg film I saw (as a kid sometime in the late ’80s), and all I remember from that viewing was that I thought it was really weird. I didn’t know how to comprehend or process it. Then I watched it again about 10 years ago, and while I liked it a lot more that time, it still felt kind of emotionally cold and I couldn’t get into it completely. When I look back on these experiences after this most recent re-watch, I’m shocked at myself. The Fly is one of Cronenberg’s greatest achievements, and the FX work that slowly transforms Jeff Goldblum into the Brundlefly is absolutely exquisite. My journey with the film is a testament to re-watching films at different ages; the Brundlefly may evolve rather quickly, but it takes much longer for a human such as myself. Sometimes you see a film too early for it to resonate, and thankfully when I watched it this time it felt exactly right.

deadringersDead Ringers (1988)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas, Stephen Lack
Directed by David Cronenberg

Dead Ringers is an interesting film for Cronenberg to make directly after The Fly. Where that film went hard into the grotesque, Dead Ringers is reserved and intensely psychological. I must say that I prefer the methods of The Fly, but Dead Ringers succeeded in winning me over despite this. Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists, and it’s this absolutely riveting dual performance that glues you to the screen. Irons manages to create two distinct, believable characters, and Cronenberg somehow managed to often include them in the same shot without any hint of optical compositing or other visual trickery. It’s really something to see. Definitely a weird movie, though, so I don’t know who I’d recommend it to other than people who are already Cronenberg fans.

Mini-Review: The Color of Magic (2008)

The Color of Magic (2008)

Starring David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Jeremy Irons, David Bradley, Laura Haddock, James Cosmo, Nicolas Tennant, Karen David, Liz May Brice, Nigel Planer, Richard Da Costa, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Miles Richardson, James Perry, Stephen Marcus

Directed by Vadim Jean

Expectations: Low. Loved the books, but it’s gonna be one hard adaptation.


Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are known for their wonderful sense of humor and ridiculously madcap storytelling. This is a hard thing to bring to the screen but the BBC seems to have done it mostly right. Taking the first two Discworld books as its basis, The Color of Magic is a delightful romp through fantastic settings and situations.

Fans of the books will enjoy seeing Rincewind and Twoflowers come to life, but will be disappointed that certain key scenes have been written out for time and/or budgetary constraints. Overall, it is very well-written though so these omissions don’t hinder the story at all, and a first time traveler to the Disc will never be the wiser. The casting is excellent all around and the filmmakers did a wonderful job of taking what could easily be called an unfilmable book and making it into a very watchable 2-part TV film. Unfortunately, a lot of the humor doesn’t come through (or comes through differently) but the film still succeeds despite this.

Worth watching for fans and non-fans alike, The Color of Magic is a fun addition to the rather small lineup of genuine fantasy films.

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