Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
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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)
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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)
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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.

To Rome With Love (2012)

kinopoisk.ruTo Rome With Love (2012)
AKA Bop Decameron, Nero Fiddled

Starring Alison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Fabio Armiliato, Roberto Benigni, Monica Nappo, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Penélope Cruz

Directed by Woody Allen

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m always thrilled to see a new Woody Allen film.

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I liked To Rome With Love more than Midnight in Paris. I thought Midnight in Paris was good and gorgeous and truly inspired, but it didn’t feel like a true Woody Allen film to me (not to mention that it wasn’t all that funny). That’s fine, as it wasn’t that type of movie, but in certain ways To Rome With Love is the Allen film I’ve been waiting for: a light-hearted, straight-up comedy with a distinct Allen feel. If I had believed the press about To Rome With Love, I would’ve missed out on an enjoyable film — good thing I never really cared about the press for Woody Allen films. To Rome With Love is filled with fun scenarios that lead to absurd bursts of hilarity, and while it is a little too unfocused between all its storylines, I didn’t much care as I was having so much fun.

Like many of Allen’s 2000s films, To Rome With Love is set in an iconic European city and it doubles as an incredible looking travel film. This time, instead of a single story, Allen decided to tell four unrelated tales. They never come together, and they never feel like they should. In fact, it’s clear that each one exists on its own timeline, as a couple of days go by in the Roberto Benigni timeline while only an hour or so passes for another of the stories. Odd as it may sound, this is never jarring at all. I do feel like the film is a bit overstuffed — perhaps three stories would have been smoother — but I’m at a loss to decide which one to cut. They all work together well in an abstract sort of way, and provide a lot of classic Woody Allen entertainment.

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