Quick Takes: Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis

1Sheet_Master.qxdEastern Promises (2007)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Mina E. Mina, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter
Directed by David Cronenberg

Eastern Promises is one of the few Cronenberg films I had seen before starting this current run through his filmography. I liked well enough back then, but I remember also wondering why everyone loved it so much. Seeing it within Cronenberg’s catalog of films definitely gives it a new context, and understanding his style and proclivities also added considerably to the experience. Like A History of Violence before it, Eastern Promises is a near-perfect, darkly engaging film. Its story beats are somewhat familiar if you’ve seen a few gangster movies, but the way they are approached is different. Cronenberg’s signature graphic violence is also incorporated, here becoming something like “body violence” instead of body horror. It creates the same squirms and winces that his horror films do, but to a greater degree than any of his previous non-horror films. Eastern Promises really goes for it, and to great effect, with the stand-out moment being the intense, raw bathhouse fight between two knife-wielding assassins and a naked Viggo Mortensen. Once again, Cronenberg elicits incredible performances from the entire cast, crafting yet another phenomenal film. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for it, definitely check it out.

dangerous_methodA Dangerous Method (2011)
threestar

Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon, André Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Directed by David Cronenberg

It was bound to happen. After so many Cronenberg films surprising me and winning me over, I knew they couldn’t all be like that. A Dangerous Method is this film for me. In general, I prefer a character’s action or forward movement to propel a story, instead of the more dialogue-based approach here. I wouldn’t say that I disliked the film, but more that it didn’t seem quite as solid and confident as Cronenberg’s other works. The timeline seemed to shift at random, oftentimes for reasons I was unable to comprehend. Repeat viewings might clear up some of these issues, but I don’t know that I really care to see this one again. I trust Cronenberg as an artist, though, especially by this point in his career, and his ability to craft exactly the movie he wishes to. In this case, A Dangerous Method is a film that I’ll have to reckon with in order to understand. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess I’m just used to having a more viscerally positive reaction to his films on a first viewing.

cosmopolisCosmopolis (2012)
onehalfstar

Starring Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Bob Bainborough, Samantha Morton, Zeljko Kecojevic, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka, Mathieu Amalric, Patricia McKenzie
Directed by David Cronenberg

Well, if A Dangerous Method was the inevitable Cronenberg film that didn’t win me over, then Cosmopolis is the natural progression as the first Cronenberg film I outright didn’t like at all. It’s nearly impenetrable and hard to follow. Like Cronenberg’s previous film, this one is propelled almost entirely by dialogue, but this time it also primarily takes place in a singular location: a limousine. Cronenberg’s camerawork is impeccable and impressive — it never seems like the confines of this space limited his camera placements in any way — but when all it captures is talking heads with monotone voices, it’s just not all that engaging. There are elements and themes that intrigue me, and the third act does imply that a re-watch might be in order, but I think it’s too boring for me to ever truly enjoy. I’m sure Cronenberg made the film he wanted to, without compromise, but unfortunately Cosmopolis didn’t move me in the slightest. A true disappointment.

Shame (2011)

shame_4Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Alex Manette, Hannah Ware

Directed by Steve McQueen

Expectations: Fairly high.

twohalfstar


Shame is the type of movie that is supposed to make you think, where the ending is more ambiguous than conclusive, demanding a good after-film discussion so that you can wrap your brain around what you just saw. I say “supposed to” because while it was clearly the intent of director Steve McQueen, it definitely did not have that effect on me while I was watching. Well, I did think about why so many people seem to regard this film so highly, but I don’t think that counts. 🙂

Shame is about sex addiction and the shame that surrounds it. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict, and he has no intention of doing anything about it. In the first few minutes of the film we see that his life is largely composed of consuming porn, masturbating and having anonymous sex wherever he can get it. But one day he returns home to find his sister (Carey Mulligan) in his shower, hoping to stay awhile with him. This definitely wasn’t in his plans, but he allows her to stay.

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Prometheus (2012)

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, Guy Pearce

Directed by Ridley Scott

Expectations: High. Despite not liking the trailer, I’m dying to see this.


I take everything negative I ever said about Prometheus back. This is the real deal. A true science fiction film full of grand questions of existence and humanity, Prometheus is incredible. It has its flaws if you come at it with the wrong expectations, but for me, a high-concept lovin’ sci-fi fiend, it doesn’t get much better than this. This is a space exploration movie of the highest order, complete with its own symphonic theme song that’s probably the best Star Trek theme song that’s not actually a Star Trek theme song. Ridley Scott can clearly still throw down a phenomenal film, and I think my faith in his proposed Blade Runner sequel just grew exponentially (even if it does seem needless).

Prometheus is yet another movie you should go into cold, but one thing you should definitely know beforehand is that it’s not an Alien movie. It’s related, but if you expect corridor horror and rampaging xenomorphs you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s definitely in the franchise, so fans of the series will recognize many things that shed some light on Alien, but the events here are never directly connected to anything that happens in that film. Herein lies some of the problems with Prometheus, though, as Alien is a film that works perfectly as is, with its secrets firmly kept in the dark.

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Haywire (2012)

Haywire (2012)
AKA Knockout, Agent Mallory

Starring Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Julian Alcaraz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Anthony Brandon Wong, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz, Bill Paxton

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High.


Why make the same tired genre film with the same tired genre conventions when you can do something different? This is essentially the Soderbergh manifesto, and he continues to display his ability to subvert the genre film with Haywire. I really haven’t delved deep into Soderbergh’s filmography, but I always think of his movies as either “the big A-Picture” or “the low-budget B-Picture”. He seems to like to bounce back and forth between the two, with the low-budget ones being somewhat experimental. His last released film, Contagion, definitely feels like the A (while still being somewhat daring and experimental), while Haywire definitely feels like the B. I don’t mean that as a slight in any sense, merely as a point of reference for fans that might be seeking a way to classify this somewhat hard to peg movie. The cast would suggest a giant ensemble movie, but it’s really much more reserved than that.

Gina Carano plays a black ops contractor tasked with rescuing a Chinese hostage in Barcelona. The job is a simple one, but as the film unfolds we find that there is more going on under the surface than it would appear. The film’s story is not told directly, requiring the viewer to piece it together themselves. It’s rather simple when you boil it down, but Soderbergh’s editing and somewhat fractured storytelling help it from getting too clichéd. On the flip side of that, the presentation of the story also gives the film an aloof quality that makes it hard to connect with. It’s not a spy picture, and it’s not a Bourne movie, but it is a bit of both. I just think that it’s in your best interest to leave any and all expectations at the door that this will be an action film, because in reality it’s something truly different.

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X-Men: First Class (2011)

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Ray Wise, Zoë Kravitz, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Jason Flemyng, Álex González

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Expectations: Super low. These X-Men movies just don’t sit right with me, and the trailer for this looked awful.


Maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Maybe X-Men was always this juvenile. Maybe I just don’t care about the equality struggle of the mutants anymore. These are thoughts I’ve had over the last few years while soldiering through the mediocre series of X-Men films. After hearing nothing but outstanding stuff about this new & retro take on the X-Men, I hopefully decided to give it a shot in spite of the initial feelings and reservations the trailer brought to my mind’s surface. I kept my expectations as low as humanly possible, but as the X-Men have always held a special place in my heart, I’ll admit I was excited to finally see this one.

The film opens with what looks to be the same footage that opens the first X-Men film, but it’s been several years since I last saw that one, so maybe they re-shot it. In any case, it’s the same scene: a teenage Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) residing in a German concentration camp, exhibiting his magnetic abilities by bending a metal gate when the guards pull him away from his mother. Next we are introduced to a grade-school aged Professor Xavier, walking downstairs to thwart a would-be burglar with a baseball bat. Turns out it’s Mystique. For whatever reason, Hollywood has a hard-on for putting Mystique in every X-Men movie… oh right, it’s the blue skin-tight bodysuit on the beautiful girl, that’s why. Anyway, the rest of the film follows these mutants and the path they take to achieve their place in society as the mutants they are. Sound familiar?

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