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.

John Dies at the End (2013)

johndiesattheendStarring Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong

Directed by Don Coscarelli

Expectations: High. It’s been too long since Coscarelli had a movie.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


I’m very conflicted in my feelings about John Dies at the End. On one hand, I didn’t really like it at all. I lost track of what was going on about an hour into it, and I was never able to remedy that. It’s also a dark comedy, but I largely found it unfunny. But on the other hand, it’s a cornucopia of insane, wild ideas, impressively brought to life by Don Coscarelli, a truly original filmmaker if there ever was one. This makes John Dies at the End at hard film to talk about or rate, as my feelings are very much all over the place.

… Just like the movie. I could attempt to recount the basis of the plot if I understood it enough to, but I’m really at a loss here. There’s so much playing with reality and time, with one character talking on the phone to another in an alternate dimension, while a different version of the guy calling is sitting right in front of the character receiving the call. In any case (and this isn’t really where the film begins), David Wong is at his friend John’s band’s show, and he meets a Jamaican guy who expands his mind. The film also expands from there, and for those able to keep up and find humor in its wild shifts, you’ve likely found a new favorite movie. I can see a cult springing up around this one in the coming years. It didn’t exactly work for me overall, but I was still able to extract a fair amount of entertainment and interest out of the wild shit that played out before me. There are a couple of moments involving a dog, for instance, that are pure, unhinged gold.

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Quick Takes: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, Red Riding Hood, Safe Men

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Starring Phil Caracas, Murielle Varhelyi, Maria Moulton, Tim Devries, Ian Driscoll, Josh Grace, Tracy Lance, Glen Jones, Mike Funk
Directed by Lee Demarbre

This one’s not even close to being a B-Movie, it’s more like a D-Movie, but it does have its moments. Jesus on a moped, God speaking to his only begotten son through a bowl of ice cream and cherries, the arrival of Santo in a small aeroplane, etc. Santo gained some weight though, which might explain why he’s not driving that sporty convertible around any longer. There’s a lot of “kung fu” fight scenes and over every one, there’s an inane techno track that ruins any goodwill the scene itself might have had prior. Not that the fights are good. While watching I couldn’t imagine that these filmmakers would ever do anything else, so I was very surprised to learn that I had actually seen another of this dude’s movies, the 2009 horror movie Smash Cut. I liked that one pretty well, so I guess if your first feature looks like it was made by a no-talent hack, you can still grow into a passable filmmaker. Who knew?

Red Riding Hood (2011)
(No Stars)

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Julie Christie, Shiloh Fernandez, Gary Oldman, Max Irons, Michael Shanks, Christine Willes, Michael Hogan, Lukas Haas
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

This movie is fucking awful in every imaginable way. No redeeming value whatsoever. Literally the equivalent of gouging out your own eyes, Red Riding Hood should be a shoe-in for every category of the 2011 Razzies.

Safe Men (1998)

Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Michael Lerner, Paul Giamatti, Michael Schmidt, Christina Kirk, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Pais, Harvey Fierstein
Directed by John Hamburg

Safe Men is a fair enough movie, but it could have been so much more. It’s basically a bunch of crime film clichés strung together in a wholly unbelievable way, which I’m OK with, but instead of providing lots of laughs and making itself stand out from the crowd, it flounders in mediocrity. At times it is amusing, with great supporting performances from Michael Lerner and Paul Giamatti, but mostly it is ho-hum. The music, while good, is often used poorly, sounding like they used what they could get instead of what worked with the scene. The Bar Mitzvah scene and the followup party are the film at its funniest, but because it’s so middle-of-the-road up to those points, many viewers may not make it that far.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Paul Giamatti, Harve Presnell

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: High. I remember loving this. It’s been a few years.


Here’s another History class review.

Saving Private Ryan opens and closes on the same image of a faded American flag. The only sound is the quiet rippling it makes as it moves with the wind. In honor of the soldiers that have fallen and everything that has been sacrificed for the lives of their countrymen, the flag waves steadily and means much more that the simple colored fibers it is constructed of. Like the flag, the film is a commentary on the value of life and what one man is worth. Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is the top of the game in terms of World War II films and with good reason. It is an absolute triumph on nearly every level.

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