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.

Cube Zero (2004)

cubezero2Starring Zachary Bennett, David Huband, Stephanie Moore, Martin Roach, Terri Hawkes, Richard McMillan, Mike ‘Nug’ Nahrgang, Tony Munch, Michael Riley, Joshua Peace, Diego Klattenhoff

Directed by Ernie Barbarash

Expectations: Low, but higher than I had for the second one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Jesus Christ. Are the events of Cube Zero really what was going on behind the scenes this whole time? My mind simply cannot comprehend this fact, and as soon as this review is over I’m going to do my best attempt at a home lobotomy to forget everything I stored in my short-term memory about the film; I’ve got a wire hanger all ready to go. This film is a case-in-point example of why things shrouded in mystery will always trump an explanation. Despite some valiant efforts on the filmmaker’s part to resurrect the spirit and visuals of the original film, Cube Zero is a total dog of a movie.

But this wasn’t always my opinion. Cube Zero starts off incredibly strong, delivering one of the best trap kills in the entire series, bested only by the first film’s opening kill. The kill here is acid in nature, but instead of the quick face-melt like the one in Cube, this is some kind of slow-burn acid that the victim first thinks is water. Lulled into a false sense of security, the guy drinks as much of the liquid as he can suck off his drenched fingers, only to eventually notice his deteriorating skin and realize that yes, indeed, he has sprung a trap. What follows is one of the best full-body, skin-peeling disintegrations I’ve seen in a film. It’s truly a thing of beauty.

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