Quick Takes: eXistenZ, Spider, A History of Violence

existenz_1eXistenZ (1999)
fourstar

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu
Directed by David Cronenberg

From what I understand, eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s last hurrah in the body horror genre. While I’m sad to know that there’s no more gross-out delights coming my way, you couldn’t ask for a better film to go out on. I literally loved everything about eXistenZ, start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and while his influence is apparent in other Cronenberg films, eXistenZ is like the best Philip K. Dick movie that’s not actually based on a PKD story. Cronenberg expertly explores the world of video games and the inner workings of our minds, leaving you with much to consider and contemplate. When this came out in 1999, I immediately wrote it off because of its title’s seemingly dumb capitalization, but now I know you should never judge a movie by its title treatment! Super gooey, super fun, I loved it. There are times when a movie feels like it was made just for you, and eXistenZ is one such movie for me.

SpiderSpider (2002)
threehalfstar

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Directed by David Cronenberg

Spider is about as opposite a movie from eXistenZ as Cronenberg could have made as a follow-up. Where eXistenZ is loud and grotesque, Spider is extremely subtle and disturbing. It’s a fantastic film, but probably one that would turn a lot of people off. It’s interminably quiet, with Ralph Fiennes mumbling all his dialogue (to great effect). Cronenberg never holds the audience’s hand and explains much of anything, either. We are an active part of the process, so decoding Spider and getting to know the character hinges completely on your engagement with the film. It’s the kind of film that takes a master craftsman to create, and with it Cronenberg one again proves how wonderful and unique a filmmaker he is.

historyofviolenceA History of Violence (2005)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Heidi Hayes
Directed by David Cronenberg

Even though I’d never seen A History of Violence before, I went into it pretty much knowing exactly what it was about. A few years ago I saw Wu Xia, the fantastic Peter Chan film starring Donnie Yen that is sort of a remake of this film. But while I knew the central conceit, thankfully A History of Violence and Wu Xia are very different films that happen to share a few key plot points. A History of Violence initially doesn’t seem to have much in common with Cronenberg’s other films, but by the end I thought it was one of his best and most accessible works to non-horror fans. Cronenberg masterfully pulls together the threads to create a tense thriller that’s also surprisingly got a lot of humor, too. Definitely check it out! And Maria Bello is spectacular as Viggo’s wife; I can’t believe she’s not a more well-known actress!

Quick Takes: Ichi the Killer, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, John Wick

ichiIchi the Killer [殺し屋1] (1994)
threehalfstar

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Satoshi Niizuma, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is the third feature I’ve seen from Takashi Miike, and damn he’s good. A film like this that’s so incredibly bloody and violent, but yet the main takeaway is the need for a deep intellectual discussion… that’s hard to pull off. It ultimately felt like Miike had crafted a film that wonders about the people who watch these kinds of films (or violent, “negative” media in general) with an armchair bloodlust. This all seemed to hinge on one small moment during the finale when a character in extreme peril looks directly into the camera with intense fear, while that same camera is presenting a first-person view from the character instilling this fear in the other. In any case, this is definitely not a film for the squeamish, as it’s one hell of an extreme, sadistic bloodbath. Audition may have gotten the “this movie is so crazy and shocking” press, but Ichi the Killer is a million times worse than Audition. The nipple scene is sheer torture! I literally pushed my chair back as far as it would go, cringed and repeated “Goddamn!” in a whisper for the next 30 seconds or so. Good stuff.

TheLegendIsBornIpMan+2010-3-bThe Legend Is Born: Ip Man [葉問前傳] (2010)
AKA Ip Man Zero
threestar

Starring Dennis To, Crystal Huang Yi, Xu Jiao, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Lam Suet, Yip Chun, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Sire Ma Choi, Rose Chan Ka-Wun, Sammo Hung
Directed by Herman Yau

I initially avoided The Legend Is Born: Ip Man out of respect for the original Ip Man films. I didn’t want to see any watered-down knock-offs. But then it occurred to me that it was no different than all the Brucesploitation films that are a lot of fun, so I plunged in head-first, hoping it wouldn’t be as trashy as a you might expect a knock-off to be. And, you know, it actually felt more respectful of Ip Man’s legacy than Ip Man 2 was! The Legend Is Born even features Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, in a wonderful role as an elder student of Wing Chun that has developed a more refined and varied approach to the fighting style that revolutionizes Ip Man’s way of thinking. This reminded me greatly of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style, and if this section of the film was truthful to Ip Man’s life, then I imagine it was this spirit of openness to other styles and ways of thinking that he would later pass on to Bruce. I loved the focus on Wing Chun in The Legend Is Born, and it’s definitely one for Hong Kong fans to watch. In some ways it actually felt like an older-style kung fu film that is generally no longer made, and you know that kind of thing is a quick way to my heart. And it has Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in supporting roles!

johnwickJohn Wick (2014)
AKA Sin Control, John Wick: Sin Control

twostar

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

I just didn’t connect with John Wick at all. I blame the fan hype that sold it as some kind of John Woo-style gun movie. I didn’t see that in it AT ALL. The way the violence was handled felt really gross. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern horror films: everything looks too damn real or graphic for me to just have fun with it. I am forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, which in this case is John Wick revenge-killing a whole shitload of dudes. All the violence is really flippant and backed by “cool” music, too, so everything about the violence felt glorified and dirty to me. I can’t have fun with that. Does this even make sense to anyone but me? It’s hard to explain. Whatever. I didn’t like it. ’nuff said.

American Psycho (2000)

Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny, Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Cara Seymour, Samantha Mathis

Directed by Mary Harron

Expectations: Moderate.


American Psycho is a tough movie to categorize. It’s not really a horror movie, or a drama, or a dark comedy, but it exhibits many traits of all three genres. It makes for an interesting movie to say the least, but unfortunately it’s a bit soulless so it ends up being less than it could be. The soulless nature of the film is a reflection of its main character though, and perfectly portrays the 1980s culture of narcissism and the “dog eat dog” mentality of corporate America. This element is arguably a great strength, despite my personal dislike of it, and helps director Mary Harron do exactly what she sets out to do when making the film.

Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, Wall Street exec and all-around yuppie stereotype. He’s ultra-narcissistic and self-serving and Bale plays the role convincingly and with ease. The entire supporting cast is great as well, but as Bale hogs up most of the runtime, they are all relegated to fairly minor parts, so don’t get too excited looking at the cast list. Willem Dafoe is only in three or four short scenes, for instance. This is completely Bale’s film and he proves here why he has become the star he is today. Those who don’t generally care for his performances may not be won over with his work here, but he does craft a career-defining role that never feels forced or unnatural. I’ve always felt that Bale possessed something of a psychotic nature so he’s a good fit in the film, but maybe I’m just buying into his wonderful method acting in this and the Nolan Batman films.

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