The Dead Zone

So good it had to have two logos!

Nice do.

But it’s nothing a little car accident can fix.

The Dead Zone. David Cronenberg. 1983.

Oh, this studio title thing brings back memories:

Mostly of cheap 80s movies, though, so my expectations are immediately lowered.

I have seen this movie before, but the only thing I remember about it is Christopher Walking emoting in a house for some reason or other. And the movie being not very good; kinda the only Cronenberg movie I watched at the time that I thought was really lame.

Or perhaps I wasn’t aware of Cronenberg yet? Yes, that sounds true: I probably watched this because it was a Stephen King movie. I’d probably seen Shining and Christine already, and then this… which is not like those.

I don’t quite understand what Cronenberg is doing here. It’s a slow, ponderous movie with zero depth. There’s nothing interesting about these characters at all. Christopher Walken is a good actor – duh – but there’s nothing here to do. He can be stoic and silent or he can be shouty, but his character has the emotional depth of a grape.

Except the efforts the hairdressers take with his ever-changing hair.

This is such a bad movie. What happened? After the masterful (but not very respectable) Videodrome, Cronenberg felt like he had to make a movie by the big studio’s rules to get to the next budget rung? This is produced by Dino de Laurentiis, so that it’s crappy isn’t a surprise, but how did de Laurentiis make Cronenberg shed his entire personality and sleep-walk though this… dreck?

Wikipedia has the production story, but the most interesting thing is this:

Before Christopher Walken was cast as Johnny Smith, Bill Murray was considered for the role.

Just imagine!

And!!!:

In an interview on the Dirty Harry DVD set, director John Badham said that he was attached to direct the film at one stage, but pulled out as he felt the subject matter was irresponsible to display on screen.

What!? The Dirty Harry guy thought the script was irresponsible? Hm, oh yeah, it has that ending: Our Hero has visions and decides to kill presidential candidate… and that’s the sane thing to do.

I guess.

This bluray has a pretty good “making of” documentary. Cronenberg says “In order to be faithful to the book, you have to betray the book.”

The Pass

The Pass. Ben A. Williams. 2016.

Well, this is a strange one. After half an hour I was beginning to wonder whether this was going to be just to very skimpily clad footballers in a hotel room.

But it’s not.

This does make me wonder whether this was originally a stage play?

[time passes]

I have to admit, at the start I was really sceptical, but it grew on me as it went on. It’s so straightforwardly (tee hee) a filmed play, and while the plotline isn’t very convincing, the performances from Russell Tovey, Arinzé Kene and Lisa McGrillis are gripping.

But the third act… not even the actors could redeem that.

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines. Christian Rivers. 2018.

What an insane spectacle!

This is apparently based on a sci-fi er fantasy series I’m totally unfamiliar with. It’s a real nimble adaptation, though: It doesn’t seem like an adapted work. Everything’s so… visual.

Unfortunately, much of those visuals are steampunk. Eww! Steampunk! The only steampunky thing I can abide is Girl Genius. Which I initially thought was what the filmmakers were aping.

It makes no sense, though. On any level, from the micro to the macro, on a scene by scene basis to the overall movie. Even for the microest of micro:

Aren’t you going to end up on the North Pole then?

But who cares! Thing blow up! Cities roll around! Everybody’s Mad Maxing it to the max!

Which brings me to the odd feeling that everything in this movie is a rip-off i mean reference I mean homage to something else. It’s got a Terry Gilliam vibe to the architecture, the Phil Foglio vibe to the insane machines, and even things like the name of the major monster: It’s called the Shrike, which a similar biomechanical monster in Dan Simmons’ books was named.

That the plot doesn’t make much sense, and the only way of plot development the writers have are people meeting each other accidentally, being in the right place accidentally, or just happening onto something accidentally, kinda really helps with the viewing experience. You can only sit there, gaping, at the spectacle.

It’s great! So stupid!

Le rayon vert

Le rayon vert. Éric Rohmer. 1986.

Shifting gears after watching a number of Cronenberg movies. And, wow, I’m glad I have a clutch on this thing. It’s difficult to imagine directors being more different than Cronenberg and Rohmer.

So this is a movie of chatty characters portrayed by amateur actors improvising (I think) as usual with Rohmer, and filmed in a bright sunny France.

I love the way that it’s really quite unclear what the movie is even about until one third through… and then it turns out that it’s about loneliness.

It’s brilliant. Marie Rivière is fantastic as the lead, the cinematography is so on point. The conversations are super real, shifting from fascinating to excruciating at the drop of a hat.

Videodrome

Videodrome. David Cronenberg. 1983.

OK, with Videodrome, Cronenberg is finally really Cronenberg: His previous movies had their moments, but with this one, I think he finally achieved what he was going for. The claustrophobic growing horror is maintained in a masterful way.

As usual, he’s casting somebody who’s basically the same body type as himself in the main part, but this time he’s gone for somebody who is basically his doppelganger (i.e., James Woods), which makes it tempting to read this movie as a thought experiment and an exploration of Cronenberg’s career: “What would happen is this gross shit I’m making is tainting the real world” or “what if this weird shit I’m watching is actually real”.

I saw this back in the 80s, but I didn’t remember that it was this good. There’s no superfluous scene; there’s no flab: It’s all horrifyingly arresting.

Scanners

Scanners. David Cronenberg. 1981.

OK, now we’re onto the stretch of Cronenberg movies I intended to watch. This is the 2K remaster by Criterion of a movie I’ve only seen before on crappy third generation pirated VHS in the 80s.

I wonder what this “Janus Films” thing is. Does it have something to do with Criterion?

This looks very different from Cronenberg’s 70s movies (Shivers, Rabid, Fast Company, The Brood): It has the sheen of a high-budget commercial movie. I’m guessing most of the difference is the film stock, the camera operators and the lighting technicians.

Money used to count on that level when making movies.

I love this set!

Anyway!

Other than that, it’s very similar to those previous movies: It’s got the ponderous pacing, the characters explaining everything, the high concept.

The extras on the previous movies were interesting. Lots if interview with Cronenberg where he said things like “Playfulness is the main thing I do.”

I guess this is a playful movie, what with all the heads exploding and all… It’s about telepathic people (“Scanners”), which you’d thing would be less viscerally icky than most of Cronenberg’s concepts. But, no, Cronenberg’s kind of ESP make people throw up, die… or at least get nose bleeds. (Because the nose is connected to the brain so much.)

Does all of Cronenberg’s movies have a very talkative science/doctor type of guy? I think… yes? Shivers, Rabid and this one certainly do.

I’m not quite sure what Cronenberg was going for here. The line deliveries by the actors is totally stylised, as if this was Brecht in the 30s via a 50s American no-budget sci-fi movie.

Hm… I wonder… The protagonist in this movie (well both of them) look quite a bit like Cronenberg himself. Is that a thing with Cronenberg? I’m casting my bad memory towards the rest of his 80s and 90s movies, and all I see are tall, thin, dark-headed guys.

But I guess we’ll see as we’ll cover all his 80s movies… eventually…

This film is the only one of Cronenberg’s movies that has gotten sequels made, including Scanner Cop II.

A remake has been mooted:

In February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV) was announced as director of a remake of the film, to be released by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films. David S. Goyer was assigned to script the film. The film was planned for release on October 17, 2008, but the date came and went without further announcements and all of the parties involved have since moved on to other projects.[19] In an interview with Bousman in 2013, he recalled that he would not make the film without Cronenberg’s approval, which was not granted.

Rabid

Rabid. David Cronenberg. 1977.

Let’s do another Cronenberg! The Pakistani mangoes are in season and are so delicious so I made a batida de mango.

Uhm oh… I thought I had seen all Cronenberg films before, but perhaps I haven’t seen this one? I mean, there’s a lot of actors returning from Cronenberg’s previous movie, Shivers, so they all look familiar…

Yes indeed, this is a Cronenberg film. It’s his second commercially released movie, and it’s got all the Cronenberg tics, down to women undergoing radical experimental (and insane) operations.

It’s a strange movie. I mean, just the mechanics of the main vector of spreading the disease: There’s a woman that presses her… arm pits? to people’s bodies and her skin graft bites them. It’s not quite as scenic as vampires are. But I guess it’s a quite Cronenberg move: Arm pits are probably horrifying things for him?

It’s just very, very boring. It’s got the Cronenberg touches (EWW THE BODY), but there’s no tension and there’s nothing interesting going on and the actors are all pretty unremarkable and the cinematography is anything special at all.

I wonder whether George Romero was inspired by these movies for his next two Dead movies: Day of the Dead (I think) have some scenes that are very reminiscent of the tower block setup in Shivers, and Dawn of the Dead (if I remember correctly) has scenes that are very much like this movie. The main difference is that Cronenberg assumes that a sane, well-functioning government can exist, while Romero assumes that that’s impossible.

Shivers

Shivers. David Cronenberg. 1975.

I long wanted to re-watch Cronenberg’s 80s movies, and I recently was made aware that all of them were available on 2K now, so I went shopping. I had not planned on doing his early movies at all: First of all, because I don’t want to watch Crimes of the Future again, and second of all: It’s not that many years since I watched Fast Company and The Brood just the other year.

I wanted to start with Scanners, but the Scanners bluray included Shivers and Rabid, so here we are.

I’ve seen Shivers at the Cinematheque like thirty years ago, and I remember it as being more than a little creepy. And not in a good way.

Well, OK, this is better than I remember. It’s similar to Crimes of the Future in some ways: It’s made very cheaply and the Montreal architecture is an important feature. And there’s the paedophilia thing. But he really leans into the things that would become the theme of his 80s movies: Disgust with the human body.

I mean, “Sex is the invention of a clever venereal disease”.

It’s a quite slow movie, and it’s surprisingly scary.

The 2K version looks and sounds great, which wasn’t the case before, apparently:

The film is so tackily written and directed, so darkly photographed and the sound so dimly recorded, that it’s difficult to stay with it.

The actors are pretty good. The weakest one is unfortunately the guy who plays the doctor (and is the lead): He’s constantly wearing and expression as if everything bemuses him and he know everything what’s going on… and it doesn’t, and he’s not supposed to.

At about two thirds through, it stops being scary, and instead it’s just one rape scene after another… played for laughs. It gets tedious.

The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees. Gus Van Sant. 2015.

I started watching Restless, another Gus Van Sant movie:

But then I remembered that I’d somehow seen that one recently, so I bailed and went with this Van Sant movie instead.

I hope I haven’t seen this one as well. Hm… nope!

Hey, it’s McCaunnegheyheyhey.

Oh, how weird. The sound is all fucked up… Oh, there’s three mpvs of the main feature here and two are fucked up… I guess makemkv isn’t perfect.

Van Sant has done some movies that were all about some people walking about in the wilderness, and the first fifteen minutes of this was McCaugnegwhatever doing that in a forest, so I assumed that that’s what all this was going to be, and I was absolutely fine with that. The forest cinematography is gorgeous.

But we get extensive flashbacks to explain why McCounewhat is in the forest, and while these scenes are good, they’re just not as interesting as the forest scenes.

I assumed almost from the start that Van Sant was going to go all Shamalayamana on us and I was just sitting waiting for it, and… I’m not going to give it away whether that was right or not, but that certainly coloured my viewing of this.

Everybody hates it, but I think
that’s pretty harsh:

The interest that once greeted every new Gus Van Sant film has been evaporating for some years now. And this latest movie, which can aptly be termed pathetic, only strengthens that feeling.

Lik, one third of the movie is really good, but the other three fourths are really bad. I can understand why many people hate it sooo much, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. But I did really like the first er twenty minutes, so there’s that.

To Die For

To Die For. Gus Van Sant. 1995.

Somehow I have missed this Gus Van Sant movie all these years? I think I got it confused with John Waters’ Serial Mom and thought I’d seen it already?

It’s got a very star-studded cast: Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon, etc.

Hm… Oh! I have seen this before! When Illeana Douglas came on screen (on the skating rink), I recognised the scene immediately.

This movie is so mid-90s. It’s structured as a documentary of sorts, and has rapid cuts between the story, people being interviewed about it, and people talking straight at the camera. This was when reality TV was new and fresh (i.e., The Real World on MTV) and that was the aesthetic to go for.

It works fine now, too. As usual, Kidman is totally in her part. Dillon has a role that suits him, but, you know. Alison Folland and Phoenix steal the show, though, as two slightly zonked-out kids.

I think it loses something when it gets less frenetic and the murder plot gets underway. The first 45 minutes are riveting, and then it gets a bit involved.