Le Pointe-Courte

Le Pointe-Courte. Agnès Varda. 1955.

This is riveting. The cinematography is so gorgeous, I’m almost at a loss for words. The camera shifts between being stationary and roving around, even entering houses and exiting through the back doors in a single, stunning take.

I’m assuming the actors here are all (or almost all) non-professionals; presumably the people who really live at La Pointe-Courte? I’ve never seen such an amiable bunch of rascals: They can barely contain their joy at being in this movie; shyly smiling before they have to deliver their lines, and clearly looking at somebody to tell them when to do something (Varda herself, I’m guessing). It’s just such a pleasant thing to behold.

But there’s two distinct parts: One is pure genius, where we follow the people in the village, fishing and talking and speculating about whether the health authorities are going to allow them to sell their… cockles?… or not. It’s so interesting. And there’s cats in every other shot!

The other half consists of very stylised scenes of two people discussing their marriage, and it’s filmed in a very different style:

See? It’s super-stylised and kinda interesting, but whenever these scenes started I was going “but I wanted to watch the other people. Did they get the bacterial cockle situation sorted or what?” But instead it’s these two people talking about whether they love each other or whether they love their love.

They had a lot of fun with the cinematography in these scenes, ending up with shots that wouldn’t have been out of place in Bergman movies made a decade later, so Varda is totally ahead of the curve.

The movie has been beautifully restored on this 2K release.

Barton Fink

Barton Fink. Joel Coen. 1991.

I don’t think I’ve seen this before? I was so turned off by all the hype surrounding the Coen brothers at the time that I started avoiding their movies. But it turns out that they’re not as awful as I thought, so I’ve been catching up.

Oh deer. Both Steve Buscemi and John Turturro? In the same movie? Is that necessary? I mean, I like both of them, but…

Do all directors have to do at least one movie about making movies? I mean, I love that, but it’s so … done.

This is a funny movie, but it’s all cringe humour, which I just can’t stand. I know, it’s funny listening to Torturro condescend in the worst possible way to Goodman, but it’s so embarrassing.

The scene where Torturro woke up in bed (you know the scene) made me groan out loud, because as soon as that scene started I thought “surely they’re not doing that twist” and then they did.

The movie is a bumpy ride. The pacing feels off to me. There are scenes that glitter (the obnoxious cops, for instance), but there’s also long stretches that aren’t particularly interesting.

I liked the ending.

The Fly

The Fly. David Cronenberg. 1986.

This may have been the first Cronenberg movie I watched as a teenager. It’s got Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis! Just based on that, it’s the perfect movie to watch as a teenager.

I remember nothing else about this movie, so I’m excited to re-watch it.

This is the second of Cronenberg’s not very productive descent into big-budget American movies. I mean, just ponder this career:

After doing a rapid fire schedule, there’s about three years between his movies as he gets bigger budgets and better distribution: Three years between The Dead Zone and The Fly, two to Dead Ringers, and three to Naked Lunch.

Cronenberg’s previous movie , The Dead Zone (based on a script rewritten five times), totally sucked, and this would seem like a further descent into mainstream hell: A remake of a 50s B movie sci-fi movie.

But this low expectation set-up apparently allows Cronenberg to return to his obsessions: The body and how yucky it is. But it’s not just that: It’s got a lot of the old Cronenberg touches everywhere. It’s got the silent, awkward scenes and the proper creepy atmosphere and the really gross bodily transformations.

I’m not quite sure what I think of this movie now. There’s really not happening, or tension. The movie is Goldblum slowly turning into a horrible-looking monster, and it’s all shown clearly on the screen. There’s no skulking in the shadows for Cronenberg.

And Cronenberg playing a gynaecologist in a dream sequence is pretty on the nose.

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.