THEY ATE DANNY'S BRAIN!!!
Quick Movie Review: La Herencia Valdemar (Parts 1 and 2, 2010)

LA HERENCIA VALDEMAR (The Valdemar Legacy in English, Parts 1 and 2, 2010)

Directed by: Jose Luis Aleman

This will be my first Quick Movie Review. This type of review format I will do for movies which I think, to put it bluntly, suck. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean it was a BAD movie; it could be a good-yet-flawed movie which did not live to the premise’s potential, which is the case here.  The bottom line, however, is that I would personally not recommend flicks I review in this format, and I obviously do not believe they merit my usual in-depth review.

La Herencia Valdemar is a two-part film(think Kill Bill) based on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. That right there was enough for me to have BIG expectations for it, since I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft and the genre he created, cosmic horror. Lovecraft’s work has been (relatively)directly adapted into various movies, like the Re-Animator series, From Beyond, Dagon and even some classic 60s-70s b-movies by schlock master Roger Corman. It has also been a HUGE influence in popular culture beyond direct adaptations, with loads of movie, comic and game series being influenced by him. Needless to say, Lovecraft’s a big deal, and any movie directly referencing him better deliver.

Sadly, La Herencia Valdemar chokes halfway through, making for a very inconsistent film. The first half of it(Part 1, obviously) is actually an excellent flick, a modern-day mystery with a Victorian-era origin steeped in Gothic mood and atmosphere. I finished the first film giddy to watch the second one and see what the payoff was from all that was established in the first film. But the second film just doesn’t feel like it’s the same story. The writing and acting in the second film felt stilted and forced when compared to the first, the pacing became erratic, and the characters fell flat compared to their characterization in the first movie. While the first film felt like an EXTREMELY well-done low budget horror film, the second one felt like a SyFy channel original movie, it’s THAT bad.

This is a damn shame, because La Herencia Valdemar could have become a modern classic of the genre if done well. I simply cannot recommend it; even if the first half was genuinely an entertaining and creepy film, half a movie is not something I tend to enjoy.

Movie Review: Balada Triste de Trompeta (2010)

BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA (The Last Circus in English, 2010)

Directed by: Alex De La Iglesia

Starring: Carlos Areces, Carolina Bang, Antonio De La Torre, Santiago Segura, Sasha Di Bendetto

Aaaaaah, Alex De La Iglesia, that mad genius from la madre patria. If any filmmaker can be associated with grindhouse-type black comedy, it’s him. The man is like a Spanish Rob Zombie circa House of 1000 Corpses, only, you know, GOOD. His films are ruthlessly profane, gritty, cruel and relentlessly funny. Balada Triste de Trompeta is no exception, but it is also De La Iglesia’s most complete and compelling film yet. It is a fractured fairytale, a tragic love story and a horrific horror flick in one deliciously disturbing package.

Our story begins in Madrid, Spain, in 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. In an unnamed circus, an unnamed clown(Santiago Segura, aka Torrente!) does his act to the absolute delight of the children in the audience. However, the laughter is short-lived, as the war reaches the circus: a squad of Republican soldiers bursts into the circus tent and forces the circus performers to join them against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist rebels. Although forced to fight in a battle he wants nothing to do with, the clown still does so fiercely, and armed with only a machete(and dressed in drag!). However, he is wounded and captured by the Nationalists. The clown’s son, Javier(Sasha Di Bendetto), visits his father in military prison, and his father tells him that if he’s going to go into the family business, he cannot be the Happy Clown like his father, since Javier’s childhood has been taken from him. He instead says his destiny is to be the Sad Clown. Javier eventually tries to break his father out of prison, but the attempt fails and his father is trampled to death by one of the soldiers’ horses. Javier is left heartbroken. Flash forward to 1973, and the grown Javier(Carlos Areces) is about to join a circus as their newest Sad Clown. Javier has never been a clown before, but his innate grasp of sadness makes him a perfect Sad Clown, remaining stoic in the face of the humiliations his character faces.

Javier’s fate, however, is to be tragically intertwined with that of two of the circus’s other performers: Natalia(Carolina Bang, yes, that’s her real name) and Sergio(Antonio De La Torre). Natalia is the beautiful(and I MEAN beautiful, she’s drop-dead gorgeous!) trapeze artist, whom Javier instantly falls in love with. Sergio is the circus’s happy clown, and a very talented one at that, being the circus’s main attraction. He is also cruel, sadistic and abusive outside of costume… and he’s also Natalia’s boyfriend. The first interaction between him and her is him beating the ever-loving shit out of her. The SECOND interaction is her waking up, licking the blood off seductively and fucking with Sergio in a public place. Yep, it’s one of THOSE relationships.

After an altercation between Javier and Sergio, Natalia develops an interest in Javier, since he’s the only one who’s actually not laughed at Sergio’s jokes. Javier is terrified of Sergio, but his infatuation for Natalia and wishes to see her safe are much stronger. Meanwhile, Natalia starts showing inner conflict between Javier’s genuine tenderness towards her and Sergio’s animal magnetism. Natalia starts teasing Javier and secretly going out with him. Sergio finds out. SHIT HITS THE FUCKING FAN.

Balada Triste de Trompeta is GRITTY. The movie is dark and gray, but explodes with color in scenes, and is beautifully shot and framed. I’ve seen some of De La Iglesia’s earlier movies, like Acción Mutante and El Día de La Bestia, and they were nowhere near as beautifully shot as this, the man has truly grown as a cinematographer. The movie also has some use of CG for some landscape shots, but it’s used ingeniously and during dark scenes, to make it as seamless as possible. Hollywood, take note. I was also VERY pleasantly surprised at the AWESOME makeup the leads get after their respective mutilations. My GOD do I ever love seeing practical effects on screen. The story is wonderfully written and paced, and has many elements of classic stories but with its own unique spin. If it resembles any story, it is Pagliacci, the classic opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo, only the roles of protagonist and antagonist are reversed: it’s the lover who’s the protagonist and the cuckolded spouse who’s the antagonist.

The performances in this film are AMAZING. Carlos Areces as Javier is sympathetic and likeable… initially. But when he goes nuts, hooooooly shit does he ever go off the deep end. It takes a good actor to convincingly play a fall into insanity, and Areces is awesome. Antonio De La Torre as Sergio is suitably terrifying. His character is not physically imposing, but he is a force of nature when in full raging asshole mode, really driving home how scary a guy can be just by having a bad attitude. He also has some moments that actually can make you sympathize with him, which is a hell of a feat. Carolina Bang… I needed a cold shower after watching this flick, because she is fucking S_E_X_Y. The woman exudes sex. She is seductive and intriguing, and has a talent to sexualize the most disgusting things. She actually made receiving a senseless beating seem like foreplay. She has probably the meatiest role in the film, since she not only needs to play a femme fatale, she also has to portray one whose antics violently backfire on her. Her character is the one that most changes during the course of the movie, and Bang delivers. The rest of the actors do great jobs in their roles, with Santiago Segura being a stand-out as Javier’s father. Segura’s already a veteran of Spanish film and black comedies in particular, but he plays a surprisingly serious and heartfelt role in this, when compared to his usually more goofy fare.

Balada Triste de Trompeta is not a feel-good movie. Of all the black comedies I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen many, this is one of the absolute darkest. However, you WILL feel damn good about seeing it, it’s a friggin’ masterpiece from start to end. The performances are great, the story is entertaining and never drags, it is gritty and darkly hilarious. A hell of a time.

Movie Review: Melancholia (2011)

MELANCHOLIA (2011)

Directed by: Lars Von Trier

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Jesper Christensen, Udo Kier, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr

This… was a hard movie to watch. If Lars Von Trier’s intent with Melancholia was to inspire that same sentiment in the audience, he certainly was successful. This is a maddeningly depressing film. This is right up there with Darren Aronofski’s darkest(Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler) as one of the most depressing films ever made.

The movie is divided into two chapters, which each feature one of the two sisters as a protagonist. Before the movie starts proper, we’re shown a collage of dream-like sequences foreshadowing the events of the film, leading to the first chapter and start of the film proper, with a wedding reception organized for newlyweds Justine(Kirsten Dunst) and Michael(Alexander Skarsgard). Late for the reception, they are chastised by Justine’s sister Claire(Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John(Kiefer Sutherland). Absentmindedly, Justine looks to the sky and asks John which star a particular one that caught her eye was(this will be very important later). Finally, after some delays, the newlyweds arrive at the reception for what promises to be a beautiful evening.

However, it is quickly apparent that this will not be a fun evening, as mishap after mishap happens that slowly ends up ruining the festivities. Justine, it turns out, is a Major Depressive, and the bustle of the wedding reception is slowly inching her towards an episode. This is not helped by her family, who each, directly or indirectly, worsen Justine’s anxiety as the reception moves along. Claire, who organized the reception, basically tries to control Justine’s actions throughout the whole affair, afraid that Justine won’t be able to handle the pressure. John, meanwhile, lays on the pressure that it was his money and influences which helped the whole affair being put together, and he doubts the value of the reception if Justine is apparently on a course to ruin the whole affair. The most damaging to Justine’s mood, however, are her mother Gaby(Charlotte Rampling) and her boss Jack(Stellan Skarsgard), who vocally oppose the marriage and pressure her with work-related concerns, respectively. The only people who show actual joy at Justine’s marriage and willingness to support her are Justine’s nephew Leo(Cameron Spurt) and her father Dexter(John Hurt!). However, Leo’s much too young to fully understand and support Justine in her moment of difficulty, and Dexter, although well meaning, is nonetheless distant because of Justine’s condition.

To make a long story short, all the events of the night end up ruining the festivities, and Michael even ends up leaving Justine right on their wedding night, a moment that’s actually pretty damn powerful. I certainly was affected by it, there is just a total sense of wrongness and tragedy in a bride being ditched by her husband on her wedding night. After the whole tragic affair, Justine is quite obviously an emotional wreck, and Claire brings her to live with her family to take care of her. The first chapter of the story ends with Justine noticing that the star she saw in the sky on her wedding night can’t be seen anymore.

The star’s disappearance is dramatically explained at the beginning of the second chapter: a rogue planet, dubbed Melancholia by astronomers, is heading towards Earth. Astronomers claim that the planet will fly by the Earth, becoming possibly the most spectacular cosmic event in the human race’s history. Claire, however, is overwhelmed with an unshakable sense of dread, as many people claim the planet will actually impact the Earth and destroy it. John tries to comfort Claire telling her that it is foolish superstition to think that way, but strange phenomena happen that exasperate Claire’s mood: electricity fails, animals are restless, snow suddenly falls in the middle of summer. By far, though, the most distressing thing for her is Justine, who is disturbingly serene and nonchalant about the whole affair and is fully convinced the planet will impact Earth and destroy it. The night of the planet’s fly-by comes, and the family is relieved to see that Melancholia indeed bypasses the Earth. However, the next day, Claire after talking to an obviously disturbed John, realizes that Melancholia is actually turning back…

First of all, the technique of the film is impeccable. Lars Von Trier is nothing if not an excellent cinematographer, and every scene is wonderfully shot. The Swedish castle were the filming took place is a stunning building, and Von Trier milks that for all its worth, with beautiful external shots. Von Trier has always been a fan of the digital camera, and he takes advantage of it by using filters and effects to give the movie an ethereal glow, producing a fairytale-like atmosphere. The titular rogue planet, when is it near the Earth, is a chilling spectacle, being both a supremely beautiful and unnervingly oppressive presence. Bottom line, the movie is pretty, that is undeniable.

The performances in the film are universally excellent. I have never been a fan of Kirsten Dunst at all, her only role I’ve actually enjoyed being Interview with the Vampire, but I honestly have to swallow my pride and say she genuinely does an excellent performance in this film. Usually, characters with Major Depression in movies are portrayed as kind of bored-looking, comically lazy or functional enough that some crazy highjinks can lift them from their fugue. This is NOT the case with Dunst’s performance: Justine is a broken, dysfunctional woman, barely able to feed herself without breaking down in tears. As someone who’s had family and friends undergoing depression, I can appreciate the verisimilitude of her performance. Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally excellent as Claire, accurately portraying the frustration a loved one can feel at dealing with a depressive, and the desperation one would exhibit at their whole world being turned upside down without any power to stop it. Kiefer Sutherland as John also turns in a great performance, juggling his characters love for his husband and child with the frustration of dealing with his in-laws, who are, in his opinion, certifiably insane. The rest of the performers do a great job, even if their performances are much less prominent than the three leads’. John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling, in particular, are excellent as Justine and Claire’s parents. Hurt is completely likeable and charming; I wish he were my grandpa. As for Rampling, she is a stone-cold bitter bitch in this, and is a great “villain” for the little screen time she gets.

Now, if I have problems with this movie, it’s in the script. It is by no means a BAD script, but it is, in my opinion, an example of wasted potential. There are hints of a much deeper story that was not explored here. I understand that the movie is episodic, and so is there to show us the present events in the character’s lives; it is almost documentary-like in the way it tells its story. I have no problem with this. The problem I have is that it makes it kinda hard to connect with the characters when you don’t have some context to their actions. We see the symptoms of Justine’s depression, but we don’t see the causes. We get hints of them, to be sure. A domineering mother who treats her like shit, a domineering boss who is willing to harass and blackmail her about work in her own wedding reception, a domineering sister who treats her like a child(see a pattern?), we can definitely see the possible causes for it. But we don’t know. Her mother is domineering and cold, why? What is her workplace like? How could a barely functional depressive like her keep it together enough to actually marry? What was her childhood with Claire like? As great as Dunst’s performance was, it’s hard to sympathize with her character if we only see how badly she’s screwed up but not why.

Similarly, the other characters could have used a little more fleshing out as well to understand their motivations. I have no complaints about John, since he’s very clearly defined as far as characters go. He’s a good husband, a good father, and is worried about how his sister-in-laws condition affects his family, pretty straightforward. But in Claire, we get the impression of deep-seated resentment and frustration, but without context she comes off more as a cold bitch. Gaby also comes off as supremely cuntish for the sake of being cuntish. We get the impression that Dexter was a loving father, but not a very involved one. Like I said, we only get hints of the characters’ motivations and reasons for being the way they are, but we never know concretely. It feels like the movie has a huge chunk taken out of it. The movie’s already pretty long, at 130 minutes, but I really wouldn’t have minded maybe an extra half-hour to explore the characters’ backstories and better make us sympathize with them.

Be that as it may, Melancholia is nevertheless a haunting film, and one that will linger in your mind for days afterwards. It is emotionally draining, and Dunst’s performance will drag you down with her as much as she does the other characters in the film. As a story, it leaves a little to be desired, but as an experience, it’s well worth watching.

Movie Review: eXistenZ (1999)

EXISTENZ (capitalized eXistenZ, 1999)

Directed by: David Cronenberg(yay!!)

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston

At first glance, eXistenZ is not David Cronenberg’s best film. It is not a bad film, by any means; on the contrary, it’s actually pretty damn good. However, it was made during the transitional period where Cronenberg was heading towards less visceral, more cerebral fare, like A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises. As such, there’s an awkward fit between the film’s dramatic themes(more common in Cronenberg’s most recent fare) and its fantastic elements(much more common in his classic era). However, two things make the movie great: its very cerebral themes and how unexpectedly influential it is.

(Note: To distinguish one from the other, the film will be written italicized as eXistenZ, while the computer program will be written as eXistenZ)

The basic plot: in a not so distant future, video games have evolved beyond simple entertainment into the realm of pure escapism. Gaming computers are now bio-engineered organic things, which connect directly to a user’s nervous system, projecting themselves directly to their brain. Allegra Geller, a video game designer for Antenna Research, is the world’s greatest video game designer, and in a conference she is unveiling eXistenZ, her newest gaming masterpiece, and supposedly the most advanced and realistic game yet. During the conference, an attempt on her life is made, and she is carried away by a young Antenna intern named Ted Pikul. Allegra is eerily calm for someone who just had an attempt on her life, but is also very paranoid about the whole thing, and keeps insisting that Ted help her test eXistenZ on her rig, since it’s the only copy of the program and she needs an outside person to test run it to see if it’s functioning correctly. eXistenZ, as it turns out, does work, FRIGHTENINGLY so. The game is practically indistinguishable from reality… and you can see where this is going.

If you get a serious case of déjà vu from that synopsis, yeah, I saw The Matrixtoo. Do note, though, that The Matrix and eXistenZ came out practically simultaneously, one being released merely weeks after the other, so there’s really no link there other than the filmmakers coming up with similar ideas at roughly the same time. However, where The Matrix had two distinct layers of reality and mostly used the concept as setting, eXistenZ was the first movie to really explore the theme on a psychological level and explore multiple layers which start confusing the senses into questioning what’s real. The fake reality of The Matrix was imposed since birth, and was for all purposes real life until someone unplugged you from it; then it shattered like the illusion it was and you could never see it as real life again. In eXistenZ, people created the virtual world as a way to escape reality, and they desire that fake reality much more than the real one. Whereas The Matrix symbolizes a prison to break out off, eXistenZ is a prison of our own making, or perhaps even a vehicle to escape the prison of real life. Also, eXistenZ is no popcorn movie. eXistenZ is as similar in themes and different in approach to The Matrix as the Ridley Scott-directed Alien is to its James Cameron-directed sequel.

eXistenZ has much more in common with a drug than a game, and the theme of addiction and obsession is as present in this film as much as any of Cronenberg’s other fare. People become so addicted to the escapist games that they neglect their real lives. They see Allegra as a literal goddess, as someone worthy of worship. This is reinforced by the game’s name: “isten”, if you notice, is capitalized differently, and it’s Hungarian for “god.” There’s also an immensely sexual connotation to eXistenZ as well. The computers that run the game are organic, flesh-colored, looking like a mass of labia, clitorises and nipples. The wire you connect it to your body with looks like an umbilical cord. The port you need to get to use it looks like a sphincter muscle. A person who’s hooked into the game writes and moans as if in sexual ecstasy.

Using an entertainment medium as an analogy, eXistenZ also serves as an essay on escapism, obsession with media and desensitization. You see people in the game act out urges they don’t dare act on in real life, including gleefully murder a human being or have sex without consequence. However, it also posits that these are all choices the characters make, and one of them even comments about how, if you’re not able to distinguish one reality from the next, can you tell if you’re merely killing a game construct or an actual human being. However, Cronenberg’s not trying to preach, he’s trying to get us to think and come to our own conclusions. This movie’s not a Columbine-style condemnation of media, it is an appeal to personal responsibility. After all, Cronenberg’s an outspoken defender of free speech and condemner of censorship in all forms. The timing of the film is pretty eerie, too: eXistenZ came out just three days after the Columbine Massacre.

All the elements mentioned so far also, coincidentally, make eXistenZ a sort of spiritual successor to another Cronenberg film, Videodrome. In fact, one could say that eXistenZ is to the videogame generation what Videodrome was to the VCR generation. A double-feature of both films back to back would make for a very fun and cerebral movie night.

The theme of layers of reality becoming blurred with one another and looking for answers in a virtual world also shows the movie influenced Christopher Nolan’s Inception. This has more credence than you get from a first glance: Christopher Priest, the novelist who wrote the novelization for eXistenZ also wrote the novel The Prestige, one of the best movie adaptations of a novel ever and one of Nolan’s finest films. If anything, it proves that Nolan has the same appreciation for the theme that Cronenberg has, and watching eXistenZ after watching Inception is a refreshing experience. Seeing similar themes on a movie released a decade before does not take anything away from Inception, instead elevating eXistenZ, and it also proves that part of what makes Nolan such a great director is that he was influenced by one of the greats.

Writing this review, I realized that I had a sort of blasé reaction to the movie as I finished watching it. I liked it, but kinda shrugged my shoulders, not really being blown away by it like I have been by other Cronenberg films. Yet, the more I think about the movie’s themes and the questions it raises, the more it grows on me. This is part of what makes the movie great: it stays with you and makes you think. Many movies serve as an escape from reality. Few are successful at doing so while making you actually ask yourself WHY you’re doing it. It’s not an easy feat, and doing it successfully is what makes eXistenZ a great film. Definitely worth checking out.

Movie Review: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

Directed by: George Clooney

Starring: SAM FUCKING ROCKWELL!!, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer

First, some background on this film’s creation is in order…

Before Jerry Springer. Before Maury Povich(you are NOT the father!). Before the guidos on the Jersey Shore. Before TLC became a channel about women with clown car vaginas, midgets and pedophilic beauty pageants. Before all this TV schlock, there was Chuck Barris. The (in)famous producer of such TV “classics” as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, Barris was churning out shows spotlighting people pathetically making fools of themselves just to be on TV before it became a thing. His shows were raunchy, exploitative and critically lambasted, yet no one could stop watching them. In 1984, Barris published a memoir titled Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind(shortened to COADM from now on), chronicling his career and life. While the memoir included the expected view from behind the scenes into his career, Barris also dropped a bombshell on the reading public: he claimed that, while working his career as a TV executive, he also led a double life as an assassin for the CIA.

This revelation has been met with many responses, but indifference isn’t one of them. Opinions range from accusing Barris of blatant lies, to belief that they were the ramblings of a man slowly losing his sanity, to believing Barris to be stealthily writing a first-person novel and masking it as his own life. However, friends, loved ones and coworkers of Barris reacted with surprisingly little surprise, talking about changes in mood, frequent disappearances and suspicious movements on Barris’s part. His closest people thought that there WAS a possibility, however ridiculous it may seem, that Barris was telling the truth.

The rights for COADM were kicked around studios for years since the novel’s publication, going so far as to having Bryan Singer attached as director and JOHNNY FUCKING DEPP scheduled to play Barris. Ultimately, George Clooney ended up in the director’s chair, working off a script by legendary scribe Charlie Kauffman(Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind), and Sam Rockwell as Barris.

I don’t know how good any other version of COADM might have been, but I SERIOUSLY doubt it would have been better than this one, cause this film is a fucking masterpiece.

The film starts with Chuck Barris’s early days, showing him trying to make it in the flourishing television industry of the 1960s. He eventually meets the love of his life, Penny, and their relationship is one of the running plots of the film. The film covers his triumphs and failures during the early days of his career, until he finally meets Jim Byrd, a CIA spook who recruits Barris to be a hitman. The movie then does double duty, showing the progress of Barris’s career as a television producer(including his creation of The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game) and his alternate life as a killer. During his killing trips, he meets fellow CIA assassins Patricia Watson and Keeler, with whom he forms an on-off relationship and a lasting friendship, respectively.

I’m gonna stop the review of the film there and start doing the critique, cause the film goes in directions you simply must not have spoiled. It’s truly a fucking joy of a film, funny, dramatic and sometimes even heartbreaking. This movie is George Clooney’s directorial debut, and goddamn, did he ever make an impact. The movie is tightly shot, perfectly paced. It should be shown in every film school in this country. This is also helped by Charlie Kauffman’s incredible script, which has the perfect mix of suspense, drama and black comedy. There’s never a boring moment, and every line that comes out of a character’s mouth is gold.

…Aaaaaaaaaaaand the protagonist is Sam Rockwell. I’ve already showered Rockwell with praise as one of my absolute favorite actors, but this film… This film is his tour-de-force performance. This is the role that made everyone sit up and take notice. He completely nails every comedic, dramatic and tragic moment of the film to pitch-perfection. Barris is a flawed character, but one you can’t help like. He’s a smart, charming fast-talker, easily throwing out the snark with a smile and a wink. He’s also a character in pain from years of lies, both in his TV career and his killing job. Rockwell portrays Barris’s eventual breakdown convincingly, and easily makes us empathize with his plight. Simply put, this is every Sam Rockwell fan’s favorite movie.

The supporting cast is also equally excellent. Drew Barrymore is charming and likeable as Penny, and greatly portrays a woman who has to live with loving a man while never being able to completely give herself to him the way she wants. George Clooney as agent Jim Byrd is hilarious playing the deadpan, stereotypical CIA spook, but can also become genuinely scary at a moment’s notice. Rutger Hauer is supremely likeable as Keeler, a fellow CIA assassin who’s become jaded and philosophical from years of killing, and who serves as a reflection of Barris’s possible future. I personally don’t like Julia Roberts, I’ve never understood her charm, but she totally kills this performance. Roberts’s Patricia is seductive and dangerous.

COADM is cinematic gold, it is in my opinion a flawless film. Perfect casting, masterful direction and super writing, a winning formula every time. My highest recommendation.

Oh, and Rockwell dances A LOT in the movie, hell yeah!

Movie Review: El Topo (1970)

EL TOPO (1970)

Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky

My second review of Jodorowsky! And trust me, I’ll review La Montaña Sagrada too, but I need all my strength for that one…

Now some of you guys may be wondering why I’m reviewing Jodorowsky’s films in anachronic order. After all, I reviewed first Santa Sangre, which is one of his last films, yet now I’m reviewing El Topo, which is his first famous film, and later I’m reviewing La Montaña Sagrada, which is immediately after. Well, there IS an order to these films: it is order of WEIRDNESS. Jodorowsky is nothing if not abstract, and El Topo was definitely a sign of things to come. As weird and symbolic as Santa Sangre was, it was actually Jodorowsky’s most mainstream, least confusing film. El Topo is NOT mainstream, by any means, and while it doesn’t yet reach the true potential for weirdness Jodorowsky has, it’s a very abstract and symbolic film, heavy in imagery and religious undertones.

El Topo starts with the title character riding in the middle of the desert with his son. He gives him a toy and a picture of the child’s mother, and tells him to bury them in the sand. This symbolizes(get ready to read that word a lot in this review) burying his childhood and walking towards adulthood, a rite of passage. Immediately the beginning credits start, and we listen to a narrator telling us about the source of the gunslinger’s title:

“The mole(el topo) is an animal that digs tunnels under the ground. In search of the sun, it sometimes comes to the surface. When it sees the sun, it is blinded.”

That opening narration sets the tone for the entire film: a quest for enlightenment which leads to its protagonist’s doom. It is the tale of a Byronic hero, proud and confident in his abilities, who is brought down by his own hubris and tries to look for enlightenment as a way to put his life back together.

El Topo’s first adventure is to avenge the slaughter of a village by bandits. After saving the villagers, he is tempted by a woman from the village into taking her as his woman and leaving his son behind, his first act of selfishness and a step towards his eventual fall. The woman is delighted to be El Topo’s woman, but shows immense selfishness. While in an oasis, she drinks from it and remarks it is bitter. El Topo then stirs the water with a tree branch and tells the story of how the people of Israel, dying of thirst, begged Moses to find water, and when he did it was bitter. The bitter water they called Marah. El Topo and the woman then drink from the oasis which is now sweet water, and El Topo declares he will call the woman Marah, for she is like bitter water. Unknown to El Topo, this title would be completely appropriate, as will be shown later in the film.

El Topo teaches Marah ways to survive in the desert, how to find food and water. During this scene, he shows he is a highly spiritual being: he entrusts God to provide and he finds sustenance. Marah, meanwhile, finds nothing, and does nothing but complain. Eventually, El Topo attacks Marah, stripping her naked, as if peeling away her doubts and lack of faith, and she finally manages to find food and water by herself. He has gifted her with wisdom. He is a master of sorts, and Marah a less than enthusiastic student. However, Marah is not satisfied: she asks El Topo if he loves her, to which he answers yes, but she replies that he does not love him, for he needs to be the best. She then tells him that, in the desert, there are four masters of the gun, and that El Topo needs to defeat them to be the best. She becomes a tempter, leading El Topo to try to reach beyond his grasp.

This is one of the best parts of the film: El Topo on his quest to defeat the gun masters. While he does so, a mysterious gunwoman(with a man’s voice, it’s that kind of movie) follows El Topo an Marah from afar. Each of the masters is a philosopher, using the gun as a tool for spiritual enlightenment. The first master has learned to not be hurt by bullets by letting them go through him without offering resistance. The second master is dedicated to his mother to the point he is empty from desire, and as such can wiled he gun with amazing precision. The third master has a handcrafted gun he made himself which can only fire one bullet, but it’s all he needs, for he always aims true for the heart. The fourth master has nothing, craves nothing, cares for nothing, so he has nothing be taken from him. As he fights the masters, the gunwoman starts to seduce Marah, but she rejects her seductions… at first…

El Topo, one by one, defeats the masters. However, he does not beat the masters at their own game: they all remain superior to him, since Marah tempts El Topo into killing them all through trickery. In so doing, he learns nothing, he wins nothing, he masters nothing. With each “victory” he slowly starts to succumb to despair, until the last master finally breaks him. He becomes a shadow of a man, consumed by the despair. It is then that the biggest injustice is struck: the gunwoman confronts El Topo, and in his broken state he is no match for her. He is shot down, and abandoned by Marah. He has lost everything.

Decades later, El Topo awakens in a cave. He realizes he’s been tended for years by the people of the cave, deformed folk whom the world shuns because of their deformities. They are trapped in the cave, for the opening cannot be reach by them with their faulty limbs. El Topo then decides he will repay their kindness by going to the nearby village and working to open a tunnel and letting the cave folk free. With the midget woman who tended to him, he goes to the village as a clown, trying to earn money for the project.

The townspeople are decadent, impious folk, and a priest in the town fights fiercely to lead them away from heathen ways. He eventually meets face to face with El Topo… and they both realize in horror who each other are, for the priest is El Topo’s son, whom he abandoned so many years ago…

El Topo is one of those movies that demand attention to every detail, for it has many stories to tell. It is full of simile and analogy. It is full of religious imagery and symbolism, especially Christian and Buddhist. It is a metaphor for the search for enlightenment: it shows a man stripped of everything, only for him to look to the spiritual for meaning. All this makes for a VERY trippy movie. DO NOT expect a traditional Western with loads of gunslinging action and daring do, since there’s NOTHING resembling that in the film. In fact, the movie’s genre as a Western is practically incidental to the plot: you could have replaced gunslinging with swordfighting and the set it in Ancient China and pretty much nothing would be lost.

This, however, is one of the movie’s strengths: it uses the filmic language of the Western to tell a story about spiritual enlightenment and Buddhist themes and make it more accessible, and it works. El Topo’s quest for mastery lets us see how a man can be brought low by his own ambition if he is without the patience and wisdom to reach his goals in the correct way. These are timeless themes, and this makes the movie(which was released in 1970) age remarkably well.

The movie is superbly shot and scored. Jodorowsky has a great eye for frame composition, leading to some very impressive set pieces. The movie is acted very well, too. Jodorowsky himself as El Topo is a fascinating character. Beginning the movie, you’d think he’s gonna be a John ford-style Western hero, what with his avenging the slaughtered village and raining karmic vengeance on the thieves. But then, he abandons his own child and takes the woman. And he shows his spiritual side with the “miracles” he performs in the desert. Then you realized he has virtues, but is also deeply flawed, and that getting rid of those flaws will be the labor of a lifetime, quite literally. All the other actors perform well as well, with the actress playing the midget woman and the one playing El Topo’s adult son putting in very emotive performances. The four masters are great characters of the aloof Zen master-type, and Marah and the gunwoman also perform great as seductive beings which lead the hero astray.

I really love El Topo, it’s a great film. I am usually adverse to arthouse fare, since many of those types of movies force you to do your homework outside of the films to understand them, and that to me is a crime. A film should always stand by its own merits, not make you look in Wikipedia to understand what the hell you just saw. El Topo doesn’t fall into that trap. While it has Buddhist themes, you don’t need to know about Buddhism to understand its message. The plot may be abstract sometimes, but it’s not confusing, with the abstraction serving to give it a magical feel. This was my first Jodorowsky film, and I truly believe I couldn’t have been introduced to him better.

Movie Review: Fucking Bronson! (2008)

BRONSON (2008)

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Tom Hardy

It is an exceedingly hard thing to make a movie which is basically one character. It requires a director of exceptional skill and an actor of superlative talent. When not done properly, it comes off as pretentious and self-indulgent, or worst, boring. However, when done correctly, it can be a riveting tour-de-force. I already reviewed one such film here, Duncan Jones’s Moon, an exceptional film with great direction and an incredible performance by Sam Rockwell. Although I haven’t seen it, similar acclaim has been bestowed on 127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco.

However, lemme tell you straight, as much as I loved Moon, and even not having seen 127 Hours, I can tell you with full confidence: they don’t have SHIT on Bronson.

Bronson is, quite simply, an EVENT of a film. It is raw. It is violent… no, scratch that, it is VIOLENCE made film. It is subtle as a shotgun blast to the balls. It is refined as eating chocolate-covered bacon from a hooker’s asshole. It is FUCKING AWESOME.

The titular Bronson is Charles Bronson(not the actor, but taking his name as his own), formerly known as Michael Peterson, a real life prisoner from Britain. Or make that THE real life prisoner from Britain. Bronson is Britain’s most famous prisoner, being probably the most violent individual to ever go through Her Majesty’s penal system. And his life’s story makes for an entertaining-as-all-fuck flick.

The film starts with Bronson’s youth, showing his propensity for violence at an early age. Mostly being free to do as he pleased since childhood(in a flashback, it’s shown his parents don’t do anything to discourage his sociopathic behavior), Bronson grows up to be a macho, violent, swaggering man who won’t tell you anything he can beat into you instead. Caught on a petty theft rap, which escalates to assaulting police officers, he is sentenced to 7 years in prison, with possible parole at 4. Instead, it becomes the start of Bronson’s LONG existence as a prisoner, since his sociopathic behavior keeps adding years to his sentence. Becoming a celebrity amongst his prison mates for his contempt for authority and chaotic behavior, he eventually goes on a grand tour of the British prison system, being shafted from facility to facility in an attempt to find one that could handle him. The real-life Bronson was originally jailed in 1974, and he’s STILL in prison, the majority of his time there in solitary confinement. That should give you a good idea of how well THAT worked. Even though it’s a biopic, so you can pretty much know all that happened by reading an article, I refuse to continue the synopsis, since this is a movie you NEED to see.

Bronson’s story needed to be told in a visceral manner, and director Nicolas Winding Refn fucking nailed it. The movie is raw, violent, and relentlessly funny. Winding uses the ingenious device of showing Bronson performing a stage act to an imaginary audience, basically narrating his life story as a vaudeville show. Not only does it give the movie an interesting framing device, it also gives viewers an insight into the way Bronson’s mind works, which makes all the happenings on screen that much more fascinating. Without Bronson’s narration and imaginary show, the movie would just be about a violent sociopath who stupidly keeps getting into trouble in prison so he’ll never be let out. With the framing device, he becomes a glory-seeking specialist of violence who relishes in causing pain and being the center of attention(indeed, it’s shown he wears the title of Britain’s most violent criminal with morbid pride).

All this great direction and scripting would be nothing without an actor to pull it off. And holy shit, Tom Hardy is fucking AMAZING. He is, quite simply, glorious to watch. Every single second he’s on screen you can feel the intensity bleeding out of it. Hardy plays Bronson as a good-humored raging psychopath, a man who is only truly happy involved in bone-crushing violence. He also plays him with brutish charm: he’s not only a violent man, but an expressive and gleefully entertaining one. Every second of the film he exudes nothing but bravado and contempt for authority. He simply flat-out refuses to play by any rules but his own, and will not dare let an offense go by without punishing the offender. There are other actors in the film, and they all turn in wonderful performances, but they are, ultimately, incidental. They are there for Hardy to play off of, their characters are there to react to Bronson. Both Bronson and Hardy playing him are the stars of the show, and both the character and the actor relish the role. I dunno if the real-life Bronson can watch this movie(after all, he’s in a cell isolated from the world), but I bet if he did, he’d probably cry and hug Tom Hardy for such a flattering performance. It takes a superb actor to turn a sociopath into a charming, interesting character, and Hardy certainly did that. This is the film that put Hardy on the fast track to movie stardom, and he most certainly earned every accolade showered on him. Oh, and as an aside, kudos on Hardy for willing to go full-frontal, it takes balls(no pun intended) to do it.

Like its protagonist, the movie itself is dirtily and grittily filmed. No fades, no soft pans, everything is in-your-face. If there’s a moment of quiet, it is merely calm before a storm. However, the vaudeville scenes form a very striking and interesting visual contrast to the prison scenes, being colorful and full of whimsy. Hardy excels in both environments of the film, and is entertaining both as a storyteller and as a protagonist.

Watch. This. Film. I cannot stress this enough. I recommend this film wholeheartedly. It is fiercely entertaining. Knowing that this guy actually exists makes it more so. My highest recommendation. FUCK do I ever love this film!!!

Movie Review: Santa Sangre (1989)

This review’s for Joey :)

SANTA SANGRE (1989)

Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Starring: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Sabrina Dennison, Guy Stockwell

If there’s one director in world cinema that is synonymous with symbolism and spiritual questing, it is Chile’s Alejandro Jodorowsky. An arthouse director of superlative vision(in EVERY sense of the word), Jodorowsky has always been obsessed with the spiritual and the visceral in his work, exploring both man’s brutality to his fellow man and his quest for spiritual fulfillment. He’s also very fond of juxtaposing both aspects as inherent to human nature and often inseparable from one another: the same man can be both a brutal murderer and a visionary seeker of wisdom and enlightenment. A man of very particular philosophy, Jodorowsky believes in something called Psychomagic, which is the healing of the unconscious by conscious acts. To put it in layman’s terms, he believes that deep traumas and psychological complexes can be healed by taking voluntary actions which deal with these psychoses at the subconscious level. Since the subconscious mind communicates through symbolism, symbolic acts can heal the subconscious mind. This is obviously a very, very unorthodox way of thought, borrowing heavily from both Jungian psychiatric ideas and the tenets of Zen Buddhism. His movies reflect this philosophy: they are very heavy in symbolism and elements of the spiritual quest. His first successful movie, El Topo, has been described by many as both an “acid western” and “Buddhist western”, and his other movies similarly reflect a preoccupation with the spiritual integrated into standard movie genres, making for some very weird yet very thought-provoking films.

Santa Sangre is, therefore, a movie that might seem weird and abstract to the average viewer, but rewards those willing to dig deeper with a story heavy with Campbellian tropes and elements of the Quest, as well as ultimately being the story of breaking away from childhood and spiritual dependence and into adulthood and spiritual freedom.

Santa Sangre is the story of Fenix, a disturbed young man whose colorful-yet-tragic past has transformed him into a tortured soul. At the beginning of the film, he is confined to an insane asylum, little more than a feral, impulsive animal. We flash back to his childhood, in which he was the prince of his father Orgo’s circus. As one of the circus’s main attractions(the greatest child magician in the world), Fenix is beloved by all within the circus, and especially by Alma, the mute trapeze girl and daughter of the Tattooed Woman. However, this seemingly magical childhood is not as it seems: Orgo and Concha, Fenix’s mother, are estranged over Concha belonging to the cult of Santa Sangre(Holy Blood), a heretical cult revolving around a supposed unrecognized saint. Orgo is given to hedonism and adultery, having an affair with the Tattooed Woman, and Concha is the most devout of religious extremists(to the point she actually believes the pool of red paint in the middle of the cult’s church is genuinely the blood of the saint they venerate). After the cult’s church is destroyed by the owner of the land it’s built on(and after the cult is deemed heretical and blasphemous by the local bishop), Concha returns with Fenix to the circus, and from there, events turn massively tragic in Fenix’s life. Eventually, back in the present, Concha appears to rescue Fenix from the insane asylum, and proceeds to take control of his life. While returned to a semblance of sanity by reuniting with his mother, Fenix still remains a prisoner, this time of his mother’s domineering(and murderous) ways.

This film is one of those that demand multiple viewings to grasp all its subtle details. It is a film loaded with symbolism, both visually and plot-wise. Even the names of the characters are symbolic: Fenix is obviously phoenix in Spanish, alluding to him rising triumphant from the ashes of his previous, painful and tragic life. His beloved, Alma, is a deaf-mute, her name(“soul”) symbolizing Fenix’s humanity and source of salvation, and her lack of speech making her seem otherworldly, innocent, angelical. Orgo’s name alludes to orgasm, his look decadent and fat, giving the impression of someone slave to his desires and hedonistic impulses. Concha’s name means “oyster” in South American Spanish, a slang world for vagina in the rudest way, identifying her as both the source of Fenix’s life and as a woman who uses her matriarchal state as a way of control and divine right over her son.

The plot has many interesting twists and turns, but mostly revolves around Fenix’s quest for his own identity, independent from his past and the influence of his domineering mother. From his childhood in the circus to the film’s final act, he is on a quest for happiness and escape from the pain of his past, yet it is this past that has made him who he is, for better or worse. His service to his mother as her “arms” is one of the cleverest devices of the film, and an integral part of the plot, being the ultimate symbol of his helplessness in the face of his mother’s domineering ways. He also tries to be a seductive Casanova to try finding himself in women, but when he does he dresses like his father, not only reminding us of his father’s chauvinistic ways, but also that he still has no identity when he does(not to mention his mother does NOT like him chasing after women, with fatal results). Parallel to Fenix’s quest for identity is Alma looking for Fenix, trying to reunite with her long-lost love and deliver him from the painful existence he’s living.

The entire film is colorful beyond belief, with surreal characters who might or might not exist, giving it many elements of magical realism. In this way, it also interestingly resembles many Italian horror films. Dario Argento’s Suspiria instantly comes to mind, and I was pleasantly surprised at making the association, since Claudio Argento, Dario’s brother, is the film’s producer.

The movie is superbly acted. Axel Jodorowsky, the director’s son, plays Fenix, and he excels at conveying all of Fenix’s conflicting emotions, from pompous extravagance to deepest regret and grief. Blanca Guerra as Concha is one of film’s most fascinating villains, balancing perfectly genuine love for her son with the most vicious, murderous hate for any woman who dares try to “take” him away from her. Everyone else is great in their roles, but it is Jodorowsky and Guerra who steal the show.

Santa Sangre has been described by many movie buffs as “Psycho meets Luis Buñuel” which is not that bad of an analogy, but it’s also misleading as what to expect from it. It is a haunting film which straddles the line between magical realism, drama and psychological horror, and is an excellent watch if you’re in the mood for something different and foreign.

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

THE FLY (1986)

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

In my review of Crash, I established both my love of David Cronenberg and how I considered that particular film more of a guilty pleasure than what can be considered a true classic film. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it film, basically.

This is NOT the case for The Fly, I’m DAMN proud of liking this one, and without hyperbole I consider this one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and up there as one of the few movie remakes that is better in every way over the original. It is also the lynchpin of my thesis on why 80s horror is leaps-and-bounds superior to the absolute shit being churned out these days. Quite simply, my recommendation of this film is absolute, NO ONE should not watch The Fly.

On to the plot: while attending a conference, scientific reporter Veronica Quaiffe meets Seth Brundle, a physicist who tells him that he can show her a hell of a story. Expecting just another guy hitting on her, Veronica thinks nothing of it… until Seth shows her the project he’s been working on: an actual, honest to goodness teleportation machine. Veronica is absolutely flabbergasted and decides to write a story for her magazine on Seth, but he convinces her to wait it out and write a book on his experiments and on his final breakthrough: teleporting human beings. The teleporter can already transport inanimate objects without a problem, but living beings… well, saying they come out wrong is an understatement. Meanwhile, Veronica is constantly undergoing pressure at work from Stathis Borans, Veronica’s boss and former lover who just can’t seem to let her go. You can tell why Veronica let HIM go, though, since he’s an unrepentant asshole

Eventually, Veronica becomes Seth’s lover, and actually manages to help Seth make the breakthrough of transporting living beings. Wanting to celebrate, Seth is instead heartbroken when Veronica stands him up, believing her to be having an affair with Stathis(in actuality, she was arguing with Stathis over him trying to take advantage of Seth’s story to not only sell magazines but to get back at Veronica). In a drunken stupor, Seth does what he believes is the final culmination of his experiment: he gets inside his teleporter as its first human subject. However, unbeknownst to him, a lowly housefly entered the teleporter with him, and THAT is what gets the plot going and all things going to hell.

The Fly is, quite simply, an incredible film. It is smartly written, brilliantly acted, has perfect pacing, a haunting soundtrack courtesy of composer Howard Shore(yeah, the guy who composed Lord Of the Rings!), and some of the best special effects ever in horror movie history. Ah, but is it really a horror film? Or is it a tragic romance film wrapped inside a horror exterior? That is a debate that is quite appropriate to participate in, because the romance between Seth and Veronica is as integral to the plot as the titular fly is, and it is this romance that makes the film truly powerful. Without the relationship between both characters, the film would probably be a well done, yet forgettable popcorn monster flick, but the romance between the characters makes it so much more. You actually CARE for Seth and Veronica, and will be devastated with what happens to both of them as the film moves along(the movie does not have a happy ending, but that’s not much of a spoiler considering who’s directing it).

Two factors in this film are a perfect example of how horror has stagnated since the 80s: the plot and the effects. The plot, quite simply, is brilliant. Its characters are intelligent human beings with flaws, just like most people are. They’re not retarded teenagers who act with the survival instinct of a lemming, their reactions to the horror of the situations they’re in feel natural. This is certainly helped by the great performances from its three leads. Many critics believe Jeff Goldblum was snubbed at the Oscars by not receiving a Best Actor nomination, and I have to agree, it is a HELL of a performance. Geena Davis and Jon Getz also have great roles, and Jeff Goldblum wouldn’t have shined as brightly if he didn’t have them to play off of. The great performances by the leads also make the plot believable: by acting naturally and intelligently, they help you take in the plot, no matter how ridiculous it might get. Suspension of disbelief done to perfection.

As for the effects, they’re simply AWESOME. Chris Walas, Inc., the company that did the creature effects, did an incredible job in creating one of the all-time greatest movie monsters. Most impressively because the effects are practical: make-up, animatronics and costuming. No CG, at all. To be fair, CG wasn’t a big thing until James Cameron’s The Abyss three years later, but even that one used CG in a much more subdued fashion than the CG-splattered horror crap being churned out today. Directors and producers take note: your monster will be scarier if it’s an actual physical thing instead of some CG beastie pasted in. By no means stop using CG, but don’t use it for an effect some make-up and fake blood can create more convincingly.

This film deserves to be in anyone’s best film list. It is quite simply as close to perfection as you can get in the horror genre, and few horror movies come close to being as engrossing(a few of which I’ll review in time). I cannot possibly recommend this movie more, it is my favorite David Cronenberg film, and that is saying a lot about a director who’s done such a huge volume of excellent work. And if you hate this movie, I hope you get herpes and die. Seriously. Other movies I can agree with you on not liking, but I’ll be an asshole for this one.

Movie Review: Crash (1996, the David Cronenberg one)

I’ve been writing movie reviews for a friend for a while now, I thought you guys might like to read them too, so I’ll post what I’ve got so far.

CRASH (1996)

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette

Anyone who knows me relatively well knows that I friggin’ LOVE David Cronenberg. The mark of the best directors is usually being associated with a theme or mood that becomes signature with their work. Christopher Nolan deals with perception of reality, Darren Aronofsky with obsession. Cronenberg deals with transgression. Transgression of the senses, morals, normalcy. Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, Naked Lunch, The Fly(which I will review soon!), A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, all these are films that force us to get out of our comfort zone and judge their characters based on their situations, going beyond our preconceptions. Cronenberg’s movies always leave an aftertaste, making you analyze what you watched, with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. 

Crash… well, it’s certainly his most fascinating and repulsive movie, that’s for sure.

Based on a VERY controversial book by J.G. Ballard, Crash revolves around James Ballard(named after the author, but not autobiographic… supposedly… hopefully…), a film producer(implied to be a porn producer, mind you) in an open marriage with his wife Catherine. They are the most dispassionate couple you’ve ever seen, and the only passion in their marriage is having sex while describing to each other what they do with other people. James and Catherine, to put it bluntly, are completely blasé, they simply don’t feel any passion and have to find it by going beyond normalcy. While driving home, James gets distracted while driving and gets into a head-on collision, leaving his leg broken to shit and actually killing one of the people in the other car. The victim’s wife, Helen, is the other passenger in the car, and promptly starts undressing and masturbating.

Yeah, you read that right. This movie is starting out promisingly, isn’t it?

While in the hospital, James meets not only Helen, but also Vaughn, a medical photographer who shows disturbing fascination with James’s now-mutilated leg. Eventually, James goes to the police impound to get what’s left of his car and meets up with Helen there, and they have a small conversation about their shared experience of having survived a car wreck. They then promptly end up having sex inside James’s wrecked car. Get used to that, by the way.

It turns out that Helen is part of a group of symphorophilics, people who get sexual arousal from car crashes and their effects, and Vaughn is sort of their cult leader. Not a cult in the strictest sense of being a religious organization, but in that theirs is a lifestyle people would not understand and condemn. Vaughn himself is obviously very much into it, being completely covered in scar tissue, and even staging and participating in recreations of famous car crashes, both as a spectacle for other people and for self-gratification. The symphorophilics enjoy sexually pretty much everything about a car crash. They watch crash test videos like porn, they have sex in back seats while the driver speeds like a maniac, they fetishize scars and injuries like the sexiest things in the world, they are fascinated by the destruction of both machinery and life and limb. James quite readily lets himself get dragged along for the ride, and his wife Catherine soon follows suit, finally finding a source of true passion in their life.

The main thesis of the film, and Vaughn’s philosophy, is that a car crash is not a destructive event. Instead, surviving it, celebrating it, is a way to get a new lease on life, to experience liberation from standard sexuality and morality. It also deals with how a modern convenience like an automobile can so influence personality and society that it can become an instrument for sexuality. This is apparent in the characters themselves: they DO NOT GIVE A SHIT what they do as long as it’s pleasurable and taboo-breaking. They find nothing off-limits. They walk through a crash site like walking through a museum, admiring the carnage. When one of their own dies in a crash, they just celebrate it as the best way to go. They practice sodomy, orgies, public sex and sadomasochism with equal glee.

This, of course, makes the film polarizing as fuck. It’s impossible to be indifferent to this movie. You either admire the actors and director for making such a controversial movie or you think the movie’s irredeemable, disgusting filth. Hell, I described the premise to a friend and she replied that “it was disgusting” and “who would fund such a piece of shit “movie”(actual quotes!) WITHOUT EVEN HAVING WATCHED THE MOVIE.

Did I like the movie? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, it lacks many of the things I usually value in a film, like coherence in plot. Things just happen in this movie, and we’re supposed to go along for the ride. The characters are honestly not likeable at all, being, to put it mildly, deviants and freaks. On the other hand, this isn’t a movie to be watched, it’s meant to be experienced. In this sense, it has a lot in common with the fare of filmmakers like Takashi Miike and Dario Argento, and heaven knows I love the shit out of both those guys. Overall, I’d lean towards yes, I like this movie, but I wouldn’t watch it with just anybody, and I wouldn’t just pop it in on a whim. I also have to admit that I’m biased to like anything from Cronenberg, but it’s hard to use bias as an excuse to like a movie like this. If anything, I can at most describe this film as the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.

Would you like this movie? I have no fucking clue. As I’ve mentioned, this is pretty much the most polarizing film I’ve ever seen. Hell, even the critics don’t agree with it, some condemning it and others hailing it as one of the best films of the 90s. Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese(HAIL!!) both liked it, and they’re two guys I think know a good movie when they see it, but it was banned in more countries than Ozzy. Honestly, what I do wanna get across is that it’s impossible and downright unfair to judge this film without seeing it. If you like it, then congratulations on being mature enough to handle such controversial matter. If don’t like it, well, now you have good reason to hate it other than simply being not liking the premise as it’s being described to you.