Movie Review: Cosmopolis (2012)


Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire

I never thought I’d say this… I hated a David Cronenberg movie. I hated this fucking movie. Jesus Horatio Christ, I HATED this fucking movie.

Anyway, Cosmopolis is based on a novel by author Don DeLillo. Never heard of him before, not very interested in reading any of his work if the film is any indication of his style. Movie stars Robert Pattinson, pretty much exclusively as all other actors in the flick are there to react to him.

The basic plot(if it can be called that) is this: Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a multi-billionaire asset manager. He wants to get a haircut AT ALL COSTS, so he has his people drive him across Manhattan on a limousine to an old barber who’s a friend of his family. He tries to do this while the President is in town, a famous rapper’s funeral is holding traffic, and there’s a friggin’ anti-capitalist anarchist riot going on, and yet he complains that all this is basically unimportant and he should be magically whisked above it all. During the journey, he coincidentally encounters his wife, Elise(Sarah Gadon), and constantly asks her to have sex with him, but just ends up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with her instead, since she constantly tells him that she thinks the marriage won’t work and that he smells of sex with other women… cause he has sex with other women. He pretty much fucks every other woman in this flick. The rest of the film he acts like a self-important bored prick. Because of bad decisions, he actually, by the end of the film, is pretty much headed towards financial ruin, and he honestly doesn’t give a fuck. In the ending, a disgruntled former employee(Paul Giamatti) may or may not have killed him, and I don’t give a fuck. Yeah, the plot can be basically summed up as “stinking rich prick gets bored and fucks up his life for shits and giggles.”

Ok, first, the good parts: Cosmopolis, as is expected of Cronenberg, is perfectly shot and paced, and the soundtrack by long-time collaborator Howard Shore is AWESOME(in fact, the ethereal soundtrack mixed with rock riffs reminded me a lot of Crash’s soundtrack, which I fucking loved). And the actors actually do a good job. Not an EXCELLENT job, but their acting was ok.

It’s THE SCRIPT that is absolutely fucking horrid.

First, the plot itself. Look, a fall-from-grace story can be a powerful cautionary tale and a fascinating character study when handled right(there’s a reason Citizen Kane is considered one of the best films of all time). But the character also needs to have redeeming qualities, and it’s the loss of these redeeming qualities to hubris that make the story have impact. If a character has no virtues, we don’t care if he succumbs to his flaws. That’s not tragedy, that’s karma. If the character has what pretty much can be considered an enviable life(riches, power, women dying for your dick) and he himself fucks it up on purpose, well, who gives a shit? That shit should be reserved for the tabloids, not for a movie. And that is the dilemma about this film: it asks us to look into a man’s life as he spirals into self-destruction but doesn’t give us any logical reason to care about it except that he’s the film’s protagonist.

And we go on to the main character: Eric Packer is a totally reprehensible asshole. He supposedly has actual affection and desire for his wife, but he only addresses her with intentions of sex. He even points out in one conversation that he’s actually having a conversation, as if to point out that yes, he’s capable of thinking of something other than sex. This comes off as shallow and full of shit to his wife as it does to the audience. He treats his employees as tools, with no show of care about their well being or even their status as a person. He has sex with an art dealer(Juliette Binoche), and right afterwards steers the conversation to wanting to acquire a famous artist’s work just because he HAS to have it. She reasons with him that that particular piece has historical value and should be made available to everyone, he replies that if he bought it, it’s his and no one else’s to do whatever he wants with it. One of his star employees(Jay Baruchel) is on the border of a nervous breakdown because of overwork and he just keeps badgering him about how good his limo’s information security is. He picks up an employee(Emily Hampshire) in the middle of her day off to make her give him financial advise, and does it WHILE GETTING A PROSTATE EXAM FROM A PERSONAL DOCTOR. The guy has the bluntness of a knife made of cream cheese. Hell, he even talks in the Royal We, the ultimate sign of condescension and entitlement.

In one particular scene, he meets up with a rapper(K’naan) and learns that his favorite rapper just died of a heart condition. Packer seems visibly despaired, giving possible hints of humanity, but then he ruins it by saying that he used to listen to his music on his personal elevator. He sees the rapper’s death as a loss for his musical tastes, not as a human being who has expired and should be mourned for who he was and not for what he did. Later, he has a conversation with his chief of security, who’s spent the entire film constantly warning Packer about attempts on his life and protecting him, and Packer just grabs his gun and shoots him dead. Just because. And he does it in public, with a gun that can only be traced to him. What’s intended to come across as a man losing his grasp on sanity and heading towards his downfall comes off as a guy being an uber-prick to another human being who only had his best interests in mind just because he can get away with it.

Many people have said in positive reviews for this film that Eric Packer is supposed to represent the ugly side of big business, and that the film is, in some way, supposed to represent the indifference of the big companies towards the Occupy movements that have sprung up during our economic recession. I call ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT on that. Packer, by halfway through the film, is actually performing deeds that will bring about his financial ruin on purpose, which no CEO on the planet with half a brain would attempt. We accuse the heads of big business for hoarding money for themselves, always trying to get richer, yet the character that’s supposed to represent them actually does not care if he’s broke? Also, the anti-capitalist rioters are painted in the worst, most bugfuck crazy way possible. They throw dead rats inside restaurants, supposedly trying to raise consciousness to a cause but coming off more as insane zealots who can be considered a legitimate threat to public safety. They spray-paint and attack limousines on the streets. They burn and pillage like the worst of mobs. Hell, one of them even immolates himself as a form of protest, Vietnamese monk-style. Really? A bad economic situation is big enough a cause for protest through SUICIDE? This has a terrible effect on the film: we can’t sympathize with Packer cause he’s a self-absorbed asshole, but we can’t sympathize with the average man either cause he’s fucking insane.

The film also has one characteristic that will make me hate ANY film: pretentiousness. The movie paints itself as having some kind of deep meaning, something to say, yet it’s all psychobabble. In one particular scene, Packer is talking to his chief advisor Vija(Samantha Morton), and she starts on this LONG rant about the nature of money and how it affects the perception and value of time. This would be fascinating stuff… if this were a movie about philosophy. Instead, it’s a character piece about a corporate magnate. Corporate magnates don’t give a shit about their advisors peppering them with philosophical discussion. An advisor is there to advice about the company. So basically, the movie paints the characters as supposed visionaries who have a deeper understanding of the way the world market works because they understand the underlying philosophy behind it. And yet, these visionaries are running a company to the ground and don’t do anything about it. Completely stupid. Hell, Vija even mentions that she doesn’t understand how the financial report screens in Packer’s limo work. HIS CHIEF ADVISOR DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO READ FINANCIAL REPORTS. That’s like hiring an engineer who doesn’t understand basic algebra!! And then, when they go by the immolating protestors, she remarks that it’s “not original”, that setting yourself on fire is nothing new, an imitation. This is supposed to represent how corporate America doesn’t care for the little man, but it just further cements that these are not real people, they are caricatures of what we supposedly believe about corporate America. No rational human being reacts to a man burning alive with indifference.

And that basically is an illustration of my biggest gripe about the entire film: it’s a cartoon. It’s not satire, it’s cartoonish parody. It is not smart, it is pretentious. The characters do not talk at all like human beings, they have a theatrical, snobbish affectation, i.e. artificiality to their speech. I called Eric Packer condescending earlier in the review, but he cannot really be accused of that since he’s SOOOOOO divorced from the average man that he couldn’t possibly even have a frame of reference. The movie hints that he made his company out of humble beginnings and that he was poor before he became powerful, but his attitude is one of such immense entitlement that he comes off more as a royal completely oblivious to the common man than as a man who sold out. The rioters who are supposedly fighting for their rights are merely background noise and more at home in a third-world country than on the streets of New York. The story has all the hallmarks of badly done fanfiction.

The saddest part? Cronenberg himself penned the screenplay. I don’t know how good or bad the book is, but I seriously doubt that it’s as shallow and insipid as the film’s script is. This film is, in my opinion, an awfully done vanity project. As a regular joe, I seriously cannot identify myself with this film on ANY level. I don’t feel it insults my intelligence because the film is not intelligent at all. I don’t feel it represents me as an average person in a bad economy because the characters who are supposed to represent me in the film are caricatures of the worst of anarchists. I don’t feel happy to not be Eric Packer because he’s more like a malfunctioning robot than a flawed human being.

Seriously, Cronenberg, why are you making me hate you? I wasn’t impressed with A Dangerous Method and now you’re actually pissing me off with this flick? PLEASE make your next film a return to form, my heart wouldn’t take another disaster like this.

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: 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.