January was David Cronenberg month (kind of)

As 2012 was beginning, I thought it would be fun to set a bit of a year-long mini project for myself as a movie viewer. I didn’t blog about my intentions, though, because I tend to have a lot of ideas for fun things that then never happen. But since I semi-succeeded in part one of this project, here’s the rundown. Every month this year, I’ll pick one director and make it the goal to watch the major films in their filmography that I haven’t gotten to yet. Filling in every gap for certain prolific directors will be tough, but one film a week at least should be doable to add to my usual viewing load. We’ll see!

Here’s how it went in January, for my first pick of David Cronenberg:

1. Films I’d Already Seen

Scanners (1981) — obviously great
The Fly (1986) — incredible, duh
Crash (1996) — interesting; probably never need to see again, but glad I did
A History of Violence (2005) — quite good, especially the acting
Eastern Promises (2007) — 80% awesome, 20% annoying

2. Films I Watched This Month

A Dangerous Method (2011) — horrible

What is with this film? Its screenplay is an absolute mess, with no reason whatsoever for moving from one scene to another. Keira Knightley, who I generally like, is totally miscast as the psychologically damaged patient of Carl Jung, turning in a trainwreck of a performance as she jerks and stutters and fake-Russian-accents all over the place. It’s actually kind of difficult to watch, and I only partially blame her; Cronenberg is the one who thought this was working, after all. Michael Fassbender as Jung, meanwhile, has nothing to work with where Knightley has too much. The screenplay does nothing to help us understand his motivations at any time—except, I guess, that dudes like sex with pretty ladies. Enlightening! And when he and Viggo Mortensen (as Freud) are on screen together discussing their ideas, it’s boring as hell. Even Viggo doesn’t look like he wants to be there. How can you put the two of them together and make it BORING? How is that even possible under the rules of physics? Ugh, this film.

Videodrome (1983) — great

I’m not always a big James Woods fan, but he’s perfect for Max Renn, the sleazy center of Videodrome. A peddler of cable schlock and gore looking for the next big thing, his quest leads him down a bit of a rabbit hole as he encounters the makers of violent videos embedded with a signal that just may cause the viewer to start hallucinating. Things get crazy, and neither Max nor the viewer really knows where reality ends and visions begin. I am down with some well done surrealism and the sorts of gooey, writhing special effects on display on this film, and I am very down with Deborah Harry as an actress—she’s rather hypnotic here as Max’s sadomasochistic love interest. If you’re okay with not always knowing exactly what’s going on, this is a very engaging film.

eXistenZ (1999) — very stupid

Though it explores many of the same themes as Videodrome—technology blurring the lines of reality and fantasy; whether a simulated experience is as good as a real one—eXistenZ has none of the guts, and pretty much no point by the time we get to the end of it. Jennifer Jason Leigh is wooden and weird as Allegra Geller, the best game designer in the world. These are futuristic virtual reality games, where organic systems plug directly into the spinal cord and the game feels like a real world to the player. Some convoluted nonsense leads, of course, to a scenario where she and gaming-virgin Jude Law have to go through a mission inside the game in order to escape the bad guys. Or something. And wouldn’t you know it, soon they don’t know if they’re inside the game or out of it! Even though she designed the damn thing, she is totally clueless! And then there’s a twist at the end. Can you guess what it is? Basically, you should never watch this movie, which I really should’ve known from the capitalization of the title.

Naked Lunch (1991)

Okay, I didn’t watch this whole thing. I watched half of it and then turned it off because I was incredibly bored. Then I was going to finish it the next day, but it had disappeared from Netflix streaming, and I considered that a sign that the universe absolved me of the responsibility. Sorry, Naked Lunch/William S. Burroughs-lovers. I don’t like the Beats!

3. Films I Still Have Not Seen

Stereo (1969)
Crimes of the Future (1970)
Shivers (1975)
Rabid (1977)
Fast Company (1979)
The Brood* (1979)
The Dead Zone (1983)
Dead Ringers* (1988)
M. Butterfly (1993)
Spider (2002)

*ones I most want to get to in the future

So, even after a month of effort, I’m still less than halfway through Cronenberg’s history as a feature director. Oh well. Soldiering on!

I am declaring February Alfred Hitchcock month. Though I’m very familiar with his greatest hits, I have been meaning to dig into a box set I bought of his early British films, and there are a couple of his late films I’ve never seen (Marnie, especially, I don’t know how I haven’t seen). I also want to check out the new Blu-rays of Notorious and Rebecca, and re-visit The Lady Vanishes. I really didn’t like that film the first time around, but multiple people have said I should give it another chance, so I will. Hitchcock! Full steam ahead!


1 Response to “January was David Cronenberg month (kind of)”

  1. 1 John February 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    You should add The Dead Zone to your “Cronenberg most wanted” list. It’s one of the best stories Stephen King has ever written and features a heartbreaking performance by Christopher Walken. I’d put it up with The Fly, History of Violence, and Dead Ringers as one of the best in Cronenberg’s filmography.
    I’m interested to hear what you think of Marnie, it’s the only Hitchcock film I’ve seen that I’ve been disappointed with.

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Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

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The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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