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Monthly Archives: September 2007

The movie isn’t about sex or car crashes. (Well, sort of.) In Crash, David Cronenberg once again delivers on the grotesque and “the flesh” in a story about people who get off on car crashes. What the story ends up showing us is how we let our obsessions and addictions get out of control. This is the kind of “asking questions” I like in Cronenberg’s movies (unlike A History of Violence). He shows us some tough images to stomach, because we can’t possibly believe that sometimes instead of being in control of our addictions, they rule us. The sex scenes are graphic, but nothing in the movie is disturbing on a purely denotative level. What bothers us about the movie is the ideas conveyed in the images. It’s enough to make you not want to try out a car-crash fetish anytime soon.

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“I’m higher to sin but don’t we all sin
If that is the truth then the truth is grim”
–The Coral, “I Remember When”

I have a confession. While watching Eastern Promises, I found it generic and disliked this “new Cronenberg.” David Cronenberg, one of the top directors of our generation, used to have this obsession with flesh (or “the new flesh,” as he sometimes calls it in his movies). He changed his tone a bit when he made Spider in 2002, and even though I adore the movie, something was missing: the director’s obsession with the grotesque. He followed this with A History of Violence, which I found to be good, but weak for the director. Then I was thinking during Eastern Promises that this was his weakest film I’ve seen (I’ve yet to see a film from him that I disliked). Then the third act emerged, forced me to revise what I expected of the movie and to decide what the movie was actually about, and I was silent for a good ten minutes or so after the final cut to black and credits. I also have an apology. I’m sorry, Mr. Cronenberg, that I ever doubted you.

The trailer has lead me (and others) to believe the movie is about one thing, but let me give a plot summary that is not misleading. Anna (Naomi Watts) is a nurse who finds a diary on a girl who died during childbirth. She can’t read Russian (the movie is set in Russia), but her uncle can and starts to translate it. When he deciphers the address, Anna brings it to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who has connections with Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a gangster and his chauffeur, respectively. Anna hopes to find the dead girl’s family so that the child may not fall into the endless cycle of a foster home. However, Semyon is involved with some very dangerous individuals, and it may not be a good idea to let him have the baby. This story plays out in an interesting query of what is right and wrong, and poses another intriguing question: Can one do the right thing, even though he’s doing something bad (in effect, under particular circumstances, can the end justify the means)?

Now, don’t get me wrong: Cronenberg still has a thing for graphic violence and sex. Scenes from History of Violence or one from Eastern Promises may not immediately beckon Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash, but after seeing it right before or after Promises, I felt a connection. (In addition, the gangster’s numerous tattoos are suggestive of Vaughan’s body art and mangled flesh in Crash.) The sauna fight and opening scene are just as brutal as the kills in History. Cronenberg even has a few touches of “the flesh,” like one shot that concentrates on the umbilical cord of the newborn baby. Then the themes of the movie magically transpire and tie-in to those great images and scenes. Appropriately set at Christmas, the story ends up being about sacrifice and making other people happy rather than only thinking of oneself. The movie consistently features scenes of challenging rank, disrespect, and violence (of course), usually all done in the name of doing what someone thinks is right.

Word has probably already spread about “the sauna scene.” I won’t explain it, but I will add to what’s there: Even though the scene at the bath house is violent, film geeks will find it somewhat humorous. The set design is reminiscent of (one of my all-time favorites, about a film director resorting to his daydreams to keep his sanity), and the fighting reminded me of Torn Curtain (which features a long death scene to show how long it really takes to kill somebody). Both are appropriate in their own way, and I smiled, despite the carnage.

At the end, after we realize what is happening and we are oddly moved, Kirill tells Nikolai, “Let’s go out and celebrate. Happy New Year!” At this moment, we can feel a certain cleansing, a renewal. (At another point, Anna explains to Nikolai, “Sometimes birth and death go together.”) The whole scene is beautiful, and the denouement only makes us care even more about the characters and their continuing story. For once, I experienced sentiment in a Cronenberg movie. As he has aged, he has found a new way of expressing himself, and if he continues speaking this language the way he did in Eastern Promises (even though some of his older, more grotesque movies are classics), he should go for it.

I began with a quote, so I will close with the last line of the movie, which is what left me speechless (along with the image of Nikolai sitting alone at a table in a restaurant): “This is why I left…to find a better life.”

I’m rarely disturbed by a movie, but Zoo, a documentary dealing with a circle of friends who have in common a sexual love for animals, found its way under my skin. The imagery is marvelous as the narration and objects on the screen comment on each other in an almost conversational manner. Thankfully, the film does not bore the audience with “talking heads.” The movie is mostly a re-enactment of events, giving more room for the director and editor to play with cinematic language in their storytelling. Zoo mainly works when it juxtaposes two sets of people who both think they’re in the right (but are on two totally different sides) and when it asks us to pick a side ourselves instead of giving us the solution. The running time is a mere 76 minutes, so there is no excuse to not see this movie… unless you’re chicken.

I’ve read that Burr Steers, the writer/director of Igby Goes Down, originally intended to write the story as a novel. It shows, but in a good way, like in the way one can tell Talk Radio or 12 Angry Men is based on a play. The addition of music, especially the use of “Bohemian Like You” by the Dandy Warhols, is touching and poignant. Kieran Culkin gives his all in his performance, and Ryan Phillippe surprised me again (after I saw Breach) in another stand-out role: what a talented man he is. It’s obvious Steers cares for his characters as we see how they live and breathe on the screen. Igby Goes Down is delicate, bittersweet, and a damn fine movie.

I’ve lifted a few things from Roger Ebert while writing this blog, most prominently the Great Movie reviews that I post from time to time. I will borrow something else from his website: one-minute reviews, a section that I will categorize as In Brief.

I started this blog with the intention of providing anyone who wants to hear my opinion on movies, whether I think they are masterpieces or less than mediocre, with my thoughts. I’ve always loved to read reviews because they have given me a way of deciding what to watch, and friends’ recommendations have always been helpful. I hope to do the same for you; even if you are the one and only reader who gets something out of my writings, and I can be an influence on your movie-picking choices, I’ll feel whole at the end of the day.

As many movies as I see (on average one a day) and while going to school, I find it impossible to write a thought-out review for each and every movie I view, yet I still want to share my opinions. I will still write more in-depth reviews, but for movies that I feel I can sum up my feelings in a minute or so of reading, I will provide about a paragraph concerning a movie I recently watched.

Hope you like this addition, and happy viewing!