The Fly


Viewed – 29 August 2017  Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe this movie came out in 1986.  It’s look and atmosphere still feel contemporary and semi-futuristic bar some 80s fashions and hair styles.  This retelling / remake of the 1950’s b-movie has Jeff Goldblum on star-making form as eccentric scientist Seth Brundel, who after inviting a plucky reporter (Gina Davis) to his lab, reveals he has invented a teleportation device.  However after the initial reveal, Brundel decides to teleport himself but makes the mistake of allowing a common house fly inside the pod, therefore setting into motion a grotesque and alarming physical transformation.

The Fly

This is perfect material for director David Cronenberg (Scanners, Videodrome) who has always had an interest in body-horror and transformation in his movies.  However beyond the gory effects (that still impress and revolt) this is a tragic love story.  Helped immeasurably by convincing chemistry from the leads (who were a real life couple at the time) and a strikingly complex turn from Goldblum … watching events play out is both emotionally draining and exciting.  It’s a very unique kind of horror experience, with no actual evil enemy but more a horrible set of circumstances. In that respect it’s not unlike The Elephant Man.  It may be at it’s core fairly simple and only really has three characters … but what Cronenberg achieves with such simple tools is a revelation and made this an instant classic.

The Blu-ray has a decent if slightly soft image but colours are strong and close-up detail is good.  The soundtrack in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is also effective with atmospherics and Howard Shore’s obvious b-movie throwback score both doing their job.  The only slight let down is somewhat mono sounding dialogue that whilst still clear could have done with sprucing up.  Extras are plentiful though with an essential commentary from Cronenberg as well as some worthwhile deleted scenes, press kits, behind the scenes stuff and photo galleries.  Overall a decent job for a genuine horror gem.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

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Videodrome


Viewed – 22 August 2015  Blu-ray

Collector’s Edition

David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity.  Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen.  This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.

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Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network.  One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want.  Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.

videodrome nikkiDespite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today.  This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room.  It’s very cleverly observed.  Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest.  Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit.  Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best.  It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end.  But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.

videodrome

This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text.  The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono.  Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive.  A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films.  In a word: impressive.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

10 directors who have shaped my movie viewing tastes


Inspired by a recent post over at abbiobiston.com, I thought I’d sit down and list ten movie directors I either seek out without hesitation, or have made some of the most affecting and inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, shaping what kind of movie viewer I am today and creating experiences that have transcended basic entertainment to actually mean something to me as a person.

Quentin Tarantino

tarantino

As a reviewer, occasional-writer and movie fan, Quentin Tarantino ignited a spark inside me that has yet to go out.  When first seeing Pulp Fiction, I knew this was the sort of material I wanted to write about, and this continued with his script for Natural Born Killers and also his debut, Reservoir Dogs.  He was a rebel, he challenged people’s ideas of what violence was all about on screen, not there for just shock value but to make you feel something.  He managed to back this up with amazing dialogue writing skills and a keen eye for pop-culture and cinema history that has continued to this day.

David Cronenberg

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Horror for me was never just about hiding behind my cushion and trembling – horror for me was about the strange and surreal, the gruesome but in a way that made you ponder what it meant.  Croneberg has always been a master of this, of using body-horror to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, backed up by intelligent direction that more often than not has a lot of social commentary of the times we live in i.e. sexually transmitted infections with Shivers.  He has continued to shape his often controversial style into the modem gangster and crime genres to brilliant effect in movies like Eastern Promises.

Stephen Spielberg

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Probably the most famous director of all time who seems to barely put a foot wrong and can turn his hand to a wealth of different genres and subjects, from the industry defining Jaws and Jurassic Park to powerful masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Assured, confident and always entertaining and thought-provoking, this maverick director continues to be a name to bet on even after almost 40 years in the business.  As long as we don’t mention the most recent Indiana Jones movie, Spielberg remains one of those names every movie fan will know and surely appreciate to some degree.

John Carpenter

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Fallen from grace he may be, but during the seventies and eighties, this guy made some of the coolest and most sort after movies I’d ever seen.  Who can argue the merits of Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China?  Although I can’t say I totally appreciate Escape From New York as much as others, I have a soft spot for lesser known efforts like Prince Of Darkness and In The Mouth Of Madness.  This guy knew how to create perfectly entertaining genre movies and although he hasn’t made much of note for years, that’s a hell of a back catalogue of classics.

David Fincher

fincher

Although I think he’s become a bit relaxed in recent years, churning out fairly ‘safe’ movies, for the most part Fincher has still created some of the most stylish and intricately directed movies I’ve seen, namely the multi layered classics Fight Club, Seven and even Zodiac.  His directing style is crisp and beautiful even when it’s dealing with very dark subject matter, and his camera work and imagery have stayed with me long after the credits have rolled.  He’s a technical directing fan’s dream director, as for me I can appreciate every aspect of the setting, the camera work to the music and lighting.  Helps he can also pull out great performances from the likes of Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal to name but a few.

Stanley Kubrick

stanley kubrick

With a fairly small catalogue of movies, this director like no other has made some of the masterpieces of my lifetime.  The Shining is still the best horror movie I’ve ever seen and probably the most perfectly directed, on a technical level movie I’ve seen also.  His strong visual skill at making every shot and every camera movement look so well executed has made movies even of lesser impact like Eyes Wide Shut a work of art.  He proved again and again that careful eye for detail, iconic performances can turn even a well worn subject like the Vietnam war into amazing cinema.  I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but of the movies I have, he keeps on amazing me, and is possibly the best director on this list.

Dario Argento

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Perhaps at his best during the seventies and eighties, but this often controversial director has gained a strong cult following over the years and remains one of the most stylish and genre-defining film-makers around.  At his best he can make gruesome murder look beautiful, and his frequent collaborations with the band Goblin and musician Claudio Simonetti has helped create a brand of effective Italian cinema that still stands the test of time.  Try watching Suspiria or Tenebrae without marvelling at the camera work, atmosphere or use of lighting and music.  Argento will always be the maestro when it comes to horror, even if his light has considerably faded over the years.

Martin Scorsese

scorsese

The Don.  How does this guy keep doing it?  To this day Scorsese still manages to amaze and impress.  He has crafted true classics such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and still manages to churn out quality movies like Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street.  It’s always exciting when I hear he’s making another movie and even diversions like Hugo retain that Scorsese eye for style and cinematic creativity I’ve grown to love about him.  He has a tendency to work with the same actors but also manages to bring out wildly different performances from them, that give each movie their own voice.  One of the best film makers of all time in my opinion.

Joel & Ethan Coen

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In recent years their brand of southern comedy and thrillers has felt a tad hit and miss, but when these sibling directors are on form, they can make some of the best movies you’ll ever see.  Comedies like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona offer up laughs as well as style and assured direction along with iconic performances, and thrillers like Fargo and No Country For Old Men prove they can deliver tight, well executed stories that pack a punch.  They continue to be favourites at Oscar season and amongst a huge cult audience, and with a strong visual style and often award winning performances, their movies are hard to dismiss.

Park chan-Wook

chan-wook

Another director who can explore very dark themes but make them beautiful with imaginative camera work, scene setting and particularly artistic shots.  His American debut Stoker is a perfect example of strong story, strong performances and beautiful, almost poetic direction.  His vengeance trilogy that incudes the cult classic Old Boy is powerful, gut-wrenching but extremely moving and artistic, blending classical music with striking story-telling and stunning cinematography.  Park chan-Wook’s the real deal if you can appreciate quality direction with a signature touch.

Maps To The Stars


Viewed – 06 February 2015 online-rental

I’ll generally watch anything directed by David Cronenberg, that former horror auteur responsible for such titles as Scanners, The Fly, as well as thrillers like A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises.  Going into this I felt echoes of another David’s work, namely David Lynch especially with his dark-side-of-Hollywood opus Mulholland Drive. 

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A physically and emotionally scarred young woman, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives off a coach seemingly intent on discovering Hollywood and befriends a chauffer (Robert Pattinson).  Soon she is hired by struggling former star Havana (Julianne Moore) as her personal assistant.  Havana is trying to land the role in a remake of her deceased mother’s most famous film, whilst at the same time struggling with her own personal demons.  We also get a child actor with over-barring parents (including a self-help guru John Cusack).

Think ‘The Player’ meets ‘Mulholland and you’ll get an idea of this dark but interesting drama.  Wasikowska is, as always excellent as the troubled and manipulative Agatha and Moore is daring and tragic playing an actress way past her sell by date.  It perfectly showcases how fake and artificial the movie industry can be, and especially how throwaway it is with young and ageing actors.  Cusack, one of my favourites is fairly wasted here not getting much chance to be anything more than a money hungry scumbag, and the kid playing the child actor is quite unlikable also.  Well, all the characters here are unlikable, but that’s clearly the point.  Cronenberg observes them like insects waiting to be trod on, but the occasional lapses into surrealism and brutal violence (death by academy award?) or explicit sex (gotta hand it to Moore … she’s fearless!) at least livened up what is otherwise a fairly downbeat and depressing tale.  For Cronenberg this was fascinating but ultimately quite limp for such a provocative and challenging film maker.

Verdict:  3 /5

Cosmopolis


Viewed – 29 November 2012. Blu-ray

David Cronenberg is one of my favourite directors, responsible for such masterpieces as Videodrome and Dead Ringers.  So naturally I will seek out anything by him … even this curious oddity starring Twilight actor Robert Pattinson.

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Pattinson plays a young billionaire living in Manhattan on-route to getting his hair cut whilst travelling in a stretched limo. However for a man who has it all, the beautiful wife, the sexy mistress (Juliette Binoche) and more money than he knows what to do with … he craves something more, something that might make him feel alive again.

Interesting concept, based on the novel by Don Dellilo, this has more in common with Cronenberg’s baffling Naked Lunch than any of his other work.  Filled with impenetrable dialogue that is more a series of phylosophical statements than people actually talking one another – I found this both beautiful to look at, and cold and alienating … meaning gleaming much enjoyment was near-impossible.  Cameos by Samantha Morton & Paul Giamatti were welcome, but even smatterings of sex & violence couldn’t pull this out of the doldrums, and I almost nodded off at times. Pattinson also continues to be one of the most navel-gazing actors I have ever witnessed, and I remain firmly on the fence as to his appeal.

One to avoid then, even for seasoned Cronenberg fans.

Verdict:  1 /5