The Films of David Cronenberg
Crimes of the Future
Scanners (January 22/14)
Written and directed by David Cronenberg, Scanners follows Stephen Lack's Cameron Vale, a young man with extraordinary telepathic powers, as he agrees to help a scientist (Patrick McGoohan's Paul Ruth) track down a vicious sociopath with similar abilities (Michael Ironside's Darryl Revok). There's little doubt that Cronenberg does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the narrative, as Scanners boasts an opening half hour that contains a number of impressively engrossing interludes - including a now-legendary moment involving dueling scanners and an exploding head. From there, however, Scanners moves into an awfully, palpably sluggish midsection that's concerned with, for the most part, Cameron's investigation and pursuit of Ironside's sinister figure - with the less-than-engrossing nature of these sequences compounded by Lack's hopelessly bland turn as the central character. The inclusion of several admittedly engrossing action set-pieces (eg Cameron takes down four assassins using his abilities) goes a long way towards alleviating the otherwise underwhelming atmosphere, and it's clear that the movie does improve substantially as it approaches its balls-to-the-wall finale. And yet Scanners, for the most part, is unable to distinguish itself from other similarly-themed horror thrillers, which is a shame, ultimately, given the strength of its premise and the effectiveness of its individual scenes.
The Dead Zone (June 18/18)
Adapted from Stephen King's eponymous novel, The Dead Zone follows Christopher Walken's Johnny Smith as he emerges from a years-long coma with incredibly accurate psychic powers. It's ultimately fairly interesting (and surprising) to note that The Dead Zone bears more of a resemblance to a slow-paced character study than to a thriller or exercise in horror, as director David Cronenberg, working from Jeffrey Boam's screenplay, has infused the picture with a decidedly deliberate sensibility that emphasizes the protagonist's post-coma efforts at readjusting to society - with the movie punctuated by a series of admittedly electrifying sequences involving Johnny's accurate and often terrifying psychic visions. (The best and most enthralling example of this is the character's initial experience with prognostication, as he envisions a young girl pleading for help inside a burning house.) And although the movie is subsequently only spellbinding in fits and starts, The Dead Zone undoubtedly benefits substantially from a consistently great performance by Walken - as the actor transforms Johnny into a far more compelling and layered (and downright sympathetic) figure than one might've anticipated. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the film improves steadily as it builds towards its fairly engrossing final stretch, which ultimately does cement The Dead Zone's place as a top-tier King adaptation and certainly one of Cronenberg's more accessible endeavors.
A History of Violence
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A Dangerous Method (February 12/12)
Disastrously dull from beginning to end, A Dangerous Method details the friendship that ensues between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in the early 20th century - with their subsequent conversations revolving around both Jung's ongoing efforts at treating a problematic patient (Keira Knightley's Sabina Spielrein) and his increasingly shaky personal life. It's worth noting that A Dangerous Mind gets off to a decidedly promising start, as filmmaker David Cronenberg does a nice job of initially luring the viewer into the proceedings - with the flawless visuals and strong performances playing an instrumental role in establishing a (relatively) engrossing vibe of stately drama. There quickly (and, perhaps, inevitably) reaches a point at which the relentlessly talky nature of Christopher Hampton's screenplay becomes an insurmountable obstacle, however, and it's clear that the progressively stagnant atmosphere - ie one can't help but wish that something of consequence would occur - ensures that the movie slowly-but-surely transforms into nothing more than an admittedly handsome actor's showcase. And while it's certainly not difficult to envision aficionados or students of the mental health field embracing the slight narrative, A Dangerous Mind suffers from a distinct paucity of elements designed to sustain and capture the interest of casual viewers - which, despite fine work from the three stars, cements the movie's place as a cold, hopelessly uninteresting endeavor that marks an obvious low point within Cronenberg's uneven filmography.
Based on Don DeLillo's almost remarkably awful book, Cosmopolis follows 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he hops into a stretch limousine and embarks on a journey to get a haircut - with the character's trek interrupted by a wide variety of oddball characters and outlandish happenings. It's clear immediately that filmmaker David Cronenberg, working from his own screenplay, has elected to remain completely faithful to the source material, as Cosmopolis, much like DeLillo's interminable novel, is rife with long, tedious conversations revolving around a whole host of decidedly uncinematic topics (including capitalism, currencies, and arcane philosophical theories). There's consequently little doubt that one's ongoing efforts at embracing the material fall hopelessly (and consistently) flat, with the palpably dreary atmosphere compounded by a uniform selection of underdeveloped, one-dimensional characters. (It doesn't help, either, that each and every one of these figures has been saddled with dialogue that couldn't possibly sound more artificial and stagy; eg "time is a thing that grows scarcer every day; what, you don't know this?") It's a shame, really, given that Cronenberg has assembled an admittedly impressive cast, with Pattinson's strong work matched by an eclectic roster of supporting performers that includes, among others, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, and Paul Giamatti. And although the narrative has been peppered with a very, very small handful of striking moments (eg a violent riot occurs just outside Eric's limo), Cosmopolis is, for the most part and without mincing words, an astonishingly boring drama that marks the latest misfire for a once rock-solid filmmaker - with the movie's seemingly endless climax only cementing its place as a fairly reprehensible piece of work.
Maps to the Stars
The nadir of David Cronenberg's progressively spotty career, Maps to the Stars details the exploits of several shallow, hopelessly one-dimensional characters - including an aging movie star (Julianne Moore's Havana), a struggling actor (Robert Pattinson's Jerome), and a mysterious tourist (Mia Wasikowska's Agatha). Maps to the Stars announces its all-encompassing and thoroughly prevalent incompetence right from the get-go, as Cronenberg, working from Bruce Wagner's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with a pervasively inauthentic vibe that extends to every facet of the production - with the movie's almost astonishingly pointless atmosphere compounded by a pace that couldn't possibly be slower. It becomes increasingly clear that there's no real structure here, as Wagner offers up a narrative consisting primarily of meandering sequences that go absolutely nowhere - with the ongoing (and relentless) emphasis on pretentious, laughably artificial conversations perpetuating the aggressively affected vibe. The movie's complete lack of substance ensures that the viewer's efforts to connect with the material falls flat on a regular basis, and it's ultimately clear that Maps to the Stars is about as interminable a cinematic endeavor as one can easily recall.
no stars out of