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Contempt (Le Mépris)

Director – Jean-Luc Godard – 1963 – France – Cert. 15 – 103m

*****

Review originally published in What’s On In London when the film was reissued in 1996 – reprinted here to commemorate Godard’s passing on Tuesday, 13th September, 2022

Made back in 1963 in the latter days of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris) anticipates J.G. Ballard’s seminal novel Crash, David Cronenberg’s controversial film of which currently awaits a British distributor. Alongside a director in a film studio (Godard casts the great Fritz Lang, who famously made the silent classic Metropolis at UFA in 1926 before a subsequent career in Hollywood on westerns and crime thrillers), Contempt boasts a central protagonist obsessed by his wife’s sexual peccadilloes, not to mention bleak, domestic, modernist architecture and mythical car crash aftermaths.

The camera lingers lovingly over the latter to George Delerue’s unforgettable and heavily romantic score, but (as apparently in Cronenberg’s Crash) pays little attention to the actual moment of impact.

It’s one of Godard’s best films and possibly his most accessible. Director Lang struggles to film The Odyssey at CineCitta with unsympathetic producer Jeremiah Prokosh (a towering Jack Palance) who waxes lyrical about life and art while seducing Camille (a stunningly contemptuous Brigitte Bardot), wife of hired screenwriter Michel Piccoli.… Read the rest

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Crimes Of The Future (2022)

Director – David Cronenberg – 2022 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 107m

*****

Even as two performance artists enact bizarre public rituals exploring the unlikely boundaries between sex, surgery and mutation, a young boy who eats plastic is murdered by his mother – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

Back in 1970, underground filmmaker Cronenberg made a film called Crimes Of The Future, inspired by the title of an unseen poem in an art film he’d seen several years earlier. That 1970 film, consisting of a cast on a campus of modernist architecture shot in colour without sync sound and deploying a monologue voice-over alternating with blocks of weird, improvised sound effects, bears little relation to this new one, except that it likewise briefly and peripherally features a dancer. More significantly, it also features a character whose body produces new organs. We don’t see them in that film, we merely hear a verbal description.

Fast-forward to the present and Cronenberg has had a career from the late 1970s through the 1990s making cinema features packed with icky special effects about something called The New Flesh followed by a series of (arguably) more mainstream, arthouse movies. To those who know the whole body of work, they’re all of a piece; however, to the newcomer they can be overwhelming or potentially offensive.… Read the rest

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Eastern Promises

Director – David Cronenberg – 2007 – Canada, UK – Cert. 18 – 100m

****

After a London midwife delivers a dying woman’s baby she finds herself attracting the attention of the Russian mafia – reviewed in Third Way, 2007; on BBC iPlayer until Thursday, October 6th 2022

An immediately recognisable, ethnically diverse London unseen in previous movies about the capital. A Chechen unexpectedly gets his throat cut in a barber’s shop; a pregnant Russian teenager walks into a chemist’s, asks for help and collapses in a pool of her own blood. Given the director, you’d be forgiven for expecting such imagery to pervade the whole film, but Eastern Promises originated not with Cronenberg but screenwriter Steven Knight, whose acclaimed screenplay for Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, 2002) explored the hidden, ethnic workforce in the underbelly of contemporary, multicultural London. (He also wrote the recent Wilberforce biopic Amazing Grace, Michael Apted, 2006).

Eastern Promises takes us into related territory, again in the capital – this time Russian Vory V Zakone gangsters, sex trafficking and murder. Cronenberg puts this on the screen with all the precision and finesse one would expect, eliciting terrific performances and contributions from cast and crew.

Trafalgar hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), the daughter of a Russian father and an English mother, provides our point of entry into this unfamiliar world as the midwife who must deliver the baby from the dying teenager.… Read the rest

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tetsuo)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 1989 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 67m

*****

Now on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

This review originally appeared in Manga Mania.

A metals fetishist (played by director Shinya Tsukamoto) inserts a metal tube into his leg and the resultant infection causes him to run through the streets where he’s run over by a car. A jazz sax score and the words “new world” accompany his passage into to what appears to be another dimension, from which he proceeds to terrorise an unfortunate woman on a subway platform, possessing her hand by metallicising it with spare parts.

The car’s driver, sitting next to her on the platform – who has already discovered a miniscule electronic component on his face while shaving – is pursued by the possessed woman. Later, the driver is sodomised by his girlfriend’s mechanical penis before his own penis develops into a lethal drill.

Flashbacks reveals the pair copulating in the park just after the hit and run accident. As he becomes more and more metallicised, he finds himself locked in combat with his crash victim, and the two eventually become fused into one, accompanying their birth into the New World.… Read the rest

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A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen, at once bizarre and hugely rewarding – currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London, June 2003.

In an unnamed (but suspiciously Tokyo-like) Japanese city where it’s constantly raining, a mysterious phone caller blackmails repressed housewife Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). If that sounds clichéd, set your prejudices aside because Shinya Tsukamoto’s unique, new film is unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen. The motives of the caller (director Tsukamoto himself) are scarcely what you might expect.

From the moment Rinko opens a postal package labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets” to find photographs of herself masturbating (which she flicks into life like a series of animated stills) via her subsequent following orders involving short skirts and vibrators through to the extraordinary finale, the piece walks a difficult path between humiliating and liberating women.

With the year’s most arresting opening – a stripping model reduced to orgasmic ecstasy in serial, rapid-fire static images to the flashing of a stills camera – it’s likely to engross some viewers while offending others.… Read the rest

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Possessor

Director – Brandon Cronenberg – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 103m

*****

A woman possesses other people’s bodies via technology to assassinate selected targets – on Shudder from Thursday, June 10th, as well Digital HD or BFI Player rental

Anyone who’s seen Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier Antiviral (2012) will know that he is a force to be reckoned with, operating in much the same area as his father David (whose Crash, 1996, is currently out on VoD and is released on UHD and BD on December 14th) but with his own, highly individual slant. And equally impressive.

His protagonist here is assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inserts Vos’ consciousness into others so she can carry out hits on designated targets while occupying their bodies and consciousnesses. Lately, though, things haven’t been going quite to plan. In the body of Holly (Gabrielle Graham), Vos picks up a cutlery knife then repeatedly and bloodily stabs her target with it rather than simply shooting him with the supplied gun. Although Vos gives all the right answers in the psychological evaluation tests following her return, Girder is concerned.

He fears are raised further when Vos asks for time off with her partner Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and young son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot).… Read the rest

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Possessor

The irredeemable flesh

Possessor
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Certificate 18, 103 minutes
Released 27 November

The controversial director David Cronenberg has long been an exponent of something he calls ‘the new flesh’, ways that humanity might transcend its bodies. His son Brandon is the same, his new film Possessor concerning the world of cybernetic industrial espionage. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin working for a company run by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which injects her consciousness into other people as host personalities so that, wearing the clothing of their minds and bodies, she can kill designated targets before being extracted…

His father’s notorious Crash (1996) was restored for reissue in November… [Read more]

Read the full review in Reform.

Read my alternative review here.

Trailer:

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Secretary

Secretary

Director – Steven Shainberg – 2002 – US – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Double DVD review originally published in Third Way, February 2004.

The cover image (rear view of a female figure in tight, short skirt and stockinged legs, bent down, hands grasping ankles) suggests titillation, but the American production Secretary is actually a serious drama – albeit one laced with a healthy dose of black humour – about a sadomasochistic relationship. But beneath its fetishistic surface, it is something else – an exploration into why two specific people (and why they in particular rather than any others) make one flesh. And how that works for them if the two people are initially in some way damaged (as we all are).

Although from a very different culture, its Japanese counterpart A Snake Of June – made by the experimental cyberpunk auteur Tsukamoto (of Tetsuo: The Iron Man fame) – explores much the same territory. Being small, low budget productions frees both films from mass, multiplex mainstream audience demands, allowing their directors to instead tackle (inter)personal relationship issues in depth.… Read the rest

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Videodrome

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 87m

*****

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA. See also my review for London Calling Internet.

In a career-defining performance from 1983, the young James Woods is Max Renn, glutted on the diet of video porn he watches as buyer for a Cable TV station. Everything he sees is “too soft”. “I’m looking for something tough,” he proclaims, “something to break through the market.”

In the station’s basement, his technician assistant Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) finds the very thing. Videodrome. Women strung up and beaten to death. No cuts. One locked off camera. Nil production values. Here, indeed, is something tough.

Welcome to a world of media personalities like Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), a man who no longer exists as flesh but merely as viewable video images. Like Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry), who agrees with Renn on a TV chat show slot that her red dress is a come on, later vanishing after declaring she should audition for the Videodrome show.

A world where hands mutate into guns, men literally bury their heads in eroticised television screens and one person loads a videocassette into another’s stomach to programme him.… Read the rest

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Videodrome (Director’s Cut)

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 85m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally appeared in London Calling Internet. See also my review for What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 36041

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Director David Cronenberg (1982)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry

Running Time 85 min

Mono

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV (Side 1)/CAV (Side 2)

2 Sides

A decade and a half on and still retaining its incredible power to shock, this is the film in which David Cronenberg first coined his battle cry, “Long Live the New Flesh.” If a clear lineage can be traced in his films from Shivers’ aphrodisiac turds through to Crash‘s orgasmic collision of swingers and twisted metal, Videodrome remains unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre – a black joke, a come on to the censor.

Just suppose, runs the pitch, violent porno (television signals) directly affected people causing them to hallucinate. This is the fate which befalls sleazoid Channel 83 cable television executive Max Renn (a young Woods in his best – and edgiest – role to date) who tells porno programme sales agents their merchandise is “too SOFT…I’m looking for something TOUGH.”… Read the rest