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Actors and performances aren’t frequently covered here because for a long time science-fiction wasn’t an actor’s genre. In recent years however, genre fare has expanded its bounds (or actors have, as you might see it), and it’s always been inclusive to the weird that so often breeds interesting performances. I have no interest in the Academy Award-garnering “I have a disease, here’s my family,” one-man show performances that are typically seen as top in the industry. I want something out of an actor that grabs me or worries me, that makes me think about the character, not the artist’s craft.

These particular performances stand out because the characters they depict experience a great deal of physical pain or bound with endless energy — certainly an endurance test for any performer, despite all the breaks between takes and trailers and stuff. I think the reality of acting dawned on me recently when in an interview Mary Elizabeth Winstead described her experience shooting The Thing as breath-taking in the sense that she was hyperventilating 24-hours a day to act frightened. She was out of breath and light-headed so much, but in the movie it seems like a pretty standard horror role.

Note that the following list isn’t ranking how good I think the performances are, it’s based entirely on… well I guess the blob of text following the number’ll explain it.

10. Ralph Fiennes, Spider

This isn’t a case of bounding off the walls like #2 on this list — it’s a smaller approach. David Cronenberg’s Spider is an adaptation of a book about a mentally unstable British fellow who attempts to piece together a key moment from his past, and suffers the consequences when the memories blur over into the present. This may sound exactly what I was bitching about earlier, but this is a character piece unlike any other — there is almost no dialogue. Right around the level of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, I’d say. There are no soaring soliloquies or shout-fests with fed-up loved ones — Dennis Cleg (Fiennes) interacts with very few people, and when he does, it’s pretty uncomfortable.

He shakes and mumbles to himself, stalks forward with his shoulders slumped. Fiennes has really done it all, whether he’s the hero or the Nazi villain, or my favorite, the sleazy drugdealer from Strange Days, Lenny Nero. In Spider, he joins a good rank in David Cronenberg’s line of male leads (all of them with the exception of Rabid have featured male men characters, though I’m sure that one had a guy hero), another one of which is coming up soon…

9. Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad

This is one of my favorites. On the show, Jesse to me is the interesting character. Walt, played by three-time-in-a-row-Emmy-award-winning Bryan Cranston, is great, but his change is gradual, whereas Jesse is always on the rocks or at the bottom or coming back. He’s also a kid, which is something we must remind ourselves. To help, he uses foul language and says things like “Yo” and “Bitch” as catchphrases; he might jump bad — which is the term I believe they were going for with that title — but he’s actually a pretty nice guy, a victim of his past, of mistakes that ripple out to the end of one’s life.

Though he won the Emmy for Season 3, I think Season 2 was his finest moment — his involvement with Jane, an emotionally strong arc that makes you wonder why the original story had Jesse die at the end of Season 1. His ‘chemistry’ with Walt is just perfect. He’s the reason the premise, for me anyway, works. It’d be great as a show about a seemingly ordinary guy who unlocks the monster inside — but we already have Dexter, and unfortunately, Dexter (1-5) is the better show. In Breaking Bad, things are slightly different, as Walt and Jesse bicker and argue and joke around, and their relationship as student/teacher isn’t forgotten by the writers, and is really compelling to me for some reason.

Aaron Paul’s performance is one of constant exhaustion. Jesse is always running on empty, but he’s got a job to do. In the early days he was driven by money, because while Walt destroyed his life, he couldn’t say no to all that cash he was raking in and then losing. Nowadays (I’m halfway through Season 4) he’s in it because he has to be, and because he couldn’t leave his partner. He couldn’t — and he doesn’t want to.

8. Clive Owen, Children of Men

Those goddamn long shots, man. They must be super-endurance tests for actors. As if filming in front of a disorienting, bizarre green screen for a whole third of a movie in Sin City wasn’t bad enough, now he’s gotta throw his body through all sorts of hoops, navigating physical post-apocalyptic landscapes that seem to go on forever. For us, this makes the world seem real, and the action intense. But for the crew? I can’t even imagine. Children of Men is choreographed and shot so well, it’s like a divine invasion hit Cuaron square in the brainular, and he just painted each frame with gold.

Of course, we know that’s not the truth. Everyone involved put their work in, and that includes our lead, the reluctant Theo.

7. Tom Woodruff Jr., from Everything Good and Gooey

The special effects team of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. has worked alongside Stan Winston and James Cameron in their prolific careers across almost all of the Alien films (the good and the bad), and very recently with The Thing. They’ve created many of the inventive and effective monsters of the past few decades, and Woodruff Jr. generally gets into the suit.

The physical toll the Robocop suit took on Peter Weller might be blamed on his not returning for a third return in that particular trilogy, but I have a feeling it was other things. Regardless, acting in a heavy rubber suit isn’t as fun as it might look on screen. And acting like a monster? Monsters have the tendency to a) move in otherworldly ways, like the Thing, and b) die horribly, like the Newborn from Alien Resurrection. While they do these things, they sometimes operate in environments thick with fog and goo. Ms. Winstead may talk of hyperventilation during the shoot, but Tom Woodruff Jr. I’m sure had brushes with overheating, even in the deep white of Antarctica…

6. Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

One word: Naked Shower Fight.

5. Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner

I’m thinking specifically of the ending scene, which I saw on TV a few days ago during Cinemax’s Blade Runner 30th Anniversary, though I thought that was the 25th because I was gonna do something for it on the website. Given the state of things even that seems unlikely but if I missed it anyway…

While watching the climax, after Roy has met his maker and Rick gets an address, I realize how good this movie is and how it gets better with each viewing — and how jacked up Roy is. “Five, six, seven, go to Hell or go to Heaven — *gets hit, smashes into window* — THAT’S THE SPIRIT!” He really goes crazy here in his ‘pursuit’ for Rick, and we see how childlike he becomes. There’s a poigniancy to the madness, and it’s something that the subsequent roles Hauer took on couldn’t fully reproduce.

4. Jason Stathom, Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage

Jesus. The Crank movies are great, and booming with energy. Stathom has become known for driving a car and killing people, but when I close my ears and think “Crank,” the image that always comes to my mind is Jason Stathom running down the street and screaming into the air. These movies really live up to their namesake, and the fact that the second one is actually better than the first speaks to a sense of inventiveness and adventure that Nelvedine/Taylor work in with fiery passion and technical skill.

It’s kind of like the Escape from New York sequels, Escape from LA and Doomsday — they take a ridiculous premise and break it down scene by scene, element by element, making it less a movie and more a loose string of wild, graphic, and original action scenes with all sorts of gimmicks and mayhem. At the center of it all in Crank and Crank 2 is Chev “Fuck you Chelios” Chelios, undoubtedly the most memorable action hero of the 2000s.

3. Sharlto Copley, District 9

There’s something to getting beat up, and then there’s another thing to getting beat up by aliens, robots, PMCs, and warlords in the arid world of Johannesburg. District 9 has it all, and van Wikus goes through it in his painful-looking journey that’d be like if Dr. Brundle went on a mission to save some aliens while being pursued by the private military he used to work with. While his body becomes something that seems to always explode in pus whenever touched, van Wikus is rolling around in the dirt and sand amidst exploding heads.

Sharlto Copley gave it his all in this movie, and we feel his pain without him having to verbalize it. Even when he gets into the robot suit, which is supposed to be fun, there’s a drill noise and he gets hurt by something! This is one hostile world, which gives a lot of weight to the look and feeling of the movie, which moves along at a brisk pace toward a thundering climax*.

2. Kate Winslet, Heavenly Creatures

It’s small wonder why Winslet blossomed into the superstar actress she is today, for when she was seventeen and a part of a sitcom, she was brilliant in one of Peter Jackson’s most acclaimed films, Heavenly Creatures. Seventeen! She bubbles over with a frenzy of joy and insanity, playing a character with real life connections — a killer — who’s unmistakably a little girl with a troubled mind and misunderstood passions.

She loves the world and all its details so much, though not the one we inhabit. She’s the other half of socially awkward, that of off-putting, where the other character, played by the also brilliant Melanie Lynskey (who, like Kate Winslet, is a beautfiul adult), is inward and quiet. Winslet’s character beams and LOLs, always smiling with that face that looks like it’s about to explode, even when she’s plotting to kill someone…

1. Choi Min-Sik, Oldboy

I don’t think the number one could be anyone else. Mr. Min Sik (Mr. Choi?) never had to naked shower fight, but he did eat a live octopus, fight through an uninterrupted and complex hallway battle, withstand all sorts of torture and transform his appearance radically. The character, Oh Dae Su, becomes a monster, and Min-Sik does this with sweeping power and emotion that culminates in one hell of an ending, where after the Big Reveal, he goes crazy in an intense fight scene, screams for mercy and acts like a dog, and then cuts his tongue out. What a movie, I tell you.

So there you have it. These are the performances I watch out for, and I’ll try to put more of these together for other ‘categories’ of acting later.

*I don’t care how lude this word is. There isn’t much else I can use…

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Following or going back and researching production histories of your favorite movies can often yield interesting stages of development. For more troubled productions like Alien 3, a whole ton of writers submitted drafts, many promising, and many who probably would’ve murdered a then smiled upon franchise. Screenplays are written all the time, but are get the go-ahead much, much less often. In science-fiction, there can be any number of reasons for cooked projects. Budgets, that thing when an executive is replaced and he says “yeah none of these projects go forward,” you know how it is. Crazy world.

There is precedent for this type of thing, though I don’t think Dreck Fiction has enough clout to influence publishers, but Harlan Ellision’s I, Robot is widely available, so who knows. Maybe we will see some of this stuff. I also don’t even know if any of it is ‘lost,’ or just difficult for me to find. I don’t stray far from Amazon.com.

James Cameron’s Mother

Avatar is old, son. Older than me, came about in the days of Xenogenesis and Alien II. At the start of his career, James Cameron was just as much of a work horse as he is now (he does indeed take pretty epic breaks to dive to the Trench and stuff, but hey), at one high point writing three screenplays at once — a Terminator rewrite, an Alien sequel (terrifying I’m sure), and First Blood 2. Alien 2 benefitted from the research he was doing into the Vietnam War for Rambo, but it also happened to be influenced by Mother, a science-fiction movie.

The details are scarce, and if they aren’t I don’t very well remember them, but some of it had to do with Avatar (see, I didn’t mention it for nothing), and the Alien Queen. No matter what it is, it combines two of the greatest things ever, James Cameron and science-fiction, which has yielded some classics (T2, Aliens, The Abyss), and some clunkers (Avatar) — Cameron is definitely a hugely influential name in recent scifi, despite being a filmmaker and not an author.

Unfortunately, Mother has been so cannibalized by other Cameron movies it couldn’t possibly be made today (also taking into account Cameron’s Avatar-only agenda until 2020 AD), which isn’t quite the Planet Terror scenario — in that case, an old Rodriguez screenplay was chock-full of stuff, like Savini’s crotch rocket in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, but by 2009 still had enough to make for a crazy-ass zombie movie. Maybe it’s fortunate though, because reading Mother would be a warm, familiar place for any fan.

William Gibson’s Alien 3

I gotta be honest, the premise for this screenplay is pretty absurd. The origin behind the Alien, which I suppose preempts Prometheus by almost exactly two decades, is nano-robots, in true Gibson fashion. We know that William Gibson is a good writer and he’s got a fascinating imagination, but in the film and television realm, he hasn’t had great success. I’ve heard that his two episodes of The X-Files weren’t among the most memorable (or were, but for the wrong reasons), and of course Johnny Mnemonic stands as a shining example of the author at its worst, despite the film’s lasting entertainment value.

It’s hard to know whether the scripts are good and the direction and Keanu “I Want Room Service” Reeves performance are what kills it, but I think that either way it’d be an interesting read.

David Hayter’s The Chronicles of Riddick

You might be scratching your head over this, but for me it goes two-fold. I would love, love to see an earlier draft of The Chronicles of Riddick, which is in concept a fun space romp. Modern pulp fiction with a dash of badass angst. And though I have little reason to be, I’m a huge fan of David Hayter. He’s the screenwriter behind the first two X-Men movies, which I don’t really care for, and The Scorpion King, which is not as good as my beloved first two Sommers Mummy movies but was enjoyable enough to a twelve year old, and the voice of Solid Snake, the mascot for a video-game system I never had until a few years ago.

But I follow him on Twitter and I really like hearing him talk about Watchmen and Lost Planet and stuff. And when I saw that he wrote a draft of The Chronicles of Riddick I was shocked. I’d like to see an unfiltered voice (not audio) for this guy.

Interestingly, David Twohy (writer/director of The Chronicles of Riddick) wrote a draft of Alien 3, another in the long line of screenwriters on that film with such a tortured development history that also includes Walter Hill, the great action director and career producer for the cycle.

Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Need I say more? I know I just got through talking how Gibson can’t adapt his own shit or whatever, but that’s only because we do have Johnny Mnemonic on hand. Philip K. Dick didn’t have much experience with movies, but had something of a hand in rejecting the initial drafts of Dangerous Days, or Android or whatever, which were allegedly rather hokey. So from this I shall jump to the conclusion immediately that he’s got good taste.

And Ubik is a nice and rounded story. A Scanner Darkly seems kind of oddly paced and everything, but Ubik builds toward an ending — it’s more cinematic. In fact, Linklater attempted to do Ubik before ‘settiling’ on A Scanner Darkly. So this isn’t the only time Ubik was tried and shot down. Meanwhile Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky happen, so I wonder how the near future Ubik movie will bode now that people can guess the ending.

David Cronenberg’s Red

Red or Red Racers. I’m sure if I saw Fast Company I’d have a pretty good idea of what this movie was all about, but this is a passion project for Cronenberg that never got off the ground due to the whole “Cronenberg never ever made money,” thing. Now, David Cronenberg has asserted that screenplays are not art, so he wouldn’t appreciate this post none, but I’d still love to know what Cronenberg thinks about outside of sexual body horror and hardcore violence. In this case it’s formula racing, a peculiar obsession of the man. I wonder what a movie would be like with the Dronenberg thematic eye, but applied to something like… racing.

Check it here

I gotta tell you this came as a complete surprise. I knew he was making a movie called Cosmopolis, and that it was an adaptation of a book, but I had no idea it was science-fiction, and no idea it was happening so soon.

Didn’t A Dangerous Method just happen?

I sure hope this opens wide, which sounds silly because Robert Pattinson is a big name, but so too I thought of Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, but the last Dronenberg was nowhere — for me — to be found.

I get real excited when shit like this happens:
The last time Ridley Scott made a sci-fi movie, it was Blade Runner. Prometheus comes out this year.
The last time Dronenberg made a sci-fi, it was eXistenZ.

And yet, the last time Jesus Christ made an SF, it was Terminator 2, and twenty years after that came Avatar so… I have to be careful.

It’s the end of the world, and we get the feeling that it won’t be followed by Humungus and Bartertown. If this is the end of civilization and humanity, it’s going out with a bang.

I’d like to know what the first movie of this kind was, where an ensemble cast of characters is broken down into vignette bits, going their own ways and interacting only infrequently. I’d like to know because I really dislike the style — not on principle or because the premise is necessarily bad, but from experience. A movie called Franklyn, which like Last Night, was also independent, revels in this style, but to anti-climactic ends despite an intriguing premise. The style, it seemed, was the artistic goal. The audience is sort of left in the cold here because clever storytelling may be nice, but exists in ineffectual space without dramatic beats. For stories in this line, it’s the intersections that count and provide the key moments to shift the narrative forward.

Last Night is rather unlike Franklyn, where characters have interesting storylines in themselves, but those that don’t come to their full potential until they merge. The film feels somewhat meandering during its initial stages, when we’re cutting between characters and getting bogged down by cynicism and the appropriately bleak nature of the environment, but as it reaches the second half, the drama comes to a head, and Last Night becomes one of the most compelling movies of its breed.

The cynicism nearly plagues the first half, making Last Night one hell of a depressing ride. The movie progresses, and depressing morphs into tragedy, as humanity is born — despite, or perhaps because of the situation — within the interweaving character arcs. Sandra (Sandra Oh) hooks up with the main character Patrick Wheeler (Don McKellar, who also directs) and they discuss the very subject of humanity, and Patrick’s friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) his own end of the world plan, which dovetails into the most shocking and touching moment in the film.

These moments offer the most heartwarming and small but significant moments, and because we are now warmed to the characters, the apocalypse — oh that thing — becomes haunting. This is of course how all movies are suppose to work, where we care about characters before they die, but of course, that’s only the theory. It’s easy to ‘decide’ that these moments offer the most heartwarming moments because for me, they’ve brought me closer to tears than any other movie, and the segment that doesn’t overlap with others — David Cronenberg’s — is the weakest. This is ironic, as he is the key reason I watched this movie. Cronenberg is a very good actor, though he seems to be playing David Cronenberg here, a thoughtful, soft-spoken Canadian, and it sucks that this is one of his few roles, barring cameos in The Fly and Dead Ringers as gynaecologists.

Cronenberg plays Duncan, Sandra’s husband. Sandra is journeying across town to meet up with him, as they’ve promised to shoot each other at midnight, for the world isn’t going to take their lives. This job eventually falls to Patrick, who was content to go out drinking wine in his backyard and staying as far from his family as possible. Patrick vows to help Sandra reach Duncan, and in doing so approaches Craig for his car. Because Sandra is kept apart from Duncan, Duncan is kept apart from Patrick and Craig and Sandra. He occupies his own space, and the moments he has are precious if only because he’s David Cronenberg. If one doesn’t know of or care about David Cronenberg, Duncan might seem pretty boring in a movie that is admittedly, slowly paced.

Don McKellar’s debut feature film may just be the best movie to see this year, 2012. It isn’t so much about the Strange Days rioting, which occurs mostly in the background, but the quiet touches of humanity that allow civilization a rather civilized exit, and colors only the rarest and best in science-fiction drama.

Yes, I am that technically improficient that there are no embedded videos to be found anywhere on this site or in this post. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, but for now, here’s five action movie trailers. The action movie is a topic of significant discussion here on Dreck Fiction, because they’re experiencing something of a renaissance in the recent years. And note that when I say action movies I mean 80s action movies. There’s some of that in this list, whether they’re literally from 1980-1989 is whatevers.

5. A History of Violence

The simple story of a podunk town. Nothing really happens. EXCEPT.

4. Ashes of Time Redux

From what I’ve seen of the movie so far (it’s rare I’ll watch a movie 100%, I guess), I’d be hard pressed to call Ashes of Time an action movie. But the trailer sure wants you to think it is. There’s beauty in cinema violence, and Wong Kar Wai makes everything beautiful, so don’t worry about it. What’s more stunning than dudes on horseback jumping over dunes in slow-motion? Spartans in slow-motion, eat your heart out… in HELL.

3. 13 Assassins

Goes to show that all you need is a good editor to sell a movie. I was sold when the guy jumps off the building and they cut as he lands to FROM LEGENDARY FILMMAKER TAKASHI MIIKE. Unfortunately I never finished watching this movie. It wasn’t as bad as his others, but I just have very little motivation to return to it. Watching the trailer again couldn’t quite do it, though it is good.

2. I Saw the Devil

Man the last shot in this trailer is great. Good movie, good trailer. One that really gets across just how jacked up this Korean diddy really is.

1. Death Sentence

James Wan’s action/drama is an underrated movie with a stirring performance by Kevin Bacon, gory violence, and a terrible soundtrack. Some of the worst and most inappropriate music I’ve yet experienced over video. But none of that is in the trailer. What is in the trailer is great. The definitely captured some of the more artistic shots of violence, like tackling a dude off the staircase and firing a gun into the air. I would recommend this movie, but the trailer does a better job.

 

Total Recall is among many of the short story adaptations of the author’s work, something that makes sense from a screenwriters’ standpoint, and hopefully from the producers’, because as Cronenberg has said of adaptations, they’re less translations than they are transformations. A Scanner Darkly and Blade Runner are polar opposites when it comes to the method of their respective adaptations, and they serve as telling analogies to the difficulties of not only adapting novels, but adapting Dick. To the screenwriter, novels have structures that can be broken down into three acts, which based on the novel, may be true, but isn’t always, and thus these movies aren’t always successful. Look at Dune – well, don’t. I’m sure there were other problems with that one. *blek*

With a short story, the screenwriter sees story elements, and these can be transcribed onto film. And Philip K. Dick shorts usually have strong, high concept premises, so that’s what you’ll see in Minority Report and Total Recall and others – the premise, and story elements. Unlike Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau and Paycheck and the other PG-13 Dick flicks, Total Recall is lousy with MPAA-here’s-the-middle-finger-you-assholes moments. Bullets don’t rip people to shreds like this in movies, not even in John Woo. This must be the work… of Paul Verhoeven.

Before Hollow Man, Paul Verhoeven was a force to be reckoned with as a champion of science-fiction film. He did a lot to sell the genre as an effective medium of satire, with each of his entries in an unofficial scifi trilogy – Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers – becoming increasingly bolder in their sociopolitical statements. They also share something even more important: they’re all great, fun movies. Big and full of explosions and car crashes and guns, guns, guns.

 

Total Recall, based on “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” by Philip K. Dick, is not quite as successful in its introspections Robocop, but at least as successful as Troopers, and this is just fine. At the end of the day, Total Recall is an Arnold movie, meaning it’s an iconic action movie with a lot of macho. Arnold is a presence, he’s the face of American action cinema, spanning just as many subgenres as Sly Stallone but with more success (in that, for example, The 6th Day was technically better than Judge Dredd), and he makes any movie he’s in an Arnold movie. Just think – Aliens almost had Arnold playing Hicks; it was very close to being an Arnold movie.

This particular Arnold volume has an interesting twist – it offers a few phildickian questions into the “What is real?” half of the author’s preoccupations, going so far as to create one scenario about mid-way through that’s reminiscent of Ubik. Sharon Stone and some fellow ‘working for’ Rekal approach Quaid and try to explain this scifi adventure away as a fantasy, that they’re simply avatars trying to reach Quaid from the other side. For a moment the audience is confused. Perhaps this isn’t real?

Then Arnold shoots the guy and there’s an action scene, which is great, though it washes away all that ambiguity in favor of what Total Recall prioritizes: action with a capital a. To be fair, there is enough narrative evidence to throw out the question, for example this has the John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness issue of insanity, where the audience can’t really be convinced of one character’s mental hiccups when the movie isn’t told exclusively from his viewpoint. Not every scene has Quaid in it, just like not every scene in Carpenter’s flick has Sam Neil. Yes, it would be interesting to have that question, and it is a good idea, but the scifi action movie is a popular medium, an audience’s medium. The Philip k. Dick novel is not, certainly not in the year 1990, at least, or whenever this film was first brought to the studios – a guaranteed long time before release.

For all its charm, Total Recall was a troubled development. Of all people, David Cronenberg was attached to it, which to me is just wild. To think that Total Recall could’ve been more Naked Lunch than Commando is an intriguing thought, but if Cronenberg was to adapt any Dick I’ve read so far I hope it’d be Ubik: there’s plenty of body horror in that one, with all the people dissolving and the android bomb and the guy who eats people whole. I could see it. Unfortunately Cronenberg’s sort of gone in a different direction, but A Dangerous Method still looks amazing.

Anywho, Total Recall eventually (or perhaps always was, I don’t rekal) got the treatment of Dan O’Bannon, another cult favorite, also responsible for genre favorites like Return of the Living Dead and (funnily enough) Screamers. I don’t know who did this, but somebody along the way did something really cool to the short story, which for quick recap, is much simpler, and quite the good laugh, though a different brand of humor than “Consider that a divorce.” There is dedicated imagination in Total Recall; it’s filled with a great many ‘things.’ The number of inventive gadgets and SF elements is staggering, each unique and often offering a set piece or clever moment (bursting through X-Ray wall, for example) as cinematic application.

In addition, there’s an element of metanarrative here that I’ve always found interesting, and this seems to be a common theme in Arnold movies, from Commando to Last Action Hero, and even Terminator 3. At some point filmmakers realize that the Arnold movie can be a delicate art – one that’s self-aware. This isn’t quite like that, but references to a secret agent hero defeating the badguy and getting the girl in the end are made by Rekal yuppies, and there’s no better quintessential secret agent hero than the Arnold. Layers of unreality, I suppose – stories within stories.

Total Recall is bursting at the seams with stuff. One-liners and gratuitous violence galore, it’s a perfectly, characteristically paced Verhoeven action picture. We never move from scene to scene without a big set piece, without Michael Ironside or Dick Jones running and gunning through a rich world. The production design in Total Recall is pure joy. The interiors kind of remind me of the Citadel and other planets from Mass Effect, where alien landscapes are in plain view right out the windows. The mutant effects, from the vagina-face dude to Benny’s arm, are all charmingly practical makeup effects. The big vehicles and the weapons are cool, so it goes. Check this one – it’s a classic.

See you at the party, Richter.

We’ve demonstrated that Cronenberg is a filmmaker who has to show what’s going on in his mind because what’s going on in his mind… is so damn strange. Then we’ve shown that he can draw true emotion out of a situation between a woman and a big fly monster. Is A History of Violence telling us that Cronenberg can remain Cronenbergian while working in a mainstream environment? Well, that’s complicated. I will say that the film is not Cronenberg in the traditional sense, yet it is very Cronenberg.

It’s a script by Josh Olson, and based on a graphic novel, something that was passed onto Cronenberg for his creative filter. He was not the source, but in 2004, he has a hell of a say in the final product. This translates into a solid visual style, shocking violence, and an accentuation of theme. Often times you’ll see a movie where there are ideas under the surface, but they never quite come out in full. Pandorum, a movie reviewed here, is an example of this. So the execution is Cronenbergian because it is uncharacteristic of most modern American movies. The ideas themselves are a bit of an evolution for our director, where we have the same questions and psychological probing, but from a different source.

What’s being examined here is human nature and American culture/society, but we’re seeing it on a familiar plane of existence – violence – rather than an alien one – New Flesh. Cronenberg and crew tap into something very recognizeable here, and we share what the characters feel, which can be frightening.

Something interesting is the character of Jack, whose increasingly violent tendencies are unlocked by his father, and not unjustified. We are led to believe that standing up to the bully was correct, as he was being harassed for some time. A degree of violence is only measured in our perception of it, our moral standing. Killing in self-defense is acceptable in the case of Fogerty’s death, because our hero was in danger. Isn’t that what Tom was doing when he went to Philadelphia? Isn’t that what he’s been doing since he left Philadelphia? He’s been fighting to protect his family, yet the violence in his history creeps back doubly.

It returns in the form of old nemeses like Fogerty, and then in the slower, more animalistic (though some would say human) method demostrated in the second sex scene. The violence makes Tom’s wife question herself, and we learn that there is some in all of us. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do what Tom did at the start of the film? On a thematic level, it’s intriguing that the catalyst sequence in Tom Stall’s diner at closing comes out of an act that’s interpreted as heroism.

Is the killing here justified? That’s inconsequential; what’s important is that it’s violent. Either way it’s brutally heroic, but even heroism rooted in violence is still enough to destroy the family. What’s being said here is that the eponymous history of violence has devastating effects, and it’s so important that we see visually the immediate effects of that violence, thanks to twisted Cronenberg invention, in order to understand the long term psychological effects. Just like the Wes Craven principle that anti-violence can only be effectively approximated in brutal cinema violence. Can our hero Joey overcome the history and continue the family? Even after he’s cut off entirely his history of violence by killing his brother… It’s left ambiguous, which seemingly does not connect entirely the thematic ties.

The question at the end of the film is ‘can this small-town family continue, even with a killer in its midst?’ I think that A History of Violence was more about examining violence and its effects, which for the filmmakers means asking questions and not answering them. The examination is what makes the movie in terms of premise unique – the displacement of violent men of Philadelphia into this tight-knit community, which brings to light culture shock and other various lesser ideas. This may be an instance where the ambiguous ending actually relates thematically to a greater, more external theme of examination, which sounds strange, but essentially we don’t arrive at an answer because we aren’t supposed to. The movie would not be defeated if we did, but perhaps here attention is drawn to the journey if the journey’s end is not known.

Cronenberg is still exploring here, and like all the great SF authors, that’s what he does best. No, he doesn’t have to do that thing where he shows Max Renn shoving a pistol up his vagina-stomach because he can’t just allude to it in dialogue, but it in essence is still the same Cronenberg at the core, but not in appearance. My question is, why does this equate to evolution for so many people? Of course, it’s more complicated than that: straightforward drama is always going to be taken more seriously than a science-fiction drama, and since that’s the development our filmmaker has taken these past three or four films (and certainly comparing his near-bookending Rabid and Eastern Promises doesn’t lend credence to the SF/horror genre as literarily equivalent to film drama), we just seem to elevate our perception of Cronenberg and then say, “hey – now he’s doing drama, which is smarter than SF,” when in fact, no – it was merely Cronenberg dabbling for once in the mainstream.

Based more on an article that caught Cronenberg’s eye than the novel Twins, Dead Ringers is an interesting entry in his filmography simply because it’s so damn strange. Strange even by Cronenberg standards, in fact, as this movie, relative to the films that you think of when you hear the name (which is Videodrome, for me), has very few visual effects. A lot of special effects of course, as the non-twin actor Jeremy Irons had to be twinulized through camera-tricks and editing, but the conjoined dream sequence that begun shockingly and ended shockingly stands alone in terms of ‘out-there’ stuff. Yet Dead Ringers still manages to run with the big boys, being just as and if not more disturbing, thought-provoking, grotesque, and suspenseful as any other Cronenberg film I’ve seen.

David Cronenberg’s filmmaking philosophy concerning visual effects has always struck me, because it is so opposed to the popular view. He feels that because the images he creates (Brundlepod, biological game ports, James Woods’ stomach/VCR/vagina swallowing a pistol) are so unique and so bizarre, he cannot leave them up to the audience to visualize. I couldn’t agree more – the H.P. Lovecraft approach could never apply to Videodrome or The Fly. Yet there are people, even those within the industry such as Stan Winston and Tom Savini, who feel that effects should merely suggest a greater picture for the mind (not the eyes) to enjoy, and movies like Alien that keep the creature in the shadows are benchmarks for undisputed formulas.

That makes sense, as movies that embrace their monsters tend to be the cheaper ones that are compensating for budgetary constraints, or just suck by the coincidence of not having been co-written by Dan O’Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott. But in the case of Cronenberg, it’s pretty black-and-white. There is no suggesting that James Woods’ stomach just opened up and he stuck his hand inside. Film is a visual medium, and David Cronenberg loves that fact.

On that note, one would think that Dead Ringers wouldn’t be his type, but this movie touches on all his thematic hallmarks, and more: flesh, sexuality, madness, the mind, and even genetic predestination. I won’t go too far into what this movie is about, and that’s for a few reasons. 1) I didn’t fully understand this movie. Why gynecology? What does that have to with the fact that they’re twins? Apparently in real life there were twin gynecologists that were found dead, but I still feel as though there were thematic connections to everything within the narrative, and I simply haven’t found them yet. 2) While spoilers wouldn’t necessarily ruin things, as you may know the ending beforehand, and certainly do now, Dead Ringers is assuredly an experience, and that should be as unmolested as possible. Maybe when I figure this film out, I’ll go more in depth, like how I did with JSA, which is why there are multiple posts seemingly about the same thing, but growing progressively more confident…

This movie demands a lot out of its actors. The characters of Beverly and Elliot Mantl are just so peculiar, that much should be said of Jeremy Irons’ performance, not that I know a damn thing about acting. Despite playing two characters who are visually identical and seem very similar psychologically, the Cronenberg script and the Irons performance create tiny subtleties that separate the two, and this is of the utmost import. Had the acting devalued the character, the themes of separation and genetic predestination would be lost on the viewer like they were almost lost on me. To have such a weight must be both exciting and hell for an actor. It’s a demanding role, not unlike perhaps Oh Dae-Su, which is typically what I think of in terms of ‘wow that guy’s a freaking pro.’

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