eXistenZ (1999)

Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm. Runtime: 1h 37 min. Released: April 23, 1999.

I’ll start off by saying I did not fully understand “eXistenZ.Basically, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is premiering this virtual reality video game called eXistenZ (roll credits) that’s a huge deal but then the goth-looking guy (Kris Lemche) from “Final Destination 3” attempts to assassinate her and she goes on the run with Ted Pikul (Jude Law). He’s a marketing trainee but also her protection. Then, they must play her own game to make sure it’s not damaged.

I think my main problem with this film is the fact that the world’s rules aren’t well established. There aren’t rules to the game and it’s all so ambiguous. We’re not even given the premise of this new game, either, as it seems just the fact that Geller is releasing a new game is reason enough to buy it. She’s like a god in this world.

The world itself that David Cronenberg creates is just strange. The way they play Allegra’s virtual reality game is through these game pods that are made out of recycled animal and amphibian organs. They look like little stomach’s and they’re rather unsettling.

What’s stranger is where these little creepy pods have to be plugged in for the user to play the game. They’re plugged into a hole in your spinal cord called a bio-port (the film shows this can be an oddly erotic thing). No one’s born with this bio-port, it’s done surgically so these characters can play video games. And we’re supposed to believe people do this willingly. If that’s what it took to play video games in the real world, man. I’ll say goodbye to all video games and just stick with movies. That’s a hard pass.

That’s the kind-of the stance Ted Pikul takes as well, because he has a phobia of being penetrated surgically. Honestly, he’s the only normal one in this world because of that. Law and Jason Leigh carry the film well as their characters. Other supporting players like Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe and Don McKellar are good.

eXistenZ (in article).jpg

Jude Law in “eXistenZ.” (IMDb)

The story itself and plot structure feels very fluid and moves at a fast pace. There’s a lot of action and it’s a really bizarre sci-fi thriller than anything horror in the traditional sense. The outline of important events feel compact in this admittedly thin plot, and there’s not a lot of dead space in the film. Some of it isn’t always interesting and some stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense, either.

I think that’s my problem. When I don’t understand something fully it hinders my enjoyment and I didn’t understand a lot of stuff here. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s very well-made and well-directed by David Cronenberg, this just isn’t a world I’d want to immerse myself in again.

It’s a fine ride for one watch as it consistently keeps you guessing if they’re really in the real world or in the game world. And I was usually intrigued even if I didn’t love what was going on. The end of the film is the most memorable part in this. and there was a lot of stuff that I found interesting – especially the gun made out of flesh and bone that shoots human teeth. Just that sentence alone should tell you how creative “eXistenZ” truly is. I also never thought I’d see video game consoles that look like living, breathing organisms. Honestly, I wish I didn’t see them, because the noises they make and the way they look are hella creepy.

Score: 60/100

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The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our StarsReleased: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff. Runtime: 125 min.

Even if you aren’t the target audience of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its stunning realism, which warrants its occasional corniness. Josh Boone directs John Green’s novel with finesse, and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to an extraordinary chemistry. The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a girl who has had a form of leukaemia since the age of 13. She’s trying hard to cope with her sickness, even though she has depression. Her mother (Laura Dern) wants her to make new friends, and she thinks a cancer support group will be good for her. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man who lost his leg because of cancer, but he survived. He also shares her love for the unconventional. He also wants to put his mark on this world before his time is up.

The film raises themes of cherishing every moment, and making a star-crossed love infinite. One never knows how long they have on this world, but you just have to make the best of it. It raises these ideas beautifully with its main characters. Ansel Elgort is good as Augustus, someone who’s a bit strange at first as he just stares at Hazel for their first encounter. What blossoms from there is a stunning romance. I like a metaphor he uses: Putting a cigarette in his teeth, but he never lights it so death doesn’t have the power to kill him.

It’s sweet how he always wants to make Hazel happy, even when she’s trying her hardest to push him away – because she describes herself as a grenade, and when she sets off she could destroy and hurt everyone in her wake. She doesn’t want to add any casualties to the mix. Her vulnerability as a character is sweet. She likes the simple, unconventional things in life – and it brings some great humour to the film. I really cared about the character, and Woodley’s performance as her makes it even better. She’s hard of breathing, and I felt terror for her in even the most simple of moments like climbing a steep set of stairs. It makes it even more effective.

Hazel has a great adopted philosophy from her favourite novel, and much of the plot revolves around her wanting to know what happens to the main characters’ loved ones after she dies. The authour, portrayed by an effective Willem Dafoe, is someone you’ll sympathize with only maybe for a second. Josh Boone isn’t able to direct the character to anything that stands out. Laura Dern is good as Hazel’s mother, even if she’s sidelined for much of the film, as she is often called to panic whenever Hazel calls her name. Hazel’s Dad (True Blood’s Sam Trammel) is sidelined a lot more. Nat Wolff brings a lot of humour to his role as Isaac, Gus’s best friend. His character’s girlfriend is representative of a person who cannot take the death of a loved one.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen this film or read the novel (which I’ll surely seek out because of John Green’s evidently realistic writing style) will tell you it’s a sad story. You’ve just found the new “I haven’t cried this hard since…” film of the decade thus far. This is The Notebook for a new generation. It’s effectively heartbreaking and it’ll leave quite an impression on its viewers, and it’ll make you now think of Anne Frank’s attic as a romantic area. I loved every minute of this film, and just got swept in its realistic look at life and romance.

Score: 88/100

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the FurnaceReleased: December 6, 2013. Directed by: Scott Cooper. Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana. Runtime: 116 min.

“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.

The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.

This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.

The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.

It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.

This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.

Score: 75/100