Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE O CANADA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RUTH OF SILVER SCREENINGS and KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY


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The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

The Fly starts with perfect economy. Director Cronenberg does not waste time with introductions or establishing shots–whenever there’s an exterior shot in the film, it comes as surprise, even after Cronenberg opens it up a little. There’s Jeff Goldblum, he’s a scientist, and there’s Geena Davis. She’s a reporter. The film conveys this expository information by having her interview him. It’s perfect.

And that perfect economy keeps going for quite a while, maybe even half the film. A lot happens during that first half–mad science, romance, jealousy, all sorts of things–and it’s outstanding. Goldblum and Davis are great together, John Getz is excellent as her weird, slightly creepy ex-boyfriend and boss. Cronenberg’s direction is exquisite; he’s utterly focused on these three actors. Even the science fiction visual exposition gets downplayed.

Then there’s a shift, a small one, as Goldblum’s character begins to “turn.” Cronenberg doesn’t allow many horror film sensibilities in The Fly. Instead of trying to terrify the audience visually with Goldblum, Cronenberg pulls back and Goldblum disappears. It’s a problem, because the film loses its momentum and never regains it.

Wait, I forgot–there’s one big horror movie sensibility… a dream sequence. It’s cheap. It’s gross and effective, but it’s narratively cheap.

Amazing special effects from Chris Walas, a nice score from Howard Shore, excellent cinematography from Mark Irwin. The Fly ’s a good looking (and sounding) picture.

Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s ambitions decline as the film finally has to deliver the horror.

Still, pretty good stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and Cronenberg, based on the story by George Langelaan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (Veronica Quaife) and John Getz (Stathis Borans).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE FLY (1986) / THE FLY II (1989).

A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)

There’s something about A History of Violence from the first scene, something about the way the titles become part of the motel exterior. It’s a nice long tracking shot from Cronenberg, with a great (small part though) performance from Stephen McHattie. After the opening, Cronenberg spends a lot of time introducing Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and family. They live in a Hollywood-ized version of a small midwestern town (where everyone looks out for one another, where Bello has a son she had when she was eleven)–it’s a never never land, which is fine, because Cronenberg’s dealing with the role of violence in films here. He manages to make all the commentary on it he wants, while never once letting the characters slip from the most important position.

The film succeeds because of Mortensen and Bello. Bello’s good, but Mortensen is amazing. It’s been a while since the last time I read he was finally going to be big and Violence doesn’t show he can be a leading man… it shows he can act beautifully. The interesting thing about how Cronenberg treats Mortensen… he’s never anything but the protagonist. He never loses the viewer’s identification. Even when he’s scaring the hell out of everyone around him, he’s still the good guy. Because it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s not in the sense one could see Brad Pitt in the lead, but Cronenberg knows very well he can’t comment on Hollywood’s approach to violence without making the film Hollywood.

There is some distraction, given the high schoolers all being mid-twenties or later. I’m guessing it doesn’t have to do with Cronenberg commenting on… the Beach Party movies, but rather… well, regular Hollywood casting practices.

Cronenberg offsets the violence and the implications of it and Mortensen and Bello’s respective inner turmoil with a couple fantastic performances. First, Ed Harris. Harris plays a creepy mobster and he’s a joy to watch, but it’s not a stretch for him. Ed Harris doesn’t usually play creepy mobsters, but it’s not something one wouldn’t expect to see from him. William Hurt, on the other hand, has his flashiest role ever as a funny, posh mobster… seeing Hurt in this kind of role (and forgetting, had the film been made fifteen years earlier, he probably would have been turning down the lead) is joyous. He can do anything, but so rarely does. His scenes are just indescribably great.

Screenwriter Josh Olson, with a pointedly less than notable (to be polite) previous filmography, provides Cronenberg with the material he needs to tell a complicated story. In many ways, it’s like Frank Capra does a mob movie… with composer Howard Shore, who can alternate without any difficulty between the personal and dramatic scenes, setting a mood for the film I can’t really describe.

However, it all rests on Mortensen. And he succeeds.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; written by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Chris Bender and J.C. Spink; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Viggo Mortensen (Tom Stall), Maria Bello (Edie Stall), William Hurt (Richie Cusack), Ed Harris (Carl Fogarty), Ashton Holmes (Jack Stall), Heidi Hayes (Sarah Stall), Stephen McHattie (Leland Jones), Greg Bryk (Billy Orser) and Peter MacNeill (Sheriff Sam Carney).


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