Here’s some more mini-reviews. On the dot for this installment of Recent Movie Round-Up: Cronenberg, haunted houses, and Lannisters!
Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
David Cronenberg is a master filmmaker. That much is certain. But he’s also had one of the most interesting career transitions I’ve ever seen of an auteur who had such a distinct sensibility to his films. Cronenberg was a master of body-horror, surreal narratives, racy subject matter, and an overarching connective theme of the connections between the mind and the body. After that, however, came Spider and, more notably, A History of Violence, both of which were radical departures from his usual style. While these films also dealt with his signature theme and had some of his usual style, they were more realistic and somber, and less trashy and gory as well.
Yet you can sort of see hints from some of his earlier films that this was the path he would take. For example, 1988’s Dead Ringers. Like his earlier work, it featured racy subject matter and a surreal narrative involving twins (each one played by Jeremy Irons) who switch constantly at various moments without anyone knowing, including sharing women. At the same time, it was light on the gore (Really, only one scene had any on-screen violence), and approached in a very clinical, objective style that more or less resembles his later work.
Either way, this is a terrific film with an even more terrific performance at its center. Jeremy Irons’s work here is genius, allowing us to always tell apart which twin we’re watching with very subtle and nuanced differences. It never at all feels like we’re watching the same actor, and the way he interacts with himself is natural and brilliant. It’s the best “twin” performance from a single actor I’ve ever seen alongside Nicolas Cage’s turn in Adaptation.
But the plot is equally intriguing, with plenty of ambiguity involving whether or not these twins really do share a piece of the other through some divine way, and how the way they share appearances ends up taking a toll on their psyches. The climax and ending are a little confusing in their need to be enigmatic, but it didn’t detract from the experience because Irons’s dramatic work allows us to connect with what’s going on even if you don’t fully understand what really is going on. In conclusion, this may be one of my top 5 Cronenberg films.
The American Scream (Michael Stephenson, 2012)
A documentary about three families who partake in the annual ritual of Halloween in the form of turning their own homes into interactive Haunted Houses. One of the families, and the main focus of the film, is run by an obsessive, perfectionist patriarch named Victor Bariteau who seems to spend every waking moment of his life preparing for the big day, sometimes at the behest of his own family. At the other end of the spectrum is another family who likes to collect various objects just lying around for use in their haunted house, and a father-son duo who isn’t quite as ambitious or skilled as the other families, but participates to please the children.
The result is a surprisingly touching little doc about our creative impulses and the lengths one would go to do the things they love. Each of the subjects are incredibly fascinating (My favorite was the father-son duo who constantly argued with each other and worked part-time as clowns) and have their own unique quirks. The film is at its best when it focuses on two things: 1.) The toll that this obsession takes on the families who sacrifice some of their lives to help with their husband’s/father’s dreams; 2.) When it’s acting as a love-letter to the communal spirit of Halloween, especially in its climax.
Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Now this is how you do a chase thriller. Headhunters is a slickly made, tightly constructed, diabolically plotted thriller with a dash of subtext about class and reputation and with enough strong characterizations to lend the experience a sense of humanity. Also it stars Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the villain, and believe it or not, he’s just as evil in this movie as he was in Game of Thrones. Take that for what you will.