Cosmopolis (2012) – Film Review

David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ isn’t as effective as one would hope from a director with such longevity. It features Robert Pattinson as a young capitalist, Eric Packer, roaming in a limo through a city that, in numbers, is practically his. He is confident and filled with absolutism, the sort of rock-hard complex that can explain his seat in society without one even knowing his profession. Pattinson rolls off Cronenberg’s intellectual jargon with sterility, creating a mood outside of the character: The things Packer says sometimes seem outside of himself, like he is talking not about what he wants to do, but what he should.

The themes are different for Cronenberg: sure, the movie has sex, sexual demands, and lack of meaning behind sex, all part of his past portfolio, but he takes on capitalism with a preachers might. He’s really trying to pry some nastiness up from the ground; but in all, It’s hard to take it in from a character like Eric Packer, who has conquered the system. As the majority are not rich and well-informed, the didactic notions of the people concerned in the movie all seem hypocritical. The people who are more impacting when it comes to capitalist unfairness are from the neo-realist films of Italy and America’s depression-era.

With all great filmmakers, a flop is still worth more of a penny than the work of other less gifted directors. There are moments in Cosmopolis that are thrilling and artful, most especially the scenes including Paul Giamatti as a man who wants to kill for notoriety. It takes a scene with little physical content or inventiveness and analyzes it far beyond first glance. In the end, if you’re going to be killed, talking about it doesn’t change anything.

One aspect of Cosmopolis that is done right: the music. It’s a bumping, techno-like rhythm that rolls along side the colorful limousine, all done originally by Howard Shore. It features the death of a rapper–and his subsequent song playing as Packer mourns the death he, as an information man, didn’t know about right away. He’s as much crying about his lack of knowledge as he is the death, having met him but once.

The cold nature of the film will turn some away  without a doubt. But this surreal, strangely engaging film presents streams of ideas followed by detailed direction by David Cronenberg.

Dredd 3D (2012)

I was happy to be able to see Dredd not only in 3D, but also at a multiplex specializing in I MAX. It was a truly exciting film: from the beginning scenes spanning across the outer region of Mega City One, with towering buildings scattered across the land, to a zooming motorcycle hosting a well-equipped Judge: In this case, Judge Dredd. Played by Karl Urban, who seemed at first a little too much of a character actor, he puts on the boots and shows he’s got the muscle for the job. Wearing a mask that covers him from the nose up, he has the huge task of working with minimal gesture, and not making it look campy and forced, like Sylvester Stallone did in the original movie.

The plot is fairly simple and objective: a veteran judge is forced to take a rookie along, only to end up imprisoned in a tower swamped with gun-men and drug hounds. This rookie, though, is not the normal wanna-be judge. She is a very powerful psychic: she can twist the mind and predict the future based on the thoughts surrounding her. Quite the asset for a police raid, yes. The special drug involved is called ‘Slo-mo’, a substance that causes the user to slow down in time, seeing action and motion at a very low speed. This is used conceptually to great effect: when two men are thrown off a building, we understand why they are forced to take this drug. And we pity, unlike Judge Dredd.

The character of Dredd is not very complex: It seemed that in the original film, they tried more to pry into the skin behind the helmet, and the poor execution caused that to fail. But here they don’t seem to be trying to pry at all. It seems more attention has gone towards the action and intensity, which are both top-notch, while Dredd says little besides one-liners, some stronger than others. The one-location premise, though, is sometimes a bore: It’s hard to imagine the unpredictable when you know the location is static; it’s one of those movies where you wonder how it could go on and where it’s going to be headed next, which isn’t always a good thing.

The lighting and set-design for Dredd matches it’s tone perfectly: It’s dark shadows and gritty decor are a reflection of the corruption and abuse ongoing in Mega City One. Essentially, Dredd holds the same plot foundation as The Raid: Redemption from 2011, though the style is undoubtedly different. In The Raid, swat-teams are designated to take down a drug building: in Dredd, only two armored Judges are sent out.

The Dead Zone (1983)

David Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’ has the usual characteristics that accompany his films; slow, character-driven narrative; intelligent use of story concepts and a keen sense of suspense. But the episodic, time-leaping narrative doesn’t feel like the sort of loose storytelling suitable for the concept behind the film. It features Christopher Walken as a second-sighter, a man who by touching the hand of a person with his own can see beyond the present and envision future tragedies or murders. The film develops his powers through episodes and encounters with certain people; after a car accident and five years in a coma, he wakes up to find his once true love has understandingly moved on. This leads to several emotionally intense scenes between the two, but he loves Sarah enough to not be angry or disapproving of her decision to move on with her life.

Though it is similar to Cronenberg’s style, it is also a somewhat mainstream turn for the director. Based on a Stephen King novel, it shows just how far Cronenberg refuses to bend his personal touch for the sake of mass audience appeal : not very much. Some viewers may find slow scenes of character development tiresome; but most, I think, would find the concept intriguing and the suspense enchanting.

Once Johnny rehabilitates, he sees the first hints of his powers through his Doctor, Sam Weizak. When he touches his hand, he’s able to view or re-live the doctor’s past, during a thriving war, filled with rolling tanks and fire and angst. Tonally, It seems wrong to make the first vision Johnny has as a massive set-piece; but, this is the first proof to Johnny and his Doctor, after Sam calls his mother, who he thinks has died, upon Johnny’s request, and discovers Johnny is right: she’s alive.

Johnny’s second-sight ability is exploited through the media. During a press conference, a bold man demands answers about Johnny’s abilities. He flies up to Johnny at his table, sits down and extends his hand, an experiment, though a little different than the one seen in Cronenberg’s earlier feature, Scanners, where a man’s head pops like a tomato. This reporter is told things he doesn’t want to hear: about his sister, about his past. He jumps down from the hot-seat angry: the joke isn’t funny, and Johnny, played with utter psychosis by Christopher Walken, is not laughing.

The set-design on The Dead Zone has an eerie, small-town tone to it that, if you’ve ever read Stephen King, feels like the adaption is not only of the words, but the feel as well of working-class terror.

Cronenberg doesn’t use the second sight as a narrative tool or a mechanism to throw the viewer off. He could very easily have mixed reality with prediction and created a much more mind-bending film; but instead, he makes a practical movie with emotional intelligence and scene after scene of brooding tenseness.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t isolate itself from its predecessors, like it does the citizens of Gotham. It is constantly referencing the mythology and the prequels, little nuggets that the pure fan-boy can appreciate. The director, Christopher Nolan, commented on the graphic novel “The Long Halloween” with much praise, and that is the sort of recognition that makes us assured that he’s the man for the job, or should I say was. His trilogy has marked itself on the wall of epic blockbusters, juxtaposing itself boldly against The Matrix and even The Lord of the Rings. But this isn’t the breakthrough conclusion that acts like a parent to the earlier entries; no, this is a bomb-flying thrill ride at times, but a slow-paced dialogue romp at others. It’s not the sort of comparison that does any sort of cinematic justice.

Batman has been gone for eight years, following the death of Harvey Dent. When a notorious villain involved in the League of Shadows surfaces, who they call Bane, he is pumped into confronting evil once more. A death-trap, his physique is not as tuned as Bane, and the Police haven’t stopped hating him. He deals with personal meditation similar to the strenuous training in the first Batman film, “Batman Begins”.

“I believe in black eyeliner.”

The first quarter of the movie, I feel, is unbearable. It is the worst constructed aspect of the film, with redundant dialogue and one-line emotions. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, and people are starting to poke fun at him; long-nailed Wayne and the like. But do we really need several unknown and unexplored characters throwing out nasty puns about him? Then, we see Alfred for the first time, directing a kitchen full of young maids preparing the meals for a banquet; he is the hearty caretaker, not an objective wedding planner. But then, Nolan turns it around with a waterfall of emotion: Alfred tells Bruce how he wishes he had a family, and would move on from the Batman gig. He tells him about his dreams. While this Is expected in the conclusion, and there are definitely hugely poignant moments between the two, the frequency of there tear-sharing causes it to have less of a punch.

One thing that causes The Dark Knight Rises to seem like a recovering of 2009’s The Dark Knight is that Mr. Wayne is coming out of retirement. We watch Bruce inch himself back into the world, re-establishing his friendships with Foxx and Jim Gordon; but we know them, and we know how they will respond, essentially with the same elbow-nudging wit as everyone else. I really think the dialogue was neglected here: 2009’s Dark Knight is jam-packed with philosophical and memorable ramblings.

Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman

Here, the one-liner is prominent and over-used. And the only one who deserves and can perform them, Is Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. A master jewel thief and a secret Wayne admirer, she leaps hesitantly between her own self-interests and actually making a difference, while always bursting with her signature sass. Spoiler: She doesn’t really purr at all.

John Blake

There are a lot of new characters in Rises, and pretty much all of them were involved in Nolan’s film ‘Inception’. Introduced is police officer John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is an idealistic orphan with a strong intrigue for the Harvey Dent/Batman case. He believes Batman didn’t kill Harvey, or at least refuses to believe it. He was a sign of hope to him and the other children at the orphanage. Jim Gordon soon becomes aware of the Police Officer, and moves him over to his side. He is an overall strong character, even if not entirely necessary, especially on the final film.

Bane

The villain of Rises is the notorious Bane, a brass-shouldered leader with a clan full of devoted followers. His story is told in a Roman-like fashion, showing him at a young age, living underground in the hell of a Gotham prison. He did what no-one else could: he made the jump into the light, as a young child. The connections between this film and Batman Begins makes me think one ought to back it up and watch Batman Begins again; Scarecrow will seem funnier. And with the League of Shadows being referenced a lot in Rises, some will be clueless, but if you see Batman Begins, It all connects beautifully and conclusively. Even Liam Neeson makes a guest appearance from his earlier role, albeit only for a few seconds.

Miranda

Marion Cotillard, the actress playing the delusional wife in ‘Inception’, stars as Miranda, a charity-driven woman trying to work with Wayne to better the world. She is sensitive and business-like, and even despite obvious differences between the two, they grow on each other and become intimate. She takes over the company when Bruce steps up to the Bat-mobile, and is trusted to watch over a Russian scientist’s fission reactor that could potentially provide sustainable energy. The scientist is in the first scene, I believe, since the first scenes of a movie you don’t know who to focus on, I settled for Bane. The scientist was taken out of the plane, which was crashed by Bane and company, and pronounced dead: In reality, Bane parachuted him out.

People were saying from the start that Bane was difficult to understand through the mask. His breathing and talking are one in the same, and the static does sometimes make it difficult; but mostly whats causing the difficulty is the purposefully off-pitched acting from Tom Hardy. He follows a string of low-pitched words with an accentuated high-pitched voice, creating a chilling enthusiasm behind such massive biceps.

The camerawork is staged very similarly to the other Batman films. Slow pan-ins to old men with jaws hanging low in awe, scrolling scenery of the city. Mostly every scene transition converts into a pan, moving in towards something, whether its Catwoman cracking a safe or a Wayne board meeting. During the exposition, this transitional panning is used to a conscious point: let’s slow down the cutting and the drowning Hans Zimmer score and actually have some intertwining plot strings. And it lasts nearly an hour.

The Dark Knight Rises has memorable parts, though it also has parts that create gaps in the chronology out of lack of profundity. Even with a few narrative bumps, it is still an intense, world-encompassing, (well, city-encompassing), film with enough characters to give us a tour of the whole city.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has of course caused a hoopla of ‘what?’ and confusion, since only several years ago the franchise had concluded. The first Spider-Man was Sam Raimi’s vehicle, a wondrous display of set-pieces and talent: But with the new Spider-Man, we see a new look, tone, and feeling for the character. Here, Peter Parker has the on-the-fringe personality that is so attracting in the movies: Avenger flicks have made huge gross amounts in movie history. His parents left him at a young age with his Uncle Ben, played with the old-style charm of Martin Sheen, and Aunt May. Although It distinctly establishes its own uniqueness, there are some scenes that seem strangely similar.

I liked the fact that Spider-Man had to create, spindle shall we say, his own webs. It put a limitation to his tower-swinging capabilities; after all, you can’t be heroic without an Achilles heel. It has a true effect of trying to fit-in with a modern-retelling; the characters use smart-phones and Bing search engines, but the drama always remains in the neatly-wound realm of superhero flicks. When Peter comes home, late at night, bloody in the face, the Aunt assumes nothing, or seems not to; and right after Peter is bit, he comes home in a jittery sweat, eating and catching flies between two fingers: Why couldn’t Uncle Ben ask him if he was on coke? These are domestic people, let’s show it that way.

Garfield’s Parker is a lot more narcissistic with his own feelings, partly because more tragedy is involved in this Spider-Man. There are many scenes where he is teary-eyed, and easily visible behind his dusty, bloody face. He needs Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, and at first it seems to be a Romeo and Juliet story, only the Montagues end up dieing instead of the children. There scenes have a vibrant, muted expression, and an innocence that is too far gone in Peter’s life.

The villain in The Amazing Spider-Man is a bit unusual. We don’t necessarily have that subjection of hatred towards him like most superhero flicks; he is a brilliant scientist with a desire to change his life and handicap, and even the lives of others. Though, after recording himself deep in the sewers, we see that he is not only turning into a reptile, but also a ideological mess; he has the sort of impenetrable mindset that insists on helping the world by turning them all into lizards like him. A brooding tale of deceit, responsibility,¬† and family history.

Gattaca

The power of will, the ability to rip through expectations and assumptions: These are a few of the themes that tag along in the film Gattaca, an off track train, a whizzing, fresh science-fiction film with enough substance and personality to please all sorts of viewers. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, a boy who was born into a genetically perfected world with real, untampered genes. His mother and father wanted one natural child: This decision does not fly well with Vincent’s life and society, especially since early on, and maybe because of, he hoped to become an astronaut in deep space.

Like poor eye-sight in the Air Force, Vincent doesn’t have the right genetic credentials for the job, but that won’t stop him. He hires a man who creates for him a new identity–for Vincent’s case, he is given partnership with Jerome Morrow, who is in a wheelchair because of an out of country accident. Jerome is dedicated to Vincent’s cause: He gives him hair, urine, and all kinds of genetic necessities, so that Vincent can pull it off in astronomy school and be considered one of the genetic elite–which Jerome is. There, he must balance his quasi-genetic equilibrium and come out on top with the overt goal: To get blasted into space.

Vincent, or Jerome to them, works at the space base, admired by his higher-ups for his perfect work, and seems on his way to space. But, after the mission commander is murdered, a full-fledged investigation begins, and Vincent must cover his tracks, and replace those in less suspicious areas with Jerome’s follicles. This shows a new, young detective, who from the start one can predict is his brother: They have such a dualistic relationship that it would seem inevitable. And this detective, the genetically perfect brother, has Vincent’s real eyelash, found near the crime-scene.

In the midst of his determined path at the base, Vincent meets Irene, played by Uma Thurman, who he soon falls in love with. Between them is the soft unknown balance between what she knows about him, and what she doesn’t. And when she finally discovers his true genetic identity, she is all but outraged: silent and accepting, her inadequate heart, as she mentions laughably to Vincent, always made her feel less than most. To Vincent, this is like worrying about a sliver when he has a rod in his chest. The dramatic irony invoked in the movie is a huge factor in it being consistently engaging.

The film-making is definitely science-fiction: It has all the props involved in such a bundle. Linear shots of architecture, high ceilings and odd attire, but it although it fulfills the archetype and formula of design, it has much mores substance than most films. In the core is a semi-satire on our genetic convictions, and possible convictions, for we are just now getting into the realm of choosing gender and gene-type. It is a predictive exercise with a round of excellent performances, and a provocative, engaging plot.

Scanners (1981)

Scanners, directed by horror wise guy David Cronenberg, is a film where the director seems to be smoothing out his style. A majority of the shots involve the camera panning towards a character, in a shoulder shot, with his or her eyes gazing up at something with their big, scanner eyes. It’s done repetitively, and runs tiresome, but the plot is taken into newly explained depth and the actors always make it involving. Cameron Vale, the guy that reminds you of Luke from Star Wars with his sense of virtue, is used by Doctor Paul Ruth to fight against the scanners who have joined together. The leader of this underground group, who we meet personally when he assassinates a scanner at a presentation, is Darryl Revok. He will stop at nothing to find Cameron, and has already killed many scanners who wouldn’t cooperate with him.

The film has a way with muddying the motivations of its characters. No-one from the start is who they seem to be, except Cameron, who as a scanner barely has a personality because he thinks and thinks all of the people’s thoughts around him, as a telepathic. Dr. Paul Ruth has a serum that can suppress this and make all input from other thoughts gone. I’m not sure why Cameron didn’t want this more than he did, for it was the whole problem before Dr. Paul found him.

It ultimately doesn’t let us know who to root for; we are in contact with several double-sided misfits, but don’t know if what their doing is wrong. I think the lack of motivation in Cameron is a key disappointment; what did the Doctor do to get him on his side? Put fifty people in his room and let him suffer from their thoughts? Grumble his raspy voice like a wise-man?

The set-design is always meticulous and atmospheric, though. The scene where Cameron goes to the Artists house is incredible, where he has a massive skull made out of some sort of clay. They hide inside of it, and while the artist walks out and is blown to pieces by guns, Cameron resides inside the head, a metaphor, and scans all of the people around him. He walks out fine, but the artist has died.

The film boasts fine performances and an engaging plot, no matter how under developed the characters were compared to Cronenberg films like ‘The Fly’. It’s a gruesome, horror aficionado’s hot-list entree.