Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

CULT FILM REVIEW – VIDEODROME (1983)

CULT FILM REVIEW – VIDEODROME (1983)

Written and directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Claude Herroux, Pierre David, Victor Solnicki

Cast: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Peter Divorsky etc.

Music: Howard Shore

***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



With the lack of cinema-going action, I am now looking at building other review ideas and articles into my blog. I have regular new release reviews, classic film reviews, great ensemble casts and under-rated film reviews. I suppose that’s enough really, but there are some films that don’t quite fit these categories and they are cult movies. How does one define a cult film? It could have been a box-office bomb or be a no-budget gem, be transgressive or have controversial subject matter. Conversely, it could be a video nasty or banned or even an ultra-arthouse film which defies classical filmmaking conventions. More importantly, I do not have to actually like the film for it to qualify as a cult film. It could be a difficult film I am evaluating or re-evaluating from a fan or academic perspective. Lastly, it could just simply be a film that is uncategorizable or so bad it’s bad or so bad it’s good.

My first review in this category is David Cronenberg’s body-horror film, Videodrome (1983). Now, it may fit the specific rules of an under-rated classic laid down in previous articles, however, Videodrome (1983) is not necessarily a film I love or believe is a classic. It is a remarkably original narrative descent into the hellish and surreal world of demented psychological snuff television. It contains amazing practical special effects by the legend Rick Baker, yet, having re-watched it last week I cannot say it’s a film one can enjoy from an entertainment perspective. Don’t get me wrong, David Cronenberg is a true auteur and genius filmmaker, it’s just Videodrome (1983) is a hallucinatory and disturbing nightmare of a film that works outside the boundaries of usual image systems and narrative conventions. Basically, it’s more a powerful set of concepts and scenarios rather than a simple and satisfying story.

The story opens with anti-heroic, Max Renn (James Woods) as president of CIVIC-TV, seeking new content for his Toronto-based TV channel. Despite Woods’ charisma as an actor he is an expert at playing dominant alpha male types who challenge the audiences’ empathy. He portrays Max with a sleazy charm hunting for, what one may consider, soft-pornographic shows for his station. He’s basically an addict looking to push the walls of taste for his sex-hungry viewers. Max then discovers a channel, via a grainy satellite feed, called Videodrome. It shows unfiltered torture and sexual aggression, and Max becomes determined to tap into that market. At the same time, he begins a sado-masochistic sexual relationship with a radio host, Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry). Soon, these two intense narrative strands entwine and threaten Max’s mind, body and very existence.



Videodrome (1983) is a highly intelligent shocker which explores the nature of television violence, notions of taste and censorship, fears of technological programming, and the mental damage caused by over-exposure to violent pornography. It is an extremely psychologically and physically graphic film to watch. Nevertheless, it is also full of incredible imagery involving on-screen murder, Renn being swallowed by his TV; and also literally transforming into a human video cassette player. While an audience may not like Max Renn as a person, his journey is one that grips with magnetic shock and disgust. As he gets ever closer to the Videodrome channel his downward spiral plays out like a demented morality story, with Max representing the journey of those audience members who lose themselves in the illusory realities of television product. As he begins to lose touch with reality, Max experiences a complete lack of control over his mind and desires, all seemingly controlled by a heinous corporation led by insidious suit, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson).

Incredibly, David Cronenberg apparently turned down directing The Return of the Jedi (1983) to write and direct this more personal vision of cinema. Could there be two more different films? Nonetheless, while it may not be a film I can easily recommend to those of a sensitive disposition or those who like their horror to have tidy conclusions, Videodrome (1983), retains its relevance and power to this day as a shocking critique of modern media. Hence qualifying it as a cult horror film which pushes all the wrong buttons in the right way.



MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #2 – JULIANNE MOORE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #2  – JULIANNE MOORE

**SPOILERS AHOY**

Following my tribute to Ryan Gosling a while ago the second in my little paeans to cinematic people I admire is the wonderful Julianne Moore.  Here I pick out seven memorable performances which make me fall in love with her over and over again.

SHORT CUTS (1993)

Moore is a versatile actor who, along with appearing in some cinematic classics,  has been in some right old tosh over the years. However, SHE is ALWAYS great in EVERYTHING!  She can do vulnerable. She can do funny.  She can do romance. She can do sexy.  She can do sweet. She can do evil.  And boy can she do neurosis!  My earliest memory of her was from Robert Altman’s fractured ensemble classic Short Cuts where she spends a lot of time naked from the waist down.  It certainly took er… balls for Moore to take on such a role and she is a stand-out as an artist on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)

I still think this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film. Well, it’s my favourite of his brilliant oeuvre. I mean it takes some kind of genius to make a film about the porn industry and imbue it with heart, humour, sexuality, Oedipal tragedy and humanity without poking fun and merely relying on smut or underlying sleaziness.  Moore portrays “Amber Waves” the tragic mother-figure of the porn “family” who, estranged from her own young son, provides emotional support to the young porn actors such as Rollergirl and Dirk Diggler. She is wonderful as a pained addict trying but failing to achieve a conventional lifestyle, instead finding comfort and solace with Burt Reynolds’ led dysfunctional troupe of sex actors.

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THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)

Much has been made of Jeff Bridges wonderfully comic and laconic i.e. stoned-off-his-nut performance in the Coen Brothers’ much-adored cult classic The Big Lebowski, but the many idiosyncratic supporting characters deserve praise too.  The film is a delightful patchwork of eccentricity and none more so than Moore’s Maud Lebowski – a privileged, upper class artist who seduces The Dude in a strange side-story to already hyper-convoluted kidnapping-gone-wrong-right plot.  The Coens’ satirise rich artistic types via Maud as she too as uses The Dude to her own ends.  Moore dominates the screen with her witty portrayal and even ends up in one of The Dude’s hallucinogenic dreams as a Viking goddess of some sort.

MAGNOLIA (1999)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s does Altman’s Short Cuts  up to eleven with a modern mosaic of human dysfunction, loneliness and tragedy.  It’s a difficult but compelling watch as Anderson removes the humour palette, so richly used in Boogie Nights,  to present a cross-section of characters each struggling with existential and familial estrangement.  Moore role is a risky one inasmuch as she is a self-confessed adulterer who married for money and only now — with her elderly husband (Jason Robards) about to die — does she feel any kind of remorse.  It’s a complex character who you feel little sympathy for — even when she attempts suicide — but as car-crash humanity and drama go it’s difficult not to be drawn in by her incredible performance.

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END OF THE AFFAIR (1999)

An amazing feat of literature from Graham Greene is adapted into a heart-cracking film by Neil Jordan; full of eroticism, stellar cast, lingering looks, exquisite photography and elegant Michael Nyman score.  I watch a lot of films and am not often moved emotionally but the doomed love affair between Moore and Ralph Fiennes really gets my tear ducts on the go.  Love is very difficult thing to get right on the silver screen but the intensity of the acting really is a thing of beauty.  There’s been some amazing love stories set during wartime down the years but this has to be one of the most memorable. Moore was deservedly nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Hilary Swank.

FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002)

Todd Haynes pristine Sirkian melodrama is a honourable pastiche of 1950s films in both form, setting and content.  It sees Moore wearing the skin of Cathy, a neglected American rose, who ventures into a forbidden love affair with local gardener Raymond Deagen, (Dennis Haysbert).  Once again, Moore is drawn to a character who is pushed to the outside of society, her character becoming a victim of gossip and recrimination within a closely knit bigoted community. American small-town attitudes to race and sexuality are critiqued with director Todd Haynes beautifully designed colour palette and cinematography contrasting the dark subtext at work. Moore was rightly nominated for another Oscar but lost out to Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose.

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THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (2010)

This was a laidback, fun kind of movie which found Julianne Moore in a relationship with Annette Bening’s obstetrician.  It’s a lower-budget independent gem with a fine cast including: Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.  The story finds Moore and Bening’s sperm donee children searching for their father (Ruffalo) and the ensuing first world drama and “chaos” this brings.  Moore’s budding landscape gardener plays a relatively sane character as she argues with the children and the more dominant Bening, before falling into bed with the more Bohemianesque character of Ruffalo.  Moore ‘s character suffers a minor mid-life crisis compared to other cinematic meltdowns in her oeuvre. Nonetheless, her kind, natural, earth-mother performance is very enjoyable. Fear not though it would appear in her latest film — David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars (2014) — finds her back on full neurotic alert as an actress flailing in the age-conscious, superficial Hollywood system.