A telepath is recruited by a defense contractor to find a rogue telepath.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, and Patrick McGoohan
Review by Jon Kissel
I once attended a lecture about South Korea exporting its culture under the assumption that it was going to be about the gonzo, transgressive films of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. Instead, the lecturer discussed K-pop and its unique brand of manufactured wholesomeness, a phrase totally unfamiliar to fans of Oldboy and Memories of Murder. Of course, as great as those films are, K-pop has a much wider appeal and dominates the global interpretation of South Korean culture, and I, not being a fan, am a narrow-minded fool who thinks everyone interprets culture the same way I do. It’s like if all I knew of Canada were the films of favored canuck son David Cronenberg, and expected every Canadian to have an opinion on which of the dozens of fleshy vestigial appendages in his films were their favorite (Videodrome stomach or Dead Ringers connecting tissue for me). For all of Canada’s stereotypical courtesy and niceness, Cronenberg has been his own stalwart maple tree, pumping out acidic, dystopian sap for five decades with no signs of tapping out. Scanners fits squarely within his early career, where Cronenberg is still figuring his formula out and putting the pieces together. It’s not yet the total package of body horror, corporate satire, and taboo behavior that he’ll hit on shortly after Scanners, but here, things are coming together for this cinematic master even as he’s blasting prop heads apart.
Of all the auteurs who write and direct their own movies, David Cronenberg doesn’t leap to the top of mind as the creator of personal films. His combination of body horror, cultural satire, and psychodrama is unique enough without having to read details from Cronenberg’s life into his work. With The Brood, an early Cronenberg entry made in the wake of a bad divorce, one can see that a mind as acidic as his can go to some dark and cruel places when people from his life are subbing into his movies, particularly when the protagonist’s mother is depicted as a cultish monster who’s trying to keep her kids from her ex-husband. However, perhaps it’s the getting all of his ugly feelings onscreen that puts Cronenberg on his path, moving away from the gorefests that predated The Brood and towards the richer territory of what comes after. Characters expelling their psychological baggage to transform into their higher selves is a hallmark of Cronenberg’s career, and his divorce and the film he made about it may well serve as the catalyst.
There was a brief period where I thought The Brood was the Cronenbergiest David Cronenberg film, in which a psychiatric drug has the unfortunate side effect of causing horrible growths that become toothless monsters. That title was later taken by Videodrome, in which James Woods develops an organic gun hand and VCR stomach. Dead Ringers, with its drug-addled gynecologists and their insect-appendage-like tools, should've been the new champion, but for a film with that description, it was surprisingly restrained. After watching eXistenZ, I can confidently say it reigns supreme, as it Cronenberged all over the screen. Enthralling in its fleshy transgressiveness, Cronenberg's 1999 sci-fi puzzler is easily the best film of that year involving digital realities reached through bio-ports installed on humans, all while avoiding the philosophical natterings of The Matrix (which beat eXistenZ to theaters by a month). There's no bullet time here, but who needs it when the world construction is this intricate.
Malcolm Gladwell broke down the David and Goliath story in such a way that completely undermined its common understanding. A shepherd wielding a sling in that time period may as well have been armed with a sniper rifle. For a job that requires pegging wolves on the move, a slow-moving big’un would’ve made for an easy target. Underdog arcs are so powerful that they get grafted onto stories that don’t deserve them, like in Randall Wallace’s Secretariat. A dominant racehorse can’t just stomp the competition and strut to the Triple Crown winner’s circle, so the film endeavors to make Secretariat the only thing standing between the bankruptcy of a horse farm for his upper class owners who were otherwise never given a chance. Wallace follows up Secretariat with Heaven Is For Real, a piece of claptrap about a kid who had a dream about a rainbow horse and got a book deal out of it, and it’s probably the more believable of the two.
The life of a ‘that guy’ has got to be pretty frustrating. Not that character actors have hard lives necessarily, but they spend a lot of time being adjacent to serious, world-beating fame and power without being of it. People know their face but not their name, and most occasions when they’re recognized in public probably devolve into a humiliating guessing game of which movie the recognizer is thinking of. They make a solid living, but auditions and all the difficulty of that are still a thing. Clifton Collins Jr is one of these guys, cranking out an average of four credits a year for 3+ decades. Often memorable but rarely central, Jockey provides Collins with a starring vehicle about an old pro who’s been doing his thing for a long time without much to show for it. Collins’ real life is surely nowhere near as bleak, but there is some life imitating art in Clint Bentley’s sensitive feature debut.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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