A virtual reality video game system that uses biological controllers gets corrupted through corporate espionage.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law
Review by Jon Kissel (reposted from October 2016)
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.
Contact is about nothing more than humanity's place in the universe and how we see ourselves fitting into it. This breadth is fitting for writers like Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, whose earlier work in TV includes the seminal series Cosmos. Sagan, an astronomer and brilliant science communicator, died shortly before Contact's release, but Contact is an often-beautiful distillation of his worldview and his way of thinking. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster, Contact brings Sagan briefly back to life, asking the kinds of questions he asked through his scientifically-skeptical outlook. It's not a perfect film, but it is one made specifically for me.
If the Matrix Resurrections is to be believed, every property that belongs to a movie studio will be recirculated and rehashed ad infinitum. A creator can take the paycheck and churn out some mindless pap that evaporates the second the viewer leaves the theater, or they can see what they can get away with and make something visionary and idiosyncratic. The best scenario is Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that somehow sharpened its action choreography on top of a visceral, heart-grabbing hymn about the righteousness of freedom. The worst case is 2011’s Robocop, a soulless cash grab and a thin shadow of its former self. To Lana Wachowski’s great credit, she won’t let her, and her absent sister Lily’s, work be thrown to some director-for-hire, and she made a fourth entry that is exactly what she wanted to make. Kudos for receiving a reported production budget of $190 million and making fun of the studio that gave it to you. However, Lana, and maybe Lilly too, have lost whatever it was that produced the Matrix 22 years ago, and Matrix Resurrections is a sappy academic exercise in search of stakes and compelling interest. The original Matrix, and at least Matrix Reloaded, started with world-building and action and the charisma of its actors and layered philosophy and meta-commentary on top of it. Matrix Resurrections inverts the pyramid, boring the viewer with the commentary and turning everything that follows into an unmotivated slog.
When I was playing a lot of World of Warcraft in the mid to late 2000’s, talking about it to anyone, even if they too played the game, made me extremely self-conscious. I’d have to preface it all with concepts and proper nouns that were specific to this one thing, and it could only sound insular and stupid. My mind’s eye would hear me talking about instanced dungeons and farming thorium and I’d start to shrivel up with embarrassment. It’s hard to imagine those involved with David Lynch’s Dune feeling any different when they have to say sentences like ‘Take the kieswa maker hook of our sietch.’ Any fantasy or sci-fi work has to balance its world-building with its storytelling. How weird is too weird, communicating concepts in ways other than dialogue and exposition, making some kernel of the world relatable to present-day earthbound relations, etc. Lynch’s Dune does no balancing at all, vomiting out the terminology of Frank Herbert’s novel plus some other invented-for-the-movie ideas in a stream of made-up words delivered in the most banal way possible. Lynch has disowned this film in the decades since its release and what’s on the screen justifies his decision.
My only experience with Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi tract Dune is from the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, so any contact with the material is going to have been informed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. He’s a director who, after making gory, mindfuck midnight movies in the 60’s and 70’s, took a crack at Dune that produced influential concept art but no actual movie. Jodorowsky was himself a big advocate of psychedelics and shamanism, so he connected to a story about a drug whose users find enlightenment and spread that enlightenment throughout the galaxy. For the big-budget modern remake after David Lynch’s campy and disavowed 80’s attempt, Denis Villeneuve is not the obvious choice. Sure, he’s handy with a soundscape and his visuals are top-notch, but he’s never been into magical realism or surrealism. Indeed, Villeneuve’s Dune relies on breathy voiceover and literal visions to convey the story’s psychedelic prophecies and spice inhalation, but his vision of the far future is otherwise a towering achievement and the best thing he’s done yet. Dune overwhelms the viewer with interplanetary power and possibility and world-building.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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