The plague of the Middle Ages is the setting of Christopher Smith's Black Death, and the film doesn't shy away from the despair of the time. Bodies in various stages of decay line streets and roads, and those still living all know someone who died an agonizing death. The religious fervor and shame inflicted on the populace by the Catholic Church is no spiritual balm, as this is all surely happening because of something the sufferer did and not because of the rats skittering through the opening frames of the film. There's little to grab onto in this world as constructed by Smith, with varying degrees of less-wrong all that separates many of the characters. It's easy to see why so few films tackle this bleak period, a fact that also makes Black Death's existence exceptional all the way through to its bitter end.
The Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks-produced miniseries John Adams opened with the titular founding father defending the hated perpetrators of the Boston Massacre. Despite the threats to Adams' economic and personal safety, he stood for principle when seemingly the rest of Boston stood for revenge. Wanting to shepherd a very similar story to the big screen, Spielberg's Bridge of Spies exchanges Adams for Hanks in everyman mode and British soldiers for a single Soviet spy.
Alexander Payne, along with Joel and Ethan Coen, is often critically knocked for looking down on or laughing at his cinematic subjects. This is a criticism I've personally never found that to be accurate, but then I watched Payne's debut, Citizen Ruth. In this satirical comedy about abortion politics, both sides are portrayed as ridiculous in their fanaticism and the central character, Laura Dern's Ruth, is a despicable person not worthy of their Herculean efforts. Matt Stone and Trey Parker often take this tack in South Park, where a manipulative individual plays both corners against each other to get the maximum benefit, thereby enriching themselves at the expense of the self-righteous, but Ruth doesn't have the craftiness of an Eric Cartman. She's simply an often-drunk, generally dumb mess with an affinity for model glue.
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.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.