Moral Complexity in “Eastern Promises”

David Cronenberg seems to get off on showing close-up shots of gruesome things like people getting their faces blown off with a shot-gun (re: A History of Violence). In a world where beheadings make the news at least two or three times a year, showing two separate scenes of people getting their throats slit is unnecessary. That’s one aspect of Cronenberg’s style I could do without. If you don’t like that kind of thing, just close your eyes for the few seconds when it happens, because the rest of the movie is excellent and well-worth watching.

Eastern Promises tells the story of a doctor, Naomi Watts, who delivers a baby from a woman who works in a brothel. The mother dies and the doctor tries to track down the baby’s family and subsequently gets tangled up with the Russian Mafia — and those guys don’t fool around. Viggo Mortensen, as one of the Russian henchmen, has sympathy for her and tells her to go home and forget about it. But she doesn’t. And from there on in it’s, Oh, jesus, what the hell’s going to happen now? I was surprised at the emotional and moral complexity of the film. Eastern Promises is a thriller with a conscience, and the best I’ve seen from Cronenberg.

I enjoyed “The Fly” more than “The Fly”

I recently saw the original 1958 version of The Fly for the first time and enjoyed it as a top-notch B-movie. Then I tried to watch David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake and lost interest after Jeff Goldblum’s face began to fill with pus. Cronenberg’s propensity for the gruesome does nothing for me. Even though the original begins with a scientist found dead under a giant printing press that has squooshed his head and one arm into a bloody pulp — and murdered by his wife! — it doesn’t rely on the gross-out to underlie the drama; all that’s shown is the blood (briefly), not the guts.

Then there’s the mystery: Why did the scientist’s wife kill him with a… huh?… a printing press? And why is she so concerned about the strange-looking fly buzzing around the house? She may be a typically vacuous B-movie female character, but what the hell’s going on here? The answer, of course, is that her husband’s latest invention, the disintegrator/integrator, has transmorgified him into a fly! He’s now a human with a fly head (and one fly arm), and the poor little fly now has a human head! So that pretty much makes The Fly a B-movie, but it’s a good movie because it’s not completely stupid. Vincent Prince looks like a creep, the performances are silly, but the low-tech special effects are inventive and the dramatic-tragic elements of the story are well-played. It’s not a bad movie to check out if you just want to have fun.

“Iron Man” is Fun

Iron Man — I enjoyed Iron Man more than any super hero movie that has come out in recent years. It’s well-acted and it tells a good story that doesn’t exist just to show off special effects. Had the producers gone heavy on the CGI, it could have easily slipped into mind-numbing territory like Transformers. Instead, it’s in a league of its own, presenting us with real characters and a compelling origin story that doesn’t feel childish or cartoonish but is still entertaining and full of really cool stuff. (May 4/08)

28 Weeks Later — The sequel to the apocalyptic zombie thriller 28 Days Later. That movie, which fell a little short of being great, scared the crap out of me and is worth watching because it presents such a convincing last-man-on-earth scenario. 28 Weeks Later gives us all-new characters and then brings on “the infected” (or the zombies) in full force. It effectively re-creates the run-for-life elements of the original movie. The ending is stupid, but it’s passable, creepy entertainment. (May 2/08)

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem — Even with some occasionally impressive cinematography, AVPR is unwatchable for anyone with an IQ over zero. It’s not even passable as a B-movie. Thank gods for the fast-forward button. (May 1/08)