by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Scott Speedman, Kristen Stewart
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 80% Certified Fresh

PLOT: In a dystopian near-future, the human pain threshold has suddenly disappeared, giving rise to bizarre performance artists who publicly showcase bodily mutations and self-mutilations.

Somewhere at the core of David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future is a crackling good thriller waiting to happen.  I was still waiting for it when the end credits rolled.  I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next, which is normally a big plus for me, but the problem was, I didn’t care what was going to happen next.  Just when the movie seemed about to kick into a new gear story-wise, boom, credits.  Shame.

In the near future, human bodies worldwide have started undergoing bizarre mutations involving the development of new internal organs and the disappearance of a pain threshold.  This leads to the proliferation of underground performance artists who are either publicly mutilated or mutilated themselves.  Why?  Because Cronenberg.  We get close ups of the lead character, Saul Tenser (Mortensen), lying in a special chamber while knife-wielding robotic arms controlled by his partner, Caprice (Seydoux), slice, probe, and excavate his thorax in search of unwanted new organs.  Another performer lies in a chair while a surgeon literally cuts grooves into her face.  Yet another performer has grown dozens of additional ears all over his body, and has his eyes and ears sewn shut while he dances to modern music as a voice intones, “NOW is the TIME to LISTEN.”

This is all typical stuff from Cronenberg, who was and is a virtuoso of so-called “body horror,” going all the way back to Scanners, Videodrome, and the remake of The Fly.  It’s so typical, in fact, that the sight of various bodily injuries and mutilations didn’t really faze me as much as I thought it would.  Or should.  Maybe this says more about me than about Cronenberg, but the most off-putting sight was that one dancer with the extra ears.  Everything else, while graphic, didn’t feel “real.”  It all felt like effects.  Instead of recoiling, I found myself thinking, “Wow, how’d they do that?”  (By contrast, the dancer with the ears may yet give me nightmares.)

The storyline of the movie remains maddeningly vague for the first half.  In a weird prologue, we watch as a mother performs an unthinkable act after seeing her son eat a plastic trash can as if it were made of gingerbread.  Saul Tenser seems to encourage the growth of these new organs in his own body, even though they could become harmful over time.  His assistant, Caprice, gets turned on by seeing him getting carved up in his chamber; he seems to enjoy it as well.  They call it “the new sex.”  There is a subplot about a new police division, New Vice (not terribly original), trying to crack down on people who perform these public acts of mutilation.  We watch as an unknown gentleman stalks Saul and Caprice while he eats what looks like a purple chocolate bar.  At a bar, another stranger inexplicably grabs the purple bar and takes a bite out of it himself, and immediately experiences something that makes him wish he hadn’t.

This is all interesting, cerebral stuff, I must admit.  The makings of a dystopian thriller a la Blade Runner or Gattaca (with more blood) are all there.  But the mood and lethargic pacing of the movie literally put me to sleep.  I had to rewind it several times during the first half to catch what I missed.

But then the second half kicks in.  Saul is contacted and asked to perform a public autopsy on a child who may have inherited a surgical self-mutilation from his father, a medical first which might be the signal of a true next step in human evolution, but one which was engineered by man and not by nature.  New Vice reaches out to a deep-cover agent (whose identity I wouldn’t dream of revealing) who is assisting the search for cells of bio-terrorists who are trying to alter the course of human evolution.  Meanwhile, Saul, who has been battling some kind of respiratory affliction for the entire film, is tempted with one of those purple bars.  Caprice undergoes a self-transformation of her own…

And then, when a crucial discovery is made that might change the course of the entire movie…it’s over.

How to describe my disappointment?  I was a huge fan of Cronenberg’s two entries in the genuine, “traditional” crime thriller genre, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, both starring Mortensen.  Both films are much more conventional than Crimes of the Future, but both are light years ahead in terms of holding my attention.  I naively thought this film (with the word “crimes” right in the title!) would be along the same lines.  Am I critiquing the film I wanted it to be instead of critiquing the film it is?  Maybe I am, because the first half of the movie was so bland and stultifying that I can’t think of anything else to say about it except to compare it to something that I wish it had been.

Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg’s first feature film after an 8-year hiatus, sees him returning to a horror sub-genre that he virtually created, or at least perfected, nearly 40 years ago, and he does have something meaningful to say about what mankind is doing to itself and the planet without regard to future generations.  I just wish he had found a way to say it without boring me for the first fifty-four minutes, then leaving me hanging at the end.


By Marc S. Sanders

There are few films I come across where a phone call to 911 is immediately put on hold. There are few films I come across where the one in danger has an opportunity to speak face to face with a policeman while the burglars factually can not hear, and will still not relay that she, her daughter and her ex-husband are in danger. There are few films. Just a few. David Fincher’s stupid excuse for a cat and mouse thriller known as Panic Room is one of those few films.

I can forgive loopholes on occasion for the sake of maintaining suspense and to simply have a complete movie. I can not forgive it here however. Opportunities open up easily for Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart to take an upper hand. Equally so, moments open up for the bad guys as well, played ineptly by Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakum and Jared Leto. The game of outsmarting you might find depicted in Home Alone is more sensible than David Koepp’s mindless script.

The three bad guys break into a home equipped with a sealed panic room. As they get in, Foster and Stuart make it into the secure area before being taken captive.

Fincher does great camera work within a 3 story New York brownstone. He can capture in a single shot a close up of a breathless Foster in one half of the screen while a menacing figure walks covertly down an adjacent hallway on the other half. The labyrinth of the house looks good in darks and midnight blues. That’s where the attributes of Panic Room stop, however.

Everything else is controlled by manufactured contrivances offered up by Koepp’s script. Security cameras can be smashed while it just so happens that the thieves are not watching the monitors. When the electronic door to the room is opened, no one will hear a thing until a lamp topples over. You don’t even here the buzzing or slam of the steel plated door. You can also sneak around the wooden floors and will not be heard until Koepp’s writing and Fincher’s direction allow it. Otherwise these old floors will creak and echo. I talk often about how the environment in a film is a character in and of itself, like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Well if this brownstone is giving a performance in this film, then it dropped a line, came in too early, came in too late and missed a dozen cues during its performance.

Policemen will come to the door and nary insist on coming inside the home, where a dead body lay as well as a wounded hostage and various wreckage is strewn about. Foster knows the bad guys can’t hear a conversation while they are in the panic room, but she will still not share the fact that she’s in peril. Why????

Most infuriating is that 911 will take an emergency call and put her on hold. That’s where I checked out. Nothing else mattered.

Panic Room is beyond intelligence in so many ways.

Oh yeah, also there are no neighbors within an adjacent neighborhood of brownstones that ever hear the commotion at hand.

My colleague Miguel might say, “well then you’d never have a movie.” My reply is Panic Room doesn’t seem like it ever was a movie to begin with.


By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 75% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two young brothers (Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo) are drawn into an intergalactic adventure when their house is hurled through the depths of space by the magical board game they are playing.

If only all family movies were like this.

Too often, so-called family films are mealy-mouthed cream puffs that appeal to the short attention span of their target audience, leaving the parents either bored to tears or fatigued from sitting through 90 minutes of explosions.  The scripts are subpar and tend to treat kids as if they’re not all that bright.

Not Zathura.  With his third film (after the forgettable Made and the Christmas neo-classic Elf), director Jon Favreau proved that he’s the real deal.  Here’s a REAL family film with something for everybody: comedy, family drama, peril, thrills, a killer robot, fearsome aliens, and nostalgia.

The nostalgia part is especially notable.  The board game at the center of the film is constructed to look like something made in the ‘50s or ‘60s, which, to the kids in the film, is practically ancient history.  But for me, I found the film nostalgic in the way it captures the kind of fun I used to have at the movies.

Not that I don’t still have fun, mind you.  It’s just that, when I was a kid, sci-fi and fantasy films felt more real, you know?  It was so easy to imagine myself as a resident of the Goondocks, or discovering an alien in the cornfield behind my house, or building a spaceship in the backyard with my two best friends.  Zathura captures that kind of feeling like few other modern family films can.  It’s a movie that has the potential to live on in the imagination after countless other films have vacated your consciousness.

And the VISUALS.  I don’t know what kind of budget the movie had, but it looks like a $100 million movie.  The killer robot is absolutely convincing, as are the aliens.  Which brings up another great element of the film: danger.  The bad guys in this movie may occasionally look a little cartoony, but they are not to be trifled with.  That’s something a lot of kid’s movies tend to get wrong.  The filmmakers lose their nerve in creating real villains, for fear of pissing off too many parents.  In reality…dude, kids can handle it.  Give the bad guys fangs and spinning saw blades.  It just makes it that much more satisfying when the bad guys LOSE.

Zathura barely made its money back, and that’s including domestic AND worldwide grosses (okay, I looked it up).  I could be wrong, but I’ll bet too many people thought it was a Jumanji ripoff.  It IS based on a book by the same author as Jumanji (and The Polar Express, as it happens).  But it is possible, I think, to see Zathura in its own light.  It’s a fantastic movie that will please all ages.