A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg, 2011)

Soul Meets Body

The films of Canadian director David Cronenberg are a nasty brood, wildly divergent in terms of narrative yet thematically connected by the same obsession with the un(natural) evolution of body and mind. Initially known for constructing some of the 1970’s and 1980’s most harrowing and challenging genre films (ShiversScannersThe Fly), Cronenberg has since evolved toward a more classical, calculated form of storytelling in films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Despite this shift, Cronenberg’s brilliantly subversive obsessions remain the same.

With A Dangerous Method, a sly and smart examination of the tumultuous Carl Jung/Sigmund Freud relationship during the early 1900’s, Cronenberg reaches the apex of this auteurist progression. His thematic concerns (deformity, disease, repression), once so brazenly represented by external violence or sex, are almost completely internalized in A Dangerous Method, revealed meticulously through longing facial expressions, razor-sharp glares, and extended dialogue sequences. Fittingly, there’s much time spent on the process of relationships, the way people’s perceptions of each other change over time …

Read my full review at SanDiego.com.

War Horse (Spielberg, 2011)

Home Is Where the Horse Is

War Horse is a film of grand scope and of even grander emotions, an old-fashioned ode to a type of “aw shucks” sentimentality that could make you nostalgic for classic Hollywood or just downright nauseous. The titular steed at the center of Steven Spielberg’s laborious epic acts as the pure and unfiltered center to the various human experiences crossing its path, a familiar representation of home and comfort even during the darkest times. Examples range from acts of familial tenderness and sacrifice to the horrific violent specifics of trench warfare in WWI. These vignettes ebb and flow depending on the horse’s changing location, a problematic structure that favors broad narrative strokes yet lacks character development. Unfortunately, War Horse never stays in one spot very long, often rendering it’s drama inert and fleeting…

Read my full review at SanDiego.com.

The Parallax View (Pakula, 1974)

When I tweeted on New Years Eve that Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View would be my final film of 2011, friend and filmmaker Alejandro Adams responded, “Pakula in the 1970s is America.” I can’t get this idea out of my head. Between The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, Pakula envisions American corruption as a pervasive, festering rot nearly invisible to the common man, an omniscient force beyond the grasp of the everyday citizen. It only appears for a moment, in the flash of a photograph or the shadow in a dark corner. Plausible notions of good and evil do not matter here, simply because the ideology of corruption has taken over completely, operating on a level where morality and humanity no longer function as viable options. How do we explore the truth when the very essence of American identity is permanently and potently askew?

Warren Beatty’s Joseph Frady, a loose cannon journalist who attempts to infiltrate a corporation carrying out assassinations with homegrown killers, functions as an interestingly active character, someone driven by the need to pull back the veil of American conspiracy theories. That he not only fails, but falls into a perfectly calibrated trap designed by a puppet-master he can’t even fathom, is the film’s most devastating and salient point. I can’t shake how potently Pakula meshes repeating sound effects, interior long shots, and bits of silence in The Parallax View‘s final segment. The entire sequence seems to take place in a gigantic metallic tomb, the only color coming from the gigantic sign mosaic of Senator Hammond’s face, which aptly transforms into other caricatures of past presidents.  It’s like a slide show of an American history that was never real in the first place.