MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Thematic Elements

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Written by: Michael Green

(based on the novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton & Marwan Kenzari

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is arguably Agatha Christie’s most popular mystery novel (with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE being the only possible exception). Christie’s book has been adapted onto the big screen, the radio, and the small screen (three different times). ORIENT EXPRESS’s most recent adaptation has come loaded with big talent and recognizable faces. Though this film isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t rank it as the best Agatha Christie adaptation that I’ve sat through (that honor actually belongs to the miniseries adaptation of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS should provide classy entertainment for mature audiences.

In the 1930s, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is famous for solving seemingly unsolvable cases. Poirot seems determined to put a stop to all crime, but he also needs occasional vacation time. In an effort to get away from his stressful line of work, this mustachioed crime-solver has booked passage on the Orient Express in the dead of winter. Poirot’s holiday is cut short by the sudden murder of shady businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp). To make matters even worse, an avalanche has derailed the train. With a train full of suspects and an increasingly tense atmosphere, Poirot must uncover the killer’s identity before another life is lost.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS benefits from high production values and a cast/crew who clearly cared about putting their all into this project. Kenneth Branagh shot this film on 65mm cameras and the resulting visuals are gorgeous to behold. Most of MURDER’s plot doesn’t necessarily rely on effects (other than shots of the train and its snowy location), instead playing out as a tense thriller between its contained cast of characters. There are a couple of confrontations and suspenseful chases, but this film mostly builds its tension from conversations and flashbacks within those conversations (that reveal further clues about a possible motive and the killer’s identity).

Having not read the source material, I had the pleasure of not knowing a thing about MURDER’s conclusion. Though thrilling, unexpected and oddly moving, I have to imagine that ORIENT EXPRESS will likely lose some of its impact on repeated viewings. Still, the film benefits from the sheer entertainment of Kenneth Branagh in the leading role as Hercule Poirot. This over-the-top Belgian detective is quirky to the extreme and noticeably obsessive-compulsive, as opposed to being a borderline sociopathic detective (ala Sherlock Holmes). Besides driving the plot forward and cleverly piecing together clues for the viewer, Branagh’s Poirot also provides enjoyable comic relief. The tonal mix of almost cartoonish humor and straight-faced seriousness never once dissuaded my love for this strange protagonist.

As far as the supporting cast goes, ORIENT EXPRESS contains quite the impressive gathering of A-listers and emerging talent among its passengers/suspects. Johnny Depp gets some mileage out of his scumbag victim because he actually gets to flex his acting muscles in this role. Penelope Cruz is a standout as a suspicious missionary, while Willem Dafoe plays an oddball professor. Judi Dench fits well into the role of a creepy princess. The usually comedic Josh Gad plays a far darker character than his usual light-hearted fare. Michelle Pfeiffer is a hysterical (though possibly deceptive) passenger, while Daisy Ridley is a charming (though possibly homicidal) woman hiding secrets. Meanwhile, Leslie Odom Jr. is good enough as the charismatic (but possibly murderous) doctor.

On the non-suspect side of things, Tom Bateman is also a lot of fun as Poirot’s best friend (and the Orient Express’s director) Bouc. ORIENT EXPRESS’s only noticeably bad performances come from Lucy Boynton as a reclusive countess and Sergei Polunin as her ill-tempered count husband. Boynton is bland in her role and doesn’t get enough screen time to leave much of a positive impression at all. Meanwhile, Polunin is laughably over-the-top in the scenes where he switches from a calm 0 to a furiously enraged 100 in a matter of seconds. His violent temper just feels unbelievably forced. One confrontation involving this character comes out of nowhere and is almost laughably bad due to Polunin’s unconvincing line delivery. Still, both of these performers don’t receive too much screen time.

The beauty of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is that its seemingly simple murder-mystery that gets drastically more complex as the list of possible suspects and motives continues to grow. Clues and red herrings run rampant. The viewer’s emotions are thrown into a borderline distressed state as you try to figure out who the killer is…much like protagonist Poirot. As I mentioned before, I don’t think this film will hold up nearly as well upon a second viewing. Once the cat has been let out of the bag, the film’s surprise and novelty is pretty much gone. However, Branagh’s Poirot, the visuals, and performances from a talented cast make a viewing worthwhile. If you’re into murder mysteries and enjoy classy slow-burn storytelling, then you’ll likely dig MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

Grade: B

DEATH NOTE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Written by: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides & Jeremy Slater

(based on the DEATH NOTE manga by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata)

Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi & Willem Dafoe

An American DEATH NOTE film has been in the works since 2009, with directors like Shane Black and Gus Van Sant rumored to be attached and even a brief space of time where it appeared that Zac Efron would be playing the lead role. The studio also screwed with the formula from the very beginning, actively trying to remove the Shinigami (death gods) from the plot altogether. Adam Wingard has a reputation as a solid genre director and Netflix has been making ballsy risks with its steady supply of original content, so I was actually looking forward to DEATH NOTE. Sadly, diehard anime/manga fans, those who have only seen the Japanese films (I fall into this category), and newcomers will all likely be disappointed by this mess of a movie.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is an angsty teen coping with his mother’s untimely death and a frequent target of bullies at his Seattle high school. One day, Light finds a nasty little notebook and discovers that the pages within grant him the god-like ability to kill simply by writing down a name. This “Death Note” was dropped by bored death god Ryuk (a performance-capture/vocal performance by Willem Dafoe) and Light is all too happy to begin using it. Good intentions of killing only criminals soon give way towards personal, vengeance-driven motives as Light falls for psycho-bitch Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley). Matters only get worse when Light finds himself being hunted by mastermind detective L (Lakeith Stanfield) and the body count continues to rise…all while his high school prom is on the horizon. What’s an angsty whiny teen with god-like killing abilities to do?

2017’s DEATH NOTE isn’t all bad. There are aspects that I really enjoyed about this film, but they don’t fully counteract the many problems that I cannot overlook. The best quality comes in Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk. Many will know Dafoe for playing the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN and gracing other oddball roles. Ryuk is no different. Dafoe steals the show as a chaos-loving, shit-stirring death god. I was entertained during every minute that Dafoe was on the screen. The problem is that Dafoe’s death god is noticeably absent from a majority of the running time, when he has a big role to play in the proceedings.

Another quality that I really enjoyed is that the gory deaths aren’t simple heart attacks like the manga, anime and original films. Instead, Light’s killings are reminiscent of FINAL DESTINATION. Though I’ve seen some fans complain about this online, I really enjoyed how this DEATH NOTE shook up its demises. It’s also worth mentioning that the final 30 minutes of the film have a few nifty plot twists that reminded me of better moments from the first two live-action Japanese films. 2017’s DEATH NOTE isn’t nearly on the same level as DEATH NOTE or DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME, but this film has a couple of unexpected revelations that were clever and deserved to be in a better script.

This is where my praise ends, because everything else ranges from mediocre to stupid to downright baffling. That third descriptor is especially apt in saying this film’s 80s soundtrack simply doesn’t fit the proceedings and tonally distracts from what’s happening on the screen. There’s a big dramatic scene that’s supposed to be emotional and shocking, but comes off as laughably silly thanks to an idiotic song choice. The film isn’t set in the 80s either, so what’s with all of the 80s songs? Earlier this year, ATOMIC BLONDE rocked an 80s soundtrack because it was set during the 80s and BABY DRIVER had an assortment of tunes constantly playing on the main character’s iPod. Both of those soundtracks made sense of the context of their films, but DEATH NOTE’s soundtrack is weirdly placed for no apparent reason.

Besides the out-of-place songs, DEATH NOTE’s script is bland and muddled. This film was penned by two brothers (who’ve only written one other film, 2011’s IMMORTALS) and Jeremy Slater (the guy who wrote the worst superhero flick I’ve ever seen: FANTASTIC FOUR). It’s safe to say that DEATH NOTE’s writing is its biggest weakness. Somehow, this less-than-two-hour film packs tons of information into its opening 15 minutes and yet drags for a majority of its running time. The bigger plot points include a school prom and a forced teen romance with no believable chemistry, instead of a downward spiral of the Death Note corrupting Light or a tense cat-and-mouse game between two geniuses.

Speaking of which, 2017’s DEATH NOTE has terrible characters. Nat Wolff is unbearable as Light, coming off like a whiny little edgelord who’s oh so upset because life isn’t fair. Having a deadly notebook in the hands of a hormonally unstable teen could make for a very interesting take on the material, but Light’s annoying personality and frequent dumb decisions (like using the Death Note in the middle of gym class where everybody can see him) constantly get in the way of a potentially cool spin on the material.

Still, Nat Wolff’s obnoxious portrayal of Light is nowhere near as misguided as Margaret Qualley’s Mia (this film’s version of Misa) who’s a sociopathic psycho-bitch cheerleader who impulsively kills and seeks to manipulate Light at every turn. It’s almost like this version of DEATH NOTE did a 180 degree spin on the personalities of sociopathic Light and naïve Misa, but in a way that’s not at all enjoyable for franchise fans and newcomers alike. There’s no chemistry between Mia and Light, but the film forces their angsty teenage romance to the forefront. Also, Lakeith Stanfield is embarrassingly bad as mysterious detective L, who gets teary-eyed every single time one of his half-baked schemes backfires and eats candy to stay awake for 48 hours at a time (because that’s how sugar works, I guess?).

Adam Wingard has directed good films in the past and that’s one of the many reasons why DEATH NOTE is so damn disappointing. There are positive qualities that I really liked about this film, mainly Dafoe’s Ryuk, the FINAL DESTINATION-like deaths, and plot twists that felt like they belonged in a better film. However, the sheer amount of bad acting, dumb character decisions, plot holes, poor pacing, and misguided 80s songs really put a damper on the whole movie. DEATH NOTE isn’t the disaster that some have made it out to be, but it’s still pretty bad.

Grade: C-

FINDING DORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse

Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Alexander Gould, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett & Stephen Root

Ever since Pixar was bought by Disney, the studio has produced more sequels and less original films. We’ve had a third TOY STORY installment (which was amazing), CARS 2 (their worst film thus far), MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (an okay-at-best prequel) and still face a growing horde of follow-ups on the horizon with TOY STORY 4, CARS 3, and THE INCREDIBLES 2. 2003’s FINDING NEMO seemed highly unlikely to receive a sequel and stood perfectly fine by itself as one of the Pixar’s finest films. Still, here we are. Thirteen years after NEMO’s original theatrical run, we have FINDING DORY, which is a surprisingly solid second installment.

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A year has passed since the events of FINDING NEMO. Clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are peacefully living in their sea anemone home, now with forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as their neighbor. Things have settled down for Marlin and Nemo, but that suddenly changes when Dory is struck by a resurgence of long-lost memories. It turns out that Dory has a family and lives somewhere in the California area. Desperate to be reunited with her formerly forgotten parents, Dory makes her way across the ocean with Marlin and Nemo in tow. However, her adventure becomes complicated when an aquarium “saves” Dory and the two clownfish are forced to go on an improvised rescue mission.

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Like most sequels in any genre, FINDING DORY doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of its predecessor. The plot follows a story that’s noticeably similar to the first film. When Dory is “rescued,” Marlin even exclaims “Not again!” as if to call attention to this. However, this sequel avoids simply repeating old plot points by introducing new characters, changing the setting and bringing a different set of stakes. One fantastic tweak in the story are emotional flashbacks to Dory’s childhood. Besides baby Dory being Pixar’s cutest creation ever, the blasts from this blue fish’s past lay out certain details in advance and give the audience a deep desire to see Dory happily reunited with her parents. These flashbacks don’t feel forced or heavily loaded with exposition either. They contain the right mixture of clever dialogue, heartwarming humor, and utter cuteness.

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FINDING DORY surprisingly doesn’t stumble into the typical sequel pitfall of trying to reincorporate too many characters from the original film. That film was chock full of unforgettable fishy friends and each served a distinct purpose in the movie’s storyline. DORY has a few returning faces (the singing Stingray, surfer turtle Crush, and a great after-credits cameo), but it mainly relies on a new handful of underwater characters that are just as entertaining to watch and contribute to the plot in their own special ways. Surprisingly, these come in voices from MODERN FAMILY and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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Ed O’Neill is perfectly cast as Hank, a grumpy red octopus with a heart of gold. Ty Burrell lends his unique vocals to beluga whale Bailey and provides one of the funniest story arcs, while Kaitlin Olson voices gentile whale shark Destiny. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy serve as Dory’s forgotten-but-now-remembered parents in the many flashbacks throughout. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba are hysterical as two territorial sea lions. Even though FINDING DORY only brings back the “Mine!” seagulls for a very brief moment, these sea lions officially made up for that and had me laughing every single time they were on the screen.

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My only complaint with FINDING DORY comes from its changed environment. While the first film was an adventure that spanned across half the ocean and packed in lots of excitement, a majority of this sequel takes place within a California aquarium. This smaller location offers new characters, new jokes, and a more contained set of emotional stakes, but definitely lessens the exciting adventure aspect of the story. FINDING DORY is a very different film than FINDING NEMO in this regard, yet still can’t help but feel like a slight downgrade due to the crazy amounts of danger that the fishy protagonists faced in the first film. The only hazards Dory, Marlin and Nemo come into contact with are aquarium procedures, disgruntled staff members, and one angry sea creature (which felt a tad lazy).

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This complaint is very small in the overall scheme of FINDING DORY. The animation is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar at this point, which is to say it looks amazing, colorful and vibrant. The writing is smart and engaging, even if the adventure aspect is lessened from the first film (which seemed like an insurmountable predecessor to begin with). The emotions are spot-on as Dory’s past is built upon through adorable, heart-warming/wrenching flashbacks. DORY’s non-linear storyline never once feels forced or dull either. FINDING DORY shows that Pixar can still crank out great films, even if those movies happen to be sequels (a feat that had only previously been seen in TOY STORY 2 and 3).

Grade: A-

FINDING NEMO (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson & David Reynolds

Voices of: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Andrew Stanton, Barry Humphries, Geoffrey Rush, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root & Eric Bana

Back when Pixar had a perfect winning streak, FINDING NEMO cemented its place among critically acclaimed animated features. NEMO won an Oscar, became one of the best-selling DVDs of all-time, grossed the second-highest amount of box office cash in 2003, and even spawned a Disneyland ride. It was also watched countless times throughout many different childhoods and entertained plenty of adults along the way. FINDING NEMO is a heart-warming, fast-paced, and hilarious adventure that still holds a place as one of Pixar’s finest creations.

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In the depths of the ocean, clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) is overprotective of his only son Nemo (Alexander Gould). Marlin’s sheltering attitude has made young Nemo desperate to go to school, socialize with other sea creatures, and explore the underwater world. Nemo’s first day of school goes south when he’s captured by an Australian dentist (Bill Hunter) and thrown into an office aquarium with a variety of quirky fish. Marlin nervously swims across the vast ocean in a desperate effort to rescue his son. Along the way, he’s aided by blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short-term memory loss. Together, Marlin and Dory pair will encounter many treacherous dangers and colorful characters as they make their way to Sydney, Australia.

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FINDING NEMO is a fast-paced story that kicks off its central journey within the first ten minutes, after a brief tragic prologue gives us further insight for why Marlin is overprotective of his only child. This oceanic adventure never really lets up in terms of excitement or humor. The Pixar animators designed the creatures to be on the scale of real-life animals, which further showcase the dangers that Marlin, Nemo and Dory encounter. This is especially heightened when dangers like a deadly school of jellyfish, a scary angler fish, and a hungry trio of “reformed” sharks pop up.

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That last bit gives a brief glimpse into just how funny FINDING NEMO is. Lots of jokes about different fish and their underwater environments will entertain both kids and adults, while there are plenty of subtle mature laughs hidden for older viewers. One of my favorite nods comes in the great white shark being named Bruce, a deliberate callback to JAWS, and then this character directly spoofing an iconic shot from THE SHINING. The funniest fish in a literal ocean of hilarious characters comes in the forgetful Dory. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres (who was a perfect choice), Dory swims the careful line between being annoying and endearing. Laughs come from her frustrating flaws (mainly stemming from bad memory and occasionally snarky attitude), but she also delivers a couple of emotional moments.

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Albert Brooks voices nervous clownfish father Marlin, who’s not without obvious flaws, but his drive and desperation are completely understandable. While Dory delivers lots of over-the-top laughs, Marlin provides subtle gags and also has a couple of touching revelations when he laments his shortcomings. The rest of the cast features both recognizable big names and smaller unknown voices, but every character is equally hilarious and memorable for a variety of reasons. Child actor Alexander Gould is great as Nemo, while Willem Dafoe serves as grizzled aquarium tank mentor Gill. Geoffrey Rush is hilarious as pelican Nigel and has one of the most exciting sequences in the film as this friendly bird attempts to outmaneuver a pack of seagulls. NEMO’s director/writer plays the memorable surfer turtle Crush, while Australian comedian Barry Humphries is hysterical/threatening as the aforementioned Bruce.

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FINDING NEMO’s narrative is split into two different plotlines that run side-by-side. Every time Marlin and Dory’s adventure needs a break, we cut to Nemo trying to hatch an escape plan from the aquarium. Then when Nemo’s encounters with the colorfully quirky Tank Crew begin slowing to a crawl, the film cuts back to more exciting open ocean hijinks with Marlin and Dory. It’s all driven by a nearly perfect screenplay that’s populated by unforgettable characters, brilliant scenes, and a strong emotional core. The messages that both Marlin and Nemo take away from this story aren’t exactly new, but they’re executed in a fresh and heartwarming way. Though I have a minor complaint regarding a scene with a school of tuna at the end of the film being needlessly tacked on, FINDING NEMO remains among Pixar’s top-tier.

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To cap everything off, the film’s music perfectly captures the whimsy, emotion and adventure of every scene and the animation is fantastic to behold. Though the cartoon fish are obviously animated, the environments look very realistic…bordering on the ultra-believable backgrounds seen in last year’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR. It also greatly helps that NEMO’s characters are beyond memorable and the story is simultaneously smart and sweet. FINDING NEMO is a movie that reminds you of how amazing Pixar (and animated family films overall) can be. A great piece of family entertainment can make children gaze at the big screen with awe, teenagers chuckle at the humor and adults feel like kids at heart. FINDING NEMO accomplishes all three of these feats and makes them seem easy.

Grade: A

EXISTENZ (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Gore, and for Language

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Directed by: David Cronenberg

Written by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley & Willem Dafoe

Though he might be known for his dark dramas today, a strong argument can be made that David Cronenberg single-handedly pioneered the sub-genre of body-horror on film. From disturbing early efforts like SHIVERS, THE BROOD and VIDEODROME to his far more mainstream remake of THE FLY, Cronenberg has never been a director afraid to get his hands dirty with a few bodily fluids all while throwing more than a little social commentary into his work. EXISTENZ is Cronenberg’s final body-horror film before totally making it into art-house dramas and though it might not be at the peak of his bizarre masterpieces, it’s a damn fine note to go out on. This film is pretty much VIDEODROME with video games and that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.

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In the near-future, video games has taken a disturbing new turn. There is no such things as consoles with remote controls anymore, because why would you need that when you can just literally stick yourself into a game (or stick the game into you). Nifty body modifications, called Bioports, are holes drilled into your spine and you’ll just insert something that resembles an umbilical cord into said hole to play whatever game you choose. Not surprisingly, a faction of radical folks called Realists (some real subtle social commentary) have risen up and are making violent movements against this abomination of reality. Allegra Gellar is a highly influential gaming designer testing out her new product (titled Existenz) when an assassination attempt is made on her life. Rescued by trainee Ted Pikul, the two go on the run. Gellar is suspicious that her new game may have been damaged or corrupted so the two decide to “play” it and from there on the movie turns into a fever dream of surrealism and nightmarish body-horror.

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EXISTENZ asks certain suspension of belief from the viewer, but not in a bad way. We are thrust into a world where body modifications and video games are one and the same. All sorts of oddities are given that we’re automatically forced to accept as viewers. There’s a two-headed reptile creature that’s just sort of kept as a pet and no real answer is brought up to exactly what this thing is…aside from it’s a friggin’ two-headed reptile. There’s a ton of creativity here and any lesser filmmaker could have just wallowed in Cronenberg’s little ideas that are merely set-up to the bigger picture at hand. The body-horror, though not nearly as gory or graphic as VIDEODROME or THE BROOD, manages to be every bit as insane and disturbing as Cronenberg’s earlier efforts. I mean, the idea that you’re literally modifying your body to play a video game is creepy enough, but it progressively gets even freakier with organic systems being plugged into you and other biological twists (including the erotic licking of someone’s Bioport hole and a skeletal gun that shoots teeth for bullets).

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As you might imagine any film that deals with escaping reality will inevitably ask the question of what reality means. 1999 was a year in which many films asks philosophical questions about what constitutes our existence. Besides EXISTENZ, there was the far more popular MATRIX and the criminally underrated THIRTEENTH FLOOR. Each of these films morphed its science fiction concept into something wholly unique and Cronenberg uses conspiracy theories as his little spin in the plot. Even when our characters are not being hunted in the real world, they are being pursued through the world of Existenz by threatening forces. The script comes off as convoluted, but there’s no denying that was entirely intentional. As a whole, the movie is about our characters escaping reality (or as one of them calls it: “a cage”) and trying to find their way back to it…which may or may not work in their favor.

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There are a couple of flaws that do stick out in EXISTENZ though. Jude Law is enjoyable as Pikul, even if his character is a bit of a whiny pansy at the start. Willem Dafoe and Ian Holm have brief appearances that I’d argue are wasted, but they make the most of the screen time they’ve been given. However, Jennifer Jason Leigh is wooden as the gaming genius Geller. Though it’s mentioned near the beginning that she’s antisocial and that quality leads to her nervous character quirks, there’s a distinct line between playing a character and bad acting. I think that Leigh crosses that line on numerous occasions in this film delivering philosophical rantings about the benefits of extreme gaming in a wooden way. I can also see people being slightly pissed about this movie’s ending and yeah, I’ll admit that it can be seen as a bit of a cop-out. However, I felt this was the only logical way that Cronenberg could have concluded the already twisted and bizarre story.

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EXISTENZ may not be Cronenberg’s best film, but it’s a damn fine conclusion to his body-horror period of filmmaking. Shades of VIDEODROME can definitely be seen throughout (from organic guns to hallucinatory nightmare logic), but EXISTENZ remains a mighty original and insane ride. The acting from Jennifer Jason Leigh can be a little wonky and some folks might not be satisfied by the ending, but there are so many ways that one can interpret this film (I won’t go into specifics for fear of spoilers) and each of those readings is completely valid. Overall, EXISTENZ is a gleefully crazed ride loaded with violent twists and strange turns. The subtext might not exactly be subtle, but that’s part of the enjoyment. Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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