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Golden Eagle: Foxcatcher’s American Dream

Foxcatcher might be Bennett Miller’s best film to date, and even if that’s not the case, it certainly seems to be his most thematically accomplished. Much like Capote and Moneyball before it, Foxcatcher appears to be fascinated with outsiders, people that are viewed as second best, never quite living up to the expectations put upon them. However, the thing that seems to set Foxcatcher apart from Miller’s previous efforts is the way that it considers the bigger picture; it treats these characters and their situations as a microcosmic picture of the American Dream, and the toxic reality of the situation, something more akin to an American Nightmare than anything else.

The idea of the American Dream, that anyone can get anything if they aspire to greatness and put in the work, is perfectly embodied in Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). The thing with Mark is, even though he wins gold medals, he still doesn’t feel like a champion, he doesn’t have that independence and self-assuredness you’d expect from a man who, theoretically at least, has the American Dream within his grasp. Well the reason for that is simple; in reality, the “American Dream” doesn’t create those things in people that never really seemed to have them. John du Pont (Steve Carell) says that Mark has spent his “whole life in [his] brother’s shadow,” and to be blunt, he’s right. In fact, du Pont appears to be a gateway for Mark to get that American Dream, the money and the independence and the sense that he, as a human being, is worth the fruits of his labour, especially given du Pont’s fascination on the nation’s need for role models, and making Team Foxcatcher “citizens of America.”

John Du Pont is another man who seems to have everything, but in reality appears to lead a rather hollow existence. He and Mark seem rather like kindred spirits, constantly reaching for something that moves further and further away from their grasp. Much like Mark, he lives in someone else’s shadow; the shadow of his mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), a woman from whom he needs to ask permission on where to put a trophy. John du Pont is a man that seems to embody the very notion of the American Dream, or at least someone that wants to. He pontificates on the role of the coach, considers himself to be a father and a mentor to his athletes, a role model for them, which is something that he thinks America needs. He’s so patriotic he even tries to get Mark to call him “Golden Eagle.”

So, if between them these two men have Olympic gold medals and a countless amount of money, then what’s the big deal? Why can’t these men get the ideal that seemed to be promised to them by their very nation? Because, unfortunately, the American Dream doesn’t work like that, getting these things, the money and the glory, doesn’t mean you have it all. Foxcatcher’s version of the American Dream is one that doesn’t stop, even once these people seem to have everything, and they need to have more. Du Pont has money, and therefore wants glory in the form of Team Foxcatcher; Mark has glory in the form of a gold medal and then gets money by working with du Pont, but at the same time, he needs more, he needs freedom from the shadow of his brother. That’s where the toxic, almost self-destructive reality of Foxcatcher’s version of the American Dream begins to emerge.

When Mark loses a round at the Olympic tryouts, he goes back to his hotel room, and in true Raging Bull fashion – a comparison I will admit I’m far from the first to make – destroys his room, binges on room service and then makes himself vomit. It isn’t easy to watch; first of all because its raw and brutal, and also because it shows what happens when these people can’t have it all: they become angry and destructive, something that leaves an even more bitter taste in the mouth given the futility of their efforts.

The interesting difference between du Pont and Mark (two men who seem remarkably, perhaps even frighteningly similar in their ways) is how they manifest their anger. Mark is self-destructive, but John takes his anger out on the world at large. Upon discovering no members of Team Foxcatcher are training in the gym, he hits Mark and calls him an “ungrateful ape.” So given the futility of their endeavours and the chilling results of those failures, why do John and Mark keep fighting for this American Dream? Well, because they have to; they seem to think that, as Americans this is their right and they fight tooth and nail for it. From the very beginning of the film, Mark seems in instil in his medal a certain a sense of grandeur, he says that “it isn’t just a medal, it’s what the medal represents,” and that’s what it is that these men are after, something greater, something that can’t be given corporeal form the way a medal or money can, and what could perhaps be called the tragedy of Foxcatcher is the lengths that they’ll go to try and get it, as well as what they’ll do to liberate themselves from failing to do so.

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Humanity within the inhumane in Happiness and Life During Wartime

I recently watched Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, the spiritual successor/sequel to Happiness – Life During Wartime contains the same characters as Happiness, but played by an entirely new cast – and both films deal with similar issues. What’s most interesting about them – aside from the story lines, the dynamic between the three sisters (Joy, Helen and Trish) and the people connected to their lives – is the way that Solondz treats his characters. Of course, while it’s expected of a writer to be objective about their characters, with such a bleak view, it would almost be expected of Solondz to turn his characters into cheap punch lines, whereas the reality of the situation is quite the opposite; Solondz makes his characters interesting, developed, and occasionally even sympathetic. What Solondz does is fascinating, he finds humanity within the inhumane landscape of the characters in their world.

Take Lenny for example, the patriarch of the Jordan family (played by Ben Gazzara in Happiness), a man who is disenchanted with his marriage – although as he constantly says “I never used the word divorce” – who simply “wants to be alone.” He even tries to rekindle some sense of passion by having affair, and while we’d expect this to make him even easier to vilify, which he is by his wife, instead there are shades of tragedy and, ironically, genuine emotion, as it is discovered that Lenny suffers from Anhedonia, and is incapable of emotion. This is the kind of thing that Solondz does with the majority of his characters, while, to begin with they’re obscene and – to varying degrees – evil, as they and their stories develop, shades of humanity are revealed and the characters become fully fledged and somehow are made to be sympathetic, a testament to both the ability of Solondz as a storyteller, and his two casts in two different films.

Sometimes though, his characters are shown to be designated villains. At the beginning of Happiness, Joy (here played by Jane Adams) breaks up with Andy (Jon Lovitz), who then proceeds to unleash a tirade that is at once desperate and vitriolic and desperate, and its easy to hate him. But it is later learned that he killed himself; now, while this doesn’t inherently make him likeable, it highlights his desperation, it makes him human and more than just the hatred he levels at Joy. Even in Life During Wartime, Andy (now played by Paul Reubens) is seeking closure, even if he does it by haunting Joy (now Shirley Henderson), he claims that he needs her. Happiness is not found by him, as Joy banishes him from her life. Even if he still hasn’t found happiness, across both films, Andy is not a monster at all, he is instead a lonely man, still searching for peace.

When viewing Happiness and Life During Wartime as two pieces together, a fascinating journey is created for all of these characters, and their quests for happiness become more layered and more dynamic as their stories continue. Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffmam in Happiness and Michael Kenneth Williams in Life During Wartime) begins as a boring, miserable guy who makes obscene phone calls to women, including Joy. After many rejections, he begins to pay attention to Kristina, a tenant in his building, who killed a man that raped her. Of course, only in a Todd Solondz movie could two people who would normally be dubbed a pervert (Allen) and a killer (Kristina) find some semblance of happiness. In Life During Wartime, Allen is less desperate and alone, he is married to Joy and tries to control his compulsion to make obscene phone calls. When Joy leaves for a while to go to Florida – a place where Trish claims the past is “dead and buried” – to reassess her life, Allen kills himself and Joy is haunted by his ghost. He is once again a lonely man, urging Joy to kill herself so they can be together. As with Andy, Allen is banished from her life, and while Allen may not find piece, his humanity is crystal clear, and for all his deviance, there is a real human being beneath the surface.

This two-film consideration is also the best way to consider the most inhumane and perhaps outright villainous character in the films: Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker in Happiness, Ciarán Hinds in Life During Wartime). Bill is happily married to Trish, or so it seems, in spite of his fascination with his son’s friend, who he abuses, as well as saying he “jerks off” at the thought of abusing his son, Billy. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say Bill is a monster. At the end of Happiness he is imprisoned for his crimes. In Life During Wartime we see he is released from prison and, in traditional Solondz fashion finds brief solace in the arms of a self-professed “monster”, Jacqueline (Charlotte Ramplimg). Bill spends the majority of Life During Wartime trying to find his eldest son, Billy. He very bluntly asks him about his sex life, wanting to know if his son will follow in his footsteps, content that his son won’t be like him, he leaves. It is only in the final moments of Life During Wartime that we see Bill’s fate. When Timmy, Trish and Bill’s middle child, fresh from his bar mitzvah, says he wants his father to be in his life. Then we see Bill materialise, just as Andy and Allen did before him. Bill is another spirit, and while he remains a bad person, the potential for humanity that lurks beneath Bill is seen through the cracks, wanting nothing more than for his eldest son to be like anyone but him.

All in all, Solondz’s characters and the world they inhabit are anything but likeable, they’re perverts, pedophiles and killers. The genius of Solondz’s storytelling is that he doesn’t exhibit his characters like a gallery of freaks, he treats them with a detached curiosity, he allows their stories to unfold objectively, and in doing so, while they may seem inhumane, he shows that within it all, there are traces of humanity, perhaps they’re the better angels of the devils that inhabit the world of Happiness and Life During Wartime, wanting nothing other than to find their own joy, in spite of the world they live in and all the people around them; they’re all various degrees of monstrous, but that is far from all they are, as their angels fight to be heard.

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Review – Now You See Me

Death, The Lover, The Hermit and The High Priestess are all waiting for a stranger to let them inside a dingy New York apartment. Sounds like the set-up to a very niche joke, but it’s actually the ending of the prologue to the magic oriented thriller Now You See Me. The prologue wastes no time in establishing its principle characters – four talented magicians – amidst a flurry of fascinating illusions, before they’re all brought together. And that’s when the action really begins.

On face value, the best thing about Now You See Me is, without a doubt, the magic tricks; partly because they’re brilliantly realised from a visual point of view, and partly because the show what the film’s strongest asset really is. Now You See Me unfolds like a magic trick. It may not used the three-act magic trick structure that’s dissected in detail in Christopher Nolan’s magician thriller The Prestige, but instead, what it does is establish it’s own views on magic. According to Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) magic is “controlled deception, designed for entertainment”, and this is how the magic of the film unfolds. It challenges you to try and deconstruct the tricks, and figure out the next step in the grand illusion that the Four Horsemen (the stage name of the four magician once they’re working together) are planning.

The Four Horsemen themselves are played by Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco, and fortunately, their chemistry together, both when they’re performing magic and when they’re performing illusions on stage and when they’re not, is excellent. They deliver dialogue at pace, never missing a beat, and while none of the performances are exactly exemplary, they all seem to bring out a nice element of each other as performers. Harrelson steals scenes, as he always does, and Fisher has screen presence in spades (her chemistry with Eisenberg is particular highlight, and their exchanges are always great). Unfortunately, the Four Horsemen are just the tip of the iceberg in an ensemble that features a few more principle characters, which is what presents the first major fault in Now You See Me; it often feels a little muddled and unsure of itself. We’re presented with an FBI agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, who slurs a lot of his dialogue for no real reason) who’s on the trail of the Horsemen and the crimes they commit during their shows (but going into them now would be a major spoiler), but the film never really seems to want us to side with anyone. It’s heroes and villains seem to get confused amidst the razzle dazzle of the film. Between that and the way Rhodes becomes the audience, in that the magic tricks are revealed to him, both for the benefit of the investigation, and for the audience as well, it seems like Now You See Me just doesn’t know how to treat its audience, falling into exposition-heavy pitfalls that plague summer blockbusters as they try and coast by on special effects and more style than substance.

Now, while Now You See Me has style in abundance, from its magic tricks to its fast paced (if at times irritatingly kinetic) camerawork, that’s not to say there isn’t more going on beneath the surface. It’s unsure treatment of its audience aside, it’s actively engaging in a unique way, as you try and stay a step ahead of what’s on screen, but remember “the more you think you see, the easier it will be to fool you.”

I feel I almost need to applaud the ambition of this film; as I’ve mention a couple of times, it’s actively engaging in a way that most summer blockbusters aren’t, and even if it’s reach exceeds its grasp at times, with an exposition heavy final act that seems to bring twists and turns out of nowhere (even though most of them have more than satisfactory explanations), the narrative is told at a breakneck pace – not a second is wasted, and almost everything on screen is important in some way – and doesn’t have any point sub-plots or filler characters. It’s only real problem is muddled points of view; from the grand robberies that take place on stage, it feels like the Four Horsemen could be a group of Robin Hood’s for the Occupy generation, but instead their motivations seem muddled and arbitrary.

It’s bold and filled with flash, but the most pleasantly surprising thing about Now You See Me is, for all of that, and the twists and turns that are thrown out with reckless abandon, there’s some substance there, as four totally different characters are brought together by something. What that something is might not be too important after all, especially after the man behind the curtain is revealed, but there’s genuine character development. If it didn’t get so lost in its own tricks now and then, it’d be pretty tough to fault, but the four magicians perform with gusto and sell the whole thing well. Now You See Me is a refreshing and engaging blockbuster that’s a much needed breath of fresh air.

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Review – Man of Steel

After Christopher Nolan’s hugely successful Batman trilogy, it’s safe to say that superhero reboots are all the rage, with The Incredible HulkThe Amazing Spider-Man and now Man of Steel following in its wake. The interesting thing here is that DC and Marvel reboots seem to be doing slightly different things (although that’s something to touch on in more detail in another piece), and Man of Steel, even compared to another DC character reboot (Batman Begins), does different things to that, which makes it one of the more interesting (and if other critical reception is anything to go by more polarising) superhero reboots of the last few years.

Before going into anything else about the film though, I feel like special mention needs to be given to the visual effects. While Snyder is known for his… Extravagant visual style, here it’s at its best, and perhaps least detrimental to the story. From the planet of Krypton, to watching its chosen son fly and fight among the stars, it’s one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in years, and it genuinely took my breath away.

We all know the story of Man of Steel, it’s a Superman origin story, although by not discussing the story at all, that does lead me to mention where it succeeds and fails as a reboot. All reboots are origin stories to an extent, whether it’s simply the first act of the film (as it is in The Amazing Spider-Man) or the entire film is an origin story (as it is with Batman Begins), but what Man of Steel does differently is by ingraining the origin elements – Clark’s discoveries of his powers – into the story via flashbacks. Now, we still see young Kal-El being sent to Earth courtesy of an excellent prologue sequence on a dying Krypton, one of the highlights of the film, both for its stunning design and visual effects, and the deliciously villainous Michael Shannon as General Zod, squaring of against Russell Crowe’s Jor-El (although the gratuitous overuse of Superman’s iconography does begin to grate). Now, these flashbacks are something of a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re prompted by a line of dialogue, so they can be jarring, which almost creates the illusion that they’re bad for the pace (although the film feels faster than it’s two hour plus running time, in spite of an overly extended and problematic third act) of the film, although it’s certainly an interesting attempt to avoid the structure of most reboots/origin stories, and it mostly succeeds.

David S. Goyer, the scribe for Nolan’s Batman films, does a solid job here, particularly in terms of world-building and making this characterisation of the eponymous hero a little edgier and more interesting. In flashbacks we see him conflicted about revealing himself, and the consequences of both his actions, and what happens if he were to do nothing. However, that contrast between explosive grandeur in the fighting set-pieces and the angst-y introspection of some of the films quieter moments, doesn’t always work, and it feels tonally uneven, less cohesive than Goyer’s other reboot script. And the screenplay as a whole isn’t without problems however, given some of the characters are weak (disappointingly, Lois Lane, played well by Amy Adams is among that number. In spite of some strong scenes, in the final act, a character who’s been set up to be strong and independent has all of her attempts to help become blunders that the men around her need to fix), and the third act is riddled with the same problems that superhero films tend to be (The Avengers was particularly guilty of this too), and became a rather indulgent (although in the case of Man of Steel, visually breathtaking) sequence in which the city in which the story takes place is left in the dust in the wake of the protagonist and antagonist finally going toe-to-toe.

It’s a well cast film, Henry Cavil is excellent as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, giving him presence and an edge that allows for the angst-ridden flashbacks to have had a noticeable effect on a fully grown Clark. Small appearances from stalwart actors like Richard Schiff and Laurence Fishburne help to round out the cast. But as I said before, it’s Shannon’s General Zod that runs away with the film, whether it’s through the screaming villainy shown in the prologue or the grand, almost Shakespearian speech he delivers before the climactic battle (this kind of extreme and theatrical villain is what was missing from Thor), he may well have given my favourite performance as a comic book villain since Heath Ledger’s already iconic Joker.

A little uneven and scrappy, perhaps even unsure of itself, at the worst of times, Man of Steel is a noble failure. Ambitious, visually exceptional filmmaking that manages to shake up the reboot/origin story and structure that we’ve all seen ad nauseum by now. But at it’s best, in those moments of synergy between introspection and explosive pomposity, it’s breathtaking, well acted, and with the help of a wonderfully cast villain, stands above the crowd in terms of recent comic book adaptations.

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Review – Spring Breakers

When I finally got around to watching Spring Breakers (the first in a reasonably large number of films that I missed in the cinema, and am catching up on and reviewing), my expectations had been in flux for quite a while. In spite of fairly middle of the road ratings on Metacritic and sites of that ilk, I’d constantly seeing it topping lists of the best films of the first sixth months of the year once they’d begun floating around the blogosphere. I suppose, to be blunt, I can see why it’s topping such lists – it’s bitingly satirical, visually dizzying and quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.

But I’ll be the first to admit that I was more than a little bit cynical, both in the lead up to the release of Spring Breakers, and until I’d begun watching. A great deal of the marketing focused on the whole ‘Disney girls gone bad’ kind of thing that was floating around the internet once images of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in the film began circulating around the web (but more on them later). This, and a lot of the marketing for the film seemed to focus almost entirely on the superficial elements of its story, as well as making it look rather like a straightforward crime film, just with a scantily clad cast and a borderline unhinged (and brilliant, it must be said) James Franco. To set the record straight, Spring Breakers is neither superficial, nor straightforward. Lots of reviews of the film have called it a ‘fever dream,’ and while it may seem like I’m hopping onto some sort of bandwagon, there’s really no better way to describe it.

This idea of a fever dream is achieved by some exceptional below-the-line work, which is very much where Korine’s vision lives and dies. The film is frantically, almost jarringly edited, forcing you around in an aggressive haste, along with almost constantly moving cinematography and production design that captures perhaps the core duality of the film – something that is at once seemingly all-American, but at the same time grimy, and almost repulsive.

Spring Breakers is, on the surface, about a group of girls who rob a bank to pay for their spring break vacation. But that’s really not too important, given the initial robbery is scarcely seen, and if anything, is just a launching pad for the main meat of the film, it’s satire, it’s comments on the excess and apathy of the current generation, this constant yearning to be somewhere else, or just to be something for that matter. Early on, one of the characters talks about how they don’t want to be stuck here like everyone else, sick of being in the same classrooms with the same professors and the same students.
And so, they resolve to do something about it, and once they have, Spring Breakers descends into much more nightmarish territory, calling to mind the dark dreamscapes of David Lynch, but decorated with neon, sun, and a brutal attack on the American Dream. Sometimes though, Korine’s satire doesn’t always quite hit the mark, there are times when it lags a bit, but it’s almost faultless execution, with wonderful derectorial touches and dualities – scenes of excess over letters to one of the character’s grandmother (in which everything we hear from the letter is a lie), is nothing short of inspired.

Now, the casting for Spring Breakers seemed to be the thing that drew the most attention to it during promotion, as I’ve mentioned, the cast are, by and large stepping out of their comfort zones, and that’s putting it lightly. And while it might be almost considered stunt-casting, the actresses chosen are damn excellent, both in terms of their performances and the casting itself, with the previous, family friendly credits that some of the actresses have, coupling that with the material they tackle (with skill and a total lack of awkwardness) is the perfect way of showing the duality of the Dream that these girls are chasing.
However, as good as they are, it’s James Franco that steals the show as the excess driven, and mad as a hatter white rapper – Alien. Alien is the personification of the American Dream for these girls – living a dangerous life, and one littered with superficiality and material wealth. One of the first things he says to them is “look at my shit”, showing them his considerable firearm collection. Alien proclaims that these girls are his “soulmates,” and you know what, I think he’s right.

While my expectations weren’t the highest, and my cynicism was out in force, I must admit I was glad I took the plunge and decided to watch Spring Breakers. It’s visually unique, and the satire that drives it forward is almost always employed and executed to perfection. A surprisingly good principal cast, and a super Franco help to cement this as something that’s likely to be on even more top ten lists by the time the year is up. Oh, and it has perhaps the best use of Brittany Spears in any film. Spring break forever. 

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“Long live the new flesh” – The cinema of David Cronenberg, part one

In my mind, Cronenberg’s cinema is divided into three distinct phases, and each of them seem to deal with three different facets of human nature – the first, the early horror of films (1975-1986), deal with the body, the second phase (1988-2002), perhaps more subtle in their approach, deal with the mind, and the third phase (2005-present), feel more like traditional character studies, dealing with, if anything in particular, the soul, and the way it is corrupted.

Here, I’ll present some of the themes that tie together the early films, considering what it is they’re trying to present, and what it is that ties them all together.

Metamorphosis

Perhaps the most notable, physically and thematically, in the early Cronenberg films, is the idea of a metamorphosis, one thing (a typical human, in the case of the Cronenberg films), transforming into something that is many things, although human is never one of them.

There’s a less physical example in Shivers (1975), wherein a parasite causes people to become hypersexual, and contagious, essentially they become walking venereal diseases. This is simply the tip of the iceberg for Cronenberg and metamorphosis, with much more visceral and horrific examples cropping up in his 80’s movies, particularly Videodrome (1983) and  The Fly (1986), wherein the leads of the films transform into creatures that become less and less human as the film goes on, particularly with Jeff Goldblum in the latter of the two films.


Jeff Goldblum in The Fly – before and after his metamorphosis.

In the fantastic documentary, An American Nightmare (2000), Cronenberg says that his characters are trying to “derail biology, and biology is of course destiny.” That’s what these characters are trying to do, they’re trying to break free from the constraints of a traditional life by breaking free from, I suppose a prison of normal human biology.

Now, while this isn’t a successful metamorphosis by any means (both Videodrome and The Fly end with the deaths of the lead characters), this theme of transcending, or at least attempting to transcend, basic humanity, is a running theme in early Cronenberg, and perhaps the one that is most explicitly linked to Cronenberg’s continued study of the human body, pushing it to, and indeed beyond, it’s limits.

Sexuality

Sexuality is a running theme throughout all of Cronenberg’s work, although in the early films it seems to be at its most explicit, and perhaps deviant. In Videodrome for instance, there’s a bizarre sequence that involves James Woods whipping a television.

Sexuality in early Cronenberg is almost always linked to the aforementioned metamorphosis of Cronenberg’s characters. Of course the obvious example is in Shivers, wherein the sexuality of the characters is directly linked to their metamorphosis.

But of course, there are elements where, instead of linking to the metamorphosis, it’s linked to the changes in the characters brought on by the metamorphosis – such as the strange sadomasochism that comes out of Max Renn (James Woods) in Videodrome.

These acts of deviant sexuality are often, much like the metamorphoses also present in the films, is focused on the explicit idea of transcending normality (while it doesn’t fit into the timeline of his early films, perhaps Cronenberg’s 19960 J. G. Ballard adaptation Crash fits into the early category for how it uses sexuality to examine characters). Perhaps not trying to derail destiny or biology or anything as extreme as that, Cronenberg’s early sexuality is instead an examination of the consequence of these changes.

Body horror

When you’re given a nickname like ‘The Baron of Blood,’ there’s got to be good reason for it, and in the case of David Cronenberg, there certainly is. His earliest films are remembered most vividly for their scenes of unconventional and visceral violence, from the iconic head-explosion scene in Scanners (1981) to the outcome of Max Renn’s hand transforming into a gun in Videodrome, unconventional bloodshed is perhaps the most oft-recognised of all of the tropes in Cronenberg’s early films.

Again, since this is body horror we’re talking about, it is of course, explicitly linked to the body, which is of course Cronenberg’s playground for his early films. And his body-related violence does, is exactly what all of his other tinkering with the human form and sexuality does – it is transgressive, it attacks convention with reckless abandon, transcending even the norms of horror film violence, with Cronenberg’s earliest films pre-dating both Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

The mind

Now, while Cronenberg doesn’t explicitly begin to focus on the working and bending of the mind until a later period in his filmmaking, the mind, scientific curiosity and intellectualism are a cornerstone of his early films, and these theme ties back to perhaps the main purpose of early Cronenberg films – transcending normality and reality.

The most explicit example of this is Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) in The Dead Zone (1983), who literally transcends typical constraints of the mind by seeing into the future. And of course, while The Dead Zone is the first, and only, of Cronenberg’s early films to explicitly focus on the mind, his other early films still use it as a building block of its other, more visceral and physical themes. In The Fly for instance, it is the scientific curiosity of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) that leads to his metamorphosis, and the unconventional psychotherapy in The Brood (1979) leads again to a physical and visceral explosion.

 

All in all, the early Cronenberg films are clearly the most visceral, and those that are most explicitly horror films. In using explicit violence and deviant sexuality, Cronenberg is attempting to, as he says “derail biology”, and, by extension, destiny. These films focus on the body, but not in the traditional sense, instead, he focuses on pushing the body to, and beyond it’s natural limits. Cronenberg places human biology under a microscope and pulls it to pieces, giving birth to, in the words of Videodrome’s Max Renn – the “new flesh.”

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Casting the Classics – ‘The Great Gatsby’

Since Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby premièred a little while ago at the Cannes Film Festival, now seems like a good time to post a dream cast for a film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of empty dreams, and lost love.

So, while this doesn’t cover the entire group of characters in the novel, it is a cast list for the ones who are perhaps at the core of the story.

Michael Fassbender as Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan is something of a base and vitriolic man, perhaps best known for his hard edge, both in terms of his physicality, and philosophy. After all, one of the first things he says in the book is “the whole world’s gone to Hell.” As the novel’s story progresses, Tom becomes more on edge and angry, and from the performances of Fassbender’s I’ve seen, they have a tendency to be a bit more reserved (his leading turns in both of Steve McQueen’s films – Hunger and Shame), so it would be very interesting to see some more outward and explosive acting from him. He definitely has it in him as an actor, and it’d be nice to see him doing some work that’s perhaps outside of his usual repertoire.

 

Jessica Chastain as Daisy Buchanan

Daisy might be my favourite character in the novel, and since I thought perhaps the best decision that was made in developing Luhrmann’s movie was casting Carey Mulligan as Daisy, which I consider to be pretty much perfect casting. However, I decided against picking actors from past adaptations, so I’ve had to cast someone else, and Jessica Chastain seemed like a great choice.

On the surface, Daisy always struck me as being very fragile, and I think Chastain can convey that well in terms of both her physicality and performance (there are a few scenes in Lawless that show this side of her acting really well), although what’s most interesting about her is how she changes around Gatsby, she seems to become full of life and hope (there is of course some irony to that considering the vapid hopelessness of their doomed romance). Perhaps selfish at heart, to me, Daisy seemed almost as enigmatic as the eponymous Gatsby, and Jessica Chastain seems like an actress who could bring an interesting a layered interpretation to the character.

 

Matt Damon as Nick Carraway 

I was racking my brain for quite a while in trying to find a Nick for this post, since given Nick is of course unseen in the novel, it can be difficult to cast someone to play him, there’s no real physical reference point to go from. And based on the character in the novel, Nick needs to have an intangible ‘everyman’ quality about himself, and for some reason, when trying to cast this role, I couldn’t quite shake Damon from the back of my mind.

Perhaps it’s more difficult to write about Nick than the other characters, since he feels more reactionary than the rest of them, but I feel like, since Damon has that ‘everman’ quality, and is of course an accomplished actor, he’s more than capable of dealing with the material that the novel gives him, and watching Nick reach his final disillusionment would be powerful when handled by Damon.

Jon Hamm as Jay Gatsby

Perhaps it’s odd to leave the casting of Gatsby until the end of the piece, especially given that he’s not the lead of the novel, but given his revelation is saved for the first couple of chapters of the novel, it seems fitting to wait until last to show who could play Gatsby.

Of course, we’ve all seen Jon Hamm play the enigma as Don Draper on Mad Men, and while his performance there is mostly quiet and understated (largely in fitting with the material in The Great Gatsby), there are some elements that stretch beyond that, and so seeing Jon Hamm out of what I suppose is his comfort zone in terms of acting, would certainly be interesting.

Of course in terms of intangible qualities, Hamm has all of those necessary for portraying Gatsby; he’s got charisma and screen presence in abundance. It’s just a matter of him dealing with the material, and he could do definitely do it.

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Filed under Casting the Classics