David Cronenberg Looks Back, Ahead, Inward, and Outward with These Here ‘Crimes of the Future’

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Crimes of the Future (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Scott Speedman

Director: David Cronenberg

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Body Horror at Its Finest

Release Date: June 3, 2022 (Theaters)

Who’s ready to party like it’s 1983 and strap in for some vintage David Cronenberg? Of course, the answer to that question is: Everybody! Alas, though, maybe not. We Cronenberg-heads are in fact a select breed. But there are enough of us that the arrival of Crimes of the Future in 2022 is cause for celebration as we harken back to the director’s 70s/80s bodily manipulation heyday. It even has the same name as one of Cronenberg’s earliest features! Despite that shared moniker, be forewarned that this isn’t a remake. I haven’t seen the previous Crimes, but based on the synopsis, it seems pretty clear that they don’t really have anything to do with each other, beyond the fact that Cronenberg envisions multiple ways to run afoul of the law in the coming dystopias.

The premise is both straightforward, and completely bizarre. Performance artist couple Saul and Caprice (Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux) have a regular live stage show in which they grow and remove new organs in Saul’s body. Meanwhile, a subculture has developed around evolving the human body to be able to eat plastic (with delicious-looking purple candy bars aplenty). Okay, maybe that premise is straightforward only if you’re already a permanent resident of Cronenberg World. But the filmmaking coaxes you into thinking that all this is normal, starting with the opening scene of Saul hanging out at home in a newfangled hammock to recover from all that organ removal. Watch out, though, because here comes Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar on hand as a couple of “National Organ Registry” investigators to indicate that maybe this isn’t the most advisable practice around. But pretty much anyone who’s skeptical ends up getting seduced at some point in a sleekly sexy sort of way.

This is exactly the sort of vision that Cronenberg originally established his reputation on. It’s been a while, though, since he’s made something within this classic vein, even as he’s been steadily working every decade for the last 50-plus years. It’s a joy just to be immersed in something this trippy and transportative, even if the central mystery plot is a little hard to parse.  But I can forgive that thanks to the strength of the world building.

The major, somewhat disturbing, difference this time around compared to Cronenberg’s breakthrough classics is the cinematography. The bumpy film stocks of yore imbued the likes of Rabid and The Brood with a vibe that they’d been illicitly smuggled into cinemas, whereas the digital cleanness of Crimes gives off a sense that we’re home and safe among friends. But we’re not home, unless your last name is Frankenstein. Just as Videodrome cried out “Long live the new flesh,” Crimes of the Future declares “Surgery is the new sex,” and we’re all going to have to deal with that as best as we see fit.

Crimes of the Future (2022) is Recommended If You Like: Classic David Cronenberg (He’s back, baby!)

Grade: 4 out of 5 Organs

‘The French Dispatch’ Presents a Journalistic Panorama

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The French Dispatch (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Wally Wolodarsky, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Anjelica Huston, Jarvis Cocker, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Denis Menochet, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, Mohamed Belhadjine, Nicolas Avinée, Lily Taleb, Toheeb Jimoh, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Winston Ait Hellal, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Hippolyte Girardot

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Art Model Nudity, Surprising Sexual Partners, and Some Language Here and There

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters)

The French Dispatch is about the staff and subjects of an American magazine that covers a small but colorful fictional French town. It’s published as an insert in the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star newspaper, so it’s basically like a midwestern Parade, but with the vibe of The New Yorker. Which all begs the question: who is the intended audience of The French Dispatch*? (*The fictional newspaper, that is, not the movie of the same name. [Although by extension, you could ask the same thing about the movie, though that conversation would be a little different.]) It feels like somebody dared Wes Anderson to create an anthology film of the most esoteric stories ever and he then declared, “Challenge accepted.” As I watched I wondered what made these stories worth telling, and I believe that the answer is: they’re worth telling because they’re worth telling. So in that way, The French Dispatch is very much like Little Women.

The fictional French town in this movie is called Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates as “Boredom-on-Blasé,” but there’s no way you’ll be bored while watching a film that’s as overstuffed as this one. Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not bored. (But if somehow you are bored, please let me know about your experience. It’s interesting when someone’s reaction is so different than mine!) The anthology structure is composed into five sections, two to set the context and three to dive deep. First up is an introduction of the staff, particularly editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a my-way-or-the-highway type, except when he readily makes concessions to his writers’ peculiarities. Then travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) takes us on a bicycle tour to provide color for the town. The fleshed-out stories include the journalist-subject pairings of Tilda Swinton covering incarcerated artist Benicio Del Toro; Frances McDormand covering student revolutionaries led by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri; and Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist covering the story of a police officer’s kidnapped son that also features a very talented chef.

The French Dispatch is a love letter to a time and a place when you could throw whatever budget you felt like at whatever story you felt like covering. Based on the accounts of people who were involved in that era, that characterization actually isn’t that far off from how 20th century American journalism really was run. But it’s so different from journalism’s current state of affairs that it might as well be from another universe. Appropriately enough then, The French Dispatch felt to me like it was beaming in from an alternate dimension. I don’t know how these stories could have ever possibly been conceived, but I’m glad that I’ve now experienced them.

The French Dispatch is Recommended If You Like: The New Yorker, Symmetrical geometric arrangements, French pop music, Skinny mustaches

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bylines

It’s Not Time to Die, Because It’s Time for a Review of ‘No Time to Die’

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No Time to Die (CREDIT: Nicola Dove/© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Rory Kinnear, Billy Magnussen, Christoph Waltz

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Running Time: 163 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Spy Violence with the Bloodiest Moments Artfully Obscured

Release Date: October 8, 2021 (Theaters)

The Daniel Craig version of James Bond carries the weight of his previous chapters: the physical scars, the emotional scars, all the expectations of the world. Ergo, the conclusive entry No Time to Die really goes out of its way to tie everything together and put a nice little bow on the whole affair. That was also actually kind of the case six years ago with Spectre, but that earlier film had a lot of viewers going, “Wait-wait-wait, hold on, you don’t have to tie ALL of these seemingly disparate threads together.” But now that I’ve seen No Time to Die pull it off, I appreciate the effort, and I can confidently say that the Craig Era is fully synthesized with a satisfying emotional resolution.

As we check back in with Bond, he’s hanging out with Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann in Italy, and they appear to be a full-fledged item. I preferred him with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, but she’s dead now. She’s not forgotten, though, as James makes sure to set aside some of his time in Italy to visit her tomb. At this point in his life, he’s really trying his damnedest to get out of the spy game once and for all, and Madeleine can be a chance for him to do that, but he doesn’t fully trust her. Besides, go-to evil organization SPECTRE is still causing plenty of chaos, and new foe Safin (Rami Malek) has dangerous world-altering plans that James and Madeleine eventually get caught up in. There are a bunch of motivations working at cross-purposes here.

The most satisfying element of No Time to Die is the bonhomie. Everyone at MI6 respects each other as colleagues. Some of them would even go so far as to call each other friends. James is given the space he needs to be retired, but when it’s time for him to spring back into action, everyone is happy to have him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Q, Moneypenny, and Felix Leiter more pleased and honored to be in the company of their fellow agent. Even Lashana Lynch as the newly designated 007 has nothing but mutual respect to offer James. Ralph Fiennes as M, meanwhile, just looks eternally stressed out. He obviously has to answer to a multitude of masters, but I’m sure he appreciates his agents in his own way.

Anyway, Safin has this whole plan involving poison that’s going to usher in a new world order or something like that. I’m not entirely sure how the mechanics of it work, but I’m happy that it underscores (instead of getting in the way) the emotional resonance. James Bond is no longer just the uber-cool guy with the tuxedos and the gadgets and the martinis. Now he’s also a true part of our parasocial family.

No Time to Die is Recommended If You Like: The emphasis on character and continuity in this Bond era

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Missiles