Review of “Crimes of the Future”

What does it mean to be human? It seems like a simple question. You know a human when you see one. A great ape shares 99 percent of their DNA with humans, but they aren’t human. We are related by distant ancestors in the tree of life but branched off from that line a very long time ago. There were other, early versions of humans like Neanderthals, australopithecines, homo habilis, homo erectus and more. There’s evidence in our DNA of homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbreeding some 40,000 years ago. Were these offspring humans or something else? There are scientific answers to these questions, then there are emotional conclusions some of us draw. Racists like to focus their hate of religious, ethnic or racial groups they see as inhuman. Their hate doesn’t make any sense as every human is the same on the inside. However, what if, in some distant future, we begin changing. We start to grow new, heretofore unknown organs. Mysterious growths that aren’t tumors but have no apparent function. Are these people human? That’s one of the questions asked by writer director David Cronenberg in his new film “Crimes of the Future.”

Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) grows new, unknown organs in his weak, sickly body for no apparent reason and he’s not the only one. The condition is known as Accelerated Evolution Syndrome. Tenser has turned this unusual ability into performance art. His performance partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) operates a futuristic operating bed and removes the organs in front of large groups of enthralled fans. Humanity has evolved to feel no pain and body modification has become a new art form. A new government agency tracks and registers anyone with these random mutations to protect humanity from whatever these people are. Tenser and Caprice meet with representatives of this agency, Wippet and Timlin (Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart). Timlin seems to be most attracted to Tenser and Caprice’s performances as she sees surgery as the new version of sex. No one knows that Tenser is working undercover with Detective Cope (Welket Bungué) who works in the New Vice department. A separatist group thinks this evolution should be embraced and encouraged. The leader Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), along with other members, have undergone extensive surgery allowing them to consume and digest plastics processed into purple bars. Dotrice has a son that was born with this ability, but he was murdered by his ex-wife. Dotrice wants Tenser and Caprice to perform a public autopsy on the boy to show the world the future of human evolution.

“Crimes of the Future” is just plain weird. It starts weird, it continues weird, and it ends weird. Cronenberg is known for his “body horror” films like “Scanners,” “Videodrome” and “The Fly,” along with his violent films starring Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence.” There’s always more going on in a Cronenberg film than it seems and the same is true for “Crimes of the Future.” It asks difficult questions about what it means to be human, how we judge others’ differences and to what extent are we willing to go for individualism. I’m sure there are more themes and questions I’m not smart enough to see, but I wonder if Cronenberg doesn’t bury his meanings under so much gore and shock we can’t recognize there’s more going on.

The performances by Mortensen, Seydoux and Stewart are mesmerizing. Mortensen, constantly cloaked in black, usually with his face covered, looking pale and frequently coughing, clearing his throat or choking, is playing a man in a changing world, attempting to stay one step ahead of the government, the police and the separatists. He sees himself, and others see him, as an artist, sharing his mutations with a world hungry for experiences outside the norm. Mortensen takes this character seriously. No matter who he’s talking to, Tenser holds his ground, making it clear he believes in what he’s doing. That makes his reports to Detective Cope odd. It’s outside what he espouses to Caprice and others in the performance art world. He’s a character of contradictions, but we believe and accept them.

Seydoux’s Caprice is Tenser’s equal partner. They create the art together, each unable to do it without the other, like a painter and his brush and paints or a sculptor his medium. Seydoux is beautiful and delicate, yet strong as steel. Caprice is both caretaker and manager for Tenser. She takes care of the technical side as Tenser grows the source for their art. Seydoux does a great deal with few scenes where she’s the focus.

Kristen Stewart is brilliant as Timlin. She’s all quirk and nervousness as Timlin is introduced to Tenser. She’s obviously fascinated by him and Caprice, apparently wanting to join the duo in some way. Stewart sucks up all the attention when she’s on screen. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Stewart always looks to be on the verge of exploding or acting violently, yet never letting herself. The audience wonders what’s percolating in her brain to give her such nervous energy. Is she uncomfortable in public settings or meeting new people? Is she enamored with the underground body modification scene but feels she can’t allow herself to take part? All these questions bubble up around Timlin. Sadly, none are answered.

The same can be said for the story. Questions are put forth, like why are people spouting new organs? Why is the government keeping track of those that do? What do they fear? I know it’s not every movie’s purpose to explain why things happen within the story. But “Crimes of the Future” never offers any explanation for anything. A few theories would have been appreciated, but Cronenberg doesn’t seem interested in providing any, just posing the question. Perhaps this is the point as there are no concrete answers for why we are the way we are, other than the generic “evolution.” There are theories that have some scientific basis, but we’ll never know for sure. The same can be said for “Crimes of the Future.”

“Crimes of the Future” is rated R for strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity and some language. A young boy is smothered to death with a pillow by his mother. Medical procedures are carried out on screen several times, some very graphic showing the cutting of flesh and removal of organs. A couple appears to have a sexual reaction to being cut by automated scalpels. A naked boy is shown having an autopsy. A man is shown with a wound in his head and blood dripping after being murdered. Another murder is shown as a character has two power drills bored into his head. Through the film we see three women fully nude and the corpse of a nude boy. Foul language is scattered.

This is the second film written and directed by David Cronenberg with the title “Crimes of the Future.” The first was in 1970 and the plot shares similar aspects with his new film. There are other similarities with other Cronenberg films, like the organic looking nature of some machinery in “Crimes of the Future” and “eXistenZ,” and the questioning of what makes humanity and is it a threat as in “Scanners.” I wonder is Cronenberg’s unique visual style may get in the way of his storytelling. While “Crimes of the Future” is interesting to watch, I don’t feel like I got much from it.

“Crimes of the Future” gets three stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “No Time to Die”

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are enjoying their lives together after Bond has left MI6. While visiting the grave of Vesper Lynd, a bomb destroys her tomb and a group of assassins, led by a killer with a bionic eye named Primo (Dali Benssalah), attack the couple in Bond’s bulletproof and well-armored car. A call from Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who is in an ultra-high security prison, suggests Swan is the reason for the attack. Bond leaves Swann as he no longer trusts her. Five years later, Bond is in the Bahamas, still retired, when he’s approached by CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and another agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) about Russian biochemist Dr. Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) who was recently abducted by from a secret lab in London. While Leiter and Ash want his help, newly minted 007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch) wants Bond to stay out of it. Obruchev was working on a strain of virus that could be targeted to a specific person’s DNA, making it a nearly perfect weapon for political assassination. The virus research is an off-the-books project overseen by MI6 head Gareth Mallory, aka M (Ralph Fiennes). Obruchev is now able to modify it to kill not only a specific person, but anyone related to the target. Recent DNA database hacks suggest someone is building a worldwide hit list. Swann is a psychotherapist that works with MI6 in questioning Blofeld. She is approached by someone from her past, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who is scarred, visibly and emotionally, is looking for her help and not giving her much choice.

Daniel Craig is my “James Bond.” I’ve seen Connery, Moore and the rest, but Craig is the only one I’ve seen all his Bond performances in a theater. I like that Craig looks like he’s been in a fight as well as looking like he’s lost a few. Connery and the rest all looked too soft to be tested, bitter, world-weary secret agents. Craig looks like he’s been through some difficult stuff and has paid the price for his loyalty to her majesty’s secret service. I have also enjoyed the emotional thread that’s run through all of Craig’s Bond films starting with “Casino Royale.” The death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) was the kind of devastating loss only seen once in the history of the franchise, “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service” from 1969. While Bond’s reaction to the loss is a minor plot point in the next film, it is quickly forgotten as the story of “Diamonds are Forever” moves on. Craig’s Bond has been dealing with Vesper’s loss for most of his outings. It’s the only time a series of Bond films have been this connected. That connection has been both a strength and a weakness of the last five films.

Daniel Craig gets a rousing story for his final outing as Bond. There is giant action set pieces, beautiful but deadly women, twisted villains and the fate of world hanging in the balance. It’s everything one expects in a Bond movie, but I could have done with a little less.

Every chase scene is split into two sections with high-speed action then lower velocity, more personal battles. The stunts are spectacular, and many appear to have been done practically, but there comes a point when I, as the viewer, would like to get back to the story. “No Time to Die” is in no hurry to do that.

While the story isn’t complicated, the screenwriters parse out information over the length of the film until you don’t see the ultimate plan until near the end. If the plot were more interesting, I might have not minded the water torture approach to storytelling. However, “No Time to Die” is a standard “madman looking to destroy civilization” tale the Bond films have done before. Aside from tailoring the virus to specific DNA, nothing in “No Time to Die” is that new or spectacular.

Still, the spectacular locations, massive stunts and action scenes make “No Time to Die” a mostly enjoyable ride that ends the tenure of Daniel Craig. With a running time of 163 minutes, the film tests the patience of its audience. It feels overstuffed, like the filmmakers are giving Craig as much screen time as possible to say goodbye to Bond. Whatever the reason, “No Time to Die” has a problem of abundance and needed another pass by an editor.

“No Time to Die” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material. Bond is involved in numerous fist and gun fights resulting in the deaths of numerous henchmen. There’s a scene where a ballroom full of people are bleeding from their eyes and dying on the spot. Many, many car crashes leading to inevitable injury and death. A person’s fake eyeball pops out. Foul language is scattered but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

Daniel Craig is now done with Bond. There were indications in the past he found playing the agent tedious and was sick of the role. However, there is a video online of Craig speaking to the crew on his last day of filming where he appears very emotional about being done with 007. Perhaps his complaints were more about fatigue in the moment. Whatever the reason, Bond will move on to a new actor. He might be a return to the pretty boys of Moore and Brosnan, but I hope another tough-looking chap that looks to have taken a punch or two is brought into the role. Fans will complain, just like they did with Craig (Bond isn’t blonde or blue eyed), but if the right choice is made, they will quickly forget their issues. I will miss Daniel Craig as Bond. I wish he had gotten a better farewell.

“No Time to Die” gets 3.5 stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Spectre”

For movie fans “sequels,” “prequels” and “reboots” are often looked at as dirty words.  The complaint usually goes something like, “Aren’t there any original ideas in Hollywood anymore?”  An exception to this criticism is the James Bond franchise.  After six actors and 24 movies, fans of the series wait for the next installment with nearly unbearable anticipation and the worldwide box office for these films continues to grow to record heights.  After the brilliant “Skyfall,” expectations were understandably high for “Spectre” considering the name of a classic Bond villain was the title of the film.  At the same time, is it possible to make a movie as enjoyable as its predecessor?  Let’s find out.

After creating chaos and destruction on an unauthorized trip to Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is suspended by his MI6 boss M (Ralph Fiennes).  M is also facing a shake-up in British intelligence with a new boss, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), overseeing a recently merged MI5 and MI6.  Denbigh thinks the double-0 program is a relic of the past and wants it discontinued.  He also is spearheading a new intelligence sharing initiative involving nine nations.  Enlisting the aid of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond continues his off-the-books investigation he started in Mexico into an organization that appears to be involved in numerous terrorist attacks around the world.  Along the way he meets the widow of a man he killed in Mexico (Monica Bellucci), the daughter of a man that has plagued him since he became 007 (Lea Seydoux) and Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista), a mountain of a man who doesn’t think twice about killing anyone in his way.

Comparing “Spectre” to “Skyfall” is a bit unfair as the previous film had an unexpected gooey center of emotion with the relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Bond.  “Spectre” lacks that humanizing element as this adventure is a more straight-ahead action picture.  While there is romance it is more of the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em variety we have grown to expect from Bond.  Also, “Spectre” is more of an effort to reboot the mythology of Bond as this is the first time in over four decades the filmmakers have been allowed to make reference to the criminal organization of the title after a long court battle.  Connecting events across three previous films that were not necessarily written to be connected might be seen as a stretch to some; however, the references to the previous films are handled mostly visually and it isn’t the kind of distraction it might have otherwise been.

As we’ve come to expect, Daniel Craig is the epitome of detached cool as James Bond.  The character is given a few more one-liners than in previous films and Craig is more than up to the challenge of being funny in the face of beautiful women and dangerous henchmen.  Craig has been the honest face of James Bond.  He looks world-weary, tired and suspecting of everyone he can see.  Craig is the Bond I will most miss when his run is over as he is to me the most believable in the role.  I know there are those that are fans of Connery or Moore and have been unhappy with every actor chosen to play the part since; however, the difference between those films and Craig’s is so striking they may as well have been about the Revolutionary War.

Now for my issues with “Spectre:” While both Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista are excellent as Franz Oberhauser and Mr. Hinx respectively, they are criminally underused in the film.  I understand keeping your main villains in the shadows of your trailers and TV spots but your antagonists should be front and center in the film.  The movie is nearly two and a half hours long and, while I didn’t have a stopwatch keeping track of their time, I believe both Waltz and Bautista are on screen less than most Bond baddies.  Bautista has one word in the script but he doesn’t need more as his physical presence speaks volumes.  Mr. Hinx has a fight on a train with Bond that seems to have some real danger to it.  Perhaps it was the close quarters or Hinx physical domination of Bond that made it seem so personal and perilous.  Hinx is a henchman I hope we get to see again.  Waltz is charismatic and intense in the role and should have had a greater chance to shine.  While he makes the most of his limited time I would have liked to see him more.

The underused villains are connected to my next issue with the movie:  The story seems to have been given less thought and in other films.  I can’t give too many details for this as I don’t want to spoil the movie; however, there are things I expected to see in the movie, things suggested by history and the plot, that don’t materialize and other aspects that spring from very little.  Some characters are dispatched in ways that suggest they may return but don’t.  Romances blossom in ways that aren’t supported by events.  Plot twists are telegraphed in less than subtle ways.  It sometimes feels like the locations and the stunts received a great deal more attention than the story.

As with all Bond films, the cinematography and locations are spectacular.  From a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City to the Spectre headquarters in the middle of the desert, the movie is a travelogue of beautiful scenery shot with remarkable care.  Even the interior of a train looks luxurious and inviting when it isn’t being torn apart by a fight between Bond and Hinx.  Despite what is likely the dull nature of actual spy work, the Bond films make it look like the ultimate worldwide vacation with the occasional fight to the death thrown in to make it interesting.

“Spectre” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sequences of action, sensuality, some disturbing images and violence.  From planes chasing SUV’s to two sports cars tearing through the streets of Rome, there are several action set pieces in the film that might upset the youngest and most sensitive viewers.  There are also several fights between Bond and various people.  The most intense is the one on the train with Mr. Hinx.  There is a scene of torture that isn’t graphic but is troubling.  A couple of people get pushed out of a helicopter to their deaths.  Bond has two sex scenes but, in traditional Bond style, there is very little nudity.  Foul language is scattered and mild.

I liked “Spectre” a great deal; but, it works for the most part as a fairly standard Bond adventure.  After the enormous success of “Skyfall” there was very little chance we wouldn’t be a little disappointed by the next installment of the franchise.  With all the promise of the title and the expectations of what we might get “Spectre” comes across as somewhat paint-by-numbers when we all wanted a Picasso.  All that said, it is still a very good action/adventure movie with some interesting concepts and the promise of another chapter of the story still to be told in what would likely be Daniel Craig’s last time in the tuxedo and sports car of Bond…James Bond.

“Spectre” gets five stars but not without a few reservations.

This week, it’s the end of a franchise, a possible new holiday tradition and a crime thriller all hoping to get your entertainment dollar. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2—

The Night Before—

The Secret in Their Eyes—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.