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David Cronenberg

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Freudian Slip.

Continuing on to a mother movie in this packed December’s line-up, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method chronicles the illicit romance between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), as well as the doomed friendship between Jung and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson), a father figure of sorts to him, In sum, this is a dry, classy, and elegantly-made period piece, dramatizing the disputes between these two eminent psychologists and…wait, wait, stop the review. Wasn’t this meant to be a David Cronenberg movie? Death to Merchant-Ivoryisms! Long live the old flesh!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whit of Cronenberg’s usual weirdness to be found here, and the film, while harmless enough in its own right, suffers terribly from the missed opportunity. After all, this isn’t David Lynch making The Straight Story. Here we have the father of psychoanalysis, who became a world-historical figure mainly by reducing everyone to an unverifiable gaggle of repressed sexual impulses, going toe-to-toe with one of his proteges and the foremost advocate of dream analysis. Not to mention a colleague to them both who hates herself for loving spankings (hey, at least it’s not car crashes.) I mean, could the subject of this film be any more within Cronenberg’s normal wheelhouse? But, for whatever reason, he refuses to indulge his prior inclinations here, and the resulting film is well-mannered and arid. Even when Vincent Cassel shows up in the middle-going as an advocate for the virtues of the unrepressed id, the movie lacks any real charge.

That aside, there’s another major flaw with A Dangerous Method that seems churlish to dwell on, but which would be a problem regardless of the director. Fassbender (who’s been having a good deal of sex onscreen this week) and Mortenson are both very good here — the latter especially seems at ease as the cigar-chomping Freud, a supporting role outside his usual parameters. But, while she may be a wonderful person, Keira Knightley is just a terrible actress. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt through films like The Jacket. Atonement and Never Let Me Go, but her wayyy-over-the-top, herky-jerky performance here clinches it. (I’ll put it to you, good people: Has Knightley been impressive in anything since her supporting turn in Bend Like It Beckham?) Particularly in the first half-hour when she’s still playing “teh cRazeE,” I just felt embarrassed for her and for poor Fassbender.

Never repress anything,” Vincent Cassel’s hedonist tells Jung at one point in this film, which may or may not be sound as a life philosophy. All I know is I wish Cronenberg had taken this advice, and that Knightley had thought better of it.

I Said Cut, You Hack.

Anyone who knows me knows I would never read a comic book. And I would especially never read anything created by Kevin Smith.” — Tim Burton. “Which, to me, explains f**king Batman.” — Kevin Smith. Also by way of a friend, the 30 harshest filmmaker-on-filmmaker insults in history. Some of these are questionable (who cares what Vincent Gallo thinks?), but there are a few gems here and there. “I HATE that guy! Next question.” — David Cronenberg on M. Night Shyamalan. (Director Bowie via here.)

From Sigmund to Kermit.

In the trailer bin of late:

  • Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, a.k.a. Aragorn and Magneto, look to make Keira Knightley right again in this first look at David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, also with Vincent Cassel. Looks a bit more staid and Merchant-Ivory than I would’ve hoped, and it’s still unclear to me whether Knightley can act. Still, Viggo v. Fassbender should be fun.

  • Pizza-boy Jesse Eisenberg runs afoul of would-be bank robbers Danny McBride and Nick Swardson in the first trailer for Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less, also with Michael Pena, Fred Ward, and SCGSSM‘s most esteemed graduate, Aziz Ansari. (Class of ’00, I think — I didn’t know him.) Eh, I wasn’t a big fan of Fleischer’s Zombieland, but maybe.

  • Dennis Quaid don’t brook no dancin’ in his town, least of all from some Boston prettyboy like Kenny Wormald, in this look at the highly vapid-seeming Footloose remake, also with Jennifer Hough of (I’m informed) Dancing with the Stars. Um, no. Also, Kenny Loggins or go home.

  • Jason Statham goes all Chuck Norris (as usual) to rescue Robert DeNiro from the clutches of Clive Owen in this look at Gary McKendry’s Killer Elite. Been a long time since DeNiro was a mark of quality, but Statham tends to be fun, and it seems like Owen’s been laying low lately.

  • After several different parody trailers, Jason Segal and Amy Adams finally play it straight in this trailer for Nick Stoller’s reboot of The Muppets, also with Chris Cooper and a host of cameos. I have a feeling this might be pretty good…but I don’t get that feeling from this trailer. Still, fingers crossed.

Green Noise.

In casting news, Colin Farrell (recently signed as Jerry Dandridge 2.0) and Marion Cotillard (currently looking stunning in the trailer for Inception) both sign aboard David Cronenberg’s version of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. “The film, based on Don DeLillo’s novel, will follow a multimillionaire on a 24-hour odyssey across Manhattan. Farrell will play the asset manager who loses all his wealth over the course of one day. Cotillard will play his wife.” Oh, the exquisite, finely-manicured melancholy of the super-rich! Eh, I’ll probably see it anyway.

Lord of the Flies.

“The project would represent a chance for Cronenberg to return to a film that helped establish his career, but to do so in the effects age, using techniques that weren’t possible nearly a quarter-century ago.” Um, ok. Apparently caught in a feedback loop of some kind (I blame those pesky transporters), David Cronenberg looks to remake his remake of The Fly. No word on whether Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis will be involved…Frankly, I’m not seeing the point.

Tricks in the Trades.

A good bit of interesting news on the movie development front of late: Presumably given carte blanche from WB (provided he brings home another Batman in 2011 or 2012), Christopher Nolan announces his next project will be Inception, a self-penned story “‘described as ‘a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind.’” So, Minority Report meets Memento? I’ll go.

In other news, David Cronenberg looks to go Bourne with The Matarese Circle, starring Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise as rival spies up against the same sinister conspiracy. The industrious Woody Allen has locked down the stars for his next (post-Larry David) project in Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin. (No other details forthcoming.) And, over on his other next film, Brolin has found a worthy antagonist for his Jonah Hex in none other than John Malkovich. “Malkovich will play Turnbull, a wealthy Southern plantation owner whose son is killed by Union soldiers during the Civil War. He blames Hex, a former confederate soldier-turned-hardened bounty hunter and gunslinger.” Ah, movies. They just keep making more!

The Illustrated Man.

The King of the West may be a man of the East in David Cronenberg’s London gangster flick Eastern Promises, but — Anduril or no — he’s no less handy in a tight spot. As with Mortensen and Cronenberg’s last collaboration, A History of Violence, I found Promises to be a sleek and rousing genre exercise that’s being more than a little overpraised. I enjoyed the film, it’s worth catching if you have the stomach for it, and its steam bath centerpiece will be talked about for a good long while. But, to be honest, there’s really not much there there. Remove that fight from the equation and you’re basically left with sizable helpings of immigrant and gangster cliche. (Cronenberg seems to know as much — he tips his hand in the campy accordionist scene.) Naomi Watts is a fine actress, but she’s not given anything to do here besides tote around the film’s two Maguffins. Armin Mueller-Stahl, the Russian godfather of the tale, plays the same avuncular-going-on-sinister note throughout. And, while exemplifying the adage “still waters run deep” once again, Viggo’s character is almost too much of an archetypal badass — You can see the twists and turns in his story coming a mile away.

After a grisly assassination in a barber shop that’d do Sweeney Todd proud (just to let you know we’re in Cronenberg territory), Eastern Promises opens with the death of a young, drugged-out, and pretty clearly abused Russian teenager in a London hospital…and the subsequent birth of her child. (Speaking of Cronenberg territory, he films the newborn baby like it’s something out of Existenz.) Having lost her own pre-born of late, Anna Khitrova (Watts), the midwife in attendance, takes a shine to this orphaned child, and thus sets out with the dead girl’s diary to locate the foundling’s proper home. Anna’s (sort of) ex-KGB uncle takes one look at this untranslated journal and warns of a dangerous road ahead. Nonetheless, Watts’ investigation quickly takes her to a Russian restaurant run by Mueller-Stahl, an Old World type of fellow who’s clearly something of a n’er-do-well despite his fantabulous borscht. Soon enough, Anna also stumbles upon Mueller-Stahl’s flamboyant, hard-drinking Dauphin of a son (Vincent Cassel) and his assigned playmate Nikolai, a stoic, tough-as-nails chauffeur (Mortensen). And when it inevitably turns out that Mueller-Stahl et al are actually part of the feared vory v zakone (a.k.a. the Russian cosa nostra), the fates of Anna, the baby, the diary, and all involved come to rest in the hands of one enigmatic, very tattooed, and possibly conflicted driver…but what’s his angle? Let’s just hope the Russians love their children too.

I’m not going to spill Viggo’s secrets here, tovarisches, although you can probably guess he’s not one to just up and off a baby when called upon to do so. (Also, if this sounds a bit like Dirty Pretty Things, it may be because the films share a screenwriter.) Nonetheless, most of the buzz surrounding Eastern Promises justifiably centers on a fight scene in the middle going, when Viggo, naked as the day he was born, is confronted by two mobsters who don’t have his best interests at heart. It’s hard to say whether this gory steam room fracas is better than the splendid hand-to-hand duel in The Bourne Ultimatum, but it’s up there. If that deft, practiced, lightning-quick Bourne melee was a stiletto, this brutal scene packs the visceral, bone-crushing crunch of a mace. It’s also extremely hard to watch, and not because of Mortensen’s dangly bits — let’s just say David Cronenberg and sharp objects are involved. (Call me a lover, not a fighter, but when it comes to this director pushing the envelope of the R-rating, I prefer History‘s sex scenes with Maria Bello to nude, bloody Viggo plunging knives into people’s soft parts. But, to each his own.)

Promises, Wonders, Jokes.

Several trailers of note over the past week: Aragorn continues his History of Violence and returns to the unsettling world of Cronenberg in the new trailer for Eastern Promises, also with Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Shopgirl Natalie Portman looks adorable facing up against stiff-suit Jason Bateman in the otherwise cloying trailer for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, also with Dustin Hoffman as Willy Wonka, uh, Magorium. Nicole Kidman tries to stop her sister (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) from marrying Jack Black in this look at Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding. (Not usually my bag, and Jason-Leigh can be a huge red flag, but Baumbach has earned a look after Squid & the Whale.) A bit-player in the Russian mob and a recent emigre to Liberty City (you) tries to move up the ranks of his organization in two new trailers for Rockstar’s eagerly-awaited Grand Theft Auto IV. (I may have to break down and get a 360, just for this game.) And, finally, a Kramerfied, really poor quality version of may very well be the teaser for Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight has emerged online. (I’ll reserve judgment until a higher quality version emerges, but for now I like the laugh.)

Ocean’s Hoo-ah / Shadow in the East.

In casting news, Al Pacino joins Ellen Barkin and the usual suspects in Stephen Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen, where he’ll play “Willie Banks, the owner of a high-profile casino and hotel in Las Vegas.” And, fresh from A History of Violence, Viggo Mortensen re-ups with David Cronenberg for Eastern Promises, a project penned by Dirty Pretty Things‘ Steve Knight.

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