Covering cinema from the highest of the highbrow to the lowest of the low-grade.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
New on DVD/Blu-ray: A DANGEROUS METHOD (2011), CORMAN'S WORLD (2011)
A DANGEROUS METHOD (Germany/Canada - 2011)
"Austere" and "erudite" are terms that frequently came up in reviews of David Cronenberg's Freud-Jung cage match A DANGEROUS METHOD. I think Cronenberg deliberately fashioned the film to be as dry and restrained as it is as a reflection of its repressed characters, who spend their lives exploring the birth of psychoanalysis and the psychological study of sexuality while unable to face such desires and needs in themselves. Most of this is reflected in the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and patient-turned-lover-turned-colleague Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) figures in as a mentor-turned-colleague-turned-rival to Jung. When Jung isn't spanking Sabine, he's discussing psychoanalysis with her, or writing to and receiving letters from Freud, read in voiceover by the actors. It's all lovely to look at, with some beautiful locations (and some unfortunately shoddy greenscreen work when Freud and Jung travel to the U.S.), and a much-debated performance by Knightley that's nothing if not committed. Many accused her of egregious overacting in her early scenes of frenzied, psychotic hysteria, but I highly doubt a filmmaker as intelligent and well-read as Cronenberg would direct someone to act in a way that didn't accurately reflect what it's trying to convey. It's a jarring, difficult performance that might induce snickers at times, especially the way she juts out her chin, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of its depiction, even though Knightley's Russian accent often veers from "faintly subtle" to "Boris & Natasha." Fassbender and Mortensen are fine, as is Vincent Cassel in a brief role as a doctor/patient who more or less functions as Jung's id, razzing his inhibitions and goading him into his fling with Sabina behind the back of his (of course) repressed wife (Sarah Gadon). A DANGEROUS METHOD is a sincere, ambitious, and intelligent effort with a lot to admire, and while I think it's by design, it's still just too dry, distant, and off-putting for its own good. (R, 99 mins)
CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (US - 2011)
Affectionate documentary on legendary producer/director Roger Corman earned a lot of accolades in critical circles, but except for a couple of brief segments, it really isn't anything more than the kind of interview/bonus feature you'd find on one of Shout Factory's "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" DVDs. Director Alex Stapleton does succeed in getting interviews with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, but too much of the film rehashes things that fans of Corman and cult cinema in general have already known for years. A bit of time is spent on 1961's THE INTRUDER, Corman's personal favorite film and an early stab at serious cinema (and, as he's pointed out many times over the years and does so again here, it's the only Corman picture that lost money), and a couple of interview subjects question wonder aloud why Corman shepherded so much great talent over the decades, but never made it to the A-list himself. But mostly, it's a Corman highlight reel (which is never not entertaining), with an intense focus on his AIP and New World years, and current Syfy Channel productions, but almost no time at all devoted to his Concorde/New Horizons films. On one hand, 90 minutes really isn't enough time to cover all the bases of the man's career and his influence on what's come after, but at the same time, CORMAN'S WORLD too often comes off like an inflated puff piece. And while the list of interviews here is impressive (Martin Scorsese, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, William Shatner, Peter Bogdanovich, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, Mary Woronov, and several who have since passed on since their interviews were shot, like David Carradine, George Hickenlooper, Irvin Kershner, and Polly Platt), there's a longer list of interview subjects thanked in the closing credits that didn't make the final cut. And yet, Eli Roth still makes it into the film. There's a bonus feature with extended interviews that runs just 13 minutes, and kicks off with...Eli Roth. I guess if you've never read much on Corman or are just getting into his massive body of work, CORMAN'S WORLD is a great way to get your feet wet, but for those of us who've spent a good chunk of our lives enjoying and studying his work, both the good and the bad, there's unfortunately not much here you haven't heard before, regardless of how sincere and well-intentioned it may be. The film's highlight (other than the clips) is provided by an uncharacteristically emotional Nicholson, who briefly loses his composure while reflecting upon just how much Corman has meant to his career. It's a powerful, genuine, and almost overwhelming moment to see arguably the world's most famous actor drop his guard and be himself instead of "Jack." (R, 90 mins)