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eXistenZ

tn_existenzYou guys’ll have to forgive me. I’m not a “gamer” or “gamey” or whatever, so I don’t know how much of Dave Cronenberg’s video game exposee eXistenZ is 100% factual and how much is very, very slightly, almost imperceptibly exaggerated for dramatic purposes.

Maybe you can help me out: the “gamepod” controllers are little lumps of flesh, like mutated breasts. They plug a tentacle into a “bioport” on your spine, but if yours is installed wrong (which it turns out can happen if you let Willem Dafoe install yours at the gas station) it can overload your game pod and it will have to be repaired, which is a surgical procedure. The pods are actually genetically modified amphibians. mp_existenzThere are alot of those little guys around, two-headed mutant lizards that look like praying mantises, or little blobs that crawl into the hole on your back and disappear inside you. It’s hard to figure out if you’re playing or if shit is just weird, and they try to trick you with video games within video games and fake “waking up from the game” sequences. The game responds to your thoughts but also gives you the urges of a game character in order to advance the plot, so you better distinguish which is which because you end up fucking or killing and sometimes you’re wrong and you weren’t supposed to do that. And you want to be sure you’re in the game because outside of the game those things have more consequences, in my opinion. And Jude Law as Ted Pikul notices that reality and game feel so close to each other that it’s kind of fucked up to want to kill somebody even if it is just a game.

Basically, this is the movie they were trying to make with SUPER MARIO BROTHERS but they didn’t have the technology to pull it off then.

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Allegra Geller, mother of Sarah Michelle Geller and a famous visionary game designer who survives an assassination attempt from a “realist” who sneaks into a focus group with a gun made of lizard bones and gristle that fires human teeth. (This is based on something that happened to the creator of Dig-Dug, if I remember right.)

Then she runs off with Pikul, an assistant PR guy who she mistakes for a bodyguard, introduces this “newbie” or “newber” I believe they’re called to her video game and they have various thrilling reality-bending encounters and what not. You know, crazy Cronbergian shit. NAKED LUNCH for people who are more into first person shooters than shooting up.

As a thriller it’s not real strong. It’s hard not to assume from the beginning that everything is a trick, so the various twists and turns are fun but never actually a shock. The weird Cronenberg New Flesh shit is some of the best ever, though. Everybody is so accepting and matter-of-fact about little living skin lumps used as gadgets. It’s like some fucked up William S. Burroughs version of THE FLINSTONES, except the gamepods never turn to the camera and squawk, “It’s a living.” I love this kind of movie that authentically captures the weirdness of the subconscious. There aren’t too many of them.

There’s a part where Jude Law’s driving and he says, “Oh, it’s my egg phone” and pulls out a little glowing, pulsating rectangularish slab of living tissue. As I’ve said before I’m of Luddite-American heritage, I do not carry a phone or covet an iPhone or any of that shit. But I would consider an eggPhone. I guess it depends what kind of plan you gotta get on. You sign a contract and you literally get a pound of flesh. Anyway this type of weirdo business is constant throughout the movie – bleeding gadgets, tooth guns, mutant meals, all with top of the line effects work. Just very real-looking, detailed animatronics plus one of the more bizarre digital characters in a movie so far.

I think people forget that Cronenberg’s movies were a big part of advancing the art and science of makeup effects. There was that couple of years there where Rick Baker and Rob Bottin did AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING, THE THING and VIDEODROME. So it’s great to see Cronenberg almost 20 years later working with the new state of the art. The effects on this were overseen by Jim Isaac, who later directed Cronenberg as an actor in JASON X.

(By the way, I wanted to mention that I think it’s funny when people insist on imitating the typography of a movie logo in their reviews, the biggest example of course being when people type the movie “SEVEN” as “SE7EN”. But in the case of this one the characters actually say in the movie that it’s lower case e, capital X, lower case i – s – t – e – n – capital Z. If Morgan Freeman said, “He’s following the seven deadly sins. S – E – the number 7 – E – N” then I would extend the same courtesy.)

(And as long as I’m throwing in random parenthetical comments I got a bonus random parenthetical comment for you. You ever notice how many challenging, maybe flawed or controversial but smart or ambitious sci-fi movies Jude Law is in? ‘Cause there’s this one, GATTACA and A.I. – THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. I don’t think I’d count SKY CAPTAIN and I haven’t seen REPO MEN. But at least he’s got a trilogy here.)

I think this was a good place for Cronenberg to stop with this type of shit and become the David Cronenberg who did A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES. The New Flesh was starting to smell like Old Flesh and he’d taken it about as far as he could. I mean, what is he really saying with all this in eXistenZ? That our devices become extensions of ourselves. That video games (or movies or TV shows) show us what we ask for, that they open up the darkest dungeons of our minds, and even though we know it’s not real, isn’t it kind of real? Because it’s our real desire, our real fantasy, it’s what we want. We’re some weird fuckin mugwump perverts, whether we admit it or not, and our technology does our filthy bidding. This is all pretty interesting themes, but not at all profound, especially since he had most of that in VIDEODROME. I’m not sure if he knew that, because he said he hadn’t watched VIDEODROME in 15 years when he wrote this. But in many ways it feels like an update and I think he did a good job of making the technology timeless here by making it all organic. He won’t need to do a new one to deal with the eggPad or flesh messaging.

So thank you for your brave service Freaky Chest Vagina Cronenberg, but for now let’s keep you retired unless you get a chance to do something that could do real damage, like a HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL sequel or a remake of FOOTLOOSE or something.

I still liked it though. I’ve heard there are alot of people who hate it, but I’m sure they’re just video game nuts who don’t want us to know the truth.

pacman

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

85 Responses to “eXistenZ”

  1. I really need to watch my copy of Super Mario Brothers now, haha. Good review. That’s about what I thought of it. Though I’ll count myself lucky that I could deaden my thoughts and not see the twist coming…

  2. Great Unwashed

    June 9th, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I’m another fan of this one. Yeah, I see where people think this is Cronenberg lite or running on autopilot., but with some great directors I kinda like that – like an exhibition game or something.

    What I also like in Cronenberg’s ‘alternate’ realities is that there is no default reality to return to.

  3. I liked this one but what kind of held me back from truly embracing it was that there was too much jokiness in it, like Ian Holm and his dodgy accent, which he himself then comments on at the end.

    That bit was funny but stuff like that really takes you out of the movie and yeah I felt it was like Videodrome but kind of remade less well for video games

    Having said that, there’s enough good shit in here to make me like it, the assembling of the fucked up tooth gun being a highlight, also the kind of gruesome way they need to lube up their ‘ports’ etc

    And I thought it was kind of audacious how he had the new flesh line in there at the end , like he’s almost challenging you to bring up Videodrome

    To tell the truth I kind of wish Cronenberg wasn’t taken quite as seriously these days, I like him as a director who walks the line between arthouse and schlock and I feel he’s gone a bit too serious/arthouse these days

  4. You know thinking about Cronenberg as an actor is pretty interesting, he’s obviously a very intelligent and thoughtful man but he makes really weird choices when it comes to acting – Nightbreed, Jason X, Last Night

    I wonder what his motivations are in taking these roles?

    There are other directors too that do stuff like this, Bogdanovich or Scorsese for example

    Is it just vanity or do they do it for fun?
    I dunno man it’s kind of strange

  5. Jose Hernandez

    June 9th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Awesome review, hilarious.

  6. Good review, I should catch up on this one again sometime (preferably streamed directly to my eggPhone)…

  7. Game ethic and morals have always interested me.
    Some people really just run with a kind of psychotic urge to kill and ruin everything possible in a game. They don’t attach any sense of ethics or empathy with the imaginary characters/world. I remember this one guy I worked with was into games. I went to his house and we played some Street Fighter, which was cool. But all the while, his room mate was killing civilians on GTA, angrily saying ”Die bitch die” over and over and over and over…

    It kind of weirded me out after a while.

  8. I haven’t seen this in a while , but I think in the Italian version the phone is not even called “eggphone” , just phone , while it’s clearly a little flesh egg , and I think that’s even more disgusting and creepy. I’ve seen this in the cinema , and I was so happy to be able to go home with a poster to hang , but I lost it , damn it !

    I haven’t seen Last Night but I like the little screen time he has in Jason X and Nightbreed . I think that’s just him having fun , but I like the fact that in one movie he’s a masked killer and in the other he’s killed by one of the most famous masked killers of cinema history . Man , I even like the idea of an entire movie based around his character in Nightbreed ! He was really scary , and I liked the mask.

  9. i love this movie.

    i want number 7 and number 13. that’s a wild night of fun right there.

  10. Yeah as I said before, EXISTENZ is a solid, respectable enough thriller. Just think, Jennifer Jason Leigh had to drop out of that high profile big budget EYES WIDE SHUT, Kubrick’s last movie, so she could do EXISTENZ.

    While I think EWS is the better movie, I must admit that I admire Leigh for backing Cronenberg and that tiny budget.

    Vern – After EXISTENZ, Cronenberg was all set to do another of his weirdo movies in PAINKILLERS with Ralph Fiennes and a $30+ million budget. Then he decided to abort the project. I think quite simply, Cronenberg got tired of being “David Cronenberg.”

    CallMeKermit – I think Cronenberg would scoff if he heard me say it, but I think he’s a good actor. Hell he was a memorable villain for NIGHTBREED.

  11. God I hope someday the uncut Nightbreed is released. On bluray. Or Blu-flesh, the next update.
    I love Existence although I can neither spell or speak the title correctly. Any movie where fleshy things are inserted into JJL is a good one in my opinion.

  12. RRA : Yeah , I will keep an eye out for Last Night , and in the meantime I will watch my old and dusty VHS copy of Nightbreed ( Cabal , here in Italy) . I think that Cronenberg must be a blast to work with , he seems like a funny guy , considering the roles he played in the movies I mentioned before . I’ve also heard that there’s an extra in one of the Fly DVDs with Cronenberg dressed as a fly called , ehm..Cronenfly doing a test scene or something , I’ve only got a vanilla DVD of that movie and I’ve never seen that scene , but that seems to be really funny and an indication of what is like to be on the set with him!

  13. last year I had a Cronenberg marathon where I rented this among others from Netflix

    I loved it, it has a low budget feel yes, but the practical effects were really, really good, more impressive to me than any of the CGI in Transformers

    on the subject of video games, since I’m probably one of the few video game nuts here, I have to say that on one hand yeah it’s a little fucked up when you kill a bunch of random pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto (something that I’m guilty of I admit), but on the other hand I find the anti-video game crusaders like the infamous lawyer Jack Thompson far creepier (if you’ve never heard of Jack, he’s basically the male version of Debbie Harry’s character in Videodrome, he’s probably into bondage)

    personally I think it’s extreme to say that shooting people in video games = shooting people in real life, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with a person who kills a bunch of people that can’t be blamed on video games, Marilyn Manson, what have you

    also death to the demoness Allegra Geller!

  14. anthony : I hope for a full restored version of Barker’s original vision , and a truckload of extras on the special effects and make up . The Cabal Universe is a fantastic setting , with the novel and the short stories , and the movie deserves a better translation in DVD or Blu ray, an ultimate collector’s edition . Or maybe even a book telling the story of this difficult production.

  15. I will attest that Repo Men is a flawed, ambitious and smart sci-fi movie. I really dug it except for the unbelievably stupid final five minutes. Except for that, solid little post-Verhoeven flick.

  16. Brendan – Eh I can’t exactly join in on the REPO MEN gangbang. Its a good fun premise, but beyond the obvious action set-up (top hunter becames the hunted) the movie does really nothing else with it. To use pretentious criticism terminology, its too autopilot for my taste.

    BTW, Alex Cox (director of REPO MAN) says he’s seriously thinking about suing Universal. Why I don’t get it, but hey good to know he’s still alive.

  17. Wow , this is interesting , but a little bit unrelated . I wanted to know what happened to the lost footage , the director’s cut of Nightbreed for some time now , and after the conversation over here at Vern’s place , I went on the internet to read some articles . Well the footage was found and a 145 minutes cut of the movie was shown at a convention called Horrorhound Weekend in March . Now , for the DVD/Blu edition it’s a little bit more difficult because the heads at the studio behind it are still thinking that it’s not worth to release it , the jackasses. But there’s a page on the official Barker site with an email to support the home-release and basically show these guys that there’s an audience for it :

    http://clivebarker.info/morenightbreed.html

    ..and they’re doing a pretty good job , since the project is in the “Not Now..maybe later” stage ( way better than “Fuck You Again , Barker Fans!” )and it’s a good read , too !

  18. I think this might have been the first Cronenberg movie I saw back then. (Possible that I already saw a strong cut TV version of The Fly eariler, maybe even an uncut version of Crash, but I think eXistenZ was the first.)
    I can’t remember much of it, except that I liked how Cronenberg used eXactlY the “it all happened s part of the game”-gimmick that we all eXpecteD, but fooled us about when the game had started. (Reminder: it starts exactly when the movie stars, not when we see them turning on the game in the movie.)

  19. vern:
    why don’t you count sky captain?

  20. I always liked this film for one simple reason.

    It looks and feels like a computer game. Even the dialogue does. Granted the film is of better quality than
    most video game stories, but you can seriously note how well-verse Cronenberg is in – if not exactly video
    games, then perceptions of them. It’s scarily accurate, especially given the recent release of Alan Wake.

  21. edc – well, I was thinking that eXistenZ, aI and gAttacA all belong to that rare “intelligent sci-fi” type and that SKY CAPTAIN doesn’t. But I guess you could say it’s ambitious and flawed and lump it in there.

  22. Wasn’t Cronenberg’s name one of a handful bandied about for a potential HEAVY RAIN adaptation? Or am I retconning my memories again?

  23. I thought it was a duller, artsy, less fun version of Matrix.

    I know a gay guy who worshipped this but hated Matrix.

  24. For once I agree completely with AU_Armageddon, although I’d go a step further than that. Quoting Vern’s review of “Waking Life”, I hated this fucking movie. There are so many things wrong with it that I don’t know where to start – massive flaws in logic, unbelievable and inconsistent setting, stupid twists that do nothing but detract from what characters there are (although Jason-Leigh and Law are so stiff and ungainly in this movie that they look more like puppets than human beings. Seriously, this could be a career low for both of them – although I haven’t seen the “Alfie” remake yet, so the jury may be still out on that one.) I also think that everything Vern said about “Waking Life”‘s dialogue could also apply to this film’s imagery. It’s pretentious to the n’th degree, for the sole purpose of being pretentious. It has nothing at all to say about modern life, because there are no human characters and the world that it takes place in is completely unreal.

    “Everybody is so accepting and matter-of-fact about little living skin lumps used as gadgets.” This also bothered me. Look, in a world where marketing campaigns imply that hamburgers are “grown” and packaging is pretty much everything, you can’t convince me that this would happen. It’s not an extension of reality. I can believe in a society where robots have taken over and humans are used as batteries, because, well, it pretty much fits my pessimistic view of humanity. But I can’t believe that a human being would voluntarily turn over control of their own minds to a little bundle of living flesh like that. The comparison is made with psycho-active drugs, but I think that that’s as bogus as everything else in this film.

    Plus there isn’t a single believable human character in it. Willem Dafoe’s gas-station owner probably comes the closest to at least being memorable, and for the short time that he’s on screen he delivers a damn good performance there. Other than that, it’s been a couple of years, max, since I’ve seen this film, and I couldn’t name or describe a single character from it.

    PS – I liked both “Gattaca” and “The Matrix”. A good tech-fi thriller is one of my favorite movies (and one of my most-watched movies ever is “Sneakers”). So it’s not the genre of this film that bothers me, it’s that it just does nothing right for me.

  25. Vern should review SNEAKERS.

    And he would probably hate it.

  26. I think if Vern would hate Sneakers, I would be so offended that wouldn’t visit his websight for at least 3 days. And I’m not just saying this because I can’t imagine that Vern would hate this movie.

  27. CJ – Perhaps, but I dunno its more a gut instinct. Who knows? Its certainly a quite enjoyable pulp “team” adventure with a terrific cast. Hell they even get Sidney Poitier to drop a F-bomb. Awesome. Plus I admire SNEAKERS for not treating “hacking” as cartoonish and nonsensically insulting as most Hollywood movies tend to do. There is alot of effort, smarts, time, and luck to pull such hijinks off. I appreciate that element.

    Only serious complaint: *SPOILER* I would bankrupt both major parties if I could. *SPOILER*

  28. I dunno what Vern would make of “Sneakers” myself – perhaps somebody should ask him? – but I’m up for him reviewing it if that suits him. Just as soon as he’s reviewed “JUGGERNAUT”, which IS a badass film, and is ridiculously awesome to boot.

  29. Kermit:
    holy shit that’s fantastic! Last I checked there was a petition thingy to release the footage, but I had no idea it had been recently shown. I’ve been reading the old Epic Nightbreed comic and there’s def some cool ideas in there.

  30. Jareth Cutestory

    June 10th, 2010 at 8:41 am

    kuryakin: I don’t know what Cronenberg’s motives are when he signs on as an actor, but I know that he is a vocal supporter of weird little Canadian films, and it’s probably no accident that that is where he often lends his talents. Also, no human on earth could perform his role in LAST NIGHT half as well as he did.

    gingersoll: Your observation about those guys who have a “psychotic urge to kill and ruin everything possible in a game” was dramatized really well in that SOUTH PARK episdode where they go to Elf Land or whatever that game is called.

  31. I’ve found that games like Grand Theft Auto can actually have the opposite effect, at least on me. Sure, when you start playing, all you want to do is beat old ladies to death with a dildo and blow up as many cop cars as possible. But the more you play, the more you find that that shit just gets in the way of being productive. You’ve got missions to complete, relationships to build, and secrets to unlock, and you can’t do that if the National Guard gets called on you every time you leave the house. So gradually you leave behind the antisocial behavior (mostly, anyway—some motherfuckers are just begging to get dildoed) and go about your business. I found that playing GTA: San Andreas had a positive effect on my life. I saw my character getting ahead in his career, forging friendships, meeting girls, enjoying hobbies, working out, improving his wardrobe, and I thought, “Why can’t I do that?” Sure, it’s the hooker murders that get you in the door, but it’s the life lessons that keep you coming back.

  32. Jareth Cutestory

    June 10th, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Jesus, Majestyk, I think you brought a tear to my eye.

    Also, save some space on your tombstone for: “some motherfuckers are just begging to get dildoed.” Future generations need to know this stuff.

  33. I do, however, make it a point to brutally slaughter any drug dealers I find pushing their poison in my neighborhood. And if I catch one in front of my mama’s house? That motherfucker’s getting chainsawed in broad daylight as a lesson to the others.

  34. Just for the counterpoint there MrM, I played a couple of the GTAs for around a hundred hours or so total… and never completed a single mission, or spoke to anyone. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would. Like putting a treadmill in a mouse’s cage filled with cheese gravy and rodent sex pheremones.

    On that note, I’d be curious on Vern’s take on Rampage, or anyone’s to be honest. Uwe Boll’s best put together film so far by a lot, but there’s like only 3 reviews floating around there written by seriously dull and retarded fuckwits. While watching I wasn’t sure if it was brilliant or the most socially irresponsible porn film since I Spit On Your Grave – coming to the conclusion that it was a morally reprehensible film, and that I’m glad it exists as there should be one of these done reasonably, and that it’s nice Uwe Boll has finally got some idea of how to direct an amateur film. Now he can start working on the real thing.

    Interesting to me if it impacts GTA gamers experience at all as well.

  35. Paul – Holy shit, man. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but you don’t “get” this movie. Every single thing you just said about it is completely missing the point. Going into this movie looking for logic and realism is like jumping in the water to dry off. It’s like complaining that one of your dreams is full of plot holes. Logic and believable human behavior are not only intentionally not there, but would completely destroy the whole movie if they were. It’s a movie about dreams and the subconscious, which are in every way in opposition to everything you asked for in the movie. If you don’t like the people being casual about plugging genetically genetically modified amphibian lumps into their flesh then you shouldn’t even think about this movie, or Videodrome. I would also recommend against watching any Dario Argento or looking at a Salvador Dali painting.

    I’m not saying you’re missing out on a whole lot. It’s not even one of the stronger Cronenberg movies. But the fact that you compare it to Sneakers convinces me you should never bother with any of Cronenberg’s movies again, at least the ones up until this one. You might as well have said “I really enjoy hurricane thrillers, in fact I watch Twister with my family every year, so it’s not the genre of Gummo that bothers me, it’s that it just does nothing right for me.”

    And I’m not trying to be pretentious. I’d take The mAtriX over this thing in a hummingbird’s heartbeat. But they have about one superficial similarity and none of the same goals at all.

    (Unless you were just joking around to get a rise out of me, but it didn’t seem like you were.)

  36. In a life-kind-of-maybe-imitates-art vibe, a UK research lad recently created the first biological machine, ie a machine grown in a lab.

  37. Jareth Cutestory

    June 10th, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Not to be confused with the Sex Machine ie. James Brown.

  38. Gotta’ say I hated this movie.

    I love Cronenberg, generally. This is just the one movie of his that I can’t stand.

    Now- full disclosure: I DO work as a video game producer. However, I didn’t at the time that this came out. I just felt that, even then, the whole Virtual Reality suspense or horror thing was lame and seemed out of touch. It reminded me of the people in the early days of “moving pictures” who ducked when the train came toward them.

    Granted, Cronenberg puts his own spin on it with his New Flesh, but in this one I felt like even he was kind of bored with that.

    Add to that one of Jude Law’s many terrible performances and you have this movie.

    Sorry to disagree with many of you, but I thought this one didn’t work… As a matter of fact, I’ve yet to see a movie about video games that does work. (I’m not talking about ones based on video games, although those are usually just as bad). Every video game centric plot I’ve ever seen seems like it was written by someone who has no grasp on what games are. Ya’know… they’re always able to dig into your psyche or you can control them with your mind or some shit that just isn’t technically possible… on top of that, they usually LOOK 5-10 years behind the gaming tech of the time the movie was made while being able to do things that aren’t even close to possible (and in many cases won’t ever be possible). Silly.

    Strangely, I know several screenwriters (actual ones who have had movies made) and they all play video games.

    So, yeah. I guess I’m one of those video game nuts who don’t want you to know the truth. Oh well.

  39. dtroyt – Maybe Roger Ebert was right?

    *waits for Mr. S to jump through the window, gun in hand.*

  40. RRA- Hahaha.

    I’m not going to let myself get into that debate, other than to say: How can someone who admittedly doesn’t experience a medium be qualified to completely dismiss its artistic value? I sense Ebert doing one of his retractions in a decade or so if he’s still around (like he did with, if I remember correctly, Last House on the Left– I could be wrong about that, but I know it was something).

  41. Ebert always liked Last House. I believe it was Blue Velvet he changed his mind on.

  42. Not to bring down the serious-minded nature of this comments section, but there are constant ads for a so called “Male enchancement” product on TV all the time with the name ExtenZe… so I find myself thinking of this film quite often. Whats more naturally male-enhancing that sticking a lubed-up frog umbilical cord into your spine? Cronenberg may be a great filmmaker, but he really missed the boat on potential merchandising tie-ins on this one. (google it if you don’t believe me. I was gonna put a link but I was afraid I’d get lumped in with the spam-bots)

  43. also: *jumps through the window, gun in hand*

  44. Mr. Majestyk – I think it was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

  45. Didn’t he recant his pan of BLUE VELVET, too? In any case, yeah, he definitely missed the boat on NOTLD.

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19670105/REVIEWS/701050301/1023

    Wow, what an embarrassing “review” that is. Not even counting all the repetitions of “the Negro” (the character has a name, Roger), he spends all of his time tsk-tsking a horror movie for being legitimately scary and failing to make note of any of the filmmaking skills on display that made it so effective. It’s like he’s chiding the movie for not being as lame as the giant atomic bug movies that preceded it. “Why, these kids were frightened! What an outrage!” I love Ebert because he’s a very good writer, but he can be quite insufferable when he decides to get up on his soapbox. Kudos to him for putting this horribly dated review up, though. His site represents a body of work, warts and all.

  46. Majestyk and RRA- Thanks for the correction. I knew it was something, just didn’t have the time to actually research it.

  47. *impressed that Mr. S’s gun is made of lizard bone/gristle and fires human teeth.*

  48. Well sure it does, have you priced lizard teeth lately? Im not made of money! Leave me alone!

  49. haha that screening of NOTLD sounds fucking awesome, I’m imagining Ebert sitting there in a bow tie or something and being all prissy with his notebook while little kids get more and more weirded out by the fucked up stuff on screen

    Actually though for all the faults of the article (uh, the Negro ?) it’s pretty interesting in that it does illustrate an understanding that he’s present at a moment when horror cinema is changing dramatically, both in its perception as being stuff for kids and in its presentation

    Crazy Roger Ebert man, even when he’s being an uptight prissy racist he’s still somehow managing to give us some good cinematic insights

  50. While I’m not saying I agree with Ebert, I do think there’s a weird sort of zealotry that kicks in among film fans if you even remotely suggest that there’s some movies that kids just shouldn’t see. As if you were suggesting censorship or that all copies of Taxi Driver should be destroyed and replaced with Lassie.

    I remember years ago being in a movie related chatroom and mentioning something vaguely (I mean vaguely) disapproving about witnessing parents dragging their kid to watch Todd Phillip’s Road Trip (remember that movie?). And everybody there frantically piped up “THAT’S THEIR RIGHT! THAT’S THEIR RIGHT!!!” as if I were about to arrest them. Yeah, it’s their right. It’s also their right to go buy a turkey, cook it, fuck it, and eat it. To quote Chris Rock, “that doesn’t mean it’s to be done”. What got even creepier is that the kid started loudly complaining, in a manner that was genuinely horrified, “I don’t like this. I want to go home.” And, I guess that might be funny except that the kid’s aesthetic judgment was right on; Todd Phillip’s makes some of the most visually and spiritually ugly movies I’ve ever seen.

  51. Ebert is many things, but “racist” I’ve never associated with him. What exactly racist has he done?

    I mean in 1968, “Negro” was the correct mainstream terminology. Yeah I’m sure he rather not let people know about that fact now, but if that is his worst racist crime then well I wouldn’t call him one.

    Then again his 60s reviews were….young. Let’s put it nicely. Read his 3-star review(!) of GOOD BAD UGLY, which even Ebert admitted he was too picky and not appreciative of that sheer awesomeness at the time.

    And I know I sound like I’m trying to defend* the guy, but you know sometimes we reverse our decisions. A movie we hated, we realized we didn’t get it or saw it differently in context of politics or quality. A movie we liked, we realized we overrated the fucker at the time. It happens and I rather someone admit they changed their minds than try to bury/rewrite history.

    I guess I always liked the guy, faults and everything, because he never really talked down to popcorn. Walked a delicate tightrope between acknowledged moviephile with the arthouse/foreign grade-A stuff and the layman who only bothers to see the summer blockbusters/actioneer of the week releases.

    *=He gave thumbs down to DIE HARD, FIGHT CLUB, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, EXCALIBUR, yet thumbs up for CRASH (non-car fucking version) and RED PLANET. Ehh what? Also a Scorsese whore, but hey who isn’t?

  52. I’d never in a million years call Ebert racist, not in this review or any other. But his insistence on calling the character “the Negro” over and over again, constantly calling attention to his race and thus denying his individuality, illustrates the reductive language of the era, which is embarrassing in a modern context. But really, he makes good points in the review. Most of those kids probably weren’t ready to see NOTLD, although I’m sure it was rated R or M or whatever they had at the time and that was their parents’ fault/decision (and besides, I bet some of those kids had the time of their lives). Regardless, Ebert still chose to get up on his soapbox about the rating system rather than give a legitimate review to the movie that marked a turning point in horror cinema, which is kind of lame. But we all make mistakes, and I applaud him for willingly putting his out there for everyone to see.

  53. Mr. M – Do you not care for when Vern hauls out the soapdish on reviews like FRIDAY AFTER NEXT and TRANSFORMERS? Just wondering.

  54. hey WS, if the kid was male, I’m sure he enjoyed the scene with all the naked girls in the shower room at least

  55. There’s nothing wrong with the soapbox. But Vern always manages to review the movie, too. And FRIDAY AFTER NEXT is not NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

  56. Oooh boy.

    First of all, I thought Ebert’s “review” – which is less of the film and more of the way it’s marketed by the way – was pretty compelling. I don’t necessarily agree with him on the point he’s making – who judges what kids can and can’t handle? – but I can see why he’s making it and where he’s coming from.

    Now, Vern… you say I’ve missed the point. I don’t think I have, although I might have written it badly. I’ve watched and enjoyed films like “Mullholland Drive” (which has a helluva lot more to say about dreams and desires vs reality than “Existenz” IMO). This is a film in which the two lead actresses suddenly start playing completely different characters at points. I don’t fully “understand” this film. I don’t think it’s meant to be “understood” in that way. And yet I find it compelling.

    I think you’re right that the “Sneakers” comparison is a bad one. I don’t think the “Matrix” comparison is as flawed as you make out though; I’d point out that it was when this series disappeared up its own arse that it was at its absolute worst. Maybe it’s better to compare it to the “Terminator” flicks or some of the weirder Gilliam films like “Twelve Monkeys” or “Time Bandits” or “Brazil”. Whole ESSAYS have been written about the internal logic flaws in those movies. Doesn’t matter. (Well, I was never a fan of “Time Bandits”. But the other two are great.) I’ve read books in my youth like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Wind in the Willows”, which are basically travelogues in a world where anarchy rules supreme, and yet the worlds portrayed in those books still seem more real than “Existenz”.

    But let’s take out my criticisms of the “logic” of the movie, if you like. Let’s also ignore the problems I have with the “egg phone” and the living pods and everything else, and put it down to the “dream” factor. That still leaves a bunch of characters who I don’t like and who don’t act in any way that I can relate to. Or to put it another way: I can accept that a world exists in which human beings are replaced by pod people, but I can’t accept a world in which a world-renowned wine critic (be there such a thing) smokes a cigarette before enjoying a rare vintage.

    (It’s the little lies that we find hardest to accept. The big ones get swallowed easily because we humans, self-deceivers that we are, like to clan together, and the best way of doing this is to agree on stuff like religion, politics, etc. The “insiders” become the people who share your point of view, the “outsiders” are the ones who dispute it. That’s human nature, folks.)

    I mean, who am I supposed to root for here? There’s no protagonist or anti-hero – you might as well call Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson the protagonists in “The Phantom Menace”. It’s blatantly obvious that the two main characters are hiding their motivations from the very beginning, putting an empathic “barrier” between me and them; but aside from that, their acting is so stiff and unnatural that they barely look like they’re experiencing any human emotion. Am I supposed to put terrible acting and character work down to the “dream” factor as well?

    Actually, you know what? That’s probably the best comparison I can make (although it may be somewhat harsh, there’s nothing in Existenz to make me want to pull my punches here.) “The Phantom Menace”, another movie where there isn’t a single believable or relatable character and nothing about the entire world portrayed feels “real”. And no, this isn’t down to the fact that Existenz is “dream-like”. It’s due to the fact that it’s a bad film.

  57. Griff – Nah, I think the rancidness of that movie, combined with the nudity, combined with its Frat House, date rapey, mean-spirited view of girls, combined with the fact that the kids parent’s were sitting right next next to him probably put him off the opposite sex for quite awhile.

  58. I’m not going to put myself in the position of defending ROAD TRIP, which I saw once on DVD and promptly forgot. But the references to it triggered something in my memory, and a search dredged up this:

    “…has everyone seen the new Tom Green flick Road Trip? For a gross-out teen sex comedy, this movie is remarkably sex-positive. Un[conventionally] attractive people are shown having sex–fat black girl on top of skinny white guy–and while the shock of seeing the two of them rolling around plays as something of a sight gag, they’re not held up to ridicule by other characters in the film. Indeed, no one questions their right to be sexual, or their attraction to each other. It’s really… heartwarming.

    As if that weren’t revolutionary enough, Road Trip also features a girl who initiates kinky sex (videotaping what could be a one-night stand), and not only is she not punished or humiliated or dead (or all three) as is customary in teen sex comedies, but she winds up getting the guy in the end. And to top it all off, a studly straight boy gets finger-fucked and no fag jokes are cracked, and he’s not made out to be any less studly or straight for enjoying it. In Road Trip, people aren’t worried about what normal, good girls do, and ugly people get laid–it’s like sex in real life. It’s mind-blowing.”

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=4202

    I remember weird shit sometimes. It’s a blessing and a curse.

    Anyway, there’s another perspective from the esteemed Savage Love guy. If you disagree, let him have it. Which I guess makes me that guy who starts the bar brawl and then crawls away to watch the chaos.

  59. Road Trip is one of my personal Top 5 comedies of the last decade. That’s all.

  60. Paul – I think MULHOLLAND DRIVE is the only movie you mentioned that would be a fair comparison to EXISTENZ, because it’s only technically a sci-fi movie, it doesn’t have the same goals as any of the others. I don’t have any problem with you not liking the movie, and I think it’s flawed. And I prefer movies where you root for the hero and all the normal things you’re talking about there. But the problem is that this movie is very obviously and very intentionally not trying to do those normal things. The characters are not supposed to be relatable and are supposed to not seem real, because it’s a movie with multiple layers of reality and you never find out which are “the real world,” if any, and Cronenberg obviously wants you to always have it in the back of your mind that these people aren’t necessarily real.

    Saying that it doesn’t work is completely legitimate, I’m just disagreeing with your attempts to look so literally at a movie that so clearly is not meant to be taken literally at all. For example, if somebody was going to complain to you that MULHOLLAND DR. didn’t make any sense because how did those characters change into those characters, or why did those old people fit in that tiny box at the end, that would be missing the point of the movie. Or “why does Naomi Watts seem like a bad actress but then when she does her audition she seems great?” And you would say, “Yeah, exactly! That’s what’s great about it!” and they would say, “But why does it seem like she’s a bad actress but then…”

  61. It’s weird that you brought up Dan Savage, because, I thought about something he said while writing my previous comment. (At least, I’m pretty sure Dan Savage said this). If I remember correctly (and I might butchering this a little), he was on NPR, talking about growing up gay and watching all those mincing queen stereotypes on 70’s television, and how, when he was older, he realized that the media actually doesn’t offer all that great a representation of heterosexuality either. Which is something I would apply to Road Trip.

    If he wants to see the movie that way, that’s fine. But, I think he’s looking at it through purer, more optimistic eyes than the film-makers were: I’m not going to vet that whole thing but; quote: “…black girl on top of skinny white guy–and while the shock of seeing the two of them rolling around plays as something of a sight gag, they’re not held up to ridicule by other characters in the film.” Ok, that’s an extreme soft-pedaling of that scene. It’s not just something of a sight gag. It IS a sight gag (shown in the commercials for the movie ad nauseum) and because of that, it’s inherently saying that the pairing is abnormal. It’s basically saying “Look! Ewwwwwwwwww! GROSS!” And, not only that, they ARE ridiculed by the other characters in the movie. Maybe not relentlessly, but everybody else seems pretty sickened by the whole thing. In the movie, skinny nerd having sex with fat black girl is almost portrayed like it was one of the self-destructive stunts on Jackass, which is not particularly sex positive to me. But, whatever.

  62. Hey CJ – what else is on that list? You’ve got me racking my brain trying to come up with 5 comedies of the last decade that I liked.

  63. Vern – I agree with you. I think you think I’m arguing with the film’s internal logic as a story, which isn’t strictly true. I’m not arguing with the logic of the film as a story (well, I am, but that’s not really my main point and it doesn’t have any real bearing on my view of the film. I’ve seen films with far worse logical flaws in that respect than “Existenz” and still enjoyed the hell out of them, so if that was all that was wrong with it, I wouldn’t have any problem.) I’m arguing with the logic of the film, as a film, or as a piece of cinema. There’s a difference there. And what it really comes down to is that I suck at putting my point across…

    Anyway – Road Trip. What the heck is going on here? Is it “debate a terrible movie” day all of a sudden? My two cents – it’s forgettable, mean-spirited, and not particularly worth writing a whole paragraph for. But hey, I’m feeling generous.

  64. Also I’m probably going to get flamed for this something cruel, because I know there are a few people commentating on this site who can’t stand Will Ferrell; but I saw “Anchorman” for the first time recently and thought it was great.

  65. Jareth Cutestory

    June 11th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I tried to come up with a list of 5 comedies that I even saw in the last decade and came up short.

    Also, any comedy I’ve seen after SCHIZOPOLIS seemed really weak.

  66. Nah, ANCHORMAN is genuinely great, doubt about it. Ferrel is never exactly a safe bet, but in a few choice roles he’s priceless. I mean, come on, his George W. Bush will probably be the definative portrayal of the man, and I mean that in all seriousness (sorry Josh Brolin. Close second.).

  67. A few comedies of the last decade I’d have on my list would be BAD SANTA, TEAM AMERICA, and BURN AFTER READING, maybe BORAT or HOT FUZZ. Of course, I’m aware that more folks would probably disagree with this list than would agree. So, uh, sorry about that. (In The Bedroom, Enter the Void, and Martyrs just missed the cut).

  68. I watched Land of the Lost yesterday, it was very funny. Or I was very wasted. I dunno. Gonna watch it again sober. Smiley Face, Tropic Thunder, Superbad, Burn After Reading and Bad Santa are my favorite comedy of the decade.

    @vern
    I haven`t seen EXISTENZ since it`s release, but I remember being quite dissapointed by it. And I love movies that doesn`t make sense. Since you compared it to Mullholland Drive, I`d like to ask if there is a point to the senselessness of EXISTENZ. Mullholland Drive makes a lot of sense to me on a subconscious level, it`s the story of a girl committng suicide and not being able to escape the hell she has created for herself. It`s a lovestory told through a psychosis, like Lost Highway. Well, that my take on it anyway, but Lynch clearly has a important story to tell about dreams, failure, broken hearts,jalousi, suicide etc. Did you feel there was a point to the senselessness of EXISTENZ? Cause I appearently missed completely missed it then.

  69. @The Giggler

    Where have you seen Enter The Void? And is a good?

  70. Man I do love that photo at the bottom. That my namesake (well, my namesake’s namsake) managed to briefly become almost as big a marketing machine as STAR WARS despite only consisting of 5/8 of a circle, a lot of dots, a few wierdly shaped ghosts and some lines is something for early 80s citizens to be truly proud of I think.

    Oh, and I liked EXISTENZ. And ANCHORMAN. ROAD TRIP not so much.

  71. dna, it’s an aggressively audience-pummeling experience– very funny, if gestures to alienate audiences is your bag ( I certainly enjoyed that aspect).

    As for the subject at hand, I love Existenz. Just like I love Raising Cain. Cain ain’t Dressed to Kill or Body Double, but it’s a supreme artisto back in his comfortable-favorite wheelhouse. When I saw Existenz (in a mall-multiplex of all places-) it was like catching up with an old friend. Kinda like those Woody Allen title cards whenever a new flick of his starts.

  72. I think my Top 5 comedies* of the last decade** might be (in no special order)

    – Road Trip
    – Dude, Where’s My Car
    – Bad Santa
    – Nothing
    – Clerks 2

    *Note that I’m really talking about “just for laughs” comedies. Other favourites of mine that qualify as comedy, but were made as “real movies” and probably have some big, fat drama, thriller or horror streak, include, but are not limited to Adaptation, Garden State, La Comunidad, Slither and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind.

    **Before you ask, my overall Top 5 (again in no special order) might be:
    – Arsenic & Old Lace
    – Operation Petticoat
    – The ‘burbs
    – Ghostbusters
    – Galaxy Quest

  73. I don`t really dig a lot of comedies, but The Big Lebowsky never fails to make me laugh. I think the weirdest experience I had in a cinema was watching Takashi Miike`s Gozu. The entire audience was laughing right from the beginning of the movie and all the way through to the last 10 minutes, where it went completely silent, except for some woman screaming her head of all the way through the climax. Quite scary, actually. Another movie that doesn`t make a lick of sense except on a unconscious level.

  74. DNA – with your thoughts on “Existenz” I think you made my point for me a helluva lot better than I could. (Although I think the comparison to “Mulholland Drive” was mine rather than Vern’s).

    I LOVE “Galaxy Quest”. I LOVE “Lake Placid”. If I had to choose two movies from the last decade that I went to see with expectations set at rock bottom, and came out with a huge smile on my face, those would be them. Both ridiculously funny as well. They share a brand of very different but very effective character-driven humour that elevates a couple of genre movies from being merely good to just a little bit special.

  75. Oh yeah, and I LOVE “Hot Fuzz”. I thought it was about a thousand times better than “Shaun of the Dead”, which frustrated rather than entertained me simply because I found all of “Shaun’s” characters to be a killer combination of one-dimensional and unlikeable. (Seriously, I’m sounding like I suffer from bipolar disorder here, but it ain’t necessarily so. It’s just that I don’t have anything really to say about truly mediocre movies – like the aforementioned “Road Trip”, which I thought was pretty dire, but not in the way that causes me to hate it. If I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on a movie, I won’t bother to comment on it.)

  76. how did we get on the topic of Road Trip anyway?

    it’s a pretty meh comedy, my favorite scene is the aforementioned one with all the naked girls in the shower

  77. Jareth Cutestory

    June 12th, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Griff: ROAD TRIP was used as an example in response to Ebert and others’ perceived zealotry regarding certain movies. It is entirely possible that the film works better as a measuring stick for social values than it does as a piece of entertainment. See WS’s comment above.

  78. When I first saw eXistenZ, I wrote it off as a crappy cautionary tale about virtual reality. But, having watched it again recently, it stuck with me. Now, I think it’s a movie more concerned with offering a comprehensive vision of reality itself. The video game stuff is just a way for Cronenberg to illustrate it. The title is basically telling you the movie’s theme.

    I don’t want to delve too heavily into interpretation so I’ll just say that I think the key to understanding what Cronenberg is up to is in this exchange between Ted and Allegra:

    Ted: “We’re both stumbling around together in this unformed world, whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly indecipherable or even possibly nonexistent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don’t understand.”

    Allegra: “That sounds like my game, all right.”

    Ted: “That sounds like a game that’s not gonna be easy to market.”

    Allegra: “But it’s a game everybody’s already playing.”

  79. WS — I think poor eXistenZ got caught in the wake of THE MATRIX which came out at the same time. Since they both deal with virtual reality, I think people mistakenly assumed that they were making the same point. I think it may be long enough out now that people can go back and see that eXistenZ as other, more interesting things on its mind.

  80. Just saw ExISTENz finally… Cronenberg just couldn’t help himself back then, could he? People always gotta be poking each other in weird holes.

    The first 30 minutes (before they arrive at the MOTEL and “jack in” for the first time) were painful, I was shocked at what a horrible movie it was. Bad acting, terrible script and unbelievable dialog, awful characters and plot. Then they go into the “game” and things get weirder and better. Then SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS you realize much of the odd and completely out of place stuff that happened in the first 30 minutes was not because we were watching the movie’s reality, we were already watching the game. So a lot of the things you thought were terrible were intentional. Things like the awkward and seemingly clueless acting with weird pauses and people not really reacting normally to murder attempts, phone calls, etc. Two headed lizards appearing at gas stations for no real reason. Characters saying things like “country gas station” and then a jump cut to a gas station with COUNTRY GAS STATION on the building. The motel marked MOTEL out in the middle of the woods. Not to mention bio-engineered game controllers.

    The criticisms I see above in the talkbacks about the bio-engineered game controllers…. ummm… if you watched through to the end you should have realized that those don’t eXist. I realize that the IWAAD ending (well, IWAVR) is considered kind of a cheat in screenwriting but in this case I give it a pass because that was the purpose of the entire movie. The video game eXistenZ that the players were playing wasn’t even real, that was a fake video game inside the video game that they were playing with the blue electronic game controller thingies.

    So maybe this is an unfair criticism, but the first 30 minutes I was staring in shock at how horrible this movie was. Perhaps I would have been better prepared to enjoy the movie if I had known the plot twist from the beginning and I could accept that the plot was a bit nonsensical on purpose rather than just being sloppy writing, the actors were acting like people who were trying to act like they were playing a part in a video game rather than just turning in the worst performances of their careers, and I don’t have to accept two headed dragon lizards and squirming pods with umbilical cords as video game devices in an actual hypothetical future. But of course that would have spoiled the final plot twist.

    Also, I have never really noticed this before but Jennifer Jason Leigh is hot. I have also never noticed this before either but she has really bad skin, at least she did in this movie.

  81. weren’t the bio-engineered game controllers a result of Allegra Geller’s anti-game attitudes and a weird blending of her mindset and the games?

  82. Well, SPOILERS etc.. the only part of the movie that was actually “real” (if any of it was, as pointed out by the Chinese waiter) was the last 3-4 minutes maybe and there wasn’t enough exposition to draw a whole lot of conclusions. The real game designer did say during this time that the anti-game sentiment was not his own creation and was introduced by one of the players. However I don’t think this could be extended all the way to the bio-engineering of the game controllers since this was a central part of the game’s plot, what with the tooth-shooting bone gun, the factory with game characters cutting apart live amphibians (including the real game designer himself), etc. The real game designer was disturbed by the slant of the game but didn’t say anything about the gross pods or animal vivisections. And if Amanda Geller’s anti-game attitudes infiltrated the game and caused the bio-engineered game controllers, why would she imagine herself so emotionally attached to hers, even calling it “she” and “her” as if it were conscious (and she seemed to be the only character who invested this kind of attachment into their equipment). On the one hand she loves her pod like it’s her baby, on the other hand she imagines it’s made of chopped up frogs in a dirty barn?

    I actually meant to watch STRANGE DAYS and ended up choosing this one off my Netflix queue instead.

  83. Woah this blog is superb everyone loves researching your site content. Keep up the nice function! You know, a lot of person’s want all around in this data, you might guide all of them greatly.

  84. Interesting that the egg phone in this movie predates the iPhone by about 8 years. I wonder if Steve Jobs stole the idea from this movie.

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