David Cronenberg – eXistenZ (1999)

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Allegra Geller, the leading game designer in the world, is testing her new virtual reality game, eXistenZ with a focus group. As they begin, she is attacked by a fanatic assassin employing a bizarre organic gun. She flees with a young marketing trainee, Ted Pikul, who is suddenly assigned as her bodyguard. Unfortunately, her pod, an organic gaming device that contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game program, is damaged. To inspect it, she talks Ted into accepting a gameport in his own body so he can play the game with her. The events leading up to this, and the resulting game lead the pair on a strange adventure where reality and their actions are impossible to determine from either their own or the game’s perspective. Continue reading

David Cronenberg – Dead Ringers (1988) (HD)

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In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg tells the chilling story of identical twin gynecologists—suave Elliot and sensitive Beverly, bipolar sides of one personality—who share the same practice, the same apartment, the same women. When a new patient, glamorous actress Claire Niveau, challenges their eerie bond, they descend into a whirlpool of sexual confusion, drugs, and madness. Jeremy Irons’ s tour-de-force performance—as both twins—raises disturbing questions about the nature of personal identity. Continue reading

Allan King – Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company (2005)

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Finally, King expands his exploration of the aging process with Memory for Max, Claire, Ida, and Company, an intimate personal diary for eight patients suffering from dementia and memory loss at the Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System. Whereas Dying at Grace documented patients succumbing to the inevitable, Memory focuses on the terrifying doubts, palpable relationships, and relentless patterns of the individual patient and their fragile grip on reality. The titular trio makes up a close-knit group linked by emotional necessity, and Memory delves deep into the haunting alienation each feels when one unexpectedly dies, and the others have to relive the tragic news over and over again. The process is difficult to watch, but in a final coup de grace, King upends stereotypes about the sick and aged by never abandoning them no matter how difficult the situation, his camera a tracker of the small, delicate emotions cinema usually can’t recreate. Continue reading

Allan King – Come on Children (1973)

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For Come on Children, from 1972, King returns to the lives of troubled Toronto youths, but this time he creates the environment of study himself. After doing extensive interviews with local teenagers, King sent 10 of his subjects on a country retreat to a farmhouse where they could live collectively without the interference of adults, hierarchies, or rules. Each of the teens, ranging in age from 13 to 18, gets a musical introduction from one of the more charismatic subjects, a pimply ex-drug addict named John. His Dylan-esque folk narration gives Come on Children a reflexive identity, the best example his last lyric, “I’m not sure what the film’s about, but I hope the movie makes you feel that you wished you were here.” These kids understand the camera’s perspective, but that doesn’t stop them from unveiling a disturbing mixture of naiveté and hardnosed cynicism at the adult life waiting around the corner. Once again, King uses a collective set piece—a visit from everyone’s parents to the farmhouse—to show the dynamic drama breathing through the core of every conversation. If Come on Children is less successful at engaging the viewer’s sympathies, it’s because the Vietnam-era teens don’t see much to look forward to, an ideology King never sugarcoats. Continue reading

Allan King – Dying at Grace (2003)

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After two decades of fiction films and television docs, King set out to address his own aging with an ambitious project charting the final months of five patients on the palliative care unit in Toronto’s Grace Health Care Centre. The result is King’s masterpiece, 2003’s Dying at Grace, a cinematic experience like no other, one that’s unequivocally devoted to examining the slow and methodical process of death. As with all of King’s films, the opening shot is incredibly pertinent to his end goals, and Dying at Grace is no different. As the opening credits roll, King follows the transfer of recently deceased body from a patient’s room to the morgue, as if to immediately display death as a forgone conclusion. King then introduces each cancer-stricken subject, first a rapidly deteriorating diabetic named Carmela Nardone, then Joyce Bone, Eda Simac, Lloyd Greenaway, and finally hard living ex-con Richard Pollard. Using the nightly nurse reports of each patient’s condition as a keen narrator, King constructs a lengthy procedural on the nuances of death, the deeply touching moments between family members and patient, and finally the staggering silence during the final moments of these people’s lives. Continue reading

Allan King – A Married Couple (1969)

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Unnerving in an altogether different way, A Married Couple, from 1969, ventures into the world of adult showmanship through the conflicted relationship between Billy and Antoinette Edwards. King is given full access to their marriage, and his cameras watch as the suburban façade of happiness and understanding quickly crumbles away to reveal a tense power struggle for control within the modern middle-class household. Simple conversations become scenes of endless bickering, and assumptions about duty, responsibility, and loyalty turn into verbal daggers of resentment, clouding the colorful 1960s interiors with presumptuous hot air. King also finds the comical within the tragic, best on display when Billy walks out in a red Speedo and wool vest, a peacock flexing his feathers for a woman who no longer cares. The final quiet conversation between husband and wife takes a turn toward the absurd, but considering the jockeying that’s proceeded, this final compromise of love makes perfect sense. It’s hard to imagine a fiction film being able to capture this type of potent human dichotomy linking gradual suffering and survival. Continue reading

Allan King – Warrendale (1967)

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King’s feature debut, Warrendale, about a collection of volatile children from the titular Toronto-based rehabilitation center, has been compared to the works of Pennebaker, Maysles, and Rouch within the cinema vérité and Direct Cinema movements. But King’s approach to capturing the children’s emotional ebbs and flows as they experience anger, guilt, and finally tragedy, seems arguably more human, hypnotically attuned to the delicate sensitivities of people’s movements and sounds. As the adult caregivers attempt to build trust with these damaged children, King focuses on the intimate moments of counseling, reassurance, and discourse structuring the narrative. That these sequences often devolve into hysterical fits and seizures makes the film all the more forceful, showing the dark undercarriage of childhood trauma without any buffer or safety net. The film’s striking emotional centerpiece, a family-style meeting between counselors and children about the sudden death of the house cook, is a breathtaking display of collective heartbreak and rejuvenation that creates a frenzy of repressed rage. In a single moment, King’s camera becomes engulfed in an emotional war zone, pinned down but never overwhelmed by honest, raw expression, always able to capture the small moments on the fringes of the frame. Continue reading