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Review: Crimes of the Future

Kristen Stewart shines in Cronenberg’s return to body horror.

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When we last saw David Cronenberg some eight years ago, he was polarizing critics with a string of oddball dramas. The king of body horror made a hard prestige pivot after the tremendous success of 2005’s A History of Violence, alienating some fans—and friends—in the process.

With Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg completes his hero’s journey. He returns to body horror with over two decades of lessons learned, and the result may be his most effective work since A History of Violence.

Crimes of the Future is a pulpy movie (in more ways than one). It may be misleading to call it “horror;” it’s a neo-noir in a body horror shell, sometimes literally. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are a pair of performance artists in a future obsessed with surgery and biohacking. They become wrapped up in an underground conspiracy while flirting with their most daring performance yet.

At the same time, his time spent away from sci-fi has clearly given Cronenberg a renewed sense of focus. Set in Greece, the film’s futurism feels tied to the entire history of European art, which it employs for both tone and satire. Tone is another element that here feels drawn from Cronenberg’s recent experiments.

Believe it or not, Crimes of the Future is a chill, almost comforting film. While there’s plenty of shock value, it takes place in a world desensitized to surgery, wounds, and new flesh. As the story fades into something of a hardboiled detective drama, you start to share the characters’ indifference to these carnal reformations.

As Kristen Stewart’s Timlin insists, “surgery is the new sex.” Stewart’s role was smaller than I anticipated, but she absolutely brings the house down. Her mousy demeanor and barely-restrained horniness turn the iconic tics of her Twilight performance on their head. It’s a stellar, transformative performance, and also an immensely funny one.

Crimes of the Future isn’t the funniest movie of the year, but it’s definitely up there. Despite opening on a brutal scene of filicide, it otherwise finds ample humor in its bleak, awkward characters and the desensitized world they occupy. We see a dancer covered in ears, his eyes and mouth sewn shut… and then immediately hear characters trash-talking him as a hack.

Like all great satires, it also flirts with some profound philosophy. Questions of pain and human nature are just an appetizer for the film’s primary focus: a group of rebels who’ve hacked their bodies to digest plastic and other synthetic materials.

Despite turning organs into art, Saul is nihilistic about these advancements. The government agents he encounters on his journey are concerned with preventing humans from being overtaken by a new species. These conflicts intertwine with a series of suspicious killings and shady characters, all convening around an autopsy Saul is asked to perform live on camera.

The closest movie I can think of to compare Crimes of the Future to is Blade Runner. It’s a funny, moody, grimy future-noir anchored by a stellar cast and world-class direction. It’s also, crucially, a through-and-through Cronenberg movie. His unmistakable techno-gore is never too far away, nor are all his favorite subjects of personal turmoil and ethical confusion.

It’s a fun thought exercise to find the intersection between Cronenberg’s two worlds. You might get more out of Eastern Promises knowing that it’s by the director of eXistenZ. But Crimes of the Future is the film that truly brings it all together. It’s a great crime movie, balancing a tangled web of motives without a single beat out of place. A

Crimes of the Future is now in theaters.

Harper Goldman (she/her) is a writer and Sarah Lawrence alum based in Philadelphia. She hosts the weekly podcast Pulp Friction and also works as a musician, comedian, and playwright.

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Vince McMahon Stepped Down From WWE. Or Did He?

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The news rang out around the world on Friday. 

Vince McMahon, father and face of the modern WWE, is voluntarily stepping down from his CEO position. The news came amid allegations of misconduct, affairs, and hush money.

And then, the strangest thing happened. Moments later, WWE announced that McMahon would make an appearance during Smackdown. Many speculated that McMahon would take the opportunity to admit remorse, address the new path, or prepare a last goodbye for fans.

Instead, he did this.

“It is a privilege, as always, to stand before you here tonight, the WWE Universe. Especially a privilege to stand here in this ring in Minnesota.

I’m here simply to remind you of the four words we just saw in what we call the WWE signature. Those four words are then, now, forever, and the most important word is together.

Welcome to SmackDown!”

“Bizarre spectacle” is a phrase that could appear under the dictionary definition for World Wrestling Entertainment.. But even fans were left scratching their heads by this appearance, with one caught on camera appearing to ask “That’s it?”

What really happened to Vince McMahon

Image credit: CNN

If you didn’t read past headlines about stepping down amid misconduct allegations, you might be stunned that McMahon would appear on TV at all. The truth, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated.

Per The Wall Street Journal, an inquiry began in April concerning a secret payout of $3 million that a WWE paralegal received in January. McMahon allegedly had an affair with the employee. The investigation opened up other, older NDAs relating to sexual misconduct by McMahon and talent relations chair John Laurinaitis.

The misconception at hand comes from WWE’s announcement. While it’s true that McMahon is stepping down from his chief position while the investigation continues, that’s not the whole picture.

McMahon is maintaining creative control of the WWE. For an entertainment company, the creative aspect is a pretty massive slice of the pie. As evidenced by Friday’s appearance—and another appearance on Monday—he’s not stepping down from the public eye either.

Image credit: WWE

McMahon’s WWE character, “Mr. McMahon,” it seems, is not under the same scrutiny as his actor. There are no signs that his exaggerated persona will cease making appearances on SmackDown and at other WWE events.

In a way, it’s a delicate PR chess move. The headline, “Vince McMahon Steps Down Amidst Investigation,” reads like a victory. The sticky truth, that he’s not really exiting at all, will have little impact on the general public.

Wrestling fans, on the other hand, are seeing both sides play out, and it’s leaving some confused. It’s an interesting twist on “kayfabe,” the suspension of disbelief at the root of the WWE community. In reality, Vince has stepped down, but in kayfabe, Mr. McMahon hasn’t gone anywhere.

This bizarre in-and-out response might reflect the inherent flaws in wrestling’s mesh of fantasy and reality. In pursuit of kayfabe, what happens if McMahon is fully ousted? Will an attachment to his fictional persona keep justice from being served? At this point, it’s hard to say.

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Failure to Launch: Why Is Pixar’s Lightyear a Box Office Dud?

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The summer movie season is in full swing, and we’re slowly but surely crawling back to business as usual. Non-Marvel movies are hitting, turnout is up across the board, and leggy originals like Everything Everywhere All at Once point to strong signs of life.

There are still huge problems, but we can at least start to fall back on the conventional wisdom. Franchise films still soar, occasional crowd-pleasing originals break through, and Pixar’s tentpole release cruises to an easy billion.

Or so we thought.

Just before the pandemic, Pixar crossed a billion with Toy Story 4, one year after crushing it with Incredibles 2. Now, after a string of Disney+ releases, they’ve taken another big swing with the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear

Just a week ago, bullish projections had Lightyear nearing a nine-figure opening weekend and cruising to $500m from there. Instead, the family-friendly tentpole opened second, failing to surpass a plummeting Jurassic World Dominion.

Why did Lightyear flop?

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve seen the headline: Lightyear bombs. Disappointing on its face, but the ramifications go far beyond the potential for a Woody’s Roundup spinoff film.

The past couple Pixar films (Soul, Luca, Turning Red) released exclusively on Disney+. Many maligned the shafting of these exciting animated films. It’s especially upsetting for Turning Red, which could’ve easily been one of 2022’s runaway box office hits.

Lightyear is the test. A new direction for Pixar’s biggest franchise. The most means-tested Pixar film gets the theatrical boost, and if it does well, the other movies follow. For this reason, it is a big deal that Lightyear flopped. So, what happened?

If you frequent Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen the “get woke go broke” narrative. A gay kiss, which was removed from the film and added back after Disney’s March “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, has gotten the film banned in several countries. Domestic concern trolls like Ben Shapiro, enamored by Saudi Arabia’s officially-sanctioned bigotry, ratcheted up scare pieces on the film in the past week.

In today’s new heights of parental hysteria, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few thousand families stayed home due to right-wing fearmongering. Still, history doesn’t really support the notion that this would have a substantial impact on box office. Multiverse of Madness made big bank with equally-major LGBTQ+ characters. If anything, it could be said that these films’ lack of a Chinese release upsets their box office returns, but that doesn’t explain a poor opening weekend.

Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2

Still others have pointed to the shafting of Tim Allen, replaced in the role of Buzz by Chris Evans. Allen’s performance in the Toy Story movies is iconic and truly fantastic. Still, I question the notion that $30 million went missing from beleaguered Tim Allen fans.

The other explanation? Marketing. Lightyear got off on the wrong foot with an unclear premise. Evans’ ill-fated explanation tweet only made matters worse. Is this about a real Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story universe?

One could argue that even today, Disney hasn’t totally gotten their story straight. The movie itself explains that this is the movie that the Buzz Lightyear toy comes from. An ‘80s sci-fi movie that Andy saw. In theaters. In 1995. That’s styled like a 2022 blockbuster. You can see how people got lost.

On the other hand, we might just be asking the wrong question.

Did Lightyear flop?

Of course, it’s too early to say definitively if Lightyear is a flop. That’s not what I’m arguing here.

We’re dealing with a case of Hollywood math, the same system by which Suicide Squad’s $750m profit is considered a dismal failure. Disney had the wrong idea about this movie as soon as they pushed it for a tentpole opening.

Lightyear’s $50m opening puts it in league with Coco and Cars 3, solidly ahead of true Pixar flops like The Good Dinosaur and Onward. It’s the highest opening for an animated film since Frozen II. With a COVID handicap still in play, that’s impressive.

Pixar’s mistake was to angle for a major franchise opening. They applied a post-pandemic framework to the nine-figure openings of Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory. They thought, reasonably enough, that parents would pay big money to turn out for a new, fresh installment in the beloved Toy Story franchise.

Herein lies the real problem. Lightyear is not, in any meaningful sense, a Toy Story movie. It has name recognition, which Hollywood has come to treat as a golden rule over the past two decades. But it follows a completely different character, played by a completely different actor, in a completely different world.

Like I said earlier, Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear is truly great. But the character is only a toy with an inflated ego, being constantly hit in the face by reality like Sideshow Bob stepping on infinite rakes. So much as wondering about “the real Buzz Lightyear” misses the point of the character.

Lightyear may marginally be a victim of conservative backlash, or poor promotion, or even COVID woes. But fundamentally, it’s a victim of its own premise.

What happens now?

Pixar’s next film, Elemental, is already slated for a theatrical release next summer. Barring a huge COVID flare-up or other societal collapse, they probably won’t go back on that. Down the line, other Pixar flicks in development may be looking at streaming releases if Disney has their way.

If anything, The Bad Guys’ recent success proves feature animation is doing fine. In a few weeks, the new Minions movie will likely confirm that. November’s Strange World will tell us if Disney’s animation department has any sort of long-term problem.

I can’t really recommend that you see Lightyear—in fairness, I haven’t seen it myself. If you want variety at the movies, the answer isn’t to support whatever Disney puts out. Live a little and see something out of your comfort zone. If Lightyear’s fate is already sealed, at least it won’t be at the expense of film as a whole.

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Review: Jurassic World Dominion

Is it the worst movie of 2022?

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The Jurassic World trilogy makes little effort to hide the fact that it follows the blueprint of the Star Wars sequels. 

Sure, Jurassic World preceded The Force Awakens by a few months, but the bones are all there. Start with a reintroduction that rehashes the original story, go left with a new director on the sequel, then bring it all home with a big legacy finale.

There’s just three problems:

  1. While I appreciate Jurassic World’s cynical subtext, it’s no The Force Awakens.
  2. Interesting foray into small-scale horror aside, Fallen Kingdom doesn’t come close to The Last Jedi as a piece of cinema.
  3. As irreparably bad as The Rise of Skywalker is, it’s no Jurassic World Dominion.

It could definitely be said that Dominion takes notes from the sort of roller coaster filmmaking attempted by Rise of Skywalker and fine-tuned by Spider-Man: No Way Home. Story beats come and go, with instant emotional gratification at the forefront. References to the classic movies supersede plot, characters, even action.

But as many head-scratching decisions as there are in Rise of Skywalker, they generally become clear once you apply this framework. Jurassic World Dominion, on the other hand, undermines its very premise almost instantly. This sets up a carnival of disappointment where literal dinosaurs are a light seasoning and metaphorical dinosaurs roam the Earth.

This popular tweet opines that the Jurassic Park franchise has consistently bungled an inherently winning premise. Before seeing the new film, I was ready to argue that “dinosaur chomp chomp human” is actually not much of a movie once the novelty of dinosaurs wears off.

Whether or not you feel the same, it’s hard not to argue that Dominion is wasteful on the dinosaur front. Fallen Kingdom ended with the promise of dinosaurs set loose on human society. This movie’s opening newsreel lets us know that the problem is now 80% under control. The animals wreaking havoc in this film are not lifesize dinosaurs, but squirrel-sized locusts.

Truly, only the mind behind The Book of Henry could bring you a Jurassic Park movie where the primary enemy is locusts. Director Colin Trevorrow teased the new Giganotosaurus character as the dinosaur equivalent of the Joker. As insane as that already sounds, the truth is even more absurd: the Giga appears in all of two scenes before her climactic showdown with the T-rex.

This is the film’s main issue: in a film meant to deliver on the promise of a Jurassic world, the dinosaurs are never more than set dressing. Instead, we follow the anemic adventures of Jurassic World’s new protagonists alongside Jurassic Park’s iconic trio. The latter have somehow all turned into Mr. Bean since we last saw them.

Goldblum gives Goldblum, Dern gives Dern, but you’d swear that Sam Neill hasn’t acted since 1993. The only person who looks less happy to be here is Chris Pratt. He’s gotten so miserably bored of being the biggest star in the world that he’s now exclusively interested in voice work and streaming shows that don’t exist.

It’s almost not worth talking about Bryce Dallas Howard, who’s played a completely different character in each of these movies. The movie gets a bit of juice out of Campbell Scott, who replaces disgraced actor Cameron Thor as the weaselly Dr. Dodgson.

If it seems like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, you don’t know the half of it. I haven’t even gotten to the cloned child from the previous movie (now a jaded teen played by Isabella Sermon) or the helpful rogue agent of BioSyn (Mamoudou Athie). There’s a sliding scale of importance, but Dominion certainly has no fewer than six protagonists.

There are fleeting moments of joy in this movie, but nothing to write home about. All told, this Jurassic World trilogy has amounted to a multi-billion-dollar wash. Part of it is the lack of a Spielberg at the helm. Part of it is the groundbreaking visual effects of the original, which no follow-up could ever match.

Still, there’s more to it than that. Story, character, dialogue, pacing, every element of this series seems out of whack. On a level, Jurassic World was a cynical commentary on reboot culture. But they always knew they’d have to try to bring it all home with this finale. The premise is flawed, but the ideas are truly rotten.

Will a torrent of bad reviews have an effect on this movie’s numbers? Maybe, maybe not. The last two made a billion each, and our current choked-out film market leaves it with less competition.

One can’t help but wonder if new streaming releases like Fire Island and Hustle could’ve eaten away at Jurassic’s returns with a wide theatrical release. Instead, its only competition are indie releases like Neptune Frost (an Afrofuturist musical that’s much more worth your time).

Jurassic World Dominion is poorly-written, poorly-acted, and even poorly-lit. But above all, it’s poorly-conceived, a perfunctory sequel to a franchise of obligation. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made a billion dollars four years ago, and most of us would be hard-pressed to even remember the title. The two kids who were the main characters of Jurassic World don’t even appear in this one!

Even fans of Jurassic World and its iconic characters like Owen Grady, Claire Dearing, and Maisie Lockwood (100 points if you can remember who that is) will struggle to enjoy Dominion. Worst movie of 2022? Maybe, but definitely the least worth your money. F

Jurassic World Dominion is now playing in theaters.

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