Archive for September 1993

And the Band Played On

September 11, 1993

Since neither NBC nor any major studio wanted to touch Randy Shilts’ bestseller, HBO deserved applause for greenlighting it at all. (In later years, HBO and Showtime would make gay programming commonplace.) The movie is long on virtue, but it’s naturally compelling — a cosmic murder mystery. Matthew Modine stars as Dr. Don Francis, of the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control, who locks horns not only with AIDS but with the many people who stand in the way of his research. Intelligently, with minimal hysteria and compact storytelling, the film takes us through the sixteen-year growth and history of HIV. The script makes its points without laying blame at the feet of the media boogeymen of the ‘80s: promiscuous gays and bathhouses. (The villains are clearly the Reagan administration and callous medical bureaucrats.) Yet it stirred much controversy among activists who kept close tabs on the production, at one point inspiring director Roger Spottiswoode to fire off a well-publicized fax of protest. Ironically, this film Spottiswoode walked away from was his finest work in years. There’s no way we can’t be moved, though the movie could have used fewer cameos by conscientious celebrities (Steve Martin, Richard Gere, Phil Collins, etc.) who obviously appear here out of compassion and solidarity, but who generally don’t move the story along. Best is Alan Alda, atypically (at the time) loathsome as a glory-hogging researcher.

M. Butterfly

September 9, 1993

For the first time since Fast Company, David Cronenberg made a movie that Fangoria magazine couldn’t cover. This one still retains his key themes: sexual confusion, bodily dismay, mental delusion, repression that is overcome (with disastrous results). A French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) falls in love with a beautiful Chinese singer who turns out to be not only a spy, but a male spy (John Lone).

This odd, measured, elegantly assembled film disappointed just about everyone — Cronenberg fans (many of whom seem to think that a Cronenberg film without goo and gore isn’t a Cronenberg film), art-house crowds (who’d already seen The Crying Game), and most critics (who found it boring). But Irons and Lone perform at their peaks, and Cronenberg brings out the lush, alien beauty in his subject. Cronenberg no longer needs slimy parasites or exploding heads; the human heart’s ability to fool itself is frightening and bizarre enough.

Cronos

September 2, 1993

66153530An unusual Mexican vampire movie that puts to shame most American attempts at the genre. It’s not overly bloody (which may disappoint gorehounds), but it’s intelligent and often moving (which will please fans of quality horror films). Federico Luppi is Jesus Gris, an elderly antiques dealer who discovers the Cronos Device — a metallic, insectoid gizmo that pierces the flesh and confers eternal life upon its user … along with a need for human blood. Dying tycoon Claudio Brook sends his nasty nephew (Ron Perlman) to steal the device; the film’s second half explores what happens when you’re brought back to life and it would probably be easier to stay dead. A major plus is the tender, strange relationship between Jesus and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath), who sticks with him through thick and thin. Making a stellar debut, writer-director Guillermo del Toro (who later made the Hellboy films, Blade II, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth) brings out the humanity in the story and refuses to let it fall into a nihilistic shambles; we don’t have to watch the principled Jesus devolve into evil. By the time this grandpa is licking blood off a bathroom floor, we’re repulsed, but we don’t find him repulsive — we respect his struggle to get the blood he needs without having to murder for it. Rightly acclaimed, the film boasts more than enough transcendent moments to secure its status as a modern horror classic.


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