It’s scary to think that even in 2013, medicine is not an exact science. Not to shortchange the legitimate advances in medical technology and the tireless work of doctors, scientists, and other professionals, but there’s a problem that rests with the idiosyncratic nature of human pathology. This is why a seemingly innocuous cold medicine, that does no harm to 99.9% of the population, can end up killing some unfortunate outlying individual. In director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Side Effects, he examines the relationship between the intended benefits of medicine and the dangerous unintentional results of its ingestion.
One thing that has dramatically changed health care over the last decade or so is the prevalence of online medical knowledge. Sites like WebMD have made it possible for the average person to, at least attempt to, diagnose themselves without consulting a physician. This is not the ideal scenario of course, as the credentials needed to surf the web and those necessary to practice medicine are wholly divergent, but it does put more academic information at the fingertips of the average Joe. One wonders how some iconic characters from cinema past would have been diagnosed and treated were WebMD available at the time....
Regan in The Exorcist
If you’ve seen The Exorcist, and at this point it’s hard to imagine how you couldn’t have, then you know that Regan was that sweet little girl who becomes possessed by the devil. The symptoms she exhibits include thrashing about in a rage, using foul language, and becoming physically abusive with her mother. So, of course, priests were called in to deal with her obvious supernatural malady. And yet, it has never been rare for children Regan’s age to suddenly become difficult to deal with, even monstrous. Hormones are partially at the heart of this, but the natural volatility of adolescence can be augmented by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If Mrs. MacNeil were a user of WebMD, she might have delayed the call to the old priest and the young priest; opting instead for putting Regan on Ritalin and/or adding more fiber to her diet.
Kane in Alien
Just when that ugly, face-hugging alien is removed from your face, and you have convinced yourself that the worst is over, out pops a nasty little fledgling Xenomorph that turns your chest into a fruit bowl. It’s sort of bizarre to re-imagine older movies set in the distant future as to how they would have benefited from the existence of the internet, but here again it’s hard not to postulate how Kane’s treatment would have differed if he could’ve cruised the information super highway as easily as the Nostromo combed deepest space. Perhaps the crew would’ve recognized the situation as a simple case of intestinal parasite. If they had, maybe that fateful meal prior to his dramatic exit from the movie would’ve consisted of more garlic and wormwood, two things shown to be highly effective in ridding the body of parasites.
Darth Vader in the Star Wars Trilogy
In Star Wars, the galaxy is presided over by the sinister Darth Vader. In addition to being the terrifying right-hand man of the villainous Emperor, Vader was one of cinema’s most prominent asthmatics. We would later find out that his condition was caused by a rather uninspired battle with his mentor on a computer-generated lava planet, but the end result was a considerably cumbersome respirator. Were Darth to consult WebMD, perhaps he might have attempted to use corticosteroids as a controller medication as opposed to the constant, rhythmic quick relief of his noisy apparatus. At the very least, he wouldn’t have sounded like a walking iron lung.
Snake Plissken in Escape from New York
The great characters in cinema, especially action cinema, are often enigmatic; we aren’t allowed into every corner of their psyche. Snake Plissken from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York certainly qualifies on that front. From other characters, we catch passive references to his past, but he is a man of few words shrouded in mystery. One of the most mysterious facets of Snake is his eye patch. How did he lose that eye? If we may theorize, perhaps Snake suffered a scratched cornea. Granted, this is a fairly common and highly treatable condition, but given his lone wolf machismo, even if Snake had had access to WebMD he probably would have tried to remove the obstruction from his eye himself; the ensuing corneal scar claiming his vision.
Peyton Flanders in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
1992’s The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a hodgepodge of every woman’s worst fears. A young family hires a seemingly wonderful woman to be their live-in nanny, and it turns out that she’s got miles and miles of nefarious ulterior motives. Though not as viable a source as the DSM, WebMD does have some criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It would appear that Rebecca De Mornay’s Peyton Flanders suffers from a histrionic personality disorder. Those suffering from this disorder are egocentric, they are excessively emotional, their need for attention makes them inappropriately sexual, and they are expertly manipulative. If that doesn’t describe Peyton, nothing does. The utilization of WebMD here would be a dubious proposition, as it would have had to be Peyton herself who looked up treatment, but if she were to do so, she’d find that psychotherapy is preferred over medication.
[Photo Credit: Open Road Films]
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"Sorry if my snoring bothered you."
Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep.
I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't.
Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work.
We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together.
It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
Take This Waltz is beautiful maddening and sexy just like its protagonist Margot (Michelle Williams). Margot speaks like a toddler to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen). She's moody but playful and she has cutesy and symbolic neuroses like insisting on taking a wheelchair at the airport because trying to make her flight is the sort of limbo that makes her anxious. As she explains to a handsome stranger named Daniel (Luke Kirby) she's afraid of connections she's afraid she'll get lost and no one will ever find her. Almost everything about her is childish from her bright yellow raincoat to her junior high insults ("retard " "gaylord") to her shrieking embarrassment when she pees in the pool during a water exercise class.
"What's the matter with you " asks Daniel "generally?" That's the crux of the movie. What is the matter with Margot? Even Margot doesn't know the root of her restlessness. It seems the only person willing to call her on it is her sister-in-law Geraldine an alcoholic in recovery who is already anticipating her own failure.
Take This Waltz relies heavily on chance and metaphor but the emotional intensity can make you willing to take that leap. Williams carries the film as Margot while Rogen gets an excellent chance to show his emotional side as Lou a lovable bear of a man. Kirby plays Daniel with an easy heady sexuality that makes Margot's decision understandably difficult. Sarah Silverman drops her bad girl comedian persona and really shines as acerbic but insightful Geraldine.
After Daniel and Margot meet at a historic village (she's rewriting the tour book for the tourist destination and he's who knows a fan of colonial history) Daniel is seated next to her on the plane. He also happens to live down the street from her and Lou. By the time he's began to wonder what Margot's deal really is they're knee deep in a heated emotional affair. Their attraction is immediate and palpable an irresistible force felt off screen. Daniel verbally consummates their affair with an unforgettably hot monologue.
Lou on the other hand isn't quite on the same page as Margot when it comes to their sex life or future children. He's knee-deep in a chicken cookbook so the couple and their family and friends eat almost nothing but different chicken dishes at every mean. You can only eat so much chicken right? Daniel on the other hand is new. "New things are shiny " Geraldine tells her in the communal gym shower as the women are soaping up after that pool incident. "New things get old " comments a woman nearby. This is one of the strongest scenes in the movie where women of all ages shapes and colors scrub down unapologetically and talk amongst themselves in a private/public space.
Take This Waltz is a more realistic portrayal of an erratic young woman who in a different writer's hands would be one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Even though Margot wears adorable onesies and has the playfulness of a child she also hurts a lot of people and is screwed up for no apparent reason. It's not always clear why these men are attracted to her and you can tell they aren't sure themselves but it's interesting and painful to watch it all unfold. Take This Waltz is beautifully shot full of buttery sunlight and lush parks and sweetly decorated abodes. Polley rolled the dice on a difficult protagonist and comes up a winner.
In the creepy new adaptation, Shields will take on the part of Chris MacNeil, the mother of demonically possessed child Regan, while Chamberlain will play priest Father Merrin.
Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow originally starred in those roles in the cult 1973 film.
Playwright John Pielmeier insists the production will scale back on the movie's more gruesome scenes.
He says, "The story of the battle between faith and evil needed no spinning heads or green vomit. The horror should unfold instead on a simple set with an incredible cast (which we absolutely have), and the central conflict between doubting Father Karras and the demon should be a series of debates, in which the young girl possessed is the least of the figures present."
The Exorcist will open at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse on July 11.
This week, Eli Roth invites you to witness what he calls The Last Exorcism, but let's face the film facts here people: Priest's have been exorcising demons in Hollywood long before the world cared about him (does anyone even care now?). The religious method of cleansing the possessed is as much a myth as it is a mystery, but it has always been a great subject for movies. In honor of the spooky new film, which hits theaters this Friday, we've exercised our own knowledge of film history to bring you a Brief Timeline of Cinematic Exorcisms. Check out the history of this horror sub-genre below!
Blithe Spirit (1945) In what is more than likely the very first cinematic exorcism, Blithe Spirit focuses on a husband and his second wife who are haunted by the ghost of his first, named Elvira (coincidence? I think not). The married couple seeks the help of a medium named Madame Arcati, who contacts the deceased lover and tries to fix up this nasty little triangle. There are more chuckles than thrills in this Golden Age fantasy-comedy, but it deserves a spot in our timeline because I don’t think you’ll find an exorcism on film before it. The Devils (1971) In Ken Russell’s 1971 shocker, you will find many sequences of depraved acts that make an exorcism look tame. The film is a dramatized historical account of the rise and fall of Urbain Grandier, a 17th-century French priest executed for witchcraft following the supposed possessions of Loudun. You could view the film as a warm-up to The Passion of the Christ in terms of its graphic violence, but in addition to crucifixion and torture, this one’s got nuns involved in an orgy at the feet of a statue of Christ, as well as Vanessa Redgrave masturbating with a human bone. Chew on that, Father Merrin. The Exorcist (1973) Though there may have been examples of exorcisms in movies before it, William Friedkin’s incredibly frightening film has become the fictional benchmark for the religious practice. Both cinematically intense and controversial within the religious community, it is the most successful horror film of all time and rightly so: There are images within that you won’t easily forget. Martin (1977) A B-movie for the history books, George A. Romero’s Martin is a vampire-romance tale with just a touch of exorcism. The title character is an obsessive “serial feeder” (I just made that up) who preys on young women, grifters and criminals in and around Braddock, PA. His old-school Greek grand uncle attempts to shoo away the evil inside him by contacting two priests to perform an exorcism, but they are unsuccessful. Martin eventually meets a tragic fate as his own “blood” ironically kills him. The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) Far from the success of its predecessor, the sequel to Friedkin’s masterpiece was directed by John Boorman, who presented a more allegorical and symbolic story that failed to captivate audiences the way the original did. In many ways it’s a rehash of The Exorcist, but it explores the positive side of the supernatural. Beetlejuice (1987) We’ll now take another break from William Peter Blatty’s satanic saga and travel to Winter River, CT, where the recently deceased Maitlands meet the afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist, Betelgeuse. Tim Burton gave horror fans a lighter look at the world of the dead as Michael Keaton’s wild and crazy supernatural swinger rids Barbara and Adam of their house’s new owners. Additionally, we get the rare opportunity to see what happens to ghosts who have been exorcised via the Lost Souls room. Exorcist III (1990) “Save your prayers, God is not here with us now” -- and neither is any sign of true quality in W.P. Blatty’s cinematic adaptation of his own novel, Legion, which he claimed was the true sequel to the original 1973 film. Though the film is cemented within the Exorcist canon, it’s really more of a standalone serial-killer/murder mystery hiding behind the title of the greatest horror movie ever. Repossessed (1990) No classic film is above being parodied, and The Exorcist was the victim of satire in this lowbrow comedy that cast Linda Blair as, essentially, Regan MacNeil all grown up with a family of her own. When the Devil possesses her once again, it’s up to Father Jebedaiah Mayii (Leslie Nielsen) to exorcise the demon. By this point, exorcisms were so ingrained in global pop culture that the magic of the film that made the religious practice a phenomenon had been nearly forgotten. Scary Movie II (2001) Continuing on in the tradition of mocking cinematic staples, the Wayans brothers conjured a blue-chip franchise by mashing together parodies of hit horror premises. The second film in the series featured a riotous vignette that at once parodies and pays homage to The Exorcist. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) After 14 years and many spoofs, the horror franchise that made “exorcism” a household term returned to shock a new generation of moviegoers. Unfortunately, the tricks of ‘70s cinema didn’t work as well in a world of contemporary special effects, and though there were some frightening moments in the film, it didn’t reach the level of terror that fans were hoping for. Constantine (2005) In the decade of superhero cinema, Warner Bros. found a way to reinvent the exorcism with this underrated comic-book adaptation. Keanu Reeves plays an irreverent supernatural detective who casts away demons in Los Angeles. The exorcisms are physically brutal, and, with plausible makeup and prosthetics, the victims are genuinely horrifying. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) The year 2005 gave the world a double dose of exorcisms. The second helping came in the form of a fictionalized account of the story of Anneliesse Michel, a German girl who authorities claim was truly possessed by the Devil. The film is an interesting mix of courtroom drama and true horror. Thanks in large part to Jennifer Carpenter’s chilling performance as Emily Rose, the film is a fitting companion piece to The Exorcist, one that attempts to scientifically explain demonic possession and exorcisms and also questions the moral and legal ramifications of performing one. The Last Exorcism (2010) As stated earlier, don’t think that this will be the last film to feature an exorcism, especially if it performs well. Eli Roth’s low-budget faux-documentary centers on a troubled evangelical minister who agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed. The trailer looks decent and the reviews are surprisingly good, so hopefully this will be another solid entry into the sub-genre of horror.
While passing through Cairo during a sabbatical from the priesthood following World War II Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) receives an offer from Semelier Ben Cross) a collector of rare antiquities to join a British archeological excavation in the remote Turkana region of Kenya where a Christian Byzantine church has been unearthed. Although Merrin has lost his religion (he left the church after being forced by the Nazis to commit atrocities against people of his parish) the skilled archeologist accepts the mission out of curiosity: The pristinely preserved church dates back more than 1 000 years before Christianity even reached the East African plain. Once there Merrin anxiously heads to the excavation sight and enters the partially buried church to discover it has been vandalized--or so he thinks; a large wooden cross has been broken and hung upside down. He also encounters Dr. Sarah Novack (Izabella Scorupco) who runs a local hospital and informs the men that the last man in charge of the excavation had gone mad and was now in a sanitarium in Nairobi. The mystery thickens when a local boy Joseph (Remy Sweeney) shows signs of satanic possession. The Turkana blame the mysterious church for the unexplained supernatural activity including a woman's delivery of a Satan-like maggot-covered still born infant. Soon tension mounts between the Turkana and the British troops stationed there.
Poor Skarsgard. To his credit the veteran actor tries his best to add a dash of distinctiveness to his underdeveloped character Father Merrin. Skarsgard (King Arthur) supplies Merrin with an air of attitude a sort of aloofness that screams I don't owe anyone anything. Armed with brute strength and fearlessness (he moves a large concrete slab without breaking a sweat and crawls through unlit basements without ever flinching) Merrin is practically transformed into sexy religious superhero. But Skarsgard even can't escape the silly dialogue that explains what is self-explanatory. "If everyone died who buried them?" Merrin asks aloud outside a cemetery where a plague supposedly whiped out the village's population. Scorupco (Reign of Fire) meanwhile doesn't inject anything extra into her rather forgettable role as Sarah a rather sweet but boring physician. Her metamorphosis in an identical looking Regan MacNeil form the original 1973 Exorcist however pumps some much needed thrills into what's otherwise lackluster horror. One of the most memorable performances comes from Alan Ford (Brick Top Polford form Snatch) who plays a perpetually drunk archeologist with a putrid skin ailment. Ford's rendition of Jeffries is so alarmingly disgusting that it makes Lucifer look like a sweetie pie.
The best thing about Exorcist: The Beginning is its deceptively promising opening set in Africa in the mid 400s. It's an eerie scene bound to make audiences' hair stand on end as a lone bedraggled priest slogs through a dry and dusty plain littered with millions of corpses nailed to upside-down crosses. But in its post-World War II setting the film suffers a setback both in storytelling and visuals. The film was originally directed by Paul Schrader who replaced helmer John Frankenheimer who died before filming began. But producers reportedly thought Schrader's version wasn't frightening enough and handed the reins over to Renny Harlin (Driven) in hopes he would turn out a more spine-chilling rendition. But sadly there is no chilling of the spine to be experienced here. Harlin uses horror film clichés to spook the audience like the faithful light-going-out-in-dark-settings scenario that the film feels more like an episode of Scare Tactics. Harlin's special effects are laugh-out-loud funny too including his inane man-eating CGI hyenas with beaming blue eyes. The beasts move about the screen as if they have no weight or substance to them. What makes those cartoony hyenas even sillier though is the fact that their presence is not needed (they're hardly scary) or even explained which pretty much sums up the film's biggest problem: The spotty story leaves too many questions unanswered. The script credited to Caleb Carr and William Wisher and later revised by Alexi Hawley is so vague it's irritating.