Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dreyfuss’

COMA (A&E 2012)

In Uncategorized on September 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm


Michael Crichton’s COMA (1978) is a tough act to follow, even for the man who brought us ALIEN (1979). But Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony have given it a good try in A&E’s two-part miniseries, which clocks in at just under three hours. The project has an amazing cast: James Woods, Geena Davis, Richard Dreyfuss and a truly fabulous Ellen Burstyn—with hair recalling Elsa Lanchester’s—all make campy appearance as doctors colluding to intentionally put patients into comas for research studies. Lauren Ambrose plays the straight man to their collective scenery-chewing, and the Scotts have just managed to keep the absurdity in check. The result is a satisfyingly exciting but fluffy piece, ultimately not much more than a mix of CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, and a little 70s-style gore thrown in for fun.


Lauren Ambrose is much more likable in the role of surgical intern Susan Wheeler than the original’s Genevieve Bujold, who made something of a specialty out of creepy medical dramas, later starring in DEAD RINGERS (1988) alongside Jeremy Irons. Ambrose’s large eyes and cherubic face give her a childlike quality that makes her both easier to root for and less compelling than Bujold’s version of the character. This contrast is a neat microcosm of the entire COMA remake; the updated version may be longer and slicker than the original, but it also has a whole lot less to say.

Image Made just a few years after the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, Crichton’s COMA was all about shifting gender relations. Susan’s complex relationship with her boyfriend, another surgical resident played by Michael Douglas, was as much a source of conflict in the narrative as the body-snatching conspiracy she eventually uncovered. Douglas’s character constantly complains that Susan is too uppity, and mutters to himself that he “should’ve dated a nurse” instead. He even declares that Susan is hysterical when she tries to explain the conspiracy to him, though he eventually realizes she is telling the truth and rushes to her aid. Recalling the queasy uncertainty of ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), Douglas’s character nearly convinces Susan that she’s made the whole thing up before he realizes the truth at the last possible moment.


In the Scott brothers’ version Susan isn’t dating her equal but her superior, the chief resident (played by Steven Pasquale), and their relationship is fairly simplistic; both of them are primarily focused on finding out who’s behind the rash of comas, not on debating the finer points of gender equality. Ambrose’s Susan even has a famous cardiologist grandfather who once worked at her hospital, on whose coattails she’s constantly accused of riding. While Ambrose’s Susan isn’t treated as a total outsider, as Bujold’s Susan was in 1978, she is also less powerful in her own right. She relies on her paternal legacy and the protection of her boyfriend’s seniority just as much as she does on her own instincts and chutzpah. Bujold’s Susan, conversely, had nothing but chutzpah. This may have made her unlikeable, but it also made her character much more substantial.

Image In 1978, Bujold’s Susan first realized something was amiss when a friend fell into a coma while undergoing a “routine therapeutic abortion.” There’s none of this political explicitness in the 2012 version. Though there is a clumsy gesture towards male science co-opting female bodies at the end of the film (you’ll recognize it), it’s used more as a “gotcha” scare tactic than a sincere cultural analogy. In the modern version of COMA there are no abortions, plenty of other female doctors, and no one telling Susan—in so many words, anyway—that her real problem is being a woman in a man’s world. Given the current political situation in this country, maybe there should be.


© Lita Robinson 2012


Piranha 3-D (2010)

In Film Reviews on August 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm

French director Alexandre Aja, whose credits include the debatably interesting High Tension (2003) and the universally panned The Hills Have Eyes remake (2006), has finally found a niche in which his incompatible thirst for violence and dearth of critical thinking are perfectly matched: the camp horror film.  Even better—the camp creature feature horror film!

The title of this magnum opus is Piranha 3-D, a loose remake of a 1978 Corman flick called, succinctly, Piranha.  (Keep in mind that this was three years after Jaws, the film that coined the term “blockbuster,” so it’s easy to see why Corman—the king of campy gore—was eager to get in on the fun.)  The plot is exactly what you would expect, and hope for, if you love terrible horror movies like I do: a placid lakeside village gets overrun with drunken, sex-crazed college kids during Spring Break, but the party soon turns to panic when all the young, nubile bodies get chomped to bits by herds of freaky, prehistoric piranhas.

The rest of the plot, such as it is, revolves around a teenage boy (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the Bullitt star) who is torn between taking care of his younger siblings for his sheriff mom (Elisabeth Shue) or partying with a Girls Gone Wild sleazebag (Jerry O’Connell) and his bevy of buxom babes (Kelly Brook and Riley Steele).  Naturally he chooses the latter, and gets a front row seat to the toothy mayhem that follows.

The film’s best moment by far is its opening cameo by Richard Dreyfuss, which comes complete with a rendition of “Show me the way to go home.”  A surprisingly self-aware production, Piranha 3-D repeatedly references Jaws and enjoys playing with the various conventions that the original scary-fish film put on the map.  Eli Roth (a fellow member of the so-called “splat pack” of torture-porn filmmakers) makes an appearance as the host of a wet T-shirt contest, only to be bitten limb from limb a little later in the film.  It’s all good fun, really: the gore is over the top and hard to take seriously, as is the nudity (do not take your younger brother to this one!) and when the bloodthirsty fish arrive, it’s hard not to root for them.

It is hard to understand why Aja wanted to make this film in 3-D, other than to jump on the gimmick bandwagon—the cinematography doesn’t really take advantage of the added dimension, so it ends up being tiring to watch rather than enthralling.  However, it’s hard to argue that making the film campier and sillier by putting it in 3-D is a bad thing, really—the film’s whole raison d’etre is just how silly the whole thing is to begin with.

Piranha 3-D is currently in wide release.