Inland Empire (2006) review

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Where do I begin with Inland Empire, David Lynch’s last feature film? Well, for one, it is a difficult film to watch in the sense that it is incredibly cryptic; probably Lynch’s most cryptic feature film to date. In saying that, it is also not his best but it is definitely worth a watch.

Let’s start with the basic plot. The set up of this film is that Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is set to star in a leading role in a new Hollywood production, where she plays a woman named Susan, in an affair with a man named Billy, played by Devon (Justin Theroux). Devon is warned by Nikki’s husband not to try and have an affair with Nikki. This is all within the first hour or so in the film and even with Lynch’s characteristically idiosyncratic way of presenting dialogue, this early part of the film is actually quite straightforward.

Where it starts getting weird is when the film within a film is being made: a person appearing but who isn’t actually there, sudden realisation that the line between reality of the film and film within a film are being blurred and a bizzare, dreamlike structure. The film cuts back and forth between different rooms and Nikki’s experiences, which are at times surreal and confusing. Like dreams can be, the relationship and structure from room to room are quite illogical in the eclectic difference; being able to cut to Polish streets, to a typical LA home, to gritty industrial looking apartments that are reminiscent of Eraserhead or the prison in Silent Hill 2. There are red velvet curtains and not-quite-chevron floors that made me for a moment think this film had some connection to Twin Peaks but when I didn’t hear anyone speak backwards, that theory was thrown out the window. There is also a room with anthropomorphic rabbits that seem to be in the world’s strangest sitcom, given the laugh track. Sequences in the film loop back around and into each other, creating a narrative structure that is non linear and very non traditional. As far as the structure is concerned, it reminds me very much of Lynch’s previous film Mulholland Drive as well as the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five.

So, without spoiling it too much, here is what I think might have happened in the film: after starting filming and then going through that strange alleyway, Nikki’s experience of reality and film became increasingly blurred, possibly even that there became multiple permutations of the same person that was at times able to remember and experience pieces of the different permutations. Space and time become disrupted, considering the unclear chronology of events that unfold. The identity of Nikki too through this surreal, dreamlike experience becomes fractured and disjointed. At least that is my basic interpretation and mapping of events throughout the film without spoiling too much.

One of the most distinctive features of the film, aside from Lynch’s characteristic use of a low, rumbling ambient soundscape that generates constant unease and full music tracks that punctuate the emotion of a given sequence, is the camera used. For this film, Lynch used a consumer grade digital camera that I believe was 480p and so the film has this unusual aesthetic that is subversive and discomforting, since this is not how we are used to watching feature films but instead home movies or television during the time of this film’s production. Or watching student films. With that, it of course appears dated on this technical level, but if you watch a 1080p version it looks fine most of the time due to the camera being rather steady. This was something I paid especially close attention to considering the original Blair Witch Project does look kind of shit on 1080p screens, even with an HD stream.

The performances as a whole in this film, especially Laura Dern’s are quite excellent, although she’s not quite a good a screamer as Sheryl Lee. Dern convincingly conveys the confusion of Nikki’s experience and the different personalities she seems to embody throughout, showing off a tremendous amount of range as well as subtlety.

Inland Empire clocks in at a three hour run time. It is a film filled with tremendous performances and the dreamlike and nightmarish surrealism Lynch often has deployed throughout his works in imaginative ways. Considering this run time, it can feel a bit slow, but the length is necessary since if it was too much shorter, there would be even less time to process what the hell is going on. It requires patience from the viewer and as I have said, it is Lynch’s most cryptic and difficult feature film to date, an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.  But don’t let that deter you since it is still surrealist excellence that should be appreciated by any Lynch fan, even if, like me, it’s not quite your favourite.

9/10

 

 

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

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There is a line in this new entry to the Alien franchise and sequel to 2012’s Prometheus relating to the new kind of alien, the Neomorph and other nasty creations, that is something to the effect of them being a kind of hybrid. This statement seems to also be a descrition  of this film as a whole. It feels like a mixture of Alien, Aliens and Prometheus (although closer to the latter two) that mostly works.

The story begins with a short prologue and then we are introduced to the crew of the Covenant, who are responsible for this colony ship going to a planet named Origae-6. However, after a brief delay having to repair the ship, they receive a rogue transmission, pinpoint it and then go to its point of origin as a detour as it appears like it will be a habitable planet. Of course, in true series fashion, everything goes to shit when crew members become infected with the parasite that gives birth to these aliens.

In regards to the characters of the film, David and Walther (Michael Fassbender) are perhaps the most developed and well performed, whereas the rest of the crew which includes the surprising appearance of Danny McBride as a guy known as Tennesee, are rather underdeveloped.  We do know that most of the character pairs are married, but this seems like a rather lazy way at establishing character relationships. Our crew captain is established as a religious type, but the film makes little use of this. Daniels (Katherine Waterson) is our Ripley type of character and the voice of reason in the film, but isn’t quite as charismatic as Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley. During one of the sequences in the first act, one of the characters locks another in a medbay room with a convulsing patient and the motivation behind doing so is unclear and is only explicable in the sense of people being very irrational in such terrifying situations, but she could have easily let her out of the room before the alien came out. This is just one example. If there was a little more time devoted to developing the characters and their relationships, the film would have elevated itself to a higher dramatic and tragic register in particular sequences.

That said, there are quite a few sequences, especially those towards the end of the first act that are full of suspense and terror, as well as body horror, such the aforementioned medbay sequence, which is masterfully presented and has it’s own simple, but original moments. Other sections, particularly towards the end of the second act get quite bombastic for what is grounded in horror, but is nevertheless exciting. A sequence in the final act feels like a mesh of the climax of both Alien and Aliens. Additionally, the aliens are often more in full view rather than skulking in the shadows, which is why the film feels stylistically closer to Aliens as opposed to Alien. The pacing of the film is generally quite good, with the expeditionary creeping dread of the first act and the slower, slightly more ponderous second act. The third act, however, felt a wee bit hurried and some parts of it would have benefited from being slightly longer. There is also some closure for the cliffhanger of Prometheus too.

The film looks great too,continuing the general Giger design as well as an area of the film that looks like a science fiction version of an ancient city that looks like a cross between Rome and Persepolis as its aesthetic base. However, the film was shot digitally and doesn’t have the same gritty look as the original and the colour palette is largely the same as Prometheus. The lighting is effective and nice looking, but the look of the interior of the Covenant seems a bit anachronistic since the technology appears to be more advanced than the original Alien film despite taking place before it. I don’t know why this is the case, but I hope it isn’t a retcon that segues into a remake of the original.

The CGI is also often far too obvious and the quality of it is mixed, but never dips to awful territory.  It must be difficult trying to maintain the terror of a monster that has been in the popular consciousness since the original film almost 40 years ago, but Ridley Scott is lucky that much of the legwork is done by it’s inherently unsettling and grotesque design combined with being an intelligent creature that must be outwitted, rather than requiring mere brute force.

In spite of my problems with the film, I still found it very entertaining and there wasn’t a point where I felt bored or uninterested. While it may stumble in regards to character development and a few other things, it does manage to balance the styles of various films in the franchise in a way that is while not masterful, is surprisingly deft. In that sense it is derivative, but there is also enough originality that it doesn’t feel like just a remix or going through the motions. It is not as great as the original and probably the second best thing to come out of the franchise recently (the best being Alien: Isolation. Go play it if you haven’t already). It is a strong sequel to Prometheus and hopefully is a sign of good things to come for the final instalment of this Alien prequel trilogy.

7.5/10

Kids (1996) Review

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Written by Harmony Korine, which you may or may not know from the criminally underrated Spring Breakers, and directed by Larry Clark, Kids is a confronting film about urban youth culture in the United States at the height of an AIDS epidemic. Many are likely to view this film as immoral (indeed, that’s what the general critical reception seems to have been at the time of release) due to it rather explicit depiction of of sexuality and drug use amongst teenagers and children.

But let’s get away from moral concerns, at least for the moment.

Kids does not seem to have any sort of traditional narrative structure, however the plot is loosely about Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) desire to deflower virgins and him and friend Casper go about their day skating, hanging out with other low life waster types, doing drugs and going to parties. Meanwhile, a morose and bleary eyed Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) tries to come to terms with finding out that she is HIV positive.

The film is unarguably fixated on sex, considering the way almost all male and female characters talk about that and almost nothing else, except weed. Huxley once said that an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex, so intellectuals these kids definitely are not. Certain sections of the film capitalise on it’s exploration of this topic in clever ways. One sequence has Telly and friends discussing sex and revealing their attitudes towards it and intercutting between Jennie and friends also discussing sex. Each group’s attitudes are often directly contradictory and this is one sequence that is quite well executed and manages to feel like something insightful.

The performances in the film are hit and miss, with it being very obvious that this is the first feature film of most of these actors. The narration done by Leo Fitzpatrick, which is used sparingly and to essentially bookend the film, is poorly delivered. Ewan McGregor he is not.

I also found that, while the characters are portrayed in a way that comes across as believable, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable. In fact, most of the male characters, especially Telly and Casper in there actions, motivations and mannerisms come off, at least to me as predatory to women and that cunty grin of Telly’s is something I wanted to smack right off. Even Francis Begbie, Sick Boy and Mark Renton in Trainspotting manage to have some redeeming qualities. The closest thing to a likeable character is Jennie, although I felt, despite sympathising with her, that she lacked depth. This seems to be because of a relative lack of screen time between her and the antics of Telly and co. as well as the lack of any sort of narrative structure. The pacing at times can also seem quite slow even with a 90 or so minute run time.

What I think gives the film much of it’s impact is it’s staunch committment to realism. The camera work is often handheld and the general feel is almost like that of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which makes it feel more raw, more real, which works with the non traditional narrative structure. It is not always shot like a documentary however and traditional cinematic camera work is still utilised, but it is seamless. The narrative, style and pacing of the film is also constructed in such a way that can be seen as promoting safe sex also does not intend to cast moral judgements on the characters, which is a smart move. Moral judgements on the characters here are fully intended to come from the audience and I thought most of the characters were scummy wigger degenerates.

Still, despite these issues I have just described, I would still recommend Kids. It is an interesting low budget independent film that is for the most part pretty well crafted and intelligent.  If you’re a parent, it’ll definitely be a film that keeps you up at night

7/10

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Review

 

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“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” – Mark Renton in Trainspotting (1996)

Twenty years after choosing life, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh from self imposed exile. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a fucked up skaghead,seperated from his wife. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is, well, Sick Boy. Still scamming, hustling and being a genuine manipulative sociopath. And Diane (Kelly MacDonald), in a brief cameo, seems to be doing quite well for herself.

With the return of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge returning with the original cast, they have created a brilliant sequel. As an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Porno (as well as including some other elements from the original Trainspotting novel that were not in the first film), it is quite good in that it’s not 1:1, but keeps the core character relationships and plot beats intact, as well as borrowing many scenes and reworking them so that they fit the film and feel fresh (such as the scene in the bathroom stall or the Begbie=Evil=Fear sequence), even for those of us who have read the novels. The focus on the character relationships of the core characters and them dealing with their pasts of drug addiction, betrayal, petty crime and violence.

They reminiscence about their youth and their regrets (like when Renton is explaining ‘choose life’ to Veronica, a character loosely based on Nikke Fuller-Smith from Porno) and do their best to make it in a world that has changed so much when they have not. We also see Begbie, who remains a looming and terrifying presence, who returns to a son that is unlike him in every way and through it, although very briefly, we see a softer side of Begbie. The trials and tribulations of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie are compelling stuff that succeeds in making you feel a wide range of emotions. You might even feel like your heart has been warmed at a few point, which is something I never thought I’d say about this series considering the amount of obscenity, crime and depravity the core characters engage in during the films and novels. You might even be driven close to tears, or at least I was, considering the attachments I had towards the characters and the climax of the film will have you, to use a cliche’: on the edge of your seat.

Stylistically, this film is similar to the original yet also wildly different. It is about 30 minutes longer than the original, it has a generally slower pace that matches the themes of the film, Danny Boyle’s style has a strong presence and the lighting is often superb,reminiscent of some of his more recent films, such as Trance. In regards to the comedic elements, there are still quite a few hilarious and well crafted moments, but there’s no gut busting funny gross out sequences, such as the Traditional Sunday Breakfast scene. They add the right amounts of levity, adding to the emotional texture of the film. Flashbacks to the original film are also used to great effect and the music is a mixture of tracks from the original soundtrack and plenty of new ones, which are perfectly utilised to enhance the emotional register of the sequences they’re used. And as a whole add to the overall theme of changing times.

T2: Trainspotting, while not as funny as the original is both a great sequel to a classic and adaptation, whose characters are compelling and the film as a whole is tragic and reflective, and at times hilarious. It leans heavily on the original film, so if you haven’t seen that or it’s been a while, watch it first. Fans of the novels will also get a bit more out of it, not only emotionally, but certain sequences, such as the 1690 sequence, will be enhanced. It is also a genuinely moving film and maintains Danny Boyle’s position as one of Britain’s best modern feature film directors.

9.5/10

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review (2016)

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When I first heard about Rogue One, I have to be honest with you: I wasn’t particularly interested at first. ‘How could a movie about the retrieval of the death star plans be any good?’ and ‘it won’t expand the universe in any meaningful way’ were among my thoughts at first. But I finally saw the film recently, being fashionably late to the party and boy were my initial thoughts wrong.

The plot of this film is essentially what is described in the first paragraph of the opening title crawl in the first Star Wars. But there is a bit more to it than that. We are first shown a desolate, cold planet with black sands shot in Iceland. It kicks off with the Empire coming to this planet and Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen), the Empire’s top scientist who went into self exile, is being forced back into the clutches of the Empire to help complete the death star. His young daughter, Jyn Orso (Felicity Jones) then escapes with Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). Flash forward and we see Jyn in prison and after being broken out during a transfer to an Empire labour camp. From there, she is thrust into the midst of the rebellion.

The plot as a whole isn’t exactly deep or surprising, but it’s got a solid emotional throughline that is easy to follow. Performances from the core cast are also generally quite solid and do a pretty good job given the material, although I felt that the overall characterisation of our core cast of characters was not as strong as it was in The Force Awakens but it’s decent enough considering the purposes and inevitable conclusion of this film. Still, the core cast was as a whole likeable, especially K2, a droid who takes the role of comic relief, providing a much needed levity and excellent bants. Donnie Yen’s blind mystic character is rather one note, but his performance in the action scenes is strong as per usual.

So enough about the plot.

In terms of how the film looks and sounds, it is incredible, with incredible cinematography in a variety of locations, from the bazzar of the mesa city of Jedha, a repurposed Jedi temple, the familiar Yavin 4 base all the way to the conclusion on the tropical Imperial base on Scariff, which is home to the last act of the film.This last act is an exciting and visually stunning long action sequence that like the film as a whole uses a combination of practical sets and effects combined with state of the art CGI. There are some seriously impressive and awesome set pieces here and throughout the rest of the film where the action is generally quite good and visually interesting. The more emotional death sequences here also feel a tad rushed, considering there are quite a few to get through and it just misses that higher emotional mark.

We also see Darth Vader kick some ass, which is pretty damn awesome and through just that short sequence, really adds to the overall character. The only bad thing I have to say about the visuals is that the CGI rendition of Tarkin (Peter Cushing) looks really unnatural and jarring during dialogue that use plenty of close ups. It’s noticeable and distracting considering little effort is made through the lighting, shot or edit choices to hide this obvious flaw.

Some people say that this Gareth Edward’s directed Star Wars film is better than The Force Awakens, I wouldn’t say that’s exactly true. It does some things better, some things not as good. But, as a whole, this is a fun space adventure that is visually arresting and action packed. While it does have some problems that come as a result of being such a stringent tie in to the first film, it still manages to meaningfully expand the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out.

7.5/10

 

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Review

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Friends, Mel Gibson is back. Hacksaw Ridge is his latest directorial effort, portraying the true story of Desmond Ross (Andrew Garfield) who was a conscientious objector who decided to enlist in the war as a medic and the first conscientious objector to win a medal of honour.

The opening shot of the film sets the grim tone of the film with an overhead shot of some dead Japanese in a bombed out No Man’s Land in Okinawa. This introduction is incredibly impactful and sets the style too, with Gibson using a stable camera in order to confront us with this war dance. After this, the first act builds up the character of Ross and his life as a child and then some time prior to his enlistment in a romantic plot that might seem familiar in this kind of film, but it’s well done and not dragged out. There is also his basic training and the conflict there as a result of his beliefs and finally, they reach Okinawa.

The battle scenes in this film are a dance of death and have an unflinching commitment to realistic violence on the level of Saving Private Ryan. It is brilliantly shot, everything is easy to see and is such an incredible spectacle in both violence and emotion and even the smallest roles are invested with great depth and believability, with the performances being tremendous all round. The entirety of the Okinawa portion of the film has an almost Homeric quality to it. The first time up on the ridge for the company also has a horror vibe, with a thick smokey haze that you can almost smell and feel engulfed by and pans to lost limbs and spilt intestines on the ground.

This is going to be a short review since I very much liked the film and it’s something that must be seen. While it’s narrative structure is fairly conventional, the film is simply incredible, filled with heroism and the thrill of battle. This film is an instant classic and you should all go see it this weekend.

8.5/10

Dune (1984) Review

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It’s been quite a number years since I read Frank Herbert’s Dune, which blew my teenage mind with it’s level of complexity of political intrigue, psychic powers, environmentalism and it’s rich world. I imagined it as an aesthetic mixture of advanced science fiction combined with a somewhat antique medieval or renaissance look. This film adaptation looks a whole lot different to what I imagined and looks very strange, but for the most part looks alright, if dated in parts. The character shields, for instance, look like transparent hitboxes in video games but I can let it slide due to the film’s age and it being the early days of CGI. That said, the gigantic sandworms look incredible and most of the sets look believable.

This film is perhaps the most conventional film in director David Lynch’s filmography, which follows a pretty clear 3 act structure. The film follows the rivalry between two Houses: the Atreides and the Harkonnens, whose rivalry end up coming to a head when the Atreides are sent to the desert planet Arrakis, which is home to mining a mineral known as the spice, which is the lifeblood of the universe. It also follows Paul Atreides (Kyle McLachlan) who is their heir of House Atreides, who is essentially a chosen one type, who becomes a TE Lawrence like figure to the Fremen.

While the technical qualities of the film are quite good and the main theme of the film makes one feel pretty hype, there is one glaring problem: the pacing. While the first act seems more or less appropriately slow, the rest of the film from the second act onwards is far too quick. Once Paul meets the Fremen in the second act, the rest of the act becomes something that might as well be a training montage and leading into the third act, there is narrated timeskip. That said, the second act contains some of the best parts of the film in visual terms. Probably one of the biggest evidence of this is the romance with the Fremen woman. First, Paul sees her in a premonition. Then, Paul meets her for real, fulfilling the premonition. And in the next scene, they’re kissing. It feels as though this romance was cut dramatically and only the residue left in the film. There’s no real chemistry or emotion felt between the two because of this. We also don’t get a strong understanding of Arrakis or the Fremen culture and the whole thing just feels a bit rushed. By the time we get to the end of the film (which does have a pretty cool and mostly realistic knife duel) , we are left only semi satisfied but still confused. While people who might have a good knowledge of the Dune novel will easily be able to fill in the blanks, those of us who have a rusty knowledge of the novel or even no knowledge will find themselves somewhat confused by the ending.

Dune is quite an ambitious film, but with it’s run time of only just over 2 hours, this film clearly should have been longer. Supposedly, the original screenplay had the film at around 3 hours long. However, in spite of all it’s problems, it is still a film that is at the very least interesting visually and still entertaining. But it’s a movie that merely resides as decent to good when it could have been great.

6.5/10