Inland Empire (2006)

This one really is going to be a short post because I have honestly no idea what to say about this film. I watched it in hopes that it would be a good companion to Mulholland Drive for an essay I was writing on Lynch but I found this film so entire bewildering that from about 40 minutes in I was so lost I couldn’t even make notes on it. The very basic set up is that Laura Dern plays an actress called Nikki Grace who gets a role in a strange film and during the process of shooting her life and the film start to blend. Well thats a paraphrasing of the DVD blurb and maybe is accurate to like, a fifth of the overall film, but if there’s anything I managed to take away from this, is that maybe its not something to be understood in a conventional way. This is the most balls to the wall surrealist piece of work that I’ve seen of Lynch’s (admittedly I’ve only seen Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks S1, Blue Velvet and Eraserhead) and the root of surrealism is Dadaism which had the slogan ‘DADA doesn’t mean anything’. Whereas films like Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet are mostly surrealist due to their narratives and Lynch’s formation of space, Inland Empire uses an arsenal of surrealist film-making techniques without the strongly grounded narrative throughline of the other films I mentioned.

Because of the ambiguity of literally everything in the film and its lengthy run time, it really is an endeavor to watch this, and you have to really let yourself go with it and try your best not to get frustrated. Theres a lot of rewarding material in here with a great performance from Laura Dern to carry you through most of it, as usual Lynch has a way of making everything terrifying even if it really shouldn’t be, I audibly screamed at one point and was just generally on edge throughout. What I took from the film was that it was a comment on the experience of watching something (films/tv) and the ownership that audiences often feel over actors, I honestly cant say if thats right at all, but similarly I don’t think it’d be easy to tell me I was wrong which is always nice. Just to round it out a little, I should say that I did enjoy this film a lot, I really want to watch it again and see if I can figure it out a little more, but in my (very non-expert) opinion, if you’re a fan of Lynch and the way Mulholland Drive is structured, then this is definitely worth a watch, if for nothing else to see how Lynch builds a palpable sense of dread throughout every frame of this absolutely bizarre film.


The Handmaiden (2016)

I went into The Handmaiden knowing next to nothing about it other than it was meant to be amazing and there was a lot of graphic sex which seems like the right amount of information to have leading into this film. I’ll try and keep details sparse in case, god forbid, someone else reads this and they haven’t seen it because the lack of knowledge going in really let me sink into the mystery and allure of this film.

Normally I find that if a film relies to heavily on a big twist at the end, the body of the film is fairly lackluster. The Handmaiden has a lot of twists though, for the most part, they aren’t saved til the end of the film and they inform the narrative in ways that should reward multiple rewatches. One of the central themes of the film is the construction of identity which is beautifully demonstrated through its three part structure each from the view point of another character, allowing you to see a character you were previously aligned with from an outside perspective of vice versa. This and the non-linear structure of the film allow for some rewarding script writing with clever lines peppered throughout that will cause you to reevaluate prior scenes and character motivations as you go along. Granted this isn’t some groundbreaking structure, and to be fair the film never really does anything particularly groundbreaking, but everything it does, it does just so damn well.

The film is just BEAUTIFUL from start to finish, set in Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s, the bulk of the action takes place in a large mansion, split with one half in Japanese style, the other English. The production design, from the sets, to the costumes and props and really just anything that might be on screen is intricately designed, presenting an impossibly perfect image of the era and the fashions of the time (although probably modernised). Everything in this film feels deliberate, especially in regards to the cinematography, almost every image is framed perfectly and the camera glides precisely without a single moment of shakiness.

Anchored by two fantastic performances from the lead actresses, Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri, the film goes to some pretty extreme places but rather than walking away feeling disturbed as you might from Oldboy, I ended up feeling quite empowered and positive. Despite the content of my little write up, the film isn’t perfect, I found the last third less gripping than the two leading up to it but thats really not saying much, it was over 2 weeks ago that I saw this so exact details are hazy. But in short, this is a beautiful film (in every respect) which I could happily write essays on the themes of, but unlike many thematically dense films it manages to stay fun and engaging whilst also being something of a film-making masterpiece.

Pressure (1976)

This film, directed by Horace Ové is, if I’m correct, one of the first feature length black rights films to be made in Britain so the context of production is really important when talking about this film. The story follows Tony, a young man born in Britain to a Trinidadian family as he tries to find a job but ends up getting involved in the black rights movement he was previously disinterested in. The film tackles a lot of really interesting issues including diasporic identity, institutionalised racism, internalised racism, the generational gap and a lot more, however I found the issues to be dealt with incredibly heavy handedly with no hint of subtlety but I do think that is probably the only way to spread this message at the time of release.

Having been born in England, Tony doesn’t feel connected to the black rights cause much to the dismay of his brother Colin, to whom it is very important. Whilst black identity is incredibly important to Colin who says such things as ‘black people should eat black food’, Tony just wants to eat fish and chips and hang out with his white mates. However just as he’s not really Trinidadian due to being raised British, he’s not really British either due to his roots as well as his skin colour. We are told that Tony was the cleverest kid in his class at school however, unlike his white peers, he is unable to get a job due to his race, this leads to an increasing frustration and a lack of money which leads to petty crime. Throughout the film, as Tony experiences more and more racism he becomes more attuned to the black rights cause as he is more familiarised with the racism he faces every day. The film does a good job to not make the film about black people vs white people, tony has many, accepting white friends, and the black rights campaigners who promote equality as opposed to any form of superiority, they’re not fighting against white people per say, but just for their own rights.

From the beginning of the film Tony’s mother keeps telling him ‘we moved here for you, so you could have a better life’, a common theme in films dealing with immigrant families in western countries. However, Pressure puts an interesting spin on this towards the end of the film, in one of the better scenes of the film, where Tony and his parent’s argue leading to his father revealing the truth. The truth being that they moved because the mother was obsessed with being more white, more English as that was what is seen as the paradigm of civilised culture,  however no matter how hard they try they can never be white and English. The dream of England as a land of opportunity is just a dream, especially for black people in the face of overwhelming racism which pervades even their own culture, in fact Tony’s father feels that they are much worse off having moved.

There are a few scenes, such as the one I just mentioned that are really fantastic but unfortunately the film is a victim of its production context. There was never going to be much funding for such a politically charged film which criticises the racist institutions of England, so being a low budget film from the 70s means it has not aged well at all. A lot of the actors in the film were not actors at all but ordinary people bought in, perhaps for budgetary reasons, perhaps for the sake of authenticity, but there’s a reason people train in acting and its very clear that the majority of the actors here have had no training. One particular example is Tony’s mother who has a lot of potentially fantastic material to work with but ends up just shouting badly for the majority of the film which doesn’t help with the heavy handed dealing of the issues at play. I will say that Sheila Scott-Wilkinson really stood out as one of the key members of the black rights campaign, sister Louise, who was also a fantastic character acting as a mouthpiece for a whole lot of ideologies. One thing I felt to be a real missed opportunity was the music, at one point sister Louise even says that music is ‘one of the most important parts of the black man’s heritage’, however the music is very sparse and when there is music it really lacks in character and doesn’t reflect this at all.

The film is probably worth watching if you’re interested in the history of black rights in England or black cinema, however it really is heavy handed with its themes. Those themes really are incredibly interesting though, so it could be a great film to educate yourself on these topics, however if I were to recommend a film about racial tension and identity I would recommend Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing over this any day.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Much like La La Land, I have been excited for this film since the casting was announced, Michelle Williams is one of my favourite actors ever, I think her performance in Blue Valentine sis one of the best I have seen on screen. Casey Affleck is an actor who I’ve loved ever since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and I love Kenneth Lonergan’s writing style with This is Our Youth being one of my favourite plays. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to look forward to, however, as a preface, I’m gonna start by saying that this was a victim of overhyping for me, I expected it to blow my mind and break my heart which is never gonna happen if you expect it to. I think this is a film I’ll appreciate much more on a second viewing at home, not that I didn’t appreciate a lot at the time though.

Lonergan’s script was probably one of the most noticeably fantastic scripts in a film that I’ve seen for a while now. Despite the tragic backbone of the story Lonergan keeps it humourous without letting it veer out of naturalism or letting it overshadow the emotions at play. The naturalistic style of the script is boosted by frankly impeccable casting, every single actor was entirely believable and not one scene was over played. Whilst talking about the acting it would only be natural to talk about the leads, Casey Affleck I think is entirely deserving of the acclaim and awards being heaped upon him. What I love so much about him as an actor is that he always creates entirely believable characters and never overplays any emotions which seems to be the popular way to do things at the moment. He’s totally un-selfconscious and lacks any of the vanity that holds so many actors back, I think this leads to some people thinking he’s a bit boring because hes not screaming or shouting but acting like normal people do. His performance in this is the best I’ve seen of him, its an incredibly internalised performance but you can always sense everything bubbling underneath the surface and there are a few scenes where you can really see him struggling to keep it in and it’s truly magnificent. Michelle Williams has a lot less time on screen than the marketing might make you think and she is great, as you’d expect from her, but for some reason that I can’t quite articulate, something was ever so slightly missing and it just wasn’t the best I feel I’ve seen her. Lucas Hedges as the second lead does a really great job, especially for someone without a huge amount of screen experience. I did expect a little more from him not just because his dad had died and he didn’t seem all that phased for the most part ( I understand theres the whole aspect of it being inevitable so slightly less hard to deal with and either way its the screenplay and direction dictating the emotional shifts) but also because of how much he was touted as a revelation. He was very good but not the revelation he was sold to be, not that its a comparison because they’re different films entirely but I only wish Antoine Olivier Pilon had got the same acclaim for his performance in Mommy, but thats a moot point.

The only concrete faults I could really pick in the film are the editing which at points was very sloppy, cutting in mid sentence or sound effect at points which was really jarring. One other moment of unnecessary editing was in the flashback (SPOILERS) to the death of Casey Affleck’s kids, the scene kept flipping back to the present despite being part of one continuous flashback which didn’t add anything as we were already aware of the fact it was a flashback and that he was in the legal office. That sequence and the funeral sequence bring me onto my other main fault which was the music, in both these scenes there is a lack of dialogue, but instead they were filled with Lesley Barber’s oeratic scoring. The score was very elegiac and choral but I personally felt it was far too much and just generally overwrought and detracted a lot from two scenes that could have been much more powerful if not for the intrusive score that didn’t feel as though it really fitted the tone of the film but rather was desperately trying to make you feel sad.

As I said, this is a film I’m eager to watch again and I assume I’ll enjoy it a lot more the second time, I think I was both expecting too much and in slightly too cynical a mood to really let it take me on the journey of the characters. Either way its an impeccably written film with some fantastic performances that are worth watching the film for alone.

Great Expectations (1946)

I am very behind on writing up things I’ve watched, I think I saw 6 movies last week and have only written up two of them so I’m laying a bit of catch up at the moment which also means i might not remember some of them perfectly.

This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by David Lean is the most iconic telling of the story outside of it’s book form. I will admit that I didn’t finish reading the book, but what I did read I actually really loved, the prose has so much character as does the narration. This is obviously something that can’t really be carried over in the film form and for me, that was where this adaptation faltered. I felt as though it tried to be too literal of a transposition in a lot of ways, the most notable example being the scene where Pip steals the food and tools from his sister and Joe. In the book, due to Pip’s guilty conscience, every sound from floorboards or every look from a cow feels as though they were speaking directly to him. I think it says something along the lines of ‘the floorboards creaked as if they were shouting’ (obviously terribly paraphrased but hey, the important thing is that it’s just a suggestion, not literal voices. The film version gives the floorboards, the food and the cows actual, individual voices, turning the scene into a humourous moment, at least for a modern audience. This is just one example of what I think to be a bigger issue in the film, which is that it doesn’t utilise the modes of expression exclusive to film because it tries too hard to be loyal to the novel.

There was some clever framing in shots throughout the film and Lean does a good job of telling the story in a coherent and accessible way without losing too much.

Somewhere (2010)

Somewhere is an exercise in taking Sofia Coppola’s trademark vacuousness and amping it up to the max for an examination of Hollywood life and postmodern city life. It’s not an immediately, or perhaps at all, engaging film with the first dialogue only coming after 15 minutes and remaining sparse throughout since it is about a character who is totally detached, reflected by the film at many points.

Stephen Dorff, who I’d never heard of before, is fantastic and understated as Johnny Marco, a famous actor, left unsatisfied despite his success and struggling to find meaning or pleasure in life. A combination of the sparse script and Dorff’s subtle and internalised performance means that he’s not a particularly likable character per se, neither is he unlikable, he feels like a thoroughly realistic character with his guard kept incredibly high. Critics often say that film is unable to communicate the interiority and motivations of a character to the audience as well as a novel, I think this film is one of countless good examples to add a separate view to this discussion. Whilst in this film we don’t get any concrete insight into Marco’s mind, I would argue that is part of what makes the character so interesting, his behaviour leads the audience to really think about and consider his motivations for themselves as that’s the only way we get explanation. He’s a fascinating character too, a man who has been absorbed by Hollywood and as a result lost his identity, brilliantly symbolised in a scene where he get a full face mould, the camera is trained on this image of his image totally obscured by plaster, isolated in a room. Marco lives a life with no centre, he seemingly has no permanent home, instead living his life out of hotels he doesn’t leave unless necessarily, even in Italy, he spends the entire time, not including an award show, in the hotel. The closest thing he has to a home is his black Ferrari , much like Repo Man, cars are central to the film, both taking place city of LA where car transport is a necessity. In fact we never see a character walking to a new location in this film (spoilers) until the end where Marco drives into the countryside, leaves his car and walks aimlessly away, to anywhere else, shedding his identity to create his own (spoilers end). Marco isn’t particularly comfortable in his own skin and he’s definitely not comfortable with his celebrity and hence he isolates himself so as to avoid interaction (one scene features a nice cameo from Alden Ehrenreich). It feels like an odd thing to praise or mention at all, but Dorff’s body is a direct reflection of his life, he is clearly very muscular for his action roles as he has huge biceps and a very defined adonis belt amongst other muscles. However this isn’t really who he is, his stomach is sustended, pushing his abs against the skin of his bulging stomach, the muscles are the means to an end as a blockbuster actor but its not his wn decision as he doesn’t maintain that figure unless necesarry.

Marco’s life is peppered with occasional visits from his daughter Cleo, played by the remarkably accomplished, and deservedly so, Elle Fanning. Marco doesn’t know how to properly connect with his daughter, resorting to play video games with her, even then these games are Guitar Hero and Wii Sport, games based on activities the characters could actually do. Cleo is resilient and independent, often cooking not only for herself but also for her father, with considerable skill as well, contrasting with Marco who seems has no idea about portion control with even simple meals. Cleo is clearly left alone fairly often and sure enough the main narrative drive comes from Cleo’s mother going AWOL leaving Johnny to look after Cleo having to find a way to fit her into his life. From spending all that time wth her father, Cleo starts to met his cold exterior and makes him feel confident, enough so that eventually he is comfortable swimming and sunbathing amidst the public. The pain of his distance is still real though and there isn’t an easy fix.

The film is filled with scenes just of driving, demonstrating the postmodern commercialism and fragmentedness of the world the characters inhabit. One particular shot stands out as the main focus in the frame is a huge billboard advertising ‘Tom Ford for Men’. One of the most accepted theories of the postmodern, posited by Jameson is that of intertextuality replacing depth, with postmodern art being fundamentally shallow and surface level which is perfect for a film about Hollywood. One scene which stands out, in general as well as in theoretical terms is when Marco and his co-star played by Michelle Monaghan pose for a photo shoot promoting their new action film. The characters seamlessly alternate between smiling for the camera and belittling each other, and after the shoot is over, the camera cuts to reveal that Marco has been standing on a wooden block to create the illusion of height. The hotels Marco stays in are a fantastic example of postmodern theory at work as they serve to create their own centre as locations that cater to every need, particularly the Italian hotel which latches on to the modernised notion of commercialised historicity in its decor. The Marmont hotel has a life of its own, there are constant gathering of people in the halls, as well as being a place where sexual appetites are served accordingly. Marco goes through a serious of meaningless sexual encounters (including a surprise Eliza Coupe cameo which is always a treat), where he never knows the names of the women he is with, and even falls asleep whilst performing cunnilingus.

As mentioned earlier, the film isn’t the most engaging film, but it has some fantastic scenes and some fun cameos (Michelle Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Eliza Coupe, Ellie Kemper and Alden Ehrenreich). Unlike the world that Coppola presents, this film is thematically rich with a lot of potential unpacking if wanted.

Repo Man (1984)

I wouldn’t know how to ever describe this film, it goes slightly beyond comprehension in the most fantastic way. The film is actually theoretically quite dense but its disguised by layers and layers of fantastic 80s kitsch and comedy so much so that it’d be incredibly easy to miss any deeper point and to just enjoy it for what it is.

The film stars Emilio Estevez as Otto, an 18 year old kid from a poor family who pretends to be older than he is and has an outlandish style, complete with a Madonna-esque holy cross earring. Otto has a surprise induction into the world of repo man but finds himself embracing this lifestyle, the mentorship and the code that it comes with. As repo men they repossess cars of people who cant pay their bills and hold them till they pay up, however, its not all that simple as they have a fierce rivalry with the other repo men in town, the Rodrigues brothers. The car is central to this film, set in LA, a fragmented city where you have to drive everywhere, the car becomes an incredibly significant representation of the driver, it is it’s own self contained world. The identity affixed to cars is a key part of Otto’s own self discovery of his identity. It sounds simple enough, but theres more, a trio of punk anarchists are wreaking havoc across LA, with such fantastic lines as ‘lets go do some crime’, they are a biting satire of counter cultural youths who don’t contribute much to the narrative but are so ridiculous and funny you’ll always be glad when they pop up. As if this wasn’t all enough for a fleshed out film, I neglected to mention the opening, which sets up a huge element of the film. The opening finds a man driving a malibu in the desert with a secret in his trunk, this secret is alien life and anyone who opens the trunk gets immediately evaporated, the radiation is also destroying this driver the longer he’s around it. This malibu becomes a hot commodity that Otto and his crew compete with the Rodrigues brothers to find in order to claim the bounty, they’re not the only ones, theres a conspiracy group, the United Fruitcake Organisation (UFO) and a government branch lead by a torture happy woman with a metal hand. All these groups try to get the malibu, backstabbing each other, forming alliances, having fights and eventually converging on the malibu, now glowing from radiation, causing a literal storm and setting people on fire. Otto and one of his co-workers get in the car which proceeds to raise into the air and fly around the city, like Grease but radioactive. So yeah, its a pretty crazy film.

I’m not going to try and unpack the film properly, that’s a job for a potential essay and either way I’d need to watch it again, needless to say, theres a lot at play in this film and some interesting ideas being represented. The film has a wide range of visual and spoken comedy mixed in with some slightly more serious moments. It is a genre bending, sci-fi, drama, comedy, post-modern, action epic and I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again.