Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lost Highway and The Straight Story

For the two most diametrically opposed entries in David Lynch's filmography, look no further than Lost Highway and The Straight Story. This makes them an interesting combo to watch in one class.

The Straight Story is startlingly normal and touching for a David Lynch movie. And it's rated G. I'll pause for a moment to let that sink in.

We've seen Lynch take on a straightforward story before, in The Elephant Man and (to an certain extent) Dune. But The Elephant Man had a certain macabre element to it that really suited Lynch. And Dune, for all of its problems, was certainly Lynchian with the guy with boils all over his face and the giant sandworms and the fact that it takes place in another universe. But The Straight Story is about a guy who drives his tractor from Iowa to Wisconsin. And that's it. But (like The Elephant Man) it's incredibly touching. And I think it's notable because I think a lot of people don't give Lynch his due because they think his movies are too inaccessible, but this is proof positive that he's an extremely talented director. It's not a David Lynch film in theme, but it is in execution.

On the complete opposite end of the Lynch spectrum, we also watched Lost Highway. I think it's a testament to Lynch's skills as a filmmaker that I was completely intrigued by the film even though I couldn't really make sense of it. A second viewing didn't really clarify things all that much, but I gave up trying to "figure it out" after a while and decided to just go along for the ride. I figure if I just chalk a lot of it up to a dream, it's a lot less frustrating than trying to figure out how Bill Pullman suddenly transformed himself into Balthazar Getty. It felt very similar to Mulholland Drive, although I think I had a slightly better handle on that film. Or maybe not. I don't know. All I know is that Mulholland Drive didn't have a scary-ass Robert Blake in it.

I think my favorite part of the movie was the soundtrack. Lou Reed's version of "This Magic Moment" is pretty much my new favorite song. Lou Reed is just so damn awesome. And no matter how old he gets, he will always be the epitome of cool, as will David Bowie, who was also on the soundtrack.

Oh, and Gary Busey is in Lost Highway. I don't even need to elaborate on that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

The jury is still out on Stranger Than Fiction. I liked it well enough, and there were things about it that I loved - like Will Ferrell singing "Whole Wide World" and bringing Maggie Gyllenhaal "flours" and basically the whole sequence where he wooed her, but I couldn't help but continually feel like it was a Charlie Kaufmann movie for people who find Charlie Kaufmann's movies to be too much. To someone who does not find that to be true, it makes the movie a little lacking, but still entertaining.

Will Ferrell was great, and I know that for someone who prides herself on being a serious student of film, I like Will Ferrell more than I should. But I definitely admire the fact that he wanted to branch out and take a role in a film that required a little more thought that Talladega Nights (the only redeeming feature of which was Mr. Sasha Baron Cohen), and I think he was successful in that respect. And of course, how could we forget Tony Hale, who, like all of the cast of Arrested Development, will hopefully go on to a long and fruitful career. He wanted to go to space camp! The movie would have been amazing if only he said "Hey hermano." Oh, Arrested...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Layer Cake, or Daniel Craig is Fucking Hot

I've really wanted to see Casino Royale since it opened. I didn't get a chance to see it before I left, and the only things I saw over break were Borat and The Departed, both excellent movies, but both movies I had already seen. Enter the next best thing: Layer Cake.

Layer Cake is a British gangster film in the style of Guy Ritchie, which is to say it's Quentin Tarantino through a British lens, which is to say it was highly influenced by a varying number of random sources, because Tarantino is the poster child for ADD and we love him for it. Anyway, Daniel Craig plays an unnamed coke dealer who has had enough and is ready to retire, but his boss just wants him to do two more jobs first. And of course, it gets complicated. And then some other stuff happens, and Daniel Craig takes off his shirt. And I think some more stuff happened, but I was too distracted by the blinding sex appeal of Daniel Craig.


Well, I'm not kidding about the blinding sex appeal of Daniel Craig. But, regardless, Layer Cake is entertaining, intriguing, and stylish. After 3ish viewings, I'm still not entirely sure on the story and I don't mind. My lack of total comprehension comes from the fact that I kept catching the movie after 12 AM, when my attention span was less than at its peak. But convoluted or not, the movie was just too damn cool. I really wish the director, Matthew Vaughn, had ended up directing x3 - I'm sure it would have been more interesting than what Brett Ratner ended up doing. But definitely check out Layer Cake, if not for the sexiness that is Daniel Craig, then for the bad-ass cool-ness of the film itself.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman: 1925-2006

I discovered Robert Altman through the filmmaker who is undeniably indebted to him - Paul Thomas Anderson. Everything I read about Anderson compared him to Robert Altman, with whom I was only vaguely familiar. So I decided to rent MASH and it was then that I began to see what an important director Altman was. I was captivated by his huge casts and the free-form flow his films seemed to have. Before Elliott Gould was Monica and Chandler's father on Friends, he gave some of his best performances under Altman's direction, establishing himself as one of the great 70s actors. Not many directors could make me interested in a three hour film about country music, but Nashville goes beyond being merely interesting to compelling. Sure, Altman may have made some missteps in the 1980s, but his successes were ultimately bigger than his failures.

Last semester, I took a film studies class that analyzed the work of Altman and another even more iconoclastic, independent director. I did not see eye to eye with the professor of that class, except on one thing: he insisted that Robert Altman was the most influential filmmaker of the last 30 years. To say this about someone who didn't have the same box office draw as Lucas, Spielberg, or Coppola, this might sound odd, but just one viewing of Nashville will show you why.

If you've never seen any of Altman's films, you owe it to yourself to check out one of his 1970s masterpieces like MASH, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller or one of my personal favorites, The Long Goodbye. I promise you won't regret it.

Altman's New York Times Obituary:
Robert Altman, Iconoclastic Director, Dies at 81

Running With Scissors

One minute we were sitting at the lowly kitchen tale moaning about the sorry state of our lives and the next we were liberating the architecture with heavy projectiles. This was pure, freedom. Better than sniffing glue.
That passage, from Running With Scissors, is one of my favorites. I think I just really like the phrase 'liberating the architecture.' Heh. In the pantheon of book to movie adaptations, the movie rarely wins out. This is the case with Running With Scissors, yet, I still left the movie theater feeling somewhat fulfilled. It may not have been better than sniffing glue, but it was almost as good.

Running With Scissors is the allegedly true, amazingly fucked up, yet often hilarious story of Augusten Burroughs' childhood. After being given over to his mother's shrink, Burroughs had to live in a disaster of a house with the crazy doctor and his similarly crazy family. The film's main problem is that the book, like most memoirs, is composed of various vignettes that don't necessarily fit together in a nice screenplay format. Running With Scissors (the book) is more connected than, say, the stories in Naked by David Sedaris, but it's really nothing more than a collection of funny/outrageous/appalling/absurd/heart-wrenching scenes. Using Augusten's journal writing to tie them together was a valiant attempt, but it didn't quite work. And disappointingly, given the chance to use some of Burroughs' great passages in voiceover, the filmmakers instead chose to use much less interesting dialog.

That aside, I was impressed with the performances across the board. What can I say, I can't resist a quality supporting performance from Alec Baldwin (who played Augusten's alcoholic father). The Finch house, which is a character in its own right, was quite awesome looking - my high expectations for its look were actually fulfilled.

If you happen to see Running With Scissors and are even remotely intrigued, read Burroughs' second nonfiction book, Dry. As good as Scissors is, Dry is brutally funny and painfully poignant, and altogether a great read.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The movie "Dune" is in my chocolate-y drink!*

I think a guilty pleasure is defined as something that you like even though you know you shouldn't. I don't have a lot of guilty pleasures, but as far as they go, I think David Lynch's Dune ranks pretty high. By that, I mean both that I feel really guilty about liking it and I like it a lot. Of course on the other hand, I don't really like it sincerely. And if you like something ironically, can it actually be a guilty pleasure? And can something directed by someone as esteemed as David Lynch be considered a guilty pleasure?

Theoretical analysis of what constitutes a guilty pleasure aside, we watched Dune in my film studies class earlier this semester and it just reaffirmed that it's a great bad movie. Like I said before, I don't like it in a sincere way. I've never read the book and I don't really understand the whole storyline. I mean, I understand it on a basic level enough to enjoy the movie, but... actually... no. There's something about a messiah/savior (which, isn't that present in every sci-fi movie EVER?), and there's spice which, I think is a drug, and there's a duke and a barron and a queen and Virginia Madsen who shows up at the beginning and the end and that's it and to be honest, it's very confusing and I don't understand the movie AT ALL. And it's not the good I-just-watched-a-David-Lynch-movie type of confusion, like you get after you watch Mulholland Drive. It's the I-just-spent-three-hours-watching-what? type. But I don't really care. The movie's very pretty (Lynch paid such painstaking attention to every visual aspect of the movie, and it really shows), and I like it in a sort of Ed Wood so-bad-it's-good kind of way.

Let me explain why:

1. Kyle MacLachlan

I find Kyle MacLachlan very attractive. I don't really know that I can explain why but... I just do. I even watched that piece of shit show In Justice to see him - and for the record, he looked like Peter Gallagher sans crazy eyebrows. And speaking of MacLachlan's hair, it verged on mullet for the entire film and I'm not going to lie, I found that kind of awesome (again in a sort of I can't believe how bad this is way). For some reason, I found his internal monologue voiceovers funnier than the others. Probably because they were the most prevalent. He kept saying "There must be a connection between the worm and the spice" or something like that.

2. The awesome music by... Toto.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the whole film was when Paul conquerors the worm by, well, mounting it. And what could be better to accompany this rather homoerotic feat? A swelling musical score with a great big 80s guitar riff (you know exactly what I'm talking about) that, 22 years later, induces giggles in the entire class. It's strangely out of place in the oeuvre of David Lynch, who keeps his films very ambiguous with regard to time.

3. Patrick Stewart

Patrick Stewart's appearance was yet another part of the movie that made us all laugh. Because randomly he appeared and we all thought "Is that...?" It was.

4. Sting

Sting has little to no dialog in this movie. But that doesn't matter. He just makes lots of funny faces. And at one point he wears what looks like a winged diaper. Like the overall plot of the movie, it doesn't make much sense. But that makes it all the more awesome.

5. "Walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm"

Paul says this line when he and his mother get left for dead in the middle of the desert. And it resonated with me for some strange reason. I kept repeating it to myself because I knew I had heard it somewhere. It finally hit me later: Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" (aka the video with Christopher Walken). It seems like such an odd line to quote in a song.

When I flipped through this week's Best Buy flier, I noticed that Dune was on sale for $5.99. I almost picked it up, but I realized that it was the recent TV miniseries, not the David Lynch extravaganza. That's too bad, because $5.99 seems like quite the appropriate price for this ultimate guilty pleasure.

*If the movie Dune was actually in Dane Cook's chocolate-y drink, then I would imagine that his chocolate-y drink would be very pretty to look at but would not actually taste very good.