DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Donnie Darko, Southland Tales, The Box, Peaceful Warrior, Also Cremaster ,   The Family Man, , Lost Highway (also, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Fire Walk with Me; Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive); Mulholland Falls

 

Title:  Donnie Darko

Release Date:  2001, 2004 (Director’s Cut)

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 142 min

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  New Market Films; Pandora/Darko

Director; Writer: Richard Kelly

Producer:

Cast:   Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Drew Barrymoore, Daveigh Chase, Patrick Swayze, Katherine Ross, Noal Wyle

Technical: Panavision

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Review:

 

Originally released in late 2001 but hampered by 9/11 (since the central catastrophe in this film is a piece of a spacecraft crashing into a house), it has been re-released in an expanded version in 2004. This is another one of those end-of-life/alternative universe fables that you interpret in more than one way. The central problem is the tragic accidental death of a gifted if troubled teenager (Donnie, Jake Gyllenhaal) in his own bedroom. So, the last four weeks of his life are replayed in a time warp, with worm holes, out-of-body experiences, talking to monsters that look like rabbits, tornadoes, and an interesting English teacher who gets fired for teaching a story “The Destruction” by Graham Greene. (Watership Down by Richard Adams is more acceptable fare! – hence the rabbits.) A babyfaced Gyllenhaal is quite charismatic in the role. I have some technical gripes—why use Virginia license plates when filming in the L.A. area?

 

The film does have a David Lynch/Twin Peaks kind of feel, but less pronounced than in the real kahuna.

 

For a particularly provocative photo of Jake, see http://www.ew.com/ew/allabout/photos/0,9930,6529_11_0_,00.html

(you must be logged on to AOL or else subscribe to EW.com first).

These actors mature quickly once they reach their twenties.

 

Southland Tales (2007, Samuel Goldwyn / Destination, dir. Richard Kelly, R, 144 min) expresses a curious concept for an apocalypse film. The opening is July 4, 2005 in Abilene, Texas, a small city 140 miles west of Ft. Worth on I-20. Families at July 4 parties suddenly hear a huge sonic boom, and see the ultimate firework, a mushroom cloud. Later we will learn that El Paso was also hit. It’s not clear at first why these cities were singled out in the film or comic book that the film mentions (I’ll have to look around for info on it). Also, since that year has passed, we are left with a “parallel world” explanation that, as we soon learn, fits the rest of the film in the “Southland,” that is, LA, the land of Blue Cross “South.” It’s 2008, July 4 again, and we have a mood that recalls Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” (1995). Except that it is far weirder. The government has clamped down, reinstating the draft, reinforcing the Patriot Act, requiring permits to cross state lines, and the government has taken over the Internet (does that shut down bloggers?) and has a super wiretapping system called USIdent. The US is fighting in Iran, Syria and North Korea as well as Iraq (maybe the filmmakers knew about the nuclear factory that Israel just attacked in Syria). Still, people in the “South” get to be weird, most of all around Venice and the beach communities. There are severe gasoline shortages now, but there is a lot of hope for an ocean based energy source called “fluid karma.” The 2008 election is all the rage. There is this aspiring screenwriter Boxer Santoros  (Dwayne Johnson) whose chest is covered with fractal tattoos, and he is trying to sell a script called “The Power.”  A soldier returning from Iraq (Pct Roland Taverner) (Sean William Scott) is playing double agent as a cop himself and running from the cops. Does he have a twin, or does he have a split identity? We gradually realize that some of the movie is taking place inside Boxer’s script, and that the apocalypse that has overtaken the country was imagined in someone’s mind and when written down and disseminated (perhaps on the Internet) a few years back, it became reality. This is a play on the old “implicit content” problem. Justin Timberlake appears as Private Pilot Abilene (the same as the Texas city), scarred, and we gradually realize he is imaginary, but he acts as an assassin (rather like Pie O Pah in Clive Barker’s Imajica). His forearms are shaved (still); I wonder if Justin will ever get his ‘Nsync look back.

 

This film is fascinating to watch – it is rather David Lynch like (with dwarf and distorted characters working for the government aka Boxer’s screenplay). It lacks the tension, however, to make us believe in or care about the happenings the way we should.

 

The Box (2009, Warner Bros., dir. Richard Kelly, story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, PG-13)  In 1976, a NASA Mars engineer and his wife are confronted by a moral dilemma when tested by a mysterious disfigured man who leaves a box and a puzzle. Blogger.  James Marsden never looked younger, and Cameron Diaz is a true Richmond southern belle, quick to press the wrong buttons.   

 

 

 

Peaceful Warrior (2006, Lions Gate, dir. Victor Salva, based on The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, novel by Dan Millman, 1980) is both a feel-good comeback sports movie, and a story about weird spiritual interventions. College-age gymnast Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) seems like a tremendously energetic and articulate kid most of the time. In the opening scene, he falls from the rings and an artificial leg shatters, and we are relieved that this is a dream. It is a foreshadowing, but not literal. He starts meeting Socrates (that sounds like a name for a cat, but it is played by veteran Nick Nolte) and talking to himself through this man. He imagines he is almost superman. Yet Socrates encourages him to “be here now,” for the moment, to prune out anything that keeps him from his goals. An hour through the movie he is critically injured in a motorcycle accident. (Why is such a sensible kid riding a bike aggressively, weaving in traffic?) His thigh is shattered, although it gets repaired with a steel pin. (The actually history took place in the 1960s, and I don’t know if orthopedic surgery could have done this then; I had an acetabular hip fracture from a fall in 1998 and was successfully restored with an experimental titanium pelvic plate.)  Dan, who had been ravished upon by his girl friend (Amy Smart), starts to change, even showing just a little chest hair now in a few scenes. He swims and runs his way back to health, after some imaginary challenges (as one on the Berkeley Tower that reminds one of “Vertigo”). Then he just must get his way back into the Olympics. Considering that “warrior” has a sociological meaning, is the name of this movie an oxymoron? Millman became a lifelong proponent of the self-help movement, with Tony Robbins. Paul Wesley (aka Wasilewski), who is the hero in Fallen, appears a Trevor, a very supportive gymnastics team member.

 

 

 

Lost Highway (1997); Written and directed by David Lynch; October Films; MPAA Rating: R; Panavision; 9.0/10

Also Cremaster   The Family Man

            Here we go again, David Lynch explores the limits of reality and its cancellation, with a weird vision (in the tradition of Eraser Head, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks, and Blue Velvet.)

            This time, a physically attractive married male musician with the Theta Property (Bill Pullman, and I'll leave the reader to figure out what I mean with the "tp") is living in relative psychological isolation despite his marriage (Patricia Arquette is the wife) in this very dark, orange-and-black Halloweenish Beverly Hills mansion. One day a video tape shows up on their front door, depicting their sexual activity. Their investigations lead to a party in which an omnipresent millstone armed by cell-phone threatens to watch then always and warns, like a Shakespearean soothsayer, of disaster. His wife gets murdered and Pullman is accused, convicted, and imprisoned in near-isolation (no Pee-Dee North Carolina administrative segregation, though).

            One night, he transmutes into somebody else, an auto mechanic (Bethezar Getty) and gets released, and goes on to lead the mechanic's life (and meets up with a reincarnated Arquette) until, after some particularly gratuitious violence, he comes full circle and gets himself back.

            Some good reality-testing questions. If you become somebody else, do you remember yourself? Can you be two people at once? Is this what reincarnation is all about? Does the premise really make sense? With David Lynch, the vision is so compelling that it doesn't matter.

            David Lynch aficionados will want to check out the 2001 film Mulholland Drive (not to be confused with the Cold War drama Mulholland Falls of 1996). There is the usual array of fascinating character “instances” and a good deal of identity swapping. I like the monster from skid row. There is some pretty explicit lesbian affection as the actress and her mystery protégé get to know one another near the end.   But they didn’t put it on the lesbian-gay film festivals.

There is a documentary about David Lynch from Image: Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch (95 min). It lets you relive a bit of Twin Peaks and Lost Highway. There is one scene where a producer says he prefers to hire a director who is not married.

Blue Velvet (1986, United Artists/de Laurentis, dir. David Lynch, 120 min, R) is one of the famous Lynch films that just draws you in to it’s looking-at-your-navel fantasy. A young man Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is walking home through a field when he finds a severed ear. Pretty soon he is exploring a dark apartment with the police detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). Outside the radio commentators tell us this is Lumberton, NC, where woodchucks chuck. Inside the characters play a Hitchcockian hide and seek. Eventually they are lead to the asshole drug dealer (Dennis Hopper). The film also has a famous title song.

Wild at Heart (1990, United Artists/Polygram, dir. David Lynch, 124 min, R) is a weird road movie with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, starting at Pee Dee prison in Lynch’s North Carolina (Tree Hill, anyone?) and taking us through cockroaches and vomit, and apparitions flying through the air. We are wild at heart.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, New Line, dir. David Lynch, 135 min, R) was the post-prequel to the famous television series, that went on through delicious scenes with “warm milk” to its climax involving wood spirits. In the prequel, the last week of Laura Palmer’s life is told as an FBI agent disappears. The film has bizarre dialogue, as when a dwarf says, “I am the arm.”

Mulholland Drive (2001, Focus, dir. David Lynch, R, 147 min) is an absorbing mystery named after one of Hollywood’s famous perches. Here two women, one nearly killed in a crash and another with amnesia, are drawn together, toward the magic of a little blue box and a dance of the homeless gnomes, who scare you out of the woodwork.

Eraserhead (1977, Columbia TriStar, dir. David Lynch, 89 min, R) is a wonderful black-and-white horror nightmare classic where Henry Spence (Jack Nance) lives a simple life next to a Bessemer converter (so it looks) and deals with mutant babies dropped by a irl friend (the fetus looks like a live roast chicken) and a spirit that sings weird rhymes in a bar.

The Elephant Man (1980, Paramount, dir. David Lynch, 124 min, PG) is a biography of 19th Century architect John Merrick (John Hurt), who was afflicted with neurofibromatosis, where tumors grow all over his body and leave him grossly disfigured. The tagline was “I am not an animal; I am a man; I am .. a human being!”  Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Frederick Trevers. Toward the end, Merrick builds a model of an Elizabethean theater. The film is shot in handsome black-and-white Cinemascope.

Inland Empire (2006, Absurda / Studio Canal, dir. David Lynch, 180 min, France / Poland, R). First, the title of the movie sounds like the geographical area comprising the California interior valley, or the Great Basin, all the way up to Spokane. Actually, in the movie it’s in Poland. No matter, the movie takes the theme of “art creates life” and runs with it. Actress Nikki (Laura Dern) has an affair with co-star (Justin Theroux) as they try to remake a movie about a Polish hit that was shelved. Gradually they learn that the movie had been shelved because two of the cast members had been murdered, and that their off-screen lives had meshed with the plot. So it is happening again. The movie builds up in layers, including a stage play with donkey heads. The basic setup seems to recall Alban Berg’s opera Lulu, as does some of the background music, which is often atonal (the composer seems to be Steinholz), in addition to the usual background brooding menace of Lynch’s scores. The characters gravitate toward a catastrophe, and it is not clear if their lives stop in some kind of suspended dance why the universe around them self-destructs. There is a fascinating scene early on where Laura receives a house guest who warns her in the manner of a Shakespeare soothsayer. (That’s like the joker-in-two-places in “Lost Highway”). 1.85:1 this time, in English, French and Polish with French subtitles. Lynch’s thesis is fascinating, yet one does not feel like joining the characters’ journey as much as in some of his earlier films (“Blue Velvet”). I love some of the black-and-white scenes of the Polish embedded movie, like the record being worn out by a heavy tracking arm. 

 

Cremaster 4

American artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney has produced a video series called “Cremaster,” and I viewed “Cremaster 4” (42 minutes) at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. This piece has the otherworldly Celtic weirdness of a David Lynch film (Eraserhead comes to mind). It chronicles a young man’s journey through the womb to birth while becoming aware of the activity in the world above him (in this case, motorbike racing on the Isle of Man), and there are plenty of androgynous images of beings in various stages of development, with pieces of sexuality emerging, literally, as in Alien.  Some of the other characters look intermediate in gender even when shirtless (and that means smooth, and more). Well, what actors have to go through and do to their own bodies, even to be in their own films. Anyway, lets hope this little work—with its logic like a rem-sleep dream-- makes its way up to the art houses.  (Sometimes Cremaster is misspelled as Crewmaster.)

The Family Man  (2000)

Universal/Beacon goes out on the limb of forced corporate “creativity” in this messy comedy about “family values” where Nicolas Cage’s entry into a different life for the movie’s long Chopinesque “middle section” sounds more like a rhetorical device that needs no story-telling explanation.  Is it really just a dream?  Anyway, the idea that one has to “choose” between a Wall Street career as a single person and a suburban tire salesman with enough “time” to raise a family seems a bit trite, at least the way it is treated here.  (A choice between “art” and “family” might seem more real.)  But the Sinfonia Domestica scenes are quite amusins, as when Cage has to deal with pooh and urine from a naked baby boy whose immaturity is fully displayed on camera.       

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM, dir. Lee Tamahori) should not be confused with the Lynch film, above. But it bears a certain similarity, an engaging mystery, this time set in the 1950s. A special anti-gangster squad of the LAPD investigates the murder of a young woman, and keeps turning up links to a government plot involving nuclear weapons testing.

 

Related reviews: The Straight Story    Fallen    Strange Days

 

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