Mulholland Drive

In L.A., a woman survives a late night car crash but loses her memory and can’t even remember who she is. Meanwhile, a plucky young hopeful arrives in town with dreams of being a star, and a director must deal with the demands of his powerful producers, who will stop at nothing to force him to hire their chosen leading lady. All three storylines will converge and attempt to merge into one another, at which point they turn into a completely different film that makes no sense. Trying to work out what is going on will result in crying, throwing things at the screen, substance abuse and, eventually, giving up and wondering just what the big deal was about.2001_mulholland_dr Continue reading

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Clueless

Is this the most 90s movie ever? If not, it must certainly crack the top 10, for though it is based on a novel written 180 years earlier, everything about Clueless, from the slang, the opinions and most vehemently the fashions positively scream 1990s. Upon release, this may have been topical and timely, but now it severely dates the film, and is mostly comical. Although saying that, there is a chance that it may have been funny at the time (I can’t remember, I was 8 in 1995), as I can’t imagine any time period in which a two-piece yellow plaid suit jacket and skirt were ever in fashion, even amongst teenage girls.

Clueless sees Cher (Alicia Silverstone) as one of the most popular girls in her high school, who seems to have no problems of her own so sets about fixing those of everyone around her, focusing primarily on matchmaking her friends. When new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) arrives, Cher sees the uncoordinated outcast as a project, and decides to transform Tai into a clone of herself. Meanwhile, Cher’ philosophical environmentalist step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd, effortlessly likable) is helping out Cher’s widowed father (Dan Hedaya) at his law firm.

It’s becoming almost a tradition for me to be reviewing films based on famous literature without ever really knowing much about the source material, and this is no exception, for I’m still yet to read any of Jane Austen’s work, including Emma. That being said, apparently it is only a loose adaptation (I can’t imagine Austen pre-empting Cher’s computerised wardrobe selector), so not having read Emma shouldn’t have affected my viewing anyway, especially seeing as it took so long for people to realise the connection when the film came out anyway.

Silverstone is a delight in this film, playing someone who could so easily be almost detestable, living a life of luxury she’s done nothing to deserve but still feeling the need to whine incessantly in a piercing, nasally tone, yet in Silverstone’s hands you can not only empathise, but occasionally pity her poor-little-rish-girl ways. The film is led by her narration, and contains some of the least self-aware yet funniest lines of the film: “Getting off the freeway makes you realise how important love is.” For Cher is just that kind of person, oblivious. As an 18-year old she assumes she knows everything about everything, there is no problem she cannot solve and no situation that cannot be argued out of, but her journey through this film causes her to re-evaluate her opinions of not only herself, but her friends and family too.

The slang and colloquialisms are brilliant too. Good looking guys are ‘Baldwins’, women are ‘Bettys’ and Cher’s house, built in 1972, is somehow deemed ‘classic.’ Every offhand comment or snide remark is so topical that I found the film to be educational by googling what they said – apparently there was a guy called Paulie Shore who made terrible films, and Mark Wahlberg used to be in a band. Who knew?

I can’t help thinking there’s something missing from Clueless. Although it has the morals and meanings of traditional rom-coms, and has enough rom and com to keep most people entertained, including me, I’m left empty and wanting more. It’s a perfectly serviceable slice of light entertainment, but there are better examples, both prior and since, so I’m not entirely sure why it’s on the 1001 List. It’s one of the few films that I genuinely challenge it’s presence – as far as I can tell it’s of no significant cultural importance, isn’t phenomenally good and didn’t win any awards, generally the three criteria for a List position. As mentioned, the acting is good, the story and characters are engaging and the soundtrack is phenomenal, but there’s an endless number of films you could say that about that aren’t present.

As modern day high school set classic adaptations go, I still prefer 10 Things I Hate About You, If only for the one-two combo of Joseph ‘Joggle’ Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger, along with the adults featuring Alison Janney, Daryl Mitchell and Larry Miller (although Clueless does have Wallace Shawn, which goes a long way too). Clueless isn’t bad, and at times it’s funny, poignant and captivating, but afterwards I didn’t feel like my life had been improved in any way, so make of that what you will.

Choose film 6/10

Blood Simple

Blood Simple, the directorial/writing debut of the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan, is a sticky, sweaty, clammy picture about deceit and confusion, set in the heart of Texas. Marty (Dan Hedaya) runs a bar, and is the boss of Ray (John Getz) and Meurice (Samm-Art Williams). Distrustful of his wife Abby (Frances McDormand), Dan has hired private investigator Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to look into what she does with her time. It transpires that Abby is sleeping with Ray, so Marty hires Loren to kill them both whilst he is away on a fishing trip. What with this being a Coen film, things don’t necessarily go to plan, but it is the direction the events took, and the motives involved that I found both interesting and compelling.

Tonally, this is probably most similar to Fargo or No Country For Old Men amongst the Coens’ oeuvre. There’s not a great deal of humour surrounding the violence and devious plotting going on, and the location of Texas adds a great deal to the setting, just as Minnesota did for Fargo and Texas again for No Country. I found this lack of comedy to be a bit jarring – there are some moments of Coen-esque quirkiness certainly, and a couple of jokes in the script, but for the most part this is played dead seriously. The brothers can do serious very well, but personally I prefer their lighter efforts.
Had I not known this was a Coen film (and had it not starred Frances McDormand) then I don’t think I’d have immediately associated it with them. If anything, the structure of the narrative felt far too linear and ordinary, with the exception of perhaps missing an opening and closing scene most directors would have felt obliged to leave in. We’re fed the plot in dribs and drabs, discovering who each of the characters is and their relationships to one another just a couple of minutes after we need to.
Though he isn’t necessarily amongst the lead trio of the film, I would class Walsh’s performance as the greatest in the movie. His Visser is the human embodiment of a lizard, a slimy, oily gumshoe with a malicious streak and a rasping laugh that still haunts my dreams. He plays the part so well that I can’t believe I haven’t come across the actor in much else. For my sins I only really know him from Wild Wild West (he was the train driver). Can anyone recommend any of his other work?
I loved the musical choices in the film, especially Ray mopping up blood to the sounds of The Four Tops’ It’s the Same Old Song, an almost Tarantino-like retro song choice. The camerawork too was at times inspired; the marriage of lighting and camera movement revealing Visser’s cigarette lighter on a table, and the oppressive close shots inside the bar intensifying the humid atmosphere.
I can’t imagine this film cost very much to make – the biggest set pieces involve a car and a shovel, and a gun, knife and a window – yet it’s easily as gripping as many other big budget blockbusters. It reminded me of the likes of Glengarry Glen Ross or Reservoir Dogs, neither one which involves a lot of spectacle, but they have great characters and dialogue, which really is in my opinion more important. I’d have liked a last shot of Meurice – one of the coolest characters in film, check out his bar-top shuffle – but other than that the ending was pretty well contained and executed. Whilst by no means the Coens’ best, this is still definitely worth a watch.
Choose film 8/10

The Usual Suspects

 Is it OK to ruin the Usual Suspects yet? Doesn’t anyone who cares who the ending already? Its 16 years old! Is it not another Sixth Sense or Empire Strikes Back, where the big reveal has either been witnessed firsthand or spoiled by someone else? Miraculously, my film watching companion had not seen or heard the ending to Bryan Singer’s sophomore film, and he’d have throttled me had I revealed it (Marcos hates spoilers, and will punch you in the head) so no, it would seem there are some out there yet to discover the fate of the five criminals bought in for a line-up, nor do they know the identity of their tormentor, the mythical Keyser Soze, so I’ll try and tread carefully. The cons in question – Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro and a career-launching, Oscar winning Kevin Spacey – have been brought together on a bogus line-up, and use their time in incarceration to plan a robbery, bus is it all a part of a bigger plan?
Told in flashback by Spacey’s weaselly over talkative ‘Verbal’ Kint, the tale begins with the death of Byrne’s Keaton, a crooked cop gone straight and the closest the gang has to a leader, after what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong. Chazz Palminteri, the cop to whom Kint tells his story, has his own theories as to what went wrong, but his opinions, and those of the viewer, get in the way of seeing the truth, ably assisted by Christopher McQuarrie’s deservedly Oscar winning ever twisting screenplay.
The cast are exceptional, particularly the scene stealing del Toro and Pete Postlethwaite at stoic lawyer Kobayashi, but it is the fine balance between tightly plotted twists and turns and sporadic bursts of action and violence that plants this firmly on the choose film list, regardless of whether you know the ending.
Choose film 9/10