Monday, June 11, 2012

Wild at Heart was wildly unsuccessful :-(

David Lynch.  What can one say?  I mean, there is rarely a comparison to Lynch when it comes to personal style, flare and signature vision.  Cronenberg, on occasion, has delivered a similar ‘feel’, albeit more singular in stretch and certainly nothing as brazenly masterful as ‘Eraserhead’ will always remain.  And yet, there is something about David Lynch that I have since found almost off-putting.  Possibly his inability to progress and or adapt, something that could and possibly should cause me to praise him.  Sadly, the more I see from him the less I’m willing to embrace.

I won’t attest to seeing everything Lynch has released.  I still have yet to see any of his shorts or television work (including ‘Twin Peaks’ in any of its forms) and I have not seen ‘The Straight Story’, but I’d think that ‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Elephant Man’, ‘Blue Velvet’, ‘Wild at Heart’, ‘Lost Highway’, Mulholland Dr.’ and ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ constitute as enough in order to base a solid opinion of one’s career thus far.

My friends hate me for saying this, and I would probably hate something else for saying it too.  You see, that is the feeling one gets when watching a David Lynch film or when examining his filmography.  Lynch is such a unique presence that one can’t help but feel compelled to praise him.  His work can feel self-congratulatory at times, and thus a tad off-putting or purposefully avant-garde, and then one can’t ignore the fact that he is always true to his aesthetic and thus deserving of respect and at least a smidgen of admiration, despite what one feels about his finished product.  My issue with Lynch, which was really born after my initial viewing of ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ and continues to spill into my reception of his 90’s work, is that he seems to regurgitate too many of his own ideas into mirror images or at least mirrored thematics, and not in an way that feels refreshed or at least necessary.  That isn’t to say that films like ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ or ‘Wild at Heart’ are bad films, they just don’t feel as connective as they need to in order to justify their stark similarities.  ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.’ both suffer the most from this particular ‘fault’, to the point where ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ comes across cheap and lazy since it borrow so heavily from ‘Mulholland Dr.’, which was exquisite and borderline perfection (arguably Lynch’s most mature work to date).  Films like ‘Lost Highway’ and ‘Wild at Heart’ suffer from Lynch’s desire to delve into the bizarre to the point where it overtakes his storytelling abilities; hijacking his films and stunting their lyrical progression.

And that brings me to this review (sorry, but I felt the need to lay down some groundwork). 

‘Wild at Heart’ was one of those films I really felt the need to see.  It was one of those blind spots I had in my attempt to embrace all things David Lynch.  Like I said, more recent viewings of his work had left me hesitant to a degree, but the overwhelming goodwill I have towards the man that brought me ‘Eraserhead’ (still one the greatest films I’ve ever seen), ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.’ kept me anxious to see it all.  I knew that this was more in line with his more bizarre work, like ‘Lost Highway’ (which I was not a real fan of) but I wanted to see Dern and her mother soak in the scenery (god, those stills looked breathtaking).  So, I finally got a hold of this after almost two years of trying (Netflix tied up and no video rental having a copy).  I’ll say this first, it is beautiful to watch.  From a technical standpoint, I was awestruck.  The costumes, the set pieces, the cinematography, Laura Dern; all of it was just drool inducing.  After that though, things started to fall apart for me.

The biggest issue I have with this film is the script.  I know that have come to appreciate that nothing is EVER as it seems with David Lynch.  He just has this uncontrollable urge to mess with everything to the point where it leaves you completely confused as to what you think you’re actually witnessing.  But, with ‘Wild at Heart’, he took things to a point where the senselessness of it all seemed to be rather overbearing.  The pulled in faux restraint that he imbues on every scene (faux because you know that his intentional subtlety is only a ploy to illicit more drama) is distracting and creates a feeling of discomfort.  The way he tries to force on us a contrived interwoven fairytale (those silly ‘Wizard of Oz’ references that fail to implant themselves into the actual fabric of the film itself) feel out of place and confused.  Then you have the performances, none of which truly register outside of Dern (who is deliciously bizarre and completely unforgettable).  Cage is gross, channeling a poor Elvis impersonator with no likability whatsoever.  Diane Ladd is so over the top and unrealistic (I know, this Lynch’s universe so that should be expected and yet…) that her awards attention and cult admiration is baffling.  I’m usually in love with Lynch’s supporting ladies.  I’ve always stated that Isabella Rossellini should have won the Oscar in 1986 for her brilliant performance in ‘Blue Velvet’ (she wasn’t even nominated) and I’d personally doll out nominations to Jeanne Bates (‘Eraserhead’), Anne Bancroft (‘The Elephant Man’) and Patricia Arquette (‘Lost Highway’) and yet I cannot embrace Ladd’s ridiculous performance.

And god, don’t get me started on the preposterousness that is Willem Defoe here.

At the end of the day, I just can’t get behind this film.  It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t contain enough incentive to actually prod me to try and make sense of it.  I know that there are many, many supporters of this film, most of which consider Lynch one of the greatest filmmakers of our time (and on most days I agree with this for the aforementioned reasons in the outset of this review) but I have to call it like I see it, and I see it like this; ‘Wild at Heart’ is at the bottom of Lynch’s list of achievements.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The return of Russell Crowe…

It is no shock of surprise to any of my close friends, and even those who barely know me, that I am in love with Russell Crowe.  I consider him a god among men and I worship the ground he acts on.  This may be a slight exaggeration, but seriously; it’s slight.  Since his early acting years, he’s always been a force of nature.  I remember watching his playful and sincere portrayal of ‘best friend’ Andy in PROOF and I was awestruck at his charm and charisma.  It was a different side to the man I was used to seeing in heftier roles, like that of his Oscar winning vehicle GLADIATOR.  There have been many faces to this brooding force.  He’s been the fantastical love interest, the paranoid genius, the hotheaded policeman, the headstrong captain and my personal favorite; the psychotic Nazi.  All around, he’s done it all and with sharpness one cannot ignore.

Yes, he is my favorite working actor.

It has been said that Crowe is staggering as of late.  Some have noted that his recent film choices have been mediocre and have resulted in a dampening of his status as one of Hollywood’s more talented leading men.  Since 2006, he’s lost some of the ‘Oscar Buzz’ that used to surround his name constantly.  A GOOD YEAR was a bomb of sorts that was too light for many critics to rally behind.  In 2007, he came back in a way with two Oscary films, but neither AMERICAN GANGSTER or 3:10 TO YUMA fared very well with Oscar or with the general public.  In fact, they’ve been somewhat forgotten.  And then he followed up that minor comeback with a few films that were considered middlebrow crowd pleasers.  While I personally really enjoyed STATE OF PLAY, THE NEXT THREE DAYS and ROBIN HOOD, none of them made much of an impact with critics or awards bodies and many considered the films mediocre and beneath the talent involved.

The less said about BODY OF LIES, the better.

All this negative attention surrounding the good name of Russell Crowe has saddened me.  There was a time, back in the early aughts, when I was certain Crowe would never release a film that didn’t garner him awards attention.  He just had that beautiful way of carving out such grounded and earthy characters.  That isn’t to say that he’s lacked that in his recent films.  I consider his performances to be up to bar mostly, but the critical reception of his films and the obvious slump in their overall quality has been crushing.

But all of that is soon to change.

Yes, starting with this very year, Russell Crowe has a very strong lineup in store of his fans and I, for one, am extremely excited.  I mean, we have an epic musical, a superhero movie, an adult centered fantasy film, a biblical epic, a Blaxploitation kung-fu movie and a crime thriller.  On top of that, he’s working with some interesting directors.  I’m most excited to see his take on NOAH with Darren Aronofsky.  They seem like a beautiful pairing, to be honest.  Aronofsky is certainly the type of director that is going to push the limits and in that regard push Crowe.  Crowe’s friend and former Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA is directing THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, which is a kung-fu film that sounds really bizarre and yet has this air of ‘this could be epic’ floating around it.  Sure, it could also be a disaster, but I’m intrigued to see Crowe push himself in such an odd way.

But, above all else, I’m just so happy he’s playing Javert in Tom Hooper’s LES MISERABLES.  I mean, this is such a dynamic role and if Crowe nails this then I see him front and center for Oscar gold.  Having seen the Broadway production twice, and having seen other versions numerous times, I can say that LES MISERABLES is probably my favorite stage production ever and I’ve been waiting for it to be handled the right way.  The 1998 film doesn’t count, like at all.  Judging from the teaser trailer; this is going to be amazing.

So, for those of you interested; here is Crowe’s lineup for 2012-2014 ATM.

And for the hell of it:

A Russell Crowe Top Ten: