Mulholland Drive (2001): A Delusion, Dream or Alternative Reality Noir Masterpiece

Mulholland Drive

   “Mulholland Drive” was amazing! I tend to be a fan of films that play with the nature of reality and the fact that this happens in the context of a mystery noir where we never quite know which reality is real makes for a whole host of interpretations, all of which have merit and lend strength to the story. It also has the dark that makes David Lynch so fun and has some fantastic acting by the leading actresses.

     The film was directed and written by David Lynch and produced by Neal Edelstein, Tony Krantz, Michael Polaire, Alain Sarde and Mary Sweeney.

    Before the story begins we see a jitterbug competition before we cross onto a silent road where a woman (Laura Harring) is being to Mulholland Drive where is about to be shot. After some teens crash into the car she has no memory and is taken in by Betty (Naomi Watts) an aspiring actress as together they try to figure out who she was. Things are not as they appear to be as we see mysterious forces pressuring a director to a cast a film and changes in reality as the film progresses.

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is dark and mysterious and kicks off with a man being haunted by an unseen force behind a building and this force continues in the words of “Silencio” and a man with a tiny head who controls Hollywood from a stage.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and haunting as well as dreamlike, playing into the themes of dreams, many realities and delusions. Peter Deming did a fantastic job on that.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack compliments the situations really well with some great Spanish Capella, somber instrumentals and of course the jazz feel throughout. Angelo Badalamenti gave great variety to a score that complimented the story really well.

The Characters – The characters are complicated, especially the director, “Rita” and Betty who each have a few different versions of themselves that we see over the course of the film.

The Hitman – A young Mark Pellegrino plays the hitman who Diane pays to kill Camilla and who in the first reality takes out a young actress who was Rita’s roommate. We see him much more active in the first timeline as he messes up an operation to get a black book of info. and ends up having to kill a whole bunch of other people to hide it up. He is good at playing the punk who is out of league and keeps getting into worse situations.

Rita and Camilla – Harring does a great job as the possible former prostitute turned heroine in Rita who is figuring out the world around her and discovers the truth and disappears in the process after finding love with Betty, and Camilla the arrogant premodana who manipulates others for her own ego and amusement. Harring does the two different roles so well.

Betty and Diane – I can see why Naomi Watts won an award for this role. We see her playing roles within roles as she plays characters in scenes as she is applying for parts in Hollywood and we see her as the kind, caring and curious Betty as well as the unstable, angry and broken Diane. Betty’s arc comes full circle at Silencio and Diane’s ends when Silencio is said too as Betty finds peace in her love with Rita and Diane goes insane from a whole bunch of things and takes her own life.

The Interpretations – There are quite a few ways to see what the film is and I’m going to share the interpretations that make the most sense to me.

The Dream – The story is all a dream and nightmare dreamed up by Betty and she is still asleep as all her fears and hopes of having a new life in Hollywood play before her in her mind. We never know if she wakes up or is just jumping between dreams…given the dream jitterbug dream sequence at the beginning and the nightmarish vision at the end with the same people at the end of the Jitterbug opening give credence to this interpretation.

Delusion – The character of Betty is a delusion by the character of Diane who has a crush on Camilla who is getting married to the director. Making Camilla the damsel in distress in her mind was the only way to cope with her situation that eventually lead to her being a prostitute on the streets ready to kill her former friend and lover who had found happiness with another. This is one of the darker ones and the counter to it is the Key and “Silencio” which seem to hint at other realities.

Alternate Realities – There is a supernatural element that pervades the story, from the man behind the building to any seen in Hollywood where we see unhinged characters with power and no people skills who are capable of destroying livelihood. This element is true through both realities making me think that Diane and Camilla are one reality that is true and that the Rita and Betty romance also happened and is true as well but we leave that reality when Rita opens the box to the reality where Camilla and Diane are. I liked this one the best as the mystery is still there and it doesn’t forget the strange forces we’ve seen at work from the beginning of the production.

  If you like David Lynch or Noirs, chances are you will really enjoy this film. It is a favorite and I liked it more than “Eraserhead” which was a really good film. This film was great at exploring the mind and the themes of illusion, dreams and realities are hard to pull off, but Lynch does so seamlessly. The actresses are amazing too and I really like Rita’s and Betty’s romance as it had so much richness to it as they grew together. This contrasted by the second reality gave the first one strength and gave room for interpretations, which I liked. I tend to like films with clearer answers, but this one was great in how open it was and how it truly let the viewer decide what happened.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Advertisements

Birdman (2014): A Surreal Exploration of Meaning and Ego

birdman-movie-poster-1

      I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of good and okay movies over Thanksgiving Week. Out of all those movies, “Birdman” wins hands down. It will probably be in my end of year Top 5 list, but we’ll see. December still lies ahead and there were some films that I saw before reviewing the blog that will be major competitors.

   “Birdman” or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also was one of the producers and writers. The other writers were Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo and the other producers were John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole.

      The premise is Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an aging actor famous only for being Birdman trying to make it big on Broadway and be relevant again. From here the story unfolds as he wrestles with situations, his ego and characters and his possible magic powers as well as the character of Birdman who pressures him into actions. From here the story unfolds as things become undone. From here the story unfolds.

The review does contain SPOILERS.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack –  The music for this movie has a life of it’s own. There is a snare drum (and you see the drummer) at different points during the film and it does a good job of giving New York City life and creating tension. It makes everything organic and tense and draws you into the scene at hand.

Lesley – Naomi Watts plays Lesley, a character who has been working all her life to get on Broadway and is roommates with the selfish method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), when he attempts to rape her on stage she fights back and has her dreams come crashing down as the one who had helped her get to where she was betrayed her and didn’t own up to it. After she connects with Laura (Riggin’s girlfriend) and they share a kiss and appreciate each other as Laura reaches out on how Riggin had never showed the appreciation for her performances the way he did for Lesley. After she sets the boundaries with Mike she is a rock throughout the rest of the film and is able to comfort Riggin when he loses it after another bad Preview before opening night.

Jake – This is the best role I have seen Zach Galifianakis play. His character is driven and does all he can to pull the play together…from hiring Mike and doing what Mike wants no matter how outrageous and finding the money for different things the play needs…no matter how tight it gets. He comes through and his darker side is only revealed when he lies to Riggan to keep him afloat telling him they were sold out and that famous people showed up tonight to cast for movies and when he is celebrating the show’s success even though his best friend just shot off his nose and he hasn’t checked into his friend’s mental state. He was compelling to watch though.

Sylvia – Amy Ryan plays Sylvia…Riggan’s ex-Wife who he cheated on. Post divorce she is the only person he is honest with and opens up about Birdman being in his head pressuring him to do certain things. She listens to him but keeps him grounded and it looks like they are able to resolve things as he shows he cares and has learned and it happens organically too as she’s the adult in the room and he’s the one growing past his ego.

Sam – Sam is Riggan’ daughter and is played by Emma Stone. She plays a young woman out of rehab and she plays the part well. From the apathy and skeletalness, to using what she learned there (marking a napkin with dashes to represent time) she is there for her dad and admits he wasn’t a bad father after she talks to Mike about he was never there and realizes he wasn’t bad. She makes him relevant again and uses the popularity he receives on youtube after he gets caught outside the theatre in his underwear to boost him to relevant again as at the end she’s the one running his social media sites. They are friends at the end and she knows he found freedom as when she goes into the empty room and looks outside, she smiles.

Mike – Edward Norton plays a prick who is only real when he’s on stage and being someone else. We see this in how he plays a critic talking poetry and meaning…but than bashes everyone and during Truth or Dare has Sam spit on a bald guy’s head…as well as when he tries to rape his friend. I didn’t like this character. He was complex but he doesn’t even compare to Riggan in regards to how good he is. He is driven by ego, jealousy and want above all else. He only really cares about people after Riggan calls him out and fights him and after he loses Lesley. That is when he begins to learn and see beyond himself. He is devoted to the craft and that is part of what makes him interesting. If the script says his character is drunk, he was real liquor on stage, etc. I’m glad he grows but because of the scene with Lesley I could never like the guy.

Birdman – Birdman is Riggan’s ego and desire to matter. He is core Id and at one point during Birdman’s monologue near the end that gets Riggan to imagine he’s flying he’s describing that people want action, special affects and most of all him as Birdman taking the screen and soaring. He describes how they’ll make billions and outdo to “The Avengers.” It’s a messed up scene and you see just how twisted that part of Riggan is as it is the part where he believes he can move objects with his mind and where the show is just about him…not all those apart of it. Birdman is defeated though after Riggan faces death on the stage and shoots off his own nose leaving him in a Birdman mask of bandages that he takes off to reveal is bedraggled face but who is finally free of Birdman’s voice as Birdman sits silently on the toilet.

Riggan – Riggan drives the plot as he wrestling with his own self worth which gets shot down multiple times as the press only wants to talk about a possible “Birdman 4” or shoot him down for entering into their world (the critic who hates him for bringing Hollywood to Broadway). He is a flawed character and we see how his ego drives him as he dismisses those who try and help him like his girlfriend and how he isn’t able to connect to his daughter and ex-wife until he is at the bottom. Everything is about his popularity and power until he loses it all. It’s only after getting through losing it that he comes out flying and free from the voice of his ego and the outside pressures around him. It’s a powerful arc.

Messages – Riggan’s arc is growing past his ego and realizing it doesn’t matter. That he can be free if he chooses to be and what everyone wants to see is himself not the character as when he is truly himself on stage (he describes the play as a twisted version of himself but in the end accepts that darkness into himself) that he is able to survive and grow from it. He dies and is reborn without the beard and without Birdman’s voice in his head. We also see that art transcends all mediums as this film is a film and not a play so the critic’s point about Hollywood not being art is countered as the film represents the use of both mediums. Mike is also revealed to be a selfish hypocrite who can talk deep things but can’t live it in any meaningful way until the ones who have been through Hell (Sam and Riggan) pull him out of it. There are more as well, but these were the major ones.

Symbolism – Birdman is a dark bird representing the darker side of the ego I got from the film and the flight is only true flight when he lets go of that part of himself and is free. We also see the symbolism of the city which is loud, large and confining. Riggan and other character care trapped unless they are above it all from Sam, Mike to Riggan himself. These were some of major symbolic moments I caught.

Okay: Ambiguous Ending – The Ending is pretty ambiguous so I have mixed feelings about it. It implies he flies or is free after he blows off his nose based on his daughter’s reaction and the fact that Birdman is present but is not longer pressuring him to become Birdman again…but I would have liked it to be a little clearer. I get the symbolism of freedom and rebirth but when he had an imagination sequence where he was flying it was just that as the taxi driver is angry at not getting paid when he returns after getting drunk for opening night. This is my only issue, but it isn’t a con. It’s just not a pro.

     This film gets so much right that I can’t help but recommend it. It explores the ego, meaning and the different identity of individuals and groups and how they relate to each other…as well as that in relation to the art of the stage and life as a whole. It is powerful and one of the best movies of the year I’ve seen. If you have the chance to watch it, check it out. It is worth the money and time as it tells a story with a point and with amazingly compelling characters.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that ambiguous ending. I would have liked to get what Riggin was thinking but his silence may have lended for good acting…but no answers on what actually happened.

St. Vincent (2014): A Dark Comedy With a Good Heart

St. Vincent Poster

     “St. Vincent” pretty much shows that Bill Murray is still in great form and part of what makes a good comedy (or any story) is caring about the characters. Everyone in this is flawed but not to the point of likability which means the humor comes from who the people are. This is the key to good comedy. Suffice to say I did like a lot about this film, though I wouldn’t call it great or a favorite. I’ll explain why in the assessment.

     “St. Vincent” was directed by Theodore Melfi who was also the writer and one of the producers. The other producers were Fred Roos, Jenno Topping and Peter Chernin.

     The premise is Vincent (Bill Murray) is someone who is very down on his luck both literally (gambles and loses) and figurativly (in debt to everyone and something personal that is revealed later). Everything comes to a head and things change when Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) break his fence and tree which later leads to Oliver being babysat by Vincent as his mom is working long hours. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – I really enjoyed the music in this film. It has an indie feel to it and Theodore Shapiro did a great job capturing the emotions. If you aren’t into comedies, definitely at least check out the soundtrack.

Daka – Naomi Watts plays a Russian stripper who sleeps for sex on the side but soon develops a relationship with Vincent over the course of the film, as well as Oliver and Maggie. She is the one who doesn’t put up with crap and speaks clearly to all of them. This gives her a breath of fresh air in a few situations where Maggie is dealing with crap from the courts and her ex-husband and Vincent refuses to deal with his problems and finds himself unable to speak or move that much after a stroke. She adds a great dimension to it as she doesn’t like people it appears at first but in fact does care about those she adopts as family and her baby.

Zucko – Terrance Howard plays a small but essential role in this. He’s the loan shark who in the end causes Vincent to get a hard attack after Vincent loses all his money and he comes to collect. He’s interesting in that he does keep giving Vincent chances and after never appears again. In that way he must have noticed that Vincent was already in a hell of his own creation and decided he should stay there.

Maggie – Melissa McCarthy is really good and playing the single mother on hard times is something she does really well in this. We see how overwhelmed she is just trying to make ends meet post divorce and how no one has her back. This remains the case until Daka (the stripper in a relationship with Vincent) and Vincent finally come through and she finds support and community. This is really the entire arc of the picture but it does it well.

Vincent – Vincent is a terrible human being in many ways, but you also get why he is that way at the start. His wife has Alzheimers and he goes to take care of her and reach out to her and puts most of his money towards giving her a comfortable life. This motivation is one reason he’s afraid to get close to people until others (Daka, Maggie and mostly Oliver) break through that as they accept him as he is and in the case of Oliver during his Saints Speech expresses how grateful he is that Vincent is a part of his life and recounts the life he lived and how he lived like a saint (leading to the movies title). Of course he still drinks, smokes…though probably doesn’t gamble anymore and is still a bit of a prick but he finds community and in it acceptance and love he hasn’t experienced since his wife lost her mind. Bill Murray did an amazing job in this, playing both the dark humor that makes up Vincent and the affection that shines through as he shares his world with Oliver.

The Comedy – There are some great comedic moments in this and the movie succeeds at being a comedy. One moment is when Oliver is reading “The Giving Tree” and how giving is the most important thing. Maggie expresses herself as the tree and the boy as her ex in how she gave everything and got nothing back. How McCarthy executes it is brilliant. Bill Murray does too in his monotone execution of scenes and when he and Oliver are in the bars, hanging out with Daka and when they go gambling at the races.

Okay: Oliver – The guys a child actor and the really great ones are few and far between, but he does alright. He starts out as the kid afraid to stand up for himself, but after Vincent teaches him how to fight he defeats the bully and becomes friends with him.

The Ending – Vincent finds acceptance from the community and keeps doing what he’s doing but with more awareness of others. The speech recounting his life was great but in the credits he’s just listening to music and not caring about anything…the two are pretty stark contrasts and that hurts the ending making it okay but not a pro.

The Cons: Where is Zuko? – Zucko disappears. I would have liked some sort of follow up since Vincent owed a lot of money.

The Catholic School – The teacher who does the Saints report is quite funny and an interesting guy…though we don’t get much of him beyond him being accepting of others and devoted to his faith. The school functions as an antagonist until the end when things are resolved with Vincent but that process is more sudden than anything else. I wish it had happened gradually as we saw more of their interactions with Maggie.

      This was a good but not great comedy. I would definitely recommend it nonetheless. If you are a fan of McCarthy or Murray they are in top form in this and Naomi Watts has some great joke moments too in relation to the two of them. The story is really good and cares about it’s characters. The characters have actual arcs and change over time and we see relationships form in realistic ways. If you like comedy, drama, Murray and McCarthy definitely check this out!

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. It was a good dark comedy.