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Rating History

Captain Fantastic
47 days ago via Movies on iPhone

In a year vastly consisting of the superhero (take your pick), the sequel (Independence Day: Resurgence), the reboot (Ghostbusters) and the disappointing (Hail, Caeser!), 2016 was beginning to have a very underwhelming vibe and lack of originality. Leave it then to the indie circuit to take a firm hold of the fading year and offer the best film so far. It's with absolute conviction that I can say that, actor turned director, Matt Ross has finally delivered a film that satisfies and resonates. Admittedly, there has been the occasional delight in 2016 but none more delightful than Captain Fantastic.

Plot: Distant from the constructs of societal pressures, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) dedicates his life to teaching his six children how to become well-rounded and intelligent individuals while living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. However, when a family tragedy strikes, Ben and his brood are forced to leave their self-sustainable home and experience the outside world which brings new experiences and challenges for the reclusive family.

It's often said that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but in the case of Captain Fantastic I had already done so. Last year, I came across a still from the film and the photo spoke volumes to me. After hearing some positive word-of-mouth, I had an underlying feeling that this was a film I would really enjoy. A film that looked like it had something to say. I awaited its arrival with great anticipation and I can now confirm that it was worth the wait.

It's not unlike Wes Anderson's work in its look and it's approach. It shares similarities with the dysfunctional family of The Royal Tenenbaums or the cross-country, brotherly relations of The Darjeeling Limited. It's as vibrant in its colourful pallet and as deep in it's characterisation and commentary on achieving a meaningful existence.

It's no surprise to hear that this is a biographical account of director Matt Ross' own experiences. It feels authentic and his affection and understanding of the characters, and their moral standpoint, shines through.

There's a political edge and intelligence to the film. The unorthodox family live their lives by the philosophy of Plato's The Republic and have regular
discourses on dialectical materialism. Mortensen's Ben talks with his oldest son, Bo (George McKay), about whether he's expressing Marxist or Trotskyist views and encourages his other children in the works of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. They embrace Buddhism as a philosophy and reject any form of organised religion. At one point they even question why they should celebrate Christmas, preferring instead to celebrate "Noam Chomsky Day" where each child receives a gift on the birthday of the intellectual historian and political activist.

Needles to say that this is a family who reject capitalism and the consumerist construct that it has birthed. They prefer their off-grid, nonconformist living and struggle to adapt to society when they are finally forced to confront it.

What's interesting, though, is that Ross doesn't play this entirely one sided. He does actually question Ben's motivation and his responsibilities as a parent. He pairs him with a very different patriarch in Frank Langella's wealthy, capitalist father-in-law who obviously doesn't approve of Ben's freedom of expression or alternative parental views.

The theme of the film is about striking a balance in life and that's exactly what Ross achieves in the structure of his film; it's about the intellectual and the cultural, awareness and ignorance and he manages to bring an emotional sensitivity to the proceedings without being overly sentimental.

As mentioned it has a distinct Wes Anderson flavour but it's also a reminder of the same misfits of Little Miss Sunshine. Where that film created its characters to be dysfunctionally comedic, Captain Fantastic's feel more authentic and three-dimensional.

Spearheading them is an absolutely outstanding Viggo Mortensen. There's a subtlety and depth to his performance and he captures the nuisances of being a strong-minded and arrogant individual while also affording a tender and loving fatherly figure to shine through. It's not flashy and there's no grandstanding involved. Mortensen's too wise and too good an actor to even have to do that and it's in his subtlety that he allows the space for his young co-stars to have their moment too. It's a confident but very unselfish performance that anchors the entire film.

A poignant social commentary that benefits greatly from all its little quirks and attention to detail that capture the essence of life itself. It's funny, heartbreaking and uplifting all in equal measure and (like Mortensen's sublime lead performance) Matt Ross delivers it with both hard truths and a loving affection. A beautiful film.

Mark Walker

Mulholland Drive
55 days ago via Movies on iPhone

?It?ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.?

A recent poll by BBC Culture surveyed the opinion of film critics, academics, and curators from 36 countries across every continent which consisted of 177 of the worlds foremost movie experts. They were tasked to compile an international list of the top 100 films released since the year 2000 to come up the best film of this century so far. It's no easy task but when all was said and done, the film that topped the list was David Lynch's hallucinatory and meditative film-noir, Mulholland Drive. It came as a surprise to some but for those familiar with the film itself, it was a fitting accolade.

After a car crash leaves her with amnesia, Rita (Laura Harring) has no idea who she is or where she's come from and wanders around the streets of Los Angeles in a daze. She eventually finds refuge in an apartment where she is found by ambitious young actress Betty (Naomi Watts). Betty and Rita then work together and investigate the mystery of Rita's condition and seek the answers to her true identity.

It's pretty much common knowledge now that Mulholland Drive was a failed proposal by Lynch to embark on a new television series. Originally conceived while filming Twin Peaks, it was to be a spin-off featuring the character of Audrey Horne (which was played by Sherilyn Fenn). Lynch went on to direct a 90min pilot for ABC but, in the end, the network executives rejected it. As a result, Lynch rejigged and regurgitated the material into a feature film and produced, arguably, his finest work to date.

So complex is Mulholland Drive that Lynch released 10 clues to help in deciphering the plot. It's in my opinion that these 10 clues are actually useless. Lynch notoriously doesn't explain his work and the clues he provides only serve as a false pretence in which to view the film. He toys with our perceptions and preconceived ideas of how a film should be constructed. I've viewed the film many times and the clues predominantly lead to a dead end. This is a film that demands numerous viewings and yet can still come out different each time. That is the sheer genius and craftsmanship that has went into it. There's a lot about the film that simply isn't explained; narrative arcs and characters appear and then disappear. This could have been intentional or it could have been the result of the material being planned for a long running TV show where they would've been explored in more detail. Either way, it works and adds to the hallucinatory vibe that courses throughout. It could be argued that the film is just a series of scenes loosely tied together and it's up to the viewer to interpret for themselves. Like Lost Highway, what the individual viewer brings to the experience is what they will walk away with. If you invest the time and respect to Lynch's vision, you will be richly rewarded.

It operates on many levels and the lines between fantasy and reality are constantly blurred. Some claim it to be a parallel universe, or repurposed elements to a person's failed past but the strongest interpretation is that it's predominantly a disconcerting dream state involving displacement and transference and where the reality and the fantasy intertwine.

The significance of the The Cowboy and his cryptic messages, the importance of the blue key and the blue box, the uneasy encounter with the man behind Winkies and the moment at Club Silencio where we are reminded that what we see isn't necessarily always real. All of these tie-in with the symbolic importance of dream imagery.

It can also be viewed as a cynical and scathing indictment of Hollywood culture - which could be a direct reference to the problems that Lynch has faced with studios in the past or even the issue that he faced in trying to promote this particular film as a TV show. At one point in the film, studio bigwigs try to influence a director's decision on whom he casts in his film. This was purportedly what Lynch faced by casting unknowns Watts and Harring in the lead roles here and one of the reasons that ABC rejected it (apparently they were too old). They couldn't have been more wrong, though, as Watts delivers masterful work. There are at least three different interpretations to her character and she nails every one of them. She showcases her extensive range which, considering the narrative of the film, ironically made her a Hollywood star overnight.

Form over structure and the combination of sight and sound has always been a major attribute to Lynch's work and in Mulholland Drive, they are integral to the overall composition. Regular Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score compliments the uneasy mood and atmosphere created by Peter Deming's foreboding cinematography, lending the film a truly sinister and ethereal feel.

The biggest achievement though, is how much Lynch respects his audience's intelligence without compromising or diluting the concept. This is a visual jigsaw and putting it together is a very challenging endeavour. Many, if not all, viewers will find pieces that just don't to fit. That aside, this is still an intoxicating mystery and even when it's seemingly inexplicable it's still gripping and hugely involving. Those who like their narrative spelled out for them needn't bother but those that enjoy a challenge will be enthused throughout this fascinating piece of work.

We've all had those dreams where people, places and events are twisted and distorted and that's exactly what Lynch captures. There is a running, logical narrative that courses underneath it but it's very much delivered in dream logic. Any coherent interpretation lies within the importance of it's symbolism.

When you consider Lynch's filmography over the years, this feels like the film that he has been building towards. All of his usual themes are on display; the psychological duality in an individual and the juxtaposition of innocence and corruption, beauty and depravity, shattered dreams and living nightmares. Put simply, it's an abstract masterpiece.

Mark Walker

Wild At Heart
Wild At Heart (1990)
59 days ago via Movies on iPhone

Around the time of Wild At Heart's release, David Lynch was already enjoying an abundance of praise for his cult TV show Twin Peaks. However, this time he was working on an adaptation from another writer's work. The last time Lynch attempted to do this (Frank Herbert's Dune), the results were catastrophic. That said, Barry Gifford's source material is far more suited to Lynch's style. This may be a more linear film than most Lynch fans expected but it's one of his more accessible offerings while still maintaining his talent for the weird and the offbeat.

Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) are young lovers fleeing south from Lula's vengeful mother Marietta (Diane Ladd). In a fit of rage, Marietta is determined to prevent the two from seeing each other and employs the services of a P.I and hitmen to track them down.

Some may (and do) claim that this is not Lynch's strongest output. I'm not about to split hairs on that particular opinion but there are some obvious reasons for this. For a start, Lynch has already got some solid films on his resumé and, as mentioned earlier, the original material is not his own. He also attempts something a bit different from his norm. For the most part, he abandons his surrealist, claustrophobic narrative for something more open and approachable: a road movie with numerous different characters and motivations.

It isn't entirely what we have come to know and love about a Lynchian experience but he still manages to imbue it with some colourful dialogue and showcases his idiosyncratic knack for oddball characters which provides great fodder for an eclectic cast of strong performers: A lot has been said about the downfall of Nicolas Cage's career in recent times but it can often be overlooked just how good he was in the 80's and 90's and he's rarely been better than he is here. It's a very energetic performance and he plays it at just the right note whereby he's both funny and dangerous - not to mention the Elvis impersonations and the love he has for his snake skin jacket which "represents his individuality and belief in personal freedom"; Laura Dern is no less his equal as she captures the hyperactivity and naiveté of an infatuated teenager - even if she is slightly too old for the role; Diane Ladd is simply wonderful (and deservedly Oscar nominated) as the bitter and spiteful Marietta that will stop at nothing in achieving her vengeance and retribution on Sailor. It's a film filled with eccentric characters and the supporting ones are just as memorable: there's cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) who has a thing about Christmas and putting cockroaches in his underpants; Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman) the menacing hitman with a wicked sense of humour and real threatening conviction and Private Detective Johnny Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) as the gentle heart of the film. You could also mention a brief and suitably odd Jack Nance or Sherilyn Fenn as a random car crash victim who deliriously worries about her purse while picking at the fatal wound in her head. It doesn't even have to be a prominent character, sometimes it's just a name; Uncle Pooch, Bob Ray Lemon and the enigmatic criminal kingpin, Mr. Reindeer - a character that wouldn't look out of place in a Quentin Tarantino story. There's so many vibrant characters that it's difficult to name them all but the best of the sordid bunch is when the lovebirds reach Texas and arrive at the town of Big Tuna and meet Willem Dafoe's incredibly creepy, Bobby Peru. If there's any comparison to the dark characters that inhabit Lynch's world then Blue Velvet's Frank Booth is probably the only one that can compare to Peru and his downright nastiness.

The narrative itself is a dark and twisted delight; Lynch has always claimed the film to be a love story between Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe as they travel through the land of Oz and Lynch makes constant references throughout the film. Some work and others don't but there's no denying his inventive approach to the material.

As much as this is a more linear and more approachable David Lynch movie, that's almost what makes it a lesser effort. It's his dream-like ability to work within realms that's missing. That's not to say that Wild At Heart doesn't have touches of this but it's not as prominent as it often is. That said, it still has the requisite amount of bizarre to please Lunch enthusiasts. Those who also enjoy a crime yarn with colourful characters will find plenty to admire too. In fact, I've mentioned Tarantino earlier for good reason. There's no doubt that Tarantino has been influenced by this particular film in his lovers-on-the-lam, screenwriting endeavours of True Romance and Natural Born Killers and the ability
to make such inconsequential supporting characters so memorable. He even, personally, admitted that the film was a big influence on the style and tone of Pulp Fiction.

Ultimately, the problem that makes Wild At Heart feel less like a Lynch film, though, is because he's constantly on the move. He rarely gets a chance to remain static and create an ambience within a room. This is what Lynch is a master at but having to focus on so many characters and so many locations doesn't provide him with that opportunity. That said, his deranged approach to characterisation is ever present and Wild At Heart contains some of the best.

Like the odd love child of Tarantino and The Coen Bros. It matches the violence of the former and the zaniness of the latter and comes out feeling just as fresh and original as their work often does. It may be one of Lynch's more coherent films but it still has flashes of his dreamlike quality, peppered with strange, outlandish characters and events. Regardless of it being more linear, though, it's still a depiction of the off-beat and depraved underbelly of America, that no-one can do quite like Lynch.

Mark Walker

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me
2 months ago via Movies on iPhone

Only two years after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes for Wild at Heart, David Lynch decided to revisit the town of his much loved TV series Twin Peaks and explore more of that mystery. Only this time at Cannes his film was booed and jeered out the door. Critics hated it. However, if you're a fan of the TV series then this prequel is pretty much essential viewing.

Twin Peaks' homecoming queen, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is a struggling teenager who, by day, is a sought after and cherished member of her small town community. But she leads a double life and, by night, she has an obvious sexual promiscuity and spiralling cocaine habit that explain the circumstances which led to her demise - ending where the television series began.

From the opening shot of Fire Walk With Me, Lynch makes a bold statement on what to expect from the film. He depicts a television with no reception before quickly smashing it with an axe. It doesn't take much to understand the symbolism. This film is not in the same style or the quirky, off-beat approach that the TV series had. This is a much violent and sinister revisit to Twin Peaks.

Maybe this is the reason why critics gave it a mauling. Although most of the criticisms seem to stem from it being indecipherable. As is often the case with Lynch, though, answers don't come easy and if you haven't seen the television show then this film will, admittedly, make no sense whatsoever. As an avid fan of the show, I personally think this is a superb companion piece and one of Lynch's most criminally underrated films.

As much as its tone is darker, it still flirts with the Twin Peaks vibe. The majority of the characters from the series reappear and Lynch also introduces some new one's that fit into the story perfectly; Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and his forensic partner Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) dominate the opening of the film as they investigate the murder of Teresa Banks in the town of Deer Meadow and how her death could have implications on future murders. Their segment of the story contains some classic Lynchian moments - as well as Lynch himself making another welcome appearance as the hard-of-hearing FBI Chief Gordon Cole.

From there, we move forward a year and back to Twin Peaks, for the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life. It's here that Sheryl Lee takes centre stage. She had little to do in the series but here Lynch makes her the focus of the film and Lee embraces the chance. Her performance is absolutely superb. She conveys a wide range of emotions and fully captures the despair of Laura. Her struggle is a harrowing and heartbreaking experience and feels, very much, like a tangible tragedy.

Along the way, we also get a glimpse of some familiar characters and places; Kyle MacLachlan's Special Agent Dale Cooper makes a brief appearance as does The Man From Another Place and, of course, Killer Bob. We visit The Black Lodge and The Red Room and a genuinely unsettling scene involving the appearance (and disappearance) of David Bowie's Philip Jeffries.

Surreal paintings, a dancing lady with a blue rose, backwards taking dwarves, log ladies and oscillating uvulas. This is classic Lynch and his vision of Twin Peaks and the duality of Laura Palmer's life is an altogether nightmarish one. His usual exploration of the depths of the human psyche is once again the major theme as he explores the psychological torture of individuals struggling with good and evil, loneliness and abandonment and the downward spiral of Laura, in particular, weighs devastatingly heavy.

It can often be overlooked how much of horror this film is. It's not one in your conventional sense, though. It deals more with the evil within an everyday person and has dark forces at work but it doesn't have the archetypal spectre dressed up for a particular day of the festive year. They don't wield weapons or are seemingly indestructible. The evil at work here is what lingers under the facade of people and that psychological depth is what makes Lynch's film a masterclass in absolute terror.

If your a fan of the series then this should appeal very highly. Otherwise, it's probably a Lynch film that you'll want to avoid. Either way, the critics got this wrong. Only those with a lack of familiarity or love for the cult show should find fault here.

Mark Walker

Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet (1986)
2 months ago via Movies on iPhone

The debacle of adapting Frank Herbert's Dune in 1984, is now pretty much common knowledge among film enthusiasts. To put it plainly, it didn't do well at the box office and was even tagged with the moniker of being the Heaven's Gate of science fiction films. So upset was David Lynch with studio interference and losing final cut of the film that he vowed never to work with a big budget again. He regrouped, however, and two years later he delivered one of his own original scripts in the form of Blue Velvet. Not only did it put him back on the map but it's still widely regarded as one the best films from the 1980's.

Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is an impressionable young man who return's back to his home town to care for his ill father. After a visit at the hospital he takes a short cut through an abandoned field and finds a severed human ear. He takes it to the police before embarking on his own investigation. This leads him to nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and a criminal underworld that he had no idea existed.

The opening of the film has such a striking beauty to it with crisp and colourful cinematography by Frederick Elmes while Lynch doesn't mince his words on his message. White picket fences with vibrant red roses, a fire truck strolls by with a waving fireman while a man hoses down his manicured garden. It's quaint and calming imagery. Suddenly, the hose gets stuck on a branch, the water splutters and the infuriated gardener suffers a stroke. He falls to the ground while a toddler looks on and a dog's only interest is in catching the water from the hose which is still in the grasp of the fallen gardener. It's here that Lynch turns his camera to the grass and the dark underbelly of this picture-perfect, suburban lifestyle is exposed in a colony of insects. We then cut to a billboard saying "Welcome to Lumberton" - where it is later described as "a town where the people really know how much wood a woodchuck chucks". There's a playfulness on show and Lynch imbues the whole affair with satire and a deep cynicism.

From here, Lynch takes his time with his narrative - which, when you look at it now, is deceptively simple. He uses a very linear approach throughout the beginning of the film. Lumberton is a middle class suburbia where seemingly everyone is pleasant and there's a feeling of safety. It has an air of mystery to it, though, after the discovery of the severed ear.

It's from the investigations and uncovering the truth that the film gets more bizarre by the minute and the Lynchian weirdness begins to creep in. This is predominantly with the arrival of Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth. From the plethora of Lynch's obscure and unhinged characters, Frank is the one that seems to get the most attention. It's not hard to see why, though, as this deranged, amyl-nitrate huffing psychopath is a character that lingers long in the memory. It's an Oscar worthy performance from Hopper but, strangely, the academy choose to nominate him in the supporting category for Hoosiers. As good as he was in that film, Frank Booth has become one of, if not, the most iconic performance of his career.

For all it's strangeness, though, effectively Blue Velvet is a film-noir. It has all the hallmarks of the sub-genre but, as is usually the case, Lynch puts his own spin on the proceedings. It's dark, gloomy and hugely atmospheric. It's also not without its disturbing elements as it delves into the darkest recesses of the psyche and explores the psychosexual motivations of its characters - which is hinted at with a quote from Laura Dern's angelic Sandy - "I can't figure out if you're a detective or a pervert".
This line perfectly sums up the juxtaposition that courses throughout the film. Lynch is interested in capturing the different extremes; in society, human relationships and Freudian and Oedipal subconscious desires. All the while, he keeps us reminded that dreams can so easily lead to nightmares.

If there's one moment that showcases Lynch's ability to project mood and capture the extremes it's with a cameo from Dean Stockwell as the suave, glad-handling dandy, Ben. His miming rendition of Roy Orbison's In Dreams using a worklight is simply one of the best scenes Lynch has ever put onscreen. It's at once hilariously comical yet also surreal and deeply fuckin' creepy.

A startlingly beautiful yet genuinely horrific tale and proof that Lynch is probably the most subversive of filmmakers working today. This erotic and perversely self indulgent piece of work remains one his best films. To think that this came out in the mid 80's is proof of Lynch's untamed brilliance and majesty.

Mark Walker