Sunday, August 19, 2007

Inland Empire, The Breach, Disturbia

A word about INLAND EMPIRE, which I saw a few months back but didn’t get around to writing about. Beyond doubt the most ____ film I have ever seen. Fill in the blank. Original. Indulgent. Weird. Personal. Incoherent. Indescribable. Alienating?

If nothing else, now we know what it's like to be inside someone else's head for three hours. Too bad Lynch couldn’t be bothered to apply his genius to telling a story while he was at it. I mean, the style was impeccable and inspired. But the content? Uh… It was definitely an hour too long, also, making INLAND EMPIRE a prime example of a film artist having too much freedom.

That said the film is inspiring in many ways, because it shows how primitive a style can be, and still be effective. In fact, the rawness of the movie actually made it more effective, more disturbing and atmospheric. I’d love to see this approach used to tell a traditional narrative story, because it would make the most ordinary scenes seem extraordinary, otherworldly. (The trouble with EMPIRE is that it tends to cancel itself out – weird, dreamlike handling of scenes that are already irrational or even incoherent, leaves us with nothing much to respond to.) This raw, avant-garde approach is especially effective for the horror form, I think, and if I ever wind up making my own Vampire movie — i.e. directing the script myself to protect it from outside interference – I would probably use I.E. as a template. It’s a way to make “big” movies on a very intimate, low budget scale.

More recently, probably the best film I've seen over the past couple of months of silence was THE BREACH, with Chris Cooper and Ryan Philippe, an actor I used to despise (for his smug and smarmy performance in Cruel Intentions, a terrible movie)… The Breach is a little flat, it resembles an HBO special more than a “real” movie, but the film’s austerity works in its favor. It’s tightly scripted, directed with subtlety, finesse, and tension, and superbly acted. Above all, it works as an unusually affecting character portrait, that of a real-life CIA agent who switched sides for unfathomable reasons and became a Russian spy. In every way, this is the movie that THE GOOD SHEPHERD fails to be.

I also just saw DISTURBIA, probably the most sheerly enjoyable movie I've seen for a while. The fact that I can talk about DISTURBIA this way with a straight face goes to show how starved we are for good, diverting suspense movies, most especially in the horror/slasher genre, which this is, sort of (predictably the film goes flat once it gets to the killer vs. kids show down). In this genre, if the movie doesn’t insult our intelligence, we may feel pathetically grateful, and DISTURBIA manages to avoid the usual clichés of crushingly obvious dialogue, labored direction, etc, that quickly render most similar movies unwatchable within the first ten minutes. The director, D.J. Caruso, does an impressive job handling the material, turning an only mildly inspired warm-over of REAR WINDOW into a cracking teenage yarn, offering the kind of unabashed movie pleasures that we once got from John Hughes movies, but that are increasingly hard to find these days. The film is terrific when it stays with the kids, but it completely wastes its two adult stars, Carrie Anne Moss (remember Trinity?), who has next to nothing to do, and most especially David Morse. Morse is a wonderfully soulful actor, a real gentle giant that only Sean Penn has ever put to good use (INDIAN RUNNER, CROSSING GUARD), but he seems to have taken to slumming of late, hiding out in “heavy” roles (first 16 BLOCKS, now this) – god knows why, because it’s hard to imagine a less villainous presence than Morse – he’s a 6 foot teddy bear. He’s physically imposing, sure, which is presumably why he gets cast; but one look in those eyes, and we know he could never hurt a fly.

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