Film Review: Inland Empire
INLAND EMPIRE is about truth, identity, and reality.
To be perfectly honest, there was a long period when I had no idea how to approach David Lynch. Relying upon the interpretations of my peers, I believed that everything he directed were long metaphors riddled with symbolism that could be deciphered if I tried hard enough. Perhaps my most desperate moments during these attempts came when I found myself watching Lost Highway twice back-to-back with a yellow legal pad in hand, scrupulously taking notes. I was going about it wrongly. It was my fault, really. I was listening to my peers when I should have listened to Lynch.
Once I heard (and read) what he had to say about making Twin Peaks and his early short films my perspective changed. Not everything in his films has meaning, I realized. Sometimes scenes are there only for a visceral reaction. Other times simply because Lynch “liked how they looked.” To make an overstatement: It was like liberation. I was free to enjoy Lynch’s work without analyzing it. Strangely, when I stopped approaching films like Lost Highway as cryptograms I understood them more, but in a nonverbal way. I even realized that—shock of all shocks—David Lynch is hilarious. The crowd gathered for our local screening of INLAND EMPIRE evidently hadn’t discovered this yet. They all glared intensely at the screen and shot me dirty looks when I laughed. Apparently serious films are not supposed to be funny.
If I hadn’t already abandoned my own rigorous academic mindset, I can safely say that I would have hated INLAND EMPIRE, one of the most experimental—yet most complete—films that Lynch has made. Lynch himself said of the film, “as soon as you put things in words, no one ever sees the film the same way. And that’s what I hate, you know. Talking—it’s real dangerous.” Which is why I cannot give a thorough summary of the film. Actually, the film itself is the reason I can’t give a summary. There is no linear plot. Well, there is for about thirty minutes, but that is before everything goes to hell. (Normally, that would be a bad thing to say about a film, but it seems like that is exactly where Lynch wanted it to go.) Still, for the sake of review, I will take a stab at it.
It is the story of the actress Nikki Grace (played masterfully and humanely by Laura Dern). Early in the film Nikki receives an unnamed visitor (a both terrifying and funny Grace Zabriskie) who tells her two ominous parables. The next day, Nikki is given the role of Sue in On High in Blue Tomorrows, a sticky melodrama about lust, infidelity, and consequences. Her partner on screen is Devon, playing the role of Billy (Justin Theroux, who seems to excel at playing the lovable sleaze). They learn that their film may be cursed—or at least based on a folktale about a curse. Their director, Kingsley Stewart (played by Jeremy Irons, no less), confesses to them that this is not the first time the film has been made, but the previous Polish version was never finished because the two leads were murdered, much like their onscreen counterparts. Gradually, the line between Sue’s reality and Nikki’s reality begins to blur, and she cannot tell the two lives apart. At one point she is warning Devon (or Billy) of her jealous husband’s wrath when she exclaims, “This sounds just like dialogue from our script!” Stewart yells cut in frustration. It was dialogue from their script.
Once Nikki/Sue discovers a hole between realities in a back alley (or her own consciousness, or both), any foothold on the real world is lost. Nikki—and the audience—are rapidly tugged between her life, Sue’s life, the life of a woman in Eastern Europe, and the original folktale (and probably more). All of this is framed within the story of a woman watching everything unfold on a television screen (or in her mind’s eye, or both). Of course, the prostitute may actually be in Nikki’s head. And I haven’t even mentioned the rabbits yet, or “The Loco-Motion.”
Hopefully this helps to illustrate Lynch’s point about putting his film into words. You can’t. (Just for perspective, that last paragraph was a bit shorter than the one before it, but it describes about 5/6 of the film.) INLAND EMPIRE is long—three hours—and meandering, but it projects a complete picture for the audience. There are gaps, to be sure. “I never saw any whole, W-H-O-L-E,” Lynch said, “I saw plenty of holes, H-O-L-E-S. But I didn’t really worry.” Through these holes the film explores the connections and breakdowns between film and reality, story and film, characters and people, collective self and individual self. Abstractly, INLAND EMPIRE is about truth, identity, and reality. Trying to pin these themes down concretely can be difficult. I think Lynch has already told audiences the best way to take in the film without being profoundly frustrated: Don’t worry. Feel free to puzzle over it, but don’t fret over it. And you can laugh at the funny parts.
Directed by: David Lynch
Cast: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes