Movie Project #13: Blue Velvet [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Blue Velvet [1986]

Blue Velvet [1986]
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper
Runtime: 120 minutes

I have been thinking about Blue Velvet quite a bit since I saw it two weeks ago, and I have struggled to put my thoughts into words. How does one write about a film so dark and peculiar, one that turns Middle America upside down on its head?

The classic opening scene sets the tone for this neo-noir. We see glimpses of blue skies, white picket fences, vibrant flowers, school children crossing the street, a man watering his lawn while his wife watches television inside. Suddenly, the man’s garden hose becomes tangled, and in the fuss to get it loose, he suffers a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog playfully sticks its head in and out of the still-flowing water as a child wanders onto the scene. The camera then makes its way through the blades of grass on the lawn before digging deeper into the beetle-infested dirt, no doubt a metaphor of the seedy underworld to be found in this glimpse of suburbia.

The old man’s stroke serves as an introduction to our protagonist, his son Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who comes into town to visit his ailing father. After walking home from the hospital, he spots a severed ear near the side of the road. Jeffrey takes the ear to Police Detective Williams (George Dickerson), and meets the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) for the first time. She gives Jeffrey a tip about the missing ear, and the two of them decide to do some sleuthing on their own.

The investigation leads them to the apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and this is where the movie takes a bizarre and unexpected turn. Jeffrey sneaks into the singer’s apartment and unexpectedly finds himself the witness to a violent S&M excursion, as a wild and out-of-control Dennis Hopper (as Frank Booth) bursts into the room and has his way with Vallens. What transpires from this moment on is just crazy, as Jeffrey gets caught up in a strange sexual relationship with Vallens, all while trying to stay hidden from the dangerous Booth.

It really is strange how the movie flips a relatively standard mystery plot into a violent S&M freakshow, but would you really expect anything less from David Lynch? The movie zips along as it pleases, throwing all sorts of odd behavior at the viewer, and it even includes a seemingly random (but incredible) lip-syncing scene featuring Dean Stockwell:

No matter how weird the movie gets, it is always entertaining. This is helped by the addition of Dennis Hopper, in an absolutely deliriously over-the-top performance as the psychopathic Frank Booth. The man is a gas-huffing lunatic who has a strong affinity for Pabst Blue Ribbon:

Seriously, that line had me in hysterics. Isabella Rossellini is also fantastic as her character gradually evolves over the film’s running time, leaving her bare and broken along the way. Her performance drew much sympathy from Roger Ebert, who surprisingly gave this film a negative review.

The bottom line here is that Blue Velvet is quintessential Lynch. I found the movie to be fascinating, but I am still trying to wrap my head around some of its ideas (and reading other theories just muddied my thoughts even further). As expected, this seems to be a film that will reward further on subsequent viewings, and writing this post has made me eager to see Blue Velvet again. If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s that Lynch has a way of sticking around in your brain.

8/10

Movie Project #43 and #44: Mulholland Drive [2001] and Million Dollar Baby [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Mulholland Drive [2001]
Mulholland Drive [2001, David Lynch]
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux.

I don’t know if there has been another film in my project that has lingered in my mind like Mulholland Drive. I know David Lynch is a very peculiar and often confusing director, and I was proud of myself for keeping up with everything that was happening in the movie. Well, at least until the last twenty minutes or so. That’s when shit hit the fan and I suddenly became lost. Thanks to some theorizing with others and with the help of Wikipedia’s extensive encyclopedic entry, I gained a better understanding of what the hell was going on near the end. With everything in perspective, the movie almost made sense.

Mulholland Drive is very much a hate it or love it type film, as evidenced by my girlfriend’s remarks of frustration as the credits rolled. Lynch’s works certainly aren’t for everyone, but I have a fond connection to his quirks and eccentricities. Nothing is ever as it seems, but it’s hard not to remain fascinated even as you remain clueless. This is particularly true with Mulholland Drive, and I felt that the movie kept getting better and better as it went along. Just doing this brief writeup has made me want to watch it again, this time to pick up on hints that I know I missed the first time around. That, to me, is the sign of a damn good film. 8.5/10

Million Dollar Baby [2004]
Million Dollar Baby [2004, Clint Eastwood]
Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman.

I was a little disappointed that I already knew the big “twist” near the end of Million Dollar Baby. I had heard others discussing it after its release, and I was mildly worried that it would ruin my movie watching experience. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. Watching Hillary Swank rise through the ranks from white trash waitress to a badass boxing machine was a lot of fun. The boxing scenes in particular were very impressive and felt authentic. While I knew not to expect a happy ending, I almost wish the movie went in a different direction, as the last 20-30 minutes were completely different from the rest of the film. It was a jarring transition, even though it was handled with care.

Still, there’s a lot that I liked about Million Dollar Baby. As far as sports films go, this is one of the better ones. It certainly helps that Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are in excellent form here, with the latter doing his trademark narration as well. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say this is the best picture of 2004, but it is definitely a good one, and I am glad I decided to watch it despite knowing the outcome. 8/10

Movie Review: Eraserhead [1977]

Eraserhead [1977]

Eraserhead [1977]
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Horror
Language: English
Country: USA

Eraserhead is unlike any film I have ever seen. This surrealistic nightmare is David Lynch’s first directorial effort, and it also happens to be the first movie I have seen by him. The movie is about …well, that is very much open for debate. It’s hard to say what the purpose of the film is, but it follows around a pasty man with a big head of electrical-shocked hair while he is “on vacation.” Set in some sort of industrial wasteland, we go along with this man, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), as he has dinner at his girlfriend’s house, deals with a constantly crying mutant baby, and enters some sort of bizarre dreamlike state full of baffling characters such as the singing and dancing blonde with grotesque cheeks (aka the Lady In The Radiator).

Dialogue is sparse; this is very much a work that dwells on its audio and visual landscapes. It is hard not to be impressed with Lynch’s technical prowess here, even as most will be baffled by what is transpiring on screen. This is a dark, often disturbing picture, that walks the line between sci-fi and horror. It is easy to see how this low-budget film has become a cult classic.

I would be performing a great disservice if I were to attempt to slap a rating to this film. I watched this earlier today, and I am still trying to wrap my head around what the hell I saw. I can safely say that I was vastly in awe as to what was happening on screen, even as the picture weaved slowly from scene to scene. Eraserhead is a sort of twisted, experimental mind-fuck that I will never forget.