Thursday, May 31, 2007


Ahh, the compilation film. Usually they entertain in spurts but rarely reach the masterpiece level. This is due to the combination of many different styles/visions at play, a shorter time-span devoted to each part, and the very basic human need to spend more times comparing the parts than delving into them separately. Or perhaps we delve into them by comparison.

Usually, these compilations are in the horror genre and are usually content to break things into 3 or 4 stories such as Three...Extremes and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Often like-minded directors band together to try to blend a story together such as Four Rooms or Triangle. Even an auto company got into the act unifying half a dozen directors around Clive Owen and the BMW line of vehicles with a strange intersection of art and commerce in The Hire films.

Along comes Paris Je T'aime which is the juggernaut of compilations films. 18 short films based with each one set a different area (district) of Paris. Obviously the intent was to craft cinematic love letters in 8 minutes or less and there is some real talent involved from The Coen Brothers to Gus Van Sant; Alfonso Cuarón to Vincenzo Natali. A fair number of French Directors are also involved, notably master animator Sylvain Chomet (Whose Triplettes de Belleville is a personal favorite of mine) and Olivier Assayas (whose Irma Vep I also adore).

I have nothing really to say about the film yet because I just got the DVD from Singapore (the only place its out with English subtitles) in the mail this afternoon. I imagine one cannot get bored in a film that shifts gears every few minutes or so. Then again, I don't expect any profound revelations for the same reason. That being said, KBT regular Glenn Loucks thought it was his favorite film at the 2006 entry of the Toronto Film Festival.

Come out and enjoy a dozen and a half odes to a city that inspires romantic notions throughout the world. White Wine, Raspberries and chocolate at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


The Proposition is a film of transient men (both physically and morally) that is liberally peppered with sweat and fly feces. It is a western that is as far away from the American West as Sergio Leone was when making his epic films in Italy and Spain. The Australians have always used their harsh open spaces to depict fear and lurking evil - from Picnic at Hanging Rock to the recent Jindabyne. Director John Hillcoat photographs the landscape in harsh yellows and reds, but shows the struggle between three men is far nastier than the hot sun or crawling insects.

The film opens with an outpost lawman (the always excellent Ray Winstone) having captured two of the three brothers responsible for the rape and murder of one of the homestead families in his jurisdiction. Knowing that the one that he does not have in custody is the worst of the bunch, he offers the titular proposition to the next most competent brother (Guy Pearce): To save his weak and simple brother from hanging, he has to kill his older sibling who is hiding in the wilderness before Christmas which is a mere nine days away. The plot is as simple as a just being a tracker film. Although those elements are present and they are fine enough; more compelling is the tentative hold of civilization in the outback represented by the lawman's wife (a subtle and radiant Emily Watson), whose rosebushes cling disparately to the outback soil while tended by a local aborigine. The film asks if civilization even belongs here at all, for better or for worse. Even so called civilized men fall pray to the savageness intrinsic in the hot soil. The desert brings out the worst in men, and is especially hard on those who attempt to tame it. The aborigines in town (including a nice cameo from David Gulpilil) watch the drama from a distance and remain uninvolved and uninvited, occassional tools if necessary.

Featuring contradictory characters, often abruptly violent and operatic in the telling, The Proposition seems to have many of the trappings of the genre, but it is a wholly unique beast. More than worthwhile viewing for those with the stomach it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Inland Empire - A Review

I feel like I'm coming late to the party here, but Inland Empire finally opened in Toronto last weekend, and the lovely Royal Cinema had a sizable audience for a late showing of the film in all its mid-grade DV glory. As a further perquisite, the theatre was serving Mr. Lynch’s own brand of java to chemically augment the experience.

After experiencing Inland Empire (and that is the correct word) and struggling to think about how to actually write about it, one conclusion bubbled up to the surface. The films of David Lynch, darn near all of them, could get by entirely on mood alone. That is not to say that there are not many things worthy of parsing and mulling in his cinema, quite the contrary in fact (especially so with this one). For nearly 3 hours, dread and creeping uneasiness are sustained effortlessly, only punctuated on occasion with moments of absurdity or self-knowing humour. To call Inland Empire the best film of the year is not a stretch in the least. It oozes with primordial cinema matter, comments bitingly on Hollywood and is also a multi-nested loop of films-within-films. For those that obsess on all things Tinseltown, this film is (to borrow a Twin Peaks concept) the Black Lodge version (complete with red curtains).

The movie within a movie is not a terribly original concept. It is, however, more than a little refreshing to see the conceit taken to a dazzlingly new plateau. The identity Rubick's Cube, started with Lost Highway, and further coupled with the sinister traps and pitfalls of the Hollywood dream factory in Mulholland Dr. are taken further down the rabbit hole.

Those familiar with past David Lynch films will immediately be buoyed along by an amalgamation/extension of some of the elements and themes of his previous work into Inland Empire. Contrary to expectations (admittedly from reading far too many reviews over the months prior my own first viewing) it was surprising that the dense tangle of confusion does indeed feel like it could be assembled into order; perhaps even more so than Mulholland Dr. and definitely more so than Lost Highway. Not that one has to do the narrative re-assembly to enjoy the pleasures on offer. The dense wall of sound underscoring often cryptic dialogue-matter and the amplification of each individual moment to its own ambiguous significance is rewarding for those willing to play along. I’ve always scoffed a little when people make comparisons between David Lynch and Guy Maddin, but comparing both directors recent (and very personal) work – Inland Empire and Brand Upon the Brain! – the comparison finally makes sense to me (at this instance anyway). The word uncompromising springs to mind.

The obvious complexity of Inland Empire is that it is four (maybe even five or six) stories swirled into one. Nikki Grace, played by Laura Dern, is a star, presumably in decline, offered the lead part in an old-time melodrama by an optimistic and generous director (Jeremy Irons at his most scruffy) with the proclamation that this will be her great comeback. We soon learn that this film, like many in Hollywood these days, is a remake of a foreign film. However the original Polish film ("47") ended production when the two lead actors were murdered. Their murder does not stop the polish cast from entering the picture however and chunks of the Polish version are embedded as a concurrent story. The polish actress from the original film may possibly be acting as a Inland Empire's framing story: Inland Empire opens on a woman watching things happen on a TV (a delightful cameo from Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie as a polish gypsy channeling Robert Blake’s mystery man from Lost Highway is to be cherished). On High in Blue Tomorrows, the film currently being produced often intrudes into reel life. Nikki Grace's struggle to find here character Sarah Blue is successful to the point where she more or less becomes her, mentally struggles with her, and finally vomits her right out of her system in the presence of the prostitutes (some of them notably Grace’s actress friends from earlier in the film) and the destitute right on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine. (As an aside, I’d love to know whose star receives the blood vomit). It strikes me a little that Inland Empire has a few things in common with Steven Soderbergh’s criminally undervalued Full Frontal in spirit and a tad in execution (both use film-within-film-…) structures. That is, filmmakers that have been through the system making films about being abused by the system. If Full Frontal is a fair bit more coherent and by comparison sunnier, it may be because Soderbergh has found the balance of indie projects with studio projects, while Lynch has gone further and further from the mainstream with his recent work. Again, this is potentially rewarding for those who follow him.

Further attack on both Hollywood and the celebrity star system is achieved with close-ups (as in “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up”). The DV look combined with extreme close ups do not paint a flattering portrait of anyone, but further augment dread. Laura Dern is the recipient of many of these and the effect is one of underscoring her as a bonafide movie star by satirizing the way a star is born and also catered to - most especially in silver screen cinema (“where stars make dreams and dreams make stars”). A more modern jab involves a gossip talk show hosted by Diane Ladd (Dern’s real life mom. I’m sure that isn’t an accident.) And Harry Dean Stanton shows up in a scene or two to poke a bit of fun at the role of the producer. David Lynch himself ‘shows up’ offscreen as a near deaf crew-member, a nod to Agent Gordon Cole, but notable for his character unconsciously thwarting the intentions of the filmmaker within the film.

At some point a character inquires “why instigate the need to suffer?” The cumulative effect of Inland Empire is that suffering is compelling on screen as much as a kiss or a bang (of which the film has little). Further dollops of tension dispelling meta include Dern issuing a line which also sums up the film and much of a film career, “'s kinda laid a mind-fuck on me” she confesses to a private eye or a fortune teller or a shrink or a combination of all of the above. Audiences born and bred on hand-holding narratives if they accidentally happen upon this film are likely going be suffering indeed. Acting as the most inept Greek Chorus in the history of Greek Choruses are the bunny-people from David Lynch's website movies ("Rabbits"). Offering little to the overall thrust of the story (if it is not an oxymoron to use that phrase with this film), they add to the strangeness and underscore how easily the film sustains its tone, even in the face of the absurd. Those having trouble with the film will likely remember the bunnies over nearly everything else. Perhaps a shame, as they feel lobbed into the film more than organically infused.

In the end, Inland Empire does what great cinema should do. It talks to you without talking at you. Even if yesterday is tomorrow and tomorrow is yesterday and characters overlap in and out of the film within the film and the whole thing navel gazes in the way films so often are made about making films - if there is a case for narcissism being a good thing, then David Lynch has made it quite convincingly.

(On a final technical note, the DV cinematography contrary to popular opinion, is fantastic here. What they are able to get out of 'non-cinema' digital video cameras is nothing short of remarkable. That the film-making style is in tune with the subject matter of the film is even better (note the film within the film is being shot on 35mm) Using equipment that was not 'meant' to be blown up for the big screen, and then creating a feeling that seeing Inland Empire on the big screen is the ONLY way to see the film is an accomplishment in itself.)

Cross published at

Thursday, May 03, 2007


OK, after screening one of the great American films of the current decade, KBT is going to backslide to pure cheeseball fun. This week we have the big budget Russian version of either The Beast Master or Krull. The opening sequence which sees a boy child in an idyllic village witness the slaughter of said village before growing up to a warrior will more likely than not rekindle that 80's nostalgia for B-Fantasy films. When our hero sets out for revenge and what appears to be a pet fruitbat with a young lady (and obligatory breast shot) and a blind old man who can see the future. Well you will know from these few words whether or not you are going to like this film.

I'll go on to say that the film does not exist anywhere (to my knowledge) with English subtitles, but I've got well produced Russian DVD with and a very good subtitle track downloaded off the internet from some kind soul fluent in English and Russian.

Come out for a bit of mayhem and silliness that doesn't take itself too serious, but isn't a parody either. Just an offbeat fun time. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30pm.