Skip to main content

He knows I’m dreaming about him.


In Dreams
(1999)

Interviewed for the book Smoking in Bed – Conversations with Bruce Robinson, the director/writer/actor observes that the first thing Neil Jordan did in the film of In Dreams was to have a child killed. Robinson’s original script had studiously avoided showing kids in peril, and he understandably felt that Jordan had completely missed the point. I’m not all together sure the film would have worked if it had followed Robinson’s vision, but it surely couldn’t have been any worse than beautifully shot mess that ends up on screen.

Robinson the writer had answered the call of none of other than Steven Spielberg who, no doubt in a moment of reverie, had the bright idea of making a film about a serial killer who preys on children. Whether the ‘berg ever intended to direct is moot; he probably believed he would for five minutes one afternoon, until something else grabbed his attention. And I expect his concept flowed from idle spitballing of what could outdo Se7en in the serial killer stakes. Robinson was less than enamoured with the brief, but he readily accepted it because you don’t often get personal requests from Hollywood royalty. From the interview, it sounds as if Robinson did everything he could to turn a concept he found unpalatable into one he was vaguely comfortable working up; on that basis alone it sounds as if his original would have been pulling in different directions.

For some reason, Jordan accepted the reins and undertook a rewrite. Robinson readily acknowledges Jordan’s talent as a director, and rightly so. But he’s also correct to opine that his work on In Dreams is a complete mess. Well, it’s technically fine. The cinematography from Darius Khondji (who, of course, lensed Se7en, and also made a big splash with his work for Jeunet and Caro) is gorgeous and memorable; in particular the underwater sequences depicting a submerged town are eerie and evocative, as is Bening framed in the window of her cell. But, while individual sequences make visual sense, the film has been edited to the point of narrative incoherence. As a whole, it is delivers the same level of relentless, garbled hysteria as Annette Bening’s reluctant psychic.

Even if one was to look charitably on the result as some kind of unnerving fever dream on the part of Bening’s character (Claire Cooper), it needs to be compelling on some level to sustain itself. In premise, there is some potential; a mother is subject to visions of a serial killer who abducts children. After her daughter is also abducted and murdered, and the dreams escalate, she is committed to a mental institution. Robinson commented that, in his script, the death of her daughter was not at the hands of the serial killer; he saw this as adding weight to the authorities’ view that she was delusional.

Jordan’s film begins in a state of extreme agitation and becomes only more so as it progresses. Bening is a fine actress, but there’s no in- to sympathising with her. She is OTT from start. By the point at which she is freaking out in her kitchen, blocking the sink with the multitude of apples she has to hand, the director has clearly lost all grip on the story. When the sink explodes in a great crimson splatter, any hope at staving off ridicule is well and truly lost. Claire’s breakdown should be supremely affecting. Instead it is so one-note it becomes laughable. Everything is an extreme hallucination, and her dialogue is often terrible (“Can’t you get that through your thick psychiatric skull?”)

And the overall tone is distasteful, without compensating purpose or direction. Silly events pile upon each other without meaning, a succession of well-crafted images of dubious merit. Claire, ever manic, is involved in a freeway pile up as she pursues her dog. It’s silly. She discovers the killer’s writing behind the wallpaper in her ward; it’s the kind of antic coincidence that bursts any fragile credulity that was remaining. And the final twist is so obviously based on a notional “horror movie” rulebook, as it makes a mockery of Claire’s character motivations and, indeed, what we had just seen of her journey’s resolution.

If Bening is ineffectively shrill, the rest of the cast fares little better. Aidan Quinn was yet to resign himself to a TV career, and is rewarded with a thankless husband role. Jordan regular Stephen Rea is forgettable as a shrink, while Robert Downey Jr.’s psycho performance is a rare misfire from the actor. To be fair to him, he has nothing to work with so all he can do is go “large”.

Robinson’s reaction to being informed he was inspired by a book was “Oh, really? I’ve never heard of it” (Doll’s Eyes by Bari Wood; Wood also wrote Twins, which David Cronenberg made as Dead Ringers), so when In Dreams is referred to as a loose adaptation, that would be why. Anyone interested in In Dreams based on the pedigree of its writer and director should be forewarned. The only good reason to give it your time is the quality of Khondji’s photography.

*1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

That living fossil ate my best friend!

The Meg (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a good chance that, unless you go in armed with ludicrously high expectations for the degree to which it's going to take the piss out of its premise, you'll have a good time with The Meg. This is unabashedly B-moviemaking, and if a finger of fault can be pointed, it's that director Jon Turteltaub, besides being a strictly functional filmmaker, does nothing to give it any personality beyond employing the services of the Stat. Obviously, though, the mere presence of the gravelly-larynxed one goes a long way to plugging the holes in any leaky vessel.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018)
(SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless Heat rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …