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

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

A machine planet, sending a machine to Earth, looking for its creator. It’s absolutely incredible.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
(SPOILERS) Most of the criticisms levelled at Star Trek: The Motion Picture are legitimate. It puts spectacle above plot, one that’s so derivative it might be classed as the clichéd Star Trek plot. It’s bloated and slow moving. For every superior redesign of the original series’ visuals and concepts, there’s an inferior example. But… it’s also endlessly fascinating. It stands alone among the big screen chapters of series as an attempted reimagining of the TV show as a grand adult, serious-minded “experience”, taking its cues more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the success of which got The Motion Picture (TMP) a green light, execs sufficiently convinced that Lucas’ hit wasn’t a one-off). It’s a film (a motion picture, not a mere movie) that recognises the passage of time (albeit clumsily at points) and gives a firm sense of space and place to its characters universe. It’s hugely flawed, but it bot…