Skip to main content

A fish by any other name is still a fish!

Hotel Room
(1993)

(SPOILERS) In terms of visual flourish and scope, Hotel Room couldn’t be more different from David Lynch’s previous couple of features. Even in comparison to his two prior TV series. This trio of shaggy dog stories, centring on the Railroad Hotel at different intervals in its history, is theatrical in its minimalism, consisting mostly (in the two Lynch-directed segments) of two or three-handers. Barry Gifford, the writer of the Lynch episodes, fully gets on board with the eccentric Lynch quality, but it’s channelled into something for more verbalised and so less stylistically provocative. As such, it’s interesting that the most fully-fledged of these, Blackout, which is therefore in theory the least Lynchian, is the most satisfying.


1.1: Tricks

Set in September 1969, Harry Dean Stanton’s Moe takes prostitute Darlene (Glenne Headly) to Room 603. But, before he can get up to anything you’d rather not see Harry Dean Stanton get up to, his associate Lou (Freddie Jones) arrives, and proceeds to get up to things you’d rather not see Freddie Jones get up to (with Headly or anyone).



This is oblique, cryptic and fractured; the relationship between Moe and Lou references murky past deeds and indiscretions; Lou appears to know Darlene’s past precisely; he and Moe suggest she has killed her husband before giving her the fear sufficiently that she exits for her own safety. Then Lou leaves, telling Moe “Remember, don’t wait too long”; Moe falls asleep and is roused by the police at the door, who arrest him for the murder of his wife, Phylicia. Whom Moe earlier indicate Lou was having an affair with.



Lynch throws in unusual shots and asides (the empty mirror when Lou walks by it, the focus on his hand as he places it into his pocket), and occasionally the content becomes engaging in itself (Moe recounting taking groceries to a woman in a nightgown as a teenager, to Lou’s rapt interest), but divining clear narrative meaning from this escaped me.



It has been suggested that Lou and Moe are one and the same, which would make sense of a buttoned-down man, drinking, losing control (unleashing his dangerous side) and about to kill again (Darlene), but doesn’t explain Darlene clearly referring to the two of them (“I’ve had some strange tricks before, but you guys are weird” and “Call the cops! These guys are going to hurt me!”).



Tricks never feels more than a curiosity, but it’s a well-performed curiosity, and interesting to see Lynch focussing so closely on just the performances.


1.2: Getting Rid of Robert

The same room as before but occurring in June 1992, it’s a bit of snooze. Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) wrote and James Signorelli (er, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) directed this vignette of Sasha (Deborah Unger) meeting with friends Diane (Chelsea Field) and TIna (Mariska Hargitay) in 603 and rather unengagingly discussing splitting up with her fiancé Robert (Griffin Dunne), who is cheating on her.



Getting Rid of Robert does enliven when the friends leave, and Robert breaks off with Sasha before she gets a chance to say anything (“You’re not a nice person” he informs her), at which point she takes a poker to his skull.



An eccentric scene follows in which the maid (whom Sasha earlier accused of aiming a champagne cork at her) enters and sees Sasha attempting to move the body; then we discover Robert isn’t actually dead and he and Sasha end up making out (Sasha invites the maid to leave with “Do you mind? We’re having a private conversation”). An arrestingly curious ending (Robert has left a substantial amount of blood on the carpet), and decent performances (you could easily imagine David Tennant in the Dunne part), but rather airless overall.



1.3: Blackout

It’s only the Lynch episodes that justify the portentous, Eraserhead-meets-Twilight Zone introductory narration (“For a Millennium the space for the hotel room existed, undefined. Mankind captured it, gave it shape and passed through. And sometimes when passing through, they found themselves brushing up against the secret names of truth”). Dated April 1936, Blackout is superbly performed by a dialled-down Crispin Glover (Danny) and contrastingly cranked-up Alicia Witt (Diane).



Diane clearly has some reality-check problems, seemingly resulting from the trauma of the death of their son at age two; they’re at the hotel because she has an appointment to meet with Doctor Smith the next day (“He has a nice voice, Danny. A good voice”). We first see her with her hand over her eyes, and when she looks, she perceives the room as “like being inside a Christmas Tree” (due to the titular blackout it is lit by candles, which makes it also the most atmospheric of the trio).



She continually confuses facts, asking “Why did you speak Chinese to that man”, whom she believed to the doctor; Danny has just bought Chinese food, and was speaking English to the bellhop. She refers to Danny as away in the sea of red (“Red Sea you mean, when I was in the navy”) and how “I saw you on the other side. I shouted ‘Danny, Danny’. But it wasn’t you”. And the fish that told her of her six children, one of whom is Danny.



Danny: If you weren’t so damn hot, I’d kiss you.
Diane: Kiss me anyway.

The dialogue is mannered, especially so given the period trappings and melodramatic subject (beyond its surreal side), but Glover and Witt (particularly the latter) imbue it with real feeling and sensitivity. There’s the occasional Lynchian moment (the caution over the intermittently ringing phone), but mostly he focusses on Diane’s scrambled mind, letting the weirdness therein tell its own peculiar story, unadorned. Blackout also offers a demonstrably happy ending, as the couple appear to find peace with their loss upon which the power is restored, the room flooding with light (so genuinely uplifting, rather than the tragi-sweet conclusion of Lynch’s previous feature).


Overall:


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

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…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

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…