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 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…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

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 …

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…

This is bad. Bad for movie stars everywhere.

Trailers Hail, Caesar!
The Coen Brothers’ broader comedies tend to get a mixed response from critics, who prefer their blacker, more caustic affairs (A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Inside Llewyn Davis). Probably only Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? have been unreservedly clutched to bosoms, so it remains to be seen how Hail, Caesar! fares. The trailer shows it off as big, bold, goofy, shamelessly cheerful and – something that always goes down well with awards ceremonies – down with taking affectionate swipes at Tinseltown. Seeing as how the unabashedly cartoonish The Grand Budapest Hotel swung a host of Oscar nominations (and a couple of wins), I wouldn’t put anything out of the question. Also, as O Brother proved, punctuation marks in titles are a guarantee of acclaim.

I’m an easy sell for Coens fare, though. Burn After Reading is very funny, particularly John Malkovich’s endlessly expressive swearing. Intolerable Cruelty makes me laugh a lot, particularly Clooney’s double t…

Thank you for your co-operation.

Robocop (1987)
Robocop is one of a select group of action movies I watched far too many times during my teenage years. One can over-indulge in the good things, and pallor can be lost through over-familiarity. It’s certainly the case that Paul Verhoeven’s US breakthrough wears its limited resources on its battered metal-plated chest and, in its “Director’s Cut” form at least, occasionally over-indulges his enthusiastic lack of restraint. Yet its shortcomings are minor ones. It remains stylistically impressive and thematically as a sharp as a whistle. This year’s remake may have megabucks and slickness on its side but there is no vision, either in the writing or direction. The lack of focus kills any chance of longevity. Verhoeven knows exactly the film he’s making, moulded to fit his idiosyncratic foibles. It might not be his best executed, but in terms of substance, as he recognises, it is assuredly his best US movie. Alas, given the way he’s been unceremoniously ditched by Hollywood, i…