Blue Velvet (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
The film started off when Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found an ear in the field during his return to hometown after his father became ill. The protagonist then took the ear to a detective (George Dickerson) and fell in love with his daughter (Laura Dern). The daughter shared some of the information she heard from her father’s office to Jeffrey and the two began spying on a mysterious singer (Isabella Rossellini) that might be involved in murder. Written and directed by David Lynch, being familiar with some of his work, I expected “Blue Velvet” to be strange, fascinating and visceral, but I did not expect to like it because I think his films sometimes feel too mysterious to the point where it’s difficult for me to connect with the reality of the happenings on screen. So I was surprised when I found myself warming up to the characters because they had clearly defined sets of moral codes despite their weird fetishisms and strange reactions to certain revelations. Lynch’s masterful use of tone (and changing it when necessary at the most perfect intervals) reflected the characters’ mindsets when they anticipated something bad about to happen and when they actually faced their biggest fear such as getting caught in the act of doing something illegal or immoral. But what I admired most about “Blue Velvet” was not its philosophical ideas or implications about what was real and what wasn’t. What I admired most was the acting from three fronts: MacLachlan’s, Rossellini’s, and Dennis Hopper’s as the villanous Frank Booth. MacLachlan had this natural child-like charm about him but I felt as though he always kept a secret because of his shifty eyes and the way he would put himself in dangerous situations for the sake of curiosity. Rossellini was as seductive as she was difficult to read. She reminded me of those femme fatales in noir pictures of the 1940s; I couldn’t take my eyes off her because she exuded an aura of sensuality and danger. As for Hopper, he was the spice of the picture. He was absolutely insane, sadistic, menacing–and I loved him for it. He was so dynamic and just when I thought I knew what he would do next, he managed to surprise. I can understand that “Blue Velvet” may be difficult to swallow because it directly tackled polarizing figures (such as Dern being the girl-next-door and Hopper being the evil figure) without giving the audiences answers that were certain. I always talk about looking for a light at the end of the tunnel for the characters when it comes to movies that are dark and uncompromising. But even the light that I experienced in the end of this picture made me feel very uncomfortable. It was hopeful on the outside but I felt like the joke was on me for wanting to buy it. It was a weird feeling but I thought it was the perfect way to end such an enigmatic experience.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”
Broken Embraces (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Los abrazos rotos” or “Broken Embraces,” written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, was about a blind writer named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) who began to tell a story about a love affair he had in the 1990s with a beautiful actress (Penélope Cruz) to the son (Tamar Novas) of his agent/manager (Blanca Portillo). The affair was riddled with sneaking around, feigning emotions, and spying because the actress had a boyfriend (José Luis Gómez) who eventually became aware of the situation with the help of his gay son (Rubén Ochandiano) who had a penchant for the videocamera. When I dive into an Almodóvar picture, I expect melodrama, complex storytelling, interesting use of camera angles, vibrant colors, and passionate characters. On that level, I strongly believe that the film delivered. However, it didn’t quite exceed my expectations. I think this is the kind of film that requires multiple viewing on my part because there were times in the picture where I found myself confused with what was happening (notably the middle portion). Although it eventually started coming together toward the end because certain characters stopped holding onto their secrets, it didn’t change the fact that I had to take myself out of the experience for several seconds to figure out where everybody else stood. That lack of flow was the main reason why I didn’t quite love “Broken Embraces.” I admired that this film strived not to fit into one genre. Sometimes it was comedic, sometimes gloomy but there were times when it was thrilling; the director’s use of shadows and the way he used the build-up of tension were very noir-like (particularly the stairs scene–a definite stand-out) and almost Hitchcockian. “Broken Embraces” was teeming with ideas. If the director made a film from each genre he tackled, I’d be interested in watching them as well. I was fascinated with how the characters became so engulfed in their passions to the point where they weren’t even aware that they were ultimately hurting themselves. I couldn’t help but get into the lives of the characters because each of them had passion in their eyes and the way they expressed themselves via body movements. Each of them had a purpose and none of them was a simply caricature. I could feel Almodóvar’s passion for filmmaking in every frame. I just wished that he made sure that the audiences could follow his vision without a significant amount of mental acrobatics because there was already a lot going on.
Wall Street (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) believes in working hard and achieving little rewards which eventually add up to a big accomplishment. That is, until he one day decides that he wants to move up the economic ladder by teaming up with a corporate raider named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Gekko assigns Fox to obtain illegal information via spying, lying, and basically throwing out his ethics out the window in order to be successful. But Fox eventually realizes Gekko’s true colors when Gekko decided to mess with Fox’s father’s business (Martin Sheen), without taking into consideration what would happen to the workers ad everything they’ve worked hard for. I enjoyed watching this film in many levels. For one, it had a plethora of brilliant one-liners and references to literature. Second, the acting is spot-on; Douglas as the greedy corporate raider was a bad person, but he had a certain charm that made me believe at times that his methods were justified. That characteristic was brilliantly painted during his speech in front of the stockholders. I also liked the fact that the lesson was “greed is bad” (the antithesis of the picture’s tagline) but it did not feel too heavy-handed. While it did show the glamorous side of achieving quick and easy ways to make money, it showed just enough serious consequences that would inevitably happen to those who choose to steal instead of patiently creating something for themselves. Lastly, I have to admit that I didn’t think the financial world was interesting, but by the end of the film, I understood it a bit better and, oddly enough, found it to be interesting. I also found it to be exciting with everyone wanting to sell and buy, and others in fear that they may lose a whole lot of money in the process. I guess the issues such as the fragile nature of loyalty, not realizing that one is standing on thin ice, and worries about not amounting to anything made the picture that much more interesting to me. Not to mention that there were a lot of notable supporting actors here such as Hal Holbrook, Daryl Hannah and James Spader. I definitely had to admire the film’s intelligence, but most importantly, its earnestness to entertain in both subtle and overt ways.