Classic Movie Review: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Title: Mulholland Drive
Release Date: October 12, 2001
Director: David Lynch
Production Company: Les Films Alain Sarde | Asymmetrical Productions | Babbo Inc. | Le Studio Canal+ | The Picture Factory

Mulholland Drive starts off appearing to be one of David Lynch’s more straightforward films, but ends up being one of the most surreal. The main story is about Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an effervescent young woman who arrives in Hollywood to pursue her dream of acting.  Betty takes advantage of using her Aunt Ruth’s unoccupied apartment but discovers that there is a woman living there, an amnesiac car crash survivor who calls herself “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring). Betty tries to help Rita discover her real identity and the mystery of a large amount of cash and a blue key in her purse.

Betty’s story is intercut with vignettes of other events in Los Angeles, some of which never intersect with the main plot. But a storyline that does continue involves the movie directory Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) having a bad day where mobsters take over his film and cut off his bank account and he discovers his wife having an affair.  In a normal movie these two plotlines would come together in a neo-noir caper that exposes the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood dream.  In a David Lynch film, things get extremely surreal.

Lynch obviously has his own style, but I feel like this movie is also a tribute of sorts to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Both movies are named after a significant road in Los Angeles and both deal with Hollywood myths and crime. The action of Sunset Boulevard begins with Joe Gillis hiding his car in a Hollywood mansion while the action of Mulholland Drive begins with Rita hiding herself in a Hollywood apartment. There also feels to be some influence from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in that they deal with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and play with chronology.  A scene in which a bungling hitman ends up having to kill three people and its played for comedy feels particularly Tarantinoesque.

But the heart of the movie, especially its most surreal final third, is pure David Lynch at his best.  I read that Lynch originally envisioned Mulholland Drive as a tv series and I can see the movie being a tv pilot with scenes from various episodes, including the finale, cut into it.  And yet somehow it works. A lot of credit needs to be given to Watts and Harring for the range of their performances, capturing different aspects of their characters or perhaps entirely different characters. I’m kind of glad I waited until now to finally watch this movie as I’m more able to simply enjoy ambiguity and consider multiple interpretations than I was when I was younger and wanted to know what it “means.”

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Title: Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Production Company: A Band Apart | Jersey Films

So I finally watched Pulp Fiction after avoiding it for 26 years.  And it was … okay.  Especially in the first sequence with Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), I kind of felt that I already knew every line of dialogue from repeated quoting and referencing.  Nevertheless, there were some surprises:

  • I had no idea that stars like Christopher Walken and Bruce Willis were in this movie, much less that Willis has a major role.
  • I didn’t realize that this movie is very long (154 minutes).  Granted, it’s basically three different movies intertwined. Tarantino essentially went ahead and made Pulp Fiction sequels and integrated them into the original film, which is admittedly clever.
  • The movie also features a lot of dialogue, both conversations and monologues, allowed to play out in full which is unusual for movies in recent decades and much appreciated. Although that dialogue also adds to the long running time…
  • I had absolutely no idea of the many twists and turns that occur in the “The Gold Watch” sequence with Butch (Willis), Vincent and then Marcellus ( Ving Rhames)

I avoided this movie because I assumed it was full of gratuitous violence and casual, hipster indifference to that violence.  There’s definitely some of that in this movie (a rape scene in “The Gold Watch” and a character getting his head blown off in “The Bonnie Situation” are particularly brutal to watch).  Nevertheless, the violence doesn’t seem to be as extreme as expected and as I noted above, words are more key to this movie than action. I was turned off by the gratuitous and “hipster-cool” ways that racial slurs are used in the movie and that aspect is going to only to continue to make the movie look dated as time passes.

What makes the movie for me is the moments of humanity. In three instances, in fact, people go to great efforts to save the life of another: Vincent rescues Mia (Uma Thurman) from a drug overdose, Butch goes back to rescue his rival Marcellus from their attackers, and Jules begins his transformation away from a life of crime to rescue the hapless robbers Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer).  There are great acting performances by everyone involved including smaller parts by Harvey Keitel, Maria de Medeiros, and Eric Stoltz.

I can definitely see Pulp Fiction earning a spot on a greatest movies of all-time list based on its influence on the film industry alone.  Nevertheless, I don’t believe it will make my personal lists of favorite movies.

Rating: ***1/2



Movie Review: Memento (2001)

Title: Memento
Release Date: March 16, 2001
Director: Christopher Nolan
Production Company: Summit Entertainment | Team Todd

Here’s another movie I can scratch from the list of movies everyone has seen except me. The movie stars Guy Pearce as Leonard (in a very different role from The Adventures of Priscilla), a man who has lost the ability to retain new memories after a home invasion where the attackers also raped and murdered his wife.  Leonard has dedicated his life to investigating the attack and avenging himself on the murderer of Catherine (Jorja Fox).  He keeps track of facts through notes, Polaroid photographs, and by tattooing the most important details on his body.

Stylistically, the movie is designed with the scenes played in reverse order so that the audience can get a sense of Leonard’s experience of not know what comes before.  These scenes are intercut with black & white scenes, played in the proper chronological order, where Leonard talks on the phone about a story from his earlier life as an insurance investigator, where he dealt with the case of a man with a similar short-term memory loss condition.  Joe Pantoliano stars as the undercover cop Teddy and Carrie-Anne Moss plays a bartender named Natalie, each of whom may be untrustworthy and using Leonard’s disability against him.

Memento is a creative movie and an interesting story with a creative structure. I can’t get too enthusiastic about the movie’s revenge and dead wife tropes, and as a mystery it’s mostly a trick of the film’s structure.  Like Christopher Nolan’s later movie Inception, it plays with the ideas of reality and how people create reality for themselves.  These are interesting ideas to play with and make entertaining films but not something I’m going to want to revisit.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Title: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Release Date: June 26, 1973
Director: Peter Yates
Production Company: Paramount Pictures

Long before The Departed and several adaptations of Denis Lehane novels made the Boston Crime Movie a cliche, there was The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Unlike most of the movies that I watched for this classic movie project this is not one that’s considered one of the great movies of all time, but I put it on my list because it’s considered one of the great Boston movies of all time.  Having watched it, I think it deserves much wider recognition because it is a powerful, well-acted, well-paced, and well-scripted film.

Unlike more recent Boston Crime Movies, The Friends of Eddie Coyle emphasizes the mundanity of life in the mob.  Doing mob work is work and for Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) it is  – literally and figuratively – a dead end job.  Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s clear from the beginning that Eddie is not much longer for this world, although you do pull for him to some how get out his situation.

Eddie’s job is to get guns for a gang of bank robbers who need fresh weapons for each heist.  He buys them from gun runner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats).  Coyle is also facing a prison sentence for getting caught in New Hampshire with a truck full of stolen liquor and refusing to squeal on who he was working for, the bartender/mob boss Dillon (Peter Boyle).  He asks ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) for help with a recommendation to the judge, but Foley expects him to turn informer in return.

At first the movie seems disjointed, with scenes of Eddie, Jackie, Dillon, and Dave going about their business intercut with bank robberies.  But it all comes together brilliantly in the end. As I noted above, this movie emphasizes the mundane, everyday aspects of organized crime.  There’s no glamour here, and there’s actually only a handful of scenes of violence.  But the movie does offer terrific acting, especially Mitchum, who pretty much lives in his role as Eddie.

For Boston lovers, there are a lot of great location shots including familiar spots like City Hall Plaza and the old Boston Garden, where Eddie waxes poetically over Bobby Orr in the most Boston scene ever caught on film.  There are also scenes shot in a no longer extant Back Bay bar that is a platonic ideal of the men’s bars that no longer exist.  And although I can’t confirm, I’m almost certain there’s a scene in the late, lamented Doyle’s Cafe.  Much of the film is set in the suburbs at places like Houghton’s Pond and shopping centers with parking lots filled with big cars and flashy signs.

Bostonian or not, this is a film worth watching.

Rating: ****1/2