Now in Cinemas: Reviews for July 12, 2007

Inland Empire, Factory Girl, The Messengers, Hostel Part II

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

David Lynch at his most unrestrained produces Inland Empire, a brilliant, mysterious, perversely fascinating film. Three hours of mystery, surrealism, off-kilter direction and general strange in what could be described as a definitive film for the director. Memorable scene follows memorable scene, all of are intertwined in perverse, dreamlike fashion, in a film that seems to makes sense somehow but in none of the traditional ways. Non-Lynch fans need not apply, however; film is entirely inaccessible for mainstream audiences.



Inland Empire
Rating:
Written and directed by David Lynch. Starring Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Diane Ladd, Julia Ormond, Ian Abercrombie, Cameron Daddo, Jerry Stahl, William H. Macy, Emily Stofle, Jordan Ladd, Kristen Kerr, Kat Turner, Terryn Westbrook, Jamie Eifert, Heidi Schooler, Michelle Renea, Mary Steenburgen, Laura Harring, Nastassja Kinski, Naomi Watts, Scott Coffey.
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Plot? Not really. We start with actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), making a film with director Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and co-star Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), supposedly a remake of a Polish movie in which the leads were murdered with a rusty screwdriver. We then follow Susan Blue, the character Dern is portraying, and some Polish prostitutes (scenes from the original film?), and oh yeah, clips from Lynch´s Rabbits, a short film series featuring people in rabbit costumes spouting disjointed dialogue backed up with a disturbing canned laugh soundtrack. And it all means something, or so we think. Lynch´s greatest achievement, here and in the previous Mulholland Drive, is to tease us with this mystery, have us desperate to figure it out, when there´s no natural mystery, it´s all filmmaking; this is a film about the puppeteer and his techniques, rather than the puppets that we see on the screen. Handheld digital camerawork, necessary due to budget restraints but used to full effect, is still something of a disappointment; film lacks the raw beauty of much of Lynch´s previous work. Experimental, industrial soundtrack is creepily effective and recalls Lynch´s first film, Eraserhead. Dern is outstanding in the performance of her career; rest of the cast fully capable, with familiar faces (and voices) abound. A surrealist masterpiece.

***


Factory Girl
Rating:
George Hickenlooper. Starring Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Hayden Christensen, Jimmy Fallon, Jack Huston, Armin Amiri, Tara Summers, Mena Suvari, Shawn Hatosy, Edward Herrmann, Illeana Douglas, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Written by Aaron Richard Golub, Captain Mauzner, Simon Monjack.
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Well-intentioned but tepid and underdeveloped look at Edie Sedgwick, actress and socialite whose life came to an untimely end at age 28. Film focuses mainly on her association with Andy Warhol´s Factory and a supposed relationship with Bob Dylan (here called Billy Quinn to avoid a lawsuit). Sienna Miller looks perfect as Sedgwick and gives it her best, but the character is underwritten and mostly unsympathetic. Guy Pearce, though not really convincing as Warhol, is magnetic and has us rooting for a character written as a villain; his performance is easily the most memorable thing about the film. Hayden Christiensen is awful as Dylan, however. Short runtime for such a complicated story highlights the film´s shortcomings; key aspects, such as Sedgwick´s descent into drugs, are never fully explored. The film ends at a curious, hopeful point: Sedgwick in rehab, supposedly drug-free, with her past behind her; only end titles inform us that she dies shortly thereafter. Fails as both a biopic on Sedgwick and a look at Warhol´s Factory; the latter, however, is fascinating even in a movie like this, despite key figures like Nico and the Velvet Underground thrown in as afterthoughts – the material begs to be fully explored. The Village Voice´s Nathan Lee called this ‘Edie for dummies´, an unfortunate but fully accurate description; film does work at that level, however, and those who know nothing about Sedgwick or Warhol´s Factory may find this fascinating. For the rest of us, it´s mostly a disappointment. Far less interesting than any documentary on the same subjects.

***

The Messengers
Rating:
Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. Starring Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, William B. Davis. Written by Mark Wheaton, Todd Farmer.
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The Pang Bros. first English-language film starts off promisingly, but soon enough degenerates into little more than a series of jump scares and patchwork ghost story clichés. Chicago family headed by father Dylan McDermott, mother Penelope Ann Miller, and teenage daughter Kristen Stewart move to an isolated farmhouse in North Dakota for reasons that are never fully explained. Soon the crows attack and the ghosts come out to play, and for awhile the movie is creepily effective, but scare scene after scare scene leaves the plot and characters completely undeveloped. With half an hour to go, we´re layered with pointless exposition, as everything is explained in full and the film disappointingly falls in the overused ghost-with-a-grudge subgenre; you know, like The Ring or The Grudge or the countless number of sequels, remakes, and ripoffs, the kind of film where the ghost wasn´t all that bad despite attacking our characters throughout the film, they just want revenge on their killers so they can rest in peace. Adept on a technical level, and the Pangs have an excellent visual style; cast, however, is entirely dull and story is nothing new.

***

Hostel: Part II
Rating:
Written and directed by Eli Roth. Starring Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi, Vera Jordanova, Jay Hernandez, Jordan Ladd.
Showtimes
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Vile torture porn bores us to tears for an hour before giving us what we came for: gory and explicit scenes of young women strung up, tied down, and brutally tortured, mutilated and killed. Lovely! Virtual remake of the first film replaces male leads with females and calls it a day; three students in Rome are lured to Slovakia by a beautiful woman (?), stay at a cheap hostel, and are kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Story is fleshed out with ridiculous scenes of the eventual torturers bidding eBay-style for the torture rights and struggling with that ultimate Shakespearian dilemma: to torture beautiful young women, or not to torture beautiful young women. The leads are entirely unconvincing and mistreated: Heather Matarazzo, forever Dawn Weiner, is embarrassingly humiliated; Laura German is forced through preposterous character changes. Only Bijou Phillips, annoyingly bad, seems deserving of her bloody fate. Graphic male castration scene towards the end is the icing on the cake (I guess this is supposed to justify the overwhelming violence against women in the rest of the film?), only to be followed by a children´s game of footy with a female severed head. Gone is the pretext from other ‘torture porn´ like Wolf Creek or the first Hostel, films of questionable content but clear intent that torture the audience along with the characters. No, here we´re supposed to fully enjoy the gruesome bloodletting and mutilation, distance ourselves from the victims and applaud the effects, and patiently sit through the rest of the film the same way we´d sit through the filler material in softcore porn. Vomit-inducing, for all the wrong reasons. Charlie Sheen (as the urban legend goes) once turned over one of the Guinea Pig movies to the FBI, thinking it was a snuff film; now similar films flood the multiplexes and gross millions of dollars. What a wonderful world we live in.


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