Eraserhead


Viewed – 21 October 2020 Blu-ray

And the award for strangest movie I’ve ever seen goes to… yes, I’ve finally watched surreal genius director David Lynch’s bonkers 1977 debut. I went into this prepared for a strange and unique experience – but wasn’t expecting how entrancing an experience it was. Jack Nance (credited as John Nance) plays Henry, an oddball character in a rather awkward relationship with a girl, who has a baby who turns out deformed and premature.

Strange days…

Yeah it’s a weird story filled with surreal images that cover anxiety, nightmares and hallucinations. This is shot in eye-catching black & white, emphasising lingering shots, a creepy industrial setting and a constant soundscape of exaggerated effects from steaming radiators to grinding of teeth (and one unnerving moment of puppies suckling on a dog). Lynch’s eye for bizarre imagery, uncomfortable character interactions (including a very strange dinner table scene) foreshadow where he went with movies like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. Clearly he was a unique voice in movie making from the start.

Not as scary as some of Lynch’s other work and a simpler concept overall, but the imagery is mesmerising, strangely amusing at times and quite revolting at others. An interesting, bizarre and strangely entertaining debut.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Colection has a brand new 4K restored image, that although in black & white looks clean and atmospheric. The uncompressed stereo soundtrack especially showcases the often unnerving sound effects. However it’s in the extras where this release excels; archival footage with cast and crew, an 85 minute documentary from 2001, directed by David Lynch, and there’s also several of Lynch’s suitably strange short films, along with a second documentary from 2014. The release also comes with a comprehensive booklet that includes an interview with David Lynch, taken from filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book ‘Lynch on Lynch’. As a long time fan of the director, this is solid gold.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Easy Rider


Viewed – 10 October Blu-Ray

Everyone knows the song… ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf – it’s probably the most famous thing about this 1969 classic road movie, and along with its cast of Hollywood rebels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson – the movie was destined for the history books. Yet does it deserve to be there? Fonda & Hopper play Wyatt and Billy, two bikers travelling across America to New Orleans to watch the Mardi Gras festival. Along the way they bump into hippies, smoke a lot of pot, annoy the locals and muse on life on the road.

Get your motor running…

There’s no real story here. It’s just two guys driving around, not really encountering much of significance, doing drugs and meeting folk. In fact I found it rather boring. I’ll admit some of the outback scenery is beautifully shot, the camera work is occasionally creative, the soundtrack has some memorable songs and Fonda & Hopper (who also directs) are likeable. An appearance by Jack Nicholson is a fun diversion but short lived and the ending pretty much makes everything that comes before rather pointless.

It’s frustrating as this is regarded as a classic, but there I found little evidence on screen to support that status. I’d heard it was one of a bunch of movies made outside of the ‘Hollywood system’ and is clearly all done on a shoestring budget – which I can appreciate, but when the movie looks like it barely has a script, I have to ask … why bother?

This release, from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection boasts a decent, newly restored image quality, that whilst grainy is colourful and has depth. The movie is presented in DTS HD Master Audio in both 2.0 and 5.1 options, and there’s also an uncompressed mono soundtrack. Dialogue is generally clear and the various music cues sound great. Extras as with many Criterion releases are plentiful: two documentaries, footage from Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper’s appearance at Cannes, as well as trailers. The cream of the crop though is two commentaries, one from Dennis Hopper, the other from Hopper, Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis. The release also comes with a fold-out booklet with a new essay from Matt Zoller Seitz. Pretty great for a movie that has a fascinating history which for me was more worthwhile looking into than the movie itself. This release is therefore a must for fans and probably still worth picking up for enthusiasts of cinema history. Yet, if you’re neither I’d give it a miss.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Onward


Viewed – 03 October 2020. Disney+

Its difficult reviewing animated movies, because the quality is often so high, it’s tempting to just rate them all the same. So I tend to be a bit harder on them that some other movies. This unusual story presents an enchanted, fairy tale world that turns its back on magic, favouring technology to develop very much like the regular world. So people have jobs, there’s police, shops, fast food restaurants etc. On his 16th birthday, young elf Ian is given a present from his Dad who died of an illness before he was born, and it turns out to be a wizards staff. After reciting a spell that’s meant to bring the dad back for one day only … the spell goes wrong and only half of the dad’s body comes back – literally from the waist down. However his big brother Barley says there’s a way of completing the spell and so a quest unfolds to resurrect their dad before the sun goes down.

Like Monsters Inc and Inside Out before it, this presents a world full of character and personality. Again it’s a feast for the eyes and full of memorable side characters, pop culture gags and references – but it’s the unique idea that’s the winner; a caper comedy that’s weirdly a lot like 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies. Some moments, especially the freeway chase with the biker sprites certainly had me laughing out-loud. Yet underneath the visuals and gags lies a great deal of heart – something Pixar have always been masters of.

Tom Holland as Ian is perfect, but is overshadowed by Chris Pratt’s Barley who turns a potentially irritating loud mouth of a character into someone I really cared about. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also good as the two brother’s Mom. The ending also turns the story on its head to deliver an emotion-heavy and wonderfully bittersweet conclusion. So there you have it – damn, another Pixar gem that shouldn’t be missed! Sigh.

Verdict: Essential

First Man


Viewed – 29 September 2020 Netflix

I have never really known that much about the true story that lead to landing on the moon. Other than the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being cemented in my brain from a young age. This fascinating drama tells the story from the perspective of Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) offering a very personal angle, focusing on his own tragedies and his relationship with his wife (The Crown’s Clare Foy), with the Astronort mission(s) almost background.

One small step for man…

Considering the aim of landing on the moon became an egotistical race against Russia to be the first, I was surprised with the lack of that usual American patriotism and vitriol, especially in the final act, leading to a rather downer ending. Also the eventual moon landing is a bit under-played, fitting with the more somber tone of the rest of the movie – but by that moment it should have felt epic.

Gosling is great, one his best performances I’d say and carries the movie well. Foy doesn’t fair quite as well, awkwardly trying to shake her Queen Elizabeth accent for an upper class American one. Also considering his status in history, Buzz Aldrin is simply ‘there’ with very little focus. The movie kind of portrays the man as a bit of a joke too. Yet the impending dread of each mission, the clear insane danger of it all, and the attention to authentic detail has to be applauded. Worth a watch but not quite all it could have been.

Verdict: Good

I’m Thinking of Ending Things


Viewed – 19 September 2020 Netflix

Writer / Director Charlie Kaufman has a reputation for off-beat, unusual movies but I’ll admit I’ve only seen one of his – Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (which he wrote) that I remember liking for its surreal themes and imaginative imagery. So checking out the trailer this looked like it had a similar quirky vibe. Lucy, a young woman is on a road trip with her boyfriend Jake to visit his parents. However she’s struggling with uncertain feelings about their relationship and is considering breaking up with him. However during their journey and stay at the parents farm, Lucy’s neurotic uncertainties cause various strange things to occur.

Stranger Things…

This was an odd experience. It’s initially a relationship drama but quickly tumbles down the rabbit hole of surreal imagery, time-jumps that seem to only be happening in Lucy’s head and plenty of pondering on life, mortality and relationships that gets a bit ‘much’. Occasionally the movie seems to hit pause for long inner monologues from Lucy that get rather pretentious, reciting poetry and insecurities that made me rather frustrated with her character. She came across utterly self-absorbed. Also occasionally the (admittedly clever) surreal moments seems to be there just to be odd and wacky (the dog that keeps shaking, disappearing and reappearing), which would have been fine if the movie had more of a sense of humour. Instead we get an overly pessimistic tone that doesn’t shift, and ultimately goes nowhere. David Thewlis and Toni Collette turn up as the patents, playing their characters at various ages, which did prove a highlight.

I’m sure theres plenty of meaning hidden amongst the oddness, and realise it’s all about life, ageing and the passage of time. However overall this lingered too much on the mundane and shy’d away from a potential to be more fun instead of just depressing. Disappointing.

Verdict: Poor