Old Notes On DVDs: Part 1

[I’m a bit tired, so luckily I found some old stuff I wrote a while ago about some films I saw on DVD that I can post instead of something new.]

The Science of Sleep

This was weird – Michel Gondry writes and directs Gael Garcia Bernal as a Mexican guy who comes to France after the death of his father because his mother has a job for him and wants him near. However, it is only a menial production job for low-rent calendars, not the creative job he’d been promised (he is an artist/inventor with a strange sensibility). His creativeness is seen most of all in his dreams – he runs them like a television station, focussing on his life and interaction with people. It is here that Gondry lets his brain free, shooting in a casual, almost nouvelle vogue style, which captures the spontaneity and immediacy of dreams. His life is complicated by his next-door neighbour – he fancies her friend but thinks she likes him but they connect as friends, sharing the strangeness he brings into the world (like his time machine that works only one second into the past or future).

The film has a very strange feel to it – Bernal is Mexican, speaking Spanish and English, as well as some bad French, and people switch between English and French all the time. The quirkiness of the dreams is contrasted with the tedium of the working world, which is matched by the way the story weaves around (without the narrative construction of Charlie Kaufmann, the story is as messy as life is). This is aided by the naturalness of the filming, and by Michele Gainsbourg, who is such an unusual presence in the film, haunting and unaffected.

The film doesn’t follow any sort of three-act structure; it ends with Bernal supposedly off to Mexico but he falls asleep on Gainsbourg’s bed as she strokes his hair, without any normal romantic resolution. Visually, this is a very interesting film, especially in the dream sequences, but it isn’t a great narrative.

Rating: DVD

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The Last Kiss

The appeal of Zach Braff caused me to pick this up, even though I had no idea about it, but even his charm can only go so far in this remake of the Italian film, L’Ultimo Bacio. He is a young man in love, getting married to a beautiful woman but he is still doubtful about being old and a husband. A younger girl, Mischa Barton, comes onto him very strong, basically offering it on a plate for the sake of the plot. He, being a man, accepts after a little hand-wringing. the fiancée finds out and she throws him out. He realises he is in love with her, so he stays on her porch in the rain all night because he’s showing he’s not going anywhere. The film ends with her letting him in the door but at least it stops there, leaving the result in some doubt, which is about the only part of the film that has some interest to it. It is quite poor, unbelievable and pointless; it might have worked as an Italian film, but the greatness of the characters’ lives doesn’t generate any sympathy for the plight of the main character, and the American attitude to adulterous liaisons (They Are Bad!) means that the film portrays him as a weak, bad man. I think I’ll stick to watching Braff in films that he writes and directs.

Rating: DA

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A Scanner Darkly

Philip K Dick must have been very messed up – this book is held to be the apotheosis of his output and his meditations on identity and paranoia and free will and drugs, and it would suggest he had a weird time (especially as he said that it was semi-autobiographical). Keanu Reeves is a narcotics cop, using a Smart Suit to completely disguise him when working undercover, which he is doing to investigate Substance D, the most addictive drug on the market. What he does not realise is that he is investigating himself – it seems to be a side-effect of the drug.

The film mostly hangs out with him and his ‘no touch’ girlfriend (Winona Ryder) and ‘friends’ (Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson), who hang out his home. Director Linklater brings his Slacker vibe, as they sit around talking rubbish and being driven by paranoia. Things come to a head when Reeves is so messed up by the drug (which he shouldn’t actually be taking) that he needs to go into rehab at the place that some suspect is actually making the drug in the first place, and the point behind the film is revealed.

The use of rotoscope to animate the digitally filmed movie makes the visuals more surreal and distorted, creating the perfect atmosphere for the drug-induced paranoia and distortion; it is a great choice, especially for the look of the Smart Suit – I wonder how actors feel about their performances being warped in this way? You spend most of the film wondering what the hell is going on, much like the characters – this might explain why they basically explain the plot of the film in the last few minutes, with an optimistic if not complete resolution. An interesting experiment.

Rating: DVD

[See here for my updated film rating system]

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