Have You Ever Seen...
The Vanishing (1988)
Are you in the mood to be terribly depressed and creeped out? Perfect!
Adapted from the novella The Golden Egg, The Vanishing is a Dutch/French thriller following a couple (Rex & Saskia) on holiday in France. Saskia disappears at a rest area and Rex frantically searches for her. The story flips to following a wealthy family man as he slowly plots to kidnap women, taking his time through numerous failed attempts to perfect his plan. The story does a three year jump and Rex has committed his life to finding Saskia, or to at least learn of her fate. The kidnapper has watched him from afar and eventually makes contact, kickstarting a confrontation that allows us to learning more about the kidnapper's motivations.
This is one of those great lightning in a bottle films where the combination of plot, script, director, actors, and every other element you can think of comes together perfectly. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu's performance as the kidnapper is amazing simply because he feels like such an average person, highlighting the scary truth that anyone can perform horrible deeds at any time. The film doesn't rely on jump scares or any real violence or gore, instead focusing on its atmosphere and tone. As an entertaining aside, Stanley Kubrick held the film in high regard as one of the scariest he's ever seen, and called up director Sluizer to talk about editing.
I've never seen the American remake from 1993 (also directed by Sluizer) and I'm not in any real rush to either. It has a happier ending because of course it had to, but that sounds like it misses the point by a mile. Do yourself a favor and check out the original.
Mulholland Falls (1996)
This film has a lot of elements that I like that should come together to offer a great neo-noir thriller, but it always just falls short for various reasons.
Set in the early 50's, the story follows a corrupt LAPD squad as they attempt to solve a bizarre murder that leads them to a government conspiracy. It's beautifully shot and its got a pretty solid cast that includes the likes of Nick Nolte, Jennifer Connelly, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Melanie Griffith, Andrew McCarthy, Treat Williams, and John Malkovich. The problem is that the film felt like a love letter that got hijacked by a circle jerk as there's simply too many big name actors chewing up the scenery and not enough room for the plot to breath.
Instead of listing quick positives I'm going to have fun and do the opposite because lord knows this movie has some faults:
- Maybe don't have a 25 year old Jennifer Connelly make out with a 55 year old Nick Nolte and a 43 year old John Malkovich. And this is made much worse by the end when Chazz Palminteri won't stop screaming 'She was just a little girl' at her murderers later on. I just felt bad for her throughout the entire film, and not because she was brutally murdered.
- So the film is called Mulholland Falls because the cops take gangsters up a cliff on Mulholland Drive and drop them off. They do this once, within the first five minutes of the film. And then the entire focus of the film is about solving the murder of a girl who is literally embedded into the ground with all of her bones shattered. It's like calling your movie 'Axe Murder', starting with one one axe murder, and then trying to solve a gunshot murder for the next hour and a half. Pick a better title, is all I'm saying.
- Michael Madsen and Chris Penn were technically in this movie, they just really had nothing to do through most of it.
- It felt like they had a cargo cult understanding of some noir elements, because instead of really highlighting that the corrupt police squad of murderers are technically a bad thing they embraced the cool tough guy bullshit a bit too much. Not a big surprise for 1996, but still.
- Everyone is consistently shitty to Andrew McCarthy's character for being gay, and you're never 100% sure if they are doing it to be 'accurate' to the time period or just to be shitty. It never really leads to any meaningful observation/lesson/commentary, so it feels like a lot of column B using column A as an excuse.
It's not really that the film is bad, it's just that it's consistently disappointing. If you like noir I think it's worth watching, and there are some decent scenes and good acting present. Just don't expect the entire package to come together like a cohesive masterpiece, because you'll mostly be having thoughts like, "....so is Rob Lowe's character coming back at all?.....no?.......oh ok...oh hey, that's right Michael Madsen is in this.....oh, he's gone again....."
A Knight's Tale (2001)
First time seeing this, and I don't really have a gauge for how popular it was when it came out because I don't recall people ever really talking about it. I enjoyed it for the odd little rom-com adventure that it was and for its cast, but I didn't really care about the soundtrack and I guess that's what I was supposed to care about. I don't have a hard-on for 70's rock, so the anachronistic skew was just sorta meh for me.
Core plot follows a group of squires in 14th century Europe as they discover that their master is dead, so one of them decides to pose as a knight to earn them some money. They figure they can make a go at it and hijinks ensue, leading to more tournaments, a love story, a rivalry, and so on. It's pretty formulaic but it has fun with it, although trying to infuse an 80's style motivational adventure about striving beyond your station in society despite the bleak poverty and ginormous class divisions of the period feels....not so good.
Onto the positives though, the cast is pretty great:
Heath Ledger is in his full heartthrob phase.
I don't think I've ever seen Shannyn Sossamon in anything else but she was a charming romantic lead opposite of Ledger.
Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon from Game of Thrones) is great throughout. I just realized he was already 37 when this was shot and yet he looks like such a young lad in this one.
Paul Bettany kills it as Geoffrey Chaucer in his first big Hollywood production.
Rufus Sewell makes a great villain. I've always loved him since Dark City, so I was sold when he popped up.
Alan Tudyk is there being Alan Tudyk.
It's a solid popcorn flick with a lot of fun performances, but it's also not the most memorable piece of work for me either. If you've never seen it I would say it's worth checking out just to see this cast have fun with each other, but you're also not missing a ton if you skip it. You do get to see The Vision walk around naked for a bit though, so maybe that's enough to sell ya on it.