Have You Ever Seen...
Updated: May 7, 2022
Shallow Grave (1994)
I don't generally care much for stories where the core characters are obnoxious assholes and never really grow, but Danny Boyle's directorial debut hits a bit different for me. It's a bit of the mixture of the blunt honesty on how crappy these people (and people in general) can be as well as the tone and atmosphere created by the technical assuredness of the film. The camera work and lighting essentially form another character that imbues everything with a sense of suspense, claustrophobia, and doom.
The story follows three young professionals who share a flat and enjoy torturing potential new roommates. They finally accept a new roommate who immediately dies of a drug overdose and leaves behind a suspicions suitcase full of money. Greed and distrust soon take over, plus the looming threat of who the money may have originally belonged to.
The other plus to the film is that it features a young Chris Eccleston as well as Ewan McGregor in his second film acting role. Kerry Fox gives a great performance, plus you get a nice appearance from Ken Stott. The cast really enhances the sense of general cruelty and casual greed the film is striving for, so it feels like an interesting mix between noir, punk, and yuppy greed.
If you're in the mood to watch shitty people being shitty and then shitty things happening to said shitty people, then definitely give this a shot.
I have a really mixed bag of reactions to this film, and some of that is an odd sense of being slightly disappointed in myself for not liking it more? Let's see if I can explain that better.
So the film follows a video game developer who has created a reality-like game (note this did come out the month after the Matrix) who has to go on the run as extremists want to murder her. She is aided by a publicist and she introduces him to the world of her game because they need to make sure it's not broken. The bulk of the film deals with the different layers of reality occurring and the question of what really is reality.
Now generally that's my bag, but it feels oddly clumsy for a David Cronenberg film. I think the bulk of that is the direction of the acting because frankly everyone is just shy of terrible (but on purpose). Which is weird because it features the likes of Jude Law, Ian Holm, and Christopher Eccleston but they're all doing terrible accents which (spoiler for a film from 1999) go away at the end and we can hear their natural accents. Also, Jennifer Jason Leigh is the lead and I would say she gives the performance of a dead fish but there are actual dead mutant fish in this film that give better performances.
The film shines when we hit the usual Cronenberg body horror and gross squishy stuff, which are there but they feel like they're in the back seat performing service for the 'reality shift' story elements. And maybe that reality shift element would have felt fresher back then, but watching this now it just felt kind of meh. On the flipside, Jude Law eating a weird mutant fish meal and then constructing a bone/flesh gun out of it to assassinate a waiter hits me a bit more for some reason. Go figure.
The film also feels disjointed, and while a chunk of that is on purpose it never really feels like it's to any benefit of the storytelling. We have a few too many things going on between the icky Cronenberg squishyness and the layers of reality, and by the end the squishy elements had no relevant bearing so Cronenberg could have maybe left them out for the benefit of the story. However, that's the best stuff in here, so glad he didn't.
I think I'm supposed to appreciate the 'what is reality' stuff a bit more, but by the end it does the whole 'oh it was just another layer inside another layer inside another layer, glad we're out UH-OH BUT ARE WE?' and I was just tired of listening to Jude Law's fake accent by that point. I still want to say this is good, but it's oddly exhausting.
So come for the inception, but really, stay for the fish guns.
Blue Velvet (1986)
First time for me as I'm slowly hitting a bunch of Lynch films.
There's really not much I can say to add to the discussion of a Lynch film that's been endlessly dissected for 36 years, but if you've never seen here's a few random notes:
- It's pretty much a proto-Twin Peaks and hits a lot of similar notes, but also has plenty of its own flair.
- Great performances all around, but I really love Laura Dern and didn't realize she was in this when I started watching. Same with Dean Stockwell and his sequence is great.
- I love the visual element of the insects and their symbolism for darkness crawling just under the surface, and that immediately made me think of Morrison's use of bugs in Multiversity.
- I know I should just leave it as 'one of those Lynch things that never gets explained', but like seriously if anyone can explain The Yellow Man's presence in the last scene where he's mortally wounded with a head shot but has been propped up to still stand for some reason, please do hit me up with a reply here. It's less about why he's there and more about why is he propped up.
If you're in a neo-noir kind of mood or haven't hit much of Lynch's films then I definitely recommend giving this a watch. It's interesting to see where he was aiming at before he hit Twin Peaks and what elements he carries over into that and other works, plus it's just a great visual treat with some amazing performances.