Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.

Documentary Review: Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012)

Release Date: September 4th, 2012 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Sophie Huber
Music by: Chris Robertson, Roland Widmer

hugofilm, isotopefilms, Adopt Films, 77 Minutes

Review:

Very few actors have as much mileage as Harry Dean Stanton did. He passed away late last year and it sort of feels like there is a massive void that no one else will really be able to fill. Sure, he was a character actor of the highest regard but those few times where he got to be the lead were pretty damn exceptional.

I’ve been working my way through a lot of the Stanton roles I still haven’t seen. For a guy that has 202 IMDb credits, as an actor, I feel as if there will always be some Harry Dean gem I haven’t yet discovered.

This documentary is sweet and initimate. It’s pretty short but we get to spend time with Harry, as he talks about himself, in his own words. We also get to see him reminisce with some of the people he was closest too throughout his career: David Lynch, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard, Debbie Harry and Wim Wenders. He also hear from his personal assistant and see him interact with others.

The documentary also has some bits where Harry sings and talks about how he regrets not trying his hand at music professionally.

While the film does cover some of Stanton’s most notable work, this is more a character study of the man himself.

For fans of Harry Dean Stanton, this is a really cool little film to experience.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries about other famous character actors. That Guy Dick Miller, immediately comes to mind.

Film Review: Lucky (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: John Carroll Lynch
Written by: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Music by: Elvis Kuehn
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Yvonne Huff

Superlative Films, Divide / Conquer, Lagralane Group, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“There are some things in this world that are bigger than all of us… and a tortoise is one of ’em! ” – Howie

I was glad that I got to catch this in the theater during it’s very scant run in my town. It was only playing at 10 a.m. for a few days, actually. Luckily, I had a day off with nothing to do.

With Harry Dean Stanton passing away, a few months back, this film is his swan song. Honestly, there really wouldn’t have been a better film for this legendary actor to say “goodbye” with than this one and it felt tailor made for Stanton, as if he knew this was it and wanted to give his two cents on mortality.

The picture is directed by John Carroll Lynch, who you may know as the nicer one of the two McDonald’s brothers in The Founder or as the guy that saved Morgan in The Walking Dead or as that serial killer clown in American Horror Story. The guy is an accomplished actor but with Lucky, he proved he has some talent behind the camera, as well.

Stanton is very relaxed but has no problems displaying his fear of death and entering into the unknown. He has a pretty atheistic stance about the universe but late in life, he still wonders and is apprehensive about the inevitable. He talks of nothingness and none of this mattering in the big scheme of the universe but he is a man that fears not having left his mark.

He is surrounded by a great cast and I absolutely adored David Lynch in this, as Lucky’s friend Howie. He is a man that had a hundred year-old tortoise but it escaped. The tortoise is really a symbol about mortality in the film and its escape parallels the end of Lucky’s life.

Lucky isn’t a perfect movie or even a great movie. However, it’s pretty damn good at what it sets out to do, which is to create a platform for Stanton to say goodbye to those of us who have loved the man’s work for decades.

This is a sweet and subtle film that allows Stanton to showcase his wide array of talents in a delightful and respectable way. It probably won’t mean as much to those who aren’t familiar with Stanton but it does feel like a true representation of the man for those of us who have enjoyed him over the years.

There really isn’t a sweeter way to go out than what Stanton got to accomplish with Lucky. Kudos to the man and to those behind this film, which feels more like an artistic and cinematic homage to the man, than just a movie about death.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (TIFF)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, Priscilla Pointer

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck Blue Velvet!” – Frank Booth

I was a pretty big David Lynch fan when I was a teenager, as well as in my twenties. His work was unique, bizarre, borderline insane and so surreal, that everything Lynch touched became otherworldly. My appreciation for his work really started with Twin Peaks. I never understood the show as an adolescent but it lured me in. Truth is, I don’t particularly understand it now. But I guess that’s Lynch’s modus operandi.

The thing is, as I get older, I expect more from my films than just beautiful surrealism and crazy madness. Lynch’s films get harder to watch with age and I’m just less accepting of incredible style over real substance. To be blunt, despite fantastic performances by the actors he casts, a lot of his work just comes off as pretentious faux-academic bullshit. You can call it art, that used to be my label for it, but his movies and his television show are weird just to be weird.

Blue Velvet, while it has a decent narrative and isn’t as confusing and baffling as Lynch’s other work, still falls victim to style over substance.

Now I don’t hate the film, I do mostly like it, but a lot of that has to do with the cast and how good they performed in this. This is Dennis Hopper at his most insane, which says a lot if you are familiar with his early work. It also features a very young Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern at their sweetest. Bit parts by Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay and Brad Dourif are all enjoyable too. I thought that Isabella Rossellini’s performance was over the top but I guess a lot of professional critics liked it.

Lynch’s films always have great cinematography, especially in regards to lighting and the angles used to capture the scenes. Blue Velvet is technically sound. Although, I am not a fan of the score. It feels disorienting and out of place at times but then again, this is Lynch and that is probably the point because why not be weird just to be weird, right?

Blue Velevet is a mid 1980s neo-noir. It is a good example of the neo-noir style, even if it is pretty far outside the box. It’s not bad, it’s just decent. It’s far from exceptional and severely overrated, in my opinion. But I can’t discredit the visual allure and the talented cast, especially Hopper.

Rating: 6.25/10

Ranking the Films of David Lynch

david_lynchDavid Lynch has fascinated me for as long as I have watched movies. His work is bizarre yet mesmerizing and he has a style all his own and has thus become a legend and master of his craft.

Many films aren’t great but the ones that are just happen to be some of the best films ever made. And even those films in his resume that aren’t classics, still leave the viewer with something to over analyze, dissect and ponder.

Lynch has directed a ton of things over his career. This list comprises his feature films, as he has a lot of short films and television work that would make this list too exhaustive with their inclusion. And frankly, I haven’t seen all of that stuff.

And yes, Dune is pretty high on the list for me, as I love it despite most people hating it. I’ll save further comments for a review of it at some point.

But to be honest, it was really hard trying to quantify these films by ranking them, as they all have something worthwhile.

1. The Elephant Man
2. Lost Highway
3. Mulholland Drive
4. Dune
5. Wild At Heart
6. Blue Velvet
7. Eraserhead
8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
9. The Straight Story
10. Inland Empire