Saturday, April 29, 2006

Perplexing, challenging and fun flicks

I wrote this a while back for epinions.

I’ve discovered the movies I enjoy best these days are those that keep me a little perplexed about what’s going on. The standard-issue thrillers and the routine romantic comedies may tend to focus my attention more on my DVD player’s counter than on the action on screen.

Here are some flicks I’ve found intriguing.

Mulholland Drive directed by David Lynch This film demands that you examine it carefully. Any attempt to offer a synopsis is fruitless, you’ll just have to see it. Clues are nestled in every corner of the screen, or are they red herrings? It’s an over-the-top tale as offbeat as Lynch’s Lost Highway and if you’re up for it, it’s rewarding entertainment. (If you really want an explanation, search’s archive for an interpretation.)

Swimming Pool directed by François Ozon Charlotte Rampling is Sarah Morton, a writer who kicks back for a summer at her editor’s villa, only to find she’s sharing space with his stunning young daughter, a girl both troubled and annoying. Are the scenes from Sarah’s book, her imagination or an alternate reality? You have to decide as you go along.

Spider directed by David Cronenberg This is atypical Cronenberg, no odd body growths or manifestations. It’s all psychological. Ralph Fiennes is Spider, a man recently released from a mental institution. He’s withdrawn and caught up in a world inside his schizophrenic mind, devoted most of all to solving his mother’s murder. The narrative twists through his reality building ultimately to a shattering climax, but along the way, you have to interpret and extrapolate.

Memento directed by Christopher Nolan This is the backwards one, the only movie I know of with a surprise beginning. Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby, a man tracking his wife’s killer while coping with the fact that he has no short-term memory. The tale is masterfully told, and the gimmick is more than a gimmick. Well worth the time to watch, and if you’re a CSI fan, Jorja Fox has a prominent role, in flashbacks at least, as the deceased Mrs. Shelby.

Donnie Darko directed by Richard Kelly A dark tale, no kidding, of a young man’s journey through a twisted reality. It’s high school hell compounded by a Billy Pilgrim experience. Everything winds up neatly in the end, but you’ll do some head-scratching along the way.

Following directed by Memento’s Christopher Nolan It’s black and white, short, strange and features a surprise ending that fits perfectly. Only a few characters are involved in this drama, much of it takes place on the street or in a few rooms and it’s all fascinating. Bill is a young man who’s hobby is trailing strangers, following. His path leads in bizarre directions with he starts to trail a man named Cobb.

One Hour Photo directed by Mark Romanek It’s all about Sy Parrish, the man who develops your film at Sav-Mart. He’s obsessed with the family of Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan. It’s a thriller, but an eerie, subtle one without more suspense than violence. What are all those still-life photos about?

Vanilla Sky directed by Cameron Crowe A lot of people don’t like this movie. They’re wrong. Don’t listen to them. Based on and almost, though not quite, a shot-for-shot-with-higher-production-values remake of Abre los ojos or Open Your Eyes, this film wends in and out of reality. David Aames is a “has it all” magazine publisher who falls in love with a beautiful young woman played by Penelope Cruz. They share “a moment” only to have their world shattered by David’s jealous um hum buddy Julie (Cameron Diaz). Hideously scarred, David spirals into and out of madness and a science fiction universe that’s intriguing. The mystery doesn’t end with the last frame, and you can spend hours reading Internet message boards for conflicting opinions once it’s over. It’s a film that keeps on giving.

Incubus directed by Leslie Stevens It’s black-and-white and shot in Esperanto. They were going for an Ingmar Bergman, art-house feel when this was shot in 1965. William Shatner faces the forces of evil in a strange land where demons manipulate humans. It’s spooky though not an absolute horror movie. (Incidentally, this is the William Shatner movie they're watching in Blade: Trinity)

Waking Life directed by Richard Linklater The plot is minimal but the conversations are fascinating, and it’s visually unique and surreal. Actors were filmed and then animators went to work re-interpreting. The main character says he feels he’s in an alternate universe. You will too, probably for multiple viewings.

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