Full reviews aren't right for all films - movies that seem past the point of timely comment, movies I can't find an interesting angle on, movies I just don't feel like explicating. Some are better off with bite-size opinionating. I call them "Jump Cuts." In this edition: three from David Lynch, master of the mercurial.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
4.5 out of 5
There's no shortage of speculation on the full meaning of Lynch's highly symbolic tale of a gorgeous amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) who leads a naive Canadian starlet (Naomi Watts) into a bizarre web of intrigue in the heart of old Hollywood. Indeed, unlocking the secrets of the non-linear narrative provides its most satisfying visceral thrill. Loose threads will still be visible to the eagle-eyed (Mulholland Dr. was originally conceived as a television pilot), but it mirrors the elliptical storytelling and dissonant logic of dreams better than the majority of movies that are explicitly about the subconscious. However, the film's uniquely unsettling mood might be its greatest achievement. Mulholland Dr. strives to penetrate the walls that we set up between ourselves and big-screen illusions and accomplishes its goal so well that you can't help but look over your shoulder after it's finished, just to be sure that the nightmare didn't follow you into the waking world.
Blue Velvet (1986)
4 out of 5
A severed ear is college boy Kyle MacLachlan's entrée into a sub-domain of perversity and evil that festers underneath the suburban idyll of Blue Velvet. His ill-advised decision to float between these two worlds forms the crux of Lynch's dark satire, considered so unreleasable in 1986 that Dino De Laurentiis had to create a new production company just to get it into theaters. Its notoriety is justified by the central mystery that introduces MacLachlan to a damaged nightclub singer (Isabelle Rosselini) and the violent, gas-huffing lunatic (Dennis Hopper) who wields terrifying psychological and sexual power over her. Less iconic is MacLachlan's stilted romance with good girl Laura Dern, though one could argue that this relationship is deliberately corny. Its heightened wholesomeness only makes the movie's dark side even more twisted. There's a lot of mental legwork required to process Blue Velvet's conflation of two historic veneers - Eisenhower-era normalcy and slick Reaganesque artifice - but the film's lurid neo-noir trappings and indelible surrealism (like Dean Stockwell lip-synching Roy Orbison's "In Dreams") make the challenging journey worthwhile.
The Straight Story (1999)
3 out of 5
There's plenty of conventionality in The Straight Story, based on the true story of an Iowa retiree (Richard Farnsworth) who rode a John Deere tractor for six weeks and 240 miles to make amends with his ailing brother (Harry Dean Stanton). The collection of sentimental vignettes is a curious departure for Lynch - to date, it's the only film he directed for which he did not also receive a writing credit - but a perfect showcase for Farnsworth, a screen veteran who received an Oscar nomination for his determined performance. Though the movie's glacial pace does a poor job of hiding its lack of connective tissue, the minimal dialogue really intensifies the bare-bones plot; Farnsworth is always a beat away from slipping a heartfelt personal monologue into a conversation with a perfect stranger. The Straight Story can and does turn into Tuesdays With Farnsworth at times, although Lynch tries to keeps it fresh with beautiful shots of golden grain fields and a rustic score from longtime collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. It's a sweet little movie that belongs to its subject and his onscreen proxy, and we, like Lynch, are just along for the ride.