Out with the Old, In with the New

Happy new year, belatedly :)

Basically, I've started a new blog for all my film reviews, Mumby at the Movies. My first review is now up there, and soon will be all the others I've had backlogging from 2011.

I'll still be linking to posts on here, but there'll be no more new film-related posts on Three Men on a Blog. Thanks for all your input on here, it's greatly appreciated, here's to a great 2012 :)


Top 10 of 2011

Happy new year everyone :)

Since we're now into 2012, it's time for me to look back on the year that was and list my Top 10 of 2011.

This last year I've had the opportunity to write for WhatCulture, a really good website covering all things film, TV, gaming and much much more. I've send them my Top 10 and they've done a great job with it. Check it out here and leave a comment: http://whatculture.com/film/daniel-mumbys-top-10-films-of-2011.php.

I've got a few reviews from 2011 backing up which I hope to have done soon. Here's to a good 2012 :)


FILM REVIEW: The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

The Deep Blue Sea (UK, 2011)
Directed by Terence Davies
Starring Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale, Tom Hiddleston, Ann Mitchell

One of the hardest things to rationalise as a film reviewer is when a director you love suddenly gets it wrong. Reviewing the latest Michael Bay disaster, or Brett Ratner-driven slice of hackery, is pretty easy: simply string together four or five superlatives, add some moral outrage and leave it to stew in its own juices. What's not so easy is trying to explain how Terence Davies has gone from something as inspired as Of Time and the City to such an abject failure in The Deep Blue Sea.Davies' output as a filmmaker has always been an acquired taste - which, in this context, is equally a loaded phrase and a straight-up compliment. Whether you like his back catalogue or not (and even he has mixed feelings), he has a distinctive voice and series of interests which set him apart from the mainstream. He has campaigned tirelessly for the promotion of British cinema, furiously refusing to accept the perceived dominance of Hollywood, both financially and artistically.You couldn't put the failure of Davies' latest film down to him being out of his depth. He has dabbled in period drama before, most prominently in The House of Mirth 11 years ago. But more than that, he has an intrinsic understanding of 1950s Britain, retaining both a childlike fondness of its cinema and a very real understanding of its social problems, which he experienced as a child. Davies has frequently described his father as "psychotic", and in Of Time and the City he painfully records both the realisation of his homosexuality and his disillusionment with religion.One thing that The Deep Blue Sea has clearly in its favour is the way it looks. Florian Hoffmeister's cinematography is lush, glossy and full of rich colours, which somewhat evokes the work of the late great Jack Cardiff. The period details are immaculate, whether it's the costumes the characters wear or the songs they sing in the pub. It's not, or at least it doesn't appear to be, a pretend version of 1950s Britain, either dreamt up by the tourist board or dropped in from Hollywood.Equally compelling is Davies' choice of music. His films have been described as having a "symphonic" quality, which goes back not just to 1950s melodrama but to the silent films which ultimately inspired them. In this case Davies turns to Samuel Barber, peppering many of Rachel Weisz's scenes with those long, elegiac strokes of the bow for which Barber was rightly famed. You won't find the now-clichéd Adagio for Strings sneaking in under the radar, but what there is works resoundingly well.But for all its lavish grandiosity, the big failing of The Deep Blue Sea is something so ironically simple: we just don't care about any of the people on screen. Whether because of the source material, the performances or Davies' approach to either, this is a damning indictment of Davies as a filmmaker. What has united all of his work in the past is an intrinsic connection to the characters - we can empathise with and understand them even in the most fantastical situations. This is the first film which Davies has made in which we have no connection to the characters at all, unless 'connection' can include emotions like contempt, anger and disdain.Part of the problem lies in the casting of Rachel Weisz. Davies said that she was the only person who could play Hester Collyer, and looking at her you can understand why. Weisz does have a kind of classical beauty which recalls Deborah Kerr, and she wears period costume very well. But while she may look the part, she fails completely on a dramatic level, leaving us annoyed by every word and action of hers on screen.When Weisz was performing in A Streetcar Named Desire, she gave an interview bemoaning the lack of dramatic filmmaking in Hollywood. She pointed to the paucity of adventurous drama in a time of obsession with genre, and in particular to a dearth of decent female leads. It's hard to argue against that, but someone urgently needs to tell her that 'drama' and 'moaning for two hours' are not the same thing. Hester does nothing but cry, moan, scream, smoke and stare mournfully into middle distance. Weisz is worse here than she is in The Lovely Bones, so much so that at times you wish her character would just get on with it and top herself.The male characters in the film fare no better. Simon Russell Beale is a very talented Shakespearean actor, and as with Weisz he looks the part as the elderly judge firmly in his mother's pocket. But he very quickly drifts into a stiff-upper-lip stereotype, as the film makes no effort to challenge our expectations of his occupation or social standing. Tom Hiddleston gets an equally duff hand, starting and ending as a caricature, namely the pilot who can't get over the war and return to a normal life.It would be tempting in light of this to put Davies in the same camp as Noah Baumbach. He is guilty of the same cardinal sin of The Squid and the Whale: giving us a film without any empathetic characters, let alone an interesting story. The difference is that Baumbach seems to have genuine contempt for his audience, branding them as philistines if they don't understand why it is engaging to watch over-privileged pseudo-intellectuals whinging about their massive houses and expensive educations. Davies shows no such contempt: he has just mis-steped in such a dramatic way that this would appear to be the case.One could argue that the failure of The Deep Blue Sea is a failure of the source material rather than its cinematic execution. Terence Rattigan's later work, written after the Second World War, is by and large dated and uninteresting. Early-1950s theatre was an empty and nostalgic celebration of pre-war life, with plays which seemed to lack any bearing on or interest in reality. The Deep Blue Sea is no exception, and its celebration of the British stiff-upper-lip feels horribly stale in 2011.While all of this is true, however, the responsibility of making a film work ultimately lies with its director. There have been many filmmakers which have taken average scripts and acquitted themselves perfectly well: either of John Hillcoat's films are reasonable examples. But Davies makes the fatal error of assuming that we should care or be interested, rather than giving us any reason to of its own accord. He plays everything so straight that there is no way in for a modern audience, for whom the wartime attitudes seem at best admirably outdated and at worst totally absurd.The big dramatic problem with The Deep Blue Sea lies in Hester's frustration or repression - something Weisz would know all about from A Streetcar Named Desire. If you're going to show repression, there has to be a pay-off or some form of character development to make all this pressure worthwhile, whether it's a happy ending or a lonely suicide. But this moment never arrives; the central relationship is tedious, unbelievable, and goes absolutely nowhere.The Deep Blue Sea reminds us of two great periods of British filmmaking. Firstly, it recalls the great work of Powell and Pressburger in the 1940s and early-1950s, as they grabbed the conventions of melodrama by the scruff of the neck and produced works of profundity, nuance and visual splendour. And secondly, it reminds us just how important the British New Wave was in eroding these conventions, removing the veils of ignorance, escapism and denial which blighted so much of 1950s cinema.The Deep Blue Sea is caught between the devil and its title, lacking the brilliance of the former and the relevance of the latter. You sit there amongst the tedious story and annoying characters, yearning for Malcolm McDowell to burst in brandishing a machine gun and inform the characters that the world they knew and fought for is long gone. Only time will tell how damaging this will prove to Davies' craft as a filmmaker. It is at very best an admirable failure, being a beautifully shot folly for an audience that no longer exists.

Rating: Photobucket
Verdict: An absolute and obsolete calamity

FILM REVIEW: Dances with Wolves (1990)

Dances with Wolves (USA, 1990)
Directed by Kevin Costner

Starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant

It may be a clichéd complaint, but more often than not the Academy has got the Best Picture Oscar dead wrong. Sometimes, as with Crash, their mistake is obvious and the outcry is instant; on other occasions, as with Citizen Kane, both the Academy and the public have taken time to see the error of their ways. And then we have Dances with Wolves, which beat Goodfellas to the big gong to deny Martin Scorsese his Oscar for a third time. While not as crass a mistake as the others, time has not been kind to Kevin Costner's debut, which now seems long on principle but short on actual story.The obvious way to prey on Dances with Wolves would be to attack Costner's subsequent career. His later efforts behind the camera have left a lot to be desired, with Waterworld running hugely over budget and The Postman being the dictionary definition of tedious. His acting style and drawling delivery suggest a man who takes himself far too seriously, rivalling only Nicolas Cage for stony-faced absurdity. But a quick glance at his back catalogue reveals a slightly more complicated picture. Lest we forget, Costner was once an admired and popular actor, who acquitted himself perfectly well in No Way Out, The Untouchables and Field of Dreams. And for all the gaping flaws in his directorial efforts, you could never accuse him of going in with anything but the very best intentions.The most obvious quality of Dances with Wolves is that it is very even-handed towards its subject matter. It approaches the relationship between Native Americans and American soldiers with the same restraint and intelligence that Clint Eastwood applied to the subject of revenge in Unforgiven. There has clearly been a lot of effort expended by Costner and the writer Michael Blake to get away from the clichéd depiction of Native Americans as a backward, violent people, who deserved everything they got from the brave, civilised white men driving them off the land in the name of God and Progress.You also have to applaud Costner's ambition as a director. There are few actors, let alone big stars, who would have taken on such a big project first time out. Costner was shooting in mostly external locations for four months, including several elaborate sequences with hundreds of real horses and buffalo. His commitment was such that he nearly broke his back from doing his own stunts, and stumped up over $3m of his own money to cover the costs incurred by bad weather. Costner was prepared to take risks with Dances with Wolves, and that deserves praise regardless of whether the film works or not.A further point of admiration comes in Costner's decision to have much of the dialogue spoken in the Lakota language. The fact that the film grossed more than $400m worldwide, and $184m domestically, is a massive raspberry to the notion that Western audiences won't pay to watch films that aren't in the English language. But it also proves that the respect for the different cultures within the film is genuine, not just a device for boosting Costner's artistic standing. This remains the case even after Russell Means pointed out the flawed translations, which left all the men in the film speaking in the female Sioux dialect.In terms of the admiration it generates, Dances with Wolves is in the same league as Battle of Britain in terms of pure good will. But like Battle of Britain, this admiration does not guarantee good drama, and little by little Costner's film begins to look earnest to the point of being dul. It ends up stuck halfway between Unforgiven and Heaven's Gate, being neither as gripping nor elegiac as the former, nor as wretchedly pretentious as the latter. It never becomes as well-meaningly dull as Battle of Britain, but its flaws in terms of pacing and emotion cannot help but prey on our minds.The first 45 minutes of Dances with Wolves are very slow and very portentous. Costner is clearly pulling out all the stops to make us admire and believe in the character of John Dunbar, but he ends up both trying too hard and not enough. The opening battle sequence features Costner attempting suicide by riding straight at the Confederate front line with his arms held out in a messianic pose - a decision which results in sniggers or sneers rather than feelings of empathy. In the various scenes that follow, where Dunbar is sent out to the frontier, too much effort is expended trying to express his bravery and not enough made on showing him as a rounded human being.When I reviewed (500) Days of Summer, I argued that the presence of a narrator in any kind of film creates an element of certainty which can sometimes work against dramatic tension. In the case of Dances with Wolves, one could argue it is necessary since the diary is integral to the later stages of the plot. But while it is partially justified on a narrative level, Costner's delivery of it is frankly third-rate. His readings feel rushed and increasingly desperate, as he tries to convey the gravity of the situation without much success.The narration aside, there is precious little about Dances with Wolves which is rushed. At just over 3 hours long (4 hours in its Director's Cut), comparisons with Heaven's Gate are unavoidable; the project was even nicknamed 'Kevin's Gate' after the production delays were leaked to the press. Costner's film is nowhere near as baggy as Heaven's Gate, let alone as self-serving, but it is every bit as drawn out, especially in its final act. Had Kevin gone through with a pair of scissors and lost even 30 seconds from every scene, it would have made a world of difference.The biggest problem with Dances with Wolves is that it constantly tells us how important the events are without doing enough to show us why this is the case. There are many beautiful or poignant images throughout, from the hundreds of dead buffalo lying on the plains to the couple's departure from the winter camp. But these images don't carry the weight that they should because we haven't invested enough in the characters to make them any more than pretty compositions.The film is so respectful towards the Sioux that it is almost hesitant to scratch the surface and ask the difficult questions about how their society works, such as the relationship between fathers and sons, and the position of women. This is understandable up to a point, considering the negative depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood throughout the 20th century - a fact which, if you believe Marlon Brando, led him to turn down his second Oscar. But you would think that if Costner were brave enough to embark on something of such scale and ambition, the last thing he would be worried about was mildly offending people.Fortunately, the film does pick up after the first 45 minutes and has moments where the action and characters do take flight. Many of these scenes find Costner willing to let his hair down, whether it's dancing with Two Socks around the camp fire or giving audiences a clear view of his naked bottom. It is hard not to get swept up in the chases scene across the plains, diligently matched by John Barry's stirring score. And some of the lighter moments within the camp help us to relax as well; when Dunbar interrupts Kicking Bird's nearby lovemaking, Graham Greene's facial expression says it all.The romantic aspect of Dances with Wolves is well-played for an epic, if only because the central relationship develops at a reasonable rate. We don't get that agonising sensation as in Out of Africa, where we know the characters are meant to kiss and are begging them to get on with it. The scenes of Stands with a Fist interpreting between Dunbar and Kicking Bird are well-played, serving their purpose while conveying the sexual tension between the characters. Their relationship conveys the conflicted identity of the central characters and the possibility of future harmony between the nations.Dances with Wolves is ultimately a very middling film. It's too long to adequately serve its story, but not so long that we lose all patience with it. Its respect for its characters undercuts the drama, but not to the extent that we sit there drifting into a coma. And its direction is uninvolving, but not in an artsy, egotistical way. Calling it an average or ordinary film is to belie Costner's ambition, but any higher praise is impossible in light of its flaws. It remains significant but not stirring, admirable but not engaging, important but not profound.

Rating: Photobucket
Verdict: Admirable but not always engaging

FILM REVIEW: Silent Running (1972)

Silent Running (USA, 1972)
Directed by Doug Trumball
Starring Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint

It's long been fashionable for film reviewers to slag off films for being sentimental. The problem is not so much the notion of sentimentality in and of itself, as the context and manner in which it is applied. Criticising Steven Spielberg for being sentimental is simultaneously apt and foolish - apt when it meddles with or cheapens a dark subject matter, as with Schindler's List, but foolish when it is complimentary and integral, as with E.T. or Close Encounters.Silent Running's reputation has suffered from a similar stigma, namely that a grown-up science fiction film with serious thematic intentions cannot bow to something as feeble as human emotion. The clichéd view of 1970s science fiction, created by 2001 and cemented by Solaris, is one of a cold, clinical, existential world where any concession to audience emotion is strictly verboten. But while such an approach worked wonders for Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky, Silent Running is still a damn fine film which proves that substance and sentimentality can go together.Doug Trumball made Silent Running in direct response to the perceived coldness and clinical precision of 2001. Having created many of the special effects on Kubrick's film, including the iconic star-gate sequence, he sought to make a film about the future of humanity in which computers and apes were not the most human characters. Where Kubrick's films focussed on Mankind, Trumball wishes to look at people as individuals. And where Kubrick balanced Humanity's physical insignificance with its God-like potential, Trumball praises Man's capacity for compassion even in the face of insignificance, disinterest or despair.If one was feel as cold and calculating as HAL, one could easily dismiss Silent Running as nothing more than 'hippies in space'. Being a product of the early-1970s, when America was experiencing the death throes of hippie culture, such connotations are to some extent inevitable. It is undoubtedly true that Bruce Dern's character conforms to popular, if cynical, stereotypes of hippies, from his loose-fitting clothing and drawling delivery to his obsession with nature which many (the crew included) would consider unhealthy.One of the problems with Silent Running from this point of view is its questionable attitude towards mankind in the pursuit of pro-nature or 'hippie' ideals. The position towards technology is ambivalent; Dern yearns for a monastic existence where Man eats the fruits of His own labours, but it is ultimately the machines which sustain the forest. More problematic is the implication that preserving nature is more important than human life, to the point where murdering his crewmates appears to be justified. The film could be making the point that one has to go the hard yards in the name of one's principles, but it remains questionable whether in its content or its presentation.But if we put this immediate concern to the back of our minds, Silent Running's ecological theme emerges as more than a simple choice between Nature and Man, or Man and Machine. It is more prominently a film about harmony, about how the march of progress has made humans overly dependent on technology. Technological progress, including the development of space travel, has increased the standard of living of the astronauts to such an extent that they take their resources for granted.Dern's colleagues no longer care about the forest or the food they eat because they have been living in a world where their every want is met. They behave almost like spoilt children, spending their time racing around the cargo bay and joking around. Dern's position is similar to that of the 19th-century Arcadians like John Ruskin and Henry David Thoreau, writers who warned against the increasing luxury and apathy brought on by mechanical progress. Dern is the Arcadian among the lackadaisical industrialists, still able to enjoy himself but ever watchful of the consequences of progress, and mindful of the alternative which could soon cease to exist.When WALL-E was released three years ago, numerous critics compared the opening section to Silent Running. There is an obvious parallel in the role of robots tending to the Earth (or what is left of it), and in the loneliness of this occupation both practically and philosophically. Like WALL-E, Dern and his droids are going against the grain to do what they believe is right, and both have developed eccentricities through isolation which has caused them to deviate from their original 'programming'. With WALL-E, it is his bizarre passion for Hello Dolly!; with Dern, it is his desire to teach droids how to play poker.Although WALL-E could not have existed without Silent Running, it remains the superior of the two films. Although one of the longer PIXAR efforts, it feels tightly structured and well-paced, while there are long sections of Silent Running which feel superfluous or needlessly slow. This may be down to the involvement of Michael Cimino at a script level; his first writing credit in Hollywood contains the same flaws in pace and emphasis which would scupper him as a director. The poker scene, for instance, feels like it shouldn't be there, or at least like it should be a lot shorter.Parts of Silent Running have also dated quite badly. Peter Schickele's soundtrack has stood the test of time rather well, but Joan Baez' warblings are a distinctly Marmite experience. Some of the dialogue is preachy, with Dern going over many of the same arguments to the point of exhaustion. But to be fair, it is very difficult to sustain a story with a limited number of locations and characters without the luxury of extended dream sequences (Solaris) or multiple versions of the characters (Moon). Trumball may be no Kubrick, but all in all he has done a reasonable job.One aspect which hasn't dated, however, is the special effects. When Trumball was interviewed recently for the Blu-Ray release, he commented that organic, miniature or optical effects date better than CG visuals because they are more "photo-realistically impressive", i.e. have weight and tactility. The external shots of the Valley Forge are shot from the correct perspective so that we aren't conscious of them being model shots, and the explosions look and feel both realistic and custom-built.The most illuminating special effect, however, is the three drones which Dern uses to tend to the forests after commandeering the Valley Forge. The drones, inspired by characters in Tod Browning's Freaks, were created by double amputees walking on their hands. This and the facial structures of the drones create a human-like movement which we can recognise and use as a starting point for empathy.What makes Silent Running remarkable, and ultimately successful, is the strength of its emotional pull. The tactility of the special effects, the honesty of the script and the tender nature of the final act has the same effect that the ending of E. T. does; you feel as though you have earned the right to blub your eyes out because of how well the characters have been formed and how much you have enjoyed their company. Much like The Man Who Fell To Earth, the emotional weight of the characters allows us to overlook or forgive any narrative shortcomings and enjoy having our hearts broken.Silent Running remains an underrated and underappreciated science fiction film. It's not without its flaws, whether narrative or otherwise, and it has to take a back seat to 2001 both in ambition and in execution. But what it lacks in awe and spectacle it makes up for in heartache, coupled with a good-natured and welcome intelligence. WALL-E may have since surpassed it, but it remains compelling viewing.

Rating: Photobucket
Verdict: An underrated sci-fi heartbreaker

FILM REVIEW: Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at Heart (USA, 1990)
Directed by David Lynch

Starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe

You know you've arrived as a filmmaker when a bespoke adjective is created to describe your work - Gilliam-esque, Kubrickian, Lynchian and so on. But with this honour comes the danger of said filmmaker producing films which consist of familiar images or elements, without the narrative or thematic cohesion which earned them the label in the first place.Wild of Heart is only partially guilty of this, not being one of David Lynch's strongest or most cohesive efforts. Although its thematic unity is never in doubt, and its central narrative is easy enough to follow, it ultimately amounts to a series of strange and memorable moments which punctuate his loose reworking of a road movie. While episodic and baggy, it contains moments of Lynch at his absolute best, and even at its worst is nothing short of unforgettable.Just as Lynch saw Eraserhead as his version of The Philadelphia Story, so Wild at Heart could be described as his take on The Wizard of Oz. Lynch has acknowledged its influence throughout his career, and his most recent works, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, have incorporated visual or narrative references to it throughout. But whereas these films are Lynch works with little nods to Oz thrown in, this is a full-on marriage of the two, as Lynch takes all the touchstones of L. Frank Baum's story, adds plenty of violence, cranks up the creepiness (if that were possible), and makes the central relationship more emotionally raw and raunchy.The parallels between the two works are candid from the outset. Lula is Dorothy, thrust into a strange world that is "wild at heart and weird on top", and sustained only by Sailor's companionship and the promise of returning to something she can recognise. Sailor in this interpretation is an amalgam of Dorothy's companions: he may not be much of a coward, but he certainly lacks brains, and his capacity for love doesn't extend much beyond devotion. Alternatively, these two represent different aspects of Dorothy, contrasting Sailor's self-confidence with Lula's sensitivity.The Oz references extend far beyond the permutations of the central characters. Diane Ladd makes a convincing Wicked Witch of the West, following Lula's/ Dorothy's every move, cursing the fact that the couple are still together and getting further towards their goal in spite of all her schemes. The long road to California doubles for the yellow brick road, and the car crash featuring Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn could be a nod to the poppy fields, which disorientate and threaten to destroy the heroes. Fenn later turns up as a literal manifestation of the Good Witch Glinda, reflecting that the couple's perseverance and desire to help her were both the right choices to make.Lynch described the central theme of Wild at Heart as "finding love in Hell". He creates a dark and violent world all around the characters - a world populated by car crashes, robberies, betrayal, infidelity, sex, violence and various undignified ways of dying. With all the supporting characters having at least one foot rooted in the grotesque, Sailor and Lula become our natural focus, as people with at least part of their sanity intact who desire more than anything else to escape, by whatever means.This atmosphere of aggression and theme of feeling trapped is reinforced by Lynch's choice of music. Working with Angelo Badalamenti, who has scored all his work since Blue Velvet, Lynch blends the laid-back 1950s sound of Chris Isaac's brilliant 'Wicked Game' to some very aggressive speed metal, the latter of which foreshadows his work with Marilyn Manson on Lost Highway. It's an oddly effective blend, depicting the violence and possible redemption which confront the characters.Music plays a key role in demonstrating the mental conflict of the central characters. In one great scene, Lula tunes through all the radio stations in the car, hearing nothing but bad news. She slams on the brakes, gets out of the car, and starts screaming that she'll go mad unless she hears music. Sailor finds some hard rock, starts screaming too, and they share an impromptu mosh in the middle of the desert. There are big nods to the Elvis back catalogue, with Sailor serenading Lula with 'Love Me' in the club, and finally cementing his love with 'Love Me Tender' during the closing credits.Although these scenes in and of themselves are well-assembled and great fun, they do hint at the big central problem with Wild at Heart. There are so many of these strange little bits floating around the central story that they never quite integrate into a seamless, disorientating whole. Lynch's symbolic imagery and manipulation of colour don't gel quite so naturally with the story and characters as such techniques did in Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive.The Blue Velvet comparison is the more illuminating, particularly with regard to the amount of time the ideas of the film had to gestate. Lynch had the story and themes for Blue Velvet all worked out in his head before Dune, so that even when he was forced to shoot quickly due to lack of money, he knew how to shoot the robins speech, or the zoom down to the cockroaches, in a way which was seamlessly integral to the story and its themes.Wild at Heart, on the other hand, was rushed into production following the collapse of Dino DeLaurentiis' production company, which delayed progress on both Twin Peaks and Lynch's pet project, Ronnie Rocket. He was given Barry Gifford's novel by friend Monty Montgomery with a view to producing it, and only had two months between buying the rights and beginning to shoot. It is no surprise therefore that the script of Wild at Heart doesn't entirely click; it is, in Lynch's words, "a compilation of ideas."This disjoined feel has the side effect of taking us out of the story during many of the weirder moments. During Jack Nance's cameo, doubling for Toto in yet another Oz reference, you find yourself staring as much in puzzlement as in mesmerism. Some of Badalamenti's musical cues feel oddly overcooked, such as the huge dramatic chord when Sailor pulls up at Perdita's house. The final scene, where Sailor and Lula reaffirm their love, lacks the beauty and irony of Blue Velvet's ending, which manages to be both uplifting and watchful.Despite some self-imposed cuts on Lynch's part, there are many scenes in Wild at Heart which remain problematic. The violence is par for the course for an 18 certificate, even the sight of Willem Dafoe's character losing his head with a double-barrelled shotgun. But the sexual advances of Dafoe's character are deeply disturbing for all the wrong reasons, and the recurring image of Lula's rape doesn't add to the central theme beyond turning our stomachs (as rape should).Ultimately, however, the performances in Wild at Heart are enough to see things through. Nicolas Cage is on startling form, showing that he thrives when given a director who understands melodrama and exaggerated characters. He may be massively over-the-top, but it makes sense, and his Elvis impersonation is great. Laura Dern's unusual beauty fits the Southern belle look of her character, and we believe in her emotional turmoil throughout. And amongst the hysterical supporting case, including Dern's real-life mother Diane Ladd, the stand-out is Harry Dean Stanton, who stands calm in the eye of the storm, looking as bemused as the rest of us.Wild at Heart is not Lynch's finest work by any stretch of the imagination. It has structural deficiencies which were not sorted out in the editing room, and the lurches in tone may prove too much for the casual viewer. But in the moments when it does work - and there are plenty - it is an often joyous reminder of Lynch's power as a filmmaker, telling stories in ways which are frighteningly unique. While no masterpiece, nor an ideal starting point, it is often majestic and always memorable.

Verdict: Wonderful moments with weirdness to spare