…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Laura Dern

90’s Showdown: The Contenders 3


Kristin Scott Thomas in Richard III (1995): is a supporting character in Richard III in a way that she appears here and there but has that really big scene in which she confronts Ian McKellen’s titular antihero. Having a part within a gender and age so maligned in Shakespeare’s work, she chose to play on Queen Anne’s hard and new loneliness to show us why she’s so angry with Richard yet convinces us why she would choose to marry him anyway. And even her happiness, albeit momentary, is clear. It’s an emotion she barely shows in its fullness in her later work.

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997) is probably one of the most important actresses of her time just as legitimately as Meryl Streep is (they were born in the same year). But that hasn’t been put to light because of the movies she worked in. Thankfully, Quentin Tarantino makes use of Grier’s Stanislavski training and experience in exploitation films to flesh out such a character like Jackie Brown, a woman using her looks yet is toughened by time. From the quotable quotes like “Sit the fuck down!” to romancing Robert Forster’s character to a slightly baffling final close-up, this performance is as skilful as her collaborative director’s compassion.

Angela Bassett in Malcolm X (1992): Because of Angela Bassett’s sinewy physique and alto voice, she will never be seen as feminine in the ‘weak’ sense, so she’s the perfect actress to play Betty Shabazz, going tête-à-tête with Denzel Washington’s protagonist in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. And head to head it is, with this loving couple enter their big argument, their clashing yet complementary voices captured in probably one of the best acted and directed scenes ever on film.

Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique (1991): She convinces us of Kieslowski’s conceits, the opposites of woman innocence and erotic discovery while having an intuition that invalidates logic. Plus she acts in two languages, and sings in one! It’s the performance that goes beyond a character arc and makes it known to her audience that this person will live on forever.

Kate Beckinsale in The Last Days of Disco (1998): Who invented the wheel of minimalist acting? Did Stacey Dash in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless start it? It’s the kind of human behaviour captured in both Girls and in Lauren Conrad’s reality TV shows. I want to give Whit Stilman some credit, perfectly capturing the semi-comatose bourgeoisie in one of its many transient phases. His movie The Last Days of Disco also has two leads – Chloe Sevigny and Beckinsale, both conveying the characters’ aloofness. But why give Beckinsale more credit? Because she has more teeth, especially in that scene where she slaps Sevigny also expressing camp in the sense that there’s heightened drama between characters who deep down probably don’t give a shit. And she’s on my list because fuck you, I’m high, that’s why.

Laura Dern in Wild at Heart (1990): David Lynch is the kind of auteur to sadistically capture his actresses trip and wail yet also make them look like they cleared whatever impossible hurdle he has set up for her. And what kind of self-respecting woman would even say the lines that he wrote for Dern in Wild at Heart? Yes, the same woman who eventually says the two most female-empowering quotes of all time (In Jurassic Park: Dinosaur eats man, Woman rules the earth. In Citizen Ruth: What’s the matter? Are you fuckin’ people deaf? I said I want an abortion!). Yet she does it. I will repeat what I say in my review of this movie that too shortly conveys its qualities as an interesting failure. Yet during her line readings she is sexy, ridiculous, childlike and scared, often mixing two or all these feelings at the same time. It’s within an extreme worldview of clashing Lynchian emotions that we realize that we don’t ever, ever need to take psychedelic drugs to ever feel the way she does, because she does it for us.


Nicolas Cage: And Laura Dern


Ugh I hate having to write about movies that I can’t prove with words but that’s David Lynch for you and besides, I’ve been procrastinating writing about Mulholland Drive ever since I saw it (and rewatched the ending after my ongoing depress-athon). Here’s what I have to say, as I have originally typed on Ryan McNeil‘s blog:

a) I told you this in person but I’ll do it again because I’ll probably never end up writing about it in my space. Despite the incoherent fuctory that is Wild At Heart it’s probably the only movie of his – or any movie ever – that simultaneously conveys all emotions of funnysexyscary, mostly thanks to Laura Dern’s performance. Even in his better work, he can only manage to convey one of those three tones, or compartmentalizes them from one scene to another.

b) Gitch?

Don’t worry, this post will get slightly smarter.

I feel it juvenile that I hate to compare Dern’s Lula Fortune to other actors with more well-known movie quotables, and nothing beats those originals but we have seen de Niro’s bravado or Judy’s childlike demeanour through multiple imitations. And I suppose Dern also gets it easy with some of the one liners that we first hear on the trailer, like ‘You make me hotter than Georgia asphalt.’ We can do that as an inside joke, add a head or shoulder roll or two, remembering Lynch’s innately referential nature as he pays perpetual homage to post-war camp Americana. Slick greaser hair and jackets and antisocial behaviour are particularly more present here than in Lynch’s other movies, given a contemporary flavour through Sailor’s affinity to epilepsy-inducing metal music. Her love-making non sequiturs and narratives astound – ‘And I swear, baby, you got the sweetest cock. It’s like it’s talking to me when you’re inside. ],’ ‘You [Nicolas Cage’s character Sailor] remind me of my daddy. (I shouldn’t judge),’ ‘One time, [my aunt] found [my uncle] Dell putting one big cockroach on his anus.’ She says those lines with the borderline childishness that some girls put on in front of their boyfriends. They say that the portrayal of gravitas lessens over time and yes we can laugh at these lines but there’s this timeless earnestness in Dern and Lynch’s delivery of lust that I simply cannot negate. Who knew that the gaunt actress only needed her blond locks and a silver tongue to be sexy? Can she do it again?

And as Lula and her Sailor elopement gets bumpier and more crime-ridden, Dern’s performance gets its equal rocky footing. There’s also a scene where she find herself alone with Willem Dafoe’s grilled character – that’s never turned well in 99% of that actor’s movies. He sexually intimidates her and tells her to tell him to to ‘Fuck me.’ At first she resists but she does it, putting fear into a mix that cannot be duplicated. She’s Lynch’s instrument for better or worse and I don’t even see anything wrong with her bravery and vulnerability, while most of the leading actresses Lynch hires only has either. I wonder how her dad was like as an actor, if he could produce such a great here.

There are also Wizard of Oz references for some reason, Lula’s mother (Diane Ladd), the venomous woman from whom they;re running away, conjured through hallucinations as the Wicked Witch. Lula clicks her heels like Dorothy but Sailor doesn’t seem like any of Dorothy’s companions. Scarecrow maybe, for participating in failed bank robberies? Anyway, both the stunted feminine and masculine body politic is within the escapist Lula and she solves it by…marrying a dude? This is a man’s perspective of a romanticized female pathos, after all. And I keep talking about this movie as if I’m bored with Cage’s histrionics but Sailor does have death threats to avoid. And I just don’t want to see him as sexy with all the implications of that title, which this movie insists and almost succeeds on doing.


Jurassic Park


ph. Universal

I saw Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park for the second time as part of the Toronto Underground Cinema’s first anniversary celebration last Sunday. They celebrated by showing the first twenty minutes about a documentary about their cinema, which featured my ass. That day was also James Mason’s birthday. This is important because Sam Neill looks like James Mason.

Above is Sam Neill with the tail of a CGI dinosaur. Half of the dinosaurs in this movie are real, the rest, excluding the first Brontosaurus, only look real. Correct me, but 90’s was one of those eras where if you wanted a dinosaur, a monster or a natural disaster on-screen, you had to make it and not draw it.

Dennis (Wayne Knight) has a snake-life face. He is hateful and is frustrated by Dr. John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) condescendingly low wages. Even if the latter pushes his employees, his intentions are good. He shuts down all the security systems and runs away from the fortress-like abbey Jurassic Park laboratories to smuggle some priceless Jurassic DNA out of the island, angering Hammond who knows nothing about Dennis’ foul scheme. Dennis runs through the poisonous forests, wearing an alluring yellow raincoat, gasping at any animal he might cross. Dennis tries to return to the fortress, only to be eaten by a dinosaur.