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Will Adam ignore the threats, cast Betty in the part, and turn her into an overnight star? Sure, if we were discussing something on the order of 42nd Street. But just as we're reaching the point at which the film's myriad threads will logically be brought together, Lynch goes ballistic, tacking on a concluding half-hour in which supernatural shenanigans start occurring, the timeline gets shifted and folds back on itself, and the two leading actresses seemingly take over other characters' roles. The result is an unnerving motion picture that yields no easy answers but instead forces the viewer, in Memento mode, to mentally play the entire film backward and determine what's possibly real, what's probably a dream (a Lynch obsession dating back to his excellent breakthrough film, Eraserhead), and where this ultimately leads.
With Mulholland Drive, Lynch borrows elements from seminal Hollywood works like Sunset Boulevard and Vertigo and applies them to a movie that frequently comments on the very nature of cinema itself, from its necessary practice of requiring people to play complete "strangers" to its ability to pull the rug out from under our pre-programmed expectations. On that level, and as an exercise in bravura moviemaking, the film works quite well. But on an emotional level, it's one of Lynch's most distant pieces, with practically all the characters being moved around the sets like so many chess pieces. The unsung strength of Twin Peaks was its ability to make us care for almost all its characters heroes and villains both but in this picture, it's only the unexpectedly complex portrayal by Watts that adds any lasting resonance to the tangled events. The marvel of her performance only becomes truly clear as the picture moves forward, as she adds the human element to a movie that, with apologies to Winston Churchill, can best be described as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Menace II Society
Jack the Ripper resuscitated in street-smart drama
By Matt Brunson
Accomplished film directors know a thing or two about pigeonholing. When Martin Scorsese first announced he was going to make a movie version of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, many insiders snickered that the end result would be akin to a raging bull in a china shop (never mind that Scorsese has long cited elegant motion pictures like The Heiress and The Red Shoes as among his personal favorites). Heads turned sharply when David Lynch, who never met a disturbing R-rated vision he didn't like, released the G-rated family film The Straight Story. And even the king of shock schlock, the infamous John Waters, caught viewers offguard with the sweetly nostalgic (and PG-rated) Hairspray back in 1988.
Look for The Hughes Brothers, aka Allen and Albert Hughes, to have to contend with this sort of chatter as their new feature From Hell makes the multiplex rounds. These African-American siblings made a startling debut with their 1993 effort Menace II Society, about daily life (and death) in a dangerous LA 'hood, and then followed it with 1995's Dead Presidents, which looked at the desperate route many blacks felt forced to take after returning home from the Vietnam War. Jumpcut to the present day, and we find the pair tackling a drama that's set in 1888 London and focuses on the infamous Jack the Ripper. What gives?
Actually, it's admirable when any artist is able to break the shackles of preconceived notions, but for those still requiring some sort of connective tissue, it's fairly obvious that From Hell is no different from its predecessors (especially Menace II Society) in that they all deal with the poverty, violence and drugs that are readily found on the mean city streets. In fact, what makes From Hell more than just a slasher flick with a pedigree is its insistence on presenting its sordid tale at ground level, exploring the social chasm that existed between the upper and lower classes as much as recreating the killer's grisly handiwork.
Adapted by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias from Alan Moore's acclaimed graphic novel, From Hell casts Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline, who's been assigned to investigate the particularly gruesome murders of several prostitutes. A tortured soul who hangs out at opium dens during his down time, Abberline is known for his clairvoyant abilities which have enabled him to break big cases in the past. This particular investigation, however, has left him baffled; although those around him, including his friend and associate Sergeant Godley (reliable Robbie Coltrane), believe the killer is probably a lowlife thug, Abberline's evidence suggests that the Ripper is actually an educated man with a working knowledge of surgical tools. After enlisting the royal family's personal physician (Ian Holm) to aid him in his investigation, he then devotes much of his time to protecting a sweet prostitute (Heather Graham) who seems fated to be the Ripper's next victim.