Tag Archives: Diane Ladd

28 Days


I’ve always had a thing for 28 Days. So often in Hollywood there are films that try tackle real issues, but not all of them feel like they’ve achieved anything, or even portrayed said issues in a realistic, compassionate way. This one shines a probing, nonjudgmental spotlight onto alcoholism, in all it’s subtleties and absurd truths, like few other films have. Many films portray alcoholism like a raging mania that turns you rabid and irrational, and while that certainly can be the case, I like how here they show what a semi-functioning addict looks like, as opposed to your atypical abusive archetype. It’s also just more pleasant fare too. Despite being a story about great struggle and personal woe, there’s lightheartedness to it that’s welcome in such stressful territory. Sandra Bullock, that luminous brunette, is pretty much instantly likeable in anything, a beautiful, effortless, natural born movie star, giving any film an instant advantage simply by having her headline. Here she plays Gwen, a NYC newspaper columnist who, along with her Brit boyfriend (Dominic West), has a fairly serious problem with the booze. After spectacularly ruining her poor sister’s (Elizabeth Perkins) and recklessly crashing a stolen limousine, the thin line between functionality and outright self destruction is crossed, and it becomes time to seek help. Court ordered into rehab, Gwen ships off to an upstate clinic to sleep off the hangover, but the real progress comes from first admitting she has a problem at all. Like any film about rehab, the facility is home to many quaint, quirky people for her to meet, bond and squabble with, fellow addicts on the road to whatever recovery means to them. Steve Buscemi underplays a sly turn as the program founder and lead social worker, Viggo Mortensen is sorta kinda a love interest, but also not really, in an ambiguously written supporting role, and there’s solid work from Alan Tudyuk, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Azura Skye and Margo Martindale too. Parallel to her treatment we see hazy flashbacks to Gwen being raised by her severely alcoholic mother (Diane Ladd), and get a glimpse of how the hectic, sprawling life of someone who drinks just seems like the mundane to them, internally until they decide to swallow that proverbial red pill, step outside the routine and examine their choices. It’s a great little film with an organic, realistic arc for Bullock that she inhabits with grace, humility and humour.

-Nate Hill

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Top Ten David Lynch Characters: A list by Nate Hill

The cinematic universe in which legendary director David Lynch has chosen to tell his stories is a yellow brick road which leads the way to a rabbit hole, wherein can be found dreams, nightmares, horror, love, spirits, small towns, psychological torment, offbeat humour, danger and endless gallons of hot black coffee. Within this mesmerizing realm lives a whole armada of strange and wonderful human beings, often with antennas extended out into both the metaphysical, the supernatural and the just plain undefinable. This makes them some of the most richly fascinating, deeply felt individuals to ever dance across our screens. If you have clicked on this post, you will see below a list of my personal top ten characters to have ever wandered out of the one of a kind mind of Mr. Lynch and been brought to life by the intuition, grace and startling gut instinct of many fine actors. Enjoy!
 
10. Marietta Fortune, played by Diane Ladd in Wild At Heart

  

Diane Ladd plays the ultimate mommy from hell in Lynch’s wacky, colourful romance road trip flick and livens the proceedings up no end with her mental instability, overprotective mania and frequent banshee screams that echo the terrifying melodrama of an exaggerated and psychotic Joan Crawford. Ladd rightly earned an Oscar nomination for her feral work, and one only needs to witness the unnerving sight of her sprawled across the bathroom floor with a liver full of martinis and a face smeared with crimson lipstick to appreciate the work funnelled into both the performance and direction to give us this horrific harpy.  

9. The Man From Another Place, played by Michael J. Anderson in Twin Peaks 
  

No other character solidifies Lynch’s pipeline to the collective subconscious like the red suited, inter-dimensional man of limited stature, a haunting presence who dances, speaks backwards and is always one step ahead of every fellow character and watching audience member who lays eyes on him. He serves as an image of what lays beyond, and no doubt an experimental choice for Lynch, one that would go on to become a token image of the television series, and his career as well. 

8. Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart
  

The uniting forces of Willem Dafoe’s brand of creepiness morphed together with Lynch’s intuition for everything weird resulted in Bobby Peru, a disgusting psychotic whacko who only shows up in the last quarter of the film, yet dominates every frothy frame. Peru is a scary son of a bitch, and Dafoe lends every Joker grin, sallow grimace and harsh syllable he can muster in a very discomforting scene in which he abuses Laura Dern’s character to squirm inducing effect. This heinous outburst only makes the explosive end he meets all the more satisfying. A true Lynch monster, a Dafoe creation to remember and spin yarns about in years to come beside the cinematic campfire. 

7. Nikki Grace/Susan Blue, played by Laura Dern in Inland Empire
  

Dern turns the performance of her career in what is perhaps Lynch’s most peculiar film to date, a purposefully meta, altogether perplexing soul bender of a tale that revolves around two incredibly strong female characters, both played by her. There’s a galvanizing monologue buried within the heart of this dense saga that’s at once both a savage outcry and a self reflective summary to the character, Dern nailing every sharp turn of both that passage, and her work in the film as a whole. Lynch sat on Hollywood Boulevard with a cow and a sign advocating an Oscar nomination for her powerful work here, and upon viewing it it’s easy to see why. ‘A woman in trouble’ cries the DVD cover. Dern cries out into the dark and lets us know this character is exactly in that place, but her and Lynch lay out the breadcrumb trail in an ambiguous fashion that never really lets us in on the how and the why of said trouble. Such an achievement is pure collaboration, and worth every penny spent on the cow rental. 

6. Margaret Lanterman, aka The Log Lady, played by Catherine E. Coulson in Twin Peaks
  

The Log Lady is the symbolic lynchpin of Twin Peaks, a woman who lost her husband in a fire long ago, and quite literally carries a log around in memorial, speaking to it as if it were a person. Such a concept could be seen as silly, but in Lynch’s hands it simply is compelling. Coulson too treats it with reverence, giving her the undefined gravity that is a key ingredient in the Twin Peaks mystery and will be remembered by fans, loved by veterans and discovered by newcomers for eons.

5. Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet
  

The third scariest person on this list comes in the form of Booth, an oxygen loving, volatile kinkster played with primordial menace by a wild eyed Dennis Hopper. Booth took audiences by storm when Blue Velvet was released, showcasing a villain’s ability to completely shatter the idealistic and womblike notions of small town, old world bliss that came before him. He barges into the film and immediately flips the table as far as tone goes, catching everyone off guard with his criminal and very twisted antics. A true Pabst Blue villain and force of perverted nature that we won’t soon forget. 

4. BOB, played by Frank Silva in Twin Peaks
  

No demon has shivered the timbers of viewers quite like Killer Bob. He was a fluke, a lightning bolt of creative energy that Lynch channeled into what would become the scariest and strangest villain in his stable. A nightmarish and all too real apparition who feeds on rape, murder, fear, abuse and all the tools which reside within the darkest corners of humanity’s toolkit. Silva is a salivating horror, feeling his way through a performance that is rooted directly within the forces of undiscovered nature and firmly committed to scaring the pants off of us. 

 3. Mystery Man, played by Robert Blake in Lost Highway
  

Blake unsettles big time as a pasty faced, hollow laughed denizen who torments the protagonist at the most unexpected of moments and can’t help but utter a grinding giggle every time he can harvest an iota of confusion from his quarry. Whether the accusations against Blake in real life are true or not, the guy just has a corrosive vibe to his work and it kills me that he never got a chance to live out more years in cinema. This was one of his last two roles, and he’s the acrid soul of the piece, a snarling symbol of mental instability and otherworldly nastiness within the main character’s psyche.

2. Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle Maclachlan in Twin Peaks
  

Ahh, Dale Cooper. No one puts a big old smile on my face like him. In a career that has a whole bunch of lunatics and weirdos running amok, Lynch has given us the ultimate good guy, a comforting, likeable lawman with a keen sense of character and a deep love for both coffee and copious amounts of cherry pie. Maclachlan soars into pop culture legend with his winning smile, delightful idiosyncrasies and unyielding dedication to the law. 

1. Laura Palmer, played by Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks
  

The battered angel, the homecoming queen, the beauty wrapped in plastic. No one represents both the decaying, corrupted human spirit and the same purity that wages war upon the sickness as well as Laura. When Twin Peaks was cancelled and Lynch launched plans for a big screen follow up, he stuck with the one element that made the show so special: Laura. Through hell, high water and every horror in between he stuck with Laura, turning the film into a final loving ode to her that would be seen by many as too much, and a stark deviation from the show. He was simply following through with the uneasy themes which mean so much to him, represented by the ultimate girl in trouble, whereby spiritual forces or simply the malfunction within humanity. Lee has never been better, serving as the rose within the centre of the dark bouquet of characters which Lynch  draws forth from his dreams. 

WILD AT HEART – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

12f6e7965cb2fbac31c874eb42335413By 1990, David Lynch was at the peak of his popularity and enjoying the most productive period of his career. His television show Twin Peaks had captivated American audiences and he was directing a number of commercials and performance art pieces (Industrial Symphony No. 1). This all culminated with Wild at Heart (1990), an adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel, which went on to win the coveted Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. It also helped establish Lynch as America’s premier cinematic surrealist. At its core, the film is a touching love story between two people whose love for each other remains constant despite all of the obstacles that life throws at them, including an overly-protective mother, a dentally-challenged psychopath, and a grizzled rocket scientist. This film is, oddly enough, Lynch at his most romantic, a rock ‘n’ roll opera with vibrant, fiery imagery.

Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) are young lovers on the run from her crazed and over-protective mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd). Sailor has jumped parole after serving time for manslaughter and takes off with Lula for sunny California. This doesn’t sit too well with Lula’s mom who sends her boyfriend and private investigator Johnny Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), and, unbeknownst to him, her lover and ruthless gangster Marcellos Santos (J.E. Freeman) on the trail of the young lovers.

As he would do with the opening scene in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Lynch kicks things off with a shockingly brutal act of violence that establishes a confrontational tone – this is a violent world where Sailor is prepared to kill a man with his bare hands in order to protect the woman he loves. The first image is the striking of a match followed by images of flames announcing the color scheme that would be prevalent throughout the film. This is continued in the love scenes between Sailor and Lula that are bathed in red, yellow and orange – all representing their burning love for each other. During the course of the film there are countless shots of cigarettes being lit, matches being struck, an exploding car, and a house on fire. This film is vibrantly alive and energized more than anything Lynch had done before or has done since.

In the summer of 1989, Lynch had finished up the pilot for Twin Peaks and tried to rescue two of his projects – Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble – that were owned by Dino de Laurentiis when his company went bankrupt. Independent production company Propaganda Films commissioned Lynch to develop an updated noir screenplay based on a 1940s crime novel while a filmmaking friend of his by the name of Monty Montgomery optioned Barry Gifford’s book, Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula in pre-published galley form. Montgomery gave him Gifford’s book and asked Lynch if he would executive produce a film adaptation that he would direct. Lynch remembers telling him, “That’s great Monty, but what if I read it and fall in love with it and want to do it myself?” And this is exactly what happened as Lynch recalls, “It was just exactly the right thing at the right time. The book and the violence in America merged in my mind and many different things happened.” Lynch was drawn to what he saw as “a really modern romance in a violent world – a picture about finding love in hell.” He was also attracted to “a certain amount of fear in the picture, as well as things to dream about. So it seems truthful in some way.”

Once Lynch got the okay from Propaganda to switch projects, he wrote a draft in a week. Within four months, he began filming with a budget of $10 million. Lynch did not like the ending in Gifford’s book where Sailor and Lula split up for good. For Lynch, “it honestly didn’t seem real, considering the way they felt about each other. It didn’t seem one bit real! It had a certain coolness, but I couldn’t see it.” Samuel Goldwyn, who ended up distributing the film, read an early draft of the screenplay and didn’t like Gifford’s ending either so Lynch changed it. However, the director was worried that this change made the film too commercial, “much more commercial to make a happy ending yet, if I had not changed it, so that people wouldn’t say I was trying to be commercial, I would have been untrue to what the material was saying.”

When Lynch read Gifford’s novel, he immediately wanted Nicolas Cage to play Sailor and Laura Dern to play Lula. The actor said that he was “always attracted to those passionate, almost unbridled romantic characters, and Sailor had that more than any other role I’d played.” In Dern’s case, this was the first opportunity she had “to play not only a very sexual person, but also someone who also was, in her own way, incredibly comfortable with herself.” During rehearsals, Lynch talked about Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe with Cage and Dern. Around this time, Lynch bought a copy of Elvis’ Golden Hits and, after listening to it, called Cage and told him that he had to sing two songs, “Love Me” and “Love Me Tender.” The actor, a big Elvis fan, agreed and recorded each song so that he could lip-sync to them on the set.

Before filming started, Lynch suggested that Dern and Cage go on a weekend road trip to Las Vegas in order to bond. Dern remembers, “We agreed that Sailor and Lula needed to be one person, one character, and we would each share it. I got the sexual, wild, Marilyn, gum-chewing fantasy, female side; Nick’s got the snakeskin, Elvis, raw, combustible, masculine side.”

Lynch’s two leads are also on the same page in this respect, especially Cage who affects an Elvis Presley-like drawl and sings two songs made famous by the King. Sailor, like many of the characters in this film, is larger than life with his snakeskin jacket credo, his unorthodox style of dancing (involving martial arts kicks and punches) and his habit of singing Elvis songs to Lula in public. There is a show-stopping moment where he instructs Powermad, a speed metal band, to back him on a note perfect rendition of “Love Me” while the women in the audience scream in adoration in surreal slow motion like something out of a dream. Cage plays Sailor as an instantly iconic figure, where pointing an accusing finger at Marietta is akin to a declaration of war.

Dern plays Lula to gum-chewing perfection, delivering a completely uninhibited performance as Lula. She exudes a captivating sensuality in the way she carries herself and makes a line like, “You got me hotter’n Georgia asphalt,” sound like an enticing come-on. Lula is a young woman full of energy and vitality as is evident in the scene where she and Sailor dance to the music of Powermad. There is genuine chemistry and heat between her and Cage — rather appropriate for a film dominated by images of fire. However, as the film progresses and the tone becomes darker, Lula’s optimism is chipped away and this culminates in a terrifying scene where Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) verbally rapes her in a way that echoes a similar scene in Blue Velvet (1986).

Amidst all of this madness and brutality is a touching tenderness between Sailor and Lula, like the way he softly kisses her after a passionate bout of sex, or a moment where he places her hand over his heart without a word. Nothing needs to be said between them because they understand each other intimately. As she tells him at one point, “You mark me the deepest.” And Lynch takes the time to show a series of conversations between Sailor and Lula where they talk about their respective childhoods (“I didn’t have much parental guidance.” Sailor tells her, not surprisingly.), their dreams, random thoughts, and past relationships. This allows us to get to know and care about them while also taking the occasional breather from all of the weirdness that Lynch throws our way.

Diane Ladd is fantastic as the wicked witch cum mother-from-hell, gleefully chewing up the scenery as evident even in the way she vigorously drinks from her martini glass and the way she delivers threats to Sailor with venomous gusto. Also prevalent is Lynch’s trademark fascination with the dark underbelly of America as personified by the character of Bobby Peru, one of Lynch’s most disturbing psychopaths (right behind Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth). With his horrible teeth and all-black attire (to match his pitch black heart), Peru sets his sights on Sailor and Lula with the intention of killing the former and seducing the latter.

Lynch juxtaposes this darkness with his trademark absurdist humor in the guise of the various oddballs Sailor and Lula meet along the way, like the man at a bar (Freddie Jones) who talks about “pigeon-spread diseases” in a goofy, high-pitched, sped-up voice. Or, Lula’s wildly eccentric cousin, Jingle Dell (Crispin Glover in a memorably bizarre cameo), who believes aliens are after him, enjoys placing cockroaches in his underwear and exhibits odd, nocturnal behavior (“I’m making my lunch!”). There is also a memorable scene that introduces Bobby Peru and his friends, including Lynch regular, Jack Nance in a scene-stealing role as Boozy Spool, a dazed and confused rocket scientist who may have been sampling his own rocket fuel. He delivers a brilliantly surreal monologue that is amongst some of the best moments in any Lynch film and reminiscent of the joyride interlude at Ben’s in Blue Velvet.

Wild at Heart
also features stunning cinematography by Frederick Elmes (who also worked with Lynch on Eraserhead and Blue Velvet). In particular, there is a scene where Lula and Sailor pull over to the side of the road as she is upset and disgusted with all of the terrible news that she’s heard on the radio. He finds Powermad on a station and they get out of the car and dance before embracing passionately. Lynch cuts to a long shot and pans away to a gorgeous shot of a sunset that captures the poetic beauty of this moment perfectly.

Wild at Heart
is a film rich in emotion and feeling as everything is heightened to an operatic level. Surreal is an adjective always used to describe Lynch but he is also a very romantic filmmaker. There is the Douglas Sirkian melodrama of Blue Velvet, the emotional journey Alvin Straight takes in order to reconnect with his brother in The Straight Story (1999), and the town of Twin Peaks dealing with the grief over the death of Laura Palmer. Perhaps the most emotional scene in Wild at Heart is when Sailor and Lula drive along a deserted stretch of highway late and night and while an instrumental version of “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak plays on the soundtrack, he tells her about how he knew her dead father. The reaction she gives is so heartbreaking, like a daughter who realizes that her father isn’t perfect.

Sailor, in some ways, is a father figure to her. He makes her feel protected and she even comments on how some of his physical features resemble her dad’s. This scene represents the first seed of doubt in their relationship. It is the first step off the yellow brick road and this is reinforced by Lula’s nightmarish vision of her mother as the Wicked Witch. And then they come across a horrible car accident and find one person still alive – a woman (Sherilyn Fenn) walking around in shock from a head wound. She eventually dies in Sailor and Lula’s arms. It is a tragic moment accentuated beautifully by Angelo Badalamenti’s moving score. This scene is a crucial turning point in the film as it descends into much darker territory as Sailor and Lula make a series of bad decisions, most notably getting involved with Bobby Peru.

Lynch loved The Wizard of Oz and put a lot of references to it in his own film. Boozy Spool talks about his dog, comparing it to Dorothy’s pooch Toto; Marietta’s picture disappears at the end of the film just like the Wicked Witch; there’s Lula’s vision of her mother as the Wicked Witch of the East; Sailor has a vision of the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee) at the end of the film, who convinces him not give up on love; and Lula clicking the heels of her shoes together after the terrifying encounter with Bobby Peru.

Early test screenings for the film did not go well with the intense violence in some scenes being too much. Lynch estimated that between 100-120 people walked out. The scene in question was the torture and killing of Johnny Farragut. “I didn’t think I’d pushed it to the point where people would turn on the picture. But, looking back, I think it was pretty close. But that was part of what Wild at Heart was about: really insane and sick and twisted stuff going on.” Lynch decided not to edit anything from the film and at the second screening another one hundred people walked out during the same scene. Lynch remembers, “By then, I knew the scene was killing the film. So I cut it to the degree that it was powerful but didn´t send people running from the theatre.”

The film was completed one day before its premiere at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Its first screening was in the 2,400-seat Grand Auditorium and afterwards it received “wild cheering” from the audience. Barry Gifford remembers that there was a prevailing mood among the media that hoped Lynch would fail. “All kinds of journalists were trying to cause controversy and have me say something like ‘This is nothing like the book’ or ‘He ruined my book.’ I think everybody from Time magazine to What’s On In London was disappointed when I said ‘This is fantastic. This is wonderful. It’s like a big, dark, musical comedy.’” When Jury President Bernardo Bertolucci announced Wild at Heart as the Palme d’Or winner at the awards ceremony, the boos almost drowned out the cheers with film critic Roger Ebert leading the vocal detractors.

Wild at Heart
perfectly illustrates Lynch’s love-hate relationship with America. The film is filled with beautifully shot iconography of Americana, like big convertible automobiles from the ‘50s and rock ‘n’ roll music from the period. Sailor and Lula are loving (albeit tweaked) homages to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. It is also something of an underrated film that is often ignored in favor of Lynch’s more well-known work, like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive (2001). One can see the film’s influence in a film like True Romance (1993), with its Elvis-obsessed protagonist and his gum-chewing white trash girlfriend as they are pursued by psychotic gangsters, or Natural Born Killers (1994) with its white trash lovers on the run, or even U-Turn (1997) with its town full of eccentric weirdoes. But no one can pull this stuff off quite like Lynch and his film is a true original that deserves to be re-discovered and re-evaluated.