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Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves

Hollywood loves it’s dark, R rated takes on classic fairytales and Little Red Riding Hood has gotten the treatment a few times, the latest being an ill advised, awful attempt with Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman. To cleanse the pallet of that mess you could check out the gorgeous, creaky, atmospheric hidden gem that is Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves, a lyrical, mesmeric take on the folklore that combines traditional elements with nastier psychological subtext and some terrifying werewolf mythology with effects so gooey they make The Howling look like Balto.

Somewhere in a drafty English countryside manor a young girl (Sarah Patterson) tosses and turns in her sleep as some unknown force beckons her from outside the walls. As we are literally drawn into her subconscious while she slumbers we see her exist in a dream world, living in an enchanted forest with her parents (Steven Rea and Tusse Silberg) and sister. Also with them is her persnickety granny, played with plummy mother-hen fussiness by the great Angela Lansbury. Granny warns her not to venture too far outside the village because werewolves have been sighted, and that the worst kind of wolf a young girl can encounter is one whose fangs are hidden on the inside. This is of course an apparent theme that would fit right in in today’s cultural climate and could teach people a bit about subtlety and restraint when exploring the subject matters. She’s just at that stage between childhood and adolescent that is confusing, alluring and oh so dangerous, and the film uses the fairytale elements to uncover something darker and closer to home lurking beneath. It’s also just a fantastic werewolf flick too, there’s stories within stories told by Lansbury and you can really get lost and swept up in this fantastical world like the dream it ultimately is.

Jordan is a director who clearly cherishes the complexities and challenges of the medium, not one single film he’s released has felt hollow, compromised or candy coated for the masses. This one has absolutely knockout production design, creature effects that will have you covering your eyes (that poor crying toddler when buddy turns into the wolf) and a musical score by George Fenton that’s achingly melodic and threatening in equal doses. As much as all this style is on point though so too are the themes and substance in storytelling, carrying a dense weight that justifies all the visual grandeur. This feels like an important film, albeit absorbed through the scattered prism of a breathless, sweaty nightmare because after all, it is all inside a dream. Until it’s not. One of the best horror films of the 1990’s, nab a Blu Ray if you can but they’re probably scarce. Oh and watch for a diabolical cameo from Terence Stamp too as the Devil himself.

-Nate Hill

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All That We See or Seem: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Dreams and the Subconscious

What happens to us when we sleep? How does our collective and individual subconscious influence the way we exist both awake and dreaming? It’s roughly half our lives, so time spent in the subconscious realms, land of the dead and places beyond mean a lot to our existence as a complete life cycle. There are many films out there that explore these concepts. Some visually, some emotionally but always with a good deal of creativity and imagination. From virtual prisms to nocturnal demons to tangible alternate realities and the deities that dwell therein, it’s a complex, mysterious sub-genre! Here are my personal top ten..

10. Neil Jordan’s In Dreams

A psychic link is established early on between a small town housewife (Anette Bening) and a bizarre, elusive serial killer (Robert Downey Jr). But why are they connected? What do the visions she has even mean, manifesting to her in vague images and abstract impressions that only suggest the evil lurking out there? Jordan is a filmmaker obsessed with mood and style but also dutiful in making sure that such things serve that story and have weight. This is a gorgeous looking psychological fairytale with an avant-garde performance from Downey, breathtaking visuals and excellent supporting work from Aiden Quinn, Stephen Rea and Paul Guilfoyle.

9. Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler

This abnormally surreal piece of midnite movie madness sees a stoic Dermot Mulroney as the titular Rambler on a post-prison meander through a version of America’s southwest that’s been poisoned by abstract qualities and turned on its head. It isn’t explicitly about the subconscious other than a subplot in which a bemused scientist (James Cady) records people’s dreams onto a VHS doohickey, an endeavour that goes wrong in the most hilarious of ways (think Scanners except bloodier). However, I’ve rarely seen a film that captures nightmare logic like this gnarly little piece does. It isn’t ever said whether the Rambler’s journey is all a dream or not, but the feeling one gets as he ambles dazedly from one bizarre encounter to the next, the nonsensical fashion of language used and the overall feeling that one has been lost in some threatening netherworld where sensory input has been scrambled and people are indistinct grotesqueries is overpowering. Be warned with this one, there’s nothing pleasant about it, it exists purely to shock, disgust and disorient, areas in which it thoroughly earns its keep.

8. Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

The most playful film on this list sees Dennis Quaid as a young psychic recruited by government scientist Max Von Sydow to enter the dreams of the US president (Eddie Albert), who has been having some disturbing nightmares. There’s a conspiracy afoot involving a shady government big-shot (Christopher Plummer) and time is running out to decipher the mystery. This is a colourful kaleidoscope of a flick with dazzling special effects, especially in the impressive dream sequences. A giant cobra rears it’s head, mutants leer out from a nuclear wasteland, an eerie, endless staircase descends into darkness and the visual aspect overall is exceptional.

7. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street

Dreams get the slasher treatment with lucrative and legendary results in this lean, mean horror flick that would go on to span a mammoth franchise. Using clever practical effects, an ambient score and Robert Englund’s now iconic performance as dream demon Fred Krueger, Craven sculpts an atmospheric aesthetic for the ages. Johnny Depp’s first role in cinema as well, and he gets eaten by a bed no less. I dare you to google the true story that inspired Craven to write this film, you might just have some nightmares of your own.

6. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika

Dreams as a collective and quite literal parade come tumbling into our world when a therapist’s machine to enter them is stolen by a terrorist. This film truly breaks some boundaries in what storytelling can do and show with animation, and requires several viewings to appreciate the full scope of vision. Kon and his animators thoroughly paint in all the corners and write a dense, chaotic script full of moving parts and wild ideas in telling the story of dreams run amok, with a deft subplot about cinema itself thrown in seemingly just for fun.

5. Jamin Winans’s Ink

This is one I’ve been championing for years, a low budget indie that defies description in ways that you won’t see coming. The multifaceted story is free from the bonds of time and space and sees a mysterious supernatural demon named Ink kidnap a young girl (Quinn Hunchar) and drag her off into the dream realms for some vaguely nefarious purpose which soon becomes appallingly clear. Meanwhile, the forces of light and darkness that rule over our unconscious bodies while we sleep both race to track Ink down and engage in a furious war for the girl’s soul. That seems like a chunk of exposition, doesn’t it? Well it doesn’t even hint at the wonders, revelations, trips to alternate dimensions, flashbacks to several different pasts and narrative twists to come. This is a gorgeously moving fantasy film that works wonders with a scant budget but also gets surprisingly deep and psychological in exploring its human characters, a mini masterpiece that I will recommend until the end of time.

4. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

This is technically my favourite film of all time but I’m trying to gauge this list on which films provide a provocative and comprehensive view of dreams and the subconscious, so here we are at #4. Lynch’s challenging masterpiece involves many aspects and moving parts, but a big influence on narrative is the creeping presence of mysterious spiritual beings that reside in the mythical plane of The Black Lodge and manifest in dreams. Protagonist Laura Palmer has harrowing nightmares that present an illogical, fractured view of the dark forces amassing against her and others who live in the Pacific Northwest town that is filled with secrets. David Bowie also shows up, literally escaping a tangible nightmare very briefly to incoherently warn his FBI buddies about something before being dragged off back to the netherworld.

3. Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky

Yes this is a remake of a Spanish film that also starred Penelope Cruz in the same role she plays here, and I’ve had the discussion many times on which film is better. This one speaks to me far more than the original though, Crowe’s hazy hued, autumn in New York aesthetic is gorgeous and don’t get me started on the amazing soundtrack. Tom Cruise is a bratty publishing heir who discovers the danger of his ways in encounters with two very different women, angelic Cruz and unstable Cameron Diaz. The story is about much more of course but to say too much here would be to ruin it. It’s a fantastic piece of heartbreaking filmmaking with a haunting conclusion and solid supporting turns from Jason Lee, Tilda Swindon, Michael Shannon, Timothy Spall, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Alicia Witt and Kurt Russell.

2. Christopher Nolan’s Inception

An obvious choice no doubt, but this is every bit the magnificent game changer its reputed to be, and a blockbuster with a brain in its head. Combining elements of corporate espionage with dreaming, Nolan tells a magisterial, hugely ambitious tale of Leonardo DiCaprio’s thief of the subconscious and his crew in pulling off a dangerous, near impossible task. What really makes the film work for me though is the relationship with his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard) and how it highlights the toll that entering dreams would take on your psyche as the forces that sculpt reality begin to crack and there’s danger of getting lost in these realms. It’s so much more than just a pseudo heist flick that happens to take place inside a dream world, there’s psychological depth, a rubik’s cube of a narrative to feast on and some truly heartrending moments when we discover just how much power the unconscious mind has over our souls.

1. Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

The hunt for a heinous serial killer ends with his dramatic capture in a spectacular FBI raid. End of story? Not so much, as he’s in a permanent coma and his last victim is still out there somewhere in captivity, with time running out. Jennifer Lopez is a compassionate child psychologist who uses futuristic technology to enter the man’s terrifying subconscious and look for clues, as well as appeal to the side of him that still retains innocence. Singh is a master stylistic storyteller and the images, sound, costumes and visual dreamscapes on display are like eye candy for the spirit and tell this story in an otherworldly fashion that I can’t even describe here. Vincent D’Onofrio is hauntingly complex as the killer, Vince Vaughn grounded and intense as the agent spearheading the search and the eclectic cast includes Patrick Bauchau, Dean Norris, Tara Subkoff, Peter Sarsgaard, Jack Conley, Dylan Baker, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Pruitt Taylor Vince, scream queen Musetta Vander and the late great character actor James Gammon. This is top of my list and one of my favourite films of all time, partly for the gentle yet arresting way it dives into the psyches of several characters, also the pure artistic innovation present in the visuals that are constantly changing, shaping and mapping out the subconscious using picturesque poetry, startlingly graphic horror and an ever present, bewitchingly ethereal score from Howard Shore.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share some of your favourites of this genre in the comments!! More to come as well!

-Nate Hill

Neil Jordan’s MONA LISA

With its dark and seedy narrative, mixed with off beat humor and performances that are as touching as they are ferocious, Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is a wonderful deep cut from cinema’s most often overlooked decade, the 1980s.

Bob Hoskins gives a raw and emotionally charged performance as George, a man that time as well as life forgot while he served time in prison for his mob boss Mortwell, played by a sleazy and smarmy Michael Caine. George’s payoff is driving for a high class escort, the exotic Simoe played by Cathy Tyson.

As George’s infatuation for Simone turns into an a love struck obsession, Simoe starts to groom and manipulate George into a graphic and dangerous odyssy to find her friend lost in the rainy streets and swearty backrooms of London.

Neil Jordan pulls a coup de grâce with this film. Hoskins brings his brutish affability to a dangerous and fearsome world that he’s a stranger to; bringing a physicality and soft sensibility to a role that remains his finest on screen performance that boasts his tough guy persona yet yields the floor to his humor and warmth.

Perhaps one of the more underrated aspects of the film is Michael Caine’s turn as the vile and disgusting antagonist who plays in a shade of grey that remains one of Caine’s more unique turns in a career populated with fabulous performances.

The film excels at its bizarre nature, not only using Nat King Cole’s seminal tune of Mona Lisa, but also Genisis’ In Too Deep in an almost jarring montage that works perfectly and quickly becomes one of the most fascinating aspects of the picture.

Mona Lisa is an unsung classic that finds the sweet spot in the canon that is transgressive cinema. It does not compromise a facet of screen time, spending each frame building a brooding and haunting story of how sometimes love can be a wicked game.

Neil Jordan’s In Dreams


Neil Jordan’s In Dreams will blow you away as far as the style department goes, if being a little short up in terms of story. It’s your serial killer chiller given a supernatural twist a lá The Cell: Annette Bening plays a relatively innocuous woman who shares a sort of psychic bond with a murderer out there somewhere, his motives and actions related to her in atmospheric dream sequences that use specific imagery and sound to provide vague clues. The danger hits closer to home, however, when her own daughter is kidnapped by this killer. Her dreams are dismissed by her shrink (Stephen Rea) and a detective (Paul Guilfoyle), but when her pilot husband (Aiden Quinn) is also put in the crosshairs, she’s forced to use what scant, surreal information she has to track down the source and stop him. He’s played by Robert Downey Jr. of all people, who is already an odd enough choice before you take into account the mop of dreadlocks he’s adorned in once he does show up. He’s menacing enough in his own Downey way, but I can’t help feel it was a bit of a stunt cast on Jordan’s part. The main draw and enjoyment I got out of it is the hyper stylized, meticulously lit dream sequences that could be lifted right off the screen and put on canvas, they’re simply gorgeous. The story just can’t seem to keep up with the visuals though, it’s a retread we’ve seen many a time without much deviation from the path. Still, the colour palette and stark imagery hold enough power to deem this a winner in that respect. 

-Nate Hill

Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Neil Jordan’s film version of Interview With The Vampire is simultaneously one of the most sumptuous and tedious visions of the affliction to ever hit cinema. On the one hand, it’s an absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric and old worlde glance at two damned souls who carry out their macabre destiny with flair and vicious grace. I say tedious as some kind of bitter compliment, because no other film has quite captured the internal torture of eternity or the nocturnal gloom that must prevail over such an existence quite as well as this film has. It barely runs over two hours and we feel like we’ve been planted in front of the screen for years. Such is the dedication of director Jordan, a sneakily versatile gent who augments his stylistic and tonal approach to whatever material he is working with. The film is exciting and raises a pulse, but only on its terms, and for long periods of time we sit through languishing despair that no doubt adds to the mood, but exists to serve the psyches of our two leads, and dares the viewer to suffer alongside them. I have somewhat of a bone to pick with certain producers behind the scenes who no doubt had a forceful hand in the casting of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. You see, author Ann Rice had her heart set on a filmic version starring Rutger Hauer as Lestat, and Lance Henriksen as Louie. Now, Cruise and Pitt are at the utter opposite end of casting types in Hollywood, and while Jordan is never a guy to compromise or chase stars right off that bat, I am still sour when I think of the film we’ll never see, starring two actors infinitely more fascinating and vampiric that Brad and Tom. Nevertheless, I have som much appreciation for the film that I can’t take it too hard, and remain a steadfast fan. Pitt plays Louie, a depressed Louisiana plantation owner with nothing left, especially to lose. He meets roaming vampire Lestat (Cruise), who promptly turns him, and the two embark on a century spanning odyssey of nighttime escapades, thoroughly fraught with homoeroticism. It’s isn’t so much an organized narrative as it is a lengthy look at these two, trapped by their condition and making the bitter best of it. They meet others along the way, including Armand (a slinky Antonio Banderas), Santiago (Jordan regular Stephen Rhea, lively evil incarnate) and Claudia, a child who Louie turns. She’s played by Kirsten Dunst in the best performance of the film. A young girl with the vampire curse thrust upon her at such an age, who mentally matures into a steely, furious woman trapped in the body of a ten year old. Not many actresses could succeed at that, but she is a spitfire little shryke who dominates every scene. All this is being retold by Louie to a 1990’s journalist (Christian Slater) who morphs from bemused disbelief to cold terror, and eventual morbid fascination. It’s a slog to get through, but an ornately beautiful one with some really bloody effects and the always terrific stewardship of Neil Jordan, whose films are never short of mesmerizing, whichever genre they fall into. A dark, dingy horror with lacy elegance at its core.