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Laurel Canyon
DVD disk
Oct 6, 2004 By: Bob Menard
Laurel Canyon order
Director:
Lisa Cholodenko

Actors:
Frances McDormand
Christian Bale
Kate Beckinsale

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A stuck-up, Ivy League couple, Sam (Bale) and Alex (Beckinsale), move in to Sams freewheeling, pot smoking, record producing mother Janes (McDormand) semi-lavish west coast pad while they finish their studies. Everything goes according to plan for the reserved young couple, but is their relationship strong enough to withstand the temptations that come with their new surroundings in Laurel Canyon?
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Director Cholodenko brings the same kind of understated yet comprehensive storytelling that she showcased in her critically acclaimed debut, HIGH ART, here. This is one of those movies that just takes you along for the ride, never forces you in one direction or another but resists monotony by genuinely surprising you with scenes showcasing charged sexuality that come across as candid and real, as opposed to gratuitous and smutty. Not an easy task. The animosity that the son harbors towards his mother for an upbringing he resents, may be hard to comprehend for those of us who grew up in a blue-collar environment (I mean, cmon, who wouldnt want to grow up living the rock n roll lifestyle), but while it is being unraveled on screen, I couldnt help but empathize with him. Every relationship in this film is at once complicated, real and tryingnot unlike yours or mine, and that says a lot about this film as a whole.

The acting, as you might expect from a talented cast like this, is phenomenal at worst. Christian Bale makes it look easy, and you get the feeling while watching him that even with an extremely layered character like Sam, who runs a gamut of emotions, he hasnt even begun to scratch the surface of his ultimate talent. Frances McDormand delivers time and time again, and this role feels like it was written for her. I think its about time people let her shed the Marge Gunderson persona and realize what a talented actress she truly is. Without her as the anchor, this film very well could have floated off course. Kate Beckinsale is also good as the shy bookworm who undergoes a sexual awakening, although her character did get on my nerves at times-- not sure if that was the filmmakers intention. Alessandro Nivola and Natascha McElhone also give good performances as the rock star who lures Alex out of her shell and the temptress colleague that makes Sams emotional situation that much more complex.

The music in the film could be considered one of its stars as well. A large portion of the story deals with the music industry and the lifestyle of the people that inhabit it, and it goes a long way in helping to tell the story. The score, by Shudder to Thinks Craig Wedren, complements - rather than fights with - the foreground avant-rock tracks that were arranged and written by Sparklehorse singer/songwriter, Mark Linkous and performed in the film by The New Folk Implosion with Alessandro Nivola actually singing his parts. Using actual musicians helped to add an air of authenticity to the musical side of the story, which in turn, made other aspects of the film feel as though they were based deeper in their own reality. Keep an eye out for cameos by Canadian singer/songwriter and uber producer, Daniel Lanois, and the afore mentioned Mark Linkous.

As a whole, Laurel Canyon is an intelligent art house with a budget film that convincingly explores how different people react when faced with extraneous circumstances, and how physical and mental attraction can extend beyond the borders of a seemingly perfect relationship. Its a character study in family, fidelity, trust and tolerance, all wrapped up in a nice little blanket of suppressed emotions. Warm and fuzzy isnt it.
THE EXTRAS
There isnt a whole lot in the way of extras on the disk. Youve got the staple Director Commentary and a somewhat insightful featurette (more on those in a second) as well as Cast and Crew Bios, a few trailers and a weblink to check out additional info online. Now, back to the bulk of the extras. I managed to make it through the featurette, but just by the skin of my teeth. It is basically the director, talking about various aspects of the film, from the inspiration for the story to the music, to the cinematography etc. Unfortunately though, she has one of those monotone voices that have a tendency to lull me to sleep (picture the ladies from the SNL radio show skit Delicious Dish, on downers). I tried twice to get through the commentary track, but by the twenty-minute mark, I was out like a light. This isnt meant as a diss towards her by any means, but something in her voice obviously triggered the narcoleptic in me. Hopefully it doesnt do the same for you.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
If melancholy, introspective films with major sexual overtones and ambiguous endings are your bag, then by all means add this one to your collection. But otherwise, its rather slow moving pace might be better suited for a single, Sunday afternoon romp. Theres a lot to look at in this film, but other than the visuals, there really isnt anything here that would warrant multiple viewings.
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