Eastern Promises

Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts in <i>Eastern Promises</i>

The life of a Russian gangster, with a heart. Forget about the story, which is a slight thing, and more than a little obvious. It’s elevated — from an auteurist perspective at least — by Cronenberg’s pedigree, although it’s perhaps the most conventional of the director’s many genre-tweaking exercises. But this expertly modulated B-movie exercise in tension and release is really the Viggo Mortensen show — he spends most of the movie with the kind of confident almost-grin on his face that suggests he’s the only one who realizes that a joke is being told. It’s not until a punishing action scene, in which Mortensen’s Nikolai fights for his life, nude, in a Russian bath house, that he delivers the punchline. Like the superior A History of Violence, Eastern Promises is a deliberately modest but sophisticated (and quite entertaining) accomplishment.

Mulholland Dr.

Early in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., one guy describes a

recent nightmare to another guy over breakfast at a Sunset Boulevard

Denny’s. (It’s called “Winkie’s” on-screen, but it’s clearly a

Denny’s.) Struggling to catch the quality of dream light, he says that

the dream took place in a “half-night.” He may as well be describing an

old Hollywood movie. Scenes that were supposed to take place after dark

were usually shot in broad daylight, with the light filtered or mostly

blocked on the way into the camera. The resulting image has an

inadvertantly unreal quality, where figures cast long shadows even

under cover of alleged darkness. In Hollywood, such photography is

known as “day for night,” but Europeans simply call it “American night”

— the term that gave Francois Truffaut’s essential movie about

moviemaking its title.

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