Naked Lies (1998) can't be dismissed as just another weak Skinemax cop thriller. First of all, it is a little light on the sex and nudity, and heavy on the plot. The physical locations in Mexico were very nice, as was set decoration and cinematography. Shannon Tweed does very impressive martial arts kicks. The plot had enough elements to make a good film, but they didn't quite do it. It seamed to me like they had numerous rewrites, orphaning some plot elements. For instance, There are two suggestions that Tweed's boss has a drinking problem, and that he and Tweed had some previous relationship, but the subplot was underdeveloped.
The basic problem was that I never felt Tweed was in danger undercover. She was too strong, and seemed in full control of all situations. I will give points for making the Latino bad guy a counterfeiter rather than a drug lord, and making him totally charming. With a little more effort, this could have been a decent modest film. Tweed showed a glimpse of nipple in an early shower scene, and there was a sex scene, in each of the three acts. In the first, Mineko Mori shows breasts and buns in a rather dark and tame simulated sex scene. The hottest of the sex scene occurs in act two, with an unknown blonde having sex with the bad guy on a balcony. She shows all three Bs. Tweed finally has her sex scene in act three, showing breasts, and buns from the side.
IMDB readers have this at 3.4 of 10. As it is, the film is a C-, failing greatness, but marginally acceptable as a genre effort.
Dark City (1998)
Very few films are capable of creating an entirely
different world in which humanity may dwell. When such movies come
along, works of imagination like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, we tend to form cults around them
and we never forget having seen them. There were three great
ones in the 1980's, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and Tim
Burton's Batman, and then the well went dry for about a decade
until, in the dying embers of the previous millennium, there were
two formidable new entries into this arena: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's
City of Lost Children (1995), and Alex Proyas's Dark City (1998).
Dark City features a mini-world in which humans think
they are in charge, but in fact are just stuck in the experiments of
another race, like rats in a very complicated maze. The Strangers are a
dying race who can alter time and space through sheer will, but
cannot figure out how to keep their race from dying out. In fact,
they are melding into a single group consciousness, and losing all
sense of individuality. They admire the liveliness and passion of
humans, and are trying to determine how to incorporate human
emotions, joy, and individuality into their own race. They change
the entire world every night at midnight, when they stop time and
If you erase a mass murderer's consciousness and give
him Albert Schweitzer's memories, will he become a
philanthropist, or will something in his genetic composition steer
him back to murder? And what about our surroundings? If you change
them, do you change us? Probably, but if so, how much? We really
don't know the answer to these questions, and ultimately that's what
The Strangers think they need to know if they are to understand
Rufus Sewell, who appears despite all evidence to
the contrary NOT to be Joachim Phoenix, plays the part of a murderer
who awakens in his bathtub. At least he thinks he might be a
murderer. Some people think he is, but he doesn't remember anything
about anything. In fact, nobody in town seems to really know much
about anything. They aren't sure how to find other parts of town, or
the towns they grew up in. Oh, yeah, and nobody can remember the
last time they saw daylight, but they don't seem to worry about it.
Life isn't always fair, and success in the film
industry is sometimes the most unfair of all life's elements. If
this movie had been a major success on the level of The Matrix,
which it resembles in many ways, Rufus Sewell would now be a major
star. It wasn't, and he isn't. In 1998 he was in at least three
meritorious movies (He appeared in Dark City, Illuminata, Dangerous Beauty, and two
others I haven't seen). In 2002 his only theatrical release was
Extreme Ops, a schlockfest about international war crimes
and snowboarding. Whoa, gnarly, fuhrer dude.
Dark City film revives the old
Expressionist school of cinema. The primary themes of
Expressionism are based in the ongoing human struggle to make sense
of the world around us. Instead of epic heroes who triumph over
adversity, or tragic heroes - great men who collapse from their
tragic faults, Expressionist films present ordinary men as
anti-heroes who simply can't figure out the answers to life. The
original Expressionist films were defined by a unique visual style,
in which powerless men were lost in a confusing and oppressive world
of soul-destroying machines, mass confusion, and horrible creatures,
and in which the settings did not reflect reality, but the emotions
of the characters. Examples include Murnau's Nosferatu, Lang's
Metropolis, and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. That artistic movement
was a product of the German consciousness at the conclusion of WW1.
Germany was defeated, humiliated, and destitute, and the dark mood
of the Expressionists seemed to find an emotional connection to the
depression of the people who lived through those times.
Dark City's revival of German
Expressionism is a clever and completely appropriate conceit, because the
settings in this film are literally the product of the psychology of
The Strangers. When they want to change the settings, they need
only to think about it. The humans are generally oblivious to The
Experiment, since they are re-implanted with false memories and
lives according to the whims and scientific goals of The Strangers.
Humans are simply the rats in their maze, until one human (Rufus
Sewell) acquires the ability to stay awake during the nightly
changes, then starts to investigate the elements of life that don't
make sense (why is there never any daylight, although there is
daylight in their distant memories?), then starts to acquire powers
that match and perhaps even exceed those of The Strangers.
I admire the visualization and pure imagination of
Dark City very much, and I think it succeeds grandly at creating the
mood it seeks, but I do wish the script was coherent. It is just
filled with logical flaws. The Strangers change around many things
every single night, and they need a human to help them (they have
the same relationship with this human that Dracula has with Renfield,
and Kiefer Sutherland even does some kind of Mad German Doctor
accent to play the official Renfield/toady part). They show this Mad
Doctor creating the memory implants and injecting the humans with
them - but wait a minute. If this is the only human who does the
injecting, what happens to the thousands of other humans who wake up
in a world filled with different surroundings from they ones the saw
when they went to sleep? The one doctor doesn't have the time to
create and inject the sera for all those people. In addition, if the
humans only sleep during the nightly "tuning", and the doctor works
all that time, when does the doctor sleep? We know that he does his
lab work during the other times. Apparently he never sleeps, even
though he is a normal human.
The film could make sense if The Strangers only
made some minor changes each night, but we see hundreds of buildings
changing shape during each "tuning". How can it be that nobody
notices? The doctor doesn't have time to inject all of the people
affected by these changes.
Oh, well, I don't think you're supposed to subject
this to any analytical thinking. Expressionism is the art movement
which brings human emotions to life, often divorced from human
logic. You aren't supposed to subject Munch's The Scream to logical
analysis, you're just supposed to feel the pain of the screamer.
You're supposed to let the art wash over you. And it is some very
impressive art simply because it is nearly pure emotion. Although Munch's
painting technique is technically mediocre and the depicted
situation has no logical connection to any specific reality, everyone
who has ever seen that painting can remember it, even if they can't name the artist or the work itself.
Dark City is to cinema as Munch's The Scream is to
painting. It is also some very impressive art, and it is also
approaching the level of pure emotion. It is almost an unquestioned masterpiece like
Blade Runner, except that Dark City has two ingredients that keep it
from that level:
1. Blade Runner's dialogue is almost as
memorable as that in a Shakespearian play.
"I make your eyes"
"If you could see, old man, what I have seen
with your eyes".
Because the humans of Dark City are formed from
generic personalities, they speak generic dialogue. Lacking the
resonant genius of Roy Batty or the resigned noir integrity of
Deckard, Dark City lacks the poetry and eloquence of Blade Runner.
2. Excluding the dialogue, Dark City is as
strong as Blade Runner for about 75 minutes, until Rufus Sewell
finds out all the secrets of Dark City. After that point, there is
an anti-climactic battle between Sewell and The Strangers in which
Sewell goes from being a powerless, confused murder suspect to
possessing the power of God himself. The last 20 minutes play
out exactly like a 1960s Marvel Comics battle between Dr Strange
and Dread Dormammu, and because of this epilogue, the film ended
up losing the essence of what makes Expressionism and film noir so
powerful, namely that the individual can attain only limited personal
triumphs in his battle to retain his soul against the
all-powerful State. He should finish the story with some hope, but
he can't suddenly BECOME the all-powerful state. It is as if Munch
painted another companion piece in which the screamer had a big
smile on his face, because he realized that the cause for his
previous despair was a false alarm.
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