The Machinist (2004), or Hitchcocked

2 12 2009

If I could find one word to describe The Machinist, it would be Hitchcock. Is it creepy? Yes. Is it thrilling? Yes. Is it a psychological horror that delves into the blurring line of reality and nightmares from the perspective of an insomniac? Yes. But all these things pale in comparison to the fact that this is SUCH a Hitchcock movie. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I posit that director Brad Anderson is the world’s most devoted Hitchcock fan. In every way I can think of, this brings to mind Hitchcock’s earlier works, such as The Rope or Suspicion, the way it builds tension with deliberate pacing, a painfully slow-building score, and camerawork that is unpredictable and far from steady. And while Anderson is no Hitchcock, if you’re going to make an homage, you might as well do it for one of the greatest directors who ever lived, because some of the greatness might just rub off on you!

Trevor Reznik can’t sleep. In fact, he hasn’t been able to sleep in a year! The effects on his health has been drastic; he is as thin as a rail and he looks dog-tired all the time. He works at a machine shop, where most people avoid him nowadays because of his gaunt figure and his tired, quiet demeanor. The only solace in his life is a prostitute named Stevie who listens to him and tries to make him feel better. One day, though, his life takes a turn for the worse when an accident around the shop costs a man his arm, and he takes the brunt of the blame from everyone. Trevor blames it on a worker who distracts him named Ivan, but nobody in the shop has ever met him or heard about him. He tries to find the man so he can clear his name, but nothing around him is making much sense. He starts having odd imagery flash into his head, he gets irrational fears about little things, Ivan appears in the periphery of his vision, threatening and terrifying, and mysterious messages come in the form of small clues to him about the identity of the man calling himself Ivan. Nothing is coming together for Trevor, it seems. Can he solve the mystery of the mysterious Ivan and try to piece his life together before it’s too late?

Christian Bale deserves some mention for the reason anyone knows anything about this movie. He dropped a LOT of weight to play insomniac Trevor Reznik, and the look adds a lot to the performance. Nearly 60 lbs of healthy weight lost to sleep deprivation seems like a lot, but I’ve never NOT slept for a year, so what do I know? Bale’s performance even recalls Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, the paranoid man with failing health but a vivid imagination. It’s a remarkable performance, and it’s what sets the tone for the whole picture. The other members of the cast are all right, decent enough, but how can you honestly stand up against Bale’s sacrifice as an actor? Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Stevie was very likable, and it was good to see her in pictures again, after what seemed like years since I last caught her in anything. Michael Ironside sleepwalks rather lazily as Miller, the guy who loses an arm to Reznik’s run-in with Ivan, but lazy Michael Ironside is STILL Michael Ironside, so I enjoyed my salty character acting silently. And keep an eye out for John Sharian, who plays the enigmatic Ivan. He is a great up-and-coming character actor; he really brings the weird to the movie with his creepy appearances. More than once his presence sent a chill up my spine.

Brad Anderson is an interesting director. He’s not nearly as visually dynamic as Hitchcock was, but here he uses the effects of tone and framing to really put us into the frame of mind of a man who has not slept in a year. Surroundings are blurry, the colors are sickly and unhealthy, the shot is never centered, but rather hung like an old photo in the saddest corner of the room. He does a lot to bring out the tension through the Trevor’s worsening dementia. He tries to keep it together in front of people, and part of the drama is in whether or not he can. He begins to feel like everything is wrong, like everything is against him, and while we don’t know who is doing this to him, part of this deep, confusing conundrum lies with him. Anderson keeps us guessing throughout as to just who Trevor is as a character, and I think that is the greatest feat of this film.

The Machinist might not be for everybody. It’s slow, it’s not exactly action-packed, and watching Christian Bale barely live is kind of unsettling after a while. But when you really get into the mindset for a psychological horror film, this is a good pick to make. It has a lot of stylistic flourishes that recall a certain portly director, a lot of confusing puzzle-box moments, and a scene where Michael Ironside gets his damn hand ripped off in a lathe! What more could you want?!?! I give The Machinist 7 1/2 skinny minis out of 10.

Tomorrow I challenge the movie gods with Jason and the Argonauts! Until then!

Network (1976), or Syndicated Madness

2 12 2009

Thanks to Jason for recommending this film to me! It was a joy to watch this, and it’s always good to know you’re not the only one out there who has seen something. Even though it’s considered a classic, that doesn’t mean anyone in your town has seen it!

Sidney Lumet’s classic look into the executive mindset of 1970s television begins with a firing. Howard Beale, long-running anchor for UBS television network. He’s been loyal to the network for decades, but none of that seems to matter to the executives. Depressed and angry beyond consolation, he spouts out angrily at the end of a broadcast that he will commit suicide live on camera. The execs decide to pull him from the line-up immediately, but not before one final broadcast so that he might leave with some dignity. Beale’s last night on the air, though, is far from dignified, however, as he spews an angry rant at his bosses, the network, and society in general. While the executives are outraged, they soon find that the ratings have skyrocketed, and Beale’s vitriol seems to be just what America is looking for. One young producer named Diana Christensen, sees Beale’s antics as a chance to change the face of the network by merging entertainment with news. She starts planning a new show with real political extremists to hype up ratings while simultaneously building up Beale to be something gaudy and psychotic. They give him his own show and bill him as a mad prophet, allowing him to vent his psychotic frustrations on the air for all his new-found fans to eat up. Will Christensen succeed with her plans to turn the media into even more of a spectacle? Will Beale go too far with his diatribes? Will any of this insanity ever stop as long as the ratings are good?

Network is an eerie forerunner to the future. In a day and age where entertainers like Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, and Rush Limbaugh steer the news like oarsmen on an unmoored boat ride to Who-Knows-Where, Network seems even more relevant than ever before! It’s a story about the lunatics running the asylum, but the administrators still come by to watch the insanity and reap their reward from the duped and the swindled. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Oscar-winning writer of The Hospital, it’s a hilarious, frightening, and completely unpredictable look at the world of the modern media machine, and how news quickly turns to firebrand tactics at the flick of the switch, and how ratings are the bottom line in American broadcasting. Well written, punchy dialog takes this film from great to excellent, and with legendary lines like, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”, its a story that’s cemented in the annals of cinema forever.

A fantastic cast gives Network its real power. Peter Finch is the spirit behind this film. He plays Howard Beale to uproarious effect, the news anchor who totally loses it and becomes beloved by America for it. This was his last role before his death, and he remains only one of two people to ever receive a posthumous Oscar for acting. He really sells himself as a man pushed over the edge. He seems so normal in the beginning, but perhaps he was crazy the whole time, because the utter strangeness in his performance during the clip above really makes me question who this character is. Faye Dunaway is delightfully campy as Diana Christensen, the producer from hell who is determined to shake things up in UBS. She has an agenda, she has a plan, and even though at times she gets in over her head, she is one vicious lady. Dunaway plays her rough, mean, and close to the chest, frightening any man in the scene with her a little bit. I like it. I also enjoyed William Holden as Schumacher, the news division President of UBS. He’s the reliable old guard character that Holden played so well in his later years. Holden makes him brazen, unshakable, but emotionally genuine, especially when it comes to the treatment and exploitation of his old buddy Howard Beale. And remember how Jason mentioned a young Robert Duvall in this when he recommended this? He’s here, and he’s damn good as Christensen’s boss, Frank Hackett. He was authoritative even back then! He’s a pushover for Dunaway’s Christensen, but I wouldn’t want to disobey an order from him, because Duvall looks like he would bust someone’s jaw in his sprightly youthful frame and his character’s rough demeanor.

Damn it, watch Network! I think it’s definitely top-notch, a true American classic that has grown even more relevant as time has gone on. The madness inherent in our 24-hour news networks resembles all-too vividly Howard Beale’s shock-value entertainment news, and so hopefully the prophetic ending of Network, while highly unlikely, does not come to resemble our present in any day and age. It’s exceptionally acted, well-written, and immaculately shot, and for that I give Network 10 Mad Prophets out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Stay with me, folks! The Machinist is coming up!

P.S- On a side note, I like Jon Stewart, and think he’s hilarious. But he is not a real news outlet, so I felt compelled to use him as an example.