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Wild at Heart(1990)
If Lula knows one thing in this world, it's that she's destined to be with her ex-con boyfriend Sailor no matter how many times her mama tries to kill him. But when she and Sailor finally hit the road in a desperate bid to find happiness, their journey plunges them into a disturbing underworld filled with sexual secrets and dangerous desires that form a terrifying "tapestry of human extremity" (Variety).
For more about Wild at Heart and the Wild at Heart Blu-ray release, see Wild at Heart Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 23, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, J.E. Freeman
Director: David Lynch
» See full cast & crew
Wild at Heart Blu-ray Review
Natural Born Lovers.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 23, 2014
There are very few directors whose films make such an impression that lots of viewers can recount the first time they watched a movie by that given individual. One of this select few is undoubtedly David Lynch. I still remember being dragged off to an art house in San Francisco by a buddy of mine who had just gone to see Eraserhead and was going back for a second helping (of not quite dead yet chicken, perhaps?) and wanted company. I sat in stunned silence throughout the film, not having the slightest idea if Lynch was a genius, a madman, or some new mutant combination of the two, a reaction I daresay has been shared manifold times by other film fans as they've experienced any number of Lynch outings. Eraserhead took a while to find its cult audience, but it was apparent to anyone who loved film that this extremely odd little outing announced an incredibly distinctive talent, something that became completely obvious with Lynch's first mainstream feature, The Elephant Man. Lynch stumbled pretty badly four years later with his flawed but still quite fascinating take on Frank Herbert's massive Dune franchise, but he rebounded rather spectacularly with Blue Velvet in 1986, a film which seemed to state unequivocally that Lynch was through playing "Hollywood" and was going to make films his way, come hell or high water. Lynch only doubled down on that attitude with his follow up to Blue Velvet, his still extremely controversial ode to crime thrillers and maybe even film noir that was roundly decried by a host of critics upon its release but which still managed to capture the Palme d'Or that year at Cannes (a disparity of critical reaction that was certainly nothing new to Lynch). Lynch's in your face approach with Wild at Heart can still be off putting, and the film is most decidedly an acquired taste, especially for those who want narrative clarity and at least some normative hook to anchor otherwise bizarre proceedings.
Though some cynics might be tempted to play it safe and answer, "Oh, about two hours" if asked "what is Wild at Heart about", the fact is there actually is a narrative through line in the film, and a rather basic one at that, though in typically Lynchian fashion it is surrounded—well nigh buried, some might argue—by a glut of both interstitial and sidebar anecdotal elements that the film probably feels busier and more chaotic than it actually is. At its core, Wild at Heart is a (more or less) simple love story between Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage), a probably well intended but hopelessly dunderheaded Southern guy with an incipient rage problem, and Sailor's girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern), an only slightly aging Lolita who has already been around the block a time or two but who has weathered her personal crises surprisingly well. In fact, Lula's biggest problem is wrestling with her psyche over some past traumas, but instead the present trauma of her harridan mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd, Oscar nominated for this role). Marietta fancies herself an only slightly aging Lolita, but she finds to her dismay that at least one man—Sailor, of course— can easily resist her advances.
Lynch announces both his arty side and his pulpy proclivities within seconds of the film's opening. The first image in fact is repeated throughout the film—matches being set ablaze. It's a not particularly subtle reference to "playing with fire" or the dangers inherent in several of the relationships depicted in the film. But sidling right up next to something that supposedly metaphoric is the extreme, almost cartoonish, violence of the first sequence, where Sailor rather savagely beats a guy who had the temerity to pull a knife on him. That peccadillo sends Sailor to the joint, and gives brief hope to Marietta that she can keep Lula and Sailor apart, even if it's for selfish reasons.
The bulk of Wild at Heart actually plays out after Sailor gets released from prison and he and Lula are reunited (along with their little child Pace, conceived before Sailor did hard time). That sends Marietta into (even more of) a rage, and she throws caution to the wind by utilizing a comic coterie of stooges to kill Sailor. Two of the would be assassins are men under Marietta's thumb (one played by Harry Dean Stanton), will the third is a disabled woman who might have been just as at home in Lynch's Twin Peaks. Sailor and Lula may in fact sense the net is closing in on them, but they're blithely content to simply while away the hours driving through the south and stopping occasionally to make passionate love.
The film seems to take a slight detour once the two end up in the wonderfully named town of Big Tuna, where Sailor falls under the spell of a slimy local criminal named Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), while also commiserating with another criminal with a more attractive façade, Perdita Durango (Isabella Rossellini, looking positively bizarre in a bleach blonde wig, but still with her immense dark black eyebrows). Up until this part of the film, though, Lynch's narrative structure has been relatively straightforward, even if it labors under the weight of being stuffed with too much extraneous material.
Some of that effluent is just downright opaque by most measures. Lynch crams untold references to The Wizard of Oz into Wild at Heart, including several scenes of action being "seen" inside a crystal ball, an allusion to the Wicked Witch of the West, and an outright depiction of Glinda the Good Witch, who comes to Sailor in a vision late in the film to deliver the supposed "moral of the story". There is also a somewhat more character-centric focus on Elvis Presley, an ostensible doppelganger for Sailor (even if it means Cage seems to be auditioning for the finale of Honeymoon in Vegas throughout this film).
Those who are already indoctrinated in the wild and wooly ways of David Lynch will be able to go with the flow fairly easily throughout Wild at Heart. The film actually ends up feeling like a mélange of styles at times, with Lynch poking around "lovers on the lam" tropes with a couple of winking nods to noir and crime thrillers. But a lot of Wild at Heart actually feels like a weird mash up of films like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and the Coens' Raising Arizona (the first of which of course came after this film). The in your face manic intensity of Stone's opus is perhaps only slightly moderated in Lynch's film, while Wild at Heart evinces much the same off kilter sweetness that made that other Nicolas Cage film so appealing. That's the thing about Lynch—his isn't the didactic, intellectual surrealism of, say, Salvador Dali. In this film, Lynch manages to plumb the depths of the subconscious through an unexpected pathway—the human heart.
Wild at Heart Blu-ray, Video Quality
Wild at Heart is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Lynch's typically vivid palette is brought lustrously to life in this high definition presentation, with such standouts as Dern and Ladd's blood red lipstick really popping with a lot of intensity. The image is quite grainy at times, especially in some of the darker sequences. What might be perceived as a soft transfer is at least partially attributable to Lynch's use (along with DP Frederick Elmes) of diffusion filters, something that casts a kind of "golden era" gauziness on otherwise fairly sordid proceedings (it's almost exactly the same approach the two utilized Blue Velvet ). There are some brief distractions like dirt and white specks that show up with a fair amount of regularity, and general clarity is slightly inconsistent, but overall this is a very nice looking transfer. Aside from some very minor haloing evident in a couple of moments, the image does not appear to have been digitally tweaked in any significant way.
Wild at Heart Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lynch throws so much visual information at the viewer that some audience members will probably only have a subliminal reaction to the sound design of Wild at Heart, but it's quite creative in its own way and is certainly heightened by the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 repurposing offered on this disc (for the record, there's also a standard DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix available). From the thundering LFE as the first matches are lit and the credits appear, to such wonderful segues as a shot morphing into the echo of the tin sign identifying Big Tuna warping in the wind, Wild at Heart's soundtrack is surprisingly nuanced and offers good, if somewhat inconsistent, utilization of the surround and subwoofer channels. Dialogue and the film's quirky score (by Angelo Badalamenti, who sounds like he was listening to lots of Bruckner while writing this) are also very cleanly and clearly presented in a track that boasts excellent fidelity and no problems whatsoever.
Wild at Heart Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Wild at Heart Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
David Lynch maybe doesn't seem to be a touchy-feely sort of guy, but if you look just beneath the frenetic surface of Wild at Heart, there's a fairly basic love story that plays out like a post-modernist take on an old Douglas Sirk melodrama. Despite its patent oddities, Wild at Heart is surprisingly sweet natured, if it's also just as (probably unsurprisingly) bizarre, surreal and downright strange. It's David Lynch--did you expect anything less? This Blu-ray offers solid video and audio and comes with some great supplements ported over from the DVD. Recommended.
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