Monday 31 July 2017


Don't pay too much attention to the cheeky box art that makes this look like an Indiana Jones clone; apart from being made in the 1980s and co-starring Kate Capshaw, it has literally nothing else in common with those films. Venturing into worlds created in other people's dreams, the most obvious comparison would be to Christopher Nolan's Inception, but there's a ton of other influences to include when talking about this film, including Alan J. Pakula's conspiracy thriller The Parallax View, Stephen King's pulpier novels and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. There's no bones about it, Dreamscape is a very peculiar film.

Dennis Quaid (in an early lead role) plays Alex Gardner, a young man with psychic abilities but with no outlet to use them except for winning at the race track. When he is approached by a research facility hoping to unlock the secrets of its patients dreams, Alex becomes a reluctant contributor, but things take a turn for the sinister when Christopher Plummer's government agent sees their research as a way of controlling the President after he starts to have nightmares about a nuclear holocaust.

There's a lot to love about Dreamscape, and not all ironically. As well as some genuinely interesting sci-fi elements and ethical dilemmas, this film has an abundance of kitsch charm to offer, such as casting Cheers' Norm (George Wendt) as a Stephen King-esque author who unwittingly stumbles upon the dark government plot when researching his new book; Maurice (father of Jean-Michel) Jarre's banging soundtrack and the trippy, psychedelic dreamscape effects that although dated, still pack a punch and look great on blu-ray.

One of its aces is the strong cast, supplied by frequent David Lynch casting agent Johanna Ray, which  explains why future Twin Peaks supporting players Chris Mulkey and David Patrick Kelly appear here. Dennis Quaid puts in a solid performance in his first starring role, which when you consider his co-stars are Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer is no easy task. Getting the raw end of the deal is Kate Capshaw, who as Von Sydow's second in command is given little to do except serve as Quaid's love interest.

The best thing Dreamscape has going for it is it's captivating visuals. Connecting brainwaves and entering other people's minds you immediately think of Christopher Nolan's Inception, but rather than the steely, cold world his film portrayed, Dreamscape is all about colour. Although some of the dream journeys Gardner takes are played for laughs (like a hen-pecked husband who dreams of his wife having an affair with his brother) and resemble Bill and Ted's scramble through their cartoony darkest fears in Bogus Journey, others take cues and hues from A Nightmare on Elm Street by creating deep red, shadowy worlds. Even David Patrick Kelly's unhinged psychic psycho has a Freddy Krueger-esque quality to him, to the point where he even uses razor fingers to attack someone.

It's worth noting that Dreamscape co-writer Chuck Russell's first film as director was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a film considered by many to be the high point of the sequels and with similarly visually inventive dream scenarios, and it would be unfair not to state that Dreamscape pre-dates Freddy Krueger's debut in cinemas by a couple of months so any similarities must have fittingly been made subconsciously. With its identical scenario of killing people within their dreams to kill them in real life, it seems 1984 was not a good year to try and get a good night's sleep.

Although not the grand conspiracy thriller it aspires to be, Dreamscape has a great cast and excels at creating visually arresting worlds that still hold up 30 years later.


Bonus Features include:

The Actor's Journey - A new interview with Dennis Quaid about his time making the film
Dreamscapes and Dreammakers - A look back including interviews with the director Joseph Ruben and co-star David Patrick Kelly
Nightmares and Dreamsnakes - looking at the creation of the Snakeman costume
Snakeman test footage
Stills Gallery

Tuesday 11 July 2017


From acclaimed director Pablo Larrain, Neruda is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital.

After opposing the new President in post-war Chile, eccentric poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is forced into exile for his communist views, taking refuge whilst planning his escape from the country with Gael Garcia Bernal's police chief Oscar Peluchonneau hot on his trail. During this time Neruda enlists the help of his supporters to continue to spread his work, with Peluchonneau revealing scandalous details of his personal life in an attempt to discredit him.

The sixth film from Pablo Larrain (and third in two years), if his English language debut Jackie was your first exposure to his work as a filmmaker, Neruda is a solid introduction to his Spanish language films (see also, No and Tony Manero). Larrain's films have always erred on the political side, with most of his work studying the varying impact the Pinochet regime had on his home country of Chile. Neruda is no different, showing how the opposing sides in this cat and mouse game used propaganda to support their own ideologies and political beliefs.

Like Jackie, this is not a complete life story of the title character but more of a snapshot of their life during a time that would come to define them. It lacks the emotional connection that Jackie had, largely down to that film's Oscar worthy central performance of Natalie Portman. That's not to say the performances in Neruda are bad, but they are not as captivating as Portman, but then, not many things are. Larrain's direction is solid, with the story moving at such a pace that it rarely stays in one location for more than one scene; but this does make it dizzying at times, adding to a sense of disconnect as the film purposely never reconciles which of its two central leads we should be behind. You would think Gael Garcia Bernal's fascist officer of the state would be the nominal villain, but this story is never as clean cut as that. Pompous and acutely aware of the power of his celebrity, Gnecco's Neruda is far from the figurehead the uprising would want him to be.

It paints a bleak landscape for Neruda to occupy, but what the film lacks is any real dramatic tension in his pursuit. This could have been the compelling backbone to the film that acts as the driving force for the narrative, but The Fugitive this is not. It's a shame that as a necessity of the story Gnecco and Bernal do not share the screen more, for as representatives of opposing forces using similar methods to spread their word, they make for interesting counterpoints.

Never sure of what is truth, what is fiction and what lies somewhere in between, this is a film about the power of the word and as such suffers somewhat as a cinematic experience. Having said that, there is a level of playfulness with the form (Larrain's use of rear projection during the driving scenes is befitting with the era, if not a little jarring to see), and for those who are looking to expand their knowledge of the films of Pablo Larrain, this unconventional biopic is a great example of what he is capable of.