Tag Archives: Tarsem Singh

CAPSULE: THE FALL (2006)

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DIRECTED BY: (as “Tarsem”)

FEATURING: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Justine Waddell

PLOT: In a Los Angeles hospital, a young girl with a broken arm befriends Roy, a stunt-man paralyzed by a recent accident. Through her eyes, a beautiful vision of his epic yarn unfolds; and, as a quintet of wronged men hunt for the hated Governor Odious in his story, the crippled Roy slips further into suicidal depression.

the_fall

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fans of the movie will likely kneecap me for this, but by placing the free-spirited story within the framing of the realistic (and touching) “actual” narrative, Tarsem has made a movie that, though beautiful and full of the fantastic, is not wholly weird.

COMMENTS: Set all around the globe, but primarily in a turn-of-the-century hospital, the Fall is both a grand, epic adventure and the intense emotional drama of a sick, suicidal man bonding with an impressionable young girl. Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is an ironically named stunt-man who has worked in countless “flickers”. In his latest, his jump from a train bridge on to a moving horse goes awry. Perhaps he intended to kill himself—the movie is noncommittal—but the result is he becomes paralyzed from the waist down. Now crippled, he is also sick at heart, pining for a starlet who cast him aside. Through a chance encounter involving a secret note and a crate of oranges, he meets the young Alexandria (Catinka Untaru, an amazing find on the director’s part), a 5-year-old Romanian fruit-picker, who is in the hospital because of a fall of her own. She has taken to wandering the corridors of the hospital, carrying a “box of things [she] likes” in her hand.

Moods ranging from wonderment to tragedy and back to joy bubble up and dissipate over the course of the film. As Roy’s situation goes from bad to worse, the heroes of the story he tells, originally poised for a quick triumph, get waylaid and thwarted. Alexandria sees the five heroes of the tale largely as described by Roy, but also through her own subjective lens. For instance, Roy mentions one of the heroes being a brave Indian warrior. Alexandria has no knowledge of the Native Americans he is referring to, so she sees in her mind’s eye a glorious Sikh. The main hero of the group, the Masked Bandit, changes too; first he is her father, then a Frenchman, and then finally Roy himself. The epic’s various characters are all based on the hospital’s denizens and visitors (à la the Wizard of Oz). Alexandria even makes herself appear in the story; when Roy is giving up on life, both in the hospital and in the story, a small masked bandit saves the five heroes. And all the while, dozens of fantastical (and, apparently, real-world) locales are explored as the adventurers pursue their sworn enemy. The movie’s unbelievable locales—a blue city, an endless maze of stairs, a glorious wedding temple, among many others—merit research. Apparently little to no CGI was used (somehow).

While the story-within-the-story is a good one, the truly compelling drama unfolds as we see Roy and Alexandria together. He tries to trick her into bringing him enough morphine to end his life, but she misinterprets his handwriting. As he spirals downward, her entreaties for him to keep telling the story—to keep living—become the film’s driving force. Naturally, I cared about the vengeance of the Bandit and his crew, but even more, I wanted to see the stuntman and the little girl. Their story was so charming and moving that every bit of the mundane hospital world still had magic. All told, this movie is both boisterous and heart wrenching — and has an ending for which we can only be grateful.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“These rambling scenes then inform the way the fable unfolds, which at best is impressionistic and dreamlike, but for the most part is just haphazard… The end result is like listening to a little kid tell a story: sometimes intriguingly bizarre and surprisingly clever, but mostly just futile and frustrating.”–Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly (midnight screening)

CAPSULE: THE CELL (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Tarsem Singh

FEATURING: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio

PLOT: To find the whereabouts of a serial killer’s impending victim, who is still alive in captivity, the FBI enlists the aid of a psychotherapy group that has the developed the technology to enter and explore the minds of others.

Still from The Cell (2000)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Cell is a visually impressive movie that holds up pretty well after fifteen years. When not inside the mind of the killer, however, the story falls into the formulaic and serendipitous far too often.

COMMENTS: On the face of it, Tarsem Singh’s the Cell would seem an obvious candidate for Certification. The first long-form work of a music video director visually influenced by the likes of H.R. Giger and the , it features a clip from Fantastic Planet and stars one of the stranger actors of the day (Vincent D’Onofrio). As far as the movie goes with these elements it plows heavily into weird spaces. However, the nightmarish set-pieces are tacked on to a standard serial killer/FBI pursuit procedural. (Or perhaps vice versa—the movie treads a fine line.)

The weird moments are a hoot to watch. Going all-out creepy with the sets and costume, the Cell has wonderful blasts of unsettling vignettes as it explores the mind of Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), first by social worker-turned-psychotherapist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) and, after she gets sucked into that “reality,” by special agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, in one of those “straight” roles I really wish he’d return to).The murderer’s mind is dominated by an entity that acts as the all-powerful king of this grim realm, but there is a flicker of humanity personified by a young boy who represents the vestiges of abused goodness inside. Killer Carl— a seriously unhinged man smashed to pieces by guilt over his past acts and his despair at having been so badly mistreated by his father—also appears in his own mind. (Having suffered from a viral schizophrenic disorder brought on by a particularly heartless baptism didn’t help things, either.)

But aside from split-open-but-living equines, macabre doll-people shadow boxes, obvious (but venerable) surrealist art nods, and a chilling performance from D’Onofrio as the mind’s King, you have perhaps the most run-of-the-mill crime thrillers imaginable. Stargher has been murdering for some time, and one suspects he wants to be caught, but the string of coincidences (albino German Shepherd purchased by the owner of just the right truck stands out as one of several examples) become unbelievable, to the point that the phrase “how convenient” can’t help but spring to mind.

That said, the movie is still pretty neat. Jennifer Lopez is somewhere between adequate and good in her role as a social worker. Her attempts to help a young troubled boy, Mister “E” (whose existence acts as the story’s frame around the frame), are touching. Vince Vaughn does the best he can with a one-dimensional character (his FBI agent apparently was originally a prosecutor who saw one-too-many baddies slip the noose because of good lawyering), and reminded me that he does his best work when not pushing for laughs.

Tarsem Singh’s visually striking opus from 2000 proves to be a decent effort as a qualifying time-trial. In 2006 he opted to go all-out, spending many millions of his own cash for the privilege, for his next movie, the Fall. Although the Cell does not quite hit the mark, there are those who feel his follow-up is a Certified contender; stay tuned.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tarsem takes viewers on wild hallucinatory rides through alien landscapes and diabolical dream worlds that are savage and even erotic.”–Emanuel Levy, Variety (contemporaneous)