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DVD Talk review of 'David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE'

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DVD Talk review of 'David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE'

Old 08-10-07, 12:27 PM
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DVD Talk review of 'David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE'

I read Preston Jones's DVD review of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE at http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=29701 and I don't think it was fair to give the video a low rating like that. You're leading people, who don't know anything about the film, to initially think that there is a problem with the DVD video, which isn't the case. You had problems with the style and look of the film, not the video transfer. The video transfer appears to be a perfect transfer of what I saw in the theatre.

Also you mention that one shouldn't "expect to want to revisit INLAND EMPIRE anytime soon". Your opinion, of course, but I think the people that love the film will want to see it again fairly soon. Everyone else will probably never want to see it again. But maybe that's just understood.
Old 08-10-07, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Drop
Also you mention that one shouldn't "expect to want to revisit INLAND EMPIRE anytime soon". Your opinion, of course, but I think the people that love the film will want to see it again fairly soon.


Lynch films are built for multiple viewings - and I suspect viewers that make the journey will want to watch it again. There's a lot to take in and re-assemble. My guess is most others will have bailed on it long before the credits.

Last edited by Pointyskull; 08-10-07 at 12:34 PM.
Old 08-10-07, 01:20 PM
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Yes - for a Lynch fan, at least - this may well be his most re-watchable movie. And as much as this film is a step forward into an entirely new direction, it's also a summation of his career up to now. The connections, jokes, allusions, and overall meta-ness with respect to his entire catalog is something that Lynchologists will be unpacking for years.

And, yes, the review is quite unfortunate on the video quality side, and this is not particularly forgiveable. The only criteria upon which a DVD transfer can be judged is whether it faithfully presents the film as intended, which was confirmed by my brief, random viewing of the disc last night (more to determine which audio option I'll prefer when I sit down to watch it all tonight).

The reviewer even acknowledges that the look was intentional, and that presumably he believes the DVD accurately captures this, but goes on to substitute his opinion for how Lynch should have shot this film. Those "two stars" represent his opinion of Lynch's cinematography, not the video transfer. To put it mildly, I find that opinion to be simply inconsequential.
Old 08-10-07, 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
Those "two stars" represent his opinion of Lynch's cinematography, not the video transfer. To put it mildly, I find that opinion to be simply inconsequential.
I haven't seen the disc in question and can't speak for the reviewer, but I look at the star ratings as being a combination of subjective and objective. To give 4 or 5 stars to a perfect representation of a rough-hewn movie would confuse and annoy most of our readership.
Old 08-10-07, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Adam Tyner
To give 4 or 5 stars to a perfect representation of a rough-hewn movie would confuse and annoy most of our readership.
Well, condescend to us if you wish, but we actually understand this stuff quite a bit better than you presume.
Old 08-10-07, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
Well, condescend to us if you wish, but we actually understand this stuff quite a bit better than you presume.
Unfortunately, you don't speak for the entire readership. We get quite a lot of complaints here for giving high ratings to movies that have visible film grain, or are otherwise stylized in a manner that isn't "looking through a window" HD video-quality, intentionally or not.

In any case, the star rating scale really needs to balance the faithfulness of the transfer with the overall look of the film in equal measure. Even the most absolutely perfect transfer of Inland Empire is still going to look like crap on people's TV screens, and they need to be prepared for that.
Old 08-10-07, 04:32 PM
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I have to concede that you guys know your readership better than I do, and there's certainly nothing wrong with catering to them. I still think it's a shame you feel you must dumb it down quite so much, but I guess such is de rigueur for a website that has to appeal to a large, mainstream audience.
Old 08-10-07, 06:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
I have to concede that you guys know your readership better than I do, and there's certainly nothing wrong with catering to them. I still think it's a shame you feel you must dumb it down quite so much, but I guess such is de rigueur for a website that has to appeal to a large, mainstream audience.
I honestly don't consider it dumbing it down. It's an honest reaction to the look of the movie.
Old 08-10-07, 06:59 PM
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I agree with Josh.

I'd suggest ignoring the star ratings, really, and focusing instead on the text of the review. A (hopefully!) well-thought out description is going to be more meaningful than an arbitrary, ambiguous number. The star ratings are meant as a quick reference.
Old 08-11-07, 12:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
I have to concede that you guys know your readership better than I do, and there's certainly nothing wrong with catering to them. I still think it's a shame you feel you must dumb it down quite so much, but I guess such is de rigueur for a website that has to appeal to a large, mainstream audience.
I dunno but that seems kinda condesending...
Old 08-11-07, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
I have to concede that you guys know your readership better than I do, and there's certainly nothing wrong with catering to them. I still think it's a shame you feel you must dumb it down quite so much, but I guess such is de rigueur for a website that has to appeal to a large, mainstream audience.
Oy vey. It's not dumbing anything down, as the reviewer clearly states what the transfer is and what it looks like in the review itself. If there's any "dumbing down," it's in using a star rating system at all, which is what leads to endless threads of complaint about how dare we give such and such a movie 4 stars if we gave such and such other movie only 3.5 stars.
Old 08-11-07, 10:50 AM
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This is why I think the simple star rating to me is not always a good factor to use to judge video quality. Detailed reviews are just the way to go.

There will always be the issue of how a director wanted a film to look versus everything looking like perfect and highly detailed HD photography. As well as situations were what we are looking at is not how the film should look yet gets high ratins just cause it looks good.

Similar issue with sound as well.
Old 08-13-07, 01:15 PM
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I saw this film twice over the weekend via the new DVD. I think it's among Lynch's 3-4 finest works, representing an evolution (not devolution) of his aesthetic, and rates among the most visually inventive and fascinating-looking films I've ever seen. The dark reaches of negative space that digital video creates within its blur and murk is the very sort of void that Lynch could only hint at in "Lost Highway". It is, in turns, grotesque and gorgeous; horribly decrepit and ravishingly beautiful; muddily, maddeningly opaque and strikingly stark. It is, undeniably, a post-celluloid aesthetic.

Lynch may not be the first director to arrive at this point, but certainly he has arrived: "Film is like a dinosaur in a tar pit. People might be sick to hear that because they love film, just like they loved magnetic tape. And I love film. Itís so beautiful. But I would die if I had to work like that again."

INLAND EMPIRE looks like crap. I know that's intentional and that Lynch is giddy about the opportunity to play with DV, claiming it liberates him in ways film never could. Fair enough - but there's atmosphere and then there's just muddy, digitally compressed messes that pull you out of the creepy goings-on and make you think, "Wow, for someone who obsesses over deleted scenes from 'Twin Peaks' looking top-notch, this really looks terrible." Plenty of smearing, blown-out contrast, aggressive edge enhancement and washed-out colors abound -- when you can see what's actually transpiring, that is. Much of INLAND EMPIRE takes place in dark, claustrophobic rooms, which means much of the film is spent squinting at the screen, trying to figure out what the hell you're looking at. I applaud Lynch's embrace of modern filmmaking technology, but plead with him to remember he's still making a film. As such, there are a few rules that need to be followed in order to make something watchable.
And what, pray, might those rules be?

Like I noted in posts above, the reviewer substitutes his own standards of how a "proper film" should look, and takes marks off the video transfer review for Lynch having failed to meet the same.

But such is a completely irrelevant standard. Does one take marks off a video transfer grade when a filmmaker uses stock footage, such as Tarkovsky in "The Mirror" or Kubrick in "Strangelove"? Or when directors purposefully age or distress the film stock like Stan Brakhage, Guy Maddin, or Elias Merhige? Or, for that matter, when directors like Lars von Trier or David Lynch shoot DV in a way that emphasizes the medium itself (that is, doesn't try to "pass it off as film" like, for example, Bergman's "Saraband".)?

I suspect that on this forum and among this very conservative group of reviewers you see chiming in here, the answer is "yes". But that sort of reactionary rigidity is nothing more than another way of saying that such an aesthetic grates on that particular reviewer's normative notions of what constitutes "proper filmmaking". It has nothing whatsoever to do with grading a digital video transfer, for which the only proper standard is whether it accurately captures the filmmaker's intended look.

So, tell it like it is. Write: "I'm downgrading the video grade not because of any deficiencies in the transfer, but because I am gripped by an extremely conservative view of what may constitute the proper look of a film, and thus have a fundamental disagreement with this particulary director who rejects such aesthetic requirements."
Old 08-13-07, 01:54 PM
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Listen, I'm a David Lynch fan from way back, but that doesn't mean I'm going to play the role of apologist for every hare-brained artistic decision that he makes. You go ahead and convince yourself that the hideous DV look was a good idea if that helps you to enjoy the movie. Personally, I think it's the work of a once-talented filmmaker who's become self-indulgent and fallen into the trap of believing that any idea he may have is automatically genius.

Lynch says he hates the frustration of working with film, but it's precisely that frustration that teaches directors discipline and forces them to decide which of their ideas are really worth shooting. Lynch had no such constraints on Inland Empire, and it shows. He simply shot anything that came to mind the minute it came to mind, with no weeding out process whatsoever.
Old 08-13-07, 02:10 PM
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I actually thought it looked good for most of the movie, with some truly ugly shots thrown in. I agree it could have been tightened up a little, but found it to be a very fun ride that was a little too weird for weirds sake.

Isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it is a very entertaining lil piece of experimental filmmaking. David Lynch's acid warped home videos.

That said, aren't there better cams now? The Sony PD150 can't be the best there is in that division.

Last edited by RichC2; 08-13-07 at 02:12 PM.
Old 08-13-07, 02:44 PM
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All of those breathless, wordy and dizzyingly pretentious defenses of Lynch's genius aside, I'm going to echo Josh a bit.

Lynch has, throughout his career, always been someone who placed a premium upon how a film looked. Ask anyone familiar with his canon and the word "style" will pop up almost immediately. Hell, take a look at the recent "Eraserhead" DVD - that flick is celebrating its 30th birthday this year and looks magnificent. The potential for it to look terrible certainly existed, but Lynch worked overtime to deliver a beautiful image. He cares about how his films look - hence, the passing reference to his obsessing over those "Twin Peaks" deleted scenes. Taken in that context (i.e., the man's career to date), "Inland Empire" looks like crap. Period.

I'm aware enough, thanks, to realize that the film doesn't look like crap because of the transfer, but anyone who stops and actually reads what I wrote (rather than glancing at some stars and fuming) would understand that I feel, much like Josh seems to, that Lynch took the lazy way out here. I don't care what sort of fantastical magic anyone thinks is there in all those blotchy swaths of darkness; the fact is, "Inland Empire" isn't a film on par with anything considered a Lynch classic. Technology took away his need to whittle those wacko ideas down to something compelling; if the reason he hates working in film is because it hampers his ability to shoot whatever leaps to mind, then I think someone should ban Lynch from ever touching a DV-cam again.

To lump this formless collection of vignettes in with something as visceral and focused as "Blue Velvet" or even "Lost Highway" is doing those films a disservice.

As for the whole "conservative group of reviewers" comment, well, that's a pretty amusing assessment coming from someone who feels as though he's been the target of DVD Talk's patronizing. We don't all strive to be Manny Farber and thank God for that.

Last edited by soonercineaste; 08-13-07 at 02:49 PM.
Old 08-13-07, 02:44 PM
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Lynch has always been interested in the beauty of ugliness, but what made it work was that the presentation was beautiful while the content was ugly. If both the presentation and the content are ugly, then there's no contrast, no tension. I love every single Lynch film except Inland Empire. He's one of my all time favorite directors. But this is a poor excuse for a movie or a work of art.
Old 08-13-07, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
Listen, I'm a David Lynch fan from way back, but that doesn't mean I'm going to play the role of apologist for every hare-brained artistic decision that he makes. You go ahead and convince yourself that the hideous DV look was a good idea if that helps you to enjoy the movie.
The DV look is hideous when hideousness is appropriate, and goddamned beautiful on other occasions. Clearly, that doesn't fit into your rather constipated notions of proper cinema, but who - other than yourself - really cares about that? 35MM film has its wondrous properties, but then so do 8 and 16mm film stocks. For that matter, I think we all enjoy looking back at some of those great technicolor confections from days past, not to mention those amazing 70MM roadshows. Certainly, the aesthetics of such filmmaking is dazzling and well-suited to much of the subject matter of those films. Wonderful, wonderful classic stuff. My mother loves it even more than I.

Originally Posted by soonercineaste
I'm aware enough, thanks, to realize that the film doesn't look like crap because of the transfer, but anyone who stops and actually reads what I wrote (rather than glancing at some stars and fuming) would understand that I feel, much like Josh seems to, that Lynch took the lazy way out here.
Like I said in my very first post in this thread: "The reviewer even acknowledges that the look was intentional, and that presumably he believes the DVD accurately captures this, but goes on to substitute his opinion for how Lynch should have shot this film." See, I got you. I understand you weren't actually reviewing the video transfer, and was simply pointing that out.

Originally Posted by soonercineaste
I don't care what sort of fantastical magic anyone thinks is there in all those blotchy swaths of darkness; the fact is, "Inland Empire" isn't a film on par with anything considered a Lynch classic. Technology took away his need to whittle those wacko ideas down to something compelling; if the reason he hates working in film is because it hampers his ability to shoot whatever leaps to mind, then I think someone should ban Lynch from ever touching a DV-cam again.
And that is precisely the response that a reactionary would have: let's ban the use of this technology. Perhaps you'd care to go further. Is Lynch's new art also "decadent"? How about "degenerate"? Do you understand what I'm getting at here? The historical parallel I'm drawing between your comments (and Josh's) and those of certain other conservative reactionaries?

Last edited by Richard Malloy; 08-13-07 at 04:39 PM.
Old 08-13-07, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by soonercineaste
To lump this formless collection of vignettes in with something as visceral and focused as "Blue Velvet" or even "Lost Highway" is doing those films a disservice.
Who's lumping what with what? I made a reference to the negative space that characters in "Lost Highway" tend to disappear into - associating this with the similar voids of "Inland Empire" - and I maintain that it's an apt allusion. On the other hand, "Blue Velvet" is a film from a different phase in Lynch's career, one that's far more narrative and playful with notions of genre, and I made no similar references.

It is, in fact, you who is attempting to frame the entirety of Lynch's ouevre in a single reductionist formula, into which you are having difficulty "lumping in" his latest film. You accuse Lynch of "laziness, but the only laziness I see is inherent in your reductionist ideal on the one hand (all of Lynch's "shot on film" movies) and your straw man on the other ("Inland Empire" = "a formless collection of vignettes"), and so it surprises me very little that you've taken the thoughtless way around, and have blamed the use of digital video for your problems with this film.

The fact that those vignettes do in fact have a form, if not a single terminal meaning a la the clever-but-shallow puzzle-boxes of someone like Christopher Nolan, seems to have escaped you. Perhaps it's the film's very defiance of an easily reducible narrative that turns you off. Or are you saying that all of this is quite acceptable to you, so long as the director makes it pretty and not too different to that which you're accustomed?

And, no, I cannot say which of Nikki or Sue or Lost Girl is "real" or scripted or dreamed or imagined, but that is certainly one of Lynch's themes here, and one of a kind with "Mulholland Drive" and "Lost Highway". And the seemingly random dislocations of temporality and spaciality are equally of a piece with Lynch's latest period. And likewise the sometimes poignant, sometimes tragic attempts by his unravelling protagonists to reintegrate all of those moments, memories, dreams, hallucinations, altered consciousnesses, altered personas, altered realitites into some semblance of a whole, the impossible attempt to decipher the very subconscious. Perhaps you will dismiss this as just so much more "breathless, wordy and dizzyingly pretentious defenses of Lynch's genius", but there are fans of his later period who relish these very aspects of his films most of all.

As for the whole "conservative group of reviewers" comment, well, that's a pretty amusing assessment coming from someone who feels as though he's been the target of DVD Talk's patronizing. We don't all strive to be Manny Farber and thank God for that.
Nope, you guys are striving to be Bosley Crowthey.
Old 08-13-07, 04:44 PM
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Thanks for that, Adam. I didn't realize so much of my breathless, wordy, and pretentious post had disappeared into the ether, like some Lynchian protagonist dislocating through time and space...
Old 08-13-07, 05:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
Who's lumping what with what? I made a reference to the negative space that characters in "Lost Highway" tend to disappear into - associating this with the similar voids of "Inland Empire" - and I maintain that it's an apt allusion. On the other hand, "Blue Velvet" is a film from a different phase in Lynch's career, one that's far more narrative and playful with notions of genre, and I made no similar references.
Weren't you the one who wrote, in your first post, that "Inland Empire" was (and I quote), "a summation of his career up to now"? Sounds as though you're doing just as much "lumping in" as I am. Not to parse words, but how can a film be both a "summation" and a "different phase" if you're so clearly taking pains to single out my thoughts on this point?

Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
It is, in fact, you who is attempting to frame the entirety of Lynch's ouevre in a single reductionist formula, into which you are having difficulty "lumping in" his latest film. You accuse Lynch of "laziness, but the only laziness I see is inherent in your reductionist ideal on the one hand (all of Lynch's "shot on film" movies) and your straw man on the other ("Inland Empire" = "a formless collection of vignettes"), and so it surprises me very little that you've taken the thoughtless way around, and have blamed the use of digital video for your problems with this film.
Um, see my above response - I'm clearly not the only one attempting to "frame the entirety of Lynch's oeuvre in a single reductionist formula" ... it's that pesky "lumping in" argument again, but this time you're suggesting that DV is my answer as to why "Inland Empire" didn't quite work for me. I do think it's fair to suggest that shooting on film inspires a discipline and focus that shooting on DV does not and it's likewise fair to suggest that Lynch has always made films that are blessed/cursed with a surplus of ideas -- in some cases ("Mulholland Dr.," "Lost Highway") it works and in others ("Inland Empire," "Wild at Heart") it doesn't.

Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
The fact that those vignettes do in fact have a form, if not a single terminal meaning a la the clever-but-shallow puzzle-boxes of someone like Christopher Nolan, seems to have escaped you. Perhaps it's the film's very defiance of an easily reducible narrative that turns you off. Or are you saying that all of this is quite acceptable to you, so long as the director makes it pretty and not too different to that which you're accustomed?
Oh, I get the whole elliptical nature of the narrative, but it doesn't provide anything other than atmosphere - the characters aren't engaging, the scenes are curiosities and little more ... there's commentary on the shallow, hollow world of Hollywood, sure, but so what? To each their own and this one didn't gel for me.

Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
And, no, I cannot say which of Nikki or Sue or Lost Girl is "real" or scripted or dreamed or imagined, but that is certainly one of Lynch's themes here, and one of a kind with "Mulholland Drive" and "Lost Highway". And the seemingly random dislocations of temporality and spaciality are equally of a piece with Lynch's latest period. And likewise the sometimes poignant, sometimes tragic attempts by his unravelling protagonists to reintegrate all of those moments, memories, dreams, hallucinations, altered consciousnesses, altered personas, altered realitites into some semblance of a whole, the impossible attempt to decipher the very subconscious. Perhaps you will dismiss this as just so much more "breathless, wordy and dizzyingly pretentious defenses of Lynch's genius", but there are fans of his later period who relish these very aspects of his films most of all.
I'm in agreement with you here, for the most part - but the very fact that you're again returning to these themes as proof of the film reflecting the whole of Lynch's work, not just a new phase lets a bit of air out of your assertion that I'm just being lazy and reductive. Ooh, Bosley Crowther! So dreamy ...
Old 08-13-07, 05:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
Thanks for that, Adam.
No worries. This version of vBulletin seems to buckle if there are too many vB tags in one post.
Old 08-13-07, 06:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard Malloy
Nope, you guys are striving to be Bosley Crowthey.
Maybe we just didn't like the movie. Is that allowed?

We can't all be as smart as you.
Old 08-13-07, 07:19 PM
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As DVDTalk's only "out" conservative reactionary, personally, I'm rather insulted being linked to either The Nation's Manny Farber or The New York Times' Bosley Crowther.

Old 08-13-07, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by soonercineaste
Weren't you the one who wrote, in your first post, that "Inland Empire" was (and I quote), "a summation of his career up to now"? Sounds as though you're doing just as much "lumping in" as I am. Not to parse words, but how can a film be both a "summation" and a "different phase" if you're so clearly taking pains to single out my thoughts on this point?
He is correct that this film is a summation of all of his work to this point. Actors from almost every one of his films reappear here, as do set pieces, bits of what he's done on his website, and of course it has the overall atmosphere of Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway. And it is a new phase in that Lynch himself pointed to his discovery of DV as a new creative breakthrough for him. He expressed his love of the freedom that it gave him, which allowed to do some incredible stuff on his website (see Out Yonder for the best example).

However, I find it funny that Richard calls the reviewers reductive, while calling Christopher Nolan's films "clever but shallow," because that comment about Nolan is in and out itself reductive, and coincidentally applies far better to Inland Empire than it does to Memento or The Prestige. Lynch may not be considered the world's greatest storyteller, but each of his films always had a story to tell. Some of them, such as Blue Velvet, do it in a straightforward manner that allows him to play with cinematic and narrative conventions without losing a wider audience. Others, such as Lost Highway, focus on the surreal imagery of the subconscious. Mulholland Drive was a fantastic synthesis of the two, marking a moment where Lynch's most surreal and most commercial tendencies met face to face and shook hands with each other. Coming off of that, Inland Empire feels like a retreat. Lynch does the best he can to layer the film with references to his past work, most especially Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, but fails to make any new headway. The freedom of DV offers nothing other than a way to shoot more quickly, and rack up more footage. I do think this feels like Lynch just letting loose and trying anything and everything, but instead of using that as a launching pad for a formal film, he just threw it on the screen like so much spaghetti to see if anything sticks. I can understand taking umbrage with people calling him lazy, although the film certainly feels that way. Perhaps he was just too enamored with his own material to selectively edit it into a coherent form. And by coherent I don't mean using a standard narrative or anything of that sort, I simply mean cutting away the fat. This cut of Inland Empire would have worked better as 10 minute segments released over a few months on his website, as opposed to releasing it all at once in theaters.

In the end, this is Lynch's second failure, the first being Dune, but unlike Dune, Inland Empire doesn't sustain any interest throughout. Dune was a fascinating botched project, Inland Empire just feels like a retread.

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