Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is my second favourite Batman movie thus far. It’s pretty underrated, stylishly cheeky and full of ornate, wonderfully oppressive, melancholic set design and drips with a gothic sensability that only Burton included in his versions, and seems to be missing from the franchise these days. It’s dark, comical and just a little bit campy, always a winning combination. Michael Keaton steps back into the batsuit for a second time, and he’s even more somber and downbeat than in Burton’s original 1989 film. Keaton is so talented, and one only needs to look at his zany work in Beetlejuice and compare it to the heft and restraint he shows as the caped crusader to see this. Here he’s faced with a snowy, blackened and endlessly corrupt Gotham City, this time under siege from three wildly different villains. Danny Devito plays Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, in what is probably the most outlandish character in the otherwise grim film. He’s a bad tempered, knobbly little gremlin, encased in sallow makeup and sporting disgusting, pasty little flippers. It’s hard to tell it’s even Devito at all until that little smart ass mouth opens up to hurl calculated obscenities at anyone and everyone. He aims to be mayor, and only in freaky deaky Gotham would a plan like that ever be taken seriously, from a sewer dwelling, animalistic mobster with an army of clowns following him. Christopher Walken plays evil, ghoulish Max Schreck, an amoral monster of a businessman with nefarious plans of his own, and a haircut that would make Andy Warhol run for cover. Last and most memorable is Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, Schreck’s awkward, meek secretary who eventually becomes Catwoman. And what a Catwoman she is. Forget Anne Hathaway, Julie Newmar take a number, and we won’t even mention Halle Berry. No one played the pussy quite like Pfeiffer. She’s got a shiny, skin tight outfit with the body to match, a sassy, sexy attitude, a whip smart mouth on her and just a hint of psychosis, making her my favourite film incarnation of the character. “Meow” she purrs sensually as an incendiary bomb detonates behind her. Damn. They all get wrapped up in various schemes and scams. Penguin wants ultimate power, which apparantly involves kidnapping a bunch of infants. Schreck wants ruthless progress to tear Old Gotham up in worship of the almighty dollar, and Catwoman is content to slash and burn everyone’s plans, until she gets a bit of a smolder in her eye for Batman, providing some electric sexual tension between the two of them that’s a highlight of the film. Neither of them are sure whether they want to kiss or kill, fight or fuck the other, and it’s devilishly entertaining watching them hash out their hormones in naughty little action sequences and slow, slinky intimate scenes, involving both Bruce and Selina as well as their feral alter egos. Their chemistry revolves at the center of the piece, with all manner of circus sideshow madness happening around them. Pat Hingle and Michael Gough diligently put in work as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, with Doug Jones, Michael Murphy, Andrew Bryarniarski and Paul Reubens rounding out the roster. Burton outdid himself with style on this one, his trademark eye for loving detail laboriously employed here to the point where it surpasses the artistry of a comic book and starts to look like some mad dream of Vincent Price. He dipped his toe in the water of the Batman universe with his first outing. Here he plunges headlong into it and fully commits to a style and tone that’s distilled to a satisfactory point that he wasn’t quite at with Batman 1989. A treasure in the franchise, and a wicked fun film at that.
The insane German import Wetlands is singular, gross, nauseating, highly sexual, strange, lovely, smart, insane, icky, depraved, uber-graphic, and sort of monumental. It’s never, ever going to be remade for American audiences and it’s likely to appeal strictly to fans of “cinema-as-art.” I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. You get to see a POV shot from that of an STD-infected pubic hair, a woman uses a variety of vegetables as sexual pleasure devices, and the camera lovingly details a shaving accident that, let’s just say, will pucker up a certain part of your derriere. And that’s all in the first act! Directed with energy and snap by rising star David Wnendt with a constant attitude of “I’ve Got Something To Prove,” Wetlands, at times, feels like a hybrid of Enter the Void and Blue is the Warmest Color with a dash of sweetness from a Farrelly Bros. enterprise. Carla Juri gives an absolutely fearless, wholly committed performance as a young woman named Helen with any number of unique sexual and bodily fetishes. I can’t think of one major American actress who would ever dare take on the challenge of this role. Known in some circles as “the anal fissure movie,” Wetlands will prove to be an endurance test for many viewers, offering wildly graphic sights you’ll never be able to un-see. After the previously mentioned shaving accident, Helen winds up in the hospital and falls in love with a male nurse, but this being the type of movie that it is, their meet-cute is over discussions of bloody anal injuries and the benefits of frequent oral sex. After her surgery, Helen fakes the inability to pass her bowels, in an effort to remain in the hospital so that she can win the heart of the nurse she’s falling in love with. So it’s the classic girl meets boy story, filled with the requisite amount of heart and honesty that makes you care for the characters, but ups the gross-out elements way past what Apatow and Rogen could ever dream of creating. This is outlaw cinema to be sure, replete with constant full frontal female nudity, extraordinarily graphic sexual behavior, and a general air of chuck-it-all-unpredictability that is bracing to behold and keeps you on edge. And while there is a rather sweet and simple story that gets told, many viewers will be too caught up in the moment to make heads or tails of whether or not Wetlands has something interesting or valid to say. I think it does. It’s smart, it’s honest, it’s very mature despite the various idiocies, and at its heart, this is a film about acceptance, love, and about how one woman, no matter how different or odd her behavior may seem, is living the life that she wants to live, bloody orifices or not. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, Wetlands is a romantic comedy that defies general description. In short, see it with the family!
Perfect Sense is a stylish, unnerving, and very underrated sort-of-apocalyptic drama/thriller with a very unique hook: Suddenly, everyone on the planet begins to have a meltdown of their collective senses. Everything that we take for granted, every single day, gets thrown into chaos; unexpected fits of rage, compulsive eating, spontaneous deafness, lack of ability to taste, and sudden blindness. Directed with extreme care and control by the interesting and talented filmmaker David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Spread, the upcoming and awesome sounding Comancheria from the writer of Sicario), Perfect Sense was an IFC release that went totally under the radar a few years ago, but it’s worth seeking out for its distinctive premise within a well-traveled subgenre, and to watch the riveting performances from Ewan Macgregor and Eva Green. They play a newly formed romantic couple who experience the strange and unprompted physiological breakdowns, and to watch them spiral out of control in front of each other feels oddly personal and all together surreal at times. The final moments of the film sting with intended irony and there’s a level of intensity to be found throughout this entire film that helps to ratchet up the emotional and visceral tension, especially during the numerous scenes of people suffering the sensory breakdowns. The sleek cinematography is courtesy of Giles Nuttgens and the chilling musical score was supplied by Max Richter. This is a very tough film to sum up in words, but trust me, I don’t think there are too many other films like this one out there, and if there are, I’d love to know about them.
Wherein Twin Peaks supergeeks Nate Hill and Tim Fuglei discuss their discovery of the series and film, David Lynch fandom, favorite moments and more.
David Lynch’s Lost Highway is a fuzzy, feverish portrait of a fractured mind attempting to make sense of extremely distressing circumstances that are both alienating and possibly self inflicted. Lynch is always keen on probing the cerebrally murky waters which border on the potentially paranormal occurrences, and the often frustrating line, or lack thereof, which is drawn in, around and between these two aspects. Psychological terror, ambiguous scenes that leave you scratching your head once you’ve caught your breath, identity crisis, elliptical narratives that leave us haunted and wanting more are all tools in his bag, ones he’s employed countless times throughout his monolithic career. Usually he implements that in an esoteric, earthy way, but there’s something cold, clinical and unsettlingly voyeuristic about this that somewhat separates it from a lot of other stuff he’s done. The term ‘Lynchian’ in itself has become its own genre, there’s no debating that anymore. It’s usually within this self made genre that he explores, but it’s almost like with this one he went in with a mindset to play around with a sordid, almost De Palma-esque style of genre, and then inject it with his trademark eerie weirdness, in this case to great effect. Bill Pullman stars as jazz trumpet player Fred, spending his nights belting out unnerving solos in smoky clubs. Pullman is an all American prototype, seen in a lot of generic, regular Joe roles. Seeing him venture into sketchy material is jarring and super effective (see his career best work in David’s daughter Jen Lynch’s Surveillance for an even better example of this). He and his gorgeous wife (Patricia Arquette) wake up one ominous morning to discover a packaged video tape on their doorstep, the contents of which show someone breaking into their house and filming them while they sleep. They feel both horrified and violated, and call the police who prove to be just south of useful. From there things get terrifically weird. Fred attends a party where he meets the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who plays a mean spirited magic trick on him that will have your skin crawling out the door. This was one of Blake’s last two roles before the unfortunate incident that cut his career painfully short, but he’s perfect for Lynch’s stable and eats up the frames he inhabits, a pasty faced ghoul with beady black jewels for eyes and a piercing laugh that will stain your psyche for years. Before he knows it, Fred wakes up and is accused for his own wife’s murder, whisked away to a dank death row cell, plummeting the film into a new segment, Lynch’s way of letting us know this isn’t going to be an easy watch. Fred wakes up sometime later… And isn’t Fred anymore. He’s a young lad with amnesia whose been missing for a while, played by edgy Balthazar Getty. It’s a stark left turn for the plot to take, a stinging reminder that from there on out, we’re in for some nasty antics with no light at the end of the tunnel. Getty is released from prison, since he’s not Pullman who they arrested to begin with. From there he gets entangled in a hot mess of a subplot involving a volatile gangster (Robert Loggia), his seductive wife (also Patricia Arquette) and the ever present Mystery Man who lurks over both planes of the film’s narrative. I’m trying to be deliberately vague about the plot (lord knows Lynch did as well), both to not spoil any surprises for you, and partly because after many viewings, I’m still not sure exactly what it means for myself. It’s a great big clusterfuck of extremely disturbing sequences, surreal passages of auditory and visual madness and a frothing undercurrent of atmosphere that constantly pulls on your sleeve to remind you that something is terribly wrong, but never gives you the solace of telling you what that something is. Traumatic viewing to say the least. Lynch assembles an extraterrestrial supporting cast including Michael Massee, Jack Nance, Natasha Gregson Warner, Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Jack Kehler, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Pryor and the one and only Gary Busey (when Gary is one of the calmest, sanest people in your movie you know you’ve driven off the cliff). Some highlights for me are anything to do with Blake’s paralyzing spectre of a character who is one of the best Lynch creations ever, Loggia intimidating an obnoxious driver is priceless and the closest the film gets to comedy, and the final twenty minutes where the lines of reality, fantasy and the jagged planes of perception within the characters minds collide, providing us with a creepy non-resolution, part of what makes the entire show so memorable and affecting. A classic that begs countless re-watches before it can fully cast all aspects of its spell on you, and one of Lynch’s unsung best.
Thanks again to A24, we’ve been given another excellent film. The End of the Tour focuses on a long weekend in the life of deceased author David Foster Wallace, whose 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, became a literary sensation and cultural touchstone for an entire generation. Bolstered by two terrific performances by Jason Segel (as Wallace) and Jesse Eisenberg (as then Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky), the film has been confidently directed by James Ponsoldt (who previously helmed the strong indies Smashed and The Spectacular Now) and sensitively written by Donald Margulies, who based his script on Lipsky’s best-selling memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The action covers the period of time where Lipsky stayed at Wallace’s house, conducting a lengthy interview, in the aftermath of the Infinite Jest publicity and success. The film is very talky, very literate, very smart, and most of all, very sad, as death hangs over the entire film, and the wintry setting sets an immediately chilly tone that suggests isolation and mental despair. Wallace was a man who reportedly suffered some intense personal demons, and while this film is nothing like a traditional biopic, you definitely get the sense, in only an hour and 40 minutes, that he had a lot of inner turmoil to sort out, with feelings of inadequacy and self-resentment. But as played by Segel, he was also a man capable of great friendship, compassion (love the dogs), and keen humanistic understanding, able to decipher life’s strangest moments and put them into a thoughtfully arranged flow of words. Eisenberg does classic Eisenberg here, and as always, there’s something going on in those shifty and potentially deceiving eyes; he’s also the sort of actor who can really make dialogue sing. And because this film is almost solely dependent on its script, it needed to be strong, and the work here by Margulies is nothing short of beautiful, with line and after line hitting with dramatic force and resonating with poignancy. Visually, the film is solid if a bit solemn, but that was likely a creative decision; the flat, mid-America landscape seems a perfect atmospheric highlight. Danny Elfman’s score is unobtrusive but always effective.
Fascinating, challenging, and totally not for those without patience and an interest in 70’s style filmmaking aesthetics and storytelling techniques, Kenneth Lonergan’s almost-never-released multi-character drama Margaret is a film that many don’t even know exists, and that’s truly a shame, because it’s as compelling and as powerful as cinema can get. Originally scheduled for release in 2007 but inexplicably shelved until 2011, Margaret is one of those movies that’s likely to appeal to viewers looking for an almost novelistic approach to their movies, as the film bounces around from place to place, person to person, which creates an Altman-esque tableaux of individual moments which begin to combine into something profound and touching. Lonergan’s lone previous directorial credit, You Can Count On Me, was a perfectly observed indie dramedy with black humor and lots of heart, featuring some stellar turns from Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick. Whereas that film was small and intimate, with Margaret, he went large, and the results are no less impressive, but what’s important to note is that his sense of the small and personal didn’t dissipate with his sophomore directorial outing. Featuring a volcanic lead performance from Anna Paquin (never better, and I’m not the biggest fan overall), the film centers on a tragic city-bus accident and the aftermath that it creates. It’s a story about guilt, grief, acceptance, and finally, forgiveness, and nothing about the narrative is easy or simple. The film utilizes an Altman-esque sound design with tons of overlapping dialogue; Lonergan’s decision to also have the casual conversations of extras and peripheral characters audible on the soundtrack and audible to the main characters further heightens the anxious mood and frenzied atmosphere of this engrossing tapestry of people and events and places and emotions. The superb Mark Ruffalo pops up in yet another soul-searching supporting turn, and the film is enlivened with the likes of Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Broderick, Olivia Thirlby, and Lonergan himself. We’ll never know exactly what happened behind the scenes with this film. The oft-rumored “Scorsese-Schoonmaker Cut” would certainly be interesting to see, but what we’re left with is a film of enormous ambition, a multilayered magnum opus from one of the best, most underappreciated voices that Hollywood has come across in years. Note: version screened was the 186 minute director’s cut.