Twin Peaks: The Return has come full circle, and I mean that quite literally. Carefully, lovingly and maddeningly orchestrated by David Lynch, who has proven himself to be nothing short of a brilliant mad scientist of the cinematic arts, this is an endlessly deep, fiercely creative vision that refuses to compromise or meet anyone halfway, and it’s all the better for it. Showtime gave the man full and total control over every aspect, a decision they most likely didn’t fully understand at the time, but one which will have a beautiful ripple effect upon the landscape of serialized television and art itself in the decades to come, just as the original series did until now.
As the show unwinds in elliptical, rhythmic kaleidoscope fashion, it arrives at what can be called an ending only for the fact that there must be a last episode, but it’s not really an ending at all, there never was one in Twin Peaks, and likely never will be, a quality that has given it it’s vitality since day one. Many are having trouble accepting Lynch’s open ended, haunting finale, and that’s alright, considering human beings are simply wired to seek answers, and engineered to get frustrated, hostile even, when they aren’t provided. If one sits at a table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out, how would it be if the puzzle were quickly, neatly solved? The very quality that makes it a puzzle evaporates, the mystery gone, and one would simply lose interest, get up from the table and walk away. Now, if a handful of pieces are missing and never found, if the puzzle remains unsolved indefinitely, it feeds the observer with the fuel to pour thought, attention and care into continuously pondering how they might fit the pieces together, if ever at all. In short, the mystery lives on, and on. Lynch understands this, and it’s a wondrous gift to give fans, who no doubt will have Twin Peaks on the brain until the day they move on to the white lodge. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving. Like a snake eating it’s own tail, like the never ending, billowy curtains of the labyrinthine Red Room, like the portentous infinity symbol that the Philip Jeffries teapot warns Cooper with, this is a story that has ends, beginnings, middles, alternate timelines, repetition and, thanks to the intangible forces constantly at work, will never truly be at rest, at least not in any way that we can comprehend.
The themes which have fascinated Lynch his whole career are in full bloom here like never before, but one that takes centre stage after being deftly touched upon in the show and Fire Walk With Me is that of duality, light versus dark and the uneasy realization that the line between them isn’t as stark as we’d like it to be. Leland Palmer was always thought to be possessed by Bob, unbeknownst of his heinous atrocities, a babe in the very dark woods. Fire Walk With Me blew that comforting certainty right out of the water with some very dodgy scenes implicating Palmer himself, blurring the lines to show that although good and evil may indeed occupy opposite sides of the fence, they most certainly hop over and tread on each other’s lawn, a truth that has been shied away from in cinema quite often, but one which Lynch won’t let you tune out so easy. As we see a mullet adorned doppelgänger version of Cooper engage in a tirade of crime and violence across the states, the real Agent Cooper, or at least that part of his soul that’s trapped in the embryonic limbo of a pastel phantasmagoria Vegas, seems lost in a sea of characters we’ve never met before the Return. When it comes time for that inevitable showdown, it’s quick, and the surface level battle is skimmed over so Lynch can dive into a disorienting rabbit hole in which Cooper is stoic, uncharacteristically violent, a concentrated prism of all the qualities that were separate in the worlds that came before, his psyche in narrative nursery school until Lynch hurtles past that 430 mile marker into territories with ugly truths and revelations that are hard to swallow. Two wolves fight inside every one of us, one light and one dark, but they’re only two sides of the same coin, rival essences within a single beast, and although they run along side by side, tussle occasionally and appear to be separate entities, they’re one and the same when they look in each other’s eyes, as we see in the mirror, or when we come face to face with our doppelgänger against the backdrop of a shimmering red curtain.
Twin Peaks has always been about secrets, from the very moment that Laura Palmer’s body washed up on those shores, wrapped in plastic (or did it?). Who killed her? That one secret lead to many, and as a story unfolds that’s scope vastly captures realms far beyond the sleepy little northwestern town it began in, we see a story at play that’s so much more, one that is very much filled with secrets, a motif we were warned about almost right off the bat. “She’s filled with secrets”, the Arm gleefully imparts to Cooper. That she is. The hollow screams of a shell shocked Sarah Palmer. The haunted, weary eyes of trailer park supervisor Carl (the beloved Harry Dean Stanton). Audrey Horne sharply awakening in the frightening unknown. Cooper and Laura being foiled yet again by the powers that be (those darn Chalfonts). An empty glass box that isn’t so empty. Coordinates that nestle between shrouded mountain glades. Heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies from the maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Pages from a secret diary that document horror, madness, joy, bravery, vulnerability and an odyssey through time, space, love, evil and of course good, the secrets that keep us coming back for more each time. Lynch has spun his magnum opus here, a tale where every piece is important, even the ones we may likely never find. A testament to the power of storytelling, a treatise on the mystery genre, everything I could have hoped for in a return to the town of coffee and cherry pie, and a full on bona-fide masterwork. See you in the trees, and whatever kingdoms lie beyond them in the glow of the red curtain, the purple seas, the hum of electricity in the dreams of a homecoming queen and a lone FBI Agent on a road trip to…
Miami Blues is a crime film full of loose ends, incompetence, wanton violence and meandering characters who seem lost within their own story, and I mean all that in the best way possible. Some pulp affairs are sharp, succinctly plotted creatures, every cog in the machine placed to serve the momentum of plot and character, while other efforts have messily dropped the cogs all over the floor for an untethered, ‘wing it’ type approach in which story and character are like aimless leaves blowing about in a restless pond. Isn’t life like that though? There’s no narrative structure to a lot of what we do, and as such there’s little to be found in the tale of highly self destructive, psychotic criminal Alec Baldwin, who has barely left the airport upon arriving in Miami before he’s already got a serious warrant out for his arrest. He’s a violent sociopath who takes what he wants when he wants and, most aggressively, how he wants. He’s also very smart, which is a dangerous mix in anyone whose moral compass has flatlined. His anarchic crime spree gains the attention of an aloof older detective (Fred Ward) whose badge he steals for some good old law enforcement impersonation, leading the poor weary cop on a darkly comical mad goose chase all over town. He also picks up an endearing dumb blonde (Jennifer Jason Leigh, excellent) who’s infatuated with him and blatantly tunes out any and all red flags, of which there are…many. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but with these three actors it’s pure gold. The knowingly audacious arch criminal, the Betty Boop wannabe wifey sidekick and the exasperated, constantly outsmarted copper, a trio of archetypes augmented slightly in favour of each performer’s stellar work. Never takes itself too seriously, knows full well how heinous the turn of events within it’s frames are, yet firmly refuses to not have fun, a cheeky, sexy, sweaty and altogether terrific little venture.
Somewhere between the dustbowl basilicas of 1980’s VHS town and the restless urban decay of metropolitan Americana lies the Heart Of Midnight, a dilapidated abandoned sex fetish nightclub full of nightmarish corridors, dead end rooms with ominous stains on the wall and a perpetual sense of acrid dread. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the reluctant heir to this heap, passed on to her by a weird old uncle she barely remembers, now deceased. It’s in a ruined, crime ridden part of town that still seems safer compared to the various themed rooms of this erotica dungeon, but she’s a trooper anyways, giving her best efforts to fix the place up and make something decent of it. Leigh seems to have deliberately go out of her way to pick kinky, controversial roles since her career began, always with sexual undertones and never short on psychological turmoil. She’s put through a wringer here, as the sordid, perverse and highly disturbing history of both the club and her uncle comes back to haunt her in full sleazy swing, a turn of events not for the squeamish or puritan side of the crowd. Walls seem to move, eyes peer through cracks and haunted cries echo through the fissures in the structure, as well as howling bad dreams that distort her reality. When a detective (Peter Coyote, brilliant work) shows up to help, he’s just as unsettling and shady as the building itself, clearly in the know or up to something. The only borderline sane character is another cop played by Frank Stallone, getting some of the best much needed comic relief of the piece. It’s priceless to see Leigh wander into the police station looking for answers only to find him in the middle of a ukulele folk ballad with the rest of the precinct belting out the chorus. Things don’t go very well for our heroine, as the dark forces playing with her seem to close in for a suffocating finale that leaves you feeling violated and disoriented. This is a film that seeps right to the root of human unpleasantness and psychosexual decadence, and one should firmly equip oneself mentally before going in. It’s also a film of startling dark beauty and alluring atmosphere, like a dreamy black velvet orchid that warbles a lullaby both dangerous and seductive, beckoning you to let your guard down until you wish you hadn’t, and are under it’s spell. One of the most overlooked mood pieces of the 80’s, a gorgeously horrific phantasm of a film that gets under your skin and crawls into your dreams.
When I first discovered David Lynch’s Twin Peaks some ten years ago, I was hooked from that first lilting chord of the opening theme, a Pacific Northwest lullaby that dreamily pulled back a red curtain to reveal the mesmerizing realm of sawmills, Douglas firs, cherry pie, secrets, metaphysics, owls, murder mysteries, eccentricities, FBI Agents, roadside diners and so much more. There was nothing quite like it under the sun. Lynch had tapped into the intangible flavour in the ice cream parlour, an undefinable conduit to the subconscious, an emotional fever dream of haunting music, beautiful storytelling and vivid, compelling character arcs, and I knew from that moment on I’d be living in this world, in whatever capacity, for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve seen the entire run of seasons one and two at least thirty to forty times, and watched Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s big screen masterpiece and companion song to the show, even more. Twin Peaks is the one thing I can revisit at any crux of the story, during any phase of my life, and it will always draw me right back in like the beckoning grove of sycamore trees who stand as sentinels to the great beyond lying just around the bend in the woods. There was just one problem with it all: the show was tragically cancelled on the penultimate beat, a cosmic cliffhanger that left fans reeling and plunged the legacy into exile for decades, a vacuum left in air that once housed a worldwide phenomenon, which is the only way to describe what season one did not just for television, but for the arts themselves, a thunderous ripple effect that has inspired generations of fan culture and adoration. To quote another film that finds its home in the trees, “If you ride like lightening, you’re going to crash like thunder”, which in a way is what happened to Twin Peaks. That lightening was captured in a bottle, which unfortunately shattered to shards via a combination of network interference and creative differences. Needless to say, the thought of a possible return to the show was beyond low on my list of things that could happen, right down there next to dinosaur cloning. Life finds a way though, and so apparently does Lynch. When it was announced that he had struck a deal with Showtime for an epic eighteen episode return to those Douglas firs, the internet nearly imploded upon itself. The golden age of television had just gone platinum, for Twin Peaks is the cornerstone of a generation of storytelling, a mile marker of stylistic structure and expression that gave life to countless other legacies in its wake. If any fragmented, incomplete tale deserves another day in court, it’s Peaks. For a while we sat on our hands and held our breath, the words ‘too good to be true’ ringing around in our heads. After a few hitches in the giddyup, however, and some three years of development later, we have arrived on the day that the new season premieres, and it still hasn’t set in for me. Eighteen brand new episodes. All written and directed by the man himself. A titanic sized cast of Twin Peaks residents both old and new, from every walk of Hollywood, genre town, music world and indie-ville. It definitely does seem to good to be true, and yet here we are, on the eve of a television paradigm shift. Any new fans who have hurriedly made their way through the original series run for the first time should pause for a moment and realize just how infinitely lucky we are to get this, how special this truly is, and will be for the entire summer. I feel as though this will be the second wave of Lynch’s magnum opus, a stroke of creative brilliance that has come full circle, and in just a few hours time those beloved chords will once again flow out from our television screens, as the journey continues onward to a destination whose coordinates Lynch guards like Pandora’s Box. Come what may, I will be tuned in to whatever the man and his team of actors, artists and musicians have in store for us. See you in the trees.
Morgan is one of the slickest genre flicks I’ve seen in recent years, finely tuned like a barbed wire tightrope, full of nasty surprises, throat ripping action and that ever present ethical turmoil that hangs about in any films that deal with artificial humanoid beings. It’s only weakness is exactly that stylistic strength: it’s so tight and streamlined that one occasionally feels like the scales tip in the favour of style over substance, but it’s a minor quibble when you take a step back and look at just how entertaining and fired up this piece is. The filmmakers are minimally concerned with the moral grey areas that cloning wades into, and subsequent philosophical pondering, but more than anything they just want to pull the ripcord and blast full throttle into an adrenaline soaked, R-rated sci-if tale with vague aspects of a character study. The title refers to Morgan (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a performance both terrifying and heartbreaking), a genetically engineered humanoid girl held at a secluded facility alongside researchers, one of which she has just had a violent incident with. The corporate honcho (Brian Cox in a sly, all too brief honcho) dispatches a cold, clinical asset in the form of Kate Mara, sent to assess the situation and implement any measures necessary. She is an outsider, a callous bicep who flexes at the whims of the company. The researchers and handlers, however, are not. They have grown up around Morgan, invested time and, somewhat unwisely, emotion into her and will stop at nothing to ensure her survival. Paternal Toby Jones, opinionated Jennifer Jason Leigh and compassionate Rose Leslie prove to be a formidable armada against Mara’s evaluation, and tensions arise. Morgan has her own cloudy agenda though, and whether by flawed design, ghost in the shell syndrome or pure survival instinct, proves to be the greatest danger of all. She experiences people at their best, worst and most enigmatic, and her startling behaviour is a reflection of all of it, and a sobering example of humanity’s pitiful inability to perfect the creation of artificial life, at least in this film’s universe anyway. From Mara’s threatening presence, to an intense evaluation from a particularly nasty psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti overacting so hard he almost sucks the set dec up into his orbit), it’s no wonder Morgan snaps. Now when she snaps, the film more or less whips all its chips on the table, flips said table and hulk slams it two floors down. All subtlety and thought provocation kind of get left in the dust as everything careens towards an especially visceral climax, and that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t leave you feeling underwhelmed. I kind of had the intuition it was going to take the rambunctious root overall, and took comfort in the fact that it at least somewhat focused on the delicate aspects earlier on. It’s a well oiled machine, impeccably casted, given just enough pathos to keep our sentimental sides invested, and more than enough visceral hullabaloo to get our pulses dancing, all set to a score both thundering and graceful. Great stuff.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, came out at a hostile time in contemporary America. Tarantino joined marching protests against police violence; then the overly sensitive millennial online “journalists” chastised the film, and Tarantino, for painting shades of misogyny and racism. Tarantino was unfairly attacked by the extreme wings of each political party. Had no one paid attention to Tarantino films prior? Of course racism and misogyny plays a vital part in this film, because not only did those elements exist in the post-Civil War 1800’s, but also exist in reality.
This film is a cataclysm of Tarantino’s self-indulgence. He constantly references his prior works (mainly RESERVOIR DOGS) while homaging Sergio Leone, Billy Wilder, and John Carpenter. His limited casting is formed of new Tarantino players: Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern who Tarantino has worked with twice prior; as well as his seminal ensemble made up of Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Bell, James Parks, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. Joining the Tarantino crew for the first time is Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, and Channing Tatum.
For as visionary as Robert Richardson’s cinematography is and Ennio Morricone’s Academy Award winning hypnotic score, the greatness of this film lies within one of Tarantino’s best screenplays and one of the best acting ensembles since GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Tarantino is one of the most talented actor’s directors who has ever sat behind the camera. He carefully crafts each character with an actor in mind, playing on their strengths and bringing out untapped potential from even the most veteran actor he’s working with. The cast is absolutely brilliant.
Kurt Russell does the best John Wayne impression ever as the hard barked simpleton whose stupidity is even more outrageous than his facial hair. Russell is always a joy to watch, and Tarantino’s use of him are highlights in an already legendary career. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the best linguists to ever grace the screen. Tarantino’s dialogue has never sounded better than coming out of Jackson’s mouth (aside from Harvey Keitel). Tim Roth gives one of his best performances delivering an English shtick of Mr. Orange from RESERVOIR DOGS. Perhaps the most surprisingly great performance in this film is that of Michael Madsen playing a caricature of himself. I can’t say anything more about Jennifer Jason Leigh that hasn’t already been said. She should have won the Oscar.
Tarantino outdoes himself with THE HATEFUL EIGHT; the script is outrageously funny, giving these talented actors so much to play with. Only Quentin Tarantino would be able to craft an epic western built upon heightened paranoia that is three hours long, set inside a tiny cabin that is filled with eight larger than life characters, filmed with a wide angle lens that is constantly on the move. Tarantino has reached Terrence Malick status by making films for himself, not for an audience, or a demographic, and that’s what he has excelled since GRINDHOUSE. No one loves movies more than Quentin Tarantino. Oh, and about that overt racism in this film, did those people not stay until the end?
If Quentin Tarantino has achieved anything in his love letters to the spaghetti western genre, it’s his notable subtraction of the noodles from aforementioned dish, leaving decadent swaths of scarlet marinara sauce to be flung about the screen as blazing bullets rock various characters to their bones, sending blood all over the place in quantities that defy physics or biology. He did it with Django, and he does it again with The Hateful Eight, a somber, simmering snow opera that fell just south of winning me over entirely. Don’t get me wrong: there’s much merit to be found here, and as usual QT has a solid gold ear for dialogue that is as pleasing to the ear as Ennio Morricone’s unusually restrained, palm sweating score. He also shows his uncanny knack for chasing awesome actors out of the woodwork and casting them in his films. In his attempts to resurrect 70mm panavision he has achieved undisputed success. I’m also a sucker for both Agatha Christie style mysteries and snowbound locations (and what locations!!), both of which are in abundance here. And yet.. something just didn’t quite click for me, story wise. Perhaps it’s the fact that trailers had worked my imagination up to imposible heights of intrigue that couldn’t be brought to the table with this tale. In that regard, I suppose it’s my own fault. In any case, the eventual revelations just didn’t feel as profound and fitting after having sat through the endless, tantalizing set up. But oh, what a set up. QT deliberately marinates his characters in a stew of unease and malcontent, each player a grizzled picture of vague evil intent, firing missiles of distrust and loathing at one another until the ill will is as thick as the snow drifts they fight through. In the throes of a gathering blizzard, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell in a sly nod of the head to beloved R.J. Macready, only saltier and far meaner) leads shackled prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh in the best performance of the film) to the town of Red Rock, to be hung. Along the way, and with much chatter, he picks up two stragglers: pissy fellow hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson) and one Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an oasis in the sea of winter, where four other undesirables have already shacked up in refuge: Owaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth earns his keep and then some) a self proclaimed hangman with some serious pep in his step, crusty confederate Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir is restrained comic perfection) and dangerous looking cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, that gravel voiced wildcat, is always awesome). They all hunker down to ride out the storm and quickly begin to realize that one or more amongst them isn’t who they say they are, and there’s devilry afoot. Sound intriguing? It did to me too, and I can’t say much about what exactly let me down without giving stuff away, but it just felt like such a pedestrian knockoff of a second act after the absolute slow burning joy of a guessing game which preceded it. Maybe it’s a bit like a Christmas present: you spend months in a giddy daze wondering what you’ll get, you get there christmas morning and there your present is: shiny, gleaming and filled with endless possibility, but unmistakably shaped by your specific anticipation of what lays within. You open your present… and there it is, mystery evaporated, no longer a present but an actual object, or in this case a story that you must wrestle with to appease the lingering wonder of what you expected, as opposed to what you got. I know it’s too much to expect every film to be that perfect christmas present that is as satisfying wrapped as unwrapped, but with QT’s stuff I feel I always act that way a bit, having pictured my definitive version of the films before having seen them, and feelng somewhat underwhelmed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it: It’s chock full of macabre surprises, earnest performances and expectedly nasty violence. Jennifer Jason Leigh owns as Daisy, a frothing feral beast. Leigh has no shortage of courage in taking on courageous, unflattering roles, and she dives right into this one with fists and teeth clenched, eyes narrowed and a steely will to survive. It’s truly a blessing to see her on the big screen again and I hope to see more in the future. There’s one casting decision which almost ruined the last act for me. I won’t spoil it here but the ‘actor’ in question is so unbelievably untalented and sticks out like ten sore thumbs in his ineptitude, really making me wonder about QT’s sanity. The rest of the cast makes up for it in spades though, particularly Madsen, Roth and Russell. Goggins also gets loads to do and does it with grinning flair that would make Boyd Crowder proud. The cinematography by legendary Robert Richardson is staggeringly beautiful. The wintry Vistas sweep by in splendor, eventually moving inward to the firelit cabin where everything has a burnished, lived-in texture that’s transfixing to look at. If only the story had the weight and impact I was expecting, I could have given this glowing accolades, but there’s always next time. Gorgeous Tarantino outing with a cast that chomps at the bit relentlessly, and although it ultimately falls short, it’s quite the piece of cinema all the same.