Rick Alverson’s Entertainment

There are some films that just aren’t for everybody, and seem to have even been fashioned to deliberately repel a certain demographic, as if to weed out those unwilling to take a trip down the weird end of the street and serve as a litmus test to determine who will stand-fast. Folks like John Waters, Todd Solondz and Lars Von Trier are prime examples of artists who traffic in such cheerfully provocative, knowingly inflammatory ventures and now Rick Alverson is well on his way with an eerie, uncomfortably abstract mood piece called Entertainment that I saw a long time ago and recently caught up with, and let me tell you it’s just as fucking bizarre as I remember. Alverson wrote this alongside Tim Heidecker himself and their buddy actor Gregg Turkington, who graduated with honours from the proverbial Tim & Eric Theatre Of Shock & Awe and works frequently with the two, so his badge of bizarre was squarely pinned to his chest before churning out this relentlessly off-putting curio of dust-bowl doldrums, against type cameos, agonizing awkwardness, surreal dreamscapes and nightmarish atmosphere. The film follows pitiful nebbish ‘The Comedian’ (Turkington), a would be standup comic with no audience on a tour to nowhere somewhere in the desolate American southwest. His jokes are excruciatingly cringe, his onstage personality is a grating head-scratcher, his doubting manager (John C. Reilly in a hilariously deadpan cameo) subtly begs him to tone the weirdness down, and just overall this guy’s life seems like a dead end that’s swiftly leading to a deader end. His one respite and glimmer of hope is infrequent phones calls where he leaves forlorn voicemails to an estranged daughter that we never see, perhaps because she never existed at all and it’s his last ounce of conviction to cry for help into an abysmal void. He runs into many characters along the way played by the likes of Heidecker himself, Dean Stockwell, Tye Sheridan, Amy Seimetz and Michael Cera as an impossibly creepy dude that he has an icky run-in with in a men’s bathroom. Many will find this to be a frustrating, confounding, empty, disquieting experience and that’s fine, I would be worried if *everyone* liked it. I admit that this particular flavour of weird isn’t typically my bag and that chunks of it were lost on me, like his interminable bouts of caustic and repulsive verbal digression on the standup stage. However, when the perception and focus shifts over to his ponderous meanderings in the Mojave desert and the incredibly effective, soul shaking original score by Robert Donne I got a real sense of this character’s waywardness, disconnect from everything around him and complete, utter loneliness, and on that front I was able to connect with the film. It’s unique, it’s weird, it’s darkly funny in a sort of brittle, curdled way and uses illogical, jagged sensibilities to explore an artist whose work alienates and humiliates him. You will either vibe with this intensely or be wholly turned off, there’s no real middle-ground.

-Nate Hill

Two Wolves, a snake eating its tail and a secret- A review of Twin Peaks: The Return by Nate Hill 

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…

Sebastian Silva’s Magic Magic

Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic is a terminally bizarre little experimental film that simultaneously fascinates and prompts the viewer to wonder why it was ever made in the first place. Starring a posse of young, uber famous Hollywood talent that usually draw crowds in numbers, Magic somehow managed to slip under the limbo bar and avoid everyone’s radar undetected, no doubt a result of any marketing being smothered by a studio who wouldn’t have been able to sell the thing as it was presented to them. Jarring, aloof, persistently weird and frankly all over the place, it’s worth a look just for the sheer novelty, I suppose. A trip to Chile turns into some kind of nightmare for a group of youngsters played by Juno Temple, Catalina Sandino Morena, Emily Browning and an apparently mentally challenged Michael Cera, when one of them starts to display unpredictably odd behaviour, feverish delusions and violent outbursts that would give Father Lancaster Merrin the willies. Temple, an actress who admirably always takes risks, goes full on whackadoo here as the disturbed girl, plagued by restless mental instability caused by who knows what, subjecting her friends to her unsettling monkeyshines. Cera’s performance is so odd and tonally oblong it’s like he’s in a school play and his lines have been dubbed over by someone who’s first language is not English, I honestly don’t know what he was going for, while Browning does her pale and sultry thing dimly in the background. Is Juno just off her rocker? Are there invisible spirits at work that have latched onto her? Did the filmmakers even know when they made this? My guess is no, and sometimes that can work, but you have to present a final product that at least flows through it’s ambiguous arc naturally, and this one just feels off where it should draw us in. Neat camera work, Temple is engaging as she always is and makes a vivid, if ultimately perplexing impression, but overall it’s an unlit tunnel of a film that we emerge from and go “huh?”, and not in a good way.

-Nate Hill

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind: A Review By Nate Hill


As soon as George Clooney built up enough clout and reputation in the industry to a point where he could make his own projects, he started to send some unique and refreshing stuff down an assembly line that needed some shaking up. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is such a curiosity, but it’s so specific and idiosyncratic that I can barely say what makes it so special. I can go over the plot, performances etc. and give the reader a general idea, but to get it you had to be there. I suppose that’s the case with all movies, this one just sort of has its own frequency that you have to be tuned into. For a square jawed leading man, Clooney sure busted the box open with this directorial effort, as well as a few others, all just as distinctive. A screenplay by Mr. Abstract himself, Charlie Kaufman, helps with making an impression as well. Sam Rockwell, who continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of his generation, plays Chuck Barris. Chuck was the brain child behind numerous gaudy television game shows in the 60’s, including the infamous ‘Dating Game’. Flippant creative output was his brand, but there was another side to him as well, a darker period in which he claimed to be recruited by the CIA to carry out cloak and dagger assassinations. Whether or not this was ever a factual part of his life is murky, but he certainly believes it to be true and has written extensively about it in the novel which Clooney based this on. The film deftly intersperses his life at the television network and the genesis of the programs with his training and eventual missions for the Company. It’s an odd contrast, but when you’re treated with Clooney’s dutiful storytelling and an extremely committed turn from Rockwell, it’s hard not to be drawn into it. Not to mention the supporting cast. Julia Roberts is cast against type as a lethal, sociopathic femme fatale who crosses paths with Barris more than a few times. Rutger Hauer mopes about as a loveable alcoholic operative who covers Barris’s back on a few assignments. Drew Barrymore spruces things up as a ditzy love interest, Michael Cera plays Chuck as a young’in, Clooney himself underplays his CIA handler, letting an epic moustache do the talking, and there’s cameos from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. At one point the film stops dead in its tracks for the funniest performance which hijacks a scene briefly, in the form of Robert John Burke as a maniacal censorship board hyena. Burke pulls the ripcord and delivers roughly 40 seconds of pure comedic genius that I could watch on loop, and is the only moment of its kind in the film. You’d think it’d offset tone, but in a film this organic and quirky, it simply serves as a garnish of hilarity. The whole thing has a Soderbergh feel to it (perhaps due to Clooney), a sharp, crystalline precision to the burnished cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, who previously wowed us with similar work on Blood & Wine, The Usual Suspects and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. His lens captures the melancholy accompanying Barris’s very strange path path in life with moodily lit frames, and pauses for the brilliant moments of absurd black comedy which seem to follow him around like the spooks he was always running from. A film with dual aspects that never tries to prove or disprove Chuck’s claims, but loyally tells the story the way he told it, guided by Clooney all the while. A little stroke of genius.