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…
Scam is a breezy, Miami Vice-esque TV movie that no one saw. Nothing remarkable, but the cast has fun with the seedy crime thriller plot, and no doubt got to vacation in the Caribbean locale where this was filmed between takes. Christopher Walken never misses a beat, even in inconsequential fluff like this, and he’s fun here as shady FBI agent Jack Shanks, who is stalking a couple scam artists working the local beat. Gorgeous Maggie (Lorraine Bracco) lures men out of bars, spikes their drinks real good and then her and her violent boyfriend (Miguel Ferrer) rob the poor fuckers blind. Walken is wise to their act and entraps her for his own agenda, which involves lifting sensitive floppy disks from the clutches of a nasty crime lord (Daniel Von Bargen). Seamy, sweaty and oh so sleazy, it’s pure early 90’s cheese that has aged not too shabbily. Bracco and Walken have sexy chemistry, while Ferrer’s rabid dog thug livens things up, as does a wonderfully over elaborate, sun baked plot. Good times.
Stephen King, the master of deliriously high concept horror, strikes again with The Night Flier, a gruesome, clever and painfully overlooked HBO midnite movie, starring everyone’s favourite grouchy pants, Miguel Ferrer, or Albert Rosenfield to any good Twin Peaks fans out there. Via a creepy take on tabloid journalism and the insidious obsession it breeds, King and Co. take a look at the way words get twisted from fact to bombastic fiction, the jaded reality one arrives at after working too long in such a field, and the hilarious possibility that such ridiculous, “made up” horrors one fabricates might in fact be a reality. Acid tongued Ferrer plays Richard Dees, a bitter and depressingly cynical trash reporter who is one drink away from the gutter and two lousy stories away from retirement, an acrid soul who lives by the mantra “Don’t believe what you publish, and don’t publish what you believe” (a pearl of wisdom that I imagine is rattling around King’s own skull, when we look at the sacrilege being wrought upon his magnum opus The Dark Tower in its cinematic emergence, particularly in regards to the casting of Roland the Gunslinger). Dees is on the hunt for en elusive serial killer who pilots an unnamed Cessna across the Midwest, slaughtering people in and around remote airports before vanishing into the night. Vampiric in origin and very hard to track down, this fiend uses the dark as his ally and seems to slip uncannily across America’s airspace, leaving a wake of bloody murder in his path that gives any old tabloid yarn a run for its money. Jaded Dees gets more than his usual brand of hoaxes and pranks, and seems oddly, morbidly drawn to this spree of horrific crimes, eerily willing to follow the Night Flier into the very jaws of Cerberus himself, if only to find exodus from his pointless, roundabout existence. All of King’s beloved qualities are at play here; grotesque practical effects, gnawing existential calamity, a light at the end of a tunnel that seems to crush our protagonist before they can reach it, and clever morality plays buried like demonic Easter eggs amidst the corn syrup and latex. An overlooked treat.
“Bitches, leave!!” I direct that sentiment towards anyone out there who thinks the remake of Robocop can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant, incredibly graphic and bitingly satirical 1987 classic. Everything that was special and amazing about the original was absolutely pissed on with the remake, and it kills me that I run into people my age these days who aren’t even aware that the remake IS a remake, and think it’s the original Robocop. Ugh. Get out. No, this is the real, steel deal, accented by Verhoeven’s blunt approach to characterization and overly ultraviolent, near Cronenberg-esque flair for carnage. Peter Weller only gets to act as regular joe police officer Alex Murphy for a brief and chaotic prologue, but makes the most of it with his deadpan delivery and piercing gaze. Murphy is assigned to a precinct in the heart of Old Detroit, a district so corrupt, rotten and infested with crime it literally resembles a war zone, and cops wear heavy riot gear on their beat. Paired Nancy Allen, he beelines it for a suspicious truck leaving the scene of a heist. Only one problem: this particular truck happens to belong to evil arch criminal Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his merry band of psychopaths, who are armed to the teeth with heavy artillery. Cornered in a warehouse, Murphy is brutally, and I mean fucking brutally dispatched by Boddicker and his gang, shredded by a hail of gunfire that turns him into raw hamburger meat. What’s left of him is quickly swooped up by corporate, and used in a high tech, absolutely silly program run by coked up suited opportunist Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). His idea has gotten in the way of nefarious plans put in motion by the top dog of the company, a maniac named Dick Jones played by Ronny Cox in a frighteningly funny turn that makes you terrified in between fits of giggles. Once Murphy has been through Morton’s wringer, Robocop emerges, an epic, unstoppable android enforcer who lays waste to criminal scum all over town, until traces of Murphy’s consciousness bubble up past the circuit boards and he gets his own agenda. Jones is determind to take him down, along with Morton, undermining The Old Man (Daniel O’Herlihy), the acting CEO. For a film called Robocop that came out in 1987 you’d think were in for a cut and dry action cheese fest. Not with Verhoeven at the helm. The Dutch madman is never one to play it safe (a refreshing trait among European directors) and pulls out all the stops here for a bloody good time that pauses ever so slightly to nudge you with its cynical side that just loves to bash social convention into oblivion. The effects are so 80’s you’ll swoon, especially when Jones’s own robo creation shows up in clanking, drunken stop motion that you can practically reach out and touch. Smith is a homicidal wonder as Boddicker, the smarmy fury and unrestrained behaviour hijacking every scene he’s in. Leland Palmer himself, Ray Wise plays Leon Nash, his equally dastardly second in command, and a host of gnarly character actors back them up, all of which have curiously guest starred on Fox’s 24 at various points in time, including Weller too. The level of fucks given with this film goes into the negative region of the thermometer, and to this day few studio films have been able to boast such disregard for discretion or lay claim to a sheer love of bombastic villains, a blatant lack of subtlety and a willingness to take things to cinematic infinity, beyond and back again just so they can throw a few more bullets into the mix. Accept no substitutes.
I’ve been ragging a lot on Cuba Gooding Jr. The past few reviews, so I’ll go easy and speak about a good one instead. Wrong Turn At Tahoe has a script that should have been given the royal treatment; it’s wise, brutal, thought provoking and very violent, with many sets of morals clashing against each other in true crime genre style. It didn’t get a huge budget or a lot of marketing, but what it did get was a renakably good cast of actors who really give the written word it’s justice, telling a age old story dangerous people who inhabit the crime ridden frays of both society and cinema. Cuba plays Joshua, a low level mafia enforcer who works for Vincent (Miguel Ferrer), a ruthless mid level mobster who runs his operations with an OCD iron fist. He also rescued Joshua from a crack house when he was a young’in, forging a father son bond that runs deeper than terms of employment. When a weaselly informant tells them that local drug runner Frankie Tahoe (Noel Gugliemi, reliably scary) has it in for them, Vincent brashly retaliates first by viciously killing him. That’s where the shit starts to get deep. Frankie was an employee of Nino (Harvey Keitel) that most powerful crime boss on the west coast and not a man to cross. Nino Wants hefty payment for the loss of Frankie, who was a good operative. Vincent, being the proud and belligerent son of a bitch that he is, bluntly refuses. So begins a bloody, near Shakespearean gang war in which both sides rack up heavy losses and the phrase ‘crime doesn’t pay’ collects it’s due. All parties were inevitably headed to a bitter end whether or not the Tahoe incident occurred, and I think the writer simply used that inciting incident as an example of many ways in which a life like that will always end up at a dead end. The writing is superb, especially for Gooding, Keitel and Ferrer, a vicious triangle indeed, all at the top of their game and then some. Johnny Messner is great as Gooding’s cohort who can’t keep his mouth shit, and watch for Mike Starr, Leonor Varela, Paul Sampson and Louis Mandylor too. Dark deeds, unexpected betrayal, self destructive ego, combustible machismo and ironic twists of fate are explored here in a script the remains as one of my favourite of that year. Really excellent stuff.
The Harvest is the very definition of a hidden gem that one stumbles upon while watching late night cable and sits through to the end just because it’s such a wickedly nasty little thriller. Erotic and steamy, dangerous, very darkly funny are qualities that all reside within a terrific script that has one kicker of an ending that’s quite the chuckle inducing payoff. No one wants to have their organs taken while on vacation in some sketchy South American country, let alone consider the thought of it. Hard luck screenwriter Charlie Pope (an intense Miguel Ferrer in one of his few lead roles) falls right into that unthinkable scenario. He’s sent to Mexico by his bad tempered boss Bob Lakin (a sleazy Harvey Fierstein, who REALLY needs to be in more movies), and marinates in the sweatiness trying to get some work done. After a hot and heavy night with a gorgeous local babe (Leilani Sarelle) he wakes up with the mother of all hangovers and is horrified to find that one of his kidneys has been removed. From there it’s a stomach churning mad dash to figure out where the smugglers have gone, and evade the, at the same time, because they’re coming to try and get his other one and silence him forever as well. It’s an uncomfortable little piece of white knuckle trash, but it’s made with solid flair and like I said, the script is top shelf stuff. Ferrer is the running man here, trying to keep one step ahead of some very dangerous people, his bountiful acting talent putting us right there with him. Fierstein is always a gravel voiced gem, and gets two penultimate scenes that spin the plot on its cogs, both which will have you laughing uncomfortably. There’s also an early career appearance from George Clooney, who is Ferrer’s cousin. His credit here, and I’m not even making this up, is ‘Lip syncing transvestite’. How’s that for a leg up in the industry. Lowbrow, gut churning black comedy mixed with the exotic fish out of water thriller makes for a neat little piece of genre bending, grotesque shocker fun.
The Courier is a strange little flick that dabbles in the kind of pulpy narrative which the 80’s were famous for. One lone antihero sets out to deliver a package of enigmatic value to a recipient that is always one step ahead of him, proving to be quite elusive. Bad guys and gals hinder him at every turn and violence ensues, leading up to an inevitable confrontation and in this case a neat little twist that admittedly defies any sort of reason, yet is fun for the actors to play out and provides sensationalism, a trait that’s commonplace in such films. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a haggard presence in any role, a guy you immediately feel rooted to in a scene. He gets the lead role here, playing an underground criminal courier, passing along dangerous goods from one cloak and dagger person to another. His latest task comes from his handler (Mark Margolis): Deliver an odd case to a reclusive criminal mastermind known only as Evil Sivle. Little information is given beyond that, but it soon becomes apparant that his mission is a cursed one, as he finds himself a hot target for all kinds of weirdos. German live wire Til Schweiger plays a dirty federal agent who hassles him with that campy charisma and narrow eyed theatricality that only he can bring to the table. Miguel Ferrer and Lilli Taylor are priceless as Mr. & Mrs. Capo, a pair of married contract killers who discuss their dinner plans whilst hunting their quarry, and have devised some truly vile torture methods involving culinary instruments. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie, where B movie mavericks are let off the chain and allowed to throw zany stuff into their otherwise pedestrian material that often borders on experimental. Morgan is assisted by a young chick (Josie Ho) who saves his ass more than a couple of times. Mickey Rourke shows up late in the game as Maxwell, a mysterious Elvis impersonator and Vegas gangster who plays a crucial role in Courier’s quest. Trust Rourke to take a derivitive, underwritten supporting character and turn the few minutes of screen time he has into utter gold that elevates his scene onto a plane which the film as a whole is sheepishly undeserved of. Morgan is better than the flick too, but he’s great in anything. He ducks the heroic panache of the action protagonist and dives into growling melancholy, his grizzly bear voice and imposing frame put to excellent use. This one got critically shredded upon release. Yeah it ain’t great, but it sure as hell ain’t terrible. Worth it for a cast that makes it work, and for that classic genre feel that can’t be beat.