Death in Stockholm

Talk about serendipity – there I was in Stockholm on 14 July, the day that would have been Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday, and they were showing The Seventh Seal. What better way to enjoy a hot summer afternoon on vacation than to spend it in the company of a knight undergoing an existential crisis and the Grim Reaper himself?

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #12: Twin Peaks – The Return

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 12 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, in which we finally return to the quiet (or is it?) town of Twin Peaks, say hello to Special Agent Dale Cooper and talk about death, nostalgia and David Lynch over a slice of pie and a fresh cup of joe. Did Twin Peaks – The Return deliver what we wanted or did it give us what we deserved? We also briefly visit the Civil War US and the land of the dead in Lincoln in the Bardo, experience the horror, the horror in Apocalypse Now Redux (now with more Playboy Bunnies!) and answer that age-old question – can a used condom be art? – as we chat about The Square.

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The Tube is not what it seems

Okay, gang. I’m afraid this entry is going to be short(ish) on words and long on film. Also, it’s only really going to be of interest to David Lynch/Twin Peaks fans. For all you other people: switch off your computers and go outside. It’s a lovely day. (At least where I am. For all I know, The Deluge: The Sequel has just started wherever you are.)

One of the features on the Twin Peaks Super Gold Fantastic Tacky Set is that the international version of the pilot is included. This was the version Lynch edited together in case the series wasn’t picked up by a network, and it ‘completes’ the plot. However, ‘complete’ has to be taken in the loosest possible sense here – for anyone who thought that Lynch’s works don’t make any sense, the international Twin Peaks pilot makes Lost Highway look like one of those “Run, Jane, run!” stories in terms of clarity.

It roughly goes like this: Mike, the one-armed man, calls Agent Cooper and tells him that Bob killed Laura. Coop and Sheriff Truman meet Mike at the hospital. They find Bob in the hospital basement. Mike shoots Bob. Cut to twenty-five years later: Coop is in the red room, little guy dances, Laura kisses Coop and whispers something in her ear. The end.

I’m somewhat reminded of the first time I watched Twin Peaks on telly. They were showing it on some second-rate channel, but they stopped roughly 2/3 into the series without saying that it wasn’t actually over. For years I thought, “No wonder people say that Twin Peaks doesn’t make any sense!” Even the ending that Lynch finally came up with had more closure and felt more coherent than what I’d seen…

P.S.: Even if the international pilot is rushed and incoherent, you gotta love Lucy and Andy.
P.P.S.: For those of you who want to see something that is more representative of the Best of Twin Peaks: this is pretty much my favourite scene in the series.

… but I gots to be that kinda blogger

When you read Internet comments on anything concerning Quentin Tarantino, you quickly realise two things: 1) You shouldn’t read Internet comments unless you get some sort of masochist enjoyment out of sustained idiocy; 2) Quentin Tarantino is considered a hack by lots of people who, by extension, think that Tarantino fans are wannabe hip wankers.

Now, I understand that QT’s films aren’t to everyone’s taste, and he’s definitely not one of those directors/writers who can do no wrong. But I would think that anyone with half an eye and a minimum of appreciation for movies should appreciate that Tarantino is anything but a hack. Pulp Fiction still holds up amazingly well 14 years after it came to cinemas. Jackie Brown is a bit of an odd one out – its relationship to the rest of QT’s oeuvre is roughly like that of The Straight Story to most other David Lynch movies. Many people who loved Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs found Jackie Brown boring, and people who hated Tarantino’s earlier films (or Kill Bill, if they started from the other end) probably didn’t even see the movie.

We started watching it yesterday evening – for the first time since the DVD came out, in my case – and from the very beginning, the Miramax logo appearing on screen to the strains of Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street, I got the same giddy feeling that I got from most of Tarantino’s movies. Apart from anything else, the guy knows how to use a soundtrack to accompany and reinforce his images. The film’s intro is one of the coolest in all of American cinema, and its simplicity makes it even cooler. Pam Grier, seen through Tarantino’s lens, is both a real person and utterly iconic. Neither the music nor the images without the other would work nearly as well:

What I only realised yesterday was that, once that intro is over, it’s half an hour before Jackie Brown (the title character!) is back on screen. But that introductory sequence has burnt her into our mind’s retina. It’s her film.

But it’s also the rest of the cast’s film; most if not all of the main characters are played brilliantly. I still haven’t warmed to Bridget Fonda, I have to admit, neither in this movie nor in most others (except A Simple Plan), but it’s fascinating what Tarantino does with Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro. In a way it’s a shame that Jackson was so good in Pulp Fiction, because in most films that followed it he did minor variations on Jules Winfield only, becoming a self-parody. He was never less than cool but neither was he more than Samuel L. Jackson(tm). Robbie Ordell, though, is different. Not wildly different, but he takes his earlier character and makes him into something colder, more real and more frightening.

Robert De Niro, though, is an actor who has rarely impressed me in the last ten years or so. He too has  been playing reduced versions of his earlier parts, also becoming a caricature of himself in so many movies. His Louis Gara is a comic figure in his slowness, yet it’s much more differentiated a performance than you might think at first. And his scene with Bridget Fonda is one of the most cuttingly funny sex scenes in American movies. For now, I’ll leave you with it:

The Butterstumps Effect

They say that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Hollywood, DVD sales halfway across the world may skyrocket. This is exactly what seems to have happened with The Butterfly Effect, an Ashton Kutcher vehicle – and what is truly miraculous is that the phrase “an Ashton Kutcher vehicle” didn’t make anyone reconsider.

This film could probably be called Dude, Where’s My Past?, except that wouldn’t be quite fair. The Butterfly Effect is very different from that other vehicular Ashton Kutcher movie in that it tries to be intelligent, dark and deep. It is quite scary at first, though mainly because of cheap jump cuts and shrieking violins on the soundtrack, but it’s far less clever or tragic than it thinks it is.

The premise is intriguing, in a Twilight Zone/”Don’t think about it too much” way. College student Evan Treborn finds that he can go back in time thanks to his journals he’s been keeping since the age of 7, and he attempts to make things better for the people in his life, especially his love Kayleigh, by changing the past. Wacky hijinks ensue, of the sort that Ray Bradbury and the Simpsons got quite some mileage from – change one thing in the past, and a whole plethora of effects snowball from this change. Keep your ladylove’s dad from making kiddie porn with her when she was seven years old, and suddenly she’s not a suicidal waitress in a diner but your girlfriend and sorority chick extraordinaire – but her brother’s a murderous psycho. Stop a prank that went horribly wrong, and your chubby-yet-hunky best friend (described in one wonderful review as “Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Fabio”) is Kayleigh’s perfect lover while you’re – surprise! – mostly armless.

Perhaps if I rewrite the script…

The problem is… Actually, there is more than one problem. For one, while a film about something as fantastic as time travel cannot be realistic, it can still have some sort of internal logic. This film doesn’t. Some changes in the past have major effects on the present, others simply leave Evan in the same situation but with one or two additional scars. What makes the difference? Simply the whim of the script writers. When you realise that they’re the ones pulling the strings, for no other reason than “It’s coolest/nastiest/most tragic like this!”, you stop caring.

That is, if you cared to begin with; because, to be quite honest, there’s very little to care about in the film. Most of the characters keep changing due to Evan’s fiddling with the past, the effect being at Kayleigh 1 is a different person from Kayleigh 2 is a different person from Kayleigh 3. You know that in five to ten minutes, most of the characters will have been rewritten completely, so why should you feel any emotional attachment to them? The only person who remains halfway constant is Evan, and he’s a bit of a blank, with moments of total idiocy. I felt so detached from him that I had to suppress giggles when he woke up from his latest bout of time-travel with his hands gone and him screaming at his stumps. It just felt so phony, like the scriptwriters were saying: “Okay, he stops his mom from smoking in the past, so in the present his dick has been chewed off by rabid poodles!”

If I kill the scriptwriters in the past…

The film’s been compared to that other time-traveling weirdo tale, Donnie Darko. There are indeed some similarities, but they’re mainly superficial. Donnie Darko is less interested in its mystery/sci-fi plot, at least in the theatrical version – and that’s good, because the more prominent a labyrinthine time-travel plot is, the more apparent its almost inevitable plot holes become. Instead, Donnie Darko focuses on the characters and, in doing so, manages to become one of the sweetest films about teenage angst this side of Breakfast Club. It’s as if David Lynch and John Hughes, after a big breakfast of pancakes, pie and damn good coffee, set out to create a bitter-sweet surreal adolescent romance – and succeeded.

Also, there is simply no comparison between the character writing and the acting in the two movies. The protagonists in Donnie Darko live and breathe, while their equivalents in The Butterfly Effect are mere puppets on strings controlled by a puppeteer who is moderately competent at best. And Ashton Kutcher does a very good “bland twentysomething”, but there’s more acting talent in Jake Gyllenhaal’s left buttock than in all of Kutcher.

P.S.: One of the first pics that came up when I Googled “butterfly effect” looking for images was one of the Olson twins topless, with flimsy foil butterflies over their nipples. By god, I wish I could go back in time to keep myself from seeing that…

Welcome to Twin Peaks… again!

Today a big parcel arrived from Amazon.de. Of course I had a fairly clear idea of what I’d find inside, but I was still excited when I opened it. (Amazon – the 21st century replacement for Father Christmas…)

Dum (ba bing, bing), dum dum (ba bing, bing)…

It’s been a while since I watched any Twin Peaks, but one of my fondest memories from my student days is a weekend of watching the series with a couple of friends, a coffee percolator (no fish – sorry, Pete), cherry pies and, yes, donuts.

Undoubtedly, much of Twin Peaks after Laura Palmer’s murder has been solved isn’t nearly as good as what went before it, and the final episode is pretty much David Lynch’s cryptic “!uoy kcuF” to the audience (to be said by a little guy in a red suit dancing to some slow jazzy tune). But I’m still looking forward to getting back to that foggy, creepy, underbelly of Mom’s apple pie-y place. And, of course, Albert Rosenfield.

And that intro sequence…

Superheroes the world didn’t need

Elephant man! Elephant man! Does whatever an elephant can! Look out – here comes the elephant man!

Okay, I admit it… that was rather bad. Personally, I blame it on the effect of post-New Year’s Eve lack of sleep and a general tendency towards silliness when I’ve just got up. (Those who know me might say that this tendency generally lasts until I go back to bed…)

Elephant Man, together with The Straight Story, is one of the films by David Lynch that even people who don’t know Lynch and wouldn’t sit through five minutes of Lost Highway or Blue Velvet will have heard about. Regardless of this, though, the film is very much a product of Lynch’s aesthetic sensitivities. The many long takes of smoke and textured surfaces that aren’t immediately recognisable, the underlying mechanical sound effects (as if a large engine was powering the film and its world), especially the beginning and the ending. There are moments that recall his earlier works but also his later films. In this respect, Elephant Man feels more obviously like Lynch (if you know his films a bit) than The Straight Story, in which the Lynchian element is a lot more covert.

On a different note: why is it that half the hits to this website come about because people are looking for Miami Vice? Yes, I’ve posted two entries on the movie remake, but I’m surprised that a) people would find Eagles on Pogo Sticks and b)
Miami Vice would be such a popular search term. (Well, I definitely prefer folks getting here googling “miami vice” to those who find the blog googling “panty sniffing”. The latter are also more likely to be disappointed by the actual content of the blog, I think/hope…)