Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Jason Leigh’

Can you ever really go back home again?

Two weeks ago, David Lynch and Mark Frost detonated what we thought television was capable of — perhaps even what reality itself was all about, depending on who you ask — in part eight of Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three with as much undeniable and unalterable (fuck, is that a word?) force as the atomic explosion they took us so deeply into the heart of. I was bummed we didn’t get a new segment last week, but actually appreciated having the extra time to process all we had witnessed, and now the question becomes one of whether or not you can put the genie back in the bottle. We don’t want or need every part to have the sheer nuclear impact of that last one, of course — much of its power lies in its singularity — but now that we’ve seen the “other side,” so to speak, what’s to be made of this one?

As luck — or, okay, fair enough, Lynch’s skill — would have it, quite a lot, thankfully, for while part nine is punctuated throughout with any number of small and slow “character moments” of the sort to which we’re becoming accustomed to, if not outright spoiled by (Lynch’s Gordon Cole longingly eyeing the cigarette being enjoyed by Laura Dern’s Diane Evans being a particular favorite), we’re also treated to so much sheer plot progression (executed with a kind of quiet grace that only looks and feels laconic while actually bearing down with the force of a goddamn locomotive) that, once again, a couple of viewings, at the least, are going to be necessary in order to take it all in.

In short order, then : Evil Coop (portrayed, as ever, by soon-to-be-Emmy-winner-if-there’s-any-justice-in-this-world Kyle MacLachlan) is up and running again and makes his way to “The Farm,” where we meet Tim Roth for the first time and Jennifer Jason Leigh for the second. He’s got business that needs attending to with Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) back at the Silver Mustang Casino in Vegas, so we’ll see what that’s all about, and speaking of Sin City, Dougie (MacLachlan again) and Janey-E Jones (Naomi Watts) are still in the process of being cut loose from police questioning after Dougie’s attempted assassination at the hands of the diminutive Ike “The Spike” (Christophe Zajac-Denek). There’s some terrific interaction between Dougie’s boss, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) and the trio of Detectives Fusco (David Koechner, Eric Edelstein, and Larry Clarke), and not too long after they, and the rest of Las Vegas Metro, get to play heroes by finally bringing Ike to justice in a fleabag North Strip (by the look of it) motel room.

Concurrent with all this, Cole, Agents Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), along with Diane and Cole, find their return flight to Philadelphia interrupted by a spur-of-the-moment course change to, no shock here, Buckhorn, South Dakota, where we learn that mild-mannered high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) , still under lock, key, and the watchful eyes of Detective Dave Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and the Pentagon’s Lt. Knox (Adele Rene) is actually a blogger (poor sap) with a keen interest in what he calls “The Zone,” which seems to be shorthand for the “world between worlds” that we’ve explored in parts three and eight. He knows Major Garland Briggs — hell, he’s met the man — and what that all means is surely going to be one of the key mysteries explored in the nine short weeks we have left with this, the most remarkable piece of work ever crafted for American television screens, but for now it looks very much like Lynch and Frost have pulled another of their trademark “you didn’t think this shit was connected, but check this out!” twists, and I’ll bet you anything that the glass box in New York ties right into this particular plot thread, as well.

Meanwhile, in the town of Twin Peaks proper, while Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) shop for furniture online, Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) and Deputy (it still sounds weird to say this) Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) are bestowed with a gift from the aforementioned late (any way you slice it) Major, and when they’re given both it and as much of an explanation as she can muster from Bobby’s mom, Betty (Charlotte Stewart), we witness arguably the most powerful and affecting performance we’ve seen in this series so far, with the possible exception of Catherine E. Coulson’s as-brief-as-it-was-brave reprisal of her role as the Log Lady. Stewart’s straight-up incredible in her few moments of screen time here, Lynch directs the scene with superb humanistic understatement that really allows her to shine, and when she breaks her soliloquy with “should we have that coffee now?,” well — everyone feels both relieved and, somehow, not to sound too grandiose, transported. It’s beautiful stuff, and manages to outdo even Lillard’s harrowing breakdown under questioning that comes later in the epis — shit, there I go again, part.

Oh, and while all that’s going, Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his assistant, Beverly (Ashley Judd) still can’t find the source of the mysterious “hum” in the corner of her office (but its power definitely seems to be drawing them inexorably closer together), and brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) is just plain out of his gourd on weed that absolutely has to be laced with something stronger. After all, I’ve been pretty damn high in my time, but I’ve never had my foot talk to me, much less tell me it wasn’t my foot at all.

Further questions abound (why is Johnny Horne running head-first into a wall? Who are the two — sorry to use the term, but — meth skanks hanging out in the Roadhouse at the end?), but between the transcendent moments from Stewart and Lillard and the usual beyond-stong work from MacLachlan, Dern, and company, it has to be said that Lynch did the one thing he could, indeed the one thing he absolutely needed to do, in order to get all of our heads “back in the game” this week : trusted his cast to hit it out of the park. And they did.

So, to return to our question from the outset : can you ever really go home again? It seems you can. Our eyes are open wider, the scope of our vision expanded, our expectations amped up to a degree that no TV show has ever even attempted, much less actually been able, to follow through on, but yes. This is familiar territory. We know the world of Twin Peaks as well as we ever have.

Which is to say, of course, not at all.

 

How, exactly, does one begin to process all this?

The only way one can, I suppose — one scene, one instance, one moment at a time.

After all, it’s been 25 years and,  despite Laura Palmer’s promise, until it was first cryptically hinted at via twitter, then officially announced what already feels like countless months ago, I think it’s fairly safe to say that none of us thought this would happen. And yet, happening it is — “again,” as its promotional materials point out. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks has, indeed, returned to television. And it’s been a “pinch yourself to make sure it’s real” night all the way.

Damn, but they did a good job of keeping all the details under wraps, didn’t they? In a world where the president of the United States feels compelled to spill classified info to the Russians in order to prove his dick still works (and that Mr. Putin’s money was well spent), it may be hard to believe that anyone can keep a secret anymore, but up until that red carpet (or should that be Red Room?) Hollywood screening the other night, nobody beyond the principals involved had any idea what was in store for us. No leaked scripts or rough-cuts or dailies. No wayward comments during interviews that hinted at just a little too much. Nothing. We went into this one as blind as we all did — scratch that, as those of us who were around did — when the original Twin Peaks first aired on ABC way back in 1990.

The fair question to ask, then, after all this time — is this even the same show?

Well, yes and no. In much the same way that the maligned-at-the-time-but-celebrated-now “prequel” film, Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me marked a distinct tonal change from its small-screen progenitor, Twin Peaks circa 2017 both looks and feels entirely different than each of its forebears, and that’s as it should be : technology has moved on (this one’s shot in HD by the great Peter Deming), actors have aged, the budget’s bigger (Lynch having temporarily abandoned the project — God, remember that? — when it wasn’t), and being on Showtime means you can show tits, ass, blood, and viscera — all of which are reasonably well-represented in the two “part” (don’t call ’em episodes!) premiere “event” that just finished airing.

And yet those are all superficial changes. What strikes me as the greatest departure of all is the overall shift toward a slower, more measured, and decidedly more somber brand of storytelling than us old-time fans may be  accustomed to. The pacing of these first two parts is more akin to Lynch’s still-criminally-underappreciated Lost Highway than it is to “old-school” Twin Peaks, each rather lengthy scene dripping with both import and inherent tension in a way that simply can’t be faked. As we progress from Red Room/Black Lodge to the town of Twin Peaks “proper” to New York City to Buckhorn, South Dakota — and back, in turn, to each again, at least once — the daily minutiae of the various fictitious “lives” on display is given more-than-ample breathing space, and seemingly “unimportant” events, such as setting up an array of video cameras or waiting for someone to come to the door, play out very nearly in real time. This is, I admit, something that takes some getting used to — particularly as far as the scenes with the dude in New York who’s hired to observe a seemingly empty glass box go — but it ensures that when things do happen, they pack an enormous wallop. I’d tell you to ask that kid in the Big Apple I just mentioned, but alas, he’s in no shape to answer questions right now.

Death is, in fact, a constant specter hanging over the proceedings here — the inimitable Catherine E. Coulson, better known as “The Log Lady,” gives a heart-wrenching performance shot shortly before her demise that bravely incorporates aspects of her own illness; David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries and Don S. Davis’ Major Garland Briggs both play significant roles by way of mere mention in the same scene; the late Miguel Ferrer will be along before too long — and, of course, there’s Laura Palmer. There’s always Laura Palmer. Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she both and neither at the same time? Actress Sherly Lee is shown as having aged naturally, and when she finally plants a kiss on Agent Cooper’s lips it consummates what for many of us was the real, if entirely unspoken, love story at the heart of Twin Peaks as we knew it — but then she undergoes a transformation that further reinforces the idea that this isn’t, nor will it be, the Twin Peaks we thought we knew at all.

Except, of course, when it is. Paradoxically, the “unreal” world of the Red Room is where we find the most familiar faces — The Giant (Carel Struycken) kicks off the nostalgia parade followed in short order by Laura, Philip Gerard, the one-armed man (Al Strobel) — hell, even Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) turns up eventually. Change, evolution, and metamorphosis seems to be the through-line connecting all that goes on/has gone on beyond the scarlet-colored veil — exemplified most noticeably by “The Arm” (which sure ain’t an arm anymore) — so be forewarned :  if you thought that time stood still for anybody trapped in this parallel (un?)reality, think again.

And that seems doubly true for Kyle MacLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper, who’s apparently spent the better part of the past quarter-century sitting in the same chair. Or at least one of him has — his “BOB”-possessed doppleganger, last seen bleeding from the forehead and saying “How’s Annie?” over and over again front of a broken mirror, is busy raising all kinds of hell on our side of the dimensional divide, and his story provides the nearest thing to a straightforward and completely accessible plotline so far. That doesn’t mean we know where things are headed for him yet — not by any stretch — but his motivations are clearly spelled out in a way that little else here is, and MacLachlan just plain acts his ass off in this starkly uncharacteristic role. He even goes toe-to-toe with the great Jennifer Jason Leigh (his head and hands, mind you, being at entirely different level vis-a-vis her form) and dominates the screen to the point where you do a hey “hey, wait, isn’t that—?”-style double-take after she first makes her appearance. Put simply, he’s real good at being real bad.

My theory — and keep in mind, it’s only a theory — is that the emergence of “BOB” into our world via Doppleganger Dale is going to prove to have been the catalyst for a sort of “overall darkening” that’s taken place. Ya see,  2017 Twin Peaks, at least to date, seems to exhibit almost none of the charming quirkiness that endeared so many to the show last time around, the noble-but-brief efforts of Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz), and Horne brothers (blink and you’ll miss Ashley Judd as their new secretary) Ben (Richard Beymer) and Jerry (David Patrcik Kelly) notwithstanding — and in its place we have a town where the mill stands in ruin, Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) orders heavy equipment for a paranoia-fueled secret project deep in the woods, neither of the Sheriffs Truman (could a surprise appearance from Michael Ontkean at some point down the road be this series’ best-kept secret of all?) bother to show up for work, and Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) has graduated from “Invitation To Love” to graphic, “law of the jungle” nature documentaries. The ever-noble Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) seems, as ever, to be the only one who just might have at least an intuitive understanding of what’s going on, but to this viewer, at least, it seems pretty clear that somewhere along the way, something went seriously wrong.

And yet, just when all seems ireevocably lost, we’re treated to a final scene at the “Bang Bang Bar” roadhouse, where Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) still tends bar, Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) still drinks and gossips with her girlfriends, James Hurley (James Marshall) still stops in for a beer, and the nearest thing to a young version of Julee Cruise sings on stage. It’s all wrapped in a wistful, nostalgic glow that Lynch delivers with something akin to what I can only, and no doubt inadequately, describe as beauty tinged with sadness, and for those who were feeling out of their depth and/or comfort zones in the first hour-and-forty-five, it’ll most likely reel ’em back in — snap! — just like that.

As a study in contrasts, then — both with its previous version and, most interesintgly, with itself — the first two parts of Twin Peaks 2017 border on the downright breathtaking. Whether we’re looking at a grisly (to put it mildly) quasi-ritualistic murder scene in South Dakota, watching the black-and-white flooring of the Red Room shift, rise, and fall, seeing “Bad Dale” drive a muscle car in the middle of the night, or even just staring into that (usually) empty glass box again, it’s impossible to turn away. Joe Bob Briggs once said that  the cardinal rule for what makes a great drive-in movie is knowing that “anyone can die at any time” — Lynch and Frost one-up that here, though, by giving us a show where anything can happen at any time.

It’s happening again, indeed — and for the very first time.

 

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Waaaaayyy back in my early days as an armchair critic, I focused almost exclusively on exploitation, horror, and other “B”-movie genres. They’re pretty much all I wrote about, in fact, and calling my blog “Trash Film Guru” made a kind of sense back then. These days, of course, I find myself casting my hopefully-more-sharply-trained critical eye on just about anything, and if I went back and added up the numbers over the last two or three years I’d probably find that I’ve reviewed just as many comics as I have films, and that I’ve reviewed as many Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, and straight-to-video numbers as I have old-school (or, for that matter, new-school) exploitation flicks, but still — the “Trash Film Guru” name continues to run at the top of my site, and since it does, I take it as almost a personal responsibility to review new Quentin Tarantino films as soon as they come out, given that he’s essentially the living embodiment of the exploitation ethos in our day and age.

Not that it’s a responsibility I don’t relish, mind you — I’m not ashamed to admit that I still absolutely love all of Q.T.’s work to one degree or another (yes, even Death Proof), and that I still consider it a genuine cinematic “event” when something new from the man hits theaters. And yet —

I never did get around to seeing 2015’s The Hateful Eight when it was playing cinemas. I was short-staffed at work at the time and clocking six-day weeks for a good few months there, and so getting out to the movies just wasn’t something I had time for. By the time things settled down a bit and I found myself with something vaguely resembling “free time” again, wouldn’t you know it — the damn thing was long gone. It’s out on Blu-ray and DVD now (with excellent picture and sound as you’d expect and sparse extras, the most notable of which is a decent little “making-of” featurette), though, so hey — I can finally do my duty as a self-appointed “guru” of exploitation and report back to you, dear reader, with my thoughts on this, our guy Quentin’s latest, and perhaps most divisive, effort.

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First off, let’s not kid ourselves — everybody loved Inglourious Basterds (and with good reason), and everybody especially loved that long, slow-burn first scene. A lot of folks even openly wished the entire flick had aped its tone and structure, and evidently Tarantino was listening, because The Hateful Eight is easily his “talkiest,” most insular, most claustrophobic, most subtle work yet. It takes a long time to get going and is decidedly less flamboyant in terms of its balls-to-the-walls, operatic violence(though rest assured there’s still plenty of it) than we’re used to from the auteur, but in many ways that’s the best thing about it — not only because, hey, a little variety is always good, but because Tarantino extends that meme outward within the film itself. The Hateful Eight, ya see, is much more than “not exactly what we were expecting” —  it’s also never exactly what it appears to be.

On the surface, of course, this story about bloodthirsty bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (played by Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson) crossing paths with more-supposedly-gentlemanly-but-really-even-more-twisted fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts his latest captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the one-horse town of Red Rock, Wyoming barely ahead of a blizzard sounds like it’s probably a fairly traditional western — as new characters make their acquaintance, though, such as the town’s purported new sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and add layers of intrigue to the proceedings, one starts to get the idea that perhaps Tarantino is going to give us a Peckinpah-esque “revisionist” western. It’s not until we meet the rest of the “hateful” bunch, though — former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cow puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and substitute shopkeep Bob (Demian Bichir), who are all waiting out the storm inside the confines of an establishment known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — that we realize what we actually have on our hands here is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery where no one is who they appear to be. Even the ones, paradoxically, who are.

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But hold on a minute. Is that really what Tarantino is serving us here? Of course not. The various characters are, in fact, the flesh-and-blood embodiment of any number of problems (specifically those of the racial, cultural, political, and sexual varieties) plaguing just-post-Civil War America, and even as the onion of just who the fuck did what and what it even means is being peeled, the deftly-intertwined socio-political commentary is where the real action is here — and even there you honestly have to wonder whether or not Tarantino is confining his critique to this historical setting, or showing just how little has really changed between then and now. None of this ever gets heavy-handed, but it sure is thought-provokingly juicy.

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The other delicious bit of sleight-of-hand that Tarantino indulges in comes by way of the brilliant “switcheroo” he pulls immediately after the film’s opening act. Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography at the outset gives us magnificent snow-swept vistas of such quietly ominous grandeur that I was literally kicking myself for not having seen this flick in 70mm, and coupled with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-winning score the feel established early on in epic in the truest sense of the word — then the remaining 90% of the movie takes place in a single room and is pretty much a stage play on celluloid. Here’s the funny thing, though : Richardson and Morricone’s work only gets stronger once confined to these tight quarters. I have no idea how that works, but works it does.

Needless to say, the acting from all parties concerned is absolutely superb, and much as every line of dialogue in The Hateful Eight  is loaded with import whose meaning will only become clear later, every single movement, gesture, even facial tic on the part of the actors matters here. At over two-and-a-half hours long you’d be forgiven for assuming that there was a fair amount of “filler” material on offer in this flick, but the truth of the matter is that each and every detail is relevant to this film’s outcome. Not only are there almost no “throwaway” lines, there are very few, if any, “throwaway” moments.” So, ya know, pay attention.

And I hope that the nay-sayers who bad-mouthed this flick are still paying attention. If ever there was a film almost purposefully designed to benefit from critical re-appraisal as the years go on, it’s this one. Sure, it’s something of a lengthy slog and most of the tension is bubbling well beneath the surface, but damn — The Hateful Eight is a powder keg that could go off at any second, even if it isn’t always exclaiming that fact in forceful, “in-your-face” tones. You do need to be patient with this flick — but your patience will be richly rewarded.

So — is this Tarantino’s best work? No, Jackie Brown still holds that honor in my own humble opinion. But The Hateful Eight is definitely his most complex, multi-faceted, nuanced, and politically aware effort to date, and shows that while the years may be mellowing the tone of his product, they are in no way blunting its impact.