Posts Tagged ‘Michael Cera’

Once upon a time, there was a school of thought in various quarters of the largely self-appointed “intelligentsia” that posited that David Lynch was something of a fraud. It was never more than a minority opinion, of course — certainly nowhere near as large as the chorus of voices that said much the same about Lichtenstein, Warhol, John Cage, or even James Joyce — and it’s one that pretty much disappeared in the wake of the near-universal praise heaped upon The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive, but it was something that dogged his tail for a good couple of decades prior to reaching his currently-enjoyed plateau of (more or less) unanimous acclaim.  The argument, such as it was, essentially boiled down to this : the guy simply slaps a bunch of weird imagery up on the screen and none of it actually means anything, but it’s done in a clever enough way to make the gullible believe that there’s some elusive “hidden meaning” behind it all that’s forever just beyond their grasp.

I never bought into it, but I did notice a fair number of fraudulent Lynch fans glomming onto his work when he first became a “hot property” in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and they bailed on him quickly — and completely — the minute it became fashionable to move (hell, run) in the opposite direction. Think about it : Wild At Heart won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1990, and a mere two years later Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me was roundly booed at its premiere there. But which film is more talked about — and lauded — now? And why the sudden change “back in the day”?

Well, the soft underbelly of Lynch pseudo-fandom began bailing on the director fairly early during season two of Twin Peaks, pissed off that the Laura Palmer murder mystery supposedly dragged on for too long — but when it finally was solved (at the network’s insistence), that seemed to piss this suddenly hyper-critical rump of viewers off even more, and when the show had the temerity to shift gears in another direction afterwards with the unfairly-maligned Windom Earle storyline, that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. It was the very definition of a “can’t-win” situation for both Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, and as ratings tanked, ABC’s schedulers began to fuck with the program mercilessly, first relegating it to a Saturday night “death slot” and then airing it irregularly at various times when they simply had nothing else to plug into their lineup. In the end, the final two episodes were broadcast as a two-hour “movie of the week” on a Monday night in June (back when the summer months were a veritable graveyard for network television programming) nearly two months after the show had last been seen or heard from. At that point, it’s safe to assume that a fair number of people had already assumed that Twin Peaks was over with and weren’t looking for it in the pages of TV Guide (remember those?) anymore. And so a series that had arrived with one of the loudest “bangs” in history exited the stage some 18 months later with a whimper so quiet that almost no one even heard it.

For the Twin Peaks 2017 revival — or, if you prefer, Twin Peaks : The Return — Lynch and Frost have wisely decided to run the pretenders off as quickly as possible. Trust me when I say that if the first two parts  weren’t enough to send the hopeless nostalgia-hounds and pathetic bandwagon-jumpers packing, the opening twenty-ish minutes of part three will almost certainly finish the job, because the surreal odyssey that marks the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper to the “real” world is absolutely unlike anything else that’s ever appeared on a TV screen, to the extent that it makes even the hallucinatory final episode of the series’ first go-round look like child’s play.

Coop in space? Believe it. The brief return of Major Garland Briggs (the deceased Don S. Davis) cryptically stating “Blue Rose” before disappearing back into the ether? Believe it. The most visually arresting — and confounding — thing Lynch has done since Eraserhead? Believe that, too.

And yet for all the wonderfully rich “high weirdness” on display, things are actually playing out in a fairly straightforward manner : we finally see how inhabitants of the Black Lodge travel by means of electrical currents (something previously hinted at in Fire Walk With Me), we get a fairly quick explanation of the “253 — time after time” bit of cryptic numerology laid on us last week, and when a third iteration of Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan’s sporting a paunch and hairpiece this time) named “Dougie Jones” is thrown into the mix, his origins (and purpose) are deciphered in short order by one-armed man Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel).

Okay, yeah, I absolutely can’t explain Dougie’s rapid-fire demise — or what the hell is up with the woman with sewed-shut eyelids who sacrifices herself to grease the wheels of Cooper’s return trip home — or the sudden appearance of a second woman who takes her place — or the big number “15” on the even bigger electrical outlet that Dale travels through — or why it’s taped over with a “3” when next we see it — but hey, we’ll get to all that in due course, I’m sure.

The extended sequence that takes place in the “world between worlds” that Cooper finds himself waylaid at/in is absolutely gorgeous — complete with purple-tinged skies, flickering stop-motion movement, and a more successful appropriation of A Trip To The Moon-style imagery than largely talentless future conspiracy theory nutcase Billy Corgan (you wanna talk about artistic frauds —) could have possibly dreamed up back when he was ripping off that same aesthetic for his wretched “masterwork” Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness — but it’s much more than a mere example of Lynch flexing his admittedly powerful visual muscle : nope, everything we see and experience here plays right into the next step of the “real world” storyline that’s slowly and inexorably taking center stage in the proceedings. Following his re-emergence, Cooper assumes Dougie’s life more by default than choice — complete with Naomi Watts for a wife and a young son named “Sonny Jim” — but not before winning one slots jackpot after another thanks to some timely Black Lodge/Red Room intervention, cruising around Vegas in a hooker’s Jeep, narrowly avoiding an assassination attempt, and not avoiding a run-in with an annoyingly gregarious Ethan Suplee. Oh, and did I mention that he’s basically catatonic the whole time?

I’m sure it sounds hopelessly cliched to say “it’ll make more sense once you’ve seen it,” but nevertheless, it’s absolutely true. Maybe not a ton more, mind you, but enough — and besides, Twin Peaks fans are well accustomed to the notion of having unanswered questions rattling around in our brains, sometimes for decades.

For all that, though, it appears as if many of our long-standing queries really are on the cusp of finally being answered, particularly the ones left over from Fire Walk With Me. Besides “Blue Rose” and electrical-grid physical transference, part three of The Return also re-introduces us to the green Owl Cave ring and the creamed corn motif (mixed with poison and expelled in the most violent and disgusting way possible by both Dougie and the “Doppleganger Dale” we met in parts one and two), so who knows? Maybe we really are getting closer to figuring out — I dunno, something.

The tail end of part three, and the bulk of part four, showcase the genius sense of timing that Lynch and Frost employed so effectively early on in Twin Peaks‘ initial run — having taken us pretty far “out there,” we’re now reeled back in to that which we knew before, albeit with a completely different, and expanded, perspective. The FBI offices are our first stop, where Cooper’s old boss, Gordon Cole (played, as ever, by Lynch himself) and frequent sidekick, Albert Rosenfeld (the late Miguel Ferrer) appear not to have changed a whit over the last two-and-a-half decades, although they are now joined by lovely “third wheel” agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) as they head for South Dakota to interview newly-incarcerated Cooper/BOB, an assignment personally signed off on by the Bureau’s new chief of staff — Denise Bryson (David Duchovny)!

So, yeah, it’s “Old Home Week” at the J. Edgar Hoover office building, but don’t worry, some new faces turn up, as well — most notably none other than Richard Chamberlain in the role of Denise’s second-in-command — and the same is true once we find ourselves back in Twin Peaks proper, where we finally meet Sheriff Frank Truman (played with typically stunning “deadpan panache” by the inimitable Robert Forster), learn that Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) is now employed as a deputy tasked with tracking down the very same drug dealers that he used to be/run with, and Michael Cera even turns up in a beyond-memorable cameo as Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz)’s son, Wally, talking and dressing like Brando and living like Kerouac. In short, if you felt like the “old-school” quirky charm of this series was missing in parts one and two (apart from Michael Horse’s Deputy Hawk, of course), rest easy — it’s present and accounted for now, and sliding back into it feels as warm and comfortable as a favorite pair of slippers.

Perhaps what’s most exciting — and intriguing — about Twin Peaks 2017, though, is that Lynch and Frost are using the familiar and “safe” as a counter-balance to, and enhancement of, the new, the unfamiliar, and the potentially dangerous. For every character who seems to be more or less exactly as we remembered them, there’s an Agent Cooper or a Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) who are clearly anything but. For every fan favorite locale (like the Sheriff’s station or the Bang Bang Bar — speaking of which, is everyone loving the “live band” musical sequences at the end of each segment as much as I am?), there’s a mysterious and foreboding far-off setting, including outer fucking space. The tried and true, then, may indeed be the soul of this new series, but it’s most assuredly not its backbone, and I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a refreshingly gutsy move.

At this point it’s more than fair to say that, much like our intrepid “showrunners,” I’m far more concerned about looking forward than I am backward, as well. Part five of Twin Peaks : The Return can’t come soon enough, and while events seem to be leading us back home, I think we’re about to discover that it’s a place we never knew as well as we thought we did.

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It may not be a “cool” thing to admit, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — it’s okay to just want to feel good once in awhile.

It is, after all, a hopelessly fucked-up world that we live in right now : our nuclear arsenal is in the hands of an unhinged, delusional madman who is clearly cracking under the strain of a job he probably didn’t even want and is in no way even mature enough to handle; a lunatic religious zealot is eagerly waiting in the wings to succeed him when he undoubtedly crashes and burns; our closest international allies seem to be inexorably lurking toward a barely-rebranded fascist nationalism themselves; rising global temperatures and sea levels probably threaten our future even more than the would-be despots do — if you think about too hard, it can all seem pretty hopeless.

Can these problems be solved? Shit, I dunno — the jury’s out on that one. But they certainly can be avoided for a couple of hours here and there, and there’s no shame in doing just that every once in awhile. For those of any age seeking temporary relief and solace, then, may I humbly direct your attention toward director Chris McKay’s borderline-astonishing The Lego Batman Movie.

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I admit to never having seen The Lego Movie “proper,” but if it’s anything like this one, that’s my loss — and one I intend to rectify pretty quickly. I can’t pretend to know what it is about translating the grittiest and grimmest of costumed vigilantes into a CGI-animated toyworld that’s such a stroke of near-genius, but the truth is that it not only works, it does something that no live-action iteration of the character has been able to do on the silver screen for the last couple of decades : it makes him fun again.

Make no mistake — the increasingly Dark Knight as envisioned by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, especially, Zack Snyder is the elephant in the room here, but rather than take inspiration from it, McKay and his army of screenwriters choose, instead, to offer a rebuttal to it. Sure, Batman as voiced (superbly, might I add) by Will Arnett is a brooding and dour figure — albeit one who loves, even needs, the gratification that comes from the limelight — but this film isn’t afraid to say that this is a problem. To that end, butler-cum-father-figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is doing his best to get the closest thing he has to a child to let other people in, to move past the loss of his parents all those decades ago and find a new family.  Too many nights alone with microwaved lobster thermidor aren’t good for anybody, after all.

Batman “purists” probably won’t be too terribly happy with some of the liberties taken here : Robin (Michael Cera) isn’t just Bruce Wayne’s ward but his (accidentally — its a long story) adopted son; Barbara Gordon assumes the role of new Gotham City chief of police, replacing her just- retired father, before she dons the Batgirl costume more or less by default; Daleks and King Kong don’t exist in the DC Universe, etc. Well, grouse away, fan-boys — no one else cares.

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Perhaps the most daring and unexpected twist to the Bat-mythos offered here, though, is the refreshingly honest take offered on the relationship between Batman and The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Freed form the constraints of continuity and editorial protectionism, The Lego Batman Movie admits what no other Bat-flick can — that these two arch-foes need each other, and that any enmity this deeply felt can only spring from a place at least vaguely approximating (strictly platonic, rest assured, nervous parents) love. You know it. I know it. And it’s high time someone said it.

If you never expected this much pathos-via-broad-brushstrokes in what is still, after all, a kids’ movie, don’t worry — it’s all couched in laugh-out-loud humor, obfuscated under mounds of “Easter Eggs” for the observant fan, and delivered with an entirely un-ironic earnestness that you just can’t help but love. This is a movie that has no qualms about admitting that it wants you to like it, and then dares you to find a reason not to.

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I never did, of course, and neither will you. A world this colorful, this joyful, this smart, this optimistic, and this fun is probably one we’d all like to live in — but then we’d be made of plastic and lock onto sidewalks and streets with our feet. So, ya know, nothing’s perfect.

As the title for this review states plainly, though, this film really is about as close to it as you’re gonna get. The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie ever, by far.

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The big problem with most comedy these days is that it just isn’t funny. Granted, my idea of “good” comedy might be different from yours — I prefer the kind of humor that forces society to take a hard look at itself while simultaneously making us laugh (George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, even some early Richard Pryor are good examples of what I’m talking about), and not the sort that actively encourages us to be even bigger morons and fuck-ups than we already are by celebrating all our most base, lowest-common-denominator elements under the thin veneer of “poking fun at ourselves.”

In other words, I don’t like stupid shit, and this summer’s offerings at the box office are loaded with the worst offenders when it comes to peddling stupid shit. The truly loathsome Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have teamed up again for The Internship. The worst culprits of all, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and David Spade (Chris Rock still gets a pass in my book, though not for much longer if he keeps this shit up) are back in Grown Ups 2. And almost every other unfunny asshole on the planet is on board for the movie that we’re here to (briefly) discuss today, This Is The End.

Yup, friends, the comedy landscape is indeed bleak, and with the spectre of  another brain-dead Will Ferrell extended character sketch breathing down our necks in the form of Anchorman 2, it doesn’t look like things will be improving anytime soon. Oh well — at least Ben Still is nowhere to be found on the radar screen for now.

Seriously, about the only thing This Is The End proves is that the only thing less entertaining than watching Seth Rogen (who also co-directed and co-wrote this stinkbomb along with Evan Goldberg), Jonah Hill, James Franco (who I usually actually like), Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Channing Tatum playing other people is watching them play themselves. Oh, sure, their characterization here is self-deprecating on its surface, but poke beneath that for one nanosecond and you’ll see that this tone is a phony one and that the real raison d’etre for this film is for all these folks to tell us how awesome they are for a couple of hours. Just mix in the occasional pot, sex, or bodily fluids joke and you’re successfully hoodwinked 95% of the country into thinking you’re really just an average guy or gal like them.

Sorry, not buying it. “Celebrities Vs. The End Of The World” is as shallow an idea in practice as it sounds on paper, friends, and watching the rich and famous try to navigate their way through the apocalypse turns out to be so goddamn idiotic that you’ll be actively wishing for the world to end before the movie does, if only to save you from one more in-joke or self-aggrandizing public chest-thumping in the guise of toilet humor.

Seriously, who is the audience for a movie like this? Are we so obsessed with the vapid celebrity “lifestyle” that we’re willing to genuflect before these people and hand them our cash (full disclosure — I snuck into this one)  for telling us how cool they are to our faces? How pathetic and gullible have we become? How willing  to actively participate in our own cultural dumbing-down?

Ya know, maybe this is all we really deserve at this point, if we’ve become this cowed, complacent, and resigned to our own slow-burn apocalypse. What was it they said about the fall of Rome and bread and circuses?

The only joke in This Is The End is the massive, and frankly kinda tragic, one that’s being played on all of us.