Posts Tagged ‘Ray Wise’

At this very moment, every single brain in the Twin Peaks fan community is melting.

And, hey, why shouldn’t they be? For a minute there, it really did look like everything was going to come together, especially with roughly, I dunno, 15 minutes to go in part seventeen of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three — Kyle MacLachlan’s good cop/bad cop routine (the best ever seen, might I add) was over with and “Evil Coop” dispatched permanently; Freddie (played with heroic aplomb by Jake Wardle) had indeed met his destiny and used his rubber-gloved “super hand” to scatter BOB to the four winds; Kimmy Robertson’s Lucy got the chance to be more of a truly unexpected heroine; John Pirruccello’s Deputy Chad was thwarted in his lame jail-break attempt by his former co-worker, Andy (Harry Goaz); Lynch’s Gordon Cole, Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfield, and Chrysta Bell’s Tammy Preston got where they were needed — that being the office of Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) just in the nick of time; Jay Aaseng’s disfigured drunk-and-disorderly kept imitating everything he heard; Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) was preoccupied with getting his brother out of trouble yet again; Don Murray’s Bushnell Mullins delivered his message to Cole word for word; the eyes-wide-sorry-sewed-shut woman from “The Zone” played by Nae Yuuki turned out to be the “real” Diane Evans  and morphed into Laura Dern before our eyes; and Robert Knepper, Jim Belushi, Michael Horse, Dana Ashbrook, Amy Shiels and her “colleagues” — well, they pretty much just stood around and watched in disbelief, but at least there were plenty of sandwiches to be enjoyed by one and all as television history played out before their eyes. And as a large image of Cooper’s face remained superimposed in the background.

Not so fast, though —

Agent Cooper, ever the stand-up guy, informed everyone that the past shapes the future and then set about to prove it by going there — Diane seemed to have an inkling about what was to come as words about “the curtain call” were exchanged between the two of them, and then we learned that the convenience store needn’t actually exist anymore in order for Coop and Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel) to ascend the staircase above it, and that Philip Jeffries — who, according to Cole, “really doesn’t exist anymore” himself — and his numerical clues (speaking of which, every single one from earlier parts is resolved/comes into play) are guardians of a gateway of sorts, one that would take Coop to 1989, and specifically smack-dab into the middle of Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me.

William Hartnell famously said, in the truly classic early Doctor Who adventure “The Aztecs,” that “you can’t change history — not one line,” but it’s clear what Cooper is here to do : save Laura Palmer (no such consideration is given to Phoebe Augustine’s Ronette Pulaski, unfortunately). Hell, Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) even told him to do it. This sequence, it has to be said, is truly genius shit as we finally learn what Laura (Sheryl Lee) was reacting to in her scene with James Hurley (James Marshall) in the woods — and seeing all this vintage material from a decidedly different POV is amazing. The (uncredited, as far as I can tell) stand-in actress for the younger Laura in scenes where new material was required isn’t exactly convincing, but the overall gist of what Lynch and Frost are doing here, goddamn — I mean, it’s breathtaking. And for a minute there, as scenes from the original TV pilot with Joan Chen, Piper Laurie, and the late, great Jack Nance that occur prior to the discovery of Laura’s body play out, you really can be forgiven for thinking that Cooper was successful. Julee Cruise closes out part seventeen with a musical number at The Roadhouse, and it seems like we are well and truly headed home.

But, ya know — then things got wonky. As in, “even by Twin Peaks standards” wonky.

In regards to part eighteen, the only thing I got right occurs at the very outset : a “new” Dougie is “manufactured” from “the seed” and a lock of his hair, and sent “home” to Vegas to be “reunited” with Naomi Watts’ Janey-E and Pierce Gagnon’s Sonny Jim by Carel Struycken’s “Fireman” and — uhhmmm — the face of the departed Don S. Davis. Beyond that, hey, I’m not too proud to admit that I was as taken for a loop as anyone else by everything.

“Find Richard and Linda” is a call-back to part one, only it turns out, after locating the proper “coordinates” and driving through them under some seriously active power lines, followed by a night of some — interesting — sex in which Laura Dern covers Kyle MacLachlan’s face with her hands the whole time, that Coop and Diane are Richard and Linda. And that Richard/Cooper is in a different motel than the one the two of them checked into the previous evening and is driving a different car — not to mention generally acting halfway like the Coop we know, and halfway like his now-wiped-from-existence evil doppleganger. We learned earlier that the mysterious “Judy” is a force of pure evil even older and more powerful than BOB, and so a stop at Judy’s Diner in Odessa, Texas seems like the move Coop oughtta make. He gets into it with some local rednecks, but the waitress that he somehow knows he should be looking for isn’t there, so he gets her home address, goes to her dilapidated spread, and meets this Carrie Paige — only it’s Sheryl Lee. It’s Laura Palmer. Not that she knows it.

Coop informs her that he’s here to take her home, to Twin Peaks, to be reunited with her mother (Grace Zabriskie), but it all sounds pretty hare-brained to her — still, given that she’s just killed her old man and all, she’s down for the whole concept of getting the fuck outta Dodge. Their road trip is mostly uneventful apart from a short sequence where it seems someone might be tailing them (and who knows, maybe they were), but when they finally reach the Palmer household nothing’s ringing a bell with Laura at all — and somebody else altogether lives there. Somebody who’s a lot more forthcoming about answering questions from some stranger at the front door in the middle of the night than I would be. The bewildered homeowner informs Coop that she and her husband have lived there for some time, and that her name last name is Tremond. Before that, the house was owned by the Chalfonts.

Annnnnnnddd we’re firmly back into Fire Walk With Me territory, as those are names, not that Cooper knows it mind you, of people associated with The Black Lodge. Laura/Carrie hears Sarah Palmer call, almost inaudibly, “Laura” from within the house and a sudden and immediate sense of reognition seems to overcome her since she screams, a shrieking wail from the core of her being, while Coop asks himself what year it is, the presumption being that he did manage to save her, but that now they’re both stuck (damn, this always happens to poor Dale) in 1989.

Only thing is, that doesn’t add up, because in 1989 the Palmers were living in that house. And Laura wouldn’t be the grown woman she is “today.” My theory, then, to the extent that it’s formed, is that when Coop and Diane “crossed over” underneath those power lines, they truly did cross over — as in, this is another dimension and/or reality altogether. One we haven’t seen at all, perhaps because Cooper’s meddling with time is what created it in the first place. As the end credits  roll, we’re left with the image from part one of Laura whispering something into Cooper’s ear in the “Red Room” — and we still don’t know what she said.

And you know what? I’m not even going to venture a guess — because theories and, even worse, assumptions are proving to be a real son of a bitch as far as this show goes.

Which brings us to the biggest and best revelation of all, after an evening that contained several (even if they were, admittedly, completely overshadowed by mountains of new questions) — at least I’m hoping that it does. We all assumed (there’s that word again) that this Twin Peaks revival was a “one-and-done” deal. That one way or another, Lynch and Frost were ending the story. But we have precisely zero idea what’s going on with Cooper and Carrie/Laura. Ditto for whatever the deal is with Audrey Horne. “Judy” is still very much “at large.”  Sarah Palmer is still out there eating throats for dinner. And Carrie had a plastic white horse on the mantle in her Odessa shithole. Heck, let’s  throw in the previously-mentioned fact that the stand-in for a young Laura Palmer didn’t exactly “match up” all that well as another “loose end” while we’re at it, too, because there are no “accidents” in Lynch films — everything is designed to be noticed by the careful viewer, and it all means something. I know that, yes, it’s an assumption — and that I just said that I was through with those — but you wanna know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking that we’re not done with Twin Peaks. I’m thinking that we’re not done with it by a long shot.

And, crucially, I don’t think that David Lynch and Mark Frost are, either.

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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“Go ahead and cripple the bitch.”

Those were the words of then-DC executive editor Dick Giordano to editor Len Wein, who in turn relayed them to Alan Moore, writer of the seminal Batman/Joker tale Batman : The Killing Joke, and the subject of the order was Barbra Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl. Moore had originally planned for he and Brian Bolland’s one-off story to be something of an “Elseworlds”-style tale (before there was such a thing), set apart from standard DC continuity and positing both a potential origin of The Joker (draped over a skeletal framework that dated all the way back to the Clown Prince of Crime’s first appearance ) and a potential conclusion to comics’ most famous feud — one that would ultimately be left to the reader to discern for themselves, but that strongly hinted that Batman flat-out snaps at the end and kills his most troublesome and famous adversary. What could possibly drive Batman to this extreme? Well, The Joker was going to murder Batgirl.

But as the script pages starting arriving at the DC offices, editorial got the strong feeling — correctly, as it turned out — that they had not just a hit on their hands, but a bona fide comic book blockbuster. A story that would be hotly debated for years, if not decades, to come, and sell in the millions of copies.  Moore’s idea may have been to do his ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship, but his bosses wanted to morph it into the ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship — and so they decided to play it coy when it came to the question of whether or not this would be an “official” DC Universe story. They figured that they wanted The Killing Joke to be able to be woven into regular Bat-continuity if fan reaction proved to be as strong as they suspected it could be. And you can’t kill Batgirl in a comic that they might decide to shoehorn into the established Batman mythos. Or can you?

Apparently there was some heated deliberation on this question, and in the end, a calculated compromise was reached — they wouldn’t kill her, but they would cripple her. That way, their asses were covered no matter what happened — if fans howled in outrage after reading the book they’d simply say it was a “non-continuity story” after all, but if fans loved it, then Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair would be the new status quo.

We all know what happened next — the book sold out multiple printings, was re-issued in any number of new formats (each more expensive than the last), and the story went down in history as, in the minds of most, the single-greatest Batman/Joker tale ever told, while Barbra Gordon, for her part, was eventually afforded the opportunity to have a long and prosperous “second act” as Oracle, a super-hacker who provided key “mission intel” to various and sundry DC super-heroes from her hidden computerized command center, also becoming something of an icon for disability rights advocates along the way (so much so, in fact, that many readers were downright outraged when she regained her ability to walk thanks to an experimental spinal cord surgery and re-assumed the mantle of Batgirl as part of DC’s “New 52” relaunch).

It’s worth remembering, though, that this fan-favorite character — this strong representation of disabled empowerment and even feminist empowerment — was once viewed so cavalierly by her corporate owners that they told the most talented and celebrated writer to ever work for them that they wanted him to “go ahead and cripple the bitch.” The Killing Joke would prove to be Moore’s last original work for DC. Gee, I wonder why?

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I bring all this up in relation to the new animated version of Batman : The Killing Joke from WB Animation (a project that, looking back, I’m surprised didn’t happen well before 2016) because, hey, we like to think that we’ve moved on from the dreary misogynist mindset of the late 1980s, right? Dick Girodano has passed away. Len Wein is a mostly-retired occasional freelancer. A whole new gang is in charge at DC. And yet, if anything, Barbara Gordon is treated even worse in this film (which I purchased digitally, but is also available on Blu-ray and DVD — and may even be playing a theater in your area, depending on where you live) than she was in the comic.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they had to pad out the runtime of this one — for all the years DC has spent insisting that The Killing Joke is a “graphic novel,” 46 pages of story and art is anything but. Shit, the old Annuals of days gone by gave you more bang for your buck at 80 pages or so. But the way in which they “extended” the story here — well, leave it to Brian Azzarello to fuck that up royally.

Remember when this guy was good? Well, the writer who gave us 100 Bullets seems very far removed indeed from the writer who’s currently doing Dark Knight III : The Master Race, the screenplay for this monstrosity, and a tie-in comic for a beer company currently being published by Image, but once upon a time he was really on top of his game. His run on Hellblazer, in fact, was so superb that none other than Alan Moore broke with his long-standing policy of not endorsing any DC product in order to provide a glowing “pull-quote” for a trade paperback collection of the Azzarello-penned Constantine stories.

And good old Brian has been “thanking” him by pissing in his face ever since, first with his participation in the debacle that was Before Watchmen, and now with this. How do you do Barbra Gordon even worse than she’s already been done? You tack on a pointless extended “prelude” where she and Batman, more or less out of the clear blue and despite their obvious age difference,  have sex on a rooftop and he doesn’t call her back — then you cripple her.

Yes, friends, not content with merely putting a bullet through Barbara’s spine, she’s now a jilted lover, as well. And Batman is a massive douche.

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All of which undercuts what is otherwise a very strong production. Animation living legend Bruce Timm is back onboard as executive producer for this one (although the actual nuts-and-bolts work is still being farmed out to a Korean animation studio that pays its workers something like 90 cents an hour), and as such the film has the depth, quality, and texture we’ve come to expect from projects bearing his imprimatur. Veteran WB director Sam Liu guides the proceedings with his usual steady hand. The voice cast is every Batman fan’s dream with Kevin Conroy back under the cowl in the lead, Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Joker, Tara Strong as Batgirl, and the great Ray Wise (“one chance out between two worlds — fire, walk with me!!!!!!!!”) breathing more life than ever into a tested-to-his-limits-and-then-some Commissioner Jim Gordon. On a purely technical level, then, this flick is a marvel to behold.

And, ya know, once all that offensive-beyond-words new material is out of the way, this is a very faithful adaptation of Moore and Bolland’s work. In fact, it’s a note-for-note cribbing. The problem is that, given the greater context of what has now come before, scenes that packed an emotional wallop in the original printed work like Batman’s visit to Barbara in the hospital after she’s been shot by The Joker now have so much troubling subtext surrounding them that one scarcely knows where to begin when pondering the question of “Dear God, what were they thinking?”

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It’s all such a shame,really. DC had the chance to do something very rare indeed here : actually unite all of fandom behind a quality adaptation of a beloved story while addressing its inherent problems head-on. Instead, they’ve magnified them tenfold. And  a lot of people who did a lot of great work did it in service of a product that is, at its core, indefensible.

Barbra Gordon deserved better, absolutely. But so did Alan Moore. And Brian Bolland. And Sam Liu. And Bruce Timm. And Kevin Conroy. And Mark Hamill. And Tara Strong. And Ray Wise. And so many others who voiced, drew, animated, produced, or otherwise poured their hearts into this film.

And so, dear reader, do you. Ugly warts and all, Batman : The Killing Joke in its original printed interation is still very much worth your time to read if you haven’t — and to read again if you have. The film, unfortunately, is best ignored — and if it’s too late for you to do that, maybe just look at it like I’ve chosen to : as an “Elseworlds”-type story that never “really” happened at all. How fucking ironic is that?