Category Archives: Movies and TV-series

…”Twin Peaks: The return” is an extreme rarity.

I would dare say that almost everybody in my generation has some sort of relationship to the original “Twin Peaks” saga, released 1990 – 91. A television series that forever changed our perception of what kind of stories could be broadcasted to the general public, as well as integrating the elaborate aesthetics used by the creators David Lynch and Mark Frost into the mainstream.

The characters of the original series were complex and flawed individuals, while archetypical somehow still intensely human. Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI being a grown up, turbo-charged and glorified version of Kyle MacLachlan´s character in Lynch´s movie “Blue Velvet”. A performance impossible to forget. Many others turned into instant stars by their participation, and in most cases regrettably never reaching the same heights again. The mass of talent and beauty coming forth in this TV-series was simply stunning.

The juxtapositioning of life in an idealized American small town with badness going from petty crime to the darkest of the dark, as well as a generous dollop of plain, surrealistic weirdness, is what gave the show both its edge and allure. It should really have been a hard sell, but at the time everybody was watching. I´ve lost count on how many times I´ve gone through the two seasons of the original series (first through a pretty low quality Spanish DVD-edition, and later with various official DVD and Blu-ray releases). The numbers of films and television shows echoing themes and artistry of the original Twin Peaks are too many to be mentioned. In a remarkable career in film, I would still say that this was at the time the crowning achievment of director David  Lynch.

The accompanying feature “Fire walk with me”, released in 1992 was lambasted by critics and greeted with boos from the audience at the Cannes Film Festival. Actually a prequel to the first series,  I today see it as a necessary addition to the saga, and in my opinion not even nearly as bad as it was regarded upon release. If you don´t believe me, go back and watch it again. You might just be surprised, or at least less confused about the original storyline.

Twin Peaks the return

22 years later, when the first chatter about a follow-up to the series started floating on the net, the excitement was palpable. First David Lynch was in, then he was not, then ultimately in again. My first reaction to the news was a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I´ve written about before here (https://danolofohman.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/its-happening-again-will-twin-peaks-continue-to-blow-our-minds/), the cultural importance could almost be likened to a new album by the original Beatles (ok, slight exaggeration there, but you get my drift). The feeling was very similar to holding the brand new first New Order single in my hand, in the wake of the impact made by Joy Division on my musical tastes so many years ago. What if it sucked, big time? I still remember the relief, and most of all bliss, as the stylus hit the 7″ vinyl and “Ceremony” blasted out of the speakers.

When “Twin Peaks: The return” appeared on network television in 2017 it felt like a daunting task to watch it. So much expectation and so many possibilities to fail. First I waited until all 18 episodes were available, and then I waited even longer to acquire the time and courage to go through them at a reasonable pace. And what a ride it proved to be.

Beginning with a time-lapse of 25 years many of the original characters has aged considerably, and parts of the main story circulates around their kids, no less messed-up than their parents in the original series. Expect heart-wrenching depictions of misguided parental care of off-spring careening towards disaster, just like in the original show. The development of this part of the series is enhanced by the large number of new episodes, which takes it time to develop the sprawling storyline into something quite unique.

While watching the first episode I very soon had to hit pause and catch my breath a little. Beginning with a red curtain scene on steroids, (mystically interrupted by a short and strangely unsettling sequence of a girl filmed through a window, seemingly running across a schoolyard screaming), we jump straight into at least nominally recognizable reality, watching the earlier character Dr Jacoby receiving a shipment of shovels. From that we´re thrown into New York City and an anonymous brick building housing some sort of sequestered laboratory-like space, where a young man is watching an empty glass cage which is simultaneously filmed by several cameras. As soon as an SD-card is full it´s archived in small slots in what seems like endless cabinets, and exchanged for a new one. There´s a certain amount of X-files associations here.

While pausing and reflecting on the footage this might well be the best 15 minutes of television I´ve ever watched. And it just keeps on getting better. A corpse with the body of a woman and the head of a man that should have been long dead. Special Agent Cooper in a deranged and bad version let loose in present time, superpowers and all. Interplay between the Black Lodge and what we consider reality. The considerable humour and heartbreak of Dougie Jones and his hard pressed wife. The mixture of hyperreality and sheer weirdness. I don´t think I´ve ever watched a television series or movie with such an amount of totally surrealistic and bizarre imagery.

That said, “Twin Peaks: The return” manages to keep you absolutely captivated with a storyline that builds on the original series, but takes it so much further out there without ever losing it´s grip. It accomplishes this while still avoiding all the obvious traps that makes so many restarts/remakes/updates of older stories so bad (the return of the X-files, anyone?). As the bright red cherry on top you get enough weirdness for a lifetime, with almost entire episodes consisting of dream-like, surrealistic tableaux unfolding on your screen like some visual stream-of-consciousness.

Lynch and Frost has done it again, taking an iconic TV-series into the new millenium and adding both depth and excitement to something many of us thought was impossible to improve. The return of Twin Peaks balances pitch perfect between nostalgia and the new. If you haven´t already, watch it and be prepared to be blown away.

 

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…it´s soon time to tackle “Twin Peaks – the return”

Twin Peaks the return

For an inordinate long time I kept putting off watching the new installment of the probably most iconic TV-series of them all, at least during my lifetime. The weight of extreme expectations and fear of the obvious pitfalls and risks of fiasco wore heavy. Now I´ve gone through it twice, and it´s been fermenting in my mind ever since.

I just need a little more time to allow things to coalesce into a comprehensive evaluation of the quite numerous episodes. I must confess to initial opinions wavering between genius and utter crap during the process. But then again, why wouldn´t the latest significant artistic work by maverick writer/director David Lynch polarize it´s audience, like it´s done so many times before?

For anybody remotely interested, I will soon return with a more comprehensive appraisal of this series, such as it has presented itself to my mind primed by decades of consumption of contemporary culture. Expect personal opinions without any trace of objective truth.

…”The Handmaid´s Tale” is essential TV.

Faithful                                                                                                                                                                 The TV-series depicting the USA as we know it descending into a totalitarian regime has rocked the world of serialised television in so many ways. Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, this is a modern dystopia with a depressingly realistic feel.

With an accumulation of environmental assaults severely reducing human fecundity the issue of female fertility instantly becomes commoditized, creating the concept of the Handmaid. A class of fertile women groomed for service as living wombs for the male elite, regardless of these often older men´s ability to spawn children or not.

The gradual but still quite swift descent of a democratic society into totalitarianism is shown in eerie flashbacks of life as we know it juxtapositioned with the fictional present day. Poignant moments are interspersed with depictions of day-to-day reality, creating an interesting mosaic of what life in the new state “Gilead” is like. The resemblances to Soviet Gulags are intentionally easy to spot, as well as highly significant in the larger story arch.

Although much might sound as doom and gloom the performance of leading lady Elisabeth Moss makes things different. Her huge registry of displaying different emotional states enriches this tale in so many ways. It´s  hard to think of any other actor taking on this role in a similar fashion.

The second series has just begun. So far it has widely surpassed the first season. Let´s hope it will continue in the same good way.

 

…”Annihilation” is a story swinging both ways.

The “Southern Reach Trilogy” created by writer Jeff VanderMeer and published in 2014 is a high-point of recent speculative fiction. Being pointed in the direction of both the books and the later movie adaptation of the first installment of the series by my colleague D is yet an example of the merits of listening to people with good taste. I very much share his impression of these books as a H. P. Lovecraft for a younger generation.  There´s spooky natural phenomena going on, which will forever change the fate of the persons involved. Although the books provide some sort of closure for the main characters, there´s no feel-good happy ending to the saga. Instead you get a ride into a unique imagination filled with ambiguity and just sheer strangeness. Nothing really gets explained and at the end you´re left with more questions than answers.

These are books that will keep you thinking for a long time about the stories, the metaphors and the audacity of it´s writer in creating something so strangely unique. Mystical, sprawling and hard-hitting at the same time, these stories are hard to classify in a way that you rarely encounter nowadays. While writing this I´m getting ready for my third re-read, which is something that almost never happens.

Some parts of this work emerging as a movie was almost inevitable, while no-one could really be expected to transfer the special feeling of this material to the screen in a fully satisfactory way. The movie “Annihilation” is pretty much what could be seen as a reasonable interpretation of some of the themes from the book. Best seen as a work of it´s own, separated from the deeper universe of the books, this is still an at least partly enjoyable film. If you need to choose and have the time, read the books. Otherwise the film will give you a glimpse of what´s actually there in this story.

 

…”Blade Runner 2049″ is an astonishing accomplishment.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

When the first “Blade Runner” movie appeared in 1982 it seemed to be an impossible proposition. Turning Philip K. Dick´s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” into a film with mass-market appeal wasn´t an easy workaround. Going from deeply philosophical musings on the essence of being human and the meaning of suffering, to an action story fuelled by environmental disasters, decaying cutting-edge technology and physical frailty wasn´t a small order. Director Ridley Scott went out on a limb and made a movie initially not considered all that great into an enduring legacy. Gone were the usual sci-fi of whooshing self-opening doors and people robotically moving about in similar uniforms, exchanged for a view of the future as a sprawling mess of the same combination of high-tech and low-life later perfected by writers like William Gibson.

Blade Runner original

There are several different cuts of this film and I´ve watched them repeatedly through the years. The divergent versions in some cases differ on small details, but there´s also cuts with significant changes in the ending. I´ll leave it to you to decide with one you like the best. However, as sci-fi movies go you won´t find anything significantly better than this.

That considered, a follow-up would from the beginning seem totally pointless and ultimately inferior. Why mess with something that´s almost perfect? Regardless of these reservations the new “Blade runner 2049” movie does push things forward. A considerably more bleak rendition of a world of further environmental decay and urban sprawl. The combination of that with a planet-wide traumatic loss of important information inducing a kind of collective amnesia sets the stage for barely controllable forces.

A superior society of genetically pure humans opposed to manufactured replicants serving as the new lower class, racial slurs and all. The still difficult question of what it means to be human. What is a memory? What is a personality? How can we determine the genuine from the manufactured, and does it even matter at all?

“Blade Runner 2049” is a movie with a starting point in a classic in it´s genre, while taking off on a tangent of it´s own. The storyline exhibiting enough excitment and novelty, while still respecting the confines of the original story. Inventive and suitably dark. I wonder how many will get the origami-reference of the scene portraying the meeting between Ryan Gosling´s replicant blade runner and the old age Gaff from the first movie. Not very important in itself, but still a great nod to the original material.

Here we have a movie with both an exciting and original story as well as visuals well beyond what can reasonably be expected. This type of film should be impossible to make, but it´s been done and I absolutely love it.

 

…the new “It” movie is a disappointment.

I still remember the publication of Stephen King´s novel “It” in 1986. The book was rich with many of his recurring themes – the special types of friendships between prepubescent teens, young persons doing their best to survive abuse from those they are dependent on and the strange change from adolescence to being a grown-up.

What I remember most is how the reading of this book managed to scare me out of my wits even at an age of 20+. This was really creepy stuff and I don´t think King has ever written anything as good as this.

The material was of course ripe for movie adaptation, and the first attempt came with the two episode mini TV-series broadcasted in 1990, not leaving any lasting impressions. The feature film released in 2017 attempted to take the story further, with a follow-up planned for 2019. While given mostly positive reviews I still find this production to be a disappointment.

The acting is pretty formulaic and not even the much publicized performance of Bill Skarskård as Pennywise the clown actually adds that much drama. It´s of course possible that the second installment of the story will lift it above it´s current pedestrian status. Somehow I´m not so sure about that.

…”The hateful eight” is a rare treat.

The hateful eightDeeply disappointed with “Django unchained” , it took me a while before getting around to watching director Quentin Tarantino´s  latest oeuvre. The take on a traditional western set in a wintry Wyoming starts off with breathtaking scenery shot in wide-angle Panavision. A wooden Christ on the cross covered by drifting snow. A stagecoach making it´s way through an icy expanse and the visual punch of the beautiful but sparse landscape. Long, lingering takes establishing a feeling of being on your own in a cold and hostile environment. Tarantino has a story to tell, and the surroundings are at the same time bleak and great-looking.

Amoral bounty hunter John Ruth is transporting murderer Daisy Domergue to the city of Red Rock to be hanged, when he is joined by two men with agendas of their own. The haphazard team takes refuge in Minnie´s Haberdashery to avoid an advancing blizzard, and when they find a group of men already in place, the story changes into a tightly directed chamber drama steeped in echoes of the American civil war. In some ways reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs” and replete with Tarantino stalwarts like Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen, the further 3+ hour story twists and turns around themes of trust and deception.

Violent, but not excessively so in today´s meaning of the word. That said you can philosophize about the development of violence in movies. From the horror of someone being shot and falling down in the classic films of the 50´s, to today´s high-def exploding craniums and shot-off scrotums. As well as the change from yesterday´s moral hero to today´s ambiguous anti-hero, always looking out for number one. For film-makers, here´s a brave new world to deal with.

While forging a career cannibalizing movie history can sometimes make Tarantino look like an intellectual fake, his mastery of the medium lets us forgive everything. Who cares if his later movies are DJ mashups of huge amounts of genre films, as long as he pulls it off this beautifully.