Twin Peaks: The Return (3 and 4) (2017)

Episodes 3 and 4 dropped online immediately after the premiere of Season 3 aired on television , so how does Twin Peaks fare after that spectacular return? Does the quality remain or do we see a slump? Spoilers abound, so beware. 

Filmed as one 18 hour piece by David Lynch and edited down into episodes afterwards, this series feels much more of a singular work than TV usually does. Lynch’s endgame is already known to him and he’s getting us there at his own,very deliberate pace. 

The second pair of episodes started off surreal and nigh on incomprehensible, with Dale Cooper trapped in non-existence, in an otherworldly Sci Fi sequence that will surely haunt my dreams for a while. Unseen, presumably monstrous creatures are heard banging on doors and the tension is cranked as we await Coop’s return to the world. Yet, as The Arm said, the doppelganger must go back to the Black Lodge for Coop to be freed. We find out that the doppelganger has created a double of his own, Dougie Jones, to take his place in the Black Lodge. It’s slightly silly but Kyle McLachlan knocks all three characters out of the park. He’s clearly having a whale of a time here, his performance(s) all brilliant. 

I feel the main arc of Season 3 will be Coop vs Evil Coop, but, I may be wrong , this is Twin Peaks after all. Evil Coop (I’m sure he has a better name but this is fun) has to be the big bad right? Unless Someone else is yet to arrive. Original Coop’s amnesiac stumble around the casino made me chuckle and his traditional American family set up with Naomi Watts felt like the wacky Peaks of old in a way. It’s good to see Watts here, the cast in general is incredible. 

Episode 3 and 4 were more of a return to the traditional Twin Peaks feel, with Episode 4 in particular having some incredible sequences. Finding out that former bad boy Bobby Briggs has become a Sheriff’s Deputy was a nice surprise, seeing him react to Laura Palmer’s photograph and burst into tears as Laura’s theme from the original series played was perfect, beautiful television. A callback filled with genuine emotion. This was followed by the introduction of a new character, someone iconic and odd, who would have fit so well in the original show. 

Wally Brando

Michael Cera‘s casting seemed an odd one, most of us surely guessing (correctly) he would play Andy (or Dick Tremayne) and Lucy’s baby, now fully grown . None of us saw Wally Brando coming. Cera is channelling Marlon Brando in The Wild One, complete with motorcycle and leather jacket. In this less goofy series, Wally is a welcome addition, genuinely hilarious, earnestly flanked by his dim witted parents, while the new Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) politely listens to his bizarre ramble. It was a glorious, vintage Twin Peaks moment, filled with the fun and spirit that made us fall in love with this weird show in the first place. 

David Lynch himself returned as FBI boss Gordon Cole, accompanied by Miguel Ferrer‘s crotchety zen master and forensics expert, Albert Rosenfield as well as the stunning presence of longtime Lynch collaborator, Chrysta Bell as FBI agent Tamara Preston. Informed of (Evil) Coop’s incarceration, but not knowing he’s actually (Evil) Coop they head to see him in a South Dakota prison, but not before meeting Denise Bryson, now high up in the bureau, still played by David Duchovny.  Denise implies Cole just surrounds himself with attractive women. Surely Lynch making a joke about his own habit of casting stunning women in each of his projects! This new “Blue Rose” case calls back to Fire Walk With Me and ends episode 4 on a cliffhanger. 

Both episodes finished with a musical performance in The Bang Bang Bar, gives the show a nice wind down over the credits, not wasting a single second of its air time.

I’m fully invested in Season 3 and still with 14 hours left, I’m already feeling anxiety about it ending too soon! 
My interview with Twin Peaks star David Patrick Kelly is up now on the Supernerds UK Podcast, available on iTunes and Supernerdsuk.com now!

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

The first two episodes of Showtime’s revival of the Lynch/Frost surrealist drama have aired and it’s given us a lot to mull over.  While I do talk some spoilers, I’ve left a lot out, as some things need to be seen for themselves. 

Simultaneously being something totally new and also, essentially the most Twin Peaks thing ever, Lynch and Frost have returned from the Black Lodge rejuvenated and ready to go.  The first two episodes answer some twenty-five year old questions but ask a whole lot more. 

At its core, Twin Peaks has always been the story of Laura Palmer and The Return is no exception, with the first episode opening with Laura’s promise of seeing Special Agent Dale Cooper again in twenty-five years. This new series has a murder mystery of its own, with a high-school principal, played by Shaggy himself, Matthew Lillard being arrested for a truly horrific double murder, is he under the control of BOB or one of the other denizens of the Black Lodge

Speaking of which, Agent Cooper’s evil doppelganger from the finale of season 2 is still on the loose and rampaging around our world, desperate to stay out of the Black Lodge. It’s never explicitly stated that he’s BOB, but a long haired Kyle McLachlan definitely gives off that vibe, channeling the spookiness of the late Frank Silva.  Although I know Silva passed away in 1995, I constantly expected him to appear, baring his teeth and climbing over a couch. The real Dale Cooper is still inside the Red Room, with MIKE,  looking for an escape. It’s hard to take, especially as Coop is one of the nicest, most earnest heroes TV has ever seen. His scenes here are sad but an essential continuation. We can’t go from “How’s Annie?” back to coffee and pie. Not so soon, maybe not ever. 

This new Peaks is free of network censorship and fully embraces the gore, swearing and nudity it wasn’t allowed first time round. It’s a lot more like Fire Walk With Me or even Lost Highway than the original series. But that’s fine, it suits the progression and it works. Nothing, even the creatures or whatever they are, seems forced or over the top.  

While Twin Peaks has always been a little scary, I would definitely say this new version is pretty much horror. While shows like True Detective have aped the Peaks style, here Lynch blows everyone away with his slow burning terror. Lingering shots, pulsating music, purposefully dragging scenes out, Lynch rachets the tension and drags us along with him. The discovery of the corpse(s) in the apartment building slowly pull you to the edge of your seat. The storyline in New York with the glass box is flat out terrifying, feeling like some of the J-horror that has been inspired by Lynch. Some people might find this slow approach tedious or the creatures silly, but chances are they’d have found backwards talking and a Log Lady daft too. 

Catherine E Coulson, the Log Lady, sadly died in 2015 just after filming her scenes, and her appearance here shows how ill she was. With chemotherapy hair loss and a tube in her nose, she looked so frail , my eyes filled with tears seeing her that way, but she delivers her dialogue so perfectly and so real, it’s an incredible performance to leave us with. This double episode was dedicated the memory of both her and Frank Silva, which was a nice touch. Knowing that we’ve lost several cast members since filming adds an extra layer of emotions to our viewing experience too, especially to a show with themes of death and finality such as this one. 

We do get a return of some of the original cast, with Ben and Jerry Horne, Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly still as hilarious as ever! Andy, Lucy and Hawk in the Sheriff Department had me aching for Sheriff Truman but I know Michael Ontkean is now retired and living in Hawaii. Near the end it was wonderful to see a scene into the bar, with The Chromatics replacing Julee Cruse, but it felt like the old days. Seeing James and Shelly as well as some new characters. Jacques Reno back from the dead and tending bar in the background was odd, unless he’s got an identical cousin. Hey, it’s happened before!

Darker, scarier and just as mysterious, Twin Peaks: The Return has raised the bar for TV yet again. David Lynch and Mark Frost are still light years ahead of everyone else. 

The current epsiode of the Supernerds UK Podcast is a Twin Peaks special and features my interview with Jerry Horne himself, David Patrick Kelly! 

Available on ITunes, supernerdsuk.com and all places podcasts are found!

Alien Covenant (2017)

It’s worth noting that Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein was originally titled, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” 

 

Crashing into the cinema, like an out of control landing vehicle, Ridley Scott returns with a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus. Furthering the story of the origins of the Xenomorphs, David and the engineers. 

Covenant, written by John Logan and Dante Harper from a story by Michael  Green and Jack Paglen ,  sets it’s tone immediately and opens with a short prologue, where we see Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland, much younger and minus the old man makeup, igniting the life in the synthetic human, David, (the returning Michael Fassbender). Further pushing the themes of creation and purpose of life that drove the last film. It’s hard to talk about Covenant as an Alien film when so much of it’s story relates directly back to Prometheus

The film then picks up with our rag-tag crew of colonists heading for a planet, with 2000 sleeping passengers and a lab full of frozen human embryos. While recharging the ship’s batteries, a solar storm damages the craft, killing the captain. On carrying out repairs they receive a signal from a mysterious local planet, capable of sustaining life, yet unknown to us.  

Newly promoted Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to alter the mission and things take a fairly predictable turn for the worse, because it’s an Alien movie and that’s how this works.
I enjoyed Alien Covenant. It’s a dark, gory, suspenseful sequel that does indeed answer some of Prometheus’ questions, yet leaves enough dangling threads of its own, to be answered in the sequel, with filming  currently set for a 2018 start date. 

The cast, while not being quite as star studded as before, certainly manages to more than hold it’s own, with Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston filling the Hicks and Ripley archetypes. McBride in particular, while seemingly an odd choice, is phenomenonal in the role and I look forward to seeing him in more films like this. 

The creature design was, as always unsettling and visceral, though the CGI looks obvious and less affecting than the Giger designed, original, practical Xenomorphs did. The albino neomorph was a nice addition to the lore, coming across less devious and more animalistic than we’re used to. Similar to the dogburster from Alien 3 in some ways. 

I’d like to talk about something that maybe considered spoiler territory, but I’ll keep it vague. If you want to remain fresh, skip to the last paragraph! The return of David midway through the film was an unexpected delight for me. I had no idea he would be so integral to the plot. Fassbender playing two different versions of an synthetic was great. Laid back and caring Walter and evil British Villain David.  

Spending 10 years alone on the engineer homeworld, David becomes isolated and obsessed with creation. Complete with his own fortress castle, barricaded away from the nightmare creatures he caused to exist, David became an engineer himself. A quick flashback shows what he’s done and then his new plans kick in. Scott uses Fassbender perfectly and seeing a Synthetic human become the main character really reinforces the film’s message. 

A slow burning, somewhat Gothic science fiction horror movie disguised as an entry in the Alien franchise, Alien Covenant is Prometheus 2 in every way possible. For me, that’s certainly not a bad thing.

8/10

For Fans Of:

Alien

Prometheus 

Frankenstein (1931)

Blade Runner 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a loud, colourful, hilarious and heartfelt statement of intent. 

Returning to the family of misfits and mercenaries he guided to the screen in 2014, Gunn rises to the challenge and raises the stakes for the Guardians and makes a more personal and rewarding film for us. I think that’s why Guardians works so well, in both movies. The literal fate of the Galaxy is at stake, but the core of the story is about family.
So, what does Volume 2 have in store for us? More than I expected. The trailers for the movie gave away shockingly very little, the big creature battle prominently shown, is actually in the opening credits sequence,  following a short prologue of a digitally de-aged Kurt Russell romancing Peter Quill’s mother and planting something rather dubious in a forest on Earth. Russell’s Ego is a welcome addition to the cast, announcing himself as Star Lord’s father early in the runtime. 

There are parallels with Empire Strikes Back, the middle film of another trilogy, also one about a hero with daddy issues discovering his powers. Volume 2 however is a true ensemble film and everyone has various issues of abandonment and loss to work through. Gamora and Nebula, Rocket and Yondu, everyone has something to deal with. 

Rocket steals the film for me, arguably the badass of the group (and in this group that’s saying something)  yet still having so much depth and compassion. We forget how easily a CGI Raccoon and Talking Tree could be misused in other hands, but James Gunn never treats them as anything less than they deserve. Rocket and Yondu bonding after being taken prisoner by the hilarious named Taserface and a mutinous Ravager crew was probably my highlight of the film. Gamora and Nebula’s battle for respect was awesome too, packed with more father issues, Thanos forcing his daughters to compete for his affections.

You know what the absolute BEST thing about GOTG Volume 2 is? The fact it doesn’t act like a set up for any other films. This is a stand alone chapter in the Guardians story, and it’s all the better for it. We only get one mention of Infinity Stones and no appearance from Thanos. It may let some people down, but it keeps the film from being dragged into someone else’s story. That’s not to say there’s a lack of cameo’s or character appearances. 

Sylvester Stallone and Michael Rosenbaum turn up early on as Stakar and Martinex, two of the original Guardians from the 70s comics while our obligatory Stan Lee cameo had some characters show up that absolutely floored me. Some of the FIVE  mid and post credits scenes tease a few big things to come, but just for GOTG, making me very keen to see how Volume 3 turns out. 

The soundtrack is of course fantastic, with songs from ELO, George Harrison and Parliament adding a spacey 70’s vibe. If Volume 1 was scuzzy 70’s Americana, Volume 2 lights a joint and takes us to the planetarium. 
Look, it’s a Marvel movie, it’s gonna do well at the box office no matter what, but it’s just great to see how much love went into this film. These movies are often art-by-comittee and struggle for it (Hello BvS, Iron Man 2, Fant4stic) so it’s particularly excellent that such a singular vision had persisted through both of the Guardians films. 

Packed full of comedy, it’s easily Marvel’s funniest film by quite some distance, with everyone getting a chance to shine, with Dave Bautista as Drax dropping his deadpan jokes more than most. 
Full of retro pop-culture references, breathtaking action and genuine heart,  Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 could easily end up being the biggest film of the MCU. A sequel that goes bigger and better and doesn’t lose any of the things that made us fall in love with the characters in the first place. 

Don’t be a trash panda, catch it in cinemas now. Or May 5th if you’re American. 

9/10

The Belko Experiment (2017)

Do you ever have those days where you want to bash your co-workers across the head with a stapler? You do?! Boy, do I have a film for you!

The Belko Experiment, written and produced by James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean,  is a brutal, horror-thriller, peppered with a sly vein of dark humour and a tremendous cast of unlikeable characters. 

A group of American white collar workers based in their company’s Colombian offices are locked in the building and forced to murder each other for some unknown reason. If they don’t comply, their mysterious captor will start the killing for them. Every employee was fitted with a GPS chip in case of kidnap, but there’s bad news, the chips are secretly some Task Force X style bombs. 

While being a riff on the old Running Man/Battle Royale trope of being forced into murdering people to stay alive, Belko cleverly marries this familiar concept to the idea of the workplace and it’s competitive environment. Not a totally original concept, but you’ll agree it’s a nice fresh take. 

 The two movies I was reminded of most were meta-horror classic The Cabin In The Woods and 2009’s Exam, another single location thriller about corporate competition. 

Belko stars Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona and John Gallagher jr as the main three of our unlikeable characters, but this movie is a real team effort, with Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, John C McGinley, David Dastmalchian rounding out a strong ensemble. Every cast member is potential cannon fodder and we are left guessing who will be next on the chopping block, with some deaths being very surprising indeed!

The level of violence in this movie is astounding, everything from guns and knives to exploding heads and murder by office equipment. Greg McLean’s direction pulls no punches, showing us enough gore and then some. I’m a fan of horror and I do enjoy spectacular kill scenes, so I quite liked the Final Destination-esque way in which Belko tops each death with something a little more gruesome. 

If you arrived at The Belko Experiment through James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, be aware this is a very different beast, even more dark hearted than Super or the Dawn of the Dead remake he wrote for Zack Snyder. I’d have liked a little more character development, as we’re never really taken beyond any surface level details, however, I enjoyed the rapid pace and lean story,  so I can’t complain too much. 
A story about survival in a literal cut-throat working environment, The Belko Experiment is entertaining, gory and darkly funny. 

7/10

For Fans Of:

Dredd

Exam 

The Running Man

The Cabin In The Woods 

Office Space 

Lost Highway (1997)

We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

Until this year, my only real experience of the work of David Lynch was Twin Peaks. For one reason or another, probably my fragile mental state, or my fear of the real, I just never felt ready to give it a go. 

Lost Highway is not what you’d call an easy watch. Dark, sexy, surreal and purposefully obtuse, this noir tinged trip poses some difficult questions and doesn’t necessarily give you the answers. Written by Lynch and Barry Gifford, this is a film to lose your self in, if you fully buy what Lynch is selling, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Bill Pullman stars as jazz saxophonist Fred, seemingly losing touch with his sanity and becoming suspicious of his wife Renee, played by a mesmerising Patricia Arquette. Fred and Renee begin receiving video tapes of their apartment and themselves, Fred meets The Mystery Man (Robert Blake) at a party and things descend into utter chaos. 

I don’t really want to delve any further into the story, as I feel that it would take away a lot of the enjoyment. This is a film to be experienced, enveloped in. The progression of Pullman’s Fred, from losing his grip on his life into a literal loss of self is breathtaking. Where as other filmmakers would use subtext or symbolism, Lynch has the guts to just go there. His bravery and bold choices here do chime back to Fire Walk With Me in its unrelenting nature. 

The back half of the movie, is almost a totally different tone and ushers in a new cast, amazing, quirky characters played Robert Loggia, Gary Busey and Balthazar Getty all show up, with Patricia Arquette playing a different character. Like I said earlier, if you’ve bought into Lost Highway at the beginning, this sea-change just feels completely natural. We also get the last film appearances from comedy legend Richard Pryor and Lynch favourite Jack Nance, both giving great performances in their small roles. 
This latter part of the film also comes across as clearly being hugely inspirational for Nicolas Winding Refn‘s 2011 pulpy noir, Drive.

The music in Lost Highway is brooding, imposing and very fitting. The score tracks by regular collaborator Angelo Badalamenti fit like a glove, while the mid 90’s industrial rock songs from Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein bring a weight and groove to some visual heaviness. David Bowie’s “I’m Deranged” accompanies both opening and closing credits, bringing yet another level of symmetry to this rorschach test of a motion picture. 

Reading up on the making of the movie, Lynch mentions being inspired by the OJ Simpson murder case. Bizarrely, the Mystery Man himself, Robert Blake, was arrested for murdering his wife around the release of Lost Highway and this remains his last film role. 

I unreservedly enjoyed Lost Highway. I can sort of understand why a 1997 audience didn’t connect with it, being darker and heavier than most would expect. A horror tinged noir, darkly funny and fully immersive, go and lose yourself for two hours.
We’ve met before, haven’t we?”


Ghost In The Shell (2017)

The biggest pre-release buzz around Ghost In The Shell was a whitewashing controversy. It was unfortunate that such a good film got such bad press.  Director Rupert Sanders gives us dark, cyberpunk action, a neo-noir mystery filled with incredible visuals and genuinely gorgeous special effects,  GITS (with its unfortunate acronym) should have been far more successful than it has been. 

It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to seeing Ghost, but I’m glad I have. Scarlett Johansson headlines this adaption of the  beloved 90’s Japanese anime, basically an anime version of Robocop. ScarJo plays the Major, who we see in the opening as a brain being placed into a cyborg body. The first of her kind, the Major is a government supersoldier. Leading some kind of poorly explained paramilitary security team called Section 9, the Major has to stop a cyber terrorist from murdering prominent scientists involved with cybernetic enhancements and Hanka robotics, who created her. Got all that?

Scarlett Johansson’s character is the titular Ghost In The Shell, a brain rescued from an accident, placed into a robot body, to become a post-human weapon. In the near future, cyber enhancements have become part of everyday life and everyone is connected digitally. A shadowy corporation is of course involved with her creation. As I mentioned above, it does come across as a riff on Robocop, but, it’s not such a bad thing. The idea behind Major is the opposite of Alex Murphy, they want a human element to have the feelings and decision makings. Of course, memories are still erased and mysterious flashbacks push our story forward. These themes of memory, self and who we are, really do make Ghost In The Shell feel a step above the usual summer movie, it may not have heart but it sure has a brain.

Aside from Johansen, the rest of the cast is stacked with fantastic actors, Michael Pitt as the villain, Juliet Binoche as Dr Ouelet, the Hanka scientist who created Major, Peter Ferdinando as Cutter and Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæ as Batou, Major’s partner in Section 9. Oh and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano is Aramaki, the leader of Section 9! I hadn’t realised he was in Ghost, so seeing his name get second billing in the opening credits really shocked me.  Speaking only in Japanese, Kitano is subtitled and gives a great performance, only getting to show elements of how bad ass he could be. An uncredited cameo from the amazing Michael Wincott brought to mind his role in the recent Westworld TV show as well as its similar themes.

The cast is multinational and racially diverse, so I guess they tried a pre-emptive strike in response to the casting backlash. Didn’t quite work for the critics but gives us an excellent set of actors throughout the movie. 

The character development could have been a little better, I feel like we didn’t get to know anyone as well as I’d have liked, the 1hr40mins runtime felt quite lean, the film feeling quite cold, distant and somewhat mechanical. Ironic, eh? 

The stunning effects deserve much more plaudits than they’re getting, the character design is fantastic and the city itself is almost another character. As the camera swooped around this rainy, dark metropolis, filled with pixellated holographic adverts, my mind was buzzing. Somewhere between Back to the Future 2, Blade Runner and Batman, Rupert Sanders’ world building is sublime, succeeding where his character development didn’t.

 The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is perfect, setting the scenes against a backdrop of unsettling electronics and waves of bass. Mansell has long been proving he is one of cinema’s best composers and once again he’s made something special. I read that it’s apparently not getting an official release which is odd as it really is worth a purchase.

So, (memory) cards on the table. Ghost In The Shell is a good, solid action mystery. Some may take issue with its character depth, but it isn’t anything to stop you enjoying what it’s got to offer. Great acting, great visuals and an excellent score. I’m sure when it turns up on Netflix in a few years you’ll see what I mean. 

7/10 

For Fans Of: 



Robocop

Blade Runner 

Total Recall 

The Fifth Element