Films and TV of the month: May

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 1-4) (David Lynch)
E1-E4 of Twin Peaks S3 are slower than S1 and S2 from the 90s, but not as dark as the 1992 prequel Fire Walk With Me. As a fan of Lynch, a must-see return into this world, a fanservice revival ala Star Wars. The use of music is surprisingly sparse, keeping the original theme music in the intro, while relying on sound effects more so than score.
The guy in the building in NY watching the empty glass box looks like a young Agent Cooper, those scenes were an intriguing addition, Sam and Tracey have chemistry, and it works as a commentary on the passivity of TV.  Another memorable part of E1+E2 takes place in Buckhorn South Dakota featuring Matthew Lillard, whom I usually hate, in a good performance as a man accused of murder. Maybe he is guilty, maybe not.
My main problem with the first few episodes is the characters are not given much time to hang out together and reveal their charm, which was part of the appeal of previous seasons. There’s no coffee-and-pie house they meet at. I want more than just cameos.
For the most part, the quirky dead-pan humor is effective, the funniest of them in E3 with the bizarre casino visit, chocolate bunny discussion. In E4, the comedy happens in the pancake scene, meeting with Denise Bryson, and Wally Brando’s poorly written yet ultimately amusing speech about his shadow.
Hopefully as S3 progresses, it will flow more naturally and provide reasons to care. It’s nice to see familiar faces again, though the former Twin Peaks cast are disconnected and don’t yet have much to do compared to the eventful main story involving Agent Cooper.
The opening four episodes have many intriguing loose ends, sometimes sexy moments, and Lynchian weirdness, but also needlessly slow and sometimes lacking in warmth. The characterization and story is not as novelistic, intimate and dialogue-driven as Twin Peaks from the 90s. In Season 3, we don’t really get under the skin of what they are feeling, thinking and dreaming about.
Funnier than anything Lynch has done before, even if the revival is a David Lynch greatest hits of sorts. A flawed return, but good to have him back directing after a decade-long absence since Inland Empire.
Check out Laura Hudson’s spoilery review for The Vulture, she makes several interesting observations.
Favorite quote: “I had enough dirt on you to fill the Grand Canyon”


The Trip to Spain (2017) (6 Episodes) (Michael Winterbottom)
New location, same formula. Travel, food, conversations. culture, & the worrys of middle age. Coogan and Brydon, blurring reality and fiction, drive from the north to the south of Spain, making stops at restaurants. I binge watched the 3 hour TV-version. I recommend the first two 30 minute episodes especially, which are the most entertaining. The last four parts are weaker and I began to tire of the impressions and repetition.
If they do bring the duo back for a fourth series, it needs reinventing, as the concept is becoming a bit stale. The two hour film adaptation is probably better by trimming the fat. With the recent passing of Roger Moore, the Moore impersonations now feel a little inappropriate. That’s not Coogan’s and Brydon’s fault as the filming of the series took place months ago, it’s just an unfortunate circumstance. The Trip to Spain feels like it was made for the fans and is sporadically brilliant, though they could be running out of impressions as a few are rehash.
6/10

A few notes on the six episodes:
Best impressions: John Hurt as The Elephant Man talking to Anthony Hopkins, Elvis Costello battle, Marlon Brando reciting Monty Python, Mick Jagger battle, Mick Jagger doing Shakespeare, McCartney/Lennon

Worst impressions, mostly in episode 3: David Bowie, Captain Kirk, and John Hurt

Most overused impressions: Roger Moore, Marlon Brando

Funniest quotes:
 “-There are few things in this life worse than a tomato with no flavour.
-Well, bombing in Syria? That might pip it at the post”.

“My name isn’t Roger Muslim, it’s Roger Moore!”

Films: City Slickers (bull fighting), Laurel and Hardy

Books: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (bull fighting), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish writer Lopadero? who wrote 500 plays.

Music: Human beatbox song(a highlight of the series), Windmills of Your Mind, Toledo by Elvis Costello, SOS by ABBA

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) (Basil Dearden)
Recently deceased Roger Moore considered this his best performance, which was what prompted me to give it a look. About a man who can’t explain why there is a duplicate of himself. A thriller that does a good job of building suspense by not revealing the mystery. Like the audience, Moore’s character Harold Pelham is in the dark and trying to find answers. You can definitely see why he was picked for Bond a few years later, Pelham has a similar presence and humor to Moore’s 007. He is not the most versatile, and the bowler hats are a bit dated now, but a screen actor I enjoy watching. Nice score by award winning composer Michael J. Lewis.
7/10

Alfie (1966) (Lewis Gilbert)
Michael Caine, in a star making performance, plays a charming yet cold-hearted ladies man, who treats women as disposable objects he describes as “it” and “bird”. Not wanting to attach himself to anything serious, he moves from one affair to the next, whether the women are married or not.
In its time, the film was praised for its sexual frankness and persuasive rendering of Swinging London, although the situations seem mild by contemporary standards. You could be envious or disdainful of Alfie, maybe even both. While he beds a number of women, it is a sad film in which I shed a tear for his hollow life and temporary relationships. But he only has himself to blame. The song “Alfie,” by Burt Bacharach was Oscar nominated, and heightens the emotional impact of the last scene.
I will say though that the womanizing is overdone and overemphasizes its point. The bar fight and medical examination could have been trimmed.
7/10

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) (Taika Waititi)
An unlikely duo (Sam Neil, and newcomer Julian Dennison) venture into the wilderness. An adventure-comedy that has an 80s innocence and characters you care about. Pure fun without the need for making the story overly gimmicky. The two leads have good chemistry and further proof the New Zealand director is a talent to look out for. Also enjoyed Taika Waititi’s previous film, vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014).
8/10

Silence (2016) (Martin Scorsese)
A timeless historical film about 17th-century Portuguese missionaries. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is stunning, especially the landscapes. Most of the key scenes involve suffering and persecution, so I wouldn’t call it “enjoyable”.
I was interested to see how would play out, and was moved by the characters plight. But it’s a flawed epic, repetitive in its storytelling, and quite long-winded.
There’s something to be learned that even in the darkest times, Christianity will endure and give us hope and courage. Faith is so important that some people are willing to suffer for it. But why the Japanese villagers have put aside Buddhism and devoted themselves to Christianity I felt was unexplored? I couldn’t grasp their motivations. You could say their unwavering faith is admirable, but you have to be able to compromise to fit into the society you live, and they didn’t. The real issue is intolerance and the Japanese not accepting different beliefs.
The film showcases that the export of religion is dangerous in how it creates division. Spreading Christianity in Japan was not ideal, the Christian priests and Japanese villagers seemed naive to the conflict their steadfastness was causing. The title is about the silence or non-silence of God.
Was alluded to on What the Flick! review that you can regard the theme of ‘identity against the law’ as an allegory for all times, could be Jewishness, sexual orientation, or mental illness, where you have to decide how you are going to face society.
For me, the film is about not blindly following a certain path, and staying critical whatever life throws at you.
7/10





One More Time With Feeling (documentary) (2016) (Andrew Dominik)
Follows the template of previous documentary 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), with music segments from the album in question, intertwined with moments of revelation and reflection. Like aforementioned doc, the studio sessions feel a bit like padding.
Details Cave’s decision to write non-narrative lyrics. Says this new direction allows his songs to have a prophetic nature like a dream can foretell situations, and he admits: “I don’t think life is a story, we all hope that it is” His interviewer begs to differ, that we all are born and gradually decay.
Cave ponders the creative process on his latest album. Wanting to write songs that connect with people and don’t alienate. Searching for a magical place with his friend Warren Ellis when the jamming isn’t to do with knowing where you’re going, but collaborating as a team.
Doesn’t directly discuss the trauma of his son’s death until 65 minutes into the film. The emotional state influenced the recordings, leading to a sense of helplessness and nakedness in the music. Cave and his wife bravely reveal their insecurities, grief and uncomfortableness about the interview situation, especially in the second half. He is right that somebody has got to “sing the pain”.
Quite affecting and sporadically interesting, but I didn’t feel the insights on loss are breaking new ground. There was nothing here that made me go, wow, I’ve never heard that before. A life changing event for the Cave family which I can empathize with, but not a life changing viewing experience. Without any info provided on Arthur, Cave’s son, the viewer is at a distance. Skeleton Tree (2016) is a sad yet beautiful album that stands on its own without the need for a documentary.
6/10

Demolition (2015) (Jean-Marc Vallée)
While we are not given an opportunity to get to know and care about his deceased wife, I did empathize with Gyllenhaal’s painful situation. Everyone deals with loss in different ways. There’s both a predictableness and an unpredictableness going on. I felt I had seen the plot before in other films, but held my interest throughout.
7/10

Gimmie Danger (2016) (Jim Jarmusch)
Documentary about the influential hard rock band The Stooges. Expected a bit more offbeatness from Jarmusch. Entertaining enough, and Iggy Pop is a good storyteller. But very by-the-numbers and the anecdotes are soon forgotten. On a positive note, there are some interesting references to other bands.
6/10




Raising Arizona (1987) (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Probably the funniest Coen brothers comedy I’ve seen. Very quotable too.
Cochroches like popcorn
“What was he wearing? A dinner jacket! Wuddya think, he was wearing his damn jammies!”
9/10


Faraway, So Close! (1993) (Wim Wenders)
A disappointing and overlong sequel to Der Himmel über Berlin (1987). An angel becomes human and struggles to choose between good and evil. There’s a clever transition between color and black & white, but this aspect becomes needlessly confusing. Many scenes go nowhere and it’s tough to care about any of these characters, as the impatient camera keeps hopping from one situation to the next. Fails to recapture the atmosphere of the original. Everything interesting about this universe you can find in the first film.
4/10





Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) (Stephen Herek)
Sillier than Back to the Future. The filmmakers probably stole the phone booth idea from Doctor Who, but the ”excellent” quote with air guitar is iconic, and is repeated many times in the movie. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are believable as high school friends. I liked the story included what these historical figures would do in our modern world, although some of them were too easy to kidnap. The house cleaning scene is laugh out loud.
While superficial and basically a kid’s movie, it is funny and crowd-pleasing, and could inspire you to look deeper into the history.
The 80s soundtrack has some obscure gems, especially I Can’t Break Away by Big Pig from the intro. Father Time by Shark Island & Dancing With A Gypsy by Tora Tora are entertaining hard rock songs. Play With Me by Extreme even samples Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, in reference to the film character.
8/10




The Running Man (1987) (Paul Michael Glaser)
Based on a story by Stephen King who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Pretty much an 80s Hunger Games or Battle Royale, set in an Orwellian police state. In The Running Man, many citizens are seemingly happy. Comparable to Roman times, the audience is pacified and entertained so they are less likely to rebel.
Interestingly, the story is set in futuristic 2017. Looks nothing like today’s society, although foreshadows the popularity of reality-tv, a reality show host/president with military authority, fake news stories used to manipulate public opinion, and predicts the world economy would collapse. Art, music and communications are censored, which is still the case in China, and at the time was happening in Eastern Germany.
Unfortunately I find the game show aspect unrealistic. Would audience members over 60 years old really be cheering on violence? There’s also a twist in the last third which I found implausible.
Worth a look, but not as well-paced or memorable as other Schwarzenegger movies from the 80s. The kiss scene is cringe-worthy.
6/10

One False Move (1992) (Carl Franklin)
Neo noir crime thriller. Cops (including Bill Paxton) are hunting down a group of dangerous criminals (Billy Bob Thornton and others) on the run.
Tonally changeable, with violent moments, and unpredictable twists. Also tackles interracial love.
Probably the best scene involves two LAPD detectives belittling the ambitions of small town police chief (Paxton), claiming amongst themselves he wouldn’t last 2 minutes in the big city. Paxton’s character Dale “Hurricane” Dixon happens to hear this which causes an awkward situation. It’s interesting he has that nickname. Better than average low-budget independent film.
8/10

Bedazzled (1967) (Stanley Donen)
Considered among the best of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore movies. Manages to present potentially dry discussions about god and the devil, good and evil, in a fun, entertaining way. The argument that God is withdrawn to give us freedom of choice makes sense. The story isn’t entirely their own, but a 1960s interpretation of Faust.
About being in love, with your feelings not reciprocated. George Spiggott / The Devil (Peter Cook) gives sad Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) the chance to live out his imagined happiness, but amusingly even the fantasies falter when realized. A commentary on how we try and be a different person to achieve our goals.
There are surprises and original ideas such as the fly on the wall and pop star performances, although not all of it works and some sequences feel like variations of the same. Isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. His inability to escape the nunnery got a few chuckles out of me, even if that sequence goes on too long. The final speech is eerily relevant in its attack on capitalism.
A remake was released in 2000 with Brendan Fraser and Elisabeth Hurley, which I haven’t seen.
7/10

Out of Sight (1998) (Steven Soderbergh)
I believe I rented this neo-noir crime/romance in the late 90s, all I could remember is the car trunk scene, so a rewatch was overdue. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez have good chemistry, the movie is best when they are both in the same scene. Her discovering him in the bath is very sexy and surprising.
Most of the supporting characters didn’t interest me. The dialogue is sharp and witty, but the story is all talk and little action. There are clever flashbacks, though the film is style over substance. The diamond heist isn’t as captivating as it could have been.
6/10




Graduation (2016) (Cristian Mungiu)
Not as powerful and harrowing as the director’s masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007), but an interesting conflict of a teenager daughter (Eliza) who is attacked before her important exam. There are slight similarities with The Salesman (2016), in how there is a post-traumatic stress factor for a female character, and the attack is not directly revealed.
Granted the over-protective father (Romeo) is passionate in his way, but I found the characters rather cold and lacking distinguishing traits, so tough to have much attachment to them. The muted palette is also very colorless with its greys and blues. Obviously these are conscious choices by the filmmakers. Engaging on an academic, ethical level, and as a study of life in Romania.
Romeo is desperate for Eliza to take a scholarship abroad and lead a better life. But in his actions the father is negating the values he has instilled in her. The title has layers, with him also put to the test regarding his actions. As another reviewer pointed out, his “moral compromises ultimately make him not that much different from the societal forces he believes he’s fighting against”.
I’ve met Romanians and it seems to be a common thing for them to want to escape poverty and seek their fortune in other parts of Europe. The writer/director has said Graduation is about people who live in a corrupt country and “feel they don’t progress or advance in society based on their own merit.” Cristian Mungiu is quoted as saying that most of his generation, “decided to just leave”. He talks about migration as “an individual solution”, in some ways easier than sticking around and trying to effect social change, the “collective solution”.There’s suspense in the last third. The ending is both clever and frustrating, and may divide audiences.
6/10

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

14 thoughts on “Films and TV of the month: May

  1. I'm loving Twin Peaks, but I can understand the frustrations some people have with it. Episode 3 focussed a bit too much on the wird stuff for me, but they redressed the balance well with #4. Like most old Peaks fans though, I just want to see more of the old characters and have Cooper get back to doing what Cooper does best. Hopefully now the set up is out of the way, we'll get more of that (while still maintaining the Mulholland Drive-esque tone that differentiates this from the first two series).

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  2. @Rol: Thanks for your thoughts. Aspects of new Twin Peaks I like, other aspects not. The opening of E3 did indeed get very weird, the purpleness and otherworldliness I found beautiful. I rewatched the prequel film Fire Walk With Me last year and was frustrated by the slow pacing, and Lynch appears to have gone with a similar slowness for S3. I don’t remember Twin Peaks S1 and S2 being so slow.
    I hope the original cast get to be pertinent to the new story, they feel rather minor in E1-E4. At present, the show to me is too disjointed and erratic, lacking the charm of the original. Kyle MacLachlan is great though and getting a lot of screen time, maybe at the expense of others. You’re right, there are Mulholland Dr-esque vibes with the keys, numbers, actors in both, etc. If you look closely, a Laura Palmer lookalike is even in Mulholland Dr: https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/4jq8af/twin_peaksmulholland_drive_connections/

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  3. I haven't seen most of these, but I have seen a couple. I'm going to comment only on one: The Running Man.

    I can't begin to tell you how disappointed I was with this adaptation. The original story is so damn good. It's brutal and nasty, and so much more grand and sweeping than the lazy action film we're given here. Track it down and read it–it's short and you can easily get through it in a weekend. It's worth it, and you'll wonder what the hell anyone was thinking when they turned it into this.

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  4. @SJHoneywell: For me, the reason for watching The Running Man (1987) now is seeing the year 2017 depicted. It’s not a great Schwarzenegger movie(some of the one-liners border on self-parody), nor is it a memorable dystopian film. The book sounds like it has more bite, I’ll google it. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  5. Oh Chris there are just too many films in this post and I want to say something about most of them! First of all I don't know if you remember but my blog used to be called Whats It All About, Alfie? as an homage to the song by Bacharach and David – After rewatching the film last year I had serious doubts about being associated with such a mysogynistic character and dropped him from my title. I still do think the film stands the test of time however and as you say a very sad last few minutes where the hollowness of his life is highlighted. Just didn't want the association to be misconstrued!

    As for Silence, I lost the will to live with it – Too long by far and just didn't enjoy it at all.

    Really enjoyed Hunt for the Wilderpeople as Antipodean movies are usually a bit quirky with none of the Hollywood blockbuster features about them – The relationship built up between the two lead characters was well done.

    Have a soft spot for the remake of Bedazzled from 2000 although Liz Hurley very annoying in more ways than one – Also she can't walk in heels it seems!

    Big thumbs up for Bill and Ted and for Messers Coogan and Brydon's Trips.

    Will stop there but thanks for the reviews on the ones I haven't seen yet.

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  6. I think Out of Sight holds up quite well. There is a level of sophistication and sensuality there that is missing from modern thriller/romances

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  7. @Alyson: I remember your blog name referenced Alfie, that and the films cult status is what persuaded me to give it a watch. I can see why you dropped the name because of the misogyny. That final scene with the Bacharach song I found moving and I almost wish the story had kept going to find out what was next for him. Then again, I suppose the audience has to figure out for themselves what path he takes. If you are a cynic or an optimist, the answer will differ.

    Silence is a brutal watch and isn’t for everyone. Some scenes did feel like needless repetition. I appreciate the ambition of the film but wouldn’t watch it often.

    Hunt For the Wilderpeople is a fun time. I can’t wait for what the director does next.

    Haven’t seen Bedazzled remake, Liz Hurley seems like a good choice and I can imagine someone falling for her beauty.

    The Trip to Spain is probably ‘best served’ as a 2 hour film. The 3 hour tv-series tends to drag a bit.

    You’re welcome.

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  8. @Sati: Yep, the sensuality of the will they/won’t they hook up has tension. I’d rewatch the J Lopez-Clooney scenes in a heartbeat. I also enjoyed the opening in the bank. It’s a pity I didn’t connect with the rest of the movie as much.

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  9. Chris. I found the absurdness of a crowd cheering on such violence in The Running Man to be funny. Especially asking people to choose how someone will die. I also enjoyed that it's host was Richard Dawson who hosted a game show for several years. I will check out One False Move. I had no idea Bill Paxton was in that. The remake of Bedazzled has Elizabeth Hurly in her glory as the devil. She is great to look at, but that is really it and nothing more to say about it. The director was Harold Ramis, but it is not as good as the original Yes I am in agreement with Sati. I thought all of Out of Sight works well and is among my favorite Soderberg/Clooney collaborations. Solaris taken the top spot. Great list

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  10. @TheVern: Thanks for reading/commmenting. Yes, the elders cheering on violence was absurd, not sure if was intended as comedy, though as with Commando the silly one-liners work on a comedic level. Richard Dawson definitely played it well, interesting he had a career as a game show host.
    I’m not rushing to see Bedazzled remake. Curious to hear your views on One False Move-an effective little thriller.
    I love Soderbergh’s debut feature Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), I guess I’m not as a big an admirer of Out of Sight as you and Sati. I’ve watched the original Solaris from the 1970s which I rate highly.

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  11. Nice viewing! You watched a ton of god stuff. Really glad you saw One False Move. Paxton, man, Paxton. Bummed you didn't like Out of Sight more, but that's the way it goes. I'm excited for The Trip to Spain. I really dig those movies.

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  12. @Alex Withrow: Thanks. Out of Sight is a meal where I enjoyed parts but not everything. The Trip to Spain has fun moments for sure. RIP Bill Paxton, a strong performance by him in One False Move.

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