"Laura Is The One" - Peaks Nine and Ten Tighten The Screws

In what could only be called a deliberate speed bump for the series, the last two episodes following the heels of one of Lynch's finest, most bewildering career moments, ease down with enough supplemental plot and character information to fill several episodes. We of course, catch up with the left for dead Evil Coop, who meets cohorts, Hutch and Chantal at a remote farmhouse. Eventually having his wounds taken care of, and with new phone and firearm, sets off to finish the job, possibly up north. Meanwhile, activity brews in earnest as Gordon, Tammy, Albert, and an ever crabby Diane, surprise land in Buckhorne, to see the alleged body of the late Garland Briggs. Soon brought up to date with the headless corpse, and the utterly baffling questions that come with it, not to mention being informed about the escape of "Cooper"from prison, matters at last seem to be pointing toward Vegas. But not before even more complications stall matters for Cooper/Dougie, still recovering from the incident with Ike The Spike.

As episodes, the duo feel very much like a much needed rest stop after the mind melting experience of Part 8, and to reinforce this, they are among the funnier episodes thus far. While it may feel strange to head in this direction after such unrelenting darkness, one must remember the original series, and it's occasional tendency to camp it up. Thankfully, the jokey nature of these installments never overshadow, nor undedcut the tension that has been steadily building since Part 1. But experiencing more of Diane, her powerful pantsuit, and dwindling patience with the whole affair leads to some standout laughs, and later deep suspicion, as it could be possible that our friends have been taken for a ride. Never one to avoid a risky curveball, Lynch keeps us guessing, and seems patiently hellbent on doing so. 

And speaking of Vegas, pieces are now undoutedly moving. The orders coming down from Evil Coop, eager to tie up all loose ends, have grown accelerated. The targets on the backs of both Dougie Jones, and Warden Murphy, have grown large, all while the still quite adrift Good Coop remains only slightly lucid. A car accident, is apparently the real reason his bosses and wife seem to be so nonplussed by his bizarre behavior.  "Answers" that only seem to arrive in mere nuggets of familiarity. Wilder still, is the revelation that nothing on Jones predates the late 1990s! Which does stand to reason that Dougie as decoy countermeasure has been in motion long enough for matters to slip. The notion that Dougie, was a plant that somehow became a lowly insurance salesman with a bit of a gambling problem, among others remains both funny and tragic. An empty vessel in a mostly empty town. Possibly quite strategic of Evil Coop. And let's not forget Janey E, and her newly rediscovered lust for this new improved husband of hers. 

Oh boy. 

But the true revelatory moments between these episodes  involves what at last feels like a long gestating full arc for a character. The very idea that Bobby Briggs, of all the original cast, would be one who would go a near full 180 from the punk kid we knew decades ago, to the dutiful boy scout he is now, cannot help but redeem him. The very moment his mother imparts him and our friends with his dad's secrets, it's like a moment of complete exaltation. His attempts to open what would contain a cryptic message for everyone is hard one for me, an old series fan to shake. The kind of redemptive moment that has been quite rare throughout these mostly foggier chapters. 

Jack Rabbit's Palace. Dirt. Two Dates.

Two Coopers.

Couple this with Tammy's questioning of Bill Hastings, who at last reveals his and Ruth's encounter with another plane of existence. Possibly even seeing Major Briggs at the time of his death. Further weaving together the show's more fringy world building with it's larger American vision. Something Frost has been the core vault master of since the original. With a scene that is equal parts sad, hysterical, and compulsively eerie. 



What follows with Ben Horne, possibly too freaked out by the combination of his brothers, Jerry's chemically induced adventures, or the accident suffered by his long ignored son, Johnny, is surprisingly not as eager to fall into Beverly's arms. But for how long? And then there's the pair at the Roadhouse, and one of the most disconcerting bits of dermatological discomfort ever filmed. Fragments, ever falling slowly into place.

That tone again. Anything like the tone of the metal tube that Bobby opened? Perhaps music is key toward opening the gateway? Is there truly some form of time travel at work? 

And..then there's this Richard Horne problem. 

I was merely speculating about what he/who he is, and Part 10 makes some very blunt moves toward clarifying my fears. Not only do we at last see him in action beyond his already detestable acts of violence against strangers. This time, it's upon people he knows, and there seems to be no end to his monstrosity, even if he is but a wannabe. Going out of his way to kill an informant, intercept information from within the sheriff's station, and later perpetrating something so heinous to me, it almost feels like some form of extreme ritual. The ferryman asks a pretty penny these days. A compulsion to find oneself so hateful, that only demons will welcome you. But the greatest tragedy, is perhaps his origin. I still don't want to believe who he really is. But if true, it's the kind of seismic attack that could fracture the Peaks many of us have known and loved. 

Strangely, the themes of family pervade as far as the infamous Mitchum Brothers, who's connections to so much of what has been transpiring in Vegas and beyond, is at last explored. Primarily through the perpetually aloof, Candie. One of the previously featured casino girls, with her often hopeless tendency to be distracted, and life increasingly on a thread, is also strangely cared about by these men who seem to grant an air of classic Vegas mob menace. Now being maneuvered to take out Dougie once and for all, the boys seem to further embrace the show's notion of such a town as the center of American culture; strangely caring, yet brutal, gaudy, and almost all bluster. 

And what a note to end this pair on; Magaret's message. Could it be that the teens of Twin Peaks past may indeed be the heroes we have long waited for? There is a truly romantic notion at work should James at last find his footing in this series. "Laura is the one.." As if hinting at her being the ultimate anti-BOB.

All signs leading in the same direction. 

And with the return of Rebekah Del Rio, the rest stop is complete. It might be time to buckle up again.

No Hay Estrella.










A Return To Dreamland: Impressions Of Twin Peaks: The Return (1-4)

"My dream is a code, waiting to be broken. Crack the code, solve the crime."

-Special FBI Agent Dale Cooper

Fewer words were more inviting of the authors than this piece of dialogue from David Lynch & Mark Frost's almost legendary crack in the fabric of broadcast network time and space back in 1990. It's suggestion that none of what we see will be as it seems, and that normalcy is but a petty illusion we grant ourselves is at the dark, somber heart of Twin Peaks. A television event so singular in execution, generations of longform storytellers have been sampling Promethean fire from it ever since. The quirky, occasionally disturbing revelations beneath the veneer of a quiet northwestern American community in the wake of the brutal murder of the town's misunderstood high school sweetheart, became the kind of lore that inspired ceaseless discussion and debate. Also inspired many a Twin Peaks party as far down as my own small desert community just south of Palm Springs, California. Coffee and Pie, as simple price of admission to becoming part of what became one of the briefest, yet intense pop culture phenomenons I have ever had the good fortune to be a part of.

And to think, that this largely came from the mind behind one of the most jarring cinematic experiences of my youth, Blue Velvet(1986).

The demise of Twin Peaks, was as aggressively swift as the show's overnight success. The kind of network meddling that once made many a filmmaker steer clear, and more discerning viewers avoid broadcast television for years. Being forced to reveal that ever present, driving core question of, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" became one of the great crippling decisions that render creative teams rudderless, and as such the show was never quite the same again. That is, until a harrowing season finale signaling the return of Lynch to help rescue the show after a several months absence. History, naturally borne that more than a little late as time slots went from barely manageable to outright impossible, thereby quashing much hope of the show being saved via life support. Thankfully, the season finale, which became the show's original death march, went into history as one of the most indelibly bizarre, nightmarish, and utterly frustrating endings ever made. I vividly remember gasping in utter astonishment as the credits for Frost & Lynch came up on the screen as our central hero suddenly reveals himself to be overtaken by the evil forces behind some of the stranger goings on up in those mountains. Special Agent Dale Cooper, is trapped in the Black Lodge, while his evil doppelganger walks the world we live in..triumphant.

The finale left me angry, befuddled, even depressed. The show had so clearly drawn the moral cartography with such clarity with this character, and here we were, ending with goodness. possibly in a fate worse than death. In many ways a good analogy for the show itself. An almost magical confluence of elements that could easily be manipulated into a cage of its own destruction.

Thankfully, in the decades plus since the demise of the series, and the subsequent and inexplicable booing at Cannes for Lynch's film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it seemed that despite all signs to Peaks being among the many casualties of myths that burnt out far too soon, here we are where creators, fans, and artists prevailed, granting David Lynch the utmost freedom to come back to a creation, and characters he so clearly still loves. The Showtime release of Twin Peaks: The Return, is not only another return to the success pool that so many filmmaking legends have. Rather, it is the kind of singular form of artistic revenge that only lands once or twice in our laps in a single lifetime. Much like a certain George Miller, what I've seen so far is reminiscent of his own vision unleashed. It is a wildly strange, unflinchingly Lynchian,  caustically funny, and occasionally terrifying opus of ideas that must have been percolating since 1991. Gone is the often screwball nature of the original series, but also not as tonally grim as the 1992 feature. What we have here, is the natural extension of all of Lynch's art spanning from as far back as his experimental films, not to mention ERASERHEAD(1974). 

 Opening within an enigmatic space of pure monochrome, a slightly aged Dale Cooper has now been within realms beyond the feared Black Lodge, and has been informed by The Giant, that the time to leave is nigh. Speech remains in eerie reverse, but the color has been completely bled out, perhaps implying that the show we had previously watched over the years had indeed entered the world of classic vintage television. We are also introduced to various characters from New York City to even Buckhorn, South Dakota, where matters have undertaken less the episodic, and often goofy feel of the original, and taken an almost novel-like structure. A school principal dreams of murdering a co-worker, only to awaken and be arrested for a similar crime. A woman with faulty memory, helps the police discover a murder victim with the wrong head on its shoulders. A young man, is tasked with watching a glass box in a city skyscraper that may or may not be a transportation device for alternate dimensions. Meanwhile, a man in black leather who bears a bizarre resemblance to Cooper is on a mission to obtain information, and kill a few along the way as his help might very well be in the process of betraying him. As new revelations that seemingly come from other Lynch worlds expand themselves into the larger story, it rapidly becomes clear that the tale of Peaks has bled out across the country.

All of this, as Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill(Michael Horse) is given a call by Margaret (The Log Lady, played by the late, wonderful Catherine Coulson) that some new puzzle pieces have suddenly come to light. Little by little, it is indeed happening again. And whether or not anyone is ready, it seems like The Return, is not only a sober, more adult Peaks, but it's also something of a liberation from the confines of network broadcast. An existence that ultimately sunk the original show. Frost, makes good use of the lore he has helped hone over the years, helping Lynch further ground his series in a way that we had only been hinted at with Fire Walk With Me. The range is certainly lighter than that excursion into the bleak, but it is no less unsettling when Lynch goes full horror show. And not unlike 2001's Mulholland Drive, the tonal shifts somehow find even keel weaving an endlessly fascinating new life for a show that at one time captured the minds of many in its vision of a Rockwell dream gone malignant. Oh, for sure, innocence remains strong within Peaks, but it has begun to waver with the loss of Cooper, and Major Garland Briggs. Andy and Lucy(Harry Goaz & Kimmy Robertson), are good and well as they could ever be as fixtures in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Office. And while we do not have Harry Truman who's apparently ill, we have his brother in Frank (Robert Forster!) taking care of the law enforcement family alongside Hawk. 

And as hours three and four have unveiled themselves, it rings louder than ever that Lynch has a fire within that even I though had long been diminished. It's the kind of creative fury that only the right producers and supportive entities could have allowed. In hindsight, this so easily could have flown completely off the rails, and yet somehow, even the most bizarre events of these two episodes seem perfectly in keeping with the world presented. No matter how insane things get, it's always in support of Cooper's journey toward not only the home of his beloved deep black joe, and pie, but himself. Playing at this point, three roles is easily the best work Kyle MacLachlan has ever executed on film. Years of describing him as something of Lynch's visual analog couldn't be more fitting as he traverses between worlds and personalities with the precision and trust only collaborating friends could ever conjure. And this is but one blip among a wealth of performances that further offer a depth that the show had only hinted at in the past. Sure, there are a few that hit those strange notes (Chrysta Bell, instantly comes to mind), but considering the universe of Peaks as something that exists in a plane not quite ours, it never milks the camp factor beyond tolerance levels.

But the real surprising juice comes in the form of elder Gordon Cole(Lynch himself), and fellow agent, Albert Rosenfeld(The late, great Miguel Ferrer) who upon receiving cryptic information about the long lost Cooper, venture out to meet a captured man, only to wonder who exactly they have behind bars. It's a truly mesmerizing final few minutes in this series of episodes that both sells the utter eerie nature of old events returning to haunt old friends, as well as their loyalty to their fellow agents. The final scene hued in a deep shade of blue, brings to the forefront revelations that harken to both the original series as well as FWWM, hinting at something both men had been troubled by for years. No, none of this feels normal at all. But maybe there is someone we know who can help. It's a bang-up way to leave us hanging. Needless to say, I am probably just as hooked now as I was back in 1990. Perhaps even moreso. Like Albert and Gordon, a part of me had lied dormant. Ever resigned to the idea that these forces would forever be ignored, leaving threads eternally neglected. And despite knowing of this project for over a year now, I never expected it to be rekindled with such energy and sincerity. It's the kind of return we rarely to never receive. At last, we have Twin Peaks as a complete story. Whether or not this is truly Lynch's great goodbye to narrative filmmaking, I'll be there with many others, savoring every delicious moment.  

14 hours remain..





Ghost In The Shell (2017) Film Thoughts

And as the lights go up, and the crowds exit the theater, my chlorine vision saturated eyes, heavy they hang, underlying a distended sense of relief. Not that Rupert Sanders' fool's errand had indeed exceeded all expectations. But rather that years of speculation and debate could at last be put to rest knowing that it was all valid noise. His adaptation of Shiroh's influential creation bears little resemblance to the source, unless one believes that random, occasionally slavish visual callbacks implies synchronicity. The end product being something far less interested in the world it is painting, and far more victim of its own marketing potential. Another film pitted against itself so early in the game, that the afterthought of merely choosing a straight procedural story must be echoing between many lips at this very moment. But as it is, Ghost In The Shell, succumbs dead on arrival as a story of stolen pasts and identities at odds with a reality that all but Hollywood has seemingly surpassed. 

In this rendition of the universe, Mira, aka The Major (Scarlett Johansson), is seen awakening for the first time after being told she was just rescued from near drowning after a terrorist attack. Dr. Ouélet (an oddly cast Juliette Binoche), informs her and in turn, the audience that Mira is indeed granted a new cyborg body in what would become a bold new standard for HANKA Robotics' and the world's increasingly cyberized population. Behind closed doors, Dr. Ouélete, is informed by the company's chief, Cutter(Peter Ferdinando), that Mira is to be stationed as a government operative for the anti-terrorist strike force, Section Nine as an imposed demonstration of Mira's intended function: as a weapon. Flash forward to one year later, and suppressed memories come calling as The Major and her cadre of cybercops run up against renegade cyborg, Kuze(Michael Pitt), who has begun to infiltrate minds of machine and human alike in a plot to expose HANKA, and break this new world down to its foundations.

You read correctly, 2017's Ghost In The Shell, cops that age old crutch, the origin story, and undermines the entire mythology in the process. One of the great delights of Masamune Shirow's original work, and most of the subsequent media that followed tossed the reader/viewer forehead deep into an increasingly blurred world of cyborgs, political intrigue, and morphing philosophical concepts. We were suddenly privy to the obsessive minds behind each incarnation. With each new exchange rendering us occadionally scrambling to keep up. Much like the way I used to have to re-read to better digest the early works of William Gibson, there is a tactile nature to the world of Ghost that is dense, and simply thrilling because of said density. It's a universe that rarely to never did apologizes for what it was, nor was terribly interested in longform explanations about who our characters. They simply were. 


With Sanders'  film, this simply won't do. And as such, the entire piece seems hell bent on undermining any potential question regarding who Mira is, and what she represents to those who value her. By laying out virtually everything in expository dialogue early on, we are granted little to no mystery for the characters,  let alone us to discover. A mother/daughter subplot that again undermines a huge amount of what makes the franchise so inviting. A choice that in a way kneecaps a lot of what makes The Major, such a unique being who is an expert at what she does, but rarely reveals a vulnerable side to anyone but squadmate Batou (an adequate, yet equally undermined Pilou Asbaek) It almost seems to be written under the sexist assumption that a woman cannot be this vulnerable to a male lead without it dovetailing into love interest territory. To compound problems further, Mira is rarely given much evidence to even prove her worth as a team leader, and is more spoken about by others. Her actions are often undone by others, and occasionally rendered ineffectual. It's a superhero film where the superhero simply doesn't do very much that emphasizes the super. Johansson, does what she can with the role, but the page and direction simply have no weight to encourage more than a furrowed brow, or a dropped weapon. This Major, is simply useless.

Worse yet, are the choices that follow, especially pertaining to Cutter, and his intentions for Mira behind the scenes. The greater conspiracy that has created her never culminates toward anything beyond a raised eyebrow, and one has to ask why would a major robotics corporation pawn off one of their most advanced creations to a government unit that is deeply entrenched in such complex cyber terrorism, and intelligence gathering. The plots would have no problem intersecting over time. At least with RoboCop's Murphy, his ignorance in an increasingly blue collar style police force supports this notion of information walls that border on some form of full proof protection. But with Section Nine being who they are (here, a largely faceless group of ragtag police, granted little to no real screen time) it just feels like granting Mira a timed gimme. The ultimate revelations tend to fall into our protagonists' hands with each dive, not to mention a scene near act three that seems to have been completely edited out. (Pay close attention, or one may miss it.) The film simply opts for an on-wheels experience, punctuated by the occasional uncanny image. 

Which brings us to the presentation, which ultimately comes up short. For all that Sanders attempts to inject into the presentation, there is a strange, almost limited scope that seems to run out within the first half hour. Almost as if the film seems ready to give up on presenting much new to the world save for an almost early 1990s Mind's Eye era techno poster sheen. A lot of style, but little in the way of optical protein that Ghost is often known for. After a while, the look of the city, the people, and the animated ad campaigns looming over the proceedings become less than impressive. There are plenty of visual shout-outs to Oshii's two films (especially INNOCENCE) throughout, but even so, it becomes distracting when so very little is actually occurring on screen. It's definitely a handsome production, but certainly one that leaves a limited impression. 

Then there's the issue of casting none other than Takeshi Kitano in the role of Section Nine head, Aramaki, who comes off as expected; as a J-cinema legend collecting a paycheck. 

So in all, the western Ghost In The Shell finds itself through the looking Glass of controversy and speculation, and now on the other side perhaps worse for the wear. A project that so easily could have sidestepped certain issues of racial identity and economic choices, opts to lean head on into them, only rendering the entire project as something of a troubled message come the denouement. Without spoiling the film, the story does go full bore with the origin story in such a way that implies that this is just how things are, and that it's perfectly fine. Forget the past, understand its role, and think nothing of the implications. It's a quietly toxic choice that simply didn't have to be. There is great potential within the universe of Ghost to at least imply a wholly new regional continuity. A fresh take on an increasingly dense, politically charged creative playground of digital intrigue. The choices we get here pretty much quashes much hope of progress. Not that the mother-daughter element didn't help, but talk about a rosary of needless suffering on a slab of shallow posturing. No reverent, loving bouquet. More a burger, medium Coke, along with a basket of cold, unsalted fries.

Once again, the road to adapting Japanese media into the global mainstream finds itself at odds with the tentacles of moneyed interests, cultural hegemony, and ultimately an indifferent attitude to story. If this is the best a major studio can do with something like this, then it's no wonder Japan stays away. About the only positive here is that for a more palatable take on such occasionally challenging material,  Stand Alone Complex exists. At long last the debates can proceed with actual ammunition. 


Thank goodness.