"'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher, 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'" - Ecclesiastes/Joel & Ethan Coen
It's not unusual for these guys to be tied to nihilistic tendencies, yet, for some reason, it never gets old either. The great thing about when a genre goes to die is that the most interesting works from that niche tend to rear their head while being lowered into the grave. At least I think that's how it is, and the pieces are so fascinating, in my proud opinion, because they're subversive. Let's look to "2001" as an example of this. The death of the Science Fiction novel occurred as a subversion of novels themselves. Arthur C. Clarke wrote an incredible book so that an incredible film could be made from it. You might say this wasn't his express intention, but it was most certainly part of the deal. And thus was born the Science Fiction film as we know it today, trampling genre literature under Kubrick's magnanimous feet forever. So long to the thoughtful, original, and starry-eyed man, thinking about his place in an unforeseen future while sitting at a typewriter. Today, books like that are either written with every motivation of being easily filmed, or they're sold simply by their existence in a pre-existing fanbase. Here's to you Star Wars.
And so now we have "No Country for Old Men", a film that appears to be saying something about the Western in its title. In the modern landscape of quick-cut popcorn action flicks, movies with simple styles and messages about cowboys riding for justice don't have a place at the table anymore. I think the setting also speaks to this notion. We watch a group of people live in the 80s, as they constantly reflect on earlier times. The opening monologue functions as a fantastic catalyst. The final subversion is obvious, and everyone with eyes felt it to their core at the sight of Llewelyn's body in the doorway. And so, as the Western goes to its postmodern tomb, full of guns, guts, glory, and God, the cold face looks out subverted into a meditation on the way things are nowadays, in this movie, Texas, and everywhere else.
|Papa Walsky's "Perfect Action Movie" Recipe
1 Keanu Reeves
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Combine your Russian mobsters, American muscle cars, and murdered puppy in a large mixing bowl (you can also add in a recently deceased spouse to maximize flavor). Heat your Keanu Reeves in a sauce pan until it comes to a boil (upon completion you'll be reminded of his work in The Matrix). Add the Keanu to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and smash them into a bloody pulp. Then place everything in a 18" x 26" sheet pan and get baked for 35 minutes. When the casserole is completely cooked you'll feel a cathartic release. Garnish with gold coins and a new pit bull.
|The shit hit the fan - literally!|
|Lynch's expressionist mural to Middle American angst might be his crowning achievement as an auteur. In fact, I would put Episodes 6, 8, 11, 16 and 18 on the level of his greatest masterpiece Blue Velvet. Yes they are that good. Each hour painstakingly created by a master surrealist who paints with characters on film like something out of a Dali or Picasso painting. One hour I could be watching pure horror, and the next the Straight Story, or a love story, or a gangster picture, or a western being fellated by Lost Highway.
Maybe the main problem with every Lynch film is that two hours is a canvas that is just too tiny for him?
Twin Peaks: The Return is a gorgeous mosaic that is a continent wide and 2,000 miles high. Lynch floats merrily above it all splattering Jackson Pollock-style rain drips upon characters raging against the dying of the light.
Speaking of light... Long time DP Peter Deming and Lynch do brilliant work here using the medium to contrast the light vs. dark themes. They always seem to be shooting in pitch black night or jarringly bright daylight. The effect (when combined with the signature slow motion Lynch dialogue) puts the viewer in a trance-like state that is somewhere between waking dream and exotic nightmare. Deming also admitted (on the American Cinematographers Society Instagram account no less) that this was not really shot like a television "series" but rather it was "conceived and produced like a very, very long feature film working with a script that was 500+ pages with one director and one crew." The result of the meticulous production techniques is rapturous for Lynch purists and binge streamers alike.
The sound design and soundtrack (curated by Lynch himself) is absolutely exquisite down to the granular level. My favorite part of the sound design is the artistic choice to make important character moments burn in your memory by briefly jolting the viewer out of their dream trance with sound. The lady slamming her car horn over and over again after the kid shoots up the diner, the odd phrase from the teddy bear on the table that gets caught in a bad loop while the angry grandson robs the grandmother, or even the way the curtain on the storefront keeps going back and forth annoyingly during an important meeting between Dr. Amp and the eye patch lady. These small moments are ingeniously creepy and disarming at the same time.
The same can be said of the soundtrack artists themselves. Who else but Lynch can pull out the best performance from Nine Inch Nails in 25 years (as dirty hobos ask "Gotta Light?")... Who else can follow an Eddie Vedder acoustic dirge with "Audrey's Dance"? Or figure out a way to get ZZ Top to perform at the Roadhouse without actually having them perform at the Roadhouse? Or use one of the greatest live Otis Redding performances of all time (from 1970's Monterey Pop Fest) to play a bizarre and longtime unrequited love scene completely straight? Or film a guy sweeping for four minutes to Booker T's "Green Onions"?
There's no way ANY of this should work at all, but it does because it's Lynch.
Will anyone ever be able to truly solve Lynch's lifelong cinematic puzzle? Is it a tone poem or just a bunch of melted clocks?
Frankly, I couldn't care less. Life is a malaise maze in which every door opened is replaced by more doors. Each one more intricately ornate and impenetrable than the next.
I'm still thinking about that final episode two weeks after finishing. Like some of the more famous "golden Age of television" finales (eg, Sopranos, Mad Men) this ending feels electrifying in its simplicity. A tacked on existential coda that's either a Rorschach test for a true believer or a lead pipe to the head for those that will never truly understand Lynch's madness anyway.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
"Shadow, take me down
|The only thing I remember about wrestling was how bad it smelled. The smell of rotting carcass, like you left some meat out too long and that ultra-dense stink just hangs there like a fog.
The old wrestling room at the Winona Senior High School was such a place. I could barely get within 3 feet of that orange and black-matted sarcophagus without running into a wall of intensely stale horridness.
It was in this brightly colored stink hole that I first danced with a girl way out of my league. The foxtrot. 9th grade. To an old record player trumpeting out "Lookin' for Love" ...from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. I can't explain to you how bizarre this was. Every year we had to do this in phys ed class. Sometimes guy picked girl. Sometimes girl picked guy. When I had my turn I picked one of the most popular girls in my grade and tried to hide my boner for 3 minutes and 53 seconds.
This is essentially what this movie is. Steve Carell's du Pont trying to hide his Channing Tatum boner for eons and eons... while he slowly and menacingly goes mad. The odor of old money and entitlement wafting around him like a foul steam. In his mind, he, "The Golden Eagle", is gifting tiny parcels of the American Dream to his wrestling beneficiaries. But this is no Horatio Alger myth. This is true crime as parable for the 1 percent, the old guard covering the wretched stench of entitlement by dancing with the best-looking girl in a room full of ghosts.
|I'm not sure if I've ever quite properly followed what's going on in a Bond film. This one's no exception. Not a single thing makes sense. Well, not to me anyway. I think it's about a secretive and evil organization called "Facebook", and their despicable and socially unaware leader's attempt at world domination. As for Bond, things blow up around him, he jumps and leaps, he's very handy with a gun - your usual stuff. But don't ask me what happened, I have no clue.|
|If you are going to adapt some work to the big screen and you want to follow the old Hollywood formula for dumbing down and popularizing the material, at least do something fun to watch.
"The Dark Tower" is extremely boring.
In addition to being very predictable, it lacks energy in the action scenes. The plot unfolds robotically, without emotion, with a lazy direction that neither tries to find/create inspired angles or add some trace of originality in the takes.
The lack of vitality affected even the actors. They managed to erase all the usual charisma of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. This proves that no matter who they had put in the roles, the characters and the script are so basic that it would suppress anyone's performance.
I feel bad for Tom Taylor, who did a good job as Jake and who may end up being harmed early in his career. Also, the talents of Jackie Earle Haley and Abbey Lee Kershaw are completely wasted on supporting characters with the personalities of cardboard.
Pretty much the only fun things about "The Dark Tower" are some Easter eggs from other famous Stephen King adaptations.
From the number 1408 written above a portal, to larger connections like the theory presented in "The Shining" about children who have a special gift called "shine". It's also fun to note that, intentionally or not, as in 2017's "IT" actor Nicholas Hamilton also plays a bully here.
"The Dark Tower" isn't just a bad adaptation of Stephen King. It's also a mediocre action movie with an uninspired direction, lackluster production and extremely conventional script.
An unforgettable film, but for all the wrong reasons.
|Scarves. Witness their might.
Smoke this way, Liam. That's nice.
The "Duel" truck bleeds oil.
|The cinematic equivalent of opening up your grandmother's sweater drawer and getting a snoot full of that stale mothball smell.|
|In some ways, horror fans are the lifeblood of the film industry.
Blockbusters will always rule, of course, but when they flop, studios can always make money by greenlighting Insidious 3 or something similar. There's a reason nearly every opening weekend features a movie with a zombie, monster, ghost, home invader, Sandler, vampire, or some other ghastly monstrosity. Scary shit always sells - good or bad.
I assume movie studios release boatloads of horror films because the fanbase is ravenous, they're cheap to make, and they rarely lose money. No doy. I mean, how many other genres have built-in fans that line up for a movie even though they know it'll probably suck? Not too many. I love dramas but you won't see me at Race (even though Jason Sudeikis in a Disney sap fest is oddly intriguing). I love comedies too, but I won't be seeing Zoolander 2 anytime soon. But typical MODERN horror fans convince themselves that the Final Destinations and Saws and Conjurings are acceptable because they're so supportive of the genre. Understandable. People piss on horror even though films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, and The Exorcist (if there was a Mount Rushmore of horror those three films would be on mine, with the fourth being The Thing for all you Chad S. Walsky completists) will be worshiped long after most best picture winners. I mean, Shakespeare in Love won an Oscar but would you respect anyone with a neckbeard and a blu-ray collection who preferred it to The Thing or Halloween?! Oh hell naw.
So every couple years the "future of horror" arrives and creates a fever pitch that attracts wide audiences and raises expectations. Sometimes true breakthroughs happen (Let the Right One In, Blair Witch, Audition, It Follows), sometimes it's critics and audiences wanting to be part of the cool kids club (Scream, The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity, The Babadook, Antichrist), and sometimes it's dimwitted youngsters who don't know any better (Unfriended, Mama, Final Destination). But make no mistake, every year brings fresh new clothes for our beloved emperor. Unfortunately, The Witch is the latest example of that.
It's not a bad film, but at its core it's no more original than most of the stuff cluttering up multiplexes. Hey, don't hate me - I'm as disappointed as anybody. Particularity when I mull the positives. Great sets and wardrobes, intriguing period dialogue, and solid performances are not in short supply. And director Robert Eggers shows impressive skill and steady confidence for a first time filmmaker. The nods to The Shining, The Crucible, and The Exorcist clearly come from a place of reverence, and it's obvious the folks involved respect the genre. Solid pacing, great score, all that. And an early scene involving the youngest child has genuine balls and shows The Witch doesn't plan on playing nice (one quick shot gives a whole new meaning to "baby lotion"). But instead of building on that momentum it attempts to validate itself by overselling its "family is fucked up" dynamic and grinds the film to a halt. I know, I'm a rube who must need a guy in a hockey mask killing teens every ten seconds AND I didn't appreciate or GET the profound subtext. Whatever. It's the filmmaker's job to keep me engaged and this film just never connected with me. The hooks never dug in. And worst of all, it just wasn't frightening. Sure, the last 10 minutes offer some unsettling jolts, and I always appreciate an ambiguous conclusion, but I fail to see what's so groundbreaking about this movie. I found it to be a competently made film that started strong but resolved itself in the exact same way most modern horror films do. It was a dressed-up witch movie in indie film clothes that had authentic dialogue and decent performances. But that wasn't enough for me.
In closing, this strikes me as the type of horror film that will never be more revered than it is right now. People are fierce about this one and I think that's cool. But after a wave of copy cats and the passage of time, people will see its bones and realize there isn't much meat on them. It's a solid movie with a couple great moments but concentrates too much on being different and not enough on scaring the shit out of me.
One quick thing: During a tense scene a character yells "Did ye make some unholy covenant with that goat?" I genuinely laughed out loud when he said it. I was born in the rural Midwest and that phrase has a completely different meaning where I grew up.