Monday, September 18, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return

Spoilers, of course

The post mortem on Twin Peaks: The Return could be a very ugly thing indeed.   I could easily bellow displeasure and disappointment over how this twenty-six year delayed third season of one of the most original television programs ever to infiltrate the airwaves failed to fulfill expectation. Fans tend to clutch and take ownership of their beloved art, believing they know best as to where it should go should its creator(s) decide to keep the timeline going. "Timeline" is really the right word to describe the Twin Peaks universe, by the way.  How many there actually are is an ongoing source of debate.

The Return was a limited run, eighteen part miniseries that ran on the Showtime cable network and concluded on September 3rd of this year.  All summer, fans and detractors alike were transfixed on the odd journey of FBI Agent Dale Cooper back to the titular Pacific Northwestern town in which, twenty five years before, the murder of a local teen exposed a torrent of dark secrets beneath the picturesque facade.  This of course was one of co-creator David Lynch's favorite themes.  At the end of the old show, Cooper emerged from the Black Lodge as a doppleganger inhabited by the evil spirit known as "BOB".  The Dale Cooper we knew and loved remained trapped in the Lodge, seemingly doomed for a long while to listen to "MIKE" and the Man From Another Place do their backwards/forwards speak, and Laura Palmer scream.  But what is time?

Flash forward - Evil Coop has apparently run amok around the world and done some hideous things, including at least two rapes.  Good Coop does find his way back into the world, but spends most of the series inhabiting the body of a sleazy insurance adjuster named Dougie.  There is a murder investigation in South Dakota.  A mysterious glass box in New York City.  A basement in Buenos Aires.  As you begin the new adventure, you see precious little of Twin Peaks and the old characters to which so many viewers were endeared.

If you are not familiar with the original series or the prequel film FIRE WALK WITH ME, you should not bother with this new series.  Although, bafflement is part of the Lynch experience.

As the series progresses, new story threads are introduced rapidly.  All the while, you rightly wonder if they will ever be resolved (or even referred to again). Tulpas (check your Tibetan mythology) figure heavily.  You ARE familiar with Lynch, right?

The Return was intended by Lynch to be an eighteen hour film, not a series broken into as many parts.  But that's how it had to happen, and most episodes conclude with a musical number performed at the Roadhouse. Some are decent, some not very good.  I wondered how Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder figured into this new series; there's your answer.  The latter does a nice job in a later episode.  The former plays with Nine Inch Nails as part of Episode Eight, one of the most amazing hours of T.V. I've ever witnessed.  You've probably heard about it.  Most of it takes place in the 1940s.  It just has to be seen.  It may be the ultimate litmus test as to who the true Lynch fans are. 

But…you may also say that about Episode Three, my personal favorite.  Especially the first half, as Cooper re-assimilates into the real world.  Er, maybe.  He leaves the Lodge, at least.  The second half of the episode flirts with slapstick, and makes the leap.  Episode Four, with "Wally Brando" is less successful in my book. And Episode Eighteen, the finale? Still mulling that one over.  You may likewise have heard that it was a cheat, a maddeningly inconclusive finish. That's highly arguable.  Again, if you are familiar with David Lynch, it should not be unexpected.

And Episode Twelve? Just like that of the subject of Judy, we're not gonna talk about that one.

Though, some story lines are neatly tied up.  Some of the characters - old and new - are actually given happy endings.  Many are left dangling.  Lynch himself does nice work, returning as FBI Chief Gordon Cole, in a role much larger this time out.  His interplay with Albert (the late Miguel Ferrer) is the front and center bromance, somewhat echoing Cooper and Sheriff Truman's in the original series.

Harry Dean Stanton reprises his role as Carl, and his presence has a gravitas and near angelic air.   I am thankful he lived to complete his work here.  Harry passed away last Friday.

Kyle MacLachlan deserves recognition for playing multiple roles.  He's appealing even as the slimy, long haired doppelgänger.   All the principal players do good work, even if their parts sometimes seem unnecessary.  Even Jim Belushi, playing a Vegas mobster, is pretty decent.  Laura Dern, a frequent Lynch collaborator, has some really powerful moments as……the never before seen Diane.  Although she gives just about every character she encounters a "Fuck you!" as well.   The late Margaret Coulson reprises her role as the Log Lady, in sequences that are enormously poignant.

There are so many theories, interpretations, and connections to be made with this new series.  I could devote an entire blog discussing the alternate timelines, fingernail polish that may be code, the "119" junkie girl, the woodsmen, the Fireman (aka ???????), and so on.  That is part of the joy of it.  Why there is such a devoted cult.  It has been said that this series is more for Lynch fans than Twin Peaks fans. While Mark Frost returns to co-write with Lynch, most of this new series seems to be all David.  But there are some nice character moments, some further soap opera-ish intrigues, and many laughs among the relentless darkness. SUNSET BOULEVARD plays a part in Cooper's return.

Twin Peaks: The Return is a real mishmash of exhilaration, tedium, brilliance, amateurishness, cheesiness, utter genius, hilarity, and terror.  And there's never been anything else even remotely like it.  And remember, not matter how convoluted the storylines get as you wade through the episodes, it's ALL about Laura.

P.S. - The DVD/Blu-Ray ("The Third Season") is due to be released on December 5th. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Irma, and Aftermath

The outer bands of Hurricane Irma pushed through eastern South Florida last weekend. The eye was supposed to pass over us.  It was predicted that we would get a Category 3 or 4.  On various maps, our coast was highlighted in shocking pink, indicating potential for catastrophic damage. It was unsettling, to say the least.  We'd been through storms before, but this looked like a real mother.  Should we evacuate? I'd never fled the Sunshine State pre-hurricane before. We decided to stay, come hell or... It's a logistical nightmare when thousands or even millions jam one of three main arteries north.  Florida is only about one hundred and thirty miles at its widest.   If you're one of those out of staters who wonder why more of us don't just "get out of dodge", let that marinate in your brain a little bit. 

Irma tracked west.  Those who evacuated to Ft. Myers and Tampa were now in the hot zone.  That must've seemed like a cruel joke, or the loser's end of a gamble.  Thankfully, by the time the eye pushed up the Gulf side, the category had downgraded.  It could've been far worse for everyone.  I realize this is little consolation to those who had to be rescued from flood water laden apartment buildings, or those who lost a roof, or the many who can't even read this this week, as they wait on FPL to restore power.  God bless those workers (and the armies of assistance who have traveled from as far as Canada), by the way.

I have no horrific tales of Irma.  The electricity flickered, but miraculously never went out.  After Frances in 2004 and Wilma in '05, I had no power for a week, especially difficult with an elderly grandmother.  This time we had no flooding or damage to the house.  There were a plethora of downed tree branches and palm fronds. I spent an afternoon cleaning out the pool, a strangely therapeutic task - the water was not "bathtub warm", but refreshingly cool.  I returned to work two days after the storm and my office sustained several disintegrated ceiling tiles on its east side, facing the Intercoastal waterway.  It reeked of mold.  Re-scheduling patients was erm, challenging.

But we were spared the undiluted fury.  We pray for the season to quiet down.  Jose will spin in the Atlantic and not be a threat to the U.S.   We always hope the storm goes elsewhere, but then we think of those in the islands.  Sometimes I think Haiti should have its citizens relocated to a less dangerous terrain, that nature never intended a human population there.  You could argue that about New Orleans.  And Florida (Read This).  Where would we go?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Paper Chase

When I at long last sat down to watch 1973's THE PAPER CHASE I almost immediately felt that stomach churn so familiar to my grad school days.  This film comes closer than nearly anything else I've seen (or remember seeing) to capturing the anxiety of trying to excel within, heck, survive the rigors of higher education.  While the setting in this film is the awesomely intimidating arena of Harvard law school, my little square of the Health Professions Division of the university I attended was filled with the sort of adrenaline and dread experienced by the first years here.

Timothy Bottoms plays James Hart, a Midwesterner sweating out the usual pressures of law school and being a fish out of water.  He anticipates all nighters and no social life other than study groups.  But his real challenge is his contract law professor, Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., played brilliantly by John Houseman, who copped an Oscar for his work.  Hart suffers a few classroom deflations before sufficiently preparing and rising to the occasion. Then he fails again.  And so on.  He longs to join the "upper echelon" of students who actually raise their hands before being called upon, those who dare to engage in Kingsfield's utilization of the Socratic Method of learning.  The professor becomes Hart's obsession, enough so for the young man to break into that special room in the library which houses Kingsfield's notes, taken when he was a student.

Despite warnings from his compadres in the trenches about the incompatibility of such things with law school, Hart becomes involved with an intriguing, attractive young woman named named Susan (Lindsay Wagner).  He doesn't learn right away that she is Kingsfield's daughter.  There are complications, naturally.  One of them is that Hart is so busy with her father's course he can't get away for a weekend with her.  But she knows the territory; she is about to be divorced from a law school dropout.

THE PAPER CHASE alternates between Hart's combative relationships with father and daughter.  The former is beautifully rendered, but I found many of the scenes with Susan to be a bit self-conscious, as when Hart walks on a thinly iced over pond during a discussion about taking risks vs. playing it safe.  Writer/director James Bridges does many fine things in his film debut, but his sketch of Susan is confused and underdeveloped.  Did he intend for her to contradict herself when she berates Hart for being too organized and mannered while she explains that she left her husband back in Europe because he was too rootless?  The script, an adaptation of John J. Osborn Jr's novel, is also quite abrupt in portraying the on-again off again between these lovers.  And in the Questions You're Not Supposed to Ask in Movies category, I kept wondering what Susan did for a living.  She seemed to have an awful amount of free time.

But Wagner's performance is not to be faulted.  She's quite appealing, as is the entire cast.  Early roles for Edward Hermann and James Naughton (as fellow students) are also noteworthy.  Bottoms again (following THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) demonstrates perfectly natural acting.  But Houseman....he positively excels as the rarely impressed, chilly academic who (feigns?) demonstrates a lack of memory of his students'/victims' names - that seating chart comes in handy.  Kingsfield is emblematic of so many fearsome professors and even many professional types with whom most cannot hold a regular conversation.  His command of every scene, especially in the classroom, is a marvel to see.

THE PAPER CHASE, artistically photographed by Gordon Willis, is a drama, but has a fair amount of humor, including the hotel sequence near the end of the picture, when Hart and classmate Frank Ford (Graham Beckel), a fifth generation legacy, hole up for three days to cram for finals.  More poignant is an examination of Kevin Brooks (Naughton) who struggles in his studies as he has a photographic memory but little to no ability to synthesize that information, to employ the critical thinking necessary to practice law.  Though Bridges' ultimately lets him down with an unecessary, really contrived final scene.

And speaking of really contrived final scenes - the finale was also a bit too obvious in its symbolism.  It feels a bit anticlimactic, though I'm sure a few grad students have felt this way.  I liked an earlier moment far better, when Hart walks around Kingsfield's empty classroom one night, thinking about everything.  I did that.  I also returned years after I graduated and walked those aisles again, now with relief and wistfulness.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mr. Becker

Mr. Walter Becker left us this past Sunday.   I found out via a text from a close relative, one with whom I've shared a love for Steely Dan for a majority of our days.  It was expectedly shocking, but also a gut punch, a twist in the stomach.  For many reasons, it felt as if a family member had passed.  Becker and his Dan co-founder Donald Fagen have created a bonding force between me and my loved ones.  I can't elaborate on this further right now, but know that it was and is immeasurably powerful.

Steely Dan has been discussed at length on this blog.  There isn't much left to discuss about the history. My connection to the music has gone beyond "entertainment" or "diversion".  I've always snickered along to the darkly comic lyrics, always been taken aback by the musicianship of the duo and their players.  But hearing a Steely Dan tune is like a comfortable session with one of your smartest friends. And despite the chilly air of their music, Walter and Donald's songs created an unexplainable warmth.  Warmth of familiarity, but also of a shared recognizance.  In a society filled with banality infiltrating every aspect of life: politics, art, faith, etc., a Steely Dan song was not only the expected raspberry back at them, but a mark of quality.  Even detractors admit the music (and the recording of it) was top notch.

Walter was described as being the snarkier of the duo, that most of the causticism was of his design.  Becker always struck me like a grouchy university professor, one always ready with a sarcastic retort, but also some nugget of wisdom.  Be it of the high brow or even the mildly smutty.  Pop music likely never had another like him.   R.I.P.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nocturnal Animals

There is a distinctive life in words, in writing.  Sometimes it may resemble the author's personality, a mirror of his or her day to day actions that are visible to others.  Perhaps more often, it may be an entirely different voice.  Perhaps scathing, more erudite than what the tongue tied wallflower may typically verbalize.  One's writing may be more honest than they allow through utterances and even facial expressions, behavior.  When an author passes away, their "voice" remains as long as there is a medium through which we can read their words.  Since we are discussing film, I can relay that I feel Roger Ebert is still with us through his library of reviews.  Such a patented, distinctive point of view.  A mind as sharp as any on the Chicago Sun Times staff, or his many film critic peers.  I can open one of his essays and feel as if he is sitting across from me.

Metaphor comes in handy for writers.  Not for just those concerned with fiction.  Sermons, news articles, even some technical writing employs this handy device to use something to represent something else, often in a vivid, colorful fashion.  In the early moments of 2016's NOCTURNAL ANIMALS,  a woman named Susan (Amy Adams) receives in a gift in the mail from her ex-husband: a galley of his first completed novel, Nocturnal Animals, dedicated to her.  We will learn through flashbacks that Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a sensitive, tortured artist who found he could do nothing but write, even as he attempted to support his more career driven spouse.

Susan is currently married to Hutton (Armie Hammer), a cold, faithless business executive who barely acknowledges her.  She's become skilled at convincing her friends (and herself) that's she's content, fortunate for her success as an art gallery owner and her affluent lifestyle, one that was never possible with Edward.

With Hutton out of town, Susan immerses herself in the novel.  It is a relentlessly bleak tale of a family terrorized by a gang of punks on a lonely West Texas highway.  Also, its terrible aftermath.  She frequently slams the book shut in horror.  It is not an easy story to read, nor is it for the viewers of this movie to watch.  Director Tom Ford visualizes the events of the novel without relief.  The lengthy scene on the road is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing.  While later events - involving a hard as nails detective named Bobby (Michael Shannon, who excels) - do offer some sense of justice, the darkness pervades.  Nocturnal Animals will be as bleak as anyone could imagine, right to the end.

Why did Edward write this novel? Why did he dedicate it to his wife? What demons was he exorcising?  You'll find out, invisible audience.  The metaphors are devastating, suited to their real life counterparts.

I'm not sure what I was expecting with NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.  Possibly something along the lines of ADAPTATION, Spike Joneze's mindbending 2002 drama.  I did not know much about the movie beforehand other than via some hastily written synopses, vague enough to intrigue.  And that's how it should be.  I did not watch the trailers.  This movie is not as complex and metaphysical as the Jonze movie, but its statements of how life begats the written word and vice versa are no less fascinating.  This is a movie that continues to reveal its concepts days after viewing.  A rabbit hole of themes:

-The future commenting on the past, and the past elucidating what is to come.
-The validation of one's choices in life, perhaps also as a weapon of....
-Revenge, that's fairly obvious.  We even see a painting with those very letters in Susan's gallery.
-Art as catharsis, possibly because of its role as a vessel of revenge.
-Art as exploitation, announced with great audacity during the opening credits. I don't believe I have ever seen anything like it.  Quite Lynchian, in a way, but I bet even David would be taken aback.

Some viewers will exit NOCTURNAL ANIMALS feeling as if their souls were bathed in acid.  This is a grim movie.  Three movies, actually.  Present, Past, and Fiction.   When we get to the final scene, we understand why it happens.  We'll come away with a heavy heart, and because of that I would say the film achieved its objective. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Keanu

It was because of a co-worker that I'd even heard of comedy duo Key and Peale (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele).  She showed me several of their bits on YouTube - some funny, some not so.  These two were clearly talented.  A few weeks later, 2016's KEANU, starring both guys and co-written by Peele, was released to a mild reception from fans and critics.  The premise was real bait for certain audience members - an unbearably cute kitten arrives on the doorstep of a sad sack artist named Rell (Peele), but is later kidnapped by intruders who turn out to be gangsters.  Rell and his cousin Clearance (Key), an uptight straight arrow with a strong affection for George Michael, enter the L.A. underworld to get him back. 

Cute kitty.  Wisecracking heroes.  Tough violence.  A plethora of bad language.  And George Michael.  All generously packaged and delivered by director Peter Atencio.  And...curiously flat.  The movie does nothing surprising or new, and seems content with recycling the old buddy comedy/action formula without really trying to spoof or comment on it.  The guys, pretending to be gang bangers named Techno and Shark Tank, are amusing (mostly in their put-on dialogue) but not enough to sustain a one hundred minute running time.  When a character's big revelation comes during the film's climax, it feels tired.  As does the Anna Farris cameo (and its eventual explanation).  Yes, at one point the cat talks (during a character's hallucination) with the voice of....well, I think you might be able to figure that out.  And somewhat expectedly, we just don't see enough of little Keanu.  There's too much of the other stuff.

The George Michael gags continue throughout most of the movie.  They bring smiles, but the idea was exploited far beyond welcome.

Many cat lovers will blanch at Keanu's near constant proximity to peril.  You do hold your breath as he runs between hails of bullets (lots of shootouts in this movie), but you know that the filmmakers wouldn't let anything happen to the little guy.  Keanu does get to be heroic,  gnawing through rope to free his owner and leaping from the hood of a car to thwart a bad guy (Luis Guzman, perfectly cast and very funny), but it's not sufficient.  The ads promised a doo rag wearing feline who may have wandered to the dark side, but that idea is not explored, though how one could do this without being cheesy and ridiculous is open to question.

My favorite part of KEANU - Rell recreates scenes from famous films with the kitty for a calendar he's creating.  They are showcased during the credits and are the funniest thing about this movie.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Your Audiology Tutorial: In the News

Yes, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 was recently passed by the House and Senate, but we'll talk about that another day.

Here are links to two recent stories that should be quite fascinating to audiologists and audiophiles alike. 

Cuban Diplomats Expelled After U.S. Embassy Staff 'Incidents' In Havana

Christopher Nolan explains the 'audio illusion' that created the unique music in 'Dunkirk'