In Space No One Can See You Roll Your Eyes

I mean c’mon now, is this gonna happen every dang time, Ridley Scott?

(And for those worried about spoilers, here, the following simplified synopsis could apply to any number of films in the franchise or ripoffs thereof, so it’s not really giving anything away.)

A spaceship gets a distress call. They unwisely follow it to an uncharted planet and trace it to a spooky crashed ship. Some folks get mauled to death / infected / etc… by some weaponized parasitic aliens. A few brave souls escape back to their ship in orbit. Ooops, something got on board. Bang! Some lady blows it out an air hatch. Dun dun dun…but she better not rest so easily…

I felt like Kristen Wiig’s Aunt Linda the Film Critic character from SNL for most of Alien: Covenant’s two hours…exasperated and rolling my eyes. Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Two Hour Premiere

NOTE TO READERSThese weekly posts are meant to recap what happened (SPOILERS AHEAD) and provide conversation starters for fans to comment and share theories.  Do not read if you have not watched this week’s hour(s) yet.

“The Stars Turn and a Time Presents Itself”

The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) states this rather matter-of-factly to Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse), part of message for him to go find out in the woods that which has been missing…

Most of the premiere had a tense, occasionally obtuse, and brooding vibe – somewhere between the madness of Fire Walk with Me and the tone of Mulholland Drive. Three main story-lines (along with plenty other tangled threads) were set up for some vast cosmic and physical convergence: Agent Cooper being trapped in the Red Room (for 25 years!); an evil doppelgänger Cooper running amuck in the real-world whose days are numbered and is wanted back at the Black Lodge; and some key players in our beloved hometown gearing up for something.

The two hours both inch along and somehow fly by thanks to Lynch’s uncanny knack to make you feel as uncomfortable as hell knowing that at any moment a long, static shot with stilted actors doing not much of anything could turn into an absurd experimental horror show (witness the truly ghastly special-effects that harken back to Lynch’s art school days in Philadelphia and Eraserhead). I wanted some scenes to end so badly, while at the same time I didn’t want the experience to end. Continue reading

Life is very very Complicated and we’re ready for our Mirror, Mr. Lynch

Bob Cooper Mirror

Life is very, very complicated, and so films should be allowed to be, too. – David Lynch

David Lynch has been saying that the new “season” of Twin Peaks is really just an 18 hour film. And, Jeeze Louise, ain’t the world all kinds of fantastic complicated right now? What better time then for a complicated, complicated film that will last all summer long?

I can’t help but muse upon the context with which we are about to consume this 18 hours, where Bob-willing we’ll get lost in a place both wonderful and strange.

Lynch is a proud Eagle Scout, and his re-entry into the social consciousness couldn’t be more eerily timed as two other Boy Scouts (Comey and Mueller) play detective in an attempt to unearth just what in Sam Hell is going on in the White House these days. Is there a world in more need of Boy Scouts than the world of today?

Be Kind. Be Courteous. Be True. And most importantly…Be Prepared!

Lynch has historically had an uncanny mastery of tapping into…”something”…that may have been unbeknownst to him at the start of the project. What will he accidentally tap into here (what big fish has he caught)? What was it that was so special…so great…about the context in which Twin Peaks enthralled a nation and world over 25 years ago? What is different…or the same… about the context today in which Twin Peaks returns?

What was the original Twin Peaks if not the tale of a Patriarch (Leland Palmer – possessed by Bob) run amok – and a Boy Scout (Cooper) who solved the mystery about what made that mad man tick (but alas, did we ever learn how to make Bob stop)? Weren’t we all Laura Palmer – living under Killer Bob’s tyrannical reign and longing for a way out?

And don’t we all love a good mystery? Don’t we all desire to get lost in those woods again? Can’t you just smell those Douglas Firs? How cathartic does this return to Twin Peaks have the potential to be? What will it say about our shared fears…about the American soul…about aging…about dying…about life?

We all have our hopes up so high…but even if it fails to tap into some sense of what Makes America Great Again…at the very least, I hope this new mystery provides a most pleasant diversion to the turmoil we’ll be roiling in all summer long (and perhaps beyond).

As I immerse myself in this world again, I will try to only report – hour by hour – on what is seen, what is felt. I’ll try to keep politics out of it. But all great art is made greater in equal parts by the baggage both the maker and the viewer bring to it. And, oh brother, we have a lot of baggage to unpack. So Be Prepared!

Don’t let us down, Davy boy…we couldn’t be more ready for complicated if we tried.

And Don’t Forget to Follow the Hour by Hour Spin, Brave Boys and Girls!

Searching for Momentum in The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z

Writer/director James Gray’s latest cinematic tome, The Lost City of Z (based on David Grann’s bestselling book about the incredible true story) unfolds like a long…very long…novel. It’s a curious think-piece about a man’s obsession with finding a lost civilization in the Amazonian rain forest that despite being handsomely mounted (among many other cinematic accomplishments) lacks momentum due to a decidedly old-fashioned pace. Yet, there is so much to admire here.

Witness the classical cinematography by Darius Khondji, exquisitely lit and painterly to highlight the sumptuous locales and pristine production design. Individually there are some amazing sequences staged by Gray and Khondji, including the film’s opening elk hunt done up in a thrilling manner that one wishes would’ve punctuated later moments in the epic narrative. While overall the film could’ve used some judicious editing (and script tightening), a series of amazing dissolves and scene transitions (witness liquor poured onto the uneven floorboard of a ship transition into steam from a train cutting across the Bolivian countryside…or wind through the Amazonian jungle transition to a seaside breeze in England fluttering white curtains inward over the desk of a wife reading her husband’s letters) create indelible moments one wishes to savor like a top shelf whiskey. Continue reading

Matterlightblooming and Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

In an ancient cemetery on a hill near Washington D. C. the dead-who-know-not-they-are-dead rise from their sick boxes at night to cavort, cajole, console and wonder, wander, ponder. They have developed their own culture, their own shadowy cadence of “living” in this self-inflicted purgatory, patiently waiting for some sign to know what to do next, while fellow spirits vanish in the matterlightblooming and others join them in fresh sick boxes, an eternally spiraling phantom world of temporary inhabits…ships passing in a melancholic feverishly nightmarish harbor where the waters are haunted by memories of thier life in that other place from before they so long for…

One such spirit is left dispirited by another (who committed suicide)…exclaiming…

“You did not give this place a proper chance, but fled it recklessly, leaving behind forever the beautiful things of this world…Forgoing eternally, sir, such things as, for example: two fresh-shorn lambs bleat in a new-mown field; four parallel blind-cast linear shadows creep across a sleeping tabby’s midday flank; down a bleached-slate roof and into a patch of wilting heather bounce nine gust-loosened acorns; up past a shaving fellow wafts the smell of a warming griddle (and early morning pot-clangs and kitchen-girl chatter); in a nearby harbor a mansion-sized schooner tilts to port, sent so by a flag-rippling, chime-inciting breeze that causes, in a port-side schoolyard, a chorus of childish squeals and the mad barking of what sounds like -” (p. 140-141)

Apparently in George Saunders’ purgatorious bardo, every ghost is a poet…and a grammarian champion of the semi-colon. Saunders’ ghosts go through the metaphysical motions, getting bawdy like Shakespeare in their regaling of tales and nihilistic like Beckett’s Godot waiters…waiting, for something…someone…to rock their boats. Continue reading

Spotlight on the Independent Arts: Krisha

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From its cold, brooding Bergmanesque opening…to the discordant chords of its Johnny Greenwood style score…to the cyclorama of its spinning DePalma inspired camera…writer/director/star Trey Edward Shults borrows from the best to put on display one woman’s spiraling miasma of bad life choices, addiction and emotional abuse that can’t help but tar the lungs of everyone around her like lingering cigarette smoke.

Krisha looks like a student film but hums like a the seasoned work of a master. When Krisha (played with eerie frantic madness by Krisha Fairchild, the director’s own aunt) pops in for Thanksgiving dinner, the tension slowly builds amongst the family. Shults brilliantly shows Krisha’s various levels of disconnect and desperation as she both distances herself and awkwardly tries to connect…her dependency on a variety of mind-altering substances coupled with her hysteric self-doubt and self-loathing building a psychic wall that haunts the house and her loved ones like a screaming banshee.

While I expected to see a dysfunctional family and the holiday from hell, I did not expect the level of studied cinematic touches Shults employs. Continue reading

Jalebis, Google Earth and Lost Children in Lion

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The unexpected presence of jalebis (an Indian street food/sweet treat) at a friend’s party in Australia transports Saroo (Dev Patel) back to India and memories of being a hungry child desiring that delicacy, which was always out of reach but his older brother promised him he would have one day. Saroo was adopted at age five from a Calcutta orphanage by a loving Australian couple living in Tasmania. Lion would have you believe this jalebi moment is the first time he has thought about his birth mother and family (a dramatic interpretation from this true-life tale) since then, but we the viewers have that story and its compelling images and emotions seared into our brains by this point. Thus we willingly go along with adult Saroo’s journey back to those moments on his quest to find his original home and family.

The film wisely plays out the drama in chronological order. We first meet Saroo and his family when he is five, where they live a harsh but happy rural life…one that disappears when Saroo falls asleep on a train that takes him 1600 km from home to Calcutta where he becomes a street urchin running from danger at every corner. Even in light of the clever cinematography (aerial shots early on meld into dream-like memories and scanning of Google Earth for home in his adulthood), the star of the film is without a doubt young Sunny Pawar, who leaves an indelible mark that follows the proud tradition of orphans and lost and wandering children in such classics like Pather Panchali and Salaam Bombay! The episodic nature of the film’s first half is effortlessly compelling and casts a Dickensian spell over the viewer as Saroo encounters increasingly shady characters before finally connecting with those who could help him. Continue reading

A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance: The Popular Appeal of Hidden Figures and Rogue One

rogue-one

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Americans love movies. The movie theater has in many ways always been (even through the golden age of television and our current age of social media) our most beloved and nostalgia brewing institution. Often when our other beloved institutions, namely of a political nature, become maligned (and most recently, tainted a most toxic orange) Americans will flock to the darkness of the communal cinematic space and revel in stories of real and fantastic rebellion. Could there be a more perfect milieu for the crowd pleasing and rabble-rousing likes of Hidden Figures and Rogue One? Continue reading

The Spin’s Cinema Rewind: 2016

Outside of the theaters, 2016 was one of the most tumultuous years around the globe, especially politically with Brexit and a US presidential election that saw “the virulent madness” prophesied in 1976’s Network come to a red-hot orange, roiling, boiling head. The greatest of films often speak to the times in which they were made, and 2016 saw tumult of the artistic kind in cinema mirroring (whether intentionally or not) what had been bubbling up in society for years. If it proved anything, it’s that art is 50% the artist’s intent, and 50% the lens with which the audience views it through. Artists and audiences alike brought heavy baggage into the theaters, and we witnessed some potential masterpieces.

For me, the year’s most memorable film, Arrival, allowed the audience to breathe a collective sigh of relief at just the right time and showed us life is still worth living even when we know how (potentially horrifically) it will end.  The lovely and melancholy musical La La Land arrived at the tail end of the year to remind us it’s still okay to dream big, even when those dreams don’t always play out how we originally hoped (hope is not a strategy…but hard work is). The masterful character study Moonlight showed humanity and beauty can still be found even in the most dire of circumstances, and the search for one’s true self is a continuing journey. The true-story Loving uncovered the most sturdy bricks for building a compassionate society are quiet dignity, grace, and steady determination to fight for what’s right. Then there was the neo-western Hell or High Water, which tapped into some of the same economic rage a certain political campaign did, and showed presciently that sometimes “what don’t ya want?” is what you accidentally bring upon yourself.

My Top Ten picks for 2016 have been chosen with some initial thoughts and links to my full reviews below: Continue reading

Random Places I Have Been in 2016

What stories do these wild Colonial Spanish horses (clearly plotting something) and ghost crab (what are you running from?) have to tell?

Wild Horses Plotting Ghost Crab

It’s the last day of 2016, so it’s time for the Spin to look back on travel throughout the year for our annual “Random Places I Have Been” series. Apart from holidays in New Orleans and Montreal (featured in blog posts earlier in the year), 2016 brought me to some unique local events including a Chinese Lantern Festival and the opening of a new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia, as well as family vacations to Massachusetts (where we soaked up some history in Concord and on Walden Pond) and the Outer Banks of North Carolina (where we saw wild horses on the beach, the Wright Brothers’ Memorial and took in as many sunrises, sunsets and lighthouses as the waning summer week would allow).

Work also brought me to Jacksonville, Florida (my first time in Florida!); Auburn, ME (my first time in Maine!); and Greenville, South Carolina (a homecoming of sorts, as I had interviewed for a job there nearly 15 years ago, but this was my first time back, and both the town and I have changed soooo much…for the better).  However, the top-secret nature of those trips prevented me from taking any pictures (just kidding…about the top-secret stuff…not about the absence of pictures though).

The Outer Banks (and those wild horses and ghost crabs in particular) also brought about the genesis of a potential new novel, a grand over-the-top Southern gothic melodrama, one that will be a joint effort between my wife and I. If you ever do time in the Outer Banks, definitely sign up for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund guided tour…it was truly inspirational. I already wrote the first chapter shortly after our return home. Now it’s my wife’s turn…not that I’m putting any pressure on her or anything…

Continue reading