The Lurid Humanism of BlacKkKlansman and Sharp Objects

Spike Lee uses D. W. Griffin’s incendiary Birth of a Nation in quasi-meta fashion in his masterful comeback film about racists getting their comeuppance, the wildly entertaining yet sobering BlacKkKlansman.  If the former film was “history written by lightning,” then the latter might be “satire written by thunder.”  But while Lee and his screenwriters are thunderous in their political leanings, the filmmakers are most effective in delivery of the message because of how taut, understated and meticulous they are in the weaving of their storytelling craft.

BlacKkKlansman is a procedural undercover cop jawn about Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington in a “star is born” type performance and a chip off the old block of his dad Denzel) who infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK (almost on a lark, in prank-phone call style) in the 1970’s.  When the KKK agrees to meet him in person for the purpose of initiation, he convinces his sergeant to let him use his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, shockingly good) to pose as the eager new racist recruit.  Thus we end up with Jewish cop pretending to be a black cop pretending to be a white supremacist…and getting away with it…and stopping a terrorist bombing to boot.  It would all be ludicrous if it wasn’t true (though apparently some of the details of the actual case are played with loosely here for the purpose of entertainment and message delivery).  There’s a lot more going on in the film, and it’s tonally played to expert effect flipping between a satirical comedy of manners and a cop thriller about the worst kind of criminals.

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Going to Paris in the Present Tense

Mark Helprin’s Paris in the Present Tense opens with a magical passage dreamily describing that feeling of flying, sitting in a plane and taking-off, the world a string of lights slowly falling and fading away beneath you.  It’s a magnificent episode.  So much of the mood he sets was exactly what I felt on a flight ascent from Toronto to Philadelphia many years ago, and I had always wished I had the nerve to capture it properly in words.  Alas, Helprin captured it better than I ever could have…and wisely changed the setting to Paris, to boot!

The novel was a gift from my wife this past holiday season, and the greatest gift the novel gave to me was its ability to bring back memories of our trip to France in September of 2015 just a month before we were married.

Helprin’s swooning and expansive tale of an elderly cellist facing down the demons of his past and the fate of his legacy is dense, dense stuff.  Helprin’s vivid, thick, sometimes blustery, sometimes flowery descriptions of people, places, food, wine, and emotions are intermittently wondrous, evocative, illuminating, frustrating, and too often clichéd.  Oh, yes, anyone who has been there gets it…Paris is undeniably Hemingway’s Moveable FeastContinue reading

Every Little Stitch of Alma and Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread opens with a simple, stately title card and the emerging sound of a crackling fire.  Soon, a moodily lit young woman (an impeccably unpredictable Vicky Krieps) is providing the introductory voice-over to our cinematic affair.  Right there, Anderson upends our expectations, as this being a Daniel Day Lewis film (and purportedly his last!), one expected if anyone would be narrating this tale, it would have been him.

Daniel Day Lewis is indeed the main focus of attention, a classic Andersonian archetype, the tortured artist/mad genius…a true narcissist who is also somehow sympathetic, likely a result of Lewis’ and Anderson’s own symbiotic genius.  Their finely stitched designer Reynolds Woodcock is the toast of the 1950’s London fashion scene, and his art, those costumes, are to die for.  But the story is told mostly from the point of view of his new love interest, the enigmatic Alma (Krieps), an initially demure waitress he picked up in the British countryside…both actress and environ exquisitely photographed, as is every single thing, by Anderson’s camera lens.

We know there’s more to Alma because of how Anderson frames the story, but we’re never given any exposition on her (and only a modicum of backstory – mostly surrounding his mother – for Reynolds) and thus we’re forced to judge her (and ultimately Reynolds) only by what unfolds on-screen.  We slowly see how Alma takes hold and upends Reynolds’ structured life enmeshed with his sister Cyril (a perfectly reserved but commanding Lesley Manville).  Alma is far more than the typical girl Reynolds and Cyril routinely toss aside like an off-season dress.  In fact, she emerges from her cocoon as another Andersonian archetype…the person willing to do anything to fit into, and keep together, their new makeshift family, no matter how dysfunctional (in ways both comic and tragic) that family becomes. Continue reading

True Crime, The Last Dossier, and the Melancholia of Moving Paintings and Black and White Photography

David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon sounds like a rip-snorting true crime epic.  The labyrinthine conspiracy that lead to the murders of numerous Osage Indians for their oil headrights and the botched FBI investigation that followed is rife with terror and tragedy, but although Grann attempts a few passages of ponderous heft, most of the book is a dry by-the-numbers procedural that presents far too many names and suspects to keep coherent track of, never allowing us to latch on to any one person, and leaving us lost in the immense scope of the dastardly deeds.  The book is slated for a film adaptation to be directed by Martin Scorsese, and if there is anyone who can provide both focus and pep to the story, it’s probably him…though Eric “hit or miss” Roth is to pen screenplay, leaving me to worry the Osage might never get their due.

Though it’s presented like a true crime book, Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier couldn’t be more fantastical and “out there.”  Mercifully brief (compared to The Secret History of Twin Peaks), this dossier compiled by Special Agent Tammy Preston following the events of Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return is designed to feed the fans.  Continue reading

I’m the Best One in Blade Runner 2049

“I’m the best one,” a coolly sinister replicant (Sylvia Hoeks) declares amidst haunting imagery of walking backwards into dark, surging water in Blade Runner 2049‘s chilling climax.

If one is to believe the declaration of a doctor (Carla Juri) who specializes in fabricating human memories for implantation into replicants earlier in the film… that there’s a little bit of the artist in each one…then one might draw the conclusion that replicant mentioned above is speaking for none other than director Denis Villeneuve.  He’s operating on a well-known (and much copied) property in this “30 years later” update of Ridley Scott’s classic neo-noir sci-fi…but he’s very much put his own stamp on it.  There’s also a bit of “killing your darlings” in his daring showmanship, symbolically murdering his forefather Scott along with his oft-compared contemporaries David Fincher and Christopher Nolan.  Yes, Denis…you are the best one.

But there’s more subtext (and context) than just “the mark of the artist” in Blade Runner 2049…there’s also philosophical pondering on artificial intelligence, slavery, and what it means to be human.  Meanwhile, on the surface, the film tick-tock’s through the motions of your traditional noir detective story. Continue reading

My Thoughts Will Never Be Final on Twin Peaks

When that final gut-curdling scream rang out on that oh-so-familiar street in front of that oh-so-familiar house in that oh-so-familiar town from our oh-so-familiar anti-heroine, just as I had after every other hour, I raced to my laptop to churn out my blog post without much thought. I was a bit flippant, and ill-tempered, as that newly settling frustration of Lynch pulling the rug out from under us (again) was just beginning to simmer, and in my post (and haste) I wrote off the whole series to that Lynchian trope of being caught in an endless loop of suffering from which you can never escape no matter how hard you try.  And I still basically stand by that assessment…but oh, Twin Peaks, you are both just that and so much more.  Much like life itself, you are a walking contradiction.  A mirror unto yourself.

Now I’ve had time to digest the finale and read all the wonderful (and eloquent and thoughtful) theories out there in the media and on fans’ feeds.  And I agree with them all.  Those theories are mirrors of my own thoughts.  Nothing I write about here hasn’t been thought of by someone else who already wrote it down (and probably more astutely conveyed). Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Two Hour Finale (Hours Seventeen and Eighteen)

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERS – These 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.

TWO HOUR FINALE (HOURS SEVENTEEN & EIGHTEEN)

“Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?”

Like the entire Return in a microcosm (or condensed into a little golden orb, if you will), the final two hours of Lynch’s maddening opus contained a few moments of satisfying fanatic brilliance buried in deliberately obtuse dream logic. Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Sixteen

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERS – These 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.

HOUR SIXTEEN

“You are awake. Finally.”

THIS IS THE EPISODE. I repeat. THIS IS THE EPISODE. We’ve all been waiting for.

After taking Richard Horne to the bogus coordinates provided by Jefferies last hour and using the boy (whom he later refers to as…DUN DUN DUN…my son) as bait leading to a most electrifying (and satisfying) destruction of said bad seed, Bad Cooper texts Diane, leading her to remember the coordinates to the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station (now confirmed as the place to be) and a horrifying confession to Gordon, Albert, and Tammy that reveals Diane to have been…DUN DUN DUN…manufactured. Lynch films these scenes like a jolt, all simultaneously brooding, revved up, and gasp-inducing. Laura Dern, in particular, delivers an astounding performance, rivaling her interview scenes from Inland Empire, but sped up for maximum effect. The pace here, after 15 laborious hours of meandering metaphysical and nostalgic nonsense (interspersed with the occasional atomic-level horror show) is a breath of fresh air that sooths while grabbing you by the throat.

Whoa, baby, but Lynch and Frost were just getting warmed up! Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Fifteen

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERS – These 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.

HOUR FIFTEEN

“The Wind is Moaning”

Hour fifteen opens with one of the most gloriously hopeful moments in the history of the series. Nadine, perky and shovel-wielding, marches down to Big Ed’s Gas Farm and in the most blissfully delusional yet definitively zen way possible…releases Ed to be with Norma. Blindsided by the possibility, Big Ed lumbers eagerly down to the Double RR…but Norma has to speak to Franchise Walter first. Ed, along with the audience, thinking Norma is going to slip through his fingers, sits there stoically dumbfounded. Meanwhile, Norma, in a twist of fate, announces to Wayne she wants him to buy out her share of the franchises so she can go back to just managing the Double RR and be with family. All the while, Lynch is playing a gut wrenching blues-rock song, echoing Big Ed’s fathomless deep heartbreak, his camera focused on the emotionally and physically weathered face of the ultimate sad-sack…but then…her hand…his shoulder…they turn to each other…he proposes…she says YES!!!!…they kiss…and the camera pans to clouds clearing to a clear blue sky. Clear, simple, hopeful, visual symbolism. A brief moment of brilliant joy in this world of truck drivers. Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Fourteen

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERS – These 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.

HOUR FOURTEEN

“It’s all coming together now…” was what I couldn’t help but think during this shocking hour that made walking in the woods in the broad daylight scary as hell, and one bold woman who’s had enough takes a violent stand against the scum of the earth. The three major plotlines (Buckhorn, Vegas, and Twin Peaks) finally started to converge in cogent ways in the revelatory fourteenth hour. Continue reading