Lynchian Legacy and Family Matters in Top of the Lake, Stoker and Bates Motel

Many shows have tried...and failed...to recapture the spirit of "Laura Palmer."

Many people have tried…and failed…to recapture that spirit of Laura Palmer. But there will only ever be one Laura Palmer. And one Twin Peaks.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 23 years now since Twin Peaks graced the small screen, but even though it aired for only a year and a half, its legacy can still be felt today on television and in film in works like Top of the Lake, Stoker and Bates Motel – though only ones of these, thanks to the amazing lead performance of Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel, hints at anything memorable.

Jane Campion's TOP OF THE LAKE attempts to be haunting, but comes up all wet.

Jane Campion’s TOP OF THE LAKE attempts to be haunting, but comes up all wet.

Currently on the Sundance Channel, the New Zealand set slow-boil mystery, Top of the Lake, borrows liberally from David Lynch’s signature series. Film auteur Jane Campion follows in Lynch’s footsteps by turning to television with this melancholy miniseries chronicling a Sydney detective (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, boldly against type) returning to her remote New Zealand home town (an eerie down under mirror of Lynch’s Pacific Northwest with its mountains, lakes and dark woods) to care for her cancer-stricken mother only to get sucked into the local mystery surrounding the disappearance of a pregnant twelve-year old who just so happens to be the illegitimate daughter of the town drug lord.

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A Horse is a Horse Of Course Of Course

…that is of course unless that horse is a War Horse!

People have been crying for years that they don’t make films like they used to, but don’t tell that to Steven Spielberg. That silly Jewish lad from Haddon Township, NJ has been making films like they used to since the 1970’s.  His patented brand of cloying sentimentality perplexed me even as a child (I say BOO to you, Mr. E.T.!) but when he was able to combine that with a true sense of wonder (Close Encounters of a Third Kind, I have always loved yee) or found ways to mature it and place it in the context of history and war (cough cough Saving Private Ryan…sniff sniff Schindler’s List) he catapults himself into the ranks of the greatest of pop-culture entertainers. 

With his latest, War Horse, Spielberg pays homage to the grand Hollywood epics of the 1930’s and 1940’s in the same manner with which he paid homage to the low-budget matinée serials of the 1930’s and 1940’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He also conjures up some of that old Spielberg magic by taking the subgenre of the “Horse Tear-jerker” (a female-targeted niche) and serving it up avec “Epic War Movie” to get guys in the seats.  Release it on Christmas Day following a lush marketing campaign targeted to discerning filmgoers of all ages, and gosh dang it, Stevey Old Boy, you’ve done it again!  It’s a bloody crowd pleaser, I say, old chap!

Essentially this is a simple tale of a boy and his horse and their adventures, trials and tribulation during World War I.  Continue reading

The Red Riding Trilogy

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…all good children go to heaven.”

You wouldn’t believe it at the start of the grim trilogy of films that aired on British television in 2009 and were released in art-houses stateside in early 2010 (and new to DVD this month).  Spanning almost a decade (from 1974 to 1983) and following a labyrinthine plot involving missing children, serial killers, conspiracy theories and corrupt police officers in northern Britain’s Yorkshire area, The Red Riding Trilogy is hard-hitting, trippy, convoluted stuff…the stuff of communal M-like nightmares.

The first thing that is so striking about the films is their look – dripping in period detail and directorial chutzpah that’s like Godfather-era Francis Ford Coppola as channeled through Danish Dogme ’95.  From a critical standpoint, the consistent tone running through all of the films is even more astounding when you realize each part was directed, edited, scored and photographed by different teams.  The first two parts were directed by Julian Jarrold and James Marsh respectively, and it’s only in the superior third part (1983, directed by Anand Tucker) do we see any kind of deviation, and that’s only in a few powerfully placed auteuristic flourishes involving flashbacks and voice-overs. Continue reading