Contagion (2011), dir. Steven Soderbergh

such a clean movie. soderbergh tracks a globe-spanning epidemic with fluid editing, often moving through time and space with only a sound bridge/voiceover to orient the viewer. 

acting’s great across the board save for jude law’s irredeemably stupid character, who’s like rupert murdoch’s fantasy of an online journalist, all yelling “print media is dead” and talking about his unique visitors and ugh

But to get at the core of Peaks is no easy task. It remains sui generis in the history of American television: a procedural with the barest interest in whodunit; a mythology that peeled back one mystery to reveal a dozen more obfuscations; a melodrama that coexisted with oodles of obscure symbolism. Its bizarre lineage can be traced from The X-Files to Lost to Hannibal. None of this really nails the show down.

Peaks was the unholy love child of Mark Frost, a guy previously known for Hill Street Blues and recently for a bunch of books about golf, and David Lynch, cinema’s leading liminalist and suburban-rot expert. For a while, they kept each other in check: Frost kept the show grinding against the whetstone of pragmatism, holding together the first season’s ridiculously, consciously complicated insurance swindle plot. Meanwhile, Lynch embellished the overarching question of who killed poor Laura Palmer with career-best dream sequences and dreamy romantic swooning that at its best (James and Donna excepted) evoked a particularly heartbreaking doomed innocence.

But people wanted - understandably - to know who killed Laura. ABC eventually forced the show’s hand as a Hail Mary to boost suffering ratings. Perhaps if Lynch had been running things by himself (see: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) such a peskily practical matter would’ve been a non-issue in the face of his unmitigated strangeness - the notion that a “question” would be “answered” just wouldn’t be possible. The show had posed a question, though, in the first scenes of the pilot, and answering that question was Frost and Lynch laying their last card on the table.

The revelation of Laura Palmer’s killer opens up a whole host of disturbing questions, ones that get to the show’s thematic heart. The Lynch-directed reveal episode ends on one of the most brutal, horrifying scenes of his career, blunt violence intercut with some of the best use of that “doomed innocence” the show excelled at.

Then the air went out of the balloon and for the rest of its overlong second season Peaks squealed around the room before drifting to as graceful a landing as you could hope for.

Lynch directed a prequel film that satisfied exactly no-one (imagine a Lost movie that focused on Jack’s dog starving to death in the days following the finale) although has inevitably undergone reassessment in the years since, as the sting of “no answers” and the film’s unrelenting odyssey of abuse have faded. And that was that.

i don’t think i can pitch this, so it’s just gonna fizzle in google doc hell

at some point it would’ve been like “hey this is what videogames pulled from twin peaks beyond Deadly Premonition" but that sounds dull, frankly. "20 Things Videogames Took From Twin Peaks - You Won’t Believe Number 6!!!"

mm what was also interesting about guardians in light of the Marvel Stable is that it’s much better at the crucial team bonding sequences than the avengers.

the scene in the latter where the team is separated but somehow come together - the one where thor can’t pick up the hammer inexplicably, until he can - is a complete mess. the minute joss whedon has to tell the story visually, sans his ~irreverent dialogue, the thing falls the fuck apart. i defy you to make heads or tails of that without resorting to “well, in the comics..” or plain old guesswork.

the bit with the hulk suddenly able to control his powers cause he’s “always angry,” too, is a headscratcher - you could’ve just said “the plot demands this, captain america! stand aside!”

but gunn + “co-writer nicole perlman” (aside: despite any hoopla over a woman writing a marvel joint, she’s only on there as a WGA stipulation and gunn tossed all her work in the bin. hooray progress! it’s like when a woman got to co-direct frozen, giving her ideas to a committee at weekly “co-director summits”!) do a much better job at showing…and often telling…the characters’ various motivations and fucked-upness in a way that feels much more organic. rocket raccoon getting wasted and yelling about being an experiment is a lot more interesting than thor saying “loki” in a daft accent or iron man making wisecracks or whatever the heck was happening between hawkeye and black widow

Still, there is an odd, sour mini-subplot concerning Benicio del Toro’s character, the Collector, who is keeping a sad alien dressed up like a veritable schoolgirl in bondage. The girl eventually revolts, only to be rather prankishly killed off in a gruesome manner as a means of introducing the film’s Magical Item/MacGuffin, while the Collector is simply knocked around a bit as punishment. This is pretty Troma, honestly – like Eli Roth and Trey Parker, Gunn’s path crossed with the NYC trash movie institution in his 1990s youth, and with those filmmakers he shares a certain distaste for liberal piety. It sat poorly with me, though; maybe I’m too old. Or maybe I’ve seen too many franchises like this – the Collector, after all, is a player in multiple Marvel movies, and thus is valuable in a way virtually any random lady alien is not. And from the demographic superhero comics often favor, there are far more potentially ‘valuable’ male characters than women. To overcome this requires more complexity, I guess, than so basic a huge, expensive technical undertaking can be expected to manage while still assuring that massive worldwide opening.

Joe McCulloch on Guardians of the Galaxy at TCJ

precise as always. he mentions the “dorky chauvinist gags,” which is definitely how they come off - and weighed against this being the first one of these with any goddamn personality at all it seems pretty harmless. plus Geekdom has proclaimed on this movie like it invented faster-than-light space travel, and i imagine some light, tangy sexism (leavened by chris pratt’s tremendous buff game) is not going to topple that particular pedestal.

i’d love for them to get a second-unit guy who can direct compelling - and more importantly - memorable action, though. there’s a multilevel action sequence here that rises slightly above the norm, in that it isn’t completely incomprehensible and flaccid, but most of the other stuff is just pleasant, fine-in-the-moment shooting/punching. still, as above, it counts as a step forward from nolan’s hideous batman fights and the made-for-TV avengers stuff simply by its baseline competence.

and i’d rather the real directors keep doing their own thing? yeah.

Corbjin’s approach is distinct from Tomas Alfredson’s in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2009) in that he ostensibly gives much more to the audience. Faced with a far more complex narrative, Alfredson distilled what was fodder for a seven-hour BBC miniseries into a remarkably elegant, elliptical, visual film that demands the viewer’s full attention.

The ending, however, proves Corbjin to have as much control of the material as Alfredson. What may seem like a straightforward, if richly realized, narrative reveals itself to be as much of a trick on the audience as on Bachmann. We believe we’ve seen everything; our privilege as the viewer, of course, is omnipotence, and we expect it of a film like this.

But we’re ultimately seeing through Bachmann’s eyes, and the final scenes are as bewildering to us as they are to him, the curtain pulled back in fleeting glimpses left for us to piece together. You can see Bachmann break, at the end, not just with his signature Hoffman freakout but the way he then shuts off, slumped and gaping and probably never to return. The last shot is agonizing, a grace note to Hoffman’s career that’s almost too raw to bear.

wrote up a most wanted man in more formal fashion (eg capital letters)

it’s just at the line of greatness - parts drag heavily, and i have no desire to ever rewatch those scenes. without hoffman, you’ve got “passable adult entertainment.” with him, it excels.

plays over the credits of a most wanted man

"well we stick our fingers in the ground/heave and turn the world around"

perfect choice to encapsulate the brutal futility of the film, which is almost flawlessly executed. there’s a 15 minute stretch in the middle that drags, and the issa character is either completely uninteresting as written or as acted, or maybe both. but hoffman, wright, dafoe, and nina hoss are all fuckin great.

everything’s sort of a funnel toward the ending, which validates the tight focus on and seeming ease of gunther’s operation by throwing a real gut-punch. the way he loses his shit, half-humiliated and half-furious, and then just shuts down, probably forever… the last shot, especially in light of hoffman’s death, is devastating. he’s so goddamn good. there’s a scene with robin wright in a bar where he’s playing like three levels of emotion simultaneously and it’s so natural and so affecting.

film is definitely not as tightly wound and elegant as tomas alfredson’s tinker tailor but it’s definitely solid stuff. 

(Source: Spotify)

Manhunter (1986), dir. Michael Mann

"it’s just you and me now, sport." 

petersen’s will graham sags beneath this incredible repressed-psychosis the entire movie; he’s the polar opposite of hugh dancy, who’s so evidently nutty that he should’ve been straitjacketed right out of the womb. graham appears hyper-competent, and he is, but it’s scary when he’s right, because of why he’s right. because that intuition is half-an-inch from violence. crawford telling him he won’t need the gun at the end; not because he won’t need it, but because he knows it’ll break graham to use it. 


"you showed up with pictures of two dead families, knowing goddamn well that i’d imagine families three, four, five, and six" is a better summation of the character than any of Hannibal’s theater-kid mugging so far. that show claims to be about what the job does to will graham, but it’s too obsessed with its own art direction to really, deeply, brutally drive that home.

mann doesn’t care about the murders; none of them are shown onscreen and really there’s minimal violence until the end, when the flickering, stumbling editing fractures the screen in the formal equivalent of a gunfight. images repeat from different angles, stutter - it’s chaotic, disorienting.

mann does care about graham, buttressing petersen’s magnetic performance through direction. every frame of this thing is a sentence in a book. it’s not dissolving hannibal and will’s faces together, it’s not the same innuendos dancing over the same thin plot point for eight episodes. it’s aligning every aspect of the production to the same elegant end - even harris’s notoriously purple prose gets a pragmatic treatment, is made real and relevant. the “god” speech is incredible, even better than hannibal's treatment of the scene, which was one of that show's high points.

i haven’t even touched on the score, which brilliantly isolates the film in a synthetic haze - dissociating the viewer from anything recognizably organic or warm, placing them in a rather graham-like headspace (until iron butterfly hits at the end, when everything’s suddenly visceral rather than conceptual, sweaty drum solos and cocked-wah fuzz riffs).

but y’know. it’s on netflix now~