Monday, October 27, 2014

The Book of Life

The Book of Life is a visually imaginative and entertaining movie based around the Day of the Dead festival. Producer Guillermo del Toro's hand can be felt in the outlandish visuals and macabre humour. While it's nice to see a kid's animated film explore a different culture, I could have done without the wraparound story which basically explains the Day of the Dead for non-Mexicans.
Another problem is that the movie spends almost half its running time on musican and reluctant bullfighter Manolo and invincible hero Joaquin fighting over who gets to "win" their childhood friend Maria as a wife. The gods of the underworld even make a wager over who will win her heart. The film does pay lip service to how problematic this scenario is by having Maria state that she is not a prize and berate Joaquin for his chauvinist behavior. But this doesn't excuse the fact that it takes way to long to get to the land of the dead (someone needs to brush up on their three act structure). Luckily, once Manolo winds up in the Land of the Remembered the film becomes far more enjoyable and builds to a rousing finish.
The voice cast is well used, especially Ron Pearlman as the evil but not really Xibalba (not to be confused with Sebulba) and the soundtrack makes good use of familiar music, including Ennio Morricone's The Ecstasy of Gold. Ultimately this is an ambitious and unique animated film that made me wish the story was as inventive as the gorgeous animation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Twin Peaks: I'll See You Again in 25 Years

If you haven't watched Twin Peaks yet, do so before reading this. Go on, it's on Netflix. I'll wait. So with the announcement that Showtime is bringing Twin Peaks back to the air in 2016 (fulfilling a promise Laura Palmer made to Agent Cooper in the last episode?) the last of my pop culture obsessions during my formative years is finally making a comeback (well, aside from the long-promised Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League). Long-awaited sequels/adaptations haven't had a good track record - the Star Wars prequels were flawed but fun, Indiana Jones 4 was a mixed bag, Tron: Legacy looked pretty but was empty, The Hobbit movies have been competent but ho-hum and the less said about Michael Bay's "reimagining" of Transformers, the better. So why am I more excited about Twin Peaks Season 3 (or whatever they call it) than nearly all of those?

Part of the reason is that it's a story that needs to be told. The frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 has kept fans dangling for over two decades and the fact we will (hopefully) finally get some answers is cause for celebration alone. In comparison, I find myself strangely detached about the new Star Wars films Disney is making. Sure, I'll see them out of curiosity and I hope they're good, but for me the story of Star Wars is done. Despite Lucas having an outline for Episode VII-IX, there is no burning need for that story to be told (other than to make money). Return of the Jedi left no dangling loose ends, except those that were tied up in the prequels. Twin Peaks, on the other hand, was cut short before the full story of its characters could be told.

Aside from V, Twin Peaks was one of the first shows I watched obsessively (I loved Alf, Cheers, Family Ties, Blackadder, etc. when I was a kid, but I never felt a burning desire to see how the story would play out from episode to episode). It remains my favourite project David Lynch has ever made because, unlike most of his other movies (especially the more recent ones) it never felt like it was being weird just for the sake of it. Twin Peaks was just weird enough.

The show influenced so many that came after it (any series with a long-running mystery plot owes a debt to Peaks) and was really ahead of it's time. It'll be interesting to see if modern audiences react more favourably than viewers back then, who pretty much rejected the show after the first highly-rated mini-season. While it'll be interesting to what the new show will be like freed from the censorship and constraints of network TV, hopefully it doesn't go overboard like the movie prequel Fire Walk With Me. The TV show's mostly benign atmosphere made the flashes of violence that much more impactful. The murder of Maddy Ferguson, for example, remains as disturbing now as when it first aired.

I'm looking forward to revisiting that world, and I hope we see as many familiar faces as possible (even though, aside from Kyle MacLachan, none of the actors are really integral to the plot). Lynch and Mark Frost have some very high expectations to meet, but I think they're up to the challenge, and may even be able to improve on what most fans would agree was an at times shaky series. Now I just need to figure out a way to get Showtime legally before 2016 . . .