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Virginia Madsen (#110 of 4)

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 8

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 8

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 8

For those who thought “Part 7” of Twin Peaks: The Return contained too much exposition and narrative linearity, Mark Frost and David Lynch have obliged you in spades with “Part 8,” a delirious descent into the murky matrix of material existence. Events pick up, deceptively enough, right where they left off last week, with Bad Dale (Kyle MacLachlan) and Ray (George Griffith) barreling through the night, leaving their recent confinement in Yankton federal prison far in the rearview. The opening sequence sets us up to expect that Bad Dale will summarily execute Ray for withholding key information. Frost and Lynch, though, have a nifty, noirish twist up their sleeves: Ray gets the drop on Bad Dale, putting two in his chest, but before Ray can finish the doppelganger off with a headshot, three spectral figures appear out of nowhere to “treat” his wounds with some bloody hands-on healing.

The Conversations: Alexander Payne

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The Conversations: Alexander Payne
The Conversations: Alexander Payne

Jason Bellamy: Alexander Payne films don’t have the distinct visual styles of movies by Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, to name two other filmmakers of his generation, but they are quickly recognizable just the same. Payne’s five feature films are quasi-tragic comedies with hopeful but not fully redemptive conclusions about people struggling with significant life changes. Protagonists in Payne’s movies are always flawed. Relationships are usually difficult, distant, damaging, or all of the above. And deception is commonplace. On the face of that description, Payne’s movies mustn’t seem distinct at all. In fact, I think I just described every crappy romantic comedy from the past decade or more. But what sets Payne apart is the way he applies these themes—unflinchingly exposing his characters’ worst tendencies before ultimately regarding them with great sympathy—and, even more so, who he applies them to. If Payne’s films are known for anything, it’s for being about average Americans, emphasis on the “average.”

Of course, at the movies, where Jimmy Stewart can be considered an “everyman” and Kathrine Heigl can be cast as the proverbial “girl next door,” “average” is never ordinary, which is precisely why Payne’s characters generate so much attention, because they’re often ruthlessly unexceptional. Ruth in Citizen Ruth (1996) is a promiscuous glue-huffer who becomes a pawn in an abortion debate. Jim in Election (1999) is an awarded high school teacher who can’t outsmart his students or pull off an extramarital affair. Warren in About Schmidt (2002) is a retiree with no interests or usefulness. Miles in Sideways (2004) is a writer who can’t get published, a wine snob who can’t control his drinking and an introverted romantic who can’t move on from his divorce. Matt in The Descendants (2011) is a husband who doesn’t know his wife and a father who doesn’t know his kids. And those are just the main characters.

Because Payne’s characters tend to live modest lives (some of them in modest Middle America), and because Payne is so fearless in his examination of their faults, and often uses his characters’ shortcomings as mechanisms for humor, his films have often been attacked as condescending. In this conversation we’ll go into each of the five films mentioned above, as well as Payne’s memorable vignette from 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime, which does little to deflect the accusations of condescension. But let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Ed, does Alexander Payne look down his nose at his characters, or ask us to mock his characters, for being unremarkable? Is his humor mean-spirited and class-conscious? In short, is he condescending?

Drowning by Numbers: The Number 23

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Drowning by Numbers: <em>The Number 23</em>
Drowning by Numbers: <em>The Number 23</em>

I’m sure there must have been an episode of Sesame Street where the friendly neighborhood of cheerful humans and adorable puppets wanted to throttle the Count, a character obsessive in his love to count things. Throughout The Number 23, a psychological thriller/puzzle movie where Jim Carrey is driven into a state of heightened lunacy by seeing the magical number 23 everywhere (“You and I met when we were 23!”; “Your license plate begins with the numbers two…three!”; “I was born on February 3…2/3!”), I started thinking of our friend the Count. If he had been cast in the role instead of Jim Carrey, The Number 23 might have been a useful exercise for children of all ages instead of a childish exercise that, in lieu of depth, is content to wallow in protracted, circuitous babble.

Better than you’ve heard: Firewall and The Pink Panther

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Better than you’ve heard: <em>Firewall</em> and <em>The Pink Panther</em>
Better than you’ve heard: <em>Firewall</em> and <em>The Pink Panther</em>

[Author’s Note: Andrew Sarris once ended a review of the Russell Crowe-Meg Ryan kidnap drama Proof of Life by telling his readers, “See it. It’s better than you’ve heard.” I felt the same way about two mostly maligned Hollywood movies that opened this month, Firewall and The Pink Panther. A review of both movies follows, somewhat expanded from the version that appeared in the last issue of New York Press.]

Firewall and The Pink Panther pose the same problem for critics: how to resist writing knee-jerk pans of movies that look an awful lot like Hollywood Product, and that star aging icons who haven’t connected with audiences in years?

On paper, both films seem like tempting targets. The kidnap thriller Firewall expects us to believe that 63-year old Harrison Ford, arguably the most underachieving A-list star in the history of American movies, and very much an emblem of mid-twentieth-century macho, is believable as an early 21st-century computer security expert and a settled-yet-virile husband to Virginia Madsen, who’s 20 years his junior. Added to that, Firewall is yet another example of what I call a Business Class Thriller, tailor made to engross upper-middle-class dads who spend lots of time on airplanes. The hero is usually, and not at all coincidentally, a married forty or fiftysomething suburban dad who spends most of his time filing paperwork but can still kick ass when the occasion warrants, a role tailored for Harrison Ford. The Pink Panther, meanwhile, asks us not just to accept an actor besides Peter Sellers in the role of bumbling French inspector Jacques Clouseau, but to believe that star Steve Martin, whose career took a sharp left turn into New Yorker country about 15 years ago, can still work magic in the type of deranged slapstick romp that hasn’t been central to his career since the early ’90s. Both films seem like the sorts of films for which critics can start composing their pans en route to the screening room.

But there’s a problem with this stock response: both Firewall and The Pink Panther are entertaining, well crafted, somewhat eccentric Hollywood movies.