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‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ Set The Stage For The Series’ Rebirth

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) has always been the wayward stepchild of both the Twin Peaks series and David Lynch’s filmography. It’s an essential part of the show, but also something separate, existing at an inflection point between Lynch’s early films — best exemplified by Blue Velvet (1986) — and his increasingly experimental and dreamlike later works. It’s a great example of the film maudit, a “cursed film,” one with the misfortune to be released at the moment that most allowed for critical misinterpretation. Twenty-five years after its release and eleven years after Lynch’s self-imposed exile, we can finally see the power of Fire walk With Me and its relation to his revitalized series.

The early episodes of Twin Peaks were built around Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and his search for the murderer of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). When that mystery was solved early in the second season, Lynch and his co-creator Mark Frost were free to expand the mythology of the Pacific Northwest town, but viewers who were only interested in the sorrows of a beautiful blonde girl lost interest. A letter-writing campaign saved the series from an untimely death, but time slot changes from ABC (spurred by its Gulf War coverage) further damaged the show’s ratings. The second season’s cliffhanger finale would become the last episode of the series.

After that undignified ending, the idea of a Twin Peaks movie seemed like the perfect way to cap off the series — Agent Cooper’s fate could be revealed, and Lynch could have complete control. The hack writers who had pulled the series in the direction of small town absurdities would be out of sight. But the movie that Lynch directed would clear up almost none of the mysteries left in the show’s wake.

Fire Walk with Me opens not with Laura Palmer or Dale Cooper, but with Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak). He’s investigating one of the murders preceding Palmer’s death, accompanied by Kiefer Sutherland as a flustered forensic scientist. When Desmond disappears after a crucial discovery, the film shifts to Dale Cooper, pre-Twin Peaks investigation. Prior to the 2014 announcement that Lynch would be returning to the series, MacLachlan’s scenes in the film were poisoned by an aura of sadness. They marked the end of his working relationship with Lynch, and failed to resolve the fate of the character he had so masterfully portrayed on TV. MacLachlan had refused to have a larger role in the film, which also raised the possibility that Lynch might have continued where the series ended if he had only had more access to his lead actor.

Aside from some relatively short scenes involving various FBI investigations, the bulk of the movie is devoted to the final days of Laura Palmer. Lynch had devised a pleasantly ridiculous cousin on the TV series in order to allow Lee to show off her acting chops, but this was the first substantial time she was able to play Laura Palmer. It’s a welcome resurrection. Lee plays Palmer as a kind of high school femme fatale, one who uses her palpable sexuality to seduce the men around her. Lynch and his co-writer Robert Engels supply the necessary hard-boiled lines to fit the character — “I was standing right behind you, but you’re too dumb to turn around.” Palmer has been inducted into a world of prostitution, drugs, and murder, and Lee’s eyes are wonderfully emotive; even when she’s suffering through high school classes she no longer cares about or going through mundane family interactions, they broadcast a fear of her impending death.

The original Twin Peaks series had always had dark elements, particularly when Lynch was in the director’s chair, but Fire Walk with Me marked his return to horror-inflected filmmaking. His first feature, Eraserhead (1977), had been an unmoored horror film operating on a sometimes-incomprehensible dream logic, but he had mostly abandoned that style in subsequent films. In Fire Walk with Me, those horror elements are back. An amalgamation of a serial killer mystery and a supernatural thriller, the film is far more chilling than any Lynch had done to that point. Eraserhead merely elicited a queasy sense of unease, but the darkest parts of Laura’s story are terrifyingly visceral and violent. In some ways, the film is even more disturbing seen through contemporary eyes — Laura is the victim of repeated sexual violence, and a greater cultural awareness of it makes those scenes particularly painful to watch.

Fire Walk with Me serves as an important turning point for Lynch. Not only did he embrace the elements of horror he had previously flirted with, but he fully committed to a kind of abstract dream logic. That dream-based weirdness had always flavored his films, but now it would become a defining element in later masterpieces such as Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Inland Empire (2006). His subsequent movies would be populated by characters who spoke as if hypnotized, living in a world only loosely tethered to what we consider reality.

Critics and audiences at the time didn’t recognize Lynch’s bold stylistic departure. The trappings of the Twin Peaks series disguised some of the transition — the film is at its most traditional when Palmer is interacting with the holdover cast from the show. It also suffered from mismatched expectations, as audiences were expecting a resolution to Agent Cooper’s fate, which the film mostly withheld. Arriving a full year after the series had ended, Lynch also faced an audience that had largely abandoned his show and wasn’t necessarily looking to revisit it in the first place.

Lynch’s next few films would help to contextualize and normalize the stylistic leaps he took with Fire Walk with Me. The out-of-nowhere character change in Lost Highway makes this film’s shift from the FBI storylines to Laura’s last days seem downright tame. The ghosts who haunt Naomi Watts in the final minutes of Mulholland Dr. are an evolution of the demon Bob, who terrorizes Laura in her final moments. Lynch’s final film to date, Inland Empire, amplifies the abstraction that Lynch was drawn to and turns up the horror. It’s a three-hour scary movie that never relents, but the seeds were planted with Fire Walk with Me.

Lynch hinted that viewers of the new Twin Peaks revival would want to familiarize themselves with Fire Walk with Me before starting the limited series. Like anything Lynch says, it couldn’t be completely trusted; Laura Palmer’s story plays a very limited role in the revival. Where the film is most prescient is in the new show’s tone — it retains the bursts of horror that made the movie initially stand apart from its TV predecessor. Lynch is also working in a more experimental mode, which was often the case with his film work, but major network television tended to normalize his stories and shave off his rough edges. The new Twin Peaks is Lynch unfiltered, a side of himself that he first showed with Fire Walk with Me.

Despite its positive reappraisal, the film doesn’t quite live up to Lynch’s best work. Its exploration of hidden suburban evils isn’t quite as fresh as when that theme first emerged with Blue Velvet, and Lynch sometimes seems tentative and afraid to fly too far from the tone of the original series. Mulholland Dr. freed him of those strictures, resulting in his most satisfying film, but still, his latter-day evolution had to start somewhere. The Twin Peaks series is the largest work of art Lynch has created during his life, and Fire Walk with Me is the beating, bloody heart at its core.

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Peter J4

    August 29, 2017 at 6:12 am

    I’d agree that Laura’s story hasn’t had a huge role (I think it’s supposed to be one of the underpinnings of the Twin Peaks universe, based on the scene of her as a glowing orb, and that deification started more in FWWM), but he probably meant things like the ring, Jeffries, etc. in telling people to pay attention to the movie.

    It’s my favorite Lynch film as it’s the one I have the strongest emotional connection to and while his films always have very strong performances, Lee and Ray Wise give two of the all time Lynch best here.

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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