The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

To celebrate the return of classic cult TV series Twin Peaks to our screens, there was a showing of the film sequel Fire Walk With Me last weekend in Cardiff, which Matt and I attended.

For those who don't know, Twin Peaks is a seminal piece of 1990s TV. Based in the titular Washington town, a quirky FBI agent arrives to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer- the high school homecoming queen- whose body has been found wrapped in plastic by a river. As Agent Cooper investigates, he finds that the town and its people have more than their fair share of secrets... Twin Peaks ran for two seasons (one very good one and one not so good one) and finished in 1991, with Fire Walk With Me released in cinemas a year later. Famously booed when it was showed at the Cannes Film Festival, it went on to received very mixed critical reaction and fared badly at the US box office, although bizarrely found popularity in Japan.

Essentially a prequel to the TV show, Fire Walk With Me starts with a young woman- Teresa Banks- being found dead, wrapped in plastic. FBI agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) travels to Deer Meadow to investigate her death. However, during the investigation, Desmond mysteriously disappears and it falls to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to continue the investigation. A year on from Teresa's murder, the action moves to Twin Peaks where we then see the last seven days  in Laura Palmer's life.

Now, I hadn't seen Fire Walk With Me since the mid-1990s, so in some ways it felt like I was watching the film for the first time (although things did start coming back to me as I watched). I basically had two thoughts in my head after the film finished. First one: wow, that was even more weird than I remembered. Second one: bloody hell, David Lynch really put Sheryl Lee through the wringer, didn't he?

On the first point, Lynch has always had an eye for the surreal as anyone who has seen his back catalogue (such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet or Wild At Heart) can attest. I mean, there's a fair bit of weirdness in Twin Peaks itself- with characters such as the Log Lady and the Man From Another Place- but in Fire Walk With Me, it feels amped up to eleven. Starting off with Lil- who gives Desmond some clues to the case via interpretive dance- and ending with the weirdness of the Black Lodge, there's a lot of very strange shit going on.

But behind the strange visuals, there's a palpably tragic story being told which leads me on to the second point; Sheryl Lee's performance is just superb and absolutely heartbreaking. Laura is a beautiful, talented young woman who- from the outside- seems to have it all, but inside is suffering. As the story continues and we continue to slide to the inevitable ending, Laura becomes more and more lost. Lee must spend about 70% of the film crying, with the other 20% doing coke and the last 10% topless. It's a committed and very powerful performance. Lee was rightly nominated for Best Actress in the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and Saturn Awards for her role. 

The rest of the cast all do very well, especially Moira Kelly who was cast as Laura's friend Donna Hayward after original cast member Lara Flynn Boyle was unavailable due to other filming commitments. Donna is ostensibly a good girl but tempted to follow Laura into some dark places. Ray Wise is also superb as Laura's father Leland, a man with a few secrets of his own. Wise has a gloriously expressive face and can change from caring and lovely to almost crazed in a moment. There's a lovely turn by Miguel Ferrer, as Agent Rosenfeld, adding a little brevity and lightness to proceedings (something which is in short supply in Fire Walk With Me) whilst Kiefer Sutherland is strangely fitting as Desmond's partner Sam Stanley. 

Kyle MacLachlan originally declined to appear in the film (due to a fear of being typecast) but later agreed to a small role, which is why Lynch and co-writer Robert Engels created the character of Chester Desmond for the first part of the film. Chris Isaak is perfectly fine in the role, but Desmond does come off as a poor facsimile for Cooper. Harry Dean Stanton gives a fine supporting turn as the irascible Carl Rodd, manager of the trailer park where Teresa lived, and gets a line which I think sums up Fire Walk With Me perfectly: 'Goddamn, these people are confusing.'

At the screening, they also showed The Missing Pieces, a selection of deleted and extended scenes from Fire Walk With Me. Clocking in at about 90 minutes, several scenes don't add much to the main storyline, although they include some of the characters from the TV show- such as Deputy Andy Brennan, dispatcher Lucy Moran and lumber mill owner Jocelyn Packard- and add some humour, but there are other scenes which really should have been added to the original film (especially a few at the very end which will prove important to the revived series). At least Lynch hasn't decided to go all Ridley Scott/George Lucas and keep re-releasing different versions of the film with these bits added.

Fire Walk With Me is a complete mindtrip. If you're at all unfamiliar with the world of Twin Peaks, don't use this as your way in. Even though it's a prequel to the events of the show, you need to have watched the show to understand a lot of what's happening, although that won't guarantee you'll understand everything; I still have no clue what the whole thing with David Bowie's Agent Jeffries is about! It's beautifully shot- kudos to cinematographer Ron Garcia- and Angelo Badalamenti's superb, sublime score is the cherry (pie) on top. It's bleak, unremitting, yet powerful and absorbing; very much a David Lynch film. 


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)

We at the Watchers were very saddened to hear of the death of Sir Roger Moore, who sadly passed away today at the age of 89 after a short battle with cancer. 

Born in Stockwell, London in 1927, Moore studied for two terms at RADA before leaving to seek paid employment as an actor. After a period of national service, he returned to acting. After a series of uncredited film roles and TV movies- as well as a stint as a model, advertising everything from knitwear to toothpaste, he started taking on film roles in the 1950s, starring with Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), with Eleanor Parker and Glenn Ford in Interrupted Melody (1955), and opposite Lana Turner in Diane (1956). 

From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Moore took on acclaimed television roles in Ivanhoe (as the titular character), The Alaskans, and Maverick, before landing the first of his iconic roles: Simon Templar in The Saint. He played the suave adventurer for six series throughout the rest of the 1960s and became one of the faces of the Swinging Sixties. After finishing The Saint, Moore appeared in two very different films; a lightweight spy caper called Crossplot and a psychological thriller called The Man Who Haunted Himself. In 1971, Moore took on another TV role, playing  Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders! opposite Tony Curtis. Whilst the series only ran for two series, perhaps Moore's most iconic role of all was about to come his way. 

It was in August 1972 that Moore was announced as Sean Connery's replacement as James Bond, making his debut the following year in Live And Let Die.At the age of 45, he is- to date- the oldest actor to have played Bond. He's also- to date- the longest-running Bond, appearing in seven official EON Bond films. To say he was a very different Bond to Sean Connery would be an understatement; whilst Moore's Bond would never shy away from a fight, he never really convinced as a cold-blooded assassin. His Bond was more of the debonair playboy type, ready with a quip or a sardonic raised eyebrow. That said, he puts in a fine dramatic performance in For Your Eyes Only and the only real stinker of his tenureis the frankly unwatchable Octopussy. His final performance as Bond came in the 1985 film A View To A Kill, with Moore announcing his retirement as Bond in December that year.

Moore's filmography during his tenure as Bond touches on action (The Wild Geese), thriller (Gold, North Sea Hijack), war movie (The Sea Wolves) and comedy (The Cannonball Run and Curse Of The Pink Panther). He even played Sherlock Holmes in a TV Movie. 

After retiring as Bond, Moore didn't make a film for five years and then worked intermittently through the 1990s, providing the voice of the car radio announcer in the 1997 film adaptation of The Saint then appearing as the Chief in Spice World (for which he received a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actor). In 2002, surprising many people, he appeared as a randy gay man in the comedy Boat Trip- despite the film being a critical failure, Moore's performance was highlighted as one of the better things in the film!

Away from acting, Moore was heavily involved in charity work, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991 and subsequently was knighted in 2003 for his charity work. 

Roger Moore was a true icon of British cinema and he will be much missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.

The Watchers
(Matt, Rhys & Tez)

Friday, 5 May 2017

Review: Beauty And The Beast (UK Cert PG)

Disney's 1991 animated version of the classic French fairytale Beauty And The Beast is widely considered to be one of the best of Disney's output, as well as being the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It won two Oscars- both for its sublime music- and was turned into a hit stage musical. Unsurprisingly, it's now had a live action remake.

Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes), it's a very faithful adaptation of the animated film with a couple of added character bits and a few new songs. It follows the same story as the animated film: Belle is a beautiful but educated and headstrong young woman which puts her at odds with the people in her small provincial town. When her father is imprisoned by a ferocious beast in an enchanted castle in the woods close to the town, Belle offers herself in her father's place and becomes the Beast's prisoner. Gradually though, the relationship between Belle and the Beast begins to soften and perhaps there's something there that wasn't there before...

Disney's Beauty And The Beast is one of my favourite films of all time. So it was with a little trepidation that I went into the cinema. Were they about to butcher one of my most beloved films?

No. No, they weren't. 

Simply put, the live action version is an absolute gem. Visually, the entire film is absolutely stunning. Jacqueline Durran's costumes are just sumptuous; everything from Belle's iconic yellow ball-gown down to Gaston's blood-red jacket looks perfect. Everything from the production design to the set decoration, the art design and the visual effects come together to create an absolute feast for the eyes.

The songs from the original animated film are included (written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman) with new ones written by Menken and Sir Tim Rice. It's just a shame that they couldn't use songs from the stage musical, although the songs that have been added are good and entirely in keeping with the original. Menken also composes the score, by turns melancholic, jovial, and spine-tingling. All of the singing is good; some singing is better than others, but nobody is in a Pierce-Brosnan-in-Mamma-Mia or Russell-Crowe-in-Les-Miserables situation.

Performances across the board are superb. Whilst I was a little dubious before about Emma Watson's casting, she's entirely brilliant as Belle. She plays Belle's vulnerability as well as she plays her bravery. It's a very assured performance. Dan Stevens is similarly strong as the Beast; surly and angry yet softening as he gets to know her. It's also nice that they've chosen to make him more educated; he gets a nice moment when he gives Belle the library. One of the added character bits is to see both Belle and the Beast's early life (both losing their mothers at a young age) which shows they have more in common than they first thought. This, on the whole, works.

Luke Evans is suave and charming as Gaston, although this version has his move to out-and-out villain a lot earlier. Josh Gad is great as the faithful LeFou, clearly infatuated with his friend (more on that later). Kevin Kline puts in a wonderfully nuanced and quite moving performance as Belle's father Maurice, more overprotective but still very caring. There's also an important, yet silent, role for Hattie Morahan who plays the Enchantress who casts the spell over the Beast in the first place.

Moving over to the inhabitants of the castle, no complaints: Ewan McGregor is similarly suave as the debonair Lumiere, Ian McKellen is wonderful as cantankerous Cogsworth whilst Emma Thompson adds warmth and homeliness as Mrs Potts. Doctor Who actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw is good as the flirtatious feather-duster Plumette and young actor Nathan Mack is great as Chip, whilst Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci are a wonderful pairing as Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza (who are turned into the wardrobe and a harpsichord respectively).

I've got to address the elephant in the room. Ever since it was announced that there was going to be an 'exclusively gay moment' in the film, conservatives, evangelists and homophobes the world over have poured bile and vitriol across the airwaves and the internet denouncing this move. I don't know what they're expecting them to show in a PG-rated movie but I think it says much more about their mindset than anything else.
Making LeFou gay is not the greatest leap forward; it's clear in the animated version that he's very devoted to Gaston. So what is this moment? What could possibly be worth such a negative backlash? Well... in the ball at the end, LeFou dances with another man. That's it. That's what the furore is all about. It's as bad as all those idiots foaming at the mouth about Sulu being gay in Star Trek Beyond when, in a real blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, all you see is him putting his hand on the small of another man's back.

So you have the first canonically gay character in a Disney film here; you also have not only the first, but second, live-action interracial kiss in a Disney movie when Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci lock lips at the end, as do Ewan McGregor and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Thankfully there haven't been protests about that.

I truly loved this film. It's quite a different beast to the animated feature but to compare the two is a bit like comparing apples and oranges (as live-action and animation are two wildly different mediums). It's a funny, lively, touching film, beautiful to look at, lovely to listen to, and a pure joy from start to finish.

Rating: 5 out of 5