This Week in Rixflix #10: May 12-18, 2017
Like my buddy Aaron, who wrote very long and lovingly about the subject this week on his website, most of my stray thoughts during the week that preceded Sunday, May 21 were caught up in Twin Peaks anticipation. The build-up to the show had me watching old episodes of the original series again, and also saw me considering a deep dive into my David Lynch collection, which is pretty extensive seeing as I have touted him as one of my top favorite directors for most of the past, oh, 35 years or so. (It all started with The Elephant Man in the theatres, Eraserhead on VHS – the first prerecorded tape that I ever bought – and everything else since then...)
But I am not going to delve much into my own deep fandom for the show or its creators here. I am more than willing to give the Biggest Twin Peaks Fan prize over to Aaron, even if I did watch the full show in its original run, and still have copies of some of those episodes on VHS even though I have them all on disc. I have my own collection of Peaks ephemera, and my own stories about visiting locales, etc. But I am just too, too tired this week, with too much health stuff still going on and some other side business in the works (cross those finger, damn it) to really dig hard into the subject. If you would like to read a truly wonderful personal history with the show, check out Aaron's piece, My Secret History of Twin Peaks, at http://workingdeadproductions.blogspot.com/2017/05/my-secret-history-of-twin-peaks.html.
A final note on this, while I did have some reservations going into the project, I am just happy to see Lynch filming on such a large scale again. It was just a couple of years ago he was announcing that he would probably not be making any more feature films because it was just too hard to raise the funds. When Twin Peaks: The Return was announced, I figured he would have a full hand in scripting and production, but would leave the director to others except for perhaps three or four hands-on episodes. Then he almost left the project over some personal issues with Showtime. Then he was back again, and the best possible news was announced: Lynch was going to direct every single episode himself.
On another series, this would be interesting but nothing all that special. For a Lynch fan, such an announcement is monumental, especially given that the new Peaks series consists of 18 hour-long segments. Crunching the numbers by using an average film length of 100 minutes and keeping in mind that there is little difference between the style of a Lynch feature film and a Lynch television project, this basically means that Lynch nuts are being handed roughly the equivalent of just under another 11 feature-length films. For someone who was dreading the worst – no more Lynch on a large scale – this is truly an epic turnabout.
This week's feature-length film count: 20; 14 first-time viewings and 6 repeats.
Highest rated feature-length films: Deep Time (2015), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), He Walked By Night (1948) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – 8/9
Lowest rated feature film: Mutant Hunt (1987) – 3/9 (but I loved it!)
Average films per day in May so far: 2.61
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.02
Just time for a quick trio of reviews this week, though "quick" depends on a certain amount of fairy belief in one case here. Clap your hands, children!
The Eyes of My Mother (2016) Dir.: Nicolas Pesce – How did I begin Mother's Day? Well, after a brief visit with the latest Maria Bamford comedy special, I dove into the 2016 arthouse horror flick, The Eyes of My Mother. At the time just after I watched the film, I first posted the original version of this short review on Facebook, recommending The Eyes of My Mother only to my good friends Aaron and Andrea, for whom this film would be normal viewing, but I warned all others in my friend group to tread very carefully. Mostly this was a self defense move, because I have been yelled at many times for leading certain friends down paths they would rather not walk, while I – like Aaron and Andrea – choose such paths on a daily basis. I learned a long time ago to be extremely selective in recommending films to entire groups of people and not just those inured to the more unpleasant rigors of certain genres or features. I have always wished that people realized that when I did recommend something to them, it was never with the thought that they might actually enjoy the film, but rather that it was interesting or sometimes just odd enough to catch my attention.
The Eyes of My Mother definitely falls into my interest range, and it is far more than just odd enough. A young girl living in an isolated farmhouse with her parents is taught how to properly remove the eyes from a severed cow's head by her mother, who used to be a surgeon when she lived in Portugal. A man passing by the farm is let inside the house, whereupon he murders the girl's mother. When her father comes home, he knocks the man unconscious and chains him up in the barn. The girl believes the man is her only friend, but still tortures him by cutting his tongue and eyes out in the manner taught to her by her mother, storing the parts in the refrigerator...
And that's the first 21 minutes. The girl grows up into a woman with some rather odd ideas about human relationships. We then get the modern day story, during which an entire truckload of sheer crazy is unleashed, none of which I will relate here. The film rather tricks the viewer, because it has an arthouse-style sheen to it, and is shot gorgeously in black and white, often consisting of long, slow takes. Most of the violence occurs offscreen, but that doesn't mean the film hasn't the capacity to either shock or creep out the viewer, especially as the story continues to ratchet up the horror with ever sicker twists. Likewise, there is a massive amount of blood onscreen, but some viewers might be glad that the black and white of the film diminishes that element's impact to a good degree, though you are always made aware that truly horrid events have occurred. Boy, are you ever made aware. After all this, I seriously needed to call my own Mom... which I did, of course. But I did not recommend the film to her. I'm not that irresponsible. – TC4P Rating: 7/9
Deep Time (2015) Dir.: Noah Hutton – Go figure, it turns out that I am pro-environment. Who would have guessed? I fully believe that human-created climate change is severely damaging the earth, and I also endorse the belief that oil consumption must become a thing of the past on this planet. As a result, documentaries like Deep Time are right in my wheelhouse. If you must ask, the wheelhouse in question is powered by a giant hamster wheel staffed (in more ways than one) by 100% Republican senatorial slave labor; that is, the slaves in question are normally hardline, conservative senators, of whom a surprisingly large slice are not just into being dominated and beaten by senate pages (of completely shuffling gender) wearing Ronald Reagan masks and possibly other paraphernalia, but have also given their consent freely and without coercion – unless they requested it for extra kicks – to be employed in such a way. These guys make Larry Craig look like a rank amateur. (Well, he was rank regardless, but he was also an amateur...)
Director Noah Hutton is indeed the son of actor Timothy Hutton (his mother is Hutton's ex-wife, actress Debra Winger), something that I suspected going in given his name but didn't seek to verify until halfway through the film. Deep Time is Hutton's second feature built around a study of a small farming community in North Dakota named Stanley that suddenly sees a boon when "land men" (as one local refers to investors in the area) suddenly show up and start paying out huge amounts of money for the right to access their land and drill for oil on it. Some residents become millionaires practically overnight, other residents find out the hard way that there is a big difference between owning a piece of land and securing the mineral rights for what lies beneath the land you supposedly own, and local businesses like bars and hotels find their clientele altered highly when passels of roughnecks move into town to man the oil drills. As the town's population grows from around 1,200 people in 2005 to over 1,450 in 2010, Stanley had to increase its police force from one man to three, petty crime went up and the jails fill up with douchebags. (The estimate from the 2015 census is that Stanley may have more than doubled in size from 2005 to over 2,700 people. That is a boom town number.)
Most of this material was set up in Hutton's first documentary about the area, Crude Independence, released in 2009 (both films were executive produced by the late Jonathan Demme). Just as I was about to watch the copy of Deep Time that I recorded off of the PBS channel that plays films relating to the indigenous peoples of America (more on that in a bit), I found out that the film was a sequel to Crude Independence. So it turns out that I watched the second film first (only watching the first one just this morning). In hitting Crude today, I discovered that huge chunks of Deep Time were recycled footage from the first film, though the inclusion of those chunks was in order to give contrast to Hutton's follow-up interviews a few years later with many of the same citizens, in order to measure the continued impact of the oil boon upon the relatively tiny community. Crude is a pretty compact first documentary for Hutton, coming in at only around 70 minutes, and watching it after the sequel did give me more perspective on exactly what he was seeking to accomplish with his followup. (It also gave a little clarity to a couple of issues in the second film that were a tad confusing to me.)
Unfortunately, I am not sure Crude Independence would have played on the indigenous peoples PBS channel, because they were not a focus in that film at all. This is where Deep Time digs a good deal (pardon the accidental pun) deeper than its predecessor in its portrayal of the area. We see that portions of the native population are benefiting from the oil expansion, but it seems not everyone equally. In fact, some are even dead set against it, as we see one local Native American doing battle in session against city council members in order to block the further expansion of housing for oil workers. I should mention at this point that the Standing Rock Sioux protests over the Dakota Pipeline in the past year or so stems directly from the oil boon in Stanley, North Dakota, as that town is the start point for said pipeline. However, Deep Time completed filming long before the Standing Rock protests came to the fore, so you will find zero in the way of context for those events here.
The first film, despite a title that seems like it is going to rip the oil industry a new bunghole, is pretty straightforward in its approach to simply recording the thoughts of the locals and their reactions to what is going on around them. There is little attempt to editorialize, preferring instead to merely show a cross-section of the populace of Stanley and how the town is being affected, pro and con. So, yes, in Deep Time, with a more expansive running time, we see where the people started and find out where many of the same people are a half-decade later. We find out the cute teen girl with too much black around her eyes and her lovelorn boytoy from the first film are no longer that close, and have, like everyone else, moved forward in their lives. Everyone is a little bit older, and takes one of two tacks: regret about what is happening to the area whether they are benefiting form it or not, or no qualms whatsoever because they are on Easy Street monetarily and aren't looking backward. The filmmakers have their own mystery at hand in trying to find out what happened to one of the biggest interviewees from Crude Independence who seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth by the time of this film. (I won't give it away here.)
But Deep Time goes far beyond all this local stuff; Hutton has grown up a little more and has bigger fish to fry. We finally see the sad toll all of this increased production is having on the land. Hutton takes his project well past the town of Stanley, and projects its focus outward in an attempt to measure the impact of the sudden increase of North American oil production on a both a global scale and also across time itself into the future. Of course, unless you have a personal financial stake in the matter and thus you create a blank spot about the rape of our planet since money is the only your mind can comprehend, the picture for both us and the planet in even the near future isn't all that rosy. I hope that Hutton makes a third trip to Stanley in 2020 (if Trump still hasn't killed us all) to find out just how the town and its possibly tragic future will seem then. – TC4P Rating: 7/9
Mutant Hunt (1987) Dir.: Tim Kincaid – I may have rated several films of greater quality and artistry much, much higher in this week's movie haul, but none of them hold the pure entertainment value of this relic from the heyday of cheap VHS horror thrills. Mutant Hunt is one of those titles I passed a zillion times in the video store, and with good reason too. It was made for what must have been about six bucks and some pocket change, and the actors look like they learned their fight moves in aerobics class. It is also likely some of them learned their acting skills in aerobics class as well.
Mutant Hunt is about a group of humans with very questionable fighting skills who have a need to stand around and watch the others in their group do battle against mutants instead of all fighting at the same exact time. No? OK, uh, it is about a bunch of mutant androids/robots (really not sure which they are supposed to be) that somehow are able to get all jacked up on drugs and go on a rampage against all of mankind. No, again? OK, it's about a really horrible actress with big hair who seems completely unaware she is a really horrible actress who barks orders at her android minions as she tries to take over the world by merely devouring all scenery in the tri-state area. Somewhere in between all three of these possibilities lies the truth, and you will be all the better for it once you have seen it.
The film is absolutely ridiculous, but I had a huge smile on my face the entire time, even if my head shook nonstop for the same duration as well. The only other film I remember seeing by director Kincaid was his 1985 classic Breeders, which was actually released by MGM for some reason, even if it looks (and is) just as bad as this one. That one had a bunch of strippers/aerobics instructors fighting mutant creatures, and it angers me to this day that the world came this close to Olivia Newton-John starring in it. (Not really, but the cards were there to be played had they thought about it.) This one just has some truly silly fights (I will not disparage the art of fight choreography by suggesting that such a thing was used in this film) and over-the-top robot gore (somehow, they made it possible). Sometimes those two things are all you really need. – TC4P Rating: 3/9