Twixt

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt is an interesting mish mash of genres. Blending horror, drama, mystery, and a healthy dose of camp, it weaves a gothic spell that reminded me of the dark flip side to the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris.

The film makes many references to Stephen King, and at times reminded me of a King tale. Val Kilmer play Hal Baltimore, a “Third rate Stephen King” who has gained some small success with a series of books about witches. He arrives in a small town, setting up a book signing in the local hardware store where he meets sheriff Bobby LaGrange, quirkily played by Bruce Dern. LaGrange wants Hal to collaborate with him on a book called “The Vampire Executions” about a serial killer in the area whose calling card is a wooden stake impaling the victim.  Slowly Hal is drawn into the town history as he hopes to write a book that is commercial while being personal to him as well.

It is not long before writer’s block leads Hal down a path of intricate dreams and fantasies. In these dreams, Edgar Allan Poe, who once stayed at the local hotel, is helping Hal with the development of the novel’s plot. He also encounters an ethereal, haunting lost girl who reminds him of his lost daughter. As parallels between history, current events, and Hal’s life arise, the journey to write the book becomes a journey to accept the truth of Hal’s past.

At the surface, Twixt may look like a surreal film with little distinction between dream logic and reality. However, with a little work on the viewer’s part, all the pieces are there for what are essentially 3 narratives that intertwine: Hal’s troubled past, The dream tale of the hotel murders, and the current staking murders. For example, central to the town in its dream version is a clock tower that features multiple clock faces, all at different incorrect times. As Hal moves towards accepting his tragedy, we understand Hal’s guilt ridden fear of not being on time, and how that is reflected in the town’s central feature.

The dream/fantasy scenes are sumptuous, with most color drained from the image except for the sharply contrasted reds. Often times the dream like images actually looked like the flickering images of film projected into the actual film itself..truly eye-grabbing.

I went into Twixt with little information other than it was a Coppola film that flirted with the horror genre. I was sucked into the tale, and later learned of the film’s experimental origins. Coppola intended the film to be seen as part of a tour, with him present. On the fly, he would be able to extend some scenes and shorten others to meet audience reaction. In addition, the film contained 3D segments which were “announced” with an image of 3D glasses covering the screen. I cannot comment on this presentation of the film, as I experienced it on a Blu-ray which contained no 3D or interactive options. I would love to see what this interactive experience would be like.

As for the version I saw, it is at heart the tale of a man coming to terms with his grief, filtered through lenses of gothic horror, skewed by surreal dream logic, and flavored with mystery. An inner journey masked by external ones, Twixt is a journey worth taking.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is a gift. It is like Guillermo Del Toro and his crew reached into my head, scooped out a handful of my childhood imagination and play, and turned it into a summer spectacle. Godzilla creature fests, Shogun Warriors, Voltron, Anime, military sci-fi–these are a handful of the touch points here. I sat through Pacific Rim with a big goofy grin on my face, growing more and more giddy with each over the top action set-piece. I can’t wait to see it again.

Pacific Rim’s concept is simple; in the future, giant monsters, called kaiju, are entering our world through a dimensional breach. To fight them, the military creates the Jaegers, giant robot fighting machines that require a two-man team to pilot them due to the strain it puts on the human brain to link, or “drift” as the film calls it, with the giant machinery. When two pilots share a drift with the machine, they share the load–but also each other’s memories, creating an extreme bond between pilots. The film is the story of these pilots and their leaders’ attempt to stop the kaiju from terraforming the earth for their masters.

Often times here on living24fps I like to dig into a film’s themes, meanings, and symbolism. Pacific Rim’s themes are straightforward. This is a film about the need to work together, and about courage and sacrifice. But let’s face it–this is a summer blockbuster about heroes piloting giant robots to fight monsters..and it delivers that in spades. 

What really makes the film work is the details, the little things that truly bring this world to life. The rating systems for the kaiju (category 3, 4 etc. like a hurricane or earthquake), the amazing details in the rain falling against the beasts and machines, the black market that springs up for kaiju parts, the squabbles in the military leadership, the arguing scientists –it’s these little points that, while still staying true to the pulpy origins of the film, make the world believable and grounded so we can get lost in the awesome battles and epic scope.

Pacific Rim is everything the Transformers movies hoped to be but could not pull off, and so much more. It’s human characters are engaging, and make you care about their plights. Raleigh, played by Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy fame, has just the right mix of heroics and humility as the star jaeger pilot who retires after losing his brother, who was also his co-pilot, in combat.   Brought back to duty in the hour of greatest need, he needs a new co-pilot that he is compatible to drift with. Rinko Kikuchi plays Mako, orphaned as a young girl she now works to train the jaeger teams, but yearns to be a pilot. I am sure you can see where that is going. Idris  Elba as Major Stacker , the idealistic leader and also Mako’s father figure, shines in an inspiring role as the glue holding the ragtag team together.  Ron Pearlman as a trader in kaiju parts is a joy.

Pacific Rim is the prime example of summer film done right. It is packed to the brim with adventure, heart, and over the top images. It brought me back to the days of Shogun Warriors battling on my bedroom floor, epic army battles with giant alien beasts staged across the living room, or adventures fighting off giant sharks and sea creatures in summer pool playtime. The effects are masterful, the pace relentless, and the fun off the Richter scale. Do not miss this one!