In this web exclusive, the "Sunday Morning" film critic reviews the latest entries in two popular movie franchises, as well as the return of the surreal cult TV series "Twin Peaks":
Lots to talk about, starting with the most amazing new release, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" -- amazing in the sense that there's so much money on screen and so little storytelling sense.
Maybe it will be a hit, like the last one, "On Stranger Tides," which was worse. But let me ask you: Did you see that one and say, "I want more of Johnny Depp tottering around like a drunk" -- not such a challenge, from what I've heard -- "and stuff falling down and blowing up and people running around for what seems like days?"
The philosophy seems to be that what happens on screen matters less than the fact that a lot is happening. It's not just a movie for people with attention-deficit disorder; it's a movie that gives people attention deficit disorder.
Now, to be fair, it has a narrative of sorts, a clear main objective -- a boy wants to liberate his undead father from a curse. And it's stuffed to the gills with the best effects money can buy. At best, it has a farcical charge, with a Rube Goldberg zest for how this fall triggers that crash triggers that somersault.
But there's no fluidity, no elegance. And Depp is just depressing.
I don't know what's happening to him off the screen, but what's on it makes it look as if they've wheeled him onto the set, propped him up, fed him lines, and whenever possible substituted stuntmen. He looks like a man who's not just at the end of his talent, but his personal tether.
For more info:
- "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (Official Site)
So let's talk about something not that much better but certainly chewier: the "Alien" movie, "Alien: Covenant." It has divided critics and viewers, and it frankly divided me.
To say why, let me go back to the original Ridley Scott picture from 1979.
There's no way to forget the title creature. Designed by H.R. Giger, it was the sum of all fears, the mascot of the subgenre called "body horror." The alien impregnated its victims, who gave birth in ways that still make you sick. It was steely and drippy, bio-mechanical, a fusion (in the words of one designer) "of phallic symbols and motorcycle parts." Some people wondered, "How did such a killing machine evolve?"
I didn't wonder, actually. It was basically a pop-up scare movie made ingenious – invasive -- by the way it worked on primal fears of violation. Primal fears don't need rational explanations.
But blockbusters need sequels. And so there were three, and then, in 2012, Ridley Scott returned for the fifth "Alien" film, "Prometheus," a prequel set decades before the first one. Many people complained that it lacked, well, aliens.
"Alien: Covenant" has them, along with plenty of screaming and splatter for the fans. It's a charnel house -- almost everyone is eviscerated! But the focus isn't on the alien; it's on Michael Fassbender as an android named David, who hates his creator enough to become a Nazi-like scientist and design the perfect human-extermination machine.
That's the hook in the "Terminator" and "Matrix" movies, and no less a figure than the physicist Stephen Hawking recently said he gives humans a hundred more years before artificially intelligent entities take us out.
For more info:
- "Alien: Covenant" (Official Site)
Can you believe I'm turning to one of the most disturbing filmmakers who have ever lived, David Lynch, to make me feel better about the world?
I've seen four hour-long episodes of his and Mark Frost's new "Twin Peaks" series on Showtime, and I absolutely love it.
No, I don't know what's going on either! Except that Kyle Maclachlan's FBI agent Dale Cooper is moving in and out of different realms and bodies, criss-crossing with an evil Dale Cooper, whom a leafless tree with a blob on the end calling itself an arm says is Cooper's Doppelganger.
If you were tuning in to see something linear, which the "Twin Peaks" of 25 years ago kind of sort of was, maybe you're annoyed at Lynch, and maybe even at me. But look: Even back then Lynch didn't care about the murder mystery. He didn't want to know who killed Laura Palmer, but what. How he defines "what" is the thrill.
The thing to hold onto is that, just when you think you've caught up to Lynch, he moves on. And I'll frankly follow him anywhere, reserving the right at the end of the journey, of course, to say, "This was a piece of crap." But 'til I get there, I'll be enjoying the many cool actors dropping by along with MacLachlan and the rest of the cast, the nonstop non-sequiturs, the purposely stilted dialogue, the warped perspectives, the grotesque violence, and the most untethered surrealism since Lynch's first feature, "Eraserhead," something that seems piped in directly from a madman's unconscious mind.
Folks, after suffering through the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Alien: Covenant," I think that's entertainment.
For more info:
- "Twin Peaks" (Showtime)