Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

What's it about? Raised by Amazon warriors on a secret island paradise, Diana (Gal Gadot) elects to follow crash-landed WWI pilot Steve (Chris Pine) back to the world of men, convinced that the Amazon's mortal enemy, Ares the God of War, is responsible for the conflict that is happening across Europe.


Is it any good? After a couple of false starts, the DC Extended Universe franchise is finally up and running, thanks to (splutter!!!!) A WOMAN!! In fact, make that two women, one in front of the camera and one behind. Director Jenkins has put together a fun, entertaining film, which understands that good characters and no small amount of charm will always make a better story than muddled, SFX-heavy action. Who'd have thought? She treats the whole thing with a sincerity which means that even potentially laughable stuff like the Lasso of Truth becomes perfectly acceptable and there is no sense of the camera leering over its lead, which can't be said of other super-hero films we could mention. It helps, of course, that she has a real star in former model and military combat instructor Gadot, who is just as sincere about what she's doing and who is as perfect a fit for the role as Christopher Reeve was for Superman (which is homaged here in a couple of sequences, incidentally). Perfectly at ease with both the action and the comic moments, she bestrides the film like an Amazon goddess and is, aptly enough, pretty wonderful throughout. Of course, the film does conform to standard blockbuster fare in being at least 20 minutes too long - as good as Gadot looks in action, perhaps all that slo-mo wasn't entirely necessary - and inevitably climaxes with two apparently indestructible foes whacking each other about in a somewhat tedious CGI smackdown. But it's still a very solid crowd-pleaser and a super-hero origin story which can stand proudly in its pants beside the original Superman.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Predictably enough, there was a backlash from those men who feel threatened by any show of female strength, men who took umbrage with all the praise heaped upon this woman film. The reaction of these fragile beings can be summed up thus:


Elsewhere, more sane reaction from female commentators, like articles here and here, celebrated the success of the film as a strike for women in a deeply misogynistic, male-dominated industry. Interestingly, though, some other women (here and here) were less convinced about this feminist icon, pointing out that Wonder Woman still spent a lot of time in her hot pants, whilst the men covered up. Interesting to read both sides, but my advice to these women is not to worry their pretty little heads about it.(*runs away and hides*)

What does the Fonz think? The Gal done good.

Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

What's it about? Everyone's favourite X-Man, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), isn't quite as cool in this latest addition to the franchise. He's ageing, his abilities are fading and he's scratching out a meagre living in Mexico as he cares for a cantankerous, ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart). But an encounter with a ferocious young mutant requires him to go berserker once more. 


Is it any good? A very deliberate attempt by Jackman and Mangold to deliver a tougher, grown-up Wolverine film, one which draws inspiration from classic Westerns such as Unforgiven and Shane (which is explicitly referenced here). And it's an approach that works well for the most part, even if it falls short of the classic status of those two touchstones. The principal interest here is seeing Wolverine and Professor X as much more vulnerable characters than we have previously encountered, both cutting weary, sympathetic characters as they cling to each other for support in a world that has moved on without them. This frailty, their relationship and eventual fates invest the film with more poignancy than I expected. It's not all touchy-feely stuff, though. The 18 certificate also allows a lot more brutal and graphic violence; a SNIKT! here really does some horrible damage - anyone squeamish about blade-to-skull injuries be warned. Essentially it's a sort of revisionist comic-book film which treats its subject matter with much more gravitas than other instalments in the franchise, making for refreshing, if downbeat viewing. However, even if it pretty much ignores the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (no cameos here), it does lapse into some familiar blockbuster beats and its villains are a fairly forgettable, rent-a-thug bunch. Still, it's a major improvement on the last few Wolverine films and a satisfying watch. 

Anything else I should know? Supposedly the final screen appearance of both Jackman and Stewart as Wolverine and Logan, at least until someone comes waving another pay-cheque at them. Nonetheless, it would be a good point to end, as they explain in interviews here and here. Elsewhere, for those confused about how exactly this film fits with the timelines of the others, here's a handy guide

What does the Fonz think? An X-man's gotta do what an X-man's gotta do.

Horror Triple Bill

The good thing about horror films is that they're usually quite short, so with a whole pile of other things vying for my attention, they're the easiest thing to fit in to my busy schedule. Ah, who am I kidding? I'm just getting so old I find myself nodding off in front of the telly if a film goes on too long At least horror films are only about 90 mins and shock me awake every so often. Or at least they should...let's see how these three did in the keep-awake-ometer.


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (André Øvredal, 2016) has a tight, intriguing set-up. Father and son morticians (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) are asked to do an autopsy on a mysterious corpse found at a crime scene, but as they undertake the procedure, it becomes clear that something rather odd about this particular body. Set predominantly in the morgue, this does good work in the first hour to build an uneasy tension as the body gives up various clues which suggest they would be better off getting the feck outta there! From the radio, we learn that a storm is brewing outside which adds to the sense of claustrophobia, which makes the shocks effective when they come. It's good stuff, although it falters a bit when it decides to explain everything, which somewhat undermines its sense of mystery. Still, Cox and Hirsch are good value and it's a satisfying follow-up to Øvredal's previous Troll Hunter.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2015) is an interesting spin on the vampire yarn, blending East and West influences to deliver a sort of feminist mash-up of Persepolis and Near Dark. Set in 'Bad Town', a lonely vampire (Shelia Vand) stalks the streets, her black chador capturing perfectly the vampire look (anyone else reminded of No Face from Spirited Away?). It's a stylish affair, with striking B&W photography and some arresting scenes which play with shutter speed to good effect during the attacks. That said, it 's also a meandering, existential piece, so don't be expecting thrills and spills. This is a more seductive, quieter affair, which might suit if you're in the mood for a more thoughtful vampire film. Good soundtrack too.


Pet (Carles Torrens, 2016) stars Dominic Monaghan (remember him?) as Seth, a quiet employee at a pet shelter. But he's also a bit of a creep, as we soon discover when his attempts to chat up a girl progress to kidnapping her and keeping her in a cage. Happens the best of us. But hold on! All is not as it seems......
Sadly, what is as it seems it that this wastes a good set-up with a few twists which are actually increasingly implausible events that stretch credibility well beyond breaking point. By the time we reach the 'shock' ending, you might wonder why you didn't take the dog for a walk instead. This Pet is in dire need of Rescue.

PREVIOUSLY…..ON TWIN PEAKS

Next week sees the return of cult TV series Twin Peaks to our screens. Pour yourself a damn fine cup of coffee and fetch your log as I explain why it is the greatest TV show of all time.


"It is not commercial. It may be creatively brilliant, 
but it is nine leagues above the head of the normal TV viewers. 
I don't think it has a chance of succeeding.” 

These were the words of advertising executive Paul Schulman after watching an early screening of a new TV show from the ABC Entertainment network. An astute judge of such things, Schulman was absolutely right in what he said, except for one thing. The show wasn’t just a success; it changed the landscape of TV forever. The show was Twin Peaks.

These days, we are spoiled for TV entertainment. At the flick of a button or swipe of a screen we have access to a dazzling variety of quality TV shows with big stars and big budgets. But it wasn’t always so. There was a time when TV producers were happy to shoot fast and cheap, churning out popular, but repetitive and formulaic shows like The Fall Guy, The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard. Now I bow to no man in my love for Colt Seavers and the General Lee, but even I concede these were hardly challenging viewing. Elsewhere, sitcoms delivered short, easy laughs while long-running story-lines were the preserve of soap operas like Dallas, again very popular but lacking credibility as serious drama. In truth, throughout the 80s there was little for the discerning viewer to get excited about. Until Twin Peaks came along and shocked everyone out of their square-eyed stupor.  


Back in 1988, when the Oscar-nominated director David Lynch first declared his intention to make a TV show, there were some raised eyebrows. TV was something wannabe directors and actors used as a stepping stone before moving on the bigger and better things in Hollywood. No-one came back the other way. What was he thinking? As it happened, Lynch was thinking some very dark thoughts indeed. Like he had done in his controversial film Blue Velvet, he wanted a project where he could peel back the apparently respectable skin of American society and explore the rotten underbelly beneath. Teaming up with Hill Street Blues screenwriter Mark Frost, they envisaged a story of sex, drugs, adultery, prostitution and corruption, all set in a small, picturesque logging town in the Pacific Northwest. It would be a whodunnit in which FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper would investigate the mysterious murder of Laura Palmer, a popular high-school student. But there would also be a supernatural element, which would allow them to venture into horror territory. Clearly, Twin Peaks would be like nothing else on TV. 

Baywatch, this wasn't.
When the remarkable, feature-length pilot episode of Twin Peaks was first screened in April 1990, those who tuned in weren’t exactly sure what they were watching. It was a strange, scary murder-mystery, but also a sexy, darkly funny soap opera. It had intriguingly odd characters played by a mix of hot new stars and some familiar faces, most notably Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. It featured extraordinary, haunting music from Angelo Badalamenti which would become as iconic as the show itself. It had film production values so its cinematic aesthetic meant it even looked different from other shows. Everything wasn’t explained and wrapped up in a neat package by the time the credits rolled. It even had a sinister, backwards-speaking dwarf. Basically, it was radically different from anything viewers were accustomed to seeing and they wanted more.  It soon attracted a devoted audience and with no access to spoilers in those early-Internet days, anticipation for each new episode became feverish. Meetings and conferences were even ended early to ensure people could get home in time to see the next episode. Twin Peaks viewing parties became commonplace and ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer?’ was the hot topic for water-cooler discussion. In short, Season 1 was one of the most startlingly original things ever shown on TV and by the time it finished after 8 episodes, ABC, to their great astonishment, had a fully-fledged cult phenomenon on their hands. So what did they do with their golden goose? They killed it, of course.


Twin Peaks only ran for one more season. In a move that would nowadays seem inexplicable, ABC brought increasing pressure on Lynch and Frost to reveal Laura’s killer in response to public demand. They reluctantly capitulated and the dark secret at the heart of Laura Palmer’s story was disclosed half-way through Season 2. It made for must-see TV, but thereafter the show floundered badly. Without that central mystery to hang the series on, Lynch lost interest and left the production. Audience ratings plummeted, the show was unceremoniously shunted around the TV schedules and its fate was doomed. But in just over a year, it had done enough to cement its place in pop culture and dramatically transform how TV was made.

"Diane, I think we did some good work here."
As a result, you may not have seen Twin Peaks, but if you watch TV you have certainly benefited from its legacy. It proved that there was an appetite amongst audiences for challenging, diverse TV drama and also persuaded those in the entertainment industry that TV could be a respectable alternative to cinema. Its success encouraged TV networks to take risks and invest in more adventurous projects. In the immediate wake of Twin Peaks, the main beneficiaries were series like The X-Files, ER, NYPD Blue and Northern Exposure, shows that were all given creative license to develop long-running, character-driven story-lines spread over several seasons. But even years later the influence of Twin Peaks could be found in the dream sequences of The Sopranos and Mad Men, the cliff-hangers of Lost, the satirical soapiness of Desperate Housewives, the dark humour of Six Feet Under and the non-linear construction of Breaking Bad, all auteur-driven series whose creators have acknowledged how Twin Peaks inspired their own shows. Not to mention the countless supernatural-inflected shows that have flourished ever since. For the Golden Age of Television we now enjoy, we have Twin Peaks to thank for providing the blueprint.

Yes, this is a real and quite disturbing episode of Scooby Doo 
But apart from its long-reaching influence, there’s a second reason why Twin Peaks is unique. Successful TV shows normally experience one of two fates. Either they decline in quality until they are axed, or they go out on a high. Twin Peaks remains the only show to do both. It is true that even the most ardent Twin Peaks fan would be hard pressed to defend the lamentable quality of the second half of Season 2. But before it fizzled out completely, a remarkable thing happened. Taking pity on his brainchild, Lynch agreed to return to direct the final episode. The result was one of the most extraordinary TV episodes ever screened; a nightmarish, hallucinatory return to the twisted brilliance of Season 1. It might not have made a lot of sense but in less than an hour Lynch had recaptured that special quality that made Twin Peaks so intriguing, before finishing with a memorably disturbing cliff-hanger. And that was that. Lynch revisited Twin Peaks in the patchy 1992 film prequel Fire Walk With Me, but that failed to revive the series. The story of Twin Peaks was over.

"How's Annie? How's Annie?"
Eeeek! Run away!

Until now. It is happening again. Twin Peaks is returning to our TV screens with Lynch, Frost and most of the original cast back on board, plus a host of new names. A typically enigmatic marketing campaign has revealed few details, other than it is set 25 years after the events of the original series. This has both excited and worried fans, because although it will be great to have those characters back again, few shows make a successful return from the dead. Much time has passed and many questions need answered. In a crowded marketplace, patrolled by Internet trolls, can Twin Peaks ever hope to deliver the same impact? Will the terrifying BOB be back? And how, indeed, is Annie? All we know is that we’re 100% sure we’re not completely sure what we’ll see. And remember the owls are not what they seem.



Twin Peaks is scheduled to premiere on Sky Atlantic on Monday, May 22 at 2am. !kcoR s’teL



Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

What's it about? It's about the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper) as they save.....nay, make that guard...the galaxy once more. There's a plot of sorts, involving new character Ego (Kurt Russell), a living planet, but don't worry about that. The film-makers didn't.


Is it any good? It's good fun, if a bit messy and lacking the freshness of the first instalment. It's all about full-on action this time, pausing now and then for some rudimentary plot exposition, before exploding off again in a new direction. It's all visually impressive and the appealing performances help it through a slightly baggy mid-section as it juggles various story strands. Baby Groot takes care of the cute factor, Bautista gets the best laughs and the others bicker agreeably as the colourful action swirls around them. Some of the 80s pop culture references feel a bit forced this time round and there's a few too many sub-plots as each character's backstory is developed, which results in a rather overlong affair. That said, after two hours of frantic action, it actually does solid job of injecting some emotion into the climax and has a cracking Mary Poppins joke. Forget Groot; I am Michael Rooker.

Anything else I should know? The Vol.2 soundtrack is of course a best-seller as a whole new generation becomes familiar with the crap / brilliant (delete as appropriate) sounds of the 80s. But the film's most impressive achievement actually comes in the first few minutes as Kurt Russell appears for the first time as a young man, looking exactly as he did in his early 80s. And as it transpires, there was less CGI employed than you might think, as you can find out here.

What does the Fonz think? Groot enough.