‘T2’ stars are 25 years… ageless & ready to reunite in action

This was to be only a happy response to Terminator 2‘s re-release and forthcoming reunion, as well as (partly) the Wonder Woman debate that some of James Cameron’s relevant comments inadvertently triggered. But there is a real change in the horizon of our culture at the moment, caused by the Harvey Weinstein debacle. So, what follows had to also become the starting point to a series of articles exploring the already shifting female agency both in film and TV, on and behind the scenes. Buckle up. This is only the beginning.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day celebrated its 25 years anniversary with a digitally remastered, 3D re-release on the big screen. A celebration that was closely and properly followed by the announcement of Linda Hamilton and James Cameron returning to the franchise. The former, of course, in the iconic role of Sarah Connor and the latter as a hands-on producer, in a film that will reunite them both with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Directed by Deadpools audacious Tim Miller this sixth installment in the Terminator saga will be approached as a direct sequel to Terminator 2 and is currently eyeing a release date sometime in 2019. The news was received both with cautious optimism, thoughtful enthusiasm or doubts. I for one, choose to trust Cameron, because of what he did then and what he is saying now.

Then, with Terminator 2, he took his own b-movie about the saviour to be of humanity against the machines and transformed it into a high-tech, ground-breaking blockbuster about an anything but a traditional or sexually objectified warrior mother. Now he had this to say for Sarah in Terminator 6: “There are certainly plenty of 50-, 60-, 70-something guys out there that just keep cranking along doing action movies and killing bad guys left and right. But there isn’t an example of that for women, and I think there should be.”

So, in anticipation of that example at long last becoming a reality let’s see what the stars and the author of Terminator 2 have been up too in all these years.

The (Un)Holly Trinity

Sarah Conor – Linda Hamilton

T2‘s formidable Sarah Connor

Then: A romantic lead and somewhat a damsel in distress in both TV’s Beauty And The Beast and the original Terminator, she took us by storm and completely unawares by becoming the virtually genderless, extraordinary yet deeply relatable Sarah in Judgement Day. She brought the first ever full-blown action hero into the cinematic world and in doing so, made history.

Since then: Prone to typecasting, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Hamilton after #Terminator2. Her career peaked with Dante’s Peak in 1997 on the big screen, and then resumed on TV with a series of notable appearances in one-off or recurring guest roles in Fraser, Chuck, Defiance, Lost Girl and most recently the short dramedy Shoot Me Nicely. In most if not all of them she played a mother, oscillating between the romantic and action qualities of her acting past, but never really given the opportunity to reach Sarah’s groundbreaking strength and intricacy. Off screen she became a pioneer in breaking the taboo of mental illness, candidly speaking about her chronic battles with bipolar disorder on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2005. Previously reluctant to return to the franchise she was persuaded otherwise by Cameron – her director then, father of her daughter, Josephine, and ex-husband afterwards, long time friend now. She is currently training in preparation for Terminator 6 to much of her fans’ elation.

Linda Hamilton in this year’s Shoot Me Nicely

Words of wisdom: “Yeah, right. How are you supposed to know? Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death and destruction…”  Sarah says it all to the future creator of Skynet, Miles Dyson. Her words combined with her actions fully imply that a woman doesn’t have to be a mother or anything else. She can be a mother and everything else. Even someone who is prepared to deal death and destruction in order to protect those she holds dear.

The Terminator –  Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Terminator is back

Then: Reprogrammed by John in the future to be his own protector in the present, Judgement Day’s Terminator was a cold, hard killing machine no more. Instead he became an ever-present surrogate father able and willing to learn the value of human life. Arnie had the chance to further flex his substantial comedic muscles, which he had just discovered in Twins and Kindergarten Cop, thus expanding his range and affirming his status as Hollywood biggest star at the time.

Since then: On screen it was in comedy he truly shined, teaming with Cameron again in the epic, unusual romcom True Lies and hilariously connecting with his feminine side in the criminally underrated Junior. He was also the only one of the original creative team that stuck with the Terminator franchise for the first (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machine) and the last (Terminator Genisys) of its subsequent three (Termination Salvation being the middle one) misadventures of no avail to his faltering cinematic career. Off screen he found his place in the word and to an extend redeemed himself for the ugly scandal of his extra marital affairs that erupted in the public eye during his separation from Maria Shriver. How? By being one of the best, environmentally highly conscious Governors of California for two consecutive terms back in 2013, one of the most progressive, moderate and sane Republican voices in American politics and one of the most persistent and fearless critics of President Trump.

Arnie in the ill-conceived Terminator Genisys

Words of Wisdom: “Hasta la vista, baby”. The Terminator shoots T- 1000 to a million pieces and proves his ability to learn and evolve, astutely mastering the concept of humor.

James Cameron

Jim Cameron shooting T2

Then: He had already changed the game with Aliens’ Ripley and The Abyss’s Lindsey. But with  Terminator 2’s Sarah who appeared (tank top and muscles on display), talked, handled guns and acted like any of her contemporary male action heroes (think Bruce Willis and Die Hard ) he solidified his ability as a feminist, or rather “equalist” mega blockbuster filmmaker.

Since then: He directed the two highest grossing movies of all time. First, in 1997, in his words, “his one million dollar chick-flick”, Titanic. And then, 12 years later, his sci-fi, extra-terrestrial, echo-friendly allegory, Avatar. In between he made record-breaking history by pursuing his other, more scientific interests, including visiting and revisiting the Titanic wreckage, as well as reaching the deepest part of the Marianna Trench in collaboration with National Geographic. He also, unexpectedly, found lasting happiness with Titanic’s Suzy Amis, with whom he’s been married since 2000 and shares 3 children. He is now hard at work directing the first two of the four in all Avatar sequels, while producing both Terminator 6 (or Untitled Terminator Reboot as it’s officially termed) and Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel (which he also co-wrote with Laeta Kalogrides). Last but not least, a devoted ecological activist and a vegan himself, he found the time to collaborate with Arnie in promoting less meat consumption.

Jim in a special screening of T2‘s 3D re-release

Words of wisdom: “Linda looked great (as Sarah in T2). She just wasn’t treated as a sex object. There was nothing sexual about her character. It was about angst, it was about will, it was about determination. She was crazy, she was complicated. … She wasn’t there to be liked or ogled, but she was central, and the audience loved her by the end of the film.” Asked about his recent comments on ‘Wonder Woman’, Cameron shrewdly reiterates his argument on why Sarah was the truly groundbreaking feminist character.

Jim and Linda in an impromptu reunion around her birthday this past September

The Wild Cards

John Connor – Edward Furlong

T2‘s thoughtful John Connor

Then: A fresh, open-faced kid, handsome and yet anything but typically cute, with a deep, steady, often unnerving gaze, he perfectly embodied John Connor as a shrewd delinquent, who however possessed a faultless, inner moral compass.

Since then: 13 years old in Terminator 2 he subsequently delivered a handful of spot-on, mature performances, holding his own next to such acting legends as Jeff Bridges in American Heart, Tim Roth in Little Odessa (his personal favourite), Meryl Streep in Before and After and Edward Norton in American History X (my personal favourite). Off screen he developed his love for playing the piano and the guitar into a successful music career in Japan, his non typical good looks into lucrative modeling spells for Gap and Calvin Klein among others, and his controversial pairing with his 13 years older tutor (and later manager) Jacqueline Louise Domac into a quiet, uneventful life. But then, as he came of age, it became increasingly apparent that he was unable to handle adulthood. He was set to return as John in Terminator 3 but was fired before production even began. Sadly he has no longer been making headlines for his (meager) artistic contributions but for his interminable struggles with his personal demons through addictions, DUI convictions, accusations, arrests and restraining orders. Currently there are no plans for any involvement of his in Terminator 6.

Eddie in 2013’s Assault On Wall Street

Words of wisdom: “The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” John tries to follow his own advice, given by his future self to his father, Kyle, as a message to be passed on to his mother, Sarah.

Terminator T-1000 – Robert Patrick

T-1000 catches a glimpse in the “mirror”

Then: Cold, silent, lean, sleek, sharp and relentless as a blade Robert totally had us as an exterminating machine made of liquid, mimetic metal.

Since then: Another victim of typecasting he did leave an impression in Walk The Line as Johnny Cash’s father, but it was on TV where he was given the opportunity to explore the range of his talent. He won awards and respect for his decent and dependable non- believer agent Doggett in The X-Files. He exposed a more soft, fragile side in both True Blood as Alcide’s troubled werewolf father and From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series as a broken priest and parent. He is now staring as another decent and dependable government agent, Gabe Gallo, in CBS’s hit show Scorpion. Off screen he has been living a simple, tranquil, anti-Hollywood life with his wife of 27 years, Barbara, their daughter Austin and son Samuel. So far there are no plans for him to return to the Terminator franchise either.

Robert in Scorpion

Words of wisdom: No words. Just a menacing forbidding movement of the finger.

The Simple Facts

Watching Terminator 2 again on the big screen now the choice of the 3D conversion may seem questionable as it didn’t really add anything significant to it. Apart from that however its re-release made perfect sense as it proved its agelessness and enduring progressive qualities. At the same time, it faultlessly illuminated how little Hollywood invested in or boldly furthered Sarah’s legacy.

It is disheartening to realise how few, if any of our cinematic female action heroes have been so complex, tackling even motherhood while being total, unapologetic bad-asses and in no way sexually objectified. Indeed Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Imperator Furiosa is the only one that readily comes to mind, and she dropped our jaws only a couple of years ago. So it is most definitely about time for Sarah (and Jim) to return and remind us how it’s done.

Four subversions that made Dunkirk The ultimate cinematic experience of the summer

Christopher Nolan’s genre-b(l)ending, unconventional masterpieces elevated him to the status of geek guru. There is the twisty, haunted and haunting psychological thriller, Memento. There is the truly magical performance in The Prestige that challenges notions of love, tragedy and sacrifice. There is the permanently marked by Heath Ledger’s genius The Dark Night: audacious, ground-breaking and perfectly balanced, both as a comic rendition and a sequel. There’s Inception:  magnificent as an eye candy, original and imaginative as a study of the art and power of cinema, and yet full of empathy as it deals with loss and memory.

Dunkirk was supposed to be his first “serious”, down to Earth, based on real, historical events film. So, nobody knew what to expect. Would he follow Steven Spielberg’s example and forsake his glorious geeky past for a more grown-up, awards-winning career? Or, would he, inexplicably, pull a Michael Bay and turn a factual, war tragedy (like the one at Pearl Harbour) into a pompous, patronising spectacle? Well, it turned out, he did, emphatically, neither. And as the Summer ends, let’s explore how Dunkirk became the most critically acclaimed and the only non-fandom movie in both the top five of the season’s American and the top 15 of the year’s world-wide box office thus far.

The virtual silence

On the beach, waiting in silence. [Source: Warner Bros.]

It takes a while for a single word to be spoken on screen: “English” shouts a very young soldier in French with a thick English accent. He is allowed to take cover in the French fort before he is hastily and rather non-verbally guided to the beach, where his compatriots await rescue. And then again, it is a while longer for another piece of meaningful dialogue to be heard as this theme of verbal scarcity is constant throughout Dunkirk. Actors articulate only what is absolutely necessary. One example of this is when Commander Bolton states that the British military cannot evacuate the 400,000 stranded soldiers in time. Another is the irony of Churchill’s heroic words being read by a broken, boy soldier, at the end of the film. Most of the other dialogue is practically inaudible or consists of scattered words.

Dunkirk, you see, is nearly a silent film. It tells its story not with words, but with motion pictures accurately edited with fitting sounds as Hans Zimmer’s brilliant original music guides the pace of your heart with the appropriate tempo, communicating everything of substance in an uncensored, raw way. Case in point: the stretcher scene. After exchanging only a few looks, two soldiers understand and agree to perilously carry in haste one of the wounded to the hospital ship as a means of escaping the beach.

This narrative’s attitude of mistrusting (imposing) words is extended to Nolan’s choice of actors. The “main” character, Tommy, is played by an unknown youngster named Fionn Whitehead. Tom Hardy, who is now practically worshiped by fans and critics alike, once again (after The Dark Night Rises) hides most of his face behind a Spitfire pilot’s mask. The super star Harry Styles is borrowed from the pop music arena and is – to his and his director’s credit – unrecognisable. And while there’s Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, Cillian Murphy as his first, rescued passenger, Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton and James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant, they are mainly known as either supporting actors or for their work behind the camera, and can barely be considered true celebrities.

No. The humans in this film are not larger than life: they are and could be anyone. You or me. Just people struggling to stay alive.

The deconstructed narrative

The sea meets the air. [Source: Warner Bros]

Early on Dunkirk maps out the different locations (The Mole/Earth, The Sea and The Air) and timelines (one week, one day, one hour, respectively) of each of the three threads of its narrative. Nolan does this simply and quietly, with a small piece of white text on the screen and no further explanation. So, you settle in your impression that the drama unfolds linearly and that the three stories occur concurrently. Except then it’s in the dark of night that one of the rescue ships sinks near the mole, but the events in the sea and in the air still transpire in the light of day.

The suspense that has been drumming your stomach is now augmented with senses of disorientation and anxiety as you realise that there a lot of people still stranded on the beach , having no idea that help is on the way. You grasp the danger Mr. Dawson’s mission is already in , miles away from the beach. And you feel deep in your core the bubbling panic of the rescued from the sea, shivering soldier, when he repeatedly, muttering or shouting, states, “I’m not going back”. Time is broken as events of the past (earth), the present (sea) and the future (air) happen in tandem on the screen. The three timelines converge only for a few moments, around and aboard Mr. Dawson’s boat, well past the mid-point of the film’s duration, before they break apart and never meet again. This lack of temporal regularity, of a clear beginning and a definite ending makes Dunkirk an interactive experience.

Yes. This storytelling creates a bond between the viewer and the characters: like these humans stranded on the beach or in the sea, you feel uncertain and maybe even terrified. You are there, with them. You don’t know or care if it’s day or night, if you win or lose the war, who is friend and who is foe. What matters is to stay alive.

The war after

The mole. [Source: Warner Bros]

There are shootings, air fights, bombs dropping and ships sinking throughout the film, but Dunkirk does not actually explore this typically loud, bloody war. Instead it traces the one that comes after: the – soundless and bloodless – one fought deep inside and on a personal level, experienced as a common and at once a very lonely experience. This is the war that never really ends.

This is the war that strips everything away, apart from a ruthless survival instinct initially, and a brutal survivor’s guilt subsequently, when you are about to return to some kind of normality, of an everyday life. Where neither the instinct nor the guild can serve or save you. Where you are left naked, humiliated, wondering what was the point of all that you’ve survived. No matter the reassurances, or the gratitude you may receive, from Mr Dawson, the blind man welcoming you home, or the words of Churchill you read aloud from the newspaper. The latter in particular sound hollow, alien on your tongue, and anything but victorious, as they seem to speak about someone else and something else.

In tune with the proclamation of this film’s tagline (“Survival is victory”) the reality is that there are no war heroes here. No sense of accomplishment, fulfillment or redemption. As the fate of the haunted soldiers Mr. Dawson rescued on his boat, or the Spitfire’s pilot just captured by the Germans back on the beach you remain uncertain. Pendent. Thinking that if there is a hero here, this can only be George – Mr. Dawson’s young, wide-eyed shipmate. A boy who has never been to war or carried a gun. The only one who bleeds, and meets a certain faith and is specifically named and remembered in the paper.

But then again, no. You are not sure. You cannot settle on an answer. Is George the hero, or just an innocent victim?

The unorthodox blockbusting

Behind the scenes, Nolan directing Branagh [Source: Warner Bros]

Uncensored by words, stars or heroes, fragmented in different timelines and points of view, with Zimmer’s evocative soundtrack acting as its “spinal cord”, Dunkirk is not meant to be watched. Is meant to be experienced. Viscerally. Deep inside. On a very personal level. By all of us, geeks, intellectuals and mainstreamers, together. Yet, simultaneously, by each of us so desperately apart. That is why there is no digital spectacle here, or high-tech CGI.

A passionate advocate of film, Nolan shot about 70% of Dunkirk in the full 70mm IMAX format, with a combination of 65mm IMAX and Super Panavision film for the remaining 30%. At the same time he insisted on using real boats, real Spitfire planes, real places, real people and old fashioned, handmade special effects to re-enact the action on the earth, in the sea and in the air. He thus composed moving images that are breath-taking in scale, clarity, texture, and, yes, beauty. But his greatest feat is how seamlessly, disarmingly immersive these images are. They are not meant to impress or to distract you. Only to pull you in.

Yes. Inescapably deep, into the war within. Where words fail you and time has no meaning.         

 

How ‘Game Of Thrones’ got (most of) its groove back

It was hailed as Games of Thrones‘ best Season ever. Last year’s Season 6 however, was merely the show’s first, unavoidable attempt to reinvent itself unbound from its literary source – G. R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire series of books. It was a more or less successful attempt, about to be eclipsed by (at least) the current, trimmed, seven Season. This is how and why.

The… three-year itch

The lean, mean, head splitting and heart scorching first Season rocked the pop culture, geeks and non geeks alike, collectively and simultaneously on a very deep, personal level. The second Season lacked the novelty, but kept the stakes high for its persistently grey, main characters. It also retained its commanding, cinematic in scope production and direction standards. So, unlike other pop phenomena that boldly went where no part of their in print source has gone before (see Daryl and Rick’s and Michonne’s coupling in The Walking Dead for example), David Benioff’s and D.B. Weiss’s creation was making TV history, while remaining meticulously faithful to Martin’s literary saga.

But then occurred the almost… catatonic Season 3, where very few things actually happened. At some point around midseason, Sam Tarly faced and defeated a single White Walker even though we were promised an army of them in the – jaw dropping – last scene in the Season 2 finale. Daenerys continued her liberating march by finally letting her dragons loose to punish her enemies. Both Jon Snow and Jamie Lannister were stripped to the bone, immersed into some sort of pool and underwent a kind of baptism/redefinition of character by two extraordinary women (Ygritte and Brienne of Tarth respectively). Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy was relentlessly, interminably tortured by Ramsey Bolton in every other episode. And of course the (unnecessarily) brutal, infamous Red Wedding came to pass in Episode 9. Apart from these, easily fitting in three, maybe four episodes, significant developments, we were treated firstly with a lot of very long walks, a lot of very long talks. Secondly, with Podrick’s… sexcapades! Plus some new, secondary characters’ abrupt comings and goings – Yara Greyjoy’s more surprisingly, who we haven’t seen since last season. Yet, in Episode 10, she decides to set sail and go rescue her brother, even though she vehemently scorned him till then.

The long lasting shock-waves Red Wedding (in the marvel of a TV episode The Rains Of Castamere) send through any kind of public discussion were an inescapable distraction. So the fact that for a whole season of 10 incoherently paced episodes we were only given crumbs of character and story progression were more or less overlooked, with The New York Times’ Mike Hale being one of the very few unflappable enough to take notice. Benioff and Weiss had seemingly lost their magic touch. Their story telling was now drawn out, blubbering and uninspired. Stuck in an unfitting to TV, book-reading rhythm, as if they were no longer able to translate literature to motion pictures. It was as if they were waiting for something.

The remaining Stark kids

The never-ending (off screen) story

Season 4, covering the second part of the humongous, third book of Martin’s saga, exhibited signs of improvement early on as Joffrey’s fatal wedding took place in Episode 2– another fascinating, masterful TV hour. It also revealed that the show’s creators do possess the will and ability to productively veer off their source material after all, by choosing not to reincarnate Catelyn Stark as the vengeful Lady Stoneheart (in that instant at least). Yet, it soon became clear that the pacing of the series remained problematic. Substantial story highlights, like Tyrion’s trial or his and Cercei’s champions’ duel, were sporadic and far apart. Daenerys’ march began to lug, so much so that its aim was by now easily forgotten. The newcomers, including Margaery Tyrell, Stannis Baratheon and especially Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand, were not given enough space or time to be anything more than plot devices motivating some of the main characters actions and reactions. As a result we cared little for their fate. And questions for the show’s attitude towards women were raised again, (accusations of unnecessary nakedness and sexualisation of the female body had followed it from the very beginning), and this time with a vengeance due to Cercei’s virtual rape by Jamie at their son’s funeral.

At the same time, off screen, the drama of Martin’s inability to complete and deliver the long overdue, last two (6th and 7th) books of his Song was peaking, with no end/due date in sight. The show’s home, HBO, its creators and the fans started to realise that soon they would have to venture into the unknown. The former would have to continue the story beyond the point that the conclusion of the 5th book had brought it. The latter would have to accept or find their way around the fact that in due course the series will inevitably start spoiling the books. And all had to come to terms with the reality that no amount of televised… stalling could make Martin write. Some bold, risky and fearless decisions had to be made.

To keep Bran Stark completely off Season 5 was the first of them.  just when  But it did seem like a bad omen, since on one hand he had just, finally met the Three Eyed Raven (and his destiny). And on the other, the pacing of the narration remained persistently and familiarly awkward in the first few episodes. New high profiled supporting characters like the High Sparrow, Tommen Lanister and the unholy trinity of Ellaria daughters, also known as the Sand Snakes predictably proved inconsequential in themselves. Simultaneously the cries lamenting female characters’ mistreatment intensified as Sansa suffered abuse on her wedding day to Theon’s torturer, Ramsey Bolton, Stannis’ teenage daughter was sacrificed to the Lord of Light, the most innocent of the Lanister brood, Myrcelaa was poisoned, and Cercei endured an extremely long, viciously humiliating walk of shame.

Yet, concurrently, midway through its 10 episodes run, this Season clearly picked up the pace, finding every so often the lean, mean, awe provoking rhythm of the show’s good old days. From Episode 6 onward in particular something… head splitting, heart scorching or outright spectacular happened. Systematicaly, usually at the concluding moments of each hour. Apart from the above female tragedies, there were Jon Snow’s and the wildling’s unexpected battle with the Night King and his ever expanding army of White Walkers, Daeny being rescued/kidnapped by one of her dragons, and of course the most socking and effective season finale the whole series had ever come up with: a gradual close up to Jon’s face as he lies dying on the snow, betrayed by the Night Watch .

Cercei and Jaime debating their future

A new hope… for spring

Jon’s death rattled the pop culture more and for much longer (all the way to the EMMYS, where Game Of Thrones finally won Best Drama) than the Stark patriarch’s beheading or the Red Wedding. Understandably, as Jon was a beloved character and since there was no more tales in print his fate was now uncertain. Again, some expressed anger, this time for the show’s choice to kill off one of their favourites, even though it was just adhering to the books. For others (myself included) however, Jon’s untimely and painful demise triggered an intrigued reinvestment to it. Even if the theory of Jon’s resurrection, heavily circulated by the hard core fans, proved right, spoiling some of our excitement. Because finally, all bets were off. How would the narrative evolve with only notes and suggestions by Martin? And how would Benioff and Weiss deal with the fact that – apart from a remaining bit of Bran’s story – from now on they would do the spoiling? An inevitability they only recently admitted.

Season 6 was not the revelation we had hoped for but it came very close to Game Of Thrones’ perfection during its inaugural year. Most of the supporting characters remained inconsequential in themselves, while now and then the show seemed to repeat itself, especially with Daeny’s another ordeal by and fiery triumph over the Drothaki. But from its first hour to its last, this was a journey full of emotional highs (Jon’s foretold resurrection, Hodor’s self-sacrifice holding the door), heady disclosures (Melisandre’s vulnerable, ancient true self, Cercei’s ruthless vengeance and accession to the throne) and bloody brilliant spectacles (The Battle Of The Bastards). Television greatness could be achieved without blindly following the literary original after all – a lesson Game Of Thrones should have learned sooner.

Better late than ever though, particularly if this protracted, uneven route was what it took to reach the clarity of pace, temperament and spirit of the current, penultimate, only seven episodes long, Season Seven. Where, sure, Ellaria’s and her Sand Snakes’ utter uselessness and expendability were at long last – quickly and precisely – exposed. And where Theon has yet to really prove himself, along with the necessity of his punishingly stretched out torture back in Season 3. Never the less, there is no more stalling, no more waiting. Fire/ Daeny and Ice/Jon have finally met. The former’s rebirth as a reluctant, humble leader who campaigns for togetherness and understanding has become abundantly clear. Most of the remaining Stark children found each other again. The outcast Tyrion remained front and center in almost every episode, quietly but substantially advocating belief in diversity and inclusiveness. Daeny already led her horsemen and one of her dragons in battle once. The series substantiated its feminism by audaciously completing its portrayal of a varied array of strong, complex, anything but simply wives, mothers, lovers or daughters, female movers and shakers: from Queens Cercei, Daeny, old lady Tyrell and (very) young lady Mormont, to honorable soldiers Arya and Brienne, and a-force-to-recon-with in the making, Sansa. And all these in only four episodes. Yes, Season 6 and quite possibly Season 1 are about to eat dust.

Daeny is coming.

 

 

 

 

This is not my ‘Twin Peaks’, and you are not my Cooper

I was hooked, I remember vividly, to Twin Peaks from its first ever episode. As Twin Peaks: The Return is about to reach its midseason point (at next week’s part 9), I find myself far from being hooked.

This is personal. As was the relation the legendary and groundbreaking original series built (for life) with its viewers/fans/cult followers. It drew us in by an – anything but farfetched – tragic event: the recovery of the body of Laura Palmer, a beautiful, promising young adult. Her strange demise stirred the secrets, lies and dysfunctionalities of her close-knit community and attracted oddball but endearing FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to her small, rural town.

Immediately we cared for Twin Peaks population. Either because we were wide-eyed, rebellious, and more or less troubled youth, much like Laura, or any of her friends and schoolmates.  Or as we were “responsible” adults/parents struggling to cope with both our life choices and our dues to the younger, demanding generation. Thus, the people Laura left behind became our people, their pains and tribulations, our pains and tribulations.  And as they were gradually sucked into the uncanny, the Other place, the Black Lodge, so were we.

This was always David Lynch’s genius: to lure us in his bizarre, mysterious, irrational and often nightmarish universes via unexpectedly, yet effortlessly relatable characters. We instinctively saw ourselves in the mirror of the glorious imperfections, desires, plights and dreams of Blue Velvet’s Dorothy and Jeffrey, of Wild At Heart’s Sailor and Lula, of Mulholland Drive’s Betty/Diane and Rita, and, yes, of Twin Peaks’ Dale, Laura, Shelly, Harry, Dona, Audrey and James (to name just a few). Along with them we partook in all the weird, which consequently became familiar. Intimate.

Dale Cooper lost in the Black Lodge

Akin to all of Lynch’s work (even to his rare… straight stories) Twin Peaks existed on unsettled borders, the in between… Reality and unreality. Realism and surrealism. Natural and supernatural. Consciousness and sub-consciousness. Sweet dream and nightmare. Hope and fear. (Greek) Tragedy and soap opera. Crime drama and fantasy thriller. Comedy and melodrama. Rom com and horror! Motion pictures and video art. Linear was only the course of their perception. They were first received emotionally, by the heart and then rationally by the mind, ultimately expanding both. Being experienced, rather than simply watched.

This is not the case with the… über hyped Return. From the initial moments of its first episode the uncanny is front and centre with scarcely any relatable character in sight. Instead we are faced with a mysterious glass box, a gruesome killing of a love-making couple in front of it, Special Agent Cooper still trapped in the Black Lodge, his vicious, inhabited by Bob doppelgänger still out and about among us, a horrific, mysterious murder in South Dakota, and only some sporadic glimpses of the people we know and love.

As the two parts opener ends at the bar where Shelly (Mädchen Amick) and her friends discuss the realities of their adult everyday life over drinks however, and soon after “good” Cooper seems to find his way out of the Other place, expectations bloom and the heart drums. Is the Return about to become real? Alas, no. Due to “bad” Cooper’s nefarious (and quite disgusting) plots, “good” Cooper is not fully back. He returns far from Twin Peaks, as – a suddenly slim – Dougie Jones, a (former) cheater husband, absentee father and useless both as an employee and a small time crook, who currently walks around helpless as an infant, constantly spaced out and virtually mute.

Simultaneously the forays back to Twin Peaks are rare, fleeting and far between. Worse, when they do occur, little of substance is disclosed of what happened to our people in the last 25 years. Sure, Tommy “Hawk” is still the deputy Sheriff, Benjamin (Richard Beymer) still runs the hotel and argues with his brother, Margaret (Catherine E. Coulson) still listens to and relays messages from her log, Shelly still works at Norma’s (Peggy Lipton) diner and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) remains the goofy receptionist of the Sheriff’s office. But how and why? And beyond these persisting norms, what? In the place of answers we get a couple of hasty introductions to the latter two’s offspring: Becky (as a somewhat younger version of Lula, tripping in her desperately immature and irresponsible boyfriend’s convertible) and Wally (as a – meant to be – hilarious homage to Marlon Brandon’s The Wild One), incarnated by Amanda Seyfried and Michael Cera, respectively.

To the above, more or less blink and you missed them… celebrity sightings add those of Naomi Watts (as Dougie’s wife), Ashley Judd (as Benjamin’s secretary), Laura Dern (as one of Special Agent Cooper’s former partners) Jenifer Jason Lee (as one of “bad” Cooper’s minions), Harry Dean Stanton (as Carl, who witnesses a freak automobile accident and the subsequent ascendance of a little boy’s soul to heaven), James Belushi (as a casino executive) and  Richard Chamberlein (as David Duchovny’s FBI Chief Denise Bryson)! Who are all these people apart from their well-known performers (so infatuated with their director that they will do even… nothing for him)? And why should we care? … Silencio.

This is Dougie. Who?

This Return commits all the sins the quite lamented 2nd season of the original series committed, and then some. It “babbles” its story on throughout doubled in numbers episodes than its initial conception (the first ever season was 8, while the current one was first announced as a 9 parts one). It introduces an array of new characters and plot-lines that come off minimum relevant to and end up annoyingly distracting from its core story and heroes. It deliberately forgoes its precious balance on the borders, abruptly veering towards the one or the other direction – usually the extremely bizarre. Case in point the mostly abstract, black & white latest episode 8, which nevertheless seemed as a wacky explanation of Bob’s and Laura Palmer’s origins! And whereas 25 years ago we had our beloved people to carry us through and keep us hooked, now we are afforded no such comfort.

Hence the course of our perception is disrupted. Our emotion lies dormant. And without it logic cannot accept the uncanny. So it stays unfamiliar and alien. Void, inane and pretentious. Not an experience, just a conceited visual brain-teaser.

What is left to say? Kudos to Showtime for giving David Lynch and his co-creator Mark Frost free rein to experiment with the conventions of the TV procedural drama. Kudos also to Lynch himself for writing, directing and producing the whole series, while also staring as the always oddly charming FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole. Kudos lastly to the passionate fan in me that even now hopes beyond hope that the next 9 parts of this Return will be more of the series I know and love. Thus far however, this is not my town. These are not my people. This is not my weird. And sure as hell this is not my Dale Cooper.

 

 

 

 

‘Wonder Woman’, or God(dess) interrupted

Wonder Woman is not the best superhero movie you’ve seen, ever or in the recent past. It is however the most significant piece of blockbuster entertainment – the most intriguing (and worthy) addition to pop culture staples in this particular moment in time.

Although both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice most definitely… eats its dust, this latest from – comics powerhouse and Marvel’s archrival – DC film is far from perfect. It is unnecessarily long (the whole modern-day Paris incident, could have easily been omitted), with immaterial (Ludendorff, Dr. Maru) or formulaic (Ares) bad guys and gals; a black & white, good & evil approach to characters, a fairly undeserving co-star (Chris Pine) to Gal Gadot’s impressive lead, as well as a somewhat unoriginal and anticlimactic (the second part of the film, in the reality of the 1st World War is never as visually enthralling as the first, in the fairy tale of Themyscira, while the final battle with Ares is a loud, SGI mess) plot progression. Nevertheless it comes off as a fun, attractive, witty and hence engaging spectacle that succeeds in exactly what it should and was important to: it never wears its feminist temperament on its sleeve, on or off the screen.

On. Out of paradise…

As a pricey, big, studio film Wonder Woman could not risk alienating any demographic (i.e. the male fans) of its intended, massive audience. So, if it was to express any argument for (gender) equality it had better do so in an anything but obvious or aggressive way. In other words, it had to find a way to make its activism feel good and entertaining without negating it, quite like the Oscar nominated Hidden Figures. Thus, it steered clear of the early feminists’ very real battles that inspired Wonder Woman original, comic creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston. Instead, it opted to shrewdly but quietly, (there only for anyone who wants to see), subvert one of the most absurd, yet deeply ingrained, still enduring in Western culture myths.

For Themyscira can easily be perceived as an irresistible alternative to the Garden of Eden. Where there is no Adam, just God’s favourites Amazons – peaceful, loving, striking women, who also happen to be expert warriors, needing no one but themselves to defend their home and their loved ones. Among them is God’s chosen daughter, Diana, who is unaware both of her true lineage and her messianic mission. When war hungry men intrude her world Diana saves and meets one of them: Steve, an American spy, who turns out to be a good man. He becomes her temptation. But not as an object of desire. She is hilariously unfazed when she finds him completely naked in one of Themyscira’s natural hot tubs, and serenely curious as she asks him if he consider himself to be an average specimen of his kind. Moreover, she invites him to lie next to her to sleep, while coolly asking him not to be concerned: due to a rich Amazonian tradition she doesn’t need him to pleasure her flesh.

No. He tempts her in a different, unconventional way, prompting her to do the right, noble thing, fulfilling her destiny (even though she doesn’t even know it yet). So she is not thrown out of paradise, sinful and shameful. She leaves it by choice, still proud and utterly innocent. With her mother’s warning, “they don’t deserve you” as a goodbye. And once there, in the real, “hideous” world she becomes the superhero she was meant to be, but remains endearingly, disarmingly, unquestionably innocent: always wide-eyed, either happily or unhappily, genuinely surprised by a baby, women’s apparent enslavement by men, ice cream, the cruelty but also bravery in war, snow, a dance, sex as wilful love making/sharing, death, self-sacrifice, love… After all, she is not a (one-off) Messiah. She is an extraordinary, forgiving woman, who chooses to stay and keep on fighting in the name of love, on humanity’s site, no matter its darkness or weaknesses.

Off…into the real world.

Akin to her female superhero, Patty Jenkins does not divulge her gender in the way she directs this (improbable) action packed movie. On one hand, she adopts a distinctly different style from her recent predecessor in DC’s cinematic universe, Zack Snyder. Instead of his dark greys, vivid primaries colours and high contrast, she favours a more earthly, soft and supple pallet, equipping her film with a fitting – reminiscent of Marvel’s and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger – retro feel. On the other she does follow suit Snyder’s manipulation of time during the action scenes, gradually slowing, then pausing for a split second, and then accelerating the motion, making it imposingly operatic, albeit occasionally, fleetingly cartoonish.

Unlike both Snyder and Johnston however Jenkins finds the time to cut and put the emphasis on her heroes’ faces, Diana’s in particular. Even in the mist of the craziest of battles, producing two of her film’s most memorable, intense and emotionally engaging sequences: when Diana stands alone against the Germans in No Man’s Land, unbreakable behind her shield, and afterwards, when she finds her strength during her duel with Ares by pausing to remember Steve’s “I love you”. Furthermore, Jenkins infuses her creation with an effortless, breezy humour that safely delivers it from the unbearable, affected seriousness and “self-importance” of Snyder’s oeuvre. These though don’t affirm her as a female, but rather as a versatile director. Capable of making maybe flawed, but ultimately successful, complex and true to their genre/goals films, either they are character driven, rough and painfully real dramas (like her Oscar-winning debut Monster), or polished, high-tech, boldly surreal, fantasy adventures like this full of discrete wonders Woman. At long last the superhero movie, like any other  genre is proven to be gender blind.

Thus Jenkins not only offers the seemingly regressed pop culture of our times, dominated by Trump’s toxic masculinity, a progressive, healthy, cathartic, female alternative. She also refreshingly defends DC’s (and Warner’s) lost – ever since the Christopher Nolan era – cinematic honour. What a timely, and wonder(ful) irony.

A bloody alien ‘Alien’

Five years after the visually stunning but otherwise pretentious and ultimately hollow, Prometheus, comes Alien: Covenant. With it Ridley Scott resumes his campaign to reclaim as his own a legendary cinematic franchise that never really belonged to him.

Each film of the original Alien Quadrilogy (Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien: Resurrection) was blessed with a distinctly visionary director: Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, respectively. Each director bringing something new to it against all odds, enhancing it as a masterful genre-hybrid; as a latent yet substantial philosophical meditation on the dysfunctional – superbly prolific or unimaginably destructive – relation between creator and creation; and as a sophisticated, satisfying mainstream entertainment.

Above all, each one of them anchored his piece of the saga’s puzzle to Ripley. Specifically Ripley as incarnated by Sigourney Weaver – an always commanding, unmistakably (and inescapably) human character, whose evolution was traced boldly, but seamlessly, genuinely. She was the rational, playing strictly by the rules officer, who grew into a fierce, androgynous warrior mother (and the archetypical female action hero), a defiant, genderless, self-sacrificing… Medea, and a motherless unknowable and at once painfully familiar alien. Because of her the original Alien Quadrilogy became, in addition to anything else, a proclamation of an all-powerful, both nourishing and lethal, nonconforming, mercurial femaleness. Or, in other words, the much maligned Other. Thus, if this saga ever belonged to only one author, this should be Weaver.

Newt & Ripley are the last women standing in ‘Aliens’

Despite its shortcomings Prometheus honoured at least that fact by putting at its helm not one, but two charismatic actresses (Noomi Rapace and Charlise Theron) more or less as the two sides of the same coin (although Theron had very little of a tangible character to sink her teeth in). Alas, in addition to its other, often glaring inefficiencies* Alien: Covenant fails even in that respect. Not only due to Katherine Waterston’s lack of charisma. Don’t get me wrong. She is a good actress. And as the Covenant ‘s second in command she is enough. But she is short of that glint in the eye, that innate inner strength that suggests the existence of something deeper – an inviting ambiguous complexity that all of her predecessors, and particularly Weaver possessed.

As it is she is unable to hold her own against Michael Fassbender in the dual role of androids Walter (of Covenant) and David (of Prometheus). And as Scott gradually shifts the anchor of his film to the latter… every self-respecting Alien fan can’t help but feel betrayed. Not because Fassbender is in any way inadequate or lacking. On the contrary. He is imposing, composed and ingenious in expressing a lot by affecting only the tiniest of changes on his facial features, mannerisms and body language. But neither as Walter nor as David is he given anything complex or particularly intriguing to do. As Walter he is nothing but an echo of Bishop – the good android, as David of Ash – the bad android. There is no conflict, no dilemma, no internal struggle for their man-made, artificial nature emanating from either of them. Hence there is no fulfilling explanation, no motive, no comprehension for each one’s behaviour. David’s blind, vengeful furry is particularly problematic (especially in light of Dr. Elisabeth Saw’s apparent kindness) even though Fassbender does his best to reign in the insufferable pompousness of his dialogues and monologues, infusing him with at least a flicker of vulnerability (when facing his “brother” or his “child”).

Elizabeth Shaw is the last woman -barely-standing in ‘Prometheus’

No. It’s the blatant, crude and pointless ripping down of the saga’s identity as a subversive feminist manifesto that is and should be maddening. It is the regression to the traditional, patriarchal idea of an almighty, unforgiving, designated/socially constituted as male creator. Still, some leniency could be afforded to Scott (and his writers) if he chose (or was able) to do so in a shrewder, sharper way. After all he had a recent, brilliantly fearless paradigm to follow and draw inspiration from: George Miller’s massively entertaining, yet astutely (and anything but patronising or overstating) political Mad Max: Fury Road where a whole saga is shifting/progressing from patriarchy to matriarchy, with Theron’s magnificent Furiosa in the driver’s sit, but without taking an inch away of the myth of the iconic character of Max.

 

*Where to begin? From the once again inexplicable and over-stylised opening scene? From the fact that instead of watching a genre hybrid you are left with the awkward impression of at least four different in tone and style movies:

a/ a sci-fi horror up until the explosion of the landing ship, which is the only effective, suspenseful and interesting part of the film,

b/ a no longer latent or substantial, but rather affected and over-explaining philosophical study of the creator-creation tableau, whereupon android Dave sheds tears as he quotes Byron, gives flute lessons and creatively manifests his hatred for all flesh & bones – “shall we say meat?” – beings,

c/ a full-blown, noisy action adventure reminiscent not only, obviously, of Cameron’s Aliens but also such better or worse movies of… mass destruction as Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, when Daniels duels with the creature on top of the rescue ship, and

d/ a gory, teenage oriented b-movie as the xenomorhp hilariously interrupts two of the youngest and most attractive members of the crew’s lovemaking in the shower?

David is the last -synthetic- man standing in ‘Alien: Covenant’

From the fact that this proves to be another of Scott’s utterly and eerily humourless endeavours, taking itself too seriously, emphatically demanding from your senses to recognise it as art, while simultaneously lacking his distinctive, visual voice more than any other of his films? From the sheer, laughable predictability of the plot that for example renders the true identity of the android that boards the Covenant absolutely evident to anyone (off the screen) but the Covenant’s crew? From the total absence of novelty? Or from Scott’s uncharacteristic decision to constantly resort to referencing not only his films but those of his fellow Alien directors as well? In the case of Cameron he even takes a cue from The Terminator and The Abyss, offering us all of sudden, during the film’s final moments, a series of alien POVs! For no apparent or meaningful reason, much like all of his other easy and anything but intricate or organically embedded in the film references (with the sole exception of Jed Kurzel soundtrack, perhaps, which fruitfully incorporates familiar notes from all the earlier films into efficiently atmospheric melodies).

Has ‘Legion’ blown your mind yet?

Last Thursday, 30/03, the much-lauded by critics and fans alike Legion reached the end of its eight episodes first season, having already been renewed for a second one. Revisiting the interview* I took from one of its stars – the up and coming Rachel Keller – at its starting point, I close the circle. With some thoughts on this fiercely extraordinary superhero – within the Marvel universe – series.

When I met Rachel in London last January, a few weeks before Legion‘s premiere on FOX UK, I only had the experience of its trailer. So, the first thing I did was to ask her to elaborate on her character, Syd Barrett (!) who was introduced in said trailer in a rather intriguing, quirky and… messy way: “She took my place and I took hers” declares the series – misdiagnosed as schizophrenic – hero, David (Dan Stevens of Beauty & The Beasts and Downton Abbey‘s fame). But neither this introduction, nor the generally strange vibe of the trailer or, moreover, Rachel’s cool and mindful words could prepare us for what was about to be unleashed on our small screens.

Nearly impossible to describe or categorise, Legion eliminated any distinctive lines between genres, times, places, dreams and realities.

Genres, as it ingeniously oscillates between psychological and horror thriller, real and surreal drama, action and adventure, with a dash of musical and science fiction. Most of this occur inside David’s mind, where almost half of the series takes place. In there unfold many weird and wonderful things. The reminiscent of grant Bollywood numbers dance in the asylum expressing David’s happiness having met Syd. The many faces of David’s stowaway, Lenny, –  some (of the angry, black & white boy, with the giant, cardboard head and of the fat, yellow eyed devil)  appropriately scary, others (of a childhood dog and of an ever-present friend – the latter brilliantly incarnated by the multifaceted Aubrey Plaza) deceivingly benign. The immense ice-cube that Dr. Bird’s comatose husband, Oliver, has conjured up in his mind, converted into a loft and locked his consciousness away from the awaking world. The in true… The Matrix form “bullet time” filming method, whenever David moves around or blow things up and pauses time with his mind. The demented, creepy interpretation of Edward Scissorhands in one of Lenny’s final representations. And the unexpected, grounding emotional moments, like the one of an awaken Oliver finally remembering his wife just before he falls victim to Lenny.

None of these however seems unfitting or out-of-place. On the contrary. They interact, interrelate and combine perfectly to achieve a highly original and astonishingly humane composition, which is unlike any other, based on a comic, super-hero story you have ever experienced.

Times, since it makes it impossible for us to ascertain with absolute certainty when exactly everything takes place. There is a sneaky retro quality to everything from clothes to technology, as the vivid, primary colours that dominate most of the mise en scène make their ostensibly 60s quality more prominent. In the comics David is the son of The X-Men‘s Professor Charles Xavier. This fact is never clearly stated throughout Legion‘s first season (although fleeting images of Xs, even one on a wheelchair, often appear on screen), but even so complicates the show’s (era) identity further, putting in question both father’s and son’s actual age and possible lifespan, while at once wreaking havoc to the The X-Men universe (including the 8 so far films) chronology. Add to the above the similar, persistent lack of locality (we never learn where everything happens) and the sense of disorientation and uneasiness becomes tangible and ever growing.

Thus… we become David and David become us. Highly intelligent and sensitive beings besieged by a more and more intolerant, cruel world, struggling to trust our own conscience as we attempt to distinguish our hopes, dreams and fears within from reality without. And then, reconcile the former with the latter, again and again, keeping at bay our darker, powerful and absolutely dangerous self.

 

*On behalf of FOX Greece for www.freecinema.com, hence the Greek subtitles.