Sunday, January 18, 2015

Twixt (2011)

A long long time ago, there existed a filmmaker named Francis Ford Coppola. He made a string of genre-defining films that were critically appraised worldwide – the first two Godfather movies, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation – and he was regularly and rightfully renowned in film fanatic circles as one of the medium's best artists.

That was in the 70s, though. Now he makes movies like Twixt.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern

Co-written with The Observer and Michelle.

Apparently the idea for this movie came to Coppola in a dream, which makes sense, as I also try to turn all of my dreams into movies. The only problem is, I can't get a studio to green-light a movie about conquering the king of the mole people who lives in the lost kingdom Atlantis with a sword made entirely out of cheese wedges as a metaphor for my own coming of age.

So to get out my frustration, I'm just going to talk about Twixt. Take a deep breath, guys; it's gonna be a weird-ass trip.

We start this off with a narration that I'm sure lead actor Val Kilmer recorded when he was working off a bad hangover from the previous night. He narrates about how there's this town with a clocktower with seven clockheads, none of which tell the right time – which really makes sense, when you don't try to think about it at all and instead move onto something else entirely.

He also says it was “a town of people who wanted to be left alone,” which might sound like a cool premise to set up a story, but really it's never elaborated on – so it mostly just comes off as kinda douchey on the part of the collective townfolk. As far as PR for this town goes, Kilmer isn't doing a good job. He just makes it sound like some shithole with nothing to do, so, I guess give him props for truth in advertising.

Then again, as we'll find out later, the town is also somewhat famous for having vampires hanging out there, which I guess would bring a higher concentration of Hot Topic shoppers there or something, so at least they'd have that.

The commercial for Hot Topic's new clothing line isn't looking too good...I recommend a re-shoot, preferably with a hot chick in that same position.

As for the vampires themselves, well, they're really more of an afterthought; never given real characters or even any purpose in the story. It's really quite astounding that Coppola managed to shoehorn in fucking vampires into this and made them the most forgettable thing in the movie. Oh, except that the lead vampire's name is Flamingo, and that they just kinda hang out on the other side of this lake in town. But I think the fact that his name is Flamingo is the more important part there.

I guess we're supposed to believe Kilmer's character, Hall Baltimore, is a pulp horror fiction writer who is going to this town to sell books. However, when he asks where the bookstore is, he's told there isn't one at all, and so he ends up selling books out of this random hardware store instead. So why did he come to this town again? Did he just pack his shit into his car and go 'alright, time to go drive in a random direction until I find a town shitty enough to just let me set up camp without warning'? I mean, either that or his agent massively fucked up somewhere along the line.

A vision into Val Kilmer's future.

His only real guest is Sheriff Bobby Lagrange, played by Bruce Dern, later of the much better movie Nebraska. I love one of Lagrange's first lines: “How does it feel to be a bargain basement Stephen King?” Well, I'd imagine not very good. Lagrange then proceeds to just sort of take one of Hall's books without paying and have him sign it, saying he's one of his biggest fans – gee, with fans who insult you and take your books without paying, who needs enemies?

"Also, your penmanship sucks."

Then, I guess, Lagrange wants to show Hall this dead body in the morgue as an inspiration for a new book, which Lagrange wants to help write, or something. The body for some reason is just held in the sheriff's office, and still has the stake that was used to murder her sticking out of the top of the body, because why remove that, anyway? Just leave it there as a warning to everyone else. A warning to what, you may ask? not play with large wooden stakes, I guess...

"So why did you leave that stake in the body? Why not take it out?"
"Don't you bring your big-city smart guy bullshiiiiiit in here! We do things old school in this town! To make sure our dead bodies don't turn into vampires, we leave the stakes in for 30 days after!"
"I've never heard that about---"

Hall goes out and finds this old hotel where apparently Edgar Allen Poe once stayed – pfft, yeah right, but whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night! He then partakes in one of the movie's favorite pastimes – getting into a Skype argument with his wife over money.

Skype chats are instant drama!

You know, I guess these scenes could be way worse, but they're pretty fuckin' bad coming from the guy who once gave us the masterfully crafted destruction of Michael Corleone's familial relationships, is Val Kilmer whining to his wife over Skype really the best we could expect? Here's one of the lines he delivers, so make up your own minds: “People ask why I'm so good at writing about witches, and I tell them it's because I married one!”

Riveting. Just...riveting.

Then he goes for a walk in the woods and the movie loses its mind! Apparently, while walking in the woods, he runs into this young girl played by Elle Fanning, who was in the much better Super 8 the same year as this came out. The girl has a conversation with Hall about, I don't know, her braces or something.

"I think my braces make me look ugly."
"No, the Anne Rice-wannabe makeup is what does that!"

Then she says she really enjoys Hall's books, so I guess it's good that he managed to find a thirteen-year-old girl who enjoyed his work! I wonder what pops up on Amazon's “also recommended” feature when you buy his shit?

Yeah, sounds about right. She also says she couldn't make it to Hall's book signing because she didn't know what time it was, on account of the seven clock faces all telling different times in the town. Which, again, isn't a ridiculous idea at all for a town to adopt that! Pfft, I mean, telling time is for losers.

Anyway, he then loses track of her and finds this mysterious house in the woods where some weird stuff is going on with a creepy priest guy hoarding 10 or so children into the basement, or some shit like that. Apparently the Elle Fanning girl is there too. I don't know – it's a very dreamlike, weird sequence and doesn't really have much context right now. The girl gets into an argument with the priest-looking dude, saying she “knows what he did,” but they separate and nothing comes of it yet.

Oh, and sometime during this weird sequence, he also runs into Edgar Allen Poe, because why not?

Well, never seen Edgar Allen Poe erotica before, so there is that novelty...

If none of this makes any sense to you, well, it's because most of that sequence was in the past, and Hall can now visit the past, or dream world, or whatever it is, when he falls asleep. This isn't really established very well at all, and the story as a whole is very muddled and hard to follow overall.

Hall investigates a bit, and even goes to a library – which I'm just now realizing would have been a much better place to hold that fucking book signing than a goddamned hardware store. That's a minor detail, but what else am I supposed to focus on? I get that Hall is reading up on the town history of some murders or something, but I'm not really convinced Val Kilmer can read – he did say yes to this script, after all.

There's another sequence where Hall goes to see the police chief and has to call the operator to get the phone number so he can call inside and get them to let him in. Then he knocks on the door and the deputy guy is in there anyway – so the entire thing was pointless. Amazing. The deputy goes on this whole spiel about it being Sunday so the sheriff's office is closed – then why he is there? The movie has no idea either.

"This town is so shitty, we just converted my house into a sheriff's office! MY LIFE IS ENDLESS MISERY!"

For that matter, the sheriff's office is just closed on Sunday in this town? I get that it's a small town, but come on, does crime take a break on Sundays? Are you just operating on good faith?

I guess Hall gets the idea to write a story about the town because of his dream sequence, which he gets the title “The Vampire Executions” from LaGrange. Speaking of that crazy old coot, LaGrange is apparently so into this vampire crap that he made a little wooden model of the execution chair, complete with a little girl doll in it getting murdered - with painted blood on it, mind you - when he presses a switch.

That's it, game over man!

I just...really have no fucking idea what mushrooms Coppola ate when he was making this, but I have a feeling they're the same ones needed to actually understand what the hell this movie was going for.

There's also a billion more scenes with the split-screen thing going on for Skype calls. He tells his wife about the book idea, and then he talks to this old coot from his publishing company, who is very insistent that he not use the “fog on the lake” line in his opening scene, as well as just kinda pushy in general. He really just seems way too eager and energetic. It's like, c'mon buddy, you're in Twixt, you can just relax now.

Then the very next scene, we get Hall sitting in front of a computer screen like a goddamn web-blogger trying to write the opening of the novel. Because this movie is a horrible abomination against good taste, he apparently can't think of anything that ISN'T the “fog on the lake” line to open the story – I guess he's a shitty writer; whodathunkit.

Boy, Dean Koontz's later work under a pseudonym really isn't that good, huh?

After a way-too-long scene of him trying to write, the movie just gives up and he starts rambling about gay basketball players from the 60s and all sorts of other completely random nonsense that sounds like I'm making it up – but no, rest assured, it's really in the movie. Why? I have no idea. And frankly, I don't really want to know. Coppola...I think your movie is broken beyond repair. This whole thing is the cinematic equivalent to a Blue Screen of Death – it's just done.

This about sums up the entire movie.

Or, wait, I got a better one – do you guys remember that Homestar Runner cartoon about the virus on Strong Bad's computer? That's what this movie is. Just complete random bullshit, getting more and more insane and incomprehensible with each scene and eventually kind of imploding on itself.

Then we get a scene where Hall breaks into the sheriff's office in the middle of the night to examine that body with the stake in it. I'm just fucking astounded that the sheriff's office is locked on a Sunday morning but then at night it's apparently wide open for anyone to break in. But hey, why make sense now?

"Why couldn't I have just come in the next day and asked about this in public, seeing as they're obviously cooperative with me so far? Because...well, I'm just a fucking idiot."

Because the movie isn't done ritualistically murdering our brain cells, we get a scene where Hall and the sheriff's guys actually use a Ouija board to try and contact the dead girl to see if they can figure out who killed her. Why bother with actual investigations? It's not like you're police officers or something! Just use a Ouija board; it's how all the best detectives do it. I mean I still haven't seen True Detective, but I'm pretty sure they do this kind of shit all the time on that show.

When your detective team is so sad you have to invite a random little kid who gets zero lines in the film into your group. Yes, really - that kid is never introduced as a real character and has no lines. But that doesn't surprise me at this point.

If these scenes I'm describing sound splattershot-random to you, it's because they pretty much are. None of these scenes really have any point to them and most of them end quite abruptly without accomplishing much in terms of the story. While I can see what Coppola was going for with the story, the way it's told really is pretty slipshod-poor. There's just no coherence to any of this and it's making it even kind of hard to write this review. They've finally done it! They've created the Anti-Cinema Freaks movie! A movie so incomprehensible I can't even describe it right!

What else is there to talk about? The scene where he confronts those vampires across the lake and nothing comes of it?

When the kid with lipstick, mascara and a black cape seems like the more sensible one in your movie.


Maybe the scene where it's finally revealed, after a lengthy shouting match in Hall's hotel room, that Sheriff Bobby LaGrange was the "wooden stake" killer all along, because why wouldn't he be? There were so many clues, if you skipped to the end of the movie and watched the ending first. I mean otherwise it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever as there were zero clues. But whatever!

We then get another acid trip flashback where we see that  the creepy minister guy from the past killed all of the kids in his care because he was afraid of them getting turned into vampires. That is logical, and makes so much sense, that I can't even come up with words to describe it. It's just the zenith of filmmaking and storytelling.

Then we see the Elle Fanning girl from before, who apparently tried to run away, and so he did the logical thing and kidnapped her, chaining her to the wall in a creepy out of the way building and torturing her.

I guess she got turned into a vampire somehow, but even that's not very clear.

So what was this guy's plan again? Vampires exist, so kill every human being you can rather than let the vampires get them? Well when you put it like THAT it sounds...completely batshit. Thanks for more murdered brain cells, movie!

Whatever – just get to the scene where Hall looks longingly over the random cliff we haven't seen before and sees his dead daughter's face reflected in the water for no reason:

Apparently Elle Fanning was Edgar Allen Poe's lost Lenore, or some shit like that. And yes, he is rolling in his grave right now!

Oh yeah, I did forget to mention that subplot? About the dead daughter? I'm just heartbroken over this now. How can I be trusted to review things in a professional manner at all? Eh, on second thought, it doesn't really matter.

Then Hall goes back to the sheriff's office where he finds the vampire-ghost of Elle Fanning waiting under the sheet to kill him, in a very bloody and violent manner...

...only for him to then wake up in a chair in a nice office, handing the book he just wrote to the publisher. Yes, I'm dead serious. This whole thing was basically just an allegory for a hack writer stealing someone else's ideas and using them as his own to make money. Truly worth all the fever-dream sequences and non-sequitur dialogue, right?

Even better is the ending text scroll we're left with:

Yes, the fact that Hall's new book did “pretty good business” really did deserve priority over the next bullet under it, which says that LaGrange was a murderer. Book sales always trump the lives of dead people. Great list there, movie!

Okay, I'm about ready to check into the psychiatric ward after this movie. I seriously just don't even know, man. I mean, it's awful, it really is – the acting's either wooden or extremely overdramatic, the story is a hackneyed mess which the numerous over-long dream sequences don't help, most scenes go nowhere, and the twist at the end is so random that I feel like it was just made up on the spot when Coppola wrote that scene.

But strangely, it isn't the worst thing I've ever seen – I mean, it does have a certain personal feel to it that likely comes from the fact that Coppola wrote, directed and produced the thing. And to be fair, despite the film's complete insanity, there really is nothing else like it out there – it is one of a kind, for better or for worse.

Plus, it's really funny to watch and riff on with friends. Never underestimate the power of that virtue.

My only lingering question about all this is, since Val Kilmer was once Batman, and one actor who used to be Batman got a super-cool meta-comedy film about his career, when do we get Kilmer's version of the same? My guess after seeing this movie is, not any time soon.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.