Tag: ben chaplin

Twixt


Twixt (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), author of a novel about witchcraft, makes a stop for a book signing in a small town called Swann Valley, famous for its clock tower and a mass murder. Though he is ready to sell and sign some books, it seems like no one has heard of him, let alone having read his work, until Sheriff LaGrange (Bruce Dern) approaches his table and asks for an autograph. As a fan of a good mystery, the cop invites the writer to the morgue and shows him a corpse with a massive wooden stake through it. There is talk about evil and vampires amongst the residents.

Despite an interesting premise, one that could work as a campy, fun, B-movie shenanigan, “Twixt,” written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, insists on being so serious about the horror-mystery that it bores the living daylights out of the mind. At best, it is like a TV movie adapted from a Stephen King novel only the good stuff are drained out of it. It is all beautiful visuals and moody glowering but not enough pull to get us to invest.

Kilmer is not a bad choice at all to play a writer whose career is on a nosedive. He plays Hall almost in an off-kilter way, retaining a sense of humor even if the character’s alcoholism consistently gets in the way of his work. The way he interacts with people around town has a whiff of detachment—like he is not a hundred percent present. We wonder if he is fit to be doing any kind of investigation to solve a mass murder.

There is a sadness to the protagonist as well but the screenplay fails to drill deeply into its core. An accident is mentioned twice or thrice and his relationship with his wife is about to reach a boiling point. There is not enough exploration of his home life—problems that he cannot fix on a whim—to make us believe that he feels he must solve the mystery in Swann Valley in order to gain a certain of level of control in his personal life. Instead, his main motivation becomes about writing a book involving the murders which, looking at the big picture, does not solve his feelings of inadequacy as a man who is losing his family.

Several dream sequences comprise of about a third of the picture. There, Hall meets a famous writer (Ben Chaplin) and a girl with bucked teeth named V (Elle Fanning). While nice to look at because colors like red and yellow are allowed to pop out and all other colors are dulled, the visuals do not add much to the table. You would want to look at it for about two minutes to admire the aesthetics, but once the novelty wears off, it fails to pull us in consistently. Dreams are often symbolic but everything here is literal which takes away some of the necessary intrigue.

“Twixt” does not have a third act. It just ends. Instead, we are given a title card that informs us what happens to the characters. As a veteran filmmaker, Coppola should know better than to submit unfinished work. He has cheated his audience of their time and that is a crime that he should be forced to revisit in his dreams.

The Thin Red Line


The Thin Red Line (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

An AWOL soldier, Private Witt (James Caviezel), had never been good at following orders. When ordered to go left, he turned right. But when he was found in a Malaysian island by 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), Pvt. Witt, as punishment, was assigned to be a stretcher bearer in the Battle of Guadalcanal. The attack was led by Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas) and his superior Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The former wouldn’t obey the latter’s orders because he believed that sending his men forward was suicide. The Japanese bunkers were too far and too hidden for a typical affront. Lt. Col. Tall wasn’t convinced. Based on the autobiographical novel by James Jones and beautifully directed by Terrence Malick, “The Thin Red Line” was fascinating because it combined the horrors of war with spirituality. We were given the chance to hear a soldier’s thoughts, American and Japanese, about his place in the world, trepidation in terms of facing his mortality, and the loved ones he left behind. While the action scenes were raw and unflinching, I was most impressed with the way the soldiers played the hand they’ve been given. Some made rookie but dire mistakes out of panic (Woody Harrelson), some succumbed in fear and would rather be invisible (Adrien Brody), while others were distracted by flashbacks, wondering whether someone was still waiting for them at home (Ben Chaplin). The film highlighted that war was not as simple as two sides fighting for a cause. In a way, the battlefield was a glorious arena in which we had to fight ourselves. While good soldiers trusted their instincts, orders, too, must be obeyed. The conflict between instinct and duty could break a man. I was most interested in Pvt. Witt because he looked at his enemies with serenity. Unlike his comrades, not once did he show hatred toward the soldiers on the opposite side of the mountain. I wondered why. If I was in his position, I’m not quite sure if I could look at my enemies as if they were my equal. I would probably see them as lower animals and treat them as such. I just don’t think I can be as forgiving if I knew that my friends and comrades died because of them. Pvt. Witt mentioned that “maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of, all faces are the same man.” Malick used images to underline man’s place in nature. There were zen-like shots of soldiers just sitting around and admiring, for example, a plant. It took them out of the situation, even for just a few seconds, until the voice of their leader urged them to go on. There were several shots of birds, flying in sky or dying on the ground, which symbolized either glory or pain. “The Thin Red Line” was sensitive and intelligent. It tried to find answers in a place where answers were as transient as they were permanent.