I’ve been meaning to watch Twixt for a long time but I didn’t really know what form it would be best consumed in. Francis Ford Coppola planned to take the movie on the road as Kevin Smith did Red State with an added twist (hence the title, I suppose): many alternate takes and scenes were shot during production and the movie would be assembled “live”, remixed (hence the title, I suppose), in front of different audiences to produce a different film every time. How this could be reproduced in a home format is anyone’s guess (although I’m sure it’s possible). So, I don’t know if the version I saw is the best version.
A “bargain basement Stephen King” writer (played by Val Kilmer, looking even more like he could play Jim Morrison at death’s door, especially as he swigs liquor) enters a small town to sell his book (the town is so small that there is no bookstore: he sets up in the hardware store). The tone is strange, tongue-in-cheek-ish, thanks to a Twilight Zone-like narration by none other than Tom Waits. Kilmer meets Elle Fanning, seemingly his only fan in town, but for some reason she won’t (or can’t) come back with him to the place he’s staying at to get a book signed. By the way Fanning is shot (hauntingly but beautifully) it’s pretty clear what’s going on. Then he runs into Edgar Allan Poe…
Twixt is full of beautifully shot images (and one extraordinary moment I’ve never seen before – fangs pushing braces off a person’s teeth as they grow) but the remix concept shows. Perhaps, as I wrote of the similarly conceived Tracey Fragments (Tracey: Refragmented), if there’s so much other footage maybe one day a more coherent movie will emerge of it. I watched it in a double bill with Hick and it falls into the same category for me – forgettable movies lifted higher than they deserve by a couple of my favourite young actresses.
This is kind of movie where you know exactly what the next scene will entail when a gym class ends with “okay girls hit the showers” – and not in a plot-moving, semi-tasteful way like Carrie. I’ll admit the teenage boy inside me was perfectly fine with that. I wanted to see this for Linda Blair, of course, and all the artwork I’ve seen for it over the years has been spectacularly 80s-tastic in the worst way.
The plot concerns Blair’s deaf sister who is raped in the gymnasium while Blair is busy having a cat fight in the locker room, followed by Blair’s revenge on the boys who did it. Tone-wise it lies almost directly between Born Innocent (in which Blair played the victim) and The Accused, which says just about everything about early eighties cinema at its worst. Tastelessness aside, however, the bad music and styles etc didn’t let me down here – there’s a great moment where one of the rapists gets run down by a car which, as an IMDb boarder wrote, is a lot like the henchman in Austin Powers who gets run over by a steamroller… sadly I read that before enjoying the pleasure of making the connection myself.
[SPOILERS] So, after invoking the “its a MOVIE” thing over the violence in The Last Stand, obviously I was going to come across something that struck one of my own little nerves, because hypocrisy is great. I was really looking forward to Frankenweenie – between it and Dark Shadows it looked like Tim Burton had a double whammy on his hands akin to Ed Wood and The Nightmare Before Christmas nearly 20 years ago (yes, I realise Tim Burton didn’t direct Nightmare …perhaps that might’ve helped here…).
But it’s just so by-the-numbers story wise. It’s “Frankenstein” with a dog and that’s it. Actually, that’s not it – I really just want to talk about the ending here – I’m going to review ParaNorman right after and continue the discussion there so take these two reviews as one. Now it’s possible I might think on this and change my mind – something similar happens in One Magic Christmas (also distributed by Disney) and I managed to justify it in my head there. But…
It would be sheer madness in my opinion to show this movie to young children. I’m a big fan of JK Rowling’s firm attitude when it comes to death in her Harry Potter series – yes there is magic but when you’re dead, you’re dead. It shows a respect to her young readers, especially those among them who have lost. There is a single great scene (okay, I loved the psychic cat too) here involving Martin Landau as a science teacher talking at a PTA. Some parents, as is ever the case, are worried about the “dangerous” science being taught in his classes, and this teacher doesn’t beat around the bush. He flat out calls these parents “ignorant”. Great. If only the rest of the movie played out as such a pro-science parable and said something positive about the reality of death. Instead it suggests (and I’m not talking about the initial re-animation – of course there’d be no movie without that – just the ending) if you experiment enough you will be able to conquer it.
In that Martin Landau scene he also talks about opening the kids heads up and getting at their brains, which he can’t do with the parents’ “small minds”. Something I heard when I was young has always stuck with me – something along the lines of “keep your mind open, but not so open that your brain falls out”. This movie has great intentions, but I feel like the ending crosses that line big time. Throw in a slick but ultimately tired look to the animation and characters (yes, black and white 3D is bold but it fits the story perfectly and Tim Burton’s movies have always been practically monochrome anyway, and his character design has become tragically homogenised -something I actually thought Dark Shadows avoided well) and it was a giant breath of fresh air to follow this, as I said, with ParaNorman.
[additional: I just found this review with a good comment thread beneath it that says what I think I’m trying to say here, and the other side of the argument, a little better…]
At the end of Colin the action flashes back to before it all began, when things weren’t exactly sunny but at least people were alive. There’s a brief shot of a bookshelf on which sit well-thumbed copies of “Digital Film-making” by Mike Figgis, “Raindance Producer’s Lab”, “The Jaws Log” and (I think) “Censored” by Tom Dewe Matthews. As it’s an ultra low budget movie, I think it’s safe to assume this bookshelf belongs to someone – probably the director – behind the camera, and it’s a good collection so you can tell they certainly have passion.
I was probably overly misled by the Sky EPG description calling it “outstanding” here but it still sounded interesting enough – a shoestring movie following one zombie from death to rebirth and his journey through apocalyptic London. It certainly hooked me in the grubby first scene of Colin being attacked, bitten, etc, but I soon realised how little story there was going to be with next to no dialogue to ease things along (a particular problem when you’re just planning to have something on in the background – this is partially my problem, I admit…) – it’s literally just a zombie walking through scenes we’ve seen a hundred times.
The gore effects are impressive in places for a movie that clearly had no budget to speak of, and there are even a couple of half-decent performances in the midst of amateur hour, Colin’s sister and mother, in a couple of scenes that just about make the movie worthwhile. I’d be far happier with it as a short – as a feature it’s the kind of curiosity you’d expect to find as an extra feature on a DVD of the director years down the line when they’ve actually honed their craft and made it properly.
I said in my Jamaica Inn review that I wasn’t big on Hitchcock’s costume movies and wasn’t much looking forward to this one… but I have to say, after loving the heck out of Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound and Notorious, and reading of his further use of long takes here after Rope (which I don’t remember from the last time I watched this), I was actually fairly excited to see it again.
That long introduction is really just another of my ways of padding out a review in which I unsurprisingly have little else to say. Within minutes here I won’t deny my eyes and ears had kind of glazed over in a way in which I’m most familiar when it comes to this kind of movie. Hitchcock’s love of the lavish can be seen throughout his work to certain extents but it’s the element of his style that I could most do without, and I can only stand costume drama when it’s subverted in some way, like the filthification of the best Wuthering Heights adaptation, eg.
I’m sure if you like this kind of thing it’s as good as the more average of Hitchcock’s output – though I’d say the use of long takes here is nowhere near as exciting as that in Rope. To costume drama lovers I can only apologise for not being able to see past my total lack of interest in the genre. This is one Hitchcock movie I’m very unlikely to watch again in the near future.
I always remember a kind of visceral reaction I used to have whenever I saw video or DVD cases for this and it took me forever to finally force myself to watch it. There’s something about cheery old Charles Laughton in that ruffled coat and hat that reminded me of the old Quality Street packaging and just didn’t feel like Hitchcock at all. I still had that wariness with me as I came to it a second time, this time coupled with the knowledge that Hitchcock himself wasn’t pleased with it and was really just gagging to get to Hollywood (in watching all his work chronologically, I almost know the feeling…)
So, needless to say, I’m not a fan of Hitchcock’s heavy costume movies. He’d make just one more after this, Under Capricorn, and I’m not looking forward to seeing that again either. I don’t generally like costume dramas anyway, so there may be a prejudice at work here; but the fact is, it’s almost as if the rigid dress stifles even Hitchcock’s style here, and I can’t point to any moment in particular that truly bears his mark.
[how odd… I found the below review from 2004 after writing all that. I can’t say I was impressed this time by Laughton as I was then… go figure]
Yet another review in which I’m going to refer to a “feature” on my site that I’ve not yet introduced – genres. I’m stumped as to what genre to place this movie in, but I settled on comedy rather than thriller because I laughed plenty more than I was gripped.
I was fairly bored for at least an hour of this movie, but Charles Laughton’s performance is simply amazing throughout, and it’s in the last half hour when he gets more sinister than ever and the plot really goes out there. Based on the last half hour, I’d rate this movie insanely highly, but there’s too much waiting early on and wondering what exactly the movie is about (which is, ultimately, nothing, classic Hitchcock).
I actually came back and watched this one a second time after Hitchcock’s next film, Sabotage, surprised me so much following a similarly vague and uninspiring set-up. Wikipedia helpfully points out that this should not be confused with Hitchcock’s follow-up Sabotage, which was based on Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” (this wasn’t) nor the later Saboteur. That this has to be pointed out is really just indicative to me now of how relatively unremarkable (in the grand sweep of Hitchcock’s filmography) a film it is.
Some count this (and the three films that follow) in the same six-title “Thriller Cycle” that began with the perfect Man Who Knew Too Much and 39 Steps and I’m not sure about that. Even a second (or third: I’m still not certain I hadn’t seen this before in my fledgeling teenage Hitch binge) viewing failed to reveal anything particularly critical here to an understanding of Hitchcock’s work or even particularly entertaining.
The plot begins simply enough – a writer, thought to have died, is given a new identity and sent to Switzerland as a spy – but it immediately becomes overcomplicated, by way of multiple agents and red herrings, compared to anything else in the so-called “cycle”. I’m not saying the movie’s hard to follow, but it just for me never really earns the attention it demands. I’m of the opinion that there’s such a thing as being simply too complicated for cinema, particularly within this genre, and especially when you’re Alfred Hitchcock. In cinema it’s possible to be simple yet complex simultaneously and therefore no excuse to be otherwise: and for me, Secret Agent is too much “otherwise”.
There is the odd nifty touch – the droan of an organ in the background of one scene seeming to simply provide eerie atmosphere as two men await someone who has important information, only to find him, yes, slumped against the organ keys, murdered; and sound provides the impact of another death scene, the fatal moment indicated by nothing but a loyal dog’s whine at the loss of his owner. They’re interesting moments but, if you look around at reviews of this movie, actually the only things anyone ever really has to talk about regarding this feature; and nothing compared to the abundance of Hitchcockian touches to be found in any number of his films even at this early stage. I found Peter Lorre a lot more fun to watch the second time around, though no one else in the cast is particularly noteworthy. It’s just overall incredibly thin on notable qualities: a threadbare forerunner to James Bond, and for Hitchcock really just another stepping stone to greatness, all the more disappointing coming as it does directly after The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps.
“Listen to this! I’ve just composed a song in your bakery!”
Low expectations don’t begin to cover this one and the sooner I move past it the better I’ll feel. Hitchcock described this as his “lowest ebb” and it’s hard to argue… I’d already seen a few of his works that didn’t quite live up to his ultimate stature so, knowing of his own opinion of this one, I approached it as apprehensive as I’ve ever been.
In all honesty, it’s not that bad, despite clearly being nothing special. I’d never heard of Jessie Matthews prior to seeing this but I take it this movie really served more as a vehicle for her as a star than anything else, making the involvement of a post-Blackmail Hitch questionable indeed. He claims he did it just to keep working, but he must have been on auto-pilot as there’s nary a hint that it’s him behind the lens.
But the movie is short, the music is pleasant, and the production lavish. It tells the story of how Strauss wrote the Blue Danube waltz in a manner akin to those old “let’s put on a show!” musicals as exemplified by the ridiculous line quoted above and requires next to no concentration to follow. But in terms of Hitchcock, for me it’s notable only because it’s the last one I wasn’t particularly looking forward to watching. The only way was up after this, and as we know, Hitchcock flew.