Twixt a Rock and a Hard Place – White Elephant Blogathon 2014

Sometimes I just don’t know what possesses me. Today, I was thinking about the upcoming John Ford Blogathon that Christianne of Krell Laboratories and I are going to host in July. I was trying to suss out how I would approach the collection of Ford’s films, finally deciding to attack it in chronological order, despite Christi recommending I begin with My Darling Clementine (1946) and How Green Was My Valley (1941) [sorry, C!]. Suddenly I remembered: I have to get around to…a BUNCH of other writing commitments!

So in addition to the Ford field day, in which I’m daring to attempt writing about 24 films I have never seen before, I have to get to Pin (1988) and Wicked Wicked (1973) for Cult Reviews, Lords of Salem (2012) and Mark of the Devil (1970) for Kitley’s Kryptic Army Challenge, Quatermass and the Pit (1967) for the 1967 in Film Blogathon at Silver Screenings, and the rest of the Zatoichi films for my own personal well-being. But before all of that, I damn near forgot that I had also signed up for the White Elephant Blogathon hosted by Philip at Diary of a Country Pickpocket.

How this works is a group of bloggers get together and throw the name of a film they consider something of a “white elephant” into a hat (err, so to speak). The films are then redistributed back out at random to the participants, who then get to write about it. Think of it as a kind of Russian roulette where someone else is pulling the trigger of a gun loaded with what could be a gem or what could be a stinkbomb. I won’t reveal which film I offered up to the group until all the reviews are in; the film I was given was Twixt (2011), Francis Ford Coppola’s “horror” film starring Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern.

starts out similar to several other horror films, with a washed-up author Hall Baltimore (Kilmer) rolling into a strange small town called Swann Valley, the kind of place that gets its own narrated introduction by Tom Waits (no really!). We’re told that there’s evil here, as evidenced by the creepy old abandoned hotel and the clock tower with seven faces, all of which read different times. Baltimore is a drinker with a writing problem (this is significant, you’ll soon understand why), particularly after his daughter died in a boating accident. His wife (Joanne Whalley, ha ha) nags him about his next project because the money’s running dry; she threatens to sell his priceless first hand-set edition of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” unless he can come up with an advance on a new book.

At a book signing at the local hardware store, Baltimore is confronted by Sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Dern) who — wouldn’t you know it? — is a big fan with an idea for a book of his own, titled “The Vampire Executions” and based on a murder in the town’s past. He convinces Baltimore to follow him to his office / county morgue (which appears to be a refrigerated train car that backed into the building) to view the body of a young girl with an enormous stake planted in her chest. LaGrange believes it has something to do with a group of goth-y teenagers who live across the lake, but that’s too simple an answer. What goes on here in Swann Valley?

I’m not exactly sure what to make of Twixt, to be perfectly honest. I don’t think Coppola really knew what to make of it either, especially since the film’s story is based on a bad dream the director had one night. Then again, when you’ve directed stuff like the Godfather films and The Conversation (1974), how many people are going to tell you, “no,  no, Francis, this might not be a great idea for your next film”? I’ll tell you how many people: zero. He’s got more money than God, you can’t stop that. Anyhow, Twixt waffles between playing out all the tropes of a horror film without being scary, and being one of the weirdly funniest films I’ve seen in a while. When Kilmer is given a little free reign in front of the camera, he’s close to perfection and there’s a good look at what kind of career he could still have. He’s particularly brilliant in a scene where he sits down to start work on “The Vampire Executions” and writer’s block sets in with a vengeance.

Twixt also features a bizarre subplot where Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin, doing quite well with what he’s tasked with) guides Baltimore (get it now?) though a dream-world in which the town’s murderous backstory is eventually revealed, and we finally find out what’s up with the young girl under the sheet in the morgue. This dream-world is shot like so much unused footage from Sin City (2005) — devoid of most color except for reds and oranges and heavy on the kind of CGI that gives everything an unreal sheen. For the most part, this works in the film’s favor, giving the dream-world an eerie quality. The material in these scenes, however, doesn’t hold up so well and is often uneven. The film’s real-world scenes fare much better, mostly because they feature Dern, who works so well with Kilmer that it’s a shame they weren’t put in a better film than this.

Overall, I wouldn’t say Twixt is a bad movie. It certainly has several high points; unfortunately, the low points keep it from being great. Coppola has the right ingredients — dear lord, would someone PLEASE find Val Kilmer good work again?! — but the proportions are all wrong. I’ll put it this way: I certainly don’t wish any ill upon whoever threw Twixt into the hat for this year’s White Elephant Blogathon. In fact, I may even spring it on someone else sometime. Let’s just hope they don’t smash me over the head with a handmade wooden birdhouse.

SPOILER WARNING: here is the best scene in Twixt, hat-tip to Ashley of Pussy Goes Grrr!



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