The Western was once the most popular American film genre, in part because it was one of the few that could be called exclusively American. We invented it and other countries, notably Italy, could only copy it. The Western is now more or less dead — today you can blame “The Lone Ranger” — but it still thrives in the art house world. The oddball “Slow West” is now in theaters, and last year saw Tommy Lee Jones’ equally eccentric riff on the genre, “The Homesman.” Hilary Swank plays a frontier spinster (in her early 30s) who agrees to herd three insane women to civilization when no man will do it. She’s eventually joined by Jones’ rascally scalawag, who has to learn to get his stuff together as they battle the elements, and sometimes people.
Like “Slow West,” it’s both anti-Western and a regular Western, complete with a female lead. And like that film, it’s cool with getting weird. Jones’ grouchy sense of humor helps break the grimness, and even Swank isn’t above turning her character’s self-seriousness into a kind of joke. There’s even a shocking third act shift we won’t give away, plus a diversionary set piece late in that makes fine use of James Spader at his most pompous. It’s a shame these things aren’t popular anymore, though it’s impossible imagining a studio let fly something so personable.
After abruptly parting ways, David Lynch is abruptly back on the new “Twin Peaks” season*. As it happens, back on Instant is the filmmaker’s first dig under the evil beneath suburban and small town life, which all starts with Kyle MacLachlan finding an ear and proceeds through Dennis Hopper at his most terrifying (if not most over-the-top — that distinction belongs to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”). What’s even more surprising is that it exists at all: Lynch had all but destroyed his career with his disastrous (though kind of amazing) take on “Dune.” Instead, he convinced its producer, Dino De Laurentiis, to fund his next, albeit far smaller film. He returned with a queasily weird number that goes to some strange sex places, paving the way for him to transform television for the better.
We don’t always feel good about directing you to so-bad-it’s-good-cinema, especially the ones that star legitimate talents. But this fundie-driven musical odyssey is too good-bad to ignore. Despite featuring the likes of Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta and Seth Green, this is pure outsider art cinema, dealing with the secret twin brother of an Elvis-like pop god — played by a non-pro who just looks a lot like young Elvis — who eventually winds up becoming The Not-Quite-King’s number one impersonator. It is something, even before Liotta, as a Bible Belt preacher, launchesinto a leftfield sermon about Israel, and we’ll gladly take it over “Birdemic.”