Hugo [2011)

It’s hard to imagine that perfection would be possible in 2011.

In this very uncinematic era ruined by technology.

But it takes a genius to produce art from tech.

And it takes an artist to produce art.

Martin Scorsese was well up to the challenge.

As the weirdo I am, The King of Comedy has always been my favorite of his films.

Rupert Pupkin spoke to me in a way that perhaps only the totality of Dr. Strangelove ever similarly did.

But Mr. Scorsese had the brass to undertake a project which should have been doomed if only by its trappings.

Films have tried and generally failed at relative tasks.

City of Ember, for example.

But Scorsese was not deterred.

Not least because he had the magical trump card:  Méliès.

Which is to say, he had the story to end all stories (as far as cinema is concerned).

The big daddy.  The big papa.

Papa Georges.

But first things first…

We must give credit to Asa Butterfield (who looks like a cross between Barron Trump and Win Butler in this film).

Butterfield is no Mechanical Turk.

Nay, far from it.

But automata (or at least one particular automaton) play a large role in Hugo.

And why “Hugo”?

Kid living “underground”?  Victor?  Les Misérables?

Yes, I think so.

And it’s a nice touch by the auteur (in the strictest sense) Brian Selznick.

[Yes, grandson of David O.]

We’re at the Gare Montparnasse.

Torn down in 1969.

Site of this famous 1895 derailment.

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m up to 1,261.

But we press on…

Because Méliès was about dreams.

And Hugo is about dreams.

les rêves

And Scorsese has been “tapped in” to this magic at least since he portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa-san’s best film).

I must admit…I was a bit confused for awhile.

Something told me Scorsese had transformed himself into Méliès.

It was only later that it all made sense.

Ben Kingsley.

I mean, Scorsese is a great actor (Van Gogh, etc.), but he’s not THAT great!

But I’m jumping ahead…

Sacha Baron Cohen is very good in a somewhat-serious, villain role here.

I fully expected the immensely-talented Cohen to “ham it up” at some point, but he instead gives a very fine, restrained performance which fits like clockwork (sorry) into the viscera of this exquisite film.

But let’s revisit Sir Kingsley.

What a performance!

The loss of a career (Méliès).

The loss of a previous life.

The fragility of celluloid.

All to end up running a pathetic souvenir shop.

Toys.

Very clever, but still…

Such a fall from grace.

Into such obscurity.

I can only compare it to the trajectory of Emmett Miller (which was so artfully documented by my favorite author of all time [Nick Tosches] in my favorite BOOK of all time [Where Dead Voices Gather]).

The speed at which technology moves has the potential to reduce the most eminent personage to mere footnote at breakneck speed.

It was so even a hundred years ago.

And the process has now exponentially accelerated.

But we are coming to understand the trivialization of the recent past.

We are holding tighter to our precious films and recordings.

Because we know that some are lost forever.

Will this vigilance continue uninterrupted?

I doubt it.

But for now we know.

Some of us.

That today’s masterpieces might slip through the cracks into complete nonexistence.

Consider Kurt Schwitters.

The Merzbau.

Bombed by the Allies in 1943.

Es ist nicht mehr.

Into thin air.

But such also is the nature of magic.

Poof!

Skeletons later evoked by Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Scorsese is a film historian making movies.

And it is a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre more than once.

As on a player piano.

With ghost hands.

And the gears of the automaton.

Like the mystery of Conlon Nancarrow’s impossible fugues.

I’m betting Morten Tyldum lifted more than the spirit of gears meshing in Hugo to evoke the majesty of Alan Turing’s bombe in The Imitation Game.

But every film needs a secret weapon (much like Hitchcock relied on the MacGuffin).

And Scorsese’s ace in the hole for Hugo is the Satie-rik, placid visage of Chloë Grace Moretz.

Statuesque as water.

A grin.

A dollar word.

The beret.

And the ubiquitous waltzes as seen through keyholes and the Figure 5 in Gold.

Hugo is the outsider.

Scruffy ruffian.

Meek.  Stealing only enough to survive.  And invent.

But always on the outside looking in.

Below the window (like in Cinema Paradiso).

Ms. Moretz’ world is lit with gas lamps.

And you can almost smell the warm croissants.

[Funny that a film set in Paris should require subtitles FOR PARISIANS]

Assuming you don’t speak English.

Tables are turned.

But Paris draws the cineastes like bees to a hive.

THE hive.

Historically.

And that is just what this is.

History come alive.

But another word about Ms. Moretz.

As I am so wont to say in such situations, she’s not just a pretty face.

Though they are faint glimmers, I see an acting potential (mostly realized) which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The key is in small gestures.

But really, the key is having Scorsese behind the camera.

It’s symbiotic.

Martin needed Chloë for this picture.

And vice versa.

We get a movie within a movie.

And (believe it or not) even a dream within a dream.

Poe is ringing his bell!

Or bells.

“Lost dream” says Wikipedia.

Yes.

It is as bitter a music as ever rained into Harry Partch’s boot heels.

To have one’s life work melted down for shoes.

Rendered.

To click the stone of Gare Montparnasse.

In an ever-more-sad procession.

Méliès becomes the vieux saltimbanque of which Baudelaire wrote.

Such is life.

We never expected to end up HERE.

Astounding!

-PD

Annie [1982)

Woof!

Yesterday was a rough day for me.

Yeah, nicotine withdrawal.

Ugh…

Maybe the roughest 24 hours of my life.

They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

I can neither confirm nor deny that.

But after a day like yesterday, I was ready for tomorrow.

And, to quote Stereolab, “tomorrow is already here”.

So when I saw this little gem on Netflix, I thought, “This is the perfect kinda movie I need tonight.  Something light.  Not too spicy.”

But as the classics of naïveté always do, this one reduced me to a sobbing snot factory.

[sorry for the vividness]

Back in the day (you know, the day), it didn’t matter to me who directed a movie.

[Auteur?

Is that like a really smart person?

Oh, no…that’s savant.]

But then I got into all this movie business.

And it started to matter.

Because certain directors consistently turned out magic…even when they were all-but-thwarted by external sources.

[and sometimes internal sources]

So it bears repeating that Annie was directed by THE John Huston.

[kinda like THE Ohio State University]

Apparently, Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Colombia Pictures thought in 2014 that Annie would be a good film to remake.

You know?

Because it’s just a musical, right?

And there had only been one other adaption of it (the one under review)…and that had been directed by some guy…Houston, or something…

So, yeah…let’s get Will Gluck (WHO?!?) and it’ll all be groovy, baby…yeah.

Well, I’m not here to pass judgment on a film I’ve never seen (Annie from 2014).

I’m just here to say, when you start fooling with perfection (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971]), then you’re probably in trouble.

Tim Burton got a pass (just barely) with his Charlie…

But I pity the Will Gluck,

ok…let’s discuss–

Why Remaking Annie Would Be A Wholly Unenviable Task.

Because John Huston started his directing career in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (!)…

Key Largo…The African Queen…

Yeah, those were his.

You know, Huston is not high in my list of favorite directors.

[maybe because I’m a moron]

But this film, Annie, which he made five years before he died, is really remarkable.

But who the hell am I, right?

I’m just a no-name in San Antonio, Texas.

AH!

San Antone…

Never felt so good!

Yes, the villain of our film, Carol Burnett, hails from my hometown.

It’s not often we can say that.

Lucille LeSueur (sorry, erm…Joan Crawford).

Pola Negri later in life (Apolonia Chalupec).

Yeah, that’s about it.

And Wings.

That’s San Antonio.

[as far as cinema goes]

But I’m here to tell you, John Huston’s Annie is really special!

Even Jay-Z digs these tunes (apparently).

[couldn’t care less]

Which is to say, sampling?  Cool.

Covering?  An entire film???

Again, I pity the fool…

Because Annie is an ass-kicker.

Yeah.

You’re gonna abuse animals?

Watch out.

Annie’s got some punches–some moves!

[and that’s before her karate lesson with Roger Minami]

{not to be confused with Mini Me}

Yeah…The Asp!

And Punjab!

[who was also in Live and Let Die (1973)]

Yeah, nothing Punjabi about Geoffrey Holder.

But that’s alright 🙂

These were the Reagan years.

And Annie is a not-so-gentle nudge for Republicans to embrace their warmer sides.

[Albert Finney rolling his eyes at the George Washington painting is priceless!]

So yeah…Annie is basically a good kid.

The best!

An animal lover.

A big heart.

Courage.

An encourager.

[As Punjab says, “Buddha (?!?) says, ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.'”]

Yeah, and Ann Reinking sees that joy in Annie.

I mean, this film has it all!

Bolsheviks!  Rockettes!  Greta Garbo!

Yes, there’s a film within a film.

And I think Edgar Poe would approve…with his glass half-full of brandy (and the other half absinthe).

Judging by Garbo, the year is 1936.

Tough year to be out of work.

And a good year to have some juniper berry syrup.

And a bathtub.

Yeah, Albert Finney knew the art of the deal.

Hardball.

[not the tripe on MSNBC]

The concept.

Aileen Quinn is really fantastic in this film.

Following Daddy Warbucks around.

Like on a Monopoly board.

Hands behind the back.

And Daddy’s gotta sell some fighter-bombers…and BUY, BUY copper!

Albert Finney is driving the economy.

Pushing the leading indicators.

And Annie is honest.

And a little honesty goes a long way.

And in sets fakery.

Looking for some dupes.

Yeah, you can only fool a Warbucks so long.

Nose upturned.

From Liverpool, mind you!

Bootstraps!  Horatio Alger crap!!!

And it ain’t crap.

Positive thinking.

Tomorrow.

I guess you gotta be willing to give it up.

The ultimate test of faith.

Where is your heart?

In steps FDR.

Infamy.

Who can know?

Why we fight?

So it’s up to us orphans to run down 5th Avenue.

If we have something to say.

Jailbreak!

These little G-Men (G-Women, in this case) are citizen journalists.

Town criers!

Extra!  Extra!  Read about the fakery!!!

Because time is of the essence.

And you gotta keep climbing even though you can see the steps run out.

God bless the parents of this world.

Those who want to give their kids a warm bed.

And sweet dreams.

Penny on the dollar for your fireworks!

You can even ride the elephant 🙂

-PD

True Grit [1969)

To get through life, you need grit.

Toughness.

I know of no tougher people than my parents.

And they have been an infinite inspiration to me.

So it is a pleasure to review what is one of my dad’s favorite films.

He always told me to watch this, but I guess I had some subliminal aversion to Westerns.

Well, dear friends, this here is a masterpiece.

I haven’t written much about Westerns (aside from the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns I reviewed long ago).

I know the genre is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Jean-Luc Godard commented once that his soulmate Anne-Marie Miéville really couldn’t stand this genre, whereas Monsieur Godard has been open about his admiration for John Ford and other directors of the American Western.

But here we have a film by Henry Hathaway.

Sure, John Wayne is in the movie (big league!), but it was Hathaway behind the camera ostensibly calling the shots.

You might know Hathaway from the film noir Call Northside 777.

Or perhaps The Desert Fox:  The Story of Rommel (starring the inimitable James Mason).

But he also directed Rawhide and The Sons of Katie Elder (another flick starring The Duke).

But let’s bring out the big gun.

John Wayne was born Marion (!) Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.

That’s right.  Not Texas.  Not Oklahoma.

Iowa.

So how did John Wayne become such a badass?

Much of it might be attributable to his attention to detail.

And just what (or who) was he paying attention to?

Wyatt Earp.

That’s right.

Deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona.

But let’s get on to this fantastic film, shall we?

The real surprise is Kim Darby.

Sure, Glen Campbell is great here, but Darby is sensational!

And though this might be thought of as Kim Darby’s only significant film role of her career, it is timeless.

She knocked it out of the park as Mattie Ross.

All our actors are gritty, but the real toss-up is between Kim Darby (who was 22 at the time) and John Wayne (who was 62).

Toughness is the theme of the movie.

He or she who is toughest will overcome.

Sure, some obstacles are insurmountable.

But GRIT will get you through some harrowing situations.

It’s almost funny when a film (like this one) includes minor roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.  Duvall’s role is a bit more substantial, but the main focus is on the troika of Campbell, Darby, and Wayne (particularly the latter two).

Fans of the recent film Sicario will notice precursors to “rough justice” present all throughout True Grit.

But director Hathaway manages to make a G-rated film.

For that and other reasons, I am recommending this as a family film (though it may be unsuitable for particularly young ones).

The narrative device which keeps the film “all ages” is that Mattie is supposed to be 14 years old (though, as stated, Kim Darby [Mattie] was actually 22).

The action of our film centers around Fort Smith, Arkansas (at first) and later in the “Indian Territory” around McAlester, Oklahoma.

The film features prominently a Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver a.k.a. Colt Dragoon Revolver (.44 caliber).

Firearms aside, John Wayne is magnificent in the denouement when he takes on four armed horsemen.

That said, a Sharps rifle comes in particular handy for Wayne in a near-death imbroglio.

Glen Campbell’s greatest moment is just getting on the horse and setting the beast in motion.

It is this scene in which Campbell proves himself to be just as gritty as Darby and Wayne.

But the film is not over yet.

And we see John Wayne take action:  as a leader!

Doing what needs to be done!

But the scene which brought tears to my eyes was when John Wayne bet on the toughness of Kim Darby.

And that is the message.

What great encouragement it is when people have faith in us!

When they say, “I know you can do it!”

We may not believe it ourselves, but their faith lifts us up.

We think, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”

When we’re at our lowest point.

Those who stand beside us with compassion are displaying that priceless characteristic of true grit.

The very end of the film is quite touching as well.

We see an actor 40 years younger than her leading man offer a hand of friendship with an act of love.

It’s not even romantic.

It’s just classy.

Humane.

In truth, very poetic.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film for all doubters of John Wayne and the Western genre in general.

Yee-Haw!

-PD

Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently).  And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970:  Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971:  The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance.  But I was Amish.  I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life).  And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown:  San Antonio.

It was a drug hit.  Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home.  The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years.  Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray.  Bill is an old hand (no pun intended).  Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film.  Of course, this is a comedy.  So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny.  They’re good at it.  It has a point.  But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting.  It’s effortless.  Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté.  Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat!  The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

The Princess Bride [1987)

In this world, we look for goodness.

And we think back.

Buttercup.

The name is not quite right.

But Robin Wright is perfect.

To conjure memories of wonder.

Rapunzel.

La fille aux cheveux de lin.

Ahh, yes…

We are getting closer.

Sick.  Bedridden.

Fever dreams of distant possibilities.

And Secretary of Defense, William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

The kissing had to be cut out.

The censors, you understand.

And perhaps we have saved these kisses for the finish line.

As you wish.  As you like it.

Have it your way.  I love you.

But enter from offstage the Dread Pirate Pico de Gallo.

Lisping speech impediments abound.

Wallace Shawn in The Seventh Seal.

And the sartorial strap of André the Giant.

Grenoble.

We are getting closer.

We learn that Saul Berenson is a very good actor.

Mandy Patinkin.

Hound Dog Taylor didn’t need no bass.

Enter from orchestra pit Johnny Cash.

When you are tumbling in love…weightless…in an orchard of God’s making.

Abloom.  In Stockholm.

Pretexts.  False flags.  It’s all here.

But Rob Reiner insists on cinema.

From the quicksand.

Don’t believe in yourself.

To his credit.

Tesla.

But this one goes to 50.

Years.

Off your life.

Two skinned appendages.  Comes with the package.

Houellebecq quote.  Creeley.

Could have sworn Mel Smith was Viv Savage (David Kaff).

Hyperlinks to Rare Bird (Charisma, Polydor).

Abandon all hope…in the hand of Dante.

The cries of the innocent.

Clouds of blood.

Slaying the witch.

On live television.

Strategic management from Stephen Hawking.

Weekend at Bernie’s.

Professional courtesy.

The only good thing Billy Crystal ever did.

Revenge.

Daniel Craig in writer’s strike watching The Princess Bride.

Voilá Quantum of Solace.

And Tosca.

Rachmaninov would live again…after the first symphony…in the Symphonic Dances…quoting himself…like John Fogerty…but just momentarily…to remember…conquering a state…percussing an albino…leaping from a cliff…holding up the memory of the dead…and thick glasses…on a young boy…this string quartet is for you.

“Feel sick and dirty/More dead than alive”

No Houellebecq.

“I could sleep for a thousand years…Different colors made of tears”

I was friends with André.  And he with me.

Horse pills.

Bo Diddley.

Diddley bow.

Primal scream.

The holocaust cloak in Histoire(s) du cinéma.

“Look out honey ’cause I’m using technology”

Mawwiage.

Abdomen smited.

Come too far.

Not limousine liberal.

Stand down.

“She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes”

Leaves two.

Hello lady!

Honor thy father and mother.

 

-PD

 

The Addams Family [1991)

Hello, dear friends 🙂

I was in the hospital last weekend for an appendectomy.

And I am trying to make the final push for my master’s degree.

Seventeen more days.

But the big story, nationally, internationally, is that Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency.

I made no secrets about my desire for him to achieve this goal.

Which brings us to The Addams Family.

Released during the latter half of the George H.W. Bush administration.

Not quite an “80s comedy”, but close.

And a premonition of sorts for that crime family that would rule the majority of the 1990s:  the Clinton family.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld turns in a fairly decent picture here.

It’s no masterpiece, but it’s certainly watchable.

But at the center of this tale is Uncle Fester.

Christopher Lloyd’s depiction of Fester (pre-shave…Gordon Craven) is a spitting image of the Tony Podesta to whom we were introduced by way of WikiLeaks.

The less-hirsute Fester (still craven) could well be brother John Podesta.

But Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman could also well be the Gomez Addams of this story.

Ms. Clinton, then, would be the diabolical (though far less camera-friendly) Morticia Addams.

Dan Hedaya does an excellent job as the Addams’ lawyer.

There’s plenty to pass for “spirit cooking” in this family film.

Indeed, The Addams Family is a bit racy for young minds (in my opinion).

The “family” operates on fairly simple principles:  good is bad.  And bad is good.

Happiness is sadness.

A bit like Tim Buckley’s album Happy Sad (1969).

The Addams family abides by a code of vengeance against all who betray them.

Vince Foster.

Christina Ricci is cute as she is chilling in this early performance as daughter Wednesday Addams.

The most charming aspect of this film may well be Thing:  the disembodied hand/family pet.

We learn a few things.

You can’t successfully torture a masochist (Morticia).

Which begs the question…who is the real ghoul behind Hillary?

The most prominent of the “deep state” (not deep enough) is George Soros.

And so even stars like Hillary have craven masters.

Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá is excellent as Gomez.

Carel Struycken (Twin Peaks) is very strong as Lurch.

This film would have been better with more Cousin Itt and less MC Hammer.

Unfortunately, Cousin Itt was staged in a particularly Jar Jar Binks sort of way.

Most importantly, there will be no Bill Clinton sequel anytime soon.

 

-PD

The Cat in the Hat [1971)

TV special…

“We interrupt your regularly-scheduled program to bring you a flight of fancy free.”

Dr. Seuss.  SS.  Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If the PhD proves too difficult–too stultifying, then just drop out.  Right?

David H. DePatie.  Friz [sic] Freleng.

Allan Sherman is great as the voice of the title character.  The eponymous feline.

But most interesting is the fish:  Karlos K. Krinklebein.

(!)

You can’t make this shit up.

Krinkelbein?

Perhaps it’s Carlos…

In any case, it’s Daws Butler voicing the goldfish.

Directed by Hawley Pratt (who graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn).

Again with the not making of the shit up.

But most important are the readymade, pre-reified Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Woe unto Thurl Ravenscroft for voicing merely one Thing (Thing 1, mind you!).

He was Tony the Tiger.

(!)

“They’re grrreat!”

The dumbest, most genius tagline ever.

Thou canst not maketh up such as this…on the 400th year of our laird.

The Grinch stole Christmas in 1966.  Right there on CBS.

Thurl crooned “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and became doubly immortal.

Never underestimate Tony the Tiger.

Or the Tourette’s Guy.

Danny.

Anthony L. Six.

A weird last name.

Brilliant!

And Jared.

YouTube diamond.

Back to the cat…our composer Dean Elliott.

Eleven years after composing the score for Sex Kittens Go to College, he was in the animation business (more or less).

To go from Mijanou Bardot (Brigitte’s sister) to the moss-covered three-handled family credenza.

Credenza…altar for food of the elite.  Most elite.  Papal.

With faith (belief), the food taster.  Not discriminating flavor.  Checking poison.

Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld.  Back to the (sex) kittens.

It’s the real deal.  Chuck Jones.  Producer.

Indeed, Siberia.

Indeed.

Sympathy.  And Yerself is Steam.

It’s mania.  It’s depression.

Are you experienced?  (¿With backmasking)

That’s the sombrero psychedelia.

chapka in a shlyapa.

Cat matryoshka.

EmrNyisIdtdGelrMeyA

 

-PD

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

The Kid [1921)

Sometimes we don’t want to see the same thing again.

I, for example, rewatch movies before writing about them.

I want the impression fresh in my mind.

There’s always something to be said for detached distance from subject matter, but I prefer to experience the film anew if possible.

I had seen Chaplin’s The Kid long ago.  It had impressed me, but something made me a bit wary about rewatching it.

I love Chaplin, but I guess I just wasn’t in the mood.

Today has been a weird day (or “sad and lonesome day” as the Bob Dylan tune in my head has been repeating).

But I went for it.  What the heck!

And I’m glad I did.

I hope I will be able to say the same tomorrow (or sometime this week) regarding another subject.

I am always quite candid here.

I feel it’s my responsibility.  If you study the history of the novel (not that this is a novel) you will notice that writers in the West gradually started to realize the responsibility they had.  I feel that everywhere.  That’s why Facebook is too much for me.  With Facebook I am a howling wreck.  I feel the need to shout from the rooftops anything which might help my fellow humans.  Of course my judgment is not perfect.

But back to my prior allusion.  I made a decision tonight to go see my doctor about changing or adjusting my medications.

Yes, you who might snicker “this guy is crazy” are not totally off the mark.

I have suffered from anxiety my whole life.  Once I recognized it for what it was, my life improved dramatically.  Getting help was a life-changer.

I never had much depression.  Very rarely.  But the last year or so has been different.  For the first time my depression is outpacing my anxiety.

To be sure, I still have significant anxiety issues from time to time, but my depression has been like a blanket of stifling weight.  I feel like a bee drowning in honey.

And so we shall see.  Am I afraid?  Of course.  I’m afraid of change.  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.  But I’m afraid it is broke.  Me.  I’m kinda broken.

And so I am saying this because I want other people to get help too if they are feeling the same way.  I know that help can be cost-prohibitive, but taking that first little step is a big deal.

We change.  The medicines we take have to change with us.

It’s scary.  But I am lucky.  Many people around the world have much more serious things to worry about.  They don’t even have a doctor.

And so I hope my visit to the doctor will turn out as well as this reviewing of The Kid.  It is a touching story.  Chaplin is great as always, but Jackie Coogan kind of steals the show.  He’s “the kid”.

This is a cute story which is fit for the whole family.  It just might be the best way to introduce kids to silent films.  The version in the Criterion Collection has a musical score (which makes a big difference).  The score is, of course, written by the multitalented Chaplin.  It was part of the 1971 rerelease of this film.

Thank you to my readers for bearing with me.  I hope I will be more cheerful in the future.  Best wishes to everybody!

 

-PD