Brooklyn [2015)

I do believe my tear ducts are sore on account of this film.

Some writing will be meaningful, and some meaningless (depending on the audience).

Don’t you keep anything for yourself?

Very little…

Because I believe in the beauty of people…out there…in the vast world…the goodness of people…in heart and in soul.

It’s like Titanic without the shipwreck.

((lachrymal vases))

Ireland should be very proud of Saoirse Ronan.

And so should The Bronx.

From Howth and environs to Jerzy Kosiński’s 1982 masterpiece novel Pinball.

I have written a great deal about Saoirse in the past.

She is my favorite actress working in film.

[Thora Birch needs some gigs.  Kat Dennings needs to ditch 2 Broke Girls or CBS needs to enter the Hulu joint venture.  Anamaria Marinca and Dorotheea Petre need gigs.  Myriem Roussel:  where are you?  And finally Adèle Exarchopoulos:  you are on the right track!]

But Saoirse Ronan is unique among my favorite actresses for a variety of reasons.

Brooklyn gives her a chance to employ her Irish accent–to accentuate rather than mask it.

Quite frankly, this is a brilliant film!

John Crowley did a masterful job as director.

Emory Cohen is really good herein.

Julie Walters is hilarious!

Fiona Glascott is darn-near perfect.

But this whole thing is really about Saoirse Ronan.

John Crowley surrounded her with an older style of filmmaking.

It fits the story snugly.

Saoirse shines through like no other actress.

She is a ruby with the hardness of a diamond.

Etching her name into film history at the young age of 22.

Hollywood is not dead as long as she continues to get the starring roles she deserves.

 

-PD

Violet and Daisy [2011)

Damn…  Damn.  Much more arresting than a discussion of exploding genres.  When a film kicks you in the gut.

Filmmakers study the different reactions which can be elicited through the medium of cinema.

They study their own reactions.  They observe the reactions of those around them.

They build up an arsenal of techniques.

And if the filmmaker hits it just right the effect is devastating.

Director Geoffrey S. Fletcher did just that in this unlikely masterpiece.

From the outset it appears that we are in for a hackneyed Tarantino-aping ride, but it gets better.  Much, much better!

The genre is superviolence.  Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were merely updates on the Kubrick treatment of A Clockwork Orange.

But the auteur Fletcher explodes the genre (to borrow a metaphor from James Monaco) and makes it do things previously unknown.

The superviolence genre can’t handle the intellect injected into its flippant form in Violet & Daisy (and thus a new genre is born).  The genre evolves.

Saoirse Ronan is magnificent as always, but she has great backup provided by her partner Alexis Bledel.  Yet, the real star of this miracle film is James Gandolfini.

There is no way of knowing what plot-twisting brilliance is afoot when you sit down to view this flick.

The surprise of this film (for me) also hinged on just how good Bledel was in the role of Violet.  Bledel and Ronan have unbelievable chemistry in this strange tightrope of a film.

I am stunned by how good this film was…

One last note:  Gandolfini’s performance here is so convincing that it seems impossible this was anything other than his last film.  What a masterful turn!

See this and be enlighteningly shocked.

-PD

How I Live Now [2013)

I have a keen eye for bullshit.  But only in certain areas.

We all have our specialties.  We all have our areas of knowledge.

Just to be clear, this film is not bullshit.  This is quite a good film.

But there is an element of this film which is pure propaganda bollocks.

I’m very sensitive to propaganda.  Allergic, you might say.

On the one hand, I can sniff out a false-flag a mile off.

On the other, I make a habit of rewatching James Bond films.

No one is totally immune to propaganda.

It takes a deep understanding of the self to assess what is really going on.

Movies, music, literature, painting…all of these arts play on the emotions.

Artists are ALL emotionally intelligent insofar as their lexicon of emotional triggers is robust and bursting at the seams.

This does not mean that artists are well-adjusted.  Rather, the reality is often quite the contrary.

In this film, our heroine Saoirse Ronan is not at all well-adjusted.

Upon first seeing her arrive at the airport (our film’s first scene) we assume she might be some kind of pop star.

The reality is that she’s merely a spoiled brat from America who’s pilfered Devendra Banhart’s stylist.

Yes, Daisy (Ronan) has quite a look here.  She oozes “hip” from the outset.  She also oozes the angst of conflict.

An angry girl.  Never knew her mother.  Voices in her head.  On psychotropic medication.  Hypochondriac.

It is hard to confront this film without knowing that it is “post-apocalyptic” (such a buzzword in the less-talented cadres of Hollywood).

Being so informed, we notice as Daisy’s plane lands in scene #1 that Paris has been bombed.  It looks serious.

Daisy seemingly couldn’t care less.

And just where has she landed?  Somewhere in England or Great Britain.

And so off to the country to stay with cousins for the summer.  Not her usual routine.  First time to visit these relatives.

The story is powerful.  The story is lovely.  The acting is tremendous.

But slowly the bullshit creeps in and cannot be ignored.

And just what bullshit of propaganda has this film swallowed to then spit out at us?

Terrorism.  The oogly-boogly bogeyman of hidden hand terrorism.

It is all very unimaginative.  There is nothing here to indicate that the writers or directors have ever gotten their news from

anyplace other than the BBC or CNN.

Though they never say “Islamic terrorists,” the frightfully dumb premise is advanced with absolutely no critical thinking evident.

In other words, if this film was a religion, its Bible would be the 9/11 Commission Report (the layman’s title).

And so these terrorists with magical powers somehow invade an otherwise fine movie.

It is like the Red Scare.  The terrorists are everywhere.  They’re unstoppable.  Ha…

It is really sad when such hackneyed brainwashing passes for erudition.

And so, in some ways this film is no better than Fox News.  Sure, films are allowed to take poetic license and “play” on our fears.

But in our current world, the stakes are too high to sink millions of dollars into vehicles such as this which merely reinforce the lies of the fraudulent global war ON terror.

How many times must it be repeated that terror cannot be fought with more terror?

That is like aiming to eliminate the scourge of forest fires by burning the flames themselves.  Ludicrous.

But we do not simply refer to the error of approach.

The fundamental truth is that the war on terror is a charade.

There is big money to be made by blaming Islam for all the world’s evils.

And as Islamic countries are plundered we see the cowed world populace let their brothers and sisters in the Middle East be sacrificed for an inhuman system which needs total control to expand.

It really is, then, a joke to talk about free markets.

And so, to put it succinctly, we have many intelligence agencies to “thank” for our current imbroglio.

The American CIA must certainly take a bow.  The NSA likewise should be recognized for their part in the global reign of terror.

But let us not leave out Mossad.  Cui bono?

But really, it takes a village of intelligence agencies to raise the demonic child known as ISIS.  And so we must thank James Bond’s MI6.  We should likewise not leave out the Saudis and Pakistan’s ISI.

The artist formerly known as al-Qaeda (now rebranded as ISIS) has been very useful to the Western powers.

Russia and China had the opportunity to call bullshit long ago, but they squandered that moment.  And now the world really is closer to WWIII.

It is not easy to pay attention to a film which gives credence to fake terrorism.  Fake terror.  Synthetic terrorism.  False-flag terrorism.

But all is not lost.

Someone (perhaps director Kevin Macdonald) has at least read his Orwell.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, things go very badly for all involved when lies become truth.  When self-inflicted attacks precipitate martial law…

And so the British troops in this film are not portrayed in a propagandistic light.  Quite the contrary, they display the insolence of misplaced power.  Power upon which there are no checks…

The government troops in this film are paranoiacs with automatic weapons.  Sound familiar?  Yes.  We are told that such types are a menace to society (and they are).  Unfortunately, your tax dollars are paying their salaries.

But this is not about military bashing.  To extrapolate from the statements of NSA whistleblower Wiliam Binney, it’s only in the upper 15% where you see the real hardcore corruption.  What do we mean “corrupt”???

Those who would sell their own country out.  The moles in the FBI and CIA who allowed and facilitated (respectively) 9/11.  The high-ranking military and government officials who were likewise moles.  The highest level.

And so we have great sympathy for our military men and women knowing that their corrupt leaders (at the very top) have no real allegiance to country or fellow soldier.  There are exceptions, but consider the words of Binney.  The top 15%…that is where the real culprits are.  They are among the good leaders.

But this begs a question:  does one have to be a scumbag to advance to such echelons of power?  I’m afraid the answer may very well be a resounding “yes”…  And so, at the upper level of governments, intelligence agencies, militaries, etc. we are faced with finding the lesser of evils.  We would much prefer adulterers, drug addicts, etc. to psychopathic criminals.

I will be the first to admit that my diatribe is not really fair to this film.

This is quite an excellent film.  But artists cannot play with gelatinous archetypes like “terrorism” and expect a free pass.

There is glorious acting in this film (for Christ’s sake).

It pains me to write so much about the premise.

For fuck’s sake, don’t copy the fear-mongering of Fox News.  Those “journalists” will have their Nuremberg.  They will have no press passes.  They’ll be on the stand.

Don’t sully yourself in that stream.  Look at your box office.  $60,213.  Sixty-thousand measly dollars!  If you had put Ronan and George MacKay in a room together with no script they would have surpassed the trite constraints laid upon them (presumably) by Meg Rosoff’s novel. Dear Rosoff:  whatever paper you read, cancel the subscription.

-PD

I Could Never Be Your Woman [2007)

We get older.  It’s hard.  Our lives didn’t turn out like fairytales.  And yet, we push on.  We live.  We work.  We study.  We survive.  Oh, how much it can mean…a kind word.  A moment extra taken to be gentle.  Humble.  Respectful.  Thankful.

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I threw on this film.  I’ve sought out Saoirse Ronan films because I have been so impressed with her acting in Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Suffice it to say, some of her lesser-known films…I never would have watched otherwise.  But it’s good.  It’s good to exit the genres and areas with which we are most comfortable.

Some of these newer films…there is a trepidation which precedes the viewing.  I wonder if I can make it past the first 10 or 15 minutes.  Let me say quite plainly:  this is a pretty damn good film.

Credit director and writer Amy Heckerling with tapping into a vein of stories which need to be told.  Likewise, Michelle Pfeiffer was just the right choice to express the marginalized stories which come to the forefront in this film.  Paul Rudd is a shockingly-good support here.

You want marginalized?  Well, this film went straight to DVD in the U.S.  That’s an insult.  I don’t care what the market research said:  that was a mistake.  Film history will vindicate these pictures which were treated thusly.

Over the hill…  40.  Women have it hard.  And so do dudes like Adam Pearl (Paul Rudd).  Teenage girls have it particularly hard.  Saoirse really does a masterful job of delineating a tough role.

I will admit:  this film made me tearful on several occasions.  Jon Lovitz…yeah, that’s the ticket.  Fred Willard…spot on.  But no, neither of those two.  It’s that look on Pfeiffer’s face when Rudd first reads in an audition.  It’s the right look.  Taking pride in your craft as a dramatist…even if you’ve been reduced to producing prepubescent pablum.

I’ve been in that chair.  A lifetime’s work for one or two lines that might be remembered by history.  I’ve been on that date.  I live that life every day.  Age.  And I’ve been the nerd.  Whoa have I been the nerd!

I’ve never lied about my age, but I know the industries where that becomes commonplace.  No, I’ve never gotten that whole lying thing down very well.  Yeah…me and Napoleon Dynamite would be best friends.  I guess that makes me Pedro…

Ah, but belief…  You can hear it in Bob Dylan’s new album Shadows in the Night.  We never stop believing.  We can’t.  We’d better not.  And Tracey Ullman is in our ear with the bad news…

You are right to be paranoid.  In general, the world is set up to get you down.  Globalizing…hah!  Perhaps generalizing?  Past aggressive.  Passed aggressive.  We hear the phrase and we assimilate into our patois.  The phrases don’t come with user’s manuals.

It’s a set-up.  I hyphenate when I please–when I’m damned good and ready.

And so I cry that I was human.  But most of all we cry for ourselves.  When the bottom falls out of your little corner of the entertainment industry.  This isn’t Los Angeles.

Yeah, I can relate.  With all of it.  Trying on pants.  Damn it.

Some people think they have me all figured out.  But mostly, they don’t think.  About me:

I don’t have a demo.  I have finished films.  Call Harry Smith from beyond the grave.  He’ll vouch for me.

Beware of the fake.  I just want to put food on the table.  The only thing that can’t be faked nowadays is food on the table.

Fuck it.  Gimme GMO.  My high horse rode off long ago.  Soft kill the shit outta me.  You’ll never know the sadness of the streets.

And for that you are poorer.  Consider it like a fine wine…or a classic foreign film.  Oops, sorry:  no corkscrew and no subtitles.

The Fonz reads Sartre…laughing.  Eat your heart out David Lynch.

You should have given him another chance.  You’re so responsible.  You threw away a heroic love.

I stayed as true as I could.  And now nobody calls.  My emails go unanswered.

Yes, the time stamp gives it away.  The BBC was 20 minutes early.  WTC 7.

Suck away.  I have moved on.  No, I’m not happy.

When Hal Blaine hits the floor tom and snare after the intro…like the world comes to a violent halt:  “Wouldn’t it be nice…”

We get older.  Mother Nature calls it creative destruction…maybe.  When the shit hits the tiara.

-PD

Death Defying Acts [2007)

It is shameful.  No, she says.  Who taught you that?  My first review of a film by a female director.  A director who happens to be female.  A nearly perfect film.

Silly me.  Gillian Armstrong is a very different person from Kathryn Bigelow.  Born almost exactly a year apart.  One making art films.  The other shilling for the cocksuckers known as the New World Order.

Zero Dark Thirty.  It is shameful.  9/11 Commission Report.  Shameful.  War on Terror.  Shame.  Shame.

The last words of the mother of Western civilization.  What were they?  Maybe Oswald Spengler was there by her bedside.  What did she whisper?  What were her worries?  Her aspirations for us?  Will she forgive us for throwing away our gifts in an endless magic show?

To be forgiven, perhaps one must repent.  Western civilization is balls-deep into a fabricated war against Islam.

Forgive me.  I have gone off track.  Good films bring the sediment to the surface.

And thus I close the window on Kathryn Bigelow.  She’s made her buck on a story.  Fanciful.  Opportunist.  More likely spawn of Satan than complete moron.

But Gillian Armstrong has no such agenda in Death Defying Acts.  We get a Welsh lady (Catherine Zeta-Jones) playing a Scot.  We get an Irish girl born in the Bronx (Saoirse Ronan) playing a Scot.  And finally we get an English-born Aussie (Guy Pearce) portraying a Hungarian-American escapologist from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ahh, Appleton…  It was not so long ago that I spoke of thee.  Terry Zwigoff.  Ghost World.  Trying to make sense out of the final scene, I imagined Thora Birch journeying back to Zwigoff’s hometown.  Houdini’s hometown.

It’s all a trick.  Until it isn’t.  Es tut mir leid.  Wo bist du?  Kaddish.  Yes, Leonard Bernstein famously noted that God was/is in this [pointing] glass of orange juice.  Kaddish.

This is truly the age of anxiety.  Auden.  May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity.

It is Thanksgiving with soaked acorns.  bon appétit!

When there is seemingly nothing to praise, and then we realize how much we have.  And we do not begrudge the loss.  We give thanks for all the times of presence.

Ah, but we must face Montreal.  Yanqui U.X.O.  Leonard Cohen.  Philip Guston.

Maybe it was a famous blue raincoat draped over his shoulders.  There in the graveyard.  Where they have been living a bit prematurely.

No, I think rather it is a bird on a wire.  Harry had saved all his ribbons…for thee.  He was the partisan battling himself.  Push.  Push.  Harder.  Be perfect.  Be superhuman.  And then let his guard down for a moment…

“I was cautioned to surrender.  This I could not do.”

No.  Fuck you.

“I’ve lost my wife and children.”  You stole my country, he says.  Your country stole my youth.  I chose poorly.

“She died without a whisper.”  Tarantino is the worst filmmaker working today.  For that he deserves some credit.

“There were three of us this morning.  I’m the only one this evening.”  Double suicide on the Left Bank.  Guy Debord.  And who?  And who else?

An old man in the attic.  Hid us for the night.  […]  He died without surprise.

Thank you.  ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

طيب الله اسمه العظيم إلى الأبد، وإلى الأبد.

J’ai la France entière

-PD

City of Ember [2008)

Looking at the DVD cover for this film lowered my expectations.  Harry Treadaway cut a rather effete figure and Saoirse Ronan bore somewhat of a sartorial resemblance to her Susie Salmon role (The Lovely Bones).  Fortunately, the dust jacket designers did the disk a disservice as this is actually quite a good movie.

I make a habit of not scrutinizing the list of players prior to viewing films (especially for newer fare such as this).  It wasn’t long into this picture before the phrase “Thank God for Bill Murray!” rang resoundingly in my head.  Indeed, Murray was just what this film needed on many levels.  Conversely, I’m not sure Murray needed this film, but that’s neither here nor there.

We are there.  Ember.  One immediately feels references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and perhaps also City of Lost Children.  One thing is certain:  the beginning of this affair bears a striking resemblance to the Jeunet film Amélie in its focus on lost, hidden, and wrapped secret items.  One might assume that Ember’s writer Jeanne DuPrau was culturally borrowed from the French by producer Tom Hanks (among others), but her scant Wikipedia bio lists her simply as an American writer from San Francisco.

On to the film proper we see an admirable directing job by Gil Kenan.  In the lights which fall from the artificial sky, we might think of that quasi-classic The Truman Show (1998) (and when the lights emit showers of sparks, perhaps the reference is The Natural from 1984).  City of Ember’s $55 million budget is apparent in the lavish sound-stage city.  There is quite a parallel to the National Treasure franchise (particularly its second installment Book of Secrets) in the end segment of our film.  The narrowly-escaped deluge bears mention as Book of Secrets was released the year before City of Ember.  Even the large staircase to the outer world echoes the original National Treasure movie of 2004.  Of course, we can’t forget that a similar style of filmmaking was already successful at least as early as The Goonies (1985).

Another Saoirse Ronan film also would later feature a sort of underground city (The Host, 2013).  Further parallels could perhaps be drawn between the pernicious blackouts of our film and the home state of our author DuPrau (California).

In simplest terms, Bill Murray is hilarious as always (when allowed to work to his strengths).  Murray plays the mayor of our doomed civilization…generally a scumbag throughout.  Harry Treadaway’s first few lines are delivered rather starched, but he improves vastly over the course of the film to give an all-around fine performance.  Saoirse Ronan (my reason for watching in the first place) is excellent as always.  Her sprinting streaks as a messenger presage the awesome talents of Hanna which she would pull off a few years later.

Truth be known, this is unrecognizable from a Disney movie, but I do not fault it for that in the least.  It is good to see even these largely sanitized stories point an indicative finger at the national security state and the way it operates.  The corruption of power is timeless.  In yet another National Treasure borrowing, the Pipeworks technician Sul keeps the gears of the hydro plant working just as Ed Harris had held the gate open for Nicolas Cage and company to escape the flooded Cibola.  Oh, and the sun also rises…

PD

The Host [2013)

Science fiction is often a metaphor…and this movie is about the national security state (whether it knows it or not).  It would be easy to fault this film for its trite trappings, but if one has reason to give the film a chance…  My reason was Saoirse Ronan.

I remember being a big fan of Thora Birch after seeing Ghost World.  [I’m still a big fan.]  The lengths to which film fans go to see their favorite players is sometimes remarkable.  My admiration went so far as to watch Dungeons & Dragons (2000).  Boy, I wish I could get those 107 minutes back!

I can’t echo the same sentiment about The Host.  This is truly a fine film.  Granted, it is a pale imitation of Hanna (2011), but I believe that Hanna will stand as one of the best films of all time.

What we do have is a dystopian “failure to communicate.”  This is essentially the problem with the national security state.  No reasonable person can seriously believe that the men and women of the CIA, NSA, and other such agencies are truly sitting around frying up babies on spits.  The problem is that the technology has far outstripped the human skills of these agencies.  For every action which is automated–every process given over to a computer…these agencies lose the war they think they are winning.

When agencies such as MI6 and Mossad no longer have popular support, their days are numbered.  The American intelligence community has failed to recognize that the war is not against “terrorists,” but rather for Americans.  “Hearts and minds” went the old phrase…  The world’s most powerful intelligence agencies are losing the human relations race almost as much as they are losing the information race.

Every once in a while there is a crack in this monolithic façade.  Not so long ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski (perhaps inadvertently) blurted out the real score of both the information and interpersonal communications races during a speech in Canada (Toronto, I believe).  It may have been a Council on Foreign Relations function, but really:  who cares?  The sentiment was echoed on the floor of Congress some years back by Hillary Clinton.  Whether explicit or not, these cracks indicate the panic of highly intelligent and heavily-invested players on the world stage.

Technology brings with it a certain uncertainty:  an undefinable amount of risk.  The same can be said of democracy.  It is no wonder that certain American Founding Fathers (Alexander Hamilton, for instance) felt ill at ease about the prospect of “government by the people.”  But this fear only shows weakness.  When power is fearful, power shows its ass.  Obverse and reverse.  We are used to seeing the obverse, but we must remember there is a man behind that wizard curtain.

Diane Kruger impressed me with her articulate acting in the National Treasure movies.  Here, she represents the sheen of the national security state.  She is like Shannon Bream on FOX News:  a neocon trophy anchor.  In truth, her character is staged in almost an identical way as that of Cate Blanchett in Hanna.  The accoutrements of power in The Host also have a ubiquitous and literal sheen in the form of mirrored-paint (chrome).  It is not far from the cheese factor of Sphere (1998).

Yet, The Host truly does have something to offer…and that is primarily due to the acting prowess of Ronan.  The major addition is the superb support of William Hurt.  In his character “Jeb” we see the dreamer mentality of American ingenuity which stretches back at least to Benjamin Franklin.  We also see in Hurt’s depiction the presence of John Wayne and other noble examples of simple morality from the American western genre of film.  What is really at issue is consequentialist morality vs. deontological morality.  Consequentialists (such as the rational aliens of our film) would argue that their ends justify their means.  Deontological circumspection (as in the case of Hurt’s character) holds that certain acts are repulsive in and of themselves (ontology) and therefore to be considered in such light.

Hurt’s character goes against the grain (Huysmans, anyone?) by refusing to kill the alien which has occupied the body of his niece.  His hunch turns out to be right:  his niece is still alive somewhere deep down inside there.  In Hurt’s character and his milieu we see the “prepper” mentality which has remained strong in America, but most of all we see the imagination to think conceptually.  Uncle Jeb is the only one to give credence to the thought which those around him spurn.  It is possible.

Much has been made about the American intelligence community’s “failure of imagination” regarding 9/11 all those many years ago, but I believe that’s rubbish.  However, the only way the U.S. will ever heal and move forward in an evolutionary way is for those “in the know” to come forward in numbers and ways heretofore unseen.  Likewise, those upset with even the most senior of the military-industrialists must be prepared to embrace the unique wisdom they have.  It is hard to talk about such things in precise terms owing to the nature of the dispute, but ultimately the powerful and the powerless need each other.

-PD

Atonement [2007)

English films are, on the whole, dreadfully boring.  I almost didn’t make it past the first 20 minutes, but I’m very glad I did.  Joe Wright has the directorial ability to make even this vapid setting come to life…eventually.

My whole reason for watching was to see another Saoirse Ronan film.  She had a very difficult role here…and not, one would imagine, an entirely pleasant one.  Funny how a film can hinge on a single word…that word, for this film, being cunt.

That joke isn’t funny anymore to our protagonist Robbie Turner.  In an episode which bears a striking resemblance to Godard’s “Montparnasse-Levallois” from the anthology film Paris vu par… (itself inspired by a Giraudoux story circa 1910), Robbie sends the wrong letter–an exasperated version which he never meant to see the light of day.  Not only is it sent, it is read by Saoirse’s young character before she passes it on to her older sister Cecilia.

When Saoirse catches Robbie and Cecilia having sex, she is convinced that Robbie is indeed a sex maniac.  Chalk all this up to the sexually repressive remnants of a Victorian age not long past.  The year, after all, is 1935.

I won’t give you a blow by blow, but the young girl’s misinterpretation of events (she takes the act of sex which she walked in on as an attack though it was just a passionate moment) leads her to circumstantially link Robbie to a child’s rape.  The actual rapist gets away unscathed while Robbie takes the blame and spends four years in prison.  His only option arises when WWII starts and he can decide to stay in prison or join the military.

As Robbie chooses the latter, we see some fantastic filmmaking from Wright.  The most haunting is the scene on the beach at Dunkirk where retreating British soldiers have massed.  I have seen few shots as complete in their cinematic poetry as the wrecked beach and army with a Ferris wheel spinning langourously behind them.

Another moment of pure film poetry comes when the grown up Saoirse (played wonderfully by Romola Garai) floats across a hospital ward to the strains of Debussy’s Clair de lune.  Having just watched a French soldier die from a horrible head wound, she is growing up and soon will realize that she had been wrong about Robbie.  She is tipped off to the latter when she visits a movie theater and sees in a newsreel that the actual rapist (owner of a chocolate factory) had strangely married the sexually abused girl (Lola).  Briony (Saoirse’s character, but now played by Garai) deduces the truth in remembering that the chocolatier (Benedict Cumberbatch) had been at the party where the incident occurred.  Whether Briony now sees him clearly in her memory for the first time (being too young to register the shock) or whether she had lied about the guilty party is not at all clear to me.  It could be inferred that she pinned the crime on Robbie out of jealousy because, as we learn more fully, she had been in love with him (though she was just 13).

James McAvoy is wonderful, Keira Knightley divine and Vanessa Redgrave excellent (though her section of the film is clearly derivative of Titanic), but the true credit for a veritable piece of cinema goes to Joe Wright.  It’s not as good as Hanna, but it’s nice to know that his versatility is breathtaking.

 

-PD

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD

 

Hanna [2011)

This is quite possibly the best film I’ve ever seen.  Once or twice every generation an actress comes along who is well beyond all the rest.  That actress, for this generation, is Saoirse Ronan.  I would not have come by this film were it not for her turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  That film is likewise one of the best I’ve ever seen.  This one is better.  Why?  Because Miss Ronan is allowed to show a much wider array of her skills.

I had previously thought Wes Anderson a modest director until his most recent aforementioned film.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is his first great, timeless piece of cinema.  The key (though it may go unnoticed by many) is Saoirse.  The name Joe Wright meant nothing to me prior to tonight.  I must congratulate him on a near-perfect movie.

Yes, this is a movie.  And a film.  There is a difference.  Movies are entertainment.  Films are cinema.  Guy Hamilton proved in The Man with the Golden Gun that a movie could also be a film.

Mr. Wright’s film benefits from an anti-fascist plot which would do the opponents of Operation Gladio and other black ops proud.  I count myself among their number.

Hanna is a genetically-modified human…a prototype super-soldier.  Cate Blanchett plays her role so wonderfully (like James Mason in NXNW) that we wonder if there is a heart beating at all under there.  Ms. Blanchett portrays the CIA officer who helmed the genetic research which spawned Hanna.  To call her icy would be an understatement.  She registers at absolute zero.

The beauty of this story is when its’ arc arrives at the golden mean:  the moment Hanna first hears music.  To be precise, it is the moment when she equates music with the encyclopedic definition she learned as a quasi “wild child” in the Finnish arctic.  Funny how a comparison can be made to François Truffaut and the director in question is not Anderson (whose style most resembles the sentimentality of Truffaut), but Wright.  The link is L’Enfant sauvage from 1970.  Anderson, for his part, found the golden mean in The Grand Budapest Hotel by way of Saoirse Ronan as well.  That moment is the magical kaleidoscopic close-up of her angelic face aboard a merry-go-round.

Both Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel straddle a line which would have made Hitchcock proud.  In the latter, Mendl’s pastries are all the sweeter for scenes such as the one in which Jeff Goldblum loses four of his fingers.  In the former, the PG-13 rating is pushed to the max with gruesome deaths (such as Knepfler’s topsy-turvy demise à la Saint Sebastian…particularly as depicted by Odilon Redon), yet there is an innocence and panache to the whole affair.  Credit Wright with knowing how to offset the sheer terror of the premise with essential throwaway aspects such as the camper-van family (who, by the way, do a lovely rendition of Bowie’s “Kooks” from Hunky Dory).  The whole juxtaposition is positively Beethovenian.  And none of it would have been possible without the Leitmotiv and soul of this film:  Saoirse Ronan.  She did not, as it turns out, miss MY heart.  The Academy just missed its best actress.  I have a feeling her coup de grâce is yet to come.

 

-PD