The Virgin Suicides [1999)

Cooped up.

Steve Bing.

Different reason.

Ron Jeremy.

Richard Branson.

Prince Charles.

Brexit.

Aria (Godard).

Kirk Kerkorian.

Al Gore.

Hillary Clinton.

John Kerry.

Nancy Pelosi.

Dianne Feinstein.

William J. Clinton Foundation.

Bill Gates.

Warren Buffett.

Epstein.

James Woods.

It’s all about politics.

Things you shouldn’t be doing.

Depression.

Suicide.

A feminine touch.

Alone on the football field.

“Obviously…you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”

Isolated and depressed.

Coronariots.

Deep state.

Start with ex-CIA.

Move outward.

John Brennan is key.

China is key.

  1.  Biological warfare.
  2. Economic warfare.
  3. Psychological warfare.
  4. Divide and conquer.
  5. “Second wave”.

This is psychological warfare.

American Beauty.

Windows.

Records.

Playing them over the phone.

Communicating through curated songs.

Playlists.

Burning records.

KISS in the garbage can.

Death.

Triple suicide on the Left Banke.

Air.

Debord.

“I’m Not in Love”.

Compare 10cc to My Bloody Valentine.

To “Armenia City in the Sky”.

The unexplainable in death.

Why.

Trauma.

Young girls like happy endings.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.

Face like summer.

An embarrassment of riches.

James Woods will become key.

Take the oath.

Kathleen Turner from Romancing the Stone.

Olives and tequila.

Burning bricks of marijuana to keep warm.

Kirsten Dunst is Marilyn Monroe for this era.

In the moonlight.

Trip Fontaine cops all of his moves from Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison in The Doors.

Including the necklace.

Scott Glenn from The Silence of the Lambs.

Threatens to go all Exorcist.

Why did Steve Bing jump from the 27th floor?

Jumped or pushed?

Frank Olson.

Fort Detrick.

Biological warfare.

MKUltra.

CIA.

Col. George H. White.

Five sisters.

Mainly dealing with four.

 

-PD

Lovelace [2013)

“I know it when I see it”

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.

Obscene.

Pornography.

What is pornography?

As of two years ago, the sixth most visited site by American internet users was Pornhub.

https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-users-access-porn-more-than-twitter-wikipedia-and-netflix-2018-9

Two of the other top 15 sites for American internet users:  XNXX and XVideos.

The latter two sites are both owned by WGCZ Holding.

Pornhub is owned by MindGeek.

WGCZ Holding’s “country of origin” (?) is France, yet their headquarters is in Prague.

MindGeek’s “country of origin” [I suppose this means “where the company started”] is Canada, but its headquarters is in the country of Cyprus.

In our current coronavirus pandemic, it is not hard to find information about the world-wide INCREASE in pornographic viewing.

So it seems only fitting that we come to this wonderful film.

It is a beautiful film.

As beautiful as Amanda Seyfried.

But also a sad film.

Reminiscent at times of Requiem for a Dream.

There are moments, in both of these films, when their respective sadnesses could be viewed as “loss of the soul”.

In Requiem for a Dream, heroin steals souls.

In Lovelace, the porn industry threatens to steal Linda Lovelace’s soul.

But what we get in the movie Lovelace is something more specific.

Spousal abuse.

Domestic violence.

Human trafficking.

Sex slavery.

Spousal sexual abuse.

It’s not very titillating stuff.

It turns the stomach.

It’s like watching Ike and Tina as a fly on the wall.

I’ve seen Deep Throat.

I think it’s an excellent film.

But there is a dark underbelly.

Linda, it appears, was coerced (to put it mildly) into making the picture.

Lovelace (Seyfried) states near the end of our film that she was only in the porn industry for 17 days.

Yet she is probably the most famous porn star ever.

And not without good reason.

Whether it is accurate or not, Chuck Traynor (Linda’s husband) is portrayed as a scumbag.

A creep.

A really bad dude.

There is agenda setting in Lovelace.

We are SUPPOSED to see Traynor as bad.

Which makes me suspicious.

The subtlety of Dostoyevsky is nowhere to be found.

Linda good.  Chuck bad.

Perhaps that is the whole story, but it would be an unlikely black and white moment in a world of gray.

But let’s enter the world of color for a moment.

Amanda Seyfried is so beautiful in this film.

And it is beautifully shot by cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards.

Interestingly, we have two directors on record as having helmed Lovelace:

Rob Epstein and

Jeffrey Friedman.

Which brings us to a familiar story.

Jeffrey Epstein.

If we go further, we realize that Hugh Hefner is played in Lovelace by James Franco.

There’s something going on here.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Chloë Sevigny plays a brief role in Lovelace.

Sevigny performs actual oral sex on actor/director Vincent Gallo in his film The Brown Bunny.

What are we seeing here?

How long has this been going on?

It’s clear by this wonderful movie, Lovelace, that Deep Throat brought pornography into the mainstream.

But since then, it has still hidden…and peeked around corners.

It is everywhere.

It is pervasive.

Perhaps it has lost some of its taboo.

But it is still widely regulated.

And ACTUAL hardcore PORNOGRAPHY is still rarely seen in Hollywood films.

So what do we have here?

We have Amanda Seyfried looking beautiful.

We have actors reminiscing on older actors.

We have a major industry paying homage to a minor industry which is itself becoming a major industry (especially during the coronavirus pandemic).

But I’m here to talk cinema.

Lovelace is cinema.

It skirts in and out of being a masterpiece.

Some scenes are timeless.

Others are a little clumsy.

I would say it is well worth a view.

What is particularly interesting is the role that parental judgement plays in Lovelace and Requiem for a Dream.

In Requiem…, the parental element is more of a reference.

But both movies evoke sadness.

Parents want the best for their children.

Most parents probably don’t want their children to grow up to be heroin addicts or porn actors.

There is genuine heartbreak in both of these films.

Kudos to Robert Patrick for playing Linda’s father.

He verges on a caricature of Chris Cooper in American Beauty.

But Patrick is better.  Warmer.  More human.

Wes Bentley is here in Lovelace.

As he was in American Beauty.

Then there was Kevin Spacey…in American Beauty.

And flying around with Jeffrey Epstein.

And Thora Birch was in American Beauty.

And her mom was in Deep Throat.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

It is a very weird spiral.

An almost-invisible web.

What does it mean?

If Trump wins the next election, we have a chance of finding out.

We are ready to unleash hell.

 

-PD

Lost River [2014)

There’s something very weird going on in Hollywood.

And it has been going on for a long time.

You can look for yourself in Kenneth Anger’s books.

Strange stories about Clara Bow.

The first “It” girl.

From the film of the same name.

And how she kept her skin so soft (ostensibly).

But the range of weirdness in Hollywood seems to move along a continuum.

There are levels.

Not unlike Freemasonry.

Or Scientology.

The hedonism of Henry Miller would be a very low level.

But what we are dealing with here, in this film, is an allusion to a higher level.

Really, the highest level.

There really isn’t a more mot juste for this phenomenon than Satanism.

And, perhaps, even that word does not fully describe what is at issue.

If one was hard-pressed to boil it down–to refine it further, perhaps “evil” would be the essential element.

Recently, the internet collective known only as QAnon “dropped” a crumb of information regarding an establishment in Los Angeles known as the Cannibal Club.

You can find all Q drops here.

The drop in question is #3917 from April 8th of this month.

Here is the website to which Q linked.

It indeed follows the train of thought I delineated above.

You will see the Henry Miller quote (an author I deeply admire).

But then you will see a perversion far beyond (to my knowledge) anything Henry Miller ever wrote about.

What you see on the Cannibal Club website appears to be a restaurant which serves human flesh.

However, with a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that this particular institution (as it is presented) is likely fake.

Why?

The names of the principals all come back empty.  None of them have a digital footprint that I can find.  Sophie Lafitte.  Elspeth Blake.  Hero Conners.  Raven Chan.

The photo of Cannibal Club’s proprietress, Elspeth Blake, was first cached as a stock photo in 2012.

The photo of Raven Chan also was first cached (before it was used on the Cannibal Club website) as a stock photo.  Both photos appear to have originated on the website istockphoto.com .  They are generic pictures.

The Cannibal Club website went live with content in 2009.  Neither the menu, nor the “events” have changed.

My conclusion was that this was a joke made by demented, artsy liberals in order to seed panic in America’s conservative population.

That was my hypothesis:  it is almost certainly a sick joke.

But here’s the rub…

Things like this very well may exist.

Indeed, they probably do.

And thereby we come to the film Lost River.

It came out a mere two years before Trump was elected.

Before Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sex crimes and sent to prison (where, last I heard, he had coronavirus).

Before jet-setter Jeffrey Epstein “hung himself” in a Manhattan jail cell.

You know, Epstein…the guy who flew Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey to Africa.

All this was before Kevin Spacey had numerous sex crime charges brought against him.

And two of his accusers recently dropped dead (over the past year) bringing both cases to a halt.

Lost River.

I appreciate the style.

Very heavy on the David Lynch (with a modicum of Harmony Korine thrown in).

The focus on “place” is very similar to the technique David Lynch and Mark Frost used to ground the town of Twin Peaks in the TV series of the same name.

Evil.

In the woods.

Underwater.

Underground.

And in secret clubs.

Director Ryan Gosling did a pretty good job with this film.

We will forgive him for lifting the ambiance of that Orbison scene from Mulholland Dr. to repurpose it in his Lost River blood-and-guts cabaret.

Because the reason I watched this film at all was for Christina Hendricks.

She has the potential to join a modern pantheon which, at this time, includes only Thora Birch and Kat Dennings.

Though we are never told this in the film, it is set in Detroit.

And that makes sense.

Deserted neighborhoods with crumbling houses.

But it could be anywhere in America if China’s economic warfare (COVID-19) is not soon countered.

Matt Smith does a good job as Bully:  the embodiment of serial-killer animalism.

The thug.

The gangster.

The cartel head.

Extreme cruelty.

Sadistic.

Gosling did a great job location scouting for the zoo scene.

The abandoned zoo.

Very much like the film Hanna and its scenes in the abandoned Spreepark of East Berlin.

Ben Mendelsohn is a fucker.

Such a prick.

But smart.

He’s not an animal like Bully, though he has rage inside him.

He is more of a predator.

And he is much more powerful.

His character, Dave, is a banker.

And Dave tells us, during the course of the film, that he sets up a little “club” in each of the towns he goes to.

Seems Dave gets moved around a lot.

Comes in.

Fires people.

Gets the books on a firmer footing.

And moves on to the next town where he can oblige the poor and demented with a bit of blood lust with his clubs.

Lots of blood.

Lots of lust.

Dave overlaps nicely onto the persona of Harvey Weinstein.

Christina Hendricks is immediately propositioned by the bank manager.

Dave is a thoroughly-unscrupulous scumbag.

Hendricks just wants to hang on to her home…dilapidated though it may be.

Saoirse Ronan does a nice job in a relatively-minor role here.

She glitters occasionally…as she plays her Casio on her bed with sparkly finger polish.

Whispering out a little song.

Or as she tucks in her pet rat for the night.

But it is not the ginger Ronan we are used to.

Her hair is black.

To fit with the landscape.

And to let Hendricks (also a redhead) stand out as the star.

Saoirse is the “girl next door”…literally.

In the tradition of American Beauty.

By this method we can trace Gosling’s influences.

The overarching one is David Lynch.

This film is creepy.

Plenty creepy.

Much of the creepiness comes from the casting.

It really is an amalgam of Lynch’s freaks with Harmony Korine’s amateurs.

There is the grief of the mute grandmother.

Caught in a loop of family films.

Mourning her late-husband who died tragically.

It is sad.

It happens.

The inability to talk for some time after a shock.

Extreme PTSD.

The family films are sad.

Watching how they used to be.

The way they were.

And the grandmother still a widow…with a fishnet veil for mourning.

There is some rubbish in this movie.

Kind of how the second season of Twin Peaks went off the rails.

Eva Mendes is good here.

And scary.

In the basement is something very Ex Machina (also 2014).

And even more so John Cale’s Vintage Violence.

Shells.

Mortal coils.

Simulation.

Apparently, customers can come down and “murder” real people in these shells.

The shells are of a hard, clear plastic.

And formfitting.

The shells supposedly prevent any real bodily harm.

But we never really see them in action.

Iain De Caestecker is pretty good here.

There is a realness in the urgency of his running.

Gosling’s editing crystalizes this.

Running for love.

Panic.

Running to save.

To set off running.

Unprepared for how long the journey really is.

Something special here.

Good vs. evil.

To give.

Charity.

To be selfish.

To ignore the needs of others.

To follow the voice of God.

To follow the instruction of the Holy Spirit.

To be humble before God.

To fear God.

To feel evil all around.

When it comes, and when it goes.

But the most quizzical scene is when Christina Hendricks cuts her own face off (in simulation, of course) in exactly the way we have heard about in the infamous, rumored Frazzledrip video.

In 2014.

Two years before such a thing came to light.

What a strange coincidence.

Let us synthesize more.

Could there be clubs (in L.A., for instance) where children have their faces cut off (for real) in front of an audience of sickos?

Further question, how does Hollywood (in L.A.) have the “imagination” to write these sorts of scenes?

Sure, there’s the old French film Eyes Without a Face.

But that was cosmetic.

It wasn’t for the thrill of spectators.

It was a medical procedure gone wrong.

Gory as it was, it was to SAVE the face of his daughter that the misguided doctor went on a hunt for faces.

Here, the faces are potlatched (apparently).

Or eaten.

But again, this is just a “cabaret”, we are told.

We see behind the scenes.

“Fake blood”.

So where is the truth in these “jokes”?

What kinds of personalities find humor in this?

John Podesta famously jokes about cannibalism in Time magazine and elsewhere.

He jokes about the cannibalistic Donner party.

He had cannibal art hanging on his office wall (a loan from his art-collector-brother Tony Podesta).

Strange fixation, that.

Very creepy.

Verging on Silence of the Lambs.

Ed Gein.

Dahmer.

Really vile stuff.

This is an interesting movie.

Gosling has talent as a director.

He should make more films.

This was his debut.

He has directed nothing sense.

My only quibble is this:  Christina Hendricks was so misused here.

Saoirse Ronan was almost equally misused.

Gosling needs to watch more Godard.

More Hitchcock.

You don’t cast Grace Kelly only to have her wear the same sweater for the whole film.

But it’s also Hendricks’ fault.

She has talent.

But she must embrace who she is.

She is not a good enough actor to be a puritan.

 

-PD

Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [2003)

Happy Birthday to Thora Birch, my favorite actress of all time!

Yes, I know…I know.

A film critic whose favorite actress is a young 35-year-old whipper snapper???

Yes.

That’s alright.

Laugh at me.

If the question was, “Who was your favorite classic Hollywood actress?,” then I would answer, “Lauren Bacall”.

But I said favorite actress of all time.

You can search my “Thora” category here on my site for why exactly this actress is my favorite.

Because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day.

And I have a movie to review!

One of my favorites:  Homeless to Harvard.

It is, indeed …The Liz Murray Story, but I will be using the shortened title hereafter for brevity’s sake.

It is my contention (and I have made the point elsewhere…probably on this very site of mine) that Thora Birch produced a trilogy of acting performances which are more-or-less analogous to Bob Dylan’s classic trilogy.

Let’s start with Dylan.

The three (at unity from a similarity of intense expression):

Bringing It All Back Home

Highway 61 Revisited 

and

Blonde on Blonde

And now the Thora films which correspond in my mind:

American Beauty

Ghost World

and

Homeless to Harvard

Sure…Birch didn’t direct these films.

But her acting is so strong, she might as well have.

By this point she was no longer a prodigy.

She was a mature actress.  A master of her craft.

And the story here is one to really sink teeth in.

[In which.]

We recently touched on homelessness here in the review of Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as Katarina from Till det som är vackert.

Pure.

But the esthetics of Homeless to Harvard are different.

This isn’t European arthouse.  It’s a Lifetime made-for-TV film.

But don’t go running anywhere!!!

This is as gritty as any Lou Reed tale.

And it’s all real.

Too pure.

Heroin addict parents.

Mother schizophrenic.

Blindness.

Genetic.

Mother with HIV.

Father with AIDS.

Vice versa ice Ursa.

Father in homeless shelter.

Mother wielding knife.  Vomiting.

Alcoholism.

Really appealing, eh?

But you gotta stick with it.

This isn’t Darren Aronofsky mise-en-scène.

It’t not, “Let’s win an award at Sundance.”  Or, “Let’s sweep at Cannes.”

It’s more like one of Aesop’s fables.

It’s the message, man!

And so first, let’s honor the director.

Peter Levin.

Who knew a television film could be so artful?

Well, when you combine the history of Histoire(s) du cinéma with the precedent of Twin Peaks, you should know by now that television can produce good stuff.

Hell…

Your TV can even WATCH YOU! (as per WikiLeaks Vault7).

But I digress…

The weeper (no masonry) sob story…had me crying in my Junior Mints…we must attribute to the excellent writing of Ronni Kern.

Who the hell is Ronni Kern?!?

Male?  Female?

I’ve had less trouble finding the gender of completely unknown foreign movie people.

But Kern is pretty invisible on the Internet.

And maybe there’s a point here.

  1.  It doesn’t fucking matter.
  2. You should judge someone on their work, not their gender.

Hopefully Ms. Birch will appreciate this flash of liberalism should she read this review.

[I’m not holding my breath]

But we have just celebrated International Women’s Day.

And the fact that Birch’s character here is a “feminist” is a running pseudo-joke.

Which brings us to the performances.

Michael Riley is stellar, stellar (I know…) as Liz’s father Peter.

Kudos to the styling department.

That beard.  And that hair!

Crazy, man, crazy!!

But Riley’s performance is really special.

It touched my heart.

Long ago.

When I first saw this film.

And dare I say, this movie made me appreciate my own family.

It made me miss my folks.

And so I salute Peter Riley and Lifetime and all involved for that effect on my heart.

Jennifer Pisana is really fabulous as the young Liz Murray here.

It’s an unenviable task.

To precede Thora Birch’s entrance.

But Pisana is indispensable to this little masterpiece.

Those sweaters.

And the full pronunciations…”Mommy”…”Daddy”…

Ms. Pisana affects the necessary naïveté to be juxtaposed against the sad schizophrenia of Kelly Lynch (who plays Liz’s mom).

And Lynch is great.

Think Cries and Whispers.

[cris et chuchotements…(( (( ((…et chuchotements]

Robert Bockstael does a fine job as Liz’s teacher David.

Very convincing.  Excellent craftsmanship.

Makyla Smith is piquant in her depiction of Liz’s best friend Chris.

[God…the Magic Marker…and the pine box…fuuuuuuck]

Yes, friends…this is Lifetime Television.

So the brisure (bonjour, monsieur Derrida) is “crap”.

“Crap happens.”

Whoa…watch thy mouth, Kelly Lynch!

So again…Peter Levin does a fantastic job shoehorning a true X-file into PG territory.

We see a syringe here and there.  A tourniquet.

Riley cleaning a spoon.

But the real heartbreak is Wheat Chex with tap water.

Yeah…

Hello Gummo.

Ellen Page has a small role here.

And she’s good.

Fine actress.

But we’ve been waiting to roll out the big gun.

Thora Birch.

On this, her birthday, I am only just now getting towards a handful of reviews honoring her unique thespian gift.

What to say?

That every look is magic?

That every glance is gold?

That she has crafted her microexpressions in solitude…and wielded them like an Arthurian sword for the duration of this flick?

Yes, yes, and yes.

[and an Oxford comma]

Because kids take it for granted.

Rich kids.

Harvard.

Penn.

Princeton.

Maybe…

But even more so the lesser ivied walls.

I won’t name names.

But the spoiled kids.

Not turning in homework.

Bragging about shortcuts.

Those, ultimately, will be life’s losers.

But Liz Murray worked her butt off to get into Harvard.

From sleeping on the B Train.

Four years of high school in two.

And Thora Birch has worked her butt off too.

She hasn’t gotten the roles her talent deserves.

But the roles she has gotten, she has largely smashed out of the park.

Like the Babe Ruth of leading ladies.

And so there are other actresses I admire.

But Thora Birch was the first.

The first to give me that magical feeling which only Neil Young has adequately described:

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playin’ a part that I could understand”.

Happy Birthday, Thora Birch!

And may all your days and films be filled with the joy which you have put into the world through your cinematic brilliance.

-PD

Puppylove [2013)

Everybody likes sex, right?

Well, maybe not priests, but…

Ok.  Bad joke.

But sex is not a subject I’ve ever written about specifically in any of my film reviews.

And perhaps it is only fitting that Puppylove be the movie under the aegis of which I first do so.

There are several ways of situating this film “historically” in the medium of cinema.

One would be to take a recent frame of reference.

Blue.

In a strange example of Zeitgeist, Blue is the Warmest Color beat Puppylove to market by about six months.

Indeed, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 might be the best comparison.

But it is not a very historical one.

Which is to say, the two films are more or less contemporaneous.

Were the creators of the latter film influenced by the earlier release?

Because the connection is strong.

From the astounding Adèle Exarchopoulos, we can draw an easy line to the equally-sublime Solène Rigot.

Their characters, Adèle and Diane, are extremely similar.

But let’s take director Delphine Lehericey’s wonderful film back to an actual previous point in film development.

 American Beauty.

1999.

Solène Rigot is an easy comparison to Thora Birch (my favorite actress ever) in that film.

Likewise, Audrey Bastien is an exact overlay (no pun intended) on Mena Suvari’s character Angela Hayes.

[At this point I would like to quote Neil Young (“I fell in love with the actress/She was playing a part that I could understand”) and admit that Solène Rigot really stole my heart with this one.  It took me awhile to fully comprehend…who she looked like…someone who broke my heart…a Beatrice in my Dantean darkness upon a time.]

Back to film criticism, and sticking with 1999’s “Best Picture”, we should also note that Kevin Spacey is well signified by signifier Vincent Perez in Puppylove.

To paraphrase Godard, ever image in every film is a quote.

Which brings us to the fountainhead.

To wit, where does this style of filmmaking which Lehericey is practicing originate?

For me, there is no better answer than Monsieur Godard’s perfect film Je vous salue, Marie.

1985.

Hail Mary‘s most jaw-dropping asset was the inimitable Myriem Roussel.

Solène Rigot is a reincarnation of Roussel’s magic.

Instead of basketball, it’s field hockey.

But Puppylove goes on to quote delicately and successfully.

Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water.

Perhaps even Kubrick’s Lolita (equally applicable to American Beauty…at least in theory).

But I’m the schmuck who wins the prize.

I didn’t care how “hot” Mena Suvari was.

And I don’t give a shit about Audrey Bastien’s skinny little frame either.

[Though Bastien is a much better actress than Suvari.]

I fall for the outcasts.

Jane Burnham (Thora Birch).

And, here, Diane (Solène Rigot).

Puppylove is not as earth-shattering a film as Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color.

But Delphine Lehericey is an extremely gifted director.

And she had the secret weapon to pull it off.

Solène Rigot.

Puppylove will endure because Rigot is the real thing.

I’ve hardly talked about sex yet (like, not at all).

But that’s the way the master of understatement Hitchcock would have done it.

The most sublime moments in highly-sexualized European cinema are when the sex isn’t happening.

Exarchopoulos proved this.

And Rigot confirms it.

-PD

Election [1999)

Life really sucks sometimes.

You try to do the right thing.

You try to do a good thing.

And you mess up somehow.

Films, then, are a great comfort when they can show us lives more fucked up than our own.

I must say early on:  this is a great film!

A great, great film!

Maybe I heard about it long ago.

In one ear and out the other.

And what brought me to visit this piece of cinema at this particular time?

That is a long, complex story which (mercifully) pales in comparison to the misadventures presented in Election.

Alexander Payne turned in a masterpiece here.

He had approximately the resources which a Nicholas Ray would have had.

And, presumably, the same pressures to somehow connect with teen audiences.

But make no mistake (as our woeful president is so wont to repeat):  Election is an extremely smart film.

Matthew Broderick is stellar as high school teacher Jim McAllister.

Reese Witherspoon is really damned good in this flick as well.

It’s a comedy, but there are tears.

There are a couple of actors who really bring this one home with their small roles.

Mark Harelik is essential to the story.

He plays a poor, pathetic bastard who’s hopelessly clueless.  I can relate.

Dave Novotny (Harelik) really sets things in motion.

Truth be told, all of the characters in this film make poor choices.

That’s what makes it real.

It’s hard to judge some of these people.  Any of these people.  All of them.

That’s what director Payne makes so masterfully clear.

What’s the difference between ethics and morals?

The first to answer might have the least idea.

Election is very much a film about America.

Payne uses a trite camera trick to express something truly sublime.

Dolly up.  Way up.  Crane shot.  God perspective.  Hearing the selfish prayers of a motley bunch.

Most lovable is Jessica Campbell.  She is the lesbian rebel whose short-lived student government campaign parallels that of Monty Brewster’s “None of the Above” run in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Campbell’s character Tammy has a soul.  She is the gem of this picture.

But we see so much true soul from Matthew Broderick as well (and true acting talent).

In case you were wondering, only Chris Klein’s prayer rings true.  It’s hilarious.  But it has heart.

Klein’s initial campaign speech is a coup of non-acting.  Frankly brilliant!

And, as I intimated earlier, even Witherspoon has soul.

Her character might be ostensibly soulless, but it’s there.

Sitting on the school bus.  And crying before a Valium and milk.

Ms. Witherspoon is brilliant as the villain.

But she’s only the villain because the story is told from the perspective of Broderick’s character (more or less).

The narrative voiceover must have really been en vogue in 1999 (the same year as the whisper-happy American Beauty).

And though these films be seemingly ignorant of the master of the medium (whisper king Jean-Luc Godard), they are still cinema.

I would venture to guess that Election is the better of the two films (or at least the one most able to handle the scrutiny of accolades).

Which is to say, Election might not be a terribly well-known film, but it deserves to be widely seen and appreciated.

 

-PD

Skyfall [2012)

If you wait too long, you lose the impression.

I was way behind on trying to support my compatriots.  It is not necessary to agree.  What I champion is freedom of expression.

And so we try to remember the mood…the efficacy of cinema in the hands of Sam Mendes.

Perhaps the first “real” director to approach the Bond franchise after having had success beforehand.

Mendes will always have a place in my heart for his deft touch directing Thora Birch in American Beauty.

Fortunately we can look forward to a second contribution in the forthcoming Bond film Spectre.

But for now we have this.

What of it?

I should dispense with self-congratulatory pomp at this time rather than let it distract me.

Yes, I have now seen all of the Bond films from Eon Productions.  You can access the reviews of all 23 pictures here on my site by clicking the Bond tab.

Now that we have that out of the way…

The first glaring bit of strategic signaling occurs when we learn that our MacGuffin is a hard drive.

Of course, it’s what’s on the hard drive which makes this worth mentioning.

NATO agents embedded in terrorist groups.

For anyone with a knowledge of Operation Gladio this brings up a troubling association.

To wit:  the possibility that the organizations are controlled by NATO for cynical purposes.

This was, and continues to be, a fundamental aspect of geopolitics.  False-flag terror.

Perhaps Mendes (or the writers of the film) knowingly left this bread crumb to add a quasi-credibility to what has often become a propagandistic series for the power elite.

Whatever the case may be, the opening sequence is generally good.

Let’s face it:  it’s getting harder and harder after 23 films to have James Bond do something novel.

His seeming demise before the credits roll make us think of that horribly daft episode from the Connery days:

You Only Live Twice.

Ralph Fiennes is unlikable from the start, but we learn why as the film progresses.

Mendes does a nice job of faking us out on several occasions.  We even suspect Bond as a terrorist briefly.

Another breadcrumb:  the depleted uranium bullet fragments from Bond’s shoulder.

With this we are brought back to that stain upon U.S. military operations over the past 15 years.

Keeping in mind the research of Doug Rokke, we might again be seeing an attempt by the Bond franchise to relate with an increasingly informed viewer base.

Think on your sins?

Well, all cinematic sins are forgiven once director Mendes has occasion to mold and shape the lights of high-rise Shanghai into a sci-fi backdrop for good old fashion ass kicking.

Modigliani.

We are meant to associate the extra-terrestrial eyes with Bérénice Marlohe.  Like the grey-eyed goddess Athena, we will later meet her in the shower (ohh-la-la!).

When all else fails in a film, have the location shift to Macau.

Indeed, the best dialogue comes between Daniel Craig and Mlle. Marlohe at the casino bar.  It reminds us of that fleeting bit of verbal mastery aboard the train in Casino Royale when Craig and Eva Green took turns sizing each other up.

Enter Javier Bardem.

Bardem is certainly among the most convincing villains in the entire Bond pantheon.  Something about that bleached-blond hair gives us a creepy feeling every time his character Raoul Silva is shown.

Bardem’s acting, particularly around the time of his character’s first appearance, is world-class.

Ben Whishaw does a fine job as the new Q (though we miss John Cleese and, of course, Desmond Llewelyn).

Credit Sam Mendes with a deft portrayal of the battle between old ways and new.

New is exemplified by the new Q:  cyber-reliance.

Old is exemplified by the crusty James Bond:  HUMINT.

This film almost telegraphs the Zeitgeist which would spawn Edward Snowden as global hero, but it casts such genius (>145 IQ) as the enemy in Bardem’s character.

[As a side note, I should like to add that Snowden’s story would have to be most ingenious cover ever if found to be inauthentic.  Such iron-clad credibility no doubt came at a steep price for the NSA (see PRISM).  Though farfetched, one never knows to what lengths the Western national security state will go next to try and salvage its tenuous hold on global hegemony.  All things considered, his defection to the public side (in the interest of the general public) seems to be authentic and highly admirable.]

Skyfall becomes less successful when Bardem has Hannibal Lecter lighting cast upon him during the glass-cage treatment later in this film.  This is an unimaginative bit of filmmaking beneath the level of director Mendes.

As trivial as it may seem, Mendes later redeems himself with a simple shot of approaching figures reflected in the chrome of a side-view mirror.   It doesn’t hurt that the mirror in question is attached to an Aston Martin DB5.

Overall, the successes of this film should rightly be attributed to Sam Mendes.  That said, this is not a masterpiece.  It is a very good, yet flawed, film.

Here’s hoping Mendes knocks it out of the park with Spectre.  Cheerio!

-PD

Ghost World [2001)

“I have to admit…things are really looking up for me since my life turned to shit.”  If only.  The consolation?  This is a perfect film.  There’s no use in denying that any longer.

Back in the watershed year of 2001, this film hit me like a bolt out of the blue.  Just how I ended up in that movie theater in Austin, Texas I’m not entirely sure.  The important thing is that this film stood my world on its head.  There was a new tilt to the cosmos after seeing Thora Birch personify everything I was looking for in a girl…everything which I couldn’t articulate.

Brice Parain puts it so simply in Vivre sa vie:  thought cannot be separated from language.  And if we say “goodbye” to language?  That still involves a word.  Perhaps we can simply gesture?

“Waving goodbye…I’m not saying hello.”  Just three years earlier an album had put my world on edge.  I was studying music composition as an undergrad when a rock and roll record called into question everything for which I was striving.  That record was Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.  As I slipped the virgin vinyl onto the turntable in my vacated music lit classroom, I was astounded to hear a noise rock band coming back through the speakers as an autumnal, symphonic opus.  Opus 40…

And so three years later at that little arthouse cinema in north Austin I clamored into an open seat with a couple of friends…  Friends…  It seems so long ago since I had friends.  Some statements are infinitely sad, but others are like old faded pictures.  I don’t really recognize myself anymore.  I’m too young to be old, but…

Ghost World.  It is the world I live in.  Terry Zwigoff made a perfect film.  He learned the nuances from R. Crumb…and then applied the secrets to Daniel Clowes.  The secret is in the power lines…the sprawl…the daydream nation which American Beauty tried to capture but failed in comparison to Ghost World.  If the Palme d’Or was fair, Terry Zwigoff would have one sitting on his mantle.  So would Jean-Luc Godard.  So would Thora Birch.

It’s kinda like the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Where’s Joyce?  Where’s Pynchon?

Enid Coleslaw.  There’s no I in end.  End.  I…is someone else.  So says Nana Kleinfrankenheim.  Thora Birch.  Anna Karina.  The Louise Brooks wig.  Brigitte Bardot.  Initials B.B.  Bertolt Brecht.  B.B. King.  Devil got my woman…

“…since my life turned to shit.”  I’d rather be the devil.  Me and the devil.  Nick Tosches.  Emmett Miller.  Henry “Ragtime” Thomas.

Skip James.  Gossamer-perfect.  Thora stands in a daze…perhaps after a long day of shooting.  We get The Buzzcocks, but then we get D-A-D-F-A-D…that deep, hollow sound from 1931.  Like the high, lonesome Hank Williams.  Somebody’s in a world of hurt.  “Nothin’ but thee devil/change my baby’s mind.”

She is the girl we can’t have.  And you can’t have me either, world.  Not for free.  Few artists got this.  Alex Chilton got it.  Affonso Beato captured its fleeting presence at twilight in his cinematography.  A bus.  Bus stop.  Joshua Logan.  No, Thora Birch.  Yes.  That route was cancelled in 1956.  Cancelled in 1962.  Mensan I.Q.  Cancelled in 1967.  And still, Thora boards the bus and does the impossible in a magic realism which takes her back over the Mississippi at Baton Rouge…back to Appleton, WI…back to Los Angeles.  The nighttime bores the daylights out of me.  We’re in exile with the Radio Shack and the Allstate and the Chevron and the Shell…  R.I.P. Brad Renfro.

-PD

Winter of Frozen Dreams [2009)

What a beautiful title…like Bashō, Li Po, or even François Villon.  In this age of over-medication, we hear of new disorders every day (accompanied by ridiculous commercials we have to endure with relatives at Christmastime).  Of special note in these cold days is seasonal affective disorder.  It’s legend as something independent of general depression lives on as most people do not have the DSM-IV or DSM-5 by their bedside.

And so, “with seasonal pattern” there are many of us who struggle especially in the wintery days of the year…especially if we feel our dreams have been suspended.  Ah, suspended animation…it can be beautiful…like insects caught in amber (that Greek touchstone which lends our word “electricity” an etymology).  Static electricity and ēlektron (the classical name for amber)…  Such irony that flies and gnats would meet their demise drowned in the same substance…and countless days later we wonder at the beauty of their death.  It is one of the few times death can be generally agreed on as beautiful.  In the spider frozen in amber, we marvel at the beauty of the creature.  Their life is preserved.  While they have ceased to exist as a living creature, their form lives on through the sepia light which attests to them having existed.  Grammar becomes difficult in such a state of was/is/will be.

But alas, as they say, this film is not really a poetic tour de force.  It is, however, a time capsule which presents a haunting portrait of the northern U.S. in the late-’70s.  One wonders whether the props department of Boogie Nights was lifted whole-cloth (!) as the action unfolds during this strange movie.  Indeed, it is more strange than haunting.  It is not frightening or repulsive like a Silence of the Lambs, but rather disjunct like a lesser cousin of Mulholland Dr.

I do not want to disparage this film because it is actually quite good, but I must admit that my sole reason for watching was to see Thora Birch act.  Thora was the first actress I ever fell in love with.  We all have our celebrity crushes.  She was/is mine.  Her trio of films American Beauty, Ghost World, and Homeless to Harvard (a Lifetime “joint”) was really an acting triumph which I can only compare to Bob Dylan’s trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.  I know it sounds ridiculous to say so, but Birch directed those three films as much as did their auteurs/metteurs en scène.  Call it la politique…in reverse…unlike King Midas…

This film presents a problem in its representation on Wikipedia.  After viewing a film, I like to recall what I’ve just seen.  Wikipedia is good for that, but not in this case.  It’s as if this film was a Falconetti one-reeler from 1916 and not an American feature from 2009.  In this dearth of information, one begins to suspect that Thora’s claims of having been forgotten and overlooked after Ghost World might just be right on the money.  That’s where film critics step in.  Though it be five years late and $991,679 short, I can (with my little voice) once again assert that Thora is an acting genius.

Poor Eric Mandelbaum…his name isn’t even a hypertext link on Wiki, but he did a fine job here painting a snow-drift picture of the not-so-old, weird America.  Dan Moran at least has a dead link (empty page).  The trouble with Harry, that!

All jokes aside, Brandon Sexton III is very convincing as the bearded, lonely Jerry.  His stoic visage becomes as much a motif as Birch’s radiant beauty over the film’s course.  Poor Jerry gets duped into some accessory to murder business…we think.  None of it is very clear.  Based on the true story of Barbara Hoffman, this tale plays with time and the facts like Lynch directing Pynchon.  I can’t help but wonder if PTA’s Inherent Vice might converge with this film in some way…no doubt at a locale with an angry cropduster.

Keith Carradine is good here (resembling Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams).  Also good is Colleen Camp in the small role as Jerry’s mother.  There are scenes of unspeakable sadness and ennui at the dinner table and near the end as she takes the phone call.  We sense a connection to Ellen Burstyn’s performance in Requiem for a Dream (with the mise-en-scène of a Harmony Korine).

One thing is certain: my little piece of shit website shall always sing the praises of one Miss Thora Birch.

-PD

Daydream Nation [2010)

This film had a lot to live up to by bearing the same name as Sonic Youth’s best album.  I was afraid I would either hate it or love it.  Turns out, my experience with it was much more on the positive end of the spectrum.  The viewer “in on” the title might be, like I was, reassured a bit early upon learning that one character is named Thurston (in honor of Thurston Moore, guitarist/vocalist with previously mentioned band).  This film is a nice try…and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Around the time of Godard’s film Le Gai savoir (1969), its auteur started to ideate the concept of “essay” in a particularly French way by having his characters go back to a sort of year zero (which, ironically, never occurred in Western calendar chronology).  The etymology of essay (from French essayer) can be described as “to try” or “to attempt.”  It was really even earlier that Godard started to feel this need to “start from the beginning” in order to express ANYTHING true AT ALL…around the time of 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967).

In Daydream Nation we know ostensibly little about Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) until she makes explicit late in the movie to let us in on her true personality.  But that’s not really accurate.  The film betrays the script.  It is little wonder then that Godard at age 83 himself no longer uses a script (i.e. Adieu au langage).  “The script can only be written after the film is finished,” he said recently in an interview.  And he even means after editing!

But let’s be clear:  the script under consideration is excellent.  References to Atom Egoyan and the Algonquin Round Table don’t hurt!  Yet, these deft drops of name are merely the spice to what is genuinely a well-written piece of drama.

And let’s be even more clear:  director Michael Goldbach did an excellent, excellent job.  I just feel that his best filmmaking might be ahead of him.  That is not at all a bad thing.  Were there no indications of greatness herein, there would be little upon which to base a future hope.

The Lolita element to this film is not entirely believable…at least not at first.  Something about the mise-en-scène (young adult comedy/drama genre conventions) prevents us from believing that Kat Dennings is really that perversely Machiavellian.  The Monica Lewinsky element, while funny, is frankly ludicrous.  Yet, here the script betrays itself.  We know much more about Caroline Wexler early on than she seems to think we know.  This brings into question the form (literary/dramatic) of the work as well as the tired narrator cliché which has become ubiquitous in its present from since American Beauty.  This enters into the arena of “nice try”…because I am thoroughly convinced that Michael Goldberg can do better.

Josh Lucas does a nice job of going from eliciting our sympathy to creeping us the fuck out.  It is in the latter that director Goldberg excels at casting aspersion on this character’s innocence in the serial killings which are plaguing our film’s small town.  There is an elegance in the thrilling suspense which nicely pays back in homage any debt it might owe to Hitchcock.

Ted Whittall plays Caroline’s icy father.  Poor Thurston, the slacker suitor, can’t even get a foot in the door (literally).  It takes the wonderful Andie MacDowell as Thurston’s mother to break down Mr. Wexler’s curt, cynical exterior.

Reece Thompson really blooms into a strong presence over the course of the movie.  Even as an actor, he seems hopeless early on, but his contribution to this film should not at all be overlooked.

The true star, however, is Kat Dennings.  She deserved to be in a film where she gets to romp around to Sonic Youth.  Her acting is up to the task of sharing an editing table with Lou Reed’s “Lady Day” from his best album Berlin (1973).  An ambulance can only go so fast, but the text message generation (SMS=save my soul, says JLG) can put its highest hopes in this young actress from Bryn Mawr, PA because she is already as timeless as Neil Young’s “Expecting To Fly.”  Writers, director, and actress prove themselves worthy of that Buffalo Springfield song which all but wraps up this film as it ascends to a final high.  After all this doom and gloom, I’m ready to see Kat on the beach.  She deserves it.

-PD