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

Sixteen Candles [1984)

If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.

Seriously.

Because I didn’t believe.

Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.

It being the John Hughes phenomenon.

While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.

Now I get it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.

Don’t laugh.

What would André Bazin make of this film?  Or Gilles Deleuze?  Or Christian Metz?

Who cares???

Well, I care…

But what’s important is what YOU make of it.

And in this case, what I make of it.

But let’s get one thing straight:  Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.

Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.

It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of King Lear (1987).

Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (à la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.

But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.

So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings of 1939.

But none of this shit really matters.

What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.

And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.

AT&T gets it.  Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.

But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.

Because America has changed.

We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s 1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.

Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.

But he’s a great guy.  And a fine actor.

And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.

John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.

The outcast wins.

But the conservative wins too.

Really, everybody wins.

That’s what value-creation will do.

But let’s back to A.M. Hall.  This bloke…

What a performance!

And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.

In the auto body shop.

And so what do we get?

Romance.  Misery.  And tons of fucking jokes.

We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.

The previous year he had written National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase.

Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).

You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct?  How about Home Alone? [check] Or Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)?  [check]

But let’s get another thing straight:  this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!

But none of this shit matters.

What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.

What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.

Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.

Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.

And immediate regret.

What films do this?

Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.

And rightly so.

Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.

Looking through the yearbook.

And seeing the one.

The one who burns in your heart.

In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).

Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.

And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.

There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication.  Telephone calls.  House calls.

And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.

But what makes all this believable?  The supporting cast.

John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses).  And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.

But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.

The tunes are right.  The attention to detail is solid.

Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).

Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.

The cassette?  Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Yes, Brian Eno.

And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.

David Bowie.

Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator]

Everything is right sonically.

The band instruments on the school bus.

The Dragnet quotes.

The gongs for Long Duk Dong.

“Lenny” by SRV in the car.  Half a car.

It’s so very sweet.  And sotto voce.  And real.

It’s a mix.  It doesn’t intrude.  You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.

And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.

So rest in peace, John Hughes.  And thank you for this film.

Et je vous salue, Molly!  Merci for the film.

And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.

Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.

It is the immortality principle of film.

John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.

I am profoundly grateful.

-PD

National Lampoon’s Animal House [1978)

As far as I can tell, I have finished my MBA in management.

Two years of extreme work ended yesterday.

And now I am left to ponder just what the hell I did.

Unlike Mr. Blutarsky (0.0 grade point average), I maintained a 4.00 GPA for my entire graduate studies program.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a film like this.

This is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

If you’re not in the right mood, it might turn you off.

But there are plenty of laughs to be had in this classic.

Tom Hulce has a decent shot to join a top-flight fraternity.

His roomie, Stephen Furst is a bit portly and socially daft.

But as in the best college movies, we discover a place for outcasts.

That particular place in this film is the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house.

The 1970s were different.

It was still a joke that the ethnic minorities were segregated into a room at rush parties…along with the blind…and honky dweebs like Hulce (and especially Furst).

It was not a politically correct atmosphere.

It was irreverent.

But the real star in the early going (and throughout much of the film) is Karen Allen.

What a beauty!

James Daughton was briefly in another film we reviewed recently:  Spies Like Us.

Yes, dear friends…this is another John Landis success.

And so Landis seemed to have a sort of pool (including Daughton) from which he was pulling.

Mark Metcalf is appropriately hatable as the Army ROTC officer who makes life miserable for Furst.

But the real inspiration…the spark of genius…is John Belushi as Bluto.

“…when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”

Exactly.

Also integral is an actor born right here in my hometown:  Bruce McGill (as D-Day).

Plenty of togas.

Lots of beer.  “It don’t cost nuthin’.”

These guys know how to have fun.

And Sarah Holcomb is great.

[Oops…she’s 13?!?]

The film enters “on the road” territory when some of the Deltas visit Emily Dickinson College.

It really is a pretty hilarious bit!

Tim Matheson is the master of strategy for this scraggly band of losers.

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen this, but Donald Sutherland is really excellent as the professor attempting to interest nonplussed undergrads in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

And so, with that…I’m back!

I hope to get back to reading all of your excellent blogs.

And thank you so much for supporting me even when I was swamped with schoolwork.

🙂

-PD

Twin Peaks “The Orchid’s Curse” [1990)

6:42 a.m.

Rough sleep.

Bit of a logjam.

@ The Great Northern.

And so we learn that life doesn’t work out like on television.

Doesn’t get spun into gold as at the movies.

But we still admire when we identify.

What is the purpose for anything?

All we can control is working hard.

Max Weber.

Recessed to a cul-de-sac of the mind.

Travel alarm.

Audacious mission.

The usual humor from Harry Goaz (UT graduate).

Austin.

And Kimmy Robertson.

A melodrama fit for melodrama.

Post-modern fit for fat.  Tic-tac-toe.

Episode improves upon recitative drought.

The creepiest collection of personages this side of the Mississippi River.

Casting at gas stations.  Diners.  Truck stops.  Rest stops.

Toll booths.  Strip malls.  Turnpikes.  Donut and taco situations.

And always some French fries.

Derrida’s brisure at “doohickey”.

 

-PD

 

Pumpkin [2002)

This is almost a perfect film.

Because it’s better than perfect.

Like Napoleon Dynamite, what should have been a larf was generally a sobfest for me throughout.

If you’re having problems in life, you need to see this movie.

Hollywood is so denigrated these days because the vast majority of popular cinema is utter shite.

From the very beginning, Pumpkin is different.

We should thank American Zoetrope.

And for that we have to thank Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

Do you even know what a zoetrope is?

Well, I do.

And they did.

And it was le mot juste.

A zoetrope is special.

Let’s call it retarded cinema.

A more pure form.  Slowed down.

Pumpkin grossed $308,552 at the box office.

No, I didn’t forget a comma and an additional three digits.

But the Bureau of Labor Statistics has no way of predicting the sort of inflation Pumpkin will experience in the annals of cinema history.

For any who have ever doubted Christina Ricci:  this is her masterpiece.

As lead actress and coproducer, she gives a performance which goes deeper than even the esteemed Thora Birch in Ghost World.

Yes, this is that sort of film.

Indispensable.

I have overused it of late.

But there is no other word.  Pumpkin and Ghost World and Napoleon Dynamite are not second-class films to such as I fidanzati.  No.  They are equals with Ermanno Olmi’s masterpiece.

But don’t get confused.

Pumpkin goes in a direction completely “other” than any film I’ve ever seen.

Sure…it starts out tongue-in-cheek.

It is perhaps a dystopia which is best summed up by the saccharine mise-en-scène of The Truman Show.  But where The Truman Show fails (and that is in many places), Pumpkin succeeds at telling a timeless story.

The story is the cast.

[Thank you Marshall McLuhan.]

Ricci is a thespian goddess here.  Real skill.  Real goddamn skill!

But neck-and-neck is Hank Harris.

I can’t nail it.

It’s something I saw long ago.

At my college orientation.

A bit of Sam Shepard and some other playwrights.

Sure.  It is Steinbeck.  Of Mice and Men.

But it’s more.

Sweeter.  More optimistic.  More frothing with disgust.

All three.

A concoction.

Frozen yogurt and 1400 on the SAT.

Harry Lennix is indispensable to the story.  [start counting]

He is the angry poet.  Not a college professor.  And this is not a class.

This is a poetry workshop, motherfucker!

Even Julio Oscar Mechoso is indispensable in his short role as Dr. Frederico Cruz.  [where we at?]

But let’s talk about some buttresses.

Melissa McCarthy is indispensable (truly) as Julie.

It’s not an easy role.

And yet, she’s not as bad off as Pumpkin.

Who’s Pumpkin?

Is it Christina Ricci with her jack-o’-lantern-perfect bob–her Chantal Goya -meets- David Bowie Low surf perm?  That one little curl…so perfect…all the way ’round?

No.

It’s Hank Harris.

He’s Pumpkin.  Napoleon.  Lothario.

But Sam Ball is especially indispensable here.  [Ugh…]

He is Ken (actually Kent) to Ricci’s Barbie.

Tennis pro.

Spitting image of Ryan Reynolds.

Or Whitney Houston…

Anyway.

This cast brings it together.

Bringing it all back home are directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder (neither of whom have a Wikipedia page).

BLOODY HELL, HOLLYWOOD!  HOW COULD YOU CHURN OUT SO MANY FILMS AND NOT SEE THE BRILLIANCE OF THESE TWO BLOKES!?!?!?!?!

But in the end it’s just Ricci and Hank Harris.

The brilliance of a duo.

A truly timeless film.

I’m inclined to agree with many (including Dr. Steve Pieczenik) that Adam Lanza did not exist.

But Pumpkin Romanoff (a nod to Michael Romanoff, the storied Lithuanian restaurateur of 1940s/50s Hollywood?) most certainly did exist.  For me.  Tonight.  When I needed him most.

This is immortality.

 

-PD

Spectre [2015)

There’s a moment in this film when a character says “shoot” instead of “shit”.  It is the linchpin of the film.  What follows is the strangest cut in James Bond history since Roger Moore abruptly went gaucho in Moonraker.  But what we cut to is perhaps the first truly vicious, self-inflicted attack of self-parody the James Bond franchise has ever experienced.  Yes, self-parody.  Vicious.  Like a postmodern vomit of confetti.  This whole film.  But mainly starting at the amorous activities which follow the word “shoot”.

Derrida would find his hinge for deconstruction at “shoot”.  As if the film could not bear one more mild expletive and still retain its PG-13 rating.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

A series notorious for running low on creativity must have been thrilled to have the intellectual property rights to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. following the death of Kevin McClory.  It was not just the death of McClory which allowed the franchise to resurrect its proto-NWO, but also the acquisition by MGM and Danjac LLC of McClory’s estate in late 2013.

And so things must have looked rosy for Eon Productions.

Sadly, they made a few blunders.

Those blunders became the ramshackle, mutilated would-be masterpiece Spectre.

And so just what were these mistakes?

My guess is that many of them occurred behind closed doors.

There are moments in this film at which a film school freshman could have done a better job reeling in the mise-en-scène than did Sam Mendes.  But there’s a problem with that equation.  Sam Mendes is not that bad a director.  NO ONE wielding a nine-figure budget is that bad a director.  And so chalk another crappy movie up to the real villains:  MGM and Colombia Pictures.  Credit Eon Productions likewise with rubberstamping this high-school-science-fair of a picture.

But we can’t let Mendes off that easily.  I hope it was a good payday (again) Sam, because this film is generally a piece of shit.

HOWEVER…there are moments of what could have been.  If the executives had kept their noses (and asses) out of the production process, this could have been a homerun.

Christopher Waltz is good when approached with Hitchcockean framing.  As a silhouette.  You can feel Mendes reaching for Mulholland Dr.  But as per the Sony hacks, eventually you have to show the guy (or do you?).  Suffice it to say that Mr. Waltz is the least-scary Bond villain ever and barely more creepy than Jar Jar Binks.

And so it becomes obvious that cost cutting has its downside.  Who was the other bloke they were going to get for the villain?  Who cares.  Waltz sucks royally.  And yet, he is more competent as an actor than the film is solid in structural integrity.

As a whole, Spectre is a disaster which should never have made it out the door of the dream factory.  Anyone with an artistic bone in their body could have “fixed” this film.  Mendes was apparently not allowed to actually direct.

Fix number one would have been cutting an hour’s worth of superfluous meh.  I mean, really godawful, expensive, explosive meh.  Jesus…this film didn’t need to try and compete with Spiderman or whatever the superhero flavor of the week is.

The writers (God, the writers…) of this film are not worth their weight in rancid butter.  I heard rumors that the dialogue was bad.  Truth is, it is dry-heave bad…but mainly near the end of the film (the last quarter).

Next time, spend $200 mil. on a single, competent writer (Pynchon perhaps) and <$1 mil. on stunts and CGI.  This film experiences a leveraged shite effect throughout.  Oh, by the way…the opening scene in Mexico City is probably the weakest part of the film.  I would rather see Daniel Craig take a moist crap on a silver platter.

But let’s be fair…

This film tried.  It had grand aspirations.  SPECTRE…yes, bringing it all back home.  Establishing credibility from New World Order to Snowden.  Awesome.  Well-done in that regard.

As for the execution…for fuck’s sake.

I’d rather have a clumsily-performed lobotomy than watch this film again any time soon.

The biggest upside of the film is Léa Seydoux.  Ok, so casting got one thing right.  It almost makes up for Christopher “The Last” Waltz.

There are very important themes addressed in this film.  This could have been a light for liberty.  Someone sabotaged it.  Find that corporate person and you have found the real head of the real SPECTRE.

-PD