Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure [1985)

This movie is kinda like LSD.

Not that I would know.

But from what I hear…

If you come into it with fear and anxiety, it will be a grating, disorienting, annoying experience.  Frightening.

But if you come into it at peace and relaxed, you might just have a wonderful time viewing this movie.

The first third of the film was tense for me.

Everything is tense for me.

Thank God for drugs.

And so the rest of the film was quite charming and (dare I say?) meaningful.

We probably all know the Pee-Wee story…how he got caught whacking off in an adult movie theater.

But everyone deserves a second chance.

Sure, a guy who wakes up in the morning wearing lipstick and rouge might be a little suspect to some, but this whole film is fantasy.

Back to psychedelics…

It’s only appropriate that my old computer has just come down with the trippiest virus I’ve ever seen.

But no matter.

We push on.

Five more days.

Yes, Pee-Wee is like Mr. Bean.

And when Pee-Wee dances, it presages Napoleon Dynamite’s talent show jaw-dropper by some years.

Paul Reubenfeld –> Paul Reubens –> Pee-Wee Herman

In Hollywood, you can be anyone you want to be.

That’s entertainment (as The Jam sang).

But we have to give a shout out to the adorable Elizabeth Daily who plays Dottie.

Madame Ruby only accepts cash…even on a rainy night.

But she also does income tax.

Sure, Pee-Wee looks a little too comfortable in his Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Laverne-&-Shirley frock, but that’s part of his oblivious joy.

Large Marge is, of course, unforgettable.

Diane Salinger is really great as Simone.

With that aching dream to get to France.

I know.  This dream.

I lived it.

And how I’d so like to go back.

“Au revoir, Simone…”

Nothing like sitting on a tongue…watching the sun come up between some teeth.

But then we get my hometown.

San Antonio.

And a lot of it!

Please don’t think we all speak like Jan Hooks 🙂

As an amnesiac, Pee-Wee can recall but one thing:

“Remember the Alamo!”

Yee-Haw!!!

So let’s see…fainting after bike theft (Truffaut) followed by EMS and oxygen?  Check.

Amnesia after being thrown from a bull?  Check.

Hospitalization after riding a Harley through a wooden sign?  Check.

I am remiss to mention that I forgot the appendectomy in Spies Like Us.

These signs that God is looking out for us.

And France.

A story which didn’t resonate during my youth.

But only after I’d fallen in love to Messiaen.

Only after I became Tropic of Cancer.

A duck in Milton Berle’s pants is enough to get Pee-Wee on set at Warner Brothers.

What ensues is truly a zany take on the car chase cliche.

Then Pee-Wee frees the animals at the zoo.  XMAS

And with handfuls of snakes, faints again (trumping Truffaut) before first responders revive him.

Breaking the rules was a way to promotion in the 1980s.

And when it’s couched in playful imagination, it is charming indeed.

When it’s funny.  A farce.  Comedic.

Pee-Wee as bellhop is like Jason Schwartzman’s understudy in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Director Tim Burton deserves heaping credit for making this an actually timeless film.  It is creative throughout.

It’s really a joy to see.

Just don’t take the brown acid.

-PD

Spaceballs [1987)

I bet you thought I’d never review a movie again 🙂

I was beginning to doubt it myself.

But in this immensely-stressful election season (unlike anything I have ever seen before), it seemed a bit of a laugh was in order.

And so, while this is not exactly Citizen Kane, at least it’s a motion picture in the proper sense.

Comedies of the 1980s were what I grew up on.

I must say, this one hasn’t aged very well.

I could have just heard, “We ain’t found shit!,” grabbed my ‘fro pick, and called it a day.

But I stuck it out.

So let’s analyze this sucker, shall we?

I’ve tried to watch some Mel Brooks films recently.

They almost all seem to suffer from their throwaway nature.

There are exceptions.

Blazing Saddles is 92 minutes of “We ain’t found shit” (more or less).

Young Frankenstein is actually a masterpiece.

But, as said, the film under consideration is a little less than stellar (pun intended).

While Spaceballs can’t be called comedic genius, it is still extremely clever.

Prince Valium.

That’s a good one!

Pizza the Hutt is clever (and even more disgusting than Jabba).

The Winnebago is a nice touch.

Bumper stickers.

“They’ve gone to plaid.”

All very inventive.

The Dinks dinking out the “Colonel Bogey March”…

Indeed, there are some happy moments here 🙂

And of course, there’s The Schwartz.

The Jewish influence is strong throughout the film.

It’s funny.  I guess.

My only complaint is that it’s a bit insular.

Very over-the-top.

If you’re Jewish, maybe it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen.

If you’re a Gentile or goy or whatever I’m called, maybe it’s not as funny.

There’s nothing mean-spirited about this film.

I don’t want to imply that.

It’s just not something that an intelligent person can connect with on any substantive level.

And of course, that’s the whole point.

It’s supposed to be fun.

I get the concept.

I guess this film just isn’t my idea of fun.

To Mel Brooks’ credit, the film plays extensively with the much-vaunted “fourth wall” as well as temporality and simultaneity.

Ah, VHS…

Mr. Coffee.  And Mr. Radar.

Mega Maid is damned creative!

Suck.  Suck.  Suck.

Even the transformation of Druidia’s demonym Druish into Jewish jokes is very savvy.

But I must admit…the only reason to watch this film is to see the stunning Daphne Zuniga at work.

Not sure how Daphne Janawicz became Daphne Zuniga, but who cares?

Mel Brooks held my attention (just barely) for 96 minutes.

Sure, the jokes are “of the time”.

I get it.

At any rate, it is a wonderful time capsule and a nice revisit to my youth in these stressful days of global unrest.

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benny & Joon [1993)

I’ve had this feeling before.

It’s almost a great movie, but I’m not even sure it’s a good movie.

That is the mystery of cinema.

How easy it is to miss the mark.

Sure, there are performances within which are genuinely touching.

Mary Stuart Masterson on the bus is convincing.

It’s art.

But Johnny Depp’s a little blah here.

It’s not his best work.

The concept for this film was fantastic.

Somehow director Jeremiah Chechik didn’t or couldn’t get the performances out of his leading actors which would have made this a truly special film.

I watched the whole thing.

I’d always been curious.

It’s an almost.  A very touching story not quite brought to fruition.

It’s strange because Chechik had previously directed the masterpiece National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Maybe the shitter was full.

Depp needed to be weirder here.  Between Scissorhands and Hunter S. Thompson.  Somehow his performance just seemed a little bland.

It must have been difficult.

The trick was probably trying not to overpower Masterson’s performance.

In that respect, he does a nice job.  He shows restraint.

But it just doesn’t translate as a film.

The subplot between Benny (Aidan Quinn) and Ruthie (Julianne Moore) is frankly boring.

This film either needed to go into hyperrealist Harmony Korine mode or needed to be a whole hell of a lot more magical and creative in the Depp-centric trajectory I delineated previously.

Too late now.  Too.  Late.  Now.

Now we all have our own lives to live.

Our own films to make.

Learn the lessons.

Honor the mystery.

 

-PD

El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD