Lady Bird [2017)

So much has happened since I last wrote.

Since I last really wrote.

The world has changed.

Donald Trump is President.

And the effort to oust him continues.

But I still support him.

Not blindly.

And yet.

A movie.

Here.

Lady Bird.

At first glance, a daft filmic gesture.

Taken again, a poignant slow-boiler.

And finally I watched the whole thing.

On the third try.

It’s like making a hazelnut blonde latte.

You put the hazelnut.

Pump-specific for size.

And you pull your shots of espresso.

And midway through, you realize you are pulling regular shots.

So you start over.

BLONDE espresso.

And you make the drink the second time.

And you hand it off.

And the drink comes back.

It wa sup be ic.

Iced.

All these fucking abbreviations.

Like being a part of the “intelligence community”.

So you make this same pitiful beverage a third time.

And by now you are woefully behind on the assembly line.

Once behind, there is very little chance of catching up.

Oh.

You will catch up.

Or fall over dead.

And probably no one will care either way.

This is Lady Bird.

Sacramento.

San Antonio.

Orlando.

Shitholes masquerading as metropolises.

Oklahoma City.

Provincial nightmares.

Greta Gerwig did a good job.

I ripped her to shreds the first time I saw her mise-en-scène.

Like a fucking JV football coach blocking The Tempest on a chalkboard.

Bad.

But, as we know, each film is its own language.

Each auteur, or metteur en scène (as the case may be), is a Rosetta Stone.

Mashed together.

Bleeding from one translation to another.

Along the gnarled edge pulled from from the Nile.

Trump is hard-pressed on every side.

And what is this #QAnon business?

Is it real?

I hope so.

Yet it’s terrifying.

Life, mainly.

The whole enchilada.

You work your balls off.

For what?

Are you happy?

Yeah, me neither.

And then you get to a place in life where you have no friends.

Yep.

That’s me.

It’s over.

Right now.

No friends.

Family, yes.

Thank God.

But no friends.

And you feel like a failure to have let down your family.

But maybe you came back for them.

You lazy Messiah, you.

You laid it all on the table…the altar.

Hammered to the sacrifice plane.

And also, you were really dumb.

As always.

But it is an idiot-savant dumbness.

Fuck.

I have a Master’s degree.

And a really specialized bachelor’s degree.

And the two together put me in position to do…just about nothing.

I could find that job.

But it wouldn’t be here.

But let’s talk about drugs.

Sickness.

Exercise.

Work.

Exhaustion.

Sacramento.

Mundane life.

I have hung on.

Barely, sometimes.

As today.

Fucking horrible shift.

God damn it.

Don’t get me started at this late hour.

This elderly midnight.

Premature.

“Time to make the donuts.”

I watch a film, and then I write about it.

Except that it hasn’t happened in a long time.

Because my job is a shock to the senses.

It is a brutal concatenation of events which beat upon my body and soul.

And my PSYCHE!

My brain.

My health.

Exercise good.

Stress bad.

Laziness gets no exercise.

Work gets exercise.

Work gets stress.

It is a tradeoff.

Decision theory.

And so I humbly pray to God.

That God will send me friends.

That love has not passed me by forever.

That my mind will be healed.

That my body will be strengthened.

That i will find the will to make difficult choices.

Which lead to health and happiness.

It is uphill.

I am not young like Lady Bird.

I’m old.

I’m a failure.

“I been all around the world, boys…”

What does life hold for me?

What does tomorrow hold?

Can I get out of fucking bed?

Will my joints ache as much as they usually do?

What’s the point?

What’s the plan?

Must rest to continue.

Must have hope to continue.

Where’s the hope?

I need hope.

I am a religious man.

And so I ask God, here among witnesses, to grant me hope.

I ask that my method be acceptable.

I believe in God.

And I feel the Spirit with me now.

I am scared.

I don’t know what the next day brings.

I don’t know which way to steer my ship.

And so I ask for Divine intervention.

A nudge.

A signal.

A sign.

That still-small voice.

Lord, help me to know.

Where to go.

Help me in my weakness.

Shore up my deficiencies.

Make your power evident in my poverty.

A film.

Lady Bird.

A country.

Coup and countercoup.

Q is the countercoup.

Assuming it’s real.

And a life.

I am here.

I can watch films.

When my brain allows.

But I know that in order to keep going, I need a miracle.

What will it be?

I have no idea.

I ask, Lord, that you have mercy upon me.

I ask that you comfort me and give me guidance.

I come to your feet humbly.

This is an excellent movie.

Saoirse Ronan is great here.

It is a poignant story by Greta Gerwig.

May we all be richly blessed by the Creator.

I pray this is Jesus’ name.

 

-PD

An American in Madras [2013)

Here we come again to India.

And again to Tamil Nadu.

When last we visited India in our minds, we spoke of For the Love of a Man.

Another Tamil documentary.

About the superstar of South India:  Rajinikanth.

But An American in Madras takes us back.

WAY back!

Indeed, it is the story of a man named Ellis Dungan.

And his 15 years of fame (complete with tuned klaxons) [meme mixing] was 1935-1950.

Ellis Dungan from Barton, Ohio.

Who went to Spain.

And bicycled to France.

Worked a bit in Paris.

Became interested in photography.

And somehow ended up in one of the first cinema cohorts at USC.

Met an Indian student.

Got an invite to Madras (Chennai).

And six months turned into fifteen years.

Isn’t that the way life works?

If you think I’ve spoiled too much of this story, you’re WAY wrong.

There is so much more to this fantastic documentary directed by Karan Bali.

Mr. Bali is in his prime, being just 48 years young.

But he has made a significant contribution to cinema with this picture.

Yes, this story is unique and compelling.

But again, we get a priceless view of India.

I promise we will move from Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu eventually (the only two provinces I have really covered).

But you really must see An American in Madras.

It is currently on Netflix.

And by the screenshot–the thumbnail…you might think it’s about a Jewish director.

That would be wonderful and fine.

But you would be wrong in assuming such.

Indeed, it seems that the six-pointed star on the “film poster” is not the Star of David but perhaps, rather, the Star of Goloka.

Which is to say, an Indian six-pointed star.

And though there are (and certainly were) Jews in India (though not very many…all things considered), An American in Madras is just about a bloke from Ohio who somehow ended up directing some (14) of the classic Tamil-language films.

1935-1950.

He left India at the behest of his wife.

They divorced a short time later.

Okay, ok…I will stop giving spoilers.

But suffice it to say that An American in Madras tackles a very sticky conundrum:

motivation.

For most of my life, my main motivation has been EXPRESSION…

What I’m doing right now.

Showing off my verbiage.

But hopefully adding value to the world.

[there goes my business school dissection…it’s second-nature now!]

And yet, my motivation changed.

For I was presented with a crossroads.

Not like Robert Johnson’s crossroads…

But more like Robert Frost’s crossroads.

Two paths.

God damn it!

I chose the path less-taken.

I chose love.

Not lust.

Not romance.

Just love.

And it doesn’t make me a saint.

But it is what it is.

I gave up music.

I gave up expression as my main motivation.

And I attempted to evolve.

To nudge an inch closer to nirvana.

I chose love.

As my main motivation.

It is not a rockstar path.

Mother Theresa probably had some pretty rough days…

And I ain’t no Mother Theresa.

But I’m trying.

Trying to put other people before myself.

Often failing.

But steadfast.

I am on the path.

And yes, I become wistful.

It seems like 40 years ago.

Maybe I can catch a wisp of song in my memory…a shard…a sherd…some hieroglyph of my past life.

But growing into an adult can entail smiling through the tears.

Singing a snippet, and being glad to be here now.

-PD

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso [1988)

One of the greatest of all time.

I wasn’t sure I could handle the flood of emotions this film was bound to trigger.

But I went for it.

And it is, truly, a masterpiece.

Essential viewing.

In the U.S. we know it simply as Cinema Paradiso, but I wish to honor director Giuseppe Tornatore by reviewing it under the Italian title.

This film is full of fear and regret…because it is reminiscence.

Gone long from home.

Many years away from family.

Moreover, there are few films which portray a pure love for cinema quite like this one.

What we have is a mentorship.  Alfredo, the mentor…and Toto, the mentee.

There are so many magical shots…so many jewel-like devices of cinematic deftness which make this picture truly special.

When I was a young man, this film taught me the potential of cinema.

And my fear at the time was losing my past.

But now that I have, by the grace of God, returned to my homeland, my fear tonight was reimmersing myself in the beauty of misery.

Or the misery of beauty.

In accounting, they teach you to ignore sunk costs.

But the human psyche still yearns for the one that got away.

We analyze our past decisions.

We lament our judgement.

But the costs of love, the economic costs of love (the totality of what was at stake) cannot be so easily dismissed.

Maybe it was not meant to work out.

But there are some very painful, lonely yearnings which age us like a bottle of scotch.

Perhaps our pain will be someone’s joy.

We cannot live with a “letter never sent”.

But a letter never answered can be so indescribably mournful.

And so we have come back.

Having tried our luck and worked our hands to the bone.

And we praise God for the opportunity to see Alfredo again.

The whole family.

It’s a trade-off.

And lost love still leaves us wistful.

Maybe we don’t understand the reverse culture shock we have been battling.

For several years.

Maybe we are yet too young.

To see our homeland with eyes of clarity.

This is what Philippe Noiret tells Marco Leonardi.

You’re not old enough yet…to be here.

Noiret is really the star of this film.

With his big mustache.  And his close-cropped hair.

The projectionist.

But none of this would have been possible without the child.

Toto.  Salvatore Cascio.

His impish smile.  His hunger to learn.

We see a filmmaker in the making of himself.

And while Jacques Perrin is quite special as the grown-up Toto,

there is one key personality I must touch upon.

Agnese Nano.

This actress changed my life.

And I fell in love with her understudy.

Perhaps years later I did the same again.

Those blue eyes always kill you.

But it was when I first saw this.  In 1998.

I fell in love.

And it didn’t work out so well.

It was too much.

Ill-fated.

Romeo and Juliet.

I felt I was lower-class.

I had no confidence.

It is these things which we regret.

How a word could have been different.

How a revelation might have changed history.

But we praise God for Pupella Maggio.

Thank you, God, for your blessings.

This film has made me very emotional.

Because it is a masterpiece.

And we shall sail on.

Into the night sky.

And remember how Ennio Morricone guided our every blessed footstep in our Garden of Eden.  Over paths encrusted with tiny diamonds here and there…which would catch the reflection of the moon.  We walked the path the best we could.

-PD

J. Edgar [2011)

“I read the news today, oh boy…”

Ever since John Lennon sang those words on Sgt. Pepper‘s (and likely long before that) the news has had the power to depress us.

The power to shock.

The power to put our day into a tailspin.

But can we avoid the news?

And, perhaps more importantly, what is news?

As for avoidance.

Sometimes it is recommended.

To unplug.  To disconnect.

We all hit our saturation points concerning the dissemination of details.

Just what is deemed newsworthy accounts for much of our discomfort in keeping ourselves  abreast.

Even as private citizens.

We want to know the goings-on of the world.

Out of a sense of self-preservation.  To protect our families.

To be prepared.  Informed.  Able to make better decisions (we hope).

Today I made the mistake of digging a little deeper than recently.

And I came across several pieces on the ongoing pizzagate controversy.

I must start by saying that I have not followed this story much since the election.

Indeed, if the allegations are true, it is unfathomably revolting.

But there comes a time when waffling has its benefits.

I will just say that I don’t know what the truth is concerning pizzagate.

I’ve seen the pictures.  I’ve read the names.  I’ve connected the dots.

And now the ball is (back) in the FBI’s court.

[And perhaps that of the NYPD as well]

But it is germane to discuss a parallel matter which bears upon pizzagate.

And that is the coup which Dr. Steve Pieczenik described as having been undertaken by Hillary Clinton and her cabal around the first of November.

Just what was this coup?

Dr. Pieczenik was scant on details.

But perhaps it was the absolving statement of FBI Director James Comey.

And, if we give Mr. Comey the benefit of the doubt (which I’m not sure he deserves), then we might assume that the Clinton coup was largely activated from within the Department of Justice.  In essence, Comey’s boss (Loretta Lynch) could very well have compelled the Director to issue that statement at that particular time.

That would, in some ways, be a significant manifestation of a coup in progress.

Contrary to this was the countercoup of which Dr. Pieczenik spoke.

As I have written previously, this countercoup appears to have been initiated by other branches of the U.S. government (particularly the 16 intelligence agencies).  Dr. Pieczenik seemed to intimate that it was military intelligence in particular which was taking a lead on countering Clinton’s attempted coup.

Beyond these details (and they are vague), I know not much.

But we should return to pizzagate.

We should consider it as a phenomenon which might have several explanations.

Putting all our cards on the table, it is not out of the question that pizzagate was in itself the countercoup.

Which is not to say the allegations are false.

Indeed, it appears that the instigators of the countercoup were working closely with WikiLeaks to prevent Hillary Clinton from stealing an election by leveraging the Department of Justice (and other parts of the executive branch) improperly.

But there is a further possibility.

And I will pose it as a question.

Have we been the targets of a very sophisticated psychological operation?

And even muddier…did this operation save our country?

Investigating a child kidnapping Satanic ritualistic murder pedophile ring is certainly the purview of federal authorities.

The FBI.

But how much has the FBI been compromised?

Any American with at least two brain cells to rub together lost immense confidence in the Bureau in the years following 9/11.

And so history keeps repeating itself.

Sham investigations.  Issues too big to cover.

JFK.  9/11.  A litany forwards and backwards.

But I am beating around the bush.

I want to apologize if I have been less-than-stellar in citing my sources in the practice of my film criticism.

This is not an academic site.

I do not seek peer review.

But I do not lie.

I may jump to conclusions.

And yet, I would fancy myself a fairly astute observer.

Apologizing further, I do not seek to defame anyone.

That would be something too horrible to do (especially with the gravity of the pizzagate allegations).

But information will organically find its level as long as law enforcement is neutered by insiders.

Which brings us to a wonderful film by director Clint Eastwood.

This film covers just what we are talking about.

What is right.  What is wrong.

What methods are appropriate.  What methods are effective.

But at the heart of this controversial film (about a controversial personage) is the idea of serving one’s country.

However, we encounter much here which could fall into the “noble lie” category.

All of that aside, the idea of government service is put in its proper light.

A dirty game, sometimes.  But a noble pursuit.

And so this is less a review of the film J. Edgar and more a letter of THANK YOU to the men and women of the FBI.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of seeing unspeakable atrocities.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of following every lead.

But we thank you one further:

thank you for remaining humans.

You know the right thing to do.

Do the right thing.

And we will too.

From the depths of our hearts,

we salute you.

A bit late for all your thankless tasks gone by.

And in advance of your excellence…your leading by example…your adherence to the highest ethics…which we know will be evident in your future work.

-PD

Sommaren med Monika [1953)

This film hits a depth like no other.

Summer with Monika.

I should have said, nothing is more persistent than love.

There.

And the ups and downs of love are painted by Ingmar Bergman in their greatest glory and most miserable despair.

Two kids rebelling.

Such freedom.

There are moments which presage Pierrot le fou.

On the beach.

In the most carefree sense. And also in the Neil Young sense.

Two characters attracted to one another.

One freewheeling.  The other a more reserved being.

Several dreams interwoven.

Security.  Tenderness.  Camaraderie.  Courage.

Harriet Andersson is the star.  Shining bright.

Ice.

Pursuit of the elements.

“Slip inside my sleeping bag” as ZZ Top sang.

Two kids against the world.

Such a sparse recounting.

Quitting jobs.

The stress.

The harassment.

Bergman showing the unique pressures of young women.

But everything is so sweet.

With a girl not afraid.

To take the role of the man.

Not let life pass by.

This film made an immense impression on me when I first saw it.

Almost like Tropic of Cancer shuffled with Tropic of Capricorn and compressed to a pamphlet.

But it feels epic.

Film does that.

We can feel everything in an hour and a half.

We can shake our asses in three minutes.

Get the message in 30 seconds.

But life intervenes.

And we have to make some ugly choices.

We must pawn our scant comforts.

And aspire to one day again achieve “augmented survival”.

Debord again.

Monika wants nothing to do with it.

Her Henry Miller streak is longer.

And it’s pretty ugly.

Though she played the most beautiful hippie before beatniks even snapped.

Up and down.

Gives you the bends.

Few films capture the razor’s edge of pleasure and pain…the excruciating detail of ecstasy and sad panic.

Bergman was a master.  Along with Wild Strawberries, this is his true winner.

 

-PD

 

続・座頭市物語 [1962)

[THE TALE OF ZATOICHI CONTINUES (1962)]

I must admit that The Tale of Zatoichi didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

But this film, The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, is a masterpiece.

This time out, we are treated to the direction of Kazuo Mori.

It is a very artful, weightless creation.  Floating, as they say…

Entertainment…the fad of movies…with ever changing tastes.

But yet art, all the same…like Hokusai.

It seems that this was the last film Mr. Mori directed.

It’s a very special picture.

But we must return to the man who plays the blind, wandering masseur (!) Zatoichi.

Shintaro Katsu is so phenomenal here!!!

It all revolves around integrity.

Simple actions.

But we find real cinema in the tickling massage of an eccentric lord.

Indeed, wandering masseur does not exactly translate to American genres such as the Western.

But Zatoichi is a swordsman of the highest renown.

His walking cane contains his sword (just in case).

He is a reasonable man.

Not to be bullied.

It’s unnecessary.

Karma will bring about one last shared laugh.

After stopping by the stream.

After Beethoven Symphony No. 6.

The underwater grass swaying with the currents.

And the three levels (worlds) about which M.C. Escher taught us.

A bug…or a pebble…polished stone…sinks…ripple.

Little blossoms of yellow.

We don’t know.  1962.  We imagine.

Friendship has withered like fish left on their lines in the summer sun.

Dried.  Desiccated.

Decision theory.

Yes, it is abrupt.

But not to be missed.

 

-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

I fidanzati [1963)

This is a fucking depressing film.

I don’t think I’ve ever started like that before.

Because it matters.  How you start.

But maybe it’s just a mirror.

This film.

I can imagine few pieces of cinema summing up my life at this moment quite as well as I fidanzati does.

I’m sure there’s a dangling modifier in there somewhere.

But what about the welder?

The man adrift.

Sent to some godforsaken place for the company.

I made the right decision.  But I went to the wrong place.

Unfortunately, there is no separating the two.

Work.

Too much work.

All of our thoughts occupied with work.

And what do we get out of the equation?

Nothing.

Almost nothing.

Might as well be nothing.

It is a particularly Italian version of hell on display in I fidanzati.

Ermanno Olmi was a brilliant director here.

And he lives.  84 years young.

Sure.

Some things end well.

Young girls like happy endings.

But this one is hard to get over.

It’s really harrowing having nothing to live for.

And how would I know that?

You have a phone.  It doesn’t ring.

In fact, you sometimes wonder whether your messages get delivered at all.

You have a heart.

When is the last time someone spoke to your heart?

I understand.

We are shackled.  Paralyzed.  Crippled.

Life is sucked out of us like a lemon peel in the Sicilian heat.

No, I don’t understand.

Is this how karma works?

Surely this jungle will spare me.

I can think of Anna Canzi.

Her face is a melody.

And I relate to those sad cheeks.

You keep writing because you haven’t yet expressed it.

It.

That which you need to get off your soul.

Soul.

That living feeling inside you.

Primitive man suffering with his superstitions.

Poor man paying for his ignorance.

Not all are willfully unprepared.

What could have prepared you for this situation?

Other than this situation?

That is Situationism.

Science and humanities will argue that metaphor…or rather analogy.

That this will teach you.

It is like this.  And like that.  But unlike the other thing.

No.

I disagree.

It is unlike anything I’ve ever known.

Youth was lonely.

This is vicious.

There is.

A bar down the street.

But only in the movies.

Yet here it is exposed for what it really would be.

Empty.

Loud music and louder lights.  Life!  Vitality!  Excitement!

Inside is an old woman at a cash register.

There is a little metal display tree with ballpoint pens on one side.

The rest of the lopsided taunt is vacant.

And then the little boy.

Getting ahead in life.

Like Michele Sindona.

Making the espresso.  Quicker!  Faster!

Washing the dishes…

And hauling the fruit back and forth…

The citrus.

The service.

The difference in price from one location to another.

Goldfinger.

They Drive by Night

Good god…

It doesn’t get much more depressing.

And there should be some positive message to end it off.

And there is.

Which makes it even more sad.

Because the film was running long.

And maybe it won’t win shit at Cannes.

Did you ever think about that?

So then you have a depressing film on your hands for domestic audiences.

And they spend their hard-earned cash.

And what the fuck is this shit?

Oh…Anna, Monica…don’t go see this film.

It is so depressing!

But there’s the answer.

I fidanzati succeeds because it shows a side of life we don’t want to see.

What?

It succeeds…53 years later.

Because it was true.

It stuck to its guns.

It was meaningful.

So many other films from that year…

Utterly pointless.

Diversions.

Sad candy.

But here…

Yeah.  It’s a bummer.

But it’s real.

You can stare up at it and wonder how Signor Olmi painted such color in black and white.

How he lovingly distinguished gray from grey…and Juan from Gris.

Is it the same?

From language to language?

Gray?

Even within the Commonwealth…

We damned Americans.

No.

And yes.

This.

Sadness transcends.

No explanation needed.

The machines rule us.

Time is our master.

Money mocks our fragility.

On every continent.

An indispensable story.

 

-PD