Hot Fuzz [2007)

Better than Paul in many ways, but also irritating.

Hot Fuzz is a great film ruined by a second half steeped in “comedy horror”.

While the gore isn’t as disturbing as that in American Psycho [a film which really relishes its own sick perversity], it’s still unnecessary.

In what kind of age and societies do we live where such trivialization of bloodshed is embraced as “funny”?

Perhaps it’s some social scourge that as popped up as a byproduct of the War “on” Terror.

Nevertheless, it is a filmmaking trend which is as trite as it is disgusting.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are plenty talented without such puerile Ed Gein fantasies.

 

-PD

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

🙂

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of naïveté ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet 🙂

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sertão.

But Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first:  he’s a film director.

And second:  he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story…  Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man.  He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves.  And it was this Indian film shown in China.  And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang…  His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger.  No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!”  Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on Dereliction of Duty 🙂

-PD

Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

Till det som är vackert [2009)

This is a perfect, imperfect film.

Like Russell’s paradox.

And I hope director Lisa Langseth won’t go all Frege on me and jump out a window.

Ah!

You know…

I have spoiled nothing.

And my words are almost completely inconsequential.

But similar things have been said about La Règle du jeu.

And I disagree with that.

In 1939, Jean Renoir made an unqualified (perfect) masterpiece with that film.

I qualified it only to distinguish from my initial example.

And so Pure (the title of this Swedish film which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.) is much like Asia Argento’s almost-masterpiece Incompresa.

I will be quite blunt.

Lisa Langseth stretches in almost the exact same dimension that Argento did with her fine film.

But the real similarity is acting perfection.

For a young child, Giulia Salerno was magnificent (really!) in Argento’s film.

And so Ms. Argento had the secret weapon.

A (very young) actress capable of cine-magic.

Ms. Langseth was blessed with more-or-less the same thing.

But even better.

[perhaps because the actress was a little older and more experienced]

Alicia Vikander makes Till det som är vackert go.

I mean, really…this is an acting performance unlike any other.

And so my only gripe with Ms. Langseth, the director, is that she stretched the story TOO FAR.

But that’s ok.

Because, you know what?  Maybe I’m wrong.

Langseth and Argento both seem to be trying to tell every story they’ve ever lived…IN ONE FILM.

Argento is the guiltier party.

For most of Pure, Langseth sticks to a taut plot.

Buttressed by Vikander’s exquisite acting, the sum total is ecstasy.

And so, I find myself reacting against the Hitchcock tendency in two films.

Some directors NEED a good dose of Hitchcock.

Wes Anderson, for example.

That guy is so saccharine…that when the fingers come off in Grand Budapest, we finally have a filmmaker.

But Langseth and Argento are telling GRUELING stories throughout (in Pure and Misunderstood, respectively).

And so the heavy bass note…the one which when slammed births the 9th harmonic…it doesn’t work here.

Because the tritone.

To progress through the harmonic series.

And resolve on a tritone.

It takes a special auteur to do such.

And these two ladies are not the dodecaphonists to do so.

They have not worked out a coherent system to justify their heart-ripping atonality.

But fear not.

Pure is so, so, so worth watching!

This is as close as a film can get to masterpiece while still being flawed.

And it’s so very close, I’m wondering whether the flawed one is me.

[no doubt]

Let me correct the record (ouch…David “Scumbag” Brock)…

We get noodles with ketchup.

I mean, this film is Gummo real.

So I want to give some BIG compliments.

Till det som är vackert is the best Swedish film ever made by anyone not named Ingmar Bergman.

In fact, it’s BETTER than several of Bergman’s films.

Shall I name names?

Pure is worlds (WORLDS) better than Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman was in poseur mode.

That flick is so overrated.

And Lisa Langseth totally smokes (eats the lunch of) Bergman.

Further, Till det som är vackert is (in my humble, masculine opinion) the greatest feminist film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days…and in some ways EVEN BETTER than that timeless masterpiece.

And so, in general, I bow down in worship to Pure.

We have homelessness.

We have mental illness.

We have resilience.

Naturalism.  Grit.  The bird-soul of music…

The only thing we needed was an editor.

To say.

Cut.

About 20 minutes before the end.

Because Ms. Langseth wants to give us redemption.

She just seems to have her Raskolnikov in the wrong pocket.

It’s ok.

I’m the daftest son of a bitch on the planet.

One last thing…

This movie moved me so much.

The bulk of this film.

Did something to me.

Therapeutic.

And sublimely enlightening.

And so I thank God for Lisa Langseth and Alicia Vikander.

God bless you.

Thank you for making this kind of art.

As Nick Cave sang,

“It’s beauty that’s gonna save the world now”.

-PD

تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

The Propaganda Game [2015)

Here is a perfect documentary.

It teeters for a second.

Early.

Because it shows two of the most vile, reprehensible propagandists in the world.

Susan Rice and Barack Obama.

But it lets them speak.

The film lets Rice and Obama make fools of themselves.

[and it doesn’t take these two idiots long]

Then we are immersed in a richness of inquiry which befits the home country of our director.

Spain.

But Álvaro Longoria’s film is about a wholly different place.

North Korea.

I was lucky enough once to visit Mr. Longoria’s hometown of Santander.

Though I was not there long, I found it odd that we (me and my traveling companions) boarded our plane on the runway.

A Boeing 737, I believe it was.

So we are talking about perhaps 200 people.

On a runway in Spain.

With a little control tower.

I must admit.

The operation was not heartening.

But then again, I’ve taken a propeller plane from Sacramento to San Francisco.

The world likes to think of America as filthy rich.

But we still have propeller planes for some of our shorter routes.

Flying over San Francisco Bay in a propeller plane wasn’t exactly my idea of relaxation either.

But so then…what do we think of North Korea?

If we listen to people like Susan Rice and Barack Obama (neither of whom, categorically, can be trusted), then we are to shudder at the thought of the DPRK.

Well, our director Mr. Longoria has given the most fair, measured approach to a very controversial subject.

And his final product (the film) is so much the better for it.

To wit, Mr. Longoria does not presume to think for his viewers.

He lets you decide.

If you are looking for bias in this film, you will have to look pretty hard.

Perhaps, you will reason, Mr. Longoria is a Spanish leftist and therefore he gives North Korea the benefit of the doubt.

On the contrary, one might reason that the director is a very (VERY) savvy propagandist himself…and therefore, his documentary is largely an exercise in reverse psychology.

I must admit.

When I heard the voices of Rice and Obama, my internal monologue of opprobrium almost caused me to lose my lunch.

But I stuck with it.

And I’m so glad I did.

What is at issue in this film, and in the frozen conflict zone of which North Korea is half, is the discipline/technique/art of propaganda.

If you are very dumb (and I doubt you are, as you are reading this illustrious blog), you will believe everything you hear about North Korea.

You will believe CNN.

You will believe Martha Raddatz.

You will believe George Stephanopoulos.

To call these two “presstitutes” is really being too kind.

They make Rice and Obama look like saints.

Those of the Raddatz/Stephanopoulos ilk in the United States journalistic community are really worthless individuals.

Mostly because they have ceased to BE individuals.

They aren’t even drones.

They are more like little Lego pieces of poisonous honeycomb.

Inhuman.

But they’re not alone.

Throw in Diane Sawyer.

Actually (and I’ll throw the lefties a bone), throw in Bill O’Reilly.

All of these journalists are generally less than nothing when it comes to their global contributions.

And so it only makes the case of the DPRK stronger (for better or worse) when such née-individuals (including emasculated presstitutes) insult North Korea.

And so it is very clear that North Korea is the target of an immense amount of propaganda.

HOWEVER,

the DPRK seems itself to be quite prodigious in the art of manipulative communication.

Or, propaganda.

So our director lets the two sides go at it.

It’s almost like two Charlie Brown schoolteachers (Othmars both) having a verbal altercation.

The West:  “Blah blah blah blah HUMAN RIGHTS blah!”

North Korea:  “Blah blah blah blah IMPERIALISTS blah.”

We must credit North Korea with restraint.

The people.

Polite.

Keep in mind, this is a focus on the people.

What kind of people live in North Korea?

[well, Koreans…obviously]

Adults, children…male, female…

And so the cynic will cry “Potemkin village” very early on in this one.

But it is worth watching till the end.

Most intriguing is the figure Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez.

Here’s an idealist if ever there was one.

But that’s what we must remember about North Korea.

It is a country of extreme idealism.

Let me frame it with slightly different diction.

It is a country of immense idealism.

[ah…we even got some alliteration there!]

Mr. Cao is, or was, Spanish.

Now he is a North Korean.

He is a spokesman for the DPRK.

As we say here in the West, he’s “all in”.

He digs their chili.

He’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

We want some of whatever he’s smoking.

[you get the picture]

But I must say…

Mr. Cao is an extremely (immensely) articulate individual.

To hear him tell it (and he does so with genuine conviction), North Korea is the last bastion of communism.

China has sold out to market forces (capitalism).

The Soviet Union sold out Stalin (Cao actually makes this claim).

[and, he asserts, China sold out Mao]

Vietnam is now thoroughly capitalist.

[that might be a direct quote]

So does Mr. Cao have a point?

Well, perhaps he does.

But there are doubtless few self-respecting communists [more to this sentence after brackets] who would hold up North Korea as a beacon of socialist governance.

Communist, socialist, Trotskyist…

It all begins to run together for us heathen imperialists.

Ah!

There’s that other buzz word.

Imperialism.

Indeed, if you look at the U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan (which this documentary illustrates as a sort of “ring of fire” [pun intended]), the imperialism charge is not without evidence.

But this is really the quintessence of what Nick Tosches calls “intellectual parlor games”.

Meaning, we could be here all day.

I’m at nearly a thousand words (and so are you, if you’re still with me) and I haven’t even begun to truly scratch the surface of the imbroglio that is the 38th parallel.

North latitude.

Simply put, the U.S. has a vested interest in creating and propagating propaganda about North Korea.

[which does not mean that all of the reportage is made-up…indeed, the best propaganda has a kernel or modicum of truth…sometimes even a heaping spoonful…North Korea certainly does not seem to have the whole “public relations” thing down yet]

And conversely, North Korea has a vested interest in creating and propagating (mostly for internal, domestic purposes) propaganda about the United States and capitalist economies in general.

[and granted…the United States has done some incredibly daft stuff…the likes of which could be spun into a thousand tales of horror for 10,000 years]

What really complicates matters are nuclear weapons.

North Korea, we are told, has twenty (OH MY GOD!  20!!!) nuclear weapons.

The United States has sixty-eight-hundred (6,800) nuclear warheads in various states of readiness.

I hate to sound like Ted Turner (and it’s sad when Mr. Turner becomes a voice of reason), but there seems to be a rather glaring discrepancy there.

Oh!

But one side is responsible (I’ll let you guess) and the other side is reckless (guess again).

Of course, nuclear weapons have never been used in war…except by the United States.

Twice.

And so every society has its propaganda.

I will never feel very good that my country nuked two Japanese cities.

Somewhere between approx. 125,000 and 250,000 Japanese people (at least half of them civilians) were vaporized and/or bombarded with lethal radiation by Fat Man and Little Boy.

I know that the U.S. Department of Defense (then known as the Department of War and Department of the Navy, respectively) isn’t selling Girl Scout cookies.

But Harry S. Truman’s “display” on live targets is a rather hard pill to swallow.

We are supposed to think statistically.

Think of how many lives we saved (by, counterintuitively, squelching perhaps a quarter million OTHER souls).

I guess maybe after six years of war, we were insane.

They say it only takes 100 days.

Of warfare.

Any man (or woman).

No matter how mentally strong.

Literally insane.

Beyond that point.

But we were talking about North Korea…

Mr. Longoria is more of a scientist than me.

Our director, Mr. Longoria.

He meditates on the problem.

He is not rash.

Granted, his access to the “hermit kingdom” compels him to be open-minded (if only for the duration of his stay [and in strictly “apparent” diplomacy]).

It seems evident to me that Álvaro Longoria is a very formidable filmmaker.

I wonder what he would have made of our recent American election?

[when Trump supporters learned to hate Hillary…and Hillary supporters learned to hate Trump]

In retrospect, the United States has just been the battlefield of an immense propaganda war.

The winner (for the time-being) was and is Donald Trump.

But the war was so ugly that things are still not back to “normal” in the USA.

Perhaps they never will be again.

And that is also the lesson of The Propaganda Game.

This substitutes for bullets when you cannot shoot.

When destruction is mutually-assured, colder, icier methods prevail.

Sneaking, surreptitious oozing of lies and falsehoods.

All’s fair in war and love, they say.

And “close enough” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“They” say that too.

“They” say a lot of things.

Indeed, “they” are the most quotable group around.

Now, if we only knew who “they” were…

-PD

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982)

I’ve been unmercifully harsh on Steven Spielberg over the years.

But this is the first time I’ve written about one of his films.

And, of course, it doesn’t really matter what I think of this movie.

The director couldn’t care less what I think.

And that is fine.

But there is a more profound lesson in all of this.

This situation.

I know the psychology of it.

And I can trace the genesis.

So let me start by saying that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a good film.

Not great, but certainly good.

That is, of course, a statement of opinion.

That’s the nature of what I do.

As I wrote recently, I don’t like to belittle films.

In the end, it hurts me as much as anyone.

It’s simply a poisonous activity.

So I watched this blockbuster from my youth.

Tonight.

A film I hadn’t seen in a looong time.

It almost holds together as a great film.

But Spielberg seems to be the chess prodigy who can’t win a game.

He has the beginnings down.

That’s important.

And his middle game is decent.

But his final approach is a maudlin catastrophe.

Or, put another way, he gives the audience exactly what they want.

But put more precisely, he gives the audience what he THINKS they want.

There is a lot of guessing here.

The old formula ending in, “…you can’t please all of the people all the time.”

There is a lot of good filmmaking in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Some truly special scenes!

A great concept!

But some parts haven’t aged so well.

And it’s not just because the special effects seem dated.

At issue is the artfulness of Steven Spielberg.

My guess is that he’s just not a very artful fellow.

But I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So we might say, in 1982 he was still not a mature filmmaker.

That is, I think, a relatively fair statement.

This was, of course, Spielberg’s second “space” film.

Indeed, perhaps this was the watered-down, family version of Close Encounters…

And I respect Spielberg for making a family film.

But there is something profoundly grating about his mise-en-scène.

It’s not a pandering of genuine naïveté.

It’s more of a director trying to get into your wallet.

And he did.

Almost $800 million (!) at the box office.

In 1982.

That’s about $2 billion today (inflation-adjusted).

Let me make it very simple.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial goes astray the first time the bike takes flight.

And completely goes off the rails when the BMX bandits flock to the friendly skies.

But what is most excruciating is the melodramatic “hospital” scene.

Makeshift.

Henry Thomas is really good in this film.

He’s from my hometown (for Christsakes!).

But an 11-year-old boy needs some direction when he’s in a $10 million movie.

He either got bad direction at certain points, or (even worse) no direction.

Sure.

I admire Spielberg for getting in the wallets so deftly.

But poetic pickpockets will be found out sooner or later.

And E.T…., as a whole, has not aged well.

Look…Spielberg is not a bad director.

I always insult Schindler’s List.

That’s because there are some serious problems with how Mr. Jaws took on the Holocaust.

As overwrought as it is, it’s still a popcorn affair.

We will get to it eventually.

But the dead deserve a poet.

The Holocaust is not blockbuster material.

And the daft pickpocket, no matter how good his intentions, will never recuse himself from such a haul.

But more specifically…

I’m sure Spielberg’s motives for making Schindler’s List were as pure as the driven snow.

Really.

I’m not being facetious.

But he was not prepared to make such a picture.

Indeed, the picture he made is not possible.

But that is a different matter for a different day.

The Terminal is a very fine film.

E.T. is a good one.

The most troubling part is that this was Spielberg’s seventh feature-length film.

That’s really not a promising sign.

But we will give him a fair chance.

The guy has immense talent.

It just seems that his puffed-up reputation is disproportionate to the largely mediocre films he’s made.

 

-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

Incompresa [2014)

This is the longest movie I’ve ever watched.

Not really.

But at one hour and 46 minutes, that’s not a good thing.

To feel like it’s taking forever.

Which is not to say this is a bad film.

It’s not.

It’s a very good film.

With a very disturbing ending.

Yes, I’m warning you.

Don’t (like me) get sucked in by all the cuteness and expect our still-mediocre filmmaker to give you a good ending.

But maybe I’m wrong…

Let’s investigate.

First, Asia Argento is a very talented filmmaker.

But she’s still mediocre.

There are two main problems with this film.

The editing (as in cut some of this superfluous shit out) and the ending.

My guess is that Argento could not bear to see any of her precious footage cut (to any significant degree).

So I am not complaining about the découpage (editor Filippo Barbieri does a fantastic job…especially in the palimpsest intro), but rather the montage (in the French sense).

The ending is a cheap stunt.

David Bowie predicted such excess on Ziggy Stardust…

I will leave it at that.

But suffice it to say that Asia Argento put her heart and soul into this film.

And much of it (most of it) is magical.

This was in spite of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s overwrought, tacky performance.

Charlotte is a wonderful musician.

One of the best alive.

I adore her music.

But she is a terrible actress.

Even so, Argento should have reined in Gainsbourg’s diva performance considerably.

Yet nothing can take away from the true magic contained in Misunderstood (this film’s title on Netflix).

Maybe it’s not Gainsbourg’s fault.

Maybe the role called for a soulless bitch.

But we’ve seen Charlotte in other dire films (like Melancholia).

For all of Asia Argento’s imperfections as a filmmaker (and there are a few), she is like Orson Welles compared to the utter shite that Lars von Trier churns out.

Not to mince words, but “von” Trier has to be one of the worst filmmakers working today.

And so let’s get to why Argento marginally succeeds with this film.

The answer is so very simple:  Giulia Salerno.

Salerno must have been about 13 (or younger) when this film was shot [though she is ostensibly nine years old…in the context of the story].

Her acting, really, is a revelation.

The entire movie revolves around her.

She and her cat Dac.

It’s a sad story.

But Aria [Salerno] makes everything joyful.

Ah, the resilience of kids!

I was blessed with wonderful parents growing up.

Aria’s parents in this film are reprehensible in just about every way imaginable.

There is something of a Les Quatre Cents Coups to this tale.

Aria wanders back and forth.

With her little pet carrier (for the cat).

She has no stability.

Indeed, she ultimately has very little love at all.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you.

But here are the takeaways.

Asia Argento has the talent to become a world-class filmmaker.

This was an admirable and artful first effort.

It is a very special film.

Now it’s time for her to stop surrounding herself with ass kissers.

She’s not an auteur yet.

[I don’t care who her father was!]

Giulia Salerno has the brigtest future imaginable as an actress.

She is now about 15 years old.

And she’s already put a performance like this under her belt.

I hope that Hollywood and the cinema of her home country Italy take notice of her incredible thespian gift.

And I will give Argento one more compliment:  she sure shocked the shit out of me with that ending.

And though it was trite and tasteless, it didn’t completely ruin what was a very fine film.

Indeed, the editor needed for the bulk of this film would have lopped it off forthwith (if they were at all worth their salt).

-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