Žert [1969)

It would be, perhaps, best to list this as a Slovak film.

Slovakia.

We always talk about Prague.

But not enough about Bratislava.

Yet all of this would make little difference were this film not notable.

And it is quite notable.

The direction by Jaromil Jireš is admirable.

He plays with time.  A very unusual montage of flashbacks.

Haunted.  Haunting.  Hunted by communism.

This, then, would be a subversive film.

To show the corruption within Czechoslovakia.

To show the nightmare of reeducation.

The term is never named as such, but that’s what it is.

Punitive military service.

The soldiers with no weapons.

Because their country doesn’t trust them with such.

In the mines.

On the ground.

Relay.

Hup hup hup.

Power trip of professional army in service to socialism.

Trotsky is forbidden.

And so is humor.

Don’t make your jokes too pointed.

There’s no squirming out of the fact that you stand in opposition to the ethos of your government.

I.

It may not be a momentous occasion to realize that literature is being made.

For it skips under your nose as mere nonsensical rubbish.

Poppycock.  Hogwash.  Eyewash.

Tropes and memes and drupelets hanging low.  Evolving necks.  Giraffes.

I am of two Yiddish species:

schlub and schmuck.

Unattractive.  Fool.

Me and Josef Somr.  Who lives!  Age 82.

A masterful performance.  As real as my daily routine.

Shirt coming untucked.

I have kept my hair, but his combover parallels my gut (his too).  Sucked in.

Beware of jokes.

You are being watched.

Your letters are being intercepted.

And you will have to answer for your words.

Just what exactly did you mean by, “…” ???

Well, this is Milan Kundera with the story.

And I rebelled all the way.

I drew Baudelaire with lightening bolts.  And chartreuse dreams.

Kundera lives!  Age 87.

Born in Brno. (!)

But let’s back to this love-hate.

Not Mintzberg.

At the same time.

Alternating.  A constant election.

Affinities.

I will achieve 17,000-word vocabulary.  Just you watch.

I almost hate my town too.  I know.

Was I imprisoned?

No.

But I lost music.

Like Ludvík.

The name is significant.

Like lost hearing.

And so the clarinet is indispensable.

I mention Jana Dítětová because she was from Plzeň.

Pilsen.  Pillsbury.

The selfish gene.

Tricked.  Objectified.  MILF revenge reified.

Pithy memetics.

MIKE MILF.

Markéta is significant.

LazarováTwo years previous.

A permanent opium war of mankind.

Opiate of the masses.  Asses.  Snippets of military abuse.

You’ve never seen…like this.

We can still insult liberalism.  And neoliberalism.  And neoconservatism.

We can still find Starbucks artless.  And Subway.

But Wal-Mart passes over to kitsch.  Of which Kundera would understand.

Like Warhol meets Flavin.

All that fluorescence.

Non-stop.

Europe endless.

Schubert.

Dip the waves.

Coyoacán borough of Mexico City.  D.F.  Day effay.

Trotsky died the same year Conlon Nancarrow moved to Mexico.

1940.

And Nancarrow would make Mexico City his home.

Las Águilas.  With his Ampico player pianos.

Ludvík is expelled from his teaching position like Dr. James Tracy.

History is always with us.

We see the corruption of good intentions.

Communism.  Socialism.

Teachers of Marxism.

How the country had slid.

And Věra Křesadlová eats her cotton candy.  Stunning.

We wonder why the movie couldn’t have been about her.

But we needed the schlub/schmuck.

And the attempted suicide with laxatives.

Which is to say, there are far more than six stories in narrative history.

Bollocks Schenkerian analysis.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “The Last Evening” [1990)

The essence of Twin Peaks is make-believe FBI.

Our main character (arguably) is a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He is a shining example of honor.  A professional.  A vestige of Norman Rockwell’s America.

And before we go crying kitsch and digging up old Soviet propaganda posters in the spirit of Milan Kundera’s distillation (“Soviet kitsch” from Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí), let’s pause for a Mom and apple-pie moment…and a damn good cup of coffee.

Ahhh!

Do one nice thing for yourself every day.

Says agent Cooper.

And he’s right.

Fit as a fiddle.  Healthy as an apple.  A strapping young man.  Not to be confused with the boy with the Arab strap.

Lime in the coconut.  I knew but I didn’t know.

Fleeting.

No, I never spent hours on the beach.

Always a day late and a dollar short.

But we learn.

Attack the attackers.

Neutralize the threat.

While setting Mexican standoff traps to protect all of your resources.  Capabilities.  Core competencies.

You might just achieve a competitive advantage.  And achieve strategic competitiveness.

THis is the meaningless parlance of business.

Leverage without mechanical advantage–without the amplification of force.

And always a metaphorical lever without the equally necessary fulcrum.

Stay with me!

Twin Peaks was the era of VHS.  And cassette tapes.

And mixtapes…  [Now don’t we miss those?]

Something beautiful about the analog warmth.

Analog to digital and back to analog.

And when the tape would unravel…?  Oh well, as long as the tape player is alright 🙂

IT’s really a nasty prank.  But Lara Flynn Boyle fits the Nancy Drew role like a reincarnated Bonita Granville.

And James with his Harley-Davidson…by her side.  like Sade.  Sha-day.

Not as Yoshimi as Saoirse Ronan in Hanna, but I digress.

THe drum-machine universe keeps on boppin’.

Seagrams?  AMF?  Seeburg?  Seberg?

I can remember the magic fingers of Merlin at the Wurlitzer.

That suitably sums up “and Russ Tamblyn as Dr. Jacoby”.

That old television credits ritual.  Need a history on that.  Stat!

Wigs and fake mustaches.  In a little undersized briefcase.  Like Lon Chaney.

Walter Olkewicz seems quintessentially from “down the bayou”, but it’s a mashup with QUebecois generalizations…transposed to British Colombia.

Ahh, how my heart years for Bellingham…

[film is truth 24 times a second]

cuckoo’s nest

Can’t blame Michael Horse.

The lesson here is, Never wash your hair.

Which is to say, Keith Richards has a method to his madness.

His long life.  His longevity.

So much intercutting.  Such convergence.

The strands are not tied up, yet we come to a significant knot in a series of many mini-loops.

D’you know what I mean?

 

-PD

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [1986)

Must admit, I tried watching this a few weeks back.

And it didn’t seem to have aged well.

But I gave it another shot.

This time I made it all the way through.

Because it is, generally, an enjoyable movie.

It was a staple of my youth.

It spoke to me in my niche.

But now certain parts of it seem too sweet.

The kitsch of watching now.

This film has fared less well than some of its rivals.

But let’s talk about the damn thing, shall we?

It’s a John Hughes picture.  He’s the director.

I’ve previously written about him in regards to the finely-aged Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Notice something…

Hughes when he directed our film?  36

Hughes when he directed PT&A?  37

It’s only a year, but it’s a year of prime, working experience.

How about Matthew Broderick?  24

To go from directing a 24-year-old star to directing two stars who were 42 and 27 respectively (Steve Martin and John Candy) is quite a jump.

Plus, Candy looked older than 27…  And Broderick was intended to look younger than 24.

So we can say that the two films were meant for different audiences.

Ferris Bueller was sort of a Rebel Without a Cause for my generation (Generation X).

There are ingenious, Rube Goldberg contraptions employed in Ferris’ skipping school.

I enjoyed Broderick much more in WarGames and so I would like to highlight the talents of some other players here.

Alan Ruck really portrayed a wider range of emotions in our film.  There’s something touching about the crisis through which he is going.

I know it well.  In my own way.

And so in real life, a Ferris Bueller is an indispensable friend.

We can see how quiet personalities need louder ones and vice versa.

Other than the cameo by Charlie Sheen (which is quite good), Mia Sara really carries a large part of the drama.  Most of it is, incidentally, in her facial expressions.

Broderick relies on these nonverbal methods as well, but Sara’s reactions progress the drama in a unique way.

By 1986 (in the midst of the MTV onslaught) most kids had no idea who The Beatles were.  Broderick’s lip-syncing rendition of “Twist and Shout” (Beatles’ version) was also, I imagine, a moment for many young people in the 80s.

I should also mention that Jennifer Grey’s mood improves considerably after she makes out with Charlie Sheen.  Her contribution is indeed special!

Honorable mentions:

-Edie McClurg (who’s also in Trains, Planes and Automobiles…gobble gobble)

-Ben Stein (who gets to deliver the timeless, “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…Bueller”)

In all, this is a pretty indispensable film.

We all want to break free and do something crazy.  And fun.

That’s the spirit of youth which this film conveys pretty well.

It’s a very unique bit of cinema from a very formulaic time.

If you can make it past the first part with Broderick baby-talking to his parents, then you’re home-free 🙂

 

-PD

 

Johnny English [2003)

What to say…  A witty beginning, perhaps?

An arresting turn of phrase?

No, I shan’t deign preface my critique with decorum.

Rather, one needs must hold steadfast to the cocked-up tone of this talkie in order to convey its essence.

Johnny English.

Take three measures of Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films, one of Sean Connery in Dr. No, half a measure of Joseph Beuys.  Shake it very well until it’s gasp-inducingly funny (might take quite a bit of shaking, er…), then add a surprisingly adept turn by Natalie Imbruglia.  Right?  Right.

What could go wrong?

Well, in contrast to this film’s beginning, pleasantly little.

It’s true:  the opening credits of this picture have not aged well at all.

They make the kitsch titles of Austin Powers’ first film (which also suffers from clunky mise-en-scène) seem positively polished in comparison.

It’s a shame neither of these spy spoof franchises sprung for a Maurice Binder.

But I digress…

My point is that Johnny English gets better over the course of its 88 minutes.

Coming into this experiment I figured that Rowan Atkinson clearly had the superior comedic chops vs. Mike Myers.

And he does.

But Johnny English suffers from some strange virus of general incompetence.  Something doesn’t quite click in the process of potentially calling the film under review a masterpiece.

Not that I expected as much…

Happily, Johnny English is a tremendously enjoyable flick.

I laughed harder and more earnestly during this picture compared to Austin Powers’ debut, yet Jay Roach delivered a more seamless spy spoof for Myers than the film under consideration.

But let us not throw Peter Howitt under the double-decker quite yet…

Howitt turned in a quite an admirable film.

In actuality, the story of Johnny English is stronger and more convincing than that of Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery.

But back to comedic chops…  When Mike Myers is good, he’s very good.  When Rowan Atkinson is good, he’s great.

And so, there are moments in this film which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the Austin Powers opener.

I can’t say the converse is true.

Natalie Imbruglia is as good in this film as John Malkovich is bad.

I know, I know…

Sounds impossible…

I have a feeling that Malkovich cherished (in some perverse way) the clunky role he was given.

He plays it as if he’s in a high school musical.

I am not doubting Malkovich’s acting skills.  They are world-class.

Yet, for some reason, he is the acting equivalent of a Styrofoam cup herein.

Imbruglia, on the other hand, amazingly (!) out-acts Elizabeth Hurley.

Notice, if you will, the fact that I did not even mention Hurley in my piece on Austin Powers.

That was because her performance was largely limp.

Sure…she’s exquisitely beautiful.  Yes, she has acting chops…

But Imbruglia took a small role in a cursed film and turned it into a moment in which to really shine.

But but but…

Let’s not get too lost in the praise.

Really this whole thing would be lost at sea were it not for Rowan Atkinson.

He indeed approaches the genius of Harpo Marx.

That is no small feat.

I, for one, wish Atkinson’s oeuvre was larger so that I could devote more attention to his talent.

Perhaps the best is yet to come.

We can certainly hold out such hope!

-PD

里見八犬伝 [1983)

[LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI (1983)]

Woof.  I really got my years mixed up.  Not by much, but a few years in technological terms is quite meaningful nowadays.  And it started really exploding in the 80s.

In some respects we have Japan to thank.  And while we might think strictly of Atari when remembering the techno 80s there were other advances outside of home entertainment.

But yes.  I thought I was watching a movie from 1979.  I misread the box.

I missed the fine print (Made on Mars).

We have previously seen Sonny Chiba as an ass-kicking karate expert, but here the name of the game is swordplay.

Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Really, this film makes my recent proclamation of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as being a weird film almost completely meaningless.

THIS is a weird film!

It is weird even when it’s not weird, and when it’s actually weird?  This is some far-out David Icke kind of stuff.

But first a word about the atrocious title.

For all I know there may actually be a story of seven samurai in Japanese history, but the reference (and plot) to eight samurai is to Kurosawa what 14 Minute Abs would be to 15 Minute Abs.  Put differently, “If you liked The Seven Samurai, then you’ll LOVE The Eight Samurai.”  Or, “Purchase admission to Seven Samurai and receive an additional samurai at no extra cost.”

But wait…there’s more!

Director Kenji Fukasaku really had a dodgy band of art directors/set designers to work with.  It’s not that they don’t have the chops…it’s their taste which we question.  And the music supervisor should absolutely be made to sit in the corner and listen to John O’Banion for all eternity.

Plain and simple:  this film is as cheesy as a Velveeta milkshake.  Indeed.  Bottoms up.

And yet, for all of that maudlin naivete it still passes muster as not only a watchable film but (dare I say?) a good film.  Not great, good…

Why?  Mostly the acting.  Yes, amidst this candy store of sugary-sweet special effects and fantasy costumes there are moments of real, inspired acting with actual technical proficiency.

Hiroko Yakushimaru is really pretty good as the princess (always has to be a princess in these kinds of stories).

Hiroyuki Sanada plays what for perceptive Western audiences would be the Han Solo character (though Solo’s precedent is almost certainly in the older, classic samurai films).

Sadly, Sonny Chiba doesn’t really get a chance to shine here.  There are all sorts of ridiculous hand-weapon battles, but not much in the way of empty-fist war ballet.

As with the ubiquitous princess, we also have lots of crystals…glowing crystals.

If it seems I’m making fun of this film, that’s because I am.  But the truth is that I really liked it.

Would I watch it again?  Sober?  Probably not.

But am I disappointed to have sat through it?  Absolutely not.  It was entertaining and, in its own way, touchingly artful.

One last note.  Mari Natsuki is one bad bitch.  Ever wanted to see a smoking-hot undead person (reptilian?) bathe in a pool of blood before lasciviously kissing her grown son?  Me neither.  But I saw it.  And in some strange way my life is richer for having had that experience.  Happy viewing!

-PD