Spectre [2015)

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

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

But let’s dig a little deeper.

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

And so things must have looked rosy for Eon Productions.

Sadly, they made a few blunders.

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

And so just what were these mistakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s be fair…

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

As for the execution…for fuck’s sake.

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

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

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

-PD

Luttes en Italie [1969)

Wherever you are.  In the living moment.  Entombed by lonely commerce.

If for you it read Lotte in Italia.  You understand that Lotte is not a person.  Comme Lotte Lenya.

But we have our subject.  Cristiana Tullio-Altan says Italian Wikipedia.

What a beauty!

In communism you are not allowed to say, “What a beauty!”

In capitalism you must pay to say, “What a beauty!”  Unless it is a lie, in which case it is free.  Gratis.  Grazie.

Prego…

From the start we have a “choose your own adventure” situation.  Francese or Italiano?

We start with French but realize that we will get Italian anyway.  This isn’t a Cinecittà production.

We switch to Italian.  We were already 3/4 there.  Now we merely lack the French interpolations…interruptions.

If you auto-translate the Wikipedia page Lotte in Italia (there is no English equivalent), you will get some bizarre gender dissonances.

Paola is a he?

No, Paola is most certainly a she.

We are too old to write dissertations on the “fertile” ground of transsexual discourse.

It is mostly a trap.

Boring.

As for entertainment, that Wiki translation…”Translate this page” clicked from Google results.  A garbled mess.

Althusser.

Leave it to Godard to make revolution sexy.  Again.

But this was really a shunning of the movie star world.

Yet, for us, living in absolute despair, it is a moment of hope.

It reminds us how thoughts have shaped history.

And Paola is most attractive in her green military surplus jacket and red wool scarf.

And her white T-shirt.  Plain.  Ready for work.

The productive force of intellect.

It is time we told you that there will be no wind from the east.  No Vladimir.  No Rosa.

There is no getting anywhere.

Two separate sentiments.

Somewhere we took a wrong turn.

And many beautiful people took a right turn.  It seems.

There is no talking about something so hidden.

So I again reaffirm the gruff beauty of Paola.

We wretched of the earth.  Vietnam.

Che Guevara’s Rolex.  Right.

We are not meant to know.

Why Das Kapital is not on the endcap at Wal-Mart.

Or Barnes & Noble.

Or anywhere.

An amazing film makes itself with a simple phrase…a combination of terms…through Google’s master search algorithm.

It will change.  Depends.

Someday…we fill in the blanks.

The purpose is not to explain, but to get you thinking.

Once you think, there is no stopping that.

And so take stock of the present situation.

How are you treated?  Objectification is universal.  At least galactic.  Reification.

Don’t thing-i-fy me.

And who is the worst culprit?

Oh, to be in a French-speaking country…where one might perchance stumble across Cahiers du Cinéma.

Even if the publication has seen better days, one can go back in time to an era unlived and trace memories unmade.

It is not this cruel world where we are useless.

We learned another way which doesn’t exist.  Like the big stage at MGM for la nouvelle vague.

Just a moment to delineate a pain so perfect as to chop our knees off.

We doubt any place for this skill set.

Put “unskilled worker”…

-PD

The World is Not Enough [1999)

I was ready to proclaim this the fourth great Bond film…until Devil’s Breath.  Suddenly, the world turned on its head.  No, it wasn’t so much a clumsy bit of storytelling (though that would soon follow), but rather a defective disc.  Perhaps a defective computer.  Yes, my night turned into one big, giant, heaping ball (?) of excruciating film criticism.

Here’s what I found:  I am a sucker for a good story.  I must admit:  Michael Apted had me.  Guy’s got talent.  But the rigmarole entailed in finishing this viewing was epically taxing.

I downloaded at least five (5!) separate DVD player software packages.  I’m a cheapskate so, yes, they were all freebees.  I should start by saying that my go-to (Cyberlink PowerDVD) wouldn’t even read the disk.  That’s only about the third time such has ever happened, though one of the two others was recently.  Also, my Spotify account is on the fritz.

So I went through BS DVD Player (appropriately named), VLC Media Player (the best of the lot, but still…), Real Player (epically shite), GOM Media Player (complete waste), and UMPlayer.  This last one is worth noting because it was with this “tool” that I spent a good hour trying to get back to “Chapter” 14:  Devil’s Breath.  This particular player is so crap that I had to resort to watching the film at 32x normal speed.

It was during this chipmunk “exercise” that it finally hit me:  all James Bond films are the same.  [Yes, I am an idiot.]

And even though I knew Bond would get the girl (ok, maybe there’s the Lazenby exception), I was hooked like a fucking fish by Michael Apted.  In such a predicament, a further truth emerged:

this is the best propaganda money can buy.

So much noise about American Sniper…from people who have probably never seen Battleship Potemkin.  I’m sorry, dear critics, but you are disqualified.  I know it is snobbery, but you cannot judge a film’s place in history unless you have a more thorough grasp of the cinematic medium.  It’s not that hard.  Film is barely 100 years old.  If your frame of reference only stretches back 10 or 20 years, then I can hardly take you seriously.

And yet, I am the dupe.  I admit it.  I am just as susceptible to the grandeur of this propaganda as anyone.

Just what IS the message?

In most Bond films it is messy.  That’s what makes them watchable.  It is not a “hit-you-over-the-head” propaganda.  No.  It actually creeps up on you…like Fabian socialism.

Ah, now we are getting somewhere!

You see, every James Bond movie is a code.  I know that makes me sound like a Mel Gibson quack for saying so (and I am), but it’s true.  The World is Not Enough is no exception.

One thing is undeniable:  the premonitions of 9/11 are inescapable in this film.  But the critical question is:  where are these geopolitical signals coming from?

Azerbaijan.  Baku.  Caspian Sea.  A villain (Robert Carlyle) who’s the spitting image of Vladimir Putin.  Terrorism.  Post-Soviet states.  And to the film’s credit:  false flags.

Yes, Elektra blows up her own pipeline.  Remember The Pentagon!  A battle cry.  An employee emerges from the hole to the scent of cordite.  We know.  If you do not know, you should know:  battlefield damage assessment indicates missile.  One can feign innocence when one gratuitously attacks oneself.  No real damage.  Recently renovated.  Almost empty.  Cook the books.

Elektra even disfigures her own ear…to make it look like she was tortured.  I hear Richard Strauss.  Nazis.

But let us discuss why this is not a great film. It’s not Denise Richards’ fault that the dialogue sucks.  It’s not Pierce Brosnan.  He’s great!

No, things really start to go off-track when the film shifts to Kazakhstan.  Every cut, every edit, every segue is worse than the last.  The mise-en-scène becomes straight soap opera…and the dialog (whoa…the dialogue!).  There is a faux urban “hip” in the phraseology which speaks to just how dumb audiences had become by 1999 (or at least how dumb “Hollywood” presumed them to be).  It is both grating and ingratiating.

The beauty of early Bond films like Dr. No and From Russia With Love is that they are little more than B-movies.  There is as little pretense as there is budget. This was before the series had become completely hijacked as a vehicle for propaganda.  It’s just another case of Hollywood destroying what Hollywood subsumes.

From UA to MGM…more and more globalist…more and more “new world order.”  Yes, in case you were wondering:  that is in whose name the propaganda breathes…the devil’s breath.  This becomes a shabby mashup of Titanic and Leni Riefenstahl.

-PD

Charlie Bartlett [2007)

There is a battle on between history and life.  And one of those battlegrounds is at the movies.  It is a storied fight between the little punk shit Bob Dylan and bearded, august Johannes Brahms.  1955 brought us Rebel Without a Cause which displayed what is truly at issue.  Can a piece of art (an artifact) speak to teenagers and still be timeless?  The history of cinema has proven the answer to be a resounding “yes.”

Nicholas Ray was one of the directors most admired by the French New Wave…particularly by Jean-Luc Godard.  Wim Wenders would celebrate the brave auteur as he passed from one world to the next in Lightening Over Water (1980).  But what is most enduring is the spirit Ray and other prescient filmmakers evinced–that spirit which lived on in John Hughes’ cult film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

That brings me to the film in question.  When I first saw Charlie Bartlett I had a pretty unspectacular life.  I had just seen Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and fallen in love with Kat Dennings.  I had to see more.  I even went so far as to buy The House Bunny as a new release…just to get a few more minutes of this enigmatic actress.  Now that I have blown whatever street cred I had remaining as a film critic, I might as well fess up to having done a similar thing when I fell in love with Thora Birch after seeing Ghost World.  Yes, I forked out to buy Dungeons & Dragons (2000) on VHS.  Yikes!

When I first saw Charlie Bartlett, the teenage drama-comedy genre conventions struck me as mostly trite and hackneyed.  In a word:  hollow.  But my reappraisal of this film couldn’t be more different from my first impression.

The world of art films tends to speak its own cinematic language on screen.  At times, the overly-precious, self-conscious products come off as caricatures of better films.  In Ghost World, a classic awaiting its proper place in film history, Terry Zwigoff perfectly frames this empty art film posturing by referring to a nonexistent picture called The Flower That Drank the Moon.  It sums up the disconnect between the world of Cannes and the world at large.  Want to see Godard’s new film Adieu au langage at your local movie theater?  Good luck!

And so my assertion is this:  Charlie Bartlett is a masterpiece.  Is it as good as Ghost World?  No.  Is it as good as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?  Not to these eyes.  But is it a classic which got swept unjustly into DVD cut-out bins?  Yes.  And here’s why.

Jon Poll kept a million pieces in balance.  His direction, while not perfect, should be commended with the highest accolades.  The screenplay by Gustin Nash goes a long way towards giving this film in a daunting genre a chance at being timeless.  The fact that the movie grossed just under half of its budget (a $6 million loss) should be welcomed by MGM as a blessing.  This film will be reborn in the history yet to be written.

Hope Davis gives a nuanced, touching performance as Charlie’s mother.  Anton Yelchin, as Charlie, is beyond fantastic.  It is a performance which requires multiple viewings to appreciate.  Robert Downey, Jr. gives a real piece of his soul to this film which was unjustly overlooked by the world.  Tyler Hilton manages to channel Adam Baldwin from another criminally underrated flick My Bodyguard (which just happened to feature Joan Cusack’s first substantive role).

Kat Dennings is remarkably good at such a young age.  She manages to cheer the hearts of all of us who perhaps identify a little too much with Kip Crombwell (Mark Rendall).  Rendall is shockingly adept in his miniscule role.

Perhaps the funniest aspect of this review is that I am clinging lustily to a piece of nicotine gum as I write this.  That’s just how life works.  Though it only figures into Charlie Bartlett as a mini-MacGuffin, it sets up a pivotal scene.  But nothing measures up to Downey and Yelchin by the poolside.  What to do when life has gone to shit…  A single father losing his teenage daughter…  The overtones are almost right out of Knut Hamsun (though the subject matter be unrecognizably morphed).

Substance abuse is at the forefront of this film, yet it is alcohol which finally precipitates a climax.  The emotional lift is brought via Dennings singing a song in the school play.  It is delicate and honest.  We have been made to relate to Downey’s struggle to find himself.  He just wasn’t cut out to play “bad cop.”  And that is the overarching crux:  the bad cop (Downey) jealous of the good cop (Charlie).  The wrong career can destroy you…and it does so from the inside out.  It’s not worth the extra money.

But the most important role (and element) of this entire film?  Dylan Taylor as Len Arbuckle.  You see, Charlie rides the short bus to school.  Bartlett is seemingly oblivious to the differences between the mentally and physically challenged and himself.  Peas and carrots.  Charlie Bartlett has a good heart…and an angel notices.

-PD