Kill Me Three Times [2014)

Mediocre film.

For those keeping score at home, let me fill you in.

Simon Pegg is perhaps the most talented actor working these days.

Here’s the films of his which I know to be masterpieces:

Shaun of the Dead

Hot Fuzz

The World’s End

Yes, that’s right:  the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

It really is that good.

One might not think such possible.

But it is the case.

Close, but not quite up to that level is:

Paul

Another notch down (though it is very inventive):

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

In some ways, I want to put those last two I mentioned on the same level, but Paul features Nick Frost as well.  It’s just too hard to beat.

All said, that’s FIVE essential films starring one actor.

Granted, Frost is in four of those.

Which brings us to this “other” part of Pegg’s oeuvre.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything proves that Pegg can do it without Frost, but there are some bone fide clunkers in Pegg’s oeuvre as well.

Terminal is mediocre.

Worth watching, but mediocre.

And, sadly, I would say the same about Kill Me Three Times.

On a positive note, Pegg is MUCH better in this film than he is in Terminal.

Mostly it’s because he’s allowed to act.

Allowed to bask in the spotlight.

But Kill Me Three Times has many problems (which take away from Pegg’s performance).

Let’s break it down.

The Oldsmobile Toronado with Western Australia plates is a nice touch.

Metallic puke green.

And Pegg with a nice Grinderman ‘stache.

You might be ahead of me.

Indeed, one of the problems from which Kill Me Three Times suffers is an over-adoration of Quentin Tarantino.

The mustachioed hitman is by now a trite trope.

There can be only one Pulp Fiction.

[itself merely a good (not great) movie]

While the story is not entirely original, I would like to congratulate writer James McFarland for doing what director Kriv Stenders did not:

create art.

There is some art (not much) in McFarland’s script.

Conversely, there is no art in Stender’s film.

No thought.

No inspiration.

[and, one would think by looking at it, no cinematographer]

A very uninspired directorial effort.

Now.

You might be wondering why I am so bitter.

BECAUSE I BOUGHT THIS MOVIE!

I don’t have the money to throw away on such a piece of shit.

That, and it’s an affront to those of us who create in spite of severe monetary limitations.

Perhaps the only inspired shots involve the security camera footage in the microwave on the pizza setting.

A good bit, that.

Good special effects here.

Realistic-looking deaths abound.

The ending is good.

Kinda funny.

In an Aussie way.

It’s a shame this film couldn’t have been made better.

The script was fine.

The actors were plenty talented.

It is just such a BLAND mise-en-scène.

Luke Hemsworth is pretty good here.

But the only thing that kept this watchable (aside from Pegg) is Teresa Palmer.

I thought director Stenders might deliver a truly-artful moment…finally…at the end…in the shower scene.

I was wrong.

 

-PD

The Music Box [1932)

This is truly a masterpiece.

It transcends short film.

The piano…

¡Ay, carambas!

This film is all about work.

About having shitty jobs.

The things we do for money!

Stan and Ollie work their asses off.

For nothing, basically.

But it provides us with some much-needed levity.

And one need not be overly-erudite to see Sisyphus in all of this.

Very clearly.

Up the hill.

Over and over again.

Just as things seem ok.

The same disaster strikes again.

And you are back at square one.

Groundhog Day.

Hell.

…but funny!

[only funny if you’re not living it]

But this is comedy.

And so we thank God for Jerry Lewis…and Laurel and Hardy…and Charlie Chaplin.

And all the great comedians who have brought the working man (and woman) the laughter they so dearly needed.

There’s some great mise-en-scène and economy of means here from director James Parrott.

Everything revolves around the interminable stairs.

The steps.

Like Potemkin.

Steppes.

Central Asia.

Oh, Stan and Ollie…

They are at their idiotic best here.

Two gen-u-ine dumbasses 🙂

If I could only remember the name of that rock band that destroyed the piano…

 

-PD

Uncle Buck [1989)

Good one.

John Hughes.

It really started with National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Writer.

Chase.

Ramis was at the stick.

Egon from Ghostbusters.

Hughes really took off with Sixteen Candles.

He directed.

And that’s the first I saw of the big trilogy.

Those ’80s movies which transcend decade and genre:

Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.

The middle one is the best.

Hughes needed a dry run with Sixteen Candles.

The Breakfast Club was the home run.

The grand slam.

Which leaves some holes.

European Vaction [writer].

Weird Science [hasn’t aged well…unless you’re a horny boy].

By Pretty in Pink, Hughes had relinquished direction to Howard Deutch.

Bueller [director] hasn’t aged that well.

WarGames [piece on #QAnon in the works] is much, much better.

Some Kind of Wonderful is another Deutch-directed hole.

Crosses paths with Back to the Future [Lea Thompson].

All of which is to say that Uncle Buck pales in comparison the the true Candy/Hughes masterpiece:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles [sic].

No Oxford comma.

Holes.

She’s Having a Baby [director].

PTA [director] was his second great auteurist masterpiece after The Breakfast Club.

But in Hughes, auteur once again becomes AUTHOR [in the sense of writing].

Hughes was no camérastylo savant–no Orson Welles or Hitchcock of angle and mise-en-scène.

It’s the story that matters.

And yet…Judd Nelson’s neorealist performance in The Breakfast Club must have made Hughes the Rossellini of the ’80s…if for only a moment.

[and Nelson the its James Dean…briefly]

The Great Outdoors [writer] is worse than even Uncle Buck.

Which is to say, Uncle Buck is WAY better than The Great Outdoors.

But both pale in comparison to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Christmas Vacation was a comeback.

Jeremiah S. Chechik owes his career to Hughes [writer] and Randy Quaid [genius].

Hughes only directed once more after Uncle Buck.

Curly Sue.

Sad.

And his writing went strictly downhill after the rollercoaster pinnacle of Home Alone.

Money isn’t everything.

 

-PD

 

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

Beynelmilel [2006)

Wow 🙂

What a beautiful and perfect movie!

The International.

Yes, we are back to Turkey.

But this film is very much about the passions of youthful revolution.

Is Trump a revolutionary?

Of course.

Was George Washington a revolutionary?

Of course.

But the strain of revolutionary verve in this film is that of communism.

I don’t hate communism.

I don’t hate anything.

But I think some things are not so good.

With communism, I mainly criticize it on an economic level.

Have I read Marx?

Not very much.

But I’ve read enough Debord to get the late-60s version of Marxism.

I would argue that Debord, one of my three favorite writers, was at his best when he was NOT talking about Marxism.

When he goes off on Marxist tangents, he loses me.

I find it boring.

And, as I’ve said, I object to it on economic grounds.

I have a college degree in music.

[which will be very important in reviewing this film]

But I have an advanced degree (above and beyond that) in business.

Am I a genius of economics?  No.

But I questioned.  I was skeptical.  I studied Marx.

And I found the capitalist system to be the best system.

It is, by no means, perfect.

And so why, then, do I like Guy Debord?

Perhaps no one in history hated capitalism more than Guy Debord 🙂

I respect Debord because he was a brilliant social critic.

I do not agree with his economic assumptions.

I do not agree with his Marxist assumptions.

But when it comes to a critique of capitalism (which is the underpinning of globalism), no one has found the flaws like Debord.

No one has completely dismantled the matrix in which we live (the “spectacle”) quite like Debord.

And so his book The Society of the Spectacle is essential reading in my opinion.

At least the first few chapters.

As I said, Debord gets a bit bogged down in Marxism and loses his poetic divining power concomitantly.

But let’s discuss this film.

This is, by far, the best Turkish film I’ve ever seen.

Granted, I think this is only the fourth I’ve ever watched 🙂

But this is really a special movie!

Wikipedia says that it is set in a small town near Adana.

For that, I will say hi to the American soldiers at Incirlik Air Base 🙂

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for representing the United States.  Thank you for your service.  We love you and we pray for your safety and happiness!

It is true.

I love our American troops.

Most of my life I did not appreciate these wonderful people.

I took it for granted…

“Somebody will do that job…”

But in my older age, I respect these soldiers very much.

But let us shift back to this film.

First, let us thank the two directors:  Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Muharrem Gülmez.

They have made an almost perfect movie.

Really, this film is so, so good!

But you must be warned, my dear friends:  it is simple.

It you are looking for a complex, confusing film, then you will be disappointed.

Such that, you must be like a child–like a youth to appreciate the naïveté of this masterwork.

So I would say this:  it’s a bit like a Turkish version of Cinema Paradiso.

Do you see what I am getting at?

It is poetic.

The mise-en-scène is a bit like what we might expect from Claude Monet (were he still alive).

It is loving.

Large swaths of color.

And, perhaps most quintessential, it is unassuming.

Down to earth.

There’s no condescension in this film.

Come as you are.

First movie you’ve ever seen?

No problem 🙂

It is that sort of loving masterpiece!

It is set in Turkey in 1982.

Cassettes 🙂

80s-style clothing.  The Turkish version 🙂

A junta is in place.  A military government.  Martial law.

And one band of musicians gets rooked into being a “marching band” (of sorts).

But these are folk musicians 🙂

They don’t play brass instruments.  They don’t play the sousaphone.

So it is a very steep learning curve (which sounds a lot like Charles Ives in its beginning stages) 🙂

But let’s get to the most important point.

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playing a part that I could understand”

[Neil Young]

Yes.

Özgü Namal.

Just two years younger than me.

She is the star of this film.

Amazing facility as an actress.

But really just a glow–a vibrance in her every gesture.

Here is someone who is glad to be alive 🙂

And it made me glad to be alive!!!

But let me tell you the other star:  Cezmi Baskın!

This man!

He has no Wikipedia page in English, but he is a wiseman.

A humanist.

A saint of an actor.

A craftsman.

He plays the bandleader.

And his daughter in the film is Özgü Namal.

Umut Kurt does a very good job as the young communist.

And, hence, the title of the film:  The International.

“L’Internationale” 🙂

The most famous of communist anthems.

Yes, dear friends, it is that melody written in 1888 by Pierre De Geyter which is the MacGuffin of this film.

The whole plot hinges on it.

Derrida would call it the brisure (if film were a text).

To deconstruct.

The hinge.

I will say this:  the struggles in this film are very real to this day for the people of Turkey.

I would say our communist character would probably today be a member of the CHP party in Turkey:  Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi.

The Republican People’s Party 🙂

Which is funny because in the U.S., the Republicans (whom I support…more or less) are conservative or “right wing”.

So, yes:  the CHP is “left wing”.

But as I say, this is a very fine film.

It shows very much the love which a father can have for his daughter.

It shows the sacrifices which parents make for their children.

Parents will even die to save their children.

This is a funny movie, but it has this tone of seriousness as well.

Actually, the whole film is like a brilliant joke 🙂

It starts very serious…

But the it becomes festive and ridiculous!

Most of all, there are so many poetic camera shots of Turkish life.

Little things which we don’t see in America.

So an American can learn some of another culture.

But also, we see that people all around the world have similar worries and dreams as us.

Well, I don’t want to tell you too much.

I will just say that this is well-worth watching.

It is a bit long, but I watched it in two installments.

And the subtitles are good 🙂

Anyway, it is on Netflix streaming in the U.S. currently as Beynelmilel.

I am so glad I found this film 🙂

Güle güle

 

-PD

Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [2003)

Happy Birthday to Thora Birch, my favorite actress of all time!

Yes, I know…I know.

A film critic whose favorite actress is a young 35-year-old whipper snapper???

Yes.

That’s alright.

Laugh at me.

If the question was, “Who was your favorite classic Hollywood actress?,” then I would answer, “Lauren Bacall”.

But I said favorite actress of all time.

You can search my “Thora” category here on my site for why exactly this actress is my favorite.

Because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day.

And I have a movie to review!

One of my favorites:  Homeless to Harvard.

It is, indeed …The Liz Murray Story, but I will be using the shortened title hereafter for brevity’s sake.

It is my contention (and I have made the point elsewhere…probably on this very site of mine) that Thora Birch produced a trilogy of acting performances which are more-or-less analogous to Bob Dylan’s classic trilogy.

Let’s start with Dylan.

The three (at unity from a similarity of intense expression):

Bringing It All Back Home

Highway 61 Revisited 

and

Blonde on Blonde

And now the Thora films which correspond in my mind:

American Beauty

Ghost World

and

Homeless to Harvard

Sure…Birch didn’t direct these films.

But her acting is so strong, she might as well have.

By this point she was no longer a prodigy.

She was a mature actress.  A master of her craft.

And the story here is one to really sink teeth in.

[In which.]

We recently touched on homelessness here in the review of Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as Katarina from Till det som är vackert.

Pure.

But the esthetics of Homeless to Harvard are different.

This isn’t European arthouse.  It’s a Lifetime made-for-TV film.

But don’t go running anywhere!!!

This is as gritty as any Lou Reed tale.

And it’s all real.

Too pure.

Heroin addict parents.

Mother schizophrenic.

Blindness.

Genetic.

Mother with HIV.

Father with AIDS.

Vice versa ice Ursa.

Father in homeless shelter.

Mother wielding knife.  Vomiting.

Alcoholism.

Really appealing, eh?

But you gotta stick with it.

This isn’t Darren Aronofsky mise-en-scène.

It’t not, “Let’s win an award at Sundance.”  Or, “Let’s sweep at Cannes.”

It’s more like one of Aesop’s fables.

It’s the message, man!

And so first, let’s honor the director.

Peter Levin.

Who knew a television film could be so artful?

Well, when you combine the history of Histoire(s) du cinéma with the precedent of Twin Peaks, you should know by now that television can produce good stuff.

Hell…

Your TV can even WATCH YOU! (as per WikiLeaks Vault7).

But I digress…

The weeper (no masonry) sob story…had me crying in my Junior Mints…we must attribute to the excellent writing of Ronni Kern.

Who the hell is Ronni Kern?!?

Male?  Female?

I’ve had less trouble finding the gender of completely unknown foreign movie people.

But Kern is pretty invisible on the Internet.

And maybe there’s a point here.

  1.  It doesn’t fucking matter.
  2. You should judge someone on their work, not their gender.

Hopefully Ms. Birch will appreciate this flash of liberalism should she read this review.

[I’m not holding my breath]

But we have just celebrated International Women’s Day.

And the fact that Birch’s character here is a “feminist” is a running pseudo-joke.

Which brings us to the performances.

Michael Riley is stellar, stellar (I know…) as Liz’s father Peter.

Kudos to the styling department.

That beard.  And that hair!

Crazy, man, crazy!!

But Riley’s performance is really special.

It touched my heart.

Long ago.

When I first saw this film.

And dare I say, this movie made me appreciate my own family.

It made me miss my folks.

And so I salute Peter Riley and Lifetime and all involved for that effect on my heart.

Jennifer Pisana is really fabulous as the young Liz Murray here.

It’s an unenviable task.

To precede Thora Birch’s entrance.

But Pisana is indispensable to this little masterpiece.

Those sweaters.

And the full pronunciations…”Mommy”…”Daddy”…

Ms. Pisana affects the necessary naïveté to be juxtaposed against the sad schizophrenia of Kelly Lynch (who plays Liz’s mom).

And Lynch is great.

Think Cries and Whispers.

[cris et chuchotements…(( (( ((…et chuchotements]

Robert Bockstael does a fine job as Liz’s teacher David.

Very convincing.  Excellent craftsmanship.

Makyla Smith is piquant in her depiction of Liz’s best friend Chris.

[God…the Magic Marker…and the pine box…fuuuuuuck]

Yes, friends…this is Lifetime Television.

So the brisure (bonjour, monsieur Derrida) is “crap”.

“Crap happens.”

Whoa…watch thy mouth, Kelly Lynch!

So again…Peter Levin does a fantastic job shoehorning a true X-file into PG territory.

We see a syringe here and there.  A tourniquet.

Riley cleaning a spoon.

But the real heartbreak is Wheat Chex with tap water.

Yeah…

Hello Gummo.

Ellen Page has a small role here.

And she’s good.

Fine actress.

But we’ve been waiting to roll out the big gun.

Thora Birch.

On this, her birthday, I am only just now getting towards a handful of reviews honoring her unique thespian gift.

What to say?

That every look is magic?

That every glance is gold?

That she has crafted her microexpressions in solitude…and wielded them like an Arthurian sword for the duration of this flick?

Yes, yes, and yes.

[and an Oxford comma]

Because kids take it for granted.

Rich kids.

Harvard.

Penn.

Princeton.

Maybe…

But even more so the lesser ivied walls.

I won’t name names.

But the spoiled kids.

Not turning in homework.

Bragging about shortcuts.

Those, ultimately, will be life’s losers.

But Liz Murray worked her butt off to get into Harvard.

From sleeping on the B Train.

Four years of high school in two.

And Thora Birch has worked her butt off too.

She hasn’t gotten the roles her talent deserves.

But the roles she has gotten, she has largely smashed out of the park.

Like the Babe Ruth of leading ladies.

And so there are other actresses I admire.

But Thora Birch was the first.

The first to give me that magical feeling which only Neil Young has adequately described:

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playin’ a part that I could understand”.

Happy Birthday, Thora Birch!

And may all your days and films be filled with the joy which you have put into the world through your cinematic brilliance.

-PD

Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby mise-en-scène…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power:  music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of Seymour:  An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career 🙂

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-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

Hateship, Loveship [2014)

This one is a mind-bender.

I must admit…I thought I was watching a Weinstein brothers production.

I know, I know.

But the truth is, I went through several mediocre films to find this gem.

Truly Strange:  The Secret Life of Breasts.  Nope.

3rd World Cops.  ¡Ay, carambas!

The Girl in the Book.  Non.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq. Extrême ennui.

Zoom.  Ugh…

Say It Isn’t So.  No thanks.

Lovelace.  Not quite.

And finally the film under consideration:  Hateship, Loveship.

At some point I saw the Weinstein brothers’ names.

I can’t seem to pin it down.

But suffice it to say that it certainly wasn’t in relation to the film under review.

Which is to say, finding a good film can be a lot of work.

And reading this review is probably a lot of work as well.

But I hope I save you some small measure of time.

And perhaps guide you to a cinematic treasure which you might have otherwise overlooked.

I have nothing against the Weinstein brothers.

I know hardly anything about them.

But somehow it stuck.

“I’m watching a Weinstein brothers film,” I thought.

But as this minor masterpiece progressed, I further mused, “My goodness, these guys don’t just make crap with explosions.”

Let’s take a short look.

Inglorious Basterds.  One of the worst films ever made.

The Imitation Game.  Good one.

St. Vincent.  Not good.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno.  Meh.

So I would have been right to be incredulous.

Upon further review.

Considering that the Weinstein brothers have largely saturated the world with unwatchable crap.

But Hateship, Loveship is a different story.

To reiterate, this film has nothing to do with the esteemed Weinsteins.

I’m sure they are honorable fellows.

It was just my tired brain which mistook a very fine film (something which they are unaccustomed to making) for one of theirs.

Indeed, it appears the big cheese responsible for this quite stellar film (which grossed a whopping $80,588 [sic] at the box office) was a chap by the name of Michael Benaroya.

And I can honestly say, whatever he sunk into the project was money well-spent.

The direction, by Liza Johnson, is really remarkable.

A lesser film critic would make some comparison to The Truman Show and call it a day.

But I aspire to more.

The connection is simple.

Jim Carrey (once upon a time) tried to do dramatic acting.

The result was The Truman Show.

A good-to-mediocre film.

He’s probably done other “dramatic” stuff, but I could really give a fuck.

In OUR film, a funny lady tells no jokes.

Yes, not to be too murderously-cryptic…but Kristen Wiig plays it straight here.

And she is fucking fantastic!!!

I don’t know where this side of her acting prowess came from (though I did notice her range in, strangely, a film called Paul [2011]), but I must assume that some of the credit for this performance goes to director Johnson.

But still…Kristen Wiig really nails it here!

It’s one of those strange things…

I kept waiting for her to burst out with some goofy impersonation, but no.

And so this film has a sort of tension to it if you know Ms. Wiig as the brilliant comedienne she is.

The story is hard to sum up.

Scrubbing floors…

Scrub scrub scrub.

Little House on the Prairie.  [d’accord]

Yes.

Wiig’s character is a plain Jane.

She’s a maid.  A housekeeper.

In the beginning, she’s a sort of live-in hospice caretaker.

But I think the best summation for her spirit might be “Protestant work ethic”.

Ahh, that Max Weber chestnut…

It’s a funny thing, though…

Elbow grease so often wins the day.

Indispensable to this tale (back to the movie) is Nick Nolte.

Here is an actor who has aged gracefully.

Like Bob Dylan.

That raspy voice…

He was perfectly cast as a man in need of some housekeeping.

But the really fascinating thing about this movie is the story.

And for that we must thank Alice Munro.

There’s a little bit of stolen identity here.

Internet-age fuckery.

Social engineering (in the sense familiar to “penetration testers”).

Put simply, this film goes because of a scam.

I won’t tell you how.  Or whom.

But it is even more tense and eggshell than waiting for Kristen Wiig to tell a joke.

But none of this would matter were it not for love.

Love is the cocoon which holds everything in.

Here.

That kind of love that makes you pack up all your things and head for the unknown.

That kind of love that makes you break the law.

That kind of love that has you end up in an abandoned motel in Chicago.

Yes, Chicago.

We get some Chicago here.

[Even if the film was shot in New Orleans.  Of which I’m only part certain.]

Our minds are in Chicago.

Because the story tells us we’re there.

And so we fear.

Busstops.

Trips to an unseen corner store.

Under a highway (for God’s sake!).

Love.

And trickery.

It is no innovation to point out that films are trickery.

Most films.

Fiction films.

With actors.

The kind you like.

But the best films make us suspend disbelief.

And this is one of those films.

We believe Kristen Wiig.  We believe Nick Nolte.

We believe the scumbag (played admirably by Guy Pearce).

We believe the cough.

We believe the cocaine on the toilet seat.

Sometimes it’s almost too precious–too perfect.

Too strained to be real.

But Liza Johnson is in firm control of her mise-en-scène.

So while the Weinstein brothers prepare for their “untitled Furby film [in association with Hasbro]”, the damage has already been done.

A little missile of truth has sunk the Hollywood battleship.

If, like me, you want to see something to which you can relate, then try this little slice of awkward loneliness.

Sometimes we just need a goddamned mirror to know we still exist.

-PD

Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Buñuel and Max Ophüls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know.  It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like Taste of Cherry and Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. Cătălin Mitulescu.  Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-scène here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike Adrian Purcărescu.

Cuzin is calm.  And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

Purcărescu is frazzled.  Cynical.  Either a conman of a saint.  Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and Purcărescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD