青春残酷物語 [1960)

[CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, (1960)]

Today was a bad day.

You would be shocked (dear readers) if I asserted the opposite.

No, there is no sugarcoating it.

But that’s ok. [Ah!]

Such anxiety.  Such fear.  Such trepidation.

Ah!  That wasn’t so bad.

But don’t breathe relief too soon.  [Sigh…]

We’re surrounded by morons.  Condescending illiterates.

A fistful of assholes.

Yes, that Japanese up there indeed does not read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Things fall apart.  Shit happens.  Sometimes, the shit hits the fan.

That is the story of Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth.

Seishun Zankoku Monogatari…that’s what it says.

Kinda like Ugetsu Mongatari (which I reviewed some time back).

物語

Epic.

And it is.  More or less.

The story of Mako and Kiyoshi.

No magical powers here.  This is like the Japanese version of À bout de souffle.

If we don’t understand French (and we don’t), then we really shouldn’t be fooling around with Japanese.

That is my 2 cents…me, and the royal we.

Inseparable.

Mako and Kiyoshi.

Will they survive this cruel world?

Perhaps they must be cruel themselves to survive it?

And perhaps only Kiyoshi (cool as Jean-Paul Belmondo) is cruel?

Mako is no Jean Seberg.

She might be a coquette, but she’s not une dégueulasse.

Our film followed on the heels of Godard’s Breathless by a mere four months.

And what about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”?

It preceded Godard’s film by two years (1958).

Any one else out of breath???

How about those Japanese protestors?

They weren’t keen on the Anpo treaty.

[Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan]

Yeah, a mere 15 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and Japan was a beaten nation.

Doubly beaten.

Because they joined hands with their brethren (us) who had so recently vaporized them.

And so no wonder people were protesting.

But we don’t see protests in movies.

Not real protests.  Not anymore.

In fact, Japan does not even exist for the U.S. anymore.

Japan is like a house cat.

Domesticated.

Japan protests nothing.

Their economy slides with ours.

They are between a rock and a hard place.

Seemingly forever.

It is a geopolitical fault-line.

In the film we see South Koreans protesting.

This ended long ago (for us brainwashed viewers in the West).

Only the Chinese protest.

Tiananmen Square.  1989.

And CNN had a bird’s-eye view of tank man.

A bit too perfect.

But yes:  every nation protests.

Except the well-behaved Japanese and South Koreans.

But what about these recent tremors?

Okinawa.

As recently as February of this year.

Just what is going on?

Anpo is that famously robust treaty…in effect longer than anything since the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

I am reminded of my most erudite friend’s knowing focus on the war which these treaties (a series in 1648) ended.

Thirty years.

It was a bad day for Mako.  Rape.

The valiant rapist.

What?

It is like Dostoyevsky.

Stick around and the plot thickens.

Buked and scorned by Yuki (the sister).

Youth…how cruel it is to be taken.

And then our lovers reenact The Kid with no windows (but plenty of stones).

But I’m most sad for Horio.

It’s the old man in me.

Finally the reification gets to be too much for Mako.

And a tear rolls down her cheek.  In her sleep.

Busy signal.  Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Twenty years.

A cement mixer.

Is she?  No.  It can’t end like that!

“This ain’t prostitution…IT’S EXTORTION! (tortion)! (torsion)!”

They call them the diamond dogs.

Oshima with a shadow play.

Kiyoshi holds Mako in the foreground.

Aki implores Yuki in the background.

[And for subtitlers everywhere, please think before you use the phrase “for old time’s sake” in a Japanese film.]

In her polka dot dress with the leeks peeking from the grocery sack.

Blammo!

The futility of youth.

The grimy uncertainty…the shifting sands.

The idealism made to lick the city sidewalk.

The valiant rapist saint.

INRI.

Ecce homo.

And Mako, fragile, with a bloody cheek.

 

-PD

To Write Love on Her Arms [2012)

This film goes beyond film.  Which is not to say it doesn’t have its problems.  Like the protagonist, it does.  But let me tell you why this film is worth it.  No…you know what?  This is fucking bullshit!  That’s not the way to review a film.  This is.

It’s gotta come from the heart and mind.  Depend too much on the mind and you miss the beauty.  Secrets make you sick.  Must be a whole lot of sick people in Langley, Virginia and Fort Meade, Maryland.  Go on, look it up.  It’ll do you good.  But for you lazy bums, that’s the CIA and NSA.

I read about the CIA all the time.  Why?  I’m only answering limited questions today.  But suffice it to say that both of these spy agencies are pretty interesting.  Don’t you think?

Well, so that’s one of my secrets.  It’s not really a secret.  It’s pretty transparent.  But maybe not.  So, there.  Like Robert Creeley said.  There you have it.

It’s very hard to not drop into John Berryman testimonial mode when talking about this film (oh yeah, this is a film review…duh!).

First things first:  you gotta love a film that premieres at the Omaha Film Festival (!)  Just knowing that Omaha has a film festival makes me feel a little less depressed about my life and the shitty town I live in (San Antonio).

And so…our setting:  Orlando.  It’s like an outtake from Mister Lonely–Cinderella smoking a cigarette at the bus stop.  Headed to the theme park presumably…  It’s certainly begging for a Harmony Korine touch, though director Nathan Frankowski does a nice job handling this priceless aside in more of a Terry Zwigoff way.

Wow.  Somebody needs to give the Wikipedia page for TWLOHA (the movie) some love.  I mean, Jesus!  A three-sentence plot summary???  There’s lost silent films which have more detailed synopses on Wiki than this!

So I guess my first inclination was correct:  speak from the heart.

Well God damnit!  There are some priceless moments in this film.  The secret weapon is Rupert Friend.  I’ll be damned if he doesn’t strike a stake right to my heart…fondling that pocket watch…  It’s no jive-ass MC5 John Sinclair rave-up testifyin’ going on.  This is some real shit.

For all of the snobs (like me) in the audience:  you gotta give this film time.  Clear from your mind the unpleasant parallels to the CGI of What Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones.  IT GETS BETTER.

That said.  How?  Well, once again Ms. Kat Dennings hits a home run. This is no easy role.  It’s a tough, tough, TAXING role to embody with anything even approaching Method Acting.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that Dennings felt this role naturally (to a certain extent).

How does this film go beyond film?  Because.  Ghost World was a masterpiece.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was perfection for its genre (young adult comedy romance).  Charlie Bartlett was a mini-masterpiece…a damn good film.  Hell!  Daydream Nation was pretty fucking good too.  But TWLOHA moves into the social realm…because it touches on depression and substance abuse (not to mention the cutting words of the haiku title) in a real, sobering way.  No pun intended.  At least not the sober one.

Yeah.  What does this mean for you, dear WordPress blogger…or for someone who stumbled across this article?  It means you are powerful beyond your wildest belief.

Every time you commit your precious thoughts to the page and share them with people (comma) you are saying the only stuff that people believe anymore.

It doesn’t mean you can talk about reptilians and be taken seriously (no offence to my reptilian theorist brothers…and sisters).  No, it means that the only people who have CAPITAL in SINCERITY are everyday people like me…and YOU.

We don’t believe the lies anymore.  We’ve swallowed so many damned secrets that we’re sick to death.  We can’t sleep.  But we are fucking powerful!  Hillary Clinton knows it.  Zbigniew Brzezinski knows it.  I’m not sure if David Rockefeller knows it.  Nor George H.W. Bush.

That’s ok.  They came from a different generation.  Hell…I’m not even a “digital native”…  Not a Millennial.  I guess I am part of that lamentable flannel fuzzed Generation X.  I hyphenate when I damn well please.

I make inside jokes that only I get.  I don’t have any friends.  Not anymore.  But I have family.  I have cats.  Some days I think my best friend is an extraterrestrial in Turkey.  Or a classmate from Iran.  But most days my best friend is an actor or an actress.

So to Kat Dennings (and Renee Yohe)…wherever you are.  Thank you.  It makes a big fucking difference.  That you exist.  My sentence fragments and idiosyncratic punctuation are yours.  Mi casa es su casa.

-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