Sixteen Candles [1984)

If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.

Seriously.

Because I didn’t believe.

Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.

It being the John Hughes phenomenon.

While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.

Now I get it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.

Don’t laugh.

What would André Bazin make of this film?  Or Gilles Deleuze?  Or Christian Metz?

Who cares???

Well, I care…

But what’s important is what YOU make of it.

And in this case, what I make of it.

But let’s get one thing straight:  Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.

Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.

It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of King Lear (1987).

Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (à la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.

But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.

So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings of 1939.

But none of this shit really matters.

What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.

And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.

AT&T gets it.  Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.

But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.

Because America has changed.

We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s 1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.

Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.

But he’s a great guy.  And a fine actor.

And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.

John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.

The outcast wins.

But the conservative wins too.

Really, everybody wins.

That’s what value-creation will do.

But let’s back to A.M. Hall.  This bloke…

What a performance!

And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.

In the auto body shop.

And so what do we get?

Romance.  Misery.  And tons of fucking jokes.

We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.

The previous year he had written National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase.

Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).

You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct?  How about Home Alone? [check] Or Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)?  [check]

But let’s get another thing straight:  this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!

But none of this shit matters.

What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.

What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.

Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.

Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.

And immediate regret.

What films do this?

Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.

And rightly so.

Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.

Looking through the yearbook.

And seeing the one.

The one who burns in your heart.

In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).

Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.

And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.

There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication.  Telephone calls.  House calls.

And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.

But what makes all this believable?  The supporting cast.

John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses).  And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.

But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.

The tunes are right.  The attention to detail is solid.

Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).

Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.

The cassette?  Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Yes, Brian Eno.

And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.

David Bowie.

Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator]

Everything is right sonically.

The band instruments on the school bus.

The Dragnet quotes.

The gongs for Long Duk Dong.

“Lenny” by SRV in the car.  Half a car.

It’s so very sweet.  And sotto voce.  And real.

It’s a mix.  It doesn’t intrude.  You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.

And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.

So rest in peace, John Hughes.  And thank you for this film.

Et je vous salue, Molly!  Merci for the film.

And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.

Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.

It is the immortality principle of film.

John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.

I am profoundly grateful.

-PD

Reservoir Dogs [1992)

That annoying, whiny little prick is a genius.

That’s the retort.

I’m really batting below the Mendoza line regarding Tarantino.

And I’ll tell you why.

Because that annoying, whiny little prick is a goddamned genius.

As much as I want to judge him as a director based on his shrill, dorky acting, I can’t.

Because he’s made some brilliant films.

As much as I want to judge him because so many filmmakers have followed his example regarding ultraviolence (which he naturally ripped off from Kubrick’s treatment of Burgess), I can’t.

It’s not Tarantino’s fault that his example is attractive.

It isn’t much more than a girl and a gun.

[the famous Godard quote…all you need for a film]

Ah!  But it IS different.

There are no girls here.

There are no female characters in Reservoir Dogs.

Sure…there’s the waitress.

Does she even appear?

We certainly hear about her.

And then there’s a broad who gets shot in the head (bringing her 15, er, 7 seconds of fame to an end).

Yes, Reservoir Dogs is a good ol’ sausage party.

Why review this film now?

Why review anything but new releases?

Because it’s my website and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with it.

[as the inestimable Lawrence Tierney might have said]

I’ll tell you the real reason.

Because the movies of 2016 are such shit as to make Tarantino circa ’92 look like Jean Cocteau in comparison.

And so we watch for entertainment.

We might want a story.

Dialog is nice.

But whatever’s in it (or not in it), we want it to be compelling (damn it!).

Reservoir Dogs is that.

It’s tense.

Like another “dogs” (Straw Dogs).

Why the colors?  Because van Gogh.

Should be capitalized.

Don’t use your Christian names.

I just gotta say, Harvey Keitel is really good here.

No.  He’s fucking great!

Guy has range!

Buscemi is the ball of nerves we’ve come to expect.  Times ten.

More important than specific actors, we learn the nature of acting.

We learn what lends stories credibility:  details.

And as (perhaps) an homage to Andy Warhol, we see the excellent Tim Roth actually rehearse his lines during the film.

Tarantino would employ the shooting (camera) from behind trick (Vivre sa vie) in Pulp Fiction, but here he finagles a brilliance (the Roth rehearsal) that only a truly agile mind could conjure.

And so, once again, I must apologize to Mr. Tarantino for having denigrated his films so much.  I had seen them, I just didn’t appreciate them.

We fall in love.  We fall out of love.  We fall back into love.

 

-PD

Pulp Fiction [1994)

I was wrong.

This film is a miracle.

Next thing you know I’ll be praising Schindler’s List.

But don’t get me wrong.

I’m being honest.

Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece.

I’ve taken a lot of potshots at Quentin Tarantino.

In reality (of course) I was only shooting at myself.

Because once something becomes too big and too popular…

it can be hard to relate to it.

[Like another masterpiece…The Big Lebowski]

Because I had a massive panic attack when I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater.

In 1994.

The needle.

No, the big one.

Adrenaline.

Shot to the heart.

I thought Tarantino gave America a bad name…gave cinema an empty way.

I was wrong.

I hope someday I will be testifying about my conviction in the veracity of the 9/11 commission report.

Snowball day in hell.

My Schindler’s List paean will have long been on this newsstand by then.

Which is to say, not bloody likely.

But there was something I always liked about Tarantino.

Less Miller, more Burroughs.

Hubert Selby meets Comic Book Guy.

Which is to say, me…basically.

Ok, not exactly…but close enough to be a band apart.

 

-PD

C’est arrivé près de chez vous [1992)

Writing is a healing exercise.

We try.

We do the best we can.

Sometimes we have to laugh at how bad things are.

Nietzsche would say we’ve lost something.

And he’s right.

But still we must laugh.

Because nobody knows the troubles we’ve seen.

Jesus wept.

Jesu swept.

We must laugh because the walls are closing in on us.

Our lives should have turned out so much better.

But let’s be optimistic.

Let us remember the good times.

Times when we sang.

Cinema…CINEMA!!!

Times when we shat and sang.

And shits yet to come.

Future shits.

It is not wrong to count life in such base terms.

When we venture out in the world, we only hope that a pretty girl smiles at us.

It’s like a bunch of flowers.

And so we must smile.

With all the bravery we have.

If you drink, drink.

If you smoke, smoke.

If you do nothing, do nothing.

Life is too very sad.  Doesn’t make.

So very sad.  Oui!

In Belgium, perhaps, they can laugh.

As in my heart song Aaltra.

Always a dark song.  Like Jeanne Dielman.

And here is Tarantino back through the French.

Au contraire!  This film predates all Quentin-directed features.

But not by much.

However, QT had the distribution advantage by a few months.

Seems Man Bites Dog (our film “in English”) beat Reservoir Dogs to market by way of film festivals.

In particular TIFF.

But really this is like a Belgian Pulp Fiction (and so much better than that hunk of shite which was still two years away).

As you might know.

Two directors I can’t stand:

Spielberg and Tarantino.

In that order.

Quentin has some redeeming qualities.

Spielberg very few (if any).

But you might want to know about the film I’m reviewing.

Ultraviolence meets Spinal Tap.

Yes, I know that’s not the full title.

But you probably know what I mean.

Kubrick of A Clockwork Orange meets mockumentary.

If someone had described this film (or any other) on such terms, I wouldn’t have watched it.

So I’m glad I didn’t encounter my own review.

Because C’est arrivé près de chez vous is brilliant.

The camaraderie chez Malou…

Rémy Belvaux supposedly committed suicide in 2006.

But it’s probably just as likely that Bill Gates had him whacked.

God damn it…

André Bonzel hasn’t died (according to English Wikipedia), but neither has he been born.

A precarious situation, that.

But Benoît Poelvoorde is gloriously alive!

Damn it!!!

Is it strip-tease or stripe-ties?

Une Femme est une femme.

We are learning the language.

French speakers English.

And English speakers French.

And Turkish.

And Romanian.

And Farsi.

Allors…

Tarantino has acknowledged his debt.

And so I too apologize to Mr. T.

It’s a sad life.  When you’re 39.

Rest in peace, dear Rémy.

 

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD