Minions [2015)

When I think of minions, I think of Robby Mook and Jennifer Palmieri (to name but two).

That is, if we are using the standard meaning of the word “minion”.

But the Minions are a transcendent bunch (unlike the two bootlickers I just named).

They have a sense of humor.

And thus, in the spirit of James Joyce, I give you my first film review in Minionese.

Kan urbeth odecaw boring, ta minions cono labada veela da pen a daga abaqi.

Yee la Lum, Fouwet, yee Yok ka kow kapee en a yukrya de epic proportions.

Strangely, tadda evil get she da Tarhay.

Scarlet Overkill tis a telboa evocation de Hillary Piachi.

Incidentally, ta reh marnib tos faked een 1968 ka a suka tomhes een ta USA dahbe da ba hyp.

Ope Yok!

Yee pem yippod kupa Tut Podesta tis roopa een ta torture anrig.

Ta scarlet no Hillary dit da be princess.

OKAY, ENOUGH OF THAT.

We should talk more.

About these lovable entities who seek to be slaves.

Perhaps within all of us, we are each waiting for just the right “big boss” to come along.

It makes me think of the Jimmy Reed song “Big Boss Man”…such a wonderful tune!

But the Minions (as a species?) are even too dangerous for their employers.

They do not lack devotion.

No, no.

They wish nothing but to serve.

Yet, they are extremely accident-prone.

The downside risk for a potential employer is, then, astronomical.

I must say…much of this film is a masterpiece.

But there is a political message in this film.

And that is the riddle I am trying to disentangle.

The Minions aren’t just drawn to “villains”, but even beasts of great strength.

However, somehow they begin to put more import in works which most societies would categorize as criminal.

[hence the PG rating]

The funny thing about the minions…they don’t quite know why they’re doing anything…they’re just born to do it.

It is genetic.

Perhaps an atavistic reemergence of a survival mechanism (a warrior mindset) which dates to their birth as single-celled organisms.

On an artful note, these Esperanto berserkrs are led by three very vanilla-named blokes:  Kevin, Bob, and Stuart.

Bob seems to have the same conjunctivitis-related eye condition (each eye a different color) as had the late David Bowie.

But it’s interesting…

These cute little mindless happy-go-lucky pseudo-pets…

In the milieu of EVIL.

If the voice of Howlin’ Wolf don’t make you believe in “Evil”, then perhaps Robert Johnson will get under your skin with “Hellhound on my Trail”.

And it’s odd.

Why this fascination with evil?

By Universal Studios.  By NBCUniversal.  By Comcast.

Let me elaborate…

This film was voted on at the 2016 Kids’ Choice Awards…

Hmmm…

Yes, there are definitely some strange messages in this film.

And plenty of laughs.

And I am thoroughly biased, but I can’t imagine anyone else as the inspiration for Scarlet Overkill than Hillary Clinton.

On a side note, John Podesta’s likeness seems to make a cameo when we see the Minions working for Dracula.

And of course the torture chamber…which we asked about above in Minionese…as per WikiLeaks…is Tony Podesta still down there?

Ok, I’ve restrained myself.

No talk of certain Italian foods.

Or ballpark concessions.

No gates.

Simply a door into a fascinating and very clever film directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda.

Which leaves many questions unanswered.

And I didn’t even get to Orlando.

-PD

JFK [1991)

There is very little doubt in my mind that this is the most important film ever made.

For once in American history, someone stood up.

That man was Jim Garrison.

When I used to spend time in New Orleans I shuddered at the courage this man had.

He had the courage to take on everything.

But this epic would not have received its rightful place in history without the auteur Oliver Stone.

Making this film was an immense act of courage.

Search your heart.

Sit alone at 2:00 a.m. on the outskirts of Nola.

3:00 a.m.

Later.

The deepest, darkest part of the night.

Oliver Stone captures the beauty of humanity in the story of Jim Garrison.

Few dramatic performances have ever affected me so much as Kevin Costner’s here.

But you must look deeper.

Look to Jim Marrs.

Long ago I heard Alex Jones proclaim on air that JFK was his favorite film.

Long ago I saw JFK as a first-run film in the theater.

But I didn’t see this 3-hour-8-minute version.

I’m pretty sure of that.

Because I was just a child.

I heard the drums.

I heard the moving music of John Williams.

But, alas, it was 3’08” which was before me.

It takes a lifetime to appreciate what Mr. X is getting at.

It is packed tight as a can of sardines (even at 3’08”).

Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Really listen to it.

The nervous glances aside.

What is he announcing?

Does he not have immense testicles to yell such from the tower?

But let’s take a trip…

Acting.  Real fucking acting.

Joe Pesci.

God damn!

If Costner didn’t have the Garrison role, Pesci might have taken it.

Stole the show.

Kevin Bacon at Angola.

In Angola.

Leadbelly, not Neto.

IS THIS THE MPLA?

I THOUGHT IT WAS THE UK!

Donald Sutherland.

You can see the parallel now in Dr. Steve Pieczenik.

You gotta watch it.

Vietnam.

Donald Sutherland gets even closer than Pesci.

It’s that moment he says, “bubba”.

Yeah, that’s the right track.

That’s a lifetime of work.

That’s putting your ass on the line.

Have you ever put your ass on the line?

Really laying it all out there and staring into the void.

That’s the encouragement.

The words you need to hear from someone who’s paying attention.

Someone who’s saying, “Don’t be afraid of the bastards.  Hit ’em back.”

Contrasted with Pesci as a walking pot of coffee.

Yeah.

Feel that fear for a moment.

You don’t live in a bubble

You have family.

You have people you love.

You risk it all because you know it is the right thing to do.

To ask questions.

To object.

To use your mind where none dare tread.

Who’s the Jim Garrison of today?

Yes, it is Alex Jones.

He has earned that.

But it is also very much James Tracy.

Sissy Spacek cannot compete with Costner.

And she shouldn’t.

But she’s indispensable.

The back and forth in the hallway.

She ain’t walking down that hallway anymore.

Watch JFK and you’ll understand why Anderson Cooper is a coward.

Watch the hit piece directed at Garrison.

Sad, sad men (the SAD/SOG).

Yeah.

Come to know Lyman L. Lemnitzer.  Very few LLLs in history.

Don’t stop at Operation Mongoose.

Know the much more important Operation Northwoods (otherwise known as 9/11).

For all of the bigots out there, come to understand just how many things Israel COULD NOT have done (which were essential to 9/11).

And yet they are no doubt involved.

On the wrong side.

Just like their appalling treatment of the Palestinians.

Notice I didn’t say Jews.  And I didn’t say anti-Semitism.

Pesci’s character nails it.

But we still need Gary Oldman as Oswald.

What’s on the gravestone?

Oswald.

Maybe it’s not rogue elements after all.

It’s the whole damn thing.

But who warned us?

They were inside the machine.

Eisenhower.

Garrison.

Kennedy.

Martin Luther King.

Go to Dallas.

Feel the evil.

Unsolved.

Covered.

Covered over.

Like a pothole filled with steaming shit.

Thanks Michael Ovitz.

Did you really convince Costner to take the part?

More importantly, thank you Costner.

Yeah, that’s some method acting.

And it’s far too important not to feel.

With every fiber of one’s being.

Stone took the right take.

There could be only one like that.

In the courtroom.

We don’t even notice the cuts.

Academy Award for editing.

Including a chap named Scalia.

Tommy Lee Jones as the incarnation of evil.

Dainty.  Subtle.  Shades of James Mason from NXNW.

Tommy Lee Jones from my hometown.

San Antonio.

I seen him at a Mexican restaurant.

And we hold out hope that the planet remembers us.

Ed Asner.

Ed Asner who stood up when the shit hit the fan after 9/11.

Where were these other fuckers?  Still basking in the glory of JFK?

That’s too bad because their words then ring hollow.

How about Field of Dreams?  Go the distance.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

Back, and to the left.

John Candy as perfection.

A serious role.

Fuck all you motherfuckers!

Martin Sheen is for real.

Charlie Sheen, while not in this movie, put so many social activists to shame.

Real testicular girth.

Jim Garrison as Earl Warren.

The glasses.

The Coke bottle disorientation.

But the erudition.

The evil erudition.

Sean Stone is what we’re fighting for.

The kids.

That’s real shit.

Mohrenschildt in Pappy Bush’s pocketbook.

A directory.

Not the whole Rolodex.

Just the kind of thing you’d take on an ice-skating trip in a thunderstorm to Houston.

It’s always raining.

And a little hunting.

Parse that.

It comes back to Cuba.

Zachary Sklar.

Ellen Ray.

Enough to write a book.

And publish it.

Jack Lemmon.

The fear.

Naïveté.  Étouffée.

A lot of work for a little piece of meat.

Oliver Stone’s not the genius.  Jim Garrison is.

Always will be.

But Garrison needed Stone.

Counter gangs.  Webster Tarpley.

Frank Kitson.  Low intensity.

Critical mass.

Where Jane Rusconi and Yale University come in.

Impressive.

I take it all back.

A dick-measuring contest about how many books one has read.

Garrison.  Stone.  Rusconi.

Impressive.

District attorney.

Ok, I take it back again again:  Oliver Stone is a genius.

But we need it again.

 

-PD

 

Elèna et les hommes [1956)

Sometimes we are emptied of our emotions from exhaustion.

We can’t fail at love any more than we have.

Valentine’s Day is but a mockery.

And so why does Miss Lonelyhearts push on?

And Sgt. Pepper?

Some of us have immense reservoirs of confidence.

Some of us have a penchant for risk.

But not I.

If we treat love as an investment (bear with me),

then every risk has its flipside:  the potential for reward.

In love, we weigh the possibilities.

What will she say?  How will he respond?

But our world has degenerated into a soulless masquerade.

Do anything…but never show your true feelings.

If we are circumspect in our psychology, we realize that many times we don’t know our own minds.

I am not a meditating ninja.  I do not balance, poised to act with clarity.

No, I am clumsy.

In love, I am particularly clumsy.

To speak of such things in America…it just isn’t done.

Love is more taboo than sex.

Sex is ubiquitous, but love is vulnerability.

An American can never show vulnerability.

This is the great archetypal travesty of the film Patton.

And perhaps no greater dichotomy could exist than from that film to our film Elèna et les hommes.

It is Jean Renoir again.  It is Ingrid Bergman.  It is Jean Marais.

And to a very surprising extent, it is Juliette Gréco.

It must have been this film to which Godard fell in love.

More interested in Gréco than El Greco at this time.  More interested in Juliette than his schoolwork.

Those dreams which would be realized in Anna Karina.

But things fall apart.

How hard to know the soul of a man or woman.

Ingrid plays the role of a Polish princess.

On Bastille Day with Mel Ferrer there is a Rabelaisian warmth to the festivities.

From one Renoir to another, there are the pinks in the cheeks.  Red wine.  A weak drink.  Compared to Polish vodka.

And then there are the daisies.  A marguerite here and there.  Gounod’s Faust would have such as the leading soprano.

A grand opera in five acts is about what Elèna et les hommes feels like.  There are similarities in tone and mise-en-scène to Max Ophüls’ Lola Montès, but the best comparison is to Renoir’s own The Golden Coach.

What may not be evident (due to the visual disparity between the vibrant, saturated colors of Elèna et les hommes and the black and white of Renoir’s early films) is that our film is very similar to the Renoir classic La Règle du jeu.  Both share traits with the elusive Hollywood genre known as “screwball comedy”.  There is a general ruckus of celebration…a confusion of who loves whom…indeed, about who should love whom…mixed emotions…missed connections…conflicted hearts.

There are the base buffoons who live out our easiest desires.  They just chase.  So what if they lose?  Well, it makes a big difference…from the bathos of Schumacher to the stoogery of Eugène.

But these references aside, it is the others who make us believe.  The hesitating class of Ingrid Bergman and Nora Gregor…these parallel characters.  And the luckless chaps who may or may not prevail in the end…Mel Ferrer and, indeed, Jean Renoir himself as Octave in La Règle du jeu. 

It must have been a revelation for Godard to see this film.  It was the French film industry asserting itself.  And yet, it was the spectacle against which Debord would rail a mere 11 years later.

Even so, Elèna et les hommes is (at the very least) a beautiful echo of the French film tradition which preceded it.  In a sense, it was Jean Renoir retelling that old story of La Règle du jeu one more time.

Life is a strange party in which Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre is liable to be conjured from the ghostly ivories of a player piano at any moment.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 17 [1976)

Why do we review films?  Why do we feel the need to write about that which is expressed as sound and vision?

And why, after experiencing the sublime, do we still get enjoyment out of the mundane?

Why, as in a society with classes or castes, do we persist in dividing art into high and low?

The former we call high art, whereas the latter is pop art (if even that).

We are often unforgiving.

After immersion in Godard (an ongoing activity for me), we somehow still need comedy.

Comedy lets us relax.

If we spend all day thinking, we want to have an occasional laugh.

And so today we are able to re-approach a show like Saturday Night Live by starting from the very beginning.

As an aspiring film critic, I seek to bring the same respect and passion to writing about television as I bring to writing about film.

I will be honest:  I am not a big fan of TV.

Somehow television has often brought out the worst in humanity.

It’s a rather sickening feeling to let the constant stream of disposable culture wash over oneself.

And so I don’t subject myself to such.

The important point to make is that this decision doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.

It’s just simply a choice I make.

Now, how can one possibly come down from such a marbled column to discuss SNL?

Well, fortunately this particular episode breaks the fourth wall in a very unique way.

The host of this night’s show was press secretary to the president of the US (I refuse to capitalize that repugnant position) Ron Nessen.

This was the Ford administration.

Now.  If you want to see a UNIQUE name, check out Nessen’s predecessor Jerald terHorst [sic].  What a mind-trip!

But back to that fourth wall…

Yes, the other Gerald (the big one…G-man) delivers Chevy’s line here.  “Live from New York…”

This was an exceptionally bold move by a White House which had been lambasted mercilessly by SNL since the show’s inception.  Particularly, Gerald Ford showed a strange side of himself by consenting to be taped for a couple of one-liners.

Strangest of all, however, is Nessen (as himself) interacting with Chevy Chase (as President Ford) in the Oval Office.  It was the obvious skit to do.  Aside from the rehashing of the “Dead String Quartet” to start the show, the first real piece was this one.

While some bits in this episode fall flat (“Press Secretaries Throughout History” comes to mind), in all this is a very solid episode.

Perhaps Patti Smith’s presence as musical guest had something to do with the fuck-off tone encountered here and there.

Let’s face it:  SNL (though still called merely Saturday Night) had become such a force that the White House was forced to respond.

And their course of action?

If we can’t be ’em, join ’em.  It’s the old Bugs Bunny phrase I heard a million times as a kid growing up.

What’s not good about this episode?  Billy Crystal (still Bill Crystal at the time).

It’s almost good.  It’s almost great (Crystal’s routine).  But ultimately, it sucks.

Contrast this with the performance of The Patti Smith Group.

“Gloria” is powerful, but it’s a strange rip-off cover.  It’s a rewrite.  Almost a détournement worthy of Guy Debord and the Situationists.

“Gloria” works.  The guitars are blaring loud.  Patti Smith is a true persona here.  Magical.  Visceral.  Pissed-off.

But “My Generation” works less well.  And while it is juvenile and lazy, it still has the genuine energy which would inspire groups like Sonic Youth.

The Patti Smith Group is exciting on both tunes because it feels like they could fail at any moment.  “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail” as Cecil Taylor put it.

Yeah.  That was the name of Lou Reed’s radio show when Lou was a student at Syracuse.

No.  Bill Crystal was no Andy Kaufman.  Bill Crystal was just doing blackface here.  Is it Satchmo?  Miles?  An amalgamation named Pops?

Importantly, it is evident that Crystal has talent.  A lot of talent.  It’s just that he’s not channeling it very well here.  The blackface sans burnt cork doesn’t really become him.  It’s lazy.  Like Patti Smith Group’s “My Generation”.  Crystal isn’t risking much.

Today, Crystal’s routine would probably be called racist.  Yeah…  It’s a little odd.

But Patti Smith comes out on top.  “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”  Wow…

On national TV.  Long before Sinéad ripped up a picture of the Pope.

SNL was dangerous.

But it was also a gas.

Super Bass-o-Matic ’76.

Yeah, Dan Aykroyd took a step forward with this particular show.

Who even remembers Tom Snyder?

It’s of a different generation.  Not my generation.

We dig back in the past.

And this show (SNL) is not complete without the REAL commercials.

I wanna see the Marlboro Man, ads for Scotch, plugs for cars that Ralph Nader found out impaled people upon impact.  The good old days…

The FAKE commercials need the REAL commercials for the whole thing to work.

I’m thinking back to my youth.  When Crystal Pepsi was lampooned as Crystal Gravy.

And so it’s a shame that corporate America couldn’t get together and celebrate their grossly dated marketing of the 1970s by being a part of these reruns. Same criticism falls upon NBC.  Why don’t you give us a REAL glimpse of what watching this show in ’76 must have been like?

Some brands don’t even exist anymore.  Who holds the copyrights to commercials for defunct products?  That’s a lot of work just to give people a more realistic stroll down memory lane.

So it is instructive.

What you see on television today (the whole experience…especially the commercials) will be very quickly (QUICKLY) forgotten tomorrow.  The mundane pieces will fade first.  No one bothered to document them.  Too pervasive.

And then the few gems somehow get lost in the digital landfill.

Gary Weis was way ahead of me with his short film set in a dump.  Sanitation workers.  Garbage men.

Don’t mind me.  I’m just sifting through the detritus.

 

-PD