Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain [2001)

Today is my 40th birthday.

And it gives me pause to reflect.

On the many wonderful things I have done and seen.

And on the mistakes I have made.

This film, in particular, brings to my heart a specific apology.

And yet, I know not how to find the wonderful young woman who first showed me this film.

I doubt she is reading.

But I pray that my thoughts will bounce off the moon…and find her happy in Paris…or Aix-en-Provence.

But Amélie, as we call it in America…is full of beaming positivity.

And so we shall push on.

As much as we wouldst remain in this quicksand, we push on.

Perhaps it’s loneliness.

And certainly an overactive imagination.

But some of it is the absurdity we found in that Québécois masterpiece Léolo (1992) by director Jean-Claude Lauzon.

We can stay at home.

Far from the maddening crowd.

The crowd.

Vidor.

Irving Thalberg.

Thomas Hardy.

But we yearn for excitement.

We yearn to feel the blood pulse in our veins.

To “lose the fear” as The Boo Radleys sang.

Best,

how many waitresses we have fallen in love with.

Hard-boiled eggs in the highlands.

Robert Burns.

Don’t close your heart.

Leave open.

Rube Goldberg might dislodge a wall tile.  And a world beyond…

Éclairs sur l’au-delà…

Do good things.

As if you were an angel.

A spy for God.

Making miracles.

Ellen Andrée…the girl drinking the water…in Renoir’s painting.

Pierre-Auguste.

Must clarify, not Jean…extolling Bazin.

Everything secretly.

One hand not knowing what the other is doing.

QWERTY.

X.

You have a mission to bring happiness to those around you.

Hippie bumper stickers call it “random acts of kindness”.

And I wholeheartedly approve.

Send the gnome to Nome.

Ponder jurassic orgasms from far afield or near (15+1).

And let out some steam for modesty’s sake.

Stratagems befitting Technical Services in thrall to love…forgery for romance.

Time machine.

Nothing some Twinings tea can’t age.

And the gaslighting which is currently being employed straight from Alinsky’s Rules against pizzagate researchers…turn the beat around.

Knowing John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress…under the aegis of which Mind Wars was written by Jonathan D. Moreno.

We have on good faith that US spec-ops use this very book.

So that Mr. Podesta should not be at all surprised by a little blowback.

Neuroscience neuroscience neuroscience.

And the funding and methodology of trolls suddenly makes sense.

Yes, Amélie is an expert in psychological warfare.

But only as a last resort.

AND, most importantly, she is sticking up for the undefended.

Jamel Debbouze.

It’s impressionist binoculars vs. covert telescope.

Good-natured.

But only she holds the key.

To Ellen Andrée.

And to the ghost.

Who seeks to repair the collective memory.

“Don’t forget my face”, she posits.

But love is the ultimate job.

The ultimate reward.

To find another like yourself.

To be accepted.

To find the lock for your key.

And vice versa.

It is cat and mouse.

And Zorro.

And Audrey Tautou is magnificent.

She is a jewel in a world created by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

So tender.

So halting.

We feel “the time-image” of which Deleuze wrote.

Love is too strong.

Like staring into the sun.

Too forceful.

Like a full moon.

But luckily Mathieu Kassovitz knows his proverbs.

And that “made all the difference”.

Early on one frosty morn’.

Simply put, Amélie is an undeniable masterpiece.

That only the hard-hearted could look down upon.

 

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Spies Like Us [1985)

Hulu lost me.

Hello Netflix.

Hulu is like an inept intelligence agency.

They had the goods.

The Criterion Collection.

But as that oeuvre was surreptitiously phased out, Hulu was unable to offer any value whatsoever to the thinking person.

And so perhaps it is ironic that my Netflix relationship (no chilling here) starts with a spy spoof of sorts, but make no mistake (as the woeful Barack Obama is wont to say):  this is a very intelligent film.

It was a childhood favorite of mine.

Perhaps I was a strange child.

[no doubt]

But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?

Details disappear.

Even Putin had his cinema heroes.

Consider the film Щит и меч from 1968.

iMDB seems to fill in where Wikipedia fails.

Because these details tell so much.

To know one’s opponent.

But Vladimir Putin is not our opponent.

As long as our election stands.

Perhaps the answer is Stanislav Lyubshin.

Or was it Oleg Yankovsky?

The real answer is comedy.

Even spies need a laugh.

Spies are humans too.

Spy lives matter.

And so we get the provenance of the Pentagon basement meme.

A favorite of mine.

And this film.

Integral to who I am.

I had a cousin who worked in the Pentagon.

I don’t think she worked in the basement 🙂

But God rest her soul.

She is no longer with us.

And she was the most kind lady perhaps I ever knew.

She served her country.

I believe she did something in the health care field for veterans.

But yes…I identify extensively with Austin Millbarge.

In my own way.

Dan Aykroyd is stellar here as Mr. Millbarge.

And then there’s Emmett Fitz-Hume.

Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as Mr. Fitz-Hume.

Frank Oz is classic in his role as a test monitor.

Yes, Yoda and Miss Piggy were the same person.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

For young know-nothings like myself, this was a likely first exposure to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

And it speaks volumes that the DIA “recently” fielded its own band of covert operatives (in direct competition with the CIA).

There is, it seems, a palpable mistrust between the CIA and the U.S. military.

Different cultures.  Actually, a class difference.

[Not to get all Marx here…]

But it’s real.

I can’t define the parameters other than those intuitive, nebulous sentiments just expressed.

It is (very) interesting to note that Dan Aykroyd’s wife Donna Dixon, who stars in this film, was born in Alexandria, Virginia…

Hmmm…

NoVA.

We get Pamir Mountains.

We get Tajikistan.

But before that, we get Pakistan…and Budweiser…and Old El Paso tortilla chips.

And the intel cutout Ace Tomato Co.

And while we’re on the subject of failed businesses (Hulu), we should note that we definitely shan’t be accepting Indra Nooyi’s invitation (“Why don’t you gentlemen have a Pepsi?”) any time soon.

No…we’d much prefer to look at B.B. King’s Jheri curl blowing in the Nevada breeze…or watch Bob Hope “play through” on the Road to Bali.

But let us get back to that old enigmatic chestnut of our youth:  the road to Dushanbe.

“It’s…’Soul Finger’…by…The Bar-Kays.”

“They must be having trouble getting gigs.”

God damn…best line ever!

“Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Aaaaand Doctor.  Did we miss anyone?”

So many lines in this film which hit just the right mark.

Rarely do I write about screenwriters (it’s the auteur theorist in me), but Dan Aykroyd and his cowriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo (!) Mandel deserve major credit for the quality of Spies Like Us.

And yet, the direction of John Landis is fabulous as well!

Landis is no slouch.

I’ve previously written about the timelessness of Trading Places.

And I am sticking with that assessment.

But let’s take a break here…

Is there anything more lovely than seeing Vanessa Angel emerge from that tent?

Well, at least we get the cultural edification of some Lithuanian dancing to a boombox blasting Stax/Volt goodness around a Stolichnaya campfire 🙂

Back to the essential stand-down aspect of the false flag/stand down.

And for this we will always be indebted to Dr. Steve Pieczenik (and to a far lesser extent Roberta Wohlstetter).

We again refer to the FBI’s 1989 raid of Rocky Flats and the heavily-armed DoE agents guarding that facility.

Perhaps some U.S. Army Rangers are in Michael Chertoff’s not-too-distant future (to name but one grand conspirator).

“Ohh…I’m sorry Paul Wolfowitz!  The correct answer is ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’!!!”

 

-PD

 

 

Mr. Arkadin [1955)

I am a bad film critic.

A good, bad film critic.

Because this is one of those films which requires a certain attention to detail.

Get the damn title right.

So what is it?

I have just watched the British version…we’ll call it (adhering to common practice) Confidential Report.

I had seen this once before.

To me it was always Mr. Arkadin.  I didn’t realize the level of controversy surrounding this film’s numerous versions.

But let me point something out.  All of the versions are within a few minutes of each other.  Sure, some are in Spanish.  That makes a difference.  But at a certain point it is splitting hairs.  Either you’ve seen this thing or you haven’t.

I can understand the legalistic approach to film preservation when it comes to this picture.

If the whole thing isn’t presented as a flashback, I can see how the composition might be negatively affected.

But who cares?  Bogdanovich?  Sure…I care too.

And so let’s get around to why one should even care in the first place.

This is a magnificent movie!

I didn’t really think so the first time I saw it.

It’s possible to see this film and be caught in a The Big Sleep haze.

So maybe it does depend on the version.

Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be confusing.

Yet, there’s something nice (pleasant) about being confused.

If this was a universal maxim, I would walk around with a smile on my face perpetually.

But the confusion here is a rare sort.

When I first saw Mr. Arkadin I mainly “retained” (absorbed?) only its mood.

Something was happening.  Orson Welles was a shadowy character.

There wasn’t a sense of continuity.

But here’s another possibility.

This film needs (deserves) to be seen more than once.

The action moves fast.

Weird things are afoot.

The whole film is a sort of riddle.

And the symbolism is as stinky-strong as Roquefort.

Wikipedia might lead you to Basil Zaharoff, but my mind was wandering more towards George Soros and/or Rupert Murdoch.

Even Jeff Bezos…these guys who feel compelled to protect their corporate empires by buying the Wall Street Journal (or Washington Post).

We make fun of Kissinger because he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

We make fun of Obama for the same reason.

Neither deserved it.  [the prize]

It is as repugnant as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But really, we are dumb.

We Lumpenproletariat.

Lumpy Gravy.

We lump together Kissinger with Brzezinski.  And then we throw Soros in for good measure.

And to top it all off, we place Murdoch like a cherry atop the mystère.

There is no mystery.

Bouvard and Pécuchet are aghast.

Maybe he was born in Muğla.

Perhaps he died in Monte Carlo.

Methods.  Experiments.

This is the dossier on Mr. Arkadin.

You are paying to have yourself spied on.

Whether you like it or not.

Because, with all you have been through, you can’t even remember your real identity.

Oh yes…the tired trope of super-soldier pap and shows like Blindspot.

We almost buy it.

It goes a long way.

But it falls short.

Too few comma splices.

Yes, too few.

I will, be, here with Pynchon.  Is not a comma splice.

This is approaching the time in which firemen SET fires.  Bradbury.  Truffaut.

And among the contraband is Tropic of Cancer.

Yes, my heart rends a bit.  As I reach out.

Julie Christie…the rumors are true.

A shamus hired by a murderer.

Belgrade.  Zürich.

Orson Welles is painting a portrait of Europe.

Corruption.

A song for Europe.

Mother of pearl.

They say Rothschild came in.

Always came in.  But with a nice glass of Lafite.

ONI was sniffing around.  They were the first.  Good old chaps!

War profiteering runs all through the story of Basil Zaharoff.

And Orson Welles borrows this story artfully.

As when Patricia Medina is drunk on the yacht.

All through the film.  Those expressionist camera angles.  Vertov.  Ruttman.

But with the wine…more sinister.  As Arkadin is lucid.  Listening.  Gathering intelligence.

DYB.

We need a new generation of jet fighters.  Though the last generation never saw action in a real war.  Hasn’t been a real war since WWII.  Profiteers are restricted in their movements.

The Spanish Empire finally collapsed because of this corruption.  Will it happen in the exact same manner to the United States?

The parallels are more similar than Rome.

It is too much.  The shoddiness of these machines.  I must stop here.

 

-PD

 

 

The 39 Steps [1935)

Oh, to be a spy.  At once the dream of the adventurous and the curse of the actualized.  Why?  Why does Robert Donat let Annabella Smith come home with him from the music hall???  Perhaps it is her allure…  Her strange foreign accent.  Once you take the first step, the case collapses to become a chute…a slide.

Perhaps Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) was simply curious.  We know how the cat ended behaving thusly…

Perhaps Hannay was horny?  It was, after all, 1935…things were lightening up a bit.  No Tinder, but still…one might luck out at the music hall.

Well, Hannay has the misfortune of true cloak and dagger.  Annabella Smith…Hannay asks if she’s ever heard of persecution mania?  Yes, a good question until she comes stumbling from the kitchen with a knife in her back.

And so Hannay sees her fears materialize before his very eyes.  Sure, she could have stabbed herself in the back, but it’s not bloody likely!  And what’s this?

Her last words…cryptic…and a map of Scotland clutched in her hand.

Hanney has become a believer.  It is that moment when hypothetical (suppose she’s right?) becomes, to a certain extent, proven.

No time to split hairs quibbling…she makes it clear with her last breath:  they killed me and you’re next.

Why trust?  Perhaps the spy becomes tired.  She is, after all, a mercenary in a foreign country.  Yes, she is protecting the Kingdom, but for a price…  Her homeland is elsewhere.

And so an act of transference occurs.  Robert Donat now bears the burden of a secret…a hint of a secret…a trail.

He has a couple of choices.  The decision he makes ends up saving his life, yet it is completely counterintuitive.

He decides to get the hell out of there.  Annabella Smith is dead on the bed.  Hanney makes a deal with the milkman (1935) and creeps off towards the train station.

To Scotland.

Things begin to go very hard for Mr. Hanney.  He is pursued relentlessly.  A daring escape from a train stopped on a bridge brings him eventually to the Scottish moors and the village circled on Annabella’s map.

On the way he must overnight with a farm couple…  The man of the house is an overbearing null…the woman, an angel trapped in an unhappy provincial cage.

This is really the beginning of the James Bond idea.  In 1935, they shared but a kiss.

Now, if you have made it this far you will be spared further spoilers…because that is not the purpose of my site.  This isn’t Cliff’s Notes.

We must talk of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.  Perhaps you have noticed the news element of my homepage?  It is really not fair to criticize our CIA…it is too easy.  There can be no doubt as to the difficulty of their work.

As a citizen of the USA I have dreamed of being a secret agent…just as many people do.  It would be a treasonous dream for me to wish employment by the MI6.  I am not British.  So my thoughts have turned now and again to my own country’s external intelligence organization.

Oh, I am too old to be a covert agent…too out of shape to have a fistfight with a Daniel Craig type.

But we remember certain things from our readings.  Wall Street = CIA.  This was Michael Ruppert’s assertion in his excellent book Crossing the Rubicon.  May Mr. Ruppert rest in peace.  No doubt he tried to do the right things during his time on this earth.  It was not until recently that I learned of his death.

Perhaps I began studying business as a roundabout way to court adventure.  There is no doubt that my future is not on Wall Street.  In fact, I don’t see much future at all.

Why?  Because I am like Robert Donat’s character in this film.  I can’t leave well-enough alone.  Killing in self-defense or in the defense of others can be honorable, but stretched to its limits by tenuous connection it eventually becomes murder.  When I read about the leading intelligence agencies of the world, I get the whiff of murder.  I get the scent of those who are “just following orders”…just like those good little Nazi soldiers.

It is this thirst for justice which makes me unemployable.  I know it.

And so I soldier on.  I do my cardio.  I lift my weights.  I study my texts.  I enrich my mind.

I am just a loner with my films.  I would like to contribute, but I was born of no prestigious family.  I don’t speak Dari or Pashto.

There are two camps of which I wish to be part of neither.  Camp one holds that everything America does is just and good. Camp two holds that nothing America does is just nor good.

I do not wish for a clean slate.  It is not possible.  Those who wish for the collapse of society are fools.  They are wishing for their own death and are far too optimistic about the practicality of starting over.

Now, dear film lover…you must be asking what this has to do with The 39 Steps.

Mr. Memory.

Office of Strategic Services.

Office of the Coordinator of Information.

Robert Sherwood.  movie critic.  Vanity Fair.  Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.  Algonquin Round Table. Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent.  Hitchcock.  Yes, it is a tenuous link.

Continuing…

Admiral John Godfrey.  “M”

Centre for Spastic Children, Chelsea.

…and finally

William Stephenson (c’est-à-dire) James Bond

the Icelandic orphan

alluded to in Casino Royale (2006)

to wit

British Security Coordination

Camp X (Whitby, Ontario) [the original Farm]

Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl

Rockefeller Center (35th and 36th floors of the International Building)

under the cover of British Passport Control Office

For better or worse, CIA is MI6.  Where does one stop and the other begin?  To what extent is this a private army for the corporate members of the Council on Foreign Relations (Royal Institute of International Affairs)?

Surely we’re all playing by the Chatham House rules here, aren’t we, gents?

-PD