Tu dors Nicole [2014)

Here is filmic perfection.

God damn!

Fucking hell!

Excuse my Tourette’s outburst.

But it’s like a geyser.

Because this film really, really (REALLY) got me!

[the boy who cries wolf must get ever more creative]

Wolf!

A big, bad, beautiful wolf here…

I had no idea coming into this film–what I was getting into.

No idea about country of origin.

Or province.

No idea about actors or director.

No idea about language.

Or subtitles.

Just the least thumbnail sketch of plot.

But other than that.

Nothing.

Rien.

In French it’s shorter.

Nothing is even less of a thing in French.

By three letters.

An economy of means.

And that serves as as good a point as any (whew!) at which (yikes!) to start talking about this MASTERPIECE MASTERPIECE MASTERPIECE.

Because I don’t have to get drunk.

I don’t drink.

I don’t have to get high.

I only take my boring medications.

As prescribed.

But you know what really lights my fuse?

Cinema.

And love.

And love when it is cinematic.

And hope.

Optimism.

The hope of love.

The promise of love (however distant the possibility) when it is expressed cinematically.

In a film I feel like I’m the only one watching.

So i must first [sic] thank the universe for Julianne Côté.

As Borat would say, wah-wah-way-woe!

For nerds like me.

That little in-between haircut.

But fuck it…

Hair doesn’t matter.

It’s soul.

It’s shining through.

Ms. Côté is a very attractive girl.

But not in the meretricious sense.

That is left to the less-than-sterling character played by Catherine St-Laurent (who’s also great in this film).

Every film needs a villain.

Frenemies!

As the singularly-poetic Liam Gallagher once penned (and sang):

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Yeah…

But we need to get back to Julianne Côté.

Because she changed my DNA with this film.

She wrecked me (as Tom Petty might have said).

She took my soul and balled it up like dough and made gingerbread men out of it.

[ok, that’s stretching it…]

Because Catherine St-Laurent is the magazine cover girl.

It’s no accident we see her in a bikini…poolside.

But Ms.Côté just floats on the foam spaghetti.

Submersed.

Weightless.

Her face as beautiful…as the moon.

I MUST STOP HERE TO SAY THAT A GOOD MANY OF MY MORE SUBLIME THOUGHTS JUST DISAPPEARED DUE TO SOME COMPUTER GLITCH

And it is only appropriate.

As Nicole’s life is a grand series of fuck-ups and almosts.

Yes, thanks a fucking lot, WordPress.

And Apple.

You jerks.

Ten minutes of writing down the drain.

Ok, so the milk is spilt.

How to get back on track?

I don’t know where I was.

I spun my loveliest sentences.

Turned my most gossamer phrases.

And hit “Save” ever fucking second.

But it didn’t matter.

So we will go to tech metaphor.

Always fall in love with the typewriter.

Even the electric typewriter (like Histoire(s) du cinéma).

And give Microsoft no quarter.

Granted.

They are, for once, innocent.

The answer is.

There is no getting back.

Not some Thomas Wolfe trip.

But simply to say that nothing I can write will sum up the brilliance of Stéphane Lafleur’s direction.

I am exercising zero hyperbole when I say that THIS IS A PERFECT FILM.

And nothing will ever sum up my admiration (yes, love) for Julianne Côté’s performance.

Nay, for her.

Let’s quote Elton John…

“Someone saved my life tonight…”

Yeah!

Thank you, Julianne!

I will just say Julianne from now on…because my computer doesn’t like diacritical marks 🙂

I’ll say it again a few times.

Tu dors Nicole has changed my perception of film.

Of cinema.

Of what a movie can be.

It’s that good!

It’s that important!

I can’t believe what I just saw… […]

-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

La Bête Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.  [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der müde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La Règle du jeu.  Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 16 [1976)

I started writing about TV ostensibly as reportage on this medium relative to cinema.

With this particular episode of Saturday Night Live, the two converge in a unique way.

The host is Anthony Perkins.

Cinephiles will probably know him as Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s indispensable Psycho (1960).

Really, this is a remarkable installment of SNL.

Perkins actually delivers a sort of anti-monologue.

In another unnamed scene, he acts as a psychologist who relies on the power of show tunes (specifically “Hello, Dolly!”) to cure a hopeless case (Jane Curtin).

Perkins is magnificent throughout this odd marriage of the disposable and the timeless.

But we must also mention Chevy Chase.

By this time, Chase was becoming the star of the show.

I almost feel bad for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (not to mention all the other talented players), but Chase lived up to the opportunity.

What is apparent in this particular show is that Chevy Chase was/is as talented an actor as Anthony Perkins.

I know that statement reeks of provocateuring, but I believe it to be true in several ways.

Namely, Chase was able to keep a straight face during some hilarious bits.  Put another way, it’s hard to be serious while evoking laughter.

We see Perkins have more trouble with it.  It’s not easy.  And so Chevy Chase has probably been unjustly maligned as a mediocre actor when the opposite is true.

Witness, for instance, the opening sequence of this March 13th airing.  It is highly-intelligent humor.  I could see Samuel Beckett getting a kick out of it.

And so the writers would get credit.  Yes, it is a brilliant concept.  The show had been toying with more-and-more self-referential humor.  Not to give too much away, but the first skit is the equivalent of writing music ABOUT MUSIC!

I’ve done it.  Truly, it takes a damaged soul to end up at such a twisted place.

And so thank God for Saturday Night Live…these outcasts and miscreants who gave the world a laugh starting in 1975.

They were always surprising.  That’s the key.  Even with the trademark “fall” at the beginning of the show.  Something in each episode is astounding.  Cutting-edge.  Leading-edge.  Bleeding-edge.

This show is no different.  What a masterstroke to pair Anthony Perkins with Betty Carter.

At first, I was thinking Betty Davis.  I mean, come on:  this was 1976!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Betty Carter is magical here (particularly on her first number).

I’ve never been into jazz vocalists.  I know the big names.  Ella Fitzgerald.  Sarah Vaughan.

They never did anything for me.

I hate to admit that.

I can listen to instrumental jazz all day.  It is divine!

Indeed, the only jazz vocalist who mattered to me was Billie Holiday.  Particularly her last album Lady in Satin.

But Betty Carter is something different.

It’s real.  Bebop VOCALS.  Not a bunch of showoff scat singing.

Betty Carter sang like a horn player.

Saxophone…Coltrane.

When she locked down on a note she held it…like it was keyed in her blood.

What breath control!

It’s real stuff.

If you want to hear a little bit of New York in the 70s, here’s a bit of jazz to do any place proud.

Carter was from Flint, Michigan, but she sounds right at home broadcasting from the biggest stage in the world.

There’s TV, and then there’s SNL.

 

-PD