Hugo [2011)

It’s hard to imagine that perfection would be possible in 2011.

In this very uncinematic era ruined by technology.

But it takes a genius to produce art from tech.

And it takes an artist to produce art.

Martin Scorsese was well up to the challenge.

As the weirdo I am, The King of Comedy has always been my favorite of his films.

Rupert Pupkin spoke to me in a way that perhaps only the totality of Dr. Strangelove ever similarly did.

But Mr. Scorsese had the brass to undertake a project which should have been doomed if only by its trappings.

Films have tried and generally failed at relative tasks.

City of Ember, for example.

But Scorsese was not deterred.

Not least because he had the magical trump card:  Méliès.

Which is to say, he had the story to end all stories (as far as cinema is concerned).

The big daddy.  The big papa.

Papa Georges.

But first things first…

We must give credit to Asa Butterfield (who looks like a cross between Barron Trump and Win Butler in this film).

Butterfield is no Mechanical Turk.

Nay, far from it.

But automata (or at least one particular automaton) play a large role in Hugo.

And why “Hugo”?

Kid living “underground”?  Victor?  Les Misérables?

Yes, I think so.

And it’s a nice touch by the auteur (in the strictest sense) Brian Selznick.

[Yes, grandson of David O.]

We’re at the Gare Montparnasse.

Torn down in 1969.

Site of this famous 1895 derailment.

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m up to 1,261.

But we press on…

Because Méliès was about dreams.

And Hugo is about dreams.

les rêves

And Scorsese has been “tapped in” to this magic at least since he portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa-san’s best film).

I must admit…I was a bit confused for awhile.

Something told me Scorsese had transformed himself into Méliès.

It was only later that it all made sense.

Ben Kingsley.

I mean, Scorsese is a great actor (Van Gogh, etc.), but he’s not THAT great!

But I’m jumping ahead…

Sacha Baron Cohen is very good in a somewhat-serious, villain role here.

I fully expected the immensely-talented Cohen to “ham it up” at some point, but he instead gives a very fine, restrained performance which fits like clockwork (sorry) into the viscera of this exquisite film.

But let’s revisit Sir Kingsley.

What a performance!

The loss of a career (Méliès).

The loss of a previous life.

The fragility of celluloid.

All to end up running a pathetic souvenir shop.

Toys.

Very clever, but still…

Such a fall from grace.

Into such obscurity.

I can only compare it to the trajectory of Emmett Miller (which was so artfully documented by my favorite author of all time [Nick Tosches] in my favorite BOOK of all time [Where Dead Voices Gather]).

The speed at which technology moves has the potential to reduce the most eminent personage to mere footnote at breakneck speed.

It was so even a hundred years ago.

And the process has now exponentially accelerated.

But we are coming to understand the trivialization of the recent past.

We are holding tighter to our precious films and recordings.

Because we know that some are lost forever.

Will this vigilance continue uninterrupted?

I doubt it.

But for now we know.

Some of us.

That today’s masterpieces might slip through the cracks into complete nonexistence.

Consider Kurt Schwitters.

The Merzbau.

Bombed by the Allies in 1943.

Es ist nicht mehr.

Into thin air.

But such also is the nature of magic.

Poof!

Skeletons later evoked by Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Scorsese is a film historian making movies.

And it is a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre more than once.

As on a player piano.

With ghost hands.

And the gears of the automaton.

Like the mystery of Conlon Nancarrow’s impossible fugues.

I’m betting Morten Tyldum lifted more than the spirit of gears meshing in Hugo to evoke the majesty of Alan Turing’s bombe in The Imitation Game.

But every film needs a secret weapon (much like Hitchcock relied on the MacGuffin).

And Scorsese’s ace in the hole for Hugo is the Satie-rik, placid visage of Chloë Grace Moretz.

Statuesque as water.

A grin.

A dollar word.

The beret.

And the ubiquitous waltzes as seen through keyholes and the Figure 5 in Gold.

Hugo is the outsider.

Scruffy ruffian.

Meek.  Stealing only enough to survive.  And invent.

But always on the outside looking in.

Below the window (like in Cinema Paradiso).

Ms. Moretz’ world is lit with gas lamps.

And you can almost smell the warm croissants.

[Funny that a film set in Paris should require subtitles FOR PARISIANS]

Assuming you don’t speak English.

Tables are turned.

But Paris draws the cineastes like bees to a hive.

THE hive.

Historically.

And that is just what this is.

History come alive.

But another word about Ms. Moretz.

As I am so wont to say in such situations, she’s not just a pretty face.

Though they are faint glimmers, I see an acting potential (mostly realized) which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The key is in small gestures.

But really, the key is having Scorsese behind the camera.

It’s symbiotic.

Martin needed Chloë for this picture.

And vice versa.

We get a movie within a movie.

And (believe it or not) even a dream within a dream.

Poe is ringing his bell!

Or bells.

“Lost dream” says Wikipedia.

Yes.

It is as bitter a music as ever rained into Harry Partch’s boot heels.

To have one’s life work melted down for shoes.

Rendered.

To click the stone of Gare Montparnasse.

In an ever-more-sad procession.

Méliès becomes the vieux saltimbanque of which Baudelaire wrote.

Such is life.

We never expected to end up HERE.

Astounding!

-PD

Hateship, Loveship [2014)

This one is a mind-bender.

I must admit…I thought I was watching a Weinstein brothers production.

I know, I know.

But the truth is, I went through several mediocre films to find this gem.

Truly Strange:  The Secret Life of Breasts.  Nope.

3rd World Cops.  ¡Ay, carambas!

The Girl in the Book.  Non.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq. Extrême ennui.

Zoom.  Ugh…

Say It Isn’t So.  No thanks.

Lovelace.  Not quite.

And finally the film under consideration:  Hateship, Loveship.

At some point I saw the Weinstein brothers’ names.

I can’t seem to pin it down.

But suffice it to say that it certainly wasn’t in relation to the film under review.

Which is to say, finding a good film can be a lot of work.

And reading this review is probably a lot of work as well.

But I hope I save you some small measure of time.

And perhaps guide you to a cinematic treasure which you might have otherwise overlooked.

I have nothing against the Weinstein brothers.

I know hardly anything about them.

But somehow it stuck.

“I’m watching a Weinstein brothers film,” I thought.

But as this minor masterpiece progressed, I further mused, “My goodness, these guys don’t just make crap with explosions.”

Let’s take a short look.

Inglorious Basterds.  One of the worst films ever made.

The Imitation Game.  Good one.

St. Vincent.  Not good.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno.  Meh.

So I would have been right to be incredulous.

Upon further review.

Considering that the Weinstein brothers have largely saturated the world with unwatchable crap.

But Hateship, Loveship is a different story.

To reiterate, this film has nothing to do with the esteemed Weinsteins.

I’m sure they are honorable fellows.

It was just my tired brain which mistook a very fine film (something which they are unaccustomed to making) for one of theirs.

Indeed, it appears the big cheese responsible for this quite stellar film (which grossed a whopping $80,588 [sic] at the box office) was a chap by the name of Michael Benaroya.

And I can honestly say, whatever he sunk into the project was money well-spent.

The direction, by Liza Johnson, is really remarkable.

A lesser film critic would make some comparison to The Truman Show and call it a day.

But I aspire to more.

The connection is simple.

Jim Carrey (once upon a time) tried to do dramatic acting.

The result was The Truman Show.

A good-to-mediocre film.

He’s probably done other “dramatic” stuff, but I could really give a fuck.

In OUR film, a funny lady tells no jokes.

Yes, not to be too murderously-cryptic…but Kristen Wiig plays it straight here.

And she is fucking fantastic!!!

I don’t know where this side of her acting prowess came from (though I did notice her range in, strangely, a film called Paul [2011]), but I must assume that some of the credit for this performance goes to director Johnson.

But still…Kristen Wiig really nails it here!

It’s one of those strange things…

I kept waiting for her to burst out with some goofy impersonation, but no.

And so this film has a sort of tension to it if you know Ms. Wiig as the brilliant comedienne she is.

The story is hard to sum up.

Scrubbing floors…

Scrub scrub scrub.

Little House on the Prairie.  [d’accord]

Yes.

Wiig’s character is a plain Jane.

She’s a maid.  A housekeeper.

In the beginning, she’s a sort of live-in hospice caretaker.

But I think the best summation for her spirit might be “Protestant work ethic”.

Ahh, that Max Weber chestnut…

It’s a funny thing, though…

Elbow grease so often wins the day.

Indispensable to this tale (back to the movie) is Nick Nolte.

Here is an actor who has aged gracefully.

Like Bob Dylan.

That raspy voice…

He was perfectly cast as a man in need of some housekeeping.

But the really fascinating thing about this movie is the story.

And for that we must thank Alice Munro.

There’s a little bit of stolen identity here.

Internet-age fuckery.

Social engineering (in the sense familiar to “penetration testers”).

Put simply, this film goes because of a scam.

I won’t tell you how.  Or whom.

But it is even more tense and eggshell than waiting for Kristen Wiig to tell a joke.

But none of this would matter were it not for love.

Love is the cocoon which holds everything in.

Here.

That kind of love that makes you pack up all your things and head for the unknown.

That kind of love that makes you break the law.

That kind of love that has you end up in an abandoned motel in Chicago.

Yes, Chicago.

We get some Chicago here.

[Even if the film was shot in New Orleans.  Of which I’m only part certain.]

Our minds are in Chicago.

Because the story tells us we’re there.

And so we fear.

Busstops.

Trips to an unseen corner store.

Under a highway (for God’s sake!).

Love.

And trickery.

It is no innovation to point out that films are trickery.

Most films.

Fiction films.

With actors.

The kind you like.

But the best films make us suspend disbelief.

And this is one of those films.

We believe Kristen Wiig.  We believe Nick Nolte.

We believe the scumbag (played admirably by Guy Pearce).

We believe the cough.

We believe the cocaine on the toilet seat.

Sometimes it’s almost too precious–too perfect.

Too strained to be real.

But Liza Johnson is in firm control of her mise-en-scène.

So while the Weinstein brothers prepare for their “untitled Furby film [in association with Hasbro]”, the damage has already been done.

A little missile of truth has sunk the Hollywood battleship.

If, like me, you want to see something to which you can relate, then try this little slice of awkward loneliness.

Sometimes we just need a goddamned mirror to know we still exist.

-PD

The Imitation Game [2014)

When I started this site, I focused a considerable bit on “spy spoofs” (which I cheekily filed under “espionage”).

But now we return to espionage in a more serious tenor.

Cryptography, to be exact.

Keep in mind, signals must first be intercepted before they can be decrypted.

Encryption–>Key–>Decryption.

Cipher, rather than code.

[or something like that]

And this story of Alan Turing hits all the right settings of the heart.

Indeed, the seeming Asperger’s case Turing makes a particularly prescient observation in this film.

Namely, that deciphering secret messages is very much like linguistic deconstruction.

Or even like its predecessor, structural linguistics.

Finnegans Wake, by my reading, is largely a sensual text of transgression written in a sort of code language which can only be decoded by a sort of Freudian mechanism inherent in minds similarly repressed by circumstances such as censorship.

There were things which James Joyce could not just come right out and say.

Else he would have ended up like Oscar Wilde (or Alan Turing himself) [though Joyce was pretty evidently heterosexual in excelsis].

And so The Imitation Game is a very fine film indeed about Bletchley Park (and, by extension, its successor the GCHQ).

It makes one reconsider that great piece of British classical music the “Enigma Variations” by Elgar.

Perhaps it was Edward’s premonition.

That a homosexual savant would save many lives through dogged determination to solve what was arguably the ultimate puzzle of its time.

Enigma.  James Bond fans will know it as the Lektor Decoder (a sort of substitution…a cipher…le chiffre…a metonym if not a MacGuffin).

“the article appears to be genuine” [stop]

“go ahead with purchase” [stop]

Smooth jazz on the weather channel…heil Hitler.

It’s true.

In Nazi Germany one was to begin and end even every phone call with “Heil Hitler!”.

Stupidity has its drawbacks.

Donald Trump has been skewered roundly by nearly every globalist publication on the planet, but there is power in the words, “You’re fired.”

Turing very soon realized that breaking the Enigma code was not a job for linguists.

It was purely mathematics, applied with imagination.

One of the most crucial actors in this film, Alex Lawther, plays what might be referred to as Boy With Apple.

There is something befitting of the “agony columns” mentioned by Simon Singh in his tome The Code Book about Turing’s backstory.

In the grown-up Alan Turing, we see the affection that man can have for machine…much like a struggling record producer naming his tape machine.

In the rotors there is music…and plenty of calibration to be done.

But the machine must be allowed to work.

And we must help the machine along by giving it hints on those entities which are “safe to ignore” (a sort of semiotics of limiting the fried pursuit of completism).

Love, as it turns out, sinks the Nazis.

Because even among the rank-and-file (or, perhaps, especially among them) there was a humanity which was not snuffed out.

It’s not because Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dog.

The machine becomes predictive.

Because we tread the same path daily.

In some way.

In most ways.

Few of us are psychogeographical drifters–few bebop our infinitely-unique situations.

And even Coltrane has some signature licks.

Some runs.

Mystical fingerings.  Scriabin arpeggiated.

Then come statistics.

And megadeath notebooks seem less cynical.

Its the same discipline which made W. Edwards Deming a saint in Japan as he resurrected their economy.

The blowback was the quality revolution.

The next in that manga pantheon perhaps Carlos Ghosn.

Yes, we Trump voters are morons.  No doubt.

You must hide the victories among losses.

Where the chess player comes in.

Hugh Alexander.

Twice.

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

Or is it NME?

“I’ve got a pi-an-o/I can’t find the C”

Or is it sea?

I salute thee, old ocean.  A quote by Lautreamont.

Or is it Ducasse?

Perhaps it’s why Ezra Pound was institutionalized.

On the grounds of the future Department of Homeland Security?

St. Elizabeths.  Washington, D.C.

When he spilled the beans about the Federal Reserve “System” to Eustace Mullins.

Finnegans.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a truly touching moment of love.

A passion of minds.

Platonic.  Immortal.

But the breaking is IX.  “Nimrod”…

That austere moment of British greatness.

One of only a handful of UK classical strains which really matter.

Sinopoli does it nicely.  With the Philharmonia.

Only a moron like me would vote for Trump.

To suffer for one’s art.

To turn off the lights and watch the machine come to life.

A miracle of whirligigs and glowing vacuum tubes.

Director Morten Tyldum expresses this ineffable humming solitude in the seventh art.

Cinema.

This dedication.

Dedicated.

And this love.

Which leads both telegraph operator and polymath to tap out the letters of their beloved.

Forever.

 

-PD