Sicario [2015)

When you are watching a film or a TV show in which the main character is FBI or CIA, you are watching propaganda.

But some propaganda reaches a height of artfulness which cannot be denied.

Such propaganda, then, in some respects becomes its opposite.

Sicario is one such brilliant enigma.

The main visual motif of this film is Emily Blunt sweating.

That may sound like a rather unglamorous device, but it too has crossed over into its opposite.

Emily Blunt gives a performance which approaches perfection.

But she is not alone.

Benicio del Toro is icy.  Frosty, as they say.  Timeless.

What is the template for Sicario?

You might be surprised, but it reveals itself quite early on to be none other than The Silence of the Lambs.

You must see Sicario to understand this parallel.

Nothing in the previews intimates this definite relationship.

But what else do we get?

Torture is good.

Torture works.

This is where Josh Brolin comes in.

His previous turn as the title character in W. is essential to the code of Sicario.

I must credit director Denis Villeneuve.

For propaganda, this gets in some pretty stellar body shots at the expense of the CIA.

But it is all for show.

The message is that terrorism works.

Terrorism?

Yes, terror.

It only depends which side of the battle you’re on.

Brolin’s character is a “DoD advisor”.  [More on that in the film.]

It’s strategy.

Get the straggler to come back to the hive.

We’ve heard that trope for a long while.

Regardless, Brolin is the quintessential consequentialist.

The end justifies the means.

Emily Blunt is the conscience.  And as that she is magnificent.

But propaganda needs a hero (or heroine) to knock down.

Perhaps you remember the disheartening ending of 1984?

The book.

Orwell.

Winston Smith.

It is quite correct that whenever America declares a “war on” something, the smartest thing is to consider failure a foregone conclusion.

Here we have that old chestnut the “War on Drugs”.

There have been several other lackluster “War on(s)”.

The main offender is the War “on” Terror.

But director Villeneuve gives away the secret a little bit (as the best propaganda does).

From Medellín to Mena, Arkansas.

Maybe Phoenix is no accident either.

Remember Ken Williams?

Sicario shows the FBI getting royally fucked.

In game theory, we might call them (full-on “meta-“) good cop.

The whipping boys…the ostensible sack of shit which acts as a catch-all flypaper of blame…are our bad cops:  CIA.

It is, however, significant that Brolin operates under the aegis of “DoD advisor” insofar as the US military then becomes the butt (ass end) of flipped propaganda.

To wit, much of this film is code…not for the drug war, but for the geopolitical ransacking of the past 15 years.

It is a comment.

Not particularly clever.

But perhaps accurate.

That methods have bled over (no pun) from the hinterlands to the “homeland”.

My final caveat is this:

Sicario is an absolute masterpiece.

 

-PD

The Silence of the Lambs [1991)

Wouldn’t it be neat if the FBI actually did things?

Good things.

When’s the last time the FBI actually caught a criminal?

A real criminal.

They had a lovely chance to save America.

By investigating 9/11.

And so we have been investigating the investigators.

Special Agent.

So special…

I was wrong about Twin Peaks.

Because you have to add to the propagandistic litany The X-Files.

And finally this hulking slab of mind control.

Lies can be so beautiful.

Perhaps…once upon a time…the FBI did something.

After Hoover…and before OKC.

A small window.

But let me pause for a minute and admit.

That I love this film.

It is one of the few true masterpieces of American cinema.

It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosemary’s Baby.

The only real heirs to the legacy of Hitchcock.

1991.  1991.  Nineteen-ninety-one.

Does America have any honor left?

Do American troops read books?

Do military officers ever avoid the most grave corruption?

Where is the genius to save our country?

What can we learn from serial killers?

Which animals are the most clever?

At the bottom and into the middle are good men and women.

Like Clarice Starling.

Mozart’s pet bird.

A requiem.

Apocryphal.

Lachrymal vases.

My intellect is miniscule.

Our computers would have picked it up.

Desperately random.

How far can you push an old body.

How much fear can you handle?

How much panic can be breathed!

Such genius to personify.

The pathetic fallacy.  They all fawn.

But it is rather reverse reification.

Humanizing.

It.

The way of no way.

Swing hovering to deal with ambush predators.

That’s a quote.

When life mattered.

Isolation savors detail.

Real, not fake.

Hans Selye will never know.

Everything you need to know is here.

The dossier.

Two acting masterpieces.

Jodie Foster.

And Anthony Hopkins.

Once in a lifetime.

The auteurist glue?  Jonathan Demme.

What kind of game is this?

It is the biggest test.

 

-PD

Les Yeux sans visage [1960)

Loneliness is hell.

An endless cycle of introspection.

As we each make our way through this life.

Every day.

We are judged by our faces.

A face and a mask.

Masked and anonymous.

There is no real point in recounting this tale to you.

If you wish to know it, you will seek it out.

We can whisper the hallowed name of Franju and almost be done with it.

Because I speak to everyone.

I don’t know who will find this post.

From my island I set this bouteille adrift.

Deriving the meaning through impressionist film criticism.

I am not critiquing the film, I’m critiquing myself.

I think, therefore I think I am.

Detour before the bridge.

But I also speak to the cineastes.

And for you I mention Alida Valli.

Because The Paradine Case is one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films.

But the spectacle calls for psychodrama.

Christmas at the zoo.

Christmas on Mars.

A Christmas gift for you.

From Phil Spector.

Sure.

Before there was The Silence of the Lambs.

And even a few months before Psycho.

There was Les Yeux sans visage.

For 1960, this was horror.

But there’s more here.

Like Angela Bettis in May (2002).

Who let the dogs out?

Who set the birds free in Hyde Park after Brian Jones died?

Who cares?

Write loneliness.

Though two roads diverged in a wood.

My face is finished.  My body’s gone.

Ask not what you can do for your country…

You’re not waiting for me to cite Houellebecq.

Because it’s understood.

I want to see the film in the morning light.

At morning sun (harmony in blue).

Morning effect.

Setting sun (symphony in grey and pink).

Grey weather.

Dull day.

Dull weather.

Full sunlight.

Road to Rouen.

Messiaen pulling out all the stops.

Eventually these corrupt regimes collapse.

The rich have the faces.

And there are always hounds of hell.

Echoing in the basements of ultimate fear.

As above, so below.

Caduceus vs. rod of Asclepius.

It is only when one runs screaming from the complex (Snowden) that healing begins.

SecDef Forrestal seems to have almost made it.

Before leaping from the 16th floor of the NNMC in Bethesda.

And yet someone felt compelled to drag Sophocles into the mix.

From Ajax:

“Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save

In the dark prospect of the yawning grave….

Woe to the mother in her close of day,

Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,

When she shall hear

Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!

‘Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–

No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail

Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale.”

Who set the nightingale free?

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD