Sicario: Day of the Soldado [2018)

It’s been a long fucking time.

Because life is hard.

And I’ve been watching the same three Pink Panther movies over and over.

Just to get by.

But recently, God has brought me love.

Heavenly love.

An angel.

A girlfriend.

Yes.

Can you believe it?

Well, hardly neither can I.

So I should start by saying that I saw Sicario:  Day of the Soldado IN A MOVIE THEATER!

What a concept.

Yeah.

It’s been at least a couple of years since I ventured into the thrall of urban sprawl to freeze my tits off in a cinemaplex.

But God bless the Alamo Draft House.

It’s the little things that matter.

The Clint Eastwood “Don’t Do Crack” PSA.

The Mexican teen beat (?) videos.

All kinds of kooky pre-film festivities which whet the intellectual appetite and let you know that you are in a place which at least marginally cares.

-PD

Night on Earth [1991)

I’ve run out of witticisms.

Snappy beginnings.

Which is a shame.  Because I really want you to know about this film.

If you don’t already.

This is called quantum writing.

It is the sentence fragment equivalent of liberal ellipses.

So tired.

The cities.

Los Angeles.

It is the first episode.  Vignettes.

Seemed like a throwaway scene years ago.

Now.  So prescient.  Then.

So pertinent.  Germane.

She’s not really interested in becoming a movie star.

People selling kidneys to get a real casting agent and she’s not interested…

Beautiful.

New York.

Lost in the world.

Pulling immigrants with the magnetism of illustrious decades.

East Germany.  Dresden.  Near Czechoslovakia.  1991.

My neighborhood.  When I can pause for a moment and appreciate the diversity.

America.  Amer-ica.

Paris.

Francophone magnet.

Another scene which ages well.

When I saw this I hadn’t been to France.

Hadn’t been to New York or L.A.

And you appreciate more.  When you’ve been.

The loving portrayal.  The in-between shots.

Maybe it’s the garbage can at Pink’s Hot Dogs.

A green trash bag.  Liner.  Someone sweeping up.

We’re blind to so many details.

And so Jim Jarmusch went and put ’em in a film.

They’re there.

The details.

Tom Waits soundtracking like Charles Ives with an accordion.

Why?

Why is it sad?

It should be funny.  And sad.

It depends.

It depends on your life.

If you’ve ever had a brush with the entertainment industry, then that first scene might get you.

Might punch you right in the gut.

Not interested.

And the point is that as one girl throws it all away (from a perspective) a bloke on the east coast is just trying to get a cab.

Look.

I’ve got money.

It’s winter.

And home is Brooklyn.

It’s painful cold.

And as one family is dysfunctional in its uniquely Tolstoyvian way, another has no family at all.

None.

None left.

It was too cold to shave today.

Save the money.

Money is not important to me.  I’m a clown.  I just need the money.  But it’s not important to me.

And there’s your artist.

A mechanic works the art of grease.

A clown suffers in the tumult.

Please.  Come in.  Welcome to my taxi.  It is very important to me.

Long night.  On Earth.

You hear about Africa every year.  Annually.  On average.

A famine.  A plague.  An outstanding war.  Out standing in the rain.

We never know just how it feels to live in Nigeria.

It is furthest from our thoughts.

And then we are reminded.  That Africa exists.

The continent.  Does not exert itself.

Comes down to capital.  LLC.  Land labor capital.

To LKM.  labor Kapital material.

A lot has changed since Adam Smith.

Land disappeared.

And what makes the U.S. unique compared to Hong Kong or Tokyo?  Land.

Room to sprawl.  Endlessly.

But I digress.  As a matter of course.

In the course of one speck of matter (Earth) running rings around the Sun.

Our sun.  Not up yet.

The hour of the wolf.

Brings us to Rome.  Ingmar not Ingrid.

It is comic blast #2.

We survived the sadness with laughter.  In New York.

And now we book a room at the Hotel Genius.  [Hotel Imbecile was full-up.]

Thank God for Charlie Parker!

I confess.

I was looking forward to this humor for days.  I knew the ending.

But I didn’t know my own age.  In the mirror of cinema.

But, dear friends, all good things must end (and bad things must start).

“They say the darkest hour/Is right before the dawn.”

That’s the hour of the wolf.

And instead of Max von Sydow we get Matti Pellonpää.

With his Grinderman mustache.

Walrus.  Circles the statue.  In front of parliament?

Helsinki.  Like a sinkhole.  Cold.  Hell sinky.

It is the end of the earth.  And I only have my memories of being drunk in Kiruna.  Sweden.  Never made it further east.

And for a moment he just sits behind the wheel and stares off into space.

After it’s all over.  As if he can see the ice-trails of orbits.

We travel the spaceways.

Every humble step of our lives.

From bakery to grain field.

But mostly streets.

Taxis.  The poetry of snaking asphalt.

Sing the songs of the pavement.

Every passenger a sad story.

Every driver a priest.

-PD

طعم گيلاس‎‎ [1997)

[TASTE OF CHERRY (1997)]

Don’t kill yourself, my friend.

I try to preserve the original language.

From France to Romania and now Iran.

It says Taste of Cherry.  And it is a film beyond perfection.  Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

[if you are on a laptop or desktop it may appear to have no title…not very Farsi-friendly this WordPress]

Long ago I saw this quiet juggernaut.

If you’ve never seen an art film, you’ll know the genre when you see it.

Perhaps this was my first.

At an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

How did I end up there?

More importantly, how did I end up here?

This (the latter) seems to be the vexing question which actor Homayoun Ershadi is asking himself while embodying the suicidal character Mr. Badii.

Never have I seen an actor say so much with such economy of means.

Driving around.  Driving around.

We are suffocated by the expressionless Mr. Badii.

It reaches a head (of sorts) in the quarry.  He’s had enough.

Our protagonist cannot even secure the most essential human contact.  He cannot find even a marginal friend.

We do not know his story.  It would be impossible for anyone to have complete empathy.

He is right.  Your pain is yours alone.

But maybe a miracle is waiting…

Enter Abdolrahman Bagheri.

I have never felt such emotion in a film.

It is real.  As Mr. Bagheri (his name in the film and real life) recounts his own suicide attempt we are brought into a rarefied talent for dialogue which I have only seen in Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit.  Hope in the midst of nihilism.  The deepest, darkest desperation pierced by humor…or humanity.

It places Kiarostami (at least in this film) as a forerunner of the Romanian New Wave.  The trappings are similar.

We see the most depressing back alleys of urban sprawl.  Gravel paths not yet claimed entirely from the grasp of the earth.

Earth.

This film is all about earth.  Dirt.  The dust of impressionism.  Concrete.

Rocks being broken up.

A man (Mr. Badii) whose only longing is, seemingly, to be dead.

Earthmovers, earthmovers everywhere…and not a load to spare.

I have never seen a film like this.

Yes, it fits into the art film genre, and yet…it forges ahead…a new path…take the fork to the right, please.

This film is a testament of hope for the Afghan people.

A testament of hope for the Kurds.

A testament of hope for the Azeris.

And, most of all, this eternal masterpiece is a testament to the genius of Iran.

May the future be as beautiful as the colors of the setting sun.

Even if that sun must piece the sadness of cranes and smog in Tehran.

I will look for the sun if you will…my dear friends.

-PD

Suburban Gothic [2014)

Dear devoted fans [chuckles heard offstage],

I am still alive.  Battling a serious case of MBA.  And, as such, I was duped into watching what turned out to be one of the finest films I have seen in awhile.

But how did I stumble across this little gem in the first place?  For that I must thank the inimitable Kat Dennings.  [More about her as we go on.]

Let us first, however, start with Matthew Gray Gubler.  As someone who watches very little TV, I was unaware of this rising star in the acting world.  Gubler plays Raymond:  a newly-minted MBA who can’t even lock down an entry-level job.  His character grew on me…from, at first, an American Apparel model come to life…to a lovable outcast with impeccable comic timing.

Circling back, I was curious how Gubler’s 21st-century archetype (the unemployable MBA) would fare in this comedy.  As I found out, Suburban Gothic is actually a film of great depth masquerading as a campy horror send-up.

It’s really remarkable, but this film actually does speak for me in some strange way.  Perhaps it was because I was listening to The Dead Milkmen this morning. [Watch the film and you’ll understand why.]

Yes, Raymond’s town is a “depressing shithole” to borrow Enid Coleslaw’s pithy diction from Zwigoff’s Ghost World.  And the ghosts here are real–literal.  But what most impresses me about Richard Bates Jr. (who needs a Wikipedia page) as a director is that he manages to evoke the crappiest reaches of America…from the bombed-out city center of Albany, New York to the harrowing motel highwayside of Roanoke, Virginia…from the strip malls of San Antonio to…well, you get the picture.

It’s one of those films…like Ghost World.  It’s Anywhere, U.S.A.  [Well, almost anywhere.]  It’s the fake vomit-inducing magic of Orlando.  It’s the sprawl of Los Angeles.  It’s that suicidal ennui which Arcade Fire so deftly encapsulated on their album The Suburbs.

Pariahs of the American south will especially appreciate the wonderful redneck evocation of Raymond’s high-school-football-coaching father (played magnificently by Ray Wise).  Yeah…

This film hits a lot of themes.  People change.  Fat kids get thin.  Sensitive souls can’t shake the wimp label.  Some places are especially difficult for creative types to endure.

And so if your life consists of frequenting your local Starbucks on the edge of a super-freeway (I certainly don’t know anyone like that…wait?  Nope, no one like that around here.  This very minute.  Right here.), then you just might find Kat Dennings to be especially on-point as the salty crowbar-toting Becca.  This film is more about Gubler’s character, but Dennings is indispensable to this moral play.

And what’s the moral?  The moral is this:  no matter how much you know about demand and supply curves (supply and demand to us lowly folk) there is always a more important line to shift outwards.  It’s more micro than microeconomics.  It is, in a word, empathy.  Respect for the dead.  Paranormal.  And, most of all, conscience.  It is that latter word which sticks in my head…falling from the lips of Godard (forever in my mind) in his whispered Swiss French.

Conscience.

Sure, this film makes Poltergeist look like Citizen Kane, but one senses from the opening credits that such is largely intentional.  No big budget here, and yet…this film is frightening and laugh-out-loud.  And like a good Simpsons episode, it is more touching than anything Hallmark rolls out of their platitude factory.

John Waters makes quite a fine cameo, but the lion’s share of credit goes to Gubler and Dennings and their auteur-in-the-making Richard Bates Jr.  Really a worthwhile flick!  Thank you.

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD

Ghost World [2001)

“I have to admit…things are really looking up for me since my life turned to shit.”  If only.  The consolation?  This is a perfect film.  There’s no use in denying that any longer.

Back in the watershed year of 2001, this film hit me like a bolt out of the blue.  Just how I ended up in that movie theater in Austin, Texas I’m not entirely sure.  The important thing is that this film stood my world on its head.  There was a new tilt to the cosmos after seeing Thora Birch personify everything I was looking for in a girl…everything which I couldn’t articulate.

Brice Parain puts it so simply in Vivre sa vie:  thought cannot be separated from language.  And if we say “goodbye” to language?  That still involves a word.  Perhaps we can simply gesture?

“Waving goodbye…I’m not saying hello.”  Just three years earlier an album had put my world on edge.  I was studying music composition as an undergrad when a rock and roll record called into question everything for which I was striving.  That record was Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.  As I slipped the virgin vinyl onto the turntable in my vacated music lit classroom, I was astounded to hear a noise rock band coming back through the speakers as an autumnal, symphonic opus.  Opus 40…

And so three years later at that little arthouse cinema in north Austin I clamored into an open seat with a couple of friends…  Friends…  It seems so long ago since I had friends.  Some statements are infinitely sad, but others are like old faded pictures.  I don’t really recognize myself anymore.  I’m too young to be old, but…

Ghost World.  It is the world I live in.  Terry Zwigoff made a perfect film.  He learned the nuances from R. Crumb…and then applied the secrets to Daniel Clowes.  The secret is in the power lines…the sprawl…the daydream nation which American Beauty tried to capture but failed in comparison to Ghost World.  If the Palme d’Or was fair, Terry Zwigoff would have one sitting on his mantle.  So would Jean-Luc Godard.  So would Thora Birch.

It’s kinda like the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Where’s Joyce?  Where’s Pynchon?

Enid Coleslaw.  There’s no I in end.  End.  I…is someone else.  So says Nana Kleinfrankenheim.  Thora Birch.  Anna Karina.  The Louise Brooks wig.  Brigitte Bardot.  Initials B.B.  Bertolt Brecht.  B.B. King.  Devil got my woman…

“…since my life turned to shit.”  I’d rather be the devil.  Me and the devil.  Nick Tosches.  Emmett Miller.  Henry “Ragtime” Thomas.

Skip James.  Gossamer-perfect.  Thora stands in a daze…perhaps after a long day of shooting.  We get The Buzzcocks, but then we get D-A-D-F-A-D…that deep, hollow sound from 1931.  Like the high, lonesome Hank Williams.  Somebody’s in a world of hurt.  “Nothin’ but thee devil/change my baby’s mind.”

She is the girl we can’t have.  And you can’t have me either, world.  Not for free.  Few artists got this.  Alex Chilton got it.  Affonso Beato captured its fleeting presence at twilight in his cinematography.  A bus.  Bus stop.  Joshua Logan.  No, Thora Birch.  Yes.  That route was cancelled in 1956.  Cancelled in 1962.  Mensan I.Q.  Cancelled in 1967.  And still, Thora boards the bus and does the impossible in a magic realism which takes her back over the Mississippi at Baton Rouge…back to Appleton, WI…back to Los Angeles.  The nighttime bores the daylights out of me.  We’re in exile with the Radio Shack and the Allstate and the Chevron and the Shell…  R.I.P. Brad Renfro.

-PD