UHF [1989)

Here’s a masterpiece of a movie.

I didn’t think so the first time I watched it.

I was a little preoccupied.

But this time I had a reason to be more emotionally invested.

Mops!

That’s right, mops.

Mops play a big role in this movie.

Spatulas also make a sort of cameo.

But mops predominate.

In particular, there is a special mop which is almost like a character in this film.

It doesn’t talk.

It doesn’t have a name.

But it is more than a MacGuffin.

Stanley Spadowski (the true star of this movie) received the mop in question for his 8th birthday.

And, apparently, he used that mop well into adulthood.

He decorated it with various bits of colored electrical tape.

And it was with this mop that he dutifully fulfilled his role as janitor at a major local TV news station:  Channel 8.

But one day, Spadowski (played brilliantly by Michael Richards) found himself to be, in the tradition of Hitchcock, “the wrong man”.

Spadowski did nothing wrong.

He was not careless.

Even though he didn’t possess a notable intellect per se, he gave his all to his janitorial profession.

…and he actually enjoyed it.

Mopping.

Scrubbing.

Stanley Spadowski took pride in his work at Channel 8.

But, as “the wrong man”, he suddenly found himself blamed and scapegoated.

Though his unscrupulous employer made no effort to prove Spadowski’s guilt, Spadowski could not PROVE his innocence.

It was a quick exchange…

Q:  Did you do this?

A:  No.

Q:  I don’t believe you.  You’re fired.

Something like that.

Very capricious.

And, thus, Spadowski was crushed.

But the most crushing blow for Stanley was when the station owner’s son (also an employee [l’il bit ‘o nepotism]) confiscated Stanley’s mop as “station property”.

It was not.

But Stanley was helpless.

Thunderstruck.

Aghast.

Stanley had no one to stand up for him.

Yet, though he didn’t get what the wanted (to retain his job at Channel 8), he got what he needed:  a new job as janitor of the UHF station 62.

And all of this because one man observed the pitiable scene of Stanley being deprived of his tool of the trade (which he had used since childhood).

That man was “Weird Al” Yankovic.

As in the movie (where “Weird Al” is the station manager of “U62”), Yankovic was also the brains behind this movie itself.

He wrote it.

With someone named Jay Levey.

Mr. Levey directed this “cult classic”.

If it tells you anything, Levey still does not have a Wikipedia page in English…41 years after this movie came out.

So I am going to assume that Levey did not go on to bigger and brighter things in the film industry.

That being said, it appears this film actually realized a 20% profit (box office – budget = x [x/budget = profit as a %]).

But let’s get back into Stanley Spadowski (a character “Weird Al” or Levey must have invented).

I’d bet money that Yankovic came up with this character.

But this character could not have come to life without the talents of Michael Richards.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, could have pulled it off.

Michael Richards is a very underrated actor.

If you look on iTunes, you are apt to see a mere two films in which Richards plays anything approximating a significant role.

One is this:  UHF.

The other is another sort of “diamond in the rough”:  Transylvania 6-5000.

The latter would be a mostly-unwatchable, tedious comedy were it not for Richards’ breakout performance.

Richards distinguished himself as Fejos in that film four years prior to UHF.

Indeed, just a fortnight before UHF was released in 1989, Seinfeld premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles.

Richards played the role of Kessler.

As The Seinfeld Chronicles became Seinfeld, Kessler became Kramer.

The world, in general, knows Michael Richards as [Cosmo] Kramer.

The show ran for nine years.

But let’s adjust our tack a bit here.

Who is Stanley Spadowski?

I would argue that he is the “cousin” (so to speak) of Carl Spackler:  the groundskeeper in 1980’s Caddyshack.

Where Spackler is laconic, Spadowski is prone to frenzy.

And yet, these two characters are cut from a similar cloth.

Spackler (Bill Murray) always has his impermeable camouflage bucket hat.

And usually a dirt-and-sweat-stained T-shirt.

Baggy cargo shorts.

And combat boots.

Appearing in 1980, Carl Spackler would have probably been seen as a nutty Vietnam vet.

Indeed, Spackler is tasked by his boss (the HEAD groundskeeper) to take care of the golf course’s gopher problem.

In hilarious fashion, Spackler goes after the gophers…even employing plastic explosives.

Spadowski is also a T-shirt guy.

With suspenders.

Always suspenders.

And whether they are real or fake (I think fake), Spadowski has noticeable (and endearing) bucked teeth.

He can hardly keep them in his mouth.

He is awkward.

He usually speaks slowly.

But when he gets excited, he is like a fire hydrant that’s just been opened.

What’s important about Spadowski and Spackler is that they are everymen.

They are most certainly underdogs.

And UHF, at its heart, is an underdog story.

U62, the channel, is an underdog.

It is not a network affiliate.

UHF (as opposed to VHF) was the television equivalent of AM radio (as opposed to FM).

Local stations.

Questionable programming.

Shoestring budgets.

You could find ANYTHING on UHF television or AM radio.

Anything was possible.

There was less control.

Today, in my town, my favorite radio station is run by a Methodist church.

Their format (vaguely) is “oldies”.

But their programming swings a bit wildly…and usually I love them for it.

They play songs I’ve never heard.

Occasionally a similar station will pop up in the same range of the dial using this “none of the hits–all of the time” approach (only to disappear back into the ocean of static which separates one clear-signal island from another).

U61 is this sort of beast.

Which makes sense.

Because it is run by a dreamer:  George Newman (“Weird Al”).

George starts off this film flipping burgers.

This may be a reference to the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

“Weird Al” gets fired.

The tone of the scene is very similar to Fast Times…

Which brings up an important point.

UHF is a pastiche.

It is stream-of-consciousness.

The narrative shifts wildly with non sequitur episodes interpolated here and there.

UHF makes continuous reference to the pop culture of its day:  the 1980s.

And this makes sense because the creator of this film was “Weird Al”:  best known as a musician specializing in parodies (usually of contemporary hits).

I hate to get all artsy-fartsy here, but I would dare say there is a modicum of post-modernism in “Weird Al”‘s filmic approach.

And, perhaps more importantly, a noticeable measure of Thelonious Monk (autism?) in Stanley Spadowski.

Idiot-savant.

And so UHF is a work of art which captures awkwardness in some of the same ways that Napoleon Dynamite and Poto and Cabengo do (respectively).

The message is:  be yourself.

You have value.

There is a person out there for you.

There is a job that is right for you.

There are no guarantees.

But you won’t be happy anyway if you’re not being yourself.

 

-PD

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [1989)

It’s been awhile since I’ve written.

Got dumped by my fiancée.

Offered to be engaged again.

Got rejected again.

Worked my ass off at Starbucks.

Had one day off (Christmas).

And another today (New Year’s Eve).

Haven’t been feeling too well.

Failed experiments with getting off of anti-anxiety medication.

It’s tough.

People coming in the drive-thru in the wrong direction.

Getting stuck.

Taking twenty minutes to back out like Austin Powers in that infamous utility truck scene.

Work is stressful.

Christmas is stressful.

It puts a strain on many people.

Some go home and drink themselves to sleep.

While capitalism creates the most value, it is not without a price for the worker.

Getting a nice, cushy job can be easier than it sounds.

Perhaps I am dumb.

I’m not lazy, but I might be dumb.

I am smart in certain things.

But finding a place where my talents fit?

Well, I have done that a few times in my life.

But those were rare occasions.

It may be trite to say so, but life can come down to a roll of the dice here and there.

Is it chaos?

Is it God?

Did God invent chaos?

It’s true.

Some things which were formerly unexplained have become clearer as man has gained more knowledge of his world through science.

And here we come into the year 2020.

Where’s I’m at, there is a little less than two hours left.

I am glad to have my parents with me.

My dear, sweet mom.

My dear, sweet dad.

I am glad to have a roof over my head.

I’m glad to have heat.

Warmth.

Love.

And it is a joy to revisit this modern classic.

This was a film that my extended family (and my nuclear family) loved.

It is truly a city/country dichotomy.

From the very start.

Rednecks tailgate Clark Griswold as the family goes to the boonies in search of a Christmas tree.

But John Hughes does not paint a strictly disparaging portrait of rural folk.

Far from it.

For me, Randy Quaid is far-and-away the star of this film.

It is his best role.

Cousin Eddie.

It makes sense.

Quaid is from Houston.

And he has become quite a colorful character in real life on Twitter these recent years.

Scanning his bio, one can see that he attempted to migrate to Canada…with stops in Vancouver and Montreal.

But all that is secondary.

Quaid’s performance here is legendary.

And so he represents the country/rural pole.

But John Hughes, the film’s writer, did this lovingly.

Quaid is a lovable character here.

Not without faults.

Very three-dimensional.

This is where ’80s comedy approaches Dostoyevsky (in some weird sort of way).

At the other city/urban pole are the Griswold’s yuppie neighbors (notably including Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Hughes takes as least as many pokes at the urban affluent as he does at the rural poor.

And there is nothing loving in his portrayal of the neighbors Todd and Margo.

But all of this is still secondary.

Because this film reminds me of my youth.

Times when things were a little more normal.

A big roaring fireplace out in the country.

And times when my dear cousin was still alive.

In rural areas, there is not much to do but watch movies.

And these were the days of VHS.

And video rental stores.

And so this film comes highly recommended by me.

It may not be one to watch year-round, but for my money it is more important and essential to my being than It’s a Wonderful Life.

One last thing.

Happy New Year to all!

May we not chain-smoke ourselves into early graves.

May we find peace and happiness and be able to handle the stresses of work and life.

I wish this for everyone.

 

-PD

Two Night Stand [2014)

This year has sucked.

But maybe the past sucked more.

Writing lonely movie reviews in the middle of the night.

Again.

Because antidepressants are a motherfucker to get off of.

I haven’t written like this in a long time.

Because I haven’t been lonely enough to hunt through piles of movies to find a gem.

This is a gem.

Do you know that feeling?

Has a movie ever saved your life??

Elton knows that feeling.

I bet.

Sometimes we get degrees without thinking our lives through.

Reincarnation.

Me?

I have two such degrees.

And the first one makes more sense.

Because I DO love music.

But I live in Texas.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Austin is the capital of dick as far as music goes.

It’s mediocre.

Modestly vibrant.

Business makes less sense.

I can’t get a job at a bank.

I am weird.

Like our lead character Megan.

It’s embarrassing as fuck.

To be unemployed.

When you want to work.

I want to work.

Let me tell you.

I stopped drinking.

I stopped using tobacco.

I got off of Ambien.

I got off of Xanax.

And now maybe I’m on the last part.

But it’s taken 8 months.

And my insomnia has gotten worse.

That’s a good first draft of a life.

A story that might connect.

Who knows?

It is my story.

And absolutely true.

But it will float in the ether.

Probably until the Internet ceases to exist.

I am as close as you are going to find to Herman Melville.

Or Henry Miller.

I am a film critic.

And a musician.

And a recovering drug addict.

It’s fucking embarrassing.

Maybe it helps my street cred.

Have you ever had a verbal altercation?

A really nasty conversation.

Where two sides are trying to demoralize each other.

Are you familiar with those?

There is some great acting here by Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller.

God damn.

And some great writing by Mark Hammer.

The story takes it a long way.

But having really inspired, talented actors is necessary to take it over the top.

And we shouldn’t forget director Max Nichols…who made this all fit together.

Hammer gives us “Please be a crossdresser.”

There is, in fact, a Psycho reference earlier in the film.

Part of some witty banter.

God…relationships are complicated.

And this film takes weird romance to a whole new level.

It is very inventive.

And, frankly, heartwarming.

Have you ever done something stupid in love?

Ever regretted anything?

Ever almost lost it all???

Maybe like It Happened One Night.

But hell if I know.

Because I’m a lousy film critic.

I just do it for the fun.

For the expression.

To express.

No other realm will have me.

Those who can’t, critique.

Yep.

But I’m a feisty little devil.

As Roger Moore said in For Your Eyes Only, “We’re not dead yet.”

That’s right.

Special ed forces.

Survival.

Positive mental attitude.

The Spy Who Loved Me.

And, in case of a blizzard, “shared bodily warmth”.

Stalking is a skill.

Google.

And some duct tape to fix the neighbors’ window.

Pretty bad ass.

Megan is PISSED OFF.

Great acting!

Yep.

I’ve done that.

Hundreds of songs.

Some not even listened to.

Why?

Is it because the rest of the world are morons?

Perhaps.

Drozd.

Maybe because I’m so captivating.

Self-harm tattoos.

Reliving childhood trauma.

I’m still working.

Hollywood can go to hell.

I’m still here.

I came out the other side.

[more or less]

I almost blacked out there in the middle*

I guess there is a connection to Austin.

But not me.

Down here living in bumfuck San Antonio.

Sitting on my luggage.

With my Stetson.

Done been run over by a stagecoach.

Horses.

And manure in the air.

Yeah.

I was in Brooklyn when this film was shot.

But I had no idea it was being shot.

Back when I was a professional musician.

It’s true.

And sad.

But I’m still here.

Rotten Tomatoes can kiss my ass.

I don’t need anybody to tell me what’s good.

I waded through a ton of crap tonight to find Two Night Stand.

It is a fine movie.

Inspired.

Clever.

It will last.

Fuck everybody else.

 

-PD

The Music Box [1932)

This is truly a masterpiece.

It transcends short film.

The piano…

¡Ay, carambas!

This film is all about work.

About having shitty jobs.

The things we do for money!

Stan and Ollie work their asses off.

For nothing, basically.

But it provides us with some much-needed levity.

And one need not be overly-erudite to see Sisyphus in all of this.

Very clearly.

Up the hill.

Over and over again.

Just as things seem ok.

The same disaster strikes again.

And you are back at square one.

Groundhog Day.

Hell.

…but funny!

[only funny if you’re not living it]

But this is comedy.

And so we thank God for Jerry Lewis…and Laurel and Hardy…and Charlie Chaplin.

And all the great comedians who have brought the working man (and woman) the laughter they so dearly needed.

There’s some great mise-en-scène and economy of means here from director James Parrott.

Everything revolves around the interminable stairs.

The steps.

Like Potemkin.

Steppes.

Central Asia.

Oh, Stan and Ollie…

They are at their idiotic best here.

Two gen-u-ine dumbasses 🙂

If I could only remember the name of that rock band that destroyed the piano…

 

-PD

The Errand Boy [1961)

Yesterday I lost a good friend.

On the job.

Yes, that’s right:  she died at work.

And though she may not have known that she was my friend, she was.

She was a wonderful, sweet lady.

She had lived a long life.

And yet, she was taken from us too soon.

She was loved by many.

I do not know exactly what happened to her.

Only that one minute she had trouble catching her breath (from what I’m told) and the next she was being wheeled out dead…as we continued to work.

Dead.

High volume.

Busy workplace.

Sweatshop.

More or less.

Me, sweating by the ovens.

Slave to time.

Tempo.

Rush rush rush.

And there, a compatriot is being rolled away on a stretcher.

No white sheet.

Just an obvious lack of consciousness.

Perhaps she has been sedated?

And then the rumors trickled down.

“They couldn’t find a pulse.”

“Now it looks like they DID find a pulse.”

At the hospital…

But I have little doubt that she was already dead when I saw her for the last time.

That dear, sweet, old lady.

When I finally learned of her fate, I broke down.

I couldn’t help it.

Most of the shift I suspected the worst.

It was hard to be chipper.

Hard to interact with holiday customers in a rush.

But the finality of the news was like a left hook.

I cried.

Openly.

Cried as I clocked out.

Cried in my car for a good 20 minutes.

Cried on the way home.

Cried as I entered my house.

All in a day’s work.

Which brings us to our film.

The Errand Boy.

One of at least three Jerry Lewis films which outlines the rigors of working.

All these of which share “boy” in the title.

The Bellboy, The Geisha Boy, and The Errand Boy.

Lewis plays another immortal character:  Morty S. Tashman.

The S is important, mind you.

Morty starts out doing the kind of work which typified Norman Phiffier’s existence in Who’s Minding the Store?.

Lewis again essentially plays a stooge–a patsy…a retard.

The Errand Boy certainly has its moments, but I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece on the order of The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, or The Ladies Man.

Nor is it really of that next tier including The Patsy, Who’s Minding the Store?, and The Disorderly Orderly.

Indeed, The Errand Boy is really like a more mature (in terms of artistic development) version of The Bellboy.

It is certainly worth seeing.

And if it isn’t painfully apparent, the substance which greases the wheels of this comedy is work.

Another day, another opportunity.

R.I.P. my friend.

 

-PD

Who’s Minding the Store? [1963)

Here’s a great movie.

And a great chance to take stock.

To assess.

Work.

And money.

I got engaged.

Recently.

Yay me!

It’s a very big thing.

I’ve never been engaged before.

But today I’m scared.

Because I’m poor.

Money fluctuates.

And I worry I won’t be able to provide for my love the way I would want.

Kinda like Jerry Lewis in this film.

A schmuck.

Hard-working, but still entry-level.

That’s me.

Whaddle-it-be, man?

And yet, I’m rich in love.

I love.

And my love loves me.

This I know.

And so.

I will take that knowledge forth.

My love doesn’t love me for my money.

Because I haven’t got much.

But what if I had less?

And what if what if???

Money troubles.

Many bad things happen in money troubles.

But I am just over-excited.

I tip too much.

I go a little overboard.

If I could only write like Mozart…

But I do.

In my own way.

These strains you haven’t heard in a long while.

Because they have been buried.

We have to suffer.

And so I suffer now in this moment.

Fear.

Oh, the ignominy!

Of picking up trash.

Of licking the boots of bourgeoisie.

Those who fancy themselves to be above their position.

Like me.

Fair enough.

To kiss ass.

With a master’s degree.

Obviously I’m in the wrong line of work.

But I press on.

Dumb, but steady.

Trying to be honest.

Trying to make an honest living.

Learning hard lessons.

If someone would abandon me for over-loving, then to hell with them.

YOLO.

YOLT.

JOLT.

That thunderbolt looms large.

I am flawed.

Pressed on all sides.

Said Saint Paul.

Like the Star Wars trash compactor.

So I make this a prayer.

Knowing my love believes in God.

I pray to you, Lord, that you will give me a chance.

That you will help me with my mistakes.

That you will not make others suffer because of my ignorance.

I pray, Lord, that you will put opportunities before me.

And that you will help me to be a better person.

I am not used to all of this.

Can I pull it back and win?

It is to God that I pray.

Beg, knowing I am blessed.

Blessed simply by the same grace which is available to every man and woman.

All creations of God.

I ask God help with my health.

My peace of mind.

Please help with my striving to be healthy.

Please give me strength and grace to overcome the obstacles now before me.

And I ask you, Lord, to give me guidance in my career.

In work.

How to spend my time.

Where to spend it.

And how to spend my money.

How to save it.

Give me wisdom, dear Lord.

I have nerves.

But I am an artist.

And God is my parachute.

Do not tempt the Lord your God.

Who helps those who help themselves.

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Jesus.

God’s got this.

 

-PD

Cinderfella [1960)

Here is a masterpiece.

I was wrong to dismiss it so suddenly.

On first viewing.

The fairy godfather and the schmaltzy song by the pool I couldn’t stomach.

But I tried again.

Because the juicer is so good!

AND THE KITCHEN DANCE (!)

So it’s true.

Jerry Lewis made AT LEAST TWO perfect films.

This one and The Nutty Professor.

And it gives me hope with which to plumb the depths of his full oeuvre.

The little mattress on the big set of springs.

The one cheap sheet hiding this dismal arrangement.

AND THE DINNER!

Holy crap!!

That is my life!!!

Forever catering to the whims of dickheads.

Forever going back and forth…for sugar cubes.

And to pour the wine.

And to light a cigarette.

[but mainly to sugar caffeinated beverages]

Out of breath…

Jerry Lewis.

Overworked.

Mucho trabajo, poco dinero.

Pablito!

This film celebrates us nerds!!!

Revenge.

Sure…

But really it’s a much sweeter, more pure vindication.

Nothing nasty about it.

Jerry combing his hair in the toaster’s reflection.

And a little touch-up in the reflection of the Rolls’s front grill.

And that haircut!

Buzz cut.

Except for the little shock of normality above the forehead.

Anna Maria Alberghetti is fantastic as Princess Charming!

So light.

So airy.

So sweet.

But it all goes back to the kitchen dance.

Post- puffs on a ciggy.

Dropped in the sink.

To mimic the entire Basie band.

Rahsaan would have been proud.

To feel it.

The touch notes on the piano.

The little Basie accents.

So lazy.

So classy.

And the air drums.

Brushes.

Buh-da-loop da loop.

Buh-ruh-rump!!!

And that sax, man!

Bari!!!

Blowin’ out the cheeks like Dizzy ( )

Duck walking.

Chuck Berry kicks.

A whole sax section in one mouth.

Fucking genius!

In truth, there are a lot of plot parallels between Cinderfella and The Nutty Professor.

We almost sense Buddy Love in the staircase scene.

But Jerry comes out verbally bumbling.

And humble.

AND HE DANCES LIKE JULIUS KELP IN THE PROM WHITE SUIT!!!

Manic, man…

Bloody jaw-dropping.

 

-PD

Lady Bird [2017)

So much has happened since I last wrote.

Since I last really wrote.

The world has changed.

Donald Trump is President.

And the effort to oust him continues.

But I still support him.

Not blindly.

And yet.

A movie.

Here.

Lady Bird.

At first glance, a daft filmic gesture.

Taken again, a poignant slow-boiler.

And finally I watched the whole thing.

On the third try.

It’s like making a hazelnut blonde latte.

You put the hazelnut.

Pump-specific for size.

And you pull your shots of espresso.

And midway through, you realize you are pulling regular shots.

So you start over.

BLONDE espresso.

And you make the drink the second time.

And you hand it off.

And the drink comes back.

It wa sup be ic.

Iced.

All these fucking abbreviations.

Like being a part of the “intelligence community”.

So you make this same pitiful beverage a third time.

And by now you are woefully behind on the assembly line.

Once behind, there is very little chance of catching up.

Oh.

You will catch up.

Or fall over dead.

And probably no one will care either way.

This is Lady Bird.

Sacramento.

San Antonio.

Orlando.

Shitholes masquerading as metropolises.

Oklahoma City.

Provincial nightmares.

Greta Gerwig did a good job.

I ripped her to shreds the first time I saw her mise-en-scène.

Like a fucking JV football coach blocking The Tempest on a chalkboard.

Bad.

But, as we know, each film is its own language.

Each auteur, or metteur en scène (as the case may be), is a Rosetta Stone.

Mashed together.

Bleeding from one translation to another.

Along the gnarled edge pulled from from the Nile.

Trump is hard-pressed on every side.

And what is this #QAnon business?

Is it real?

I hope so.

Yet it’s terrifying.

Life, mainly.

The whole enchilada.

You work your balls off.

For what?

Are you happy?

Yeah, me neither.

And then you get to a place in life where you have no friends.

Yep.

That’s me.

It’s over.

Right now.

No friends.

Family, yes.

Thank God.

But no friends.

And you feel like a failure to have let down your family.

But maybe you came back for them.

You lazy Messiah, you.

You laid it all on the table…the altar.

Hammered to the sacrifice plane.

And also, you were really dumb.

As always.

But it is an idiot-savant dumbness.

Fuck.

I have a Master’s degree.

And a really specialized bachelor’s degree.

And the two together put me in position to do…just about nothing.

I could find that job.

But it wouldn’t be here.

But let’s talk about drugs.

Sickness.

Exercise.

Work.

Exhaustion.

Sacramento.

Mundane life.

I have hung on.

Barely, sometimes.

As today.

Fucking horrible shift.

God damn it.

Don’t get me started at this late hour.

This elderly midnight.

Premature.

“Time to make the donuts.”

I watch a film, and then I write about it.

Except that it hasn’t happened in a long time.

Because my job is a shock to the senses.

It is a brutal concatenation of events which beat upon my body and soul.

And my PSYCHE!

My brain.

My health.

Exercise good.

Stress bad.

Laziness gets no exercise.

Work gets exercise.

Work gets stress.

It is a tradeoff.

Decision theory.

And so I humbly pray to God.

That God will send me friends.

That love has not passed me by forever.

That my mind will be healed.

That my body will be strengthened.

That i will find the will to make difficult choices.

Which lead to health and happiness.

It is uphill.

I am not young like Lady Bird.

I’m old.

I’m a failure.

“I been all around the world, boys…”

What does life hold for me?

What does tomorrow hold?

Can I get out of fucking bed?

Will my joints ache as much as they usually do?

What’s the point?

What’s the plan?

Must rest to continue.

Must have hope to continue.

Where’s the hope?

I need hope.

I am a religious man.

And so I ask God, here among witnesses, to grant me hope.

I ask that my method be acceptable.

I believe in God.

And I feel the Spirit with me now.

I am scared.

I don’t know what the next day brings.

I don’t know which way to steer my ship.

And so I ask for Divine intervention.

A nudge.

A signal.

A sign.

That still-small voice.

Lord, help me to know.

Where to go.

Help me in my weakness.

Shore up my deficiencies.

Make your power evident in my poverty.

A film.

Lady Bird.

A country.

Coup and countercoup.

Q is the countercoup.

Assuming it’s real.

And a life.

I am here.

I can watch films.

When my brain allows.

But I know that in order to keep going, I need a miracle.

What will it be?

I have no idea.

I ask, Lord, that you have mercy upon me.

I ask that you comfort me and give me guidance.

I come to your feet humbly.

This is an excellent movie.

Saoirse Ronan is great here.

It is a poignant story by Greta Gerwig.

May we all be richly blessed by the Creator.

I pray this is Jesus’ name.

 

-PD

The Blues Brothers [1980)

This one just barely makes the cut as “’80s comedy”.

Narrowly avoids “Big Bush”.

But certainly “Notre Musique”.

The Blues Brothers is one of my childhood favorites.

And I was craving this film.

I tried to locate it on DVD (to no avail).

And so tonight I broke down and splurged on iTunes’ exorbitant à-la-carte business model.

I was willing to pay the premium.

Because I’m sick.

No way around it.

But let me update you as to my progress.

HUGE progress.

Weeks ago (a month?) I cut my sleeping medicine in half (the dosage).

It was hard.

Really hard.

I was disoriented.

Headaches.

But largely just slow as fuck.

I felt like I had a crayon lodged in my brain 🙂

Yes, my body and brain had gotten used to a certain dosage over the past 2 years.

Eventually I returned to some normalcy.

I got used to the new dose.

Half-as-much as previous.

It was time.

My graduate studies had long been over.

And my wonderful psychologist (whom I am so lucky to have) challenged me to break my addictions.

Understand, I didn’t conceive of my dependencies upon prescription drugs as “addictions”.

But I think it is helpful that my paradigm has shifted.

Yes, I was addicted to a sleeping medicine.

Because I took it every fucking night.

And eventually it called to me…to take it earlier than bedtime.

Ugh…horrible.

A few short weeks ago (two?) I made a psychologist-approved adjustment to the dosage of another of my medicines.

This one is for anxiety.

I reduced my dependence from three pills to two.

This was an achievement.

And a tribulation.

VERY FUCKING DIFFICULT.

Again I had that same confusion.

That same disoriented stupor.

Strangely, this detox was a little different.

The whiplash effect (“rebound anxiety”) hit me a full two weeks later.

There was a delayed effect.

The first days were headaches and stuff.

No prob.

I thought I had it beat.

Like nicotine.

Rough, but possible.

So when the delayed effect hit, it really sucked.

But I got through it.

I trudged on.

I got back on the horse.

And now these past few days have brought a return to the sleeping medicine.

But not, you understand, a regression.

No.

Rather, a full stop.

It’s been three days.

And now I am totally off my sleeping meds.

The first night was really rough.

It sucked.

Anxious “sleep”.

Inability GOING to sleep.

But I stuck it out.

Each night has gotten better.

But the DAYS…

Ugh…

Aches, pains, headaches, stomach…trips to the restroom.

Bad stuff.

And that same disorientation.

It is a really strange feeling.

Very unsettling.

But it is an accomplishment.

And so tonight I made it through a movie.

I didn’t have the brain-power to review a film with subtitles.

No art films this time around.

But The Blues Brothers was just what I needed.

Something comforting.

This really is a masterpiece of sorts.

John Landis turned in an excellent effort here.

The costars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were magnificent.

And the cameos just keep on coming 🙂

The blues.

Yeah.

I’ve had the blues.

Not depression, so much, but another kind of blues (lately).

Like climbing up a hill.

Like Sisyphus.

When I get to the top (and get used to a new, lower dosage of medicines), my feet are pulled from under me again (as I start on a new challenge).

I am learning (slowly) to deal with my anxiety in natural ways (rather than with drugs).

Suffice it to say that this is VERY FUCKING HARD (for me).

In some respects, I am already back to an engagement with the world which I haven’t had in seven years.

Indeed, I have rolled my medicines back (under psychological supervision) to a level I last “mastered” seven years ago.

That is SOME FUCKING ACCOMPLISHMENT! 🙂

Just a few short months ago (this dog-day summer), I was in the pits of debilitating anxiety.

My cousin died of a heart attack on July 5th.

That sent me into a tailspin.

Not too long afterwards, I myself was on heart medicine.

My dear cousin perished at age 43.

I’m 40.

It scared the fucking shit out of me.

So here we are 🙂

I hope to start a new job soon. (Yay!)

I am scared to death.

Scared I can’t handle it.

But I WANT to do it.

I WANT to handle it.

I WANT the challenge.

I had a great job interview the other day.

First time any company had bothered to listen to me in forever.

AND I WAS OFFERED A JOB! 🙂

I am just waiting on my background check to be completed.

As I have no criminal record (and no credit…neither good nor bad), I don’t see how a fair company could preclude my employment.

But life offers no promises.

I speak my mind.

A bit too freely, perhaps.

And I am not anonymous.

Sometimes I wish I were.

But I am flying out in the fucking wind.

I am not a secret.

My pen name is strictly that.

I am not hiding behind it.

It was my stage name.

I earned it.

I toured the world as Pauly Deathwish.

And so it seemed only natural that my film critic persona take the baton from my musician self.

Indeed.

Music.

I have been making it again.

Playing open mics.

Trying to get my drug-addled brain to MEMORIZE songs.

[ugh…]

Was never my strong suit.

But I’ve gotten (more or less) a couple of tunes under my belt.

And being a middle-aged geezer, I don’t feel too bad showing up with a music stand and some extra lyrics for songs which I haven’t quite set to memory yet.

Music.

Music is what’s at issue here.

The Blues Brothers.

A beautiful film.

I have lived this film.

I have fucking lived these roads.

I’ve played just about every possible analogous shithole to Bob’s Country Bunker.

Believe me.

I have been in the disgruntled band 🙂

As close to chicken wire as imaginable…

Which drags me back to topic.

This is a really fucking good film.

And I am cursing like a sailor.

For my conservative, proper readers, I do apologize.

It is a defect in my personality.

I feel it necessary that I curse.

Otherwise, I don’t feel I am getting my point across.

Because what I am expressing is a very pithy matter.

Life.

The grunge and grit of life.

Every word is in lieu of weeping.

Experiences so pungent as to suck all fight out of a person.

That is what I have lived.

And it is that to which I bear witness.

I am not thinking real clearly, but I am thinking (and writing) a lot clearer than I was a month ago.

I am on the good drugs now 🙂

Tylenol, Advil…

I have been fighting through multiple addictions.

Things which I didn’t see as addictions.

And life is coming back into focus.

And THAT IS TERRIFYING…

But also EXHILARATING!!!

But mostly terrifying 🙂

So here we are.

A movie.

On a mission from God.

Sinners.

Redeemed.

Walking with the Lord.

I ask, here, that God grant me mercy.

I’m just as fucked up as anyone.

But I ask for the grace of Jesus.

And I ask for strength to do the right things.

To help people.

To not be afraid.

I am living through the spiritual battle.

May God protect me.

Yes.

I have seen the light.

And I weep.  Jesus wept.

Too.

I’ve been through so much shit.

And I feel like maybe I am finally emerging from the “dead mall” of limbo.

Like Jake and Elwood crashing out of the JCPenney in 1980 🙂

I want to exist in that flophouse minute.

Buttered toast on a coat-hanger over a hotplate.

And a 78 rpm Decca blues record spins and the elevated lines churn by endlessly.

I want to live in that moment.

Brings us back to the Danish concept of hygge [coziness].

John Landis nails it in the scene where Jake is drinking Night Train wine and Elwood is making toast.

Very close to what Roberto Benigni would do 17 years later in the Schopenhauer scene of La vita è bella.

Those scenes from films…

Those scenes in which we want to live.

They never get old.

They never cease to comfort.

That somewhere in this fucked-up world is a little closet we can call home.

Barely big enough to open the door.

Just a bed.

Basically.

But it’s our little space.

Carrie Fisher tries all manner of destruction in this film 🙂

Even a flame thrower!

But Jake and Elwood keep getting up.

Just some rubble.

Just keep dusting off those black suits.

“Maybe CIA”, says Aretha Franklin (like the key to Dylan’s Tarantula).

Keep climbing from ‘neath those bricks.

Gotta make it seem real.

Maybe use real bricks.

Better to be the first man up.

Let’s get this in one take.

Hit on the head too many times with a brick…

Because there are private pressings on vinyl of American acts that went no further than their local Holiday Inn.

It is almost a fabled purgatory.

Red-shag.

Very Charlottesville with the car and the cartoonish Nazis.

But I just wanna hear me some more John Lee Hooker.

Electrify.

My evenings.

I got the blues.

Days of Delta slide…feathery as an aeolian harp.

And nights of thin, wild mercury.

Just like in the movies…

Get a record contract backstage.

You could wait your whole life.

Carrie Fisher goes full-automatic.

And most of this film takes place in the hellhole of Chicago (but nearly 40 years ago).

Hey…I’m not much for car chases, but this film does something real special with the device.

Exhilarating.  x2

That’s where they have that Picasso, right?

And perhaps it will be notable that Spielberg is the Cook County Tax Assessor clerk?

We shall see.

 

-PD

Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [2003)

Happy Birthday to Thora Birch, my favorite actress of all time!

Yes, I know…I know.

A film critic whose favorite actress is a young 35-year-old whipper snapper???

Yes.

That’s alright.

Laugh at me.

If the question was, “Who was your favorite classic Hollywood actress?,” then I would answer, “Lauren Bacall”.

But I said favorite actress of all time.

You can search my “Thora” category here on my site for why exactly this actress is my favorite.

Because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day.

And I have a movie to review!

One of my favorites:  Homeless to Harvard.

It is, indeed …The Liz Murray Story, but I will be using the shortened title hereafter for brevity’s sake.

It is my contention (and I have made the point elsewhere…probably on this very site of mine) that Thora Birch produced a trilogy of acting performances which are more-or-less analogous to Bob Dylan’s classic trilogy.

Let’s start with Dylan.

The three (at unity from a similarity of intense expression):

Bringing It All Back Home

Highway 61 Revisited 

and

Blonde on Blonde

And now the Thora films which correspond in my mind:

American Beauty

Ghost World

and

Homeless to Harvard

Sure…Birch didn’t direct these films.

But her acting is so strong, she might as well have.

By this point she was no longer a prodigy.

She was a mature actress.  A master of her craft.

And the story here is one to really sink teeth in.

[In which.]

We recently touched on homelessness here in the review of Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as Katarina from Till det som är vackert.

Pure.

But the esthetics of Homeless to Harvard are different.

This isn’t European arthouse.  It’s a Lifetime made-for-TV film.

But don’t go running anywhere!!!

This is as gritty as any Lou Reed tale.

And it’s all real.

Too pure.

Heroin addict parents.

Mother schizophrenic.

Blindness.

Genetic.

Mother with HIV.

Father with AIDS.

Vice versa ice Ursa.

Father in homeless shelter.

Mother wielding knife.  Vomiting.

Alcoholism.

Really appealing, eh?

But you gotta stick with it.

This isn’t Darren Aronofsky mise-en-scène.

It’t not, “Let’s win an award at Sundance.”  Or, “Let’s sweep at Cannes.”

It’s more like one of Aesop’s fables.

It’s the message, man!

And so first, let’s honor the director.

Peter Levin.

Who knew a television film could be so artful?

Well, when you combine the history of Histoire(s) du cinéma with the precedent of Twin Peaks, you should know by now that television can produce good stuff.

Hell…

Your TV can even WATCH YOU! (as per WikiLeaks Vault7).

But I digress…

The weeper (no masonry) sob story…had me crying in my Junior Mints…we must attribute to the excellent writing of Ronni Kern.

Who the hell is Ronni Kern?!?

Male?  Female?

I’ve had less trouble finding the gender of completely unknown foreign movie people.

But Kern is pretty invisible on the Internet.

And maybe there’s a point here.

  1.  It doesn’t fucking matter.
  2. You should judge someone on their work, not their gender.

Hopefully Ms. Birch will appreciate this flash of liberalism should she read this review.

[I’m not holding my breath]

But we have just celebrated International Women’s Day.

And the fact that Birch’s character here is a “feminist” is a running pseudo-joke.

Which brings us to the performances.

Michael Riley is stellar, stellar (I know…) as Liz’s father Peter.

Kudos to the styling department.

That beard.  And that hair!

Crazy, man, crazy!!

But Riley’s performance is really special.

It touched my heart.

Long ago.

When I first saw this film.

And dare I say, this movie made me appreciate my own family.

It made me miss my folks.

And so I salute Peter Riley and Lifetime and all involved for that effect on my heart.

Jennifer Pisana is really fabulous as the young Liz Murray here.

It’s an unenviable task.

To precede Thora Birch’s entrance.

But Pisana is indispensable to this little masterpiece.

Those sweaters.

And the full pronunciations…”Mommy”…”Daddy”…

Ms. Pisana affects the necessary naïveté to be juxtaposed against the sad schizophrenia of Kelly Lynch (who plays Liz’s mom).

And Lynch is great.

Think Cries and Whispers.

[cris et chuchotements…(( (( ((…et chuchotements]

Robert Bockstael does a fine job as Liz’s teacher David.

Very convincing.  Excellent craftsmanship.

Makyla Smith is piquant in her depiction of Liz’s best friend Chris.

[God…the Magic Marker…and the pine box…fuuuuuuck]

Yes, friends…this is Lifetime Television.

So the brisure (bonjour, monsieur Derrida) is “crap”.

“Crap happens.”

Whoa…watch thy mouth, Kelly Lynch!

So again…Peter Levin does a fantastic job shoehorning a true X-file into PG territory.

We see a syringe here and there.  A tourniquet.

Riley cleaning a spoon.

But the real heartbreak is Wheat Chex with tap water.

Yeah…

Hello Gummo.

Ellen Page has a small role here.

And she’s good.

Fine actress.

But we’ve been waiting to roll out the big gun.

Thora Birch.

On this, her birthday, I am only just now getting towards a handful of reviews honoring her unique thespian gift.

What to say?

That every look is magic?

That every glance is gold?

That she has crafted her microexpressions in solitude…and wielded them like an Arthurian sword for the duration of this flick?

Yes, yes, and yes.

[and an Oxford comma]

Because kids take it for granted.

Rich kids.

Harvard.

Penn.

Princeton.

Maybe…

But even more so the lesser ivied walls.

I won’t name names.

But the spoiled kids.

Not turning in homework.

Bragging about shortcuts.

Those, ultimately, will be life’s losers.

But Liz Murray worked her butt off to get into Harvard.

From sleeping on the B Train.

Four years of high school in two.

And Thora Birch has worked her butt off too.

She hasn’t gotten the roles her talent deserves.

But the roles she has gotten, she has largely smashed out of the park.

Like the Babe Ruth of leading ladies.

And so there are other actresses I admire.

But Thora Birch was the first.

The first to give me that magical feeling which only Neil Young has adequately described:

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playin’ a part that I could understand”.

Happy Birthday, Thora Birch!

And may all your days and films be filled with the joy which you have put into the world through your cinematic brilliance.

-PD