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

Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby mise-en-scène…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power:  music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of Seymour:  An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career 🙂

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-PD

Annie [1982)

Woof!

Yesterday was a rough day for me.

Yeah, nicotine withdrawal.

Ugh…

Maybe the roughest 24 hours of my life.

They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

I can neither confirm nor deny that.

But after a day like yesterday, I was ready for tomorrow.

And, to quote Stereolab, “tomorrow is already here”.

So when I saw this little gem on Netflix, I thought, “This is the perfect kinda movie I need tonight.  Something light.  Not too spicy.”

But as the classics of naïveté always do, this one reduced me to a sobbing snot factory.

[sorry for the vividness]

Back in the day (you know, the day), it didn’t matter to me who directed a movie.

[Auteur?

Is that like a really smart person?

Oh, no…that’s savant.]

But then I got into all this movie business.

And it started to matter.

Because certain directors consistently turned out magic…even when they were all-but-thwarted by external sources.

[and sometimes internal sources]

So it bears repeating that Annie was directed by THE John Huston.

[kinda like THE Ohio State University]

Apparently, Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Colombia Pictures thought in 2014 that Annie would be a good film to remake.

You know?

Because it’s just a musical, right?

And there had only been one other adaption of it (the one under review)…and that had been directed by some guy…Houston, or something…

So, yeah…let’s get Will Gluck (WHO?!?) and it’ll all be groovy, baby…yeah.

Well, I’m not here to pass judgment on a film I’ve never seen (Annie from 2014).

I’m just here to say, when you start fooling with perfection (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971]), then you’re probably in trouble.

Tim Burton got a pass (just barely) with his Charlie…

But I pity the Will Gluck,

ok…let’s discuss–

Why Remaking Annie Would Be A Wholly Unenviable Task.

Because John Huston started his directing career in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (!)…

Key Largo…The African Queen…

Yeah, those were his.

You know, Huston is not high in my list of favorite directors.

[maybe because I’m a moron]

But this film, Annie, which he made five years before he died, is really remarkable.

But who the hell am I, right?

I’m just a no-name in San Antonio, Texas.

AH!

San Antone…

Never felt so good!

Yes, the villain of our film, Carol Burnett, hails from my hometown.

It’s not often we can say that.

Lucille LeSueur (sorry, erm…Joan Crawford).

Pola Negri later in life (Apolonia Chalupec).

Yeah, that’s about it.

And Wings.

That’s San Antonio.

[as far as cinema goes]

But I’m here to tell you, John Huston’s Annie is really special!

Even Jay-Z digs these tunes (apparently).

[couldn’t care less]

Which is to say, sampling?  Cool.

Covering?  An entire film???

Again, I pity the fool…

Because Annie is an ass-kicker.

Yeah.

You’re gonna abuse animals?

Watch out.

Annie’s got some punches–some moves!

[and that’s before her karate lesson with Roger Minami]

{not to be confused with Mini Me}

Yeah…The Asp!

And Punjab!

[who was also in Live and Let Die (1973)]

Yeah, nothing Punjabi about Geoffrey Holder.

But that’s alright 🙂

These were the Reagan years.

And Annie is a not-so-gentle nudge for Republicans to embrace their warmer sides.

[Albert Finney rolling his eyes at the George Washington painting is priceless!]

So yeah…Annie is basically a good kid.

The best!

An animal lover.

A big heart.

Courage.

An encourager.

[As Punjab says, “Buddha (?!?) says, ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.'”]

Yeah, and Ann Reinking sees that joy in Annie.

I mean, this film has it all!

Bolsheviks!  Rockettes!  Greta Garbo!

Yes, there’s a film within a film.

And I think Edgar Poe would approve…with his glass half-full of brandy (and the other half absinthe).

Judging by Garbo, the year is 1936.

Tough year to be out of work.

And a good year to have some juniper berry syrup.

And a bathtub.

Yeah, Albert Finney knew the art of the deal.

Hardball.

[not the tripe on MSNBC]

The concept.

Aileen Quinn is really fantastic in this film.

Following Daddy Warbucks around.

Like on a Monopoly board.

Hands behind the back.

And Daddy’s gotta sell some fighter-bombers…and BUY, BUY copper!

Albert Finney is driving the economy.

Pushing the leading indicators.

And Annie is honest.

And a little honesty goes a long way.

And in sets fakery.

Looking for some dupes.

Yeah, you can only fool a Warbucks so long.

Nose upturned.

From Liverpool, mind you!

Bootstraps!  Horatio Alger crap!!!

And it ain’t crap.

Positive thinking.

Tomorrow.

I guess you gotta be willing to give it up.

The ultimate test of faith.

Where is your heart?

In steps FDR.

Infamy.

Who can know?

Why we fight?

So it’s up to us orphans to run down 5th Avenue.

If we have something to say.

Jailbreak!

These little G-Men (G-Women, in this case) are citizen journalists.

Town criers!

Extra!  Extra!  Read about the fakery!!!

Because time is of the essence.

And you gotta keep climbing even though you can see the steps run out.

God bless the parents of this world.

Those who want to give their kids a warm bed.

And sweet dreams.

Penny on the dollar for your fireworks!

You can even ride the elephant 🙂

-PD

Norteado [2009)

This may be the hardest film I’ve ever had to review.

And that’s the beauty of cinema.

Movies can challenge the way we think.

They can show us a perspective we’ve never seen.

This particular masterpiece (and I mean it) comes from my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

Director Rigoberto Perezcano strikes all the right chords here.

In these days of division, we must humble ourselves before God.

That is my direction to myself.

I must humble myself.

Because there are struggles I cannot realistically imagine.

Could you cross a desert?

Me…I don’t think so.

Humble before God.

It must be the Sonoran Desert.

Harold Torres.

All the way from Oaxaca.

The acting is perfect.

In the bus station.

But things get real in the desert.

The Tijuana moods of Mingus.

Loneliness of Alicia Laguna.

Desperation of Sonia Couoh.

And every day the trabajo of Harold Torres.

La frontera.

Border fence.

Dreams.

But mostly misery.

This could have been a very bad film, but director Perezcano knows exactly when Debussy must enter and exit.

Perhaps he saw Atonement.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because Northless (its title on Netflix) is twice as good as Joe Wright’s 2007 effort.

But don’t underestimate the presence of Luis Cárdenas.

That mustache…

It is really hard to sum up this film.

Perhaps:  if you think you have it bad, walk a mile in Harold Torres’ shoes.

I’m simply at a loss for words.

Never before has a La-Z-Boy made me cry.

And so I salute my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

May we all prosper with love in each interaction.

May God’s grace and mercy be upon us.

-PD

Amadeus [1984)

In these waning hours of Christmas, I give you…

a fucking masterpiece.

Indeed, I regret that I cannot express myself at this time without resort to expletive, but this film by Miloš Forman is truly bone-chilling.

And it is especially so for me:  a former composer.

Oh, there is always still time.

To set pencil to paper (or pen, if [like Mozart], you make no mistakes).

And so we shall take under consideration the director’s cut of Amadeus as our subject.

This later, R-rated version is from 2002 and adds 20 minutes to this magnum opus.

Yes, dear friends…we shall consider many things.

The uncanny embodiment of Tom Hulce.

The deft, dastardly thespian skills of F. Murray Abraham.

And even the indispensably aghast facial expressions of Richard Frank.

You might wonder why I have chosen this film to honor God on this day rather than a movie like Ernest Saves Christmas.

I will let you ponder that one for a moment.

But in the meanwhile, we shall press onwards with the young Salieri.

Please remember the pious of Western classical music.

J.S. Bach.

Antonio Vivaldi.

Haydn.  Handel.

Ok, perhaps not so much the latter.

Because he too, like Mozart, was a man of the world.

Of the earth.

A joyful sinner.

A composer with a dirty mouth.

Yes, there are miracles in this film.

Too many to count.

Salieri’s father choking on a fishbone.

For starters.

But let us consider the whole city of Vienna a miracle on assumption.

Wien.

A city in which one could dial the number 1507 and receive an A (435 Hz) with which to tune an instrument.

We have long appreciated this bit of trivia from scholar Norman Lloyd.

It has always endeared Vienna to our hearts.

A place where [it must] music flows through every pipe and connects the city in divine harmony.

But that time period for which we yearn…that “common practice” period is just the era in which Mozart is plopped down with his hilarious little giggle.

Jeffrey Jones is magnificent as the judicious statesman the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Which brings us back to Christmas.

A child was born.  To a woman by the Holy Spirit.

Yet the child had an earthly father:  Joseph II (not to be confused with the Old Testament Joseph).

Mozart was a child.

Childish.

A hellion.

Yet I would choose him over Shakespeare and Einstein when it comes to true genius.

I had heard it.

With my own ears.

In my days of getting my bachelor’s of music in music theory and composition.

I had heard that Symphony #39.  I played it.

I was inside the music.

And it is like none other.

I had discovered the ingenious counterpoint in Mozart’s Symphony #41.

What lightness!  What architecture!

What a vision of the beyond…

It takes memory to succeed.

And we guard our memories.

But it takes observation to create memories.

An eye.  An ear (in the case of Mozart).

Yes, Mozart’s prowess for hearing something once and then playing it back or either writing out all the parts (if a mixed ensemble) is legendary.

His fame grew with these stunts.

His novelty tours with father Leopold and sister Nannerl (not pictured).

I had at least one Harvard/Stanford-trained Dr. of music warn me about the historical inaccuracies in this film.

But this is Hollywood.

Of course there will be changes.

And yet, it is an incredibly moving picture.

To borrow a programmatic description from Richard Strauss, this film becomes (for much of it) a symphonia domestica.

Which, let me just say, happens to grace us with the presence of genius beauty:  Elizabeth Berridge.

But always in life (even into the bubble of music) creeps in business.

Economics.

Finances.

Debt.

Mozart was gifted with a once-in-humanity talent, yet he did not have the self-marketing skills to always position his talent at the best place in the market.

Meanwhile, Signor Salieri activates a little psychological warfare (captured by Forman’s camera lit by little gaslights all around…).

And so it is machinations versus manifestations of God’s glory.

The story is rich.

That a composer might write his own Requiem mass…and that the writing of that mass might just kill him.

We know how cursed the 9th symphony became after Beethoven (Bruckner, Dvořák, Mahler, Schubert…).

Musicians are subject to powerful forces which attack their necessary imaginations.

Superstitions.

Salieri’s character proves that those closest to us are not necessarily to be trusted.  His disingenuous psyop has Mozart working himself to death.

And that is a scary thing.

To push and push and push.

And yet, who will be remembered?

The expert in psychological warfare?

Or the symphonist?

Times have changed, but it is still the creator who has the benefit of creating goods.

Super-warriors aren’t even creating bads.  They are creating nothing.

But, it might be argued, that they are doing the most good in this world which no longer appreciates the music of its heritage.

Yes, European classical music is on life-support.

But we return to Mozart, who is in not-much-better condition.

Part of me longs for the treatment of Ingmar Bergman in his underappreciated film version of Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute in Swedish).

But Miloš Forman does everything else right.

The scene in which Mozart and Salieri are working on the Requiem is masterful!

And still…Mozart doesn’t realize that his greatest enemy is posing as a friend to help him compose his own death from exhaustion.

It’s only when they’re throwing the lime on you that you get real perspective.

But by that point, you’re wrapped up.

It is thus a fitting Christmas story…that hatred and jealously are futile.

And that a naive genius had the keys to the musical kingdom.

For his 35 short years on Earth.

Perhaps Mozart was not a pious man, but Salieri (who burned his own crucifix in the fireplace) consistently recognized the voice of God in Mozart’s music.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season and that your hearts will be filled with melodies which could make the heavens weep.

-PD