Saturday, September 7, 2019

LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (Alain Resnais, 1961, France)


Restless spirits rendezvous, victims haunting a grand manor that looms above them like Hill House, ghosts lost amid a maze of elliptical memories and infinite corridors. The protagonist is frozen outside of time, tortured like the prisoners of Dante’s ninth circle of Hell, his emotions icily detached from any human concerns except traitorous desire. The others who stalk the carpeted hallways, their footsteps and tremulous whispers absorbed by this mortuary that swallows the last vestiges of their humanity, seem to dress in the funeral attire of the upper class. The musical score is a dirge that is often antithetical to the visual montage; beautiful art-deco adorations of the nouveau riche contrast this sullen march towards perdition. The inhabitants cast long shadows that seem to stalk them; ghastly creatures that have consumed their souls…or possibly these shadows cast them?

The nameless protagonist pursues his lover throughout the endless passages, his voice-over narration opposing the film’s reality, as if he is trying to convince himself that by repeating this mantra he can change his past, present, or future. Burdened by guilt of rape and murder, his victim dressed as a feathery angel, he is startled and falls from the crumbling balcony. In one great match cut, the jilted lover turns and aims his gun at a target then Resnais cuts to the woman gliding gently down the hall, implying that she is the object of his violence. The “husband” seems to be the grand tormentor, always winning at Nim and holding power over his prisoner, as the Devil incarnate. When the final game is lost, the protagonist makes the sign of the cross with the game-tiles, as if to drive away the consuming evil.

Director Alain Resnais has crafted a mysterious film that demands the viewer to imprint his own psyche upon this celluloid canvas. The gorgeous deep focus black and white cinematography lets focal points disappear into dark mirrors and long passageways, while the slow tracking shots remain obtuse and disembodied. Though many people seem trapped in this immaculately kept netherworld, they are spiritually isolated…and whoever walks there, walks alone.

FINAL GRADE: (A+)

IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge, 2006, USA)


Luke Wilson in literally an average Joe, a victim of the military’s unnatural selection for a cryogenic experiment: he awakes to a nightmare of ubiquitous obtuseness, a future society where stupidity has evolved as the status quo. Mike Judge’s dunce capped satire is over-the-top hilarious but not far from current cultural trends where Reality TV dominates and Conglomerates consume the landscape.

Isaac Asimov wrote about the decline of human intelligence years ago, as college graduate working couples nurture fewer children than the religiously fixated and miseducated who birth and rear new monstrosities on a regular basis. Multiply this by a few centuries and this militant satire, though impossible (an elite class would still be needed to run the computers and maintain the infrastructure), still resonates with a tone of truthfulness and ill-humor. The attention to detail is farcically incisive: clothes slathered with advertising, grunts and inane slang as a common denominator, sex infusing every facet of society (such as Starbucks and Fuddruckers), Costco’s huge warehouse crouched amid the rubbish-strewn environment like some Lovecraftian horror, and the redacted history that literally depicts Chaplin as THE GREAT DICTATOR and has UN (pronounced monosyllabically) dinosaurs saving the world from fascist behemoths wrapped in Nazi regalia. Though funny, this prescient warning should be headed as we see the rise of Creationist Museums that vomit their religious myths as fact: the human race is becoming lost in a blink of a cosmic eye, stumbling towards extinction by our own hands!

Unfortunately, the voice-over narration is annoying, as Mike Judge seems to have contempt for the very audience he wishes to reach: we don’t need omniscient explanation. But Luke Wilson as Joe and Maya Rudolph as Rita are excellent as they exemplify the empathetic human spirit, this emotional connection that otherwise would leave the audience to despise the entire species. IDIOCRACY is sinfully smart and those who rave about 90 day FiancéEx on the Beach or Ghost Hunters…just don’t realize the joke is on them.

FINAL GRADE: (B+)

Friday, September 6, 2019

IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh, 2008, UK)


IN BRUGES is a Hieronymus Bosch triptych: three characters caught in a static loop unable to escape the Garden Of Earthly Delights. After Ray bungles his first contract by accidentally killing a child, he and his mentor Ken are sent to Bruges to await their next assignment. Ken is deeply moved by the city’s peace and tranquility while Ray is impatient and frantic with boredom: Heaven and Hell is a matter of perspective.

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh has created a deeply philosophical film that (I believe) has been mostly misunderstood: this is not just a wise cracking, slick talking PULP FICTION style comedy! McDonagh explores beliefs in Theistic Existentialism and Buddhism because the characters are brought to a turning point in their lives…by their own hands. They also hold the key to their own salvation but keep repeating the same destructive behaviors. And it’s fate that ultimately brings the three together. Bruges is an allegorical Purgatory, an inescapable dreamlike place that exists between worlds where the three characters are trapped by their own rigid moral codes and ideals.

As the violent drama nears its bloody climax, Ray, Ken, and Harry are each given a chance to redeem themselves but ultimately fail. I imagine this story playing out for all eternity (think GROUNDHOG DAY) until one is able to change and attain enlightenment: Ken almost achieves Nirvana by self-sacrifice but he also remains embedded in Samsara. The labyrinthine canals are like the city’s veins, the people it’s flesh, and the crumbling ancient structures its bone. The tower provides an omniscient view of the city and points the way towards salvation while the mysterious caverns lurk somewhere below the park while the suffering happens in-between. The film does not spare the brutality and gore and devours the characters like some demented Boschian nightmare.

FINAL GRADE (A+)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Lars von Trier, 2018, Denmark)


 This is the house that Jack built.
 This is the girl
 with the flat tire
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 This is the woman,
 who lost herhusband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 This is woman with two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 This is the simple girl,
 humiliated and mutilated,
 Next to the woman and her two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 These are the five men tied in a row,
 Near the simple girl,
 humiliated and mutilated,
 Next to the woman and her two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 Now appears Virgil to guide the Architect,
 leaving behind the five men tied in a row,
 Near the simple girl,
 humiliated and mutilated,
 Next to the woman and her two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 Through concentric circles of Hell until the bottomless pit,
 Virgil guides the Architect,
 leaving behind the five men tied in a row,
 Near the simple girl,
 humiliated and mutilated,
 Next to the woman and her two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

 Now falls the Architect into the pit he deserves,
 Guided by Virgil,
 leaving behind the five men tied in a row,
 Near the simple girl,
 humiliated and mutilated,
 Next to the woman and her two children,
 hunted and shot like animals,
 Now prone besides the woman who lost her husband,
 positioned next to the girl with the flat tire,
 That lay in the house that Jack built.

Final Grade: (C-)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID: 2005 SPECIAL EDITION (Sam Peckinpah, 1973, USA)


Pat Garrett chases the ghost of his past through the thin dry air of desert heat, loaded with Law but empty of Justice, until he finally knocks upon Heaven’s door. Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid are reflections in the same dark glass, both share a grim visage whose ghost whispers a bloody truth that the times may be a’changin…but people aren’t.

Director Sam Peckinpah begins the film with a monochromatic visual of Garrett riding into an ambush, and cross cuts (in color, to set the narrative timetable) to Billy and his gang carelessly slaughtering chickens for sport and laughter. This explosive violence imbues the film with its militant nihilism, a philosophy of the human abyss as these two men confront each other as different sides of the same coin, their existence at stake in this fixed game of death. Actor Kris Kristofferson is able to bring a genial humanity to William Bonney, his boyish charm a startling contrast to his murderous nature. James Coburn’s weathered countenance is like a grinning skull and though Garrett is legally on the right side of the Law, Coburn plays him with a monstrous but not unkindly demeanor, a man tainted with self-loathing for selling himself for money and duty. The film is structured as a chase, as Peckinpah cuts between the hunter and his prey, building tension towards the final showdown. His gratuitous use of slow motion mayhem is an orgy of bloodshed, beautifully rendered in vivid color and detail that paints the romanticism of the Western genre from red to the deepest black of despair.

Bob Dylan’s score is subtly masterful adding a poetically mournful narration to an end of an era. As Garrett finally discovers The Kid’s hideout, the Sheriff guns him down and thus destroys the vital part of himself: Peckinpah examines this theme as Garrett shoots his own image in a faded mirror: it is a spiritual suicide. Thus life is cyclical and the very same men who paid him to track down and destroy his cohort eventually murder Garrett: he finally surrenders his badge and his guns are buried in the hot desert sand.

Final Grade: (B+)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

SUSPIRIA (Dario Argento, 1977, Italy)



The Freeborge School of Ballet becomes a danse macabre, as a coven of hags flourish like a secret garden of blooming iris. SUSPIRIA begins on a dark and stormy night, the cracking thunder and nervous rain drowned under a pummeling crescendo of guitars and bombastic drums. The soundtrack overwhelms the senses while the visuals bleed Technicolor fury as a terrified woman’s final words are muted…and she flees into the night. Director Dario Argento conjures forth a magical sense of dread and destruction with meretricious inventiveness, utilizing vibrant colors and ostentatious set-designs while gradually revealing the ghostly footsteps that echo down the school’s haunted corridors.

Suzy is an American girl, resourceful and independent, who finds herself intoxicated with the ambition of becoming a world-class dancer…and drunk with blood-red wine. Her nights become a restless coma until she finally discovers that her food is being drugged. Freeborge is run like a prison, the teachers the warders, and the students that stay at the school are soon to be awarded a prestigious degree in the Arts…the Black Arts! Suzy clashes with these taskmasters but soon develops a relationship with Sarah, and the two of them soon unravel the twining mystery of razor wire.

Argento shocks with gaudy death scenes and revels in the quick-cut gore, allowing the camera to linger over the sliced faces and nail-pierced eyes, but also allows the characters to breath before their expiration. From the creepy malformed assistant to a ceiling dripping with maggots, he regurgitates many horror conventions but frames them in interesting ways. Argento also divulges the furtive whisper spoken at the film’s beginning and the remainder of the plot focuses upon Suzy’s ability to figure it out. Most of the film is kept within the school, which heightens this claustrophobic terror of being isolated from the real world. Suzy’s meeting with the psychologist is pure exposition, a quick way to disclose background information, but Argento’s use of extreme low angle frames the characters against a blue sky…that wonderfully offsets their tenebrous conversation.
Armed with forbidden knowledge, Suzy seeks to follow the footsteps and confront the Mater Suspiriorum. She traverses the hidden door and wanders towards her doom, realizing she cannot become part of the coven, only victim of it. But salvation is found with determination and a glass feather.

FINAL GRADE: (B+)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

THE SILENCE (Ingmar Bergman, 1963, Sweden)


Johan walks amid the silence of a labyrinthine hotel, a way station of death and war, as a spiritual apocalypse rages between his mother Anna and his aunt. Here in convolutions of this nameless city, in the dark alleys and crowded iniquitous bars, Anna fulfills her physical desires, slave to this primal urge, while her sister Ester suffocates slowly from some dreaded disease, bedridden and lonely, translating foreign prose into understandable text. Johan haunts the hotel’s maze, distant and distracted, longing for a mother’s love, encountering strange characters but always separated from their barbed-wire boundary of language: like an imaginary god’s obtuse scripture, a burning bush whose conflagration consumes the human essence.

Director Ingmar Bergman dissects the soul in this triptych of understanding: Anna represents the physical instinct, full of beautiful life, grasping this desperate instinct which may disappear in an atomic flash; Ester courts Death, her sexual urges unfulfilled, fearing the loss of her intellect and becoming something less than human; while young Johan is the innocent and mischievous child, in need of affection and attention. Anna and Ester stare mostly out of windows, observing the world at a distance unable to cross this translucent borderland: like germs trapped under a glass slide… or maybe they are the ones being measured and observed. Anna rides her guilt trip on her back and from behind, and condemns her sister’s judgment in a penetrating ecstasy of delight. She then abandons Ester to this foreign place and takes Johan back home, on a long train ride through the rain drenched night. She opens the compartment window and becomes soaked, her memories and self lost like tears in rain. But Johan has one last parting gift from Ester: a note written in a foreign language. He holds it dearly because he loves his aunt: is there some sacrosanct message or only the whispering gibberish of an inscrutable deity?

Final Grade: (A)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

WINTER LIGHT (Ingmar Bergman, 1962, Sweden)



Jona(s) is devoured not by a whale but the creeping spider-god, vomited out upon the banks of a turbulent river, his empty corpse adjacent to a bridge over troubled waters. He is victim to a consuming silence, caught in the web of belief that can only offer obtuse and vacuous explanations, empty words that bring about nuclear fallout, a self-destructive winter of spiritual annihilation.

Ingmar Bergman’s film is focused upon Tomas, pastor of a small church whose empty rafters echo hollow with archaic scripture, his small congregation reflecting his bored and apathetic malaise like a flu virus shared during communion. Transubstantiation becomes cannibalism, eating the flesh and blood of a mythic creator, an incestuous penetration that extinguishes humanity to become an automaton spouting inane Holy Writ. Jonas Perssons is the everyman, and he seeks the counsel of his pastor to understand the violent and changing world that hovers on the brink of destruction: but Tomas can only speak of himself, caught in the selfish nexus of angst and regret, and can offer no answer to Jonas…only doubt. Bergman shoots this scene in medium close up, creating a cloistered prison while the clock ticks incessantly towards doomsday. There is no understanding a creator who allows mutilation and murder of its own children, and Tomas begins to discard the ghostly saints that haunt him. Tomas also spurns Märta, a spinster who seeks his affections but her intentions are vague: does she truly love him, or does she relish the status of being a pastor’s wife? She refuses Tomas’s blatant emotional vivisection and accompanies him to Karin’s house (Jona's pregnant wife) where he must impart the suicidal impact of her husband's fate. His meaningless offer to share scripture is impractical and pregnant Karin, devastated by the news, must now tell her children. Bergman follows Tomas outside and shoots from his perspective, a voyeuristic glimpse through a glass darkly, and we momentarily hear a child’s mournful cry.

Tomas finally arrives back at the church for mass, and though he is reminded of Christ’s suffering alone, he follows his daily routine and begins the faithless service to a nearly empty room.

Final Grade: (A+)

Monday, November 26, 2018

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (Ingmar Bergman, 1961, Sweden)


On which side of the darkened glass does Karin stand? Is she trapped forever in the spidery murk, the crippled light of hope a taunting reminder of her temporary lucidity; or does she exists in a light that is only sometimes eclipsed by her shadowy fugues? Karin is a shipwreck whose damaged empty hull offers little respite from the coming storm, where her vexing sexuality seeks to destroy her brother: a god’s incestuous love like that of a Black Widow who eats her mate.

Director Ingmar Bergman seeks the inner demons through his four characters that stumble precariously upon the rocky shores of faith, surrounded by the pounding surf, like the slow timeless erosion of the human spirit. Karin is suffering from a sever mental illness while her father David uses her disability as a crutch for his own creativity, his alchemical intent to purify her anguish and transform it into literary gold. His son Minus subtracts from the family, a burgeoning playwright whose own attic is obscured by metaphysical cobwebs; he is a young man who desperately need a father’s love. And Martin is Karin’s faithful husband, his tremulous grip upon hope for his wife’s recovery slipping away in a quicksilver flash of lightening, and the thrum of a gasoline powered deity.

Karin crosses the nebulous boundaries between worlds, the thin peeling wallpaper separating her from god’s presence, and in a dilapidated forgotten room she experiences a true psychotic epiphany. She finally chooses her world and is taken away while David and Minus gaze over the ocean’s cold horizon: David speaks of god as true love, an abstract ethereal concept that infuses creation with false hope…while Minus is only concerned that “Papa spoke to me”. All have chosen and become lost in their own tiny worlds.

Final Grade: (A)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

WALKABOUT (Nicolas Roeg, 1971, Australia)


A British schoolgirl and her young brother escape to the outback where they meet another wandering soul in search of adulthood. Director Nicolas Roeg contrasts different cultures to reveal the naked truth: we’re all alike beneath our skin’s illusory variations.

The young protagonists remain nameless, prototypes of the self-absorbed and crumbling British Colonialism, children of a psychotic god. Taken to the desert, their father attempts a murder/suicide but only succeeds in the later respect; frightened, the children race towards the unknown, lost amid the jagged mountains haunted by a distant life as mysterious as their new environment. These are civilized children, raised in the steel and concrete valleys with no understanding of their predicament; they only plod ever onward, afraid to retrace their footsteps which lead to a ghostly father sheathed in flames. They fortuitously stumble upon a tiny oasis where they are discovered by a young Aboriginal boy, and together the three of them embark upon an adventure of self-discovery.

Roeg’s cinematography captures the beautifully dangerous Outback, the parched and scorched earth or the verdant grassland, a world inhabited by a host of uniquely adapted denizens, as these strangers must struggle in a strange land, a battle against both Nature and human nature to survive. Communication becomes a pantomime of deeds since language is a barrier to understanding though their needs are the same. The Aboriginal boy is a skilled hunter and Roeg magnificently films him killing and skinning his meals, the ubiquitous flies always buzzing around fresh blood. He cross-cuts with a modern butcher shop, comparing the act of slaughter for food, of potentially needless suffering, a lesson for those quick to judge. As the young girl and her brother are led to comparative safety, Roeg shows the taint of civilization upon this virginal landscape, raped by businessmen for self-fulfilling profit .

The magical journey ends with a danse macabre, a paved road leading towards salvation, and though she will live a life of static virtues, she will never return to the land of lost content.

Final Grade: (A+)