Friday, September 30, 2022

These are the tragedies, folks.

I don't know what it is about me, maybe I just have “Suckafied’ written on my increasingly large forehead, and only those with plenty of baggage to unload can read it.

My coworker -- we'll call her Leena -- asked me to lock her office door after I stepped in to drop off a contract. Then, in tremulous voice, she recounted a side-business deal that she had formed with who she believed to be her partners. Of course, that day she found out that they had cut her out of the deal right before the getting was green. After her confession, followed the inevitable -- her eyes brimmed with tears, bordering on overflow, which was my cue to hug her. 

As she began to ruin my nice shirt with her blend of tears and makeup, I told her that she was right to feel how she felt, and if she had to cry, then cry. While she sobbed, I acknowledged the betrayal she suffered, but told her that it would soon become the past, and she would come out of the experience wiser. 

I then asked her to do me a favor: For god’s sake, Leena, please don’t go dark on me. 

That’s exactly what I asked her, “please don’t go dark”, because I didn’t want her terrible experience to justify being meaner and crueler to others in future ventures, screwing over others the way she was screwed over by her “partners”.

Be wary? Yes.

Act stronger? Sure.

Avoid being so overly trusting? Absolutely.

But you can still be kind. You can always be kind. Just don't expect kindness in return, that’s for the other person to decide, that’s the other person’s problem. But every once in a while, you'll run into the occasional foolish idealist, and I swear to you, Leena — I swear to you — that your kind manner in a world full of motherless fucks will be appreciated. And if we’re all lucky, that fool will show kindness to others.

It was then that I caressed the back of her head, in a "there, there" fashion, as her sobs began to subside. Then, I gradually moved my hand to the top of her head, where I began to apply subtle pressure in a crotchward direction, hoping she'd get the hint.

Upon feeling her kneecap make brutal contact with my magnificent testicles, I realized she might’ve gotten the wrong idea.

With tears in my eyes, I asked “Lesbian?"

With rage in her eyes, she asked "Pig?”

Ugh, I should've known -- a feminist. Had I known she was one of those, I'd have approached her differently.

You see, fellas, the way to handle one of these fuckin' feminists is to play nice, invite her to your place, give her a glass from the Cosby Vineyard selection, and once she's out for the count, you sneak her over to your home in the country and subject her to bondage, torture, and mind games.

At least that's what the absolute based chad of the 1969 film The Laughing Woman does. His name is Sayer (Philippe Leroy) and his latest lady to be taught this important lesson is Maria (Dagmar Lassander), an employee at the philanthropic organization he runs. While discussing an assignment, Maria makes the mistake of telling Sayer that she is in favor of male sterilization, and I guess it's not enough that he responds with a "Well, actually" for the ages. Because he then invites her to his apartment for a couple of friendly drinks between employees, which as mentioned earlier, is really just a prelude to Sayer breaking the poor girl’s spirit.

For a long time, I only knew of this film because I was a fan of the music score by the late, great Stelvio Cipriani, but it wasn't until the Here and Now that I actually watched the film it was made for. But unless you're into this sort of thing, the stuff Sayer subjects Maria to can be tough to watch. He ties her up, he ties her down. He tapes her mouth shut and forces her to watch him enjoy breakfast. He turns a goddamn firehose on the woman. Worst of all, he forces Maria to rub oil on his disgusting bare man-feet. That alone would be enough for me to wish for death.

Which is in fact, what Sayer wants of his guest, by the way, as he later casually confesses to Maria that he kills his female guests to achieve sexual climax. Look, I'm not gonna kink-shame the man. I mean, whatever floats your boat, right? Some guys can't cum unless they have a finger in their ass, others need to be asphyxiated, and then you have the real weirdos who can't cum unless they insert their penis into an orifice. Either way, I don’t judge.

Now, normally, as a coward with a tiny d— ahem — normally as a real man with a fast car, I don't mind watching women in movies learn their place, but the problem is that Lassander's character resembles none other than The Adorable Amy Adams (specifically during her Lois Lane days), and since Superman wasn't coming to save this damsel-in-distress, I wanted this fuckin' asshole Sayer to die a thousand penis and/or anus-related deaths.

Written and directed by Piero Schivazappa, and also known under the titles Femina Ridens and The Frightened Woman, I can see some calling this film yet another misogynistic portrayal of attractive women in dangerous situations, and I can see some calling this a feminist critique on what overly sensitive and destructive man-babies we males are. I think both parties are right, because this is one of those deals that has it both ways, and depending on your point of view, the ending works either as a justification, or an excuse for what preceded it.

The film's refusal to make its stance explicit for the average viewer, kinda reminded me of an S. Craig Zahler joint, in that it's super-fucking-questionable as far as the filmmaker's personal politics, but goddamn if it ain't an excellent film all the same. But I also feel that maybe there wouldn't be so much doubt about the film's intentions, had this been written and directed by a woman, rather than a dude -- an Italian dude, no less — in the late 60s.

Actually, I take that back. Had a chick made this flick back then, it would be seen as misandrist.

Nevertheless, I really liked this movie! It has a pretty whacked-out sense-of-humor that only makes everything more unsettling. And somewhere along the way, just as I figured out where this film was headed, it instead takes a welcome detour that was less disturbing, more wacky, but just as entertaining.

Visually, it's a real treat; a nicely photographed assortment of snazzy late 60s outfits and super-stylish set design, everything looking very Pop Art and Mod. Most of the film is set in Sayer's country getaway house that is full of furniture that looks aesthetically pleasing but uncomfortable to actually use. There's also a dream sequence involving a giant art installation that looks like a woman's spread legs, with a razor-lined door placed exactly where you’d expect it to be.

Leroy and Lassander are both great in their roles. Sayer comes off cold and calculating -- that is, whenever he is in total control. But as the film continues, it becomes more clear that it is indeed, all just an attempt at appearing strong while holding in his emotions -- because as we all know, emotions are for women. He meets his match with Maria, who despite being held against her will, despite being knocked down both figuratively and literally, gives as good as she gets. Because a strong-willed woman can only do so much when you have some proto-Red Pill-taking motherfucker standing in her way.

And c'mon, dude, just because Lassander kinda looks like Amy Adams doesn't mean I'm actually watching Amy Adams, and so, when Maria danced while slowly taking off what looked like a swimsuit made of white gauze, I felt no shame, no need to tell the precious star of Arrival and Enchanted to stop debasing herself for our perverted carnal pleasure.

Because it wasn’t Amy Adams. It was someone else.

No, instead, I said "Take that shit off, ya fuckin' hoo-er!" OHHHHH!

Of the current new releases at the local cinema, Pearl (the prequel to Ti West's film X) stood out. Unlike it's successor, which was a dark and gritty throwback to grindhouse flicks, and brought to mind the early works of Tobe Hooper, Pearl takes a different approach that brings to mind the works of Douglas Sirk; an overly-bright and polished Technicolor widescreen melodrama, with a lush music score reminiscent of Frank Skinner and Dimitri Tiomkin.

Set in 1918, the film follows the murderous psycho freaky oldster from X -- the titular Pearl -- back when she was just a young adult with zero human kills under her belt. Pearl (Mia Goth) lives on a farm in Texas with her parents, while her husband Howard is overseas fighting in the First World War.

With one man out of the country, and her father infirm, it is up to Pearl and her mother to share in the everyday chores, upkeep, and various household responsibilities. Any spare moment she has, she uses to unwind; for example, she's fond of dancing in the barn to a rapt audience of cows and chickens, which reminded me of something Oprah Winfrey said in an interview about how when she was a little kid, she would entertain herself by playing to an audience of chickens in a coop. I forgot exactly what this playing comprised of, so I couldn't tell you whether she sang to them, or interviewed them, or gave them free cars.

But unlike Oprah -- god, at least let's hope so -- Pearl is shown to be wearing a mask of sanity which has a tendency to slip every once in a while. We witness such slippage during the opening scene, when Pearl indulges the psychopathic murderer underneath by casually picking up a pitchfork and using it to stab a goose who was not invited to her barnyard show. She then feeds the goose to an alligator at the lake, and we're left with the sense this isn't the first time something like this has happened. I reckon that alligator's been eating good for quite a while.

I thought it was pretty clever for West and Goth (who also co-wrote the screenplay) to set this film during the Spanish Flu pandemic; we watch Pearl ride her bike into town to pick up medicine for her father, and upon arrival, she puts on her face mask, because that's what people did back then, they didn't have the Internet, so the only place the crazies had to share their wackadoo conspiracies was on the street corners, where they'd shout their thoughts or picket with signs, all the while being justly ignored. Unfortunately, today, similar lunatics have millions of online followers, and some even hold political office. 

In the interest of retaining any readers from the other side of the argument, I offer this alternate version of the previous paragraph: 

I thought it was pretty clever for West and Goth (who also co-wrote the screenplay) to set this film during the Spanish Flu pandemic; we watch Pearl ride her bike into town to pick up medicine for her father, and upon arrival, she puts on her face mask, because that's what people did back then, they didn't have the Internet, people were easily-led sheep who questioned nothing and accepted what the government told them, and those who knew the truth were unfairly ignored. Fortunately, today, similar truth-tellers share their knowledge with millions of online followers, and some even hold political office!

During one scene, Pearl goes to the movie theater, and while watching the chorus girls on-screen, she briefly pulls up her mask in order to take a sip from her father's bottle of morphine. At the same time, I briefly pulled up my mask in order to take a pull of bourbon from my flask. Realizing this moment of synchronicity between film character, film viewer, and time periods — back then, there was a global pandemic, there were countries at war, and an increasing worldwide partiality to fascist regimes; today, we’re in a global pandemic, we have countries at war, and there’s an increasing worldwide partiality to fascist regimes -- I thought Wow, next verse, same as the first!

I felt a kinship with Pearl at that point, and to be painfully honest, I even identified with her a few times in ways that I will keep disconcertingly private. And as far as murderous tendencies go, I am possibly worse than Pearl, because while she goes around stabbing geese, I prefer to choke the chicken. While she takes out people standing in the way of her dreams, I enjoy distracting my loneliness by extinguishing millions of potential doctors, astronauts, and school shooters.

Pearl’s dream is to become a dancer in the big city, and it's something that absolutely has to happen for her, there is no other option. She has to leave her stifling existence on that farm, with its laborious obligations set upon her by her overly stern (aka German) mother. Upon making the acquaintance of a kind and handsome projectionist, she sees not just temporary company sans hubby, but a possible ticket to Dreamland, population: Pearl.

But knowing what we know about this character -- at least those of us who've seen X -- we might not be aware of what will happen, or how, but we do know what the final outcome is going to be. And so, we watch the set up as things begin to look promising for Pearl, awaiting the inevitable heartbreak -- and the aftermath that will surely follow.

Those expecting a slasher-horror film may be disappointed; this is more of an off-kilter character study that eventually results in some bloodshed. Come to think of it, I think this qualifies as an entry in the God's Lonely Man sub-genre, alongside recent examples like Joker and Saint Maud. The tone of the film straddles the line between Sincere and Winking, which can put some people off as well. But I really dug this, and I think this works better as a film than X

A huge part of why this film worked for me is Mia Goth's performance as Pearl, who I found having lots of sympathy for, despite her violent inclinations. She's a sicko, all right, but she's also very earnest! The climax of the film hinges on the strength of the actor at the center of it, rather than gore or suspense, and that's because the climax of the film isn't a kill spree, but a monologue. But holy shit, what a monologue -- and what a delivery!

Hers is the kind of performance that leaves me of two beliefs:

1) Mia Goth is a great actress
2) Mia Goth is a broken human being

And I'm thinking, ¿por que no los dos? I mean, most great actors are both of those things, hence their ability to pull such effective expression of genuine emotion. Plus, she's hooked up with Shia LeBeouf and has a kid with him, so you fuckin' know that's some extra pain to pull from. Some people are talking Oscar buzz for Goth, which I doubt will happen, not because I think she's undeserving of such accolades, but because the Academy treats horror movies the way they treat the troubling past histories of some of their award recipients: They ignore them.

And don't give me this "What about Get Out?" bullshit. At most, that was an anomaly, and I think the large assortment of old White people who voted for it probably gave Jordan Peele his Best Original Screenplay not because he wrote an excellent film and deserved the award — which he did — but because he put the idea in their rapidly aging Caucasian brains that maybe there's a chance that science will create a brain-swapping procedure that will allow them to switch places with younger Black people. They awarded him for giving them hope, and this was their way of saying "Thank you kindly Black filmmaker. You're one of the good ones.”

Anyway, Pearl's not only a good movie, it also features one of my favorite end credits to a film, a sort of unholy blend of the closing credits to both Call Me By Your Name and the television comedy series "Police Squad!”. I was about to say Pearl has the most unnerving end credits I've seen in a film, but I'm going to give the edge to Call Me By Your Name because those credits involved a child crying over his pedo-cannibal first love. Whatever, Elio, boo-fucking-hoo, why don't you go eat a dick -- that is, if the fuckin' Lone Ranger hasn't already eaten it first.

I’ve been trying to watch all the unopened Blu-rays on my shelf (thanks Criterion Barnes & Noble sales!) and the latest one to rid of its shrink-wrap is the five-hour director's cut of Wim Wenders' 1991 epic Until the End of the World.

This ultra-ambitious sprawl of ideas takes place in the near future of 1999, where a nuclear satellite has gone haywire (thanks India!), and will soon crash-land somewhere on Earth, bringing its final resting place the mother of all kabooms.

Sure, there are some people who are really freaked out, such as one man who Debbie Downers a  bar full of people about how he can't believe anyone is still able to drink/hang out/try to get laid, when Imminent Nuclear Death is hovering above us. Otherwise, the majority appear to be as worried about the situation as one can be about something that is absolutely beyond one's control, which is to say, the state of worry that allows one to continue living their lives, because you know, there are bills to pay and babies to raise, there’s life to live.

It's not unlike how the world's been living ever since we got two sneak peeks of Armageddon back in 1945 -- and I'm not talking about the Michael Bay movie. Every so often, some tribal chief tries to establish dominance by threatening the unthinkable, flashing those nukes as if they were Glocks in a rap video. There's certainly some of that going around right now with the whole Ukraine situation occurring during this foul year of Our Lord, 2022.

I blame Rocky Balboa, myself; I thought he patched things up between the Russkies and the rest of the world, back in 1985, but evidently he didn’t, and now the fate of humanity depends on not pissing off this ex-KGB fuck, this over-compensating tyrant who poses bare chested on top of horses like some ultra closet-case trying to convince everyone he’s fiercely hetero, but only succeeds in making himself look even gayer.

At best, if this asshole ends up pushing the Big Red Button of Win, he will come off as omnisexual, because he will have fucked everyone in the ass — men, women, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Eh, but at least you’re not gay, right, tovarish?

Back to the movie. So yeah, people are living their lives despite potential apocalypse, and we focus on one of them, this lady named Claire (Solveig Dommartin), who is currently getting her lost weekend on by partying it up in Venice, Italy, drowning her sorrows after finding her husband Eugene (Sam Neill) getting super-cozy with her best friend back home in Paris.

Once she gets that out of her system, she decides to return, but not necessarily back to her husband, it's more like, you know how it is, your bed at home is always going to be more comfortable than a bed elsewhere. Sometimes there's a cheating schmuck sharing that bed with you, but what can you do? So yeah, she's driving back, and on the way, she takes a detour in order to avoid a traffic jam, thus beginning the chain of events that lead to Claire going on a globetrotting adventure with a man named Sam (William Hurt), involving a bag of stolen money and a special device that records images that blind people will be able to see.

Along the way, we see the differences and similarities between Claire and Sam. Both of them have a habit of pretending to be someone else; Claire does this by wearing a wig, and Sam does this by using aliases. But while Sam does this to avoid capture by the government agency searching for him (and the special device), Claire does this, well, just to take the edge off the ennui.

One gets the sense that Claire feels unfulfilled, but that even she doesn't really know what to do to fill that void. Sure, she has a habit recording things on her little video camera, but even then, it's all very aimless, purposeless, it's recording just for the sake of recording. For all the cutting edge technology used in this film's version of 1999 -- talking car navigation systems, widespread use of HDTV --  it was still too bright and early a time for something as evil as social media, or TikTok. I'm sure if those were available, Claire would do all right with her time posting numerous videos of herself dancing while singing Elvis Presley songs.

Instead, she keeps herself busy by meeting Sam, losing him, finding him, losing him again, and then finding him again, in a journey through France, Germany, Portugal, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States aka The Greatest Country in all of God's Kingdom and Don't You Forget You Godless Socialist Commie Foreign Fucks. The entire journey is narrated by Eugene, who along with a private detective are on Claire and Sam's trail, for reasons of love and money.

At best, I can only describe the first half of this film as a rambling flirtation with the idea of the possibility of an international chase flick/romantic movie, but really all just an excuse for Wenders to hang his ideas and thoughts of both the current state of humanity and where he sees it heading. The second half then dials it down with one final hop to South Australia, switching gears to something more cerebral, but also more emotional. It’s here that we are introduced to Sam's parents, played by Max von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau, and where we discover that Sam's father is the inventor of the device for the blind. But we also discover that as brilliant as Sam's father is, well, as a father to Sam, he's less than adequate.

I can give away plenty more and still leave a lot for you to discover, but I'll only go as far as to say that there's another future tech invention that features in the film, and it allows one to record a person's dreams, which one can then view. Now that sounds problematic enough for me, but it gets worse when a couple characters find themselves addicted to watching their own dreams, they're glued to their little portable monitors and lose their shit if they run out of battery. So let’s give Wenders the Nostradamus award, because the people in this film don't look much different from you and me on our phones and tablets nowadays. Only difference is that most of us are watching other people live their dreams.

But at least the people my age still know what it's like to step outside and do things without the need of something that requires an energy source, I fear we might be the last generation to have that ability. God forbid an EMP knocks out the entire grid; while some of us can always find entertainment in partaking in various sports of kings such as football, and while others can indulge in various sports of the poor & foreign such as soccer, any kid born after Kim Kardashian fucked Ray J is going to be lost without the Internet. Some might get so despondent over not knowing what to do with their time, they might take their own lives -- once again proving that every cloud has a silver lining. Fuck them kids.

Wenders has gone on record saying that he set out to make "the ultimate road movie", which makes perfect sense; if anyone knew about making movies about interesting characters traveling cross country, it was the director of Paris, Texas and Kings of the Road. The difference was that for this film, Wenders didn't stick to one part of the country, or hell, one country.

Instead, he somehow managed to finagle over $20 million dollars -- which today would be in the neighborhood of $50 million -- to make an art-house film about the dangers of falling into "the deep well of narcissism”, which would take place in nine countries and four continents, which would be distributed by Warner Brothers, and not even give the motherfuckers a single decent action scene in the entire picture. (At most, there's a really brief shootout where they don't even use muzzle flashes, just sound effects and goofy pratfall music.) It's pretty wild to think about, especially today. People talk about how they don't make movies like this anymore, but I feel they're mistaken. They still make movies like this, just for much, much, much less money.

While I loved the ambition behind it, overall I only liked the film. The problem for me is that despite the introduction of more emotional elements in the second half, it still fell short in getting me to actually care for any of the characters -- to say nothing of even liking them -- and so I always felt detached. I was only able to observe with little to no sympathy, and only a smidge of empathy in the most extreme cases.

(Yes, I know that earlier in this post/episode, I declared having sympathy and empathy for a psychotic ax-murderer, yet I had little to none for a bored woman and a man trying to help blind people see. Yes, I understand I need help, but before I do, may I introduce you to my pet alligator?)

Despite its flaws, this is still very much a film by Wim Wenders, and so it works as a film to which one can just simply vibe. The whole thing left me feeling as if I had witnessed the last magnificent and desperate gasp of the kind of offbeat indie/arthouse movies that were everywhere in the 1980s. It's as if Wenders' knew that these kinds of movies were going to be an endangered species in the 90s, and so he figured that while the getting was good, why not take the bastards for all the money he could get from them? 

A wise move, in retrospect. As I said before, they don't really make these kinds of movies anymore, and in my opinion, Wenders' narrative work from the 90s onward has not matched his previous films like Wings of Desire. But that can be said about many of his contemporaries; of the quirky filmmakers from the 1970s and 80s I group along with him, I think only Jim Jarmusch has managed to keep his pimp hand strong and firm through the decades.

Anyway, it's a great-looking film, shot by the late, great cinematographer Robby Müller, who can make even the most dull settings look like they came from another universe, and I got a kick out of the mix of matte paintings blended with the real locations.

It's also a great sounding film because Wenders got a very impressive roster of artists to contribute songs; U2, Talking Heads, R.E.M, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello, Jane Siberry, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and many more. I know it's an overused cliche of a line, but the soundtrack is just as much a character in this film. It's no surprise to find out that while the movie bombed at the box office, the soundtrack did quite well.

In conclusion, I feel Wenders' vision of the future in Until the End of the World is a positive one, and I base that simply on the fact that there's a scene where a boy uses the Power Glove to make phone calls on his video phone. Because only an unabashed optimist could see any kind of a future for that piece of shit.

Those were just but a few of the movies I watched while nursing the pain in my balls. I still can’t believe Leena did that. It’s like, some women just don't get it, man. I’m just an old-school gentleman, that’s all. That’s what I keep telling my coworker, my boss, Human Resources, the cops, my lawyer. But they don't want to hear about it, because that’s the goddamn woke liberal feminist agenda for you LET'S GO BRANDON