Thursday, October 20, 2016


Rick Alverson is always growing as a filmmaker. Each project is more “polished” than the next. But that’s not to say his earlier films like New Jerusalem or the film of discussion (The Builder) are UN-polished. They’re not. In fact, a lot of the themes & subject matter from his feature film debut are still very much a part of the fabric of his more recent work like The Comedy & Entertainment. His recent work is less about nature & rural surroundings, but The Builder planted the seeds for all the films in the cinematic universe that Rick Alverson is building. Every protagonist in a Rick Alverson film always deals with some form of depression (Entertainment), melancholy feelings (The Builder), heavy jadedness (The Comedy) or is going through an existential crisis (New Jerusalem). In The Builder – the story of an Irish immigrant’s quest to build a historically accurate cape house, our protagonist (“The Builder”) is overcome with all of the aforementioned feelings along with serious fatigue and bouts of hopelessness & self-defeat. To me, The Builder is Alverson’s take on the romantic idea of doing away with the big noisy city but finding out how difficult that really is to follow through with. The main character in the film moves from Queens to upstate New York after purchasing some land but is so overwhelmed by the task of building a home & living in seclusion that he kind of shuts down. Have you ever had a romantic idea like writing a book, making a film, painting a house, fixing a car, etc and then realized; “Shit…this sounded cool to talk about but I’m in way over my head!” I find myself wanting to leave New York City all the time. But when I think about the logistics of moving & starting over it does sound a bit overwhelming. Not the most overwhelming thing in the world but still overwhelming nonetheless. We’ve also all had major bouts of procrastination when a project seems too ambitious to even start.

With its semi-poetic vibe and sprawling shots of nature, it’s easy/lazy to compare The Builder To Tarkovsky (which is something quite a few bloggers & critics have been doing for the last six years) but The Builder is really more in tune with films like Richard Linklater’s It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books or the cinema of Chantal Akerman (Linklater actually credited Akerman’s work as an influence on his often un-credited feature debut). Sure there’s a “plot” to The Builder, It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow & various Chantal Akerman films but the plot is secondary to the film’s ambiance. I guess you could compare The Builder to Tarkovsky in a kind of backhanded/indirect way in that it has quite a few similarities to Carlos Reygadas’ Japon which is heavily influenced by the work of Tarkovsky (both Japon & The Builder are about depressed/tired men who set out to complete a personal project/task in a rural area but take their time doing what they came to do). But The Builder doesn’t deal in surreality or stream of consciousness like Tarkovskyor or Reygadas. I also think any similarities that The Builder may have with other films is completely coincidental. I’ve read enough about Rick Alverson to feel like he’s one of the few filmmakers that isn’t influenced like other filmmakers are. When he says that Entertainment wasn’t influenced by Paris Texas (something he was once asked at a Q&A) I genuinely believe him. Alverson is quietly (and respectfully) open about what he dislikes in film more than what he does like (a trait I wish more filmmakers had). Sure there may be some uncontrollable subconscious influences on his work that no artist can deny, but I like to think Alverson doesn’t surround himself with tons of films to borrow from. He seems to keep an intentional blind eye to what other filmmakers around him are doing so his work can be original. And I think that’s evident. When you take The Comedy & Entertainment and put them up against the films of hispeers (Kelly Reciahrdt, Lance Hammer, Aaron Katz, Jeff Nichols, etc) you see that his work can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s.

Although speaking of influence, I do find it peculiar that The Builder (2010) - a film about a man trying to build a cabin in the woods – has similar promotional material to a later film about another man known for building a cabin in the woods…

It’s also easy/lazy to label The Builder as boring (another characteristic I’ve seen some critics & bloggers incorrectly use to define it). But have you ever been depressed and/or severely fatigued? It isn’t exactly exciting. It’s droning & sluggish and The Builder conveys that. The faces, expressions & energies exuded by all the characters in the film are that of depressive fatigue. If you’re going to make a film that partially deals with sadness, self-doubt and/or depression - the film should feel depressing. And this does. Without meaning to, or possibly even realizing it, The Builder travels down the path that Haneke made with The 7th Continent as well as Two Lane Blacktop (it should be noted that Alverson cited Two Lane Blacktop as an influence on Entertainment so it isn’t too far-fetched that the sprawling & intentionally directionless vibe of Monte Hellman’s anti-road movie rubbed off on The Builder as well)

I doubt the casual movie fan looking for something “fun” or “exciting” to watch will blindly stumble upon The Builder. You have to kind of be familiar with Alverson’s work or the school of films that it kind of belongs to (Ballast, Wendy & Lucy, Old Joy, The Brown Bunny, Last Days, etc). The Builder is the perfect lazy afternoon film (your viewing experience might even be slightly more heightened or enhanced if you’re familiar with or living in certain areas of upstate New York, New England or Virginia (where Alverson is from & currently resides).

Friday, October 14, 2016


It only makes sense that I share more thoughts on Claire Denis' misunderstood masterpiece for the Pink Smoke's auteur horror series considering it's my second home.

Click the image below to read my updated thoughts on Denis' quietly influence "horror" film Trouble Every Day



Voyage Of Time kind of feels like the movie Terrence Malick has been working towards since The Thin Red Line in terms of how he works with actors. I'm a fan of Terrence Malick. To take it a step further - I'm more a fan of the post-Tree Of Life Malick than I am the pre-Thin Red Line Malick. A lot more. But if there's one (recent) criticism I have is that he kind of uses actors like disposable parts rather than actual people. Look...people get cut out of movies all the time. It's nothing new. But that seems to be a regular thing with Terrence Malick more than any other filmmaker in the last 20 years. Adrien Brody's presence in The Thin Red Line was chopped to pieces (in addition to quite a few big name actors not even making it to the film at all). Michael Sheen & Amanda Peet got completely cut out of To The Wonder and there have been a few rumblings of certain actors getting the Adrien Brody/Thin Red Line Treatment in Knight Of Cups. There have also been a few accounts of Malick being a little tough to deal with because he's more concerned with filming random scenes of nature than he is communicating with the actual actors/people looking for some kind of guidance/direction. None of those things are a problem this time around because there are no actors in Voyage Of Time. He can now film all the lingering nature shots he wants and not have to interact with humans. Voyage Of Time isn't really a plot-driven film. It is about the evolution of mankind and the progression of human civilization but the film flows more like a lucid dream rather than something that has a beginning, middle & end. There is a fictionalized Quest For Fire/Walkabout-esque sequence towards the end that does use actors (without actual dialogue), but for the most part Terrence Malick's latest is a "poetic documentary" that looks like a combination of the extended footage from the creation scene in Tree Of Life and the B-role camera footage at the beginning of Knight Of Cups & To The Wonder. With that description (which is pretty accurate if I might say so) you can see that Voyage Of Time fits in perfectly with the rest of the films in Terrence Malick's cinematic universe but it also has a lot in common with other films outside of that wheelhouse...


Quite frankly, Voyage Of Time could have easily been a Werner Herzog movie (with a few alterations). Terrence Malick's latest film features breathy existential voiceover (I know that's a staple of Malick but it's also very much a Herzog-ism as well) and shots of volcanoes, waterfalls and other forms of Mother Nature. Sounds similar to some of Herzog's films doesn't it? I know people are quick to call Malick's movies pretentious, silly, stupid or whatever (sometimes without even seeing them) but when you strip them down they share a lot of strong similarities to other films - like Herzog - that don't face the same harsh criticisms.

And if the Herzog comparison doesn't work for you then I'll say that Voyage Of Time is Malick's version of Baraka, Powaqqutsi or Koyaanasquati (there's no doubt in my mind that these films heavily influenced Malick this time rather than Andrei Tarkovsky).

Koyaanasquati / Voyage Of Time

Like I say with every post-New World Terrence Malick film, this is more in line with Tree Of Life & To The Wonder than Badlands & Days Of Heaven. We're now on movie #4 of Malick's experimentally poetic period. You know exactly what to expect so don't go in to this expecting to not hear dreamy voiceover narration about our existence on earth.
And whether you like Malick or not, there is no denying that Voyage Of Time is a movie-going experience and should be seen on a big screen.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Don't Think Twice is one of the few films that fell through the cracks for me this year. Thankfully PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor & sketch comedy fan Doug Frye caught it and sent me his thoughts on the film!


Mike Birbiglia's feature film, Sleepwalk With Me, was an impressive debut—and his sophomore film, Don't Think Twice, is stronger. Few directors pull that off, and Birbiglia's writing also seems stronger this time. I wasn't completely convinced that Birbiglia, being a stand-up comedian, was committed to directing films, but I am after Don't Think Twice.

"The kid stays in the pictures"

You could contribute this to a bold choice for an actor/writer/director: he's not really the star this time. While he's fully present in the movie, it's first an ensemble cast. Initially tempted to declare Keegan-Michael Key's Jack the main character, I decided that this wasn't the case. It's closer to a three-way split between Key, Gillian Jacobs's Sam, and Birbiglia's Miles. Each shows their own palpable need for attention and belonging, to different degrees, and talents and drive to fulfill those needs.

The cast rounds out with excellent performances from two underutilized and always welcome actors, Chris Gethard (Bill) and Kate Micucci (Allison), and an actor new to me, Tami Sagher (Lindsay). Bonus points if you spot Richard “Larry from Three's Company” Kline!

Kate Micucci being adorable. Chris Gethard for scale.

The improv group, The Commune, gels convincingly into a familial unit. They appear to know one another inside and out. I absolutely never expected the improv performances to be so good. They tag in and out with near-perfect timing, seemingly practiced for years. I find improv the jam band of comedy. If it's great, it can be enjoyable. If it's really good, it's tolerable. Anything else makes me want to leave the room to varying degrees of irritation.

exceptionally un-terrible

They carry the same chemistry off-stage, living improv as they walk and talk, breaking into bits throughout the film, and they're still good. Mostly they share or have shared a believably shitty Brooklyn apartment. Miles sleeps in a loft bed, for example, next to pipes on which you would regularly bump your head. Bill and Allison share the apartment, and Jack and Sam have recently moved into an apartment in a brownstone that's probably supposed to be in Park Slope. If you know Brooklyn, Sam must be hauling in cash as a restaurant hostess, because their $5 ticket split and Jack's bike messenger job aren't paying that rent. If you know New York City restaurants, that's almost semi-conceivable. Sorry, maybe too inside baseball for non-New Yorkers.


Every improver's ultimate ambition is to be cast in a perfectly titled “fuck it, you all know what we're talking about” TV show, Weekend Live. The tension in the film starts here: two members of The Commune are called for auditions, and one is cast. Resentment and insecurity start to fracture the family in which they've entrenched themselves, and the comfort it provided starts rapidly eroding. Why wasn't it me? is the question posed by the rest of the troupe. Writing packets are scrabbled together to get on the show, taking advantage of their new connection, and awkward rejections and pressures on the newly-risen star, stemming from landing Weekend Live, crack the group further.

This act includes a particularly impressively written scene between two of the troupe. Birbiglia pulls off something I generally hate, the “we're not talking about the thing we're talking about” screenwriting 101 scene. This sort of writing usually comes off as forced and jars me out of the film, but an emotional scene acted out in improv (something I never expected to write) uses this trope to perfection.

Birbiglia's film is ultimately about family, though, and how one perseveres in its hard times. When they fight, they fight like family, attacking the most vulnerable spots that others know only if you let them get that close. You hurt each other and heal each other. When needed, you're there for each other, and that's what happens with The Commune. Spoiler: they come out through the other side. Relationships change, goals change, lives change, but the family survives. I highly recommend the film.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Personal Shopper is tricky because on one hand it's beautiful to look at, it kind of romanticizes Europe in the way Americans love (the cafes, the trains, the architecture, etc) and we're seeing Olivier Assayas explore new territory in that he deals heavily with supernatural elements (parts of Personal Shopper felt like The Shining mixed with The Innkeepers...but with that unique almost uncategorizable Assayas touch). But this film could potentially come off a little empty to some (not to me, but to others). Personal Shopper is a slight return to the Demonlover/Boarding Gate-era Oliver Assayas that I love & missed so much. He teased this side of himself with last year's Clouds Of Sils Maria (my personal favorite film of 2015) but he's even more in touch with his Demonlover-esque self this time around. And while that's great for me, I completely understand if some folks roll their eyes at this one. Some of the characters are a little flat and/or uninteresting (while others, like "Ingo", played by Lars Eidinger are incredibly intriguing) and audiences may be thrown off by the mixture of a ghost story & a personal/intimate drama about loss. So while I enjoyed Personal Shopper overall (some parts are a little silly and Kristen Stewart's performance goes in & out being great to being almost self parodying) it's something I can't really defend if someone dislikes it.

In the film Kristen Stewart plays "Maureen" - a personal assistant to rich & famous people by day, , and a medium by night. She's still coping with the death of her twin brother Lewis and is waiting for some kind of a sign from him in the afterlife to assure her that he's at peace.
Eventually she's haunted/stalked by a nameless/unidentifiable entity that may or may not be Lewis.

I find it interesting that this is the second Assayas film where Kristen Stewart plays a personal assistant to a celebrity. Remember towards the end of Clouds Of Sils Maria where Stewart's "Valentine" suddenly disappears and we never see her again (kind of like how "Betty" disappears in Mulholland Drive just before "Rita" opens the blue box)? I like to imagine Valentine somehow took on a new identity and moved on to Personal Shopper (not only are both characters played by Stewart personal assistants, but they're also ex-pats with similar personalities).

I have to hand it to Olivier Assayas in that he really tried his hand at traditional scares & startling moments. He even had the nerve to throw in scary visual effects to simulate spooky ghosts (is this the first time Olivier Assayas has used visual effects to this extent?). I'm not sure if Personal Shopper is an "anti-ghost story" (...but with actual ghosts still) or if it's just a psychological thriller in the vein of a Roman Polanski film...

Personal Shopper/The Tenant
Personal Shopper/Rosemary's Baby

The only other issue I have with this movie (and others like it) isn't so much with the movie itself but with the inevitable dumb theories that are bound to come from it like with The Shining. While these theories are sometimes entertaining & well thought out, others are just plain dumb. I can see all the theories on Personal Shopper right now (kind of like that Clouds Of Sils Maria theory I just threw out earlier): "Everything was in her head all along" or "You notice how every scene where we see Kristen Stewart there's always a clock in the background set to midnight?!"

I still don't know what to fully make of this yet I did want to get some initial thoughts down while they're still fresh in my head. I will say that you'll more than likely be hearing about this again before the year is over. I'm not sure if this belongs in the honorable mention section or the "frustrating but rewarding" category in my end of the year wrap-up...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


When Kelly Reichardt introduced her latest film to the audience at the 54th annual New York Film Festival she cited Chantal Akerman as a constant source of inspiration. After having watched Certain Women that makes perfect sense. While Reichardt's latest film is much louder than anything Chantal Akerman could ever make (in terms of ambient sounds & background noise), the dialogue is sometimes sparse and there's a lingering focus on banalities like chores & teeth brushing which is a strong characteristic of Akerman's work. I enjoyed Certain Women very much but if someone were to call it "boring" I don't know if I'd argue that. I just happen to like (well-crafted) "boring" movies sometimes. And if you're a fan of Reichardt's films then you'll more than likely enjoy this.

One of the best things about Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women is that even though it's an anthology film composed of three (separate) stories, they aren't really connected like so many of these kinds of films tend to be (sure there is one character that is constant throughout each story in a Steve Buschemi in Mystery Train kind of way but it's a minor-yet-major-yet-minor thing that's never really resolved and is only casually addressed).
I think we all know that "making everything connect" was a common plot device that many directors utilized between the late 80's (Mystery Train), throughout all of the 90's (Slacker, 71 Fragments..., Pulp Fiction, 2 Days In The Valley, etc), and in to the early 2000's (Code Unknown). Some directors were (and still are) good and/or great at making connections between they're ensemble players & multi-layered storylines (Linklater, Jarmusch, Haneke) but this plot device got a little old after almost two decades. Certain Women is the first anthology film to grab my attention in a long time because Reichardt kind of took the basic format (three stories concerning women at different stages in life) and stripped away all the "coolness" (Mystery Train), pop references (Pulp Fiction) and spurts of explosive violence (71 Fragments, Pulp Fiction, 2 Days In The Valley) and put her own unique touch on things.
The first story concerns a lawyer (Laura Dern) who's called in to defuse a hostage situation that one of her clients is responsible for.
The second story is about the rising marital issues/tension between a wife (Michelle Williams) & husband (James Legros) who are on the eve of building their dream home.
The final story focuses on the shy awkward (one-sided) attraction between a ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone) and a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart).

Besides the one character that loosely ties the three stories together, there are other (subconscious) connections - both Dern & Stewart are lawyers and every major female character is exhausted for one reason or another. But each story still stands on its own.

James Legros
This is Kelly Reichardt's first film utilizing the anthology/multiple storyline format so it's cool to see a 20+ year veteran try something new (what may be old to us may still be new for her). Certain Women also deals with new subject matter for Reichardt like romantic feelings under the umbrella of insecurity and/or uncertainty (Gladstone) and visible cracks in a marriage (Williams & Legros). James Legros & Michelle Williams have good chemistry and do a wonderful job at conveying the growing tension that can sometimes happen between two people in a marriage (although their circumstances are different than your "standard" marriage, their story still shows that no matter how "unconventional" a marriage may be, there's always going to be tension & resentment at some point). In my personal opinion, Kelly Reichardt & Michelle Williams make a great team (this is their third collaboration) and between Drugstore Cowboy & Safe to Living In Oblivion & Night Moves, James Legros should be considered an icon of modern American indie film at this point.

Lily Gladstone

Now...I don't mean to dismiss the majority of Certain Women because it really is just fine and serves its purpose but the final story concerning Lilly Gladstone & Kristen Stewart is the whole movie for me. Gladstone wears every insecure, anxious & scared emotion on her face like a seasoned veteran actor would yet she's a newcomer. Her performances as "Jamie" makes me wish there was a Netflix series about her character just doing chores and working up the courage to tell her crush how she really feels but never gets the opportunity to do so.

I'm still very much a "fixed" person. I like when personal favorite filmmakers of mine stick to what they're good/great at. Certain Women is still very much a standard Reichardt film no matter how much new/new-ish territory is explored (that's meant to be a complement rather than a criticism) - natural surroundings, fall season color palettes, minimalist/sparse guitar-based music score, female leads, etc.

Whether Kelly Reichardt realizes this or not - she is a cinematic voice for women in America. Would it have been nice to see a little more "diversity" in the cast? Absolutely. But I'm not gonna dwell on that too much (and it's not my movie). Certain Women's casting choices felt natural. And what makes Reichardt's exploration of womanhood & "femininity" so natural is that not all of her movies focus on women (both Old Joy & Night Moves are very male-driven). So when she does decide to focus on female characters it feels special.

Although I'd prefer a "Reichardt novice" start with something like Old Joy or Wendy & Lucy, I wouldn't be opposed to this being someone's introduction to her filmography (this is her most recognizable cast to date so it's bound to get a bigger audience in comparison to her previous work).


The Power Man & Ironfist of the podcast universe (myself & wrong reel host James Hancock came together to discuss the Luke Cage series and everything that comes along with it (comics, hip-hop, race, harlem, etc etc etc). I even held my iphone up to the microphone at one point to play a snippet of a gang starr song.


Monday, October 3, 2016


I was honored to be a guest on a recent episode of Criterion Close-Up (a podcast you should all be listening to if you aren't already) to discuss PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite Jim Jarmusch & his 1989 masterpiece Mystery Train.

Click here to go to/listen to the episode. Enjoy...

Friday, September 30, 2016


I don't know if it was intentional or not (probably not) but Paterson makes a reference to almost every Jim Jarmusch film that came before it. The opening & closing credits utilize the same kind of font as the opening credits from Night On Earth (both Night On Earth & Paterson are also about characters who make a living driving people from one place to another). In one scene we see our protagonist "Paterson" (Adam Driver) share a tender literature-based moment with a young girl just like Forest Whitaker did in the park bench scene in Ghost Dog. The state of Ohio (where Jarmusch is from) is mentioned numerous times in the first 20 minutes of the film which reminded me of Stranger Than Paradise (Ohio is the first stop on Willie & Eddie's road trip). Two characters in Paterson are named "Sam" & "Dave" just like in Mystery Train (and, just like in Mystery Train, both scenes where we see the Sam & Dave characters take place at a pool table). There's another major tip of the hat to Mystery Train in that one of the actors from Jarmusch's classic Elvis-themed anthology film has a cameo towards the end of Paterson. The use of the color pink all throughout Paterson is an obvious nod to the use of pink in Broken Flowers (the door to Paterson's house, the color of his wife's car, and all the clothing worn by the background characters are pink just like the typewriter and other various items sprinkled throughout Broken Flowers). Paterson also has an unexpected WU-Tang cameo which ties in to both Ghost Dog (RZA) & Coffee & Cigarettes (RZA & GZA).

Classic shot used in many Jarmusch films...

The subtle use of the color pink (and the positioning of the characters) in Paterson is very similar to Broken Flowers...

The overlapping imagery in Paterson vs. the overlapping imagery in Ghost Dog...

But beyond all the references, Paterson is a return to the Jim Jarmusch I (personally) missed. While there's always going to be something I'll enjoy about his movies, I haven't been excited about a Jarmusch film since Broken Flowers (2005), and that's not even one of his quintessential works in my opinion. And if it is, it's ranked last on my list of classic Jarmusch movies (that doesn't mean I dislike Broken Flowers. It's just not a classic in my book like Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law or Mystery Train).

Hopefully some of you will get this reference...
Paterson is Jim Jarmusch's Ned Rilfe in that Hal Hartley kind of returned to his classic form with Ned Rifle just like Jarmusch has done with his latest (I find it wonderful that after over three decades of filmmaking Hal Hartley & Jarmusch can still be mentioned together in the same sentence).

I wanted to post my thoughts on Paterson immediately after seeing it at Toronto but something kept me from sharing this right away. This is the kind of movie you want to sit on/with for a week or two partially because it's meant to challenge things like immediacy, rushing and just anything fast-paced. So it would be a little hypocritical for me to post some rushed 500-word review that doesn't offer much of a unique/worthy perspective.

Paterson is a simple story about a bus driver ("Paterson") with a hidden talent for writing poetry who has to find inspiration to continue writing after an unfortunate event (his quirky/loyal/artistic wife is the only other person that he shares his poems with). That's really about it. And it works just fine. Naturally there are funny encounters, lots of repetition, and dry deadpan quirky moments, but in terms of plot - it's really just about a bus driver with a hidden love/talent for poetry.
I admit that when I first saw the trailer for Paterson I was a bit worried but my skepticism was put to rest early on in the film. 20 minutes in I knew I was going to enjoy this until the very end.

And for those of you that may be concerned that Jarmusch is stuck/set in his ways by referencing so many themes from his old work, he does try out new editing & sound techniques that he's never tried before (these new techniques really enhance the poetry featured in the movie). This is also his first film without any of his (new and/or old) stock actors (no Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeffery Wright, Tom Waits, etc). And with the exception of Adam Driver and one unnamed cameo, the entire cast is made up of "unknowns" or seasoned veterans used to playing supporting roles).

Jarmusch does a great job at avoiding a lot of cliches. Any time you think something obvious is going to happen it doesn't. Nothing happens. Like...literally nothing. I respect that. At one point in the film we feel a potential threat against Paterson's dog but nothing ever happens (actually, this scene in particular is why I appreciate Jarmusch's subtle comments on race in that he takes a car full of "thuggishly" seeming characters of color and does something a lot of filmmakers wouldn't do). We expect there to be tension or drama between Paterson and his wife on more than one occassion but they get along just fine from beginning to end without any drama. You think there's going to be some accident while he's driving his bus but that doesn't happen either. Had the same material Jim Jarmusch used in Paterson ended up in another director's hands this would've been a kitchen sink melodrama about an angry tortured bus driver. That's not to say Paterson is all "light" & "fluffy", but there is a calmness throughout the story that isn't often associated with a lot of the basic subject mater in the film.

What I loved most about Paterson is that it's a movie for folks with talents/passions outside of their 9-5 jobs (Paterson gets a lot of his writing done during his lunch break/downtime at work, and when he is working his mind is on his poetry). This is definitely something I relate to on a personal level (over the last 6+ years of running this blog and writing for other websites, quite a bit of content was generated on my old job's company time).

I'm trying my best to not over-praise this (I am a Jarmusch fan/completist) but I can say, without any favoritism, that Patterson is a success and the best thing Jim Jarmusch has done since Broken Flowers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Make sure to check out some of my recent podcast appearances on Wrong Reel & Illusions Travel By Streetcar where we discuss everything from my recent trip to the Toronto International Film Festival to Maysles Brothers...


Thursday, September 15, 2016


John Cribbs & Chris Funderburg strongly suggesting that I check out The Untamed is a testament to how much they get my taste in movies. The Untamed was directed by Carlos Reygadas' former assistant Amat Ecalante so it's easy to compare his latest film to Reygadas' work (especially Post Tenebras Lux)...

Post Tenebras Lux/The Untamed

It's also easy to compare certain scenes in The Untamed to Tarkovsky but that's too lazy (even though it is a fare comparison in my opinion). The more I think about it, comparing The Untamed to Tarkovsky (or Post Tenebras Lux) is like comparing any random "weird" movie to David Lynch. It's almost the cinematic equivalent to all Black people (or Asian, Latino, etc) look alike. For me - this is everything I wanted Under The Skin to be (yes I still think that movie is overrated). Under The Skin & The Untamed are similar in that both films involve people being lured to a mysterious room where crazy shit happens. But there's a bit more depth to The Untamed and it doesn't feel like a feature length music video like in the case of Under The Skin. I'm sorry in advance for sounding so aggressive but if you like Under The Skin and can't get in to The Untamed then something is wrong with you. It would be like enjoying the films of Tarantino but hating Jarmusch's Mystery Train.

What starts out as a somewhat sterile family drama about infidelity slowly morphs in to a droaning surreal supernatural horror movie about a cabin in the woods that houses a mysterious "thing" that grants both pleasure & death depending on the person. But the shift in story/tone/genre doesn't just come out of nowhere. Like Todd Haynes' Safe, The Untamed always has this undercurrent of a potential threat looming even in scenes when "nothing" is happening thanks mostly in part to the score. We see the main protagonists sitting & eating dinner with their children but we wonder what's going to happen. When is the startle going to come? I know I compare a lot of ambient droany scores to Brian Eno and this is no different (perhaps the score for The Untamed is a darker/bottom heavy version/imitation of Brian Eno). The Untamed would still be a solid movie without the score (actually, it would be incredibly interesting without any music) but the film's music just puts everything on another level.

After reading all of that so far do you see what I mean in terms of John & Chris understanding what I like? Just read back some of the key words, phrases & connections: Carlos Reygadas, Droany Brian Eno-esque music, Tarkovsky, Todd Haynes/Safe, etc. This is all me. The Untamed is also a very sexual film (on a realistic level) which isn't a bad thing either. Some of the dialogue & scenarios concerning sex in the film play off of the basic human need for sex.

I know I'm contradicting myself from earlier by comparing this to Reygadas but a lot of the sexuality in The Untamed plays out like the sex scenes in Battle In Heaven (a film Escalante worked on) as well as the bath house scene in Post Tenebras Lux.

Do you like sex?

Don't we all?

The Untamed is subtle and it also lays all its cards on the table. I'm sure there's some deeper political commentary on Mexico but I gotta be honest - I'm not really concerned with all that right now. Perhaps when I sit on this move a little longer I'll discover a new/different perspective (I'm writing this literally just having left the screening).
I'm more interested in the beautiful imagery and the issues placed right in front of us: sex, self-hate, family and the creepy monster kept in the back of the cabin in the woods...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


It's Only The End Of The World is a bit of a paradox because in order for it to really have worked it should've been twice as long (we're given at least three hours worth of material crammed in to a 90 minute movie). But the problem is that even if the movie were twice as long, I doubt a lot of folks would want to sit through 3+ hours of one of the most frustrating cinematic families of the last ten years. It's Only The End Of The World tells the story of a terminally ill playwright ("Louis") trying to make an effort to reconnect with the family he distanced himself from for over a decade. His family, which consists of an older brother "Antoine" (Vincent Cassell), younger sister "Suzanne" (Lea Seydoux) and widowed mother (Nathalie Bey), doesn't know that he is dying. Will Louis tell his family the bad news or not?
(Marion Cotillard also co-stars as Cassell's wife but her talent was so underutilized that she was kind of forgettable. Just about any actress could have played her part).

Less than 10 minutes in to the film we're introduced to Louis' family and we quickly come to learn why he kept his distance from them for so long. His brother Antoine has the temperament of an angry 10 year old with emotional problems, his sister Suzanne is a moody brat (she's also a bit of a burnout), and his mother is incredibly flighty and overly concerned with vanity. They all make inappropriate comments towards each other and are constantly shouting every 5 minutes. It's chaos.
I know I'm not exactly praising this film but Dolan has certainly matured as a filmmaker. This might be his most mature film to date. And if you follow this blog regularly then you know I'm fascinated with films about siblings and/or big families (I'm an only child so that world is foreign to me). So I'm always down for a well-crafted (or an attempt at a well-crafted) family drama. Xavier Dolan does a great job of throwing us in to the deep end right away.

But there are some serious rough edges that could have been ironed out in my opinion...

A lot of the music in the film heavily dictates how you're supposed to feel when it isn't necessary. When Louis walks in to his mother's house for the first time in 12 years we already know it's a big deal yet Dolan uses this swelling orchestral music to make us feel overwhelmed. But it's overkill. We know it's a dramatic moment already.
Another issue I have with the music is Xavier Dolan's choice of pop music at odd/inappropriate times. If you're familiar with Dolan's work then you know pop music is a staple within the DNA of his filmography. But most of his films focus on young "hip" characters having relationship problems and/or going to parties so it makes sense to use pop music under those settings. But It's Only The End Of The World is a serious family drama. There's no point to throw in Moby and other synthesized pumping cotton candy pop songs. It would be interesting to see Xavier Dolan take his music cues from a guy like Haneke and use little to no music in his next movie.
Louis' "holier than thou" attitude is a bit much after a while and Vincent Cassell's performance is turned up to 10. At times it felt like Cassell was playing an angry caricature of himself. I don't see how a human being like "Antoine" would exist/survive in real life with the temper he has.

I don't spend my time writing about movies on here that I completely dislike. This movie shouldn't be dismissed. If you're a fan of Xavier Dolan or the new/current wave of young arthouse filmmakers, I still recommend seeing this. You can see the progression & maturity in his filmmaking since his debut in 2010 (I compare Dolan's growth to Ben Affleck's growth as a director in that Gone Baby Gone is still his best film but he grows as a director with each movie). Certain elements within It's Only The End Of The World seem as if they would come from the mind of a seasoned middle-aged filmmaker rather than the 27 year old mind of Dolan. There's an honest attempt at creating real drama and he does take his characters very seriously.

I do feel somewhat bad for the negative reception this film received from some critics at Cannes (I say somewhat because even with all the negative press, Dolan still won the grand jury prize). The (sometimes unlikeable) characters are very intense right out of the gate and I think certain critics disliked the movie when it's characters they really disliked and somewhere things got lost in translation (it's like hating The Last King Of Scotland because Forest Whitaker gives a somewhat charming performance as Idi Amin). It's a little unfair that Dolan had to deal with that kind of irresponsible criticism.

But from the use of color & slow-motion to the continued exploration of the relationship between mother & son (this is yet another Dolan film where the father is a just a brief memory with little screen time) - It's Only The End Of The World fits in perfectly with the rest of Dolan's filmography.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Feeling sad, melancholy and/or hopeless on a consistent basis can get exhausting and Moonlight conveys that in my opinion. By the time we get to the second act (the story is told in 3 chapters) our teenage protagonist already looks a little rugged and kind of tired from life already (having a drug addicted mother and getting beat up all the time for being gay can do that to a person).
Part of Barry Jenkins’ excellent sophomore feature (which not only breaks but destroys the sophomore Jinx) owes a little bit to Frank Ocean’s coming out letter from a few years ago on a subconscious level. A big part of Moonlight’s plot has to do with a young African American man ("Chiron") struggling/coming to terms with his sexuality in an environment that isn’t very accepting. Like Ocean, Chiron has feelings for his friend but certain variables won’t allow them to be together. Just take certain excerpts & keywords from Frank Ocean’s letter below and put them next to certain isolated standalone images from Moonlight and you’d think Barry Jenkins was dedicating part of his film to Ocean…

I may be projecting my own assumptions. Barry Jenkins may not have been influenced by that certain specific aspect of Frank Ocean’s life. But the similarities are so strong. Perhaps Jenkins was subconsciously influenced in the same way that David Lynch was subconsciously influenced by the OJ Simpson trial when coming up with Lost Highway.

Moonlight also comes off like a Gus Van Sant film if Gus Van Sant were Black and/or had a true understanding of the frustrated/misunderstood Black American male. Not only does Moonlight deal with homosexuality & sexual identity - like a lot of Van Sant’s films - but the cinematography in Moonlight (and some of the use of music) is very similar to Van Sant’s Elephant

But putting all influences aside, Moonlight is still very much Barry Jenkins' own film. As a filmmaker, Jenkins has grown immensely since Medicine For The Melancholy. Actually, if I wasn’t familiar with Barry Jenkins I would think his two features were directed by two totally different people. What’s most interesting about Jenkins' artistic direction is that Moonlight is set in Miami but we don’t see too many neon lights or pink & green color palettes. This is a side of Miami seldom seen in movies. And it should also be noted that rarely do we see Black skin shot in such a polarizing way. Actually, between the way Black skin is shown along with half of the music used in the film (from Goodie Mob to classic 70's R&B) - Moonlight is unapologetically Black.

In 2016 there are still very few films that tackle genuine frustration & depression among (young) Black men beyond the typical themes that were already over-explored throughout the early/mid 90’s (I’m sure some people could make cases for veterans like Spike Lee, but in the last 15 years his movies have tackled so many issues all at once that it’s hard to grab a hold of one topic). In my opinion, Ballast (2008) was one of the last films to do this but it was still told from the perspective of a white filmmaker. Not that there’s anything wrong with a white filmmaker telling predominantly Black stories (hell…Claire Denis is one of my favorite filmmakers and more than half of her films do that), but there’s something more genuine about a Black man telling a personal story about another Black man (the same thing applies to any other demographic of human being). And that’s what Moonlight is - the story about a (gay) Black man told from the perspective of a Black filmmaker (Jenkins).
No offense to David Gordon Green but watching something like Moonlight made me wish a movie like George Washington was directed by a Black filmmaker...

I encourage any & all Black men to seek out this film if you have the opportunity to do so. I really hope homophobia/ignorance doesn’t stop Black males from seeing this. There’s an underlying hatred for the LGBT community within the so-called conscious Black community when there really shouldn’t be. As I stated in my Toronto excerpt for The Pink Smoke - the current tension/underlying animosity between the so-called conscious Black community and the LGBT movement is nothing new, but it’s prevalent now more than ever (for those that don’t know, the driving forces behind the Black Lives Matter movement are gay men & lesbian women of color). This is reminiscent of the conflict between James Baldwin and certain civil rights leaders & activists. James Baldwin was kind of the living embodiment of that tension in a kind of abstract way. Not only was he a great writer but he was also an advocate & fighter for the civil rights of Black People. But...because he was gay, certain Black leaders wanted him silenced.

Anyway, Moonlight is one the best films I’ve seen all year. If you’re a fan of the aforementioned filmmakers & artist (Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, James Baldwin, etc) I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


I remember feeling a little betrayed when I finally saw the first trailer for Birth Of A Nation. For months leading up to that all we got were these cool-looking images of slaves covered in paint ready to go to war. I was sold. I thought we were getting a different kind of slave story (for those that don't know, Birth Of A Nation is the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion).

But once the trailer for Birth Of A Nation finally dropped I remember thinking that it looked like a generic slave movie. Sure, the story of Nat Turner hasn’t been explored on a major cinematic platform until Birth Of A Nation so Nate Parker does deserve some kind of credit for that. I also appreciate Nate Parker taking the title of one of the most offensive-yet strangely celebrated films in cinematic history and turning it upside down. And not only did he take DW Griffith's 1915 movie title and flip it, but he completely flipped the stock imagery of the fire-waving klansman into strong rebellious (BLACK) men...

There are even small references to the classic imagery of Nat Turner's rebellion in Birth Of A Nation...

But at the end of the day I don’t see much of a difference between Birth Of A Nation, certain aspects of 12 Years A Slave, Underground, The Roots remake, and just about any recent slave story. I’m sorry to break it to you all but Birth Of A Nation is just "ok" in my opinion. And that's frustrating because the story of Nat Turner is more than "ok" or "pretty good". No matter my skepticism, I didn't go in to this screening wanting to dislike it. In fact, the film starts out with a great sequence reminiscent of something from Julie Dash's Daughters Of The Dust. But things quickly dissolved in to the typical slave movie tropes one would expect.

(Some) audiences have already decided that this film is a masterpiece so there’s no sense in trying to debate or convince them otherwise. But if you're a rational thinking person (or have high standards in cinema), I think, when you finally see this, you'll get where I'm coming from. And I assure you all that my overall disappointment with this movie has nothing to do with the resurfacing of the rape case that Nate Parker was involved in 17 years ago. Birth Of A Nation is just bland for long stretches (or for me at least).
12 Years A Slave kind of raised the bar in my opinion. And if you’re going to follow that, you need to do a better job or move on and tell a completely different story and tell it better). Some might argue that it isn’t fair to compare 12 Years A Slave with Birth Of A Nation but Nate Parker practically gives me no choice. Outside of the basic plots of both films being pretty different, Birth Of A Nation follows the same format as 12 Years (and other slave narratives). There’s the rape scene, the whipping scene, the James Bond-esque slave master villains, the overbearing gospel humming soundtrack, the sympathetic white character (are we really still doing that in 2016?), etc. Now…I understand that if you’re going to tell a story concerning slavery that all of those elements should be shown, but when you see everything coming from a mile away it just makes things predictable and its not as enjoyable to watch (in my opinion).

And please understand that I’m not one of these misinformed Black folks that doesn’t want any more slave movies. America was built on the backs of Slaves. It’s the most important element of U.S. history as far as I'm concerned. In my opinion, a handful of slave movies isn’t enough. I think there should be more. But just make them interesting. Don’t play it safe. Make strange editing choices. Hire an interesting cinematographer. Stuff like that. Some of you may consider my criticism to be nitpicky. And that’s fine. But for me, if we’re dealing with history (especially slavery) I, as a Black person, want historical (and harsh) accuracy. I want uncertainty. I want discomfort and to not feel safe. Besides the climactic rebellion sequence (which held back nothing in terms of violence), Birth Of A Nation did none of that for me. But perhaps some of you reading this will have a different reaction than I did.

If you’re willing to put aside all my criticisms (along with the controversy concerning Nate Parker), the story of Birth Of A Nation is an important piece of American history that should be seen no matter how lukewarm I personally am towards it or what my personal opinion is towards Nate Parker's past (I absolutely hate falling in to this way of thinking but the historical elements in The Pianist had nothing to do with Roman Polanski’s personal scuminess. Plenty of people supported that film because the history was bigger than the filmmaker just like in the case of Birth Of A Nation). I don’t discourage anyone from seeing this but at the same time it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to support this movie. I get it. There's enough evidence concerning Nate Parker to confirm that he sexually violated an unconcious woman. Quite frankly I think as a society we’re way too forgiving. We dislike/vilify folks one minute then two weeks later we change our minds because someone wrote a sympathetic Huffington post article. It’s time for folks to be more consistent and stick with a belief/way of thinking for an extended period of time.

Anyway, like I said – this movie already has a built-in audience of people who will blindly support it (given how hard certain Black people are supporting this film you’d think Birth Of A Nation was the only outlet where one could learn about Nat Turner’s legacy which is completely ridiculous).
There are a few unique stylistic choices that stray from the typical formula that these kinds of movies follow, but for the most part you kind of know what to expect.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Say what you want about Xavier Dolan (he seems to have just as many fans as he does detractors) but his films have a place in certain circles. He's also young which means there's room to grow & mature over time (and I don't mean to be patronizing because he's already shown how talented he is as both a filmmaker and an actor). Like his contemporary Cam Archer, Dolan's influences range from Gus Van Sant & Todd Haynes (LGBT issues & sexual identity) to Wong Kar Wai (the use of slow motion) & Leos Carax which is pretty impressive given his age (a lot of young art house filmmakers under the age of 30 like Dolan tend to exclusively draw influences from obvious sources like The French New Wave or they get a warped sense of influence from John Cassavetes).

With The Toronto International Film Festival right around the corner (which coincides with the Toronto premier of It's Only The End Of The World) I thought I would dedicate this next entry to one of Canada's (youngest) hometown heroes.



You can always count on Xavier Dolan to use every color combination known to man (as you scroll through this piece you'll see this is the one category that bleeds through all the other categories in this entry). Actually, if you go back and look at The Cinema Of Todd Haynes one might consider Dolan to be the modern heir to Haynes in terms of color usage...
It's Only The End Of The World
I Killed My Mother
It's Only The End Of The World
Laurence Anyways
Laurence Anyways

I always hesitate to speculate about the personal lives of directors but in the case of Xavier Dolan it's almost impossible not to when he practically lays it all out for us in his films (hey, his relationship with his mom might be just fine in real life but his personal/intimate films lead me to think otherwise). I mean, his feature film debut is called "I Killed My Mother". Since his debut almost every one of his films has explored the rocky relationships between a (male) protagonist and his mother (he has yet to explore any other parental relationship i.e. Father & Son, Mother & Daughter, etc).
It's Only The End Of The World
Laurence Anyways
I Killed My Mother

Tom At The Farm
I Killed My Mother
Laurence Anyways

Laurence Anyways

Ordet/I Killed My Mother
I Killed My Mother/Jackson Pollock
Mommy/The Creation Of Adam
In The Mood For Love
Boy Meets Girl/Mommy
Boy Meets Girl/Mommy
Mommy/My Own Private Idaho
Mysterious Skin/Heartbeats


I know it's an obvious/cliche statement but music really is good for the soul. It (temporarily) heals, soothes, calms, etc. Xavier Dolan knows this which is why he uses music (usually through headphones) as a (temporary) escape for his troubled characters...
Laurence Anyways
I Killed My Mother

It's understandable why people get more caught up in the colors, slow motion cinematography & glamour (something we'll be getting in to next) in Dolan's films but a lot of his characters are hurting and holding in a ton of rage.
Our female lead in Laurence Anyways is struggling with the sexuality of her partner. Our lead youth in Mommy has a lot of misguided anger due to his home life and Tom (Tom At The Farm) is struggling with the fact that his deceased lover kept their (homosexual) relationship a secret from his family.
Tom At The Farm
Laurence Anyways
It's Only The End Of The World

Perhaps this is another callback to Todd Haynes' influence (Velvet Goldmine). Dolan is clearly fascinated with pop art, high fashion, glitter, glam-rock (specifically Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie) and just all things "glamorous"...
Laurence Anyways
I Killed My Mother 
I Killed My Mother

Xavier Dolan doesn't shy away from exploring the naked/half naked body (I Killed My Mother & Heartbeats) or the idea of not feeling comfortable in your own skin like in the case of Laurence Anyway.
Laurence Anyways
Laurence Anyways
I Killed My Mother
I Killed My Mother

Dolan's characters often find themselves unhealthily fantasizing over crushes (in Heartbeats we see one of the main characters masturbating while sniffing the shirt of the person he has a crush on) or we see them stalking their ex's like in the case of Laurence Anyways...
Tom At The Farm
I Killed My Mother

While I enjoy most of Dolan's films, a lot of his lead characters sometimes drive me crazy as they're manipulative & narcissistic (Nicolas in Heartbeats), kind of bratty (Dolan In I Killed My Mother) or incredibly self-centered (Laurence in Laurence Anyways)...
I Killed My Mother
Laurence Anyways


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