Thursday, December 1, 2016

PREVENGE (TIFF 2016)


Is Alice Lowe's Prevenge the female equivalent of/answer to David Lynch's Eraserhead? The plots to both films are different (Eraserhead is a surreal semi-autobiographical retelling of Lynch's very real fear of unplanned fatherhood, while Prevenge is a very dark comedy about a pregnant vigilante avenging the death of her baby's father), but Prevenge is also about a woman's fear of motherhood (along with the hormonal elements that come along with pregnancy). Alice Lowe is certainly not the first director to delve in to this territory, but she is the first director in quite some time to expose the depression & dark thoughts that can sometimes come along with pregnancy & motherhood in the abstract way that she did. More times than not there's this picture painted in movies where it's the man/husband/boyfriend that isn't equipped to handle parenthood and it just comes naturally to the woman/mother/girlfriend because all women supposedly have a natural motherly instinct. But the main character in Prevenge is in a little over her head. She's depressed, alone & has no support (I do appreciate that the stereotypical idea of what a single mother looks like is challenged in Prevenge without Alice Lowe probably even meaning to make any kind of social commentary).
In Prevenge, Alice Lowe plays “Ruth” - a single mother-to-be whose boyfriend died in a freak rock climbing accident. She's convinced the tragedy could have been avoided so in an effort to get revenge she tracks down all the people involved in the accident and proceeds to murder them one by one (some with ease & some with difficulty). The kicker is that Ruth takes orders/draws inspiration to kill from her unborn baby who talks to her from the womb (of course Ruth is the only person who can hear the voices coming from her pregnant belly).

Prevenge isn't too shabby when it comes to visuals either. Given the premise of the film, folks are bound to be caught up in that and not notice the visual similarities to everything from classic art...


to Chantal Akerman...



I'm not going to say that a man couldn't have directed something like Prevenge but I do think this film succeeded because it was directed by a woman who also happens to be a mother. You can tell this has an abstracted autobiographical quality to it. Prevenge probably comes from the crevices of a very real place. We all know Alice Lowe isn't a serial killer but the naturalistic tone of her film leads me to believe that she's had some understandably irrational thoughts during her pregnancy due to things like hormones, valid fears/concerns and other things I don't really have the right to speculate about. Alice Lowe is certainly not advocating/making a case for pregnant women to commit murder because they're cranky and have swollen ankles, but, much like how Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day is an exaggerated play off of the phrase; “I love you to death”, Prevenge feels like an exaggerated play on the frustrated pregnant woman who utters phrases like; “I hate being pregnant” or “I want to kill everybody right now!” Those are just momentary irrational thoughts (come to think of it, Trouble Every Day & Prevenge would make for an interesting double feature given that both films can be enjoyed at face value, or you could dig a little deeper to find the darker sources that influenced both films).


I also feel like had another director been given the same materials to work with, this would've been an immature gore fest with the sole purpose of nothing more than to gross people out or to be childishly provocative. I mean, on paper there's a lot of immature-sounding qualities about Prevenge. There's plenty of blood, throat slitting (highlighted in a scene involving a surprise appearance from Kate Dickie) and scenes of a pregnant woman getting in to a combination fist/knife fight. But Alice Lowe spreads all those things out. It isn't nonstop gore & violence. And at the end of the day we're presented with a strangely mature story told from a very brave/vulnerable point of view.

Lowe certainly hints at films that kind of paved the way for Prevenge in a subconscious way (Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, Demon Seed, etc) and I feel like her former collaborator Ben Wheatley may have rubbed off on her in more ways than one (Prevenge fits in perfectly with films like Kill List & Sightseers) but this is still very much Alice Lowe's own work that stands out among just about every dark comedy, horror/comedy & psychological thriller to come out in the last few years.

I liked Prevenge so much that immediately after my TIFF screening I reached out to my future sister in law (a mother of two) and strongly suggested that she put this in her queue of movies to watch whenever it becomes available. Prevenge is not for everyone (even some mothers) but given that I kind of know her taste in movies combined with how invested she is in being a mother, I was pretty certain that she, and other moms like her in particular, might enjoy this. Obviously even if you aren't a mother (or just a parent in general) you can still enjoy this. I'm a 30-something year old man with no kids and I consider Prevenge to be one of the best movies of 2016.

Monday, November 21, 2016

WRONG REEL EPISODE 204: BILL SAGE!


James & I had the pleasure of chatting with Bill Sage about everything from his ongoing relationship with Hal Hartley, to his roles in Mysterious Skin, American Psycho, We Are What We Are and so much more. This is definitely a personal highlight of mine.

Enjoy...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

FLIXWISE: STORY OF A THREE-DAY PASS


http://flixwise.com/2016/11/15/ff-28-story-of-a-three-day-pass/

Check out the latest episode of Flixwise where Pauline, Martin & I discuss Melvin Van Peeple's groundbreaking debut feature film Story Of A Three-Day Pass (click on the image above to go to the episode)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY PART 5

In this latest installment we'll be looking at more "forced comparisons" (Claire Denis once worked for Tarkovsky on Sacrifice) and "reaches" (according to the late Ken Russell's wife Andrei Rublev was one of his favorite films).

enjoy...

THE MIRROR/WHITE MATERIAL


SOLARIS/THE LOBSTER


STALKER/THE INTRUDER


STALKER/STRANGER THINGS/THE GOLDEN CHILD


STALKER/JAUJA


THE MIRROR/THE BANISHMENT


THE MIRROR/KRIVINA


ANDREI RUBLEV/MAHLER


THE MIRROR/THE SHINING


NOSTALGHIA/WILD AT HEART

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

LOVING (TIFF 2016)


The best thing about Loving - Jeff Nichols' biopic about "Loving vs the State Of Virginia" (the case that changed the Supreme Court's ruling on interracial marriage) - is that it didn't get all "Mississippi Burning" on the audience. The story is set in 1960's Virginia so there's obviously plenty of racial intolerance, sneers, tension & slurs directed at our protagonists, but Loving is more about the (realistic) relationship/romance between Richard & Mildred Loving and less about burning crosses and ignorant sweaty racist supporting characters. In fact, the bulk of the racism is controlled within one character for the most part (the racist town sheriff).

It's easy to get caught up in the racism & legal red tape concerning the marriage between Richard & Mildred Loving but seldom do we hear about their love for each other. Sure, they're one of the earliest (legal) symbols for interracial unions but they're also actual human beings who went through hell for each other and brought three children in to this world.
I know this sounds corny & cliche but this image (recreated in the film) really does speak volumes...


Loving succeeds in my eyes because of its subtlety. Jeff Nichols takes his time and isn't afraid of showing boring & banal moments like extended scenes of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) fixing random things around the house, Mildred Loving sitting on the couch looking at her children as they play, and plenty of light physical affection without any dialogue (that's key). Jeff Nichols didn't try to romanticize his protagonists either. Richard Loving, although brave and with conviction, is a typical father of that era - he's grumpy, frowns a lot and seems to work more than anything else. And even though Jeff Nichols is heavily influenced by Terrence Malick, he doesn't make Mildred, "the mother", out to be this unrealistic/paper thin angel like Malick does with a lot of his mother characters.

I have to admit that before I saw this film I always wondered if Richard & Mildred were happy together. Like...did they like each other's company? I guess they had to in order to go through what hey did in order to be together (Richard commuted from DC to Richmond Virginia every day in order to work because he and his family weren't allowed to live south of DC at the time). This film shows all of that for the most part.
Sure Loving has its share of sappy moments and the score does dictate how you're supposed to feel from time to time (something I hate) but do you really expect a movie like this to not have stuff like that? What's most important is that Loving isn't drowned in snappiness & melodrama.

Loving is a special movie for me not only because I'm in an interracial relationship with the women of my dreams (no seriously when I saw my fiancée for the first time I did a double take), but Jeff Nichols is a director that I've wanted to like so badly for so long but I just couldn't. I recognize his talent and I honestly can't even argue that he is one of the best American filmmakers working today (he's not on my personal list, but still...). But for me, on a personal level, his films have flaws, holes or other elements that force me to nitpick (besides Shotgun Stories I haven't been able to get in to his other movies like other people). Jeff Nichols is post-Malick in that he's obviously influenced by the films of Terrence Malick & borrows a few things in terms of style, but Nichols is still his own filmmaker and tells the kinds of stories that Terrence Malick wouldn't necessarily tell. Loving is the first movie of his where I've had little to no criticisms. Sure I would have liked for the movie to be even longer so we could get more in to the legality behind the ACLU's involvement in the case (and I already mentioned my annoyance with the heavily dictating score) but that's my own personal preference. No one besides me really wants to sit through scenes of boring court cases (Nick Kroll does a great job as Richard & Mildred's lawyer and leaves behind any & all remnants of the comedic persona he's known for). So any criticism I have about this movie can be easily shot down.

This is a (true) story concerning race that needed to be told on a major platform (for those that don't remember, there was a movie in the mid-90's with Timothy Hutton & Lela Rochon that Mildred Loving herself wanted nothing to do with).
And while Jeff Nichols & Michael Shannon (who does make a brief appearance) will probably always be synonymous with one another, I like the idea of he & Joel Edgerton becoming regular collaborators (Edgerton stood out the most to me in Nichols' Midnight Special).

It's easy to call Loving "Oscar bait" based off the trailer (and it will more than likely get some kind of major recognition/nomination from the Academy or the Golden Globes) but I assure you Loving has depth and is more than a movie made to win awards.

WRONG REEL EPISODE(S): 195 & 196 (THE CINEMA OF KELLY REICHARDT & Z CHANNEL)



Hey all! Check me out (along with Mikhail Kardimov & filmmaker Bill Teck, respectively) on the latest two episodes of Wrong Reel to discuss the work of Kelly Reichardt & Xan Cassavetes' Z Channel documentary.

Enjoy...




And don't forget to check out Bill Teck's excellent documentary One Day Since Yesterday currently streaming on Netflix...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE BUILDER


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

AUTEUR HORROR: TROUBLE EVERY DAY (THE PINK SMOKE)

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

Enjoy...

http://thepinksmoke.com/troubleeveryday.html

VOYAGE OF TIME (TIFF 2016)


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...

VISUAL SIMILARITIES BETWEEN VOYAGE OF TIME (LEFT) & TREE OF LIFE (RIGHT)


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 (SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER DOUG FRYE)

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!

enjoy...


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.

Believable/Otherwise

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 (NYFF 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

CERTAIN WOMEN (NYFF 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).

WRONG REEL #185: LUKE CAGE



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.

enjoy...

Monday, October 3, 2016

CRITERION CLOSE-UP EPISODE #51: MYSTERY TRAIN


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

PATERSON & THE CINEMA OF JIM JARMUSCH 1.5 (TIFF 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

RECENT PODCAST APPEARANCES...


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...






CLICK IMAGE TO GO TO EPISODE

Thursday, September 15, 2016

THE UNTAMED (TIFF 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...

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