Friday, May 25, 2018

WRONG REEL EPISODE 389: THE CINEMA OF LARS VON TRIER



I'm back on Wrong Reel to talk about the work of Lars Von Trier. Click the image above to go to the episode. 

Enjoy...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 55



Scott & I are back to talk about a bunch of new/new-ish releases. It's great. Enjoy...

Friday, May 18, 2018

JEANNETTE: THE CHILDHOOD OF JOAN OF ARC



Somewhere between Camille Claudel, 1915 & Li’l Quinquin is where Bruno Dumont found his (new) stride. I don’t mean to sound condescending as if he’s some up-and-coming filmmaker that’s “finding himself”. I’ve been a Dumont fan since day one (The Life Of Jesus). But these last few years have been exceptional. His style has always been an acquired taste but in recent years he’s added a few ingredients to his work that might make him slightly more appealing to others. Dumont’s mixture of established actors (most notably Juliette Binoche) alongside unpolished/non-professional child actors seems to be a working formula for the French director (Dumont worked with primarily all non-professional actors for the first half of his career). I used to think Binoche was his key winning ingredient in recent years but Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc disproves that theory. Dumont’s latest film, about the early years of Joan Of Arc, works without the presence of recent Bruno Dumont regular; Binoche. Jeannette works - and forgive me for sounding so cliché – because it breaks a lot of conventions that come along with a “biopic”. Those of you familiar with Bruno Dumont should know that rule breaking comes with the territory. In both Slack Bay & L’Humanite we see our respective protagonists levitate for no reason. At the end of Towards Satan, we witness an unexpected resurrection. And the entire Li’l Quinquin series comes off like an even more random (French) version of Twin Peaks. Randomness & surreality are nothing new within the cinematic universe of Dumont. But this young Joan Of Arc movie is a musical. A period musical with modern songs. At random moments our characters break out in to aggressive heavy metal & punk rock-inspired melodies accompanied with interpretive dance moves (there’s even some head-banging). Then suddenly the music transitions to a more classical/folk genre (and in between the song & dance we have moments of traditional dialogue. But not much). That may sound a little bonkers to some of you (and it kind of is), but it’s the good kind of bonkers.

After two decades of strange/surreal/unconventional filmmaking - what else was there for Bruno Dumont to do? A lot of directors with distinct styles start to imitate themselves after a while and I get the feeling that Dumont didn’t want to fall in to that trap. He stepped outside of his comfort zone with this one. Not only is the singing sometimes off key but it is occasionally off beat. But that’s kind of the point. The approach is raw much like the spirit & performances of our young actresses who portray young Jeannette.


The physicality in Jeannette is reminiscent of The Exorcist...


to The Devils...

and even Wayne's World...


How many films do we already have about Joan Of Arc? Quite a few. How many known/legendary filmmakers have touched this subject matter? Carl Theodore Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Luc Besson, etc. Do we need another take on Joan Of Arc? Or rather - do we need another “traditional” take on Joan Of Arc? Nope.

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc / Jeannette
(a possible reference?)

Actually, the entire film has a Carl Theodore Dreyer vibe...
Ordet / Jeannette...


Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc is far from traditional. This film follows down the same path as works like Walker, Marie Antoinette (2006), Zama & Swoon in that the story mixes modern elements with dated/historic elements and has an overall (intentionally) “off” feel. In Walker, we see helicopters and automatic assault rifles. Zama looks fairly traditional but the warped ambient electronic score gives it a modern touch. And both Swoon & Marie Antoinette feature lots of modern elements like rotary phones & basketball sneakers long before any of those items would have been invented.

In Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc, we follow our future heroine (at two different early stages/chapters in life) as she contemplates everything from her existence on earth to the necessity of war (part of this film’s charm is watching children/youth talk about subject matter that most people would associate with adults).


At this point we know the popular story of Joan Of Arc (maybe not her youth so much but still). If you’re going to approach her life on film at this point in the game you’d better put a fresh spin on it. And given that this is essentially an “origin story”, you’d better put an even bigger spin on this as to not blend in with a million other movies. Ever since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, origin stories have been all the craze in cinema for well over a decade. And this branches off beyond superhero/comic book-based films. A few years ago, Terrence Malick protégé; AJ Edwards made an Abraham Lincoln origin story (The Better Angels) while just last year Terence Davies showed us the early part of Emily Dickinson’s life in the first 1/4 of A Quiet Passion (Jeannette kind of borrows a bit of its approach from A Quite Passion in that it's told in two different sections). Rather than follow down the same lane as the aforementioned period dramas (which are both good/solid in their own right), Bruno Dumont went completely out of the box (and out of his comfort zone) and made an unconventional biopic that may not be for everyone (I’m sure some history buffs will consider this to be silly and possibly blasphemous), but I’m sure cinephiles with a taste for all things odd/different will enjoy it very much.

Bruno Dumont saved us years of re-hashed subject matter & redundant biopics and got right down to the deconstruction of what a biopic/origin story can be. This is one of those films that I cant exactly defend if one were to express their distaste. I get it. But Bruno Dumont swung for the fences, and, in my opinion, he pretty much hit a homerun as far as I’m concerned. Jeannette is a breath of fresh air in a sea of run of the mill biopics.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 54: AMIR MOTLAGH



We're back from a little time off... 

This week we chat with Los Angeles-based filmmaker/musician/all around renaissance man; Amir Montlagh about his recent feature films Man & Three Worlds. We also delve in to everything from golden-era pro wrestling to the influence of Ozu.

Enjoy...



Also - check out Amir's work on this website to stay up to date on everything he's working on...

Monday, May 14, 2018

A FEW WORDS ON THE TASTE OF CEMENT


The downside to writing about (excellent) films like The Taste Of Cement is most people reading this probably wont ever get the chance to see it outside of a special festival screening like I was fortunate enough to attend recently. Like...what's the point of even writing this? I mean, I enjoyed this movie very much but it almost teases the readers because they cant exactly go watch or stream this any time soon (I do imagine this will be available to stream at some point down the road but I highly doubt it will be advertised/pushed like other higher profile indie/arthouse films). What's even worse is that the only films I can compare this to, for reference purposes, are more films that most folks either wont get the chance to see or haven't seen due to limited availability like Krivina or Chantal Akerman's La Bas...

Like Krivina, The Taste Of Cement is an almost uncategorizeable film that's both cryptic & droning. And much like Akerman's under-seen La Bas, The Taste Of Cement mixes fiction, non-fiction and poetic voice-over that doesn't necessarily match with the imagery you see in front of you
(this is very much from the school of Chris Marker)

Krivina / The Taste Of Cement

And with the subtle electronic soundtrack and "cool" camera angels, The Taste Of Cement also has a lightweight science-fiction vibe that's reminiscent to Bladerunner & Solaris...

Bladerunner / The Taste Of Cement

Solaris / The Taste Of Cement

What sets The Taste Of Cement apart from all the aforementioned films is that there's a much deeper meaning. The 1/2 fiction 1/2 documentary chronicles construction workers in Syria rebuilding skyscrapers in post-war Bierut. And, like my feelings on writing this piece, it is an almost pointless gesture in that there is the strong possibility that the new buildings being constructed will be bombed down again due to the ongoing conflict in their country. While this film is excellent and probably one of the best movies I've seen so far this year, it is incredibly bleak & depressing (especially the last 10 minutes or so). Imagine a more playful & experimental Austrian-era Michael Haneke film...

The Taste Of Cement hit me on a personal level. As some of you may know, I studied & currently work in the field of Design & Architecture, which, as you can see from some of the above images, is a major proponent to the plot of The Taste Of Cement. A big part of my job has to do with putting in hours of work in order to win bids & contracts. And as you can imagine, we dont always win these bids. This obviously sucks because you put in hours of work to come up with drawings & proposals only to lose out to the competition. That sounds pretty frustrating, doesnt it? And thats just from a "first world" problem perspective.
Imagine putting in months of work (away from your home & family) to construct a building only for it to be shot down by a tank in a matter of seconds. Not only was all your back-breaking hard work put to waste, but, more importantly, hundreds of innocent people occupying that newly constructed building will more than likely be injured & killed when the structure is bombed down.

The Taste Of Cement is perfectly crafted but is very bleak and not for viewers with easily triggered depression. Fans of everything from Leviathan (2012) & Fata Morgana (is "acid documentary" a thing?) to the ambient music of Brian Eno will potentially enjoy The Taste Of Cement very much. I only hope this is available to stream before the year is over.

Monday, May 7, 2018

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA PART 2: MOVING IMAGERY

A few years ago we looked at the (possible) influence of one of my personal favorite shots in all of cinema in the form of the young boy touching the screen in Ingmar Bergman's Persona.

But that's just one shot. The entire film is influential. So we're gonna give Tarkovsky a rest and take a look at some more forced comparisons & reaches between Bergman's masterpiece alongside a collection of more recent films.

Enjoy...


I wanted to start this piece off with the one & only piece of definitive validation...
Persona / White Face
and here we have a co-sign from the star & director of White Face...


Persona / Get Out

Persona / Get Out

Persona / Freeze Frame

Persona / Dillinger Is Dead


Persona / Safe

Persona / Poltergeist

Persona / Blue Velvet

Persona / Carol

Pinnland / 
Inland Empire

Persona / Don't Look Back


Persona / 
Closer

Persona / The Blackout

Persona / A Zed & 2 Noughts

Persona / Solaris

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

KIDNEYS ON FILM PART SIX: LOWLIFE


If you're certain she's a match, do it - take my daughter's kidney.

Lowlife doesn’t delve very deep in to the kidney harvesting/transplantation process (although there is a rather gruesome scene early on in the film that shows the villain – “Teddy” – harvesting the organs of a woman). But I didn’t expect that (and neither should you). Honestly – any film that sheds any kind of light on kidney disease is alright in my book...


One of the most interesting aspects about Lowlife is that it plays with/(possibly) pokes fun at Quentin Tarantino’s style from the 90’s, yet at the same time does that style better.
The similarities between Lowlife and something like Pulp Fiction are undeniable as far as I'm concerned (on the surface, both films are Los Angeles-based multi-character/interwoven stories).
By the mid/late 90’s you would have thought Quentin Tarantino invented this format of storytelling based on what some critics & fans were saying but that’s hardly the case.
However - Pulp Fiction did in fact directly influence a lot of films from Two Days In The Valley to Go. Lowlife is just another example of films to be (indirectly?) influenced by Pulp Fiction & Reservoir Dog. The only thing is Lowlife might be the best one. Or, like I eluded to earlier, possibly even better than its predecessor.

Both Pulp Fiction & Lowlife have athletes trying to honor their father’s lineage (in Pulp Fiction we have the Butch/watch story whereas Lowlife gives us a 2nd generation Lucha Libre Wrestler trying to honor his luchador legacy). Both films give us a pair of henchmen trying to carry out a mission that goes horribly wrong. We have main characters in both films fighting a drug addiction that never really gets any type of resolution (not saying there needs to be resolution) and both; Pulp Fiction & Lowlife have intimidating crime bosses that carry a serious amount clout in their respective L.A. crime scenes.


Reservoir Dogs / Lowlife
(while neither director invented this particular shot, they still fall under the same umbrella of L.A. crime stories)


and I may be reaching here but I also see a few references to Kubrick...




Lowlife follows various characters that are all connected through a pregnant woman and her soon to be harvested kidney. Beyond that I can’t say much without spoiling the film but trust that it’s the movie event of 2018 thus far.

Now...I am a kidney transplant recipient who happens to love wrestling & the importance of luchador masks so I could be biased (has there ever been a film to combine both elements so well?). But I do have a 100% success rate in recommending this film to people so far... (actually - I cant think of an American film to hammer home the importance of the luchdor in Mexican culture & folklore).


My praise of Lowlife doesn’t come without some type of disclaimer. This is my personal favorite movie of the year so far but it is an acquired taste. The humor is random & lowkey surreal. The violence is sometimes brutal and not for everyone. And the most redeemable character in the entire movie has a swastika tattoo on his face (spoiler - he isn’t a nazi or a racist at all. But you have to watch the movie to see what I mean).

Now...the biggest difference between Lowlife & Pulp Fiction/Reservoir Dogs is the handling of race & racism. First of all - Lowlife Director Ryan Prows actually acknowledges that there are Mexican people in Los Angeles whereas Pulp Fiction doesn’t (not that it’s Quentin Tarantino’s job to represent every type of race in the world but when you’re dealing with L.A., it’s kind of strange to see very little to no Latino representation).

When something racist happens in Pulp Fiction you're kind of supposed to snicker or flat-out laugh at said racism (take Quentin Tarantino shouting “DEAD N*GGER STORAGE” in Pulp Fiction). When something racist takes place in Lowlife, I get the sense you’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity & fucked up audacity behind the racist moments or comments. I think that’s why I enjoyed this film so much. At its core, Lowlife is a dark & fucked up movie with scenes of suicide,  obvious implications of rape & police brutality. But there’s still humor in most frames of the film. Lots of humor. That’s the thing - it’s a comedy. A dark comedy but a comedy nonetheless. It’s difficult to pull off a comedy with those aforementioned elements but Prows certainly succeeded.


Not to sound like my anti-Donald Trump facebook timeline, but there’s no denying that Lowlife is a comment on the post-Obama/present-day Trump world we Americans live in. All throughout Lowlife we see on-the-nose imagery & scenes of police brutality against Black & Brown people and the deportation of Latinos. I’d find it hard to believe that this was coincidental. Unnecessary brutality against Brown skin people seems to be more prevalent these days now that everyone has the ability to film things on the spot (Some older folks would argue things are just the same. People just didn’t have portable cameras handy decades ago).


Lowlife is essentially the phrase; “laughing to keep from crying” in cinematic form.
The scenarios & stories in the film are so dark & cruel (kind of like the world we live in today) that you almost have to laugh at the absurdity to not fall in to a deep depression.

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA: EPISODE 53


We're back talking about two big new releases (Zama & Infinity War) and much much more.

Enjoy...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

THE SHINING 2:37 EPISODE 26


I'm back on The Shining 2:37 podcast to talk more about Kubrick's horror masterpiece. 

On this episode we breakdown a section of the bar scene with Lloyd and slowly delve in to our subconscious... 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 52!


This week we are joined by our friend (and PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor) Leanne Kubicz to talk about everything from Unsane & the realistic side of stalkers, to Hard To Be A God & Wojciech Has.

Enjoy and make sure to check out Leanne's blog LMK Film Picks.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 51!


A Quiet Place. Andre The Giant doc. Lowlife and a whole lot more.

enjoy...

Monday, April 16, 2018

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY PART 16: MOVING IMAGERY

I was sitting on a few more Tarkovsky comparisons that I thought I'd share with you all...

Ivan's Childhood / Biutiful

Ivan's Childhood / Loves Of A Blonde


I'm not going to even debate Andrei Tarkovsky's influence on Nuri Bilge Ceylan. I dedicated a whole series to his films (click here to read).

Here are a few comparisons that fell through the cracks...
Ivan's Childhood / Clouds Of May

Solaris / Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

The Mirror / Clouds Of May
Ivan's Childhood / Small Town

Ivan's Childhood / A Small Town

In addition to the comparisons above, I see pieces of Ivan's Childhood in quite a few modern films arthouse films...
Ivan's Childhood / Days Of Heaven
Ivan's Childhood / Life On Earth


Krivina is one of those random yet quietly brilliant films from the Toronto Film festival that most folks will probably never see. This is a shame because not only is Krivina really great, but it is undoubtedly a product of Tarkovsky's cinema from the slow contemplative pacing to the overall droning ambiance...
The Mirror / Krivina

I know Martin Scorsese is a cinephile (he practically grew up in movie theaters). He's openly referenced older films in his work before so it isn't out of line to think Tarkovsky left an impression on him. I'm skeptical that this comparison below is intentional but the similarities are pretty interesting...
The Mirror / Taxi Driver

Lodge Kerrigan (Claire Dolan) is from the school of Polanski & Akerman (his films are nothing like Tarkovsky)  But this shot from his film below is quite reminiscent of Tarkovsky's work...
Nostalghia /
Claire Dolan


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