Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Here's a new write-up I did for www.thepinksmoke.com as part of their latest series; "Little Loved Altman", where we were given the task of writing about our most disliked movie from one of the greatest American directors of all time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I'll never argue with someone about whether or not Vincent Gallo's "controversial" 2nd feature; 'The Brown Bunny', is boring or not. It is. But there's plenty of great movies out there that are "boring". People just love to hate this movie. They don't hate 'The Brown Bunny' because its slow or boring or has minimal dialogue or...well, ok...maybe some do, and they have a point, but other people hate it because it was made by Vincent Gallo. And that's understandable considering some of the things he's said and done over the years. But lets not kid ourselves; had Gus Van Sant directed the SAME EXACT film it would have gotten so much praise its not even funny. You all know this is true. And that statement isn't THAT far fetched given his somewhat recent slowly paced works like 'Elephant', 'Last Days', 'Paranoid Park' and 'Gerry'...especially 'Gerry'. Or look at a movie like 'Two Lane Blacktop'. In NO WAY do I put 'The Brown Bunny' and 'Two Lane Blacktop' on the same status, but at some point you gotta ask yourself; "why do people love one movie but hate another movie that's kinda similar so much?" (read my recent review on Damsels In Distress for a similar revelation that I had with Whit Stillman's work).
Another reason why people dislike 'Brown Bunny' is because the last Vincent Gallo film they had to reference was 'Buffalo 66' (sorry but this movie is a modern day cult classic whether you like it or not). Rarely do I come across people who dislike 'Buffalo 66'. But upon the release of 'The Brown Bunny', all the die hard Buffalo 66 fans felt let down when they saw that Gallo's follow-up was NOTHING like his feature debut (outside of the grainy/vintage "feel" that both films have). But you cant expect a man to keep making the same thing over and over again, right?
'The Brown Bunny' falls into the same category as other misunderstood films about love & angst like; 'Trouble Every Day' (also starring Vincent Gallo) and 'Fear X' (Nicolas Winding Refn's forgotten about film which caused him to go bankrupt). But it became difficult for people to support or defend 'The Brown Bunny' when co-star; Chloe Sevigny made a statement about the film (specifically the infamous blow job scene at the end) saying:

When you see the film, it makes more sense. It's an art film. It should be playing in museums. It's like an Andy Warhol Movie

Sometimes its better to just say nothing. In my opinion, comparing a film to Andy Warhol's overrated work doesn't help your case at all.

In 'The Brown Bunny', Vincent Gallo (who also directed, wrote, edited & produced the film) stars as "Bud Clay"; a motorcycle racer (something Gallo use to do in real life) on a road trip to Los Angeles for his next race. This films draws some comparison to 'Two Lane Blacktop' because like James Taylor, Dennis Wilson & Warren Oates, Bud Clay doesn't seem to be in that much of a hurry to get to his destination. He makes various stops to seduce random women (one of which is played by former model Cheryl Tiegs), picks up a prostitute in Las Vegas (but doesnt do anything with her) and makes a stop at his ex-girlfriend's parents house. This is when we learn what the film is really about. In addition to going to L.A. for his next race, he's on a quest to try and find his ex-girlfriend (played Chloe Sevigny). After almost giving up his search, she tracks him down at his hotel and we learn what drove them apart a few years back. ***SPOILER ALERT*** (for those that actually care at this point) As it turns out, his ex died a few years ago from a drug overdoes (which also caused the death of their unborn baby) at a house party (while cheating on him with multiples men). The woman that we see who has tracked Bud Clay down in his hotel is actually a ghost. I completely understand if someone were to find that stupid or pretentious. I actually use to struggle with whether or not I even liked the idea of a ghost coming to visit our main character, but it doesn't bother me anymore.
As much as I actually enjoy this movie, I still have some criticisms. The biggest criticism is that the film could have been edited down. After a while you grow tired of endless shots of the highway or extra long unedited extra close shots of the side of Vincent Gallo's face. And depending on what mood I happen to be in, sometimes I feel like the film could have used more dialogue, maybe another character or maybe a little more development or back story on Sevigny's character.
As we all know, 'The Brown Bunny' drew a lot of attention due to the real blow job that Gallo gets on camera from Sevigny. But is it really that big of a deal? Lars Von Trier (The Idiots & Antichrist), Catherine Breillat (Anatomy Of Hell & Romance), Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs) and plenty of other directors have had real scenes of sexual intercourse, oral sex and ejaculation, yet its such a big problem when Vincent Gallo does it? I'm just saying, if you're gonna hate on something at least be consistent. I'm still trying to kick around in my head what exactly the blowjob scene meant (or if it actually meant anything at all). Was it his way of saying "fuck you" to the women who not only cheated on him but caused the death of their unborn baby? There's a myth floating around that the main reason Gallo cast Chloe Sevigny in the lead female role was because she was the girlfriend of Harmony Korine at the time (one of Vincent Gallo's many enemies), and he wanted to have her give him a blow job on the big screen as a kinda "fuck you" to Korine. If that was the case (and I say if because there's also stories about how Chloe Sevigny wasn't even the first actress considered for the part), then that's pretty low and he deserves all the hate he gets.
If you haven't actually seen 'The Brown Bunny', don't blindly take the opinion of people who hate the film just because. See it for yourself. You might actually like it (or certain aspects of it).

The Brown Bunny / Bande Annonce Canal+ from Vincent Staropoli on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


If you're a fan of directors like Chantal Ackerman, Miguel Gomes or Carlos Reygadas, this is the perfect film for you. A simple yet hauntingly beautiful film about the relationship between humans and nature as well as a study on loneliness and how it isn't necessarily always a bad thing. Imagine all of the slow parts from films like 'The Spirit Of The Beehive', early Jim Jarmusch ('Stranger Than Paradise' and 'Permanent Vacation') and ALL of Richard Linklater's; 'Its Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books' stretched out in to one feature length movie.
In the film our lead (nameless) female character lives by herself in a cabin in the woods. She seems to be happy with her day to day schedule which involves a brief naked swim in the lake behind her house, a hike in the woods and what appears to be an occasional journal entry. Directors; C.W. Winter & Anders Endstrom don't shy away from focusing on banalities and other boring things that most filmmakers (and viewers) would consider pointless (we see barely edited scenes of our main character doing things like grocery shopping, gutting fish, sitting around her living doing nothing, etc). If you were to walk in to 'The Anchorage' in the middle, you'd think you were watching a documentary about a lonely woman living by herself in the woods. Just like other films in the same vein as 'The Anchorage' like; 'Les Rendezvous D' Anna', 'Japon', or 'Foreign Land' (which can be found on the bonus disc of the 'Revanche' criterion DVD), it takes balls to make this kind of a film. Through our main character's voice over narration (which is really the only element of the film that makes it "fiction") we learn that she's a widow. Is this the reason why she lives out in the woods by herself? Does she feel detached from people now that her better half is dead? It's never fully spelled out.
This film's only climactic moment happens early on when our leading lady is visited by what appears to be her son and his girlfriend. Sometimes you never know what to expect from films like 'The Anchorage'. I thought the introduction of two more characters would totally steer the film off in to another direction and disrupt the flow. I thought maybe there would be a murder or someone would go missing in the woods, but instead our visitors fall in to the same pattern as our main character and don't really do much outside of play ping pong and sit around the living room. Eventually her two guests leave, and she goes back to her daily routine.
What 'The Anchorage' lacks in dialogue, it makes up for with beautiful shots of nature that surrounds our main character. I myself am not an outdoorsmen, but after I saw this it made me want to for a hike...

still from Linklater's 'It Impossible To Learn To Plow...'
The Anchorage shares the strongest spiritual connection with Richard Linklater's; 'Its Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books', Both; 'The Anchorge' and 'Its Impossible To Learn...' focus on characters who seem to not only be content with loneliness but have a connection with nature. Much like what CW Winters & Anders Endstrom show in 'The Anchorage', we also see with our nameless main character in 'Its Impossible To Learn...' (played by Richard Linklater himself). In the film we see him interact with very few people (and when we do, the dialogue is intentionally unclear and not important) and do other typically boring things like grocery shop, write in his diary, go on hikes and other random things that would cause someone with A.D.D. to lose their mind. There's an outside chance that a rarely seen 16mm American film like this would make its way to Sweden to influence the filmmakers of 'The Anchorage', but there's too many similarities between the two works to toss up to coincidence.
'The Anchorage' is just one of many great films from two of many great filmmakers that I've discovered thanks to Anthology Film Archives in the last two years. It falls right in line with other Anthology films like 'I Travel Because I have To, I Come Back Because I Love You', 'The Portuguese Nun' and 'Our Beloved Month Of Auguest' (all films that focus more on the characters, surroundings and the unspoken elements instead of the plot). Its very strange that I decided to share my views on this film with you all because no matter how great (or how boring) I may have made this film out to be, there's a strong chance that you may not get to see it outside of some special screening at your local art house theater.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I'll admit that when I first discovered the work of Whit Stillman I was young and a little ignorant to the writing & dialogue, and I didn't have the same taste that I do now. Call me ignorant or uncultured or whatever you want, but when I was in my very early 20's, Stillman's films just seemed WAY to "high class" or "uppity" for me. The way his actors spoke, the way they delivered their lines, the scenarios they found themselves in, etc. It all just bugged the shit outta me. I mean, movies about debutante balls in the 1990's ('Metropolitain') and Yuppies trying to get in to nightclubs ('Last Days Of Disco') is the last thing I wanted to watch. Sometimes I hesitate or even cringe when I have to revert to race but I imagine the way I looked at Stillman's work 10 years ago (actually, 'Metropolitain' was the only thing I'd seen at that point) is the same way white people probably look at Tyler Perry movies (sorry for comparing Stillman to Tyler Perry but I had to make my point).
Over the years I've come to understand and appreciate Stillman's unique style thanks to my love of Hal Hartley (specifically 'Surviving Desire', 'Simple Men' and 'Henry Fool'). There's something about Hartley's style, writing, dialogue and choreography that always reminds me of Stillman. As I was watching 'Surviving Desire' for the hundredth time last year (one of my most treasured DVD's), I asked myself; "Why do I love Hal Hartley but HATE Whit Stillman SO much?" It didn't make sense. So in this last week I've been warming up and giving him another chance (I rented both; 'Barcelona' and 'Last Days Of Disco). Thank god for maturity. 'Metropolitain' still isn't my thing, but I'm not THAT stubborn to ignore its impact and importance on the American Independent film scene.

Hopefully you can see what I'm talking about in these clips below from Stillman (Metropolitan & Last Days Of Disco) versus Hartley (Surviving Desire). Generally speaking, Hartley's style is more dramatic, theatrical and choreographed than Stillman, but I'm sure you all can see similarities in the dialogue and acting between the two directors.

dance sequence in
'Damsels in Distress' (Stillman)

dance sequence in
'Surviving Desire' (Hartley)

The ONLY thing that got me to even sit through Stillman's new film was because Alia Shawkat was in it (and we'll get to how disappointing that was later). 'Damsels In Distress' is about a clique of prissy girls (led by Greta Gerwig) on a self righteous mission to make college life "better" for the student body. They work at a suicide prevention center, try to spread the good word of hygiene through out the smelly college dorms, don't believe in talking about others behind their backs and their leader (Gerwig) is absolutely convinced that dancing can cure anything (one of the subplots of the film is about her mission to create a new dance craze). The only problem is that the girls are some of the most condescending people on campus and hardly anyone likes them. At the beginning of the fall semester, they take a new girl ("Lily") under their wing (similar to how the Heathers took Winona Rider under their wing) to make her part of their clique. The problem is that she isn't really like them, which starts to cause tension (even more so when men are thrown in to the mix).
Just like Stillman's other work, he centers the film around youth/young adults and their struggles with romantic relationships. And the dialogue is just as sharp and witty as anything else he's ever done. The casting of Gerwig was only one of two complaints I had about the movie. As the leader of a prissy all-girl clique, I think she needed to be a little more mean like the lead Heather or Rachel McAdams in 'Mean Girls' and less boring like she usually is. My next complaint is about the misuse of Alia Shawkat and her two minute part. Seriously, why waste her time? Her role could have been played by anyone. Other than that I had no complaints. Adam Brody was actually somewhat reminiscent of Chris Eigeman in my opinion (Whit Stillman's most commonly used actor). Coming from someone who hated college, Damsels In Distress (which couldn't have looked more different than my Alma mater of Hampton University) made college look like a fun time (even with all the drama we see in the film). Basically, Whit Stillman put a unique and somewhat original twist on college life. I'd see it again for sure.
It looks like my review of  'We Need To Talk About Kevin' and this has started a 2nd round of TIFF highlights. Look out for write-ups of 'Alps' and 'Faust' coming soon-ish...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BEST OF 2011!!!! (*UPDATED*)

TOP 11 FILMS OF 2011:
Every year I try to see as many movies as possible in order to make the most concise end of the year list. I hit up festivals, preview screenings and other special events so I don't miss anything. When I was in D.C. this past spring to judge the DMC DJ Battle, I managed to make time to see 'Bill Cunningham New York'. On 2 recent trips to Paris in the last few months I saw 'The Tree Of Life' and Roman Polanski's 'Carnage' (a film you'll be reading about in a few days on here) weeks before being released in the U.S. I mean what's the point of making a "Best Of The Year" list when you haven't really seen anything, right? As some of you my know from reading the reviews of 'Shame' and 'The Ides Of March' on the flud site, this year in addition to my regular attendance at the New York Film Festival (to see 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' & Von Trier's 'Melancholia'), I went to the Toronto Film Fest where I saw over 40 movies in 8 days. This top 10 list below is made up of mostly stuff that I saw in Toronto ('Shame', 'God Bless America', 'Faust', etc). 2011 turned out to be just what I hoped for and more (with the exception of David Cronenberg's disappointing 'Dangerous Method' and Lynne Ramsay's 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'). It was full of surprises like Bobcat Goldthwait's hilarious road movie killing spree/criticism on America in the form of 'God Bless America' and Woody Allen's romantic comedy; 'Midnight In Paris' (this was a surprise for me because I'm not the biggest fan either Allen or Owen Wilson). In fact, the majority of the films on this list below were pleasant surprises with the exception of Nicolas Refn's homage to classic car movies and vintage Michael Mann-style ('Drive'). Michael Fassbender has officially confirmed his spot as one of the top actors with his performance in 'Shame' and we got a nice homage to classic cinema in the form of the Guy Maddin/Mel Brooks influenced 'The Artist'.
Some of these films like the Greek dark comedy; 'Alps', 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' and the Venice Film Festival best picture winner; 'Faust' probably won't be released until early 2012, so be on the lookout for those.

So the list goes (in no particular order):

Midnight In Paris
Monsieur Lazhar
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
The Artist
God Bless America
The Black Power Mixtape
*A Separation

*UPDATE 02/28/11- at the beginning of January I finally got around to seeing 'A Separation', which is easily one of the best films of 2011.

Not everything reaches the U.S. in a timely fashion. From Errol Morris' amazing documentary about Mormons, kidnapping & cloned dogs ('Tabloid') and Takeshi Miike's homage to classic samurai films ('13 Assassins') to Xavier Dolan's surprisingly great film about a love triangle between three French Canadian hipsters ('Heartbeats'), there's a lot of great stuff that may have fallen under the radar between late 2010 and early 2011. Below is a list of the 10 best films from last year that didn't reach U.S. theaters until this year...

I Saw The Devil
Bill Cunningham New York
The Silence
The Arbor

From Bertrand Bonello's beautiful period piece on prostitution ('House Of Tolerance'), or the problematic yet rewarding films ('Tree Of Life' & 'Melancholia') to the strictly entertaining ('Bridesmaids', 'Source Code' & 'The Ides Of March'), there were plenty of other great movies this year than just what's listed above. It wouldn't feel right wrapping up 2011 with just 10 movies (sorry but I saw WAY too much this year to not at least mention theses). So here's 10 more movies from 2011 worth mentioning...

House Of Tolerance
The Ides Of March
Standing Silent
Tree Of Life
Source Code
Dark Girls
The Skin I Live In

2011 was also great because not only were there so many great movies, but great acting to go along with them. And outside of the disappointing 'Rampart' (starring Woody Harrelson as a crooked cop in one of his best performances to date) there weren't too many performances that carried an entire movie (if you notice, most of the entries on the list below comes from films that are in my Top 10). We saw Albert Brooks step outside of his comfort zone and play a mean, throat stabbing crime boss in 'Drive'. And speaking of comfort zones, how about Vincent Gallo playing an unnamed terrorist trying to survive in the wilderness in the Rambo-esque 'Essential Killing'? And if Michael Fassbinder doesn't at least get nominated for an academy award for best actor this year then somethings wrong.

Vincent Gallo (seriously) - Essential Killing
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Albert Brooks - Drive
Woody Harrelson - Rampart
Charlotte Gainsbourg & Kirsten Dunst - Melancholia
Hunter Mckracken - The Tree Of Life
Christopher Plummer - The Beginners
Brad Pitt - Moneyball & The Tree Of Life
Joel Murray - God Bless America
Aggeliki Papouli - Alps
Forest Whitaker - Mary**
Goegre Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin & Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Sophie Nelisse & Emelien Naron - Monsieur Lahzar

**movie was made in 2005 but not released theatrically until 2011

Well...2012 is almost here and we're about to begin PINNLAND EMPIRE'S 3rd year. Because a nice portion of my followers are from the myspace days, I suppressed my urge to constantly write about David Lynch (with the exception of "movies for Halloween part 4" and the david lynch tv entry) in an effort to not repeat myself. But in 2012 we're gonna get in to his stuff a little more as well as Apichatpong Weersakul (somehow I manage to go from hating his work to loving it in a matter of months).
I think I've squeezed all I can outta Claire Denis & Michael Mann, so we're gonna take a break from them and focus on new and/or different filmmakers in 2012 (but I do have a review of 'Heat' set for January. But after that I'm done for a while). But don't worry, I'll still find an excuse/reason to write about something Alice Houri-related as I plan to look at Bertrand Bonello's Tarkovsky/Bresson influenced film; 'Tiresia' as well as another short film she recently appeared in that she gave me a copy of back in May. And speaking of shorts, we're gonna explore a lot more shorts from people like Matthew Barney to 'Donoma' director Djinn Carrenard.
There's a few more films from Toronto I'd like to get in to ('Alps' and 'Faust') as well as 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia', which I saw at this years New York Film Festival.
Naturally, there will be more reviews on the Flud site as well as The Pink Smoke, and I've also slowly been working on an interesting Robert Deniro blog entry. I also didn't really get in to the other films I saw in the Abel Ferrara retrospective at Anthology Film Archives this past year like; 'Mary' (one of Forest Whitaker's finest and most unseen performances), 'Chelsea On The Rocks' and the 'Gommorah' influenced 'Napoli, Napoli, Napoli'. And lets not forget that in 2012 we have new films from Michael Haneke, Terrance Malick, Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh.

Thanks for following and/or reading and I hope you continue to enjoy the content on the blog.

Thanks for reading...

So I recently got a message from the screenwriter and producer of a certain movie for my not-so kind words...

I dunno, I find it kinda awesome that he sought me out and mentioned me in the same sentence as Olivier Assayas (a PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite who we talk about on here all the time)! But I gotta be honest; I don't know how he went from Olivier Assayas's opinion (award winning director who I consider to be one of the 10 best working directors at the moment) to...mine. Marcus. An autocad designer/DJ/and wanna-be film critic. If someone like Olivier Assayas likes 'Road To Nowhere' then just go with that. That's awesome. Good for you (and I mean that). Actually, I was in Paris last week and picked up a copy of the latest edition of Cahier Du Cinema (a publication I respect very much). Quite a few of the writers included the film on their top 10 lists. But for some reason you're concerned about my opinion, huh? Why worry about what a random person on the Internet has to say about your movie? I wonder if this guy has sent a personal message to every (legit) movie critic, blogspotter or word presser who had something bad to say about 'Road To Nowhere'. BECAUSE IF THATS THE CASE HE'D BE PRETTY BUSY. I know PINNLAND EMPIRE is awesome but wow. We only have 27 followers (some of which I essentially had to force to follow haha). I'm baffled. But in a good way. What makes PINNLAND EMPIRE so special? And what's so great is at this point you can't say something like; "actually there isn't anything special about your blog blahblahblah" because you took the time out to send me a message. Clearly my opinion matters. Thanks for verifying that.
I mean, I get it...you're a producer/screenwriter that puts in all this work on a film, then some random guy with an opinion who's never even attempted to make a movie comes along, writes a few discouraging paragraphs, pisses on the intellect of people who do like the film and then walks away. But at the end of the day I'm just voicing my opinion like any other wanna-be film critic with a blogspot or wordpress. I'm pretty sure I have the right to do that, right?? 
And as far as "pissing" on the intellect of people who happen to like 'Road To Nowhere' goes, why is it that all of the devoted fans of the film that I've come across do JUST THAT to people who DON'T like it? Sorry but it works both ways. When fans of 'Road To Nowhere' stop taking that "you don't get it? oh, you must like everything spelled out for you, huh?" mentality (which I've heard plenty of them express), then I'll ease back on my opinions (actually no I wont).
Oh and if you happen to speak to Olivier Assayas any time soon please direct him to PINNLAND EMPIRE. I have nothing but great things to say about him. Irma Vep and Demonlover are two of my recent favorite films.

Thanks for reading.


2011 has been the year of somewhat disappointing (or at least confusing) comebacks. Monte Hellman made a return after an almost 20 year hiatus with the awful 'Road To Nowhere' (a film that most people are afraid to admit is really bad because of the legendary directors work from the 60's and 70's). Terrence Malick's return ('The Tree Of Life') took 4 viewings in the theater for me to decide if I liked it or not. Sure I came around to liking it, but the film still has its large group of haters (which is kinda understandable no matter how much I've grown to like it). Then we come to Lynne Ramsay's return with the VERY disappointing 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' (based on the book of the same name). Prior to this, Lynne Ramsay could do no wrong in my book. Sure she only had 2 features (the Terrance Malick-influenced/coming of age tale; 'Ratcatcher' and the "anti-chic flic" chic flic; Morvern Callar), a handful of short films and a music video to show for, but she was an example of quality over quantity.
At first, the idea of Ramsay doing a film about a high school shooting (...or the aftermath of a high school shooting to be more specific) struck me as odd. I hate to say this, but that's kind of an American problem and I didn't think a European director would be interested in exploring that. I'm sure there's been high school shootings in other parts of the world, but at the end of the day its an American issue. Furthermore, the idea of a high school shooting is a little played out at this point. Its 2011. Gus Vant Sant wrapped everything up nicely in 2003 with 'Elephant' (a film inspired by the Columbine Shootings). My biggest worry with 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' was that this was to be Lynne Ramsay's first film with real structure that REALLY focused on a plot instead of her previous films that relied more on hints, implications and the element of the unspoken. In 'Ratcatcher', Ramsay sets out the basic plot at the very beginning: a boy accidentally drowns from rough housing with another boy. But after that, the film branches out in to many other stories and subplots to the point where you almost forget about the dead boy at the beginning of the movie. In 'Morvern Caller', we almost forget that the films basic plot is about a woman coping with the suicide of her boyfriend and her stealing his unpublished manuscripts and passing it off to publishers as her own work. Instead, Ramsay takes us to wild Scottish house parties and on a vacation to Madrid with almost no mention of Morvern's dead boyfriend and the stolen manuscript. But being that I'm such a huge fan of Ramsay, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. ...And she let me down. There's nothing like waiting almost 10 years for the return of one of your current favorite filmmakers, only to have them disappoint.
'We Need To Talk About Kevin' is the story of a mother (played by Tilda Swinton) dealing with the aftermath of a high school "shooting" caused by her son (Kevin). The majority of the film is told through flashbacks from the mothers perspective, which is essentially her trying to work out in her head where she went wrong. From the flashbacks we see that Kevin was essentially a sociopath and hated his mother since birth for what seemed to be unknown reasons. We watch Kevin grown over the years in to an evil kid (he does nothing but scowl and give evil looks through the whole film) bent on a terrorizing his mother.
The films biggest problem was that it didn't seem believable. If I'm not mistaken, we're supposed to take this movie seriously, right? You expect me to believe a mother lived in a house with a kid who did nothing but scowl at people for 16 years without EVER maybe taking him to a psychiatrist or anything? Tilda Swinton's character, who I started to find really annoying after a while, actually looked shocked upon discovering it was her son who was responsible for the high school massacre that takes place in the movie. Really? You lived in a house with Damien from The Omen for all those years and had the nerve to act shocked to find your son committed a high school "shooting". OH! Speaking of the "shooting"... Kevin killed and injured a bunch of students with a BOW & ARROW (that's right, not a gun)? Sorry but I don't believe that. Maybe he could have gotten two shots off, but seriously...someone just tackle him!!! When you film a high school shooting (or high school "bow & arrowing") and people in the audience are laughing (which I saw some people do), you kind of failed.
Seeing this in Toronto with friends and overhearing what others had to say about it while waiting in line brought up some interesting conversations and perspectives that I didn't think about (like the possibility that the entire film's point of view is skewed because The Mother wasn't right in the head), but I still didn't like it.
Tilda Swinton's performance, which reminded me of an annoying elementary school teacher that was wound up way too tight and ready to crack at any moment, started to get on my nerves after 30 minutes in to the film. And John C. Reilly's typical dopey "everyman" performance was nothing special either (which is a shame because I really wanted his return to dramatic acting to be good and it wasn't).   
And I really hate that this movie is getting so much press and "oscar buzz". It doesn't make any sense. Her first two films didn't get half the hype that 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' is getting and they're both TWICE as good as 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. It makes me cringe knowing that this film will be a lot of people's introduction to the work of Lynne Ramsay (similar to how I cringe thinking about people discovering David Gordon Green's recent work like; 'The Sitter' and 'Your Highness' first, instead of his earlier more personal work like 'George Washington' and 'All The Real Girls').
I dunno, I guess I like Lynne Ramsay more when she's vague. I don't recommend this movie at all, but because of the buzz its getting I'm sure many of you will go to see this.


Roman Polanski's follow-up to the criminally underrated 'Ghost Writer' may not put him on this year's "Best Of..." list like last year, but its still very entertaining (mostly due to Christoph Waltz' performance in my opinion). In fact, I'd see it again. 'Carnage', based off the play; God Of Carnage', is the story of two sets of parents (Jodie Foster & John C Reilly on one side and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz on the other) who decide to have a nice little "pow-wow"/parent conference with each other after their sons are involved in a schoolyard fight (Winslet & Waltz's son hit Foster & Reilly's son in the face with a stick causing permanent damage). Polanski mixes the element of tension and a cringe-worthy atmosphere with dark/quirky comedy very well. We haven't seen many Polanski comedies (does 'Fearless Vampire Killers' count?) yet his unique, almost indescribable style is all over the film.
It starts with Winslet & Waltz going over to the home of Reilly & Foster to apologize, but as the film unfolds we learn that Foster wants more (not only does she want an apology from the parents, but she also wants an apology from their son). There's plenty of tension in the air from both sides (they take nonstop subliminal and not-so subliminal jabs at each through the entire film), but the two sets of parents try their best to be cordial with one another. But as the film goes along the fake niceness goes out the window. They get drunk, show their true colors and proceed to throw personal insults at each other and essentially have a mini breakdown. In my opinion 'Carnage' is everything Todd Field's 'Little Children' should have been (which also co-starred Kate Winslet), which is essentially the idea of grown-ups/parents slowly turning in to children and acting immature amongst each other.
This movie will work for many different audiences outside of the typical art house crowd:

-If you're a fan of "Brooklyn on film" ('Do The Right Thing', 'The Warriors', 'Two Lovers', etc), 'Carnage' is perfect. Polanski makes it a point to reference the borough and show the specific neighborhood of Brooklyn heights as much as possible through the course of the film.

-This movie is perfect for couples with children at any stage in parenthood. I'm sure many parents can relate to the basic plot and will have a good laugh at 'Carnage' as they reminisce about a similar experience they probably had. And parents in the early stage could look at 'Carnage' as a possibility of something to look forward too when their kids grow up.

-For those of you still stuck on the overrated 'Inglorious Basterds', you'll enjoy Christoph Waltz in this (who was, in my opinion, one of the FEW highlights of 'Inglorious Basterds'). Not to say the rest of the cast wasn't good (although I did feel Kate Winslet overdid it a little), but Waltz was the standout among the four actors.

Although not as good, the film's (mostly) one location setting and minimal cast reminded me of other movies adapted from plays like; Tom Noonan's early 90's sundance hit; 'What Happened Was' (the story of two co-workers who have a dinner date with each other, set entirely in a one bedroom new york city apartment) and Robert Altman's 'Secret Honor' (the one-man show about Richard Nixon's fictitious nervous breakdown). The film breezes by, clocking in at only 79 minutes in length with a primary cast of only four actors. There's plenty of comedy and the actors bounce off of one another really well. I highly recommend this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I'm finishing off my unofficial Claire Denis anthology here at PINNLAND EMPIRE with the film that started it all for me. As I said in "My Dinner With Alice", 'Nenette & Boni' was my gateway in to the world of Claire Denis (and the world of Claire Denis-related films and filmmakers like Leos Carax, Olivier Assayas and Catherine Breillat) back in the summer of '99. I took my time with this write-up because I'm pretty certain that one of the actors from this film (PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite; Alice Houri) will be reading this at some point so i wanna do it justice. At the end of 'U.S. Go Home', Claire Denis' semi-autobiographical tale about 2 young girls trying to act older then they really are, "Martine" (played by Alice Houri) goes off in to the woods with a man almost twice her age (played by Vincent Gallo) and loses her virginity. At the beginning of 'Nenette & Boni', "Nenette" (also played by Houri) is slightly older than the Martine character and is a few months pregnant. 'Nenette & Boni' may not be an "official" sequel to 'U.S. Go Home', but I cant think of too many films in the last 20 years that have the same kinda spiritual connection as those 2 movies. Not only did the 2 films, both directed by Claire Denis, come right after each other (U.S. in '94 and 'Nenette' in '96), but they feature the same primary cast (Gregoire Colin, Alice Houri & Vincent Gallo) and both; Colin & Houri play bickering siblings in both films. Nenette handles her pregnancy in the same way as Martine handles the loss of her virginity. Through out the film there's barely any mention of who got Nenette pregnant. And when the question of who the father is comes up, she brushes it off. In 'U.S. Go Home', after Martine sets out to do what she planned (lose her virginity) she no longer cares about the guy she has sex with, and essentially sends him on his way as if she's done with him (which, when you look at in a certain way, is a powerful twist on the traditional sexual relationship between men & women. And the fact that Martine is SO young makes it even more powerful).

When Claire Denis was asked why she went with the same initial cast for both films she replied:

I had loved those four weeks of filming (U.S. Go Home) with them so much that I wanted more. I wanted to re-film with them.

Colin & Houri as brother & sister
in 'U.S. Go Home'

Colin & Houri as brother & sister
in 'Nenette & Boni'

Vincent Gallo and the
"claire denis glare" in 'U.S. GO Home'

Vincent Gallo and the "claire
denis glare" in 'Nenette & Boni'

'Nenette & Boni' is the perfect combination of the sensuality found in later Denis films like 'Trouble Every Day' & 'Friday Night' mixed with the sweetness of her more recent film '35 Shots Of Rum'. Like most Claire Denis films she conveys this sensuality and sweetness through eye contact, body language and (sometimes) symbolism rather than dialogue (see the 2 clips from 'Nenette & Boni' below which feature no dialogue at all)...
Le Monde de Claire Denis sur une BO des Tindersticks - Nénette et Boni from Stage of the Art .net on Vimeo.

'Nenette & Boni' is the story of 2 siblings who lost touch with each other after the divorce of their parents and death of their mother later on. Boni (the older brother), sided with the mother, while Nenette (the younger sister) stayed with the father. When Nenette finds out she's pregnant, she runs away from home to go and stay with Boni, who's living in their mothers old house that she left him before she died. Boni is reluctant at first, but he eventually gives in and lets Nenette stay. Through out the film Nenette and Boni's father, who is in to some shady/illegal business that Denis never really goes in to, is trying to get his family back together. But at this point, neither sibling wants anything to do with the father.
Boni is a somewhat naive 19 year old who works at a pizza stand. When he isn't spending the day insulting his younger sister and hating his father, he's day dreaming about the curvy voluptuous woman who works at the bakery close to his house. He doesn't show concern about his younger sisters pregnancy at first, but half way in to the film he decides to take on the big brother role and care for his sister (in a tough love kinda way).
Nenette is a detached, almost emotionless pregnant 16 year old. Not only does she smoke while she's pregnant, but seems to have no concern as to who the father is. Nenette's character is quite interesting in that its difficult to care for a detached apathetic teenage character, but Alice Houri was somehow able to pull it off. Something about the blank expressions on her face make you so curious as to what she could be thinking.
By the time 'Nenette & Boni' was made, Claire Denis had found her style/"groove". This started her long lasting relationship with The Tindersticks who would go on to score 5 more of her films after 'Nenette & Boni'.  Just like her previous films before ('U.S. Go Home, 'I Cant Sleep' and 'No Fear, No Die'), the looks of her films were somewhat grainy, gritty and realistic (courtesy of cinematographer Agnes Godard), we see appearances from her regulars like Gregoire Colin and Alex Descas, her intimate up close & personal way of shooting the body and skin, and she plays on the unspoken, hints, facial expressions, eye contact and other mannerisms rather than spell everything out for us (as seen in the videos above).

The only time we actually see Nenette & Boni's mother is through a picture found in Boni's apartment. This is very reminiscent of Lionel's deceased wife in '35 Shots Of Rum'.

Intense looks of love are found more than once in the film (see the other image of Vincent Gallo above). Without needing to say a word, both Boni and The American Baker (played by Vincent Gallo) have their romantic feelings written all over their faces (which are ironically both directed towards the same woman).

And Claire Denis' signature sensual shots of the naked and half naked body (found in her other films like 'Beau Travail' and 'Trouble Every Day') are a recurring thing in the film as well...

What makes 'Nenette & Boni' so great is that its such an awesome starting point for a Claire Denis novice, yet its not a "safe" pick (by "safe" i mean it isn't boring). With independent or "art house" directors, sometimes recommending their best work isn't always the best idea. 'Beau Travail' may be her greatest film (I personally think it is), but for someone just getting in to her, that might turn someone off (as well as 'Trouble Every Day' which I think is a masterpiece). Not only that, but up until the recent DVD releases of 'White Material' and '35 Shots Of Rum', 'Nenette & Boni' is the easiest of her films to come by (I discovered it at a local video store on VHS near my house back in the day).

Thursday, December 1, 2011


His (Lodge Kerrigan) beat is mental illness...i think the extreme edges of it, and I'm happy to go there with him as he takes my hand as we go in to his world - John Waters on Lodge Kerrigan

I wont be structuring this one like the other "Cinema Of..." entries because Lodge Kerrigan only has 3 films (4 if you count this years' 'Rebecca H', which i don't think anyone has seen). There's only so many comparisons you can make with just three films. But nevertheless, the purpose of this director exploration is no different than any of the others I've done in that I want to create guide or a summary of a director that I'm a fan of in hopes it will turn others that aren't familiar on to his work.
Any good director that has his/her own unique style or "look" is essentially creating an alternate universe or world for the audience (that goes without saying for some people, but that may not register with others). These worlds range from digitally shot, hi-def, flashy bright lights, night club world of Michael Mann (a world I'd love to live in) or the strange surreal world of David Lynch filled with dancing midgets who talk backwards, industrial background music and scary/mysterious figures who haunt us through the coarse of the film. I've always been fascinated and amazed by the ability that some directors have to make people say; "Oh, this must be a Kubrick Film" or "This looks like a Robert Bresson film" without ever having to look at the credits to see who the director actually is.
A few days ago I watched Lodge Kerrigan's 'Clean, Shaven' & 'Claire Dolan' back-to-back, and found that my mood for the rest of the evening had changed pretty drastically. I didn't feel down or depressed or anything like that, but i definitely felt uneasy and had a difficult time thinking nice or happy thoughts. There's quite a few modern directors who paint a world that I don't want to live in like the darkly lit, sensual world of Gaspar Noe filled with back alley's, drug addicts, rapists and incest or Harmony Korine and his focus on "white trash" and the dirt filled homes of paint sniffing, cat killing , meth addicts. But there's something so realistic about Kerrigan's films and his characters that makes him stand out among his peers.


I have a long-standing interest in mental illness. I have friends who suffer from it. I think it's a devastating illness, not only mentally, psychologically, emotionally, but also economically. I think it isolates people tremendously, and again, I want to try and engender some empathy for people who suffer. - Lodge Kerrigan

The world of Lodge Kerrigan is full of aggressive, mentally unstable and sometimes violent characters. You never know if someone is going to snap & attack someone or break down & cry. Just the music in his films alone creates an uneasy and almost frightening feeling. For those of you who aren't familiar with Lodge Kerrigan's work, he intentionally mixes and layers various audio samples together that don't traditionally go together. In his feature debut; 'Clean, Shaven', the story of a recently released paranoid Schizophrenic looking for his daughter, the soundtrack to that film is made up of radio signals, the audio from the scared straight documentary and other various audio samples like dog barks or screams. In 'Claire Dolan', Kerrigan mixes old soul music with a haunting piano score and random saxophone samples. Although the structure to his films are pretty traditional in the world of American independent film, what he does with audio gives his films a connection to the world of experimental film.
Instead of using images for this category, I thought video clips could best convey what I'm trying to get across. Pay close attention to the background score in the 'Clean, Shaven' clip, the tense vibe in the 'Claire Dolan' scene, and note Damian Lewis' amazing acting in the clip of 'Keane'...

Paranoia is another common theme in Lodge Kerrigan's work. And this goes beyond the paranoid schizophrenic characters found in 'Clean, Shaven' and 'Keane'. Even "normal" or emotionally stable characters (like "Claire Dolan") are always on edge or under the impression that someone is out to get them. In Claire's case, she's actually right. Through out the film (about a high priced call girl trying to work off a debt), she's stalked by more than one person. In all of Lodge Kerrigans films theres always a shot of someone looking over their shoulder, behind their back, peeking around a corner or looking out for some kind of an attack...
'Claire Dolan' (1998)
'Claire Dolan'
'Keane' (2004)
'Clean, Shaven' (1994)
Homeleand Season 2, episode 3
Girlfriend Experience

The constant presence of children in Kerrigan's films are also a huge part of that uneasy feeling. The last thing we want to see or think about is a small innocent child in the hands of a crazy person (even if that crazy person has no intentions of harming the child). In 'Clean, Shaven' a subplot of the film involves a detective trying a solve the murder case of a young girl. Additionally, the lead characters ultimate goal in 'Clean, Shaven' is to get to his daughter. But we never know his true intentions once he gets to her. Did he plan to take her? Did he plan to kill her? We'll never truly know. Same with 'Keane', Kerrigan's last movie about another paranoid Schizophrenic trying to find his daughter who was abducted from a bus terminal. But as the story unfolds, we question whether or not our lead character even had a daughter in the first place. And the fate of Abigail Breslin's character at the end of 'Keane' is very open ended as well. Will she be abducted as well? Will she be returned to her mother? Lodge Kerrigan's world is full of seedy hotels, dirt and is just all around unclean and unsafe. No one wants to picture children in a world like that (especially parents). The image of a child walking hand in hand with a schizophrenic appears more than once in his films...
'Clean, Shaven'
'Clean, Shaven'
'Claire Dolan'

On the commentary track for 'Clean, Shaven', Kerrigan drops Roman Polanski's name more than once, and his influence is all over films like 'Clean, Shaven' & 'Claire Dolan'.

'Repulsion' (Roman Polanski)

'Clean, Shaven'

'Repulsion' (Polanski)

'Claire Dolan'

'The Tenant' (Polanski)

'Claire Dolan'

Au Hasard Blathazar/Clean, Shaven

A Man Escaped/Clean, Shaven

Clean, Shaven/Royal Tenenbaums
Clean, Shaven/Julien Donkey-Bpy

Like any other director, Kerrigan has his signature shots. He seems to have a fascination with reflection. In 'Clean, Shaven', not only does our main character have an issue with seeing himself in the mirror, there's also a pivotal scene that takes place in front of a mirror (like in many other indie films) where he cuts himself...
'Clean, Shaven'
'Clean Shaven'
'Claire Dolan'
'Claire Dolan'
Girlfriend Experience
The Killing Season 4, episode2

Other themes and common shots in Lodge Kerrigan's work include his fascination with modern architecture, specifically the patterns found on the exteriors of today's buildings...
Girlfriend Experience
Girlfriend Experience
'Clean, Shaven'
'Claire Dolan'
'Claire Dolan'
Claire Dolan

Tracking shots from a side view (similar to the shot commonly found in 'Michael Haneke's work) can also be found in Kerrigan's films pretty regularly...
Girlfriend Experience
'Claire Dolan'

Ok, I'm off to Barcelona then Paris...


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