Thursday, April 28, 2011

Flud Review: '13 Assassins'

13 Assassins

Monday, April 25, 2011

VARIETY

Bette Gordon's 'Variety', a movie that i missed at a one-time only screening at anthology film archives last week, is currently my favorite movie at the moment, no matter what other critics have said about it in the past. Even though the film may be somewhat rough around the edges, it completely captures the grittiness of early 80's new york city (an era that I've always been fascinated with). In fact, that "rough around the edges" feel to the 'Variety' actually adds to the films atmosphere, capturing the seedy & ugly side of nyc that the film explores. At the same time, its also one of the more "polished" films to come out of the new york underground/no-wave scene. 'Variety' is almost like an archive or a time capsule of modern American new york city independent film. A lot of key figures within that scene are featured in 'Variety' in one way or another: Cinematographer; Tom Dicillo, (who at the time was also Jim Jarmusch's cinematographer, eventually went on to become a prominent independent director), actors; Will Patton & Luiz Guzman (who we all know as one of the most recognizable American character actors working today) and musician/actor; John Lurie (another frequent collaborator of Jim Jarmusch, and pioneer within no-wave/jazz music) did the soundtrack. 'Variety' is another film in my (unofficial) on-going exploration of (usually non-traditional) female lead roles, under the direction of a female director.
In 'Variety', main character; Christine (played by Sindy Mcleod, who resembles a cross between a young mia farrow and a young cathy moriarty) takes a job working a ticket counter in a porno theater when she has completely run out of job opportunities. Once she takes this job, shes discovers a side of human beings (and herself) that she never really paid much attention too. This new found discovery/fascination of pornography, sexuality and the creepy side of human beings (who she comes in contact with quite often while working at the porno theater) causes a transformation within Christine.
In 'Variety', Bette Gordon reverses the gender roles, and puts a female lead in a typically male role. Through out the film, Christine does things that a woman wouldn't normally do in a film that takes place in early 80's new york city. She walks down alley's late at night by herself (once again...keep in mind this is early 1980's new york city), she goes on a date with a mysterious/shady guy that she hardly knows who frequents the porno theater that she works at (whom she eventually starts to follow, slowly turning the last half of 'Variety' in to a noir/mystery film). If a character like Travis Bickle from 'Taxi Driver' (which 'Variety shares a lot in common with in both; themes and in the main character) where to do these things, we wouldn't blink an eye or express that much worry about his well being. When Christine does these things in the movie, we're always worried and always on edge that something bad is going to happen to her (mugged, raped, murdered, etc). Bette Gordon further drives this point home with Christine's fascination in pornography. Lets be honest, we usually associate the consumption of porn with men. The only relationship we're use to women having with porn is acting in them. You don't expect a woman, especially an attractive, quiet, loner like Christine to enjoy porn.
Before i saw 'Variety', what drew me most to it were the stills and images that i saw on the Internet over the years. I didn't even bother to look up what the film was about. I just knew 'Variety' had to be a great film. The lighting and colors used in the images i saw reminded me of a Fassbinder film (specifically 'Lola'). 'Varitey' has this dark lighting & red-ish tint to it, which kinda adds to its dark atmosphere.

Variety



Fassbinder's Lola



'Variety' is considered to be a "cult movie" by many, but i wouldn't be so quick to group it in to a category of films that include; 'spinal tap', 'office space' and 'the texas chainsaw massacre' (which ARE all good movies, but still...). 'Variety' is a bit more serious (no matter how "unprofessional" some elements of the movie may to seem to others). Issues like; feminism, self exploration, loneliness and alienation (which are are explored in 'Variety') should be taken seriously. 'Variety' goes hand-in-hand with films like 'Red Road' (which i brought up in my review of 'Fear X') and 'In My Skin' (a film i reviewed last year on here as well). All three films have female leads under the direction of a female director. All three films show characters dealing with a side of themselves they never realized they had. And like i mentioned earlier, the (female) characters in these movies are characters that would have traditionally been played by a male. Whats also interesting is that both; 'In My Skin' and 'Variety' have climactic scenes towards the end of each film, that are very similar (in both movies, we see the female leads isolated in a room by themselves coming to terms with their new found fascination). Both films also show the female leads slowly start to isolate themselves from their (not-so understanding) boyfriends. Its almost like Bette Gordon and Marina De Van (director & star of 'in my skin') reverse the roles in the romantic relationships, and make the female the "males" of the relationships in the movie.
If you're a fan of any of the other films i mentioned earlier (taxi driver, red road, in my skin, the films of jim jarmusch & tom dicillo), you'll more than likely enjoy 'Variety'. It even shares some similar (visual) elements with other early 80's films like; 'Henry', 'Maniac' and Abel Ferarra's early work as well (specifically 'Ms. 45' and 'The Driller Killer').


Saturday, April 23, 2011

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (Dziga Vertov) VS. A MAN WITH AN IPOD (Marcus Pinn)

For those 13 of you at anthology film archives tonight who wondered why there was a guy in the front row bobbing his head (pause) to a silent movie...allow me to explain...
On the train ride over to anthology film archives to watch Dziga Vertov's experimental/silent film documenting 1920's Russia; 'A Man With A Movie Camera' (a film that was re-scored a few years back by the awesome jazz group; Cinematic Orchestra), i thought to myself; "this is gonna get boring as shit real quick. i don't care if its a free screening for members." I think ever since that pinksmoke article ("old movies sucks") came out, I've had a bit of a cynicism towards older movies, especially "classic" or culturally important older movies. Don't get me wrong, i know that 'Man With A Movie Camera' is a film that was way ahead of its time and revolutionized the documentary/fiction hybrid style that would later be explored by filmmakers like; William Greaves (Symbiopsychotaxiplasm) & Chris Marker (La Jette)...but there isn't even a soundtrack to the original man with a movie camera (let alone, no dialogue). Almost 2 hours of silence is a bit much (...or a bit less depending on how you look at it). Then i thought about the pink floyd/alice in wonderland mash-up as well as the dj shadow/akira mash-up, and decided id leave my ipod on while the film was playing and see if the random songs that played in my headphones went along with the movie. I wasn't expecting any amazingly synced up moments or anything like that. I just thought it would be a fun little experiment to keep me interested in the movie. So i picked a playlist on my ipod that was geared more towards chilled out/slow-ish/lounge type songs.

The order of songs that played (at random) went...
1. Sonic Youth - 'Beauty Lies In The Eye', 2. Cranberries - 'linger', 3. Sonic Sum - 'Sara-inge', 4. Jill Cunniff (luscious jackson) - 'calling me', 5. Gordon Lightfoot - 'Beautiful' (*used in vincelt gallo's brown bunny), 6. Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'My Friends', 7. Handsome Boy Modeling School - 'Sunshine', 8. Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'Pretty Little Ditty', 9. eDIT - 'Twenty Minutes', 10. J Dilla - 'Stop', 11. Mogwai - 'Take Me Somewhere Nice' (*used in larry clarke's wassup rockers), 12. Fiona Apple - 'Sullen Girl', 14. Beastie Boys - 'Ricky's Theme', 15. Jungle Brothers - 'Brain', 16. Sage Francis - 'Inherited Scars', 17. Commodores - 'Nightshift' (*used in claire denis's 35 shots of rum), 18. Vincet Gallo - 'Honey Bunny', 19. Jan Jelineck - 'On The Lake', 20. Massive Attack - 'Black Milk', 21. Louis Logic - 'The Great Divide', 22. Dwele - 'Melodies', 23. Portishead - 'Numb'
Now, naturally some of these songs didn't go with the movie AT ALL, but some worked surprisingly well. In this blog I'm going to point out the songs that worked together quite well with the images i saw on the screen...


Cranberries - Linger
I was very disappointed that the first song; Sonic Youth's 'beauty lies in the eye' (one of my favorite songs) didn't work, so i desperately wanted the next song to work...and it did. Watching the old grainy/black & white 'man with a movie' while the cranberries's song played, made me subconsciously relate it to the grainy/black & white feel of the cranberries video that always comes in my head when i hear this song (in fact, i think i like the video more than the song). Aside from the visual aspect, this song just "worked" with the scenes while the song played.



Sonic Sum - Sara inge
Wow, 2 songs in a row. This was much different than the cranberries song. It was easy to block out the lyrics in 'linger', because the lead singers voice kinda seemed like an additional instrument, whereas rob sonics lyrics on sara-inge really stood out. But in some strange cosmic way, some of Rob's lyrics matched perfectly with the film. In one line, Rob Sonic mentions city streets, and at the same time i heard those lyrics, we see images of empty Russian streets, that almost look ghostly. The samples also have an "old" feel to them, which went along well with the film as well.





Red Hot Chili Peppers - Pretty Little Ditty
The majority of this song didn't work well at all, but towards the breakdown part of the song (when the trumpet kicks in), we see a scene of Vertov standing, holding a camera up in a moving car, filming other cars driving past him. For some reason, this part of the song seemed to go well with the scene of the director literally risking his life just to film some random people for his movie.



eDIT - Twenty Minutes
I don't remember what part of the movie this went with, but it worked lol. What stood out so much to me was that such a modern song (for those of you who don't know, eDIT is a producer who totally uses modern music software to its fullest potential) seemed to go with such an old film.



Mogwai - Take Me Somewhere Nice
This instrumental track by Mogwai went along AMAZINGLY well with a montage of scenes including a mother giving birth (like an actual birth. baby coming out of the vagina and all...), a newlywed couple riding in a carriage and a public viewing/funeral of someone's body being carried through the streets in an open coffin.  These scenes, accompanied with this mellow track make you think about life in a way. You're born, you fall in love & get married, then you die...



Fiona Apple - Sullen Girl
Here's another song that actually had a few pink floyd/alice & wonderland moments. For the first 30 seconds or so, i was worried this song wasn't going to work, but then all of a sudden there was a montage of scenes in the film of someone playing the piano intercut with random shots of women doing some extraneous labor. The images of the piano went perfectly with the song, which features a very dominant piano presence. The shots of the women, who didn't look all that happy, complimented the title of the song (sullen girl) very well.



Jungle Brothers & The Roots - Brain
In this jungle brothers track, we hear a lot of lyrics that deal with work and hard labor. While this song played, there just so happened to be a montage of scenes and images of men working in some kind of a steal factory. Plus the rhodes sample in the song had an old timey feel, like some of the other songs that I've already mentioned.



Vincent Gallo - Honey Bunny
Damn...smh...this song went PERFECTLY with the film. I don't remember what specific parts that happened to sync up or go together perfectly (this one was very similar to the cranberries). It just worked. The official video of 'Honey Bunny' (a grainy 35m short film which has vincent gallo filming various women standing on a turntable), coupled with the actual sound of the song (for those of you who don't know, vincent gallo makes it a point to use old recording equipment and instruments to make his music, which you can clearly hear in the quality of most of his music) went perfectly with the old black & white 'man with the movie camera'.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2tzfbt_vincent-gallo-honey-bunny_music


Jan Jelineck - On The Lake
Just when i thought it couldn't get any better than the vincent gallo match-up, one of the last songs in my playlist beat out every song that played. While this song played in my headphones, the images on the screen were of women using exercise machines mixed with images of various athletic events (a soccer match, men running hurdles, a woman throwing a shot-put, a basketball game, a man throwing a javelin, etc). Jan Jelinek's music is very much based in loops and sampling. Sure there's a lot of random & ambient sounds, the but the skeleton of this song (along with almost all of his work) is based in a loop. The rhythm of the women's rowing and cycling along with the movement of the athlete's bodies went perfectly with the rhythm of the song.



Louis Logic - The Great Divide
Ok, this was just creepy (and awesome at the same time). By the middle of the song, i had given up and decided this didn't go with what was on the screen. Then in the last few seconds of the song, which is about seeing a pretty girl on the subway and not having the guts to go up and talk to her, the song ends with the sound effects of a train on train tracks. At the exact moment that the train track sounds came, there was an image of a train on the tracks in the actual film. Pretty Crazy...


This was really fun. I think I'm gonna have to go to more silent films at anthology film archives. I don't usually frequent the silent films at anthology, because they're usually foreign WITHOUT English subtitles or inter-titles (and id feel super pretentious watching a movie i didn't understand). But it looks like i found a fun way to work around all of that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

PICK UP THE MIC (DOCUMENTARY ABOUT GAY HIP-HOP)

I'm pretty hesitant to comment on this documentary because no matter what i say (which is somewhat critical), I fear some people will blindly consider my criticisms to be "homophobic" (even though my issues with this documentary have absolutely nothing to do with the subjects being gay). It takes a lot of guts to make a film like 'Pick Up The Mic' - a documentary about the gay hip-hop scene (mainly focusing on artists of color in northern california). I really do commend the filmmakers for taking on a project like this. But...I had two major issues with it.
My first issue was the actual music that was showcased in the film. It wasnt that good. Not the content or the lyrics (which mostly talked about sex or the struggles of being a gay black or Latino person within hip-hop), but the gay artist's actual raping ability (and production). This documentary is partially about MUSIC. At a certain point you have to rely on your skill as an artist and not rely on the novelty of being a "gay hip-hop artist". I understand that trying to get any kind of mainstream success or steady fan base within hip-hop while being gay is damn near impossible, but it doesn't help your case when you can barely rap on beat and are fumbling over your words in live performances (this was a problem I personally found with many of the artists featured in the documentary). And trust me, i know hip-hop quite well. In fact, I'd be so arrogant to say i know the culture more than the average fan, so please save your comments about how i "don't know hip-hop music" or how i don't have "good taste". I realize "good" and "bad" is all subjective, but i have faith that the average, knowledgeable hip-hop fan will agree with me about the music in 'Pick Up The Mic'. This issue draws a lot of comparison to the Asian rap artist Jin. He got a lot of hype years ago for being a mainstream Asian rapper, and when his album finally dropped almost no one bought it. Years later, many music journalists and hardcore fans of Jin tried to blame it on people not accepting him because he was Asian. There is SOME truth to that, but those journalists and loyal Jin fans never seem to mention the fact that his debut album was not very good. At some point, skill & ability has to count for something. In 'Pick Up The Mic', there's a lot of scenes from live shows of the featured gay hip-hop artists performing, and it almost makes you want to cringe at how bad some of the performance footage comes off. Some are either trying too hard to be/sound tough, while some need to polish up their clarity & breath control. If this documentary was supposed to showcase talent, it didn't do a very good job.
My next issue is a little more serious. This documentary managed to do something that no other hip-hop film managed to do which was play in to the underlying racism that many people have towards hip-hop, without even realizing it or meaning too. Hear me out...we all know that most people's hatred towards hip-hop has to do with the fact that it's a (mostly) black art form. Sure, there are plenty of people who just simply don't like hip-hop music without any hidden malicious reasons, but you and i both know that there's a large majority of folks out there who might as well be saying; "i don't like black people" when they say the phrase; "i don't like rap music". It's coded language. Lets be real - with 'Pick Up The Mic', there's this constant reminder about how homophobic hip-hop culture can be (and i recognize that it is) to the point where it almost feels like the filmmakers are saying (without even meaning to) that hip-hop and rap music is the ONLY music genre to EVER be homophobic or discriminate towards gays. Now, you and i both know that hip-hop culture is not very accepting of gay people, but it damn sure ain't the only music culture to do so. Everything form country music (with its connection to right wing/conservative values) to heavy metal all have issues with gay people, but once again, hip-hop and/or rap music is vilified as the first & only to do something wrong like it's the ONLY non-progressive musical genre. It's just like the term "bitch" within hip-hop. The minute people heard rap artists (who were mostly black) use that term to describe (SOME) women (which SOME women are), the entire world acted as if they had never heard such a word before (or any type of profanity for that matter). Its like all of a sudden rap music took the heat for inventing terms like; "bitch", "mother fucker", etc. I expect outsiders to paint hip-hop in a negative light, but the last thing i would expect is people within the culture to vilify it. That doesn't make sense to me. I understand that hip-hop & rap music has some growing to do, but so do other forms of music. The problem is you don't get that from watching 'Pick Up The Mic'. Watching this documentary you'd swear that hip-hop/rap is the only musical culture behind the times.

Because of these things, its difficult for me to support or even defend this documentary from a hip-hop standpoint. I don't question the struggles that gay people face today. But no matter what it's a one of a kind film (probably the first to do what it did) and that counts for something.

You can watch 'Pick Up The Mic' on hulu.com for free or just click the link below...

pick up the mic

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OLD MOVIES SUCK (pinksmoke.com)

Here's a new thing i did for thepinksmoke. In this one, each of us picked an old/classic movie and talked about why we dislike it so much. I picked Andy Warhol's 'Empire', which i TRIED to watch at anthology film archives this past summer. There's a lotta good ones in this like; '2001' and 'Goldfinger'. Link below...

Old Movies Suck

Monday, April 18, 2011

BETTE GORDON: ROAD MOVIES

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Coming straight off the Amtrak train from Washington D.C. (that's right, i didn't even go home first to drop my shit off) i was able to make the last 2 nights of the Bette Gordon retrospective @ anthology film archives. What stood out the most to me from her body of work were her road movies.  First was her experimental film; 'United States Of America'. Although there is no (clear) dialogue between the characters, its pretty straight forward. The film follows a couple (Bette Gordon and her early collaborator; James Benning) on a road trip from the perspective of someone sitting in the back seat of their car. Watching this movie, i could see where Richard Linklater may have got some inspiration for his very similar first film; 'Its Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books', which is another road movie where the director (Linklater) films himself on a cross country trip by way of train, making pit stops here & there to visit friends and wander aimlessly. If you can get past (what some may consider) the boredom and banality of 'United States of America' like; the long shots of the open road, the couple pulling off on the side of the road to switch drivers, the windshield wipers, the changing of the radio, etc, you'll soon realize that 'United States Of America' almost stands as kind of a time capsule of the 70's. In fact, the use of the radio is the main element that drives this home. Filmed in 1974 or '75, the radio switches in and out of different news stories and songs that capture the spirit of the 70's (specifically the news stories regarding the Vietnam war, and the use of Minnie Ripperton's 'loving you', which is a song that seems to follow them through their trip no matter what part of the country they're in). Gordon's experimental films of the 70's are quite different from her more narrative/straight forward work of the 80's up through the present day, but with 'United States Of America', you can see where some of the seeds were planted for the next road movie of hers that i saw; 'Luminous Motion'...

LUMINOUS MOTION
The back seat perspective of Gordon's 'United States Of America', almost makes it a prequel to 'Luminous Motion' (a movie that i saw for the first time on saturday night and instantly became a fan of). The film follows main character; Phillip, a smart 10 year old boy fascinated by science, on the road (or on the run depending on how you look at it) with his alcoholic/con-artist/prostitute mom, played by Deborah Kara Unger. At the introduction of the screening on saturday night, Bette Gordon commented that she was always fascinated by the "mother & son" relationship, and with 'Luminous Motion', she also wanted to make her own version of 'bonnie & clyde'. Even though i categorized this film as a "road movie", about less than a third of the film actually takes place in a car or even on the road for that matter. At one point in the middle of the film, it looks like Phillip and his mom are finally gonna settle down, but after a gruesome incident, they're back on the run. As the the story progresses, not only does the film start to get more and more dark (Phillip kills someone, his mom sinks in to a deep depression and wont get out of bed, etc), we start to piece together why he and his mom ended up on the road in the first place. We learn that his mother is actually a bit more complex than just the "alcoholic/con-artist/prostitute" that i labeled her earlier. And finally, we learn that Phillip doesn't have the best grip on reality. Through out the film, Phillip is both haunted & helped by the ghost of his mom's ex-boyfriend who Kasey may or may not have killed with a drill gun earlier in the film. He's also haunted by the presence of his father, who may or may not be real as well. Due to Deborah Kara Unger's usual soft spoken & sensual acting (also found in her performances in 'the game' and cronenberg's 'crash'), you cant help but sense some incestuous undertones between her and Phillip (from him rubbing lotion on her back and painting her toenails, to the scene where he spies on her having sex), which further drive home the point i made earlier about the film becoming more and more complicated and dark as it goes on. Of everything I've seen so far, this is easily my favorite film by Gordon (i still have yet to see 'Variety' though). The tone and atmosphere of the movie are reminiscent of everything from Wim Wenders to Alex Cox's 'repoman'. 'Luminous Motion' falls under many categories. Its a coming of age tale, part comedy comedy/part family drama and it even has elements of science fiction. This is one of the many forgotten about independent gems of the 90's that, thanks to anthology film archives, got its 2nd wind this past weekend. I enjoyed this movie so much, right after i saw it, i went around the corner to kim's video and bought the DVD. I think part of the reason that i enjoyed 'Luminous Motion' so much was because it had a similar vibe to other coming of age movies i love like; 'Parents' and 'The Reflecting Skin'. All of those movies combine elements of dark humor, the horror of childhood (which is actually a line from 'the reflecting skin') and family drama from the perspective of a child. Also, all three films focus on a child discovering things about adults (specifically their parents) that frighten them.

Luminous Motion
The Reflecting Skin
Parents

HANDSOME HARRY
While 'United States Of America' & 'Luminous Motion' have quite a few elements in common with one another, Bette Gordon's most recent film; 'Handsome Harry', doesn't really connect with her previous road movies. In fact, the only thing 'Handsome Harry' has in common with the other 2  is that they all take place on the road. 'Handsome Harry' almost feels like the sequel to 'Young Torless'. Both are movies that deal with bullying and harassing gone too far within the military. In 'Young Torless', there's a scene towards the end, when the main character has the chance to help a fellow military student who's been harassed to point where its become sadistic, but he turns his back on him, and allows his fellow classmates to gang up on him and literally string him up. 'Handsome Harry' essentially picks up where that movie left off many years later. In 'Handsome Harry', a middle-aged electrician takes to the road to find his old navy buddies who he committed a hate crime with 30 years earlier against their gay navy mate. This film plays out like a cross between 'Broken Flowers' (a middle-aged man on a road trip trying to track down people from his past) and an episode of 'Law & Order: SVU' (the hate crime aspect of the film). As Harry tracks down each navy buddy, he learns that they have all been suffering or paying for their sin one way or another. One, played by John Savage, not only has sexual problems, but his son turned out to be gay. Another, has a paralyzed wife who was hit by a drunk driver, and he's had to take care of her ever since. And another one of his old navy buddies is dying from what i guess we're led to believe is some kind of cancer. What i liked most about the film was that even though i could see where the plot was going, i didn't expect the film to end the way it did (i mean that in a good way). The acting, which featured a stand-out performance from John Savage, almost seemed like stage acting, rather than film acting. And along with 'Young Torless', 'Handsome Harry' stirs up elements of Dennis Quaid's performance in 'Far From Heaven' (the repressed, masculine closet homosexual struggling with his sexuality).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CLAIRE DOLAN

I definitely wouldn't wanna look inside the mind of Lodge Kerrigan. Everyone always talks about how disturbing and unsettling the films of people like Takashi Miike are, but the tension, creepiness and aggression in Lodge Kerrigan's films are on another level. Whats really unique about his work is that not only is it unsettling, disturbing and creepy, but he manages to do all that with minimal use of violence & blood. He's one of those directors you wish would put out work more often, with only 4 films under his belt in 18 years (he did make a film in 2002 with Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, but the film used to make the movie wasn't taken care of, and he lost a majority of it). Kerrigan's 2nd film; 'Claire Dolan', the story of an irish immigrant working as an upscale prostitute in order to pay off a debt, is like a mixture of the ice cold feeling you get from watching one of Haneke's austrian films, the dry delivery from a Bresson film and the psychological instability of a Polanski film all mixed in to one pot. And Vincent D'Onofrio's amazing performance in the film is the highlight as far as I'm concerned (and he's only a supporting character). His mannerisms are super unique and you aren't sure if he's going to cry, flip out on someone or have a nervous breakdown through out the movie. In some scenes he's both; kind and intimidating (D'Onofrio makes great use of his size). There are shades of Deniro in 'Taxi Driver' within D'Onofrio's performance too. Both play lonely, emotionally/psychologically unstable taxi drivers who want to save a prostitute from her tortured life. There's even one scene in 'Claire Dolan' that almost feels like an homage to 'Taxi Driver': in the film, D'Onofrio briefly zones out and looks at a random woman who walks by him. The why the scene is shot and edited is almost exactly like the scene in 'Taxi Driver' when a young black kid walks past Travis, and he briefly zones out and doesn't take his eyes off of him. Even the shots of D'Onofrio inside his taxi, are similar to 'Taxi Driver', in that both are always suspicious of the people they pick up in their cabs, and are always looking in their rear view mirror in a similar way.
As most of us already know, roles played by "big guys" are usually one of two extremes: The big intimidating tough guy or the big 'ol softie. Lodge Kerrigan explores both of those characteristics well with D'Onofrio in 'Claire Dolan'. Forrest Whitaker, specifically in 'Ghost Dog', is another great film/performance that explores that. It all traces back to the original Frankenstein movie in the scene with the monster and the little girl.
In 'Ghost Dog', which is a loose remake of 'Le Samourai', Jarmusch recreates his version of that scene in Frankenstein when the little girl approaches the monster to be friends. Just like in Frankenstein, the little girl in ghost dog is totally unaware that ghost dog is a "monster" (as cool as he is, he IS a killer).

As far as the lead performance goes, Katrin Cartlidge is just as great in 'Claire Dolan' as she is in anything else she did before her untimely death. She's like the female Jon Cazale. Both actors died long before their time, but left behind a perfect acting record. Other great performances by her can be seen in 'Breaking The Waves', 'Naked' and 'Career Girls' (which is a movie I'm not too crazy about, but she's great in it). In the film she goes through every emotion possible, and makes it believable. Weather its the scene when her mother dies, the scene when she makes the 2 aggressive men who try to rape her back off simply by keeping her cool and just using words, or the tension on her face and in her body every time she interacts with her "pimp", played by Colm Meaney. I put quotations around the word; pimp, because Colm Meaney doesn't play your typical pimp in the film. In fact, you almost forget that's what he really is. In the film, you get the idea that selling upscale hookers isn't his only business. He wears a suit and tie in the entire movie. He's well spoken and polite (usually), and what stands out the most is that he never hits Claire at all in the movie, but we still get the idea that he's someone you don't wanna mess with, and we get to see that side of him in 2 scenes.
These days I've been getting more into to female performances under the direction of a female director (samantha morton in lynne ramsay's 'morven callar', isabelle hupert in claire denis's 'white material, marina de van directing herself in 'in my skin'), but Lodge Kerrigan manages to explore the female world without coming off like hes misogynistic or clueless towards women. In fact, 'Claire Dolan' paints a pretty shitty picture of the male race with the exception of Vincent D'Onofrio.
'Claire Dolan' is almost perfect as far as I'm concerned. So far, all of Lodge Kerrigan's film are connected by his continued exploration of mental illness (like Peter Greene and Damian Lewis in 'Clean Shaven' and 'Keane') or at least mental instability (as we see with D'Onofrio). As he states on the commentary track of 'Clean Shaven', Lodge Kerrigan is very much inspired by Polanski's work, and it really does show. I have yet to see his most recent movie, but hopefully it'll be playing at Toronto this year (which I'll be attending).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flud Review: 'Your Highness'

Your Highness

MEEK'S CUTOFF

In Kelly Reichardt's latest film (which is her first film set outside of the present day) we follow three families who try to cross the Oregon Trail with the help of a tracker, who gives off the vibe that he hasn't got a clue where he's going (no matter how much he brags and boasts about how well he knows the land). Naturally the characters suffer some setbacks along the way and they eventually end up capturing a Native American who's been following them for some time.
The ending of the film seems to piss some people off. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that Meek's Cutoff has a VERY open ending. Some may consider it a cliffhanger, while others will be going; "you cant be serious. that cannot be the end" (something i actually heard someone say this past weekend at the film film forum when the end credits for Meek's Cutoff came up on the screen). On one hand i really commend Kelly Reichardt. It takes balls (well maybe not balls in HER case) to end a movie the way she did. On the other hand i feel that she took an easy way out. These days, ANY movie involving any type of relationship between native americans (or people of any race for that matter) and white people seems to piss someone off. Because of this, i think a lot of (mostly white) directors are timid when approaching these kinds of stories. For example, on the commentary track for 'In The Company Of Men', Neil Labutte kept reassuring that the scene where Aaron Eckhart corrects the young black employees english and makes him pull his pants down wasn't supposed to be seen as racist. But why not? Part of 'In The Company Of Men' of men is about "the workplace", which CAN be very racist. That doesn't mean Labutte himself is racist (the irony of course is that he later went on to make the awful 'Lakeview Terrace' movie with Samuel L. Jackson). Same thing with the ending of 'Night of The Living Dead'. Roger Corman insists that the ending wasn't supposed to have anything to do with race. But, once again, why not? It doesn't mean Roger Corman is racist. Once again, without giving too much away, its almost like Kelly Reichardt didn't wanna do the wrong thing, or she was worried about portraying the native american character as a savage leading the three families to the slaughter, so she left the ending up to the audience to decide. I also don't think she wanted to make an ending that showed the native american befriending and working with the white characters, which is that typical 'dances with wolves'/'new world' thing that some american directors tend to do. If Reichardt had made that kind of an ending, i know that i woulda been a little annoyed. Why would this native american character help these people who captured him, tied him up and beat him (well i guess only one person in the group was aggressive and violent towards him, but still...). I still would have personally liked to see her make a decision on her own, and come to more of a closing.
Anyway, Regardless of the ending (which is still a big thing), the rest of the movie is really good. Michelle Williams continues to show why she's one of my favorite actresses working right now. Will Patton, who always seems to come off as a young Robert Duvall, was perfectly cast, as was Paul Dano. Shirley Henderson continues to play a slightly clueless and somewhat ditsy character, which is a role I'm afraid shes starting to get typecast as. Bruce Greenwood, who plays the clueless tracker does a great job too. It would've been nice to see Reichardt's frequent collaborators like Will Oldham or even Larry Fessenden (who's work i only recently discovered) act in the film. Their persona's seem go perfectly with the old time setting of Meek's Cutoff. Like all of Kelly Reichardt's other films, she continues to focus on the poor and the not-so-well off, like Oldham's character in 'Old Joy' and Michelle Williams character in 'Wendy & Lucy'. She also continues to photograph the american landscape and nature beautifully just like she does in all her other films.

'Old Joy'
'Wendy & Lucy'
'Meek's Cutoff'

Watching Meek's Cutoff really did remind me of the Oregon trail computer game i use to play in school. Having to cross the river while carrying personal items above your head so they don't sink, having to repair broken wagon axle's, the riffle shooting, running low on water, everything. Overall this movie was a success, even with the extremely ambiguous ending. But like i explained earlier, if you aren't a fan of open endings, and you like things to be wrapped up a little more nicely, you'll probably throw something at the screen when you watch this. This is one of those movies that will grow on me over time, like all of Reichardt's movies.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tindersticks/Claire Denis box set to be released!!!!

This is great news! All the info you need is in the link below...
claire denis/tindersticks
Check out Tindersticks's music used in the trailers to some off Denis's films..






MULTI-FACIAL (Vin Diesel tackles race for the first and only time in his career)

I know this title may sound like a porno (multi-FACIAL), but its actually a short film starring vin diesel about his struggles landing roles early on in his career because he looked either; "too white" or "too black". Not only did Vin Diesel star, write and direct the movie, but it was his first entry in to film, period. Sometimes rejection and frustration from Hollywood can cause a person to make their own path, which is what Vin Diesel did (whether you like his movies or not...which i personally don't). This movie ended up making the film festival circuit and ended up screening at Cannes. Steven Spielberg saw it and liked it so much that he cast Vin Diesel in 'Saving Private Ryan', and the rest is history. This blog entry is very rare, because i can almost guarantee you wont ever see Vin Diesel or Steven Spielberg's name mentioned in this blog again outside of a joke (although i did like 'Pitch Black' and 'Find Me Guilty' now that i think about it).
The reason I'm writing this is because a friend recently posted that viral video of Vin Diesel breakdancing as a kid. Every time i see that, i always wonder if people know how he got his start in movies. Don't get it twisted, after 'Multi-Facial' he went on to become a typical action star. I'm not using this blog to praise Vin Diesel's acting career or anything like that, but anyone i come in contact with never seems to realize 'Multi Facial' even exists. He wasn't some guy who just magically landed roles in 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'The Iron Giant'. I'm also posting this because at a party this past weekend, i got in to a long talk about movies and race. When Michael Mann's 'Ali' came up in conversation, a friend pointed out something that i never even realized (and I'm almost in disbelief that i never thought about this until Saturday). The point he made was that it seemed when it comes time to cast a major role for a black person, they just look at what current black actor is available. There's never an attempt to "make" a new actor or take an unknown and transform him to 'Ali' (or almost any role for that matter). It has to be someone people already know. But take a role like 'Thor' (and many others). When Hollywood needed a Thor (or a new spiderman, or the dude from twilight, or a harry potter, etc) they go on a search for one and make one (naturally all of those actors had been in movies before, but never a MAJOR role). There are exceptions that we're all aware of like; robert downey jr. christian bale and michael keaton, but you get the point I'm trying to make.
Not only does 'Multi-Facial' go hand in hand with classics like; 'Hollywood Shuffle', 'Story Of A Three Day Pass' and 'Chameleon Street', but it actually shows a side of Vin Diesel that most people weren't unaware of. Even though All the movies i mentioned above deal mostly with racial issues concerning black people, any multi-racial actor or an actor that looked a different race can relate to it. From: Anthony Quinn - a legendary actor who's played everyone from a Latino to an Italian, to Victor Argo - a Puerto Rican icon of new york city independent film who was often typecast as an Italian in the films of Martin Scorsese (mean streets) and Jim Jarmusch (ghost god) to a Jewish person (last temptation of christ) to Lou Diamond Philips, who's probably played every single race possible with the exception of a black person and a white person in the 1980's alone, to even The Rock. And lets not forget women. In fact, with women it goes a lot deeper, because non-white female actresses with a race that cant be pinned down always seem to get that ridiculous "exotic" label. Jessica Alba is an obvious example of this. But lets not forget people like Rae Dawn Chong (the token light skin girl of the 80's who was always cast when it was still somewhat "dangerous" to put an actress with dark skin opposite a white male lead in a romantic relationship). After i watched Vin Diesel's short for the first time, i imagined this is what a lot of these actors went through.
'Multi Facial' also draws a lot of comparison to John Cassavetes's first film; 'Shadows' - the story of 3 siblings (2 brothers and 1 sister) who are all different shades of black. The oldest brother, who struggles with the same auditioning/rejection stuff that Vin Diesel does in 'Mult-Facial', is the darkest. The light skinned middle brother seems to struggle with his identity and light skin complexion the most, while the youngest and lightest skinned (who basically passes for white) sister, is dumped by her boyfriend when he discovers she is actually black. Also, all the films previously mentioned (shadows, Hollywood shuffle, multi facial, the story of a 3 day pass and chameleon street) share the same rawness and have the same "rough around the edges" feel, but still get their point across. All of those movies are also directorial debuts.

The 3 sibling in 'Shadows'
'Hollywood Shuffle'

Wendall B Harris paints his daughters barbie black in 'Chameleon Street'
Vin Diesel auditioning for the part of a stereotypical Italian in 'Multi-Facial', which he doesn't get, because he looks "too black". In the film he also loses a role in a beer commercial because the actors are supposed to be black, and he's told he looks "too white". In fact, he doesn't even get to audition. He's stopped at the door by the casting agent at first sight who informs him that he looks to light. He also auditions for the part of a Latino as well.

My only issue with Mr. Diesel is that after his career took off, he never seemed to revisit or work in any more movies that dealt with racial issues (unless I'm forgetting something). Anyway, this is an interesting short film. Yes the acting the is VERY rough, and theres a scene where Vin Diesel raps which will make you wanna look away and cringe, but its definitely worth checking out (below). It's nothing new, but given Vin Diesel's filmography, you wouldn't expect something like this from him.


Friday, April 8, 2011

MELANCHOLIA TRAILER

The trailer for one of my most anticipated movies of 2011 is finally here. I'm not too sure what to think about it, but it does look interesting. And who knows what too expect after Lars Von Trier's last movie. In fact, 'Melencholia' almost looks like a sequel to 'Antichrist'. Judging from the trailer, it looks like Charlotte Gainsbourg is going all out once again just like shes done for Von Trier in the past (whether you like 'Antichrist' or not, you cant deny that Gainsbourg did an amazing job). Dunst and Sutherland seem like interesting casting choices and there seems to be some pretty cool special effects too. Anyway, here it is...


"chaos reigns"

IRMA VEP: OLIVIER ASSAYAS'S 'THE PLAYER'

Olivier Assayas' 'Irma Vep' feels like the french/arthouse version of robert altman's 'the player', except on a smaller scale and without the murder. Assayas shows that Hollywood isn't the only movie scene where there's backstabbing, shadiness and utter chaos going on behind the camera. 'Irma Vep' (an anagram for "Vampire") is a fictional film about a studio's attempt to remake the old french silent film; 'Les Vampires', and all the craziness that comes along with it. The film is also a jab at modern french cinema (just like what 'The Player' was to Hollywood at the time of its release). Maggie Cheung essentilly stars as herself, set to reprise the title role in the remake. The somewhat unstable/washed-up director, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, has hired Cheung to act in the remake after seeing her agility & gracefulness in an action movie she did a few years ago (he seems to have no idea that all those agile and graceful maneuvers he saw were actually done by a stunt person and not Maggie Cheung herself).  After a chaotic shoot, the cast and crew look at the dailies, and the director is so displeased with the footage that he storms off and eventually has a nervous breakdown, leaving the fate of the film in limbo.
My favorite aspect of 'Irma Vep' isn't so much the main plot, but rather all the little things that are going on in the background and the references to other movies. Unfortunately, if you aren't up on french cinema, you might not get some of the little inside jokes and references. To some viewers, watching 'Irma Vep' might feel like watching Todd Haynes's 'Im Not There', but knowing very little about Bob Dylan (which is exactly what happened to me'). For example; legendary french actress Bulle Ogier has a cameo in 'Irma Vep', and makes a reference to how much she "likes latex". Unless you've seen her in 'Maitresse', where she played a dominatrix, you'll have no idea what she's talking about, or why that line is funny.

Bulle Ogier's Cameo In 'Irma Vep' ("I Like Latex")
Bulle Olgier (wearing latex) in 'Maitresse' (1975)

Speaking of latex, the costume used in the irma vep remake (pictured below), is not only an obvious nod to the michelle pfeiffer catwoman outfit (in fact there's a scene in 'Irma Vep' at the beginning of the movie where the costume designer shows Maggie Cheung a picture of pfeiffer's catwoman costume)...
Irma Vep
Batman 2

...but the latex costume also seemed to foreshadow Olivier Assayas' growing fascination with leather, latex and S&M which he explored in his later films...
'Demonlover' (2002)
'Boarding Gate' (2007)

There are plenty of other clever scenes and funny references to not just french cinema, but the movie industry all together. Take the first few minutes of the film. At first it seems kind of chaotic with all the handheld cinematography, but after a minute you realize there's a lot of structure. We see the same production assistant walk in and out of the scene holding a toy gun, trying to get approval from someone as to weather or not it looks real enough to use in a movie. The camera passes by a production manager arguing on the phone about budget while another production assistant, wearing a 'Terminator 2' t-shirt, quickly comes in to frame, etc. When Maggie Cheung arrives on set, fresh off of working on a kung-fu action movie, she's surrounded by various crew members. Cheung's character  is more interesting than i think people realize. When she arrives on the set of the 'Irma Vep' remake (which is essentially an arthouse film), its almost like she's somewhat insecure that she just came from doing a big action movie, so she tries to play it off like; "oh whatever, it was just a stupid martial arts movie. i dont really care about it". Any time in the film when Maggie Cheung is asked how she feels about french cinema or how she feels about acting in a remake of a classic french film, she gives these generic/vague answer like; "yeah, you know i like french movies a lot. i like the images". Later on in 'Irma Vep' there's a scene where a somewhat prick-ish/pretentious film critic calls her out on her vague and generic attitude.

Jean Pierre Leaud as a pretentious director in 'Last Tango In Paris'
Jean Pierre Leaud Directs in 'Irma Vep'

Olivier Assayas has a unique perspective on french cinema in that not only is he a director, but he was a film critic for Cahier Du Cinema. Some people may see that as a conflict of interest. When you watch 'Irma Vep' you can see both sides of Assayas. You can tell that some parts of 'Irma Vep' were approached by Assayas's film critic side, while other aspects of the movie where approached by his filmmaker side.
If you like movies like; '24 Hour Party People', 'Ivans XTC' or 'The Player', you'll enjoy 'Irma Vep' (even more if you're a fan of french cinema).

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