Friday, December 28, 2012


Afterschool (2008)
Prejudge independent & art house cinema all you want (its slow, it’s pretentious, it doesn’t make any sense) but filmmakers within that scene have been exploring violence, detachment & desensitization among youth (a problem that's worse than ever these days) masterfully for decades. Do movies hold all the answers (or any for that matter)? Not really. And this is ME saying this. But there are some important films out there that can bring about some good dialogue & discussion better than any impulsive or irrational facebook status update. Although they are the two biggest issues, Gun control & mental illness (along with ways to spot, handle & properly treat mental illness) aren't the only issues of concern regarding all these mass killings & violent outbursts where we usually see a young person behind the trigger
Elephant (2003)
After Larry Clark squeezed absolutely everything he could out of the "youth of America gone wild" genre, highlighted by Kids & Wassup Rockers, it was time for new territory to be explored. Times were changing. Teens doing drugs at parties, driving drunk, getting pregnant too young, etc, will always be a concern but there were other issues that weren’t being addressed on the big screen like the Internet, the impact of television, senseless violence, easy access to disturbing viral videos and the negative effect all of that could possibly have on young minds if sponged up in excess. Youth were (and still are) downloading & file sharing snuff videos, going on chat roulette and videotaping school fights with cell phone cameras and posting them all over the Internet. Bigger films like American Beauty tried to touch on this with the Wes Bentley character (the awkward, emotionless teen who went around videotaping plastic trash bags floating in the wind), but not only did American Beauty just graze over issues of desensitized youth but it also kinda insulted youth with this unrealistic & silly portrayal (lets be real, teens with video cameras aren’t going around filming plastic trash bags. They're videotaping school fights and bully sessions). While American Beauty continues to get praise for being "daring" & "controversial", other films were (and still are) lightyears ahead in dealing with relevant issues. In 1992 Michael Haneke gave us Benny's Video - a film, loosely based on the true story of a young boy who filmed himself killing a young girl just to see what it would be like to kill (I’ve kinda simplified the film but that’s the basic premise). Naturally a piece on desensitized youth written by yours truly is gonna mention Todd Solondz (a master of representing teens in my opinion), and his 2001 feature; Storytelling, where Paul Giamatti plays an aspiring documentary filmmaker who follows an apathetic average teen around for a film project. In 2003, Gus Van Sant gave us the columbine inspired Elephant about two isolated bullied teens who go on a shooting spree in their high school. In that same year Olivier Assayas gave us the strangely awesome Demonlover which ends with a nameless teen in "Anywhere America" stealing a credit card out of the pocket of his father to buy a membership to a hardcore S&M porn site where the models are brutally tortured. As that final scene unfolds we see the teen watch this torture porn with no emotion on his face at all. In recent years Ezra Miller has become somewhat of a poster child for desensitized youth in film appearing in both; Afterschool (Antonio Campos' 2008 drama about the death of two teen girls caught on the cell phone camera of a fellow classmate) & We Need To Talk About Kevin (another Columbine-inspired story about the aftermath of a high school massacre told from the perspective of the mother of the student responsible for the killings). Actually, We Need To Talk About Kevin is the ONE film in the bunch I have some form of reservation about including (Kevin clearly had problems long before his teenage years)
There's also "2nd tier" works like; Paranoid Park (also directed by Gus Van Sant in a very similar style as Elephant), Water Lilies (which is more about sex than it is about violence and the Internet) & Mean Creek (which is pretty average & "sundancy" but it’s still kinda relevant to this write-up). I’m sure there’s a film or two I may have missed but I feel these select few pretty much cover all the bases of what I wanna touch on in this write-up.
Benny's Video (1992)
Even though the key films I just mentioned come from completely different directors with completely different backgrounds, experiences & upbringings, they all feature a lot of the same elements. First of all, with the exception of We Need To Talk About Kevin & Storytelling, the presence of parents & adults in these films are at a minimum. This is an element that I feel comes from the cinema of Larry Clark. In all of his prominent works that focus on youth (Kids, Wassup Rockers, Bully & Ken Park) the adults & parents are either absent, barely seen or out of touch and have no idea what’s going on with their kids. The only two prominent adult figures in Van Sant's Elephant (that we only see in two scenes) are the high school principal and a father of one of the main characters. Benny's parents (Benny’s video) are barely seen for the first half of the film and only really make their presence known towards the end. The parents in Storytelling are too caught up in being suburbanites to realize how completely fucked up all their kids are (especially their youngest who comes off like a young tea party member). John C. Reilly is the epitome of the clueless parent that doesn’t know his kid in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Or was his character just in denial? When the parents in these films finally do step up to be the adults in a situation that requires them too, they're either too late or make shitty decisions. At the start of Elephant, the only parental figure is drunk and it’s his son (who probably doesn’t even have a license) that has to drive himself to school. The parents in Benny's Video try to do what they think is best by covering up the murder their son committed. In the end it’s Benny that does the adult thing and turns himself in. Desensitization is somewhat a reflection of parenting. On a certain level parents (that are around) have the power to control senseless violence or the amount of blinky/flashy things their kids watch and the number of “screens” they put their face in. When kids can easily access (or produce & upload) footage of other teens fighting in the back of a high school, 2 girls 1 cup or a Serbian military be-heading there needs to be a parent or a parental figure for those that may not have parents to encourage their kids to socialize, read a book or go outside and get away from all the screens (TV, computer, ipads, iphone, etc) and interact with other kids outside of a social network and actually get in touch reality. Talk to your kids, be a part of their lives and know what’s going on. Benny's parents had no idea he watched footage (on the expensive equipment they bought for him) of animals being murdered non-stop but I'm sure they thought they were model parents with perfect children. Kevin's father had no idea he was a violent kid plotting to massacre his fellow classmates. The two teens that shoot up their school in Elephant were so unsupervised (we only see their parents for seconds towards the end of the film) that they were able to purchase guns online and have them delivered to their front door! Afterschool takes place in a private school, so right off the back the presence of parents shouldn’t be expected. Furthermore, Antonio Campos films all the adults, teachers & parents either from the neck up or out of focus giving the adults a detached almost inhuman-like presence. In one scene the main character, played by Ezra Miller, is talking to his mom over the phone trying to explain how isolated and lonely he feels and the only advice she gives him is to take medication or to just suck it up & deal with it.
Beny's Video
The next thing all these films have in common is that the main characters are white male teens (I'm sure you've noticed by now that none of the teenagers in the images used so far of any other race). From columbine & aurora to the recent shooting in Newtown, all the shooters pretty much fit the same description (two of the shooters were in their early 20's, but still...). All these recent tragic events echo elements of Haneke's 71 Fragments Of Chronology Of Chance (the follow-up to Benny's Video) where the film ends with a college student snapping out of nowhere and shooting up a bank full of people then himself. This moment is immediately followed by random television clips of the news, game shows and other various television programs which are obviously meant to drive home the (possible) danger of television and how it can affect us. Desensitization & detachment was a common theme in Hakeke's early work. 71 Fragments was eventually followed up by Funny Games - a comment on violence in television & film and how pointless & formulaic it’s. Afterschool, Elephant & Water Lilies are the only three films in the group that show things from the perspective of teen girls. With the female characters in these films the desensitization is towards sex as opposed to violence. I do love most of the films in this group. Even stuff I find problematic & flawed like We Need To Talk About Kevin & Mean Creek are still important works. But the one major issue I have with just about all the (good) films concerning youth today is the what seems like exclusive exploration of white male teens with every other demographic playing the background or not really being represented at all. I guess Haneke gets a pass as his early films are based out of Austria where I imagine there aren’t many Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other races, but for American filmmakers who claim to be progressive or make progressive films (lets not kid ourselves, they may not right out call themselves progressive, but that’s their goal as filmmakers) I expect a little bit more diversity. When you see the real life shooters responsible for Columbine and other high school shootings or violent incidents involving teens it’s understandable that the films influenced by those events will focus mainly on young white males, but they aren’t the only ones to go to high school, or show signs of detachment & desensitization or are affected by violence. Just sayin’ – it wouldn’t hurt to add some color.
The emphasis of "the screen" is another important element in all these works. Once again, each of the aforementioned films features at least one key scene where our main character is zoning out in front of a screen (computer, television, tablet, whatever). Films like We Need To Talk About Kevin (which I did have many problems with) heightens this key scene by putting an emphasis on the lighting of the screen as it bounces of the blank zombie-like face of our character (similar to what haneke did in The Seventh Continent). Benny's Video shows our main character totally zoning out with hardly any emotion on his face while rewinding the same scene of a pig being shot in the head over & over. Benny's Video, along with Afterschool & Mean Creek, show things from a voyeuristic point of view. A good portion of these films are shown from the perspective of a camcorder & cell phone camera within the film. This gives off a cold almost soulless & detached feel - little to no music or dialogue and just an overall polarizing feel. Antonio Campos' Afterschool is very much Altman influenced (single take shots where the camera slowly zooms in without any cuts, little intricacies in the background that you have to pay attention too, etc)
Benny's Video
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Watching stuff like Benny’s Video almost feels like watching a warning sign. Although it was made in the early 90s before facebook, tablets, twitter, violent viral videos and other void filling distractions, the issues in that film are more prevalent now than they were 20 years ago when it was made. Am I saying parents should sit their pre-teens or teenagers down to watch some depressing Austrian film or a low budget American indie that only film nerds like me remember? Of course not. I’m suggesting that these films be checked out by people capable of comprehending the messages in them so they might have a little better understanding of what's going on today. Very few films have ever really painted youth as the complicated individuals that they really are, making Elephant (an American film dealing with American issues that got more respect in Europe than in its own country), Benny's Video, the earlier work of Todd Solondz and Afterschool rare gems that shouldn't be looked at as just typical movies.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

BEST OF 2012!!!

In a year with some HUGE disappointments (Prometheus and its abundance of unforgivable plot holes, the unnecessarily convoluted Dark Knight Rises, The Master, etc) 2012 still turned out to be a pretty awesome year where today’s modern masters (or filmmakers I personally consider to be masters) like; Cronenberg (Cosmopolis), Haneke (Amour), Carax (Holy Motors), Malick (To The Wonder) & Reygadas (Post Tenebras Lux) all delivered. This was a big year for me personally as Leos Carax (a personal favorite of mine) broke his 13 year hiatus (excluding his short film; Merde), Michael Haneke continued his perfect streak and we got the old David Cronenberg back! Post Tenebras Lux, To Wonder & Amour left me either floored or on the verge of tears while Holy Motors, Room 237, Brief Encounters (as well as Seven Psychopaths & Argo which appear in my honorable mention category) all made me appreciate the power of cinema and to not feel so bad about my (borderline) unhealthy fascination with it. For the third year in a row Greece has made my top 10 (Attenberg) and has proven to be at the forefront of unique, twisted & odd humor (Attenberg). David O. Russell surprised the hell outta me once again (Silver Linings Playbook) and The Avengers (which really does stick out like a sore thumb) proved to be the most fun movie going experience of 2012. While everyone’s been busy praising Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as Lincoln (which is understandable) the cast of Haneke’s Amour as well as Javier Bardem (Skyfall & To The Wonder) & Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) gave some of the best performances of the year. Also, actors that I’m not very fond of like Robert Pattinson (who held his own in an ensemble cast of great actors like Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton & Paul Giamatti), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), James Franco (Spring Breakers) & Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) all made me put my foot in my mouth.
I’ve already written about half the movies in the top 10 (Post Tenebras Lux, Holy Motors, To The Wonder, Attenberg & Silver Linings Playbook) as well as half the movies in my honorable mention category, so I won’t repeat myself too much. I would like to reiterate that 2012 was the year of what I like to call “sketchbook”/stream of conscious cinema (Post Tenebras Lux, Holy Motors, To The Wonder & Cosmopolis). Half of this year’s best films felt like personal dreams, internal feelings & beautiful random thoughts projected on to the big screen in an unforced, non-pretentious way which is something I’ve been waiting to see for these last couple of years.
I’m not saying 2012 is one of the best years for cinema overall, but once the dust settled we were left with a couple of films that may already end up being some of the defining works of the decade...

Besides the top 10 listed above, 2012 brought us a few noteworthy films that I’d feel bad about not mentioning. Although Ben Affleck has yet to top Gone Baby Gone (or even The Town for that matter) he still continues to mature & grow as a director with each project - He finally let the Boston/Massachusetts setting go, he didn’t need to rely on an ensemble cast of A-List and/or “known” actors to make his film seem more appealing (not to say that John Goodman, Alan Arkin & Bryan Cranston aren’t great), and he took on a fairly challenging & (somewhat) amazing true story.
Besides The Avengers, Seven Psychopaths is probably the most fun I had at the movies in a while. Along with Sam Rockwell & Christopher Walken’s presence, it’s always a pleasure to see Harry Dean Stanton (who also made an unexpected appearance in The Avengers) & Tom Waits on the big screen giving some memorable performances as well. Normally I can’t stand that unnecessary Tarantino-esque celebration of mindless/comedic violence but Seven Psychopaths managed to make it work.
This year got off to such a slow start that by the middle of the year Moonrise Kingdom was the best thing I’d seen so far. Naturally Toronto changed all that (the large majority of the top 10 is made up stuff I saw at TIFF) but Wes Anderson, who’s style is starting to get a bit played out to some, managed to make a fun film for just about any age group that should get some type of mention. I understand how important it is to have a unique style, but I don’t think it would hurt for Anderson to stretch himself a little bit with his next project - let Bill Murray, Mark Mothersbaugh & Jason Schwartzman go and do something completely unexpected. The same applies to Harmony Korine. Spring Breakers was a fun, strange & odd ride that I want to see again just off the strength of James Franco’s performance but Korine’s ironic exploration of white people and “gangsta”/”bling” culture is starting to get a little old. But his growth as a filmmaker between Gummo and Spring Breakers is more than evident and he deserves to be mentioned.

Here’s a category I’m bringing back from my 2010 wrap-up which featured Black Swan & the underrated & misunderstood Black Venus. For those of you who don’t remember what it’s all about – this category is reserved for somewhat flawed films that some will find great, innovative and/or different (in a good way) while others may find pointless or silly. Technically this category should be reserved for To The Wonder, but I’d like to give some attention to a couple of smaller films that probably won’t get the same kinda play that To The Wonder will surely get once it hits theaters next year. Let’s be honest, anyone who even half knows me should know I wasn’t gonna finish this year without mentioning the Tim & Eric movie. At this point I know I sound like a broken record because I’ve made this statement already, but just like 99% of all sketch comedy-based feature films, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar was generally panned by most (even by some hardcore fans of the show), but those who got it…got it (sorry to sound so elitist & pretentious but that’s the best I can do). And to be quite honest, you should already know what to expect when it comes to Tim & Eric (especially in a feature length film). If you can’t take the 15 minute long television episodes you probably shouldn’t try for a 90 minute movie. I highly doubt most people miraculously stumbled in to this movie without knowing anything about Tim & Eric so you if you were disappointed or pissed at how stupid it was you really got what you deserved and shoulda known what to expect. But on the other side, Tim & Eric are an acquired taste and no one should really be given too much shit for not liking them.
Krivina is a film that couldn’t be more different from Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (other than the fact that both movies are “surreal”) but it’s another film that you have to kind of discover and read about before watching or you might be disappointed. Unlike most recent art house works, Krivina is one of the few that actually deserves a comparison to the style of Tarkovsky. This took some time to grow on me but after sitting on it for a few days I realized its brilliance. I’m not going to get too much in to this one because everything that needed to be said about this film can be found over at The Toronto Film Review but basically if you’re a fan of slow, droning, depressing, mysterious, dark eastern European art house cinema with a Brian Eno-esque score - this one’s for you. If you were looking forward to Cloud Atlas or The Hobbit there’s a strong chance this isn’t your thing.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a judgmental prick when it comes to cinema. Sometimes all I need is a trailer or even a brief synopsis to completely write a movie off. I mean let’s be honest, look at the movies below – A 21 Jump Street re-boot, a movie about male strippers and one of those movies thats shot from the perspective of someone holding a video camera 24/7? None of that sounded appealing to me. I only saw each of these films for one reason – With 21 Jump Street it was the trailer (hey, it was funny and it worked although I had a feeling it would still be stupid), with Magic Mike it was only (and I mean ONLY) because it was directed by Steven Soderbergh who has this chameleon-like adaptability to direct just about anything (remake, biopic, art house, big budget blockbuster, experimental low budget indie, action, science fiction drama, etc). Plus he has the work ethic of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (putting out two quality films a year). And I only got around to seeing Chronicle off the strength of a friends (unexpected) recommendation. I honestly can’t stand those Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity P.O.V. films. At the end of the day, these turned out to be WAY better than I expected. 21 Jump Street may have had its share of frat boy, fart, homoerotic humor but it made me laugh. And speaking of homoerotic - I ended up liking Magic Mike more than my girlfriend (pretty sure that’s not what was supposed to happen). It had a glossy almost indescribable style with a plot that I didn’t see coming. And as an Akira fan, I appreciated its influence on Chronicle (as well as Looper). More importantly, Chronicle made an original attempt at trying to pull off the fake documentary/P.O.V. genre that’s kind of oversaturated the movie world in the last 5 years or so.

Highlights, Lowlights & other random movie moments from 2012 (*SPOILER ALERT*)...

-A tour of James Franco’s crib in Spring Breakers in which he shows off all his “shit”

-The (excellent) cinematography in To The Wonder

-Charlize Theron revealing herself to be Old Guy Pierce’s daughter as if it’s supposed to mean something in Prometheus

-Listening to people defend Prometheus for the last 6 months by saying stuff like; “It’s just a science fiction film for intellectuals. I wouldn’t expect you to get it” or “There’s going to be a sequel so not everything needs to be spelled out” (Just stop. It was bad. Admit it)

The Dark Knight Rises / Skyfall
-All the elaborate set-ups where the villain gets caught on purpose only to turn the tables on everyone and you can’t help but say to yourself; “they didn’t really need to go through all that” (opening sequence in Dark Knight Rises & Javier Bardem’s prison break in Skyfall)

-I can barely hear what anyone in the movie is saying because the score is too LOUD & distracting: The Dark Knight Rises

-Wait, is this Inception or Batman?: Dark Knight Rises

-Annoyed that I missed: The Hunt, The Comedy, The Man With The Iron Fist, Tabu, Expendables 2, Haywire & Wanderlust

-Indifferent on missing: Lincoln, Redhook Summer, Flight, Life Of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty & Spiderman

-Completely fine with missing (although I'm sure I'll eventually see it): Django Unchained

-Other movies from 2012 worth mentioning: Outrage Beyond & Looper

-Yes, I saw it: The Hobbit

Breaking Dawn Part 2
-Yeah, I saw that too: Breaking Dawn Part 2

-Not the worst remake: Passion

-Unique idea, but not so sure how I feel about it: The Act Of Killing

-A poor man’s Shame: Thanks For Sharing

-This year’s Melancholia: 4:44 Last Day On Earth

-This year’s Black Power Mixtape: Free Angela & All Political Prisoners

-Meh: The Kid With A Bike, Something In The Air

-Dont understand all the praise: The Beast Of The Southern Wild

-Dont understand all the negative criticism: The Beast Of The Southern Wild

-Javier Bardem giggling to himself after putting his dentures back in (Skyfall)

-Have these even been released yet: Faust & Dark Girls

-Oh my god, fucking END already (movies that coulda used some serious editing): Wuthering Heights & Lawrence Anyways

-Good movies from last year that I saw this year: A Separation, Super 8, Beginners

Will Forte (Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie)
-Will Forte: “NO I dont want customer service, you stupid BIIITCH! I want you to put me through to headquarters, GOD DAMMIT!” (Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie)

-Giovanni Ribisi: "can I get a hug?" (Ted)

-Sam Rockwell: “Honey, I meant like Chlamydia or something” (Seven Psychopaths)

-Bradley Cooper: “Is this song seriously playing right now?!” (Silver Linings Playbook)

-Self decapitation scene in Post Tenebras Lux

-The dance sequences in Attenberg

-The getaway scene at the end of Argo (you knew they were gonna make it but it was still a nail bitter)

-The breakdown of the space room in Room 237

-The over analysis of the Bill Watson character in Room 237

-What Happened to?: Grandmasters

-The lack of Harvey Keitel in Moonrise Kingdom

-The lack of Laura Dern in The Master

-Overrated performances: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) & Bill Murray (Hyde Park On Hudson)

-Underrated performances: Javier Bardem (To The Wonder), Denis Lavant (Holy Motors), Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis)

-Great performance in a disappointing movie: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

-Surprisingly good performance: Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis)

-Surprisingly bad performance: Wynona Ryder (The Iceman)

-Carl Lewis coming off like a complete dick in 9.79

21 Jump Street
-Johnny Depp & Peter Deluise getting shot in the neck at the end of 21 Jump Street

-Reasons to look forward to 2013: Only God Forgives, Knight Of Cups, Ironman 3, Only Lovers Left Alive, 12 Years A Slave, Star Trek: Into Darkness, A Place Beyond The Pines, Michael Shannon playing Zod in the Superman re-boot

Well that does it for 2012. From the inside the phoenix podcasts & pink smoke contributions to the site traffic & interviews (Marina De Van & Guy Maddin to name a few) its been a pleasure writing for you all. January is already done and I’m in the midst of working on entries for February. Thanks for reading…

Friday, December 14, 2012


I've been so busy trying to finish this end of the year movie wrap-up (which should be ready some time next week) that I didn't give myself enough time to do a Christmas movie entry. Luckily my good friend Doug Frye (one of the few people I know that truly understands this terrible masterpiece of a film) was available to write about the movie I had in mind - Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2.
If you haven't read his piece on The Punisher that was part of our Expendables Special back in august or tuned in to his Schlock Treatment Podcast at some point, you're doing yourself a disservice.


      -The Incredible Hulk 


      -Billy Caldwell 


      -Ricky Caldwell

Some monsters come alive with a single word, as if by magic. When not magical creatures, they must be surely gamma-irradiated—I assume this to be the case with Billy and Ricky, the Hulk-strong brothers starring in, respectively, Silent Night, Deadly Night and its sequel. In deference to whomever Mr. Pinn has tapped to review the original, I’ll stick to writing about Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 as best I can, though somewhere between forty-five and sixty percent of the sequel consists of scenes from the original film presented as flashbacks. In fact, nearly all of the film’s action takes place in flashback, as Ricky relates his story (and his older brother, Billy’s) to his court appointed psychologist. Ricky has apparently been placed in the most minimum-security facility they could find, without a single guard present. I think SN,DN2 might be a revolutionary film, in that only the black guy setting up the recording equipment for Ricky’s session survived the film, a feat he accomplishes this by not trusting the murderer not to murder him. He’s the closest thing resembling security, and he’s a tech. This becomes even more ridiculous as Ricky’s story unfolds. He relates his earliest experience, a carjacker in a Santa suit killing his parents while he was just a baby. These are actually his brother’s earliest memories, but it’s cheaper for the producers to just recycle these. Long flashback short, Billy endures a brutal upbringing by nuns that combines with his childhood trauma, resulting in him killing a lot of people and leaving a murderous legacy to Ricky.
A couple, the Rosenbergs (perfect because they’ll “have nothing to do with Christmas”), adopts young Ricky, though even after having never been informed of the multiple traumas that Ricky has lived through, they still can’t seem to handle him, like when the mother shushes him as he trembles at the presence of a murder of nuns (a pack of nuns is called a murder). I thought at the scene where the parents went to the nice Sister Mary, they might be giving him back to the orphanage, just to rub some salt in his wounded psyche, but no, they keep him until their deaths, in about ten years. So, to recap the events: no one has made the slightest attempt to help this kid process his trauma—the closest thing he’s had to therapy are regular sister-issued beatings and being called “naughty.” The latter plays a big part in his development.
Ricky’s big break as a murderer comes in a deserted field, where he happens upon a picnicking couple for some reason. There’s no explanation for why he’s walking out there so far from anything. Anything, that is, save the film’s third attempted rape scene in only forty-five minutes (two of which came from the original film, in case you needed its actual legacy). Only Ms. 45 can compete with that kind of efficiency. This provides Ricky the opportunity at a sympathetic killing, driving over a redneck would-be-rapist with his own red jeep. While I found this detail unimportant, Ricky’s therapist felt the need to write down and highlight RED CAR in his notes. Ricky follows this up with a second killing—a mob enforcer collecting a gambling debt in the alley behind Ricky’s workplace. This is truly Ricky’s finest example of his handiwork, as well as the place where his gamma-irradiated genes come alive. Though the goon outsizes him significantly, Ricky is able to lift him off his feet singlehandedly, freeing his other hand to fish an umbrella from the garbage, spear the guy through his belly, and still have the dexterity to open the now blood soaked umbrella. It puts the much more popular “Garbage Day!” to shame. It won’t be Ricky’s last feat of superhuman strength, but it remains his most impressive.
Now, Ricky has developed a taste for blood, but presumably also for defending the weak from their tormentors. The film should have stuck to this logic, developing Ricky as a kind of pre-Dexter antihero. Instead, he’s all over the place, killing indiscriminately, and his “Naughty” catchphrase loses any meaning by the time he reaches the shooting sequence that’s the reason you’ve heard of this movie. At the end of this rampage, he’s just blindly shooting anyone who crosses his path. There is no punishment being delivered, just a massacre being enacted without any sense of Ricky’s busted moral compass guiding him. It’s unintentionally hilarious, but also drags the movie down in its abandonment of Ricky’s logic. Oh, and Ricky finishes his therapy session by making good on the veiled threats against his counselor, something he should have taken more seriously than the paintjob on cars his patient confiscated, leading to said patient escaping to the sounds of “Oh God, he’s loose!” into the completely unguarded facility holding this dangerous, super-powered psychopath.

From here, the movie gets confusing, devolving into a standard “slasher-stalks-heroine” act, except that the heroine is an aged, burn-scarred Mother Superior, the same nun who tormented young Billy so much that he went insane. The scene goes through all the classic beats, except I don’t want this evil woman to survive—I’m rooting much more for the demented result of her child-rearing approach. The whole scene ends up about as you would expect, with cops gunning down the now Santa-suited Ricky and him proving to be still alive for the promise of a sequel.

Had star Eric Freeman been available and interested, I’d have been game for a sequel, too. His weird energy and mugging in lieu of offering true menace carried the film to the cult status that it currently enjoys (according to the producers in a DVD commentary track, Freeman has vanished without a trace). While I won’t pretend that this is good, intended to be, or stood a chance to be on its meager roots, Sn,Dn2 is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Could “Garbage Day!” have been a written line, or is Freeman an ad-libbing genius? I’ll probably never know, but he made this film. Even better, I’d love a Punisher­-style part three featuring the return of both Ricky and Billy as twin murderous Santas, exacting punishment on all the naughty people at Christmastime, like two parents fighting over Cabbage Patch Dolls and Ticklish Elmos. Had they actually embraced the camp factor and dumped the slasher tropes, the Caldwell clan’s adventures could have continued for as long as Freddy Krueger managed to churn out sequels.
Well, they could have reached at least Leprechaunesque heights. Silent Night, Deadly Night in the Hood, anyone?

Friday, December 7, 2012


Nothing says true friendship like John Cassavetes' masterpiece; Husbands - a dramedy about three best friends who mourn the sudden loss of their friend in an unconventional yet manly way. At this point in my life I feel it's in John Cassavetes' all-time top three (along with Faces & A Woman Under The Influence). And nothing says chemistry like the performances of real life friends; Cassavetes, Peter Faulk & Ben Gazzara - a genuine rat pack in every sense of the term that could probably out drink and out party Sinatra, Martin & Sammy any day of the week. Husbands transcends age, era, race, upbringing, etc. Although Husbands centers around three forty-something year old upper-middle class family men, I still relate to so many things in the film. When I use to watch Husbands at the age of 21 & 22 I enjoyed it very much but I was still watching it at a distance. I couldn't fully relate to it at that point in my life. I had no responsibilities, bills, a family, nothing. It was like watching my father and his friends on film. But a decade later in my 30's (still maintaining the same group of close friends) I see elements of myself and my buddies in the characters in Husbands more & more (the same can be said for a film like Old Joy as well, which may be written about sometime early next year). Anyone who has that regular group of best friends that you've; gotten drunk with, laughed with, gotten in to trouble with, kicked out of a bar together, argued with then made up without talking an hour later can all relate to Gus (John Cassavetes), Archie (Peter Falk) & Harry (Ben Gazzara). My favorite aspect about Husbands is that it deals with grown men temporarily abandoning their responsibilities (jobs, family, money, etc) and going on an international bender for a few days to deal with the unexpected loss of their friend and fourth member of their group. This is a fantasy most adults would love to experience (minus the dead friend part) yet reality sets in and you realize you can’t just exactly up and run away to have a good time. But Cassavetes makes that fantasy of running off and saying; "fuck the world" for a few days a reality. And what makes Husbands such a reality is the very ending where we see his character (Gus) coming home from his multi-day drunken party where he's met by his (real life) son in the driveway saying; "DAD! oh boy. you're in trouble!" as if to imply no matter how long you take a break from reality to have a good time, you still have to come home and face your responsibilities at some point. Husbands is very much a "guys movie" - the three lead characters are loud & rambunctious, when you watch the film you can almost smell the beer, cigarettes & sweat and it's the one prominent Cassavetes film without a strong female presence. This isn't to say that women can't enjoy husbands (although I imagine most women who watch this will be laughing, rolling their eyes & shaking their heads at the same time as it will remind them of all the embarrassing & annoying things their boyfriends, husbands, fathers, brothers and other male loved ones do), but it's still very much a guys movie in the same sense that Steel Magnolias or even Morvern Callar (one of my favorite films actually) is very much a female film. Forget Spike TV or a Vin Diesel action movie - Husbands is a real mans film. Now…the one prominent female presence in the film DOES leave a lasting impression (with the exception of the three women Gus, Archie & Harry pick up in the last half of the film). In one of the film's most famous scenes, Gus' wife stand up to him (with a knife) to the point where she exposes him and he runs away from her like a scared child after trying to be a tough alpha-male.

Husbands has so many real, genuine & funny moments that sometimes you'll think you're watching B-role footage or bloopers (I mean that in a good way). Its difficult to pick a favorite scene...

Up 'til Husbands (excluding Too Late Blues & A Child is Waiting) Cassavetes was more accepted by Europeans than Americans. What's funny is that Cassavetes was never really a fan of the French art-house scene that accepted him. He genuinely thought Americans would embrace his films in the same way they would accept other American filmmakers like Robert Altman (who had minor "beef" with Cassavetes back in the day), Hal Ashby, Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller, Coppola & even Kubrick! This is the kinda delusional thinking that you have to love. Anyone who knows anything about cinema knows Cassavetes’ style was progressive, ahead of its time and would be more accepted by Europeans (some Americans appreciated him, but still…). But you have to love & respect Cassavetes for giving American audiences credit and assuming they wanted to see something new & different (only in the last decade have Americans REALLY embraced his work thanks to the Criterion box set of his five critical works). Husbands wasn't Cassavetes' biggest "crossover" or "successful" film (both; Faces & A Woman Under The Influence were nominated for multiple academy awards) but it was still nominated for a golden globe (best screenplay), Cassavetes and his crew landed on the cover of Life magazine...

John Cassavetes was also able to get some decent national promotion, most notably on the Dick Cavett show, where the drunken, immature, childish tone of Husbands spilled over in to real life making for one of the most memorable talk show appearances of all time. I don't know if their behavior was staged or not but this was brilliant and really conveyed what Husbands was all about (notice how annoyed Cavett gets as the show goes on)...

The dick cavett show - cassavetes, falk, and... by Ali_La_Pointe

With a few exceptions, I doubt a progressive film like this would get the same kind of national exposure today. Husbands isn't exactly "counterculture" but it still came out around the same 1969/1970 game changing era as other important (mostly counter culture) films like; Easy Rider, IF..., Two Lane Blacktop, Z, MASH and The Conformist (which is overrated to me, but still...). We all know the 70's were the greatest years of cinema and it makes sense that the decade started off with these important works.

European cinephiles (who were/are mostly leftists) in the early 70's felt a little betrayed by Husbands as it focused on everything they kinda despised at the time - the upper-middle class, loud ignorant drunken Americans, etc. This was probably Cassavetes' most "American" film. Whenever you read about Husbands on the festival circuit before it was released in theaters (especially in Ray Carney's “Cassavetes on Cassavetes”) you'll more than likely read stories of Cassavetes, Falk & Gazzara arguing with angry European audiences at Q&A’s who felt Cassavetes "sold out". The film wasn’t in black & white and there was no jazzy soundtrack (minus the opening credits). European's love of John Cassavetes always made me scratch my head because as a person he was pretty much the epitome of what Europeans typically dislike about Americans (loud, at times obnoxious, drunk, etc). Maybe that's part of the reason he made Husbands - to distance himself from a scene he disliked. What many Europeans (still to this day) don't realize is that Cassavetes thought stuff like Godard & Bergman (which he took a quick jab at in Faces) was "faggy" or "artsy crap". But to this day he’s STILL loved in Europe (on my first quick trip to Paris his name came up quite a few times when I was nerding out with a bunch of my Parisian cinephile buddies). Husbands is a pretty realistic portrayal of how men can handle the loss of someone they love. We all know those traditional expectations that are put on males since birth - don't cry, "be a man", "be tough", etc. And this film shows that (what's funny is that something tells me that wasn't even what Cassavetes was trying to do and even if he was it wasn't his main goal). It's clear these are the things Gus, Archie & Harry were told when they were kids and it stayed with them in to adulthood. Instead of crying or mourning at their friends funeral they turn in to irresponsible children, suddenly decide they wanna go to London where they drink gamble & hook up with random women because they don't really know how to mourn, express sorrow or deal with non-traditional manly emotions. All three actors have their moments to shine, but in my opinion Ben Gazzara gives the standout, award worthy, performance - he's the loudest of the bunch (how could he NOT be with a voice like his) and we get more in to his personal life than any of the other three characters. Anyone who reads anything about John Cassavetes should know he had a habit for editing & RE-editing his films to the point where he had two, three, sometimes four versions of the same film (this was the case with Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, Faces & Love Streams). Husbands was no exception. According to Cassavetes he made three different versions of the film in which each of the three actors comes off as the lead. Apparently Cassavetes went with the Gazzara version. There's very few films that remind me about the importance of true friendship. And what's funny is that the few films that DO aren't even masterpieces. Say what you want about Shane Meadows but A Room For Romeo Brass is one, Wes Anderson's debut; Bottle Rocket is another as well My Bodyguard (the one film in the bunch that I WOULD actually consider somewhat of a masterpiece). These are films that show the joy, hilarity, trials & tribulations of having real best friends (even if they aren't exactly the most realistic at times). But in my opinion Husbands is probably the greatest film about friendship (especially among men).
The beautiful thing about Husbands is that it's the perfect introduction film for someone looking to get in to his work (in my opinion).

Monday, December 3, 2012


Insecurity, depression, dark thoughts & existentialism among black males dates all the way back to the 1930's with the films of Paul Robeson going all the way up til the 60's. But some time after films like; Nothing But A Man (1964), The Learning Tree (1969) & The Story Of A Three Day Pass (1968) came out, that genuine exploration in to the souls of black males took a back seat to the blaxploitation genre of the 70's (where black males were stoic, badass ghetto super heroes who didn't feel any kind of pain whatsoever) which ultimately set "black film" back so much that by the beginning of the 1980's there were virtually no "black films" (with the exception of The Education Of Sonny Carson or the films of Charles Burnett) until the emergence of Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, Mario Van Peeples and the rest of the gang in the mid-late 80’s. But even their early films (which were great) didn’t really get in to the groundbreaking subject matter that Gordon Parks & Melvin Van Peeples dealt with. Eventually things kinda changed by the early 90's when Wendell B. Harris & John Singleton gave us Chameleon Street & Boyz N' The Hood. I would have included the Hughes Brothers but according to them their artistic side comes from their Armenian side (yes, they said this) so I wouldn’t wanna include them in something like "black film" which is CLEARLY beneath them. Anyway, the Last decade also brought us other films like Ghost Dog (elements of that story do very much concern issues like racism & preconceived notions about black males), George Washington (specifically Eddie Rouss's character) and shit...even BABY BOY on some level, being the train wreck of a movie that it is, dealt with the kinda depression & insecurities that really only black males in America can really relate too. But in my opinion, Ballast (2008) might be the greatest film to date (or at least top 3) to deal with the subject of depression & sadness within black males (along with touching on the importance of family and the unspoken, spiritual bond between twins). In a role that could have easily been played a big, teddy-bearish actor like Forest Whitaker, first time/non-professional actor; Michael J. Smith Jr. took an incredibly challenging role and hit a home run with it (along with the rest of the cast). Director; Lance Hammer knew exactly what he was doing by casting the quiet, soft spoken, introverted, 6'3", 250-something pound framed Smith to play the lead role. Instead of casting someone like Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle or even Jeffrey Wright, he went with someone that most people may not think to empathize with due to their physical stature. Smith embodies a lot of the stereotypes that many (ignorant) people have towards someone with his features. You know - "The Big Scary Black Man". Besides his size (he looks more like a professional linebacker than he does an art house actor), at no point in the film does he really smile. For someone like myself who pretty much matches the physique of Smith, I applaud Hammer (or whoever did the casting for Ballast) for his casting choice. Black males, specifically large black males have a genuine sensitive side and sometimes it’s easy for people to not think about that. I imagine some of you are questioning why I didn’t bring up or include John Coffee from The Green Mile or the big mute stupid idiot from Batteries Not Included. Anyone with half a brain should know those aren’t realistic portrayals at all. The John Coffee character borders on not only being racist but downright idiotic. I mean, you really mean to tell me this person has magical powers to bring people back to life and cure the racist white people (who ultimately kill him) of diseases like cancer & the clap, yet he doesn’t have the power to just break out of his prison cell and walk right out? Smith's performance in Ballast is a response to bullshit like The Green Mile.
Ballast may not have dreamy voice-over (which is an easy route that Hammer coulda taken given the film's tone) but the use of natural sunlight and shots of the southern American landscapes are very reminiscent of Terrence Malick's early work...

When this film came out it was almost impossible for critics to not namedrop David Gordon Green's George Washington at least once in their reviews. The comparison is somewhat understandable at first glance as both films are natural, yet artistic looks at a predominantly black southern community through the eyes of a white male director using non-professional actors. But when you watch both films more than once you'll soon come to see that both films are totally different. Ballast centers on "Lawrence" (Michael J. Smith Jr.) - a former radio DJ and lonely store owner. His twin brother and only friend ("Darius") has just committed suicide. After an unsuccessful attempt at trying to commit suicide himself (he shoots himself but still lives), Lawrence sinks in to an understandable depression and tries to come to terms with the loss of his brother as well as mend the relationship with the family Darius left behind (a wife,"Marlee", and a crack addicted son, "James", that Lawrence isn’t exactly on speaking terms with at the moment for various reasons). Before Darius killed himself, he left both; Lawrence and his ex-wife some land and co-ownership of their father's gas station in what was probably an attempt to bring his family together in his absence. After a few fights and some personal issues are hashed out, Lawrence and Marlee slowly manage to work together and even end up living under the same roof. This becomes rough and disorienting for James as Lawrence, his uncle, looks exactly like his father (you know, being twin brothers and all) and he's having a tough time adjusting. Even Lawrence himself gets caught up in the fatherly role and has a hard time distinguishing himself from his deceased brother now that he's pretty much filled in for his position as a surrogate father & husband. It’s as if Darius came back to life in the form of his twin brother to look after everyone. Like many great films, Ballast plays off of that element of the unspoken. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue and half of the dialogue that’s spoken is somewhat mumbled & unimportant while the important dialogue is spaced out quite a bit through the course of the film (without any kind of a score, minus the blowing of the wind, to keep the film together during all the quiet moments). In the end we get some insight as to why Darius killed himself and what separated his family. Some may find Ballast boring while others (like myself) consider it a sleeper masterpiece. If someone were to consider it just "ok" I really couldn’t argue with that. But for personal reasons that I already mentioned along with other reasons that are indescribable I can’t help but put Ballast on a mini pedestal as it represents something I haven’t really seen much on the big screen. And I haven’t seen too many films that touch on the real bond between twins in recent years (the opening of Ballast is very reminiscent of the final moments in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers). My only issue with Ballast is that I don’t think it needed the whole subplot about James being hooked on drugs. I think we've seen enough of the drug angle in films concerning black people done enough since the early 90's. Maybe it’s time to give it a rest. It's possible to make a film centered around black characters without the presence of crack. But that’s just a minor element of the film and it doesn’t really take over the story.

The south during the winter time is another unique element of Ballast as those two things aren't really synonymous with each other. Besides the unique lead casting choice, Lannce Hammer intentionally took one of the most notoriously hot & "southern" places in America (the Mississippi delta) and took us there during the winter instead of mid-august like most films set in the south tend to do.
Not since Isaiah Washington's performance in Clockers has the "angry frustrated black male" been dissected
 and looked at in such a sympathetic way. Ballast features the beautiful natural imagery reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s work (specifically Red Road & Wuthering Heights) as well as the films of Kelly Reichardt (specifically Old Joy). The opening shot and the scene with James lying on the floor with Lawrence’s dog (above) immediately come to mind. Somehow the camera used in this film makes the dark blue/grayish, drab environment seem beautiful. Along with 35 Shots Of Rum and The Wrestler (both released in the same year) Ballast is one of the best (recent) looks at the importance of having a father or some kind of a father figure. With the exception of one actor the entire cast is all black. Because of where we’re at as a society (or whatever) it’s almost impossible to not recognize this. However, race and/or racism isn’t the ISSUE of the film (thank god). For someone like myself who’s slowly starting to give up on films concerning race (people’s response to The Beast Of The Southern Wild, Tyler Perry, Precious and I honestly don’t understand why Spike Lee’s name is always mentioned in the same breath as Steve McQueen’s. Besides the color of their skin and both being filmmakers, they have nothing in common. Not even the same ethnic upbringing) Ballast is a breath of fresh air.

Friday, November 30, 2012


A Separation? Meh. Blue Valentine? Nope. What's that you said - Jungle Fever? Scenes From A Marriage? Kreutzer Sonata? The Puffy Chair? Flannel Pajamas? I don't think so. Even cinema verite icon John Cassavetes and his progressive films like Faces & A Woman Under The Influence take second place to this documentary (may sound blasphemous to some of you but that is the belief of many film scholars, critics & general all around know-it-alls). Its one thing to watch a "realistic" portrayal of a marriage or a relationship on the verge of destruction in a fictitious film but it’s another thing to see an actual REAL marriage fall apart right in front of you. Allan King's A Married Couple stands as the #1 film that'll make you think twice about getting married. Long after I was done watching this (courtesy of the criterion channel on HULU+) I found myself going; "was this real?" I was kinda floored. I mean, who would put their personal shit out in the open like that for the world to see? Think about it - I don't even know the subjects in King’s groundbreaking documentary yet I'll be critiquing their lives, personalities and relationship like I'm some marriage expert or something. But that's how personal and intimate this film is. It makes you feel up close & personal like you know them (and I’m sure there’s people who’ve seen this documentary that can either relate to the married couple or their young child who witnesses the fights & arguments firsthand). Immediately after watching A Married Couple I went out and purchased the eclipse box set (courtesy of Criterion) and came to discover that Allan King, a Canadian director I had never heard of, is a master of digging in to the corners and crevices of places we don't wanna go. It’s evident in his other work like; Warrendale - a sad & disturbing documentary on the poor conditions of a mental hospital for young children that would serve as a great precursor to Cropsey. His films makes you feel uncomfortable, tense and sometimes embarrassed for the documentary subjects (in the same way you might feel embarrassed for Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence or Ryan Gosling in that confrontational scene at the end of Blue Valentine) yet you can’t look away. A Married Couple is a hard punch in the stomach to all the preconceived notions & stereotypes about all the laid back, weed smoking, hippie parents in the 60’s.
And speaking of Blue Valentine; I’m sure this is just a coincidence, but there's even similar shots from A Married Couple in other marriage-related films which makes their connection even stronger…
L-R: Blue Valentine (2010) / A Married Couple (1969)
L-R: Scenes From A Marriage (1973) / A Married Couple

In A Married Couple we look at the day to day lives of Billy & Antoinette - a Canadian couple with a young son (Bogart) who's relationship is more than rocky. Apparently they volunteered to have their lives filmed for King's documentary in an effort to figure out what’s wrong with their marriage. They certainly didn’t let the cameras affect how they act around each other. And remember, this was the late 60’s where technology wasn’t were it is today. No tiny digital cameras, no techniques like the ones used in the documentary; Lynch (the filmmaker used a smaller camera and literally shot from the hip in order to make David Lynch feel more comfortable and not have a camera up in his face). Could you imagine trying to work your marriage out with of a big, noisy, clunky video camera in your face from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed? In the film Billy & Antoinette fight fiercely with each other (in one scene towards the end Billy literally tries to throw Antoinette out of their house), laugh & joke, argue over money, sleep in separate beds and casually discuss their son's future if they end up getting a divorce. The words; "fuck" and/or "fucking" are used quite often between Billy & Antoinette. Hell, at one point Billy calls Antoinette a "fucking cunt" over an argument about a vacuum cleaner. At times they look like brother & sister fighting over something stupid and other times they come off like an affectionate happily married couple. Billy & Antoinette both have their faults and "stuff" like any union/relationship/marriage - Antoinette is a tad bit naggy, sometimes annoying and a little childish. Billy is somewhat bullheaded, fussy and kinda thinks he's in charge of the marriage because he's the only one who works. Between the arguments, blow ups, break downs, crying and just overall embarrassing moments caught on film, I don't know if I could show my face in public for quite some time if I was Billy or Antoinette (after the documentary was released they managed to stay together for another ten years and had another child before divorcing). But what's most important about A Married Couple and its subject matter is that King doesn't use quirky music (there is background music, but it doesn’t really affect the mood or distort the viewers perception of reality) or editing techniques to make this documentary look like its exploiting the subjects. These are techniques many great (Herzog & Errol Morris) and not so great (Nick Broomfield) documentary filmmakers are guilty of from time to time and King stays away from all that. This is an honest, fair & balanced exploration in to the deterioration of a marriage (there’s no favoritism or bias towards one side). Clearly things have changed between 1969 and 2012 when it comes to the realm of marriage & relationships. Many old fashion values in terms of gender have died (although some are still around) and couples today have a lot more avenues to work out their problems than couples did four decades ago (I’m sure a lot of the different marriage counseling techniques today were considered strange & radical in the 60’s). So yes, PARTS of this documentary are a bit dated.
Thanks to the Criterion Collection, The IFC Center and the Toronto Film Festival, the United States is finally getting more exposure to Canadian cinema beyond the "usual suspects" (David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan & Ivan Reitman). Xavier Dolan has found a niche among young American hipsters and nostalgic French new wave lover, Monsieur Lahzar managed to nab an Oscar nomination last year and Guy Maddin, who should be mentioned alongside the "usual suspects", manages to break through to international audiences more and more with each film. My discovery of Allan King's work came at the perfect time of this mini-Canadian explosion. Anyone that's a fan of rare Werner Herzog films, 90's Harmony Korine, 1970's Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm or the work of Shirley Clarke should enjoy this film. As I type this write-up while kinda half watching the films of Robert Downey Sr. at the same time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the eclipse series is the best thing the Criterion Collection has going for itself right now. While Criterion focuses on releasing stuff like Godzilla or re-releasing half of their pre-existing catalog on blu-ray with a slightly fancier package, their sub-label (Eclipse) continues to shine light on important & daring films that would have gone virtually lost or unnoticed.

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Monday, November 26, 2012


For a while I've wanted to do a blog entry on the use of modern music in French cinema (Tindersticks/Claire Denis, Daft Punk/Gaspar Noe, Sonic Youth/Olivier Assayas, etc). That write-up was eventually changed a bit and whittled down to focusing exclusively on the use of Sonic Youth’s music as their name kept popping up more than any other band, musician or producer in what I had written so far. Their connection to cinema is very strong yet it’s gone virtually unnoticed (unless I missed something) until now...

Demonlover (Oliver Assayas) / Simple Men (Hal Hartley)
Sonic Youth and cinema are two of my favorite things in this world. Growing up in a town like Amherst, Mass, which is the hometown of 2/3 of Dinosaur Jr. (a band that’s been very close to Sonic Youth for decades) it was almost impossible to not come across a Sonic Youth album at least once as a teenager. Even if you listened to hip-hop exclusively there's a good chance you'll still cross paths with SY as they've collaborated with everyone from Cypress Hill to Chuck D. I was listening to SY long before film consumed my life, but it was my love and fascination with cinema that made me come to love them even more. The more films & filmmakers I discovered the more Sonic Youth's music would pop up. And I’m not just talking about the numerous documentaries on the band (Kill Your Idols, All Tomorrows Parties, The Year Punk Broke, etc). I’m talking about all the different directors who have used their music in their films throughout the years- From Olivier Assayas (Demonlover & Irma Vep) & Hal Hartley (Simple Men) to Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) & Leos Carax (Pola X). These are all musically inclined directors where music is one of the most important elements in their work. Just look at Leos Carax’ use of David Bowie in his first two films or the fact that Hal Hartley is a musician/producer himself (he goes by the alias of Ned Rifle when composing music for his films). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sonic Youth's music has been used in Judgment Night, Suburbia (which makes perfect sense as Sonic Youth & Richard Linklater are both important Generation X figures), Sorry Haters, etc. And it’s not like their music was just mindlessly thrown in to a film to make it look it cool. Their music is always used in some key scene. Even though the songs used in these two clips below were from pre-existing albums they somehow fit so perfectly…

Feature filmmakers like Mark Romanek, Richard Kern, Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine & Todd Haynes have all directed music videos for Sonic Youth (a young Chloe Sevigny even makes an appearance in an old SY video before she became the academy award nominated actress we know today)…

Additionally, Kim Gordon has become quite the actress in recent years making appearances in Boarding Gate, I’m Not There and Last Days (which probably hit close to home as she and her band kinda mentored Nirvana back in the day). She isn’t the world's greatest actress, but she gets by on her coolness...

(L-R Last Days, Boarding Gate, I'm Not There)
Olivier Assayas, whose use of music in film should be mentioned alongside other filmmakers like Scorsese & Tarantino, used their music talents to score his misunderstood masterpiece; Demonlover. It’s clear that Assayas was a true fan of their music. If you listen to enough of Sonic Youth's music you'd know that they don’t always need to rely on vocals to make a great song. They have this great ability to create these ambient/atmospheric sounds (courtesy of their experimentation with everything from analog & digital music equipment to power tools and modified guitars) which makes perfect for background music in films. Even on songs that do feature vocals, sometimes it takes minutes for them to kick in after the instrumental jam. Imagine Brian Eno with more guitar feedback. As I mentioned in my Demonlover write-up, Sonic Youth's score for Demonlover was key in creating that uneasy, tense, noir-ish vibe. Oliver Assayas even made a mini documentary on the band and how they went about making the music for Demonlover. Given their signature sound and work with Olivier Assayas I’m surprised other progressive filmmakers haven’t tapped them for more work.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA (and other various movie comparisons)...

The title of this entry is a little misleading as it's not really so much about Persona as a whole, but one particular scene from the film instead. For the last 6-8 months I've been struggling to come up with a part four for "School Of Tarkovsky" and a part two for "School of Godard", but this edition came out pretty effortlessly. We all know there's plenty of iconic & influential movie images that pop up in modern films (The bandit shooting at the screen in The Great Train Robbery, Robert Mitchum's Love/Hate Tattoo in Night Of The Hunter, Jimmy Stewart going insane in Vertigo, etc)...

The Great Train Robbery (L) / Goodfellas (R)
Night Of The Hunter (L) / Do The Right Thing (R)
Vertigo (L) / Lost Highway (R)

But Persona has to have one of the all time top five greatest influential scenes/moments ever. Next to the hidden images of Pazuzu in the Exorcist, the burning house from The Sacrifice or Henry's intense glare at the camera in Eraserhead, this moment from Bergman's Persona (below) may be my all time favorite movie image ever...

Persona - Ingmar Bergman (1967)

And what's strange is that the movie itself isn't even one of my all time favorites. Don't get me wrong, it's a classic and is singlehandedly responsible for influencing some of my favorite films (Mulholland Drive, La Ceramonie & 3 Women). All you need to do is read various PINNLAND EMPIRE entries from over the years (Water Lilies, La Haine, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, etc) to know how influential Persona is. But this standalone moment holds a lot more weight to me than the overall film. It can be looked at and interpreted in so many ways. It's truly a work of art. It represents things like desire, curiosity & fascination (the way the young boy touches the screen), love of cinema, disconnection (the movie screen coming between the young boy and the woman on the other side of the screen) etc. What makes this image so great is that it transcends the typical indie/art house scene. Sure it's influenced the work of indie/art house heavyweights like Todd Haynes & Hartley, but it's also influenced shots from big films like The Truman Show and iconic Horror films like Poltergeist. Normally I feel like I'm reaching with some of these comparisons, but I think all the images below (although some have a slight variation/twist) are on point. I'm sure I haven't captured every image that borrowed from this scene so please feel free to let me know if I missed something...

Amateur - Hal Hartley (1994) / Dottie Gets Spanked - Todd Haynes (1993)
The Truman Show - Peter Wier (1998) / Poltergiest - (1980)
Poison - Todd Haynes (1991) / Europa - Lars Von Trier (1991)

Videodrome - David Cronenberg (1984) / Cinema Paradiso - Giuseppe Tornatore(1988)
The Skin I Live In (2011) / The Blackout (1997)


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