Friday, January 27, 2012

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #10: ALPS (new film from the director of DOGTOOTH!!!)

Right off the bat I gotta say that it takes a special kind of talent to make subjects like diabetes, life support and beatings to the head with blunt objects a laughing matter. This was by FAR one of my favorites from last year (sorry it took so long for me to write about it). With back-to-back hits under his belt, Yorgos Lanthimos has managed to earn one of the TOP spots amongst the "leaders of the new school" (a collection of new-ish and/or emerging directors set to take over once current masters like Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Mike Leigh and a few others step down, fade away or retire). In just 2 years he's blessed us with 'Dogtooth' (a film that was surprisingly nominated for best foreign film last year) and his most recent feature; 'Alps' (one of the few films i saw at TIFF last year that I LOVED, and a film I included in my TOP 10 films of 2011). I honestly wish at this point it had been released in theaters so you could all witness its greatness but oh well...consider this a sneak peak in to whats going to be one of the most original comedies of 2012 (apparently this wont be released until spring). Like 'God Bless America' (which also has a fucked up sense of humor) this is one of the few films I saw last year that I actually liked bragging about to people.
There's a few reasons why I'm so drawn to silliness on television like 'Tim & Eric' (and other various shows on cartoon network/adult swim), 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad': To balance out all the serious, heavy and often depressing films I constantly watch. The second reason is that I just don't find many recent comedies very funny outside of a few exceptions like; 'Wet Hot American Summer', 'Super Troopers' and 'Harold & Kumar'. After that, other comedies i enjoy are essentially guilty pleasures that I know deep down inside are quite stupid ('Beerfest' and 'Grandma's Boy' are a few examples). I love watching movies but I also love to laugh. Recently I haven't been able to rely on film for laughter. But somehow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos was able to change all that, tap in to my brain and make a film that actually spoke to me in terms of humor. Can you believe I'm actually saying such a corny phrase? A film "spoke to me"? But It's true. Films like 'Alps' and 'Dogtooth' are proof that I'm not crazy and my odd sense of humor is shared by a few other people in this world. Thank god filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos exist. He seems like the kinda guy who sits around making up really fucked up, yet funny "What if..." scenarios in his head all day.
Aggeliki Papoulia gave one of the best performances
of last year in 'Alps'
'Alps' centers around 4 people (a nurse, an EMT, a future gymnast star and her coach) who run a "business"/borderline secret society that provides a unique service: They stand in or take the place of a loved one who's either dead or in a coma. This provides grieving family members, friends and loved ones a little piece of mind and the opportunity to say what they didn't have the chance to say in the past. Think of it as a form of therapy. Their clients include a widowed husband who's wife died of complications from diabetes, a wife & husband who's daughter (a teen tennis protege) is on life support and an elderly blind widow who hasn't gotten over the loss of her husband. If that doesn't sound absurd enough, the 4 employees of ALPS don't ever really look anything like the deceased or comatose people they're pretending to be which obviously adds an extra element of humor to the already crazy sounding plot. The employees of ALPS have strict rules, similar to "fight club", that aren't meant to be broken (and we do get to see the hilariously violent punishment one of employees faces when they break those rules in a scene almost identical to the scene in 'Dogtooth' when the women gets hit in the face with a VCR). Other standout scenes include an awkward game of charades (see the picture at the of top of this blog), a few moments of hilariously awkward dancing, a debate on whether or not Prince (the musician) is still alive and a funny scene involving one of the ALPS employees trying to play tennis with a girl on life support (see video below). Things eventually get out of hand towards the end of the film when one of the ALPS employees gets a little too caught up in one of her stand-in roles and starts to have trouble accepting the real world and she essentially goes rogue (...and a little insane).

The ALPS motto reads:

Don’t weep, don’t cry
Don’t be sad
Don’t be sad
Wave sadness goodbye
Say “hello” to joy

’Cause we are here, by your side
We are the Alps
Oh yeah, we are the Alps

No need for sadness
No need for pain
We’ll be there, there, there
No more unhappiness
Grieve no more

The Alps are here
We are your friends
We are your lovers
We are your father
We are your colleagues

We are the Alps
Oh yeah, we are the Alps

Their "Fight Club-esque" rules are:

1. Must declare in advance the things he or she is unwilling to do by filling out Form 1 (e.g. kissing, lifting weights, travelling, etc.).

2. Must also declare in advance the things he or she is good at by filling out Form 2 (e.g. dancing, waterskiing, discussing, etc.).

3. Must have some basic knowledge of psychology and sociology.

4. Is obliged to support, under all circumstances, the interests of the Alps group.

5. Must respect other Alps members.

6. Has the right to change their nickname only twice. They cannot choose a nickname belonging to another Alps member.
The nickname must strictly be the name of a mountain in the Alps, and not something general or irrelevant (e.g. Blonde, Master, Dragon, etc.).

7. Can never talk about Alps activities with non-Alps members.

8. Is obliged to take the Gymnastics Club Test, if necessary.

9. Must be over 14 years of age.

10. Should always be smart, clean, punctual, and in complete control.

11. Must never get emotionally involved with clients, or have intimate relations with them.

12. Cannot change his or her physical appearance without the Leader’s permission (e.g. dye their hair, lose or gain weight, wear coloured contact lenses, etc.).

13. Must be able to make convincing facial expressions (sadness, happiness, despair, etc.).

14. Must honour the title of their membership, and be ready to kill or die for it.

15. Must never attack another Alps member, and must believe in teamwork.

Outside of the intentionally dry delivery of the actors, 'Alps' and 'Dogtooth' are completely different stories yet they do share a loose connection. They both explore similar themes. On the subject of his last two films, both centering around the same lead actress (Aggeliki Papoulia) Yorgos Lanthimos said;

Doogtooth is the story of a person who tries to escape a fictitious world. Alps is about a person who tries to enter a fabricated world (

So although both films are technically comedies, they still explore the tragedy of people getting caught up in worlds that aren't real. Even in his unique comedic world, Lanthimos isn't afraid to take himself seriously from time to time. Sometimes its difficult to tell if Lanthimos' films are dramas hidden inside of a comedy, or comedies hidden inside of a drama. His work walks that fine line.
As far as performances go, there's something about the films star; Aggeliki Papoulia's delivery and comedic timing that I cant really put in to words without overpraising her. Even though 'Alps' is a comedy, she plays the role with the same intensity (which is written all over her face) that you'd expect a method actor to have for a serious drama. If you happen to check the internet for images from 'Alps', you'd notice how serious and intense her face is through out most of the film. If only comedic performances were treated with the same respect as other performances she'd be given way more praise. In my opinion, based off of what I've seen her act in so far (which I admit isn't much) she's just as funny as current female comedic heavyweights like Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig or Amy Poehler (although no one is quite as funny as Amy Sedaris).
As you can see, its very difficult to not mention both 'Dogtooth' and 'Alps' in the same breath. Both films feature that odd, unique atmosphere of (early) Michael Haneke (if he actually had a sense of humor), Robert Bresson, Todd Solondz and a more toned down Tim & Eric collaborating on a script. I hate to sound so over the top, but its almost impossible to not enjoy 'Alps' if you like 'Dogtooth'. Furthermore, if you are one of the few odd souls out there that actually DIDNT like 'Dogtooth', I have confidence that you'll enjoy as well. 'Alps' is slightly more mature and Yorgos Lanthimos' disturbing nature is toned down a bit in 'Alps'.
This is not to be missed when it comes out.

Monday, January 23, 2012


The ONLY thing I hate about this film is that it's SO good that you almost have no choice but to talk about it/compliment it like an intellectual snob. Critic Stephen Holden (The New York Times) said that 'The Intruder' was; a pure immersion in cinema. Beautiful and terrifying in their intensity, the images will make you gasp. Normally that kind of quote makes me roll my eyes and almost not want to see a film out of spite. But when it comes to 'The Intruder', that phrase is such an accurate description that I have to make an exception. It really is a work of art. A cinematic poem (see what I mean? I would never say "cinematic poem" in real life but this film brings that out of me. If you had followed Claire Denis' work up to this point (2004), you'd know that in terms of dreaminess or making a surreal film, 'The Intruder' was something she'd been working towards up to that point in her career. Think about it - since 'The Intruder' has Denis made a truly surreal film? No. Dreamy films since 'The Intruder'? Sure. Buts that's a given with almost everything she does. That's part of her style. Since then she's made a documentary ('Vers Matilde'), '35 Shots Of Rum' and 'White Material'. It's like she needed to get this surreal non-linear stream of conscious story  out of her system. Before 'The Intruder' it's like she was testing the waters with the dreamy elements from 'Nenette & Boni' (specifically Boni's dream sequences), the dreamy atmosphere of 'Beau Travail' and the somewhat free spirited 'Friday Night'. This is essentially her "Mulholland Drive" or "Inland Empire". I make that comparison because just like 'Mulholland Drive', there is a basic plot to 'The Intruder', but there are multiple layers...

On the surface, you have a film about an older man ("Louie") in need of a heart transplant who, for whatever reason, seeks one out on the black market (in the form of a mysterious woman played by Katerina Golubeva). And like any film involving organs & the black market (see my Kidney's on film series) things don't go according to plan and we question if Katerina is an angel or an demon (this aspect of the story was inspired by author Jean Luc-Nancy's real heart transplant)

On the next level, the film is about Louie and his almost non-existent relationship with his adult son (played by Claire Denis-regular Gregoire Colin). Although not much is said about Sidney (and he doesn't say much in the film either) you do get the feeling that even outside of just being an absentee father, he's kind of an asshole with very little redeemable qualities. Yet for whatever reason we're intrigued by him.
Louie's son "Sidney", played by Gregoire Colin, scowling at him from across the street. Another "claire denis glare shot" found in many of her other films (to see what i mean, check out my cinema of claire denis blog entry)

underneath that, it's about Louie trying to fix things from the past (he also has a son in Tahiti that he abandoned years ago
Once again, like in 'Beau Travail', Denis implements old footage of Michel Subor from when he was younger to give a more realistic portrayal of the past...

The final level of The Intruder is a dreamlike world were you question what's real and what isn't. A world similar to the surrealist directors like; David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieslowski & Tarkosfky (Claire Denis briefly worked for Tarkovsky). Even Terrance Malick/'Tree Of Life' fans would appreciate this film. In fact, what sets 'The Intruder' apart from other recent surreal/non-linear films ('Uncle Boonme...', 'George Washington', 'Tree Of Life', etc) is that Denis didn't need to use any kind of poetic/haunting voice-over narration. The imagery & ambiance are haunting & poetic enough. One minute we're in France, the next minute we're in South Korea, then Claire takes us to Tahiti with seamless editing and storytelling (I recently saw Wojciech Has' Hourglass Sanatorium and I can see how the seamless transitions in that film rubbed off on 'The Intruder'). If you don't pay attention to this film, you'll find yourself going; "whoa, wait a minute, how did we get to this point?" If you haven't seen this before, this isn't exactly a film to start watching when you're tired or in the mood to half-watch something while surfing the internet. The film does linger a bit, and some might say it could have used some editing (although not me), so be aware.
For a film that I still don't completely understand o(although i do understand it up to a certain level) 'The Intruder' is one of my recent favorites. From Michel Subor's almost dialogue-less, yet calmly commanding performance, to the soundtrack (courtesy of Tindersticks front man; Stuart Staples) scenes from 'The Intruder' randomly pop in my head from time to time. I was even so inspired that I made a quick loop composition using the main theme from the film...

This movie is the perfect example of Denis' style of hints & implications (a phrase I'm sure most of you are use to me using when describing Claire Denis' style by now).

Friday, January 20, 2012


Jazz musician (The Lounge Lizards), film score composer ('Get Shorty', 'Variety' & 'Excess Baggage'), actor (most notably for the films of Jim Jarmusch), former TV Show host ("Fishing With John") & painter John Luire was kind enough to bless this blog. I'm in disbelief. If you follow this blog you'd know that between my fictitious "Fishing With John Series" and my constant exploration in to the cinema of Jim Jarmusch (as well as the "No Wave" scene which Lurie is commonly associated with for both film and music), you'd know that Lurie is a PINNLAND EMPIRE-favorite.
I've been a fan of his since I was a teenager so this really means a lot even if it may not seem like a big deal to some of you (Lurie included haha).
We're on celebrity status now...

1. What are the last 3 movies you saw?

-John Lurie: Ides of March, Contagion, The Bill Cunningham documentary

2. Who, in your opinion, is the best active filmmaker working right now?

-JL: I like the Coen brothers - or kind of every other film I like a lotPT Anderson, Fincher is pretty great but havent seen the Dragon Tattoo yet

3. Putting aside the imaginary Fishing With John episodes I've done on this blog, realistically speaking, had the show gone on to have a 2nd, 3rd or 4th season, what guests would you have wanted on your show? 

-JL: Mike Tyson, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Rashied Wallace, Rebecca Hall, Claire Danes, Larry David, Vincent Gallo, Michael Moore, Serena Williams, Vince Vaughn, Louis Black 

4. You've done quite a bit of film scoring in your lifetime so far. Given the recent interest in film scores and soundtracks thanks to guys like Cliff Martinez (Drive & Solaris), The Tindersticks (35 Shots Of Rum & White Material) and Trent Reznor (The Social Network & The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), what are some of your favorite RECENT film scores? And if you cant think of any recent ones, what are your all time favorites?

-JL: I am thinking. Hollywood doesnt really allow composers to do good scores any more. American Beauty is the last one I can think of.

5. What is your favorite piece of art to come out of the "No Wave" Scene? (this could be a film, album, painting, etc. it doesnt matter) 

-JL: Youre right - doesnt matter

*BONUS QUESTION: What's you're opinion on "Hipsters"? 

-JL: I dont know what hipsters are.


As it turns out there's quite a few directors, producers, actors & actresses who can be reached without an agent or some type of contact person. Well, I'm taking advantage of that and starting a new series on PINNLAND EMPIRE called; "5 Questions". Instead of a long drawn out interview that I'm sure most filmmakers and actors dread (especially from no-name bloggers) I'm gonna throw 5 quick questions at 'em. The rules are: everyone (and you wont believe some of the filmmakers & actors I got to do this) gets the same first two questions, then 2 custom questions designed just for them, then a final random question with a possible bonus question.
First up, Alice Houri...
Alice and the films she's acted in ('The Pornographer', 'The Secret of The Grain', 'Nenette & Boni', etc) are a regular topic of conversation here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. I'd rather not flatter her again, so to read how cool she is, check out my blog entry from back in May from my first (quick) trip to Paris titled; "My Dinner With Alice"

1. What are the last 3 movies you saw?

Alice Houri: yesterday I saw "Double indemnity" by Billy Wilder. A classic, a genius. Barbara Stanwyck was stunningly excellent! I had a really good time. Last sunday I saw "Shame" by Steve MacQueen. Great movie! The best i have seen in months. The day before I saw "Le Havre" by Kaurismaki (it didn't work for me, i got bored).

Bonus: my week was very "let s go to a movie". I also saw "let my people go" by Mikael Buch. Its a french comedy. In my opinion, not sooo bad for a french comedy (but the main actor is good), and 'A dangerous method' by Cronenberg. I found it well done but without the madness

2. Who, in your opinion, is the best active filmmaker working right now?

AH: Open question. Hard to tell...but i will answer: Asghar Farhadi (winner of the golden bear at last years berlin film fest). He's a maestro of suspense. I cant wait for his next film.

3. US Go Home, the first movie you ever acted in, has become one of the most rare/unseen modern films in recent years (especially for people outside of France). Given Claire Denis' growing international popularity (especially in recent years with '35 Shots of Rum' and 'White Material') do you think there will ever be a chance that 'US Go Home' will get some kind of release on DVD?

AH: I really don't know but i would love that! Maybe it's something you can deal with.

4. Your performance in 'The Secret Of The Grain' seemed very emotionally draining, while your performance in 'The Pornographer' was very laid back, calm and toned down (similar to the acting in a Bresson film). As an actress, what kind of preparation do you do to go from one extreme emotion to the other?

AH: They are 2 different movies. Different styles and different stories. I feel lucky because I've worked with filmmakers who have a very strong and personal universe. As an actor it's the best comfort. You just had to stay available to absorb this universe and translate as the director is asking you to. In an internal way (like 'the pornographer') or in a hysterical way('Secret Of The Grain'). It s a work of collaboration.

5. Am I (Marcus) your #1 fan?

AH: OF COURSE YOU ARE!the president!

*BONUS QUESTION: You've acted in 2 films with Vincent Gallo ('US Go Home' & 'Nenette & Boni'), and made a cameo appearance in a 3rd film with him ('Trouble Every Day'). I have to ask, what is Vincent Gallo like in real life? (you don't have to get too personal or say anything you don't want too, haha)

I was a teen but if I remember correctly, Gallo was crazy, megalo, in love with himself, attractive, temperamental, sexy, self confident, fragile, boor, a gentleman, kind, mean, open minded, narrow minded, etc. Mostly, he's really funny. You cant get bored.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

BEST OF 2005 (throwback)

I know I'm a few years late, but thanks to David's recent blog post over at Toronto Film Review (along with John & Chris's best of 2005 movie lists over at The Pink Smoke), I've come to realize that after all the dust had settled and all the bad and/or painfully average movies where pushed aside, 2005 was a REALLY great year for film (in my opinion at least). I mean just the release of 'Cache' alone (a film myself and MANY others consider to be one of the best movies of the last decade) was good enough. It was a subtle yet effective look at racism in Europe and how demons from our past that we try to forget or sweep under the rug come back to haunt us leaving damaging effects. We also had the return of Terrence Malick ('The New World' - the incredibly flawed yet incredibly beautiful film about John Smith and Pocahontas), Gus Van Sant's tribute to Kurt Cobain in the form of 'Last Days' and the revamping of the Batman series (sorry but even as I get older and start to see some of Christopher Nolan's flaws, those are great movies and they gave the comic book-adapted movie genre the surge of energy it needed). Newcomers like Miranda July with her romantic, Todd Solondz/Hal Hartley-influenced feature film debut; 'Me & You & Everyone We Know' and Carlos Reygadas ('Battle In Heaven') made their mark as well. Indie heavyweights like Jim Jarmusch with his existential road movie; 'Broken Flowers' and Larry Clarke ('Wassup Rockers') still showed that they could hang with the new generation of filmmakers that they ironically (somewhat) have influenced. And even though today we're left with a bunch of barely funny Judd Apatow "bro movies" that just don't seem to stop coming, you gotta give '40 Year Old Virgin' the respect it deserves (lets just pretend its 2005 and we had no idea of what was to come from the director & producer I've dubbed; "The White Tyler Perry").
This list is also an interesting look at how much my taste has changed over the years. For those of you who use to read my movie rants on my myspace blog back in the day, you'd remember that I wasn't a fan of films like 'Dear Wendy' (Lars Von Trier & Thomas Vinterberg's comment on gun violence in America), 'Junebug' or even 'Battle In Heaven' (wow, I cant believe I use to NOT like that movie), but low and behold...those films are now mentioned on here.
Compiling this list was so much fun that over the next few months I may go back and do more "Best Of" movie lists from previous years (especially 2000 which not only brought us 'In The Mood For Love', 'Yi Yi' AND 'Dancer In The Dark' but the U.S. theatrical release of 'Beau Travail')

So the list goes...

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2005:


Broken Flowers

Last Days

Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit

Me & You & Everyone We Know

Battle In Heaven

Grizzly Man

The New World

40 Year Old Virgin

Like I've said before (and I'm sure some of you are already aware of this) not every big movie from the festival circuit makes it to U.S. theaters in a timely fashion. 2005 brought us releases from some of the current masters of cinema like; Claire Denis ('The Intruder'), Olivier Assayas ('Clean') and Wong Kar Wai ('2046'), one of the "leaders of the new school"; Apichatpong Weerasethakul ('Tropical Malady') and one of the most underrated modern directors out right now; Lodge Kerrigan ('Keane'). I know that I'm kinda poaching selections from the previous year but hey, I'm in the U.S. and we didn't get these releases until 2005.
The interesting thing about these selections is that my opinion on these films have not changed one bit. Actually...that's not true. Not only have I continued to love these films over the years but as I get older, stuff like 'The Intruder' (along with the rest of Claire Denis' work) feels like one dreamy masterpiece.


The Intruder



Tropical Malady



Mysterious Skin

Wassup Rockers

Batman Begins

Dear Wendy

Friday, January 13, 2012


From my ongoing exploration into the world of Claire Denis to my recent write-ups of 'The Brown Bunny' and 'Essential Killing', you guys should already know that PINNLAND EMPIRE doesn't shy away from giving praise to the films of Vincent Gallo (with the exception of 'Tetro'). 'Palookaville' may not be as popular as 'Buffalo 66' but its always been an entertaining lil' gem that I felt never got the respect it deserved. During the American independent film renaissance of the 1990's, i imagine it was pretty easy for a film like 'Palookaville' to go fairly unnoticed amongst other similar (and more popular) heist/robbery films like 'Fargo', 'Killing Zoe', the Martin Scorsese endorsed-'Bottle Rocket' or 'Reservoir Dogs' (which we all know launched Tarrantino's career and spawned Harvey Keitel's comeback). Strangely enough, Vincent Gallo was once considered for the role of "Mr. Pink" in 'Reservoir Dogs' before it eventually went to Steve Buscemi. 'Palookaville', which is actually a loose remake/reinterpretation of the classic Italian film; 'Big Deal On Madonna Street' (another crime/comedy centering around a group of thieves who cant seem to catch a break just like our characters in 'Palookaville'), didn't have the star power that those other films had. In fact most people don't even acknowledge 'Palookaville' as a remake of 'Big Deal On Madonna Street' like they do Louis Malle's 'Crackers' or the Steven Soderberg-produced 'Welcome To Colinwood'. Palookaville's biggest stars where a post-Dick Tracy William Forsythe (in a rare non-villainous/good guy performance), a pre-Buffalo 66 Vincent Gallo, and a pre-Fargo Frances Mcdormand (who in all reality only has two scenes in the film). But now that 15+ years have passed, I think its time to give this underrated gem another chance. Not only is the DVD cheap, but its pretty easy to come by (last time i checked). Aside from sharing the same basic plot of the aforementioned films (a heist or robbery gone terribly wrong), 'Palookaville' is also a (funny) look at what happens when non-criminals try their hands at crime or try to be tough guys when they know damn well that's not what they are (or as the character "Rus", played by Vincent Gallo, puts it; "a momentary shift in lifestyle").
'Palookaville' is the story of three broke, out of work best friends ("Rus", "Jerry" and "Syd") who decide to become to thieves. The only problem is that they suck at being criminals (this aspect of the film always reminded me of 'Bottle Rocket'). The film starts off with the three main character breaking in to what they think is a jewelry store when in fact they break in to the bakery right next door due to the fact that they didn't know how to read the blueprints of the building. Fed up with being broke and their failed robbery attempt, Rus sets out a plan to rob an armored car. And as you can imagine, their methods on how they plan to rob this armored car (equip with a water gun that they spray paint black to look real) are pretty stupid. Things get worse when Rus' dimwitted police officer brother-in-law catches wind of what they're up to. Now they have to execute this robbery with a cop on their tail.
The film also breaks off into individual subplots focusing on each of the three characters' personal lives (with an emphasis on their love lives). "Rus" (Vincent Gallo), who lives at home with his loud dysfunctional family, is secretly seeing a girl much younger than him and doesn't know if he wants to settle down with her or not (he also has an interesting relationship with a prostitute played by Coen Brother's muse; Frances Mcdormand). "Jerry" (Adam Treese) is an unemployed construction worker with a family he cant support. In fact his wife is the only one in the family with a steady job and she eventually loses it partially due to Jerry's temper. "Syd" (William Forsythe), the most depressing one of the bunch, lives alone with his smelly dogs, still hasn't moved on from his divorce and is too stupid to notice that the cute thrift store employee who lives down the street is madly in love with him. The biggest subplot however involves Rus, Jerry and Syd saving a random strangers life early on in the film. This is the slickest aspect of the story because not only does this part come out of nowhere, but it happens so early on that you forget all about it until the very end when it ties everything together.
This film isn't a masterpiece or anything like that, but its very entertaining and I find myself watching it twice a year or so. Given the combination of Vincent Gallo's growing cult status over the years along with his recent popularity in the film world (starring in Francis Ford Coppola's 'Tetro' in 2009 and winning best actor at the 2010 Venice film festival for his performance in 'Essential Killing'), I'm surprised this movie hasn't resurfaced or gained some kind of small cult following outside of myself and the few other people that actually remember this movie.

Monday, January 9, 2012

KIDNEYS ON FILM: PART ONE (a personal journey through the cinema of kidney disease, kidney transplants & kidney theft from a cinephile/kidney transplant recipient)

Well its the fourth anniversary of my kidney Transplant so I thought I'd make a new movie blog series about my favorite (and NOT-so favorite) films on the subject of Kidney Disease and Kidney Transplantation. Sometimes when people go through a serious surgery they don't want to talk about, look at, read or have anything to do with it after the fact. Well, I'm the opposite. Anyone who knows me half well or reads this blog should know that I'm quite a movie fanatic. I'm such a movie fanatic that I sometimes relate real life situations to movie scenarios at some of the most inappropriate times. Take my Transplant for example. After the initial shock of finding out I was going to need a kidney, I thought to myself; "Oh man, this is just like that time in that movie when 'so n' so' needed a kidney!!"
To my knowledge, Kidneys seem to be the least explored organ on film. There's plenty films about heart transplants and liver transplants, but to my knowledge in the last decade it seems like Kidney Disease has been spreading like an epidemic. From the overflow of patients i always see sitting in the waiting room at Yale New Haven to the various random celebrities like George Lopez, Alonzo Mourning and Tracey Morgan to fictitious characters like Peter Griffin and Kyle Brovlofski...EVERYONE is getting kidney transplants these days. I'd like to see more films dealing with this subject.

Hopefully you've seen or are at least familiar with the movies listed below because there will be spoilers (just letting you know).

This movie brings me back to early days of HBO when even at the young age of 8 I started to notice that they would play the same block of movies for a month straight with little to no variation. For some reason my parents love this movie. Because they use to watch it so much when I was kid, naturally I ended up watching it a few times (or to be more specific, just happened to be in the room when the movie was on). Who woulda thought that one of the subplots in this movie I use to call stupid as a kid would pretty much happen to me almost 20 years later? Who woulda thought I'd have something SO in common with an upper-middle class, southern white lady portrayed by Julia Roberts? For those of you who haven't seen this movie (and I kinda don't blame you), part of 'Steel Magnolias' has to do with Julia Robert's character suffering from diabetes induced kidney disease...just like me. My main gripe with this movie is that although it my tug at your emotional heart strings, Julia Roberts' portrayal isn't exactly accurate ( me, I know). Towards the end of the movie Roberts' body rejects the kidney and she just kinda drops dead on the spot. Kidney disease can be quite deadly, but it ain't like how it's portrayed in 'Steel Magnolias'. Unless your kidney issues are completely unmonitored (which was NOT the case for Julia Roberts in 'Steel Magnolias'), you're not just gonna drop dead. Once you have kidney disease, you're monitored on a regular basis until your doctors determine its time for you to go on dialysis (something I actually didn't have to go through, thank god) or, if you're lucky enough and get a donor, have your transplant.
But as inaccurate as this movie may be, it still holds a place in my heart. I think back to my childhood, and I picture myself watching this movie and its almost like a foreshadow of what was to come...

Before I even knew this film was about a man dying from kidney disease living out his last days on a farm, I was already in love with it just from the opening scene (i didn't read any reviews and didn't really look in to what it was about). When spirituality and mysticism on film are done right, I'm always a sucker for it ('The Taste Of Cherry', 'The Mirror', 'Sacrifice', 'Bamako', 'The Intruder' and even 'The Tree Of Life'...sorry Chris Funderberg). Although this is the epitome of an "Art House" film, its just as much of a movie going experience as something like 'Avatar', 'Hugo 3D' or any other IMAX film in my opinion. I was a little disappointed that this ended up playing at the film forum instead of the Sunshine or IFC. (no offense). I mean, the film forum is legendary but their small screens and uncomfortable chairs were just not the place for a film like this.
Director; Apichatpong Weerasethakul (someone we'll be exploring in 2012 on PINNLAND EMPIRE) has such an amazing talent for making the audience feel like their in a Thailand jungle surrounded by tall grass and wild life. The opening of Uncle Boonme is so subtly heavy and layered with its combination of rich colors, atmospheric music and sounds of the jungle its overwhelming. 
Although 'Uncle Boonmee...' deals with spirituality (part of the film has to do with the spirits of deceased family members coming back from the dead) as well as surrealism (there's a scene where a women gets eaten out by a talking catfish...literally), Apichatpong Weerasethakul doesn't hold back when its time to show the realism that comes with kidney disease: The dialysis machines, the changing of the dialysis bags and the crazy fatigue that comes with kidney failure. 
To read more about my love for this film, please read my review after seeing it at last year's New York Film Festival as well as my best of 2010 entry where, even though the list wasn't ranked, if it was this would have been at the top.

This is one of those movies that gets me in trouble with friends and family. Whenever I'm asked my opinion about this movie (or any other oscar bait-ish movie like it), I give my true and honest opinion: "It's not my thing". But as the years go on, my friends tell me stories about how 'Seven Pounds' made them cry for a whole day and stuff like that. So the last thing I wanna do is belittle my friends' emotions by snickering and going; "THAT made you cry?...okaaaay" (which is what I really wanna say). I'm just not big on films that try EXTRA hard to make you cry or can be described as "powerful" (the older I get, the more cynical I get towards movies that are described as "powerful". Shit makes me roll my eyes). I cant tell you how many times I've heard; "Marcus, how can you NOT like seven pounds??" (which is funny because I've never once said "I didn't Like It". Its just not my thing). Then the personal attacks on Marcus start: The eye rolling, the huffing & puffing, the comments like; "Whats the problem, Marcus? Not artsy enough for you?" or "If this movie was french would you like it better?!?!" Although those are clever jabs at my taste in film and I could see why someone would be hasty to say such things, you couldn't be more wrong. To me, movies like 'Seven Pounds' are the equivalent of someone getting right up in your face with a boom box playing the most depressing music possible and just screaming for you to cry for 2 hours. I cant take that seriously.
In high school when I revealed to people I didn't 'American Beauty', they looked at me in shock. Or when I reveal to my co-workers or any other average American in their mid-40's that I think Paul Haggis' 'Crash' is awful (which it is), people look at me like I said something blasphemous. 
But I guess I could see why people who aren't film snobs like me would enjoy a movie like 'Seven Pounds'.
In 'Seven Pounds', Will Smith plays a guy trying to make up for a horrible accident he caused years ago by finding seven people at random and helping them out in some way. He gives a person a piece of his lung, he gives a woman his vacation house to escape her abusive boyfriend and other various good deeds like...donate one of his kidney's to a hockey coach suffering from kidney failure. So even though I'm not the biggest fan of 'Seven Pounds' (or Will Smith and his overacting), I'm still not above placing it on my list of kidney-related films.
...but I don't highly recommend this.

This is one of those movies that falls in to the "NOT-so favorite films on the subject of Kidney disease" that i spoke about earlier. I know I'm repeating myself a little from last months blog on Forrest Whitaker and his horrible choices in recent movie roles, but how could this movie (a sci-fi film about organ repossessors) be SO bad and forgettable? I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but this was such a stupid movie yet it coulda been good had someone like Cronenberg or even Terry Gilliam had directed it (which is funny because the ending of 'Repomen' TOTALLY ripped off the ending of Gilliam's 'Brazil'). But I don't like repeating myself too much, so check out last months blog entry on Forest Whitaker to read more about what grinds my gears about 'Repomen'.

'Sympathy For Mr Vengeance' (2002)
I know that 'Oldboy' will probably end up being Park Chan Wok's definitive masterpiece (and it certainly looks that way after watching his more recent stuff like the awful 'Im Cyborg, But Its Ok' and 2009's overrated vampire film 'Thirst'), but there's still 2 other movies in his "vengeance trilogy" that often go unnoticed by most people. Although 'Oldboy' is the better film, Mr Vengeance still gives Oldboy a run for its money. If you refer back to what I said about 'Seven Pounds' and movies that intentionally pluck at the emotional heart strings, THIS, in my opinion, is a film that almost chokes me up every time I watch it. From the character; "Ryu" running and driving around the streets of Korea in pain after having one of his kidneys taken in an effort to fix a situation that got WAY out of hand, to the scene of Park's daughter drowning at the end, 'Mr Vengeance' really gets to me. But all of those emotional elements are disguised in a thrilling, entertaining film about a kidnapping gone wrong.
'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance' follows a character by the name of "Ryu": a deaf, mute, and very naive/childlike factory worker who's sister desperately needs a kidney transplant. Things just don't ever seem to work out for him though... He' not a match for his sister so he cant donate his kidney to her, he gets fired from his job and when he tries to get a kidney for his sister through the black market he gets screwed over big time (the black market dealers not only take his money, but they also take one of his kidneys).
After getting double crossed on the black market, he sets out to kidnap the daughter of his ex-boss who fired him to get ransom money. But like most similar situations, things go very wrong. 'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance' is a look at how far someone will go to save a family member as well as how messed up the medical system can be.
'Sympathy For Lady Vengeance' (2005)
The third part of Park Chan Wok's "vengeance trilogy" ('Sympathy For Lady Vengeance') also deals with Kidney Transplantation. In this film about a woman set up for a crime she didn't commit and her plan to get revenge on everyone who's wronged her, while in prison she gives an inmate one of her kidney's in an effort to show that she's a model prisoner so that she can get out of jail early. Of the three films (mr vengeance, oldboy and lady vengeance), this is my least favorite, but still entertaining nonetheless, and deals with kidney disease, so it deserves a spot on this list.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


My presence at the 2011 New York Film Festival wasn't as dominant as '09 (life during wartime, trash humpers, the white ribbon) or 2010 (uncle boonmee, another year, black venus and certified copy) since i pretty much saw everything a month earlier in Toronto. However there were still a few films that slipped through the cracks while i was at TIFF which i managed to get tickets for at NYFF like 'A Dangerous Method' (which i STILL wasn't able to see due to a scheduling conflict with a Portishead concert i forgot about on the same night) and 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' (i still have yet to see Andrea Arnold's recent adaptation of 'Wuthering Heights' which is still haunting me). Even though I saw 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' back in October (which ended up on my Top 10 of 2011), I needed time to process everything. It was a lot to take in. Watching 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' is kinda like watching a great game of chess, soccer or even baseball, while others would say watching this "boring masterpiece" is like watching paint dry (oh and btw, I'm not a fan of baseball, soccer or watching chess. I was just trying to make a comparison). It may seem boring at first, but it all pays off in the end (in my opinion).
What makes this film so mind blowing (to me at least) is that the characters in the film are kinda going through the same exact thing as the audience that's watching the movie. On one side of the movie screen you have a group of characters slowly getting frustrated after driving through the rural backwoods of Turkey all night trying to find something that may or may not even be where its supposed to be. On the other side of the screen, you have a theater full of people watching a slowly paced 150+ minute film that doesn't necessarily spell everything out for you all the time and it doesn't hold your hand every step of the way. Its easy to get frustrated while watching something like 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia'. You may start to ask yourself; "Where is this going?!", "Whats the point of all this?" or "Why am I sitting through this?!" Like any boring masterpiece, you need patience to sit through this.
In 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia', a man has just confessed to a murder. Now he has to take a group of police investigators and a medical examiner to the place where he buried the body. The only problem is that the murderer cant quite remember where the spot is, which leads them on an almost 24 hour search for a dead body. Although that's the basic plot, there's much more to it. Director; Nuri Ceylan took what could have been a typical "cop drama" or police thriller and turned in to an exploration of self reflection, patience, the factors that could bring a man to kill another man (at the end of the film we get enough hints as to why the murder was committed) and yes...the film is also an exploration into the soul of man (as corny as that may sound). Although the film is filled with police, tension and a few moments of aggression, not once is a gun drawn (...i think) and we actually never even see the murder take place yet I never stopped paying attention or lost interest. This film offers so much to the viewer. If you're a fan of beautiful imagery and shots of countryside landscapes, there's plenty of that in the film...

Because there isn't as much dialogue as you'd expect from a 2 1/2 hour film, a lot of the film's tension and eerie atmosphere is carried out through the intense glares and stern facial expressions of the actors. Its almost like they're looking straight in to someone's soul...

And even though this film wont exactly raise your pulse or make your blood pressure go up, there's still a few eerie scenes and shots that will stay with you long after its over...

What also makes this film so unique is that even after the mystery is resolved and the dead body is finally found (which IS a pivotal scene reminiscent of other great scenes of discovered dead bodies like 'Boyz N Tha Hood' and 'Stand By Me'), the film still continues and lingers on for another good 40+ minutes or so. In most murder mysteries the discovery of the body or the discovery of who did it (which isn't the case with 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia') or why the murder was committed is essentially the pay off/climax. Once those elements are solved the rest of the film wraps up fairly quickly. In 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' we get a little background and character development into the medical examiner (through old photos we learn about his past) and we also learn a few things about the murdered man's family.
The presence of women in 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' is also something to take note of. In this almost all-male cast, the few female characters are made out to be more like mysterious figures as opposed to actual people (the scene where the young girl brings the police food and the final scene where the wife identifies her husbands dead body are prime examples of this). In fact, there's only one line of listenable dialogue from a female character (outside of the muffled phone conversation one of the men has with his wife over the phone).
I've already read reviews and overheard comparisons of 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' to the work Abbas Kiarostami (specifically 'The Taste Of Cherry') as well as Tarkovsky. Its pretty easy to quickly compare this film to Kiarostami's work, but outside of 'Certified Copy' and 'The Taste of Cherry' (which, like Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, also centers around death and men driving through rural areas looking for "the meaning of it all") his work, although mostly fiction, is almost documentary-like.
I'm almost embarrassed to say, but 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia' is the first Nuri Ceylan film that I've ever seen (that's right, I haven't even seen 'Three Monkeys'). But if there's ever been a film that's gotten my immediate interest in a director, this would be it. I'll be exploring the rest of Ceylan's work in the near future.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


In the tradition of David Lynch & 'Mulholland Drive', Michael Mann's 'Heat' originated from a failed television project ('LA Takedown'). 'Heat' carries over the same basic plot as well as certain specific lines from 'L.A. Takedown' (there's even a cameo in 'Heat' from Xander Berkley who appears in the original). And strangely enough, 'Heat' and 'Mulholland Drive' share another common bond. Aside from being set in L.A., certain aspects of both films are LOOSELY based on true events and real people (with 'Mulholland Drive', David Lynch was subconsciously influenced by the death of his former assistant, while certain characters in 'Heat' are based on real people). 'L.A. Takedown' was a more simplified version of what Mann really wanted to do. It didn't have so many characters, not as many subplots and its only 90 minutes long, whereas 'Heat' is almost 3 hours with quite a few side stories. 
In 'Heat', Al Pacino plays "Vincent Hanna": A somewhat unusual, yet dedicated police lieutenant (based on real life police officer-turned screen writer Chuck Adamson) who's on the trail of "Neil McCauley" (Robert Deniro) and his crew (Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo) who're about to pull a major heist. Hanna and McCauley's relationship, which we'll get to a little later, is a bit strange but at the same time very interesting. 
I really appreciate the fact that even though 'Heat' is essentially an action film (or "crime drama"), Michael Mann took his time, and wasn't afraid to make a long, complex tale involving many different players and subplots. These subplots include: Hanna's marital problems and his suicidal stepdaughter (played by Natalie Portman), McCauley's relationship with his girlfriend and his pursuit of a former partner of his who double crosses him (just like in 'Thief', 'Public Enemies' and 'Miami Vice', Michael Mann creates a world where there's GOOD bad guys). The film also delves in to the life of Denrio's partner/2nd in command; "Chris" (Val Kilmer) who's also got marital and gambling problems. Over the years I've heard some people complain about all the additional characters and subplots, but in my opinion I thought they gave the film depth. In addition to basing Al Pacino's character off of a real life police officer, Michael Mann also based John Voight's character off of actor/author/ex-con Eddie Bunker (reservoir dogs and animal factory), who also acted as a consultant on 'Heat'.
The rest of the supporting cast in this film is so stacked, you often forget all the actors in it like; Ted Levine, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria or Dennis Haysbert. Even a pre-entourage Jeremy Piven has a small part. 
'Heat' is one of my favorite movies, but at the same time I cant deny it has its plot holes or unbelievable moments like; Al Pacino man handling Henry Rollins (i don't think so), Val Kilmer's getaway at the end or 3 guys greatly outnumbered by a S.W.A.T. team who manage to shoot their way out and get away with only 1 casualty, but none of that really seemed to bother me, because in my opinion it didn't take away from the "big picture". 
This isn't just a blog entry about 'Heat'. Its also doubling as a study on Michael Mann and his style of film making (with 'Heat' as the main focus). Ever since i started doing the "images & stills" studies on various directors on PINNLAND EMPIRE, I've always felt the one i did on Michael Mann was pretty weak, so I'm gonna make up for it now...

In my opinion, 'Heat' is an important landmark. Its where all the great elements of Mann's early work like 'Thief' and 'Manhunter' (the acting, the grittiness, the music) met the great elements of his future work like 'Miami Vice' and 'Collateral' (unique cinematography, bright lights, big cities, nightclubs, beautiful lighting, etc). Techniques and shots were carried over from 'Thief' and 'Manhunter' into 'Heat', and we were also introduced to new techniques and shots in 'Heat' that Mann continues to do to this day...
'Manhunter' (1986)
'Heat' (1995)
'The Insider' (1999)
'Ali' (2001)
'Public Enemies' (2009)
'Miami Vice' (2006)
'Public Enemies'

'Miami Vice'
Every director creates their own world. Some directors like Lodge Kerrigan or David Lynch create a world of unease and crazy people that you don't wanna visit. Directors like Cassavetes show realism. Other directors like the obvious Tim Burton create a land of fantasy. Mann kinda combines all of those worlds. 'Heat' may appear to be realistic, but so many things in that movie would NEVER happen in real life. With a director like Mann, even with all the criminals, shootouts and violence, its a world you wouldn't mind visiting because he makes everything look cool and sleek. In 'Heat', he makes L.A. (a city I'm not too fond off) seem like a place I would enjoy.

Its common knowledge to most movie nerds/Michael Mann fanatics that Alex Colville's painting; "Pacific" not only inspired some great shots in 'Heat' (below)
but 'Miami Vice' as well...

and as i said in my review of 'Thief', Mann draws inspiration from french crime directors like Jean Pierre Melville (specifically 'Le Circle Rouge'). Deniro's performance in 'Heat' is very Alain Delon-esque (minimal emotions, cool, calm, collected). Melville's influence on Mann has also trickled down to other filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn in 'Drive'...
'Le Circle Rouge'- Melville (1970)
Melville's influence on Michael Mann's other work (note the style of lights and the way they're shot in Melville's film compared to Mann's Ali)...
'Le Circle Rouge'
Of course the biggest hype around 'Heat' was that this was gonna be the first film to have Pacino and Denrio on screen together (as we all know they were both in 'The Godfather Part 2', but never at the same time). Say what you want, but Michael Mann has managed to quietly work with some of the biggest actors from each era. James Caan in the early 80's, Denrio, Pacino and Russell Crowe in the 90's and Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Javier Bardem and Christian Bale in the last decade. He was quite aware of the hype that would be surrounding this, and he made the audience wait until that classic scene when both iconic actors wold be in the same scene together. In the first half of 'Heat', Mann teased us with the stakeout scene, which is edited to look like Deniro and Pacino are looking right at each other when in fact they're in completely different locations.
He prolongs the meeting between Pacino and Deniro yet AGAIN, with another similar scene in which they aren't on camera together, but both are aware of each other's presence...
Eventually we get the famous "cafe scene" where Pacino and Deniro finally meet (which is kinda edited in a similar fashion as the stakeout scene from earlier). Their relationship in this scene, as well as this movie is like a flirty heterosexual relationship. Both characters have (some) respect for each other, even though they're technically enemies. Its this unspoken "thing" between the two of them...
Now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a are going down. - Vincent Hanna (Pacino)
There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We've been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second. - McCauley (Deniro)

The respect that Hanna has for McCauley is a little odd. Its like he has a crush on him or something. His choice of words in that scene is a bit strange. As a cop, why wouldn't he like it if he had to take down a criminal who was putting the lives of others in danger (you know, essentially doing his job)? Through out the film whenever Hanna mentions McCauley, he repeats the line; "this guy is good". On the flip side, it seemed like once McCauley found out Hanna was on to him, he wanted to go through with it even more because it would be the ultimate challenge for him.

'Heat' is easily one of the best movies of the 90's and one of the greatest crime dramas of all time ( my opinion). A true Los Angeles film that deserves its place among other ensemble modern LA films like 'Shortcuts' or 'Pulp Fiction'.


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