Friday, April 27, 2012


I realize the chances of Xavier Dolan, a recent favorite here at PINNLAND EMPIRE, ever reading this is pretty slim but its worth a try (and hey...this blog managed to get the attention of figures like Ted Hope and Monte Hellman, so who knows?) I guess its pretty arrogant of me, some random guy with a movie blog who's never directed or written a film in his life, to suggest a movie project to a popular, talented, young, up & coming director like Xavier Dolan who's probably got plenty of movie ideas of his own, but I just see him making a film on a certain subject. Call it a gut feeling. A few years ago Law & Order: SVU based one of their episodes off of the infamous John/Joan case. For those of you unfamiliar with this case, its the story of a Canadian twin infant boy who was raised as a female due to a botched circumcision that burned off the majority of his penis when he was a newborn. To avoid future embarrassment and humiliation, the parents thought it was best to raise the male baby as a girl and started giving him hormone pills at a very young age. Years later the truth was revealed to the twin that "she" was really a he. He continued to live out the rest of his life as a man before eventually committing suicide (a few weeks later his twin brother committed suicide as well further proving the unspoken connection that twins have with one another). That's just the basic story. It gets a lot deeper (...wikipedia). As we all know there's only so much depth Law & Order can get in to when they only have one hour (with commercials) to tell a story, so a few things were left out and "rounded up". But after seeing that episode (which was still very good, don't get me wrong), I thought that this story should be made in to a film. At first I thought this story had David Cronenberg's name written all over it. Its a Canadian story about body mutilation (a botched circumcision) as well as body transformation (going from living as one sex to another). There's also elements of sexuality and sexual discovery in the John/Joan case due to the very controversial psychiatrist that the twins went to visit on the regular. Even if you know very little about Cronenberg you know enough to know that all of these elements fit right in with the rest of his filmography. But then I remembered he made 'Dead Ringers' which is damn near the same story (another twisted & true story about a set of twin brothers who end up killing themselves). Not only that, he also made 'M Butterfly' a few years after that (both films starring Jeremy Irons) which also delves into similar territory. So I crossed Cronenberg's name off the list. Then I thought of Todd Haynes. Hes no stranger to the realm of sexuality and sexual exploration among children ('Dottie Gets Spanked') or biopics/true stories ('I'm Not There' and 'Velvet Goldmine'). I'm actually still not completely ruling Haynes out. I'm just not sure I want his stylish touch, which we saw in his previous biopics, to take over the actual story of the John/Joan case (Gus Van Sant wouldn't be a bad choice either). But after watching the trailer for Dolan's new film; 'Laurence Anyways', it just clicked. Xavier Dolan should do a film about John & Joan. I don't even completely know why I'm so set on him directing this outside of the fact that I've become a huge fan of his in a short period of time, hes Canadian and hes explored elements and themes in his last three films that go hand in hand with the John/Joan story. In 'I Killed My Mother' he delves in to the complicated and twisted relationships that can occur between parents and their children, with 'Heartbeats' we had a gay/straight/confused love triangle between a gay male, a straight woman and a straight/borderline-metrosexual male. And his latest film looks like it dives head first in to the world of transgendered men and women. So not only would this adaptation fit with the rest if his work but it would be new territory for the young director to explore (working with child actors, adapting a true story, etc). So if any of you who read this blog on the regular that happen to know Dolan personally (which is probably none of you) could you pass this on to him? I think we got a hit on our hands!

Monday, April 23, 2012


Secrets and mysteries provide a beautiful corridor where you can float out. The corridor expands and many, many wonderful things can happen... I love the process of going into mystery - David Lynch

Not many living filmmakers can say they've created a cultural phenomenon ('Twin Peaks'), been nominated for an academy award 4 times ('Blue Velvet', 'Mulholland Drive' and twice for 'Elephant Man') and have solidified their spot in the cult/midnight movie genre ('Eraserhead'). ...But David Lynch, the man essentially responsible for the name of this movie blog, certainly can. To some people he's one of the greatest filmmakers of our time mostly due to his ability at tapping in to our subconscious (I guess you could consider me part of that group), while others think he's just a weirdo with a movie camera. David Lynch's work may be an acquired taste but it hasn't stopped him from almost becoming a household name in the 1990's thanks to 'Twin Peaks' (a show that only lasted two seasons but still caught on like wildfire and continues to maintain a healthy cult following), appearances on Jay Leno, parodies on television shows like The Simpsons & SNL and the numerous awards he's won during his career (especially best picture at Cannes in 1990 for 'Wild At Heart'). Lynch's work isn't as "random" as some people think. It may be surreal and (very) strange at times but all of his work is connected either visually or through other common themes and elements which we're going to explore in this blog entry. Given that David Lynch is up there on my all time favorites list along with the likes of Claire Denis and Michael Haneke, its only right that we explore his work in the same fashion.

Outside of the quirky characters, creepy scenes and surreal moments that make a David Lynch movie a David Lynch movie, there's also signature shots and recurring images that you'll find in almost all of his work. Spike Lee has that famous zoom/tracking shot we all know, Tim Burton has his gothic look, Cronenberg (a director David Lynch is commonly associated with) has his exploding heads, and Lynch has his trademark shots of dark roads at night and his symbolic use of fire. Furthermore, Lynch's films may be "weird" and "strange" but they aren't so strange that they just come out of nowhere. His work draw inspiration from directors like Bunuel or movies like 'The Wizard Of Oz'...

I love two-lane highways. They say something about the way things used to be, and about areas that don't have a lot of people. On those two-lanes at night you get the sense of moving into the unknown, and that's as thrilling a sense as human beings can have. - David Lynch
'Lost Highway'
'Mulholland Drive'
'Wild At Heart'
'Blue Velvet'

Fire is almost ethereal. There are so many things it causes to happen inside you when you're watching a fire - David Lynch
'Blue Velvet'
'Wild At Heart'
'Inland Empire'
'Lost Highway'
'Blue Velvet'
One of David Lynch's inspiration for Blue Velvet ('Un Chein Andalou' )
'Wild At Heart'...
'The Wizard Of Oz'

Lynch's films cant exactly be categorized as strictly "horror" but he certainly has a gift for creating scenes that are just as frightening as your average scary movie. From the burnt man who creeps from behind the dumpster in 'Mulholland Drive' to the baby from 'Eraserhead', Lynch's filmography is full of creepy images that leave a lasting impression. What makes all the horror and scary moments in Lynch's films even more heightened is his use of sound. In any classic scary moment in one of his films we hear a loud jolt of noise (a blaring trumpet, loud factory noises, experimental sounds or synth stabs) at the precise moment of the "scare" (see video examples below). And to makes things even more disorienting, there's an element of humor in all of Lynch's work making you wanna laugh and cover your eyes at the same time...

'The Alphabet'
'Fire Walk With Me'
'Mulholland Drive'
'Inland Empire'

Being a woman in a David Lynch film can be pretty horrific. You're either being sexually assaulted ('Wild A Heart'), brutalized ('Blue Velvet') or torn in half ('Lost Highway'). Much like Lars Von Trier, David Lynch is another director who's been accused of misogyny through out his career (especially by Roger Ebert) and as much as I love his work, I cant exactly disagree with those accusations. Almost all of his films involve female characters in danger (in fact, the tagline for 'Inland Empire' was "a woman in trouble"). In just about any Lynch film you'll see plenty scenes of women being beaten ('Blue Velvet' & 'Inland Empire'), murdered ('Twin Peaks', 'Lost Highway' & 'Mulholland Drive'), or terrorized by some ghost, monster or insane person (Leland Palmer & Bob in 'Twin Peaks' & Frank Booth in 'Blue Velvet')...

'Blue Velvet'
'Wild At Heart'
'Fire Walk With Me'
'Lost Highway'
'Mulholland Drive'
'Inland Empire'

Not many directors can create a "bad guy" like David Lynch can. In fact I'd go so far as to say that with characters like Frank Booth ('Blue Velvet'), Bobby Peru ('Wild At Heart') and the Mystery Man in 'Lost Highway' he reinvented the "villain" in modern cinema. As most of us know, the average villain in most films are pretty one dimensional: evil, crazy, insane or sadistic, etc. But just like Lynch's exploration in horror, he mixes humor with seriousness. All of the evil characters in his films are both; scary & intimidating yet you wanna laugh at them at the same time. His villains have a sadistic side and a goofy/silly side as well. One minute we find Frank Booth and Bobby Peru charming but then Lynch drops in a quick scene to remind us how dangerous and twisted they really are (especially towards women).
"Frank Booth" - 'Blue Velvet'
"Bobby Peru" - 'Wild At Heart'
"Leland Palmer" - 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me'
"Bob" - 'Twin Peaks'
"Mr Eddy"  - 'Lost Highway'
"Mystery Man" - 'Lost Highway'
"The Cowboy" - 'Mulholland Drive'
'Mulholland Drive'

By now most people know 'Eraserhead' is semi-autobiographical. But it doesn't stop there. From Jeremy Irons ('Inland Empire) and Justin Theroux ('Mulholland Drive') playing quirky movie directors making dark films in the middle of production problems to just about any character that Kyle Maclachlan has ever played under his direction, you can clearly see little bits & pieces of David in all of them...
'Blue Velvet'
'Twin Peaks'
Justin Theroux as a movie director in 'Mulholland Drive'
Jeremy Irons as a movie director in 'Inland Empire'

Although David Lynch loves to explore the dark side of Los Angeles & Hollywood ('Inland Empire', 'Lost Highway' & 'Mulholland Drive') industrial sounds and settings are a key element in the world he creates. The smoke from the factories, the loud clanking noises, the various machines etc...

I love industry. Pipes. I love fluid and smoke. I love man-made things. I like to see people hard at work, and I like to see sludge and man-made waste - David Lynch

'Blue Velvet'
'Twin Peaks'

Like I said earlier, no matter how weird or strange his movies are, Lynch still manages to draw inspiration from true events. From 'Lost Highway' (a film set in Los Angeles made shortly after the OJ Simpson trial that's essentially about a man who murders his wife) to the adaptations of real stories like John Merrick ('The Elephant Man') and Alvin Straight ('The Straight Story'), many of Lynch's inspirations are clear as day and not as deep or subconscious as many people think...
'The Elephant Man'
'Lost Highway'
'The Straight Story'
'Mulholland Drive' (Jennifer Syme)

Friday, April 20, 2012


Not every good director makes a solid debut. For some it takes a couple of tries. Stanley Kubrick had 'Fear & Desire' AND 'Killers Kiss' (sorry but that movie isn't very good. just admit it. I know it's Kubrick, but just admit it). And not every great director owns up to or acknowledges everything they've done either (just look at David Lynch and 'Dune'). Todd Solondz's feature film debut 'Fear Anxiety & Depression' - a Woody Allen-esque comedy starring Solondz himself - fits the criteria of both. It is a failed debut that he not only disowns, but supposedly wont talk about in interviews. In fact, when I walked past Todd Solondz in 2006 and told him i owned a copy of 'Fear, Anxiety & Depression' he covered his face as if he were embarrassed and said: "Oh god, WHY?" (True story). But as the years go on, Solondz's feature debut has become one of the last works to truly be called "rare" (bad or not). The VHS is out of print and there isn't even a bootleg or multi-region copy of it on DVD. At no fault of Todd Solondz, many people were kind of led to believe that 'Welcome To The Dollhouse' (1996) was his directorial debut in the same way many some people thought 'Stranger Than Paradise' was Jim Jarmusch's directorial debut (after 'Fear, Anxiety & Depression' was released he stopped directing and became an ESL teacher for adults, which is something that morked its way in to the plot of Happiness). Even indie gems without a real DVD release like Hal Hartley's 'Trust' and Tom Noonan's 'What Happened Was...' can be watched on Netflix.
There aren't too many movies in my collection that I consider to be a "prized possession" outside of my 'Love Streams' VHS and the original DVD box set of 'Eraserhead' that you had to buy off of David Lynch's website back in the day. But 'Fear Anxiety & Depression is among one of my rare gems (mostly in part because I am a big fan of his. I imagine casual fans of Solondz's work really would care about own a VHS of Fear, Anxiety & Depression). It's easy for a low budget studio screwball comedy to get swallowed up and forgotten about in an intimidating year like 1989. It was the year when American indie heavyweights like Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee & a pre-Good Will Hunting Gus Van Sant shared the spotlight with the likes of Tim Burton (whose revamping of the Batman franchise still influences the Batman movies of today) as well as international directors like John Woo & Michael Haneke. 1989 was also the year of some very important directorial debuts: Michael Haneke ('The Seventh Continent'), Hal Hartley ('Unbelievable Truth'), Steven Soderbergh ('Sex, Lies & Videotape') and Wendall B. Harris ('Chameleon Street'), Cult films (with plenty of dark humor) like; 'Heatthers', 'How To Get Ahead In Advertising', 'Society', 'The Cook, The Thief, The Wife & His Lover' & 'Parents', blockbuster sequels ('Back To The Future', 'Ghostbusters' and 'Lethal Weapon') and more independent films getting mainstream recognition and acclaim ('Do The Right Thing', 'Mystery Train' & 'Sex, Lies & Videotape'). What was also important about 1989 was that it paved the way for new, young independent American filmmakers of the 90's like; Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and many many more.
'Fear, Anxiety & Depression' is essentially 'Manhattan' or 'Annie Hall' meets the screwball comedy stylings of 'Weekend At Bernies'. That's not the most flattering description but its also not the greatest movie in the world either. But it's also not as bad as the people who've seen it make it out to be. And the more Solondz distances himself from this movie the more curious people get about it.

Fear anxiety & depression is the story of "Ira" - a struggling (and somewhat pretentious) playwright looking for romance in New York City. Much like Woody Allen does in his own movies when he plays the main character, Ira/Solondz moves through a few different women through the course of the film. The women in his life include: "Sharon" - Ira's strange yet loving girlfriend who he's really only with out of convenience. Next is "Junk" - a performance artist who kind of symbolizes pretentious modern New York City art of the 80's (Ira is head over heels for Junk but she cant stand him). Last is "Janice" - a wholesome, nice waitress/struggling actress who used to date Ira's best friend "Jack" - another modern artist who ends up dating Junk. As you can tell from the description of these characters, this film is about more than just romance and relationships in New York City. It's also about struggling artists trying to "make it big". This doesn't sound like the worst movie in the world, but the attempts at humor are SO screwball and cheesy at times that it makes you want to cringe and look away (especially knowing what Solondz went on to direct in the 90's and today). And, as you can tell from my description, the movie is filled to the brim with cliches.
The film's positive aspects are the few moments of dark humor along with Stanley Tucci's early performance as Ira's rival playwright. But outside of the few moments of dark humor and the bleak (yet comedic) outlook on life, the Todd Solondz responsible for stuff like 'Happiness' and 'Welcome To The Dollhouse' hadn't developed yet. In his defense this was a studio film that he had no control over as far as editing went. Apparently once shooting wrapped he had nothing to do with the cutting of the film (although I cant imagine how any kind of editing could have saved this). When 'Life During Wartime' came out a few years back people made this big deal about how it was Solondz's first movie without pedophilia, rape or all the other dark subjects his films are known for. But true Solondz fans who've seen his first film know that really isn't the case at all. This isn't exactly a "no-wave" film as that scene had died out in NYC by the late 80's, but there's still traces of it in 'Fear, Anxiety & Depression' (the films east/west village setting, the references to modern art, etc). And outside of Woody Allen, Solondz also drew inspiration from other works like 'Liquid Sky' and Scorsese's 'After Hours' & 'King Of Comedy' (there's even a scene when Ira is being chased by Sharon that's very similar to the scene in 'King Of Comedy' when Jerry Lewis is being chased by Sandra Bernhard).
As unappealing as this movie may seem to some, you have to admit that it does sound a bit intriguing. If you're a diehard fan of Todd Solondz, like me, this is something you need to see in order to complete the Solondz filmography.

Monday, April 16, 2012


'CQ' is one of those movies that's SO underrated, overlooked and forgotten about that it makes me like it more than I really should to make up for the people who slept (and are still sleeping) on it. These days Roman Coppola's name is commonly associated with music videos (the strokes, Daft Punk, Wycleff, Moby, etc) and co-script writing (he co-wrote two of Wes Anderson's last two films). But he isn't the only Coppola child to direct a feature film. Everyone I come across who's seen 'CQ' either doesn't like it or thinks its just "eh, ok". Maybe it was just released at the wrong time and got overshadowed by his sister's success with 'Virgin Suicides' less than a year prior as well as being released in 2001, which is one of the best movie years of the last decade (Its kinda hard for a small film like 'CQ' to stand next to films like 'The Piano Teacher' & Mulholland Drive'). Roman didn't try to be like his father at all (in fact, 'CQ' has more in common with Robert Altman's 'The Player' and Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep' then it does with anything Francis has done). No epic mafia drama or 3 hour war film. For his first feature he took on a smaller, semi-auto biographical, yet fun & entertaining project about what goes on behind the scenes of a B science fiction movie. And he still managed to keep things kinda personal and somewhat "all in the family" by including his cousin (Jason Schwartzman costars in 'CQ' as a trashy horror movie director), his sister (Sofia Coppola has a cameo) as well as make a few references to his father who also produced 'CQ' (Gerard Depardieu's character was apparently partially based on his Francis Ford Coppola). I'd even go so far to say that Francis Ford Coppola drew inspiration from his son's film on his more recent work like 'Tetro' (the playfulness, the movie references, the idea of a movie being inside of a movie, the mixture of color with black & white, etc). And outside of his father, Roman pays homage to Roger Corman, Bridget Fonda and European cinema as a whole (specifically French & Italian). In 'CQ' Jeremy Davies plays an American film editor ("Paul") living in France in the 1960's. His mentor is veteran director; "Andrezej" (played by Gerard Depardieu) who treats his films like works of art when in reality they're just cheap movies that get churned out fast and quick. On Andrezej's latest film, a barbarrela-esque/danger diabolik homage called; "Codename: Dragonfly", he gets fired and has his production shut down for going over schedule & disagreeing with the producer over the ending and is eventually replaced by Paul which makes his life extremely hectic. Aside from dealing with taking over a project from his mentor, Paul is having some serious relationship problems with his girlfriend, trying to make his own film on the side (a personal documentary about his life in Paris) and is starting to fall in love with the female star of "Codename Dragonfly" (played by Supermodel Angela Lindvall). And to make things worse, Andrezej comes back to try and sabotage the production of the film to get revenge for being fired.

"Codename Dragonfly" (the movie
being made in 'CQ')

'Danger Diabolik', a movie we
explored before on this site...


'Danger Diabolik'

Roman Coppola used his talent and personal experiences from growing up on movie sets and made a fun film on the subject. Coppola really drives home that chaotic yet "behind the scenes" feel of being on a movie set. He shows the audience little tricks that directors in the 60's use to do in order to get around working with little to no budget when special effects where in order. In fact, there's a few special effects tricks that Paul does in 'CQ' that real directors like David Cronenberg did in their early sci-fi shorts...

Paul creating a "psychedelic" special effect...
Andrezej & Paul in the editing room
a miniature movie set for of Paris in the future for "Codename Dragonfly"
Paul directing a scene for "Codename Dragonfly" ('CQ')

Like 'Im Gonna Git You Sucka' & 'Pulp Fiction' before it and 'Black Dynamite' after it, 'CQ' is another perfect example of a "movie mixtape" (lifting various scenarios, scenes, characters, music, etc and putting them together in one film collage). In 'CQ' Coppola also blurs the line between fantasy and reality more than once as the scenes from "Codename Dragonfly" start to seep in to Paul's real life making 'CQ' a movie inside of a movie. And through various dream sequences, Paul is visited by fictitious filmmakers and critics who question as to whether or not he sold out for accepting to direct a silly sci fi movie instead of working on his more personal documentary. Sorry, but like i said at the beginning of this write-up, 'CQ' is criminally underrated. Its fun &entertaining and anyone from a movie snob to an average moviegoer cam enjoy it. Roman Coppola made a pretty interesting character in Paul. I'm sure there's some of Roman inside Paul, just like I'm sure there's some of David Lynch inside of Justin Theroux's character in 'Mulholland Drive' & Jeremy Iron's in 'Inland Empire' or some of Tom Dicillo's actual personality inside of Steve Buscemi in 'Living Oblivion'. This is also a theme that his sister often explores in her films in that I'm sure there's a little bit of Sofia Coppola in the girls of 'Virgin Suicides' & 'Marie Antionette' as well as the obvious Scarlett Johanson character in 'Lost In Translation'. In addition to the actors already mentioned, 'CQ' features a multi-national cast of supporting actors like Billy Zane, Giancarlo Giannini, Elodie Bouchez and a quick appearance from Dean Stockwell. But Jason Schwartzman completely steals the show.
I highly recommend this...


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