Monday, March 26, 2012


This may be the most I've written about a movie that I HAVEN'T actually seen. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but my anticipation for Andrea Arnold's adaptation of 'Wuthering Heights' is on another level right now. More than 'Dark Knight Rises', 'Amour' (Haneke's new movie) and even 'Holly Motors' (Leos Carax's long awaited return). And I seriously don't fully understand where all this excitement is coming from either. Oh and trust me, it has nothing to do with the character of Heathcliff being portrayed as black. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I'm such a big Andrea Arnold fan (I LOVED 'Red Road' and her use of classic hip hop music in 'Fish Tank' was a pleasant surprise). But at the same its not like shes one of my personal favorites. These days I think I'm just drawn to somewhat boring, "off", lingering, flawed yet challenging films which is what I'm gathering Wuthering Heights is from all the reviews and firsthand reports that vary more than anything I've seen in years. Flawed or misunderstood movies can still bring a lot to the table. Just look at recent stuff like; Black Venus, Trouble Every Day, Tree Of Life, House Of Tolerance, The Pornographer, Demonlover, or the other misunderstood/boring masterpieces we've explored here on PINNLAND EMPIRE. These are the kinda movies people will revisit 10 years later and realize how genius they are (well maybe not all of em, but some). I know I'm blowing this up and setting myself up for disappointment but the last time i blew a movie up like this it turned out to be 'Drive' (probably one of the greatest movies ever). At TIFF last year Atom Egoyan said Wuthering Heights was the best thing Andrea Arnold has done so far. However Chris over at the pink smoke thought the opposite. In fact I could almost feel his pain through the text he sent me from Sundance after he saw it. I remember one of the texts reading something along the lines of: "its tough, man. really hard to sit through." Actually, why don't you read his opinion on it (Sundance 2012) then continue reading this...

See what I'm saying? Not the most flattering review. Like Chris' review, many other critics are pretty much saying the same thing (more or less): An adaption of Wuthering Heights where the dialogue sounds like its straight out of a 1980's English pub with parkensons-esque cinematography and unnecessary long shots of trees and bugs with the wind blowing directly in to the microphones to the point where you can barely here the actors. And speaking of actors, i hear the fella who plays the older Heathcliff cant act very well either. But even with all that i still wanna see this badly. Another reason I'm so drawn to this movie is because of the trailer (below) and the various images and stills floating around online. As I wrote in a previous blog entry; it really is a work of art in the realm of movie trailers. It accentuates a lot of the characteristics I was talking about earlier: lingering shots, hand held cinematography, and it does look boring...but good boring (if that makes any sense). Ive been kicking myself for six months because at this point in time I COULD HAVE ALREADY SEEN IT! that's right. What you could be reading right now is an actual review instead of my rambling on and on about a movie I haven't even seen yet. But by the first few days of TIFF I was so worn out and tired from watching 4-7 movies a day I didn't wanna wake up @ 6:30am to make the 8:00am screening (its also ironic that from that moment on the festival took a serious nosedive with the exception of Shame, Monsieur Lahzar, Alps and a few more). I was so sure additional screenings would be added because of all the buzz it was getting at Venice (which was going at the same time as TIFF), but it didn't happen. Oh well.
Anyway, I'm hoping it'll come to NYC soon (IFC is about to release their new film schedule so I'm hopeful).

Friday, March 23, 2012

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #11: TWILIGHT PORTRAIT (very flawed, yet thought provoking feminist cinema)

Now that this little gem (or is it even in fact a "gem") is finally starting to get more screenings in the U.S. (New Directors/New Films) I figured I'd review it for you guys since I already saw it on a whim trying to kill time between two other movies at TIFF last year. This is another one from the festival I saw that falls in to the same category as 'The Invader' in that it confused, intrigued and angered me all at the same time. One minute I wanted to walk out and see what else was playing at the festival, then the next minute I wanted to stick around to see how something would play out. On one hand 'Twilight Portrait' is a feminist film about detachment, loneliness, weakness and vulnerability in a world dominated by men (corrupt & sadistic police officers in the case of this movie) told in the "cinema verite" style of John Cassavetes (gritty, raw, realistic, bordering on looking like a documentary) with elements of neo-noir. Then on the other hand 'Twilight Portrait' feels forced and unrealistic to the point where you feel the director (first timer; Angelina Nikova) would pronounce the letter "B" in the word subtle. Then there's a third way to look at it: Because I'm a man and this film pretty much speaks to women exclusively for the most part (although I'm sure its general intentions were for everyone to enjoy it on some level) there's certain things that I just wont get (similar to how anyone can enjoy a film by Charles Burnett or Wendall B. Harris, but as a Black Male there's a certain understanding or connection I may get over non-black people who watch the same movie). In reality 'Twilight Portrait' is all of the above. Its somewhat provocative (intriguing), somewhat eye-rolling & unrealistic (angering) and I'll never fully understand everything about it (confusion). Whats also frustrating about 'Twilight Portrait' (and another reason it relates to 'The Invader') is that this is one of those films that I want others to see so I can talk about it, but only a small handful of people in the U.S. will get a chance to see this.
The backdrop of 'Twilight Portrait' has to do with a series of rapes that have been going on in the films unnamed Russian city courtesy of the local police. The bored and sadistic police officers ride around, pick up prostitutes or women walking home alone at night and rape them (it was kind of a fresh perspective to see a realistic portrayal of corrupt cops in the realm of sexism as opposed to racism). The film opens bluntly with a group of police tracking down a young prostitute and raping her. The focus of 'Twilight Portrait' is "Marina": An upper-class social worker who's bored with and detached from everything around her (job, marriage, even the affair she's having with her husbands best friend). And there are (some) legitimate reasons as to why she feels this way. As a social worker (specializing in youth) she doesn't feel like she's making an impact or change in anyone's life and starts to question why she bothers trying to help people in the first place. Her husband isn't really there for her which is her "reason" for having an affair, yet the affair quickly starts to bore Marina too (so why carry on with it?). Just when you think things cant get any worse for Marina, on her way home from having another adulterous hook up (her car breaks down at night and she has to walk home) she's picked up and raped by the same group of police who raped the prostitute at the beginning of the film. Once its over (she doesn't tell anyone about it) she turns in to a darker version of herself (whats also interesting from a film making standpoint is that from this point on in the story we never see Marina out in the day light. Only night, dusk and dawn). Now some of you reading this might think to yourself that its a natural transformation to turn in to a "darker" person after being raped but what happens next may puzzle you. She returns to the same neighborhood where she was raped hoping to spot the policemen (one in particular) that attacked her. She retraces her steps and redoes just about everything she did on the day she was raped (including going back to the same seedy restaurant where she does eventually spot the policemen). She seems to be intrigued by one in particular ("Andrei") and follows him to the point where she makes it obvious. At this point we see influences from films like Andrea Arnold's 'Red Road' and even Abel Ferrara's 'Ms. 45'. But instead of tracking Andrei down and harming him, Marina throws herself at him in a somewhat detached/apathetic way and tries to start a relationship with him! Andrei is confused at first but eventually he lets Marina stick around and their temporary & deranged relationship beings.

Is Marina looking for more abuse or is this her way of abusing and getting back at her rapist by constantly remaining in his face and never going away as a reminder of what he did to her? Is she THAT self loathing or is there a much bigger diabolical plan that Marina has in the works? This isn't revealed until the very end. 'Twilight Portrait' also has me wondering; Is modern day Russia really like this? Is it really as dreary as the film makes it out to be? Are the police really as out of control as the film portrays? This movie makes me never wanna visit Russia. It comes off as constantly grey, cold and just all around depressing (obviously I wouldn't let a small indie film determine whether I would go to another country or not, but I'm just sayin...). 'Twilight Portrait' is in a similar realm of films by people like Sofia Coppola which basically states: just because women appear to "have it all" (looks, job, husband, nice place to live, financial stability, etc) there could still be an unnamed void on the inside that no one has the ability to see (and this obviously applies to men as well). I respect Angelina Nikova for creating such a complex character and bringing up such through provoking questions, but at the same time it felt like when Marina was raped it woke her up. I'm all about blunt cinema and brutal storytelling but I dunno if I like the idea of a rape being the thing that snaps a woman out of her "funk". C'mon now. I don't care if this was directed by a woman, there's something fucked up about that. I like that by the end of the film Marina brings everything full circle and connects her Stockholm syndrome-esque relationship that she's having with Andrei with her job, but at the same time its kinda hard to keep sympathizing for or connecting with Marina when she keeps looking for abuse (physically and emotionally). Maybe I'm reading all this wrong or simplifying it (this is one of the reason I wish there were other people who saw the movie so I could talk about it) but that's what I got out if it. If you somehow happen to catch a screening of this please report back to me or drop me a comment on here.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (no, seriously)

Hot Tub Time Machine, which wants nothing more than to be a screwball farce, succeeds beyond any expectations suggested by the title - Roger Ebert  

I know quoting Roger Ebert, a man who's had a personal vendetta against one of my  favorite directors since day one (David Lynch), may not mean much to some of you, but in the case of 'Hot Tub Time Machine' he does have a point. I think we can all agree that comedies don't get alotta love on snobbish movie blogs (like PINNLAND EMPIRE) but I'm slowly trying to change all that. Back in the late 70's before Leos Carax went on to become one of the best modern french directors around (in my opinion at least), he wrote for french film magazine; Cahier Du Cinema (like many other french directors including; Francois Truffaut, Olivier Assayas, Eric Rohmer, etc). What got him notoriety was his review/critical analysis of the Sylvester Stallone B-Movie: Paradise Alley (I'm aware its not exactly a "comedy" but lets be real, no one takes that movie seriously...except for Carax). This set him apart from the other writers at Cahier Du Cinema because this wasn't the typical Sam Fuller, Jean Luc Godard, Jim Jarmuch, John Cassavetes-type movie his fellow french writers reviewed. In a way that review (which you can read right here) kinda inspired this write-up/review. After a while it gets a little depressing watching and then writing about SO many heavy, depressing, surreal and/or serious films ('The Seventh Continent', 'Michael', 'The Intruder', 'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia', etc) Sometimes you need a break from all that. In my personal experience I find that these days more and more movie snobs, film buffs and cinephiles have taken to silly comedies like 'Harold & Kumar', 'Super Troopers' & 'Saving Silverman' because you don't have to invest yourself in them too much. You can just let go and laugh at the ridiculousness. Sure there's "sophisticated" comedies out there like 'Dr. Strangelove' or 'Monty Python's And The Holy Grail', but even those have legitimate/legendary directors attached to them, so when you watch something like Dr Strangelove you still subconsciously think about all the other films attached to Kubrick's work like 2001, Barry Lyndon or Clockwork Orange. Sometimes I don't want that. I want a comedy that has NOTHING to do with art house, AFI lists, film comment, Jonathan Rosenbaum, etc. A stupid comedy with dick & fart jokes (yeah, I said it). I think a person like myself who gets so engulfed in the world of directors like Michael Haneke and Andrei Tarkovsky has a right to feel that way every once in a while. I don't care what you guys think! But then at the same time look at what I've written so far... I cant even write about a comedy like 'HOT TUB TIME MACHINE' without name dropping directors like Leos Carax and Michael Haneke (who I'm convinced doesn't have a sense of humor).

Just from the title alone I thought this movie was going to be BEYOND stupid (no matter how many silly comedies I like). The only reason I gave 'Hot Tub Time Machine' a chance was because a few friends who's opinions I trust actually said it was funny (one in particular put it on their top 10 of 2010!). So naturally curiosity got the best of me because I'm always in search for a good laugh.

There haven't been too many great comedies in the last decade. Furthermore, the recent comedies that I DO actually consider to be great are made to feel like guilty pleasures because they involve masturbation scenarios & insults like; "chicken fucker" (Super Troopers), men getting ass cheek implants & murdered with Javelins (Saving Silverman), jive/gibberish talk & murderous gorillas (Pootie Tang), pissing on wedding rings & roundhouse kicking little kids in the face (The Foot Fist Way) and surprisingly funny cameos by people i normally DON'T consider to be funny like; Jamie Kennedy and Anthony Anderson (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle). Other great recent comedies include stuff like 'In The Loop' or 'Tristram Shandy' but those films kinda fall in to the same category as Strangelove and Holy Grail. 'Hot Tub Time Machine' falls in to that Super Troopers/Pootie Tang/Saving Silverman Category. Sorry but it has everything that makes a comedy funny to me. Unnecessary vulgar language (sometimes involving little kids), a humorous amuputation scene, one of those parts were someone says something that pertains to the title of the movie then intentionally stares directly in to the camera (lol), inappropriate dick jokes and lines like; "HEY! I write stargate fan-fiction" or "Oh my god I almost passed out you're such a nerd". The plot to 'Hot Tub Time Machine is pretty simple: John Cusack, his two best friends (Rob Cordry & Craig Robinson) and his nephew (Clark Duke) go on a ski trip and accidentally land back in time when the hot tub machine in their hotel room malfunctions (they end up back in time on the exact same day when they took the very same ski trip back in 1986). Now that they're back in time as teenagers (but only they can see each other as adults while everyone else sees them teenagers) they have to make sure not to change anything they did in the past as to not cause the butterfly effect (along with finding a way to get back to the present day). So now they have to relive/re-do everything they did on the very same day back in 1986 which involves getting stabbed with a fork, getting beat up and performing badly in a talent show. The time traveling/body switching element of the movie not only refers to 'Back To The Future', but it also plays off of all those father/son body switch movies of the 80's like '18 Again', 'Vice Versa' and the one with Kirk Cameron & Dudley Moore (I'm too lazy to look up the title on IMDB). Speaking of 80's movie references, 'Hot Tub Time Machine' has plenty of 'em. Some subtle (the constant one-liners from 'Better Of Dead', Chevy Chase's presence and all the references to 'Red Dawn') and some not to subtle (the somewhat disguised cameo appearance from the actual actor who played "Johnny" in 'The Karate Kid' as well as Crispin Glover who is somewhat of an important figure in American/cult-ish 80's cinema thanks to 'Rivers Edge', 'At Close Range' and of course...'Back To The Future').
Don't get me wrong, there are a few cringeworthy moments (kinda impossible to avoid those in a movie with a premise like a time traveling hot tub) and the use of a Black Eyed Peas song doesn't really sit well with me either, but overall this was an underrated comedy that got blown off by people like myself who take themselves and the movies they watch a little too seriously sometimes. I hope this write-up doesn't take away from PINNLAND EMPIRE's credibility (I also hope that we can get to a point where I don't have to write a little disclaimer like that just because I wrote about a silly comedy).

Monday, March 19, 2012


I'm not a fan of the 'Pusher' movies and we already discussed 'Fear X' last year, so lets take a look at Nicolas Winding Refn's other pre-Drive work (consider this a revision/re-write of the reviews I did for the old FLUD site as well as a companion to last year's "The Cinema Of Nicolas Winding Refn"). Although I do think 'Drive' is the best thing he's done so far, he still has other interesting work out there for you guys to explore. I recently revisited 'Valhalla Rising' (a movie that I thought was just "ok" when I first saw it) & 'Bronson' (a movie I was disappointed by) to see how they hold up against 'Drive'.

I’m just so sick of talking about ‘Drive.’ You’re always happy with the success. But I’ve talked about this movie extensively for more than a year, so that’s it. I don’t know what else I can add at this point - Nicolas Winding Refn

Years before Nicolas Winding Refn had Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks stomping and stabbing people at the drop of a hat in 'Drive' (a movie I love and talk about very much here on PINNLAND EMPIRE and will continue to do so in this blog entry), he had already created some really violent and interesting characters as well as some of the most brutally violent scenes on film in the last couple of years. Between "One-Eye" (the main character in 'Valhalla Rising') and Charlie Bronson ('Bronson') you could actually find elements of "The Driver" (Gosling) in both of those earlier characters. One-Eye and The Driver barely speak (One-Eye doesn't speak at all actually), both have a kind of compassion for children and all three characters (Bronson, One-Eye and The Driver) have an uncontrollable violent side. Refn makes up the kinda characters that'll have you wondering who'd win in a fight if they squared off against each other.

After watching this twice in less than a week I've come to the conclusion that it falls into the "misunderstood masterpiece" category. 'Valhalla Rising' comes off like a collaborative piece between Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog and Terrance Malick after they got together and watched 'Apocolypse Now' and a bunch of old UFC tapes, under the influence of hallucinatory drugs with their minds set on making a violent yet trippy & ambient film. It stars Mads Mikkelsen (on of Refn's regular actors) as “One-Eye”: A Norse prisoner/slave in 1000 A.D. who’s forced to fight other prisoners to the death for the enjoyment of their captors. His ruthless fighting ability has not only left him undefeated but it slowly builds him a reputation through out the land. Finally after breaking free from his captors early on in the movie he joins up with a group of religious crusaders set on claiming whatever land they see in the name of god (we later come to find out that this land they plan to claim is already occupied by a certain type of NATIVE people). Outside of the Herzog/Tarkovsky influence, Refn was also clearly influenced by everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Ridley Scott. Obviously the idea of a group of warriors on a doomed crusade is going to draw comparison to other stuff like 'Apocolypse Now' and Herzog's 'Aguirre The Wrath Of God'. The structure of 'Valhalla Rising' even draws inspiration from fellow danish director; Lars Von Trier as the film is told in chapters (something Von Trier is known for in almost everything he's done since 'Breaking The Waves'). The soundtrack, reminiscent to Brion Eno's score for 'Fear X', is extremely unsettling and really does a great job at setting the mood. The one-on-one fight scenes are realistically brutal and entertaining (one scene in particular shows One-Eye almost decapitating another fighter with a chain) but there's not as much of those scenes as you would think. The trailer for 'Valhalla Rising' IS somewhat misleading. The fight scenes between the other slaves really only take place in the first quarter of the film while the rest of the story focuses on the crusade One-Eye goes on with the christian soldiers until they meet their demise in the end. But all the violent scenes from the first part of the film are what stand out the most. In my opinion Nicolas Refn has a talent and maturity for showing violence on screen that other directors don't...


 The older I get the more I can see how directors like Tarrantino or Takashi Miike (sorry, not a fan) approach violence in their films like immature boys. Its as if they sit at home, do/or drink a bunch of coke (depending what kinda "coke" we're talking about), writing a script and saying out loud to themselves: "Oh Yeah! This guy's throat is gonna get slit open and then blood is gonna go everywhere, then a bunch of people get shot with machine guns! Its gonna be CRAZY!". But somehow Refn's approach to violence and how he shows blood & guts doesn't seem to bother me at all (same thing applies to directors like Gaspar Noe or David Cronenberg). I know this is going to sound kinda pretentious, but there's beauty in the way he shows people getting their faces smashed in, throats stabbed or necks snapped (hope that didn't sound too morbid). I guess a lot of it has to do with the almost indescribable atmosphere that surrounds the violence he shows on film thanks to the dark lighting, industrial/Brian Eno-esque score, minimal dialogue and cinematography. The "look" of 'Valhalla Rising' is just haunting...


With Valhalla the specific atmosphere comes from all the shots of the sky (reminiscent of Michael Mann's sky shots in Miami Vice and Ali), the fog, clouds, mountains and the Scottish landscapes where the film was shot. Subconsciously you're reminded of everything from Malick's 'The New World' (especially with the presence of the Native Americans at the end of the film) to the opening shot in 'The Shining' (Jack Nicholson driving through the foggy hills on his way to the overlook hotel). Its nice to know that a young-ish director that's commonly associated with the independent/art-house scene isn't afraid to make a film like 'Valhalla Rising'. I almost get the sense that Refn felt this could compete with studio films in the vein of  '300' or 'Gladiator' but on a smaller scale. Some may be turned off by the middle part of Valhalla as it does dabble in religious symbolism and becomes VERY dreamlike. Its an acquired taste but if you're a fan of the film's influences that I mentioned earlier (Tarkovsky, Herzog, Von Trier, etc) chances are you'll enjoy this.
And on a side note, I'm at the point where I'll watch just about anything with Mads Mikkelsen in it...

'Bronson' is a film I'm still conflicted about. I guess its not as disappointing as I use to think it was but its still over-hyped. One of those movies that falls in to the 'Fight Club' category where you cant just simply "like" it. You have to think its the greatest thing ever. 'Bronson' tells the story of real life celebrity criminal; Charlie Bronson (not to be confused with the actor). The movie takes us from his birth to the present day where Bronson is still a prisoner. Through out the movie we follow his violent history from the bank robbery that landed him in jail for the first time, to his stint at a mental hospital for the criminally insane, to his brief release from prison where he became a bare knuckle fighter and then right back to prison. 'Bronson' was dubbed by some critics as; “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century”. At first glance i could see why someone would make a statement like that. The narration in 'Bronson' IS reminiscent of clockwork, both Charlie and Alex have a charmingly evil personality and Refn is also clearly influenced by the Stanley Kubrick “glare” shot. But a comparison to 'A Clockwork Orange' is pushing it. 'Bronson' isn't as explosive and action packed as it was made out to be by critics. It also plays in to that cliche crazy British tough guy stuff that we've already seen Ray Winstone, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman play back in the 80's. We get it already, British guys are tough. Stop trying so hard to prove it in movies. But people love angry, violent, bald headed white guy characters so I can see the appeal that 'Bronson' has to some. Valid points have been made about the film by credible people but I cant fully get in to it. If you’re a fan of British gangster/tough guy movies (the krays, football factory, the firm, etc) chances are you’ll like 'Bronson'. And even with all of my criticisms I still own this on DVD for some reason and feel the need to watch it from time to time yet I don't fully understand why. There's a lot of unexplained elements and indescribable feelings that come along with Nicolas Refn's work. I can write about all of his films and tell you why I like his work and blah blah blah, but there's always that element I cant fully explain or convey through words. Like 'Valhalla Rising', Refn does a great job of creating a tense, violent and aggressive vibe almost like you're inside Bronson's somewhat deranged mind or trapped in a prison cell with him...


My biggest beef with 'Bronson' has to do with the fact that like I have a problem praising shitty human beings or calling them "cool" (and lets not kid ourselves, part of this movie's purpose was to make him seem cool). I guess its kinda harsh to call the man a shitty human being...or is it?? I get the feeling that so many people have had the wool pulled over their eyes about who Charlie Bronson is (which is strange because all the information is right there in front of us). Its not like Refn leaves out his criminal history and his childish nature to just start trouble and act crazy for the hell of it. Refn throws in all those interludes and comical moments that make Bronson out to be this funny, charming, awesome guy (like Eric Bana's performances as real life Australian tough guy; "Chopper"). Once again, maybe it comes with age and my growing intolerance for the kinda violence and characters in films by Tarrantino or a lot of modern Japanese directors in the same vein as Takashi Miike. I know Charlie Bronson is a cult figure among people in the UK but he's a still a violent bully with no real reason to be the way he is (in the film he even states how he came from a normal family and had a good home life).  Now this does kinda contradict many other movie characters and performances that I'm a fan of but at the same time those characters are fictional. Charlie Bronson is a real person. Tom Hardy's lead performance makes things even more conflicted because no matter how much I don't like the subject or praising non-fictional bad people, he really did transform in to Charlie Bronson. And not just physically. I'm talking about everything from his manner of speech to his actual face. The Tom Hardy in 'Bronson' is a completely different person than the Tom Hardy we see in 'Inception' or anything else he's been in. Hardy's charming performance is also what clouds who Bronson really is to the viewer. 'Bronson' is filled with plenty of images of his big childish grin which is one of the reasons that makes him so likable to some people...

Also this film not only brought Tom Hardy to international fame, but it quickly became a new-age cult hit and got Nicolas Refn more exposure. He went from being nearly bankrupt (thanks to 'Fear X') and having to make two more 'Pusher' films that he really didn't wanna do, to becoming a minor crossover director with 'Bronson'. Had 'Bronson' not been made then he may not have had the opportunity to make 'Drive'. I'm happy that a director like Nicolas Refn with his kinda style is slowly making the transition in to the mainstream. In my opinion his work isn't meant to be seen on small art house screens like the film forum or cinema village (no offense). I guess you could look at Valhalla and Bronson as his early attempts at "mainstream" movie making which eventually turned in to a success with 'Drive'. I don't love 'Bronson' but I respect it.


Just from this one image alone (which kinda reminds me of Gosling's crazy look during the elevator scene in 'Drive') along with the premise of the film (two men on opposite sides of the law settling their differences in a kick boxing match) I'm sold! Its like Nicolas Winding Refn is making action movies with ridiculous plots cool again (that was a compliment, btw). I cant wait.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


These days tragedies aren't the only kinds of stories the Greeks know how to tell. For the last couple of years Greece has produced some of the most unique, surreal, dark, deadpan, quirky comedies around (Dogtooth, Alps, Kinetta, etc). Comedies with the kind of sense of humor that can be enjoyed by everyone from fans of Tim & Eric to fans of French new wave movies. In 'Attenberg', the story about the sexual awakening of a young woman, director Athina Tsangari mixes elements of 'Dogtooth' (directed by Attenberg costar Yorgos Lanthimos) with the playfulness of Godard in his prime. It tells the story of "Marina": an awkward, sexually repressed/confused taxi driver in her early 20's who's taking care of her terminally ill father. She's still a virgin, doesn't really know how to kiss, isn't sure if she's gay or straight, has incestuous thoughts about her father and is both disgusted & curious about sex at the same time. The only person she can turn to for sexually related questions is her one friend "Bella" who's a bit more experienced in the realm of sex & sexuality. Eventually Marina meets a guy she really likes and has to put the little bit she knows about relationships and sex to the test while coming to terms with her father's inevitable death. The relationship between Marina and her father is very interesting. Its open & playful (see image above) and even though she has those few incestuous thoughts about her father he doesn't feel the same way and overall they're relationship is cool. Consider 'Attenberg' a coming of age tale for late bloomers in their twenties.

At various points in the movie Athina Tsangari throws in these funny/strange dance interludes between Marina and Bella (still trying to wrap my head around what those scenes have to do with the rest of the movie) reminiscent of moments in Godard's 'A Woman Is A Woman', mixed with the extremely dry delivery found in a Hal Hartley movie. Actually the choreographed dance moments in 'Attenberg' can also be traced to Hartley's work as well (you can find dance sequences or highly choreographed movement in Surviving Desire, Simple Men, Theory Of Achievement and other Hartley films). Somehow these new age Greek filmmakers manage to borrow from and/or draw influence from so many great sources but don't come off as copycats at the same time. As you can tell by now I enjoyed this movie very much (I've been waiting to see this for two years) but part of me doesn't wanna blow it up too much because it IS an acquired taste (the humor, the dry delivery, the acting, etc). And although it draws a worthy comparison to 'Dogtooth' or 'Alps', its still slightly different. Its more playful and experimental (keyword: experimental) than the aforementioned movies. But if you like any of the films or filmmakers I've mentioned in this review (as well as the no-wave/electronic punk band Suicide, who's music plays a key component in the story) I don't see how you cant enjoy 'Attenberg'.

Friday, March 16, 2012


In the late 90's, filmmakers like Lars Von Trier ('The Idiots'), Thomas Vinterberg ('The Celebration'), Harmony Korine ('Julien Donkey-Boy') and a few others proved that you don't need a big budget, cast or crew to make a great film. In somewhat recent years, filmmakers like Johnathan Cahoutte ('Tarnation') and Shane Meadows (who made a short film using only a camera phone) have been carrying that independent, guerrilla style, low budget (although not low QUALITY) film making torch to the next level. But in my opinion no director in recent years has shown the kind of independent spirit as Haitian/French director Djinn Carrenard, who's 2+ hour long feature film; 'Donoma' (a movie we discussed on here last year) screened at Cannes and ended up on the top 10 lists of many French film critics (most notably Cahiers Du Cinema, where he also landed on the front cover last year a few issues back).
Instead of waiting on a co-sign from George Lucas or Martin Scorsese, he used what resources he had and ended up making a great film which is still quite popular in France today (make sure you read his answer to question #4). Additionally, his tireless promotion and closeness with the cast & crew of 'Donoma' mimics that of John Cassavetes or even Rainer Werner Fassbender.

1. What are the last 3 movies you saw? (feel free to elaborate on any of them)

Djinn Carrenard: 'Dangerous Method' - not enough Freud, just enough sex. 'Shame' - Very disappointed. I had great expectations. Take Shelter - To me...a great movie. I was really moved for several days after seeing this one.

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

DC: Very good question. At different periods of time I would say: Tarentino, Inaritu, or Spike Lee. I think that right now the concept of the genius is gone. You're not even sure you're going to laugh in a Woody Allen movie anymore !

3. Given the TRUE independent nature of 'Donoma' ($200 dollar budget, guerrilla-style film making, small close knit cast & crew) as well as the success you've received, do you feel it belongs up there with other great independent films like Robert Rodriguez's 'El Mariachi', Kevin Smith's 'Clerks' or 'John Cassavetes' 'Shadows'?

DC: I fought for that, I can tell you. I carried the torch for guerrilla film making. I wanna be part of that club. Let me in !!

4. Was part of the reason you made 'Donoma' to inspire other people to make films without having to worry about budget, permits and other intimidating factors that can cause film making to be difficult?

DC: I made this movie with no budget to make talented filmmakers understand that they should not beg for a producer, instead, scare him by not needing him...

5. The soundtrack to 'Donoma' is great! Will it ever be available on itunes or in stores?

DC: Yes, you just remind me that I have to handle that also !

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Up until a few years ago I thought Wes Anderson was the only recent filmmaker that could get me to care about rich people and their issues, but Olivier Assayas changed all of that with 2008's light family drama; 'Summer Hours' (a nice little break and change of pace between 'Boarding Gate' and 'Carlos'). For quite some time i couldn't get past writing two sentences about this movie and then things finally clicked. I don't mean to sound like some spiteful socialist with a vendetta against wealthy people, but weather it's fiction or non-fiction, I can't get too emotionally attached to rich people problems. What are "rich people problems", you ask? Stuff like losing a great deal of money when you're STILL going to remain rich afterwards, power struggles over the ownership of a corporation, trying to rise to the top in the business world, or trying to decide what to do with a dead relatives will (which is part of what 'Summer Hours' is about). But Summer Hours slowly creeps up on you.
In the film three siblings (Jeremie, Adrienne & Frederic) have to decide what to do with their mother's valuables after her passing (specifically a hefty art collection). "Jeremie" (played by Jeremie Renier) and "Adrienne" (Juliette Binoche) both live abroad (China and America, respectively) while the oldest; "Frederic" (played by Olivier Assayas-regular; Charles Berling) is the only sibling that actually lived somewhat close to their mother in France. Even though all three are put to the task of trying to figure out what to do with their mothers belongings after her passing, Frederic is the most emotionally attached. Frederic wants to keep the art collection together in order to try and get a museum to use it, while Jeremie and Adrienne want to sell the art 'Summer Hours' has quite a few touching and memorable moments (Frederic's quick emotional breakdown in his car on the side of the road is a standout moment for me), and there's great yet subtle performances from the actors (specifically Charles Berling).

'Summer Hours' brings up the importance of family and the distance that can come between siblings. The film also brings up an interesting trend that's been slowly developing over the years in indie/art house films that I don't hear many people talking about. Its something I like to call "acceptable product placement" (or is it acceptable?). 'Summer Hours' is one of a few recent "art house" films to get funding from a famous art museum with the stipulation that the museum must be shown or somehow incorporated in to the making of the film. Olivier Assayas got support from the Musee d'Orsay in France for 'Summer Hours'. Other similar scenarios involve Jim Jarmusch's 'Limits Of Control (The Museo Nacional Central de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid), Matthew Barney's 'The Order' (The Guggenheim) and Tsai Ming-Liang's 'Face' (The Louvre). Is this OK or not? Recently product placement in films like 'Ironman' (burger king & Audi), 'Darjeling Limited' (apple/ipod) or just about anything by Michael Bay has become pretty fucking ridiculous and unnecessary.

But do these afformentioned art house/non-studio films get a pass because their product placement isn't some soda or fancy car most of us cant afford? Personally, I say yes. But I can understand if people are skeptical or weary of the idea. These days it's becoming incredibly difficult for talented filmmakers with great ideas to get funding for their movies through the traditional channels (pitching script ideas, getting backing from studios, etc) so I say why not as long as the "product" that's being placed in front of us is something like a museum or an art gallery (which exists in order for us to learn from or gain some kind of knowledge or enlightenment). Why can't one artform help out another? Directors like Hal Hartley & Todd Solondz struggle to get their films funded and have to come out of pocket (Solondz emptied his life savings to make 'Palindromes' and Hartley is becoming more obscure with each release). Even a director like David Lynch is slowly becoming more and more obscure and finding it hard to get things produced and/or distributed. Anyone wonder why filmmakers from John Cameron Mitchell & Todd Haynes to Michael Mann are turning towards television instead of movies? 

its just become too hard to make a film these days - John Cameron Mitchell 

Monday, March 12, 2012


March is turning in to an Olivier Assayas kinda month. So far I've revisited and revised some of my views on his epic biopic; 'Carlos' and delved in to his (understandably) misunderstood film 'Demonlover' (a recent personal favorite of mine) and I have plans to write about 'Summer Hours' by the end of the month. After writing about 'Demonlover', I realized that in the last 10 years the basic idea of "a women in trouble" (something we've explored a few times here on PINNLAND EMPIRE through blog entries on Lars Von Trier and Black Swan) has been a recurring theme in Assayas' work. Not since 'Boarding Gate' (a movie I went from hating to loving in a matter of months back in 2008) has he gone back to this genre. His recent work seems to be focused more on political & social issues (Carlos, Summer Hours & Something In The Air). I guess 'Boarding Gate' was the final film in his "women in trouble trilogy" (Demonlover, Clean and Boarding Gate). Rarely do actors & artists that I like from different worlds end up together in one film. Somehow Olivier Assayas managed to make this possible with 2007's 'Boarding Gate' (another erotic espionage thriller/"woman in trouble" story in the same vein as his previous film; 'Demonlover'). I guess its not the biggest surprise that both Alex Descas and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) were in this (both had worked with Assayas twice before 'Boarding Gate'), but Asia Argento (who's slowly been growing on me over the years) and Michael Madsen (one of my favorite actors) co-starring in this just made my my day. Ever since 'Demonlover' Assayas has been reaching out to American actors more and more (Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny and Nick Nolte), so its nice to see him add an underrated actor like Michael Madsen to his roster. For the last decade it seems like Madsen will act in just about anything as long there's a paycheck attached to it. I mean, just look it his filmography on IMDB. If only more directors like Assayas would take note of Madsen's ability and screen presence he wouldn't be the king of director-to-video action/thrillers. In fact, I'd go so far to say that 'Boarding Gate' is Madsen's greatest performance to date (yes, better than Reservoir Dogs). And Asia Argento has been slowly becoming a regular in modern french/new french extremity films since 2007 working the likes of Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress), Bertrand Bonello (On War) and Olivier Assayas. As I explained in previous write-ups (Irma Vep & Demonlover), the seeds of 'Boarding Gate' can be found in Assayas earlier work. In fact, 'Boarding Gate' and 'Demonlover' share the same basic plot: a female "spy" playing two sides against each other that ends up getting exposed and is eventually used by the people that she thought she could trust. Both films also include elements of S&M and our female lead getting caught up in a dangerous love affair that backfires in their face. In 'Boarding Gate' Asia Argento plays "Sandra"; a troubled women with a shady past (Assayas only hints at certain elements from her past) who's being used by her current employer; "Lester" (an import/export dealer that she's also having an affair with) to take out the competition/rival businessman; "Miles Rennberg" (Madsen). The only problem is that Sandra and Miles have history together. The two use to be a couple. And even though their relationship was pretty abusive and sexually twisted, she still has feelings for him and struggles with the fact that she has to kill him. A monkey wrench gets thrown in to the mix when Lester's wife discovers that he's been cheating on her with Sandra and she tries to sabotage their plans. Like 'Demonlover' there's plenty of double crosses, backstabs and plot twists, but UNlike Demonlover its much easier to follow.

What sets 'Boarding Gate' apart from other sex-driven, erotic thrillers ('Basic Instinct', 'Femme Fatale', 'Killing Me Softly', 'Wild Side', 'Crimes Of Passion', etc) is that Assayas manages to make an amazingly sexy movie with only a small amount of nudity (only two quick scenes of bare breasts) and no conventional sex scenes. Sure there's plenty of kissing, foreplay, risque shots and sensual moments but no actual sex.

In my opinion Michael Madsen's raspy, cool yet volatile performance alone deserves its own write up. He's honestly the highlight of the movie. Given the string of movies he appeared in between 1991-1993 (thelma & louise, reservoir dogs, species, free willy, etc) I'm surprised he never blew up (sure he has his cult status, but in my opinion he should be an A-list actor). As we all know he'll probably always be associated with the films of Quentin Tarantino for the rest of his career. But I'm not 20 years old anymore and I see through a lot of Tarantino's bullshit: long drawn out dialogue that's made to be cool for the sake of being cool but never actually goes anywhere (found in Kill Bill 2, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds), the unnecessary amount of movie references (we get it, you watch a lot of movies), the cheap excuses to be excessively violent, etc. I don't want Tarantino or Tarantino-related films to be the only respectable work out there to feature Madsen. Thank god Olivier Assayas recognized his talent and made great use of his mannerisms and unique quirks that cant be found in any other actor. His character in 'Boarding Gate' draws a few parallels to Mr. Blond in 'Reservoir Dogs'. Both characters die within the first half of the movie but leave a lasting impression through the closing credits. Whenever Madsen raises his voice its always a treat because he rarely does it. The sudden projection of his voice in two specific scenes in 'Boarding Gate' is up there with Health Ledger's "LOOK AT ME!" moment in 'Batman Begins'. The rest of Boarding Gate's multinational ensemble cast (American, French, Italian and Chinese) features great (although short) performances from Kim Gordon as a tough crime boss and Alex Descas who only appears at the very beginning and end of the film but is still one of the key players in the story. Like in other films, Asia Argento has her annoying moments but overall she does a great job in the lead role. Like 'The Pornographer', 'Trouble Every Day' and 'Humanite', this is another recent french film that doesn't exactly have the most flattering reviews (a 5.1 on IMDB and 30% on Rotten Tomatoes) but if you're someone who enjoys the recent work of Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh or even Andrea Arnold's 'Red Road' (not to mention Olivier Assayas' recent filmography) I don't see how you cant like 'Boarding Gate'.

Friday, March 9, 2012


1994/1995 was a mini/momentary explosion of black films and black directors in America. You had; 'Clockers' (Spike Lee), 'The Glass Shield' (Charles Burnett), 'Dead Presidents' (The Hughes Brothers), 'Devil In A Blue Dress' (Carl Franklin), 'The Inkwell' (Matty Rich), 'Waiting To Exhale' (Forest Whitaker), John Singleton made 'Higher Learning' and Robert Townsend made the successful transition from film to television. And most importantly, we were finally moving forward and slowly getting away from those cliche "hood" movies that all pretty much tried to copy 'Boyz N The Hood' (and most of 'em copied the wrong the aspects of the film and almost glorified things that John Singleton wasn't trying to glorify). Normally I don't like to get caught up in sub-categorizing things like black films and black filmmakers, but when black directors are the minority in something for so long and they finally get a chance to shine (coincidentally all at the same time) its almost impossible to not notice and comment on it. But with the good comes the bad. And there were quite a few black films to come out during this "explosion" that got left behind and forgotten about because they were in fact quite bad or could have been WAY better ('Panther' and 'The Walking Dead' are a few that come to mind). But nothing was more disappointing (in my opinion) than David C. Johnson's 'Drop Squad'. Like a lot of people I'm not that big on remakes (even if there are a small handful of good ones that do make me eat my own words upon their release). But the subject matter in 'Drop Squad' is so good and so important and the actual story is so brilliant (especially for the time it came out) that I honestly feel it needs to be redone (something I've been talking about with a friend for quite some time). Let it be known that my intentions with this write-up are good and not meant to simply bash or hate on this film. If anything this is a form of tough love for something i care about that I know could have been better. Its such a brilliant idea and it doesn't sit right with me that it turned out the way it did. 'Drop Squad' had the makings of an original: an underground group of black militants-for hire that kidnap and "deprogram" black people who are essentially a "disgrace to the race" (drug dealers, pimps, corrupt politicians, black people that are ashamed or embarrassed of their race, and of course the uncle tom/sellout). Before we actually get in to 'Drop Squad', you have to go back to 1988 when the seeds were planted in the form of a brilliant short feature (also directed by David C. Johnson) called; 'The Session' (co-starring some of the actors who later went on to appear in 'Drop Squad'). This short satire went on to become what we know as 'Drop Squad'.

With very little budget David C. Johnson managed to make a great film with an important message and cleverly mixed satire with social & racial issues in the form of a mockumentary. 'The Session' become such an underground/grassroots success in the late 80's (years before the so-called black film explosion) that it caught the attention of Spike Lee and in 1994 it became the first film he produced. But something got lost between the short film in 1988 and the feature film in 1994. In 'Drop Squad' Eriq Lasalle plays a black ad executive ("Bruford") hurting his own race (yet doesn't seem to care) by making derogatory, racist and stereotypical advertisements aimed at the black community. These ad campaigns include everything from over the top fried chicken commercials to malt liquor billboards placed all over black neighborhoods. Outside of work Bruford is also ashamed of his large family and makes quite a few comments in the film that just scream self hate. He's constantly confronted by his sister ("Lenora") who seems to be the only one who can see how messed up and lost he is yet she cant seem to get through to him.

Finally Lenora hires the drop squad (who operate out of a fast food restaurant) to "drop" him. To "drop" someone means to essentially put them through a clockwork orange-esque detox/deprogramming where they show him images of slavery, black struggle, black history and perform spook tactics and other psychological abuse to snap the subject back to reality and make them see the error in their ways. One of the main issues i had with this film was that it couldn't make up its mind as to whether or not it wanted to be a drama, dark comedy or satire. Now of course no movie has to be tied down to one category but in the case of 'Drop Squad' it felt a little schizophrenic. You find yourself asking: "am I supposed to be laughing at this or is it serious?" One minute we're watching a satirical commercial within the film for fried chicken with a bunch of loud overweight black women in church robes, then the next minute we have a serious heart to heart conversation. 'The Session' seemed to be pretty much all satire while 'Drop Squad' slightly deviated from that and tried to be more serious while trying to retain a bit of the satire from the short film and it just didn't work. When you're dealing with satire among black issues you're in the realm of brilliant movies like 'Hollywood Shuffle', 'I'm Gonna Git You Sucka' and misunderstood masterpieces like 'Bamboozled' so you have to bring your A-game and 'Drop Squad' simply didn't. I also thought the film was wrapped up a little quickly. There were aspects of the story that could have been expanded upon, especially the subplot dealing with the internal conflicts within the drop squad as to how they should be deprogramming people. In 'Drop Squad', the leader; "Rocky" (played by Vondie Curtis Hall) is butting heads with his "2nd in command"; "Garvey" (Ving Rhames) because he feels that the deprogramming tactics are becoming too brutal and harsh, while Garvey feels they need to be tough. What also could have been expanded upon was the whole idea of who gives anyone the right to do what the drop squad does (no matter how good their intentions may be), which kinda plays off that elitist mentality that some black people have over others. In my opinion these two things alone coulda added more meet to the story. Drop Squad's heart was obviously in the right place and there were a few good elements (like the clever jab at Marion Barry and Vondie Curtis Hall's performance). Also, this was a collaborative effort between quite a few black filmmakers (Spike Lee was the executive producer and Kasi Lemmons & Vondie Curtis Hall, who are also directors, acted in the film as well). But even with all those positive elements, I honestly think it needs to be redone. And I say redone instead of remade because in the almost 17 years since this film was released (wow! 17 years?!) there's way worse people to attack and criticize instead of the cliche uncle tom/sellout/black man in a business suit. Between Ice Cube's lyrical content of the early-mid 90's and all those black comedies of the early 90's ('Mo Money', 'Strictly Business') that prototype has become a little played out and taken enough beatings. No need to move backwards. I'd like to see characters modeled after people like Herman Cain or the black people in a high position of power at places like B.E.T. and HOT 97 "dropped" by the drop squad. But who's man or woman enough to take on a project like this? The only director radical enough I can think of is Wendall B Harris and he hasn't been able to get a film financed in almost 2 decades (not a criticism on him, I'm just stating a fact) and his current documentary has been in production hell for years. Furthermore what studio (major or independent) would wanna touch this story again? Even though I don't have the nicest things to say about this movie overall I'd still like people to revisit and/or watch it if you haven't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


With a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.7 on IMDB I realize its gonna be a challenge to spark your interest in this movie but just hear me out. Olivier Assayas is one of the most versatile directors working today. His ability to seamlessly jump from one genre to the next is pretty impressive. Before and after 'Demonlover' (an espionage erotic thriller), he made a period drama (Sentimental Destinies), a multicharacter relationship dramedy (Late August, Early September) and a drama about a heroine addicted mother trying to get her son back (Clean). And in 'Demonlover' he takes us in to the world of pornography (specifically animated and virtual reality/interactive pornography). I've always considered Olivier Assayas and Steven soderbegh to kinda be doppelgangers. They both have great range, have a steady flow of non-stop work and they both explore the same territory, genres and subject matter from time to time. Both directors made epic films about controversial political figures (Assayas' 'Carlos' and Sodernerghs 'Che'), action films centered around female leads (Assayas' 'Boarding Gate' and Soderbergh's 'Haywire'), they've both done the multicharacter thing ('Traffic' and 'Late August Early September') and both have explored the world of pornography. With Soderbergh, he cast porn actress Sasha grey as the lead in 'G.F.E.' (a film about an upscale call girl). In 'Demonlover' Assayas focused on internet porn. And just like in 'Irma Vep', he turned the cameras around and focused on what goes on behind the scenes in a film that's essentially about a power struggle between two corporations about who gets to distribute animated pornography to the world. I'm sure porn is a shady business full of sleazy scumbags and cokeheads (plenty of films over the years have already shown this), but who knew that the world of animated porn was SO cut throat. A world of kidnapping, double crossing, and even murder. I think that's why I love 'Demonlover' so much. Assasys didn't go the same route as 'Boogie Nights' or 'Hardcore'. Instead he dealt with porn in a similar unconventional fashion as his other new French extremity contemporary Bertrand Bonelllo (so i don't have to repeat myself, please read my review of bertrand's 'The Pornographer' as many of the points i make in that review on pornography in film apply to 'Demonlover' as well). The only difference between the two films is that the pornographer is more of a drama whereas demonlover is more of a thriller.
For those of you who've seen 'Demonlover' you should know that this movie is a quite odd. On your first viewing you might find yourself asking; "what am i watching?". But you have to give it a few chances and after a while it'll grow on you. I mean,whats NOT to like about 'Demonlover'. It has everything: Porn, Espionage, Action and some of the prettiest actresses gathered together in one movie. It appeals to the arthouse crowd (which is pretty much director; Olivier Assayas' scene) and at the same time any fan of Quentin Tarrantino (or fans of his long list of copycats) would love this as well.  'Demonlover' is quite fast paced, has a great contemporary soundtrack (courtesy of Sonic Youth) and has a multinational ensemble cast (Connie Neilson, Chloe Sevigny, Charles Berling, Gina Gershon, etc). Even fans of 'The Social Network' would enjoy this film as a big part of 'Demonlover' is about an internet power struggle. In the film Connie Nielson plays a spy/secret agent ("Diane") hired by a failing anime porn company (Mangatronics) to get information and help take down their competition (The Volf Corporation as well as Eventually her cover is blown and the owners of Demonlover force her to perform in their interactive S&M site; "Hellfire Club" (an illegal site known for its violence and over the top hardcore scenes) as payback. And now, just like Asia argento in Assayas' 'Boarding Gate', our female lead character has her back against the wall and has to find a way out of a very tough spot. In the second half of the film the plot goes "bye-bye" which might (understandably) turn some people off. Even if you pay 100% attention to the 'Demonlover' its almost certain you're gonna get lost at some point.
Assayas does make a few social commentaries on pornography and its effect on society. The film's eerie ending involves an American teen somewhere in "anywhere USA" stealing his fathers credit card to purchase a membership to a porn website. 'Demonlover' also shows us desensitized we are to violence on television and in film as well. As i said in a previous write-up, 'Irma Vep', 'Demonlover' & 'Boarding Gate' (probably my three personal favorite films by Assayas) are all connected in some way. Certain elements of 'Irma Vep' (the hints at S&M and the behind the scenes aspect of the film) were used in 'Demonlover', and certain elements of 'Demonlover' (another film with hints of S&M about a female protagonist with her back against the wall) can be found in 'Boarding Gate'. If you're a fan of Assayas, chances are you're you'll dig this film very much but if you're not all that familiar with his work or don't like to be thrown off by movies then maybe this isn't for you.

For a film that deals with so much sleaziness and creepiness Olivier Assayas still manages to make a pretty sensual and sleek looking film full of sexy close ups, sensuous looks & intimate touches from all the actors. One of the subplots in 'Demonlover' involves Diane getting involved with one of her shady coworkers at Volf. There's also plenty shots of nudity and obviously clips of porn all through out the film...

Assayas also takes us in to the world of the "Hellfire Club" and shows us the sexual fantasies of its various interactive members (ranging from S&M to dress-up). Even the characters in the film are drawn to porn, which is another thing I like about this film. You'd make the silly assumption that once you start dealing with porn on a corporate level (like 'Demonlover' does) the people in the high positions like CEO's and executives look at porn as just a business and nothing more. But the characters in 'Demonlover' are fascinated by pornography just as much as the average curious human being. There's a great scene in the film where Charles Berling (who plays one of the executives at the Volf Corporation) sitting on his bed watching porn with a bored expression on his face with no hint of being aroused (which plays on the desensitization element i was talking about earlier).

Music is another important element to the film. In the advertising for 'Demonlover' it was made very clear that Sonic Youth (who's no stranger to composing music for film) did the soundtrack. Sonic Youth has a history with Assayas: Kim Gordon co-starred in 'Boarding Gate', he used their music in a key scene in 'Irma Vep' and Assayas also directed the documentary 'Noise' which heavily featured Sonic Youth. In fact, a documentary was made about the recording process of the soundtrack (which Assayas sat in on during the recording) that you can see on the 2nd disc of the special edition DVD. Just like Para One's score of 'Water Lilies' and Daft Punk's score of 'Irreversible', Assayas is one of quite a few modern french directors who sought out help from progressive rock and/or electronic musicians to work on their films for a non-traditional sounding score (in fact, fellow french director Leos Carax used Sonic Youth for the soundtrack to 'Pola X' as well). Sonic Youth's music really sets all the different moods that the film conveys and Assayas gave them freedom to experiment heavily (some of the songs on the soundtrack are made up of just feedback noise and random guitar sounds). The song; "Safe In Hell" is a definite standout.
I know this movie sounds like a mess (and it kinda is) but its a beautiful, fun, entertaining and sometimes arousing mess that should be seen at least once.

Monday, March 5, 2012


'Joe's Bedstuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads' (Spike Lee)
Most of us are aware of popular cult films like Donnie Darko & Christmas On Mars or the DVD release of Alejnadro Jodorowsky's work that took forever to come out due to legal issues, being shelved, or sensitive subject matter. But at the end of the day...they finally got released no matter how long it took. There's still quite a few films out there from prominent directors that almost no one has seen (outside of festivals, special screening or bootlegs). And I'm not talking about unfinished movies in limbo, production hell or development hell. I'm talking about movies that have been shot, wrapped and edited yet haven't been released to the general public. With the growing popularity of region 2 DVD's, Eclipse box sets (the criterion collection's sub label that focuses on releasing rarely seen works from important contemporary & classic directors) and theaters like The Museum Of The Moving Image & Anthology Film Archives we're seeing more and more stuff that we thought we'd never see come out on the big screen and on DVD. But there's still plenty more movies that the public (especially dedicated movie nerds like myself) want to see.

'Fight Harm' (Harmony Korine)
So I've selected 10 movies (some of which I've actually had the pleasure of seeing...yes I'm bragging) and broken them up in to 3 categories:

"Who The F*ck Knows" - Movies that pretty much have a 50/50 chance of being released on DVD

"Possibly" - Realistic possibilities. I think the people at the criterion collection should pay close attention to these

"Probably Not" - These will more than likely either never see the light of day or be released on DVD


After screening this at Toronto and Venice, Vincent Gallo suddenly released the following statement regarding his recent film about a man taking care of his terminally ill girlfriend in her final days:
I do not want my new works to be generated in a market or audience of any kind
I'm seriously hoping this is just another publicity stunt/desperate attempt to get attention from PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite-Vincent Gallo. Or maybe due to all the piling hate over the years that the last few movies he's been involved in has received ('The Brown Bunny', 'Tetro', 'Moscow Rising', etc), he's being serious and doesn't wanna deal with all the negativity and hate anymore.

-WANG DANG (Tom Noonan)
I put this in the "who the f*ck knows category" because on some level there has to be a demand for something to get released no matter how obscure or underground it is. Tom Noonan is one of the best characters actors around as well as an underrated director, but he's not exactly a household name. Outside of some film school students and Tom Noonan himself, I don't even think people know this movie exists. The plot sounds great though: A has-been movie director comes to a film school to speak to a class of film students and he eventually gets caught up in an adventure with two grad students.

-LANTON MILLS (Terrence Malick)
Apparently the only way you can view this movie is to schedule an appointment at the A.F.I., who own the only existing copy of Terrence Malick's first movie, for research purposes only. Seriously? Why should anyone have to go through all that just to watch a movie? With the recent popularity of 'Tree Of Life' and the anticipation of his next three movies (which he seems to be working on all at the same time), I'm hoping this will get some kind of attention.

You seriously mean to tell me Harmony Korine got the shit beat out of him for NOTHING? This documentary about Harmony Korine trying to provoke fights with random strangers on the street never got released because apparently the footage (shot by his friend David Blaine...yes THAT David Blaine) was unusable. I'm sorry but if I got two concussions and other various injuries for the sake of my film (no matter how stupid it may be) I'm showing it to people now matter how shitty the camerawork is.

'Fraulein: A German Melodrama' (Michael Haneke)


Here's another rare one starring Vincent Gallo directed by Claire Denis (who's no stranger to rare films herself with stuff like 'U.S. Go Home' and her early/rarely seen documentaries). Given Claire Denis' recent popularity in the indie/art house world these days you'd think this lil gem (which i keep reading about in all the literature i find on her) would make a great special feature on a DVD. And while we're at it, I'd like to see 'U.S. Go Home' & 'No Fear No Die' put out as well.

New York Directors like Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch have been getting their early/amateur/student works released in the last few years so I think its time for Spike Lee. This short is also a nice little artifact in that not only was it the starting point for Spike Lee, but Ang Lee as well (he was a production assistant on the movie).

Think how awesome this box set would be! Either criterion or kino (who's released a few of his films already) needs to get on this.

Much like Spike Lee, here's another staple in the NYC indie film scene that needs to have his early work put out. To me, this is highly likely since there's already been two collections of shorts by Hal Hartley released already.

'Cremaster Cycle' (Matthew Barney)


-A GAME IN THE SAND (Werner Herzog)
When asked if 'A Game In The Sand', an early short film about two little kids and a chicken in a sandbox directed by Werner Herzog that, according to him, Got Out Of Hand, would ever be shown in theaters or released on DVD he said; Not While I'm Alive. I guess that answers that. Moving on...

These aren't the most rare movies in the world, but they still only pop up every once in a while at a theater like The IFC Center or The MOMA. Not everyone lives in New York City, San Francisco or Japan. There's people in this world with good taste who live in the middle of nowhere that cant make it out to a retrospective or a special screening at the MOMA for Matthew Barney's movies which he considers to be unique works of art (like his sculptures) and wont mass produce them on DVD because it cheapens their value. Listen DICK, just put the movies on DVD already!


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