Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The votes are in. The movies are in order. We have spoken. Here's the first part of the pink smoke's favorote films of the 90's...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Who needs to go all the way to France to see Wes Anderson's new movie before it hit theaters when you can just get on the N train and go to Astoria?! Thanks to the Museum of the Moving Image I got a sneak peek at one of the most buzzworthy films to come out of the Cannes film festival so far. Before we go any further with this review I'll just get it outta the way and say that Wes Anderson's latest film is very good and worthy of all the early praise it’s been getting. It's a pretty typical thing to say in a movie review but this may be one of his best movies and we see a side of him as a director we haven't seen yet (Moonrise Kingdom has more special effects than any other Wes Anderson movie with more than one daring rescue attempt). Drawing inspiration from the beginning of Royal Tenenbaums where we see young Richie & Margot run away from home together, Moonrise Kingdom is also about two children in love who do the same (and the search party that's out to find them and bring 'em home). Our two main characters are "Sam" - a troubled orphan boy scout with no friends who's foster family doesn't want back, and "Suzy" - the daughter of two lawyers that barely speak to each other (and she kinda has a bit of a temper). The only problem with Sam & Suzy's plan to run away is that they can't get very far due to the fact that they live on a secluded New England island thats about to face it's biggest rain storm in history.
I was worried that The Fantastic Mr. Fox would be a fluke and Anderson would go back to his regular quirky B.S. that some of us have grown a little tired of. But this time around he doesn’t force his meticulously quirky 1960's "look" on a story that takes place in 2012 (we get it Wes, you like nostalgia, artifacts from back in the day, corduroy and British pop music, but after a while the world of Wes Anderson can start to get a little played out). Instead he finally just sets the story in the 1960's making his signature look, soundtrack and overall vibe of the film seem less forced. He gives his India fetish a rest, there’s no sign of a Wilson brother and along with his regular cast of actors like Bill Murray (Suzy's father) & Jason Schwartzman (a rival scout leader who helps Sam and Suzy escape on their second attempt), Anderson makes room for new faces like; Bruce Willis (the town sheriff in charge of finding Sam & Suzy), Ed Norton (Sam's scout leader), Frances Mccdormand (Suzy's cheating mother who communicates with her children through a megaphone), Tilda Swinton (a social worker, and the only character in the film that doesn't have an actual name) and Harvey Keitel (who's appearance is short but since he's my favorite actor and hasn’t been in anything good in quite some time, I'll take what I can get). Highlights from Moonrise Kingdom include Jason Schwartzman’s quick performance, Bob Balaban's narration and just overall presence (seriously, how has he never worked with Wes Anderson until now?), a boy scout getting stabbed in his kidney with scissors, Ed Norton rescuing Harvey Keitel, one of the main characters getting zapped by lightning, all the tracking shots, a funny Shawshank Redemption reference and pretty much the last 15-20 minutes of the movie. Animal lovers should be warned that there is a heartbreaking scene involoving the death of an animal. I also love Anderson's decision to cast two young unknowns as the main characters surrounded by a supporting cast of A-list veterans.
 Ever since the disappointing Darjeeling Limited and Life Aquatic (a film some people found to be a lil' problematic once the hype around it settled down), it seems like Anderson gave the quirky rich/upper-class family dramedy genre a rest and has been focusing more on making family oriented films. Naturally this will be loved & praised by the hardcore Wes Anderson fans that’re still in denial about how bad Darjeeling Limited really was, but it’s also a great movie for restoring faith in people that once loved Wes Anderson but have started to get a little sick of him.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Once again I apologize to my loyal PINNLAND EMPIRE followers as I haven’t been updating as much as I usually do but The Pink Smoke is working on some pretty awesome projects that they’ve asked me to contribute to and I couldn’t say no. BUT…I finally got around to watching ‘Contagion’ on Sunday and was so genuinely surprised at how good it was that I made time to write about it. Of all the 2011 films that I finally got around to watching this year (‘Super 8’, ‘Beginners’, ‘A Separation’, etc), this is the one film that stuck out the most so far. Is ‘Contagion’ one of Steven Soderbergh’s best films? Of course not. But did it deserve to be written off as fast as it was (especially when it did get fairly good reviews and holds a solid 83% on rotten tomatoes)? No. I was one of those people who dismissed ‘Contagion’ upon its theatrical release but now I’m kicking myself because it woulda been a pretty entertaining experience in the theater. No matter how close minded I am at first I always get around to watching (and sometimes buying) every Soderbergh movie. From ‘Ocean’s 13’ to ‘Full Frontal’, I end up watching ‘em all. Hell, his adaptation of ‘Solaris’ ended up becoming one of my all time favorite movies. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I honestly think he’s a genius and extremely talented beyond his ability to churn out movies like its nothing or to seamlessly jump from one genre to the next. Even with some of his mediocre work that leaves you shrugging your shoulders like; “…ok”, I still think there’s something in many of his movies that we aren’t seeing. ‘Contagion’ has the visual style of ‘Bubble’ and ‘The Informant’ (colder, steady and longer shots with strong bold and almost unnatural looking colors) along with an ensemble cast that rivals a movie like ‘Traffic’ (Jude Law, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow) along with a kind of social consciousness (mixed with entertainment) that we haven’t really seen in a Soderbergh film yet (although ‘Traffic’ and ‘Che’ could be exceptions). Even the non-top billed supporting cast was great (Brian Cranston, Jonathan Hawkes, Dimitri Martin and Sanaa Lathan). On a certain level Contagion’s minimalist qualities and scientific dialogue (I had no clue what they were talking about half the time) reminded me of the 2004 time traveling sci-fi thriller ‘Prime’. ‘Contagion’ is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book…err…movie by its cover.
I can imagine what many people thought when they heard and/or read about this movie; “ANOTHER virus outbreak movie? I’ll pass.” Not to mention that the trailer was a bit over the top and a lil’ too dramatic. But ‘Contagion’ falls more in to a category of films like ‘Safe’ instead of ‘Outbreak’ or even ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’. But unlike ‘Safe’ there’s no hidden message or allegory for AIDS or Cancer. Soderbergh is telling/scaring us with the straight out truth that viral outbreaks, germs, epidemics and disease could very likely fuck humanity up if we don’t do better and aren’t more cautious. ‘Contagion’ kinda makes up for recent stuff like ‘Fast Food Nation’ (which was ironically influenced by Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’) and M. Night Shayamaln’s shitfest; ‘The Happening’. In under two hours ‘Contagion’ teaches us the importance of what we put in our bodies (especially pork and unwashed fruit), why we should be cautious while riding public transportation, the importance of hand sanitizer (which has to be the #1 selling thing on the market these days, at least in New York City), who you have sex with, why you shouldn’t come in to work if you aren’t feeling well and why you should cover your fucking mouth when you sneeze or cough. And apparently this film is supposedly pretty scientifically accurate. Mixing scientific accuracy with something thrilling & entertaining is pretty rare these days. ‘Contagion’ is an ensemble character story centered around a major virus outbreak that spreads throughout the world and is slowly wiping out humanity (the film mainly focuses on America, China and Europe). Like ‘Traffic’, Soderbergh shows us how a major event like a virus epidemic is dealt with on a personal level (Matt Damon & Gwyneth Paltrow), a government level and how to stop it (Laurence Fishburne & Kate Winslet), a social level (Marion Cotillard) and from a journalistic perspective (Jude Law). And unlike a ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’, many of the characters in this ensemble film don’t cross paths with one another, or when they do its very brief or vague. For example, you never see Laurence Fishburne in the same scene as Matt Damon or Gwyneth Paltrow in the same scene as Jude Law and Marion Cotillard is essentially in a whole other story away from the rest of the cast for most of the film. Without monsters, ghosts or serial killers, Steven Soderbergh made a pretty scary film from the beginning right down to films eerie final scene and closing credits equip with its creepy, droning score. Yes, there are plenty of cliché’s and moments where you can see what’s coming from a mile away and the film does kinda throw China under the bus as this careless disease-filled country, but the use of Paltrow’s character is pretty interesting, I found myself genuinely caring about Kate Winslet’s character, the score is great and the overall vibe is really cool. Had I seen this last year I don’t know if it woulda been in my top 10 or anything like that but it woulda gotten an honorable mention. 
At the very least ‘Contagion’ works on a minor level as it will have you scowl at the next person you see who sneezes or coughs and doesn’t cover their mouth (if you don’t already do that…which you should).

Monday, May 14, 2012


I haven't been updating PINNLAND EMPIRE that much this month because I've been busy contributing to a few projects over at the pink smoke. Here's the first of a few write-ups to look out for...


Monday, May 7, 2012


Watching 'Waiting For Happiness' is like the equivalent to sitting back and listening to a relaxing instrumental song. Sometimes you don't need any words or lyrics to actually feel the music. Although there's a plot, you get more caught up in the beautiful imagery, soundtrack and day to day life of the various characters in the film. Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Waiting For Happiness' centers around an isolated/detached young man ("Abdallah") who visits his native land (an intentionally unnamed African village) before moving to Europe. Abdallah's detachment comes from the fact that he's more westernized then everyone else in his village: He dresses more modern, doesn't speak the local language and doesn't like the native music of his people. While home, he spends most of the film walking along the perimeter observing the people while trying to remain unnoticed and unengaged. Abdallah's observations turn in to various sub plots and side stories involving; a Chinese immigrant who has somehow ended up in Africa and develops a crush on one of the local women, a depressed electrician and his father figure-like relationship with a precocious orphaned boy (although it could be his nephew), a little girl who takes singing lessons from what I assume is her musically inclined mother (its never fully spelled out if its her mother or not) and a middle local who's close friend has just died. So while part of the film is partially character study and story of a detached young man who cant connect with his roots, its also about the various stories that come out of his village that either briefly cross paths with one another or not at all. Consider 'Waiting For Happiness' a poetic observation. If there is ever a film influenced by the work of Claire Denis (specifically 'Chocolat' & 'Beau Travail'), it would be 'Waiting For Happiness'. From the hints & implications, to the dreamy atmosphere and exploration in to the beauty of Africa (although this time the film is actually told through the eyes of someone African).

Although the film takes place mostly in the desert, Abderrahmane Sissako manages to make an amazingly colorful film by making great use of the clothing and fabrics that the people in the village wear. Additionally, notice all the various shades of skin from person to person in the pictures below. I'm not sure if it was conscious or not, but fashion is a key element in this film...

What sets waiting for happiness apart from other recent African films like 'Bamako' (another feature directed by Abderrahmane), 'A Screaming Man', 'Johnny Mad Dog', 'U-Carmen' and 'White Material' is that although there are hints of poverty and many references to sorrow and how impoverished parts of Africa are, the film focuses more on beauty, culture shock, missed connections, romance the idea of youth coming of age and dry/non-subtle humor. There's no military presence, apartheid, uprisings or bloody revolts. Just meditative existentialism. There's scenes of laughter, celebrations, music and, like most of Abderrahmane's work, he manages to capture every shade, skin tone and distinct feature that Africa has to offer even though the story is set in one small village. This isn't a common thing among African films. Look at any popular/well known film which features Africa as the centerpiece. Nine times outta ten you're gonna to see a film about severe struggle. I understand that the economic situation, famine and genocide in certain African countries are so heavy that its impossible for it to not be represented on film as its too much a part of life, but sometimes its nice to see the beauty of the largest continent on the planet which often gets overlooked by many filmmakers (which is more than understandable). Its great that a director like Abderrahmane Sissako can bring some balance to the content of African cinema. This should be good news for people who became either desensitized or turned off by all the films like cry freedom, dry white season or the power of one. Additionally, it seems like in order to venture out of south Africa in the realm of film you have turn to art house cinema these days. In the last decade, filmmakers like Abderrahmane Sissako (west and central Africa), Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (central Africa), Abdellatif Kechiche (norther and southern Africa) and Claire Denis (western and northern Africa) have taken audiences all over the continent of Africa whereas mainstream/Hollywood films seem to be fixated on just South Africa.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Writing about Claire Denis' entire feature filmography has been one of my crowning achievements here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. In fact, I was so busy with the world of Claire Denis that I didn't even realize I was slowly doing the same exact thing with Michael Mann's work. Its come to my attention that I only have a few more of his films to write about ('The Insider', 'Manhunter' and 'Last Of The Mohicans') until I complete his entire catalog on PINNLAND EMPIRE as well. So lets continue with 'Collateral'...
Here's a film I've been conflicted about since its release in 2004. Much like 'Public Enemies', 'Collateral' is another one of Mann's films that I wanna love unconditionally but I just cant. Don't get me wrong, its full of that Michael Mann style that I love (and blog about) so much: the bright blurry lights, HD cameras, his unique imagery, his vision/portrayal of Los Angeles, the night clubs, his regular cast of actors, the contemporary music/modern score, etc. But 'Collateral' is kinda confusing at times. Not in a David Lynch-confusing kinda way, but in a "are we really supposed to believe that?" Kinda way. With 'Collateral' Michael Mann mixes elements of fantasy (a hitman taking a cabbie hostage going door to door killing people all while pretty much going unnoticed by the police) with elements of reality and grittiness (the HD handheld look of the film) which can be very confusing and disorienting at times because we go in and out of taking the movie seriously to riding it off as pure fantasy. Sometimes its like: Make up your mind! Is this supposed to be believable or not? Mann has worked in complete fiction/fantasy ('Miami Vice'/ 'The Keep') as well as complete fiction/reality ('Ali'/'The Insider'), but the mixing of these two worlds can be problematic. And speaking of worlds, Mann takes us back in to the world of 'Heat' with this film (the criminal underworld of L.A., police stakeouts in the back of vans, double crossing among criminals, etc) mixed with the look of 'Ali'. Id even go so far as to say 'Collateral' has elements of David Fincher with its the darkly lit atmosphere & environment reminiscent of 'The Game' and even 'Se7en' to a certain extent (the large majority of the film takes place at night or indoors at darkly lit apartments and clubs). It also draws influence from the films of Jean Pierre Melville (a common influence on Mann's work). 'Collateral' takes place during a 24 hour period in Los Angeles in which a cab driver ("Max"/Jaime Foxx) is hired by a hitman ("Vincent"/Tom Cruise) to take him to five different locations so he can kill four key witnesses and a lawyer (Jada Pinket-Smith) to stop a trial that could put a powerful crime boss ("Felix"/Javier Bardem) away for good. The only problem is that Max doesn't realize Vincent is a hitman at first. When he finally realizes whats going on hes thrown in to a crazy world of shoot outs, murders, killers, and yadayadayada..

It goes without saying that 'Collateral' IS a very entertaining movie but something tells me Mann was trying to make an accurate and somewhat believable film and I just cant buy that. I'm sorry but anyone who's seen this has to agree that this has some of Michael Mann's worst plot holes ever. I don't give a shit if you're a fan or not. Now...I hate being "that guy" who calls bullshit on whether something is believable in a movie or not but 'Collateral' forces me to go there (this also exposes my hypocrisy as Mann's 'Heat', which has more than its share of plot holes, is one of my all time favorite movies). Where do we start? I guess we could start with the overall premise of the movie. A cab driver outsmarts a hitman? For such a precise hitman who's obviously got a heavy reputation to carry out the task he was paid to do in the story, he was pretty sloppy (but pretty badass at the same time, don't get me wrong). What kinda hitman (who's supposed to go unnoticed) throws someone out of a window on to a car, busting up the hood, thus drawing attention to himself as this now busted up car is what hes supposed to get around in? Furthermore, how does someone getting thrown on to a car go unnoticed by passersbys? I get that this scene took place in an alley but c'mon now... And speaking of the busted car, the scene where they get pulled over is quite ridiculous. Who gets away with driving a busted up cab with blood dripping from the side of the hood? Outside of a film like 'Manhunter' and maybe 'Heat', Michael Mann clearly loves criminals over police and isn't a fan of making police look very smart on film and c'Collateral' is no exception. From the beat cops who let Max go with a warning for driving the suspicious car to the detectives who take forever to realize that Vincent's victims are all connected, its a bit messy. Other ridiculousness includes the scene where Max and Vincent go to visit Max's mom in the hospital (I'm sorry but Max/Jaime Foxx had plenty of legit opportunities to escape from Vincent).
But even with my little nitpicky ranting, 'Collateral' still brings some great performances to the table. Mark Ruffalo is "Mr cool" as always (although a little greasy), Jaime Foxx is very good (he even got himself nominated for best supporting actor but it was overshadowed by his nomination for 'Ray' in the same year), Tom Cruise is both badass (the way he kills people is awesome and cold blooded) AND annoying at the same time (those over the top forced mannerisms and jerky movements that we all know Cruise for get a little unbearable at times) and Javier Bardem's extended cameo is great and intimidating. I own the DVD so I obviously don't hate the film, but it coulda been tightened up a little better. And hey, imagine how bad 'Collateral' woulda been had the original actors who were up for consideration had signed on (a post-2000 Val Kilmer and Adam Sandler). So think about that...

Obviously Michael Mann has a talent for crafting elements of action & entertaining shoot out/fight sequences (as seen in the shootout scene in 'Heat', the finale of 'Manhunter' and the rescue scene from 'Miami Vice') with elements of drama and the thriller genre. And at the end of the day he does that with 'Collateral'. Although I don't really buy the ending, its still pretty tense and does keep you on the edge of your seat at the same time (sorry to sound so cliche). Tom Cruise has the indestructible/"wont die" swag of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 and you genuinely believe that Jaime Foxx and Jada Pinket may not live to the end of the movie (so although I do think Vincent/Cruise is a sloppy hitman, he's still pretty tenacious and wont ever give up). So take some of the stuff I said earlier with a grain of salt. 'Collateral' is still a pretty solid film. 


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