Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It takes a lot for me to watch ANY post-Billy Madison/Happy Gilmore Adam Sandler-related movie. I know Sandler only produced Grandma's Boy but his name was still all over the advertising which was enough to keep me away for almost two years before finally watching it thanks to the persistence of my friends who just knew I would love this movie. Ever since the late 90's, Allen Covert (star of Grandma's Boy) and the rest of Adam Sandler's “J.V. team” made up of; Peter Dante & Jonathan Loughram, have been playing the background in all of his shitty films. By 2006 it was time for Sandler to step aside and give his friends the spotlight. There were elements that coulda made this a disaster - mostly unknown/secondary actors who at that point had only been in bad movies, an appearance from Rob Schneider (sorry, but he just isn’t funny to me) and not only was this film associated with Adam Sandler but there was the strong possibility that he'd have a cameo too (thankfully he didn’t). But at the same time what did Happy Madison productions seriously have to lose? Grandma's Boy was only made with a 5 million dollar budget (which it DID recoup BEFORE DVD sales, thank you very much). That’s just a fraction of what Sandler's other films cost to make. Let’s face it - this movie is a winner. It’s probably one of the last great American comedies along with Harold & Kumar and The Footfist Way. I understand that a small film like Grandma’s Boy would be downplayed or forgotten about in a year where we saw bigger stuff like The Da Vinci Code or An Inconvenient Truth released, but 7 years later after all the dust settled – do you hear anyone talking about either of those films? They don’t matter anymore. I think it’s pretty clear that Grandma’s Boy stood the test of time. Do you see me writing about The Da Vinci Code? No. Grandma’s Boy is so great that it even gets a pass on the not-so subtle racism that we witness during the last half of the film (there’s a random African Bushman character that’s clearly modeled after the pro wrestler; Kamala). Now, Grandma’s Boy isn’t without plenty of cringeworthy & hack moments like monkey humor (literally) & typical stoner jokes (I’m not a smoker so that kinda humor doesn’t always work on me). There’s even moments where you can seriously tell a particular scene shoulda been re-shot due to bad acting, bad timing, badly executed jokes & awkward moments but overall - the good elements of Grandma’s Boy greatly outweigh the bad.
It seems like more knowledgeable cinephiles & film lovers like myself are becoming more open about their love for stupidly brilliant comedies. I won’t name names but I know specific people reading this right now who have the same love for the films of Kubrick & Cassavetes as much as they do for Saving Silverman & Dr. Detroit.
2006 was a great year for dumb guilty pleasure comedies - Grandma's Boy, Beerfest, and the highly underrated Lets Go To Prison (sorry but that was funny too me as was its follow-up; Brothers Solomon). Had it not been for Grandma's Boy, Sandler wouldn’t have one credible title to his name in the last decade (outside of Punch Drunk Love which really doesn't count). The actual plot to Grandma’s Boy doesn’t even really matter all that much but if it’s really that important to you - it’s the story of a former accountant turned video game tester ("Alex") who has to move in with his Grandmother and her two other elderly roommates after he gets evicted from his apartment due to his former roommate secretly using their rent money on hookers. Even though he has his issues living in a house full of old women (one of which is convinced he’s gay), he's pretty content with his rent-free, video game playing life (he's even secretly working on his own video game). Conflict arises when his boss; “JP” (a computer nerd who thinks he’s Keanu Reeves from The Matrix) steals Alex’s video game idea for his own. Now Alex’s grandmother (the only other person who knows how to play the game) has to face off against JP for ownership. Grandma's Boy is pretty much every man's dream - a movie about a guy in his mid-30's who lives rent free at his Grandmother's house, works as a video game tester and gets the girl in the end. Does life really get any better than that? And not to get too serious about a movie like Grandma's boy but it does touch on how a lot of adults in their late 20's/early 30's feel about employment - fear of responsibility, monotony of office work, etc (I know that's how I'm feeling these days). Although I'm not in to video games, Grandma’s Boy features so many things I like or find hilarious in one package - Kevin Nash (one of my all time favorite professional wrestlers), a pre-Bucky Larson Nick Swardson and the kinda lines that are funny weather they're in or out of context like; "I can’t believe you came on my mom", "Eat that frog dick, Timmy", "You’ve been spending our rent money on Filipino hookers?" & "YOU’RE a hooker!" David Spade’s cameo alone as the angry Vegan made up for the awful Benchwarmers, another Adam Sandler-related disappointment that’s unfortunately associated with Grandma’s Boy that came out in the same year. But I guess we shoulda seen that one coming given it stared Napoleon Dynamite & Rob Schnieder. And Benchwarmers isn’t the only disappointment that taints Grandma’s Boy’s legacy. Strange Wilderness, the unofficial sequel to Grandma's Boy that features half of its cast, was a huge letdown. Fans of comedies like Grandma’s Boy, Superbad, Beerfest & Super Troopers were expecting greatness from Strange Wilderness but what we got were two laughs (three if you’re being generous) in 80-something minutes. Now, Grandma’s Boy IS an acquired taste. If you like dumb yet awesome comedies, films like The Wizard and your Grandmother, then this is a winner. If you take yourself or your status as an uppity film snob too seriously then you should probably pass. Personally I think we all need a comedy full of dick & boob jokes from time to time.

Friday, January 25, 2013


What exactly is Bruno Dumont trying to say in his latest thought provoking, head scratching, problematic, faith questioning, borderline sleep aid of a film?! Does the devil exist? If so - does the devil have redeemable qualities? Is he capable of helping out and doing good deeds? Are Jesus & the devil the same guy? Bruno Dumont is no stranger to PINNLAND EMPIRE. Besides my recent lengthy write-up of his quietly disturbing art house noir: L'Humanite, his name is often dropped in this blog alongside peers like Marina De Van & Bertrand Bonello as France's current generation of button pushing, thought provoking, sometimes disturbing, filmmakers who have the guts to make the kinda films that frighten us just as much as they enlighten us. What's so great about their work is that they don't just fuck with the viewer for the sake of fucking with the viewer or hit us with gut punching scenes over and over. In Hors Satan we get brutal sex scenes, the aftermath of a rape and a shotgun blast to the chest. But those moments are spread far apart from each other (as are most brutal scenes in Dumont's work) during the course of this soon-to-be boring & misunderstood masterpiece. When reading up on Hors Satan (from blogs to legitimate reviews written by critics I respect) Dreyer's name kept popping up. This makes sense as Hors Satan deals with faith, religion and the presence of God just like Dreyer's work (actually one key scene in the Hors Satan involves a character being brought back to life after they've been pronounced dead much like in Ordet). But Hors Satan seemed to tip its hat more to the style & ambiance of Robert Bresson & Maurice Pialat - from the title (Outside Satan) which is very reminiscent of the title to a Pialat film (Under The Sun Of Satan) to specific scenes and the dry mannerisms of the mostly non-professional actors which clearly draw from Bresson's work. In the opening shot of Hors Satan our main character extends his hand towards the female lead in a moment that could have very well been a deleted scene from L'argent. Hors Satan requires a special kind of analysis as its both very good and problematic. My initial reaction to it was not that much different than that of a recent Terrence Malick film - annoyance, joy, eye rolling and an overall heightened love of cinema.
When I think of Hors Satan I'm reminded of the ideas behind Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger (the devil in plainclothes) as well as The Usual Suspects with characters like Keyser Soze delivering lines like: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was proving he didn't exist". Now, I'm still of the belief that that line was mainly written just to sound "cool" without much thought put in to what it actually means. I mean seriously...huh? But there's something about that phrase that makes me think of the main character in Hors Satan. In the film we follow a mysterious drifter who takes up camp in a small rural French town. In the first half of the story he helps out a young teen girl (the film's female lead) that's being abused by her father (we never actually see the abuse but we're lead to believe that's what's going) and he also heals another young bedridden girl who appears to be possessed. None of the characters in the film have names and they have no back story. The mysterious drifter just kinda appears outta nowhere and starts to affect the lives of the people in town. At first we get the impression that he’s some sort or of angel or even Jesus in the form of an everyday man by the way he carries himself, along with the way the young teen girl follows him around (almost like a disciple) and the way the mother of the sick young girl blindly trusts him to heal her daughter. But as the film progresses we question the young Jesus-like drifter's methods of helping & healing to the point where we wonder if he’s the devil or some incarnation of evil? On one hand he’s a helpful soul but in other scenes he’s a viscous & violent man who kills without blinking an eye - he bashes one guys head in with a lead pipe in a scene that's reminiscent of the axe scene at the end of Bresson's L'Argent. In another scene he has extremely rough sex with a strange woman that borders on rape. I don't even know if its fair to call what they did sex. Whenever we see the drifter's dark side, no one else is around to witness it besides him & his victim. His "disciples", or, people in town who look to him as a healer, have no idea of his other side. Maybe Bruno Dumont is trying to say that sometimes we need an evil force to drive away another evil force. The sexual abuse of a young girl is an evil force and maybe simple prayer might not be strong enough to fight it off. Maybe sometimes we need to call upon evil to help us out...even if there are consequences.
Alexandre Lematre gives the best performance as the young disciple-like follower and kinda breaths new life back in to a character that’s been over explored to the point where it’s become a bit stale in cinema (“the abused teen”). She has a unique, naïve, wide-eyed look and unlike most people in Dumont’s films she doesn’t look painfully homely.
Unbelievable Truth (Hartley)
Hors Satan also has many similarities to Hal Hartley's feature film debut: Unbelievable Truth (another Bresson-inspired film). It’s more than obvious that the idea of the dark, mysterious stranger riding in to town to help is nothing new but both films deal with God, faith & redemption pretty heavily. Both films also show a young teenage girl infatuated with the dark mysterious main character. Hartley, who I feel has a spiritual connection to Bruno Dumont, throws around words like; Jesus, God, Priest & Faith all throughout the script along with subtle (and not-so subtle) religious symbols (see image above). The presence of Josh Hutton (the main character in Unbelievable Truth) is not that much different than the mysterious nameless main character in Hors Satan.
The Mirror (Tarkovsky) / Hors Satan

Ordet (Dreyer) / Hors Satan
I'm well aware that the general analaysis of this film is that the main character is supposed to be some extreme/abstract vision of Jesus (all the signs are there). But i think Bruno Dumont, a filmmaker with a background in philosophy, would be disappointed if we didn't question or see things from a different, over analyzed perspective. Personally, I just don't see Jesus Christ, no matter how radical, abstract or extreme hes portrayed, shooting someone in the chest with a shotgun, beating someones head in with a pipe (for no real reason) or having rough sex with a strange women. Hors Satan feels like a sympathetic look at the devil. I may be reaching or talking outta my ass but that's how I see things. After all - the devil was an angel. Maybe there's still some righteous qualities inside him and this film is showing him move from town to town, like Kane in kung-fu, helping the peoplea that Jesus hasn't got around too yet. Heavy-handed symbolism doesn't get you very far with me. I'm surprised at how much I liked elements of Hors Satan as much as I did because the heavy-handed symbolism is quite strong. In one scene Dumont kinda references the moment when Jesus walks on water and in another scene the mysterious drifter breaks a loaf of bread he’s given in half and eats it which to me clearly symbolizes the act of communion. I'm not much of a Bible thumper and I didn't pay attention in church when I was a kid yet I still managed to catch those moments. I'm sure people more versed in Christianity could find other religious symbols in the film that probably went over my head. Dumont's work has always at least hinted at religion but his last two films have really focused on the subject more than normal. Hadewijch (2009) tells the story of a young girl who gets pulled in to terrorism in the name God and in his latest film we find him questioning the role of both Jesus & the devil. The representation of men leaves a lot to be desired in Hors Satan. Bruno Dumont clearly has a fascination with rape and/or rough unsensual sex. Sometimes Dumont's representation of men in his work almost comes off like that of Valerie Solanas or some other demented feminist with a messed up perception of men. Is Bruno Dumont one of those guilty male feminists? Besides rape he just has an overall fascination with showing man's dark sexual side. In the 29 palms (2003) we see both main characters raped by a gang of thugs. In L'Humanite (1999) not only does the film center on the rape & murder of a young girl but all the sex scenes are rough and difficult to watch. In The Life Of Jesus (1996) a gang of boys sexually assault a woman. The last third of Hors Satan centers around the rape & murderer of yet another young girl and who's responsible for it. Instead of sex, Dumont directs scene of men ramming themselves inside women (almost as if they're stabbing with their penis). If you're familiar with Bruno Dumont's work then you know what to expect, although I still advise to approach with caution. If not, I dunno if this should be an introduction in to his cinema. The pacing may put some to sleep and the vagueness of all the characters may be frustrating to some. Fans of Michael Haneke's French films (specifically Time Of The Wolf & Code Unknown) as well as Bertrand Bonello's earlier films should get a lot from Hors Satan.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The life of a repo man is always intense – Harry Dean Stanton 

Alex Cox's feature film debut may not be on the same level as some of the other great works released in 1984 (Paris Texas, Stranger Than Paradise, Love Streams, The Element Of Crime, etc) but its cult status is unmatched. Repo Man takes me back to my earliest video store memory. For some reason I was always drawn to the VHS box cover art as a kid. The Repo Man box was the first thing I’d go to every time we’d make that trip to the video store. There was something about that grungy looking font, the greenish tint and Emilio Estevez standing in front with his arms folded - it looked badass. Repo Man is a fun, silly, random film that also deals with issues like; televangelism, Conspiracy Theories involving aliens, nuclear war, misguided youth (specifically in the L.A. punk scene), drug addiction, etc. As a kid I was obviously too young to catch any of that stuff but when I revisited the film in college, thanks to a surprisingly good entertainment weekly article on cult films, I got what Alex Cox was doing. After repeated viewings I came to the conclusion that Repo Man is a brilliant film in disguise under a bunch of bad takes & bad audio synchs that shoulda been redone (Repo Man holds a comfy spot on my all-time top 25 but I’m not above pointing out its faults for those of you who haven’t seen it). But at the same time I think that's part of what draws people to Alex Cox - his early work had rawness & moments of imperfections that served as a contrast to all the big budget blockbusters that were starting to emerge in the early 80’s. It takes guts to make a film like Repo Man. It went on to influence other great random & forgotten about L.A.-based movies like Tapeheads & Roadside Prophets (both films are made up of a lot of the same cast & crew from Repo Man) as well as not so great movies like Dude Where's My Car. The first half hour of Bette Gordon’s Luminous Motion also has the same kind of ambiance right down to the opening credits. Cox's overall style also went on to influence Tarrantino (both Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction borrow heavily from Cox's third feature; Straight To Hell). Along with Lost Highway, The Day Of The Locusts, Mulholland Drive, Barton Fink & Chinatown - Repo Man is one of my favorite films that shows the more alternative, dark yet quirky side of Los Angeles. Without too many traditional landmarks Alex Cox captures the ambiance of the city perfectly. He effortlessly exposed viewers to LA's multiracial population long before films like Crash, he showed us the punk scene, crime and how spread out the L.A. is (you have to drive everywhere in order to get somewhere). This film also shares a connection to other works like Williams Friedken's To Live & Die In LA and Wim Wenders' Paris Texas (all three films were shot by Robby Muller, set in the American west and two of the films star Harry Dean Stanton). Repo Man is centered around the punk scene (a genre of music I'm not really in to) but unlike other music genre-based films like 24 Hour Party People (post-punk/new wave) or Who's The Man (Hip-Hop) there aren’t too many inside references or jokes catered only to people within that specific music scene. Repo Man's main inside joke is that half of the characters are named after beers ("Bud", "Lite", "Miller", etc). There’s also an ongoing joke throughout the film where all food labels are modeled after that generic no frills label. Repo Man has this rare unique quality in that even if you aren’t a fan you'll still have a good time watching it.
In the film Emilio Estevez plays; "Otto" - A young L.A. punk who loses his job, girlfriend & life savings (his parents give it away to a televangelist) all in the same day. With no source of income he becomes a car repossessor under the tutelage of "Bud" (Harry Dean Stanton) - a washed-up, coke addicted repo man. Otto quickly learns the ropes from Bud and the rest of his veteran repo coworkers (Lite, Miller & Marlene) and takes to the coke snorting, car stealing, hot-wiring, no-sleep lifestyle. Otto becomes a repo man at a very interesting time as every car repossessor in Los Angeles (along with a group of secret government agents) are on the hunt for a mysterious green Chevy Malibu (there’s a $20,000 reward for returning it). This Chevy Malibu just so happens to contain a trunk full of dead alien bodies which still emanates a deadly radiation (anyone who opens the trunk is immediately zapped in to dust). Soon the race is on to see who can get to the car first. This isn’t exactly the kinda movie you look too for great acting but Harry Dean Stanton and Sy Richardson (somewhat of a staple in the L.A. independent movie scene) all deliver underrated comedic performances.
Underneath all the Mohawks, screwball humor and all around randomness lies brief moments of intellectualism and the kinda stream of consciousness though found in a David Lynch film (who at the time of Repo Man hadn’t even fully come in to that signature style of his yet). Another clever element about Repo Man is that there always seems to be something going on in the background during a lot of scenes – notice the dead body on the ground in the laundryman scene or the Altman-esque moments where random lines are spoken off camera that still have something to do with the storyline.

I gotta admit, I used to feel sorry for Alex Cox and how bad he fell off. That independent/maverick/D.I.Y. mentality worked for his peers like John Sayles & Jim Jarmusch yet not so much for him. After Sid & Nancy everything he did got worse & worse (I honestly don’t understand why people think Walker is so great especially when we already had Burn starring Marlon Brando which makes Walker look like a joke when you compare the two films with each other). Throughout the 90's and the last decade Cox never let the lack of funding or distribution stop him from making films that hardly anyone would see but ever since he made Repo Chick (the sequel to Repo Man and quite possibly one of the worst movies ever made) I have no more sympathy for him or his career (there were plans for a legitimate sequel in the mid-90's which was supposed to include the original cast members along with Willem Dafoe but it fell through).
Repo Man is timeless and appeals to many different groups - It was made for punks, pseudo-anarchists & rebellious youth of the early 80's, rediscovered by the video store generation in the late 80's (video store rentals & VHS sales played a huge part in keeping Repo Man afloat), then dug up again by generation Y (my generation) who were babies & toddlers when Repo Man was first released. With minimal use of computers and no mention of virtual reality, this film still manages to fall in to the cyber punk genre - Otto's environment is somewhat dystopian (with a comedic twist), artificial intelligence is a major part of the story and its full of twisted & rebellious characters. Instead of the threat of computers & artificial life, the threat in Repo Man was nuclear war which was a clear jab at Reagan & Thatcher. Cox is one of the few people to have a connection to both Thatcher (he's from the UK) & Reagan (he moved to the U.S. during the Reagan years and was taken in by the punk scene which wanted nothing to do with Reagan). Fans of William Gibson, Eating Raoul, World On A Wire & Bladerunner should enjoy Repo Man.
This year Criterion blesses us all by adding Repo Man to the collection (I honestly didn’t see that one coming). Normally I'm not a fan of Criterion putting out films that already have multiple special editions already in circulations but this one gets a pass (plus most Repo Man DVD's are currently out of print).

Friday, January 18, 2013


If there's one thing you know about me, you know I love to defend films with a bad reputation and give others a chance to do so as well. I don't know Nathaniel Drake Carlson personally (I only know him through his brilliant movie-related posts on Facebook) but I know enough to know that he has an appreciation for cinema unlike most people. While many so-called film enthusiasts spend their time defending films that aren't really that underrated or overlooked, Nathaniel defends truly underrated & misunderstood works like Fear X or the filmographies of C. Thomas Howell & Billy Zane. He even stands his ground on recent works like Prometheus. Personally, I think this man should have his own film site, blog, wordpress, something (he even put care in to the title of this write-up). But until that time comes I'll utilize his gift with words here on PINNLAND EMPIRE.
This write-up couldn't have come at a better time. While Jodie Foster is still fresh in our minds (courtesy of her awkward Golden Globes speech) read Nathaniel's thoughts one a somewhat recent film she acted in that didn't get the best reception.


There was a time not too long ago when the emergence of a new Neil Jordan film would be sure to stir up heated reactions. That time, it seems, has passed. Jordan’s visionary perspective has become passé. This must be so for there is little else to otherwise explain the indifference which met his startling and brilliant 2007 film The Brave One, tagged dismissively as a “revenge thriller” or “Death Wish clone.” Perhaps it was the glut of more obviously “great”, less critically divisive works like There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men that left no time or space for dealing with elusive though still trenchant pieces like this and Branagh’s Sleuth remake. Whatever the case, there remains a very real need to rectify this neglect. It seems that The Brave One suffered from a number of misconceptions. First, there is the misconception that it was somehow aesthetically neutral because Jordan must have been a “gun for hire.” Regardless of the truth of Jordan's formal situation and relationship to the development of this picture, his indelible stamp is all over it, certainly as much as in the equally neglected In Dreams. We see it in his carefully selected deployment of canted angles to convey disorientation and in his less selective use of deep chiaroscuro with shadow effects that enliven the atmosphere and heighten the sense of immediate experience. More than that, however, The Brave One bears the imprint of his whole methodology. It is yet another in Jordan’s series of fairy tales, real life reconceived as pure style in order to more directly address essential truths that often get obscured via the distractions of “realism.”
Also, of course, the movie was probably poorly marketed, though if you’ve seen it it’s hard to imagine what proper marketing of this complex, willfully indeterminate material would be. The vaulted style is, as usual with Jordan, a possible deception for those disinclined to accept films that function in this way. Still, the original poster art and tag line as they stand really do a proper job of it after all: Jodie Foster posed with a gun in one hand and the other hand held up to her head. How Many Wrongs To Make It Right? Indeed, that is the point of the whole film but it's not actually a question and if it is it’s a rhetorical one. Because what’s at stake here is a profound consideration of the effects of violence and loss (in all its permutations, not just loss in death or loss of security). Rather than getting lost in political platitudinizing, Jordan’s elegant but forceful challenge is for us to take the essential idea of loss seriously and thus to understand better how it can become embodied in genre trappings (similar to the way Lynch originally handled the death of Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks). There is great despair and dismay in Jordan’s film, barely held in check by his cinematic acumen. The consideration of grief in movies like Death Wish, by contrast, is shown up to be the pretext it is for the enactment of violent rituals of self-assertion and control. Jordan seeks to rectify the hideous imbalance in our understanding of how vulnerability functions in tandem with fear and anguish to foster will to power. And though the post 9/11 parallels are unavoidable, Jordan doesn't allow them to overwhelm the more abstract focus of his material; such themes are subordinated to this focus and exist only as potentially informing subtext. The point is that The Brave One is not to be dated by any specific topical concerns. Jordan doesn't attempt here to re-invent conventional narrative form but rather to fully live within it and to try and discover where the essential truths in such presentation reside. That’s why his seeming use of racial stereotypes to represent the fear inducing Other is ultimately beside the point. Jordan is taking a lot of visual short cuts here that may not seem “fair,” but that’s irrelevant when much of his point has to do with the actions engendered by irrational fear. There are times, it’s true, when he pushes that approach to the limit. The exoticized black woman who lives next door to Foster’s character Erica Bain and acts as vehicle of folk wisdom is one such example: “There are plenty of ways to die but you have to figure out a way to live.” This sort of bromide is well despised and deserves to be but here such stuff is absorbed organically into the whole. It feels of a piece with the nature of Jordan’s stylistics in which the elevated atmosphere allows us to take such simple statements seriously, for whatever potential genuine truth they may contain.
There are a lot of revealing allusions to other films, whether fully intended or not. The tunnel assault uncomfortably recalls the central set piece in Irreversible, though I suspect the final fade out here is meant to partially dull the supposedly undeniable truth of Gaspar Noe’s nihilism. During the assault we see the attackers filming the incident with a video camera. This reminded me of the central conceit/gimmick in Gareth Evans’ Footsteps, in which the villain documents his activity in a similar fashion. Jordan’s use of the idea is more humane, however, as he does not allow it to attain fetishized prominence as an end unto itself but rather diminishes its importance by prescribing it an almost non-active role purely as the eventual initiator of Erica’s traumatic memory (this could be read then as a “plot device” by some less generous critics but I disagree; it’s Jordan’s confidence as an artist that allows him to understand how form meets function). The post-assault scene in the emergency room is cross cut with Erica and Naveen Andrews’ David in a romantic flashback which brings to mind the disturbing disruptions of a similar scene in Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing. The distress Erica reacts with to her radio show callers’ shallow understanding of vigilantism reflects the appropriate analogue breakdown scene in Talk Radio. And the subway confrontation with the two black men recalls another much more rigorously controlled scene of racial tension in Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown. Erica’s eventual, willfully imposed personality of strength could be read as the sort of strength out of necessity that Ridley Scott was assumedly trying to get at in Thelma & Louise, except here that strength is seen more for what it really is, a fragile false front whose empowering tendency runs counter to sustainable mental and spiritual health. Jordan understands well that such strength is born as a desperate reaction; he allows us to see its vulnerable origins. The Brave One would function well as part of a double feature with Jane Campion’s equally excellent In the Cut, as these are both urban fairy tales, not so much about the feminine per se, but rather using women as (currently) radical symbols for an investigation into the nature of how fragile sensitivity is and whether it can be maintained in the face of the brutal recognitions rendered by blunt force trauma—in short, what does aggression do to the receptive faculty? Can it be injured permanently? Can it recover? In response to this there is a truly great moment here, shortly after Erica’s encounter with the subway thugs, in which she stands shaken up before a mirror in a restroom. There is an astonishing image of her, after having bathed her face in the sink, with water pouring down her cheeks and embodying the tears she is too disoriented to know whether to produce herself. Jordan’s perception of her devolution is clear as he makes that decision for her. After this, she fastidiously applies make up, which, coming directly on the heels of this earlier moment as it does, suggests much about the symbols that are applied to self-indicate a restoration of some measure of social control and cohesion (that’s why the DVD cover art, extolling Foster’s make-up look is so laughably wrongheaded; the design team actually think this is some dim romanticization of female empowerment and they add insult to injury by associating it with vengeful assertiveness, the very thing Jordan’s deeply sensitive approach is critiquing). As in the aforementioned Thelma & Louise, the protagonist here travels an arc of developing reaction. The set piece object lessons that Jordan charts out are illustrations of her psychic plates shifting. The initial encounter is unavoidable, acquiring the gun is an understandable response to loss of security and control and even identity, the first “vigilante” encounter is an example of her worst suspicions being realized, the next is a shoring up or reifying of the desired world view she needs/ wants to inhabit and so on. But Jordan never lets us forget the cost for all this in human terms and that is, ultimately, the point of everything.
The Terrence Howard character, Detective Mercer, is also crucially important as he serves as Erica's more domesticated twin. His own loss is to divorce and it thus takes the form of a dearly loved spouse who, it is implied, could no longer share his principles. The fact that this muted loss is not allowed to be effaced by Erica’s more flagrant one but is, in fact, given equal weight and equal heart-breaking significance as lived experience is another indicator of Jordan’s rare moral seriousness and deep compassion. On a superficial glance Mercer represents the “good cop” of Ridley Scott’s idealistic policiers, but we are meant to actually sympathize with the burden of his virtue in a world in which his absolutes of conscience cannot be easy to maintain. When Erica asks him whether his hands shook when he shot someone he says, “No. That's one of the benefits of being on the right side.” But Howard’s delicate work here suggests that this confidence is not so firm, that its maintenance is a tenuous affair; nonetheless, it’s hugely important to understand that he sees his sense of justice and morality as a very univocal thing. He is confident of its ultimate legitimacy. Any compromise defaces it. His burgeoning friendship with Erica is an important indicator of the manner of his sympathies, an indication that relatability matters much. His suggestion to her that sometimes it is better to forget is not some calloused rejoinder but the exact opposite, a disheartened reference to the sadly quantifiable ingredients that may be necessary for psychic healing. That such healing must be balanced up with memory in order to remain human is at the heart of Jordan’s discourse.
And that's where the remarkable ending comes in. Actually, prior to the “final turn” I began to think there was little left for the film to do to surprise or satisfy me. The only surprise was a negative one in that it appeared the film was entering into a numbingly routine final act climactic show down in which Erica finds the man behind her boyfriend’s killing and confronts him only to, inevitably, be stopped by Mercer who would appear all of a sudden to reassert the proper pc notions of moral conscience in a fracturing world, etc. But that is not what happens. Instead, and radically, we are led to that point, in which Mercer disarms Erica right as she is about to kill the main “face of evil” character, but then “the turn” is that Mercer hands her his gun and allows her to finish the job. He then asks her to shoot him in the shoulder so he can take responsibility. And so he does and she walks away, significantly back through the tunnel of the assault, to be haunted by what she has lost in becoming, not entirely by choice, who she undeniably now is. What prevents this from being boiler plate conservative rhetoric is the fact that it absolutely does not come across as cynical wish fulfillment. Rather, Mercer’s act is what is hugely important here as it is in this that we see how Jordan’s seemingly schematic construction has paid off. As an ending it’s daring precisely because it allows for the inevitable vicarious pleasure to be had in Erica’s actions but it also is designed to just as inevitably lead to a moment of profound moral sacrifice that we are meant to take very seriously and by which we are meant to be moved. Really, the whole impact of everything rests on whether or not we can be. Erica’s earlier killing of Mercer’s mafia nemesis is an act of flailing allegiance that exists as a potentially mitigating element for those unwilling to accept the astringency of Jordan’s scenario. Mercer’s later action could be seen as informed by a sense of appreciation and gratitude, though this lessens some of its potent gratuity. Either way, his surrender to compromise of a significant order is the tragedy of the diminishment of the human; it works to complicate and bedevil any attempt to find rousing vindication or dismissive life lesson in this material. That Jordan risks the “sentimental” reminder of our own humanness and, by extension, weakness, is a rebuke to those who see that acknowledgment as of no consequence. Mercer’s moral concession, after all, is the result of the very depths of his sympathies, the excess of his love.

“I don't want to disappear” is Erica’s flailing admission of desire to hold onto life, some life, any life. Jordan’s film is a tribute to the legitimacy of her very real courage.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I can’t think of too many documentary film intros that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Whoever did the sound for Jonathan Caouette's All Tomorrows Parties, a film chronicling the famous UK music festival, is a genius and should be hired for any music-related documentary going forward. Opening the film with a performance from the progressive rock band; Battles not only works in getting the audience hooked right away (their sound is loud, loopy, thumping & rhythmic) but they're sound best represents the kind of music that plays at ATP (progressive, the make-up of the band is multiracial, they're somewhat experimental and make use of both; analog and computer-generated music equipment). Anyone who makes the audio in a GZA performance sound just as good as The Mars Volta deserves all the recognition in the world (for those of you not familiar - GZA's music is gritty, drum machine-oriented hip-hop while the Mars Volta is more loud, noisy, King Crimson, early Genesis influenced). I'll avoid the comparison to Woodstock, which so many critics have a difficult time doing when it comes to this film. The music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and all the other artists who performed at Woodstock will always remain timeless and affect the lives of everyone. But their music still comes from & defines a generation that is not our own. Generation Y and pretty much all of Generation X weren’t directly affected by The Vietnam War, Revolution, Black Panthers, or an abundance of assassinations & resignations of presidents, world leaders, various political figures & cultural icons. Sometimes when I see someone my age (31) or younger passionately singing the lyrics to a John Lennon or Gil Scott Heron song I kinda wanna tell 'em to shut up. There's plenty of great music that bests represents our Generation (desensitization, 9/11, how much Bush sucked, advances in technology) and that’s what the ATP festival represents. Although the roots of the festival do come from the original Woodstock and it isn’t the only prominent music festival around today that makes an attempt at booking progressive acts (Coachella, Pitchfork, Rock The Bells, etc) - ATP takes it to another level through curated lineups and eclecticism. How often are you gonna see Daniel Johnston, David Cross, Sonic Youth, Vincent Gallo, Psychic TV, Wu-Tang, Portishead, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs & Nick Cave (which pretty much makes up the music on my IPOD, minus a few artists) on the same bill?!? Furthermore - how often are you gonna see all those artists on the same bill get universal acceptance by an open minded audience? I don’t know about you but I've been to quite a few shows where different genres of music were mixed together ultimately causing a rift in the audience. What immediately stuck out to me in this documentary was how accepting the ATP audiences were to every genre of music & performance that was placed in front of them (minus David Cross who gets booed off the stage in one hilariously heartbreaking scene). I guess due to the fact that ATP is based out of the UK, a nation rooted in & influenced by so many types of music (ska, rock & roll, reggae, punk, new wave, etc) explains why the audience is so open minded.
Nick Cave
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
The Gza
Over the years ATP has made the transition to other countries like America & Australia but at its core - this festival is very much a UK-based entity. Just when I thought there wasn’t a whole lot left to do with the music concert documentary genre (backstage footage, screaming concert goers, musician interviews, etc) Jonathan Caouette made it interesting again. All Tomorrow's Parties, named after a song by The Velvet Underground, is a music festival primarily set on a camp ground in East Sussex, England where various artists ranging from Matt Groening to Belle & Sebastian curate the lineups and essentially make real life personal mix tapes for the audiences. Caouette brings the same beautifully chaotic style that we saw in his feature film debut; Tarnation to this documentary and draws influence from the Beastie Boys documentary (I F*ckin Shot That!) buy using footage from the festival goers & the musicians along with his own. The film shifts in & out of footage from camera phones, super 8 cameras, camcorders and the more traditional documentary footage shot by the director. All Tomorrow's Parties also uses a lot of random found footage from the 70's that mixes & syncs in with festival footage (via split screen) giving the documentary a very cinematic Pink Floyd/Alice In Wonderland Vibe...

Naturally alternative and/or progressive rock music as well as electronic music (or a combination of the two) are the most explored genres in the film but Caouette shines light on spoken word (Saul Williams & John Cooper Clarke) as well as Jazz (Roscoe Mitchell). There's plenty of memorable, funny & intimate moments like David Cross confronting someone from the audience who boos him, Portishead coming out of Hiatus, Saul Williams walking alone with a camera in his face reciting a poem to himself and Daniel Johnston serenading an impromptu audience outside of his hotel room (one of the unofficial rules of the festival is that the musicians & festival goers stay in the same hotel on the same camp ground together). All Tomorrow's Parties falls in line with other recent movie documentaries like; It Might Loud, loudQUIETloud, Kill Yr Idols (which heavily features both; Sonic Youth & The Yeah Yeah Yeahs), DIG (one of my personal favorite documentaries) & Noise (Olivier Assayas' often forgotten-about documentary on the Festival Art Rock which also features Sonic Youth). Actually, Sonic Youth seems to be the go-to band to be featured in any progressive music documentaries these days - Kill Yr Idols, The Devil & Daniel Johnston, Noise, etc. All Tomorrow's Parties only clocks in at 80-something minutes when it could have easily been an hour longer in my opinion. ...Ok maybe an extra hour might be overkill but the history of ATP goes back to the late 90's. Just think about all the performances & curators that have been documented since the festival's beginning. Don get me wrong - the film does an amazing job at capturing performances from just about all of the staple bands who make the festival what it is but there's so much more that coulda been added to the film (specifically the rare performance from Boards Of Canada). Quite a few critics complained of the performance footage being cut too short but given the 80-something minutes Caouette had to work with - I'd say he did an excellent job. I saw All Tomorrow's Parties ONCE three years ago (I included this in my top 10 of 2009) and it’s managed to leave a lasting impression on me all this time. This is one of my personal favorite combinations of music & film to come out in recent years.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Putting aside the fact that Lodge Kerrigan is one of the most explored filmmakers on PINNLAND EMPIRE (with the exception of Rebecca H, I've written about his entire filmography) this one is pretty personal to me- To this day Clean, Shaven (1994), Lodge Kerrigan's feature film debut, still stands as one of my earliest movie watching experiences where I felt legitimately unsafe. His films may subconsciously remind some viewers of everything from the experimental work of Jonas Mekas to the psychological thrillers of Roman Polanski during the 60's & 70's, while HIS influence on cinema can be found in the work of everyone from David Cronenberg to his peers like Steven Soderbergh (I challenge any of you to watch Clean, Shaven followed by Spider or Claire Dolan followed by G.F.E and tell me Kerrigan hasn’t made an impact on independent & art house film).
The universe of Lodge Kerrigan's is unlike any other in cinema these days. Without the use of ghosts, monsters, supernatural characters, bad/forced performances of someone with schizophrenia or cheap editing techniques, he's able to create a tense, gritty & realistic world where you constantly have to watch your back and characters teeter on the edge of sanity. While cinephiles all over the world have been anticipating the return of recluse filmmakers like Terrence Malick, Leos Carax & Monte Hellman, I've been patiently awaiting the day when I finally get the chance to see his latest film; Rebecca H. (2010).


PINNLAND EMPIRE: What are the last three films you’ve seen?

Lodge Kerrigan: I recently spoke at a Fassbinder retrospective in Berlin organized by REVOLVER Zeitschrift für Film and the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, and in preparation I re-watched a lot of his work. While I was there, I saw a projection of a 35mm print of Ali: Fear Eats The Soul - one of my all time favorites. It is such a beautiful, insightful and disturbing film on the difficulties of being an individual in society and the destructive, alluring influence of the majority.
Looking forward, I am excited to see Carlos Reygadas' s Post Tenebras Lux and Christian Petzold's Barbara.

PE: Who, in your opinion, are the top three directors working in film right now?

LK: There are so many interesting directors working, it is impossible for me to answer your question, but I'd love to see Lance Hammer ("Ballast") make another film. The quiet, contemplative nature of his work is rare, particularly in American cinema.

PE: You recently directed an episode of Homeland. All of your films are about mental illness in some way. Given that that's an element on the show (especially with Claire Danes' character) is that something that drew you to work on Homeland or was it for the chance to work with Damien Lewis again?

LK: With regards to Homeland, there were a lot of factors - certainly the quality of the writing and cast were big draws as was the opportunity to work with Damian again.
Although I have a long standing interest in mental illness, I'd like to think that I am not defined by it, as a filmmaker. Certainly, Clean, Shaven and Keane deal with the theme, but I don't think Claire Dolan does.

Homeland: Season 2, Episode 3 (2012)
PE: You're one of many modern auteurs to turn to television in recent years (Michael Mann, Scorsese, Spike Lee, Todd Haynes, etc...) Has it just become more difficult than ever to get a film made these days or is directing for television just something new you wanted to do?

LK: It's definitely an exciting time to work in television. There are so many great shows, attracting so much great talent across the board. Ultimately, it was the quality of Homeland that was the determining factor, but as a filmmaker, I was also excited to see what directing episodic television would be like. At the end of the day, it was very similar to independent filmmaking - solving problems creatively, working quickly on tight schedules, etc. It was a great experience and I am very grateful to Michael Cuesta, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon and Damian for their support in bringing me on.

PE: You’re one of the few directors out to NOT have a regular group of actors that you work with.

LK: It's really not a factor one way or the other. My goal is simply to cast the best actor available for the specific role at hand.

Keane (2004)

PE: Given that Damien Lewis is the only actor you’ve worked with more than once (Keane &      Homeland), does this mean we’ll be seeing another collaboration between you guys in the future?
LK: I hope so - we're actively looking for another project together. I'd also love to work with Amy Ryan again. She is a remarkable actress. 

PE: Besides Polanski, a director you're often associated with & compared too as far as style is concerned, what other filmmakers & films, if any, influence your work or inspire you?

LK: The question of influences is always tough to answer, as they are constantly changing. But to go with the spirit of the question, those filmmakers who show and help us accept what it is to be human -- not only our positive qualities, but also the flaws and weaknesses inherent in all of us. Chaplin, Bergman, Rossellini, Cassavetes, in particular, A Woman Under The Influence, Hal Ashby's The Last Detail, Taxi Driver, Fat City, Frederick Wiseman, Bresson, in particular Pickpocket, Chantal Akerman, Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fassbinder, Mike Leigh’s Naked, Kiarostami, in particular, Close-Up, Tsai Ming-Liang’s Vive L’Amour, Carlos Reydagas... The list goes on and on.

Claire Dolan (1998)

PE: Bonus Question - Since you're part of the criterion family (Clean, Shaven) - what three films would you like to see added to the criterion collection?

LK: Another tough question. Offhand...
Streetwise - Martin Bell
The Hours And Times - Christopher Münch
L'humanité- Bruno Dumont
I'd also love to see Raoul Ruiz's short, Dog's Dialogue, re-released.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis is the product of a drunken orgy between Jacques Tati, the really oddball Second City sketches, Luis Bunuel & Mike Judge. This experimental, non-linear, borderline sketch comedy feature about the banalities of office work, married life, parenthood, television, infidelity, the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle & communication between human beings (not to mention an obvious jab at Scientology, organized religion & self-help gurus) is pretty damn brilliant. Almost anyone, cinephile or not, can relate to the goings on in Schizopolis. The problem is that the large majority of the film will probably go over most people's heads. And I don't mean that in a snobbish way. It'll go over most people's heads because the movie is odd, extra quirky & difficult to follow at times. Not in a Charlie Kaufman/forced convolutedness kinda way. Its just tough to follow because its so random, told out of order and scenes just kinda abruptly start & end. Schizopolis is for anyone who feels trapped in suburbia, finds the pointlessness in small talk & unnecessary dialogue or takes bathroom breaks just to get away from the boredom of their office cubicle to go make stupid faces in the mirror. Schizopolis was the film that made Soderbergh "relevant" again among the people who put him up on a pedestal in the late 80's then unfairly took him off of that very same pedestal when he didn’t make the kinda films they wanted him to make. Sex, Lies & Videotape came outta nowhere and turned out to be one of the most important films of the late 80's and ushered in the American independent film renaissance of the 90's. People had unfairly put Soderbergh in a box and didn’t take too kindly to his follow-up features (Kafka, King Of The Hill & Underneath). It’s clear he had plans to make all different kinds of films (thriller, melodrama, neo-noir, etc) but the Sundance crowd and film critics who loved him seemed to only want stuff like Sex, Lies & Videotape. By the mid-90's Soderbergh must've been exhausted churning out steady (and mostly solid) work only to be met with lukewarm or mixed reviews. Instead of giving up and giving in to what people wanted, he directed himself in an experimental feature which ended up reviving his career (after Schizopolis followed two of his best works - The Limey & Out Of Sight). It’s funny how Soderbergh gets so much praise for being such a multi-faceted filmmaker today but when he tried to do that in the early/mid-90's everyone seemed to turn their back on him. Schizopolis predates & influenced recent surreal, random comedies like; Attenberg, Getting Any, The Comedy & Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and falls in line with other comedies like Kids In The Hall Brain Candy, Phantom Of Liberty & The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie. It may be completely different from Sex, Lies & Videotape but the way Soderbergh went about making both films is very similar - small cast & crew, low budget, shot in his hometown of Atlanta with Soderbergh wearing multiple hats (with Schizopolis he wrote, directed, starred & shot the film). Much like how I feel about Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderberh coulda been quite the character actor if he wanted. For someone who's never acted before and gives off somewhat of a boring vibe in real life, he did an amazing job playing multiple characters (a bored employee at a nameless corporation who makes frequent trips to the bathroom to masturbate and a conservative dentist that sexually harasses one of his patients). Soderbergh's blank expressions and dry monotone delivery makes me want to see him in a Jim Jarmusch-style comedy.

This is yet another film that best describes my sense of humor - randomness, swearing at odd moments, inappropriate sexual humor and poking fun at serious issues that can really only be found in America (pointless television, obesity & diabetes, consumerism, etc) The opening monologue (delivered by Soderbergh) really sets the tone of the film...

Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, this may seem an unusual procedure speaking to you before the picture begins but we have an unusual subject. When I say that this is the most important motion picture you will ever attend my motivation is not financial gain, but a firm belief that the delicate fabric that holds all of us together will be ripped apart unless every man, woman and child in this country sees this film and pays full ticket price…not some bargain matinee cut-rate deal. In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything. In closing, I want to assure you that no expense was incurred bringing this motion picture to your theater. And now, filmed in its entirety and proven to heal minor cuts and abrasions, we proudly present Schizopolis!

Schizopolis is kinda like Monty Python for Americans who don’t always get that type of Monty Python humor (like me at times to be quite honest). The story is told in three different parts from the perspective of three different characters. The first story centers around "Fletcher Munson" (Soderbergh) - a speech writer for a scientology-like corporation under the reign of T Azimuth Schwitters (a character modeled after L. Ron Hubbard). Early on in the film Fletcher gets an unwanted promotion when one of the hire-ups dies. He hates his new found position & responsibility (his taskmaster boss is always shouting at him), hates family life, isn’t interested in sex with his wife (who's cheating on him by the way) and he's being pursued by a rival company for information to take down T. Azimuth Schwitters. Of all the characters in the film Fletcher Munson is by far my favorite. He represents that adult who's still afraid of responsibility at work and just feels trapped in life. The dialogue between Fletcher & his wife (played by Soderbergh's real life former ex-wife) plays on that exploration of banality and generic small talk that I mentioned earlier:

Fletcher: Generic greeting
Mrs. Fletcher: Generic greeting returned

Soderbergh also plays on the pointless small talk between neighbors in a scene where the lines are delivered as if Fletcher and his neighbor are having a casual conversation about golf or lawn mowing techniques...

Fletcher: Hello. 
Neighbor: Hello. 
Fletcher: Is your wife coming over tonight? Because her big ass always leaves me satisfied. 
Neighbor: Nice of you to mention her. She enjoys sex with you much more than she does with me. 
Fletcher: I'm sure she says that to all the men in the neighborhood. 
Neighbor: You may be right about that one.

The second act follows a conservative republican dentist "Dr. Jeffery Korchek" (also played by Soderbergh). He's Fletcher Munson's doppelganger (although the two don’t know each other). Dr. Korchek also happens to be the mystery man that Munson's wife is cheating with. I rather liked this angle about the wife cheating on her husband with someone who looks exactly like him which shows the pointlessness of infidelity & cheating. There's a famous line in the film when Korchek discovers who Fletcher Munson is and says "Oh no...I'm having an affair with my wife." Other interesting points about Dr. Korchek’s life are the fact that he almost always wears jogging gear yet he only jogs from his car to his front door. He supports his heroin addicted brother and is madly in love with one of his patients; "Attractive Woman #2" (also played by Soderbergh's ex-wife), who eventually sues him for sexual harassment.
The third act is told from the perspective of Fletcher's wife ("Mrs. Munson"). This story takes us from when they first meet through the deterioration of their marriage which leads to Mrs. Munson having an affair with Dr. Korchek. In between we see the life of a bored housewife and a lot of the same scenes from the first act are re-played out from her point of view. This time some of those scenes are acted slightly differently and certain moments are over dubbed in both Japanese & Spanish without any explanation. On a side note, I find it interesting that Soderbergh made a film about a failing marriage alongside his then real life wife then ended up splitting shortly after (much like Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman with Eyes Wide Shut). Other supporting characters who play important roles in the overall story include: "Elmo" - a sex crazed celebrity bug exterminator that sleeps with every woman in town and is hired by a nameless couple to carry out a mysterious job, "Nameless Numberhead Man" (played by Eddie Jemison from the Ocean's 11 movies) - Fletcher's co-worker & friend who doesn’t do any work and hates the fact that his wife is skinny and not overweight, "Attractive Women #1" (played by Katherine Lanasa aka the former Mrs. Dennis Hopper) - Nameless numberhead man's wife who sleeps around behind his back with Elmo. This is a great alternative to more depressing films like The Seventh Continent or Revolutionary Road. Schizopolis deals with a lot of the same issues as those works except with humor instead. Although it shares nothing in common with the filmmaking style of David Lynch (an easy filmmaker to mention when something is weird or surreal), Schizopolis plays with parallel universes involving doppelgangers much like Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive did. This is a brilliant comedy that I highly recommend to anyone who appreciates the other films & filmmakers that I’ve already mentioned in this write-up. Schizopolis was a bit ahead of its time as it took jabs at stuff like Scientology long before the media and films like The Master did. And the Elmo character could easily be viewed as that talentless overnight celebrity that we currently have way too of many of today that has us questioning their celebrity status - "what exactly does Nicole Richie & The cast of the Jersey shore do?" (usually found on reality TV which wasn't even that popular in the mid-90's yet besides the real world & road rules)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


When cinema is true, it is a language in itself - that is why it is an art. I hate the idea that a good film is a good story, as Hollywood people say. That's not letting cinema be totally free - Carlos Reygadas

Carlos Reygadas is probably the most important voice in Latin American cinema today (along with Lucia Martel). His work shows a different side of Mexico that we don't usually see on the big screen (intellectualism, art, the upper-middle class, spirituality, etc). Reygadas is an intellectual filmmaker who doesn’t take his audience for granted and loves to challenge people. It takes guts to make the kinda films he makes and he embraces negative criticism & hate when other filmmakers can’t. Reygadas is clearly a varsity letter wearing upperclassman among his generation of "New School" directors like; Lynne Ramsay, Fatih Akin, Nicholas Winding Refn, Steve McQueen, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Even before Post Tenebras Lux (a masterpiece and probably the best movie from last year) Reygadas was already one of the future masters of film with Silent Light (Post Tenebras Lux just solidified his spot). It’s almost like he was born in the wrong era. Reygadas woulda been right at home in that late 50's-mid 70's era where filmmakers were put up on the same pedestal as authors, intellectuals and artists.

Thanks to decades of predictable storylines and Kirk Cameron, religion on film makes most people roll their eyes these days. The large majority of the time it’s either about some molestation case (Catholicism) or some agenda shoved down our throats (many people felt The Tree Of Life had a Christianity agenda behind it). Carlos Reygadas is part of a recent group of filmmakers who manages to get away with having religion all throughout his films without getting criticism for it (actually, the only problem people seem to have with his work is that its either boring or too "shocking"). In my opinion, his portrayal of religion on the big screen is more about spirituality. Whether subtle or (sometimes) in your face, religion is prevalent in almost all of Reygadas' work - From the loss of faith (in Japon we see our main character set out to commit suicide) to trying to find faith (In the final moments of Battle In Heaven we see our main character repent and give himself up to god). Silent Light is the most obvious example as it’s centered around Mennonites where religion is a part of their every day lives. And outside of the plot, his work also features lots of religious imagery & symbolism...

Battle In Heaven
Silent Light
Post Tenebras Lux

Men In Search Of...
Women do play a major role in all of his work but the main plot of each of his films (with the exception of his short; Serengeti) seems to be this exploration of man in the midst of some kind of internal/existential/mid-life crisis - the choice of whether or not to commit suicide (Japon), infidelity and the questioning of faith (Silent Light) or struggling with anger (Post Tenebras Lux). Reygadas' films offer an alternative representation of men beyond the mindless brooding and alpha-male-isms...

Battle In Heaven
Silent Light
Post Tenebras Lux

nudity & the human body...

We are all naked when we go to the shower. At least twice or three times a day we are naked. And most of us have sex, once a week or more. It's a thing that occurs often. But it's not represented ever on film. So the normal thing to do would be to ask every other director why they don't have sex in their film and not ask me about it. I am the only normal one - Carlos Reygadas

Lars Von Trier (The Idiots & Antichrist), Vincent Gallo (The Brown Bunny), Larry Clarke (Ken Park) and plenty of other recent filmmakers have shown full frontal nudity and real sex on the big screen but none of 'em have pulled it off quite like Carlos Reygadas. He shows the rawness & beauty of naked bodies (both male & female), blowjobs, penetration, pubic hair, ejaculation, stretch marks & wrinkles, beads of sweat and everything else in between. This may sound gross but you can almost smell the sex scenes in his films. He puts attractive bodies & traditionally non-attractive bodies on the same plateau (one of his most notorious scenes in Japon involves a sex scene with an old woman). Additionally, women aren’t objectified more than men when it comes to nudity and sex.

Battle In Heaven
Silent Light
Post Tenebras Lux

Carlos Reygadas must have been a landscape architect in his former life. From the beautiful modern house in Post Tenebras Lux to all the beautiful landscape shots in everything he's ever done, his work is very architectural without obvious/typical shots of skyscrapers and urban cities...

Battle In Heaven
Silent Light
Silent Light
Post Tenebras Lux
Post Tenebras Lux

Although it isn't a major part of his work, soccer & rugby (a sport Reygadas use to play before becoming a filmmaker) seems to play the background in the majority of his films to the point where it should be mentioned...

Battle In Heaven
Post Tenebras Lux

Tarkovsky, Dryer, Bresson and other visual similarities & (possible) inspirations...

(L-R) Au Hazard Balthazard (Bresson) Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky) This Is My Kingdom (Reygadas)
It’s been said numerous times here on PINNLAND EMPIRE from my "School Of Tarkovsky Series" to my reviews of Silent Light & Post Tenebras Lux that Reygadas draws inspiration from and tips his hat to the older generation of filmmakers. It was almost impossible to not see Tarkovsky's name dropped at least once in any review from the first half of his career (School Of Tarkovsky: Part One). But ever since Silent Light we've seen him branch out and pay homage to filmmakers like Carl T. Dryer (Ordet) & Chantal Ackerman (Jeanne Dielmann) to Terrence Malick (The Tree Of Life) & Apichatpong Weeresthakul (Uncle Boonmee). And like Robert Bresson, Reygadas also uses non-professional actors...

Ordet (Dreyer)                                 Silent Light (Reygadas)
Solaris (Tarkovsky)                      Japon (Reygadas)
Nostalghia (Tarkovsky)                        Silent Light (Reygadas)
Jeanne Dielman (Ackerman)                           Silent Light (Reygadas)
Tree Of Life (Malick) / Post Tenebras Lux (Reygadas)
La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso) / Silent Light (Reygadas)
A Gentle Woman(Bresson) / Battle In Heaven (Reygadas)
Marketa Lazarova (Frantisek Vlacil / Japon (Reygadas)
Solaris (Tarkovsky) / Battle In Heaven (Reygadas)

It goes without saying that Reygadas has a lot of Mexican pride. Like I said in the intro - he really does show a side of his home country that many people aren't use to seeing on film (I honestly had no idea there were dutch/German Mennonites living in Mexico before I saw Silent Light) yet he still manages to throw in all sorts of important cultural imagery that kinda defines the Mexico of today (from Luchador masks to the Mexican flag). If you read enough interviews about him its clear that he came from an upper/middle class background yet he didn't turn his back on the more rural/poorer side of the country. Unlike his Mexican peers; Guilermo Del Torro, Alfanso Cuaron or Alejandro Inaritu, he has yet to cross over into Hollywood (which I doubt he has any interest in). Although he himself is an intellectual, it wasn't until his short film; This Is My Country (Revolucion) that he really put a spotlight on Mexican upper/middle class and Mexican intellectualism.

This Is My Kingdom (Revolucion)
Battle In Heaven 
Silent Light


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