Friday, August 30, 2013


Thanks to Netflix, multi-region DVD's & Youtube uploads, movies are becoming less & less rare these days but Everett Lewis' 1993 film; An Ambush Of Ghosts still holds the mystique of being one of the few truly rare modern films in existence. I've never seen this but luckily Nathaniel Drake Carlson, who contributed to PINNLAND EMPIRE at the beginning of the year, is one of the few people who has.


Everett Lewis's 1993 film An Ambush of Ghosts is a genuine lost masterpiece, though in this case "lost" for reasons simply having to do with distributor resistance. I was fortunate enough to see the film at a rare public screening in 2001 on the campus of USC with both director Lewis and his cinematographer, Judy Irola, in attendance. It remains to date the pinnacle moment of a long personal journey for me of uncovering and seeking out the film itself.

My initial awareness of it came shortly after the January '93 Sundance premiere. As a great fan of the British classical synth group In the Nursery I discovered their soundtrack to Ambush later that year and was utterly captivated by its dark majesty.The album also includes dialogue extracts which just served to further heighten my restless anticipation. But nothing ever came of that. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to acclaim and then effectively disappeared, almost never to be heard of again and without even the consolation of a video release anywhere.

Ambush was likely ahead of its time and too singular an achievement for the independent film marketplace of 1993. It preceded the wave of other stylish visions of goth darkness like Seven, Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko and even The Crow. In many respects though its closest tonal equivalent seems to me to be the bracing and anguished contemporary fairy tales of Philip Ridley. Ambush concerns a troubled teenager named George (Stephen Dorff) living in a suburb of Los Angeles. A decade prior he witnessed the accidental killing of his younger brother by their mother, Irene (Geneviève Bujold). He was hit by her car when he ran behind her while he played catch with George. In the time since, mom has gone slowly mad, often driving her husband to use sedatives and restraints to appease her. George, meanwhile, finds another teen boy hiding in the family shed. Evidently Christian has also killed someone by accident, a rival during a fight at the local high school. However, his story is contradicted by vibrant, blood red flashbacks which present another reality altogether. George attempts to act as an intermediary but finds his situation complicated as he develops feelings for Christian's girlfriend, Denise. The film ends with the reality of everything we have seen called into question.

The narrative itself is compelling but it's the formal elements and how they translate that text which are the source of the film's accomplishment. Irola (who won the cinematography award at Sundance for Ambush) describes the style she and Lewis crafted as "painterly", specifically derived from the look of such artists as Caravaggio and Vermeer but also inspired by the films of Dreyer and Antonioni. Notable as well is the fact that the cast, though largely filled with unknowns at the time, features the likes of Anne Heche, David Arquette and, most significantly, Dorff as George. Variety singled out Dorff's performance for praise and Detour magazine referred to it as the strongest male performance at Sundance that year. Producer Robert Shulevitz told me that it wasn't all acclaim, however. At Sundance the audience was given cards to rate the film on a numerical basis between 0 and 5. As indication of the polarized responses to come, Ambush received a lot of 6's and 0's. Later, the film sold out a six hundred seat theater at the Seattle Film Festival on the basis of a blurb in the programme announcing the cast alone. By the end of its 90 minute running time two-thirds of the audience had walked out. If nothing else, An Ambush of Ghosts was never to be met with indifference.

Shulevitz describes how several distributors attempted to handle the film but found its tone far too authentically raw and painful to manage a sale. One distributor even wanted to completely eliminate the first ten minutes (a sequence of highly stylized and intensely personal torment which Lewis describes as a "mnemonic melody of the past madness" and says was the most cut and recut sequence in the picture). Others balked at the stunningly dark sequences. Video distribution even became a problem when it came clear that the dark palette of the film was outside the legal limits of color contrast allowed for most US TV sets. So then both style and substance have served as stumbling blocks but Lewis acknowledges that was always going to be a problem. He notes that rather than simply regurgitate yet another variant on the conventionally familiar dysfunctional family genre a decision was made during production to take a far more strenuous route--to replicate through the composition and form of the film the mental state of a disturbed, even insane individual.

Ambush uses the dysfunctional family/adolescent angst genre simply as a starting point for an exploration of the real suffering so often glossed over by films of this type. Its focus is laser like in precision and just as intensely invasive. The structure and tone contribute to a sense of dislocation while making a case for the appropriate use of an operatic style to access and convey authentic emotional states. Instead of a gradual development toward specific emotional heights Ambush immediately presents a scenario of totalizing trauma but one that has receded internally and can thus be represented in grandly formalist terms. George and Irene reel in their own separate universes of absolute, enveloping despair. Much of the opening is meant to establish that this is not going to be a naturalistic presentation of grief but rather only about one aspect suspended and maintained indefinitely and with no way out (we see too that the restoration of the family home, in process at the time of the accident, is equally suspended). Both characters share some sense of guilt, the notion that they could have or should have done something differently, but they are each too far gone to share the burden or to commiserate as a way of alleviating the pain. So they are condemned to private hell. The notion of a decade having passed like this only adds to the sense of devastation.

The infamous first ten minutes depict how this plays out. We see what we at first believe to be legitimate home video footage of the incident, only gradually realizing that no one would have actually recorded this. It represents how we maintain our memories: in bleeding and blurring still frames of significance. We see Bujold in her dead son's room, still preserved like a shrine, wailing on his bed. We see her lie in the gravel of the driveway behind the car in the same spot and position taken by her lost child when he was taken from her, by her. Later we see her being sedated and restrained in bed with shackles to quell her hysteria. This is enacted by the ineffectual father figure played with a sublime understated grace by Bruce Davison. The father has scarcely any role here because he does not share the same direct experience of the pain associated with this tragedy and thus must be confined forever to the periphery. But everyone is equally confined and isolated.

Dorff, for his part, remains locked in medium close-up for these opening minutes, barely distinguishable through a lattice work of shadow. He talks to his dead brother, crying out for him, for his own void to be filled. The intensive focus of these early scenes makes the sequence seem to last even longer than it does and yet, somehow, also to last virtually no time at all, such is its hypnotic effectiveness. Certainly though there was something uniquely thrilling about witnessing just this sequence alone, something of such clear and undeniably uncompromising conviction.

Once the tone proper has been established the film begins after brief opening credits. The main thrust of the narrative revolves around George's discovery of the young man named Christian (Alan Boyce) hiding in the family garage after accidentally killing another student in a fist fight. Christian befriends George, mostly as a means to an end, and enlists him to act as an intermediary between himself and his girlfriend Denise (Anne Heche).

It is here, in this seemingly arbitrary plot development, where An Ambush of Ghosts truly takes off. The film implies the connection between George and Christian, both of whom are accidental murderers. But there are further disturbing intimations that Christian may have been more cognizant of his actions then he lets on, perhaps even more then he may consciously know.

There is, for instance, an early scene--brilliantly played--in which Christian attempts to convince George of his relative innocence, that things just got out of hand. But intercut throughout are the red tinted flashbacks to what we can only imagine is a more objective truth: Christian's brutal attack, viciously assaulting the other boy on the hood of a car in an empty parking lot. Is Christian a liar trying to save himself? Is he blocking out the incident or is he far more calculating than that, far more deviously dangerous? Or, perhaps, is his guilt really a projection of George's own perception of himself, of his concerns about complicity with his brother's death? The implications are vast, made all the more painful because they are never elaborated upon. We simply cannot know.

The depth of what is accomplished within this simple set-up can't be overstated. George believes Christian when he says that he came to him because he feels he can confide in George. Dorff's character is so emotionally stunted that he grasps at even this transparent manipulation as sincere because he so desperately needs to believe it. He goes on to form an unhealthy attachment to Christian and later to Denise. As older girls sometimes do with younger boys who are clearly awkward around them, she flagrantly flirts with George in an attempt to disarm him. He, of course, takes it as the real thing.

There is an incredible, elaborate funeral sequence for the murdered boy, almost entirely without dialogue but a showcase for virtuosic moving camera work, evocative scoring by In the Nursery and heightened though nuanced performances. George holds Denise but it is evident in the gesture and the inflection of the body language that he is not comforting her--he is at his own brother's funeral and he is comforting himself.

As the picture winds down Christian prepares to turn himself in, reasoning that it is the only thing he can do. George can not deal with the prospect of abandonment yet again. While embracing Christian farewell he plunges one of his mother's sedative needles into Christian's arm, proceeds to strip him down to the waist and shackle him to the wall with his mother's wrist restraints. The scene is played at a furious, high pitched level, mostly in theatrical long shot similar to some of Greenaway's tableau set pieces, lit Vermeer like with pools of light in surrounding darkness. The movie even goes so far as to include a scene in which Christian awakens, toys with the idea of escaping, then reflects back on George's pleas for him to stay and basically decides to do so, remaining George's prisoner in the shed. But is he a prisoner of love, desire or just desperate need? An Ambush of Ghosts leaves these kind of questions tantalizingly open, suggesting that the answer could very well be all of the above.

Dorff manages to carry his character so far into psychosis as to pass beyond heightened caricature and back into a newly consecrated harrowing reality. It's a penetratingly authentic performance even in the midst of the gorgeously overwrought spectacle of the film itself. His job is almost impossible in its difficulty as he must be weak and indecisive and yet selfish, ravenously insecure and needy, victimizer as well as victim, often all at the same time.

An Ambush of Ghosts ends with a sequence in which George finally goes completely over the edge losing whatever grip he had left on his tenuously held stability. And we see that via an altered version of the opening home video style flashbacks, this time with George at eighteen. Here he can alter the history of the event that destroyed his family's peace. He can rush to rescue his brother and salvage his mother's sanity. The ending is "happy" in the same way as that of Gilliam's Brazil. Our hero can finally attain some measure of peace but at what cost, at what necessary retreat from reality? The other questions it provokes are similar as well: is a happy ending always illusory? Does it have to be? Is this even an ending? Whatever the answers to these questions, it is, strictly speaking, a genuine catharsis as climax. In the case of An Ambush of Ghosts there is the additional issue as to how much of what we have seen functions solely as a projection of George's fractured psyche. There is the possibility, too, that it may be a case of subjectifying all experience as in Eyes Wide Shut.

Any summary of Ambush, however detailed, can only approximate its overwhelming sensory impact. It is a rare work of an ultra refined cinematic aesthetic, one which somehow manages to sustain for its entire duration an operatic pitch made up from what is dreamlike and what is all too painfully, recognizably real. Its unrelenting intensity can be exhausting, especially when translated through Everett Lewis's rigorous compositions, but that is also the source of its uniquely profound effect. As the director himself has said, most films are heavily mediated experiences intent on prioritizing what elements surface in each scene but in Ambush all the elements of every scene go hell-for-leather. There is no prioritizing. The experience of the film is a virtual assault upon the senses.

In the body of Lewis' work, which continues to expand and increase, Ambush stands out for its extreme formalism. Many of his films since (like 1996's Skin & Bone and 2002's Luster) have almost been a repudiation of that approach to filmmaking. They are marked by a much looser, free form quality that gives the impression of a more natural, even spontaneous, capturing of events. It should be noted too that they are also all concerned with a treatment of pronounced gay themes. This is something that may be said to have existed in more nascent form in his first features (1990's The Natural History of Parking Lots as well as Ambush) but becomes prominent afterwards. I like that aspect of those early films, though; the way in which the element of homoeroticism is simply not overtly acknowledged but rather infused into the text, allowing for a more subtle range of expression and acting as only one angle of interpretation among many. While there is much to be admired about Lewis's developing style and his other films, that should not and cannot obscure the specific nature of the accomplishment of Ambush. With any luck his continuing and increasing cinematic relevance will prompt an interest in his back catalogue as well. There always remains hope that somehow whatever it is that has acted to impede the official release of the film will someday be removed. One can only hope. And, of course, spread the word.

Friday, August 23, 2013


I'm not a fan of Lee Daniels. At all. The trailer for his latest film; The Butler, enraged me and made me laugh out loud at the same time. Forest Whitaker is one of my all time favorite actors so it saddens me to see him in a role that looks so beneath him (like almost everything else hes done in the last 7 years). Yes, I'm judging a film I haven't seen (and never will) but I know enough from that god awful trailer that I want no part of what The Butler is selling (sorry, but when you've seen as many movies as I have you earn the right to judge a book...err, movie, by its cover every once in a while just like every other human being does from time to time). Do we honestly need yet ANOTHER movie like this? Contrary to what mainstream cinema would have you believe, there's actually a lifetimes worth of original stories concerning black people that has yet to be explored on the big screen beyond stories of servitutde (no matter what kind of uplifting/drivin' miss daisy spin Lee Daniels tries to pull with The Butler).
But at the same time, the movie looks like such obvious Oscar bait that all you can do is laugh at it.
The emotions that Daniels' work brings out of me is mostly negative but at least he gets my blood pumping...or boiling I should say. That counts for something. There's filmmakers I LOVE that I couldn’t care less about these days or bring myself to write more than a few sentences on (Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, etc) so Lee Daniels should really be humbled I'm taking the time to write about something that concerns him.

Criticizing & trashing a guy like Tyler Perry is pretty pointless nowadays. His films are awful but his core fans will remain his core fans for life so what’s the point of wasting time breaking down why I hate his work? The world of Tyler Perry is pretty separate from mine and I hope it stays that way. But Lee Daniels is a name that’s breaking in to my world/film scene and I'm not very comfortable with that. Like Tyler Perry, Daniels' films show a predictable/one-sided view of black people that I feel has been explored enough in cinema at this point. What’s worse is that people are just eating his stuff up and praising him. I remember back in 2009 at the NY Film Festival all anyone could talk about was Precious while works like The White Ribbon (probably one of Haneke's best) & White Material (a much better film concerning black people on a global scale) were getting less attention.

But The Paperboy (2012), the story of a journalist (Matthew McConaughey) and his brother (Zac Efron) trying to solve a murder that an innocent, although bad, man (John Cusack) has been wrongly convicted of, is Lee Daniels' ONE fascinating film that I cant stop thinking about. I'm man enough to admit that I feel stupid for passing this up at Toronto last year. I'm sure I would have had the same reaction that I did when I saw this for the first time a few months ago (anger, confusion & fascination) but it would have at least stimulated my mind unlike the large majority of disappointing stuff I saw at the festival last year. I certainly don’t love this film unconditionally but at the same time I cannot fully dismiss it. On one hand, this film is made up of elements that I'm either indifferent towards (John Cusack's presence) or downright don’t like (Nicole Kidman's post-op face & Macy Gray's voice). Then on the other hand, The Paperboy is also made up of things I DO like: the new "re-born" Matthew McConaughey (who owes a lot of his cinematic "rebirth" to this film), complex characters that you cant either root for or against and the kind of trashy noir-ish atmosphere found in a Jim Thompson novel (The Paperboy is definitely a distant cousin of The Killer Inside Me). Like his contemporary; Nicholas Winding Refn, Lee Daniels draws inspiration from various cinematic sources with this one. Imagine a young John Waters fresh off of making Pink Flamingos & Female Trouble setting out to make an Oscar contender under the control of a studio, influenced by William Friedken's Cruising and Carl Franklin's One False Move and you kinda got The Paperboy.

I don’t mean to make a comparison between Daniels & Waters just because they’re both gay, American, male, directors but at the same time there is a sense of style that modern gay male filmmakers have over a lot of modern straight filmmakers (with the exception Michael Mann who has style over just about everyone). I can’t put a word or phrase to it but if you're familiar with Todd Haynes, Tom Kalin, Pedro Almodovar, John Waters, early 90's era-Gus Van Sant, John-Cameron Mitchell, Greg Araki, Xavier Dolan and a few more openly gay modern directors, I think you all get that particular uncategorizeable cinematic style I'm talking about. Lee Daniels certainly isn’t on the same level as some of the aforementioned filmmakers but he has earned his spot among them with The Paperboy. Actually, The Paperboy has many connections with the cinema of some of the gay directors I just named. Besides the fact that Daniels deals with hidden/repressed homosexuality in The Paperboy like Todd Haynes did with Poison, Velvet Goldmine & Far From Heaven or Kalin did with Swoon or John Cameron Mitchell did with Hedwig & The Angry Inch, my issues with The Paperboy are very similar to my issues with Haynes' Far From Heaven (lets also not forget that Paperboy co-star Zac Efron starred in a John Waters re-make and Nicole Kidman's performance is very reminiscent of her performance in Gus Van Sant's To Die For)...


If you read my review on Far From Heaven you'll see that I was a little conflicted by Todd Haynes, who is openly gay, creating such a shitty, cowardly, GAY character in the form of Dennis Quaid. Yes, in a perfect world anyone should be able to create any type of character they want, but with such discrimination and misguided hatred towards gay people in society, I just felt that Quaid's character (a cheating, abusive husband) didn’t help the cause. But that’s my own personal point of view. I'm sure Haynes felt he knew what he was doing. Lets also not forget that Far From Heaven is the greatest acting Dennis Quaid has ever done in his life. With The Paperboy, by the end of the film Daniels makes every prominent black male character out to be some disturbed, dark, sadistic homosexual. Once again, Lee Daniels does NOT carry the weight of all black & gay people on his shoulders when he makes a film. He can make whatever he wants and craft any kind of character he wants. Don't get me wrong, just about every character in The Paperboy is messed up in some way but its on another level with the black male characters. In one scene, Matthew McConaughey, who has been keeping his homosexuality a secret up until this moment, gets tied-up, beaten & raped by a group of black men he tries to hook up with. A few minutes later, David Oyelowo, McConaughey's journalist "sidekick", reveals to Zack Efron that he's also gay (and also not British as we were lead to believe) in a very sinister way like its some dark dirty thing. Neither of these moments sat well with me and to this day they make me uncomfortable. I'm not uncomfortable with the homosexuality either. I'm uncomfortable that whenever something homosexual is revealed in the film it’s associated with violence, shadiness & aggression concerning black men. What’s even more strange is that all this came from the vision of a gay, black male (Daniels). To take this a step further, Matthew McConaughey's character is clearly a self-hating homosexual. He likes to be beaten, cut & abused while having sex and doesn't even tell his brother, whom hes very close too, about his sexual orientation. Actually, when McConaughey's character reaches his demise (he gets his throat slit by Cusack), he seems to find joy in the pain. Are there, or were there, strands of the same self-hatred in Lee Daniels? It’s so strange for someone (Daniels) that’s part of such a specific (often discriminated) demographic (gay black man) to paint characters that are part of that same specific demographic in such a sinister way. If anyone reading this has seen the film please let me know if I'm reading to deep in to something or if I'm WAY off in my analysis.

To call this film "trashy" is an understatement. But that’s not exactly an insult. Lee Daniels has to know this film is somewhat trashy. He seems to embrace it in the same way John Waters embraces the trashiness in his work. Not to say there aren’t some serious & complex issues in this film (repressed homosexuality, murder, rape & deep-seeded family drama) but at the same time, there's scenes involving Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron, John Cusack jacking off while Nicole Kidman teases him from across the room and Efron is half naked or at least shirtless in half of the film in a way that makes you go "...hmmmm". Lets also not forget this film is set in the deep, swampy south so everyone is sweaty & greasy looking which adds to the overall trashiness.

With the exception of Nicole Kidman, who plays John Cusack's wife and Zac Efron's love interest, Daniels does a pretty good job of creating that retro/1970's feel. Yes, he falls in to that trap filmmakers sometimes fall in to by giving the male supporting characters sideburns (what other way could a filmmaker convey to the audience that the film is set in the 70's without sideburns?) but besides that, the music, wardrobe and atmosphere is pretty authentic.
McConaughey's performance was the BEST part of this film for me. I honestly didnt expect The Paperboy to take the dark and somewhat sad turn it did towards the end. I didnt even think much of his character until the last 30-40 minutes then I did a 180 (so did the film in a sense) and he became the most interesting person in the whole story. I dont know if this is his greatest performance but its definitely up there with the best work he's done in his career so far.
Ever since seeing Zac Efron in Linklater's Me & Orson Welles I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in any film geared towards adults over the age of 25. His overall performance in this isn't anything great (some moments are a little bad) but he plays angry very well in this and he certainly doesn't ruin the movie like I'm sure a lot people would have assumed.
What's interesting about John Cusack's performance is that I couldn't really see anyone else playing his part yet for some reason I didn't really get anything out the performance he gave. This was his opportunity to hit a homerun supporting performance (his character is in the entire film but only in a few scenes that are spread throughout) and it just felt a little flat.

Even though its kinda like the "black sheep" of the family, The Paperboy is part of this new un-even/problematic/overrated yet interesting group of films that explores the south in either a poetic/Malickian style (Aint Them Bodies Saints, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Ballast, etc) or in a mysterious backwoods kind of way (Mud, Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories, etc). Personally, I'm only a fan of Ain't Them Bodies Saint & Ballast out of all those films, but they still make up a scene/movement that deserves to be mentioned.

The Paperboy makes me wanna see The Butler even less than I already wanted too which I didn’t think could be possible. Beyond the repressed homosexuality and murderer there's some race issues in The Paperboy too. There's one scene where Zac Efron loses his cool and calls David Oyelowo's character a nigger and throughout the film Daniels subtly shows the degrading & unglamorous side of being a maid (specifically through Macy Gray's character whose unique, one of a kind mannerisms are put to good use in this film). Instead of hacky & embarassing moments of racism there's some sly moments that show racism and the power dynamic between black people and white people in the south back in the day. It bothers me that Daniels is following up his exploration in to the shitty side of being a servant in The Paperboy with a film that appears to show the "up" side or respectable side of being a servant with The Butler. Once again, I haven’t seen The Butler (and I won’t) but you and I both know that the trailer for that film shows enough.

Clearly I have a lot of negative/conflicting stuff to say about the The Paperboy but I wouldn’t have taken the time to write so much about it if there weren't some redeemable qualities. If I had to rate this I'd give it a 2 outta 5 stars for the first half and a 4 outta 5 stars for the last half. I seriously recommend this to everyone (Lee Daniels fan or not) because I could really talk about this one for a while. So on some level this film IS kind of a success...

Friday, August 16, 2013


The absolute highlight of the John Cassavetes retrospective last month at BAM was Lelia Goldoni's surprise Q&A after the screening of Shadows. Of all the Q&A's I've been to in my lifetime so far I've never seen someone so eager to answer questions and talk about a film they've been associated with for such a long time (just last month I attended a screening of Only God Forgives, also at BAM, where director Nicholas Winding Refn already seemed tired of answering questions about a film that's only a few months old). But Shadows is such an important film and continues to find new audiences every few years so there's always something new to talk about.

Lelia Goldoni was kind enough to take the time out to answer some questions regarding not only Shadows and her relationship with all things Cassavetes, but her work with Martin Scorsese as well as her relationships with other various actors & filmmakers. 

Anyone who reads this site should know that Cassavetes is a PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite, so this interview is quite special to me. 


PINNLAND EMPIRE: I find it great that after five decades you still seem so energetic and eager to discuss ShadowsDo you ever have moments where you get tired or jaded talking about your experience making that film?

LELIA GOLDONI: No I have never gotten tired or bored. And your question made me wonder "why", so here is what I came up with - One factor is that after 50 years I am still here! And a new audience is present to get something out of it. The times have changed so much of what were the issues in the old days. So in many ways it seems new to me as well as the audience.

PE: Filmmaker Shirley Clarke loaned some camera equipment to John Cassavetes so he could make Shadows - Did you ever meet her or have any kind of a relationship with her? Did she ever hang around or help out during the filming of Shadows?

LG: No, I did not meet her at the time. We met about 20 years ago and talked & gossiped about everyone. It was great.

Lelia Goldoni in Shadows (1959)

PE: At the Shadows screening at BAM you talked about the difficulties you faced getting cast in films due to issues of racial ambiguity & discrimination (casting agents didn't know if you were white or a really light skin black person). Do you know if this is something your Shadows co-star; Ben Caruthers faced as well?

LG: In 1963 I went to England and the English thought I was lying [about her ethnicity]. But they thought it was kinky. I worked a lot of TV movie plays. I left England in 1973 and came back to LA.

Ben & I got married before the film was released and he got a couple of jobs in TV in LA. There was no question about his ethnicity. We got divorced around the time the film was re-released so I did not hear about any problems he may have had. 

PE: Does it surprise you that even still today your ethnicity is a topic of discussion? If one were to Google search your name on the Internet, “ethnicity” is one of the keywords that comes up with your name...
(FYI - Lelia Goldoni is Italian-American)

LG: I just looked up my name and ethnicity but did not take the time away from finishing this to read on. Wow...

PE: What was your experience like working with a young Martin Scorsese on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore? 

LG: Like all women in Marty's films I only worked with him one time. He seemed very tense but loved what he was doing.

PE: Since John Cassavetes was a mentor to Martin and you were one of Cassavetes' most notable actors, did Martin look out for you and take extra care of you during the filming of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore?

LG: For years I thought he did not like my work but I finally saw that no female ever worked for him a second time.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

PE: Between Ellen Burstyn's performance & Diane Ladd's performance - do you feel Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is an unsung film for strong/independent women?
I only ask this question because I rarely ever here this movie brought up on the subject of strong female roles in cinema.

LG: I thought it was a wonderful script and have been otherwise occupied to have noticed what you say. I am surprised that the film did not get more attention in the era that you are speaking of. But it was acknowledged as a terrific piece of work for Ellen, Diane and even me. I was nominated for a BAFTA for best supporting actress along with Diane. She won - bigger part.

PE: Given that you co-starred in a film like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, do you ever get annoyed or frustrated when Martin Scorsese is only acknowledged, by the general public, for his mafia and gangster-related films?
(This doesn't happen as much anymore today but it’s still a generalization/stigma that he faces)

LG: He kept making them [mafia movies]. So you have to look at him for the choice. I don't think he was forced in to those films.

Martin Scorsese & John Cassavetes

PE: The Day Of The Locust, another film you appeared in, has a very strange feel and shows a darker side of Los Angeles during the 1920's. Did you read the book to prepare for your role in that film? 

LG: I read the book in high school. It was on the "NO NO NO" list, and I could not remember Mary Dove [the character Goldoni portrays in the film] 
While reading the book in preparation I found out why - She is only mentioned one time without any real information.
Working on the film I made some very good friends; Waldo Salt, Bill Atherton and I knew Schlesinger (the director) & Donald Sutherland from London.
Sutherland and I worked in a TV production of Rose Tattoo. I played the daughter and he played a traveling salesman. 

PE: Do you have any interesting stories while making The Day Of The Locust?

LG: There are lots of interesting stories but I am not comfortable talking about them.

PE: Another thing you talked about at the BAM Q&A was your love for New York City and your joy being back here – Can you tell the readers what projects you’re involved in now that you're in NYC?

LG: New York is the world. Every corner of this planet is in New York and we pretty much all get along. Taking buses and subways I have conversations with all the people. I just mentioned, in a way, that we are in an invitational party having cocktails and talking about the world, its conditions, what could be done and who we are.
I have spent the last year meeting people and seeing how the town operates. It is soooo different from LA. Thank God. 
So the project that is looming, with the fascinating company; Hoi Paloi and its director Alec Duffy, is three short Beckett plays and I am working with an actress and writer to restructure the play; Who's Looking After The Baby.

PE: What are the last 5 films you've seen?

LG: Margin Call - Loved it. Argo - Loved Alan Arkin & John Goodman. Liked the film. Silver Linings Playbook - I liked it a lot. De Niro was very good. Lincoln & Les Miserables.
I've been going to the theater more to get a feel for what it is like here in New York. A Canadian director asked me to do a film when the script is finished. So I think I'll be working again...

PE: Are there any current filmmakers or actors working right now that you’re a big fan of?

LG: Stanley Tucci - I think he is a really great actor. He brings something out of the individual's inner life with every role he plays. He doesn't need costumes to make it happen. His role as the child rapist [The Lovely Bones] was shattering work. I wanted him dead. He makes you forget it is fiction.

Seymour Cassel, Minnie & Moskowitz 

PE: Finally, without embarrassing him too much, do you have any cool/funny stories about Seymour Cassel? 

LG: He is an extraordinary person. His outgoing appearance is gruff and aggressive but he is a person who has a heart of gold. He has suggested that producers use me in films and I got a couple of small jobs. I needed money for my medical insurance so those roles always help. Underneath his foul language is a giant heart of gold. My story is too small to define him.

Monday, August 12, 2013


There's a great Abel Ferrara Q&A from the 2011 New York Film Festival on YouTube that I've been listening too for the last couple of months that gives a lot of insight in to his career. Thanks mostly in part to the support of New York City's film community, Abel Ferrara has kinda "resurfaced" over the last couple of years - His last film, 4:44 Last Day On Earth, had a good run, Anthology Film Archives gave a great retrospective on his recent unseen works and his previously unreleased films are a little easier to come by online and on DVD now. But things weren't like that for him for quite some time.

Abel Ferrara feels he was somewhat blackballed in the movie industry sometime around the late 90's. Sometimes filmmakers use that black balled thing as an excuse for bad box office numbers or the inability to get a film financed but Ferrara sorta has a valid point. It’s odd that a filmmaker can go from making Bad Lieutenant (one of the best films & best lead performances of the 90's) to barely being able to getting a small indie film financed. Maybe it was his string of interesting/odd/misunderstood/frustrating post-Bad Lt. works like; Body Snatchers, Dangerous Game & The Addiction that kinda turned producers & financers off. Maybe there were some behind-the-scenes things we don’t know about. Whatever the case may be, Ferrara put out some interesting work in the late 90's that hasn’t really stood the test of time (The Funeral) or has gone virtually unknown (New Rose Hotel) at no fault of his own and in my opinion they should be revisited...

I like New Rose Hotel more than I think I'm supposed to. From the bad reviews to the low ratings on IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes - everything is telling me to hate this movie but I just can’t. There's something about this lost random gem that I really enjoy. Unlike other misunderstood maverick filmmakers who find more fans & support in Europe with their recent questionable work (Melvin Van Peeples, Alex Cox, Monte Hellman, etc) Ferrara actually has good & consistent work that just has a tough time getting distributed sometimes. His work is fun to dissect and write about even when it’s problematic.
New Rose Hotel, adapted from the William Gibson short story of the same name, is a moody, atmospheric, sensual, science fiction tale that falls under the cyberpunk genre (the film was actually given Gibson's blessing). But unlike other classic cyberpunk science fiction films, New Rose Hotel doesn’t have super robots (Robocop), cool laser guns (Bladerunner) or virtual reality (Lawnmower Man). There isn’t even a huge emphasis on computers or getting lost on the Internet which is usually what these kinda stories are about (The Matrix, World On A Wire, Hackers, etc). It’s barely science fiction. In the same vein as Cronenberg's eXistenZ, Abel Ferrara lightly hints at all the futuristic aspects of the world he creates instead of shoving flying cars & robots down our throats. Besides Bladerunner, New Rose Hotel has a much darker tone than the other films in the cyber punk genre. It takes place in darkly lit lounges, night clubs and of course...hotel rooms. These settings make sense as New Rose is just as much a neo-noir as it is a science fiction tale.
Years before this was made, a pre-Hurt Locker/Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct an adaptation of it before Abel Ferrara but after some creative differences between her and Gibson, she dropped out of the project and went on to make Strange Days - another cyber punk story that has a few similarities to not only New Rose Hotel, but a lot of Gibson's other stories as well...

When I talked to Gibson, I said you want to help? He said if you need me you're in bad shape. She [Bigelow] had him thinking he couldn't write a script, that he was useless. Believe me I don't know how this guy even survived that. She wanted her way. You should read the script he wrote for this if it wasn't called "New Rose Hotel." You wouldn't know what the Hell it was. Then they got rid of him, they didn't want him around anymore. Then they were going to do the version with Schwarzenegger and they put in 300K for this Creative Artists writer out of LA and were gonna write it as an action movie and get Schwarzenegger to play it. - Abel Ferrara (Indiewire)

Immediately after watching this I read Gibson's short and honestly feel that the film honors the original story. Any time you adapt someones work (especially a cultish writer like Gibson) you're always gonna get loyal literature fans complaining about something but Gibson gave this film his blessing which is good enough for me. Unfortunately, I think New Rose Hotel was stuck with the stigma that Johnny Mnemonic left behind a few years earlier (another sci-fi film adapted from a Gibson story that failed at the box office) and people didn’t wanna give it a chance. Additionally, Abel Ferrara isn’t exactly the first filmmaker who comes to mind when you think of science fiction. Maybe people just weren't ready for an Abel Ferrara science fiction movie. He isn’t from the same school as Paul Verhoven, The Wachowski's, David Cronenberg but with New Rose Hotel he didn’t try to be a someone he's not. He brought William Gibson in to HIS world and brought along a few of his regulars (Christopher Waken, Willem Dafoe & Asia Argento)

In the not-too-distant future, the world's two biggest corporations (Maas & Hosaka) are feuding with one another for control over the best patents, cures and other worldly inventions. The brightest mind behind many of these genius developments, a scientist by the name of "Hiroshi", is currently employed by the Maas corporation and Hosaka is looking to steal to him away. This is where "Fox" (Christopher Walken) and his partner "X" (Willem Dafoe) come in to play. Fox & X are "headhunters" whose job is to essentially convince/persuade workers to go from one company to another. If Fox & X can get Hiroshi to come over to the Hosaka corporation they'll be paid $100 Million. To persuade Hiroshi to switch employers, Fox & X hire an Italian prostitute ("Sandii") to seduce him. This is the basic plot. After that it’s a bit difficult to follow. X falls in love with Sandii, Fox becomes fascinated with Hiroshi, there's a huge plague, Fox throws an orgy and a good portion of what we see in the first half of the film is played out again as slightly altered flashbacks towards the end. The dialogue is a bit up its own ass at times (hey, I like this movie very much but its true). Much of the script (especially the lines delivered by Christopher Walken) seems more concerned with sounding smart, existential, cool & scientific instead of making any sense. The basic plot is pretty easy to decipher but you may find yourself questioning if what a lot of Walken & Dafoe are talking about really has anything to do with the film.

Certain themes and the overall style of New Rose Hotel went on to influence Ferrara's later work like Mary (2005) & 4:44 (2011). In New Rose Hotel we see a lot of chaotic editing (which we hadn’t really seen in Ferrara's films up to that point) and the use of mixed media and different types of cameras all in the same film (some of the footage is grainy, reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels, while most of the footage looks like a normal movie). This type of filmmaking is all done throughout Mary. Many themes in New Rose Hotel like plagues and the end of the world are the basis for 4:44. Ferrara even tips his hat to Kubrick (the hotel room that Dafoe stays in towards the end of the film looks like the room at the end of 2001). I can see how some of the acting in the film could be a little off putting. Christopher Walken is more quirky & strange than usual to the point where you find yourself laughing more at how he pronounces certain words instead of focusing on the overall performance which can be pretty distracting. The performance and look of Fox is very similar to the character he plays in Donald Cammell's Wild Side. But hey, some people who love Walken's quirkiness may get a kick out of his portrayal of Fox. Asia Argento, who's never been more beautiful, is a little flat & awkward at times (although I've heard some describe her performance in New Rose Hotel as "raw") but you find yourself not really caring too much because of how naturally beautiful she looks. Dafoe's presence is kinda downplayed in my opinion but Ferrara made up for that with Go-Go Tales.
On a more positive note, New Rose Hotel features cameos and quick appearances from the likes of John Lurie, Anabella Sciorra & Victor Argo

Ferrara has an understanding & love for cinema that many directors don’t which is a shame because his reputation among the average person aware of who he is keeps him in that King Of New York/Ms. 45/Bad Lieutenant box when he's got a lot more to give (he’s currently working on a script about the final day of Pier Paolo Passolini). Ever since Bad Lieutenant it seems like he's been trying to stretch himself more as a filmmaker and dip in to different genres like the apocalypse (4:44), science fiction/"the information age" (New Rose Hotel) and hybrid fiction/documentaries (Hotel Chelsea) yet people (mostly Americans) aren't very receptive for some reason. New Rose Hotel has a lot in common with Vinterberg's It’s All About Love. Both films are beautiful chaotic messes that have great casts, cover many issues and are set in an odd disorienting vision of the not-so-distant future.
If you go in to New Rose Hotel expecting Ferrara's regular raw, gritty New York City style of filmmaking found in Bad Lieutenant or Ms. 45 you're setting yourself up to be disappointed. If you have an open mind and are looking to expand your view on him as a filmmaker (which New Rose Hotel will surely do) this may be the film for you.

Now...if you're looking for vintage Abel Ferrara then look no further than his 1996 mob drama; The Funeral...

I'm not very keen on writing about mob movies. Everything has already been written about the great ones by people more qualified than I (Godfather, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, etc) and all the other mob movies out there are just bad, formulaic carbon copies of the great ones that aren't really worthy of being written about (too many to name). That’s the interesting thing about the mob genre - there’s not much middle ground. Mafia films are either classic pieces of art or bad & overrated. There aren’t too many that are just simply "good" or "solid". Abel Ferrara's The Funeral may not be on the same level as The Godfather or Goodfellas but it shouldn't be grouped in with all the other bad & overrated mob films out there. The Funeral is pretty unique. Besides the mafia/organized crime angle it touches on family (blood family, not mafia family) along with communism & socialism. Ferrara inst a novice to the mob/organized crime genre (King Of New York & China Girl) but this is by far his best work within that realm. In my opinion this was his last undeniably good film for quite some time until he re-emerged with Mary (2005) & Go-Go Tales (2007). According to co-star Vincent Gallo, Abel Ferrara spent a good portion of his time on set in his trailer smoking crack instead of directing but I find that a little hard to believe.

This film was pretty much considered a flop in the U.S. (like most post-Bad Lieutenant Ferrara films) when it came out and I honestly don’t get it. Over the years it’s become one of those movies you find in the discount DVD bin section at the video store for $7.99 (that's how I came across it). How is it possible that a film with one of the greatest ensemble casts of the last 20 years (Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Benecio Del Toro, Vincent Gallo, Annabella Sciorra, Isabella Rossellini, the underrated Victor Argo and a quick appearance from David Patrick Kelly) managed to fall in to obscurity? More importantly, in an era when large ensemble casts were pretty much only used for those multi-storyline post-Pulp Fiction style films in American independent cinema, Ferrara didn't fall in to that madness and made ONE cohesive story as opposed to 6 different stories that all connect to each other in the end. The Funeral is different from other mob films as there's minimal violence (when compared to stuff like Goodfellas or King Of New York). Its more about the internal family problems between two brothers: "Ray" (Christopher Walken) & "Chez" (Chris Penn) and how they handle (and ultimately deal with) the death of their youngest (communist) brother "Johnny" (Vincent Gallo) who was gunned down by a rival crime family run by "Gaspare Spoglia" (Benecio Del Toro)...or at least that's what we're supposed to believe.

The Funeral is without a doubt Chris Penn's greatest performance. Take his intensity from the final minutes of Reservoir Dogs and spread it out through an entire movie and you'd kinda get the gist of what I'm talking about. His performance is so draining & heavy it almost gives you a headache watching him act. Most performances concerned with depression (which Chez is surely suffering from) focuses more on the sad & crippling aspect of it while Penn's performance focuses more on the angry & aggressive side of depression. And Chris Penn's large size adds to it, giving the Chez character an intimidating presence. There’s one scene in particular that’s a bit odd & hard to watch where he has his way with a young girl. Say what you want about the cinema of Abel Ferrara, and trust me there's plenty to say both good & bad, but he can get an intense performance out of his actors - Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, Forest Whitaker in Mary, Willem Dafoe in Go-Go Tales, etc. This was also one of Christopher Walken's later rare good performances along with Catch Me If You Can (a performance he was nominated for that still manages to go unnoticed).

It's tough to take Walken seriously in his more recent work but there's no misguided humor about his performance in The Funeral (especially in the scene when he confronts the man who killed his brother). Ray & Chez are both big tough gangsters but when they confront each other they revert back to being little kids - in a scene towards the beginning Walken leaves the house when Penn arrives and refuses to come back until he leaves (clearly something a child would do). Penn & Walken's grieving in The Funeral makes me miss the brother I never even had. The presence of the female characters (Sciorra, Rossellini & Mol play the "mob wives") may come off as minor at first but in one scene Anabella Sciorra kinda steals the show with a monologue about how sick & fed up she is with the mob way of life and her husband. Unlike classic female performances in gangster films (Diane Keaton in The Godfather or Lorraine Braco in Goodfellas) Sciorra comes off a lot tougher and less neurotic (although still a bit vulnerable & sad).
My only complaint about The Funeral is the lack of Isabella Rossellini. Also, there’s just “something” about The Funeral that was screaming for Michael Madsen’s presence. Given the size of the cast, The Funeral could have easily been a 2-1/2+ hour film if done right but at the same time its fine the way it is. There’s something about a 90-something minute mafia film that’s a breath of a fresh air in a sea of 3+ hour epics.

I find myself kinda sympathizing for some of the characters in The Funeral more than I do in other mob films. There's no celebration of the crimes they commit or the flashy violent lifestyle they live whereas in stuff like Goodfellas we're kinda supposed to think these guys are "cool" (Goodfellas is still one of the most important films of the 90's and there would probably be no Funeral without it). At the end of the day The Funeral could be looked at as a film that shows the realistic & ugly side of mob life and the consequences that come with that lifestyle. The Funeral is more along the lines of Donnie Brasco (specifically Al Pacino's character) or the mob sub plot in Ghost Dog where we see old, broken down, tired gangsters in their 50's & 60's still carrying out hits, taking orders and hanging out in smoke-filled basements (nothing really "cool" about that). This is a quietly depressing & drab film with an ending that takes the phrase(*SPOILER ALERT*): "everyone dies in the end" a little too literal. The lighting is always dark and all the dominant colors in the film are darkish & grey and you genuinely feel bad for Vincent Gallo as he lies on the ground whimpering (literally) and dying from a gunshot to the belly. The Funeral features plenty of "Ferrara-isms" - religious symbolism (specifically Catholicism), the focus on Italian American families, Christopher Walken & Victor Argo and occasional spurts of violence). For reasons ranging from rawness & grittiness to unconventional editing & storytelling, Ferrara can be an acquired taste for some (he’s one of those American filmmakers who’s appreciated more by Europeans than fellow Americans). If you’ve read my write-ups on Mary & Go-Go Tales you’d see that the cinema of Abel Ferrara is quite challenging, but he’s currently one of my favorite filmmakers to write about (along with Terrence Malick & Carlos Reygadas).

The Funeral can be enjoyed by most people (cinephiles to average movie goers who like a gangster film). Some may be a little let down by the final act as well as the discovery of who actually killed Vincent Gallo, but I personally didn't have any problems with it. Ferrara could have taken a more conventional route to ending his film and he didn't.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I like to think that PINNLAND EMPIRE has always been a friendly place for Canadian filmmakers. From modern legends (David Cronenberg) to cult figures (Guy Maddin) to young emerging talent (Xavier Dolan) and everything else in between - there's always been a special place on this site for our friends in the north. But the one Canadian figure we almost never mention on here is Atom Egoyan. I'm almost embarrassed to admit but outside of The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration & Chloe I'm not very familiar with his work (I haven't even seen Exotica). I came across Calendar by a fluke (it was recommended to me on Netflix instant) and fell in love with it instantly. Without calling Atom Egoyan a copycat, this was like his version of Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies & Videotape - men dealing with heartbreak in an internally self destructive way, a realistic look at the deterioration of a marriage (due mostly in part to infidelity) and eroticism without the use of nudity, raunchiness or any kind of sex scene.
Calendar is also quite experimental. In a video essay on Clean, Shaven, Michael Attikson described Lodge Kerrigan’s debut as; an unorthodox, narritively uncooperative movie. An almost experimental feature in a sea of conventional indies from the mid-90's
The same exact thing could easily be said about Calendar - It's told out of order, the two main characters aren’t credited with any actual names for the viewer to reference them by (the lead characters are billed as: "Photographer" & "Interpreter" in the credits) and even though English is the primary language in the film, Egoyan intentionally does away with subtitles whenever Armenian is spoken which adds to the isolation & disconnect we're supposed to feel for the main character. Calendar also uses audio/voiceover in the same playful/experimental way as Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven by mix-matching audio & video to give off a disorienting vibe (a technique that was used in later films like Harmony Korine's Julien Donkey-Boy, which is heavily influenced by Clean, Shaven)

I do know enough about the cinema of Atom Egoyan to know that communication & voyeurism through various forms of technology (email, texting, video cameras, webcams, cell phones, etc) is a common theme in his work. These days technology makes it easier for humans to avoid contact with other humans as much as possible. Today we live in a world where couples break up through texts, over webcams or over the phone but 20+ plus years ago (when Calendar was made) you kinda had to face your soon-to-be ex lover and break up with them in person. Calendar, Egoyan's quietly excellent film about a couple who always communicates with some kind of a device or piece of equipment between them (a video camera, phone or an answering machine) was somewhat ahead of its time (made in 1993) as part of the film deals with a divorced couple trying to get some type of closure over the phone instead of in person.

Vouyerism: The Cinema of Atom Egoyan...
Calendar has a strong spiritual connection to Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep (1996). In Assayas' 1996 feature there's a scene where Maggie Cheung sneaks in to the hotel room of a naked woman, played by Calendar co-star; Arsinee Khanjian, as a ways to get in to character for a role she’s playing in a film (a cat burglar). Cheung proceeds to spy on a buck naked Khanjian as she fuses at her significant other over the phone. It's clear she was horny and expecting to have sex but has been stood up. Khanjian's ranting over the phone about her disappointments in the relationship she’s in echo that of the earlier role she played in Calendar (directed by her real life husband). A huge chunk of Calendar features Arsinee Khanjian's character leaving her ex-husband (played by her real life husband; Atom Egoyan) voice messages about her disappointment in how their marriage ended (she cheats on him) in the same irritated yet sad tone of voice that she uses on the phone in Irma Vep.

Calendar can’t really be boxed in to one genre - Egoyan mixes the personal/stream of conscious/diary-like style of Jonas Mekas mixed with the style of a traditional Ang Lee drama about a marriage on the rocks. It’s fictional yet at the same time it’s obviously semi-autobiographical. This was clearly an incomplete thought or dream that was expanded in to a feature length "cut-up style" film.

Calendar, of course, was a lot more personal. There was a defining structure, but a lot of it was improvised, and it was a little dream project for me - Atom Egoyan (AV Club)

In Calendar, Egoyan & Khanjian play a husband & wife team who travel to Armenia to take photographs of old churches (Egoyan is the photographer while Khanjian serves as his collaborator/bi-lingual translator). The photos they take are to be used for a church-themed Calender. They’re escorted around the city by a personal driver named "Ashot" (the only character in the film with a name) and Egoyan starts to suspect that Ashot and his wife are developing feelings for each other. We come to find out that she eventually does cheat on him and they separate. To cope with the separation, Egoyan's character uses an escort agency to screen/interview various women to be his next mate. Part of the screening process involves him getting the women to leave him dirty/sexy voice messages so he can listen back to them. This is very reminiscent of James Spader's character in Sex, Lies & Videotape (he videotapes random women talking about sex in order to "get off"). 
The (nameless) main character that Egoyan plays in Calendar has the characteristics of three outta the four main characters in Sex, Lies & Videotape - the stereotypical uncaring husband played by Peter Gallagher, the vulnerable & insecure spouse played by Andie McDowell and the strangely perverse yet heartbroken loner played by James Spader.

Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989)
Atom Egoyan uses a lot of quietly slick filming techniques in order to convey the lack of communication and chemistry between the married couple. The cinematography in this film acts as a mirror for their relationship. At no point do we see Egoyan & Khanjian on screen together at the same time. The camera that Egoyan uses in the film, which is always placed in between them, is like a wall, or obstacle, in their marriage. This is a similar technique used in The Spirit Of The Beehive. At no point in Beehive do we ever see Anna's mother & father together on screen in the same frame (it should also be noted that Anna's mother is unfaithful to her husband too).
Calendar is like a play on the phrase "Eyes Wide Shut". You have a photographer with a failing marriage and a wife making a connection with another man right in front of him yet he does nothing about it and allows himself to be eaten up by jealousy.

Was Calendar made as a way for Egoyan and Khanjian to work out some real life marital issues they may have been having at the time? Did he ever really suspect that his wife was falling out of love with him? This is one of those films that makes you speculate those kinds of things. I’m amazed that 20 years after this was made Egoyan & Khanjian are still together. From Godard/Karina (Made In The U.S.A.) & Cruise/Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut) to Cameron/Bigelow (Strange Days) & Lynch/Patrician Norris (Inland Empire) we've all seen quite a few real life relationships between actors & filmmakers fall apart following some kind of collaboration in front of or behind the camera. Obviously there are exceptions to this besides Egoyan & Khanjian (Cassavetes & Rowlands) but generally speaking, film collaborations between significant others can often push things to the breaking point in real life. 
Olivier Assayas & Maggie Cheung fell in love during the making of Irma Vep only to divorce 8 years later prior to finishing their 2nd collaboration; Clean (apparently they signed the divorce papers on set).
The same year Irma Vep was released, Steven Soderbergh re-emerged after a series of "flops" where he, like Assayas, directed, and co-starred with, his ex-wife (Betsy Brantley) in a film that partially deals with infidelity and the lack of communication in a marriage (Schizopolis).

Atom Egoyan (Right) in Calendar
Much has already been said in other reviews about the cultural/ethnic aspect of Calendar - The film is set in Atom Egoyan's motherland (Armenia) and it deals with the disconnect he has being there (he feels isolated and left out whenever his wife & Ashot casually speak Armenian around him because he doesn't know what they're saying). But I'm honestly more intrigued by Egoyan's focus on the insecurity of man. It takes a lot, especially for a man, to share the kinds of insecurities that many of us have. In film, women are generally portrayed as overly complicated, unreasonable, crying, psycho & childish when it comes to relationships. EVERYTHING makes them jealous and there's always the threat of them being cheated on. With men its usually simple - they suspect their significant other of being unfaithful and they resort to explosive violence. It's as if all men are incapable of complex feelings within a relationship or dont know how to deal with being cheated on without being violent. Calendar dispels that myth and shows a more complicated side of the stereotypical jealous insecure male partially thanks to the path James Spader helped make with his performance in Sex, Lies & Videotape. That performance was eventually "one-uped" by Danny Huston in the criminally underrated/barely seen Kruetzer Sonata (2008). Some credit is even due to Tom Cruise for his performance in Eyes Wide ShutNo matter how problematic Kubrick's final film was, that scene of Cruise in the back of the taxi after Nicole Kidman admitted that she almost cheated on him (used in my review of Only God Forgives) is pretty powerful.

Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989) / Kreutzer Sonata (2008)
It goes without saying that experimental cinema like Calendar isn't for everyone (especially in feature length form) but at the same time it branches out to so many other films & filmmakers that there's a good chance it's bound to be enjoyed by even the average movie watcher not familiar with Atom Egoyan (Calendar maintains a 100% rating on rotten tomatoes).


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