Friday, February 28, 2014


Although this isn’t a movie review, list or an essay, it still concerns Spike Lee (a film director) so it is movie-related in my opinion (go to facebook or huffington post if you want to get in to the issue of Gentrification...)

This morning I saw a New York Daily News article (a counter to Spike Lee's recent rant about gentrification in NYC) that made me raise my eyebrows and do a double take. It wasn’t even the actual article itself that got my attention. It was the cartoonish drawing of Lee with the oversized lips and extra large nose that bothered me. Now...I know it wasn’t the daily news' intention to make a racist/offensive drawing (at least I hope it wasn’t) but they kinda did (or least they're treading REALLY close to racism). If you work in the field of news, history, research, media or journalism, you have to be an idiot to not know a little history of how black people have been portrayed in the past...

Sorry, but Spike Lee's lips aren't that big and neither is his nose. I know those are black features (features I love and embrace) but I find the image at the beginning of this piece to be a little offensive. Now, I'm not so pigheaded to know that the point of cartoon art is to exaggerate certain features and whatnot, but why is that Spike Lee can be portrayed in cartoon form on shows like The Simpsons or The Critic without it being offensive?

Look, I understand his mouth/actions can get him in to (deserved) trouble sometimes, but he's been facing some seriously unnecessary hate/backlash these days. I mean, I disliked Redhook Summer just as much as anyone else and I also felt an Oldboy remake was pointless, but people need to relax a little bit. (WHITE) filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino & Oliver Stone say ridiculously stupid shit all the time and don’t get half the hate that Lee does. Remember when Oliver Stone spoke out against Breaking Bad last year? Let’s get keep it all the way real - had Spike Lee gone out of his way to speak out against everyone's favorite show Breaking Bad, he would have been publicly executed. I know Spike spoke out against Django Unchained (another movie everyone seems to mindlessly love) before seeing it, but guess what - not only is that movie actually bad on a cinematic level, it's also pretty offensive and disturbing. Tarantino had the nerve to say Roots wasn’t authentic and no one batted an eye.

I don't mean to divert people's attention away from the real topic at hand (the issue of gentrification) but when you're a black American with a pretty decent knowledge of the history of your people, like myself, it's difficult to just brush something like this aside and focus on "the bigger issue". In my opinion, this brings up a whole other issue now.

Also, did the (BLACK) person who wrote this article approve this cartoon image of Spike Lee? If so, maybe it's time to call the Drop Squad...

What do you guys think? Am I making a big out of nothing, or am I valid in my concern?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Lists used to be a regular thing here at PINNLAND EMPIRE, but for whatever reason I gave them a rest in favor of writing longer articles that most of you probably don't even finish reading once you start. It recently hit me that although its way too early to start deciding what the defining movies of the decade are, there's already quite a few isolated moments from the last 4+ years that are either so visually striking, prolific, heartbreaking, frightening, hilarious or a combination of everything that they deserve to be mentioned.

So as part of a new ongoing series, we're going to list my personal favorite movie moments of the decade so far.
I put an emphasis on the word personal because its just that. My own personal opinion. This list in no way speaks for anyone else. And please keep in mind that this is ongoing (as you're checking this third installment I'll already be putting the final touches on part five). So if you don't see something listed that you feel should be, give it some time. It may show up eventually. There's no order or hierarchy in what gets listed either.

FYI...six of the eight films represented in this installment are currently streaming on Netflix instant and if the other two aren't out on DVD & BLU-Ray yet, they will be eventually, so I don't wanna hear any of that; "no one has heard of, or seen any of these movies"

So here's part three. Enjoy...

The drill scene in Outrage
The older I get the more I see through the bullshit of looking at gangsters as “cool” figures. But for some strange reason Takeshi Kitano always manages to get me to root for his Yakuza characters. What makes this scene so memorable and effective is that it sort of comes out of nowhere. Kitano leads the audience to believe we’re about to see an execution-style shooting but it turns in to a funny bit of torture. In a moment that lasts for literally 5 seconds (the editing in this scene is subtly brilliant), Kitano makes the drill scene in Marathon Man look tame. I have an issue with men in their mid-20’s or older who “get off” on violence in cinema, but this scene is an exception.

A father/daughter moment in Pariah
Contrary to what cinema will often have you believe, Dads can be good guys from time to time (see other recent films like 35 Shots of Rum & Somewhere for further examples of this). Sure, they’re conflicted, imperfect and sometimes complicated, but they can still be good overall. Alike’s father in Pariah is, in my opinion, easily one of the most complex characters of the decade so far and represents so many real fathers I either know or know of. Throughout the film we go in & out of liking him. One minute he’s a cold asshole and the next minute he’s a supporting & caring father. But we’re still not sure what to make of him overall. However towards the end of the film he finally shows his true colors and has his daughter's back (which he should as a parent) when everyone else (including her mother) abandons her. Sure he still has some personal issues to work out but at the end of the day he stepped up and was there for his daughter, which is something we don't often see in modern cinema.

Going for a swim (Take This Waltz)
We’re going to be getting in to this one a little more in depth later on, but for now I’ll just say that this is probably one of the most frustrating films to come out in years (that’s both a good thing and a bad thing). In fact, this (beautiful) scene actually represents one of the many frustrating/upsetting decisions that our main character (played by Michelle Williams) continues to make through the course of the film. But this moment (highlighted by Jonathan Goldsmith’s amazing score) is so great and beautiful to watch that I had to include it (I often play this scene back a few times while watching this film). I almost wish this four minute montage was a standalone short completely separate from the rest of the film…

Alien shows off all of his shit in Spring Breakers
“The American Dream” on the big screen was a troublesome/scary/conflicting thing in 2013 thanks to The Wolf Of Wall Street, Pain & Gain and American Hustle. I mean, were we really supposed to like, understand or empathize with the characters in those films? And with films like Wolf and Pain & Gain, were we really supposed to be entertained by these shitty/horrific (REAL) events? I ask these questions because the tone of these stories clearly suggests that we should on some level. Spring Breaker is the one film from 2013 that shows how disgusting the American dream can be and how it consumes people, highlighted by this cribs-like montage where Alien (James Franco) gives us a tour of his home and shows off all his material possessions. While this scene is quite funny & entertaining, it also has a creepy & negative vibe to it as well.

The intro to Melancholia
Lars Von Trier is a button pushing troll but he still has tons of talent and possesses the ability to craft beautiful scenes like the opening montage of Melancholia

some time alone in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
I could honestly close my eyes and pick a few other equally great scenes from this excellent film but this moment here is just so haunting & moody that it’s stayed with me ever since I first saw it years ago…

face stomp (Drive)
Having watched Drive a few months ago, I’m happy to say that it still holds up and I love it just as much as I did in 2011. Like Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, there’s multiple scenes to choose from with this movie (which I probably will later on down the road) but right now I’m going with the elevator scene which, in my opinion, is the epitome of Nicolas Refn’s glossy, hypnotic, violent style that I love so much.

The final battle in 13 Assassins
You can have your big extravagant CGI battles from Lord Of The Rings or Pacific Rim. I’ll take the last 20 minutes of Takeshi Miike’s 13 Assassins over all of that. I’m well aware that the large majority of the blood splatter in this scene is mostly CGI but other than that, everything you see here is all done by the actors. I don’t normally like Miike’s work (Audition being the exception) so kudos to him for making a great film that I didn’t shut off or walk out of…


Did people just rush to their laptops seconds after Philip Seymour Hoffman's death to put out their "greatest performances" lists? I understand writing for publications like Indie wire & Huffington Post require that you churn out work fairly quickly but geez... Was I the only one who felt like some critics & bloggers already had their write-ups & dedications for Hoffman ready to go a little too fast? In my opinion, making any kind of a list that chronicles and/or pays homage to a career that spans two decades should require some kind of deep thought & reflection and I don't see how that could be done in 20 minutes.
So instead of naming off Hoffman's greatest performances and adding to the pile of almost identical lists that you've already seen on the Internet over the past few weeks, I'll give you a rundown of how many times Philip Seymour Hoffman came up in conversation organically in my day to day life (in just a little over a month) prior to his death, which, in my opinion, is the best way to show how great of an actor he was and how much he affected a common cinephile like me.

January 6th 2014
After the great response I got from you all on The Cinema Of Abel Ferrara at the beginning of the year, I immediately went to work on two new entries simultaneously. One on Todd Solondz and one on Hal Hartley. While Hoffman never worked with the latter, his role in Solondz' Happiness is one of his most memorable performances and it played a huge part of catapulting him in to the next decade as one of cinema's leading actors (it was part of that two years period where he showed up in everything from The Big Lebowski & Boogie Nights to Happiness & Magnolia).
So for the majority of January I spent a decent amount of time looking at stills of Hoffman from Happiness, trying to get the right screen grabs to use for my future blog entry which should be ready at some point in April or May...

January 26th 2014
While hanging out at my studio with a buddy of mine, we got in to a conversation about underrated performances by great actors and Hoffman's name eventually came up. To my surprise, he'd never seen or heard of Paul Thomas Anderson's feature film debut Hard 8. Naturally I had to pull up his one scene from that film on YouTube and as I imagined, he was enthralled by Hoffman's hilariously obnoxious performance as the nameless craps player...

Various points in January 2014
I know this sounds weird, but I sometimes work out to movie clips on YouTube instead of music (and yes, people working out next to me often look over my shoulder with curiosity). Two of the clips on heavy rotation are Hoffman's breakdown in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead and the "SHUT UP!" scene from Punch Drunk Love. I must have watched these scenes at least three times each in January while working out on the elliptical at New York Sports Club.

February 1st 2014
The Matser

My girlfriend and I had the pleasure of having dinner with Lelia Goldoni recently. While hanging out with John Cassavetes' iconic actress, we discussed everything from movies & the public school system to race & religion. At some point in the conversation the subject of a certain faith-based organization founded by a controversial sub-par science fiction writer came up. Naturally I inquired if Lelia had seen Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (a film that's loosely based on the aforementioned organization). She hadn't, but when I mentioned that Hoffman portrayed a character loosely based on the said real life controversial writer, she quickly replied: "Oh, I Love him!"

I wouldn't be able to live with myself right now if I referred to Philip Seymour Hoffman as the greatest actor of our generation. I don't remember too many people saying that about him when he was alive so it feels weird saying it now (I'm willing to bet had someone like Daniel Day Lewis or Denzel Washington passed away instead of Hoffman everyone would be saying the same exact thing about one of them instead). I don't even know if he's one of my personal favorite actors. But I do know his presence played a huge part in my movie watching since the late 90's so I felt slightly obligated to write a lil' something about him


Wednesday, February 19, 2014


As I was reading over Leanne's latest contribution to PINNLAND EMPIRE, I came to the realization that both of these films, along with the man responsible making them, are a little special to me - Early on in our relationship, I took my now fiancée; Sharon, to see Pina, while Wings Of Desire was the last film Claire Denis worked on before stepping out on her own to make her feature film debut (Wings Of Desire Co-Star Solveig Dommartin actually starred in Denis' sophomore feature as well).

So take some time outta your day to read the first guest writing of the year while I try to restore/rewrite some lost content and decide if I wanna write something on Philip Seymour Hoffman or not.
Also be sure to check out Leanne's film blog; LMK Film Pics...



This documentary has a deceiving title; if you are expecting to learn about choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance methods, this is not the film for you. The quote included on the promotional poster, ‘Dance, Dance, Otherwise We Are Lost’ would have been an excellent title because this is a documentary primarily about image and not factual information. Who is Pina Baush? Where was she born, how did she develop her style, when was her dance company established, etc.? Well, I wouldn’t know unless I read about her after the fact, as none of this is covered in the film. Originally projected in 3D (I viewed it in standard 2D), Wenders cuts major works by Bausch with dances staged in nature, on public transportation and on busy roadways to showcase the striking beauty and emotional theatricality of her art and her troop of dancers.

When I stated that there is little to no biographical information presented in this documentary about the eponymous woman, there is also hardly any information about the dancers or the pieces either. Early on female dancers are shown laying on a stage filled with soil and then a familiar bassoon solo is heard. I thought, “Ah, The Rite of Spring, excellent! Wait, this is not the correct choreography. What?” Luckily, I am a Stravinsky fan or I would have been completely lost. There is no title to identify this as "The Rite of Spring" and no explanation of the divergence from the original ballet choreography. Baush’s piece is primal, grimy and terrifying but also very confusing. I want to know how this version was conceived and the intended meaning. Was the reception as negative as with Nijinsky’s choreography? No answers are provided and only certain sections of Baush’s piece are shown. It is visually arresting but frustrating; if the entire piece was shown it would be a performance film and no answers would be expected, but this is a documentary and there are cuts within the piece, which is a very disorienting stylistic choice on Wender’s part. The camera captures the sinuous dancers in an intimate fashion which brings you onto the stage with them. The pity is that the pieces are cut randomly and give little context for what the dances represent.

Almodovar’s Talk to Her showcases Baush’s piece "Café Muller" in a more understandable fashion, to my estimation. That film overtly implied the dance’s meaning by having Marco and Benigno seated together at the recital. They were going to try, maybe fail, at saving the women they love. That brief scene was more instructive on the theme of the piece than the footage in this documentary. Two dancers discuss the work and examine a scale set of the area strewn with chairs, but a good deal more commentary could have been added to lend some comprehension to the proceedings.

Talk To Her
Talk To Her
Having a terse sentence: “You just have to get crazier” be the explanation of Pina’s choreography advice is frustrating. I’m genuinely curious why one piece has a dancer declare, “This is veal!”, has her insert veal into her shoes and proceeds to dance en pointe outside of a factory. The audience is given this incredibly weird and off-putting image and it is quickly cut to reveal another snippet of a greater piece. The dancers receive my deepest admiration and Baush as well, but this documentary should have stayed with the pieces a while longer. Take time to breathe with the dances instead of cutting through as many as possible without examination. The documentary suffers from a lack of focus which could be attributed to the fact of Baush dying only a few days after she had revealed to her loved ones that she had cancer. A shock like that would throw the center off assuredly, but due to this being a documentary, maybe sharing that information would have helped.

Wings of Desire (1987)

Wenders produced a masterpiece with this story of angels in Berlin watching over humans. He infused beauty, humor and love, without pretention, into a setting that includes a circus with an introspective trapeze artist, angels outfitted in trench coats trading the details of human activities, Peter Falk playing himself and unexpectedly, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for good measure. To be so personally affected by a film that I literally cry throughout the whole picture while also laughing is a gift. In other hands and with other players this film would have been trite; the magic Wenders worked cannot be understated.
I have never before and will probably never again view such a life affirming film. It’s absurd in a way that a story taking place in a dingy, ripped-apart city with the most fraught past could exude such wonderment. Starting the film with an old man singing and writing on paper, “Als das Kind Kind war…” “When the child was a child…” is the main point of the entire story. Live with childlike wonder and openness, live “Now, now, NOW!” as Damiel the angel (Bruno Ganz) says.

Wenders’ use of black and white interspersed with the most blinding, enrapturing color is dazzling. A bold instance of color finds Marion (Solveig Dommartin) sitting on her bed after flying on the trapeze, musing about life. Her inner thoughts are philosophical, dark and confused. “Emptiness. Fear. Fear. Fear.” Troubling thoughts perhaps but laced with “the desire to love.” Marion broods yet moves on, accepts her sadness, works with it and hopes for better things. The beauty of human vulnerability and the ability to imagine better days is highlighted by the bursts of color throughout the film.

When Damiel first experiences blood he happily licks it and smiles, “It has a taste!” To find delight in such a thing is childlike but also needed. To examine and experience the happiness of surprise is an act we do not engage in enough. Damiel does not always live in the moment, as when he sits in the empty field where the Alekan Circus had been parked. He yearns for Marion feeling the sadness of being just a little bit too late. Cassiel the angel (Otto Sander) looks over him with compassion, knowing that he will return to the present moment to soldier forth. Longing is the reason why Damiel became human in the first place, so his frustration is poignant and well placed. 

Special note must be made about Peter Falk’s participation as himself. This is not stunt casting; his performance is sweet sincere perfection. His interactions as a famous man acting graciously with movie extras, “extra people” as his inner-voice calls them, are wonderful. He asks an older woman permission to sketch her picture. He does a nice job yet inside he thinks to himself, “Someday you’ll make a good drawing. I hope, I hope, I hope…” His doubt in his artistic abilities is very reassuring. Even Peter Falk doubts himself, one of the great actors! Falk’s normalizing part is played with humbleness and abundant glee. When Damiel exclaims, “I want to know everything!” Peter replies with a crinkly smile, “That you have to find out yourself. That’s the fun of it.”

Writing about this film can veer into sentimental territory; to watch it and realize the splendor and sorrow of life is sublime. I find the image of a woman sitting alone in a laundromat supremely moving. The orange machines stretch out before her as she sits. This is life and it is gorgeous. So mundane, so lonely, but to be alive, to see orange washings machines! Ah, it is fantastic!

Friday, February 14, 2014


In keeping with my tradition of writing about Wong Kar Wai films on & around Valentine's Day, I decided to write about his last solid effort. It's a little disappointing how luke-warm he's been in recent years. You've already read my thoughts on the disappointing My Blueberry Nights, and his latest effort wasn’t that great either. Granted, I have not seen the supposedly better directors cut of The Grandmaster - WKW's "ok", yet overrated, embellished story about IP Man (Bruce Lee's teacher/mentor) but I'm highly skeptical that some additional scenes & editing could make it anything better than just "ok". I'm surprised at all the praise it got last year. As I've said before - sometimes we get so caught up in who directed something that we allow it to cloud our true feelings about a film's status. I understand Wong Kar Wai is one of the modern day living legends but it's ok to admit when he does something underwhelming (not bad, just underwhelming). WKW rarely delivers a film that's just above average so people have a hard time accepting that when it really happens (like in the case of The Grandmaster). Prior to My Blueberry Nights his only "ok" movie was As Tears Go By which was his first feature so it gets a pass. Even when he made films in a hurry they turned out great (Chungking Express). But are you guys gonna honestly tell me you weren’t bored or, dare I say, slightly confused at certain plot points in The Grandmaster? I certainly was, and I have no shame in admitting that. I used to think 2046 was without any fault simply because it was directed by a modern legend. I was so caught up in the mystique of having a WKW film released in my adult life that I'd deemed 2046 a classic before I saw it. But a couple of years ago I came to the realization that it could have used some SERIOUS editing. It's like towards the last 20-30 minutes WKW turned in to Peter Jackson and just refused to end the movie. It kept going & going.
But putting that bit of criticism aside, 2046 is still a really good film. Not since Days Of Being Wild (1991) had Wong Kar Wai centered a story around an asshole antihero. Furthermore, we never saw Tony Leung play that kind of a role under the direction of Wong Kar Wai. Since the beginning of their 2+ decade long relationship we saw Leung get dumped by his girlfriends (Chunking Express), taken advantage of by his boyfriend (Happy Together) and cheated on by his wife (In The Mood For Love). No matter how cool he came off in every on of those films, he was still the quintessential art house sap. 2046 was his turn to be the asshole.
This was also the last collaboration between WKW and his regular cinematographer; Christopher Doyle. Much like how Hal Hartley stopped working with Martin Donovan, or Wim Wenders stopped working with Robby Muller or Scorsese & Deniro, WKW's work hasnt been the same since the departure of Doyle.

2046 is the final film in WKW's unofficial trilogy along with Days Of Being Wild & In The Mood For Love ("2046" being a reference to a hotel room # from In The Mood For Love). In the film we follow Chow (Tony Leung) after the events of In The Mood For Love. After being cheated on by his wife and never consummating a relation with Su (Maggie Cheung), Chow becomes a science fiction writer/world traveler/playboy (he's made an unofficial pact to live his life as a player and to never fall in love again). Instead of being the loyal/faithful husband we knew him as in In The Mood For Love, he now goes to bed with a different woman almost every night. But It's more than obvious that this new extra masculine version of Chow we see in 2046 is a front. He puts up this cool unfazed facade, but in reality he's still hurting from past relationships. The 2046 Chow may be somewhat different than the average sensitive leading man that we're used to in a Wong Kar Wai film, but that element of sensitivity & vulnerability (which we seldom see in leading men in cinema) is still there.

Because 2046 & In The Mood For Love are so deeply connected with each other more than any other combination of WKW's films, he reuses a lot of similar shots throughout…

2046 / In The Mood For Love
2046 / In The Mood For Love
2046 / In The Mood For Love
2046 is broken up in to chapters. WKW takes us in to Chow's romantic relationships following the break up with his wife. His most memorable & impactful girlfriend/fling/relationship is with "Bai Ling" (Zhang Ziyi) who is probably the most (possibly only?) tough female character that Wong Kar Wai has ever crafted. Like Chow, she puts up a tough/unapproachable exterior, but the more they start to genuinely fall for each other, the more their facade's starts to come down. But does Chow decide to settle down with Bai Ling or continue to live his life as a player? The story of 2046 is also intercut with fictitious scenes from a science fiction novel that Chow is currently working on (a story within a story in the style of Adaptation, CQ, etc).
The problem with Chow's past that WKW creates is that it feels like there's a whole entire movie we missed between In The Mood For Love & 2046. Wong just kind of breezes through Chow's past and in certain points in 2046 there's flashbacks or references to things that we aren’t in on. Basically, 2046 becomes a little too familiar at times and assumes we know what’s going on. I also didn’t like that Maggie Cheung’s Su only appears in the film through archival footage from In The Mood For Love. That part of the film felt very cut & paste.

2046 doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, but there's still plenty of romance, love & sensuality in almost every frame of the film (even parts that were a little boring). If you have the patience and understand that certain parts of this film lingers on when it doesn’t have to, this is a nice alternative to the average romantic comedies & love stories that people are drawn too on this day.
2046 isn’t so much the end of a saga but rather it brings the story of Chow full circle as it ties in to the first film within the trilogy. There’s a moment at the end of Days Of Being Wild where an unnamed character, played By Tony Leung, is preparing to go out for the night. Some might say this is the best part of the film even though it comes out of nowhere and really has nothing to do with the rest of story in Days Of Being Wild. Prior to the release of 2046, that moment had a lot of mystery and mystique to it. But once you watch Tony Leung in 2046 and think back on that infamous scene at the end of Days Of Being Wild, you can’t help but wonder if it's supposed to be a random moment from Chow's life following the events of In The Mood For Love. In reality, Days Of Being Wild was supposed to have a separate story starring Tony Leung but almost all of it was cut minus that final scene. But if you ignore that bit of factual information, it's nice to pretend that Wong Kar Wai was ahead of his time and had his loose trilogy all planned out years in advance...

Monday, February 10, 2014


Lists used to be a regular thing on here at PINNLAND EMPIRE, but for whatever reason I gave them a rest in favor of writing longer articles that most of you probably don't even finish reading once you start. It recently hit me that although its way too early to start deciding what the defining movies of the decade are, there's already quite a few isolated moments from the last 4+ years that are either so visually striking, prolific, heartbreaking, frightening, hilarious or a combination of everything that they deserve to be mentioned.

So as part of a new ongoing series, we're going to list my personal favorite movie moments of the decade so far.
I put an emphasis on the word personal because its just that. My own personal opinion. This list in no way speaks for anyone else. And please keep in mind that this is ongoing (as you're checking this second installment I'll already be putting the final touches on part five). So if you don't see something listed that you feel should be, give it some time. It may show up eventually. There's no order or hierarchy in what gets listed either.

FYI...five of the eight films represented in this installment are currently streaming on Netflix instant, and two of the others can be bought on DVD or Blu-Ray just about anywhere, so I don't wanna hear any of that; "no one has heard of or seen any of these movies"

So here's part two. Enjoy...

"Go back to Toronto" (Alps)
Diabetes is rarely explored in cinema and when it is, it’s usually in a film that I don’t like. While Uncle Boonmee & The Tree Of Life touch on personal issues that I relate too like Kidney Disease & the career path I’ve chosen, this scene from Alps touched a chord in me because it’s just as touching & intimate as it is funny & awkward. I know it’s immature but I usually deal with my serious health issues (like type 2 diabetes, which I have) through humor, all while being completely conscious of how serious it really is, and this scene really captures that mindset.

The wedding scene in Mother Of George
I love weddings and I also don’t. It’s always wonderful to watch two people form a union and start a new chapter in their lives, but it's also a big production of sitting, standing, dressing up in uncomfortable clothes, etc. But the beginning of Mother Of George looks like the most fun wedding I’ve seen in a movie (or in real life) since Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding

Accepting Death in Toy Story 3
this was a kids movie??

The woman who laughs (House Of Tolerance)
I could seriously think of at least three other polarizing scenes from this underrated film on brothels in the early 1900’s (we'll be seeing this film in this series again) but this one is by far my favorite. It's like watching a real life oil painting come to life. 
After getting her face slashed at the beginning of the film, Madeline obviously can no longer make money working in a brothel given that her main asset (her face) is now damaged goods. But midway in to the film she’s reborn as “The Woman Who Laughs” and is essentially turned in to an attraction at a massive orgy. What’s strange is that this scene should really be heartbreaking and/or upsetting. I mean, it pretty much represents the objectification of women. But for some strange reason, Bertrand Bonello makes this a very arousing & intriguing moment.

Freddie escapes in The Master
This one is special because it’s the first scene in the series from a film that I’m not very fond of. I respect Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambition to make this film and, I’m still amazed that it was even allowed to be made in the first place given the shots it fires at a certain organization. But I honestly found this movie to be overrated, misguided and almost boring. However this scene of Joaquin Phoenix running away from the migrant workers, which is reminiscent of Adam Sandler running away from the thugs in PT Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, is just great. From the way this scene is framed to the sound design, to the rhythm of the landscape surrounding him, to the gray-ish atmosphere - everything in these 20 seconds or so is just haunting.

"That's like puttin' a marshmallow in a parking meter" - Joyce McKinney (Tabloid)
Joyce McKinney is quite the character and this quote from Errol Morris’ Tabloid, on whether or not it’s possible for a man to be raped by a woman, is probably the greatest one-liner she says in this documentary

Marie & Francis are over Nicolas (Heartbeats)
I know it’s typical for a young hipster filmmaker to draw upon icons like Godard, Anna Karina & Audrey Hepburn, but this scene is priceless (plus, Xavier Dolan makes Montreal Hipsters seem pretty cool). This scene in Heartbeats is another scenario we can all relate too which is that moment when you beat yourself up for being attracted too or involved with someone who was never really worth it in the first place.

The Avengers assemble
Maybe it’s the little kid in me, but I’m really loving what Marvel studios is doing these days with all the Avenger-related movies. Not only are Ironman, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and rest of the gang intertwined in the same cinematic universe, but they’ve also branched off into a whole 'nother world with Guardians Of The Galaxy. The large majority of The Avengers features quite a few scenes with various combinations of our heroes sharing screen time with one another, but nothing like this one shot here where all six of them assemble together…

Friday, February 7, 2014


The Place Beyond The Pines has just as many moments of greatness as it does moments of spottiness. Based on the talent involved (in front of & behind the camera) and the excellent trailer that was cut - this was something I thought would be a masterpiece, yet the final result ended up being a pretty uneven movie. I say uneven because the first 45 minutes are excellent while the next 90 minutes walk the line between intriguing & uninteresting (dare I say boring?). I recognize & appreciate director Derek Cianfrance's ambition but I don’t give his latest effort a complete pass. I liken this film to that of a student taking a really hard exam who doesn't necessarily know all the correct answers, but still shows their work in order to get some credit. Sure they ended up getting a B-, but at the end of the day they could have gotten an A had they studied harder.

But why should such an ambitious film like The Place Beyond The Pines be measured in terms of grades? That's a little insulting for the kind of project it was. Between the film's length, time span of the story and the actual plot; this was a bit of a risk/experimentation in a sense. Some of you might not agree with that statement, but a film can be "experimental" without delving in to the world of Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren or Kenneth Anger. Look at the cinema of Michael Mann. You wouldn't consider his work to be experimental at first, but as pointed out in the recent You Hate Everything Podcast, one could say films like Miami Vice and even Public Enemies are experimental/avant garde studio action movies. Anyone familiar with Mann's work knows how free and sometimes (intentionally) random his camera work can be when compared to other conventional action films. How many studio filmmakers besides him can you name that let the camera linger the way it does in Miami Vice or allow it to suddenly go blurry like in Collateral or Ali? The same loose interpretation of "experimental" applies to The Place Beyond The Pines as well. Besides being a layered story about the relationship between two different sets of fathers & sons that cross paths with one another in various ways over the span of 15 years, I feel like Derek Cianfrance was trying to take a page out of the book of James Gray and take it to another level by combining elements of the family melodrama with elements of realistic action & suspense. He also took a big risk by killing off the film's biggest (and most promoted) star long before we even reach the halfway mark. The length of this film is a little odd too, clocking in at 140 minutes. The Place Beyond The Pines is filled with bank robberies, murder, coming of age, police corruption, romance and more. Derek Cianfrance almost crammed a mini-series worth of content into a feature length film (seriously, if he wanted too, this story could have branched off in to so many different directions like The Wire or Twin Peaks). Part of me wanted this to be 45 minutes longer in order for it to feel more cohesive. But who wants to sit through a three hour long movie these days?

Set in upstate New York, the first part of the story follows "Luke Glanton" - a motorcycle stunt driver that's part of a traveling carnival. After a one night stand with a local townie ("Romina", played by Eva Mendas) Luke leaves town only to return a year later to discover he's the father of Romina's one year old son, although she’s now moved on and married too another man. Faced with the dilemma of wanting to support his illegitimate son with very little income, Luke turns to robbing banks in order to make money. His successful string of bank robberies is eventually put to an end by an ambitious young cop by the name of "Avery Cross" (Bradley Cooper).
How Luke went as long as he did without getting caught is a little perplexing to me. Not only does this story take place in a small town, but he uses the same loud recognizable motorcycle that he rides around town with as his getaway vehicle. Yes, he spray paints the bike a different color every time he does a bank job, but it still makes that same loud revving noise. No one in that small quiet town could make the connection between a bank robber who rides away on a motorcycle and a mysterious guy who recently rolled in to town that also happens to ride around town on a motorcycle? And without giving any more away than I already have, the only reason Luke is eventually caught is because he gets sloppy. It’s not like the police had any leads. I hate to be that guy to get all technical and pull out the rule book, but last time I checked, Derek Cianfrance is a filmmaker who goes for realism in his work. If that's your thing (which it certainly is) you open yourself up to that kind of criticism.

Like Luke, Avery Cross also has a one year old son which makes for a nice transition. Once Avery enters the story and Luke exits (which is putting it lightly), the film shifts and we focus on him and his discovery of police corruption within his department. Will he turn a blind eye to whats going on around him, or will he turn his fellow officers in to internal affairs?
The story then jumps 15 years ahead and we learn that Avery climbed his way up the ranks and is now a politician. By chance, his degenerate teenage son ("AJ") ends up going to the same high school as Luke Glanton's teenage son ("Jason") and they eventually befriend each other until the sins of both of their father's reemerge and cause a major conflict between the two boys (Jason & AJ are completely unaware that their fathers crossed paths with each other 15 years ago). 
The third act primarily focuses on Jason and the void he feels having not known his real father. I was a bit conflicted with Jason’s story. On one hand I get the angst of not knowing who your biological father is but Jason still had a positive male role model in the form his stepfather/Romina’s husband “Kofi” (The Walking Dead’s Mahershala Ali). It was brought to my attention, via my girlfriend, that once Jason eventually discovered who his father was and the things he did, that he should have appreciated his stepfather even more. Sure, there’d be some initial disappointment in learning that your biological father was a violent bank robber with a criminal past, but once those feelings eventually went away, Jason should have realized he had something that many kids in his situation don’t when their biological father isn’t around – a steady positive male figure, like his stepdad, to fill the void. 
Derek Cianfrance shows multiple father archetypes in The Place Beyond The Pines – The dysfunctional/absentee father (Luke), the good father (Kofi), The complicated father (Avery), etc. He tried his best to show multiple shades of fatherhood and didn’t simplify things like so many filmmakers often do with that subject. This is why I appreciate The Place Beyond The Pines no matter how flawed it is. Fathers in cinema are usually one-note or play the background. They deserve a spotlight too. I also appreciate that the one non-dysfunctional father in this whole film is a black male.
Kofi is just another example of someone or something that could have branched off to its own storyline that the film just  didn't have time for (again, maybe this would have been better off as a miniseries?)

Another problem for me with The Place Beyond The Pines was Bradley Cooper's presence (both the character he plays and his performance). And I don’t say "problem" like his acting was bad. To be honest, I can’t even think of another actor who could have played his role or done a better job than him. It's just that his presence is a little forgettable yet he's supposed to be carrying the last two thirds of the film. Going back to Michael Mann for a moment, when I think of Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond The Pines I sometimes go; "Oh yeah, he was in this." the same way I think about Public Enemies and go "Oh yeah, that movie does exist.” There's something bland and/or redundant about Cooper's character and his performance is a little one-note through the whole second act. From The Prince Of The City to The Glass Shield, we've all seen the story of the young cop faced with the dilemma of having to turn on his corrupt brothers in blue. And when the story makes that 15 year jump he's suddenly a politician. I personally didn’t have an issue with the time lapse but I understand people's frustration with the sudden change in Cooper's character. 
I say all this without any extra Bradley Cooper hate. I know that the combination of the Hangover movies and him becoming an A-list actor in recent years has brought on some detractors but he doesn’t bother me. I thought he was great in both Silver Linings Playbooks & American Hustle and he also co-starred in Wet Hot American Summer so I can never fully hate him for that alone.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a bit of a paradox in that it’s already pretty long yet it still makes a 15 year jump and leaves a huge gap. But I feel like the same people who complained about the sudden 15 year jump would have complained if the film was over three hours long and had filled in all the gaps they complained about in the first place. Did we really need to see a meticulous layout of Avery Cross’ transition for being a police officer to becoming a politician? Did we really need to see both AJ & Luke grow from the babies we saw in the first act to the misguided teens they become in the third act? Personally I think Cianfrence gives enough information as to what’s transpired over the years, but I guess some viewers wanted everything spelled out.

There were also complaints about the lack of prominent female character but, without trying to be sexist, at the end of the day this is a story about men in the same way that everything from Ms. 45 & Variety to The Color Purple & The Hours are stories about women (generally speaking). The Place Beyond The Pines had been marketed as a tale about fathers & sons since 2012. What did people honestly expect? And even though Rose Byrne's role as Bradley Cooper's wife could have been filled by just about anyone, Eva Mendes honestly held her own and did her part in leaving some type of strong female presence in a film dominated by so many men. That’s not the easiest task, so props to her. Come to think of it, this might be the best acting she's ever done.
And let’s be honest here...although Bradley Cooper surprised some of us with his Academy Award nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook, Ryan Gosling's role as a brooding stunt motorcyclist/bank robber was this film's biggest draw because it reminded some of us of Drive (although if you’ve actually seen both films, you’d know that they’re quite different). Gosling getting killed off in the first act didn’t sit too well with a lot of people. But that was honestly one of my favorite things about The Place Beyond The Pines. This was another risk/experiment Derek Cianfrance took that I really respect. I don’t know what it is, but a lot of American filmmakers seem to be afraid to kill off big stars early on in films these days and I'm sure A-list stars don't want to be eliminated so early on in big films either. This is why I love directors like Mike Leigh, Michael Haneke & Claire Denis. The same actors that star in their films come back to play very minor roles for them later on. A star like Gosling could have easily pulled an Ed Norton power move and demanded more screen time but he played his part along with a few other actors who had small but memorable roles in this like Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelshon & Bruce Greenwood.

2013 was a strange year for Ryan Gosling. You almost forgot that he was in three films last year. Between 2010-2011 it seemed like he could do no wrong. On paper you'd think 2013 was gonna be a repeat of his success from a couple of years ago. He reunited with the same directors that he shared success with in the past (Derek Cianfrance/The Place Beyond The Pines & Nicolas Winding Refn/Only God Forgives), he became a successful Internet meme and was still quite popular even though he wasn't in anything released theatrically in 2012. However in 2013, Only God Forgives' theatrical run came & went faster than the beating his character took in the very same movie and both; Gangster Squad & The Place Beyond The Pines were released in the early part of 2013 which made them pretty forgettable. Releasing Gangster Squad in January made sense. It's just one of those movies you wanna get out of the way early on in the year. But even with all of its flaws, The Place Beyond The Pines deserved the respect of getting a later release in 2013 when movies aren’t so forgettable. Think about it, how many academy award nominated films from any year (this year especially) were released prior to May? Now...I don't know how much of a difference it would have made releasing this later in the year as it would have had to compete with The Wolf Of Wall Street, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis and American Hustle (also co-starring Bradley Cooper).

The Place Beyond The Pines is about more than just the sins of fathers coming back to haunt their sons. It's also about the bad decisions we sometimes make or the lies we tell in the moment because we think they'll make things better when instead they just build up and weigh on us. In the case of the characters in this movie, things continue to build up and weigh on our characters for 15 years.
What very few critics seem to be addressing is that Luke didn't really need to rob banks in order to provide for his son. Romina had a husband & Jason a father (Kofi). Luke just had a skewed perception of what a father/provider was supposed to be because, as he mentions, his own father wasn't around so he had no model to look up to. Plus it's obvious he enjoyed the thrill of being a criminal too.
And Luke isn't the only character to make poor choices. After the fatal showdown between he & Avery at the end of the first act, Avery lies in his police report about who shot who first, and from that moment on his life becomes more & more stressful.
Perhaps if Romina just explained to Jason what his biological father Luke was really like instead of keeping it a secret (which only built up 15 years worth of curiosity) he wouldn't have felt so much angst growing up.

This is the kind of film that'll be reevaluated years down the line by those who were initially put off by certain aspects of it or didn't understand some of the choices that Derek Cianfrance made. Maybe I'll change my stance on the issues I have. I'll probably never consider The Place Beyond The Pines a prefect film, but it's definitely worthy of  some serious analysis and it won't be forgotten as the decade continues on...


Here's part four of The Whole History Of My Life.

U.S. Go Home. Enjoy...


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