Friday, September 26, 2014


Hey Guys,

I’m here to let you know about another cool film project that’s currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign. I’m not going to blast just any ol’ movie project on kickstarter or indiegogo that I didn’t personally think had something to offer. The synopsis of The Quantified Self really caught my attention as it seems to flow in the same lane as films like Primer, Upstream Color or even more random stuff like Meet The Applegates

A driven, haunted father of two, Lozinski, feels compelled to record all aspects of his day and takes pride in his healthy but strict lifestyle choices. He lives with his wife, Clare and their twin daughters, Daniela1 and Daniela2 in a secluded farmhouse away from outside influences. Under Lozinski's watchful eye (and a mysterious Pillar), the family constantly tracks and seeks to improve their diet, sleep, fitness levels, brain activity, and relationships. While Clare and Daniela1 successfully adhere to Lozinski's demands for data collection and improvement, Daniela2, with her more natural personality, proves a tougher sell. Under mounting pressure from her family, Daniela2’s inability—or perhaps unwillingness—to fall in line threatens to tear either her or the family apart.

Below is a link to the page where you can donate to make this project happen. They’re offering an amazing opportunity for filmmakers to have a free one month membership to (where the project is currently being spotlighted) for a donation as low as $5 (click the link below to see all the other cool packages they’re offering right now)

Monday, September 22, 2014


*Disclaimer: you really shouldn't read this unless you're AT LEAST familiar with Henry Fool (and happen to remember a few small details from it). If not, almost nothing in this review will make any sense. Reading on without any knowledge of the characters in the Henry Fool universe would be like reading Lord Of The Rings fan fiction without knowing anything about The Lord Of The Rings*

One of the best things about Ned Rifle, the third & presumably last film in the Henry Fool saga, is that it keeps the references to Fay Grim (the 2nd film in the series) to a minimum. Fay (Parker Posey) is now in prison serving a life sentence from the events in the 2nd film, but other than that there's really no other mention of anything else that happened in Fay Grim. I don't want to start this review off on a sour note, but I really didn't like Fay Grim. I give Hal Hartley much respect for taking on such an ambitious project (he touched on everything from globalization to coexisting religions in America), but it just didn't work for me. I guess I liked the idea of the dysfunctional family from Queens that we came to love in Henry Fool (the first film) suddenly caught up in a world of terrorism, globetrotting & espionage, but the actual final product just wasn't my cup of tea (I'm saying this as respectfully as possible given that I'm a diehard Hal Hartley fan). In the first film our colorful characters dealt with realistic/personal issues like trust, friendship & child abuse. Then suddenly those same characters got thrown in to a quirky Tom Clancy-esque world of spies & secret agents in Fay Grim. It was clear that Hartley became attached to the wonderful characters he created from his original film and he didn't want to let them go.
Ned Rifle has way more of a connection to Henry Fool (Simon Grim even goes back to wearing his original garbage man outfit). I liken the Henry Fool trilogy to the original Mario Brothers trilogy for Nintendo

allow me to nerd out for a minute...

For those of you who are equally knowledgeable in art-house cinema as well as old school video games - remember how much different the 2nd Mario brothers video game looked in comparison to the first & third ones? The same thing applies to these movies. It's almost like Fay Grim was a dream and now we're back to reality. The only other minor connection/similarity that Ned Rifle has with Fay Grim is that some of the characters in both films have taken on new identities in an effort to deceive some of the other characters.

Ned Grim through the years: Henry Fool / Fay Grim / Ned Grim

As some of you may know, each one of these films focuses on a character whose life is drastically changed by Henry (the degenerate central character in this saga). In the first film it was Henry's friend/brother-in-law Simon Grim. In the sequel it's his wife Fay Grim. In part three we focus on Henry's son...
In Ned Rifle, we pick up with an 18 year old, newly religious Ned Grim. With his mother (Fay) in prison and his father (Henry) still on the run (again - you kinda have to see Fay Grim to understand), he's been living the last couple of years in the witness protection program (under the moniker "Ned Rifle") under the care of a loving religious foster family (played by old school Hal Hartley regulars Martin Donovan & Karen Sillas). Now that Ned is an adult, he plans to move out of his foster home, find his father Henry, and kill him for ruining his mother's life.
Along his quest to find his father, Ned picks up a companion in the form of "Susan" - a young grad student whose dedicated her life to the work of Ned's famous uncle Simon Grim - a world renown poet and former garbage man who is now taking a stab at stand-up comedy.
As the story progresses we learn that Susan isn't really who or what she says she is. In fact, she has a relationship with Henry that Ned isn't even aware of.

Karen Sillas & Martin Donovan
My biggest gripe as a Hal Hartley fan surrounding this film is that critics seem to be mostly concerned with Aubrey Plaza's presence. I know she's the biggest name in the movie, so she's going to draw the most attention. But at the end of the day Ned Rifle was made for fans like me who are familiar with Hartley's universe. We watched the same actors/characters for three movies. Aubrey Plaza is a new addition to a story with characters that have 17 years of history with some of us. Presenting this movie as if it's centered around just her (which many critics coming out of Toronto have kinda been doing), is going to give the wrong idea.
But I don't mean to downplay her. If you know how Hartley directs his actors then you can imagine that Plaza is a perfect fit with her usual apathetic/bored delivery. She gave a surprisingly good performance in this and her character is pretty important to the story (it might be good to revisit Henry Fool before watching this).
In addition to the Henry Fool/Fay Grim references, Hartley uses almost all of his original stock actors (with the exception of Edie Falco & Chuck Montgomery). For fans like me - seeing Martin Donovan, Karen Sillas, Bill Sage & Robert John Burke in a recent Hal Hartley film is like seeing Robert Deniro, Harvey Keitel, Frank Vincent & Joe Pesci show up in a new Martin Scorsese film all of a sudden.

In typical Hal Hartley fashion there's plenty of semi-deadpan quirkiness; religious figures; (intentionally) dry yet prolific delivery from the actors; well choreographed movements; and a finale that leaves it up to the viewers to decide if certain characters are redeemed or not (actually, the ending is pretty similar to the end of Hartley’s1994 film Amateur).

Friday, September 19, 2014


Hey all,

my good friend/sometimes music collaborator/fellow cinephile/all around good guy: Mtume Gant (also an actor whose appeared in films like Hurricane Streets, Bringing Out The Dead & Carlito's Way 2: Rise To Power) is making a short film called Spit!

In the filmmakers own words - 

Spit is an attempt to unpack the experience that so many artists fall victim to. It follows Jeremiah “Monk-One” Sinclair, an underground NY Hip Hop artist, as he reaches the conclusion to let his vocation go simply because he feels it causes him more pain to practice and “starve” for his art than to persevere. But unlike normal films where we watch the lead character go through their trial like a silent intruder, Spit will take a different perspective. It will be a point-of-view film, totally from the eyes of Monk-One. Inspired by the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, his masterpiece The Mirror in particular, the film will focus less on narrative and will instead aim to be an experience of life through heartbeat and breath. Using the camera as his eyes and brain, we shall witness his viewpoint as he navigates faithlessness, race, gender roles, manhood, and American capitalism’s stranglehold over artistic expression, all within the beast that is New York. It is an homage to all the artists who struggle in silence and all those who disappear in the struggle, leaving us to wonder where they’ve gone.

With the release of recent films like Beats, Rhymes & Life, Life Is Illmatic, Russian Winter & Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer, hip-hop is slowly falling into a mini-renaissance within independent film and breaking away from the stigma & negative stereotypes that many people have towards the culture (especially when it comes to film). It's also time to explore hip-hop on the big screen beyond the typical subjects like The Notorious B.I.G. & Tupac Shakur.

Right now he has an indiegogo campaign going on and he's already reached 92% of his goal. 
Below is a link to the indiegogo site for you to contribute whatever you can (if you donate $75 dollars you get to hang with myself & Mtume for a screening of two rare/underrated films and nerd out in movie talk afterwards)

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I've written myself in to a bit of a paradox here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. Because I put the work of Claire Denis on a pedestal and sometimes even drop her name in reviews that have nothing to do with her or her work, people probably think I just blindly praise anything she does without putting any thought in to (and I don't make things any easier for myself by praising her work on social media in the fanboy-ish way that I sometimes do). But I assure you that isn't the case. Claire Denis is my favorite filmmaker for a reason. She deals with issues like race, intimacy, manhood and so much more unlike any other filmmaker working today. She also has yet to make a bad a movie (in my eyes) and her latest short; Voila L'enchainement continues her streak (and if you actually read certain reviews I've done on her work in the past, you'll see that I've criticized a few things that she's done from time to time).

In this minimalist half hour short (that borders on an experimentation), Denis chronicles the relationship of a nameless middle aged mixed race couple, played by Alex Descas & Norah Krief. I make note of the couple's race because Denis focuses on that quite a bit in the beginning. Some of the dialogue at the start of the film touches on issues like slavery and the sometimes fetishized attraction that white women have towards black men (and vice versa). There's a scene in the film when the couple gets in to a non-physical argument in the privacy of their home (like most couples sometimes do) and one of the neighbors calls the police. This to me was clearly Denis asking the question; if the man in the relationship were white instead of black, would the police have been called? 
It's no mystery that racial tension & interracial relationships are a staple in Denis' work. But Voila L'enchainement is the first film since Denis' early 90's period (No Fear No Die & I Can't Sleep) that touches on the relationships between black men & white women in such an obvious way.

Trouble Everyday
I Can't Sleep

I'm always skeptical about Denis tackling race in a super obvious way. Almost everyone does that. No filmmaker has her subtle approach towards race & racial tension which is what sets her apart from everyone else. But she pulls it off quite well here. This short film brought back old TIFF memories of watching The Invader (2011)- another interracial relationship film from Europe. The major difference is that The Invader straddled the line between intriguing & offensive while Voila L'enchainement is much more mature. I'd even go so far as to say that you have to be in your very late 20's and have a certain amount of relationship experience to even fully understand Claire Denis' latest film.

The Invader (2011) - Nicolas Provost

Voila L'enchainement is about more than just an interracial romance. It's a relationship story. At the start of the film we see the couple happily in love, and by the end of the story they're entangled in a biter separation that involves intense therapy, police, jail & strict visitation rights for one of them. From the start we notice little cracks like their lack of communication; the lack of excitement (on one side) upon finding out they're going to be parents; and they're different emotional levels.
My initial thoughts right after I saw this was that Denis painted the female in this relationship as emotionally unstable & immature. Naturally this made me scratch my head because I found it odd that a female filmmaker would portray a female character in such an unfair way. But now that I've sat on this for a day, I've come to realize that neither partner is "better" than the other.

This might be the best modern relationship film I've seen since Blue Valentine or Ozon' 5x2. Voila L'Enchainement is a little strange so it may be difficult to compare it to more traditional movies. There are only two actors in the whole movie and it's shot in an empty performance space with no props. In terms of approach, imagine Tom Noonan's What Happened Was mixed with Von Trier's stripped down style in Dogville & Manderlay (Claire once again re-teamed with her regular cinematographer Agnes Godard).
I wouldn't count on finding too many reviews on this or even seeing it outside of a special screening. Claire Denis' shorts tend to fall in to obscurity and eventually find their way on YouTube many years later. Voila L'Enchainement was so enjoyable that it made sitting through the other so-so/subpar/not very good shorts that played alongside it at TIFF worth it. I really liked White Material & Bastards but not since 35 Shots Of Rum have I been so moved by one of her movies.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Not many cinephiles had the same level of anticipation as I did for Abel Ferrara's latest film on the final 24 hours in the life of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. I say this because over four years ago I happened to be in Ferrara's presence (at an intimate Q&A at Anthology Film Archives) when he announced that he was going to make this, so it's kind of cool to finally see it come to life after hearing about it in it's infancy stage so long ago. I'm not even that big a fan of Pasolini's work to be honest (although I do recognize his iconic status and I can hold a conversation about his movies beyond how disturbing Salo is).
I also bumped in to Pasolini star Willem Dafoe at the movies earlier this year just days after blogging about the first set of stills that emerged from the film...

For years I've been a huge cheerleader for biopics/true stories that only cover a short specific time period, rather than an entire life span. It's too much to try and cover someones life & accomplishments in +/- two hours. When Ferrara first spoke about doing this, he was very vague. "I'm doin' a movie on Pasolini next" he said to us, which did sound intriguing. Pasolini was an interesting character (he was openly gay during a time when it was still considered a lot more "controversial" to be openly gay, and his strong left-leaning political views got him in to trouble from time to time) and the circumstances surrounding his death (he was run over with his own car) are pretty shady to this day. Some believe he was killed because he made the controversial film; Salo (a pretty disturbing movie, based on a book, concerning religious figures who torture young children), while others think his death had to do with his ties to the communist party (none of these theories are speculated or hinted at in this film). But once I discovered Ferrara was only going to focus on his last 24 hours I was super stoked. Not only do I dislike most biopics that cover someones entire life, but I also dislike films that always focus on the same three or four people (again - how many more movies can directors honestly make on Muhammad Ali and/or Bob Dylan?).

Dafoe as Pier Pasolini / Pasolini in real life
It makes sense that Abel Ferrara would do a movie on Pasolini. Both filmmakers were/are tortured artists to a certain degree; they both have roots in Italian culture (Pasolini being from Italy while Ferrara is Italian American with a body of work that often explores both Italian & Italian-American culture). Catholicism also plays a major role in their work.
This isn't the first time Abel has done a film about "the tortured director" either. Dangerous Game & Mary, where Harvey Keitel & Mathew Modine play eccentric directors/semi-autobiographical on-screen personas of Ferrara respectively, explored a lot of the same themes as Pasolini.
Unfortunately, Pasolini just isn't as good as the aforementioned films. This was yet another case of me setting my expectations way too high for something that turned out to be just "ok" (if you're expectations aren't that high to begin with, you'll probably enjoy this a little more than I did).

Please understand that this movie is by no means "bad". It just could have been a lot better. Pasolini is definitely this years' The Place Beyond The Pines in that it's a good disappointing movie. It's still fresh in my mind and I'm a little clouded by the unexpected disappointment of it all so it's hard to focus on the good qualities like: Pasolini's death scene and certain isolated shots of Rome that look absolutely beautiful. I also liked that there wasn't a big supporting cast and that the movie was pretty short and didn't try to be some three hour long epic (Pasolini clocks in at around 80-something minutes). It's like Ferrara ignored the few super lengthy modern biopics/true stories that actually worked (Ali, Malcolm X, etc) and he just did his own thing, which is something that "mavericks" like Ferrara often do. Pasolini is also the furthest thing from his more popular/known films like The King Of New York or Ms. 45 which people still almost exclusively mention over his rather large body of work that explores almost every genre ranging from science fiction to melodrama and everything in between.

But there's just as many problematic things to pick at with Pasolini: the storytelling is a little sloppy, some parts are just weirdly chaotic, certain scenes are overly sexualized when they don't need to be and the use of subtitles is inconsistent at best. I mean seriously - it's as if Abel Ferrara assumed at random points that everyone watching the movie suddenly understood Italian and the film went on for minutes at a time without any subtitles so I had no idea what was being said between the supporting actors. I say supporting actors because Willem Dafoe never really needed any subtitles as he spoke English in his normal American voice throughout the large majority of the film (Pier Pasolini was an Italian who spoke Italian as his first language if you haven't picked up on that). I guess I should have expected this. I wouldn't think Willem Dafoe would learn fluent Italian for this one role, but I find it funny how everyone else in this move was Italian yet the main actor (who was portraying an Italian person) sounded American. We gave Kevin Costner shit for not speaking in an English accent for that Robin Hood movie when everyone else did (even Christian Slater) yet Willem Dafoe essentially does the same thing and no one seems to have a problem with it. I love Dafoe to death and he was really good in this (I'm tired of seeing him always play some supporting role in a movie that's beneath him) but maybe it would have made more sense to cast an Italian actor. Unfortunately there are no Italian actors who could draw or get financing like Dafoe.
But that gripe is minor when compared to the other issues I listed (everyone from Polanski to Bertolucci has used multilingual casts in the same fashion so I guess it's not that big of a deal). 
I still recommend that anyone who loves the non-traditional/gangster work of Abel Ferrara (or Pasolini) see this. Just don't expect to be blown away...

Friday, September 12, 2014


Bruno Dumont's latest film (technically a French TV mini-series presented as one long film) is like Twin Peaks mixed with all the good elements from Gummo, set in rural northern France. In Li'l Quinquin we follow two detectives ("Van der Weyden" & "Carpentier") trying to catch a sadistic serial killer preying on the residents of a small town. If you're a fan of David Lynch, Harmony Korine and golden-era Second City TV and/or Kids In The Hall sketches and just random surreal dry humor, then this is a film for you. Within the first few minutes of this movie we're presented with a scene of a dead cow being air-lifted by a helicopter from an empty field with confused locals looking on. To some people that comes off like typical art house nonsense while to others (like myself) it's intriguing & beautiful imagery (we later come to discover that cows play a fairly important role in the story).
The big draw of this film is that this is Bruno Dumont's first official comedy. There's certainly plenty of awkward moments in some of Dumont's previous work that'll make you snicker from time to time, but he's usually quite dark (if you'd like to get familiar with his previous films before continuing on with this review, read some of my older write-ups like Camille Claudel, Hors Satan & Humanite). This is Bruno's first film that won't make you feel guilty about laughing out loud at the characters. For those of you that aren't too familiar with Bruno's filmography, he often casts non-professional actors with some type of physical disability, some kind of natural awkward mannerism or facial "imperfection" (when compared to an average leading man or leading lady) that you can't help but notice and, depending on how vein you are, possibly snicker at. Casting "homely" looking lead actors is clearly Dumont challenging the viewer's perception of what "beauty" on the big screen is. He does this in almost every single movie and Li'l Quinquin is no exception. For example - one of the lead actors has uncontrollable non-stop facial ticks, but when combined with his bushy Groucho Marx eyebrows & Charlie Chaplin-esque mustache ("Detective Van Der Weyden" pictured above on the right) you can't help but laugh at him (he walks funny, says random nonsensical things and tries to be cool in certain situations yet it really doesn't work).

But no matter how funny Li'l Quinquin may be, Dumont doesn't suppress his dark side (in case you missed my brief synopsis earlier, this "comedy" does revolve around a serial killer who disposes of his victims in extremely fucked up ways). And in all honesty, there's absolutely no trace humor in the last 45-60 minutes of this movie (I would like to go on record and say that this movie features quite possibly the most awkward/cringeworthy/hilarious funeral scene in modern cinema).

The longer this epic story goes on (clocking in at just under 3-1/2 hours), the less it becomes about the murders & who did it, and more about the quirky characters that live in the nameless northern French town where the story takes place. The older generation of residents are set in their ways (the men farm & do manual labor in an almost mechanical way, while the women cook & take care of the children). The younger residents of the town (pictured above) are bored, precocious & bigoted/racist as they aren't too familiar the multicultural world outside of their Anglo-heavy small town (throughout the film the younger characters always spew racial slurs at the few African & Arab characters for almost no reason). If I'm not mistaken, this is actually Bruno Dumont's first time touching on the issue of race in nearly two decades of filmmaking.

The collection of quirky characters in this movie is why the Twin Peaks comparison makes so much sense to me. Sure the tag line for David Lynch's short-lived TV show was; "Who Killed Laura Palmer?", but after a while we forgot about that. The show was filled with so many colorful & offbeat characters that we didn't want to know who killed Laura because we wanted to get to know the people of Twin Peaks more. And the more we got to know all the supporting characters, the more we discovered how interconnected everyone & everything was. The same thing applies to Li'l Quinquin. As the investigation progresses we learn that the victims were connected to each other on multiple levels and we eventually come to find out that some of the supporting characters, who look like extras from the movie Gummo, are related to each other directly by blood yet tried to keep it a secret for decades.

Putting aside the David Lynch/Harmony Korine comparison, Bruno Dumont also references his own work. Besides keeping up tradition of always showing that signature shot of his characters embracing one another in a similar fashion...
L'Humanite (1999)
Hadewijch (2008)
Hors Satan (2011)
Li'l Quinquin (2014)

...he also draws inspiration from his older films in terms of plot - The theme of bored rural teens was explored in The Life Of Jesus (1997) & Flanders (2006); the idea of a quirky/slightly "off" police detective investigating a gruesome murder comes from Humanite (1999); the theme of the devil/pure evil in human form was explored in Hors Satan (2011) as well as amazing unexplainable feats happening out of nowhere. In Hors Satan, one of the lead characters comes back to life after being pronounced dead for quite some time. In Li'l Quinquin, there's a scene where a little boy pretending to be a superhero suddenly climbs up a wall like spider man, yet he doesn't have any super powers. To be honest - Li'l Quinquin almost feels like an extension/non-related sequel to Hors Satan.
Dumont also branched out to non-cinematic sources for inspiration. The opening scene of the cow being lifted in the air looks like a Salvador Dali painting come to life. Actually, the constant presence of cows throughout the film reminded me of Dali's work in general...
li'l Quinquin
Dalie sketch

It should also be noted that this is Bruno Dumont's least Bresson-influenced work, which is a major accomplishment in my opinion (it's almost impossible to read a review of one of his films and not see Bresson's name dropped at least once).

Like any recent film by Bruno Dumont, I enjoyed this very much and it'll probably end up in my top 10 of this year (under the "frustrating yet rewarding" category). But it's not without a few potential flaws. Putting my own personal preferences aside, this film has a lot of moments with little to no dialogue between the characters (a Dumont signature) which some might find "boring" or slow. The last third of the story does drag a little bit and new subplots develop that might distract you from the "meat" of the story. And like always, I'm sure there's a handful of critics who will accuse Dumont of exploiting or poking fun at his non-proffesional actors (personally I don't think he does but an argument can be made).

If you have the patience and are familiar with his previous work, I highly recommend checking this out. If not, I'd watch some of his earlier (...and shorter) films (specifically Humainte or The Life Of Jesus) before delving in to this.

Monday, September 8, 2014

TIFF 2014

I'll be going back to Toronto for the last few days of the film festival! Although my coverage won't be as extensive as the previous years I've gone, I'll still be checking out the latest from Abel Ferrara (Pasolini), Hal Hartley (Ned Rifle), Bruno Dumont (Li'l Quinquin) & Abderahmene Sisassko (Timbuktu).

So be sure to check here throughout the last half of September for all things TIFF-related.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Eliza Hitman's debut feature is a success in my eyes because even though I was exposed to a world I obviously know nothing about (the world of a 14 year old girl) I still left the theater having fully enjoyed what I saw (coincidentally, I bumped in to one of the film's editors, filmmaker Scott Cummings, after leaving the theater the night I watched It Felt Like Love). There's so many moments in this movie that I'm sure came from a very real place that I could never personally relate too, yet I found myself fully engaged in everything. I couldn't help but wonder if the women close to me in my own personal life had some of the same experiences as Lila (the film's protagonist) when they were younger. I don't necessarily want to think about younger versions of my female friends, fiancée or little sisters of close friends I watched grow up over the years in certain particular situations as Lila, but I couldn't really help it - this movie just kinda naturally brought up all these thoughts inside me. I'm sure if I had a sister I would've felt even stronger about this movie.
As I mentioned in my review of Boyhood (another coming of age story from this year) - It Felt Like Love is definitely a film with some gender specific issues having to do with females, but it can obviously be enjoyed by any gender. Actually I think this is something that fathers, especially those with daughters, might want to watch.

In the film we follow "Lila" - a 14 year old girl who feels inexperienced in the ways of the opposite sex, especially when compared to her best friend "Chiara". Chirara isn't portrayed as "easy" in any way, but she definitely has a little more experience than Lila does (she goes through a couple of boyfriends through the course of the film). Eventually Lila becomes fixated on an older boy ("Sammy") who doesn't exactly share the same feelings towards her. The more she pursues Sammy the more agitated & aggressive he becomes to the point where Lila finds herself in a very vulnerable spot. 
We also get a glimpse in to Lila's home life. Her mother recently passed away and she's raised by her single father (it should be noted that there are very few adult characters in this movie). 
I haven't seen too many (realistic) young vulnerable female characters in recent years like Lila. American cinema definitely needed this. I always felt the "coming of age" genre was a bit shaky/inconsistent with American filmmakers. Call me cliche, pretentious, whatever... but I've always looked at French cinema as setting the standard for good/great modern coming of age stories on the big screen (A Nos Amours, US Go Home, Fat Girl, Goodbye My First Love, Blue Is The Warmest Color, etc). Obviously there's exceptions like Todd Solondz, (early) David Gordon Green and a few others, but there's just a little too much quirkiness & cuteness with American youth on the big screen (and when things aren't cute & quirky, we get forced realism). I think young American girls are sometimes treated too much like precious caricatures to the point where it becomes unrealistic and a lil' disrespectful.

On a side note - It was refreshing to see a prominent Brooklyn-based movie set outside of areas like williamsburg, park slope, bed-stuy or flatbush that doesn't strictly focus on things like 20-something year old hipsters having unimportant relationship problems and/or gentrification. When's the last time we got a popular film set in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Gravesend or Sheepshead Bay?

A few months back, Indiewire ran an interesting article that drew a comparison between It Felt Like Love & Nymphomaniac (two coming of age tales with young female protagonists). But in all honesty I didn't really find young Joe (Nymphomaniac) as interesting as Lila. I thought there was a little bit more depth to Lila and she wasn't surrounded by as many frustrating supporting characters as Joe was in Nymphomaniac. I understood Indiewire's comparison on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper you'll see that both films are quite different.
I'm sure IFLL is also bound to draw some comparison to other stuff like The Virgin Suicides or Goodbye My First Love but I was mostly reminded of Welcome To The Dollhouse more than anything else. That's not to say It Felt Like Love was trying to be like or copy Dollhouse. Both films stand alone on their own and are pretty different. It's just that both stories focus on young girls dealing with some of the same issues shown in a more realistic light: post-puberty, having a serious crush on an older boy, close friends becoming distant, making the transition from jr. high to high school, etc. Dawn (Dollhouse) is far more unpopular and catches way more shit than Lila (IFLL) and their family dynamics are different, but they're both ignored, looked over and/or treated like shit by older boys they're attracted too. 
Some other blaring differences between the two films are 1). It Felt like Love has a far more serious tone. Sure there's some awkward moments that might make you laugh or snicker, but at the end of the day it's a drama whereas Dollhouse is a quirky dark comedy.
2). Each film speaks to a different generation in my opinion. Dollhouse represents Generation Y/millennials while It Felt Like Love is, in my opinion, a film for Generation Z - a generation of kids who grew up with smart phones, tablets, social media & just easier access to all kinds of information from an early age. The teenage characters in IFLL aren't exactly zombies attached to their phones 24/7, but their faces are still in their phones from time to time, and social media does play a minor part in the story (I know people of all ages are slaves to their smart phones, but generation Z is the first demographic to be introduced to those kinds of devices at such a young age).

It Felt Like Love is definitely in my top 5 of 2014 so far along with Boyhood, Stranger By The Lake The Unknown Known & Guardians Of The Galaxy. It's currently streaming on Netflix so I highly recommend checking it out.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Although I did laugh out loud quite a bit while watching The Trip To Italy, I found the overall experience to be a little underwhelming. Was there really a need to make a sequel to The Trip? I know that sounds a little harsh, but I think the team of Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon have taken the genre of playing slightly fictionalized versions of one's real self as far as it can go (just my opinion). This movie reminded me why I vowed to stop watching all those Judd Apatow-related movies that feature some combination of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Justin Long, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Jason Segal, etc etc etc. I enjoyed Pineapple Express & 40 Year Old Virgin, but once you've seen those movies, you’ve kind of seen 'em all. Do I really wanna pay money to watch a bunch of real life friends hang out on camera and do stupid shit? I can hang out with my own friends and do silly stupid shit for no money at all. I guess the reason why Steve Coogan gets a pass with me on all that is because I think he's far more talented & funnier than Seth Rogen & Co. (I know it’s easy to pick at & dump on Judd Apatow movies these days but god damn...enough is enough). I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – I always wished we (Americans) got Steve Coogan instead of Hugh Grant (one of the many celebrities Brydon & Coogan impersonate in The Trip To Italy). He’s extremely talented and has been underused in mainstream film until recently (Philomena). It’s almost a crime at how little he was used in Tropic Thunder (a common theme in these Trip movies is Coogan's desire to break in to mainstream American cinema).

In The Trip To Italy, Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon take on a new celebrity food criticism assignment which allows them to travel too places like Rome, Liguria & Capri. Through the course of the trip they see the sights, talk about their careers and deal with family issues back home, all while listening to Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill album. This film focuses a lot more on Brydon this time around. He's having problems back home with his wife and he's up for a co-starring role in a (fictionalized) Michael Mann film.
Coogan & Brydon play off of the same things that made the first film funny - Michael Caine impersonations, really bad Al Pacino impressions and Steve Coogan’s insecurities about his career. But that’s not to say they don’t bring anything new to the table. The duo takes a stab at Tom Hardy’s Bane, Robert Deniro's mannerisms & generic American accents.
There’s some emphasis placed on the food, but not as much as in the first film. In fact, you almost forget that they’re on a writing assignment. Winterbottom makes it a point to shoot the food and show the cooks behind the scenes working, but it feels more like Coogan & Brydon are just on vacation hanging out.

I’d be lying if I said this film wasn’t nice to look at also. Italy is a beautiful place and Winterbottom gets that across to the viewers. The Trip To Italy made me a little nostalgic. I spent some time in Rome studying architecture for school in my early 20’s. During my time in Italy I never ventured outside of Rome and this film made me regret not going to places like Capri & Liguria. 
Another huge thing this film missed out on was not really showing the locals. I like to think I’m more experienced in European travel than the average American (besides Rome, I’ve spent plenty of time in Paris, Barcelona & London), so I can weigh in on this. Italians have that cliche reputation for being passionate & overly emotional (and it's kinda true), but they’re also some of the warmest & friendliest people. They engage you on the street and even invite you in to their home for dinner (or maybe that was just my own personal Italian experience). Think back a few years ago to Certified Copied (another movie set in Italy starring two non-Italians). How many times did co-stars Juliet Binoche & William Shimell interact with all the locals through the course of the film? Plenty. That’s a very Italian thing to do. With the exception of one scene with an Italian hotel receptionist, at no point do Steve Coogan or Rob Brydon truly interact with or have any funny improvised moments with any of the Italians they’re surrounded by. In fact, the only other supporting characters of substance in The Trip To Italy are other brits.

I’d advise all of you to take this review with a grain of salt. My relationship with Michael Winterbottom’s filmography is a lil’ funny. Besides people that are actually from Manchester, I highly doubt anyone loves 24 Hour Party People as much as I do. The problem with that is I’m always hoping Michael Winterbottom to deliver something just as great (and the fact that his latest film stars two of the main actors from 24 Hour Party People makes my expectations that much greater). I know that’s not a fair expectation, but it is what it is. Winterbottom has certainly put out other films I really enjoy over the years (Tristram Shandy, The Trip, etc) but nothing quite like 24 Hour Party People in my eyes. For a sequel, The Trip To Italy doesn’t have the kind of plot that’ll lose you if you haven’t seen the first one. Even if you aren’t familiar with the work of Michael Winterbottom or Steve Coogan, it’s impossible for someone to not find some laughs in this, which is ultimately the point. I guess I just hold Michael Winterbottom to a higher standard for some strange unfair reason.


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