Friday, October 31, 2014


I wrote about Human Centipede 2 back in late 2012 but I could never find a place for it on here so the piece just sat for almost two years to the point where I forgot about it. But with the upcoming release of Kevin Smith’s Tusk, the Human Centipede movies have popped back up on the radar as Tusk is clearly paying homage to that style of body modification horror and almost every critic is citing HC2 as a direct influence.
It’s also Halloween so now is the perfect to post this, otherwise it’ll sit on the shelf for another two years (side note – I have no immediate plans to see Tusk, but I was assured by my friend Chris Funderburg of the Pink Smoke that it was pretty good, so we’ll see…)

I know there's that curiosity to seek out totally messed up shit sometimes just because. This is why most people sought out the first Human Centipede movie. It’s a story about a crazy doctor who sews people together from their ass to their mouth. Its sounds stupid (and it is), but there’s something that just pulls you in. I had an interesting introduction to Human Centipede - The first time I saw the trailer was before a screening of Birdemic (one of those new-age cult movies that’s so bad it’s good) and like everyone else in the theater with me, I honestly thought it was a fake trailer at first. Upon learning that the trailer was in fact real, I knew Human Centipede would become a cult hit based on the subject matter alone. But I genuinely didn't think there would be a demand for a sequel (there’s actually a plan for a third one). Like...there's actually a legitimate demand for more Human Centipede movies and there’s a decent amount of non-kickstarter/indiegogo money behind it. And what’s extra perplexing & disheartening about it all is that even though there's an audience/demand for these stupid-ass movies, NO ONE takes them seriously even though I think director Tom Six wants us to. C'mon now, you know ANY time Human Centipede comes up in conversation people always have some kind of a sideways smirk on their face while discussing it. This ironic appreciation for Human Centipede has gotten out of hand. Why fuel a director to make more movies you know damn well are silly. Wasn’t the first one enough?

Human Centipede 2, which is kind of told in that "movie inside of a movie" style where some of the actors from the first film play themselves in the sequel (like in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), is about a demented parking lot attendant ("Martin") who has an unhealthy fascination with the first Human Centipede movie. In true Norman Bates fashion, Martin lives with his crazy mother, was molested by his father, gets picked on & beaten up by his upstairs neighbor and is the butt of every joke. But as it turns out, Martin is quietly planning to make his very own 12-person human centipede (influenced by the move he watches nonstop) as a way to get revenge on everyone & everything that’s been so cruel to him. I'm not gonna get in to any other interesting plot points or plot twists because there really are none. It’s basically about some lonely weirdo who takes a movie way too seriously and goes too far (...or does he?).
The tone of this Human Centipede film is drastically different from the first one. While the first Human Centipede was somewhat polarizing & colorful (I actually liked the look of the first one), Human Centipede 2 is black & white, darkly lit and “gritty” looking, which you would think should add to the twisted tone of the film, but it just makes it seem even more forced & clichéd.

Martin embodies what I imagine a genuine Human Centipede fan looks like (not someone who likes it ironically, but the kind of person that would describe Human Centipede as “Totally Awesome” and actually mean it). I mean, just look at him...

It’s almost like director Tom Six is making fun of his fanbase with the Martin character. At this point he has to know the kind of people that like his movies. I’m sure he's been to plenty of comic-con/slasher/gorefest conventions to know the type of people that make up a large portion of his fanbase .

If Human Centipede 2 was made by some angry spoiled violent teenager with a skewed sense of reality, then I'd kinda understand. But Tom Six is 40 years old. There’s no excuse for that. There was a period between the release of Inglorious Basterds & Django Unchained where it seemed like all the problems concerning violence on film was unfairly placed on the shoulders of Quentin Tarantino by folks who take cinema way too seriously (like me). I kinda understand as Tarantino is probably the most influential American  director of the last 20 years. That’s not necessarily a good thing (I certainly don’t like it) but it is what it is. His excessive & sometimes childlike use of violence can be seen in so many other knock-off movies. People look up to and emulate Tarantino which means unnecessary violence will be copied & emulated as well. But why was it just Tarantino getting all this heat? I’m certainly not someone who thinks we should blame violent movies for the problems going on in the world, but…if you do approach violence in an immature or childlike manner, you should kinda be called out on it at some point (this even applies to filmmakers that I love like Nicholas Winding Refn). Tarantino is catching all this flack while Tom Six is walking around planning a third Human Centipede movie. I think what’s in Human Centipede 2 is almost as bad as what's in Django & Inglorious Basterds. And you can’t say Six’s work isn’t relevant. In the last couple of years The Human Centipede has been referenced in pop culture through shows like South Park, Family Guy & The Simpson. Yes it’s true that Tarantino's films will be seen by a bigger audience but with Netflix instant & Internet buzz, it’s pretty easy to come across Human Centipede 2.

Like I said, I'm not really a fan of his anymore (which is putting it lightly) but if I was Tarantino I'd take the same "fuck you" attitude as he did in that video above. Part of me thinks that more & more some critics & journalists don’t like him anymore either (and there are plenty of reasons not too) but they don’t know exactly how to fully express their dislike so they throw him under the bus for reasons that are either out of his control or shouldn’t be laid all on him. It’s like when uneducated people didn’t like George W. Bush and they make that Hitler/Nazi comparison. There were plenty of legitimate factual reasons to hate Bush Jr. before calling him Hitler yet people didn’t do any basic research on him. Although Django has plenty of problems in the realm of violence, it really shouldn’t take so much heat with shit like Human Centipede 2 floating around virtually uncriticized.

I don’t wanna end this off on a totally negative note, so for those of you who are staying in on Halloween (sounds like an awesome idea to me) and are looking for something appropriate to watch, here’s a few suggestions that are either up on youtube (in multiple parts) or streaming online…

Ginger Snaps (Hulu+)
I avoided this movie for quite some time because the cover box art looked awful...

But at the advice of my former video store co-worker Patrick, I finally gave it a chance and it was surprisingly good.

Pontypool (Netflix Instant)
Although the story does borrow a few elements from The Thing (right down to the idea of a small group of people trapped inside a small space during a snow storm with the threat of an unknown virus-like threat taking over), this is still very entertaining and strangely surreal (towards the end) in a way that The Thing could never be.

Society (Youtube)
I’ve been pushing this movie on my friends over at the Schlock Treatment podcast because it really does fit their criteria in almost every way – schlocky (of course), tons of continuity errors, awful clothes, bad/awesome 80’s hair, tons of gore and it’s entertaining on multiple levels (there are some legitimately good parts in the movie but it’s also cheesy beyond belief). I truly believe this is the perfect Halloween get-together movie. There’s just the right amount of humor (some unintentional) mixed with blood & guts. Imagine early Cronenberg meets Polanski meets Baywatch…


Hey all,

I contributed to a new collaborative piece over at CutPrintFilms on essential horror movies for Halloween. Check it out when you get the chance.

Happy Halloween...

Friday, October 24, 2014


It's crazy to think but we're only MONTHS away from Michael Mann's next film (January 2015)! Stylistically, Blackhat looks as if it takes place in that post-Heat universe that most people associate Mann with these days. That style of filmmaking has become so common for Mann that a lot of folks forget about or downplay the first 15 years of his filmography. 
Only in the last few years has there been a major Thief resurgence (courtesy of The Film Forum, Refn's Drive and The Criterion Collection); Manhunter will always play 2nd fiddle within the Hannibal Lector universe to The Silence Of The Lambs; I rarely hear anyone mention The Last Of The Mohicans, and The Keep might be Mann's least talked about movie (...and when it does come up in conversation it's usually made fun of).

This is where Nathaniel Drake Carlson comes in. He's an excellent voice of reason when it comes to misunderstood and/or underrated films. 
Below is his latest contribution that'll hopefully get you to look at Mann's early effort in a different light and possibly even give it another chance.

Happy Halloween. Enjoy...

Michael Mann's 1983 film The Keep is often regarded, if it is much regarded at all, as a kind of tragic misfire. And certainly this reputation makes some sense given the film's extremely troubled production as well as its apparently anomalous position within Mann's overall body of work. It is perhaps taken less seriously than his sophisticated urban crime pictures and seen purely for its surface genre it is often derided as an overwrought, rather tacky seeming sci-fi fantasy. But this easy assessment is indeed far too easy and dismissive as in its concise, potent form The Keep distills Mann's mythic interests to an essence writ very large. Thankfully a cult fan based movement has facilitated a reassessment and a closer scrutiny that is long overdue.

Based on F. Paul Wilson's far more elaborately detailed and explained novel, the film is set toward the end of World War II as a cadre of German soldiers quite literally descend upon a small Romanian community; ostensibly there to secure and guard a pass within the mountains, they settle into the town's ancient fortress which inevitably proves to be the source of their undoing as they haplessly release a demonic pestilence upon themselves and the community.

The source of the film's own undoing at the time of its release was in much dispute and continues to be now. It's clearly whittled down, one might even say savagely hacked down, from a purportedly far longer original cut. Some of this had to do with unfortunate circumstances during production (e.g. the death of special effects supervisor Wally Veevers meant a last minute radical restructuring of the film's finale) while post-production studio interference is likely largely responsible for much of the rest. Author Wilson himself evidently found the resultant adaptation of his book to be "incomprehensible". But this is not exactly fair and may speak more to what was expected than what was received. While indicators of severe cutting abound (William Morgan Sheppard's caretaker of the keep is introduced memorably, for instance, but then utterly dropped) the film can be said to benefit from its paring down and brisk pacing as that mode complements the central focus upon elemental mythology. It also provides the cast of a certain inevitability to the proceedings, an inexorable or fated end.

Superficially there's no denying that this is Mann's strangest film and it is truly strange. While the visual template seems initially drawn from Tarkovsky's windswept dreamy stateliness, it then goes on to forecast pop fantasy extravaganzas of the decade to come like Highlander and Masters of the Universe, a form that could be charitably described as garish and gauche. This broad, almost even parodic, stylistic palette applies to the actors as well. Ian McKellan, though admittedly playing the grizzled Dr. Cuza, comes off at times as channeling Ted Levine while his character's daughter Eva, played by Alberta Watson, often recalls a slightly less forbidding Sandra Bernhard in appearance. The presence of a veteran Mann performer like Robert Prosky, meanwhile, as the village's priest, calls up the possibility of a unique absurdity all its own. There is very little intentional humor too, which is risky as such a dearth can and will easily give rise to the risible in many audiences. But this is no mistake. It fits Mann's general, consistent sober tone but it also speaks to the democratic way in which he looks at his subject here, as having relevance that extends past assumed boundaries of taste or cultural acceptability, making such boundaries incidental and ultimately irrelevant. In that sense, all these disparate elements, all so seemingly disjointed or dissonant, actually are proper and germane to what Mann is doing.

But Mann's eye is just as acute here as it is everywhere else in his oeuvre. And what's most impressive about that is the way in which his eye for images goes beyond obvious powerhouse visuals such as the bravura opening sequence or Cuza's grand procession with the talisman toward the end (specific shades of Tarkovsky again, this time the candle walk in Nostalgia). Indeed, Mann's understanding of the vast power of images and sound is seen just as well in subtler scenes such as Cuza's examination of his hands after his healing via the power of Molasar, the entity heretofore imprisoned within the walls of the keep. Of course in all of this Mann is crucially abetted by the Tangerine Dream score, another element singled out for either praise or scorn depending on the audience. Its synthetic electronic ambient is an anachronistic presence to be sure as is the prevalence of billowing smoke machine mist and harsh backlighting which often makes the set indistinguishable from that of music videos of the era. But the presence of such stuff works to emphasize the heightened reality of the situation--this is a fantasy after all, not a newsreel documentary, and these elements complement the tone and themes while providing a dislocating, almost even alien quality.

It may very well have been the blunt approach to addressing mythic concepts which turned off audiences of the era and produced the chilly reception with which The Keep was originally met. A similar fate was waiting to meet Ridley Scott's Legend, another film blatant about its conceptions of a good/evil binary conflict/interdependence. Star Wars dressed up the subject more in the tropes of its specific pop mythmaking, partly as diversion but also partly as evidence that its real interest in this subject as subject was comparatively shallow. Meanwhile, in Carpenter's Halloween, only Donald Pleasence's Dr. Loomis cared about the way in which Michael Myers incarnated an abstraction (the Shape as Evil equation); beyond that the horror was direct and immediate, less mediated by an intellectual engagement with its central concepts and ideas. In The Keep that engagement is unavoidable and yet the pop fantasy elements may have worked to dissuade those who might have otherwise made the effort. But Mann's own engagement with his subject is profoundly serious and earns a commensurate effort on our part.

The Keep blends a wide variety of mythic models from the more easily respectable to the all too easily disrespectable and in so doing illustrates what is common to them all and how each form brings out different aspects of that commonality. Scott Glenn's mysterious drifter character Glaeken evokes familiar vampire motifs, especially in a scene in which his reflection is absent from a mirror in his room; later we see (in a very nice, subtle, almost missed moment) that the mirror has been taken down and turned to face the wall. He is also presented as a figure of romantic fantasy, capable of the immediate seduction of Eva. This is rendered in what amounts here to a quickie montage sequence but again that's fitting as what's important is the romantic essence of that relationship and especially Glaeken's instruction to Eva to dream. We have already been told that the keep produces nightmares in those exposed to it. The dream like atmosphere of the film itself counters and accommodates both poles or states of being. But the mythic aspects of the events and characters are actually more aligned with a metaphysical pitch than that of any one specific familiar mythic or religious model. Specifics of Christianity and pre-Christian paganism are evoked but there's also a pronounced emphasis upon something else, other or alien, unspecifiable as it remains an unknown. The laser light show finale in the emptied out landscape of smoke and light which signals Molasar's end is shot very much like the defeat of Darkness in Legend (Scott's film shared DP Alex Thomson); on one hand, it may be read critically as a tired trope of 80's pop cinema staging but it may also be understood as a proper aesthetic staging as in either instance it is about a confrontation that results in an exiling or repression/suppression of a prominent threat. The abrupt end to Mann's film in which the threat is subdued and the village suddenly comes back to life may be another victim of cutting but here too the outcome is appropriate as it serves simply (in fairy tale elemental fashion) to depict the reversal response to Glaeken's warning about the threat from the keep spreading out into the village (this is matched nicely during the end credits by the reverse movement back up and out of the pass into which the opening sequence descended). And though Molasar as embodiment of evil may seem obvious it is deceptively so as the clearest definition of what Molasar is we only get from his pledged antagonist Glaeken who describes him as "what was repressed within the keep". However, given that, the emphasis upon repression can't be overstated. And it's misunderstood by the majority of the character's themselves who are always only looking at the situation via their very small, limited perspectives and yet then assuming their read is thoroughly definitive and inviolate. Even a character as sympathetic as Cuza does this when he justifies to Glaeken his willingness to aid Molasar by saying, "What's happening in the world is worse than anything he'll do", to which Glaeken simply responds, "He is the same".

The nuance exists in the detail work. There is a flux to the definition of what constitutes evil. This provides an irony that inflects and gives dimension to what otherwise might seem like solid unassailable absolutes, ideas made too familiar and drained of their resonance, their power. Evil as a concept is broad, containing much, understood differently and its presentation is therefore effectively unclear. Both Glaeken and Molasar exist as recognizable spiritual composites; in part this is due to a strategic conspiring on their part which plays to other characters' existing attitudes and assumptions but it's also a fitting analogue for their actions and behavior, for what they do and are. Ideas of corruption, power and the fantasy of salvation, of harnessing an evil and ostensibly transforming it into a good, exist here in rotation. While Molasar on occasion fits the form of a purely and obviously demonic evil, he is also a possible Golem figure, bringing the promise of destruction upon the Nazis. He is also deeply suggestive of the Old Testament God, traveling in a pillar of smoke and clouds (foreshadowing the equally diffuse mythology of TV's Lost) as depicted in Exodus. He is, in this form, pure power and force. It is as this manifestation that he carries Eva to safety and away from the threat of the German rapists whom he decimates. This may be a ruse to secure Cuza's gratitude and allegiance but it is still accomplished with a tenderness redolent of love--this, in turn, is reminiscent of the inverse scene in Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle in which the malevolent central figure brings a comatose girl back to consciousness via his raping of her (the rain falls upon the just and upon the unjust...). As this unyielding pure force, one more defined by its remote and absolute inaccessibility to finite knowledge, a chance is provided to address and alter the Abraham-Issac narrative by turning upon and directly confronting the divine like guiding presence. When Molasar demands that Cuza sacrifice his daughter, Cuza responds in heroic fashion: "Who are you that I have to prove myself by killing my child?" This mobilizes the strength and fortitude that Cuza had previously sought purely from Molasar.

All this thematic richness cascades over the embankment of religious or even self-evidently mythic discourse and into the realm of the more clearly secular, demonstrating its applicability there. The friendship between Prosky's Father Fonescu and McKellan's secular Jewish doctor is presented as a model of camaraderie and gracious mutual exchange, yet Molasar's influence finally is seen to enflame a religious antagonism between them where none existed before. It is significant though just how much of an emphasis there is in terms of defining the specifics of comprehension and intellectual orientation. Cuza tells Fonescu right from the beginning, "You believe in gods, I believe in men," while Jürgen Prochnow's Woermann states equally early on, "The real nightmares men have made upon other men in this war." An intensive conflict also develops between German army officer Woermann and Gabriel Byrne's Kaempffer, an SS representative. Kaempffer translates the source of the evil as something particular and "real", in this case the threat of disloyal partisans killing his soldiers and creating a practical, observable effect. But Woermann finds a parallel when he accuses him of having "released the foulness that dwells in all men's minds." The evident historical analogue is thus clearly established, whether it be the evils of fascism or that of the SS (who, not insignificantly, have their own associations with the occult). In this examination of perspectives and perception it is telling that both these characters accuse each other of being subject to fantasies or sentimentality. The suggestion implicit within the film, however, is that such accusations, while not entirely inaccurate, are similarly inadequate to address what they are referencing even while they are all inextricably wrapped together. Mann's greatest accomplishment with this presentation of heightened horror and absolute Evil may actually be its hidden sophistication and adeptness at taking and treating its subject seriously.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I did a recent movie shelf entry on Gone Girl for the pink smoke. Below is a much shorter/slightly different PINNLAND EMPIRE version.


Gone Girl really had no business being as good as it turned out to be. The story/source material behind it (which I finished reading a few weeks ago) is also pretty ridiculous but it’s still entertaining. Even if some of you dislike this movie, which is understandable, you’ll certainly laugh, gasp or express some type of genuine (non-dismissive) emotion while watching it. On some level that’s a success in my book. In the same way that Only God Forgives was a mixture of trashy late night action movies combined with “artsy” filmmaking, Gone Girl is like a mixture of those trashy late night erotic thrillers combined with certain elements of a surprisingly enjoyable Lifetime movie. You remember those really bad skin flicks that used to come on Showtime & Cinemax at night during the late 80’s through the mid 90’s that featured folks like Shannon Tweed, Angie Everhart, Jeff Fahey and/or C. Thomas Howell? That’s essentially what Gone Girl is except this time around the movie had a pretty good director behind it (David Fincher) instead of some nameless hack.
Fincher is a good director but he’s still part of that group of modern filmmakers (Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, etc) that people give way too much credit to. I’m certainly a fan of The Game (which Gone Girl is closest too in terms of “look” & execution) and I guess I like Se7en, but other than that, I’ve never been super impressed with his work like everyone else (don’t get me started on Fight Club and how overrated it is). I say all this to say my praise of Gone Girl isn't coming from some sudden fly-by-night Criterion/Lincoln Center David Fincher fan. I'm someone who actually stops and questions his work beyond just Benjamin Button (seriously tho - is it me or did David Fincher suddenly become this super serious "auteur" around the time of Benjamin Button, in the same way Guillermo Del Torro was suddenly deemed this important voice in modern film?)

The best way to enjoy Gone Girl is to look at it like a new-age, slightly more serious War Of The Roses. Although It is getting a good amount of praise from everyone, there’s still a nice handful of folks that are giving Gone Girl WAY too much credit and taking it a little too seriously like it’s some prolific relationship drama. Some are even calling it misoginistic. I partially blame publications like Indiewire & Film Comment who ran recent write-ups on Gone Girl as if it’s in a similar lane as other modern relationship films like Eyes Wide Shut, Blue Valentine or even Take This Waltz. Sure Gone Girl is about a deteriorating marriage, but still – this movie is pure entertainment. Even before you find out what the twist is or who you think the "good guy" is, you should already know early on in the movie that “Nick Dunne” (Ben Affleck) & “Amy Elliot-Dunne” (Rosamund Pike) are essentially caricatures. They both carry realistic traits & stereotypes that come along with their respective genders, but the problem is that they’re made up of almost EVERY stereotype that’s associated with both men & women. Nick is the "dumb" husband that hangs out on the couch playing video games, and has trouble expressing certain emotions. Amy is the judgy, nit-picky, sultry femme fatale yet slightly “broken” & insecure at the same time. Nick & Amy are also both unlikeable & somewhat frustrating human beings, which is what makes the Gone Girl viewing experience so much fun. They both suck. There’s really no “good guy” in this movie. It’s just fun to watch two shitty people essentially torture each other for two and a half hours.

Gone Girl is tough to talk about without giving away too many spoilers, but it’s ultimately a neo-noir/“cat & mouse” story about a man whose wife suddenly goes missing and he eventually becomes the prime suspect. In the middle of everything we learn that things aren’t as they seem and Nick might have been set up. 

Gone Girl did everything that Side Effects tried to do, only better. There’s even a few subconscious shades of To The Wonder in Fincher’s latest film in that Affleck’s performance in both movies are fairly similar and both stories focus on “moody” female characters in the midst of a failed marriage who feel out of place living in the middle of an unfamiliar Midwestern town. 

I will say that one thing the book has over the movie is that the book delves way more in to the upbringing of both Nick & Amy and we see why/how they turned out the way they did. Nick’s parents were dysfunctional in the traditional sense (a mean alcoholic father who had a hard time expressing emotion with a doting wife who secretly hated him) while Amy’s parents were/are quietly dysfunctional in that they messed her up without meaning too or even realizing it (besides being incredibly self-centered, her parents put more effort in to their career than they did in raising Amy). David Fincher tried to implicate these things but I felt it could have been pulled off a little better. 
But at the end of the day, the script, which was written by the book’s author Gillian Flynn, cut out what was necessary (smaller supporting characters, additional scenes & certain "flashbacks") in order to make the story flow a little better as a movie.

Again – you could spend your time calling Gone Girl a misogynistic story if you want. There are scenes that are definitely overly sexualized, like the climactic scene towards the end where we see a half naked woman pretty much rolling around in someone else’s blood (reminiscent of a particular scene in Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day).

Trouble Every Day
And a lot of the women in the film are pretty one-note (the bored gossipy housewife, the dumb childlike mistress, etc), but I honestly didn’t see the male characters painted in any kind of a positive light either. The men in Gone Girl were liars, self centered, creepy or pretty slimy. I don’t see how anyone could be for either “Team Amy” or “Team Nick” (which is how some audiences have divided themselves). Plus Carrie Coon’s performance as Nick's sister and Kim Dickey's role as the lead detective on the case balance out all the simplistic female characters (they're probably the film's only two redeemable people).

*SPOILER ALERT* And yes, by the end of the movie we get the idea that Nick is “trapped” by Amy in to staying together, but let’s also not forget that he’s not some innocent victim here who didn’t do anything to hurt Amy (this is something I think some people have forgotten by the end of the film). Just sayin’… *SPOILER ALERT*

Deborah Kara Unger / Rosamund Pike

Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike definitely play their parts. Pike, who channels Deborah Kara Unger in her prime, is pretty exceptional in her chameleon-like performance, and I don't know if Ben Affleck has ever been cast in a more fitting role. But it’s the supporting cast (Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon & Kim Dickey) that really made the movie work for me. Tyler Perry is surprisingly tolerable (actually he’s pretty good in this but given my history with Perry you guys know I can’t give him his full due), Dickey pays her respect to both Jodie Foster & Holly Hunter with her performance as the straight 
-laced lead detective investigating Amy’s disappearance, and Neil Patrick Harris is the perfect combination of creepy & funny (although I don’t think we’re supposed to find his performance as comedic as it turned out to be, but it’s Neil Patrick Harris - I don’t think he’ll ever shake the residue that How I Met Your Mother and Harold & Kumar left behind).

I usually don't write about a lot of the “big” movies on here because there’s already a hundred other sites & blogs out there that have given their opinion on this movie, but I was so surprised at how good it turned out that I felt the need to share my thoughts. I’m learning not to prejudge movies so much in 2014. Besides Gone GirlChef & Skeleton Twins also turned out to be much better than I thought they’d be. Gone Girl isn’t one of my personal favorites of the year, but it’s a strong candidate for being in the top tier of my honorable mention.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Halloween is creeping up but unfortunately I'm not much of a horror movie buff, so I'm relying on others to take care of the scary movie stuff for me (we have another highly anticipated guest spot from a regular contributor scheduled in a few weeks). 
Not only is Kirk Howle the co-host of The Schlock Treatmeant alongside PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Doug Frye (easily one of my top 10 favorite podcasts in existence), but he's also a talented artist (check out his awesome TUMBLR page for more of his great work).
For the first time in PINNLAND EMPIRE history we're blessed with a comic strip! This might be the most unique guest spot we've ever had (I've never been "cartoon-ized" before)


Friday, October 10, 2014


Rob Cotto has always had a spiritual presence at PINNLAND EMPIRE considering he's sat right alongside me on quite a few films that I've written about over the last few years (Her, Nebraska, Only Lovers Left Alive, Joes Bed-Stuy Barbershop, The Tree Of Life, etc). It only makes sense that his first guest spot be something this big. 
For various reasons ( I wasn't able to attend this year's New York Film Festival, but luckily Rob was able to attend, and he just so happened to catch the biggest most talked about film there: Inherent Vice
For two years I've been waiting on him to bless this blog with a write-up of some kind and this was definitely worth the wait (I'd still love to get that guest piece on The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie when you have the time). 

On a side note- It hit me after reading this that PT Anderson is rarely mentioned on here and the one time his work was reviewed (The Master), it wasn't the most favorable. So it's nice that things got a little balanced out. 


Rather than write a traditional review on Inherent Vice for my long-awaited debut piece for PINNLAND EMPIRE, I was inspired by Doc Sportello to take this approach:

I think you’re way past having to defend any of your motives. Whatever you do for us, for me, for my generation, who grew up with you, you were always "The Man". There was you, and then there was some other people. We always felt like, I always felt like, how the fuck does he do it? How does he get the camera to move like that? As you can see there are people, left and right, trying to imitate you, trying to rip-off how you do it. None of us can get it right. There’s a certain vocabulary that a few of us are armed with that get to make movies that directly comes from Marty and he will talk about the films he gets it from but you can never really recognize–you can recognize sort of what he’s talking about but he’s done moves and things, an attack on telling the story that is unique and was brand new when he started doing it, all the way along he’s been doing it, but he’s been developing it over the years – you see the culmination of it every time he makes a movie and seeing it tonight in this movie – we look at him and he is The Governor.
- Paul Thomas Anderson on Martin Scorsese

"The critics are making their peace with it", a fellow film connoisseur commented to me this week following the World Premiere of Inherent Vice at The New York Film Festival on Saturday, October 4th.
Good. They should. It's going to be screened repeatedly by film geeks around the world and be hailed as a masterpiece for many years to come, just like the rest of PTA's canon.
Paul Thomas Anderson is in a rare class of filmmakers. The top film critics know it and have been trying to pigeonhole this stoner masterpiece by throwing around perfunctory comments about what the film is like since it went into production. Critics and cinefiles know that the film is based in the 70s, PTA is a huge Robert Altman fan, and the main character is a bumbling stoner, investigating a few "Missing Person" cases that seem to be tied together and that are somehow connected to Black Panthers and Nazis. Knowing this, they immediately compare it to The Long Goodbye, Chinatown and The Big Lebowski. For good measure, they'll throw in Night Moves - that cool 70's film you think you're hot shit for knowing and writing about but have never seen. The only things these films owe to Inherent Vice is that the director saw them; just reconfirming the above sentiment he bestowed on Scorsese; PTA understands the vocabulary he's been armed with and has made a film that insists upon your attention rather than itself...

What I'm taking about is the definition of influence. While people criticize Quentin Tarantino for stealing and pawning it off as such, Mr. Anderson has allowed his cinema study to inform his own singular vision. While Mr. Tarantino's films are fun, entertaining and take you for a ride, they are purely superficial. When you go back to them, they might be fun, but there's no further discovery. If Tarantino made a "Noir/Detective" film set in 70s Los Angeles, I'm sure the comparisons to the above referenced films and some other insignificant B-movies that Mr. Tarantino holds in his arsenal would be valid. (There's nothing wrong with what Tarantino does, by the way. I dig it. Hard. He would probably agree with me about PTA and his own films if he wasn't Quentin Tarantino) 

Random Thoughts:

Joaquin Phoenix is great as Doc. He disappears into every role. Can't really say more about him that hasn't already been said.

Let's just revisit this:

Martin Short - One scene stealing turn from an incredibly underrated and often forgotten genius of performance.

This guy thinks so, too!

Katherine Waterston is going to be a big star. You only needed to see the trailer to know that.

The Academy Awards - I'd love to see Paul Thomas Anderson pull a Best Adapted Screenplay win on this. Though the dense plot comes off as incoherent, it is the best adaptation of a work previously published, the very definition of that Oscar. The Oscars are more often a nod for "overall good work" rather than the definition of award-winning. It's never about who's best. If it was, Scorsese would've won for Raging Bull and Denzel Washington's only Oscar would still be for Glory. I'm sure PTA would appreciate the pat on the back. However, at this point, it's cooler to not win.

Will this film make my year-end best of list? Absolutely. It's the one film, in an overall weak year of cinema, that has left me confuckled for almost a week.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Any time I hear that someone doesn't like The Wrestler I can’t help but assume that they aren’t fans of professional wrestling. I'm aware Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film is about more than just wrestling, but he chose that world as the backdrop for a reason - It's a hard life unlike most professions. You don’t have to know much about pro wrestling in order to appreciate/analyze/dissect The Wrestler, but it definitely helps (read my excellent write-up over at The Pink Smoke). The Wrestler was mostly marketed to people who aren't all that familiar with the sport outside of names like Hulk Hogan. Obviously wrestling fans sought the movie out, but when something plays at a festival like Venice or NYFF, gets praise from publications like Cahier Du Cinema & Film Comment and runs in theaters like The Landmark Sunshine, it's going to attract certain types of people who have no idea who Stan Hansen is or what Smokey Mountain Wrestling was. Sorry, but I just don’t see Kent Jones going to a "house show” (a local/non-televised wrestling event) or Amy Taubin keeping up with the “dirt sheets” (a behind the scenes professional wrestling newsletter that tells all the inside info about the matches). I find it strange that The Wrestler didn’t inspire critics to explore the world of professional wrestling and get more familiar with the source material before dissecting it (just about any high profile review that I’ve read on the film over the years clearly shows how little film critics know about that world). I feel like in order to fully appreciate films like Midnight In Paris or Pulp Fiction, one would have to know a thing or two about literature and/or pop culture, respectively (let's not kid ourselves that movies like that don’t rely heavily on inside references to specific books, works of art, old television shows & movies). So why do I feel like the same rules don’t apply to The Wrestler?

Look, I get it - professional wrestling is pretty silly. And I’m saying this as a fan. In fact, for the last decade or so I’ve been on the perimeter as a fan because wrestling has become so ridiculous that I could never bring myself to watch it outside of the occasional pay-per view. I guess I’ve just grown out of it for the most part (although I did preview the WWE network at a friend's house recently and I was very impressed).
So I understand why some people look at pro wrestling as "dumb". But it was still a HUGE part of my childhood. It'll always be embedded in me to some extent. I still keep up with what’s going on in the sport through podcasts like MLW Radio, The Ross Report, The Art Of Wrestling W/ Colt Cabana, Talk Is Jericho, etc (over the last year I’ve become a serious podcast junkie, mostly because listening to people chatter on about nonsense makes work breeze by a lot quicker).

I know wrestling is "pre-determined" and it relies heavily on story lines, characters & gimmicks, which is why a lot of people don't take it seriously, but there's also an incredible amount of athleticism that comes along with the sport (there's also a serious cultural importance that it carries in places like the south, Mexico & Japan)...

But I’m not here to bitch about people who don’t know anything about wrestling yet give their opinion on The Wrestler. I’m here to bitch about actual professional wrestlers who dismiss the film when they know damn well it paints a fairly accurate picture on some level.

Because I listen to so many wrestling-themed podcasts these days (I’m listening to one right now as I type this) I find that the subject of The Wrestler comes up quite a bit in interviews with other wrestlers. I’m fully aware that more than a few prominent figures like Diamond Dallas Paige & Rowdy Roddy Piper have endorsed Aronofsky's film, but it seems like more pro-wrestlers are against it than for it. I’ve heard The Wrestler get brushed aside by many real life pro wrestlers for being inaccurate and/or sensationalized. I know Darren Aronofsky doesn’t paint a very nice picture of the lifestyle but it seems like every time I look up, a wrestler has committed suicide, passed away before the age of 50 or living out the rest of their life in constant pain (sometimes paralyzed) with very little money. There’s a few success stories to come out of that world in semi-recent years like The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin, but more times than not, there seems to be more negative stories than positive ones associated with the profession.
This could very much be the media over-hyping things (like they tried to do with the Chris Benoit family tragedy) but at the same time, numbers don’t lie (check this site out for an on-going list of wrestler deaths and note tragic events linked with more than half of them). I can't think of any other sport/"sporting entertainment" that has so many untimely deaths. It’s getting to the point where making it to your early-60’s is considered “old” in that profession.

On an old episode of Steve Austin’s podcast, he interviewed Sean “X-Pac” Waltman and when the subject of The Wrestler came up, they both begrudgingly acknowledged the movie like it annoyed them. But if you know anything about Waltman’s life outside the ring then you know he’s had some serious personal struggles that relate to The Wrestler in more ways than one. In this video below from a few years ago he talks about the time he tried to kill himself…

Waltman’s close friend Scott Hall (aka “Razor Ramon”) has had more publicized stories than any other wrestler I can think of. Although he’s since turned his life around (thanks to the help of his friend Diamond Dallas Paige), there was a point in time when he went from this…

to this…

Same thing goes for “Dynamite Kid” (the other British Bulldog)... 
He was once considered one of the best workers in the ring and just an all around great athlete…

to battling a handful of personal demons and living out the rest of his life in a wheelchair before the age of 40... 

In this shoot interview, former WCW/WWF superstar Perry Saturn talks about his life after wrestling in which he went from making a great living to being damn near homeless…

Additionally, a large majority of “shoot interviews” (candid interviews where professional wrestlers break character and tell behind the scenes stories about the business) are nothing more than former wrestlers expressing regret, bitterness and throwing dirt/placing blame on other fellow wrestlers…

With so many of these kinds of stories, how could any wrestler deny the negativity that's often associated with their profession?
Is The Wrestler a slightly sensationalized portrayal of the lifestyle? Or was it that much of a mirror into the world of pro wrestling that it put other wrestlers in serious denial? I understand that the idea of “protecting the business” is still a serious thing among wrestlers, and it's not the only sport that's associated with an endless amount of tragic/negative stories (I assume you all have been keeping up with what's been going on in the NFL recently?) but any time a wrestler dismisses the film, it seems like a major case of denial more than anything else.


I was going through my external hard drives again and I found these cross-comparison images that I forgot to post somewhere between my old write-ups of Heat & Public Enemies (if you remember, I was in a serious Michael Mann phase between late 2011 through mid 2012).
It’s a pretty straight forward representation of Mann’s constant exploration of the duality/rivalry between hero & villain. So instead of letting these images go unused, I figured I post it up…

Top to Bottom:
Public Enemies

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


There's a very disorienting quality about the cinema of Abderahmene Sissako. His work is soothing on some level. I imagine the average movie-goer unfamiliar with his films would refer to him as boring, but I turn to his work to relax & chill out in the same way some people turn to a Brian Eno album to calm their nerves (a few years ago, his 2002 film Waiting For Happiness was my go-to "night movie" to fall asleep too).
But after I'm finished watching one of his films it always hits me way later on how depressing some of his content is.
Sure Bamako (2006) is a beautiful work of art with rich colors, amazing music and lots of great scenic shots, but that movie ends with a guy blowing his brains out (poverty & oppression are also the two underlying themes in that film). On the surface, Waiting For Happiness (2002) is a nice semi-lighthearted film about the day-to-day lives of various residents living in a close-knit African village, yet even that movie ends on a sad note (one of the main character's father figure/legal guardian passes away unexpectedly and he's left alone to fend for himself).
Timbuktu is no exception. There's tons of spirituality & love in Abderahmene Sissako's latest film but it does end on an incredibly sad note. In fact, this might be his saddest ending to date.
This is mostly what intrigues me about his movies. They provide a sense of comfort but they also convey the pain & oppression that's sometimes associated with certain parts of Africa.
It's no mystery that a large chunk of the continent of Africa has been used up & exploited by other parts of the world unlike anywhere else. A lot of the countries in Africa that have a small film scene also have an even bigger history of struggle & oppression so naturally that's going to rub off in their movies (how many prominent comedies or truly lighthearted modern films can you name that have come from Africa in recent years?)
Although it's understandable why so many prominent films from Africa are rooted in sadness, this causes outsiders to have a base/borderline misunderstanding of the continent's beautiful history. I've never stepped foot anywhere near Africa but I know it's filled with an endless amount of beauty that doesn't always make it to the big screen (it really bothers the hell out of me that the most recent successful, noteworthy and/or mainstream films with ties to Africa are Tsotsi, District 9 & Captain Philips).

But this is where Abderahmene comes in. He doesn't try to sugarcoat the bad qualities that have moved in on certain parts of Africa, but he also balances everything out by exploring the importance of music, the positive/spiritual side of religion and all the beautiful features & languages of his characters.

The news surrounding the true story that loosely inspired Timbuktu is just one example of how little the world can care about Africa at times. A few years back, a militant religious group (“Ansar Dine”) staged a coup on a region of Timbuktu and implemented strict rules on the residents like a curfew and no music of any kind. This militant group also forced their religious views on everyone and made it mandatory for the women to stay covered, pretty much from head to toe (gloves included) at all times. When these rules were broken, punishments ranging from public whippings to executions were carried out. News of this coup finally broke world news when an unmarried couple that were caught/accused of fornication were stoned to death in public (there’s a pretty harsh scene in Timbuktu that reenacts this moment).
The reason none of this was considered major news (mostly amongst American-based news publications) is because this all happened around the same time a new iteration of the iPhone was released (late spring/early summer of 2012), so naturally that's going to take priority over news coming out of Africa...

Abderahmene Sissako’s work acts as both “entertainment” (in that they are fictitious movies I watch in the comfort of my home or in a theater for enjoyment) as well as a form of education in that I always learn something new about west Africa whenever I watch his stuff. Besides learning about all the different shades of colors & languages in his films, I find myself googling & Wikipedia-ing after I watch something he's directed. His films almost come off as fiction/loose documentary hybrids (Timbuktu isn’t the first time his work has directly referenced a real news story).
Timbuktu might be Sissako's most straightforward plot yet. There is a certain amount of artsiness to it all (there's a mysterious witch lady character in the movie who roams around the village laughing & spouting random lines of dialogue) but it's still easier for general audiences to follow when compared to his other movies.

When a dispute between a farmer and a fisherman escalates to a homicide, the religious militia that has taken over their village takes it upon themselves to play judge, jury & executioner in the matter. The film also focuses on the other residents of Timbuktu and how their lives are drastically changed by the stern rules set in place by their new authority. 
As I said at the beginning of this review, Timbuktu has an equal amount of peacefulness & spirituality as it does negativity & scenes that are pretty hard to stomach. 
This film falls right in line with the rest of his work as he continues to show strong/"rebellious" female characters, positive father figures and the power of music. Like most films directed by Abderahmene Sissako, this one took a little time to grow on me because there’s quite a bit to process. I'm trying my best not generalize/sound ignorant, but a lot of prominent art house films coming out of Africa are pretty depressing on a realistic level and sometimes tough to watch. 
If you’re familiar with modern African cinema and/or French-Afro cinema, then you probably know what to expect and will more than likely appreciate this film. Personally, I would prefer that Waiting For Happiness be an introduction for Sissako novices, but Timbuktu would be my second choice.. This was a minor hit at Cannes this year (his films seem to be getting more & more popular with each release) so I'm hoping for a nice run at some of the American art house theaters soon.


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