Saturday, December 20, 2014


2014 was a so-so year in my opinion. Right out of the gate things started off on a disappointing note as half the stuff I really wanted to see got pushed back to 2015 (Carol, Welcome To New York, The Lobster, Blackhat, etc). That's not to say there weren't any pleasant surprises (It Felt Like Love & Tyler Perry in Gone Girl) or moments of greatness (Boyhood & Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler) but at the end of the day, Gone Girl & Chef managed to creep in to my top 10. I mean...what does that say!? I don’t mean to downplay those movies (they certainly deserve their spots in my top 10 and I stand by my selections) but I think we all know that in past years like 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 or even 2011, Gone Girl & Chef would be in the bottom tier of the honorable mention category.

It Felt Like Love

There were just way too many disappointments (Under The Skin, Nymphomaniac: Part 2 & Grand Budapest Hotel) or movies with a ton of hype that turned out to be just “ok” or underwhelming (I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t share everyone’s enthusiasm for Birdman).

But on a more positive/interesting note, quite a few films from 2014 shared connections with one another – Guardians Of The Galaxy & Captain America: The Winter Soldier obviously took place in the same cinematic realm; It Felt Like Love & Nymphomaniac both dealt with the sexual curiosity/discovery of young girls (without sugarcoating anything); Stranger By The Lake & Li’l Quinquin were centered around small town serial killers, and maybe it’s just me but I thought Donald Rumsfeld & Jake Gyllenhaal shared the same sociopathic grin in their respective films...

The Unknown Known

I guess any year where the likes of Errol Morris, Bruno Dumont, Jim Jarmusch & Mike Leigh are active cant be all that bad, right? 2014 did bring us some memorable imagery, cool moments and a few noteworthy performances. 
I just can't remember the last time I struggled so hard to come up with a top 10. With the exception of possibly Boyhood, I don’t see too many movies from this year standing the test of time (is anyone really going to be talking about The Imitation Game or Foxcatcher by this time next year?)

Lets hope 2015 is an improvement.

Li'l Quinquin
Only Lovers Left Alive

Like last year, I've broken up my top 10 into various categories ("exceptional", "frustrating but rewarding", etc.) because I honestly couldn't come up with a clean list of 10 movies that were all equally great.
(*click on the movie titles noted with asterisks to read their individual reviews from earlier in the year*)

So here are my top 10 movies of 2014 in no particular order. 


These are, in my humble opinion, the movies that require maybe only a small amount of criticism or no criticism at all.

These are the films that may have had a serious flaw or two (...or three or four) or may have been dismissed by general audiences because they seemed "artsy", slow or unappealing for some reason (or, in the case of Jodorowsky's Dune, conveyed certain beliefs I didn't personally agree with, but the overall movie was great). 
These are all somewhat challenging, slightly "different", or provided an alternative to a lot of the mainstream movies that came out this year (side note - Li'l Quinquin is probably my personal favorite of 2014)...
top: *Li'l Quinquin / *Stranger By The Lake
bottom: Winter Sleep / *Jodorowsky's Dune

Below are the more recognizable titles from 2014 that I didn't expect much from yet they ended up being pretty damn impressive (again - I stand by these).


*UPDATED* 12-13: BEST MOVIES OF 2014 THAT I SAW IN 2015...
We Are The Best / *A Most Violent Year

It wouldn't be right to sum up an entire year with just 10 movies (even if it was a pretty underwhelming year). Below are a few more that I thought were solid, entertaining or just deserve to be mentioned
top: Nightcrawler / Guardians Of The Galaxy
bottom: *Night Moves / John Wick

A few more movies from 2014 possibly worth your time
top: *The Trip To Italy / Nymphomaniac: Part One
bottom: *Inherent Vice / Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

films I personally loved but can't include in my Top 10 or honorable mention because they honestly don't belong there, and I don't wanna get called out on favoritism as they're either directed by personal favorites of mine that I'm usually bias towards (Jim Jarmusch) or deal with subject matter or have a particular style that's way too close to my heart for me to criticize (Too Many Cooks)...
Too Many Cooks / *Only Lovers Left Alive

*A Most Wanted Man / Time Is Illmatic

I know this is bound to ruffle some feathers but I genuinely feel like people are way too caught up in the hype surrounding Birdman to see that it’s nothing special. It certainly isn’t awful, but definitely not worthy of all the praise (and awards) it’s been getting. I know we all love Michael Keaton and we haven’t seen him in a leading role in quite some time (I also know certain elements of Birdman mirror Keaton’s real career adding an element of reality to everything), but have you really stopped and asked yourself why you love it so much? It’s just a quirkier version of Black Swan told from a male’s perspective. Take away the (sometimes annoying) free-jazz score and the Terrence Malick-esque cinematography (...courtesy of Terrence Malick's actual cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki), and there’s not much to the movie. 
I thought Nymphomaniac Part Two fell apart in the final 20-30 minutes (for a different opinion on Nymphomaniac, check out Leanne’s thoughts) and I have all the faith in the world that most people will agree with me that The Immigrant was incredibly boring with surprisingly "awkward" performances. 
As for the others (Under The Skin, Grand Budapest Hotel & River Of Fundament), I’ve already said everything in my individual reviews of each film, so read those if you haven’t.
top: *Under The Skin / *Grand Budapest Hotel
middle: The Immigrant / *River Of Fundament
bottom: Birdman / Nymphomaniac Part Two


Seeing Matt Malloy & James Legros show up in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves this year (for one scene a piece) was a pleasant surprise. To a lot of people, Malloy & Legros are those actors who make guest appearances on all the different Law & Order shows or show up for one scene in a major movie as a nameless doctor or scientist. But to me they’re icons of American independent cinema. If you watch the movies I do, then you know these two guys always manage to show up in some capacity (main character, supporting role, extended cameo, etc). Between the two of them, they’ve worked with almost every important American indie director of the last 25 years (Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, Tom Dicillo, Hal Hartley, Neil Labutte, etc), so it only makes sense that they show up in a film directed by a current American indie heavyweight like Reichardt. It’s about time someone recognized their longstanding presence in indie film (and mainstream film), so I’m presenting them with this years’ lifetime achievement award.


Great Performances:
Jake Gyllenhall - Nightcrawler*
Patrick d'Assumcao - Stranger By The Lake 
Lorelei Linklater - the first quarter of Boyhood* 
Timothy Spall - Mr. Turner
Jamie Bell - Nymphomaniac Part Two*
Philip Seymour Hoffman - the last 10 minutes of A Most Wanted Man
Bradley Cooper's Voice - Guardians Of The Galaxy
Ralph Fiennes - Grand Budapest Hotel
Bernard Pruvost - Li'l Quinquin 

Good/Solid performances:
Renee Russo -Nightcrawler 
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Nymphomaniac Part Two*
Rob Brydon - The Trip To Italy
Edward Norton - Birdman 
Josh Brolin - Inherent Vice
Rosamund Pike & Kim Dickens* - Gone Girl
Uma Thurman - Nymphomaniac

Surprisingly good and/or tolerable performances: 
Luke Wilson - Skeleton Twins
Tyler Perry* (no, seriously) & Neil Patrick Harris - Gone Girl 

*surprisingly bad performance: pretty much the entire cast of the immigrant

If you think my picks are bullshit and are looking for an alternative list, read what some of the past contributors have as their favorites of 2014…

John Cribbs (The Pink Smoke)
Abuse of Weakness
Like Father, Like Son
Norte, The End of History
Stranger by the Lake
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya & The Wind Rises
The Unknown Known
We Are the Best!
Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Chris Funderberg (The Pink Smoke)
Like Father, Like Son
Mr. Turner
National Gallery
The Unknown Known
The Drop
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
We Are the Best!
Abuse of Weakness
The Strange Little Cat

Leanne Kubicz (LMK Film Picks)
American Experience:The Amish:Shunned (PBS documentary)
True Detective (HBO)
*2014 World Cup Brasil

*I did in fact watch one World Cup match in a movie theatre. The Screenland Armour in North Kansas City, MO hosted a screening of the USMNT v Portugal(2-2) match. Beer and good times were had by all. I also saw 'Nymphomaniac' at the same theater; that place rules

Ian Loffill (Notes & Scribblings)
Goodbye to Language
Hands of Bresson 
Jersey Boys
Magic in the Moonlight 
Maps to the Stars
Mr. Turner
Stations of the Cross
Two Days, One Night
Welcome to New York

Jason Hedrick (The Ecstatic)
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Under the Skin
Jodorowsky’s Dune
The Rover
Only Lovers Left Alive

Rob Cotto (PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor)
Sir PINNLAND has asked for my Top 5 of 2014 before I've had the opportunity to weigh in on A Most Violent Year, The Gambler and a few others. This is my top five as of December 19, 2014 at 6pm.

1. Boyhood - I'm following suit with everyone else and putting this in the top spot.
Forget that this took twelve years to make. Take a journey through growing up as no other filmmaker has ever done before. It's a quite special film.

2. Birdman - Again, following suit. But, just as well. Mr. Pinnland believes this flick insists upon itself, but, for me, it was a hysterical and realistic satire on showbiz. I believed every moment; even the end.

3. Inherent Vice - *DISCLAIMER* I'm a PTA fan boy. Based on my initial review, I was confuckled. And I'm not allowed to see movies at midnight anymore. That being said, this film demands repeat viewings. But, great films do.

4. Chef - You must think I'm crazy. This was a note perfect feel good movie that Hollywood used to do best. What a statement coming from Mr. Favreau, who has repeatedly made big-budget over-bloated box office smashes, and returns to his roots with something so heartfelt and personal and absolutely well-done. Kudos. There should've been more movies like this last year.
*Say what you want to say about how it ends, you're probably right. Admit you want that grilled-cheese.

5. I really can't think of a five. So, I'll go with this:

Best moments in film this year:

Gone Girl - From the moment that Neil Patrick Harris enters the casino, to the moment he exits the movie, is the best 20 minutes of that film. The second best moment of that film is when you see her plan unfold an hour into the movie. Fincher's best film since Zodiac.

And the performances that left the greatest impression -

Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

That's all I have to say here, folks.
I will amend this by the end of the year. Or maybe not since it was such a dismal year in cinema.
Happy Holidays to the Pinnland Empire!

Doug Frye (Schlock Treatmanet)
Looking back to even figure out what I saw in 2014, this was a banner year for more of the same, at least in the mainstream releases. There were sequels that looked warranted (Captain America: Winter Soldiers, Dawn of the Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2, 22 Jump Street, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1), sequels that I couldn’t imagine audiences wanted but they took to anyway (Transformers: Age of Extinction, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Purge: Anarchy, A Haunted House 2, Think Like a Man Too), sequels that audiences apparently didn’t want (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Expendables 3, Muppets Most Wanted, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Dolphin Tale 2, Dumb and Dumber To [jury may still be out, but it looks shitty enough to warrant inclusion]), sequels to animated films (How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, Planes: Fire & Rescue), sequels to movie franchises still churning them out somehow (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Step Up 5: All In), and that’s not getting to the ones still to come (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Penguins of Madagascar). 

Two Hercules movies made it to screens, one of those astonishingly without The Rock, three monsters franchises attempted reboots (Godzilla, Dracula Untold, I, Frankenstein), two sci-fi hero franchises attempted reboots (RoboCop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), another largely forgotten cartoon was pulled from the mothballs to theaters (Mr. Peabody & Sherman), live-action television series brought to the big screens (The Equalizer), and two new takes on fairy tales (Maleficent, Beauty and the Beast). Pokémon the Movie: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction made it to theaters and I never even heard about it. Pokémon is still around?

Nicolas Cage rebooted a Kirk Cameron movie (Left Behind), someone funded yet another Kirk Cameron movie (Saving Christmas), and Mark Wahlberg rebooted a Kenny Rogers movie (The Gambler). Mostly this is my excuse to avoid the fact that I went to a movie theater four times this year, and Marcus was still nice enough to ask for my opinions. 

So, here are my top five 2014 movies that I actually watched.

Philomena - This movie was just beautiful, being heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. Steve Coogan is great, as usual, but Judi Dench took her role to a new height. The writing was fantastic, as well as the direction. Easily the best film I saw in 2014.

Grand Budapest Hotel - I hope this movie marks a real change of direction for Wes Anderson, because it was incredibly fun. It’s basically a boy’s adventure story, with all of the hallmarks: underdog hero, nasty villains, damsels in distress, exotic locations, and thinly veiled Nazis. Who doesn’t love to hate Nazis? I’d love to see Anderson tackle something in this vein again.

The Trip to Italy - While not exactly as good as the first one (another sequel!), this did make an important change to keep the idea fresh. Instead of being Coogan’s story again, it’s Rob Brydon as the star, and it’s his through line that drives the narrative. The scenery is gorgeous again, of course, and there’s still plenty of food porn. Maybe this meant to cap the Winterbottom/Coogan/Brydon Trilogy: Tristram Shandy, The Trip, and The Trip to Italy, but I hope they do more together anyway.

Guardians of the Galaxy - To give you a clearer picture of my absolute laziness about leaving the house this year, I saw this one on its closing weekend, about two months after the release. I’m glad I did, though, because a massive spaceship battle set to “Escape (the Pina Colada Song” just wouldn’t be the same on a television screen. This was the best screen representation of a comic book ever, I think. There were dramatic stakes for the characters, but it never got bogged down in its “grittiness,” and the pace was perfectly quick. Hopefully, James Gunn will start a trend toward brighter fare like this. They’re comic book movies, after all. Lighten them up.

Cuban Fury - So, I admitted that I only saw four movies in a theater, but Netflix pulled my fat out of the fire with this one. It stars Nick Frost as a semi-professional salsa dancer. What more could you need to know? See it. You like Nick Frost.

Matt Reddick (PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor)
Inherent Vice
The Blue Room
Let The Fire Burn
The Rover
Blue Ruin
Only Lovers Left Alive
Stranger by the Lake

Honorable Mention:
Starred Up
Gone Girl
A Most Wanted Man

Honorable Honorable Mention:

New discoveries/deeper appreciation (mostly from Lincoln Center series):

Zanussi (the Polish series was great btw)
Anatahan - blew me away (Anthology Archives)

Moving into the "meh" category:
Hitchcock & Truffaut

Nathaniel Drake Carlson (PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor)
Devil's Knot
I Am Happiness on Earth
The Immigrant
Camille Claudel 1915
Stranger By the Lake
Under the Skin
Night Moves
Palo Alto

Honorable Mention:
The Rover
Blue Ruin
The Signal
Interior. Leather Bar/Child of God
Venus in Fur
Jersey Boys
Cold in July
The Raid 2


Transformers: Age of Extinction 

True Detective

Breathrough Star of the Year:
Brenton Thwaites (The Signal, The Giver, Oculus, Maleficent)

Notable 2013 Films I Did Not See Till 2014:
Wolf of Wall Street
All is Lost
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years a Slave

Films Not Yet Seen:
Winter Sleep
La Sapienza
National Gallery
Horse Money
Gone Girl
Inherent Vice
America Sniper

Films I Don't Want to See:
Grand Budapest Hotel

2014 Discoveries:
The Garden of Earthly Delights
Corpo Celeste
General Orders No. 9

Re-release of the Year:
La Reine Margot 

Highlights, Lowlights & other random movie moments from 2014

and now what you've all been waiting for...

The Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea award: Juliette Binoche getting killed off in Godzilla after 5 minutes.

Martin Donovan's Cameo in Inherent Vice

The buddy cop sequel Paul Thomas Anderson probably doesn't even know he's sitting on (the on-screen chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix & Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice)  

speaking of buddy cop movies...

Wasn't 22 Jump Street enough for one year?: Let's Be Cops

The way Michael Winterbottom shoots Italy in The Trip To Italy

Too Many Cooks

Meeting Willem Dafoe at the movies...

Caucasian actors (specifically European & Australian) portraying biblical figures.

With that being said...

Non-religious people/people who don't believe in the bible or God getting worked up over Caucasian actors portraying biblical figures (seriously, why do you care?)

Don Cheadle/War Machine Award: Anthony Mackie as Falcon (Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier)

JMW Turner's grunting (Mr. Turner)

Jake Gyllenhaal quickly practicing various smiles before showing his face to the security guard at the beginning of Nightcrawler

Aurelio: "He stole John Wick's car and he uh, killed his dog, sir." 
Viggo: "...oh."
(John Wick

Errol Morris: "WHY are you talking to ME?!"
Donald Rumsfeld: "...I don't know."
(The Unknown Known)

"Now how's that supposed to make me feel?" - Ralph Fiennes (Grand Budapest Hotel)

"Yooouu fuucking biiitcchh" whispers Ben Affleck in to Rosamund Pike's ear (Gone Girl

"Yo lemme get a cigarette!" - Jungle (Time Is Illmatic)

"I was raping him! You know? But like this...with love!" - Alejandro Jodorowsky (Jodorowsky's Dune)

Made no sense (as in the plot was incredibly stupid) but was very entertaining: Raid 2

The fake Michael Haneke twitter account

Still haven't made up my mind about you: Rooney Mara

Script reading of Do The Right Thing at The Lincoln Center

Laughing out loud at the trailer for Noah

Getting dissed by Spike Lee for wearing a Red Sox hat

Meeting Spike Lee again a few days later (without my red sox hat on)...

My return to the Toronto Film Fest

Coulda used more Jeffery Wright: Only Lovers Left Alive

Might not ever watch it again because I'm afraid I won't like it the second time around: Only Lovers Left Alive

Can't decide if this scene was awful or brilliant: Uma Thurman's scene in Nymphomaniac

Coulda used more Connie Nielsen (Nymphomaniac)

You seriously couldn't a find an English actor or at least someone who could maintain an English accent for more than 45 seconds?? (Shia Lebouf in Nymphomaniac)

Ok, Enough. It was a fun idea at first, but it needs to stop: Expendables 3

Enough with the "origin" movies! (this is all your fault, Christopher Nolan)

Bruno Dumont's continued quest to cast traditionally unattractive people in his movies (Li'l Quinquin)

Scarlett Johansson checks her vagina mid-coitus (Under The Skin)

Wait, that was Tracy Morgan?: Boxtrolls

This generation's Hayden Christensen (no, that's not a good thing): Aaron Taylor-Johnson

This generation's Rae Dawn Chong: Zoe Saldana (I don't even fully know what that means but it makes sense)

Did anyone born after 1983 even get that that was Howard The Duck? (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

Little hints in to Rocket's (dark) backstory (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross' score for Gone Girl

The presence of Nas' brother ("Jungle") in Time Is Illmatic

Lila's late night bus ride home after hanging w/ Sammy and his friends (It Felt Like Love)

Lila sets Sammy's alarm clock (It Felt Like Love)

Excellent music choice: the use of Joey Bada$$' Waves in It Felt Like Love

Franck witnesses a murder (Stranger By The Lake)

Did anyone actually go see this?: Get On Up

Matt Malloy & James Legros' cameos in Night Moves

Alia Shawkat unexpectedly showing up in the last half of Night Moves

Meeting Mike Leigh...

Just didn't feel like it: Dear White People & Selma

Steve Coogan & Ron Brydon's commentary on The Dark Knight Rises: The Trip To Italy 

Steve Coogan & Ron Brydon making fun of American accents: The Trip To Italy

Where'd Ryan Gosling go?

Kevin Nash's cameo in John Wick 

Nicholas Winding Refn's obvious influence on mainstream cinema in 2014...

Mad that I missed: X-Men: Days Of Future Past, We Are The Best! & National Gallery

Completely fine with missing: Noah, Locke, The Double, The Amazing Amazing Spider-Man 2, Exodus, Tusk, and so many more

Indifferent about missing: Joe, Foxcatcher, Whiplash, Interstallar, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Most Violent Year & Dumb & Dumber To

Donald Rumsfeld's grin (The Unknown Known)

Weak ending: Nymphomaniac 2

Good ending: Only Lovers Left Alive

Great ending: Stranger By The Lake

Perfect casting: Luke Wilson as Kristen Wiig's husband in Skeleton Twins

Can we please see/hear more of you in 2015 (some of these are repeats from last year):
The Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhall, Rosamund Pike, Alex Descas, Lea Seydoux, Neil Patrick Harris, Amy Sedaris, Batista, Deborah Kara Unger, Bobby Canivale, Jeanne-Claude Van Damme, James Remar, Will Forte, Michelle Willams, Tim Heidecker, Tilda Swinton in performances as an actual human being, Sally Hawkins, Katherine Keener (but like, only in good movies tho), Amy Ryan, Broken Lizard, Bradley Cooper's voice, Errol Morris' voice, Isabelle Hupert, Tony Leung & made-era Vince Vaughn

Can we please see just as much of you in 2015 as we did in 2014: Willem Dafoe, Benecio Del Torro, John Faverau & Luke Wilson

Can we please see less of you in 2015: Nicholas Cage, Owen Wilson, Kevin Hart, Denzel Washington (I swear to god I wrote this before that sony email nonsense), Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Jennifer Lawrence, Tom Hardy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Liam Neison, Kevin Hart, Jason Bateman, Keira Knightly, Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Matthew Macoughnuhey, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Steve Carrel, Kevin Hart & Scarlett Johansson 

top: Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron / The Lobster
middle: Carol / Knight Cups
bottom: Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus / Blackhat

Thursday, December 18, 2014


I had the pleasure of writing about one of my all-time favorite childhood movies (and vent my frustrations about police officers) for The Pink Smoke.

Here's my write-up on First Blood.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I consider Mike Leigh to be one of the greatest active filmmakers working today (along with Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Bruno Dumont, Olivier Assayas & Carlos Reygadas) so I had a feeling his latest film Mr. Turner - a bio on the romantic painter JMW Turner, would be great, but I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know much about classic art. I was worried I wouldn’t fully appreciate Leigh’s film due to my lack of knowledge on the subject.
I remember sitting in a sold out theater at the Film Forum a few years back watching Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There and feeling left out because I knew absolutely nothing about Bob Dylan (I didn't get the humor or any of the inside Dylan references) and I couldn’t fully appreciate a film that was directed by one of my favorite filmmakers (I consider Safe & Poison to be two of the greatest modern films ever made). This bugged me. I knew most of these Bob Dylan fans I was surrounded by weren’t familiar with Safe or Poison. They didn’t earn the right to enjoy Haynes’ work if I couldn’t. I know that sounds elitist & selfish, but that's how cinephiles get sometimes (I'm also an only child, so sharing doesn't always come easy to me).

Ever since Secrets & Lies, Leigh’s work has quietly “crossed over” into mainstream cinema without any compromise of style or subject matter. With the exception of All Or Nothing & Another Year, every post-Naked Mike Leigh film has been nominated for some kind of mainstream/”major” English-speaking movie award (Oscars, Golden Globes, etc). Movie awards mean very little but at the same time they do, to a certain extent, represent the fact that a film has kind of reached a wider audience. These days, by the time most great modern art-house filmmakers gain any kind of mild mainstream attention (Haneke/Amour, Lars Von Trier/Nymphomaniac, Todd Haynes/I’m Not There, Olivier Assayas/Carlos, Leigh/Vera Drake, etc) their earlier work (which is usually better) still goes unseen, which brings on a lot of resentment inside of me because I have to share one of my favorite filmmakers with a bunch of newcomers who not only suddenly think they know something about film simply because they’ve seen Vera Drake (Leigh), but put no effort into seeking out their earlier work.

I didn’t want a repeat of I’m Not There. I wanted to be prepared for Mr. Turner so much that prior to seeing it, courtesy of a sneak preview at The Museum Of The Moving Image, I looked past the simple Wikipedia bio and sought out a book on JMW Turner’s life ("JMW Turner: A Bio") months before seeing Leigh's film. I didn’t doubt that Mike Leigh would leave things out or misrepresent the life of JMW Turner - I just wanted to be a little more knowledgeable on the subject.
Now...did reading the JMW Turner biography enhance my viewing experience of Mr. Turner? Not really. I'm still not even that crazy about classic art (although I've always appreciated & respected the craft). But that's a good thing. It speaks volumes about a period film when you can truly enjoy it without having to know any kind of history or back story.

Like Bird, Ali, Che,& Camille Claudel 1915 (pictured clockwise above) and a small handful of other semi-recent biopics, Mr. Turner is successful because it doesn’t try to cram an entire lifetime into one film (Mr. Turner makes up for the mild disapointment that was Abel Ferrara's Pasolini, which did follow the same format as other good biopics but came out feeling a little flat & underwhelming). To this day, certain specifics are unknown about the early life of JMW Turner. There is no confirmed birthdate listed, his early paintings don't have any specific dates and certain facts about his family are a little cloudy. Delving in to this part of his life would only lead to speculation on Leigh's part. Instead, Leigh focuses on the latter part of Turner’s life where he deals with the death of his father (whom Turner was not only very close too, but also served as his studio assistant). We also see JMW Turner fall in love as well as battle depression and harsh critics of his art (Leigh leaves out his drug use, grazes over/lightly touches on the fact that he probably fathered two daughters that he clearly didn't care about, and does speculate/get liberal with a few small facts here & there).
Mr. Turner is also a success because it paints a complex portrait of the artist. Instead of making him out as this incredibly wonderful human being that's dedicated to his art, the film shows him as a frustrating and kinda grumpy person (Timothy Spall plays the title character with a distinctive grunt). But I think it's been documented at this point that a lot of talented/brilliant/geinous artists, from Miles Davis to John Cassavetes (and everyone in between), straddled the line between pleasant & unpleasant.

Leigh’s exploration of JMW Turner and his art reminded me of Peter Greenaway’s exploration of "the frustrated architect" in The Belly Of An Architect (complicated, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc).
And like Greenaway did with the architecture in his films, Leigh represents Turner's art in a respectful & organic way...

However, Mr. Turner is not a reflection of Leigh's own life in the way that The Belly Of An Architect kind of was/is for Greenaway (although there is a scene in Mr. Turner that, just like in Chef, is clearly a jab at critics that has to represent Leigh's own personal view of some critics).

And I know this sounds a little cliché but certain shots in the film (courtesy of Leigh cinematographer Dick Pope) look like the kind of landscape paintings that Turner would paint...

The cinematography in Mr. Turner (which is bound to be downplayed & overshadowed by the bells & whistles of the camerawork in Birdman & Interstellar) is probably my favorite thing about the film next to Spall’s lead performance (probably the best thing he’s done since All Or Nothing). Besides Vera Drake & Topsy-Turvy (which Mr. Turner is closest too in terms of tone), Leigh has never done a period movie. Mr. Turner is, in my opinion, the first Leigh film to be shot the way it was (rich colors, beautiful landscapes, etc). It’s pretty great to see a veteran like Mike Leigh step outside of his comfort zone and try something new (…and succeed at it).
The film is unique in that it's bound to attract post-Vera Drake Leigh fans (who for whatever reason feel as if they're aficionados of his work because they've seen that & Happy-Go Lucky), but it'll also please all the diehard fans as the film fits in perfectly with the rest of Leigh's work and features plenty of his regulars (in front of & behind the camera) like Timothy Spall, Shirley Manville, Ruth Sheen & Dick Pope.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Although this years' holiday movie has nothing to do with Christmas, the title makes it eligible in my book. While I put the final touches on my end of the year review, I reached out to Leanne (again) to take care of this years' "Christmas" movie.


Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) directed by Nagisa Oshima is a unique WWII film which focuses on a Japanese internment camp on Java in 1942 and the volatile cultural clashes which ensued there. WWII films tend to focus on valor and strength, while this film explores how intercultural communication is amplified and skewed by catastrophic events. An entrancing score written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who also plays the troubled Capt. Yonoi, combined with a top-notch cast including David Bowie, Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano and the scene-stealing Tom Conti, provide a window into two cultures bound by the monstrous actions which accompany the hell of war.

The intercultural misunderstandings experienced by the Japanese soldiers and their Allied captives are multilevel within the internment camp which they occupy. Not only is there a conflict between East and West but also within these groups. Capt. Yonoi is of the samurai class and his ideas on honor vary from those of his counterpart, Sgt. Hara(Takeshi). Sgt. Hara absolutely adheres to the traditional Japanese ideals of honor, yet is not of the high class of the samurai and hence more casual. Sgt. Hara metes out his share of torture and discipline, yet his power derives from the military as opposed to an ancient order. The decisions which the two commanders make in relation to the POWs illustrate how cultural norms are morphed by certain time periods and extreme social circumstances. Yonoi and Hara would have unlikely ever interacted in regular life; the War thrust them together to fumble through their own understanding of their position in society and then applying that to a foreign culture which they can barely fathom.

The Allied POWs include those of all classes, with the culture of the military and fear of death bonding them. Col. Lawrence(Tom Conti) is the everyman, acting as the ambassador to the POW's Japanese captors. Mr. Lawrence, as Sgt. Hara dubs him, tries valiantly to cause as little harm to his men as possible while still trying to seem deferential to the Japanese. His aim is to keep his head down, keep his men's dwindling morale stable, and survive until the War ends. Ultimately the capture and addition of Major Celliers(David Bowie) to the camp throws a wrench in Lawrence's efforts. Celliers is a man of honor whose Western individualism serves to rile both his imprisoners and Lawrence alike. Celliers believes that standing strong against injustice will serve his compatriots well, yet does not factor that his boldness will translate to flippant disrespect.

The power of intrigue and curiosity serve to inform the relationships and ultimate fates of the men of the camp. The tones of unrequited love color the relationship between Yonoi and Celliers. The opening actions of the film which involve an ad hoc trial of two POWs, Korean and Allied, who are discovered having sex and are to be punished, set the tone for Yonoi's and Celliers' interactions. Yonoi's overzealous interest in Celliers' well-being and thoughts, lead one to believe he is interested in the Major for more than the military information he can deliver. Similarly, Celliers seems to toy with Yonoi's emotions, confusing him with his acts of disregard for authority, like defiantly stealing food and absurdly eating flowers to rile the camp guards. Celliers takes near glee in his acts of sacrifice, not feeling ashamed of his imprisonment, very unlike the ideas of honor his captor holds. The sight of an honorable yet insubordinate man of regard, from a culture made enemy through war, rattles Yonoi to the extent that he must finally quash that which threatens to implode his entire worldview.

The relationship between Hara and Lawrence is an odd blend of genuine friendship and brutality. If not for the War, one could imagine them meeting on a vacation someday and becoming fast friends. The sadness of their relationship is that they had to meet in a temporary time of horror, which will allow them no such happy accord. The conversations between Hara and Lawrence lean toward the darkly humorous. Hara frankly states, with a jolly smile on his face, that Lawrence should commit suicide, as that is honorable, while being a POW is the utmost humiliation. Lawrence counters that in his culture being a POW is an accepted variable of war and thus not a humiliation. Their debate on this serious subject is more of a witty banter than an order from Hara. Hara never hands Lawrence a knife, he more bemusedly presses on with his total confusion of why one wouldn't kill themself, never fully grasping that there could be alternate action. The final meeting between Hara and Lawrence is bittersweet, affirming the notion that war deforms love and leaves only regret.

The dismal tropical camp setting filled with wretched prisoners barely clinging to life and hope lays bare the terrible tortures which occurred in the Pacific during WWII. The POWs are starved, made to line up in formation in oppressive weather and even forced to commit seppuku. The horrifying slash of a knife into the abdomen of a prisoner confined to take his own life is a symbol the mutilation of a nation's soul. The Japanese were merciless and cruel with their prisoners, committing numerous foul injustices. This film reminds us that any culture can become grotesque in the face of absolute power.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...