Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Portrait Of The Artist is everything I’ve been looking for in a movie. It’s beautiful, problematic, boring, alienating, dryly comical, up its own ass at times (and fully aware of it) and thought provoking all at once. It's an ode to modern French cinema in the same way that Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep was (there’s even an Irma Vep reference in the film). Not only does Portrait Of The Artist feature Irma Vep co-star Alex Descas (as himself in two brief scenes), but it’s also about the filmmaking process in the same way Assayas’ film was.

In Portrait, Bertrand Bonello pretty much plays himself – an art house director named "Bertrand". He’s currently in the pre-production process of his latest film, centered around monsters & classic art, and is having a difficult & strange time both in his personal life and his work life. He’s struggling to find motivation; one of his pre-production assistants (played by Jeanne Balibar) is kind of crazy and she's making the pre-production process more difficult than it needs to be, and he has a growing rash on his back.
Although this film is fictional, it’s still obviously based in reality. Besides the fact that Bonello & co-stars Alex Descas, Pascal Gregory & Isild Le Besco all play slightly fictional versions themselves, the (fictitious) films & perversions within Portrait Of The Artist are a direct reflection of Bonello’s own real work. The (fictitious) film Bonello is working on deals with transformation in the same way his (actual) film Tiresia does (the story of a transgendered woman making the reluctant transition back to a man). The sexual escapades in Portrait are reminiscent of certain moments in Bonello’s House Of Tolerance and The Pornographer.
This definitely falls in line with other fictional/non-fictional hybrids like The Trip, Tristram Shandy or The Player.

A major subplot in this film is about the appreciation of art. Half the scenes in Portrait involve the characters strolling through French museums, quietly observing and taking in what they see (part of Bertrand's pre-production process in the movie requires him to study classic art).

This movie reminded me of a recent trip I took to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art where I saw various pieces that clearly influenced some of my recent favorite French films...

Marcel Du Champs / Bruno Dumont

After watching this I genuinely felt the urge to go visit a museum. The creepiness & haunting qualities within the artwork featured in this movie are really accentuated (in Portrait, Bernard is looking to draw inspiration from non-traditional classical art portraits for the "monster" in his movie)

"Portrait de Tonetta"
"Child With Vitiligo"
"The Nightmare"

For quite some time I’ve been looking for a great movie with minimal talking and Portrait Of The Artist definitely answered my prayers. I mean think about it – why should there be a whole lot of talking in a movie about the appreciation of art? Art certainly needs to be discussed & talk about, but sometimes you need to be quiet in order to appreciate it. There's plenty of wordy dialogue in this but there are also just as many moments of silence.

Portrait Of The Artist adds a whole ‘nother subconscious layer of filmmaking. Bertrand Bonello did not direct this (it was directed by Antoine Barraud) yet it still feels like one of his films in the same way that the John Cassavetes-starring Mikey & Nick feels like a Cassavetes film even though he didn’t direct it. I'm struggling with this because I don't know if Antoine Barraud has a cinematic voice of his own, or if he’s a little too influenced by Bonello and trying to copy his style (the exploration into the filmmaking process that we see in Portrait Of The Artist is very reminiscent of Bertrand’s 2002 film The Pornographer). And of course if you’re influenced by the cinema of Bertrand Bonello, you’re indirectly influenced by the cinema of Robert Bresson. And that’s not to say he is in anyway a “Bresson-Clone”. He’s definitely influenced by the legendary filmmaker but Bertrand is definitely his own person (plus Robert Bresson would never make films about kidnapped transgendered prostitutes or tales about struggling French porn directors).

This film also relates to this blog on multiple levels. Not only have I written about Bertrand Bonello’s work quite a bit on here, but I also conducted a brief interview with him years ago. Naturally the presence of Alex Descas reminds me of the cinema of Claire Denis as he’s her most frequent collaborator (he’s also appeared in quite a few Assayas films and Bertrand's own film Tiresia). Seeing both Pascal Gregory & Geraldine Pailhas show up in Portrait reminded of PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite Lodge Kerrigan as they both co-starred in his last feature; Rebecca H: Return To The Dogs (2010) – a film that continues to evade me (it’s pretty rare and virtually unseen outside of its Cannes screening). The subplot about the growing rash on Bertrand’s back (and his newfound fascination with his body) reminded me of Marina De Van’s In My Skin (in the early 2000's Bertrand & Marina were often mentioned in the same reviews together as they were both varsity-lettermen of the New French Extremity movement). Another subplot in Portrait Of The Artist deals with Bertrand befriending a film critic which naturally hits home with me as I’ve become friends/buddies with some of the actors, actresses & filmmakers I’ve written about on here over the years like Alice Houri (a former collaborator of Bertrand Bonello). And this isn't a brag but years ago I was at the Toronto Film Festival the same time as Bertrand Bonello and we tried to make plans to meet up but it didn't work out. I'm not ashamed to admit that it would be cool for me to hang out with him. I'm a big fan. I'd love to hang out with the guy responsible for The Pornographer & House Of Tolerance (although I certainly wouldn't do what the fictitious film critic character in Portrait Of The Artist does in order to hang out with Bertrand. I'll say that much...)

I don't recommend this movie to everyone (in fact, there are only two or three people I can think of who would enjoy this) but for what its worth, this is the best thing I’ve seen so far this year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I'm not familiar with John Carpenter's later critically panned movies so I made it a point to only go and see stuff like Escape From LA, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man & Ghosts Of Mars at the John Carpenter retrospective that took place at BAM last month.
While there isn't much to say about Escape From LA (it's just as terrible and Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez-stenched as I remembered it) I felt Memoirs & Ghosts were worthy of some kind of analysis...


I’m always down to dissect/revisit the critical failures/potential misunderstood works of a masterful filmmaker, and Memoirs Of An Invisible Man definitely fits the bill. Anyone who follows this site regularly knows I’m a major defender of everyone from post-Collateral Michael Mann (read my recent review of Blackhat) to Andrea Arnold (I was actually able to find a few good things in her overall grueling Wuthering Heights adaptation), so I know what it’s like to love films & filmmakers that are underappreciated by the rest of the world. But at the same time, if I feel something is bad I’ll call it what it is. Liking bad things ironically has become a major problem within movie & music criticism (just read half the music reviews on pitchfork media that pertain to rap music if you want further examples of this). Cinephiles sometimes like to praise films they know damn well aren’t good just to be different. I’m guilty of it myself from time to time. We’re selfish folks who like to have certain movies all to ourselves so we make prolific statements about how (some) dumb movies are really misunderstood when they really aren't. Sometimes it gets out of hand. There’s a nice chunk of movies out there that hide behind the “cult movie” label when in fact they’re just bad.

This screening of Memoirs couldn’t have come at a better time. Pink Smoker Chris Funderberg has mentioned it on multiple occasions in his writings (specifically Sam Neil’s underrated performance), which made me wanna revisit it (the last time I saw Memoirs was in the early 90’s when my Dad videotaped it off of HBO). After seeing Memoirs again recently I can co-sign that Sam Neil’s role as the villainous David Jenkins is one of the film’s only saving graces. But there are a few other overlooked qualities. 
I don’t know if people realize how smart the casting of Chevy Chase was. From the beginning of his career he was known for his physical comedy (…or just falling down a lot). The character of Nick Halloway (the invisible protagonist) involves a lot of tripping, bumping in to people and falling over. Who better to cast for a role like that (at the time) than Chevy Chase?? Plus Halloway was kind of a jerk. Portraying a jerk should come easy to a guy like Chevy Chase given his reputation behind the scenes.
My only beef here is the pairing of Chevy Chase & Daryl Hannah. Hannah isn’t exactly my cup of tea in terms of beauty, but that doesn’t mean I think she’s unattractive. I get that she represent the standard statuesque blonde haired beauty that a lot of men appreciate. So what is she doing being paired with a dud like Chevy Chase? And while we’re at it, what was Daryl Hannah doing being paired with half of her (unworthy) on-screen love interests like Dudley Moore (Crazy People), Steve Martin (Roxanne) or Kevin O’Connor (Steel Magnolias)??
But that’s just superficial nitpicking on my part. The chemistry between Chase & Hannah was jut fine.

I’m not sure if John Carpenter was making a light parody of late 50’s/early 60’s-style campy noir films, or if he expected us to take this 100% seriously (outside of the genuinely comedic moments). And it’s not like the tone/ambiance of Memoirs Of An Invisible Man was new territory for Carpenter (like so many critics said it was). Between the special effects & the delivery of dialogue, Memoirs falls right in line with They Live, Prince Of Darkness and even Big Trouble In Little China. Memoirs is also just as much a body horror/science fiction adventure as They Live or The Thing. I guess some folks failed to realize that body horror branches off to things beyond just exploding body parts and scenes of gore (which are common elements in Carpenter’s cinema). The movie is about a guy whose body is literally altered after a freak accident (and for the rest of the film he tries to find a cure all while evading a secret government agency that wants to use him as a spy). Carpenter even goes so far as to show us Halloway’s internal organs every time he eats, drinks or smokes something. Sounds like it fits in with the rest of his filmography to me. This is like when David Cronenberg made M Butterfly. Sure, there aren’t any exploding heads (Scanners) or scenes of things coming out or going in to people’s stomachs (The Brood & Videodrome), but M Butterfly, a film about a person disguising himself as a woman, is just as much of a “body modification” film as anything else he’s done. Memoirs also reminded me of Raimi’s Darkman and Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man

Darkman / Memoirs Of An Invisible Man / Hollow Man

But still...NONE of this gives Memoirs Of An Invisible Man any kind of a free pass. This was an unsuccessful effort at the end of the day. The tone is incredibly confusing (like I already said, I'm not sure if this a true comedy or not). There's a whole middle section that takes place at a beach house that could have been edited down. The original director (Ivan Reitman) stepped away from the project after butting heads with Chevy Chase (something I’m not too surprised by). According to a few sources Chevy Chase was heavily involved behind the scenes because he wanted Memoirs to slowly transition him in to more serious roles. John Carpenter didn’t even put his name on the title like he usually does (he also didn’t score the film which is another staple of his). This was doomed right out off the gate (like the next film we'll be getting in to momentarily). The special effects are probably the only other good thing about this movie.

But this is the kind of unsuccessful movie that’s worthy of revisiting during something like a retrospective. It definitely doesn’t deserve a 20-something percent rating on rotten tomatoes. But at the same time, complaining about this film’s current ranking is like complaining about getting an F on a test when you felt you deserved a D+ because you showed all your work in the answer section. 


Ghosts Of Mars came out at a time when there were just way too many movies set on mars that it became difficult to differentiate one film from the next (Mission To Mars, The Red Planet, Ghosts Of Mars, Stranded, etc). It also came out during a time when Carpenter wasn't riding a major wave of success. 
This project never stood a chance. 
I’ll be the first to admit that even I dismissed Ghosts of Mars upon its initial release. But now that time has passed and my tastes have changed, I can honestly say that it’s not as bad as critics made it out to be. I think it was unfairly judged and compared to iconic movies like Alien when in fact it should have been put up against other movies in the John Carpenter universe. Not only was Ghost Of Mars originally supposed to be the third film in the Snake Plissken series (“Escape From Mars”) but it definitely takes place in the same universe as Escape From NY & Escape From L.A. 
In terms of plot, Ghosts Of Mars is like a mixture of The Thing with a pinch of Escape From NY/LA (Ice Cube’s “Desolation Williams” is just a slight revamp of Snake Plissken). The story involves a team of space police hired to retrieve & transfer a dangerous prisoner (Desolation Williams) currently being held in a cell on an isolated mining town on Mars. Once they arrive they soon come to find that a strange airborne virus has been let loose on the town turning the inhabitants in to possessed zombie-like demon vampires (???). This mysterious "virus", that transfers from one body to the next once the carrier dies, is similar to the virus in Carpenter’s The Thing (the outcome is obviously different but the idea of a shapeless thing/spirit taking over a human body is similar).
After some initial friction, the police, headed up by Natasha Henstridge & Jason Statham, work alongside Desolation Williams and his team of criminals to fight off the possessed space zombies in an effort to get outta dodge.

I guess the Alien comparison almost makes sense on some level. Both Alien & Ghosts Of Mars are science-fiction/horror hybrids with female protagonists that have to fight their way off of a dangerous planet (there’s even notable scenes in both movies where our female leads are shown in their underwear for no real reason). I actually never paid attention to how attractive Natasha Henstridge was/is until I watched Ghosts Of Mars on the big screen.

Beyond that, the comparison stops there. 

By 2001 I feel like critics should have known what to expect from John Carpenter. This wasn’t supposed to be some cinematic piece of art (even though there are some folks who think so). Ghost Of Mars has a strange reputation in that there are people who hate it, people who love it (in an un-ironic way), and people who find enjoyment from it in the same way a smart kid or a bully finds entertainment in laughing at a “slow kid” (which was definitely the audience I saw it with). Personally, I’m stuck between the last two groups. As you can see there are things I legitimately enjoy about this movie. I give it a solid 2.5 out of 5, but it’s not without its faults. The set design is a little cheesy & overly manufactured and Ice Cube's acting leaves a lot to be desired. The main antagonist/alpha-male zombie ghost (pictured at the top of this review) served no purpose other than to look cool (he was pretty stupid & non threatening). Clea Duvall was not a convincing cop and I can’t help but nitpick at how easily Cube, Henstridge & crew got away the first time (they drove a small rickety truck through a gauntlet of powerful blood thirsty zombies without being stopped or tipped over?)
But if you get too caught up in things like that you’ll never enjoy anything and Ghost Of Mars has more good qualities than bad qualities (barely). In my opinion, this was some of Carpenter’s best original music (along with the help of Anthrax & Buckethead). I don’t know if Ice Cube’s presence was a subconscious influence, but Carpenter’s use of a drum machine with 4 bar patterns & sequences (a standard in hip-hop music) was really great.

I try to keep my cynicism about this movie at a minimum because like I already said, liking things in an ironic way is a huge pet peeve of mine and Ghosts Of Mars is a prime example of how people can get caught up in that. I saw this at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music in a semi-crowded theater full of hipsters who would laugh or cheer at the screen in a way that made me question if they were genuinely enjoying the movie or if they were just laughing at it (I know that in 2015 the term hipster is one of the most overused & misconstrued labels, but irony mixed with cynicism mixed with sarcasm is an element of hipsterism and that was definitely the vibe I got from the BAM crowd I saw Ghosts with).

I also don’t know if folks were ready for an aggressive Black Male/Beautiful Blonde Femlae co-lead. I think we all know these are two prototypes that don’t usually survive in movies like Ghosts Of Mars yet to everyone’s surprise, they lived til the end!
But at the same time, I'd like to call bullshit on there being no sexual tension between the two leads (the sexual tension in the film is between Henstridge & co-star Statham). Had the male lead been portrayed by Kurt Russell (or just someone not Black) there would have probably been some immediate sexual tension between the two leads. But since we're dealing with Ice Cube, Carpenter made the two protagonists to be more like buddies. Even in 2015, folks like The Rock & Will Smith are two of the only dark skinned actors allowed to have sexual tension with attractive white women. Why was Vin Diesel (who is a person of color contrary to the characters he plays) given a sexy female co-star in xXx (Asia Argento), while Ice Cube got no one when he took over the sequel? What? Ice Cube can't pull attractive women? From his time in NWA alone you think he wasn't slaying groupies who looked just as good as (or better than) Natasha Henstridge? Let's be real.
So on one hand I commend John Carpenter for going against the grain by using unconventional leads, but I feel like he could have really gone against the grain even more by adding some romance. Of the four Carpenter films I watched at the BAM retrospective, Ice Cube was the only lead actor that had no sex or sexual tension with their female co-star.

Anyway...at the end of the day I don’t think this is a masterpiece, but I had such a fun time watching it that I ordered the DVD off of Amazon, so that says something.


I really shouldn't have sat on this for as long as I did (over18 months?). I should have released this during the period after Amour/before Bastards, but whatever...the work is done. Enjoy...

In my opinion Michael Haneke & Claire Denis are the two best active filmmakers on the planet and have been for quite some time. Cinema may not be as fresh & exciting as it was 40-something years ago but we're still living in an exciting time where some of the best films are coming out and these two filmmakers are behind a good portion of 'em. I don’t even think anyone else really comes close besides Oliver Assayas & Mike Leigh.
Now...there's a fairly legitimate argument in questioning Haneke & Denis' status in the world of cinema when their films may not have the same popularity due to limited runs in smaller theaters (especially in America). Both Haneke & Denis' films aren’t as accessible as other current popular filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, James Cameron, Scorsese, etc. How can you convince someone who just got finished watching Django Unchained that he/she needs to watch Code Unknown or Cache (two films that focus on racial & multicultural issues in this world better than anything I can think of) or someone who just finished watching Zero Dark Thirty that they should watch Beau Travail? You really can’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that both Haneke & Denis put out films that are more progressive (in terms of plot & filmmaking styles) than just about anything I can think of.

While most modern filmmakers today casually graze over issues like globalization, female sexuality, desencitization among youth, racial tension & the negative effect of the media, Denis & Haneke go a bit deeper (sometimes without needing much dialogue). Plus, and most importantly, they aren’t trying to solve these issues or put bandaids on things like Paul Haggis tried with Crash or Tyler Perry does with some of his work. Some of the best performances of the last 15+ years have come from their work (Isabelle Hupert in The Piano Teacher, Denis Lavant in Beau Travail, both Emanuelle Riva & Jean-Louis Trintigant in Amour, etc). And even though both filmmakers are Europeans, the themes & subject matter in their work is universal - The racial tension in Cache or Code Unknown applies to America. The subject of growing multinational countries & immigration isn’t just something that affects Europe. The stereotype of the absentee black father in America could easily be shattered by Alex Descas' performance in 35 Shots Of Rum as his character is very real and reminds me not only of my own father who was around, but plenty of other black fathers who either don’t get recognized or are ignored due the constant negative expectation that many people have towards black males when it comes to handling the responsibility of fatherhood.
Race is an important, sensitive, touchy & sometimes ignored issue in this world and has been for a while (and not just the relationship between black people & white people which seems to be the only lane filmmakers wanna explore when it comes to that). Haneke & Denis have been exploring race better than any director I can think of since Spike Lee released Bamboozled. The limited accessibility of their work means very little to me. Haneke & Denis' work is much too important & relevant to be disregarded simply because they're films don’t play at an AMC or get coverage in Entertainment Weekly. And with the growing number of indie & foreign films popping up on Hulu & Netflix along with the continued popularity of magazines like Film Comment, it’s become easier to discover films outside of mainstream cinema.
35 Shots Of Rum (Claire Denis)
I know some may think it’s pointless to determine who the "best" is (especially when I'm sure neither filmmaker cares) but it’s just my indescribable fascination to determine who the best is at something. Art house & independent cinema try to act like competition & awards are pointless. A lot of this has to do with older legends like Werner Herzog & Tarkofsky dismissing awards and/or giving great quotes like; "Awards are for dogs & ponies" (Herzog). There's this vibe I get that awards are beneath some filmmakers yet these art house & indie filmmakers rarely (or ever) turn down these "silly" awards that are supposedly beneath them (Herzog included). Sometimes I get the feeling that Cannes & Sundance are more competitive than the Oscars. So many feelings have been caught and so many beefs have been started over not getting awards or recognition at those festivals - Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing losing out to Sex, Lies & Videotape at Cannes in '89 and Lee subsequently threatening Wim Wenders with a bat, Von Trier flipping off Roman Polanski (head of the Cannes jury in '91) because Europa didn’t win best picture, Vincent Gallo getting snubbed by Paul Schrader at Sundance, etc. But being labeled the best can have some importance to it. It’s not just all about an award or a golden statue. Determining who's films best represents this world (while still giving credit to other important filmmakers at the same time) is an important honor in my opinion.

So...between Haneke & Denis, who's the best? Technically, if these two filmmakers were to be ranked, Haneke would easily be #1. Mainstream cinema has come to accept his (uncompromised) work more & more. The White Ribbon won a Golden Globe, Amour has dominated this year's Oscar nomination and his remake of Funny Games saw him working with more popular/mainstream actors like Tim Roth & Naomi Watts.
Isabelle Hupert in The Piano Teacher (Haneke) & White Material (Denis)

When you compare Haneke's work to Denis' (coincidentally, both filmmakers usually release films around the same time or within a year of each other) Haneke kinda wins hands down. Here's how I score their films next to each other...

The Seventh Continent vs. Chocolat
Benny's Video vs. No Fear, No Die (tie)
71 Fragments vs. I Can’t Sleep (barely)
The Castle vs. US Go Home*
Funny Games vs. Nenette & Boni
Code Unknown vs. Beau Travail
The Piano Teacher vs. Trouble Everyday
The Time Of The Wolf vs. Friday Night
Cache vs. The Intruder
Funny Games US vs. 35 Shots Of Rum
The White Ribbon vs. White Material
Amour vs. Bastards (tie)

* both have done quite a few made for tv movies in their countries but the Castle (Haneke) & US Go Home (Denis) are their two most known & accessible tv works so I’m putting them up against each other

racial tension in Code Unknown (Haneke) & No Fear No Die (Denis)

Although Haneke has more "wins", there is a more spiritual & soulful side to Denis. Don’t get me wrong, there's a gritty reality to Denis' films (No Fear No Die, US Go Home, I Can’t Sleep) but she also provides an escape. Films like The Intruder & the dreamy moments in Nenette & Boni provide an escape to a subconscious world. Haneke's work does occasionally explore dreams (or nightmares depending on how you look at it) but Denis is a bit more versed in stream of consciousness & dreaminess in my opinion. There's something about giving Haneke alone the title of "BEST" that bothers me. I don’t know if I want such cold, dark & biter work (The Piano Teacher, Cache, The White Ribbon, etc) to be the defining films of this era. Haneke is almost perfect but there isn’t a lot of hope in his films. Think about the final moments of The Time Of The Wolf or The Piano Teacher and tell me you feel any hope for humanity. Actually, Amour, Haneke's latest film, is really the only thing of his that says he has a heart. Say what you want about Claire Denis, who also happens to be versed in documentary filmmaking, but there’s a bit more hope in her work and you don’t feel like slitting your wrists or falling in to a mild depression after watching her films. I can be a cynic but I still have hope for this world. Influence and the impact a filmmaker has on cinema is also an important factor. Both filmmakers bring influences from an older generation in a much more subtle way than Tarantino or Refn yet still have original & influential styles. Some may not realize it but when watching The Seventh Continent, The White Ribbon, Beau Travail or 35 Shots Of Rum, viewers are being exposed to the filmmaking styles of Bresson, Dryer, Godard & Ozu. Furthermore, many modern French films & filmmakers are very reminiscent of Claire Denis (Gregory Colin, one of her regular actors, has gone on to become a director who's style is very similar to Denis'). Recent films like Michael, Afterschool and Dogtooth all borrow heavily from Haneke in terms of style & atmosphere.
The White Ribbon (Haneke)
Getting back to race for a moment - although both filmmakers are white Europeans, they're exploration of different races & ethnicities seems more genuine than most filmmakers (even those of color). There’s been a growing trend among many white filmmakers in the last decade where they like to explore cultures (mostly black) other than their own. The problem is that a lot of these films come off bad and/or bordering on being racist or perpetuating stereotypes (by accident, but still). The different cultures, races & ethnicities in Haneke & Denis' films don’t come off like studied entities from an uneducated or misguided white person viewing from a distance. In Denis' case this has to do with her growing up all throughout the continent of Africa and being exposed to different cultures & nationalities. Although the two filmmakers I feel are the “best” right now happen to be white, they don’t just explore “white” issues or make stories that are "white only" (especially Denis). Not many prominent filmmakers can say that. Where Haneke "beats" Denis in terms of recognition (golden globe & academy award nominations) Denis, in my opinion, has the edge in terms of racial exploration (although not to say that Haneke doesn't show racism in a masterful way). With films like Funny Games & Cache, Haneke clearly has a thing about "white guilt" and hints of insecurity or self hatred when it comes to racism whereas Denis is much more comfortable exploring racial issues.
Even if you don't agree with my theory (which is understandable depending on who you think are the best) you can still see where I'm coming from and understand my reasoning. I’ve read just about every piece of available literature on both directors and have watched their combined filmographies (while analyzing every single frame along the way) an unhealthy amount of times. I’m not the only person with this belief. In the last 10+ years Denis & Haneke have been praised by all the legitimate film publications and some of the best reviews, essays & write-ups have been based of off their films (BFI named Claire Denis filmmaker of the decade a few years ago). See my analysis on both Haneke & Denis from 2011. I'm curious to hear what you all think about Haneke & Denis impact on cinema today. Am I way off or on to something here?

CHAMPS (CutPrintFilm)

Check out my review of the new Starz boxing documentary Champs


Sunday, March 8, 2015


Hey guys! 
I made another appearance on one of my personal favorite podcasts The Schlock Treatment (co-hosted by PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Doug Frye). This time I was joined by cartoonist/all around cool person Abby Denson to discuss Brian Yuzna's Society.

(also make sure to check out Abby's latest book Cool Japan Guide)

Friday, March 6, 2015


I have fond memories of trekking through shitty NYC weather in my early 20’s to purchase various Maysles brothers documentaries from people off of craigslist.



Check out my latest review of Raba Nadda's latest film October Gale over at CutPrintFilm...

Monday, March 2, 2015


It's the details that I love. You can say so many things in a story through the images... I like to show things in an original way, I like to push the forms of visual expression to their limit - Lynne Ramsay

Like the Cinema of Todd Haynes or Lodge Kerrigan, Lynne Ramsay is another example of quality over quantity. In her almost two decades of filmmaking she only has three features under her belt (along with a handful of shorts) but I still consider her to be a "veteran" (not a veteran in the same tier as a Michael Haneke or a Claire Denis, but her name certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Andrea Arnold, Fatih Akin, Bruno Dumont, Carlos Reygadas & Apichatpong Weerasethakul).
Ramsay's work has been on a consistent personal heavy rotation for the last decade so this one is special. I also don't explore a lot of female filmmakers in this series. I know some of you may be tired of reading lines like what I'm about to write but, in my opinion, Lynne Ramsay is a unique female voice in the mostly male populated world of filmmaking (it's certainly nice that everyone is suddenly praising Ava Duvernay & Angelina Jolie for their directorial efforts, but it'd also be nice to see mavericks like Lucrecia Martel, Denis & Ramsay get the same kind of attention).


Post traumatic stress
Every one of Ramsay's feature films opens right at the start of (or moments after) some tragic event seen through the eyes of the main character. These characters are always in a peculiar position in that they're directly/indirectly involved in these tragic events somehow.
At the beginning of Ratcatcher, James accidentally causes the death of his friend Ryan but because there were no witnesses around to see exactly what happened, he keeps it a secret and we watch the guilt weigh on him through the course of the film.
Morven Callar opens with the title character finding her boyfriend's dead body just after he took his own life. Instead of alerting the police, family or friends, Morvern disposes of the body and tells everyone "he's gone" to which everyone assumes she means he's broken up with her.
And We Need To Talk About Kevin deals with the aftermath of a school "shooting" from the perspective of the shooter's mother.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Morvern Callar
You Were Never Really Here

The (sometimes) complicated relationship between parents & children...
Calling the families in Ramsay's films dysfunctional would be too easy. "Complicated" feels like the right terminology (technically they're all dysfunctional but that word wraps things up a little too nicely for my taste). Complicated family drama has always been at the root of her work. One of her earliest shorts (Gasman) focuses on a man juggling two different sets of children.
At one point in Ratcatcher James' father slaps his mother but moments later you get the sense that this may have happened once or twice before and its just kind of how things are between them. The occasional slap isn't a relationship ender for his parents, you don't really look at the mother as weak or fragile for being hit, and neither James, his mom or his siblings are even scared of the father character (James' dad is also quietly an alcoholic but because he isn't a raging drunk, we aren't quick to label him as such). And at it's core, We Need To Talk About Kevin is about the complicated, sometimes tense relationship between mothers & sons.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need To Talk About Kevin
You Were Never Really Here

Recurring shots
Morvern Callar / Ratcatcher
The Swimmer / We Need To Talk About Kevin
Ratcatcher / You Were Never Really Here

Ratcatcher / We Need To Talk About Kevin
Morvern Callar / The Swimmer / Ratcatcher
Ratcatcher / We Need To Talk About Kevin

Recurring setting: Christmas
Shane Black isn't the only figure in modern films who loves Christmas (note the same position of the tree in each shot)
Morvern Callar
We Need To Talk About Kevin

Terrence Malick's influence on pre-Morvern Callar Lynne Ramsay was more than obvious. Besides all the sprawling shots of grassy fields & sunsets, she even went so far as to use some of the music from Badlands in Ratcatcher.
Ratcatcher/The Red Balloon
Ratcatcher/The 7th Continent
Ratcatcher/Hour Of The Wolf
We Need To Talk About Kevin/Andrei Rublev
Badlands (Malick) / Ratcatcher

But Ramsay's influences (both visually & stylistically) go beyond Malick or even cinema...
Little Buddah / We Need To Talk About Kevin
Ratcatcher / Kes
Drive / You Were Never Really Here
Taxi Driver / You Were Never Really Here
The Night Of The Hunter / You Were Never Really Here
The Red Balloon
Andrei Rublev / We Need to Talk About Kevin

Whether she realizes it or not, Lynne Ramsay is a voice for women in film (even if a lot women aren't as familiar with her work as I'd like them to be). Without being cliche or predictable she addresses issues like motherhood (We Need To Talk About Kevin & Ratcatcher), "girlhood" (Gasman), and friendships between women (Morvern Callar) in ways no other active filmmaker does. Plus the actresses she uses are rarely ever "dolled up" or covered in make-up (there's a moment in Morvern Callar where the camera intentionally zooms in on Morvern's leg hairs and later on we see her armpit hair and "granny panties" as if Ramsay is intentionally breaking convention and showing a more natural/realistic side of women).
Morvern Callar
Small Deaths
We Need To Talk About Kevin

The presence of children
With the exception of Morvern Callar, all of her films focus on children. Her young characters are usually faced with, or witnesses too, morbid events like the death of a young friend (Ratcatcher) or a school massacre (We Need To Talk About Kevin). Even when the events aren't morbid, her young characters are forced to grow up fast or accept certain things no child should have too (Gasman).
Black & White Town
Small Deaths
We Need To Talk About Kevin
You Were Never Really Here

True stories & adaptations
All of Ramsay's work is either an adaptation of a pre-existing novel or, in the case of Ratcatcher, is set during a real event that plays as a backdrop.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Morvern Callar
Ratcatcher is set during the 1973 Glasgow garbageman strike
Ramsay was originally supposed to adapt The Lovely Bones

Hints, implications & the unspoken
Sometimes all it takes is a look to get your point across and Ramsay's work is certainly an example of this. Subtle looks and not-so obvious body language is an incredibly understated quality in Ramsay's pre-We Need To Talk About Kevin filmography (the element of the unspoken is more than obvious in Kevin given Ezra Miller has an evil sinister scowl or smirk on his face through most of the film and Tilda Swinton looks like she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown). All of Ramsay's early short films have little to no dialogue, and even if you were to miss the opening scenes of both Ratcatcher & Morvern Callar, you'd still be able to sense that James (Ratcatcher) & Morvern were sitting on some devastating news just by the looks on their faces...
This is such an important factor in Ramsay's work that you can even see it in the images used in the previous categories. Not Samantha Morton's face while sitting in the bathtub in Morvern Callar or the look on the young girls face in Gasman at the start of the "Womanhood" category
Morvern Callar
We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin


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