Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Most of what you're about to read is a collection of slightly tweaked excerpts from longer reviews that you can read on this site (with the exception of Mad Max: Fury Road & It Follows). While I've seen a lot of movies this year, these are the movies that have stuck out the most to me. If something isnt on the list it's probably because I was underwhelmed by it (The Wanted 18), still dont know what to make of it (Lost River & Love & Mercy), havent seen it yet (The Wolfpack), or thought it was just "ok"/solid/pretty good and not much more (Avengers Age Of Ultron, White God & Ex Machina).


(in no particular order)

This is everything I’ve been looking for in a movie. It’s beautiful, perverse, flawed, boring, alienating, dryly comical, up its own ass, and thought provoking all at once. It's an ode to modern French cinema in the same way that Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep was (it's also an off-shoot/sequel of the next film on the list). Not only does Portrait Of The Artist feature Irma Vep co-star Alex Descas, but it’s also about the filmmaking process in the same way Assayas’ film was. For quite some time I’ve been looking for an engaging movie with minimal dialogue and Portrait Of The Artist definitely answered my prayers. I mean think about it – this is a movie about the appreciation of art. Why should there be a whole lot of talking in a movie about the appreciation of art? It certainly needs to be discussed & talk about, but sometimes you just need to be quiet in order to appreciate art.
Portrait Of The Artist adds a nice subconscious layer of filmmaking in that even though Bertrand Bonello did not direct this (it was directed by Antoine Barraud) 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. 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.
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 (imagine a French arthouse version of Tristram Shandy, The Trip or The Player). 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.

Style-wise, Clouds Of Sils Maria feels like an extension of the obvious Irma Vep, but it also feels like Assayas combined the ambiance from his chaotic films (Demonlover, Boarding Gate & Carlos) with his more subtle/toned-down work (Summer Hours, Late August Early September & Something In The Air). He also incorporates some interesting editing techniques that I've never seen him use before. Some of the transitions between scenes slowly blend in to one another like in Kubrick's The Shining or Todd Haynes' Safe. Then other moments end abruptly out of nowhere almost in mid-conversation. And like the second half of Demonlover & Irma Vep, there are elements within Clouds Of Sils Maria that make absolutely no sense but for some reason we kind of accept it (like the sudden disappearance of one of the main billed characters 3/4 in to the movie).
The theme of "the aging actress" seen in Clouds Of Sils Maria also serves as a nice companion to Patricia Arquette's journey that many of us followed last year with Boyhood.

Little bits of reality seeping in to fiction seems to be the theme in 2015 so far. This is obviously something a few filmmakers touched on last year with Birdman, Top 5 & Chef, but it's even more prominent this year. Besides Clouds Of Sils Maria & Portrait Of The Artist, I felt that Gerard Depardieu put real pieces of himself in to the character he played in Welcome To New York. And personally, I thought Viggo Mortensen's role in Jauja was an existential look at aging as well as a callback to all the physically demanding roles that brought him to prominence in the last 14 years or so (A History Of Violence, The Road, Hidalgo, Eastern Promises, LOTR). As an actor in his mid/late 50's, I'm not sure how many naturally physically demanding roles he has left in him without the help of CGI, lots of editing (like in the case of The Expendables) or extensive stunt double work (not to say those things haven't already been incorporated in some of Viggo's performances, but everything he does physically in front of the camera feels like it's all him).

speaking of Viggo...

No other film has lingered in my mind this year as much as Jauja (it has the tone & pacing of a four hour long movie when in fact it’s under two hours). You’d think when a filmmaker only has 110 minutes to spare they wouldn’t waste the audiences time with long unbroken shots of horses drinking water or characters just sitting around but Lisandro Alonso doesn’t seem to care. Personally, I find that commendable. For quite some time I’ve been advocating for more movies, both mainstream & “art-house”, to have less talking and Jauja definitely answered that personal request. At its core, this is a meditative film (with hints of issues like colonialism & the ownership of land) that borders on a feature length experiment. Not only does Alonso test our patience with the pacing, but the cast of actors is a mixture of professional & non-professional (that’s always a crap shoot). The script was also co-written by a poet (Fabian Casas) rather than a traditional screenwriter.
This film is also impressive because of Lisandro’s age. While he certainly isn’t young (39), Jauja at times feels like the final film of an 80-something year old filmmaker going through a personal existential crisis. Lisandro Alonso has a bit of an old soul and it shows here.

Mad Max: Fury Road is most definitely this year's Boyhood in that it's universally loved by just about everyone (with a few exceptions here & there). I admit that prior to seeing this I really didn't understand the hype surrounding this (I'm not a Mad Max superfan and the cast was made up of actors that I have no emotional attachment to). But after watching this I get it (this is also the first 3D movie that didnt totally annoy me from start to finish). There's really no need for me to get too in depth about this one (there's a ton of excellent reviews already floating around for you to read). I will say that if you don't see this movie you are truly missing out. No silly dialogue, no Christopher Nolan-esque convolutedness and minimal CGI. It's just a straight up action film. I advise everyone to stay from the reviews & essays regarding this film that are centered around gender or race because they're silly. This is an action film made simply for the purpose of entertainment and it absolutely delivers.

While Pasolini still has yet to find a distributor (which is fine with me because it was kind of dissapointing), Abel Ferrara managed to make his mark in 2015 with Welcome To New York - a loose retelling of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case. Normally I’d roll my eyes at someone making a film about this as it would come off as either pandering or opportunistic (there was a lackluster episode of Law & Order: SVU that was loosely based on the Kahn/Diallo case) but Abel Ferrara is someone who knows about scummy people. I’m willing to hear what he has to say about this. From Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant to Chris Penn in The Funeral, Ferrara has crafted some majorly dysfunctional/fucked-up characters. Dominique fits in seamlessly within the cinema of Abel Ferrara (actually, Kahn regularly engaged in sex parties & orgies which is something that happens regularly in the films of Abel Ferrara).
The Dominique Strauss-Kahn case was also very much a New York City story and Abel Ferrara is an unofficial representative/voice of NYC (almost 75% of his films are set in the big apple).
If anything, Welcome To New York serves as two giant middle fingers, courtesy of the people of New York City, to the privileged/entitled Kahn who got away Scott-free. And given Gerard Depardieu’s current personal beef with his homeland of France, I imagine it didn’t take much convincing for him to take part in a film like this.


Blackhat is Miami Vice all over again. For some reason people failed to catch that Vice was an adaptation of the television show of the same name and wanted some gritty cop drama. It’s Miami Vice. What the fuck were people expecting? You knew what you signed up for when you bought the ticket to see it. Even if you haven’t seen the original show/source material, you still knew the vibe of Miami Vice (and you know what? Miami is a fairly cheesy place. It’s a fun place that I love to visit, but there’s a layer of cheese over that city that Mann captured in my opinion). Are people so full of themselves that they can’t allow a film to be cool and, dare I say, a little bit cheesy every once in a while? I know Blackhat isn’t a masterpiece. It’s not without criticism. The basic plot alone (the good guys use a likable bad guy to capture an even worse bad guy) has been done a million times. Chris Hemsworth's accent/demeanor seems a little forced at times (as do certain lines of dialogue) and it’s never quite spelled out how an MIT-trained computer wizard knows how to defend himself/beat people up so well (I guess all his time in prison surrounded by hardened criminals toughened him up?). The romantic relationship between our love interests did kind of come out of nowhere, and from the outside looking in I can see how people had issues with the editing and jumpiness of the film (I personally didn’t mind it at all, but I can see how that could be off-putting to some). But Blackhat still falls perfectly in line with Mann’s post-Heat universe and continues to push that cool/sleek yet jazzy/chaotic style of his. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – for a studio filmmaker Michael Mann is a breath of fresh air.

Like BlackhatDa Sweet Blood Of Jesus is not as bad as critics made it out to be. In fact it was quite good. Sure, some of the acting is a little strange (the delivery of some actors straddles the line between flat & overly theatrical); some moments in the film are random for the sake of being random; the two protagonists fall in love with each other unbelievably fast, and maybe this is just me being nitpicky, but I found the lighting in certain scenes to be a little too dark (perhaps that’s part of the problem that comes along with digital filmmaking these days?). However Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is still ambitious and that counts for a lot. Sorry, but these days if I have the choice between something “safe”/non-threatening versus something problematic yet ambitious – I’m going to go with the latter. Much like how A Most Violent Year is a non-gangster GANGSTER film, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is a non-vampire VAMPIRE film. 
Unfortunately, whether Spike Lee fans realize this or not, he’s held to a strange (unfair?) high standard where people are still expecting him to make another Do The Right Thing or Malcolm X (I guess that’s what happens when you’re one of the very few talented black filmmakers working in the mainstream). Some of you may disagree with that statement but that’s the way I see it. Perhaps some folks forgot Lee’s indie/D.I.Y. roots (Joe’s Bedstuy Barbershop & She’s Gotta Have It). From the subjects & characters in Shirley Clarke’s films to the work of Melvin Van Peeples, the origins of black people in independent film has always been a little against the grain, “left field” & grass roots-based. Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is no exception. A few months back I found myself getting incredibly frustrated at people (specifically so-called Spike Lee fans) dismissing Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus upon seeing the trailer (which is strange because I normally get annoyed when diehard Spike Lee fans blindly support even his bad movies).
Plus, not every Lee film is going to be a game-changer. I think some people have a hard time accepting that. If you aren’t expecting a 40 acres & a mule classic and just looking for an interesting film to kick back with, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is certainly worth your time (although I don’t think it needed to be 130 minutes long).


If you're a regular at PINNLAND EMPIRE then you know I've been promoting this before it even went in to pre-production (I even managed to help raise a little bit of money for the kickstarter campaign). Putting aside the fact that this was made by my good friend & music collaborator, I relate to this film more than the average viewer. Like the protagonist in S.P.I.T., I too went from (happily) performing & creating music (as a DJ, not a rapper) to sitting in an office cubicle looking at a computer screen for hours on end. The story of the struggling [HIP-HOP] artist isn't often shown on film so right out of the gate Mtume Gant has already touched on somewhat original subject in his first directorial effort. I guess I'm about as emotionally attached to this film as someone on the outside can be.

This is a somewhat dark & strange comical take on gentrification & race in Brooklyn (the issues in this short film apply to plenty of other places outside of Brooklyn as well). Imagine shades of a young Robert Townsend mixed with the humor from an adult swim segment told from the perspective of a fresh new voice (Newlyweed's Shaka King). Check out this short in it's entirety below...


Sorry but I don't understand what people see in this. Like last year's Under The Skin, It Follows is another boring & overrated film (both about women who have sex with random dudes set to Brian Eno-esque scores) that's supposed to have some kind of deep pseudo-philosophical meaning when in fact it's quite pointless. Lemme guess - It Follows is supposed to be some kind of commentary on the pointlessness of sex? Or maybe it's about the pressure and immense value young people put on sex. Or perhaps it's a metaphor about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases in the form of a Grindhouse homage (just watch Todd Haynes' Poison or Leos Carax's Bad Blood instead). What pisses me of even more is that It Follows has all it's bases covered for when people like me hate on it. "C'mon, give the movie pass. It was made on a shoestring budget" or "It's an homage to older low budget horror movies so it's supposed to look that way. You cant hate on it." Sorry, those sound like excuses.
And at least Under The Skin is watchable. It Follows is painfully drudging just like the personalities of all the annoying teenage characters in the film. JESUS CHRIST! I've never cared less about characters in a movie. I wasn't even happy when they died.

No matter how harsh my rating of this movie was for CutPrintFilm, I was still too nice in my overall analysis. This movie is incredibly grueling (not in the good kind of way) and, even worse, it’s painfully cliché. As a film critic in 2015 it’s pretty cliché to use the term “cliché” in order to describe a movie but the Safdie brothers have left me no other choice. I’m really not exaggerating just to be mean when I say this movie comes off like an unpolished student film exercise. But so many other critics seem to think otherwise. If you’ve read any of the early reviews on Heaven Knows What coming out of Venice then you know it’s been compared to everything from Panic In Needle Park to Requiem For A Dream. I get that on some level. All three films focus on heroin addiction between young couples in an unflinching kind of way (and all three movies are overrated on different levels). But in my opinion, Heaven Knows What is the product of wanting to emulate Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho after one too many viewings. And if that’s not the case, it’s an attempt at trying to revive the Dogma 95 movement after over a decade when people had already stopped caring about the Danish-based film movement. And if neither of those rationalizations suit you, then Heaven Knows What is a clear case of young filmmakers kind of romanticizing that gritty early-80's downtown NYC drug scene.


This is priority #1 (I had a chance to see this a few months back but Wrestlemania took priority). I know a lot of you may not be too familiar with this or Rick Alverson's work but after The Comedy (one of the five best films of the decade so far in my opinion) I'll watch anything he does. A lot of the same people from the Tim & Eric family tree are involved in this which makes me even more excited. 

Todd Haynes might be the best least active American filmmaker alive today. It's two years shy of a decade since he made a feature film (a film I've been waiting two years to see) so needless to say my anticipation has reached maximum level.

Even though it was recently announced that this is getting pushed back yet ANOTHER year, I'm still holding out that it'll get released at the very end of the year. Fingers crossed...

I was so nervous about the English-language debut of Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps, etc). There hasn't been a good recent track record of foreign language directors making the transition to English speaking cinema so I breathed a sigh of relief to discover that The Lobster went over quite well at Cannes last month. I'll be the first in to see this when it finally comes to NYC.


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