Friday, June 26, 2015

KIDNEYS ON FILM PART FIVE: POUND OF FLESH


Jean Claude Van Damme & Kidney transplantation. Two key elements that make up the fabric that is Marcus Pinn.
Like any young boy that came up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I grew up on Van Damme’s filmography (Cyborg, Bloodsport, Lionheart, Kickboxer, etc). And as some of you know, I had a kidney transplant back in 2007 (December 18th to be exact), so it’s really special to see one of my childhood heroes tackle kidney disease when so many other films still haven't.
It’s also pretty cool to see that Van Damme is still pulling off new innovative ways to do the splits in all of his movies...


Ever since I started doing the Kidneys On Film Series, friends often ask me whether or not kidney disease/kidney transplantation is accurately portrayed on film, and, with the exception of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, it usually isn’t (I still find it odd that Uncle Boonmee gives such an honest portrayal of kidney disease because the rest of the film is incredibly strange).

one of the few scenes from Uncle Boonmee that shows the tedious dialysis procedure...

I would never expect a straight-to-video action film to be 100% medically accurate in the vein of Human Centipede, but there are a few things that did make me throw my hands up in disbelief and go “Oh c’mon!” while watching this...

In Pound Of Flesh Jean Claude Van Damme plays a kidnap & rescue agent currently in the Philippines to give his niece one of his kidneys. But after a wild night of partying, he wakes up in a bathtub of ice only to discover that one of his kidneys has been stolen. With the help of his estranged brother and an old buddy who happens to live in the area, he now has 10 hours to get the kidney back so he can get it to his niece in time.
Only a few hours after having his kidney ripped from his body, we see Van Damme roaming the streets & kicking ass in an effort to track down his stolen organ. Now...I’m no endocrinologist but I feel like no one, not even Jean Claude Van Damme, would be able to pull off roundhouse kicks & deadly throat punches HOURS after losing a kidney in what was probably a sketchy surgery job to begin with (his kidney is stolen while he’s asleep in his hotel room which can’t be sanitary. You mean to tell me he didn’t get any kind of an infection? Isn’t that why doctors scrub their hands before an operation? I feel like kidney thieves don't wash their hands thoroughly).


On the flipside however, Pound Of Flesh touches on certain technicalities of kidney disease & kidney transplantation that I have yet to see any other movie touch on. Even with all the terrible-looking CGI gun shots, green screens & predictable dialogue, this is the first movie I’ve seen that touches on the fact that transplant recipients have to take medication for the rest of their lives.
Taking anti-rejection medication for life is not that bad. In fact it’s not bad at all. All you have to do is take 20-30 pills daily for life (depending on the dosage). If that honestly sounds like a hassle, imagine plugging your stomach, neck or arm in to a dialysis machine on a regular basis. Any time I hear of a kidney rejecting from a recipients body due to someone not taking their medication I literally have NO sympathy. In fact it pisses me off. Someone gave you an organ in order for you to live and all you had to do is take some pills at various times throughout the day. Sounds like a good deal to me. It blows my mind that some folks can’t even manage that (if you feel like complaining about the ridiculous number co-pays you're stuck with for the rest of your life...then I understand)

Pound Of Flesh also shows that just because you’re a blood relative doesn’t always mean you’re going to be an automatic match. There’s a common belief that an immediate family member can donate a kidney with no problem but that’s not always the case (I received my Kidney from my uncle by law). In the film, Van Damme’s brother isn’t a match for his own daughter (there’s a little bit more as to why that is but I won’t say anymore). 
We even see a list of foods to avoid after a trasnplant (see the image at the beginning of this review). I feel like Pound Of Flesh didn't intend to be this detail oriented in terms of kidney diseas but it just kinda worked out that way (I don't see Van Damne doing organ donor research during pre-production to get in to character).


There's an interesting turn in the final act of the film when Van Damme & company figure that his kidney has probably already been transplanted and they're now going to have to steal it back directly from the mysterious recipient's body. This made me wonder why Van Damme didn't just steal the kidneys of all the various henchmen he killed off earlier on in the movie. They're dead. They don't need their kidneys anymore. The body count by the halfway mark was at least five people. Five cadavers makes the odds a little better for his niece to find a match.
This movie also cuts itself short when it came to the time frame given to retrieve the kidney. Typically, you have somewhere between 20-30 hours to use a (properly stored) kidney once its been removed from a living body instead of the 10 hour window in Pound Of Flesh. Cutting the window in half added more tension to the movie and pushed the story along (Pound Of Flesh, which clocks in at 90-something minutes, takes place over a 36 hour period).

So while on one hand this is a typical “Jean Claude Van Damme kicking ass in southeast Asia” action movie, it still shows some respect to the kidney transplant process, and it does tug at the heart strings a little bit, so I can’t completely dismiss it.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

LOOKING FOR VALIDATION IN MEDIOCRE MOVIES...


So I noticed there's not a lot of folks of color and I thought I would like to give you my resume to give to Wes Anderson and just to let him know I'm available. - Whoopi Goldberg 



On a recent episode of The View Whoopi Goldberg half-jokingly addressed guest Jason Schwartzman about the lack of Black people in Wes Anderson’s movies (Schwartzman is one of Anderson's stock actors). Sure, Whoopi technically said “folks of color” but she more than likely meant Black people. Anyone familiar with Anderson’s movies knows he has a partial boner for India so there’s almost always a splash of “color” in his movies. However there aren’t many black people in his movies as Whoopi pointed out. Ok... So? If he wanted more Black people in his movies at this point (almost two decades of filmmaking) he would have done something about it by now (personally I don't care. I just want the old Bottle Rocket/Rushmore Wes Anderson back).
And I don’t want to make Wes Anderson out to be the bad guy here. This is bigger than him. I feel like there aren’t many Black people in his movies simply because they aren’t in the specific upper-class society that he often explores. There’s nothing malicious in his casting (I'm willing to bet Whoopi is going to show up in one of Wes' movies now too). And realistically speaking, Black people would more than likely be the servants & sitters in his world so I actually appreciate his (unintentional) omission of Black people. 

Let's be honest, in the real world Herman Blume (Rushmore), the Maplethorpes (Bottle Rocket) & the Tenenbaums would ALL have Black butlers, servants & nannies. In 2015 I'd much rather Black folks not be seen in certain movies rather than be seen as a maid or a butler.

The Royal Tenenbaums
The Life Aquatic

Why do Black people continue to complain about their lack of representation in movies that are often mediocre or overrated? Remember that whole #oscarsowhite "movement" on social media a few months ago? That was all rooted in Black people wanting to be validated/recognized by white people. And what's even worse is that all of that validation rested on the shoulders of one pretty good movie (Selma).
I obviously understand where all this comes from. White people aren’t the only race on the planet yet a lot of movies, both mainstream & indie, would have you think otherwise. Black people, brown people and just people of color in general should all have some kind of substantial representation on film. But it’s 2015 and we’re still fighting the same battle. Maybe it’s time to take the hint, stop looking for validation from people that clearly aren't  thinking about us/you, and just focus on filmmakers that do represent people of color in some form (if Whoopi really wanted to beg for a part in a movie she should reach out to someone like Newlyweeds director Shaka King).
I found the whole interaction between Goldberg & Schwartzman to be both cringe-inducing & corny. If someone continues to not cast people of color in their movies (and it really bothers you) then stop supporting their movies and support (talented) filmmakers that DO show a wide range of “color” in their work. Don't ask to be cast in one of their movies! Seriously, Whoopi Goldberg, have some respect for yourself. You’re an academy award winning actress. You don’t need to half-jokingly beg Wes Anderson for a part in one of his quirky movies like some struggling actress.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as this is the same person who defended Mel Gibson after his racist telephone rant to his ex and defended Ted Danson’s blackface stunt.
I'd also be lying if I said this piece wasn't partially fueled by my disdain for a lot of Goldberg's more recognizable (and stereotypical) roles (I know this isn't a popular stance and any kind of harsh criticism of an aging actress/woman in this day & age is just asking for trouble but some folks need to be called on their shit). Next to Morgan Freeman & Scatman Crothers, she's got some serious Mount Rushmore-status "wise/magical black person" roles under her belt. Whoopi's stunt on The View came off like a scene in Bamboozled.





Normally I’d love to see a guy like Spike Lee call Goldberg out on all this but his own hypocrisy in recent years has reached a level where I can’t really listen to him anymore. Lee has never shied away from calling out everyone from Ving Rhames & Cuba Gooding Jr to Tyler Perry & The younger Wayans Brothers for what he felt was “cooning” or “selling out”...



(for those that didn't know, Spike Lee was going at Cuba Gooding Jr. & Ving Rhames in certain specific scenes in Bamboozled for what he felt was "selling out")

But for some reason a guy like Charles Barkley is exempt from Lee’s criticism. From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown, Charles Barkley has clearly shown he doesn’t like young black people and has some serious self-hate issues he needs to work out. Instead of calling out Barkley on his self-hating racist bullshit (like he's done with others so many times in the past), Lee turned around and did a series of commercials with the guy who not only agreed with the George Zimmerman verdict, but called the Fergusson rioters “scumbags”. I know we all have contradictions as human beings but isn't there a limit? You can’t cry “Black Lives Matter” then do an endorsement deal with someone who clearly thinks the opposite. Seems a little hypocritical to me. Spike Lee is the same guy who cancelled an appearance at Hampton University at the last minute when he discovered some of the president's personal political views (I know this because I went to Hampton at the time and was one of the many disappointed folks that got stood up). Where is that same defiance with Sir Charles?

But this isn’t about Spike Lee. Let me leave him alone. He's busy crowdsourcing money from people to fund his movies when he has millions of dollars in the bank…


Anyway, shortly after that nonsense on The View I discovered a new video project, via Slate, where cinephile/video editor Dylan Marron chronicles the lack of dialogue delivered by actors of color in mainstream movies like Noah & Frances Ha (Frances Ha? Do you really expect to see that many people of color in the cinematic world that is France Ha?). This immediately made me think of how everyone was up in arms last year about biblical movies like Exodus (and Noah) featuring mostly white actors. Those movies didn’t even look good to begin with (seriously, Noah and/or Exodus could feature an all-star cast made up of Idris Elba, Kerry Washington, Cicely Tyson, Tyler Perry & Denzel Washington and it would still look terrible to me). And what’s strange is that some of the people who complained about the lack of “color” in Noah & Exodus are atheists that don’t even believe in God or The Bible. Why do you care about Black people not being represented in films (that aren’t even good to begin with) based on source material that you don’t even believe in and, more than likely, probably arrogantly dismissed in the past (I’m not a religious person myself but I think we know how arrogant & imposing some atheists can be about their own views, which makes them just as annoying as the religious folks they try to challenge).

At the end of the day, as a black person I’m glad we aren’t represented in films like Noah, Exodus or Grand Budapest Hotel. They aren’t that good.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

THE WANTED 18 (CutPrintFilm.COM)

My latest review for CutPrintFilm is up. Give it a read when you have a chance.

http://www.cutprintfilm.com/reviews/the-wanted-18/

Friday, June 19, 2015

TARANTINO'S LENS: “Revenge Is A Dish Best Served By White-Male Privilege/Why Didn’t The Oppressed Do It My Way” (SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER CHRIS ROBISCH-ESPINOZA)

I'll never shy away from taking shots at Quentin Tarantino. I kind of live for it. There's nothing more satisfying than writing about a film that has absolutely nothing to do with him and still finding a semi-clever way to throw in something mean-spirited about him or his work (sounds immature but so are his movies so it's all good). 
But I can never bring myself to sit down and write a full-on review of one of his films because once I start writing about him I may never stop. This is where contributors come in. Making his return to the EMPIRE is turntablist/sociopolitical pundit/new father Chris Robisch to discuss a lot of the issues I have with Quentin Tarantino.

Enjoy...

Grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you! 
– Conan The Barbarian

Who hasn’t been wronged by someone and wanted to get even? Sometimes we imagine new scenarios, often wondering what it would be like to turn back the clock and step outside of our existing timeline.  It’s only human to want to take matters into our own hands, especially when we suffer a personal or communal injustice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying getting even is ethical. Revenge, however, is something we’ve all imagined, and for moviegoers, revenge in cinema is a cathartic experience. Quentin Tarantino knows this and that’s fine. His interpretation of revenge, well, that’s severely problematic.



First, I should probably address Q’s fan boys, as they consistently scoff at critics of his work. Sure, at face value his films can be entertaining. At times the dialogue is witty and he displays a wide variety of artistic shots that harken to cinema throughout the decades. There are explosions and certainly enough cringe-worthy blood-splatter for me not to need another dose of Adderall to hold my attention. That’s not the issue though. It’s the context that his revenge narrative exists within that we should be discussing.


The Tarantino Context: Race and Gender
Reservoir Dogs


“[T]he film (via these . . . white men) can also legitimate racist folks by providing a public space where suppressed racist slurs and verbal assaults can be voiced and heard. No one seemed to worry that the film would offer white folks license to verbalize racist aggression.” – Bell Hooks


Tarantino’s films cannot escape the context of encompassing a space centered around a racialized and gendered politics as envisioned through a very white-male lens. He constructs stereotypical interpretations of black male identity and vernacular, peppering his scripts with the n-word more than most black writers/directors. He peddles new-age Blaxploitation flicks that are transfixed on marginalizing diverse expressions of identity, in particular, diverse expressions of black sexuality, womanhood, and masculinity.


For instance, the criminalization of black men is often perpetuated within Tarantino’s films. Pulp Fiction’s Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), although empowered as a leader/boss, still represents the face of organized crime.


Likewise, Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s first attempt at overtly diving into Blaxploitation, is laced with just as many, if not more, examples of the black criminal and other racist stereotypes. Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a gun-smuggler and concoction of Tarantino’s white-imagination, continues this trend of limiting the role of black actors through criminalizing characters of color.



Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) as a character is very limited in her own self-determination, as she finds herself trapped between the law and the abusive-criminal, Ordell Robbie. The conclusion of the film would have you believe Brown finds her empowerment by manipulating/double-crossing the men in the story, but does she really? Many would argue that she is extremely disempowered within the context of the supremely misgynoir space that Tarantino’s Blaxploitation endeavor constructs.


And we can’t forget how the rape of Wallace in Pulp Fiction reinforces heteronormative ideologies by transforming anal-sex and homosexuality into the antithesis of black masculinity. In doing this Tarantino marginalizes LGBTQ people of color by fetishizing non-heterosexual relationships through this depiction of ball-gags, The Gimp, and, ultimately, prison-rape. Wallace’s “revenge” on Zed and company also comes with Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) swearing to secrecy what he saw.

When it comes to Asians it’s not much better. Tarantino, like countless western-filmmakers, (re)produce Asian “identity” within an orientalist framework.

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 2

From dragon-ladies, anime backstories, to ancient masters, let’s just say, Q loves to flatten and confine Asian characters within the fictive space of racist stereotypes.

And Latinas, I mean, really?! 

The Hateful 8

In short, this “great” filmmaker’s catalogue of work situates Tarantino as perceiving race from a very specific angle.


As for his film’s depiction of gender, well, that gets misinterpreted as empowering women, mostly by men I might add. Remind me again how empowered women are when they are subjected to a male-gaze that sexualizes and diminishes their role to mere objects of male conquest/dominance?

Death Proof

Oh, and how about the so-called femme fatale archetype, oft loved by Tarantino? Turns out, they are simply the “fighting fuck toy” – a term coined by feminists to describe the deadly and hyper-sexualized hero/villain.

Kill Bill Vol. 1


Before I go too far down the rabbit hole of Q’s, to put it plainly, fucked-up racial and gender politics, I’d like to discuss revenge, especially within the context of Tarantino (a white-male) creating revenge narratives about historically oppressed communities (women, Jews, and enslaved Africans in America).


The Tarantino Context of Revenge: Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds & Django Unchained


Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects that must be saved from a burning building.
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Kill Bill (Vol. 1 & 2), Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained are all films in which Tarantino fetishizes the suffering of oppressed individuals/groups, repackaging their revenge as a tool towards their liberation. I place Kill Bill within this list due to the fact that it is undeniably part of Tarantino’s evolutionary process in the fetishization/exploitation of the revenge of historically oppressed peoples, defining their liberation, speaking on their behalf and silencing them.

Seeing that we know his track record with race and gender I’m left wondering, who is really experiencing the catharsis of revenge when it’s defined by someone who can be classified as part of the oppressive/dominant group?

Likely the most telling aspect of all of this is how Tarantino seems to create these fictional/reimagined narratives of oppressed peoples, with this smorgasbord of offensive visual tropes and stereotypes, these twisted-carnivalesque revenge stories that incorporate his signature genre-bending (Spaghetti Western, Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, Grind House etc.) filmmaking style, solely to cleanse his own frustrations with the limitations of historical-fact/fiction cinema. Consider Tarantino’s own words:

“When you watch all the different Nazi movies, all the TV movies, it’s sad, but isn’t it also frustrating? Did everybody walk into the boxcar? Didn’t somebody do something?”

Situate this statement within the context of his already offensive understanding of race and gender, and you have a framework that wishes to reimagine the past, not as a cathartic or cleansing experience for those who suffer(ed). Rather, Q is producing these stories to address his own frustration in films depicting oppressed peoples not doing enough to fight back, as he later says films like Defiance  “don’t go far enough.” What he doesn’t seem to take into account is the “frustration” (or rather brutalization) that real people felt while actually living under these systems. That said, I see his revenge films as bloody communal offerings to appease his and audience member’s white-male privileged souls—I’m aware women, Jewish folk, and people of color are fans of his work, and that’s fine, I’m just critical of his privileged-imagination run amuck.  

Secondly, Tarantino’s reductionist approach towards the contemporary- and historical-trauma of women, and women/men of color leaves many audience members wondering: “Why couldn’t that have happened?”

Certainly I’m not demonizing films that question events of the past—I’m all for deconstructing historical narratives, disempowering hegemony, and challenging normative perspectives through film. But we know this isn’t what Tarantino is attempting to accomplish. He has an “artistic vision,” one undeniably fixated on distorting, exploiting, consuming, and defining identity through a white-male lens, all the while selling it under the guise of the revenge film.

Kill Bill: Beatrix/The Bride Survivor of Physical & Sexual Violence


The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. 
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Some might question how Kill Bill fits into all this. I mean, isn’t it just Tarantino’s attempt at a kung-fu revenge film centered around a white “empowered” woman? On a superficial level, sure, but at its very core, the nuts and bolts, at the absolute foundation of what makes this narrative move is violence against women.


At the opening of Kill Bill Vol. 1 we see The Bride/Beatrix (Uma Thurman) pleading with her off-screen assailant, Bill (David Carradine). Her disfigured and bloodied face fills a black and white screen as a lone hand takes a handkerchief to her cheek, exposed is the name “Bill” stitched in the corner. A self-described masochist, Bill cocks his gun and pulls the trigger just before Beatrix can finish telling him that the baby she’s carrying is his.

This sets the stage for the subsequent scenes that follow. This abused and nearly killed woman somehow survives, awakening from a 4-year coma only to realize she’s lost her child and has been raped (presumably numerous times) by an orderly. After killing her rapist she is driven by the desire to, well, kill bill.


What is so clearly disturbing with Tarantino’s context of revenge is that it completely fetishizes that which it may (or may not) be critiquing, namely, violence against women. It revels in it, from the brutality Beatrix experiences to the proceeding fights throughout Vol. 1 & 2. It muddies the waters of any sort of nuanced critique about abuse/rape when Tarantino glorifies the bloodied and abused bodies of all women in Kill Bill.


And I can’t forget the whole, “what if?” scenario that manifests within this privileged-dude’s exploitation of abuse and rape survivors. In Kill Bill, this "what if" is the cinematic equivalent of those who blame-victims of abuse and rape. Those politicians who say, “what if she had a gun?” “What if she hadn't been drinking?” “What if she didn't wear that?” Kill Bill and all of these questions are cut from the same vein.  Only instead of a gun it’s a sword. Tarantino makes a visual representation of these arguments, constructing them as entertainment. It's offensive and it undeniably (re)produces patriarchy, rape culture, and the objectification of women (refer to fighting fuck toy archetype mentioned above).

Kill Bill, then, is an experiment in cathartic revenge that’s less about the abused and more about a male’s vision of women-getting even. That is to say, it’s liberation on Q’s terms, not on theirs.

Inglorious Basterds & Django Unchained: The Clown Runs Systems of Repression


What stands out about Inglorius Basterds & Django Unchained wasn’t the dialogue, characters, nor the classic Tarantino genre-bending. None of that was relevant once I walked out of the theater. In fact, what was most apparent were the vocal masses discussing how they wished history had favored Tarantino’s vision of events, or that slave rebellions, assassination attempts against Hiller, and other uprisings against oppressors didn’t go far enough (sound familiar?). Had Tarantino understood this he wouldn’t reduce the real world suffering of millions of people, denigrating their experiences, struggles, and victories by constructing a narrative that “goes far enough” by Q’s standards—a standard, mind you, done simply for white-entertainment’s sake.

The effort to comfort and amuse White viewers, to favor their feelings and desires, resonates throughout Hollywood's long and erratic treatment of the Black experience. Perhaps no filmmaker's career provides better evidence of this than Quentin Tarantino. –David J. Leonard, Django Blues
  


What I also think goes uncritiqued by so many is how the revenge of historically oppressed peoples, in this case Jews under the brutal Nazi regime and enslaved Africans under American white supremacy, is not only written by the imagination and voice of an extremely privileged individual, but is also designed to portray the oppressor as a joke/fool.


In Inglorius Basterds, the man responsible for conceptualizing the evils of the holocaust, who inflicted incomprehensible atrocities against the Jewish people of Europe is transformed into a clown like caricature.  While Tarantino may have done so to disempower Hitler it comes off as implying that those caught up in this system of repressive terror are the bigger fool, especially when audience members question why no one attempted to stop this mad man.


Tarantino continues this line within Django Unchained during the infamous KKK scene, a moment reminiscent of Monty Python or Benny Hill. Serving as comic-relief, white supremacy is reduced to the product of ignorance. However, this approach to white supremacy denies the very intricate system that created “scholarly” work to justify the brutalization of people for centuries. While the audience is introduced to scientific racism much later in the film, the juxtaposition of the foolish KKK members and pseudo-scientific systems that reinforced white dominance are presented as the product of ignorance instead of a racist ideological system that gave birth to eugenics (an idea that Hitler borrowed from the US to construct his genocidal system), forced sterilization of black people, and much more. This allows many white Americans to say, “white Americans during slavery were simply ignorant”  (an argument rarely, if ever, applied when it comes to Hitler/Nazis). It creates an understanding that racism today is also the result of lack of knowledge or ignorance, and doesn’t provide space for the subtle forms of (systemic) racism that exists today, such as contemporary police brutality, racial profiling, and the overall realities of racism within mass incarceration.

Basically, it acts as if the system of slavery, with all of the dehumanizing brutality, rape-economy, and every atrocity attached to it can be forgiven based on the simplistic argument: “white people just didn’t understand what they were doing.”  Let’s be real though, the genocidal practices of Nazi Germany and white supremacy in the United States were both evil. 


Finally, the “clown-ification “of systemic oppression/repression presented by Tarantino creates a sense that these “foolish” people could be overthrown as easily as portrayed within Tarantino’s 120-minute(ish) films. So audience members walk-out of theaters feeling cleansed of anti-black racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism. They have their “what if” conversations, praising Tarantino on another “cinematic masterpiece” all the while digesting the liberatory vision of a white-male bent on exploiting communities that have experienced historical oppression. Rinse. Repeat. And all is right in the world.

Only all is clearly not right in the world.

Go ahead, watch his films, I know I will. Just remember the context of the lens he’s shooting with.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

PINNLAND EMPIRE'S PERSONAL FAVORITE SCENES OF THE DECADE SO FAR: PART NINE

Lists used to be a regular thing here at PINNLAND EMPIRE, but for whatever reason I gave them a rest in favor of writing longer articles that most of you probably don't even finish reading once you start. It recently hit me that although its way too early to start deciding what the defining movies of the decade are, there's already quite a few isolated moments from the last 4+ years that are either so visually striking, prolific, heartbreaking, frightening, hilarious or a combination of everything that they deserve to be mentioned.

So, as part of a new ongoing series, we're going to list my personal favorite movie moments of the decade so far.
I put an emphasis on the word; "personal" because its just that. My own personal opinion. This list in no way speaks for anyone else. And please keep in mind that this is ongoing. So if you don't see something listed that you feel should be, give it some time. It may show up eventually. There's no order or hierarchy in what gets listed either.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

Here's part nine, enjoy...


THE OPENING CREDITS FROM BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
Much like the begining of Enter The Void, the opening title sequence for this surreal noir got my undivided attention right out of the gate (...and also much like Enter The Void, Berberbian Sound Studio started to drag midway though to a somewhat messy finish). 



THE CLOSING CREDITS FROM DJANGO UNCHAINED
I hated this movie very much (like all post-Kill Bill 1 Tarantino movies) and I was glad when it ended. After the second (unnecessary) shoot out scene I was convinced this piece of shit movie was never going to end. But when these credits finally flashed across the screen I said to myself; "Finally!" and shut my DVD player off disappointed in myself for wasting over two hours of my life. Seriously, this movie is terrible and I don't understand why so many people like it. Yes I'm not a Quentin Tarantino fan, but it's because his movies (like Django) aren't good anymore.



FRANCES GOES TO PARIS (FRANCES HA)
Hey I don't know about you all but I've been to Europe a few times in my life and have been a lazy piece of shit for a few days at a time. I remember some people complaining about this sequence going; "who goes to Europe and sleeps the entire time?" Well...I have. This is a great example of how to make an underwhelming/boring sequence of events come off as entertaining.



VAL KILMER IN MACGRUBER
No matter how much of a disappointment MacGruber was (to me at least) Val Kilmer's performance as "Dieter Von Cunth" stands as one of his all-time greatest performances right up there with Real Genius & Top Secret. I can't really think of one isolated scene but his ability to maintain the persona of a super villain in such a silly movie is commendable and his chemistry with Will Forte was amazing.




BOLTIE'S DEATH (SUPER)
This was a heartbreaking moment that I honestly didn't see coming. Not only had I grown attached to The Crimson Bolt's trusty sidekick but I also didn't think James Gunn had the guts to kill off a young/cute character in such a gruesome way.



THE FINAL MOMENTS OF THE HUNT
The stigma of an accusation can stick with you whether you're innocent or not (especially when you're an adult male accused of pedophilia). The final moments of The Hunt reminded me of what I missed so much about Celebration era-Vinterberg (apparently there was an even darker alternate ending in mind that he chose to scrap).
For more insight in to this excellent film, check out John Cribb's review over at the pink smoke...



THE GIRLS FINALLY PERFORM (WE ARE THE BEST)

I can't think of a better way to end such an excellent film. Forgive me for what I'm about to write but...it was very "punk rock". Normally that's the kind of thing I'd role my eyes at but that is the spirit of this film and our three main characters stayed true to that by putting on a truly disastrous performance that incited a small riot. I cant think of too many things more "punk" than that.



MALE BONDING (PRINCE AVALANCHE)
Paul Rudd & Emile Hirsch's chemistry in Prince Avalanche is pretty similar to Rogen & Franco in Green's Pineapple Express - the grumpy cynic (Rogen/Rudd) constantly fussing at the dopey idiot (Franco/Hirsch) which is a relationship that dates back to the first comedic duos. There's an exchange of dialogue between Rudd & Hirsch in Prince Avalanche that reminds us all how immature men can be with each other no matter how old we are...

Lance (Emile Hirsch): At least I don't go around thinking I'm a great dancer when I actually stink at dancing
Alvin (Paul Rudd): You've never even seen me dance
Lance: I've seen you do a lot of things when you don't think I'm looking
-Prince Avalanche

Tip (Shea Whigham): No, we ain't friends no more! ...YOU AIN'T EVEN IN MY TOP 10!
-All The Real Girls

Its like David Gordon Green knows there's this level of immaturity that men will never lose no matter how much they age. When I watch how grown men interact with one another in Green's work I'm sometimes reminded of John Cassavetes, Peter Falk & Ben Gazzara in Husbands. It was nice to see these two characters finally let their guard down and bond with each other and "bro-out".



Monday, June 8, 2015

MY RECENT APPEARANCE ON THE SCHLOCK TREATMENT (THE HUMAN TORNADO)

I had the pleasure of sitting in on another episode of the schlock treatment. This time we cover the Rudy Ray Moore classic The Human Tornado.

enjoy...

http://schlocktreatment.com/2015/06/treatment-226-the-human-tornado-aka-dolemite-2/


Monday, June 1, 2015

LOST RIVER (RYAN GOSLING'S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT)


Lost River. Ryan Gosling's directorial debut. Where do I even begin? First of all, this movie isn't as terrible as some people made it out to be (it was booed at Cannes last year). Personally, I thought it was pretty cool (well...the first hour at least, but we'll get in to that later). Lost River is pretty much the outcome of Terrence Malick & Nicholas Winding Refn rubbing off on Ryan Gosling in a major way (Malick & Refn were the last two filmmakers Gosling worked with). Lost River also deserves some comparison to the work of Stanley Kubrick & David Lynch. I normally hate when recent "weird" movies are compared Kubrick & Lynch because that's such a cliche thing to do, but Gosling mimics some of Lynch's work right down to the color scheme.  There's a night club scene in the first act of Lost River that is heavily inspired by Blue Velvet & Mulholland Drive. There's also a lot of Kubrick-esque hallway shots (like in The Shining) and there's always the threat of the unknown like in Eyes Wide Shut...

Mulholland Drive / Lost River
Mulholland Drive / Lost River

But Malick & Refn are the true inspirations here (for those of you confused at the Malick/Gosling connection, they recently collaborated on a movie that has yet to be released).

The Thin Red Line / Lost River
The New World / Lost River
Five minutes in to Lost River we see a red-headed mother in a sundress (Christina Hendricks) twirling around on her front lawn with her young son which is obviously something right out of Malick's Tree Of Life. A lot of the editing, dialogue & camerawork in Lost River is sprawling & "jazzy" and it's kind of made up of unfinished thoughts & ideas just like a lot of Malick's post-Thin Red Line work (that's not an insult either. I kind of like that sketchbook/unfinished style of filmmaking).
Later on we get scenes of neon-lit night clubs & synth-heavy background music which is right out of the cinema of Nicholas Winding Refn who's been synonymous with Gosling for the last couple of years.
I like Malick & Refn so you can imagine their styles mixed together would intrigue me. But no matter how much I kind of enjoyed this, it's still a train wreck of a movie that I could never defend or try to convince someone else to like. It's a pretty-looking train wreck, but still...a train wreck nonetheless.
Lost River does have a plot but it's really not all that important. This is visual masturbation at it's finest (something Gosling probably picked up from Nicholas Winding Refn). I guarantee if you asked someone what this movie is about they’d have a tough time explaining but they'd have no problem talking about all the cool-looking imagery...




Lost River follows “Bones” - a young man living with his mother (Hendricks) & younger brother in a sort of trippy post-apocalyptic vision of Detroit. Most of Detroit has been buried in a flood and what's left is a ghost town reminiscent of the exterior scenes in Eraserhead. Bones is at odds with the local sadistic Bully while his mother is forced to take odd jobs (...literally) so that she can keep her house.
Gosling has described Lost River as a fairytale when in reality it's kind of a nightmare both in a good way (some of the visuals are very striking & profound) and also a very bad way (in the last 30 minutes the plot kind of goes “bye-bye” and you're forced to sit through a messy neon nightmare of forced weirdness).

I find it problematic that a lot of filmmakers have this recent strange romanticized vision of Detroit as this rotting, ugly, dirty place. I know Detroit is a troubled city and has been for years, but filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), Jose Padilha (Robocop), Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) & Gosling (Lost River) seem to think there's something “cool” about a post-apocalyptic/dystopian Detroit. With all these films set in the motor city, I wonder if anyone is putting back in to the community in order to give it life once again or do people want Detroit to stay fucked so they can have a cool location to shoot in. It's just like with The Beasts Of The Southern Wild in that the filmmaker wants us to think these dumb characters are happy dysfunctional drunks who look forward to the oncoming flood that's about to destroy what's left of their community.


Lost River is the perfect example of why directors are a key ingredient in filmmaking. Sometimes they're needed in order to tell an actor “No. That idea is stupid.” Directors certainly have their problems & insecurities but so do actors. They can be very egotistical & bullheaded. From Werner Herzog & Klaus Kinski to David O. Russell & Lilly Tomlin, we've seen plenty examples of directors clashing with actors over artistic freedom. The cast of Lost River is made up of Gosling's actor friends & former collaborators (Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelssohn, etc). On some level this movie felt like actors trying to cut out the director so they can do whatever they want which is kind of problematic. Actors need guidance and that's definitely the case here. By the one hour mark this movie REALLY starts to drag to a grueling super strange finish (I found myself asking when & how is this going to end). I felt like I was watching a collage of acting reels. Ben Mendelssohn is a unique actor but at certain points Lost River felt like Gosling was just trying to showcase how creepy & menacing he can be. I'd be lying if, at times, I didn’t think Lost River would have made an interesting 20 minute short or a loose long-form narrative music video. With Lost River Ryan Gosling is an actor trying his hand at directing. I don’t know if I consider him an actual director/filmmaker yet.

I was still intrigued by this movie so much that I watched it twice in a 24 hour period (I did rent it off of Google play and I wanted my money's worth). Chromatics/Desire front-man Johnny Jewel really stretched as a film score composer and played an integral part in the film. While synthesizers still remain the backbone in his work, he played with more ambient sounds, didn’t stick to any kind of musical grid and found his “inner Brian Eno” (the music in Lost River is way more mature and less derivative than his music used in Drive & Bronson).

Lost River / Knight Of Cups

Lost River also has me anticipating Malick's Knight Of Cups even more as it looks like a combination of typical Malick (dreamy voice-over narration, off-kiltered cinematography, poetic ambiance, etc) mixed with the neon synthesized filmmaking style of Nicholas Winding Refn.

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