Friday, April 22, 2016

FRANCOFONIA


I think Peter Greenaway’s Belly Of An Architect (1987) has finally met its match in terms of architecture on film in the form of Alexander Sokurov’s Francofonia - an experimental feature concerning the preservation of important cultural artifacts during World War 2. I’m sure there are folks who feel that there have been movies to come out since 1987 that have done architecture on film justice, but in my personal opinion most films on the subject of architecture and/or design (documentary, biopic or fiction) often times only scrape the surface or, even worse, come up short (I think my opinion holds a little more weight in this specific instance as I not only immerse myself in film but I also studied architecture & design for five years and have continued to work in the field for 11 additional years and counting). Francofonia is kind of an unorthodox history lesson that captivates rather than bores. In the same way 24 Hour Party People is a chaotic yet organized history lesson on the Manchester music scene of the 80’s & 90’s, Francofonia is a chaotic yet organized look in to World War 2-era architecture, “European guilt” and the importance of art preservation during times of war.
To be honest, Francofonia focuses more on art preservation than it does Architecture & design (I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression that this is solely about architecture).

I know it’s pretty lazy to compare Alexander Sokurov to Andrei Tarkovsky in the year 2016 (it’s so easy & obvious) but the comparison goes much deeper than similar shots of a withering tree in the middle of an open field. At times Fancofonia feels like a heavily reworked/remixed version of the middle segment within Tarkovsky’s Mirror where we see real archival War footage mixed in to the semi-fictional story that is The Mirror. The only difference is that Francofonia mixes fiction & non-fiction much more seamlessly than Tarkovsky did in The Mirror
There's also a subconscious connection to Elem Klimov's Come & See (another Tarkivsky-esque movie).
In the final moments of Klimov's 1985 war film we, the audience & the film's protagonist, are presented with the question as to weather or not we'd go back in time to kill Hitler as a baby in an effort to undo everything he did as an adult...


These types of crazy questions aren't presented to the audience in Francofonia but Come & See's representation of Hitler through art seems to have rubbed off on Sokurov.

And I know this is another cliché/obvious statement, but Sokurov’s latest feels like the kind of dream you’d have while taking a mid-day nap. It’s weird, confusing, foggy, beautiful and (recent) real life elements creep in to your sleeping subconscious. Not only does Francofonia chronicle the plan/agreement to preserve pieces of art in the midst of World War 2 (played out through the on-screen relationship between French civil servant Jacques Jaujard & Nazi officer Franz Metternich) but there’s an additional layer as Sokurov inserts himself into his own movie in a separate (yet loosely related) story (these segments were very reminiscent of the opening sequence in Holy Motors where we see Leos Carax insert himself into his own film). There’s a lot more to the film (which clocks in at only 80-something minutes) but in an effort to not give too much away (or over-explain) I would go off of that for now.

Art appreciation seems to be a thing in cinema these last couple of years more than usual (Portrait Of The Artist, National Gallery, Museum Hours, Mr. Turner, Monuments Men, etc) and Francofonia is like a hybrid/amalgamation of it all. The art preservation angle is a callback to George Clooney’s Monuments Men. All the scenes of Sokurov’s camera wandering aimlessly through the Louvre are reminiscent of Portrait Of The Artist & Fredrick Wiseman’s National Gallery.
Scenes set in the Louvre also bring to mind Anna Karina & Co. running through the halls of the very same museum in Band Of Outsiders...

Band Of Outsiders / Francofonia

Outside of cinema, popular artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z & Beyonce like to show their interest in arts outside of their own (or they just want to take nice photo opps and name drop painters, designers & architects that folks might not give them credit for knowing). Much of the art featured in Francofonia is often cited or associated with the aforementioned artists these days…
Kanye West's Yeezus tour set design seemed to be inspired by elements of the Louvre (the pyramids would be the most obvious inspiration but in the last 5 years Kanye has sited the Louvre a lot more than he has the pyramids)
Jay-Z & Beyonce visit the Louvre (left). Much of the art they checked out on their much-publicized visit to the museum is featured in Francofonia (right)

Francofonia also ties in to Sokurov’s older stuff. It goes without saying that Russian Ark & Francofonia go hand in hand as both movies are essentially warped history lessons on the subject of European art, architecture, politics, etc. If my earlier assessment of Sokurov’s latest film being an offshoot of The Mirror doesn’t work for you, picture Francofonia as a sequel to Russian Ark (I know Russian Ark is specific to Russian history, but it’s still a branch off of the very large tree of European history). The fascination with the likes of Adolf Hitler that we saw in Sokurov’s Moloch (2002) continues in Francofonia. Through subtle voiceover narration placed on top of archival footage of Hitler in certain scenes, Sokurov in turn makes Hitler a “character” in the movie. We see a fictitious version of Napoleon which brings to mind Sokurov’s "Trilogy Of Power" (Moloch, Taurus, The Son). Napoleon’s presence in Francofonia makes the film feel like a new chapter in the saga. Without meaning to, Sokoruv breathed new life in to some of his older films. Francofonia made me dust off my Sokurov DVD's that I hadn't thought about in a while.

Normally Alexander Sokoruv is the kind of filmmaker I have to suggest to people with caution or some kind of disclaimer. Not because his movies are bad (quite the opposite), but because his work is often times an acquired taste. But Francofonia can be enjoyed by even a casual movie fan. You don’t have to be a super cinephile or arthouse aficionado. All you need to have is an appreciation or fascination with art, history, war or all of the above. Even in all of Fracnofonia’s experimentation & non-traditional/non-linear storytelling, this is still an accessible movie for people outside of its intended audience (this might be one of the most non-off putting feature-length experimental films to come out in quite some time).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WRONG REEL EPISODE 127: UNCLE BOONMEE & POST TENEBRAS LUX

Post Tenebras Lux / Uncle Boonmee...

Anyone who knows me well knows that this edition of Wrong Reel is a dream discussion. In this episode I join James & Martin Kessler to chat about these unofficial cinematic 1st cousins that also happen to be two of the best films of the decade so far (and, on a more personal level, are the last two films that made me shed a tear).

Reygadas & Weerasethakul are also PINNLAND EMPIRE favorites so perhaps it would be a good idea to scroll through both; The Cinema Of Carlos Reygadas & The Cinema Of Apichatpong Weerasethakul as you listen (click the italicized text).

Enjoy...


Don't forget to check out all the back episodes of Wrong Reel and to also stay up on James' Tribeca Film Festival coverage going on right now.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016

INSIDE THE PHOENIX EPISODE 86 (MTUME GANT, SHAKA KING, SCOTT THOROUGH)



Late last year I had the pleasure of sitting in on another episode of the wonderful Inside The Phoenix podcast. This one is an another all-star lineup made up of Mtume Gant (S.P.I.T.), Shaka King (Newlyweeds & Mulignans), Scotty Thorough (Manos Sucias), myself & ITP host Warren Wade Anderson.
Listen as we discuss everything from cinema & the (sometimes) hilarity of racism to underrated hip-hop music.

Enjoy...




Friday, April 8, 2016

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL


For the last five years leading up to Midnight Special Jeff Nichols has toyed with science fiction (Take Shelter), tall tales & fairytales (Mud) and just all around ambiguity (Take Shelter), so it was just a matter of time before he went all in and made a full-on science fiction drama (southern-based/Terrence Malick-ian Christianity & spirituality has also played the background in every one of Nichols' films so it wasn't a surprise that those elements showed up in Midnight Special as well). What's funny is that Midnight Special kind of picks up where Take Shelter left off in an abstract/slightly reworked way. It's like Michael Shannon's paranoid opinions in Take Shelter came to be true and now he has to act on them in the next film.

Midnight Special is the story of a "gifted" little boy (Alton) with magical powers that has to get to a special/significant place (with the help of his parents, played by Michael Shannon & Kirsten Dunst) before the FBI and/or a religious "organization" get to him first (of course the FBI wants to use him as a weapon, while the religious cult, led by Sam Sheppard, believes he's the messiah reincarnated in the form of a seven year old boy come to take all believers up to heaven).

What's frustrating about Midnight Special is that it gives off this vibe that it's not going to be like all those other science fiction movies where a special alien kid with magical powers has to escape the government that wants to use it/him/her as a weapon and/or test subject. But not only did Jeff Nichols end up making a modern/revamped version of E.T. or Mac & Me or The Boy Who Could Fly or any other movie that generation X & generation Y grew up on, but at times it felt like a feature length back-story for one of the X-Men...
(*SPOILER* the final climactic scene where Alton makes contact with other worldly beings is literally right out of the ending of Close Encounters and/or The Abyss *SPOILER*)




Look...I’m not the biggest Jeff Nichols fan but I do appreciate that a filmmaker of his ilk got the opportunity (and budget) to make Midnight Special rather than someone like Brett Ratner, Zack Snyder or Bryan Singer, but still - this film forces me to use cliché critic terms & keywords like "hack", "retreaded material", "slightly unoriginal", etc (it even forces me to do the cliché critic thing by taking shots at obvious targets like Zack Snyder, Brett Ratner & Bryan Singer). 
But perhaps it wasn't Jeff Nichols' goal to make an "original" film. There's only so much you can do with the basic source material that is Midnight Special. What this film does have going for it is that it is a true family film in the sense that it can be enjoyed by most ages. With the exception of two isolated moments of quick gun violence (with minimal bloodshed) there isn't any nudity, harsh language or inappropriate subject matter for little kids. As for the adults, Midnight Special isn't fluffy or made for 5-13 year olds. The dramatic aspect in Midnight Special is enough to keep the attention of any adult. Imagine elements of early David Gordon Green, Goonies, Badlands, live action Disney films, all the other aforementioned movies in this review thus far mixed together in a giant pot. While that may not sound appealing to some of you, to others I imagine the combination of all those things sounds pretty intriguing.

And maybe it was Nichols’ intention to tip his hat to all those classic movies in the same obvious way Refn, Jarmusch & Tarantino pay homage to films & filmmakers in their respective works.

Midnight Special / Starman

Along with the dark-ish/bottom heavy synthesized score (courtesy of David Wingo) Joel Edgerton’s performance as Shannon’s best friend “Lucas” is the only aspect of Midnight Special that I enjoyed without any criticism. Lucas is an interesting supporting character in that we didn't get his entire story, but we’re given enough information about him to know he’s an incredibly loyal person. It’s not so much that Lucas aids Dunst & Shannon on their mission to save their son by putting himself in danger numerous times, but it’s the fact that he puts his life on hold at the drop of a hat to help his best friend (Shannon) without any reservation. There’s no question that once the credits rolled on Midnight Special that Lucas has essentially ruined his life just to help people he has no obligation to (he broke quite a few laws; one of them being the possible murder of a state trooper) but that’s the kind of loyalty & friendship that I appreciate on a personal level as fucked up as that sounds (at no point in the film does Lucas expect anything in return for his services either). Some people might find Lucas’ motivation to be a little weak and I totally understand that. However, in the unlikely situation that my best friend showed up at my door unexpected with his young daughter (my goddaughter) and needed my help in the same way Shannon needed Lucas’ help, I’d probably drop what I was doing to help my friend. So no matter how many negative things I have to say about Midnight Special (and there are plenty), it obviously touched me on a personal level if it got me to think about people like my best friend and my goddaughter, so this isn’t a total “failure”. Edgerton’s role is easy to overlook in a film like Midnight Special with all the grandiose moments of glowing eyeballs & craters falling from the sky, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet I urge you to try and pay attention to the Lucas character.

I guess Midnight Special is the best thing Nichols has done so far but that doesn’t mean much coming from me (I’m not that crazy about his movies). I will say that there is a progression with each of his films. He dips his foot in the water deeper & deeper with each movie, and there are multiple continuous/consistent elements that start with Shotgun Stories all the way through Midnight Special (the presence of Michael Shannon, the exploration of spirituality, sanity, the south, etc). I just have yet to be completely sold on him.

Monday, April 4, 2016

WRONG REEL EPISODE 122: CLAIRE DENIS!!



Instead of reading all my semi-incoherent gushings over Claire Denis' work, why not listen to me gush over her work alongside my good friend/pink smoke co-founder Chris Funderberg on the latest episode of James Colbrax's wonderful podcast (you can check out my writings on every one of her feature films on this very blog and The Pink Smoke).

In addition to Claire Denis we touch on comic book films, Chantal Akerman, a troll named "Nick", Pro-Wrestling and more. Enjoy...


Friday, April 1, 2016

FISHING WITH JOHN SEASON SEVEN


Sorry for the hiatus, but we're back!

It was brought to my attention that on all the previous seasons I never talked about the actual fish that John & his guests search for (an important aspect of the show that I completely ignored), so I'll be correcting that from this point on...


EPISODE 701: NICOLETTA BRASCHI
Braschi, her husband Roberto Benigni & Lurie promoting Down By Law
Relationship/Connection: 
1. Both worked together on Down By Law
2. Lurie did the soundtrack for a film in which Braschi co-starred in (Mystery Train)

Fish Species: Acipenser
Fishing With John is now officially a hit (seven seasons with two more on the way equals success to me). Because of the shows now crossover appeal, Lurie & IFC would end up getting a lot of viewer complaint mail about the lack of women on the show (up to now Claire Denis & Madonna have been the only two female guests). This season would align with the crossover success of Life Is Beautiful - a film co-starring Lurie's personal friend Nicoletta Braschi (wife of season two guest Robert Begnini). This is the perfect opportunity for these old friends to catch up, and for Lurie to get more international exposure for the show by going to Italy (Braschi's homeland). Besides last season's Lars Von Trier episode, which had to take place in Denmark as LvT doesn't fly, this entire show has taken place on North American soil.



EPISODE 702: FOREST WHITAKER
Smoke
Relationship/Connection: 
1. Nothing directly but Lurie did appear (briefly) in the sequel to Smoke (Blue In The Face)

Fish Species: Guadalupe Bass
This one is interesting. Forest Whitaker & John Lurie always seem to "miss" each other in the world of film. Forest Whitaker co-starred in Smoke yet didn't reprise his role in the sequel (Blue In The Face) which featured John Lurie (only a brief scene) as both an actor and music composer. Forest Whitaker worked with Scorsese on The Color Of Money and Lurie would go on to appear in Scorsese's follow-up film The Last Temptation Of Christ. Lurie stopped working with Jim Jarmusch in the 90's, and Forest Whitaker went on to work with Jarmusch in the late 90's (Ghost Dog).
This is probably around the time that Jarmusch & Whitaker started prepping for Ghost Dog, so naturally these guys would have plenty to talk about as they fish for Guadalupe Bass (a fish common in Forest Whitaker's hometown of Texas).



EPISODE 703: BENECIO DEL TORRO & JEFFERY WRIGHT
Basquiat
Relationship/Connection: 
1. Wright & Del Toro appeared in a film about Lurie's friend Jean Michele Basquiat
*Basquiat also features two original Fishing With John alumni (Willem Dafoe & Dennis Hopper)
2. Lurie would go on to score a film co-starring Del Toro (Excess Baggage)
3. Jeffery Wright would go on to work with Lurie's friend Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers & Only Lovers Left Alive)

Fish Species: Porgy
Will John Lurie embrace these two young actors who are on the rise? Or will he use this entire episode to correct them on what they got wrong about both Basquiat's life and the whole down NYC seen shown in Basquiat? You'll have to tune in to find out...




EPISODE 704: JOHN TURTURRO
The Big Lebowski
Relationship/Connection: 
1. nothing directly but both have worked with a lot of the same NYC-based filmmakers & actors. It just makes sense...

Fish Species: Blue Fish
The Big Lebowski would have been around this time so it's the perfect opportunity for Turturro to promote what would go on to become a future cult classic. Both guys are native New Yorkers so I see them travelling to some obscure fishing spot in Queens or Long Island (sidenote - my uncle, another native New Yorker like Lurie, is quite the fisherman so I know a lot of cool fishing spots to go between Queens & Long Island).
I envision Turturro taking this time to ask Lurie why Jim Jarmusch hasn't cast him in anything yet (I don't know about you but I find it odd that Turturro has yet to work with Jarmusch given they both travel in the same circles and have worked with a lot of the same people). John would probably get annoyed at the question because he's sick & tired of being associated with Jim (something that commonly happens in this series). 



EPISODE 705 & 706: TAKESHI KITANO
Fireworks
Relationship/Connection: 
1. Again - nothing directly but it just makes sense

Fish Species: Sanma
I know Takeshi Kitano doesn't need to work in "Hollywood" or English-speaking cinema. He has his own fanbase/following in Japan but I really think Hollywood/English-speaking cinema dropped the ball by not casting him as a villain in more mainstream films over the years. Perhaps his appearance on this now hit show could give him some more exposure to American audiences.
Kitano's homeland of Japan would serve as the perfect backdrop for this two-parter (parts of Japan are obviously big on fishing) yet the language barrier might cause some friction (if I'm not mistaken, Takeshi Kitano speaks little to no English).

LAMBERTATHON SUPPLEMENT: NO FEAR. NO DIE (PINK SMOKE)

Here's an additional piece of writing I did about Claire Denis' No Fear, No Die in conjunction with my recent write-up on White Material

enjoy (click the image to go to the review)



http://thepinksmoke.com/lambertathonnofearnodie.html

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