Tuesday, June 28, 2016


This is an absolute game changer for me. I know I’m very late to the party but now that I’ve learned how to make gifs this is going to push what I do at PINNLAND EMPIRE to the next level. Sometimes it’s difficult to convey influence & similarity with just two standstill images. Sometimes you need movement/video. Below are a few (dance-themed) side-by-sides that I threw together a few minutes ago (some of these are obvious and you may have seen them before). 
As time goes on these will only get stronger…









I had the pleasure of talking about the latest of films of two of my favorite directors on the latest episode of Wrong Reel. Listen as I get emotional discussing  gender issues, race and my hatred of pretentious people.

Make sure to click here & here to read about Solondz's & Refn's individual work on this site as they're both PINNLAND EMPIRE favorites.


Friday, June 24, 2016


Most of what you're about to read is a mixture of slightly tweaked excerpts from longer reviews that you can read on this site (Francofonia, Knight Of Cups, The Witch, etc) and films I have yet to touch on in full (Everybody Wants Some, Keanu, Captain America: Civil War, etc). While I've seen a good amount of movies so far this year, the movies below are the ones that have stuck out to me more than others for reasons ranging from pure enjoyment to disappointment. If something isn't on the list it's probably because I was underwhelmed by it (10 Cloverfield Lane) or haven't seen it yet (Hail Caesar).
And no matter what, everything I've seen in 2016 will be addressed in some form or fashion at the end of the year.


(in no particular order)

Captain America: Civil War

In terms of entertainment value, Captain America: Civil War was my Mad Max: Fury Road of 2016. Civil War certainly has a flaw (or two) that Mad Max might not have had but it's the most fun I've had in the theater so far this year and that matters when the large majority of your other favorite movies (seen below) are dark, bleak (no pun intended) and overwhelmingly existential to the point where it becomes crippling. You need balance and Civil War is the occasional Carmines Chicago heavy deep dish pizza to all the other organic, healthy food films that I need in my life. It's also nice to see black superheros handled correctly for once when so many have failed miserably in the past (Spawn, Meteor Man, Blank Man, etc).

Wiener Dog

I thought I was done with multi-character films. I thought I was done with dark & quirky American indie stories (even if it comes from one of the innovators of that style like in the case of Todd Solondz). Quite honestly – I thought Todd Solondz’s best years were behind him. That’s not to say he hasn’t made good movies in the last 15 years but I was convinced he wouldn’t be able to capture the magic of Welcome To The Dollhouse & Happiness (and what is the need to make another loose Welcome To The Dollhouse sequel?). But Todd Solondz has made me a believer again. In my opinion, Wiener Dog is the best thing he’s done since Happiness. This multi-character film about life, depression, lonliness & regret is essentially Solondz’s Au Hasard Balthazar (just like Dollhouse was his Mouchette) in that we see all different walks of life through the eyes of an animal (instead of Bresson’s donkey we get an actual Wiener Dog). This is also his most personal film. Not only is it connected to his best film (Dollhouse), but it’s incredibley personal because he doesn’t just criticize the world around him (it’s clear at this point that Todd Solondz is incredibley depressed. That isn’t a judgement either. It’s just very very obvious and I think he wants the world to know), but he also criticizes (and kind of pokes fun at) himself (the third story in Wiener Dog involving Danny Devito is very autobiographical).

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had the pleasure of including a Todd Solondz film in an annual top 10 (Wiener Dog is currently in my top 5) and I think it may hold its place throughout 2016…

Bleak Street

I'm a fan of “arthouse” cinema & professional wrestling so you can only imagine how excited I was for this film (without reading any synopsis on it beforehand I saw the image above and was immediately sold).
I've been selling Bleak Street as an arthouse film about Luchadors but it's really more than that (a lot more). However, Luchador wrestling (something I'm very much a fan of) is a constant element throughout the film - two of the main characters are wrestlers of the Lucha Libre variety (they always keep their masks on too), there are flyers for wrestling shows visible in the background of a lot of shots, and the film shows a bit of the training process that goes in to Lucha Libre. For those that don't know, Luchadors are a little different than American-style wrestlers. Lucha Libre consists of acrobatics, gymnastics, choreography & martial arts whereas American-style wrestling is more character driven and theatrical in terms of behind the scenes storylines (American wrestling has borrowed quite a bit from Lucha/Mexican-style wrestling over the decades).
There's an incredibly strong nostalgic quality about this movie that takes over inside me and I doubt most people that this film was marketed towards can even relate (I highly doubt the Lincoln Center film society crowd are familiar professional wrestling like I am). Growing up I was the one kid in my group of friends that truly loved wrestling (I had two other friends who liked it in a casual way but overall it was a joke to most people and I got shit for liking it). When I discovered the cultural importance of Luchadors/Mexican wrestlers in my mid-teens it instilled a little more pride in me and made me feel less ashamed for liking it. Seriously – if you think pro-wrestling is popular in America, go to certain parts of Mexico where wrestlers are considered gods and even where their signature masks in non-wrestling settings (for those who have seen this movie and don't believe the angle about the wrestlers keeping their masks on all the time in public, I assure you that is very real in certain parts of Mexico as their masks have cultural, religious & generational importance.

Knight Of Cups

Personally, I enjoyed Knight Of Cups overall but I wouldn't really recommend it to just anyone. Not even the casual Malick fan (if there is such a thing). Knight Of Cups is kind of like Terrence Malick's Inland Empire in that there isn't much of a filter. Because I'm such a big fan of his recent work, I do feel the strange need to be a little protective/territorial no matter how understandably frustrating he can be at times. At this point everyone should know what they're getting in to when it comes to a Terrence Malick film. I never understand all the recent negative/snarky reviews from critics & bloggers who are familiar with his work & style yet always manage to get worked up and angry as if, at this point, they don't know what to expect from a post Thin Red Line Terrence Malick movie. For those who do want something different from the filmmaker, this is his first film set outside of a rural territory/small town, and he works with an ensemble cast of some unlikely actors. This is also his first movie broken up in to chapters.
Knight Of Cups falls right in line with the style of Tree Of Life & To The Wonder (all three films kind of act as a trilogy for Malick's personal life). There's lots of dreamy/breathy voiceover narration that'll probably make the average person roll their eyes. Emmanuel Lubeski uses the same style of cinematography as his previous collaborations with Malick (I still find it odd that folks have issues with his Malick-related work while his work for Alejandro Innaritu gets blind praise).
I can only speak for myself when I say that Malick's exploration of inner-turmoil, confusion and just that overall feeling of "blah" speaks to me right now more than any other filmmaker (with the exception of Carlos Reygadas). And you know this feeling has to be true because it takes a lot of courage/balls for anyone to openly admit something like that and actually mean it (I often face ridicule from my friends and my fiancée for my love of Terrence Malick's films). I think we all know that Malick is looked at as more of a joke/slow-moving target than a serious filmmaker these days.
It's easy to watch Knight Of Cups and claim that nothing happens or it isn't about anything (like some early reviews have been saying). But that is kind of the point (sorry to sound pretentious and blindly defensive at the same time, but it's true). This film draws inspiration from a period in Malick's life when he was feeling kind of "blah" and a little cloudy. Christian Bale's silent/brooding/confused performance in Knight Of Cups falls right in line with Ben Affleck in To The Wonder & Sean Penn/Hunter McCracken in Tree Of Life (which makes sense as all of these actors are essentially portraying Terrence Malick at different stages of his life).

No Home Movie

No Home Movie is a low-key love letter to Chantal Akerman's family. Specifically her mother. Akerman's sister Sylviane makes an appearance at one point and there are constant references to her father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But at the end of the day this is a film about her mom. In No Home Movie Chantal Akerman places cameras throughout her mother's apartment and observes her over the course of what seems like a few months. It should be noted that Akerman's own presence in the film is rather cryptic. We never see a full-on shot of Chantal but rather half shots of her face through Skype chats, her voice off camera, or shots of her back. What's even more cryptic (and a little heartbreaking) is that there are a few lines of dialogue in this film where she mentions her unhappinesss & depression to her mother through casual conversation (for those that don't know, she took her life late last year).
No Home Movie is classic Akerman in the sense that time is taken very literally, the pacing is very slow and Akerman isn't concerned with editing or keeping the attention of the casual viewer. At the screening I went to there were quite a few walkouts which not only pissed me off, but also confused the hell out of me. I mean...Akerman's films aren't the kinds of movies you just casually stumble upon. By 2016 you should know what you're getting in to when it comes to one of her movies. Walking out of one of her (recent) films because it was "boring" kind of makes you look a little stupid in my eyes (just like people who still get worked up over the style in modern-day Terrence Malick films. Again - what the fuck were you expecting?)
I know this all sounds harsh and a little pretentious but Akerman's work meant a lot to me so it's hard to not take things personally. She not only influenced some of my favorite filmmakers (both directly & indirectly) but she had the kind of guts that you don't see in too many filmmakers (male or female). (Two-face) Publications like indiewire are always clamoring for strong female voices in film as if Akerman hadn't been around since the late 60's (maybe stop writing so many articles on Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey & Cate Blanchett and shine a spotlight on Akerman's work).

Everybody Wants Some

First off – whoever cut the trailer for this movie should not be allowed to cut trailers again (or at least not for Linklater). I know that sounds harsh but I feel justified because every time I tell someone this movie is in my top 5 of 2016 so far they go: “REALLY?!?!” I'm convinced this has to do with the trailer making this out to be a slightly more sophisticated American Pie-style frat boy/bro comedy when in fact it has a lot of soul and relatability (like some of the characters in the film I loved high school but also couldn't wait to go away to college no matter how intimidating & scary it seemed). This is a movie that makes you appreciate making new friends, growth and the fun you had in your late teens/early 20's. If anything, this is what American Pie (er...American Pie 2) should have been.
Even though I consider Richard Linklater to be one of the best active American filmmakers working today, he usually doesn't make three good movies in a row. And if you liked Bernie, which many folks did (I didn't), then Linklater is really four for four which never happens. Everybody Wants Some is the movie I needed to solidify my stance on him.

Nice Guys

Nice Guys was everything that Inherent Vice was supposed to be (both movies are old-school Los Angeles noir-ish gumshoe murder mysteries with slightly clueless private investigators so it's perfectly valid to compare them). Remember in the final act of Inherent Vice when the story just went bye-bye and the movie started making no sense (admit it)? Well...Nice Guys actually makes it a point to put a period on things. I'm sorry but murder mysteries need to have some kind of resolution and Nice Guys delivered. Not only that, but the humor worked, there was chemistry between Russell Crow & Ryan Gosling, and Angourie Rice kind of stole the show (it's also nice to see Keith David is still doing his thing).


The body language award definitely goes to Huma Abedin (wife of documentary subject Anthony Weiner). For those who have yet to see Weiner, I assure you that the body language exhibited by Huma in the picture above represents the quietly boiling rage, discomfort, embarassment & frustration that we see throughout the movie (I honestly think Weiner could have been at least an hour longer had they focused more on her). I was worried this film was going to do nothing more than poke fun at the subject through editing & quirky audience pandering music (Weiner is kind of guilty of that on some level). 
Now...Anthony Weiner is certainly a jackass, but after five years I just think there have been enough mediocre/sub-par funny memes, tweets, facebook statuses and newspaper articles written/made about this man. Enough. I get it. If I wanted to see good Anthony Weiner jokes in 2016 I'd just log on to my hulu account and pull up three year old Daily Show episodes. 
Luckily the filmmakers took a slightly alternative route with Weiner.
Although Weiner is partially about the “900 pound gorilla in the room” (a direct quote from the film), the audience also gets an insight in to the politician's beliefs and desires to fight for lower & middle class New Yorkers (nothing wrong with that, right?). This film acts as a mirror to journalists and smug pundits who are no better than him on a personal level (some are worse). There's also a sympathetic side to Weiner. Like I said – he is a jackass (and Anthony Weiner certainly conveys that about himself on his own without any editing or manipulation on the filmmaker's part), but he also didn't/doesn't deserve (all) the shit that came down on him (in my opinion). I think we can all agree that he was/is probably judged by people who have way more skeletons in their closest (sexual & non-sexual).



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.
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 that saga.

The Witch

What I found most interesting about The Witch (on a personal level) is that it seemed to draw inspiration from the (few) positive aspects of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. Both films have a creepy/mysterious tone, they both death with the occult and they have similar color palettes (I highly doubt this was intentional but perhaps Kill List had a subconscious influence, or the similarities are just a coincidence). I’m not a fan of Wheatley’s 2011 horror/thriller but the one thing Kill List did have going for it was ambiance and that certain element of “coolness” – the tone of the film was dark & grey, a good portion of the dialogue was both “in the know” & mumbled, and Wheatley took his time setting up moments in the film that were meant to startle or shock us. Basically - there wasn’t a whole lot of blood & guts and forced satanic symbolism around every corner of the film.
Director Robert Eggers still isn't beyond playing in to traditional horror tropes. As you can imagine there are quite a few startles & possibly scary moments (depending on your threshold) and the score is both sparse & jumpy at the same time (I guess one criticism I have is that the score sometimes made it obvious as to when something spooky was about to happen).
Naturally this film deals with the barbaric ignorance & religious superstitions folks had about witches & witchcraft back then, but if you take out the horror element, this is a drama about the breakdown of a family due to the insertion of an unspoken “virus”/threat similar to Passolini’s Teorema or Francois Ozon’s Sitcom (a loose remake of Teorama). This isn't meant to be an all-out brag but co-star Anya Taylor-Joy thanked me for bringing up this point at the Q&A I attended. Not only did the actors portray a family living on top of each other in a small space in the movie, but they also lived together during the filming of the movie so naturally reality seeped in to the story. So whether you're a fan of scary movies or not, The Witch does branch out to genres beyond just horror.

Eisenstein In Guanajuato 

Similar to my advice regarding Malick & Knight Of Cups, if you dislike Peter Greenaway in terms of style then please stay away from this movie and avoid the heartache and frustration that's definitely going to come with it (although if you're a lover of cinema you'd be passing up on a nice little nugget of film history from the tree of one of cinema's most influential directors in the form of Sergei Eisenstein). Now...if you like Greenaway, like me, then by all means dive right in (it's currently streaming on Netflix).
Like Naked Lunch (the book & the movie), Eisenstein In Guanajuato focuses on a strange/confusing/tumultuous period in the life of an artist that's stifled creatively while living in exile (William Burroughs & Sergei Eisenstein were in exile for very different reasons but there's still some strong parallels between the two artists).
Once again Peter Greenaway takes art, culture, history & cinema and mixes it all in to one very strange, darkly comical, disorienting & depressing pot that can't be found anywhere else in my opinion.

The Neon Demon
Most of you have seen (or at least heard about) Refn's last few films (Drive & Only God Forgives) and are familiar with his neon, synthesized, Dario Argento/Michael Mann homage style. The Neon Demon is absolutely an extension/continuation of those films and that particular style. Yes, this movie is trashy pop-art. And that's a good thing. You need a good decadent desert or snack after eating healthy and taking care of your body for an extended period of time. The Neon Demon is the cinematic version of that thought process - attractive women of all shapes & sizes (Christina Hendricks' curvaceousness is on display just as much as the aspiring petite models we see throughout the film), loopy/addictive synth driven music, highly stylized (standalone) shots, etc.
Even if you aren't a fan of Drive or Only God Forgives you can still enjoy Neon Demon given it has elements of everything from Black Swan (Neon Demon explores the themes of pressure & "making it" from a young woman's point of view just like Black Swan) to John Wick (in terms of style - Neon Demon & John Wick take place in the same cinematic universe).
Before the year is over we will definitely go deeper in to this movie (I'm sure I'll see it more than once in the theater) but for now just know that I give this movie my seal of approval even if it has a nice share of flaws.


Make sure to read my review of the very personal post-war documentary; My Father's Vietnam, check it out on iTunes (or Google Play, Amazon, Vimeo, etc), then spread the word so it doesn't get overlooked. After that head on over to Netflix to watch The Do-Over (contrary to what IndieWire had to say, this movie is in fact funny and the humor is slightly different than your average Adam Sandler movie), The Art Of Noize (some of you may not have the same emotional attachment to this documentary as I do, but if you love golden-era non-NYC/non-West Coast hip-hop, then this is the film for you) & Sembene (any documentary that doesn't make the main subject out to be an unrealistically perfect person but rather touches on his/her flaws and not-so good qualities is a winner in my book). And if Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship happens to still be playing near you I highly recommend checking that out too (if not, I'm sure it'll be available to stream in Amazon soon).


The Lobster

Adults sometimes put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to finding love to the point where they become desperate. The motions that some of the characters in The Lobster go through to find a partner is an obvious not-so subtle comment on the idea of speed dating which, in my opinion, is rooted in desperation on some small level. I understand the purpose behind speed dating but the idea that strangers are essentially rushed to meet each other under the setting of a date is a little weird to me (no offense to anyone who found a lasting relationship through speed dating. I certainly don't want to downplay the positive aspects that can come from it).

I imagine some fans of Dogtooth & Alps are worried about Yorgos Lanthimos making the transition to English-language cinema as it may compromise his style or just not "work" in the vein of Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights or Park Chan Wook's Stoker (I know those films have their fanbases but at the end of the day they were pretty disappointing when compared to the films that came before them). I had my own reservations. John C Reilly's presence worried me because he's starting to become a doofy caricature of himself more & more which can distract from a film (there were definitely shades of that in The Lobster but Reilly was tolerable overall). But rest assured that Lanthimos' dry semi-surreal humor is all over The Lobster. In one scene we see a donkey get shot in the head execution style and we're supposed to find it funny. In another scene David/Farrell kicks a little girl in the shin. And like with all of his films, there's plenty of goofy/awkward dancing (I'm still not certain if Yorgos played up his particular style a little bit now that he has a larger audience).
I asked Yorgos Lanthimos if he looked at The Lobster as an extension of Alps (I feel like both stories exist in the same cinematic universe). While he doesn't share my spectrum-brained fascination with connecting every movie in existence, he did acknowledge that there are quite a few similarities between both films. With The Lobster Lanthinos continues to explore themes concerning identity (Alps) and the false meanings we sometimes put on things (Dogtooth). Dogtooth & Alps fans should also find comfort in the fact that Yorgos regulars Ariane Labed & Angeliki Papoulia shine in their supporting roles (not to take anything away from Farrell, Weisz & Ben Winshaw as they all give solid performances as well).

Cemetery Of Splendour

I did struggle with some aspects of this film. On one hand it's really cool that all of his movies weave together so seamlessly. But at the same time, it's difficult to decipher certain scenes in Cemetery Of Splendour from certain scenes in Uncle Boonmee or Syndromes & A Century. Apichatpong Weerasethakul is obviously not the first director to make a slight variation of the same basic plot. Take David Lynch for example - Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire are all pretty much the same basic plot (split personality disorder, alternate universes colliding in to one another, etc). But the execution from one film to the next is slightly different. That's not really the case here. While watching Cemetery Of Splendour I found myself going: "isn't this a scene from one of his older movies? I feel like I've seen this before". 

This isn't a criticism in any way but Apichatpong's latest feels like a beautiful, yet somewhat unfinished idea that he just had to get out (like a detailed sketch you might find in an artist's well-kept sketchbook). It's like a gumbo pot of ideas ranging from spirituality to socio-political awareness. Throughout the course of the film he hints at everything from unwanted property development & issues concerning skin complexion, to hospitals in small villages not having enough equipment to take care of the sick.

Because Cemetery Of Splendour also deals with the idea of slumber, Apichatpong Weerasethakul leaves plenty of room for the audience to zone out from time to time. There were a few moments when I totally stopped paying attention and just zoned out to the hypnotic imagery in front of me (I also thought it would be interesting to write the first draft of this review dead tired on the train just after watching the film). One Enter The Void-esque scene in particular, where an overhead shot of an escalator overlaps with a neon-lit hospital room, stood out the most to me. Cemetery Of Splendour relies more on static shots & and its hypnotic tone than it does dialogue or a straightforward plot. That may sound boring to some of you (which is perfectly understandable) but those of you who like art-house cinema, moments of mind-numbing silence & experimental feature filmmaking will more than likely enjoy this.



Anyone that knows me well knows how much I love Key & Peele so you're probably wondering why I've been so silent about Keanu. Well...it was kind of disappointing. It certainly wasn't bad, but it could have been so much better. And I think a lot of people agree with me but because they love K&P so much (like me), they don't want to criticize the movie. Think about it – after the second week Keanu was in theaters the buzz had completely died. That's not a good sign especially since Nice Guys was still being talked about weeks after it's release (some of you may be thinking that it's unfair to compare Keanu to Nice Guys- and you have a point on some level – but both comedies have the same buddy structure as well as some of the same darkly comical elements so it isn't too far-fetched to compare them either).
Most sketch comedy groups don’t have the best luck when it comes making a feature. Run Ronnie Run (Mr. Show) was quite bad and Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show) hasn’t had the greatest luck as a movie director either (Lets Go To Prison & The Brothers Solomon). The majority of the SNL movies aren’t that great either. What’s even worse is that when a lot of sketch comedy “greats” aren't acting in their own films, they end up lowering their standard to pay the bills. For example, Amy Sedaris (exit 57 & Strangers With Candy) and Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall) both made appearances in the My Baby Daddy. Rob Cordry (ucb & daily show) and The Kids In The Hall were in Un-accompanied Minors and just about any movie David Cross (Mr. Show) is cast in ain't that good either. In fact, the few great sketch comedy-based films out there are either misunderstood upon their initial release (Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy & Neighbors) or they’re not that known by the general public (Martin and Orloff & Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story). Keanu kinda continues this unfortunate legacy.

But perhaps some of the disappointment falls on me because my expectations were so high.

Midnight Special

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.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.

Green Room

Green Room was absolutely entertaining. I was kind of (...kind of) invested in (some of) the characters and truly felt a pain in the pit of my stomach when one character in particular was killed off...

And I'm also down for any kind of senseless violence directed at skinheads.

BUT...Green Room was also a little silly in my personal opinion. Like...a lot of the decisions made by both the good guys and the bad guys were really dumb. I mean...I appreciate the director trying to paint a realistic picture of what would happen in a panic-induced situation. With the exception of one character who conveniently knew all the latest MMA/UFC submission moves, all the protagonists were essentially sniveling little cowards. They were punks. And that's OK. If you were stuck in a position where you had to fight for your life all because you accidentally witnessed the aftermath of a crime you weren't supposed to see (and were greatly outnumbered), you'd panic and make hasty decisions too (maybe not on the same level as the characters in Green Room, but still). So there are redeemable/respectable qualities about this movie but at the end of the day you're just better off watching Assault On Precinct 13, Pontypol (an underrated movie) or any other movie where someone is trapped in a tight space with their back against the wall in a life or death situation with very little chance of survival (a genre that Green Room pays homage to).


Eye In The Sky

Without meaning to, Gavin Hood made the most insulting movie of the year so far by reverting back to those late 80's/early 90's movie tropes where we get a story set in Africa about Africans yet all the main characters are white. I can only hope that wasn't his intention but at the end of the day this movie still exists and it's incredibly arrogant (accidentally or not – it's arrogant). For those that don't know/haven't seen Eye In The Sky (you aren't missing much), it's a multi-character story concerning the decision to drop a bomb on an African village that happens to be the residence of a highly dangerous terrorist with plans to carry out a suicide bombing in the near future. The problem is, the film focuses mostly on the conflicted thoughts made by the (white) military & governmental figures in the film rather than the African characters that are affected by a decision that they had no part of. Doesn't that sound a little arrogant? Or is that just me? Sure, this kind of arrogance is nothing new (and the movie does feature a few supporting characters with brown skin) but bottom line – it's insulting. I cant stop repeating myself on that.
Unfortunately a lot of folks are afraid to really criticize this movie because it's Alan Rickman's last film and it also feature Aaron Paul who people still love because of Breaking Bad (and his social media presence on Instagram).
Then there's an additional layer to all of this because even if the film was made up of mostly brown actors I still doubt it would be that good to begin with. It's like with movies like Exodus or Gods Of Egypt. Sure its fucked up that those movies feature all white casts but even if they were ethnically correct, they'd still be terrible.


These are all the latest films from some of my personal favorite directors (Jim Jarmusch, Bruno Dumont, Olivier Assayas) and considering I'm such a loyal/director-oriented fan, it goes without saying that I cant wait to see these. I'm going back to the Toronto film festival this year so hopefully I'll catch all of these.


Personal Shopper

Slack Bay

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


If you arent too sick of my voice at this point, check out my latest appearance on The Wrong Reel podcast alongside PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor (and new business owner) - Leanne Kubicz as we discuss a documentary that I personally consider to be one of the best films released between 2000-2009.


and when you're done listening (or while you're listening) head on over to Leanne's site and order some cool nail polish (click image to go to her site)

Friday, June 17, 2016


Chris & I were invited back on The Wrong Reel to discuss PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite Hal Hartley. After you're done listening to us ramble on about one of the most important voices in American independent film, make sure to click on the "Hal Hartley" tag on the left of the page to get a little more insight in to his work on a film by film basis.


Also, make sure to head over to Cutprintfilm and read the latest collaborative piece on the top 50 comedies of the 90's (click the image below)


Friday, June 10, 2016


The fact that Bleak Street was essentially marketed as a (Mexican) arthouse movie made me immediately associate it with Carlos Reygadas' brand of cinema because he's the most prominent voice in that specific world right now (which is weird because Bleak Street director Arturo Ripstein is Reygadas' elder). And the wrestling angle (specifically Luchador style wrestling) was just an added bonus. I'm a fan of “arthouse” cinema & professional wrestling. It's like this movie was made with only me in mind (without reading any synopsis on Bleak Street beforehand, I saw the image at the start of this review and was immediately hooked).
The Cinema of Carlos Reygadas has spoiled me/opened my eyes in terms of how Mexico & Mexicans are portrayed on film (I'm well aware he isn't the first Mexican filmmaker to paint a broader picture of his/her country, but he's my personal favorite in that realm). Mexicans have faced some of the same stereotypes & misrepresentations on film as Africans. The difference is that instead of apartheid, genocide, poverty & struggle (the main themes explored in mainstream/prominent African-based movies), Mexicans are portrayed as drug addicted/drug dealing prostitutes (usually by non-Mexican filmmakers of course). Naturally there are exceptions (I'm speaking generally) but I think we can all agree there are shitty stereotypes attached to Mexicans and a big part of that comes from movies. Period.
Just look at a recent film Sicario. While I like that movie very much it's still another prominent film to portray Mexico as this savage land (a chunk of the story takes place in Juarez). The minute we see the characters cross the border in to Mexico, we see mutilated bodies hanging freely out in the open. I’m not so clueless to know that Juarez was (still is?) one of the most dangerous places on the planet (some statistics indicate that Juarez has become safer over the years), but Sicario still perpetuates certain stereotypes about Latinos on the big screen. I may be projecting my own worries but the more stuff like Narcos, Sicario & Breaking Bad exist (all things I enjoy by the way, the tougher it is to sell the educated  Latino in mainstream film.

I've been selling Bleak Street to folks as an arthouse film about Luchadors but it's really more than that (a lot more). The film follows two elderly prostitutes each with their own personal issues at home. One struggles with depression & loneliness while the other has a sexually confused husband. At the same time we follow two up & coming midget Luchadors with dreams of making it big. The prostitutes are eventually hired by the Luchador wrestlers to celebrate after a show. The women set out a plan to rob the midget wrestlers but things go horribly wrong. There's an interesting dynamic between the two sets of main characters in Bleak Street. The prostitutes are "over the hill" (if that's appropriate to say about prostitutes) in terms of looks & clientele, while the Luchadors are at a point in their careers where they can still attain more success and just be a little more optimistic about life.

Luchador wrestling is a constant element throughout the film. As we've established, two of the main characters are wrestlers of the Lucha Libre variety, there are flyers for wrestling events visible in the background of a lot of shots, and the film shows a bit of the training process that goes in to Lucha Libre. For those that don't know, Luchadors are a little different than American-style wrestlers. Lucha Libre consists of acrobatics, gymnastics, heavy choreography & martial arts whereas American-style wrestling is more character driven, strength driven, and theatrical in terms of behind the scenes storylines.

There's an incredibly strong nostalgic quality about this movie that takes over inside me and I highly doubt most people that this film was marketed towards can fully relate. Growing up I was the one kid in my group of friends that truly loved wrestling (I had two other friends who liked it in a casual way - shoutout to Ahmad & Tom - but overall it was a joke to most people and I got shit for liking it). When I discovered the cultural importance of Luchadors/Mexican wrestlers in my mid-teens it instilled a little more pride in me and made me feel less ashamed for liking wrestling. Seriously – if you think pro-wrestling is popular in America, go to certain parts of Mexico where wrestlers are considered gods. They even wear their masks in non-wrestling settings (for those who have seen Bleak Street and don't believe the angle about the wrestlers keeping their masks on all the time in public, I assure you that is very real in certain parts of Mexico as their masks have cultural, religious & generational importance).

What's strange is that for such a popular form of sports entertainment, art-house/indie cinema seems to explore pro-wrestling more than mainstream cinema. Darren Aronofsky gave us The Wrestler, Guy Maddin made the short film Sombra Dolorosa and there are elements of Lucha Libre in Carlos Reygadas' short film This Is My Kingdom (you can even go back further to Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre)

The Luchador In Arthouse Cinema...
This Is My Kingdom (Carlos Reygadas)
Sombra Dolorosa (Guy Maddin)
Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

and I'm a little disappointed that Bane's background as a Pro-Wrestler was ignored by Christopher Nolan in the last Batman movie. Original artwork even shows him in a wrestling ring...

and his signature mask is modeled after the Lucha design...

and while we're on the subject of Bane, wrestling & Christopher Nolan dropping the ball, am I the only one who felt that Brock Lesnar should have played Bane in the last Batman movie? Tom Hardy did a fine job but in terms of body-type, Brock Lesnar would have fit beautifully...

Anyway...Bleak Street does have a lot of the stereotypical stuff I mentioned earlier but it's handled in-house instead of by an outside director (director Arturo Ripstein is Mexican) which is fine by me. Carlos Reygadas is one of the most important voices for Latin American cinema but there is an undertone of elitism in his work that not everyone can relate to. It's good to explore the more cultured side of Mexico (as a black person/person of color I absolutely embrace the more uppity representation of people of color over coon-ish bullshit), but the impoverished side of Mexico can't be brushed aside either. The main characters in Bleak Street probably don't watch Tarkovsky films or read books by Dostoevsky (two artists Reygadas often references in his movies and in interviews). They were dealt a shitty hand at life and their decisions in the movie are a reflection of that (I also don't want to discredit Carlos Reygadas because he does explore the more impoverished side of Mexico with films like Battle In Heaven). And, most importantly, Bleak Street was inspired by true events so there isn't anything unbelievable or naive about this movie...
the real wrestlers that Bleak Street is partially based on: La Parkita (L) & Espectrito (R)

And what’s crazy is that wrestling and death (or just straight up murder) often times go hand-in-hand. Bleak Street has a subconscious connection to more recent stories like the Jimmy Snuka trial (he murdered a female fan back in the early 80’s and it’s finally being addressed now) and the (accidental) in-ring death of Mexican wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr.

Ultimately, Arturo Ripstein treats wrestling with respect which is something that isn’t guaranteed in the world of art-house cinema as those two entities aren’t often associated with each other and it’s easy for an uppity art-house movie crowd to snicker at the idea of masked wrestlers due to lack of knowledge. Most movie-goers aren't even aware that The Rock is a third generation wrestler (actually, he's a third generation wrestler on his mother's side and a second generation wrestler on his father's side), and he came up in the business. It’s almost like Ripstein went so far as to watch shoot interviews (tell-all wrestling interviews) and read up on the culture in obsessive detail during pre-production of Bleak Street. For example - a common complaint amongst non-Mexican/non-luchador wrestlers is that the wrestling mats in Mexico are too hard and a lot less springy than in the U.S. When you watch the training sequence between the wrestlers in Bleak Street you’ll notice that when they take bumps, the mat doesn’t bounce when compared to the mats you see on TV in the WWE that almost serve as lightweight trampolines in comparison (if you have time to spare, look up shoot interviews & podcasts with the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow & Chris Jericho where they recount their stints working in Mexico as foreigners).


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