Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Welp! We've reached 30 episodes so that makes us official (we've also only missed one week since starting the podcast). On episode 30 Scott & I hit the road once again to discuss some of the movies we missed in our superhero/comic book movie episode and we also get in to some upcoming releases from the past New York Film Festival (Last Flag Flying & Zama)


Monday, October 9, 2017


I’m not into romcoms but the idea of Claire Denis directing one intrigued me (prior to seeing Let The Sunshine In I read quite a few early reviews that described it as such and I kind of have to agree). If you’re familiar with my site and/or my personal movie preferences then it should come as no surprise that I’ll see anything directed by Claire Denis. She’s my favorite filmmaker. One of the reasons she is one of my favorites is because after 40 years of filmmaking (in various capacities) she continues to step outside of her comfort zone. Not completely but enough where it should be recognized. Every one of her films has the same sheen/layer of “Claire Denis-ism” (which is something I like) but she dabbles in different genres from time to time. Trouble Every Day was her horror film. I Can’t Sleep was her murder mystery/noir. Chocolat & U.S. Go Home were warped personal journals/semi-autobiographical tales from her childhood. Friday Night was Claire Denis’ foray in to romance (that’s not to say romance & sensuality don’t flow throughout a large majority of her work but, in my opinion, Friday Night was her first truly romantic film). Let The Sunshine In has a lot of the same elements of Friday Night but it’s a bit more mushy. This might be the lightest movie she’s ever done so far in her career (this is that new territory I was speaking of earlier) but at the end of the day it is a Claire Denis film. There’s plenty of sad moments & crying. But what’s so disorienting (and I mean this in a good way) is that the sad moments and the funny moments happen within moments of each other. One minute you’re laughing out loud and seconds later you want to cry with Juliette Binoche's "Isabelle". It's difficult to keep track of all the emotions. I know that sounds negative but it's not. Let The Sunshine In keeps you on your toes.

Denis also pleases her more rigid fans like myself who like continuity between all of her movies (Agnès Godard is behind the camera once again, Stuart Staples provided some of the music, Alex Descas co-starred, etc). The way Claire Denis shoots Binoche’s (beautiful) naked body is from the same lens that filmed the half-naked men in Beau Travail. I also came to the realization that in the last two decades we’ve watched Nichols Duvauchelle (who plays one of the love interests) pretty much grow up in Claire Denis’ movies.

Let The Sunshine In is the story of “Isabelle” - a divorced mom who still hasn’t given up on love and continues to try and date/hook up even though most of the men in her life at the moment kind of suck (some are still married, some are self-centered, etc). We feel for Isabelle because she is a romantic who deserves love but that doesn’t mean she isn’t frustrating. I enjoyed this movie very much but there were times when I wanted to yell at Isabelle in frustration like a lot of people want to in most romcoms (“WHY ARE YOU GOING BACK TO THAT GUY?! HE'S TERRIBLE FOR YOU!”)
When you take the solid performances and the overall “arthouse” element out of Let The Sunshine In, Isabelle could very well be the 5th friend in Carrie’s entourage on Sex & The City (I'd be interested in hearing theories as to whether or not Claire Denis was slightly poking fun at romantic comedies).

But the plot is secondary to me. I was more fascinated with the (extended) family reunion aspect of it all. I say extended because while this is Claire Denis’ first time collaborating with French cinema legends like Juliette Binoche & Gérard Depardieu, they’re still (distant) relatives that share the same blood/DNA as Denis. It was only a matter of time that they all work together.

Claire Denis is often associated with the Wim Wenders family tree of directors (Jarmusch, Denis & Wenders), actors (Solveig Dommartin, Issach De Bankole, etc), cinematographers (Agnes Godard & Robby Muller) & musicians (John Lurie) but she also belongs to another large cinematic family...

Leos Carax / Olivier Assayas / Claire Denis
Denis Lavant / Juliette Binoche / Alex Descas
Katerena Golubeva / Lola Creton / Mirielle Perrier
Kylie Minogue / Isabelle Huppert / The Depardieus
The Leos Carax/Olivier Assayas/Claire Denis family tree is seldom mentioned but is so quietly prevalent. It’s an incredibly incestuous web of collaborative artists that should be the subject of a book one day. Claire Denis helped Olivier Assayas come up with the story that eventually became Irma Vep (Irma Vep also co-stars Claire Denis-regular/Let The Sunshine In co-star Alex Descas). Leos Carax’s cinematic alter-ego Denis Lavant gave one of his most iconic performances in Beau Travail (a film many consider to be Claire’s best work). Olivier Assayas’ recent stock actor Lola Creton gave a cryptic performance in Denis’ Bastards. Mirielle Perrier starred in the directorial debuts of both Carax & Denis. Isabelle Huppert has appeared in the films of both Assayas & Denis and Kylie Minogue ended up in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors at the suggestion of Claire Denis (Denis & Minogue were supposed to work on a film together that eventually fell through).
There are more examples that I could give but I think you get the idea.

Let The Sunshine In might be the greatest cinematic artifact that shows the connectivity between Carax, Assayas & Denis. Gérard Depardieu’s son appeared in Carax’s Pola X alongside the late Katerina Golubeva (star of two Denis films and partner of Carax). Juliette Binoche, who’s started in multiple films directed by both Assayas & Carax, has become the first and only actor/actress to appear in films directed by all three filmmakers. So even if Let The Sunshine In ended up being bad, “meh” or disappointing (which it definitely is not), it still ties together decades of a specific scene within modern French cinema that is very near & dear to my heart.

I think it should be noted that years before this movie was announced I had a feeling Binoche & Denis would collaborate...

And here we are over two & a half later watching this dream collaboration become a reality (there's a moment towards the end of the movie where Alex Descas & Juliette Binoche slowly hold hands which solidified everything for me).

Don’t get me wrong, as a stand-alone movie Let The Sunshine In is solid. It’s a departure from Denis’ recent (darker) work. I honestly wouldn’t mind this being a novice’s intro in to the world of Claire Denis (besides the fact that it’s a solid film, it could potentially expose someone to so many different avenues of modern French cinema).
But as a diehard fan of Claire Denis (as well as Carax & Assayas) it’s difficult to disassociate the very large web of modern French cinema history attached to it.
To some this may be another solid Claire Denis effort but to me it’s something much bigger.


We were happy to have Martin Kessler join us again to talk about everything from Blade Runner 2049 & Slack Bay to deep-cut comic books & underrated hip-hop lyricists.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017


The Five Obstructions is a film that hammers home what I try to do here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - cinematic influences & visual similarities aren’t the most important factor when it comes to film analysis but it is important nonetheless. Simply for the fact that it’s nice to know where the roots of a more recent film came from. So when I was asked to join in on a loose lecture/discussion on the subject I jumped on it without hesitation (this is a written version of my “presentation” on the importance of The Five Obstructions for Video Revival in Brooklyn).

In The Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier sets out to recreate one of his all-time favorite films (The Perfect Human) with the help of Perfect Human director; Jørgen Leth (there’s a deeper reason as to why Von Trier sought help from Leth that we’ll get in to later). Through the course of the film Von Trier & Leth make five experimental variations of Leth’s original short.
For those unfamiliar - like I was prior to 2003 - The Perfect Human is a Danish experimental short from 1963 that left a lasting impression on a young Lars Von Trier decades before The Five Obstructions came to be.

In Von Trier’s television series The Kingdom (R) we see LvT dressed just like the protagonist from The Perfect Human (L) using sign language to address the audience...

In Europa Von Trier tips his hat to the shaving sequence in The Perfect Human (there are a million shaving scenes in a million movies but given Von Trier’s obvious love of The Perfect Human I like to think his homage in Europa was specific).
The Perfect Human / Europa

The Perfect Human’s (possible) influence & visual similarities branch out beyond the cinema of Lars Von Trier. The French New Wave was well under way by the time of The Perfect Human’s release but Leth’s visuals share some striking similarities to a few key French New Wave Films like A Married Woman...

The Perfect Human / A Married Woman

And I know Repulsion isn’t a full-on French New Wave film, but from the Jazz score, the jazzy black & white cinematography & the presence of Catherine Deneuve, it’s a distant relative.
In Repulsion we get a close up of a nail cutting scene similar to one in Leth’s The Perfect Human...

The Perfect Human / Repulsion

and this scene in Repulsion would go on to echo in the work of Lodge Kerrigan...

Repulsion / Clean, Shaven / Claire Dolan

There are also some visual similarities with early George Lucas...

The Perfect Human / THX 1138

I think I’ve always had an appreciation for Von Trier more than his peers because while he can be incredibly arrogant at times, he’s never hesitated for a second to list off his cinematic influence. From Tarkovsky & Dreyer to Leth & Scorsese, LvT has never been above paying respect to those that came before him. He actually wanted to make a sequel to The Five Obstructions with Martin Scorsese but it fell through...

The Five Obstructions goes deeper than just recreating shots & comparing new & old images. This loose documentary is also a light study in depression. Prior to The Five Obstructions Jørgen Leth was suffering from severe depression. Lars Von Trier discovered this and came to the aid of his fellow Dane by getting him to direct. Lars Von Trier has suffered from depression himself so I’m sure he understood the struggle. This is just one example of many where we see an active filmmaker reach out to help an inactive filmmaker through directing. The Five Obstructions is kind of a sequel to Lightning Over Water where we see Wim Wenders working with his idol Nicholas Ray. In 1980 John Cassavetes got Peter Bogdanovich out of his severe depression by having him direct a few of scenes in Gloria.

Lightning Over Water / The Five Obstructions

The Five Obstructions was not only an homage/experimental collaboration between two filmmakers but also a form of therapy (by the end of the film Jorgen Leth seems like a happier person).


Martin Kessler is in town visiting New York City so it's only right that we have him on the podcast in person!

Listen as we rant & ramble on while snacking on ridged chips.

Don't forget to check him out on Flixwise & Flixwise Canada.


Monday, October 2, 2017


On this all-star episode of Wrong Reel I joined James & WR regulars John Cribbs, Martin Kessler & Bill Scurry to tackle David Lynch's Dune. Click the image above to go to the episode.


Sunday, October 1, 2017


We’re all familiar with the “Acid Western” (Six String Samurai, Roadside Prophets, Straight To Hell, Dust Devil, Dead Man, etc) but the “acid historical drama” (the genre that Zama very much falls under) is often overlooked. From Aguirre: The Wrath Of God To Valhalla Rising and so many more in between (Walker, Cobra Verde, Marie Antoinette, Jauja, etc), the acid historical drama has always been kicking around but hasn’t gotten the same recognition as other “alt” movie genres.
“Acid” films do have plots but they’re also trippy (hence the “acid” label), atmospheric, sometimes aimless and occasionally unflinchingly violent. Zama is all of those things and more (I wouldn’t dare call it a ghost story but you do find yourself questioning who and/or what is real from time to time). By the final act you start to question the meaning of any & everything as we age along with our protagonist...

Diego De Zama at the start of Zama (L) and the end of Zama (R)

The aging of Diego De Zama is pretty similar to that of Florya in Come & See (and by the end of their respective films they’re both quite broken).

Come & See

Lucrecia Mattel’s latest film certainly follows down the same path as the aforementioned stories but it also stands out on its own due to the piercing (colorful) visuals and isolated moments of harsh violence. That's what’s so disorienting about it. It’s an incredibly dreary and sometimes violent film but the color palette would have you think otherwise (bright beautiful colors often give off a more positive & energetic vibe).
And that’s not to say other films don’t have their share of violence. It's just that Martel’s is a bit more brutal in my opinion. I love Nicolas Winding Refn very much but the violence in a movie like Valahalla Rising is intended to be entertaining to some degree. That’s not really the case with Zama. With Valhalla Refn wants his audience to cheer while Martel wants her audience to look away it fright.
But Valhalla Rising shouldn’t be dismissed. Especially in the case of Zama. Both films have strong visual & thematic similarities on a skeletal/surface level

Zama / Valhalla Rising

My arrogant side cringes at the thought of comparing something to Stanley Kubrick in 2017 (because honestly what film can’t be compare to Kubrick with decent writing and/or a long-winded rationalization?). But on a visual level Zama kind of feels like the color palettes from the bathroom scene in The Shining turned up slightly. And I appreciate Lucrecia Martel’s use of color in Zama because while the entire film is beautiful, the piercing colors (specifically greens, oranges & reds) are sprinkled throughout the movie or in the background rather than shoved down our eyeballs from start to finish...

There’s nothing like waiting on a film for years that actually delivers (in the case of Zama we’ve waited almost a decade for Lucrecia Martel to put out a new feature). This movie delivered tenfold in fact. This isn’t exactly something I’d blindly recommend to anyone (although I wouldn’t be mad at this being someone’s introduction to Lucrecia Martel’s work) but at the same time you don’t have to necessarily belong to the (“arthouse”) audience that this movie is primarily geared towards in order to enjoy it. If you’re a history buff or watch those expedition shows on A&E or the history channel then there’s no reason a Lucrecia Martel novice couldn’t enjoy Zama.

This is new territory for Martel given that this is a period piece. The basic plot centers around the existential plight & loneliness of our main character Diego De Zama - a court councilor stationed on a remote colonial outpost waiting to be transferred back home. At the start of the film he’s already somewhat miserable & alone and things only go downhill from there (he agrees to take on a vague mission that truly tests his will).
Race is also a secondary plot. It should be noted that the Black characters in the film (who are all slaves of course) say either nothing or very little but their presence is still profound. The way the camera focuses (and lingers) on the Black characters is very intentional.

But while this is Lucrecia Martel's first movie set outside of modern times, it still fits with the rest of her filmography. La Cienaga may not to be a traditional “history lesson” but it is a peak in to Latin-American culture much like Zama. Diego De Zama is also going through the same kind of existential crisis as Veronica in The Headless Woman.
The biggest strand of connective DNA is the element of loneliness & isolation. Diego De Zama is very detached. This is also a common theme in the work of fellow Argentinian filmmaker Lisandro Alonso who, like Lucrecia Martel, recently delved in to the acid historical genre with Jauja (2015). From La Libertad to Jauja (which is a first cousin of Zama) the characters in Lisandro Alonso’s universe are often alone and/or isolated just like Diego De Zama.

Here I was, in the midst of a vast continent that was invisible to me though I felt it all around, a desolate paradise, far too immense for my legs. 

This excerpt taken from the book that inspired Lucrecia Martel’s latest film truly sums up the story of Zama as far as I’m concerned.

the loneliness in Zama is similar to the art of David Caspar Friedrich...

At the end of Zama, Diego is asked if he wants to live and his response (if you wanna call it that) is rather cryptic & open-ended. Zama is the personification of complex as it is both dreary & beautiful. It hasn't even been 24 hours so I wont give any hyperbolic final statements on it, but this is one of the best films I've seen this year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


We're on the road again...

Scott & I drove from St. Albans Queens to Brooklyn and had a nice chat about superhero movies (past, present & up-coming). It's awesome. Give it a listen!


Friday, September 22, 2017


We're back! In this installment of The School Of Tarkovsky we're going to look at some more comparisons that slipped through the cracks in these last few months. If you follow me on twitter then some of these will look familiar. But for those of you who do not - here are some additional comparisons/visual similarities from regular students of Tarkovsky like Carlos Reygadas & Nuri Bilge Ceylan along with unexpected filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai & Barry Jenkins.

While some of these comparisons are in fact totally coincidental (which still doesn’t take away from how cool they look next to each other), you have to understand the connections that some of these have with one another. You aren’t required to know the backgrounds of these images and/or the filmmakers responsible for them but if you feel the need to negatively & cynically question Tarkovky’s influence (like some do on various forms of social media), at least know what the fuck you’re talking about. The more people question some of these comparisons the more they just confirm that they don’t read about cinema very much. I understand that some of this pushback comes from the assumption that I’m calling their favorite filmmakers “copycats” when that isn’t the case (there are only so many original images & ideas in film. You could trace the majority of modern cinema's visual influences back to the work of early Bunuel, Epstein & Cocteau).
I’m not always talking out of my ass when I compare films. Especially in the case of Andrei Tarkovsky. I don’t mean to repeat myself but some of the regular filmmakers who pop up in this series are folks like Carlos Reygadas, Lars Von Trier, Claire Denis, Elem Klimov & Alexander Sokurov. When Carlos Reygadas first stepped on the scene with his first two films (Japon & Battle In Heaven), can you honestly say to yourself that he didn’t bring up Andrei Tarkovsky any chance he got when being interviewed? Not only that, but in the special features of Japon he goes out of his way to praise Tarkovsky. Given those two facts, is it so far-fetched to think that he wouldn’t reference Tarkovsky in his work (see below along just about every other entry in this series)?
Lars Von Trier not only dedicated some of his work to Tarkovsky but he also once said that he wanted to be Andrei Tarkovsky early on in his career (he also name-dropped Tarkovsky more than once at a video Q&A at the IFC Center back in 2006 where I was in attendance).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – Claire Denis worked on Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. While that doesn’t guarantee that his influence rubbed off on her, the connection between Denis & Tarkovsky is still there on some level.

Is it out of line that Alexander Sokurov would draw inspiration from the films of his personal friend Andrei Tarkovsky?

I always find it funny when filmmakers rummage through the criterion collection closet praising the films that influenced them or talk about the scenes they “ripped off” on a DVD commentary track (see/listen to any early Paul Thomas Anderson commentary track) but when someone (…me) shows the influence they speak of, suddenly everyone goes; “whoa whoa whoa! That’s pretty vague, man! You could find those images in any movie!” It really makes no sense to me.

Speaking of rummaging through criterion closets, look at Barry Jenkins who recently participated in the criterion closet series. Someone recently put together a lovely video analysis comparing Moonlight with the films of Wong Kar Wai (many people are ripping it off as their own work) which he co-signed and endorsed. It should also be noted that Mr. Jenkins took joy in a few of my own movie comparisons as well…

Given Barry Jenkins' obvious love of cinema, is it really too far-fetched to think that a Tarkovsky film rubbed off on him in some way (see the first image below)?

Solaris / Moonlight

I dedicated an entire entry comparing the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan to Tarkovsky so when you see this Stalker/Uzak comparison, please don’t question me...
Stalker / Uzak

The horrors of war seen through the perspective of young Russian Protagonists who start out innocent & hopeful but by the end of the film they’ve aged psychologically (highlighted by scenes where you can see the aging all over their faces as they look directly in to the camera).
I don’t think it’s so out of line to compare these two movies. Do you?
Ivan's Childhood /  Come & See

The contrast of a fake/model house next to a real house burning to the ground...
Badlands / Sacrifice

This could be a reach but it still looks cool, doesn't it?
The Mirror / The Clouds Of Sils Maria

Ivan's Childhood / In The Mood For Love
There's nothing to debate here
Ivan's Childhood / The Revenant

again - nothing to debate...
Ivan's Childhood / Post Tenebras Lux

Ivan's Childhood / The Tree Of Life

The Mirror / The Thin Red Line

The Mirror / Silent Light

While Bertrand Bonello is more a student from the School of Bresson (he would have his actors watch Bresson films to prepare for their roles), it isn't too out of line to assume he was influenced by other filmmakers like Tarkovsky
Andrei Rublev / Tiresia

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Much like Paris, Texas, this is a road episode (Scotty & I drove from Brooklyn to Queens). Listen as we talk about everything from IT to Bernard Rose's post-Candyman work.

This episode is also dedicated to Harry Dead Stanton & Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.


Friday, September 8, 2017


This week we were joined by recurring guest/friend of the show Mtume Gant to to talk Hal Hartley, Purchase University, Ingmar Bergman and so much more.


Friday, September 1, 2017


No matter the genre, Bill Duke's directorial work focuses primarily on people of color (Dark Girls, A Rage In Harlem, A Prince Among Slaves, Hoodlum, etc). Actually, I've always wondered why he, along with Carl Franklin, Charles Burnett & Wendell B. Harris, weren't included on that famous New York Times cover highlighting Black filmmakers in the early 90's. Bill Duke was just as active & prolific as some of the filmmakers that made the cover...

While Duke's films are enjoyed by folks of all races, I have a hard time believing the average non-black movie goer can truly appreciate something like Dark Girls or even A Rage In Harlem

I liken Bill Duke to someone like Tom Noonan. As actor's they've appeared in big budget action action films to low budget indies. But as filmmakers, their work is much more personal in contrast to The Last Action Hero (Noonan) or Commando (Duke)

After what seems like my millionth viewing of Deep Cover I came to the conclusion that not only is it a modern masterpiece, but Bill Duke's directorial work is unique & underrated.  There are many threads that run throughout all of his films and we're going to look at those now. 


There may be some strides & improvements in mainstream American movies these days but in the 80's & 90's, unless you were part of an elite/exclusive group of actresses (Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Basset, Rae Dawn Chong, etc), it was tough getting screen time.
While Bill Duke has worked with mega stars like Goldberg, he also utilized underused Black actresses like Victoria Dillard (Deep Cover) & underrated character actors like Loretta Divine (Hoodlum)
Deep Cover
Dark Girls
A Rage In Harlem
Sister Act 2
Not Easily Broken
America's Dream

Bill Duke certainly doesn't shy away from Black pride. Weather its a documentary celebrating (and dissecting) dark skin, or throwing in subliminal imagery in to some of his films (see the image for Sister Act 2), he likes to celebrate his ethnicity...
Dark Girls
A Rage In Harlem
Deep Cover
Bill Duke sneaks in Historically Black College clothing in Sister Act 2
A Prince Among Slaves
America's Dream
Deacons For Defense

Stepping away from race for a moment (we'll delve back in to that later), Duke has a talent for crafting Villains that aren't just typical "bad guys" but rather menacing with little to no redeeming qualities.
It should be noted that some of these "villains" are based on very real people who were motivated by racism (Hoodlum & Deacons For Defense)
A Rage In Harlem
Deep Cover
Deep Cover
The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Deacons For Defense

Deep Cover
Deep Cover
A Rage In Harlem
Deacons For Defense

Who Framed Roger Rabbit / A Rage In Harlem
King Of New York /  Deep Cover
Deep Cover / Only God Forgives
Onibaba/Deep Cover
Screamin' Jay Hawkins in Mystery Train (L) / A Rage In Harlem (R)

Deacons For Defense
Not Easily Broken
Sister Act 2

As a director Bill Duke has worked in almost every genre but Noir/Neo-Noir is the one genre he explores more than anything else. One element that makes his films extra noir-ish is the dark lighting and use of shadows...
Deep Cover
A Rage In Harlem

The relationships between siblings, cousins and parents & children are often strained, complicated or problematic (to say the least in some cases), but there is a bond/connection between blood relatives that often plays a major role in the plots of Bill Duke's movies.
a moment between brothers in A Rage In Harlem
Bumpy Johnson mourning his cousin in Hoodlum
Mother & Daughter in Sister Act 2
a father/son moment in Deep Cover

Much like his peers & elders (Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Ernest Dickerson & Abel Ferrara), Bill Duke embraced hip-hop culture when others turned their nose up at it.
"Deep Cover" was not only the theme song for the movie of the same name but it also put Death Row records on the map. Rakim hadn't record a song in five years prior to working on the Hoodlum soundtrack and Bill Duke occasionally casts (female) hip-hop artists in supporting roles.
Deep Cover
Def Jef's caemo in Deep Cover
Queen Latifah in Hoodlum
Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2

Actors like Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg & Forest Whitaker do "transcend" the racial lines in mainstream Hollywood from time to time, but their iconic status means a little more to Black audiences. Weather you're a veteran journeyman actor (Paul Benjamin), legend of 70's Black cinema (Glynn Turman & Cicely Tyson) or a mega-star like Glover & Goldberg, you're almost guaranteed a role in a Bill Duke film.
Some Black actors catch a lot of flack for "selling out" (which they sometimes do) but others aren't given credit for working with the few (talented) mainstream Black directors working today.
Wesley Snipes in America's Dream
Paul Benjamin in Hoodlum
Glynn Turman in Deep Cover
Clarence Williams in Deep Cover
Whoopi Golderberg in Sister Act 2

Danny Glover in A Rage In Harlem
Forest Whitaker in A Rage In Harlem
Cicely Tyson in Hoodlum
Ossie Davis in Deacons For Defense
Lou Gosset Jr. in Cover


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