Monday, November 23, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE #140: CHARLES BURNETT

 


Charles Burnett was kind enough to chat with Scott & I about 30 years of To Sleep With Anger, spirituality, legacy, Los Angeles and more (click here or the image above to go to the episode)


WRONG REEL EPISODE #525 – 25th Anniversary Double Feature: Casino & Heat

 


In case you missed it, Rob Cotto & I joined James on Wrong Rell to chat about the 25th anniversary of both Heat & Casino (click here or the image above to go to the episode).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA PART ELEVEN

Here's the latest entry in my ongoing exploration into the visual similarities shared between Bergman's Persona and countless other films.

Enjoy...

Persona /
Ex Machina

Persona /
Come and See


Persona /The Skin I Live In

Persona /The Skin I Live In

Persona /
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

Persona /
The Truman Show

Persona /Oldboy

Persona /Oldboy

Persona /
Pain and Glory

Persona /
Single White Female

Persona /
Inland Empire

Persona /
Bad Blood


Persona /Minnie & Moskowitz

Persona /Kill Bill

Persona /Images

Persona /
Images

Persona /
Images


Friday, October 16, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY PART 26: THE ENCHANTED DESNA



Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan’s Childhood and Yuliya Solnsteva's The Enchanted Desna have some basic similarities in terms plot. Both films deal with Soviet History under the umbrella of war through the eyes of young children for the most part (both Tarkovsky & Solnsteva play with the idea of time, flashbacks & memory as well).

But it’s the imagery of both films that really ties them together. 

Solnsteva already had a rich & long history in Soviet cinema long before Tarkovsky was even born (she’s mostly known as an actress for her lead role in Aelita: Queen Of Mars)...

Aelita: Queen Of Mars


And I can’t make a blog entry like this without mentioning Aelita’s strong influence on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis...

Aelita: Queen Of Mars / Metropolis


Aelita: Queen Of Mars / Metropolis

Aelita: Queen Of Mars / Metropolis

Aelita: Queen Of Mars /
Metropolis

Aelita: Queen Of Mars /
Metropolis

Aelita: Queen Of Mars /
Metropolis



But just because a filmmaker has been established for decades doesn’t mean they're above influence from the younger generation. Even visually. As you’ll see below, there are way too many specific examples (both major & minor) of visual similarities between both films that would lead me to believe she was subconsciously influenced by Tarkovsky’s feature debut.

I think the examples below back my theory. Enjoy...

Ivan's Childhood /
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna
Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna

Ivan's Childhood / 
The Enchanted Desna


It also should be noted that Tarkovsky was influenced by the films of Solnsteva’s husband (Alexander Dovzhenko) which makes for an interesting additional connection....

The opening to Dovzhenko's Ivan seemed to have rubbed off on the opening sequence of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev...

Ivan / Andrei Rublev

Thursday, October 1, 2020

FAUNA: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #5



It’s best to go in to Fauna completely blind (I realize saying that will immediately turn most of you away from this review, so for those of you that continue on reading my spoiler-free thoughts - I thank you). While this isn’t exactly something that you can “spoil”, it's also a film that you don’t just stumble upon (it’s a 70-minute long abstract foreign film where nothing much seems to happen). Chances are this is something that’s already on your radar.
After praising this movie on twitter and on the pink smoke, I came to the realization that I may have built up everyone’s expectations. I do stand by my overall assessment that outside of the basic plot, Fauna has touches of everyone & everything from early Amat Escalante & Jim Jarmusch, to Soderbergh’s Schizopolis & pinches of Lucrecia Martel. I’d even go so far as to compare Fauna to Yorgos Lanthimos’ underseen debut; Kinetta as both movies have the same dry low-energy/deadpan-ish atmosphere.

There’s even a brief moment that felt like an homage to a scene in Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise where we get a shady exchange/hand-off...

Stranger Than Paradise /
Fauna


The Schizopolis comparison comes from the fact that midway in to Fauna, the story switches and the same actors from the first section of the film play completely different characters in the last half (like Soderbergh & Betsy Brantley in Schizopolis).
Nicolas Pereda even goes so far as to make the actors in Fauna wear intentionally bad wigs just like Soderbergh did in his film...

Schizopolis / Fauna

Schizopolis / Fauna


But don’t expect the outward silliness of Schizopolis or the creepy surreality of The Untamed (Escalante) or Zama (Martel). If anything, it’s like the banal & “boring” parts from all the aforementioned films mixed in to one subtle movie mixtape. Considering what the film is “about”, I think director Nicolas Pereda made an intentionally boring film to throw the audience off. Every synopsis about Fauna on the internet focuses on Perada’s commentary about drug trafficking & drug culture and it’s negative effect on Mexico (recent stuff like Sicario, Narcos, etc).
When the average person thinks of those things they probably imagine coke deals, shootouts, throat-slitting etc. Fauna has absolutely none of that. Actually, Nicolas Pereda’s criticism of the romanticization of Mexican drug culture doesn’t even come in to play until the last 30 minutes and the film is only 70-something minutes to begin with (there is a brief moment early on in the film where he addresses a Narcos-like show but you don’t even realize the importance of that moment until the very end).


I appreciate Nicolas Pereda essentially trolling audiences (in the most mature way one can troll) who are/were expecting scenes of Uzis & AK-47s or drug kingpins surrounded by cocaine bags and instead he gives us an almost Chantal Akerman-esque story of two sibling going off to the Mexican countryside to visit their parents (while there are some outright criticisms of the romanticization of drug culture on Mexico, the bulk of the film is an intentionally “boring” and somewhat awkward family reunion).

Fauna is most certainly an acquired taste. It feels like the equivalent of going to see a traditional stand-up comedian but getting Neil Hamburger or Andy Kaufman instead. If you like Hamburger or Kaufman then great! If you don’t, you’ll probably walk out 15 minutes in to the show.

Friday, September 25, 2020

WITH DAD



Soren Sorensen’s With Dad is a film that gives me hope when it comes to the positive exploration between fathers & sons on the big screen. In this short documentary, Sorensen chronicles Massachusetts photographer Stephen DiRado’s handling of his father Gene’s 20 year journey and eventual passing from Alzheimer’s disease. Doing what he knows best, DiRado photographs his father over the years. These pictures eventually became a photo journal called "With Dad" (the photography is obviously a key visual element in the documentary making it more of a collaboration between Sorensen & DiRado). The idea of a video camera (Sorensen) documenting someone doing their own form of visual documentation (DiRado) comes off like a slightly less chaotic, although equally “enjoyable”, version of William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (a documentary about the documentation of the making of a film). The difference between these two films is that With Dad has one less layer than Greaves’ film.

The relationship between fathers & sons on film is often times presented as negatively complicated, abusive, “toxic” or a combination of all three. I’m not saying that isn’t the case sometimes but right now in 2020 you have people who honestly question if dads hug their sons (I’m not joking. This is seriously a question that has been asked on various viral posts on all platforms of social media). Folks really buy in to this. There are people who really think most men struggle with expressing sweet, positive, happy emotions with one another to the point where folks need to ask if men hug one another. I’m sorry but that’s weird to me. I don't deny that men can totally play in to certain stereotypes that would make someone think that, but it's still weird to me. I came from what many would consider to be a “functional” (as opposed to dysfunctional) or “happy” home life thanks in part to my father (I don’t say that to brag or to present myself as “better than” someone who may not have had that), so perhaps that’s why I’m so combative & defensive when it comes to the misunderstanding & misrepresentation of fathers & sons on film. Again - I’m not saying some men don’t have a hard time expressing their feelings, but there is an imbalance when it comes to that representation on film.

As someone form (western) Massachusetts (with a lot of Massachusetts pride) who looked up to their father, you can imagine how much a film like this speaks to me. There’s even a section in the documentary that focuses on DiRado’s father’s renal failure which became a little extra personal as I’ve had a kidney transplant myself, and my father essentially passed away from complications due to renal failure.
I don’t deny that my fascination & enjoyment of this film is bias. There are too many personal factors in the movie that make it impossible to not be. Simply put - I’m this film’s target audience (as a native of Massachusetts I also noticed & loved the Papa Gino’s shoutout towards the end). So perhaps that clears up why this review, to some degree, has kind of been about me and my own personal feelings so far. My father encouraged my artistic side much like Gene did with his son. Stephen's photography comes off as an extension of his father's own artistic side (Gene DiRado was a cartoonist for publications like the Boston Globe).


In addition to something like Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Sorensen’s latest Film has a subconscious connection to Errol Morris’ B-Side as both films follow Massachusetts-bred photographers (DiRado & Elsa Dorfman) and their relationships with their respective families (both subjects even photograph their family using similar cameras)

With Dad / The B-Side


With Dad
is both a lateral continuation/extension of Sorensen previous dad-heavy film; My Father’s Vietnam (click here to read my review from cutprintfilm.com) as well as a progression. DiRado’s photography is utilized beautifully throughout the film and shows a sweetness & sensitivity between men that isn’t often acknowledged these days...






I watch a lot of movies so I can comfortably say that there are plenty of films out there that show tenderness between men yet so many people fail to acknowledge that because they want to romanticize their narrow-minded idea of what masculinity is or isn’t. To be clear - this documentary’s purpose is not to combat masculinity or toxic masculinity. There’s nothing political here. With Dad is about coping with grief and saying goodbye. It’s existence just so happens to break down certain negative stereotypes. 

With Dad is currently doing the festival circuit (it recently won various rewards at festivals in Houston & Rhode Island) and exploring various streaming options for the future. I urge anyone who enjoys any of the aforementioned films & filmmakers mentioned in this piece to seek it out once it becomes available.


You can catch screenings of My Dad at these upcoming festivals:

GlobeDocs October 1-12filmfest.bostonglobe.com
Chagrin Documentary Film Festival October 6-11chagrinfilmfest.org
Black Bear Film Festival October 16-18blackbearfilmfestival.squarespace.com
Mystic Film Festival October 22-25mysticfilmfestival.com

Friday, September 18, 2020

ANOTHER ROUND: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #4



It makes sense that Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round was put out by Lars Von Trier’s production company (Zentropa). The story kind of plays out like an actual Lars Von Trier film to some degree (Von Trier & Vinterberg have had a 20+ year friendship & working relationship). The basic plot of the film is centered around a set of loose/unofficial rules. Four school teachers come up with the idea/theory that by keeping alcohol in their system constantly it will help & improve their overall life. There’s lots of games that people add alcohol to in order to make them more fun. From peer pong to taking a shot every time someone does something repetitive, alcohol - when consumed as responsible as possible - can make things slightly more enjoyable. The teachers in the film adopt this basic premise and apply it to every day life.
If you stop and think for a second, this sounds like something out of a Lars Von Trier film.
Anyone familiar with his work knows that the plots to his movies, the process/making of his movies (or both) are usually bound by a set of rules (The Idiots & Epidemic), chapters/sections (Breaking The Waves, Manderlay, Dogville), laws and/or beliefs (The Element Of Crime). Another Round is no different. Our characters set out a basic set of rules & guidelines to live life by.
Thomas Vinterberg is no stranger to setting rules, guidelines, laws or restrictions around his movies either. His directorial debut (The Celebration) was the first Dogma feature so it was created by following rules. The characters in his misunderstood/underrated movie Dear Wendy are also bound by a set a specific guidelines they follow. This latest effort fits in with the rest of his (good) body of work perfectly.

It’s important to note that the main characters in Another Round are teachers. My mother was a high school teacher so I’ve seen that side of things. It can drain you and break your spirit. Dealing with teenagers that aren’t your own can be tiring even for one day (sometimes you have to deal with the teens and their parents). Imagine that being your job for decades. I’m not saying teachers deserve unconditional sympathy just because they’re teachers. They chose their line of work. No one forced them to do what they do. But with teaching, and almost any other profession, you sometimes hit a wall. You become jaded and less passionate about what you do every day (the first 20-25 minutes of Another Round are incredibly sad & depressing).
In an effort to combat the sadness & depression and make life “fun” again, the four friends/teachers keep their alcohol levels at a specific range at all times to feel some form of happiness. To me that’s both funny and sad. Mostly sad. If drinking is the only thing that makes life enjoyable then there might be a bigger problem to address (which does slowly come out in the film).

The experiment starts to work. The teachers find meaning again. Their students are happier and the overall tone of the film changes and that sad depressed vibe we get at the beginning is replaced with silliness, joy & happiness.
But, like most humans, the teachers push things too far and what starts out as a fun experiment eventually breaks down and becomes a problem.

When Thomas Vinterberg isn’t phoning it in (Kurske, Far From The Madding Crowd, etc), he has this unique ability to show how childish, silly & irrational adults can be in a really fascinating way. The family in The Celebration, the brothers in Submarino and the supporting cast in The Hunt are all perfect examples of this. The childishness & irrationality of men comes out in Vinterberg’s films more than anything else. But not necessarily in a judgy way. It just is what it is and a lot of men are wired a certain way. I don’t mean to make this all about gender but Another Round plays out like an updated slightly more sensitive Danish remake of Cassavetes’ Husbands. Besides the obvious fact that alcohol fuels both movies, it shows how, at times, men revert to being little boys even when they’re pushing 50. Women do the same thing but this particular movie just so happens to be about about men.
I may be reaching here (this wouldn’t be the first time), but Another Round speaks to the people who sometimes grow sick of their family life and daydream about doing whatever they want as a way to both “escape” and avoid a life of predictability & monotony. To have those thoughts is understandable. As humans we have a lot of irrational & unrealistic thoughts every day. That’s fine. But acting on it is another thing. Not everyone subscribes to what I’m about to say but when you hold a job, have a wife and children (like the main characters in Another Round), you sometimes have to put others first. You should always take care of yourself first in order to do for yourself and others to the best of your ability, but when you have a family you really can’t do whatever you want (even if you don’t have a family you can’t just do whatever you want).

What’s so great about Another Round is that in someone else’s hands it could’ve been a mediocre goofy comedy about teachers being drunk on the job. But Thomas Vinterberg made a sad, soulful & somewhat celebratory film about men dealing with a mid-life crisis and I honestly love that.

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