Monday, April 6, 2020

SORRY WE MISSED YOU



I was going to start this piece off by telling a (very true) story about how in 2006 an old employer of mine called me when I was in the emergency room (awaiting to learn that my kidneys were failing) only to ask me where a file was saved on a work computer rather than ask me how I was doing first (there’s a somewhat similar scene towards the end of Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You where - after being jumped/attacked while on the job - the main character’s boss calls him in the E.R. Waiting room to tell him he’ll be fined for breaking company property and for missing work).
But a more recent topical event happened a few days ago when I was let go by my job in the middle of this Corona virus pandemic. I realize that there are currently millions of people in the same situation as me (some a lot more worse off) but at the end of the day I do have to think about myself first.
Some of you reading this may be saying to yourself; “well, Marcus, Owners & CEOs of companies have to think about themselves and their companies first due to the current situation we’re all in. Perhaps it was too costly to keep you on the payroll” This could be true (it's not, but lets just say it is). But my former employer (and others before it) loved to preach that “we’re a family” nonsense and last time I checked - Families (well, the functional, supporting & loving families I’m used to) don’t put other family members in compromising positions where they now have to worry about income & health insurance. Going back to my earlier example from 2006 - I don't expect anyone to ask me how I'm doing or how I'm feeling, but don't preach that your workplace is a family while expressing more concern over where a PDF is saved more than the health of one of your employees (or "family members"). My most recent employer literally laid me off with one day of health insurance coverage left (awesome timing). I’ve had a kidney transplant so I need health insurance for the rest of my life and Cobra is not cheap (I’ve since been put on my wife’s health insurance but not everyone has that luck/luxury).

Perhaps my understanding of what family means is different...

I say all this to say that I relate to the overall basic premise of Ken Loach’s latest film Sorry We Missed You. And that overall premise is: your job/institution you work for does not care about you. Sure there are exceptions but generally speaking - they could care less about you.
And let me be clear - I knew this long before Sorry We Missed You was released or before the current compromising situation the corona virus has put all of us in. Jobs & employment are about numbers and profits first and people maybe second or third (this should be common knowledge but it still needs to be said). But even if I knew how most employers don’t care about their employees, it still doesn’t reduce the sting & anxiety of unemployment (especially during a time when people are being laid off in large numbers and finding/starting a new job isn’t the easiest task when we need to stay home in order to combat the corona virus).


I didn’t really want to share my thoughts on Sorry We Missed You and how much I relate to it because - and this is a personal thing - I sometimes find it cringy when a major/serious world event happens and people start relating it to movies (similar to how when you scroll twitter & Facebook these days and find endless thoughts & opinions on Contagion and/or Outbreak as if they're the only two movies on the subject of pandemics/viral outbreaks). But as you can tell, I’m in a mood and I also have some newfound free time on my hands at the moment now that I’ve been laid off.

Sorry We Missed You is the story of a working-class family and their struggles in the modern work force. Ricky is a parcel deliveryperson and his wife, Abbie, is a special care/home nurse for various clients. Their son, Seb, is skipping school and getting in to trouble while their young daughter, Liza, seems to be carrying the brunt of all anxiety within the household as she’s the only character who’s able to kind of step back and see the big picture from afar (that’s not to downplay Ricky & Abbie‘s anxiety because they have to pay the bills and take care of the family).
And to add on to that, I want people to recognize that Abbie‘s story is just as important & crucial to the film as Ricky even if she gets slightly less camera time. In my opinion not only does she sacrifice the most (she sells her car early on in the film so Ricky can pursue his employment), but she represents a demographic of workers who are taken advantage of because they’re nice & caring even when they shouldn’t be. It’s easy for some people to take the stance of “Don’t always be so nice” (which is a good stance to have as far as I’m concerned), but not everyone has that ability which is just as much a blessing as it is a curse. Nice people are the easiest to exploit at work and Abbie is a prime example of that.

Sorry We Missed You is perfectly cast, masterfully executed and, as you can see by my intro, is a relatable film on multiple levels. Ricky & Abbie work in specific fields/careers but they're struggle is pretty universal. Many people have gone in to work sick due to fear of losing their job and/or money. Lots people have felt that fear & anxiety of asking for time off to handle to a personal or medical matter (NOT EVEN TIME OFF FOR RESTING OR VACATION, BUT TO HANDLE MORE SERIOUS SHIT OUTSIDE OF WORK WHICH JUST MAKES LIFE FEEL LIKE A CONSTANT GRIND SOMETIMES).


Sorry We Missed You deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Bicycle Thieves. 
Not only do both films start with our protagonists in desperate situations looking for work...
Bicycle Thieves /
Sorry We Missed You


but *SPOILERS AHEAD* they even have similar endings of little to no hope (both films end with the main characters broken holding back tears...

Bicycle Thieves /
Sorry We Missed You



*SPOILER END*


There are even small moments where we see Ricky with his daughter having a moment together that might remind you of Antonio and his son in Bicycle Thieves...
Bicycle Thieves /
Sorry We Missed You



Even if you aren’t a big Ken Loach fan, I challenge any rational minded person to not feel something coming out of this movie. As I said earlier, the issues in Sorry We Missed You were prevalent long before the corona virus caused folks to lose their jobs. I guess the timing/release of it kind of feels like the perfectly executed bad joke.

Friday, April 3, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 118: THE FILMS OF RICHARD STANLEY W/ SPECIAL GUEST FRANK A SMITH



Scott & I were joined by friend of the show (and husband to past guest Elana Levin) Frank A Smith to talk abut the films of Richard Stanley.

Enjoy...

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A FEW WORDS ON BRUNO DUMONT'S JOAN OF ARC


If Jeannette: The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc (the prequel/first installment in Bruno Dumont’s Joan Of Arc saga) is Drive, then Joan Of Arc (2020) is Only God Forgives. I realize this may not be the best sell to some of you as not everyone is a fan of either Nicolas Winding Refn and/or Bruno Dumont (especially not Dumont), but both Refn & Dumont are PINNLAND EMPIRE favorites so this comparison is on brand for me (some of you reading should know this by now). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jeannette is more ”exciting” & externally intense while Joan Of Arc is more droning, meditative & intentionally slow. The musical numbers featured in Jeannette are heavy metal-inspired (a big draw/selling point for the film) and the score/musical numbers in Jeanette seem to come right out of Brian Eno’s Yamaha keyboard circa 1982...


In Bruno Dumont’s latest film we follow Joan Of Arc on trial after her fight against the English army (a slightly older Lise Leplat Prudhomm returns in the title role giving one of my personal favorite performances of the year so far). The basic story is nothing new. Everyone form Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc) & Robert Bresson (The Trial Of Joan Of Arc) to Victor Flemming (Joan Of Arc) & Luc Besson (The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc) has covered this subject matter. It’s history that just about all of us know even if it’s on a surface level. I think Bruno Dumont knew this which is why he not only made his series of films a musical, but he also added his signature Bruno Dumont touch. It’s all there. Awkward acting & exchanges of dialogue between mostly non-professional actors, dark/surreal humor mixed with drama and - there’s no light or politically correct way to say this, but - homely & odd-looking people make up most of the cast (something Dumont has been doing since day one which at times does feel like Harmony Korine-esque exploitation at first, but the more you get to know about Dumont you know his intentions are mostly genuine). He seemed to approach this project with the thought process of; “If I’m going to tell a story that’s already been told many times before, I might as well try to do it different.” And he certainly did that. But no matter how “different” this version may be to some, he still did his homework on the life of Joan Of Arc and the history surrounding her (he doesn’t use the weirdness and non-traditional approach as an excuse to ignore historical aspects or to be lazy).

Joan Of Arc makes Jeannette a much more impactful film in retrospect (it goes without saying that you should see the first part). Jeanette is essentially a coming of age tale/spiritual awakening. Right away this sets Joan Of Arc apart from its predecessors because rather than be thrown right in to the trial & execution, we watch Joan/Lise Leplat Prudhomm age through two films.

We’re in the midst of her coming of age: she’s grown up a little, she's no longer the little girl she was in Jeannette, and the child-like side to her has changed too. After all, remember she’s now a military leader. She’s acquired a confidence, a strength which needed to be filmed. She’s a soldier—a brave soldier, someone who managed to put King Charles VII back on his throne. And we needed to film and show that glory. Which meant we needed to design a glorious mise-en-scène, to capture her hierarchical dimension, her strength. - Bruno Dumont (mubi.com/notebook)


Carl Theordor Dreyer's influence on Dumont has been well documented long before PINNLAND EMPIRE even existed and Joan Of Arc is just another ongoing example...
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc / Joan Of Arc


And 25+ years later we find Bruno Dumont tackling a story that Bresson already did 60 years ago...
The Trial Of Joan Of Arc / Joan Of Arc

What I find most interesting is that even though this movie is the “weird one” out of the Joan Of Arc films, Dumont is still connected to Robert Bresson after almost 25 years (for those of you that don’t know, following Dumont's first two features in the 90’s he was dubbed the “son of Bresson” due to both director’s similar approach to dead pan/non expressive acting from their mostly non-professional casts.
In my opinion this version of Joan Of Arc deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Trial Of Joan Of Arc. Robert Bresson added his unique & signature style to the story of Joan Of Arc as well (intentional lack of emotion, non-professional actors, dry/deadpan delivery, etc). So this isn't the first non-traditional/slightly experimental retelling of the story of Joan Of Arc.

I always have to caution readers that are unfamiliar with Bruno Dumont's films that his style is an acquired taste, but between the lead performance and the amazing score - this is easily my favorite film of 2020 thus far...

Friday, March 27, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 117


On this episode of Zebras Scott & I tackle two "spicy" subjects/movies that branch off in to conversations regarding free speech, "woke culture" and more.

Enjoy...

Friday, March 20, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 116: THE QUARANTINE EPISODE



On this episodes of Zebras, Scott & I give our top 5 desert island movies to watch while in quarantine (not necessarily our top-5 favorite movies either).
We also get in to other random movies, tv shows and albums to keep you company during this trying time.

Enjoy...

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA: ALWAYS SHINE

Two years ago I wrote about Sophia Takal's Always Shine (click here to read) and naturally Bergman's Persona came up on more than occasion.

To use to term coined by Miriam Bale - Always Shine is very much in the Persona Swap genre...

Putting aside the written word for a moment (along with the few initial visual comparisons I came up with), there are a lot more blatant visual similarities that got missed in my review.

Enjoy...


CLOSE -UPS...
Persona / Always Shine

CLOSE -UPS...
Persona /
Always Shine

THE EMPHASIS OF THE MOVIE CAMERA WHICH ACTS AS A CATALYST FOR ANXIETY & PRESSURE...
Persona /
Always Shine

REFLECTIONS...
Persona /
Always Shine

EATING TOGETHER...
Persona / Always Shine

CREEPING UP FROM BEHIND...
Persona /
Always Shine

CONFLICT...
Persona / Always Shine

TAKING PHOTOS...
Persona / Always Shine

Persona /
Always Shine

Persona /
Always Shine


Friday, March 13, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 115: MOVIE GRAB BAG EPISODE



We're back this week with a grab bag discussion on a bunch of films. Scott gives us his thoughts on Birds Of Prey & The Last Thing He Wanted, while I give a rundown of Sorry We Missed You and Bruno Dumont's Joan Of Arc biopic.

Enjoy...

Friday, March 6, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 114: JOHN CARLUCCIO



Filmmaker & friend of the show John Carluccio was kind enough to sit down with us to talk about his latest documentary on Maurice Hines, his legendary turntablist documentary Battle Sounds and so much more. 

Enjoy...



Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA: DON'T LOOK BACK

Persona / Don't Look Back


Vertigo. Images. Mulholland Drive. Always Shine. There’s countless psychological thrillers that deal with the duality, multiple personalities & parallel worlds surrounding women. With the exception of Vertigo (1958), I feel like the aforementioned films can be traced back to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (obviously with the residue of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and perhaps a pinch of Maya Deren’s Meshes Of The Afternoon, but Persona remains the #1 film with the most influence when it comes to movies in that lane).
I say all this to say that Marina De Van’s sophomore film Don’t Look Back is often left off the list of Persona-influenced films when, in my personal opinion, it fits right in with the Mulholland Drives & Always Shines. Part of that has to do with the fact that Don’t Look Back is a little underseen (in the United States it was distributed by IFC films which means its theatrical release was limited in comparison to other movies). Another reason this film is often forgotten about is because it struggled to match up to De Van’s excellent debut In My Skin. Not only did In My Skin leave some large shoes for Don’t Look Back to fill, but De Van was heavily associated with the New French Extremity film movement and her follow-up feature was a more conventional thriller and less “extreme” or “transgressive” as a lot of the other New French Extremity films.

Even I felt Don’t Look Back was a little “Meh” at first but after a recent re-watch (after over a decade) I’ve come to realize that not only is it a solid film, but - as I mentioned at the start of this piece - De Van’s sophomore feature has some strong visual & thematic connections to Persona and other movies in that lane

Like any film dealing with duality & questionable identity (like Persona), Don’t Look Back has tons of imagery that focuses on mirrors & reflections (that kind of goes without saying when it comes to movies like this)

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


I’m fully aware that there are countless movie scenes with mirrors & reflections. Even scenes where people change & morph in to another person...

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


But obvious mirror scenes aside, there are minor visual similarities between Don’t Look Back & Persona that speak volumes and make the connection stronger...
Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


Imagery aside, both Persona & Don't Look Back are partially about mental breakdowns centered around female-specific traumas (similar to Mulholland Drive, Images, Always Shine and so many others). In Don't Look Back we follow a woman (Sophie Marceau) who slowly starts to lose a grip on reality and morph in to another woman (Monica Belucci) due to a mental break brought on by fatigue (as the movie unfolds we come to discover there’s a lot more to everything than just fatigue).

So while Don’t Look Back is somewhat underrated and a little underseen for understandable reasons (and it’s not on the level of a Persona, but still...), perhaps it deserves to be given a second (or first) chance with all the aforementioned cinematic influences & connections in mind.


Monday, February 24, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY PART 25: MOVING IMAGERY

From the resurrection of dead lovers (Blade Runner 2049 & Pet Sematary) and the calming ambiance of nature (The Mountain, Nymphomaniac, Mandy, etc), to exploring the arthouse staple of the "mystique" surrounding horses on film (way too many titles to name) - below are more examples of scenes from films that remind me of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky.
While there are self-proclaimed "Tarkovsky students" represented below (Lars Von Trier & Ilya Khrzhanovsky), this entry of "The School Of..." shows more filmmakers that aren't often associated with Tarkovsky's work (Rick Alverson, Denis Villeneueve, Alex Garland, etc), so I'm fully aware that some of these similarities are completely coincidental.


Solaris /
Blade Runner 2049

Solaris /
IT (1989)

Solaris /
The Lovers On The Bridge

Nostalghia / 4

Andrei Rublev / The Wicker Man

Solaris / Mandy

Solaris / Annihilation

Solaris / Michael Clayton

Andrei Rublev /
Michael Clayton

Solaris / The Mountain

Solaris / Pet Sematary

Solaris / Nymphomaniac

Monday, February 3, 2020

COMPLETE FEATURE FILMOGRAPHIES



I'm happy to announce that I've now written about the (feature length) filmographies of some of my favorite active filmmakers. Take some time throughout the rest of the year to get familiar with their work...

(*click each movie title for the individual review*)


Carlos Reygadas
Ratcatcher (The Pink Smoke)

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