Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Movies of Moebius: Les Maîtres du temps (1982)

Les Maîtres du temps (also known as Masters of Time) seems like it should be great. It was directed by René Laloux and designed by Moebius. The two of them should have been able to create a visionary masterpiece of animation.

And the truth is, they did, if you adjust your expectations a little.

Although based on the 1958 novel The Orphan of Perdide by Stefan Wul, the plot is secondary to the visuals. It's mostly about a boy named Piel who is stranded on a planet and space pirate Jaffar is sent to go save him.

Or something. As much danger Piel seems to be in, Jaffar and evil exiled prince Matton, his sister Belle, and old friend Silbad spend a lot of time talking and more or less just kind of hanging out. There's little urgency in terms rescuing Piel. And weird stuff that has nothing to do with anything happens -- like a planet where everyone turns into faceless angels and Piel encounters strange creatures on the planet he's on. It goes absolutely nowhere fast, until a resolution comes out of nowhere.

But to want a plot from this movie is maybe asking a bit too much. It is, rightfully so, all about the trippy -- and usually beautiful -- visuals. Much time in spent deliberating over the freaky angel-like creatures and alien landscapes. Two childlike creatures named Yula and Jad have their share of screen time, discussing various philosophical concepts about living. The film's not about the ultimate goal of saving Piel -- it's about everything that leads us to there.

Still, this is the kind of movie you're either going to connect with or you're not. I don't think there's too much middle ground. If the odd and often complexly dazzling look of the movie and its purposeful pacing doesn't appeal to you, Les Maîtres du temps will probably just confuse you at best or bore you at worst.

I know both Moebius and Laloux were disappointed with the final product, but that actually makes me a little sad. The movie is far from perfect, but in many ways, its imperfections is its strength. A more straightforward film would not have been as interesting, even if it would've been more satisfying.

Friday, April 29, 2011

to Helldriver and back part 1: NYAFF films revealed

The screening of Helldriver at Japan Society Thursday night was a highly concentrated sugar rush of eye and ear candy, turning the Japan Society’s respectable halls into a sensory overload of delights. There was so much going on, it will take a few posts to do the event justice. This is the first.

Part 1: The announcements
The future of the New York Asian Film Festival (and Japan Cuts)…is now! Before Nishimura Yoshihiro and Eihi Shiina took the stage to present Helldriver, Mark from Subway Cinema gave a rundown of some definite and very likely goings-ons to look forward to at this year’s fest in July.

From China, two big recent films, Reign of Assasins and Shaolin, are being shown. There will also be a special focus on Wuxia cinema, a classic genre of martial arts adventures, and guest Tsui Hark will be there to present some of his films. A 30 mm print of Blade was named as a possibility, and it’s hard to imagine him coming all the way to New York without a screening of his Tribeca-rockin’ lastest film Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame.

2010 film, The Unjust, by Korean director Ryoo Seung-Wan (who directed a previous NYAFF festival favorite, City of Violence) and he is scheduled to be in attendance. Other films include Machete Maidens (a documentary on exploitation cinema from the Philippines), Kung Fu Cannibals (a lost classic described as this year’s L.A. Streetfighter), and Bangkok Knockout, a Thai martial arts flick.
From Japan, we’ll see Sushi Typhoon produced films Karate Robo-Zaborgar (by Robo Geisha and Machine Girl director Noboru Iguchi) and Yakuza Weapon. The latter will be shown over the July 9 – 10 weekend at Japan Society, and will feature an appearance by director Tak Sakaguchi. On the seedier side comes Horny House of Horror, a low budget pinku violent production with visual effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura. The popular live action remake of classic anime Battleship Yamato is still being pursued, but not yet confirmed.

A few words were also spoken about Japan Cuts which will overlap with the NYAFF and continue on in late July. Guests and a range of genres were promised, although no specifics were mentioned. The promotional cards in the lobby, however, promised the 2011 film Byakuyako, an adaptation of a very popular Japanese mystery novel, which stars Kengo Kora (Fish Story).

Wow! Loads to look forward to. ‘all for now. More on the screening in a bit.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful (2011)


One of the most important films I saw at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Semper Fi tells the heartbreaking story about the fight to get the Marine Corps and the American Government to come clean about the contamination of the drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The tainted water (the result of leaks and improper dumping), has been responsible for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of people (soldiers, their families, and civilians alike), over a period of decades.

The film is primarily the story of Jerry Ensminger, who has lead the fight as a means of trying to find closure in the death of his daughter, who died of leukemia while he was stationed at the base. Years later Ensminger, by then retired from the Corps, discovered the existence of the contamination while watching the news on TV. Shocked at what the story revealed he began to look into the matter and found it was just the tip of the iceberg.

When the film started I thought I was simply going to see a typical "lone citizen leading a David (Ensminger) and Goliath (the Marine Corps)" story. I was certain that it was going to be filled with all your typical twists and turns, and that in the end I would be pissed off and I would be angry until I dove into the next film at the festival. Instead, I was blindsided, and left broken and sobbing in my seat. I had to struggle to find my way to the next screening.

I knew that I was in trouble when I realized that tears were running down my cheeks for seemingly no reason. I didn't expect it. Hell, there wasn't much of anything occurring on-screen, but there was something about the story and how it was being told that was literally wringing tears from my eyes. By the time we got to the sequence where a government commission invites the public to tell what happened to them, to relate the stories of their losses and illnesses, I was damn near sobbing uncontrollably. I dare you not to cry when one mother tells you about the birth and death of two of her children born with birth defects. The first was born with an exposed spine, and the second was born without a top to its skull. It's one of the saddest things you will hear.

I know you're asking yourself, why would I want you to see such a profoundly upsetting film? Because it's affecting the lives of millions of people, many who probably don't even know about it. You need to see this so that you may be moved to try and help someone you know who may also have been exposed to the danger...and not just in Camp Lejeune, but at other military bases as well (remember I said this story is only the tip of the iceberg). You need to see this so that you can help keep safe the very people who are supposed to keep us safe.

This is one of the best films of the year and it's one of the most important as well. Expect to have your feet knocked out from under you.

Please see this film.

(For more information on Jerry Ensminger, his fight, his group, and the situation at Camp Lejeune, please go to the website The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten.)

mondocurry Asian cinema corner report from The Tribeca Film Festival 3


Part 3 Let the Bullets Fly

Everything about this past Sunday’s screening of Let the Bullets Fly at the Tribeca Film Festival had a big time feel about it. Big time lines, big time press at the tent outside the theater taking photos and interviewing big time director/star Wen Jiang along with well known actress, wife, and costar Zhou Yun. The film itself, while not always as intense as I was led to believe it would be, also made a big time impact by the time it reached its conclusion.

The story takes place, not in ancient China but in a 1920s outlaw-centric desert-scape of questionable historical accuracy. With a title like ‘Let the Bullets Fly,’ one might expect a nonstop thrill ride of one shoot-out after the next. Comparisons to the action packed Korean film, “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird,” no doubt because of its similar setting, only further propagated this expectation. In fact, scenes of violence are spread out rather widely throughout the movie’s 2 plus hours, and most of the big battles are fought with wits and minds. The film is still an overall success in two ways: as an interesting allegorical tale of the sort of power struggle that takes place between established bureaucracy and organized masses, and as a powerful character study of Wen Jiang’s twist on the gangster with a heart of gold protagonist.

The film begins with the infamous outlaw Zhang disrupting the path of a train carrying a would-be mayor to his new post. Here at the film’s outset, the true nature of the movie’s title, which I shall not reveal, is cleverly shown. With some prodding from the original mayor-to-be’s companion on the train, Zhang decides to take the politician’s place and achieve wealth and power through this deceptively earned post. When Zhang descends on the town with his gang and new advisor in tow, he learns that things are run by an even bigger outlaw of sorts, the town’s conniving governor, portrayed to shifty, greedy perfection by Chow Yun Fat. In little time, a back and forth power struggle between these two forces ensues.

From this point in the film, there is no shame in feeling confused. The story does everything in its power to mix up, baffle, and mislead the audience. As the characters vie to take the upper hand physically, financially, and in terms of the public’s perception of them, there are numerous double and triple crosses where even the characters seem uncertain of whether they are telling the truth or not. Schemes are devised employing the use of doubles, making people’s identities another confusing element of the story. Members of Zhang’s gang wear simple masks that make it easy to distinguish group members from one another, but are also easily copied by the rival governor’s forces, serving to further complicate the question of who is who during the action.

In the end, the struggle stands for more than just a battle of wills. There is clearly something being said here about how control can shift from the powerful to the relatively powerless, although the director is unwilling to relate the film to any specific political or historical situations. The title of the film again comes into play in the finale, giving the sense that the entire tale was thoroughly thought out and well-constructed.

The character of Zhang, played by director Jiang in a very strong performance, is an interesting one. At first, he stands as a sort of old school outlaw come face to face with bureaucracy, and feeling frustration when unable to adapt to it. While it presents a less risky and more profitable form of criminal activity than the one he is used to, it goes against his more traditional code of honor. His story is not just about him trying to be the more honorable thief; along the way, his motivation and entire way of being comes into question. Although presented subtly, his changes along the way are significant.

The film was not a perfect hit for me. There are moments of dramatic intensity that hit hard at the beginning of the film, only to get lost along the way to a somewhat meandering middle section. Still, when all is said and done, I felt as though I had experienced a thought-provoking and skillfully executed film, with excellent work both behind and in front of the camera.

During the Q & A, Jiang represented his vision confidently and quietly. He would not commit to any specific meaning behind the film’s story, stating that it is open to the interpretation of the audience. He rejected the notion of symbolism, too, emphasizing that objects and images in the movie are what they are, and not more. He did confirm that he will soon begin work on Let the Bullets Fly 2.

Black Death (2010)


Creepy and unsettling little film almost remained unreleased in the US by managed to pick up a distributor after screening at Lincoln Center's Scary Movies last October.

The film takes place in 1342. The plague is ravaging the country. Osmund, a novice monk is carrying on an affair with a girl from the town. He sends her into the far off marshes in the hopes that she will remain safe from disease. Ulrich, played by Sean Bean, arrives at the monastery looking for some one to guide him into the marshes to find a town that is untouched by the ravages of the plague. Osmund jumps at the chance and soon he's off on a dark adventure, which he soon finds has an ominous purpose. The village in question is run by a necromancer who is in the sway of a demon. What happens on the way and once there is the tale.

The mood of this film is such that it makes your skin crawl. the world is dark and dank and deadly. People are far from nice and it feels as if the world is going to end. If the film reminds one of several recent films (Valhalla Rising, Apocalypse Now and The Sauna among them) the film manages to stake it's own territory with great characters, a great feel and a few twists of its own. In all honesty the final portion of the film is a wonderful downer of an ending and makes you wonder what the title actually refers to.

I really liked this film a great deal. It's the sort of film that really hung with me for hours after seeing it. Its the sort of film that made me feel something. It's so nice to see a recent vintage horror film that actually hangs with with you and makes you feel dread.

Currently out on DVD and on Pay Per View

Thursday, April 28, 2011

13 Assassins (2010)


Tale of Honor loyalty and our ability to move away from peace, Takashi Miike's remake is one of the best films of the year.

I know that I had reviewed this back on St Patrick's Day when I saw a sneak preview, but I thought that with the film opening at the IFC Center in New York and elsewhere around the country and on pay per view, I'd wade into the the fray once more and try to get you to put your but in a seat and see this in a theater. (And trust me this is a film you should see in a theater).

The plot of the film concerns a samurai who is asked to kill the heir to the Shogun. The man chosen to be come Shogun is insane and taken to raping the wives of his hosts or tying up families and using them for target practice. He wants nothing more than to see death and destruction of everyone around him. He went so far as to hack off the arms and legs of the daughter of one of his enemies and use her as a play thing until she bored him. When she is asked by our hero what happened to her family and village, she writes him the response Total Massacre using a paint brush in her mouth (the villain also chopped out her tongue). Our hero is moved and he assembles the title characters to try and make a go at killing the heir.

The show piece of the film, and what everyone will be talking about, is the forty plus minute final battle. Taking over a town the heroes have turned it into a death trap, with the idea that in the close confines of it's buildings and alleys they will be able to stand a chance against the men protecting the villain. It's an amazing sight to be hold and any attempt at describing it will not do it justice, you will just have to see it.

What makes the film so good is that Takashi Miike creates a bunch of characters that you really care about. You love the good guys, you hate the bad guy and you really feel for the guys who have to protect him.

It's this last bit that creates interesting thematic currents in the film that raise the film up out of the typical samurai action film. As is pointed out frequently you are suppose to protect the Shogun and your Lord. You are to follow the wishes of the man above you. The question is at what point do you stop? When is it okay to step away and chart a new course? Do you really have to follow the orders of a man who is a complete and utter nut job? I'm sure that the actual samurai wouldn't have seen the answers in the same terms as we do today, but on the other hand what do you do with a crazy leader?

I love this film more than I can say. I'm a huge fan of Miike's and this is by far the best thing he's done. It's a film that balances his wild over the top action with heartbreaking story telling. It's a film that proves beyond any doubt that he is one of the top filmmakers in the world today.

At the same time I'm not going to lie and say that the film is perfect. It's not. I'm hoping that the imperfections are the result of the version I saw being some 15 minutes shorter than the full Japanese release version. I'm guessing it is since the problem of incomplete character development and a villain who disappears for chunks of the second half of the film, are the sort of thing that would be cut if you were trying to pick up the pace.

As I said the film is a masterpiece. It's one of the best films I've seen in 2011 and it may very well end up on my list of best action films of all time.

You really need to see this.

Helldriver tonight at the Japan Society

I know we've done all Tribeca all the time for the last two weeks but I need to mention that a benefit screening of Sushi Typhoon's Helldriver is happening tonight at the Japan Society. I mentioned this a while back but I'm mentioning it again since there are a few tickets left. There's the movie, food, an auction for props and other stuff. They are`going to begin announcing the films for this years NYAFF. ALL the money goes to relief for Japan so get your butts over there and have a blast.

Mondocurry and Shigeko are going so a report will be going up after it all goes down.

For information check out the Subway Cinema website here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bleeding House,Matters of Taste, The Kite, The Guard and some shorts or Tribeca FIlm Festival April 27

Today was the end of the Tribeca Film festival press screenings for me. I've seen 43 features and five shorts. I can't get to any of the few remaining press screenings. I may be attending some of the regular screenings, but for me the only thing certain is I'll be looking in on the On Line and Pay Per View portion of the festival over the next few days. We will be having more actual festival coverage since Mondocurry is attending a film or two more.

And with out further adieu the remaining films----

First up they are having the world premiere of Bleeding House in a few hours. I've been restricted in writing up the film until tonight because of an embargo, however the film has been on pay per view on cable for a week so I'm posting my review now instead of later.

This is the story of named Smith family with a dark secret. The daughter stays at home and never go out, Mom and Dad are consumed with guilt but are trying to get on with their life. Their son is desperately trying to get away and is making plans to run off with his girlfriend. Into their life comes the sweet talking southern gentleman named Nick. Nick cuts people up for a living, though don’t worry he’s a surgeon. Actually do worry since Ned is a very bad man out to correct the sins of the past.

This is a great looking film that reminded me of some films from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that tried to do more than be horror films. Sadly they, like Bleeding House, didn't amount to much. This film is little more than an episode of Tales from the Darkside stretched to 85 minutes. It’s bland, dull and uninvolving; worse it never builds to anything it just meanders to a close. If it wasn’t for Patrick Breen as Nick this film wouldn’t be worth seeing. Frankly Breen is the reason this film was picked up for the festival and it’s the reason it’s destined to get a very minor cult following.

Is the film worth seeing? On cable in a non-pay per view manner, on a slow night, it is. Okay now that I’m done with a review that has been hanging around for a month (I saw this back I March at pre-festival screening but was restricted in saying anything until now) onward and upward to more recent stuff….

A Matters of Taste is a great little documentary from HBO films on Paul Liebrandt, the youngest chef ever to get a three star rating from the New York Times. The film follows Liebrandt from 2002 until the opening of his Corton restaurant in Tribeca in 2008...and the battle to impress the critics afterward.

I had a blast with this. It's a wonderful portrait of a man and his food. I'm not a foodie, give me a burger and fries and I'm happy, but damn if his food doesn't look great. Of course some of it is things like "eels, violets and chocolate" or "Espuma of calf brains and foie gras", so I don't think I'll try it but it looks good.

I don't know what else to say other than this is going to be on HBO on June 13th and should be on your list of things to see since it's really good.

After that I went across the floor to see one of the shorts programs- Take as Directed. The plan was to see one in particular, but depending on how the films were I would make the decision to stay or go. If the films weren't great I would leave and go see the film The Kite. I made it through five of the eight films before I left.

Bunny is the great looking but otherwise unremarkable story about a young boy and his friend chasing another boy who stole his rabbit. It's not a bad film, but it's so short nothing builds and the ending kind of is a foregone conclusion.

The Philosopher was the film I wanted to see. It stars Jean Reno as a man who gives up everything in order to become a philosopher. Its a funny touching little film. Its the only film of the five I watched that seemed like a complete film. This is one to search out.

All in All
is a romantic comedy of sorts. Its about two kids who are at bible camp and who have fallen in love. I have no idea if they are making fun of the kids or if the directors like them. Its a clunky film that had me wondering what this was doing at Tribeca. Its just not very good.

Cold Blood is a short little WTF about a mother that takes her son to the hospital for an unknown reason. When we got to the end of the end of the four minute film and the mother says "I didn't explain that very well" I wanted to shout at the screen "I'll say you didn't".

Last Resort
is a short film that kind of almost works but ends too soon to be much of anything. I know the point of the end is to be slightly ambiguous, but it doesn't work. The plot of the film has a man rob a pregnant woman and he forces her to drive into the country. When the car gets into crash, he runs off leaving the woman to fend for herself... I'll leave the ending to the film in case you should see this, but let me just say it's the wrong kind of ambiguous which leads me to believe the director either didn't have an ending or had to leave it there because anything else would have stretched the film out further.

Unhappy with four of the five films I walked back across the floor to see the Indian film The Kite. I had heard the film was very good. What I found was a film that very messy and not worth seeing. I'm going to say right at the outset I left half way in. My life is too short for this sort of nonsense.

The plot, as much as I can figure out, has a man and his daughter going to his old home where his mom, his sister in law and nephew live. Its the time of the annual kite festival. There is some sort of familial strife but what it is wasn't really even hinted at after half the film so I know nothing. The side bits, like the kid who fails to deliver the kites, go nowhere

The film is shot in a rapid fire style. There are lots of cuts, colored images. There is lots of shaky hand held stuff. Tons of shots of the streets and people and kites but why? It's either filler or setting the scene but how much more scene needs to be set. There is little character development. What was this all heading to? I don't know, they never told us enough to know, or care.

I really dislike this film a great deal.

There was one last trip across the floor to see the wonderful film The Guard. This is coming out in the US on July 29 and is worth seeing when it hits theaters. In all honesty this is the sort of film that I wish wasn't the end of the festival since it's so good that I wanted to keep going to the next movie and the next movie...

The plot has backwater Irish police man Brendan Gleason running into the middle of a major drug case. Gleason's Gerry Doyle is a smarter than he seems sort of guy who is way ahead of most people around him. Into the mix comes Wendell Everett played by Don Cheadle. Everett is an FBI man looking to find the drug smugglers before they can spread their goods. How this plays out is not what you expect.

This is a great little film. Its a funny funny movie that is wickedly clever in it's dialog. On some level no one is ever that clever that often, on the other hand it's so damn funny you won't care. This film gt the biggest laughs of any of the 43 features I saw at Tribeca.

The press notes said that the film is actually a western and I kind of thought they were mad, until the final shoot out comes and you realize just how much of a western the film really is. This is one of the rare times where something with out horses and sage brush really is a western.(Its a better western than the weak Blackthorn with Sam Shepherd)

When it was over I was pissed off. It wasn't anything to do with the film, it was simply that for me the press screenings were done. I had no more trips into the city. I know there will me more films, but The Guard got me pumped up to keep going in a way that most of the movies I saw at the festival didn't.

And with that my daily reports are done. As I said I'm going to look at the at home component to the festival, and there is more reports coming from Mondocurry, but for now the daily stuff from me is done. (Dave's reports will be appearing tomorrow and until the festival ends Sunday)

I should also point out that Friday I'll have a longer review of Semper Fi and the week after next I'll have a week or so of longer reviews from the festival. I've already written them up in these daily overviews but some things need a second go round. (I also have a sights and sounds post in a pipeline for the next few days and look back at this years fest will come next week).

Please keep reading since we're not done yet.

The Alchemy Of Art: David Mack (2007)


David Mack is the artist behind Kabuki, a comic book series that breaks most, if not all, of the boundaries that had been placed on what comic book art could consist of. He has also produced many issues of Daredevil for the very mainstream Marvel Comics, all without compromising his personal artistic vision. In this DVD, a very in-depth interview with Mack gives you insights into how and why he became capable of producing such uniquely styled art. Over the course of learning about his childhood, you are also treated to seeing much of his art. This is an interview DVD in which the interviewers are neither seen nor heard; it is edited in such a way that Mack is just freely talking about how and why he creates the art that he does. There are clips interwoven from friends and relatives who share some insights as to what makes Mack tick. One of the central influences in his life, his mother, is discussed frequently. As a schoolteacher, she was very encouraging in his artistic development, and seems to have also filled him with the confidence he carries about himself so easily. And over the course of watching the DVD, you'll understand where the title of it comes from, and the thought that goes into his artwork.

One of the bonus features on the DVD is perhaps the most interesting one of the whole disc. Mack gives a page-by-page "commentary track" to an issue of Kabuki. As he flips thru each original page of art, he explains why he made some of the choices he did, enhancing the viewers' understanding of just what you're looking at. It's an excellent piece for either a comic book novice or seasoned Mack fan. Being allowed to peer inside his mind and understand a little more of why things are done a certain way is worth the admission price alone. My only complaint is that this was done for just one issue...this is the kind of thing that would have an art geek like myself coming back for more and more. Especially for someone new to comic books in general, this should be required viewing, as it demonstrates the amount of thought and planning that goes into effectively laying out a story, and each page therein. Seeing how each drawing helps comprise a page, and how in turn each page makes a cohesive whole book, shows the level of love and intensity Mack brings to his work.


In talking with Mack about the DVD, he says the makers of the piece, Hero Video Productions, approached him about being the subject of a documentary at one of his many convention appearances. While it is available from the company directly, it can also be ordered thru comic book stores, or bought straight from Mack himself at a convention (how certain members of Unseen acquired their copies...). Mack is very approachable and personable, and this comes across in the DVD as well. If you do go to a comic book convention that he is at (as Unseen recently did in Seattle this past March), make it a point to go and see him. Barring that, get this DVD...excellent for students of art, or just lovers of good art in general, and a great way to at least get to meet the artistic mind of David Mack.

A Cat in Paris (2010)


This beautifully animated film was one of the highlights of this years New York International Children's film Festival.It's one of those films that shows you how good a family film can be when done right.

The film begins with Zoe, a mute little girl, waiting for her mother to return. She is staying with her housekeeper/nanny and her cat. When mom returns she pays less attention to the little girl then Zoe would like. It transpires that mom is a police big wig who is in charge of several cases including the one concerning the man who shot and killed her husband, Victor Costa.

The cat in the mean time spends her day in the house with Zoe and her nights running around with a notorious cat burglar, Nico.

Soon comes word that a certain art object is going to be put on display. This brings out Costa and his gang. Complications arise when Zoe tries to find out where her cat goes at night. This leads her to over hear the robbery plans, which in turn forces Nico to act as a protector for the little girl.

The trick is not to think about the film but just go with it. This is a film that operates in it's own little vacuum and as along as you stay with in it's confines it's a blast. The jokes are often very funny, with s couple of really big belly laughs towards the end.

I was impressed that the filmmakers chose to tell what amounts to a really could detective yarn but in a manner that would play well for families. This is pretty much an undiluted mystery/thriller but brought to a level so that both kids and adults will like it. I also liked that they don't really dilute the language and the humor with a few hells and damns in the mix.

If there is any real flaw in the film, it's that the English dub that was run at the festival, seems a awkward at times with the choice of words being wrong.

The film is currently on the festival circuit, it ran at the recent DC Film Festival, and is highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

mondocurry Asian cinema corner report from the Tribeca Film Festival 2


Part 2

Underwater Love (Onna No Kappa)


Underwater Love is a logic-defying, eccentric vision that was somehow, through the work of unknown forces in the galaxy, brought to fruition. It proves that once in a while, given the right combination of unlikely and seemingly disparate parts, a whole is produced that on some level works, even brings a little magic into the audience’s world. It presents a twist on the classic “boy likes girl but girl doesn’t realize she belongs with boy because girl is involved with other boy who is kind of a jerk story.” Except here, the boy is a deceased high school student reincarnated into a Japanese mythical Kappa creature, and getting the girl to realize she doesn’t belong with the jerk is only part of the problem; he also has to keep her away from the persistent advances of an irksome shinigami (god of death). This is a movie that raises more questions than answers, so I think it would do well to pose a few rather than give an account of what happens. And in keeping with the holiday season, it seems fitting to limit the questions to four. Unlike in your Haggadah, however, you’re not likely to find any authoritative answers, or in some cases any at all.

1. Why all the sex in this otherwise innocent story of true love?

This is a ‘Pinku’ movie, part of Japan’s soft porn-ish film industry, which is taken more seriously by its participants, which over the years has included many an established director, than in the US. So sex was likely the first essential ingredient. This, also, is what director Imaoka Shinji does. A look at his imdb page shows a long list of tawdry stuff. Much of it sounds rather dark, for instance Bottled Vulva: Bank-Teller Noriko, which may in fact be about exactly what it sounds like. In comparison, Underwater Love is light-hearted positive stuff.

Still, with all the other possible less head scratching directions one could go with an erotic movie, why do a fantasy about a Kappa? Perhaps it was a bid to not be left out of the Interspecies Romance genre that has swept the US of late. In the West, young ladies swoon for graceful vampires and chiseled werewolves. From oft topsy-turvy Japan, though, we get an awkward creature with a body like a turtle, a beak for a mouth, and a bald spot in constant need of irrigation. It acts rather goofily and loves to snack on cucumbers. The ladies are still enamored. If it offers a clue where the film maker’s priorities lie, the most meticulously rendered part of the Kappa’s body is indeed its penetrating member.


2. Why is the shinigami an unsavory looking guy wearing a rainbow colored gown?

That sure doesn’t look like Ryuk from Death Note. This film was shot on a very low budget. In fact, according to the German producer who spoke during the Q & A after the film, all scenes were shot in only 5 days with only a single take for each one. I would venture to guess that with no way to make a convincingly menacing god of death, they decided to not even try. Another fact learned from the Q & A is that the actor playing the shinigami was the only one who has worked with director Imaoka on several previous productions. Perhaps other roles he has played make him a good fit for a god of death. The lack of a costume also goes along with a loose and free spirited feel of the production on the whole.

3. Why do the songs often sound like they belongs in a science fiction movie and the visuals look like they are from an art house film?

There are some interesting names associated with the project. The soundtrack was produced by certified indie French pop enthusiasts Stereo Total. They created a mesmerizing soundtrack of 8-bit bloops and bleeps and occasional sweeping synthesizer tones. Another bit of insight from the Q & A was that the soundtrack was created before shooting of the movie began, based on a script and outline the group was given two years before filming began. I wonder if the music would’ve turned out differently had the group seen the visuals before working on the soundtrack.

Famous autere cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who has worked on many an Asian film production, was brought in as director of photography. This could account for some intriguing uses of light and dizzying sequences of rain deflecting off of lilly pads, especially near the end of the movie.


4. Why are the dance routines so terrible?

There is a clear lack of any form of choreography, probably owing again to lack of budget. The movements appear to have been created by the actors and actresses themselves, all jerky head movements and jumping from one side to another. As strange as it is, the unpolished routines fit comfortably with the rest of the movie. And then there are the lyrics to the songs, which contain some hilarious non-sequiters that I couldn’t begin to imagine an explanation for.

A question that was asked of Imaoka after the film was about the Kappa’s tendency to hop in place dandily with its hands on its hips. He explained that this was not related to Kappa folklore; it was an idea that sprung from his own imagination. The charming lead actress Sawa Masaki gave some insight into the Kappa’s prominence in Japan, describing an honorary license for catching and releasing the mischievious creatures that people can obtain in some regions.
With turns that are at times endearing, raunchy, and downright strange, that would seem, on paper, to scarcely fit together, this little film will certainly go down as one of the more peculiar entries in Asian cinema.

If your curiosity’s been piqued, you can still get tickets for screenings of Underwater Love at Tribeca later on this week.

photo credits to Mr. C at Planet Chocko Zine, another source for offbeat cinema reviews

Bukowski

Sometime great things come in small packages. Such is the case with Bukowski, a wonderful 10 minute short film about 12 year old who is reading Bukowski's Pleasures of the Damned while on vacation. Late one night he gets out of bed and begins to wander the hotel spouting Bukowski-isms to the hotel staff. What happens is the movie.

Actually what happens is lots of laughs. There is something about the little guy wandering the halls with a glass of apple juice that is just genuinely funny.

I loved this film. This was the best of the films that I saw at the New Directors New Films Series. Actually this was one of the best films from the first part of 2011.

You have to see this if you want a few really good laughs.

(I'll post it if I find it on line- and if you find it- please let me know- cause damn this is funny)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hideaways,Ozzy Osbourne,Despicable Dick, Koran by Heart, Gone, Grandma 1000 Times and Splinters or one very long day at the Tribeca FIlm Festival

It's official my limit of films is five in a day. Trying to do seven, as I did today, was way too much, fun in someways, but way too much in others.

This is going to be brief, and perhaps a tad jagged. I say this because I've been in motion since before 7AM and started watching films from 9AM.

The first film was God Bless Ozzy Osbourne. It's a warts and all look at Ozzy and his music, though the focus is very much on the man. He was once considered a wild man by the crowds, but to his friends and family he was a drunken pain in the ass and not much of a dad. Its the right sort of bio film that gives you a nice round look at the man and puts his antics and survival into context. One of the better films of the film festival.

Koran By Heart is an HBO documentary that will screen in August. It's a film that isn't really worth putting on your long range calendar. Its the story of several people who go to the Koran reciting Championships in Egypt. It's a nice idea, but at 75 minutes the film is not very detailed thanks to the producers choosing to follow too many people to the point that we never get to know anyone. Events don't really transpire naturally they lurch from thing to thing. While the pieces are interesting, for the most part you just stop caring. If I had seen this on TV I would have turned the station.

Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard is a really good little film about Richard Kuchera, a one time partier now twenty years sober and who in looking back decides it's time to put right all his past miss deeds and make up to all those wronged. Richard really is a dick, but he's trying, which counts for something, even if everyone he's trying to make up to thinks he's going to fail. As the press notes say it's a real life episode of Earl. I didn't expect to like the film and frankly I went only because it filled a hole in my schedule. I walked out singing the praises of the film. This is one to keep an eye out for if you run across it.

Gone is a riveting documentary about the disappearance of Kathy Gilleran's son in Vienna. The cops don't want to know from anything because he's gay and an American. They don't care if she's an ex-cop, they only want her to go away. A frightening story of what can happen when our loved ones are away from home. It's a sad slowly building heart breaker with only one flaw, there is no resolution (as of the completion of the film he's still missing). I really liked the film a great deal and I can't wait to see it again.

After Gone I tried to go to catch the end of the Grave Encounters Press Day stuff, but I just couldn't make it in time.

Grandma 1000 Times is a portrait of the directors grandmother in Lebanon. It's a touching funny portrait, that is an amusing 48 minutes. I laughed and had a good time. I also was puzzled as to why the film has been winning so many awards around the world. Don't get me wrong, its a good film, but at the same time it didn't strike me as special.

This was a Tribeca Talk and they had a panel discussion on Middle Eastern and Arab cinema and related subjects. It was okay. The trouble was that with the four people on the panel talking about four different subjects nothing came together.

After the movie I went ot a great diner on the corner of 23rd and 9th Avenue and had some great pot roast. It was my breakfast lunch and dinner...and t was wonderful.

After dinner it was back to the Chelsea Cinemas for Hideaways. This is the story of a young man with a deadly power. If he retreats into the woods to live alone until a young girl dying of cancer stumbles in and changes his life. It's a grand fairy tale about the transformative power of love. If you like things like Neil Gaiman's Sandman or fairy tales there is a really good chance you'll love this. I was on my way out and I made a point of telling the producer that I thought the film was great (better than my short write up) and that I really thought if it can get a US release it will make bucks. Trust me, this is a nice little winner...though I should warn you it has a very black edge, as all Grimm's like fairy tales do.(I'll do a longer piece once Tribeca is done)

The last film today was the world premiere of Splinters about surfing in New Guinea. It was also the least interesting of all of the documentaries of the film festival. I've seen more than a handful and frankly even as bad as some of them are, this film was unremarkable. Its a bout a small town getting ready for the countries first surfing contest and it follows various people as we see life in the small town and we watch people surf. I'm not an expert on surfing films but this was the dullest surfing footage I've seen. I was unimpressed. While the film isn't bad, coming at the end of 21 films in five days (and 7 of those today) I had no patience and I walked out. There are other better films out there, more worthy of your time.(and there are worse ones more worth avoiding).

After that I headed home. It was a trip delayed because someone had to be forcibly removed by the police for refusing to pay a fare.

Tomorrow is a day off for me. It's back to the dull grind of work, before I go back on Wednesday for my last day of press screenings.

And keep reading because Mondocurry will be reporting on his trips to the festival and I may get around to a sight and sound post of what I've seen and experienced at the festival.

mondocurry Asian cinema corner report from the Tribeca Film Festival

This year, the Tribeca film festival offered up some interesting gems from the realm of Asian cinema, some officially signed off on by the gurus of moving images from Asia at Subway Cinema. I scheduled myself a 3- day line-up of the more outrageous offerings, and the following is a bit of a report on the proceedings.


Part 1


Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame


This outstanding film directed by veteran Tsui Hark left me slack jawed, hairs standing on end, and otherwise amazed. Recently, my interest in Asian cinema has gravitated mainly towards Japanese and Korean productions, leaving most films from China on the out. This movie challenges that position considerably.


Tsui Hark’s recent films have not created the buzz they once did. For me, his older works were also a bit rough around the edges visually. Here he has delivered a seamless blend of fantasy, period piece historical drama, and hardboiled mystery in one enormously entertaining package. It has been a long time since I have found myself so disarmingly overjoyed with a big screen movie adventure based out of any country.


What impressed me most is that the story weaves a through and through mystery, complete with red herrings, hidden intentions, and hard earned clues that move the plot forward. The fantasy element doesn’t overwhelm other aspects of the story, nor is it ever used to give an easy out to inexplicable plot points.


The focus is on Di Renjie, a sleuth who is released from confinement to solve a series of mysterious murders that take place around the construction of a massive Buddha statue. Since these incidents threaten the proceedings of soon-to-be Empress Wu’s official inauguration, she reluctantly frees the skilled detective so that he can solve the case. The empress was also the one who had Dee imprisoned in the first place for acts of treason, and there you have a sense of the complicated nature of the relationships and motives affecting characters in the story.


Di Renjie is teamed up with the empress’ most trusted assistant (or “right hand woman” if you will), and one of her military’s lead investigators in a very volatile partnership. There is plenty of suspense and intrigue as the formidable trio faces unknown perils while each of them also tries to outwit and vet their suspicions of the other two members in their makeshift alliance.


It wouldn’t be a bona fide Chinese epic action movie if the protagonists weren’t multi-talented. So it almost goes without saying that they are all accomplished martial artists. As the pieces of the puzzle slide into place, there is plenty of stylistic action galore.


The point where fiction meets reality is its dealing with Empress Wu’s rise to power. While the details of course have been changed to include far more fantastical elements, there is a shared aspect of ruthlessness with which she is believed to have taken grasp of power.


Everything about the film from its panoramic scenes to its high stakes finale is on a big scale; the same can be said for the themes it deals with. Notions of revenge, loyalty, and putting the greater good ahead of personal feelings come into play as the story draws nearer to its conclusion.


I have noticed the term steampunk come up in promotions and reviews, and was curious if it actually did play a role in the movie at all. In fact, fans of this budding genre that embraces stylized depictions of real and imagined pre 20th century technology will likely thrill to the lovingly rendered details of the grand Buddha statue’s inner workings. Also of note is the weaponry employed by many of the characters. Rather than rely primarily on blades, they wield many technically engaging mechanisms that snap, spring, and whir into action.


The director was not on hand to talk about the film. This was a shame because, of the three entries I’ve seen so far, this is the one where the director would have received a standing ovation from me and likely the other members of the very enthusiastic packed audience. It’s likely, though, that Hark is still making the rounds in his native China, where the movie recently swept the Hong Kong film awards. Expect more Dee and more great things from Tsui Hark in the near future.

Time of Eve (2010)


Feature version of a story that started as a 6 part TV series and that has a second season promised by the producers but which has yet to materialize.

The first part of the series ran during the Flicker Lounge show at last years New York International Children's Film Festival and it had all of us in the audience groaning when it ended. This time the same thing happened, only later in the story.

The plot of the film has androids/robots and humans living together. The human like androids must have a halo visible above their heads at all times. (There are many people, the Robot Ethics Committee, who don't want equal rights for mechanical people). When a school boy finds an odd message on his beautiful androids log roll, he goes with a friend to investigate and finds a cafe called the Time of Eve, which treats humans and androids the same. What they find there and how the lives of the various characters interact is the story.

I really loved this film a great deal. It's got great characters, both heroes and villains. How the story as it spins out is very believable, we are never forced to swallow this huge pill of exposition, it reveals everything a little at a time. I love that you don't know who is human and who isn't even at the end (as someone says at one point, we all have a secret or two). There is a real emotion to everyone and everything going on. In a weird way this film isn't even a romance, though you know it's heading that way and you have indications of it all though it. The couple the film is about barely have any time together- and certainly none in a romantic way.

I groaned, very loudly when the movie ended because I didn't want it to end. This film is a keeper. It's a film to treasure.

The question is will there be more? Wikipedia says that a second season has been promised, but hasn't materialized. Additionally there are some spin off books. I'd like to see the film continued either as a feature film or as episodes since it's rare that we get such good time with such good characters.

A must see if you get the chance.

(FYI- there are pencil drawings during the end credits, pay attention to them, I didn't and I was lost when the post credits sequence started. There is more after the credits so stick with them.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Love Hate Love, Talhina Sky, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Jesus Henry Christ and Klitchko or April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival

Before I talk about what I saw today I want to comment on a film I saw last Saturday but can only talk about now because I had to wait until the world premiere which happened earlier tonight.

KLITCHKO
Actually the world premiere of a documentary on the boxing Klitchko brothers is happening as this posts. An inoffensive loving puff piece, the film plays like a typical background piece you might see on HBO or Showtime before one of their fights but expanded to two hours. With a marvelous title sequence that that shows a huge arena getting ready for a fight, the film is content on showing the beauty of a very brutal sport. It's also a film that is very intent of singing the praises of it's subjects and keeping the negative side off camera.

As a fight fan I found little I hadn't heard before, other than some facts about their dad. I was amused how many in the audience were groaning at the slow motion shots of the punches in the fights as if they had never seen a fight, or even Raging Bull before. I was also amused that the fights were made to look infinitely more exciting than they really are since the brothers Klitchko both stand close to seven feet tall and have arms so long that their chances of getting hit are small.(Their matches are often so one sided that the major outlets for boxing, like HBO and Showtime tend not to run them.)

While the film looks good and is entertaining, it's way too in love with the boys to really be much of anything, especially since at just under two hours it's way too long. If you must see it wait for cable.

By the way Happy Easter for those of you celebrating. And remember if you don't have some marshmallow Peeps you can go buy them. there was a scary guy at one of the screenings today who was babbling on and on before the movie about not having Peeps on Easter and how he was supposed to have Peeps today.

For those of you who who are tired of listening to me go on Mondocurry has posted some thoughts on his blog about his first trip to Tribeca. There will be more there and here so keep reading.

I did four films today, well three and half of one (I'll explain that half when I get to the film.) and they were for the most part good.

Love Hate Love world premiere's Tuesday night. I was not told not to review the film and frankly even if they said no I would have anyway simply because as I told David Magdael (the film's PR guy) on the way out, it is so nice to walk out of a documentary and feel good and feel hopeful (most of the others I've seen pissed me off).

The film tells three stories about hope in the wake of tragic loss via terrorism. We meet the Alderman's, who son Peter was killed on September 11. They took the money they got from the settlement and set up a foundation to help people in war torn countries with mental issues as a result of the violence they have experienced.

Ester Hyman's sister Miriam was killed in the London bombings and she has set up a trust to help a clinic in India specializing in preventing blindness.

Ben Tullipan was not far from a car bomb that went off in Bali. Despite losing both legs and being terribly burned he gives back by helping those who have lost limbs. He's also a champion golfer.

I'm going to write this up in a full review after Tribeca is done (I can't do more than this brief posts now), but know that if you can score a ticket to the premiere Tuesday go. It will make you feel really good. Seriously go see this, I was thinking , okay cliche story, cliche telling... and then about twenty minutes in I changed my mind going I don't care how the story is, I just feel good and hopeful, and that's enough.

One of the finds of the film festival.

Talihina Sky is a messy too long look at the rock group The Kings of Leon and where they came from. The film nominally is about the group going home for an annual reunion and it shows where they came from in a Pentecostal family. We see their rock star lives smoking and drinking and carrying on and it's contrasted with the parents who love them but feel they maybe going to hell.

The film is a mess. It's unfocused, jumping through time and space seeming on a whim. We see them touring, in the studio and at home. We get scenes of the reunion and family movies. We talk to the boys and the relatives. But there never is a sense of place and time. As one fellow reviewer said, "there is a good movie in there, it just needs lots of re-editing."

I couldn't agree more. This film just bounces from thing to thing to thing but never builds to anything. Somewhere about an hour in the film starts to pull it together but by that time I stopped caring.

I would love to see a reedited version of this, but as it stands now this is a movie to pass on. For fans only, but even then I'm not too sure they will care.

(And one question for the filmmakers if they should read this, why do you have the five or ten seconds of graphic sex from a porn film in this? It serves no purpose and will really limit your ability to release this.)

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a very strange film.Its a supreme WTF film. Its a trippy movie that thirty years ago would have been a regular at midnight screenings. Its a visually stunning film with a wonderfully weird soundscape soundtrack. It's a stylistic throw back to the pretentious but cheap horror and science fiction films of the early 1980's (some of which came from Europe). It's full of riffs and references to at least a dozen or so other films...

...it's also pretentious twaddle, way too long and has one of the biggest "you have got to be joking" endings in years. It's an ending that just wrecks pretty much all the good will it may have created (seriously I could feel the audience which struggled with this film to the bitter end suddenly break with it at the end).

The plot of the film has something to do with a weird clinic in 1983 where a strange man runs strange tests on young woman. What exactly is going on is never fully explained but it has something to do with an experiment years before, about the time the young lady was born. There are theses weird guys in suits, and straitjackets and psychic powers...

...and other than that you're on you're own.

On a certain level I like the film. I liked the throw back nature of it. I loved the look of the film (the color scheme is amazing and some of the images are haunting)and the retro electronic score. I liked the enigma and the references (Phantasm, Soylent Green, The Final Programme, 2001 and others). I also liked thaat we aren't told anything and that we have to piece most of it together.

What I don't like is the glacial pace, which makes this a long 110 minutes, Nor do I like the finale which turns the film from head trip to slasher film to the wrong sort of joke in the course of about five minutes. Seriously the next to last bit just wrecked the film.

Then again, if you can forgive the out of left field, "oh crap we're out of time so lets sum this up" ending (which is hard since it's kind of a cop out), I'll recommended for the patient and adventurous film goer. If you want form over substance and can allow yourself to get lost in the trippy sound and image you'll probably think it was worth a go...then again there were several walk outs.

(I'll stand by that review even though I know brick bats are heading for the film simply because why I kind of liked it is because I have a semi-working knowledge of the films it's aping and borrowing from- which I know will make it tough for the average person- who probably should stay away. I suspect I may have to write up a fuller more detailed review down the road).

When Black Rainbow was done it was a mad dash to the bottom of the escalator for some, about half, of Jesus Henry Christ. (I had to leave because I had to get home for Easter dinner with the family and stayed only long enough that I wouldn't miss the last possible train to get home on time.)

The film starts Toni Collette as a single mom with a genius son. He's way a ahead of everyone even to the point he gets thrown out of Catholic School for posting a piece on the school doors about truth and the lack of God.

What I saw was amusing. Its an off kilter comedy about family and truth and other things. I won't go into anything more than that (Hey I only saw half) other than based on the half I saw I want to see what happens next and I regret having to leave (and considering some of the other films at Tribeca is saying a great deal).

That's it for now.

I'm heading off to rest. I've got seven films planned for tomorrow plus a possible stop in on the Grave Encounters Press Day...so look for a post about tomorrows films very late tomorrow night or more likely early Tuesday.

(Oh and before I go,I want to say that apparently I'm in a minority in not liking The Journals of Musan. I mention this simply because people who's opinions I respect think I may have gotten it wrong, so somewhere down the line I'm going to give it another go.)

Drive (2002)


Sabu's transitional film. It is his last film with his friend Shin'ichi Tsutsumi who acts as a kind of stand in, and the this film marks a kind ending before a change of direction, a direction of experimentation and some darkness.

I originally saw this film back in February as part of the Japan Society's retrospective of Sabu films and it blew me away. There is something wonderful and life affirming about the film.

The film begins with a discussion between a doctor and a patient about headaches. What causes them and how to deal with them. From there we see out hero Asakura sitting at a light, watching a young girl at a flower shop. We sense the longing. The idyll is interrupted when the car doors open an into the car come barreling three masked bank robbers. "Follow that Car!" they shout. And as soon as the light turns green Asakura chases after the car... at exactly the speed limit, following all of the rules of the road...

Where the film wanders off from there is the film.

Actually where the film wanders from there is into the territory where action/comedy meet philosophy.

I know who wants philosophy in their action comedy, but I assure you that's what makes the film so wonderful, so charming.

The philosophy here is that of Buddhism. the notion of karma, of fate hundreds of years in the coming...

Where the film is going is set up in two wonderful back to back scenes. One is a scene in a restaurant. Here the three robbers and our hero discuss what to do to find their missing comrade, and also the notion of fate and karma and how the long dead may still be with us since it seems that Asakura has a dead relative around him who is trying to tell him something.

This is followed by a scene that is one of my most favorite in any film I've ever seen. It involves punk rock music and a discussion of fate and the way one should live. Its so truly amazing and odd as the mix sounds it's brilliant. As with all Sabu films I could tell you exactly what happens and even then you'll still not expect what you get. Then again if I told you what happens in this scene and later in the film you won't have the joy of finding out for yourself what happens.

I loved this film a great deal. I was really impressed with it. However as I walked out of the screening I found the more I thought about the film, the more I liked it. I found myself texting and calling friends to tell them they had to see this film. Actually I called up one friend to ask him to try and find it for me because I had to have a copy of it. (I still haven't found one- at least an affordable one with English subtitles)

You need to keep an eye out for this film. If you get the chance to see this either at a screening or on DVD do so. It will impress the hell out of you. I know it impressed me.

I know you're probably wondering why a Buddhist film about fate and all that is doing on Easter Sunday. I don't rightly know myself. All I know is that it somehow felt right to put it here. Since it's a Sabu film it actually makes perfect sense since his films, as you've seen off and on over the last 10 weeks, are constantly filled with left turns and unexpected twists that are right on target. He is a filmmaker who somehow understands life and what it means to be alive.... At least I hope that's what you've come away from the reviews since his films are ridiculously difficult to see.

Do yourself a favor, make an effort and try and track down his films, they will make you think about things in a new way.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Turn Me On Goddamn It (2011) (Tribeca FIlm Festival)


Here’s another case of wanting to talk about a film but being restricted by the need to wait for the world premiere. Normally I wouldn’t mind except that here is a little film that is probably doomed not to get real release in the US and which is one of the finds of the year. It’s a film I would have loved to have written about before the festival so I could direct you to getting tickets to all the screenings, but I wasn't allowed. As it is I’m just going to say go to any screening you can. It’s not the best film ever made, it’s probably not one of the best of the year but it is a small treasure.

The plot has 15 year old Alma trying to navigate life in her small town in Norway. She lives with her single mom, hangs out with friends, and calls the phone sex lines because she is so horny. When Artur, the boy she likes, pokes her with his privates, she is so shocked that she tells her friends, one of which conspires to ruin her since she likes him as well. How it spins out is the film.

Yes it deals frankly with sex but it’s not dirty. And no its not exploitative or dark. Its like life. It just sort of is.

It’s the sort of thing where it starts off and you think, hey I like he way this looks (the photography is beautiful) and sounds(it has one of the soundtracks in ages) before the film starts to move so as to trick you into thinking perhaps this is going to go into trashy territory…only it never really goes there and the film remains firmly real and human.

When I saw this in the film list I thought , well this might be good. I went to the screening where I started out being curious, then went to thinking hey this looks good, to oh no this is going into cliche on to no it’s not, to hey this is good and finally feeling all warm and fuzzy at the end.

What a wonderful charming marvelous little film.

Sadly this film will probably not get a real release in the US. The nudity and frank sexuality of 15 year olds is going to give the MPAA kittens. Never mind that the film is the sort of thing that should be shown to kids in high school… the powers that be will prevent it from being seen by the audience who would love it the most.

I loved this film and hate to think that without Tribeca I might never have seen this film.

When it was over one of the other people at the press screening said that was good. I added I liked it too and she replied it was a treat since she had seen so many films from the festival and this as only the third she liked.

A must see. A must find.

Its exactly the sort of film this blog was started to highlight.

Swell Season, Blackthorn, Limelight and Underwater Love or April 23 at Tribeca

Before I get to today's installment of the Tribeca story,I want to mention a couple of films that have premiered in the last couple of days, but which I've had to hold off reviewing until the the big reveal.

First up last night a documentary premiered on the duo,Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who call themselves The Swell Season, which is also the name of the film.You probably know the pair starred in the film Once and won an Oscar for a song used in the film.

The film nominally covers the duo's tour across the world and the US after the Oscarwin during which we watch how the pair falls in and out of love.

The film was shot in a moody black and white that looks great. The music is wonderful. The film itself is okay.

The trouble is it's clear that not everything that happened during the timeframe covered by the film was recorded. There are time periods where there was no coverage and we have to go on references (there seems to be vast passage of time where Glen's dad dies, but we don't have any sense of it). It's also plain to see that Marketa Irglova didn't really want to be on camera so at times the film comes off as the Glen Hansard show.

It's not uninteresting but if you are a fan of the pair odds are you won't have any surprises. I liked the music but felt there was no point to it since there is nothing really new here.

The film is worth a look if you like the pair, but I would wait cable or Netflix. On the other hand the final number before the end credits of Glenn playing Say it to Me Now at Radio City Music Hall is almost a good enough reason on it's own to see this on a big screen (It's one of those this is why I go to the movie moments we get so rarely these days).

Earlier tonight was the world premiere of the western Blackthorn. This film was at the top of my must see list for the film festival. It was the one film I was going to see come hell or high water.

It stars Sam Shepherd as James Blackthorn, a horse breeder in Bolivia. Blackthorn is getting up in years, and he just wants to go back to the States to see the son he never really knew he had. He knows a trip home might be dangerous because he is really Butch Cassidey, and while he's believed dead, if anyone finds out he's alive, his life will be in jeopardy. Selling his last bunch of horses he takes all his money out of the bank and heads home. Along the way he loses his money when a young mining engineer tries to steal his horse. The young man, himself a thief, having stolen money from the mine owner, promises to return his money if Blackthorn keeps him alive long enough to retrieve it. They get the money and a bond forms between the men. However the rightful owner of the cash wants it back and they have sent a bunch of killer after it.

Don't worry, it's not that exciting, rather its a meandering "thoughtful" western that keeps insisting it's about something other than the illogical plot. It's a film that thinks an out of left field turn and some disconnected flashbacks give weight to the proceedings. Sadly it doesn't. The press notes I was given talks about how westerns are a moral genre, but I can't find one here since the plotting is so haphazard. Think of it as the work of one of the new generation of filmmakers who love westerns and their ability to deal with larger issues as mythic stories, but who truly don't understand the genre's rules (you can't bend the rules if you don't know what they are to begin with).

Personally if it wasn't for the excellent cinematography and the award worthy performance by Sam Shepherd this film would be disposable. Shepherd is so good,he's almost iconic, I can almost consider recommending the film. Almost, but not quite.

Okay onward and sidewards to today's brief offerings and odd adventures.

The day was supposed to begin with a visit to see a crime film called Neon Flesh, but I was too tired and the film is available streaming on line so I decided to sleep in. (And if you were keeping my schedule you'd want to sleep in too.)

First up for me was Limelight, a film about Peter Gatien, the owner of legendary New York nightclubs like Limelight, The Tunnel and the Palladium. The film documents his rise and fall from the 1980's through the 1990's.

I was hoping to see a film that was a detailed the clubs and their owner. Instead I got a film that seemed to be a mix of footage from inside the clubs, period local news stories and some new interviews. Little of it was much more detailed than the brief news stories that punctuate the film. Its the sort of thing that you'd see on say the History Channel in a segment on the 1980's but stretched to 90 minutes. Threads are left hanging, people are mentioned and then fall by the wayside (the evil girlfriend for example). I was disappointed, there wasn't much here, though I suspect that if you were a club kid or followed the club scene you might get something more out of it in nostalgia value.

Admittedly I did walk out on the film in the final half hour, but by that time it was clear that this was not going to give me the meat I was craving.

I should say that the film isn't bad it just isn't all that detailed. I would have been happier if I had seen this at home on the couch instead of a movie theater...which is how some people are going to see this since the film has been picked up by Magnolia. Why did they pick it up? I don't know since I think the people who really would like this, and will be willing to pay to see it will be the ex-club people or those with a real nostalgia for New York in the 1980's which is too small an audience to make this pay as a theatrical feature.

Once I was done with that film I dashed across the floor to see the Japanese Pink Musical, Underwater Love.

For those who don't know what a Pink film, its a softcore sex film with lots of T and A and implied sex, though this film doesn't have as much as many other Pink films.

The plot of the film has a young woman working at a factory seeing kappa, a river spirit. The kappa is actually the reincarnation of a high school friend who died when they were in their senior year. The kappa is actually there to try and save her from the God of Death who has come to take her away.

There's a bit more to the plot, but not much, mostly there is comedy and music as the cast bursts in to odd songs at seemingly random times. It's very off beat and very funny... I don't know about erotic.

Sue me I had a good time. This is a just mindless fun.

(I should also point out that even allowing for the small theater the screening took place in, the place seemed rather crowded. Which makes me wonder what it takes to fill a press and industry screening.)

With the end of Underwater Love, my day at the movies was done and I headed home.

Walking out of the Chelsea Cinemas I was taken aback by what appeared to be a full scale police tactical operation with men with big guns and dogs hanging out on the sidewalk. I asked one of the Tribeca staff why they were there and she didn't know but she speculated that it was either they wanted to see celebrities or they were just hanging out at the donut shop a couple doors down....

That's it for right now. But there is more coming. I have a review of Turn Me On Goddamn It is going up in a little while, plus there is more screenings tomorrow and Monday. I also have to pull a post together about some of the sites and sounds of the fest so far. (Hopefully something will go as planned since I've had three days of screenings and nothing has gone exactly as expected...which has caused me to cancel several interviews for later in the week).

And now...dinner and some rest.

The Tribeca Film Festival Posts

If you're looking for our continuing coverage of this years Tribeca Film Festival you can either click here or go to the sidebar and find the Tribeca 2011 tag.

I mention this since it's the only way to keep up with all the films we've seen so far. Also stop back later since tonight there will be post on todays films plus a full length review of Turn Me On Goddamn It shortly after that.

Into Great Silence


It's Easter weekend and I'm going to do two films that are very different. Both felt as though they belong in the slots they got. Tomorrow's film is the final film in the long running series of films from the director Sabu.

Today's film is a short sweet meditative piece on a documentary about monks.

Into Great Silence is about life in a monastery. It is a film of silences and where we watch the life of the monks happen.

It will either bore the living shit out of you or it will keep you completely enraptured with it's portrait of life behind the cloistered walls.

I was enraptured and I really liked where the film took me and how it made me feel.

I know a great deal of my enjoyment of the film came from the extras on the DVD which went into how the film came about, provided extra scenes and explained bits and pieces of things I didn't quite understand the first time through. If you are going to try the film I really suggest you get the DVD since it will add to your understanding.

I'm not going to lie and tell you the film is for everyone. It;'s not, just as a life of devotion is not for everyone. That said, if you have any interest in the subject matter do pick up the film and indulge yourself. If nothing else you'll get to see some really beautiful religious eye candy.

(There is a soundtrack album out. The CD is full of the sounds of prayers, of rooms and other ambient noises that the filmmakers recorded while making the film.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grave Encounters (2011) (some spoilers) (Tribeca Film festival)


Oh thank god the embargo is over and at last I can tell you about one of the best films of the year and one of the best horror films in ages. It's a wonderful little film that is far from perfect but is the sort of thing that will just kick you to the curb. When the film ended everyone at the screening I attended was just staring at the screen not moving. I mean no one, no one moved until the end credits had finished. I say this because more times then not at press screenings people are bolting to the door or at least shifting in their chairs, here no one moved.

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself, let me start over.

Grave Encounters is a wicked little film that plays with your expectations in that it very often does exactly what you expect it to only to suddenly change things up and add a little sting in the tail

The premise of the film is that what we are seeing is the 6th and final episode of a ghost hunting reality series called Grave Encounters. It's a condensed version of the footage that was found after what ever happened to the host and crew of the series. They left behind some 76 hours of raw footage which was then condensed down into the the hour and a half movie we're seeing. It's never specified what exactly happened beyond the footage was found

After the introduction the film shifts gears and we start to actually see the footage the crew shot. We watch as the crew arrive at the now closed Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. We watch as they talk about what they are going to do, get some establishing shots and do some preliminary interviews. Then, as is the premise of the show, the cast and crew are locked into the hospital and get ready to spend the night looking for ghosts, or at least trying to find enough footage for an episode of the TV show.

It's no secret to say things go from dull to "oh crap" in short order.

I didn't think I was going to like this film. I was kind of expecting to see yet another found footage film that thought it was way more clever than it actually was. I figured there would be some cool images and a few laughs and maybe a cheap jump or two. I didn't expect to walk out of the film wondering what the hell I just saw and wondering why this film made me feel so terribly uneasy. (The rave "one of the best films of the year" was not in the game plan going in.)

Looking over my notes for the film I find the first two things I wrote about the film was "If the zooming doesn't stop I'm going to kill some one" which was followed by "if this keeps up this is going to forever take the piss out of similar shows". from there the notes show a progression in enjoyment in the film. It's a progression that matches the careful manipulation by the directors the Vicious Brothers of the audience.

If you break the film down you realize how perfectly paced and how wonderfully controlled it is.

The film starts out with the producer setting everything up. And you buy it but know it's all set up.

From there we get the bad zooming of the "home movies" which makes you think that the directors have no clue as to what they are doing. Your guard is knocked down. It stays down as the film send up the Ghost Hunter TV series with a razor like precision. We watch as the crew shifts from knowing about the silliness of it all in the behind the scenes footage, and how they sell the scariness on camera even to the point of paying someone to say what they need to make a good show. It's funny in a knowing sort of away.

It's a trick, the film is drawing us in and it's convincing us that this is just going to be a fun little film. This is reinforced when we see the crew starting to film and making jokes as they go,we know it's going to turn bad, but we know it'll be more fun then scary.

And then the film begins to turn on us. the humor begins to go and the film really gets creepy by degrees (and that annoying amateurish zooming that started the film is gone, replaced by carefully chosen shots and compositions, done so stealthily we never noticed).

By the time the crew thinks they're safe we are in the hands of the Vicious Brothers and they are just beginning to work us over. I won't say more than that.

If this films clicks with you it will rock your world.

The question is will this film click with you?

I can't answer that. I can explain where the turning point in the film was for most people in the audience at the screening I attended.

There is a point in the film where a great deal of weird stuff has gone on. Real creepy low level stuff that makes you skin crawl and which push the once jokey crew to the edge. They want out, but they've been locked in. As time for them arrives they find that their relief hasn't arrived. Unable and unwilling to take any more they try and break out. The door get the doors open, but they find that the way in isn't the way out any more. From this point on the film becomes a futile attempt for them to get out as the hospital effectively rearranges itself.

(I know that sounds like a spoiler, but the official synopsis in the press materials and on line effectively tells you that).

Whether you like or love Grave Encounters will depend on how you take the plot twist at that point. It's not that what follows is bad, it's not it's just that the film becomes this march to the end as bad things really begin to happen.

For me the turn didn't bother me. I kind of suspected it was going to happen based on what I had read, but it didn't matter since the Brother Vicious had been doing some things I expected and just kept turning them on their ears to screw with our heads. I was willing to go anywhere with them. For some of the people around me they found the unending walking a bit tedious even if the punctuation of events with scares messed with their heads. (One women in front of me sat for the whole second half of the film with a scarf in front of her face not wanting to see what happened next.)

I have to applaud the directors for making a film that doesn't rely on gore and blood. Yes there are truly special effects, but for the the most part it's not body parts and organs flying around.

I have to also applaud them for not explaining everything. As the film goes on we see things but we don't get explanations. To be certain part of it is the result of the events not being explainable,but it's also the result of there seeming not being enough footage to fill in. (And bravo for not cheating and have the cameras crap out at every instance)

I'm not going to lie and say this is a perfect film, it's not. I can wax poetic about this film all day long- and trust me I have been talking this film up for the last three weeks since I saw this for the first time- but I know the film is flawed. There are a few moments where things don't play out perfect, where things seem the wrong sort of silly or there is a lapse of logic (For example the batteries' long life- which I know can be explained away as the hospital bending reality, but still it sits oddly with me.)

When the film ended the people running the screening asked what I thought of it and I said I loved it. They asked if I would want to see it again, and I said I did...

...but truth be told I don't know if I ever want to feel what I felt during the first screening of the film. I don't know when it was the last time I felt this uneasy in a horror film of this sort: creepy, scared, dreading what might happen next. The mere fact that I could feel this knot of tension moving up my back during the film is what makes me love the film so much. I know it's the physical sensation of dread that trumps any flaws the film might have and pushes it into the realm of a truly great film. Frankly, any film that can provoke that strong a reaction gets bonus points.

Despite there being more to say (I haven't mentioned the wonderful cast, who sell every moment) I'm going to leave it there. You need to just see and experience the movie for yourself.

There is no question this film is recommended. It's supposed to to be currently on Tribeca VOD on cable but I haven't checked my cable provider yet and it's getting a limited theatrical run this summer.

While you may not love it I think you'll like it.

Grey Matter, Like Water, Semper Fi, Detective Dee, Joe May and The Journals of Musan or April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival

As you know there are a bunch of films which I'm not allowed to speak about until a certain moment. One of them is the first film I want to tell you about today, a must miss film.

Grey Matter is a beautifully made and acted film that is subverted by a script that seems to have cobbled together in order to get the film a release. The write up in the Tribeca Festival guide talks about the film as the story of filmmaker who loses his funding but presses on ward only to find the script coming to life. The reality of the film is that we watch as the filmmaker getting ready to make his film but finds that the funding isn’t there. He then goes to bed and we see the film. It’s about 20 minutes of the filmmaker and an hour and twenty minutes of the film before we get one last shot of the filmmaker shooting a woman playing an instrument and singing.

The filmmaker stuff is okay, even if it seems to be referencing things we don’t know (yet). The trouble happens when we see the film (The Life Cycle of the Cockroach) which deals with people abusing cockroaches and dealing with the terrors of the Rwandan massacres. It’s pretentious twaddle with people having visions, long real time takes and the pain of living with terrible things that happened.(I won’t get into the cockroach nonsense).

It’s really well done, but to what end? I don’t know. It has the feel of the work of an overly clever film student who loved the surrealists and avant garde and threw everything he ever knew into it. The result is a film that means something to the director but confuses everyone else. Worse, it looks like the filmmaker sections that bookend the cockroach part was added because no one would buy his bullshit other wise. I know what he was getting at, but how it’s done it’s mess. One of the absolutely must miss films of the year. (I passed the press screening on the way out to go to lunch and I wanted to stop in and tell them to runaway and not lose an hour and a half of their life, but I left figuring that they could always walk out on on their own)

Speaking of walking out, today was that sort of a day that had me walking out of movies...then again it had me seeing three great films and having a great lunch.

The first film of the day and the first walk out of the Film Festival was Journals of Musan. Its a Korean film about a North Korean defector trying to get along in the South. He is forever the outsider and abused at every turn, especially by his employers. It was a slow, unremarkable first hour that had me checking my watch repeatedly, hoping that something exciting, or at least not cliched as far as this sort of story goes (it's the sort of thing that Korean action films and comedies have made fun of or used to better effect). I finally found I couldn't sit any more so I left. I could be wrong, it might have picked up, one person who stayed to the end liked it, but for me it was a snoozer.

For me the walk out was advantageous since I got to see one of the great finds of the festival Like Water about mixed martial arts (MMA) champion Anderson Silva.(The title refers to a Bruce Lee statement that water is strong and formless taking the shape of whatever it's placed in)

I'm not an MMA fan. I used to love it but the move toward the territory occupied by the World Wrestling Entertainment has turned me off. Seeing this film was refreshing since Silva is a guy who has been in trouble with the UFC for not playing along with the promotional trash talk or needlessly beating up a beaten opponent. The film follows Silva during the three months before his battle with a trash talking opponent. The film that results is a note perfect sports film with a final confrontation that will have you cheering. I loved the film. If you get a chance see it. (A more detailed review will follow after Tribeca ends)

After Like Water I saw a film that kicked me to the curb. Its the heartbreaking documentary, Semper Fi:Always Faithful.

Semper Fi tells the story of Jerry Ensminger, a career Marine who has been battling the Corps to get help for all the people who have been, or might have been hurt by the contaminated ground water at Camp Lejeune. The camp has had a problem for decades, only the Corps never bothered to tell anyone. The result was the deaths of not only Marines, but also the wives and children of the soldiers (Ensminger lost his daughter). Trust me on this, this film will break your heart. Its the story of a few men and women trying to get help for a million or so other people who may be at risk for cancer.

I thought the film was going to be your typical David and Goliath story. I thought the film was going to hit all the cliche notes...and then I realized I was crying. I was crying all through the film. The sadness of the story, of how the men who agreed to fight for this country were betrayed by it, left me broken. I dare you not to be reduced to mush by the story of the mother who her lost children in rapid succession.

This is a great film. It's one of the most important films of the year. You really need to see this film, you need to feel the outrage and do something about it.(A longer review will be coming after the festival)

From there I took a subway down town and went to lunch with Mondocurry and Shigeko. They were going to join me for the fourth film, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. As you no doubt know I reviewed this film back in November. I loved the film and was correct in thinking that seeing this on a big screen only improves the film.(Also seeing it a second time makes it clear how neatly plotted the film is). It's a must see... but you knew that.

I should mention I'm hoping that we'll be getting their take on the film and the festival soon since they have several films scheduled at Tribeca.

After the movie I peeled off from my friends and head back to Chelsea for the World Premiere of The Last Rites of Joe May. This is a sad little film about a down on his luck minor gangster named Joe May, played by Dennis Farina. May has been in the hospital for seven weeks and since no one has seen him, his landlord throws his stuff out and rents out his apartment to a single mom and her daughter. It gets worse from there as May finds his whole world turned upside down. Feeling sorry for the older gentlemen the mother takes him in...

Sadly, despite some good performances, the film doesn't amount to much. While not bad, the film never really gets out the swamp of cliches. You know how its going to go from the opening credits which happen to the sound of opera. Trust me as each character comes on you know what they will be. I wasn't particularly impressed and I got out of there as soon as I could and I missed the Q&A.

For now thats it. It's bed time for me. I have to get up early and see a few more films...so check back tomorrow...