Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Trailers: Outland

New Years Trailers: Starcrash

New Years Trailers: Wizards

New Years Trailers: Golden Voyage of Sinbad

New Years Trailers: Silent Scream

New Years Trailers: Fade to Black

New Years Trailers: Brides of Blood

New Years Trailers: Mad Doctor of Blood Island

New Years Trailers: Dawn of the Dead

New Years Trailers: Battle Beyond the Stars

New Years Trailers :Dominique is Dead

New Years Trailers: Black Belt Jones

New Years Trailers: Galaxina

The Best of Sex and Violence (1981)


The Best of Sex and Violence has a special place in my heart. It was the first time that I had ever seen any sort of collection of movie trailers. What’s the big deal about that?

Nothing except I love movie trailers. In a weird way I love them more than many movies. When they are done right they convince you that some god awful film about say snakes on a plane is actually gong to be good. A good trailer will get you to go out and see something that reason tells you isn’t very good. A great trailer will haunt you more than the film (the one for Black Belt Jones for example).

Back in the early days of home video you either had to go to the movies to see a trailer, hope that you had some thing like the trailer shows on E or Turner Classic or even HBO, or you had to rent a video tape, where like today’s DVDs the trailers were put on the front of movies. (An aside: back when I managed a video store one of the most rented film wasn’t any of the big films of the day, rather it was Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things directed by Porky’s Bob Clark and written by Alan Omsby. The film wasn’t why people were renting it. It was the trailer for Faces of Death that screened before it that everyone wanted to see.)

Somewhere along the way cable started running something called the BSV and I was in suddenly as happy as a pig in poop. Here was a movie that wasn’t really a movie; rather it was a collection of exploitation trailers all cut together. It was pure exploitation stuff like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Truck Stop Women, The Big Bird Cage and others. Best of all the trailers were introduced by a cranky John Carradine who comments and makes snide asides between the trailers. The film fits very loosely into the documentary category, more so than say It Came From Hollywood or some of the other compilation films which just had clips and the odd remark. (Another aside- it maybe apocryphal but I was once told that this was the only time that John and his two of his three actor sons, David, and Keith appeared in a movie together.)

Originally released in 1981, this had a brief theatrical run in a few theaters before arriving on home video where it developed a cult following which was enhanced by repeated cable screenings.

How good is this collection?

Simply consider that its still in circulation thirty years after it premièred. Yes you can see the trailers on You Tube and elsewhere, but there is something about the packaging, the John Carradine part that has kept the film as something that is still watched today.

If you can track down a copy do yourself a favor and see this.

Addendum:
Fullmoon Just released this on home video. Check Diabolik in the side bar for ordering information

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This being New Years Eve we at Unseen are going to give you a treat that ties into BSV and tomorrows Video Nasties The Definitive Guide documentary and trailer compilation. We’re going to present a series of movie trailers one an hour until 2PM EST tomorrow. This is going to be broken up by an intermission at Midnight. When the series finishes tomorrow I’ll have a review of the Video Nasties (which is a look at the panic that resulted when horror films hit home video in the UK). The trailers are some of the best (family appropriate) exploitation trailers out there. So sit back, relax and check back often as Unseen goes Trailer crazy.

Friday, December 30, 2011

DB's Worst of 2011

We're at the end of the year and it's time to take stock of what we've seen. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Today I'm going to be looking at the bad and the ugly. These are films which for the most part never graced this website. As you know Unseen is primarily concerned with pointing out good films and the films on this list certainly aren't good. This list is the real bottom of the barrel. Sadly, I saw even more bad films in 2011 but I've forgotten them, The films are this list are different, these are the ones that burned their badness into my brain that I can't forget them. These are the films and film experiences that scarred me for life in 2011.

I'll keep my comments brief about each one lest you try and find these films.

I'd like to start off by saying that the worst experience of the film going year was probably Susan Orlean non-talk on Rin Tin Tin. It was a self surviving pointless waste of an evening that was almost all about the speaker and little on the advertised subject. The film that followed her talk, Clash of the Wolves, was enjoyable, Orleans talk wasn't.

MANDATE MISSION FROM GOD- The Best thing I can say is it's a poor supernatural action film.

KINTA-Horrible film with various martial artists playing near slaves working in a mine. When they ask for better conditions the mine owner decides to kill everyone instead. Some of them escape and plot revenge. Bad music, bad computer blood effects, just bad.

DREAMS OF JINSHA- worst film I've ever seen connected with the New York International Children's film festival. Its so bad that it colored every film after it and made me ponder if the festival as a whole lost it's way. Of all the films they've run since they started this is the first film I couldn't understand why they ran it.

GRAY MATTER, BOMBAY BEACH, and THE KITE - the three pretentious low points of this years otherwise excellent Tribeca Film Festival. The less said the better.

TUNNEL- A short film from The New York Asian Film Festival is 15 minutes I'll never get back. Its proof that sometimes a director will tell a story out of order simply so he can trick the audience into not beating him up.

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN- A classic American novel desecrated by a German producer. You will laugh at all the wrong places.

MISS BALA- Jaw droppingly stupid film is the Mexican entry for the Oscars. It makes no sense on any level. The film would stop dead if our heroine simply did the right thing at any point, or behaved in a rational way. I should have left early on but I stayed because each new twist left me even more incredulous than before...

Special Dishonorable Award goes to Brad Bird.
The director of Iron Giant sells his soul to Hollywood and makes one of the biggest most spectaular films of the year. Don't get me wrong it's got great action, but little else. The story exists purely to get to the set pieces. As soulful and full of humainty is Iron Giant, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol is as dead and souless. How can some one who has created some the screens best characters turn around and make a film with no one that has any real personality? MI4 is one of the emptiest film experiences of the year.

As I said there were plenty of other bad films, some probably worse than these,but these are the ones that have stayed with me like a parasitic twin or an intestinal blockage. I'm sure that 2012 will reveal several losers to me, but I really hope not.

Okay Onward and upward with the good stuff starting on Monday.

Hanna (2011)


Living deep in a snow covered wasteland of Finland Eric Bana is raising his daughter to be a ruthless killing machine. Cut off the world he teaches her as best he can so she can survive in the world. There is a method to his madness, he is trying to protect her from Cate Blanchett who will do anything, anything, to get her hands on young Hanna. One day when Hanna professes to be ready, Bana brings out a tracking device. If she turns it on it will bring her into contact with the Blanchett; if she doesn't flip the switch they will continue on as before. She of course flips the switch and all hell breaks loose.

Saorise Ronan plays Hanna with an icy coolness. She is very good at what she does, but she is also a fish out of water. Once things are set in motion and Hanna is turned lose in the world she makes it very easy to believe that she can speak a variety of languages and kill you in 47 ways to Sunday but at the same time is baffled by how a light switch works. Its a tricky role that she manages to pull off wonderfully.

Cate Blanchett is hopefully a shoe in for at the very least an Oscar nomination. Playing one of the greatest villains you'll ever see on screen, Blanchett is the reason this film will have a long and healthy life in the years to come. Evil isn't strong enough word for what Blanchett is, she is somewhere else. Stuck in some sort of twisted neurotic world of her own she is the sort of vile creature that might give Hannibal Lechter a run for his money (though she is closer to Lechter of the books and the rough cut of Silence of the Lambs). Nothing is beyond her or her aim. I do warn you you will not like her in any way, she is pure demon and there is nothing to love about her.

The film itself is an odd mix of action and coming of age tale. As Hanna heads to the meeting with her father and her target she is forced to come to terms with growing up and dealing with a world that she only knows as abstractions. The things her father taught her can only take her so far. Its an intriguing tale that is not really like any other I've run across in film.

Its uniqueness helps the film over come some bumps in the road. These bumps come mainly in the cool distanced style of director Joe Wright. Wright seems to be very much going for a feel and a look for much of the film and this form over content weakens the film in places where a little bit more emotion could have been used. This is particularly the case toward the end of the film where things seem to be a tad neater than they should have been.

Still I like the film a great deal and find that I was thinking about the film for days after I saw it on home video.

Definitely worth tracking down.

A big thank you to long time friend of Unseen Film Miriam for pushing me towards the film. For those of you who haven't discovered her blog in the side bar I suggest you all go over and click on mimo studios or simply click here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

DB Looks Back at the Festivals of 2011

Its the end of the year and time to look back. I'm going to be doing four posts covering the films and events that Unseen Films and I ran across. Tonight will be a look back at the festivals and other movie related events tonight. Tomorrow I'll do the worst of the year and then Monday and Tuesday I'll do the finds and then the favorites/best of the year. Outside of the worst of the year there probably won't be anything regular readers haven't seen but these posts will act more as a summing up for 2011.

First up the festivals.

Earlier I had written along rambling piece looking over the past year of film festivals and film series but it didn’t say much and it was kind of pointless since it just recapped everything. I’ve tossed that and I’m going to go with a few thoughts on the high points of the film festival year here in New York and one thing that really vexes me.

First and foremost I have to say that The New York Asian Film Festival is still the king of the heap. It’s a blast. Its two mad weeks of Asian film craziness and fun. I can’t thank Grady, Marc and everyone else enough for the incredible job they do every year. The festival has rocked for all the years I've gone and that now that it's at Lincoln Center with one of the best theaters in Manhattan at it’s disposal it's damn near perfect. Film Festivals don’t get better than this.

Right now the second best slot is a tie between the Korean Cultural Service (KCS) screenings and The New York International Children’s Film Festival.

The KCS screenings are as much fun as the NYAFF screenings but they happen every other week or so all through the year. If you want to find some real treasures of cinema you need to start going, because they are really high lighting some hidden gems. The only reason I’m not putting this not as high on the list as the NYAFF is that some of the films can be uneven and the schedule be erratic with the every other week schedule some times going weekly or monthly. If you don't stay on top of it you might miss something. It’s a minor thing but it makes planning sometimes difficult and I’ve missed a couple because of it. That said the next series starts on January 10th with a kick ass film The Frontline, which will be getting a review hopefully next week. (And keep reading us because we've mentioned and will continue to mention every screening before they happen)

New York International Children's Film Festival (NYICFF) was for a long time the equal of the NYAFF but this year things seemed to change. For the first time they scheduled a film that boggles my mind at its inclusion. Dreams of Jinsha is so dull and derivative that I can’t believe that anyone who would have seen it would schedule it, especially when it rips off so many Ghibli which they (under the GKids banner) are now releasing to theaters. The Festival also slightly censored a short documentary, a fact which didn’t sit well with me (as does the things they won’t run because parents might get upset, especially compared to some things they do run). I’m guessing its due to the fact that there has been a change over in management. The few new reservations aside, they are still among the very best NYC has to offer and I’m already jonsing for its month long series of goodies.

Talk about jonsing for goodies. I had a blast at this year at Tribeca Film Festival and I can’t wait to go back. I had a blast, I had a ball. I want to go back and do it all over again. This is movies as sensory overload. Simply put it’s too many movies in too short a time. I saw 54 features plus half that number in shorts. When it was done I had seen several of the best films of the year, a few of the worst and many many more I just can’t wait to see again. Everything I hated about the year before was corrected in spades. Best of all the volunteers are among the very best you’ll ever encounter. I can’t wait for the next one.

One of the finds of the year was the Brooklyn Film Festival. This is a wonderful warm fuzzy hug of a festival where everyone is nice and the movies are good or at least okay. I had a blast. How could I not have known about this before? This is the best kept secret of the New York film festival year. I got to meet Stephan Wassman and see his marvelous film Scrappers. I can’t wait for this years fest. It’s a glorious way to decompress after Tribeca. I’m really looking forward to doing this years festival from start to finish.

My home away from home is the Walter Reade theater at Lincoln Center. Over the past year I saw way too many movies in it’s warm confines and I always feel like I’m home when I walk in there. I have been to several screenings at the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and its functional but its not as warm as the Walter Reed.

The Walter Reade is the home of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and I’m so glad I‘m a member. I love their programming. I love New Directors New Film, Scary Movies, Spanish Film Now, Film Comment Selects, French Cinema and pretty much everything else they do. Sure they occasionally misstep, but mostly if they program something it’s worth a look. I would include everything I like about them but it would be a way too long post just as to their wonders.

The one thing I’m puzzled by and the one thing that vexes me (as I mentioned at the top) is how the Film Society can get everything so right 50 weeks a year and then they go crazy for the New York Film Festival. I’m not saying the NYFF is bad, it’s not, its just that after attending the every film festival over the last ten years I can’t completely understand why the films at the NYFF vary in quality so wildly. Seriously after programming the great New Directors and Film Comment Selects and the French Series and the Spanish series and Scary movies all of which are filled with winning films, we get to the NYFF and suddenly we get a wildly eclectic selection of films that is all over the place in quality. This year you have say, the ecstatic highs of This is Not a Film and the lows of Mud and Soldiers. You have the finds of 99 Unbound and 444 Last Dayand the mainstream misses of Carnage. When you see more than a film or two its always like getting cinematic whiplash. Don't get me wrong the hits are always worth the misses, I just wish the Festival was more consistent as all their other offerings.

And with that rambling statement done and 2012 just days away it's time to look forward to 2012 and the Jewish Film Festival in mid January and the BAM Kids Fest in February. I hope you'll keep reading because we'll keep reporting.

Contagion (2011)


I was resisting seeing Steven Soderbergh's Contagion when it was in theaters because it looked like a big budget big screen film with tons of stars that was geared to be deep and meaningful and make a ton of money because it had a ton of stars.

The film completely went out my head until toward the end of the theatrical run when I was looking for something to see and I stumbled a cross the film and remembering that it was suppose to be good I sat down to watch it.

And you know what? Its a damn fine film.

The plot of the film follows the out break of a deadly disease and how it affects people in government and people on the street. We meet victims, survivors, doctors, news people, and a variety of other people. The film takes us from day twp (we see day one at the end) to a point several months into the out break. Its a tale of sadness and fear and hope.

The star casting is in its way a stunt and kind of necessary. First the stars bring us in to the film, but because the film has so many characters running across its slightly less than two hour run time there is a good chance that we would be lost with out them. The ability to say look Jude Law or Matt Damon or Laurence Fishburne means that the characters are instantly recognizable as they pop in and out of the story. People like Gweneth Paltrow or Kate Winslett show up for a few scenes and then are gone for whole chunks of the film the fact its them means we don't have to think, who was that again when we see them later on.

The film itself is a frightening tale very much in the vein of the Andromeda Strain but tinged with the sensibility of something like Soderbergh's earlier Traffic. This is a plague across a vast canvas. Its a tale that is terrifying because it's very possible. Don't see this film if movies affect you deeply because you may go home and never come out of your house again.

I think it's one of the best films that Steven Soderbegh has made, which is saying a great deal.

If there is any real flaw in the film it's simply that it's too short. There are simply too many characters and it would have been nice to spend a bit more time with them.

If you want to see one of the better films of the year (I'll wait to see it again before I decide if it's one of the best) see this film.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dogs of War (1980)


On of the first films to star Christopher Walken, if not the first film to have him as the lead after he won an Oscar for the Deer Hunter. The film is based on a Frederick Forsyth novel. It concerns a New York based mercenary who is hired by a bunch of rich men to put a team together to bring about a regime change in a small African country. As Walken’s Jamie Shannon puts his team together and plans the raid he has to try and figure out if he would be better off hanging it up and doing something else.

Easily one of my favorite films of the 1980’s, possibly of all time, it’s a film that has hung with me ever since I saw it in a movie theater back in 1980 with my Dad and brothers. There is something about Walken’s quiet performance that has stuck with me when other films at the time had come and gone. I think perhaps it’s the fact that it was one of the first times where I saw a hero who seemed not to care, until he revealed that he did. One need only see the terrible retribution he takes for the death of a friend by shards of glass or the finale of the film where he screams “You’re late!” to the men who paid for the revolution, to understand just how much he really cares…

Actually Walken’s performance is different depending on where you see the film. What I mean by this is that the original US release version of the film is 16 minutes shorter than the version shown in the UK. In the UK version there is an expansion of the Walken role with scenes that give him a more human edge, in particular between him and the young boy who always seems to he sitting on his couch when he’s home. This addition material greatly enhances an already excellent film and makes it much better. Why the film isn’t available in the US is a matter that confuses me since one would think that they would have at least included it as deleted scenes on the DVD.

The material has only been released in the US on the now long out of print laser disc. As for being able to get it from the UK, you apparently can’t get it since the UK DVD is the cut US release- a fact prompted a call from Amazon UK when they heard me cry out in anguish when I popped in my import DVD and found it was short 16 minutes. (Its missing nature could makes this film the sort of thing that would have allowed me to include this in last weeks films we were never suppose to see)

This is a perfect thinking man’s action film. I know that some action films don’t like the film because there isn’t enough action. There is some action at the start, a little bit in the middle and a full on assault at the end. Mostly there is talk and the planning, which I find absolutely gripping because as Walken’s reconnaissance trip proves things don’t always go right. To my mind the climatic battle comes at the perfect moment to release all of the tension built up.

As you can tell, I really like this film a great deal. I like the cast which includes some of my favorite character actors (Tom Berringer and Colin Blakely) I also like that this film has a great early performance by Walken who, while a tad stiff and very intense is free of all of the ticks and lazy habits that have made many of his more recent film roles more fun cartoons rather than real people. This is not a role that you can make fun of.

Actually what I like most about the film is it’s just a great rip roaring tale. If you like well made, well thought out and wonderfully acted action films- especially where nothing has been computers have been used to enhance the action- see this film.

Currently out on DVD

Chaplin's Goliath


This story of Eric Campbell is a great way to learn about a man who is an iconic film presence (he started with Chaplin in 11 of his First National Films) but who had his life and screen career cut short by a tragic car accident (he only did the Chaplin films)

This is a 50 minute film about one of the lost sons of Scotland. Campbell was born in the lat 19th century and through circumstance drifted into acting. His huge physical stature made him some one you remembered once you saw him. Oddly he had a sweet and handsome face that was hidden by garish make up in his film roles. Campbell eventually found his way into the Karno troop that would bring Chaplin and Stan Laurel to the US. Everyone went every which way and it wasn’t until several years later that Chaplin reconnected with Campbell when he was starring in a broadway show. Chaplin scooped up his friend and the rest is cinematic history.

The life and times of Campbell are not a completely happy one. As his fortunes rose with Chaplin tragedy struck close to home with the death of his wife and a marriage to a gold digger and death in relatively rapid succession. It’s a story that I never knew until I saw this wonderful little film.

Seeing the film I was torn, here is such an iconic person, who only made a hand full of films and deserving of a really detailed telling of his life that will put him back into the public eye, however time and the brevity of his life make that kind of impossible short of a narrative film. I loved (and was heartbroken) by what I saw in this film, and I didn’t want it to end.

This is a super little film, that manages to do what it seeks to do, namely reveal the life and times of a great actor who was lost much too early.

Highly recommended.

(Though see if you can rent it since the film only runs 52 minutes and there are no extras on the DVD)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ghost Rider (2007)


Clunky comic adaptation is some where toward the middle of the pack of big screen comic stories. After the set up of young Johnnie Blaze selling his soul to save his dad, the story jumps ahead to Johnnie as supreme motorcycle daredevil. He reunites with his childhood sweetheart (left because of guilt over what happened to his dad) just as Mephistopheles returns to have Johnnie fulfill his end of the bargain. Blaze must stop Blackheart from getting a contract for 1000 souls which will result in hell on earth. Mephistopheles sweetens the pot by promising Johnnie his freedom if he completes the task. And with that Ghost Rider is reborn.

After a slow set up the movie kicks into high gear with the first appearance of Ghost Rider. Here we have the comic come to life and its fun on a purely comic level. This is not the deep musing of Spiderman, the solid novel like quality of Batman Begins, nor the the misdirected but interesting occult Constantine, this is the sort of thing that regularly graced the 22 pages of the comic book in four colors, its pure mindless cheese that hooks you on the "oh thats so cool" level of the visuals and ideas, even though it makes no logical sense. It hasn't been pumped up for real movie life, rather its the comic come to life, with its lack of complexity intact.

Sue me I liked the film-or at least I did once Ghost Rider shows up. Its just those neat four color panel books I used to read but up there on the big screen.

Classic? I think not.

Mindless popcorn flick? most definitely. If you take it on its terms I think you'll enjoy it, especially once it gets going. Hell, it even has Sam Elliot, what more could you want? Worth a look, especially if you want to be brought up to speed before the belated sequel hits theaters soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cinderella Man (2005) : Celebrating boxing day!

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Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Craig Bierko, Paul Giamatti
Genre: boxing drama, biography



I couldn’t find a more fitting way to celebrate Boxing Day on December 26 than to shine a spotlight on the real life story of light heavyweight pugilist -- the bulldog from north bergen -- the pride of New Jersey, James J. Braddock! He was a tremendous inspiration to many americans during the time of the great depression when our country needed a shot in the arm during a very dark period of economic duress. Cinderella Man would be a great representation that told the tale of his struggle!

Yes, this film is about a professional boxer, but in essence, it was really more about the undying love between a man, his family, & how they stuck together as he remained true to himself while he used boxing as a vehicle to lift his family from poverty which would give working class americans throughout the country something to cheer for at a time when bringing food to the table was a major concern.

The outstanding performances by Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock, Renee Zellweger as the wife, & Paul Giamatti as Joe Gould the trainer clearly stood out from the pack! Even the boxing sequences and choreography seem to be on par with the fighting style from that era. The movie did a great job depicting Braddock as a humble, working class family man while his trainer was a boisterous, in your face brazen individual. A nice combination of personalities that would play off each other well in the game of boxing. All the while, Braddock’s wife would stand by his man as he struggles to provide for his family when the great depression hit hard in 1929. It didn’t help the situation when the Bulldog of Bergen lost his stock as a major heavyweight title contender when he lost a 15 round fight to Tommy Loughran in 1929. Braddock’s stronghold as a fighter began to plummet as did Wall Street. On 9/25/1933, 4 years into the great depression, the BullDog lost a fight to Abe Feldman in Mt. Vernon, NY. Compounded with injuries, the boxing promoters begin to label Braddock as an embarassment in the ring, not living up to his expectations. The bulldog of bergen would soon find himself with a revoked boxing license as his life begins to spiral downwards. Working on the docks as a day to day laborer would be his source of income which is part time at best. No matter how bleek the situation got, Braddock would spend time to show love and preach morality to his kids. A trip to the Emergency relief system of NJ to collect funds would be in order for the family as the electricity is turned off due to non payment. A trip to Madison Square Garden bowl to visit his former boxing contigency including his ex-trainer would reveal a touching scene with him begging for assistance as a broken down man wilted before their eyes.

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The latter part of the film would be more upbeat when a 2nd chance at life is given to the Bulldog of Bergen as his trainer, Joe Gould manages to get a bout in the ring with the #2 heavyweight contender John “Corn” Griffin as his original opponent had to pull out of the fight. The selling point in signing Braddock for this match was that he had 80+ fights without ever getting knocked out so a Griffin win would make him even more marketable. However, on the day of the fight & 3 rounds in, the Bulldog would flash his new left hook as he developed his southpaw tendencies while working at the docks due to the broken right hand from earlier fights as he KO’s “Corn” Griffin for an upset win! A few more successful prerequisite fights would climax into a championship bout with the cocky and menacing Max Baer! That famous fight would become known as the cinderella man bout! And we all know what the final result would be! Long island City, Queens would play host to one of the biggest upsets in sports history! The pride of North Bergen, NJ would eventually lose his title to the Brown Bomber -- Joe Louis who was one of the greatest fighters of all time!

If you are looking for a rags to riches, Rocky Balboa story or a dramatic train wreck like Raging Bull then you should steer clear of Cinderella Man. James Braddock offers a much more subtle, heartwarming tale in a not so heartwarming economic frame of mind in american history. There were no fairy tales despite the cinderella name. And there definitely were no glass slippers nor pumpkins turning into carriages. The bulldog of bergen, the pride of New Jersey was all blood, sweat, tears, and full of persistence with a little help from some family lovin’!! A true local hero, Braddock went on to serve our country in World War II.

As an interesting side note, pay close attention to the character named Mike in the movie. Mike (Paddy Considine) was a dockworker friend of Braddock in the film. The character talks about instituting work unions & organizing people in order to rebel against the government in order to make change. I thought that was real mind blowing and courageous despite the odds. He also stayed at a self-made shack in central park in an area they called ‘hooverville’ because they were evicted from their home. Many of the homeless would take refuge at the park.

Go see Cinderella Man if this film somehow bob and weaved away from your defense in 2005! Enjoy & appreciate boxing day, folks!!

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The River Murders (2011)


Where did this movie come from? I was sure that this was going to be a time waster, instead I find it to be a wonderful little thriller in the twisted serial killer genre.

The plot has a series of murders happening around happily married cop Ray Liotta. At first it's an unhappy coincidence that he knows one of the victims, but it quickly transpires that he knows all of the victims since they were all past lovers. The who is doing it and why is the film.

Liotta is wonderful as is everyone in the cast including Ving Rhames and Christian Slatter. This group of greatly under appreciated thespians take what is for some of its running time, a cliched film, and keep you watching until the final 20 minutes... its at that point as all of the plot points come to together that the skin begins to crawl on you body as you realize where this might be going...and it's not pleasant.Or to put it another way I did say "Oh that's just wrong", a couple of times

I'm not going to lie and say it's perfect. It's not. Odds are you will get several plot points ahead of the detectives, but at the same time the film builds a nice tension that keeps you watching and makes you uncomfortable in the final half hour. It may not be the be all and end all of murder mysteries but damn does it pack a bit of a kick.

Definitely worth watching, as the emails, phone calls and tweets I sent after finishing it will attest.

This is currently out on home video and worth tracking down.

K Gordon Murray's Santa's Fantasy Fair


K Gordon Murray, the man responsible for many of the films we ran back around Halloween cut and pasted clips from many of those films into this holiday family spectacular....

...I use the term loosely.

Santa gets ready to head off from his cloud city at the north pole. He winds up his clockwork reindeer and then heads off. On earth we see 3 kids plotting to jump Santa to get the toys, a poor mother trying to comfort her daughter and a devil on a roof top. After playing a game of moving chimneys with the devil the Santa portion of the film stops and we get clips from various children's films:

An abbreviated version of Puss in Boots.
A section from the end of Little Red Riding Hood
Part of a version of Rumpelstiltskin
Some of the Pied Piper of Hamlen starring Van Heflin
The story of the Golden Goose.

The film then finishes up with Santa as he resolves the various threads.

This is one of three or four films that K Gordon Murray put together using new holiday shorts to bridge clips from his other feature films. If I remember correctly they were advertised in such away that you seemed like you were getting a couple of features instead of clips. I can imagine parents being outraged at thinking they were getting more than 90 minutes of entertainment for their kids.

To be honest I can't really recommend this film in any conventional sense, however if you saw any of the films we reviewed back around Halloween then you might be interested in seeing how those films were recycled over and over again. This is also the sort of film that anyone who is interested in what used to shown in the waning days of Kiddie Matinees will want to check out.

I'm not sure what the status is of this film or the the Murray films in general, since I know his estate have been trying to regain control of the films from the collectors market, however I kind of suspect that they think the films have a bigger audience then the small one of twisted individuals like myself who remember the films with a fondness. If you're interested I suggest looking on line and at collectors shows.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where God Left His Shoes (2007)


This is one of the small films that Unseen Films was started to highlight. Its a good little film that isn't great, but is definitely worth seeing. It's also one of those small independent films that are going to fall into the darkness if no one shines a light on it. This then is our shining a light on Where God Left His Shoes.

John Leguizamo stars as a father whose family ends up in a homeless shelter at Christmas time. On Christmas Eve he gets word that an apartment they applied for is there's however a catch, he must have a job by five pm that day in order to get it. Leguizamo and his son then head off in an effort to find a job so that they will have a home on Christmas morning.

Darkly hopeful tale about the power of family to make things alright is an okay film.

It's a great looking film that really feels like New York at the holidays, but at the same time it feels very much like a film that is wearing its independent nature on its sleeve like a badge of honor. The result is that the film never fully clicks. To me the film seems like its trying too hard to be about something.

I'd like to give points to Leguizamo for a nicely rounded portrait of a family man trying to do the best he can. It's a warts and all portrayal that helps keep his character some one we want to watch.

Worth a look if the subject matter interests you

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Korean Cultural Service starts 2012 with a bang

DB here.

I just got in from some holiday festivities to find an email in my inbox with the line up of films for the Korean Cultural Services January and February free screenings...Christmas has arrived early.

While I have not seen the first film, I do know that the remaining ones kick serious butt. I saw Rough Cut and Secret Reunion at the New York Asian Film Festival and both are must sees ( and if I remember correctly, when Rough Cut ran at the NYAFF there was a near riot when fans of the star tried to push their way in to see him at the screening.) The final film in the series White Night, I only know by reputation but it's excellent.

Look for me to be attending some if not all of the films.

And with out further adieu here's the line up:

Korean Movie Night
from January 10, 2012 – February 28, 2012
courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service

Every other Tuesday @ 7pm
Tribeca Cinemas
(54 Varick Street, on the corner of Canal Street, one block from the A, C, E and 1 train Canal Street stops)

Price? Free.
All seating is first-come, first served. Doors
open at 6:30pm.

Series 1: Jang Hun Plus One!

Jang Hun started out as an assistant director to Kim Ki-Duk, but with his first film, Rough Cut, he established himself as Korea’s answer to Steven Soderbergh: a director making big budget movies with an independent sensibility. Rough Cut, Secret Reunion and The Frontline have all become massive box office hits without making an compromises or talking down to their audiences. To round out the trio of movies in this mini-retrospective, we’re including White Night, another crime film that transforms itself into something dark, glittering and truly amazing.

Tuesday, January 10 @ 7pm
THE FRONTLINE (East Coast Premiere, 2011)
One of the biggest hits of 2011, The Frontline is the simple story of a hill: Aerok Hill, a small rise on the Eastern Front of the Korean War that changed hands 30 times over 18 months of fighting. A military investigator is dispatched to see if allegations that the South Korean soldiers tasked with taking the hill are collaborating with their North Korean enemies to deliver letters to their families. It turns out that they are, and that’s the least of it. A movie about men (and some women) trying to hold onto their humanity in the midst of war, Frontline is Korea’s official submission to the Academy Awards.

Tuesday, January 24 @ 7pm
ROUGH CUT (2008)
Kim Ki-Duk wrote this high concept knuckle-buster about a spoiled actor, famous for playing gangsters, who hires a real-life gangster to appear in his new flick. It sounds like nothing but a pile of cliches, but Jang Hun ignores the traditional approach and instead focuses on the volcanic, boiling testosterone that drives the conflict between a man used to getting his way because he’s famous, and a man used to getting his way because he’s violent. The seduction of filmmaking, the appeal of acting and the temptation of a street brawl all exert their siren song on the two studs in suits at the heart of this film: superstar So Ji-Sub, surprisingly, playing the gangster and Kang Ji-Hwan as the actor.


Tuesday, February 15 @ 7pm
SECRET REUNION (2010)
Two of Korea’s best actors face off in this blockbuster action flick that manages to be sly, subversive and really funny while delivering white knuckle thrills. Song Kang-Ho (The Host) is a South Korean secret agent who fumbles a sting operation on a North Korean spy. Pop star Gang Dong-Won (Haunters) is the North Korean assassin who has been embedded in the South. After the botched operation, both men are cut loose by their respective agencies and Song becomes a private eye, while Gang sinks into deep cover, trying to survive long enough to go home. Years later, they cross paths and what audiences are treated to is a buddy movie to end all buddy movies.

Tuesday, February 28 @ 7pm
WHITE NIGHT (North American Premiere, 2009)
White Night is a sprawling, evil epic about an unsolved crime that happened 14 years previously that has spilled its poison out over the subsequent years. Based on a best-selling Japanese novel, and featuring a riveting performance by Ko Soo, star of The Frontline, director Park Shin-Woo turns this movie into a slick, beautifully realized film about true evil, as a detective refuses to let go of this single case, instead insisting on following its threads for years no matter where they lead. And where they lead is dark and truly shocking. This hit film has been called the best Korean film of 2009 by several critics and once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to forget

1776 (1972)


As we close out our week of films we were never suppose to see and head into the holiday weekend I want to take a look at a great holiday film 1776.

Okay it’s not related to the holiday that is Sunday, but it still is a holiday film. Its also not a film we were never suppose to See, rather it has a sequence which was relatively recently restored to the film with in the last couple of decades.

Based upon the Broadway stage play about the writing of the Declaration of Independence by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards 1776 is also nominally a musical since it contains several songs, however the songs are used sparingly and used to enhance what is going on in some sequences as a kind of short hand. If you think of songs like “He Played the Violin” you have the entire relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his wife laid out in the course of a few minutes. Similarly a song like “Sit Down John” lays out John Adams and the congress with a skill that ten pages of dialog couldn’t do.

At other times the film (and the show) ignores music and goes simply for drama. I mean when was the last time that you can remember where a musical didn’t have any music for around 45 minutes?

The films strengths are many beginning with Peter Stone’s well researched script. As you will hear if you listen to the DVD commentary or read the notes Stone wrote for the play’s script, pretty much everything you see is what happened. To be certain there has been some changes but all of the major points are there and can be backed up via documentary evidence. I’ve played the commentary track for friends who thought the film was a light hearted goof only to walk away with a deep respect, this is, in many ways what happened.

Another of the strengths is that the producers of the film pretty much brought the entire Broadway cast to Hollywood and had them recreate their roles. It’s a stunning move that not only manages to record the show in some form, but it also allows for well worn a nuanced performances which are the result of having played the roles hundreds of time.

The film, as it now is on DVD, contains a recently restored sequence for the song Cool Considerate Men. This is a number sung by the Southern delegates about their attitudes and how they view themselves. It’s a nice song but it’s probably the one truly extraneous song in the entire play. I suspect it existed in order to give the leads some time off stage and to allow some of the vast cast something to do other than be background. Originally included on the laser disc as a black and white clip inserted back into the film (how the sequence was first found) it was later found included on the DVD in color.

Personally I think the film should have been left out of the film since its inclusion stops the film dead. Its not a bad song, but it serves no real purpose in the film. As I said the song filled time on stage, but having seen the show when it played on Broadway a decade ago with Brett Spiner in the lead I can say it should have been cut there as well.

One weak song aside you really owe it to yourself to see this film, especially on DVD where you can listen to one of the best commentary tracks you’ll ever run across.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thief and the Cobbler- The Recobbled Cut


The story of the Thief and the Cobbler is pure Hollywood legend. Begun in 1964 the film went in and out of production for the next 28 years. It was begun by animator Richard Williams who had the film yanked away from him when a completion bond company pulled the film away. It was then finished (in a manner of speaking) by others. It was then cut and recut and released in several editions, none of which really match what was intended. Eventually the film was put back together by fans in a form that kind of approximates what Williams intended...

...but it's a version that we are not suppose to see....

The plot of the film has the lives of a cobbler, a thief and princess intertwining when the thief’s attempts at stealing from the cobbler results in the cobbler being arrested by Zigzag, the kings lead advisor. The princess takes a shine to the young man and conspires to keep him out of the dungeons. As the story unfolds the advisor attempts to seize control of the kingdom with the help of an evil horde lead by One Eye.

As I said at the start the film was begun by animator Richard Williams in 1964, who wanted to make the greatest animated film ever made. Diving into various myths and legends he began to cobble together (no pun intended) story set in an Arabian setting. He brought in various actors such as Anthony Quayle, Vincent Price and, for one line Sean Connery. Funding was, for a while, entirely independent with Williams struggling to find and keep backers (a member of the Saudi royal family gave money to the production only to be frustrated by missed deadlines and wild cost over runs).

Eventually after winning two Oscars for Roger Rabbit Williams found big studio backing but ran afoul of the completion bond people when the spiraling out of control cost mixed with one too many missed deadline and they pulled the plug…and seized control.

What happened next was that the bond company had someone come in and finish the film. Actually what he did was re-cut, reshoot and re-dub the film… It was released as Arabian Adventure to mixed critical acclaim and zero box office. The film was then re-cut and redubbed again and released as the Princess and the Cobbler to DVD.

None of the released versions of the film (there are at least six) are really what Richard Williams intended (for one thing neither the thief nor the cobbler ever speak in the original and they do in all other versions). All we could do was kind of look at the release versions and wonder at what the film would have been had Williams finished it.

Actually we can do more than that, we can actually see what Williams was up do thanks to a bootleg and unofficial release called the Recobbled Cut.

Using a work print that Williams put together for backers and combining it with footage from the “finished” film (the various versions) we now can see the film in all it’s glory. (The work print apparently has been floating around on VHS since Williams first put it together)

The first thing you’ll notice when you see the Recobbled version is that the film is a mixture of finished footage, pencil tests and storyboards (which Williams only created for the work print to show what had yet to be filmed).

The next thing you’ll notice is that the vocal track is different than any other version. First off neither the Thief nor the Cobbler speak (except for the Cobbler’s final line). Secondly outside of Vincent Price the voices are pretty much all different.

The last thing you’ll notice is the film is infinitely better than it was in any of the previous versions.

Until I saw the Recobbled Cut I never much cared for the film. It was beautiful to look at but it just didn’t really work. Bits seemed to just be there (The dialog for the non-speaking characters for example) while other bits which were the result of the restructuring never seemed to work. Watching the released versions of the film it was easy to believe the stories that Williams had simply been making things up as he went along, that there was no real central plot and that Williams was never going to be finished.

After seeing the Recobbled Cut, my opinion changed. No longer was the film a near total mess on every level but a visual one. Here was a very messy but certainly solid fable…actually I would be hard pressed not to say it’s one of the top five animated films from a visual stand point ever created. The visuals in this version simply are more spectacular then in the release ones.

You’ll notice the qualifier there, and I have my reasons for not making a blanket statement about it’s quality, which is basically, as I said, it’s a very messy film. What do I mean by Messy? Sequences go on to long, there are dead spots, the lack of dialog from the main characters, while better than the nonsense they spoke in other versions, often makes things seem empty. The film could use a very gentle trimming. That said the film is a visual delight and you completely understand what Williams was going for.

If you want to see what the film could have been and should have been you need to try and track this film down.

Sadly the Recobbled Cut is not readily available. Its something that is floating around in the grey area of the internet and something that can be had at various conventions where DVDs of questionable sources are sold. Its also something that is handed off from collector to collector. Ultimately it’s a copyright violation…

…which may someday, maybe perhaps have something of an official release. What I mean by this is that before he broke with Disney Roy Disney had been shown a version of the Recobbled cut and was so impressed that he had a restoration of the film started at the studio (Disney owned Miramax at the time and they owned rights for release). Unfortunately once Roy broke with the company the restoration was stopped. Perhaps, if we are lucky the studio will start up again and give us a pristine version of the film as Williams intended.

(For a full accounting of the film's history the wikipedia entry can be found here.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Capsule Reviews 12/21/11 - Mystery

Great Hospital Mystery
Uneven comedy mystery involving bank robbery and murder around a big hospital. It starts with a parolee getting carjacked outside of a bank robbery. In order to hide out he goes to a friend in a hospital and they decide to fake his death. From there we end up of misdirection and murder.

A good mystery is under cut by a boneheaded nurse who has been inserted for comic relief. She's so loud that you tire of her nonsense instantly. I liked it but I wish it was better and less silly.

(The film spawned two sequels)


Preview Murder Case (1936)
Someone first threatens and then kills people connected with one film at a film studio. Reginald Reginald Denny investigates.

Robert Florey sends up life in a film studio in an okay murder mystery. It's more intriguing for the throw away stuff then the main plot which never seems to be what Florey is interested in.

Watching the film I was shocked at how retro the film felt. It seemed more like a film from 1931 or 1932 as opposed 1936. There is a denseness to to the staging with everyone all crowded around the center of the frame. You got this in early sound films because of the mics- but not in 1936.

It's good but it's not quite great.

Secret Six (1931)
The title sounds like a super hero movie but it's not.

Its about a Victor McLaughlin who works in the stock yards in Chicago. His buddy Ralph Bellamy brings him into the bootlegging business where he excels and eventually takes over for Bellamy. Into the mix comes Jean Harlow, Johnny Mack Brown, and some guy named Clark Gable, who impressed MGM so much they made him into a superstar (actually watching him he did it on his own- they just signed him). Its a crime pays until the final fade out tale that Hollywood used to do so well.

This is a dense potboiler of a film. Its full of great characters and sets and lines and is super meaty. The trouble is it's almost too much. Actually it is too much and too knowing. This is a big budget picture and it knows it, wearing it on it's sleeve. It's the sort of attitude that kind of gets in the way since it has too polished.

I like the film, though the film to me is more curio for the casting and the filmmaking. rarely have I ever seen a film quite like this (the title refers to a band of good citizens who hide their identity to trip up our antihero.

Definitely worth a look. Its something you'll probably like more than love and which you'll sing it's technical and casting praises more than it's story

Rocky 5-Directors Cut (1990)


This is probably the wrong time to tell this story with the uploader of WOlverine going to jail for a year but then again it kind of makes the story timely.

One of the first bootleg video tapes that I ever ran across was in 1990 right before the release of Rocky 5. A co-worker of mine had some how managed to secure a copy of the soon released film. It was a horrible thing, several generations down, very dark and the sort of thing you had to squint to see. It was terrible and it probably cost a fortune as those things did at the time. It was however different thant what we normally think of as a bootleg since it was clearly not typical, it didn't look like it was shot off a movie screen, rather it appeared to be time coded, and it showed some signs of once having looked pretty good. It turned out that it was a work print of the film.

When I saw the bootleg of the directors cut/work print I was shocked at how good the film was. I couldn’t understand how people were beating up on the film in the reviews. There was a complexity to the Rocky character that had been missing from the previous three films. It was truly a throw back to the first film.

The plot has a now retired Rocky finding a potential protégé in a young boxer played by brief boxing prospect Tommy Morrison. As Rocky trains Morrison he is forced to deal with the health effects of his time in the ring, and the complications that his relationship is putting on his family, and particularly with his son. It’s a realistic look at a man who once had it all and who is almost wrecks his life to get back on top, even if it’s through the ability of a younger fighter.

The film in the rough cut was a revelation since it was a solid drama that showed Stallone to be a better actor and writer than his big budget popular films made him out to be. It ultimately had many themes and plot point Stallone would use in the later Rocky Balboa.

I looked forward to seeing the film in a theater when it was actually released.

When I got my chance several weeks into it’s theatrical run I was shocked. The film was not the great gritty film I had seen on the bootleg. The complexity of the film was gone. The health issues and hallucinations that Rocky was experiencing were down played or eliminated completely. Rocky was no longer a sad figure counting his days to his uncertain end, rather he was simply the loveable oaf that he had been previously. Worse it was all scored to a bouncy pop score of never were hits.

I was not happy.

I don’t think I ever really watched the film ever again even on cable where it was on eternal repeat for awhile. I couldn’t believe they had wrecked such a good film…then again they were aiming for a crowd pleasing film that would have people coming back again and again instead of a hopeful but somewhat troubling film about a boxer on the outs…

In doing research for this piece, I wrote this I was relying on a memory of film I last saw 20 years ago, I discovered that the film is actually now floating about on the internet thanks to director John Avilsen up loading the cut to you tube a few years back. I have not watched it, I’m not a fan of watching anything of length on my computer, however I’m planning on searching the film out and giving it another go. I suggest you do likewise, since I think you’ll be surprised and find that what is currently a mediocre film was once a small little treasure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Silence of the Lambs- The Original Cut


Jonathan Demme is quoted somewhere in one of the Criterion Collection editions of Silence of the Lambs as regretting not keeping a copy of the directors cut of the film. I on the other hand regret loaning the video tape to a friend who never returned it...

I had purchased my copy of the rough cut at a nostalgia convention years and years ago. It was actually from the same guy who sold me a copy of John Woo’s The Killer saying that this was unlike any Chinese action film I had ever seen. He was right and I was a Woo fan from that point on. I was also told that this version was better than the one that I had seen in the theater. He was right on that point as well.

The work print is some 30 minutes longer than the Oscar winning version and it’s even better…however it’s not a crowd pleasing film. The rough cut film is incredibly darker than the release version to the point that I don’t think it would have won any Oscars simply because no one would have wanted to go there. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter is truly the personification of pure evil in this cut. Sure he’s charming, but you can feel the menace and the nastiness behind each look, word and action. He is not the rogue cannibal but an engine of evil working very hard to manipulate things his way. I know several people I showed the film to said that they didn’t like it because they couldn’t feel anything for Lechter but dread.

The rough cut actually plays closer to the book. Clarisse is in way over her head and it’s clear that she is being manipulated by both Lecter and Scott Glenn’s character who need her connection to the confined doctor in order to stop Buffalo Bill (He’s under pressure because of who Bill has kidnapped). Glenn’s view of Clarisse is as an expendable pawn. What you see in this cut that you don’t see in the theatrical cut is that Clarrise may not graduate from the academy because she is being pulled into the investigation and her instructors are not giving her or her roommate (who has a slightly larger role) any leeway.

After purchasing the tape years ago I never saw any reference again until I saw some comments from Demme on the Criterion edition of the film (I believe on the Laser Disc edition) saying that he regretted not keeping a copy of that version. He said that the only bits that he knew to exist were in the clips included as deleted scenes by Criterion. I’m sure that the work print exists somewhere, I just haven’t run a cross another copy.

If you should ever find yourself with a chance to see this version (which when I saw it was in a fair time coded print) do so. It’s a wonderful example of how one crafts a winning crowd pleasing classic---by diminishing an even scarier film that you won’t want to see again because it makes your skin crawl, even on repeated viewings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wonder Woman - The Unaired Pilot (2011)

This week at Unseen Films we do are doing a week of films were leaked to the general public. These are odd versions of films that somehow escaped from where they were hidden and ended up in circulation in one way or another. These are versions of well known films that you were never supposed to see- but can if you look hard enough.

First up is the pilot for a Wonder Woman TV series that was aiming for TV screens this past fall.


I saw the pilot at a dealers table at New York Comicon and was kind of surprised that the series wasn’t picked up for the fall 2011 season. No it’s not bad and no it is far from perfect, but there was something there that made me think that perhaps had the concept been tweaked a little bit it might have actually been able to run for a while.

The pilot, written by Allie McBeal creator David E Kelly has Diana Prince running a multinational corporation that promotes her as crime fighter Wonder Woman. Using the money she makes from toys and tie ins to fund her crime fighting she strives to help the downtrodden. In the pilot she battles a rival CEO played by Elizabeth Hurley who is putting new steroids on the street which is causing young athletes to have their hearts explode. It’s the by product of a super soldier formula gone wrong. The clash is what drives what is now a 40 minute stand alone film.

Yes, the clothing is revealing and how it’s portrayed by the Wonder Woman action figures is the source of a funny rant about Diana being more than T&A.

The problem with the pilot is that its got way too much going on to give any sense of where you could or would go with the series.

You have Diana crime fighter, who has some form of super power (she runs and fights like a super soldier) but we don’t know the source.

She wants to keep her home life and work life separate - she’s constantly talking about going home, but as Carey Elwes as her right hand man points out that’s just trying to create an unnatural schizophrenia. However its clear everyone knows who she is so the split is a bit odd.

What is she really doing or trying to do? Yes beyond helping the down trodden but outside of that things are unclear.

Actually much is unclear during the 40 minutes of story we have. It’s clear that Kelly kind of knows what he’s doing, the characters are obviously wandering around with a real sense of the world they are living in, but with out the back story he has the film kind of falls flat at times (I mean why are the cops allowing her to do what she does?)

Is it the classic comic character? Not completely. It’s some intriguing rethink that could have been something had we been given more to go on.

I liked it. I know had it gone to series I would have at least given it a second episode just to see how things played out. Its not the best thing ever but it wasn’t a complete disaster.

It is an interesting Elseworlds take on what might have been…

(For those who like to see things unfinished the version the dealer was screening at New York Comicon had the effects unfinished so you could see all of the wires used to do the super leaps and falls in the fight sequences, which was rather neat if you asked me.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Twitter, Tin Tin and some Sunday night tidbits.

DB here. just a few quick notes before I head to bed on a Sunday before all the holidays start.

The Twitter account is live again. Things went silent after the New York Asian Film Festival for a variety of reasons. Randi and myself then got frustrated because our efforts to have Twitter automatically tweet when the posts met with the similar problems to the Unseen Tumblr page. In any case I've vowed to tweet once more so if you want to get some updates and comments to things before they show up here or about things which may never show up here take a look. The feed can be found here. (And yes we will get a Twitter button in the side bar).

As I tweeted earlier today starting tomorrow we're going to take a look at a few films that escaped in forms that were never meant for the viewing public. These are cuts of films that can not be found at the local video store (well Friday's film can). Its an interesting look at films that in three cases the directors hoped could have seen the light of day more fully.

A while back I promised a review of the new Tin Tin movie before it hits screens in the US Wednesday. As many of you know the film is already playing elsewhere in the world, but since Tin Tin isn't a major character here is the US they delayed the opening. Bully has said that he'd like to take a crack at the film, however he's been sidelined by a trip to Japan to find an egg salad recipe and one of the worst colds on record. I may or may not be kidding about the egg salad however Bully and his buddy John are genuinely sick,so much so Bully's blog has been silent for several days. (Bully please get better, or else we can't go for pancakes)

To be perfectly honest I've seen the film, and while I could review it for you all I think Bully would be a better person to review it since he's more familiar with Tin Tin and his comic origins (The film is based on 3 different Tin Tin stories.) I will throw my two cents in and say that if you like Spielberg action epics give the film a try since it's more Spielberg than Herge. I will only add that I don't like the character design since it wipes out all of the facial movement and weakens a stunning Andy Serkis vocal performance.

Wednesday I'm hoping to get into the city to see Zhang Yimou's potential Oscar nominee Flowers of War. I say potential because the film is China's submission for Best Foreign Film so it's simply one of many films that might get chosen. I mention this for two reasons, first so you keep an eye out for a review. Secondly I want to use this as an excuse to mention that in January we at Unseen will be doing nine days of films from China for Chinese New Year. Mr C is putting it together, and it looks like one of the films included will be Zhang Yimou's previous film Under The Hawthorne Tree, which is a wonderful unashamed old style romance.

Lastly a couple of links purloined from IMDB and other suggested by a great friend of the blog:

Why movies need epic failures

As a lead in to January's week of Buster Keaton films (it precedes the Chinese New Year marathon), a piece on Keaton's use of illusion.

Finally the short film Boatlift, about the boats that got people off of Lower Manhattan on 9/11. (Thank you A.L.L)

Neutron The Atomic Super Man vs The Death Robots (1962)


It begins where Neutron and the Black Mask left off...and ignoring bits of continuity in the process.

Picking up not long after the previous film we find that Dr Corante has miraculous survived the neutron bomb. How is explained away simply by saying he escaped. Corante has stolen the bodies of the neutron bomb scientists he killed in the previous film and melded their minds together in a weird box so that he can pump them for information. However since the brains need blood he has sent out his reconstituted zombie army out to drain unsuspecting passersby.

As for the good guys as Dr Thomas tries to unlock the secret of the neutron bomb, the three friends try to put the move on Nora and figure out who Neutron really is.(Yes I know it was revealed at the end of the previous film, but things have changed, I mean Thomas had a pronounced English accent before and now it’s thick Spanish one). As the zombies begin draining the population Neutron and his friends leap in action, at least when they are not trying to pick up Nora.

Wild, over the top and very silly, you either have to throw up your hands and go with it or you’ll go insane.

Me, I decided to just go with it. Sure the (semi)seriousness of the previous film is missing, and it’s missed, but the completely over the top anything can happen feeling that replaces it is strangely more fun. Granted, if I hadn’t seen the previous film I would have hated this, I mean so much is taken for granted that you need the previous film as set up, but I did see the previous film so I can just go with it and not have to stop and ask questions about what I’m seeing.

High art? Are you kidding?

Great fun? In the right frame of mind it is.

Get some friends and some drinks and kick back and have a good time.

(There are three more films in the series, one of which continue the story and two that were a restartor going in another direction.We'll look at the connected film and the first of the other direction films after New Years)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Neutron The Atomic Super Man and the Black Mask (1962)


This weekend we're going to take a look at the first two of the Neutron films. These are films that look like masked wrestler films, however Neutron is not a masked wrestler, rather just a hero who wears a mask and fights like a wrestler.

Okay I'm going to be straight with you either you accept the the complete nonsense of these films or you don't, I mean high art they ain't. On the other hand if you can go with the truly mind bending strangeness of the films they are a blast, especially if you have friends who like to pick on movies.

This time out Neutron is almost a nonentity. Despite being talked about as a hero he's barely in the film, making only one appearance in the first 50 minutes of this 71 minute film.

The majority of the film has to do with the evil Dr Caronte(though it often sounds like karate) who wants to get his hands on the formula to make a neutron bomb. (no the bomb has no connection to the hero)...

...actually the main characters for much of the film has to do with a Dr Walker who kills the lead scientist creating the bomb. Walker wants to use the bomb to get power and wealth, while the creator wants only to use it to create world peace. Walker kills his colleague however the bomb goes off and walker is burned. By the time the police arrive Walker is gone and believed disintegrated like his victim.

Jimmy, the son of the dead professor and his two friends begin their own investigation. Walker meanwhile goes to see Caronte to get help (which includes the use of his zombie army).

And as for the ending---wow and wtf?

A clunky, but fun film, this is a film that survives thanks to great black and white photography and it's own loopy sense of reality. To be certain none of this could really happen or makes a great deal of sense, but at the same time the cast sells the story for all it's worth. You have great expressionistic sets that seem to have been crossed with a sale down at Dr Frankenstein's surplus. There are lumbering mutant zombies and a dwarf that acts as the villains lucky charm.

Its silly fun and the sort of thing that is perfect for a movie at 2am.

Definitely worth seeing for anyone who likes off Hollywood nonsense.

(available on the collectors market)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuesday is Poetry (2010) the final free Korean Cultural Service film for 2011


The Korean Cultural Service pulls out a real Christmas gift for those who are jonsing for some good films, one more film in their free film series down at the Tribeca Cinemas.

This time out of the box they are running Lee Chang-dong‘s multiple award winning film Poetry. If you’ve seen any of the directors’s earlier films like Secret Sunshine and Peppermint Candy, you know you’re in for a treat.

The film is the story of a grandmother in her sixties who is taking care of her grandson while her daughter is working in another city. As the story opens she is at a doctor trying to see what is causing some prickly feeling in her arm. She casually mentions that she is having memory problems and this leads to a diagnosis of the onset of Alzheimer’s. Hoping to keep her mind sharp she enrolls in a poetry class which opens up a new way of looking at the world even as the rest of her life begins to take some unhappy turns.

This is a great film that you should see, if you haven’t already (The film played in theaters earlier this year and was a big hit at last years New York Film Festival). It’s a heart breaking film that will alter how you see the world and how you think about how we go through life.

I really owe this film a bigger, longer write up,and it will get one, but the screening is Tuesday and I don't have time to do something appropriate. To be perfectly honest this film kicked me to the curb when I put it on earlier this week to re-view it for this write up and yet again, I find I don’t quite have the words to do the film justice.(The film has been on the Unseen list of films to do since I first saw it)

Do yourself a huge favor, go see this film. Forget the last minute holiday party and instead treat yourself to a great film instead. Seriously short of emergency surgery you have no excuse not to go. I mean, the film is FREE. How often do you get a chance to see a great movie for free?

Okay yes, this is a Korean Cultural Service screening which means that the odds of getting a great film is very high, but even so how often do you get a truly great movie for free?

Go.

As always doors are at 630 and the screening is at 7PM. Details can be found here.

Walt and El Grupo (2010)


Walt and El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s trip to South America as both a good will tour for the US government which was afraid of Nazi influence in the region; and to find some new story ideas. The trip was also a desperate flight for Disney into a hopefully happier time since at the time he was taking the trip his studio was being rocked by a strike that was threatening to sink everything he had built up.

The trip, which was underwritten by the US government, who also promised to pay the cost of any films that resulted (Saludos Amigos and The Three Calbereros), in many way changed the studio forever. Walt took with him a number of close artists and animators (the El Grupo of the title) who would come to prominence after the trip (including Mary Blair who changed from an artist who cloned her husbands work into a unique visionary.)

Told through recollection of the people Disney and group contacted, the families of the travelers as well as historians and other “talking” heads, the film is full of the movies phots and especially the art work of those who went on the trip. Over the course of the telling we see how the art at Disney was altered (Mary Blair) and how what they saw ended up in Saludos Amigos and Three Calbereros, not to mention in other places for decades afterward.

This is a good little film that has tons of behind the scenes footage. If you are a big fan of Disney and especially classic Disney films this film is a real joy. If you click with the film this is going to be a wonderful rewatchable film (me me me) that is perfect for filling in the holes of knowledge of what was going on at Disney in the early 40’s. On the other hand if you’re not a huge Disney fan the films almost two hour running time is going to strike you as a DVD extra that has been hit with steroids.

I like the film and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes Disney films.

As a bonus the DVD has a commentary (which I have yet to hear) plus additional clips and the original theatrical version of Saludos Amigos. What original theatrical version means is that it doesn’t have the smoking of some characters digitally removed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Planet B-Boy (2007)

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This refreshing documentary directed by Benson Lee chronicled the 2005 international breakdancing competition better known as the Battle of the Year held in Braunshweig, Germany. This annual event was created in 1990 and is still going strong! Each country can only send one team to represent their nation so the regional qualifiers would determine the chosen one! 19 dance crews would eventually get the seal of approval to compete in this prestigious “World Cup for B-Boys”!

Our first encounter with Planet B-Boy was at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival when it screened outdoors for free on the pier by the World Financial Center on April 28th. It was actually a pretty neat event as a dance crew from Korea (Last for One) was on hand to 'move the crowd' on stage before the screening!

The film would open up to a brief history lesson of this art form as b-boys & b-girls otherwise known as breakdancers would site the influence of kung fu films, gymnastics, and some James Brown funk moves as the basis for breakin’. The term battle would insinuate a breakdancing showdown between two rival individuals or crews with gestures and break moves with the spirit of a fight without actually fighting! Some of the international teams mentioned that the movie Flashdance was an inspirational movie to them and not because of Jennifer Beals but instead for the scene where the Rock Steady Crew were breakdancing on the street to the beat of Jimmy Castor’s “It’s just begun”. Crazy Legs, Frosty Freeze, Ken Swift, & Mr. Freeze did a tremendous demonstration of B-Boy’ing! Who can forget the insane suicide flop and the sliding backwards move with the umbrella by the great Frosty Freeze! (R.I.P.)

Teams that made it to the 2005 Battle of the Year competition in Germany included crews from Thailand, Taiwan, China, Latvia, Belgium, South Africa, Greece, Denmark, Spain, & Israel. However, the heavy hitters of the battle would come from Japan, South Korea, France, and the US. Don’t worry, I’m not going to divulge any spoilers for the film but I will mention some of the team names and just describe some of their strong suits! The competition will be judged on a 6 minute choreographed routine which would be heavily marked on theme music, synchronization, stage presence, uprock, downrock, freezes, & power moves!

The Phase-T team from France would have an intricate and aggressive dance style. Some even described them as having the most graceful and well choregraphed routines as well. They would also be credited to having the best sensitivity to music. I perceived Phase-T to be the most cocky out of all the teams. They seemed to have a true discontent for the crew from the USA. The France team has reached the finals in the last 4 competitions!

The Knucklehead Zoo from Las Vegas would have unbelievable individual dance moves but can they come together as a group? The last time the US won was in 1998 so you know the US is hungry to bring back the title to the homeland of B-Boy’ing!

Japan would come strong with a funky crew named Ichigeki. Exploding and feeling free would be a few words that one of the members would describe his group. The seriousness in refining their moves and battling spirit would be compared to the way of the bushido! Ichigeki was my favorite team from the movie!

Korea would have two teams representing their country because one of the crews, Gamblerz are the defending champions from 2004 so they automatically get a pass to the Battle. The 2nd team from South Korea, Last For One is a new team that is hungry to dethrone anyone standing in their way. Other teams describe them as being more than just a power dance crew with tons of attitude and style! Last For One was confident but not cocky yet they rocked to a sense of urgency like it might be their last battle. The Gamblerz on the other hand are more boisterous featuring a more powerful, acrobatic, & technical dance flow! They are the defending champs and they certainly were on everyone’s hit list! The Gamblerz were also an older crew which meant that some of the members are required to serve in the South Korean military for two years. The Korean team noted that they would love to meet Japan in one of the finale Battles! They stated that Korea can always forgive but can never forget! Damn, those are fighting words!!

The battle for third place and the fight for 1st and 2nd would be a dog fight for the ages! The Gamblerz did an amazing choreographed routine to the theme of the struggle between North and South Korea as they reconciled to unite as one force. Phase-T members kept on reiterating that hip hop can be peace, love, and unity but when a battle ensues on the dance floor, it's war! Who will come out victorious?

Amidst all the tension of the competition, the day after the storm would prove to be a more peaceful setting as the different crews ate, talked, & bonded together as they all discovered that they spoke the same language, the universal language of hip hop! This is a wonderful documentary that should be seen and not just read. Like it or not, hip hop culture has a big influence on our youths. Perhaps this film will help serve as a spotlight to bridge this gap. Breakdancing is just another form of creative expression that serves as a positive outlet for developing individuality and spirituality. Lets celebrate this international smorgasbord called Planet B-Boy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DB takes a stab at explaining why he doesn't feel The Artist is a great film


This piece is in response to some incredulous reactions to my not absolutely loving the film. It’s an over blown explanation of why, at least as far as I can tell, I’m not passionately in love with The Artist. It’s a lengthy piece laying out the reasons why I’m not a huge fan of the film, so I want to say right now that in the interest of keeping this reasonably brief I have intentionally not illustrated it nor gone into the detail film descriptions of silent films from the period for each point. You don’t want it; I don’t want to do it; and besides the film isn’t bad so it does not deserve to have it ripped apart. I’m simply trying to explain that I really do have reasons for not loving it beyond I just don’t, which some people refuse to accept as being a good enough reason.

I find myself in an odd position of having to defend my position of not loving The Artist. It’s a film I like, but I don’t love. It’s a film that is truly enjoyable but isn’t even remotely close to being on my list of best films of the year.

What is odd is that most of the people who are questioning my feelings for the film haven’t seen it. They want to know how I can’t love the film when everyone seems to love it. They seem to think that since I'm a movie guy, and this is a movie movie, that I should instantly be in love with it (actually the reverse is true). When people ask me why I don't LOVE the film I am forced to ask them how can they seem to love a film they’ve never seen?

Ultimately it’s a no win situation, those who have seen the film and love it, will love it no matter what I say and those that haven’t seen it will simply take what they have heard as gospel truth until they do see it. Me, I take the position that they are splitting hairs since I do like the film, I just can’t gush at it.

Unfortunately the questions of “How can you not love it?” persist and to that end I’m going to take this time to explain why I don’t LOVE the film.

As you read what follows keep in mind two things, first, I do like the film. I don’t hate it. I do recommend that you see it.

Secondly my reasons for not LOVING the film are my own reasons, which as you will no doubt realize include lots of small things that you probably would never notice, and even after I tell you what they are odds are you’re not going to notice them, or most importantly, care about them.

That said onward to the reason behind why I'm not the uber fan of The Artist.

Let me begin with a minor minor point, I don’t understand why they have cameos from people like Ed Lauter and Malcolm McDowell. Their inclusions seem to imply that they would have more than a walk on, especially McDowell who’s knowing presence in a scene as an extra waiting to be used implies way more than we get from the film. His brief moment carries a hell of a lot of weight, more so than many other bigger characters in the film.

This lack of characters extends through out the film. There are no real characters in this film other than the Artist (George), the Girl (Peppy), the studio head (zimmer) and the chauffeur (Clifton)... and yes, the dog.

I dare you explain to me who anyone is or where the characters are beyond that, they are all non-presences. Most glaring is Penelope Ann Miller, as the wife of George. Outside of the early scene on stage and the constant drawing of faces on his picture can you tell me anything about the character? Can you tell me anything about the relationship between husband and wife? I don’t think so, because there simply isn’t anything there. It’s a pattern that’s repeated through out, basically if it’s not one of the main characters they are window dressing.

Taking things further, I dislike the construction of the relationship between the two leads. I dislike how they effectively are apart, never connecting until They have to. How many times are they together, really? The moment where they meet, the scene where they dance and fall in love but other than that it's only where Peppy has to save him, first by buying all his worldly goods (which makes no sense at the moment it occurs) then by saving his life by taking him in and giving him a place to stay, then by giving him a career (Yes I know they meet two other times but they are fleeting moment on two different sets of stairs). How can they not interact, especially while they are both at the studio? How can we buy that they are meant to be together when they stay so far apart until the script has them crash together at an appropriate moment? You tell me whats is the basis of attraction when years pass and and they are never together? It’s a nice idea but it doesn’t feel real nor does it have any emotion. To me any emotion, other than the odd moment (say Peppy seeing what film is that he clutched in the fire) comes from what we bring to the film and impart to it. (Oddly in this way the film is very much like the also over praise Shame).

The lack of a real defined relationship forces me ponder Peppy as a character as well since other than spunky, we know little about her other than she loves George…and her boy toys- but nothing else. Perhaps she isn't all that clearly defined either.

From there shall we dismantle the story construction? It’s a film that jumps in time from the advent of sound through the early days of sound films. I’ll wreck the film historically in a minute, but for now lets just talk about the plot. Leaping through time, the film is arbitrary with how it moves through the years. We’re here, were there, we’re all over the place. He’s thrown out of his big house by his wife and the depression, then he’s living in a small house…only later does he sell all of his possessions, where did he keep them? As the film leaps through time things simply aren’t handled or mentioned because the fact that minor details would have been handled in the intervening time isn’t convenient to the plot. Ultimately the time passage is totally arbitrary.

Historically the film is a complete and utter mess.(and yes I know it’s a movie but I was asked what’s wrong with the film so I’m going to tell you) The sound era is generally considered to have started when the Jazz Singer came out in 1927. The trouble was that here had been sound films going back the better part of a decade (as had color films and widescreen). That the advent of sound was both a surprise and an occasion for the complete dumping of silent films is simply not true. Silent films actually lasted into the early 30’s, especially in places other than Hollywood. The notion that big budget productions would be shut down or a film such as our hero’s jungle epic would have been a complete bomb just because it wasn’t a sound film is ludicrous. Few studios could have afforded to do an epic like that in sound, and they wouldn’t have dumped any sure fire silent hit in the cross over years just because it wasn’t sound (at the least they would have added sound effects).

What the film doesn’t take into account is that changing over to sound cost money and neither the studios nor the theaters just dropped everything to change over because of the money involved. The move to sound was set in motion by the Jazz Singer, it wasn’t over night as one can see by the number of partial sound films as well as the number of films that were released as both sound AND silent. (And despite how the film slants, it some people were like George and thought sound was going to just be a fad).

One of the bigger things that stick in my craw about the film is that it doesn’t feel like any of the Hollywood films it’s aping. Sure its set in the town, and yes, it was filmed there, but it doesn’t feel like a film of the period (as some people have said). Yes, it’s a modern movie, but at the same time it doesn’t feel period. Let me explain my reasons.

One of the things that everyone talks about is how the film looks like a silent film. I don’t know how many silent films people have seen, but other than being black and white and silent the film doesn’t look like a silent film. Look at how it’s shot. Look at how the images are composed and the camera moves. They may, on occasion echo how a silent film was shot, but for the most part they don’t get it as anything more than an echo. For example there is a bigger use of space here than ever seemed to really exist in many silents, at least in the small intimate sequences. What I mean is that there is typically too much empty space in rooms, say the house George moves into after being thrown out of his mansion. I know that part of this spacial oddness is due to The Artist not being shot in places that are and seem like real rooms, we see all four walls of rooms (in many silent films and early Hollywood films you don't), but it makes the rooms in the film seem awfully big and empty.

The feeling of being too big carries over to the sequences shot on the back lot, say the sequences that occur around the auction, which are much more spacious than a film of the time period would have been. Think about how the streets in a 1930's film and you'll see what I mean. I won’t go into the nagging feeling that the street scenes don’t feel real. They seem to be more like a back lot than any film of the period, probably because they really haven’t dressed them up enough to make you realize that these are the same locations that are used in numerous TV series and movies (Several streets remind me of streets in NCIS).

Another of the things that bothers me is that a good number of the silent film recreations aren’t particularly good.

Yes, the opening sequence that we watch from behind the screen has moments, (the car racing, the plane flying off), that capture what a silent film looks and feels like. The trouble is many of the other film sequences don’t seem right. George is almost always playing things way more knowing than any decent Hollywood actor ever did, they were never that aware of the audience and purely focused on the characters in the films. Silent films, hell, most films period didn't have the lead effectively nodding and winking at the audience.

The repeated dance sequence where our leads fall for each other looks good, but it’s not how a silent film of the period would have been shot. (Okay I’m nitpicking in the extreme here. This is simply one take from what would be a long sequence so I don’t know how it would cut into the film it was being shot for but it doesn’t seem right to me.)

Now I need to pause here to reflect on one thing that isn’t made clear in the film, but which is kind of key to some of this is what sort of studio does George work for? I would assume that it was one of the majors, in which case how the films he was making would look a certain way. You have to match that up with when the films in film we are seeing are made. For example by the mid 20’s, and certainly by the time the film starts the heavy pancake make up, over acting, and mannered performances were largely a thing of the past. The jungle film that George produces on his own is done in a style that was out of date by at least half a decade. If you want to see what I mean watch the sequence where George is playing a Zorro like character. All of the shots not of George are from Fairbanks Zorro. Look at how that film in the film looks and then look at every other one. They are very different.(Do yourself a favor and look at photos from films from various productions from say 1920 through 1935 from a variety of different films, look at at the evolution of staging and composition and you’ll see how The Artist gets it wrong, or misplaced)

From there you can look at the sound films we see. They don’t look like sound films from the period, or rather they look like sequences that would have been in the second level feature or more likely Poverty Row film. Why do I say this? The sequences look anemic and lacking the background detail of the films from the majors.

Yes, I’m picking nits. I know that, but when I read reviews and hear people talking about how the film recreates the period, I have to wonder what they are referring to?

Actually I think they are thinking of are the referencing Hollywood send ups of the silent days like Betty Hutton in The Perils of Pauline or more likely the classic Singing in the Rain which managed to get away with their loosely connected to reality films by adding color, sound and knowing comedy. I think most people are also thinking of the now clichéd clips lifted from the Keystone and other comedies from the late teens where many characters were made up two or three degrees to the normal side of clowns.

Lastly the reason I don’t love is the score which is wildly uneven and painfully repetitive. Well, not so much the score, but it’s use. It is for the most part a nice score with some nice sweeping themes and motifs. The problem with the film is that it uses and reuses the same pieces of music over and over again. Yes, I know the nature of film scoring is to repeat the same themes and phrases to highlight the action and reinforce the action. I understand that the themes come and go, but there is usually some variation to how its played and how it’s used from sequence to sequence. One need only listen to say the scores for the Star Wars Film or The Lord of The Rings films to see how it’s done.

There is a jovial theme that plays through many of the lighter moments that, was by the end more like a jab in the ear. It was the same thing over and over again, why was there no variation?

I suppose that it could be argued that the music maybe similar to the way some people will play along with a silent film, say on a piano, but anyone who is good at accompanying a silent film knows you don’t just play the same riffs again and again. I’ve seen enough silent films to know that’s not how it’s done.

Its clear that the filmmakers either couldn’t afford a full blown score or didn’t understand how to score a silent film. If they didn’t know they all they need to is either look at the Internet for notes on a film like Fairbanks Thief of Baghdad or on DVD where the Criterion Collection notes how DeMille’s King of Kings explain how a silent score was put together. Better yet, just listen to any of Criterions scores for things like People on Sunday, or The Phantom Carriage with their multiple score options.

The score is deadly to The Artist and it makes watching the film a chore.

So those are my reasons for not LOVING the film. As I said at the start, they are my reasons and they are based on things you probably don't care about, but at least now you know why I'm not a fan.

And remember, as I said I don't hate the film, I just find that it's not what people are making it out to be.

Do yourself a favor, go see it and decide for yourself.