Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review The Worst of the Year (and a few disappointments)

Mercifully the year was relatively free of crappy movie events. Yes I had problems getting coverage of the New York City Horror Film Festival and my Gold Coast coverage got wiped out by a hurricane but mostly I can't complain about anything I atteneded.

I also can thank the the movie gods that while there were plenty of bad movies this year only a small percentage of really shitty films burned their badness into my brain to be remembered as the worst. Most of the bad films were simply not even worth noting on any level.

While I've forgotten most of the bad films I've seen, a few required some sort of notation.  WHile in several cases the films listed below were never mentioned here at Unseen Films, many ended up reviewed here because they played at various festivals, and I feel I have to review what I see. As you read the list please feel thankful that you didn't have to sit through them.

Here then is my list of the worst films I remember seeing in 2012:

SLEEPING BEAUTY- first of the bad films I saw concerned a girl who allows her self to be drugged so that men can fondle her. I need to see this why? Better question, you're showing me this because?

NEW YEARS EVE- Awful Gary Marshall film that exists to give its many stars a paycheck but nothing else.

QUICK- Stupid Korean action film (I do have to say that some other people here at Unseen did like the film)

PERHAPS SOMEWHERE- perhaps somewhere there is a good version of this movie. The least film at KAFFNY

DARK SHADOWS- Soooooooo disappointing. A great beginning gets pitched off a cliff in to uncertain tone, bad edits and piss poor jokes. Probably the worst Tim Burton film, even though it has a fantastic beginning.

OFF LABEL- alleged documentary on prescription drug abuses is a perfect example on how not to make a documentary. The best example of whats wrong with the film it tries to tell 8 or 10 complicated stories in under 80 minutes.

FREE SAMPLES- Who are these people and how can I kill them. Unfunny doesn't begin to describe it. Alleged comedy about an obnoxious woman in an ice cream truck. As I said back in April These free samples are poisoned.

RAT KING- Thriller about a weird on line game that kind of sort of could have worked if it pulled it together at the end instead of going even further off the rails.

ROOM 514- interrogator looks into a shooting by Israeli soldiers and throws logic and reason out the window. No one  behaves like this, no one...except people in bad movies

LAST WINTER- End of the world tale that makes no sense on any level. The only good thing about the film was my negative review got picked up by Yahoo News as an example of the bad things people were saying about it. 9 months later I still think the film needed zombies.

WAUMBA Documentary about a man going back to where he was raised in Africa only to realize the trip has no story potential so he bluffs a film anyway. It has a couple of amazing sequences but otherwise was complete waste of time.

GOLDEN SLUMBERS- The history of the Cambodian film industry reduced to memory and a few fleeting images. There is nothing to connect to since you never connect with what you're being told . A vitally important subject reduced to nothingness.

SAVOY KING- an enjoyable film about jazz great Chick Webb, but placed here because the film and its director failed to really say anything about the subject- a point driven home when the audience at the NYFF screening corrected him and told better stories than were in the movie.

MEMORIES LOOK AT ME- The Same conversation repeated in diferring static shots from start to finish.

Brian DePalma's PASSION goes here if it's supposed to be a serious thriller. If it's a satire it's off the list. It all depends on if the laughs are intentional

NATIVE SON- Richard Wright adapts his novel and stars in film that is too stilted by when it was made to be much of anything except frequently unintentionally funny

ST PIERRE- as boring and pointless as a short film can be.

TABU-Three part tale about Africa that I was told  gets better as it went on. I kept expecting an AH HA moment. It finally came when I realized if I left the screening right then I could have lunch and still get to the day job on time. I know that many people love this and have it on their best of the year list but I don't know what they saw in it.

LEVIATHAN- Abstract film about fishing. To me it's just ultra close up images mixed with loud noise, mostly a ship's engine. One of the more painful film experiences of the year where you never know what you are looking at except the occasional fish head with bulging eyes or seagull.

TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN PART 2- I was told this is the best of the bunch and that non-Twilight fans would love it. I literally fell out of my seat laughing at the early scenes of Kristen Stewart and her superpowers. Things get even worse from there. As for the acting only Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are any good.This movie stinks to high heaven and then some.

DARK KNIGHT RISES is not the worst film of the year, but it is probably the most disappointing. How could a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan make a film that has so many basic plot and continuity problems? I’ve got a rant on that coming in two weeks, but until then know the film is a mess.

When horror becomes family friendly- HOTEL TRANSLVANIA, FRANKENWEENIE and PARANORMAN

The second half of the year saw Hollywood try to make monsters and horror family friendly. The result was three films that received good reviews critically but were uneven at the box office, with one, Frankenweenie pretty much being the Two in the One Two punch of Tim Burtons disastrous year at the American box office.

Being a full on monster nut I took in all three films when they were in theaters and have combined reviews of all of them into one super review.


HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA was the last of the films released. It comes, after a long series of directors, from Genndy Tartakovsky, best known for a slew of Cartoon Network shows. The film tells the story of Dracula, who has built the title hotel in a hidden location so that monsters will have a place to feel safe from the evil humans. On the occasion of his daughters 118th birthday Dracula has brought together all of his friends and their families to celebrate his daughters birthday. She on the other hand just wants to go out and see the world. Complications arise when a human stumbles into the proceedings and falls for Drac's daughter.

Straight on silly comedy is voiced by the likes of Adam Sandler as Dracula, Steve Buscemi as the werewolf, Kevin James as Frankenstein and others. You would think it would fall into typical Sandler comedy since it has a good number of his stock actors in it but, under Tartakovsky's nuanced direction they turn in great performances.

The opening and closing quarters of the film are the best part, with the first part being wonderful send ups of horror conventions and throw away monster jokes; and the final 20 minutes or so packing an emotional punch as everything is put together into a feel good ending.

The trouble for me is is the middle of the movie which, while having some killer one off jokes, shackles them to a cliche story of Dracula trying to keep his daughter away from the human,whom, despite his best efforts is changing him and everyone around him for the better.... damn that sounds better than it plays out. It's not fatal but it kind of makes what should have been a great film  just a good one instead.; I mean look at how wonderful the first and final parts of the film are...

FRANKENWEENIE is the second remake of Tim Burton's short film. Previously it was made into a live action feature film which was so bland I've erased it from my brain despite having seen it several times back in the VHS days of home video.



The plot of the film has a young boy bringing his dead dog back and the complications that arise from it. In this case its everyone playing resurrectiionist for their own science fair project.

A dark moody tale, this film, is like many Tim Burton films, a box office disater that will be destined for a long life on home video. I completely understand why parents and audiences aren't flocking to it, since black and white aside, this is a rather somber affair even with the laughs.

I like the film. Its something that was clearly made with a great deal of love and affection. This is a modern homage to old school horror (you'll see so much riffs on old Universal, Hammer and giant monster movies, rather wholesale thefts). For the most part it nails everything right on and then some to create it's own black confection.

The trouble is that at a certain point the film gets wildly out of control with too many creatures wandering the fair ground. Yes it allows for any number of very clever and very funny jokes and send ups, but it also causes the film to lose focus with the result that the end doesn't have the complete kick in the ass it should. I don't know whether to be pissed off because if the film didn't have to have a certain running time to get released it could have been a tighter better film, or to be happy that it is as long as it is because it allowed for some of the jokes to exist.

Definitely worth seeing when it hits home video.


PARANORMAN is the story of misunderstood Norman, who is cursed with the ability to see and speak with the dead. No one believes him, other than his crazy uncle who also can see the dead. When his uncle warns him that a witches curse is going raise the dead, Norman doesn't really believe him, until weird things happen and his uncle dies. When Norman tries to stop the curse by reading at the witch's grave he realizes that she was buried somewhere else. In order to stop the curse Norman must now try and find the grave before it's too late.

Well received by both critics and audiences Paranorman is an amusing  little film about the things that fear makes us do and how that often is wrong. It's a wonderfully ghoulish film makes it okay to deal with ghoulies and ghosties. It witty and funny and frequently charming.

And in a weird way thats exactly whats wrong with it. In trying to be both scary and funny, it kind of  undercuts both the scares and some of the laughs. I think that the problem lies in the fact that if you strip the zombies out of the film and have Norman's gift be anything other than speaking with the dead this film is dead nuts carbon copy of any other outcast makes good story.  Seriously this is the age old story of  the special talent saving the day that Hollywood has been  doing for decades, but with funnier jokes and horror movie references.

No it' is not a bad movie, rather its a more conventional one than anyone is saying. To be certain it has better jokes and hipper references but ultimately there is no reason for this to be zombified. (On the other hand it's clear why Frankenweenie is the way it is. You can't tell that story any other way...nor could it have been told by anyone else)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review the Festivals or it's all about the friends

For me Film festivals aren’t just about the films they are about friends. It’’s through film festivals that I’ve met many great people some of whom are now some of my best friends.

Years ago I connected with Mondocurry because of and at the New York Asian Film Festival. Mondo is one of my favorite people and because of him I met Mr C and through them I met Chocko (both at the NYAFF) and a whole slew of people I would never have otherwise.

The progression of friends continued this year with my meeting of Peter Gutierrez on line around Tribeca and in person at NYAFF.  Peter has become a good friend who has given me the heads up on  people to talk to, films to see and advice on how to stay out of trouble. More importantly he's just damn good company.

At this years  NYAFF I met the Hubert Vigilla at the Donnie Yen interview. Hubert is also someone  who has become a good friend who has made seeing many of the screenings at NYFF and elsewhere much more interesting. He too, is good company.

Through MrC and Chocko I also met Brian Geldin who managed to steer me toward and through KAFFNY and DOC NYC and several dynamite films...

Yea the movies are important, but I like that in this age of texting and social media that when you get down to it that there are still people, who despite having a love of sitting in a darkened theater, still like to be social in the real world and not just the virtual.

I have to say that the festivals this year were, with the exception of one, across the board great fun. The films all seemed to be for the most part top flight (hell my worst of the year list is really small this year). The one exception, to the good festivals was the New York City International Film Festival, who botched something and well there is story here but I’ll save it for another time. I will say I’m still waiting for my refund and that my contact with the festival at several locations made me think it’s not particularly well organized.

Enough bad stuff on with the good.

We at Unseen managed to cover well over 20 film festivals and series. New Directors New Films, The Korean Cultural Service screenings, The Romanian Film Festival, Spanish Cinema Now, Open Roads Italian Film Festival, The South Asian Film Festival and on and on....

There were some wonderful discoveries this year.

Thanks to MrC and his befriending of Brian Geldin at the Montclair Film Festival We discovered the Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY) this wonderful film featured works by Korean American filmmakers. Thanks to it we discovered the wonderful (Ultimate Christian Wrestling) the marvelous Dirty Hands and one of my favorite happy films of all time and my pick for best film of the year Girl Walk//All Day. The discovery of a treasure such as that was one of the high points of the year.

The other huge discovery this year was DOC NYC. This was the festival’s 3rd year and our first time attending. The best thing I can say about the festival is that while I used to say that there were four must attend film festivals in New York (see below) there is now a fifth, DOCNYC.

Not to put too fine a point on it this small treasure of a festival showcasing any number of truly great films and providing several evenings of great entertainment and some of the best post film discussions I’ve attended (Driver’s Wanted and Eddie Adams:Saigon’68). The festival provided one of my most favorite films of this or any year: Far Out isn’t Far Enough:The Tomi Ungerer Story.

As of now this is now one of my must attend film festivals and I can’t wait for next year.

As for the other members of my BIG FIVE festival, all of them didn’t disappoint.(they are arranged in order of occuring)

This year the New York International Children’s Film Festival snapped back after a mixed year in 2011 to put on one of their best festivals ever ( and having gone to all of them I can say that). This year the festival managed to run some stunning films, from the fantastic The Painting aka La Tableau (co-presented with Rendezvous with French Film) which is one of my favorite films from this year, to the completely under the radar must see Cinderella Moon, to one of the best times in the theater all year The Monkey King which has some of the best uses of 3D you’ll ever see- which is weird since it was shot 2D... in 1962. NYICFF is one of my most favorite pleasures of any year and I can’t wait until the announcement of this year's titles in a couple of weeks.

Tribeca....

What can I say that Oh wow, please let us come back doesn’t? In the course of the three years that I’ve attended this went from something where I saw 10 films of decidedly mixed quality to a full on gangbusters festival where we at Unseen saw something close to 100 features and shorts. We went to a concert (Rodriguez before he hit- and one of my favorite memories of this years festival), attended panels, did interviews and covered the red carpet. Best of all I made a several of friends.

This years festival was a prime example of what is Tribeca’s strong point, it showcases a ton of films, many of which you wouldn’t normally give a second glance to, but which, if you try, will most likely turn out to be a favorite. My Best of the Year list is full of films which I stumbled into with low expectations but staggered out overwhelmed and in love with. I know some people live for Sundance, for my money give me Tribeca.

The New York Asian Film Festival and it’s sister Japan Cuts are manna to anyone who loves Asian film. Showing everything from everywhere across Asia, with a concentration on Chinese Korean and Japanese films, this continues to be the best programmed festival. What do I mean by the best programmed? I mean simply that even when you see a bad movie you still completely understand why the film was being shown. The fact that the festival continues to do this when the programmers were almost all completely new says a great deal about the people who are behind the festival.

I would like to express one complaint with the NYAFF proper, and that is they programmed a festival that was so good across the board it made it damn near impossible to discuss the ups and downs because there were only ups. For me the ups included getting to talk to Donnie Yen and watching Choi Min Sik spend his cigarette break signing autographs (that is another one of the best moments at the cinema all year).

This year’s New York Film Festival was magical. While I saw a good number of great films what will stick with me will be the endless film discussions. I had a blast talking to everyone from  John, Peter, Hubert, Mondocurry, Chris Bourne and any number of other people both journalists and members of the public who broadened my enjoyment and understanding of what I was seeing. I loved that I got to see Oliver Stone talk about history and Ricky Jay prove to be human. I learned about African Punk and saw what digital restoration should be.

Say what you will about the New York Film festival and its relevance since a certain upstart festival in Toronto has stolen some of it’s thunder, the New York Film Festival is still the New York Film Festival. It’s the one that has been around 50 years and set the standard for all the others. Gloriously still more about the films and less about the commerce, it’s still a place to discover unexpected treats (Final Cut: Ladies and Gentleman or You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet or Celluloid Man or…)

The New York Film Festival means the world to me. It’s the first film festival I ever attended. It’s a festival I’ve been going to off and on for 20 something years. While there are ups and downs in the past, this year’s 50th anniversary was full of ups. As exhausted as I was when it ended I was so sad because it meant I had a another year to wait for its tents to unfurl and it’s treats to be displayed. I’m hoping that the changes that will come with the departure of Richard Pena are all for the better since the NYFF is sone of my favorite ways to spend a fall evening.

And what of the others? They were great too, but I have only so much space and so much time, as is I have three more end of the year lists to get through....speaking of which, tomorrow I give you the worst films of 2012.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)


Okay- why the hell isn't this getting talked up? I knew the film was out there but it wasn't until Peter Gutierrez talked it up on Twitter that I really sat up and took notice. With an opening that is disturbing and disorienting and a sense of real danger with every violent act, people die horribly and even the good guys have terrible things happen to them, this is a kick ass horror/action/science fiction film that is one of the better films of 2012.

The plot of the film has John waking up from a coma, the result of a home invasion that has left his wife and daughter dead. As John tries to piece together what happened he runs into the now rogue Universal Soldiers who are being lead by a now Messianic like Luc Deveraux, Jean Claude Van Damme, the man who killed his family.

Mean, nasty, ugly in it's violence, the film very much reminded me of the cold distant and deeply disturbing early films of David Cronenberg. It also had tinges of Beyond the Black Rainbow and other head trip films...including one about a trip up a river in Vietnam

And that I think is the problem with the film, at least in the mind of most people who are seeing it (I believe the IMDB rating is around 5), the film is nominally set up, and marketed as a revenge story, about a man trying to find out what happened to his family, instead the film is a long trip down a rabbit hole where reality is completely questioned and the nature of the entire film series that lead up to it is called (wonderfully) into question. I know it doesn't help that top billed Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have essentially supporting roles (though ones that require their force of personality for the film to work)

I really like this film. It's desire to change the rules and upset the apple cart of everything that went before impressed the hell out of me... as did the stunning action sequences and it's refuse not to shy away from the violence and it's cost.

Assuming you are willing to take the film on it's own terms I highly recommend this film.

Do You Remember Vietnam? (1978)


Two years after the fall of Saigon John Pilger returned to Vietnam to see the state of the country. Pilger had been reporting on the war for a decade (one third of the war’s length) and he had in many ways come to love the people of the country. The occasion was the reopening of the country to foreign visitors

Pilger’s film is an affecting mix of file footage of the war mixed with footage of the strangely peaceful country. Pilger relates stories of what he experienced when the war was raging with scenes of the reviving landscape.

If you think you know about the war and it’s cost you can pretty much forget it because Pilger will show you wrinkles you probably never considered, from cities that had been bombed flat and thrived under ground to what it was like in Hanoi during the bombing to what really happened at the American embassy in the final days.

It’s a shocking tour that puts a a very real face on the war and it’s insanity.

We also get a look at the cost after the fact. As Pilger was filming the country was going through a terrible famine on a level that made even the one in Biafra pale by comparison. The lack of food was partly the result of similar conditions to those in Africa but mostly it was a result of the war which deforested almost half the country turning it into arid plains, poisoned the land with its defoliant and because there simply wasn’t enough people in the country to grow food that people had to be forcibly moved out to farm.

Do I need mention the mutating of the people and animals thanks to all of the chemical in the water and soil?

Shocking doesn’t even begin to describe it. And I say this as a person who grew up with the war on the TV every night. Seriously my memories as a child of TV are Batman, The Monkees, cartoons and Vietnam.

This film is a trip. Its a film that alters how you see the war, even if you've read histories of the conflict. It alters things because you see it on a you are what happened in the places shown.

If you want to really understand what happened in the war see this film.

The film can be found on Vimeo here.

(Pilger made several other documentaries on Vietnam at various time periods after this. I hope to review them down the line.)

A few quickly scribbled words on Tai Chi Hero (2012)


TAI CHI HERO is the sequel to TAI CHI ZERO a frenetic martial arts film which got it's US release back in October. While shopping in Chinatown I came across an import DVD and I picked it up.

The story picks up not long after the first film with the wedding of Lu Chan and Yunian. She is marrying him out of obligation not love and while she will now teach him kung fu she will not sleep with him. At the wedding her long lost older brother arrives and sets about re-establishing himself into the village. This causes trouble, as does the machinations of Fang who wants revenge for the defeat in the previous film.

Less frenetic than the first film, the film instead is very plot heavy- or st least the first half is where there is much more talk than action. This is fine with me since it allows for character development in ways that seemed missing from the earlier film. For my money it's this character building that is what makes this film so much better than the earlier film.

Once we get to the half way point the film shifts gears and things begin to slide as the last45 minutes are largely given over to two massive action set pieces, first as the village is attacked  and the second as Lu Chan and Yunian go to find help for the village and the captured family members. The sequences are quite good, especially the battle over the kitchen, but by the time the film is done and the film is forced to end with us being told what happens instead of seeing it happen. Its a major disappointment- especially since through much of the film I was hoping for another film in the series. (though the fade out kind of promises a third film- but I don't see the point)

Taking the Tai Chi films together I'm mixed. The first film  was good but  kind of too much focused on the action and steampunk stylings to really truly work.  This second film is much better, but it's hampered by the connection of the previous film (you do need to see it to understand what is going on)  but once the shift from carefully worked out story to action set pieces occurs the film races to the conclusion which doesn't work because it's told to us instead of being allowed to move us by our seeing something happen.

Are they worth seeing. Yes, but I'd go the rental route

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Two by John Pilger: Mexicans and Street of Joy


Mexicans (1980)
John Pilger takes a look at the inequalities of class with in Mexico just as the oil industry was beginning to boom. Looking at the haves and have nots, Pilger found the society rife with corruption that was diverting any real money into the hands of the super wealthy. It’s a sad portrait of the country where many people seek to escape to the US in order to get by. Listening to a border patrol agent talk about the influx of illegal immigration you quickly realize that not only are people are saying the exact same things as they did 32 years ago, but the problems seem to have gotten worse on both sides of the border. Sometimes time really does stand still.

Street of Joy (1976)
John Pilger’s acerbic and quite funny look about advertising and how the same techniques used to sell things alike a toilet paper alternative are used to sell politics, in this case Jimmy Carter and his presidential opponents. Pilger’s take is that advertising makes you want to buy things while telling you absolutely nothing about what it’s selling. It’s an amusing and frightening look at how the name of game is purely manipulation (despite the ad exec who swears that people will never buy what they don’t want). Sure Pilger’s take is nothing new, but it somehow resonates more than other looks because it’s so damn straight forward and to the point…and damn funny as the repeated mantra “I don’t use toilet paper” becomes funnier and funnier over the course of the half hour. By the time Pilger states that politicians are like toilet paper you’ll be nodding in agreement

Friday, December 28, 2012

Revisiting Tati'sPlay Time in 70mm


I saw Jacques Tati’s Play Time Thursday when it ran as part of Lincoln Center’s See it in 70mm series.

I really like the film and reviewed it back in September 2010.

I had always been told that the film really needs to be seen as big as possible because there are little things in the background that you’ll never see otherwise., while that may have been true in the days of pan and scan TV’s, however now with widescreen TVs you can see the film just fine. I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before. I will say that seeing the film on the big screen the film looked right for the first time. There is something about the film on a big screen that makes the images seem right.

Unfortunately seeing the film big slightly deflated it for me. The theme about how everything is steel and glass and all looks the same seemed to be too obvious since the building sets looked way too much the same, additionally the traffic patterns outside of the buildings never looked real. While I had always been bothered by the roundabout when I saw the film on DVD I was never bothered by what was happening outside the windows, however on the big screen you can’t help but notice its all a set.

I do have to say that I did make people’s eyes glaze over at the screening. The run time for the film was posted as 155 minutes, a physical impossibility since the fullest restored version of the film is 126 minutes (Tati cut the film down during it's initial release). I had murmured something about the running time to no one in particular when I saw it listed and someone on line said that it was a restored version of the film. I said the fullest version of the film is 126 minute one. They then insisted that they wouldn’t say the film was a certain length if it wasn’t that length. This then expanded into a slightly wider discussion of how do you know. When the film ended, at about 1 hour and 55 minutes I could hear one of the people I was talking to questioning why the film wasn’t as long as advertised...

Memphis (2011)


I don’t think that Memphis was ever really expected to be a hit musical. I know that when it won the Tony for Best Musical it got chalked up to it being the best of a bad crop of shows, of it not bad a weak group of shows.

I saw the show live twice and I loved it both times. It was vibrant and alive and very much a living show. It has one song ,Memphis Lives in Me, that haunts me still.

Because the show is very much a living breathing animal I was curious how it would play recorded. The recording was done with the intention of showing it in movie theaters as part the Fathom Events special screenings. The show was later picked up and run on PBS before being released on DVD.I saw some of the PBS run and I bought the DVD.

Set in the mid-1950’s the show tells the story of a cocky young man who loves rhythm and blues. Drifting into the colored section of town he finds his way into a club and despite the protests of the owner who fears trouble if a white man was found there, he ingratiates himself into being allowed to staying. He also finds the love of his life in the owners sister who sings in the club. The show then charts the course as the two lovers stars rise, he as a DJ (ala Dick Clark) and she as a singer.

The video version of the show is pretty good. It manages to portray the show as well as can be expected in a video format. To be certain the film loses a bit in that the camera focuses your attention on one thing so you don’t always see what is going on across the stage, and the rock and roll energy that the show created in the theater is greatly lessened because its obvious that the fourth wall hasn’t been broken and the actors are not singing to us at home. Still this is a damn fine reproduction of one of the more under rated Best Musical Tony winners

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The first series of free films from the Korean Cultural Service for 2013 is animation

The Korean Cultural Service has announced the first series of free films for 2013 and it’s a good one- it’s four Korean animated films.

In all seriousness put this on your schedule and make an effort to go because odds are if you don’t see the films here, you won’t see the films at all, ever, unless you go to Korea. Why? Because no one runs or even thinks about Korean animation, which is a damn shame because they are doing some of the most amazing things with the medium.

The series opens with the gut punch film King of Pigs which Mondocurry covered extensively when the film played at the New York Asian Film Festival with a review and an interview with the director. It’s a great but crushing film and it runs January 15th.

We’ll have more details on each film closer to each screening, but for now go to the Korean Cultural Service website and get the details on the films and make plans to attend the screenings.

Legally Blonde The Musical (2007)

The Broadway musical of Legally Blonde had the misfortune of booking itself into one of the biggest theaters on Broadway. It’s not that the play was bad, rather that the Palace is so big it couldn’t cover costs which were largely the result of costs being dependent upon the size of the theater- the bigger the house- the bigger the potential return, the higher the fees. I’m convinced that had the show been in a smaller house it might still be running.

I mention the fact that the show was in a big house and desperate to put butts in seats because the producers did a completely counter intuitive thing, they taped the show and allowed MTV to run it several times during the early days of its run. Why would anyone go see the show when they could see it for free on TV? Because you’re seeing it live and without commercials. The idea was that if people liked it on TV they’d go see it live. I think the idea worked for a while before the cost of running the show forced it to close.

I saw the show a couple of weeks before the taping and I had a great time, actually I like it a great deal more than I like the original movie. I did what any fan of the show would do, I bought the music, talked it up and contemplated going to see it again. I also ended up taping the show when MTV ran it.

The show as presented on MTV was exceptionally good. While it was clearly a taped stage show, the TV version actually played well enough that you forget that and just take it for a being a live TV event. Its so good, thanks to the great cast, that I’m not surprised it did put butts in seats to see it live.

The problem with the show on MTV was the commercials. The breaks every couple of minutes wrecked the flow of the show. I had to tape the show and watch it that way to really enjoy it.

To be honest I have no idea what the status of the video version of the show is. I know MTV had the rights to show it a certain number of times, but I don't know if it ever did. I've also never seen any version of it on DVD. The best thing I can say is that if you do get the chance to see it, do so.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)


I’m guessing that even if you haven’t seen the this film you’ve seen one of the remakes, official (Heaven Can Wait or Down to Earth with Chris Rock) or unofficial.

The plot of the film has boxer Joe Pendleton, being killed. As he heads to heaven it’s discovered that he was taken out too soon, he wasn’t supposed to die and that he has unfinished business to attend to. Since his body has been cremated Pendleton, with the help of angelic Mr Jordan  is put into the body of rich recently murdered Mr Farnsworth until a suitable body is found, however complications such as romance and a still murderous  wife arise.

Back when I was a wee lad I saw and fell in love with the Warren Beatty remake Heaven Can Wait. I would watch it over and over again on cable TV. I thought it was great. Then at some point I stumbled on the original and became completely enraptured. Here was everything that I loved in the remake but done better.

I think there are two reasons I think I love the film so much, first the film has a sense that everyone is accepting of what is happening. What I mean is that everyone is playing it straight. There is no sense that anyone is acting or doesn’t believe that the story could happen. The trouble with Heaven Can Wait is there is a sense that everyone is somehow above the material. This isn’t to sell Beatty’s film short, it’s just that when you compare say James Mason and Buck Henry to Claude Raines and Edward Everett Horton you notice a sense of disdain. Mason and especially Henry are too distant.

The other reason I love the film is simply the cast. Robert Montgomery makes big lug Joe Pendleton utterly charming. James Gleason is his typical wonderful self as Max Corkle Pendleton’s friend. And there is Raines and Horton who are so good they made a sequel with the characters (called Down to Earth)

I really love this film a great deal. It's one of those films I'll dig out when I'm in a funk and watch it.just because it makes me happy. 

If you have never seen this film make an effort to do so, and if you have, see it again.

Contact (2002)


If you want to see me go stupidly gaga show me Susan Strohman’s Contact.

This started life as an Off Broadway show at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse theater. It's a three part dance play, the first concerns two men and a woman on a swing. It’s based on the painting by Fragonard called The Swing. It’a brief but amusing trifle. The second story concerns a woman and her husband at an Italian restaurant in the 1950’s. She’s unhappy, and as the night wears on she drifts on she imagines killing her husband and running off with a waiter. It’s a bittersweet tale of an unhappy marriage. The third and longest story concerns an advertising exec who decides to kill himself on the biggest night of his life, only to fail and end up at a bar/dance club where he falls in love with a woman in a yellow dress.

I saw it on the second night of previews and was hooked. Actually about the time that the time that the Squirrel Nut Zipper’s Put a Lid on it started I was hooked. By the time the Royal Crown Review’s version of Beyond the Sea started I found I was possibly the happiest I had ever been in my life and I had found one of my favorite shows of all time.

It was a feeling many people shared and after it’s scheduled run at the Newhouse it moved upstairs to the Vivian Beaumont where it won a Tony for Best Musical and ran for years.

As the run ended PBS made a deal to run the show. It ran live, then was repeated a couple of times before it disappeared into the void...

... or would have had I not recorded the show. The only thing I can say is I will pull it our periodically when I need a lift.

As with most of the Live From Lincoln Center Broadcasts the shows are officially in the void and may never be repeated...however if the gods ever smile and they do decide to run contact again I suggest you make every effort to see it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Something Like a Phenomenon: The Jonathan Chance Interview

Jonathan Chance

Jonathan Chance is someone you’ve probably run across but you never realized it. When I was introduced to him I realized he had a face that looked familiar but I couldn’t place. It wasn’t until I heard him speak that I realized that I had heard his voice in any number of commercials. However John is much more than an actor, he’s a writer, director, producer, composer, and… the list goes on. This very talented transplanted Englishman is much more than the hallowed entertainment triple threat.

I was introduced to John after I had been told about his nominated Shriekfest Best Screeenplay called Something Like a Phenomenon. The script tells the story of Borley Rectory in England. It was believed to be the most haunted place in the world. The hauntings were investigated by Harry Price who, with the aid of a small army of assistants investigated the hauntings in the late 1920’s. What I had been told about the project intrigued me, the story wasn’t one I had really come across except tangentially. I knew the name of the rectory and investigator Price, but I never knew the details, and the story of the haunting had never been committed to film as far as I knew except as mentioned in the odd documentary on ghosts. John had grown up about ten miles from the ruins of the Rectory (it burned down in the 1940’s) and was fluent in the stories surrounding the weird happenings.

Intrigued by what I was being told I reached out to John and asked for an interview. John graciously agreed and after boning up on the haunting and the project I sent off a list of questions.

Because I did a bit of research on the Borely Rectory hauntings and spoke with John a little bit prior to and outside of the interview I’d like to explain a couple of things

First, you’ll notice that I don’t go too deeply into the plot and production detail regarding the film, and that is largely intentional since John is in the middle of finalizing his cast and crew, with effects master Michele Mulkey recently signing on. Because things were in a state of flux I didn’t want to talk about things that weren’t set. I also didn’t want to do the film any disservice by talking about things which change because of last minute adjustments- a fact made clear by John’s final answer concerning casting.

I should explain the central figure of John’s script is a man by the name of Harry Price. Price was man with a deep interest in the paranormal. He is, in many ways the first real paranormal investigator. He waded into weird happenings to try and figure out what exactly was going on. The trouble was that he frequently butted heads with people over what and how he was doing things. In many corners he’s viewed as fraud because he was a stage magician, which instantly makes him suspect.

For those younger than a certain age or not fancier of thrillers or occult fiction, Dennis Wheatley was a prolific British writer of thrillers, many with an occult tinge. He was for decades one of the bestselling authors in the world. However I know that when I was growing up in the United States that unless you were a fan of genres he wrote in his name wasn’t well known. One of his books was turned into one of Hammer’s best films, The Devil Rides Out.

Borley Recrtory as it once stood


Since I think most people are not going to be familiar with the tale could you briefly relate the story of the haunting of Borley Rectory?

The Haunting of Borley Rectory is a British ghost story and local legend shrouded in mystery. I’d say the story goes back to 1667 with a tale of tragedy. There was once a young couple; a Nun and a Priest in love about to elope to be married. This riled up the locals, word spread of this sinful deed and they were murdered, each in cruel sadistic ways. Where they died and the church opposite over the centuries stories emerged; sightings of the Nun, and poltergeist activity etc., not just from the locals but from lawmen, people of power and even local clergy themselves. 1800’s Borley Rectory is built on the spot by Rev. Henry Bull for his growing family. They have their own experiences of phenomena; kids eventually grow up, and move out until finally the house is empty. No one owns it. 1937, Harry Price; first parapsychologist if there ever was one, is drooling to get his teeth into Borley Rectory. He succeeds in leasing the house for a one whole year to run possibly one of the scariest, unsung ghost experiments in modern history. This is where the story will begin.

How is that covered in the film? How close is the script sticking to the actual events?

It is set around the one year lease and the story unfolds almost like an investigation that uncovers other cases. There is so much truth behind the story of Borley Rectory, by observers and the stories of Harry Price. But, people didn’t know what to believe, because it was also tangled in mystery, deception, fear. I touched on that a lot. So, there is a lot of truth involved in the screenplay and other actual local stories that will make the audience get absorbed in the true spirit of the time. The rest I tried to make compelling, and realistic to show what people really did witness in their field of work; from mediums and scientists to normal everyday people dealing with something bigger than them. To me, fact and fiction in this story entwines, so it made for an interesting story to make. Today, when people see a the horror film – where what looks like fifty to a hundred CGI insects crawl out of a girl’s mouth and BASED ON A TRUE STORY comes up - I don’t believe that. But, people do, and I get that films now have to try even harder to scare the audience. Difference is - there are better realistic ways of doing it. That’s what I want to do. In reality if that happened maybe only three to five insects flew out of her mouth – and I’d believe ‘real’ looking ones by a makeup artist rather than a computer.

I know that for the most part the story has never been committed to film outside of documentaries, why do you think that is? Do you think that the size of the investigation, which had over 40 people doing a variety of things, is the reason? How are you planning on handling such a potentially big cast?
It certainly is an undertaking! Well, luckily, the Forty to Fifty applicants were picked to stay in various intervals throughout the year, cut into groups. It makes for an interesting progression and I touched on points of the year and specific characters. I think the legend, legacy, covers such a long period of time and only by careful planning can it be done right. I am happy it hasn’t been done just yet. It gives me an opportunity to tell the tale the way I think it should be told, warts n’ all. Not over the top, very grounded, even though a lot of the real-life characters are larger than life. Some things I definitely feel would have been overlooked if the film is made too ‘big’ or not quite ‘big enough’. That’s why today possibly we go through bouts without a real modern classic horror film go-to. We end up looking to the past. A lot of true event horror movies miss the point of where the human side is in people, what makes them tick, and we ourselves can be our own worst enemies and demons as well.

When did you start to write the script? How has it changed? Did you always have it focused the way you did or has focus on the story shifted in the writing and rewriting?

I started in 2008, my short film work and another script took importance over it at the time due to their being something I could actually afford to do. Something Like a Phenomenon was going to be the film I did after (and if) I made some money from other films - it would be the ‘big one’ to make. Coming from a guerrilla film making background anything with a budget to me is big. Throughout the years I meandered on it and eventually put my head down to give it the attention it deserved. Things changed here and there – the idea was always set, it’s scarier than it first started out as. My main determination was; I have to write this screenplay and make it before someone else makes this and possibly ruins a potentially great film! So often a film can get altered, changed or set in modern day time to be relatable for kids for instance. Well, why can’t it be a great story set in another time and show although it’s a different time – people and kids especially - are still the same. Also, I want to apply to the demographic that gets overlooked – for people like myself the 25 – 45 range that want to be scared again. They’ve seen hundreds of horror movies and they’re sick of CGI driven horror in place of substance. They really want to be scared they want a classic horror film that will stand the test of time.
A ghost at Borley Rectory

Are you planning on directing the film yourself? Which role is yours?

Yes, I would really like to. I feel I have experience working on a budget – or lack thereof. That’s the touch I want, something with an Indie budget, maybe a large indie budget. I’ve seen people with less experience go straight to work for a studio directing a film – so what’s better than someone who wrote the story, has the vision and was a local from the area?

I saw the short promotional film on line, did you direct that? How and why did that come together?

Yes, I made that in few hours and edited it one afternoon. I was in a semi-finals for ‘Best Horror Screenplay’ and that was a promotional spec trailer for the script solely to grab the attention of Shriekfest participants. I wanted to have something up. Something I could show to give an idea about the story. Everyone involved were so great! I would recommend them all to anyone looking for some wonderful actors and people to work with. I really appreciated the generous time they gave to me to make it happen and Lisa from the Howe-Waffle House was so gracious in her time for letting me use such a beautiful Victorian home (not an easy or cheap thing to find in L.A!) and I would love to work with them again.

What is the time frame you estimate for completion of the film?

That’s a toughie. We are currently looking for investors, producers or a studio to get behind this. I want to get this made in 2013 – but we’ll see how things go. Already I am hopeful; I have a secret weapon in Michele Mulkey – a fantastic, wonderful SFX makeup artist who has worked on so many big films and TV shows including; Firefly, CSI’s, The Last Samurai – and many more, you’d recognise her work on shows you watch. I’m so lucky to have an industry talent involved in the project!

I know that in Hollywood there is always the drive to continue with a hit with a series, have you gotten any pressure or do you anticipate you might get pressure to change things so that the film could be somehow open ended?

It could happen. The story could be, I guess there’s always a way! Whether or not it’s worth doing is a different story. There would have to be a point, something left out, I hate sequels just for the case of money. As long as it’s not just a modern day setting and shot like every found footage film around today.

In the promotional material there is talk of Hammer Films. Are you aiming to do something in the style of Hammer ala The Devil Rides Out or are you aiming for something more modern say the recent Woman in Black? Or is your hope to do something completely stylistically different?

I love Hammer film. I grew up on them, and I’ve actually said in interviews before the first film I ever saw was Horror of Dracula. The script screams Hammer. Just by its very setting, characters, etc. We’re still looking Hammer – so call me! But what it comes down to is whoever is willing to take on the challenge.

The Devil Rides out was a great movie and so was The Woman in Black. This is its own film and should not adhere to a trend like I said earlier the found footage thing – as much as it could easily go that way being the subject - I feel over time that won’t hold up if everyone is filming the same way. It should be a film that people can get excited about like the old hammer movies and sensibilities but in the style of a modern day film – it should fit snug between the old hammer films from yesteryear and the modern audience of today. This is an iconic story that was almost forgotten, I want people to know about its importance.
Dennis Wheatley
Only because it's not explained in the promotional material I've read, how does Dennis Wheatley and Peter Cushing figure into all of this? Are there direct connections to Wheatley's novels? I could guess at Devil Rides Out, but do you know of others? (Not having read your script and it being years since I've read any Wheatley it's hard for me to make connections)

It’s very interesting indeed! I want that to be part of the fun when people go to see it. These people were actually involved in Harry Price’s ‘Ghost Club’ which fascinates me. They knew Harry Price so I incorporated it into the story – that’s where the feel of say an old Hammer or Amicus film is felt but what’s more, literally with one of its greatest actors from the silver screen jumps from the page! That, you can’t make up.

Its inferred that there are additional famous people involved, would you care to say who?

Another famous writer. Just in a mention. It’s someone whom we think so highly of today and in his many incarnations is all over the screen. Price actually showed him up, there was rivalry there. Others are Famous in the ghost community, people will see the references when they get to watch it, and winks to Dennis Wheatley and Peter Cushing.

You said that you grew up ten miles away from Borley Rectory. How much time did you spend there?

Around ten – twenty miles, very local. As kids, we went there then later on a lot in my teens and early twenties. We’d go to the area of the site and the church opposite which still stands where people say the hauntings continued. Took a lot of photos, video footage, EVP’s sometimes nothing but, a couple of times - I’m not kidding we got some very strange things!

Here on Long Island we didn't have an actual haunted house, but we did have stories that caught our imagination when we were growing up. One was about a girl in a tomb in a glass coffin, another was a supposed tomb that was set up like a small child who died that was located in a maze like cemetery (That latter story is mostly real by the way). The mythic locations were always things that we always tried to find so that we could either prove we were brave or so that the smart asses in the group of friends could get a laugh in scaring the frightened further. Was Borley like that when you were growing up?

It sounds like you have some really scary stories of your own! Oh yes! Daring each other to go deep into the woods nearby by yourself or on Halloween - things like that. But what remains of the area of Borley - honest to God, before the idea of making a story about this was an idea in my mind – we caught strange footage of a weird pattern on the video camera when I went back to it later that night. And, of course it happened when we least expected, off guard.

 Do you think that the rectory was haunted?

I do, there has always been a mix of truth, lies and possibly people just imaging things, but, essentially if we go back to before it became such a ‘name’ – those sightings and claims were still made. With so many claims you deny them all, you have to start asking yourself, it can’t all be BS. It all goes back to some truth.


Harry Price
How do you feel about claims that Harry Price was a charlatan?

I delve into that in the story. I feel he was someone who genuinely believed in the afterlife a true pioneer in every sense of the word. To want to discover the unknown before anyone had the desire and balls to he was a champion in my book. But, he was also flawed. Things get in the way; egos and opportunism, etc. That’s what made him so interesting, he’s not black and white he’s complex like everyone.
I know that the Rectory burned down in the 40's but do you know if the location is still haunted?

It is said to be, and that’s why I think people still to this day go to look for themselves. We are by nature curious; we seek the unknown every day, from something as little as reading your horoscope to the existence of ghosts or monsters. That’s why the horror genre to me is so interesting, the fear of the unknown; what part does it play on earth and how we can try to understand its meaning?
Borley Rectory not long after the fire

I should ask are you a believer in the supernatural or just good supernatural stories?

Ghost stories change from ear to ear to each person that is told. But, having said that, I’m a believer, but, I’m a sceptic first. You have to be open minded enough to open the door and enter (If people can’t be open minded to even try – I find that ignorant even egotistical to think they are all knowing in their point of view) so although I want to believe I’m not going to jump at every little thing, you have to be judgemental on everything.

Do you think supernatural films are better made by believers or unbelievers?

Probably someone very even balanced and down the middle. Like me – haha! The whole film and case is all about that very matter. You write about what you know, the subject, similar cases and stories. Some of the best films could be made by people with that very same instinct – they don’t know, but want to know more. If someone didn’t believe in it how do I know any of the facts or ideas have any value?

Once I heard the creator of X-files never believed in any of the things he wrote about. I cannot believe that. We have to be open minded to the world. We simply don’t know enough about the spirit world after we die, or for that matter the bottom of the ocean, the millions of planets, it goes on…

When you were growing up were you a fan of horror movies? Was that what drove you to be an actor? (I ask it because many people I know who got into film and TV seemed to get into it through a love of genre films)

I’ve always been a fan of horror movies. As I got older I wanted to know ‘how’ they make movies. I got into acting via making my own movies with my Brother by which we simply didn’t have enough people to play parts! Drama in school was like Art and English; always an interest of mine. To this day I love them all; acting, writing and directing. Expression is a powerful medium in its many forms, especially when passion rides the artistic process.

Where do your cinematic interests lie? What do you like to watch?

All kinds of films. Normally films with something below the surface not a usual run of the mill. Thinking films, something with grit, heart, a good story, characters and great cinematography. I aspire to make my own work and style (every artist should) but I admire filmmakers; Cronenberg, Mann and Carpenter to name a few. Also, I love the late Michael Reeves three and only films – if anyone could make great horror films on a small budget did it.

Because the website is called Unseen Films- what would your choice or choices be for a film that you really like but no one knows about or doesn't appreciate?

Incubus - starring William Shatner before he did Star Trek. He surprisingly speaks Esperanto in the film. It’s really underappreciated. I think it might be because, since the late sixties the original masters were considered lost. In recent years a copy of the film was found that was sent out to a film festival. Anyway, it’s a great creepy art-house horror film!

Jumping backwards- assuming you could cast anyone, what is your ideal casting?

I am open to new talent and specific name actors who’d be interested in our production getting involved – I don’t want to say, I know who - but I must remain tight lipped! Either way they could be actors from any country – doesn’t matter. In the end it will be whoever is the right person for the job.

Borley Rectory with some of the living

Based upon my discussion with John and what I’ve read ion the subject and the film this looks like it is going to be a super film and we at Unseen will be following it. John has agreed to send me updates on the film and there will be a second interview coming when the film is completely doneand we can really go into the details of the story and its production.

Further details on the film can be found here.

The short promo film which is mentioned in the interview can be found here.

For those of you who want more information on John's earlier film work try Chance Encounters  You can go to Voices by Chance which covers his voice over work He's also on Twitter @CarryOnJohn

If you want more information on the Borley Rectory haunting or Harry Price you should Google them. I’d attempt to recommend something but I’ve read so much over the last two weeks that I’m not sure which is the best site. I will say that there are several clips on the haunting which are quite good as well.

(A big thank you to Peter Gutierrez for setting this all in motion)

A Walk in the Woods (1988)


A Walk in the Woods is Lee Blessing’s inspired on a true story play about of what might have  happened when an American arms negotiator and a Soviet counterpart took a break from the negotiating table and went for a walk in the woods. The original incident happened one time and by all accounts wasn’t anything special other than the fact that it happened. In Blessings play the single walk of reality is stretched to include many walks.

The arc of the play starts with inexperienced American negotiator Sam Waterston (before Law and Order) taking a walk with old hand Soviet Robert Protsky. Waterston is super uptight where Protsky is not. What the motives are for Protsky isn’t completely clear at first but it soon transpires that not only is he looking to get a measure of his American counterpart, but that he’s looking for a way of discussing matters that can’t be discussed at the table. Informality brings success and ultimately friendship. What the play is about how if you strip away all the BS people are people and if we see each other as humans we not only can bridge differences but find friends.

Extremely well written the play was optioned to be a feature film at one point. I believe that the fall of the Berlin wall and the fall of the Soviet government made a film version at the time unlikely, which is sad because the writing is so crisp that I would love to see how two well chosen stars would have handled the material.

Protsky and Waterston are fantastic in their roles. Protsky is just a big friendly Russian bear and the sort of a guy that you want to take home and have dinner with. Waterston plays almost a less strident version of his Law and Order character before he would have figured out all of the worlds problems. Their interaction is a real joy. It's so nice to watch two old pros tear up the stage with the greatest of ease.

Watching the show recently (I taped it when it ran on PBS) I was struck by how much the the play hasn't changed. Sure the Soviets are gone (possibly to be replaced by the Russians)  but the idea of two arms negotiators needing to talk away from the table is still with us. In researching the TV version I've discovered that the play has found new life around the world where ever two sides are at odds and trying to prevent war.

As with four of the five plays this week I have no idea what the home video status of the shows are but if you get the chance, do see this heart warming and thought provoking hopeful play.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Regard of Flight (1983)

Irwin in a recent production

This week I’m going to take a look at several stage plays/musicals that were brought on to TV screens more or less intact. They are not technically films, nor are they in this form , wholly stage plays. First up one of the first things I ever recorded on VHS tape- Bill Irwin’s Regard of Flight.

Bill Irwin is a god. He is a screamingly funny man who is capable of breaking your heart as a dramatic actor. He is one of the finest clowns (in the traditional sense) that you will ever run across. He has won a large boat load of awards including one that gave him cash and called him a genius.

I stumbled upon Mr Irwin sometime around I discovered Regard of Flight. I don’t know where or how but I did. I then taped his Regard show when PBS ran it.

Regard of Flight is an hour long piece of clowning and theater that involves Irwin trying to explain the concept of “the New Vaudeville”. He is aided by a piano player who acts as a narrator, Greek chorus and hand of god. As the lecture unfolds he begins to intruded by a critic sitting in the audience. The performer(Irwin) soon begins a battle of wits with the critic who insists on getting the upper hand.

While the show is on its face a comedy of clowning, the film is also a meta-examination of not only clowning but also theater, criticism and numerous other subjects. Yes Irwin deflates the pompocity of theater types and critics, but at the same time he raises some intriguing questions about what we watch and why as well as why people perform and why.

I don’t care so much about the hows and whys, I just care about the laughs which are numerous and frequent. Once it gets going it’s purely live action Looney Tunes with Irwin and his critic playing a variation of Elmer and Bugs. This is stage magic at it’s best.

Almost 10 years ago the Signature Theater in New York, a theater group which specializes in doing whole seasons of the works of one playwright, did a season of Irwin’s work. Included in the season was Regard of Flight, which Irwin expanded by about 25 minutes with a coda that had the clown at home and interacting with a puppet version of himself. To be honest I don’t know if the new addition made any sense, but I didn’t care since I was laughing so hard that I literally hurt myself. I have no idea if that final bit was recorded but it should have been since it was just so damn funny.

If you get the chance to see Regard either live or on DVD or TV (it is was put out on videotape and I believe DVD) do so. It will make you laugh even a it teaches you some thing.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 12/23/12 Bye DB hello Steve plus the disappointments of Taken2, On the Road and Chow Yun Fat in Asaassins


The mad mind behind Unseen Films reveals his true self

DB here…but not for much longer…well not in a front and center mode anyway…or at least not as DB

Actually I’m actually not really leaving , what is going to happen over the next couple weeks is that the DB persona is going to take a step back and my real self, Steve, will be taking the spotlight. It’s going to be the same person, just under my real name.

For anyone who writes for Unseen or who knows me in the real world there is no big reveal, the difference is coming for all of you who read Unseen and for a number of people I deal with relating to Unseen. It’s that last bit that is forcing the change, simply put trying to run the blog under two names is not going to work any longer., there is too much confusion. I’ve had too many exchanges recently where people were confused as to which me was the real me.(“I don’t see any trace of you at Unseen…”, “That’s because I write under another name”, “OOOH, I get it now”)

The DB persona is something that has been kicking around for more years than I care to think. It came out of a friendship with a female friend and then carried over online. I then began posting and blogging under the name and it stuck. When I started Unseen as goof the name came with it. I used the name because it allowed for a clear division of the real world and the on-line world, which is now something that has become very very blurred. There was a time when I could switch hats, not it isn’t possible.

The weird thing is that when I started reviewing things, for a now long defunct website called Animation on DVD, I wrote under my real name. When the website folded I was told that everything I had done was going to be moved over to a new site and that I would be allowed to continue reviewing. That never happened and I was left drifting. The Steve stuff faded and the DB stuff survived.

Now it’s time to use a fader and switch some things around.

Nothing is changing but my name. Everything, you love or hate is going to remain.

---

I saw the new screen version of Kerouac’s On the Road. I wish I could say more than that but the film made very little impression on me. Mostly I loved the narration and dialog, but the rest of it I could take or leave. The trouble is the novel works because of how it is written. The novel is the language. Stripping the language away or illustrating them is pointless. I could listen to the movie all day long, but as something to watch I need never see it again.

Chow Yun Fat recently stared in a film that’s called Assassins in English. The original title is Bronze Sparrow Terrace which probably makes more sense. The plot has something to do with a pair of teenagers trained for years to be assassins who end up mixed up in the Emperors court, and with the legendary Cao Cao (Chow). I’ve seen the film twice and I still don’t what to make of the film. Is it a drama of the royal court? Is it a romance? What of the occasional (barely) action scenes? I have no clue. To be honest the film feels like it was stapled together from three or four other films and released on an unsuspecting world. It’s not that the pieces are bad, they aren’t rather it’s that none of them work together. The most baffling thing concerned with the film is a remark I found in a review of the film that said this is the first part of a trilogy. Okay- but I’d really like to know where this goes from here.

Taken 2 disappointed me. It is so exactly what you think it's going to be, but with less action, for much of the first half that by the time the second half comes and Liam Neeson goes into action, it kind of rolls over and dies. The second half is better than the first but without a proper set up there is no emotional punch.

And now a heads up on the next two weeks of posts here at Unseen Films:

First up all this week I’m looking at stage plays and musicals that were broadcast on TV. Two can be had on home video, but three can not and the only way to run them down is if you know a crazy person, such as myself, who recorded them when they originally ran.

Tuesday is Christmas and if all goes well I should have a very special treat going up sometime after noon.

Wednesday is Boxing Day so expect a boxing related film in the afternoon.

Next weekend some reviews of John Pilger films that have been bouncing around being scheduled and rescheduled for the last six months will finally get posted.

Also next Sunday my own personal four part year end list extravaganza, starts with a look at the festivals, Then we go the worst films of the year, followed by the film finds and then the best/favorite films.The lists are, as always uniquely my own (and the reason I decline participating in a critics round up, no one was going to pick the films I loved).

All of the transition week from 2012 to 2013 I’m going to take a look at a bunch of 2012 films that were worth noting. The week is bookended by pieces on animation, one on the sequels and the other on the horror films.

By then, my own transformation should be done and we can rocket on to our third anniversary in February. Keep reading because we'll keep posting.


Photo courtesy of Randi

Source Code (2011)


Duncan Jones follow up to Moon is another case of a film being wildly over hyped in advance of its public screenings. This is another twisty turny film that doesn’t quite hold up as well as Moon, but is still definitely worth seeing.

The plot of the film has a secret government agency trying to find out who blew up a train. The information is needed because the bomber maybe tied to a larger scale terrorist attack. The means of their attempt at finding out the information is to send one of their agents back in time to take the place of someone killed in the attack. The scenario begins to play out over and over again as our hero is sent back again and again in order to unknot the events as he learns more with each trip back. But there is a complication, romance… and there other twists to be revealed.

This is a very good thriller. It’s not as many people claimed in prerelease reviews, the next big thing since the director’s Moon (which was the previous next big thing), but it’s a damn fine little film.

How you react to the film in total will depend upon the revelation of one of the twists that comes somewhere early in the film. How you accept the twist will color everything that follows. I know some people who’ve called it stupid and shut it off, and I know others who thought it was neat and went with it. I’m someone who was accepting of the twist for the film but on the greater scheme of things it’s just okay. For me to accept anything beyond that- which the film asks us to accept- gives the film a case of diminishing returns. Yes the film remains good, but it doesn’t sustain the greatness of the opening moments.

My reservations should not make you think twice at try the film, its solid enough to see, it’s just something you’ll watch once or perhaps twice but not more than that. For me that’s enough of a recommendation for a rental, Netflix or viewing on cable.

(And apologies about not talking about the plot too much simply because there are too many twists that its all kind of spoilers)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Moon (2009)


Moon was super hyped as being one of the greatest science fiction films of all time when it was released. It was viewed by many people as the science fiction equivalent of the second coming of Jesus. While I feel that the film is a great one, I think the super hype was misplaced, a fact that the films fading into the background in recent years seems to support.

The plot has Sam Rockwell as the sole caretaker of a lunar mining facility. Nearing the end of his three year term all he wants to do is go home. His only companion is an all-powerful computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). As time goes on Rockwell begins to break down and he thinks he may be seeing things…

The power of the film is not knowing where it’s going the first time through. The films twists and turns are best discovered for yourself. The twists are worth discovering.

The film ‘s real joy is Sam Rockwell. He was always a good actor, but he tended to play quirky roles so I always saw him as quirky guy. Here he plays a straight role and he ultimately breaks your heart. This is a guy who just wants to go home and see his family, but because of his job has been stranded a quarter of a million miles away. You feel his pain as all he wants to do is see his wife and daughter again.

I should point out that anyone who doesn’t like science fiction films, should make a b-line for this since the film is about more about being on the moon. Had the film been set in Antarctica it would have worked just as well.
Is the film the second coming? No but it is one of the best science fiction films of the last few years

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hidden Fuhrer (2004)


Was Hitler gay? Yea I know there are rumors but was it true? That question forms the basis of this documentary. Based on a book by a heterosexual German author that ignited a fire storm of controversy. The documentary made from the book takes a look at the issue from both sides.

I was prepared to laugh the film off since I had heard such terrible things about the book, however after seeing the film I'm left to wonder if there isn't at least a possibility. On the pro-side there is Hitler's attempts to destroy his past, his moving with in certain homosexual "haunts", his seeming familiarity with some of the gay ideas of the time including the idolizing of the male form with in a heroic context, allusions in the autobiography of a boyhood friend and other circumstantial reasons. The con-side consists of "no one has ever said they slept with him", "no one ever saw anything", and "there is no record of anything happening". Is there a lack of hard evidence? Yes, no one denies that. Does that mean that Hitler wasn't a closeted homosexual, absolutely not. As one person says at the start, if you're in the closet odds are you are going to do your damnedest to remain hidden. Besides just because you don't sleep with the object of your desire doesn't mean you're not made that way.

Honestly this is a really good documentary that at the very least puts forward the possibility in a way that can be taken seriously. The only real flaw in the film is that some of the readings from some of the sources, Hitler's boyhood friend for example, are presented in a tone which seems to imply they are really about a romantic attachment. The words are not that clear and implying that it is weakens the argument.

Will we ever know? probably not, but who knows. However if you'd like to at least entertain the possibility see this film.

8 out of 10

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Six Degrees of Helter Skelter (2009)


This is ghoulishly wonderful tour of the Tate Lobianco murders given by Scott Michaels a Los Angeles tour guide and historian. On some level it could be considered in questionable taste, on the other hand this film is as you are there as you are ever likely to get short of running around Southern California on your own.

Scott Michaels is a fast talking guy. He is the sort of guy you’d want as your tour guide since he manages not only to tell you the facts (in this case many even serious students of the murders don’t know) but he brings them to life. Here he is helped with things by standing in or near the places where everything went down.

Yes this is the story of the murders committed by Manson and his family, that you’ve seen any number of times, but I doubt that most of you have ever seen the locations where the crimes happened. Okay, in most cases we are outside of them, but at the same time this is the first time you’ll get a real sense of place. Additionally this is probably one of the few times where you’ll get a sense that things didn’t happen in a vacuum since Michaels play the six degrees game connecting up almost all of the places and people to each other and others in ways you never thought possible.

This is a real living history film where a touchstone event becomes more than an abstraction. Case in pointMichaels discusses how places have changed. Looking down on the house that now occupies where the Sharon Tate murder house once stood he explains where the telephone poles were and which of the surrounding houses were there in 1969.

I loved this film a fact that resulted in my staying up until way way past my bed time the first time I watched this.

A must see for crime buffs and for those who want to see the darkside of Hollywood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last Alarm (1940)


This small scale programmer maybe a bit unremarkable in many respects, but it’s one that is perfect for a night with some oldies.

The plot of the film concerns a crazed fire bug who is burning down the city. Spurred on by the death of a friend insurance investigator Fran ROgers begins to track the mad man. Aided by the father of his fiancé, a recently retired fire chief, he begins to turn up clues, which not only put the arsonist in his sights, but also puts him in the sights of the arsonist.

Tense little film moves like the wind. To be certain it hits almost every clichĂ© you can think of it also hits them with great aplomb so you get carried along despite knowing that you shouldn’t. The real reason the film works is George Penbroke who plays the arsonist. An antiques dealer by day he spends his nights acting as the divine hand of the Vulcan, the god of the flame. He’s a creepy little figure that is exactly the sort of person you’d like never to run into.

As I said at the top on the face of it the film really isn’t all that remarkable, but it’s a film that kind of hangs with you in a way that many program pictures don’t. I say this as someone who has spent a good portion of my time wading through the countless hour long films that Hollywood cranked out. Even as enjoyable as many of them are, most kind of blend together with many of the titles getting lost in a sea of similar names. Last Alarm isn’t like that. This is a film that stands out when other films have crashed together.

Definitely worth running down, especially if you add another oldie or two to your evening at home on the couch.

Arakimentari (2004)


The life and work of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Mostly known for his erotic or perhaps pornographic photos its clear from this film that there is more to the man than just dirty pictures.

Coming a cross as a charming rogue its clear that Araki loves what he's doing, which is photographing everyone and everything at all times. There is a comment by one of his fellow photographers to the effect that Araki is more than his erotic pictures and that there is nothing that he doesn't know about photography. Seeing his images whizzing by in the film its clear the statement is true as we see the vast range of his work that stretches from the mundane to flowers to portraits to porn to whatever else you can think of. He's an amazing man that I'm certain will worm his way into the hearts of anyone who sees the film.

If there is a flaw to the film its perhaps its rapid fire, hip and happening style, which may capture Araki's manic energy, but some how short changes some of the images (and ideas) since many are too good to let get lost

Definitely worth tracking down.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

White King Red Rubber Black Death (2003)


Damning indictment of King Leopold of Belgium who in a mad desire to make money for himself, not his kingdom, managed to get his hands on the Congo. At first it was a money suck but once the need for rubber came he became super wealthy. Ruling with and iron fist he practiced genocide on the population in order to squeeze as much money out of the country. Things got so bad that a call was made for him to be tried for his crimes. It didn't happen and Leopold was forced to use public relations to seem a great humanitarian instead of a genocidal megalomaniac.

This solid documentary has upset many in Belgium who see this as besmirching the beloved memory of a past monarch. For my money the crimes, even if inflated, are hard to over look. I was shocked at just how bad it was. It's a damning indictment of the madness of a time not so long ago.

For most of this films running time its a film that you fall into. You can't help but get carried away by the madness. The trouble is that the darkness of the tale is overwhelming at a certain point I started to shut off. Don't get me wrong its a great tale, its just a brutal and unhappy one and after 90 minutes you feel beaten up.

A must see.