Monday, June 30, 2014

My day 2 at NYAFF 2014- AS THE LIGHTS GO OUT, KANO and 2 mistakes from Kiyoshi Kurasowa

My second day of the New York Asian Film Festival was a long one. I was out of my house around 10am and I got home around 1am. It was three programs with a lunch break in the middle.

Arriving at the Walter Reade I was lucky enough to go in with Grady Hendrix. We fell into a discussion about SNOWPIERCER and the meaning of the film and the darkness that’s contained in the ending. It went on for a while and blossomed as Joe Bendel joined in and when Grady brought up the graphic novel I roped in Alec Kubus-Meyer to discuss the differences. If you want to know why I love the festival it’s because you get these great talks.

The first film was AS THE LIGHTS GO OUT. It’s a fire fighter drama about a burning electrical plant that ends up causing problems for Hong Kong. If you want a definition of macho bro-mance this is it. While Grady suggested it was so testosterone filled we’d all be pregnant by the end I think more likely a better use would be as a testosterone supplement.

The film has fantastic action sequence but the plot is so contrived- a natural gas pipeline near an earlier fire causes a fire to travel down the line and blow up the plant-on Christmas eve-as son of one of the fire fighters and some his friends go missing on a class trip to the plant-as a typhoon hits- and there is a black out as a result that prevents back up from arriving. I think there are a few more cliches...er...twists including Simon Yam as the old guy about to retire…

It’s a long movie that will leave you exhausted y its craziness. The action is way cool, the rest is really really silly.

I went to lunch as Alec and Mr C went to see WHITE STORM which everyone told me Grady over sold as “like drinking lite beer for years and then being given a big rail of cocaine.” I admit I have been pushing it a bit because everyone else has been and it has crazy ass action but ultimately I do agree with Alec and C and have reservations (my review is here).

Instead of going to the movie I went to lunch with Joe Bendel. We sat and shot the breeze for a bit before he headed off to catch up on writing and I wandered Lincoln Center to kill a little time and maybe get tickets.

I’d like to smack some ladies I saw on line at the Avery Fisher box office. I was going to try and get tickets for Cate Blanchett in The Maids in August, but the line was too long. The women I wanted to smack were picking on the Box Office person because she couldn’t give them the seats they wanted. I wanted to say “What part of those tickets were sold didn’t you understand?” I then ended up wandering around under the complex just looking around. Way cool but kind of creepy because it was so empty.

I got back to the Walter Reade just as a press shoot with Umin Boya director of KANO was going on. I squeezed myself into the press line and shot a bunch of pictures (More over at Tumblr). I was then pulled outside by the ever lovely Lee and onto the line for KANO ticketholders. As always seeing Lee is a treat and a half. She is a wonderful young lady and it’s a blast to talk to her. While on line we chatted and watched Boya who had escaped the photgraphers and was now being interviewed across the plaza.

Going in I separated from Lee wanting to get down in front for photographs of the Q&A. I should have stayed with her since I got a couple of Photographs and then my camera froze…which it seems to do at the festival.

I’m going to do a full review of KANO on Wednesday, but just know it’s a three hour and five minute emotional ball of love for baseball and the guys in the film. It’s the story of a high school team in Taiwan in 1931 who managed to get to the high school championships in Japan. It’s a messy movie that manages to overcome every problem with its unwieldy script to move you to tears. People around me were wiping tears away. Yea it’s that sort of a movie and it’s that damn good.
Goran, Boya and the translator in the last photo before my camera died

I may get flack for this but the Q&A was painful. Running 35 or 40 minutes and only covering about 5 questions the problem was that director Boya likes to ramble. Giving minutes long answers to each question there was lots of dead space as he answered in full and then the answer was translated into English. It was horrible. I turned off, and I would have walked out but I was too close to the stage to do so without creating a major incident (sometimes sitting up close and talking to the moderator before the film is not a good idea.)

For the record about 90% of the film was true, and the pitcher’s finger issue while not reported in stories of the time did come from players who were interviewed.

The final program was two Kiyoshi Kurasowa short films. The films are from the part of his personality that make films that leave you shaking your head. These are head shakers on the order of the Revenge films and a few others where the director seems to be doing something other than making a good film. He tends to do this when there is one thing about a project (like a fight sequence or shooting location) that he makes it worth while for him- but rarely the audience.

The first film was BEAUTIFUL NEW BAY AREA PROJECT and it concerned a rich man who wants to pull down all the factories around a dock. He falls into an obsession about a female dock worker who wants nothing from him. He then steals her name plate and she goes to get it back resulting a fight that fills the second half of this 29 minute film. The fight is great-the rest, including allusions to a new virus and the girl being an undersea creature is terrible.

The second film 7TH CODE is another head scratcher. A young woman goes to Vladivostok to chase down a man she met a month earlier in a bar in Japan. She follows him pilling a wheeled suitcase behind her. After being polite he ends up having her roughed up, her luggage stolen and after being sewn in a burlap sack dumped on the outskirts of town. She is undeterred and continues to try and find him falling in with a Chinese girl and her Japanese boyfriend who runs a restaurant that no one goes to. I won’t say where it goes from there (nowhere) but it does change explosively in the last 10 or 15 minutes with some WTF moments including a music video. It's as if they took parts from other films and grafted them on to the first 45. I was so silly that I was roaring with uncontrollable laughter at the end. I couldn’t believe it ended like that…

…mostly I couldn’t believe I paid to see the films. If Kiyoshi Kurasowa never attains true international super stardom beyond the art house it will because he turns out WTF trash like the films last night.

Movies done after 11- I headed home. Between the trains and ride home It was going to be two more hours before I got int my house.

I’m off from the festival until either Friday or Saturday. However stuff will still be filling Unseen so keep reading.

Mr C's Sandra Ng weekend at The New York Asian FIlm Festival 2014

Mr C spent this past weekend seeing several ofthe Sandra Ng films that played at the New York Asian Film Festival.  and hewas kind enough to send them along for me to post.

Here's Sandra after recieving The Star Asia Award

Here's Sandra, her husband Peter Chan and their daughter.

Here's her during the Q&A after GOLDEN CHICKENSSS 


The video of the GOLDEN CHICKEN Q&A


The video of the PORTLAND STREET BLUES Q&A

No Man's Land (2009/2013) New York Asian Film Festival 2014

On the far side of the Gobi desert a high priced hotshot attorney from Beijing gets a man off for killing a cop. The man was part of falcon smuggling operation. The client tells the attorney he will be paid in ten days but attorney insists on taking his clients car as collateral instead. He takes the car and heads off unaware that there is something in the car and that he is heading into a situation that is going to be way over his head.

The story is that the Chinese government held up release for four years. Somehow the film escaped and was released last year and made a boatload of money. (if you go to the NYAFF screening and they explain it all, let me know the story)

Director Hao Ning has fashioned a dark action comedy where everyone is on the make and everyone has an angle.  Its a bunch of not wholly likable characters all trying to get an advantage on everyone else. Its the sort of film that makes you wince at the violence and has the laughter kind of catching in your throat.

In many ways this is probably the best film that Hao Ning has done.  For me its the one film that maintains its tone from start to finish and is consistently good all the way through. For example his Guns and Roses, which played NYAFF in 2012, suffered from wild tonal shifts including a final one to all black that made me want to play in traffic (and was a reason I've never watched it a second time)

I like the film a great deal and recommend it when it plays tomorrow night at the festival. If nothing else this is a great looking film that uses the widescreen frame to marvelous effect-so much so I wish I had seen this on the big screen. That said, if you go don't expect a light action comedy, this is something a tad darker.

Mr Vampire (1985) New York Asian FIlm Festival 2014

Holy Leaping Vampires this classic horror comedy spawned lord knows how many sequels (many being unofficial) and changed Hong Kong Horror forever.

I’ve seen this film several time over the years and to be perfectly honest the plot has never stuck with me. I recently watched the film again because it was playing at the Asian Film Festival and I quickly realized that the film’s plot makes no sense and it kind of exists just to keep the laughs and the scares coming. If I were to make a stab at explaining the plot it would go like this:

Mr Kau a Taoist priest  specializes in controlling and eliminating spirits and vampires. When he is moving  the uncle of a rich man he realizes that the deceased is really a vampire- however in taking the body for study it's allowed to escape. Meanwhile a beautiful woman,actually a malicious spirit is running rampant in the countryside. The two stories collide as does romance between several of the characters

As I said above the point of the film isn’t the plot rather it’s simply to keep things moving for 90 minutes.

To be honest I’m kind of at a loss the explain why this film was so influential. The film unleashed a huge wave of horror and horror comedies upon the world with this film getting I believe 4 direct sequels and dozens of indirect ones and rip offs (including the inevitable porn ones-you haven’t lived until you’ve seen hopping zombie sex). Until the coming of the internet it was difficult to know what film a or wasn’t related because of re-titlings and because Lam Ching-ying, who played the uni-browed Taoist, played similar roles in I don’t know how many other films. For whatever reason this film hit a nerve and we ended up with a rash of supernatural horror comedies including the classic Chinese Ghost Story films .

My loss at why the film was so game changing is the result of the film being solidly good but not great. As I’ve said I’ve seen the film several times over the years and I’ve enjoyed it every time, but I’m always left scratching my hear wondering why this film clicked with audiences. It’s a great film full of laughs and scares and martial arts but it’s not the be all and end all horror comedy.

Now I know you’re probably wondering should you see the film yes. Absolutely yes yes yes. As I said it’s a really good film.

Now if you’re in the New York area or you’re going to be in the area on July 4th you absolutely MUST go to see this and the film it inspired Rigor Mortis when they play back to back Trust me that’s a double feature for the ages and the thought of seeing an intro from the guys at NYAFF on the films and the genre is almost too good to pass up.

Too tired to report on my day 2 at NYAFF

It's after 1am, I've been in motion since 1030am. I'm exhausted
A report of today's festivities will be coming- plus I have pictures from today and Mr C sent pictures and video of Sandra Ng.
Look for them tomorrow

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats(2014) New York Asian FIlm Festival 2014

Just go see this movie and give yourself over to it.

No seriously, just go see Fuku-chan and just go with it and enjoy yourself.

I say this because when I was watching the film I fell deeply under its spell. Here was a story that spoke to me. It meant something to me. It seemed to mirror my life and the wonderfully crazy people I call my friends. It was film where I could feel each moment as if it were real and on target and pulled from my life. But there was a point where suddenly I disconnected from the film, there was a moment where I began to panic. I couldn’t allow myself to stay connected to the film- I had to break away lest the film turn rotten and betray what was happening. I couldn’t bear the thought of such a wonderful film falling apart and breaking my heart in the end.

I needn’t have worried. This film is a keeper. This is a film to share and pass on and enjoy for years and decades to come.

Simply put this is a great film and I love every damn frame of it.

The film follows thirty two year old Fuku-chan. He’s a sweet big guy that everyone loves. He goes through life hanging out with his friends and making kites. While his friends try to set him up with some nice girls he refuses for reasons he won’t go into. However things begin to change when a photographer enters his life. She was Fuku-chan’s first love and the source of Fuku’s reluctance with women.

What can I say? This film is wonderful. From its fart opening (trust me its actually charming) to its final fade out this is just great time with good people. Actually even with the exception of the crazy photographer this is a film that is full of real people. I know a great many of these characters. I see myself in any number of them. Rarely has any film gotten life so right-especially life on the so called fringe.

You’ll forgive me I can’t say more. Not because I can’t, more because I don’t want to ruin it for you- you need to go through this film and get that wonderful smile and warm and fuzzy feeling for yourself. I had no one to spoil it for me and I don’t want to spoiled it for you.

Go but tickets for this when it plays on July 3rd at the New York Asian Film Festival. And if you need more of a push know this is one of my favorite films of the year.

What an absolute joy.

For  more information and tickets go here.

New York Asian Film Festival 2014- The prodigal son returns and sees PORTLAND STREET BLUES (1998)


First off I did not bring my camera which means I do not have pictures-I promise tomorrow- three movies tomorrow so I'll have pictures.

The day began early with my running around the city- actually it began with a trip to Chinatown in order to run down a couple of films that the festival wasn't running.  I then went to a Five Guys Burgers for lunch and listened to the cheers for the World Cup game from across the street and down the block where they had scantily clad show girls and drummers. Oh yea- they were so loud that they could be heard over the AC and the Who who were blasting on the sound system.

I got up to the Walter Reade with over an hour before my only movie of the day. It was  was cool. I wandered into the lobby, picked up my program book, watched Ted Geoghegan running around trying to get everything ready. I then went outside and sat at one of the tables outside the theater and did some writing. A couple of minutes later Rufus and Goran popped out and went running around  before disappearing down the escalators. A few minutes later they reappeared with Sandra Ng between them.  They then disappeared through some glass doors.

I went back to writing...only to be interupted by Grady Hendrix who said hey and then asked "Did you see Sandra Ng?"

"Was she with Rufuas and Goran? They went that way"

"Gotta go" and he headed off to do a Q&A.

I sat for a while more and then went in about 40 minutes before my screening.  Inside hold home week continued as I saw the ever lovely Lee who is a fixture at the festival.  I then got in line behind a couple of nice ladies and had a lovely conversation about the festival. I was amused when one of the ladies ran over to one of her friends, an older lady and said "You should have come to the movie last night, you would have loved it had lots of killing".

Dear I god I truly love NYAFF audiences- well except for some old biddie who wandered out of the theater program in hand- making a b-line for the garbage into which she tossed the program as if it was infectious material. Obviously she was the wrong audience for Golden Chicken

When the Q&A for the previous film ended I headed inside catching up with MrC and Jared from Bullets over Chinatown. We shot the breeze until the prize drawing.....

Amazingly I won a DVD of  JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED and old film that Grady had never heard of, however Jared had and said it was pretty good. As Grady was handing me the DVD someone from the peanut gallery screamed "Hey Steve you have to review it so we know what the film is". And I will.... I'll try to get a review up this week.

PORTLAND STREET BLUES is one of the spin off films from the Young and Dangerous series. I have not seen any of the films, but it really didn't matter, this is still a good film on its own terms (though if you have seen the other films this plays better since you know some of the characters-or so I'm told). It also contains one of my favorite lines of dialog from 2014 when a tramp says to Sandra Ng "I love the warm tubes of men"

The film follows lesbian crime boss Sister 13, played by Ng. The film tells her story from her teenage years, her relationship with her dad, her romances and her rise through the ranks. Its a film that shifts back and forward through time as we see how the past influenced the present.

I really like the film a great deal and now I'm going to have to track down the other films in the series so I can see this again and get all of the references.

After the film Grady apologized because the despite being promised that this was the original Hong Kong version by Warner Brothers, it was in fact the Malaysian one which removed the criminals win ending and added a couple of extra scenes that have no bearing on the film but which imply that Sister 13  was undercover police (in Malaysia crooks can't win). To be honest the removal of some material and the addition of the police scenes made the film a bit choppy in a couple of places.(Ng seemed horrified and embarrassed that it was the Malaysian version)

The Q&A with Sandra Ng was a great deal of fun. I hope to get video and pictures from Mr C or Jared shortly. I only scribbled a few notes because they were filming but she did say a couple of cool things.

She said that Triad films are out of favor in Hong Kong. No one dresses like they do in the movies since they now want to blend in. She said that when they were filming the Young and Dangerous films they never got permits but did pay protection.

She asked if we thought she was pretty a couple of times and got resounding rounds of applause each time.

She said that no film role has ever really been her. She said that she uses pieces of herself but mostly they are all made up.

She said that she does watch her films, largely because she's made so many that one of her films always seems to be on.

There's more and hopefully the video will reveal it.

After the Q&A Ms Ng gladly signed and posed for photographs  at the foot of the stage until pulled away by Grady so they could clear the theater. She then continued to sign and pose outside until her car arrived.  She is a truly classy,and very beautiful lady.

For now it's bed and a long day on Sunday- I'll be leaving the house at around 10 AM and getting in around 1AM. Keep reading because reviews and reports will be filtering in....

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Talking about Seahorses with Jason Kartalian, plus a mini-doc on the premiere and the making of the film



This is an interview with Jason Kartalian concerning his film Seahorses, which I reviewed earlier today.

To be honest I wasn’t planning on doing an interview, but in the course of going back and forth via email about the film, he threw out a stray remark that caught my eye. I was curious what was behind it, and since I was where I couldn’t really respond, I made a note to ask him about it when I got home. Well, that opened the door, and during the rest of the afternoon I wrote down a few more questions. Before I left work for the day I sent off a quick note asking if he’d be interested in doing an interview. He said yes — and the rest is history.

What follows was done via email. I sent him a list of questions and he sent them back. It was all done rather quickly — less than 36 hours passed from the point I was asked to take a look at the film to the point where Jason returned the questions to me. The longest part of all of this has been my sitting on the questions and prepping them for publication since my schedule has gotten crazy (which was the reason I asked that this be done via email because I could put this together faster).

For me, the joy of reading this interview is that it isn’t like every other Hollywood interview. I freely admit I threw Jason some standard questions but his answers are not standard. I’ve never ever heard anyone, let alone a director, mention being haunted by The English Patient. And I don’t think George Romero has gotten a serious nod from anyone who wasn’t a pure genre director. I also love that the interview adds to the enjoyment of the film; he reveals little things that made me go "oh wow" about the film in retrospect.

I know most of you haven’t seen Seahorses yet (but you will soon). That shouldn’t stop you from reading the interview. It’s a good piece, thanks entirely to Jason’s responses. If we can work it out down the line I'm hoping that he and I can sit down for a long talk about his films and movies in general.

I'd like to thank Jason for setting all of this in motion. It's been a blast this last week seeing the movie, talking with him and setting up the interview. I also want to thank him for sending along the video that is at the bottom of the piece.

Director Jason Kartalian
UNSEEN FILMS (U) We had been emailing back and forth concerning the film, and you said in one, that Seahorses came from a place of truth and a therapy for somethings in your life. Would you care to explain where the film came from?

JASON KARTALIAN (J) I was in both professional and personal crises that lead me to write Seahorses. Professionally, I was tangled up with this sci-fi television series project that started out as a thing of beauty and became frustrating and ridiculous once the money people got involved. Personally, my mother’s health was failing and it was time for the family to make some very difficult life and death decisions that I’m sure we were not equip to make at the time. I started to lose control of everything I valued. I started thinking about life. I started thinking about loss. Was I wasting my time chasing the Hollywood dragon? As for filmmaking, maybe I just needed to create something real. I needed to confront my problems instead of running away. I started to make art for myself. I started writing Seahorses. Then something amazing happened, people started getting involved. They helped enhance and elevate my vision. One person’s story became a mission shared by many talented people. That’s how movies are really made.

(U) I know you've done two other films, How do you go about putting one of your films together? Do you have a family of craftsmen and women that you work with?

(J) With Seahorses, I was very lucky to begin the process with Producer Roxy Shih. She is young, smart, a great people person and possesses an incredible energy. At the time she had been working on all sorts of shorts, rock videos and low budget features that helped us hand select from that talent pool and assemble a “dream team” crew for Seahorses. The team that worked on Seahorses has inspired me as filmmaker and the possibilities one can reach even with a limited budget. I have really tapped into a young vibrant group of filmmakers who are positive, talented and are in it for the right reasons. I look forward to working with the same team in the near future.

(U) A large portion of the success of the film that I'd like to talk about talk about casting. Where did you find Ian Hutton and Justine Wachsberger? Had you known them before?

(J) I spent over 6 months casting Seahorses, I read hundreds of actors (drove my producer Roxy crazy) and then I finally found Ian and Justine. Justine was brought to me as a recommendation from an actor friend. Ian actually originally came in to read for the bad guy role, Travis. I knew he had something special and asked him to try out for the lead. I told Justine she would have the part if she dyed her hair blue. I told Ian I would give him the part if he lost 40 pounds (he was a little chunky at the time) Justine dyed her hair blue and Ian went on a fluid diet! Both Ian and Justine are amazing actors and have great chemistry together. The script was adjusted for them after they were cast. During the rehearsal process, Ian, Justine and myself, worked together creating the beats and the nuances to enhance every moment.

(U) How much did you change once the actors had been cast?

(J) We added a couple of scenes that were work-shopped during rehearsal. We also worked on enhancing moments within the scenes. Ian Hutton is from Oklahoma so we adjusted some lines to fit someone who was a transplant to LA. I learned that Justine multicultural being raised in both Los Angeles and Paris, and I wanted something different for the scenes she had with her brother, so we translated those scenes to French. I feel the French language scenes give her character Lauren even more texture and mystery.

(U) How much of the characters are really you?

(J) I write from the core, the main characters Lauren and Marty have many traits that I possess. I feel these characters are relatable as well. I might an expert writing dysfunctional characters. Marty is hiding from pain by shutting himself in; Lauren is running away from pain by acting out with drugs and sex. Perhaps writing and making movies like this allow me to act out in fiction without acting out in real life.

(U) Where did the seahorses come from? Were they and the metaphor always part of the story?

(J) At first, the seahorses were not in the script. I live near an aquarium shop. When I was writing the script I was always strolling through the shop. One day, I saw some seahorses swimming around, they had trouble moving and the water pumps were pushing them around. They reminded me of my characters in the script I was writing: fragile and adrift. I started doing some research on Seahorses and they fit so well into the piece, the seahorses became the piece!

(U) At what point did the idea to use the haunting blue and the color schemes that permeates much of the film come from?

(J) Aquariums have blues and dark reds and black lights and funky glowing colors, so we took that color palate saturate the film with that style. I brought my production team into aquariums and we took tons of pictures. We also used strange looking practical lights that look like sea creatures and underwater plants. We spend a great deal of our budget getting cool aquatic looking things, like that crazy bubble wall that shows up in the film a bunch of times. The film was really lit with very non-traditional lighting sources and I feel that makes it unique.

(U) How close to what you first envisioned when you started did the film end up?

(J) At first we were going to make it more realistic style hand held, movie with the camera whipping around with stark production design. Then I was introduced to some really resourceful creative people like Director of Photography, Basil Mironer and Production Designer Reed Johns, and they opened up a new world to me of some really cool possibilities. “Can we create and underwater world for our characters?,” I asked. They delivered.

(U) One of the thing that struck me about the film was that with a few changes the script could be a stage play. Did you ever considered going that route?

(J) It was always intended as a feature, I feel that we worked to make it as cinematic as possible, with lighting, mood and visual motifs. I love the theatre and grew up in that environment, but I also love gear, lights, lenses, cameras; all the methods we use to tell cinematic stories.

(U)The music in the film plays an important role. How did you end up choosing to work with Jason Solowsky and did you have input into how the music was done?

(J) Jason Solowsky and I had worked together before so he knew what he was getting into dealing with me! I was really hands-on with the score and he was a Saint for letting me work with him at that level. We did many different versions of each cue, I was insistent on not letting the music telegraph the moment. Instead of a traditional score that guides the audience, I wanted us to reach for mood and textures. Solowsky was very patient with me; sometimes he would provide me with as many as eight to ten different versions of a scene. Solowsky likes to really create dense scores, so I really was into peeling away layers to match the economy of the moment.

(U) I know your dad is Buck Kartalian. Did you ever consider following in his footsteps?

(J) My father was a master character actor, a one-of-a-kind personality, a hard act to follow. The one thing I noticed growing up watching him, was that the actor needs a part, a script and a project. I feel more comfortable in a place where I create the part, the script and the project.

(U) Your last film was Driller, a horror science fiction film. Before that was Pedestrian, a film with fantasy elements to it. With Seahorses, you're firmly rooted in real life. Is it harder or easier working on a story where you have to remain entirely real?

(J) To me, cinema is elevated reality. We find beautiful, and interesting looking people to tell our stories, we light them glamorously, we put them in interesting settings. We condense their stories to make them impactfull and interesting. Given the stylistic flourishes and the underwater themes I feel that Seahorses really is a fable. The characters are rooted in real life situations and react in humanly “real” ways. To me, even the most fantastical situation is real, because the human element and the reactions to that situation are rooted in the “real world.”

(U) Since Seahorses is a romance, what, in your opinion are the best films in that genre?

(J) The English Patient is a film that haunts me to this day. I love the film Choose Me by Alan Rudolph. Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. I love the natural beauty of many Eric Rohmer romances. More currently, the dysfunctional romance of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color.

(U) Who are your favorite directors?

(J) So many here is a short list: I like directors with distinct voices that explore new worlds or places I’ve never been: Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, David Cronenberg and David Fincher.

(U) What are your favorite films? What films do you watch just to watch? What do you watch to inspire you?

(J) I have such a broad reaching taste from art-house to genre. Love films that have a message that resonates: The painting of American consumerism in George Romero’s, Dawn of the Dead. The dying of French cinema in Oliver Assayas’ Irma Vep. I think that the new frontier is television for cinematic excellence. For total craftsmanship you just can’t beat Game of Thrones.

(U) Are there any films — outside of Seahorses — that you think have been unfairly overlooked?

(J) One of my favorite films of my childhood (and to this day) is the Richard Rush film The Stuntman. Even though that film got a couple of Oscar nominations at the time not sure if many people know of it outside hardcore cinephiles.



As I was putting the finishing touches on the interview Jason sent me a link to the following documentary. Its a short film that mixes footage from the premiere at Dancing With Film with some footage of the making of the film. Its pretty cool and will give you a taste of what the film is like.


Discovering SEAHORSES - PREMIERE & MAKING OF MINI DOCUMENTARY from Jason Kartalian on Vimeo.

Seahorses (2014)



Seahorses world premiered a couple weeks back at Dances with Films. It’s a film that needs to get out and find its audience so it can dance around and through their lives.

The film is the story of Lauren and Martin who met through Craig’s List. They have returned to Martin’s apartment after a night out. As the film opens she is hesitant to really go in; he assures her just wants to the company. She warns him that she probably shouldn’t come in, that there are times one shouldn't let strangers in. We get the sense of a great darkness hiding behind her eyes. She eventually does come in, making her way to the bathroom. Revelations begin immediately for the audience, and less quickly for the couple as we see that they are both deeply damaged souls looking for something. Both, it seems, have more emotional baggage than is allowable by law. The question is: will the pair be able to navigate the evening and find — perhaps if not "the one" — but someone they can hold on to?.

Seahorses is a grand dance between Lauren and Martin. Will they crash together or will their respective bits of baggage — his neediness or her need to constantly protect herself — ruin a potential real relationship? It’s never really clear, especially since the tone is never really full-on romantic. If you walk into the film blind, as I did, you really can’t be certain where this is going or how it will ultimately play out. Cliché it is not (you don't know how good it is to say that).

From my point of view, this is a really good solid film that says so much about today's existence and relationships. If you need proof, all you need do is watch the first half hour which plays out as a kind of twisted version of what seems to be most dates today, two people together but not together. You know what I'm talking about — two people on cellphones, not interacting with each other, but rather with other people somewhere else in the universe. He's in his living room or kitchen trying to coax her out; she is in his bathroom, refusing to leave. They don't talk face to face but via their phones. It’s a clever twist — especially since so much cellphone action these days seems to involve people not talking to a person but staring at a screen and tapping.

The script by director Jason Kartalian is good enough that with a few adjustments this could play very nicely on a stage as a kind of updated version of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune. The film scores points in giving us two people who are closer to real than to Hollywood’s idea of romantic couples — even McNally's idea — since these are very broken people.

While I have a few small reservations with bits of Kartalian's script, his directorial choices are largely first-rate, with a color scheme that matches Martin's aquarium and the staging of several visceral exchanges between the two would be lovers done with a surgical skill that exposes just how raw and broken they really are. Frequently it's Kartalian's staging of the action that speaks louder than his words and allows his actors to reveal hidden layers with looks, postures or gestures. This isn't a film that relies on just one thing, this is a film where it works to create a greater whole.

That the film works as well as it does is thanks to Ian Hutton as Martin and Justine Wachsberger as Lauren. They keep the film wonderfully alive from start to finish. Both of the performances are the sort that show how good actors can be, that get you big roles in big films (said with no disrespect to small films like this). If Wachsberger ends up with a faster rise to the top, it's only because she has the showier role with more to do. However, one shouldn't forget Hutton, who is equally good. He has to play it as a a kind of straight-man, which means he has to be just as good as his partner so as to allow her something to play against. He can't show off lest her performance, and the whole film, crumble. It’s a difficult acting trick, but he pulls it off as flawlessly as Wachsberger.

This is a smart little film you need to keep an eye out for. The film is currently on the festival circuit and it will be getting a later theatrical run. See this film. It’s a neat little story that shows us how much like seahorses we are, trying desperately to steer our lives but really at the mercy of the tide, which may or may not push us toward something or someone we can hold on to.

(An interview with writer/director Jason Kartalian can be found here)

NYAFF 2014 REPOST Mondocurry talks R100


This is a repost of the review that Mondocurry did when the film World Premiered last year

Sushi. Sumo wrestling. Sexual Fetishes. The top 3 imports Japan has bestowed upon the world? The order may be cause for debate. And probably at least one of those item’s presence on the list would cause a ripple of discontent…maybe even the third one? But no doubt, no nation has been associated with such a varied and concentrated output of fetishized sexual ideas and material to the same extent as Japan. And although it may be more a point of shame than pride for much of the nation’s citizenship, there have certainly been some interesting ways of dealing with this peculiar identity marker. In the world of film, there has been a sort of humorous coming to terms with its presence, perhaps foremost in recent festival hit Hentai Kamen, a superhero sendup, which finds the son of a sadistic dominatrix mom and a masochistic cop dad endowed with superhuman powers when he revels in his own latent and very taboo fetishistic obsession with wearing women's panties.

HK is now joined by R100, the latest feature directed by Matsumoto Hitoshi, which finds the well-known comedian provoking audience reactions as much as in his previous offbeat comedies, this time around under the auspices of its suggestive subject. It tells the tale of a man who hires the services of an underground s&m club, which promises to send dominant call girls to wherever he may be to provide erotic stimulation - the sort that would turn on a masochist craving abusive treatment. What goes for abuse turns out to be rather enlightening. Aside from your standard physical interactions, like a knee to the groin, it turns out that breaking an appointment or showing up unexpectedly are also valid forms of humiliation.

In a turn not unlike the bleeding of fantasy into reality in Fincher’s The Game, the services being rendered begin to encroach on the main character’s personal life, take on life threatening proportions even, and the only apparent way out is a battle between him and the mysterious club, complete with secret agents and larger than life criminal bosses.

This sounds like it could be a serious psychological thriller. And it is shot in surprisingly effective noir-ish tones, full of dark grays and subterranean shadows. Yet despite Matsumoto’s persistence in keeping a straight face, the proceedings are far from serious.

The joke begins with the title, which asserts that the film’s suggestive nature is too mature for audiences under 100 years old. The notion of a film being more erotically charged than any other when it does not contain one split second of explicit sex is deadpan humor in itself. And yet, something does seem to ring true of an awkward strain that this abstract kinkiness puts on the population’s psyche.

A favorite scene of mine comes early as the man dines in a sushi shop. As his delicately crafted course is presented to him, one of the latex clad agents of the club squashes each exquisite roll under her palm, forcing him to eat the ruined morsels. It is as bizarre as it is ridiculous, arguably inoffensive, yet it causes the other diners to shift in their seats in quiet discomfort. On he surface it’s simply the best sort of awkward humor that defies a logical punchline. However, look a little deeper it seems to say something about the strange relationship between the famously reserved culture of Japan, where open disapproval or criticism is not the norm, and this increasingly prominent subculture of abnormal sexual desire.

This is not the only place where Matsumoto’s inscrutable sense of humor proves to be a charm for some while probably exasperating others. His sensibilities lay somewhere between subtly clever instigator and a weirdly out of touch uncle insistent on making corny jokes. As for the former, the film is as self-referential as one can get, from its onscreen director’s career choices paralleling those of Matsumoto himself, to sudden lapses into mockumentary interview mode, which viewers of his notorious debut Dainipponjin will be familiar with. Before you can criticize the film’s plot holes or gaps in logic, Matsumoto beats you to the punch with a clever framing device that shows the film we thought we were watching to be something like a test screening of the abovementioned fictitious auteur’s latest work. The producers or distributors watching along with us are already there with plenty of issues with the film’s logic. R100 doesn’t just break down the 4th wall, it kicks up its heels in the rubble.

And yet the director can’t help but throw in a generous helping of gag humor, still moderate in comparison with Dainipponjin’s excess. It works well here, as it speaks to the eroticizing of some of the most physically off-putting behaviors imaginable, sending the aforementioned subtlety packing.

Perhaps Matsumoto perceives himself as the hapless goofball, at least to some extent. There is a definite theme running through his work, which builds stories around crestfallen men in the unglamorous 30 and above demographic. Of all these films, the protagonist of R100 is perhaps the most grounded in reality: a furniture salesman raising a son on his own and forced to stand by helplessly as his wife, stricken by illness, whiles away on life support. Through all the offbeat humor, our attention keeps being turned back to this sympathetic figure (played by Nao Omori, who’s acted in Fish Story and Ichi The Killer among numerous other impressive features), not unlike the despondent would be warrior figure of his previous film, Scabbard Samurai.

When the film builds toward its conclusion of escalating over the top action and absurd humor, it goes over the edge like a barrel flying over the side of a waterfall. An all too conveniently placed stockpile of weapons allows the protagonist to fight back against a killer elite squad of dominatrices. It’s ludicrous enough to make one’s eyes roll if one doesn’t appreciate the fact that Matsumoto is doing this all with a wink and a nudge. Soon, that consistently moody film quality is lost in a haze of horribly cheap looking CGI explosions. Could it be a statement on the inanity of big budget action films? Or merely a reminder that Matsumoto doesn’t do action films – although he’ll gladly and boldly go where he has never gone before, even if it means fumbling about wildly.

As for the film’s final statement, it is a bold one, both visually and thematically, that looks to achieve a more universal message of acceptance than just the struggle of Japan’s unsung male figures. I’m not sure it clasps the entire experience together as a cohesive whole, but the film is made up of so many fantastic and fantastical moments, it’s nothing to get hung up about.

R100 received its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and screens in theaters in Japan beginning October 5th. Keep an eye out for more activity around this bizarre film.


Me on twitter = @mondocurry

For tickets and more information on the NYAFF screening go here.

NYAFF 2014 mini review : TOP STAR (2013)


With this year's New York Asian Film Festival there are a couple of films that we've seen, and which because of time issues we can't do a full length reviews in time to get it up before the festival screenings. In order to give you some word before the film screens I'm going to run mini reviews so you can make up you're own mind .

First up is Top Star. This is a Korean film that places later today at 615 and Monday at 330.  When you read my little piece below, do keep in mind that Mondocurry picked this as one of the must see films of the festival. He is very high on it, so high that you probably should just ignore my piece and go see it.

Manager for a big star becomes a star himself eclipsing his former client. But as he climbs so so does his ego. Good drama is a look inside the Korean film industry...and to be honest that's all I can say about the film. You'll forgive me for not saying any more about the film but between the time between seeing the film and when it came time to write it up it completely disappeared from my brain leaving only a sense of "that was good, what was it again?"

For more information and tickets go to the Lincoln Center website.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Stations of the Elevated (1981) Restored 2014 BAMCinema Fest 2014


Stations of the Elevated is a visual poem about graffiti (particularly on subways), billboards and various landscapes,. Sometimes it has naturalistic sounds and sometimes it has music by Charles Mingus. It runs 45 minutes.

I’m kind of at a loss at what to say about the film. Taking it head on as a film Its 45 minutes of various forms of graffiti both legal (billboards) and illegal (on the side of trains and buildings). It’s a trippy film that one falls into. The problem is that after a while it kind of trails off. We’re watching the same trains over and over again, seeing the same images over and over again over the 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes I was falling asleep.

As a historical document, of New York and graffiti in the late 1970’s its an important document. It’s a film that takes urban blight and street art and turns it into to what many would consider a higher art form. It’s a film that shows us what things looked like back in the bad old days.

Sadly I don’t think that’s really enough to get you to say go out to BAM where the film is playing tonight and pay 25 bucks to see it. Yes the film will be preceded by 45 minutes of live music, but the film itself doesn’t warrant the out lay of money. Had the film been shown as part of a gallery installation where you could walk in and out on it and where it had other pieces of art this might have been something, but taken on it’s own terms this is more a historical footnote for those interested in the history of the art is depicts then a lost cinematic masterpiece. Worth seeing if you can do so with something else, like museum admission (it plays the Museum of the City of New York August 14th) but not on its own terms.

RIGOR MORTIS (2013) New York Asian Film Festival 2014

I love this movie.

I saw this film back in May and started to tell everyone about it...and I'm still talking about it.

The plot of the film has a down on his luck actor moving into a new apartment building. Its a run down place with odd neighbors, some living, some dead. it isn't long before the forces of the living and the dead come into conflict...

I'm being intentionally unclear because this is a film that better to see than read about. Actually its bets to see it in a dark theater with an audience and I'm hoping to catch the film at the New York Asian Film Festival screening since it will be filled with people who are ready for a film like this. Wellgo released the film into theaters back on June 6 as well as VOD but I avoided it because I'm picking the audience I'm seeing this with. (It plays at the New York Asian Festival July fourth and hits DVD shortly there after)

This is a film with style and mood to burn. It has such an awesome look that I can't believe Wellgo has chosen the poster it has for the film since the original Chinese one (see above) is so much better. The look of the film makes you feel uneasy. Not only does it make you feel uneasy it does so in such a manner that you feel creeped out even though you know the film is messing with you.

The plot is suitably dream like, drifting from thing to thing, weird event to weird event, sucking you down the rabbit hole. Its the sort of film that you're dismissing one minute and sitting on the edge of your seat the next. Its creepy all along the way, so much so that I'm glad I saw this in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon instead of in the dark of the night because I don't want this film in my dreams.

If you love horror, I mean really good horror- see this film- just don't do it late at night when you're alone.

One of the best horror films I've seen in 2014.

And remember- what ever you do don't take off the mask.

For tickets and more information go here.

( This piece was originally written for the theatrical release but I decided to go with Mondocurry's piece for theaters and hold mine for the festival. To see Mondo's original piece it can be found here)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What went wrong with the Jersey Boys movie?

There has been a lot of hand wringing and second guessing about what went wrong with the Jersey Boys movie. Why aren’t the reviews better? Why aren’t people flocking to it? Was Clint Eastwood the wrong director? Did it need big stars? Having seen the film I’d like to offer my two cents.

For those who don’t know, Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from before their creation to their break up and it ends (its not giving anything away) with their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The film is based on the hit Broadway show and it stars John Lloyd Young who won a Tony for the Broadway show. And outside of Christopher Walken there are no big names in the film.

I love the Broadway show. I’m an early adopter- seeing the show in previews I went out and sold it to friends and family. Bits of it are among favorite pieces in any Broadway show. The show blends the story and the music so that that the songs are sometimes the songs they are recording and other times they are used to move the plot as they reflect emotion and the characters mental state. The show is a essentially a grand fantasia on the Four Seasons story… the film is not, which is why it never really gains much altitude- until the end.

If you ask me Jersey Boys was doomed from the minute they decided to make the film wholly a realistic tale with the exception of the breaking of the fourth wall. By not making it a musical fantasia they removed what made the story work as entertainment. Seeing it as a realistic story makes it just another story of guys reaching for stardom, it's just another musical bio, with nothing special to set it apart from any other similar film. By not adding flash the film simply doesn’t stand out

While watching the film I was okay with it. Hell, its not a bad movie. I was enjoying myself. It wasn’t until the final sequences- at the Rock and Roll induction ceremony and the end credits dance number that the film sprung to life. Here was what the film could have been- here was the magic the story needed. Sadly the end pieces are so good it makes the rest of the film (which is good) seem less than it is.

It’s a heartbreaker to realize that the film never was going to work because they chose the wrong way to tell the story.

That said- its good film and worth seeing.

Nothing Bad can Happen (2013)

Tore is a "homeless" young man with a boundless love of Jesus. Part of a group called the Jesus Freaks he hangs out a cafe where preaching mixes with heavy metal music.  After praying Benno's truck to start, Benno goes to the cafe just in time to see Tore collapse in an epileptic fit. The older man takes the younger home to his family. Tore thinks he's found a home, instead he's entered one of the rings of hell as his new family delights in tormenting him and attempting to test his faith.

The film is much less the horror film promised by the American distributor than an unpleasant and cruel drama that examines of the notion of belief and the degree to which a non-believer may go to rattle one's faith.  Its also an exploration of how seemingly good people can do truly bad things as the little jabs grow worse and worse and Benno and his family end up on the track of seeing how far they can push the young believer in their midst. Worse it becomes personal as they begin to hate him for never wavering. Its a straight up portrait of the cruelty of human kind and an exploration of where evil may come from.

That may all be well and good, as is the fact its a deeply disturbing film but  when all is said and done and the end credits come down I'm not sure it adds up to much. What is the purpose of all of this?

I don't know. While it maybe based on a true story, the film is clearly reaching more  and I don't know if it reaches it. The problem for me comes from never being sure why Tore stays. Why does he stay? It never really makes sense to me that he would suffer so much. Okay yes he has faith in Jesus and probably believes that god has a plan...but was constantly reminded of the story of a man refusing to leave in the face of a flood because God would provide. He tells everyone who came to save him as the water got higher and higher that god will save him-he dies and then meets God and asks why he wasn't saved only to be told about all the efforts he had made to save him that he ignored.

If we don't understand the suffering the film kind of falls apart. If you want to know why this is important you should compare this film to the French film Martyrs, a film Nothing Bad... is compared to in the promotional material. In Martyrs the suffering is unbearable and made worse once we learn why its being inflicted. Its a moment that makes the film even more horrifying since its the point at which the film ceases to be merely torture porn and become something else, something troubling...and a great film. Nothing Bad... never achieves that because we never really understand Tore as anything other than misguided.

For me the film just misses. Even with the final revelations of emotion in the face of unwavering faith the film never manages to get that final kick in the chest it needs to really amount to anything. Is it a bad film? No. But what should have been a crushing examination of faith and evil is instead something close to very intelligent torture porn

The film opens in LA on June 27th and NYC on July 3rd.

Golden Chickenssss (2014) plays this year's New York Asian Film Festival opening night and its a must see

The opening night film (but not opening film that's Overheard 3)at this year's New York Asian Film Festival is Sandra Ng's return to the Golden Chicken franchise and its a great deal of fun. Actually its frequently hysterically funny and any lover of Hong Kong films should see it for all of the cameos.

The episodic film follows Ng's Kam as she gives us a history of her profession before moving on to the difficulties of being a madam in today's Hong Kong with a look at what happens in a day, on to fulfilling the wishes of a client who wants to sleep with a famous star on to spicing up how she does what she does  In there is a quest for love and a few musical numbers as well.

If that's vague it's intentional because now that I've seen the film I'm tempted to tell you all of the jokes and all of the cameos. Revealing too much will wreck the surprises and perhaps telegraph some of the punch lines.

A bawdy adult sex romp this is joyously innocent in a way. Yea its a sex comedy, but its also utterly charming, there is no way you could ever be offended by the film. In a weird way it has a childlike approach to the sex which makes it even more endearing.

One of the joys of the film are the cameos with the big stars and familiar faces sending themselves and their roles up. If you've been following Asian films over the last decade or so odds are you're going to find this funnier than a person who doesn't know who some of the actors and their roles are.

I love this film a great deal.

Is it perfect? No. The film kind of loses steam in the second half as the anything goes energy that drove it for the first 45 minutes gets kind of side tracked with a plot and homage to the  gangster gets out of prison genre. Its  not bad but the rapid fire laughs disappear and the shift in tone feels slightly awkward- even if the film ends with a musical number that returns it all to manic silliness during the end credits.

Reservations aside if you love Asian film and Hong Kong films in particular you MUST see this. Trust me. This is a fun time especially if you can see it at something like the New York Asian Film Festival where the theater will be filled with people who'll get the jokes.

For tickets go to the Festival Website here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A few words on Golden Chicken (2002) New York Asian Film Festival 2014

I'm cheating here- I saw this film ages ago and I thought I reviewed it either here at Unseen or at IMDB but apparently I didn't. I say that because I had hoped to steal that review for this years NYAFF.  With a back log of films I was left with the choice of tracking down my DVD or just winging the review. I'm winging the review.

Yea I know how can I write up a movie  that I haven't seen in years?

Easy, by talking about the things that I remember- and what I remember is laughing my ass off.  No matter what you say, this is a damn funny and absolutely charming comedy. I completely understand why this spawned two sequels.

The plot of the film has an aging prostitute, played to perfection by Sandra Ng, ending up trapped in a bank ATM area with a would be robber the very funny Eric Tsang. As they wait to be rescued/find away out Ng talks about her life story which mirrors the economic status of Hong Kong. Its a story filled with highs and lows.

If you've never seen this film you need to. This is a film that will make you laugh and smile and feel good. I say that because several people I know don't like comedies from Hong Kong or China because they find them to be overly silly with a feel that doesn't work for them. I know how they feel since I frequently find that some of the "great" comedies from China don't translate to Western sensibilities.  Golden Chicken crosses over and then some.

To be perfectly honest I have no idea why this film isn't better known. Why is that when so many other films from China have come and gone to great acclaim or at least word of mouth, Golden Chicken remains a kind of hidden gem. Its the sort of film that  most people I know don't know about, or even talk about, however when ever its mentioned anyone who's seen it will chime in at how good it is.

Go see this when it plays Saturday at 1230, you'll thank me. For tickets go here

Siddharth opens Friday


Opening Friday is the film Siddharth. It concerns a father’s frantic search for his missing son whom he sent off to work in a factory belonging to a friend of a friend. I saw the film back in November when it played the South Asian Film Festival here in New York. The film has also played in numerous other film festivals including the just completed Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Here’s my review from the South Asian Film Festival:

Don't worry, you're the one who sent him away. If you can't find him have another- owner of the shop where the missing boy was working.

Playing tomorrow at the South Asian Film Festival is SIDDHARTH. The film has an impediment to discussing it in that how I feel about the film hinges on the endingand I don't want to say what that is. I say that because I was along for the ride for 99% of the running time, and what happens at the end pushed me into feeling just okay about the film.

The plot of the film concerns a father who sends his 12 year old son away to work in a distant town. His wife's brother in law was asked to help find a boy to replace one who left a friend;s shop and he thought of Siddharth, However something went wrong which is only discovered when the boy doesn't return as scheduled. This sends his parents into a panic. Things are made worse when they find out that the brother in law knew two weeks earlier that the boy had gone missing but didn't say anything figuring he had simply bailed on the job and was just going to come home as planned. Attempting to do everything he can to find him Siddharth's father begins to try and track down the boy's two week old trail.

Shot as a kind of slice of life film there are no grand action set pieces, there is no rapid cutting, there is simply life played out in extended sequences as a father tries to find his only son. Its a troubling tale (the film says its based on a true story) that gets under your skin and hangs with you.

This is life and I'm sure that the story is regrettably played out thousands of times a week across the globe. It's so real at times that it reminds me of a documentary I saw in 2011 at called GONE which had a mother trying to find her missing son in Europe. Like that film SIDDHARTH has an unexpected unresolved conclusion. While GONE's ending works, because that's life and you can't force things to happen a certain way, here in the nominally fictional tale the ending doesn't feel quite right, yes it's ending is life but at the same time it doesn't feel right. No, it's not so much it doesn't feel right, rather it makes you wonder what is the point of telling us this story. (Addendum from June 2014: though to be completely honesteven after 6 months of contemplation  I don't know what ending would have worked and felt satisfying)

Don't take this to mean that my reaction to the film is not a negative one, it's not, I do like most of what the film does and it's worth seeing for that, its just that by the time the end credits role it just somehow missed the mark for me. I wanted to love the film instead I just like it.

The film opens Friday at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York and the Nuart in Los Angeles July 11

As it prepares to hit US screens Friday my thoughts on Snowpiercer on the big screen

About a month ago I was invited to see SNOWPIERCER on the big screen. As many of you know I saw the film back a few months ago on a French import DVD (My original piece can be found here) As much as I liked the film I wanted to see it not only big, but subtitled in English since part of the film in in Korean and what is said, especially toward the end of the film is vital to understanding the movie.

I’ve now seen it big and subtitled in English and I think the film is even more impressive then I first thought.

For those who don’t know the film is the story takes place on a world that has been frozen. A plan to stop global warming has frozen the world. The only ones alive are those on a miles long train that circles the globe once a year. A group of people in the tail section of the train are tired of feeling like cattle and they stage a revolt and begin to make their way to the front of the train.

The film kind of a two part film. The first half of the film is a kind of straight forward action film with the tailenders fighting their way forward and the second half is what happens once they get toward the fancier front of the train. While the film maintains a certain level of action, it also becomes more thoughtful.

Actually the point that the tailenders cross into the garden section the film kind of goes into a Wizard of Oz mode with the film making a switch much like the 1939 film when Dorothy wakes up in Oz.

My initial thoughts on the film was that it was a brilliant mess. Pieces of the film, pretty much all but one of the action set pieces, being true action classics. I originally found the film a bit odd in its gyrations, especially its decent into allegory in the final half. I was giddy with delight at the prospect of something as wild and heady getting a major release and I was horrified that the Weinsteins, the films English language distributor attempting to chop 25 minutes out of it (I purchased the French DVD because I feared the full version would not get a US release)

Seeing the film again I’m less split on the film, it is a masterpiece of science fiction despite its flaws.

Before I wax poetic I should probably answer the question What are the flaws?

First off the idea of the train that runs around the world is a bit daft. Yea it’s a cool idea but it’s not really a practical one. It’s a minor conceit and you have to go with it because the whole film is set on it, but ultimately it makes little sense if you (over) think about it.(For those who are curious the trains speed would  average 50 mph in its travels)

The other problem with the film is the shoot-out between cars. One of train owner Wilfred’s men has gone round the bend and he begins to have a shoot-out with Chris Evan when the train is going around a bend. He shoots across out a window and across an open space to another train car. It looks cool, but it makes no sense-even with the bad guy as completely nuts as he is.

To be honest this is a film that needs to be seen more than once. To really appreciate what it’s aiming at you need to know who everyone is and know what some people are doing (say looking out a window at something in the snow-why is that key? You don’t know until you get to the end). While the questions you have early on are answered at the end, knowing the answers when you see the film again changes your perception of things. It adds a resonance that is missing the first time through. More importantly what you think may be random or off handed actions or a flub, turns out not to be. The bumps smooth out.

When I went into the screening room to see the film this last time I took a seat literally next to the door out. My feeling was that I had seen the film and that once I got a taste of it on the big screen I could bolt. What actually happened was sitting in the theater I fell into the film deeper than before. Any preconceived notions were gone (The story of the film’s road to release is legendary) and armed with knowledge of later developments of the plot I could see things as the really are. Being a second time passenger familiar with the workings of the train things made sense and the film suddenly felt deeper and more complete. I could feel the toll taken on the group of rebels and I could feel their pain more.

I went from I’ll stay for a little bit, to hanging in to the bitter end. I went for thinking the film is a glorious mess to the film is a brilliant masterpiece. Its truly great film of great intelligence that takes a step or two away from the pack and becomes something that’s going to be debated and enjoyed for years to come.

Go see the film ASAP- and then go see it again.

The film screens tonight as the Centerpiece of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAMcinema Fest with the director in attendance. Tickets at the BAMcinema Fest website

There is a special screening with director Bong Joon-ho tomorrow night at Lincoln Center. Tickets and information can be had by going here.

The regular theatrical run starts Friday)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grizzly II: The Predator (1983)

This feels almost unfair to judge a film by it's work-print. In other words, a very early version used during the editing process. But what if it's something so obscure, so incomplete and quite frankly something that probably wouldn't have been good regardless. No I'm not referring to that unfinished, fourth Sleepaway Camp sequel, this is much more sinister. A follow up to the 1976, Jaws inspired rip-off, Grizzly, entitled Grizzly II: The Predator. Also known as, Grizzly II: The Concert and Predator: The Concert.

Under the supervision of an unknown (never to be heard from again) director, and the co-producer & writer of the first film, Grizzly II: The Predator began filming in the early 80's in the Country of Hungary. So Hungary was chosen as the location for a film who's plot centers around a rock concert in the open, desolate woods. I guess the State of Vermont wasn't interested. As to what exactly happened to the film, between rumored problems with the animatronic bear, money issues and the film crew's equipment being seized by the Hungarian government, Grizzly II seemed dead on arrival. It took nearly 20 years before a semi finished work-print traveled around the horror circuit. Yet how fitting that a film about a killer grizzly would be missing one small factor...A BEAR! Scenes involving the grizzly were held off until the final weeks of production. That didn't exactly pan out.

So the film begins with footage of a random poacher who is quickly knocked off screen by the bear's monstrous arm. And that is the last you'll see of the grizzly until the final climax. Oh but you'll know when the bear is close due to it's signature growl, which sounds like pigs being slaughtered. Let's get back to the concert that's in the making, since that's where most of the movie takes place. While the staff of this Woodstock-lite gathering prepares the stage, we are treated to an endless loop of Michael Jackson music in the background. Maybe that's why this was never released, Jackson could have raked in the cash from copyright infringement.

Grizzly II: The Predator has so many recognizable faces, it should be a drinking game. Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher plays a greedy, business woman who will stop at nothing to make sure this concert goes as planned. This requires having nearly every park ranger in sight to act as security. It certainly seems like a better option than hiring the Hell's Angels. Back at the woods, word is getting around that a giant grizzly is on the loose killing people. Have no fear, Gimly from The Lord of the Rings trilogy (John Rhys-Davies) and a ensemble cast of "Hey I know that guy" actors are on the hunt. Also we have Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen & George F'N Clooney. All of which I'm sure would deny their participation in this piece of garbage. Unfortunately the three young upstarts don't have much screen time. While Sheen's character heads off to dreamland to reminisce of better times, like being on the set of Platoon, Dern and Clooney, stay up for some late night activities. An appearance from Jason Voorhees could really save this scene, but both are killed off by the camera man...oops, I mean bear. Sure, let's go with that. Meanwhile, 'Wild Thing' Ricky Vaughn jumps in a Tiger Blood fueled rocket ship destined for the Moon. Spoiler alert: he dies too.


Thirty minutes into the film, the stage crew is still working to get things in place for the big show. And yet no one has grown tired of hearing the same Michael Jackson songs over and over. The poachers in the Hungarian woods are still on the hunt for what we learn is a 20 foot tall bear. So not much has changed since the beginning. We do have the Chief Park Ranger (Steve Inwood) who tries to warn Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) that a deadly grizzly is on the loose. She ignores the cry for help because people need to hear 1980's new-wave and damn it they're going to get it. Let's face it, the last time Louise Fletcher and someone named 'Chief' we're in the same film, it didn't end well either. Actress Deborah Raffin plays opposite of Inwood's character, and remains optimistic about the grizzly's reasons for attacking. It is totally possible this is all a big misunderstanding, maybe the bear is just looking for a picnic basket.

At the half way point we finally get a look at the live musical acts for GrizzlyFest '83. And when you see them perform you'll pray to hear 'Billie Jean' or 'Wanna Be Starting Something' again. More back and forth footage of what's going on in the woods. Which means characters are being killed off screen because WE HAVE NO BEAR. Though it is quite amusing to see the camera man's reflection among the rocks. One of the film's many highlights comes towards the one hour mark, where we witness a sound check that goes on for several minutes. It's literally footage of someone doing a mic check.

Since there is no such thing as a time-lapse in this film, we go from having an empty concert field to the entire population of Central Europe showing up. In the meantime our head hunter (Rhys-Davies), has been preparing for his inevitable meet up with the grizzly. I bet he spent his time thinking of all the horrible things he was going to tell his agent. Seriously, he went from starring in Raiders of the Lost Ark to Grizzly II. Back to the chief and his female companion, they soon get word that the grizzly is approaching the concert area. Now again just to mention, this is an unfinished film. Though you only get hints of that during the first three quarters. All of that changes in the final 10 minutes.

The ending sequence of Grizzly II: The Predator contains:
- The sound completely cutting in and out.
- Multiple takes and angles of several scenes. All without sound.
- Numerous times 'cut' & 'action' are heard during scenes.
- Explosions are set off with no connection to each other.
- Characters reacting to things that are not seen on screen.

Did I mention while all this is happening, the concert is still going on. This crowd is either unbelievably dumb or is in a complete trance with the 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood' type music. It's not a complete loss though, we sort of get an idea as to what the bear was going to look like. As far as what becomes of the beast, we get a final shot of it being restrained within the side of the concert stage. It's very unclear as to what happened or how we got to this point.


No ending credits, the film comes to a conclusion with the crowd celebrating. Cheering because the concert is over? Cheering because the grizzly is dead? Though I doubt the latter, no one seemed to notice that some serious bear chaos was happening right next to them. Or maybe the concert-goers are much like the viewers of this film. The only thing they saw was some dreadful lip syncing.

Despite it's many, and it does have many obvious flaws, the film at times is fun to watch. Especially if you enjoy bad cinema, and that's the only reason for seeking this out. The fact that Grizzly II never was or will be officially released, is what keeps it from being celebrated for it's awfulness. If you need visual evidence of that, see for yourself.

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The return of heroic bloodshed in WHITE STORM (2013) New York Asian Film Festival 2014

Benny Chan's WHITE STORM has Louis Koo, Sean Lau and Nick Cheung as three long time friends now cops on the trail of a drug lord known as Eight Headed Buddha.  When the first attempt at bringing Buddha down goes more and more wrong the friendship breaks. Years later the friends are brought back together under unexpected circumstances.

When I saw that Benny Chan had directed a film with Louis Koo, Sean Lau and Nick Cheung I was all over it. There was no thought, there was just a locking on of the target film and going for it and ordering a DVD from Hong Kong. I’m going to make it easy if the thought of these three stellar actors in a film by Benny Chan thrills you, skip the review and buy a ticket for when the film plays at the NYAFF.

If you want to know a little bit more read on-

The film concerns three childhood friends all now cops. One is an inspector, one is a mid-level officer and the other is in deep undercover in the criminal world who wants to come back to the surface. The plan is to go after one more bad guy, Eight Headed Buddha who hails out of Thailand, before pulling their undercover member out of the life. Unfortunately the trip to Thailand is totally screwed up and things go from bad to worse leaving the friendship broken and careers in tatters. Five years on the past comes calling and old sins come back to haunt everyone.

I’m not going to lie this film is a mess, a truly glorious mess, but still a mess. It’s a film that is all over the place in tone, style and genre. It’s a film with dynamic set pieces and long painfully exposition scenes. You will go from being giddy with delight to laughing at the film when a pop song kicks in during a fire fight. It’s a testosterone heavy melodrama for the first hour and a twisty turny throw back to the films of the late 80’s to the 90’s compete with riffs of classic Hong Kong films (The Killer anyone?).

When it works this film is amazing, when it doesn’t you’ll be snoring-or laughing Its a film that is both the best of the this years New York Asian Fulm Festival and among the dullest.

What was Benny Chan thinking? I wish I knew. And it’s his fault since he wrote this Frankenstein monster of a film. I don’t think he ever knew what he wanted to do with the film, I mean what is it- a realistic crime drama of much of the first half or a throwback to the Hong Kong action films of the early 90’s? He doesn’t know and the film suffers.

The worst problem is the pacing of the film. Much of the first hour is painfully slow and…well… dull. Yes we get to know the characters but not a hell of a lot happens. Yea there are a three action sequences, but until you get to the first act closer they aren’t as riveting as they should be. The remaining seventy five minutes move like the wind, actually they move almost too damn fast and have too many plot threads going through them. Things move so fast I’m not sure much of it makes sense. Of course it all ends in one hell of a shoot-out, of the sort that action fans will salivate over and is so wild they'll  forgive all the other short comings, but at the same time it took a long trek to get there.(Its the action you'll remember and is the reason this is ultimately a must see)

Don’t get me wrong I like the film, and I love bits of it, but I really wish it hung together more. I wish it didn’t swing all over the place. I wish the songs in the final shoot out didn’t make me roar with laughter. I also wish this wasn’t two and a quarter hours long. I appreciate that its telling what amounts to an epic story but the deadly slow first hour is not offset by the two quick last hour. While I do remember the high points of the shoot outs (especially the ones that end each of the stories halves) I wish there was more to love.

This is a good film, but it’s by no means great even if there are great performances and great moments.

Should you see it? Yes. Absolutely. If you like action or the stars this is a must see-even more so if you’re seeing it at NYAFF.

For tickets go to the festival website.

Monday, June 23, 2014

NYAFF 2014 Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

Here's a slightly altered review made from something I posted at IMDB a few years back

This film is pure exploitation. This is sex and violence and really gross, even by todays standards. Its not the best film ever made, but if you want gore and worms and gross things with your beautiful naked women this is for you. The film belongs in the exploitation hall of fame.

A very bare bones explanation of the plot has a beautiful woman having an affair because she is bored with her husband of a couple of months. She wants to run off with her lover, who is also married, but he won't go. Getting out of her car on a lonely stretch of road she finds a phone and calls her husband who's cab driver. While she is waiting to be picked up she is raped and killed by two guys. The husband uses the services of a black magician he once saved to get revenge on the killers and the lover. Its gross fun from that point on.

Any  sex in the film occurs early on as we see the very beautiful wife naked in the shower and having sex with her lover. Proving that this is exploitation at its finest we also have a slow motion topless jog along the beach.

This film has a reputation for being gross out royalty and its nice to report that this certainly is the case, topping even some of today's gross out attempts. This is a film that will have you going "yuck" quite often. Done before CGI this film is helped by knowing that what you see is what you get, people really are spiting up insects and such.

The only problem for me was that the film seems oddly paced. Don't get me wrong the plot moves, but at times it seems a bit too talky, which just slows everything down when all we want is more gross stuff.

If you've never seen this you really need to make an effort to do so.

For tickets go to the festival website