Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nightcap 11/30/14 The end of the festival year- Looking ahead to Romania and back at SAIFF and DOC NYC, a sucky Stephen King musical, bad films and links

A cutaway look at Madison Square Garden
We are now heading towards years end and all of the madness that it entails.

For me and the other guys and girls at Unseen it's a time to step back, relax and chill since the festival year is pretty much done. It also means that we can get back on our bikes and choose where we want to go since outside of the big Hollywood films there is a bit of a slow down(I'm getting hit with requests for coverage for January films now)

The last festival for us starts Thursday when MAKING WAVES: NEW ROMANIAN CINEMA hits Lincoln Center. The festival is full of good films. I really liked 4 of the 5 films I saw which has me warming more toward Romanian Cinema.

Atypically our coverage will be a single post on Friday covering all five films. This is my own damn fault  since I sat down and binged on the series Tuesday when I was home sick in bed and I didn't make much more then general notes. That says a great deal about the films quality because I got lost in them, but its bad because the films really deserve longer reviews.
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I want to take a minute and just say a quick word on DOC NYC and SAIFF.

DOC NYC continues to amaze me. Its  so good that I almost want to skip seeing documentaries during the year simply because I know I'm going to get the best stuff there.

As I've said there are no truly bad documentaries, only ones that were they not mixed in with the high quality of the others they would have shined. There were a couple of of films this year that had a seen them away from the 42+ films we saw I would have loved and not liked.

I had some magical experiences going to the fest seeing SHE'S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE'S ANGRY and SALT OF THE EARTH, going to lunch with Mr C and seeing Steve Farhood, and hanging out with Mondo, Chocko and Hubert.

(BTW Brian I still owe you dinner.)

The SOUTH ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL is now one of my favorites.Every year I walk in not having any idea what any of the films are but I walk out with a couple of new favorites and my eyes opened regarding several others.

The thing I also love is that every year I end up conversing with the filmmakers. This year Sudish Kamath gave me one of the coolest viewing experience when he sent his film X my way. Its a film that shouldn't work but does wonderfully- especially the more I think about it.

I was introduced to the fest by Ted Geoghagen and it's a debt I really can't repay.
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Apropos of nothing- this past Monday Peter and I went to see the Stephen King John Melloncamp musical GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY at the Beacon Theater in NYC.

The show is a weird mix of concert, radio show and traditional musical. It tells the story of two sets of brothers- two who are ghosts and who end up tragically. The other pair are the nephews of the ghosts and they appear to be on the same road to ruin.


The music is great. The performances very good.

The script is the worst thing that Stephen King has ever put forward. Its laughably awful (calling MST3K). Dramatically its inert with nothing much happening (certainly not enough to support two and a half hours of stage time) and there are no characters. I have no idea who any one was. There is something there but it needs to be completely rewritten by someone other than King

Any life in the script is staked through the heart by the staging which doesn’t know what it was. It looks like its chaos on stage as people sort of dance, sort of interact as if it was a play and mostly belt out songs. They should have settled on a style and gone with it. I would have gone for a radio show affair since that would have removed the need to do anything other than stand and talk or sing. It would have also would make the descriptive dialog have a reason to exist.

As a concert interrupted by shitty dialog it wasn’t bad. As a musical entertainment it sucked canal water. ( I wanted to use spew , a word the play is fond of, but the play never quite got me to the point of wanting to puke)
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This week look for a whole bunch of new releases to get reviewed as well as super sized entry on MAKING WAVES on Friday.

After this week we’re doing what has become an annual event- a month of Criterion collection titles.

I should also mention that I’m at work on the year end wrap ups. The festival wrap up is more or less done, now to dive in and deal with the good the bad and the film finds.

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One of the worst films of the year A SPELL TO WARD OFF DARKNESS is getting a release Friday. Its a horrible film that makes no sense unless you read the copious press notes and if then it will leave you feeling like "you must be kidding". I'm considering reposting my review from New  Directors New Films but I don't know if I want to waste the space. (It can be found here)

Another truly awful film THE STORY OF MY DEATH, a film I'd rather skip to have a root canal has started screening at the Anthology FIlm Archives in New York. I can't say anything good about it other than avoid it.

My take on the film can be found here.
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And now Randi's Links

The animated adventures of Firefly- Production diary
Last Lunch with Mike Nichols
Disney Animation Posters
Mutts Behind the Curtain:The Gifts of nothing
David Hare on Mike Nichols
film critic writes on Lego
On Robert Osborne
Alex Gibney is making a film on Scientology
Foriegn Fields
Broadway Flops
William Burroughs-A Thanksgiving Prayer
Shirokite
reasons to be thankful-classic cartoons
70 Bootleg movie posters


(and why a cutaway of MSG? Why not?)

Revenge of Ivanhoe (1965)

Ivanhoe returns from the crusades to to rescue his betrothed, the Lady Rowena of Stratford. The evil Hastings family want to seize the Sratford fortune and and begin by kidnapping her. They then trick her brother into an ambush.  He is rescued by Ivanhoe. Through circumstances Ivanhoe joins up with the rebel forces fighting the forces of King John and the Hastings family.

Mid-level historical epic is full of knights in armor,a Robin Hood like merry band and romance and virtue. High art? No but extremely entertaining. This is exactly the sort of thing that I grew up watching on rainy Sundays or on the Late Late Show when I couldn't sleep. Its not deep just the right sort of distracting and bound to cause you to chomp down on tons of popcorn.

Many thanks to Sinister Cinema for putting this film out and preventing it from getting lost.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Monty Python Live (mostly) One Down and Five to Go (2014) - or thank you guys its been fun

The night before Thanksgiving I popped in the DVD of the final Monty Python performance at the O2 Arena. Put together it pay a judgement against them regarding the show Spamalot, the show was lots of old stuff, a little bit of new stuff and a promised end to Python as we know it.

I had tried to get a seat or two to the show- I actually had one- but I was so far back from the stage that the thought of going to London to essentially watch TV from a long way away was just too insane for me or my wallet to consider.

The show as recorded is fun. Its not great but it's fun with all of the bits flying around and some nice tributes and shout outs to the late Dr Chapman. It is clear that the show was both too big to be full seen on TV and too small to be seen in an arena such as the O2.

Watching it I was hit by two strong feelings-

First was that these guys are now too old and too not into it to be doing this sort of thing. Yes they were funny, but at the same time it looked more like old friends having fun with each other at a picnic rather than a performance.  This was old high school friends doing stuff from their youth where you've seen them in their hey day and you knew why they were great but now you wonder what the fuss was. Yes the bits are funny, watching the shows and the movies they are killer. Even watching the tour of actors doing the material that Eric Idle put together was a great deal of fun, this was less so. Perhaps it was the scale (blowing th bits of really worked against most of them) and perhaps it was just time to move on...

...which brings me to the second thing I felt, I found I didn't want to see this. What I wanted was to sit down with the guys individually and talk to them. All I could think was I was more engaged meeting Terry Gilliam at a press conference earlier this year and how good it was listening to John Cleese talk about his life now. I also wanted to see how Terry Jones's new film is.

While I love Monty Python and what they did, I want what they are doing now more. Their lives and creative output now mean much more to me than what they did 35 and 40 years ago. Don't get me wrong they shaped the way I see the world- but I have changed since then and so have they and where they are going and where I am going is much more interesting then where we/they were.

The show is interesting but it is a door closing. Its time to move on...

...and based on what Gilliam and Cleese and Idle have been doing of late the future is going to be just as wondrous.

To Mr Cleese, Mr Gilliam, Mr Palin, Mr Jones and Mr Idle- Thank you for all that has gone before and all that you will do in the future.

Tiger of the Seven Seas (1962)

When the Tiger of the Seven Seas decides to retire, his ship is up for grabs. While many people want it, its won by the Tiger's daughter, Consuelo, who bests the man she secretly loves. When the Tiger is killed later that night, Consuelo's love is framed. However before he can be hanged the men of Don Indigo attack the pirates. Its all a plot, hatched by the Don's evil wife, to find out where Tiger's vast treasure is. What follows is a grand game as loyalties are tested and everyone tries to find out who has the loot.

Epic pirate adventure is a great deal of fun. Exactly the sort of European film that played endlessly in the late night hours for decades on free TV until cable over took everything and we ended up with hundreds of movie channels- none of which run films such as this any more.

For my money this is a kind of perfect entertainment. Its a film with few pretensions beyond telling a good story and being entertaining this film manages to create a wonderful place of comfort. Watching it we don't have to think. We don't have to worry about if the good guys are going to win or if the bad guys are, we know that with certainty, everything will be okay in the end . The highest praise is that the film is a kind of cinematic comfort food.

Highly recommended for anyone tired of big over blown Hollywood productions

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Pakistan Four (2014)

"Only a fighter who rides the horse in a battle field has a chance of falling, But how will those cowards fall who walk on their knees" - Azeem Dehalvi.

Shehzad Hameed Ahmad's excellent portrait of four Pakastani women in America who are taking non-traditional paths through life:

Hareem Ahmad is a world class fencing champion.
Fatima Ali is an award winning chef who won the TV series Chopped
Kulsoom Abdah is a weightlifter
Nadia Manzoor is a writer/performer and comic

The film examines the battles that the women have had in order to reach their goals in the world while struggling to remain connected to their dreams and traditions. The film is kind of a riff on a statement that Nadia makes about how Pakistani parents wonder how and why their children end up with Western ideas when they come to the West to live. The paths all four women have chosen are decidedly non-traditional as far as being from Pakistan is concerned.

This short film (it runs 37 minutes) is a real treat. Throwing light on a series of struggles that most people out side of a Pakistani family would never know about, this film is a celebration of how these woman are finding a path to their own happiness by perusing their dreams while doing things that their traditions say they shouldn't. In their ways they are opening the door for not only other Pakistani women but any women who are in a culture that has similar traditions about a woman's place.

I know I keep using the word tradition, but that is what the film is about, finding a bridge between tradition and the modern world. Its a film that reveals bridges can be built if one is willing to to try.

Ahmad was blessed by finding four such wonderful and wonderfully articulate women to state the case that there is more to life then just following the traditional path of marriage and motherhood. Here we have four well educated and well spoken women who speak openly about the struggles of straddling both worlds.

Nadia is the most vocal of the women and it's through her theater piece that we come to understand what life for many Pakistani women is like. As she says at one point 5000 girls a year are killed for things as seemingly trivial as talking on the phone. The fact that she and her sisters are trying to do more makes them very courageous individuals. That may sound crazy to many of you reading this but understand that it's true, doing something that might be considered to shame a family can have dire consequences.

This film shows that what these women are doing is not something to feel ashamed of, but something to celebrate. They are showing not only what women are really capable of, but also how the blending of their traditions and Western ideas can create something marvelously unexpected.

If I must find fault with the film it's in that it's only 37 minutes long. Ahmad has found four wonderful subjects and the fact that we are not given more time with them is a real shame. You will forgive me if I say that I wish that the film could some how be lengthened into a full fledged feature, not only so that we may see more of these women, but because a feature should give the film more of a life. This is a film that needs to go out and be seen by as many women as possible, not just Pakistani, but all women, since the struggles of these women to do more and be more there is a possibility that others may follow in their footsteps and do things that are as equally wondrous.

A big thank you to director Shehzad Hameed Ahmad for sending this great film my way.

The film won the Best Documentary award at the Indiana Film Festival.

It  will be available shortly on I-Tunes (I'll post a link when that happens)

Shehzad Hameed Ahmad's next documentary is a film is for Channel News Asia. It concerns a Pakistani school teacher and four of her students in a remote village of Punjab, Pakistan Its aim is to highlight the issues associated with girls education in the country and bring to light, the heroes fighting for the future generations of the country.

Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984) Thanksgiving Turkey

Shot on video monstrosity about a repressed deeply religious black woman who buys a ventriloquist dummy with dreadlocks that happens to be possessed. The Dummy seduces her and then takes her over turning her into a sex fiend.

As they say you have to see it to believe it. Obviously the intent was to make a serious film about the fall from grace, yadda yadda yadda, but the result is painful, Mostly because scenes run on and on and on with no end in sight. We get a long phone conversation while the camera pans around the house showing all the religious items in it. The opening credits take almost 7 minutes of screen time (thats about one tenth the length of the film). The music is awful. And the sex scenes...well did you ever want to know what it would look like if Charlie Mc Carthy ever managed to marry a real live girl? Yea, me neither. This is a painful film that is only recommended for seasoned bad movie lovers or mental patients, preferably people who are both. This walks that fine line between MST3K good bad and mind destroying bad.

You've been warned.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mondo Cannibal (2003)

I’m not sure if Mondo Cannibal aka Cannibal World is a bad film or god bad film. It’s a gross, disgusting, poorly made button pushing satire that kind of works in weird way.

The film has a TV news host going to the jungle in order to bump up her and her stations ratings. It seems another TV station has gotten big ratings by showing the cruelties of the native populations. It’s thought that doing something similar would boost their ratings as well. While they find some nastiness the band decides that they should spice things up and before long the so called civilized people are committing ugly acts that they previously looked down on.

A direct to video film that riffs on Cannibal Holocaust and other jungle films, the film is weakly made film that exists purely for the poor gore effects it throws our way. Yea they kill an alligator and show lots of intestines, but the red is like paint and the effects are low grade. It’s disappointing.

The tone of the film is ugly. No one is particularly nice and everyone ultimately gets what the deserve. While it doesn’t give us anyone to root for it does create a tension in the last half where you stay tense waiting for the next ugly thing to happen. Since the film doesn’t care for anyone we don’t either, but in a film like this it still ups the ante since nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

Its so ugly on a human level you may want to take a shower when the film is done.

The interesting thing the films premise about the more it bleeds the more it leads is nothing new. However seeing this now 11 year old film I think the attitude is “less no duh” than “we’re not that far from this” which is scary. We should not be this close to this sort of satire.

This should not be considered an across the board recommendation. The audience for this film is pure for exploitation fans with a love of gory jungle sleaze films or mondo films. Everyone else, especially if you don’t have a strong stomach or weren’t dropped a lot a child should stay away.

Carrie (1988) the RSC production that became a Broadway nightmare

The Broadway legend lives on with the discovery that there is a video of the Royal Shakespeare Production of Carrie the Musical from 1988.

Yea let that bombshell sink into your wicked little brains for a bit.

If you look there is a chance that you too can see a show so legendarily bad that it marks a certain low in Broadway badness thanks to the book Not Since Carrie… by Ken Mandelbaum. The play had reviews so bad the backers pulled funding after the first weekend despite sellouts and good audience word of mouth (an old girlfriend of mine had seen it with her Catholic High School and liked it)

I found my copy at this year’s New York Comic Con and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought it was going to be either a regional production or a version of the recent Off Broadway revival, but no, it’s not, it’s the RSC version complete with everything my girlfriend had told me in it, namely naked girls in a shower, a fetish ball second act opener and stairway to heaven conclusion. I don’t know if I was cursed or blessed in finding it.

The plot, for those who don’t know, has poor tormented Carrie White getting her period and discovering her psychic powers at the same time. She is asked to the prom by the coolest guy, but it’s all an elaborate prank that levels bodies everywhere- including that of her religious zealot mother. The film and the book were where many people first discovered Stephen King.

The play is pure 1980’s cheese. Lasers, smoke, poofy hair and other nastiness abound. Much of the action happens on an empty stage- though some of the set changes like the way Carrie’s house open are quite good.

Even allowing that the version I saw is off a single nailed to the floor camera at the back of the theater this is a poor play. The music is dull and unimaginable, the lyrics are weak, the dialog lame and the dance numbers are WTF bad.

How did this ever get produced in England? Forget Broadway, what sort of drug addled the producers mind and thought this huge empty production would actually work? I don’t know. It has to be the drugs.

This is awful…and so static as to be unwatchable. It’s so terrible I can’t recommend it even for shits and giggles.

Is it the worst play I’ve seen?

Probably not- Dance of the Vampires, a German play wrecked when it was forcibly rewritten in English by Michael Crawford (in a move that I’m told has made him even more persona non grata on Broadway) was so bad I emailed everyone, including the producers, I knew to say avoid it. After the play the audience filed out in a dead silence that made one think the actors had killed the audiences children before them. As worse…

As was The Wrong Mountain about a scholar who decides to write popular play. It was unfunny and horrible and had a giant talking tape worm as a character. Randi and I couldn’t flee fast enough at intermission- we were ready to go five minutes in

Carrie pales before them and I hope never to see them, or Carrie again.

(In fairness apparently the recent Off Broadway revision to Carrie was a vast improvement. The train wreck is only the original production)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Historian (2014)

Ben is a professor in his 30's who takes a temporary position in a distant University in order to escape his troubles and a failed marriage.  Once there he collides with the head of his department,who is dealing with a sick father, a beautiful grad student trying to get her doctorate and a wily "plastics" professor who just wants a fling.

Very good, but uneven film is a nice change of pace from all of the blockbuster and big budget films that Hollywood churns out for our consumption. This is a small scale film that is nicely human and real.

The film is full of wonderful scenes and small moments that lift the film up from the inde pile for example when the head of the History department, William Sadler, explains the ways the ancients killed to a student by physically demonstrating it on him; or Ben and another professor discussing a zombie apocalypse or even a late in the game admission by the plastics professor of her feelings for Ben all help to push the film into being something special.

As I said above the film is uneven. Its not really the fault of the script which is fine, with the academic and the soul searching sequences faring better, having more of a lived in feel, than some of the romance ones, the unevenness is due largely to the casting. All of the major roles are fine, however once you start to get to the secondary characters the film is less sturdy. No one is bad exactly but the difference between William Sadler and say some of the students, or Ben's ex-wife is noticeable.

I like this film a great deal. That's not just words, that's something more since when I finished off the film I sent off some emails to some friends to either tell them to see the film or to find out if they too were reviewing the film and what they thought.

The film opens at the Quad Cinema in New York City on Friday and will be the perfect antidote to Black Friday Sales or Hollywood Blockbusters. For tickets and information go here (and if it's before the 28th clock on Coming Soon)

Gamera Super Monster (1980) Thanksgiving Turkey

How you rate Gamera Super Monster will depend on if you just want to see Gamera fight monsters or you want a real story. If you want a real story look elsewhere.

This retread of a film that takes really crappy new footage of three girls as super heroes who fight an alien coming from space with the help of a young boy and Gamera. Much of the new footage seems to have been shot in a hotel room on a single afternoon. All of the Gamera scenes are cut from all of the previous color Gamera films and arranged in some way to tell this less then exciting story (none of which match any other footage).

While I know the original Japanese film is an el-cheapo production it doesn't help that the American dub is so bad that the voices aren't even remotely linked to the mouth flaps.

It’s awful, by any rational standards its really really bad.

As something to laugh at I'm sure its a blast and one wishes the MST3K guys had had a chance to pick on it, but at the same time its like watching a favorite friend hit hard times. Thankfully this film was largely unseen outside of Japan until relatively recently. I never knew the film existed until I saw a reference on the internet. I’m guessing the fact that it came into existence well after all the other films run their course kept it out of circulation. Within my group of monster loving friends by the films creation in 1980 Gamera was largely a joke thanks to the juvenile later films. The Gaos films were cool but the rest sucked.

Actually looking back the other films aren’t that bad in retrospect, it’s this film that sucks.

If you must see one of the original run of Gamera films- see any of the others, avoid this one like the plague.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A few words on Remote Area Medical (2013)

Over the last few weeks I had gotten a bunch of  press releases about Remote Area Medical but I was too busy dealing with DOC NYC and SAIFF and some other things to even consider taking a look at. The press screenings were all wrong, the time frame to see it was short and I didn't want to push it.  And then I  over heard some conversations at DOC NYC about the film from people who had seen it, and had heard that it was really good so I bit the bullet and I decided to take  see if I could see the film.

Founded in 1985 to provide care in the Amazon Remote Area Medical now provides pop up clinics across America. The group goes into a town and provides much needed medical care for as many people as they can. The film is a portrait of the organization as it rolls into the Bristol Tennessee Speedway and begins three days for caring for the people who show up in need of care.

A slice of life look at what happens when the organization rolls into town, the film is a really good portrait of people helping people. Its a wonderful look at what the group does. Its also a damning indictment of the American medical system which makes it necessary for the group to exist. We really shouldn't need a group like this,

The strength and the weakness of the film comes from the fact that the film is largely a straight forward look at the the group doing what they do. Its a strength because it shows us exactly what they do and why they aare needed. Yes there is are some side lights into background and such but mostly this is a report on one three day period...

...which kind of makes the film run out of steam about half way in. Don't get me wrong , it's not bad, but at the same time the film doesn't really build to anything. Its kind of one thing with very few surprises past a certain point

Definitely worth seeing, the choice about running out to see it in a theater or wait is entirely up to you. I liked it.

The film opens in New York Friday. It opens across the country on December 5

Quick Change (1990) Thanksgiving Turkey


Based on a French film called Hold Up which is based on Jay Cronley's book Quick Change, Quick Change is the story of a bunch of New York crooks who commit the perfect bank robbery and then have to get Kennedy Airport and a flight to safety. What happens from that point on is an existential nightmare as everything that can go wrong does.

I remember seeing this on opening weekend with an now ex-girlfriend. The theater was pack. It was also deadly quiet as no one laughed. Granted the humor is dry, but this is so incredibly dry as to be like Sahara like. And even then you need to click into the really existential jokes. You have to enjoy everything going wrong for the characters.

For me little in the film is really funny. Philip Bosco as a bus driver toward the end is the only thing that made me laugh. The rest of it just sort of lays there.

This film probably doesn’t belong here during this week, I mean it’s not a bad film. It does have its supporters, though they are few and far between. Then again many people hate the film and even those who don’t out right hate it will say it’s a better sleep med than most over the counter pills.  I suppose I’m including the film because it effectively ended Bill Murray as an all-powerful player in Hollywood, it was the point where they suddenly realized not to let him write or direct and just let him act.

For me the most telling thing about the film is the story one of the studio executive who green lighted the film relates about how Bill Murray came in and wanted to write and direct a film. They were thrilled. Yes they were wary because of the Razor’s Edge, but that was a drama and this would be a comedy. Murray then proceeded to show them the French film, and everyone in the screening room other than Murray went to sleep. They still let him do it because it was Bill Murray and a comedy…and they regretted it when the film tanked. He added that he didn’t think he would let Murray write and direct again.

If you're curious about some of the WTF films Bill Murray has done try it, otherwise stay away unless you need sleep.

Monday, November 24, 2014

SAIFF 2014: The bold experiment that is X (2014)

The Opening Night film for this years South Asian Film Festival was X.  The film is unique since eleven directors all wrote and shot portions of the same film in their own style. While that may sound like a trick, it actually works and makes for a very special viewing experience.

K is a film director at a film festival festival party. He encounters a young woman who begins to orbit him who reminds him of other women in his life. As he deals with this latest woman he has to cope with all of the others that have gone before as he drifts back and forth through his life.

When the films for this years SAIFF were announced I was instantly intrigued by X. I had seen films where a couple of directors worked from the same script  but outside of an anthology film I had not ever seen one where so many directors worked on one film, nor do I think had I ever run across a film where all of the directors not only directed their segments of a single story but also wrote them. I couldn't imagine what magic would be needed to make sure that it all tied together on every level.

Sadly I ended up unable to attend the SAIFF screening, however the opportunity presented itself when Sudhish Kamath, the driving force behind the project asked me if I wanted to see the film and like Pavlov's dog I leapt at the chance. (I say this by way so saying a big thank you to Mr Kamath)

Having now seen X I can honestly say that while it is uneven,owing to the many writer/directors, it is also a really good film. It may take a little bit to click,but once it does the film turns into a wonderful viewing experience.

While it would be easy to pull the film apart and talk about the various chapters on their own (for example the 8 to 8 room share is as glorious a romance as you'll ever see) I would rather talk about the film as a whole, partly because the film is a single story, but also because it's a single story with eleven directors that actually works and results in a film of great power.

I think it's best to describe what seeing the film was like for me,

The film opens at the film festival. We watch as K interacts with several people including the woman who will follow him through the rest of the film. The sequence looks great and it has some great dialog (actually the whole film has quotable dialog).I was hooked and I hunkered down for what I thought was going to be one sort of film.

What happened instead was that the first flashback segment started and I was wobbled a bit.since it played very differently than the "now" portion of the film. I wondered what was I seeing and what was the film getting at. I wasn't sure.

The film then shifted back to "now"  and then shifted back to a memory. I was enjoying the pieces but it didn't completely come together- and then we hit the third flashback segment and suddenly I began to click with the film. I began to accept the tonal shifts, the time jumps and I began to understand what we are looking at.I began to understand and see how we were examining the mind of one man. I wasn't getting it early on because I simply didn't have enough pieces to see the whole picture.Its a picture that slowly and surely became more and more clear as the film went on. (When you see the film be patient and stay with it)

How the hell did they pull this off?

In theory this film shouldn't work. 11 writers and directors all using their own vision to create one story? It really shouldn't work. I mean I've seen versions of this in novel or graphic novel form and it usually falls apart somewhere in as the styles clash, but it doesn't happen here. Okay yes the film isn't perfect, some of the segments are better than others, some segments clash with the ones on either side but at the same time the film as a whole works. The portrait of K that we get is rich and complex, perhaps much more complex than if one director had done it all. Say what you will there is something about the various tones and styles that give color and shading to K and his struggles that wouldn't be there had just one person directed this film. I think a single director would have been too worried about making a seamless whole so the unevenness of life would have been lost.

Wow.

By the time I reached the conclusion of the film I not only was amazed at the technical aspects of the film, but I was moved by the story and K's journey back and forth through his timeline.

You'll have to forgive me but the film geek in me wants to say "This is so cool!" This a grand technical achievement that is also a moving film.

As I said I really like this film a great deal.

Should you see it? If you want to see a very good drama about one man trying to come to terms with his life you absolutely should. You should also see it so that you can see that sometime "too many" cooks" won't spoil the broth, sometimes they'll get it dead nuts right.

One of the really cool viewing experiences of 2014.

Suicide Battalion (1958) Thanksgiving Turkey

Terrible 1950's war film about a group of men needing to go on a dangerous mission which is to blow up their old out post which is about to fall in to Japanese hands, or may have fallen into Japanese hands or something.

It's all well and good for the first ten minutes which sets everything up. Sadly after that it goes in the toilet as the men get a 72 hour reprieve, so they mingle with the locals, and other nonsense occurs for at least 25 minutes of screen time. What the romance and soap opera is doing in a war film like this is beyond me. After that the film picks up (relatively speaking) with tons of stock war footage which doesn't match the studio stuff so people are reacting to things that obviously aren't endangering them.

It's horrible and a fine example of filmmaking at it's worst.

It's a film that should be avoided.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nightcap 11/23/14 Randi's Sunday Night Videos part 2 plus links

Still trying to decompress from DOC NYC and SAIFF while getting my head around the fact I said I'd cover the Romanian film series at Lincoln Center when I'm so tired so Randi has stepped in with more videos and links.





















And some links
All artists steal
Scott Wantanabe Tumblr
The first Hasidic Western
The worst sex tips ever
Behind the scenes at Paramount Pictures
Neil Gaiman on The Bride of Frankenstein
On Disney Deaths
Salon's problems with INTERSTELLAR
The lost Sesame Street cartoon  The Crack Master
Facial Hair
Vesalius
High resolution images and doing animation
Hobbits and Hippies
On Kubrick
A 101 year old woman goes to the beach for the first time
A Last Lunch with Mike Nichols

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This week we have Unseen's annual Thanksgiving Turkey  series where we look at really crappy films. Plus we have a look at some new releases as well.

DOC NYC 2014:SALT OF THE EARTH (2014)


The work of photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado is, even on the small size of a coffee table book, awesome. There is something about the way he captures the images of people and places that transcend the ordinary and make it soul stirring or shattering. His images seem to capture the inner truth of whatever he aims his camera at.

I remember 20 years ago, being at Barnes and Noble and discovering his book Workers and being blown away. Who was this guy and why hadn’t I ever heard of him? His pictures didn’t so much speak to me as taught me about things words could never say. I was in awe from that day to this.

When I saw that Wim Wenders had co-directed a film about Salgado I knew I had to see it, and when it was announced as playing DOC NYC I knew I would move heaven and earth to see it.

The film was begun by Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro who wanted to get to know his father the wanderer. He wanted to know what he did when he went out to shoot his pictures. He then brought in Wenders to help give an outsider perspective. The film is a structured as a look back, with Salgado looking back over his life as he also is working on his latest project shooting nature and animals. What we see is Salgado’s entire life in photos, both color and his trademark black and white. He talks about each photo and each project telling us about what each photo is and how it was taken and in some cases how it changed his life (The cruelties documented in some of the later projects forced him to stop shooting for years)

The spine of the film is Salgado’s glorious photos. We see the shots we know from his books blown up to the size of a movie screen. We stare into them and they into us. Seeing them twenty or thirty feet tall is beyond awesome. It is one of the most visually overpowering experiences you will ever have. The audience at DOC NYC sat in silence staring at the screen. No one moved. No one made a noise expect to gasp at what we were seeing or to quietly sob at the pain of those in the pictures.

I had wanted to sit up close to really see the pictures but by the half way mark I was glad I was sitting in the back since I would have been turned into mush by the emotion of the images.

The film is largely black and white to match Salgado’s images but there are times when it shifts back to his home in Brazil or into the artic where he is shooting walruses when it change to color. I groaned audibly during the first shift since the black and white was so evocative. I didn’t want to leave the perfect dream of the monochrome.

I don’t know what more to say other than you have to see the film when the film gets a release in the spring.

Seriously this is one of the most awesome (in the truest sense of the word) experiences you will ever have in a movie theater- or anywhere-ever.

Just as Salgado’s photos are some of the greatest images you’ll ever see, so is this movie.

Us Naked:Trixie and Monkey (2014) DOC NYC 2014

I have no idea what to say about the film- I had nothing to say about the film after I saw it so I sent a not to John and Hubert which read as follows:

serious review request-
would either of you guys want to take a pass at US, NAKED:TRIXIE & MONKEY
http://www.docnyc.net/film/us-naked-trixie-monkey/
I have seen it
I have nothing to say about it.
Nothing
except to say I have nothing to say about it-largely because I really didn't care about either Trixie or Monkey
Actually Its not a bad film but the pair struck me as the wrong sort of acrobatic hipsters-whose existence I kind of want to ignore....
I like the people around them and bits but as a whole I could have been doing other things.
If you guys don't take up the review I' guessing this note will be the review.

Salad Days (2014) DOC NYC 2014

SALAD DAYS is a look at the DC punk scene from 1980 to1990(roughly). Made by guys who were there, the director is one the boy journalist we see in the film, its filled with everyone who was anyone in the scene the film documents the days and nights of the various punk bands.

For me the film is annoyingly near great.

Taken on its own terms and as pieces the film is absolutely amazing. You’re placed in the DC music scene is a way that puts you in the clubs and houses where the music was percolating better than most films on any subject. We really are there just as if we were dropped into the say the 930 Club…

…and as good as that is its one of a couple of problems that keep the film from being truly great

First, as I said the film doesn't bring you into the story so much as drop you into it. There isn't a set up so much as a few statements and away we go with little context for things. What was things like before? We don’t know. Having Henry Rollins talk about how music had to be wonderfully produced until he heard the Ramones is okay but it doesn't say enough. What was the music scene like before? What about outside of DC? Were these guys and gals influenced by anything outside of DC? We don't know- the whole thing is a bubble.

Next the film kind of assumes you know what they are talking about. They mention bands and groups and members and unless you have a bit of knowledge you’ll feel a tad lost (more so because the band members moved around). At other times there are times where people are talking about events that I had no context for....

...which brings me to the last point the film will pick up a subject or jump through time with no ground work it just jumps into say the funk band or female bands- without really linking them into the narrative. We're just on to the next thing. I understand they want to stay away from a narrator or intertitles but some links are needed. We need to know more than we do…or at the very least we need the film to pull it all together in the end into a whole, it never does.

To be honest the problems could be solved if the film were longer-lord knows there has to be enough material, I mean dozens of people are interviewed, put more in and make it flow. I won't mind since what is here is so compelling I would have sat for another 100 minutes without a problem.

Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a bad film. It’s nowhere near being a bad film, it’s just that it’s so incredibly close to being a truly great all time classic film that I’m annoyed it just missed the target. Seriously everything that’s here is choice and amazing, with Dave Grohl's kick ass final statement about DIY sending us off with a cheer and being one of the best final statements in any film in the last five years.

Forgive the nitpicking but I want the thrill I had while watching the segments and sequences to carry over to how I feel about the whole film.

The screening at DOC NYC is long done but the film will be hitting theaters soon and is a must see for anyone who loves music especially punk.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

DOC NYC 2014:TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER (2014)

Word out of the New York Film Festival press screening for Tales of the Grim Sleeper was that it was Nick Broomfiled’s best film. The people I talked to were bowled over by it. I even had one reviewer try to talk me out of my ticket so he could see it again.

I missed it at NYFF, laid low by an illness that had me missing several films, so its reappearance at DOC NYC made it a must see.

The film is the story of the Grim Sleeper, a serial killer so named because it’s believed to have gone to sleep for 15 years between killings. The problem is he didn’t go to sleep and Lonnie Franklin Jr, now believed to be the killer went on for decades racking up a total that is anywhere from 18 certain victims to a seemingly unbelievable total of well over 400. This is a look at a serial killer amongst us and how the police and society allowed the killing to go on for decades.

I’m in awe.

Broomfield, drawn to the insanity of the case goes into the South Central LA neighborhood and started to ask questions. Helped by people who wanted to talk or knew someone he should talk to, as well as a woman named Pam who is a great lady, Broomfield begins to unravel the case that went back over thirty years.

Revelation follows revelation as Broomfield really shows how the police did nothing, despite knowing a serial killer was operating thanks to ballistics. They told no one and let the killings go on because all of the victims were black, many prostitutes or drug users. The police cared so little that many times when a body was found it would be tagged NHI meaning no human involved.

Yea they didn’t care.

But some of the women in the neighborhood did and they formed a group to try and get word out. Not many listened…

…and weirdly until Broomfield started to get people thinking and talking many people many of of the friends of accused killer Franklin didn’t think he could have done it, until the stories of his darkness came out…

This film will rock your world as you see how not only institutions failed (well before the killings to the point one woman tells her son if anything ever happens never call the police) but in away so did the people who should have known better- I mean despite professing that Franklin was a nice helpful guy, they all knew he was a sick man.

This film is so good that I really need to see it again to be able to write on it since so much happens and there are so many revelations I didn’t catch everything.

After the film Broomfield did a Q&A.

I asked the first question asking him why he did the film or what drew him to it. He said it was the enormity of the crime. The number of those killed could be so huge that there never will be an accounting since many bodies are believed to be in landfills (Franklin worked as a garbage man for a time)

Other questions deleved deeper into the twists and turns of the case. One woman asked if Broomfield paid anyone in the film. He said Pam was paid because she was doing so much, and he gave some money to other people, but he said most people weren’t or wouldn’t take it. He said that it was opposite to the rich and famous who he dealt with, all of whom wanted to be well compensated.

Broomfield also explained that the reason he’s in the film was that by doing so we took the trip with him. We saw what he did and it makes us part of the film.

He also said that a recent screening in LA brought together the families of the victims, people in the film, the police, prosecutors and legal defense team. Broomfield said that after years of trying to get an interview with authorities they were asking for tickets to the film (prompted he said by needing to see the film that was being extensively written about and causing waves). Broomfield said that one of the retired detectives was impressed with the film.

I’m not only impressed by the film but in awe. The film kicked me all over the place and gave me much to think about.

You owe it to yourself to see this film.

The film is getting a brief run in December for Oscar qualifying before showing up on HBO in early 2015, which means you’ll have plenty of chances to see it.

SAIFF 2014: Dukhtar (2014)

Pakistan's entry for the Oscars is a treat for anyone getting it to see it at The South Asian International Film Festival this evening. I've seen a good number of the Oscar hopefuls and this is only the second one that deserves to be considered for the award. Its one of the rarest of the rare a touching drama that is also a kick ass thriller. This may very well be the best film at SAIFF and it may very well end up on my best of 2014 list as well.

The film is set in motion when a father makes a deal to seal peace with another tribe by giving the hand of his daughter in marriage to another tribal leader. This doesn't sit well with the girl's mother who was given in marriage when she was fifteen, especially since the groom is many decades older. Grabbing her daughter on her wedding day she bolts out of the village in a desperate run for her family o the other side of the country.  Things take a possible hopeful turn when they fall in with a truck driver named Sohail which means God Protects.

Working on several levels the mixing of drama and action films allows the film to do several things that shouldn't work. First it heightens the the tension and the sense of drama in ways that shouldn't work. The sense of good and bad and right and wrong are made very black and white even though we can see the grays. We know who's good and bad but we also see the levels of emotion and thoughts with in them.

The mixing also allows corners to be cut. We can jump to conclusions and not mind because what under normal circumstances could have been a talky film about child marriage and the rights of women are now in a chase frame work where we don't need long explanations and short hand notes are completely fine with the audience. The who's and the whats can be reduced to bullet points because there is no time for long winded discussion.

Helping everything is gorgeous visual style and driving score that makes everything move like the wind and fear for our heroines.

This is a great great film...

....and its so good looking you'll want to see this on the BIG screen when it plays tonight.

An absolute must see.

For tickets and more information go to the films festival web page

SAIFF 2014 Killa(aka The Fort) (2014)

Sometimes you walk down a path a thousand times and see nothing new. Some times you walk down the path the one more time and find the entire world is suddenly something unexpected. That unexpected trip is what The South Asian International Film Festival has given us with KILLA, which is playing this afternoon.

The plot is nothing new, a young boy and his mom move to a new town because her job has sent them there. They are still reeling from the death of the father/husband a year before. How will they deal with their new life in a small town?

Wonderfully.

Avinash Arun, a cinematographer making his directorial debut has given us a beautiful looking film full of wonderfully real people and situations. Its a film that follows a well worn cinematic path but doesn't walk in it, instead it stays off the path just far enough so as to keep things interesting.

You'll have to forgive me but I don't know how much to tell you. I'm in this weird place where I want to tell you everything, but with a film like this, which looks familiar but isn't, the joy in seeing the film is discovering how different something familiar can be.

I feel bad refusing to tell you more but this is one of those times when I'd rather be a pointer instead of a spoiler.  Go see KILLA. Go see something great and discover its charms for yourself.

The film plays at SAIFF at 2:30 this afternoon and is worth hustling down to the SVA theaters to see it. For tickets and information go here.

Wondering how Sex and Broadcasting: A Film About WFMU (2014) will play in Peoria DOC NYC 2014

A radio station should not be a hole in the universe for making money, or feeding an ego or running the world. A radio station should be a live place for live people to sing and dance and talk...and know they they (and the rest of us) are not finally and irrevocably dead- Lorenzo Milam Sex and Broadcasting

This is the story of New Jersey based radio station WFMU, a completely independent and totally unique radio station where anything can happen at any moment. Its a station that has a huge cult following that also includes a huge array of celebrities. The film focuses on station manager Ken Friedman as he tries to get enough money to keep the station going

At times this film is a joyous collection of wonderful moments arranged as scattershotly as WFMU's programming. Things happen all over the place as we watch artists perform, fans, such as Matt Groening and Patton Oswald  wax poetic, and the station tries to get enough money just to stay on the air.

And the scattershot nature of the film is what diminishes the greatness of the parts into a just okay whole. The problem is that it doesn't take shape and have a through line-or at lose its WTF is going on until the last half hour where we get the history of the station and of manager Ken Friedman. Once we're finally told whats going on the film clicks to life and it all starts to make sense...until the momentum is lost in yet another marathon to get money.

I wanted to scream. Worse I was tempted to shut the film off...and I would have had the bits not been so strong. The bits, the musical performances and the great people made dealing with the piss poor organization worth it for me.

The one question I was left with when I finished the film was what will people who don't know WFMU think of the film? I know of it because a number of the writers here at Unseen wax poetic about the station. On the other hand what is this going to mean to those who don't know the station, who say don't know what the Best Show was? I don't know.

Then again I get the sense that the film wasn't made for them or for people like me with only a passing knowledge of the station.

Do I think you should see the film? If you're an WFMU fan, absolutely. If you're not a fan or have no knowledge of the station I say you can give it a try, if only for the wonderful moments.

Of note -watching the screener with headphones on- I noticed there are a lot of police sirens in the background I doubt you'll hear them in the theater, but they are there if you listen

Friday, November 21, 2014

Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2014) DOC NYC 2014

A look at Studio Ghibli, it's staff and creators, as they prepare a couple of their most recent films THE WIND RISES and THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA and promote them. Its  loot at how their films are put together and sent off into the world.

How you react to the film will depend upon how much you know about Studio Ghibli and their films
- If you don't know a great deal about either but love them then odds are you'll enjoy this a great deal. - If you know nothing about the studio and their films you may feel a little lost since the references come fast and furious.
- If you are a huge fan of Ghibli and know the studio and the films you'll enjoy it but you'll wonder why is this two hour long.

I'm in the last group. I've seen all the films they've produced (except KAGUYA), I've also  seen several documentaries, tons of clips, read interviews and books. I'm reasonably well versed in things Ghibli, though I'm not obsessive compulsive. I like the film, but I'm still wondering why the film runs just under two hours.

You have to forgive me but the details of running the studio and promoting the films only held  my interest to a point. I did  enjoy watching Miyazaki drawing and being cranky. I love his discussion of what he does and how he puts his films together-there is no script it seems he simply draws and lets the stories flow.

This isn't a bad film, but I'm not sure who the audience for this is. You really have to have a certain love of Ghibli for this film to work.

I can neither recommend nor dismiss this film since this is one of those films you'll have to decide for yourself if you want to see it.

The film is being released in the US by GKIDS and opens November 28th

SAIFF 2014: Jigarthanda (Cold Heart)(2014)

Call Jigarthanda SAIFF 2014's cult film. A genre bending "gangster musical". Its a weird mix of nasty violence, music and comedy.

This is the story of Karthik (who shares the same first name as director Karthik Subbaraj) is a down on his luck film maker. Spinning a plot to a producer, he's told it's old hat. If he can come up with a really good gangster film he'll finance the film.  Desperate to make a film he begins to look at old newspaper clippings, only to find the best ones have already been made into films. Realizing the only way to get material for a film would be to follow an up and coming gangster Karthik decides to follow Assault Sethu, one of the baddest of the bad. That works fine for a while until an unfortunate turn of events puts his life in danger.

Weird mix of comedy, drama, gangsters, violence and music is in the words of one other reviewer a "whiplash kind of mixture". Constantly shifting styles and genres this is a film that you're either going to go with or walk out of. I don't mean that in any bad way other than if you don't want your film to bounce from comedy to drama to violent encounter to black comedy, stay away. On the other hand if you don't mind your genres mixed by all means dive in.

For me the mixing of genres (and an occasionally annoying musical score) had me fighting to stay with the film for most of the first third of the film. The bouncing between nasty violence and comedy or the mixing of the violence with the humor made it tough for me to know what was a supposed to feel? When a man is burned a live and  going through his death throes we should feel horrified but the music makes it feel like a circus. Another time the violent stabbing of a man to death during a silly argument about who's going to kill him left me feeling weird. Its funny but also kind of like WTF.

I completely applaud that writer director Karthik Subbaraj wants to mess with our heads and emotions but I don't think it's always the way he wants. I think the shifting of tones works against the film having the complete gut punch it seems to be going for.

Ultimately I like the film a great deal, partly because the pieces are so good and partly because I love any film that is ballsy enough that it forces you to engage it wholeheartedly.

The film plays tonight at 1030 and if you don't mind staying up late I recommend you take in the screening. Also recommended who want to see a variation on themes explored in Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell

(A word of warning.The SAIFF version of the film has the run time as 150 minutes. This is a festival version of the film that trims a song and some scenes which reduces the run time down from its listed time at IMDB and most other places as 171 minutes.)

SAIFF 2014: Titli (aka Butterfly)(2014)

If you want to take a walk on the dark side, at The South Asian International Film Festival might I suggest TITLI?

Titli is the name of our hero. One of three brothers in a family of carjackers he wants out of the life. He's hoping to get enough money to buy into a new parking garage that's going up. The trouble is he doesn't want to let the family to know until it's a done deal.  His brother don't want him to leave, so they marry him off to Neelu, a beautiful girl with her own agenda. The pair make a bargain with each other to get what they want but the lies and crimes have a price and it has to be paid.

The film sucked me in from almost the start, I was very curious to see what was going to happen especially since the film has a dark cloud hanging over it from the first moments. The promised deal to buy the garage is complicated by a sudden rise in price. From there we see the violent and dog eat dog world Titli lives in, and we know why he wants out. Titli's family draws the line at murder  that doesn't mean there isn't room for other forms of violence with physical or psychic. Everyone is abusing everyone

This search for a better life is a dark tale tinged with hope. There may be a better life, but what will you do to get it, and if you do get it will it have been worth selling your soul to get it? And what if what you want isn't really what you thought?

You'll forgive the lack of detail and words but the film is still banging around in my head and heart. While I can tell you what it is and that I liked it, my ability to pull it apart and be critical isn't really there. I need time to sit and reflect on the film, which as I write this about two weeks before the screening is not something I'm really able to do since I'm about to dive into another film. I know once I see the next film my thoughts for this one will get jumbled.  Such is the peril of being a film writer.

Do yourself a favor and if you see TITLI,which you should do, don't see something after it. See the film on it's own and let it work you over for a while before you see something else. This is a film that deserves careful consideration.

For more information and tickets go to the film's festival page.

DOC NYC 2014 Q&A JINGLE BELL ROCKS



Video thanks to Chocko

The DOC NYC Q&A for THE RETURN


Video thanks to Chocko

DOC NYC 2014 Q&A for MEET THE PATELS



Video thanks to Chocko

DOC NYC 2014 Q&A for SALAD DAYS



Video thanks to Chocko

The DOC NYC 2014 Q&A for BANKSY DOES NEW YORK



Video Thanks to CHocko

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A very few words on Haunters (2014) DOC NYC 2014

Documentary on the making of the Phobia House haunted house attraction in Michigan follows the people behind it from July through the opening. We watch as the group tracks down their new location, put it together and then open it up.

Profoundly bland and unremarkable film about the making of a haunted house is easily the weakest film I've seen at DOC NYC this year. Its also the weakest film on the making of a haunted house I've seen- and I've seen a bunch of them. The only area where it scores over better films like MONSTERS WANTED, is in showing bits from inside the attraction. Outside of that this is a big yawn, thanks in large part to its scattershot  march through time and showing of events. There is no order to anything things just happen.

I'm so glad I didn't go see this at midnight.

As much as I hate to say it you can skip this one.

Before I do full reviews- Quick word on TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER and SALT OF THE EARTH at DOC NYC 2014


I have to write up both films I saw tonight but I need to say a couple of quick things
Thom Powers and Nick Broomfield talk to the audience

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER has one screening tomorrow (11/20) left at DOC NYC and it's a must see.

The story of a serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper because they thought there was 14 years between killings-there weren't and while they have him for 18 murders the totals could be over 400. The film is an indictment of the LA Sheriff, Police and government as well as some others.

Its gripping, disturbing and quietly devastating.

I had heard it was a fantastic film when it played the New York Film Festival and it turns out it's true.

If you can go-do so...especially since director Nick Broomfield will be there as he was tonight and if the Q&A is as good as it was tonight you're in for something special.

For tickets go here

The other film is SALT OF THE EARTH.Its a look at photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado by his son and Wim Wenders.

Seeing it on a BIG screen was one of the most visually awesome things I've ever seen. Seeing Salgado's photos the size of a movie screen was simply over powering. The audience sat transfixed and didn't move, breath or utter a sound other than to gasp at the power of the images.

This film will still be wonderful on a smaller screen- but on a BIG screen it's beyond words and when the film finally gets a release in the spring you MUST go see it.

Okay off to bed. Full reviews will follow in the next day or so,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Brief: The Return (2014) DOC NYC 2014

The story of four young Jewish women in  Poland. Three of the women discovered in their teens that they were of Jewish ancestry after being raised Catholic.(the families had converted during the Second World War and then remained hidden during the Communist era)

Good but not quite great look at the state of Judaism in Poland. The film's central question of what is to become of the reemerging Jews  of Poland when they are being drawn elsewhere? Will they stay and rebuild the community or will they go to Israel, or perhaps the United States either out of wanting to join their people or for a job. Its not an easy choice, just as trying to find a place in a community that one wasn't raised in.

While the film raised some interesting questions and introduced us to some nice people the film never really drew me in enough that my mind didn't wander. Watching the film I found that instead of paying attention I stopped taking notes and started to doodle. Not a fatal flaw since I still sat and listened, but it was a sign I wasn't full engaged.

Is it  a bad film, no, it is good. I suppose I was looking or hoping for something more. I suspect that had I not seen this as the 17th film at DOC NYC I would have liked it more.

Worth a shot if the subject intrigues you.

For more information and tickets go here.

SAIFF 2014: Ek Hazarachi Note (aka 1000 Rupee Note) (2014)

An older woman whose son committed suicide due to mounting debt is given a some 1000 rupee notes by a politician. The note then brings a its own troubles to the woman and a neighbor who is a kind of adopted son.

While this is the first of my reviews from this years South Asian Film Festival that is posting, this was the last film I saw when doing my reviews. I mention this at the start because the quiet nature of the film threw me off after four other films of higher intensity. Ithink the low key nature of the film worked against my totally loving the film- I was expecting something else and when I started it. I think had I seen this first or second  (this is the second feature screening at SAIFF) I think it would have knocked me off my feet.

Echoing, in away, Steinbeck's The PearlEk Hazarachi Note the trouble we have with getting the thing that will change our fortune.Wealth brings its own troubles. When we have something that other people think they should have these other people often will try to work out why that is, and then work out how to gt it for themselves. Its seems inconceivable that this woman would have such a large note...and as for the explanation-out right corruption and vote buying- which is of course an open secret-but one no one should talk about.

I hate to call the film charming, but in its way it is. This is ultimately good time with good people despite the fact that the people in the film are in ultimately dire circumstances. Life isn't great to begin with but there is humor. And even when things turn darker there is a sense that life isn't that dark.

I really like this film a great deal. I think I would have liked this more had it been seen earlier in my SAIFF viewing where it had to compete with some other great films.

Recommended when the film plays tonight.

For more information and tickets to tonights screening go to the film's festival page.

DOC NYC 2014: SONGS FOR ALEXIS (2014)

The wait to get into SONGS FOR ALEXIS made for an interesting evening when I was told to go up to the second floor lounge where we were to wait. I was a bit confused since there were an odd mix of young adults, many gay and transgendered and lots of people well into their 70's,80's and 90's. Was the screening going to be a sell out thanks to everyone being relatives and friends of the filmmaker?

No.

Half of the very full of people for SONGS and half full of people for STILL DREAMING which was playing downstairs. The older people were the stars of the film. Until you knew that it seemed like it was going to be a really weird night.

SONGS FOR ALEXIS is the story of Ryan Cassata, an 18 year old transgendered man who met the love of his life, a 16 year old named Alexis. Ryan lives on Long Island, Alexis in California. When the film opens Alexis is getting ready to head back home after some time with Ryan and his family. Sometime after that Ryan goes to San Francisco to play the Gay Pride Festival, things are tense between the lovers and its revealed that Alexis's dad is not happy about the relationship.

Damn that sounds exciting.

Sadly it's not.

What the film really is is a hagographic look at Ryan (Alexis is largely is a cipher here, I mean I know she smokes...and?) who sings, writes songs and spends months moping around because of  being separated from Alexis. Wait, Ryan also whines a bit when Alexis isn't forth coming about details of the guy, Quinn, who is texting her, or the trouble with her parents.

To put it another way had Ryan not been transgendered this film would never have seen the light of day or at the very least it would have been cut down to a great 20 minutes.

Don't get me wrong I do like the film, but I have lots of issues with it. And the problem is if I tell you about them its going to sound like I'm ripping the film apart-which  I am.  But at the same time there is enough good here that the film should have been better.

We deserved better.

There should have been more than the the doe eyed looks and puppy love between two people who are more or less adults.  It doesn't help that the pair both look to be about ten and not 18. Who are these people really?

What annoyed me was that I saw Ryan in the theater, I watched him interact with his friends, family and the festival staff and he wasn't as narcissistic as he is in the film. I know break ups can be bad but in the film he comes off as an obnoxious kid who only exists for the Alexis, who he then smothers. There is nothing to his life but moping and writing an occasional song- there has to be more to him then that-no I know there is.

Alexis is as I said a cipher, though she reminds me of a long ago ex-girlfriend who was much too young to be dating anyone never mind me.

Also getting my nose out of shape was that the film feels staged at times, Ryan's mom talking to her friend in such a way as to get all of the exposition out in a seemingly realistic fashion. It may be real but it never rings true. This is especially true of the late in the film trip to Alexis's house- could it have been staged any more than it is? (And while circumstance keeps the split between Alexis and her family off camera, I'd have liked some thing more- say from Alexis about it since such a crucial event is only seen in the waves it creates for Ryan)

Is this a bad movie? No,but it's not the great feature it should have been. As it is now so much happens off screen that this should have been chopped down to a short film because there is too little real material to support a feature.

Should you see it? If you run across it you can give it a try.

Though to be honest I don't know if you will have a chance since I can't see the film getting much play outside of the LGBT community or fans of Ryan's (Ryan does have a following and is a low level celebrity in some circles). Ultimately this is not a film that is really going to go beyond it's core audience the way that truly great documentaries should.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming Home (2014) DOC NYC 2014

Angel Cordero was arrested when he was 25 and sent to prison for attempted murder. 13 years he gets out of prison into a very changed world. Not only has the world changed but so has his relationship with his daughter  Will Cordero be able to put his life back together and repair the damage between his daughter and himself?

Viko Nikci's look at a man returning to society after years away is a deeply moving film. Angel's troubles are very real. How do you restart your life after so long away? Is there a happily ever after or just a maybe tomorrow? Mikci is smart enough not to give us easy answers or false hope. The result is a highly compelling film that sucks you in and carries you along.

If the film has any flaws it's that it is a very slick production Frequently using multiple camera set ups it's filmed in a such away that the film looks like Hollywood production. Interviews look staged  or something you might find on say 60 Minutes. Watching the film there were times when I wondered not so much how much of the film was real but staged. While it's a minor flaw , thanks largely to Angel being such a strong  personality,  it does keep the film from achieving the classic status it reaches for.

Flaws or no- this is definitely a film you'll want to see when the film gets it last screening at DOC NYC or when it hits screens afterward because it will get your mind going and force you to feel something.

The film played DOC NYC this past Saturday and it has one more screening Thursday afternoon.at 1230. For more info and tickets go to the films festival page.

Last Impresario (2013) DOC NYC 2014

Michael White- a man your average person would not know but the man that every celebrity wanted to talk to.

Coming together after director Gracie Otto met this quiet old man  at Cannes, the film is the life and times of  Michael White who managed to pretty much change popular culture by producing shows and films that brought Monty Python, Rocky Horror, Pina Bauch, Yoko Ono, My Dinner With Andre and lord know who else, to English and American audiences.

Amazing film that can not help make you go wow as you realize how much one man managed to know everyone and do everything and yet remain complete unknown.  Its a hell of a story about a hell of a man told by one hell of an amazing collection of famous people.

I really don't know what to say other than this is a really cool look at one guy who changed culture as we know it. Its an an amazing film if for no other reason that it kind of seems like "oh I know what this is" in the first couple of minutes and you're a tad dismissive only to find by the end it's sucked you in and made you want to start it all over again as you ponder-how the hell such a great film is getting so little attention.

Or to put it another way- who the hell has been hiding one of my favorite documentaries of the year. I have no idea if it's great, but it is great fun which I think is all that matters in this case.

One of the Must sees at DOC NYC.

The film plays Thursday night at 730. For details and tickets go to the films festival page.

The film is also hitting theaters and VOD platforms in  December