Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Curtain Raiser: BAMcinématek presents Space Is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film

Sun Ra in Space Is the Place

This week: Brooklyn's BAMcinématek blasts off with the cool-concepted Space Is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film, a series of films running April 3 through April 15 — absolutely best described by BAM itself as "a kaleidoscopic, horizon-expanding exploration of alternate and imagined Black futures and pasts in science-fiction, genre-bending global cinema, unorthodox documentary, and innovative music videos."

What can you see at Space Is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film? Perhaps the question is what can't you see? (And rest assured, it's gonna be funky! Among the offerings:
  • Dick Fontaine’s Beat This!: A Hip Hop History (1984) kicks off the series, an early definitive survey of the hip-hop movement, including major starts and groundbreaking performances,
  • Sun Ra stars in Space Is the Place (1974) as a space pharaoh who travels to Earth and is challenged to a card game against the evil Overseer to decide the fate of the Black race. Let me just repeat that. Sun Ra stars as a space pharaoh travels to Earth and is challenged to a card game against the evil Overseer to decide the fate of his race. (And don't miss Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra documentary A Joyful Noise (1980).)
  • Welcome II the Terrordome, Ngozi Onwurah’s 1995 dystopian evocation of a near-future Black history,
  • John Sayles’s 1984 The Brother from Another Planet and Wesley Snipes as the titular Marvel Comics super-vampire hunter in Stephen Norrington’s Blade (1998),
  • Cosmic Slop (1994), a controversial, three-part HBO special that has drawn comparisons to The Twilight Zone and features George Clinton’s floating head as narrator.
  • ...and the proverbial corncuopia much, much more of unique and incisive films on the Black experience crossed with high-concept science fiction!

The Floating Head of George Clinton in Cosmic Slop

I'm hopin' you won't miss the funkadelic Space Is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film. The Floating Cosmic Head of George Clinton compels you!

Space Is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film runs April 3-16 at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn; see the full schedule and details at the BAM website.

a few words on Annie (2014)

Misfired remake of the beloved Broadway classic updates everything to not very good effect.

The film updates the story and has Annie as a cute little orphan who gets picked up by Jamie Foxx as a super rich New York Mayoral candidate needing a bump up in the polls. The ploy works and while Annie thinks she may have found a home Foxx and his crew are only thinking short term. However love comes in unexpected places and soon Foxx is acting as a surrogate father.

Beginning with a throw away piece that that takes the piss out of the original show, the film then moves ahead at breakneck speed through the story but without much weight. The characters are given things to do to move the story long but very little to move the heart. These aren't characters but cardboard cut-outs.

The re-scored songs are very good, I just kind of wish the dance numbers actually amounted to something more than looking like people stumbling around.

The performances are okay considering the weak script but Cameron Diaz is genuinely terrible.

Its not awful enough to be considered a bad film, but its not good enough to be worth bothering with.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Curtain Raiser: The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk

Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls

This week: a chance to see a stellar line-up of films directed by Polish/French surrealist Walerian Borowczyk, at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Obscure Pleasures screens a dozen Borowczyk films, including his cult classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981), 1979's Immoral Women, his animated Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal (1967), 1976's rock-scored The Streetwalker. 1977's Behind Convent Walls is chock-full o' sexually-frustrated nuns, and The Story of Sin (1975) mixes passionate eroticism and a scathing attack on the Roman Catholic church.

That's not all: more Borowczyk films (several in new digital restorations), a compilation of Borowczyk's shorts, and series co-curator David Bird presents his documentaries on Borowczyk in A Dazzling Imagination. On display in the Film Society's Furman Gallery is Walerian Borowczyk: Posters and Lithography, a collection of rare and dazzling movie posters and art.

A master of blending Dadaism and sexuality, Borowczyk both built upon and challenged the mores of the Sexual Revolution, resulting in his much-discussed, often-banned body of work. (Step aside, kids, this one's a little too hot for you!)

I still don't know how to pronounce "Borowczyk," but I'm sure I'll discover how at the series. Find out too, won't you?



Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk runs April 2-9 at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan; see the full schedule and details at the Film Society website.

Exodus:Gods and Kings (2014)

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is a wildly uneven film. Like most of the theatrical cuts of the director recent epics it feels as though it was cut down from something longer.

The film is the story of Moses and the Exodus. It begins with an adult Moses living into the Pharaoh’s court. He’s not content to let things follow their natural course but he wants to know about the Hebrew slaves. When a prophecy and an unfortunate killing make Moses’s place untenable he his sent into exile. There he finds a wife, meets god and is set on the path of freeing his people.

A more realistic look at the story when compared to the legendary Hollywood versions, the film is weird mix of the amazing , the mundane and the just plain awful.

The awful comes in the hideously miscast Sigourney Weaver who wanders in and out of a couple of scenes with an attitude and vocal performance that seems to have been shipped in from another century. She’s so out of place as to end up giving a bad performance. If she was in some board room somewhere she’d have been fine but not in ancient Egypt

The mundane is much of the sequences with the Pharaohs. They are kind of bland and unremarkable. They are there because they are part of the story but at the same time you feel that the writers had no clue what to do with the sequences. They are forced exposition and not organically part of the film. The other problem is that the film goes on a couple of minutes too long. While I understand why we see the final image, the film is effectively over when Moses rejoins his wife.

The amazing is the sequences with Christian Bale as Moses. While he may not be what you think of as Moses, he’s a very human one. He’s vulnerable and heroic. He’s the sort of guy one would follow. For me he’s emotionally perfect. What I like about the film is that it does feel real. Moses’s wife really seems to love him and seems to come from a real culture and place. The plagues when they happen are natural events Why they occur make perfect sense “scientifically”. They are not just acts of god, but god manipulating the real world logically. Actually most of what happens is real world logical which helps carry the day.

This is a really good film. Is it perfect, no, but it is surprisingly entertaining. Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nightcap 3/29/15 A Woody Allen book, What I learned from interviewing Bill Corbett, and Randi's links

Life isn't sound bites. Thats how I feel about our work,its complex & the ideas we covey need a bit of explanation,need a bit of depth and passion- Julian Richings in a post interview comment

As we begin to disappear in to Tribeca-land I'm going to clean up some loose ends.
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A while back I got a copy of Alex Sheremet's WOODY ALLEN; REEL TO REAL. I read it and I sent it off to Ken to review.  Ken's full review is coming soon, but I wanted to get my two sense in.

Shermet's book is one hell of an undertaking.  Not only is it a review of everything that Woody Allen has done film-wise, it's also an on going dialog with everyone who has written on Woody Allen and anyone who reads the book (Sheremet is going to update the book with online conversations and critical pieces.) To be honest I've never seen anyone ever try to do this sort of an under taking on any subject. Its kind of crazy and completely amazing.

Because I read the book for fun and not for review I can't really go into detail but I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest that the book could be called EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT WOODY ALLEN, because it is. Sheremet goes into detail on everyone of Allen's films and film appearances and takes them apart. He also creates a dialog with everyone who has ever written on Allen. Old critics mingle with new critics. While I'm used to people I know and go to press screenings with ending up mentioned in the odd article, I found it very weird to see people I know mentioned every couple of chapters. Sheremet told me that it was important to include what people think of Allen now in the book as well as all through his career, so it makes sense that on-line critics fill many pages.

As a long time Woody Allen fan I'm both thrilled by the book and overwhelmed. Frankly it's just too damn much. Sheremet's review of Allen's career leaves nothing out and after a while I needed to step away. Actually I did it several times, not because it was bad but because it was like gorging myself on candies- too much good stuff.

If you're a fan of Woody Allen or want to see how exhaustive an review of a directors work can be get Sheremet's book.

The film is available for download from Amazon
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Tuesday I did an interview with Bill Corbett from Riff Trax and MST3K and it made my week and Tribeca Film Festival, He was great person to talk to and at some point I’d love to talk about his time in the theater and comics and life. It was really cool (thank you again Mr Corbett)

In doing the interview I suddenly understood a great deal about how to do an interview

Why do people ask the same questions when doing interviews? Because a lot of times there is limited time so the well-worn questions are the ones asked.

Additionally since the interviews tend to be about a project you can’t go too far afield. Half way into talking to Mr Corbett I suddenly realized that I had to stay on point or close to it. I couldn’t go off track because there wasn’t time.

Also when you do a short interview you can’t go too far afield lest the piece sound scattershot. Yes you can follow the through line but ou can’t suddenly turn left and get silly in a serious conversation of completely jump subjects. I had theater and comics questions ready but realized I couldn’t go there at that point. Yes we did talk about Ben Franklin and farting but that was at the end and was a semi-throw away.

In the process of doing the interview I suddenly understood how to do an interview. I have no idea why I should suddenly learn how to do it, I mean I've done a whole bunch of interviews before, but for some how I understood what makes a good interview,

Thank you Bill for that.

The interview, minus the Ben Franklin farts bit, will run in about two weeks just in time to lead our Tribeca Film Festival coverage
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And now Randi's links

Irish animation stamps
The Book of Mojo
How to catch a liar
All the Walt Disney Pictures logos
Private Snafu

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Over the next two weeks look for lots of recent films to be reviewed. I've been sitting on a bunch of reviews of films from the last few months and I'm going to dump them in the run up to Tribeca. Additionally look for some new releases to be reviewed. Additionally Eden has seen DIOR AND I and will be chiming in closer to the theatrical release.

You may also want to be sure to keep an eye out on our Twitter feed since Hubert and myself are hip deep in the Tribeca pre-fest screening so you never know if a stray comment may slip out about the festival

Legend of the Knight (2014)

Legend of the Knight disappoints.

When I saw the trailer for the film, which charts the way that the Batman character has influenced and help people achieve great things, I was moved to tears. I had to track the film down. Since the film hadn’t yet been released on DVD and was in the process of screening across the country I was going to have to wait a couple of weeks to see it. Then I lucked out and ran across the film at New York Comic Con and picked up a copy.

Waiting for the perfect time to see the film I held on to the DVD until New Year’s when I sat down to watch the film.

Sadly it wasn’t worth the wait.

The film is takes a look at various people who have found strength in the Batman character. We have people who dress as Batman to entertain kids, handicapped people who find strength in Batman’s regular joe who made himself a hero, kids who find strength to face the world, the mythic context of the character and we also see the man who produced all the Batman films and Batman writer Denny O’Neil.

Its good stuff – or would be if we hadn’t seen all of it before elsewhere. The feel good stories have largely been on the various TV news shows, the talk of comics as myth are the sort of discussions that the vast majority of comic readers have had before. The film is also a bit too filled with too many kids standing in batman masks and capes. By the 35th time it’s like get one with it.

The one saving grace is the fleeting appearance of Denny O’Neil talking about the character and what it means to be the keeper of the myth. Its pointed. Moving and good enough you’ll want a whole film of the man talking about comics.

Ultimately the problem with the film is that the film doesn’t live up to the trailer. Yea I know most films don’t but the film additionally offers nothing that is new for a comic fan-or even one that watchs the news. Its good but unremarkable.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

peacock fan (1929)

Familiar and off beat mix in the Peacock Fan a murder mystery about a rich man who dies not long after getting the title item. As the police seem stumped a friend of the dead man who was to explain the fan’s cursed history takes control of the investigation.

Your typical murder mystery among the rich story is enlivened by one hell of a detective. A refined European aire hangs about Lucien Prival as Dr Dorfman who swings into action to find a killer. The choice of detective adds 57 bonus points to what is a largely run of the mill story. I mean when was the last time you saw a detective with a monocle and such a refined attitude? Never.

When trying to find out about the film I was reading a comment on IMDB that suggested that the film may have been filmed as sound film that was released as a silent, either just as a silent (how I saw it)or in both versions. Considering the amount of talking in the film and the long titles I’m willing to believe that’s a possibility. When you see the film you’ll understand what I’m saying.

If the film has any real flaw, it’s the brief opening prolog that explains an earlier tragic event in the history of the fan. The sequence is wonderful, except that it’s a bit too much foreshadowing concerning later events. Its not fatal, but it would have kept thins more mysterious had it not been there.

Definitely worth tracking down, especially if you’re a fan of mysteries.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Theory of Obscurity:A Film About The Residents (2015) SXSW 2015


The Residents.

You may not know their music, but you know their imagery-particularly four tuxedoed guys wearing eyeball masks and top hats. They are a group of guys who have “never” revealed their identities instead preferring to work in obscurity since the world, since an artist’s best work is always done that way. The group fused their music with wild imagery to create what can only be called art rock (Their videos are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern art). Their music films predated MTV’s music videos and influenced all that followed in their wake

I’m a casual fan of The Residents at best. I loved their videos on MTV back in the 80’s and I loved their imagery but I have no albums and I couldn’t name a song if my life depended on it. When THEORY OF OBSCURITY: A FILM ABOUT THE RESIDENTS was announced for SXSW I was intrigued, especially since I really liked the poster art (see above). I contacted the PR people to see if I could review the film and after some miscues things came together and boy am I glad- THEORY OF OBSCURITY is one of my favorite films I’ve seen in 2015 so far.

A history of the band from their inception until the present day this is absolutely fascinating trip into the world of the Residents and outsider art rock and roll. Here were a bunch of guys from the American South who went to San Francisco and ended up making music because it was easier to do then make movies… maybe. The trouble with that statement is that the history of The Residents is malleable. Since we don’t know who they group is we can’t be certain what happened since they aren’t talking even if everyone around them is.

To be honest I think that what is in the film is pretty much the way things were. I can’t see it all being a grand game, even if the Residents want to remain largely obscure.

I love THEORY OF OBSCURITY.

Sitting down to watch the film I fell into it. I loved the groups desire to make their music their way. I loved all of the crazy things they did-“Hey we’ve got nothing to do today-let’s make a film- what are we going to do? We’ll cover everything in newspaper and just wing it. (The footage ended up in a promotional film for Third Reich and Roll) I loved how they simply created their own musical world.

One thing that stuck with me was their ethic that you don’t have to be a trained musician. Music didn’t have to follow rules, but had to follow, essentially, your heart. Make your music your own way. I adore that they have the attitude that you should just do what you want so long as you can “own” what you’re doing- meaning just go for it and sell it, don’t make it ironic, make it your own. There is something about that attitude that makes me smile- if there was any group of guys who prove you can go your own way and be successful it’s The Residents.

While the film is full of good music and wild imagery, the film is also full of talking heads (and a Talking Head-Jerry Harrison) who explain why the Residents are cool and what they have achieved. Les Claypool from Primus explains how he used to hate the Residents, but that the group and their music grew on him like a fungus- to the point where Claypool performs their music.

You have to forgive me I can’t talk about this film rationally, I can only gush about it because I love it so much.

I don’t know if this is one of the best films of the year, it may be, but it certainly is one of my most favorite-which is probably better since it will stay with me more than many “best” films.

(A great thought this film should be screened with another one of my favorite films of 2015 THE KING OF NERAC for a fantastic look at creativity and the creation of art.)

The Devil (1921)

George Arliss makes his film debut playing the title character in a film that is a kind of riff on Dangerous Liaisons.

Arliss plays Dr Muller a rich aristocrat who gets his jollies wrecking relationships and reputations. Getting his hooks into an artist and his lady love he runs roughshod over them breaking their faith in each other and god.

That last comment and the title make for one of wilder endings I’ve seen in a film, and making the film much less an allegory than you might think. Actually it removes any notion of it being an allegory- which really isn’t that surprising considering the mischief that Arliss gets up to.

The film is a solid little melodrama, supernatural ending aside. The cast sells the soap with great aplomb and in my case they sucked me into the story with such fervor that I actually sat and watched it all the way to the end without zipping through on scan (a fate suffered by less compelling silent films)

Definitely worth a look see, especially if you only know Arliss from some of his physically stiff performances from the sound era.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Leopard Woman (1920)

This is a much better than i had thought it would be spy/adventure romance set in Africa.

The plot has a woman called Madame aka the Leopard Woman, working for a foreign power. She is tasked with stopping a British expedition into the wild who are hoping to reach a far off "uncivilized" kingdom some distance away. The British hope to form an alliance with the distant people. As the parties head off into the wild various events along the way have dire consequences for all involved and put the Leopard woman and her opposite number on a collision course toward romance.

Purely romantic adventure, the plot really is a grand MacGuffin and the excuse to bring the eventual lovers together. Its good enought that you get carried along with the tale even though you can pretty much know where its all going even if you don't know the details.

The real selling point of the film is it's look. This film looks incredible, It really does look like it was filmed in the wilds of Africa and not the Ince Studios in Hollywood and the desert near Palm Springs. It puts many similar modern films to shame.

The film is a small gem and something you should track down.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Iron Mask (1929)

Huge suptuous retelling of the Dumas classic has  Douglas Fairbanks return to the role of D'Artagnan.  This time out the complex plot has the queen giving birth to twins.One of the prices is spirited away lest their be strife in the kingdom. D'Artagnan, after some adventureis ultimately assigned to protect the prince, but troubles arise after the prince is kidnapped and his brother is placed on the throne instead.

This huge scale spectacle may very well be my favorite Douglas Fairbanks film. To be fair that isn't hard since out side of this film, The Thief of Bagdad and The Black Pirate I'm not really a fan of any of his films. There is a lightness to most of them that takes away from the excitment. The other films feel like a goof.

Iron Mask is not a goof. Its a very serious film where there is a human toll for everything that happens. A good number of the main characters die. By the time the film ends there is very few left to take a bow.

The film looks great. Talk about crazy Hollywood spectacle this film is it Everything looks and feels real. There is an opulence to the proceedings that simply makes you go Oh Wow whether you want to or not.

The film's action is wonderfully real. These are not fights where Fairbanks takes on 57 men single handedly but fights to the death. We don't know who will live and die, and once things are in motion die they do.

This is a great film and great filmmaking.

This is a must see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Man From Reno opens Friday

The Man From Reno opens this Friday in theaters and its one hell of a film. A twisty turny film it holds your attention tighter than most mainstream movies you’re going to run across. The plot has a Japanese author going to San Francisco on a book tour and to meet friends when she meets a handsome young man. Where it goes is the film.

I saw the film back in July when it played at Japan Cuts. I loved the film a great deal but had some problems with the plot which as some intentionally added bumps. Now almost a year later I can’t remember my reservations but I remember the film. Below you’ll find my review from Japan Cuts.

Dave Boyle's riff on neo noir concerns a mystery writer from Japan who unexpectedly leaves her book tour to fly to San Francisco nominally to see friends, but it soon becomes clear she's considering checking out permanently. Her life gets thrown a curve ball when she meets a Japanese man with whom she spends a passionate night. He's gone in the morning leaving her in a tizzy and in a bit of trouble. At the same time we follow the story of a small town sheriff who runs over a man in the fog and ends up on a course that will connect with our heroine.

A mostly solid little mystery and a very good film, has me scratching my head with all of the laurels it's collecting. Its a good little thriller that has some nice twists on what you expect from a mystery such as this but it's not that great. I had that feeling even before one thing that happens that makes no logical sense except in the director and writers mind. This is also one of those movies that goes on three steps too long since the story is effectively over at a certain point.

I would love to explain what I meant but I don't want to ruin the film when you see it- and you will want to see it.

The Q&A was interesting with director Boyle talking about how he put the film together and how he used Kickstarter. I do have to applaud the woman who asked about the point that bothered me and he said that he did it that way because he wanted to. He knew it didn't make sense in the real world but he did it anyway. I suspect from the way he answered the question the point bothered a lot of other people since the answer seemed well rehearsed. (And no it doesn't make sense I explained why to some people between the films and they agreed it really doesn't make sense at all in an otherwise realistic film)

Yes the point really annoys the hell out of me. And no it doesn't ruin the film for me since it's effectively over before it.

The Midnight Girl (1925)

Silent pot boiler had Bela Lugosi as a patron of the arts who ends up getting into a battle with his son over the same woman.

While okay as pot boilers to go the film is primarily of interest for fans of Bela Lugosi.  If you've only seen Lugosi in his horror films  and later sound films THE MIDNIGHT GIRL will come as a revelation. Lugosi really could act. Not only could he act, he could smile and emote and move without the stiffness that he some time had.  He's so good you kind of wonder why he never really clicked before Dracula.

Helping matters is the films fantastic set design. The film set in high society and in and around the New York Opera House looks good. This is the make believe world of the rich and famous and it all feels real, or as real as movies of this sort can be.

Is this a great film?

No. Actually it's just marginally a good one. Its pure potboiler of the sort they don't do any more for good reason, its painfully contrived. Sure films like this morphed into soap operas but here things are just too sudsy.

Is the film worth seeing. If you're a fan of Lugosi it is. There is something about seeing him before Dracula and several years younger that makes his story even more interesting, if not more tragic.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The final two days at The New York International Children's Film Festival : SHAUN THE SHEEP, ENCHANTED KINGDOM and KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET

This was the final weekend of the New York International Children's Film Festival, and once more I was in the trenches.

Saturday I went to see SHAUN THE SHEEP a second time, taking Randi and John along for the ride.

I won't go into the film — Hubert is hard at work on a review, However, I will say that the film is just as funny the second time. I know I need another go through to catch everything I missed this time through — which is different than what I missed the first time through.

John and Randi loved the film. I know John did for certain because he was pretty much laughing from start to finish — which is the second of two post end credit sequences. (YES, there are TWO post credit bits one several seconds after the screen blacks out, so hang around)

Discussion to the restaurant after the film and even in the film was talking about its place in the animation/children's film pantheon of the last few years with the recent PADDINGTON figuring heavily into the discussion.

Sunday was a double-header at the Directors Guild Theater, as the official last two films of the festival screened.

ENCHANTED KINGDOM is from the makers of the BBC series PLANET EARTH and WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, and it's one of the best uses of 3D I've ever seen. It's a jaw-dropping, make-you- tear-up-with-the- mix-of-music-and-image sort of film , a must-see-on-a-big-screen film. This film kicks ass and then then some. It's one of the best film going experiences of the year.

The film is a trip across Africa to the mountains, ocean, plains, jungles and deserts. It's an in-your-face look at the animals that live in the various environments. While the narration is really cursory, the images are not and it's one of the few times I've ever felt things were floating over the audience (the lionfish for example)

By the time the Coldplay song comes on at the end I was tearing up big time.

You must see this in the theater because this will not work flat or on TV.

The final feature was Roger Aller's KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET....

...give the festival points for screening this for the families but take some away for boring the kids around me and putting a large number of the audience dead asleep. Who did they make this film for? (I'm puzzled by GKIDS picking it for release, since it's not going to make a great deal of money because the appeal is going to be very limited)

Refashioning Gibran's book into the story of an exiled poet released from prison and nominally making his way to a ship home, mixed with the tale of his housekeeper and her daughter, the film tries to cover a great deal of ground. Periodically the poet speaks Gibran's words, and the sequences are all animated by various artists (Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, Joann Sfar, Bill Plympton and others).

Roger Allers introduced the film and I was hopeful that it would be something special. I mean the man made THE LION KING — it should be special. Truth be told, it is...but largely the film is all over the place, and all of the blame has to fall on Allers alone since he wrote it, directed the linking material, and put it all together.

How did they botch this? Let me count the ways...(Warning: I discuss the ending)

The first problem is that the animation of the main story is all over the place. Hey, it's great he seems to have sent all of the money to the sequence directors, but he should have kept some for himself. The Poet sequences are a weird mix of computer and 2D animation. Some of it is very good, but some of it is low-rent TV animation. That would be fine except that the poetry sequences look so much better that they put it to shame. Within shots and sequences you'll have nicely animated characters mixed with one that was obviously done by computer. It looks wrong.

The second and more important problem is in the script Allers cobbled together. What is the film about, really? You have the poet, the police, the housekeeper and her daughter who refuses to talk. Why do we have so many characters? I'm not quite sure. I really don't know the point of the little girl other than to make this family-friendly and give the film a touching ending.

I'll get to the ending in a moment, but the plot seems to be a scaled-down version of the book, with the poet stopping in his travels to give advice or a blessing. It was never much of a plot in the book, but it worked since it was enough to link things together. Here it kind of works for a while since the animated sequences by the other directors carry the film up to this point anyway.

And then in the final third, things go off the rails. What was supposed to be a trip home for the poet instead becomes a life or death struggle as he is brought not to the ship home but to the prison. He is to sign a paper renouncing his work or be killed. While I admire weighty animated films this surprise was simply too much. I wanted to scream "Really? Really?" but thought better of it because Allers was sitting right behind me.

Where the hell does this come from? I have no idea. While the inclusion of a riot and a bittersweet(i.e. downbeat) ending allows for a teary final sequence as we hear and see some thing mystical (Liam Neeson is fantastic as the poet by the way), its really out of left field. The film didn't need it and the fact that the film adds the "uber-serious politics can mean death" angle lessens the weight of everything that went before, because it's so heavy that it pulls the fabric in the film the wrong way.

On the other hand ,the various sequences by the guest directors are visual delights and I can forgive the film its flaws because it allows these bits to exist. I loved all of the sequences with the exception of Joann Sfar's "On Marriage" which is a dull tango. (Though to be fair "On Marriage" is one of my favorite passages in the book, and I was reciting it with the film until I realized that it just wasn't working for me — it had to be perfect or it was doomed). Probably the best are Nina Paley's and Tomm Moore's music videos. I wanted to stop the film and play them over and over again. The sequences are magical and all completely different and all work in their own way. (In fairness I have to say that Aller's sequence — the execution and its mystical aftermath is as good as the others however while it tugs the heartstrings it gets an emotional reaction the it never earned because the rest of Aller's work is nowhere near this level.)

While I truly don't hate the film, I think it's a gawd-awful mess, There's some great stuff here but there is also some real poor stuff as well. I don't know what happened or why — I suspect the fact very few of us can match Gibran's level of writing so the script doesn't work and I'm guessing too much money was spent on the poetry and not enough on the binding.

Should you see it? If you're a fan of the animators, yes. If you're forgiving as well. However, I wouldn't bring your kids, since I don't know what they'll make of it. That's not a slap, since many adults had no clue either (I listened while several parents fumbled when asked by their kids "what did you think?")

I think it's fitting that NYICFF ended on a challenging film probably no one else would have run for an audience of kids. At the same time I really wish it was better. (And keep your fingers crossed GKIDS is releasing this and I think they are going to need luck to turn a profit)

And with that NYICFF is done — and it's time to go into hibernation until next year.

Tom Sawyer (1917)

Jack Pickford is probably the best Tom Sawyer I've seen in this silent adaption of of the Mark Twain classic.

Largely focusing on Tom and his interest in  Becky, the film nicely shades Tom as more than just a bad boy. We actually get a sense of him as more than a crazy kid. The crazier one here is Huck Finn. When  tom does something like tricking the kids into painting the fence for him it's less for his being lazy and more for wanting to just get it done. WHile the first two thirds is episodic, the final third has Tom and his friends running away and being thought dead.

The film is a bit creaky with age, but at the same time Pickford's Huck, while a bit too old to be the young man of the novel, is a fine late teenage version of Twain's hero. There is a complexity to him that I've never seen in any other version. You see he thinks and has feelings. While it maybe sacrilege to some I could see this Tom Sawyer growing up and joining the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Pickford's performance is the reason to see the film and its so good it will make you see the character in a completely new light.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nightcap 3/22/15 UCW on VImeo, festival season amps up, mea culpas and Randi's links


If you still haven't seen ULTIMATE CHRISTIAN WRESTLING, an awesome film about guys who wrestle for Jesus you should go over to Vimeo where it can be streamed for 2.99 for 48 hours or you can buy it for 6.99. Trust me its worth it. I've seen it a couple of time now and its a great film. Its so good that we've run multiple pieces on it as Mondo, talked of the film and to Mr C and myself  talked about the film and to the director Jae-Ho Chang. (If you want to see our coverage go here.)
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This year’s NYICFF is done. As always it was a great deal of fun. This year was a tad more low key then in past years. While I got to roughly the same number of films as in past years, I had a great time going to the festival with a lot of friends. This year I got to films with Hubert, Joe Bendel, Randi, John, Bully and Shelly. For me that’s just as good as the films.

The films this year were all good in one way or another. Even the only one I really disliked, Mune, had a killer visual sense that almost made up for a really disastrous plot line. Some of the shorts blew me away with MY BIG BROTHER making me want to go hug my brothers.

This was a great year and I can’t wait for next year
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As NYICFF ends we’re getting ready for this year’s Tribeca Film festival. As in past years this looks like it’s going to make a run at killing us (and this year running between locations may actually do it)

I’ll talk more about the goodies at Tribeca closer to time but I will say that we’re looking forward to the appearances of Monty Python and the guys from Riff Trax.

While Tribeca will be devouring most of our time between now and April 26 there are some other festivals fighting for our attention and I have to apologize to them because I don’t know how much time I can give them.

Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real will overlap the start of Tribeca. This is their annual look at documentary and docu-fiction films that are a bit more arty than the norm. I’ve seen a couple of films and I’m hoping to get in a few more before the festival starts.

The annual KINO festival which we covered heavily the last two years is running at the beginning of April just in time to collide with the Easter/Passover Holidays as well as the early Tribeca screenings. There are a few films I’m looking at, as is Mondo so I hope to have some coverage going your way.
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If I’m going to be 100% honest I will have to say that part of the problem this year is I’m growing tired of sitting at a computer/TV screen and watching movies. The problem isn’t that I don’t like it, it’s more that life has gotten in the way. The ebb and flow of my day has changed so my ability to just plop down is not as it was.

Part of this is because I have access to the Festival Scope service which means I’m seeing way more festival films this way. It’s great because I don’t need to run into the city but it’s bad because I’m alone in a room watching a movie. I’m tired of being alone and not being social. Movie going is social for me and I’ve stopped being social and I’ve become a hermit much to the detriment of my psyche.

I’m hoping that Tribeca reverses the process.

(I’m also hoping that I run across some truly great films via screeners because most of the films I’ve been seeing this way have not been exciting enough to make me want to keep watching films this way-but that’s another story)
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And while I’m offering mea culpas I need to get more coverage going of what’s going on at Brooklyn Academy of Music. They are consistently running some of the best series in New York- and I’ve been remiss in proving coverage.
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And now Randi's links:
Asterix art aids victims of  the Chalie Hebdo attack
Polite society's hidden tattoos
The end of The Jinx
Ching Lin Soo posters
world's first photobomb?
Robert Altman reinvented the language of cinema
Restoring early black films without the negatives
From NCIS-Gibbs's Rules
Creepy abandoned film sets
Theater Programs:All Part  of the Performance?
Illinois swears allegiance to COBRA
The Critic who changed our view of cinema
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This week we're going back to have some silent films you may not know about but are worth your time.

Since things are going to be a bit crazy for the next few weeks I'm not sure if I'll be gettig to do any nightcaps. If I don't look to have  a mix of old and new for the next few weeks until Tribeca kicks in.. There is going to be our usual selection of  older titles mixed with festival films, some reposts and some new titles.

Horsefeathers (193-)

Horsefeathers is one of the Marx Brothers films that doesn’t get discussed much. One of the classic early films its over shadowed by some of their other films from the period like Duck Soup and Monkey Business. I wondered why that was until New Year’s night when TCM ran the film and I sat down and watched it for the first time in years. Having seen it I know why- it’s not up to the other films the Marxes made.

The plot of the film revolves around Groucho becoming the dean of Huxley college. His son is running around with the college widow and he has to get some ringers to help the football program.

Full of funny bits (The opening song, the football game, Chico and Harpo trying to kidnap the ringers they took the place of) the film wobbles all over the place because the plotline isn’t really there. Its more a partial pencil drawing as opposed to a sold line. While the Marxes can work without a plot (Monkey Business) the brothers are best when they are tied to tether that allows them to hang all the jokes on (Night at the Opera, Duck Soup, Animal Crakers). Here there are sketches that kind of go together, but mostly there are bits that are funny unto themselves but in the course of the film go no where- the whole college widow nonsense.

I like the film but I completely undertstand why its not really one of the films that’s discussed as being good bad or indifferent. Its none of those things its just sort of there, Yea its funny but its really just a bunch of bits. Its worth seeing as all Marx Brothers films are, but its not quite as great as others are.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

New Directors New Films Capsule Reviews 2 MERCURIALES, TIRED MOONLIGHT, PARABELLUM and FORT BUCHANAN

As with the collection of films the other day here are some more films showing at NEW DIRECTORS NEW FILMS that didn't create a lot to say with in me- or even much enjoyment

FORT BUCHANAN
I have no idea if this is serious or parody but this story of a husband left behind when his soldier husband is sent off to a far away post is either the wrong sort of pretentious or the the wrong sort of satire. Either way I lost interest early on when Roger sits around eating cookies with the various other wives left behind.  It's one of those moments where I knew I was the wrong audience for this film.

PARABELLUM
Director Lukas Valenta Rinner's examination of a bunch of people from the city on the eve of the apocalypse is going to delight the overly intellectual amongst its audience while boring to tears any of the people who delight in this genre. Largely silent and filmed in longish takes with everyone and everything carefully arranged this is an artistic take on the messy subject of the fall of civilization and the people who prep for it.  Decidedly not my cup of tea, I fell asleep for a bit ten or fifteen minutes in and then struggled to stay awake. I Freudian slipped and typed that as  struggled to stay alive which I think gives you my thoughts on the film. I suspect that if like the presentation you'll like it as a whole but if you don't this is going to be seventy five minutes of your life wasted.

MERCURIALES
The title refers to the twin towers that the action takes place in, this is a very arty very dense film without a much of what would be classified as a narrative. We begin following a new security guard around the premises as he is given the grand tour. He then fades as we pick up two girls who work in the building. They then drift in and out.  While I would classify the film as an interesting attempt I kind of lost interest well before the halfway point. It's not that any of it's bad it's just too rambling that I never much connected nor does much of this seem connected to anything. Even some fleeting sex and nudity seems kind of dull.

TIRED MOONLIGHT
Opening with roadkill in close up this is a look  at people living in a a backwater of the US where no one  would ever stop.  A seemingly weird mix of drama comedy and documentary this is a film that has a great visual style  but is overly quirky and has a desperation to be film that is off beat enough to get noticed. I liked the film in many ways but some of the flourishes wore me down. Running several minutes shorter than the advertised 80 I'm left to ponder if this should have been a tighter long short but got inflated for release. I apologize for that not being clear but I'm much too all over the place about the film. Definitely worth a look for the adventurous film goer

For tickets or more information on these or any New Directors New Films titles go here.

Spartan (2004)

The President's daughter goes missing and a very quiet manhunt is set in motion. Dragged into it is Val Kilmer a very good agent, who is like pit bull that won't let go of a task and is willing to do anything to complete an order.

This thriller is going to either thrill you or make you crazy. The whole film is from Kilmer's point of view, we never see anything he doesn't see, we never go anywhere he doesn't go which makes for a very stripped down thriller. I think it works in spades and then some, never knowing more than our hero assures that we will never be ahead of him in any real sense. Of course we can suppose whats going on off the screen simply because this is a movie and we know things must be going on elsewhere, but what we suppose may not be right or important to what is happening before us.

This is a hard movie to write about briefly simply because its focus doesn't leave much room to do so with out spoiling the mystery.

Despite the fact that I think it was  one of the best films of 2004, I have to be honest and say that its not without its flaws. I can't talk about them either with out ruining something. To me the flaws are meaningless since the film is such a great ride it doesn't matter.

See this movie. It deserves to be seen and find the audience that its theatrical run failed to generate. Its one of the best and most unique thrillers in years. An unheralded masterpiece from writer director David Mamet. Certainly its better than most of Val Kilmer's films over the last few years.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Chocko has been recording Q&As again : KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER, SEYMOUR AN INTRODUCTION and Champs

Within the last week Chocko has been hitting various film screening where the filmmakers have been in attendance.. He was at th CHAMPS screening at the Village East Cinema, and SEYMOUR  AN INTRODUCTION and KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER at the IFC Center. As he usually does he recorded the Q&As that followed the screenings. I've raided his You Tube channel and present them here for you.

One word of warning the KUMIKO and SEYMOUR sound is not the best. There is something about the IFC Center sound system which makes it difficult to record the sound. Its not just Chocko's problem but most people  I know who've tried it have had problems. I would hesitate to share the clips except this maybe the only chance you get to see these people talk about their films (for example Rinko Kikuchi only did one screening while the Zellners did them all weekend)

With out further adieu I give you post movie Q&As:










New Directors New Films 2015 - Shorts Collection 1

Wildly uneven collection of short films has one of the best films I've seen at New Directors and two of the worst films I've seen in 2015. I understand why the films are together from an thematic/artistic stand point but the collection is like mix diamonds with shit.

SAN SIRO
Is a wonderful hypnotic look at preparations at Milan's San Siro stadium on game day.  A wonderful wordless film that sucks you in and draws you in. One of the best films at New Directors New Films this year and a must see on the big screen.

BOULEVARD'S END
Wonderful look at Venice pier in LA that includes the narration of a 90 year old Holocaust survivor who loves life and woman who survived 9/11 and is equally joyous. A wonderful little film.

BLUE AND RED
Zhou Tao's infinite and never ending look at people watching something. The press notes say something about human life bathed in color, I call it one big brown... as we sit and watch people sit, sleep and look at lord knows what. there are over 25 minutes of pure crap. This film drove about 20% of the audience at the press screening. It left everyone else shaking their heads mumbling about life being too short. Absolutely one of the worst films of 2015 and a film you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

NELSA
WTF film is the other stinker of this collection. In the jungles somewhere people pick up bodies and drive them somewhere and burn them. Now you know what happens there is no reason for you to sit through the incomprehensible mess of a film that starts in the middle and ends nowhere and has no point.

FIELDS OF POSSIBLE
Neat little film - a single shot that blends one residential building and nearby film over the course of a year. I have no idea why but it works- and a must see  on the big screen

For more information and tickets go here.

K (2015) in brief New Directors New Films 2015

Chinese made adaption of the Franz Kafka novel The Castle reallocated to Mongolia has a land surveyor summoned to a remote village by the governor. Its quickly determined that while he was sent for it was actually as the result of a clerical error. Offered a job as a janitor instead the surveyor wants to get into the castle to talk to someone to rectify the situation but...

Well made and well done adaption of Kafka this film has a look and feel of a novel. Perhaps its a bit too much like a novel with some of the dialog coming off as too literary. Actually its so literary that I would swear that the  dialog is lifted from the Kafka novel. Still if you like Kafka or want to see a great adaption of a literary classic see this film.

I like it a  great deal and I can't wait to give it another go..

For tickets and more details go to the New Directors web page.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New Directors New Films 2015- Capsules :GREAT MAN, LOS HONGOS, VIOLET and THE FOOL

I’ve heard New Director New Films described as being one of the most random, most scattershot of all of the film festivals. One person described it has being like having a room of film critics who are all allowed to pick one film they really like without discussion or without seeing if it fits with any of the other films. It’s like seeing everyone’s best film with the result that you end up with a very eclectic mix of films.

For me it’s one of the most hit or miss festivals every year. There are usually a couple of great films, a couple of crappy films and a bunch that are just sort of there and leave you puzzled as to why the organizers chose them. They aren’t bad, but why did the people at MOMA and Lincoln Center choose them? What I find is that the films I see each year tend to be one thing- mostly all great (two years ago), mostly all terrible (last year) or mostly all good but not particularly memorable (this year).

Actually what happened was in watching the films this year I started out watching the films, enjoying them, but not having a hell of a lot to say. I pushed through three films and wrote up full reviews, but by the time I hit my fourth film LOS HONGOS I realized I had very little to say. Yes I could give a few sentences but some of the films were just not worth struggling to discuss when I had 14 films to get through. What I decided was that I would give you full reviews of anything that moved me to do so but at the same time I would group all of the rest into this collection of capsules.

THE GREAT MAN
While out on patrol two French legionnaires are ambushed. In order to save his friend one soldier leaves their weapons behind and carries his friend to safety. This causes problems for him since he ends up court marshalled putting his dream of French citizenship in peril. He returns to France and hooks up with the son he hadn’t seen in five years as well as the man who’s life he saved. One of the best films at this year’s New Directors New Films this is a super and solid look at the notions of friendship, brotherhood and the immigrant experience (our hero desperately wants to stay in France for the good of his son). I really liked this film a great deal., so much so that I want to see it again. Sadly it’s one of those films that despite being great leaves me with nothing to say other than this is great go see it- which ultimately is all you need to know.

LOS HONGOS
I’m told the title translates as The Mushrooms, and I’ve read some speculation as to what the meaning is, personally I don’t care. For me this is a very good, truly great in pieces film about two young men who are trying to change the world but really aren’t sure what to do other than paint it. Filled with great music, great characters and wonderful visuals this is a film full of really cool things. The problem is that as good as the individual pieces are a great deal of it never comes together. As some reviews have rightly said the film often feels as aimless as the main characters. That’s not bad since it feels like a slice of life, but at the same time it prevents it from c ompletely coming together as something truly great. Worth a look

VIOLET
Long static shots bring us to the head space of 15 year old Jesse who witnesses his friend get stabbed in a shopping arcade. Reluctant to express himself he spins off from everyone around him who are themselves unsure how to react. Love it or hate it film is going to split audiences. Some will love the slow deliberate pace and construction and others like myself are going to be turned off by the long silences and seeming inertia of some sequences. I started to nod off. Don't get me wrong this is a great looking well made film- but its way too freaking slow for my tastes

THE FOOL
Bleak  allegory of life in Russia.has a young honest man finding out his apartment block is cracked and heading for collapse but no one wants to listen to him instead preferring to just go on. Well done and very painful look at a man who actually sees reality and is beaten up by people who feel its better to do the wrong thing and not fix their home (kind of like many Russians are doing with their leader Mr Putin). As good as it is on every level I found its foregone nature and dark outlook too much to take over its two hour run time. I closed my eyes since my heart was too full up with darkness to take it all in. One can only hope that the director manages to survive to make a another film since critics as harsh as this of the Putin regime seem to be dying every day.


For tickets or more information to any of these go to the New Directors website

Growing Up and Other Lies (2014)


GROWING UP AND OTHER LIES has me deeply torn. An examination of the point in life when you have to stop being a kid and mature (I’ll not say grow up because for me that means you stop having fun and fully give into the dull grind), the film gets so much right and then bobbles it with a structure that forces the issues to come out like a weak TV movie.

The film begins with the gathering of four friends at the northern most point in Manhattan. The plan is to walk the island from top to bottom as one last gasp get together before Jake heads home to Ohio to help out his dad and his business. Along the way the group is forced to confront their relationship, their lives and life.

Well-acted and nicely shot on locations across the Island the films look at life and the moment when we are forced to step up and be mature or at least reasonably responsible is well done. The film has a great deal to say and when you strip away the crap that surrounds some of the ideas you’ll see that there is a brain and heart lurking beneath the childish exterior.

The problem with the film is that its frequently trying too hard. The idea of a trip across Manhattan isn’t bad in and of itself but the fact that the journey is littered with every sort of obstacle or turning point you can think of is. We didn’t need to stop in and see all of the people we do, writers and directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs could have sparked the discussions without the need to bring in people and events to act as triggers. The film also tries a little too hard to have the guys be man/boys. Some of their exploits are the sort of things I’d expect from guys ten or fifteen years younger than their seeming early to mid-thirties ages. The result is a film that is better than it has a right to be and not as good as it should be.

This is a film that had me wishing it was as all as good as its best parts and cursing its worst. It’s not a bad film, but it should be better. It’s a film that has some wonderful exchanges and some wonderful performances that almost manage to lift this film out of the pack of twenty/thity somethings staring life in the face. While it is at the top or front of the pack it still is too connected to the pack to be anything you’ll remember. Its something you will enjoy- but I doubt you’ll remember it at years end.

Ultimately worth a look- but I’d go the VOD route over the 14 dollar a head movie theater route

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On Further Review: WHITE GOD (2014) New Directors New Films 2015

(Warning there maybe spoilers- and I will take you past the ending of the film to what happens next)

Hailed by pretty much everyone I know who's seen it as a great film I went into the press screening for New Directors New Films with very high expectations. I was ready to be bowled over.

Sadly I was not bowled over. Don't get me wrong I really like the film a great deal but I'm left to wonder about why the film has become the darling for many of my fellow writers.

The plot of the film has Lili and her dog Hagen moving in with Lili's father for three months while her mother and her new boyfriend go off to a conference in Australia. When Lili's dad refuses to pay the licensing fee for the dog its either send the dog away or to a shelter. Lili's dad simply lets the dog loose on the side of the road. We then watch as Lili tries to find her dog again and the dog goes through various trial and abuses before turning on it's abusers.

I'm at a loss as to how to explain the film. What is is about exactly? I'm not too sure. I'm not being snide here for three quarters of the film you have the parallel stories of Lili and Hagen, then it turns into a weird revenge film that borders on science fiction

In a weird way it seems to be a psuedo-remake (or riff) of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES with the final turn of the dogs playing out like a canine version of the earlier film (we could call it Planet of the Puppies). It also seems at times to be a canine version of the Bourne films with Hagen being chased by animal control officers as if he were the cinematic super spy.

Its all really cool to watch and it will make you amazed at how it was done. Indeed when the film ended I asked one of the other writers what he thought and the first thing he said after he really liked it was how amazed he was at what the dogs did. If you read any review of the film everyone will wax poetic about what the dogs do being so amazing. Its so pervasive that I'm wondering if the super positive reaction to the film is really for the dogs and not the film....

...I say this because let's face it the plot of the film makes no sense.

I could go through a laundry list of problems with the film (including that the viciousness of the dogs is all cleverly staged and that if you look at angry Hagen's eyes you'll see he's just playing) but I'll only pause here to mention a few things that really bothered the hell out of me.

First and foremost why is everyone one with the exception of Lili are horrible human beings? Think about it every human is mean nasty, self centered, hateful or in the case of the object of Lili's affect a jerk (he's nice until the older girl comes around-then again he give Lili his drugs to hold and she gets busted). There isn't a likable human in the film. Worse everyone seems to have an aversion to dogs. What are they aliens?

The other huge problem is that the film puts in twists and turns that exist simply to allow the film go forward. Things like the city having an army of animal control officers always running around emass are completely ludicrous. Then there is that weird moment where the dogs bust in on the concert for no reason other than to alert Lili that the canine army is on the march,

Things are so messed up that I was going along as if it was a low budget direct to home video action film that makes no real sense but keeps you interest. this is the sort of film that the boys at Riff Trax would have a field day with because there are so many plot holes.

As I frequently say at times like this I don't hate the film, I quite like it since for all it's flaws it is compelling. Hell I'm probably the only person who found the end of the film terribly sad since if you follow the ending to it's logical conclusion a half an hour after the end all of the dogs are going to be rounded up or killed by the authorities. (try not to unsee that)

The film plays at New Directors New Films (for tickets and information go here) and opens in theaters on the 27th.

Curtain Raiser: Japan Society presents The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara

Toshiro Mifune and Shirley Yamaguchi in Akira Kurosawa's Scandal

This week: the eclectic and compelling work of two major stars of post-war Japanese cinema are spotlighted in the 2015 Globus Film Series, part of the Society-wide series Stories from the War. The work of actresses Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara — both huge in Japan, nearly unknown in the West — chronicled the transformation of Japan from Axis nation through its defeat in World War II. The nine-film series begins on March 21 with China Nights (1940), the controversial film whose dramatically different endings for the Chinese and Japanese markets polarized the Chinese against Shirley Yamaguchi and contributed to her death sentence following the war.

Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara

Other films in the series include Akira Kurosawa's 1946 anti-fascist drama No Regrets for Our Youth (with Setsuko Hara) and his 1950 satirical romance-comedy Scandal (with Yamaguchi); Setsuko Hara's break-out star piece in 1937's The New Earth — a film co-directed by Nazi film director Arnold Fanck and admired by Adolf Hitler and a propaganda score for the German/Japanese alliance; Samuel Fuller's gorgeous American but shot-in-Japan 1955 noir thriller House of Bamboo (with Yamaguchi); plus several more.

Shirley Yamaguchi in  Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo

Also: Japanese film historian Inuhiko Yomota presents the lecture An Actress with a Thousand Names, covering Shirley Yamaguchi’s multi-faceted life and legacy.

Go east, film buffs, and immerse yourself in the worlds of the war films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara.

Setsuko Hara in Late Spring

The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara runs March 21-April 4 at the Japan Society in New York City; see the full schedule and details at the BAM website.

Theeb (2014) New Directors New Films 2015

Theeb (Wolf in English) is a boy living in the desert with his older brother. When an English officer and his guide come into their camp Theeb's brother is sent along to take them to their destination. Not wanting to be left behind Theeb follows them. Forced to go along with them Theeb is soon struggling on his own as events reveal to him the dangers of the desert and war.

If you want to see a film at New Directors that will leaving you having felt as though you've seen something, and will not make you wonder why you bothered to schlep out to see it on the big screen, then see THEEB. Shot in gorgeous wide screen THEEB is a film that must be seen on the big screen. If you see this on the big screen odds are you're going to react favorable to the film.

The trouble for me was I saw this film on a small computer screen where devoid of the vast scope of the images the film has to rest on it's story- which while good- seems to drag on the small screen. While I know that any of you seeing this at New Directors New Films will be seeing this on the big screen I suspect that more of you seeing this away from the festival circuit will see this on your TVs or computers, which is why I'm explaining that my feelings were definitely affected by how I saw this.

Don't get me wrong this is a good film. Yes it's a tad arty with lots of silences and sense that it's trying to be more than a good adventure tale, but at the same time it is compelling even on the less than optimal small screen.

For more information and tickets go here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SPRING (2014)


Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's SPRING should be seen simply because it is not really like the vast majority of other films. Its a film that uses well known tropes and reinvents them in ways that are completely unexpected.

The film concerns Evan who's life in Southern California has completely upended itself. His mother has just passed and he's adrift. Following a friends advice to get a change of scenery he ends up in Italy traveling around with a pair of British fellows. Entranced by a lovely girl Evan stays behind when his friends move on. Romance blossoms but there is a catch, a centuries old catch.

Forget it this is not what you're thinking, trust me because whatever I was thinking was probably what you were thinking.This is more a character study and romance. This isn't a horror film this is something else entirely....and absolutely wonderful as a result.

What a joy it is to have your expectations up ended. What a joy for a film not to take the easy road and actually try something new. What a delight it is not to have any idea where its going. For that reason I'm not going to say much more than go see this film.

I'm not going to lie to you, the film isn't perfect, the pacing of this film is a bit slack. You could probably trim 20 minutes without hurting anything, Otherwise this is a really good,damn near great film with its own unique view.

This is exactly the sort of film Unseen was set up to highlight this is a must see for anyone who doesn't want the same old same old- or anyone who wants to see a wonderful film.

The film hits theaters and VOD Friday and worth your time and money.

(Addendum: This would make a nice pairing with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN)

Kindergarten Teacher (2014) New Directors New Films 2015

Let's cut to the chase- if you want to know if you're going to like Natav Lupid's KINDERGARTEN TEACHER you have to answer the following two questions:

1. Did you like his previous film POLICEMAN?

If you did then you have a shot at liking his current film even if it is less naturalistic.

On the other hand if you hated that film stay far away from this one.

2. If you haven't seen POLICEMAN you have to ask yourself if you like mannered and extremely deliberate films which in some ways is made to alienate the hell out of you?

If you like mannered films give it a shot.

If not stay far away from it.

The premise of the film is that a kindergarten teacher discovers one of her five year olds has a knack for poetry. She takes it upon herself to try and protect this gift and causes all sorts of problems as a result.

Mannered and deliberately staged, the film feels like an affected play where everyone behaves in a certain way for a deeper meaning. Everyone seems interested in something else,even the camera which feels as if it wants to be doing something else.

I wanted to be doing something else as the pretentious BS flowed freely and deeply almost from the start. The film seems desperate to be about something and shake you into believing that it is about that something- though what it is is incredibly simplistic.

For the film to work you have to buy the idea that this five year old is genius or at least can put words and ideas together in ways that are years beyond his age. You also have to accept that the kid is as distracted as everyone else. While most of the adults manage to pull it off the tyke pretending  to wordy comes off as a horrible performance.

I wanted to scream.

What a load of crap.

For my money this is the last film by Natav Lupid I will ever suffer through. His POLICEMAN was the first time I ever walked out of a NYFF press screening when after an hour I realized nothing had happened. Billed as a class between police and anarchists teens the teens don't show up until the final minutes and the film ends when the clash starts. Mostly its a cop hanging out with his pregnant wife.

KINDERGARTEN TEACHER is marginally better if only in that it has a narrative thrust. On the other hand no one behaves like human beings and the whole thing struggles to be a grand look at me! look at me! I'm deep and meaning full! attempt at getting attention. Its a pretentious head scratcher that makes me wonder if Lupid knows how to end a story without having a police raid.

Then again I'd rather chew aluminum foil and shave my head with a cheese grater than see another one of his films.

If you liked POLICEMAN or are into cinematic masochism more info and tickets can be had by going here.

Dukhtar screens Saturday as part of Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image


This Saturday at the Museum of the Moving Image DUKHTAR is running as part of the Queens World Film Festival. I had seen the film as part of the South Asian International Film Festival last November and it ended up on my best of 2014 list. The film is the rarest of the rare a social drama about child brides that is also a tense action thriller. That may sound impossible but trust me it works.

Here is my review of the film from November:

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.

The website for the Festival can be found here
The Museum of the Moving Image page for the film is here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

She's Lost Control opens Friday in New York and next week in LA

SHE'S LOST CONTROL was one of the high spots of last years New Directors New Films.  While I was mixed on the film as a whole the one thing that stick with me was Brooke Bloom's performance. Its one of those performances that makes you sit up and go "Hello- who is this person and why have I never seen them before". Its a performance that is so good that when I got press material saying that the film was coming out I instantly emailed back and said I'll be rerunning my NDNF review.

Yes I know my feelings for the film are mixed but the performance hung with me for a year- its one of those performances that you know Oscar will never recognize and is proof that the awards don't really pick the best of the year (Hell I remember Bloom from a year ago but I barely remember Julianne Moore from two months ago.) If you want to see a performance of someone who could be the next acting goddess go see SHE'S LOST CONTROL

He's my NDNF review from last year:

It's all about Brooke Bloom who plays Ronah, a sex surrogate working and living in New York. Bloom who is on screen the whole time gives a really good performance as young woman navigating through her life and becoming undone by one of her patients who is both a puzzle and asks pointed questions that make her rethink everything.

How you react to the film is going to depend on how you feel about the pace of the film which is very slow. We are in Ronah's head space and we see things through her eyes and her perceptions. We watch as she interacts with her clients, her boss, the people in her building and her brother. Things meander along until things begin to really (kind of) come apart in the last third or so.

I'm going to be completely honest and say some where around the 45 minute mark I stopped caring. I loved Brooke Bloom's performance but I wasn't getting anything out of the film as a whole. The film is largely a chamber portrait of a young woman in NYC but the drama of a lot of it seems artificial, espically as it goes on. Her client John who begins to spiral her seems out of place with everyone else in the film and on a certain level the pair should have met in another film. Additionally the whole thing about the leaking pipes goes from a nice piece of NYC life to something amped up to just help turn the screws late in the game. I would have loved to have seen the film just go to the end as a slice of life without all the drama.

Probably the best way to describe it is to say despite having a great performance from Brooke Bloom that hopefully can act as a calling card, after a certain point I got bored and wanted to stop watching. Actually I tuned out and started to write about other things in my notebook.

If you want to see a great performance or like Inde chamber pieces that are forcibly about something give it ago otherwise stay away.

(And apropos of nothing- for some reason the film had me very aware that it meets the Bechdel test)

Christmas Again (2014) New Directors New Films 2015

If it wasn't for it's setting- a street in New York where Noel sells Christmas trees-Christmas Again could be confused for almost any other recent independent film about a nice guy dealing with a recent break up. That might be enough for the film to survive but I'm not too sure.

The film follows Noel, he's on his fifth year selling Christmas trees on a street corner in Brooklyn. He's trying to forget the girl he's just broken up with, and whom many of his customers remember from last year. Somewhere among the various people he meets he crosses paths with Lydia and well things kind of happen.

Based in part upon writer/director Charles Poekel's own experience selling trees, the film often has a sense of being real, or as real as a movie of this sort can be.Largely told in brief scenes the film has the feeling of dropping in on Noel at the odd random moment. Its a kind of pointillism of cinema with all the small moments adding up to a big picture.

The trouble is the revelations aren't all that spectacular. We've been here before, we've even heard variations on some of the conversations.Its not that any of it is bad, so much as so little of it seems new. Yes the fact that the film is set at Christmas in a trailer and a street corner sets is apart but the character interactions come off as been there done that. (and I'm not in love with Sean Price Williams cinematography. Yes I know he shot in confined locations but the film feels overly claustraphobic and on top of it's subjects.)

Its good but I don't get why it's getting much attention.

On the other hand I could be wildly off base since a couple people I know saw this at Sundance and loved it.. Actually they loved it so much I was expecting to be bowled over. I wasn't. Maybe if I hadn't been put on the ledge I would have liked it more. As for right now, it's good, but I doubt you'll remember it this Christmas except as that Christmas tree movie you can't quite remember.

For tickets and more information go to the New Directors Website