Monday, June 26, 2017

The Reagan Show opens Friday

THE REAGAN SHOW played Tribeca and is opening in New York at the Metrograph Theater and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Film Center on Friday, with a national right after. It will also be on VOD on July 4. Here is a repost of my Tribeca review.

Made up of news footage and what became known as White House TV, ie. footage shot by the Reagan administration, The Reagan Show is a look at the Reagan presidency in a way that reveals a very human side to both Ronnie and Nancy.

Largely focusing on Reagan’s struggles to bring down the number of nuclear missiles the film marches us through the Regan years at speed giving us a look at what happened and who many of the players were. What is interesting is the supporting cast of players who cameo, Newt, Pat Buchanan, Joe Biden and a few others are seen here and there. Interesting other people who were once big players (Heads of conservative groups) make you look at the screen and wonder why in the hell did anyone listen to them.

Because it begins with a title saying that the Reagan’s shot more footage than the previous five presidents combined I was left to wonder why this film is only 74 minutes long. Full of tons of fly on the wall material and a real sense of time and place this film should be two or three times longer than it is. This is one of the few presidential docs that really adds to what we know and changes how we think about them. The only thing I can think of is that the Reagan family/Library refused permission to delve deeper into other areas of Reagan’s administration such as Iran/Contra.

It should be noted that one of the strengths of the film is that it shows us how the world changed in regard to Presidential coverage. We see all of the normal things that we now take for granted with tight control of the image beginning here. Watching the film you can’t help but think of Donald Trump and see how badly he shapes up to Regan and his crew. Regan and his bunch made it all look so easy- especially the pleasant way they deny or counter allegations. Trump should watch this and learn something.

Recommended.

Election (2005) NYAFF 2017


Johnnie To’s Election is, along with its sequel, one the greatest crime stories ever put on film. While the two films can be seen separately, they are increased 10 fold in power when seen together.

The New York Asian Film Festival is only screening the first film and if you’ve never seen it you have to go. While it was to be part of the Tony Leung Kai-Fa tribute and he’s not coming, the film is still screening so there is no reason not to go. The film is an absolute kick in the ass. It’s about the election of the head of a criminal organization and the games played by the men who want power (insert election 2016 joke here).

What follows is my review of the film from the early days of Unseen Films. Because the film and its sequel play as one story, and because that is how I saw it, that is the way the review is written. I have tweaked it slightly but this is pretty much as written.

It is one of the must see of the festival so go buy tickets



I should probably say at the start that what is now out on DVD in the US as Triad Election is actually Election2 the sequel to Johnnie To's Election. While you probably can see just the second film I don't recommend it since so much happens in the first film that's only eluded to in the second and the depth of understanding seeing the first film is vast.

Election is the story of the election of a chairman for one of the Hong Kong Triads. Every two years a new leader is elected by the uncles-the elder statesman of the Triad. In the first film the loser doesn't care to hear that he's lost and takes steps to put himself in power, mostly having to do with getting the Dragon Baton which signifies authority. As the leaders discuss and plot, often from in jail, the foot soldiers begin trying to find the Baton and bring it back so the leader can take power. It’s a bloody tale that leaves many dead.

The second film is set two years later. It’s time for a second election and the candidates are lining up. If you thought there was at least some honor among thieves in the first film all notions go out the window as everyone tries to manipulate everyone else. (I want to say more but I don't want to spoil anything).

Time Out NY reviewed the films and compare them favorably to the Godfather. I would say these guys are much more dangerous than the Corleone clan. I think also that they are a meaner bunch of people than even the Sopranos. You don't want to cross these guys because you'll never see it coming, especially when they’ll get you as you’re looking them square in the face.

The first time I saw these films I started them while sitting to do some cleaning and cooking. There was some stuff I could do that didn't require me to move so I sat and put on the first film. I fell into it, and before I realized what was happening I was half way into the film. It was a strange trip as the film shift gears from the election to the finding of the Baton to another unexpected thread. This is a wild ride that keeps you consistently off balance.

As a standalone film this is a good film with a great start. As a tale meant to stand alone it suffers from meandering a bit too much and leaving a few too many threads hanging. Chilling and a deeply visceral punch in the gut the film is not completely satisfying. The film suffers from shifts in perspective and a very large cast of characters...however the story doesn't really end there and it helps knowing that.

The second film picks up two years later as the next election looms. Candidates begin to gather and everyone tries to either become the new chairman or side with the next one. This film has almost no set up it just goes, with a dinner among friends briefly recapping what went before. It’s done in such a way that unless you saw the first film you wouldn't know what was being done.

As a standalone film I'm certain this film will play okay. Indeed the film played the New York Film Festival with nary a word that it was a sequel, so you can see the films apart, but I wouldn't do it, there simply is too you wouldn't know.

What was set up in the first film is built upon here. Characters try to take sides, stray remarks from the first film are haunting in the second. Motivation and back story are all explained in the first film and here they have a dark resonance that is barely even hinted at if you saw this film as a standalone (The heartbreaking final moments of one character are even sadder when you know all that went before) In deed one key character in the second film will play very differently when you know some of what happens in the first. The second film-in actuality the second part of the story smooths out some of the flaws of the first film. Things make sense in retrospect since you know where they lead.

This isn't to say that the second film isn't flawed, it does seem to move a bit too fast for the story its telling, and there are a few too many characters to completely follow, but it’s still a really good film. As the first film is improved by the second, this film is improved by seeing the first, its flaws are smoothed out by its brother.

(Of course the films together have some flaws that aren't in either single film)

I've been kicked in the chest by these films. The two films together form one of the best gangster sagas put on film.

This is grand human story telling. The layers and the complexity of the tales they tell simply demand repeated viewing. Honestly these are films that get better with a second viewing simply because what happens in each film is deepened by knowing what has gone before and after.

As standalone films they rate a 7 out of 10. If seen together I'd rate them 9 out of 10 and a must see.

As much as it might be considered sacrilege I'm hoping this gets dubbed into English at some point- simply because there are many people who won't read subtitles and they are missing out on one of the best gangster films of the last few years.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The New York Asian Film Festival Starts Friday- The Obligatory Curtain Raiser

Welcome to Unseen Film’s obligatory NYAFF curtain raiser. If you are a long time reader of Unseen then you’ve read a version of this before (I've done it eight times before) so feel free to jump to the recommended films below. If you’re new to NYAFF start at the top and read all the way through.

The New York Asian Film Festival starts Friday which means that I’ll be heading home to the Walter Reade Theater where my family by different mother live each July. The people who go to the fest are best people in the world and I can't think of a better bunch to hang out with for two weeks every July. It’s a glorious thing and it’s the family reunion you could want -where no one’s related and everyone gets along.

I love NYAFF. Why? Just look at all the contributors to Unseen Films and realize that a good chunk of them came from the friendships struck up at the festival. Even those who weren’t picked up at the fest still go to the fest. It’s something that’s in our blood.

What I love is that once you go to a screening or two you’re family. Once we know that you’re one of us- something revealed by seeing you at multiple screenings you’re welcome for life. People will take you home and cook you dinner. We are a friendly bunch…

And there are movies. All sorts of films from across Asia. Many films which you will see nowhere else but at NYAFF. It’s a glorious thing. The films are what brings everyone to the festival the first time, the friendships are the reason for every other trip.

This year my appearances are going to be limited to two maybe three days (assuming the LIRR doesn’t melt down for the third). Sadly I have conflicts which couple the way the programing falls on the other days makes actually getting to the fest neigh impossible….

…Not to worry we’ll be reporting on all but maybe three, possibly four films. As it stand right now I’ve seen all but 12 of the films. Basically I’ve seen 45 , have tickets to 7 and will miss 4. I’m not including the secret screening in this because since it’s secret I can’t run a review. Reviews, except those I'm seeing at the fest, will run before the films screen. There are so many that some are simply capsules but others are full on reviews.

I’ll discuss what I think of the films as a whole when the fest is over, but for now know that there is some great stuff here

What are the must sees? I’m glad you asked because here’s my list:

The must sees:

Sabu's HAPPINESS is not for all audiences (no really I've already gotten into arguments about this film). The light first half hour gives way to a dark, shocking and very sad last hour. Its food for thought and a throw back to Sabu's more meditative films like DRIVE, BLESSING BELL, SATURDAY and recent MISS ZOMBIE. Its a master director making a film at the top of his game.

If you missed NOT WHAT I EXPECTED when it played NYC a couple months back you missed a killer romcom of the highest order. A must see.

ELECTION- If you've never seen the Election films here's your chance to see the first. While working best as the first half of a two part film ELECTION still rocks on it's own and will make you want to rush out and see the second part.

TAKING OF TIGER MOUNTAIN- Tsui Harks insane war film demands to be seen big and in 3D. NYAFF is giving you a chance to do both. An absolute must with a huge bowl of popcorn

ORDINARY PERSON- a killer Korean thriller about a good cop caught in a bad place

TRUTH BENEATH- despite a confusing middle this korean thriller about the daughter of political candidate who goes missing has bookends that will leave you gasping.(I had a frantic email from one writer who was blown away by it)

FABRICATED CITY- Awesome action film about a gamer who is framed for murder and his race to clear himself. Not only is it an awesome thriller but its a biting attack on Korean society. One of the best films at NYAFF and one of the best action thrillers in years.

ETERNAL SUMMER- is a really good coming of age film. I saw this ages ago and I wrote it up for something when I saw it - I will repost the review when I find it

THE ROAD TO MANDALAY- Brooding film from Midi Z is like his earlier films and concerns migrants trying to get work in Thailand

MAD WORLD- An absent father takes in his bipolar son when the hospital decides it can't do any more for him. Acting tour deforce by all involved is a trip into the world of mental illness. Go and see the legendary Eric Tsang in person when he finally comes to NYC for the screening

MRS B- haunting doc about a North Korean woman living in China who smuggles and sells people. If you want a film to make you think this is it.

Those are the musts and here are a couple more suggestions:

If you miss old school Hong Kong horror comedies do try VAMPIRE CLEANUP DEPARTMENT-it's just what the doctor ordered.(With an Eric Tsang cameo)

Miike's second MOLE SONG film is rude crude and very funny. If you liked the first film or Miike's manic style  give it a shot.

And finally a word of warning about BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO. The audio of the music was intentionally not mixed or cleaned up with the result there is a lot of distortion during the musical performances. Despite playing the film at low volume on my laptop without headphones it made my ears ring and my head throb in ways that I've only experienced at the two loudest concerts I've ever attended.

For tickets and more information for here. Also follow the festival and Subway Cinema on Twitter and Facebook

Unseen Repost: Crooked Circle (1932)


1930's comedy mystery about "The Crooked Circle" a band of hooded crooks who set about plotting the murder of some one who swore to oppose them. Enjoyable but really unremarkable little film, the movie works simply because the cast headed by Zazu Pitts and James Gleason (both of whom would later appear together in a couple of Hildegarde Withers films after Edna Mae Oliver dropped out of that series) and supported by a great cast of actors and actresses you know but may not know the name of (I don't hence the lack naming).

A breezy hour long romp, the movie doesn't make a great deal of sense with mistaken identity, secret passages, ghostly music and people not being who they seem. Its the perfect thing for a dark and stormy night or a late night viewing when one is nostalgic for the late late show.

Currently available from places like Alpha video and other public domain releases I recommend it as one of the reasons to pick up one of the many multi-movie sets such as Night Screams 50 movie set from Mill Creek that are floating around. (I mention that set because I have it and because its collection of mysteries in it quite good with very few clunkers)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Underworld (1927)


Underworld is said to be the first of the “modern” gangster films. It is the film that all the films for the next two decades copied or stole from. It’s said to have been the first film to force theaters to stay open 24 hours to meet the demand of audiences. It’s also one hell of a movie.

The film is the story of a crook named Bull Weed. A big time gangster who robs banks on his own, he’s strong enough to bend a silver dollar in half with his bare hands. He has a sweet spot for feathers, his lovely lady. He also has a soft spot for those down on life befriending a down out fellow he nick names Rolls Royce.  Bull cleans up Rolls and sets him up in his old hideout as the keeper to a secret escape route. Trouble rears its head as Feathers and Rolls begin to circle each other. They remain apart, but Bull is jealous. However Rolls and Feathers don't have much to worry about because Bull's rage ends up directed at a rival gang leader who tries to rape Feathers. Its a rage that will spiral everything to tragedy

Watching the film 90 years on for the first time it’s odd how familiar the film is. I’ve seen variations of this before because this is where it all started. The quintessential crime film it’s easy to see how the film was pillaged for decades after (the City is Yours sign here is echoed in DePalma’s Scarface with the one about the world). Not paying attention to the credits I was shocked at how much it seemed like a Ben Hecht script and I wasn’t surprised to see it came from a story he had written. Actually if you read lips you’ll see the lines of dialog spoken on screen sounds like Hecht dialog. The lines are so good I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t used in sound films years later.

What amazes me at how much the film doesn’t feel like a silent film. Other than the occasional shot the whole film feels as though it belongs from five or ten years later. I think the reason it stayed with audiences wasn’t because of the genre simply because it doesn’t feel old. Even today, despite some classic movie conventions, this is a film that moves and behaves like a modern film. There is a nice grayness to the characters that keep things nicely shaded.

Evelyn Brent performance as Feathers is stunning. There is a strength of character that is beyond the script. You feel the miles on her.  It as glorious bit of acting as I've ever seen.

Larry Semon is amazing in a character role. Semon, an actor director best known as a comic (and director and star of the 1925 Wizard of Oz) shines as one of Bull's henchmen. While the role most assuredly has comic elements to it it is still light years away from Semon's other films. There is a wormy sense of menace that makes you wary of him. Watching it one has to wonder whether how would have not had the break down in his health that killed if had had managed to take more roles in other people's films.

This is a great film. Its so good that when the film was done I started the DVD over again. This is not a classic of silent cinema but a classic and influential film for all cinema.

I can't recommend this film enough. This is definitely worth seeing especially i you can get the Criterion Von Sternberg DVD set which two scores for the film plus a 40 minute making of, not to mention two other films (Last Command and Docks of New York)

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017) BAMcinema Fest (Spoilers)

Word going into A GHOST STORY was it either going to be the best film I saw this year or the worst. It would all hinge on whether I accepted the idea that a ghost in the film would be a person in a sheet. I went in hoping to see something special. What I got was a film with severe problems that almost worked before it went off the rails. The ghost as sheet idea was the least of the films problems.

I will say that the film could have been something if it had been a black and white short directed by Bela Tarr. As it is now its  very close to pretentious twaddle. It’s a film that plays as if it is about something momentous-but it never clues us into what that was.(what are we suppose to think or feel?)

I suspect some people are going to be rapturous, I know others are not- several people walked out of the BAMCinema Fest screening, others myself included yawned loudly, while others stared at the screen quizzically (there are dull stretches so I watched the audience). When the film ended the couple behind me could be heard saying that they were hoping Lowery would explain what they had just seen. I left seconds later because films need to stand on their own and not be explained- and the only way it can really work is not to have it explained. Sadly David Lowery is going to have to explain the film to most people who see it for them to really get it.

I need to say that at this point I’m going to discuss the film and it’s plot in detail. I’m going to spill the beans (as much as that is possible) so if you don’t want to know you should stop reading here and move on to something else. If you don’t mind knowing them keep reading.

The film concerns a couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) living in a rented house. There is some tension between them. Why isn’t clear because the sound mix is such it drives all but the sound effects and the overly intrusive score to the background (it's intentional- the director is making a point-I think). One day we find Affleck has been killed in a car crash outside his driveway. He returns as a ghost who haunts the house. Lots of time passes as he watches Mara wander around grieving and eventually get on with her life. Before leaving the house Mara leaves a note on a small piece of paper hidden in between two boards in a door jam. A new family moves in. Affleck watches them. He smashes their china. He talks to a ghost in a house next door who is floral printed sheet. Other people come. Affleck watches them. He keeps trying to get at the hidden note. The house is torn down a high rise goes up. Affleck leaps from the roof. Suddenly it's the mid-19th century he watches a family on the prairie. They are killed by Native Americans. He finds himself back in the house. He watches events play out again- this time we hear the dialog we didn't the first time. Affleck is finally able to get the note and he disappears.

Told in incredibly long takes the film frequently feels glacial. We frequently watch as things happen in real time. For example Rooney Mara eats most of pie in (essentially) one shot before running off to throw it up.

There is little dialog. Mostly the ghost stares while overdone music blasts us.

Because the film moves so slowly and is full of static shots and little direction my mind wandered and I realized the film has all sorts of plot problems:

The car accident that claims Casey Affleck's life couldn't happen the way we see it. Never mind the road is where he lives is a rundown rutted film the angle of the cars is all wrong for the street they are on. No one would be traveling fast enough or in the right direction to create that sort of accident- especially a fatal one.

How time moves for the ghost is internally inconsistent. Never mind that there is the 200 year time jump, how we move through time makes no sense as some  months or years speed past while at others times we watch things in real time. We never get a sense of how or why things speed by.

I'm not sure why he can affect somethings and not others. There are times when he tries to do something but has no effect and then at other times he's knocking pictures over or tossing china

We also don't know why he is anchored to the house. He has to walk from the hospital.   The reason can't be his need to see the note since the note comes a good while after he is dead. As to get back to Mara, perhaps, but why not go with her then? Of course we don't fully know what the deal is between Affleck and Mara.

Because 90% of the dialog is either mumbled, covered up the sound mix or in Spanish we never get to know either Affleck's or Mara's characters. The relationship between them is nothing but longing looks because we never really hear anything until the closing minutes of the film and events replay. How can we be moved when we know nothing? We have no sense of them as people- which means we have so sense of Affleck as a ghost. Worse we never get to know anyone's motivation-why are these people here? Why do they love each other – we have no clue.

(And I don't care that Affleck won an Oscar as best actor, it's very clear here that he is a man of limited talents and needs a better script than this to give a performance and do more than mumble)

How can Affleck Ghost be in the house at the same time as himself?

How does Affleck pull out the note and read it when within the time line when he almost has it out when the house is destroyed at a later time? What is the nature of time within the film anyway?

I think outside of the moments anything positive is the result of what people carry into the film rather than what is there.

And there are moments-

The talks with the ghost across the way is kind of haunting (despite being silly). The not remembering why you were waiting stayed with me as did the sadness of realizing the one ghost had been waiting for nothing.

The monolog about nothing having meaning because the universe will end in billions of years is really good but at the same time what the hell is it doing in this film?(That’s a question I could ask about lots of the moments) Its a glorious bleak moment that is unconnected and free floating but adds nothing to the film except running time.

The high rise bit isn't bad and the film kind of comes together for a while and until he jumps from the roof. I thought the film had come together but the jump back in time killed it. My thought was if trimmed the film’s excesses down prior and ended it before he jumps (the shot through the window is killer) you’d have a great short. (I'm annoyed because I honestly thought Lowery was pulling gold from the shit- and then he jumped into the void)

Mara listening to the song and remember hearing it for the first time was really good. I just wish it was connected to a better film where we could be fully connected to the characters so it broke our hearts the way it should have. Its too adrift to have impact even if it is a nice moment.

I do have to say that while it is not the worst film I've ever paid to see at a festival (it kind of works in fits and starts) it is for long stretches one of the dullest. This is a really clever short film stretched to feature length.

And the most amazing thing is that the sheet ghost idea isn't a bad one- it's most of the other stuff that David Lowery does with the film that does it in.

An occasionally intriguing failure, it is not really recommended except for the curious.

In Transit (2015) opens today

I saw IN TRANSIT when it played Tribeca in 2015. With the film opening in theaters today I'm reposting the review.

IN TRANSIT is one of the final projects worked on by Albert Maysles. Working with several other people they document Amtrak's Empire Builder the busiest long distance run in the US between Seattle and Chicago. The film blends trips in either direction into one long journey.

An American version of IRON MINISTRY which played at The New York Film Festival in 2014 this is little more than an observational look at three days on a train. We see how various people pass the time and interact. In a few cases people, a conductor from the mid-west in particular, are interviewed.

How is it?

Much like a trip across the country, full of great things to look at and a mixed collection of people.Some people you completely understand why the camera focused on them (the pregnant mother and the shutterbug), Others we are left to wonder where the rest of the conversation is (the two people above) since we seem to have come in the middle of something.

While most definitely worth seeing on a big screen, this is light confection compared to some of Maysles other films.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Food Evolution opens Friday

Ariela saw and reviewed FOOD EVOLUTION last year at DOC NYC. Now that iit is hitting theaters I'm reposting the review.

FOOD EVOLUTION in my opinion is a must see documentary. It's very educational and discusses the controversy of GMO food, which is very relevant these days.

GMO=Genetically Modified Organism. They change the DNA. They vaccinate plants through genetic engineering. Change seeds to have enrichment in them. Disease resistant.

Who’s right? I was actually surprised by a lot of the information. There is a consensus among scientists that GMO foods are safe to eat. There's no evidence that GMO foods are bad for us. The film states that scientists have repeatedly tested all GMO foods and there have been no adverse reaction. They also say GMO's have decreased pesticide use.

The people who are anti-gmo say they get their information from social media and that they don’t believe/trust the scientists. They argue against science without any scientific facts.

The film uses farmers, scientists and experts in the field to discuss their point of views. They really discuss both sides so the viewer can come to his or her own conclusion.

The film started in Hawaii which was the first state to ban GMO's. Other cities and countries followed. But we quickly see that maybe GMO’s are not the enemy.

GMO's have saved crops from being wiped out.

An example of this happened in Uganda where there were banana problems- the bananas had wilted. This is a huge world risk as it’s a huge source of nutrition and money. They did a test run of planting a GMO and a non GMO banana plant. The GMO plant grew, the other didn’t. The farmers were so excited. Even the organic farmers wanted in on it.

By the end of the film, several people who were fighting against GMO’s had changed their viewpoint. I wonder what the future will be like.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

in pursuit of silence opens Friday

I saw IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE last year at the Dallas Film Festival and have been haunted by it ever since. This is a must see in theaters. or if you are seeing this on TV or computer put on head phones this is all about sound. It opens Friday so here is my review

This film MUST be seen in a theater. The controlled environment is required to full comprehend the aural nature of the film. It begins with 4 minutes of silence and then the sound creeps in with the ringing of a bell. The soundscape of the film is so important that the festival video link gives the instructions that the film is to be watched with headphones.

Mediation on the nature of sound and silence in particular is less a documentary and more an essay. Its a stunning trip into a particular head space. Its one that clears the mind and gets you thinking about all of the sounds and noises that intrude on our lives.

It is in its way a kind of spiritual sibling to the great documentary INTO GREAT SILENCE which is portrait of a monastery where the brothers remain mostly silence. Its a film that makes you want to go off into the silence and just think and commune with the world around you.

I don't know what to say. Its hard to really discuss or review a film such as this because ultimately the film isn't really a film, it's a journey. Its a film that takes us somewhere and shows us something and forces us to confront the world and ourselves. I can not even begin to imagine how you will react to it. Rather this is simply a film I can tell you about and press into your hands and say "See this. You must see this because it will make you think and feel." This is a film that may very well change the way you see the world and interact with it.

Of course it may not, but it is something you should see and all I cn do is point you toward the Dallas Film Festival or where ever this screening and have you try it.

It's a very recommended mediation

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The film THIRSTY plays and it's subject performs Saturday as part of Brooklyn Pride

With THIRSTY screening this coming weekend at a free event in Brooklyn (see above) I'm rerunning my review so you know why you need to go see it.

(After I wrote what follows I went to Twitter and tweeted the following: "Just saw a film that so mixes up genres- to great effect- that I can't really figure out what to say other than WOW." While I think that is the perfect review of the THIRSTY it doesn't give me enough for a post at Unseen. For that reason I now give you the original lesser review)


THIRSTY is the true life story of Scott Townsend aka Thirsty Burlington a self described "girly-boy" who grew up to be a drag sensation and Cher impersonator. It is also a one of a kind film that mixes genres and film styles to unique create a portrait of the artist as a young woman, or more to the point the artist as a living and breathing human being

I am not going to lie, I have no idea how to adequately describe this film. I'm not being coy or anything, I genuinely don't have any idea how to describe this film. A coming of age tale one minute, a musical the next, a family drama the next, the time jumping non-linear style smashes down walls and creates a work of art that is something unique, much like Thirsty herself.

The bouncing genres acts as a slap in the face, heightening the emotions. There are times where you can not stop smiling to the point where tears well up in your eyes but at other times it's painfully uncomfortable to watch as Townsend's life is laid open and we are forced to see as young Scott has to deal with bullying, alcohol abuse, failed romances and poverty as well as the uncertainty of his gender identity. Credit the filmmakers for daring to make choices that kind of seem counter intuitive- sudden musical number with buoyant songs suddenly shift to painful exchanges between characters. Joy one minute results wounds opening up the next. I have to applaud Townsend for remaining upright after all that has happened to him.

While there is much to love, enough for me to recommend it, the film suffers from in a couple of areas such as an occasionally uneven cast and some sets looking too much like sets instead of real places. Its only noticeable because so many of the scenes are clearly real places that the fake ones stand out. As I said the flaws aren't fatal but you should be aware of them and forgive them because this is a one of a kind film.

I really like this film a great deal. There is something special about it and it's subject that makes a film that by all rights shouldn't work, not only work but stand out as something special.

My Journey Through French Cinema (Voyage à travers le cinéma français)

MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA played at the NYFF last fall. Now that the film opens in theaters this Friday this a repost of  my review from September

The first part of Bertrand Tavernier look at French Cinema as it shaped his life.

Striving to be a Bertrand Tavernier's version of Martin Scorsese's look at cinema A JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA starts with the first film that stuck with him and then spins out in largely random way the various filmmakers, actors and composers who influenced him- Becker, Gabin, Renior, Carne, Eddie Constantine (yes!) Godard, Melville and others. Its a rambling almost stream of consciousness trip which ends with the promise of a second and perhaps third edition with all the people he left out.

A very messy film that is in desperate need of an editor, the film has some truly stunning moments (the Melville sequence) and some snoozers (I can't tell you I kind of fell asleep) alternating seemingly at random. Sequences that give new light on certain directors are followed by people most have never heard of who aren't really put into context other than Tavernier likes them.

I loved parts, I hated parts and mostly I felt as thought the 3 plus hours was 3 times that.

For fans of French cinema only- all others need not apply.

Monday, June 19, 2017

20 Weeks (2017) Los Angeles Film Festival

Anna Margaret Hollyman and Amir Arison star as a couple who are in love but are not sure where their relationship is going other than they love to spend time with each other. When an unexpected pregnancy occurs the couple is drawn together, When possible issues with the baby's health occur their lives and relationship is thrown into turmoil.

Earnest and largely well made film is for the most part one of the most straightforward looks at how modern medicine is affecting how we view pregnancy.  Covering a variety of issues from abortion, to genetic testing, sonograms, the film gives us a good, and nicely unsensational look at the issues facing modern couples.

The problem with the film is the structure of the film  makes the first half hour a kind of long haul. The film begins with the couple having the sonogram which we know will reveal a problem. The film then jumps back and forth through time showing us how the couple met and how we got here. I'm not really sure why its structured like that because we know where we are going, and we kind of know what is going to be found once we get there. Rearranging the time frame doesn't add anything especially since it takes so long to get to now. Once we get to know the film stops being bothersome and becomes a good story of a couple facing serious choices.

First half hour aside I like 20 WEEKS. Its a beautifully acted that doesn't take the typical Hollywood histrionic route. The characters wonderfully don't peak and valley as they would in  a studio production, these are adults with love and respect for each other and behave as such.

Recommended for anyone who wants a thoughtful look at a serious subject with real characters.

FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER AND SUBWAY CINEMA ANNOUNCE UPDATED AWARDEES AND SPECIAL GUESTS FOR 16th NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER AND SUBWAY CINEMA ANNOUNCE UPDATED AWARDEES AND SPECIAL GUESTS FOR 16th NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

DUAN Yihong and GANG Dong-won to receive Star Asia Award, Jung Byung-gil to receive Excellence in Action Cinema award, and Eric TSANG to now receive Lifetime Achievement Award

New York, NY (June 19, 2017) – The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema announced today updated awardees and special guests for the 16th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which will take place from June 30 to July 13 at the Film Society and July 14 to 16 at the SVA Theatre.
The festival will present five awards, including the Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award to Eric Tsang, two Star Asia Awards, the Screen International Rising Star Award to Thailand’s Chutimon “Aokbab” Chuengcharoensukying as announced on June 5, and the Daniel E. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema to South Korea’s Jung Byung-gil.
They are among 30 guests attending this year’s festival. The complete list of guests can be found below.
In addition to the previously announced Gang Dong-won, China’s Duan Yihong will be awarded the Star Asia Award at the 16th New York Asian Film Festival on 1st July 2017. It is in recognition for his entire body of work. It will be presented in person to the actor before screenings of Extraordinary Mission and Battle of Memories at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
This is the first time that a Star Asia Award has been presented to an actor from China. Previous recipients include Donnie Yen, Miriam Yeung and South Korea’s Lee Byung-hun. The festival’s Screen International Rising Star Asia Award recognizing new talent has previously been presented to two actors from China, Huang Bo in 2010 and Jelly Lin in 2016.
“We’re honored to give one of our top awards to Duan Yihong, who we regard as one of China’s greatest modern actors,” said Samuel Jamier, the festival’s executive director. “The cinema of China is now central to our lineup, in recognition that it is not only at the forefront of genre cinema in Asia, but is also making the most perceptive, honest films about human relationships.”
Chinese-language films in this year’s selection include Yang Shupeng’s Blood of Youth, Han Han’s Duckweed, Liu Yulin’s Someone to Talk To, Zhang Yang’s Soul on a String, Leste Chen’s Battle of Memories and Extraordinary Mission, directed by Alan Mak and Anthony Pun. They are co-presented with Confucius Institute Headquarters and China Institute.
Also newly announced today is the Excellence in Action Cinema Award to South Korea’s Jung Byung-gil. The maverick director is a former guest of the festival in 2008 when he attended the international premiere of his debut feature Action Boys. He returns to New York almost a decade later with his reinvention of action cinema, The Villainess, which will be the closing film.
The NYAFF is also excited to announce that we are now honoring the great Eric Tsang with the Lifetime Achievement Award. This is a change from the previously announced awardee Tony Leung Ka-fai, who is unfortunately no longer able to attend the festival due to extenuating circumstances. Tsang is the perfect choice in a year in which we are championing first-time filmmakers from Hong Kong. Although best known as an actor, Tsang’s most vital contribution to Greater China cinema is as an investor, producer and supporter of new directors. The festival is showing his new film Mad World by first-time director Wong Chun, also attending.
The festival will screen 57 feature films over 17 days. The festival opens on 30 June with the international premiere of Thai high-school thriller Bad Genius and closes on 16 July with the U.S. premiere of South Korean revenge thriller The Villainess. The festival’s centerpiece gala is Mikhail Red’s ecological thriller Birdshot from the Philippines.
The festival this year launches its competition for first- and second-time directors whose films are receiving their North American premiere at the festival. The seven films competing are Bad Genius(Thailand), Birdshot (Philippines), A Double Life (Japan), Jane (South Korea), Kfc (Vietnam), and With Prisoners (Hong Kong).
The New York Asian Film Festival is curated by executive director Samuel Jamier, deputy director Stephen Cremin, and programmers Claire Marty and David Wilentz. It is co-presented by Subway Cinema Inc and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival is held at Film Society of Lincoln Center (30 June to 13 July 2017) and SVA Theater (14 July to 16 July 2017).

FINAL GUEST LIST (30)
CHINA (2)Duan Yihong 段奕宏, actor (EXTRAORDINARY MISSION, BATTLE OF MEMORIES) - STAR ASIA AWARD
Yang Shupeng 
楊樹鵬, director (BLOOD OF YOUTH)
HONG KONG (8)Florence Chan 陳楚珩, screenwriter (MAD WORLD)
Derek Hui 
許宏宇, director (THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED)
Lawrence Lau 
劉國昌, director (DEALER HEALER)
Alan Lo 
盧煒麟, director (ZOMBIOLOGY: ENJOY YOURSELF TONIGHT)
Heiward Mak 
麦曦茵, producer (MAD WORLD)
Carrie Ng 
吳家麗, actress (ZOMBIOLOGY: ENJOY YOURSELF TONIGHT)
Eric Tsang 
麥曦茵, actor (MAD WORLD) – STAR HONG KONG LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Wong Chun 
黃進, director (MAD WORLD)
JAPAN (4)Kei Ishikawa 石川慶, director (TRACES OF SIN)
Yuki Mamiya 
間宮夕貴, actress (WET WOMAN IN THE WIND)
Naoko Ogigami 
荻上直子, director (CLOSE-KNIT)
Akihiko Shiota 
塩田明彥, director (WET WOMAN IN THE WIND)
PHILIPPINES (1)Mikhail Red, director (BIRDSHOT)
SOUTH KOREA (11)Cho Hyun-hoon 조현훈, director (JANE)
Gang Dong-won 
강동원, actor (VANISHING TIME: A BOY WHO RETURNED) - STAR ASIA AWARD
Gu Gyo-hwan 
구교환, actor (JANE)
Han Ye-ri 
한예리, actress (A QUIET DREAM)
Jang Sung-gun 
장성건, musician (BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO)
Jung Byung-gil 
정병길, director (THE VILLAINESS) – DANIEL A. CRAFT AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN      ACTION CINEMA AWARD
Jung Yoon-suk 
정윤석, director (BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO)
Kwon Yong-man
권용만, musician (BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO)
Park Jung-eun
정근, producer (BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO)
Lee Min-ji
이민지, actress (JANE)
Zhang Lu
장률, director (A QUIET DREAM) 

TAIWAN (1) 
    Chen Mei-juin 陳玫君, director (THE GANGSTER'S DAUGHTER) 
THAILAND (3) 
    Chutimon "Aokbab" Chuengcharoensukying ชุติมณฑน์จึงเจริญสุขยิ่ง (BAD GENIUS) – SCREEN      INTERNATIONAL RISING STAR ASIA AWARD
Nattawut "Baz" Poonpiriya 
นัฐวุฒิพูนพิริยะ, director (BAD GENIUS)
Chanon Santinatornkul 
ชานนสันตินธรกุล, actor (BAD GENIUS)
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Keep up to date with information at www.filmlinc.org and www.subwaycinema.com. Subway Cinema can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nyaff and Twitter at www.twitter.com/subwaycinema.

Roller Dreams (2017) LA Film Festival 2017

This is a very good look at the changing fortunes of Venice Beach California through the lives of the roller dancers who put it on the map.

Originally the only coastal section of Los Angeles where blacks and Mexicans could go to without getting into trouble the area became home to a thriving community of men and women who danced on roller skates. These untrained skaters and dancers were doing moves that impressed everyone who saw them. As word spread the legend of Venice Beach began to grow. The skating began to influence popular culture and people with money and political clout turned their eyes on the beach and gentrification appeared on the horizon and the people who brought the world to the beach were kind of pushed out..

A solid look at a now largely forgotten time ROLLER DREAMS brings their stories back from the abyss. That may sound hyperbole but you have to realize that much of what came out of Venice Beach was absorbed into popular culture. Its hard, even for someone who saw it all was over mainstream media, to realize that there was a time when you didn't dance on skates, or move, on or off skates, the way these dancers did and people do now.

The film''s strength is that the film follows the lives of the various people through the changes to now. We get to really see how life treated them over the years and how they drifted apart but always held on to the glory times. The result is a very touching and moving film that is much more complex than you might suspect.

Recommended.

ROLLER DREAMS is a film that will make you go wow repeatedly.

Bad Batch (2017)

Toward the end of THE BAD BATCH the audience of critics I was with started to laugh. There was remark that was what I knew was an intentional joke occurring but I was unsure if they were laughing with the film or at it. I was curious because there were numerous "serious: moments when I heard laughter, but this was the first real joke where people were laughing. Also I knew several people had walked out of the film. I knew people left because light flooded the screen each time. In the almost 8 years of writing on film I had never seen anyone leave from this particular screening room for the reason that you couldn’t escape without everyone knowing. Critics never want to tip their hands until the reviews post unless they truly hate a film.

Anyway because there was a  sudden burst of laughter, I turned my head so I could see if it was out of delight or pity - and was shocked to discover that the normally non-reactive audience of critics had suddenly morphed into the crowd at that just seen Springtime For Hitler in THE PRODUCERS- almost everyone was wide eyed and slack jawed with a look incredulity on their faces-it seemed  no one could believe what they were seeing.

Yea BAD BATCH is that awful.

Granted some of it works on an isolated basis, but the vast majority of the film is a hysterical disaster that needs to be shipped off to Nashville for the Rifftrax Boys to riff live or shot into space so the Mystery Science crew and add it to season 12. It’s a film that confounds with it’s actual non-sense.

And it is non-sense since nothing in the film makes sense-on any level-expecially its own. There is no world building, there is no through line, and worst of all there is no internal logic. NOTHING makes any sense even in its own world.

Who put this together? Did they simply not shoot the whole script or was this a nine hour film where they cut seven of them out?

I'm going to tell you as much of the plot as I can that makes sense of:

The bad batch are people who are thrown out of Texas for various crimes. Instead of going to prison they are tossed into a desert wasteland. A woman (Arlen) is tossed into the desert. She wanders off and is captured by a large group of cannibals who tie her up, cut an arm and leg off of her and eat it. She escapes. Collapses from lack of water but is discovered by hermit (Jim Carrey) who brings her to a town called Comfort. Five months later more stuff happens involving the head of the cannibals, his young daughter and cult leader/drug dealer Keanu Reeves.

That's all you need to know... other than the ending is the new definition of WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

The mind boggles.

I filled pages and pages in my notebook, not of things that happened but of questions about the things that don't make sense- for example:

The film begins with dialog over the titles about the bad batch people being tattooed before being shipped off. There are sounds and talk as if there are tons of people-except only one woman is dumped in the desert. Where is everyone else?

Why does she only have half a bottle of water when she's dumped?

Where does anyone get water anyway?

How does everyone wander the desert for days without water and not be worse for wear?

When Arlen escapes the cannibals no one goes after her- why? Are free meals that plentiful?

The cannibal camp is full of people in the first couple of shots- lots of cannibals and lots of people missing arms and legs...where did they disappear to about the time Arlen escapes? Even when we return to the camp we never see anyone ever again.

Why does the shape of Arlen's stump change in each scene?

When is this set? All the technology is 1980's or 90's-people listen to LPs and cassettes but there is a graffiti listing 2012. All the on screen music is 30 years old.

Where is the electricity coming from? The batteries? the gas?

Who is Keanu Reeves character?

How can Arlen have been in Comfort for five months and not known about the nightly raves?

How could Arlen have been in Comfort for five months and when she returns after going walkabout for two days have no one know who she is?

How does Arlen shoot the black woman when the trigger is never pulled?

The Cannibal guy wants to find his daughter so bad yet he takes time to dally with Arlen?

The Cannibal Guys lives in the desert and goes riding out into it but has no idea where anything is?

How does a snow globe allow the big guy to find Comfort?

What is anyone's motivation?

Where does all the sewage go to and how do they have running water (yea I know that last part is a duplicate but it's a real question)?

Where does all the stuff in Comfort come from?

Keanu says the drugs are the economy of Comfort but he gives them away for free…

Where did they get the rocks to make a fire pit at the end?

Is this film serious or a huge joke?

There are tons more questions (that’s about a third of the ones I wrote down) but why bother?

The reason I was making so many notes is that Arlen is a non-character. We know nothing about her. We never get a sense of what she is thinking. She simply staggers through the landscape moving around  for no discernible reason.  We lock on the flaws in the plotting and elsewhere because there is a black hole in the central role sucking the life out of the film. Its so empty a role that I have to think that the role was written that way because no one can,  not even in a bad performance,be that much of a nonentity unless it's intentional.

Making everything worse are numerous god awful performances beginning with Suki Waterhouse as Arlen, who starts off okay and then goes into the toilet rather quickly. Her performance is so exceedingly bad that the only thing I can think is that she is fine but the editing wrecked it- which I can believe since there are so many editing errors your brain could explode trying to list them.

Equally bad is Keanu Reeves,who gives one of his worst performances in years. While he is hard to spot to start, once he opens his mouth you know its him since he performs his role as if a stoner is doing his role from the Bill and Ted films. The cast of non-names are anywhere from poor to okay.

There are all sorts of technical issues-Sound effects don’t match up to what is happening on screen, things appear and disappear in shots, the visual effects vary in quality, and as I said the editing is atrocious. This is not a bunch of first time filmmakers working with no budget. Seriously while highly polished, this film is more confused than most direct to video trash I see.

Watching the film I wondered not how did this get made-rather its why it was getting released. This is such a mess it potentially could damage the reputation of everyone involved. Seriously the fact that people who should know better are releasing this with a straight face is kind of offensive. Isn’t there a better version of this material? I can’t imagine there isn’t. Didn’t anyone screen this for an impartial audience? If the script was always this disastrous why did it get green lit? More importantly why did anyone sign on – couldn’t they see this was a turkey? (of course the script probably had all the explanation that isn’t on the screen in sections explaining character motivation)

When I wrote this piece originally I did so with lots of snark and brick bats but I took it most of it out. I removed all the jokes because as unintentionally funny the film is, my reaction isn’t. I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed that this is getting a release when dozens of better films aren’t. I’m annoyed that I wasted so much time with this film. Yes, I’ve gotten some laughs seeing it and writing it up but I would rather have gotten some insight and thoughtful discussion.

I can't recommend this to anyone as a straight film. For bad film lovers this is a must- especially if it’s a cinema where liquor is served and you're with a whole bunch of clever friends who talk to the screen-I'm sorry I should not have said that but then again they should not be releasing this film without warning patrons as they enter the theater that this film sucks.

I'm curious if some theater manager will take pity on the audience and give them their money back if they make it to the end (I actually had that happen to me once)

For riffers only all other stay far away.

Abu (2017)LA Film Festival


Abu is the Urdu word for father. It is also the name of filmmaker Arshad Khan’s cinematic portrait of his relationship with his father. It is a loving portrait of two men and their family whose lives went differently than they ever expected.

The film charts Khan's life growing up in Pakistan, his discovering boys, while still not considering himself gay (as he was always was told “there are no gays in Pakistan”), his going to college, moving to Canada and his clashes with his father. We also see Khan's father’s life. We see how he moved from a culturally open young man to an older restrictive older man with a deep fundamentalist belief. We watch as the two men try to remain in contact despite moving differently.

Abu is an excellent film. It’s a wonderful portrait of no only Arshad and his father but of the society that they come from. For those of us who are not from Pakistan the film beautifully explains the rules that the two men grew up operating under.

At the same time while I recognize how good the film is it never full resonated for me. I suspect that had I been Pakistani or a gay man this film would have resonated more. I can see all of the little touchstone moments intellectually but I couldn’t feel them emotionally.

Definitely worth a look when the film plays Sunday at the LA Film Festival

For tickets and more information go here

Sunday, June 18, 2017

nightcap 6/18/17 NYAFF notes, on writing think pieces on film and Randi's links

A couple of quick notes about the New York Asian Film Festival that you may or maynot have seen:

Tony Leung Kai-fa is not coming
Eric Tsang is coming
The showing of Mad World has flipped with A Quiet Dream because of Mr Tsang
They are not showing Cold War 2- The Subway Cinema website shows the recent Monkey King sequel replaces it.

An explanation and further details of changes is coming I'm told tomorrow
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About our coverage of NYAFF...

 I think we'll get to most of the films. Most of the reviews are going to be short- if you knew what we have coming beyond NYAFF your head would spin- and it became a question of seeing more of the films with short reviews or of just writing a couple of pieces-I've decided I want to get you word on as many of the films as possible.

(How are they?- atypical as far as NYAFF. There is less genre films and more dramas- Are they good or bad. Yes. There are some truly great films here  though you'll have to wait until next week to find out what the must sees are (hint - Korean thrillers)
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Several weeks Nate Hood and I had an online discussion about writing on film, pitching think pieces on films before we’ve actually seen the films or letting the film dictate what is written about it. It was an exchange where we talked about how hard it is to be at smaller outlets and how sometimes we want to change what we write to be like big outlet pieces so we are noticed.

I liked much of what I said and I've refashioned it into the piece below instead of a piece to a friend about coming to terms with not being in the mainstream to a general open letter to anyone who writes on film.


You can't go in to a film saying you are going to write a think piece about “X” because until you see a film you don't know what it will reveal. I maybe writing small pieces but I'm not writing anything that doesn't come out of the film.

I've recently been screwed over by going into a couple of films figuring I'm going to write a long piece but instead found the films said little to me. On the other hand some small films I thought would be a capsule have resulted in long pieces

I completely understand some people have word limits or minimums and need to pitch pieces but at the same time that begins to create an artificiality, once you do that you go in having to deliver “X” whether it’s there or not. You kind of have create the thing you’re trying to prove. It instantly creates a false market about pre-thought out pieces. In a way it has created a whole generation of not critics or even film writers but bullshitters for a paycheck. I will create a piece for any POV for a pay check. Why are we getting these wave after wave of pieces on a subject- because everyone is taking one piece and rewriting it or reselling a variation to their editors. No one is really looking at the films to see if their “prefab conclusion” is supported.

What film criticism ultimately should be is something good or bad and why. What does the film do right or wrong? It should be actually based on the film and that’s all. We shouldn’t be doing more than that unless the film pulls it from us. We need the film to spark what we create and not create and the decorate our prejudices with the films.

A critic or a film writer discusses film because of their love of film and because they are diseased enough to have a vocabulary to do so. Most writers don't have the vocabulary or the true depth of viewing to really do their job. Most people’s viewing habits, even film critics are locked in certain tracks. If you read critics long enough you realize that they write on certain types of films because they accord a vocabulary with which they can bullshit. They can pontificate on art films because it allows them to say the things they find easiest to say (or allows them to seem intelligent since it clues in to what they know). They will push the latest Godard film not necessarily because they like it but because it's easier to bullshit about than say Uwe Boll about which they have no knowledge or incorrect knowledge.

Why the writers I like matter, like those around Unseen, is that they have depth of viewing. People like the Unseen family and the critics I read outside of that, watch everything (to varying degrees) and take films as they come. It’s not one type of thing- it’s all things. You can get a Godard reference in a piece and a Uwe Boll in the same piece because they know both directors.

If you go to say a NYFF press screening (or any NYC press screening) and begin to quiz people about stuff and you find they aren't as well viewed as you thought. They don't love all film but only certain types of films. Worse they may actually look down on some genres and dismiss them outright...a direct to VOD horror film? They’d never watch it. A small crime drama? Not unless it’s being touted by a friend or has a star. Even the latest blockbuster is often verboten.

On the other hand why independent writers and those of us at small outlets or under sinks matter is that we don't dismiss we simply watch. We watch everything depending upon our mood and report back. What we turn in, for the most part, are real reviews based on our experience with the broadest spectrum of cinematic viewing. We are watching everything and we really come to understand what really is good, what is bad and we really know what the next great thing is instead of the next over hyped thing.

Those of us from the smaller outlets and the fringe have to remember not to be discouraged. We have to remember we are providing what the mainstream or larger outlets aren’t anymore namely well thought out pieces on film based on a broader knowledge. Even though it’s not always clear we have to remember we are giving the world what no one else can- our voices-and that matters because it isn't cookie cutter in preparation. We need to remember even though it may not look like it people are listening even if we don't know they are there- which is something I'm discovering myself
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Regarding NY Times 25 Greatest Films of the century so far - NO FRIGGING WAY
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And now Randi's Links

Inde Chinese animated film pulled
Murder on Orient Express trailer with different music
Behind the scenes of American Gods opening
On the Leftovers finale (it's not a review)
Dorothy Parker
History of the Grim Reaper
How the World’s Most Interesting Man Befriended the World’s Most Powerful Man - POLITICO Magazine
Kurt Russell and the Phoenix lights
On the city of cats

Freefire


Ben Wheatley’s Freefire is messy. Essentially an hour long shoot-out and what lead up to it the film never generates much in the way of suspense or tension.

The plot here is very basic. Somewhere in America in the 1970’s a group of bad guys try to connect with other bad guys in order to buy guns. When its discovered that one guy beat up the sister of one of the other side violence between the two sides erupts.

The reason the above description isn’t clear is that the film isn’t clear who everyone is. Conversations are all over the place, names are breezed over and everyone is reduced to wearing bad hair and crappy 70’s clothes (polyester for everyone!). No one is a person, they are either the actor (if we recognize them), Brie Larson (because she is the only woman) or how they are dressed(the guy in the blue suit or the guy with glasses). Actually the clothing isn’t a big help since several people are dressed similarly and in a couple of cases I had no idea who was on who’s side. Frankly I had no idea who anyone really is.

Of course none of that matters, the only really important thing here is the shoot-out and its gory violence. We sit through a half hour of macho guys talking shite and staring each other down, only to have it all go to hell when someone who had a fight with one of the other characters earlier shows up and won’t let it go before shooting his enemy… this escalates into a bloodbath. It’s one of the most confused shoot-outs I’ve ever seen and if it weren’t for the odd funny line or gory death I probably would have stopped watching.

Despite what many people think, unless you have something like the bullet ballets of Hong Kong or other Asian cinemas, it’s very hard to watch an action scene without characters. We need characters to care about. Yes I can watch a sequence of a couple of minutes isolated because they are cool but for the sequences to work on emotional level it needs to have something, plot or characters, to connect to. This isn’t the case here. Here everyone is fodder and Ben Wheatley knows this because he doesn’t even try to develop anyone. The result is not a sequence you can isolate but an hour long collection of nastiness. I was impressed by some of it but I was never connected to it.

My attitude when it was done was Okay I’ve seen that now I never have to do so again.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Liyana (2017) LA Film Festival 2017


To be honest I am not really sure what I think of Liyana- and that is a good thing because it means I can keep thinking about it. The film a mix of documentary and “animated story” is a one of a kind film and one of the most special cinematic experiences I’ve had all year. When the film was done I was trying to reach the PR people to see if the filmmakers had sent the film to certain other film festivals and GKids. I needed to know that the film was going to find it’s audience.

As I said at the start the film is a two part one. The documentary portion of the film follows a group of kids in Swaziland who come together to create a story with the help of Gcina Mhlophe . We watch as they go through their lives and create the story. The animated portion of the film story is the story the kids come up with. The story is about a young girl named Liyana who has to go off and rescue her two younger brothers who have been kidnapped and the grand adventure it becomes. It is a story based on their lives and they tell it with absolute perfection.

That the kids tell the story is what makes the film so magical, these kids are born storytellers. They act it out and do voices and explain what we need to know and they just sell it to the moon and back. I want these kids to create more stories and I want them to tell them. I want a whole series of films where we go from the kids telling the story to to seeing the story and back again. As it’s done here it just blows you away. Yea the animation is minimal, but the art is beyond glorious and coupled with the voices of the storytellers, you don't care. You're just being carried along

As I was watching the film all I could think was “am I really seeing this? Are these kids really that good?”

Hell yea.

I was blown away.

To be honest I had no idea what this film was. I was simply asked to review the film by the PR person who mentioned animation and I simply said yes. I had no idea that what I was going to be seeing a film that was going to make stare at the screen in wide eyed wonder.

Liyana is magic of the best kind

An absolute must see- one of the great finds of 2017 and probably one of the best films as well. Certainly it is one of the best films on the art of stories and storytelling I've ever run across.

A catch up Post- Peanuts Movie, Beauty & the Beast and Get Out

PEANUTS Movie
A new big screen adventure for Charles Schultz's gang.

I loved it.

For the record the second half of the Peanuts Movie and the ending wrecked me. As someone who aspires to be Linus but knows he’s really Charlie Brown the world turning in his favor just broke me- which would have been fine but I was on the couch at my brother’s house with a lot of adults who could never understand how glorious the ending where it all goes right was and why I was crying uncontrollably.

A Wonderful film

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
As in the original classic animated film a monster is saved from destruction by the love a strong willed woman as beauty is revealed to be what is inside and not outside.

This is one of the most unreal CGI films I’ve ever seen, even going back to the early days of CGI experimental film like SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. Nothing looks real, it all looks as if it was done in a computer. While some of the character design is stunning the sets all looked fake to me. The film appears to have been shot to show off and look good instead of focus on the characters who remain cardboard throughout.

Emma Watson’s voice is wonderful. It was also nice to hear Kevin Kline sing again.

While not a bad movie it’s no classic.

(as for the Josh Gad’s LeFou- he isn’t playing gay in the one scene but the whole performance)

GET OUT (potential spoilers)
African American young man goes home to meet his white girlfriend's family and then things get weird.

Hailed as one of the best films of the year and one of the most chilling films in years GET OUT disappointed me.

It was not that it’s a bad film, far from it. Rather it’s that if you’ve you love horror films you’ve been here before many times. While the racial elements of the film (which I won't discuss here) are what set the film apart and lift it up from the rest of the pack, the film ultimately is a horror film that echoes others like SKELETON KEY, SECONDS, STEPFORD WIVES and any sort of small culty sort of tale. Watching the film I was a couple of steps ahead of it.

I do have to say that because of the rave reviews I tried not to find out what the film was about and other than the basic synopsis I knew nothing of the film. The only thing I heard was someone compared it to THE WICKER MAN, a comment which I’m still trying to work that out. When I saw the film I was going in blind. (I freely admit that I may have liked this more had the hype not been so highly)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, it’s quite good. It simply didn't rattle my cage.