Sunday, December 4, 2016

Some thoughts on All Eyes and Ears (2015) which comes out on VOD Tuesday in a brand new cut

I have a weird relationship with ALL EYES AND EARS in that despite having seen the film in three forms I've never actually seen the released version of the film. The first version I saw f the film was a work print prior to the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015. I was told that the film was more or less done  and could I keep that in mind when I discussed it. I was hard at work on a review when I was sent yet another cut of the film more finished and was told this was a near finished version of the film which I could review... only to get word from a friend who was at the first public screening that the film still wasn't done, and that it was being re-edited to be part of a large multi-part version that included a TV series. I wrote some nice words (but not a review) and I moved on.

Recently I received word that director Vanessa Hope has yet again recut the film from 90 minutes to 75 to make it more on point to be part of the discussion of US China relations in Trump's America. The PR people for the film contacted me and asked if I wanted to take a look at the film. Since I never truly reviewed the film I said yes.

The film focuses on Jon Huntsman, who is appointed as US ambassador,his adopted Chinese-American daughter Gracie who was born in China and the blind Chinese attorney and activist Chen Guangcheng who wants to come to the US and ends up having asylum in the embassy. Filmed over two years the film charts how the two superpowers interact and react to each other in particular through the lives of these three people.

Eighteen months on I really don't remember enough of the first two viewings to tell you about what is missing to say how different the various versions of the film are. To be certain the film moves faster and seems a bit more focused on making a point as opposed to telling a story. This isn't to say that the film is bad but I have the sense that what was lost in the removal of at least 15 minutes of  footage is more a sense of the people to focus on the ideas.

As the film stands now it is a very good portrait of how the two superpowers interact with each other as they knock about the mere mortals that live in them. It does still seem to be trying to do too much by focusing on three people each with a story big enough to have their own film. I went back and rechecked my notes from 2015 and one of the few things I wrote down was "this is good but trying to do too much". I still kind of feel that way, I still would like to see more on the three protagonists over the course of time covered by the film.

I clearly like the film a great deal. One does not  keep going back if one dislikes a film.  As a film unto itself I recommend the film to anyone looking for either an examination of US/China relations or simply for a good documentary. On the other hand if you've seen the film before I'm not sure you need revisit this streamlined one.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

american violet

Fact based story of a mother of four swept up in a drug sweep in Texas . She was arrested and held for three weeks on the word of a single informant. She was eventually released and with the help of the ACLU sued the district attorney and the police department who charged her.

A solid ensemble cast (Alfre Woodard, Will Patton, Tim Brook Nelson, Charles Dutton, Michael O'Keefe) is the reason to see this otherwise by the numbers film. Its not that the story is unexciting, rather it's that the script and direction while very serviceable never fully excite the way they should. The result is a very good film that should have been great. Certainly this should not have felt even remotely like a TV movie, something it does at times.

Reservations aside this is a film worth searching out, the cast is that good.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Story of 90 Coins (2015)

Michael Wong's THE STORY OF 90 COINS is the story of a romance between two young people. He wants to get married. She's not sure. He says give me 90 days to prove his love.  Each day he fives her a coin in an envelope. The become a couple but jealousy appears....

Sweet ten minute film plays like a condensed feature. Thats a good thing and a bad thing. Its a good thing because we get the full grasp of what a feature version of the film would be, but it's bad because the emotional connections that should be there are only hinted out. This is a story that were it to be lengthened to a full feature would probably be breaking people's hearts the world over.

To be honest I think Mr Wong has a great sense of story telling, however he has one small flaw that carries over to 90 COINS and that is the film looks and feels like a TV commercial.  While this is great for compact story telling there is a sheen to the filmmaking that keeps us distanced. You feel watching the film that a product tie in is going to pop up at any moment.

That said. I think that someone should give Mr Wong enough money and let him turn his short film into a feature.  He has the talent. He has the eye and he has one hell of a story to tell. If he can lose the TV commercial feel I think that Michael Wong will turn into a truly great director.

As for THE STORY OF 90 COINS its a really good film and worth your time if you run across it at a local film festival or on line.

Here is the Facebook Page for the film.

The Story of 90 Coins from Michael Wong on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A.K.A. Nadia (2016) The Other Israel Film Festival 2016

Nadia is a young Palestinian woman in love with a PLO activist. When he has to flee to England she goes with him. However he ends up deported and she is stranded alone. Given the credentials of a Jewish girl named Maya Nadia returns to Israel where she ends up married to a high ranking Israeli minister. 20 years on Nadia's first love returns and it threatens to shattered her carefully crafted life.

Well made and well acted film (even if the actress playing Nadia is much too old to be her younger self) raises a good number of important issues about love, self and the notion of "us and them". This is very much a film about the divided society that is Israel.  As an intellectual exercise the film raises any number of questions that anyone looking at a divided society must consider.

On the other hand the film wants us to know that it is very much about "something". Its so much about "something" that the film never really connected with me on an emotional level. I found that after a while I disconnected with the film to the point that I stopped caring about any points the film was trying to make. I was so disconnected that even the final image, which should have brought a tear to my eye failed to move me even a little bit.

This isn't to say this is a bad film, it is not , rather it's a film that is so finely crafted and so calculating that all the emotion that should move us to do something was gone.

Worth a loo if you want food for your head instead of your heart.

AKA NADIA Plays Monday December 5 at The Other Israel Film Festival. For more Information and tickets go here.

Enlighten Us The Rise And Fall of James Arthur Ray is on CNN December 3

I saw ENLIGHTEN US back at Tribeca. It was one of those films that I saw in the middle of a day long marathon in the middle of ten days of multiple movies. Its a film that managed to remain outside of the gray wash that results when one is seeing around 90 films in a short period of times. Its one of those films that haunted me and danced around in my head and is way more deserving of something more than the capsule it got from me. On the other hand the film was picked up by CNN who is running it December 3 so it, and the issues it raises are going to have a long life. If you can I highly recommend you watch the film tonight or when it repeats. It will haunt you. Below is the piece I posted after seeing it at Tribeca:

ENLIGHTEN US:THE RISE AND FALL OF JAMES ARTHUR RAY is a surprisingly good look at the self help guru who rose thanks to appearances on Oprah, but who lost it all when three people died on a week long retreat. Starting when Ray is getting out of prison, the film the film looks at where he was and where he's going. What makes the film absolutely fascinating is that the film isn't clear as to where it stands on Ray, at times painting him as a nice guy and at others as a bit of a jerk. A must see for anyone who doesn't want easy answers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Best and Most Beautiful Things (2016)

BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS is about a young woman named Michelle Smith. She is a charming young lady in her twenties who is looking to get on with her life and go out into the world on her own. The problem is that Ms Smith has Asperger’s Syndrome and is legally blind.

My initial feeling about the film was that this film is a bit too much like a good number of recent films I’ve seen over the last few years such as LIFE ANIMATED, AUTISM IN LOVE and many more. I couldn’t really understand why the film was getting a release and then it hit me that Ms Smith is absolutely a wonderful person and given the chance I’d love to meet her. She deserves success in everything she chooses to do, I just wish this film had more to it to make it as special as its subject.

On the other hand unless you are a film writer or someone who sees everything odds are you will not have seen all the other similar films to this so BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS will play fresh and new and will be a wonderful portrait of a great young woman. If you haven't seen either of the aforementioned films or any of the other similar films go see this film, because on it's own terms it's quite good.

Unfortunately because I did not see the film outside of a vacuum the film presents me with a problem in that I’m not sure why the film was really made. This has nothing to do with the quality of the film, which is good, or it’s subject, who is charming. Rather watching the film I got to a certain point where I suddenly had the feeling that the film was made not to highlight Ms Smith as such but because she could be used to sell a film to various demographics.

Producer Kevin Bright and Ms Smith met in class the director was teaching and I have this feeling that somewhere along the way the idea of making a film about a sex positive geek girl with Asperger’s was too good to pass up. I think that on some level neither he nor director Garrett Zevgetis didn’t strive to do more than just let Ms Smith carry the film and let her interests find the audience. They never came up with a hook beyond she's a charming blind woman ect ect to give us a reason to watch a 90 minute film.

Whats the hook? I don't know. As a short film I would have been fine but at 90 minutes it doesn't quite work, it goes on for too long not seeming to go anywhere or build to anything. The result is the film is kind of bland. The reason I’m bothered by the blandness is because there is something about Ms Smith and her desire to be seen as a positive role model. She is an extraordinary person and she deserves a film to match her.

Again this is not to say its a bad film, it isn't, it's a good film but it should have been a great one.

BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS opens Friday in theaters.

ARRIVAL (2016)

Amy Adams plays a linguist brought in by the military when 12 space ships land on earth and contact is made. How can we communicate with them? What do they want? Should we simply just destroy them?

Heady science fiction tale with the added element of a personal drama laid over it is one of the best science fiction films in years. Rarely has any science fiction film, especially one from the United Stated been so moving on both an intellectual and emotional level. I dare you to see this film and not be thinking about it for days afterward. I also dare you not to have a tear or two rolling down your cheek at its conclusion.

ARRIVAL is not going to get a long review or deep discussion from me at this point. While I highly recommend the film it is nigh impossible to discuss the intricacies of the film without revealing too much. What is going on and what we are seeing are revelations best discussed once more people have had a chance to see it. This is a review not a discussion and I would be doing a grave disservice to you and the film.

While have no qualm calling it one of the better films of the year, and while I know I will be thinking and pondering the film for a long while more, I am uncertain about what I feel about the film past certain point. Yes, the end had me tearing and I was moved deeply but little details in the plot, which I can't explain without ruining things, keep me from giving myself over to it completely. Though I think it will help if you realize the film is Amy Adams story not the aliens.

That said I can't wait to dive in again. I've already had one killer discussion with Huber Vigilla about the film and most of the audience at the theater I attended stopped in the lobby and was discussing the film in a very animated and excited manner.  I haven't seen that in a non festival/non press screening environment in years.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants a good film, especially one that is much more intelligent than 95% of American films.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Two Lottery Tickets (2016) Making Waves 2016

For many people the notion of a Romanian comedy is alien. This is because most people distributors and film festivals gravitate toward the deadly serious films from Romania, you know the ones that are full of sturm and drang and make you want to play in traffic. Seriously the cineastes who program the festivals need to at least borrow a sense of humor because there are funny films from Romania.

A good case in point is TWO LOTTERY TICKETS which has three loveable losers winning several million Euros in a lottery only to have to go on a mad hunt in order to find the wining ticket. Insanity results.

I know what you're saying we've been here before, and you are absolutely right. We have seen the basic plot used in cinema going all the way back to the silent days. You would think that the plot has been used up, and I would tend to agree. I mean I only half heartedly watched the film because I was dead certain this was not going to be anything I hadn't seen before...

...but the characters and the setting in Eastern Europe won me over and it wasn't long before I was laughing at our heroes dead pan and not so dead pan adventures. Despite my better judgement I found myself laughing at what was going on one screen.

And since this is a Romanian film there is a bit of social commentary as we get a good look at the way people who aren't so well off get by and how they have to struggle just to buy a drink.

I do have to apologize because I really don't have a great deal to say about the film. I enjoyed it a great deal - to the point that I stopped taking notes and just let the film wash over me, Anytime that happens the film gets a couple extra points and thats what happened here.

The film plays Saturday night at the Making Waves festival in Pleasantville New York and is recommended. For more information and tickets go here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Joe Bendel on Ringo Lam's SKY ON FIRE (2016)

There is a great deal of deliberate confusion regarding non-controversial adult, amniotic, umbilical, and pluripotent stem cell treatments and the hot-button issue of embryonic stem cells. Ringo Lam is about to muddy the waters even further. “Ex-stem cells” (or super-stem cells, depending on the translation) are the Macguffin of his latest action film. What are Ex-stem cells? They are extra-special and can apparently cure cancer just by looking at it. Where do they come from? Essentially from the late Prof. Poon’s missing research journal. The private Sky One clinic is carrying on his work, but his protégés have very different goals in Lam’s Sky on Fire (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After losing his wife to cancer, Chong Tin-po considers his work as chief of security for the Sky One clinic a personal calling. It is a big job protecting the Mainland skyscraper facility, but he is a hardnosed kind of guy. However, the events that follow the theft of a shipment of Ex-stem cells shakes his faith in the clinic director, Tong Wing-cheung, who sends along some suspiciously thuggish back-up for the recovery operation. Chong also cannot help feeling for Chia-chia and his step-sister Jen. They came from Taiwan seeking treatment at Sky One for her late-stage cancer, but threw their lot in with the hijackers when the clinic gave them the run around. At least Chong still trusts Gao Yu, Tong’s estranged wife and partner, who also studied under the murdered Prof. Poon.

Arguably, Sky is over-stuffed with supporting characters and the ending is supposed to be cathartic, but it is highly problematic from a moral-ethical perspective, if you think about it for more than two seconds. On the plus side, Daniel Wu pretty much puts the world on notice he can take all the steely cool-as-Elvis action protagonist gigs Andy Lau is aging out of, ever so disgustingly gracefully. As Chong, Ringo Wu broods, runs, and fights convincingly and looks good doing it.

Zhang Jingchu also adds some tragic grace as Gao Yu, even developing some tantalizingly ambiguous chemistry with Wu. Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan and Amber Kuo are enormously likable as the Taiwanese step-siblings, but she really ought to look for a good action role (like fellow Tiny Times co-star Mi Yang throwing down in Wu Dang), or risk getting type-cast as a cute but passive victim.

Call me a hand-wringer, but it really seems like the conclusion holds massively conspicuous implications Lam just ignores. Yet he can get away with it, because deftly turned action sequences always trump pedantry—and Lam still proves he has the master’s touch. Recommended despite the nagging issues for fans of Lam and the popular cast, Sky on Fire opens this Friday (12/2) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

United States of Love (2016) Making Waves 2016

Shot by Romanian New Wave cinematographer Oleg Mutu UNITED STATES OF LOVE won the Silver Bear for Screenplay at the last Berlin Film Festival. The film is four loosely connected stories about women and their unrequited loves.

Playing more like four separate films joined together UNITED STATES OF LOVE is a heavy look at love lust and longing. Its a film where we look at the quiet and not so quiet desperation of four women in a country opening to the west (it's set in 1990ish) and going capitalistic. One woman lusts for a new priest. Another is having an affair with a married doctor. A third forms an attachment for a young woman. The fourth finds the downside of striving to be a model in a free economy.

Nicely acted by everyone concerned, this is a very good look at a world and lives in change. We have develop a real feeling for the women and their plight, though the obsession for the objects of their desire shown by some of them is more than a tad creepy. Logic and reason kind of get tossed aside by it but at the same time director Tomasz Wasilewski is juggling a lot of balls in the air making comments not only on the lives of the women but society in general.

I liked it a great deal.

United States of Love plays Friday at Making Waves New Romanian Film Festival. For more information and tickets go here

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nightcap 11/27/16- There are 4 film festivals in New York this week (African Diaspora, Other Israel,SAIFF, Making Waves), Why I am not reviewing a film, and Randi's links

Baloon at this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The march to the New Year is on and this year is going out with a bang with four festivals going on in New York at the same time....
The African Diaspora International Film Festival continues this week. With the holidays over I’m trying to arrange my schedule so that I can get to some films.

For tickets go here
The Other Israel Film Festival is a really cool festival. Highlighting the view from those not in the mainstream of Israeli society the festival brings together some great films that show you another side of life in Israel, for example the life of the Palestinian minority. I’ve covered the film for the last couple of years and I’ve been delighted by what I’ve seen.

I’ll be posting some reviews based on screeners I have and I’m going to be attempting to get to a few screenings. I suggest you check the schedule and buy tickets because there looks to be some great films.

I’ve seen a couple of films already and here are our reviews

Junction 48
Forever Pure
The South Asian Film Festival is a really cool. Film Director Ted Geogehagen got me into the festival when five or six years ago he asked me to cover the festival. I’ve been trying to do so ever since. The festival is a fantastic collection of films from India and the surrounding countries. It’s a festival that will open your eyes to the films of the region. I know it opened mine.

This year the festival is happening at Village East Cinemas. The festival has a great selection of films including the deeply disturbing AUTOHEAD which is playing next Saturday and will include a Q&A with the film’s director. I highly recommend the film and I’m hoping to get myself there.

For the complete schedule and tickets go here.
I discovered Making Waves: The New Romanian Film Festival when it had made its home at Lincoln Center. Unfortunately because things happen the festival has moved out of NYC proper and up to Pleasantville and the John Burns Film Center. However the fact that it’s moved 30 minutes north of the city shouldn’t deter you because this is a killer festival that shows more than the dark brooding Romanian dramas that the Film Society seems to love. Honestly it wasn’t until I went to the festival a few years ago I thought the country only turned out dark and brooding dramas. However that isn’t the case. There is in fact more to Romanian film than what we have been lead to believe and Making Waves shows us that.

The festival is playing to films that played at the New York FIlm Festival GRADUATION (which Nate Hood reviewed) and SIERANEVADA (which we all missed),I don't know any of the other films, but I have some screeners so expect reviews during the run of the festival.

For more information and tickets go here.
For the third time in seven years and about 5500 film I'm not going to review a film I've asked for. I'm not going to say what the film is other than to say it's a documentary biography.

The reason behind my not reviewing the film is that I don't know how to do it without pissing someone off. The film is an okay portrait of some one coming to terms with who they are and going out on their own. I'm not really sure why the film got made because it covers similar ground to 57 other recent films- except that there are a couple of twists that can used to sell the film but have no bearing on the central tale.  Explaining that is going to get me into a fight with someone who connects with the story on those levels so I'm stepping away.

Don't get me wrong I like the film, but I've also liked the other 57 versions I've seen in the last 2 years.
And Randi Links

The Radio City movie premieres
Most extreme motorcycles
How to mess with people's minds
Best Foreign film possibilities

Suburban Cowboy (2016) Austin Film Festival 2016

Suburban Cowboy premiered at The Austin Film Festival. It was not a film that was not on my radar even remotely. It was not a film I was planning on seeing and then word reached me that not only was the film good it, part of it was filmed near my house. Instantly it became a film I had to see and review.

The film follows Jay a low level drug dealer living the good life. Things however go wrong when a Serbian crime lord decides that he is liable for the money that a friend of his stole. This sends him on an escalating path of crime in order to get himself clear  of the debt.

A wonderful low key thriller the film relies on real characters and fear of violence to keep us on the edge of our seats. We like the people and we fear for their safety and the actors give their characters enough weight that we don’t need the explosion of violence to be hooked.

I really liked this film a great deal. Its exactly the sort of small scale gem that Unseen Films was set up to highlight.

Currently on the festival circuit this is a film that you’ll want to track down and see when it comes to a theater near you. As for me I want to see it again.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Red Turtle (2016)

I don't know if RED TURTLE is intellectually one of the best films of 2016, but emotionally its at the top of the pile. This fable about the cycle of life wrecked me emotionally and I was audibly and largely uncontrollably sobbing through the last third.

The plot is simple. A man washes ashore on an island. He attempts to leave but is thwarted. He encounters a giant red turtle and his life changes.

This is not a realistic film. A twist about a third of the way in makes it clear that this is something more. The plot after that is nothing earth shaking, it is the arc of a life. Its a fable. It is the up and downs of life. That's it.  Either you take it on it's own terms or you don't.

I did and by the time there was dance on the beach I was laid out with the beauty, with the hope, with the feeling that I was understanding life and all it's lessons. Its the sort of story that feels like you've known it all your life....

I can not and I will not tell you more than that because it not only is it so simple but because you have to see the rhythms of the film for themselves. I went in blind and that's how you should too.

A largely wordless film, the only word spoken, beside gibberish, is  "Hey", Otherwise the film is driven by the score by Laurent Perez Del Mar. Playing over the entire film the music acts as the dialog and inner monolog of the characters. Beautifully working in concert with the story and images it deepens everything we see. It connects us to the story and the characters in real and visceral ways. As good as the storytelling is it would be nothing without the score.

The film is a Belgian  co- production with Studio Ghibli is being compared to the work of that legendary studio,but that's shouldn't be the case. While some of the skies are Ghibli blue, the look is less Miyazaki than Chris Van Allsburg, Herge and Moebius (as well as other Heavy Metal artists). This is  the best book illustrations come to life. This is a film with designs familiar yet startling new. The look and feel of the film bleeds into your mind and washes over your consciousness because it feels as if it is part of you.

This is a European animated film more than a Japanese film. This is very much Michaël Dudok de Wit's work. Every frame, every sound, every emotional tug of the heart string is all his. Its all glorious. This feels like it was dredged up from the Grimm's Brothers lost tales. You completely understand why Studio Ghibli contacted de Wit to ask him if he wanted to make a film for them (a request which completely confused the hell out of him)

While there is no doubt that this is the work of Michaël Dudok de Wit it is also abundantly clear that Isao Takahata, the true master at Studio Ghibli, had a hand in it. I say this because the film shares a humanity and sense of life that I've only found in Takahata's films. I suspect that Takahata, listed as Artistic Advisor in the credits, simply tweaked the story for maximum emotional impact. And he knows emotion, since he is the only filmmaker who has reduced to be sobbing messes more than one time (this is the third time after PRINCESS KAGUYA and GRAVE OF FIREFLIES).

The result of the co-production is a masterpiece on a level rarely reached by any art. RED TURTLE transcends cinema to be a masterpiece of culture of any sort.

I LOVE this film. It is one of my favorite films of 2016 and one of the best of the year as well.

You have never seen anything like this though you think you have. It will make you feel things you've never felt in a movie.

RED TURTLE just finished it's Oscar qualifying run and opens in US theaters January 20th.

(And I should point out this is not a film for little kids. Yea there are turtles and crabs, but there isn't much to hold a kids attention. The film is deliberately paced, there are no songs and no dialog. There is only life. Leave the kids home and go feel like one.)

Joe Bendel on Patria o Muerte: The Fatherland, as it is

If there is one country that has less faith in the Communist Party than China, it would have to be Cuba. They have all of the social inequities associated with China’s extreme income disparity, but the exploitation is seemingly reserved exclusively for foreign tourists. Of course, it is not like Cubans haven’t had revolutionary theory explained to them. For decades, they have endured Fidel Castro’s interminable speeches. Those diatribes produced the hollow slogan adopted as the ironic title of Olatz López Garmendia’s revealing documentary Patria o Muerte, executive produced by Julian Schnabel, which premieres this coming Monday on HBO.

Strictly speaking, Garmendia (second wife of Schnabel, who directed her in Before Night Falls) takes the observational approach, observing many average Havanans in their homes and listening to their complaints. However, her desperately poor subjects have so much to say and their situations are so precarious, the film never feels like a Wisemanesque fly-on-the-wall experience. Very few of them even bothers talking about freedom anymore. That is long gone. Their thoughts are solely concerned with day-to-day, hour-to-hour survival.

We meet Mercedes, whose family risks their lives every day just by living in their (literally) crumbling building. They know it is only a matter of time before it collapses (her son was already hospitalized by a floor cave-in), but they have no other place to go. A thirty-eight-year-old street vendor would understand. He says he feels like a teenager because he still lives with his parents, but there is no chance he could find or afford his own apartment given his circumstances.

Occasionally, some Havanans express frustration with the lack of intellectual and artistic freedom, such as Yoani Sanchez and Renaldo Escobar, dissident bloggers in a country that forbids the internet. However, for average Cubans, it is more a matter of being denied one of the most convenient tools of the Twenty-First Century.

Anyone who stills thinks Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime will materially improve their lot should be quickly disabused by the work of Garmendia and her crew, particularly cinematographer Claudio Fuentes Madan, who is seen getting arrested (violently) for protesting on the day of Obama’s state visit. He also does nice work behind the camera, evocatively framing each interviewee and their [barely]-living spaces. Through his lens, we get a visceral sense of just how oppressive life in Cuba really is—for all but the Party pinnacle of privilege.

Patria o Muerte does not white-wash or sugar coat any of its subjects’ reality. Yet, it is not a spirit-crushing viewing experience, in part due to its eclectic but very upbeat Cuban soundtrack (even including old school Benny More). It just serves up one harsh dose of truth after another, but it washes it down with some rich Afro-Cuban derived or inspired rhythms. In fact, there is an elusive, haunted and decrepit beauty to the city and its people that comes out clearly in every frame of the one-hour film. Very highly recommended, Patria o Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death debuts this coming Monday (11/28) and hits HBO On Demand the next day.

A whole bunch of capsule reviews: Deadly Intent, Scared Topless, Krampus Unleashed, Blood Brothers, Hotel of the Damned, and It Watches

I have been seeing a whole bunch of low budget horror films that were sent to me. I've had mixed reactions to them and while I wanted to write them up I found I didn't have a lot to say so I wrote up a bunch of short reviews and put them together

Okay thriller about a family trying to move on after the death of the father in combat. The trouble is the son insists he is seeing his father. Okay horror film is done in by just okay staging and editing that lets the scenes run without really generating any tension.

So close to hardcore porn ghost story has little to recommend it since it is really just a collection of sex scenes with women with large breasts. While I have nothing against softcore films there is so little plot one has to wonder why they even bothered with the pretense of a plot and just made a pure sex film. Seriously I've seen actual porn films with more plot and characters.

 Desert set demon film that just sort of is. I lost interest pretty early despite hanging in to the end. I was hoping there was something of interest. Nope.

Some people really loved this story of crazy brothers doing terrible things to prove how smart they are (its a Leopold and Loeb retread) but some how it just missed for me.

Good film about people running afoul of cannibals around an old abandoned hotel. I don't think it makes any sense even internally but as far as a horror genre time passer go this isn't that bad and is something I would gladly watch again.

Okay found footage film about a guy left to house sit for a friend while his friend goes off to do a reality TV series where people are put into a house and scared. However it quickly becomes clear something is amiss in the house. Logic gaps and too twisty turns derail what might have been an okay "haunted house thriller"

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Search for Weng Weng (2014) hits DVD

The great SEARCH FOR WENG WENG has finally hit DVD and VOD.  I saw and loved the film at Fantasia. Here is a repost of my review:

Director Andrew Leavold went on a search for the real story behind Weng Weng, who is listed as the shortest leading man in movie history (2 foot 9 inches). The obsession was born as the result of director Andrew Leavold seeing For Your Height Only, a film where Weng Weng played a smaller version of James Bond. The search lasted 7 years (though at another point Leavold mentions looking for someone for ten years) and turned up things that no one expected to find.

Weng Weng was the product of the film industry in the Philippines in the late 1970's and 80's. During the peak years the industry was turning out over 300 films a year. Films came and went and Weng Weng worked for a small independent producer with the result that when the heyday was over he and his films faded into obscurity-except for the few that escaped the country, with the result that most people int the Philipines don't know who he was. He came and went despite becoming an international celebrity of sorts.

This is a great film. While on some level the film would seem to appeal only to those with in an interest in weird B-films, in reality a great deal more.Yes the life and times of Weng Weng are a blast and the search to find out about him is compelling but there is so much more here.

What makes this film so good is that despite being about the search for one man, the film encompasses so much more, the film is a cultural history of the Philippines and of the film industry. Starting with a look at freak shows and moving on to the history of films and filmmaking in the country, especially in the wake of
Apocalypse Now making the film a viable place to shoot a movie cheaply. It also acts as a kind of memorial to an industry where 80% of it's output has turned to vinegar or landfill.

Think of the film as a perfect companion to Machete Maidens Unleashed since it takes a look at things from a personal level.

A must see for any film lover who truly loves film.

American Chinatown Thanksgiving Turkey

I'm not sure what to say about this film that will be helpful to anyone who wants to know about it. Frankly the only thing that comes to mind is don't.

The story of two friends who's loyalty is tested when a woman comes between them is painful to watch. I've seen enough movies to know when there is a problem beyond the script, in this case its mainly the acting which is best categorized as bad. Its a combination of poor acting choices, characters posturing to look tough mixed with what can only be described in an overly generous mood as non-acting. Characters speak as if they are rehearsing rather than performing. Even Robert Z'Dar, of Maniac Cop fame, an actor you can always count on for a good performance comes across as phoning it in from three states away.

Its all very laughable.

Technically this film isn't much better. The sets feel like they were left over from a bad high school music video. The camera work seems more like the point and shoot variety. My guess is that this was made for almost no money and it shows. (An aside- while watching this movie I was struck by one thought over and over again, which might explain why the film is the way it is, and that is I'm not certain that this film was ever intended for an English language market. There is something about it that makes me think that this was made to be shipped over seas and dubbed in to Thai or Korean or Chinese. If thats the case I's suggest trying to find an import of this dubbed into a foreign language and subtitled back into English.-It's probably going to play better)

I really can't recommend this film to anyone unless they are trying to see every film with martial arts ever made. To put it another way I paid 99 cents for the DVD of this film and I feel ripped off.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A look at Kammatipaadam (2016) Ithaca Fantastik 2016

Driven by a kick ass score by K, John P. Varkey and Vinayakan KAMMATIPAADAM is drama about friendship, corruption , crime and the state of the lower classes who are driven from their homes in a the town called Kammatti Padam.

Krishnan, a security guard in Mumbai gets a call from his friend Ganga saying that he is in trouble and needs his help. Picking up and heading home Krishnan ponders his days growing up and how he met Ganga and was involved in various criminal enterprises with his friend. Once he gets home he finds himself in a world of trouble.

Billed as a crime  thriller by the programmers at the Ithaca Fantastik it is something much more than that. While there is fighting and criminal activity the film is really more a drama about friendship, the lives we live, our inability to escape our past and how the rich will take whatever they want from us. How this ended up at a "fantastic" film festival kind of puzzles me since the film doesn't seem to fit the parameters. On the other hand this is a great film so it's not surprising anyone one would bend the rules. Though to be honest this is the sort of film that should have played in festivals such as Toronto, New York or similar ones because  it simply is that good.

Sitting here trying to write this film up I'm struck by the fact that I really don't have words to express what a great film this is. To be perfectly honest I'm staring at the wall wondering what the hell I just saw and I'm wondering why this film isn't on more people's radar. Going in I thought it would be more a crazy crime film and instead I got something more akin to ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA  mashed with the GANGS OF WASSEYPUR but still uniquely it's own thing. This is one of those films that you really can't full take in and talk about the first time through, you need multiple viewings because there is simply too going on.

While I really should see the film a few more times before I sit down and do a full write up of the films themes and charms I do have to point out two things to you before I begin work on a longer piece- namely the music and the performances.

K, John P. Varkey and Vinayakan have created an awesome score. Yes I know they worked on the songs and K did the rest, but it all blends perfectly together. From the opening song hooking us and pulling us in we are on a rollercoaster to the end. Granted we have a compelling script but its the music that grabs us from the first note/ frame and holds us until the final fade out at the last credit. It is the music that threads it all together. The script and everything else is wrapped in between the first note and the last. This is quite simply one of my favorite scores of year.

The other thing that sells the film is the performances. I'm not going to pretend to know who all the actors are, I don't. I just know that everyone is note perfect. Everyone comes together to create a perfect collection of characters that you don't mind spending time with even if they are killers, thieves or worse. Most importantly because the film covers decades of time you have multiple people playing the same characters. Everyone playing the various people blend together perfectly to the point you have no trouble believing who anyone is.

And yet again I'm wondering why aren't more people talking about this? This is a great film that bowls you over and makes you think and feel and go wow.

This is the sort of film I started Unseen Films to highlight.

KAMMATIPAADAM is currently  on the festival circuit. If it comes near you you must make an effort to see it. (There is also an extended edition coming soon that adds another hour of material to the story- I can't wait)

Assisgnment Terror (aka Dracula vs Frankenstein) Thanksgiving Turkey

Psychotronic mind warp comes from the mind of Paul Nashy writing under his real name Jacinto Molina Alvarez is the third of his appearances as Waldemar Daninsky better known as the man who turns into a werewolf.

The film has a bunch of aliens from a dying planet arriving on earth and inhabiting human bodies. They are looking to wipe out all of the humans so they may move everyone from their world to ours. Their plan involves reviving all of the world’s great monsters, the “Frankenstein” monster, the mummy, Naschy’s werewolf and Dracula stand in. The aliens don’t count on the monsters fighting back or the fact their human forms make them susceptible to emotion.

Oddball whiplash sort of film starts off kind of interesting, becomes a WTF bad film before becoming so bad it’s good film in the end, largely as a result of bludgeoning you into submission.

The problems with the film is summed simply by saying the film has way too much going on. You have the alien invasion story, the cop story, the romances, the monster story lines, the carryover story line from the last two films involving Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky plus a couple of other plot points I’ve left out. Things happen and then are pushed aside for something else which feels like its just been picked up at random off the table. It all collides in the final minutes. And those minutes come much too fast, the film runs a breezy 87 minutes.

This is a Saturday night at the drive-in or rainy afternoon at the grindhouse sort of film. It’s the sort of thing is have on to have on just to have something on rather than because it’s a great film. Its not one I can really recommend. Its of interest for Michael Rennie completists (it’s his last film) or for fans of Naschy’s werewolf-though he spends a great deal of time off camera. (Naschy also plays the Frankenstein monster).

For fans of so bad its’s good films only

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Baden Baden (2016)

Ana, a young woman working as a driver on a film set is bombing badly. She's gotten the job, not because she is a good driver, but simply has a license. As the job goes away she decides to return home and ends up rebuilding her grandmother's bathroom. What follows are a series of episodes as she attempts to find a direction in life.

How do I do this film justice? How do I explain what the film is? Less conventional narrative then a kind of arc of a life over a certain period of time  BADEN BADEN is more like dropping in on someone's life over a period of time. We are left to fill the silences and the breaks and sort it all out for ourselves. We meet the various people in Ana's life and we watch how the loosely connected moments play out.

Its kind of bold way of doing things since it assumes the audience is going to fall into the pacing. On the other hand the film has enough winning characters that we'll follow them anywhere.

What can I say? Rachel Lang's BADEN BADEN will make most people smile. To be certain that some will appreciate it's off kilter sensibilities more than others but those willing to give themselves over to it's unique rhythms will find they have done more than merely killed time.

BADEN BADEN starts Friday in Theaters. It, along with other films by Rachel Lang, will play on Mubi in December.