Monday, March 27, 2017

24 Weeks (2016) KINO 2017




Six months into her pregnancy well known comedian Astrid discovers that the baby she is carrying will most likely have severe handicaps. Her world rocked by the news she is forced to consider whether to keep the baby or go through with a late term abortion.

Belt yourself in it’s going to be a bumpy night as 24 Weeks brings home the questions surrounding abortion in ways most people have never considered. A heart breaking and heart rending film that raises all sorts of issues concerning what is best for the child and the family the film allows them to play out in effecting ways. I did not expect this to go as it did, nor did I expect this move me as much as it did. My first thought when the film ended was “whoa”. Not deep and meaningful but deeply heartfelt.

Forgive me I would love to discuss this film but to be honest this is one you need to experience for yourself. Anything I have to say ultimately isn’t going to matter. This is a film you need to see and discuss with other people who have just seen it. This is one of those films where I want to be in the room when the discussions happen. I can only imagine where any post screening Q&As are going to go or alternately what the discussions in the lobby are going to be like after.

This film will kick you to the curb and make you feel and think- a lot.

While not perfect, the film bends very close to be being polemic but the film seems to shy away from it because the characters and the emotion they convey keep the film away from being too intellectual. Ultimately this is a film that you feel.

Recommended. One of the most recommended films at KINO.

The Prison: Hard Time in Korea

The recidivism rate for this prison is darn near 100%, especially if you are fortunate enough to be quartered in Jung Ik-ho’s block. His men start re-offending almost right away, but their incarceration gives them an airtight alibi. It is a heck of a place for a disgraced cop to serve his sentence, but he happens to have a particular set of skills that will be of use to Jung in Na Hyun’s simply-titled The Prison, which opens this Friday in New York.

A lot of his fellow prisoners are here because of Song Yoo-gun, awkwardly including the top dog of his prison cell. He will take some harsh beatings, but he will quickly develop a survival strategy. It immediately becomes apparent the corrupt warden is not really running the show here. Jung is. He and his men live well in their cell block, where they plot outside jobs to keep the dirty money flowing. By interceding in situations where none of Jung’s other men are crazier enough to act, Song ingratiates himself with the non-aligned gangster. In fact, he quickly becomes one of Jung’s favorites, but he also has a secret you can probably guess.

Those who are familiar with the Well Go USA catalog might wonder if they are starting to repeat themselves, since Erik Matti excellent thriller On the Job starts with a similar premise, but Na Hyun takes it in a very different direction. Like just about every recent Korean thriller, Prison is preoccupied with issues of governmental corruption. Granted, Song has a dramatic backstory motivating him, but unlike Matti’s film, there is absolutely no attention given to the home front. Frankly, there is not a single woman to be seen throughout the film and only one is briefly heard over the phone (so some things about prison life are still a bummer).

On the other hand, there is plenty of cartilage-crunching action. Previously best known as the screenwriter of crowd-pleasers like Forever the Moment, Na Hyun gets his money’s worth with his directorial debut, going big with a truly explosive climax. The two lead antagonists also hold up their end, generating all kinds of hardboiled heat. Frankly, it is great fun watching the hateful-yet-respectful chemistry that develops between Kim (Gangnam Blues) Rae-won and Han (Forbidden Quest) Suk-kyu as Song and Jung, respectively. It is also great fun to watch Lee (Inside Men) Kyoung-young, a character actor who seems to specialize in crooked politicians, do his thing as correctional department head Bae (who ironically happens to be somewhat honest this time around, but is still unrepentantly arrogant).

There is no question The Prison can hang with Inside Men and the most obvious comp film, A Violent Prosecutor, but in many ways, it is grittier and less sentimental. At the risk of sounding fannish, it is exactly the kind of film that reminds us why we dig Korean action movies and thrillers. Recommended with enthusiasm, The Prison opens this Friday (3/31) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Paula (2016) KINO 2017

One of the gems of this years KINO, PAULA is a portrait of Paula Modersohn-Becker who in the span of roughly seven years produced 750 paintings and over 1000 sketches. She was the first female painter to have a museum built just for her works.

Covering the period when at 24 she was given an ultimatum by her father- get married or get a job- and taking her to her untimely death PAULA is a glorious portrait of an artist as force of nature. Paula does what she feels because she knows its right. PAula doesn't get a job, though she does eventually marry.

A mix of old school story telling with modern frankness PAULA is a refreshing reinvention of the artist bio. This is a film that feels lived in, thanks to the gorgeous cinematography and the note perfect performance by Carla Juri who seems to be possessed by Paula.

This must see film is the opening film of this years KINO and is highly recommened

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nightcap 3/26/17: Kino, Dallas and River Run Film Festivals start this week

As we disappear down the rabbit hole of the pre-fest press screenings for the Tribeca Film Festival the world outside of lower Manhattan is exploding with festivals of their own.


KINO starts Friday

When you get down to it Kino, New York’s annual look at German cinema is one of the best programmed festivals in the city. It is a killer festival that seems to be running just under most people’s radar. In the four years since the festival went independent (it ran at MOMA previously) it has run some of the best films to play New York. It’s a festival is so good I look forward to it because I know I’m going to get a whole bunch of films I can whole heartedly recommend to my friends and family.

The best thing about Kino is the films don’t stink. Yes some films are better than others but there are no real stinkers. We’ve seen 9 or 10 of the festival’s dozen films and the ones I didn’t absolutely love suffer simply because of comparison to the rest of the series.

This year the festival starts  Friday and runs through April 6th. It’s playing this year at the Sunshine Landmark on Houston Street.

If you need some recommendations before the reviews start hitting tomorrow might I suggest the following

24 Weeks- a heart rending look at a woman who has to consider a late term abortion after discovering that the child will be born with severe handicaps.

Wolf- a visceral look at a lone wolf woman who connects with a wolf and what happens. Unique one of a kind. Not for all tastes but definitely something truly special

Original Bliss- A brilliant film of a married woman who finds a soul mate in a talk show host. Its as well made as it is moving.

Paula great film about Paula Modersohn-Becker the first female painter to have a museum built just to house her works.

Go to the website-pick some films and buy tickets.

The Dallas Film Festival starts Friday and runs through the 9th of April
A super festival run by some truly wonderful people I had a blast last year covering the festival. This year Unseen’s coverage is going to be extremely spotty, life has gotten in the way.

However just because we may not run a boat load of reviews it doesn’t mean we haven’t seen stuff. Below are links to reviews of the films we’ve covered previously

BERLIN SYNDROME
CITY OF JOY (One of the best I saw in 2016)
FOREVER PURE
FRANTZ
LOST CITY OF Z
ABACUS SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL
STRAD STYLE
CHEER UP
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY
SKY ON FIRE
THE VOID

I have seen MINE which is opening during the festival. It is a good showcase for Armie Hammer who plays a vet stranded in a desert mine field. My review has to wait until the film is set to open in theaters.

For more information and tickets go here

I discovered the River Run Film Festival in WInston Salem North Carolina accidentally. Looking up some information on one of the films they are showing and discovered that it was playing at the festival. When I looked into the festival I realized that the fest is showing a great number of really good films. To be honest while I’ve posted links to the films we’ve covered there is a good number of other titles that we’ve seen but just haven’t written up.

On the basis of this year’s slate River Run looks to be one of the best programmed festivals I’ve run across in a long time. I could happily spend the whole festival rewatching stuff I’ve seen and trying stuff I haven’t.

For more information go here

For some helpful reviews look below,.

ABACUS SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL
CINEMA TRAVELERS (One of the best films of 2016)
THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES (an absolute must on a big screen)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
THOSE WHO JUMP
LOST CITY OF Z
ORNITHOLOGIST
PRISON DOGS
PULITZER AT 100
RUMBLE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD (One of the very best of 2017)
SACRED
SUPERGIRL
SWIMTEAM
VISITORS DAY
WINDOW HORSES (One of the best films of 2016)
---
Festival reviews and new releases this week.
And I'm collecting all sorts of goodies that Randi has been sending me so look for a special post before Tribeca of great short films and a the return of her links.

Beyond the Grave (2010)

BEYOND THE GRAVE is a kind of post apocalyptic Mad Max meets Night of the Living Dead meets spaghetti western meets supernatural serial killer film set in Brazil. It is wild and crazy and dream like

Sometime after the end when zombies walk, magic and the supernatural are real and the survivors are trying to continue survive. The soundtrack is provided by a crazed DJs playing song somewhere off in the world giving everything a haunted feel. Across the landscape a police office dressed all in black tries to stay alive as he hunts a supernatural serial killer who is working all sorts of bad magic.

A singular fantasy/horror/science fiction/crime film is a film that turns its very disjointed and seemingly incompatible parts into something that reminds one of what one might experience after waking at 3am with a weird TV station on. BEYOND THE GRAVE holds the audiences attention by simply forcing us to want to know where all of this strangeness is leading. Our world logic doesn't work here but whatever is being kicked up in this film certainly does. In most films there is usually a moment where I get the sense of the author moving the characters. Here everything flows.

Credit writer director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro for taking what seems to be a detrimental low budget and turning into a plus as the lack of budget crashes into the reality of shooting and the film which already has it's own warped logic becomes dream like as moments occur like watching commuter trains running in the background as hero fights villain

I think this is a film that will play best late at night. I can imagine this was programmed in the midnight slot at festivals where the audience tiredness plays into the deliberate pacing and dream like quality to make the film a shared waking dream. I can't see how this would play well in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon. This isn't a knock on the film  more a statement that some films are best seen at night with a crowd of like minded people. I say this as some one who watched the film alone at night on a laptop. Twenty minutes in I was wishing I was in a packed theater at midnight.

I liked BEYOND THE GRAVE. Recommended for those who want to see something off beat and are willing to let a film be what it is.

A Life in Waves (2017) Boston Underground Film Festival 2017

Portrait of composer, musician and electronic music pioneer Suzanne Cianni who is best known for creating the electronic music used in various TV commercials.

An almost too loving portrait of a woman who went here own way, A LIFE IN WAVES is full of all of Cianni's friends and family gushing about her and her achievements to the point that the film drifts in and out of the story of Cianni's life. By about a third of the way in I tuned out and stopped listening to everything that was being said in the film and simply listened to the music being played.

An okay film I wish this was a tad more focused

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saint Bernard (201?) Boston Underground FIlm Festival 2017

Visual effect master Gabriel Bartalos' second stab at directing a feature film is a one of a kind film. It is most definitely a unique viewing experience. Destined for a cult following this is exactly the sort of film that had it been released in the mid-1970's would have attained classic midnight movie status.

Nominally the story of Bernard, a white tux clad conductor on the run from himself, the film is a decent into insanity as Bernard and the people around him have strange things happen to them and occasionally mutate into weird beings. What it means and what is really happening is anyone's guess.

With an IMDB date of 2013, which is the date the Boston Underground press material claims was when it first hit the festival circuit, the print I saw had a copyright date of 2015. It now seems to be heading for release this year in 2017. In any year this is one messed up film.

Written directed and produced by Bartalos this is a singular vision. A wild walk on the truly brain damaged side this is a film that is best viewed at midnight ith an audience. A giant WTF!?! SAINT BERNARD is the sort of film that will never play during normal hours because a typical paying audience will flee for the exits. There is a reason why the Boston Underground FIlm Festival is running it at night- that's when a crowd most likely to be on its wavelength is going to be out and about. Its the same reason PINK FLAMINGOS and ERASERHEAD played for decades at midnight and rarely at any other time.

Personally I have no idea what in the hell this film is all about. I equally have no frigging clue if I like the film. That said I am truly glad that I saw it. It is rare that we get a chance to see a one of a kind vision- something so unique that words don't do it justice. That may sound like a backhanded compliment but it's not. I truly appreciate SAINT BERNARD as an antidote to 99.99% of other films.  This is a film that woke me back up cinematically and made me realize the wonders that are out there.

To be completely honest I don't know if the vast majority of people are going to like the film. The film is too weird, too strange too unique to find mas acceptance however I know that pretty much everyone who sees the film will know they saw something. Trust me, you can't see SAINT BERNARD and not have a reaction to it- not only a reaction but a burning desire to discuss it. Films should provoke a reaction and SAINT BERNARD does that in spades.

A must see for the truly adventurous- SAINT BERNARD plays Boston Underground at midnight tonight.

The Void (2017) Boston Underground Film Festival 2017

A wicked throw back to 1970's visceral horror with blood, cults, monsters and nastiness, THE VOID is sheer delight of the "that movie f-ed me up and I don't ever want to see it again-what time is the next showing" sort.

I have no idea how to explain the plot without revealing too much-a cop brings an injured man to a hospital that is closing and then things go south as everyone is trapped inside by robed figures...only to have things go real weird.

Dream like logic, and gore collide with practical effects and strong dose of WTF to create a film that deeply disturbed me pretty much from start to finish. I sat staring at the screen squirming in my seat afraid of where this is going. The fact that the film twisted several times in ways that make perfect sense made the film more unbearable to watch. This is one of the best horror films I've seen this year and it's nostalgic feeling made me fall deeply in love with it's blood soaked nastiness. Only an unnecessary coda remains a spot on an otherwise frightening film.

Echoing any number of films from the last 40 years THE VOID takes the best parts and refashions them into something that seems old but is entirely knew. I could guess that the film has homages to John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Don Coscarelli and Clive Barker and I might be right ...but I could also be wrong since the film is not full on homage or rip off but merely an echo. Ultimately the film can be said to be like other films, but ultimately it is it's own thing.

What I liked about the film was the realization that the film is full of small details that I missed the first time through. As the film was speeding into it's final third I suddenly began to realize that the film is full of small details I wasn't catching. At one point I noticed a woman and child behind one of the characters during a bit of nastiness- why they were there I'm not sure but it helped to create a weird sense of reality

One of a growing number of throw back films THE VOID stands near the top of the pack to be one hell of a scary film and one of my favorite films of 2017

THE VOID plays tonight at the Boston Underground Film Festival It open in theaters in April

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dig Two Graves (2014)

DIG TWO GRAVES is one of the most beautiful horror films you'll ever see. A visually haunting film this is one film where if you can see this on a big screen I suggest you do so. The cast including Ted Levine and Samantha Isler are equally wonderful.

As for the rest...

Jake (Samantha Isler) loves her brother dearly. When he dies in a swimming accident she is beside herself. Taking comfort in the company of her Grandfather (Ted Levine) she struggles to move on. One day while out on a walk she meet three strange men who live in a backwoods cabin. For a price they will bring her brother back from the dead.

I love the look and the feel of this film. I think it's a near perfect film on all of the technical levels. The problem for me is the plot doesn't wholly know what it wants to be. Largely a horror film DIG TWO GRAVES adds in a coming of age tale as well, While the two parts of the story worked for many people I know, it never quite jelled for me with the result that the pacing felt off and the chills are never fully realized.

This isn't to say that DIG TWO GRAVES is a bad film, it's not, rather it's more a film not quite the sum of it's excellent parts.

DIG TWO GRAVES opens Friday in theaters and on VOD

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Dark Song (2016) Boston Underground FIlm Festival 2017

Liam Gavin's A DARK SONG is going to be one of those films that splits audiences. Those who need action, blood, gore and guts are going to drift off some where about the half hour mark. Those ho can go with it's slow burn long haul approach are going to be rewarded with a film that will potentially move them and result in long sessions of debate.

The plot of the film is a simple one. A woman asks an occultist to perform a a ritual which will result in both of them getting what they want. He warns her that in order to do the ritual she must do whatever he asks of her and must be willing to to not leave the house for the six to eight months involved. She agrees but things deteriorate as she begins to change the conditions. What should be a relatively straight forward ritual becomes compromised, more so as the pair begin a battle of wills.

Slow building suspense and fear is instilled in the audience thanks to Gavin's low key approach. The dangers are not so much the things that go bump in the night so much as each other's psychological baggage.  Yes we are scared because things knock and rap on the floor boards, but also because we can't be certain what the characters to will do next. Of course as things go on the spirits seem to be be more present which complicate matters further.

This is a carefully modulated film with perfect choices from cast to music to cinematography. I can't imagine anything being better. Its a film that is going to delight anyone willing to go with it and not mind it's very intentional pace.

Very recommended when the film plays at The Boston Underground Film Festival tonight

THE LAST OF US (2016) New Directors New Films 2017


Two men make their way across a desert when they are set upon while traveling in the back of a truck one escapes eventually reaching a forest.

Mystical refugee story has no dialog is a tough nut to crack. I'm not sure if taken on it's own terms that it means much of anything. The director, in the copious press notes goes into great detail about the meaning of the film including explaining the characters, locations and actions. However since none of it is in the film, nor are the press notes likely to be read by the vast majority of the audience they should be discounted. Additionally the notes only make clear how little the director actually gets across.

As a film on it's own terms  THE LAST OF US is an okay puzzle box of a film for people who like puzzle boxes. I don't think that it adds up to anything other than pretty pictures that form a rambling story that kind of goes nowhere.  Clearly this isn't a film for me  but rather one for people who want a blank canvas they can discuss with friends and insist they are right since odds are there is enough vagueness that anything is possible.

If you are going to see this film see it big since the images are amazing- however just be prepare to wrestle with the pretentious emptiness.

For more information and tickets go here

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

As the Quad Cinemas prepare to open here is the repertory calendar for April 14-May 4

The Quad launches repertory programs First Encounters, Four Play, and biweekly double bill Two for Tuesday, announces special guests including Kenneth Lonergan and Sandra Bernhard, and revives Quad favorites with the ongoing series Quadrophilia

Four Play
April 14-May 4

Four is the magic number at the Quad: 44 years of history, four screens… with four sides each. To honor the theater’s unique footprint, we delved into film history to gather up some of cinema’s greatest four-handers, love-rectangles, fourth installments, and quadriptyches, to serve up an amuse bouche for the wide range of programming you’ll be seeing at the new Quad.

4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle
Eric Rohmer, 1987, France, 99m, 35mm

The Four Feathers
Zoltan Korda, 1939, UK, 130m, 35mm

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Vincente Minnelli, 1961, U.S., 153m, 35mm

Four Times That Night (Quante volte... quella notte)
Mario Bava, 1972, Italy, 82m, 35mm

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Mike Newell, 1993, UK, 117m, 35mm

Four’s a Crowd
Michael Curtiz, 1938, U.S., 92m, 35mm
New York premiere of new Library of Congress 35mm restoration

The Fourth Man
Paul Verhoeven, 1983, Netherlands, 102m, 35mm

The Gang of Four
Jacques Rivette, 1989, France, 160m, DCP
World premiere of new 4K restoration
Presented by Matías Piñeiro on April 26

The Lickerish Quartet
Radley Metzger, 1970, U.S., 90m, 35mm

The Merchant of Four Seasons
R.W. Fassbinder, 1971, West Germany, 89m, DCP

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Paul Schrader, 1985, USA/Japan, 121m, 35mm
With Paul Schrader in person

Phase IV
Saul Bass, 1974, U.S., 84m, DCP

Quadrophenia
Franc Roddam, 1979, UK, 120m, DCP

Rocky IV
Sylvester Stallone, 1985, U.S., 91m, 35mm

Quadrophilia
Ongoing Series begins April 14

“I saw it at the Quad!”

When the Quad Cinema debuted in 1972, Jonas Mekas wrote in his Village Voice “Movie Journal” column, “The fact that we have four movie theaters in one house [at the Quad] could eventually lead (with imaginative programming) to a screening situation with four different choices. For instance: a premiere opening of a Hollywood movie, a Hollywood ‘classic,’ a European (or South American) movie, and avant-garde (or independent) movie.”

The Quad would go on to feature precisely this breadth of curation, screening movies across all genres and eras and nationalities in first-run, second-run, and repertory. For older moviegoers, this rotating, year-round series will hopefully serve as a reminder of halcyon decades of Quad viewing, and for younger cinephiles, offer a crash course on our rich history.

City of Hope
John Sayles, 1991, U.S., 129m, DCP
With John Sayles in person

The Gang’s All Here
Busby Berkeley, 1943, U.S., 105m, 35mm IB Technicolor
The first repertory film to ever screen at the Quad. This print was struck from the original three-strip negative and rarely screened since the 1972 rerelease.

Going Places (Les Valseuses)
Bertrand Blier, 1974, France, 113m, 35mm

King Lear
Jean-Luc Godard, 1987, U.S./France, 90m, 35mm
Presented by Richard Brody

Return of the Secaucus Seven
John Sayles, 1980, U.S., 110m, 35mm
With John Sayles in person

THE 2017 HOLLYWEB FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES 6th EDITION OF FESTIVAL CELEBRATING THE WORLD'S PREMIERE DIGITAL CONTENT (MARCH 30-APRIL 2)

Los Angeles, CA (March 21, 2017) – The 2017 HollyWeb Festival, sponsored by AMC Independent (March 30-April 2) has announced the full schedule of digital series, filmmaker panels, and events for this year’s edition of the festival, celebrating the world’s premiere digital content. 97 digital series will have episodes screened at AMC Universal CityWalk 19 (100 Universal City Plaza), the Universal Hilton (555 Universal Hollywood Drive), and the Fonda Theatre (6126 Hollywood Blvd.).

HollyWeb Festival Co-Director Daniel Doherty, said, “From the beginning, the HollyWeb Festival has sought to shine a light on web series creators, honor their collective vision and work, as well as create a yearly event where they can gather and meet, exchange notes, and possibly form partnerships that will lead to even more outstanding and entertaining web series.” HollyWeb Co-Director Jennifer Doherty, added, “Each year, the web series become more ambitious in terms of scope, creativity, and technical accomplishments, and this year’s incredible slate of projects has raised the bar once again.”

HollyWeb will begin on Thursday, March 30 with a series of panels, workshops, and a Keynote Presentation featuring “A Conversation with Keith Powell.” Moderated by Digital L.A.’s Kevin Winston, Powell (30 Rock, About a Boy, creator of Keith Broke His Leg) will hold forth on the state of digital series creation, television, etc. from his own unique perspective. The Opening Night Industry Mixer will be hosted by Tinhorn Flats (724 Highland Avenue)

Panels include; “Who’s Looking?” moderated by Jonathan Robbins, about Content Acquisition and Opportunities for Digital Series Creators with Comedy Pro’s Rachel Shapiro, and Kara Buckley, the Manager of Original Programming, HBO; “First Impressions: A Writing Workshop,” moderated by Marilyn Thomas, with panelists Doug Eboch (SWEET HOME ALABAMA), and Jorge Rivera (APB); “We’ll Fix It In Post: Shooting With Post Production In Mind,” with Jason Leaver (Out with Dad), veteran film composer Rob Gokee, and Sean Oakley (The Guild, Vanity).

FANTASY HOSPITAL 2 LA PICKER 4 THE LEAGUE OF S.T.E.A.M. 2
Fantasy Hospital, LA Picker, The League of S.T.E.A.M.

Highlights among the ambitious slate of 97 digital series being screened at HollyWeb, are; Fantasy Hospital , which follows the adventures of dwarfs, giants, fairies and other wizarding doctors, who can cure any magical malady from Arachpneumonia to Zombie Decay. The cast includes Emma Caulfield, Kunal Nayyar, and Wil Wheaton; LA Picker, which follows Sally (Devin Sidell), a lover of estate sales, thrift shops, and swap meets, as she builds her resale business, while a rival picker plots to sabotage her online store by giving her negative reviews; Soho Haus Rules, about a Members Only club for famous fabulous people, which features James Franco, and The League of S.T.E.A.M, which is the longest running steampunk comedy action adventure web series. Special guest stars on the series include; Doug Jones, Grant Imahara, Phil LaMarr, Chloe Dykstra, Milynn Sarley, Robin Thorsen, Lisa Foiles, and Michele Morrow.

THE AMAZING GAYL PILE 2 HIGH ROAD 3 OUT WITH DAD 4
The Amazing Gayl Pile, High Road, Out With Dad

Additional highlights include; The Amazing Gayl Pile, which follows the exploits of a home shopping club host, with guest appearances by stars like, Jon Hamm, Jack McBrayer, and Scott Thompson; the New Zealand series, High Road, about a washed up rock star whose PR miscues torment his famous sister. Guests stars include fans of the show, Greg Wise and Emma Thompson; Chat. Like. Love, about a long-distance “friendship between a quirky boy from the UK and the feisty All-American girl who caught his attention at camp. A “who’s who” of You Tube personalities guest star, including Mia Stammer, Chris Kendall, Lauren Elyse Buckley & Tom McLaren; and the LGBT hit series, Out With Dad. In its 5th season, the quirky drama about a teenage girl and her single father, at a time when she is coming of age and coming out of the closet, has solidified itself as an international sensation.

The “Blue Carpet” Closing Night Awards Ceremony will take place at the historic Fonda Theatre (6126 Hollywood Blvd.) and will be hosted by Noemi Gonzalez (“East Los High,” PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES), and Jim Mahoney (“Wilfred”).

Festival passes and tickets can be purchased at: http://www.hollywebfestival.com.

Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema starts Friday.

The Japan Society’s series Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema starts Friday.

I have to apologize to the Japan Society about my silence concerning the series but it hasn’t been intentional. The silence has been the result of not being sure how to properly cover the series do I simply write up the films or do I go see the films on the big screen. It’s a question that has haunted me since it was announced since I’ve seen all but two of the films, but none of them on the big screen.

This is a great series of films that highlights a bunch of overlooked genre films. Most of the films have been unfairly dismissed over the years. In part because the films were often seen in crappy pan and scan home video releases or messy bootlegs. I really love a number of these films and can’t understand why more people haven’t seen them. On the other hand until recently most people have not paid much attention to most Asian films.

I have not seen School in the crosshair nor Blue Christmas but I’m hoping to get to see them.

It's been ages since I've seen it but The Invisible Man is a lot of fun. I saw the film on a crappy bootleg many years ago and enjoyed myself.  

Secret of the Telegan has a vile baddie teleporting into places ,killing the men who once tried to kill him and teleporting out again. It’s definitely worth the price of admission and a box of popcorn.

H-Man is a film about a weird goo, the remnants of the crew of a hip that went through a radioactive cloud. The goo is killing people  and leaving nothing behind. In a weird way the film is more a mystery or thriller with fantasy elements then a straight on horror film and it’s a blast.

Latitude Zero is just crazy I mean bat shit crazy in the best way. Joseph Cotton plays a Captain Nemo style seafarer who travels underwater and battles the evil Cesar Romero. It’s just crazy fun. I mean how can a film that has winged stuffed lion attacking the good guys not be fun? This was a film that warped me as a child and I can’t recommend it enough.

Gamera 3 Revenge of Iris is a must see. The third film in the 1990’s attempt to restart the series the film is not your parents Gamera film. While the first film in the series was uneven the second film upped the ante with a dark seriousness no giant monster film had managed since the first Godzilla film. It was apocalyptic. This film continued the darkness and when it was over I was wondering where they would go from here. A few years later the series restarted with a film about a baby Gamera. While that film is good it didn’t live up to this film. Gamera 3 is great film. It is one of the best giant monster films I’ve seen- and until the recent Godzilla films near the top. If you’ve never seen this go see it.

The series plays through April 8th and is a must see.

For tickets and more information go here.

The Giant (2016) New Directors New Films 2017

Johannes Nyholm's THE GIANT is a true one of a kind film. It's one of those films that love it or hate it you'll definitely feel as though you've seen something... I'll leave you to determine if that's a good or bad.

Rikard is a young man with a severe facial deformity (Think MASK or THE ELEPHANT MAN). Separated from his mother 30 years earlier when she broke down when couldn't deal with the situation, Rikard has been looking for her ever since. Unable to speak well as well as having other problems he is really good at Pentanque (think Bocce or Lawn Bowling). Playing the game affords him the friendship and connection he so desperately wants. When he heads for the Nordic championship he has dreams of connecting with his mother once more.

I really don't know what to make of the film.

A weird mix of  straight narrative, cinema verite cinematography, sports film and fantasy its hard to know what the film is. I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel. The mix of genres and even it's bending of reality, the ending is a head scratcher leaves me feeling that THE GIANT both was and wasn't for me. In the Was camp is the fact that it is a unique one of a kind vision. Its moving and it occasionally provides some magical moments. In the Wasn't camp is the fact that all of the bits don't always come together and some of this just plain odd.

On some level the film feels truly exploitive. Why did Nyholm decide that Rikard had to be facially deformed?  Don't get me wrong Christian Andren deserves to be in Oscar contention for his roll but at the same time does the deformity need to be there. I'm not so sure and it's the sort of thing that kind of over shadows the rest of the film- it comes across as a distraction. Andren is not deformed and is wearing make up so the look is clearly for effect. However the fact that I'm thinking about it instead of the story kind of means they missed the mark.

Despite my uncertainty about much of the film I do think this is a good one. My questioning what Nyholm's choice is largely out of wanting this to be a great film (there is greatness here) instead of a good one. Very much not for all audiences, this is a definite must see who wants to go off Hollywood and then some

THE GIANT plays at New Directors New FIlms March 25 and 26. For tickets and more info go here.

Bassem Youssef at Town Hall

I went to see heart surgeon, comedian, and political commentator Bassem Youssef at Town Hall tonight. It was a truly magical evening that was both funny and frightening.

Essentially a book launch party for Youssef's book REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES: LAUGHING THROUGH THE ARAB SPRING, the book was a lecture cum stand up routine about the recent history of Egypt and the Arab world in the wake of the Arab Spring. It's a story chronicled in his book and in the recently released film TICKLING GIANTS.

I had loved TICKLING GIANTS and what Youssef was doing ever since I saw the film last year at Tribeca. When the talk was announced I immediately bought tickets and ended up in the front row. This was a good thing, because when I pitched forward from laughing I couldn't bash my head on the seat in front of me.

Covering Youssef's time from creating a YouTube show modeled on The Daily Show up to now. Always wry and funny, lots of jabs were thrown at everyone who is in control either in Egypt or here. Make no mistake: the brick (bats) were thrown at Donald Trump with abandon — if not in fact, then in the constant warnings of what can happen when people like Trump get into office — everything that happened in Egypt is a possibility to happen here.

I would love to tell you specifically what he said, but I was laughing way too hard.

And at the same time my head hurt from the truth bombs that were being dropped. How little do we know in the US of what is going on in the Middle East ... The weird dangers of despotic leaders who lie were mixed up with the American need for a villain and the tyrants' need to have one as well. Just as the fear of the Arabs has created a whole industry around the idea of fighting terrorism and Muslims, so do the tyrants of the world use the Americans as a devil to fight. Youssef was laughing, but I'm guessing it was only so he didn't cry.

After the talk there a was a brief pause before he came out in a party hat and red nose and we sang along with a video from his wife and daughter asking that we all sing Happy Birthday. From there a Q&A followed as be answered questions on a variety of subjects. He even yelled at one gentleman in the second row who kept yelling question after question *#151; Let some one else ask a question, he chided the man.

Everything ended when some one shouted that everyone should sing Happy Birthday in Arabic to make the white people frightened. It brought laughter and cheers before Youssef walked off the stage.

It was a great night.

My takeaway from it all was the sense that Bassem Youssef is probably one of the smartest people I've ever encountered. Scary smart on a level I've only come across a handful of times in my life. He seems to possess a frightening understanding of the world and the things in it. He's so smart that I'm kind of happy that the attempts to set up an interview have gone awry. His mind scares me.

He is, for lack of a better description, the smartest guy in the room, or maybe the city. He has been cursed with a laser like sense of humor and bullshit detector that zeroes in on the ridiculousness of it all, which is why despots fear him.

But I got a sense of sadness from him. In his way a man without a country and without a platform to do what he does best — reveal the truth and deflate pomposity. One got the sense that removed from Egypt, and with his platform of a weekly show in that country taken away, he doesn't know where he belongs. I really felt that he wanted to be home in Egypt ticking the giants there, but the death threats and the fact that some of his uncles buy into the leaders' BS leaves him disconnected. He is in a way like the protagonist of Neil Diamond's song — LA is fine but it ain't home: Egypt is home but it isn't his any more.

Of course I could be wrong, but there is was a passion when he spoke of his country and a sadness to his comments about not not being able to go back that really stung me.

I hope he finds a place to do what he loves as he sees fit, because he is a damn funny man who not only makes you laugh but makes you think. The only person I've ever seen like him is Lenny Bruce...which to me is as good as it gets and the highest honor I can pay him.

Let's hope tonight was recorded. It is something you all need to see.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In Search of Israeli Cuisine (2017)


James Beard Award-winning chef and New York Times best-selling author Michael Solomonov travels across Israel to find out what exactly is Israeli cuisine.

What exactly Israeli cuisine is largely open to discussion. By Solomonov's count it's a mix of at least the cuisine of 150 nations that were filtered through the Jewish people who brought it to Israel mixed with the food of everyone who passes through the country.  Its a huge mixture of tastes and smells and colors and delights. Its something you will want to experience for yourself.

While not the absolute and utter food porn of several recent food docs, IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE will make you hungry. Full of all sorts of intriguing dishes the film had yours truly, a notorious non-foodie wanting to schlep into Manhattan where there might be chance that I could find some of the food mentioned in the film.

IN SEARCH OF... is a really good film. It is an excellent long form look at a country and it's food. I say this because there is a tendency for many food films to be simply the equivalent of a couple of TV show episodes stitched together. That is not the case here.  Solomonov and director Roger Sherman take the feature film form and really go to town to really explore a country and it's food.

I really like this film

IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE March 24th at both the Angelika Film Center & Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and on March 31st around the country

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Called Him Morgan opens Friday

I
I Called Him Morgan played at the New York FIlm Festival. Here is Joe Bendel's review

Since the early days of New Orleans until the early 1950s of Hard Bop, trumpeters were the Gabriels of jazz. Just think of Louis Armstrong’s golden tone or the supernaturally fleet articulation of Dizzy Gillespie. Lee Morgan was cut from a different cloth. You could hear plenty of grease and snarling attitude in his horn. His devilish sound also scored him some unprecedented crossover success. Yet, his tragically public demise will always define his all too brief life story. Swedish documentarian Kasper Collin revisits the music and the man through the memories of the woman who shot him and the rival who stoked her jealousy in I Called Him Morgan (trailer here), which screens during the 54th New York Film Festival.

Evidently, Morgan’s common law wife Helen never cared for the name Lee. Hence the title. We hear this directly from the source herself in the spectral-sounding audio tapes of an interview Ms. Morgan granted jazz radio host Larry Reni Thomas mere weeks before her death. Offering no excuses and seeking no sympathy, she tells her story matter-of-factly, but her overwhelming feelings of regret are immediately evident.

Collin (who also helmed the equally sensitive My Name is Albert Ayler) gives viewers the broad strokes of Morgan’s career, starting with his discovery in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, his rise to prominence with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and his glory years as a vintage Blue Note Records recording artist. Along the way, label co-founders Albert Lion and Francis Wolff get their just due for producing the classic sessions that would largely define the Hard Bop style.

However, the film is really centered around a forensic reconstruction of Lee and Helen Morgan’s imploding relationship. Initially, all his musician friends thought they were a good match, giving her credit for helping Morgan get clean and supporting him while he rebuilt his reputation. Yet, the film takes a heavy turn when she starts to describe how their romance turned to resentment. Like a Hard Bop Rashomon, Collin presents the events of that fateful night both from her perspective and that of Judith Johnson, the third side of Morgan’s love triangle (albeit a rather chaste one, according to her testimony).

Indeed, Collin relates the events of that ill-fated blizzard-battered night with eerie inevitability. Frankly, ICHM is an unusually impressionistic film, featuring dreamy noir cityscapes that aptly match Collin’s musical selections. Clearly, he has a preference for Morgan’s modal period (tunes with gently explorative harmonies) over his boogaloos (in this context meaning up-tempo Hard Bop tunes constructed over a strong rhythmic vamp). In fact, Morgan’s greatest hit, “The Sidewinder” is never heard during the film. (In this case, “greatest hit” is no exaggeration for a tune featured in a Chrysler commercial.)

Shrewdly, Collin also incorporates quite a bit of Wolff’s celebrated session photography. In addition to many striking black-and-white images familiar to fans from classic Blue Note album covers, Collin includes some surprisingly light-hearted candid shots that should only further burnish Wolff’s photographic reputation.

Collin scored sit-downs with a number of Morgan’s contemporaries, including Wayne Shorter, his legendary bandmate in the Messengers, as well as his own prominent sidemen, including Billy Harper, Jymie Merritt, Larry Ridley, and Bennie Maupin. However, the great Harold Mabern, a born raconteur if ever there was one, is conspicuously but perhaps not surprisingly absent. Reportedly, he still found it difficult to discuss Morgan’s death four decades after the fact, so presumably his feelings have not changed (which we should respect).

Regardless, ICHM is a starkly stylish and deeply humane film. It is that rare bird among music documentaries that has such considerable merit as a film in its own right, it should assure continuing awareness for Morgan’s music. Very highly recommended, I Called Him Morgan is far and away the top priority film at this year’s NYFF

I, OLGA HEPNAROVA


I am a loner. A destroyed woman. A woman destroyed by people... I have a choice - to kill myself or to kill others. I choose TO AVENGE MY HATERS. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide victim. Society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarová, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to death.

True story of Olga Hepnarova who drove a truck into a crowd of people in 1973 killing 8. She ended up being the last woman person executed in Czechoslovakia. Stark black and white film shows us the story of a young woman neglected by her parents and bullied by society who reacted in a violent way to force society to take a look at the way it views the down trodden.

Or that's what it seems to be trying to say. The trouble for me is that Hepnarova is clearly not all there. The film begins with her first suicide attempt and goes on to show us in the psychiatric hospital and her life after that. She is already an individual who is standing slightly apart from the rest of the world and her interactions with the world show us a person who has trouble fitting in. She is challenging the world as much as she is being victimized by it. She is not quite the victim of the world that film would make us believe she is. This isn't to say she deserved hat happened at any point only to point out she had issues that made connecting difficult and its understandable why some people struck back at here.

I think the problem is that writer/directors Petr Kazda and Tomas Weinreb have framed the film action more to make a point rather than give us a fair idea of anything. Everyone Olga encounters is cold to her and her presence is always framed to make her the outsider. One can see the hands of the directors at work. It never feels real and is more theatrical art than a film because its so clearly manipulating things for effect and to make a point rather than show what happened.

I like this film to some degree but I find it is something I admire more in the craft of the making than in the viewing.

I, OLGA HEPNAROVA opens Friday

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The final day of NYICFF's 20th Anniversary Festival- RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT and ANCIEN AND THE MAGIC TABLET


Stick a fork in the 20th Anniversary of the New York International Children Film Festival.- it's done and it has rocked the pillars of heaven. From opening film REVOLTING RHYMES all the way to the closer ANCIEN AND THE MAGIC TABLET the fest served up an incredible selection of features and shorts for people of every age. More to the point this year's fest was one of the best.

Personally I had a blast.  And as I said to JB right before ANCIEN began I can't believe we're done for the year. Now to slip into withdrawal until next year.

Thank you to everyone connected to the festival- I love you all.

As the festival last day dawned I planned to go from beginning to the end.

First up was RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT

Based on a bestselling and well loved Japanese novel, the film tells the story of Rudolf, a black cat, who decides to follow his owner out of the house and into the street. When he is chased by a fish monger into the back of a truck he ends up lost in Tokyo. Meeting a cat called Gottalot (because he has a lot of names) he learns to survive on the street and the importance of the families we make.

A good little film, I love how this film doesn't follow the typical track. There are several plot twists that I didn't expect (I've been watching unimaginative American animation).  This is a film I can't wait to show my six year old niece.

My one problem with the film is nothing to do with the film. My problem with the film is that I had several conversations with people from the film festival who said it was the hidden gem of the festival. It's good but I don't know if it's that good.

Definitely worth seeing


The second film of the day was Kenji Kamiyama ANCIEN AND THE MAGIC TABLET. If you haven't heard of it before, don't worry you will. The film only opened the night before in Japan and a out side of the premiere screening only the screenings here in New York have happened so word is just getting out.

The film concerns Kokone a teenaged girl who is just about to go on summer vacation. Living with her father, a hot shot mechanic, she frequently dreams she is Ancien, a princess with magical powers and a magical tablet. When Kokone's father is arrested by the police on word from  a car company executive who wants the driverless technology he has perfected- Kokone's is forced to rescue him- with her dream world crossing into the real world.

This film is freaking awesome. This film moved me and filled me with genuine awe. For one of the few times in my life I watched with film with a heavy heart because my friends who will one day love this film to death couldn't be there to experience it's wonders with me. I wanted them- and you dear reader- to experience this films wonders right now.(It will have to wait until the US release later in the year.)

What is the film like? In someways like every anime and manga you've ever seen. There is fantasy and science fiction, talking stuffed animals, steam punk, mechas, romance, magic and anything you can think of. director Kenji Kamiyama said in the Q&A after the film that he intentionally designed the film to blend our lives, our dreams and the stories we hear, all together because that's how he remembers and se the world with life, his dreams and movies all blurred together. The result is the film will remind you of the best of everything but it then fashions into something new. The more you know the more you'll go "oh that is like X" but its like it not exactly it. Watching the film I could see the references but at the same time I didn't care because what happens is ultimately it's own thing. Kamiyama. In a weird way it's kind of like what Quentin Tarantino does but not as obvious. You could watch this and know nothing and still love it to death.

What I absolutely love about this film is it's exactly like the story Kokone's father tells he about Ancien. its a film with everything in it.

I also love that as you watch the film there will be times when you realize it doesn't make real world sense- but then you realize the film is, what all films are, a shared dream. What is happening doesn't have to make real world sense because it makes sense within it's own world. The characters get that and there is this wonderful line in the third act as the final set piece is beginning when one of the characters simply shrugs realizing that Kokone is dreaming again and they will have to go with the weirdness. On another level the film is a giant dream of sorts, not so much Kokone's but director Kamiyama's. This is the dream he made for his daughter so she would know she could do anything.(See the Q&A below)

Honestly I will be happy to let Kamiyama dream for me if I can get lost in a film as wondrous as this.

I can't tell you how much I want to tell you everything that happens in this film and throw out all my thoughts but that's not right, this is a dream you need to have for yourself.

You have to see this- preferably on the big screen-when you get a chance.

One of the best films of 2017 and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's got a shot at an Oscar nomination next year as well.

After the film director Kenji Kamiyama did a 18 minute Q&A. It was a wonderful talk with mostly good questions. He spoke of how the film came together, why he made it as he did as well as related things.

When the talk was done he went out into the lobby and signed the first chapter of the manga adaption that was recently published. He also spoke with those coming up to meet him. The line was so long it snaked from near the front door where the signing table was set up all the way back to the theaters and then down into one of the theaters.
Kenji Kamiyama and his translator wait to take on hundreds of fans

What an awesome way to end the 20th NYICFF.

I can't wait for next year.