Saturday, April 20, 2019

Quick thoughts on Captain Marvel (2019)

The Carol Danvers story comes to the big screen just in time to make her a major player for the next Avengers film. It’s a solid film that entertains pretty much from start to finish.

The story had Carol Danvers going through her paces as a Kree soldier. Severely wounded six years earlier, she has no memory of what her life before was (including that she is from earth). Chasing a group of Skrulls to earth where they think an energy source which could power a faster than light ship resides. Teaming  with Nick Fury she fights the bad guys and reclaims her past.

A matter of fact origin story is enlivened by a killer cast, a couple of neat twists and witty repartee between Danvers and Fury. At its most basic level there is nothing new here but it is really a hell of a lot of fun. The problem here is that the film can’t really go its own way but has to fit into the run up of Avengers. What I want to see is the next film when Danvers will be able to, hopefully, do something truly spectacular and not end on a note that sets up a movie three months later.

Regardless of my questions Captain marvel is recommended.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) opens Wednesday

I regularly go to Carmine Street in Manhattan because there are several restaurants there that I love to share with friends. In all the many trips I've made I've never really noticed the small non-script guitar store that resides there. However after seeing the film about it you can be damn sure that I will be visiting it just to see the wonders produced there.

CARMINE STREET GUITARS is a "week" in the titled guitar shop during which owner Rick Kelly, his apprentice Cindy Hulej and Kelly's 93 year old mother Dorothy during which they make guitars and hang out with the likes of Bill Frisell, Jim Jarmusch , Marc Ribot, and too many others to mention. Over the course the conversations we get a sense of how Rick works, why so many people love his guitars and how he is keeping parts of old New York alive through using old wood.

I love this film. This is just good time with great people talking about something thay have a deep passion for, while playing some occasional bit of music. This was manna from heaven for me, a man who loves great conversation.

Rick Kelly and Cindy Hulej

Part documentary, part staged conversation, any sense that this isn't really a day in the life disappears once everyone begins to talk. Nothing seems forced or out of place. It's just people lost in good conversation.

One of the things that clicked with me as a New Yorker and history buff was Rick Kelly's drive to connect with his past. Kelly is constantly searching out pieces of wood from old New York Buildings to make guitars out of. There is something about the the old wood that enhances the sound the guitar makes so he is constantly trying to get really old wood to work with. (Not in the film, but in the press notes is the fact that Jim Jarmusch was the man behind Kelly's quest)

Another thing I loved about the film is the passion everyone has. Watching everyone talk and play and create you feel their love of their art bleeding off the screen. We watch the guitars come into being and musicians play them and it all looks so easy. Cindy and Rick bang out their guitars as if it is nothing- and yet we know it isn't. We watch the various musicians just whip off a song and we know it's not that simple- they are just doing what they love and what they have been doing for years and the love makes us love the film and its subject even more.

When the film was done I wanted to go down to Carmine Street and hang out in the shop. While I know I could never afford anything they sell, I just wanted to be there when more wondrous things happened.

This was the first great film I saw from the New York Film Festival and it's another addition to my favorite films of the year.

An absolute delight and highly recommended when it opens on Wednesday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Okko's Inn plays as a Fathom Event 4/22 and 4/23

Based on a series of 20 children's novels which were then turned into a manga and TV series OKKO'S INN if the story of young Okko who moves in with her grand mother after her parents are killed in a car accident. Deciding to help her grand mother run the inn the young girl is helped by the ghosts of her grandmother's best friend from when she was a child and the sister of her rival in life and commerce, not to mention a bell demon who has a knack for bringing people into the inn.

Lovely and charming little film will delight you and bring a tear to your eyes with its honest and heart felt emotion concerning the comings and goings of friends, and the learning that we are never really alone. The audience at the New York International Children's Film Festival that saw the World Premiere of the English language version laughed and cheered and sniffled in all the right spots.

If there is anything really wrong with the film is there are a couple of times in the second half when I had the feeling that there was more to somethings than we were being told. It wasn't that we didn't have enough details but simply some back story to make the moments come fully to life. When I found out about all the previous source material it made perfect sense that things were left out of a 95 minute film.

Regardless of  any quibbles, OKKO'S INN is a charmer of the highest order. You will get misty at times.

Highly recommended.

The film will be playing as a Fathom Event on April 22 and 23rd. For tickets go here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nate Hood takes in GRASS (2019)

The camera pans back and forth between the young man and woman as they sit in the cafe and talk, their drinks growing cold as they trade barbs and niceties. At first it holds them in a neutral two-shot, afterwards panning to the left to focus on just the woman, then to the right on the man. As the conversation turns to frenzied shouts over a dead friend, the camera zooms a few feet forward, not to focus on anything specifically, but almost as if the camera were leaning in for a better look. Finally the man storms out of the cafe and the camera turns 125° to reveal a young woman furtively tapping away at her MacBook. Her name is Areum (Kim Min-hee), and though she insists she is NOT a writer, she will spend the rest of the day at that coffeeshop eavesdropping on the various customers, taking quiet notes for a screenplay. Or perhaps a novel? It's difficult to say, for despite the script's intimacy, Hong Sang-soo's latest film GRASS languishes in ambiguity.

As the day continues, different people pop in and out of the cafe, revealing more and more of their lives. Here's an aging stage actor pathetically begging an old female friend to let him crash in her apartment. (Later, when an old colleague begs him to move in with him, he flatly refuses.) Here's a wannabe screenwriter frustrated by writer's block asking yet another female friend to temporarily move in with him--purely to help the creative juices get flowing, of course. Later Areum becomes a character herself in these dramas as she cruelly berates her brother and his fiancée, revealing more about her own emotional hangups and anxieties than anything we learn about the other customers.

By the end of the film's 66 minute runtime we feel we know more about her--and the other talkers--than they might know about themselves. But for what? GRASS is one of the most punishingly uninteresting films to screen at this year's NYFF. The problem with making a film about eavesdropping in a coffee shop is that you literally spend the entire movie eavesdropping in a coffee shop--perhaps not a bad idea if the screenplay was interesting, but in Sang-soo's rush for objective naturalism it's impossible to watch the film without getting bored. Watching GRASS is the cinematic equivalent of chewing raw tofu--perhaps good for you, but entirely flavorless.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Be Natural (2018) opens this in LA and next Friday in NYC

Pamela B Green's portrait of Alice Guy-Blaché is a vital document that will hopefully go a long way in correcting the historical record concerning a one of the true creators of cinema.

Alice Guy was a young woman who took a job working for Gaumont in the 1890's. When she saw the Lumiere Brothers films projected she knew there was something to it beyond recording daily life. She began making narratives for the company before taking over production. She eventually married and moved to the US where she had one of the earliest film studios in Fort Lee New Jersey. Through circumstance her place in film history began to be forgotten. However through her own efforts and the fact that people like Eisenstein and Hitchcock remembered seeing her films helped keep the flame alive that she really did all the things she said- which is largely invented narrative cinema.

Its not so much that Guy just made probably over a thousand films it's that she invented the language of cinema before anyone knew what it was. Eisenstein talks of seeing her films and what she did in decades before the master even made a film ended up in his films where the innovations were heralded as revolutionary. She made films with female protagonists and used actors in ways no one had thought of. She was also making sound films 25 years before the JAZZ SINGER changed history.

The problem for Guy was that she worked at a time when most creators were not credited. As a result it wouldn't take much to make a mistake- as has happened frequently- and films to be attributed to the wrong people.

BE NATURAL goes a long way in correcting the record and setting history straight...

...I just wish it were a better organized film. Bouncing from Guy's story to the search for information on her and her films the film seems not to have a narrative thrust. Is this about Guy or the search to find her story and films? It doesn't always seen clear as we bounce back and forth and back again. I understand she wants to tell the parallel stories but they sometimes scrap against each other with the result we aren't as engaged as we should be. Details are lost, things repeat and the film doesn't seem as tight as it should be. We could also use more details on her personal life.

The problem is all in the editing which just throws the material at us haphazardly. For example its clear Green did dozens and dozens of interviews for the film, we see a huge grid of faces at times, but almost all of them are simply dropped in to say that they never heard of Alice Guy-Blache. Why tease us with something that has no real place in the film? Other threads are picked up and abandoned as well.

What is do find interesting is the stray remark made by an AFI archivist who said that in researching Guy's place in cinema history he discovered materials that indicated that there was a time when female directors were not as uncommon as they are even now as film magazines spoke of their achievements as if it was the norm.

I like BE NATURAL but I don't love it. While it goes a long way to restore Alice Guy-Blache's place in cinema history I don't think it is as good as it should have been. Definitely worth a look, but be prepared to want to know more when it's done.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Instant Dreams (2018) opens Friday

I reviewed Instant Dreams when it played at DOC NYC last year. Here is the brief review

Trippy look at the effort to keep instant physical photography alive (not digital but something like a Polaroid). This is a look at instant photography on several levels mixed up in a one of a kind head trip film. While filled with endless tidbits the film is almost more interesting for its wonderful visuals. Definitely worth a look, especially if you want a film that doesn't look like every other film

The End Of The World (1916)


Danish film about the end of the world is probably the first post apocalyptic film ever made. It is also a messy duck of a film with way too much going on for a 77 minute film.

The film begins as we watch people from various walks of life going through their daily routines. Wen word reaches the population that a comet will touch the earth chaos reigns. Then the comet comes and wipes out pretty much everyone.

Long meaningful sequences fill much of the first hour as director August Blom goes about setting up stories lines with very clear moral implications. He is making a film with a point and not just something with a spectacular ending.  This makes for slow going as we are given probably way too much to chew on before the comet comes.

Once the comet comes and the world deals with the effects of the comet the film becomes haunting as actual locations of destroyed homes and landscapes are used to reflect the destruction. There is a realness to the end of the world that I don't think any other similar film has ever had- we feel that this is the end. It makes for one hell of a pay off.

While far from perfect THE END OF THE WORLD is a real curio and recommended to anyone who wants to see the first end of the world film or just an intriguing  footnote with the warning that this can be a slow go for a chunk of it.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1936)

If you view the Chan films in order there is actually a weird around the world trip that happens. Its almost as if Chan is moving from place to place in one trip. Its clear from the internal details that time has passed between adventures, but at the same time its as if Chan is taking the long way home to Hawaii.

This stop is in Germany where Chan is visiting his son who is on the US Olympic team during the infamous Berlin Games. Chan is sucked into the mystery as a favor to one police organization or another, since at this point in the series he was still a detective with the Honolulu police force.

Amazingly watching the film one loses ones self in the mystery (which has to do with the theft of a military guidance system) and completely forgets the darkness that would devour the world. Here the Nazi's are the good guys, almost comedicly so.

One of the better Chan films is most certainly worth a bag of popcorn and a glass of soda.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Mine 9 (2019)


Eddie Mensore’s MINE 9 is a must see thriller about men tapped two miles underground with only an hour of oxygen left before certain death. Not only is it a frightening thriller, scarier than most recent horror films but it also acts as a wake up call for anyone who doesn't fully comprehend the dangers of coal mining.

The film tells the story of a group of miners in a productive mine that is short on everything. They don't have an escape team  and the foreman above ground is sick. Worse their equipment is in need of repair, especially the pump that is keeping the place from filling with water. The mine manager just wants them to keep going because at some point the company will take care of all the work orders she has been sending in when they can. One night after a shift almost goes wrong they decide to wait in calling in the Feds. They all need the money. The next night despite knowing the amount of methane in the mine is on the increase, and still having safety concerns,  the men go back down unaware that they soon will be  fighting for their lives.


Moving and looking unlike anything that a major Hollywood studio would turn out MINE 9 is a deep dark claustrophobic thriller about men in crisis. Feeling incredibly real from the very first frame this film will put you on the edge of your seat and keep you there until the very end.  Shot in a real mine with mostly practical effects there is a tactile quality to it all. We can feel the dirt, we smell the stale air and sense the danger. Once things begin to happen there is almost no music simply the sound the men and the rocks and machines. There is nothing to distance us from what we are seeing. There are no big name actors to act as a hero so we don't know what the hell is going to happen. Death is not spectacular but painful and tragic. Minds and bodies are broken. Blood when it comes, can't always be seen for all the dirt.


What I love about this film is it feels like Mensore found out what would really happen in a situation like this and did exactly that, not what would look good on the big screen or be easiest. Its all dirt and water and pain.Some scenes are dark. Some are confused. People behave as people behave in real life, some rise up, some are broken and heroism doesn't have a thunderous score.  It is an anti-Hollywood film and we are so much better for it.

Whether you are claustrophobic or not  MINE 9 will make you afraid of tight places. There is only so many ways to move and with each explosion or collapse or obstacle the options to get to freedom get fewer and fewer.  It will make you wonder why anyone would go into a place like this. More importantly it will make you wonder why if they are going to go into places like this they aren't going to protect them better.

I was rocked by this film. It gripped me more than almost any film in the last year or so.

You have to see this film because it is one of the best thrillers of 2019.

MINE 9 is currently playing across Appalachia it expands nationally beginning April 19th and April 26th

Yuen Woo-Ping: The Unseen Films Interview

Yuen Wing-Poo Photo from IMDB
With MASTER Z : IP MAN LEGACY opening in theaters across the US I was given a chance to interview via e-mail the film's director, the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping. Woo-Ping is responsible for changing how action is portrayed in the movies. His work in DRUNKEN MASTER, THE MATRIX films, The KILL BILL films, the IRON MONKEY  films, KUNG FU HUSTLE,  and dozens of others set and reset the bar of what is the cutting edge in action. The chance to interview him was a once in the life time sort of thing and of course I jumped at the chance.

It may have been a once in life time chance, but I realized that in order to do the interview properly I was going to have to ask for help. While I would have no questions asking about MASTER Z I felt out of my league discussing his extensive body of work, so I did what any rational person would do and turned to the members of the Unseen Film and asked for thoughts and questions. Mr C, Nate Hood Hubert Vigilla and Jared King responded with the questions that ended up making up the bulk of the interview. (Actually Jared went even further and asked his friends what they thought would be the best questions.) Without the help of the experts this would have been two questions instead of 
twenty. (Thank you gentleman. Having friends like you is what makes Unseen Films a family. I appreciate your help to no end) 

I want to thank Yuen Woo-Ping for taking the time to respond. It was an honor. I also want to thank the people at Falco Ink for setting this up.


UNSEEN FILMS:  With MASTER Z being a sequel you have to set up just how good Cheung Tin Chi is for anyone who hasn't seen the earlier films and you do that by having him effortlessly take on an entire gang of men. Later on we can gauge how good someone is by how many people he is fighting. How do you decide how to show how good the various characters are in your films?

YUEN WOO-PING: Each hero has to be special in some way. Whether it’s a character extraordinary ability or an ordinary person faced with extraordinary challenges. Tin Chi is a bit of both. He possesses talent in wing chun but has sworn to stay away from wing chun and the trouble it brings. He wants an ordinary life for him and his son. But trouble eventually finds him no matter how hard he tries to stay away.

UNSEEN FILMS How did you cast the film? MASTER Z is so perfectly cast, how did you choose who would be in the film? How did Dave Baustista end up in the film? Frequently when a Western actor is brought in for a film like this they seem out of place but he seems to fit in perfectly.

YUEN WOO- PING: I wanted someone unique in each role to bring sometime different than the most obvious casting. For example Michelle Yeoh’s role was originally written for a man. But that story of a gangster trying to turn good has been told many times using a male character. It’s more interesting as a woman, especially an elegant woman who doesn’t look the gangster part. But put a Sabre in her hand she turns into a different woman. With Dave Bautista one of my producers suggested him for the part of Owen Davidson. I wanted someone physically intimidating but who can really act and bring the character to life. Dave fit the bill.

UNSEEN FILMS:  How does casting affect or influence a film or sequence? Do you wait to see who is going to be in a film before designing a sequence or do you alter it once casting is done?

YUEN WOO- PING: Casting is everything in drama or action. Every actor has a different read on a scene and different physical ability. With action it looks best if the actor can perform as much of a sequence as possible so it helps to tailor the sequence to their strengths. Whether it’s Muay Thai for Tony Jaa or wrestling for Dave Bautista, performers need to be comfortable in the character for them to shine.

UNSEEN FILMS: Where did the idea for the neon sign sequence in MASTER Z come from? How difficult was it to shoot?

YUEN WOO- PING: It was something I thought up during development. That Hong Kong street was the main exterior location and they spent quite a lot time (and money) creating these vintage neon signs. So after we shot the rest of the movie, I designed a fight sequence on those signs so we could destroy them! The trouble came when we were about to shoot the sequence and a typhoon was about to make landfall. If it hit us our set, it would surely destroy our signs before we could and at that point we couldn’t afford to rebuild. We went back and forth on a contingency sequence. But in the end we took the chance and stuck to the sign fight. The heavens watched over us and we had perfect whether. We even finished the sequence 3 days early!

UNSEEN FILMS: Could you talk about how you link action to story telling and how that affects the choices when you are designing a scene?

YUEN WOO- PING: The goal is that story and action need to inform one another — story should motivate action and action should tell story. It’s not always about fighting for literal survival. Sometimes I use action to further character moments for example the drinking glass sparring between Tin Chi and Kean or the rooftop fight with Max and Fu, those scenes are to develop the story through an interesting fight.

UNSEEN FILMS: How important is plot to your films? Do you have to have a story that works from start to finish or are you more interested in using the plot to hang the action sequences from it?

YUEN WOO- PING: I try not to over complicate the plot to distract from film because audiences see my films for entertaining action sequences. On this film we had different versions of the script where the drug smuggling plot was much more complicated. I felt that plot dragged on and got rid of it. We just got to the point quickly.

UNSEEN FILMS: How Important is rhythm when you Choreograph a fight? Do you view the sequences as pieces of music?

YUEN WOO- PING: I do see fights as a kind of dance but how that rhythm works with music I left for the editor and composer to figure out. Fights are so logistically complicated that it’s difficult to set that to existing music so music has to accommodate to the sequence.

UNSEEN FILMS: What shot or sequence required the most takes and most work in all the films you've made?

YUEN WOO- PING: It’s probably the bamboo sequence from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That was a sequence that was really unlike anything I had attempted before that. We were really at height in a real bamboo forest and the logistics were daunting. The first couple days of filming that sequence we got nothing useable. I think at that point it may everyone secretly thought this might be impossible. But we kept at it and the sequence came out beautifully.

UNSEEN FILMS: How do you deal with multiple duties on a film such as directing, choreographing and acting at the same time?

YUEN WOO- PING: Well I haven’t acted for a while so I haven’t had to worry about. Choreographing in China we call action directing. I guess you can call directing drama directing. So to me it’s natural for that to be one job. However when I’m directing a film the time commitment is much greater. For action directing I’m usually just around for the shoot but on this film because I was also directing I spent nearly two years from idea to finished film.

UNSEEN FILMS: What was it like to work with your father? Did it help having him playing say a role in a film where he could help with choreograph and direct a film? What is it like to have a working relationship with your brothers and has it evolved in regard to the new Hong Kong Cinema?

YUEN WOO- PING: It was a great pleasure to work with my father and my brothers. My father was the first martial arts choreographer so he created that position and brought me into the film industry. It was a great honor to direct my first films with him as an actor. Looking back, many of my films are about father son stories and I don’t think that is an accident.

UNSEEN FILMS: Has something been lost now that action sequences have become driven not so much by the action but by editing and special effects?

YUEN WOO- PING: In general I think having too many options and possibilities often hurts the vision of sequences. I got my start in an industry with neither much opportunity to edit or VFX. To save film we developed the “Hong Kong zoom” where we’d zoom in and out in a single take, editing in camera. And VFX didn’t exist at all back them. And we were able to make incredible films under those circumstances. The filmmaker tells the story, everything are tools to help in that process. So even now, I design my fights to an edit, it’s not shot from a bunch of angles and figured out in post. And as much as possible I try to avoid vfx to give a sense of reality to the sequence.

UNSEEN FILMS: You were instrumental in ushering in the modern-day action genre in Hong Kong would you ever return to that genre?

YUEN WOO- PING: It’s actually something I’ve been discussing recently. There are a couple modern kung fu stories I’m developing. We’ll see where they go.

UNSEEN FILMS:  What do you think of the new generation of Hong Kong Action directors?

YUEN WOO- PING: I think the young filmmakers do great work. What I’m worried about is the lack of interest in that line of work. It used to be that young people were excited by kung fu and would practice as a hobby. Then some of those people would find their way in the industry and become filmmakers. But years of hard work for a hobby isn’t appealing to the younger generation and I worry how that will affect our industry.

UNSEEN FILMS: What do you think about the future of Hong Kong Cinema?

YUEN WOO- PING: Hong Kong cinema has all but moved to mainland China because the filmmakers have gone to where the market is. A lot of storytelling is driven by the market, films are more about spectacle and VFX and the budgets balloon in pursuit of a big box office. But having good ideas doesn’t always mean spending big dollars. I hope to see more of those kind of projects.

UNSEEN FILMS: Do you have any thoughts on the seeming increasing use of action spectacles in Mainland films as a means of propaganda?

YUEN WOO- PING:  I don’t think propaganda is the right word. I think films like Wolf Warrior and Operation Red Sea are certainly patriotic, but I don’t think they are trying to convert audience into an opinion they don’t already hold, it’s not that easy to sway people nowadays. I think audiences anywhere around the world want to believe the place they live in a good place to live, a place that stands up for values. If you look st Michael Bay films they are showcases for the American military people Americans and Chinese love his films because they’re enormously entertaining.

UNSEEN FILMS: What non-action films inspire you? Even though you are so attached to action cinema would you ever make a film that wasn't action packed?

YUEN WOO- PING: I've always liked comedy and in fact most people forget that most of my early work were action comedies. Films are meant to entertain and if a non action script speaks to me, I’d love to direct it.

UNSEEN FILMS: Are you going to be involved with Kung Fu Hustle 2?

YUEN WOO- PING: There have been rumors there will be a sequel but Stephen Chow hasn’t called yet!

UNSEEN FILMS: Are you ever totally happy with any film or sequence you direct?

YUEN WOO- PING: When I watch films I’ve worked on I try to see it as an audience member rather than a crew member. Filmmaking is about taming the daily challenges that prevent you from achieving your goals. Weather, time, budget. Sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes they’re for the better and sometimes not. But you can’t focus on the negatives or else you’ll be too scared to work again.

UNSEEN FILMS:Will there be a MASTER Z sequel and or series?

YUEN WOO- PING: I could see many ways of continuing the story but there has been no definite plans yet!

Yuen Woo-Ping's MASTER Z-IP MAN LEGACY is now playing in theaters across the US.

Maniac Landscapes (2019) San Francisco International Film Festival

Don't let the simplicity of the image fool you this plant hides a truncheon 
Matthew Wade is again making trippy and disturbing animations with MANIAC LANDSCAPES. His synopsis goes as follows: “As disembodied cried move through the rooms of a house, their emotional intensity provokes a reanimation of the dead, cosmic shifts, and the manipulations of time and place.” I'm not sure if that's wholly right but it is deeply disturbing.

Wade is a wickedly talented filmmaker. He loves to mess with our heads. Things that seem simple suddenly turn dark or unexpected not so much because of what we are seeing but because he marries these seemingly unremarkable images, say some abstract plants growing, with a slowly building soundtrack which changes the feel of everything. By the time MANIAC LANDSCAPES ends you've traveled in space and time with out a ship or drugs and you no longer feel as you did when it started, the hair has stood up on the back of your neck and things feel different.

I have no idea how you will react to the film but I assure you that when the film is done you will know you have seen something that has changed how you felt eight minutes before in a profound way.

Highly recommended

It is premiering at the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 13 and 16. It will behaving its international premier in Scotland at the amazing Alchemy Film & Arts Festival on May 5.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Why you should go see THE RUSSIAN FIVE (2018) when it plays near you.

This is the story of five hockey players from the Soviet Union who became known as The Russian Five. Despite it being an absolute insane pipe dream to think that Soviet players would go to the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings drafted five of the best players in the world even though there was “no way” that they would ever end up on the hockey team since they played for various Soviet hockey teams. They did it because no one was drafting them, and because they were so deep in the draft rounds whomever they picked would probably work out just as remotely. Then again the team figured someday, if the political situation changed, it might just pay off. How the impossible happened and the quintet ended up in the Motor City is the story and it is a one hell of a tale. Think of the craziest spy story you can think of and then kind of go weirder and you’ll have an idea who this went.

The Russian Five is a real head scratcher for me. Not because of the film itself, which is so awesome as to transcend any thought of it being just a sports documentary, more because the film is not on anyone’s radar. How the hell can a film this great not be on anyone’s radar?  More importantly why hasn’t this film been snapped up by a major distributor who can push this film like mad?

I don’t have a clue. I really don’t. Most people don't kow this film exists and they should.

While I love a good sports film and I am a hockey fan, my enjoyment of film entirely rests in how good this story is. Forget the sports angle, this is just a great story expertly told. We have a great selection of talking heads featuring not only the people involved but fans such as the great Jeff Daniels, who perfectly explain not only what happened by why. There is a genuine attempt at making those who didn’t live through the Cold War understand why the Russians were never coming, laying out the political situation that assured they would stay in the USSR. The facts aren’t just thrown at us but there is an attempt to put it all in context.

One of the things that I love about the film is that the film is that the filmmakers more or less let the interviews and video tell the story. Yes we get some animated recreations but for the most part this is simply the story with no pumping up and no flourishes. Honestly, the story doesn’t need them this is just a story that is just amazing.

And the fact that the film is amazing is what makes this film transcend it being just a sports film. This isn’t about the game but about crossing borders and building bridges while doing the impossible which makes it something special.

I was talking up the film the morning after I saw it to an attorney in my office and as I spoke the heads of all the secretaries started to pop up.

“What are you talking about?”

“A documentary about getting Russian Hockey players to come to the US.”

“Hockey? It doesn’t sound like a hockey film”

“It’s not really. It’s a kind of a spy film”

“I have to see that”

Yes they do. And so should you.

I know this isn’t a deep discussion of the film. I’m not laying out what happens and why it matters, but you don’t need that. In a way you don’t want that. You just need to see the film and let the stories carry you along. It’s so much fun seeing how it unfolds that you don’t want spoilers.

I will give you one word of warning, bring tissues. Because this film tells its tale so well you just might be spritzing at one point. Be prepared.

THE RUSSIAN FIVE is one of my favorite films of 2019 and one of the great finds.

See it.

THE RUSSIAN FIVE is currently across Michigan, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh

It opens today in Phoenix at the HARKINS SHEA
In Seattle on April 26 at SIFF
In LA on May 3 at LAEMMLE'S GLENDALE
It opens in NYC on May 31 at the IFC CENTER

Check the website for additional cities as announced.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Held For A Moment (2019)

A young woman tries to come to terms with the stillborn death of her child while her husband does what he can to help.

Based on the experiences of women who have had a child stillborn, including family members of the filmmakers, HELD FOR A MOMENT has lived in quality to it. It wonderfully doesn't try to explain what exactly happened it simply shows how a woman is shattered by the experience. It is not showy or flashy it simply shows us what one woman's experience is and we are left reeling.

Beautifully acted and winningly told HELD FOR A MOMENT is a film that will haunt you long after it is finished.

Currently on the festival Circuit HELD FOR A MOMENT is highly recommended and a must see.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Brooklyn Film Festival announces 2019 edition: THE GATHERING, to feature the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition to date



BROOKLYN FILM FESTIVAL
Announces 2019 Edition: THE GATHERING

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, April 10, 2019 - Brooklyn Film Festival (BFF), the first international competitive film festival in New York, has closed submissions for its 2019 edition: THE GATHERING. BFF received a record number of 2,659 films from 100 countries and will select 120 film premieres to be announced in May. The films are divided in six categories: Feature Narrative, Feature Doc, Short Narrative, Short Doc, Experimental and Animation.

BFF’s selection criteria, a 22-year-old set of rules, constitute the true festival’s trademark. Participating films cannot be older than two years. Films are selected from submissions only. All the selected films are shown twice. All the selected films participate in the competition. And the smallest film can win the top festival award: The Grand Chameleon.

The festival will run from May 31 through June 9 at two main venues: Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg and Windmill Studios in Greenpoint. Additional programming will be presented on June 4 at Syndicated in Bushwick and on June 7 at UnionDocs in Williamsburg. On June 5 and 8, BFF will present a total of five shows at Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo, where it will also present the 15th annual kidsfilmfest on June 1. On June 8, the 8th annual BFF Exchange program will be hosted by Kickstarter in Greenpoint and on June 3, BFF will be hosted by Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn. Additional programming and networking events will be announced at a later date.

In a successful effort to broaden the festival’s Latin American horizon in terms of film submissions, for its 22nd edition BFF has been collaborating with several South American film organizations: Proimagenes (Colombia), ChileDocs, IMCINE (Mexico), Universidad del Cine (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Festival Internacional del Cine Buenos Aires (FIDBA). Locally, BFF has been collaborating with Cinema Tropical and Proyector Film Series.

BFF Executive Director Marco Ursino said of the 2019 edition, “We are calling the upcoming festival: The Gathering. The theme-statement is essentially a call to all those people who are searching for clarity and intelligent exchanges. On the programming side this year, more than ever before, we wanted to empower all those filmmakers who are thinking and working in critical systems, outside of the box, and against all odds. Understanding that for women the “system” is always critical, and inspired by the acceleration of the women’s movements, in 2019 BFF will feature the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition up to date. I’m also proud to say that four out of our six festival programmers are women and the actual festival is run mostly by women.”

BFF’s list of sponsors for 2019 includes WNET, G-Star Raw, VER, AbelCine, Heineken, Florida State University, Final Draft, Big Screen Plaza, and for the 7th consecutive year, the “disruption company” TBWA/CHIAT/DAY will create BFF’s promotional campaign. Several BFF networking events this year will be organized in collaboration with Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, Brooklyn Documentary Club, Film Shop, Video Consortium and UnionDocs.

In each of the six film categories, BFF’s judges will select the Best Film while the festival will select the Spirit Award and the audience the Audience Award winners. Among all the six categories combined, BFF will award one of each of the following: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Composer, Bet Style, Best Editor, Best Cinematographer, Best Screenplay Writer, Best Producer, Best New Director and Best Brooklyn Project. Through the resources of our sponsors, BFF will assign to the winning filmmakers over $50,000 in prizes (products, services and cash).

About the programmers
BFF’s Feature Narrative programmer is Jason Stefaniak. An Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, he received a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Television Production at NYU, where he was awarded an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scholarship and a Graduate Craft Award for Producing. The Feature Documentary programmer is Brandon Harrison, a graduate of the UCLA School of Film and Television who programmed short docs for BFF for the past few years. Natalie Gee, a multiple short film producer, leads BFF’s Short Narrative category. Mara Bresnahan is the Short Documentary programmer, who currently serves as the festival director for the Boston ReelAbilities Film Festival and as a lead programmer for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Melanie Abramov, a BFF Alumni and director from Brooklyn, is the Experimental category programmer. She received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and later founded her production company, Dame Productions, which lends a necessary and provocative voice to women in media. Julia Cowle, BFF’s Animation programmer, is an independent filmmaker, illustrator, animator and comedy writer.

About BFF Exchange (BFFX)
For the eighth consecutive year, on June 8 from noon-5pm at Kickstarter in Greenpoint, the festival will continue its BFF Exchange, aimed ultimately at connecting filmmakers with film distributors. BFF Exchange will feature a pitch session, panels and a Happy Hour.

About kidsfilmfest
On June 1 from 1pm-3pm at Made in NY Media Center by IFP, BFF will present the 15th annual kidsfilmfest, which aims to discover, expose and promote the youngest generation of filmmakers. The film program is tailored for children of all ages (films are rated "G"), and consists of numerous animated shorts, documentaries and live-action films. A Q&A with the filmmakers and a filmmaker's workshop will follow the program.

About BFF
The organizers of the Brooklyn Film Festival have been staging International, competitive film events since 1998. BFF's mission is to provide a public forum in Brooklyn in order to advance public interest in films and the independent production of films, to draw worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a center for cinema, to encourage the rights of all Brooklyn residents to access and experience the power of independent filmmaking, and to promote artistic excellence and the creative freedom of artists without censure. BFF, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

For more info about the festival please visit www.brooklynfilmfestival.org.
For more info about kidsfilmfest, visit www.kidsfilmfest.org.

Subway Cinema's Old School Kung Fu Returns

0-1.png
presents
8TH OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FEST - SECRET CHAMBER EDITION
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue, at Second Street
New York, New York

Friday, May 3 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, May 4 @ 12:30pm

👊🏼 Tickets on sale at 👊🏼
oldschoolkungfufest.brownpapertickets.com

0-1.jpg

Subway Cinema’s Old School Kung Fu Fest returns to the mothership with a two-day blast of bare-fisted fury that will leave the Anthology Film Archives a smoking pile of shattered bricks! The Anthology spawned Subway Cinema 19 years ago, and now we’re back to turn it into a Times Square grindhouse theater, circa 1978, showing nothing but old school kung fu flicks.

Kung fu movies belong on the big screen, so we’re psyched to screen a line-up of seven old school flicks - some classic, some totally obscure, some dubbed into crunky English, others subtitled, some cut into surreal storms of flying feet, others screened uncut - and every single one of these movies delivers more electrifying entertainment than anything in a modern day multiplex.

FRIDAY NIGHT
The insanity begins with a screening of DRAGON PRINCESS (1976, 35mm, dubbed) an ultra-hardcore Sonny Chiba production where Chiba's daughter (Etsuko Shihomi) grows up to murder men with her bare hands. So, it’s not kung fu, but it is KARATE!!!!! And it’s completely berserk. Then afterwards, we're having a beer bash! Hang out and drink $1 beers, make new friends who know karate too, and speculate on what kind of madness we're unleashing tomorrow.

Tickets are $15 and that includes admission to both the movie and the party.

SATURDAY
Were screening six secret back-to-back old school kung fu flicks in two blocks. First, it’s three films from massive, international stars before they were famous. Then it’s three kung fu mash-ups in a row! Maybe kung fu horror? Maybe kung fu westerns? Maybe kung fu musicals? Maybe kung fu science fiction? The only way to know is to BE THERE.

Block 1: Young Dragons: Superstars Before They Were Famous
Starts at 12:30pm

Block 2: Infinite Kung Fu: Genre Mash-Ups
Starts at approximately 6:30pm

6-Film Marathon: $35
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (see just one of the blocks): $20 

Cotton Wool (2017)

When a woman has a stroke it complicates her relationships with her children. Most of the work falls to her seven year old while her teen aged daughter struggles to come to terms with what has happened.

This is a solid short film that was inspired by the countless parents who are tended by there children, many of which are under the age of 9. We watch as the kids struggle to deal with what has happened in their own ways, which in one case isn't entirely healthy.

Well made and well told the film survives because the cast manages  to sell it, especially young Max Vento as Sam, the son forced to behave as some one well beyond his years. Leanne Best who plays the mom has a star making moment when we watch as the stroke hits her and the terror hits her that she can not explain to her son what is happening and what he has to do.

This a very good film that makes me want to see what director Nick Connor will do next.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Stockholm (2018) opens Friday

Billed as a comedy, STOCKHOLM is more humorous than funny, owing to the oddness of the actual event. The result is a very good, but sometimes off kilter viewing experience.

The plot has Ethan Hawke taking hostages in a bank with the hope of freeing his friend played by Mark Strong. Hawke's plan and demeanor is extremely odd with the result that the hostages begin to side with him as events drag out.

That the film works as well as it does is due entirely to the cast which is headed by Hawke, Strong and Noomi Rapace. They sell the whole thing, keeping it all real even as the events spin out into silly territory. The cast make you certain that this is what happened even if you're not sure if this is what happened.

The only flaw with the film is that it isn't always certain as to what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? We aren't always certain...

...on the other hand it doesn't really matter since it all holds together and the uncertainty adding weight to a very good little film

Monday, April 8, 2019

MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY (2018)

At the end of IP MAN 3 Cheung Tin-chi (Max Zhang) headed off after being beaten by Donnie Yen. MASTER Z picks up with Tin-Chi living quietly with his son. He runs a store but had made some extra money as an enforcer for a local kingpin (but nothing to do with women, children or good men). Not long from walking away from being the enforcer he runs afoul of Kit and his gang. Part of a large crime family headed by his sister (Michelle Yeoh) kit wants to take over the city via any means necessary, but his sister is looking to go legit. In the initial clash between Kit and Tin-Chi Kit loses. He responds by burning down Tin-Chi‘s house and store. This results in an escalating battle that Kit’s sister fails to stop.

I’m going to be honest the plot of MASTER Z isn’t the best. It exists largely as a framework for the action scenes to be hung on and to allow the actors to chew scenery. There are plot holes aplenty and it’s so perfunctory that you can pretty much come in at any point and know exactly who is who and what is what. It’s never ever bad, but it’s not brain surgery. I just wish there was a little more thought to it because there isn’t a lot of suspense as to what is going to happen.

Then again no one is going into the film for the plot. What we want is an action ballet and good god does this film deliver.

An series of escalating skirmishes MASTER Z has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time. More old school long than modern the action delights from start to finish. Jin Zhang kicks ass and takes names as he solidly puts him into the pantheon of great on screen fighters. There is a grace and ease to his motion that is a joy to watch, especially when he has such formidable competition.

And competition is the name of the game. From streets or rooms full of bad guys Tin-Chi is forced to fight for his life. In one soon to be classic sequence the battle is above the street and Tin-Chi and his enemies leap from neon sign to neon sign. And when it isn’t hordes of baddies he has to fight the likes of the great Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa (who dogs him all film) or Dave Bautista who not only kills it in the battles but also proves he’s a way better actor than you would think from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. I want to see him in a straight drama.

On pure entertainment level I love this film. This a film I want to hunker down with in a theater with a big tub of popcorn and some friends on a rainy Sunday afternoon because it is just so damn fun.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) finally reaches US theaters

There is a throwaway line near the start of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote  which is spoken by someone in passing which is  “We are what we hold on to.” It’s said almost as an afterthought and no one I saw the film with caught it. For me it was a lightning bolt moment that put the film before me into crystal clarity – that is what Gilliam is getting at. This is a film about our holding one to things so tightly that they change us

Simply the put the film is about Toby, a film director making a big budget commercial for a power company. The commercial apes the Don Quixote story of the attack on the windmill. It also echoes his long ago first film, a glorified student film, of the classic tale. As the commercial deteriorates Toby bolts and returns to the nearby village where he shot his earlier film. Once there he finds the village changed, and not for the better. He also finds the shoemaker who played Quixote lost in the delusion that he is the knight of the story. Through circumstances Toby ends up on the road with Quixote, acting as his Sancho on some impossible quest.

Three decades on, after one legendary implosion and the loss of several stars who were to star Gilliam’s film finally hits the big screen. Is it what he intended when he started? Probably not. Times and people change making it impossible to recreate what we wanted when we were young. But as the quote suggests maybe the film has become a little bit like Gilliam just as Gilliam has become Don Quixote or perhaps Toby.

If you know anything about the decades long effort to make the film you will be hard pressed not to think about  the struggle when seeing it. It is also hard not to try and tie the film to other Gilliam films. In viewing the film we are using the lens we have created in hearing about the film to see the film. In a way we have become the stories of the film that we have held onto. I know that is to be expected, but here we have so many decades of stories, speculation and hope that it can’t help but color it all. We can can’t see it for what it is but compare it with what we have heard and what Gilliam did before, as if that matters to this film or as if this film somehow directly connects to his other films.

Why do we do that? Why do we connect up all the films of the various filmmakers as if they are one grand work? Yes things will link stylistically and thematically (Don Quixote echoes Fisher King, Munchhausen, Tideland and Brazil) but they are not really connected. This is especially true with Don Quixote, which other than a few fleeting moments, feels unlike any other Gilliam film. Rooted in reality the fantasy is not even the madness of the Red King in Fisher King, but entirely man made. While thematically it ties to Munchhausen and Fisher King, it is its own beast. I would bet if someone other than Gilliam made this exact film it would be viewed entirely differently.

When I saw the film at a recent press screening there was a discussion of what is Gilliam trying to say. What was his point with the film? Did it change from what his original intentions were? Why did he have so many themes crisscrossing through it that didn’t seem to go anywhere? There was even some speculation that Gilliam wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.

I would beg to differ. I think he was telling a version of the story he set out to tell with all the other themes and ideas coloring the ride. Yes this is the typical Gilliam questing film where the madness over takes the main character. But there is more, this this is Gilliam exorcising his demons. This is a film about how carrying something like the Man Who Killed Don Quixote will change you. Notions of the emptiness of Hollywood and the rich, how we sell our souls (bodies) to get what we want and other things are all there to color the tale. (And there is even unintended commentary on Trump with a throwaway line and the unavoidable view of Trump as a Russian Oligarch)

I am not sure which character is Gilliam (if he is any of them). It could be Toby the director tormented by his project or it could be Quixote who has gone mad and is only released by death? Maybe he’s both. I don’t think it matters, this is Gilliam’s psyche on full display.

The whole idea of Quixote never dying may sound like a joke but film history is filled with numerous directors trying to make a film version of the story and being broken by their inability to finish the project. At the end of Gilliam’s film his film is dead (finished) and now someone else has to take up the mantle and try again. In the real world someone else will be always be crazy enough to make a new Quixote.

One of the comments I’ve heard against the film is that in addition to the hanging thematic elements bits of plot don’t hang together. People wanted to know why don’t things tie up neatly? For example why does the town dress up to get Quixote back? There seems to be no reason, but there doesn’t need to be. That the towns folk were ready to go to such an extreme length to get him back shows how deep his, and their, madness is. They clearly have had to do this sort of thing before. It also speaks volumes about how damaged the town was by Toby’s film that it is all they have to hang on to.

I think part of the problem with people’s reading of the film is trying to sort out what is real and what isn’t . Quixote is mad and sees the world as insane. But other than the end Toby isn’t mas until the end. Until he takes the mantle of insanity he is normal (mostly-the dream and one or two other small exceptions). So what he sees is real. Things seem disordered because Gilliam is fucking with us. We are expecting Gilliam flights of fantasy like Munchhausen, but he isn’t giving them to us. He is playing everything deadly straight. What we see is real. To take it as anything else is to read too much into the film and what Gilliam is doing…which is much more than it seems. He is very aware of how he is telling his tale – he is just leaving bits of Spanish gold along the way for people to pick up.

I know when he film premiered last year there was all sorts of mixed reaction. Some people loved it and some people didn’t. Many were disappointed. I think those who dislike it or don’t like it were wrong. I think this is one of Gilliam’s best films. It is sleek and lean and runs on all cylinders. I think in five years’ time when people circle back and can see the film for what it is they will find it to be a masterpiece of the highest order. I think in five year’s people will see it that it is not the film they wanted but the one that Gilliam did.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote plays one Night North American theatrical event April 10th (For more info and tickets here)

Saturday, April 6, 2019

God Inside My Ear (2018) hits home video Tuesday

The material I received concerning THE GOD MY EAR described it as a "It's a microbudget ($8,000) feature length surreal, art house, horror, thriller". I would add comedy. I think writer director Joe Badon just lost his lunch with my addition to his description but to be honest the film is so knowing in it's execution that there is a great deal of humor in the proceeding. Despite the humor the film generates a great deal of tension.

The film follows a young woman named Elizia. After he discovers enlightenment her boyfriend leaves her. This throws Elizia into a tizzy. Her life crumbles and weird things begin to happen. She tries to overcome the desolation but it doesn't help she just ends up going farther down the spiral.

I can't say more than that because where it goes and how it's told is the film. I can say that this film is going to delight anyone looking for the next cult film. A weird art trip into craziness with flashes of Terrance Malick at his most ethereal, the film has enough going for it that some people are going to latch onto it just for the images and the oddness. It's in the surreal  hallucination/vision sequences that the film generates much of it's tension.

The question as to whether people love it or not is going to depend on the knowing tone the film takes. Hitting a good number of the cliches in films where a person latches on to a great truth no one else understands as well as hints of an evil cult, the film attacks the sequences with a dry humor that some people  are going to love and some people aren't. Actually once you realize that there is humor in the film then what could be construed as pretentious sequences suddenly work like gangbusters. Seeing the humor connects us to the insanity and allows for us to accept the seemingly well worn plot line.

I genuinely like the film and what it is doing. I like how director Badon has crafted the film to work on several levels at the same time. I like what he does with the weirdness enough to be curious what he would do with a more conventional narrative.

For anyone who doesn't want a conventional Hollywood film and wants to try something delightfully off kilter, this film is for you. Probably the best thing I can say is this is exactly the sort of film that Unseen Films was started to highlight- a solid gem of a film. Go see this film it will delight you.

THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR hits home video, DVD VOD on Tuesday

Director Joe Badon is Kickstarting his next film now. For details go here