Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SIDEMEN: LONG ROAD TO GLORY (2017)


Scott Rosenbaum’s SIDEMEN is in its way a glorious celebration of legends Pinetop Perkins, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, and Hubert Sumlin who backed up blues legends such as Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters . It’s a wonderful at the men, their lives and especially their music.

The film begins with a look at the conditions that drove the men out of the deep south of America north toward cities like Chicago where they could earn a living playing blues. From there the film spirals out to show us the lives of the men, their work with blues headliners and finally the legacy of all three (they all passed away within 8 months of each other in 2011). It’s an awesome tale full of good people and great music and it will fill you with a desire to track down all of the recordings that the worked on and add them to you collections.

However as much as I love the film I was struck by two things that have kept me from calling this one of the best docs I’ve seen this year.

The first is that for as game changing as the trio is the film is rather conventional. It’s the typical mix of clips and talking heads. There is nothing wrong with it, but for a trio of men who changed music one would have done more.

The other thing that kind of bothered me was that the film is only about 80 minutes. It’s much too short. Granted what is here is choice, but I wanted more. There has to be more music and more talk. Perhaps on the DVD or Bluray….

Quibbles aside this is a super film and a must for any blues fan or fan of any sort of music.

SIDEMEN: LONG ROAD TO GLORY hits theaters Friday

Unseen Repost: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1949)


Surprising good animated version of the classic tale begins with a brief bit with brief bit set at Lewis Carol's college where he and Alice (and her sisters) meet various characters, including the Queen of England who end up as characters in Wonderland. Once the story begins Alice interacts with the Wonderland characters who are all stop motion characters.

It's a trippy tale that kind of reminded me of the big budget color spectaculars (The Red Shoes came to mind) that were produced in the late 40's and early 50's. This film was supposedly suppressed by Walt Disney whose own studio was working on his own version at the time and so has been difficult to see ever since. While the music isn't as spectacular as in other (Disney) versions, the film bests those other version in that it flows better.

This is probably the first film version that I've seen where the story seems as if it's a single story instead of a group of loosely connected sequences. It may not seem like much but it really works wonders and for my money is the first version that satisfies me from start to finish. I know some people don't like the animation which is old school, but I like it since it adds a sense of other worldliness to the proceedings.

Worth a look if you can find it

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Milwaukee Film Announces Full Black Lens Program Lineup

John Ridley returns with new documentary Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992
Program expands with total of 8 feature films and 2 shorts programs

MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, August 15, 2017 – The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by Associated Bank, is excited to announce this year’s festival lineup for the Black Lens program. Now in its fourth year, the program features documentary and fiction films by African American filmmakers that explore a range of topics rooted in the black community and are relevant to all.

The lineup includes Academy Award winner and Milwaukee Film Board Member John Ridley’s new documentary Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, a 20th anniversary, 35mm screening of the classic film Love Jones, and two shorts programs titled Black Lens Shorts: Family Matters and Black Lens Shorts: Lost & Found.

Geraud Blanks, Black Lens co-programmer states, "Adding additional films, including two shorts programs, means a greater diversity of voices and perspectives. We have more women and mixed-race directors, writers, and producers than ever before, in-large part because of our ability to expand our programming this year. The added room also made honoring Love Jones and bringing Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 back to Milwaukee possible without eliminating deserving films from emerging filmmakers."

“The addition of a second shorts program is exciting, as it helps us to strengthen the mission of Black Lens,” states Donte McFadden, Black Lens co-programmer. “We want to make Black Lens a destination for African American filmmakers to screen their work. The shorts program allows for us to introduce many emerging filmmakers from across the country and allows Milwaukee residents the chance to see films that they wouldn’t see anywhere else.”
A Black Lens Kickoff Party, presented by Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, will take place at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee on Saturday, September 23. The event is free and open to the public. The Black Lens program is sponsored by Jammin’ 98.3.

The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival will take place at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Landmark Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, and Avalon Theater from September 28th - October 12th. Festival Passes and ticket 6-Packs are now on sale at mkefilm.org/tickets.

FILMS

72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?
(USA / 2017 / Director: Raafi Rivero)
Three short days separate 18-year-old Caesar from leaving Brooklyn for a prestigious upstate university. But between his long-time girlfriend calling it quits and his crew already planning for his imminent exit, Caesar finds himself pulled between the comfort of a world he's always known and the exciting promise of a bright future. A vibrant, textured work that powerfully captures the dizzying nuance of teen love and the thrum of a rapidly-changing borough, 72 Hours is an exacting portrait of what it means to be young, gifted and black.

ACORN and the Firestorm
(USA / 2017 / Directors: Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard)
It's a story whose reverberations will be felt across the political landscape for many years to come: ACORN, America's largest grass-roots community organization (teaching low- and medium-income families across the nation to advocate for themselves), shuttered by a pair of amateur journalists posing as a pimp and prostitute, igniting a media firestorm that helped spawn the Breitbart News empire. This real-life political thriller does much to explain our current divisive state, persuasively drawing a line from ACORN's bankruptcy to our polarized present and its constant cries of “fake news.”

Black Lens Shorts: Family Matters
An evening of shorts that tackle the notion of family in all of its complicated glory - whether it's protecting the ones you love, leaning on them for support, bringing each other together or tearing each other apart, these shorts (alternately funny, thrilling and sad - just like family itself!) have something for everyone!

Amelia’s Closet (USA / 2016 / Director: Halima Lucas)
Cul-De-Sac (USA / 2016 / Director: Damon Russell)
Gema (USA / 2016 / Director: Kendrick Prince)
The Homecoming (USA / 2016 / Director: Paulina Bugembe)
Night Shift (USA / 2017 / Director: Marshall Tyler)
New Neighbors (USA / 2017 / Director: E. G. Bailey)

Black Lens Shorts: Lost & Found
This second series of Black Lens shorts at this year's MFF showcase the infinite possibilities in the world of contemporary black filmmaking - watch these characters undergo a journey of discovery (in search of acceptance, love, recognition, and more) while covering a wide array of topics ranging from gun violence and love to classic folklore and the radical art of self-acceptance. A fascinating night at the movies.

90 Days (USA / 2016 / Directors: Jennia Fredrique Aponte, Nathan Hale Williams)
Dear Mr. Shakespeare (USA / 2016 / Director: Shola Amoo)
The Forever Tree (UK / 2017 / Director: Alrick Brown)
Hold On (USA / 2017 / Director: Christine Turner)
See You Yesterday (USA / 2017 / Director: Stefon Bristol)
#WhereIsBeauty (USA / 2016 / Director: Angela McCrae)
You Can Go (USA / 2016 / Director: Christine Turner)

Destined
(USA / 2016 / Director: Qasim Basir)
One unforgettable moment in a young man's childhood in Detroit creates two startlingly alternate paths: in one, he's Rasheed, an ambitious architect seeking to ascend the corporate ladder, while in the other he's Sheed, a drug kingpin who has remained on the streets of his childhood, seeking to exert his will over them. A gripping urban crime thriller with a unique approach to cinematic storytelling, Destined weaves between these two stories, each echoing and diverging from one another in mysterious ways, with both Rasheed and Sheed moving inexorably towards their ultimate fate.

(USA / 2017 / Director: John Ridley)
25 years later, the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent riots are still etched in our minds. Culminating a decade of struggle with a justice system unequipped to deal with issues of race and class, the riots seem both entirely preventable and utterly unavoidable. Director John Ridley (Jimi: All Is By My Side, MFF14; Milwaukee Film Board Member) avoids simple moralizing or tidy conclusions as he examines the lead-up to and events of that day, instead letting those who lived through the experience speak for themselves in this heartbreaking portrait whose power is only magnified on the big screen.

Like Cotton Twines
(USA / 2016 / Director: Leila Djansi)
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AKgApSQohI
American volunteer Micah sees his teaching job in Ghana as an opportunity to reconnect with his ancestral roots while also helping young Ghanaians reach their fullest potential. But when 14-year-old Tuigi, one of his brightest students, must abandon her studies in exchange for a life as a sex slave as recompense for her father's transgressions, Micah finds himself stuck in the middle of a culture clash, desperate to extricate Tuigi from the cycles of history and tradition that threaten to swallow her whole.

Love Jones
(USA / 1997 / Director: Theodore Witcher)
Nina (Nia Long) is not looking for love when she meets Darius (Larenz Tate) at a poetry slam. Despite the scorching chemistry that instantly ignites, both insist the relationship is purely physical and certainly not a case of the love jones. A witty, sexy portrait of young Black love and romance (set in a middle-class, bohemian milieu that Hollywood still struggles to showcase 20 years on) that is a generational classic, this film will receive a rare 35mm screening at the historic Oriental Theatre!

Over the course of 150 years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have paved the way for Black intellectuals, revolutionaries, and artists alike to pursue higher education and defy stereotypes among their peers in an unapologetically Black environment. Now the remarkable story of their role in African-American history is finally told. Fest alum Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, MFF15) returns with this captivating panorama of HBCUs from their conception to the modern day, a stirring portrait of perseverance in pursuit of knowledge.

Unrest
(USA / 2017 / Director: Jennifer Brea)
28-year-old Jennifer Brea is in the prime of her life as a PhD student and soon-to-be newlywed, when a sudden fever leaves her perpetually bedridden and desperate for answers. A host of unsatisfactory diagnoses lead her to discover an abandoned online community of those similarly afflicted (with what is commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). A medical mystery nestled in an intensely personal portrait of a husband and wife's healing journey, Unrest shines a light on a condition that confounds the medical community through its panoply of personal perspectives on suffering.
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About Milwaukee Film
Milwaukee Film is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to entertaining, educating, and engaging our community through cinematic experiences. This year’s 15-day film festival takes place September 28 - October 12. Discounted passes and ticket 6-Packs are available now at mkefilm.org/tickets. For more information, visit us online at mkefilm.org.

Facebook: facebook.com/MilwaukeeFilm | Twitter: @mkefilm | Instagram: @mkefilm

About the Milwaukee Film Board of Directors
Milwaukee Film’s independent board is made up of the following members: Chris Abele (Past President); John P. Bania; Donna Baumgartner; Karen Ellenbecker; Jeff Fitzsimmons; Alexander P. Fraser (President); Cecelia Gore; Bill Haberman (Past President); Carmen Haberman; Susan Haise; Katie Heil; Patti Keating Kahn; Michael G. Klein; Michael J. Koss Jr.; Tracey L. Klein (Immediate Past President); Kenneth C. Krei; Mary Ann LaBahn; Alexander Lasry; Steve Laughlin (Past President); Emilia Layden; Marianne Lubar; Sara Meaney; Steve Mech; Barry Poltermann; Bob Pothier; John Ridley; Joseph A. Rock; Ramona Rogers-Windsor; Lacey Sadoff; Dave Stamm; Julia Taylor; John Utz. Emeritus members: Tom Barrett, Jacqueline Strayer.

The Adventurers: Andy Lau Steals His Way Across Europe

Evidently, French prisons are so hot at rehabilitation either. To be fair, this Hong Kong jewel thief was primed for recidivism. He was caught stealing part of the priceless “Gaia” three-piece necklace set. To find the villain who betrayed him, he will need the other two pieces. He will also commit crimes against the English language, but his French copper nemesis sounds nearly as awkward in Stephen Fung’s breezy The Adventurers, which opens this Friday in New York.

Dan Zhang is an old school Thomas Crowne kind of jewel thief, who was planning on going straight after the big score that sent him up the river. With a few loyal accomplices and “Red” Ye, a hotshot new recruit, Zhang plans to take the other two pieces of Gaia. The first outstanding component-piece has been put up for charity auction in Paris by Tingting, a Chinese celebrity animal lover. Ironically, Red will whip up the animal rights protestors against her, over her alleged fur wardrobe, to cover-up the caper unfolding.

That will be the easy heist, even though it is in Bissette’s backyard. The hard one will be the third piece of Gaia, nestled in a vault within a castle outside Prague, owned by a nouveau riche Chinese oligarch. His security is state-of-tomorrow’s-art, but Zhang has Red. However, Bissette also has his own surprise ally, Amber Li, the art expert who authenticated the original fateful piece of Gaia, who happened to be engaged to Zhang at the time. Unaware of his true profession, she also felt slightly betrayed by the events that transpired.

Despite the fractured syntax, The Adventurers is cheerful throwback to old fashioned caper movies. Yes, there are all kinds of double- and triple-crosses going on, but it is still a genuinely low stress affair. It is all about exotic locales (Paris, Prague, Kiev), cat burglar stunts and gizmos, and a ridiculously attractive cast (Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, You Tianyi, and probably Tony Yo-ning Yang counts too), plus bonus character actors Jean Reno and Eric Tsang.

If you enjoy watching Raffles-like characters shimmying across ledges and illuminating motion sensor-lasers, then The Adventurers is your cup of General Foods International Coffee. As Zhang, Lau has his on-screen charm cranked up to eleven. Shu Qi enjoys playing against type as the mercenary femme fatale Red, but Zhang Jingchu might actually outshine everyone as the sensitive but cerebral Li. Of course, Reno and Tsang do their thing as Det. Bissette and Zhang’s “uncle” fence, King Kong.

The Adventurers probably will not make it onto very many awards ballots, but it will be fifty times more entertaining to re-watch than Crash, American Beauty, or Titanic. It is a fun, sparkly film that goes down easy and leaves you with a desire to visit Prague with Shu Qi or Andy Lau. Recommended as pleasant “Summer Friday” matinee, The Adventurers opens this Friday (8/18) in New York, at the Regal E-Walk.

DYING OF THE LIGHT (2014)


Everyone connected with this film has disavowed it except the producers who cut up Paul Schrader's film and released it on their own. I went in not sure what to think and very curious if it was the disaster Schrader and the cast made it out to be.

The plot has Nick Cage as CIA desk jockey who was once a field operative who was bruised and beaten a terrorist who captured him. Decades later he learns that the terrorist is not dead as he believed but very much alive. Cage then decides to go rogue and hunt his tormentor and kill him.

In its current form DYING OF THE LIGHT is an interesting misfire that makes you wonder what Schrader's cut would be like.  While nowhere near the disaster that some reviews made it out to be it is in fact a passable thriller.

My one wild card in the mix is how Cage's impending dementia would have played in the directors cut since here it seems as if it was added for no real reason, the film would have worked without it. I have additional questions about whether the film would have been much better owning to the fact that Schraders previous film, The Canyons was a mess (then again he didn't write that).

Monday, August 14, 2017

New Filipino Cinema ’17: Seklusyon

The training for these post-war Filipino priests is almost like a spiritual Fear Factor. For seven days, they will be sequestered in a remote villa to confront their inner and outer demons. The latter are very real to these novices. As if the sink-or-swim practice were not problematic enough, a young girl considered either a healer or a false prophet has been remanded to the manse for her protection. Unfortunately, nobody can protect the novices from the temptation and torment that follows in Erik Matti’s Seklusyon, which screens during the annual New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Arts Center.

Miguel is a deacon about to start the seven days of isolated contemplation that will proceed his ordination. He still feels guilty over something from his previous life, but he will not reveal it to his confessor. All four novices harbor secret sins that the evil agency in question will exploit.

Meanwhile, Padre Ricardo has been dispatched to investigate the young Anghela Sta. Ana, whom many revere as a living saint. Her healing powers sure look genuine, but something about her arouses the suspicions of the jaded war veteran. When Sta. Ana’s parents are violently murdered (odd that she couldn’t heal them, right?), the good Father will have to shift his focus to Sister Cecilia, her mysterious protector. In what seems like a spectacularly bad decision, regardless of what you might believe, the Bishop sends Sta. Ana and Sister Cecilia to the seclusion villa for safe keeping.  Needless to say, their presence is quite the distraction.

While it is initially unclear whether Sta. Ana is a savior or demon, the novices are still in for it either way, because this is a horror movie. Even though it is set in the post-war Philippines, Nathaniel Hawthorne could have sniffed out the sulfuric evil one right away. Indeed, this slow-burning tale of guilt and sin shares a distant kinship with his more sinister tales, particularly “Young Goodman Brown,” in which the infernal masquerades as the innocent.

Matti skillfully creates a mood of mounting dread and masterfully sets the ominous mise-en-scene. However, the atmospheric moodiness can be too much of a good thing, enveloping the cast like a fog. Although they are played by some highly recognizable Philippine actors, it is a bit of a challenge to keep all four novices straight. In contrast, Padre Ricardo and Sister Cecilia are highly compelling characters, thanks to their intriguing backstories and the rigorously disciplined performances of Neil Ryan Sese and Phoebe Walker. Likewise, young Rhed Bustamante is pretty incredible as Anghela Sta. Ana, or whoever she might be.

When Seklusyon really gets deep into the brimstone, its unsettling imagery recalls The Omen franchise and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels, which is high praise indeed. It is the sort of film whose ending makes everything that came before seem creepier in retrospect. Ultimately, it is quite refreshing to see a horror film that prioritizes symbolism over special effects. Recommended for fans of religious-themed supernatural horror, Seklusyon screens this Friday (8/18) and Thursday the 31st, as part of New Filipino Cinema 2017 at the YBCA.

Unseen Repost:BATTLEFIELD HEROES (2011)


Darkly comic look at war and it's stupidity. During the medieval period in Korea the Emperor sets in motion a war between states with a promise of additional land for the winner. Once the wheels are set in motion the film shifts gears and we are thrown into the trenches of the warring armies, most of whom have been forcibly conscripted and just want to go home. While the generals and a few crazies dream of glory, most of the men dream of just staying alive.

It's a funny film, but considering the state of the world, it's one where the laughs often catch in your throat. I've read reviews that have compared it to the work of Terry Gilliam, and on some level it's true. Mostly it's it's own dark little animal...and a very good one at that.

I'm not going to lie, I like the film, but at the same time it left me feeling rather uneasy and unsettled. It took me three tries to get through it (I have the import DVD), since the first time I was called away before I got very far, and the second time I had to pause because the film wasn't what I expected (a straight on comedy). Its a funny film but the under currents and the absolute displeasure toward anyone other than the low man is rightly bothersome.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nightcap 8/13/17 Old School Kung Fu Fest is this week, Catching up with Fast and Furious 8, Boss Baby, Alien Covenant, The Mummy and Going in Style and notes about whats coming

Subway Cinema's  Old School Kung Fu Fest is at the Metrograph Theater in Manhattan next weekend.  The seven film festival ill feature the work of Angela Mao who will be in attendance.

Sadly I will not be there with commitments every night. However that shouldn't stop you especiaclly if you haven't seen glassics like TOUCH OF ZEN, COME DRINK WITH ME, YOUNG AUNTIE or YES MADAME on the big screen.

For more information and tickets go here.
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Posting some short reviews of some stuff I never reviewed from theaters (I only started reviews) and from recent home video viewings

FAST AND THE FURIOUS 8 (FATE OF THE FURIOUS)
Charlize Theron is a super hacker who causes Vin Diesel to turn away from the rest of his crew to keep his heretofore unknown son safe. Great action and witty exchanges are lost in one of the most vapid plots imaginable. You'll know the end at the start and then have to fill the time playing "I'm so far ahead of this film Bingo". Its so bland as a complete film that its damn near unwatchable. (The pieces do kick ass)

BOSS BABY
Great looking animated cartoon with some funny bits is way too knowing and complicated to really work. I admired the artistry and wished that the film was better plotted

ALIEN COVENANT
If I could I would hit Ridley Scott with a baseball bat to stop him from ever messing around with the Alien franchise again. Messier follow up to the messy PROMETHEUS is a film that completely alters the Alien Mythos. It completely changes the focus of the films- its Michael Fassbender's android who has fashioned the aliens we all know and love (which makes no sense)... It's a move that echoes the Hammer horror films where the Peter Cushing was the monster. Unfortunately here its a move that unbalances the film and mis reads why all the other films worked better. Nominally the story of a ship of colonists who change the planet they were heading for  after a space accident puts it on their radar. Once they arrive at the planet they run into David the android from PROMETHEUS who sets about killing everyone so his little alien children can thrive. Full of dull characters, plot changes that make no sense and tons boring wanna be deep chatter the film never generates scares. While not technically bad the film commits the worst cinematic sin and is boring

THE MUMMY
Much maligned Tom Cruise film is not as bad as you've heard. While nowhere the best film of the year it's best viewed  as a breezy boys own adventure rather than horror film. It moves at a good clip. While never really scary (or logical) it is entertaining which manages to over come the fact that its way too jokey to really be anything great. I liked it.

GOING IN STYLE
Zach Braff's destruction of a classic 1970's film takes all the pathos (no one dies) and social commentary (crime has a cost) and chucks it out the window. The plot has three old guys (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin) decide that to get along they have to rob a bank. Sitcom misadventures occur. Indifferently acted and with a crappy script the film disappoints.

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We're in a lull between festivals right now so look for some odd posts of old films and some new releases. We'll be back to our regular insane festival coverage closer to September.

The reason that the coverage is going to be a tad lax is that right now I really don't have an interest in the films being thrown my way. Normally I'd be happy to take a shot and hopefully see a gem but of late the films while good have not been exciting. Of late the unexciting films are getting shorter and shorter pieces which has not made me happy..

Additionally I'm getting a lot of stuff for September- which I can't post now.

Stay with us because there is a lot of good stuff coming.

Warlock (1959)


The day before I saw WARLOCK I heard it described as one of the greatest American Westerns no one knows about. The piece described it as a film in desperate needing rediscovery. The Overlook Encyclopedia of Westerns calls it the second greatest western behind Johnny Guitar. That’s high praise- I’m not sure the film lives up to it- but it’s still a good film.

The film has the town of Warlock under siege by the cowboys from a nearby ranch. Because the owner is the big cheese his men feel they can do what they want. Since they are far off from the county center lawmen are scarce. In desperation the town hires Henry Fonda a legendary lawman at 4 times the going rate. Fonda comes to town promising change and with his friend Anthony Quinn in tow. Drifting between the two groups is Richard Widmark, a cowboy with a strong sense of right and wrong and a healthy dose of loyalty.

One of the grayest films you’ll ever see, this is a film that is very much like the Widmark character that drifts all over the place as it tries to work out who is good and who is bad. Everyone is both less and more than they seem. Everyone does and has done bad things as well as good things. You really can’t root against anyone because everyone is flawed. It makes for an interesting viewing experience especially since westerns tend to be either black or white. The only one who embraces the uncertainty is Widmark who is actually the center, moral and story wise, of the whole film. His drift from on the lawless side to the that of the law is the journey that the audience and the town takes.

Weeks after seeing the film I’m still pondering it. I still don’t know how I feel about it. I like it but beyond that I don’t know. No western I’ve ever seen is less (intentionally) clear cut. It’s something that I think has kept the film on the outs with western fans who very much want one thing or the other. The lack of a definite POV makes the film more realistic and forces you to really think about it. (Hell I’m writing it up to try and work it out.)

Of note is the relationship between Fonda and Quinn. While it is not openly gay, there is no mistaking that’s what it is. While both men have relationships with women, it is the relationship between the two that is most important. Even if they are not a couple, they are in fact one. I have to applaud the fact that it’s there and that no one really cares.

If you want a boundary breaking western WARLOCK is the film for you.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wild Rebels (1967)


Wild Rebels is a small hidden gem of a film. A super little drive-in style film that probably is better known now due to being included in multi-film bargain packs as opposed to generating buzz from its theatrical run in the late 1960’s. It’s one of those films that is definitely worth seeing if you run across it, especially if you can forgive it’s micro budget.

The plot of the film as well-known stock car racer hitting a bad patch. After a wreck that causes his car to burn up he sells all his racing gear and walks off. He meets a biker gang in bar who are fans and he goes off to party with them. The gang is a group of nihilistic thrill seekers who do everything for kicks. When the gang asks them to be their wheel man in a robbery he walks off. Stopped by the police he is questioned by the cops who ask him to rejoin the gang and report on their plans…

The film is a weird kind of proto version of Point Break with the thrill seeking crooks and a thrill seeking “cop”. While it’s not a an absolute mirror of the Patrick Swayze Keanu Reeves film or its recent remake, it’s close enough that everyone I was watching this with all commented at the similarities and pondering if this is where they stole the idea from.

What I like about the film is that there is a strong sense of characters. Yes they are clearly good guys and bad guys but there is a sense of something beyond the typical. You really feel that the bad guys could have been anything they wanted to be, but that the freedom and thrills of being bad guy bikers and thieves suited them best.

For me the only real problem is the cheapness. The lack of cash results in some awkward moments at times, largely in the racing sequences where you can tell it’s not a real race and where cars magically go from crashed wrecks to racing infernos in a split second.

Recommended for a drive-in night at the family cinema

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Taxi Driver: Korea, May 1980

To this day, the Gwangju Uprising remains controversial in Korea. Partisans on either side still claim either the North Koreans or U.S. military intervened, despite a lack of evidence either party got involved. Reportedly, the ROK Army suffered its greatest casualties when they opened fire on each other, which is never an advisable tactic. However, they had no trouble shooting at unarmed civilians when German reporter Jürgen Hinzpeter started secretly filming the Uprising. His footage shocked the world, but it was even more traumatic for the cabbie who witnessed it unfold live in Jang Hoon’s A Taxi Driver, which opens today in New York.

Like many Koreans, the mystery cabbie calling himself “Kim Man-seob” believed the demonstrations were just a few self-indulgent college students. Frankly, he does not pay much attention to rumor or the media, so has no idea what he is getting into when he intercepts a pre-arranged 100,000 won fare to take Hinzpeter from Seoul to Gwangju and back. Much to his surprise, the military has barricaded all roads into town. Once they slip in, Kim will also be even more taken aback by the city’s war footing. He just wants to get paid and return to Seoul, but when he delivers a secondary fare to the hospital, the death and suffering he sees there will finally rouse his political conscience and sense of outrage.

As it turns out, Gwangju cabbies were highly activist, because Hwang Tae-sul and his colleagues give their Seoul counterpart quite a dressing down. Regardless, the taxicab setting is quite convenient for facilitating plenty of car chases and stunt driving. However, it is still quite a faithfully rendered period production, most definitely including the cars and the clothes, but also probably the music too (but we will defer to the judgement of K-pop experts on that point).

You have to give Korean cinema credit for hospitality when they cast western actors in major roles. While Chinese films pretty much only employ Yank and Brit expats as cartoon villains (hello, Wolf Warrior franchise), Korean films offer some highly sympathetic portrayals of historical figures. In this case, Thomas Kretschmann’s Hinzpeter is a figure audiences will personally root for even more than Liam Neeson’s Douglas MacArthur in the rip-roaring Operation Chromite and he covers a wider emotional range.

Of course, Song Kang-ho was born to play slightly problematic everymen, like Kim. His steadfast denial and constant bickering with Hinzpeter wears a little thin after the first act, but he really lowers the boom in his scenes of disillusionment with the government and subsequent embrace of democratic idealism. The ever-reliable Yoo Hai-jin is also likably salty but down to earth as Hwang.

This is a case where articles make a world of difference. Sharing absolutely no kinship with Travis Bickle, A Taxi Driver is very much in the same inspiring inspired-by-real-life-events bag that also spawned the Song Kang-ho vehicle, The Attorney. However, ATD has more action and intrigue and just generally happens to be more movie-like. Despite his occasional score-settling, Jang Hoon’s execution is tight, tense, and ultimately downright Capra-esque.  Recommended for fans of underdog historical dramas, A Taxi Driver opens today (8/11) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Baby Steps (2015)

Barney Cheng's BABY STEPS is a sweet little film that finally comes to home video in the US after a long trek around the world

Danny and Tate  are a happy couple with everything they could possibly want except for a child. When they decide to look for a surrogate to carry their child Danny's mom decides to become involved in the process despite living thousands of miles away in Taipei.

Barney Cheng has made a very good little film dealing not only with issues of surrogacy for a gay couple he also deals with the how traditional Chinese parents deal a child who is gay. Grace Guei playing Danny's mom shows reveals a depth of character that is often lacking in similar roles in similar films. She wonderfully portrays the mix of emotions of  loving her son, confusion about what this all means and uncertainty about her son's boyfriend.  Its a tough juggling act and Guei pulls it off beautifully. Michael Adam Hamilton is also really good as Tate. He deftly shows the tricky line of loving his spouse and having a wave of uncertainty about their family who doesn't quite accept or understand them.

While not perfect, Cheng doesn't quite blend some of the humor and drama as he should with some of Danny's mom's behavior playing as awkward, the film still manages to be affecting and by the end of the film I was wiping a tear away from my eye.

Recommended.

BABY STEPS will be released in the U.S. and Canada via Gravitas Ventures on August 15th on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD and across digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Taking a second look at Mune (2014)

This is a re-review of MUNE which I originally saw back in 2015 and hated. Then at the end of last year GKids was kind enough to provide me a screener for the film at the same time they let me see MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI when I did an epic piece on all the animated Oscar nominees. Seeing it 18 months after the first time my view changed. I still have reservations but I would have no trouble saying take the family and go, I was asked to hold the review until the film hit theaters this year. Now the film is set to play Saturday as a Fathom Event I'm posting my new review. (For tickets fo here)

Sometimes you need to take a second look at a film to get a feel for it. When I saw MUNE back in 2015 at the New York International Children's Film Festival I thought it was one of the worst films of the year. I never intended on seeing it again...however GKids picked it up for release and it was on the Oscar list of animated films and suddenly I found that I was watching MUNE all over again...

First things first. I take back my claim that it is one of the worst films of the year. Seeing a second time I realize that the film is self isn't bad and I know why I really didn't like it the first time out of the chute.

The film is actually way better than I thought it was two years ago. Its is a visually impressive film that really is worth your time (provided you're aware of one problem see below). The film is getting a special one day screening on the 12th and I'm trying to work out how to take my niece to see it.

Set on a world where living temples literally walk across the world dragging the moon and sun across them the time has come to pick new guardians of the moon and sun. The choices are all but formalities- choices that have been compromised by a former guardian who was long ago corrupted and is now living in the fiery underworld plotting revenge. When the gentle forest creature named Mune is chosen as the guardian of the moon, carefully laid plans are shaken up and chaos results.

If you're an adult there is no doubt that we’ve been here before. The clash of good and evil and all of that has been done in any number of movies. While that might have been a bad thing in  most other cases it really doesn't matter because not only are the visuals are so incredibly strong  that they over whelm any reservations, but the film has sch neat details that you want to know ore. From the day people and the night people and the middle people who are made of wax this is just so incredibly cool. I love the little fire beasties and the giant creatures which drag the sun and moon across the world. The design and detail simply had my jaw hanging open.

There however one problem with the film.

When I originally saw MUNE I really didn’t like the film. I thought that it was because of the story being done to death, but upon seeing the film again this past December in order to do an Oscar piece I realized that what I hated about the film was that the English voice cast isn’t all that good. Yes they are serviceable but they are unremarkable and sound more often than not like they are doing schtick instead of playing characters. They are not on the same level as everything else in the film.What pushed me over the edge was one actor was doing a poor Patrick Warburton. To me it was a lazy choice especially where the rest of the film isn't lazy.

Seeing the film a second time I softened and I realized English voice cast side this is a really good film and worth seeing- especially if you can see it on a big screen- which you can do on Saturday when it plays in theaters across the country as a Fathom event.

Take your kids and go and see something that will stay in their heads forever. For tickets go here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Celebrate Diversity in Film! 7th Annual Winter Film Awards CALL FOR ENTRIES

 
WINTER FILM AWARDS showcases emerging filmmakers in all genres from around the world, with a special emphasis on highlighting the work of women and under-represented filmmakers. Unseen Films readers are invited to submit their latest work now via FilmFreeway and use discount code WFA18FFML to take 20% off our Early Bird Rates!  
We award over $100,000 in Cash, Prizes and Distribution Opportunities! 
Animated - Horror - Music Video - Documentary Drama - Comedy - Shorts - Features - Web Series - Experimental
 
We are seeking works completed since January 2015 of all genres, forms and lengths.
Early Bird Deadline ... September 5, Regular Deadline ... October 17, Late Deadline ... November 15.

Our 7th Annual celebration of independent film will run February 22 - March 3, 2018. Filmmakers from around the world will travel to New York City to attend the Festival's ten days of amazing film screenings, fascinating discussion panels and fun industry networking after-parties. The whole thing will come to a glittering conclusion with our famous Gala Red Carpet and Awards Ceremony to be held on March 3, 2018.

The rapidly growing Festival - voted one of the Top 10 Best Reviewed Festivals on FilmFreeway - seeks a diverse collection of creative indie films from NYC and worldwide in all genres. Outstanding work will be awarded for each category, along with Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, Best Original Score, Best Student Film and the NY Perspectives Award for best depiction of the New York multi-cultural experience.

WINTER FILM AWARDS IS NEW YORK CITY. Like the city itself, we showcase the eclectic diversity and excitement of the independent arts world. We are an all volunteer, minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Visit WinterFilmAwards.com for more information!
 

Questions about the Festival, judging process or what we are looking for? Check out our FAQ
#WFA2018 #CelebrateDiversity

Winter Film Awards | Where Extraordinary Filmmakers are Recognized
31 West 34th Street, New York NY 10001
info@winterfilmawards.com
www.WinterFilmAwards.com