Thursday, February 22, 2024

SUBJECT: FILMMAKING (Filmstunde 23) (2024) Berlin 2024


In 1968 in Munich, Edgar Reitz, soon to be the director of the film epic Heimat went to a girls high school and taught a class in film aesthetics. 55 years later he is approached by one of his students.  The decide to have a class reunion.

Made up of the documentary that was made about the class, the films made by the girls and footage of the reunion, this is glorious documentary exploring what film is and how it can change people's lives.

This is a great film. While I suspect that some non-hardcore film fans might have a problem with it, I think most people who love or like film and have any sort of interest in it beyond just vegetating in front of a screen are going to fall in love with it. I say this because  what the film does is it explores films and filmmaking. Over the course of it's run time it explains how films made and how knowing that changes how you view films. Watching the film I had numerous "ah ha" moments as things I had been thinking about, especially in today's world where over analyzing films is cottage industry on line and You Tube.

This maybe better for a film student then several years at a film school. Seriously outside of the technical bits about making a film, anything you are going to learn about anything else is going to be here. It's so good that I wish I had seen this rather than many of the film classes I took in college.

And don't think the film is in anyway dry, it isn't. This is a film about people and how they react to film. We learn to love the ladies and their younger selves. We also get to love Reitz, who proves himself to be the best teacher of film I've ever run across.

I came out of the film smiling and with a new appreciation for something I have spent much of my life exploring. This is one of the best films on film I have ever seen.

Highly recommended 

They Shot The Piano Player (2023)


An animated documentary with an injection of  narrative THEY SHOT THE PIANO PLAYER is nominally the  story of Francisco Tenorio Jr., a Jazz pianist it is also the story of the Bossa Nova the politics of military take overs. Structured to follow the fictional magazine writer Jeff Harris (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) as he works on a book on the Bossa Nova before switching to the story of Tenorio Jr. who disappeared one night while running to get sandwiches, never to be heard from again. 

This is a good documentary from directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal who made the Oscar nominated CHICO AND RITA. It is vibrant and alive. Full of eye popping colors and endless music. It's a trip into another time and place, as well as warning about the dangerous of a repressive government.

To be honest as much as I like the film I find I think of it more as a narrative than a doc. It's not that it's animated, rather I think it's simply that the narrative structure over whelms the central mystery. Yes the film is telling a real life tale, but everything around it overwhelms the tale. The fiction of Harris' journey becomes the story not Tenorio. Additionally the story of the history of the Bossa Nova also pulls us, making us want to know more about that as well. I suspect had I known more about the music I wouldn't have felt to need more about it.

Reservations aside I really liked this film and want the soundtrack.

Recommended.

CALEB & SARAH (2024)


Matthew Kyle Levine has  quietly become one of the best directors working today. His previous films such as MISS FREELANCE and DADDY’S WALLET show him to be a master of creating life on a cinema screen. He is a director that needs to be given a larger canvas to work with,

His current film is the short CALEB & SARAH. It’s the story of a young couple who decide to live out of their car. Some times they sleep in the car, some times in a motel.  It’s a quiet slice of life  that made me pause since I wasn’t certain if the film was a documentary or a narrative.  It’s a film that wonderfully puts you into the place the characters are. We can feel the places they are and get a sense of the world they live in.

CALEB & SARAH is a film that shows how Levine has grown as a filmmaker. When you compare it to his earlier films you see how much more assured he is. There isn’t a need to control the characters in every second, not that he ever did, because Levine is truly an actor’s director, but this time there is a bit more to what we are seeing. Before everything served the story, here everything serves the character and instead of characters we get people on the screen.

And because of the nature of the story and because of the nature of the characters I realized while the film was nearing it’s end that some one needs to let Levine direct a feature. I wanted more time with these characters and in this world. I wanted to see more. That Levine has made a film that makes us want to lean in so we can see more is the sign of a great director.

Until he is allowed to direct a feature shorts like Caleb & Sarah will have to do.

Recommended.

Fear City: New York vs The Mafia (2020)


I have no idea why this is called FEAR CITY. There really isn't anything fearful in it. Yea  it goes back to the bad old days in NYC, but that wasn't the Mafia's fault. But I digress

This is a look at the efforts to bring the mafia down in  New York. It follows the various police organizations that ultimately worked together to bring the mob down.

This is a very good look at how the mob was broken. Focusing on more than the end tht came with the fall of John Gotti, this series shows you what it was like as the fed started to really make efforts to take down the mob. 

Filled with great film and wonderful talking heads the series hooked me on a night when I was just trying to decompress for an hour or so and had me watching until the end. 

Recommended.

Io Capitano (2023) opens tomorrow


If IO CAPITANO  was in English and by from an American studio it would be up for Best Picture instead of just the Best International Feature at the Oscars.  It is an emotional roller coaster telling the story of a young man who leaves Senegal who leaves his family to go to Europe to find work to help make things better back home.

This is a hell of a ride. It's a film that earns every smile, laugh and tear. 

What makes the film work is the great cast. Because I knew no one in the cast (it's all non-professionals-though you'd never know it) I didn't have to fight getting over a well know face and could accept what happens completely at face value. This was true life harrowing adventure that held me tight in it's grip. I wasn't going anywhere and just sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it all came out.

What I like is that director Matteo Garrone keeps the fantastic flourishes he sometimes uses to a bare minimum. He rightly understood the human drama didn't need anything to make it work, just for the story to be told with respect.

This is simply great storytelling.

Highly recommended, this is a must see, especially if you can see it on a big screen where the visuals will overpower you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Three by Ryota Nakano- ASADAS, A LONG GOODBYE and HER LOVE BOILS BATH WATER

Here is brief thoughts on three films from Ryota Nakano that are playing at New York Japan Society this weekend. All of the films are worth seeing and will require tissues. Tickets and more information can be found here


HER LOVE BOILS BATH WATER February 23
A mother finds out she has terminal cancer. Knowing time is short she decides to fix her family and let them know it will be okay after she passes.

Considered Nakano's best film it it is one hell of a film. A bittersweet look at life and family it is impossible not to be moved by the film. It's so good that I can't believe that the film has never screened in New York.  This was one of the films I wanted to see at the Family Portrait series and I was delighted to finally see it.

You really need to see this film since it's going to get into your heart.


A LONG GOODBYE February 24
Nominally the story of two sisters who return home to take care of their father who has dementia. However there is much more to the story  focusing on the old man's grandson who is rocked by events. 

This is a wonderful film that doesn't do what you expect.  While a little bit uneven, the mix of English and Japanese isn't perfect, the film still packs a punch.


THE ASADAS February 24
Portrait of photographer Masahi Asada, who used his skills as a photographer in order to help people in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

Nakano's latest film is a very good film. To be honest my feelings toward the film are the result of seeing the film as the third in a triple feature. Because the film is different than the films above, I found I liked it a little bit less. The fact that the film is an attempt to heal wounds left by the earthquake necessitated the film being focused differently.

My quibble aside this is a wonderful film.

KISS THE FUTURE (2023) plays AMC theaters starting 2/23


I'm kind of sad that many of my fellow writers refused to see KISS THE FUTURE because they saw it as a U2 film. They didn't want to see a film about the rock group. The problem is that while U2 are part of the story, they are only a part of it, and so they missed a wonderful film.

To be fair I went into the film because it was the only one screening at the time that I hadn't seen.  The plan was that I would watch 15 or 20 minutes of this U2 movie and then jump to the next thing. Instead I ended up staying to the end and trying to find tissues in my bag.

The film is the story of Siege of Sarajevo. Its what happened when Yugoslavia broke up and the Bosnian leaders decided to use lies in order to wipe out the Muslim minorities that they had been living with peacefully for decades. As the war came the people of Sarajevo dug in and tried to survive. Like the present situation in Ukraine they turned to music and art to get by. Through circumstances U2 heard about how their music was helping them get by and promised to come play...and then they came up with the idea of making the war part of their Zoo TV tour.

Its a hell of a tale that you just need to see. There is a hope in the tale that will make you feel good. It's also a tale with incredible parallels to the war in Ukraine, which the film makes clear in the end. 

I was moved to tears several times. 

Forget that this a U2 film, forget that Matt Damon produced, just realize that this is great story wonderfully told that may help you get back you faith in humanity.

Highly recommended

Si Pudiera Quedarme (If I Could Stay) (2024) Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Si Pudiera Quedarme / If I Could Stay_Trailer from Theo Rigby on Vimeo.

This is a portrait of two undocumented Latinx mothers, Jeanette Vizguerra and Ingrid Encalada Latorre as they try to avoid being deported from the country they now call home by taking  refuge in local churches.

Before covid there was a lot of publicity about undocumented migrants taking refuge in churches. There were several documentaries made and then things went quiet. With Si Pudiera Quedarme (If I Could Stay) premiering, the notion of taking refuge in a church is brought back into the spotlight.

This is a very good look at  what taking refuge means. As it is pointed out by choosing to take refuge you are essentially locking yourself up just as you would be if the authorities were to pick you up.  It shows us what the women do during the day and how they are forced to interact with the family that is still outside in the world.

I was moved.

This is an excellent look at what some people who belong in America have to do to remain here.

Recommended

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

And today Unseen Films turns 14

Today unseen films turns 14.

It's been a wild ride. Thank you for coming along

I'm going back to bed so no reviews today

Monday, February 19, 2024

RAÍZ THROUGH ROCKS AND CLOUDS (2024) Berlin 2024

 

RAÍZ  THROUGH   ROCKS AND CLOUDS is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It is not just the images themselves but the craft that went into creating them. The framing and arrangement of people and objects within the frame is awe inspiring in the truest sense of the word. I was floored simply looking at people standing and talking. Flat out this is one of the greatest films ever made simply from a technical point of view.

And from a regular stand point it’s great too.

Don’t let the fact that this film is the story of a Feliciano an 8 year old boy in the Andes who shepherds lalpacas make you think that this isn’t going to make you smile and think. The tale of a young boy coming of age as a mining company comes to town looking to take over is going to move you. It will move you in all sorts of ways. While some of it will anger you, much of it will delight you as you watch Feliciano and his alpaca be a kid and his pet and get excited about a game which will determine if the team from Peru goes to the World Cup.

This film is pure magic. It is a wonderful celebration of humanity and life.

When the film ended I sat there dumbstruck. Granted the film has just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, but how is there no buzz around it. How is it that no one has seen it? Of course this is a bad mistake on my part since it assumes that people psychically know about films that haven’t played anywhere yet.

I freaking loved this film. I loved the images. I loved the characters. I loved that the film made me feel things with genuine emotion. I loved that every laugh smile and tear is earned.

 RAÍZ  THROUGH   ROCKS AND CLOUDS is why I cover film festivals. NAY- THIS IS WHY I LOVE THE MOVIES

You must see this-and you must see it on the big screen where the images will fill you with delight.

Highly recommended

Good Guy With a Gun (2022) hits- digital February 20


After his father is killed trying to stop a robbery, a young man and his mother move to the country. Falling in with some guys who like to shoot guns, both mother and son find their relationship strained. However things begin to take a darker turn and its not certain they will survive.

This is a really good drama/thriller. The reason the film works is that we are introduced to a number of atypical characters. Say what you will most of the people are not the sort of people we typically see in films and as a result the film is so much closer to real life. The small moments, outside of the main plot lines, carry atypical weight.

The film is being billed as a look at guns in our society from the stand point that things are not as cut and dry as the media would have us believe. I think the film succeeds in what it trying to do, this is a good drama that makes it clear that guns unto themselves are not bad. The problem is always the people handling them.  At a time when everyone is blaming guns for shootings, GOOD GUY WITH A GUN makes it clear that we need to really examine the issue beyond viewing it as a black or white matter.

On top of the message, and more importantly, this is a really good drama/thriller. Its not something we've seen a million times before.

Definitely worth a look.

Apple TV (pre-order link https://tv.apple.com/us/movie/good-guy-with-a-gun/umc.cmc.h7o17jwqq5hruybl061ltp3h)

AT&T U-Verse

DirecTV

Dish Network and Sling TV

iN DEMAND 

Vubiquity 

Hoopla - libraries

AmazonVudu

Xbox

Google Play

YouTube Movies

The DVD will be available via Amazon.com, Bestbuy.com, Walmart.com, and Barnesandnoble.com by the end of February.

About Dry Grasses (2023) opens Friday


A big favorite at this past New York Film Festival ABOUT DRY GRASSES tells the story of a school teacher in a small village in the Anatolia region of Turkey. As he prepares to finish up his fourth year at the school complications arise.

This is a really good film. I had wanted to see it at NYFF but the run time of three and a half hours made it difficult because of how it ran across other films. I was also wary because I was afraid of getting locked into a really long film at the festival where it might be difficult to bolt.

I should not have worried. This film is a compelling film. Watching the film for my year end catch up I figured that if I didn't like it I could just move on to something else.  However from the first frame to the last I was held captive by the film. I was completely engaged with the people up on the screen. I was carried away.  To be honest I really don't know if the film needed to be 217 minutes, I started to waiver a bit after two hours, but at the same time I wasn't going anywhere because I wanted to see where it was headed.

If you want a great drama and have the time, I highly recommend ABOUT DRY GRASSES.


REAS (2024) Berlin 2024


This is a one of a kind film that you'll want to see.  

The film is the story of Yoseli who goes to prison and finds some people there with whom she forms a music group.

This is a film that is recreation of the stories of the people who are appearing in the film. Everyone in the film was in prison and helped put the film together as a result it is something truly unique.

When I started REAS I didn't know what to make of it. It didn't seem like anything special. It seemed a bit odd...and then as the film went on and things happened, and we met more people I found myself falling more and more in love with the film. There was something wonderful about all the people that made me lean in. I  wanted to spend more time with them and so I backed up the film and watched it a second time. 

I'm not going to lie and say the film is perfect. It's a bit uneven here and there and I like some of the songs better than others. But the unevenness gives it the sense of life. The film feels like it is what it is a work made with love and care.

This film is a gem. It's the sort of off the beaten path film that Unseen Films was started to highlight.

If you want something off Hollywood this film is for you. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Brief thoughts on MY SUMMER WITH IRENE (2024) Berlin 2024


In 1997 two young girls recovering from cancer skip out on a retreat and decide to spend the summer together on an island near Sicily.

This is coming of age film  is a good look at two young woman trying to figure out the world and themselves. It's a nice low key tale about trying to figure out the future when you can't be certain that you are going to have one. 

I really liked this film a great deal. While the basic plot is one we have seen before the combination unforced turns and two characters that are not your typical screen heroines makes this something special. 

This definitely worth your time.

Society of Snow (2023)


J.A.Bayona retells the story of the crash of the plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team in 1972. Its a harrowing tale of survival where the survivors were forced to eat the dead.

This is the third narrative version of the tale. The original version was the infamous SURVIVE which dealt with the sensational aspects of the the story. Twenty years on came ALIVE which was less sensational, but just okay. This time out we have the best version of the story. This telling makes the story both reverent and suspenseful. Watching the film what happens doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion.

I have to applaud the effects team. The the effect sequences are stunning and I can't believe that the film isn't in the running for the Oscars Visual Effects award.

At the same time while I think this is a super film, I'm kind of scratching my head about the Oscar nomination for best International Feature.. Yes the crash and the other things are nerve jangling, and they are what stay with you,  however, a number of the other films that were in the running are better. 

By reservations aside. This film is a killer thriller and worth a look.

The Visitor (2024) Berlin 2024


A naked migrant appears on the shore of the Thames in suitcase and then ends up in the home of an upper middle class family where he seduces all the members and causes havoc.

Stick a finger your eye film desperately wants to provoke a reaction, though it's derivative plotting and construction is likely to cause frustration and walk outs.  Personally I hope never to have to see the film again.

The problem with the film is it so desperately wants to show it's naughty bits both literally and figuratively (the migrant pisses in to the family's soup, there is graphic sex, and some other things) it loses track of what it wants to say. My reading of the film is that it is both an anti-immigrant screed, with multiple versions of the migrant appearing all over England doing god know what; as well as a take down of society. The problem is its as clear as mud as to what the film is really about and by the time we have the levitating figure and the up out of the wheelchair moment you've long stopped caring.

That the film doesn't work is entirely due to the filmmakers' choices.Aping bits from other, better films such as the Oscar Winning PARASITE (in addition to plot borrows the outside of the house resembles the house in that film), this is a film that is stealing ideas and sections from other better film. I mean pick any of the mini genre films where the intruder from somewhere else comes in and seduces everyone in a household and you essentially have the plot but with more unpleasant flourishes. 

Nay, not unpleasant, unnecessary. The "shocking bits" that are here serve no purpose other than garner the attention of people who want to see shocking things but are too afraid to surf the internet. (No one wants to have certain search terms in their browsing history). The (less than) shocking bits don't need to be seen but could have been implied and gotten the same reaction.

The film feels like it wants to be a mix of early John Waters and Albert Serra but falls flat. The thing is if Waters had made this it would have been fun. As for Serra, a director I dislike, I would happily see his next film rather than see this again because if nothing else you know what Serra's trying to get across.

I honestly don't know what the point of all of this was. Even allowing that so much of this film has been stolen from other films, the messages are so mixed up that I never saw a point. I can forgive pretty much anything if there is a sense that the film has point (or a real story), THE VISITOR has none of that, just a sense it wants to make me "offended"  because it can't do anything else.

(And apologies for not really discussing the politics or idea in the film but frankly, while I could guess at what is trying to be said here, it's partly not worth the effort, and mostly the film is so absent of original ideas that I am not going to waste my time filling the void the director should have filled.)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Young Hearts (2024) Berlin 2024


YOUNG HEARTS is going to become a classic. It is a sweet and loving film about two 14 year old boys who fall in love and the complications brings. It’s a film that had me screaming “WILL YOU JUST KISS HIM” at the end.

I don’t know what to say, except I was bowled over by this film. Because the film is playing at the Berlin Film Festival I expected a heavy film with serious overtones instead of a straight forward film about confusion about a boy’s first love that just happens to be with another boy.  I wasn’t expecting a film that matter of factly dealt with the confusion that someone has, not only with someone of your own gender, but also with love in general. It’s a film that I could relate to even though I’m a straight guy.

And that is what makes this film so special, it’s not slanted entirely toward being a gay story. This is a film about being a person and having friends and family and how a first love resets your table. It’s not a film about orientation but falling for someone you really like. It’s one of the very few times where a film like this where the film isn’t slanted to be gay, but rather simply focused on the character  as a person. What I love is that the film never feels like it’s trying to make a point or be anything other than be a romance where we could lose ourselves in it – hence my yelling at the scream to kiss him and applauding when it happened.

Beautifully done both behind the camera and in front of it, this is a film that is just glorious. It is one of the best romances that I’ve seen in the last decade.

I absolutely loved this film a great deal.

Highly recommended.

The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness (2021)


This is a look at the Son of Sam case and the man who refused to let it die, Maury Terry. Terry realized that the story that the New York City Police was telling about David Berkowitz. Many of the facts that they were telling didn't line up. When Berkowitz pled guilty the case was closed. the trouble is it shouldn't have been.

I bought Terry's book THE ULTIMATE EVIL when it cam out. I followed Terry's appearances across TV and the papers. I was fascinated by the story. The story Terry was telling was chilling since it was clear that something other than what the official story had happened.

This is a great look at the case and at Terry.  While the case was the case, it's clear that Terry was a big part of it and we get to see how he fought for justice. We also get to see the terrible cost as Terry's personal life imploded, his health failed and he went a little crazy. As much as this is the story of a true crime, it's also the story of how one good man was destroyed by the darkness. It's kind of heartbreaking.

 I  really liked this film a great deal. I liked that it was more than just the story of the murder but was also an expose of obsession. (And I love that there is a coda to the tale that makes you sit up and go HELLO)

Definitely worth a look.

Thoughts on Editorial Office (2024) Berlin 2024


The story begins when a naturalist looking to study a rare groundhog. On the way to where they live he witnesses men setting fire to the forest. He photographs the culprit but when he takes the pictures to the local newspaper he finds that no one is interested. As he pushes the point he finds that as the country slides toward war society is breaking down and more interested in fake news. 

Don't let the description of the early part of the film mislead you, there is a hell of a lot more going on. I went into the film expecting one thing only to find that it was a bigger story. This is a film that is juggling a lot of balls thematically making it one of the richest and most thoughtful films of the year. I fell into the film and I fell hard.

The film looks great, and it was the images that made me fall in love with it. Watching the opening sequence I found myself getting more and more hooked. By the time the final image of the arson sequence happened I was talking out loud to the screen. I am haunted by that image.

From there the film hunkers down and heads off on a quest to explore the place of a good man in broken world.  Is there a place for them? And what happens in the real world when they try to step up. Its a trip that doesn't go as we expect and as a such opens our mind up to unexpected possibilities. I was given a lot to think about.

This is a hell of a film and a hell of a ride. You really should see this when it plays near you.

Recommended.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Searching for Augusta Savage is on American Masters Shorts


Searching for Augusta Savage is  a short film fro PBS’ American Mastersseries. It’s a look at Augusta Savage, the woman responsible for the most popular piece of art at the 1939 World’s Fair, a piece inspired by Lift Every Voice and Sing (see above). Unfortunately that piece was destroyed and 70 of 160 pieces of Savage’s work has been lost to time.  

This excellent look at the woman and her art, also ponders why institutions tend not to collect art from women and why African Americans are also not as well represented.

The film is currently streaming and be viewed by watching it below