Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tangier Assignment (1955)

Legendary stuntman Bob Simmons occasionally took acting jobs. In the TANGIER ASSIGNMENT he takes a lead playing Peter Valentine, an American agent looking for smuggler and killer.

Shot on location as an English financed Spanish production this is a really odd film. The entire cast seems to be dubbed. It looks and feels like the Orson Welles films of the mid-1950's. Simmons leaps around like the heroes in some of the early poverty row like he was  Richard Talmadge in  the 1930's. The whole film seems like it was made in some other time on some other planet. That's not a bad thing rather more a statement that the film has it's own feel.

The plot of the film is nothing particularly special.  It's a story of a type we've seen before. at the same time it can be entertaining even if it is leisurely paced. To be certain the action sequences make this worth seeing, which is enough if you should run a cross it on a rain afternoon.

IMDB lists the film as running  82 minutes but I can't find any reference to the film curently running that long with all prints seeming to be 62.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Adventures of the Flying Cadets (1943)

Group of young men at a private flying school are angling toward a career in the army as fliers (Its during WW2). Into the mix comes the Black Hangman a Nazi agent who is killing industrialists and looking for the map to Ankaban a lost city in Africa.

Moving from the airfield to the jungle this is a neat little movie that sucks you in and carries you along. Clearly Universal actually cared about this serial, something not always evident in some of their wartime chapter plays.

To be certain it doesn't stand out as as one of the great serials of all time, it is however compulsively watchable as I found out when I put this on to watch a chapter or two and found myself five or six chapters in with out a thought. I really liked it. Plot wise I'm not sure if its a good thing that we know who the Black Hangman is in the second chapter (or first if you recognize the voice), I would have thought they could have used the masked villain to grater effect, but at the same time it is interesting that his Nazi masters clearly hold him in contempt and are planning on using him to their own ends.One doesn't usually get this many layers of good and bad guys.

Definitely worth a look

Friday, June 22, 2018

One of 2017's best films, KURO is playing on MUBI June 26

KURO  is one of the best films most of you have never seen. It is a film that rocked the cadre of film writers who saw it when it played Slamdance last year and everyone has been dying waiting for it to show up so we could see it again. Well the film is set to play MUBI on June 26 (go here to screen it) and you must see it.

Trust me this film has haunted everyone who has ever seen it and it is still spoken about with reverence. What follows is my review from Slamdance, but it doesn't do the film justice, this is one film you just have to see.

When I was watching KURO a couple of weeks back I didn't know what to make of it at first. The film is nominally a story being told by a caregiver to her lover while we see her day to day existence. It would seem to be straightforward except that things don't line up since the voice telling the story is never specifically spelled out to be the woman in the visuals while what we are seeing is not necessarily what is happening in the story - the result is a dark tale that once experienced is damn near impossible to shake.

KURO is a perfect example of why one should not read press notes or material on the film. The press notes will specifically tell you that the people in the film are the protagonists of the story, but if you watch the film blind as I did you quickly discover that isn't the case. There are inferences in the press material which may or may not be in the film. I mention this because I was never quite certain of what was what and who was who and it all became a grand glorious game to piece the film out.

The one thing that was in the press notes that is absolutely true is that directors Joji Koyama,and Tujiko Noriko (who stars as the woman) have made a film that breaks down any notions you have of narrative. The pair wanted to make a film that explores how we fashion stories in order to give meaning and order to our lives and we they have done just that. KURO with it's dual narrative structure forces you to seriously consider how you understand the world and everything in it. Because things are not clear in the film we genuinely have to piece things together which is what makes the film so incredibly powerful - which is why I don't like that there are possible pointers in the press notes.

The effect of seeing KURO is like having a whale slowly swallow you .What seems to be a happy tale slowly becomes darker and darker. While there is no doubt that it could be read as Romi revealing her mental space that is selling the film much too short. There is great deal going on in the story and in the images that make it one of the most oppressive films I've seen in a long time. Its a film that begins in a lovely garden and ends in a wasteland. When the film was done my first reaction was simply to ask- "what the hell was that?" Now several weeks later I'm (happily) still trying to work that out. The fact that this review is devoid of details is because I'm still trying to work out what I want to say and how I feel about the film.

What I do want to say, and what I feel I have to say is that KURO is one of the most effecting and affecting films I've seen in a long time. Its a film that sneaks up on you and clubs you from behind. Its a film that is not like anything you've seen, not wholly, not like this. Its as brilliant a film as you are likely to see. It is a film that is must see for anyone who loves great films- especially ones that chart new territory.

I have nothing else I can say other than KURO is the first great film I've seen in 2017.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Manila Death Squad (2018)

Dean C Marcial has to get a feature film. If he wants to remake and expand his killer short Manila Death Squad that is fine. Equally fine is a new project. Marcial's talent doesn’t bleed off the screen so much as leap off it into our laps. I know it’s only based on one film but holy shit this guy is the real deal.(And to hell with the PR material's quote about homage to Tarantino, Marcial is way more talented and doesn't appear to be lifting from anywhere except his own mind unlike Tarantino)

As for his film- wow. Or more to the point WOW. This 12 minute punch in the face is beautifully acted, eye poppingly shot and wittily written. It tells the story of a reporter trying to get an interview with a death squad leader and it is just one of the coolest things you’ll see all year. From first frame to last it holds your attention and plays your emotions- all of them. And it all feels right.

I love this film a great deal. I love it so much so that I started emailing and tweeting about it as soon as it was done.

If you have any sort of love of film you must see it because Manila Death Squad it the door kick entry of a great talent on the world cinema stage.

The film is staff pick on Vimeo on June 24th so there will be no reason not to see it

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

41st Asian American International Film Festival Announces Centerpiece and Closing Night Films

NEW YORK, JUNE 20, 2018 – The 41st Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF41), presented by Asian CineVision, has announced that the festival will screen Cathy Yan’s Sundance breakout DEAD PIGS and the intimate profile LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY as its Centerpiece selections. The festival will close with ULAM: MAIN DISH, a delicious film documenting the rise of Filipino cuisine across the United States. AAIFF41 will take place July 25 – August 5 in New York City.  

Recently tapped by Warner Bros. to helm its upcoming Harley Quinn-centric movie, Cathy Yan is one of the most exciting voices rising within the industry. In DEAD PIGS, her thoughtful exploration of modern China is marked with a distinctive blend of vibrant flair and dark humor. Weaving together the stories of everyday people met with an unbelievable situation, the tale of a country experiencing and struggling with significant cultural shifts comes to the fore.

A national icon, Chien-Ming Wang thrilled the people of Taiwan with his back-to-back 19-win seasons as part of the New York Yankees before an injury derailed his career. LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY, directed by Frank W Chen, follows Wang as he attempts a major league comeback. In building a close portrait of an athlete whose personal highs and lows often informed the collective experience of an entire nation, the film illustrates the profound impact of a beloved athlete and the tenacity that fuels his difficult climb back to the top.

To learn about the unique characteristics and history of a cuisine is to gain further understanding of a culture and its identity. Directed by Alexandra Cuerdo and featuring interviews with several chefs and restaurateurs leading the Filipino food movement, ULAM: MAIN DISH examines the politics and challenges faced in establishing Filipino cuisine’s place on the American dining table. Fundamental to this story about food is one of immigration and community, which have long defined the Asian American experience.

With cultural touch points as varied as food, baseball, and a peculiar incident involving dead pigs, these selections represent only a small taste of the eclectic lineup that the Asian American International Film Festival strives to present each year to its audience. By telling rich stories with meticulous attention and craft, these films showcase how diverse the Asian and Asian American experience is and how imperative it is for the myriad of voices to have their chance to be heard and represented. The full lineup for AAIFF41 will be unveiled on June 26, 2018.  

Details on the Centerpiece and Closing Night screenings are as follows:

Centerpieces

DEAD PIGS
Q&A with Director Cathy Yan after the screening

Date: Saturday, July 28, 2018
Time: 7:00PM
Venue: Village East Cinema

LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY
Q&A with Chien-Ming Wang after the screening

Date: Sunday, July 29, 2018
Time: 6:00PM
Venue: Village East Cinema

Closing Night

ULAM: MAIN DISH
Q&A with Director Alexandra Cuerdo and Producer Rey Cuerdo after the screening

Date: Saturday, August 4, 2018
Time: 7:00PM
Venue: Asia Society
Tickets are currently on pre-sale for Opening Night, Centerpiece, and Closing Night at aaiff.org/2018.The 41st Asian American International Film Festival will run July 25 – August 5 with full lineup for sale on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.
About the Asian American International Film Festival
The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), presented by Asian CineVision, is the first and longest running festival in the country devoted to films by and about Asians and Asian Americans.

About Asian CineVision
Asian CineVision (ACV) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit media arts organization devoted to the development, exhibition, promotion, and preservation of Asian and Asian American film and video.
Thank You

The 41st Asian American International Film Festival is made possible by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Nielsen, SAG-AFTRA, Cadillac House, and the Friends of ACV. Incubated at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP.

Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema Announces Film Lineup for 2nd Annual Event August 3rd to 12th, 2018


Ari Gold’s “The Song of Sway Lake” starring Rory Culkin to Open Festival
Friday, Aug. 3rd at UA Midway Stadium 9

KGFC’s Pre-fest Kickoff A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S FEAST:
A Celebration of Food, Art and Cinema, July 31st at Queens Museum


New York, NY, June 20, 2018 - Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema announced today its film lineup of 110 films and the news that Regal Entertainment Group has signed on to become the lead sponsor for the 2nd annual 10-day event in Queens. While the festival organizers are saddened to leave the Kew Gardens Cinemas in Kew Gardens, they are very excited for what this means for the future of the film festival. For it’s sophomore year, Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema will be moving into its new home at Regal Entertainment Group’s UA Midway Stadium 9 in Forest Hills, Queens. From August 3rd to August 11th guests can enjoy films exhibited by state of the art projection and sound equipment in the comfort of Midway’s recliner seats. The Opening Night Film at the Midway will be the New York Premiere of Ari Gold’s award-winning and critically acclaimed “The Song of Sway Lake” starring Rory Culkin on Friday, Aug. 3rd at 6:30pm. On Sunday, August 12th, the festival’s Awards Dinner Gala returns to Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

With less than two months to go before the opening night of the 2018 Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, the organizers continue to be hard at work promising major changes that will make the festival an even bigger and better experience for everyone. Other newly acquired sponsors for this year’s event include The NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, SAG-AFTRA, Variety 411, Moviemaker Magazine and Final Draft.

To kick-off the sophomore edition, Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema has partnered with Queens Museum to bring A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S FEAST: A Celebration of Food, Art and Cinema. This spectacular one-night event, taking place inside the Queens Museum on Tuesday, July 31st from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., will feature over 30 food vendors from Queens and other parts of NYC. For a small admission fee of $15, guests will have the opportunity to purchase small dishes from their favorite vendors, along with specialty cocktails, ranging in price from $5 to $10. Attendees are invited to peruse the Museum’s galleries, as well as the world famous Panorama, take photos on the red carpet and network with attending filmmakers. Inside the Museum’s theater, guests can check out select trailers from movies participating in the festival. Advanced tickets to the film festival, along with festival merchandise, will be available for purchase during the event. To order tickets to A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S FEAST, visit eventbrite at:  https://bit.ly/2Mm6k28

What does this mean for Kew Gardens? While the films will now be screening at a different location, the festival itself will be taking place largely in Kew Gardens. Festival attendees and filmmakers will need to make their way over to Kew Gardens to revel in the After Parties, Drunken Trivia Night, Karaoke Night and other networking events that are planned throughout the week. The festival office headquarters and filmmaker lounge will still be located in Maple Grove and Ateaz Café in Kew Gardens, respectively. Festival organizers promise to endorse the community of Kew Gardens by strongly encouraging festival attendees to make their way to the neighborhood and patronize their businesses, which are offering discounts to ticket and badge holders.

Attendees will once again be able to visit the Queens Museum, and take advantage of the free programming being offered there. New this year, attendees at the Museum can check out a free day of web series, special presentations by invited filmmakers, and a SAG-AFTRA workshop covering the contracts available for independent films.  On Thursday, August 9th, the Queens Museum will be presenting a festival selected film, as part of their Passport Thursdays Outdoor Screening series.

On Saturday August 12th, The Center At Maple Grove will play host to two panels – The Jury’s Out: Meet the 2018 Festival Jurors, and A Change Overdue: Diversity in Cinema, a discussion on diversity in independent film featuring invited filmmakers from the Festival. Friday August 10th, UA Midway Stadium 9 will play host to the Festival’s Midnight Madness Grindhouse Horror Night.

Tickets to Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema are priced at $15 for regular daily screenings. Opening, Closing and Mid-week premieres are priced at $25 and include entry into the open bar after parties, following those screenings.

For tickets and more information on the Festival, visit:
Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema proudly announces the following 110 films (out of over 350 submissions) from 23 countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Italy, South Africa, Turkey and more in its 2018 lineup in the categories of Narrative Features, Documentaries, Short Films, Animation, Experimental & Music Video and Web Series.

NARRATIVE FEATURES:

Accidental Detective 2: In Action/Inaction

As of a few years ago, it was technically illegal to work as a private detective, tattoo artist, or chiropractor in South Korea, but people did so anyway, because where would film noir be without those three professions? A cop and a civilian who recently helped him solve a case are convinced the law will soon change, so they have started their own agency to get in on the ground floor. That first case will take its sweet time walking in their door, but when it does, it also brings some serious danger with it in Lee Eon-hee’s Accidental Detective 2: In Action, which opens this Friday in Jersey.

Kang Dae-man has gone from one Peter Pan career to another, selling his comic book store to open the detective agency with No Tae-soo, but he hasn’t told his wife yet. Similarly, No has not told his partner he is hedging his bets, taking a leave of absence from the force, rather than fully resigning. It will all come out during the stress of their first case: the murder of Kim Jae-min, not that the cops believe it was anything but an accident.

Coincidentally, Kim is one of several orphans who has recently died under mysterious circumstances, but there is one thing that sets him apart. He has a pregnant wife, who very definitely misses him. It is also weird how the well-heeled orphanage continues to take an active interest in their former charges well into proper adulthood. It will take real evidence to convince the new captain at No’s old precinct, so they recruit quirky Grasshopper to Piers Morgan a suspect’s phone. Henceforth, he will become their goofball mascot.

There is no question Grasshopper’s shtick can be painful to watch, but by and large, AD2 is a genial action-mystery-comedy. Frankly, the stakes are unusually high for the genre, but Lee still maintains a mostly lighthearted vibe. She and co-screenwriter Jung Han-jin even poke good-natured fun at crime movie conventions, as when our intrepid detectives first meet the head bad guy. Kang tellingly notes, if this were a movie, he would be the villain, which he is, because it is a movie.

Sung Dong-il is a good sport, looking all craggy and sour, even while he gets sucked into the chaos around him. Kwon Sang-woo is loud and clumsy playing Kang, but he still manages to be all business in a few key moments. Lee Kwang-soo’s Grasshopper just doesn’t translate well, but Kim Dong-wook steals several scenes as the maybe-not-quite-so-by-the-book Captain Kwon Chul-in.

AD2 has one very good chase sequence and a decent action climax, which is definitely not nothing. It is not even a pale shadow of The Villainess, but many non-Koreans would probably enjoy its breeziness if they had an opportunity to see it. Think of it as a pleasant-tasting light beer, but not an Amstel, when Accidental Detective 2: In Action opens this Friday (6/22), at the Edgewater Multiplex in New Jersey.

The God Inside My Ear (2018) Threadbare Mitten Film Fest - June 22-24 in Charlotte, Michigan

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 plays this weekend at the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival. For more information and tickets go here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Charm City (2018) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018


With all the films about the troubles in Baltimore the last thing you’d think we need is another film about them. On the other hand when you have a film like CHARM CITY you suddenly realize that most of the other films are the ones that aren’t needed.

Focusing on one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city the film follows several community activists, a couple of police officers and a city councilman from the area, and all, except one police officer are African American.

There is so much to say abou the film I’m not sure where to start. Perhaps with the glorious sense of place. Rarely in any documentary, have I had the sense of actually being in the place as I did in CHARM CITY. We really are there and we really get a sense of it and the film’s subjects and everyone around them. This is due entirely to director Marilyn Ness who clearly spent a great deal of time with her subjects and in the area. Its clear from watching how events transpire that she was there for the long haul. That may not sound like much but there have been several recent films where the directors really wren’t around their subjects much. But in CHARM CITY Ness seems to be there and capturing it all with the result that the film gets under your skin and moves you

I love that there are no easy answers given other than creating a sense of community to change the mind space. I love how the point is made clear that we need strong people and great leaders because when activist Mr C ends up in the hospital things devolve into bloodshed. People matter.

You’ll forgive the lack of discussion beyond that but there is so much here that I will require a second and third viewing to truly do the film justice. This is a glorious film. Highly recommended.

For tickets and more information go here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Catcher Was a Spy opens Friday

According to Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, Werner Heisenberg’s commitment to Germany’s atomic bomb program was an ambiguous uncertainty that bedeviled the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr years after the war ended. An American OSS agent had to make that determination based on a few hours observation and a brief conversation. He was not a physicist, he was a professional baseball player. Nicholas Dawidoff’s bestselling chronicle of Morris “Moe” Berg’s WWII service is now dramatized in Ben Lewin’s The Catcher was a Spy, which screens during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Berg was a member of the Boston Red Sox, but please do not hold that against him. He was a dependable but not spectacular journeyman player, who held roster spots on several teams. He spoke several languages, including German and Italian, and regularly read foreign policy journals. As a result, he had the foresight to film Tokyo harbor during a 1934 exhibition tour, well before Pearl Harbor. Once the war started, Berg’s talents and his 16mm film attracted the attention of “Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS, the CIA’s predecessor agency.

Eager for field work, Berg gets his chance when Donovan orders him to prevent the retreating Germans from abducting or killing Italian scientist Edoardo Amaldi, with the help of Dutch physicist Samuel Goudsmit and Major Robert Furman, the Manhattan Project’s intelligence chief (who would later oversee construction of the Pentagon). However, their Italian mission will lead to a trickier assignment in Zurich. Berg is to meet with Heisenberg, assess the status of the German Atomic program, determine whether Heisenberg is trying to advance or hinder its progress, and if the former proves true, kill him.

Without question, Berg is one of the great, under-heralded figures of World War II history. Arguably, he is the sort of renaissance man you just do not find anymore. He was also a “confirmed bachelor,” which led to plenty of speculation that Robert Rodat’s screenplay continues to stoke. Be that as it may, the film also nicely captures the intriguing milieu of the Donovan-era OSS.

Paul Rudd is does some of his best work bringing out the personal contradictions of the deeply patriotic and borderline-savant-like Berg. He also develops some ambiguously potent chemistry with Sienna Miller in the otherwise under-written role of Berg’s lover, Estella Huni. Catcher is also packed with colorful and convincing supporting turns, including Paul Giamatti as the humanistic Goudsmit, Mark Strong as the evasive Heisenberg, and the great Tom Wilkinson as Paul Scherrer, the Swiss anti-Nazi physicist, who brokered the meeting between Berg and Heisenberg.


It is just tremendously refreshing to see a film that celebrates American intelligence operatives as heroes. It also thinks quite highly of scientists and soldiers. It is a fascinating true story and a well-crafted period production. Very highly recommended for fans of historical intrigue (like Bridge of Spies)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Naila and the Uprising (2017) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018

This excellent portrait of Naila Ayesh, and her role in the first Intifada is filmmaking at the highest level.

The film recounts Naila's life from a child when she became politically active because of her living in Gaza, through her marriage (to a man her parents were afraid would end up in jail) to her organizing of resistance and her role in the the first uprising which changed how the world saw the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

A beautiful marriage of talking heads, news footage and animated recreation the film does everything that a great documentary should. We are introduced to some amazing people and we watch how their lives unfolded and changed the world. It is an amazing story that grips us from the first instant and carries us to the last.

What can I say about the film that will make you understand how good the film is? Perhaps simply I can't wait to not only see the film again but add it to my collection. This is a film that you will want to revisit not only because it's a hell of a tale but also because it is good time with good people.

I apologize if this review isn't deep discussions and explanations of what I think of the events depicted. You don't need my thoughts when the film speaks for itself. All you need do is simply buy a ticket and take the ride.

NAILA AND THE UP RISING is another truly great film. It was on my best films of 2017 list It plays this Wednesday in New York  at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Distant Barking of Dogs (2018) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018

THE DISTANT OF BARKING DOGS may very well be one of the most haunting films of the year. It certainly is one of the best films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. It probably is also one of the best films about children and war I've seen

This is a portrait of  Oleg, who lives in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. This means he isn't far from where the Russian backed troops are fighting the Ukrainian forces for control of the country.  Not only is his world filled with the sound of dogs but also gun fire and explosions in the distance. At night he can see the rockets and fire in the distance. Still he is a kid and along with his best friend he putters through this day, going to school and getting into trouble-- which in this case could be deadly.

I am in awe of this film. A beautiful shot look at childhood and not so distant war this is a film where the images burn into your brain. Beginning with dash cam footage of a mortar attack we are instantly thrown into the war. The film then cuts to the country where we meet Oleg and the war. The juxtaposition allows the war to remain distant but still always present. It colors everything we see.

Controlling all out emotions is young Oleg. This quiet young boy is the sort of fellow that we all can identify with. He is wonderfully still a kid, though one that has to wrestle with what the war really means. The incident with the gun makes it clear he doesn't fully understand the danger. He possess one of the greatest faces ever to be on the screen. Think of him as the real life counterpart to Aleksey Kravchenko in the shattering COME AND SEE or Christian Bale in EMPIRE OF THE SON. If you want to see how right they got their roles, watch Oleg.

This film left me not so much moved but changed. I don't know what or how or why I only know that coming out on the other side of the film I felt different. How I see the world and war shifted. This is a film that not only opened my eyes but altered how I see the world.

And that I think is all one needs to know about the film- it will change something inside you.

GO see it.

THE DISTANT OF BARKING OF DOGS plays the New York leg of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival June 18 and 19. For tickets and more information go here.

Brief thoughts on It Will Be Chaos (2018) which plays on HBO Monday night

A look at the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean via a survivor of a horrible boating accident that left hundreds dead off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy and a family that fled Syria into Turkey.

How you react to this film will be determined by how many films on the refugee problem you have encountered recently. If you haven't seen many then the film is going to be a punch in the gut and a poke in the eye. Reducing the story down to two affected stories will potentially move you to tears since you will get a sense of just how bad things are.

On the other hand if you are some one who has been taking in a steady diet of films on the subject then this is going to be less effective, not because the film is bad but because you've seen similar stories before. If you've seen films such as FIRE AT SEA, SKY AND GROUND, SEA SORROW, 4.1 MILES and others, then you know the territory you're operating in.

For me the strongest part of the film is the details of the Lampedusa tragedy. The sheer scale of what happened touched me. I took copious notes,  which aren't going to get used because the rest of the film left me unable to say anything new.

I should point out that this doesn't mean the film is bad, more that there is a good chance you may feel you've been here before.

IT WILL BE CHAOS screens Monday on HBO and again on Wednesday the 20th.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Brothers of the Wind (2018)

BROTHERS OF THE WIND is a nice little family film about growing and learning to let go. The film is set in the wilderness of Europe. A boy named Lukas is mourning the death of his mother and retreating from the world. His father is uncertain how to connect. When Lukas finds an eagle chick he begins to raise it with the help of Danzer (Jean Reno) a hunter who acts as a watchman for the forest.

Beautiful scenery mixes with some striking shots of the eagles being eagles make this a visually impressive film. I have not seen nature photography this gorgeous outside of some of the top shelf documentaries that the BBC and Disney have been producing. That shots as amazing like these would be in a documentary makes sense because you shoot and then assemble, but the thought that we have such amazing images and they tell a fictional story is truly amazing. I desperately want to sit down with the director and have him tell me how the film was shot and assembled.

This is a solid little film. This is the sort of film they really don’t make any more. It’s the sort of “true life” wilderness adventure that used to play frequently in the 1970’s (VANISHING WILDERNESS anyone?). It is exactly the sort of film that I ate up when I was a little kid and which I ate up in my current position as an big kid in adult’s clothing.

If this is playing near you then grab the kids and go see this gem of a film on a big screen (this is an absolute must big). If not pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch with it

BROTHERS OF THE WIND hits theaters and VOD on June 19th

DWF ’18: Gatha (short)

The despoilment of the nation of Tibet is not merely an environmental tragedy. It also holds religious implications, due to the sacred status of the nation’s many natural wonders. Mount Kangrinboqê is a perfect example. The Himalayan peak is a frequent pilgrimage destination for believers of the Buddhist, Bon, Hindu, and Jain faiths. Two brothers will embark on the arduous trek in director-choreographer-screenwriter Tang Chenglong’s visually arresting and symbolically resonant short film, Gatha, which screens today as part of the Spotlight: China! sidebar at this year’s Dances With Films.

As the two brothers slowly prostrate themselves towards Kangrinboqê, we can see the grubby modern world started to intrude on Tibet’s pristine mountains and valleys. However, from a pilgrim’s perspective, the landscape is still wild and unforgiving. They will traverse deserts, forests, and mountain ranges on their pilgrimage. Along the way, they also express the ecstatic joy of their faith through dance. Yet, there will also be sorrow, because that is very much a part of the cycle of life.

Geng Zibo and Chen Shifei dance with the striking strength and physicality, but their grace is just as evident. They are well-served by Tang’s dynamic choreography, which incorporates elements of martial arts and hip hop, but also expresses delight and wonder. Somehow, it evokes ancient mysticism, while still looking really cool and sleekly modern. Geng and Chen perform in natural settings that would dwarf most performers, but they still command the stage. Nevertheless, the staggering power of the Tibetan locales cannot and will not be denied.

Gatha is essentially an allegory, but it is deeply moving. It is also a sensory feast and a superb technical package, with special credit clearly due to “executive director” A Luo, who is also credited with the aerial photography and some of the camera work. This is one of the most ambitious and rewarding dance films in years, but it also serves as a timely reminder of what is at risk in occupied Tibet. Very highly recommended, Gatha screens this afternoon, as part of the Spotlight: Kids from China short film program, during the 2018 Dances With Films.

DWF ’18: Hometown on the Cloud

It is time for Meet the Parents, Naxi style. Luo Li is finally going home to meet her fiancé Mu Shu’s parents in Lijang, deep within Yunnan province. Unfortunately, they are still rather attached to his ex, A Mei, who also happens to be his betrothed, according to Naxi custom. It is awkward for her, but Mu Shu’s sister Mu Yu helps take some of the heat off her when she brings home a foreigner fiancée. Cultures and family members clash in Zhang Chunhe & Wang Lei’s Hometown on the Cloud, which screens tonight as part of the Spotlight: China! sidebar at this year’s Dances With Films.

Luo Li is a student of Naxi culture. That is how she met Mu Shu. In recent years, he has made his fame and fortune in Beijing as a modern sculptor, incorporating traditional Naxi elements into his work. His parents really ought to be more open to her, but they are emotionally attached to A Mei. Working as the village school teacher, she has coached the village children to several victories in traditional folk singing tournaments. Basically, she is Heidi, without the goat.

Alas, Mu Shu’s parents and just about everyone else in the village bitterly resents Mu Shu for breaking off with A Mei. To make amends, he agrees to go through the ancient decoupling ritual, even though that would seem to make her embarrassment even more public. Not that Mu Yu’s fiancé would know. As a foreigner, he will have to make himself scarce, to prevent tainting the ceremony.

Zhang & Wang capture the staggering beauty of Lijang as well as the distinctive colors and rhythms of Naxi culture, but there narrative hits some weird notes (starting with the implied notion the best way to honor Naxi culture is by commoditizing it). Nevertheless, it offers an intriguing window into an under-represented ethnic minority.

Our resilient Luo Li has real star potential and veteran character actor Zhao Xiaoming is suitably craggy and crabby as Mu’s father. Frankly, the cast is quite professional and polished despite the film’s obvious independent status—even produced outside the [embattled but experienced] Beijing indie network.

Hometown looks terrific and it is generally well-meaning. It has been a struggle for many minority cultures to survive in China, especially during the Cultural Revolutionary, so it is nice to see Zhang & Wang helping to preserve it on film. At times, Zhang’s screenplay drifts into melodramatic terrain, but he and his co-helmer maintain a brisk pace. Recommended as cinematic tourism (with an attractive cast), Hometown on the Cloud screens today (6/15), as part of the 2018 Dances With Films.

Psychonautics: A Comic’s Exploration Of Psychedelics (2018) Dances With Films 2018

Director Brian Bellinkoff charts comedian Shane Mauss’ experiment to try every psychedelic drug currently known. We watch Mauss trip while we listen to discussion with Mauss, his friends and experts about the uses of the drugs.

At its most basic level Psychonautics is a really good film. It is a great explanation of the drugs, what you experience while on them as well, and the positive side of their use. It’s a beautifully crafted film that lays out what we need to know without the sturm and drang of the anti-drug advocates. This is a film that is the very sort of “shaman” that people who wish to indulge should have contact with because it gives us information we may need to know.

On the other hand the film has some bumps that take the shine off the whole affair.

The first problem is Mauss himself. How you react to him will determine how you react to the film. A low key sort of guy you have to either go with his dry sense of humor or it can be a tough ride. I really didn’t click with him and as much as I was not quite invested in his journey as I should have been. He is also clearly on a great deal of the time so there really isn’t as sense of Mauss as person beyond the one on for the cameras.

The same goes with the Greek Chorus of his friends who fill in details and add color commentary to Mauss’ experiences. Because they know him and were with him during some of his trips we get to hear about things from an objective standpoint but somewhere along the way there is too much with them. For a film that is trying to bridge the gap between anecdotal and scientific the friends keep things weighted toward the anecdotal.

The other problem, or the elephant in the room, is the fact that as the film begins Mauss is just coming out of the psyche ward after a psychotic break as the result of the drugs. While the film deals with the break, the film begins with it and is discussed at the end, the fact that it happened at all leaves an odd taste in one’s mouth.(more so when someone states that it probably would not have happened if he wasn’t taking drugs)

Despite all my reservations I do like the film a great deal. I want to see it again, which lately isn’t something I can say about most films, even one’s I like.

The film plays tonight at Dances With Films and is recommended for those interested in the subject

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If you see THE AVOCADO (EL AGUACATE) (2018)at Dances with Films 2018 leave after seven minutes (Spoilers)

This review contains spoilers. I say this up front because the PR people are insisting that no one reveal the ending of the film. Normally I will play but the PR people's rules but the filmmakers have pissed me off with the ending and I don't feel bound by the rules.

This is the the story of two older people who work cleaning offices. There is an attraction between them and the possibility of something more.

I'm not going to lie, romance that takes up about seven minutes of this ten minute film is one of the best romances I have encountered. It is a wonderful . It is a beautifully acted romance that warms your heart and makes you feel good. It is, or was one of my favorite films of the year.

And then, as the gentleman is waiting to go out and meet his lady love there is a knock on the door. It's ICE. He is in the US illegally so they take him off to be deported. Meanwhile the lady waits in vein for her suitor. The end.

What the f@#^?

Oh hell no.

You can't just pitch a carefully crafted romance after two thirds of the film for something else with no explanation. Not only will it piss of your audience (and trust me I am pissed off)  and make them think that you don't know what you are doing. My overwhelming thought (beyond a steady stream of profanity) was if you wanted to deal with illegal immigration you really should mention it before you make it a plot point.

If there was a basis for the left turn I could have accepted it, but there is nothing. Just ICE coming and hauling him off for no damn reason dramatically. Was it because of the poll takers he refused to talk to? No idea.  There is simply no reason that I can think of other than to have a shocking ending.

To be honest there is a rule of Raymond Chandler's which says that you can ask the audience to believe one unexplained and unsupported thing, but I don't think he was ever talking about a seismic shift in a story. Everything can't hinge on the left field play, especially in a short film, the tale will never recover from the shock.

Frankly at this point I don't want to know anything why the filmmakers did it. It doesn't matter. No matter what reason they give the film will still be wrecked because the structure of the film can't support the turn. It most certainly would work in a longer film where we got ore information but in a ten minute film it doesn't.

Is this supposed to be a proof of concept film? If so the filmmakers have cut off their nose to spite their face. While the turn may be their intention for a longer film, seeing it in the short makes it look like they have no idea what they are doing. It looks like they are taking the notion that there must be something dramatic in the third act to be taken seriously just because. If I were an investor I wouldn't touch a longer version the film as written because the ending left such a bad taste in my mouth.(Or I would but I would insist on no ICE)

Ultimately while I would like to say burn this film to the ground, I can't. I can't because the opening seven minutes are so good that I can't hate the film as much as I want to.

Easily one of the most disappointing and infuriating films ever made. To that end my advice if you are seeing this at Dances With Films or any film festival is leave after seven minutes so you won't be disappointed.

The Best People (2017) Dances With Films 2018

Anna is living with her younger sister after a recent breakdown following the death of her mom. She is doing okay living on the couch however after her sister announces she is going to get married she goes into a tizzy. Teaming up with Art, the Best Man the pair hopes to break the happy couple up because they are certain it will only end in tears.

Buoyed by some really good performances THE BEST PEOPLE is a film that over comes a few bumps to win your heart.

To be honest I was shocked by how much I liked this film. I say that because the opening monologue where Anna babbles to a bartender while funny had the feeling that it was written ore than lived. Watching it I had the feeling that this was going to be one of those inde films that is much more clever than enjoyable. It was a feeling that was kind of re-enforced when we bounced through the calendar as the happy couple got to being engaged. It was all good stuff but the humor was by the numbers. However once the cuteness was pushed aside and the film allowed for some coloring, and some very serious talk, THE BEST PEOPLE sprung to life.

For e the best part of the film isn't the humor but the drama. The talk about trying to fix our problems, or feeling lost and having to save ourselves kicked serious ass. Anna's discussion with her dad about her mom's problems resonated with me big time. The sequence in the AA meeting where she unspools after that was also deeply moving. Frankly the serious side of the film is so damn good that I really wish they hadn't gone for laughs.

A small little gem and very recomended.

THE BEST PEOPLE closes out this year's Dances With Films Sunday night. For more details and ticks go here

Human Rights Watch 2018 Short Takes: WOMEN OF VENEZUELAN CHAOS, SILENCE OF OTHERS and A THOUSAND GIRLS LIKE ME

WOMEN OF VENEZUELAN CHAOS
Low key look at the lives of five women who are contemplating their future in Venezuela where the economic crisis has resulted in staggering inflation, food and medicine shortages and increasing levels of dangerous violence. Do they stay or do they go?

Low key film is focused entirely on the women and not the world outside. Director Margarita Cadenas turns her camera on the women and lets them talk with the result we come to understand the madness of the country on a human level.

Worth a look when it plays June 15 and 16.

SILENCE OF OTHERS
After the death of dictator Francisco Franco the Spanish government pass a law saying that the past terrors of the Franco years were to be forgotten. There would be no prosecutions or memorials just a false forgetting of what happened. Now forty years on those who didn't live through the terror have have no idea what happened. However some people can't forget and thy are taking steps call for an accounting and find out what happened to missing loved ones.

Solid look at at how it is never too late to ask for justice. We get sucked in as victims try to get the government to address the past by filing human rights lawsuits in countries outside of Spain. I sat riveted for the 90+ minutes as the story unfolded and things slowly moved forward.

Definitely worth a look when it plays June 19 and 20.

A THOUSAND GIRLS LIKE ME
A portrait of Khatera who was the first woman to attempt prosecution under a 2009 Afghani law that seeks to prevent sexual abuse of women. In this case Khatera wants to prosecute her father whose repeated abuse has left her pregnant.

This film give a real on the ground look at what is happening in Afghanistan. Its a film that lays out the cost on human terms not only of the abuse but also of the countries refusal to change it's ways. Its both chilling and sad. It will move you to tears and pisss you off.

The film plays June 19 and 20.

For ticket and more information on these or other films at the festival go here.