Friday, November 17, 2017

Animal (2005)

This is the story of a man nick named Animal. Baddest of the bad, Animal was the head of a crew in ghetto neighborhood he lived in. One day he's arrested and sent to jail leaving behind a wife and child. While in jail for years he continues his violent ways, at the same time his son takes after his old man and becomes known as "Little Animal". With the help of a fellow prisoner Animal changes his way and is eventually paroled. Back at home he now must struggle with carving a out a new life while trying to figure out out how to save his son from ending up like him, or worse.

I stumbled upon this film by accident and I'm glad I did. Animal is a brutal, heartfelt look at life in the "hood", how nothing ever changes, and what it takes to change things. Its a well told story that has some of the best performances of the year in any film. Every one in this movie is excellent from Ving Rhames on down. The acting alone is reason enough to see this film, however there is a very real story being told. It will move you and break your heart.

Forgive me I finished the film not long ago and I still feel the effects of this wonderful movie.Its left me with a loss of words. I think all I can really say is see this film and be moved too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Revolt: Aliens Invade Kenya

Many terrorism and infrastructure experts worry about the potential damage an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack could wreak on our power grid. However, an EMP could be the best hope for humanity in the dark days following the alien invasion. Despite his scrambled brains, a U.S. Special Forces amnesiac intends to be part of the last stand in Joe Miale’s Revolt, which opens tomorrow in New York.

The last thing he remembers was fighting the metallic spider-like aliens—poorly. Coming to in a provincial jail cell, the mystery soldier is now a sitting duck for unsavory local and galactic elements alike. However, the French NGO doctor in the cell next to his is probably in an even worse position. Nadia is pretty cynical for an aide worker, but she is somewhat impressed when he escapes from a smalltime warlord’s gang and returns to rescue her. Henceforth, Nadia will call him “Bo,” based on the two remaining letters stitched on his uniform.

Bo and Nadia decide to team up and head towards a series of radio telescopes a hundred miles or so from the current battle zone. They seem to be the only man-made structures in Kenya that have not been damaged by the aliens, so Bo hopes they can rendezvous with the American military there. It is not a great plan, but it is better than standing around waiting to be killed or abducted.

Revolt is not exactly the most original or spectacular science fiction film to land in theaters, but it is sturdily effective. There is no question the key to the film’s success is the chemistry and charisma of the co-leads, Lee Pace and Bérénice Marlohe. Pace, the Halt and Catch Fire actor (who was excellent in City Center’s production of Terrence McNally’s The Golden Age) makes a credible and compelling action figure, while Marlohe has successfully transitioned from Bond Girl-victim (in Skyfall) to a take-no-prisoners sf butt-kicker, here in Revolt and Kill Switch before it. Frankly, they are only cast-members who get character development arcs to speak of, but they handle them rather dexterously, between all the running and shooting and crashing.

Revolt is definitely red meat science fiction for meatheads, but the plain truth is we would like to see a sequel with both these principle characters. Nobody will confuse it for Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it works on its own terms—quite nicely. Recommended for fans of action-driven alien invasion movies, Revolt opens this Friday (11/17) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

Spiral (2017) DOC NYC 2017

A look at the rise of anti-semitism in Europe and France in particular. We follow an attorney who battle anti semitism, a family in Israel, another in France preparing to leave, a comedian who got into trouble making jokes, and a few others. Stitched together with anti-Jewish comments and videos the film hopes to give one a sense of what is going on across Europe.

Heartfelt and honest in it's intentions SPIRAL never truly catches fire. While the subject is vital and important, the presentation is too low key as to spark action or interest.  I know there is a problem and I know that the world must be aware but at the same time we need more than people talking quietly in rooms or gorgeous landscapes to get the point across.

To be honest I'm not entirely sure what director Laura Fairrie is going for with some of sequences where little happens.Scenes of people sitting around talking, walking in court house halls or standing in the landscape, while beautiful and allow a  moment of reflection don't really add much. If they are to be bridges between moments there are too many of them.  Somewhere about  the half way point I found my interest waning.

An important subject given an okay presentation.

Sweet Virginia (2017)

Sweet Virginia is one of the seeming increasing number of neo-noir films that are flooding the market. That’s both a pleasure and curse for the film which is a bit predictable but as comfortable as a favorite t-shirt

The plot of the film has a small town rocked by murder burglary. The police are of course baffled as are the residents in the town including the local motel owner and the widow of the deceased. As Sam deals with the aftershocks he begins to slowly put the pieces together…

Make no mistake we’ve been here before. From the infidelities, hidden secrets and strange visitors we’ve been here any number of times since the early days of movies. The plot is so familiar that if you love noir you’d be checking off details and rounding up suspects before the revelations of the film. The overly familiar nature of the plot makes this a film that is good but would have been so much better had we not been ahead of everyone on screen.

On the other hand the film is done well enough that despite reservations when I saw the film at Tribeca the film remained in my mind enough that six months later I was ready to try it again. Seeing it again away from the crush of the festival I found that the film played better. While far from perfect it’s an enjoyable film, the sort of thing you’d pick up again and again when it hits cable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tormenting the Hen (2017)

To be honest I don't know what I think of TORMENTING THE HEN. It is a film where volumes are unsaid and what is said isn't always what is meant. It is a film where the structure as unclear as the motivations of the characters. Clearly director Theodore Collatos is striving for something but I'm not sure if he achieves whatever it is he is aiming at. On the other hand it has great moments and the themes it's striving to explore are often nicely handled.

Playwright Claire leaves New York City for the Berkshires  where her new play is being produced. Traveling with Monica, her fiance, the couple is hoping to have a working vacation. However circumstances seem to conspire against them as the actors in Claire's play don't want to perform it as written and Monica is made very uncomfortable by Mutty, the son of people who own the house they are staying in. He is large and menacing and clearly has some mental issues. As outside forces put a strain on the women and their relationship begins to fracture.

More a study of a relationship than narrative the film is looking to explore the spaces between characters. What fills the silences and the things unsaid? Do we really know the people around us or do we simply know the idea of them that we have inside our own heads? What at do we mean when we say or do something and is that how other people see our actions? Director Collatos is aiming to explore some heavy questions and he has some interesting things to say about how we see and communicate with each other. It's on it's most basic level that the film works best. Unfortunately it isn't always on view.

While seeming conventional in construction it's clear from the opening credits that we aren't in "Kansas" but somewhere else. Quick clips of violence and sexual imagery intermingle with more pastoral images. One is left feeling unsure what one is seeing.  When the film started I really had no idea what the film was about since I went into the film completely blind. I simply agreed to review the film because a friend asked me to. While was not completely unaware of the film, I know Ben Umstead, one of the producers and I had run a crowdfunding appeal for the film here at Unseen Films, I had no knowledge of the plot whatsoever going in because I had been asked by a third party to review it and didn't connect the screener back to earlier conversations. Going in blind, and based on the credits, I thought this was going to be either a horror movie or thriller, however despite the use of horror movie tropes and some thriller like music the film is simply a drama of uncomfortable interactions. The film's structure is a physical representation of the theme of misdirected expectations.

I'm just not sure it works and I wasn't really sure why. I struggled with the question for several hours when I started to write the review, becoming  so tangled up in trying to deduce the cause of my feelings that I had to go to bed and pick up the review the next day.

Thinking about the film overnight I came to realize that for me the film makes one misstep in that I don’t think it fully trusts it's audience to feel what it wants us to feel. The film through opening credits, music and structure wants us to think its a thriller and be on edge. This is fine but it puts us outside the characters world. We are being clued to feel as we would toward characters who are in a thriller when they simply in a character driven drama. Things are being misrepresented so watching the film becomes kind of frustrating because the rhythm is off. We didn’t need the music and framing to pump up our emotions when the natural awkwardness of the situations between the characters is as sharp as it is. The film would have worked better just taking it straight.

Unfortunately the film is also saddled with the unwieldy character of Mutty. He is a problem for the story because in a film that is otherwise wonderfully subtle with its points (we slowly and naturally come to realize the gulf between characters) Mutty is a bull in a china shop. He is, beyond the music, the reason that we think this is all going to turn dark, since he would normally be the typical horror movie character who snaps. He keeps us feeling the film is one thing when it is not. Worse Mutty’s inability to really communicate well with the other characters gilding the lily. He is boldly painted in broad strokes and thick lines in a film that is otherwise made up of characters who are drawn with fine detail. It’s as if director Collatos needed to add extra exclamation points to a sentence that didn’t need any.

On some level I feel like I need to apologize for not being able to take the film completely on its own terms. I’m a strong believer in seeing a film divorced of hype and explanation and taking the film exactly for what is on screen. While in this case I went in no expectations because I literally knew nothing about it before it started, I've come out saying that the film should be something it isn't. It's not fair I know but in watching it I had a sense that the film itself doesn’t know what it is. I think it thinks it’s a thriller and acts that way but in behaving that way it misses the fact it has a really intriguing drama at its heart. After hours and hours of thought I think I would have loved it had it just stopped the misdirection and played it all straight.

And the weird thing is that as much as I’m bitching about the film I don’t think it’s a bad film. I certainly don’t dislike it. There are some really good performances and super exchanges that highlight the themes it’s trying to wrestle with. If they were allowed to fully flourish this would be a kick ass film. As it is I think it’s an interesting misfire.

Is it worth seeing? I would say it’s worth trying. It definitely has some killer moments. Additionally after seeing the film I read several other reviews of the film and many other writers spoke well of the film.

TORMENTING THE HEN begins a week long run at Brooklyn’s Spectacle Theater tomorrow. For information and details go here.

Saving Brinton (2017) DOC NYC 2017

When Indiana Brinton passed away all of the material, books, posters and movies that she had collected over the years was taken by her executor who had hoped to sort out its historical significance. It seems she and her husband has spent decades touring the Midwest of America screening films in the true infancy of motion pictures. What she left behind was a vast collection that related to film prior to 1910. When the executor died he still had the collection which was taken over by Michael Zahs who kind of sat on the material for another 30 years. With the need for room Zahs turned the material over to the University of Iowa’s Special Collection and wondrous things were discovered.

SAVING BRINTON is a curate's egg of a film. On one hand it is a beautifully rendered portrait of Michael Zahs who happened upon the belongings of the Brintons, but on the other hand the film doesn’t show us a hell of a lot of what was in the collection. I absolutely loved the film but was left kind of unsatisfied the film.

As a film on its own terms it’s a kick ass film. A wonderful portrait of Zahs, a gregarious raconteur with a drive to collect, the film is a film fans delight. Watching Zahs talk about the collection and its history is just damn awesome. As a film lover and a man with celluloid in my veins I ate up everything that was on screen. This is the sort of a tale that film fans always talk about. I mean we watch the discovery and restoration of a lost George Melies film, which is just incredibly cool. I mean it even impressed the legendary film historian Serge Bromberg who is seen being physically moved by the discovery. If you love film this film will make you want to dive into the collection with wild abandon to see what else is there...

Which brings me to the problem with the film, we don’t see a hell of a lot of the collection. We see some posters, some photos, a projector and a couple of clips. We are not allowed to really wade into more of the material. We see the covers of the various books, catalogs and pamphlets but we don’t see inside them. There are posters but we only get a look at a few. And then there are the films which are discussed as being ripe with possibilities, but what are they exactly? We really don’t know. While we get to see the missing Melies, we don’t really see anything else, worse I don’t think we’re even told much, if anything about, any other films other than in passing. . There is a moment where a historian describes the find as not just finding gold on a shipwreck, but also the bills of lading and all of the backstory it as well. The problem is we see one bar of gold and none of the backstory

And before anyone points out that the condition of the items and the films in the collection I have to say that know some stuff is in rough shape. At the same time we should have been shown as much of the collection as possible and not just followed Zahs around. He’s an interesting guy but how many times do we need to see him eating at a social?

Of course I’m nitpicking. I mean I love the film, but there was this point about an hour in when I suddenly realized that the one thing I wanted, which was to see more of the collection, wasn’t going to happen and I kind of deflated. I wanted to feel like Serge Bromberg and look at these wondrous things but we didn’t get the chance.

Despit my reservations SAVING BRINTON is a must, more so if you’re like me and bleed moving images.

SAVING BRINTON has finished its run at DOC NYC, however it will be getting a theatrical release in 2018

The Breadwinner, Another GKIDS Masterwork

Girls passing for boys was a staple of Shakespeare’s comedies, but the stakes were never so precariously high as they are for young Parvana. In Taliban-dominated Kabul, the arrest of her father, the male head of household, effectively imposes house-arrest on his wife and daughters. For their continued subsistence survival, Parvana must pass herself off as a boy, but the consequences will be unspeakably brutal if she is discovered. Islamist misogyny and intolerance have dire consequences in Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner, an animated GKIDS release, which opens this Friday in New York.

Parvana’s father Nurullah is a former schoolteacher, but the former Soviet occupiers cost him a leg and the current Taliban oppressors left him unemployed. Books and photos are now forbidden and women can only leave their homes accompanied by a senior family member. When a former pupil has Nurullah arrested out of spite and fundamentalist fervor, there is no one left at home to shop for food or earn money. As their supplies dwindle, Parvana tries to make purchases at the market, but no vendor will risk incurring the Taliban’s wrath by selling to her.

Out of desperation, Parvana disguises herself as a boy, donning the clothes of a brother killed by a Soviet booby-trap. In the short term, Parvana develops the survival skills necessary for day-to-day survival. She also rekindles a friendship with Shauzia, a former classmate in very much the same situation. However, her long-term goal of securing her father’s freedom remains elusive. Thus far, she only has a beating to show for her efforts.

Frankly, the punch to the solar plexus she takes from a prison guard is far from the most brutal attack on women viewers witness in Breadwinner. GKIDS has often pushed the envelope of animation sophistication, perhaps mostly notably with the urbane and elegiac Chico & Rita, but Breadwinner is easily their toughest film yet. Its PG-13 rating is debatable, but there is no question Twomey shows the violent, intolerant realities of life under the Taliban, in uncompromisingly vivid terms. There is also a messiness to the conclusion that will frustrate naïve viewers, but it stays admirably true to reality.

Twomey co-directed The Secret of the Kells and served as “voice director” of Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea, which are certainly credits that inspire confidence, but Breadwinner is still a shockingly powerful cinematic statement. Arguably, Deborah Ellis’s YA novel could only be adapted as an animated film, because a live-action feature would place its primary lead in grave danger, much like the young actor in The Kite Runner, except it would be even worse for a girl. Regardless, Twomey and screenwriter Anita Doron do right by Ellis’s characters and the real-life girls and women they represent.

Despite the desperate circumstances Parvana faces, Twomey’s animated is often quite lovely. Yet, there is more truth in Breadwinner than most “adult” films released this year. Thanks to this film and Loving Vincent, 2017 has already proved itself as an exceptional year for animation. If one of them does not win an Oscar, it will be time to seriously consider abolishing the Academy. Very highly recommended, The Breadwinner opens this Friday (11/17) in New York, at the IFC Center downtown and the Landmark 57 in Midtown way west.


Portrait of Edwins a restaurant in Cleveland where almost all of the staff is made up of men and women who have just gotten out of prison. The restaurant acts as school giving the staff skills that they can use to put their lives back together and break the circle of jail release jail. This is a wonderful heartwarming tale about people trying to change their lives for the better. Its a super film, that is more satisfying in it's 30 odd minutes than most feature documentaries,
Highly recommended.

Portrait of Aura, a woman who has been cleaning houses for 30 years. However she soon will have houses of her own. A very nice portrait of a woman most people would never give a second look to.

Director Mads Hedegaard ponders the role of memory and perception in our lives as he looks a traumatic injury he suffered and asks various people connected to it to tell him what they remember about it. An excellent film that requires multiple viewings to full comprehend what it is showing us about how our memory works and how perception of those outside us alters how we see events. A must see.

The director and his mother recall his estranged father.
It looks good but beyond that the film eluded me

Portrait of Dr Carlo Musso an emergency room physician who helps to oversee executions by lethal injection in Georgia. It is a moving and thought provoking film, regardless of where you tand on the issue of capital punishment. Very recommended

Bill Frisell: A Portrait (2017) DOC NYC 2017

BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT is an excellent look at the man and his music. However despite being a great look a the guitarist the film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

Nominally your typical bio doc with long discussions of Frisell and the people he's worked with and influenced (that's pretty much everyone) mixed with tons of music the film pretty much lets you know everything you want to know about the man.We hear stories about his working with everyone in every type of music as we hear the music that they made together. Its a wonderful celebration of the man.

The trouble is if you don't know Frisell, and even if you do, this can be a long haul. Sequences go on and on. Discussions with various people seem to repeat points and the whole thing takes a leisurely pace. Each piece is wonderful on its own terms but together the films almost two hour run time seems to stretch out. I found that watching the film on Festival Scope Pro I was turning off the film and walking away. It wasn't that the film is bad it's just I was drifting off.

Don't get me wrong I don't did like the film, I think it's super. Hell, sequences such as the opening one with artist Jim Woodring where they talk about how some things such as art and music being beyond words are stunning. However I just found that it's simply too much of life happening (and maybe some of it is too inside).

Recommended for fans.


Ariela on ZERO WEEKS (2017) DOC NYC 2017

Elizabeth de Leon Bhargava, Esq, Deputy Secretary of Labor and Workforce, activist Ellen Bravo, one of the subjects in the film, and writer/director Ky Dickens
ZERO WEEKS is such an important documentary for everyone to see. How is it that the US and Papa New Guinea are the only two countries with zero weeks of paid family leave (paid leave for maternity leave, leave to take care of an aging family member, or if you are very sick). Every other country has paid leave. Russia has 28 weeks, China has 16, Ethiopia has 25, and the US has none. Now certain states are starting to have paid leave (CA, NJ, RI) and finally NY which begins it's paid leave starting January 1, 2018. (& Washington just started it as well).

Bill Clinton had passed a law that people can get unpaid leave. However, this only works if there are 50 or more people in your company. 40% of people don't qualify for unpaid leave. Furthermore, a lot of people can't afford to take unpaid leave.

Only 14% of people in the US have jobs that do give paid time off.

The film focuses on several people who are jeopardized because of the lack of no paid leave in the US. One was a very sad story about a woman with cancer. She has to get radiation on her lunch break, and because she only has Saturday and Sunday to relax and heal, her cancer is taking a lot longer to recover from, and she's in constant pain. (She also has a daughter to take care of).

Another couple dealt with the loss of their babies and only got a handful of days off for their bereavement. They later have another child and have to deal with the father's lack of paternity leave.

I think this documentary was really well made. It will leave you angry and frustrated at our country. It definitely held my interest the whole time. I teared up quite a bit, which I didn't expect so bring tissues if you see this! I definitely think this is a must see, as so many people in the US assume they will get time off if needed, and are unaware that that this isn't the case, so it's important to find out when starting a job if your job has time off if you get very sick, pregnant, or have to deal with an aging parent.

Go see it and tell everyone about it.

Go to to take action

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ariela looks at One of Us (2017) which is playing at DOC NYC's Short List sidebar

This documentary focuses on three people who aren't happy in the Hasidic community and are trying to break away. (Hasidim are a close knit of ultra orthodox Jews who live by very strict laws. They don't believe in anything secular). There's a woman named Etty with 7 children, who has an abusive husband who she is trying to divorce. There's Ari, who isn't sure about if God exists and is excited to learn about secular things. He talks about discovering Google and Wikipedia and feeling like he was in heaven. Lastly, there is Luzer, who was married with two children, who just wasn't happy, he learned about the outside world from watching movies in his car. He wanted to act and left his family to move to California.

The documentary is well made and it's a sad glimpse of the lack of freedom that the Hasidim have. Etty's story in particular was very upsetting. Her whole family turned against her for wanting a divorce. People stalked her and harassed her. The husband wanted full custody of the children. These Hasidim seem to live by different laws that the rest of the world doesn't. How is this allowed in the US?

The film states that only 2% of people leave the Hasidic community. One man in the film mentions that most people are content with their lives. But how many really are? How many are miserable and too scared to break away? Breaking away, means leaving your family.

This documentary was a good glimpse into lives we don't hear about often. I would be interested in finding out where these three individuals are a few years from now.

ONE OF US plays again at DOC NYC Thursday, for tickets and more information go here.


More essay or experimental film then documentary, SMALL TALK is a kind of waking dream filled in Havana Cuba. I have no idea if it means anything but it sure is damn interesting to try and work out what that might be. Recommended.

The life and times of four ankle monitors and the people wearing them.
This intriguing film fills in what exactly it means to have to wear an ankle monitor, which is something we've all heard about but very few of us have actually seen. I was riveted since the film fills in small little details about everyday existence with one that I never considered. Recommended.

Portrait of Jordan Casteel who paints portraits of black men. A wonderful look at an artist and her work that does what the best art bios do which is give an understanding of both the artist and their work. One of the best shorts at DOC NYC.

Wonderful portrait of Kitty and Ellen two survivors of the Holocaust who have been friends for almost 75 years. WHat can I say about this film other than its glorious time with two charming ladies. A must.


An almost too breezy look at ArtPrize, the world’s most attended art show. The show, held in Grand Rapids Michigan, turns the city into a giant art gallery as artist from around the world descend upon the city in the hope of winning the half million dollar prize- which is decided by both critics and the general public. The film looks at several artists, organizers and members of the public in an effort to reveal that art can sometimes be a democratic endeavor. Highly entertaining the film is wonderful, if not particularly deep, look at the state of the art world. Recommended.

A bracing document of the Detroit riots of 1967 told by the people who were there using home movie footage, photos and archival recording mixed with present day remembrances. This is a you are there film which beautifully explains what happened and why. Recommended.

The Problem With Apu DOC NYC 2017

Hari Kondabolu confronts the stereotype of South Asians as represented by the character of Apu on the Simpsons, a character which has bothered him all for all the years the show has been on the air.

Kondabolu has made a very good look at the question of representation in the media and the problems that stereotypes can cause for the group being mocked. Speaking from experience,  Kondabolu lays out the troubles he has faced over the years as a result of the character and the shows popularity. While primarily addressing the question of South Asian stereotypes the film also addresses to the larger question of ethnic jokes and representations in the media making it a film one can't easily walk away from. It is a film that forces us to consider the very nature of comedy.

One of the things I admire is that Kondabolu doesn't sy away from the fact that,Apu aside he genuinely likes The Simpsons. While some of the people he speaks to doesn't like the film because of the character, Kondabolu finds that hating the show isn't so easy since he knows that the film was important to shaping who he is

While I like the film a great deal I hate that the film was made for TV. Running a fleeting 49 minutes the  film feels rushed, even if it covers a great deal of ground thoughtfully. The film also has the current TV doc sensibility which is talk in soundbites and be splashy making the film seem less deep than it is.

While perhaps it isn't the definitive statement on stereotypes in the media THE PROBLEM WITH APU is an excellent place to begin the conversation.

THE PROBLEM WITH APU World Premieres tonight at DOC NYC and plays on truTV Sunday November 19th

The Mighty Atom: The Story of Joseph Greenstein: The Most Unlikely Strongman Who Ever Lived (2017)

I consciously heard of "The Mighty Atom" for the first time when I either saw the film BENDING STEEL or when I did research on strong men after seeing it. The story of Joseph Greenstein, the five foot four superman impressed the hell out of me. His feets of strength haunted me so when the chance to see a full on documentary I jumped.

Joseph Greenstein was born in Poland in 1893.  A sickly child Greenstein began to try and improve himself after the death of his father. He wanted to make sure he didn't die young so he ran away from home, joined the circus and learned to take care of himself. Coming to America Greenstein ran a gas station until a chance encounter with Harry Houdini sent him back into show business.

Hitting VOD screens today THE MIGHTY ATOM is a loving portrait of the man, his family and the amazing things he did. Told through interviews with the people who knew him and those that marveled at his feats, the film gives us a warts and all portrait of the one man who may have been the strongest person who ever lived.

Adding to the amazement factor is the fact that the filmmakers have strong men today talk about what Greenstein did and even try to replicate his feats. Its a brilliant move that puts things into wonderful perspective and makes us realize just how special the Atom was.

While a great deal is left out, I would have loved details about what happened when he ran away with the circus, there is enough wonderful material to make it clear that to have more would simply overeating at a fantastic banquet.

I  love this film a great deal. It is a perfect window on a time gone by to the age when feats of strength could impress the world. Its a film I can't wait to share and see again and again.

Highly recommended

Monday, November 13, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The new version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS surprised me in that it turned out to be a truly fun film with a surprisingly serious edge.

For those who don’t know or can’t guess the plot of the film, it involves the murder of a much hated man on train one winter’s night. The body is discovered in the morning. Since the train has been stopped by an avalanche Hercules Poirot steps up to try and sort out who done it before the murderer can get away.

Before you see the film divorce yourself from any thought of the earlier versions of the film. This film is not those. This is a small scale locked room mystery bumped up to a big screen (semi)action film. Some details have been changed or rearranged (the film reverse the trip from Istanbul and makes it from the ancient city). Shading such as an interracial romance have been added. While the basic mystery is the same there are enough changes that make this version worth seeing.

To be honest the film isn’t perfect. The heavy use of CGI in the train travel sequences is nice but at times a little too Thomas Kinkade like. Also the fact there is a huge cast and the film runs a breezy 110 minutes means that some of the characters are short changed in development. And while some people are given moments to shine late in the game the Countess is short changed and the porter who is one of the suspects is completely a non-entity. Had I not known that he was part of the plot I would have been left scratching my head when he was seen sitting with the rest of the suspects.

On the other hand I don’t think the film is fully interested in just being about the murder. I think director Kenneth Branagh has more on his mind. He’s infused his great detective with a sense of melancholy missing in other versions. We get a sense of a whole sea of emotions and backstory in his responses to characters and the phot of the mysterious Katherine. While there is no answers regarding Katherine there is still a sense it means something deep. Branagh also infuses him with deep sense of regret about choices not made. I love that there the character now has a real backstory. It’s a wonderful addition that humanizes Agatha Christie’s thinking machine.

Additionally the film is very much a rumination of the notions of what is justice. Where previous versions of the tale have danced around the notion here the film wades in with both mediations on what is the right thing to do as well as forcing us to ponder if we can correct the mistakes and wrongs of the past. What is more important true justice or the justice of Man’s law? It is something that Branagh debates more and more as he follows the clues to their solution. It’s a plot thread that comes to fruition when Poriot figuratively takes on the sins of the world in the finale when the Christ Like detective confronts the suspects who are arranged around a table like at Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. While it is a tad heavy handed it even if it works, it’s a clear indication that the film’s final third isn’t about just finding a killer but redemption. It’s a brilliant move that lifts the film up from being a mere mystery into something more. In its way the ending left me shattered. I never expected something so mature from what many people consider a simple mystery. I may be wrong but I have a strong sense that the filmmakers were very influenced by Christie’s final Poirot tale Curtain which ends on a melancholy note which if connected with this film would show him still pondering what is right until the very end.

I really loved this film. From its witty lines to it brooding solution, Kenneth Branagh’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is an unexpected joy. It is a rough around the edges masterpiece that is worth your time and money. One of the great surprises of 2017.

in Brief: BIG TIME (2017) DOC NYC 2017

This is a portrait of architect Bjarke Ingels, who won numerous awards while still in his thirties and was chosen to design 2 World Trade Center. The film follows him over the course of six years as he designs, builds and goes through his life.

Wonderful frothy film is a portrait of a man you can’t help but like. Playing as kind of porn film for architecture junkies the film is a celebration of the man and his work. This film is full of some stunning buildings and explains why Ingels constructions are so magical.

I really liked the film a great deal. My only complaint about the film is that I wish it was a bit meatier so that I felt like I had something to write about other than saying the film is really good and you should see it. Seriously I had a good time watching the film and I plan on revisiting it again down the road, away from the crush of DOC NYC (probably when the film opens December 1 for a week-long theatrical run in the Landmark at 57W, which Ingels designed)


During the Great Depression nutria, 20 pound rat like creatures (they are the size of small dogs) were imported to Louisiana from Argentina with the idea that their pelts could be used for fur clothing. That was all well and good until they broke free and took up residence in the swamps. With no natural predators they began to flourish, devouring everything in their paths putting the ecosystem in danger.

Both amusing and scary, the damage the nutria are causing is wiping out the wetlands, the film explores what can be to stop the tide of that are essentially giant rats. They had been kept in check for decades by fur trappers, however now that fur has taken on a negative connotation the population has exploded and there are now tens of millions of the beasts running about. The state of Louisiana and environmentalists are struggling to find a way to stop them so now they offer a bounty for each tail turned in. Meanwhile others are trying to find a way to use them commercially including as food (they taste like rabbit).

 This is a real life environmental nightmare that seems like a bad science fiction film (NIGHT OF THE LEPUS?), except that it's not. It is ultimately a dire warning of what we are doing to our planet. Directors Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer manage to walk the fine line between tragedy and humor without falling to off.with the result that I alternately laughed and cringed all through the film. They clearly see both the horror and the humor of the situation and make sure that we see it too.

Beautifully made the film does everything right from the use of animation, humor and everything else. with the result that this is a film that hangs with you for days after seeing it.

This is a film that manages to something almost impossible a thought provoking film about a potential environmental tragedy that is a lot of fun. Its sounds counter intuitive but the directors have pulled it off brilliantly. Trust me it works and then some.

RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE is recommended when it plays Wednesday at DOC NYC.

The Experimental City (2017) DOC NYC 2017

Chad Freidrichs' film THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY is a stunning piece of work A visually and aurally intriguing film it i part essay, part historical document and a true work of art.

The film is a recounting of the life and work of Athelstan Spilhaus was trained as an oceanographer and geophysicist and all around genius who strove to to make the world a better place. Spilhaus  put forward his ideas in the comic Our New Age which ran for almost two decades where he told of the wonders of science and the promise of the future. Spilhaus realized that the way we lived was not sustainable and thought that in order to help bring change that people should build an experimental city where new ways of living could be explored. Some people loved the idea, others were terrified by it.

A mix of new interviews, old recordings (we hear Spilhaus' own words in tape recordings), recreations and archival footage we are sent down the rabbit hole of a world than might have been. Cut together in such a way as to create a unique head space THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY is very much a film unto itself. The closest thing I could compare it to is the wonderful THE WORLD OF TOMORROW  from 1984 which was made up of films from the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York. In that film Jason Robards narrates events as if they are a memory.

Here the present day interview sections keep us rooted in the present while the film seems to drift back in time thanks to the deft handling of the archival material. The result in both films is a kind of wonderful dislocation where we feel as though we are reliving a memory of an event we've never experienced. That may sound bizarre but it's true since as the film plays out we can't help but feel we've stepped back in time.

What is intriguing about the film is the fact that Spilhaus clearly could see the future. Many of the the things he was trying to do urban planners are now trying to do. Additionally he knew many of the dangers we'd face as revealed in his comic where it talks about pollution changing the climate.

Watching the film I was moved. Onone level by the nostalgia for something I never knew about and another by the loss of things that might have been.

I love this film a great deal. Never mind that the film is informative, more importantly it does what all good films do and that is transport the viewer to somewhere else, another reality that only the movies can create. And in this case this is true, we are back in time in a world that never existed despite the best efforts of all those involved.

THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY is one of the gems of DOC NYC and a must see when it plays Thursday night.

Song of Granite (2017)

Pat Collins, best known for making documentaries, turns his attention to the life of traditional Irish singer Joe Heaney in SONG OF GRANITE, which is Ireland's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar.

Shot in glorious black and white the film feels as though we are watching life unfurls before us. Life happens. Heaney grows up and grows old before us. There is little in the way of conventional dramatic scenes, this is more moments of a life and songs sung with the the occasional  voice over to fill in some details.

While gorgeous to look at with some powerful musical moments SONG OF GRANITE is not going to be for all audiences. While most assuredly an Oscar bait film and something certain to be a critical darling the structure of the film and its life as lived pacing is going to split audiences. Those willing to go with the film and it's deliberate pacing will be rewarded with a film that will make them feel as if they have gotten to walk with Heaney through his life. On the other hand if audiences want more than beautiful vistas and traditional Irish songs then they are going to be sleeping in their seats.

Personally I am somewhere in the middle on the film. While I can and do admire the craft and artistry that went into making the film my attention drifted off and about the time that Heaney had begun to perform in public I was fighting to stay awake. I simply never connected with anything on screen other than the cinematography.

SONG OF GRANITE opens in US theaters this Wednesday.