Saturday, January 29, 2022

Fury (2022) Slamdance 2022

 


This is portrait of  Polish MMA champion Aleksandra Rola who has overcome difficulties in her life to become a top fighter.

Atypical in its warts and all approach to covering its subject FURY is a breath of fresh air in the sports bio genre. There are rough edges to our subject and her life and the film wonderfully doesn't try to smooth them over with the result we not only feel closer to Aleksandra but we also feel that she is a real person and not a commodity. It should also be pointed out that the film is firmly focused on Aleksandra as a person and not on the gritty details of her winning and losing. I point this out because if you go in and are waiting to see how she moves from match to match you are probably going to be disappointed since this is about the journey of one woman’s soul.

I really liked FURY. I liked its in your face approach. I love that the film takes time to let her father and mother talk to the camera. I love that the film goes to places we don’t normally see in these sort of things and shows us things other films might cut out, say Aleksandra smoking. It give the film and what we are seeing a real weight. As some one who watches a lot of boxing and MMA docs each year it’s nice to see one that is really trying to show us a life and not sell us a fighter.

Recommended

GoodAfternoon Sweet Dream (2022) Slamdance 2022


Bang Seung Hyeon' GOODAFTERNOON SWEET DREAM is a series of conversations beteen a girl named Ye Won and her frieends.

Shot in black and white in a series of single takes the film looks and feels like a Hong Sang Soo film. Its a discussion of the lives and feelings of the characters where everything happens verbally.

And that's all I'm going to say. It's not that the film is good or bad, rather this is not my cup of tea. There is a reason I tend not to review Hong Sang Soo films which is my reaction to them is not the reaction of other audience members. While the film most certainly not bad, the film never connected ith me on a personal level in the same way that Sang Soo's films don't connect to me.

That said, if you are a fan of Hong Sang Soo, you may wish to give GOODAFTERNOON SWEET DREAM a try

Killing the Eunuch KHAN (2021) Slamdance 2021


I'm not going to lie, Killing the Eunuch KHAN is narratively a mess. It has a great deal going on and after the first section I'm not sure it holds together. That said this is one of the most visually arresting films in years. It is a masterclass in the se of space and camera movements. Its such a kick in the pants visually that it is one of the must see films of Slamdance 2022.

I'm not sure what the really is plot is. The promo material says something about a serial killer using his victims to get victims and it also mentions the plot of the first section which is about a father and his two daughtrs who get caught in a bombing during the Iran Iraq War. After that some other things happen but I'm not as clear as tohow it all ties together. What the film really is is an allegory about the horrors of war, of how men in high places are killing us. Its clear that director Abed Abest has somethings to say as the river of blood in the first part of the film colors everything.

I will be forever haunted by the images in this film.Abest has created images that are now burned into my soul including the image of the river of blood filling a bomb crater. The camera movements, the use of color and the use of space all produce a visceral effect that is truly disturbing.

While I am truly in love with the craft f the film and while I can complain that the film may not hold it's narrative together, the film still packs a punch. There is a deeply visceral quality to everything that works behind our eyes in order to leave us deeply disturbed.  When I finished the film I thought I was going to sit don and toss off a few lines about the images and such but as I walked into the kitchen to get a drink I found myself disturbed. There was something about the way the film played out that left me feeling uneasy. Something about it kicked me in the chest.

I need to revisit this film referably on a really big screen where I can't look away.

Killing the Eunuch KHAN is a stunner on it's own terms and is recomended.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Severing (2022) Slamdance 2022


Mark Pellington's THE SEVERING is a 70 minute gut punch.  A dance film for those that like disturbing things it is a film I wish I had seen on a big screen where it's images wold have been all encompasing and inescapable.

The film is a series of dances usually by a single dancer moving to an electronic soundtrack. Its like watching some one convulse from a nightmare for an hour. There were things where I wondered how they did that only to realize that it was all the twisting body of one woman. I know that ay sound like a no duh statement, but at the same time in an age where everything is computer altered its atypical to see something as troubling as some of these images that isn't computer enhanced.

While I readily admit the film probably a little bit too long I still wouldn't cut a thing even if I knew how you can trim a dance.

Before you go vaulting into this film be aware there is a chance this may not work for you. The style of the dance has been likened to Pina Bausch who I know isn't for everyone. This is people who who want to connect with the darker side and be troubled by things other than blood and guts.

Highly recommended for those who like the experimental, dance or off Hollywood.

Be Right Back (2022) Slamdance 2022

 


A stranger wanders into a group of people living in an abandoned vacation area deep in the forest. When the food disappears things get weird.

I'm not going to lie, BE RIGHT BACK completely eluded me. While I was intrigued enough by what was going on that I watched the film from start to finish, when I got to the end I honestly had no real idea what I had just witnessed.

The reason for this is that everything is just sort of off a couple of degrees from normal. People do normal things but there are odd twists, say a man staring into a window at a woman playing scabble, unending charades and a weird choice early on with some triumphant music that ends when the stranger goes to the bathroom in the woods.

I suppose I could be reading too much into all of this, but at the same time, maybe not. This film like a puzzle waiting to give up its secrets.

Definitely worth a look for the curious, I expect BE RIGHT BACK to be playing many festivals after this.

Poppy(2022) Slamdance 2022


 Libby Hunsdale is Poppy, a young woman with Downs Syndrome who wants to be a mechanic.

This is hands down of the best films at Slamdance and one one of my favorite films of 2022. Its a glorious celebration of the human spirit. Its a film that will make you feel good for all the right reasons.

The reason this film works is entirely Libby Hunsdale. She is so loveable that you want to reach into the screen and give her a hug. You completely understand how she charms the pants off everyone she meets. This is a star making role of the highest order. She is so good that I hope that casting directors see beyond the Down Syndrome and cast her in other roles. Seriously she will fit into pretty much any sort of role.

I absolutely loved this film. It made me feel good. I made my face ache from smiling non-stop for 97 minutes. That's all you need to know because...wow.

My sole complaint about the film is that Slamdance has placed it in the Unstoppable section when it really should be just with the regular features. I say this because some people might not see it if they think it's in a special section.

Ultimately all you need to know is this film is a joy and a must see.

Highly recommended

Sylvie of the Sunshine State (2022) Slamdance 2022


Sasha Levinson films her second grade daughter, Slyvie,  during the intial covid lockdown.  We watch as mother and daughter navigate school, work, a fragmented family, an emergency and a wired existence

I am uncertain how to review this film. In many ways I'm way too close to this film to try to be objective. I say that because Sylvie reminds me very much like my niece. As a result watching the film I had the feeling that this was like spending time with my niece when she was that age. 

I suppose that is a rave of sorts since Levinson has made a film that is very much like life. 

The problem for me at least is I don't know if I need to be watching a film that mirrors when I can go and see my niece and get a hg in the process.

That said this is a really good film about a mother and daughter and if you would like to see what it is like to be a single mom in the age of covid this film is very recommended

Iron Family (2022) Slamdance 2022


Jazmine Faries,is a 32-year old young woman with Downs Syndrome who writes and stars in plays that she wrote.

Wonderful portrait of a young woman and her life. This is not a typical this is what life is like for someone with a disability, rather it is the best of all things, a portrait of a kick ass young woman who you just want to know. Its a film that makes a case that we shouldn't be seeing people with disabilities as something other than just regular folk. By simply being and pushing forward Jazmine ends up bringing together all sorts of people. 

The reason that the film works is simply that we just watching Jazmine and her family as if she as just another person. Yea she has Downs, but at the same time she isn't going to let that stop her she is just going to go straight a head doing what she does.

What an absolute delight.

Recommended

Selahy (My Weapon) (2021) Slamdance 2022

 


A young deaf Yemeni girl loves to shoot with her video camera and spend tie with her dad. She doesn't unferstand the dangers of war.

Excellent look at the cost of war and how children, and especially those with special need get caught up in the fighting.

Beautifully made on every level, the film's only flaw is that we know that we can sense that there is going to be heartbreak in the end. That said I would love to see a feature expansion of the film if for no other reason than we really don't hear about the cost of war on those with disabilities like being deaf.

Recommended.

Brighton 4th (2021)


With BRIGHTON 4TH opening today here is a repost of my Tribeca review from last year

Kakhi travels from his home in the Republic of Georgia to visit his son in Brighton Beach. He thinks that he is studying medicine, however he soon discovers that he is working as a mover and is thousands of dollars in debt to a gangster. Kakhi then sets about to try and get his son out of trouble.

A small quiet gem is one of the unexpected finds of this year's Tribeca. I went into the film not knowing what it was about and was only watching it because I could. I came out with a gem of a film I can recommend for anyone tired of typical stories. hell it does something I normally hate but  it maks it work perfectly. (No I can't tell you what it is)

What makes this film work are the characters. Everyone is flawed, however everyone is ultimately likable. We generally like everyone and we want to give them a hug when they do something stupid even though we also want to smack the crap out of them. For better or worse these people are probably closer to our real selves than we would like to imagine.

This is a perfect festival film, a great little movie you might have missed if it wasn't for the programmers.

Highly recommended

Slamdance 2022 scifi shorts: BUGS AND SLUGS and SILENT WORLD


THE BUGS AND THE SLUGS
This is the story of a human by who falls in love with a troll on an alien planet.

This is a nice, and amusing, story about finding love and one's place in the world. I really don't knw what else to say beyond that other than it is very much worth  look at Slamdance.


SILENT WORLD
One of the best Slamdance films concerns a world where deadly clouds are drifting across England. A deaf man struggles to stay alive since he is unable to hear the warnings.

This is a magnificent film. Not only is it a beautiully made science fiction tale but it beautifully and forcefully illustrates the trouble with being deaf in a hearing world. This film is a mini-masterpiece that I would love to see expanded

Highly recommended

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Imperfect (2021) Slamdance 2022


Imperfect is a winner.This is a magical film that often kicks some serious ass.


The film is the story of a production of the show Chicago using only disabled actors. We follow along as the performers prepare for the performance, deal with life and play to sellout crowds.

The reason Imperfect works is that directors Brian Malone and Regan Linton never take their eyes off the people. This isn’t about the play about the people with the result that the film packs a punch. I say this because watching the performance clips, particularly at the end are full of emotion. Seeing and hearing a smattering of The Cellblock Tango where the murderesses express their rage at the people who did them wrong takes on a different feeling as we equate the actresses lives with the words in the song. It kicked me in the chest as the rage of wronged and margianlized characters crashed into the women portraying them the look on their faces as they sang "he had it coming" banging out the time seemed cathartic

This is a stunner. It’s a great film  not only for people who love the theater but also for those who love great films.

Recommended

Love Tasting (2021) Slamdance 2022

 


A couple of weeks and a couple of viewings on I still don’t know what I think of Love Tasting. My over riding thought was WOW. Beyond that reaction has been to just stare at the screen in awe.

Director Dawid Nickel has made a masterpiece that is alive and real with a tactile feel that has left me wondering how this can be a narrative when it feel like a documentary.

The film follows a group of teens over a week before the end of school. We are with them as they hang out, go to church, dance, smoke, pair up and deal with what life throws at them. 

I have no idea where to begin talking about this film.

The cast is across the board fantastic. It never feels like anyone is acting. No matter what is going on they sell it. Even when things become intimate they are totally oblivious to the camera. The best thing I can say is that this group of kids might very well make up the greatest ensemble cast that I have ever run across. I mean I keep watching the film hoping to find some sign of them breaking character but everyone is so invested.

The plot, while occasionally melodramatic, feels real. The first time through I had stop the film to check the Slamdance site to make sure this was a narrative. The way everything spins out feels dead nuts right. The conversations feel right. The interactions feel like what should be happening.

Forgive me for not being more specific but this is a film you need to just ride along with and discover on its own terms. Doing so will make the emotion hit you harder. By the time things were wrapping up I was getting emotional with everyone’s journey and I know not having a clue how it was going to play out made it deeper.

The film is shot in such a way that it feels alive. There is style to burn. I have to appalaud Dawid Nickel for making a film that technically is magical and sucks us in and makes it look flashy while at the same time driving the narrative forward.

I also need to mention the music. The score, which is largely part of the film is perfect. Its perfectly chosen to set the mood and drive things along. One of the times through the film I sat and watched it just to listen to the score.

And yet despite knowing how good the film is I honestly don’t know what I feel about it. I don’t know if I like it. That may sound weird, but I don’t know if I can like a slice of life like this. Additionally while I was moved by the arcs of the characters I still don’t think I like everyone. I’m still wrestling with the film and my feelings despite seeing the film several times from start to finish and in pieces.  That to me is the mark of a great film.

Love tasting is filmmaking at the highest level and is highly recommended

FERROEQUINOLOGY (2022) Slamdance 2022


The conductor sings his songs again
The passengers will please refrain
This train got the disappearing railroad blues

The City of New Orleans  by Steve Goodman

FERROEQUINOLOGY (the term means the study of trains) is a film that is going to suffer from not being seen on a big screen. This is a film full of amazing sights that deserve to be seen as big as possible. 

This is the story of two men who love trains. Andrew Cross who chases freight trains across Nevada. McNair Evans rides Amtrack trains and documents the trips and the people taking them as he criss crosses America.

One part love story of train and one part love story of people FERROEQUINOLOGY is a special film. Its a beautiful film both visually, it was shot in gorgeous black and white, and emotionally. You get lost in the images and in the stories of the men and the people they meet. It's a wonderful trip into another place and in a sense another time.

I fell into FERROEQUINOLOGY. I sat there and drifted off and cleared my mind. I've done this several times now since I was sent the film before Christmas so I've had time to return to the film and just be. As long-time readers of Unseen Films know any time I return to a film and mention it in the review the film is something special.

FERROEQUINOLOGY is special and a very recommended film at Slamdance

Underdog (2021) Slamdance 2022


UNDERDOG is the story of Vermont Farmer Doug Butler. He is a man whose life is rapidly imploding as the bills are out pacing his ability to pay them off. Butler is always upbeat and always looking toward a brighter future. He is also looking to compete in the oldest dog sled race in America in Fairbanks Alaska. With his farm’s future in jeopardy Butler loads up his dogs and heads off to try his hand at racing.

This is a good portrait of a man just taking life as it comes. He is desperately trying to show a brave face but there are times we know that that much of his life is slipping away and that there is little he can do to stop it. Everyone wants their money and Butler can’t make it fast enough to pay off everyone with their hand out. It a sad portrait of our times, and we feel it more because we really like Butler and wish him well.

I should be honest and say that while the dog racing is thread through the film, most of the film is not focused on it, it only becomes the real focus in the last third. Its an interesting turn in a much too familiar tale of small farmers getting squashed.

To be honest I don’t know what I think of this film. While I very much like Butler, I’m not certain that there is enough here to make a feature. A huge problem is Butler is so low key and so easily rolls with the punches that there really isn’t enough conflict to make this absolutely compelling.  This is low key to the point of no key.  While none of it is bad, I mean I watched it three times, I simply don’t know why this is a feature film. Outside of showing us a really nice guy and the sled dog racing bit, there isn’t a great deal here. I suspect if this was reshaped to focus more on the racing this would have been a more compelling film.

Reservations aside this is worth a look if it sounds interesting to you

Sundance Capsule Review Round Up: FRAMING AGNES, WATCHER, LUCY AND DESI, BRAINWASHED SEX-CAMERA-POWER, MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM and AM I OKAY


FRAMING AGNES
This is an exploration of Agnes a trandgender woman from the 1960s, who participated in gender studies. Its a mix of fact and fiction aiming to put Agnes and what she means to the trans community and the world into context and current .  And I'm going to leave things there. Not because the film is bad, rather because the film doesn't speak to me. I know I am not its intended audience and as such there is nothing for me to say except, its very good.


WATCHER
A woman moves to Romania with her husband. She feels she's being watched. There is is a serial killer running through the city. Are they related? Doesn't anyone have curtains? Okay thriller never generates much suspense because we have been here before and it feels very staged. Yes the final couple of minutes have a couple of "oh crap" turns but its too little too late. 



LUCY AND DESI
A love letter to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez that charts the course of their lives. Full of clips and stories it will delight fans. And the ending will kick the hell out of fan and non-fan alike. I'm leaving it there because people with more love for the duo will have better things to say than I ever could.


BRAINWASHED SEX-CAMERA-POWER
This look at the objectivication of women in cinema is an illustrated lecture by the film's director Nina Menkes based upon her book Sex and Power: The Visual Language of Cinema. I am not going to say more than I saw it and if the subject interests you please see it. I'm leaving it there because my issues with the film will no doubt be misconstrude as issues with the subject matter and I am not going to get into any battles.


AM I OKAY
The relationship of two women is upset when one of the friends confesses that she likes women.This sets off repurcussions that play out in all their  lives. This sweet comedy is enjoyable for what  it is which is an over written comedy that never feels real.  I enjoyed the hell out of it but ten minutes out I kinf of had it slip from my mind, hence this capsule

MEET ME IN


MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM
Awesome beyond the words I have in the  middle of a festival look at the music scene in NYC  around 2000. Its a stunner. See it (and read Liz Whittemore's review here)

A House Made of Splinters (2022) Sundance 2022


This is the story of a home for children that houses children as a decision is being made about their destination. Some kids have been dumped by their parents who won’t or can’t take care of them. Others have been dropped their by the police or other officials where they will sit until a court makes a determination about where to send them. Will they go back to their parents. a relative or foster home, or will they be shunted into an orphanage and become wards of the state.

The film focuses on the lives of three of the children as well as the social workers who runs the place. As the kids come and go the social workers remain as fixture and a guiding force helping the kids get along, and  change their behavior. Because we like everyone on screen we fall into the film and we hope for the best for all the kids and their care takers.

What makes the film so powerful is the fact that the filmmakers seem to have been given the run of the place. That’s probably not the case but it seems like it since we see the kids be kids in ways that most other films not show us.

I really liked this film a great deal. To me it was one the better films at Sundance. It’s a film that is good enough that I am looking forward to seeing it again when I am away from the festival crush and I can simply see it and take it in on it’s own wonderful terms.

Recommended.

Midwives (2022) Sundance 2022


MIDWIVES is one of the great films at Sundance. 

The film is the story of two midwives, one Buddhist and one Muslim, in Myanmar who work together to give their community health care and deliver babies despite the fact that the Myanmar government is trying to ethnically cleanse the country of Muslims. 

It’s a deeply moving film full of humanity that makes it clear that there is no real difference between people other than the lebels we stupidly put upon ourselves. This is a film that will make you run a spectrum emotions as you see how the acts of good people can make a difference even as bad people commit crimes. I was moved.

Highly recommended this film deserves more and better words than I can manage- though if these words can get you to see it it will have been enough.


The Conductor (2021) opens today


 Marin Alsop broke the glass ceiling in regard to who can be a conductor of a symphony orchestra. Despite being told  she couldn’t be one because she was a girl she persisted and eventually became a student of the great Leonard Bernstein.

While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel THE CONDUCTOR delights. It’s a film full of not only a deep love and respect for its subject but also a deep love and respect for music and conducting. It’s a film that you fall in love with because it is so in love with everything it is showing us.

I loved this film. I loved listening to Alsop tell her story. I loved watching her spread he love of music by teaching kids about music. Basically I was delighted at every turn.

I know this isn’t a deep meaningful review, but I don’t think this is the type of film that needs one. This is a big bear hug of a movie  that as a music and film lover that you slip into and are carried along.

It’s a glorious portrait of a woman you’ll want to hang out with and talk to for hours.

This film is a joy and highly recommended.

One of the unexpected gems of 2021

PIGGY (2022) Sundance 2022


Laura Galán will probably be come an interntional star after people see PIGGY because she give the role everything and then some. Truthfully if Oscar noticed films like this she would be a front runner, but the Academy never does, so her Oscar will not doubt come for some other, lesser performance.

I probably should say this but PIGGY made me laugh (probably for the wrong reasons). This tale of Sara, a heavy girl who ends up tied to the crimes of a serial killer, struck me as exceedingly funny. The reason for my chuckling was that everything was so over done. For me it played like an uncomfortable comedy where lots of bad things happened and lot of blood flowed. 

While I admire Laura Galán's work, I have to wonder if writer Carlotta Pereda likes the character. She abuses the shit out of Sara and has her running around in such away that she always seems to be on the verge of being completely naked both physically and emotionally. It never struck as believeable because she is always pushed to the brink and never given a respite, even for a second. What's worse the ending, which I guess is supposed to be cathartic just didn't make sense.

Then again much of this film doesn't make sense, with so much of the film seemed aimed to provoke a reaction either in the audience or the characters, with the result that some of the turns had me scratching my head-beginning with why in the hell the killer would leave a body underwater where everyone goes swiming- I mean it was clearly going to be discovered ASAP.

Yes,the film provkes a reaction, but I don't know if it does more than that. The plot doesn't make much sense and as a portrait of bullying it's so over the top and so incredibly cruel to its own character, that on it's own terms the film ends up being something that shouldn't be preaching.

Worth a look for Laura Galán's performance, I'm not too sure of the rest.