Friday, March 22, 2019

About a Donkey (2018) Queens World Film Festival 2019

ABOUT A DONKEY is only kind of about a donkey. Certainly the film’s events are triggered by the purchase of a donkey by a family’s patriarch, but what it is really about is the way the family interacts. It is the family interactions which makes the film work.

As much as I like ABOUT A DONKEY (go see it at the Queens World Film Festival I kind of want to shake writer director Christina Raia. While she has crafted a beautifully written and heartfelt family comedy she had saddled it with a donkey. Yes, it makes the film memorable or noticeable, but at the same time many people who should see the film because they are going to love it are going to see the premise and then move on to the next thing. The family drama is so good it doesn’t need a goose. Then again if it didn’t have a donkey in the title I wouldn’t have noticed it and would have missed it.

What I love about this film is that the interplay feels real. Everyone is busting on each other, cracking jokes about everything, but despite that there is a real sense of love. More importantly there is these moments when people are taken aback by the affection under what is being said. There are times when characters suddenly understand that they are understood. I love the exchange when Cecelia is told by her grandmother that she should ask out her aide. Cecelia is shocked that grandma would be so brazen as to ask if her aide liked girls, but was also taken aback that she had feelings that way. It’s a small thing but it rings true and it is the small moments like that that make the film alive.

Donkey aside this is a great filmmaking and great story telling. Director Christina Raia has made a wonderful film that is highly recommended. She has also put herself on my directors to watch list.

ABOUT A DONKEY plays at the Queens World Film Festival March 24. For tickets and more information go here.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Depraved (2019) What The Festival 2019

DEPRAVED frustrates me. It is so damn close to being a great film I want to scream. It is at times one of the most thoughtful riffs on Frankenstein you'll run across and at others its just an okay inde film.

A young man leaves his girlfriend after a fight. As he walks the streets he is set upon by an unknown person and stabbed to death. Waking up in a new body and unsure of who he is Adam has to relearn what it is to be human as well as deal with Henry his creator and the madness of Polidori his "assistant". As Adam learns more about who he is and how he came to be the stage is set for a grand tragedy.

Writer director Larry Fessenden has made a intriguing film. Updating Mary Shelley's tale to modern day Brooklyn, he shades it  not just with a mad genius trying to usurp god but with thoughts of trying to help those left broken by war. Henry's trying to heal those killed and hurt in our current wars. In doing so he truly makes us debate the notion of what Henry is doing on a more practical level than almost any other version of the tale.

This being a  Frankenstein film we also get the requisite riffs on what it means to be human and the struggle to truly discover who we really are. Fessenden's takes have unexpected resonances and get the mind working in ways that most of us haven't considered before.

This is also a film that is often visually delightful. There are short montages and overlays that  add a sense of what Adam is thinking. Adams look is also incredible. While I'm uncertain about how or why some of the scars are there it still looks impressive.

As much as I like the film there are things that bother me.

While I appreciate Fessenden treating the proceedings almost as if it is a drama, the tone of the film never quite feels right. There is a strange lack of suspense because on some level we know how this is going to go. As a result there is a lack of engagement as I was intellectually invested but not emotionally.

I'm also not sure about the Polidori character. The dark soul pushing Henry and events, he is the one character who seems out of place.Where pretty much everyone else seems, for the most part, to be or could be a real person (and I am including Adam) Polidori feels out of place. I don't know if it is the performance or the role, but he feels like he exists simply to push events along. It weakens things more than it should.

The film also has a problem with pacing. The film feels every one of it's 115 minutes with some bits feeling a little too long. There was a point around the half way point when I realized that there was still another hour to go. It's never fatal but it gave me time to think about some of the problems of the film instead of being carried past them by the momentum of events.

Don't think I hate the film, I don't, but I am frustrated because what is here is good enough that I should have loved it instead of just liking it.

Worth a look for fans of thoughtful rethinks of classic tales

Roll Red Roll (2018) opens tomorrow

ROLL RED ROLL begins with an audio recording of some teenagers laughing and joking about how one of their number raped a young girl to death (she didn’t die) and saying that it was “the funniest thing ever” and by the time it ends you have gone to the dark side and begin to understand just how fucked up humanity is.

The incident that happened in Steubenville Ohio involved members of the high school football team. The boys were considered gods and allowed to pretty much to do whatever they wanted since they brought so much happiness and pride to the town. However when a girl from across the river went off with some of the team she ended up drinking way too much and was sexually assaulted although she was so drunk she didn’t remember it. When her parents found out they had rape charges filed against two of the boys. The town was shocked (in a Casablanca sort of way) that anything like this could happen- until it came out that pretty much everyone in the high school knew all about it since it was being openly discussed, with pictures, on social media.

If you want to come to hate people then ROLL RED ROLL is for you. Don’t get me wrong it is a truly great film (it is one of the best at Tribeca) but the behavior of the teens and many of the adults make you want to wipe them off the face of the earth. Clearly we are not better than that. The fact that so many people knew what happened and either did nothing or found it hysterical crushes the soul when it comes to future of mankind. I was so pissed off by the time a second earlier incident was revealed involving an even younger girl that I just kind of died inside.

Director Nancy Schwartzman has to be applauded for putting together a film that shows just how rotten many people are. What is shocking is that she doesn’t have to interview anyone to tell the story, all she need do is present the public record. Everyone, including the rapists, put it all out there on social media and Schwartzman simply plays it back to us. Further she presents the police interviews which damns many others whose words of explanation just hangs them out as morally dead.

I have no idea what to say. This is a great film. It is also a really tough film. It’s a film that must be seen. People have to understand that it really can happen anywhere they are. The rot on the human soul that is causing terrible things to happen around the world is in ourselves.

One of the best films at Tribeca.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Out of the Blue (2018)

An astronomer is found dead inside of her observatory. Low key raspy voiced detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) is set  on the trail of the killer which has echoes to a long ago serial killer.

Based on a Martin Amis novel called Night Train, which was changed enough that they altered the title, OUT OF THE BLUE is either going to thrill  you or send you screaming from the theater. Walking the fine line between serious mystery and parody one is never certain if one is supposed to laugh at the proceedings going on or be on the edge of their seat. I was shaking my head from the get go and I never stopped as Clarkson's efforts to play a mumbly Clint Eastwood never clicked for me. Add  dialog that mixes quantum physics with hard boiled noir cliche and you have a film that is certainly one of a kind.

Part of the problem is there are no real characters. There are position points. We get the ideas behind things but no real notion that anyone on screen is a person. There is heady discussion of quantum physics and astronomy which is used in such away as to make you think its going to be mean something to the mystery as well as the world at large. Every one talks large as if over written by someone who needed to prove themselves smart.  While there are frequent wicked lines of dialog more often than not they hang in the air because real people aren't saying them put a position point.

I suppose that I should be happy that we have an actual film about ideas and about intelligent things but I really would have liked someone I could care about.

While never bad as such it never comes together to be anything I ever will really remember as being other than a game misfire.

Two takes on One Cut of the Dead (2018) which is playing at the What The Fest?

With ONE CUT OF THE DEAD playing at the What The ..? Fest I'm reposting both of the reviews we ran when it played at the New York Asian Film FEstival last year. The first by Nate Hood. The second by Joe Bendel

It takes a little time to figure out exactly what’s going on in Shin'ichirô Ueda’s ONE CUT OF THE DEAD. But as the film barrels on, the bits and pieces click into place and one can’t help but smile at Ueda’s cleverness and the sheer complexity of his undertaking. This is a film that works best when audiences go into it completely cold with no preconceptions. But since the phrase “Please go see this movie” is about 395 words short of my minimum for reviews, I’ll have to let part of the cat out of the bag. But only a small part.

The first thirty minutes are presented as a found footage movie about a film crew shooting a cheesy zombie film at an abandoned factory when—surprise!—real zombies attack. Filmed in one long take with a handheld camera, it’s awkwardly paced, irregularly acted, and most crucially, not scary. The whole things reeks of unintentional camp, from a middle-aged make-up artist demonstrating women’s self-defense techniques straight out of Diedrich Bader’s karate class in Napoleon Dynamite to a twist revealing the director went insane a long time ago and deliberately led the film crew to the zombie-infested site so he could film their “real fear.” (This director is responsible for the single genuinely entertaining part of the documentary when he suddenly reappears after seemingly being bludgeoned to death, throwing open one of the side doors of the car the surviving actors are trying to escape in, pushing a zombie into it, and maniacally screaming “Action!”) It finally ends with an amateurish climax where the Last Girl—an actress who’d been berated by the insane director for blowing takes with her mediocre acting skills—confronts her freshly zombified co-star and behind-the-scenes love interest with an axe. She raises it, begs him to come around, steels herself, and pauses as if she forgot her line or that she’s on a roof being attacked by a zombie. She raises it a second time. Again she chokes. A third time, and she finally manages to chop his head off. With the zombies defeated, the camera pulls back into the sky for a bird’s-eye view revealing she’s standing in a giant pentagram of blood. And then the film abruptly jumps a month into the past where we watch the producers, director, film crew, and cast get together to plan the fateful zombie shoot we just watched.

I refuse to spoil what happens next, but please believe me when I say that it’s nothing you might expect. One Cut of the Dead represents everything great about the New York Asian Film Festival: a celebration of bold new talents, unexpected genre mashing, and audacious filmmaking that leaves your mouth on the floor.

Rating: 9/10

It was supposed to be the Rope of zombie movies, filmed in one continuous shot. Then the zombies attack for real. However, if you think that sounds crazy, wait until you see it all again from a different perspective. Zombies get the mash-up treatment like never before in Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead (trailer here), which screens during the What The Fest.

Higurashi is a bullying director a thousand times worse than Peter O’Toole in The Stunt Man. He has so little regard for cast and crew safety, he awakens the zombie curse hanging over their remote location, an abandoned industrial site, where the Japanese military reportedly staged sinister occult experiments during WWII. As crew-members turn into feral zombies, Higurashi finally gets the realistic performances he wants from his terrified thesps.

However, there is much more going on outside the camera’s field of vision. In a complete change of tone, the film goes from a Night of the Living Dead rip-off to a worthy successor to Noises Off. It is hard to explain out of context, but Ueda’s editing is absolutely masterful. You just need to see it for yourself.

One of the many cool things about Cut is how completely Ueda and his cast commit to each phase of the film. The second and third acts are so wickedly clever, precisely because we were with the cast-members when they were running for their lives during the opening set-up.

Takayuki Hamatsu could possibly give the performance of the year as Higurashi. He certainly shows phenomenal range. Yet, Harumi Syuhama arguably eclipses his lunacy as Nao, the makeup artist who turns into a berserk killing machine and also acts pretty nuts in the third act as well. Mao develops some smart but endearing chemistry with them both as her namesake, an aspiring filmmaker.

Eventually, Cut evolves into a hilarious valentine to underdog independent genre filmmaking. It would pair up nicely with Graham Kelly Greene’s criminally overlooked Attack of the Bat Monsters. In fact, at one point a character in the Cormanesque spoof rather wistfully states: “in the future, people will watch these movies and laugh, but they’ll never understand how hard we worked on them.” That sentiment also perfectly fits Cut. It is a total winner that will charm the pants off horror fans. Very highly recommended

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

How To Be Alone (2019) SXSW 2019

A woman is left alone when her husband goes off for the night shift. She instantly goes into trying to remain sane and safe  by running down the rules of being alone at night.

Gloriously wonderful short film is as good as it gets on every level especially the entertainment one. Grand exploration of something we've all done- trying to fight the fear when left alone in a dark hose with a racing mind. While we know its all in our heroine's mind there is still chills as the dark images come calling.

No it is no truly scary hut more suspenseful and humorous, as director Kate Trefry manages to collide the fear with all fear with the silliness of what we are thinking. That a first time director can a horror comedy that works like this says volumes about her skill as a director. Please someone give her a feature film.

One of the great films of any length I've seen in 2019.

Highly recommended.

Skid Row Marathon (2018)

Skid Row Marathon will make you get misty. The tale of the running club at the Midnight Mission in LA’s Skid Row is a heartwarming tale of people getting their lives together and struggling to do more. It’s a must see.

The running club was started by Judge Craig Mitchell after he visited the mission the at the request of a man he sent away to prison. When he got there he was challenged to do something to help the people living there. Mitchell, an avid runner, started a running club that meets several mornings a week. They then hold events to fund the trips the Judge uses as rewards for those who remain clean and out of trouble to travel the world to run in races.

I don’t know what to say. This is a kick ass film that I wish I had caught up with during its festival run. It maybe me feel good. And it made cry. Somewhere toward the end tears were running down my cheeks as the people who thought they couldn’t do something so “simple” as run a race did so.

What an absolute joy.

I’m sorry this isn’t much of a review but sometimes you run across something that doesn’t need explaining it simply needs to be shared. I want to share this with everyone reading this small piece. You need to see this because it will show you what it is possible and how people can rise up when they just believe they can- which is something too many of us don’t understand.

One of the great finds of 2019. This film is a must see.

SKID ROW MARATHON opens March 22 at Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena ahead of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Slut in a Good Way opens March 29

Charlotte's boyfriend reveals that he is gay and she spirals out of control. while wandering the aidles of the local Toy Depot she and her friends notice all the cute guys working there, and promptly get jobs. As seasons change the romance and sex comes and goes.

Amusing teen sex comedy is unexpectedly charming. while the film tries a little too hard to be different with some arty camera work and black and white photographers, the sterling cast wins your heart. They make some obvious laughs seem funnier than they are (for exampleCharlotte getting drunk in the play ground early on).

More amusing trifle than earth shaking comedy, SLUT IN A GOOD WAY simply entertains. While I could pick it apart (is teenage life in French Canada really an endless stream of weed, alcohol and sex?), there really isn't a point because in the ends you'll remember the delights, the laughs, the characters, and the score. (And I need to point out I love how the end credit segue effortlessly into the film)

Worth a look

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Black Book

Anthony Mann’s Reign of Terror/Black Book has been a public domain staple for decades. Appearing in cheap DVDs and VHS copies for years I have it I don’t know how many oldie thriller sets. Amazingly I had somehow never managed to see it until I saw it Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Joe Dante retrospective. Dante programed he film as one of his influences. We were not told how it influenced him but it’s good enough that it’s not hard to imagine how it could.

Set toward the end of the French revolution’s reign of terror, the film has Robert Cumming’s anti-Robespierre hero taking the place of a “prosecutor” from Strasburg who was sent for by Robespierre. Its seems that someone has stolen the infamous black book in which all those to be denounced are listed. It must be discovered before the convention which will make Robespierre dictator of France. Complications arise for Cummings as an old love shows up and Robespierre and his men are running a larger game.

A taught thriller I’m at a loss as to why the film isn’t better known. Yes it’s workman like and very much of it’s time but it dos what it does with incredible skill and is a hell of a lot more entertaining than most other films from the same time. It’s a film I would gladly put on again and again.

The love of the film as sealed for me with the sequence in the farm house when soldiers are looking for Cummings, his girlfriend and the black book. Roused by the approaching soldiers Cummings flees leaving the book behind. A game of trying to hide the book and not let anyone know it’s there ensues and it’s a sequence worthy to be compared with the best of Hitchcock.

I can’t say enough good about the film other than see it- and if you can see it big.

An absolute delight.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Dangerous Flowers (aka Chai Lai Angels)

This is a Thai version of Charlie's Angels. Here there are five girls instead of three. Its a total goof.

 Everything about the film from the plot (the angels have to protect a little girl who has a rare pearl) to the characters (one is a guy in drag) to the action sequences (they are sending up action sequences) are very silly. At no point are we ever expected to take any of this seriously on any level, even if they are playing it all reasonably straight. If you go in expecting a straight action film you are going to be disappointed. if you go in expecting a Thai blend of action (the action is the reason to see the film) and comedy then you are more likely to have a good time. If there is any flaws its that the film doesn't quite work in the non-action scenes. The comedy there comes off as heavy handed. Thankfully the talking scenes tend to be brief.

Forgive me for not saying more but the plot is very slight. Its the action that stand out, and thankfully its all set pieces beginning with a fight on an airplane that's cross cut with a fight in a house and car chase on to the kidnapping of the girl to a fight in towels in an office tower on and on to the final girls in white dresses bit which takes things about as far as you can go. Its all well done and very tongue and cheek (often suitably cheaply)

Worth a look for action fans with a high tolerance for silly things.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Man and Child (1956)

Eddie Constantine plays the head of a perfume company who discovers that his company is being used to smuggle drugs when a man kidnaps Eddie's adopted daughter and demands that Eddie find his daughter who went missing as a result of the drugs coming from his company.

Misnamed film, the girl only shows up at the start and end, is an otherwise pretty good Eddie Constantine film.  Filled with witty remarks and more than its share of suspense this is light entertainment that holds your attention.

As with many Constantine films there is a knowing wink that helps glance over the rough patches. Eddie is clearly aware this is a film in such as the moment when someone doesn't believe who Eddie is in context of the film and says " Yea, well I'm Eddie Constantine" to which Eddie says "Well I have no idea who that is" as he glances into the camera.

Ultimately this is a lot of fun and is recommended.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dream (2008)

Kim Ki-Duk's tale of how a man and a woman become linked by dreams.

It begins with Jin waking up from a vivid dream involving a car accident. Going to the scene he finds the police are investigating a hit and run accident. Following information from a traffic camera the police go to Ran's home find that she was asleep. Hauled to the police station Ran tries to protest but there are pictures of her driving the car. Jin tries to intercede and soon its discovered that Ran has taken to sleep walking recently.It seems that when ever Jin dreams Ran acts out his dreams but in an opposite way which means that Jin who is trying to see his ex-girlfriend whom he still loves, causes Ran to see her ex boyfriend whom she despises.

This is a dark romantic tale is an often uncomfortable to watch since we know what the dreams mean. Ran is getting hurt because of what Jin is dreaming and there is little that the pair can do. Well acted, we feel for the characters because the actors makes it clear that sometimes its so hard to stay awake. They have created two nice characters that we feel bad for.

Unfortunately the film has a couple of problems that work against the valiant attempts of the actors. First the score is not very good. It seems to belong to some cheesy exploitation film from the 1970's. For me it was all wrong and from the first notes it set a really bad mood. The other problem is that script doesn't really work. The characters are never fully fleshed out and as much as the actors try to breath life into them they sill feel a bit hollow or unformed. The trajectory of the story kind of seems too artificial. The film seems not to always be moving in a natural direction, I had the feeling that the director wanted it to go in a certain direction and thats the way it goes. This being a Kim Ki-Duk film it's ripe with a sense of darkness and or even dread. This is not a wholly happy tale even if it is ultimately a love story (there is some violent imagery).

In the end I don't know what I make of it. I like the idea, I like the characters, but there is something about the way the film is told that rubbed me the wrong way. I think its an interesting misfire. (And lest you think that I don't "get" Kim Ki-Duk's style or his films, understand that I am a fan having all but his films in my collection.) if you're a fan of the director or adventurous, I think its worth trying for the characters and the pieces that work.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Nothing Stays the Same (2019) SXSW 2019

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is probably one of the most important documentaries of 2019. I know it's a weird thing to say about a film about a music venue in Austin Texas that is trying to stay open, but it’s absolutely the truth. NOTHING STAYS...speaks to every town and village in America, and asks what happens when you allow crazy construction across your town when, more often than not, it is going to destroy the very thing that you are known for?

The film is the story of Austin Texas, specifically the the Saxon Pub. Austin has been known as a mecca for live music, and the Pub was considered one of the best venues to see great music. People from all over the world have gone to the pub and Austin, because they loved the music and the community that exists around it. The city was had once dozens of places like the Pub to see all sorts of music. However, as more and more people came to town costs rose and the venues that hosted live performances were driven out via taxes or problems with landlords, who either raised rents to impossible levels or simply kicked the tenants out to build apartments. The Austin music scene, as a result is dying.

This is the case with the Saxon Pub, which faces closure because the landlord got an insane offer from a developer who wants to build more apartments like the ones that surround it. As the bar faces an uncertain future, filmmaker Jeff Sandmann investigated what the loss of a legendary space such as the Saxon Pub would mean in the short and long term.

Filled with glorious music, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is just a great film. A spot on examination on the crazy gentrification of not just Austin, but America, the film ponders what will happen to the city when music that once filled every corner of the city goes silent. What do you do when the cost of living in the city is so prohibitive to anyone who just wants to make music? Worse the venues the musicians once played in are closing. The reason that many people go or move to the city is rapidly disappearing. The city that once had a charming character is now becoming a land of dull apartment buildings.

Director Sandmann is to be commended. He has made a film that not only shows us what is in danger if our culture goes away, but also the battle to stop it. It’s a battle that is being fought across the country on all sorts of levels. While specifically aimed at music this is battle that libraries, museums and other cultural institutions are fighting across America. By showing us the battle for the Saxon Pub Sandmann makes the fight something we can all understand.

Not to put too fine a pint on it, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is one of the  great films of 2019. Not only does it inform but it also entertains (as I said it filled with great music). This is a must see. And don’t let the fact the film runs just over an hour fool you, it has more information and emotional punch then films running twice or three times as long.

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME screens again on March 16th

Pusher (2019) Pasadena International Film Festival

PUSHER is an emotional short about Brittany Lee, a young woman who is both an addict and a dealer. In the wake of her connection telling Brittany that she is done with dealing, a turn of circumstances forces her to reflect and consider the roads that lead her to this place.

Gloriously low key PUSHER is a reflective slice of life simply lets life unfold. There doesn’t seem to be judgement, there just is life. This is the hard scrabble life of a woman in the middle of nowhere, where there is nothing much to do other than drugs. As one person infers toward the end there really wasn’t much choice not to become an addict since where they live there isn’t much else to do. It’s a sad but tragic fact.

Writer, director and star Andi Morrow needs to be commended for her small gem of a film that rises above so many other films with similar plots. As someone who spends a great deal of time in the inde channels of filmdom I’ve seen five to ten films each year over the last decade that highlight the drug problem in rural America. There is sameness to many of them. Morrow beautifully avoids all the pitfalls and sameness making a rich character study that gets under your skin and breaks your heart. It is a film that engages us on both an emotional level and an intellectual one, forcing us to consider if we were in similar circumstance if we would end up following her path.

PUSHER is a must see. It is not only a solid movie and a calling card of a filmmaker to watch.

PUSHER screens as follows:

Pasadena International Film Festival - March 15th (World Premiere; Best Short Film Nominee)

Chattanooga Film Festival - April 11-14 (Tennessee Premiere)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Brief word on WOODSRIDER which hits VOD today

Woodsrider is a film about Sadie Ford.At 19 she drives off to the wilds of the town of Governments Camp to snowboard and to just be alone in the wilderness with her dog.

Low key documentary is going to delight audiences that click with low key off the grid vibe. – is a kindred spirit to many of the crazy mountaineers we see profiled who go off and simply go from mountain to mountain without a real care in world. Sadie just wants to snowboard and hang out in the wilderness. Yes she occasionally goes back to town to hang out with people but mostly she just is.

The problem with the documentary for some is going to that this is film this is reflective and meditative. There is a kind of Zen observational quality to it that is going to drive anyone who wants explosions and gun fights up the wall. It’s kind of like if Frederick Wiseman made a film on a snowboarder.

I like the film and its quiet nature. If you think that is up your alley then I heartily recommend the film.

Human Nature (2019) SXSW 2019

Human Nature is a look at our ability to splice genes and thus manipulate the lives and beings of every living thing on earth.

I am not certain what I think of Human Nature. While the film is full of great information and wonderfully doesn’t talk down to the audience, thus making it one of the best explorations of the subject in any media that I’ve run across. it has a couple of problems that kind of keeps me from jumping up and down and raving about it.

First the telling is so restrained that it never fully engages. I loved at what I was being told because the film simply and expertly gets the science across. The problem is it really straight forward. It remains on a single emotional level and stays there always tickling the head instead of the heart.

The other problem for me is it never really goes into the dark side. While the hubris of what happens in Jurassic Park is discussed, it is largely poo pooed as something that scientists would never do. Yes even the talking heads about how they might make changes to their children, while down sides like breeding kids to be super athletes is discussed the tone of it all always seems to be “yea we could do those things but other than for a purely good reason we wouldn’t do that”. While I would love to accept the altruism on it’s face I’ve been around the block to know that while saying they would all do the right things doesn’t mean that’s what would happen. Let’s face t there is too much money in doing evil.

And despite my nitpicks I like the film. I love that the film beautifully lays out everything you need to know to have at least a basic understanding of the subject. I just wish it was a little more realistic and a little more exciting.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Well Groomed (2019) SXSW 2019

A look at several competitive dog groomers and their quest to win the award for being the best WELL GROOMED is review proof. There is nothing that I can say about this film that is going to have any effect on its intended audience. Those that want to see it will do so and love it and those that don't  will hate it.

As you can see from the poster above the sort of grooming we are talking about is not simply making a dog look normal. That would be too easy. Instead it involves cutting and coloring the air on the dogs so that they are creations that involve mermaids, dinosaurs or characters from Alice in Wonderland. Its wild and crazy and amazing .

The film follows several of the groomers as they go through the cycle of shows and work on their designs. We get a good idea of the sort of people who strive to be the best in a competition that really is out there.

I don’t know what to say. I have no idea if this film is high art but it is a great deal of fun. It’s a wild ride full of laughs and smiles and lots of disbelief. Disbelief that people can do what they do and at the fact that people would want to do it.

If you want a wild ride you must buy a ticket. If you’re not sure if the film is for you, look at the picture above. If it delights you then buy a ticket. If you get a lemon face stay away (and have your sense of fun looked at by a doctor).

WELL GROOME D screens again today Monday, March 11th at 5:00 PM at Alamo Lamar and Thursday, March 14th at 2:45 PM at Alamo Lamar

Rezo: An Animated Portrait of the Georgian Artist

Rezo Gabriadze was an accomplished screenwriter, whose films included the international cult hit, Kin-Dza-Dza!, but he refocused his creative energies into marionette theater, because he experienced far less state interference there. The puppeteer-illustrator-filmmaker explains how the lean, difficult years of his youth shaped him as an artist and a human being, through his own words and images, in his son Leo Gabriadze’s animated documentary, Rezo, which opens this Wednesday in New York, at Film Forum.

As a young boy in Kutaisi, Gabriadze was so weak and scrawny, everyone picked on him. His only friend in town was Ippolit, a rat living in the library, with whom he shared the books. He read the pages and Ippolit chewed the covers—or so Gabriadze remembers. He is indeed just as apt to pass off his flights of fantasy as gospel events, but that is all part of the charm of the film and its subject.

Although Gabriadze was a city kid, his most formative memories are of his visit to his grandparents’ hardscrabble farms, during summers and whenever war started advancing too close to home. They were not talkative (especially not his gruff grandfather), but the animals and natural environment fired the lad’s imagination. He was also deeply affected by the friendship he found with a German POW who had been assigned to his grandparents as a free laborer. In fact, the nameless German (who clearly looks like one of the elite Junkers) emerges as one of the richest and most intriguing figures in Gabriadze’s tale (or in just about any recent animated film, for that matter).

Although Marc Chagall was fiftysome years older than Gabriadze (and Belarusian Jewish), Rezo is probably the closest thing to what Chagall might have done as an animator filmmaker, had he had the opportunity and inclination. We can definitely see Russian-Soviet militarism encroaching on the old traditional world—and yes, there are cows in Rezo. In what is probably the film’s trippiest sequence, Gabriadze conveys what it was like to grow up in the midst of the omnipresent Soviet propaganda.

This is also an absolutely charming film. The senior Gabriadze, who appears in live on-camera interludes, still has a twinkle in his eye. He is a marvelously engaging storyteller, even via subtitles. His sketches and paintings perfectly evoke a sense of how harsh those times could be, as well as nostalgia for their simplicity. Those who admire Gabriadze’s work might be surprised how little time is devoted to his professional career, but it might perfect sense from a psycho-analyst’s perspective.

Regardless, Rezo is a wonderfully sly and bittersweet oral history from a great Georgian artist. It also proves how animation can be the perfect vehicle for serious filmmaking. Frankly, this is probably the only way to do Gabriadze’s story justice, because he clearly remembers in very animated terms. Produced by epic filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Ben-Hur, Day Watch), Rezo happens to run a fleeting sixty-five-minutes, so Film Forum has paired it up with Yuri Norstein’s classic 1979 animated short Tale of Tales. Highly recommended, both for animation fans (of all but the youngest ages) and patrons of Russian and Caucasian culture, Rezo opens this Wednesday (3/13), at Film Forum.

Days of the Whale (2019)SXSW 2019

Catalina Arroyave's DAYS OF THE WHALE is a gem of a film. While the film certainly chose to world premiered at SXSW because it's street artist characters were certain to connect with the festival goers, the film is much more special and alive to simply remain connected to one segment of the film going audience.

The film follows artists Cristina and Simon who are part of a community of young artists in Medellin in Columbia. Struggling to get their art seen they also have to deal with the problems of being, young, in love and living in a city here gangs hold say over some parts of life. When a threat is left on a wall by one of the gangs, the pair decide to paint over it with a mural, thus creating a conflict between themselves and within their community.

I don't know where to start so much in this film is wonderful.  The story is compelling, the art is amazing, the sense of place is near perfect...there is so much I want to say in the hope of getting you to see the film I don't know where to start. However probably the best  reason is the cast which is as good as they come. Headed by Laura Tobón and David Escallón the cast never seems to be acting only living their lives. Better yet Tobón and Escallón work so well together that they are one of the great romantic couples I've ever run across. Their affection for each other is tactile and bleeds off the screen.  Watching the pair together I kept thinking I want that level of connection in my life.

I really love this film a great deal and I don't want to spoil it for you by telling you what I think the film is. Never mind what I think the film is, other than great, just go see it. Go see it and see a world that is more real and a live than the one you are living in some bland office somewhere.

Highly recommended.

DAYS OF THE WHALE made its world premiere as part of the Global section at the 2019 edition of the SXSW Film Festival, last night in Austin, Texas, It will make its national premiere at the Cartagena International Film Festival in Colombia, March 6-11.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Ernie and Joe (2019) SXSW 2019

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries so far in 2019 and Ernie and Joe is the first film I think has a shot at an Oscar. This portrait of two officers in the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit is a quiet stunner. It’s a film that will open your eyes and make you wonder why other police departments aren’t doing the same thing.

Opening with the two men answering a call to a court house where a man with mental issues refuses to leave a waiting room because he doesn’t feel safe. The two men sit down with the man, winning his trust and assuring him that if he goes with them all would be alright. He trusts them and goes off with them. The film then follows the men through their days, at home, at seminars and on patrol.

I don’t know what to say except this is a great film.

Vital and important this is a film that shows us something that could change the way the police operate. This film clearly shows us how one properly trained officer can make a difference. At a seminar one of the officers tells the story of how a woman called 911 saying she was going to shoot herself. The police responded with a tactical squad plus many other additional officers. As they were trying to decide how to handle it he called the woman up and talked her into putting the gun down and coming out. What could have (and in other places would have) ended tragically ended happily. Granted that doesn’t always work, we do hear of lives lost, but we also have our eyes opened to the possibility of saving more lives.

But he film does more than just show us the men working. We get to see them at home as well where we see the lives they lead and the toll the job is taking on them. We get a sense of the people it takes to do this job effectively.

You must see this film. Not only must you see the film we must use it as a rallying cry to get the police to change what they are doing.

And yes I really think that if the Oscars can get their collective heads together and realize that the best films don’t always need to be flashy or music filled this film could be taking Oscar gold.

ERNIE AND JOE screens again today Sunday, March 10th at 3:00 PM at Alamo Lamar and Friday, March 15th at 6:00 PM at Alamo Lamar