A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Sunday, June 4, 2023
SQUARING THE CIRCLE (THE STORY OF HIPGNOSIS) (2023) Opens Wednesday at FIlm Forum
Saturday, June 3, 2023
When Spring Came to Bucha (2023) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023
This is a record of what happened when the Russians withdrew from a small town in Ukraine after destroying as much as they could manage. The resulting film is a record of the human spirit to go on in the face of great tragedy. We watch as the people clear the rubble of explosives and then slowly try putting things right, rebuilding and getting back to their lives as best they can.
The power and importance of WHEN SPRING CAME TO BUCHA is not in that it records what happens in one small town, rather its in the recording of the human spirit. We see how live life goes on after war. This is a story that has played out for millennia as invaders came in, busted stuff up and then left. Here is a film that shows us what happens in real life as real people try to go back. It's a moving tale full of hope, that maybe we can pull out surviving the madness.
Pratfall (2023) Brooklyn Film Festival 2023
PRATFALL stars Chloé Groussard and Joshua Burge as Joelle and Eli. Eli is reeling from the loss of his mother and his girlfriend in short order. Unable to fully cope he has become an insomniac. He collides with Joelle a French tourist who is lost in Central Park and wants to see the city.
Frankly it's one of the best performances I've seen this year. If Burge and the film were a bit bigger and could get a campaign up and running I could see the performance getting some year end love. On the other hand it's possible that this masterful turn might keep voters away. Which is a bitch since by the time the film ends Burge has broken our hearts in the best sort of way. Burge's performance is the reason I love small inde films, it's the performances that are closer to real than we normally get.
Friday, June 2, 2023
Dry (2022) and Like Turtles (2023) Open Roads
Three years into a drought any remaining water is weeks away from running out. As life goes on people try to cope and figure out their future.
Scattershot comedy never really comes together. Nominally about climate change and future predicaments the film also finds time to have long conversations about pandemics,cancel culture and life in today's world. Some of the discussions are interesting, but they belong in another film. Actually much of this film belongs somewhere else since there are so many thematic threads running through this film it never really feels it's about anything.
After a certain point I tuned out because I didn't know why I was watching the film.
After her husband leaves, a woman hides in a wardrobe and leaves her kids to fend for themselves.
This is an okay family drama that has some sweet moments. Is it high art? No but it entertains. Actually my feeling was some American star is going to buy the rights and turn it into a saccharine feel good film.a Perish the thought.
As it stands it's an amusing trifle.
Chiara (2022) Open Roads 2023
Portrait of St. Clare who was a follower of St Francis of Assisi. She gave up her wealthy life style and went into the church instead, much to dislike of her family.
Well done, one of a kind film is a film I admire more than like. A decidedly off kilter retelling of the story with musical numbers and bits that destroy the fourth wall, it’s a film that has it’s own mind set. It’s a film that is doing things its own way and to hell with convention. It’s a move that doesn’t always work.
The problem is that the film very much wants to let you know it’s about something. After several iterations of Clare's story I’m not sure there is anything left to say. The film also loves to show off its flourishes which distract more than inform. After a while I kind of stopped caring because this was more about the show then the story.
No, it isn’t bad, I mean I don’t hate the film, but at the same time if I wasn’t going to have to try and cobble a few words together on the film I would have left the film somewhere in the middle.
The film is a series of essays on the influences of the Wizard of Oz on the films of David Lynch.
This is kind of like watching a series of between the film pieces on Turner Classic Movies on the same subject for two hours. Some are better than other (The John Waters one is excellent) but they all suffer from the repetition of images and ideas.
As interesting as some of this is the film made me ponder the whole doc subgenre of dissecting all the obscure reference in a directors films. Why are we doing it? Yes OZ influenced Lynch, but isn't it more important what he is doing with the themes? On a larger level isn't more interesting with what the filmmakers are doing with the things they have seen.. I mean we don't investigate the brick in a building.
Personally I find these essays that look at the tiny details serve little purpose other than to make the creator of the investigation seem intelligent since they get to dazzle the audience with all they things they know....
But I digress.
This is an okay film that is best for Lynch fans who have literally seen every film he's made.
Thursday, June 1, 2023
The Roundup:No Way Out (2023)
With this third film in the Detective Ma Dong-seok series (after OUTLAWS and THE ROUNDUP) Don Lee is cemented in movie history as one of the screens great bad asses. Yea Lee has always been a great actor, but with THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT he steps into the rarefied company of the great screen action heroes.
Let's get this out of the way right at the top, as fun as ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT is, it's not as good as the previous two films. To be certain the plot concerning 20 kilos of drugs lost by the Yakuza, and now being sold by a dirty cop to the Triads is good, but it's not as suspenseful as it should be. The film isn't about being a thriller and instead exists to be amusing and have Lee beat the snot out of as many guys as possible. It's not remotely bad, simply suffering from coming after two action classics (both of the previous films were on my Best of the Year lists). We've just reached the point where we aren't worried if there is going to be anyone left to be in a sequel, here there is no doubt who the baddest guy on screen is.
As always Lee is wonderful as he drops bad guys with a single punch. He also has a way with words throwing in a gosh at one point, and a steady stream of charming asides at others. You really like the guy. It's the sweetness behind the punches that makes the man even more likable.
Technically the film is a marvel. The action sequences rock. Filmed for maximum impact we feel each blow. The camera stays with the action in longer takes so we get the illusion the fights are happen right in front of us and not created in a series of rapid cuts. Its all staged for maximum effect. Blood, genuine real fake blood, is spilled in many of the fights and remains on walls and floors in later shots. That may sound like a minor thing but too often filmmakers mismatch shots or forget to add in the cgi blood spray.
What an absolute mindless joy this film is. It may be a step below what went before but its still way above most other recent action films. More importantly it will have you amped up for the next film in the series.
Recommended-more so if you loved the first two films.
The Strangeness (2022) Open Roads 2023
I suspect that your reaction to this wonderful film is going to be either anger and annoyance at the odd rambling nature of the narrative or you are going to be enthralled and cheering, kind of like the depiction of the reaction to Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Exit that ends this film.
I was cheering.
The plot of the film has the writer Luigi Pirandello going to Sicily for a funeral of a friend. On top of the loss he is blocked and unable to write anything. Into his life stumble two men who run the funeral home being used for the burial. They are a crazed duo who have theatrical aspirations. As Pirandello interacts with the two men the seeds for his best known work are planted.
Playing like a Pirandello play, THE STRANGENESS is a film that requires that you give yourself over to it. You have to go with the seemingly random nature of some of the early sections in order for the later more controlled parts to make sense. The film is a structured so that we are given a bunch of characters and themes at the start that come together when we realize that nothing was as random as we thought. The film is simply trying to misdirect in order to better inform us as to what is going on.
I really liked this film a great deal. It brought up an interview I saw many years ago where in the middle of a career spanning interview Richard Harris took a detour to discuss Pirandello's work. At the time he was doing a Pirandello play in London, and managed to explain the author's work in a way that was infinitely better, briefer and more user friendly than any course or book that I had read on the subject. Harris’ take on Pirandello’s play was very much like what we are seeing here. There is a mix of serious and playful that gets us engaged and thinking.
That the film works as well as it does is entirely due to the three leads. Toni Servillo is a wonderful Pirandello. While I know some people don’t think he is given much to do, he does in fact push things forward. It’s a quiet and restrained performance where he reveals the world in looks and small gestures. Sure he isn’t as flashy as Salvo Ficarra and Valentino Picone as the undertakers but if he wasn’t as solid as he is the film would implode. As for Ficarra and Picone they are sheer perfection. The two are on another plane of existence and simply tear down the house. They just go and go and go, where is anyone’s guess, but that’s okay, since it’s a universe where they are known and loved. The paring is quite simply one of the greatest things I’ve seen on screen in the last five years. If nothing else, their interplay is a reason to see this film. Just wow. You need to see them, trust me
THE STRANGENESS delighted me. Initially not on my must see list for Open Roads is won me over in grand fashion and is, in my humble opinion, the best films in the series. I can’t recommend the film enough.
Sakara (2023) in theaters and VOD now, on DVD and Blu-ray June 13
Donnie Yen’s SAKRA is the latest version of the novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils to hit the big screen. It is, for most of its running time, one of the most amazing and the best films that I have seen in 2023. It’s a high octane martial arts thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The plot of the film has a martial arts master and leader of the Beggar Clan being framed for murder and going off to find out who is actually behind it.
This is the first film that Donnie Yen has put his name on as a director in a decade and it’s pretty much an action masterpiece. I am in awe of this film which, for the most part does everything right. Yen’s camera work is incredible creating magnificent spaces for the action to take place in. His framing of the action sequences is such that we can follow and be amazed at the fights. There is no quick cutting but fantastic tracking shots. Yen has created a world that feels real.
Yen has also give us one of the great characters in his body of work. Qiao Feng is like many of Yen’s other character’s a man of absolute honor and righteousness. He is a man of his word and is willing to die for that. The emotion this creates, particularly in the battle that ends the first half of the film is honest and earned.
Yen’s direction is as good as good as it gets and I can only compare it to S S Rajamouli‘s work on RRR. Yen has made a film that for most of it’s running time is one of the greatest action films I’ve ever seen.
Okay there are two things to know before you see this film. One is something that may effect your personal preferences and the other is a problem with the script.
First it is full of crazy ass wire work and jaw dropping special effects. The masters have super powers and they use them to great effect. Additionally everyone is bouncing off wall and ceilings in some of the most spectacular action sequences you’ve ever seen. If you don’t like that sort of thing, even when well done, stay away.
The other problem with the film is that just as the film gets into the final half hour or 40 minutes the plot explodes into “WTF” nonsense. Blame the efforts of trying to shoehorn the source novel into two and a quarter hours. All of these plot threads, several of which were never or barely mentioned come crashing in as minor characters in the film become major ones (way too many characters are hiding in the wings the result of focusing on only one character from the novel). A couple of plot turns seem to be out of left field. As the final fights were happening I was wondering if they had changed films midstream because I felt very very lost. And the film doesn’t end, it stops as long sequences in the end credits fill in details, give us new characters and sets up a sequel(the source is part of a series). The final half hour made this go from one the greatest films of all time in my eyes, to a really good action film that still blew me away.
Reservations aside, I absolutely love this film. It is one of the most amazing films I’ve seen this year and highly recommended.
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
ABBE PIERRE - A CENTURY OF DEVOTION (2023) Cannes 2023
70 years in the life of Henri Groues, a Catholic priest who became beloved figure in France before his death in 2007.
Razing Liberty Square (2023) plays Friday at Human Rights Watch Film Festival NYC Friday
The problem the poor, the minorities and the disenfranchised have had over the years is that even when they have been shunted to certain areas over the years, the rich and powerful will eventually come and try to take their land and their homes. In many cases the rich want to add to their territory (See RACIST TREES) and just want the poor out of their way. In the case of Miami Florida, they know the sea levels are rising and they want the high ground for themselves.
RAISING LIBERTY SQUARE is the story of global warming and how the high ground near Miami Beach has suddenly become valuable because at some point it will be the beach. This means everyone who has ocean front property now will have to move. The film follows how plans to up grade the the Liberty Square area which are supposed to be a boon for everyone turned into a boondoggle and nightmare for the people being displaced.
This film is going to make you shake your head and get angry. This is a film that clearly shows you should never trust rich people when there is something at stake that they actually want. Following the lives of residents and people involved with the plans it becomes clear that many people have an agenda beyond the good of the community.
While it's a story we've kind of heard before the fact that rich people and cities are going to be coming for people's land because it's not going to be underwater is something new. This film is a dire warning about what the future is going to hold for millions of people across the globe.
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Delta (2022) Open Roads 2023
If you can get to one of the Open Roads screenings of DELTA do so. This is a moody thriller that was shot with a big screen in mind. (And yes it will look good on your TV but you will be in the delta if you see it on the big screen)
The film is the story of a depressed delta area in the north of Italy. Industry wants to start polluting the waters again with their waste and the fishermen are struggling to catch enough fish. One fisherman is getting around traditional methods of getting fish by using electricity. This provides enough fish but rapidly decreases their population. It’s a move that gets him on the radar of a game warden who begins to play a game of cat and mouse with him.
This is a visually stunning thriller that looks so good that you can smell the waters and feel the rain on your face. Few films of the last decade or so have looked this good. Every shot is absolutely perfect and adds volumes to story the film is telling. This film really should be up for an Oscar for cinematography, if not for other things as well.
The reality is this is a bleak tale where no one really wins. You have the feeling the fishermen and their families are pretty much doomed, their way of life slipping away. The wardens are fighting a no win battle since all they are doing is delaying the inevitable. The bleakness of the situation results in a tale that is a more like a film noir than many of the classic film noirs.
I want to try and compare DELTA to other films but that really isn’t possible. Sure certain films remind me of this film or novel or that, but it is only a shot or a moment. The reality is DELTA is its own thing. It may pull things from elsewhere, but the way it puts them all together is uniquely its own doing.
I absolutely loved this film. I loved the look, I loved the feel. I just loved that it felt like a honest to god real movie instead of a prepackaged product that is put out just to turn a buck. …
Actually …this feels like one of the great thrillers of the 1970’s where the director was going for broke by making a gritty film that feel lived in.
I can’t recommend this film enough. One of the best films at Open Roads.
After Sherman (2022)
A film pondering the notion of home through a small town in South Carolina.
This is an essay/meditation on a number of subjects about having a place where your family can call home. Its about the director's home town where his ancestors set down roots after being freed during the Civil War.
Its a film of beautiful pieces that never come together into anything meaningful. I say this because there is no effort to explain who anyone is or to tie the various pieces together. This is all the pieces of a great film sitting unassembled.
Playing as part of Tribeca's Critic's Week, this is the sort of film that seems like it should be deep and important, but ijust missed the mark so closely that no one wanted to tell the director to try again.
Monday, May 29, 2023
Open Roads New Italian Cinema 2023 starts June 1
I am a huge Open Roads fan.
I discovered the festival early in the run of Unseen Films and I have been a fan ever since. What initially drew me to the festival was the fact that it brought many of my favorite Italian film directors and personalities to New York. What kept me going back was it was opening up my eyes to all sort of great films I never knew existed, thus introducing me to new directors I need to keep an eye out for.
The festival is so good that I end up cursing myself for missing the films I catch at a later point. (This year I was annoyed I missed Freaks Vs The The Riech which is one of the best super hero movies ever made.)
As this posts I’m still wading through the selections. There are a lot of interesting films playing here so you’ll want to get tickets. While there are lot of good films there are two that I think are on my list for the absolute best films of this year so far::
THE STRANGENESS a story about how Luigi Pirandello came up for the idea for 6 Characters in Search of an Exit. It is a film you need to go with because of the structure, but you won’t mind because it has some of the craziest characters you’ll ever see.
THE DELTA is a moody thriller set in a rural region of Italy. Set in a swampy area it’s a film that looks and feels like nothing of recent vintage and more like the moody thrillers from the 70’s. This film blew me away and I’m trying to see if I can see it on the BIG screen. This is going to get a lot of chatter once more people see it.
Tickets are on sale now and I think if a film piques your interest you should just buy a ticket and go.
ANONYMOUS SISTER (2021) opens Friday
Director Jamie Boyle filmed her family over a the years. The result ended up being a record of how opioids effected her family and her sister in particular.
This is a really good view from the trenches of the current opioids crisis. Revealing what it is really like the film charts how the drugs damage the family, but more importantly it shows how the family fought to remain together.
It’s a moving trip that is recommended.
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York starts this week
If you read Unseen Films with any regularity you know I will try and cover several versions of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Film Festival through the year. I do it because the different stops of the fest have different films. This week the festival is coming to New York and I am absolutely delighted.
I love HRW Film Fest. In part I love it because it shows important films that people should see because they make a better place. Mostly I love the festival because they show incredibly good films that make me go wow. Yes important films need to be seen, but if the films aren’t kick ass they won’t change people’s minds. HRW films are always kick ass and always make me see the world in a new way.
You have to go see something.
The absolute must see is SEVEN WINTERS IN TERAN. Its the story of a young woman who was thrown and jail and sentenced to death for killing a man who entered her house and raped her. It will break your heart. Its one of 2023's best films and a must see. A review went up earlier today because I wanted to get word out ASAP that you must see it.
And for a couple of films I am not going to do full reviews. It’s not a matter of them being bad, rather it’s purely do to my not having a great deal to say for one reason or another.
IN MY NAME is a loving look at four friends who struggling with their gender identities. Made by Nicolo Bassetti whose son is one of the people profiled, it’s a lovely film about people whose gender doesn’t fit into the typical male or female boxes. While I really like the film a great deal, it’s really good time with really good people, I don’t have much to say beyond calling it lovely and recommending it.
KOROMOUSSO BIG SISTER is the story of several women who were the victims of genital mutilation in the home countries. The film recounts their stories and shows us how they come together to support each other and form a family. It’s another solid film that recounts a barbaric act that is still happening across the globe and what it takes to recover from it. The film is also very recommended.
For tickets and more information go here
Seven Winters in Tehran (2023) HRW 2023
Hands down the best film at this years New York edition of The Human Rights Watch Film Festival SEVEN WINTERS IN TEHRAN is going to kick you to the curb and leave you feeling numb. It's a must see film that will make you angry beyond words.
The film is the story of Reyhaneh Jabbari who was sentenced to die after she killed the man who tried to rape after he broke into her house. As she headed to the gallows her family and friends tried to free her and ended up helping many other people along the way.
In all honesty I have no words. At a time where women are struggling to retain control of their bodies, stories like this show how bad things can get. It's stories like this that perfectly explain why people don't particularly good things to say about the leadership of Iran or about religious groups that advocate the lesser place of women.
I was pretty much depressed from start to finish. By the time the film ended I just sat staring at the screen wondering why I bothered to see the film and pondering how I could kill everyone in the Iranian leadership (That's not a serious threat simply an expression about my complete and utter disgust for everyone involved in the prosecution).
While it speaks specifically to what happened in Iran, SEVEN WINTERS is a dire warning from the front line of the war against women. This is what can and will happen if backward thinking and hatred for half the population of the earth is allowed to take root.
You will forgive me if this isn't a proper review, but SEVEN WINTERS isn't a typical film, rather it's a call to arms and plea to do something since it reveals quite clearly how good people are dying for bigoted reasons.
A must see.
SEVEN WINTERS IN TEHRAN plays the Human Rights Watch Film Festival May 31st at Lincoln Center and June 7 at the IFC Center.
For more information and tickets go here
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Cabane A Sang 2023 Mixed Meats
Saving the best last Cabane A Sang's Mixed Meats is one of the best collections of films from the last four years. This collection is so good that I stopped making notes and just watched the films.
Seriously from the trailers (DICK DYNAMITE and HELLO WAYNE) to the animated films (CUTIES) to the live action shorts (SERIAL ENCOUNTERS, SLASHER SQUAD) are all top of the line.
This collection is so good that I want a copy of it so that I can press it into the hands of everyone who didn't get to see the collection. It's actually good enough that I went back after seeing the collection and made notes for a longer piece which will follow in short order. I say that because the brilliance of these films need to be fully discussed.
If you want to boil down why Cabane A Sang is one of the best festivals in the world today this collection is a prime example. While I know people who don't like horror or genre films will argue with me those who do love great films of all kinds will understand how amazing this festival is. They don't program bad films.
If you are in Montreal you need to go to the festival and see if you can bribe your way into see this magnificent collection.
AIR is the story of how Nike wooed Michael Jordan and changed the sneaker market forever.
Good behind the scenes story is hurt by Matt Damon being in his typical Matt Damon mode. If you've seen a lot of Damon films, you know where he often is simply his charming self with no coloring what so ever. That's his character here, Matt Damon the charmer. Sure the scripts make it clear that Damon is not the same person he is in other films, but the truth of the matter is he just cut and pasted his performance from an earlier film. While he's never bad, he's always Damon.
Its a shame since the film has some really great performances from the rest of the cast, who disappear into their roles. Chris Tucker for example had me doing triple takes.
While the film is never bad, you really have to wonder why this film cost so much to make and why some critics are falling all over themselves about it.
It's worth a look but I'm glad I watched it on Prime.
Friday, May 26, 2023
Cabane A Sang's Party Pooper Spectacular
Tonight is the Party Pooper winners and it’s going to make your jaw drop.
It’s a wild group of films made by people who answered Cabane A Sang’s call for films so expect the technical quality to run the gamut while enjoyment factor is pegged at the top of the chart. They had to make a film on the theme of SEXY, that ran under five minutes and cost less than 200 bucks...
I’ve seen the group of films and they are wild and crazy and absolutely positively not for kids or more importantly not for the faint of heart. I say that because these films are off color, gory and certain to provoke a reaction. You will be laughing uncomfortably, getting grossed out and admiring the filmmakers ability to just go for it in ways that most filmmakers never could.
Oh to be a fly on the wall or in the middle of the theater when these babies unspool.
The winners are going to to preceded by an hour long collection of films from the Mixed Meats section of the festival. The films (some of which are represented by the art for this post) are some of the best films of the festival are worth the price admission alone and they deserve more than a tossed off line or two... And I'm not writing them up because I don't want to ruin them.
As for the films in the competition they are super bunch of films and these are some of the best:
A guy getting ready to spend an afternoon with a porn tape keeps getting interrupted. Hysterically funny in a completely wrong sort of way.
LAST NIGHT STAND
Monster speed dating goes horribly wrong...and as a result you will be doubled over with laughter.
A woman becomes fascinated with menstrual blood and sex.
A man calls a "freaky escort agency.
Uncomfortably funny tale of love gone wrong.
A woman is trapped ona ski lift with an unsexy guy feeling frisky.
EYE SEE YOU
A young girl and a young boy and a bloody ending
A big guy goes hunting...and I am not telling