Thursday, June 20, 2019

I Wrote This For You (2019) Dances With Films 2019

Young man named Hunter, struggles to put reality back together after his girlfriend leaves him. As he struggles to keep it together and deduce what is real, he wanders into poetry slam and begins to find a way back.

Earnest but not quite engaging film doesn’t quite work. The problem is it struggles to be "about something" rather than simply tell it’s story and let the meaning come from the tale. There is a solid idea here but how it comes, or fails to come together is entirely the fault of Brennan Keel Cook who wrote and stars as Hunter. Cook’s performance never seems real rather it feels like someone trying to win an award of some sort. It becomes glaring when you compare it to everyone else around him none of whom seem to be acting. Cook’s script doesn’t quite work either with the poetry written by the poets being better than the rest material written for the film by Cook.

As I said above there is a solid idea here is only someone else could have made the film

A Rugby Story (2019) Dances with Films 2019


A Rugby Story is frequently a moving film. It is the story of four coaches for Rugby 2018, a for profit company that is training and running rugby leagues in Benghazi Libya. They are also funding the efforts to put a national team together for the Rugby World Cup. While that might not sound like much consider the country and the city was torn apart by a civil war for the time covered in the film.

An amazing tale of humanity’s ability to cope and deal with terrible circumstances it moves us on a deep level. If you’ve ever wondered why sports are so important or why countries shut down during some sporting events, this film will provide the answer, perhaps not in so many words but in the faces and discussions of the men who play and who have escaped reality for a little while.

As good as the story is the film itself has some problems, largely owing to its almost two hour run time. As good as the central story is the film could use some tightening. Some of the rugby sequences could be trimmed since some seem to be acting as bridge. I understand what it is doing, but after a while it just becomes guys running around it doesn’t mean anything.(Full disclosure I think part of my problem is a result of how the sequences were filmed, single camera point and shoot. While I understand that it is pure the result of how the circumstances, it was in a war zone, with filming, the sameness flattens the excitement level. I completely forgive the way it was shot, I just wish it was slightly better integrated)

Actually the more interesting stuff is the life of the coaches away from the field. Watching the guys go through their paces and talk about their lives kept me watching even as my interest in the rugby faded.

My reservations aside A Rugby Story is worth seeing for those interested in seeing a story about struggling to remain human in war time and beyond.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

10th Annual newportFILM Outdoors Series Announces Summer Line Up


The Great Hack is Opening Night Film
The Apollo, Mike Wallace is Here, Halston
and Gay Chorus Deep South Among the Highlights

Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim,
and film subject David Carroll To Attend Opening Night

Doris Duke’s Rough Point to Host Special Halston Exhibit

Partnerships with Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals


NEWPORT / NEW YORK – June 19, 2019 – newportFILM announced today an exciting lineup of world-class documentaries for their 10th annual summer seriesnewportFILM Outdoors.  The Great Hack will open the series with Academy Award nominated filmmakers Karim Amer (Al midan), Jehane Noujaim (Al midan, The Square), and film subject David Carroll in attendance.  Carroll is the Parsons School of Design professor who sued Cambridge Analytica to find the source of its data.

The sunset screenings kick off on June 20 with Amer and Noujaim’s THE GREAT HACK and run through August 29 with weekly Thursday night screenings, accompanied by pre-film live music and post-screening filmmaker conversations, moderated by esteemed film and arts journalists from around the country. The series brings over 18,000 moviegoers from around the world over the course of their summer series. This marks the 10th summer season of hosting screenings at various beautiful outdoor locations, thoughtfully paired with each film, in and around historic Newport, RI. Screening locations this year include The Breakers, the grandest of Newport’s “summer cottages” and former home to the Vanderbilts, the Eisenhower House, known as the “Summer White House” for President Dwight D. Eisenhower,  Doris Duke’s Rough Point, the Redwood Library (this country’s oldest community library still occupying its original grounds) and theNewport International Polo Grounds.  Doris Duke’s Rough Point will host a special exhibition of Halston’s work timed to the screening of Halston.

newportFILM’s Artistic Director, Andrea van Beuren says, “We are so thrilled with our lineup and with the incredibly talented group of directors, producers and writers that will be coming up to Newport this summer. Our audiences will have great fun meeting Roger Ross Williams, Andrew Slater, Frédéric Tcheng, Cindy Meehl, Barak Goodman, Sheena Joyce, Don Argott and Liza Mandelup. We look forward to all of our post film discussions including the conversation with directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, whose film opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will open our series. Thank you Netflix, NatGEO, HBO, Hulu, PBS Distribution, Magnolia Pictures, Greenwich Entertainment, IFC Films, The Orchard and Submarine Entertainment.”

newportFILM outdoors is presented by Lila Delman Real Estate and partners include the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Folk Presents to screen Echo in the Canyon, the Newport Jazz Festival to present The Apollo and Potter League for Animals to present The Dog Doc.

The annual Picnic Contest will be sponsored this year by Taste- Artful Interiors & Design.  The theme is Fashion Forward, paired with the screening of FrédéricTcheng’s HALSTON.  In year’s past, the themes have included a “Posen & Plaid” for the 2017 screening of House of Z featuring fashion designer Zac Posen and the 2016 picnic contest, where Newport audiences painted a field blue with picnics for Bill Cunningham: New York as a tribute to Cunningham’s signature blue French worker’s jacket. 

newportFILM has a history of bringing the most talked about award-winning films and filmmakers to the Rhode Island community. Over the years, films have included Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Free Solo, Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Alex Holmes’ Maiden, Three Identical Strangers, John Chester’s Biggest Little Farm, Brett Morgan’s Jane, Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG and Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s Science Fair.

newportFILM Outdoors’ documentaries are screened at picturesque locations, often thematically paired with their films, for example, The Queen of Versaillesabout the largest home ever built in America, was shown on the lawn of The Elms, one of the country’s best examples of turn-of-the century opulence and Gilded Age architecture. The screening events are unique and experiential, once including a curated exhibit of the heiress Doris Duke’s Dior collection and a Dior-inspired picnic contest around a screening of Dior and I at Doris Duke’s fabled Rough Point mansion. Each film is attended by hundreds of local residents as well as Newport’s summer visitors and guests from around the world. Film screenings are free to the public

A full schedule of films is below.  For more information, visit www.newportFILM.com.

newportFILM Outdoors 2019 includes:
Thursday, June 20
THE GREAT HACK
Location: Newport Art Museum and Redwood Library & Athenaeum Lawns
Q&A with Academy Award-nominated directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, along with film subject David Carroll

Data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. It’s being weaponized to wage cultural and political warfare. People everywhere are in a battle for control of our most intimate personal details. From award-winning filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, THE GREAT HACK uncovers the dark world of data exploitation with astounding access to personal journeys of key players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal.

Thursday, June 27
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN
Location: Newport International Polo Fields
Q&A with directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce
Money, power, politics, drugs, scandal, and fast cars. The incredible story of John DeLorean is the stuff of a Hollywood screenwriter’s dreams. But who was the real John DeLorean? To some, he was a renegade visionary who revolutionized the automobile industry. To others, he was the ultimate con man. For the first time, Framing John DeLorean recounts the extraordinary life and legend of the controversial automaker, tracing his meteoric rise through the ranks of General Motors, his obsessive quest to build a sports car that would conquer the world, and his shocking fall from grace on charges of cocaine trafficking. Interweaving a treasure trove of archival footage with dramatic vignettes starring Alec Baldwin, Framing John DeLorean is a gripping look at a man who gambled everything in his pursuit of the American Dream.

Wednesday, July 3
WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION
Location: O’Hare and McAuley Hall Lawns, Salve Regina University
Q&A with Director Barak Goodman
In August 1969—against a backdrop of a nation in conflict over sexual politics, civil rights, and the Vietnam War—half a million people converged on a small dairy farm in upstate New York to hear the concert of a lifetime. What they experienced was a moment that would spark a cultural revolution, changing many of them and the country forever. With never-before-seen footage, WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION tells the story of the political and social upheaval leading up to those three historic days, as well as the extraordinary events of the concert itself, when near disaster put the ideals of the counterculture to the test. What took place in that teeming mass of humanity—the rain-soaked, starving, tripping, half-a-million strong throng of young people—was nothing less than a miracle of unity, a manifestation of the “peace and love” the festival had touted, and a validation of the counterculture’s promise to the world. Who were these kids? What experiences and stories did they carry with them to Bethel, New York that weekend, and how were they changed by their time in the muck and mire of Max Yasgur’s farm? Directed by award-winning filmmaker Barak Goodman and written by Goodman and Don Kleszy, WOODSTOCK takes us back to the three days that defined a generation.

Thursday, July 11
SEA OF SHADOWS
In Partnership with 11th Hour Racing
Location: St. George’s School Lawn
Talent: Rhode Island based scientists

The vaquita, the world's smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the "cocaine of the sea." Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multi-million-dollar business.

Thursday, July 18
MIKE WALLACE IS HERE
Location:  The Elms Lawn
Q&A: TBD

Never before has journalism in America been so hotly debated. At a time when it seems like the hard-hitting question is fighting for its right to be asked, MIKE WALLACE IS HERE turns the tough question loose on its inventor to understand how we got here and what’s really at stake. Legendary newsman Mike Wallace unflinchingly interrogated the 20th century’s biggest figures in over fifty years on the air, and his aggressive reporting style and showmanship redefined what America came to expect from broadcasters. Unearthing decades of never-before-seen footage from the 60 Minutes vault, this documentary portrait explores what drove and plagued this restless reporter, whose storied career was entwined with the evolution of journalism itself.

Thursday, July 25
ECHO IN THE CANYON
In partnership with Newport Folk Festival and Newport Folk Presents
Location: St. Michael’s Country Day School
Q&A with Director Andy Slater
Echo In The Canyon celebrates the explosion of popular music that came out of LA's Lauren Canyon in the mid-60's as folk went electric and The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas gave birth to the California Sound. It was a moment (1965 to 1967) when bands came to LA to emulate The Beatles and Laurel Canyon emerged as a hotbed of creativity and collaboration for a new generation of musicians who would soon put an indelible stamp on the history of American popular music.

Featuring Jakob Dylan, the film explores the Laurel Canyon scene via never-before-heard personal details behind the bands and their songs and how that music continues to inspire today. Echo in the Canyon contains candid conversations and performances with Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Michelle Philips (Mamas & the Papas), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield), David Crosby (The Byrds), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) their contemporaries Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, and slightly younger followers Jackson Browne and Tom Petty (in his last film interview) as well as contemporary musicians influenced by their music such as Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor, and Norah Jones.


Thursday, August 1
THE APOLLO
In partnership with Newport Jazz Festival
Location:  Château-sur-Mer Lawn
Q&A with Director Roger Ross Williams moderated by Christian McBride, Artistic Director/Newport Jazz Festival
Helmed by Academy and Emmy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, The Apollo chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of the New York City landmark, the Apollo Theater. The documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy and dance performances, and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. The Apollo features interviews with artists including Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson, and Jamie Foxx.
The Apollo covers the rich history of the storied performance space over its 85 years and follows a new production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as it comes to the theater’s grand stage. The creation of this vibrant multimedia stage show frames the way in which The Apollo explores the current struggle of black lives in America, the role that art plays in that struggle and the broad range of African American achievement that the Apollo Theater represents.
Thursday, August 8
THE DOG DOC
Location: The Eisenhower House Lawn
Q&A with Director Cindy Meehl and film subject Dr. Marty Goldstein

As a pioneer of integrative medicine, veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein has been called everything from “maverick” to “miracle-worker.” Attracting four-legged patients from around the world, Dr. Goldstein’s practice, Smith Ridge Veterinary Center, provides holistic treatment for animals after other vets have given up hope.
In THE DOG DOC, director Cindy Meehl (BUCK), goes behind the scenes at Smith Ridge to capture the full drama of “Dr. Marty” and his colleagues’ life-changing commitment to wellness and the astounding results they achieve. Filmed over a 2½ year period, Meehl’s unobtrusive camera highlights the vulnerability of her subjects – canine and human – while tracking each animal’s progress. THE DOG DOC combines the touching stories of families with the hard science of integrative care. By casting an intimate lens over this unique world, THE DOG DOC shows the healing powers of integrative wellness, compassion and hope.

Thursday, August 15
JAWLINE
Location: Beavertail State Park
Q&A with Director Liza Madelup
Liza Mandelup's debut feature, Jawline follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.
Thursday, August 22
HALSTON
Location: Doris Duke’s Rough Point
Q&A with Director Frédéric Tcheng

America's first superstar designer, Halston rose to international fame in the 1970s, creating an empire and personifying the dramatic social and sexual revolution of the last century. Reaching beyond the glamour and glitz, acclaimed filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng reveals Halston's profound impact on fashion, culture, and business.
Halston captures the epic sweep of the life and times of the legendary designer Roy Halston Frowick, the man who set women free with his unstructured designs and strove to "dress all of America." Framing the story as an investigation featuring actress and write Tavi Gevinson as a young archivist diving into the Halston company records, Tcheng expertly weaves rare archival footage and intimate interviews with Halston's family, friends, and collaborators including Jacqueline Kennedy, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Iman. What results is a behind-the-headlines look into the thrilling struggle between Halston's artistic legacy and the pressures of big business.

Thursday, August 29
GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH
Location:  The Breakers Lawn
Q&A with TBD
In response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws in Southern states and the divisive 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarks on a tour of the American Deep South.

Led by Gay Chorus Conductor Dr. Tim Seelig and joined by The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir; the tour brings a message of music, love and acceptance, to communities and individuals confronting intolerance. Over 300 singers travelled from Mississippi to Tennessee through the Carolinas and over the bridge in Selma. They performed in churches, community centers and concert halls in hopes of uniting us in a time of difference. The journey also challenges Tim and other Chorus members who fled the South to confront their own fears, pain and prejudices on a journey towards reconciliation. The conversations and connections that emerge offer a glimpse of a less divided America, where the things that divide us; faith, politics, sexual identity are set aside by the soaring power of music, humanity and a little drag.

About newportFILM
newportFILM is a year-round, non-profit documentary film series in Newport, Rhode Island that features established and emerging filmmakers and their current films, curated from film festivals around the world. newportFILM’s summer season brings the film experience outdoors amongst Aquidneck Island's most beautiful open-air spaces: thriving nature preserves, sprawling ocean-front lawns, elegant mansion gardens, public parks and working farms are just a sampling of the picturesque venues used.
The newportFILM Outdoors summer series is presented by Lila Delman Real Estate, Rhode Island’s Exclusive Affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate and supported by 41º North. Year-round newportFILM sponsors are WIMCO Villas, Park South Hotel NYC, Kirby Perkins Construction and Lexington Partners. newportFILM receives grant support from 11th Hour Racing, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and Rhode Island State Council for the Humanities. Pre-film music is sponsored by Newport Shipyard and BankRI. Free popcorn is courtesy of Kiel James Patrick, St. Michael’s Country Day School, Savings Institute Bank & Trust, and Newport Hospital.

The Command (2018) hits theaters Friday

THE COMMAND is the story of the Kursk submarine disaster that occurred on August 12th 2000. A submarine on a training exercise had a practice torpedo explode sending the ship to the bottom of the sea. As the men struggled to survive the first explosion,  a second, registering 4.2 on the Richter Scale, caused even more damage. The few that survived to that point huddled in the rear of the ship to await rescue that was to come much too late.

Covering the events on the ship, the struggles of the families to not only get information but help for their loved ones, and the rescue efforts by the Russian and British navies, the film covers a great deal of territory. For reasons of cinematic suspense the time frame of events is tweaked, much in the way the events in Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK are altered to get to one point in time at the end of the film. If you are aware of what happened you'll notice the alteration of time otherwise this is just a tense drama.

A well made and well acted film, THE COMMAND will move many people with its recounting of the tragedy and it's revelation of gross incompetence on the part of the Russian Navy.  The Russians were clearly not prepared for anything like this to happen, having only rescue vehicle available that was described as'a bucket of bolts". Worse their efforts to contain the news of their troubles lost them valuable time.

My reaction to the film is kind of mixed. While it is, as I said above, well made, knowing what happened lessened the suspense. I knew how this was going to go and on some level I was simply waiting for the end I knew was coming, so the suspense kind of drained out of it. While I hung to the end, it was a maudlin affair waiting for the big reveal the scale of the tragedy.

Currently available on Direct TV THE COMMAND will hit theaters Friday, and reservation aside, if you can see it on a big screen do so because the cinematography, especially the use of the frame, is stunning.

Chance Has No Empathy (2019) Dances With Films 2019

Chance is an artist who has been struggling with an inability to feel anything. Without the ability to feel emotion he is unable to create. However when he discovers murder around the time  he spies Charlie a young woman working on her thesis on sociopathic behavior, he begins to realize that maybe there is a way to create. As Chance circles Charlie he finds his life spiraling toward greater and greater darkness.

I am going to refrain from turning the title of the film against itself and simply say that I really didn't care for this film. Filled with long voice over monologues where Chance explains what he's feeling the film kind of goes nowhere. He despite the best efforts of Will Rothhaar Chance simply isn't an interesting enough character to support a 97 minute movie. More talk than action and more cold and clinical musing as opposed to impassioned  action I spent much the film waiting for something to happen and to be emotionally engaged. While I understand that the film is supposed to mirror the protagonists mental state, we as an audience must feel something so we can keep watching. More importantly if Chance only feels something occasionally, then we should too. I never felt anything and only stayed watching out of an obligation to write the film up.

A miss.

In brief: No Box for Me. An Intersex Story (Ni d'Eve ni d'Adam. Une histoire intersexe) (2018) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2019

No Box For Me is a look at two people who were born intersexed, with characteristics of both sexes. Both were assigned the female gender by their well-meaning parents and doctors. Both Deborah and M felt out of sorts in their lives until they connected on line and found that they were not alone. The film follows the pair as they hang out and discuss their lives.

 This is a very good hour long film that brings to light a situation that I think the vast majority of people are not aware of. I’m certain that if you asked most people what intersexed was people would have no idea what the term means. For those who want to know more the film is recommended

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

EVER AFTER (2018) Opens Friday at the IFC Center and it's a must

The world has been largely wiped out by a plague that turns the dead into zombies. Only two cities in Germany remain. Wanting to get out of the brutal Weimar, where authorities brutally take no chance on infection, two women hop on the automatic train and head to the supposedly better city of Jena, where they are trying to combat the plague through science. When the train stops midway to Jena the pair are forced to make the trek on foot. But all is not quite right and it becomes clear that nature it trying to reset the table.

Anyone looking for a straight take on the typical zombie film is probably going to be left scratching their heads. This is not a straight on zombies hunting people tale. Think of this as one of the zombie films where filmmakers do more than just pile up bodies, ala any of the George Romero films, or newer films like MAGGIE that use the form to explore social themes. Yes, the zombies are here,but there is a way more going on.

While a great deal of the world of the film isn't explained (I would like to know more) it all works (why I want to know more) and enough going on here that it doesn't matter. EMDZEIT has enough threads and ideas in it that I would love to see what happens in another film set in this world. Where so many other films don't bother creating a world which makes sense, ths leadin got some sort of WTF moments,ENDZEIT doesn't let that happen. We always know enough that we go with anything thrown at us.

That the film works is due to director Carolina Hellsgård and writer Olivia Vieweg (adapting her own comic) who have fashioned a film that grabs our attention by not following the typical tropes and asking a lot of questions that we don't really see in other zombie films such as "why is this happening" and "what does this all mean?" This allows us to think about the themes in the large context of the real world where nature seems to be revolting. Thanks to their refusal to simply give us a film that is just about survival they have added another film to the small but growing zombie subgenre of thoughtful films that belong with Romero's classics.

Destined to become a classic, and a film that zombie fanboys hotly debate, ENDZEIT is a great film that proves that there is a great deal of life in the tired genre if you know where to look.

Nate Hood's 400 Words on Come, Said the Night (2019)


One of the first things one notices watching Andres Rovira’s Come, Said the Night is the obvious and slapdash ADR work throughout where the actors all seem to speak with theirs mouths right next to the microphone regardless of whether their characters are right in front of the camera or halfway across a field. The overall effect hearkens back to the golden age of gory Italian genre films that were shot silently and dubbed in post, giving the final product an ethereal other-worldliness reminiscent of a dream. Whether intentionally or not, this same innate surreality suffuses Come, Said the Night, a bizarre coming-of-age horror film about religion and masculine sexual tyranny.

The film follows a family of neo-pagans who worship the ancient Greek pantheon who return to a cabin in the woods named “Sanctuary” to mourn the anniversary of the death of eldest daughter Magda (Daniela Leon). During the day their father Roy (Lew Temple), a devotee of Harpocrates, god of silence, leads them in bizarre games mixing play with religious ritual: navigating a brick labyrinth, playing with pink flags, releasing helium balloons tied with Magda’s belongings into the sky so they’ll reach her in “Arcadia.” But at night Sprout (Daniela Leon), Roy’s surviving thirteen year old daughter, sees visions of a terrible Gorgon haunting the woods alongside memories of her dead sister who, in her last days, swore allegiance to Artemis, goddess of the hunt. As she delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding her visions and her father’s increasingly erratic behavior, Sprout battles with her own nascent sexuality, feeling at once joyous to be growing a woman’s hips and breasts but nervous of also receiving a woman’s hungers and anxieties.

Come, Said the Night is a very odd, very strange movie that at times feels as if Neil Green tried to make an early Yorgos Lanthimos film…and succeeded. There’s a deliberate atmosphere of calculated uncanniness, from the bizarre way characters emphasize certain words (e.g. Sprout pronouncing “papa” as “p’pa”) to the off-kilter way they cycle through emotions like malfunctioning robots. But the result is a hermetically sealed reality that occasionally transcends its awkwardness to achieve something sublime before collapsing into unintentional silliness in the last ten minutes. Come, Said the Night is undeniably flawed, but there's the hint of a purpose here and, more importantly, the fingerprints of a genuine artistic vision.

Rating: 5/10

Ghost Light (2019) hits home video today

It is very difficult to do a horror comedy or comedy horror film well. The trick in balancing the laugh and scares isn’t one many people know with the result that most films trying to be funny scary tend to be neither. When it works the films are absolute delights, which is what Ghost Light is, an absolute delight.

The film follows a traveling troop of actors who go to an out of the way summer stock theater in Massachusetts. The plan is for them is to reopen the theater with a production of Macbeth. When one of the actors doesn’t take care to follow the rituals concerning the play things go horribly wrong.

Once the film gets past an over explanation of the play’s curse, it just goes, managing to be both very funny and frequently chilly as the film earns its self-imposed description as a dark comedy. (Remember this is a horror comedy so bad things happen).

That the film works as well as it does is due entirely to the top flight cast. Filled with great actors like Cary Elwes, Carol Kane, Roger Bart, Steve Tom, Sheldon Best, Tom Riley and Danielle Campbell who suck us in and drag us along through the spooky proceedings past all the bumps in the plotting. Particularly wondrous is Carol Kane. As someone whose mental picture of her is her wild and crazy comedies, he role here hearkens back to her early dramatic work in films like Hester Street. Yes, she is funny, but she is also so spot on with the drama that I think this maybe my new favorite memory of her.

I love this film. Yea I could probably nitpick bits of the plotting as things we’ve seen before, but since director John Stimpson manages to get the tone and the feel so right I’ll forgive any problems simply because it’s been much too long since any comedy raised goosebumps on my arms from the scares.

Highly recommended. Destined for a long life, Ghost Light hits home video today.

The Portal (2019) Dances With Films 2019

New Agey documentary ponders the notion that if we can get people to change their minds, to see the world differently and meditate on their lives and the world we maybe able to bring the planet back from the edge of extinction.

Heartfelt film tries to to be a great many things from a call to wake up and save the planet to a meditation manual to film pondering the next evolutionary jump and as a result it moves much too fast to fully grasp the all of the concepts in the film.  Twenty minutes into the film I was feeling a little lost as we bounced from person to person who had some great ideas, that kind of tied into the central theme before we bounced to the next person. And then we bounced back again. Worse everyone speaks very quickly as if they are pressed for time and have to get their little bit in.

This is a mini series not an 88 minute feature film. I am familiar with many of the ideas presented and each could support if not a whole feature but at least a good hour long discussion. Throwing them all in a blender and dropping them in the lap of an audience who are unfamiliar with them is no way to win converts.

While not a bad  film, this is only going to play well for the converted. Most people coming from the outside are going to feel lost, which makes the film a kind of failure since it means that they will lose the audience they desperately want to save.

THE PORTAL plays this afternoon at Dances With Films

Nate Hood on Last Call (2019) Dances With Films 2019

What makes a gimmick a gimmick as opposed to a stylistic flourish is that a true gimmick is used to cover up a lack of substance; it’s a distraction, not an enhancement. Consider the use of cinematic split screen. Great filmmakers have used it for everything from enhancing tension in thrillers (e.g. Brian De Palma) to avant-garde experimentation like the climactic French flag montage at the end of Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). But more often than not, such gimmicks exist solely to grab curious spectators or to confound audiences with pretensions of intellectual esotericism. (*cough* Number Two [1975] *cough*)

On paper, Gavin Michael Booth’s Last Call seems geared towards the sensationalist side of the gimmick spectrum: it consists of two simultaneous 76-minute single take shots in real-time in different parts of Windsor, ON. The film’s own marketing does it no favors—neither their festival press release nor their website give any actual plot details, focusing almost entirely on how it was made. One could be forgiven for assuming this comes from a distributor nervous about an underwhelming product. But no, in truth this obfuscation seems a more deliberate tactic to keep potential audiences unawares for what’s coming, for not only is Last Call one of the most powerful films of 2019 so far, it’s one that lives and dies by the gradual unfolding of its narrative being uncluttered of expectations of where it’s going. It’s not that it has plot twists or surprises, it’s that it’s about witnessing our own innate humanity in real-time.

The briefest of brief set-ups: while pulling a graveyard shift as a college janitor, young mother Beth (Sarah Booth) answers a wrong number call from Scott (Daved Wilkins), a depressed alcoholic who meant to call the suicide hotline. It’s a few minutes before Beth and Scott work through their initial confusion and realize what’s happening, and this stretch of unintended comedy twists into a harrowing portrait of compassion in the face of crisis as an increasingly frantic Beth tries to stop Scott from killing himself. This film could’ve easily been shot and edited like a traditional drama, but Booth’s Aristotelian conundrum of unified time and action but disunified space gives it a distinctly cinematic character that’s devastating in effect, reminding us that no matter our sins or circumstances, we’re all just human. Here is a true miracle of humanist filmmaking.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Quiet One (2019) opens Friday

After the Tribeca Film Festival press screening of the Bill Wyman documentary The Quiet One there was some grumbling that the film focused so much on the Rolling Stones that the film is a defacto Stones doc. While that is partly true, I think it’s missing two points, first most of Wyman’s life was with the Stones and second, outside of that period his life wasn’t really “exciting”. On the other hand it is a glorious portrait of a man most people know nothing about.

Composed of photos, audio and video recording and film that Wyman collected over the years it is a look at the man as only a person who collected everything could. Aided by a clear head that was never clouded by drugs and alcohol (Keith Richards is seen in the film saying if he wants to know about certain portions of his life he has to ask Bill) the film is one man looking back at his life and taking stock or where he was and what he did. It is not all inclusive, he did too much for that, but it gives a lovely sense of the man and his music. The film covers his whole life from his rough childhood to the army where he discovered rock and roll and took up the guitar, to his time in bands and of course the Stones.

Those expecting a film that is all about the Rolling Stones are going to be disappointed. Yes they are ever present, but at the same time this is a Wyman doc so we focused on what he saw and did. We gets bits on his first marriage and older son. We listen to him talk about who his friendship with James Baldwin opened up his heart to Ray Charles. There are glorious minutes where we listen to the awe in his voice when he gets to meet great men such as Marc Chagall and his hero Ray Charles (I dare you not to get weepy as he told that Charles wanted to not only meet him but play with him). This is the full measure of the man not just one 30 year period and we are better for it.

In a way this is as laid back and mellow as Wyman seems to be in real life. This is not life with Mick and Keith jetting across the globe, but more quiet time in the pub with a really cool guy. I was so impressed that when the press screening I ran into the PR person handling the film and said “I’m not a Stones fan but I loved the film and I would love to talk to him” I have no idea if I will meet Mr Wyman, but having seen this glorious film about him I really would like to.

If that isn’t a rave I don’t know what is.

Dances With Film Capsule Reviews: WOWSERS, WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY AGAIN,PLAYTIME'S OVER and FISH HEAD

Here are a collection of short films that I liked to various degrees and which didn't spark long reviews.(For more information and tickets go here)

WOWSERS
Jacqueline has a reoccurring nightmare and a seeming split personality and somehow she keep ending up at Wowsers where a Mr Dims runs the show. This is an attempt to cross David Lynch style weirdness with bondage games but it doesn't really work. It's not so much bad but trying to too hard.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY AGAIN
A video game lets a young girl relive a terrible event in her life and attempt to get it right. Okay film is better in the idea than the execution, which just sort of misses.

PLAYTIME'S OVER
You girl who loves horror films torments her babysitter on New Year's Eve by recreating classic scenes from various horror films. Amusing short film may be one note, but it is a great deal of fun to see how that one note plays out.

FISH HEAD
Coming of age story about a Filipino boy being raised by a single mom. Forced to deal with uncertainty of his heritage and racism at school he struggle to find his way in the world. Okay short film really should have been a feature film. As good as the film is, it is juggling way too many balls for a 15 minute film with the result everything feels rushed and unfinished. On the plus side, if this a proof of concept film it makes it clear that this should translate to great feature film. Worth a look.

GIRL IN THE HALLWAY (2019) Dances With Films 2019

GIRL IN THE HALLWAY will crush your soul. It is so crushing and heartbreaking that I doubt it will end up on the Oscar short list where it belongs. Much like last year’s DETAINMENT, I think people will turn away from it as being simply too bleak and heartrending.

The film an explanation of why a father won’t read his daughter Little Red Riding Hood. He says it give him nightmares and after he explains why it will give you nightmares too. It all has to do with the little girl who often spent time in the hall way of his welfare apartment building. A sweet little girl who was left to flounder by her addict parents, she became prey for the real life monsters in the world.

I was horrified.

Your heart will break.

A stunning piece of filmmaking, told through a monologue and chalk board animation it is a waking real world nightmare of the highest order. It trumps every horror film because it is a true story. Frankly after you see this film the most vile and disgusting horror film ever made will seem like a Saturday morning cartoon.

What is chilling about the film is not only what happens, but what didn’t happen. The failure of not only the system but the micro-society of the building, which kind of tried to keep her safe but failed. You feel the guilt of the storyteller in every word.

One of the best films at Dances With Films and probably of 2019. I never want to see it again, and pray to god I never have to hear anther real life story like it ever again.

GIRL IN THE HALLWAY plays June 19th at Dances with FIlms. For tickets go here.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Street Ships (2019) Dances With FIlms 2019

STREET SHIPS disappointed me. This is a film that is so far up my alley that I’m surprised that I didn’t think of it first. Unfortunately it misses the emotional mark by a mile.

The film is the story of two best friends, a young boy and a young girl who live next to each other and share a wild imaginative world. It is a kinship that lasts into young adult hood when the boy’s father get sick and he is forced into an uncaring reality. It is left to his best friend to save him.

As someone who refuses to grow up and refuses to see the world as it is this is a film that I should have eaten up. I should have been a complete and utter ball of mush at the end, no by the middle, but I just sat there staring at the screen wondering why I wasn’t moved. It took a while to sus it out but I have figured it out.

The first problem is that it isn’t instantly clear that the two leads are neighbors and not brother and sister. The first shot looks like balloons on either side of a drive way announcing the birth of two children. I had to watch the film a second time to see the location was not a driveway but two sidewalks. Even then it isn’t entirely clear. The second and more serious problem is that there is no dialog in the film. It’s all image and music. While this attempt at a variation on the beginning of UP might have worked with a little more clarity, it doesn’t work because too much is left unsaid and we have to fill in too many details. The fifteen minute running time is too long to be wordless, at least according to how this story unfolds.

While I am not a fan of this version of the story Honestly I would love to see it redone either as a short or feature (with dialog)

STREET SHIPS plays this afternoon at Dances With Films. For more information and tickets go here.

Belllingcat:Truth in a Post Truth World (2019) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2019

BELLING CAT TRUTH IN A POST TRUTH WORLD is one of the best I’ve seen in 2019. Not only is it vitally important but it is also a damn good film it is the story of the citizen reporters who run the Bellingcat website. The group of people comb through modern technology to get to the heart of the important news stories such as revealing who the Nazi like marchers in Charlotte were or working out that the Russians were the ones who downed a civilian plane in Ukraine. We see their methods and come to understand why what they do is so important.

If you have any interest in what is going on or how it is portrayed in the media you must see this film. In a world where every detail of anyone’s life is spun to the point of death this film makes it clear that you cannot trust anything that isn’t verified. And in an age where everything can be manipulated and mislabeled this film shows us how you have to take everything with a grain of salt as footage is faked, video game images are passed off as real and cover stories forget that social media posts tell a different story. In the film we see how the Bellingcat crew broke open the downing of the airliner via social media and Google Earth or that a sharp eyed member realized that Russian evidence of the US working with Isis consisted of video game maps. It will all spin your head.

Forget whether you are Republican or Democrat what this film shows will shock you. It will change how you see the news. It changed how I see the world.

And before you ask why we should take the word of groups like Bellingcat, the answer is simple, and revealed in the film. Where places like the New York Times or Washington Post have the weight of their reputations behind it, the groups like Bellingcat have the weight of evidence. They do not report unless they have the data and facts to back it up. In an age where journalists not being trained and there is less and less investigative work, it is the people like Bellingcat who do what no one else can or will.

This film is a stunner. It is one of the great films of 2019 and a must see for anyone who wants to consider themselves informed about the state of the world.

The film plays June 20th at Human Rights Watch FIlm Festival New York and is a must see. For tickets go here.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Land (2019) Dances With Films (2019)

The Land is a good low key look at the problems of being older and being a small farmer. The film concerns a couple who have fallen on hard times but who refuse to give up their land despite there really being no way for them to hold on it nor their desire to stop working.

This is a small inde drama that manages to both entertain us with a good story and performances while informing us about the plight of the small farmer. I am not going to lie or try to puff the film up calling it a must see or what have you. Instead I am simply going to highlight this small solid film as one that deserves a look. Almost certainly this is going to be something that most people are going to (incorrectly) pass over because either they don’t think it’s for them or because it isn’t getting hyped. Hype is all well and good but sometimes you just need a small solid film to pass a couple of hours, and in that case The Land fits the bill. Frankly I would rather see a couple really good films like this than a big bloated Hollywood hype machine.

Recommended for anyone who is tired of big and loud and showy and instead wants something small, warm and human.

The Land plays June 17th. For tickets and more information go here.

Leave the Bus through the Broken Window (2019) plays BAM CINEMAFEST Tuesday

Andrew Hevia decides to go to Hong Kong to cover an international art show but is completely unprepared for the trip not speaking the language, understanding the culture or knowing anything about Chinese history. He flounders and begins to turn the camera on himself.

Bittersweet and darkly funny, LEAVE THE BUS THROUGH THE BROKEN WINDOW is wicked documentary about a guy in a place he probably shouldn't have been. Yes, he manages to get along and make something of the trip, but its clear he is in way over his head and is just fumbling his way along. It makes for an amusing and sad experience especially in light of the narration, which read by an mechanical female AI voice and comes across as judgmental.

Say what you will about Hevia's wanderings, the film has a glorious sense place and you really get a sense of the city of Hong Kong better than almost any other film you'll see. This is the ground level huan Hong Kong and not one made up for the cameras. I want to compare it to the home video footage that a friend of mine shot on their trip to China. While normally saying something is home movies is a bad thing, in this, and the case of my friend's footage, it's a good thing because its not images and places that look good, but rather where people dwell. You are in their world and we are better for it.

This film is a kick in the pants. Beautifully put together it is long enough to make us feel like we've had a meal and short enough never wear out its welcome.  This is the sort of hidden gem thatI'm going to be recommending to friends as it makes its way through the various festivals.

Highly recommended


Driven (2019) Dances With Films 2019

This is a respot of the review I ran when DRIVEN played the Oxford Film Festival in February

A couple of days on I’m still trying to sort out what I think about DRIVEN. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s not, more I’m not sure it works the way it’s supposed to.

Emerson (Casey Dillard) is a driver for Ferry (think Uber). Leaving her home for a night of driving she finds a lost bag in the road. This being a college town she thinks nothing of it and tosses it in her car, figuring she’d run it down later. As the passengers come and go Emerson works on her dead pan comedy routine (she wants to be comic) in a running monologue. She eventually picks up Roger (director Richard Speight Jr.), who is on a schedule and needs to travel all over town. He wants to keep it quiet but things happen and Emerson realizes that she is in the middle of a demon horde.

Part comedy, part action film, part drama, part horror film DRIVEN is juggling a so many balls I’m not sure it keeps them all in the air. So much going on this is a film that kind of remains on one level tonally. What kills me is there is something here. I like the idea of a driver getting sucked into a tale like this, but there is something about the way the film feels that prevented me from clicking with it. Trying to figure what has taken up the better part of the last few days since I saw the film.

I think the problem for me is writer and star Casey Dillard as Emerson. If you don’t click with the humor in her running monologue the film is going to fall flat. I kept thinking – “oh that’s a joke” when I should have been laughing. While there is nothing really wrong with her performance as such but her delivery and attitude is a little bit too deadpan.

As I said I like the premise and bits but I’m not too keen on the execution.

That said there is enough here that if the premise looks good to you you should give it a shot since you may click with it where I didn’t.

DRIVEN plays tonight at Dances with Films. For tickets and more information go here.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Nate Hood on Apple Seed (2019) Dances With Films 2019


Perhaps the most underrated film by noted cinematic surrealist David Lynch is The Straight Story (1999), a poignant road movie starring elderly character actor Richard Farnsworth in his last role before killing himself after a long and painful battle with prostate cancer. As he traverses the midwest on a tractor to visit his ailing brother, he meets and enlightens various strangers and misfit runaways, leaving a trail of compassion and wisdom along the interstate highways. Not only is that film an overlooked masterpiece, it’s also everything Michael Worth’s Apple Seed isn’t. The opening night film for this year’s Dance with Films festival, it’s a meandering, malformed monstrosity of sentimentality and road movie cliches with nothing but a semi-recognizable cast to recommend it.

Advertised as the last film made by beloved Western performer Rance Howard—although according to IMDb he has two other credits currently in post-production—it’s a sickeningly sweet story about Prince McMcCoy (Worth), a disaffected, depressed criminal traveling from his home in Arizona to his hometown of Apple Seed, Vermont to rob a bank in a final blaze of glory. But before he makes it a few miles he runs into Carl Robbins (Howard), a winsome, doddering 88-year-old hitchhiker with a perpetual grin and a bottomless supply of old-timey wisdom. Along the way, they have many wacky misadventures: skinny-dipping in a motel pool; preaching on the porch of a small-town pharmacy for gas money; getting into bar-fights with drunk, Karate Kid-quote spewing jackasses. The film’s so enamored with Howard as a personality that it lets him take over scenes and prolong them long after they should’ve ended, such as an interminable early sequence in a diner where he makes a lengthy speech to a charmed waitress about how good her homemade chocolate cake is, eventually standing up at his seat to loudly urge the other customers to try it. By the halfway point, we wonder whose story this is, Prince or Howard’s.

The answer is neither and both, resulting in a narrative that somehow ends with thirty minutes of runtime left where Carl’s reconciled with his past life as a bank robber and Prince with his destructive personal relationships. Apple Seed is alternatively boring and hilariously inept; any enjoyment viewers get out of it will come from their willingness to endure saccharine blandness for two hours with Rance Howard.

Rating: 4/10