Monday, June 1, 2020

Snaeland (2020) Brooklyn 2020

Down on his luck reporter is sent to a small town in Iceland to cover a non-existent story about an annual midnight orgy. The event never happens and he is left without a story...until he comes upon a woman who may be an infamous nanny who killed he charge. The problem is she supposedly killed herself.

Okay thriller never caught fire for me. I am not certain if it is because of the unevenness in the acting (some of the acting is better in some languages than in others) or because there really isn't much here. The problem for me is the events feel stretched out with turns like one of the characters being a peeping tom, feeling like it was put there just to keep things interesting. In a weird way the whole film feels like it was like the reporters initial story, it was supposed to be one thing and then it becae something else in order to justify its existence.

While never bad it never fully engaged me. Yea I wanted to to find out how it ended but I was already looking for the next thing by the time it ended.

Playing for free at the Brooklyn Film Festival, details on how to see it can be found here.

The real life superhero that is Blood Rider (2020) We Are One Fest 2020

Jon Kasbe hits it out of the park again with BLOOD RIDER, a portrait of Joseph, who races blood to where it is needed in Lagos. Nigeria via motorcycle.

Actually the film is about Joseph and Deborah a woman expecting her first child who will need the blood Joseph can provide. I mention this because much of the second half is Deborah having a difficult delivery and Joseph rushing the life saving blood to the hospital. And before you chastise me for giving anything away, I'm not. You can pretty much guess from the set up as to how it is going to go but it doesn't matter because what Kasbe does is to make you want to cheer for this real life superhero.

What makes Kasbe's film so compelling is the craft in the filmmaking. Kasbe is one of the greatest filmmakers working today and he simply knows how to tell a story. More importantly he know how to win friends and influence subjects to the point that Kasbe gives us an incredible sense of intimacy with his characters. We are right there on the motorcycle and in the delivery room. Kasbe somehow  managed to have Deborah and her husband allow him to not only film her at a time of incredible stress but to do so up close and personal. It boggles the mind.

Kasbe's telling of the Joseph's tale is truly heroic. Joseph is a real life superhero saving lives and Kasbe makes damn sure we know it by doing everything short of having him wear a cape. More importantly the line of silliness is never crossed. Joseph is always a man doing extraordinary things. We marvel at what he is doing via perfect marriage of sound and image.(The score maybe one of the best I've heard all year)

As a long time fan of Jon Kasbe I am continually amazed at his ability to take a subject and do unexpected things with it. From sewers to bluegrass bands to ivory poachers, Kasbe makes films that make us think about things that we think we know only to have us realize we don't. To say that Jon Kasbe is one of the best directors working today is an understatement, he is, with no attempt at overstatement or irony, undoubtedly one of the greatest I've ever had the privilege to run across.

BLOOD RIDER has premiered at the WE ARE ONE FEST  and can be screened here until June 7

Stuck (2020)

“Stuck” | Short Film Trailer from Stories in Motion on Vimeo.

With a dinner guests arriving in moments a husband tells his wife the bondage equipment they were expecting has arrived...and somehow the delivery guy has ended up passed out strapped to the device.

Wicked black comedy spins out in all sorts of odd ways as a couple desperately tries to come up with a way to cover up the "situation" before the guests arrive. Its a hellish nightmare made funny that will echo for anyone who has had a last minute complication right before the guests you must impress arrive.

I really can't say too much since the jokes are in the unexpected turns the events take so revealing too much will kill some of the laughs.  That said know the cast is very funny and th sell the chaos the ensues as it just all goes more and more wrong.

STUCK is set to play several up coming festivals (including Boston International, Dumbo (NY) Shawna Shea and Oniveros International) and is recommended.

How did I miss Anna was playing at We Are One Fest?

I saw this film last year  as part of a PR attempt to get Oscar to notice it. The film absolutely floored me. More importantly the woman at the center, Svetlana Barandich, absolutely blew me away. How the hell is she not being hailed across the globe? She is magnificent and her performance makes this a must see.

Middle aged single mother desperate for change decides to go to a party where single American men will be to try her luck.

Good small slice of life feels like this is part of a much bigger story. I want to see what happens on either side of this film which is big a ave as you can get.

As great as this film is, and it is duper from top to bottom I have to single out star Svetlana Barandich, who gives one of the great performances I've seen in 2019. This is a towering achievement that makes me want to see her go toe to to with Gena Rowlands who is perhaps the only force of nature who could possible not get lost in her presence. How in the hell has this woman not come on my radar before this?

Yea ANNA is a great film and you'll want to see it because it's so good but when it's done you'll be talking about Svetlana Barandich.


A very short piece on Monster God (2019) We Are One Film Festival 2020

I saw MONSTER GOD several months ago. It was originally supposed to play NYC's New Directors New Films which is in many ways the most art house, in the good and bad ways, of any festival that plays New York City each year. The films are very much of a type and with very rare exceptions never really vary travel from the art house to the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with that and every year I find some real gems but it also means that every year that I will see a few films that wash over me and don't make much of an impression beyond the visuals.

MONSTER GOD is a painfully beautiful short film about kids, cows and an ever present power station.

What it means is anyone's guess...

Then again I really don't care because the images in it are so stunning that I want to take every shot and hang it on my wall.

A beautiful poser.

MONSTER GOD plays the We Are One Fest starting tomorrow. For more information and a link to where you can watch it go here.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule # 56 Blood Quantum [2019] ★★½

Zombie immunity is an idea that’s been toyed around with before in zombie media, but perhaps never as directly as in Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum. The idea is simple: what if First Nations peoples—and only First Nations peoples—were immune from the zombie virus during a zombie apocalypse? Suddenly the same white people that killed their ancestors and eradicated their cultures must rely on them to survive. It’s a reversal I’m somewhat surprised hasn’t been explored before, as it offers opportunities for the same kind of social commentary that George A. Romero made with his Living Dead franchise.

Shot mostly at the Kahnawake and Listuguj reserves in Quebec, Canada with a primarily First Nations cast and crew, Blood Quantum represents a new kind of indigenous genre cinema. However, the film itself is a mishmash of cliches and boring stock characters. Its main flaw is its structure, as it feels like the pilot and finale episodes of a television series like The Walking Dead. The first half-hour sets up all the major and bit players in the moments leading up to the initial outbreak—“Z-Day,” if you will. They’re all characters we’ve met before in one way or another, all moody parents and authority figures and angst-ridden teenagers with their own emotional demons. They’re so collectively dull that they grind the first act to halt as they putter around their community and monotonously mutter about this and that. It’s only after the first act ends and the story jumps ahead six months that the film snaps awake.

Now all the characters live in a post-apocalyptic compound guarded by hockey mask-wearing fighters armed with chainsaws, shotguns, and, in one incredible instance, a samurai sword. The immune First Nation survivors struggle to keep the peace amongst themselves and the white survivors as they fight off the “zeds,” and it’s here that we can appreciate the film’s striking visual design and the eclectic supporting cast. (Fans of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man [1995] will be delighted to see Gary “Stupid F**king White Man” Farmer show up as Moon, the compound’s axe-bearing enforcer.)

But the story is so tired and perfunctory in its beats that we can follow it with our eyes closed. Blood Quantum may be the one of the first indigenous zombie films, but we’re going to need at least one more to get it right.

Deeper you Dig (2019) is released digitally on June 5

THE DEEPER YOU DIG blew me away. A small micro-budgeted micro-crewed film made by a couple and their daughter, all of who were on both sides of the camera, the film is a nominal supernatural tale that transcends every expectations to become something glorious and great.

This is story of what happens in the wake of a tragedy, involving a mother, her daughter and a stranger, it will haunt you long after the credits roll.

Yes I know that was awkward and obtuse because I am intentionally not going to tell you any more than that about the plot. I know you’ll be able to read other reviews which will spill the beans but I really would prefer you not to read them. If you can you should go into the film knowing as little as possible. One of the joys of this film is going in full of expectations and then having all of them shot down. There was a point early on where I just took everything I was expecting and locked it up in a cabinet. What I thought was going to happen was never going to so there was no point in fighting it.

Beautifully acted by the three principals and directors (John Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams) the film creates a very real place. We have three rounded characters who pull us into the madness. Talk about ensemble acting, this is something more, especially considering where the film takes us. Their achievements go beyond acting to the script and technical aspects since this a film that was made as a truly collaborative effort. How in holy hell did they pull this off? It’s the work of a grand hive mind- how do we bottle this.

One of the things that delights me is that the filmmakers turned their lack of a budget into something miraculous. Seemingly unable to do fancy effects they simply go around it and do things in a straight forward manner. Can’t afford a ghost effect? Then don’t use one just have the actor be there. That may sound counter intuitive or the use of something on the order of The SIXTH SENSE to trick the audience, but that’s not the case here and the result is dead nuts creepy.

Not to parse words John Adams, Toby Poser, and Zelda Adams have made a masterpiece. To be certain it is a small, not particularly flashy one but it is one and it has genuine power. It is self-assured and a commanding. Grabbing us by the labels it forces us to journey with it, forgiving blemishes by the sheer force of presence and the skill of its juggling. It’s kind of like discovering the guy next door has the pipes of an opera star.

THE DEEPER YOU DIG is a great film. It was one of the very best films I saw in 2019. If you can go into the film knowing it is a small gem of quiet power I highly recommend it.

THE DEEPER YOU DIG hits VOD on Friday.

Stay At Home Bonus Film: Sherlock Holmes: Woman in Green

Sunday, May 31, 2020

STACKS (2020) is a funny film

A short caper film for the age of Covid 19.

I will not say any more than I have since it's short enough you should just watch it.

Tomassao (2019) hits VOD on June 2

Abel Ferrara returns to narrative filmmaking with TOMASSO starring his frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe as an artist with a younger wife and young daughter living in Rome in a tale the echoes the directors own life.

Dafoe is the reason to see this film. Giving a power house performance where he is not only physically burning down the house but showing life behind those eyes, he should be an early front runner for an Oscar in what is at times one of his best performances. Dafoe is front and center for the whole film and makes it clear why he likes to work with director Ferrara - he gives him roles that force him to use every fiber of his being.

As for Ferrara himself I'm not too sure what he is up to or what he had in mind.

The problem is that after a section of familial drama where life happens Ferrara begins mucking about. Tension rises as Dafoe's marriage begins to fracture. This sends Dafoe into a tailspin and...well he ends up on a cross. Honestly I don't know. I really don't.  The problem is in the plotting which after a while there stops being a narrative flow and things just happen. You can feel Ferrara moving his pieces around because he has an idea for a great scene. Don't get me wrong what is on screen is great- the problem is nothing connects, how do we get where we are going and why did it happen? It is not always clear. It's almost like he cut out the scenes that explain things. I am still not certain why there is problems between Dafoe and his wife.

Don't get me wrong I am a huge Ferrara fan. I have been since Ms 45 and Driller Killer. I love that he dares to try things. I love that sometimes things only work in parts because we get to have these wonderful pieces. I adore that he is a director who says to hell with the critics or studios I' going to make my art. However at the same time I have to admit that sometimes he doesn't miss the mark but the whole barn.

He missed the barn this time. Yea, Dafoe is great and there are whole sequences I love to pieces, but the film as a whole doesn't hang together. Though in his favor the way it ends up is more a near miss than a major one, which is why this is so frustrating it is so close to being there that you can't help but focus on why it hasn't come together to be a truly great film (I mean there is greatness in it)

Should you see it? If you are a Ferarra fan absolutely. If you want to see a performance that Oscar will ignore but shouldn't, yes. If you want to see a film with great pieces and moments that id trying to do something atypical and not quite making it work certainly. On the other hand if you want a film that works from start to finish and is perfect look elsewhere.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule # 55 Pooka Lives! [2020] ★★★

The Pooka franchise is like the Purge series in that one must first accept their wildly outrageous premises at face value before they can be enjoyed. The idea of a government-sponsored murder holiday is just as inherently preposterous as believing that children would actually love something as horrific as the Pooka dolls, an unholy cross between a teddy bear and Wes Craven’s Ghostface. Combine that with their eerie red eyes, their habit of repeating back random words they hear in a deep voice, and their maddeningly sinister jingle and you have something about as appealing to kids as the Annabelle doll. But the cognitive disconnect between their mass appeal and their appearance was perfect for Nacho Vigalondo’s Pooka! which premiered in 2018 as an episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark web anthology series. The doll’s terrifying design was the first and most striking indication that something was wrong in the life of its protagonist, a traumatized actor and obviously unreliable narrator.

But now Alejandro Brugués’ sequel Pooka Lives! has arrived, and since this film doesn’t take place exclusively in the mind of its hero it must be assumed that it’s occurring in the “real” world and that millions of “real” children love the damned thing. If one can’t get past that premise—and indeed, who could blame them?—they would do better to pass on the film entirely, for it takes Pooka’s popularity as given fact, not imagined fantasy. Mercifully though, Brugués abandons the original film’s bleak tone and aura of tragedy for more straight-forward comedy horror. If Pooka! was the atmospheric, high-concept Alien of the franchise, then Pooka Lives! is its over-the-top Aliens, raising the stakes, raising the body count, and raising the number of unstoppable enemies.

The film follows a group of thirty-something friends whose “Pooka Challenge” accidentally goes viral and somehow begins physically manifesting slimmed down versions of the toy to slaughter those they deem “naughty.” How? Well, witches and Tibetan mysticism are mentioned in passing, but in practice the causes are unimportant—what matters is that the killer Pookas serve as a metaphor for internet cancel culture and urban legends. It’s an interesting concept, but one that ultimately doesn’t live up to its potential as the film relies too heavily on hit-or-miss comedic relief. But as an sporadically light-hearted ensemble comedy thriller, one could certainly do worse.

Brief thoughts on Snatchers (2020) Brooklyn 2020

Snatchers is the the story of of a bunch of friends living in Brooklyn who come together to fight off an alien invasion which started in a Mennonite community.

How you react to the film will depend entirely how you react to the humor. Broadly painted and aimed at hitting every Brooklyn cliche (done with affection) and obvious gag, the film film is not for all tastes. It was not to my taste and I had a hard time getting to the end.

The problem for me was that despite having a sturdy plot the targets are a little too obvious. While the jokes aren't bad as such they aren't strong enough to keep you watching for 85 minutes. This could have been a great short, but honestly there isn't enough here to support an hour and a half

Stay At Home Fest Bonus Film: Sherlock Holmes: THE SCARLET CLAW

Saturday, May 30, 2020

CANE FIRE (2020) Hot Docs 2020

The directors grandfather
Anthony Banua-Simon's CANE FIRE is damn near close to a perfect film. Everything it needs to be a truly great film is there, except for the editing. As much as I like all of the pieces, I really wish someone other than the director had put the pieces together.

CANE FIRE is the story of  how the island of Kauai is portrayed in the movies...and it's the story of director  Banua-Simon's family on the island... and the history of Hawaii... and the history of labor relations and strife... and an effort to find the lost film that had his grandfather in it... and the relationship of the whites to all the ethnic people that lived on or were brought to the island to work... and how tourism and Hollywood warped history... and how no one can really live in Hawaii unless they are really rich....and three or four other thing which I have forgotten but which are covered in detail.

Trust me, it's  all there, beautifully told but done so in a way that pings around exactly like the previous paragraph, except that it keeps looping back through things.  The result is a really informative film that doesn't seem to know what it is about. Actually it knows what it's about it just wants takes long time to get there and it wants to throw in a lot of other stuff along the way. It's kind of like looking at lose pictures instead of one in an album where everything is in the best order possible.

Rarely has any film frustrated me so much.

In reality as much as I am bitching about CANE FIRE being a mess I am forgetting to say that the film on its own terms is good. It isn't nearly as great as it should be but it is good. It raises a lot of questions that need to be looked into. It is a film that forces you to think about what Hollywood and tourism do, as well as consider the battle to earn a decent living.

I like CANE FIRE but I wanted to love it.  To that end I am going to recommend the film at Hot Docs, but with a warning that it does bounce around.

Fo information on how to screen the film as part of Hot Docs Virtual Fest go here

The excellent YESTERYEAR is available for you to see

A Clear Shot (2020) hits VOD June 2

Based on the Good Guys electronic store seige in 1991 A CLEAR SHOT tells the story of four Vietnamese youths who take over an electronics store and take 40 hostages. Mario Van Peebles plays the hostage negotiator trying to get everyone out.

A CLEAR SHOT is a good time passer. It is a reasonably well done thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for its running time. To be certain the film has budgetary issues which makes some of the scenes look a tad anemic, but it over does it with heart and a forward momentum that makes you want to see what happens next.

If there is is any real problem it comes from star Mario Van Peebles. Normally a solid actor who raises to the occasion, here he seems to be phoning the performance in. While he is never bad he just never gives more than the absolute minimum for the role.  To be honest he is perfectly fine, but his lack of enthusiasm kind of undercuts his role in the climax.

Still A CLEAR SHOT entertains, which in this age of covid isolation makes it worth a VOD rental especially if you tire of big budget trash.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Capsule #54: A Report on the Party and the Guests [1966] ★★★½

Perhaps the most famous movie scheduled for competition at the ill-fated 1968 Cannes Film Festival was Miloš Forman’s absurdist parable The Firemen’s Ball. Remembered as a touchstone of the Czechoslovak New Wave, it skewered the country’s Communist authorities with a highly allegorical story of a small town volunteer fire department trying and failing to throw an annual ball, raffle, and beauty pageant. But curiously, it wasn’t the only Czech film in competition that year that hid withering criticisms of authoritarian regimes within surrealist allegory. The other was Jan Němec’s A Report on the Party and the Guests, a film which countered Forman’s smirking cynicism with defiant anger.

The film centers on seven urban socialites picnicking in the countryside. In the middle of their revels, they’re shanghaied by a group of thugs who force them to stand in a circle drawn in the dirt and be interrogated by a cruel, mentally unbalanced man-child named Rudolf (Jan Klusák). When one of the seven gets fed up and steps outside the circle he’s swiftly captured and beaten. Properly chastened, the group is rescued by an unnamed host (Ivan Vyskočil) who shepherds them to his daughter’s wedding party at a nearby lake which is also serving as his birthday celebration. Once there, the seven vacationers endure even more bizarre behavior as the host’s violent mood swings cause him to snap at imagined slights. Eventually the seven notice that one of their party has fled, and when the host leads the other guests off into the woods to hunt him down with dogs they try their best to ignore their former friend’s fate.

Němec was extremely careful to avoid any overt political finger-pointing, and as such the film contains almost no one-to-one symbolism. (The closest he came was casting Vyskočil—who looked suspiciously like Lenin—as the host. The Rudolf character who’s revealed to be the host’s adopted son could also stand in for any number of spoiled Communist scions like Vasily Stalin.) Nevertheless, the film was banned by Czechoslovak authorities and Němec forced to flee the country. Unlike Forman, Němec was never able to translate his talents into Hollywood success, so his reputation—and his films—never reached the same heights as his fellow Czech. And though Report doesn’t match the comedic brilliance and audaciousness of The Firemen’s Ball, it remains an important piece of Communist-era Czechoslovak filmmaking.

Valhalla Rising (2009) hits Blu-Ray Tuesday

With VALHALLA RISING hitting BluRay on Tuesday I am reposting my review from 2011

I've heard this described as a tone poem and I think that's the best way to do so. Its a near dialog-less mediation on man, god, good evil and the afterlife or its just a brutal story of a viking prisoner who escapes his captors only to take up with a band of Christians heading for the Holy Land, however the forces of nature have another plan for them and they end up in what appears to be the New World.

Graphically violent this is a film that works best when it connects with you on a subconscious and visceral level. I find that I don't intellectually get the film or perhaps even like the film, but on a basic instinct beyond words I'm drawn to this films story. I like that it operates on a plane that movies don't usually touch, that of the gut or the pure instinct.

Its a beautiful film that reminds me of Bergman, Tarkovsky and other great masters, but at the same time this is a film that is completely its own unique animal.

I know some people don't like it. I know some say it doesn't make sense and that its reaching for something it never achieves, and to be perfectly honest I can relate to that. But at the same time the film works for me in a way I can't explain.Honestly I can tell you why the film isn't good, but at the same time the film kicks me to the curb and makes me feel something that is beyond good and bad.

Worth a look for anyone who wants a head trip film and doesn't mind graphic violence and spilling viscera.

Stay At Home Fest Bonus Film: Sherlock Holmes: HOUSE OF FEAR

Friday, May 29, 2020

Brief thoughts on Uncivilized (2020) Brooklyn 2020

Director Michael Lees returns home to Dominica to live in the jungle and off the land for six months. He is looking for something but he isn't sure what. Not long after he goes into the jungle hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm hits the island and devastated the country. He then uses what he has learned to help rebuild.

Odd mix of films crash together to form a film I'm not quite certain of. The film starts off as a navel gazing search to find one's self. It then veres off into an intriguing discussion about society when Lee talks to a man who has been living off the land for decades. The film then swerves into a pseudo-Discovery Channel  film like Naked And Afraid as we watch Lee learn to live off the land. Then the storm hits and the film becomes and interesting look at the aftermath.

I don't know what I think of the film. I certainly love pieces of it but I don't know if the films all over nature really works. I suspect that if the storm didn't happen the film probably would not have made it to Brooklyn since the before stuff is, largely, nothing we haven't seen before.  The post storm stuff at least takes us into largely unexpected directions, at least as far as the first half of the film is concerned.

There is enough here to make a viewing for the curious worth seeing but I'm not going to give a blanket recommendation.