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

The Winter Film awards are looking for films for 2020

It's only June, but Winter is coming sooner than you think! We would love to see your new work!
WINTER FILM AWARDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL showcases emerging filmmakers in all genres from around the world, with a special emphasis on highlighting the work of women and under-represented filmmakers. Submit your latest work now via FilmFreeway and use our special Friends & Fans discount code WFA20ML20 to take 20% off our Early Bird Rates.

We award over $75,000 in Cash, Prizes and Distribution Opportunities!
Animation - Horror - Music Video - Documentary
Drama - Comedy - Shorts - Features - Web Series - Experimental
We are seeking works completed since January 2017 of all genres, forms and lengths. We are an IMDB-qualifying Festival, and all selected films are screened at the best indie cinema in New York City. Early Bird Deadline ... September 5, Regular Deadline ... October 15, Late Deadline ... November 15.
Our 9th Annual celebration of independent film will run February 20-29, 2020. Filmmakers from around the world will travel to New York City to attend the Festival's ten days of amazing film screenings, fascinating discussion panels and fun industry networking after-parties. The whole thing will come to a glittering conclusion with our famous Gala Red Carpet and Awards Ceremony to be held on February 29 2020.

The rapidly growing Festival - voted one of the Top 50 Best Reviewed Festivals on FilmFreeway - seeks a diverse collection of creative indie films from NYC and worldwide in all genres. Outstanding work will be awarded for each category, along with Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, Best Original Score, Best Student Film and the NY Perspectives Award for best depiction of the New York multi-cultural experience.
Questions about the Festival, judging process or what we are looking for? Check out our FAQ
#WFA2020 #CelebrateDiversity #WinterIsComing
WINTER FILM AWARDS IS NEW YORK CITY. Like the city itself, we showcase the eclectic diversity and excitement of the independent arts world. We are an all volunteer, minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Visit WinterFilmAwards.com for more information!


Winter Film Awards Where Extraordinary Filmmakers are Recognized
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The Teacher (2019) Dances With Films 2019

THE TEACHER  is a great action film.

No wait, THE TEACHER is the start of a great action film. The tale of a school teacher hunted by assassins is the start of something great. It is a kick ass balls to the wall action masterpiece that doesn’t end so much as stops. It leaves you wanting to see what is next in much the same way the John Wick films leaves you wanting more.

A great piece of action cinema, the film looks and feels like part of a great action classic, it sets up a world of possibilities that comes to a much too rapid ending. I want to see more. While there is no doubt that should the film go to feature length there will be a chance it could go right down the cliché path, there is enough here that I think that director Jeremy Weiss can maybe keep it in new territory thus creating something special.

One of the great films at Dances with Films , THE TEACHER is a must.

The Teacher plays June 16th at Dances with Films. For tickets go here

Best Picture (2019) Bam Cinemafest 2019

I am not going to review Jay Giampietro‘s short Best Picture and which is World Premiering at BAM Cinemafest. Don’t get me wrong I like the film a great deal, but the problem is the short is essentially a monolog of my friend Sam Juliano on the night of this year’s past Oscar’s and it charts his reaction as the awards don’t go as he expects.

Filmed at Sam’s annual Oscar party the film cuts parts of his conversations together to form a six minute monolog. The result is very amusing, especially if you know someone who likes to talk about the movies endlessly. At the same time, and the reason I won’t do a formal review is that it also gives a slightly skewed portrait of Sam as a non-stop talker. Having spent time with Sam he does come up for air. The clash between the Sam on screen and in real life has mixed my feeling up enough I don’t want to review it.

On the other hand, because on its own terms it is a really good fictional portrait of a crazed cinema buff I do think you should see it when it plays Sunday with THE HOTTEST AUGUST at Cinemafest

For ticket and more information go here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Mr Sam (2018) Dances with Films 2019

MR SAM is a weird fucking film. That is a badge of honor in away. It’s also a warning to those who don’t like strange to stay away,

The plot has eccentric Mr Sam falling in love with a dead man, and then is discovered by his best friend who reveals a secret to him. That leads to unexpected consequences.

Wonderfully off kilter Mr Sam is a film I love for its strangeness and beautiful construction and acting but I am not certain about the rest. Don’t get me wrong I like the film and it’s go for broke boldness to be what it is, but at the same time it feels the wrong sort of off. The offness comes from the film’s running time of 30 minutes, which is right in between two sweet spots. Either the film could be trimmed to be a tighter (in which case it might lose some of its charm) or it could be expanded to a feature where it could allow some of the threads and ideas to be fully explored. I’d opt for a feature version.

Until then we have a wonderfully twisted confection that should be a must for anyone who likes cinema that makes you wonder what in the holy hell have gotten myself into.

MR SAM plays June 15th. For ticket and more information go here

Two Ways Home (2019) Dances With Films 2019

What sets TWO WAYS HOME apart from most other films about going home and finding one’s self is the way the film handles the mental illness portion of the film. A realistic look at a woman with mental health issues the film feels nicely lived in and smells of a summer day in the country.

The film opens with Kathy and her friend robbing a convenience store. Very quickly we realize that something is off. She hearing voices and not behaving rationally. When the cops come she gives up without a fight. While in prison she is diagnosed with bipolar issues and put on meds. When she is released she goes to stay with her grandfather who is having health issues of his own. As she tries to reconnect with her daughter she also attempts to rebuild her life.

Buoyed by killer performances by Tanna Frederick and Tom Bower (who is so staggeringly good you wonder why he hasn't gotten more leads)  TWO WAYS HOME is a small treasure of a film. No, it is not the greatest thing since sliced bread and no it probably won’t win every award out there, but it is a wonderfully warm and fuzzy film with ups and downs that make it feel like life. Watching it I had the feeling that I was back on my grandfather’s farm. As I said above it has the feeling of a life lived. Clearly writer Richard Schinnow and director Ron Vignone have been there and it shows on the big screen.

This is really good film. It is exactly the sort of film I set up Unseen Films to highlight and it is exactly the sort of film that makes Dances with Films so important.

Recommended for anyone who is tired of typical Hollywood films or stock inde films.


TWO WAYS HOME plays June 15th at Dances with Films. For ticket and more information go here

Human Rights Watch Capsules: Está todo bien (It's all good), In Search...., Everything Must Fall, When We Walk and Born in Evin

Está todo bien (It's all good)
This examination of the health care situation in Venezuela is a mixed bag. A vitally important film that highlights the insanity in the country (the financial and political instability has driven most of the doctors from the country and made it nigh impossible to get any sort of prescription drugs) the presentation, a discussion with various people caught in the mess, doesn’t quite work. Yes the horrible plight is showcased but I couldn’t help but think I would have liked this as something more straight forward- it didn’t need to guild the lily.

In Search....
Beryl Magoko's film looks at the practice of female genital mutilation which she was subjected to when she was a child. The film follows Magoko's look at the practice and at the lives of women, such as herself, who were scarred as children, as she considers the surgery which will correct damage done to her. It is a moving film that isn't just about the physical practice but about the emotional lives of the women traumatized.  You will forgive the brevity of the review but I feel unqualified to really discuss the film, other than to say it will move you.

Everything must Fall
Portrait of the perfect storm of protests that erupted in South Africa when the colleges and universities began to raise their tuition and fees at an unprecedented rate in the years after the government stopped subsidizing the schools. The students protested seeing the raises not as part of life but a means of bringing back Apartheid. It resulted in clashes with school officials and police across the country. Good look at events I had known nothing about. While I couldn't really connect to some of the details of what was happening (I don't have a grasp of all of the ups and downs of South African politics/society) I could see how the students choice to fight made a difference. Worth a look.

Born in Evin
Director Maryam Zaree attempts to fill in holes in her past concerning the fact that she was born in Evin Prison in Iran where political prisoners, like her parents were held. A good portrait of Iranian society that most people are not aware of the film is also a good look at how we need to know our whole story if we are going to get on with our lives and understand the people around us as well as ourselves.

When We Walk
Follow up to Jason DaSilva's When I Walk, the film follows DaSilva's struggle to remain in contact with his son after his ex takes the boy and moves to Austin Texas. DaSilva is suffering from MS and can not move to Texas without losing the health care he needs to remain alive. This is heartfelt and moving portrait of what one man has to do in order to not only remain alive but also remain connected to the one person who means anything to him, his young son. Definitely worth a look.

For tickets or more information to these or any Human Rights Watch Film Festival films go here

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The NYAFF slate (minus the Closing Night film) has been announced

New York, NY (June 12, 2019) – Film at Lincoln Center and the New York Asian Film Foundation announce the 18th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), June 28 – July 14, 2019. 
After last year’s Savage Seventeen, this year’s program is dubbed the “Still Too Young to Die” edition with five international premieres, 23 North American premieres, four U.S. premieres, and eight New York premieres, showcasing the most exciting action, comedy, drama, thriller, romance, horror, and art-house films from East Asia, and bringing close to 30 directors and nine actors from Asia.
Eighteen - Still Too Young to Die: Many will recognize the cheeky reference to NYAFF 2016 audience award winner, Kudo Kankuro’s Too Young to Die!, in which a busload of high-school students plummet to their deaths. They either end up in heaven or hell, both of which defy expectations. Graduating into adulthood, NYAFF aims to defy expectations cinematically.
With the irreverent action-comedy stylings of the gonzo manga adaptation Fable and the singularly Singaporean zom-com Zombiepuraas just two examples, NYAFF boasts both high-concept thrills and lowbrow gags. Rich contrasts can be found in deeply profound moral tales such as actor Kim Yoon-seok’s stunning directorial debut Another Child, or Huang Chao Liang’s literally explosive drama Han Dan, both in this year’s competition.
From the deadly serious to the gleefully absurd, from the disquieting to the freaky, NYAFF continues to celebrate the most vibrant and provocative cinema out of Asia today.
Opening Night is the North American premiere of Bernard Rose’s Samurai Marathon, featuring a star-studded cast and a score by Philip Glass. This original take on the jidaigeki (period piece) reinterprets a lesser-known real event out of history in the wake of the West’s arrival in Japan during the 1850s. Packed full of intrigue, thrills, and comic relief, and including both ninjas and royal rebels, the film is a marvelous amalgam of transnational aesthetics and distinctly Japanese genre traditions.
The Centerpiece is the North American premiere of The Fable, directed by Kan Eguchi, who will attend the festival. The film captures the spirit that has sustained NYAFF over the years: a sprightly combination of action and pop comedy that never takes itself seriously but never completely leaves its brain at the door.
Closing Night will be announced at a later date.
Seven films will vie for the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film in the third edition of the festival’s Main Competition: Moon Sungho's5 Million Dollar Life (Japan), Kim Yoon-seok’s Another Child (South Korea), Huang Chao-liang’s Han Dan (Taiwan), Katsumi Nojiri’s Lying to Mom (Japan), Kenneth Lim Dagatan’s MA (Philippines), Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie (South Korea), and Wu Nan’s Push and Shove(China). Six of the films are North American premieres at NYAFF, with one international premiere, and six of the competition titles are feature debuts, underlining the competition’s mission to showcase new cinematic voices.
This year’s competition jury consists of prominent personalities from the film business that bridge Asia and America: Doris Pfardrescher (President & CEO, Well Go USA), producer Guan Yadi (Wind BlastAssembly), Tim League (CEO, Alamo Drafthouse), and actress and producer Veronica Ngo.
Vietnamese singing and dancing sensation turned movie star Veronica Ngo burst into action with her starring role in the breakthrough martial-arts megahit The Rebel (NYAFF 2008). She continued to flex her fighting muscles in Clash and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, as well as acting in films of other genres, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Ngo also took to producing as well and has proved one of the most dynamic forces in the Vietnamese film industry today. NYAFF commemorates her incredible contributions to cinema with the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema and a special screening of what may be her best film to date, the phenomenal action opus Furie. NYAFF is proud that Ms. Ngo will also serve on this year’s competition jury.
The Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Hong Kong action choreographer and director extraordinaire Yuen Woo-ing, perhaps best known to Western audiences for his work on The MatrixCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Kill Bill. The extremely prolific Yuen started as an actor and stuntman in the ’60s. In 1978, he made his phenomenal directorial debut with the smash hit Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and followed quickly with an even greater success, Drunken Master—the two films that not only made Jackie Chan an international star but practically created the indelible kung-fu/comedy genre. His filmography features a plethora of kung-fu classics marked by innovations in fight choreography and hyperkinetic genre stylings. Screening in the festival are the seminal Donnie Yen vehicle Iron Monkey (on 35mm), now a classic of the ’90s “New Wave” of kung fu; the brand-new Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, an exciting entry in the popular Ip Man film series, starring Max Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Jaa; and The Miracle Fighters, Yuen’s first of several absolutely crazy meldings of kung fu, fantasy, and comedy that must be seen to be believed.
As announced by NYAFF’s media partners and sponsors of the prize, the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award will be given to both Nana Komatsu and Ryu Jun-yeol. Komatsu will receive her honor before the festival’s Opening Night screening of Samurai Marathon on June 28, and Ryu will receive his award on July 6.
Previous recipients of the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award include Japan’s Fumi Nikaido in 2014 and Shota Sometani in 2015; Japan’s Go Ayano, China’s Jelly Lin, and the Philippines’ Teri Malvar in 2016; Thailand’s Chutimon “Aokbab” Chuengcharoensukying in 2017; and Hong Kong’s Stephy Tang in 2018.
This year’s Hong Kong Panorama, presented with the support of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, the longest-standing partner and sponsor organization of the festival, offers an exciting feast of compassion, innovation, and nostalgia across 10 diverse and exciting films. The Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping honors the legendary master with screenings of three stellar martial-arts films from his incredible oeuvre: Iron Monkey (1993), a rare showing of The Miracle Fighters (1982), and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018). G Affairs (Lee Cheuk Pan) has its North American premiere, showcasing a fierce, transgressive directorial voice. Another debut, Still Human (Oliver Siu Kuen Chan), produced by Fruit Chan, reveals a bittersweet and touching side of Hong Kong. See You Tomorrow (Zhang Jiajia)a gonzo high-concept rom-com and then some, produced by Wong Kar-wai and starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Angelababy, has been unearthed by the programmers to make its North American premiere, two years after it wrapped production. Veteran filmmakers are further represented by the international premiere of The Attorney (Wong Kwok Fai), an exciting and insightful courtroom mystery-thriller, and wild auteur Pang Ho-cheung’s outrageous Chinese New Year comedy Missbehavior. No Hong Kong lineup would be complete without hyperkinetic modern action. The Fatal Raid (Jacky Lee) is an explosive new take on the classic “girls with guns” genre, featuring Jade Leung (Black Cat).
Finally, this year’s Secret Screening is a Hong Kong classic given a novel live-music treatment by the hip-hop collective Shaolin Jazz. Part of NYAFF Uncaged Award Ceremony for Best Picture on Saturday, July 13, 8pm at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street).
Conceived by Gerald Watson and produced by DJ 2-Tone Jones, “Shaolin Jazz – The 37th Chamber” is a testament to the stylistic connections between both Jazz and hip-hop. It is a mix project whereby various jazz songs and breaks are fused with a cappellas and vocal samples from the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. The music and lyrics are astutely crafted to match both in cadence and tone, with the jazz selections used also helping to further accentuate the essence and intensity of the Clan.
The creators of Shaolin Jazz’s unique film experience “Can I Kick It?” caters to lovers of kung-fu flicks and the music they inspired. For each event, cult-classic martial-arts films are screened and scored (scene by scene) with a blend of hip-hop, soul, funk, and more mixed on stage by DJ 2-Tone Jones. The result is a live, remixed soundtrack using music and DJ techniques to accentuate elements of specific scenes and fight sequences. Shaolin Jazz presents “Can I Kick It?” as this year’s NYAFF secret screening.
The China selection continues to grow exponentially and includes a wide-ranging selection of titles reflecting the complexities and contradictions of a film world whose theatrical market has surpassed that of North America. Bold and already masterful directorial visions such as The Crossing by female director Bai Xue or Wushu Orphan by Huang Huang will be screened alongside movies that show the China familiar to the audiences of European international film festivals and their art-house fare: A First Farewell (Wang Lina, 2018), a rare look at the struggles of growing up as a member of the Uighur minority in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang; Jinpa (Pema Tseden, 2018), an abstract Tibetan Western produced by Wong Kar-wai; or The Rib (Wei Zhang, 2018), a raw gem focusing on transgender issues, that miraculously passed censorship. The deliberately broad selection gives a glimpse of entire worlds beyond the films of Bi Gan and Jia Zhangke and puts the spotlight on a new Chinese cinema yet to be museified and mummified. Further to this point, this year’s edition showcases unorthodox, smart social comedies, filled with pop energy and eccentricity: Push And Shove (Wu Nan, 2019), Uncle and House (Luo Hanxing, 2018), which put the spotlight on a living culture miles away from the CNN caricatures. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the selection offers a dark but superb discovery with the highly aestheticized historical observations of Winter After Winter (Xing Jian, 2019). At the same time, NYAFF never ignores films that are beloved in their home countries, as represented here by the animated fantasy White Snake (Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, 2019), a massive box-office hit domestically, and the action-packed wintry Western Savage (Cui Siwei, 2018).
The New Cinema from Japan lineup represents both the popular and the highbrow from a film culture that has established itself as one of the pillars of world cinema. The group of selected titles demonstrate the perennial and proverbial originality of Japanese visual storytelling, most of all with SABU’s new film, Jam, an almost indescribable dramedy driven by random yet fateful encounters. For the occasion, the festival is bringing back the director’s 2017 film Mr. Long, the strange tale of a Taiwanese hit man stranded in Japan after a disastrous job. Two Japanese titles made the cut for the competition this year: 5 Million Dollar Life (Moon Sungho, 2019) and Lying to Mom (Katsumi Nojiri, 2018). Both films share exceptionally compelling narratives on the fundamentals of life, death, and the hardships of dealing with family and strangers alike, navigating the thin line between comedy and tragedy. As can be expected from Japan, the quirky, the poignant, and the absolutely nuts find a cinematic home in the following, just to name a few: Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019), Hard-Core (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2018), and the obsessive noir The Gun (Take Masaharu, 2018). This is all a far cry from your average tea ceremony.
There are nine films in the South Korean Cinema section: beyond Bong Joon-ho, the Palme d’Or, the glam of Park Chan-wook, and the commercial cinema that hits U.S. theaters via limited theatrical releases, the festival has shifted its attention to lesser-known but equally unique directorial visions that exist outside the system. In Kim Yu-ri’s Sub-Zero Wind and Jeong Seung-o’s Move the Grave, the programming team has found unforgettable portrayals of youths who endure the full force and fire of the hard times that only adults should fall on. Star actor Kim Yoon-seok’s remarkable debut behind the camera, Another Child, making its North American Premiere at the festival, displays the same stylized, somber realism, but with a light-touch comedic mastery that earned it a place in the competition section. Maggie (Yi Ok-seop, 2018), the other Korean entry for this year’s competition, shares this humorous streak but with more extravagant innovations. The historical drama A Resistance (Joe Min-ho, 2019), offers a formidable vehicle for actress Ko A-sung as the real-life heroine of the 1919 independence movement, exactly a hundred years ago. Last but not least, NYAFF expands for the first time to the grand Alice Tully Hall with the film concert Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels, a once-in-a-lifetime experience marrying cinema with traditional Korean music (gugak) performed live by a 20-member ensemble from the National Gugak Center, who will be playing the score for the first time in the U.S.
The four-film selection from Taiwan is resolutely pop, accessible, and unapologetically fun in a way not normally associated with productions from the island better known for its art-house and experimental output. The festival’s picks show a specific brand of Taiwanese cool, be it competition title Han Dan (Huang Chao-liang, 2019), a macho tale of friendship and betrayal anchored in the savagery of local tradition where fireworks are shot at a parading half-naked man; or in the madcap comedy about TV producers gone wild and wrong It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show (Hsieh Nien Tsu, 2019); the violent action piece The Scoundrels (Hung Tzu-Hsuan, 2018); and the decidedly unrepentant rom-com Someone in the Clouds (Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng, 2018).
This year’s Southeast Asian Vanguard selection spotlights a fascinatingly varied breadth of electrifying cinema. From the Philippines comes MA, a chilling debut feature from a director who was born to make horror films. On the other side of the spectrum is Signal Rock, the Philippines’ entry for the Oscars earlier this year—a realist yet poetic drama that shows what life is really like on one of the country’s many little islands. In similar contrast are the two films from Vietnam. Furie is a balls-to-the-wall actioner starring the dynamic Veronica Ngo, while Song Lang is a sweeping and touching drama that combines a story of traditional opera with both crime and LGBTQ elements. Indonesia brings an old-school matinee-style comedy and martial-arts adventure with 212 Warrior, and from Malaysia comes the brooding (and actually quite scary) psychological horror film Walk with Me. The living dead are represented this year by the hilarious Singaporean zom-com Zombiepura. Capping it all off is Thailand’s The Pool, a stunningly original existentialist thriller that redefines the meaning of “hitting rock bottom” in the most literal way.
As TV and film increasingly converge, for the first time, NYAFF will screen, ahead of its August 12 release on AMC (at 9:00 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. CT on AMC) The Terror: Infamy. Set during World War II, the haunting and suspenseful second season of the horror-infused anthology centers on a series of bizarre deaths that haunt a Japanese-American community, and a young man's journey to understand and combat the malevolent entity responsible. The series stars Derek Mio, Kiki Sukezane (Lost in Space, NYAFF 2018 jury), Shingo Usami (Unbroken) and renowned actor, producer, author and activist George Takei (Star Trek). The Terror: Infamy is an AMC Studios production, co-created and executive produced by Alexander Woo and Max Borenstein, with Woo also serving as showrunner. Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert, Guymon Casady and Jordan Sheehan serve as executive producers.
HBO® Free Talks at NYAFFThis year, NYAFF presents several free talks, sponsored by HBO®, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater. They include opportunities for NYAFF audiences to meet festival guests from Japan, China, and Southeast Asia and discuss their careers, trends, and regional genre cinema.
The New York Asian Film Festival is co-presented by the New York Asian Film Foundation and Film at Lincoln Center and takes place from June 28 through July 11 at FLC’s Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street), and July 11-14 at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street). It is curated by executive director Samuel Jamier, head programmers Claire Marty and David Wilentz, and programmers Karen Severns and Koichi Mori.
FULL LINEUP (53)Titles in bold are included in the Main Competition; the list excludes the secret screening.
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Americano (2019) Dances With Films 2019

AMERICANO is damn to close to being a great film. The film, an exploration of immigration and far right politics is a crowd-pleaser that is certain to get cheers when it plays at Dances With Films and other festivals.

The film is about Isaac, a computer expert/hacker who has come to America to have a better life. When an encounter with a protester leaves him with an order to be deported he turns for help to a powerful demagogue of a politician who is running on a promise to close Pennsylvania’s borders to anyone not from “here”. A deal is struck where by Isaac will hack a certain aide, however its deal with the devil and the Senator is planning on arresting Isaac and his wife as threats. With no other choice Isaac takes a stand.

Damn near perfect short thriller is one that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. A stunner that would make a great feature, it is close to being as good a short as you’ll see all year. Everything about it is spot on. Watching it I was making a list in my head of who I wanted to tell about the film so it would get coverage.

While I am still high on the film, and I have told some friends about the film, my absolute love of the film was tempered by the film not quite sticking the ending. While the ending is more or less what I expected, the how it got there was a little odd with the writer director swinging things so that everyone lines up against the bad guys in the café that bears the film’s title. While it makes for a supreme feel good moment, it doesn’t quite ring true since it crosses a little too much into the realm of fantasy (Minuteman, really?).

Cute ending or no AMERICANO still rocks. It’s a really good thriller that you should put on your Dances with Films dance card.

AMERICANO plays June 16th at Dances with FIlms. For more information and tickets go here.

Accept the Call (2019) Human Rights Watch 2019

ACCEPT THE CALL is a chilling film. The story of a father whose son who became radicalized and tried to join Isis will rock your world.

The film is the story of Somali born Yusuf Abdurahman who moved to the US, met a nice girl and raised his family. When his eldest son Zacharia hit his teens he was rocked by the divorce of his parents, the struggles of being a teen as well as the difficulties of being feeling an outsider as a Somali. He ended up being recruited by Isis and he attempted to fly to Turkey in the hope of crossing the border to Syria. However he was arrested and sent to prison. Abdurahman was rocked and the film charts his struggle to understand how this could have happened and what can be done to prevent it in the future.

What is so devastating about ACCEPT THE CALL is how matter of fact and low key it is. Abdurahman is a good man who has accepted what happened but is desperate to understand why it did. We follow along as he tells his story and explores the recruiting practices of the terrorist organization. What I love is that not only is Abdurahman‘s other children involved but also Zachariahimself who tells his story his dad via frequent phone calls. One of the calls brings a kind of crushing moment when Zacharia tells his dad that in away despite being a great dad who was always being there for him, the path to temporary radicalization was paved with other factors his dad couldn’t control.

I was rocked. The fact that the film makes clear that the radicalization of our children is not what we think it is makes it terrifying. It is not simply a black and white path or a flipping of a switch, rather it is a slow process that catches those around the radical unaware.

This film is one of the most important films of the year and a must see.

For more information and ticket go here

On the President's Orders (2019) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2019

All the more chilling for looking like a well-made thriller On The President's Orders is a warning to the world and the future of what can happen when madness rules a country.

Beginning with a speech from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte where he compares himself favorably to Hitler saying that he would massacre all of the drug addicts in the country like Hitler killed the Jews, the film then shifts to follow a command of police officers who have been tasked with changing the way they are doing things. The public is not happy with a police force that seemed to be out of control and highly corrupt. There are too many people dying in police involved shootings. So a new man is brought in. The film then follows as the police try to change their image and old ways begin to creep back (The higher ups are happy the number of police related deaths are down but unhappy it didn’t bring instant change) and talk of death squads begins to surface.

Slow boiling film makes you think that perhaps we are going to see some sort of change in the madness but as time goes on it becomes clear that any hope for change is not going to come easily. Watching the film I thought it was going to go one way but then I slowly began to realize that we really are in film noir territory and the darkness of men’s souls are still wandering around. There is a reason that one of the people we follow is a man responsible for picking up the bodies of those killed in the madness.

Having watched the film several hours ago I find I am still in a dark place. I feel slightly brutalized. Not from what is shown in the film so much as what the film doesn’t show but implies. As much as I would love to believe that all is skittle and beer and that the people who are tasked with trying to protect us have our best interests at heart. However this film makes clear that isn’t the case.

For me the scariest thing is it shows the dark side of humanity that here in America Trump is trying to harness. Trump has all but called for the same sort of treatment of illegal immigrants and those who aren’t white. He would gladly allow people to kill each other if he knew it would keep him in power and never come back to hurt him. On the other hand I don’t think Duterte really cares and he simply wants those he deems expendable removed.

This film is a stunner. Highly recommended when it plays June 15 and 17 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The films and schedule for this year's Japan Cuts


New York, NY (June 11, 2019) – Japan Society announces the full lineup for the 13th annual JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, North America’s largest festival dedicated to presenting the best in contemporary Japanese cinema, set for July 19-28.

Premiering 26 features and 16 short films, the summer festival offers a deep dive into one of the world’s most vital film cultures with a diverse selection across its Feature Slate, Classics: Rediscoveries and Restorations, Documentary Focus, Experimental Spotlight and Shorts Showcase sections. This year’s lineup features 19 first-time filmmakers and 14 female directors (the most in the festival’s history), including 10 International Premieres, 16 North American Premieres, 4 U.S. Premieres, 4 East Coast Premieres and 6 New York Premieres. In addition, over 20 guest filmmakers and talent from Japan will join the festival to participate in post-screening Q&As and parties.

“This 13th edition of JAPAN CUTS provides testament to the continued vitality of contemporary Japanese cinema with a wide array of films by emerging filmmakers who dare to take formal and thematic risks,” says Kazu Watanabe, Japan Society Deputy Director of Film. “They are paired with a roster of veteran directors who similarly began their career in the spirit of creative innovation and who continue to expand their vision in new directions. Together, they tackle stories about existential ennui, class conflict and social discrimination through a range of filmmaking practices that continually subvert expectations and expand our notion of what Japanese cinema is.”

The Opening Film on July 19 is the U.S. Premiere of Dance With Me, an office comedy-road trip-musical directed by Waterboys helmer Shinobu Yaguchi featuring a breakout performance by star Ayaka Miyoshi. As previously announced, the festival’s Centerpiece Presentation on July 24 is the East Coast Premiere of Killing, a subversive samurai drama and meditation on the nature of violence by internationally renowned cult director Shinya Tsukamoto, who will be presented with the 2019 CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film prior to the screening. The director will also introduce a special 35mm presentation of his 1998 black-and-white classic Bullet Ballet on July 25. The Closing Film on July 28 is the North American Premiere of director Yuko Hakota’s remarkable debut feature Blue Hour, a comedic drama about rural homecoming and reinvention starring festival guests Kaho (Our Little Sister) and Eun-kyung Shim (Miss Granny).

Other festival highlights include: the New York Premiere of His Lost Name, a drama about two lost souls who find themselves in a tenuous father-son dynamic and the long-awaited debut feature by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s protégé and assistant director Nanako Hirose; the North American Premiere of 22-year-old director Hiroshi Okuyama’s highly original debut feature Jesus, about a young boy’s encounter with a six-inch Christ, winner of the New Directors Award at the 2019 San Sebastian International Film Festival; the International Premiere of NIGHT CRUISING, a fascinating documentary about a congenitally blind man’s attempt to create a short film for the first time, with filmmakers and subject in person; the return of festival favorite and 2013 CUT ABOVE Award recipient Toshiaki Toyoda with his latest crowd-pleaser The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan, a biopic about a late-blooming shogi master; and the New York Premiere of the recently restored send-up of 1980s pop music The Legend of the Stardust Brothers by director Macoto Tezka (son of legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka).

Organized by Kazu Watanabe, Joel Neville Anderson and Amber Noé.

Tickets go on sale to the general public Tuesday, June 18 at 11:00 am. Japan Society members receive early access starting Tuesday, June 11. Tickets are $15/$12 seniors, students and persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members. Opening Film and Centerpiece Presentation tickets are $21/$18/$16. Discount ticket offers are available. See below for complete information or visit japansociety.org/JAPANCUTS.


JAPAN CUTS 2019 FULL LINEUP

Back to the Fatherland (2019)

Filmmakers Kat Rohrer and Gil Levanon became friends during their time at college in New York City. Gil comes from Israel, Kat from Austria. Their families' history is strikingly different. Gil is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Kat is one of a Nazi officer. In the wake of Gil deciding that in order to better herself financially she has to move to Germany, the pair decide to examine how personal memory and the memory of their countries and cultures deal with tragic events in the past and shape the future.

In a time where some deranged people are looking to the past to find a beacon of hope and way to the future and deciding that that Nazi's might have been right, BACK TO THE FATHERLAND offers us a heady discussion about how we should look at the past. Have we moved far enough forward that we can return to a place that caused do much pain? Additionally how are we deal the fact that antisemitism and xenophobia are on the rise and that moving back may very well be putting some people in danger.

It's a great deal to process and the film deftly handles the conundrum thanks to both Kat and Gil being excellent tour guides as well as their keeping the discussions centered on people who can put the problems and possible solutions into  compelling words.

A solid film.

BACK TO THE FATHERLAND opens in theaters in NYC Friday.

Monday, June 10, 2019

THE ADVOCATE The opening night film of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York 2019


Excellent portrait of Lea Tsemel, Jewish-Israeli attorney she defends Palestinians regardless of what they did that includes petty crimes or attempted suicide bombing.  The film is a mix of reflection on her career and portrait of the woman in action. We watch her championing her clients, despite knowing what they are accused of and never giving anything less than her all.

Tsemel is a joy to watch and to listen to. Watching the film I wasn't sure we needed to have another portrait of a fighter of the downtrodden and then I saw her in action and fell head over heels with her. It takes a special kind of a person to be able to talk to the family of a man accused of stabbing 11 people about a plea bargain and not say your son is screwed. There was of course no doubt he did it but her attitude in discussing it is something rare. (I know I have a day job in criminal justice and can see how bad some attorneys can be.

A stunning film that is highly recommended

For tickets to this or any other Human Rights Watch film go here

Joe Bendel on BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES which opens Friday

It started with recordings of boogie woogie piano masters Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, but Blue Note Records would become synonymous with 50s and 60s Hard Bop, exemplified by artists like Horace Silver and Lee Morgan. They might sound stylistically disparate, but everyone on the classic Blue Note label was totally authentic and swung hard. The label’s past, present, and future are celebrated in Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, which opens Friday

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were fans, not businessmen. Wolff presciently immigrated to America amid the rise of National Socialism in Germany, joining his boyhood friend Lion in New York. With Blue Note Records, they just started recording music they wanted to hear. Somehow, the venture became sustainable (barely), but it was never a commercial power house. Due to cash flow issues, they were forced to sell out to Liberty Records in 1965, but they were never comfortable working in a more corporate environment. Lion retired, Wolff passed away, and the new Capitol/EMI masters consigned the label to dormancy in 1979. Ordinarily, that would be the end of the story, but fan reverence for Blue Note was so deep and their backlist catalog sales were so strong, Capitol revived the label in 1985.

When an institution like Blue Note refuses to stay dead, it most definitely means something. Huber does a nice job explaining the many reasons fans have such respect and fetish-like collectors’ zeal for the label. Of course, the music is first and foremost. Lion and Wolff discovered, nurtured, and extensively recorded many great musicians, including Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Jimmy Smith (who is oddly shortchanged in the film), Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson, and “Sweet Papa” Lou Donaldson, who consistently livens things up with his candid interview segments, as anyone who has heard him in the clubs would fully expect.

Due credit is also given to Reid Miles’ boldly modernistic cover designs and Wolff’s remarkable photographs taken at the sessions (incidentally, a few covers were designed by a cat name Andy Warhol, but he never amounted to much). (Some colleagues asked me how legit Wolff’s photography was after a press screening—does two collections published by Rizzoli and exhibitions at the Smithsonian and the Jewish Museum in Berlin answer the question?).

Huber and her interview subjects also acknowledge the mastery of Rudy Van Gelder, Blue Note’s regular engineer (who had a particularly good ear for jazz but recorded every style of music under the sun) and the respectful and productive atmosphere fostered by Lion and Wolff. Unlike other labels, they paid musicians to rehearse, allowing their artists to bring in sophisticated charts, instead of just blowing head arrangements on some impromptu blues.

Huber views this musical legacy through the prism of a studio session for Robert Glasper, one of the label’s most prominent and talented contemporary artists not named Norah Jones (who also duly appears to pay tribute). Past and present meet when Hancock and Wayne Shorter join Glasper’s group, with the label’s current president Don Was proudly looking on from the control board. That kind of says it all for a lot of Hard Bop-focused Blue Note fans—yet it still leaves much unsaid.

Frankly, Beyond the Notes could have easily been a four-hour Amazon documentary, in the tradition of Long Strange Trip. Admittedly, some editing is usually a good thing, but it is rather problematic that Huber ignores Blue Note’s avant-garde/free jazz legacy, because these jazz artists are always the most likely to be marginalized. Unless they recognize a few album covers that flash across the screen, viewers would have no indication “outside” and explorative musicians like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill recorded for Blue Note.

Blue Note has such a rich history, distilling it down to ninety minutes would be a daunting task.  Yet, a good deal of time is devoted to arguing Blue Note is suddenly more “relevant” in the current cultural and ideological climate. However, the truth is Blue Note was never very political, especially when compared to Impulse Records or Flying Dutchman. Yes, jazz is descended from the blues, which was born out of slavery, but it is still frustrating Huber feels compelled to justify the music on the basis of some fleeting political relevancy instead of having confidence in its intrinsic and enduring value.

Blue Note is a record label. Ordinarily, those were just words on a sticker covering the dead wax of an LP, but Blue Note was, and to a considerable extent still is special. It was the artists, the look and the sound. It was the total package. Huber mostly gets at the essence, but there is so much more to the story, like Long Tall Dexter Gordon, whom many viewers who don’t know Blue Note from Blue Thumb will recognize from his Oscar-nominated performance in Round Midnight.

Even coupled with Julian Benedikt’s straight-over-the-plate Blue Note: A Story Modern Jazz, a great deal of significant Blue Note history and music is left out of the picture, but that means you are entitled to a feeling of discovery for everything you ferret out yourself (tip: start with Freddie Redd). Recommended (despite a few frustrations) for jazz fans and viewers with open ears, Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes opens at New York's Metrograph on Friday before rolling out across the country in the weeks after