Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Chain Film Festival Shorts: ARE YOU THERE ANDY, AUTISM: ONE MAN'S JOURNEY and BENEFIT OF BILY HIPKINS


 ARE YOU THERE, ANDY?
Director Holly Lehren explores her obsession with Andy Kaufman and the possibility that he still maybe alive 35 years later. 

One of the best documentaries on Kaufman you will find. While not a full on detail oriented documentary, but an great examination of the man and a his comedy. The film however transcends just being about Kaufman by looking at Lehren's life and life in general through the prism of Kaufman. It's a stunning film


AUTISM ONE MAN'S JOURNEY
Director Scott Michael Klumb looks at ho his late in life diagnosis with autism has effected his life and how things might have been different if he had been diagnosed earlier.

I am torn about this film. While on one hand it' is an excellent look at what autism is, how it effects one person and how a diagnosis can make things better, the presentation is a bit too clinical for my tastes. Don't get me wrong the material here is gangbusters, but it feels a bit too much like an infomercial then something that is absolutely compelling. Perhaps if it wasn't 35 minutes I'd like it better. Don't get me wrong it's absolutely worth seeing, but its something you'll like more than love- though the information is invaluable.


BENEFIT OF BILLY HIPKINS
Billy Hipkins begins to try and find out about Jennie Gourlay, an actress who was supposed to play Ford's Theater the night after Lincoln was shot and he relates that to his coming out and his life.

This is a lovely little film. Its a beautifully told story about a wonderful man. Highly recommended

The excellent THE CHANGIN TIMES OF IKE WHITE hits virtual theaters Friday


This is the review I ran when CHANGIN TIMES premiered last year at the Camden International Film Festival

I am going to guess that many people are going to try and compare this to SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN the documentary about Rodriguez that came out a few years ago, but don't let that fool you, this is something else entirely. this is one of a kind tale  you just need to see.

The film is the story of musician Ike White who killed a man in a robbery that went wrong and ended up in prison, where he managed to make some absolutely incredible music. It was so good that reporters came to do stories on him, his songs were recorded and Stevie Wonder became an advocate for his release. What happens around and through that is the story and it isn't what you expect (it wasn't what I expected).

You will forgive me if I hold back in discussing this film, its not for lack of desire more it's the realization that as you read this the film is just World Premiering at the Camden International Film Festival and as such I don't want to spoil all of the films twists and turns for you. Sitting, staring at my computer screen when the film was done I had ponder whether I wanted to clue you into the ride or just say buy a ticket and take a ride. I'm going with the just buy the ticket approach.

And never mind the story you're going to want to see this for the music that fills it from start to finish. White was and is and incredible musician and the grooves he came up with are absolutely amazing. This is a glorious primer for his work is nothing else.

Ultimately the best thing I can say is this is a great great film and you should see it. One of the absolute must sees of the year and you'll want to buy a ticket and see it before your friends discover it first and tell you about it.

Opening Nationwide in Virtual Cinema Dec 4
New York - New Plaza Cinema and Sol Cinema Cafe
Los Angeles - Laemmle and Lumiere Cinema

Additional cities include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit,Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco & more!

BRIGHT FUTURE plays Metrograph's Virtual Theater starting Friday

With BRIGHT FUTURE playing Metrograph's Virtual Theater starting Friday, here is my review from the very early days of UnseenFilms

Bright Future is a film most people I know remember because of the image of a jellyfish in an aquarium. It’s the image that made me curious about the movie; I wanted to know what was the movie that went with that image.

The film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa concerns two friends working at a low level seemingly dead end job. One of them is slowly acclimating a jellyfish from salt water to fresh. He hopes to release it into the wild. When a burst of rage causes one of the pair to murder their boss, the remaining friend is left to pick up the pieces and try and work out the what's and whys of it all.

This is a change-of-pace of sorts from Kurosawa who had been making more or less genre films (Pulse, Sweet Home, the Revenge films). While the director’s films grew more and more thoughtful over time, I think this was kind of the moment where he broke the shackles of having to work within some sort of genre designation. I think this when he said to the world "I’m going to do what ever I want to do."

I’m a fan of Kurosawa’s. I’ve seen a good number of his films, and he always manages to surprise me in some way. His storytelling style is such that his films don’t do what you think they are going to do. They also seem to be much heavier than you expect them to be. Rarely is he simply telling you a story; he’s always throwing something in the mix to make you go hmmmm...(The Revenge films, or the second one, being the exception)

Here in Bright Future it’s the same thing. Nominally the story of two friends and the aftermath of a murder that one commits, the film spirals out into an examination of life, our place in it, and how just knowing someone will influence what we do after that point. It’s a heady mix that gives us pause.

I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. I think that the lack of genre structure kind of allows the film to get away from the director, with some bits seeming to wander all over the place. However at the same time the film covers ground that isn’t well worn and is surprising in its landscape.

I like the film a great deal, but its lack of a genre designation (it’s neither a crime film nor a horror film) makes it a tough sell for those expecting something along the lines of what went before. That really shouldn't matter to anyone just looking for a good film.

This film is highly recommended

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Hampton's Doc Fest Starts Friday

 The Hampton's Doc Fest starts Friday and it's a kick ass festival. 

How do I know? I've seen most of the films and they pretty much all are great. You pretty much can't go wrong regardless of what film you pick.

Sadly I don't have  time so I'm not going to be covering it. However I do have a selection of links so you can get a handle on the films you might want to see. 

What I suggest is check the schedule and then check our reviews to see it it's something you'd like then buy a ticket and take a ride

The Hamptons Doc Fest runs December 4th through the 13th.

A CRIME ON THE BAYOU

ACASA MY HOME

CITY HALL

LOVE & STUFF

MEAT THE FUTURE

MLK/FBI

OPEKA

MOLE AGENT

THE REASON I JUMP

THROUGH THE NIGHT

UNSTOPPABLE

UPROOTED

ZAPPA

THE DISSIDENT

SLAMDANCE ANNOUNCES FULL LINEUP FOR 2021 WITH VIRTUAL AND DRIVE-IN SCREENINGS

 


Robust program boasts 20 feature film premieres while highlighting diverse voices, accessibility, and encouraging filmmakers to “greenlight themselves”

Festival launches Unstoppable, a showcase for creators with disabilities

November 30, 2020 (Los Angeles, CA) - The Slamdance Film Festival announced today its full lineup of 25 features along with 107 shorts and episodics for the 27th edition of the festival, a number that equals previous editions of the festival. This includes a new program titled Unstoppable, a showcase for creators with disabilities. Running February 12-25, 2021, this will also be Slamdance’s most accessible festival ever, with all films, Q&A’s and panels available on Slamdance.com, AppleTV, Roku, Firestick, and YouTube. Virtual festival passes for early adopters are available for free until December 31st and $10 per festival pass thereafter until the end of the festival. In addition to a vibrant virtual experience, there will be a two-night drive-in presentation in Joshua Tree open to the public on February 13th and 14th as well as the closing night screening at a Los Angeles drive-in on February 25.

Deepening its mission to be the premiere festival “by filmmakers, for filmmakers,” Slamdance is introducing a number of unique new programs and initiatives this year, including an invite-only Joshua Tree retreat focused on safely bringing the Slamdance community together timed to the opening festival dates and the public drive-in screenings (still subject to ongoing Covid safety protocols and quarantine) as well as providing a screening fee of $350 for each feature filmmaking team.

The festival’s official theme, “Greenlight Yourself,” reflects Slamdance’s ongoing commitment to turning the many obstacles facing filmmakers into opportunities.  “Our theme this year was inspired by the incredible resilience and creativity evidenced by our community and our team over the past few unprecedented months,” said Slamdance President and Co-founder Peter Baxter.  “The shared journey ahead for Slamdance’s filmmakers, alumni community and organization is to ‘Greenlight Yourself’ and triple down on not only who we are, but how we can continue expanding the many ways we support the filmmakers who are the future of independent filmmaking.” 

Slamdance’s wide ranging selection of films this year includes a feature competition lineup boasting 20 premieres, with 15 World, 4 North American, and 1 U.S. debuts. In addition to the United States, films come to Slamdance from countries around the globe, including Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lithuania, Romania, United Kingdom and Taiwan. Competition films in Narrative and Documentary categories are feature-length directorial debuts with budgets of less than $1 million USD, and without US distribution, while the Breakouts competition serves directors beyond their first films who maintain distinct visual styles and a unique cinematic voice.  Films were selected by a team of Slamdance alumni via a blind submission process and are programmed democratically. Films in both categories are also eligible for the Audience Award and Spirit of Slamdance Award, the latter of which is voted upon by filmmakers at the festival. Photos of selected films available here.

The opening night film, which will screen at a drive-in in Joshua Tree on February 13, is the world premiere of No Trace (Nulle Trace) from Canadian director and screenwriter Simon Lavoie. Taking place in a near future, the film follows a callous smuggler hardened by life who guides a pious young woman and her child across the border to safety, unaware that their destinies are inescapably linked in an inhospitable land.

The festival will close with the world premiere screening of 18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story at a Los Angeles drive-in on February 25. The feature documentary by Stephen DeBro is the story of L.A. told through the prism of a historic fight palace and Aileen Eaton, the woman who ran it. Featuring the voices of fighters, skaters, and musicians including Roddy Piper, John Doe, James Ellroy and Julio Cesar Chavez, 18th & Grand is a hard-hitting yet bittersweet tale of the conflicts and characters that shaped a city. 

The festival's new program, Unstoppable, will feature 22 short films from up and coming disabled filmmakers, feature actors with disabilities, or highlight the conversation of disabilities in today’s world. Unstoppable is entirely programmed by disabled artists and the program’s mission is to amplify the contributions of the disabled community and advocate for their rightful inclusion in our industry. As an organization known for giving voice to talented creators whose stories otherwise might not be discovered, it’s in Slamdance’s DNA to undertake this new purpose.

“I’m honored to be part of the wonderful Unstoppable team and embrace the idea of creating a safe space for filmmakers with disabilities and take our creativity as seriously as everyone else in this industry. I feel like we are building a bridge for others to cross and I am so proud to be a part of it,“ said Unstoppable programmer Juliet Romeo.

The 2021 shorts lineup will showcase 107 short films in eight categories from 29 countries around the world. The lineup includes 27 World, 13 North American and 8 US Premieres. Shorts in the Narrative, Documentary and Animation sections are eligible for the 2020 Oscar® Qualifying Shorts competition. The short film program will include, for the third year, an Episodes category showcasing episodic work in any style, genre and format intended for broadcast – from comedy and drama to documentaries, social commentary and beyond.

The 2021 festival will see the return of The AGBO Fellowship, presented by AGBO Films in partnership with the festival -- a $25,000 prize launched in 2018 by celebrated festival alumni Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War) to enable a deserving filmmaker the opportunity to continue their journey with mentorship from the filmmaking duo. 

Despite the pandemic, Slamdance has experienced tremendous growth and reinforced its role as an important filmmaker incubator over the past year. Key projects include: the film Day Shift, a project born at and optioned by Slamdance and comprised of alums, starring Jamie Foxx, and currently in pre-production with Netflix; Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night, which premiered at Slamdance in 2019, was released by Amazon in 2020, and has been nominated for numerous awards this season; and Merawi Gerema’s critically acclaimed film Residue, which premiered at Slamdance this year and was picked up by Ava Duvernay’s ARRAY for release on Netflix. 

Slamdance’s incredible supporting alumni, including the Russo Brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Okja), Sean Baker (​The Florida Project​), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Lena Denhum (Girls, Tiny Furniture) and many others, are all key to the organization's mission of supporting a diverse community of emerging creators.

The 2021 lineup includes:

 

What Lies Below Film Review

 


A 16 year old returns from camp to discover her mother has welcomed a new man into her life. This unconventional story of love and suspense takes the genre in a fresh, new direction with Braden R. Duemmler’s mystery thriller, “What Lies Below”. 



I thought I knew how this film was going to end. I did not. I was way off and that makes me happy. I really enjoyed this story. My only complaint is I want more. I want a back story on John (Trey Tucker), the love interest. His character is so multidimensional that I had a hard time figuring him out, which I think works really well here. Who is he? Where does he come from? I have so many questions. At the same time, I do think that him being so mysterious adds to the unsettling feeling I had each time he was on screen. Trey played the good, bad guy so well. He’s so believable. When I first saw him on screen my initial thought was “this man is far too good looking to be this nice”. 



It was strange yet refreshing to see Mina Suvari playing the roll of a mother. I grew up watching her in classic 90’s films from “American Beauty” to “American Pie”. She’s a natural. She’s a great actress at any age and I think this is a testament to her acting style as well as her talent as a performer. The character of Michelle is very relatable in many ways. One of which being her estranged relationship with her deceased father. She wanted to be loved by someone who put the needs of her sibling first. I think this is something a lot of viewers can relate to. I interpreted her need for love as her reasoning for falling for John so quickly. She’s vulnerable and unfortunately she was the perfect prey and an easy target. 



Ema Horvath is an up and coming actress who showcased her talent when she portrayed 16 year old Liberty. She’s shy, introverted, and a little awkward. Her relationship with her mother appears to be somewhat strained. Perhaps this is due to her inheritance from Michelle’s father. He left her a cabin in his will which has led her mother to feel as though he loved her child more than his own daughter. The mother / daughter bond is quickly tested when John starts exhibiting strange behavior.



Overall I think “What Lies Below” is a fantastic genre piece. The ending is unique and not what I expected, especially with the tone of the film during the first two acts. The story is aware but doesn’t take itself seriously. The characters aren’t overly simplistic or unintelligent. They’re a family just like you and I. They’re a little broken, a little damaged, and this lead to what unfolds during the third act. Everything flows perfectly with no feelings of forced chemistry or interactions. I suggest watching this film if you’re a fan of suspenseful thrillers. The ending is a complete surprise up until the last shot which I think many of you will enjoy. “What Lies Below” is being released through Vertical Entertainment on Demand and Digital December 4, 2020. 

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's CREEPY plays Metrographs streaming theater starting Friday

With CREEPY playing Metrograph's virtual theater starting Friday here is my review when the film played the New York Asian FIlm Festival a few years back

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's CREEPY is the master in full bloom for good and bad. This film is both the man who made PENANCE, TOKYO SONATA and JOURNEY TO THE SEA as well as the one who did the second REVENGE FILM, REAL and BEAUTIFUL NEW BAY AREA PROJECT. Its both the art house god and the king of quickie schlock-and trust me I know I'm a huge fan and I own most of his films.

CREEPY is the story of a police detective who ends up on the wrong end of psychopath. Retiring from the force he becomes a college professor. However after a colleague at the school asks him to look into a weird missing persons case that's classified inexplicably as a crime he ends up drawn back into the game. More so when one of his old cop buddies is found to be investigating the same crime as well. Of course things get a little close for comfort when one of his new neighbors turns out to be really creepy.

I really like this film, but the turn in the film during the second half from straight on serial killer film to fun house ride kind of threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings for me. Don't get me wrong I like the film, but I loved the first half film, its the second half where logic and reason goes out the window I have problems with. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine sitting in a theater watching the best thriller ever and then you turn your head for a second to find you're now in a burning a clown car that's driven by a maniacally laughing John Wayne Gacy toward the edge of a cliff. You want to know how the hell you got there...

For me the moment that things broke apart as the moment when we first get a look inside the neighbor's house. We go from the typical  interior  into this long gently sloping steel and stone hall with windows and I suddenly realized that the interior could not in a million years be part of the house whose exterior we've seen. Things get worse when you see all of these underground rooms and realize this is a madman's lair that would have taken work crews years to build, and not the four or so people who live there.

In the second half character behavior is determined by needs of the plot as our hero's wife suddenly and sporadically behaves as if she is interested in the weird guy despite being creeped out by him, wanders around drugged out, though no one notices and suddenly claims martial issues for no determinable reason. Mio the "daughter" of the crazy guy alternately flees in terror from him, dropping all the clues that things are not right with him, and does his bidding.

The list of plot contrivances in the second half could fill a book as things move along at a good pace but in no way that makes any real world, or even first half of the film sense. From the wife getting strung out on the neighbor's drugs when she really hates him, except when she doesn't, to a police lieutenant going to a house alone and then going missing long enough for the bad guys to get away to the wife turning and re-turning against the husband and neighbor to the cops arresting the husband for kidnapping at a time when no one would have known he was home to pretty much everything that happens.  Seriously I could keep going with every twist and turn from the disappearance of the first cop but that would be simply stating everything that happens because none of it makes a lick of sense. (I'm guessing it works in the source novel where things would have room for it all to be explained)

To be perfectly fair the second half is tense and gripping, but not because it's a well plotted film, rather its because the film is flying so far off the rails that you stare slack jawed at the insanity, terrified at what unbelievable thing is going to happen next. We've seen enough nastiness that we know anything is possible.

Walking out of the theater last night I was asked what I thought and I said I liked the film, loved the first half and kind of hated the second because its another film from the first. (My hatred has softened, but I'm still not high on that second half)

When I got home I got into an exchange on Twitter with my friend Nate Hood who loved the last half hour. On it's own terms its good, but not attached to the first half of the film. Nate pointed out how J-horror films tend not to make any sense, and while that's true to some extent, it's also the reason I don't like most of them. The really good ones, or the ones I like, work internally. To be certain the weirdness can't happen in a real world, but with in the world of the J-horror films they can. CREEPY violates that simple rule all over the place. As I said above the whole second half isn't even consistent with itself, never mind the first half or reality. (Perhaps if nothing made sense it would have worked better since the normal would be a variation of the Mickey Mouse Club's Anything Can Happen Day)

The film is a mess.

Yes it's gripping and compelling, but it doesn't hold together when you look at it.

It's a mess

And I enjoyed the hell out of it while it as on, but I don't ever need to see it again, and I like it way less than I really should

Is it a bad film?

Not so much bad as a Kiyoshi Kurosawa one, which ultimately means even in going off the tracks its a fire ball that's more interesting than most trains that stayed on.

(At some point remind me to write about how the film is a solid mediation on how we interact with our neighbors, not to mention a glorious example of how to use sound to accentuate the action instead of music.)

Brief thoughts on Alex Wheatle (2020)


Fourth film in Steve McQueen's Small Axe Collection is about the early days of writer Alex Wheatle . who was arrested and thrown in jail during the Brixton uprising. While in prison he confronts his past where he was raised in a children's home, while his cellmate encourages him to begin reading as a way of educating himself about the past.

Weakest of the film the Small Axe Anthology, ALEX WHEATLE is the one  film I am least likely to revisit. More a polemic than a story, the film feels more like a collection of ideas rolling around waiting to be put together. While I know what Steve McQueen is trying to say, I'm not sure he is saying it in the best possible way.  This is is also the first of the films where I think the ideas overwhelm the narrative. Forgive me but in MANGROVE, LOVERS ROCK and RED, WHITE AND BLUE McQueen managed to make his point while also telling us a compelling story.

And while I seem down on the film do realize that my reaction is the result of comparing it to the films that went before, something almost no series could live up to.

Worth seeing in context of the whole Small Axe collection, I'm not certain how this film will stand on it's own.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Chain Film Festival starts Thursday

I love the Chain Film Festival. I stumbled on it last year and almost instantly fell in love with it. It was showing a combination of good films I had covered elsewhere and new films that I would fall in love with and would haunt me to years end. 

This year, like most other festivals, Chain was pushed back and made a virtual festival by Covid.  In some cases that would be a bad thing but in the case of Chain its great thing because now everyone all over the globe can discover the wonders of the festival. They have all sorts of great things playing so pick some films and buy some tickets (Details here)

While I am am still working on all the films I requested I wanted to point out a few films you might like.

ALASKA LONG HUNTERS- A bush pilot tells some wonderful stories about surviving in Alaska

ARE YOU THERE ANDY - one woman thinks she may have found Andy Kaufman. It's a great bio of Kaufman and the director.

IN WANT OF A MASK- The Hong Kong government offered free masks to the elderly and thousands showed up. This film will piss you off.

THE LAST CYCLIST- Heartbreaking recreation of a comedy that was written and performed in a concentration camp. Its funny and chilling.

ON THE BRUHL-portrait of a community center in the heartland of Germany's Neo Nazi's that welcomes everyone. If it wasn't Germany I would have found my new pastor

Coverage begins on the first and runs into the festival. I will be reviewing some features and some shorts. The shorts, as is the norm for the last few festivals, will be grouped more or less to how I saw them not to blocks.

Now go look over the film list and buy some tickets.

http://www.chainfilmfestival.com/

Brief thoughts on Doin' My Drugs (2020)


DOIN MY DRUGS is a look at Danish musician Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn and his crusade to use his music to wipe out the AIDS epidemic in his native Zambia. It's a look at a county that doesn't really want to deal with its health crisis.

A good look at a health crisis we don't focus on any more. The big bugaboo that AIDS was in the 1980's and 90's has kind of died away in  many places because we now have drugs to control it. However in Zambia and in other places in Africa it is still ravaging the population because of fear and stigmas attached to the the disease.

To be honest the non-musical portion of the film is good but a bit too scattershot. There is a a lot of very serious discussions going on, but the trouble is that the it's not always as focused as it should be . More than once things seem to drift a little bit and interest. It's not bad but it keeps this just a good film instead of a great one.

What is great is the music. DOIN MY DRUGS is full of great music not just from Buttenschøn but also St. Maiko and Mwiza Zulu (the Zulu family), Brian Bwembya, John Chiti, Danny Kaya and B-Flow. If an album of the music contained in the film wasn't being released as well I would have demanded one. Even if you don't want to see talk of AIDS, you will want to hear the great music.

Releasing on VOD on December 1 and World AIDS Day, DOIN MY DRUGS is worth a look

Werewolf(2018) hits VOD on December 1



A group of children are rescued from a concentration camp in Poland in 1945. Given over to a woman in a big house to keep safe they kids struggle to find food and comeback to humanity. Things become dangerous when they have to deal with a pack of attack dogs let loose and some German and Russian soldiers prowling about.

I'm going to kind of give something away and say that the title is kind of a wrong in that the film is not really about supernatural monsters but the evil inside all of us. I say that because I watched the whole film waiting for it to becomes the film I thought it was instead of just taking it for what it is.

What it is is a solid little war time thriller about the destruction of the human soul created by war.  While formulated to be in the framework of a horror film, it clearly has a great deal more on it's mind with it's exploration of the darkness that lives inside us and can grow there. Yes we are frightened by the dogs and the soldiers but it's the darkness in the kids that really puts the screws to us.

I'm guessing that the film is going to be one that boomerangs back to find favor with horror fans sometime after its initial release. I'm guessing this film, and it's kind of misleading title, will disappoint horror fans to start. I think they will be like me and go "oh man". However I am pretty sure that after careful reflection the film will be seen to be what it really is, a super little war time thriller that wants to do more than thrill.

Very Recommended. 

Nate Hood talks about Residue (2020)★★★★★


Write about films for too long and you run out of metaphors for dreams. Like a word you turn over and over again in your mouth until it’s just an abstract sound, all the adjectives for dreams have lost their punch for me over the years. Surreal. Lucid. Oneiric. Hypnagogic. What do these words truly mean anymore? Then along comes a film—and more importantly, a filmmaker—that reminds you why these words were once so important to you. Residue is one such film and Merawi Gerima one such filmmaker. 

That he is the son of Sankofa (1993) director Haile Gerima is irrelevant, for his is a voice so utterly unique and personal that it defies easy comparison. Is he Chris Marker by way of Spike Lee? Charles Burnett with an iPhone? A street-smart Jonas Mekas? None of these are sufficient. To watch Residue is to surrender oneself to a totally new, totally original vision. Inspired both by his upbringing in a redlined DC neighborhood and said neighborhood’s savaging at the hands of white gentrifiers, the film is both autobiographical confessional and kaleidoscopic rumination on memory, trauma, and yes, dreams. 

The story: young filmmaker Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) travels from his home in L.A. back to his childhood neighborhood in DC to reconnect with old friends and family to gather material for a film he hopes will “give voice to the voiceless.” He finds instead that he may as well be on Mars: much of the black community has been priced or bought out; the old family homes have been gutted and subdivided for white twentysomething renters; the few remaining stragglers see him as a foreigner and treat him alternatively with aloofness and contempt. 

As Gerima peels back the layers of history and memory, past melds with present as does the imagined with the real. Ghostly specters of adults as children and children as adults appear and vanish like smoke. Characters appear like Resnaisian riddles without introduction or explanation like Blue (Taline Stewart). (Who is she? His childhood girlfriend? Did she come with him from California?) White people are amalgamated into an oppressive presence, shot from afar, from an angle, or not at all. Jeering, unseen cops hunt the streets. Prison cells become forests and kitchens human abattoirs. And at the center of it all a little black boy, now a black man, who can never go home again

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fatman (2020)

 


FATMAN is destined to become a Christmas classic. Yea, its been dropped in and out of theaters before being put on VOD, but trust me, watching it I had the exact same vibe that I had watching A CHRISTMAS STORY way back when- "Why aren't there more people talking about this wonderful film?" Granted  FATMAN is not  like A CHRISTMAS STORY, I mean it has a higher body count, but it is still a wonderful film that is genuinely moving in the right way. It does say a lot about the Christmas spirit and how automatic weapons are a last resort.

Mel Gibson is Chris, aka Santa Claus. Living in the middle of nowhere he is a grumpy old guy who makes toys for his annual run, and occasionally does a side job. He is married to Ruth, an award worthy Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and struggling to make ends meet. Things are so bad the US Government has to subsidize him. However  because there are so few kids deserving of getting gifts his subsidy has been cut and he is forced to take on an order for the US Military. Meanwhile a rich and totally evil child is pissed he got a lump of coal and he hires a hitman, who has issues with Santa, to hunt him down and kill him.

Full disclosure this is not really a comedy. There are funny bits, but it is not a balls to the wall funny film and if you go in looking for that you will be disappointed.

This is not really an action thriller since there isn't a lot of action, it all comes in the final 20 minutes. It is however suspenseful since you don't know how this is going to play out.

This is a film that has it's own rhythms and way of looking at the world. It is in no way cookie cutter or like anything you've seen before and we are are better  for it. Trust me. And if you don't think so now in a year or two when you see it again you'll see I'm right. I know that the fact that this film doesn't fit in any slot is going to annoy any number of people. "What exactly is this film?" they will ask. The answer is it is its own glorious thing that manages to be a lot of different things, none of which check off any ticky boxes in the expected ways.

What this is is a Christmas story  about Santa and his job- and the need to be good and how we have to get over the bad things that happen to us because happiness can't be given to us.

I love that the film allows Chris to be cranky. I mean he is surly. He's been doing the Santa thing for centuries and you can feel the weight on him. Yes he loves his wife, more on that in second, and his friends, but he is really worn down as his business is failing and people aren't believing (they shoot at his sleigh). You can feel the frustration and anger when he is confronted by the military offer.

Mel Gibson gives a towering performance as Chris. He is a broken an who is just trying to get by. Watch his performance as he addresses the elves to tell them that he has to put them to work making fighter jet control panels because he needs the money. This is a man broken by life. Seriously, watch his eyes, and his body language and the small gestures. Gibson isn't acting rather Santa is inhabiting him. You want more proof watch the scene where he finds the files left for him by Ruth to remind him of the reason he is doing what he is doing. Watch the subtle changes as the pictures of the happy children push a button and make him reconnect to life. This is an Oscar worthy performance.


The only thing better than Gibson is Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Ruth. Oh my god does she kick ass. It's not a showy role on the face of it but it is one that you will never forget (she is the one character you will carry away from the film). You completely understand her quite passion for Chris, and you feel the centuries of love when you realize  she truly means that she and Chris have each other's backs. When it's said you think its sweet but then you see it in action and you fully understand, no one fucks with her man. 

The romance of Chris and Ruth is one for the ages. It is one of my top five all time great screen romances, like Nick and Nora. Seriously. As I said you feel the love between them. You completely understand how a look or a touch or a word connects them, or soothes them. Yes, it can be testy between them but you feel the love and understanding of a long married couple bleeding off the screen. Their marriage is a hard fought one of the unconditional that everyone wants.

The villains are vile. Billy, the rich monster child is the sort of sociopath that needs to be locked away, but never will be. He is funny you will laugh at the ridiculous things he does but a he is still scary. Walton Goggin's Skinny Man hitman is chilling. His hate-on for the fatman who couldn't give him the one thing he wanted is frightening. When you stop and look at him you feel the pain of decades bleeding off him, especially in the final section where he has Santa in his sight.

Is the film perfect? No. The Chris stuff is better than the villain stuff. Some of the turns don't fully work, especially when Goggins is getting closer to Santa are a bit careless. However at the same time this is a film about Santa so they got the right part perfect and besides its a holiday movie so you kind of have to be a bit forgiving going in.

Without giving anything away, while I loved the film before it, what made the film a true and absolute classic for me were the final two scenes. One is one of the greatest badass sequences I've ever seen, I was screaming "sequel! sequel!" at the TV, and the other is one of the most hopeful sequences of the year. It all made me feel good.

I love FATMAN.  This is one of my favorite films of 2020 and one of my favorite Christmas films.

Highly recommended for anyone willing to take it for what it is.

(Though be warned this is violent , bloody and foul mouthed at times and bloody so don't assume its good for the kiddies)

Brief thoughts on Sweet Parents (2017) which is out on VOD

 


Will and Gabby have been together and in New York for a decade. They can't seem to get ahead. He is stuck in the kitchens he works in and can't get enough to open his own place, while she is stalled in the art world. When out with friends one suggests that they take up with a sugar daddy and a sugar mama. This sounds like the answer to their troubles but complications arise since everything has a cost.

This is a good heartfelt film, It has solid performances by David Bly and Leah Rudick which suck us in and carry us along. We like them and we can feel their pain and confusion. Their performances have a lived in quality that make me wonder how much of this they have lived. 

Filmed in and around New York the film feels like it's set in real locations. While there are times where I might have quibbled with how something was shot, things looked overly cramped, I forgave it because having lived in New York all my life I know choices were made based on working in tiny locations.

I really liked SWEET PARENTS a great deal. For me it was a nice change from all of the documentaries that have been crossing my desk. 

Worth a look.

Stand(2020) is a Fathom Event December 1

 


I'm really mixed on this film. I mean I'm really mixed. A good story, some great songs and some kick ass performances are lost in a musical that probably should have remained n the stage. 

This cinematic musical is set during the Winnipeg general worker strike of 1919. It focuses on two Ukrainian immigrants, a father and son, who are trying to bring the rest of their family over. The son finds romance with a Jewish suffragette. Her brothers oppose the relationship since immigrants are taking away their jobs. Also in the mix is a refugee from the racial violence in America. Its full of romance, politics and social issues  making for a heady mix.

 When you transfer a musical to the screen you have to do something to make the songs work. You have to create a world where it is believable that people will burst into songs. The best thing to do is mix in a little unreality. Unfortunately STAND never manages that. It is firmly rooted in  reality and you never fully buy the songs suddenly happening. And that's a problem because the film collapses as a result. Had the film been entirely sung it might have worked but only occasional song works against it.

To be honest this would work on the stage on the stage. We buy people singing on stage. We also are more accepting of the musical structure which goes for emotion over reality. (and of the fact that all the clothes look brand new and were never worn). This would be a great stage musical but it's not a very good movie one.

STAND will play US theaters only n December 1st. For more information and tickets go here

RIngmaster (aka Finale) hits VOD in the UK on November 30

Two part horror film begins with two girls working at a truck stop being watched by something or someone sinister. The second follows what happens when the girls are kidnapped and tortured in some sort of weird "show".

How you react to this well made film will ultimately be determined by the the switch in the story. For me the creepy first half was lost to a by the numbers torture porn second. I am not a fan of the sub-genre unless there is a really good reason for the nastiness.  Here the reason has something to do with voyeurism and  spectatorship, which would be all well and good if that sort of thing hadn't been done a few dozen times before.

While I am not a fan of this sort of thing this is very well done and best for fans of nastiness.
THE RINGMASTER will be released in UK & Ireland on November 30th 2020 and Australia & New Zealand on December 2nd 2020.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Ashes of Time Redux is playing The World of Wong Kar Wai at Lincoln Center

 


This review is of the original cut. REDUX played the New York Film Festival several years ago  and is a rethink of the film that plays slightly better but I realize that I still feel the same way about both versions of the film 

Martial Arts film as spaghetti western.

Wong Kar-Wai makes a martial arts film that is a visual wonder-though its mostly close ups-and a bit hard to decipher because the story is told in what could be generously said to be a fragmented style (and has a great number of close ups). Its has something to do with two friends who meet every year to drink, wine that makes you forget your past, revenge, another swordsman and some other things that I didn't quite pick up. I'm not sure what to make of the film. The dialog is really great, but at the same time walks that knowing sort of edge that makes me wonder what Kar-Wai was up to. Apparently breaking down since in the middle of making this he wandered off to clear his head by making Chungking Express. I liked it as pieces because I can get my hands around the pieces but as a whole I'm not to sure of the plot-if its good-if it means anything.

Kar-Wai has cut the film once more which from reports seems to be close to the original cuts with a few changed shots, some image manipulation and a slight alteration in music. I have no idea if this will improve or detract from the film which some people see as a a masterpiece. Some things I've read have tried to put the film into a context based upon Wong Kar-Wai's other films, implying that if you've seen other films by the same director this film will be easier to digest. Maybe, but I'm not too sure since it plays differently than any of his other films (and I've seen most of them).

I don't know. I'm going to have to ponder this.

In The Mood For Love is playing The WORLD OF WONG KAR WAI at Lincoln Center

Wong Kar Wai's visually stunning romance follows two people as they grow closer and closer as they hash out whether their spouses are having an affair.

Forget it, the film doesn't do what you expect. It doesn't act like you expect, its a film that is ultimately unique and unto itself...its a love story where the lovers really never do anything but talk.

I really like this film. It was my first trip into the realm of Wong Kar Wai and it came at the insistence of Eden who really liked the film. She was right to insist that I see the film since its a film that really helped me break down my expectations about what films should do. I should mention that I had to try to watch this film for the first time on DVD and was annoyed by it's refusal to do anything other than what it was doing.Why aren't these people getting together, why is the film framed the way it is , why is there an occasional insistence on form over content? I didn't know and was fighting it at every turn. Then I talked to Eden who told be to let all my expectations go and just watch the film. Let it be and I would be surprised.

I did and I was.

In it's way this is one of the most romantic films you'll ever see. Why is it that the unrequited or unacted upon romances are the sexiest? My guess would be is that you get to have all of the slow burn and chances to show interest with out all of the smarmy kissy kissy stuff.

For me this is one of those movies where I keep thinking this is the sort of emotion I'd want to feel in my relationship. Its a damn near perfect romance.

In the special features of the Criterion DVD are several deleted scenes, one of which is a sequence which was set many years after the fact where our two near lovers meet again. Its a great sequence, but when it's done you'll be very happy that they left it out of the film. It's not that the sequence is bad, its quite good, it's just that the sequence radically alters everything that happened before and makes a great film an okay one.

As it stands now this is a great film. If you want a real romance with real people give this film a shot, it will amaze you.

The Last (2019)

I saw THE LAST  before it was released. I was asked to give my thoughts and then I was asked not to review it because they were still making plans as to what to do with the release. I put it aside and went on my way and only thought about the film as curio. Recently I had the film come up in a discussion and I realized that with the film officially out in the world  by almost two years I should get my thoughts out of the draft folder.

The film concerns a couple soon to get married. Josh considers himself an Orthodox Jew. His family is different degrees of Jewish. His fiancé Olivia is converting. One day while at the seaside Josh's great grandmother starts talking about the past and the carefully woven fabric of the family's existence is turned to ash.

At this point I am going to go off in an odd direction and discuss the structure of the film before that I think of it as a film. Structured as a very deliberate  series of discussions, writer director Jeff Lipsky has made a film that for the most part feels like a story for the stage. It's not that the film is static, though the longest sequence is essentially a 45 plus minute monologue, rather it is a series of talks that bring us to a certain crisis and then the resolution. Its a structure that many "meaningful" plays use because the structure doesn't really work in the "reality" of film and feels contrived. When most films use it the result is not a film but a polemic.

The film's strength, and part of the problem many people are going to have with the film is the centerpiece 45 minute monologue delivered by Rebecca Schull. It's a seeming single take talk where the matriarch of this Jewish family reveals who she is and what she feels. Its a stunning piece of acting that would break an audience in a theater. And it both brings the film to life with it's tale and delivery and stops the film dead because it is largely static. Give Lipsky points for trying it, but how many will see the film depend upon on how successful they think he was. 

While I most certainly have been haunted by the film I'm not really sure what I think of it. I'm leaning toward thinking it's just okay. The problem for me is that while the story and structure would work on stage, I am not certain it works on the big screen. As I said it does things that cry out for the intimacy of  live theater. Lipsky is trying to make a point (lord knows what it is) and the cinema screen requires a bit more subtly. The need to make his point also hampers the cast since many of the normally great actors give mannered performances. (And I am not so sure that a woman who so easily reveals the horrors of her soul as if it is no big thing would not have had them escape prior to the most inopportune moment- and I'm not sure we need a 45 minute monologue to get there or if it is anything more than a button push)

Ultimately I appreciate what the film is trying to do, I just don't think it actually does it.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The theatrical cut of Wong Kar Wai's GRANDMASTER is playing at The World of Wong Kar Wai at Lincoln Center

This is the review of the cut version GRANDMASTER that played American theaters a few years back

I originally saw the original cut of Wong Kar Wai's THE GRANDMASTER back in May. I was haunted by the film and posted some thoughts on the film (you can read them here).  The Weinstein Organization picked up the film for US release and after making some trims for the International market Wong Kar Wai altered the film further for US release.  Anyone who saw the original cut was flabbergasted. David Ehrich wrote an excellent piece on the differences between the versions which inflamed things farther.(His piece is here)

Several of the Unseen crew saw the film when in played at New York's Museum of the Moving Image and liked the film (though none had seen the original version. So I figured everything was okay. They all suggested that I see the film on the big screen...

Earlier tonight I made a trip to a multiplex and I saw the American cut for myself and my feeling is very mixed.

My reaction to the film is kind of akin to seeing the various versions of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, if you don't know the full version, the shorter one comes across as an interesting mistake with lots and lots of things missing. Like the Leone film watching the American GRANDMASTER you kind of like whats there but you know that there is something missing and wrong about the way the film is done. Its clear that either an idiot put it together or stuff was chopped out.

I'm not going to argue which is the better version, the longer one is better. There is a simply lyric poetry to the longer cut that is completely missing from the shorter one. There is a hell of a lot more going on thematically as well. Or more simply put what the film is about differs depending upon which version you see.

The first thing you notice with the shorter version is that the sound mix is different. How the film sounds is completely different with some sequences losing the sound of the fighting/action and replaced by music, some of which seems different. The mere shift in sound makes the film play differently since we are in a different head space.

In trimming the film of some 25 minutes the look of the film has changed. There seems to be much more slow motion camera work. I haven't checked it but a couple of times sequences I remember as playing out in regular speed now are slowed way down. Where in the full version, while there is a great deal of it, it never over whelmed, here it does.

The second thing you notice is everything is explained in titles. We know are told who people are. We are told when we are. Events are explained, occasionally before we even enter a sequence, which makes the film less a dialog with the audience but more like being spoon fed. The narration in the film has been altered as well continuing the over explanation of everything.

The time frame of the film has been rejiggered. No longer does the film shift through time and space, rather the film tells the story, pretty much in order with the result that events that should move the audience don't.

The biggest change is that the film instead of being focused on the Grandmasters and their notions of martial arts and honor, and related matters, has now been changed into the simple tale of Ip Man and his relationship with Gong Er. Its a changed that removes several characters (Ip's wife disappears after one or two sequences) and it dumbs down Er's character to the point of being unrecognizable. In the original cut there is much more going on than the flirtation and the drive for revenge, there is a need to be the best and to be her father's daughter and successor. Almost all of that is gone. Actually they've altered the film so that there now really is a romance, where there really wasn't before.

Astondingly the Japanese are pretty much gone from the story. A large part of what happens in the long version depends on the Japanese and the war but now they are barely a factor. For all that happens it could be simple rivalry between schools not nations.

Actually what we have in the short version is the story of Ip mashed into the story of Er. Because so much or the original plotting is gone you have whole sections of the film where it's as if we are watching Ip's movie or Er's movie, there is no sense that they are really part of each other's story except for a small section where they meet and fight, the letter exchange (which plays here like a big WTF) and the final part of the film.

The short version is pretty much an arty version of a simple martial arts tale that we've seen any number of times before, namely the rise of a master.

And while the long version is infinitely better than the short-even if it will confuse some with the insistence to be poetic, the short version does kind of work on it's own terms.

There is a reasonably okay biography of Ip Man with in it (thanks in part to the frequent titles and altered voice over).

I do like that we get the years when events transpire. One of the problems with the longer version is that its not always apparent when things are taking place. Since we don't know things play out differently. Watching a couple of scenes in the shorter version (say the ones with Ip Man setting up his school) knowing the years the events take place makes it play differently than not.

The short version is also more or less just a straight forward martial arts film and not a meditation on anything more. All the poetry and much of the lyricism is gone. If you want just the fights then it's great, if you want more then it's not.

I would love to try and work out what the Weinstein's reasoning behind the trims are, I mean beyond the money, because they are frequently capable of giving American audiences things that they shouldn't like like silent movies, but at the same time they wreck Asian cinema with a wild abandon that's frightening. They wreck it and then wonder why people don't go to their versions...

...while The American GRANDMASTER isn't quite the normal Weinstein defacing of an Asian film, I don't think it accurately represents what Wong Kar Wai intended even if he did cut the film.

If you haven't seen the full version odds are you'll like (not love) the short version. If you've seen the full version skip it and move on to something else.