Monday, December 6, 2021

The Harder They Fall (2021)


Excellent splashy western has a man looking for revenge against the outlaw who killed his parents after said bad guy is violently released from prison.

This updating of the western is a blast and a half thanks to a modern sensibility and cast and crew to die for. 

The cast is sterling from top to bottom. I loved everyone in it to the point that I don't want to mention anyone lest I leave someone out. Then again I have to mention Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee, the  person at the door of Mary's saloon. Deadwyler has created a kick ass character on so many levels. As showy as the rest of the cast is Cuffee is the one you remember and the one you root for. Deadwyler gives Cuffee a weight and a life beyond the western stereotypes that are some of the other characters.

The action is mean and nasty. Blood flies everywhere. The set pieces are a marvel in ways that are both totally unique and harken back to the classic westerns of old.

If the film has any real flaws it would have to come in the film being set in the western town that has been used in way too many recent westerns (APPALOOSA, OPEN RANGE and too many others) without much window dressing. In a film that is dead set upon revinventing the western it would have been nice if it didn't look like the ones that went before. The other quibble I have is the film's insistence on being flashy at all times. Yea, it's all perfectly done and it delights te eye, but once ot twice less would have had a bigger emotional impact.

THE HARDER THEY FALL is one of the great surprises of the year and highly recommended.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Nightcap 12/5/21- BC Wallin's Newsletter and random thoughts

 

Buster says hello

A few random notes

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Good friend and sometimes  Unseen Films contributor B C Wallin is putting out a newsletter on film called “I’d read your articles if you’d send them to me!”. The idea is that he will send you the pieces on films that is writing to you directly so you don’t have to go chasing them down.   I don’t normally like to sign up for those sort of things, but I love Ben’s writing and I keep missing when he posts new pieces so it was a no brainer. Do yourself a favor and sign up because Ben id writing some truly great things. Details here

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I’ve been watching film Twitter melt down over the last week as Ansel El--- has stepped into the spot light for West Side Story.  The reason they are melting down was that last year, before the film was originally supposed to come out he was caught trying to pick up under aged girls for sex. The people on Twitter forget that the film was shot long before the charges surfaced so he wasn’t cast in spite of the charges.  Many are calling for a boycott of the film  because of his casting.

If you don’t want to go, don’t go, but don’t blame Spielberg or the studio for his casting, and don’t expect the studio to pony up to remove him from the film digitally just to please you

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I apologize to everyone for not having run a review of FLEE. It’s not that I hate the film, as I have mentioned several times I like the film but I am not as over the moon as everyone else.  No one needs me droning on that it didn’t float my boat as high as everyone else

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This week I was having a discussion with someone about my festival coverage. They were wondering why I was not going to cover all the films at an upcoming fest they were repping. The answer is that while I will try to cover as many films as a festival as I can there are only a few fests where I will try to see everything. Slamdance, Tribeca, NYFF, Fantasia, DOC NYC, Japan Cuts, NYAFF, Blood in The Snow, Cabane Sang, New York International Children’s Film Fest and one or two more are the fests where I will make an effort to see as much as I can. Those are festivals that mean something to me personally. They are the fests that delight me every year. Most of them have taken up residence in my soul before I was doing Unseen so they are family. They are the festivals I know what is coming and I can block out my time to cover them “completely”. Everything else I cover as best I can- and based on what I want to see. It’s a trade off of time.

(SURIVING THE TSUNAMI) MY ATOMIC AUNT (2013) Flash Forward


Director Kyoko Miyake returns  the village of  Namie, now inside the exclusion zone around Fukishima. Kyoko’s aunt had lived into the village  and is now displaced, but still hoping to return home one day.

Bittersweet look at her aunt, her family, the town she lived in and Japan. It’s a quiet look at the devastation the accident caused on so many levels, especially the human one.

What moved me about the film is how well it held up. I say this as someone who is frequently asked to see a new documentary on the disaster. After a while they blend together and you have a feeling that we’ve seen this before. Watching MY ATOMIC AUNT I didn’t  feel like it was covering the same material. Eight years since it’s release the film some how seems for vital and alive. Perhaps it’s the fact that we know that so much hasn’t changed. People are still displaced and people are still fighting to go home, even though it will kill them.

This is the rarest of things a record of a long ago event that is still speaks volumes.

Recommended.

(Note: The title of the print I saw was SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI MY AROMIC AUNT)

Moving In 2008 (2021)


Life during the 2008 finacial crisis is viewed by an 11 year old son in a family is crisis. The financal situation is putting a squeeze on everything just as tragedy comes calling.

This beautifully acted film is a real heartbreaker. This film feels like we are watching a real family go though crisis after crisis as things begin to slide. Mostly focused the young prcousious son, who is just beginning to discover the world. This is not a particularly upbeat film owing to the insistence of playing it real, where very often the fact that we are standing at all is a major victory.

While the script and the acting are first rate the film is unfortunately saddled with a visual style that is often bothersome. The camera never seems to rest, with it always pushing in closer, even when we are already too close to the action. We are literally in everyone's face. There are few establishing shots, and almost no rest as the camera is either moving or the images are being rapidly cut together. The film never rests, even in the quietest of moments. It's exhausting and frequently annoying since there are couple of moments where a long take would have worked better than being bounced around.

Visual style aside, MOVING IN 2008 is worth a look for the cast and the script which shine more brightly than most big Hollywood productions.

Flash Forward capsules: CHEF AT THE SOUTH POLAR, FAREWELL SONG and THE ALBINO TREES

 


CHEF OF THE SOUTH POLAR
Trueish story of a cook who leaves his family for a year and a half to cook for an isolated station in Antarctica. The base is 1000km from the coast and on top of a mountain. As crisis come and go Jun cooks meals which help the men with him get through the long days and nights.

This is a very good and very charming film. Its good times with great people. While the film might cover some expected ground, it still always entertains and delights.

Recommended.


FAREWELL SONG
A trio of singers  begins a final tour. They are barely speaking and know its time to hang it up. Bringing in a roadie the trio begin to once more find a common ground that allows them to slowly rebuild their relationship.

This is a sweet little film about likeable characters. It has some nice music.

Worth a look.


THE ALBINOS TREES
Lovely and measured drama has an animal control officer hired to hunt a rare deer. However as he gets to know the people who see the deer as living embodiment of a god he has second thoughts.

This is a beautiful film that quietly gets into your heart and moves you.

Recommended.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

FORGIVEN CHILDREN (2019) Flash Forward


A bunch of teens out messing around  bully a friend daring him to bring out his crossbow...and things go horribly wrong.

Gut wrenching drama shines a light on among other things the aftermath of tragedies and how the pain and suffering never seem to end. A wonderfully made film is often a heartbreaking tale where everyone left alive is left damaged.

Red Notice (2021)


Globetrotting caper film pits Dwayne Johnson against Ryan Reynolds against Gal Gadot in grand but emotionally empty cops and robbers caper film.

This film felt emotionally dead to me. the three leads seem to walking though a film that doesn't do anything new but simply recycles bits from the stars earlier films. Its so bad that I don't think the film needed a director since every one on screen has done this sort of thing so many times there was nothing they would need to be directed to do. If you ant to see how bore they are watch Dwayne John in this film and then look at his work in the brief clips we've seen of his BLACK ADAM passion project.

The film might have been able to get away with it if the action sequences had been snappy but they aren't. They are by the numbers to the point they feel like a low level Lifetime cable film with boring explosions.

I tuned out early.

RED NOTICE is the new definition of a paycheck job.

THE PROJECTS (2016) Flash Forward


An elderly couple retires to an apartment complex after closing their herbal shop. Things then begin to spiral out in completely and wholly unexpected ways.

I’m shaking my head wondering how I never reviewed this film when it played Japan Cuts since  five minutes into the film I yelped with recognition (scaring the people around me in my office having their lunch). I suspect my lack of a review is due entirely to the fact that this film is completely off kilter. In trying to write the film up I found I couldn’t really find the words to explain to you what the film is.  Since I failed miserably  I’m simply left to say is if you want a film unlike anything you’ll see from Hollywood, then see this film.

Recommended

Friday, December 3, 2021

Blue Hour (2019) Flash Forward

BLUE HOUR concerns a young filmmaker who is really good at turning out the by the numbers commercials and industrial films that pay her bills. As her endless drinking and really bad romantic choices leave her wondering about her life, she grabs he best friend and they head off on a road trip to her home town where she collides with her family, friends and her life.

Small gem of a film about trying to find ourselves and come to terms with the past so we can go on is sure to delight. This is a beautifully acted film with a real heart and sense of life radiating from it. It has a lived in feel and closeness to reality that many similar films don't really have. Watching the film I kept wondering if director Yuko Hakota lived this as either one of the friends at the center.

You will forgive me for being brief in discussing this film, but to be honest this is a film you need to see more than read about. This is a film that makes you feel and go "ah ha" and has small moments of recognition that hit you emotionally that you really need to experience instead of hearing about.

Highly recommended. 

Thank you to the Japan Society for a great film.

THE LONG EXCUSE (2016) Flash Forward

 


A writer named Sachio's wife is killed in a bus crash. Unable to fully grieve he agrees to take in the children of a woman who was also killed in the crash. The children's father is both too distraught to care for them and unable to do so because of his job as a truck driver.

Very good, very well acted drama covers some territory you'd expect from a tale like this but also manages to carve out some new as well.

One of the better dramas at this year's Flash Forward it is definitely worth a shot.

LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE:The Age of Elohim (2021)

 


Long ago when Lord Elohim was on earth a dark force traveled across the universe to destroy him and the world.

This visually gorgeous film has stunning images and mind blowing sequences from start to finish. This is a film I would have loved to have seen on a big screen simply because it looks so good...

However the plot, the dialog and the songs are so gawd awful that this is easily one of the worst and silliest films of the year. I can't believe that adults made this thing.

The film is a weird riff on religion mashed with creatures from space. Names are all from the various religious texts, with a heavy reliance on Judeo-Christian myths and legends. Everything is declared as if it has some deep meaning. While the songs sound lovely the translations caused me to double over in pained laughter.

This is every bad anime cliché in one place.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Nate Hood on JESUS which is playing Flash Foward at the Japan Society

Historically speaking, Japan has always had a, shall we say, tenuous relationship with Christianity. The strange foreign faith of the strange foreign peoples they spent several centuries trying to keep off their islands, Christianity has been at best a bizarre cultural curiosity and at worst a grotesque arm of Western imperialism. Hiroshi Okuyama’s Boku wa Iesu-sama Ga Kirai—literally translated as “I hate Mr. Jesus” but tactfully localized for Western release as Jesus—falls somewhere in the middle.

The film follows Yura Hoshino, a shy fifth grader who moves from Tokyo into the countryside when his family relocates to support their aging grandmother following her husband’s death. The nearest elementary school is a Catholic one run partially by priests whose daily itinerary for students includes bible study and morning worship. Yura initially treats this strange faith with suspicion, but after some warming up he prays to “Iesu-sama” to help him make friends. Immediately—as the anonymous author of Mark’s Gospel might say—a six-inch white-skinned Jesus appears before him and grants his request: he quickly befriends another boy named Kazuma who invites him to play soccer after school. Next Yura asks his pint-sized prophet for some money. And lo, his grandmother discovers her husband’s hidden stash of cash and gives Yura a cut. Iesu-sama becomes his newfound companion and personal wish-fulfilling genie. At least until Kazuma is unexpectedly hit by a car. And dies. And like that, Yura is crushed by the weight of a crisis of faith.

Jesus is an autobiographical film based on an actual incident in Okuyama’s life, but perhaps he told this particular story too soon; at only 22 years old, he’s interested less in philosophical or theological ideas than exploring his own childhood trauma. The film’s a spasm of rage and hurt towards the faith that failed him, but his understanding of Christianity seems not to have matured or deepened any in the decades since his childhood. And that too would be fine if the movie was interesting. But besides the 6-inch white Jesus (played by famous Australian comedian Chad Mullane), the film is almost defiantly blasé, padding out maybe twenty minutes worth of story into an overstretched seventy-six. If Okuyama had made this a short film, it would’ve been devastating. But in trying to make a proper “art film” he demonstrates his own artistic immaturity.

Rating: 5/10

La Flamme Rouge (2021)

 


Ex-cycling champion is having a bad night. Money is owed, his fiancé maybe cheating and people are dying. Will he survive the night.

The real answer is will anyone have any idea what the hell is going on? Probably not.

Desperate attempt at neo-noir film goes nowhere fast as the Maze Brothers (they wrote and directed) put the game cast through their paces but fail to explain anything at any point. There is never a really clear explanation of anything only that there is something about money, and cheating and I don't knw what. Seriously I was half an hour into the film when I stopped it and restarted it because I had no idea what was going on. I figured that I missed some revelation but nope this film really doesn't explain anything and it just gets more convoluted as it goes.

This is a mess that is best just swept up and dumped.

GREAT BALLOON BOMB INVASION (2021)

 


I have always been fascinated by the FuGo- Bombs. These were paper balloons sent aloft by the Japanese with incendiary and regular bombs so that they could ride the jet stream and bomb America. They thought that about ten percent of the nine thousand balloons would hit the US and cause damage. While the balloons killed a few people, the much hoped for burning of the west coast never happened .  Instead of the nine hundred terror weapons that were to bring panic we only of about three hundred and sixty cases where they made it, so potentially there are another six hundred out there.

GREAT BALLOON BOMB INVASION is the story of Martin K.A. Martin, a historian who has become fascinated by the balloons. He has made a study of the balloons in the hope of preventing a tragedy happening. That may sound like a something that is inconceivable since the war was seventy years ago, however the balloons and their deadly cargo are still being found in the wilderness and as a result there is a very real possibility that some one is going die running across them.

This is a great film. It’s a wonderful look at the history of the bombs, the effect on North America (Bombs hit in the US, Canada and Mexico) and the people trying to understand it all. It’s an informative film that gives us way more information than we might have expected. I say this because I thought in the early on I thought the film was going to run out of things to say but instead it kept going, keeping me staring at the screen from start to finish.

If you want to see a great documentary on a great story GREAT BALLOON BOMB INVASION is a must

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A BOY SATO (2020) Flash Forward


A boy returns to the town in Japan where he lived for a brief stay.

Completely off kilter little short with a sting in the tail- which I won’t reveal. It’s a sweet little film for those who like their films stunningly beautiful (its set in a town during a snow storm) and decidedly atypical in construction.

This is a small gem that’s playing Flash Forward for free.

Details here.

TRY HARDER (2021) opens Friday


Portrait of the senior class of Lowell High School in San Francisco who are the best of the best. Its a place where super geniuses struggle to get grades good enough to get them into the college of their dreams.

One of the better recent batch of films on education score points thanks to having an engaging group of kids to follow. You can't help but like the kids, even as you want them to kind of chill out. I like that the film largely keeps the film focused on the kids since we can feel the pressure coming from their parents to "try harder".

While I am not the typical audience for this film (I have issues with the college industry) I found that I enjoyed the hell out of this film. Where very often with similar films my attention lags, here I was invested to the end and I was waiting to see how all the kids made out with their choices.

Definitely worth a look.

Pompano Boy (2021)


Andrew Paul Davis, who made the excellent PALACE returns with a change of pace drama about a minister going into a crisis.

POMPANO BOY is the story of Art. He is a minister  who was recently let go from his church for not strictly following the doctrine to the letter. As Art begins to start his own church, his wife Izzy gets  busier with her photography business. Additionally they take in Elijah as a foster child. If that wasn't complicated  enough Elijah's mother wants to tke him back, just as her old bad news boyfriend drifts into the picture.

It's sounds soapy but having watched similar familial gyrations among my friends this is positively simple. This is due to the sure hand of director Davis who keeps things moving and largely believable. We can feel for everyoneon screen and we understand why and how they are reacting the way they are. Truthfully out side of Ross, the bad news boyfriend, everyone feels real.

Having seen two films by Mr Davis I find that the best thing in his films are his characters. Davis gives us real people to watch. They are conflicted and hurting but not in your typical movie way. The pain and the conflicts are the way we in the audience feel. The move around their lives not in neat little tracks but in the same stumbling along way that we all do. In it's way it's a nifty trick because it forces us to continue watching since the film doesn't play out in your typical Hollywood way.

If you hate the sameness of Hollywood productions then you really need to take a look at POMPANO BOY.

POMPANO BOY screenings will be happening December 4 to the 14th. Details on locations and tickets can be found here

Ariela Rubin on TIGRE GENTE (2021) which opens Friday


Tigre Gente is a documentary that primarily takes place in Bolivia, in Madidi National Park. Madidi National Park is the most biodiverse place in the world. This documentary exposes the wildlife trade, in particular jaguars. There are only 100,000 jaguars left in the wild, possibly less. 

Tiger Gente focuses on Marcos Uzquiano, the director of the national park. Marcos is risking his life in order to protect the jaguars. He believes the jaguars are his family, they are a part of him and he made a promise to protect them until he dies.  It is truly admirable. He and his team of rangers spend their time trying to track down the hunters and sellers.

The film also focuses on journalist Laurel Chor, who is investigating the wildlife trade. She too is risking her life by doing this. She wants to get to the bottom of why they are selling jaguar teeth in China & Myanmar.  She also has a unique perspective since she herself is Chinese, and she "interviews" her family about the illegal wildlife trade in China and its connection to Chinese medicine.

Tiger Gente is a real eye opener.  I'm familiar with poaching elephants and rhinos, but I wasn't aware that people were also poaching jaguars(& tigers) for their teeth. I was worried going into this that there would be graphic images or videos, but fortunately there aren't.(The images of the jaguars in the wild are stunning)

I hope this documentary brings awareness and helps to stop the illegal trade before it gets even worse. 

Well made & recommended!

The film opens in New York at Cinema Village for a one week run on Friday, December 3

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Badland Doves (2021)

 


When bad men break into the Silva's family cabin and kill everyone except young Regina they set in motion a plot for revenge. When Regina finds she can't get justice through legal means she learns the way of the gun. Taking a job in a brothel she finds the man she sees is in the town and protected by the sheriff and many of the towns folk. Turning to the ladies in the brothel she plans to get justice.

Good low budget western scores a lot of points by not being your typical all male western. The fact that women are firmly at the center of the film means that the film opens its up to other takes on the well worn western cliches. Things do not play out exactly as expected and we are better for it. I also love that the small town is small and not looking like its a big town as you might see in other similar tales.

While the story and most of the performances held my attention I kind of wish it had been paced a little brisker. While I understand this was the pace of the old west, a a bit more speed would have helped carry us along.

Nitpick aside, BADLAND DOVES is recommended for those who like westerns. 

BADLAND DOVES hits On Demand Dec. 1; Debuts on Apple TV Jan. 11

Torn(2021) opens Friday


17 years after Alex Lowe was killed by an avalanche in a climbing accident, his body was found in the snow. In the wake of the discovery his son Max, a National Geographic photographer turns his camera on his family as they unpack what happened and what it means now- especially since Conrad Anker who was with Alex when he died married Lowes widow.

A complex film about a mountain climber and the mess life he left behind. Its full of uneasy questions and very raw emotions. This is a film that is going to exhaust you with the emotional pain that is being thrown up by the look into how things played out. Consider that Max and his brothers call Anker dad and their biological father Alex. Now he has to  mourn a man he barely knew before he died. I as left feeling sad and depressed.

This is a great film. It is a film that lays bare the messiness of real life in ways few films ever do. We see how a family is forced to reinvent itself. It also shows how the pain of the past is sometimes best hidden. Its a film that has haunted me in the days since I first saw it. I'm still turning it over and over.

I highly recommend this film- however I do want to point out that you should not go into this film expecting a climbing film. While there are some sequences this is a film about the landscape of the human soul.