Sunday, February 18, 2018

The New York International Children's Film Festival opens Friday

Henriyeti is excited NYICFF starts this week
I love this festival.

If you've been reading Unseen Films for any length of time you know I've been waxing poetic about the film literally from day one.  It is quite simply the best films from around the world in one place. I have been going to the festival from the first one and I will be going for as long as I am able.

Go buy tickets now.

How good is the festival- they are not only an Academy Award Qualifying one but the fantastic company G-Kids came out of it when the film lovers running the fest decided to share their finds with the world.

I don't know what else to say except pick some films and go. No you don't have to be a kid to go, you just have to love great films.

This year they have some great stuff planned. The people behind ERNEST AND CELESTINE return with THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES;  season 2 of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS  is premiering at the festival. and they are having a ton of  filmmakers in attendance including BOOK OF LIFE  director Jorge Gutierrez who will be screening his short SON OF JAGUAR. There is a lot more so buy tickets and go see something. And do so sooner than later since screenings are selling out (all of the VR sections have sold out).

Joe Bendel saw and reviewed WHITE FANG at Sundance and highly recommends it. His original review can be found here however I will be rerunning it on Tuesday.

The festival is also running LIYANA a documentary about the healing power of story telling. I saw the film last year and I thought it was one of the best films of 2017. My review can be found here.

As is the norm I will be wading into the festival and seeing as much as I can. I will review everything that I see- but since I am going to the screenings don't wait for my review just buy tickets and go.

Because time is short and  it can be hard to get to everything I have already screened some short collections- reviews will be going up this week but to give you a jump here is quick word.

SHORTS FOR TOTS - great fun aimed at the littlest among us is still a lot of fun.

SHORTS 3 s aimed at older kids and there are some great films here. The films here are aimed at doing more than entertaining and each has a message from part of a speech from ex-President Obama about how one voice can change the world to a cut out person trying to find their place in the world. This is a solid collection.

ANIMAL JUBILEE is a huge amount of fun. Made up almost entirely of the work of Julia Ocker this is animals all having problems. The one non Ocker film is a joy about a little girl who leaves home to live at the zoo. The collection is so good I hope the festival makes it a regular.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY: MEXICO is one of the best collections I'ver seen at the fest. A wonderful selection of shorts it just is a great collection of great films. DO go see this- and get your tikets now because it is only screening twice.

Keep reading because reports and reviews will be coming.

Better yet check the schedule and buy tickets and go.

Cloverfield Paradox (2018)


I initially started the film after the Super Bowl and then realized it was too late to finish. I enjoyed what I saw but knew I would have to go back sometime later.

Having gone from start to finish I’m not sure what I think of the film. While it most certainly is a wonderful B level science fiction horror film on it’s own terms, on any other level I’m not sure.

The plot of the film has group of scientists heading up to a specially built space station in order to conduct an experiment to create limitless energy. After two years there is success followed by catastrophic failure as the earth disappears. Weird things begin happening and it becomes clear that the experiment has opened up doors to various dimensions and universes.

Early sequences where the crew try to get the experiment to work and deal with the fall out of it are really good. There is a wonderful sense of a group of people in danger. Things however begin to go weird once things begin to go wrong. To be certain the strangeness is really cool but it doesn’t always seem to hang together. It’s as if the filmmakers felt the need to keep uping the ante at every turn. That is all well and good but at the same time the logic fragments too much. Yes, the woman in the wall and the wandering hand are cool but there is too much to process and as Raymond Chandler’s rule of storytelling - essentially you can only ask the audience to believe one unexplained/impossible thing lest you lose them- is broken time and time again we drift off. With internal logic thrown to the wind we disconnect from the plot and begin to look elsewhere with the result that what seemed like a tightly plotted film is revealed as something less.

I know some people think this would have been better without the Cloverfield name, but let’s face it you could change all references and even the monster at the end and you would have the same problems- crappy plotting.

Worth a look for the parts that work but mostly this is a disappointment.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

THE RITUAL (2018)


Way better than the typical “there is something in the woods” film, THE RITUAL is definitely worth your time.

The plot isn’t anything you haven’t seen before basically four friends go hiking and encounter something weird in the woods. However the level of the filmmaking and the expert nature of the cast make this worth watching.

To be honest I am sick of the steady stream of similar films. I intentionally ignored the PR people who were banging on the door to cover the film because I didn’t think I needed to see this. Then the reviews started coming in and I realized I had made a mistake- thankfully it is a Netflix release and I got to see it almost instantly.

I really liked the film. It’s a super little thriller and I would have no trouble recommending it for the chills it creates however what you absolutely need to see is the thing in the woods. To say that it left me babbling uncontrollably and feeling disturbed is an understatement.

THE RITUAL is on Netflix and is highly recommended

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Eyes of William Klein March 7-13 at the Quad


The Quad celebrates the diverse cinematic oeuvre of groundbreaking photographer turned filmmaker William Klein, from his nonfiction portraits to his narrative satires and beyond

First garnering attention as a sculptor in Paris after World War II, New York’s own William Klein rose to art stardom in the 1950s as a photographer, shooting groundbreaking fashion spreads for Vogue and publishing the gritty street-level collection Life is Good & Good for You in New York, one of the definitive photographic records of his hometown. By the end of the ’50s, Klein made the logical leap to the moving image, documenting the lights of Times Square in the Pop Art masterpiece Broadway by Light and returning to France for the fashion world send-up Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, aligning himself with the Left Bank filmmakers in the process. (And even providing the English narration to Chris Marker’s La Jetée.) Klein once remarked he had “one American eye and one European eye,” and his exceptional films are marked by this duality, moving between continents and modes, going from delirious satires to stunningly intimate nonfiction portraits (of Eldridge Cleaver, Muhammad Ali, and more). On the eve of Klein’s 90th birthday, the Quad is thrilled to celebrate the utterly singular, hugely influential work of this living legend.

Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther 1970, Algeria/France, 73m, 35mm
Far From Vietnam William Klein, Joris Ivens, Claude Lelouch, Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, 1967, 115m, France, DCP
The French 1982, France, 130m, 16mm
In & Out of Fashion 1998, 88m, France, DCP
Mister Freedom 1968, France, 95m, 35mm
May Days (Grands soirs et petits matins) 1978, France, 98m, DCP
Messiah 1999, France, 117m, DCP
The Model Couple 1977, Switzerland/France, 101m, 35mm
Mode En France 1984, France, 84m, 35mm
Muhammad Ali, The Greatest 1969, 94m, France, DCP
The Pan-African Festival of Algiers 1969, France, 110m, DCP
Screening with:
Contacts, 1983, France,15m,16mm & Slow Motion, 1984, France, 30m, 16mm
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? 1966, France, 101m, 35mm
Screening with:
Broadway by Light, 1958, Switzerland, 12m, 35mm
*Zazie dans le Métro Louis Malle, 1960, France, 93m, 35mm
Screening with:
La Jetée, Chris Marker, 1962, France, 28m, 35mm

*Featuring Klein's iconic art direction

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead

Post-Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes has faced off against Dracula a number of times, so it is only fair Detective K[im Min] would get his own run-in with the living dead. However, he will be considerably more fortunate. Instead of a Transylvanian nobleman, he encounters a beautiful Joseon princess, who has lost her memories of her previous existence. For now, she is a gentle day-walker, but all bets are off when she remembers who did her wrong in Kim Suk-yoon’s Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead, which opens today in Los Angeles.

Wol-young (as Kim will call her) was immolated into dormancy, but she wasn’t burned sufficiently to destroy her. As a result, a mystery fugitive manages to revive her, before sacrificing himself for her safety. Meanwhile, Kim is unmasking a Scooby-Doo-style fake vampire. His next case won’t be so easy. A ruthless full-on vampire has been turning and then immolating the grown sons of prominent villagers. Logically, Kim is dispatched to stop the macabre serial murders.

As their paths cross, Kim and Wol-young discover they are both interested in the shadowy perp, whom the lady vampire just feels she knows from someplace, but cannot recall how. An uneasy but flirtatious truce is forged as they work together tracking their quarry. As long as the freshly revived Wol-young refrains from tasting blood, she can control her vampiric nature, but she will still be denied her memories. Of course, avoiding blood will be difficult given the circumstances.

If the previous Secret of the Lost Island was a little too shticky for your taste, you might consider giving the franchise a second try with Living Dead. Kim Myung-min and Oh Dal-su still engage in plenty of rubber-faced broad comedy as Kim and his loyal but cowardly servant Seo Pil, but the vampire story is far darker and way more poignant than Lost Island viewers would expect. As emotionally engaging vampire movies go, it falls somewhere between Byzantium and Let the Right One In, but still with a goofy sense of humor, somewhat akin to Vampire Cleanup Department.

Without question, Kim Ji-won is a major reason why it works so well. As Wol-young, she is eloquently expressive and achingly vulnerable. There is no question she muscles poor Seo Pil off the screen, taking command of the picture. On paper, Living Dead would sound like an unlikely star-making vehicle, but she turns it.

Franchise helmer Kim Suk-yoon also deserves credit for staging some highly cinematic action scenes and running up a body count exponentially higher than the norm for historical comedy. Frankly, there might be more tragedy than comedy in Living Dead, but that plays to Korean cinema’s comparative advantage. Recommended surprisingly enthusiastically for vampire fans, Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead opens today (2/16) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas.

Golden Slumber: Korea Remakes Nakamura

The Beatles recorded “Golden Slumbers” without John Lennon, because he was in the hospital while they recorded that part of the Abbey Road suite-like progression. That doesn’t matter to Kim Gun-woo. To him, it will always represent his friendship with his old band-mates. Unfortunately, his nostalgia makes him easy pickings when one of his former pals helps frame him for the assassination of the leading presidential candidate. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is a loose remake of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s hit from 2010. Given the increasing suspicion and cynicism regarding governmental institutions across South Korea, this paranoid political thriller makes the cross-over quite easily. It will be death by Beatles cover in Noh Dong-seok’s Golden Slumber, which opens today in Los Angeles and next Friday in select cities.

The aw-shucks Kim is Korea’s favorite deliveryman after he saved K-Pop idol Su-ah from an attacker. However, he still has time for his friends, so he readily agrees to meet Moo-yeol when he suddenly reappears. The idea is to frame-up Kim for a conspiracy that is never really explained, but Moo-yeol just can’t do it, so he drives off with the second car bomb instead.

Kim is still framed up good and solid, so he has no choice but to run like mad. Although confused and distrustful, Kim will look up the former black ops colleague Moo-yeol referred him to, because what choice does he really have? However, “Mr. Min” clearly does not have his best interests at heart—at least not initially. Meanwhile, Kim’s surviving band-mates, including Jeon Sun-young, the great love of his life, debate his guilt or innocence and how far they should be willing to go to help him.

With his Slumber, Noh essentially returns the favor to Japan for remaking Confession of Murder as the in some ways superior Memoirs of a Murderer. The new Korean version is definitely tighter, stripping away some of problematic subplots, while adding some identifiably Korean particulars. As a result, it is probably even more effective as a “Wrong Man” thriller. In fact, even those who know Nakamura’s original film will find the third act surprisingly devious.

Gang Dong-won agilely walks a tightrope as Kim, portraying him as painfully naïve, but still socially functional—and to some extent, even nobly idealistic. Kim Eui-sung (the jerky businessman in Train to Busan) is all kinds of hardnosed as Mr. Min. Frankly, Han Hyo-joo brings over-achieving depth to the true-believing, equally sentimental Sun-young. Regrettably, there isn’t a colorful villain to root against, but Noh largely compensates with breakneck pacing.

When Nakamura’s Slumber played in New York, we found its depiction of media compliance and obedience somewhat dubious, but seven-plus years later, it now feels like Noh lets the media off easy. Does anyone doubt the major news outlets would now predetermine what the truth of a story might be and “spike” any reports that contradicted it? What inspired incredulity now seems self-evidently believable, admittedly thanks to some wise reshaping of the narrative, courtesy of screenwriters Cho Ui-seok and Lee Hae-joon. Plus, as a bonus, there are a few pleasant covers of the nearly titular Beatles tune. Enthusiastically recommended, Golden Slumber opens today (2/16) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas and next Friday (2/23) in New York.

On Further Review: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

THOR RAGNAROK is a dreadful movie- funny as all hell but it's dreadful none the less.

The film has Hela, Thor's sister and goddess of death returning to Asgard and taking it over. Thor and Loki are banished into space where they meet the Hulk. escaping they return to Asgard fight Hela and end up destroying Asgard.

Lets be real the plotting is awful. Things happen just because. While the over all plot is okay, the fact that the film constantly is being side tracked to have this nice wacky moments just kills it. Never mind that the humor is screamingly funny, I was left wondering why I was laughing at it all.

I also despise that this is yet another Thor film which basically does nothing with the huge cast of characters in Asgard. Pretty much all the great characters die without a by or leave and things are just moved along without any rhyme or reason. Of course everyone will be able to come back when the Marvel universe is reset with the Infinity Stones after the Infinity War films but for me this is yet another case of Marvel thinking nine steps ahead instead of concentrating on the here and now.

Don't get me wrong, I love the humor and I love the character interplay. There are are some great moments here- the problem is that over all the plot id driving forward at a breakneck pace. It never fully develops any real cohession it is simply moving things to bringing Thor and Hulk and the others back to earth for the next Avengers film.

In it's way the film is an indication that the Marvel films have finally become like the Marvel comics themselves have been for the better part of the last two decades-flashy four color stories that are no longer remotely aimed at telling a good story but instead are firmly aimed at producing as much revenue as possible by crossing making fans have to buy it all to know what is going on.

A hugely disappointing film that is worth seeing for the laughs but is in no way emotionally satisfying if only because Marvel will ultimately fuck it up in the next Avengers

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Monkey King 3: Still Journeying West

Okay, so they are on a bit of a detour. Somehow, on their pilgrimage to the West, Xuanzang and his demigod disciples (Sun “Monkey King” Wukong, Zhu “Pigsy” Bajie, and Sha “Sandy” Wujing) found themselves whisked into a kingdom of Amazon warriors, where men are strictly prohibited on pain of death. Maybe there is a bit of a Wonder Woman influence there, but Wukong is still the one with all the cool superpowers. He is a veritable Superman, but he cannot save his master from the dangers of love in Cheang Pou-soi’s The Monkey King 3, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Who would’ve thought blow-dried Cantopop star turned actor Aaron Kwok would become the definitive Monkey King, but there is no doubt he has made the iconic character his own. As a result, it is a tad bit frustrating he plays a supporting role in the third film in the series that bears his name. Wukong can handle just about anything flesh and blood, but even he flounders against the aquatic River God monster, so Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy send the band of pilgrims through a wormhole into Womanland.

When Xuanzang locks eyes on “The Queen,” mounted on her enchanted stag, it is love at first sight. However, rules are rules, so the Preceptor insists on executing the fab four, just like any other mangy dog excuse for a man. However, the Queen is intrigued and reluctant to comply, which leads to complications. The simian demigod keeps his eyes on the prize: those scriptures waiting to be rediscovered in India, but his master learns to appreciate love from a whole new perspective. Just in case you were worried, there is also some unfinished business with the kaiju-like River God from before.

The previous Monkey King was a fantastical wuxia delight because of Gong Li’s wonderfully seductive and sinister élan as White Bone Spirit. Nobody can touch the hem of her scaly serpentine garments this time around, but Gigi Leung distinguishes the film in a different way. As the Preceptor, she starts out as Cruella de Vil, but she evolves into a tragically romantic figure of noble sacrifice.

Once again, Kwok looks like he is having a blast with his monkey mannerisms—and his enthusiasm is contagious. He might not be as true to nature, but in terms of energy and conviction, he is up there with Terry Notary in The Square. As Xuanzang, William Feng is supposed to be sort of placidly dopey in a Zenned out kind of way, which he duly is. However, Zanilia Zhao quite endearing and even rathe poignant as the star-crossed Queen.

Compared to the previous bang-zoom film, Monkey King 3 is a little light on the action until the third act. However, it is still entertaining to watch Kwok do his monkey thing. Also, Cheang and screenwriter Wen Ning do some interesting fantastical world building. As crazy as it gets, it still takes its Buddhism seriously, which is refreshing. Weirdly, it might just be the most Valentines-appropriate film of the week. Recommended for Monkey King/Journey to the West fans, The Monkey King 3 opens this Friday (2/16) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Capsule reviews: DOWNSIZING, WONDER and MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

DOWNSIZING
Alexander Payne's first film in several years is a mixed bag. The story of a man who shrinks himself for a better life only to find things don't go as planned is an odd rambling film that doesn't seem to really work. Beginning as a film about trying to find a better life things keep turning sharply until the film becomes a kind of existential exercise in the meaning and purpose of life. I never really bought any of it  as a whole with the result I found it a tough slog.

To be fair I have never much liked any of Paynes's films and I've always been hesitant to see any of them and the only reason I attempted this one was it fell into my lap. To be honest I felt like I lost the two plus hours to the point I'm completely giving up on the idea of ever liking one of Payne's films.

WONDER
Young boy with an odd face is main lined into regular school and changes everyone around him.

Good warm and fuzzy film with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson is very well done and exactly what you think it is. Did I need to see it? No. Did I enjoy it? Very much so despite knowing ow it would all play out.

Worth a shot

MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
Way too polished and perfect adventure romance about two people who crash in a small chartered plane and then have to try and make their way out of the wilderness despite injuries and the weather.

Credit Idris Elba and Kate Winslet for making this more than a story that we've seen any number of times before- but take a good bunch away from the film because director Hany Abu-Assad has made a film that is so perfect in every shot and so clean despite being a plane crash that we only buy into it because of the force of personality of the stars. It never feels real and as a result we watch because we want to be sure we know how it's coming out.

This is a film to catch streaming and not to pay for. That said I'd love to see the film remade by a director who makes it all look a little more gritty.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Demon (1963)

Brunello Rondi's THE DEMON is one of the lost classic horror films. Anchored by a killer performance by Daliah Lavi it is film that haunts and disturbs you you with its quiet power. How and why this film has not gotten on to the radar of most horror fans is beyond me.

The plot of the film has Purif (Lavi) using witchcraft to try and capture the heart of the man she loves. When he rejects her she ends up possessed. The townsfolk then have to try and free her from the demon.

Shot in stark black and white this is not a "jump out and go boo" horror film. This is quietly disturbing film where each shot and sequence disturbs for a variety of reasons. It is a film where the discomfort and unease builds from scene to scene and shot to shot. We are always in this world, the real world and the demon could be the imaginings of a disturbed young woman.

THE DEMON is very much more than the sum of it's parts. This is a film where every second and choice builds on every other to make a film that leaves you quietly disturbed.

Front and center is Carlo Bellero's cinematography. Stark monochromatic images of Southern Italy reduce the world to a place that is very black or very white. The landscape is barren and empty except for the odd building or tree. We are placed out of time in a world that could be now, could be then or even long ago. It is a world of dreams, more a half remembered one from 3am when we wake in a a kind of unshakable terror.

The sound design is also chilling. While Piero Piccioni does supply music, it is the sounds of voices, bells and of every day life that cut through and leave us on edge. I was left uneasy by all the sounds.

And of course there is the anchor at the center Daliah Lavi as Purif. A performance of quiet power she disturbs us not because she goes over the top but because she keeps it real. Is she genuinely possessed or is she simply love sick? We can't know. There are clues that be could be taken either way but ultimately we are left to ponder ourselves. In any case Lavi kicks ass and takes names as she makes us both fear and sympathize with her character. Haven't we all been so in love that we would do anything to make it what we want? Lavi gives us one of the great unsung performances.

And I have to say again this is not a jump out and scare film but one of quiet unease.  You will be left squirming in your seat with no real relief.  Yes we do get a spider walk that probably influenced the one in THE EXORCIST (though it is more chilling here because of Lavi's facial expression), and the potential visitation of the dead but mostly we get slowly building dread.

Why isn't this film better known? This is a film that horror fans would eat up like CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

Highly recommended. THE DEMON is available from Sinister Cinema.

The cult classic MINDGAME (2004) opens Friday thanks to G-Kids

With MINDGAME finally getting a US release thanks to G-Kids I'm posting of a modified review I did many years ago for IMDB.

Purely form over content anime that combines a variety of styles to tell the story(?) of a guy in love with a girl and the gangsters who chase them and the people they meet and...your guess is as good as mine since the film restarts and shifts and goes in out out of thoughts and hopes and minds.

I can't describe it you really have to see it. Violent, sexually frank and with other material that people might find offensive (this would get an R rating) this is a film that's in your face and in your head. I completely understand why this film has a cult following since as an experience the film is simply overwhelming. Personally I got to a certain point and wanted to raise my hand and say I'm full now.

Actually I had to go through this in pieces since it was too much.Its the sort of thing that is now readily available for people to see (I had to get a region 4 Australian DVD in order to see it) but at the same time I completely understand why it hasn't been released widely in the US and elsewhere until now, since it's a film that I think companies would have a hard time marketing with many people loving it and many more going "WTF?"

Actually in saying all of that about the experience of seeing the film I haven't said how it it is--- As a movie, or as a story its a mess. Its scatter shot and rambling taking odd turns in order to come up with great sequences, many of which look great but don't hang together. Its a film that leaves the audience wondering what in the hell is going on. Is it any good? As an experience yes, its great, I mean who needs drugs? As a story its up and down. I'm mixed. That said if you want a one of a kind cinematic experience you really have to see this.

MINDGAME begins it's march around the US beginning Friday. For a list of when it will be playing in what city go here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Housemaid (The Vietnamese Ghost Movie)

It all starts like a Vietnamese Rebecca or Jane Eyre, but the master’s late first wife is not about to let any floozy marry her husband. He also happens to be a Frenchman from a socially prominent family, in 1953 French Indochina. The naive servant girl and the frog officer are quite an unlikely couple, but their passion will not be denied, at least not by scandalized mortals in Derek Nguyen’s deliciously gothic The Housemaid, which opens this Friday in New York.

Having been orphaned and left homeless by the war (the French one), Linh travels hundreds of miles from her village to apply for the only opening she has heard of: the housemaid at the Sa Cat rubber plantation estate. However, there is a reason the position has been vacant so long, which she learns only after accepting housekeeper Ba Han’s probationary offer. Rumor has it, Sa Cat is haunted the ghosts of the hundreds of workers killed by the plantation’s brutal overseers. Even more ominously, the black clad ghost of Captain Sebastien Laurent’s widow also stalks the grounds—and she is a jealous ghost.

Much to the dismay of Mrs. Han, a powerful mutual-attraction develops between Linh and Laurent while she nurses him following an unsuccessful assassination attempt. However, it is safe to say from the supernaturally-charged in media res prologue, their romance will not end well. Eventually, we will learn what happened that fateful night, but Nguyen first rewinds to the beginning, as part of the investigating officers’ interrogation.

It is a shame the Vietnamese state film authorities hold perverse biases against supernatural horror, much like their Mainland Chinese counterparts, because they sure seem to have a knack for it, at least judging from The Housemaid. The nation also has a taste for the genre, given its standing as Vietnam’s third highest grossing film of all time, having somehow slipped past the censors. Some of the twists and turns are not spectacularly original, but the atmosphere and settings are to die for. This is one ominous looking manor house and the surrounding rubber trees are as spooky as any of the forest locales in Twin Peaks (then or now).

Kate Nhung is terrific as Linh, perfectly modulating her naivete, earthiness, and yes, sensuality. Jean-Michel Richaud is a bit stiff as Laurent (in all fairness, he spends at least half the film lying prone in bed), but he still develops some believable chemistry with Nhung. Kim Xuan would do Mrs. Danvers proud as the severely scoldy Mrs. Han, while Phi Phung turns some nice moments as the shrewder-than-she-looks cook, Mrs. Ngo.

Who knew one of the most enjoyable gothic yarns to come along in years would hail from Vietnam? Nguyen masterfully controls the foreboding vibe and his cast broods and swoons like Hammer Horror veterans. It is mostly eerie rather than gory, which makes it all jolly fun, in a throwback kind of way. Highly recommended for fans of old school gothic horror, The Housemaid opens this Friday (2/16) in New York, at the IFC Center.

Snowman (2017)

I have no idea about The Snowman. Based on the seventh Harry Hole novel the film has something to do about a killer who decapitates his victims and replaces them with snowman heads, or something. Is it good? Is it Bad? It’s up to you.

Its dark and brooding and missing details due, according to the director, in large part to the fact that quarter of the script was not filmed. I can buy that since as everyone has pointed out plotline comes and goes at random. I have no idea if a serviceable film could have been cut from the existing footage but I’m of the opinion either they should have tried harder or just scraped it. What's here is interesting in fits and starts but it never comes together owing to the very real sense that stuff is missing.

On a personal note I think it’s a bit too brooding. Is anyone happy? Apparently not. Does it matter? Probably not.

Is it a good film? I have no idea. I don’t think it’s the full on disaster of the reviews but I don’t know beyond that. That the film is running around 5 out of 10 at IMDB is intriguing because clearly some people like it. My advice is give it a shot if the idea intrigues you.

Monday, February 12, 2018

March and April 2018 Repertory Calendar Announced at the Metrograph

Opens March 14

Burt Reynolds x 5 
with Reynolds In-Person!

 
In an appreciation of Burt Reynolds, on the occasion of the release of his directorial debut, Gator (1976), the Village Voice’s Molly Haskell wrote of Reynolds: “He is playful and quizzical, with the ability of a Fred Astaire or a Rock Hudson to deflect attention from himself to the woman beside him; he has the confidence of someone who’s physically there.” Reynolds, one of the great screen attractions of the 1970s following his breakthrough in Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972), was possessed of a screen presence defined by lightness of touch and twinkling bemusement, a feisty flirt who could get tough when the occasion demanded. It’s too easy to be underappreciated when you make it look as easy as Burt does—and as he returns to the screen in The Last Movie Star (2018), Metrograph has put together an assembly of some of his best blithe, breezy work in front of and behind the camera. Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977), Breaking In (Bill Forsyth, 1989), and Semi-Tough (Michael Ritchie, 1977) will also screen.
Opens March 23

Terence Stamp

 
To say that Terence Stamp was a handsome young man is as unnecessary as observing that the sky is blue—in his 1962 film debut, Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov, 1962), he plays nothing less than Herman Melville’s paragon of male beauty. But Stamp, a working-class son of London, was also one hell of a fine actor, a fact that 1960s lions like Pier Paolo Pasolini (Teorema, 1968), William Wyler (The Collector, 1965), Joseph Losey (Modesty Blaise, 1966), Ken Loach (Poor Cow, 1967) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, 1968) took full advantage of. Past his ingenue years, the always-commanding Stamp has had a rich and varied career, from supervillain drag in Superman II (Richard Lester, 1980) to just-plain-drag in The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliot, 1994) to the hard-boiled neo-noir of The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999) (paired with its spiritual twin Poor Cow), which allowed him to dust off the cockney accent of his boyhood. “I just decided I was a character actor now,” he’s said of leaving the ‘60s behind, “and I can do anything.” Titles include  Alien Nation (Graham Baker, 1988), Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967), The Hit (Stephen Frears, 1984), The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan, 1984), and Bowfinger (Frank Oz, 1999)
Opens April 6

Grace Jones x 5 
with Jones In-Person!

Grace Jones was born in Jamaica, moved to upstate New York with her family at the age of 13, and on the back of her striking looks, androgynous appeal, and outsized personality became a successful model, photographer’s muse, disco recording artist, and pop film star. That, at least, is the official story—though many of Jones’ fervent fans are convinced that, strange, statuesque, and seemingly immune to aging, she is clearly an extradimensional being who has never set foot in Syracuse. The mysterious persona and personal life of this broke-the-mold performer are explored in Sophie Fiennes new backstage documentary/musical Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, whose run at Metrograph, beginning April 13, will coincide with a selection of her cinematic outings—because this is a woman who requires a big screen.Titles include Conan the Destroyer (Richard Fleischer, 1984), A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985), Vamp(Richard Wenk, 1986), Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987), and a program of Jones' shorts and music videos.
Opens April 19

William Friedkin x 4 
with Friedkin In-Person!

 
William Friedkin,"Billy” to his friends, may be making smaller movies these days, but he’s never once slowed down. While shooting To Live and Die in L.A (1985), he managed to top himself, one-upping the famous car chase from his The French Connection, and in the process turning out a hard, stylish, amped up crime thriller. Killer Joe (2011), his second adaptation of a Tracy Letts play, is a work as take-it-or-leave-it confrontational as his legendary The Exorcist (1973), a movie whose subject matter he’s returned to with his diabolical documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, opening April 20. His fascination with the evil done by man—perhaps with a little help from the devil—has never waned. Sorcerer (1977), one of Friedkin's career caps, will also screen.
Opens April 27

Emile de Antonio 

Intimate of Andy Warhol, John Cage, and the Weather Underground, few men lived though and chronicled the tumult of the 1960s and their aftermath as fully as Emile de Antonio—savage satirist, collagist, political polemicist, montage artist, and fiercely independent filmmaker. Beginning with his 1963 debut Point of Order (co-directed by a legend in his own might, Dan Talbot), a brilliant distillation of 188 hours of the Army-McCarthy senate hearings, de Antonio tirelessly depicted the events of the day through a visionary, experimental lens, tackling the Warren Report (Rush to Judgment), the Vietnam war (In the Year of the Pig), and the Nixon debacle (Millhouse: A White House Comedy). Essential now, essential always, and still alive and thrillingly unreconciled. Titles include America Is Hard to See (1970),  Painters Painting (1973), Underground (de Antonio, Mary Lampson, and Haskell Wexler, 1976), In the King of Prussia (1983), and Mr. Hoover and I (1989).
SPECIAL SCREENINGS & GUESTS
 
Saturday, March 3
Filmmaker Robert Beavers will appear in-person to introduce Galaxie (Gregory Markopoulos, 1966).
 
Sunday, March 4
Writer/essayist Hilton Als and writer/actress Tavi Gevinson will appear in-person to introduce Klute(Alan J. Pakula, 1971), as part of "Visionary Form: Dressing Up on Screen," co-presented by M2M.

Sunday, March 4
Painter Amy Sillman will appear in-person to introduce Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945).

Friday, March 9
Actor/Director Mathieu Amalric will appear in-person to present My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An Argument (Arnaud Desplechin, 1996), in which he stars.

Saturday, March 10
Actress Jeanne Balibar will appear in-person to present Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette, 2001), in which she stars.
 
Sunday, March 11
Painter and filmmaker Stella Schnabel will appear in-person to introduce Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986), as part of "Visionary Form: Dressing Up on Screen," co-presented by M2M.

Friday, March 16
Actor/director Vincent Macaigne will appear in-person to present his films Dom Juan & Sganarelle(2015).
 
Saturday, March 24
Film restorationist/essayist/filmmaker Ross Lippman will appear in-person to present his live cinema essay The Exploding Digital Inevitable (2013), along with its inspiration, Bruce Conner's Crossroads(1976).
ONGOING SERIES
Throughout March/April

Playtime
 
Metrograph’s ongoing program of films that are kid-friendly in content and easily enjoyed by movie-lovers of all ages, Playtime has quite a list of exotic destinations in store this time around, as we’re standing to punch tickets for Neverland (Peter Pan, 1953), the Negaverse (Sailor Moon R: The Movie, 1993), Jareth (Labyrinth, 1986), the riotously colorful Caribbean (The Pirate, 1948), and Yellowstone National Park (Flash the Teenage Otter, 1961), paired with Aardman classic Creature Comforts (Nick Park, 1996). All that traveling can work up an appetite, and brunch will be ready in the upstairs Commissary.
Throughout March/April

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) at Metrograph
 
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) began a year-long residency at Metrograph in July of 2017, bringing exciting and entertaining programs to the big screen. Programs have and will feature onstage conversations with filmmakers and scholars of motion pictures, tributes, newsreels, rarely seen clips from past Oscar® ceremonies, and home movies from Hollywood legends. This monthly series, highlighting unique archival elements, including recent restorations and film prints from the Academy Film Archive, continues in March and April by celebrating classic moments from the Academy’s 90 year history.

Information on the Port Jefferson Documentary Series screening of SAMMY DAVIS, JR : I'VE GOT TO BE ME


DATE/TIME: Monday, March 26, 2018 @ 7PM
LOCATION: The Long Island Museum (Gillespie Rm.)
1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook, New York, 11790
TICKET PRICES: $7.00 general admission, tickets at the door (No Credit Cards)

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME is the first major documentary to examine Davis’ vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress in 20th-century America. A star of stage and screen and member of the legendary Rat Pack, Sammy Davis, Jr. broke racial barriers, but paid a heavy price for it. Defying societal norms concerning interracial romance, religion and political affiliation, Davis courted controversy many times, but always with grace and honesty. Filmmaker Sam Pollard explores all the complexities of Davis, crossing several phases of American show business. Featuring new interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and excerpts from his electric performances in television, film and concert, the film explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory
blazed across the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the 1980s.

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson/ Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series brings directors, producers or stars of each film into the theater for an up-close and personal question-and-answer session. Our guest speaker will be the screenwriter and co-producer, Laurence Maslon.

Running Time: 82 minutes; Year: 2017; Country: USA; Language: English

PORT JEFFERSON DOCUMENTARY SERIES (www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com) is
made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew
Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by the Suffolk County Office of Film and
Cultural Affairs, Steve Bellone, County Executive

Tehran Taboo

It is like an underground Sex and the City, but consenting adults run the risk of arrest and torture at the hands of the morality police. Tehran is just as cosmopolitan and randy as any major city, but Islamist hypocrisy and misogyny has a poisonous effect on human relationships. Three middle class urban women try to negotiate the sexually charged terrain of the capital city in Ali Soozandeh’s bold animated feature, Tehran Taboo, which opens at Film Forum on Valentine’s Day.

Pari must work as a prostitute to survive, because her incarcerated husband refuses to consent to a divorce or sign her employment applications. Ironically, Pari and scores of her colleagues walk the streets fairly openly, because the morality police prefers to crack down on couples holding hands. The Islamic Court judge will not grant her a divorce without the acquiescence of her deadbeat husband, but he offers to make her his kept woman instead.

As part of the deal, Pari and her young mute son Elias move into an upscale flat owned by the upstanding jurist. Though Pari is cagey about her own circumstances, she quickly befriends Sara, the pregnant wife of Mohsen, an entitled banker. She yearns to pursue a career of her own, but he categorically forbids it, using the pregnancy and her previous miscarriages as an excuse.

Meanwhile, electronica DJ Babak finds himself living the longest, most awkward morning after, when his hook-up from the previous night insists he fund her hymen reconstruction surgery. It seems Donya has a very large, possibly mobbed-up fiancé, who is expecting to marry a virgin.

Eventually, Pari will take a big sisterly interest in both Donya and Babak, but unfortunately, she can mostly offer moral support, rather than the financial kind. Nevertheless, Soozandeh brings his cast together in a convincingly organic manner, rather than contriving ways for their paths to cross. At various times, each woman is both a victim and a schemer, but the deck is always stacked against them.

The Iranian-born, Germany-based Soozandeh, who helped animate segments of the remarkable documentary The Green Wave, is shockingly frank, at least by Iranian standards. To put it in perspective, the film starts with Pari trying to perform a sex act often denoted by two letters on a flaccid cabbie, with the silently jaded Elias sitting in the back seat. Yet, through the use a child’s still somewhat innocent perspective, Soozandeh consciously embraces the tradition of classic Persian cinema.

Nevertheless, there is no denying the predatory and base nature of the men exploiting Pari, Sara, and Donya. By forcing sexual relations underground and under the table, they become effectively severed from the strictures of respectable society. In effect, only the law of the jungle applies.

Yet, nobody is entirely a victim (especially not Pari), because Soozandeh has drawn such distinctive and multi-dimensional characters. There are not merely symbols, they are women with stories to tell (or rather try to keep secret). You would think the animation would provide a protective layer between the film’s provocative subject matter and the contributing cast, but Soozandeh’s use of rotoscoping techniques means there are indeed bravely identifiable performances to be seen throughout Taboo. Even through the transformative animation, Elmira Rafizadeh’s work as Pari is remarkably earthy and gutsy, while Zahra Amir Ebrahimi is quietly devastating as Sara. Yet, it is the silent indicting gaze of Bilal Yasar’s Elias that will truly haunt viewers.

Soozandeh largely focuses on sexual/gender iniquities, but he does not ignore other forms of institutionalized injustice, such as the pointless censorship of Babak’s music and the shocking sight of bodies swaying from the gallows at a public execution. Soozandeh holds a rotoscoped mirror up to contemporary Iran and forces viewers to give it a long, hard look. The result is a viscerally powerful experience that both seduces and horrifies. It is an outstanding film, definitely in the tradition of Persepolis and The Breadwinner, but clearly intended for mature audiences. Very highly recommended, Tehran Taboo opens this Wednesday (2/14) in New York, at Film Forum. Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Millionaires' Unit (201-)

THE MILLIONAIRE'S UNIT is a portrait of the Yale underclassmen who saw the approach of the first World War and took steps to form the Navy Air Corps long before the war came knocking on the door of the United States. Chronicling the men before during and after the war the film is full of photographs, remembrances, personal papers and beautiful modern day flights of antique planes. It is a solid portrait of men who forever changed the American military.

Made by filmmakers who are all relatives of the original fliers this is film that has been made with great love and care. They clearly want to pay tribute to their relatives and it shows as we are shown the private lives of the men in ways most similar films never do. These are the men who fought and died in defense of their country and --- wants to make sure we never forget that. It is this attention to the people behind the names which sets this film apart.

It is also what makes the film a little long. Running about two hours the film the film can seem a little long thanks to the wealth of information, including the romances, of many of the men. Its nota bad thing because it makes the men that much more human, but to be honest I felt the need to pause the film and sstep away from a little bit.

That small reservation aside this is a really good documentary and recommended when the film hits VOD tomorrow.

THE ALIENIST: Episode 4 THESE BLOODY THOUGHTS

Going deeper into the psyche of all of the characters the investigation moves slowly forward. While we learn how much some of the senior police staff know about who is behind the killing, and watch as Roosevelt, still outside of the loop, is thrown into the center of a firestorm as the press hound him. We also discover how the killer is getting in and out of high places without being seen.

Frankly this  hard episode to discuss on it's own terms since much of the episode revolves around peeling back the layers of the characters. While this is not the best episode to jump into the series, it will no doubt delight fans...more so since the lead up to the final shot is a scary cliffhanger that leaves the team in shock.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Darkest Hour (2017)

Gary Oldman seems a shoe in for the Oscar for his performance as Winston Churchill in the excellent DARKEST HOUR which recounts the early days of Churchill's time as Prime Minister.

Grand old historical tale is a great deal of fun. This is exactly the sort of film that always seems to win Oscars. Many people hate them but many more love them hence they keep getting made. Personally I love them when they are as well done as this.

While I love Oldman's performance I think the film works because the script is so damn good. Full of beautifully drawn characters, not just Churchill, the film is an absolute delight as we come to like everyone not just Churchill. The script is also so well done that we know everything we need to know to not only follow along with what happens but understand the implications.

I love this film a great deal and while I wouldn't necessarily put it on a best of te year list I would put it on a list of my favorites.

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