Monday, May 27, 2024

Robot Dreams (2023) finally hits US theaters Friday


In an alternate 1980's NYC a dog who is tired of living alone makes himself a robot companion.

This wordless animated film is very good. An entertaining little film, it was trumpeted as one of the best films of the year by many people in the critical community. There was much discussion in as to whether it would end up an Oscar nominee because of how Neon was handling the release and people weren't certain if it did or didn't qualify.  By the time I finally sat down to see the film it was carrying a great deal of baggage.

There is much to like in this film. There is much to like in the film. The characters are well drawn (no pun intended). The visuals are excellent. New York looks and feels like New York. The musical choices are excellent.  In a lot of ways it's as good as the film could possibly be. 

The trouble for me is that it didn't live up to the hype. Months of people telling me how I was going to be madly in love with the film when I saw it were wildly over selling it. Its a very good, very solid film but it's not the best animated film of the year.

That said- the film will is really good. It will delight you, make you smile and possibly make you cry. It's definitely worth seeing when it finally plays near you.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Nightcap 5/26/24 Open Roads Starts this week, The Brooklyn Film Festival starts this week, A Lynn Sachs Retrospective, Freida Lee Mock & Terry Sanders release their collection on Vimeo


The always wonderful Open Roads New Italian Cinema opens this week and you need to get some tickets and go.

One of the best festivals every year it is a thrilling collection of some of the best films you'll see all year. I love this fest and I always try to see everything because the fest just brings great films.

I've seen a few films and I'm planning on going to see more so check back

For tickets and more information go here.

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Starting this week is the always wonderful Brooklyn Film Festival.

One of the best festivals in New York it always has a great selection of films that will hang with you all year. Every year I’ve covered it I’ve always found some great films. I’ve also run into filmmakers with whom I have stayed in contact.

I absolutely love this festival and always make an effort to try and cover it in some form.

This year because of life and it’s crossing across another festival, which shall remain nameless, my coverage is only going to be a couple of films.  That’s okay, they are great films.

If you have time I suggest you make the trip to Screenings at Windmill Studios and Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn to see some films.

IF YOU CAN’T GET TO BROOKLYN-THE FESTIVAL IS VIRTUAL

In an age when many fests seem to pulling back from having a virtual element Brooklyn is still using it to spread the word on great films.

Buy some tickets and take some rides. Trust me it will delight you

Details on how to get impersonal tickets of a virtual tickets can be found here.

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Lynne Sachs: From the Outside In Retrospective June 7 – 11

2024 marks 40 years since experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs took her first video class at DCTV. In From the Outside In, we traverse Sachs’ documentary films, defiant of traditional genre or style. From peering out, collecting others’ experiences and world events, to looking inward, reflecting on familial histories and entanglements, Sachs weaves the political with the personal. Through this 7 program series of screenings and discussions, with Sachs and collaborators in front of and behind the camera, this retrospective celebrates Sachs' distinctive artistry and groundbreaking career.

Featuring: 24 films; an artist talk and workshop with Lynne Sachs; and daily Q&As with special guests including Tom Day, Sam Green, Tabitha Jackson, Naeem Mohaiemen, Lizzie Olesker, Ira Sachs, and Accra Shepp.  

Individual tickets are now on sale, as well as a series pass, which grants access to all screenings and includes a special print monograph.

For tickets and more information go here.

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The Academy Award® and Emmy winning husband and wife team of Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders, along with their daughters Jessica and Brittany Sanders, who have produced and released nearly 50 films spanning decades of filmmaking through their non-profit company American Film Foundation, announce that their film collection is for the first time available worldwide on Vimeo on Demand to buy or rent. Their films and/or series have received three Oscars, 10 Oscar nominations, Primetime Emmys and Emmy nominations and numerous other awards.

Some highlights from the collection are: 

ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER 

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 2013, 76 min.

The story of Anita Hill who responded to questions about sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in a contentious Senate Hearing exposing the issue to the world.


BIRD BY BIRD WITH ANNIE

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 1999, 54 min.

A portrait of the best-selling author and laugh out-loud funny humorist Anne Lamott (Somehow, Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Operating Instructions, Crooked Little Heart) it is the inspiring story of a survivor — a recovering alcoholic, single mother,   born-again Christian and liberal activist. UPDATE: Lamott’s newest book Somehow is currently on The New York Times Best Seller List, debuting at # 1.


G-DOG

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 2012, 92 min.

G-DOG tells the entertaining, hilarious and unlikely story of how a white Jesuit priest became an expert on gang lives through Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang intervention and rehab program in the world. Father Greg Boyle (G-Dog to homies) works by a powerful idea: Nothing stops a bullet like a job. His unstoppable compassion has transformed the lives of thousands of Latino, Asian, and African American gang members. UPDATE: On May 4, 2024, Father Greg Boyle received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden.


LILLIAN GISH: THE ACTOR’S LIFE FOR ME

Dir. Terry Sanders, 1989, 56 min.

Called the first lady of the silent screen, Lillian Gish was the archetypal silent film heroine — the delicate damsel in distress, stranded on a swift-moving ice floe, cowering before a sadistic brute. The film showcases generous footage of her most memorable performances. In this Emmy-award winning documentary, the celebrated actress reflects on her life and work spanning the 20th century, particularly her years as D.W. Griffith's favorite leading lady and collaborator.


MAYA LIN: A STRONG CLEAR VISION

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 1994, 98 min.

Oscar Winner - Best Documentary Feature

The Academy Award®-winning documentary about sculptor and architect Maya Lin who, at age 21, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. tells the gripping story behind the Vietnam Memorial and explores a decade of her creative work. Maya Lin's design of the Civil Rights Memorial, the Yale Women's Table, and the Juniata Peace Chapel reveals her ability to address major issues of our times through the healing power of art. UPDATE: Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2023 and Maya Lin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President  Barack Obama in 2016. Her newest design is the entry sculpture for the Obama Presidential Library).


NEVER GIVE UP: THE 20TH CENTURY ODYSSEY OF HERBERT ZIPPER

Dir. Terry Sanders, 1996, 40 min.

The extraordinary story of Vienna born musician and conductor Herbert Zipper who survived Dachau, Buchenwald, and a Japanese concentration camp to become one of the great music educators of the world, continuing at 92 to bring music to the inner city schools of America. Academy Award® Nomination, Best Documentary Short Film


RETURN WITH HONOR

Dir. Freida Lee Mock & Terry Sanders, 1998, 102 min.

Presented by Tom Hanks, Return with Honor tells the gripping story of American fighter pilots shot down over North Vietnam and surviving with honor as POWs for up to eight and a half years. The film includes astounding, never-before-seen footage from the archives of Vietnam and contains riveting first person accounts of the hidden war behind prison walls. It is an inspiring testament to faith, brotherhood and the resilience of the human spirit.

ROSE FITZGERALD KENNEDY: A LIFE TO REMEMBER

Dir. Terry Sanders, 1990, 18 min.

An Oscar nominee, this documentary is a moving portrait chronicling the life, the times, the joys and sorrows of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. The film honors her work in the field of mental retardation.

SING!, 

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 2001, 36 min.

Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Short about the world-renowned Chorus where Billie Eilish and Finneas learned to sing, the film asks how do squeaky-voiced 8 year olds become amazing singers? SING!, about the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, tells the story of how a community group, amid severe cutbacks in the arts, is able to develop a children's chorus that is one of the best in the country.


A TIME OUT OF WAR

Dir. Denis Sanders with Photography by Terry Sanders, 1954, 22 min.

The 1955 Oscar Winner for Best Short Subject, the film portrays a dramatic incident from the American Civil War when two Union soldiers and a Confederate soldier, facing each other across a river agree on an hour's truce.

WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER

Dir. Freida Lee Mock, 2006, 98 min.

In the film, Tony Kushner (Playwright of Angels in America) takes us from his childhood home in small-town Louisiana to his development as a writer, politically active gay man, and endlessly quotable globe-trotting force for a more literate and compassionate universe. Featuring Meryl Streep, Marcia Gay Harden, Tonya Pinkins, Maurice Sendak, George C. Wolfe, Oskar Eustis, Frank Rich and others.

Sanders’ feature dramatic films have introduced actors in their first film roles including: George Hamilton (Crime and Punishment USA, 1959), Robert Redford (War Hunt, 1962) and Mikey Madison (Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey, 2017). Madison next stars in Sean Baker's new film, Anora, being released by Neon next month. The film is in competition in the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.

A full list of the American Film Foundation collection can be found on Vimeo on Demand.

Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)


Soviet political prisoner is released to the Vatican. Through rapid moving events he ends up becoming Pope and having to deal with a potential nuclear war between the Soviet Union and China.

This is surprisingly moving film. Frankly until the very end when the film kind of ends on a whimper, this is a solid exploration of the battle between the old belief and the modern world. How do we take the core beliefs of our faith and make them relevant. I am not always sure it works but I find the discussion utterly fascinating.

Anthony Quinn is stellar as Pop Kiril a world weary man who doesn't want the job he was given. He has seen too much of the world and he just wants to minister to the sick. You can see his pain in his every move and in his eyes.

Equally good is Oskar Werner as a priest who befriends the Pope and becomes his guide, both in life and philosophically as to what has to be done.

I am curious as to how long the original cut of this film was. There is a sense of so many characters being more important than they are that I sense that there must have been a much longer cut.

If there is any real problem with the film, aside from the very end which doesn't quite work, it is the the David Jansen character. He is a news reporter who figures tangentially into to the events of the film, but really exists simply to give exposition and explanation.  It's deadly and while watching the film on DVD I ended up scanning through any scene he appeared in.

Other than some minor burps I truly loved this film. It moved me. It made me consider a great deal on many different levels. Yes it is very much a product of it's time, but it is also film that largely holds up. Highly recommended.

BETWEEN THE MOUNTAIN AND THE SKY Mountain Fest


Portrait of American Maggie Doyne, who took a gap year and went to Nepal. She ended up staying and helped to set up a children's home. She eventually she ended up raising her her own family and changing so many lives that she was CNN's Hero of the Year.

This is a good, if by the numbers, tale of a woman who went for a trip that literally changed her life for the better. 

While the way the film is told comes off as something we've seen before, the story is not. Odds are most of us have of heard of Doyne or know what she and he partner has done. I find it amazing that she has managed to nurture dozens of children when most people can't even nurture one.  I was impressed.

While this is mostly a hopeful tale, there is a tragedy in this story that is quite horrifying involving an accident and her youngest charge. I mention this because it may disturb some people.

Ultimately this is a solid and hopeful tale worth your time.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Thoughts on ALL WE IMAGINE AS LIGHT (2024) Cannes 2024


I had finished watching ALL WE IMAGINE AS LIGHT  and I was pondering it's considerable wonders when I looked at social media and found the press corps at Cannes (where it just won the Grand Prix) raving like crazy people about the film. I was horrified by this turn, not because the film is bad, not even remotely, but their words were promising a film bigger and louder than the small gem that is going to find a place in your heart and live there forever.

Because I do not want to over sell the film, honestly what I would rather do is get copies of the film and just press it into your hands while saying "Take this and watch it -- we'll discuss it later".

I can't stress it enough - don't read the gushing reviews- just buy a ticket and see it.

The film is a mix of documentary sequences with narrative. The documentary sequences are sequences in and around the location with voice over. They are hypnotic bits that grab us and pull us into the tale. It's a brilliant device that makes everything we see so much more real. The narrative is the story of three women in Mumbai. A nurse is thrown off when her estranged husband shows up with a gift. Her roommate is trying to find a place where she can be intimate with her boyfriend. The pair take a trip to the beach with a friend and try to sort it all out.

A quiet, gentle film with it's own rhythms, ALL WE IMAGINE AS LIGHT takes its time telling its story.  Never big and loud this film is something more akin to spending a few hours with the characters. It's a film that slowly works its way into your heart and head. What seems just okay at the start ends up being deeply moving at the end. A second trip through the film reveals it to be a much deeper film than you may think at the start and by the time we reach that final shot we are even more moved. (I was not going to see it a second time, but some time after I saw it it was growing bigger and stronger and I had to revisit it.)

This is a deeply moving film that works it's magic on a visceral level. It's a film whose charms should not be shouted about but rather experienced.

Is it one of the best films to play Cannes this year? Without a doubt, but this quiet film about the human heart needs to be seen for what it is and not over sold as something it is not.

Go see this film. Go see it and be moved.

Moritouri (1965)


Ex German soldier Marlon Brando fled to India on a fake Swiss passport to live a quiet life away from the war. The British knew who and where he was and they blackmail him into going on board Yul Brenner's freighter sailing from Tokyo to France with a load of rubber. He is to get the boat into a specific place so the Allies can seize it.

Tense war time thriller was a box office bomb when it opened but has developed a good reputation since then. Never mind that Brando threw one of his tantrums during the making of the film this is still a pretty solid film that will move you to the edge of your seat.

Tense from almost the first frame, this film milks every possible ounce of suspense from it's tough situations. Brando is essentially all alone on a death mission and there is no chance that he will be able succeed. While Brando is a bit too refined for the goings on his situation sucks us in and pulls us along. We genuinely want to know how this is going to turn out when every turn seems to spell doom.

A solid thriller thats definitely worth a look.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Kidnapped (2023) opens today


In 1858 Bologna, 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara was taken from his Jewish parents and sent off to be raised as a Catholic. It seems the family's maid secretly baptized him when he was "sick" and the church wanted to use the kidnapping as leverage to force his family to covert. Thus began a decades long battle that ended unhappily. 

Marco Bellocchio's latest film is an interesting mess. Telling an intriguing story it's done in such a manner as to give us no real characters and polemical style of telling that makes its 135 minute run time a tough slog. I wanted to walk because I didn't care about anyone on screen but I wanted to know how it came out.

Blame the script. Part of the problem is there are way too many characters on screen with too many locations and we are never focused on anyone.  We are never anywhere long enough to get a real sense of anyone except as literal one note characters. The father is a stoic man trying to do what he feels is right but being crushed, the mother glares, Edgardo fleetingly wants to go home but kind of likes where he is, the rest of the family never registers, almost all the church people are boo hiss villains, and anyone else just kind of is. There are no real people anywhere in this film (if this had been a documentary with recreations we would have gotten more character detail). Worse we are never given any sense of time and place, we are just given unconnected moments. Yes, we get  mentions of things like the international outrage but like most of what is said, its just words. What is happening to Edgardo's family while he isn't there? What exactly are they doing to get him back? I mean we know but only after they have done it  and someone is saying it's the wrong thing. And what of Edgardo? He just goes along until he's suddenly older and fully in the sway of the church. There is no character there just a brainwashed toadie.

And I won't even get into how the real story may have played apart the formation of modern Italy and the break with Vatican control- which is kind of in the film but fleetingly mentioned, but not explored. The actual story is incredibly complex and would need several more hours to explain. So while I applaud Bellocchio's decision to focus on the real people he made the mistake of forgetting to include them.

While the story is interesting there is nothing really there to explain why we are being told it and told this way, which is best described as trying to cover everyone and everything and managing not to do justice to any of it. I could have told the same story in seven or eight better ways that actually moved the audience. (though some in the audience I saw this reacted to something bad happening to the pope in a manner one would expect at a boo hiss pantomime show, which resulted in a bigger reaction from the rest of the audience.)

This should have been a documentary miniseries.

Unless you are a Bellocchio completeist you can skip this.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Social Media Monster (2021) releases May 31 Amazon and other platforms


Several years ago ago Matthew Berdyck walked into an IHOP in St. Joseph Missouri to ask for help because he said he saw a man strangling a woman in car in the parking lot. What happened after that is a story that would be completely unbelievable if it weren't true. It is a tale involving among other things stalking, harassment, endless emails and social media posts, alleged corruption, a rock song, restraining orders, criminal charges, a benefit concert, the FBI, the founding of a "news" outlet, threats to shoot up a bar, threats to blow up a nuclear plant and more. It is tale where the two sides, Berdyck on one side and the rest of the world on the other,  dispute what happened...except that all of the video and the hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation was all supplied by Matthew Berdyck  and  refutes pretty much everything that Berdyck said happened.

Belt in ladies and gentlemen you are about to have your minds blown by one hell of tale. You will not believe what you are seeing, but it's true, you'll see the emails and video to prove it. It's a tale so crazy that that there is going to be another movie so you know what happened after the credits rolled. 

To be honest the story is so crazy and so out there that it's impossible to summarize. Simply put it's the story of a man who had a disagreement with the people at an IHOP and then flooded everyone with unending emails and threats in order to get his way, and it eventually, escalated after years to the point where he threatened to blow up a nuclear power plant... and that's probably not the craziest part of the story (no, really it's not).

SOCIAL MEDIA MONSTER's director Peter John Ross  discovered the story of Matthew Berdyck by accident when Berdyck dragged him into what was happening in  St. Joseph, Missouri. Why Ross was brought into the mess wasn't immediately clear, since Ross is a filmmaker who didn't live anywhere near St Joseph and had nothing to do with anything that was happening in a city 11 hours away. For a good long while Ross was lost as to why he was mentioned. His inclusion resulted in his receiving lots of threats of legal action (which never materialized), Berdyck contacting everyone he ever worked with and thousands of emails in his email box. For well over the last decade Berdyck has become part of Ross' life, and the lives of many people in St Joseph, whether he, or they,wanted him to be or not. 

This film is an attempt to tell the story of what is occurring to the people in St. Joseph who are still being flooded with emails, threats and utter nonsense by a man with no clear day job and computer.

I need to say in fairness this film is "not" the story from Berdyck's point of view. Berdyck is supposedly hard at work on a film that will tell the "real" story  and expose everyone who has ever wronged him. When Mr. Berdyck's film is released I will take a look and see what the real story is and get a review up.  I promise that if Mr Berdyck's film is everything he says it will be I will apologize.

Until we get Berdyck's version of the story we have Ross' film which is made up of the eyewitness testimony of the people who were there for the last decade, video culled from the hundreds of hours of material posted by Berdyck on the internet, the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of pages of emails and screen grabs of Facebook and social media posts from Berdyck, as well as the reports from various local and federal law enforcement agencies who keep getting called into the unending affair. It's a story so crazy  that Ross has made available a vast file of supporting documents to back up every point made in the film (and it's all from Berdyck- this last point can't be stressed enough- it is all Berdyck's own words and video- most of which he denies expressing - because he got caught lying). 

Frankly there is so much material in this film and in support of it that I am having a hard time imagining what was left out or misrepresented (I mean the FBI says that the threats against the nuclear power plant came from his computer and cellphone which they said wasn't hacked). However, I want to keep an open mind and I will wait to make my final decision as to what this affair is really about until I see the film that Berdyck is making.

That said, I would be hard pressed to fathom what Berdyck could say that would refute anything that is in this film since outside of the witness testimony this is all material that he put out onto the internet in one way or another. Pretty much everything he has put forward tells a different story then the one he is selling. It's not tampered or made up footage, its the material he is using to support his claims of being wronged, except it doesn't.

Yes, I know that doesn't give you details- but trust me, just see this and go for the ride and you'll know why I'm not explaining it all. Basically if I start to explain it all I won't stop talking. It's kind of a miracle that Ross got s much of it as he did into 90 minutes.

I don't know where to start other than to say that this is one of the most compelling films I've seen in years. It was completely off my radar until I was contacted by Mr Ross. Some how despite playing at over 50 festivals it never crossed my desk which seems shocking...until you realize that anything to do with the story comes with the added bonus of emails from Mr. Berdyck. I'm guessing people were frightened off. 

What makes this films work is how Ross keeps this a personal story. It's the story of everyone of screen from the people at IHOP, to the people of St Joseph, to Ross himself and even to Berdyck. Ross makes us feel like we are all hanging out in a coffee shop talking about this crazy thing that just happened and we all can't stop talking. In the case of the audience, we can't stop watching...or talking... to the screen or anyone in the room with us.

This is just great filmmaking.

This is the exact sort of film I keep Unseen Films going to find, compelling films that seem to come from nowhere which keep you watching from the very first frame until the last. I put the film on one night about a week ago and just sat there staring at the screen, talking to it, until the credits finished rolling. 

What in the holy hell was I seeing?

I still am not sure, other than this is one hell of a tale and I can't wait to hear what happens next.(There are plans for a sequel)

The way the film is structured is as a series of events involving Berdyck where he gives us his take on things and how he was wronged and then we hear from the actual people involved who give us their take. Things escalate as the events that Berdyck set in motion go in unexpected ways and he tries to recover and explain what he really was doing. There are endless surprises, and trust me, you will not guess where this is going.

I also have to say, stay with the film. Ross takes his time revealing everything you need to know. For example the question of Berdyck's finances stuck in my brain until Ross covered it in detail. Don't worry Ross will cover it all. (Perhaps the only thing missing is a more detailed look at Berdyck's past but having talked with Ross I understand why that will be told in the next film - its a story unto itself)

I have to really praise Ross for making a film that gets under your skin and drags you along. It's a film you are going to want to share with friends and family members because they need to see this unbelievable tale as well. 

What makes this film so special is that Ross has all the receipts, and the receipts' receipts, and then some things that no one knew existed, in order to back up everything he is saying. There is even footage of Berdyck waffling on his positions. This maybe the best researched and factually supported film I've ever run across, ever. My initial contact with Mr Ross was filled with links to material that supported what he wrote to me.  My messages to him after that, something so simple as a yes and no question, brought more links and screen shots.  This is not bringing your "A" Game to the table, but resetting the rules and taking them to another level. 

Simply put, Peter John Ross has made a documentary that is so perfectly researched it puts every other documantarian to shame. In many ways this is as perfect a documentary as you can make. If this were a computer program where you could link to get more information by clicking a link- you would be clicking and reading for days for every minute of the film. It could be argued this is one of the best doc ever made.

I suspect that as much as Berdyck doesn't want this film to be seen, he is going to be in heaven when it hits because of all the people the film is going to drive people his way to see his side of the story. 

And be aware if you post any comments anywhere about this film or its subject, odds are you will get a response from Mr Berdyck - who, it is said, comments on anything to do with himself, this film (which he claims doesn't exist) or anything to do with the story in the film.

I can't wait to see what the next chapters bring. 

Put SOCIAL MEDIA MONSTER on your radar and see it when you can. It releases May 31 and hits streaming on the platforms like Amazon soon after.

Addendum:

In the interest of fairness I need to report Mr Berdyck contacted me and said that there were errors in my review.

He states that he is currently employed “working national news videographer and source for New York Times”.  I have not been able to confirm his current status with the Times.

He also takes exception to the mention of the threats to the nuclear power plant. However based on the information at my disposal the threats did happen and were sourced as coming from his phone and computer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

MAESTRA (2023) Opens Friday


MAESTRA is a portrait of the La Maestra competition in Paris which seeks to highlight the work of female conductors from around the world. Starting from a pool of over two hundred women the group was reduced to fourteen who went to Paris to compete. The film follows several of the women from around the world as they prepare for the competition and then take part.

This is an excellent look at a small group of women that make up less than 3% of their chose profession. Sure Marin Alsop has been in the spotlight for years, but outside of her there I am guessing that there is no other women who might be known by anyone outside of the classical music community. If all goes right many of the women profiled will soon become household names.

I am a sucker for much of what goes on here. I grew up watching Leonard Bernstein’s lectures where he came on and explained how a conductor shapes the music, and in MAESTRA we get to watch as the women discuss how they are going to shape their pieces. We get a wonderful sense about how they take the notes printed on a page and turn them into a living breathing piece of music. I had such a good time that I had a big stupid grin on my face as we watched the women create magic before our eyes.

This film is a delight. There is very little that is wrong with this film, other than a sense that perhaps they should have either focused on less women (though don’t ask me what they should have cut) or made into a miniseries because there is simply too much good stuff for a 90 minute movies.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Queen of the Deuce (2022)


If you had any real curiosity about how the Deuce’s movie theaters were run you would have run across the name of Chelly Wilson who as the title of the film about her says, was the Queen of the Deuce. She owned a number of the porno palaces and made a mint  doing so. I had heard her name for years but I knew nothing about her until  The Queen of the Deuce appeared on my radar, and having seen it all I can say is it’s a hell of a film.

Chelly was a Greek Jew who got married at an early age because her father arranged the marriage. She swore to her father she’d marry the man but divorce when he died. From there she went through a series of husbands, numerous lovers, had several children, was openly gay, survived the Holocaust, made a fortune and changed people’s lives. It’s a wild and crazy life that no one would believe if it weren’t true.

I absolutely loved most of this film. As long as we are focused on Chelly this film is gangbusters. Chelly is a woman who was one of a kind and watching the film I regretted that she wasn’t alive to see the film celebrating her life. I say this not so much think sh’d enjoy the film, but more I might have had an opportunity to meet her.  What a great broad as my mother would say.

As good as the portions of the film where Chelly appears the sections with out her fall flat. About an hour in the film goes int a long history of adult movies in New York and Chelly disappears. Yes it’s informative, but it’s not Chelly. Worse the film ends with a coda from Chelly’s grandson that feels out of place because we really don’t know much about him. Actually out side of Chelly and her daughters the rest of the family are just talking heads.

While I could argue that the film could be trimmed, the central focus of the film, Chelly, is so magnificent that I’m still going to say this film is worth a look.

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Other Way Around (2024) Cannes 2024


A couple going through a rough patch decide that that they will have a party to celebrate their up coming separation. This sends shock waves through their friends, family and themselves

This is a good comedy drama that entertained me while it was on but didn’t stick when it was done.  That’s not a fault of the film more that I was seeing it in the crush of Cannes coverage. This is the sort of film that I frequently encounter at festivals where I do heavy coverage (Cannes, Tribeca, NYFF, Fantasia) where they are small delicate gems that get overwhelmed by the crush of films being seen around them.  They are films that you see and enjoy but which you need to see away from everyone and everything.

It’s a good enough film (and contains a killer performance from Itsaso Arana that made me notice her for the first time)  that I look forward to seeing the film again when I can really see the film for itself.

My refusing to do a proper review aside I recommend THE OTHER WAY AROUND  because it will entertain.

Block Pass (2024) Cannes 2024


Willie and Jojo  are life long friends who are never far apart. When Willie discovers Jojo's secret their lives are forever changed.

That is not a good description of the plot, but it's either the official one or one that wrecks the entire story. 

This is a good but unremarkable drama. It's an extremely well made film with great performances but it doesn't have a great script. It's not bad, rather nothing remarkable happens. We can kind of guess what the secret it is and then once that puts things in play it doesn't do anything interesting. I was looking for some grand revelation that never came.

Perhaps had this not come with the baggage of premiering at Cannes I might have been more forgiving.

Not bad but nothing special

HIT MAN (2023) Hits theaters May 24 before going to Netflix

This is a repost of my New York FIlm Festival review from last year

HIT MAN is the (kind of true) story of Gary Johnson who was a college professor who was doing electronic work for the New Orleans police. He ended up stepping in and pretending to be a hit man in sting operations.

In this fictionalized version of the story Glenn Powell plays Johnson.  When he goes under cover on one case he talks a confused woman out of not killing her husband. This sets in motion an unexpected series of events.

This is one of my favorite films at NYFF. It was a delightful change of pace from the dark and serious films that seemed to fill this year’s slate. It was the on one to fill the theater with repeated burst of laughter and leave everyone walking out of the screening with wide smiles. Indeed one of the women working in the theater was kind of confused because it was the first time she could hear people reacting to a festival film.

I had a great time with the film. There was just a certain point where I just put my notebooks down and watched the film. Is it high art? Hell, no, but it is entertaining as all hell and one of the best film that Richard Linklater has made

Recommended

Sunday, May 19, 2024

THE STORY OF SOULEYMANE (2024) Cannes 2024


Abou Sangare will rock you as Souleymane, a young man looking for refugee status in France. The film follows Souleymane as he tries to prepare for his asylum interview.

I’m going to keep my thoughts about this film brief. Not because the film is bad but rather because this is a film where you need to see it from start to finish to truly understand what you are seeing and to be punched in the face by everything that happens.  It’s a film where  everything is in the finale, and you have to take the trip there to understand why I’m saying that.

The reason this film works as gloriously as it does is the performance of Sangare in the title role. Giving a performance that improves on a second viewing, it’s morphs from just this regular guy into a man drowning and fighting for his life. It’s a film where the we watch our focal point, Souleymane, go through his paces and have life smack him around until he breaks. The final scenes hit me so hard that I had to go back and rewatch the film because where he ends seems light years from where he started.

This is kick ass character study that lifts it’s plot line of a refugee looking for asylum frame work and makes it into something more. Sure we have seen similar tales before but with very rare exception have we ever been this close to experiencing the emotional roller coaster that refugees experience. It’s a film that grabs us and makes clear what how they feel.

All hail Abou Sangare who gives us not only a great performance but also connects us to a large part of humanity. May the awards gods shine down on him.

See this film

The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)

Once Oliver Hardy hooked up with Stan Laurel he never worked solo again with one exception, the John Wayne colonial film The Fighting Kentuckian. Hardy plays Wayne’s sidekick and he’s good enough with the action and drama it makes you wonder what might have happened had he been free to do things away from Laurel.

The film is set in Alabama not long before it is to become a state. Wayne and Hardy have just left the army and end up in a small town run by man who has designs on taking all the land in the territory. The short version of what happens is the pair finds themselves in the middle of the land grab which will displace a large number of ex-soldiers from Napoleon’s army who were given a land grant. Things become even more complicated as the pair are mistaken for land surveyors. There is romance, action and a plot to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from a safe.

A very plot heavy tale (I’m still not straight which bad guy was which) this is a film that sucks you in and drags you along. My dad and I stumbled upon the film on cable just as it was starting and we fell into it. We were just checking during a commercial on a TV series but we ended up stay to the end. An old school Hollywood film it entertains more than it has any right to. While the romance gets the short end of the stick in the second half of the film, Wayne’s love interest has nothing much to do, you do feel the sparks when the couple are together.

As I said at the top the film is notable for having Oliver Hardy in it. While it’s obvious he can handle the comedy it was less obvious how he’d be with the action and drama. By the time he and Wayne are set upon by a tavern full of bad guys there is no doubt he can kick some serious ass. He’s good enough that even my dad was shaking his head about what else he might have done.

This is a solid little historical action romance and is recommended.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Universal Language (2024) Cannes 2024

 


I started laughing almost from the first frame and continued doing so until the end credits. I laughed more at this film than almost any American comedy of the last two decades.

At the outset the plot of UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE seems to be several different stories. The truth is it’s all one big interconnected tale, you just have to stick with it until all the pieces line up.  Don't worry that isn’t going to be a problem because the film is going to be making you laugh out loud for most of its running time.

The humor is very much absurdist of the best sort. Think of it as something akin to the manic madness of a Marx Brothers comedy but with a more modern and less devil may care attitude.  Referencing the Marx’s may make you wonder how that is possible, but something happens in the first few minutes that makes you realize that is the absurdist territory we are operating in. (I will not spoil it)

What I love about the film is that the humor isn’t dry or forced.  Too many absurdist comedies don’t feel real and feel like they are trying to make a point. Eugène Ionesco’s plays which are excellent absurdist pieces, can, when done badly feel forced. Here there is things feel silly absurd but they also feel grounded. We can see the things that happen actually happen.  I can see myself trying to figure out how to get stuck money, deal with stolen glasses or pretty much anything else that happens here including dealing with turkeys.

I laughed out loud from start to finish, and when I wasn’t laughing I was smiling.

And I know there is more to this film beyond the laughs, but the laughs and smiles are what I took away from the film, so that is what I am reporting on.

I love this film.

Highly recommended.

Friday, May 17, 2024

HOLY COW (2024) Cannes 2024


HOLY COW is the story of Totone, an 18 year old young man who loves to party. When his father dies he tries to curb his wild ways so that he can care for his young sister.

This is a sweet coming of age film that is closer to reality than any other coming of age film I’ve seen. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. There are sex and beer and stuff. If it wasn’t for more adult elements this would be a great family film simply because what we see is feels closer to life.

To be honest I need to see HOLY COW a second time to really see the film for what it is. I say this because the write up for the film at Cannes gave me the impression that the film was going to be a bit more narrowly focused. Instead the film is bit more wide ranging and covers a lot of territory.

It’s that wide ranging nature that kind of hurts the film slightly. The problem is that the film juggles a large number of plot and thematic threads at the same time while trying to focus on the romantic thread a bit too much. If the film were another fifteen or twenty minutes longer things would have been a bit smoother. As it stands now this is a good little film, which you’ll want to see continue. (A sequel? Yes please)

House of Screaming Glass (2024) hits VOD Tuesday


If HOUSE OF SCREAMING GLASS had opened in 1974 it would have played in drive in across the South on the bottom half of double bills. It would have developed a cult reputation. It would have been released on VHS by Wizard in an over sized clam shell case. It would have bounced around other home video companies before getting a 50th anniversary release from Blue Under Ground, Vinegar Syndrome or Shout Factory.  Its a film a generation of horror fans would have watched every time it played at 2am.

That my friends is a rave.

Elizabeth Cadosia (Lani Call) inherits her grandmothers school. It comes with her collection of occult books and objects.  As she investigates them she finds her drawn into reading the spells and incantations....opening doorways that should remain closed.

Thanks to a tour de force performance by Lani Call this is a creepy film that sucks you in and carries us along. Call is the only person on screen for almost the entire film but she holds are attention so tightly that we can't help but travel into hell with her. If she wasn't as great as she is this film never would have worked.

This film is deliberately paced. It takes it's time going where it's going but it's so perfectly done we don't care. We want to see where this is going.

This is also a film about mood and tone. There really aren't jump scares, just unending dread. I would not have had to drive home from the drive-in had I seen it on a double or triple feature. This is a film that you want to watch late at night with all the lights off. I would hate to see this on a 2am double feature on TV with SKINAMARINK.

Under the right circumstances this film is as scary as they come.

Highly recommended

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Wendy Feinberg on Sugarcane (2023) which plays Hot Springs Documentary FF and Tulsa's Circle Cinema launch 0f Tulsa Hot Docs

 


Of the many documentary films I watched at this year’s Sundance Film Festival,  the world premiere of SUGARCANE, in my estimation, ranks among the best and  most important at the festival. I am not sure if I will be able to do this film the  justice that it deserves, but I will try.  

The film, co-directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie, won the well deserved Directing Award in U.S. Documentary category at the festival and tells  the very powerful and emotional story of the indigenous children who lived on the  Sugarcane Indian Reservation in Canada and attended the St. Joseph’s Mission  Residential School.  

Beginning in 1894 indigenous Canadian children were forced to attend Canadian  government schools, most run by the Catholic Church. There were rumors of  abuse at these schools and unmarked graves were found of children who died  while living at the St. Joseph’s Mission School. In the film, many members of the  Sugarcane reservation are interviewed. A young Chief Willie Sellars speaks about  what has been done in the recent past to heal and honor the survivors, including  the celebration of Orange Shirt Day, honoring children taken from families and  sent to the mission. We meet Charlene Belleau, who is investigating the abuses at  the school, including the mysterious unmarked graves. Now deceased, I was  moved by Rick Gilbert, a survivor of the mission school, who traveled with a  group to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the cruelties  experienced at the school. We hear from many other survivors of the abuses that  occurred at St. Joseph’s, including Ed Archie Noisecat, who is co-director Julian  Brave NoiseCat’s father, as well as his father’s mother (Julian’s grandmother), two  of the many that experienced multi-generational abuse at the school.  

It was heartbreaking to hear about the horrific physical and sexual abuse that  occurred at the school which led to the school being closed down in 1981.  Unfortunately, this abuse led to many unwanted pregnancies and deaths at the  school, as well as alcoholism, abandonment issues and a number of suicides by  survivors after leaving the school.  

Although sometimes disturbing to listen to the stories told by the survivors, I feel  that SUGARCANE is a gripping film that needs to be seen by all as a reminder of  the injustices that have been wrought upon native people, not only in Canada, but  around the world. In the film it is mentioned that this is also an American story  where more than twice as many children were taken from their families.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

When The Light Breaks (2024) Cannes 2024

 


Una's life over a long Icelandic day.

This is a good looking film that is essentially following one young lady as she has a lots of ups and downs happen in her life. It’s an “emotional” rollercoaster  where her life changes. I’m certain it means something to the filmmakers and their intended audience, however it never clicked with me. My lack of connection came from two points, the first the implied meaningfulness in every moment of the film. The silences drip with meaning as do each conversation. From the first frame to the last there is a sense that something important is happening. One of the reasons it seems important is that everything is staged to seem like it’s important. The placement of people in the frame is the other problem. People don’t face each other. Every conversation is arranged do that we always can see everyone’s face, They are talking to us and not each other. I know that sounds petty but the characters are often having heavy conversations and a lot of the time they are not looking at each other. It isn’t fatal, but it makes what should be a great film just good.

WHEN THE LIGHT BREAKS is a film you will like but may not love.