Monday, October 18, 2021

Becoming Cousteau (2021) opens Friday


Jacques Cousteau is one of my boyhood heroes. I grew up watching his TV show and watching him on the TV talk shows. He opened my eyes to the world in ways you can not imagine. He along with Muhammad Ali were the two people I regret not meeting. 

As you can imagine when I found out there was a documentary of the man I had to see it. Honestly I sooooooo had to see it it was the only reason I made a hole in my dance card to cover the Camden Film Festival.

Culled from hundreds of hours of film and video and hundreds more hours of audio BECOMING COUSTEAU is a film about the man in his own words and images. It does have the words of other people chiming in, but mostly this is all Cousteau.

I both loved this film and as disappointed. What I loved about the film was that the film brings us back into the world of the man himself. I never realized how much I missed listening to him talk about things until I saw this film. He was a man full of wonder and it bleeds off the screen. We also get a sense of how the TV nature documentaries we see today all come from him. If there was no Cousteau there would have been no Discovery Channel or Nat Geo. I love that we see how important he was to people in the 1970's. I also love that the documentary kind of takes the man to task for the bad things he did like working for big oil and killing many of the animals he was supposed to be studying. 

What disappointed me was that the form and structure of the film is incredibly conventional. Yes Cousteau created the conventions, but he did it by destroying out previous notions of what the form could be. I was hoping for something that was magical in form, instead of by the numbers. Basically I wanted something as special as the man himself. And while what is here is choice I would have liked more fireworks.

Then again I suspect that had I seen this on the big screen I would have loved this unconditionally.

BECOMING COUSTEAU hits theaters Friday

The Tallgrass Film Festival is in person October 20-24 and virtual Oct 24-29

One of the great film fests of the year The Tallgrass Film Festival starts its in person festival on Wednesday before turning into a virtual one on the 24th. Its place to go see great films in person if you are located in and around Wichita Kansas or around the country if you want to do a virtual fest.

While I have been remiss in many past years for not throwing the festival some coverage, it doesn't mean that I haven't been looking at what films it's programmed. What Tallgrass screens is often a pointer toward many of the films that people will be talking abut at years end. Honestly I have been looking at the festival to know what films I will need to pick up before the year turns.

 This year I'm slightly a head. I've seen a large number of films already, however I am still hoping to pick up a few along the way.

In rder to help you decide what to see (and you should see something) I'm presenting a list of links to the films we've previously reviewed. Just click on the link and see what we thought of the films- a word of warning some of these are some of the best films you'll see all year.






















And now if you forgive me I'm going to go look at the film list and see what I can fit in.

For more information and tickets go here

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Addendum to the Netflix special mess- no one is really defending what was said or claiming its funny

Any real defense of Chappelle's anti-LGBT screed has been lacking. Not that he should be defended, he shouldn't, but those that are being marched out to speak for their friend are failing badly. I say this because anyone saying a word defending Chappelle is doing so purely on free speech grounds, which is the only way you can.

As I said in my original piece on the matter even I would and will defend Chappelle's right to spew his hate but I don't have to like or want to hear it. 

Truthfully as a proponent of free speech, even something as hateful as Chappelle's, results in crashing up against a wall of is it defensible? It is because I will not take anyone's words away, however I will clearly state that what Chappelle is saying is hateful from top to bottom.

On the other hand I would rather just say that the special isn't funny or clever and not worth seeing since that will go along way to kill it. Several people I know were curious about seeing the special until I said it was not funny and then they lost interest.

Honestly I feel bad for the people defending Chappelle in the media. I've heard several people on the radio and TV and I've seen some stuff in the paper "defending" his right to say what he did. Everyone talks about the First Amendment rights, the speak of the great cases preserving it and argue that not to support it will kill comedy. While I totally agree with that tact (its the only way to do it), no one, and I mean no one is actually addressing the special.

Seriously no one defending him is mentioning what was said at all. People have discussed Chappelle and his style of comedy, but that is as close to the subjects discussed as anyone will go. I've heard a couple of comedians say that they still haven't seen the special. You haven't seen it? Then what the hell are you doing on TV or the radio talking about it? I suspect no one wants to offend Chappelle as if he's going to wreck their career, but the truth is Chappelle just wrecked his, since he's just offended a large number of people with his comments in an unfunny special.

If you want to know if  Chappelle crossed a line realize that what he said is so vile that no one wants to talk about what he said in discussing what he said- not even comedians who pretty much have no boundaries.  Think about it- he's actually gone so far the comedians won't say he's funny here. Chappelle has caused the very talkative comedy brotherhood to shut up

Should stop Chappelle from speaking?

No. Let him talk. Let people see what a hateful man he apparently is. Let him talk so that we can tell the world that he is wrong. Best of all let him talk so that he can see that we've stopped listening and that he needs to pack up his circus and go home.


And as for Netflix, they need to do something beyond just saying that Chappelle has the right to say what he did because it doesn't wash. They have censored too much to take the high road. Worse, everything they are doing is just making it worse. They are screwed  no matter what they are going to do. It's not worth continuing forward on this track when the cost to gain ratio is so narrow as is when the service may start to hemorrhage viewers.

What do I mean it's not worth it? Apparently they spent over $20 million on the special and got less views than many less costly similar shows. Why spend 20 million on a special of a guy and a mic on stage?

Inde Memphis October 20th - 25th, 2021

Starting this week is the Inde Memphis Film Festival is a great place to see films.  Its so great that it was frequently the subject of discussions in the New York Film Festival press screenings. The reason it was discussed was it was the place to play catch up with many of the big films for the fall and winter.

If you love movies this is the place to see them before everyone else.

Frankly if I could get away from the day job I would have made a trip to Memphis to see a lot of movies.

Normally I would make an effort to wade into the festival and try to fill in things virtually, however this year it’s not wholly possible. I do have feelers out for a few films but I’m not sure what I can get to.

That said I’ve seen a good number of the films playing already and to that end I’m presenting a list of links to the films we’ve previously covered.















If you are in the Memphis area do yourself a favor and make an effort to wade in and see a lot of great films.

For more information and tickets go here.

The Rescue (2021) GlobeDocs 2021


Last to be chosen for the cricket team, first to be chosen for the cave rescue

This is the story of the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped for several in a cave in Thailand when it was flooded by monsoon rains. The focuses on the efforts of the international cave divers who came to help when it was determined that the skills they honed in their hobby, was exactly what was needed to help effect a rescue.

This mix of actual film of the events mixed with recreations is compelling viewing. It is actually one of the best thrillers of the year, despite the fact we ultimately knw how it's all going to come out. It remains compelling because not only does the film put us into the middle of everything  but also explains what a Herculean task the whole affair was. Over 5000 people were involved from many different countries and Thai agencies. It was something bigger than we could have imagined.

I loved this film. I knew how it would go and I was still on the edge of my seat. I love that we get to know the divers as people and not just guys who did this thing. For example the quote above is from one of the divers who wasn't good at sports and was left out of everything. Because we are given background on him, when he says the line towards the end of the film we can't hlp but laugh with delight knowing when it counted he was the one chosen.

It should be noted that the interviews in the film are limited to the divers themselves and a few Thai officials who don't have movie deals. It seems every one connected with the event has some sort of deal in the works which precludes them from speaking to anyone else about what happened. Even the footage of the boys in the cave comes from footage shot at the time and from TV news coverage. Clearly their is a hope that everyone is going to get rich. I suspect that won't happen with the market for versions of this story being small.

This is a great film. It was the source of repeated and loving discussion on the press line at the New York Film Festival. Everyone who was going to the press screenings at night (it did not screen at NYFF) was coming back glowing.  Now that I've seen it I can't stop talking about it either.

Currently in select theaters and on the festival circuit THE RESCUE is highly recommended. Look fo Oscar nominations.

Undertaker (2021)


There is a reason I love Chris Esper’s films, and that is that he surprises the hell out of me every damn time he unleashes a film on the world. The other night I saw an email from him sitting in my email and I became giddy with anticipation. Yes most of the film world will go crazy about the new Sean Baker, Pedro Almodóvar or Martin Scorsese but for me a new film from any of the filmmakers on my growing list of Filmmakers You Must Search out and I’m like a kid on Christmas.

Esper is on that list and he is a delight. He’s a filmmaker who turns out films that challenge and move me. He never seems to be doing the same thing, instead he seems to be pushing himself with each new film. Watching him over the years has been a pleasure as his filmmaking chops have grown  and built upon what has gone before.

Esper’s latest is called UNDERTAKER. It’s a moody, slightly obtuse film about a young man who wakes up in a small town. He has no idea where he is or how he got there. As he the morning moves on and he moves closer to his fate he finds that everyone knows him, and maybe, possibly knows them.

I can’t say more. That would be telling. That also might give you a clue about what is going on, which is something you’ll have to work out for yourself.

This is a great little film that you have to search out (as are all of Chris Esper’s films)

Highly Recommended

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Jagged (2021) Globe Docs 2021

This HBO portrait of Alanis Morrissette has been disavowed by the singer because of the way the material was shaped by the filmmakers with a sensationalistic shading. If I were the singer I would be disappointed because the film is simply so bland.

The film is film is primarily a look at the singer and her career leading up to and through the period of the release of her album Jagged Little Pill. The film consists of an extensive interview with the singer intercut with footage of her her life interviews with the people who knew her along the way. 

As great as the interview with Morrissette is, the rest of the film is really dull. We've been here before and we've seen the same sort of thing  hundreds of times. This is your standard issue portrait of the artist doc with all the typical bells and whistles. Worse the film only seems to be interested in focusing on a certain period of her life and certain aspects. You have the cooperation of a young woman who changed the world and you don't do anything with it. More importantly why don't you tell her whole story.

I got bored early and largely stayed disinterested until we got back to the woman herself talking about things. I was so disinterested that I fund I had to keep skipping back to interview segments because case I was looking away.

For what it's worth the film does improve how one thinks of Morrissette. The woman sitting before us is clearly in charge and we instantly fall in love with and respect. I now would love to meet her.

As for the film, I could easily never see it again.(though if I would happily watch all the unedited interview footage)

On top of everything else Dave Chappelle's new special is just bad

 Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix is taking a lot of heat for the comments that are made concerning the LGBTQ community.  Having seen the special I completely think the vitriol is well placed. However the truth is that without the controversy the special would disappear rather quickly because it is terrible. It’s one of the worst comedy specials I’ve seen in my five plus decades as a comedy fan.

The problem with the special is Chappelle doesn’t seem to have worked on his material at all. Its as if Chappelle decided to book a theater and film a show and do it off the cuff. The “jokes” (I’m trying to be generous here) crash like a wet sack of cement.  It feels as though Chappelle either didn’t care and was fulfilling a contractual obligation or more likely Chappelle thinks he’s Dave Chappelle so he can do no wrong.

Yea, he can.

Part of the problem is there really aren’t any jokes. I mean beyond there being almost nothing to laugh at  Chappelle is trying to do the Stand Up Philosopher route that was walked by Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Chappelle is telling his stories and trying to get us to think. When Chappelle, like those before him, did this previously he rattled cages and made us think about society while making us laugh at ourselves. This time out there is no laughs, just hate and meanness. Chappelle is just spewing vitriol and hate speak and calling it social commentary. While it makes us think, its not about society but the man who is saying the terrible things.

Chappelle almost instantly goes off the rails when he begins his rant not with humor but with statements that this is art and he is an artist and what he is saying is not how he feels but is saying for effect.

Yea Dave right. You are doing the exactly same thing that bigots and hurtful people do when they say “I don’t mean to offend but…” or some variation before saying the most vile and terrible things imaginable. And Dave, you say some of the most terrible things imaginable.

I’m not going to repeat what Chappelle says about the LGBT community, women, and numerous other subjects. Lets just say he takes a flamethrower and sets them all on fire because, despite his protests, he really seems to hate them. I say this because be talks about getting into fights with members of the LGBT community and seems to enjoy relating the stories  (Dave, your arguments that this is art and that the performance isn’t really you falls down when your disinterested stand up is punctuated by lip smacking glee when you are talking about your fights with gays or the hateful things you are saying about people you clearly don’t like).

Chappelle’s show is less about making us laugh and think than laying waste to the people he hates. (For what it’s worth Chappelle does make a couple of points about racism somewhere in his special but its too little too late- and it's buried in so much hatred he loses the argument)

Watching the show I couldn’t help but think of the late George Carlin who got angrier and angrier with society as he got older. Carlin had words for everyone. He was tired of the bullshit  and he called it out where he saw it. While I had my issues with Carlin and his comedy and his turn to dark hopelessness in the last years of his life,  he never managed to slip into the guise of the mean old man standing on the porch yelling at the kids about his personal hatreds. Or if he was doing that he never let it seem like we were looking into the dark soul of an angry man. Carlin always managed to be funny even when he was bleak. He also never managed to be hateful, just disappointed.

Looking at the current Netflix special Dave Chappelle seems to be an angry man standing on his stoop saying terrible things just because. While I’m not going discount the wonderful things that Chappelle has done for various people and communities, there is still anger that is lurking around him. For someone who has spent a decade or more living in a small community he hasn’t mellowed. Granted he doesn’t have to mellow,  but the time from the spotlight hasn’t made him happier, indeed it seems to have made him meaner. I mean he’s still waving the flag of walking away from 50 million dollars as if it’s a badge of honor, now seemingly angry that he did it.  (Dave I love that you did it, but do you have to mention it every time you’re in front of a camera? Let it go, we don’t care any more) He has allowed his anger at the world color everything he says and does. While some of what he feels is earned, a lot of what he is saying is just bigoted and the ranting of a man unconnected to the world, there is nothing artistic to it. 

While I will defend to the death Chappelle’s right to feel and say what he wants (preferably in his own home) I can not defend the special on Netflix. It’s not a comedy. It’s not really art. It’s not really a “performance”. It’s the words of an angry man saying really terrible things about the things he really hates and calling it pretend so he doesn’t get in trouble. It's just bad on it's own terms never mind that it’s a TED Talk from a bigot and should be avoided.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Miguel's War (2021) New Fest 2021


MIGUEL'S WAR is a trip. It’s one of the rare films that is impossible to pigeonhole and more importantly impossible to know where it its going.

The film is the story of Miguel who left Lebanon after 37 years ago and made a new life for himself in Spain as an openly gay man. The film is an attempt to come to terms with his past but it doesn't go as expected. As he says at the start of the film he thought doing the film would be easy. He would simply sit and answer questions about his life, however that isn’t what happened. It seems Miguel wasn’t telling the truth about a lot of things (for example Miguel’s real name is Michel named after the archangel) and in looking at the life he puts forward ends up opening a lot of doors he would prefer to keep closed.

Buckle up and sit back this is going to be one hell of an emotional ride.

This is a tough film. There are a lot of raw exposed emotions here. Its a journey without easy answers. The film is  tough because we connect with Miguel and we understand his refusal to deal with his past. Most of us would rather keep much of our lives buried and the thought of having all the twists and turns of our lives unearthed before a camera is something that would send most of us screaming into the night. Kudos to Miguel for having the strength to do it publicly

The film is also tough because Miguel is a tough guy to warm to. Its clear from early on he isn't going to tell us everything because he doesn't want to deal with it. The result is a guy we don't always like. He is at times prickly as he tries not to have to open the doors to his past, something we all know he is going to have to do.

I was moved. How culd I not, this is a complex film about a complex man that asks a lot of questions about how we related to our past and who we are really. How did we get to now? MIGUEL'S WAR wants to know and because of it we are forced to confront the arcs of our lives. This reflecting of ourselves in the life of a film's subject is what lifts MIGUEL'S WAR up from the pile of typical biographical documentaries and makes it something much greater.

Highly recommended

Brief thoughts Demigod (2021) opens today

A woman and her husband go to her family home in Germany after her her grandfather dies. There they find things are not okay and that something is lurking in the forest and a group of women have plans for them.

Solid little horror film is surprisingly good. I was watching the film in the middle of coverage of the New York Film Festival as a kind of palate cleanse and I found that I was really enjoying myself.. To be certain the film doesn't reinvent the wheel, however it does entertain and make an effort to be scary. The film also gets bonus pints for having a cast that seems invested in the proceedings.

Worth a look if you like horror films. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Death and Bowling (2021) New Fest 2021

This is a pointer toward the good drama DEATH AND BOWLING. Its a film I'm not going to review but which should be on your radar.

The plot of the film has a man named X falling in with a group of older lesbians in a bowling league. The film explores what happens when the son of one of them comes to town. 

I have been wrestling with how to write up the film since I first saw it and I have failed miserably. It’s not that the film is bad rather it is simply that I am a straight man with little connection to the Trans community. I mention that because in addition to being a moving film about among other things, the connections we make,  the film is a critique of the Trans community made by a cast and crew of eople from the community. While I can speak of it as drama, the film wants to be something more. It has a great deal to say, but I don't have the vocabulary to correctly discuss the film on that level. What it is trying to do and say is something that I don’t have enough connection to to explain.

My inability to adequately discuss the film aside, DEATH AND BOWLING is a film that needs to be seen and is therefore being pointed out as something special. See it at New Fest

The Spore (2021) Grimmfest 2021

Mankind is being killed off by the appearance of fungus that take them  over and mutates them.

Okay film plague film never quite comes together because it is juggling to many things.  Part of the problem is that this is trying to be a small scale story but it has almost too many people wandering through the film. It might have worked if the performances are  better but the cast is all over the place, with a couple of them being down right terrible. It also doesn’t help that the film feels like we’ve been here before. Riffing on plague films and zombie/mutant tales the film never quite finds it’s own voice.

While never out right bad the film never rises above being okay.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Crutch (2020) hits Discovery+ tomorrow

CRUTCH surprised me. This portrait of dancer Bill Shannon, who has a degenerative hip disease and moves along via crutches is a wonderful portrait of a man following his heart to do wondrous things.

Diagnosed at an early age with Avascular necrosis, Shannon's parents fought to keep him mainstreamed. He took the slings and arrows of the kids not understanding what was wrong with him and simply went on to do things he loved such as dance. Turning his use of a crutch to his advantage, he gained notoriety partly because he was an “handicapped person dancing, but also because what he was doing was magical and unique by any standards. How unique? Cirque du Soleil, the Sydney Opera House and various museums and erformance spaces hired him to put pieces together for them.

I could use the cliché that this film is inspiring but I won’t. Rather I will simply say that the film show cases a really cool artist who is doing things no one else is.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Storm Lake (2021) Hamptons Film Festival 2021, Double Exposure 2021, GlobeDocs 2021

Portrait of the small town Iowan newspaper The Storm Lake Times, it's Pulitzer Prize winning editor Art Cullen and his family. Its a twice a week paper with 3000 readers and it is fighting to stay in print.

I almost missed this excellent film because I was too distracted by other things to take a look at the film. It wasn't until the film started to appear in festival line up after festival line up that I realized I had to jump in and take a look. I'm glad a I did because the film has a great deal to say about a great many subjects. 

Nominally the story of a small town newspaper the film transcends that by looking at the changing way we get our news, the changing way we farm, the changing life in small towns and how all of the changes effect and affect ourselves. Its a film that lays a lot on our plate all the while making it look like its a simple tale.

The nifty thing with this film is that the filmmakers lucked into a great deal of drama. First they caught the early days of the last Presidential election  and then they found themselves covering the the paper as it had to struggle through the covid crisis. As bad as some of the turns are it makes for even more compelling viewing. 

I loved this film. In a year when I've seen probably too many documentaries I was delighted to discover this small little charmer that not only entertained me but forced me to consider everything I thought I knew about small tons and the news business.

Highly recommended where ever you see it.

The Old Way (2021) hits VOD today


The Old Ways is a film I admire more than I like. The story of a woman from Veracruz in Mexico who long ago left and grew up in the US she returns as a reporter with the aim of focusing on the local myths and legends. She finds herself taken prisoner as the people in her home town insist there is a demon inside her.

Beautifully made the film has images and moments that are going to stay with me forever. For example one of the final shots in the film sent chills down my spine. It also has a chilly sound design that keeps the film chugging away.

The trouble for me is that all of the good bits don’t quite come together. I thought it was a little too abrupt getting into the film and I didn’t connect until a good way in. I also thought things were a little too bright to be scary. There wasn’t the proper creep factor for my tastes. I also have grown weary with any film that relies on jump scares.

But if I am quibbling with this film it is because while I like the film I wanted to love the film like I love the pieces. There is so much great here I wanted it all to be great. Regardless of it all there are some wondrous things that lovers of horror films should see.


Hitting the Criterion Channel on October 13: FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (2020)

In FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO director Lynne Sachs takes 35 years of film and video of her father, mixes it with interviews with her family and friends and tries to figure out who her dad really is.

What starts out as a typical look at  father by a daughter  slowly becomes something else as revelations about Sachs' father begin to muddy the waters and change what she and others think of him. It quickly becomes clear that there are more than one way to see him.

What I love about the film is that Sachs throws things out and doesn't tie it all up. We are left to piece things together. If you've noticed that I am not discussing the details of the revelations it is because how Sachs tells us things influences how we feel at any particular moment. If I start to feed you revelations before you go in you will have a differing experience than what the director intended. You will also know where this goes and the journey there is the point of the film, so I'm not telling.

So where does that leave this review? It leaves me simply to say if you want to take an intriguing ride though one woman's life see FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Globedocs 2021 Runs October 13th to the 17th

The excellent Globedocs starts Wednesday and run through the weekend. This Boston based doc fest is one of the best out there. It cherry picks a manageable number films and brings them to the Boston area---and the rest of the country as well since there are virtual components as well

In order to help you decide what to see I am posting links to the films we've previously reviewed. I am hoping to have a few more reviews going up as well so keep checking back.

STORM LAKE (a review will run this week)

For more information on the at home and in person choices go here.

2 Witches (2021) Grimmfest 2021

Two scary stories for the price of one both involving witches. In the first tale a pregnant mother is cursed by a “strange woman”. In the second there is a falling out between roommates.

I liked this little film. While the stories can be a bit bumpy, they both contain some really scary moments. Indeed some of the moments in the first story had me talking to the screen as reality seemed to bend. This is a grand popcorn film. This is the sort of horror film I would have eaten up as teenager when I going to every horror movie that opened just because.


Brooklyn Horror Festival runs October 14th to the 21st

The always great Brooklyn Horror Film Festival starts Thursday and runs for the next 11 days. This annual gathering of scary films is always a highlight of the film year since it brings together some f the best horror films from around the world for intimate screenings in great locations.

This years festival is all in person so if you want to attend you have to get yourself down to Brooklyn. Sadly My schedule is such that I am still struggling to see if I can get to the festival to cover it. Hopefully the far flung reporters who promised to go and see and report will come through.

While I may not be attending the fest this year that doesn't mean that I will leave you high and dry with coverage. I have seen a few films previously and if you want to know my take on them you can click on the links below.


There are many many more films for you to see and you really need to check the schedule and see what's playing and buy tickets. For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

We continue with this interruption....

The New York Film Festival is done and I’m feeling tired and broken. The last few months of festivals and life have taken a serious toll on me.  I’m burnt.

I have been declining a very large number of films for  the next few weeks just because. Those that I said yes to or just appeared, I will get to.(This includes some Shudder releases I missed to release date on- not to worry I will get to them). While I have a bunch to over (a few inde films and New Fest Titles), I don’t have as much as I normally have at this time so I will be falling back on the banked reviews for some days later this month.

Honestly I’m movied out- I’ve passing on covering a few  of this months festivals just because I don’t have it in me.(Though I will be doing curtain raisers).  If you must know I broke in  July and August when I did around 200 films for coverage (we've done probably close to 1000 films this year and that's with 3 months left gin the year). It was not my intention but everyone counter programmed some of my favorite festivals and I tried to cover everything. 

Anyway as a result of the big push the last three months I’m going to be slowing down for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink what I can do. I also have to rethink where this site is going. I’m not certain that my throwing as much into it is worth what is coming out of it. I also need to steel myself for DOC NYC which is the last of this years festivals that has to be covered.

Look for several curtain raisers this week and some new releases. After that we'll be spinning the wheel of oldies.