Thursday, January 28, 2021

Sundance coverage is coming soon

 Its finally time for Sundance and as such I just want to leave a note for the small cadre of Unseen Films fans who check out the site in the mornings and the overnight. I haven’t forgotten you- however because of embargoes with the fest I can’t start posting Sundance reviews until 10am eastern time.

After 10 am things will get crazy.

Reviews will post as I am able to get them up after Embargo.

If you are a PR person or filmmaker who sent me a film I assure you I have seen everything that you have sent me and I will be using the time to the first public screening to get the reviews written.

And now off to continue writing.

A Ghost Waits hits VOD February 1


A handyman is hired to repair a rental property that has gone u for rent. He is also asked to find out  why the property is constantly having it's tenants leave mid-lease. What he discovers is the property is haunted by a beautiful ghost. Soon romance is in the air.

Cutesy romcom ponders whether a ghost and a human (who is kind of a ghost himself) can find a middle ground to be in love. This is an amusing little film that has it's charms. It's hell acted and heart felt which adds a great deal of likability to the proceedings. 

I was amused by the film.

Worth a look if cute romances between the living and the dead are up your alley.

Do Not Split (2020) is on Field of Vision

 


DO  NOT SPLIT
A look at the protests in Hong Kong that happened when the Chinese government proposed a law that would allow protesters to be extradited to the mainland.
This is a very good film that works best when allowing the protesters to talk about the situation and their feelings. I'm going to leave it there not because it's bad but because I want to discuss the film in regard to other films on the Hong Kong Protests and I don't think that's fair

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The excellent Prison Within hits Amazon Prime February 1


The Prison Within Trailer from Raw Love Productions on Vimeo.
Prison Within may very well be one of the best films of 2020. The year is still young but this out of nowhere masterpiece is a cage rattler of the right sort.

The film is an examination of what trauma does to us. More specifically it is focused on how the violence and abuse visited upon us turns some to crime and thus spreads the trauma onward. The film focuses on group in San Quentin prison which meets weekly to discuss the pain in the prisoners lives and the pain they have caused and then works to sort it out. We also get to hear from victims and the people running the various programs. The result is a visceral gut punch of the film that lays it all on the table.

This film caught me unaware. I was a typical prison film with some shots of the men talking, associated talking heads and very serious narration. I was expecting a good film that checked all the boxes and then moved on to the next thing. What I got instead was a film that didn’t check the boxes, what it did was checked the box and then explored the box. The men in the circle don’t just say something meaningful before we move on to the next thing, rather they talk at length about their lives and explain what they feel and why. The camera doesn’t cut away we are there and they are talking to us and the others in the room, and the result we are pulled deeper and deeper. What they are telling us hits home and we go from thinking we understand what the point of it all is to deeply and emotionally completely understanding (or as much as we can get from a 90 minute film)

I am absolutely floored. I am so floored that I know I am going to need another pass at this film to truly be able to write about it and discuss it. As it is I can’t say how important it is for you to just go see this film. An absolute must see of the highest order.

Beware of Dog (2020) is on VOD and DVD

A woman in Moscow with OCD tries to find a way to have normal relationship. Her cousin in Berlin tries to start a relationship despite being bi-polar. Meanwhile in New York a boxer deals with addiction, anxiety and the feeling he is just no good.

When I started BEWARE OF DOG I was very confused, not because it was bad, rather because for a long while I thought it was a documentary. Never mind there is an early scene where an attempt at love making is interrupted by the need to fold towels, this was way to raw and real not to be a documentary.

All hail writer director Nadia Bedzhanova for she has made one of the best films at Slamdance.  While I can quibble about some of the storytelling, I can not quibble with the fact that she has made a narrative film that feels real. Watching sequences I stopped seeing actors but instead felt I was watching real life instead. I've seen some of the things that happen in the film. I have had conversations with people about what it's like to deal with depression, addiction and bipolar swings and this film seems to have it.

More importantly Bedzhanova has not only written a script that gets it right, and filmed it in differing styles that brings it all home, she has found a cast to sell it. Marina Vasileva, Buddy Duress) and Paula Knüpling sell their stories perfectly. They are not even remotely characters but they are actual people and we are watching them deal with their very real problem.

As I said above I could quibble about the story telling, particularly some choppiness in how we move from story to telling, it's a quibble, what is on screen is choice and needs to be seen by a wide audience.

Recommended

A Ship of Human Skin (2019)


Richard Bailey's A SHIP OF HUMAN SKIN is going to split audiences. You are either going to love this film or you are going to shut it off after five minutes. That is not to be taken as a bad thing, rather it is simply the result that Bailey's decidedly artistic style is not going to play well with anyone looking for a film that pays by Hollywood's established way of doing things.

I'm going to be upfront and say that this film challenged me. I put it on and I wasn't certain what I was seeing at first. Art film collides with a documentary style. A TV interview appears in the middle. There is a feel of docudrama. The film seems to shift genres. I wasn't certain what I was seeing and my initial reaction was to walk away.

And then something happened, my preconceived notions started to fall away. I started to lean into the film. I wanted to know what was going to happen and how Bailey was going to get me there. While I wasn't certain of this story of two young women and a murder, I was falling in love with the filmmaking and how it was making me feel. As someone who wants a film to engage me I was truly engaging with a film that was challenging me on all sorts of levels. This is a film that will challenge you.

I don't know how to critique this film. It's not tat I don't want to say  if it's good or bad, rather it is a matter of simply not being able to discuss it in terms of any other film. A SHIP OF HUMAN SKIN is not like anything you've seen before, or I've seen before and that limits what I can say.

What I am comfortable saying is that is you want a film that is exactly  like every other Hollywood narrative stay away. This film isn't for you. On the other hand if you want a one of kind, perhaps slightly off kilter work of art that you may or may not like, but which is going to grab you by the lapels and drag you t the finish a hundred minutes in the future this film is for you.

Or in other words this is exactly the sort of film Unseen Films was set up to highlight.

Submissions for the 44th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF44) are open

 January 21, 2021, NEW YORK – Submissions for the 44th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF44) are open! This year’s festival will be from August 11-22,  in the form of a hybrid festival: virtual with in-person events in NYC with safety protocols in-mind.

New Category Updates! AAIFF is excited to continue spotlighting the amazing storytelling online by the Asian diaspora. Digital/New Media has been split up to Digital/Web and VR/Interactive. Digital/Web will include Instagram Reels and TikToks, to highlight the innovative voices on these platforms. The VR/Interactive category will feature video games and other works in the field of emergent media.

New Awards! AAIFF44 will present craft specific awards, including Best Editing, Cinematography, and more.

The early bird deadline is February 15, 2021. All submissions must be made before April 15, 2021. For more information and to submit, head to http://filmfreeway.com/aaiff44.

Event Description

COVID-19 UPDATE:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AAIFF44 will be a hybrid festival, primarily virtual with limited in-person events designed for as much safety as possible in New York City. The majority of the virtual programming will be available across North America.

AAIFF has joined Seed and Spark's Film Festival Survival pledge regarding virtual screenings and eligibility. If you held a piece completed in 2019 in hopes for physical screening in 2020/2021 but would like to submit for a virtual screening now in 2021, you are eligible as long as the piece never screened virtually in 2020. More info about the Seed and Spark Film Festival Survival pledge please see https://try.seedandspark.com/film-festival-pledge/.

Some category updates: Digital/New Media has been split up to Digital/Web and VR/Interactive. Digital/Web can include IG Reel/TikTok compilations. VR/Interactive can include video games. More information about the revised categories below.

New Awards! We're adding craft specific awards this year include best editing, cinematography, and more. More information below.

If there are any questions, concerns, or financial assistance requests, please email submissions@asiancinevision.org.

ABOUT AAIFF
The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) is proudly known as "The First Home to Asian American Cinema." Organized by Asian CineVision, it's the first and longest-running festival dedicated to showcasing the moving image work by media artists of Asian descent for and about the Asian diaspora experience. The Festival takes place in New York City, the second-largest Asian American market in the U.S. Every year, AAIFF attracts audiences from all five boroughs of New York City, the tri-state region, and around the world.

Asian CineVision (ACV) is a media arts nonprofit devoted to the development, exhibition, promotion, and preservation of Asian and Asian American experiences through storytelling. Our mission is to nurture and grow the community of makers and lovers of Asian and Asian American independent film, television, and digital.

Films submitted and screened at the festival are eligible to participate in our National Tour program, bringing Asian diaspora stories to broader audiences across North America through a rental service for cultural and educational institutions.

Awards and Prizes

Jury Presented Awards

• EMERGING DIRECTOR IN NARRATIVE FEATURE

• EMERGING DIRECTOR IN DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

• EXCELLENCE IN NARRATIVE SHORT FILMMAKING

• EXCELLENCE IN DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMMAKING

• ONE TO WATCH YOUTH FILMMAKER

• ASIAN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCREENPLAY COMPETITION (AAISC)

• EXCELLENCE IN MUSIC VIDEOS

• EXCELLENCE IN DIGITAL/WEB

• EXCELLENCE IN EPISODIC

• EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE EDITING

• EXCELLENCE IN SHORTS EDITING

• EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE PRODUCTION DESIGN

• EXCELLENCE IN SHORTS PRODUCTION DESIGN

• EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE CINEMATOGRAPHY

• EXCELLENCE IN SHORTS CINEMATOGRAPHY

• EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE SCREENWRITING

• EXCELLENCE IN SHORTS SCREENWRITING

By Audience Votes

• AUDIENCE AWARD: NARRATIVE FEATURE

• AUDIENCE AWARD: DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

• AUDIENCE AWARD: NARRATIVE SHORT

• AUDIENCE AWARD: DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Additionally, AAIFF presents The Asian American Media Award and the Asian Media Humanitarian Award to those who have contributed significantly to Asian American media. Since its inception in 1987, recipients have included:

Wayne Wang (1987); Loni Dong (1988); Christine Choy (1989), James Yee (1990), Steven Okazaki (1991); Mira Nair (1992), Ang Lee (1993); Joan Chen (1994); Kayo Hatta and Freida Lee Mock (1995), Russell Wong (1996); Jessica Yu and Arthur Dong (1997), Michelle Yeoh (1998); Sammo Hung (1999); Andy Lau (2000); Tamlyn Tomita (2001); Marilou Diaz-Abaya (2002); Jet Li and Maggie Cheung (2005); Janet Yang (2012); Kara Wai (2016); and Justin Chon (2017).

Rules and Terms:

Eligible projects include:

•Completed submissions that have at least one person of Asian descent from any nationality in a key creative role i.e. Director, Writer, Producer, DP, etc.

•Completed submissions that represent the Asian diaspora experience.

People of Asian descent includes but is not limited to people from and are descended from areas now known as Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Russia, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, and the Pacific Islands.

CATEGORIES

FEATURES - NARRATIVE

FEATURES - DOCUMENTARIES

SHORTS - NARRATIVE

SHORTS - DOCUMENTARY

MUSIC VIDEOS

ONES TO WATCH: FILMMAKERS UNDER 21

EPISODIC

DIGITAL/WEB

VR/INTERACTIVE

ASIAN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCREENPLAY COMPETITION (AAISC)

WORK-IN-PROGRESS

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What Happened Was (1994) hits virtual theaters starting Friday


The question I've been asking for the last 30 years is why hasn't Tom Noonan been making more films as a director? Noonan's films, I believe there are only, four features are magnificent inde films that are the sort of things that are exactly what you want a really good film- a unique view of the world that doesn't look or feel like a movie but some part of real life. Yes Noonan is an underrated actor but the truth of the matter is he is an unheralded master director whose small chamber pieces kick you in the chest and make you end up talking to your friends for days afterward.

I know about talking about Noonan's films for days afterward. Way back when his first film WHAT HAPPENED WAS came out my friend Lou saw it and fell in love it it.  It was playing at the local art house, then the New Community Cinema now the Cinema Arts Center, and he came back raving about the film. We literally spent hours talking about the film despite my not having seen it. When I saw it the conversations started up all over again as we pulled the film apart and marveled at the wonderful things it was doing.

What the film was doing was laying open the dynamic of a relationship. A man and a woman meet for a date and then things go all over the place as  lies are discovered and truths are revealed. It is part comedy and part heartbreaking look at loneliness and the human condition. Its a beautifully acted piece that is often a hard thing to sit through since it touches on some truths we may not want to deal with. As good as it is, I can't imagine what this would have been like to do on stage night after night since it is a film that has some really raw moments, what would it be like to expose yourself every night?

WHAT HAPPENED WAS is quite simply a masterpiece. Seeing the film again for the first time in over a decade in order to write this piece, I found that it all came back to me. In some ways it was good, because it was a delight seeing an old fiend, but in some ways it was bad because in the 3 decades since it's release I found that I had enough miles under my belt that the film echoed more for me that I would have liked. The result was it's final third hit me like a ton of bricks.

Thirty years on WHAT HAPPENED WAS still haunts me. It is a film that has never left me since I first heard about it. Where so many other films have been lost to the winds of time, It has never disappeared completely. Will you have that reaction  when you see it? Perhaps not but I suspect that it will hit you hard enough you'll want to tell your friends and to search out the other films of Tom Noonan.

WHAT HAPENED WAS has been restored by Oscilloscope and hits virtual theaters beginning Friday

The full version of A WOMAN'S WORK: THE NFL'S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM (2019) hits VOD today

As bad as the NFL treats its injured players it abuses the women who make up the cheerleaders and dance squads even worse. Paid almost no money and forced to sign contracts that call them independent contractors instead of what they are, employees, the women are driven into debt and worse by a system stacked against them.

A WOMAN'S WORK is the story of a woman named Lacy T who sued the Oakland Raiders for all the money she spent trying to remain beautiful. It is also the story of several of the Buffalo Jills cheerleaders for similar unfair employment practices. Its a shocking story that most people don't know about even if they are already aware of the NFL's lack of basic human decency.

The struggle for women to earn a living wage from the NFL is a story that needs to reach far and wide. I've been following the  story since HBO's Real Sports did a segment on the subject. It is nice that the subject is getting a feature treatment since people need to be told that this is going on.

While there is no doubt this isn't as serious as the need to do something about severe brain trauma, the fact that an organization as big as the NFL is screwing over some of it's people, especially ones that are as visible as they are is just wrong. It is a fact that director Yu Gu's film highlights perfectly.

A WOMAN'S WORK will piss you off and as such is a must see.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Up At Night (2019) Sundance 2021


 “As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa's neighbourhoods reveal an unstable environment of violence, political conflict and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, which promises one day to bring a permanent source of energy to the Congo.”- official synopsis 

Ultra-widescreen film gives us the images of a darkened neighborhood in the Congo. Told in a style that often is a triptych  the film puts us into the darkened homes and streets of a neighborhood where electricity isn’t available. 

This is a film you have to be patient with. While the three screens seems to be a showy ploy it quickly fades, especially if you can see this on a large screen into something compelling. Instead of keeping us outside the action it strangely pulls us in with many of the images of triple images making us truly feel like we are there. 

A wonderful atypical look at the world.

Sundance Curtain Raiser


Days away from the start of this year's Sundance and I'm still trying to sort out what form my coverage will take. I've seen a bunch of films, most really good and I'm going to see a bunch more.

This is the first year I am officially credentialed. Its not that didn't want to be previously, but rather until this year you really had to be there. This year its largely a virtual fest so I could stay home and cover it. I was kind of hoping that I could wander in and see it all and then wander out, but the set up is different and I've had to put extra thought and consideration into what I'm doing because I can't see it all - though I'm still trying to make a stab at it.

So far I seem to be making good headway. At the same time so many films are still being worked on that they haven't been ready for anyone outside of the festival committee to see them. I'm still waiting for access to most of the films playing the festival.

While Sundance tends to be the first festival most films play at they do occasionally pick up films from elsewhere. To that end here are the films I have previously covered:

NIGHT OF THE KINGS is one of the best films I saw in 2020
YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND is a loopy scifi short
IN THE AIR TONIGHT is a look at the Phil Collins classic
VIOLATION is a thriller that will curl your toes- just don't read anything about what happens

And what would a curtain raiser be without some must sees - here are the musts from the handful of films I've seen so far:

PLAYING WITH SHARKS-visually over powering film about Valerie Taylor who is singlehandedly responsible for our not seeing sharks as mindless killers. (I should hopefully be running an interview with the director and producer about the film)

SEEDS OF DECEIT  forget the HBO film BABY GOD, this 3 part series about a  fertility doctor who used his own sperm covers similar ground and way more. It will get your mind going and then some.

SOUVENIR SOUVENIR about director Bastien Dubois's effort to find out what happened to his grandfather in the Algerian war kicks up questions about what we know about our families and the secrets we keep.

HUMAN FACTORS is about the course of a marriage centered around a break in at a summer home, but it is much more. I highly recommend you see this film sooner than later because I suspect the talk about it will ruin the chance to see it blind.

ONE FOR THE ROAD- A dying young man asks his friend to return home and help him run some errands making amends. A killer soundtrack heightens one of the most moving films I've seen in years. 

REBEL HEARTS- the story of some nuns in the 1960's who challenged the church and society and did what they felt was right in the name of justice and the advancement of everyone. Look for this to be on the Oscar short list.

And with that I bid you a adieu as I go back to the darkness and try to catch up on all the great films playing at Sundance.

The Night (2020) opens Friday

THE NIGHT is the story of a couple and their infant daughter who leave a party with friends and break down on the way home. Refusing to go back they instead take a room in a hotel nearby for the night. As the night goes on things begin to go sideways and it looks like there is a malevolent force in the hotel with designs on the family.

Kudos to director Kourosh Ahari for making a sweet little thriller. A creepy uneasy tale, the film uses silences and shadows to great effect. It also uses the fact that the film is a mix of English and Persian to further ratchet up the suspense. If you need a good example of why we need voices that are more than just white male, this film is it. While the film seems to be set in America, the mixture of cultures creates a gumbo that spices up everything up since we never know which way things are going to go.

I don’t know what else to say other than when you get a chance to see The Night do so. Get yourself a huge bowl of popcorn and beverage of choice and curl up in your seat and get ready for some winter chills.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Nightcap 1/24/21- The 26th Verse or Nate Hood waxes on Pixar's Soul (plus Slamdance's killer pricing and other random bits)


This piece by Nate Hood originally appeared in the newsletter for the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach.

One of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible is the twenty-sixth verse of the second chapter of Genesis. It happens immediately after God reaches into Adam, plucks a rib, and makes the first woman, Eve, with it. In this wonderful verse, all is well in God’s creation. Man and Woman live together with God in perfect harmony in the Garden, naked, unashamed, innocent. The very next verse introduces the Serpent, and with it a disruption of the Garden’s peace. From there all things rush inevitably towards the Fall. But here in the twenty-sixth verse everything is As It Should Be.

There is, of course, no twenty-sixth verse.

If there was a time of perfect contentment between God and God’s Creation, when all of our needs were met and satisfied, the Bible’s writers thought them irrelevant to the story they sought to tell. I suspect a certain pragmatism on their part, a need to jump straight to the roots of humanity’s current misery and loneliness, our lingering sense of misdirection which so often seems distant from the hand of a loving God. There’s too much sorrow and too little sense in these lives of ours to dwell on a pre-historic time when everything was new and fresh and perfect. 

The rest of Genesis—the rest of the entire Bible, even—is the search for this twenty-sixth verse. Humanity has many names for it: the meaning of life, one’s raison d’être, our “purpose.” But whatever we call it, it’s the intangible something we hope will fill the meaning-sized hole in our lives. Some are lucky enough to find it. Some find their life’s purpose in ministry or helping others. Some teach. Some heal. Some build. Some parent. But Joe Gardner? His twenty-sixth verse is music. Ever since the day his dad dragged him into a murky Manhattan jazz club, he knew the sole reason he was put on this earth was to play the piano. It’s what makes him feel complete, like he’s found his center in this universe, his Peace in the Garden. So he toils away at a thankless job teaching middle school band, gigging and auditioning, hoping he can make it as a musician and finally feel whole.

And then, on the day he gets his dream gig at the legendary Half-Note Club, he falls down an open manhole and dies. This is how Pete Docter’s Soul, the latest film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, opens. From there we watch as Joe’s disembodied spirit struggles to get back to his body in time for his performance. After ducking the line to the Great Beyond, he finds himself stuck in the Great Before, a strange land where pre-born souls are molded and readied for life. Through a series of very odd circumstances, he finds himself back on earth trapped in the body of a cat while his actual body is possessed by 22, a rebellious unborn soul he met in the Great Before who has spent literal millennia trying to avoid being born. All you need to know about 22—who is voiced by Tina Fey—is that she chooses to sound like a middle aged white lady because she believes it’s the most annoying voice a person can have and she loves tormenting others with it.

Joe and 22’s odyssey is one of the stranger ones in recent Pixar movies, due in no small part to the involvement of Docter who’s been responsible for some of the studio’s riskiest and most introspective films. He was the filmmaker who gave us Up (2009) with its opening montage which somehow crammed the entire lives of a married couple from their meeting as children to the man’s lonely widowerhood in five heartbreaking minutes. He also directed Inside Out (2015) which dived into the landscape of a young girl’s emotions for a story which argued that negative feelings are just as important as positive ones as they’re all part of what makes a person a person. Docter’s protagonists seldom seek a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or a princess to rescue from a tower. Instead they find themselves on journeys of self-discovery. They all seek their twenty-sixth verse.

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies in recent years, barely missing the herculean heights of the studio’s golden age in the 00s. There are a couple reasons for this, from its overcomplicated mythos of extra-dimensional zones and intra-dimensional beings to a reliance on slapstick humor that feels like a loss of nerve on the filmmakers’ part, almost like they were afraid their high-concept material would fly over their audience’s head if they didn’t jangle keys in front of them every now and then. And, as many black critics have pointed out, it’s the latest in a depressingly long line of children’s animated films where a black protagonist spends the majority of the film in an animal’s body.

But when Soul is good it’s not just good, it’s great. I won’t give away what happens in the film, but I will linger for a moment on a scene near the end after Joe returns to his apartment after getting his body back. He’s ostensibly gotten his life back in order, attaining the one thing he thought he wanted more than anything else. And yet he still feels unsatisfied. So he puts all the knickknacks and mementos of his whirlwind day on his piano and just…plays. Slowly memories start to wash over him. Good ones. Bad ones. Memories shared with loved ones. Memories spent alone. Memories of boredom and emptiness, of simple contentment in simple things. Light through tree branches. New York City’s skyline. A bite of warm pie. All the things that make Joe a very small part in a very big universe, but one nonetheless so important, so necessary, so loved that his absence caused it to grind to a halt to find him. In that moment Joe realizes that life isn’t our hopes and dreams. Life isn’t our failures or successes. Life is all the moments in-between, no matter how insignificant. The meaning of life is found in its living, and this living is in itself sacred and holy.

I like to think Joe discovered that there is no twenty-sixth verse. We’re all too busy living it.

---

The Sundance Film Festival starts this week, A  curtain raiser will run tomorrow.

There will be no Nightcap next weekend because I will be covering the fest.

---

Slamdance, which runs February 12th to the 25th is only $10 for everything. 

Yes you can see every film playing the festival for only 10 bucks. Considering it always has some of the best films of the year and certainly many of the most interesting you really need to get a pass and binge.

Trust me its such a good deal that it kind of is pointless for me to review anything because you don't have to pick and choose and you won't feel bad if you don't like something you can just move on to something else with no loss.

Details can be found here.

---

The great streaming platform Fandor has been purchased by Cinedigm. It's going to be run by Phil Hopkins who runs the excellent The Film Detective.

This bodes well for the future

9th CIRCUIT COWBOY: The Long, Good Fight of Judge Harry Pregerson hits VOD Tuesday


 Loving portrait of Judge Harry Pregerson who was a long time fixture in the US 9th Circuit Court. He was a thorn in the side of business and the far right to the point that President Trump wanted to break up the 9th Circuit just to try and get rid of him.

A cinematic version of the eulogy/memorial service that is intercut throughout the film, this is a wonderful little documentary that tells you a great deal about the man so many people loved. While far from complete, Pregerson lived well into his 90’s and the film runs only 54 minutes, it still gives you a solid idea of who he was and how he changed things for the better.

One of the things I loved about the film is that you get not just the accomplishments but clues to the way he made change for the better, for example he made people fighting for better sewage treatment realize that it wasn’t a matter of the plant worker intentional making things worse because they wanted to, but rather he forced them to see that the system was broken and that they had to fix that if they wanted an improvement.

Hitting VOD on Tuesday 9th CIRCUIT COWBOY is worth a look

Brief thoughts on the magnificent Irmi (2020)NYJFF 2021


 My God She Could Laugh!

This is the film we need right now. A portrait of Irmi Selver who fled the Nazis only to have her family die in a shipwreck, and then chose to go on full steam ahead. It is a film about going on no matter how bad things get and finding friends and family along the way

This is one of the great films I've seen in 2021. Yea the year is young but IRMI has already taken up residence in my heart. I adore the sense of life that bleeds off the screen, of going her sense of going on despite some truly tragic turns. I love that when the film ends we not only agree with her assessment that she had an interesting life, but that we are left feeling happy having sent time with her.

I love this movie more than I can say.

Highly recommended it is a must see when it closes out the New York Jewish Film Festival 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Slava’s Journey: Secrets of Snow (2020) Russian Film Week 2021


This is a glorious portrait of Slava Polunin and his legendary Snow Show. The man and the show have been touring the world for almost 3 decades bringing joy and wonder to everyone who sees it.

Yes I have seen the show. I saw the show several years back when it played Broadway the first time and I was floored by it. Yes it is a clown show but it is so wonderful and lovely that even if you hate clowns you will be moved to laughs and tears... and then there is the ending- a blinding blistering blizzard in the theater. I have never seen anything like it- ever.

SLAVA'S JOURNEY is magnificent. Part bio, part expose, part performance piece it is not a conventional documentary but more a cinematic attempt at bringing the emotion of the show to the viewer. No it will not reveal the whole show to you, but it will make you feel things like joy and wonder. It will remind you of what the show feels like and make you want to go see it if you haven't. 

Someone walked by while I was watching it and aught part of the film out of the film out of the corner of their eye and stopped. They then watched it over my shoulder, telling me to replay one part of the film again...and again saying "That was lovely I want to see it ne more time"

Yea, it's that kind of a film.

I love this film. It is an absolute delight. It is a film that makes you feel good even as it opens up your mind to something wonderful.

The film plays January 27th as part of Russian Film Week and is a must see. Because it is only 65 minutes the film is running with a Q&A about the film. I highly recommend you see this.

For details and more information go here.

Brief Word On 4 Oscar Contending Shorts

Here is quick word on 4 films that are possible Oscar contenders


WHITE MARE
The story of a young girl in Ireland in the 1970’s who calls home from the hospital where she has placed for conversion therapy to correct her sexual orientation.

This is a very good film that needs to be a feature film. Ten minutes simply isn’t long enough to do this story justice.


EXAM
A girl in Iran a young girl has to make a delivery of drugs before her big exam.

This didn’t quite work. It’s a good thriller but it seems to be wanting to say more with the result it just doesn’t work. Perhaps if this was longer.


REBEL
A young boy goes with his family or white supremacists to  exact vigilante justice on the migrants fleeing the US and the Trump administration.

This is too brief to really work. This is a story that needs to be expanded


BITTU
A young girl has a fight with her best friend in time leading up to a mass poisoning in India. This is a good little film

Over The Moon (2020)

 


Glen Keane's OVER THE MOON is a joy. The story of a young girl who takes a trip to the moon in the wake of her mother's passing.

I have been trying to figure out what to say about the film. Do I give you details or not. I think not because just watching this film go through it's paces is such a delight.

Accused of being a Disney knock off by some critics they seem to be missing the point since Keane was a in the Disney trenches for decades and the Mouse House is in his blood and what the film is is a kind of Disney riff. The rhythms and plot points are similar to what Disney has mass produced for years but with better everything from visuals, characters, songs and genuine sense of heart. To be certain this may be the best film Disney never made, but it also is better than most Disney films of the past decade or two because it has real characters and a genuine joy that you never feel from Mouse House.

I love this film a great deal. It is an absolute wonder that I've revisited a couple of times on Netflix.

See this film and fall in love.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Ariela Rubin's brief thoughts on the short DAVID (2020)


David is an 11 minute short about a man, played by William Jackson Harper, who many will be familiar with from The Good Place, who is very depressed and has an emergency session with his therapist, played by Will Ferrell. During his session, the therapist's son barges in, demanding his attention as well. 

I went into this thinking it was going to be a heavy short, but there was humor and sweetness involved as well. It was thought provoking as well. I really enjoyed it. One of the best shorts I've seen

Family Obligations (2019)

Peter Steele is left spinning by the death of his father. He isn't sure which way is up. Among the things his father left behind was the need for  him to become to become the caretaker for his Uncle Frank. Along the way and with the help of Melanie, a single mom and her daughter he begins to find away back to normalcy.

Kenneth R Frank's FAMILY OBLIGATIONS is a nice little surprise. It is a sweet little drama about life and death and some stuff in between. I say that it is a surprise because it is a film I wasn't planning on reviewing but the chance to see it fell in my lap so, needing a break from a mountain of festival films I gave it a shot.

While the film is most decidedly low budget, a scene in a restaurant looks more like it was filmed in the corner of someone's house, the film makes you forget that because we are among some really great people. We aren't watching characters, rather we are watching real people going through their paces. More than once I groaned an "oh god" because I knew someone exactly like that.

While I cold quibble about a couple of things like the funeral director being a bit to schticky as he leans in to make a point. Or not being certain if Chris Mollica's Peter Steele is a bit too stiff because of the performance or being written as too straight a straight man, none of it matters. Once the film is up and running and we are in the thick of it we really don't care, we just want to see how it all comes out.

While the film isn't going to rattle the pillars of heaven, it is going to give you a really good evening's entertainment with time with some people you will like. And best of all it doesn't feel like a big Hollywood production.

Recommended 

FAMILY OBLIGATIONS is currently available from MBUR Films on Amazon and AltaVOD with HooplaDigital and Blu-Ray coming soon