Thursday, December 1, 2022

Amigo (2019) opens Friday


Best friends and occasional comedy partners Javier Botet and David Pareja go dark in a film that will make you look twice at your best friend. 

After Botet is badly injured in a horrible accident Pareja take him to his remote home to convalescence.  Things are okay at first but slowly the resentments and suspicions begin to rise to the surface and the pair  begin to act out against each other.

Bleak, black, cruel and containing s dash of humor too dark to not get caught in your throat AMIGO is a bold film that may echo other films (MISERY, BABY JANE) but is ultimately a poisoned confection of it's own bloody making. Containing two of the best performances I've seen in years in any film, AMIGO is a stark reminder that we don't need effects or scary music or other cinematic tricks to create absolute tension.  This is a film that, like the best magic, tricks you into thinking it isn't going to show you wondrous because there is nothing flashy on the surface but in reality  was a trick to have you put guard down. 

The casting of Botet and Pareja was brilliant. Not because they play against type (not having seen their comedy I wouldn't know their humor) but rather because being friends they can do things that random actors couldn't. There is a sense of closeness that isn't faked. Additionally because they are friends their is trust that allows them to push the envelope.

Shot in a week and partly ad-libed  the film isn't always perfect with some threads left hanging, the film still packs a punch. I know some will not like the slow burn build up but those that can click with the film and it's pacing will find  themselves in the middle of a deeply troubling film where everyone is a loser.

LOWNDES COUNTY AND THE ROAD TO BLACK POWER (2022) opens tomorrow

I have been trying to write up LOWNDES COUNTY AND THE ROAD TO BLACK POWER since I first saw it, but I couldn’t get anything that did the film justice.  The film is a recounting of the struggle of the people of Lowndes County in Alabama to exercise their right to vote. Despite the fact they were allowed to vote, and outnumbered the whites 4 to 1,  the African American population never bothered try to register to vote since they didn’t want visits from the Klan and other small minded people in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until returning native returned to the county that things began to change. Suddenly people started to band together and make an effort to get registered enmass. That is a simplistic telling of the story, but it’s enough to get you going.

This film is a stunner. The film is a clear indication of the power of groups to effect change. The trick is always not to give up and to vote every chance you get. If you want to know why powerful people want to keep people stupid and away from the polls this film will show you

The power of the story is not in big names but in small people who refused to back down. Yes Stokley Carmichael wanders through the tale, he is not really the focus. The focus is on the people o Lowndes County. This was there fight and they fought it to the bitter end. It’s because  of them that the idea of Black Power and the Black Panthers came into being (though not a in the form we think of today)

This is a great film. It tells the story of a piece of history we all need to know.

Highly
recommended

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Merry And Gay (2022) hits VOD December 1


Two mothers attempt to bring their daughters back into each other's lives. The girls had been best friends and high school sweethearts but drifted apart when one went off to New York and Broadway.

This utterly charming romantic comedy is going to win you over. I know it won me over. This kind of by the numbers romance has charm to burn thanks to the great cast, which sells everything from the first frame.  I fell into it because I just started smiling at everyone going through their paces as they had a grand old time.

To be certain the mother's schtick can be a bit silly but the romance is spot on.  The two ladies at the heart of this tale, Dia Frampton and Andi Rene Chistiansen are a winning pair and I would love to see them paired again. What I love is that you genuinely like both of them, which isn't something you find in most romcoms where one of the lovers is much more interesting than the other. That's not the case here so we have an extra special romance.

What a wonderful Christmas present.

Recommended.

2nd Chance (2022) opens Friday


Portrait of Richard Davis who created the modern bulletproof vest and his company Second Chance. Davis is a man of contradictions with his actions putting just as many people in danger as he saved.

The legend is that Davis turnd to making bulletproof vests after several robberies and his pizza businesses went belly up. Developing a product that could stop a bullet and be light weight he sealed the deal by shooting himself repeatedly. However things turned dark as his crazier nature got him int trouble.

I don't particularly like Davis but I hav to admire his ability to keep going. Things happen and somehow he has largely been able to rise above the shit storm he creates. I was totally hooked by his tale and stared at the screen more intently than many other big titles at Sundance.  This is one of those films where you can't believe what you are seeing. Gtanted he got away with a lot of stuff because he was the big man in town but still...

You have to see this. Its a wild and crazy story that will keep you wondering how this guy isn't broke and in jail.

A must,

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

My Sister's Wedding (2022) The Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival

Kenneth R Frank's MY SISTER'S WEDDING both thrills me and makes me frustrated.  I think this is by far his best  film (both as writer and director). Its a funny film about a young woman trying to survive the titled event. Its a magnificently written film that has a lot of "ah ha" moments of recognition.  At the same time it's a hairs breadth from being a truly great film and that bothers me.

The film follows Allison on the day of her sister's wedding. Trying to sleep in, she finds that the landscaper is using power tools at 6am.  It seems the major domo is trying to get everything on track as early as possible because Allison's parents are so demanding. The day that follows is fraught with unexpected twists and turns as Allison tries to deal with the wedding, quit the family business and deal with all the members of her needy family who have their own agendas. 

MY SISTER'S WEDDING is a funny funny film. Its a film that takes a wedding and turns it into high comedy, while often keeping things close enough to reality that we see our own friends and family in the events playing out. I laughed and groaned at seeing how certain events mirrored ones in my own life. 

If I am to quibble, and I will, forgive me, I find the choice to lean a bit too much into the comedy a misstep.  As good as this film is it could have used a few moments where things were not being played for laughs. The choice is purely the director's since Frank has written a script that walks the the fine line where many sequences can be played as either comedy or drama depending upon how one chooses to shade it. Frank's script compares to Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing which I first read as serious drama and thought it was brilliant, only to see it a short time later on Broadway where is was played as a comedy to differing results. The same script could go either way. MY SISTER'S WEDDING screenplay feels the same way, it could be considered a comedy or a drama or both depending upon presentation. My feeling is that the film's presentation should have had a bit more seriousness because the subject matter ultimately, as all of Frank's scripts, has much more bite than it seems.

Honestly I think Kenneth R Frank needs to make a family drama... or perhaps not because he sense of family might make the film difficult to watch in the best possible way. Yes, I know that's an odd thing to say in the review of a comedy but this film and Frank's earlier FAMILY OBLIGATIONS shows he has finger on the pulse of the human condition in the way few writers ever manage.

My quibble about seriousness aside, MY SISTER'S WEDDING rocks. Its a film that will have you laughing from start to finish.

Recommended.

The film screens Friday, Dec 2 at 3:30 pm at the Port Richey Cinema 6. It’s kind of the second half of an In the Garage Double Feature, with the production company's award winning UFO CLUB playing before it in the same theater at 2:05pm. (Though there is a separate admission charge for UFO CLUB)

For tickets to MY SISTER'S WEDDING go here.

Tantura (2022) opens Friday

This is the review of TANTURA I ran when I saw the film at Sundance

Two weeks before the world premiere I saw the first great film of 2022 and this is it.

Destined to be argued about for years, I am hoping it plays the New York Film Festival in a post Covid world so I can watch the  fireworks of the post screening discussion. 

The film is the discussion of what happened in Tantura in Palestine during the Israeli War of Independence. Officially the Palestinians left of their on accord, though many people, including the people who committed the murders, say a massacre happened.

In an age of spin this is a tale that has been spinning for seven decades. This is the story of a lot of people knowing the truth and but pretending it isn't true. It is a tale where people will gladly tell you what they did  and saw and then say these things never happened. Graduate student Teddy Katz recorded over 140 hours of interviews of the stories and wrote a paper laying out what happened. He was then hounded, as academia and the courts tried to silence him.

The trouble is that in investigating the stories director Alon Schwarz found many of the people interviewed told him the same stories.

This film kicked me in the chest. Not just because its a hell of a story but also because I was trained with an eye toward being a historian. I wanted to do exactly what Teddy Katz did. I wanted to collect stories and tell them. I, unfortunately, went in another direction.

What I love about the film is that in addition to telling the story that Katz pieces together, Schwarz also attempts to explain  why the people of the town  and the Israeli establishment wants the story buried. While some of it has to do with shame, a large part of it  has to do with the fact that some of what was done to the Palestinians mirrored what was done to the Jews in Europe a short time before. As we see in the film, newspapers of the time bent over backwards to explain why this was different than what happened in Second World War.

Schwarz also talks to officials and academics who were against Katz telling his tale. They want a nice and neat past free of messiness.  In the process he introduces us to Yoav Gelber, a professor who has no good words for Katz. He was in the university where Katz was a student and wanted the story to go away. Gelber is hands down the absolute worst historian and academic I have ever run across.  Denying out right  that anything happened and laughing at the suggestion (no, really he finds this funny) he refuses to even look at the evidence.  Never mind that there are hundreds of hours of recorded interviews he totally dismisses all eyewitness testimony as unreliable. While eyewitness accounts can be suspect because of being in the moment, point of view and other factors, it is always vital since it is often only what you have to work with and can steer you toward the hard evidence. Gleber's uselessness as a man of learning completely falls off the table when he says that looking for a mass grave is pointless. Its at this point he goes from a bad historian to the worst. Worse than people who look at evidence and either dismiss it or misinterpret it since they at least looked things over Gelber won't even do that.

What gives this film weight is the clear illustration of the disconnect we humans have. Yes these things happened. Yes people are proud of them, but at the same time they deny they had any part in the events or that the events were as bad as they were. Watch the panel interview with the elderly members of the community who vaguely acknowledge something might have happened but shut down any talk of finding out for certain as if knowing the truth with destroy their reality.

By the time the film ended I was deeply troubled. TANTURA had given me food for thought about many things including our troubled present. If you need a modern parallel look no further than the events of January 6, 2021 when a coup was attempted and now people are trying to retrocon events of it being something else while at the same time telling how proud they were to be trying to over throw a democracy by force.

TANTURA is a great film and easily one destined to be one of the truly best films of 2022.

Monday, November 28, 2022

On the death of Albert Pyun


Albert Pyun has died and we are less for it.

Pyun made a swath of low budget films that delighted the generations who ran across  them in the 1980’s and 90’s who saw them on home video. Pyun’s reputation was made with THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER in 1982. Released to huge box office in 1982 the film  gave the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan a run for it’s money. A mix of old school swashbuckling, magic, breasts and WTF (a three bladed sword that could shoot two) the film was expected to be the start of a series that never materialized.

Pyun soon was making low budget action films, including CYBORG with Jean Claude Van Damme, that delighted audiences who ate up his brand of bone crushing violence, and annoyed the critics. He also made one of my favorite action films, the woefully under seen, NEMESIS about a cyborg cop chasing his ex-partner. It's proof you don't need big budgets and computer generated imagery to rock the pillars of heaven.

Pyun was one of the first directors of the MCU directing the 1990’s CAPTAIN AMERICA It’s a weird rewrite of the character that has great action at the start and end of the film and too much talk in the middle. And while it isn't the greatest film ever made, it helped keep comic book films alive until the MCU could start for real.

Over the years he turned in fifty four films, more than most "great" directors. While some of the films may not have been the best, they were always made with love,  which in this mercenary time is more than many filmmakers can managed. 

More importantly, and the thing that most people discussing the loss of Albert Pyun will not discuss, is that Pyun's film spawned several generation of filmmakers and dreamers.  Say what you will Pyun's work made people dream. Over the last 40 years countless people watched his films and began to dream. In his films they saw something they wanted to do. They formulated stories they wanted to tell and then they went out and gave us their dreams. From their dreams came more dreams and dreamers.  Yes Pyun entertained us, but he also gave us dreams to share, and the knowledge that we could do it too.

He was a one of a kind man and while he will be missed his waking dreams will live on

Dash (2022) hit home video tomorrow

 DASH is  a single take car ride where a ride share drive with lots of troubles has to navigate multiple customers,  many more lovers and some drugs he needs to sell.

I’m not going to say that DASH is the greatest thing since sliced bread but it’s a good little film that I’m glad I saw. I should probably apologize to the filmmakers with what may seem like a cavalier attitude but the truth is that’s what it is. It’s a neat little film.

Its also a film that’s kind of hard to really critique. The  reason is that the “one take” nature of the film makes the film that you either accept and go with or one that makes you crazy.  While I know some people will not like the entire film is shot looking into the car through the front window. There are other people, such as myself, who will be fascinated with  watching how it  all plays out. Wanting to know how they did it make me lean in and get hooked on everything that was transpiring before me.  While there is no doubt that some of it is contrived simply to allow for things to play out as they do and for plotlines to be resolved, I still got invested with the turns. I actually wished I had seen this in a theater where the huge screen would have improved the experience by making it close to sitting on the hood of a car.

While there are some bumps, particularly in that the performances can be uneven, this is still a film that’s worth a look.

Sam Kronish of Reel News Daily on Four Samosas (2022) opens Friday


Sam Kronish of Reel News Daily checks in with this review of a funny comedy.

The first hour of Ravi Kapoor’s Four Samosas is a cheerful, gorgeous delight. The film follows 4 wayward teens across a few days in Artesia, California. Vinny (Venk Potula), an unmotivated amateur rapper going nowhere fast, is the de-facto leader and protagonist. When his ex-girlfriend, Rina,  becomes engaged to his greatest rival (a game, but over the top Karan Soni), Vinny decides to spring into action. Unfortunately, his brilliant plan is to steal Rina’s wedding diamonds from her father’s grocery store, reasoning that the loss of dowry would dissolve the engagement (great plan, no notes!) To execute the heist, Vinny enlists his Bollywood-hopeful best friend, Zak (Nirvan Patnaik). Local reporter Anjali (Sharmita Bhattacharya) and snack-crazed safe cracker Paru (Sonal Shah), round out the squad.

Intentionally or not, there is quite a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson on display here. Certainly in the absurdity of the plot. Think Rushmore meets Ocean’s Eleven vibes. This inspiration is even more present in the strength of the cinematography: color, camerawork, and framing are central to driving the film’s plot. This strength means that relatively few filming locations (a shop, a garage, a street on Pioneer Boulevard, a grassy park) can be leveraged into a true sense of place. These visuals bring Artesia, California, and the lives of the few residents who make up this story, to lush life. This is a film that nails so many of the little details.

The heist scenes particularly benefit from this and are worth the price of admission. Rather than take the Michael Bay approach, Four Samosas relies on characters’ expressions (vs explosions) to convey suspense and comedy. Kudos to the costume designer for some of the biggest laughs.

The script is where the Four Samosas comes up a little short. Every interaction feels like a mix of absurdity and broad exposition. In the early going, this balance holds up (the approach is particularly effective during the heist planning scenes.) After the first hour of the film, the rinse-and-repeat nature of these interactions begins to show through. The scenes between the heist and the film’s conclusion totally lack urgency. This is the rare 80-minute feature that drags.

Kapoor nevertheless manages to land the plane effectively with a sincere conclusion. Overall, Four Samosas is a charming ride. This is a warm, love letter to a community that will leave you smiling.

For more from Sam and Reel News Daily go here.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Emergency Declaration (2021) hits home video Tuesday


As the police are informed that some people think that their neighbor is the guy threatening to do something to an airplane, the same neighbor gets on a flight looking  to do something terrible. The police quickly learn that the man has done something with a horrible disease and have to race to try and find him...just as someone on the flight begins to die horribly.

This is a killer film. Planned to be made at the time that covid shut the world down the filmmakers took the time to tweak their script and production with an eye of making this as realistic as possible.  They wanted it all to be as close to what would happen as possible. It was a move that paid off with an absolute killer thriller. This is a film that is quite simply going to make some people not want to fly.

I was rocked. This film grabbed me from the opening moments and dragged me white knuckled to the end. Yes, I knew some of this was a bit too neat and too formulaic, but at the same time I was so invested  I didn't care. I was willing to follow this anywhere because the cast, which includes greats like Song Kang-ho, and Lee Byung-hung, sells it. You believe because they believe.

I had a blast watching this. I was so in love with this film that I wished I was sitting in a theater with a big bucket of popcorn and a grape Hi-C  and losing myself in the madness. 

What a delight.

Recommended for those who want to take a white knuckle flight.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

It's Nice In Here (2022)

 


Animated film about a police shooting and the aftermath as seen from various points of view.

This is a vitally important look at how everyone sees a tragedy differently. While it is specifically aimed around a police incident, the film is actually speaking to things on a larger level as we see how friends of the victims see them one way (as the friend/family member), the police see them another way (a potential threat in one moment in time) and media still another way (based on how the pundit wants to frame thing). I say this because with the recent shooting in Colorado we are seeing the events portrayed in different ways. 

 This is a moving film that gives us a great deal to think about. 

 Highly recommended

TRUSTED HANDS (2022)


A woman spends time alone listening to a relaxation tape.

This small confection gave me one of the biggest reactions of the year. A quiet tale of relaxation ends up being one of the most disturbing films of the year. I have no idea if that’s what Matthew Levine intended but this film kicked my ass. I have no idea why, but something about the marriage of sound and image is incredibly powerful.

This is brilliant filmmaking. Everything in this film is just masterful. Levine is operating at the highest cinematic levels. The look and feel of the film is similar to the best work of Lorcan Finnegan whose films FOXES, VIVARIUM and WITHOUT NAME are disturbing before anything spooky happens.

This is how you make a horror film.

I’ve seen other films from Levine and I’ve enjoyed them, but frankly TRUSTED HANDS pushes things into a new level. Give this man a seat at the feature film table.

An absolute must see.

Catching Spirits (2022)

 


A young dancer is unaware she has the ability to take in spirits and let them take over her.

Excellent dance film is beautiful marriage of mood and music. The film is an absolute kick in the pants with an ending that had me talking to the screen.

This film is an absolute gem and is highly recommended.

Friday, November 25, 2022

BLOOD IN THE SNOW 2022: Follow Her (2022), Consumer (2022) and Curse of Auroue

 


FOLLOW HER
An actress who live streams the weird encounters she has with people who reply to an ad ends up going to the country to help a writer finish a script for a thriller. However things are not as they seem and soon it all becomes a cat and mouse game.

Ever shifting film is at no point what you think it is. I got to the last frame of the film and I was still waiting for the next twist. Despite what you think this is not a film that you can second guess. One part comedy, several parts thriller and several more social commentary FOLLOW HER is a super film that's an absolute kick in the ass. While you may drift in and out regarding its tone, you will be glued to your seat as the film marches to its conclusion which will leave you rocked simply because its been such a rollercoaster ride of a trip

Recommended


CONSUMER
13 year old girl turns to new consumer product in the hopes of being liked. DArk satire short has a hell of a kick.


CURSE OF AUROUE
Found thumb drive has footage of a trio of filmmakers investigating the story of a dead little girl from the 1920's.

True case meets the found footage genre in a film that never really works. Blame the fact that not a hell of a lot happens over the course the the film. It's lots of talk with small scare attempts at making things creepy, but things don't really come together until the final moments. Blame the light attitude that much of the film has. Also blame the film  frequently subverting its own POV. It's clearly not found footage and it hurts the film.

Disappointing.

AATANK (19??) Thanksgiving Turkey

 


AATANK is a legendary Bollywood film that recently played Fantastic Fest in a restored version. While I’m all for restoring films, this is one I’m not sure this was a wise one that to spend money on.

This mess of a film is started filming in the 1980’s and then was eventually finished a decade plus later. Never mind that the actors aged we just had to go with it. The plot has something to do with gangsters in a small fishing village and it all comes down to a wild final fifteen or so minutes where the hero battles a killer shark who is threatening the livelihood of the village. The battle with the shark really has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but they bend the plot so it kind of does.

You won’t remember anything about the film except those final minutes which are so out in left field that that they are in another dimension. Bouncing between bad models and bad human performances these minutes are some of the most hysterical ever committed to celluloid. I have watched people get hurt from either laughing so hard they cramp up or fall out of their chairs and bang their heads.

I really dislike this film a great deal, and tend to only see the film’s final minutes every now and again when a discussion of truly bad films comes up. Being a masochist I decided to watch the film again for the Fantastic Fest screening and came close to plucking my eyes out of my head. Thankfully I had a cheese grater handy do I just shaved my legs with that to get my mind off the visual pain.

I can’t recommended this film except for the wacky ending.

Bad model work away

DARK NATURE (2022) and FISHBOWL (2022) Blood in the SNow 2022

 


DARK NATURE
Joy is a woman who is still reeling from being in an abusive relationship. Her friend takes her into the woods in order to help her heal by being part of therapy group. However it soon transpires that there is something in the woods hunting them.

This is a good, but probably not to the level it should be ,story story of women fighting an unknown force.  While the cast is game and the idea is very good the execution runs a little too close to some earlier films. The film looks like five or six other films , which I won't name lest I put suggestions in your head, and you keep seeing it follow along similar lines. It also doesn't help that the POV shots of the thing in the woods are standard issue horror movie.

While this may sound like I don't like the film, the truth is I do. This is a solid and entertaining film, that is good enough that you will want it to be better.


FISHBOWL
A rock star has to deal with a fan and his wife.

This is less a genre film than a straight  drama.  Its a good little film thats worth a look.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Polaris (2022) Blood in the Snow 2022


Polaris is a blast.

The film is female centric apocalyptic tale about a world shrouded in an eternal winter. The film follows a young girl who was raised by a polar bear. She is pursued by marauding warriors who like to kill.

A one of a kind film with it’s own vocabulary, this is a film firmly focused on the characters and we are better for it. This is a film we watch because we care about the people rather than just the plot. I say that because the plot line about a run to safety has been done before but it hasn’t been done with characters like this. They are people we like for reasons that are beyond just being heroic.

If you want to know how good this film is consider that its been kicking around genre festivals specializing in films full of blood and guts and gore. While the film does have action and suspense it’s not a typical hard edged film. It is rather just a super small scale dystopian tale that kicks ass.

Highly recommended

BITS 2022: THE DEVILS COMES AT NIGHT, MINDFUL MEDITATION and CRYO


DEVIL COMES AT NIGHT
This is the story of a boxer who is forced to fight a cult while he is stuck at his father's house.

I'm not going to do a full review for this film. I liked what I saw but the version I saw was unfinished. Sections were marked as temporary and the audio was uneven. 

What I saw was good enough I want to see the finished version. Tune in when the film plays The Super Channel


MINDFUL MEDITATION 
A short short about a woman meditating. Its good but a bit too short


CRYO
Five people wake up from a cryo sleep uncertain of where they are or how they got there. Someone or something begins to kill them.

Wildly over long scifi mystery thriller is long on talk and short on everything else. Actually that's not true the central idea of what is going on and which is revealed ear the end is really good, however there is a very good chance you'll have tuned out well before the end. Intentionally obtuse until it isn't this film would have been better streamlined  and about half it's length.

While not bad the pay off isn't worth two hours of your time.

Battle for Siapan (2022)


During the Battle of Siapan an American hospital is over run by the Japanese and a medic must fight to save the patients and staff.

Entertaining war film keeps things moving along at a nice clip. Sure it hits many of the expected plot points but at the same time the film has enough shading that war film and action fans are going to be delighted.

If anyone is going to bitch about the film they are going to go after the films lack of a budget. I can kind of understand that since trying to do justice to one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the Second World War on a budget is not the smartest idea (more so since the film ends with actual footage of the battle).  At the same time it's not really a fair thing to do since the cast and crew are game and they are doing the best they can.

Ultimately this is a solid popcorn film and recommended for those who want something small scale.

l’Odge d’Oor (2022) Thanksgiving Turkey

 


Painfully unfunny philosophical meditation on life and meaning done in a surrealist style that mixes genres. 

Low brow humor mixes with high brow ideas and the result is a mess. I stared at the screen wondering what in the hell I was looking at. Characters come and go and there is a lot of sex. I'm not really sure why other than we get to see some naked and half naked people (and who are the only reason to see this film).

I got nothing beyond that.  This is one of those turkey's that isn't worth discussing except to mention the name so you know to avoid it.