Friday, October 19, 2018

Virgin Blacktop (2018) Margret Mead Film Festival 2018

Virgin Blacktop is a great film. This unexpected delight is one of the highlights of the year and a must see at the Margret Meade Film Festival.

The film is a chronicling of filmmaker Charlie Samuels‘ teen years when in the early 1970’s discovered skateboarding and formed friendships with a bunch of equally smitten friends. It is a joyous celebration of the best things about sports and their ability to bring joy and friendship. It is also a perfect explanation of what it was like to skateboard in the 70’s-before the Internet where the only way you knew what was going on was the monthly Skateboarder magazine or managing to run into other skateboarders. Any tricks you learned you taught yourself.

For me, a guy close in age to the men in the film, it was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Their explanations of what it was like is exactly how it was- or how I remember it. Transcending the skateboard culture this is a beautiful snapshot of what life was like in the 1970’s. This was what it was like to hang out with a bunch of guys and do what you love.

That the film works as well as it does is thanks to the films subjects. Samuels and his friends are just great guys and natural storytellers. Their stories, illustrated by old 8mm and Super 8 film of the guys skating make it all come alive. This is magic of the highest order.

This is one of my favorite films of the year.

Highly recommended

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Big Kill (2018)

If you want to see a really good film that is going to be on almost no one's radar then make an effort to see BIG KILL a surprisingly great little western that has hit theaters.

The plot of the film has two roguish gunfighters hooking up with a tenderfoot who is heading to the town of Big Kill in Arizona. Never mind that no one has heard of it it's supposed to be a boom town with a silver mine. In reality its a dying town lorded over by a deranged preacher.

A beautifully crafted little gem of a film, BIG KILL shines thanks to a solid script and a first rate cast to bring it to life. While Danny Trejo and Michael Pare are barely in it for three minutes despite the above the title billing, the rest of the cast from Jason Patric as the preacher, Lou Diamond Phillips as his ally to Christoph Sanders, Scott Martin and Clint Hummel as the heroes are all first rate. What I like about the film is that it doesn't rely on action to survive.  Yes there are shoot outs and explosions of violence but first and foremost its about the characters which makes the action all that more exciting since we care about who survives.

How good is BIG KILL? I would gladly line up for a sequel.

Now in theaters BIG KILL is highly recommended.

Change in the Air (2018)

A young woman who seems to get more mail than she could ever hope to read moves into a quiet neighborhood and shakes things up.

I was not going to review this film but some two weeks after see it I find I’m still pondering what the hell that film is all about. I mean that in a WTF sort of way. This is an intentionally confusing film that is supposed to make us wonder who exactly the young woman is. Is she an angel or just a person? We don’t …. And I don’t think either director writer Audra Gorman or director Dianne Dreyer knows either and as a result we are are left confused.

Actually the whole affair is confused as the great cast (Macy Gray, Adian Quinn, Olympia Dukakis, Mary Kay Place, M Emmett Walsh) circles each other and got through their paces. Going back and looking at my notes I wasn’t really clear as to who everyone was and what was going on beyond the mystical. There is a sense that the cast knows who is who and what is what but one of it is comes off the screen. Admittedly part of the confusion late in the game might be my own fault since I stopped paying strict attention, but at the same time some of this should have been clearer from the start.

In a weird way watching the cast go through their paces was comforting but at the same time its about as compelling as the stuff you put on as background noise while you clean the house- you know the sort of thing you put on just to erase the silence.

Cast aside, not worth the effort

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Crazy Ray (1923)

Rene Clair's first film as a director  is a lovely rambling film about a scientist who freezes everyone on the ground in Paris with a new ray. Those who were above it end up wandering the city with deserted and frozen people.

A small trifle of a film it has much of the whimsy that can be found in Clair's later films. While far from great it is entertaining and it's clear why the film as survived the 95 years since it was made.

To be honest the real joy of the film now is you are here now cinematography which has the characters wandering around an empty Paris. Particularly wonderful is the sequences shot on the Eiffel Tower. To say that no one would be allowed to shoot from the tower in a similar fashion is an understatement. The images are simply arresting and a must see.

Recommended

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Margaret Mead ’18: Eastern Memories

It is easy to speculate why Finnish linguist and diplomat Gustaf John Ramstedt had such an affinity for the Mongolian language and people. He started his field research at a time when Finland was a satellite of imperial Russia and Mongolia was controlled by China. Finland would achieve its independence after the 1917 revolution, but alas, Mongolia would essentially trade Chinese hegemony for Soviet domination. Ramstedt’s heart remained in Mongolia, but he served his country with distinction as its ambassador to Japan (and Manchuria). Passages from Ramstedt’s memoir contrast with hugely cinematic contemporary footage in Niklas Kullström & Martti Kaartinen’s Eastern Memories, which screens during the 2018 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Ramstedt regretted the time away from his family, but he was still an eager and dedicated scholar, who found the Mongolian language an endlessly rich research subject. In contrast, he was a reluctant diplomat, but his facility with languages and big picture knowledge of Russian and Chinese politics made him quite effective in the post.

In both capacities, Ramstedt saw the two countries enter the modern era, but one was dragged there rather awkwardly, while the other willingly jumped head first. Although it may not be their intention, Kullström & Kaartinen’s documentary visibly illustrates how Japan’s capitalistic approach contrasts so dramatically with the socialism imposed on Mongolia for years. Despite the apocalyptic earthquake of 1923 and a devastating war that culminated with two atomic bombs dropping on major cities, Japan has a thriving economy and a high standard of living. In contrast, Mongolia is pockmarked with the bighted ruins of failed industrial projects.

Yet, ironically, the Mongolian segments are far superior, because they are more focused and the visuals of the steppe are even more arresting than Shinjuku by night. There are still plenty of impressive images seen during the Japanese segments, but the film periodically wanders from Ramstedt’s narrative into navel-gazing cultural commentary.

Ramstedt’s life story would indeed make a fascinating narrative film. Frankly, there are still lessons to be had from his insights into Soviet imperialism. Michael O’Flaherty’s authoritative yet strangely warm voice nicely brings Ramstedt’s words to life. Plus, Kullström’s striking cinematography makes Memories quite an accomplished technical package. Highly recommended as a viewing experience and as food for thought, Eastern Memories screens this Friday (10/19) as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival, at the American Museum of Natural History.

Margaret Mead ’18: Her Words (short)

In the poor and remote Jiangyong prefecture of southern China, they are mostly okay with Lisa See’s depiction of their culture in her novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but they are not so hot about Wayne Wang’s film adaptation. They cite various inaccuracies (as well as a possible but not very pronounced lesbian subtext), but the fact one of the main characters was portrayed by a Korean actress probably did not help much either. Regardless, the book and film brought considerable attention to the secret form of writing practiced by local women kept otherwise illiterate by the customs of the time. This new interest is quite the double-edged sword judging from Jing Liu’s informative short doc, Her Words, which screens as a selection of the 2018 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

During the first half of Words, we meet Yanxin of He Yuan village, the oldest living Nushu writer—that would be Nushu in its original form. Sadly, her Laotong “sworn sisters” all died relatively young, leaving her little use for the secret language handed down by Chinese women for centuries, up until the post-1949 era. At that point, girls were finally allowed to attend school (but they were also sent into the fields to work).

Yanxin still does not think much of Nushu, except as a reminder of all her suffering. Nevertheless, a steady stream of academics regularly pestered her for their research. After the release of Snow Flower in China, there was a mini-boom in Nushu related tourism. Unfortunately, various levels of government started butting in. The authentic Nushu songs and poems were deemed too sad and depressing, so new melodies were commissioned to liven them up.

The Chinese Communist regime is not known for its respect for local cultures, but the cosmetic surgery they are trying to perform on Nushu is Orwellian in the extreme. The whole point of Nushu was to give a voice and an outlet to women suffering from ill-treatment in loveless arranged marriages. Bastardizing their voices and their means of expression is frankly despicable. It also seems utterly pointless and misguided even from a pure propaganda standpoint, because in this case, the CP can honestly claim to have provided educational opportunities for young women like the Nushu writers—at least until they turned schools into a sick joke during the Cultural Revolution.

As a film, Her Words is largely a straight work of reportage, but Jing Liu does a very nice job conveying a sense of Yanxin’s village and the surrounding environment. Viewers will feel like they visited He Yuan themselves after watching it. Her talking head experts also quite cogently explain the controversies surrounding the current Nushu industry, as it might be called. This is a thoughtful and balanced film that ought to be seen by a wide audience. Highly recommended for anyone interested in traditional forms of Chinese culture, Her Words screens this Friday (10/19), with Ciao Babylon, as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Nigerian Prince opens Friday

NIGERIAN PRINCE premiered at  Tribeca earlier this year. With the film opening Friday here is the piece I filed when I saw it back in April.

Faraday Okoro's first film as director is a nice calling card for the future. While I personally wasn't in love with the film, son't get wrong I do like it, others at the screening I attended raved about it.

Written up badly in the promotional material as the story of an American teen sent to Nigeria to visit relative to learn about his culture who gets hooked up with his cousin who is a scammer. This is really about the cousin who gets in over his head with the corrupt chief of police who wants a huge pay-off not to kill him. The American kid story is the least part of the film, existing only to act as a kind of deus ex machina late in the game. Frankly the kid is a spoiled brat and the sort of person even a pacifist would strangle with no second thought.

When the film focuses on the man in danger this is a gangbuster film that is not going to win any awards for tourism to Nigeria. There is a real sense of place and of danger that puts the film over. It also boasts a great cast at the top of its game.

Most assuredly recommended

Monday, October 15, 2018

Margaret Mead ’18: Ethiopiques—Revolt of the Soul

The only thing that can ruin good music is politics. In the late 1970s, Ethiopia had some of the world’s best music and the ugliest politics. For a while, it seemed like the music might be lost, but an intrepid record collector would wait out the Socialist Derg regime, in order to bring the country’s sounds to the wider world. The groove will not be denied in Maciej Bochniak’s Ethiopiques: Revolt of the Soul, which screens during the 2018 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Frankly, Amha Ashete was already defying the old regime when he started producing sessions of Ethiopian music without official approval of the emperor. However, nobody responsible for enforcing the law hassled him. Technically, he even had to smuggle his own records into the country, but the customs inspectors looked the other way (in exchange for comp copies). However, everything changed following the civil war and the ascension of the Soviet backed Derg junta.

Amha happened to be abroad when they consolidated power, so he stayed in exile based on his family’s advice (those who remained did not fare so well). Eventually, Amha also had success in America as a restauranteur and night club owner, but he assumed his career in music was over. Then he met Francis Falceto, a French record collector, who developed an evangelistic interest in Ethiopian music. (It is hard to blame him, considering how infectious this blend of jazz, funk, and highlife-esque music sounds.) He was determined to reissue Ashete’s sessions on CD, but the expatriate producer insisted they had to wait for the fall of the Stalinist regime, so the artists would not be subject to state reprisals and could freely share in the proceeds.

Of course, it eventually happened (weren’t the late 1980s just the best time ever?). Falceto’s Ethiopiques series became a cult hit that grew into a crossover sensation. It was a rockier process for the musicians to restart their performance careers, but that too largely came to pass, albeit after a few false starts and short-term hiatuses. Yet, the shy but eminently respected Girma Beyene was left out of the revival. The third act of Bochniak’s stirring doc captures his overdue comeback.

You can never go wrong with a film that sounds as good as Ethiopiques. As an added bonus, Bochniak also makes it rather stylish visually as well, incorporating evocative photo-real-animated segments to recreate the milestones of Ashete’s career. He also captures some live performances that should definitely get everyone’s toes tapping.

It is fitting that the Ethiopian musicians who were oppressed under Communism are now documented by a Polish filmmaker and a largely Polish crew. While Bochniak was a young child under Communism, he presumably still has a sense of how things were from his family and colleagues, which would help him relate to his subjects. He also clearly trusts their music to hold viewers interest, which fans will appreciate. The result is a terrific music documentary that is probably doomed to be dubbed the Ethiopian Buena Vista Social Club, but deserves it own identity. Very highly recommended, Ethiopiques: Revolt of the Soul screens this Friday (10/19), as part of the Margaret Mead Film Festival, at the American Museum of Natural History.

Sinister Capsules SINS OF ROME and TRIP TO MARS (1918)

Sins of Rome
Almost a decade before Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas took on Spartacus a version of the story was produced in Italy where it ran roughly one third as long. Differing in a lot of ways from the Kubrick film Sins of Rome still scores thanks not only to the differences but also a real visual sense. Feeling very much like it is the real world and not Hollywood’s idea of it the film has a lovely lived in quality. While the dubbing is adequate the underlying performances are fine and compelling. Recommended.

Trip to Mars (1918)
This is a story about a trip to Mars which finds the planet inhabited by peaceful people.
Interesting if dated film looks good and is an intriguing footnote in the history of space travel films. The film is full of point and shoot sequences and tableaux that give the film and quasi-epic feel that make the film feel much more static than it should. Worth a look for silent film fans and those with an interest in the history of science fiction films, but for others it’s going to be a little going a long way

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Thoughts on why the smaller festivals are more important than the big ones

With the New York, Bushwick, Brooklyn Horror and Heartland Film Fests all ending to day I wanted to share something I put up as a series of tweets. This was done a week or so ago and came out the realization that as good as the big fests are at show casing big films they are actually missing so many of the best films. I say that because having just covered a number of smaller fests, and specifically Bushwick, I realized the best films, the more challenging and innovative films are not playing the big rooms but the small ones. (Sorry NYFF this year you were kind of dull and way too staid)

Yes, the big fests can promote the hell out of films with backing but they aren’t getting the films that are shaking the pillars of heaven and which show the path to a new cinema. I’m sure they will show a “groundbreaking film” a couple of years after a small filmmaker’s groundbreaking film has had a chance to have been raided by a better known filmmaker.

I’m sorry if that is cynical but it’s true. I am seeing way too many good films that are being missed because the filmmakers can’t get into the big festivals. The big fests need to change that or they are going to rapidly find themselves behind the curve.

What follows are my thoughts on how the big festivals can change that. Of course they won’t listen- but regardless I have to say it because maybe, just maybe someone will and the game changing films will get seen.


Once again the small film festivals are screening the best and most interesting stuff.

I kind of would love to have a big festival in New York that takes all the best stuff found by all the programmers of all the small fests around the city and country and plays them in one place

I know Unseen Films is kind of like that with all the films we review- but we need to get the films seen- the docs, the features and the shorts- we need to get more people watching these films and falling in love with all the kick ass directors we have found over the years

I was just watching some films from Bushwick Film Festival and wondering why aren't they at bigger festivals, why aren't they on more peoples radar. Yes they maybe a bit imperfect but they are altering how we see life and the genres they are working within.

‏No offense to the bigger fests but if you want to show how the cinematic forms are being altered and made exciting you have to go away from the big name fests and find the small gems.

What a festival like the New York Film Festival needs to do is set up a whole inde sidebar- don't take submissions- just send one or two or three people out to all the festivals across the country- and have them watch the films- just go and watch-and make notes...then take the notes and come back and put together a sidebar of films- put it together and say these are the really cool films you haven't heard of but which we think are doing something special, To hell if they played NYC before- just find great films and show case them

We need a big established festival to go out and find these small gems and these unique voices and bring them all together on a big stage year after year and show the mainstream people what kickass people are out there ...

... and by kickass people I mean every director and producer and writer and actor and whatever, who has believed in their work so much that they took a shot and made a film and gotten it out there for the world to see - and then fought to get it seen- you all know who you are

All of your voices need to go big- you all need to play the big rooms and meet new people not just crazy people like me and the other Unseen crew who search out the gems, but the vast crowds of cineastes and film fans who have no clue as to what they are missing.

Please NYFF or Tribeca or Toronto or where ever find some people to go out and find the films that don't meet your normal guidelines, that are too poor to pay your entry fees but which are good or interesting and need to be seen.

Trust me- as the mad brain behind a website that reviews around 1000 films a year there are great films you aren't seeing because you aren't looking. You can't just take what comes up to your doorstep- you need to go out and look. (Hell I find some of the best films because they come looking for me.)

You need to look because you all claim to be showing us the best of the best and the state of film today but you're really not.
Be bold be daring send off some missionaries to find some glorious small films trust me-you will change the face of film forever for the better for real

And as for you film fans- go to the small fests go to Bushwick and Brooklyn and Camden and Brooklyn Horror and Ithaca Fantastik or whatever festival that's near you and root around because odds are you are going to find things you never thought possible

Trust me I know- I've seen the most amazing things- only now you need to see them too

Anissa 2002 (2018) Bushwick Film Festival


Anissa is being brought by her parents to Morocco for her wedding. Never mind she is 16, and doesn’t want to go, her parents have determined it's time. When she asks her mother about love she is told it wasn’t important and will only find love when she has her children. This doesn’t sit well with the girl who runs off and holds up with two English men who are renovating a house.

This is a solid little film. I would love to see it expanded to full feature length. While this 48 minute gem does what it has to do before getting off, there is a great deal of territory it could explore if it wanted to. This is a film that wonderfully explores the crash of cultures as a young Muslim woman who is living Europe with all its hopes and possibilities is suddenly confronted with forcibly going back to a place where all of that will go away. How would you react? Watching the film my mind went spinning and I kept wanting to know more about the world that was bleeding off the screen.

One of the best films at the Bushwick Film Festival it is highly recommended

For tickets and more information go here

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Trying to explain my feelings for At Eternity's Gate (2018) NYFF 2018

"Are all painters insane?"- asylum inmate
"Only the good ones"- Vincent van Gogh

Julian Schnabel's AT ETERNITY'S GATE was hands down my favorite film at the New York Film Festival. A film that uses the life of Vincent van Gogh to ruminate on painting, art, creativity and the need to express one's self at all costs. It left me sobbing and unable to speak at it's conclusion. Sitting in the darkness as the end credits rolled I prayed no one would ask me what I thought lest my voice crack and I start uncontrollably crying. Hubert did ask me near the end and I simply croaked "My favorite of the fest"

Not a biography but an descent into a headspace the film puts us visually and aurally into the head of van Gogh. This means what we see and experience is what he does. There is nothing outside of it so we are not given details unless it is something he sees or thinks. It is a film where the whole point is to get you to see the world through his eyes and ears, not to give us history. This is Vincent living life and battling with what he feels and how he experiences life and art.

Frankly this is a film you have to work with. If you go in expecting a straight forward narrative you will be disappointed. While it moves through time it doesn't even try to tell Vincent's physical life. It is his internal one. The dialog is not so much dialog but statements of position about art and life and the questioning of it as van Gogh tells us what he thinks of the world and everyone, except his brother Theo, challenges his notions. This is a film that tries to explain what it is like have the burning desire to create at all costs. It is something that van Gogh is forced to explain to everyone-all of whom, Theo and Gauguin excepted, fail to understand.  If you've ever felt the need to create when there is so much else you should be doing, or if you find that your only happiness is when you are making "art" then you will connect to the film, if not you maybe lost.

Most of the film is visual or impressionistic. Vincent's view is often hazy, the bottom of the screen often out of focus. Colors are heightened in places and we are made to feel joy and pain through image and sound. Yes we are seeing events but framed in such away to make us feel. Schnabel's images moved me to literally the point of tears as I could feel what Vincent was feeling thanks to the perfect casting and perfect performance of Willem Dafoe as van Gogh. Dafoe has it all written on his face and in hie eyes and it crushed me.

Everything in this film overwhelmed me because it perfectly expressed what I feel about what I create. To me this film is one of the greatest expressions about creation I've ever seen. This is what I feel when I write or draw or make a film.

And I know most people won't see it that way. In away it is like tying to experience what it is like to be someone else without actually being in that persons body. Not everyone can make that connection because they are simply not wired that way. Some people can not make the connection fully because Schnabel's film trip the "sensors" that would allow the connection- their vocabulary isn't the same sort of like if a cat tried to explain to us what it is like being a cat. I spoke with a couple of people about the film and they could intellectually understand what the film was but they couldn't connect emotionally.

For the film to work you have to realize tha is a film that requires you to give yourself over to it and let it do what it wants to do. It is a film that is not truly intellectual but emotional.  Art like van Gogh's isn't something you intellectualize but something you feel. It's the reason why I cry every time I see Starry Night in person, it, like AT ETERNITY'S GATE speaks to me somewhere beyond words. It is a film that doesn't act and behave like a normal film. It is not something you can think about and try to piece together- rather it is one that has to wash over you and claw into your heart. It is a work that has to be felt and experienced for what it is.  You can't think about it you have to live it.

Frankly I can completely understand why some people don't like it, or like it in pieces or are confused by it. Intellectually I see all the problems- but emotionally I don't. Emotionally I feel it deeply, even the imperfections which simply add to it's beauty.

To me AT ETERNITY'S GATE is a cinematic masterpiece and a piece of high art. I feel it in ways that I feel few films. I do not expect you to like it or get it, not everyone gets van Gogh's work either. That's fine. For me it is something special, something I will treasure forever, which right now is enough.

The problem that is My Name is Myeisha (2018) Bushwick Film Festival 2018


Myeisha drifts in in a dream and contemplates her life in the instant she dies.

If you want to see a film that has some of the best moments you will see in any film this year but which never quite pulls them all together then you must see MY NAME IS MYEISHA.  A free flowing dream of a film this film takes the musical form we know and shakes it up to make something special. In all seriousness once the dream begins the various bits of Myeisha's tale sing and move and explode delightfully until the ending which is suitably shocking and unnerving.

The thing is that watching the film is kind of infuriating because the pieces don't wholly work together, I was delighted as each piece came on the screen...but annoyed because the pieces didn't seem to flow together. The bits seem to collide into each other as the differing styles and looks banged into each other.

The film moves exactly like the way a theater piece moves. In theater you can walk across different spaces and times on the stage because of the constraints of the space, doing so on film is a bit trickier because there are no constraints. That's a statement which makes perfect sense since the film on stage you are forgiven because of obvious limited space but on screen you have to make it work. MY NAME IS MYEISHA  started life as a play so the drifting would have been more natural but on screen not so much. 

I have to applaud director Gus Krieger for keeping playwright Rickeby Hind's rhythms and sense of life but at the same I wished he  had found the key to create a way to link up all the bits cinematically. I'm guessing this kicked ass on the stage.

And you need to understand that I don't hate the film, I really like it- hell as I said at the top some of th moments are the best in any film I've seen all year, but I'm just frustrated that the whole isn't as good as the parts because I really wanted to love the film.

Ultimately if you want to see a good attempt at reinventing the musical, that has a very serious point about life, and you don't mind some bumpiness search out MY NAME IS MYEISHA when it plays tomorrow at the Bushwick Film Festival

For tickets and more information go here

Friday, October 12, 2018

Nate Hood on Ash is Purest White (2018) NYFF 2018

As the foremost cinematic chronicler of China's pained transformation into global economic superpower, each new film by director Jia Zhangke labors under the weight of certain critical expectations. It's not enough for his films to be good--which they almost always are--they must be good STATEMENTS on the state, both literally and figuratively, of modern China. What is to be done, then, when Zhangke comes forward with a film that deliberately subtextualizes metaphor and allegory in favor of traditional genre tropes? Not that his new film ASH IS PUREST WHITE is apolitical: the doomed romance of a small-time gangster and his girlfriend set against the backdrop of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the film eulogizes the loss of traditional Chinese society in the face of rapid industrialization.

Like many of the best American and Japanese gangster movies, the film opens by examining a principled criminal underclass quickly being supplanted by a new generation of violent, amoral upstarts. When we first meet gangster Bin (Liao Fan), he's content to be the big fish in the little pond of Datong, a tiny coal mining village in north Shanxi. Like a dime-store Vito Corleone, he holds court in his mahjong parlor, all the while doting on his lovely girlfriend Qiao (Tao Zhao). But after the death of one of his associates, the ensuing power vacuum leads to his assault by a gang of wannabe street punks. Only the quick intervention of Qiao wielding his illegal handgun frightens them off--but at the cost of five years in prison. When the five years are up, she finds that Bin not only hasn't waited for her, but has moved to the neighboring province of Hubei at the foot of the Three Gorges Dam with a new girlfriend. Determined to confront the man who abandoned her, she embarks on a journey stretching across both time and the 600 miles between provinces.

Here ASH IS PUREST WHITE shifts into romantic melodrama, one perhaps featuring gangsters, but a romantic melodrama nonetheless, at times aping the emotional interiors and pregnant silences of Wong Kar-wai. This remoteness counter-intuitively foregrounds Qiao's emotional journey, shuffling Zhangke's statements on community displacement, the evolution of communication technology, and the collapse of classic Communist society behind it. It's an excellent, if languid, genre exercise. But this specificity dooms it to a reputation as a minor work. The almost non-existent festival buzz at NYFF apparently agrees.

The Waldheim Waltz (2018) NYFF 2018

A look back at the undoing of former secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim when he ran for leadership of Austria. Though narration and film and video from the campaign we watch as Waldheim's Nazi past came back to haunt him.

I am very mixed about THE WALDHEIM WALTZ. While I went in very interested in the subject and while I was very attentive for a bout half the running time, my interest began to wane as I realized that the exclusive use of archival footage wasn't going to give me any grand new insight. I remember following the story when it was transpiring so I saw some of the footage and heard a good number of the arguments Waldheim used to keep his head above water. For me there wasn't a great deal new here.

On the other hand in light of recent political happenings in the US, particularly the confirmation of Brett Kavenaugh as member of the Supreme Court it becomes clear that our pasts will never stop haunting us and that our misdeeds will cost us. One can see the parallels in that the old Nazi said he wasn't there and it's not what you think in the denials by Kavenaugh in that he wasn't there and it wasn't what you think.For me the interest in the film returned as I saw the two stories echoed. Hopefully we will see the parallels play out to the end with the Supreme Court Justice meeting a similar ignoble end.

Worth a look if you don't know what exactly happened or want to see why this story has relevance in todays world.

Don't Be Nice (2018) Bushwick Film Festival 2018

Don’t Be Nice follows a team of young New York City Slam Poets as it prepares for and competes in the National Poetry Slam. It is filled with great people and even greater poetry

Unfortunately it is a film that has given me mixed feeling towards it.

While the film is filled with stunning poetry from the first frame to the last, the film is much too conventional in its telling. There is nothing in how the story is told to make the film stand out. Yes there are some flashy bits at the start, but once the quest to the Nationals happen the film settles in to a style that has been done to death. There is nothing here to set it apart from any of a thousand other films.

While the presentation isn’t anything special the people and poetry in the film are. The chance to spend time with all of the poets and hear their words spill from the screen is what makes Don’t Be Nice a film to see. Watching how the pieces were created is wonderful and the desire to see the finished pieces performed is what holds our attention.

If you love great poetry and sterling word play then you must make an effort to see Don’t be Nice. Trust me when all is said and done the words will be rining in your ears long after the images have faded.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The DOC NYC press release announcing its full slate

If you are seeing this on the front page of Unseen FIlms you'll notice this is really short and no list of films that is because the press release is really long- with the film list just taking up 21 pages. Click on the read more to see the whole press release. (If you've followed a link here- just ignore this bit)

Margarethe von Trotta: The Political Is Personal Starts Fri November 2 at the Quad

The Quad celebrates the work of German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta in conjunction with her new documentary Searching for Ingmar Bergman

After coming of age in post-WWII Berlin and studying art, Margarethe von Trotta followed her burgeoning cinematic interests to France, where she immersed herself in the films of the French New Wave of the early 1960s and flourished among fellow cineastes. She returned to West Germany to raise a family and be part of what she hoped was a German New Wave, initially as an actress. But her own creative instincts would take hold, as would the impulse to be the change that she wanted to see—namely, be a female filmmaker in a country short on them. Von Trotta began collaborating with husband Volker Schlöndorff on screenplays and then as an assistant director and finally as a co-director before making her own films and later forsaking acting altogether. Her films increased serious representation of women’s stories while engaging with overtly political material, and in depicting the nature of female identity and multi-faceted relationships between women, von Trotta never shied away from tough emotional terrain. This retrospective spans a decade to encompass her first half-dozen movies as director, which extended the renaissance of the German film industry into the 1980s—and in providing dramatic banquets for some of the country’s best actresses.

Titles include: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, Marianne & Juliane, and Rosa Luxemburg. Full lineup and schedule to be announced.

REEL RECOVERY FILM FESTIVAL Celebrates 10th Year in LA - OCT 24-30

Who: WEBSITE FOR INFO: ReelRecoveryFilmFestival.org
What: REEL RECOVERY FILM FESTIVAL & Symposium- 10TH ANNIVERSARY
When:  OCT 24 - OCT 30
SCREENING TIMES: Thursday 1-8, Friday -Tuesday 2-8, Last film is at 8:00pm
Where: LAEMMLE ROYAL THEATER - 11523 Santa Monica Blvd 1st floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets via BrownPaperTickets:  https://m.bpt.me/event/3594892

About:
The Reel Recovery Film Festival & Symposium presented by Addiction Policy Forum and Writers In Treatment will launch in Los Angeles, from October 24th through October 30th at Laemmle’s Royal Theater. There will be an opening night reception at Reception at Safir, A World Class Mediterranean Restaurant. Please RSVP for opening night coverage asap. Press passes for the festival can be arranged.

Reel Recovery Film Festival reaches a major milestone as we enter the 10th year, celebrating film and the arts through films depicting addiction, alcoholism, mental health issues, treatment and recovery. The week-long festival showcases more than 50 short, documentary and feature films.

OPENING NIGHT - Wednesday, October 24th - 5:00pm
In Los Angeles, starting Wednesday, October 24th, the 10th Anniversary opening night festivities will feature two films and an Opening Night Reception at Safir, West LA, a World Class Mediterranean Restaurant.

Beginning at 5:00pm the first film is a short titled, Cleaner Daze, directed by Tess Sweet (Q&A with director following) then at 6:00pm, guests will attend the Reception at Safir followed by more film programming with the tragic yet awe-inspiring feature  Andy Irons: Kissed By God at 8:00 pm.

CENTERPIECE FILM - Friday, October 26 - 8:00pm
On Friday, October 26th, at 8pm is the centerpiece film, Eric Clapton: A LIfe in 12 Bars.  The award-winning music-documentary directed by Lili Fini Zanuck for Showtime, is look at the life and work of guitarist Eric Clapton, told by those who have known him best, including BB King, Jimi Hendrix, and George Harrison.  Admission is FREE, sponsored by Crossroads Centre Antigua.

CLOSING NIGHT - Tuesday, October 30 6:00 pm
The closing night program begins at 6:00 pm on October 30 with the feature Up to Snuff,  a humorous and poignant look at the man behind the music; W.G. Snuffy Walden, directed by Mark Maxey, featuring actor Martin Sheen, lead singer of The Animals Eric Burdon, and writer/producer Marshall Herskovitz (Traffic, Love and Other Drugs). There will also be an 8:00pm special screening and Q & A with Jerry Stahl of Permanent Midnight, written by Jerry Stahl and starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Maria Bello and Elizabeth Hurley.

HIGHLIGHTS
Other highlighted film screening events include Animals, starring David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man, Ant-man and Wasp),  who will host a Q&A along with the director, Collin Schiffli on Monday Oct 29th at 7:30, and a FREE admission screening of the 30th Anniversary of the 80’s classic Clean and Sober, starring Michael Keaton as a hustling drug addict who checks himself into rehab to escape trouble with the law, then realizes that it’s exactly what he needs.

All week long, attendees will be treated to nightly films followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers/expert panels and thoughtful discussions including Holly’s Girl, by Paulina Lagudi, a thriller about bulimia and Harry Wiland’s  Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic. (Full film slate TBA).   

SATURDAY NIGHT CHUCKAHOLICS
On Saturday October 27th a highlight will be a comedy night presented by Chuckaholics, Barry Diamond’s Comedy Intervention at 8:00pm. This event features Barry Diamond and several well-known comedians with tickets on sale at Brown Paper Tickets.


SPONSORS
Los Angeles Sponsors include: Brandi’s Wish, Freedom TCOC, The Fix, Solstice Clinic, Balboa Horizons, Gratitude recovery, Addiction Therapeutic Services, Pillars Recovery, CAADE, Zen Life Recovery, Genesis Programs, My 12 Step Store, Friendly House, Pax House Recovery, Rock To Recovery, Chuckaholics, Hazelden/Betty Ford Center, Social Model Recovery, Restore, Propping Up Recovery & Jericho Rose.

The Reel Recovery Film Festival heads to New York City November 2nd through November 8th with screenings, Q&A sessions at the Village East Cinema.  New York Sponsors Include: The Guest House Ocala, Urban Recovery, The Fix, Seabrook, Propping Up Recovery & Jericho Rose.

November/December 2018 Week-Long Engagements Calendar Announced at the Metrograph

November 2-8
Exclusive One-Week NY Engagement


DISTANT CONSTELLATION
2018 Independent Spirit Award Nominee: Jeep Truer Than Fiction Award
2017 Viennale: International Critics Prize
2017 Locarno Festival: Jury's Special Mention Award
Shevaun Mizrahi’s contemplative, gorgeous, and entirely sui generis documentary ostensibly takes place in an Istanbul retirement home, drifting dreamily between encounters with residents who, observed, reveal themselves and their stories for the camera, discussing distant sexual conquests, artistic pursuits put an end to by dimmed sight, and inescapable memories of the Armenian genocide. A stunning, poetic feature debut from Mizrahi, whose apprenticeship with cinematographer Ed Lachman shows in the painterly care and tonal precision of her compositions, creating an experience that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll. A Grasshopper Film release.
November 9-15
Exclusive One-Week NY Engagement


THE OWL'S LEGACY
Chris Marker's 13-Part Work Presented
 Theatrically for the First Time in North America
If it could only be caught, the image of democracy which people create when they are deprived of it.  And if it could be projected back to them, like a slide, once they have recaptured it.  Or can we say of democracy what someone has written of happiness: that it is thing that doesn't exist, and yet, one day, is no more?" – Chris Marker
In this, a monumental analysis of the modern world through the lens of ancient Greece, one can expect Marker’s signature mental maneuvers that draw unexpected parallels between the most seemingly disparate of topics, traveling the world while leaping from the subjects of sex, Socrates, and Athenian politics in order to explore the rich legacy of Greek culture, analyzing the history of myth-making while debunking a few myths along the way.
Interviewees include Theo Angelopoulos and Iannis Xenakisintercut with scenes ranging from Cocteau to Riefenstahl, while the free play of ideas and the marvelous, mercurial motion of the work is totally, unmistakably Marker. The Owl's Legacy was shot in Paris, Athens, Berkeley, Tbilisi and Tokyo. An Icarus Films release.
November 21-27
Exclusive One-Week NY Revival Run


MIDNIGHT COWBOY
New Restoration of the X-Rated, Empathetic Buddy Drama
All-American hillbilly hunk Joe Buck (Jon Voight) leaves Texas for New York City in search of his big break, only to quickly find himself a flat-broke hustler whose only friend is a loudmouth, tubercular con man named who’s even more down-and-out than him, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). A deeply affecting and justly celebrated actors’ duet as well as a time capsule of late-‘60s Times Square and downtown bohemia—still terribly true in the dirty business of eking out a living in the cold and indifferent big city. Famous for theme song “Everybody’s Talkin’” and Hoffman’s splenetic “I’m walkin’ here,” but the film’s greatness is in its enormous empathy, and feeling for friendship as the last protection on the precarious fringes of society. A Park Circus release.
November 28-December 6
Exclusive One-Week NY Engagement


RAMS
Gary Hustwit's (Helvetica) Extraordinary Portrait of Designer Dieter Rams
with Original Score by Brian Eno
Dieter Rams has been in the vanguard of the world of product design for more than fifty years, a legend for his work at Braun and Vitsoe, his influence impossible to overstate—and behind Rams’s famous functionalist body of work is a brilliant mind, always attuned to questions of sustainability and consumerism. Gary Hustwit’s new documentary not only showcases the fruits of Rams’s extraordinary career, but provides a stage on which the genius can express a lifetime of thinking about his craft. A masterclass in design philosophy, and a must for anyone interested in its greater repercussions in building a workable future. A Film First release.
December 7-13
Exclusive One-Week NY Engagement

BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ
Pamela B. Green's Documentary Portrait of the First Female Director
Narrated by Jodie Foster

 
In 1896, at age 23, Alice Guy-Blaché, the secretary to French film pioneer Léon Gaumont, directed her first movie, one of the first narrative films ever made, La Fée aux Choux. For more than twenty years following, in her native country and in the U.S., Guy-Blaché helped to invent and refine the language of cinema, developing a naturalistic style of screen performance while tackling various hot-button issues of her day, and even shooting the earliest known surviving narrative film with an all-black cast. Guy-Blaché’s achievements were obscured by decades of film history focusing on male genius, but Pamela B. Green’s necessary documentary, narrated by Jodie Foster and featuring testimony from Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, and others, returns her to her rightful place in the pantheon.
December 7-New Year's
Exclusive Holiday Revival Run


THE APARTMENT
New Restoration of Billy Wilder's Holiday Classic
Jack Lemmon is one anxious face in a sea of stooges at the New York insurance company where he toils, a passive nobody able to distinguish himself to his superiors only by letting boss Fred MacMurray use his shoebox apartment as a love nest, while his tentative romance with an elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine) plays out against a backdrop of boozy office Christmas parties, mocking holiday decorations, and mirthless cheer. Oh, and it’s a howl, too! The crisp, cutting script by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond gives the film its acerbic bite, while Joseph LaShelle’s elegant, cool black-and-white photography and the brittle tinkle of Adolf Deutsch’s jazz lounge score bring out the underlying melancholy of this brilliantly bittersweet classic. A Park Circus release.
December 14-20
Exclusive One-Week NY Revival Run

KHRUSTALYOV, MY CAR!
Aleksey German's Wild Masterpiece, an anti-The Death of Stalin, in New Restoration
 
Titled after the apocryphal expression of Soviet security chief Beria while rushing to Stalin’s deathbed, Aleksey German’s film distills the anticipation and anxiety in the Moscow air in January, 1953, as the despot lay dying. Aleksey German reflects tectonic political shifts through individual experience, following a surgeon and his family who find themselves vulnerable as the “Doctors’ Plot” conspiracy, an antisemitic conspiracy accusing Jewish doctors of planning to assassinate Soviet brass, takes hold in the public imagination. “One of the great films of the ‘90s” – J. Hoberman, Village Voice. An Arrow Films release.