Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Villainess: Kim Ok-vin Vanquishes All Pretenders

Sook-hee is a lot like La Femme Nikita, but she lends herself more readily to Freudian analysis. Gangster Joon-sang became both her father figure and fiancé, so when a rival gang killed him, she decided to wipe them out, with no regard for her own life. Of course, when Sook-hee, now working for a shadowy assassination agency, discovers Joon-sang is still alive and most likely betrayed her, you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to guess how she might react. The body-count is truly awe-inspiring in Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess, which opens this Friday in New York.

After learning of Joon-sang’s supposed death, Sook-hee launches a frontal assault on the gang that allegedly did it. Think of this sequence as the hallway scene from Oldboy, raised to the power of one hundred, but initially seen through Sook-hee’s POV, a la Hardcore Henry. However, Jung uses a cleverly transition to pop back to a standard omniscient viewer perspective about halfway through the opening carnage.

Sook-hee never expected to live through her super-charged vengeance-taking, but her conspicuous skills catch the eye of Chief Kwon, who oversees a double-secret counter-terror and organized crime agency. Basically, they are a death squad, but whatever. If Sook-hee gives them ten years of service, she can reclaim her life. It won’t be such a bad deal. She will assume the identity of aspiring actress Chae Yeon-soo and she will be able to maintain custody of the daughter she didn’t know she was pregnant with.

Unbeknownst to the reinvented Chae/Sook-hee, her new neighbor is also her handler Hyun-soo, who is deliberately worming his way into her life and confidence. However, he legitimately falls for her and duly adores her daughter too. Then one fine day, Chae is ordered to assassinate a target that turns out to be Joon-sang. Chaos ensues.

Granted, there is a bit of slack in the middle of Villainess, but it is hard to judge it harshly when the extended, relentlessly pedal-to-metal action sequences at the beginning and end are so spectacularly cinematic. Jung started in the business as a stuntman, so he has always had an affinity for action, but he takes it to a new level of artistry in Villainess. It is the sort of film you will want to re-watch with a clicker to try to keep track of the escalating death toll.

This summer, Hollywood has been congratulating itself for casting women in action roles, but they are rather late to the party, considering how long martial arts superstars like Cheng Pei-pei, Angela Mao Ying, Kara Hui, and Michelle Yeoh have thrown down in Hong Kong productions. Nice try studio guys, but as Sook-hee, Kim Ok-vin blows away all the phonies, pretenders, and Johnny-come-latelies. She is a trained martial artist, so she has the chops, but she also has Eastwood levels of steely intensity. When she shares the screen with Shin Ha-kyun’s charismatically manipulative and villainous (so to speak) Joon-sang, all bets are off. Yet, for elegant ruthlessness, it is tough to beat Kim Seo-hyung’s deliciously imperious Chief Kwon.

The Villainess is an action film that delivers over and over again and then some more. As soon as you have seen the first half-hour, you will think of Sook-hee as an action icon. The brutally cathartic fight scenes should firmly establish Jung as a modern master, but he gets a key assist from cinematographer Park Jung-hun, whose work is by turns evocatively noir or wildly frenetic. When it comes to women action protags, Kim Ok-vin can’t be beat. Very highly recommended, The Villainess opens this Friday (8/25) in New York, at the IFC Center.

Milwaukee Film Announces Full Lineup of Cream City Cinema Program

Milwaukee Film Announces Full Lineup of Cream City Cinema Program
Popular annual program supports local filmmakers with $12,500 in cash prizes to be awarded
WebsterX, The Fatty Acids, and IshDARR music videos to be a part of shorts showcase

MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, August 22, 2017 –  The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by Associated Bank, is excited to announce the full lineup for Cream City Cinema. Now in its ninth year, Cream City Cinema showcases the best new work from Milwaukee-based filmmakers and awards three juried cash prizes totaling $12,500.

This year’s program is comprised of four shorts programs and six feature films, including the documentary Roller Life profiling Milwaukee’s own Brewcity Bruisers; the coming-of-age period piece Scott Road; and the return of the popular The Milwaukee Music Video Show, featuring music videos for notable local artists WebsterX, The Fatty Acids, and IshDARR.

In addition to the Cream City Cinema lineup, films with local ties can be found in other programs throughout the festival. These include Mark Borchart’s short documentary The Dundee Project, which will screen prior to Love and Saucers in the Cinema Hooligante program; Across the Line, an immersive virtual reality short playing as part of the VR Gallery; and Dear Coward on the Moon, which will have its world premiere during the festival in the Spotlight Presentations program.

Cream City Cinema is presented by John Axford and The Fischers and is sponsored by Urban Milwaukee, UWM Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres, and WUWM 89.7 - Milwaukee Public Radio. The program is supported in part by a grant from the Milwaukee Arts Board and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin.

The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival will take place at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Landmark Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, and Avalon Theater from September 28th - October 12th. Festival Passes and ticket 6-Packs are now on sale at mkefilm.org/tickets.


Chasing Bubbles
(USA / 2016 / Directors: Topher Cochrane, Alex Rust)
At the age of 25, Alex Rust was successful, but unhappy. Forgoing the comfort of a solid career track, he decided to take a leap of faith on a global adventure beyond his wildest imagination. Trading his minivan for a small sailboat dubbed "Bubbles," Rust sets course for the Bahamas (guided only by a copy of Sailing for Dummies), kicking off a yearlong excursion that took him to the corners of the world in this portrait of a restless spirit edited by MFF alums Chris James Thompson and Andrew Swant.

Civic Art: Four Stories From South Los Angeles
(USA / 2017 / Director: Mark Escribano)
A 2013 Los Angeles initiative to create public art projects gets the documentary treatment in this locally produced (among numerous local ties!) look into civic-minded creativity. Four groups, with skill sets spanning various disciplines, are tasked with transforming vacant or underutilized areas throughout the city into public spaces that feel safe and encourage community-oriented activity. From conception through execution, you're given a ground-level view of the tension and exhilaration involved as artists and communities partake in creative placemaking, a conversation not dissimilar to those taking place in Milwaukee.
Preceded by: Seeking Century City (USA / 2017 / Directors: Adam Carr, Wes Tank)

Life of the Party
(USA / 2017 / Director: Rubin Whitmore II)
A wedding reception in a West Allis bowling alley, populated by a motley assortment of friends, coworkers, and family, have congregated to celebrate the union of David and Tyesha. With each passing minute this melting pot of Americana (different cultures and identities abound) threatens to boil over as the attendees anxiously await the arrival of the bride and groom. An ensemble piece that's alternately comic and dramatic, Life of the Party (from Milwaukee's own Rubin Whitmore II) is a wedding you have to see to believe.

(USA / 2017 / Director: Ryan Sarnowski)
Anyone driving on I-94 in years past couldn't help but notice the barn with "Study Natural Law" plastered on its side and wonder what it meant. The riveting Manlife shows us truth is stranger than fiction - the barn references the life's work of Alfred Lawson: baseball player, inventor of the airliner, and creator of an economic/spiritual/philosophical movement known as Lawsonomy. But equally fascinating is the story of the man who has singlehandedly kept Lawsonomy alive for decades: Merle Hayden, Lawson's last crusader and a man apart in the modern world.

Camden International Film Festival Program Announced

Camden International Film Festival Announces 2017 Festival Slate and an Expanded Storyforms Showcase of Nonfiction VR

CIFF opens with the World Premiere of Dustin Nakao Haider's Shot in the Dark, Executive Produced by Michael Gottwald and Josh Penn of Court 13 (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Showtime Documentary Films joins as 2017 Headlining Sponsor. 

CAMDEN, Maine, August 21, 2017 – The Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) today announced the slate of feature and short films for its 13th edition, which will take place September 14-17, 2017 throughout Camden, Rockport and Rockland, Maine.

Recognized as one of the top documentary film festivals in the world, CIFF saw a 30% rise in submissions for its 2017 edition. This year, the festival will present 37 features, 35 short films, and a dozen virtual reality experiences from 30 countries.

CIFF will open with the world premiere of Dustin Nakao Haider’s Shot in the Dark, with the film’s director and special guests in attendance. The film program includes the presentation of 12 features making their North American or US Premieres, and 2 sneak preview screenings by award-winning filmmakers. Keeping with CIFF’s mission to discover and support new talent in nonfiction filmmaking, over half of the lineup’s 37 features are made by first- or second-time filmmakers.

Additional highlights include titles making their US debut following premieres at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (Love Means Zero, Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars, Cocaine Prison), the North American premieres of films coming from Locarno (Sand und Blut, Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?) and Venice (This Is Congo), award-winning films from Visions du Reel (Taste of Cement, All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn’t Open) and Berlin (El Mar La Mar, House In The Fields, Devil's Freedom) alongside some of the year’s top documentaries (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Whose Streets?, The Work). Nearly all screenings will be attended by the filmmakers.

“This year’s slate underscores documentary as a thriving art form, one that provides unique opportunities to engage with the world around us,” says Ben Fowlie, Executive Director of the Points North Institute, and founder of the Camden International Film Festival. “We’re honored to showcase over seventy of the most inspiring and creative voices from across the globe working in nonfiction storytelling today.”

“This formidable collection of documentaries offers unexpected moments of courage, humour, creativity, and affection to stories that are often difficult to access or to tell,” says Samara Chadwick, who recently joined the CIFF team as Programmer. “With so much to explore at the festival, this year we are highlighting currents across the CIFF, Storyforms and Forum programs with filmmaker talks, extended Q&As and thematic strands that explore issues of race in America, the refugee crisis, and the complicated intersections between documentary and journalism.”

The 13th Camden International Film Festival is a program of the Points North Institute, an expanded media arts organization established in July 2016. Building on CIFF’s long-established role in the nonfiction film community, the Points North Institute furthers its mission through programs that provide a launching pad for the next generation of nonfiction storytellers.

This year, eight projects that have participated in the Points North Institute’s Artist Programs will be screening at CIFF. These titles include All That Passes By Through A Window That Doesn’t Open, No Man’s Land, The Cage Fighter, The Family I Had, The Reagan Show, The Sensitives, Whose Streets? and Commodity City. These films have garnered awards and debuted at prestigious festivals including Sundance, Locarno, Tribeca, Rotterdam, and Visions du Reel.

“Screening at CIFF this year feels like a homecoming,” says Sabaah Folayan, Director of Whose Streets?, distributed by Magnolia Pictures. “This community believed in our project when it was still just an idea and it means everything to be able to come back and share the finished film.”

The incoming filmmakers selected for this year’s Artist Programs at CIFF will be announced onSeptember 5.

This year also features an expanded 2nd edition of Storyforms: Remixing Reality, CIFF’s exhibition of VR, immersive media, and installations. For the first time, Storyforms will present "room-scale" and "walk-around" VR experiences. Highlights include Tree by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, which comes to CIFF after showing at Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes. Storyforms will also include a sneak preview of the latest groundbreaking walk-around VR experience produced in a new collaboration between FRONTLINE PBS and Nonny de la Peña’s Emblematic Group, which brings climate change to life as never before, allowing viewers to travel alongside NASA scientists to a place where the glaciers are melting faster and faster.

“The establishment of the Points North Institute provides a larger platform to explore the evolution of documentary in the digital age,” said Points North Institute’s Program Director, Sean Flynn. “The artists featured in this year’s Storyforms are using new tools and technologies to revolutionize the ways in which the real can be represented and shared with audiences.” The section will be open to festival passholders at 21 Winter Street in Rockland, Maine, betweenSeptember 14 – 17. For aspiring VR makers, CIFF is also partnering with Maine Media Workshops to offer a 2-Day Crash Course in Virtual Reality Filmmaking, which runs Sept 13-14and is now accepting enrollment. More info at: https://www.mainemedia.edu/workshops/filmmaking/2-day-360-filmmaking-vr

The Points North Institute announced that SHOWTIME®, under the Showtime Documentary Films banner, will serve as the Presenting Sponsor for the 2017 Points North Fellowship and a Headlining Sponsor for the Institute’s upcoming Camden International Film Festival.

The Points North Forum’s robust lineup of masterclasses, roundtables, panels, and industry delegates will be announced on Thursday, August 24, with additional programs and Fellows being announced shortly thereafter. The complete lineup of 2017 Features and Shorts may be found on the Points North Institute website. Festival passes are now on sale: http://pointsnorthinstitute.org/ciff/

2017 Camden International Film Festival Features

Imaginary Chinatown at the Metrograph beginning September 27

A Survey of Hollywood's Depiction of Chinatowns in America Includes
Big Trouble in Little China, The Bowery, Year of the Dragon,
Once Upon a Time in America, Gremlins, Alice
, and Chinatown

"Anna May Wong: Empress of Chinatown" Sidebar to Open October 7
The international Chinatown, accessed through red lacquered gates bearing formidable dragon motifs, has been a vital aspect of both history and myth- making in the West for over 200 years and counting. At once a place of yearning for the far-flung homelands of an ever-growing pan-Asian population abroad and a locale onto which the West’s collective fantasy of the Orient can be projected, the exotic exteriors and supposedly mysterious, vice-ridden corridors of Chinatown have never failed to stir the imagination of Hollywood. Chinatown has been rendered as a hyperbolic fantasy space where anything—even Mogwais— can be bought and sold; where one partakes in copious amounts of opium from what a Broken Blossomsintertitle calls “the lily-tipped pipe”; where crime and sin are believed to go unpunished because the locals play by their own rules and “Forget it, Jake—it’s Chinatown.” While far too often trafficking in insidious stereotypes, these were among the first films to create roles—albeit caricatured ones—for pioneering Chinese-American actors (when not featuring white actors). Metrograph pays tribute to the complex tradition of Chinatown on film, beginning Wednesday, September 27.

Alice (Woody Allen/1990/102 mins/35mm)
A lesser-known but wholly delightful entry from the heyday of Allen’s collaboration with the wizardly cinematographer Carlo di Palma, this magic realist spin on Alice in Wonderland stars Mia Farrow as a coddled Manhattan housewife whose tidy existence is upended when she begins to fantasize about handsome stranger Joe Mantegna. She seeks help from a Chinese herbalist, Dr. Yang (Keye Luke,Gremlins’ Mr. Wing and “Number One Son” to Warner Oland’s Charlie Chan), in Woody’s world a mystical version of an Upper West Side analyst.

Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter/1986/99 mins/35mm)
Hop on the Jack Burton Pork-Chop Express! Long before Hollywood descended on Hong Kong to cannibalize its cinema, director Carpenter was attuned to the vibrations coming across the Pacific, as evidenced in his cult classic which has local boy Dennis Dun and honky buddy Kurt Russell penetrating the catacombs of San Francisco’s Chinatown to take on supernatural overlord Lo Pan. Shades of Sax Rohmer, but the joke is on Russell’s outsider, doing his best John Wayne impersonation and playing the archetypal all-American blowhard.

The Bowery (Raoul Walsh/1933/92 mins/DCP)
Wallace Beery plays Chuck Connors, the legendary self-proclaimed “White Mayor of Chinatown,” here a slovenly unprincipled oaf whose prime preoccupation is getting the better of fellow showboat Steve Brodie (George Raft). Walsh was a true democrat who loved the feisty racial jibing of city life, and appropriately his rabble-rousing pre-Code imagining of New York in the Gay Nineties has something to offend end literally everyone.

Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith/1919/90 mins/35mm)
Perhaps the most famous Chinese character in early American cinema was embodied by one Richard Barthelmess, cast against racial type as the lone friend of Lillian Gish’s poor wastrel, ceaselessly hounded by her bestial father in the slums of London’s Limehouse. Among Griffith’s best and most beautiful films, which finds the master of spectacle and sprawl forgetting his epic ambitions to work with rare delicacy and emotional intimacy.

Chinatown (Roman Polanski/1974/130 mins/35mm)
“Chinatown” doesn’t play a major role in Polanski’s film of dirty dealing in 1930s Los Angeles, but it does a whole lot of metaphorical heavy lifting in the film’s famous kicker line, symbolic of a place where the rules and the language are beyond comprehension. We might mention that it’s a masterpiece, too, with Faye Dunaway as the woman in trouble, Jack Nicholson as nosey guy detective Jake Gittes, and John Huston as the vilest plutocrat in all of cinema.

Chinatown Nights (William Wellman/1929/83 mins/35mm)
Four years before The Bowery, Wallace Beery played another uncouth variation on his “White Mayor of Chinatown,” here named Chuck Riley, in this pre-Code rabble-rouser (a/k/a Tong War) for hell-raising director “Wild Bill” Wellman. With the omnipresent Oland as the overboss of a sinister, opium smoke-wreathed Chinatown which tempts white rubberneckers like society gal Florence Vidor to come downtown, and a show-stopping shootout at a Chinese theatre.

Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese/2002/207 mins/35mm)
Fired by the spirits of Sam Fuller, Sergio Leone, and Walsh’s The Bowery, Scorsese drew from Herbert Asbery’s collection of underworld folklore to produce this rip-snorting epic of love and revenge in the time of the Draft Riots, with Daniel Day-Lewis as nativist Know-Nothing strongman Bill “The Butcher” Cutting and Leonardo DiCaprio as his sworn foe. For the shoot, Scorsese and production designer Dante Ferretti built their own Five Points at the Cinecittà studios in Rome, including a cavernous Chinatown club—this despite the fact that 1864 Manhattan lacked a large Chinese population.

Gremlins (Joe Dante/1984/106 mins/35mm)
In American popular cinema, Chinatown has always been the place to go to find strange and exotic items, items such as—a pet mogwai? (That’s Cantonese for “monster,” by the way.) Joe Dante’s black-comic horror romp starts innocently enough, but when Gizmo’s new owners don’t heed the sage advice of Mr. Wing, there’s hell to pay for the residents of the little hamlet of Kingston Falls—and their Christmas decorations.

Jade (William Friedkin/1995/95 mins/35mm)
A wild car chase through a Chinatown parade is the identifiable high-point of this sleazy-sexy little number courtesy Friedkin, who knows a thing or two about vehicular chaos, here contributing to the erotic thriller craze by way of a screenplay from subgenre godfather Joe Eszterhas. San Francisco detective David Caruso’s investigation of a millionaire’s murder puts him on the trail of a mysterious prostitute called “Jade,” who may or may not be lovely Linda Fiorentino, last to see the victim alive.

Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone/1984/229 mins/35mm)
Leone, known best for his sprawling Westerns, took on another distinctly American genre at the end of his career—the gangster picture. Moving back and forth along a timeline that spans from Prohibition to the late ‘60s, Leone’s rich, sad film, which manages to evoke both Proust and Fitzgerald, follows the character of Robert De Niro’s gangster Noodles from rags to riches and back again, as he considers his life from a palette in a Chinatown opium den—or is it all just a hop-head dream?

Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory in association with Andrea Leone Films, The Film Foundation, and Regency Enterprises. Restoration funding provided by Gucci and The Film Foundation.

Outside the Law (Tod Browning/1930/70 mins/35mm)
Browning, lover and discoverer of Anna May Wong, here auto-remakes a title he first touched in 1920, starring Edward G. Robinson (before his Little Caesar break) as Cobra Collins, an aristocrat of the underworld who sets his eyes on tableaux vivant model Mary Nolan, who can’t disguise her disgust when she learns that Cobra has a Chinese mother. After an opening full of patented Browning grotesquerie,Outside the Law settles into a surprisingly sweet story about the vicissitudes of domestic life.

Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino/1985/134 mins/35mm)
After years in the wilderness post-Heaven’s Gate, director Cimino came barreling back with this passionate policier, which finds Polish Greenpoint-raised cop Mickey Rourke pounding a new beat, trying to clean up a gang-ridden NYC Chinatown run by suave crime kingpin John Lone. Vigorously protested at the time of its release, it stands today as a showcase for Cimino’s rich, baroque style, a vintage neighborhood snapshot, and the only movie whose closing credits roll over curtain call film of Teresa Teng singing “Tian Mi Mi.”
"Anna May Wong: Empress of Chinatown" Begins October 7
Born in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, Anna May Wong’s early days of working for her father’s laundry made her meticulous about dressing. Since her father wanted a boy, she watched her sister wear masculine clothes to appease him, and this would in time inspire her androgynous onscreen presence, a quality she shared with Marlene Dietrich, with whom she would be glamorously paired in Josef Von Sternberg’sShanghai Express. Thanks to her preternatural beauty, Wong was modeling fur coats by the age of ten, and by the time she was a teenager she had broken into the movie business—not a time exceedingly receptive to screen testing Asian faces. Throughout her career Wong would bridle at the exoticized roles she was handed, even taking o for Europe when Hollywood disappointed her, but she approached every lm with incredible grace and dignity, and what remains of her through the years is a seductive, incredibly chic, and startlingly modern screen presence. Titles include Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin), Old San Francisco (Alan Crosland), Daughter of the Dragon (Lloyd Corrigan), Shanghai Express(Josef von Sternberg), and Anna May Wong Visits Shanghai, a newsreel restored by UCLA, all in 35mm

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Second of the Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone the film was the last of the period dramas and the last before the series moved to Universal for another 12 features. and altering Rathbone's career forever.

The plot of the film has Moriarity beating a criminal case and going free.Holmes distracts himself by taking the case of a young woman whose brother is killed in a similar manner as her father. As Holmes chases after the killer who seems intent on killing the girl next, he can't help but wonder what Moriarty is up to really...

Solid mystery is good enough to make you wonder how, if at all, the two mysteries (murder and Moriarty are related). They are of course and getting to that point is a great deal of fun.

Its clear from this film why the series continued on from this point. With Rathbone firmly front and center (he was almost a minor character in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES) Holmes is seen to be instantly iconic. Its also clear why it would consume Rathbone since with rare exception no actor has ever been this identified with a character- even by people who are not fans of the series.

Even if the film wasn't historic in giving us the person who until recently was THE Sherlock Holmes (many now argue that Benedict Cumberbatch is not the Holmes), the film would be recommended as a damn fine mystery.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint in New York (1938)

First cinematic adaption of the Leslie Charteris character stars Louis Hayward  as Simon Templar a notorious villain according to the police who only seems to target bad guys. Here the desperate New York City police make a deal with Templar to have him try and topple a gang of bad guys who are running roughshod over the city.

Bleak dark and and the sort of thing I thought the production code stoped Templar is a kind of urbane Punisher killing anyone who displeases him. Utterly fearless, his bravado terrifies the villains because he simply isn't scared of them. His only weakness is bombshell Fay Edwards (Kay Sutton) who has her own code to follow.

Hayward makes a striking Saint. Easily handling the the tough stuff with the witty reparte. He's more a modern man of action than one from the golden age of Hollywood- but with a coldness that is chilling. He really will kill anyone.

Seeing the film for the first time in a couple of years I realize its the coldness that keeps this from being a great film. Templar is someone you admire more than like which is a reason they changed things up when the film went to series.

A solid film, this is recommended as the sort of film they rarely ever made and the start of a great series.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Nightcap 8/20/17 Dot Net

Is you haven’t noticed Unseen Films has shifted web addresses. While we are still located at www.unseenfilms.blogspot.com we can now also be found at www.unseenfilms.net with the .net address redirecting to Blogspot.

The change has been a long time in coming. As many of you know I have been talking about it for a couple of years now. Things had been delayed because I had been discussing with John and Randi about what to do. Should we get a domain and move the site or should we simply just have it redirect. We were weighing the pros and cons and then every time we moved toward a direction something would come up and get back-burnered.

Then spontaneously this past Monday I found myself investigating it and in the process of looking at domains I found that I had purchased a .net and had set things up to direct to the site.

When I was done I sat there staring at the computer screen wondering what the hell I had just done.

I texted Randi, John and Ken to tell them about the change and Ken immediately responded “ I thought you were going to wrap up Unseen”

Apparently not…

…or as Ken said “they really are going to pry your cold dead fingers off the keyboard mid review aren’t they?”

Ken may be on to something.

The truth of the matter is I think what this means is that I’m going to be doing this for at least another year or two. I’m going to run it as a grand experiment to see what happens to things now that I’m  dot neting instead of blogspotting. Will the address change people’s minds even though for the short term absolutely nothing else has changed. I suspect it will. It’s kind of like people are fooled by fancy business cards and flashy presentations.

I’ll keep you posted.

As for the rest however you find us we’re still here so keep reading.
This week looks to be  just  classic mysteries. I should also point out I'm just starting in on Toronto, NYFF and other fall festivals.

Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937)

John Lodge is Captain Hugh Drummond in one of a long series of films (its one of three films from 1937 all with different Drummond's. The other two are the miscast Ray Milland and the perfectly cast John Howard).

Here Drummond and his friends take on a group of foreign spies trying to get their hands on a new plane. One of the baddies is played to perfection by Victory Jory, who really turns in a highly evil performance.

This is one of the darkest of any of the Drummond films with the bad guys really doing a number on anyone and everyone who fall into their hands. This is a solid, if slightly nasty little film that plays very differently than the seven films that followed with John Howard in the lead. Those films, while good little mysteries of their own, were just a tad lighter than this film. Very much worth a look, especially if one looks at how the character changed in one year by watching Ray Milland in Bulldog Drummond Escapes and John Howard in Bulldog Drummond Comes Back

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Alias Bulldog Drummond (aka Bulldog Jack) (1935)

Jack Hulbert plays a polo player named Jack Pennington who literally runs into Bulldog Drummond when Drummond's car is sabotaged to stop Drummond from helping the young woman (Fay Wray) back in London. Drummond's arm is broken in the crash and he asks Hulbert to take his place in order to get the information that will let him help the fair damsel.Hulbert of course refuses to give up the ruse and soon with the aid of Algy he's trying to rescue the kidnapped girl and best the villainous Morelle (Ralph Richardson).

Moving like the wind this is a damn fine little comedy mystery. Hulbert is absolutely hysterical as the Drummond wannabe as he blusters his way in and out of danger. His insanity is absolutely charming.(He would repeat the same sort of nonsense to much the same effect three or so years later in Kate Plus Ten an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace story thats gotten better with each viewing. Fay Wray has never looked more stunning. I'm so used to her in American films which seem now never managed to show her beauty the way that this film does. As Morelle Ralph Richardson is a truly demented evil genius. Its clear he's dangerous, however he's so genuinely smooth that you almost by that he could be a nice guy.

The action is first rate with the climatic underground train sequence rightly held out as a key reason to see the film. One can easily imagine that the final twists and turns had audience members seeing this on a big screen shrieking.

This is a really good film and one wonders why its not currently out on DVD or, apparently, available for TV broadcast in the United States other than on the collectors market, since its easily one of the better mysteries of this sort.

Yes you really do want to check this film out.

(I don't know if I'd consider it a Bulldog Drummond film, partly because its so humorous, partly because Drummond isn't really in it and partly because its kind of atypical for the films that are real Drummond films. It is but its not. Can we call it a semi-Drummond film?)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Marjorie Prime (2017) opens today

JB saw MARJORIE PRIME when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. With the film opening in theaters today here is a repost of his review.

Perhaps we can think of it as the emotional singularity: that potential juncture when our artificial intelligence constructs better understand our inner psyches than we do. It is possible humanity or at least one family reaches this point in Michael Almereyda’s adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s play, Marjorie Prime, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

To help her deal with the loss of her beloved husband, Marjorie’s daughter Tess and son-in-law Jon have installed the latest in bereavement technology: an AI hologram of her late husband. They are somewhat surprised when she opts for the young, handsome Walter who proposed to her, rather than an older version that would better match Marjorie in her current advanced years. He is there to comfort her and remind her of memories that have slipped her increasingly unreliable mind. However, knowing she will not remember the truth as it happened, Marjorie will sometimes recommend alterations, to make Walter Prime’s stories better reflect reality as she would have preferred it.

Although Marjorie’s health is clearly failing in the first act, Tess is unable to resolve the issues in their strained relationship before her death. Despite her skepticism, she too will try achieve some sort of catharsis with the help of Marjorie Prime. There is a great deal of family history that has been left unspoken and even deliberately forgotten, but the primes might know more than the mortals realize.

Ironically, Marjorie Prime is a film about artificial intelligence that is deeply humanistic and insightful into the foibles and weaknesses of humankind. Almereyda embraces the stage roots of his source material, accentuating the intimacy of the chamber drama. He definitely opts for a minimalist style, but that actually heightens the elegiac tone (also thanks to a considerable assist from accomplished indie cinematographer Sean Price Williams).

Lois Smith (who originated the role on stage) anchors the film with a wide-ranging yet subtle performance as Marjorie/Marjorie Prime. Jon Hamm develops some intriguing chemistry (if we can really call it that, in this case) with her as Walter Prime. Azumi Tsutsui is terrific in her brief but pivotal scene as Tess and Jon’s granddaughter Marjorie. However, the wonderfully sensitive performances of Geena Davis Tim Robbins as the brittle Tess and achingly empathetic Jon are what really linger in the viewer’s head after it all wraps up.

Frankly, there is a lot of provocative speculation about how AI could alter the human condition that is hidden within plain sight throughout Prime. It definitely qualifies as science fiction, even though it is driven as much or more by its characters than its ideas. Very highly recommended for sf fans and those who will appreciate it as a richly textured family drama, Marjorie Prime opens today.

Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey (2017)

As the Vietnam War rages, civil rights are being fought for, and the sexual revolution begins to heat up a teenage girl grapples with her place in the world. Running off with a friend on a motorcycle for California  she hopes to come to terms with everything going on in the world and herself.

Hitting every cliche you can think of and some you probably have forgotten LIZA LIZA is exactly the sort of bittersweet coming of age film that would have played drive-ins in 1966. The trouble is that it's now 2017 and this sort of thing just doesn't work.(Not that it would have worked in '66 either where this film would have been the bottom of a double or triple feature)

Weakly acted and oddly scripted the film never begins to catch fire. We are bored more than anything as the lines that are so obvious to us are poke  aloud with the the characters on the screen.

Mikey Madison's often breathy performance just brings giggles instead of connection. How could anyone be this innocent- even back 50 years.

Blame should fall squarely on writer director Terry Sanders who is clearly out of touch with today's audiences (and probably those of 1966 as well) a fact instantly revealed when you realize the title comes from an Al Jolson song from the 1920's. As heartfelt as the film is it' stuck in one man's idea of a past that never was except perhaps in low budget Hollywood's product.

Definitely a film to pass on when it begins playing today in cinemas.

Repertory Series September 2017 at the Quad

Upcoming repertory series include retrospectives celebrating Nicolas Roeg and Harry Dean Stanton, a survey of musicals from across the globe, Pink Floyd at the movies, and a collection of films exposing Paris' dark underbelly

Look Now: Nicolas Roeg

Starts September 1
When the Swinging Sixties faded away and the Hollywood money dried up, the postwar generation of British directors fled to Hollywood, leaving their native cinema to sink into the doldrums. Enter ace cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (DP on a succession of high profile movies such as Petulia and Far From the Madding Crowd, included in this series) who made his move and crossed over into directing, rapidly establishing himself as one of the key UK directors of the Seventies. What followed were a string of singular, dazzling, and intricately-structured puzzle films that applied dynamic and often hallucinatory visuals and ingeniously fragmented editing to the exploration of grown-up subject matter. In Roeg’s films, sexuality is foregrounded in a series of fraught, troubled relationships that are often tested to breaking point and beyond, with Roeg’s steady, overarching concern fixed on the flux and disorder of human consciousness in extremis.

Titles include: Bad Timing (1980), Castaway (1986), Don't Look Now (1973), Eureka (1983), Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976),Performance (1970), Petulia (1968), Walkabout (1971), The Witches (1990)

Paris Stripped Bare

Starts September 8
Throughout movie history, Paris has been one of the most lovingly photographed, most idealized cities, every charming café and tree-lined boulevard full of romantic possibility. But for a handful of non-French filmmakers peering in, the City of Lights represents something much darker and more sinister. Inspired by Nathan Silver’s new psycho-sexual black comedy Thirst Street (opening at the Quad September 20), this series surveys Parisian portraits by directors from Italy, America, and Poland, movies that warp the city’s glorified clichés and expose the seedy underbelly festering beneath those cobblestone streets.

Titles include: La Balance (1982), Bitter Moon (1992), Exposed (1983), Frantic (1988), Last Tango in Paris (1972), The Tenant (1976), Quiet Days in Clichy (1970)

Welcome to the Machine:
Pink Floyd at the Movies

Starts September 11
One of the most successful rock bands of all time, Pink Floyd defined psychedelia for a generation of listeners and then went beyond to create a series of concept albums that were as philosophical in scope as they were technically precise. From the dreamy existential musings of Dark Side of the Moon to the anxious anti-authoritarian screed of The Wall, the English band became an ideal soundtrack to images of rebellion, revolution, and free love in the paranoid haze of the 1970s. Our series includes their thrilling 1972 concert film, ambitious projects directed by Barbet Schroeder and Michaelangelo Antonioni, and their landmark live action/animated rock opera, plus David Gilmour’s latest concert as our centerpiece.

Titles include: More (1969), Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), La Vallee (1972), When the Wind Blows (1986), Zabriskie Point (1970)

The Whole World Sings: International Musicals

Starts September 15
While many beloved movie musicals have come from the U.S., some of the genre’s most delirious highlights have been produced far beyond the confines of Hollywood. This September, it’s all (subtitled) singing, all dancing at the Quad, as we span continents and film history to explore how multiple continents—from Europe to Asia to the Middle East and beyond—have made the musical their own. Programmed in collaboration with Bilge Ebiri.

Titles include: Black Orpheus (1959), Destiny (1997), French Cancan (1955), The Golden Eighties (1986), The Love Eterne (1963), Le Million (1931), Pyassa (1957), Simeon (1992), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Viktor und Viktoria (1982), Zouzou​ (1934)

Also Starring Harry Dean Stanton

September 22
Few actors are as recognizable in American movies as Harry Dean Stanton. The singularly mild-mannered face of the New Hollywood, his repertoire expands to dozens of appearances in beloved studio, cult, and independent movies, with only a handful of starring roles to his name. In a career spanning more than 60 years, Stanton’s inimitable, gently hangdog persona revealed a capacity for harebrained agitation and profound melancholy that prove equally disarming, all while never less than at ease on camera. Stanton has worked with many of the most important names in international cinema, from Peckinpah to Wenders to Lynch. On the occasion of his starring role in Lucky (opening September 29 courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)—and keeping in mind critic Roger Ebert’s famous proclamation that no film with his presence could be without merit—the Quad is proud to present a wide-ranging selection of his most memorable roles.

Titles include: Alien (1979), Christine (1983), Cisco Pike (1972), Cockfighter (1974), Death Watch (1980), Dillinger (1973), Escape from New York (1981), Fool for Love (1985), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Missouri Breaks (1976), 92 in the Shade (1975), Paris, Texas (1984), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), Repo Man (1984), The Rose (1979), Slam Dance (1987), The Straight Story (1999), Straight Time (1978), Twister (1989), Wise Blood (1979)

UCLA Festival of Preservation presents 10 titles at The Metrograph in September

Ten New 35mm Feature Film Restorations Include Trouble in Paradise,
The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean
The Murder of Fred Hampton, and more!
So much of film history still remains to be discovered, and this is where the heroic work of UCLA Film & Television Archive comes in. Whether rescuing established classics from the ravages of time, helping to discover overlooked work by pioneering female directors or filmmakers working daringly in the Poverty Row ghetto, UCLA has come to the rescue of every kind of film art under the sun. At long last, the fruits of their labor arrive in New York City, with a bi-annual tour of recent restorations and new prints. BeginningSeptember 15, Metrograph will celebrate with a festival of these preservations, including extended screenings of The Murder of Fred Hampton in a new 35mm print, which find ultimate fulfillment with an audience.

The Murder of Fred Hampton (Howard Alk/1971/88 mins/35mm) and The Jungle (Charlie Davis, Jimmy Robinson, & David Williams/1967/22 mins/35mm)
On the early morning of December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police Department raided the apartment where Fred Hampton, 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was asleep, and killed him with two shots point blank to the head. Alk’s procedural documentary acts as a righteous inquest into the circumstances of this action, and comes to a clear and coolly furious conclusion: political assassination. With The Jungle, a raw, risk-taking docudrama made by and featuring high school students in inner city Northeast Philadelphia, created under the direction of Temple University social worker Harold Haskins. 

The Murder of Fred Hampton preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation and The Packard Humanities Institute. Exhibition courtesy of Carol Gray, William Cottle, and the Chicago Film Archives. The Jungle preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Stranded (Juleen Compton/1965/90 mins/35mm)
Before better-known female- directed narratives of women drop-outs like Wanda and Vagabond, there was the way ahead of its time Stranded, the uncompromised independent debut of writer-director Compton, who also stars as a young woman making her way across Greece with her lover and gay bestie, drifting into affairs, turning down offers of attachment, and generally doing what she wants, free of the arbitrary punishment of studio-enforced puritanism.

Preservation funded by Century Arts Foundation

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (Juleen Compton/1966/82 mins/35mm)
With her second film, Compton took a dive into the supernatural, telling the story of the clairvoyance-blessed titular teenager (Sharon Henesy) as she’s manipulated by an unscrupulous boy band who want to harness her powers for their own ends. Shot on location in the Ozarks and bolstered by a sweet Michel Legrand score, it’s an enchanting magical realist miracle that only gets stranger as it goes along.

Preservation funded by Century Arts Foundation

The Lost Moment (Martin Gabel/1947/89 mins/35mm) and Moods of the Sea (Slavko Vorkapich and John Hoffman/1941/10 mins/35mm)
Crumbling Venetian palazzos, the moldering love letters of a Shelley-esque 19th century poet, and Robert Cummings and Susan Hayward at their most luminously gorgeous, this free adaptation of Henry James’sThe Aspern Papers is the very essence of studio glamor and rococo romance, featuring Agnes Moorehead at her battle-axe best. With early American avant-garde masterpiece Moods of the Sea. 

The Lost Moment preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute. Moods of the Sea preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Fund.

Sons of the Desert (William A. Seiter/1933/65 mins/35mm) and Berth Marks
(Lewis R. Foster/1929/19 mins/35mm)
Laurel and Hardy’s fourth feature and arguably the best one they ever made, Sons of the Desert finds Stan and Ollie conspiring to escape their wives and trek to Chicago for the 87th annual convention of their titular fraternal lodge, whose number includes the great silent comic Charley Chase as an atrocious boor. With Berth Marks, the boys’ second sound short, which sets them loose on an unsuspecting passenger train. 

Sons of the Desert preservation funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation. Berth Marks preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute. 

Los Tallos Amargos (Fernando Ayala/1956/88 mins/35mm)
In the 1940s and 50s the Argentine film industry was as technically sophisticated as any in the Americas, and Ayala’s noir, a headlong plunge into the troubled conscience and warped psyche of a journalist haunted by the memory of committing murder, is a preeminent example of the national cinematographic genius at work, stunningly shot by Ricardo Younis, an apprentice of Gregg Toland.

Preservation funded by Film Noir Foundation

Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch/1932/83 mins/35mm) and Dinah
(Dave Fleischer/1932/7 mins/35mm)
If you are looking for the quintessence of Ernst Lubitsch’s art, simultaneously effortless-seeming and totally purposeful in the smallest gesture, you couldn’t do much better than this larcenous romantic comedy, in which thief Herberrt Marshall and pickpocket Miriam Hopkins meet-cute while trimming the smart set on the Riviera and decide to team up, an arrangement complicated when he decides to set up heiress Kay Francis and starts to fall for her instead. With Dinah, featuring music act The Mills Brothers practicing their unique four-part harmonizing on the song of the same name. 

Trouble in Paradise preservation funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and the Film Foundation. Dinah preservation funded by New York Women in Film & Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Trust and The Film Foundation. 

Open Secret (John Reinhardt/1948/68 mins/35mm)
Reinhardt, an Austrian émigré working on the fringes of Hollywood at Poverty Row studio Eagle-Lion, found the freedom to turn out a scathing expose of all-American bigotry. Newlyweds John Ireland and Jane Randolph arrive in a picture-perfect town to visit an old friend, and discover an anti-Semitic conspiracy seething beneath the placid exterior, as supposedly upstanding red-blooded patriots cover up a violent secret.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

He Walked by Night (Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann/1948/79 mins/35mm)
An uncredited Mann pulled his weight on this lean thriller, but real star billing must go to cinematographer John Alton, who is to noir shadow what Michelangelo is to marble. A thief turned cop killer (Richard Basehart) is on the loose in Los Angeles, and to get him the LAPD unleashes a no-stone-unturned manhunt which ends with a knockout subterranean chase. This little film’s reportorial, semidocumentary style would go on to have an outsized influence, not least on star Jack Webb, whose Dragnet series it inspired.

Preservation funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation

Good References (Roy William Neill/1920/60 mins/35mm) and Tramp Strategy (Alice-Guy Blaché/1911/12 mins/35mm)
A comic superstar whose popularity and presence once rivaled that of male actors better-known today, Constance Talmadge was one of the original funny ladies of American movies. Good References, which has “Connie” conning her way into a social secretary job, shows why—an irresistible comedy of manners in which scandals pile up faster than our heroine can put out the res. With Tramp Strategy, a one-reel comedy by Alice-Guy Blaché, the first female director in cinema. 

Good References funded by The Packard Humanities Institute, Barbara Roisman Cooper and Martin M. Cooper. Tramp Strategy preservation funded by New York Women in Film & Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Trust and The Film Foundation.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Filipino Cinema ’17: Bliss

Reportedly, film production in the Philippines is much more regulated now than during the glory days of Roger Corman’s jungle prison movies. However, Jane Ciego might have her doubts. She was badly injured on the set of her latest picture—a horror movie about a famous actress abused by her caretakers after she is badly injured on the set of her latest movie. You might have a general idea of the meta-ness afoot, but there are still plenty of twisted turns to Jerrold Tarog’s Bliss, which screens during the annual New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Arts Center.

Ciego has been a star since she was a child, but this film was supposed to be her breakout as a serious actress. Ditto for Abigail, the character she was playing. She has been successful enough to produce her ambitious art house horror film and continue to be a meal ticket for her ineffectual husband Carlo and her greedy stage mother, Jillian. Again, the same is true for her character, except her husband in the film-within-the-film is maybe slightly less contemptible. Regardless, this is hardly the sort of film you would want to “lose” yourself in, if that is indeed what happened to Ciego, or Abigail.

Things get even more sinister when Tarog gives us reason to suspect Ciego’s openly hostile private nurse Lilibeth is actually Rose, who is wanted by the police for sexually molesting young patients. As Ciego and Abigail’s realities conflict and intrude upon each other, Tarog keeps doubling back and folding the narrative over, to spring darkly clever revelations.

Iza Cazaldo has a Kate Beckinsale vibe working that is absolutely perfect for Ciego/Abigail. She establishes a strong persona as Ciego, which makes it so compelling to then watch her tear it apart at the seams. Evidently, there was a lot of buzz about her topless scene in the film, but it is nothing like what her fans probably assumed. Adrienne Vergara is also creepy as heck as Lilibeth/Rose and Shamaine Buencamino is spectacularly bad news as Mama Jillian. However, Audie Gemora often upstages everyone as her wildly flamboyant director, Lexter Palao.

Serving as his own editor, Tarog rather brilliantly cuts together all the reality problematizing and timeframe shifts. Mackie Galvez’s mysteriously murky cinematography further causes us to lose sight of ostensive in-film reality. It all adds up to a head-trip you can never take for granted. Highly recommended for fans of horror movies and Lynchian cinema, Bliss screens this Saturday (8/19) and next Thursday (8/24) as part of New Filipino Cinema 2017 at the YBCA.