Sunday, January 21, 2018

TNT's adaption of Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST is truly great filmmaking

The adaption of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist by TNT is absolutely incredible. It is one of the most compelling TV shows I’ve ever run across. In actuality it is more like a film than a TV series. It’s so good that all I can say is you must see this.

Set in 1896 New York the series introduces us to -----, the alienist of the title. An alienist is what we essentially call a psychologist. With the science in its infancy people don’t know what to make of it or the people who practice it. They are not trusted by the police who feel a good beating is more productive than probing the mind.

–‘s knowledge extends beyond just the mind and he is occasionally brought in by the police to help out. It helps that he is a fiend of Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, but not much. When a young boy dressed as a girl turns up dead – is brought into the case by friend of the deceased. Sending --- his friend and an illustrator for the New York Times to the crime scene things quickly get out of hand as the death is revealed to be the work of serial killer with ties to powerful men in New York. – and his friends are put in danger since their investigation thrwatens to expose things best left in the dark.

The Alienist is a glorious piece of filmmaking. While the series has to be constrained by the limits of TV, the language, sex and violence is slightly restrained, the film still manages to deal with the dark places of the human soul. This is not just a murder mystery but a look at the class divisions of America and society. The socially “undesirable” are marginalized and abused. Women are abused regardless of their worth. Racism and anti-Semitism are rampant. While set over a century ago the film shows how the robber barons and their cronies of old are reflected in the current world order.

And I should apologize for bouncing between calling the Alienist a series and film. While it has hour long episodes making it a series, it flows like a film. The episodes flow one into the next with no attempt at recap. If you took out the black moments for the commercials it would just flow. The series is essentially a 10 hour film with an occasional break.

I love The Alienist. It’s exactly how I had the book in my head, or if not exactly close enough that it doesn’t matter. The film gets – and his team perfectly. They are a bunch a really intelligent characters who are given their chance to shine.

Why do I love the film so much? Because despite my being a fan of the book watching it I had no idea where it was going. I kept waiting to see what happened next despite knowing. That a film surprises someone who knows the story speaks volumes about how good it is.

To be honest I haven’t seen the whole film. I was only given access to the first two episodes but that was enough. Unless something goes horribly wrong this is my first great film of 2018. This is a must see.

Let us hope it does well enough that it does well enough that we get a series of Angel of Darkness which just kicks ass and has one of the top three villains I’ve ever run across ever. However that’s getting ahead of myself- for now I just want to sit down and binge The Alienist

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Man on Fire (2017) Slamdance 2018

I saw MAN ON FIRE away from the Slamdance screening , which is a good thing. The thought of following it with any additional film or frivolity would have wrecked what ever came next. I do not envy anyone who is seeing this at the festival and then has to follow it up with something else.

MAN ON FIRE is a look at Charles Moore a minister who set himself on fire in order to call attention to the racism in the town of Grand Saline Texas. A town that has never been welcoming to African Americans. It is a place that even today many avoid still because the town's history is so bad. The film looks a hard look at both Moore and the town and ponders what was it that drove a man to martyr himself in the name of social justice.

This quiet meditation on racism in America will drive you to your knees. No matter where you stand on notions of race this film is going to force you to reevaluate what you think and feel. Refusing to get loud or yell and scream the film worms it's way into your heart and soul in ways that many bigger budgeted and more well know explorations of race have.

It takes to task any and all notions and excuses for why the town has been home to so much hatred and finds them worthless. It is not content with just examining why people feel as they do, it also takes everyone to task for allowing it to happen by saying it's someone else's problem. By the time it's over it will remove any of the crutches you have that we use to make ourselves feel less racist.

This portrait of a nice town with nice people will leave you staring at the screen. Yes, some people are more racist than others but some where in the mix you are going to find someone who echoes yourself even if it's in the person who admits there is a problem that has to worked out.

Also hanging over the film is the person of Charles Moore. He was by all accounts a good man of God. While not perfect, his calling came before his family, he was still well loved even by the family. Moore's decision to die in such a public way rattled many people, more so since it was clear that he had been planning the act for two years.

As much as the question of small town racism is in focus in the film, so is the question of what would drive a man to make such a final statement? What was gained by it? Did he have to die in order to get his point across?

To say Moore was disturbed is, in a way, taking an easy way out. There is more to it than that, especially owing to his life of belief. Someone like Moore does not throw his life away on a statement that can be wished away by madness, there is something more, something almost Christ like in the self-sacrifice.

Somewhere past the halfway point I realized I was kind of broken. Whatever I thought I knew had been questioned. Notions of where I stood on the racism scale were no longer clear. Also my thoughts on the nature of belief were rattled since, more than almost any recent case, Moore was a true Christian martyr. What was the path to God that he chose to take? I didn't fully understand. I was moved to the point of being shattered.

MAN ON FIRE haunts me. As any truly great film it as broken my defenses and forced me to ponder what it means. For hours after seeing the film I was writing down thoughts and ideas on whatever I ad handy in the hope of piecing it all together in a review. I'm not sure I have down even a fraction of my thoughts.

This film demands to be seen, to be shared and discussed.

One of the best films at Slamdance 2018 and of the year as well.

Sundance ’18: The Guilty

In the glory days of radio, Sorry, Wrong Number kept listeners on the edge of their seats, simply by inviting them to listen in on an increasingly tense series of telephone calls. That is the basic premise behind this lean Danish thriller. It turns out smart writing and a ferocious nearly-single-handed lead performance make the formula crackle and pop, just like it did in the old school wireless era, in Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which screens during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

It might be a good idea for first responders to have a better idea of each other’s jobs, but Asger Holm is convinced he was assigned to the Danish equivalent of a 9-1-1 call center as a punishment, because it very definitely was. However, if he and his partner Rashid can keep their stories straight at tomorrow’s disciplinary hearing, he should be returning to regular cop duties. Everything changes when Iben calls.

Holm quickly deduces the woman is pretending to talk to her young daughter Mathilde, because she was abducted by her resentful ex-husband Michael. He manages to glean details, such as the color and make of Michael’s white van, but the general location—somewhere along the North Zealand expressway—is not enough for the uniform cops to track them down. However, a call from the terrified Mathilde will motivate Holm to work the phones and internet, even pressing Rashid into unofficial duty, in hopes of anticipating Michael’s next moves.

Although they were different genres, The Guilty bears strong comparison with Locke, Steven Knight’s terrific man-on-car-phone dark-night-of-the-soul. That very definitely means Jacob Cedergren can hang with Tom Hardy and the screenwriting of Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen is on par with that of Knight. This is high praise indeed, but it is warranted.

Cedergren is not unknown to discerning American viewers thanks to Terribly Happy and Those Who Kill, but his tour-de-force work in The Guilty should take him to a new level. It is a slow-burning turn that eventually but completely believably explodes, like a crackpot disaster. Actually, the cast on the phone are not as strong as Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman in Locke, but Cedergren carries them along, nonetheless.

The Guilty is particularly effective, because it leads us to share each of Holm’s inaccurate or incomplete assumptions. As a result, when night close in on him, we feel like we are right there too. Altogether, it is quite a lethally effective procedural thriller. Very highly recommended, The Guilty screens tomorrow (1/21), Monday (1/22), Thursday (1/25), and next Saturday (1/27) in Park City and Tuesday (1/23) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.

Sundance ’18: Black (short)

Imagine the film Gravity raised to the power of one hundred and you might start to understand the situation these two Japanese astronauts face. It turns out the last two people in the world are actually orbiting in space. The outlook is grim, but their final mission still holds meaning in Tomasz Popakul’s starkly black-and-white animated short film Black, which screens as part of the Midnight Shorts Program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

During their time on the space station, nuclear war quickly and shockingly swept across the globe, leaving Haruko and Yoshi cut off from Earth. She generally copes by focusing on their original experiments, while he carefully monitors and records each new mushroom cloud. Ironically, the first day without an explosion leaves them (and us) feeling chillingly hollow, rather than relieved. There is a lot that goes unsaid between them, but their gaunt look and the increasingly distressed condition of the station tell viewers everything we need to know.

Realized by the Polish Popakul during his time as in Tokyo as an “Animation Artist in Residence,” Black is a short film of tremendous power. The central relationship, brought to life by Japanese voice actors Rina Takamura and Ryo Iwase, is acutely believable and deeply poignant. The sharp relief of Popakul’s black-and-white imagery is also absolutely stunning. You can clearly see a manga influence, but it is darker and moodier, not unlike the rotoscoped Alois Nebel. Regardless, the film just pops off the screen.

Black is as serious as any doomsday movie can get, yet it is not a downer. In fact, it leaves us exhilarated by its tragic beauty. This is fantastic, awards-caliber animation that is sure to leave the late-night crew dazzled. Very highly recommended, Black screens again with the rest of the Midnight Shorts tonight (1/20) and Friday (1/26) in Park City, as well as next Saturday (1/27) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance ’18: Dead Pigs

It is an act of supreme hubris to use an iconic cathedral over a century in-the-building and as yet unfinished as the model for a proposed mega-mega-housing complex. The Chinese ersatz Sagrada Família is fictional, but ethos of hyper-development behind it is very true to life. So is the 2013 Huangpu River Incident. At that time, more than 16,000 deceased swine were fished out of the river near Shanghai, after a mysterious epidemic swept through subsistence pork farms. The starkly demarcated worlds of the real estate developing haves and the pig-farming have-nots will intersect and overlap in Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs, which premiered last night at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Old Wang is one of those pig farmers, whose stock suddenly died. It happened at a terrible time for him. He thought he had invested in a promising start-up, but it was really just a scam. Unfortunately, his debt to the loan sharks is still due in two weeks’ time. Old Wang had hoped his son Wang Zhen could help. He had led his father to believe he had made good in Shanghai, but he is really just living hand-to-mouth as a busboy. Nevertheless, he manages to befriend and subsequently fall in love with Xia Xia, a fuerdai party girl.

The Wang father and son have their own problems, so they do not notice when Zhen’s hairdresser aunt, Candy Wang because an internet cult hero for refusing to sell out to the shady conglomerate, thereby putting a hold on the Sagrada Família project. This is particularly bad news for the development’s American architect, Sean Landry, who was hoping the ostentatious complex would restart his stalled career.

The corporate thugs will harass Aunt Candy, the street toughs will dog Old Wang, and the entitled brats will bully the hard-working Zhen. Their stories intertwine with those Xia Xia and Landry, but in organic, unforced ways. In fact, it is pretty remarkable how much contemporary cultural observation and criticism is jammed into two hours and ten minutes, including the wide-spread practice of accident fraud and the government’s blockage of Facebook. Yet, Dead Pigs still managed to pass the Party censors, maybe because they were distracted by the musical numbers. You read that right, there are two showstoppers (technically, one might be more of a cheerleading drill) that are worthy of Bollywood.

Yan also has the added dazzle of Vivian Wu’s star power. She has appeared in classics like Beauty Remains, The Pillow Book, and The Last Emperor, but Candy Wang might just be the role of her career. She is brassy, but dignified and vulnerable—and yes, she sings.

Vivien Li Meng and Mason Lee are also terrific as Xia Xia and Wang Zhen. There is genuine chemistry between them, but also real tension. This is nothing like your typical poor boy-rich girl rom-com. In their respective spheres, class boundaries are not supposed to be traversed. Both Yan’s well-developed script and David Rysdahl’s humanizing performance prevent the nebbish Landry from becoming an expat cliché, while Zazie Beetz steals a few scenes as Angie, a western events planner, who offers him some decidedly odd moonlighting gigs. At times, Yang Haoyu pitches Old Wang rather broadly, but his scenes with his son are pretty devastating.

In many ways, Dead Pigs is like the novel of today’s China Tom Wolfe has yet to write. It is bitingly satirical, trenchantly observant, and features a cast of characters that runs the entire social gamut. It is also deeply rooted in actual, documented events. Very highly recommended, Dead Pigs screens again this afternoon (1/20), Thursday (1/25), and Friday (1/26) in Park City and Monday (1/22) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.

Slamdance ’18: Circus Ecuador

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Apparently, it also runs through the hardscrabble Wishi community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Two novice filmmakers decided to document the construction of a much-needed school for the village, but instead, they witnessed chaos, confusion, and moments of sheer terror. Ashley Bishop & Jim Brassard are still not sure what exactly went down, but it was definitely a mess judging from the footage they assembled into the unintentionally gonzo doc, Circus Ecuador, which screens during the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

Admittedly, Elizabeth Gray was a tireless fundraiser around Albany, convincing the entire community to invest in the Wishi Project. Bishop and Brassard were so impressed, they dropped out of grad school to chronicle her efforts, even though the did not speak Spanish (or Shuar, the indigenous language spoken in the Wishi community). Unfortunately, as soon as they arrived in-country, her leadership started to flag. After one meeting with some self-appointed community leaders, the filmmakers believed they were in grave danger of being abducted—and it was all downhill from there.

While Brassard and Bishop were fearing for their lives, Gray seemed content to play Lady Bountiful with her favorites in the village (not that you could really call it a village). Just when they think the project will finally have some adult supervision with the arrival of Greg Sheldon from Gray’s fiscal sponsor, he starts talking about UFOs and ancient civilizations. However, they start to get some lowdown from “Canada” and “CIA Chuck,” two local “business partners” suspected of representing the CSIS and CIA, respectively, at least until Chuck starts changing his story. Regardless, everyone seems to agree there is gold in the nearby river.

According to their voice-overs, it took Bishop and Brassard quite a bit of time to figure out what they should do with their footage. Obviously, this would not be the sunny, feel-good film they were envisioning. What they ended up with is frankly mind-blowing, combining the unvarnished expose of the human cost of unintended consequences found in Mark Grieco’s A River Below with a staggering lack of self-awareness, worthy of the docu-mocker, Kung Fu Elliot.

If nothing else, Circus acts as a withering corrective to the idea we can simply shower money on a struggling community and everything will be fine. There is no substitute for proper due diligence. For instance, we eventually start to question whether Wishi is really even a community, when evidence surfaces it might just be a semi-organized group of squatters, hoping to steal a claim on lawfully titled land.

By the time Bishop and Brassard run out of footage, we can only shake our heads at the massive folly of it all. Yet, the biggest punchline isn’t even in the film. According to the University of Albany’s website, Gray is now Assistant Dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity. You have to wonder what the board will think of this film. At least Brassard and Bishop salvaged a film that holds great value, albeit of a cautionary variety. Very highly recommended for general audiences, Circus Ecuador screens again this Monday (1/22), as part of this year’s Slamdance.

Slamdance ’18: Whales (short)

This isn’t the sort of work the Private signed up for, assuming he had any choice in the matter, which is doubtful. Regardless, no soldier wants to be assigned duties within their own country, especially not as a body-fisherman. These are not immigrants, so do not jump to conclusions, but they do say something about their Iranian homeland in Behnam Abedi’s Whales, which screens as part of Narrative Shorts Block 1 at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

Seven bodies have washed up in the shallows, so it is the Private’s job to drag them ashore, while his commanding officer busts his chops. It is a bad business, even before he recognizes one of them. He cannot place where, but it still personalizes the grim proceedings. Frankly, most locals will be happy to hear the people in question are dead. Like the hunter who first called in the body sighting, they have their reasons. Nevertheless, the Private and the Officer will still find themselves in a moral dilemma.

Whales is not exactly a genre film per se, but it is loaded with eeriness and foreboding. As is often the case with many distinctive Iranian films, the ambiguity of Whales feels like a deliberate strategy. There is certainly space in the film to ask who wouldn’t be crazy living in an oppressive environment like that. Karma also plays a role in the film, in ways that are both obscure and pointed.

As the Private, Majid Norouzi is not just the film’s anchor. He really makes it what it is. More than merely a resentful subordinate (although he is definitely that too), Norouzi projects an existential confusion that expresses the essence of the film. Abedi is also a wildly impressive filmmaker, who uses a full, wide frame to artfully compose each shot. Admittedly, Whales demands the viewer’s full attention, but when granted, the film delivers some unsettling surprises. Very highly recommended, Whales screens again Monday (1/22), as part of Narrative Shorts Block 1 at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance ’18: Rock Steady Row

It is like The Road Warrior, but with bikes and paddles. The good news is if you survive four years and keep your grades up, you will leave Rock Steady University with a college degree, but that is a big “if.” The key to survival owning a bike. That allows you to have a puncher’s chance of pedaling through the crime-infested campus unmolested. As usual, this new Freshman has his bike stolen on his first day, but he is more resourceful than the typical victims in Trevor Stevens’ Rock Steady Row, which screens as part of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

As the leader of the Kappa Brutus Omega frat, stealing bikes is Andrew Palmer’s thing. The Kappas control the bike trade on-campus, thanks to their regular kickbacks to the corrupt Dean of students. Their only rivals are The High Society, an upper-crust house led by the elitist Augustus Washington III.

Like Yojimbo, the Freshman will try to play the frats off each other, in hopes of breaking their hold on power and recovering his bike. He really liked that bike. Fortunately, his roommate Piper (Rock Steady is extremely coed) is an aspiring campus journalist, who can give him insight into how the crooked system works. She also has some embarrassing history with Palmer.

It is impossible to easily convey the tone of RSR. It is not really retro in the style of The Turbo Kid, despite all the Huffys and the Freshman’s mysterious old school Walkman. Nor is it a horror film, like Motorrad, but together those three films would be quite a bike-centric triple feature. It is nowhere near as mean-spirited as Hobo with a Shotgun either, but the world of Rock Steady functions in a very similar manner, with respect to logic and the causal acceptance of violence.

It is similarly tricky to pin down the Freshman. He is not exactly a hardnose or a slacker or sad sack or a sociopathic drifter, but he has elements of them all. Whatever that note is, Heston Horwin manages to hit it. Diamond White is terrific as the reasonably proactive Piper, while Logan Huffman is appropriately Skeet Ulrich-esque as the oily, psychotic Palmer. Plus, Isaac Alisma and the great Larry Miller really ham it up as Washington and the Dean, respectively.

I don’t know about you, but right now, I’m glad I went to a Lutheran school. There are no safe spaces at Rock Steady, that’s for sure, but it is what we’ve been asking for, by putting the barbarians in charge of higher education. Regardless, you won’t find any ideologically tinged satire in RSR. It is all about chaos, anarchy, and bikes. Despite their gleeful mania, Stevens and screenwriter Bomani Story create a weirdly self-contained and dramatically functional world. Enthusiastically recommended for cult movie fans, Rock Steady Row screens again this Monday (1/22), as part of the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.

Tracking Edith (2017) NYJFF 2018

One of the best films at the New York Jewish Film Festival and one of the best films of the young year. This film is one of the musts of the film festival.

The film is a record of director Peter Stephan Jungk of his Aunt photographer Edith Tudor-Hart. While he and is family was aware that she was a famous photographer, they were completely unaware that she was a Soviet spy- and not just any spy but the woman who brought together the Cambridge Five- the group that included Kim Philby.

Fantastic portrait of a woman, a family and of a time when the commies were seen with suspicion by some and savior by others. For me the film was enlightening since for the  first time I really got a sense of the whys and hows things like the spy ring happened. There is a real effort to explore what people are thinking. I am haunted by one of the comments one of the interviewees says when he explains how many people fell in love with communism and decided to spy for the Soviets - none of which had been there. The implication being that if they really saw what the Soviet system was they wouldn't have done it. Its a comment that hangs over the film and makes you consider "what if..."

Deftly handled and beautifully put together with a mix of photos, talking heads and animation TRACKING EDITH is as compelling as a film  as I've seen in quite awhile. Rarely ave I been engaged with a film on so many levels- and more importantly rarely have I wanted to start the film over again as soon as I finished it.

I can't recommend this film enough.

See it wen it plays one of two times on January 22 at te New York Jewish Film Festival. For more information and tickets go here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Crimes of Passion: The Erotic Thriller February 2-15 at the Quad

In anticipation of the Valentine's Day release of François Ozon's delirious Double Lover, we offer up this survey of erotic thrillers with over 20 steamy titles (17 on 35mm!) featuring classics from De Palma, Verhoeven, Hitchcock and more

Among the darker pleasures of moviegoing is the spectacle of men and women enacting scenarios that link illicit sex and less-than-accidental death, sensational events few have experienced but for which some may, perhaps, secretly hunger. Restrictions on what could be shown or spoken yielded decades of film classics that required reading between the lines. But once those cinematic taboos were broken, filmmakers actively pushed the censorship envelope, daring actors to disrobe and dissemble, and holding up a mirror to audiences’ changing mores. By the 1990s, the erotic thriller was a genre and a cottage industry unto itself. In looking forward to the Valentine’s Day release of François Ozon’s delirious psychosexual mystery Double Lover, the Quad turns up the heat with a torrent of risky couplings, deadly obsessions, bad girls, worse guys, criminal behavior, and bodies either heading for each other or heading for the morgue.

Angel Heart Alan Parker, 1987, US/UK/Canada, 113m, 35mm
Basic Instinct Paul Verhoeven, 1992, US/France, 127m, 35mm
Black Widow Bob Rafelson, 1987, US, 103m, 35mm
Body Double Brian De Palma, 1984, US, 114m, DCP
Body Heat Lawrence Kasdan, 1981, US, 113m, 35mm
Body of Evidence Uli Edel, 1993, US/Germany, 99m, 35mm
Bound The Wachowskis, 1996, US, 108m, DCP
Cat People Paul Schrader, 1982, US, 118m, 35mm
Cruel Intentions Roger Kumble, 1999, US, 97m, 35mm
Double Indemnity Billy Wilder, 1944, US, 107m, 35mm
Dressed To Kill Brian De Palma, 1980, US, 105m, DCP
Fatal Attraction Adrian Lyne, 1987, US, 119m, DCP
Femme Fatale Brian De Palma, 2002, France/Switzerland, 114m, 35mm
The 4th Man Paul Verhoeven, 1983, Netherlands, 102m, 35mm
In the Cut Jane Campion, 2003, US/Australia/UK, 119m, 35mm
Jade William Friedkin, 1995, US, 95m, DCP
Poison Ivy Katt Shea, 1992, US, 89m, 35mm
Single White Female Barbet Schroeder, 1992, US, 107m, 35mm
Tightrope Richard Tuggle, 1984, US, 114m, 35mm
Trans-Europ-Express Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966, France/Belgium, 105m, 35mm
Unfaithful Adrian Lyne, 2002, US/Germany/France, 124m, 35mm
Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock, 1958, US, 128m, DCP
Year of the Jellyfish Christopher Frank, 1984, France, 110m, DCP

Double Lover
Opens Weds February 14

François Ozon, France, 107m, DCP
Adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ 1987 short story, François Ozon’s suspenseful and mind-wrenching psychodrama is a kaleidoscope of kinky eroticism and cinematic double takes that raises the stakes of the classic erotic thriller. Marine Vacth (Young & Beautiful) plays an intense Parisian museum guard who begins a steamy affair with her psychiatrist Jérémie Renier (Criminal Lovers). It’s all amour and jouissance—until she thinks she spots him with another woman, pitching her into a downward spiral of schizoid delirium. Featuring Jacqueline Bisset and the year's most outrageous opening shot.

Official selection: Cannes Film Festival

"Continuously surprising, ingeniously imaginative, always ahead of the awed and astonished viewer...brilliantly performed and directed."
— Joyce Carol Oates

"A deliciously twisted erotic thriller." —Variety

Sundance ’18: 306 Hollywood

Evidence of the 1950s and 1960s was visibly apparent throughout Annette Ontell’s house. In contrast, you can see the influence of uber-postmodern aesthetics throughout the documentary her grandchildren made about her. Much of the film probably would have baffled Ontell, but she surely would have been proud of the sibling filmmakers anyway. Elan and Jonathan Bogarín consider their grandmother through the prisms of archaeology and fashion, while struggling to catalogue the resulting clutter in the Bogaríns’ 306 Hollywood, which premiered last night at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

306 will be quite a programming challenge for many subsequent festivals. Ontell is an audience-pleasing kind of figure. For years, she put up with her husband, while building a reputation as an ultra-exclusive dress designer. Generally, she made only two of each chic frock—one for her Park Avenue clients and one for herself. They lived modestly, but comfortably in Newark at 306 Hollywood Avenue for decades. The Bogaríns also had the foresight to film her extensively during the last ten years of her lives. However, when it came time to box up the old house on Hollywood, the sibling filmmakers and their mother, Marilyn Ontell, were at a loss.

Every dress told a story and every knick-knack seemed to hint at a wider narrative. Their dilemma took on spiritual-metaphysical dimensions when told by various experts the souls of the dead linger in their homes for eleven months. The family decides to keep the house during that time, so they can commence a psychological excavation of everything Ontell accumulated. As part of the process, they solicit commentary from pop culture physicist Alan Lightman, funeral director Sherry Anthony, and fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield.

The Bogaríns also incorporate a great deal of the footage they shot of Ontell in her late eighties and early nineties, some of which she would have probably preferred not to over-share. When a stray audio cassette is discovered, they even resort to using actors to lip-synch the scene. Yet, it is their representational collages that really would have made Ontell shake her head in confusion. They have cited Wes Anderson and Agnes Varda as influences, which definitely makes sense, that puts the film on the rather playfully experimental end of the spectrum, exactly where those most inclined to identify with Ontell will feel decidedly uncomfortable.

Yet, this is such a rarified work unto itself, it is impossible to identify anything that does not belong. Frankly, this is the sort of film that ought to be preserved in a terrarium, much like the dioramas it features. Indeed, its colorful stylistic eccentricities are refreshing to those of us who have done our time with Marker and his followers.

There is a lot of family love in 306 Hollywood that all viewers ought to be able to recognize and appreciate. There is also quite a bit of craftsmanship, some of which might be lost on its presumed target demo. If Ontell were not such a warm, motherly figure, we would definitely tag it as a better fit for experimentally minded documentary festivals like RIDM and DOXA, rather than Sundance. Recommended for viewers inclined to be both adventurous and sentimental, 306 Hollywood screens again this Wednesday (1/24), and Friday (1/26) in Park City, as well as tomorrow (1/20) in Provo and Sunday (1/21) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.

Kangaroo:A Love-Hate Story (2017)

The slaughter of kangaroos in Australia is the largest wildlife slaughter currently happening in the world. Viewed both as a national symbol, many others view them as a pest to be eradicated or a commodity to be exploited. Every day tens of thousands are brutally killed and either left where they die or are chomped up for commercial purposes with the heads and unusable bits left scattered.

The subtitle of the film sums up my feelings for this film perfectly this is a good story unevenly told with the result I kind of zoned out about twenty minutes in.

The problem for me is the telling which is scattershot with the film pinging from person to person and thing to thing. There doesn't seem to be a through line just a lot of people talking about how bad the slaughter is. I think we were 15 or 20 minutes into the film before why exactly people thought the kangaroos were pests. Having gotten to the end of the film I'm still not sure of what I saw.

Other than the slaughter is bad and has to be stopped - but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get from this film. I'm also not sure way this film need to be 100 minutes since some bits go on too long and others seem to repeat points.

While not a bad film I'm left to ponder why am I being told this story in this way... This would have been better sorter and more concise.

KANGAROO: A LOVE HATE STORY opens today and is a miss.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nate hood looks at I, DANIEL BLAKE which has hit Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion

For the first time in my life, I literally tasted bile in my mouth while watching a movie. It was right around the time in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake when the the titular character, a 59-year old joiner forced to navigate the UK’s impenetrable healthcare bureaucracy after being declared “Fit to Work” after suffering a serious heart attack, gets help from a friendly government agent to fill out his online paperwork. Despite literally helping him click just few buttons on a website, she gets called into her boss’ office and chewed out for “setting a precedent.” A precedent for what? Doing her job? Helping the people the taxpayers pay her to help? The answer: not following “protocol.” It was so simple, so stupidly unnecessary, so needlessly cruel that it literally made stomach acid shoot up my throat into my mouth where it sat and curdled for the rest of the day. I’ve laughed and cried at many a movie. But few have inspired such a violent physical reaction as I, Daniel Blake.

To say it’s Loach’s best film in years, if not decades, is not understatement. Here is a film with the outraged fire of youth curated with the skill of a master craftsman. With mechanical, almost surgical precision Loach lays out the succession of humiliations and indignities foisted upon Daniel (Dave Johns). First he gets declared “Fit to Work” by the government despite being declared unfit by his doctor. Then the medical bureaucracy forces him to fill out a number of obtuse forms he can’t understand on a computer he can’t use. Then the paperwork is declared immaterial since he didn’t get his “Fit to Work” status confirmed by an enigmatic “Decision Maker.” Then when he finally gets the needed confirmation, they tell him he can’t get his benefits without a CV—a preposterous demand for a man who’s spent 40 years as a laborer. There’s always one more form to fill out, always one more course to take. It all reminds me of the backwards government bureaucracy in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952)—it seems designed not to help people but to get them to give up.

During one of his fruitless visits to the government offices, Daniel meets a single mother named Katie (Hayley Squires) with two small children who’s moved 300 miles away from their home in London after getting thrown out of their flat by a cruel landlord. He takes them under his wing, doing odd jobs around their house as well as slipping them the occasional £20 for the heating. A scene where Daniel takes Katie to a local food bank ranks among the most heart-breaking in recent cinema—the entire theater audibly gasped during it. And things only get worse from there when she turns to desperate measures to put food in her children’s mouths.

I, Daniel Blake leads up to a predictable, melodramatic climax complete with dramatic speech chastising the government. But it felt earned. It’s by far his most overtly political film, by far his angriest and most direct. Whereas before Loach was content enough to observe, here he accuses. His audience is clearly the people in power who strip honest citizens like Daniel Blake of their lives and livelihoods. Here’s hoping they listen.


I,DANIEL BLAKE has been released on home video by the Criterion Collection with extras that include an audio commentary from 2016 featuring Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty; How to Make a Ken Loach Film, a 2016 documentary on the production of I, Daniel Blake; and Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, a 2016 documentary directed by Louise Osmond

Mama Africa begins a theatrical run at the IFC Center tomorrow

I saw MAMA AFRICA back in 2011 when I first covered Tribeca on a press pass. It was the first film I saw at the festival that year. It was a film tat as hung wit me ever since and is highly recommended. Here is my review from 2011

MAMA AFRICA is the a celebration of the life and times of South African singer and activist Miriam Mekeba. It's told via archival footage and interviews with friends and family. The film is like getting to know the feel of it's subject rather than a straight forward biography of her life. I think the best term would be tone poem, which considering the wall to wall and non-stop music is, I think apt. We watch how Miriam sings, gets involved in politics (though as she said "I never sing about politics, I only sing the truth"),raises a family and sings some more. Its a wonderful celebration of a life and of music.

I grew up on the music thanks to my moms (both of them) who loved the songs, so I was in heaven as long as the songs played. The trouble for me came about half way in when I realized that as good as an over view of the life the film is, it really isn't all that detailed. I mean once we get passed about 1964 any sense of time goes out the window (We learn of the death of her daughter and how it affected her only to jump back in time to talk about her and other things.) It's a quibble of a sort since the film is very entertaining and the sort of thing I'll get on DVD just so I can use the film as a sort of musical mix.

MAMA AFRICA begins a week long run at NYC's IFC Theatet tomorrow. For details go here

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Independent Frames: American Experimental Animation in the 1970s & 1980s February 2-4 at the Quad

The Quad presents this diverse series of animated short films from the '70s & '80s exploring a range of topics—desire, pop culture, autobiography—and forms, from detailed hand drawings to explosive abstractions to collage and beyond

This series examines the work of a group of American artists who approached film through independently-produced, frame-by-frame animations in the 1970s and 80s. Made primarily by artists with no formal animation training, this selection of films incorporates autobiography, visual fantasy, abstraction, medium specificity, and biting satire. Some artists explored cel and hand-drawn animation while others explored new directions in kinetic collage. Some used flicker and abstraction and others explored the affective potential of film through psychedelic fantasy. This series highlights themes of the body and sexuality, media critique, psychedelia, structure and composition, the animated diary, and the influence of cartoons. Lending historical context to recent developments in both animation studies and the role of animation in contemporary art, we present a timely investigation of this era of invention and energy in experimental animation, suggesting a landscape of artists whose work needs to be considered anew.

Curated by Herb Shellenberger, who will introduce each screening.

Independent Frames is sponsored by Lightbox Film Center (Philadelphia).

Program 1: Exploded View
This collection of shorts surveys responses to the pop art and psychedelia boom of the mid-1960s and early 1970s with works of graphic collage, violent flickering colors and sensory overload.
TRT 70m
Film-Makers’ Showcase, Francis Lee/Fred von Bernewitz, 1963, 3m, 16mm; The Pop Show, Fred Mogubgub, 1966, 7m, digital; Oh, Stan Vanderbeek, 1968, 9m, 16mm; America is Wating, Bruce Conner, 1981, 4m, 16mm; Jungle Madness, Don Duga, 1967, 6m, 16mm; Scanning, Paul Glabicki, 1976, 3m, 16mm, Pesca Pisca, Irene Duga, 1968, 3m, 16mm; Doppler Effect Version II, Dan Agnew, 1968, 4m,16mm; Evolution of the Red Star, Adam Beckett, 1973, 7m, 16mm,
3D Movie; Paul Sharits, 1975, 8m, 16mm; Circles of Confusion, Bill Brand, 1974, 15m,16mm

Fri February 2, 7.00pm

Program 2: Shape and Structure
While structural film was the dominant form within the avant-garde tradition at the dawn of the 1970s, this program explores how animators used shape and structure in a variety of ways that differentiated their works.
TRT 64m
Ten Second Film, Bruce Conner, 1966, 10 sec., 16mm; Runaway, Standish Lawder, 1969, 6m, 16mm; Object Conversation, Paul Glabicki, 1985, 10m, 16mm; Zip-Tone-Cat-Tune, Bill Brand, 1972, 6m,16mm; Colored Relations
Barry Spinello, 1970, 5m, 16mm; Diagram Film, Paul Glabicki, 1978, 14m, 16mm; Precious Metal Variations, David Ehrlich, 1983, 4m, 16mm; Saugus Series, Pat O’Neill, 1974, 18m, 16mm

Sat February 3, 1.00pm

Program 3: Underground Cartoons
American experimental animators didn’t simply turn their backs on the cartoon tradition, but productively incorporated some of its best and most subversive elements into their independently-produced films.
TRT 76m
Academy Leader Variations, Various artists, 1987, 6m, 16mm; New Fangled
George Griffin, 1990, 2m, digital; Curious Alice, United States Information Agency, 1971, 13m, 16mm; Filet of Soul, Victor Faccinto, 1972, 16m, 16mm
Impetigo, James Duesing, 1983, 5m,16mm; Tugging the Worm, James Duesing, 1987, 9m, 16mm; Quasi at the Quackadero, Sally Cruikshank, 1975, 10m,16mm; Puttin’ on the Fur, George Griffin, 1981/2016, 7m, digital

Sat February 3, 2.45pm

Program 4: Introspection
Here animators turn their attention inward with personal films, which correspond to the deeply introspective diary films that formed a key part of the New American Cinema the previous decade.
TRT 75m
Self Portrait, Maria Lassnig, 1973, 5m, 16mm; Three Short Films (School in the Sky, Going Home Sketchbook, Whale Songs), Mary Beams, 1971-80, 21m, 16mm; Milk of Amnesia, Jeff Scher, 1992, 6m, 16mm; Odalisque, Maureen Selwood, 1980, 12m, digital; Five Short Films (Interior Designs, Remains to Be Seen, Traveling Light, Set in Motion, This Time Around), Jane Aaron, 1980-89, 19m, digital; Glass Gardens, Lisa Crafts, 1982, 5m, 16mm; Hand Held Day,
Gary Beydler, 1975, 6m, 16mm

Sun February 4, 1.00pm

Program 5: Bodymania
From morphing bodies engaged in rapturous copulation (Desire Pie) to disembodied parts (The Club, Seed Reel), artists respond to the waning sexual revolution and the women’s movement, expressing agency and stimulation while at the same time depicting complex forms of desire.
TRT 75m
The Club, George Griffin, 1975, 4m, digital; Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People, Ayoka Chenzira, 1985, 10m, digital; Bust Bag, Don Duga, 1964, 6m,16mm; Dissipative Dialogues, David Ehrlich, 1982, 3m,16mm
Head; George Griffin, 1975, 10m, digital, Tub Film, Mary Beams, 1972, 2m,16mm; Seed Reel, Mary Beams, 1975, 4 min, 16mm; Crocus, Suzan Pitt, 1971, 7m, 16mm; Desire Pie, Lisa Crafts, 1976, 5m,16mm; Flesh Flows, Adam Beckett, 1974, 6m,16mm; Asparagus, Suzan Pitt, 1979, 20m, 16mm

Sun February 4, 3.00pm

Film Comment Selects announces its full line up


Opens with Antonio Mendez Esparza’s Life and Nothing More and features new works by Wang Bing, Ildikó Enyedi, and more

Highlights include a complete retrospective of director Nico Papatakis's subversive works and a 25th anniversary screening of Tom Joslin & Peter Friedman’s Silverlake Life: The View from Here

Life and Nothing More
New York, NY (January 16, 2018) – The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces the lineup for the 18th edition of Film Commentmagazine’s annual series, Film Comment Selects, February 23-27. The cinematic showcase returns with a selection of titles curated by the magazine’s editors, offering strikingly bold visions, mixing New York premieres of new films and long-unseen older titles that deserve the big-screen treatment.

“It’s a rare chance to see the lively mix of films that our critics have raved about but that haven’t hit New York theaters yet,” said Nicolas Rapold, Editor-in-Chief of Film Comment. “This year’s edition is made especially exciting by a rare retrospective of the inimitable Nico Papatakis, whose work will be exciting for many to discover.”

The festival opens with the New York premiere of Antonio Mendez Esparza’s Life and Nothing More, an intimate chronicle of an African American family living on the margins in Florida, starring an astonishing non-professional cast. Other new works in the lineup are Ildikó Enyedi’s Berlinale Golden Bear-winner On Body and Soul; Mrs. Fang, Wang Bing’s unflinching document of an elderly woman in her final days, which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno; the North American premiere of Katharina Wyss’s powerful debut feature Sarah Plays a Werewolf, about a woman who channels her fears into theater; Govinda Van Maele’s fiction feature debut Gutland, featuring Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps; the U.S. premiere of Slovenian director Rok Biček‘s The Family, a compassionate portrait of a young man’s life over the course of 10 years; and experimental artist Bertrand Mandico’s exhilarating, gender-bending Wild Boys.

In addition to these anticipated new works, the 2018 slate features a retrospective of radical filmmaker Nico Papatakis, who had a “body of work that blends anarchic fury with visceral and transcendent poetry” (Yonca Talu, Film Comment). All five features directed by Papatakis, who subversively and provocatively explored themes of race, class, gender, and politics and produced films by Cassavetes and Genet, will be screened, including the meta terrorist drama Gloria Mundi, Cannes selection Les Abysses, and Walking a Tightrope, which stars Michel Piccoli as writer Jean Genet (a personal friend of the filmmaker). Film Comment Selects will also present a 25th anniversary screening of Tom Joslin & Peter Friedman’s extraordinarily powerful documentary Silverlake Life: The View from Here, which follows Joslin and his partner Mark Massi as they struggle to live with AIDS.

Organized by Madeline Whittle and Film Comment magazine staff.

Tickets go on sale Friday, February 9. A pre-sale for Film Society members and Film Comment subscribers begins Friday, February 2. Single screening tickets are $15; $12 for students and seniors (62+); and $10 for Film Society members and Film Comment subscribers. See more and save with the 3+ film discount package or All-Access Pass. Learn more at
With the kind support of the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York. Special thanks to Manuela Papatakis.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONSAll films screen digitally at the Walter Reade Theater unless otherwise noted. Where possible, film descriptions are excerpts from Film Comment magazine.
Opening Night
Life and Nothing More 
Antonio Mendez Esparza, U.S./Spain, 2017, 114m 

“The African American single mom and teenage son at the center of this drama are lifelong residents of northern Florida but remain, at best, provisional citizens of their own country. Rendering characters they developed in tandem with their director, these non-professional but astoundingly gifted performers convey so much of what matters in so many working-class black lives.” —Nick Davis, Toronto Film Festival 2017 online coverage 
New York premiere 
Friday, February 23, 6:30pm (Q&A with Antonio Mendez Esparza) 

The Family 
Rok Biček, Slovenia/Austria, 2017, 106m 

“Slovenian director Rok Biček started The Family as a film-school student and proceeded to film a life in full: a boy, Matej, seen growing up, watching his father die and becoming a father himself, breaking up with his girlfriend, and battling her for child custody. A twist on observational cinema, Biček’s portrait of the anti-heroic young man defies stereotypes of working-class and dysfunctional families, refrains from passing moral judgments, and retains an open fondness of his subject.” —Tina Poglajen, Nov/Dec 2017 issue 
U.S. premiere 
Tuesday, February 27, 6:45pm 

Govinda Van Maele, Luxembourg/Belgium/Germany/France, 2017, 107m

“A stranger wends through twilit wheat fields in the exquisite opening moments of Govinda Van Maele’s fiction feature debut [starring Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps] ... By the following morning he’s courted by an elder who finds him a gig and lodging—and then Gutland quietly maunders from folktale to pastoral noir to Polanski-esque uncanny and, finally, back to folk tale. Call it a ‘village film,’ with an eerie ambiance of secrets, insularity, and sinister solidarity.” —José Teodoro, Nov/Dec 2017 issue 
New York premiere 
Saturday, February 24, 6:45pm 

Mrs. Fang 
Wang Bing, China, 2017, 86m 

“Wang Bing’s latest documentary trains its camera very tightly on the face of a bedridden elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s in a small rural Chinese village. For a while, it seems as though Mrs. Fang is content to use the camera as a tool to unflinchingly record a human being close to her final breath. Yet Wang Bing is after something completely different, as the filmmaker goes into other territory, somehow more and less tangible than a portrait of dying.” —Michael Koresky, Toronto Film Festival 2017 online coverage 
New York premiere 
Sunday, February 25, 9:30pm 

On Body and Soul 
Ildikó Enyedi, 2017, Hungary, 116m 

Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin, Ildikó Enyedi’s visually imaginative film tracks the highs and lows of an unforeseen romance conducted partly through dreams. Film Comment celebrated Enyedi’s “ludic, freewheeling storytelling” with last year’s home-video release of her 1989 favorite My Twentieth Century, and her newest marks a triumphant return for this Hungarian filmmaker. A Netflix release. 
New York premiere 
Monday, February 26, 6:45pm 

Sarah Plays a Werewolf 
Katharina Wyss, Switzerland/Germany, 2017, 86m 

“Katharina Wyss’s heady debut feature centers on Sarah, a young woman channeling her powerful depth of feeling into the artistic and psychological outlet of theater. As the 17-year-old protagonist in a staid Swiss town, Loane Balthasar is unnervingly transparent, giving herself over to her character—and, like Sarah, 20 times more present than anyone around her. The film’s title captures a life fraught with energy.” —Nicolas Rapold, Jan/Feb 2018 issue 
North American premiere 
With the kind support of the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York. 
Sunday, February 25, 7:00pm (Q&A with Katharina Wyss) 

Wild Boys 
Bertrand Mandico, France, 2017, 110m 

“Some might be quick to suggest Mandico’s similarities with Guy Maddin due to his new film’s whacked-out narrative, alienating use of studio sets, and brusquely outré acting. Exiled teenagers are sentenced to hard labor on a mysterious island, left to their own devices and then transformed... All the teens are played by actresses, with ever-fearless, weather-beaten Elina Löwensohn leading the way. Little else in 2017 was quite as exhilarating, eye-popping, intoxicating, seductive, carefree, funky, sexy, and fun.” —Olaf Möller, Jan/Feb 2018 issue 
New York premiere 
Saturday, February 24, 9:30pm 
25th Anniversary Screening
Silverlake Life: The View from Here 
Tom Joslin & Peter Friedman, U.S., 1993, 99m 

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this is one of the cornerstone documentaries abot the AIDS crisis. “Silverlake Life is about a couple, and one of the guys is filming his boyfriend, who is ill and dying. I didn’t want to represent the disease too much [in BPM (Beats Per Minute)], because I thought it was so real in Silverlake Life. I didn’t want to make the same thing because you can't do more than this film, because it was real and it's a very, very moving film. I love it so much.”—Robin Campillo, director of BPM (Beats Per Minute), interviewed in July/Aug 2017 issue 
Sunday, February 25, 4:30pm 

Special Section: Five Films by Nico Papatakis 
“It’s become a cliché to call a filmmaker ‘rebellious,’ but from Gance to Eisenstein to Pasolini to Buñuel, the 20th century saw true rebels who fiercely defied both the cinematic and political establishments of their time. Nikos Papatakis (1918-2010)—nicknamed Nico in France—holds a profound and unique place in this lineage through a body of work that blends anarchic fury with visceral and transcendent poetry. Born in Addis Ababa to an Ethiopian mother and a Greek father, Papatakis was an outcast by nature, mocked and ostracized as a child for being biracial. Deeply rooted in personal experience, Papatakis’s films are politically, morally, and formally subversive explorations of race, gender, and class that use the medium as a vehicle of opposition and dissent.” —Yonca Talu, Sept/Oct 2017 issue 

Les Abysses 
Nico Papatakis, France, 1963, 90m
This allegorical portrait of the Algerian resistance was inspired by the real-life story of the Papin sisters, two maids who brutally murdered their employers in 1930s France—also the basis for Jean Genet’s influential 1947 play The Maids and Claude Chabrol’s 1995 psychological thriller La Cérémonie. 
Friday, February 23, 9:30pm 

The Shepherds of Disorder 
Nico Papatakis, Greece, 1967, 117m 

The Shepherds of Disorder (aka Thanos and Despina) juxtaposes an anthropological and materialist study of a rigid rural community with the mythologically imbued, forbidden romance between a rebellious shepherd and the angelic and compliant daughter (Olga Karlatos) of a rich conservative family, engaged in an erotically charged power game. 
Saturday, February 24, 4:30pm 
Gloria Mundi 
Nico Papatakis, France, 1976, 115m 

Papatakis’s most psychedelic film, Gloria Mundi centers on an actress (Olga Karlatos) playing an Arab terrorist who takes her role to another level. Papatakis’s virulent denunciation of consumer capitalism and a hypocritical left-wing intelligentsia that deems itself political but does not take any action, begins with a scream and ends with an explosion. 
Sunday, February 25, 1:45pm 

The Photograph 
Nico Papatakis, Greece/France, 1986, 102m 

Papatakis’s most accessible, gripping, and poignant work is a meticulously crafted, intimate meditation on immigration and exile centering on a 26-year-old Greek man fresh out of prison (where he was tortured for being a communist’s son) who leaves for France in hopes of a better life and strikes up a complicated friendship with a distant relative. 
Monday, February 26, 9:15pm 
Walking a Tightrope / Les Équilibristes 
Nico Papatakis, France, 1992, 120m
The director’s final film—starring Michel Piccoli as a fictional version of Papatakis’s friend Jean Genet—is a compendium of the themes and motifs that pervade his distinctive filmography, including the torturous nature of love, the suffering induced by exile, and suicide as an act of rebellion. 
Tuesday, February 27, 9:15pm
FILM COMMENTPublished since 1962, Film Comment magazine features in-depth reviews, critical analysis, and feature coverage of mainstream, art-house, and avant-garde filmmaking from around the world. Today a bimonthly print magazine and a website, the magazine was founded under the editorship of Gordon Hitchens, who was followed by Richard Corliss, Harlan Jacobson, Richard Jameson, Gavin Smith, and Nicolas Rapold. Past and present contributing critics include Paul Arthur, David Bordwell, Richard Combs, Manohla Dargis, Raymond Durgnat, Roger Ebert, Manny Farber, Howard Hampton, Molly Haskell, J. Hoberman, Richard Jameson, Kent Jones, Dave Kehr, Nathan Lee, Todd McCarthy, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tony Rayns, Frank Rich, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel, Elliott Stein, Amy Taubin, David Thomson, Richard Thompson, Amos Vogel, Robin Wood, and many more.
FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTERThe Film Society of Lincoln Center is devoted to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema. The only branch of the world-renowned arts complex Lincoln Center to shine a light on the everlasting yet evolving importance of the moving image, this nonprofit organization was founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international film. Via year-round programming and discussions; its annual New York Film Festival; and its publications, including Film Comment, the U.S.’s premier magazine about films and film culture, the Film Society endeavors to make the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broader audience, as well as to ensure that it will remain an essential art form for years to come.
The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from Shutterstock, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. American Airlines is the Official Airline of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. For more information, visit and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.

In Brief: Across The Waters (2017) NYJFF 2018

Based on a true story, ACROSS THE WATERS tells the story of a guitarist and is family who flee to the north of the country looking for a way to escape the Nazi's. It seems the coalition that had kept the Danish Jews safe has collapsed and now no one was safe. The family is hoping to make their way and connect to the underground who they have heard are ferrying people to Sweden.

This is a very good is overly earnest film about a flight to freedom. Gorgeously shot, the Second World War has ever been made to look this good. The film moves by twists and turns in such a way as to be play as the top notch thriller that it is. It is also a moving and truth portrait of good people rising to help others in dark times.

If I must quibble with the film it's in that the copious use of close ups often works against the film making not so much claustrophobic but simply uncomfortable.

On the other hand the natural drama in the story lifts it all up and makes it all compelling.

Definitely worth a look when it plays at The New York Jewish Film Festival.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thoughts on Hostiles (2017) the first time through

On the verge of mustering out, an army captain is forced to take captured Native American chief and his family from New Mexico to Montana so he can die at home. He wants no part of it, but he is  not one to disobey orders, especially if it means he will lose his pension.  Along the way he will pick up a woman whose family was killed by raiders, fight off various forms of attack and have to come to terms with who he is.

HOSTILES was not what I expected. That is a good thing.

Billed in TV commercials as an action packed road trip, it is in fact a deliberately paced, thoughtful examination of our souls.It is a film that isn't action packed but has action. It has moments of intense violence and touching humanity.

I don't know were to begin discussing this film. It's not that there isn't anything to say but almost that there is too much to say. Literary in construction, I suspect some people may not like some of the thoughtful exchanges that pass between the traveler. This is a film with a lot on its mind. It is a film poses a good many questions such as who are we really? What is the cost of war? What is the cost of racism? and most importantly can we find a way back to being human? It is a film that makes a stab at answering, or if not answering then wrestling with, all of them as well a several dozen more.

A road movie of the soul, we are on a trip where all of the characters are going to have to deal with the crucibles of themselves. On the road and in close quarters, with no routine but the travel everyone has to face who they are, what they've done and how they feel or don't feel about it. It is a journey that could ultimately free them and return them to humanity or destroy them utterly, a fate that is faced by a few of the travelers. And if there was ever any hope of not having to face their pasts it goes out the window when they pick up a prisoner for transport. An fugitive soldier wanted for murder, he once served with Christian Bale's captain and he knows of Bale's dark deeds. Pleading to be let go, since he didn't do anything Bale hadn't done before, Bale has to find away to keep his charge in chains and his soul intact.

Along the way the film moves us to not just think, but to feel. Twists and violence bring us feelings of shock and awe. Seemingly small moments bring us to tears. This is a film that engages all of us on all levels.

I want to say more. I want to discuss what happens but as this posts HOSTILES is still only in selected theaters so most of you haven't yet had a chance to see it. I don't want to spoil this film by saying too much of what happens. Additionally I want to, nay I need to see this film again simply because this film surprised me so much I need to go back and link up some moments and really take in what happens so I can properly discuss them.

HOSTILES opens wide in theaters across the country Friday. It is highly recommended for anyone wanting an excellent movie or a thoughtful western

The Road Movie (2017)

Full disclosure at the start- I am a huge fan of  Russian and Eastern European dash cam videos. My reaction to the film must gauged by the fact that I've seen a good number of these videos as stand alones and as part of  amateur compilations of  the various footage.

70 minute long compilation of Russian dash-cam videos will either delight you or bore you to tears.
Made up of some bone crushing, WTF videos which have been stitched together to form a kind of an hour long POV road trip. Frequently mind bending this film is guaranteed to make you spill you popcorn all over the place since viewing it becomes a trip you can't escape from.

And if you have the option,  the biggest screen possible is the absolute way to go since it puts you in the car making the impacts all the more jarring because you can't look away and you never know what is going to happen next.

However as much as I like the film, and I do like the film, it never quite builds up a full head of steam thanks to uneven editing. While there are things that will amaze and take your breath away (driving through a forest fire or watching the roof of a building go sailing to name a few) the pacing is never consistent or expected. Rapid cuts of crashes will be capped with a crash and the long take of people stopping to help  follows it. Any rhythm is lost by the seeming random inclusion of a full video for no real reason.

On the other hand the fact that you never know wat is going to happen next keeps you interested. Also seeing this on a movie screen makes this a kind of "you are there" experience that transcends it's You Tube origin.

Recommended and a must see on the big screen.

Monday, January 15, 2018

From the Vault: Postwar Brit Noir plays at the Quad January 29 - February 1

In this new ongoing series the Quad unearths underseen gems from the Cohen Film Collection's archive. For this inaugural edition, we're pleased to present four darkly tinted Brit Noirs from the postwar era

Cast a Dark Shadow
Lewis Gilbert, 1955, UK, 82m, DCP
In this taut thriller, Dirk Bogarde plays a schemer who uses his charm to wed an older wealthy woman, then stages her death to look accidental and seeks out another victim.

Dancing with Crime
John Paddy Carstairs, 1947, UK, 83m, DCP
After his war buddy is killed by black marketers, Richard Attenborough sets about bringing them to justice, sending fiancée Sheila Sim undercover at the dance hall from which they operate.

Val Guest, 1962, UK, 107m, DCP
An absorbing and entertaining murder mystery following Brighton policeman Jack Warner who pursues the murderer of a woman whose body is discovered in a lonely beach house.

Wanted For Murder
(aka A Voice in the Night)
Lawrence Huntington, 1946, UK, 103m, DCP
Respectable businessman Eric Portman acts out his obsession with his hangman father by picking up and strangling shopgirls—until the prospect of marriage gives him hope that he can overcome his serial killing ways.

The Cohen Film Collection (formerly The Rohauer Library) is a world-renowned archive of rare movie classics consisting of over 700 features and shorts that span 75 years of cinema. This treasure trove was amassed by Raymond Rohauer (1924–1987), the film curator of the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art in New York, who devoted his life to collecting these distinguished films. This unique library was acquired by Charles S. Cohen in 2011, and is now undergoing systematic preservation and restoration to make it possible for these films to be available to today's filmgoers. The Cohen Film Collection continues to augment its library through the acquisition of classic art cinema from around the globe, ensuring that this varied collection will grow and expand for years to come.