Monday, May 25, 2020

Higher Love (2020) is Playing at Brooklyn Film Festival

Here is a repost of my review of HIGHER LOVE. It is one of the best films of 2020 so far.

This may have been the first truly great film I saw for Slamdance. It is a film that haunted me for days after I saw it. It is a tough tough film about what drugs are doing to society.

The focus of the film is Daryl Gant a resident of Camden New Jersey. Daryl has a good job and tries to stay out of trouble. When his girlfriend Nani gives birth to a son Daryl has to struggle to take care of the child since Nani is an addict and can very easily fall off the wagon. The film also shows us the story of Iman, a friend of the couple who was was an engineer until he started dealing and became addicted.

If you don't want to see the real cost of addiction  stay away. This is an in your face film that does not shy away from showing us the high cost of drugs on our communities and on our bodies. It also powerfully shows us in no uncertain terms the toll it takes not only on the addicts but the lives of the people who love them. As having heard the  statement "why don't they just walk away" in regard to the friends and family of the addicts, this film makes it painfully clear why that isn't always an option.

I was repulsed, troubled and deeply moved. As I watched the film I found that I kept wanting to stop the film and walk away, I didn't want to see this, I need to see this and yet I kept watching because director Hasan Oswald kept filming and thus kept insisting, rightly that I needed to. When it was done I seriously considered walking away and not writing it up simply because I didn't want to revisit the film. However despite my best efforts not to think about it, I couldn't stop. Hours after seeing the film I found I was thinking about how to attack a review. I also came home and had a discussion on line with a friend about how I couldn't shake the film and hw it might be the first great film I saw for Slamdance.

Days passed, more movies have come and gone and still HIGHER LOVE hangs with me.  I still don't want to talk about the film largely because I really don't have the words to describe it in a way that does it justice. I think that all I can say is all what needs to be said- HIGHER LOVE is a great film and is must see.

For details on the Brooklyn Film Festival screening go here

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule # 50 The Passenger [1975] ★★★★

Two white men stand on the porch of a hotel. Before them lies the desolate Sahara desert.

“Beautiful,” one sighs, “don’t you think so?”

“Beautiful? I don’t know,” his companion replies.

“So still. A kind of…waiting.”

This exchange happens early on in Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger, and it sets the tone for the entirety of this strange, stripped down meditation on identity and detachment. The entire film feels like one long held breath as its characters fidget in anticipation of things they can’t foresee or understand. Like many of Antonioni’s films, it centers on ennui-stricken Westerners vanishing in strange environments. But unlike the literal vanishings of an Italian aristocrat in L’Avventura (1960) or a possible murder victim and fashion photographer in Blowup (1966), this vanishing is more metaphorical but no less consequential.

While filming a documentary on the Chadian Civil War, frustrated television journalist David Locke (Jack Nicholson) steals the identity of an English friend named Robertson (Charles Mulvehill) after discovering him dead in a hotel room. Freed from the cares and anxieties of his old life, his new one is suddenly disturbed while rooting through Robertson’s things back in Europe, discovering that he was a gunrunner supplying arms to African rebels. When Robertson’s contacts catch up with him and pay him for his next “shipment” he goes on the run from not one but two lives, pursued from the first by his wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) and from the second by the police and secret agents. The film then becomes a doomed road movie as Locke and an unnamed architectural student he starts an affair with in Barcelona (Maria Schneider) move towards a scheduled meeting in Robertson’s appointment book. Both seem to know they’re headed towards an Appointment in Samarra, but neither can seem to put the journey off.

Much of the film depends upon Nicholson’s performance who, despite having been New Hollywood’s resident superstar for several years, appears without a glimpse of traditional star power. He seems exhausted, both physically and spiritually, his face as much a cypher as the strange twisted Gaudí towers he encounters in Barcelona or the endless sand dunes of north Africa. Luciano Tovoli’s cinematography here is justifiably the stuff of legend—whether his camera drifts through time during flashbacks or phases through gates during the voyeuristic finale, one never gets tired of simply looking at this heady yet affecting cinematic riddle.

The Slamdance award winner Vast of Night (2019) is heading to Amazon Prime

It really was a weather balloon. If you doubt it, check out the articles in The Skeptical Inquiry debunking the Roswell UFO myth. It is a good story, but it is just a story. Nevertheless, the need to believe has made New Mexico ground zero for the flying saucer faithful. Apart from the Roswell rumor-mongering, New Mexico’s wide-open deserts and low population density make fictional Cayuga, NM a suitable location for paranormal goings-on in Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night, the plucky microbudget winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.

Vast of Night is ostensibly an episode of a 1950s science fiction anthology show called Paradox Theater that we start watching on a vintage black-and-white vacuum tube television, before the picture morphs into the evocatively washed out color of the characters’ world. Everett is a cocky high school student who works part-time for the local AM radio station. Everyone in town probably assumes he and Fay will eventually become a couple, but for now, they just bicker too much. Tonight, he is happily helping her get the hang of the new portable tape recorder she just ordered from Montgomery Ward.

Nearly everyone in town will be at the big high school basketball game, but he will be on the air at WOTW and she will be covering the town’s telephone switchboard. When reports of strange lights in the sky start to come in, the ambiguous couple will be able to coordinate their efforts to investigate. It turns out, something downright Roswellian might be afoot, based on claims of “Billy,” a former US Air Force officer, who calls into Everett’s show.

Frankly, it is shocking how well put together Vast is, especially given its extreme budget constraints. It is definitely one of the best looking, smartest written X-Files-esque films in decades. Patterson and cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz give it an intimate vibe with their claustrophobic long takes, but they also capture a sense of the lonely emptiness of the small town when their restless camera pans from one location to another during transitional scenes. Strange Invaders, the cult favorite from 1983, would be a logical comparison title, in terms of themes and vibe, but Vast is a far superior film.

The period details and visual effects are definitely impressive, but the chemistry between Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz, as Fay and Everett, respectively, is what really elevates Vast. They are terrific together and they both absolutely knock out of the park screenwriters James Montague & Craig W. Sanger’s long, knotty passages of dialogue. They also get first class support from the rest of the ensemble, including the pitch-perfect heard-but-not-seen Bruce Davis as Billy and Gail Cronauer, who holds viewers absolutely rapt as Mabel Blanche, another eye witness of sorts.

Vast of Night is a film you really should see in a darkened theater, because it would be a shame to let the distractions of mundane life break the spell Patterson and his actors cast over the audience. Granted, the story itself is hardly groundbreaking, but Patterson’s mastery of mood, the palpable sense of place, and the work of his two co-leads are really quite special. Very highly recommended, The Vast of Night should have a long life ahead of it with genre film fans, after winning the Audience Award at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival.

Stay AT Home Fest Bonus Film: The Indian Lake Project



Half hour film about a website trying to unravel a potential government program to use children in mind control experiments.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A brief look at the Brooklyn Film Festival which starts Friday and runs to June 7

Wanna see some great films for free?

As with everything these days of Covid 19,  the Brooklyn Film Festival has gone on line. They are screening the films for free but you have to register to get access and they are being grouped into two hour blocks. Part of a recent press release read as follows:

"...all Brooklyn Film Festival films will play for free via BFF’s website for the whole duration of the festival, but viewers must first open a free account and can begin to pre-register [now] on the BFF website at https://www.brooklynfilmfestival.org/bff-audience-registration. The video server will be hosted by Vimeo. Audience voting will be limited to one vote per account. BFF will also organize parallel live events such as filmmaker introductions and Q&A sessions on the BFF website, Facebook and other social media"

They are running a lot of good and a few great  films so if you want to lose yourself for ten days I suggest you get yourself registered. (Hey I know I should say more but after singing its praises for a decade I don't know what else to say other than you know how good the festival is because I keep going back)

I know, now that you realize that you can access 140 films you are probably wondering which of them are good.  To be honest I have not had a chance to see everything, however I have seen a few and based on that might I suggest the following.

ALIVE- a wicked short film about a handicapped woman wanting to find love...or sex. Its a neat little film that becomes glorious in it's ending.

MR SAM- a young man has fallen in love...with a corpse. A wicked charming short film that I would love to see expanded. This was one of the best films of any length I saw in 2019.

LEWISTON is a short about two communities in the town of Lewiston and this is so good it needs to become a feature film.

MACABRE- based on a true case of murder and mayhem it follows a police officer sent to subdue killers known as the Necrophil Brothers.

HIGHER LOVE- one of 2020's very best films concerns a father trying to keep the mother of his child sober and out of trouble. It will move you.

THE BLACK EMPEROR OF BROADWAY is the story of Charles Gilpin who rose to prominence by starring in O'Neill's Emperor Jones. Shaun Parkes gives an Oscar worthy turn in the lead. It is a towering achievement and a must see.

EROTIC FIRE OF THE UNATTAINABLE- a 60 something woman searches for love. It has literate dialog is endlessly quotable.

FITNESS! or a Story about SWEAT is the second short film from Kana Hatakeyama.  Its a very funny look at one woman's quest to get fit.  It is also proof that s Hatakeyama is destined for great things.

There are more of course but that should get you started (besides I still haven't had a chance to see everything that I was sent)

Reviews start hitting tomorrow and will land through the festival.

For more details on the festival go here.

Yesteryear (2020)

With this year's Covid 19 outbreak causing a desire for a lost simpler time, director Chris Esper takes a look at how we view our past through home movies. The result is film which will hit you like a ton of bricks as it  sends ripples of nostalgia through you.

Made up of home video and film footage from his family as well as from other sources Esper replays moments in our lives, from getting the camera, to birthdays, Christmas, vacations, Fourth of July and other events. There is a no narration we only hear the words from the films or the gentle score. The result is a connection to that part of our memories where we connect to to these seemingly simpler times.

Was the world ever this simple? Probably not. But it is how we tend to remember it, the good times shorn of the bad stuff. A decade or so on how we remember today will be via the funny videos we made and not the uncertainty we never record. Esper's film reminds us that years from now we will remember the good and not the bad.

Esper's film is a quiet stunner. It is a film of it's time. It is a cry into the  night that we will get through these difficult times and remember them fondly on the other end. It is a lovesong to the memories that give us hope for tomorrow.

Were the whole Covid 19 thing not happening I would be almost certain that Esper's film might end up in the running for an Oscar, but then again it it isn't big and showy rather it is quiet and reflective. It's more the thing that makes the hair stand up on your neck and you take into your heart forever instead of making you go wow before you move on to the next thing.

Oscar likes the big wow films.  Personally I prefer the small ones which is why I loved YESTERYEAR.

YESTERYEAR is part of the Stories In Motion series and will be released sometime this week.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #49 Capricious Summer [1968] ★★★½

Sometimes a film doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or influential to be good. Sometimes, it’s enough to just be pleasant. And Jiří Menzel’s Capricious Summer is a very, very pleasant film. Vaguely set at some point in Interwar Czechoslovakia, the film largely takes place in a lakeside bathhouse in an idyllic countryside warm with the drowsiness of summer. Portly vacationers sun themselves on the dock in between sudden cloud bursts that drown half-drunk glasses of wine. Men float in the water, puffing at cigars as their wives playfully flirt with their friends. There’s liquor in the cups, sausage on the tables, and thoughtful conversation on the lips of everyone. Jirí Susi’s cinematography suggests delicate pastels as if everything, even the water and grass, has been gently bleached by the sun. It’s the kind of cinematic world you’d love to crawl into. And within this world Menzel weaves a wistful comedy of love and foolishness.

The film follows the romantic fortunes of three friends: Antonín Dura (Rudolf Hrusínský), the grouchy owner of the bathhouse, ex-soldier Major Hugo (Vlastimil Brodský), and a priest named Roch (František Řehák). The three fall in love with Anna (Jana Drchalová), a dancer in a circus that’s come to town led by magician and tightrope walker Arnostek (Menzel). The film sees all three attempt to seduce the eager and willing Anna, yet fail at the very last moment. When the brutish Antonín corners her in his bathhouse, his demeanor melts into that of a nervous child, leaving him incapable of doing anything more than giving the dancer a foot massage. When the Major takes his turn at Anna’s circus, his seduction is suddenly interrupted when Antonín is rushed into their lodging after taking a terrible fall during his tightrope act. And when the hapless Roch tries to cozy up to her with a collection of Ovid’s love poetry, he gets attacked by a group of villagers. Eventually the frustrated Anna leaves the town in a huff.

The film plays almost like a light-hearted prediction of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), another comedy about sexual frustration, but lacking the Spaniard’s characteristic misanthropy. Capricious Summer is very obviously a bemused fantasy instead of a surrealist indictment of human nature—we never get the impression that we’re supposed to dislike the characters, even as they go behind each other’s backs or attempt adultery.

Aurora (2018)

This is the "true" story of the alleged crash of an airship in 1897 Aurora Texas in a storm. Allegedly the ship broke apart and was thrown in a well while the occupant was given a Christian burial. Attempts to find the ship and the occupant over the years have failed.

Taking the crash as a starting point the film imagines that people in the town found the and brought him to the sheriff's office. What happened next is the film, but it isn't giving anything away to say that there is a monster involved.

I believe that Randi pointed me toward the Kickstarter campaign for AURORA and  liking what I saw I instantly threw some cash at the project in the hope of seeing the finished product. I am so glad I did.

The film is, for most of it's running time, a killer homage to black and white 1950's B science fiction films. Running a lean 30 minutes this film beautifully generates more tension than most five or six other recent feature length horror films combined. Gloriously it does so using just words and shadows. The film is mostly people talking about what happened and it creepy as all get out.

If the film has any flaw it is in the brief monster sequence. Looking like the man in a suit that it is, it never looks real. Yes, it looks cool, but it never looks right with it's fixed mouth and over sized hands causing groans within the context of the film This is one one the very few fils where you don't want to see the monster..Fortunately the rest of the film is so good that you can't help but not mind.

Sadly AURORA illustrates a problem with many Kickstarter projects, they fade away. Yes, a good number of them get completed. Yes, they will play festivals. But at the sametime the projects then vanish never to be seen again. I only knew about the film because I kicked in money. If I hadn't I would never have known.  And lest you think that this film didn't have some sort of profile at one point realize that best selling Author Neil Gaiman was hot on the project enough that he is quoted in the material for the film and thanked in the credits. (additionally it also suffers from having a title that it shares with dozens and dozens of others, but that is another story)

Ultimately AURORA is a great film. However it is a film you need to search out, because the festival run appears to be winding down (and in the age of covid certain) and because it really is that good.
Here is the IMDB page. Here is the film's page.

Stay At Home Fest Bonus FIlm STUNTS



Robert Forster in murder mystery set on the making of a movie. Great fun

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Man Standing Next (2020) hits home video May 26

A fictionalized look of the events that transpired in the 40 days leading up to the assassination of Korean President Park in October 1979 by Kim Gyu-pyeong, one of the directors of the KCIA the Korean Intelligence Service. The film has Lee Byung-hun as Kim going to the US to stop his predecessor from selling his memoirs and telling the Americans what is going on in Korea. Kim gets th memoirs, but also his eyes opened as he is told about all the dirty laundry of President Park. This sets things in motion that eventually lead to the shooting.

I am kind of unsure how to react to THE MAN STANDING NEXT. On it's own it is a solid political drama or thriller that ends in a political assassination. I had a really good time watching it but often felt a bit lost. I  didn't have a firm handle on the actual events, with my memories of Koreagate being a tad vague despite following it when it was going down. I had the sense that had I better handle on the history I would have liked it more.

When I finished the film I went back and read about the actual events. While I didn't grasp everything, knowing about how Park came to power, the steps he took to remain in power and all of the events in the decade prior to the killing put things in a new light. I appreciated the the film more because I understood the reference to what was happening and had happened.  I think knowing Korean history makes it a better film. It also explains why this was is one of Korea's top films at the box office this year.

However even not knowing all the details this is a solid thriller. Its an edge of your seat tale that makes you wonder what is going to happen next.

Recommended.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #48 Under the Sun of Satan [1987] ★★

It’s difficult to evaluate Maurice Pialat’s Under the Sun of Satan without also considering its reputation as one of the most controversial winners of the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. The first French film to win the Palme in twenty-one years since Claude Lelouch’s 1966 romance A Man and a Woman—which famously shared the award with Pietro Germi’s The Birds, the Bees and the Italians—it received a rare unanimous jury vote. The award ceremony’s audience responded with a raucous chorus of boos, leading to one of the most infamous moments of Cannes history when Pialat took the stage and responded “You don’t like me? Well, let me tell you that I don’t like you either!” So whether fairly or unfairly, it will always be subjected to debates over whether or not it deserved the Palme and if it cheated the “proper” winner out of its due.

Even a cursory glance at the year’s main competition slate raises eyebrows. Did the film truly deserve to win over Souleymane Cissé’s Yeelen, one of the very greatest West African films ever made? Or Tengiz Abuladze’s maddeningly overlooked glasnost fantasia Repentance? Or, perhaps most infuriating of all, Wim Wenders’ transcendent Wings of Desire? The answer to all of these is, in this critic’s humble opinion, a resounding, definitive no.

Whatever truth, beauty, or meaning the jurists saw in Pialat’s ponderous religious drama in 1987 hasn’t survived to the present day. Based on a book by Roman Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos, the film follows a priest played by Gérard Depardieu living in 1920s France who, in the midst of a crisis of faith, has an unexpected encounter with Satan while traveling down a country road. The experience leaves him shellshocked, but also capable of peering into the soul and inner thoughts of the people around him, powers which he uses in a disastrous attempt to save the soul of a pregnant teenager named Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire) who murdered one of her lovers.

Unlike Robert Bresson who adapted two of Bernanos novels into two of the most starkly powerful theological dramas of mid-century European cinema—Diary of a Country Priest (1951) and Mouchette (1967)—Pialat gets lost in sententious dialogue and philosophical ouroboroses, resulting in a film that glazes the eyes and numbs the mind despite its ravishing beauty. There’s little meaning, and even scarcer theological truth, in this confusing, opaque blob.

Funny Pains (2020) hits VOD May 26th

All over the place look at stand up comedy is framed as a look at comic Wendi Starling who we watch perform, write, go through her daily life and struggle with mental illness.

I am not sure what to say about FUNNY PAINS. As something to make you laugh it is a really good. One can't go very long without smiling or laughing, something that increases whenever we get into the rooms where Starling and other comics are hanging out talking. This film will most assuredly make you laugh a lot.

On the other hand the film was edited via a food processor by caffeine addled chihuahuas on speed. The film starts with a combination recollection and a stand up bit as Starling talks about having manic incidents that include Hugh Jackman appearing to tell her he isn't real but it would be all okay. It then leaps off to follow her through her day and then pauses periodically to have comics sit around talking before more of Starling on the street or performing. Who in the hell edited this and can I hit them with something big and heavy like Buick?

There is no real ground work there is just randomly put together bits that drive everything forward before bouncing backwards and sidewards. You really don't get any sense of Starling other than she is a crazily busy comic who performs, does a podcast and still needs a day job. And frankly I could have read that sentence before seeing the film and I would have known just as much at the end.

In all honesty as a film FUNNY PAINS is a fucking mess.

On the other hand it is god damn hysterically funny as the jokes fly from start to finish. This is a solid laugh producer.

If you want a good well made film look elsewhere. If you want to laugh this film is just the ticket

Stay at Home Fest Bonus Film THE MESSIAH OF EVIL



A scary early 1970's film from the director of HOWARD THE DUCK

Friday, May 22, 2020

JAPAN SOCIETY ANNOUNCES FIRST ONLINE-ONLY EDITION OF JAPAN CUTS FOR THE 14TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF NEW JAPANESE FILM

Plans for North America's Largest Contemporary Japanese Cinema Festival + Opening Night Selection July 17–30, 2020

NEW YORK, May 22, 2020–In light of the ongoing international situation with COVID-19, the organizers behind JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film have decided to take this popular annual event at Japan Society out of its usual form and craft a completely online version of the festival. Partnering with Festival Scope and Shift72 as the streaming platform and technology service, the festival team is hand-crafting 14 days of unique screening opportunities for Japanese cinema lovers, serving the Society’s dedicated audiences in New York City but also, for the first time, making the festival available to viewers throughout the United States.

“While nothing can replace the thrill of welcoming filmmakers and audience members together into our auditorium, we are excited by the new possibilities opened up by putting the festival online this summer,” says K. F. Watanabe, Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “Our programming team is committed to maintaining the high quality of film offerings and intimate feeling of community provided by JAPAN CUTS within this reimagined format while also finding ways of engaging new audiences across the country and supporting Japanese film culture.”

Set for July 17-30, the online edition of the festival will offer a diverse slate of around 30 feature films and shorts programs on a VOD model, with a limited number of virtual tickets and access geoblocked to the U.S. Recurring thematic festival sections such as Documentary Focus and Experimental Spotlight will return, and a new competitive section dedicated to early-career independent filmmakers will be introduced. In addition, live and pre-recorded virtual Q&As, discussion panels, and video greetings from filmmakers and programmers will round out the dynamic and interactive program.

A live virtual Q&A will be scheduled and hosted on the festival’s opening day, July 17, with Shinichiro Ueda, director of the JAPAN CUTS 2020 Opening Film selection Special Actors. The filmmaker is best known for his breakout 2017 indie debut One Cut of the Dead, a low-budget zombie film written and directed by Ueda that was an unexpected box office hit in Japan—where it screened across 340 theaters and surpassed 2 million admissions from word of mouth—and an international festival sensation. Special Actors is Ueda’s much-anticipated follow-up feature, an ensemble comedy about an oddball acting troupe infiltrating a cult, which had its theatrical run in Japan in late 2019. The film has not yet screened in North America and will make its online streaming debut with JAPAN CUTS courtesy of international rights holder Shochiku.

“I am honored to have my film selected as the opening film [for JAPAN CUTS] among the many others included in the festival,” wrote Ueda through email. “Though we are in a situation where it is difficult to travel, I am happy that at least this film can travel and reach people overseas in North America. Unpredictable twists and turns await you in this film, but try not to faint like the main character—and please enjoy this fun movie journey!”

The full lineup of JAPAN CUTS 2020 films and panels will be released in late June.

About JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film

Emphasizing the diversity and vitality of one of the most exciting world cinemas, JAPAN CUTS gives cinephiles their first (and sometimes only) chance to discover the next waves of filmmaking from Japan. Founded in 2007, the festival presents the biggest Japanese blockbusters, raucous genre flicks, peerless independents, arthouse gems, radical documentaries, and avant-garde forms, along with unique collaborative programs, workshops, and panels put together with the cooperation of other international organizations. Special guest actors and filmmakers join the festivities for Q&As, award ceremonies, and the post-screening parties and receptions audiences have come to expect, with live music, food, and drinks. 2020 is the first year that JAPAN CUTS will not be physically hosted at Japan Society since its inception.

About Japan Society

Founded in 1907, Japan Society in New York City presents sophisticated, topical and accessible experiences of Japanese art and culture, and facilitates the exchange of ideas, knowledge and innovation between the U.S. and Japan. More than 200 events annually encompass world-class exhibitions, dynamic classical and cutting-edge contemporary performing arts, film premieres and retrospectives, workshops and demonstrations, tastings, family activities, language classes, and a range of high-profile talks and expert panels that present open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). www.japansociety.org

Credits

JAPAN CUTS is sponsored by Shiseido Americas with additional support provided by Sapporo U.S.A, Inc. Japan Society Film's programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund and Gaia Holistic Health Foundation/Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura-Hillyer. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, David Toberisky, Geoff and Fumi Matters, Laurel Gonsalves, James Read Levy, Masu Hiroshi Masuyama, Akiko Koide and Shohei Koide, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, George Gallagher, David S. Howe, Michael Romano, Hiroshi Tsuyuki and Yasuko Tsuyuki, and an anonymous donor.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #47 Monstrum ★★★

Heo Jong-ho’s Monstrum is a film that wears many hats—or, er, many gats. On the one hand it attempts to be a lavish historical epic that elevates the iconography of the sixteenth century Joseon period to the same levels of splendor as ancient China and Japan. In South Korea’s continuing bid for Southeast Asian cultural superiority, it only makes sense that they’d want to make ancient Korea as iconic and instantly recognizable as China’s Forbidden City and imperial court or Japan’s august shiro and indomitable samurai. The film’s also a kaiju movie, centering on a giant monster known as “Monstrum” that lives on Mount Inwangsan near the capital city. The creature ravishes the countryside, destroying whole villages and infecting the survivors with plague. Looking like a pustule-ridden shisa with gorilla arms, Monstrum is a terrifying, agile, and indestructible beastie.

Meanwhile, the film also features Game of Thrones style realpolitik scheming, frequently focusing on the inner machinations of the Joseon court and the Prime Minister’s ruthless Machiavellian scheming to undermine and overthrown the emperor. In the midst of all this, the film’s also a family survival drama reminiscent of Roland Emmerich’s disaster movies, following disgraced former general Yun Kyum (Kum Myung-min) as he’s summoned by Emperor Jungjong (Park Hee-soon) to hunt down Monstrum. He takes with him his doltish but devoted second-in-command Sung Han (Kim In-kwon) and his headstrong adopted daughter Myung (Lee Hye-ri), both of whom get their own subplots and characters arcs. And finally, Monstrum tries to be a big-budget action movie, combining traditional creature feature destruction with wuxia-flavored Korean martial arts fights.

Does it all work?

Not particularly. For in addition to everything previously mentioned, the film also tries to be an allegory. Who are the real monsters, it asks, the shisa-gorilla or the scheming, despotic politicians (who for the first half of the movie are implied as having invented Monstrum as an urban legend to help discredit Jungjong)? The answer, of course, is that the giant monster is the real monster, rendering all its metaphors about the dangers of unchecked political ambition moot. The film has serious structural issues, too, with a third act that goes on and on and on. Still, if Monstrum is a mess it’s an admirable one, the product of too much ambition, not a bottom-line driven lack of it.

Hero Tomorrow (2007)

With the Covid lockdown in force I'm going through stacks of stuff in order to see what has to be kept and junk. I am finding a number of DVDs that pushed behind things. In a bag of stuff from a semi-recent New York Comic Con I found my signed copy of HERO TOMORROW by Ted Sikora. Double checking as to whether I reviewed it for Unseen or not, I found I did not. (Apologies to Mr Sikora)

HERO TOMORROW is the name of the comic shop where David's girlfriend works. David is a wannabe comic writer and artist whose character Apama is an spirit animal like Wolverine. No one is interested and so he spends his days cutting grass, getting stones, working on his comic and getting yelled at by his parents. When his girlfriend gives him a costume based on his character things begin to slide as David imagines himself as Apama.

Dry humor mixes with low key drama to form a solid little film. This a beautifully crafted small film that has a nice warm heart at it's center. I love that it walks into the field where comics crashes into reality so we see the troubles of being a superhero as David's flights of fantasy don't always go well. You can't just become you're secret identity.

While the film isn't perfect, the performances are uneven for example, the film still moves us with it's humanity.

Worth a look. (it can be streamed on Amazon)

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film: The Falcon's Brother



After finding that the Falcon series was turning into a variation of The Saint series George Sanders bowed out and his brother Tom Conway took over. Great fun and the series just got even better after the fact.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #46 The Champ [1931] ★★★★½

Child actors in the early days of Hollywood weren’t really expected to act the same way adults did. They were coached to act like adults, adopting their vocal cadences and physical mannerisms while delivering their lines at the top of their voices like they were yelling into a WWII walkie-talkie. Even in the days before naturalistic acting when performances were deliberately mannered and stagy, child acting frequently felt like broad pantomime.

And for most of King Vidor’s The Champ, child actor Jackie Cooper gives a typical child performance for his era. He plays “Dink,” the eight-year-old son of Andy “Champ” Purcell (Wallace Beery), a former world heavyweight champion boxer who crawled into a bottle after losing a championship bout and never came back up again for air. When Dink isn’t stomping around like a hood three times his size, he’s flicking his emotions on and off like a light switch, all sudden weepy hysterics that appear and vanish in a moment. But there’s one scene where Cooper’s pretense of adulthood vanishes. While visiting his birth mother’s palatial mansion, he loiters around a candy bowl, greedily grabbing all he can stuff into his pockets before jumping over a nearby handrail and pulling himself onto the roof. It’s a magnificent little scene where we see a child actor being an actual child on camera.

This moment is only one of the many small miracles in The Champ, a masculine weepy masquerading as a sports flick. Written by Frances Marion (for which she snagged her second Academy Award), the film is pure machismo melodrama, a devastating portrait of sacrificial fatherhood. Beery gives a career-best performance as Champ, a hurricane of a man whose gruff demeanor masks a sentimental devotion to his son for which he’d happily humiliate himself—just as long as he isn’t too busy destroying himself with booze and gambling.

Cooper too is a portrait of wide-eyed familial devotion. (Another of the film’s small miracles: an early scene where the two share a hotel bed and Dink curls up next to Champ after he hogs all the covers in his sleep.) Vidor, with his enthusiastic belief in family and mankind’s better nature, was the perfect choice for director as he never rolls his eyes at his material; what could’ve come across as schmaltz hums with the belief that what we’re seeing is somehow sacred and true.

Venus Rises: The Web Series

Venus Rises is a three episode web series set after the fall of earth about a private on a refueling ship who gets involved in the war between the rich on Mars and the workers on Venus who are revolting toward their masters

Excellent low budget science fiction film is unfairly lost to the ages. I picked up a copy of the series several years ago at NY Comic Con but only recently got around to watching it. I am now kicking myself since the series in infinitely better than the vast majority of direct to video scifi films I have encountered
Well written and good looking the series goes from start to finish. I really want to see what happens next... which means I'm going to have to break down and gt the comic books since the story continues there.

Highly recommended the series can be had on DVD or flash drive and can be found here. (it runs n hour total)

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film FBI GIRL