Monday, February 26, 2024

New York International Children Film Festival 2024 starts Saturday

 


The New York International Children’s Film Festival starts this weekend and we are better for it.

A favorite of New York for the last 25 years I think I’ve attended everyone except two, the first because I didn’t know of it, and the one year that the festival ran a film or two every weekend for 52 weeks (Because what I wanted to see never lined up to when I could go).

This is a joyous festival that has brought some of the best films around the world into New York. It’s such a well respected festival that  it is the only festival any where in the world that has been allowed to screen the Studio Ghibli Museum short films. Ghibli almost never does this except for very rare, very special occasions such as relief following the Fukushima Earthquake and Tsunami. The festival is so good at picking films that they spun of G-Kids Films to handle the release of some of the treasures they found.


As usual I’ve purchased way too many tickets so I’ll be wading in to the fray and the t-shirt tosses with everyone else.  (though it will be for the second and third weekends- a family function is the first.) So look for me at the SVA theater you’ll no me by the monster bag.


And I am pointing out where I am going to be because as always the fest is playing not only across New York City (Alamo Brooklyn, Film Forum, IFC Center, Scandinavia House) but also at the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville New York the first weekend and the Sag Harbor Cinema on the final weekend. Don’t worry the non- NYC screenings are of films from the city screenings.


As this posts I’ve previous seen and reviewed ROBOT DREAMS, WHERE IS ANNE FRANK, CHICKEN FOR LINDA and SIROCCO AND THE KINGDOM OF THE WINDS and I will be reposting reviews for all of them. I've also seen four other films since then because I couldn't fit them to my in person schedule: DOUNIA: THE GREAT WHITE NORTH (which you should see if you saw the first film last year, PUFFIN ROCK AND THE NEW FRIENDS (which is a great deal of fun); and STORY AND PICTURES BY (a very good look at the people who make picture books).

My advice is that if you check the slate and see something that is of interest do buy tickets. Buy soon since they are going fast. Also if something seems sold out  you can still try to get tickets  should they release tickets or on the wait line  in person. I’ve almost never seen a screening where people ended up turned away.

And now Its time for me to dig in and get ready to go.  Your job is to check the schedule and buy ticket. Information is here.

Animal Kingdom (2023) Opens Rendezvous with French Cinema 2024 Thursday


Set at a time when nature is going haywire and a disease is mutating humans into animals, a father and son move to the south of France to be with the wife/mother who has been changing. She has been taken to a facility where it is hoped that she can be cured.  However things become complicated when a bus transporting some of the "critters" ends up in a river releasing several of them. and the son begins to show signs of changing himself.

Well made film, is a blood related film to the thoughtful zombie films like MISS ZOMBIE and MAGGIE which seek to plum humanity without blood and gore. This is a film that ponders what it means to be human, as well as our fears about change and things that don't fit our definitions of life.

This film will grab you from the start as city traffic jam is interrupted by the escape of a partly changed man. People are tossed about and cars are damaged. We are also hooked for the long haul as we wait to see what happens.

What happens is for the most part is an intriguing riff on familiar themes. We've been here before, but not quite like this. The way the themes are presented opens up our minds to new possible takes,The world makes a weird sort of sense, especially in light of our living in a post covid world. Unexpectedly for much of the first half, this film is actually scarier than most recent horror films, despite the fact this isn't a horror film even it has "monsters".

Where the film falters is in the second half. The natural flow of the plot is rushed in some ways and the story ends up feeling forced. The filmmakers need certain things to happen to make a point  so those things happen even if they don't wholly make sense.  The result are some moments that don't quite ring true.

Its not fatal but whether to accept the turns will determine if you like or love the film.

I loved much of this, especially the make up.

Definitely worth a look the film opens this year's Rendezvous With French Cinema and opens in theaters March 15

Fast X (2023) is stupid even by the series standards


 FAST X has to be the stupidest action film I've ever seen. 

Beginning with a long replay from the last film  this film then has a relative of a deceased past foe wanting revenge. The film then sets in motion a series of stupid action sequences that make no sense what's so ever. 

It's all unbelievable CGI that's matched by a script which gives us no characters what so ever. Seriously there are no characters here. Never mind it's been ten films and the actors should know how to act- but they have been given nothing to do just marks to hit with the result that you care even less.

Talk about a cash grab.

This film sucks canal water through its sprockets.  This is the very definition of being half assed.

While I am not a fan of the series, the films were always brain dead fun. Unfortunately this is so bad as to be painful. I mean other bad action films at least try to so something even if they fail, I mean the action usually makes the films work, but this is just bad computer generated images on the screen so that the studio can take people's money.

Kind of a reflection of modern society as a whole, this film deserves to be forgotten.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Non-spoilery thoughts on Dune Part 2 (2024)


As film connected to the first movie, DUNE PART 2 is a great film. It's a film takes the first  and builds it up into a an super epic. If anyone wanted to consider it one of the greatest films ever made I wouldn't have a problem with it.

It also needs to be said that the structure and focus of the film actually requires this to be a differently told sequel. Yes, it is a sequel, but how it's told and what it says is something different than the first film.

Basically that's all you need to know. 

What do I think of the film beyond that?

oh boy.

It's not my reading of the first novel. The themes are there but Denis Villeneuve has chosen to highlight certain aspects over others, particularly the manipulation of the masses by supposed holy/ powerful people. This is a direct reaction to the world we are living in. As a result a lot of things that you may have liked in the book are not in the film. A number of things I would have liked to see aren't there. Additionally Villeneuve's refocusing has resulted in a rewriting of how things play out, who characters are and it also results in the ending left open for a sequel.

There was a certain point in the film where I kind of broke with the film. Yes, I was enjoying the hell out of it, but at the same time I was shaking my head. The reason was that Villeneuve's chasing the themes hobbled the narrative, the flow wasn't smooth. Pieces felt left out. Characters became less human, the masses became more faceless. At times we were given spectacle to make up for lack of narrative fluidity and lack of character.

(No I am not going to explain right now since the film hasn't opened, I'm not spoiling the changes and most of you have not seen it)

Is it bad? Absolutely not. I want to see it again.

That said, this isn't quite the book that has lived in my heart for almost 50 years, its something else entirely. It's a  great film but not the one I would have done (which is absolutely fine)

Definitely worth going to see it on a big screen if you can.

Recommended.

Rendezvous With French Cinema starts this week


The annual excellent Rendezvous With French Cinema starts this week and it’s time for you to get excited.

Covering a wide swath of films from France it is a place to discover a number of films you’ll be thinking about at years end. For me the one I’m going to remember if the opening night film THE ANIMAL KINGDOM which has a couple of sit bolt upright moments that force you to wonder what in the hell you are watching in a good way.


I love this fest and it’s here that I discovered so may films and performers that I never knew existed. Last year Virginie Efira was in two films that haunted me all year long. This year she’s in at least two more that I know of, one of which ALL TO PLAY FOR is deeply moving family drama.


Normally I wade in and see a ton of films before hand but my life didn’t allow me to do that this year, so I will be wading into the in personal screenings (If you see me and my monster bag stop by and say hi). Right now I’ve seen 8 films and I’m going to be seeing a few more assuming the planets stay aligned.

Do yourself a favor and get some tickets. I’ve liked everything I’ve seen, though some is better than others, so I can’t tell you not to see anything.

The slate and tickets can be found here, so take a look and buy some tickets and go.

Lee Fields: Faithful Man (2023) hits VOD on February 27


This look at soul singer Lee Fields is going to delight your ears. Filled with all sorts of great music, it is a film that will have you tapping your feet.

Portrait of a man who never stopped doing what he loved. This is portrait of a guy who started playing with his friends, a shows he friends said no one showed up to, on to today where Fields brand of classic sould brings down the house. It’s a wonderful portrait that makes it clear what a long hard road playing music is and how if you truly love it you can never stop.

While the film is kind of structured as a typical music doc, the truth is the truth is the rhythms are all it’s own. Sure we get expected moments in the story but the placement  and use of them is not run of the mill. Directors Jessamyn Ansary and Joyce Mishaan‘s choices force us to lean and truly engage with the story before us.

Regardless of anything else the film is full of great music. Fields is a consummate performer and we can not help but be engaged by the man and his music. And what music it is, I watched, er, listened to it second time just to hear Fields sing.

This is a great film. Highly recommended.

95 SENSES (2023)


Nate Hood insisted that I see 95 SENSES and I'm glad he did.

One of this year's Oscar nominated short is a killer. I can't really explain what it's about, other than its a man talking about his life. Actually I could explain what the film is but then it would ruin the journey, which is something special. Just know it's a reflection on life as lived and as might have been.   The title is a reference to the main character being told that we really have 100 senses but only use 5. It's something that by the end of the film will haunt your soul.

Just know that the film is a stunner and its worth your time.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

THE LATE GAME (2024)


There is much truth in THE LATE GAME. If you ever played in a beer league or midnight hockey you are going to feel right at home with this film. My brother spent years playing various leagues, playing at all hours (literally) day and night. And because he was a good goalie, he played with everyone from regular guys off the street to NHL players. He saw it all, and because I often went to his games, I saw a great deal of what went on. If you want to know what happens in the beer leagues, then THE LATE GAME is going to clue you in.

The film is set on a single day. Riley is unpacking at his new apartment,  Getting depressed he goes to the bar and after seeing the girl who broke his heart, meet a guy from a year earlier who he has in his phone as "Hockey Guy".  They need an extra guy for the team, would Riley want to play? He begs off, but ends up going to the game anyway.  What happens is the film.

While this is a comedy, it isn't always played as such. Listening to the guys talk and watching how they move, they aren't really being funny but  just being the sort of guys who play in late games. The banter is dead on. I've actually heard variations of a couple of the conversations.  They are very funny in the best sort of a way.

The reason this works so well is writer director Jeff Tyner keeps things tethered to reality. This is not a budget Hollywood film with flashy set pieces and a score that sells every joke, this is simply life joyously playing out before us. Sure, there are great bits and funny lines, but they are there in the service of the story. You are going to remember the jokes as part of a whole gem of a film, not just a sequence or two.

This is a slice of life as seen through a comedic prism. All of it is humorous but also low key key enough to make the film so much better than if it was played as a loud comedy. Why because we come out of the film not so much thinking of the jokes, but the people who told them. We are watching people and not characters (for the most part) and they drive the story

I need to point out the hockey sequences and say that they are absolutely brilliant. The way they were put together is better than most big budget Hollywood films. I found myself wondering how in the hell they shot them since the shots go together. Actions genuinely carry over from shot to shot so that the sequences feel that it was all caught by multiple cameras at the same time...which I don't think was how it was done. This is the sort of editing that should get the film in the Oscar mix, assuming that Oscar would even notice this film.

The reality is the whole film is technically that good, and I should wax poetic about it, but that's not going to get you to buy a ticket.

What is going to get you to buy the ticket is knowing that this is a wonderful film. It's a film that really hit home for me.  I laughed , I smiled and  saw some bits of my life in the people on the screen.  While the set up before they get to the rink can be a bit awkward, due to the fact that it has to get us to the rink, once we get there THE LATE GAME just goes. How well it goes was really clear the second time I saw the film and could see how things went together.

This is a super film. While I know, as with all comedies, that some  people may not click with it, I think most of you reading this are going to love it.

What a joy.

One of the great finds of 2024.

Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes (2021)

 


This is the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen who confused the hell out of the cops when he openly confessed his crimes and the proceeded to tell them there were even more bodies across England.

For most of the films running time this is a chilling and gripping tale. It’s a story I had never run across and as such I was completely captivated as I heard Nilsen recount the story of his crimes. I was also shocked at how his nonchalant attitude resulted in the police never really being certain how many people he killed. He’s so icy that had a drain not clogged he may never have been  caught.

If there is a problem it’s in the final 20 minutes. Somewhere toward the end the film runs out of steam as the film shifts awkwardly from Nilsen to his almost victims. It’s not that the material is bad but rather kind of unfocused.

Quibbles aside this is a breezy 80 minutes and worth a look

Friday, February 23, 2024

GOLDEN YEARS (2023)


Alice and Peter are a couple retire and their kids give them  a cruise to celebrate.  After Alice's fiend dies they take her widow along. This causes friction and the couple begin to move apart. When Alice doesn’t return to the cruise after a shore leave their lives are forever altered as what she finds redefines their  relationship.

I am intentionally being obtuse in explaining the plot largely because I went into the film blind as as such I was delighted with each new and unexpected turn. Looking at the  material I was sent on the film  before I saw it, and which I didn’t read, I realized that the synopsis gave too much away. I didn’t need to be told  as much as they offered.

This is a sweet little comedy. It’s a moving tale powered by a great cast who keep things moving. As you would expect from an film not from Hollywood the twists and turns contained in it are truly delightful. I felt I was watching real adults and not some writers idea of older people.

I smiled from start to finish, and considering the heavy films I was watching around it that is more than enough to recommend it for anyone looking for a charming film that isn’t by the numbers.

Magnum 578 (2023)


Maybe among the many people in the world my father doesn't stand out but to me he is the greatest
- end epigraph

When a long range trucker has to send his little girl to school, he promises to be home every ten days. Unfortunately he quickly regrets doing so when he discovers she has been kidnapped by a rich pervert. He then begins the long battle to find who took her and get her back.

Very messy action film looks great, has kick ass action sequences and gibberish for a script. Seriously the script is really bad. It has a the barest notion of a plot, no real characters just archetypes, and nothing to hang the fights on. Nothing is explained it just happens - often just to keep the film running to its 90 minute run time. I rewatched the first 15 minutes three times just because I was certain I missed something. 

Nope.

If you want a plot you can skip this film.

On the other hand if you like action this film is for you. The fights are really well done and they keep you watching. (and make you wish for the promised sequel)

For me this was a miss. (Though I love the epigraph it ends with)

Origin (2023)


Ava DuVernay's latest  is one part narrative about the life of Isabel WIlkerson and one part lecture based on Wilkerson's book Caste. It's a film that many people called one of the best of 2023 while others called it wildly uneven.

Put me into to the group calling it uneven. 

Containing some of DuVernay's best work,in the narrative sections the film falters when the film seeks to discuss how the classes, castes and illusionary divisions we sort people into are destroying society. The problem isn't what is being said rather DuVernay doesn't blend it into the narrative well and the material comes off as speechifying  and lecturing. I wasn't engaging in a conversation with the film but was being sternly talked to and I stopped caring.

A miss.

Who Do I Belong To? (2024) Berlin 2024


A mother named Aicha is living in Tunisia with her husband and youngest son. The family is in pain since the older sons, Mehdi and Amine went off to war. When Mehdi unexpectedly returns with a mysterious pregnant wife, a blacker darkness takes over the family and the town.

This is a very well made and moody drama. This film is like being dropped in to an oppressive cloud. Director Meryam Joobeur has created one of the best cinematic moods I've experienced in years. From the very beginning of the film you are in a place that is just like our our own but a couple of degrees to the left. There is a tactile quality the likes of which the vast majority of films never achieve. You can feel the town whee this takes place as if it's just outside your door.

The actors here deserve to win an ensemble award because everyone is across the board great. Containing Seriously this film as some of the best performances you'll see all year. This is what ensemble acting is all about.

As good as all of that is I'm not sure if the narrative wholly works. There are times where the film seems more interested in the mood then the story.  A bit too much is unsaid. Aicha  starts at 11 on the emotional scale and goes higher. As much as I was in love with the mood and the film technically, I was a bit detached  from the story.

Still considering how emotional the film is that's a quibble. You really need to feel how this film plays your emotions

Recommended.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

SUBJECT: FILMMAKING (Filmstunde 23) (2024) Berlin 2024


In 1968 in Munich, Edgar Reitz, soon to be the director of the film epic Heimat went to a girls high school and taught a class in film aesthetics. 55 years later he is approached by one of his students.  The decide to have a class reunion.

Made up of the documentary that was made about the class, the films made by the girls and footage of the reunion, this is glorious documentary exploring what film is and how it can change people's lives.

This is a great film. While I suspect that some non-hardcore film fans might have a problem with it, I think most people who love or like film and have any sort of interest in it beyond just vegetating in front of a screen are going to fall in love with it. I say this because  what the film does is it explores films and filmmaking. Over the course of it's run time it explains how films made and how knowing that changes how you view films. Watching the film I had numerous "ah ha" moments as things I had been thinking about, especially in today's world where over analyzing films is cottage industry on line and You Tube.

This maybe better for a film student then several years at a film school. Seriously outside of the technical bits about making a film, anything you are going to learn about anything else is going to be here. It's so good that I wish I had seen this rather than many of the film classes I took in college.

And don't think the film is in anyway dry, it isn't. This is a film about people and how they react to film. We learn to love the ladies and their younger selves. We also get to love Reitz, who proves himself to be the best teacher of film I've ever run across.

I came out of the film smiling and with a new appreciation for something I have spent much of my life exploring. This is one of the best films on film I have ever seen.

Highly recommended 

They Shot The Piano Player (2023)


An animated documentary with an injection of  narrative THEY SHOT THE PIANO PLAYER is nominally the  story of Francisco Tenorio Jr., a Jazz pianist it is also the story of the Bossa Nova the politics of military take overs. Structured to follow the fictional magazine writer Jeff Harris (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) as he works on a book on the Bossa Nova before switching to the story of Tenorio Jr. who disappeared one night while running to get sandwiches, never to be heard from again. 

This is a good documentary from directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal who made the Oscar nominated CHICO AND RITA. It is vibrant and alive. Full of eye popping colors and endless music. It's a trip into another time and place, as well as warning about the dangerous of a repressive government.

To be honest as much as I like the film I find I think of it more as a narrative than a doc. It's not that it's animated, rather I think it's simply that the narrative structure over whelms the central mystery. Yes the film is telling a real life tale, but everything around it overwhelms the tale. The fiction of Harris' journey becomes the story not Tenorio. Additionally the story of the history of the Bossa Nova also pulls us, making us want to know more about that as well. I suspect had I known more about the music I wouldn't have felt to need more about it.

Reservations aside I really liked this film and want the soundtrack.

Recommended.

CALEB & SARAH (2024)


Matthew Kyle Levine has  quietly become one of the best directors working today. His previous films such as MISS FREELANCE and DADDY’S WALLET show him to be a master of creating life on a cinema screen. He is a director that needs to be given a larger canvas to work with,

His current film is the short CALEB & SARAH. It’s the story of a young couple who decide to live out of their car. Some times they sleep in the car, some times in a motel.  It’s a quiet slice of life  that made me pause since I wasn’t certain if the film was a documentary or a narrative.  It’s a film that wonderfully puts you into the place the characters are. We can feel the places they are and get a sense of the world they live in.

CALEB & SARAH is a film that shows how Levine has grown as a filmmaker. When you compare it to his earlier films you see how much more assured he is. There isn’t a need to control the characters in every second, not that he ever did, because Levine is truly an actor’s director, but this time there is a bit more to what we are seeing. Before everything served the story, here everything serves the character and instead of characters we get people on the screen.

And because of the nature of the story and because of the nature of the characters I realized while the film was nearing it’s end that some one needs to let Levine direct a feature. I wanted more time with these characters and in this world. I wanted to see more. That Levine has made a film that makes us want to lean in so we can see more is the sign of a great director.

Until he is allowed to direct a feature shorts like Caleb & Sarah will have to do.

Recommended.

Fear City: New York vs The Mafia (2020)


I have no idea why this is called FEAR CITY. There really isn't anything fearful in it. Yea  it goes back to the bad old days in NYC, but that wasn't the Mafia's fault. But I digress

This is a look at the efforts to bring the mafia down in  New York. It follows the various police organizations that ultimately worked together to bring the mob down.

This is a very good look at how the mob was broken. Focusing on more than the end tht came with the fall of John Gotti, this series shows you what it was like as the fed started to really make efforts to take down the mob. 

Filled with great film and wonderful talking heads the series hooked me on a night when I was just trying to decompress for an hour or so and had me watching until the end. 

Recommended.

Io Capitano (2023) opens tomorrow


If IO CAPITANO  was in English and by from an American studio it would be up for Best Picture instead of just the Best International Feature at the Oscars.  It is an emotional roller coaster telling the story of a young man who leaves Senegal who leaves his family to go to Europe to find work to help make things better back home.

This is a hell of a ride. It's a film that earns every smile, laugh and tear. 

What makes the film work is the great cast. Because I knew no one in the cast (it's all non-professionals-though you'd never know it) I didn't have to fight getting over a well know face and could accept what happens completely at face value. This was true life harrowing adventure that held me tight in it's grip. I wasn't going anywhere and just sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it all came out.

What I like is that director Matteo Garrone keeps the fantastic flourishes he sometimes uses to a bare minimum. He rightly understood the human drama didn't need anything to make it work, just for the story to be told with respect.

This is simply great storytelling.

Highly recommended, this is a must see, especially if you can see it on a big screen where the visuals will overpower you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Three by Ryota Nakano- ASADAS, A LONG GOODBYE and HER LOVE BOILS BATH WATER

Here is brief thoughts on three films from Ryota Nakano that are playing at New York Japan Society this weekend. All of the films are worth seeing and will require tissues. Tickets and more information can be found here


HER LOVE BOILS BATH WATER February 23
A mother finds out she has terminal cancer. Knowing time is short she decides to fix her family and let them know it will be okay after she passes.

Considered Nakano's best film it it is one hell of a film. A bittersweet look at life and family it is impossible not to be moved by the film. It's so good that I can't believe that the film has never screened in New York.  This was one of the films I wanted to see at the Family Portrait series and I was delighted to finally see it.

You really need to see this film since it's going to get into your heart.


A LONG GOODBYE February 24
Nominally the story of two sisters who return home to take care of their father who has dementia. However there is much more to the story  focusing on the old man's grandson who is rocked by events. 

This is a wonderful film that doesn't do what you expect.  While a little bit uneven, the mix of English and Japanese isn't perfect, the film still packs a punch.


THE ASADAS February 24
Portrait of photographer Masahi Asada, who used his skills as a photographer in order to help people in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

Nakano's latest film is a very good film. To be honest my feelings toward the film are the result of seeing the film as the third in a triple feature. Because the film is different than the films above, I found I liked it a little bit less. The fact that the film is an attempt to heal wounds left by the earthquake necessitated the film being focused differently.

My quibble aside this is a wonderful film.

KISS THE FUTURE (2023) plays AMC theaters starting 2/23


I'm kind of sad that many of my fellow writers refused to see KISS THE FUTURE because they saw it as a U2 film. They didn't want to see a film about the rock group. The problem is that while U2 are part of the story, they are only a part of it, and so they missed a wonderful film.

To be fair I went into the film because it was the only one screening at the time that I hadn't seen.  The plan was that I would watch 15 or 20 minutes of this U2 movie and then jump to the next thing. Instead I ended up staying to the end and trying to find tissues in my bag.

The film is the story of Siege of Sarajevo. Its what happened when Yugoslavia broke up and the Bosnian leaders decided to use lies in order to wipe out the Muslim minorities that they had been living with peacefully for decades. As the war came the people of Sarajevo dug in and tried to survive. Like the present situation in Ukraine they turned to music and art to get by. Through circumstances U2 heard about how their music was helping them get by and promised to come play...and then they came up with the idea of making the war part of their Zoo TV tour.

Its a hell of a tale that you just need to see. There is a hope in the tale that will make you feel good. It's also a tale with incredible parallels to the war in Ukraine, which the film makes clear in the end. 

I was moved to tears several times. 

Forget that this a U2 film, forget that Matt Damon produced, just realize that this is great story wonderfully told that may help you get back you faith in humanity.

Highly recommended