Saturday, July 20, 2024

Carnage for Christmas (2024) Fantasia 2024


Lola, a true crime podcaster, returns home for the first time since transitioning. It all instantly goes side ways as it becomes clear that the supposed long dead boogey man has come back to life and is killing once more.

Breezy horror film feels more like an episode of a TV crime show than a feature film. There is nothing wrong with that, since the film entertains and holds our attention. However because of the way the film is told, there isn't a great deal of suspense. We kind of know that Lola is going to make it and tell the tale on her show. If nothing else it's so low key that the supposed gotcha  ending falls flat.

Still the story is gripping enough that you will want to see how it comes out and who ends up living and dying.

Worth a look.

A brief pointer towards Granny Prostitues aka Lola Magdalena (2024) NYAFF 2024


A group of older women do what they must to stay in their house after a man claiming ownership threatens to evict them.

I'm not going to do a review of this film. It's not because there is anything wrong with it, rather it's because the film's mix of humor and melodrama wasn't my cup of tea. Playing like a silly sitcom that occasionally shifts into serious territory before going back again, I found myself not really clicking with the film. Yes I smiled, but to be honest it really didn't hold my attention and I only stayed to the end because I was reviewing it.

I need to state this again, the problem is that it wasn't a mix I cared for, though I know several people who will eat this up.

ICE CREAM FEVER (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


The lives of four women intersect at a local ice cream shop.

Director Tetsuya Chihara adaption of  a short story by Mieko Kawakami is a nixed bag. A moving story with a great cast the film is undone by a filmmaker who doesn’t know what to do with the camera.  While the film is shot in a kind of verite style, the images seem to alternate from jiggly hand held shots that feel like the camera person couldn’t get a grip on the camera or in ultra tight  close ups of faces.  It feels like the work of a young  filmmaker making his first film, but while this is Chihara’s first feature he has been working in design and advertising for years so one would think he would know how to frame a shot.

After a while I stopped looking at the images and just focused on the subtitles.

Call me an old fart for not getting it, but I’ve always been one to argue that that the images we see should have a reason for existing, especially with in the context of a film. Why are you showing us this image in this way. Most times I know, but I’m not certain here, with the over riding decision seeming to be we shot it this way because it will be cool, or hip or happening or whatever the kids say these days.

This is a good story with good characters messily told.

Blue Imagine (2023) Japan Cuts 2024

 


An actress is sexually abused by a film director  and left shaken. Her brother, a human rights lawyer, suggests letting it go because of lack of evidence. She eventually drifts into a women’s safe place called Blue Imagine. There she finds support and meets another actress  who was also abused by the same director.

Damning look at the treatment of women in Japan and the film industry in particular. It's a film with a matter of fact and non-histrionic presentation that does more than move the emotions but gets you thinking and  seriously considering how we behave.

This is a film which quietly rattled my cage. I can only imagine how this played in Japan.

I'm going to be honest and say that while I really like the film a great deal, I am going to need a second viewing down the road away from the festival crush, and some recent similar incidents that occurred around me where I can more carefully consider the film and it's low key approach.  That's not a knock only a suspicion that perhaps on a second viewing this film may kick me to the curb.

Recommended.

Friday, July 19, 2024

OLD FOX (2023) NYAFF 2024 Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2024


Set in 1990 during the economic boom in Taiwan the film follows a young boy living with his widowed father. They have plans to open up hair salon as soon as they save up enough money. The boy becomes friends with a crafty old man, their landlord, who is a master at manipulation.

Solid drama that in some ways echoes films like A BRONX TALE, minus the gunfire, about a young man finding a surrogate father in an unexpected place. It's a film that manages to overcome the occasional expected beat by showing us things we never quite expected. 

That the film is so compelling is thanks to the cast who lift up their characters and make them into something more than run of the mill.

While the film isn't going to rattle the pillars of heaven, the film does entertain from start to finish which is always enough to recommend it

A Long Shot (2024) NYAFF 2024


This is an under the radar thriller that may very well end up on my end of year best list.

Gu, a former professional sharpshooter is forced to take a security job at a factory. Things become complicated when a tensions in the factory, hurt by the Chinese financial reforms, turn things into powder keg. At the same time his girlfriends son is close to going off the rails.

Social commentary collides with slow burn thriller in a film that slowly builds suspense until it’s almost unbearable. Credit the films low key gritty presentation  and the films take no prisoners attitude that makes up fear for the safety of everyone on screen.  It’s a hell of a ride that had me wondering where it was going to at the start and then staring blankly at the screen in fear for the characters I had come to love.

This is a great thriller of the sort that we only get from China.

Highly recommended for anyone willing to wait for the slow burn to pay off in spades.


Gold Boy (2024) NYAFF 2024


This the story of a young man who gets mixed up a schemer and some not so nice people in a tale of murder and corruption in a sea side city.

I'm not certain if this is supposed to play as a comedy but I couldn't help but laugh at the over done nastiness done by and to the various characters. These are a bunch of people who over the course of two hours reveal themselves not to be anyone we can root for. 

While there are cases when we root for the the bad guy (Patricia Highsmith Ripley novels for example) you generally need to populate them in among people we like. Here there really isn't anyone we like and after a while I really didn't want to watch.

Then again, as I inferred above, I don't think the film gets the tone right, with the result I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laughing or be horrified. I laughed for the wrong reasons.

While not bad, I'm not certain it really works.

If you want to see EXHUMA (2024) on the big screen it's playing NYAFF 2024 tomorrow


Try to go into EXHUMA knowing as little as possible. I say that because you really don't want to have any idea where this is going...because it's one hell of a ride.

The plot of the film involves a rich family trying to lift the curse on their new born child. It is believed that one of their relatives was unhappy and taking it out on the baby. This leads to attempting to figure out which one and perform a ritual... To say it doesn't go as expected is an understatement. Never mess with the wrong grave.

Pretty much from the first frame to the last EXHUMA exudes an oppressive tone. I was a good chunk of the way in and not much had really happened but I wanted to get away and not see what happens. I mean all we had was bunch of great actors (Choi Min-sik among them) telling us spooky stuff and I was hopelessly lost in fear.

All hail writer director Jae-hyun Jang who thanks to this and the classic film THE PRIESTS should be getting sainthood in the pantheon of horror. I don't know how he does it but he has managed to make two films which reinvigorate and renovate the supernatural/ folk horror subgenre.  In an age of jump scares and over used horror properties Jang is carving out new roads and new ways to scare his audience shitless. And it isn't a matter of it being something about setting his horror in an alien setting, Priests was set in a Catholic (Western) mileau, while a lot of EXHUMA is set in modern "glass towers". I love what he has done and I want to see what is coming next.

I was frightened. I was really bothered. And when I was done I had to go out and walk around in the daylight for awhile.

I'm not going to say any more because I'm not going to ruin it for you. I'm going to let you discover the evil lurking here and get splattered by the blood of dead things.

Highly recommended 

Mermaid Legend (1983) Japan Cuts 2024


I’m just doing a pointer toward MERMAID LEGEND instead of a full on review.  I’m doing this because when I saw the film listed in the Japan Cuts slate I had a vague memory of having watched it years ago.  Moments after starting it I realized I saw it and that it was never a favorite of mine.

The film is the story of a woman who is married to a fisherman. When he is murdered, she vows revenge and does so, becoming a force of nature in the process.

Years ago I was directed to the film via friends who loved Asian cinema. They loved this crazy and seemingly over the top revenge film. I loved the intensity, but the over the top nature of some of it, particularly in the final moments, just was a step too far.

My reservations aside, I have friends who love this film and are delighted at the chance to see it on a big screen here in NYC.

Worth a look for those interested.

Kadono Eiko’s Colorful Life: Finding the Magic Within (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


I’m going to be brief because there are only two things you know about the film. The first is that this a kind of by the numbers biography of Kadono Eiko, who is best known in America for writing the novel Kiki’s Delivery Service which was turned into a feature by Studio Ghibli.  The other thing you need to know is that  Kando is an absolute pisser and a full on delight and her force of personality make this one of the must see films of Japan Cuts.

Seriously buy a ticket and go see this film because watching Kando as he goes through her day, writes, kibitzes, meets a friend she hasn’t seen in six decades as well as her fans will have you smiling from ear to ear and feeling good for days.

This woman is 88 and more alive than most 20 year olds that I know.

What and absolute unexpected delight.

This film is a perfect representation of it’s subject and as such is pure cinematic joy.

Highly recommended.

When This Is All Over (2023) NYAFF 2024


Young man stuck in his condo during the covid lock down earns money by delivering drugs to the young rich around him.

Class commentary collides with a stoner comedy and sort of romance in a film that doesn't quite work narratively.  The problem is we've been here before any number of times. There isn't anything new here and our lead character is so low key it's hard to really connect to him when some of the other performances and comedy is over the top.

If you are like me you are probably wondering why the film is at NYAFF. The answer comes during any of the sequences where the drugs kick in and someone trips. The images are staggering, especially the late in the film animated sequence which is worth the price of admission by itself.

While the film over all is a mixed bag there is enough here that an adventurous film goer might find it worth the trip.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

CUSTOMS FRONTLINE (2024) NYAFF 2024


 I saw the North American Premeire of CUSTOMS FRONTLINE at the New York Asian Film Festival. It was a crazy screening where people kept popping off the line to take pictures of the guests who where going on to the red carpet. When star Nicholas Tse was arriving things got completely out of hand as a good chunk of the ticket holders and standby lines ran to take pictures- just as they were letting people in.

The film concerns a bunch of Hong Kong customs agents who are dropped into a battle to stop an illegal arms dealer named Dr Raw who is running her weapons through the port of Hong Kong. After Interpol gets involved things turn deadly as several officers, including Tse's ex wife, are killed. Soon after they learn that there is a trader in their midst.

Tse called the film a throw back to the old style Hong Kong action films and it is, complete with nonsensical plotting and crazy ass action. This is like watching an old film but done with today's technology.

The plot is a gawd awful mess. It makes no sense. Outside of Hong Kong there are no real actual places. Things just happen because. Everything is soap opera, with everyone being motivated by dead people.It results in everyone having one facial expression- very serious and emotionally broken. 

And then just as the plot is going on there is a left turn about mental illness which gives us plot line that one of the characters is bi-polar and doesn't want to be on his meds. The introduction was so bad and out of left field the audience roared. And then it's exploited mercilessly. The villain is a non-entity and simply shows up to yell at her minions  to do something from various locations. She's clearly left alive for a sequel.

The film also shows signs of Mainland China's interference with so much of it Rah Rah for our side, with everyone outside of the traitor doing their duty to the end.

The action is what you'll want to see and there are some spectacular sequences. There is fight in an flatable boat, the stealing of the weapons from the custom agents, a wicked car chase, and a final battle on a container ship, all of which will leave you with your jaw hanging open. (We'll not talk about the bombing of the village in the war sequence because it's very silly) It is almost all fantastic, but there isn't enough of it and there is a lot of dead time where we are stuck in a story that has plot holes the size of an ocean (seriously on the train home we were discussing how the film simply never address all orts of plot threads)

I loved the action but the plot is so bad. 

Carefree Days (2023) NYAFF 2024


Gut punch film concerns a young woman dealing with her parents, friends and her illness. Its a film focused on the changing nature of life with sequences that will kick you in your knees and others that will make you feel wondrous.

While I am not certain the film pulls it all together, the film is very much about something and filled with not wholly likable characters and it's hard to know why we should be watching, CAREFREE DAYS still manages to move us repeatedly. I suspect that's a success in away since the film is about how nothing stays the same and it clicking and stepping away is a perfect example of that. 

As a film geek the craft of the film delighted me. Images made me audibly gasp. How sequences were put together amazed the hell out of me. While I came and went in and out of the story I was always locked and loaded watching the craft.

While I am mixed on the film as a drama, it is a delight for anyone who wants to see an expertly crafted film and doesn't mind crying a little.

CAREFREE DAYS plays at NYAFF again on 7/21. Tickets here.

Modernism Inc (2024)

 


A biography of Eliot Noyes who was the force behind the idea of making design functional. The film charts Noyes work at the Museum of Modern Art before the Second World War where his ideas influenced furniture design, during the war, where he was influential in the use of gliders for transporting men and equipment and post war where his ideas a influenced how we do everything.

This is a very good bio. It’s a film that clearly explains how Noyes is greatly responsible for the way the world looks today. I love that this is a look at history from a completely unexpected direction.

At the same time as much as I liked the film, there is, like so much of Modernism, a coldness that I don’t much care for. Yes the film is informative, much like Modernism deigns are functional, but at the same time I was kept at arm’s length.

Reservations aside, it’s worth a look.

Performing KAORU's Funeral (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


A woman who passed away leaves word in her will that her ex-husband is to be her lead mourner. It sets in motion a wave of memories and chaos. 

 Dark black comedy that moves to the sound of the machine that removes the blood during an autopsy. I’m serious about that. The first sound we hear is that and the rhythm of the film remains that. It’s something that is echoed in the score. The result is a film that is bittersweet, sad and deeply disturbing since the film plays out as if the life and memories of the deceased and the people on screen were bleeding away down the drain on the embalming slab. Once I noticed it I was deeply troubled by the film. 

 As for the rest of the film, it is bittersweet. There is much truth in what we are seeing. As someone who is still dealing with the death of some loved ones years after the fact, I found that the film opened some doors I had hoped to keep nailed shut. Yes the film is funny but at the same time its an emotional ride.

 Recommended.

Nezumikozō Jirokichi (Rintarō, 2023) Japan Cuts 2024


Sadao Yamanaka directed 26 films  from 1932 to 1937.  Only three remain today along with his scripts. Legendary director Rintaro makes his first film in a decade with a film based upon the work of Yamanaka. It imagine the director making a film about a Robin Hood -esque roguish character known as the Rat who takes confounds the police and delights a little boy.


Sweet little film done in the style of Japanese silent films Nezumikozō Jirokichi is a sweet little homage. Running the perfect length for what it is, the film imagines what an unproduced film by the director might have been. To be certain it is seen through the eyes of Rintaro, but it is still a delight.

Recommended- it’s worth the price of Short Films 2 at Japan Cuts

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

ONPAKU (2022) NYAFF 2024


Real Estate investor from Hong Kong travel to Japan on business and ends up stuck between this world and the next.

Head scratching supernatural thriller has me uncertain as to why this film brought Josie Ho to the United States, couldn't they have picked a better film? This is a messy film where the narrative thread seems to be broken and so little is explained that there is nothing to really hold our interest. Worse it's a tale that begs borrows and steals from any number of other, better films.

The images are creepy and their marriage to the aggressive soundtrack makes for some scary moments, but they are few and fleetingly far between.

Honestly if this film didn't have Josie Ho attached to it this film would never have escaped to these shores.

A huge disappointment.


Moving (1993) Japan Cuts 2024


This is just brief word on the newly restored MOVING which was directed by Shinji Somai.

The film is the story of the break up of a marriage from the stand point of a young girl.  Old enough to understand to some degree but not old enough to handle the emotional earthquake, the young woman is forced to figure out the new normal as the uncertainty of it all makes her act out in unexpected ways.

The film looks and feels like a drama a decade or two earlier. In a weird way it reminded me of a less soapy and over wrought Douglas Sirk film. It is a film that very much cares about its characters, all of them.

This is a really good film that still stands up and feels fresh 30 years on.

Go see this and be moved.

A SUMMER'S END POEM (2024) NYAFF 2024


A kid from the country takes his savings and goes into the city for a big city haircut.

Head scratching film didn't seem to go anywhere. A music video that seems to reference something that meant nothing to me and a denouncement that left me mumbling at the screen. 

Either I missed something or this is a giant pretentious mistake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

City of Wind (2023) NYAFF 2024


CITY OF WIND is really good. I say that because I saw it during a run of a number really poor films and I was beginning to think I would never see another good one.

The film concerns a high school student named Ze who is also a shaman. Channeling a grandfather spirit he seeks to help people. At the same time he is a normal high school student just trying to navigate life. Things become complicated when in his role as a shaman he tries to help a young woman due for heart surgery who wants no part of him (She calls him a charlatan). She survives the surgery and ze is smitten.  The relationship begins to change the young man for the better.

This is a brilliant coming of age tale that is far from typical. Not only showing us a young man coming of age, the film is a wonderful portrait of Mongolian society and most important a great examination of old and new worlds, as in shamanistic beliefs in the modern world.  What makes the film so damn great is the fact that while giving us all sorts of ideas to chew on it always remains focused on the characters and their lives. The film is about them first and last and as such the film is deeply moving.

Light years above the vast majority of films playing at this years New York Asian Film Fest CITY OF WIND is an absolute must see.