Monday, April 22, 2024

MARISA & GOMOSO (2023) Fantaspoa 2024


A young woman who used to be on a children's show meets up with her former co-star who now drives an Uber. They then begin an affair.

This foul mouthed comedy has moments and some laughs. Mining similar ground as Peter Jackson's MEET THE FEEBLES the film is an exploration of what if the character we loved as kids were real people. 

The problem here is that the film covers similar ground as FEEBLES and count less sketch show comedy bits. While the "new" material, a lot of it the racy, is good, the problem is that we've seen variations of this before. There is enough material here for a great long short. However as a feature it's more miss than hit.

You'll forgive me if I sound disappointed, but I am. There is enough great here I really want it all like that.

Art College 1994 (2023) opens Friday


Liu Jian's follow up to the animated neon noir HAVE A NICE DAY is going to either thrill you or bore you to tears. Based on the director's time at China's Southern Academy of Arts the film follows a number of students as they create their art and ponder the universe.

One of my must see films of last year's NYAFF disappointed me. Having loved the director's previous film, this follow up  bored me silly.  

While part of the problem is the film's over length, the real problem is that the self absorption of the characters got to be too much. The film is full of deep discussions of art, of meaning and subjects that drunk students in a philosophical mood might talk about, and not much beyond that. While I'm certain this is what is was probably like at the Academy it's all so one note that after awhile I was talking to the screen asking it to get on with it. At times this feels like a social media post you can't scroll past.

It doesn't help that the fragmented nature of the narrative and multiple characters never allows things to build. Too much is thrown at us that doesn't go anywhere. The result, unlike the director's previous controversial film ART COLLEGE 1994 just sort of is. The final sequence about a painting a professor doesn't approve of should have played like a played like a poke in the eye to authorities who tried to ban Jian's earlier film, and instead it was a sequence that didn't go anywhere or have emotional power. It should have been an exclamation point and instead it just was.

While not bad, it never soars and worse, it never justifies it's two hour running time.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

HOT DOCS 2024 Curtain Raiser


Hot Docs starts this week and we are better for it.

The Canadian doc fest is one of the highlights of the year, highlighting any number of documentaries that will be on everyone’s radar come the end of the year.  This is 11 days of really great stuff (I know I've seen a bunch of it).

If you are anywhere near Toronto you need to go and see something or several somethings.  

Because of the way things are falling, and my need to to get ready for a vacation this week I am going to keep this short. However because I want to point you in the direction of some good stuff I’ve got a few recommendations (full reviews will follow):

FRAGMENTS OF A LIFE LOVED is a glorious look at the arc of a life through the director's exes. It will change how you  see yourself and those around you.

SEGURIDAD is the story of a young woman trying to come to terms with her father, her country of birth and life itself. It's going to make you think.

MARCHING IN THE DARK is a bitter sweet tale of a widow forced to rebuild her and her family's life after her husband commits suicide because of the crushing debt he incurs running the family farm. It' story you need to hear.

HELEN AND THE BEAR one of the best romances of the last decade  and best films of 2024- that's all you need  to know.

BEETHOVEN'S NINTH: ODE TO HUMANITY is a celebration of the symphony and humanity. I was moved to tears.

And I want to mention two films I'm not writing full reviews of because I can't get longer pieces that do the film justice - I recommend both of them.


FAMILY TREE is the story of several black families in the American south who are working to save the forest that the own. It's a wonderful tale of families and the communities they belong to doing the right thing and changing the world.


WILFRED BUCK is a portrait of the  legendary First Nations leader -Wilfred Buck. Told in a variety of styles the film is not only just a portrait of the man, but also his world and spiritual view. It’s a stunning film that will open up your mind to a way of life that you probably never considered before- recommended.

For tickets and more information go here

Files of the Unexplained (2024)

 


Netflix eight part examination of mysterious things is unexpectedly low key. Going in the opposite direction of most other documentaries on the same subjects. It’s a series that cuts through the hype in order to give us the stories with people who were there or who are connected to people who were and as such open our eyes to possibilities as well as stripping away a lot of the bullshit.

The first story is the Pascagoula UFO incident where two fisherman were taken aboard a UFO. We hear from one of the men as well as the family of both. While there has been a great deal over the years, this episode includes  discussion of the fact there were witnesses as well a secret tape made by the police  where the men talk about how rattled they were about what happened- as opposed to saying that they have to keep their story straight.

The second story is on the Myrtles Plantation ghost, It looks into the stories of the haunting, its credibility as well as pondering whether we should be making old plantations tourist spots. It’s an unexpected turn.

The look at the Yuba County 5 looks into what exactly happened to the five friends who disappeared after a basketball game. The film explores what might have happened to them (their car and some of their bodies were found 70 miles into the forest in the wrong direction from home)  by talking to their relatives who knew the men best. Having seen several YouTube pieces on the story it made the tragedy of what happened even sadder.

The piece on the US government’s cover up of UFOs is really good and nicely low key. While it covers some subjects, such as Rendlesham Forest and the recent UFO hearings, the episode if way too short (it’s just over 30 minutes)

The piece on Lake Lenier in Georgia is a creepy tale of a man made lake that is supposed to be haunted by the people who died in it. I was bothered by it and as such will probably never go.

The piece on Mount Shasta is a good cursory look at some of the stories connected to the Native American holy site. While the film ponders if the mountain contains a doorway to Lemuria, there are other stories to tell and I would love to see further exploration next season.

The Blobs of Washington is a good look at these weird blobs that fell from the sky and made everyone they came into contact with them sick. It’s a good look at a mystery that almost certainly was man made.

The final episode is the story of a bunch of feet that washed ashore on the coast of the Salish sea. While it’s a creepy story, and expertly told, I’m siding with the some of the mundane explanations.

I had a blast watching this series. I ended up going through the series in two days during the time I should have been watching other things.

If you want a rational and reasoned alternative to the over the top that History and other outlets give the same stories this is a must.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

2 Short Reviews of features that came my way PROTANOPIA(2024) and QUEEN OF KNIVES(2024)

 


PROTANOPIA
This horror film was shot not too far from my house. It’s the story of a man whose sister goes missing and begins to have dreams of a mysterious house. The dreams set him on a collision course with the owner of the house.

This is a frequently creepy horror film that has some wonderfully bizarre sequences. I like the film, it reminds me any number of early 80’s horror film I used to drive to right after I got my drivers license.

If I was to complain about anything is that the camera work in the more convention/non-horror sequences is rather bland and unimaginative. It wouldn’t have been noticed but the surreal sequences that the difference stands out.

Quibble aside it’s worth seeing.

QUEEN OF KNIVES
This is a nice and unconventional family comedy drama about the dances that the members of a family have with their partners and each other.

Currently on Amazon and other streaming platforms, this is a sweet little film. Don’t let the fact that I’m giving the film a short write up fool you, this is a small gem. It takes a typical family comedy and spices it up so that it really is worth not only a couple hours of your time but also a few dollars of your money.

I really liked it. Finding an off the main road gem is why I continue doing Unseen Films.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dark My Light (2024) Fantaspoa 2024


A police officer with a crumbling marriage has to deal with serial killer that has been stalking his beach side community.

This is a deliberately shot and deliberately paced film that doesn't really work. The glacial pace and the odd presentation make it hard to get into (and I won't talk about the WTF genre shifts). The pacing allows our minds to wander and the presentation makes it hard to connect to.  While eventually learn the reason for why it seems off, but by the time it happens we really don't care. 

It also doesn't help that this really isn't a serial killer film but the tale of a man trying to make his relationship work. There is no real suspense. There is another genre operating here which I won't go in to because it's inclusion  just confuses everything and reminds you of other, better, films.

I was disappointed. 

A miss.

Blood For Dust (2023)


I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film where the score literally does all the heavy lifting. Nick Bohun‘s score for BLOOD FOR DUST  score begins with the first frame and it thunders on to the last.  Even when the film has rare moment of silence the score and it’s beat is rumbling through your head. This doesn’t mean that Bohun‘s work is bad, it’s not. It’s everything you want in a score, setting the mood and enhancing the action. It’s actually good enough that it should be up for awards. The problem is that director Ron Blackhurst has slathered it so heavily over his film that I don’t know what I think of the film.

The plot of the film has a traveling salesman losing his job and jumping at an opportunity presented by a friend. He quickly finds out its transporting drugs and guns for a very bad guy. Things do not go smoothly

Beautifully shot in amber tones that make the film look and feel like the modern film noir it is, this is a film that has images which will haunt you. You feel the desperation and sadness in every image.

Unfortunately Blackgurst‘s choices don’t really work leaving us strangely unmoved by what we are seeing. Beginning with the over use of the score the film works over time to try and pull us in but the more it does it keeps us outside. The film becomes an exercise in style over content where we are left wondering why it isn’t working. Everyone is dour and down trodden. No one smiles, they only grimace. While the cast is game and disappear in to their roles (it took me a moment to recognize Kit Harrington and Josh Lucas) they aren’t given much to do other than look unhappy. They are good at it but there are no characters just frumpy people. They pull if off real well but they don’t have any real range.

Not having range is something that haunts the film from the get go. The film begins with a suicide and just stays bleak and unhappy. There is no thrill ride or decent into the depths because we’re there. The film is so lacking in light we know that it isn’t really going to get better because in this world life sucks. Shiny Happy People don’t exist even as a song.

Ten minutes into the film I was wondering why I was watching because I knew nothing was going to really change, miserable people were going to get through a miserable situation and still be miserable.

Unless you have to see every film noir, I’d skip this.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

SELF DRIVER (2024) Fantaspoa 2024


Desperate to make money a cab driver signs up to be part of a fleet of drivers using a new app. The trick is that in order to make money you must follow its directions and do so within its time frame.

This is an okay drama/thriller/dark comedy that suffers from the limitations imposed it via the low budget and that almost the entire film is inside the car. I don't blame actor Nathanael Chadwick who is in pretty much every shot of the film. Yes, the film is his story, but at the same time writer director Michael Pierro never makes us feel as though there is any connection to the world at large or anything beyond the same repeated angles. The repeated angles is understandable but the sense of the cab operating in any sort of world is never really established. It might have worked if the app didn't seem to be more deus ex machina where it should have been something closer to real. I never felt this was anything other than a movie.

And please forgive me for complaining about the lack of the cab being connected to the world but there have been a number of recent films set almost entirely in cabs or cars over the last few years and they largely played better because there were attempts to put the cab into a real world. 

To be honest I would be curious what Pierro will do when he doesn't tie himself to a single location.

As this stands, SELF DRIVER is a missed connection.

Abigail (2024)

Alisha Weir gives a performance for the ages as a centuries old young girl with a blood lust 

A group of people are brought together to kidnap the daughter of a rich man. Each are promised a share of the 50-million-dollar ransom. It goes off without a hitch... until they realized that they are trapped in the house with a hungry vampire.

This film is a blast. This isn't really scary, since the brightly lit halls and set up doesn't leave much room for spooky stuff, rather it's more a tense action thriller because we don't know where this is going to go or how the living is going to deal with the plans of the undead hunter. However, you classify it, ABIGAIL delights with its bloody (very bloody) charms.

This film is near perfect from top to bottom. the performances are top notch, and everyone is invested in the mayhem. The effects are fantastic, to the point I'm not sure where the practical and CGI start and end. For example, a throw away bit with changing teeth amazed me and was the subject of a post screening discussion - was it practical or CGI? We weren't certain. Best of all the script insists on going its own way messing with us because we think we know the rules, but the film resets the table. It also realizes that this is funny and scary and plays up both sides as needed.

Wow.

This is a film that you react out loud to. At the screening I was at people were talking to the screen, laughing, screaming and generally having a grand time. People applauded.

While I'm not going to give you details, lest I spoil anything, I will say that odds are you'll guess some of what happens before it does, one or two turns are charted so you'll see them coming ahead of time, but you won't care because this isn't the of a film that is all about the turns. This is a film that survives on characters and joy in mayhem.  You'll like the characters, even the bad ones and you'll want to see who lives and dies.

Delightfully the film doesn't do things most horror films do these days. It doesn't over do on the jump scares. They are kind of pointless after a certain point in the film. Additionally, there is no gotcha ending. Yes, there is a possibility for a sequel (and I hope it never happens) but it doesn't need to telegraph it in a bogus ending twist. This is just a standalone film.

Actually, this film's plotting s wonderfully fair. Everything largely lines up there are no out of left field turns which is really nice.

Destined to become a classic because it's so much fun and endlessly watchable, ABIGAIL is highly recommended.

Little Empty Boxes (2023)


Director Max Lugavere' takes us on the journey of his mother’s slide into dementia.

Full disclosure at the outset because I know it affected my feelings for the film, I have seen a number of films on dementia. I know the concentration of seeing the films has affected how I see what I see on screen.

LITTLE EMPTY BOXES is a good film. On its own terms it is a good look at how one family handles their matriarch’s slide into dementia. Because the film was put together by one of the family members we get access that is usually lacking in other films. Even if there are moments where the people on screen are seeming to ponder why these moments are being filmed.

Where the film wobbles is when the film tries to go a bit wider than showing what the film tries to go a bit wider with some of the discussion about what may have been behind the dementia. The moments aren’t bad but it feels like some of the discussions should be in a different film with a different focus. It doesn’t kill the film but it makes the film feel like it’s searching for something.

If there is any real problem in my eyes it’s the final text cards which close out what happen to ----. While it lets us know what happened it feels like that’s yet another story.  And to be honest I think it was that summation that made me feel less satisfied about the other threads.

My quibbles aside this is worth a look.

Truth Vs Alex Jones (2024)


When Alex Jones went on trial for spewing lies about the Sandy Hook massacre, HBO some how was allowed to film the trial. The resulting footage forms the backbone of this excellent documentary on the case and the cottage industry of naysayers who refuse to see the truth and instead see a grand conspiracy behind every blade of grass,

Chilling tale of one man who is making a fortune running rough shod over the lives of grieving parents. This is a film that doesn't just show us what Alex Jones did, but also shows us what happened in Sandy Hook so there is no doubt as well as showing us the crazies who were feeding nonsense to Jones.  It's a film that shows us the big picture and explains to us how it all came to be.

The level of stupidity of people these days is frightening. Fully a quarter of the people in the United States think that Sandy Hook was a made up event. Several years ago I waded into the nonsense (see here) and I came  face to face with people who don't know how to fact check, and just make false assumptions on pieces of the truth. Watching the film we are exposed the insanity of some of the people feeding Jones bullshit. One man insists that the reason he knows it was fake was there were no trauma helicopters to transport the wounded. When he is told that there were no need because the victims all died , he still insists that  there should have been helicopters.

It's chilling.

I was left shaking my head. Are we really this stupid?

Apparently.

This is a sad portrait of the dangers of stupidity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

MASTERGAME (2023) Fantaspoa 2024


Loosely based on Stefan Zweig’s The Royal Game, MASTERGAME is a two pronged tale built around games of chess. One concerns a pair of refugees fleeing Soviet tanks in Hungary in 1956 and the other concerns a priest being tortured to disclose a valuable treasure. I shan't say more because there are some twists and turns would be to spoil the fun.

Moving as an almost breathless pace MASTERGAME grabs our attention from the start and just goes. We don't have time to consider where it's going because we are moving at a pace that doesn't allow out minds to wander. I was hooked early and carried along.

The flm is great looking and beautifully acted. Every one on every side of this film is fully invested in it and so when the denouncement comes and we see what is going on we take it in stride. 

This is a gem of a film and I can't wait to see it again now that I know what its all about,

Recommended.

ENCOUNTERS (2023) Fantaspoa 2024


Feeling like a film by Andre Tarkovsky or Piotr Szulkin, Dmitry Moiseev's ENCOUNTERS feels like a film only a decaying society could produce. That it comes from Russia, a land currently seeming to crawl back into the "glory days" of the Soviet Union explains a great deal. 

In a world where aliens have landed, a nurse takes a job ministering to a sick alien. The handlers want then kept alive because they are extracting something from them.

The world is broken. Nothing is clean. Garbage is everywhere. When our heroine has to go into a room filled with water she doesn't put on boots but wraps herself in plastic wrap. Calling it Dystopian isel being kind.

On some level this is a funny. There is something absurd about it all. On other levels this isn't funny with the exploitation of the aliens and the people caring for them clearly laid out. This isn't satire but straight on political commentary of the sort you can only get in science fiction or other fantastical genres. AT times watching the film I was kind of shocked that Russian officials allowed this film to be made since it seems to be saying pointed things about the Putin Regime.

To be honest this film rocked my world. I have been so starved of meaty science fiction of late that I thought that people forgot how to make films like this. I love films like this that blow your mind on the first time through to the point that you're not sure how to discuss it, but know you'll have a better chance after the next couple of times through.

Honestly I need a few more times through this film before I can discuss it- until the make an effort to see  it.

Godbless Fantaspoa for screening it and putting it on my radar.

One of my favorite films of 2024

MOURNING IN LOD (2023)


MOURNING IN LOD is a tough film to watch. Yes the subject of the cost of the war between Hamas and Israel has been done too many times, however it’s focus is such that it strips away the politics and focuses purely on the very human cost of the people caught in between the warring factions.  And when I say the film focuses on the people caught in between, I mean both Israeli and Palestinian civilians who are caught between their leaders who see them as expendable. 

Laying out the experiences of three families we come to understand how something so terrible can happen. That isn't to excuse it, but we see how the both sides, whipped into a frenzy about the alleged terrible things happening by these others, these labels, turn on the people who a short time before were their friends and neighbors. People they lived with in peace until the madness was introduced. 

I was moved. I love that director Hilla Medalia doesn't do anything fancy. She let's people talk and so we get to know the people before us. We learn of their lives and what their loved one means to them.

You need to see this film. It is one of the best film not only on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict I’ve run across but also the best films on the cost war. 

 Opening Friday in theaters, the film will stream next month.

LOVE AND MONSTERS (2020)


I was really looking forward to seeing this back in the covid days of 2020. As with most things in 2020 I missed it, and then efforts to catch up with it went sideways. With the film going away from Netflix I made time to sit down and watch the film.

Or rather watch it from the start since as the film moved into the final third I realized I had actually caught the last chunk of the film on cable

The film has the world going apocalyptic when an asteroid reigns debris on the earth. The fragments turn animals into monsters. Seven years on a young man named Joel realizes he has to leave his bunker and go across the broken world in order to save his girl friend  Aimee, who he has not seen (but spoken to on the radio) since the world changed.

Wonderful action adventure science fiction comedy romance should have been huge. This off beat mix of genre's gets everything right. It's funny and scary and full of edge of your seat moments. Sure we know it will be alright for Joel, but as for everyone else, nothing is certain.

I had a blast watching this from start to finish. I sat down and fell into it in the best possible way. And while I had seen the last part of the film earlier, I was still surprised to see how it all fit together.

What an absolute delight.

Highly recommended

Three Musketeers : Part 2 Milady (2023)


Martin Bourboulon's follow up to last years THREE MUSKETEERS PART 1 D'ARTAGNAN  continues the story from the end of the first film with D'Artagnan knocked unconscious after Constance is kidnapped. The film also continues Bourboulon's refashioning of the story into a tale of larger political intrigue, while keeping the basic framework of the story.

The first thing I have to say is that if you haven't seen the first film don't see this one until you can see the earlier one. Too much has been changed from the original tale so you can't really just wing it. Additionally if you haven't seen the first film close to to this one you may want to refresh your memory. I saw the first film back in December and seeing it with out the refresher I felt lost at times. 

That is not a knock on the film, rather a warning because I now really want to sit down and watch the films in one go.

As a stand alone film MILADY doesn't work. There are too many threads from the first film to have it make sense on its own. On the other hand the film as part of a historical epic (you need to see the two films as one) it's really good. (I will hold off saying great only because I want to see the two films together to see how it all works). The set pieces are fantastic, the images are Oscar worthy and the cast is great. This time out Eva Green gets to shine as Milady and she makes you wish she could get an action franchise of her own (she could have been a a great James Bond).

I had a blast watching this film. It was so much fun and it is actually emotional, we really feel the bad things that happen. Sure it's not wholly the classic story, but as it's own tale (I'm including the first film in this statement) that works wonderfully, which is all that matters.

If I may quibble with the film it is only in the films need to tease another film.  Sure there are other books with the characters, but this film wants to take it into another direction. It's not needed, and more importantly it's less satisfying.

Ultimately the quibble doesn't matter. What matters is the fact is  Martin Bourboulon's two part Three Musketeers saga is kicks ass.

Recommended

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Tenants (2023) Fantaspoa 2024

 


In order to get more money to pay his rent a man rents out his bathroom to a strange couple.

This is a weird ass comedy of the sort that you only get from Korea. Sure, other countries make strange and off kilter films, but the ones coming from South Korea have their own brand of strange. It's as if they want to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible, while at the same time being so absurd that you want to laugh, except that things are so bent you don't know if the joke is funny any more.

To be honest while I intellectually like the weirdness of THE TENANTS I'm not sure I like it. For me it's the wrong sort of weird. It plays so off for me that I'm not sure why I'm being asked to see it. I suspect it has something to do with the weird things we do, but at the same time maybe not

Don't let my not clicking with the weird here stop you. If you like really weird films give THE TENANTS a try

Coffee Table (2023)


Blacker than you can imagine black comedy/tragedy about a a couple of new parents who buy a coffee table  that they are told will "change their lives."

I'm not going to give you details because this is a film where all of the tension comes from the worm turning as events transpire that may result in them being found out. Think of the Hitchcock films were a bomb is hidden and we are waiting for it to go off. It's not a bomb, but we are curled up in a ball waiting for the true horror to be revealed.

This is a very very uncomfortable comedy until it isn't (it's horrifying), and even when it's funny again it's catch in your throat, "I think I'm going to be sick" sort of funny until it just stops being funny altogether.

I can completely understand people walking out of the theater because they don't want to go there.

And I completely understand if my saying that makes it seem not as bad when you sit down and see this, and I'm sorry for that, but some of you need to be warned.

If you want to go to a really dark place THE COFFEE TABLE is highly recommended. Me I don't know if I want to go there again.

ARA San Juan (2024)

 


Netflix documentary on the sinking of the Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan Allegedly lost at sea during a storm the battle to find the truth was a long and hard.

If you want to see as detailed a presentation of a story as you can possibly be, ARA SAN JUAN THE SUBMARINE THAT DISAPPEARED is for you. A deep dive into the tragedy it spends it’s 8 episodes/4 hours going into every angle of the story, presenting detail reporting from everyone including the panels that were set up to investigate.  At no point do the filmmakers cherry pick the information, and instead lays it all out. The filmmakers allow the officials to fully get themselves into trouble with what they tell the grieving families. It’s everything you want to know and then some.

On the other hand  we are given so much information, and so much footage of the anels that things can seem to be over kill.  I was somewhere around the halfway point when my eyes started to glaze over. I went from mainlining the series to watching it in installments, an episode at a time.

Don’t let my saying I needed to watch the series in episodes deter you, this is a hell of a story. It’s a tale of officials not doing the right things and trying to cover their asses. I was hooked at the start and I had to see how it came out- because it’s not what you think.

Recommended.

Harakiri Squad (2024) Fantaspoa 2024


This film is a musical samurai comedy riff on the DC comics Suicide Squad about a group of thieves who are kept in a poisoned state by a the government in order to get them to do jobs for them. As long as they do the jobs they get the antidote to the poison. They end up hooking up with a young man who is looking to rescue his sister from a cult. The cult is headed by a demon and it is the target of the Harakiri Squad.

This film is a blast. Back in the Subway Cinema days of the New York Asian Film Festival this would have been one of the big films of the festival because it's wild and crazy and has a glorious sense of fun. This is a film that is going to riff on the Suicide Squad (one character's name is Suicide Squid), musicals, samurai films, possession films and a few other things, and do it with a big smile on it's face.

It's also going to give us some really good action sequences. Sure the film is a bit low budget, but it really doesn't matter since the fillmmakers use that to their advantage and have things take unexpected turns.

The handful of musical numbers aren't bad. While some seem just dropped in out of left field, most have a place in the story (kind of). They are also not bad as musical songs go, and while probably not destined to live on outside the film, they still are catchy enough not to annoy.

While the last third or so of the film gets a bit lost as things swing around for the final battle, the film still remains compelling, largely because we truly like the characters and care about them. I for one would love to see a sequel or two down the road.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves a good time HARAKIRI SQUAD just premiered at Fanaspoa