Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Alligator (1980) Scary Movies XI

Lewis Teague’s ALLIGATOR is based on a story and script by John Sayles. That should be enough to tell you that this version of the alligator in the sewer story is not going to be your typical one.

The plot takes the well-worn mythic story about a baby alligator flushed down the toilet growing up to be a terror and spins it with genuine scares and humor. The film is genuinely chilling and appropriately funny in all the right spots. That it works as well as it does is largely due to Sayles stellar script which walks the fine line between serious and satire. It is pushed over the top by the cast head by Robert Forester and Henry Silva who play it perfectly, selling it to us at every turn.

Being old enough to remember the film’s original release in 1980, I remember the delight reviewers had at the film. Coming late in the wake of horror films that resulted from JAWS, ALLIGATOR was a film none of the critics really wanted to see, until they saw it in which case they gushed delightedly about how the film subverted conventions and balanced the horror and humor.

I don’t think that the film is remotely scary any more but it is still a great deal of fun. It is both still funny and surprising tense. I go for years between screenings and each time I see it always forget bits of what happened and find I’m leaning in waiting for things to happen.

If you’ve never seen ALLIGATOR and live in New York I highly recommend you make a mad dash for Lincoln Center on Saturday and see the film when it plays Scary Movies

Shock Waves (1977) Scary Movies XI


Criminally underappreciated throw back horror film about a group of vacationers stranded on an uncharted island where a mad Nazi doctor is still working on his super warrior project involving zombies.

Say what you will but when the freed zombie warriors come out of the ocean wearing their dark goggles one is filled with a deep sense of dread, sure this isn’t the scariest of horror films, as such, but at the same time you know that good things are not going happen and that people are going to die- badly. It’s one of those moments that once you’ve seen it becomes iconic in your memory. It’s an image that instantly locks the movie in your memory and makes the film something you carry with you.

I’m not going to lie and say the film breaks any new ground. It doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, especially if you are a fan of the mad scientist on the loose genre…however what it does do is take the tropes of the genre and shines them up as bright as possible. To my mind this is as good a mad scientist movie as you are likely to see.

I think the film works as well as it does because the cast headed by Peter Cushing sells the whole affair. We believe because they believe. The don’t play anything except straight on. This is the situation so this is how it goes. There is no nudges or winks, just the characters.

This isn’t to sell the technical aspects short. Director Ken Wiederhorn keeps things reigned in and under control. He doesn’t go for big sweeping moments, he keeps it tight and claustrophobic. He and his technical crew wisely don’t shoot for the moon but keep things with in their budget, they don’t try to do too much, which I like. Too many times low budget horror films try to over compensate for their financial short comings by over doing say in the monster department with the result either it’s too good or more often it’s completely over done for its circumstances.

This is a great great exploitation horror film and one any horror film lover worth their salt should see at least once.

Search this one out the next time you’re going to curl up on the couch on some rainy Saturday night or this Saturday afternoon when it plays at Lincoln Center a Part of their Scary Movies XI

Monday, August 13, 2018

Do You Trust This Computer? (2018)

How you react to DO YOU TRUST THIS COMPUTER will be determined on how much reading and watching you’ve done on the subject of artificial intelligence and our rapidly changing technological existence. The film is a kind of greatest hits that’s explores many of the ideas that having computers that thing in our lives means and will mean as they get closer to matching real living beings.

I mention the idea about how much you know as the key factor for this review because I was sitting at lunch during my day job watching the film when one of my co-workers came in to the room to ask me a question. Intrigued by the little bit she saw she wandered out and came back with her lunch and joined me for the majority of the film.

When the film was done we started to discuss the film and my friend talked about how much she liked the film. For her it was a revelation concerning how AI is changing the world and what it may mean for society. I, on the other hand, liked the film but having been fed a steady diet of similar films over the last few years I didn’t quite like it as much. To be certain I thought it was an excellent primer but it’s 70 odd minute run time kept it from fully exploring some of the ideas it brings up.

Is the film worth a look? Yes. Just be aware how much you ponder AI will determine how much you like the film.

DO YOU TRUST THIS COMPUTER opens Friday in theaters and VOD on August 21st

A Whale of a Tale (2017) opens Friday


This is a repost of my review which ran last year when A WHALE OF A TALE played Japan Cuts

A WHALE OF A TALE is one of the most important documentaries I’ve seen this year and I know it will also be one of the least seen. The film is a text book example of how to make a fair and reasonably unbiased film but no one will see it because it doesn’t follow in absolute lockstep behind the Oscar winning film The Cove. Additionally if a distributor wanted to release the film odds are it’s far from black and white portrayal of life in the Japanese town of Taiji would inflame animal rights activists to the point no one would want to run it.

A WHALE OF A TALE is a deeper look at the town at the center of the events depicted in the Oscar winning film THE COVE. The film was a brutal look at the killing of dolphins in the Japanese village of Taiji. It focused on how the animals were driven into the shallow water and killed. It was a film soaked in blood and made to provoke a reaction. Using THE COVE as a starting place WHALE OF A TALE returns to Taiji to look at the town, the people, the hunt and the protesters. It is a film that makes every effort to shine a light on every aspect of the story with the result the viewer is not quite as inflamed as one they were after seeing THE COVE.

Megumi Sasaki has made a brilliant film. A stunning piece of journalism the film walks us through the middle of everything so that we quickly realize that what seemed black and white is really much more gray. Sasaki's ability to do this is because she has placed at the center of the film journalist JayAlabaster an American who has been living in America. Sent by his bosses to get the story after the release of The Cove he quickly realized that there was more to the story than was being shown in the film. The people were not monsters and what was happening was nowhere as clear cut. Doing what any most people would never do he moved into the village and got to know everyone on all sides.

Over the course of the film are opinions of everyone fighting over the hunt changes. The villagers soften from the monsters of THE COVE into people we’d want to hang out with. We get to know them and their way of life. We see that there is more to what they are doing then slaughter for the sake of slaughter. (As they ask how is this different than how we kill beef or lamb).

The protesters meanwhile are fare a little worse. While we can see their point of view they come off as gruff, one note and rather annoying. They scream and yell, shoot video footage but they make no effort to understand the people they are screaming at or the culture that enjoys the food. When one of the women in the village says that if the white protesters from America simply stopped telling them how to live their lives the hunt would stop you really believe it. Nothing inflames feelings for something like attacking one’s way of life, even if it’s a fading one.

When the film ended I stared at the screen my mind racing. What did I just see? What does it mean? How do I feel? I’m still parsing that all out. Its been a long time since I’ve been affected on so many levels. I was moved both emotionally and intellectually. My heart went out to the villagers, while I was forced to consider how we treat the animals we use for food. While I’m not going to get into a discussion of animal rights the film made me really think about the issues connected with it.

A WHALE OF A TALE was easily one of the best films at Japan Cuts 2017. It was also one of the best films of 2017. Certainly any film that takes what you think you know about a subject and jumbles it up is worthy of praise. When it does it on a larger level and makes you think about not just its subjects (animal rights and protesting) and makes it bigger (not just one village but globally) and then forces you to rethink how you see the form (what are unbiased documentaries really?)

A must see when the film opens Friday.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Scary Movies XI starts Friday

The 11th edition of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies is happening starting Friday. As many of you know the festival used to run in October around Halloween but the glut of fall programming it was being buffeted about so they moved to the summer to put a chill in the humid air.

I’m not going to go into a long gushy mash note for the festival because as long time readers will know I love the fest. Also one of the programmers is Rufus de Rham, one of the guiding spirits of New York Asian Film Festival so you know it's going to be good. Rufua is also a great guy and one of the best people I’ve met since starting Unseen Films. You know if he is involved in any project then it is worth your time, money and effort.

We will be dropping reviews all through the fest so keep checking back.

In order to help you choose a film or two or three or more before they all sell out I’d like to make a few suggestions.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is one of 2018’s best films. Think of it as a film by Guillermo del Toro but better. (Click on the this link to go to my review from Fantasia and this link to go to Nate Hood’s review)

LORDS OF CHAOS is hypnotic true crime tale about the early days of the Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem which were filled with suicide, murder, arson and madness. It’s not really a horror film but it is a walk on the dark side (with an occasional laugh). It surprised and delighted me.

THE INHABITANT is a creepy little film about two sisters who break into a house to steal money and find something they shouldn’t have.

THE TRACE WE LEAVE BEHIND has the search for a missing patient in a hospital turning spooky. Grounded in real world problems this is a neat little chiller whose images will haunt you

Also all the Tainted Waters side bar films DAGON, DEAD CALM, ALLIGATOR and SHOCK WAVES are highly recommended.

I want to state that I saw and liked WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE but that the review will run after the Scary Movies screening and closer to the theatrical release.

Scary Movies runs August 17 to 23. For tickets and more information go here.

And a quick note to anyone who is going to look around for reviews of the films playing the festival- HURT World Premiered at Fantasia a couple weeks back the version that was supplied to reviewers, myself included, was not the finished film. It was a different cut running longer and with different edits and music. The mistake was discovered after the film premiered and after some reviews (including mine)  had run. We were told that we would have a chance to re-screen the film but it never happened because it happened so late in the festival. As of this writing I am looking to re-review the film because of the differences.   If you are looking at reviews from Fantasia of HURT see if you can work out if the review was based on the public screening or the screener (anything from July 26th or 27th is probably from the wrong cut). I say this because apparently there is a difference in reaction to the film.

In Brief: Chaos (2005)

Jason Statham is brought back to the police force to chase Wesley Snipes who stages a spectacular bank robbery. Paired with Ryan Phillipe things begin to get weird as they are forced to look for a pattern in the chaos that Snipes is causing.

This is a better than you think is should be action thriller. Don't let the by the numbers opening and early moments put you off. Once this gets going its a really good little thriller because it doesn't behave in the ways you expect it too. Indeed there are a couple of twists that really surprised me. And of course the action scenes are very well done. I liked it a great deal.

Worth some popcorn on the couch

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hangman (2018) Hollyshorts Film Festival

Zwelethu Radebe’s HANGMAN will move you. Even if you kind of figure out what it’s all about, the beauty, simplicity and grace of its telling will leave you moved and staring at the screen misty eyed.

The plot of the film has a black prison guard during Apartheid discovering his long absent father in a group of prisoners brought in to ne executed. As the time for execution approaches the story of the past is revealed.

Half way into the film I was rocked. My legs had been kicked out from under me. I was watching the lunch during my lunch break at my day job. One of my co-workers could hear me audibly reacting.

“Are you okay?” they asked.

“yea” I sighed. “Just watching a movie”

“That must be some movie.”

“It is” I replied.

HANGMAN is brilliant. It does more in its 22 minutes than most features do in 100.

While I could wax poetic about every bit of Hangman, the one thing you absolutely need to know is that what makes the film so powerful is that it gets every emotion dead on perfect. Every inflection, every gesture, every look everything that any one on screen does perfectly conveys the emotion of the situation. To take it further not only does the film get the emotion right it always feels right and true. Yes the film is playing with what we feel, but it doesn’t yank our chain or do something because it will get a reaction. When we reach the conclusion we find ourselves broken because we arrived there honestly. It is rare to find that depth of emotion in a feature film, but to find it in a short a form where directors take short cuts to get their points across is rarer.

It is a true cinematic treasure.

Hangman is a must see. It is one the best films you’ll see all year.

HANGMAN plays at Hollyshorts FIlm Festival Friday August 17th

Friday, August 10, 2018

THE MEG (2018)

When the director says in interviews that there is no deep meaning to his film and it is only about sharks eating people you know you are not going to be getting Hamlet. I'm more than fine with that especially when it is a film as fun as THE MEG.

It begins on an underwater rescue where Jason Statham is rescuing the crew of a sunken sub. When it begins to go south he realizes that there is something outside the subs. He leaves his two friends behind just as something crushes the sub in trouble. He saved 11 but lost two friends.

Five years later Statham is called into service when his ex-wife is in a crippled sub deeper than anyone has ever gone before. It seems a megladon has attacked the sub. He rescues his ex but something has followed them to the surface.

Grand diverting thriller has chills and laughs aplenty as Statham and his fellow actors tear into the nonsense with gusto and sell every damn minute of this. No it is fundamentally scientifically inaccurate so don't get your head in a tizzy about things not making sense, just go with the fun as rescues turn to flights from sharks and then the tables turn again and again as hunters become hunted and vice-versa

I do have to say that one of the things I liked from the trailers is that while the shots are in the film how they actually lay out is not what how you'd think. What happens really surprises

High art? Only of the entertaining kind- which is the best kind and as a result I had a great time.

Recommended.

Trauma (2018) Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema 2018

Warning: Due to the extreme graphic content of this film, absolutely no one under the age of 18 will be permitted. I.D.’s will be checked at the door.
**Absolutely no refunds will be given under any circumstances, including walk-outs.
That is the warning given on the Kew Gardens website for TRAUMA and it makes it clear they are expecting walkout- and they will get them in abundance. I'm convinced that the film was programmed with an eye toward both clearing the out the theater and locating the psychopaths that lurk in the borough (I hope they cart off anyone who stays to the end).

The film is essentially 106 minutes of brutality committed toward women as some friends go on vacation and are brutalized by the people they find there. It somehow relates to the evils of the past but I never really cared since I was disconnected from the start when a son is forced to rape his mother by his father who just beat him half to death. It gets uglier from there. Care Bears this is not.

I don't care that this film is supposed to reflect the pain and suffering of what happened in Argentina, this film is damn close to being morally reprehensible and is ultimately nothing more than torture porn. It's so far removed from the other films playing at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema that I would love to know which of the programmers picked it and then make sure they get psychological help.

My objection to the film is not because I don't like it but rather it is just ugliness for no real reason. Yes, I don't like the film, but I  hate the whole torture porn genre on the face of it.  Unless you can justify it some how (MARTYRS anyone?) I don't get the point of watching people brutalize each other to the point of death, more so when it is misogynistic .

To be honest the reason I'm getting my panties in a bunch is two fold- first this film being at Kew Gardens is a huge WTF. I've seen a chunk of the features and there is nothing close to this at the festival. If the film had played at Fantasia or one of the genre festivals I wouldn't have paid it any mind. Not only would I have paid it no mind I wouldn't have reviewed it. But with in the context of a sweet neighborhood festival this film doesn't belong. It's too much of a left turn into genre.

Additionally what the hell is this doing at a festival in the #metoo era? How can a festival justify showing a film that begins with not only an ugly rape but one that ups the ante several times, and which then proceeds to brutalize women, children and men for another 100 minutes? And while I'm sure there are reasons, why do you inflict a film like this on your patrons who are probably not going to be ready for it? This is like a 50 on a scale of 10.

And yes it's really well done, but I don't see any point other than to show the carnage. If I saw the reason I could accept the film. But there is no reason for the film to exist other than button pushing and no reason to be playing at Kew other than a mistake.

Trauma plays tonight at Kew Gardens at midnight and is not recommended for anyone other than torture porn fans and sociopaths.

MAKOTO SHINKAI at the Metrograph this weekend

With the Metrograph running a retrospective of the work of Makoto Shinkai I'm wanted to post the links to all of Unseen's coverage of his films

VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR
GARDEN OF WORDS
YOUR NAME
5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND
CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES

(And because apparently I have never posted a review of THE PLACE PROMISED IN OUR EARLY DAYS here is a link to a review by JB)

For tickets and more information go here

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Swan (2017) opens tomorrow

THE SWAN maybe one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in 2018. The images are truly stunning. Mixed with an ethereal score it has the power to lift you out of your seat and transport you to the most beautiful places in Iceland. It is the sort of thing that makes the film a must see on a big screen.

On the other hand the story, about a young girl sent to stay with her aunt and uncle on their farm far from the coast is murky.

Nine year old Sol has been caught shoplifting and was sent to her aunt and uncle's farm to perform penance. There she runs straight into the hard life of the farm. Kept at a distance by those around her (and filmmakers who go out of their way to accentuate the isolation) Sol has to fend for herself. We also get a glimpse of the adult world that she doesn’t fully comprehend, or even notice.

While I admire the fact that director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s doesn’t give us all the answers, Sol doesn’t know or doesn't understand life fully so we don’t either, I am not so keen on how it keeps us distant from everyone including Sol. We should be connecting to her but in a lot of ways she remains a cypher. I never was emotionally invested. And while I was not really emotionally invested I was kind of creeped out by her relationship with the farmhand because it is not kosher and darkened everything.

While I like THE SWAN, I don’t love it. It has the feel of a film that is trying way too hard to be deep and meaningful thanks to an artifice that gets in the way of a good story.

Worth a look for the cinematography but it’s going to end up a film you'll like more than love.

Kew Gardens Double Feature: NYMPHADELLE and THE DOCTORS CASE

NYMPHADELLE
This is the tale of the son of a king who's parents are killed by a usurper to the throne. Hiding in the forest he meets a young woman and together they go off to get revenge.

Good looking but ultimately unremarkable fantasy tale is much too brief at 55 minutes. While everything you need for the story is here, including an unexpected ending, the film still feels like it's missing something. It feels kind of like a short story in the binding of a novel.

Worth a look if you like this sort of thing but nothing lost if you miss it.

THE DOCTOR'S CASE
Adaption of a Stephen King Sherlock Holmes short  story where Watson plays a key role. The tale concerns the death of an evil family patriarch who has cut everyone of his relatives out of his will just because he's a right bastard.

Running just over an hour the film is a really good time passer. While there is much to like the unevenness of the cast, some actors seem wrong for their roles or play things a bit too over the top, keep this from being as truly great as it should have been.  Regardless this is still a really good mystery.

Quibbles aside the film is a blast and now a couple of weeks on I am still thinking about it, which says a great deal more than the quibbles do.

Worth a look for Holmes and mystery fans alike.

These two films play together Saturday at the Kew Garden's Festival of Cinema

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Short Pieces on Short Films: MALLAS,MA; GREG'S GUARDIAN ANGEL; OVER COFFEE; SIMPLE MIND: and REINA

MALLAS, MA
Two fake ghostbusters go to a small town and try run their scam.

Good but slight little film doesn’t do what you expect…and because it is too short it’s hard to discuss. The easiest thng I can say is that while the film is slight there is a kernel of something here and a couple of fine central characters that would make fine leads in a feature.

GREGG’S GAURDIAN ANGEL
Gregg’s guardian angel shows up to give him advice. It changes Gregg’s life for the better. Unfortunately his repeated advice spins his life out of control.

Amusing but unremarkable comedy is a little too goofy to really click. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t mind in a short collection at a festival or if stumbled on but it’s not something to search out.

OVER COFFEE
Andrew loves Carla bust she doesn’t know it. When something unexpected happens in the office he gets a chance to come to the rescue.

Very good little short has two wonderful leads in Erik Potempa and Jocelyn DeBoer. The scenes between the pair shine and contain a realness and chemistry that deserves to be explored further. Worth tracking down.

SIMPLE MIND
Timothy J Cox gives a masterful performance as a man in therapy discussing his life.

And I can’t say more than that because in order to do so would require me to discuss the plot which has a number of surprises. Just know this is a super little confection that make it tracking down.

REINA
Seth is out on a date with Michelle and it’s going badly. He’s still upset about losing Reina. Then things go wrong.

I’m mixed on REINA. The main problem is that the character of Seth is more abrasive than charming. I didn’t much care for him and his steady stream of dialog. Why Michelle is with him is kind of perplexing. On the other hand once we get to the bar where most of the film takes place the film fires on all cylinders as a group of great characters take center stage and grab your attention. I loved the interplay during this central section. Its so good that I watched it twice just to watch the magic that happens.

Despite an annoying main character REINA is recommended for everyone around him.

The Spy Gone North: The Partly True Story of “Black Venus”

Instead of a shoe phone, he has a StarTAC. It doesn’t sound impressive now, but in the mid-1990s, it was perfectly respectable—and would not attract undue attention. The man code-named “Black Venus” is known here as Park Seok-young, but many details about his life and mission have been changed in this real-life le Carré-esque tale of espionage, based in part on the deep-cover operative’s notes. North-South relations are murkier than ever in Yoon Jong-bin’s The Spy Gone North, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles (next Friday in New York).

Park is a true patriot, who sacrifices a promising career in military intelligence for this long-term mission. After establishing a history of alcoholism and debt, Park turns up in Beijing, posing as a dodgy businessman looking to import profitable North Korean goods via China. However, his real goal is too gain access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.

It will take a lot of trust-building just to be invited into the notoriously closed pariah state. The plan is to cultivate Ri Myung-woon, Kim Jong-il’s western-educated finance guru, who is primarily tasked with acquiring as much hard currency as he can for the cash-strapped regime. The affable quickly forges a rapport with the more reserved Ri, but Jung Moo-taek, the state security liaison is openly suspicious (and hostile).

Nevertheless, Park manages to sell first Ri and then Big Brother himself on a sketchy joint venture to produce commercials in the North to appeal to South Koreans’ nostalgia and desire for unification. It is quite a coup for Park, but it is all jeopardized when his handler, NIS Director Choi Hak-sung changes the mission parameters mid-stream. Suddenly, Park is also supposed to act as a go-between brokering a Wag the Dog incident to benefit the hawkish ruling party in the South.

Ideologically, Spy Gone South has a cargo-tanker full of baggage to unpack. On one hand, there is a clear suggestion of Machiavellian moral equivalency between North and South. Yet, it also unambiguously addresses the famine ravaging the People’s Republic during the nineties. It also makes it clear anyone who disappointed the Kim Dynastic regime would be purged and condemned to a prison camp, along with their entire families. In fact, Kim the Second is portrayed on-screen—very much as a wacked-out, unstable, odd duck. It is therefore hard to imagine this film getting much of a reception up North, despite its clearly dovish, pro-unification sympathies.

Regardless, on a more basic, formalistic level, Spy Gone North serves as quite a tight, tense espionage thriller, fully stocked with close calls and mounting paranoia. Hwang Jung-min is perfectly cast as the unctuous-on-the-outside, tense-to-the-breaking-point-inside Park, if that is indeed his name. He can radiate a sense of danger like nobody else acting in film today—and as Black Venus, he cranks it up to eleven.

Yet, we expect that from Hwang. The real surprise is the depth and uncertainty Lee Sung-min brings to the film as Ri, in what might be his career best work. Plus, Ki Joo-bong is so jaw-droppingly amazing as Kim Jong-il, we literally fear for his safety. Park Sung-woong, one of our favorite actors working today (especially in morally ambiguous roles) is weirdly under-utilized as Park’s oblivious South Korean partner in the advertising venture, but just having him on-board is reassuring.

There is a great deal of complicated intrigue that unfolds during the film, but even though Yoon never skimps on the Smiley spycraft details, he still keeps the pacing snappy. The takeaway is rather muddled, but it is just a lot of fun to watch the big name cast sneak around, conspiring against each other. Highly recommended, The Spy Gone North opens this Friday (8/10) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas (and next Friday in New York, at the AMC Empire).

Kew Gardens Capsules: SOMETHING and CHASING SUNSHINE

SOMETHING
Young couple are having a tough night with their newborn. Not only are they sleep deprived but they think that someone is lurking outside of their home.

Good small scale dramatic thriller has enough going for it that you forgive the bumps and hang in there because you genuinely want to know what in the hell is going on. While far fromperfect it does entertain which is some times all you need. While I enjoyed myself I really wish that Eric Roberts had done more than phone it in in he small role since unbalances the film.

Worth a look.

SOMETHING plays Friday at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

CHASING SUNSHINE
When Darcy’s best friend bails on her secret admirer’s scavenger hunt she is paired with Jack the best friend’s boyfriend in a trip across the city. Amusing hour long film is delightfully unexpected. How nice to see a film where a man and a woman can be people with no hint of romance (Darcy is a lesbian). Some great dialog and some genuinely funny situations mix together in a sweet little film whose biggest problem is that it’s hour long run time is going to limit screenings outside of the festival circuit so see it anyway and any time you can. This is a gem and one of Kew's best films Worth a look.

CHASING SUNSHINE plays Saturday

For tickets and more information for both films go here

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Flora: High Pollen Warning

Ora Blackwood is a flexible artist. She can do nature studies in the Audubon tradition and macabre scenes worthy of Weird Tales magazine covers. That makes her a perfect protag for this period sf/horror hybrid. Get ready for some full contact botany in Sasha Louis Vukovic’s Flora, which releases today on BluRay.

In 1929, Victorin University’s best and brightest botany grad students have come to join their professor’s rain forest expedition. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they find his campsite deserted and the food-stores have been nearly all incinerated. Right from the start, they face a crisis situation, because their next supply delivery is not expected for a month. They cannot hunt or gather either, because there seems to be no animal life anywhere to be found, not even insects. There is only green-leaf flora.

Their outlook goes from bad to worse when they finally find their professor—dead, of course. Being brainy, his protégé Matsudaira Basho figures out there is some sort of poisonous super-pollen infecting the greenery. Rather inconveniently, they are more likely to die from suffocation when the pollen inevitably rises than from its toxicity, so the clock is ticking.

Whatever Vukovic’s background might be, he either researched botany with admirable thoroughness or he can fake it like a champ. There are plot points in Flora that will make even experienced genre fans stop and think: “huh, that’s interesting.” A particularly notable example would be the extended sequence involving the preparation of otherwise noxious weeds for human consumption.

There is no question Flora is an ultra-low budget film, so you have to work with it a little. This is not a high-gloss, pre-packaged cookie-cutter studio film. Unfortunately, that also means the ensemble is a little uneven. Nevertheless, the final four going into the third act are all quite strong (they would be Teresa Marie Doran, Sari Mercer, Caleb Noel, and Dan Lin).

The period setting also adds an element of exotic intrigue, plus it allows for a lively 1920’s jazz score, without sacrificing verisimilitude. This is a smart, scrappy movie that will surprise you. Yes, there are some rough edges, but it will leave reasonable viewers curious (maybe even eager) to see what Vukovic does next (presumably with a greater budget). Highly recommended for the open-minded, Flora releases today on BluRay, from Mill Creek Entertainment.

What Still Remains (2018)

After a plague has ravaged the planet the survivors are scattered. Anna lives with her mother and brother, however neither  is long for the world. Her brother is lost trying to save her and her mother is dying of illness and Anna takes it all in stride. Meeting a young man named Peter, she is convinced to leave her home and travel to his community.Anna soon finds out that Peter has plans for her.

A really good underlying story gets lost in a film where the surface details were a little too neat and clean for my tastes. Little things in how the story was told pulled me out of the film.

I disconnected early in the film when with Anna's "its Chinatown" attitude regarding the loss of her family. Rarely has any one been so nonchalant about losing loved ones or even liked ones. There is hardened by life and there is not caring. Actually I wasn't a real fan of Anna's character since to me she seemed to behave according to how the film needed her to behave instead of as a real person. I don't blame Lulu Antariksa as Anna but a script which never gets the details right

Things are a tad too neat for me and I have lot of questions about the details. In a world where the plague has ravaged the population for 25 years and driven everyone to a post apocalyptic existence where does everyone get their salon haircuts or hair dye? Why don't any of the clothes or every day objects seem worn and beaten? Why don't the people look like they have been living a hardscrabble existence? How is it that when Anna breaks into a store at the start it looks as though it's been boarded up for months? It didn't really make sense.

While not a bad film, it has some great bits, I like the notion of this world and it's take on where society will go. For example the religious based community is fascinating, and some of the discussions in isolation are really good. Unfortunately the film never pulls it all together.  Nothing ever seems real or more than dress up. The result is this is an okay time passer but nothing more.

WHAT STILL REMAINS hits theaters Friday and VOD August 14th

Kew Gardens Capsule reviews: INTO THE VALLI and OPERATION WEDDING

INTO THE VALLI
Emotionally raw drama about a Frankie Valli imitator who has steamer trunk of emotional problems. Struggling to put his life together and hit it big  he finds things blowing farther and farther apart as his life begins to mirror his idol's.

This is a really good film that deserves to stand on it's own without the gimmick of impersonator copying his idol in every way. While I know that is the point of the film, the filmmakers have made a film that didn't need the hook because they got the drama right. Even without the Frankie Valli references, this could have just been anyone who is driven, this film would have been gangbusters because pain of the inter-personal relationships involving heavily damaged people make this tough  but engrossing viewing. The story is a universal one. Things are so good that there  are times where I simply couldn’t watch and had to look away because they got the details of a life in free fall so right. If you like heavy dramas this is recommended.

INTO THE VALLI plays today at Kew Gardens

OPERATION WEDDING
Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov‘s documentary exploring her parent’s plan to hijack a small plane and escape from the Soviet Union. Mixing modern recollections with period video footage the film explores what happened, why things went down as they did and what happened as a result of it. As someone old enough to have watched the first reports of the hijacking and then follow the story as it played out over years this was a walk down memory lane. Living in New York, where there is a large population of Russian Jews, the film brought it all back. One of the best films I’ve seen at Kew Gardens it is an eye opener since it brings back clear picture at why the Soviets were so bad and why people wanted to leave. Recommended

OPERATION WEDDING plays tomorrow at Kew Gardens

Monday, August 6, 2018

Melissa Center's RV (2017) will kick you to the curb Kew Gardens 2018

Melissa Center’s RV is a film of quiet power. It is a film that will kick you in the chest and then stomp on it for three or four hours afterward. It is a masterpiece and one of the very best films I’ve seen in 2018.

The almost wordless RV is the trip a woman takes to an RV in the middle of nowhere to get an abortion. That’s it. There are no fireworks, just anguish and pain. Just simple real story telling.

It will leave you stunned.

We have all heard of the back alley abortions that women had to endure. He have all imagined what that might entail, and here it is on the big screen. It is not in the dead of night and in some dark rain soaked alley but a bright sunny day in middle America. Our expectations are shattered.

We know nothing of what caused this to happen or why the woman is choosing use this method, we simply know what happens during the procedure. The whys and wherefores are left to our imagination. We see and feel the emotion and are left to ponder- and be haunted.

I was left staring at the screen, tears running down my face.

RV is a must see.

Yes, it will be playing at various festivals (Kew Gardens Fest-Aug 9th, at Chain NYC Aug 11th & at Sidewalk Fest Aug 26th) but it needs more eyes on it than just what festivals can provide. It needs to be part of the discussion of reproductive rights that America is having or will soon have in the face of Conservative and Far Right pressure. It puts a face on the subject and makes back alley abortions a concrete thing. It needs to be talked about because Melissa Center doesn’t go the easy way and sensationalize everything, she simply shows how traumatic it is. And in doing so reveals her self to be one of the best directors working today.

I don’t know what else to say other than it is one of 2018’s best and most important films

See RV when it plays Thursday at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. (Tickets and information here)

(And apologies to Will Hawkes who co-directed the film for not mentioning him but Melissa wrote, co -directed and stars in the film so as far as I a concerned it is her film because it's all her up there.)

Also check out the RV movie webpage.

Huang Bo’s The Island

Animal rain, most commonly fish, is a real-life, documented phenomenon that happens several times a year. It is thought to be the result of tornado-like winds traveling over water or wherever, sucking the fish up into the clouds. For castaways, fish falling from the skies is a godsend, but the unlikely bounty is small consolation for the sad sack Ma Jin in Huang Bo’s The Island, which opens this Friday in New York.

There is a meteor headed towards Earth, but experts disagree about the threat it poses, as experts do. Fate dictates it will strike while Ma Jin’s office is off on their team-building exercises. We’d rather have the meteor-strike, which seems to have happened judging from the tsunami-level waves that sweep them away to a mysterious island. It is doubling disappointing for Ma Jin, because he learned he just won the mega-lotto right before their boat left on its three-hour cruise.

Assuming there is still a world out there, Ma Jin has sixty days to claim his jackpot, but there are no signs of any external life. They seem to be stuck for the duration. Yet, he still can’t get the time of day from his office crush, Wu Shanshan, even though he is real close to being the last man on Earth—like one out of maybe twenty.

So, how do they survive this rock? At first, they turn to their tour guide, Xiao Wang, because he has military experience, but he quickly becomes a totalitarian brute. Ma Jin and his bro then join the former “boss” establishing an allegorical capitalist society, based on their two surviving decks of playing cards. However, Ma Jin quickly tires of this new rat race. After sequestering himself like a stylite, literally surviving on mana from the sky, Ma Jin plots a coup that will institute more communitarian policies, but with him at top as the head man.

The presence of Huang Bo and Wang Baoqiang from the smash hit Lost in Thailand will tempt many critics to call this Lost on an Island, but despite their outgoing performance styles, Huang’s directorial debut is mostly rather serious. The allegorical content is defiitely heavy-handed at times, but the relationship between Ma Jin and Wu is painfully realistic. It is not like she is this cool, sensitive woman who automatically falls for Ma Jin once she realizes the depth of his feelings. Instead, she shows herself to be held captive by fear and social pressure.

The first half of The Island has an effectively uneasy vibe, due to the uncertainty regarding the state of the rest of the world. The set pieces are also impressive, especially the upside-down cargo vessel wreck that becomes the home base for the boss’s capitalist society. Yet, it is hard to silence the voice in the back of your head saying: “please, please don’t let it end like the video for Huey Lewis’s “Stuck with You.’”

Regardless, Huang mixes a good deal of grit in with his usual hound dog persona. It really is some of his better work, but not quite up there with Battle of Memories and No Man’s Land. Shu Qi also elevates Wu Shanshan, making her surprisingly complicated and ultimately quite poignant. There is legit chemistry and tension in their scenes together. Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast give rather one-note performances as stock characters.

Although it has the underlying structure of your basic rom-com, The Island is ambitiously large in scale and moody in tone. The darker hues and symbolic elements might even work better here than in its home market, were it not for Huang and Wang, whose broader styles are a bit of an acquired taste. Recommended for regular patrons of Chinese cinema who would like to see Gilligan’s Island descend into The Lord of the Flies, Huang Bo’s The Island opens this Friday (8/10) in New York, at the AMC Empire.