Sunday, January 19, 2020

In lieu of a full on curtain raiser here are some suggestions for Slamdance

I had planned on doing a curtain raiser for Slamdance but I mistimed everything and realized I don't have the extra week I thought 'd have to watch all the movies... I am so far behind it isn't funny. As a result I really can't do a proper curtain raiser since I haven't seen enough to know how the festival shapes up.

On the other hand I have seen a enough films that I can make a few recommendations.

MURMUR- the story of a woman who turns her addiction of alcohol for pets will break your heart.

RESIDUE- A man goes home to write a screenplay in the old neighborhood and finds it's gentrifying. A haunting film that heralds a new voice in cinema.

ANIMATION OUTLAWS- Portrait of Spike and Mike and their festival is a must see history of animation.

ASK NO QUESTIONS - a look into China's suppression of Falun Gong and how they are manipulating the media to get their point across.

BASTARDS' ROAD- I thought last thing we needed was another film about a vet walking across America- and then I saw this film and realized we did. One of the best of 2020. (My review from the Santa Barbara film fest can be found here)

HIGHER LOVE - real and raw documentary on the cost of opioid crisis as seen in the story of a father, his child and the mother he keeps trying to save.

AN ORDINARY PEOPLE-  If you need to see people doing crazy stuff with cars see this film about spinning, a sport where people spin their cars, get out of them while they are moving and then get back in. Its nuts.

I am especially behind in shorts but the horror comedy WASHED is a real delight. Its about a guy who goes to use the Eldritch Cleaners...

Now before the PR people reading this swallow their tongues that I didn't include their film- understand that I still have a stack of films to go.

Reviews will start on the 24th because of embargoes and then fill next weekend - so keep reading.

Bastards' Road (2020) Santa Barbara Film Festival 2020 and Slamdance 2020

BASTARDS' ROAD follows Jon Hancock as he walks across America seeking to reconnect with the men he served with in 2/4 Marines in the hope of healing both himself and his friends of the trauma that they have suffered by the things that they experienced in the Middle East.

Before seeing BASTARDS' ROAD I was certain that the last thing we needed was another film about a vet walking across America to heal himself and others, but then I started the film and by the two minute mark as Hancock was talking while lighting a fire I was hooked. Not long after I realized that not only do we need this film, but that this is maybe one of the best films of 2020.

I am not going to do a great deal of talking about what happens in this film, not because I don’t have a great deal to say, but rather you need to meet Hancock and the 2/4 Marines for yourself. That the film works as well as it does is entirely due to Hancock and what he has to say and how he interacts with his fellow vets. He is not only a born storyteller but also a wonderful philosopher. He perfectly explains what he is feeling and why. He explains to us what happened and how it affected him and more importantly he draws out the people he encounters. Anyone spending time with him seems to open up and begins to heal. It’s a stunning achievement.

I am in true awe of this film. In all seriousness I started the film and I got about five minutes in and I had to stop the film and restart it because I thought the film had jumped to the middle. The film felt like I had been with Hancock for longer than just a couple of minutes. I was certain I couldn’t feel like I had known someone for a long time minutes after meeting him. I was wrong, I had instantly connected and the film was just getting going.

Whether you have an interest in Hancock and his journey or not you need to see this film. It is a film that will get under your skin and become part of you. More importantly it will alter the way you think.

Highly recommended.

The film just premiered at the Santa Barbra Film Festival (It plays again tomorrow) and it will play Slamdance on January 26 and 30th. (Information here)

Things I'd Like To Do Instead of Thinking About Men (2019)

It took me ages to sit down and watch Irina Varina multi-part series THINGS I'd LIKE TO DO...… and it was a major mistake on my part because it is a fantastic one of a kind “film”.

For the record I fell in love with Varina‘s work after seeing her film US,FOREVER AGO at the Kew Garden Film festival in 2018. That film is an amazing film unstuck in time that gets under your skin and takes you some place else. It’s an absolute stunner. She is an artist with a one of a kind view of the world and with THINGS... she proves herself to be one of the most exciting filmmakers working today.

The series is a bit hard to describe. It has something to do with a woman who leaves her neighborhood and is talked about by her friends while we see videos she left behind detailing nominally what she would rather be doing rather than thinking about men. Where it goes is the trip you have to take.

Made up of six episodes running anywhere between four and six minutes they move like the wind telling its seemingly compartmentalized story. I was initially thrown off by what the film was doing since the sequences where Varina addresses us directly seem to be completely at odds with the sequences that wrap around them. I was a bit taken aback but the differences in how the two parts are presented, but as the second episode screened things began to click into place. There was this grand “ah ha!” when I understood what Varina was doing with how she was telling the story. The differing textures of the sequences no longer rubbed against each other but blended.


I am not ashamed to say that I love the work that Varina is doing. She is turning out films that are not only haunting pieces of cinema but doing so in ways that are one of a kind and unique.

While I would be foolish to assume that THINGS I'D LIKE... will work for everyone, I think for anyone who wants to experience a unique cinematic talent is in for a treat. This is a series to track down.

Highly recommended.


Over the last few months I reviewed a number of short films in Oscar contention in the hope that they would get on to the Oscar short list. MARRIAGE MATERIAL was one of them. This magnificent poisoned confection  dismantles the notion of  what all women should want and finds it hollow. It is a masterpiece that has grown in my opinion since I saw it and since I realized this was better than most of the short listed films. If you can see the collection of shorts at the New York Jewish Film Festival do so.

Musical short subject about a woman who goes to a place to teach her to become more marriageable after her current relationship implodes.

Bouyantly up beat music hides the fact that this is dark little confection that will break your heart. It’s a dark tale of selling your soul to fit in and the misery that results.

This was in the mix for a possible Oscar it is definitely good enough, the question was always would the committee making up the short list be able to get the taste of ashes out of their mouths.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Night (2020) Santa Barbara Film Festival 2020

THE NIGHT is the story of a couple and their infant daughter who leave a party with friends and break down on the way home. Refusing to go back they instead take a room in a hotel nearby for the night. As the night goes on things begin to go sideways and it looks like there is a malevolent force in the hotel with designs on the family.

Kudos to director Kourosh Ahari for making a sweet little thriller. A creepy uneasy tale, the film uses silences and shadows to great effect. It also uses the fact that the film is a mix of English and Persian to further ratchet up the suspense. If you need a good example of why we need voices that are more than just white male, this film is it. While the film seems to be set in America, the mixture of cultures creates a gumbo that spices up everything up since we never know which way things are going to go.

I don’t know what else to say other than when you get a chance to see The Night do so. Get yourself a huge bowl of popcorn and beverage of choice and curl up in your seat and get ready for some winter chills.

Marceline. A Woman. A Century (2018) NYJFF 2020

“You must not be afraid of anything in life, if you are you’re screwed.”

Portrait of writer, philosopher, actress  filmmaker and artist Marceline Loridan-Ivens in her own words.

This film is a real kick in the pants, entirely because 90 year old Marceline is a kick in the pants. She is a woman who lived life to the fullest and head on and we are better for it. Talking to us and her friends and collaborators both in writing and in film we get a sense not only her life but of the woman herself. We come to understand how she survived all that life threw at her and managed to remain standing tall.

I am in absolute awe of this film because I am in awe of the woman at it's center. She went and did and achieved so much. She had so much wisdom which she poured into her books and films. You completely understand how Ho Chi Min changed his mind about letting her film a movie in his country after meeting her.

Go see this film.

And while I know that isn't much of a review, you have to understand that my words simply can not match Marceline. She was a singular woman and one you have to meet for your self.

MARCELINE. A WOMAN. A CENTURY plays January 22nd. Her Autobiographical film THE BIRCH TREE MEADOW screens the same day. For information go here.

I Was Not Born a Mistake (2019) and Butterflies in Berlin: Diary of a Soul Split in Two (2018) New York Jewish Film Festival

This is a wonderful little film about Yiscah Smith who was born as a man. She became deeply religious on a trip to Israel where she made a deal with God to lead the correct life if He helped her keep it together. However after many years living the Ultra Orthodox life and fathering six children she realized that she couldn’t go on and came out of the closet, divorced transitioned into being a woman. It was a move that shocked everyone around her prompting death threats not only for herself but her children as well.

This is wonderful little film about not only finding yourself and your place in the world but also the dangers of being different in a tight knit community. Smith's choices upset many people in her community and it caused her no end of trouble.

This is an excellent portrait of a woman who is following her path and finding things opening up for her.



BUTTEFLIES... is an animated film about a man named Alex who becomes the first out-of-surgery transsexual. Sprining from the events listed in a diary given to the Holocaust musem the film recounts the story of Alex during the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany and their hunt to kill anything deviant. While I didn't fully connect to the film emotionally, the animation style didn't work for me, It does did keep me engaged by giving us a clearer picture of what exactly was going on in Germany in the run up to the start of the Second World War. It also tells a story most people are not aware of.


Both I WAS NOT BORN....and BUTTERFLIES... play January 21. For more information and tickets go here.

Ashfall (2019)

Mythic North Korean volcano erupts in spectacular fashion sending shock waves across the peninsula and into China. Despite causing massive destruction there are worse things brewing- three more  eruptions are predicted with the last one likely to level whatever remains of the two Koreas. In desperation the South Korean government devises a plan to stop the eruptions involving sending a military team into the devastated North Korea, freeing a spy and using his knowledge to get six hidden nuclear warheads and use them to blow up the volcano....

... and it gets even crazier with evil Americans, evil Chinese, collapsed dams, collapsing bridges, fire fights, buddy movie conventions, disaster movie cliches and the never ending need to make it as difficult as humanly possible for our heroes to save the day and still get home.

If you want a bat shit crazy film this is for you.

If you saw and loved the completely over the top and nonstop WANDERING EARTH about the effort to prevent the earth from crashing into Jupiter either in theaters or on Netflix  last year then I have a movie for you you. The Korean ASHFALL may not be as perfect a can of insanity  but it is just as relentless in plotting and pedal to the metal action, but this time there are intentional laughs. This is as if the filmmakers threw every idea they ever had and put it into one script and then stole every disaster and movie cliche and threw that into. Actually it's eve ncrazier than that....

At this point I need to simply say you are either going to love this film and it's over the moon insanity or you are not. My good or bad thoughts on the film  truly mean nothing since this film is operating where our visceral need for bread and circuses takes over.  This isn't Shakespeare or Ingmar Bergman but something much less serious. It is the South Korean film industry beating Hollywood at its own mega-blockbuster game. This is pure escapist fare that requires popcorn, beverage of choice and a bunch of friends to cheer with.

Simply put I freaking love this film. It's imperfect,with some odd pacing  and occasional wonky CGI, but good god is it fun. It manages to both send up the conventions of this sort of film while at the same time playing them deadly serious and absolutely perfectly on target to the point we sit on the edge of our seats wondering who will live and who will die. It's the most fun I've had in the movies since... well WANDERING EARTH last year. It is so entertaining and fun it's probably going to be on my list of favorite films of 2020 simply because it took me away from the real world insanity for 130 minutes.

Highly recommended  to anyone who loves totally insane over the top films or just great action films.

ASHFALL is now playing in the following US theaters  while continuing it's record breaking run in Asia

CGV Cinemas Buena Park, CA
CGV Cinemas Los Angeles, CA
AMC Ridgefield Park, NJ
AMC Plymouth Mtg, PA
AMC Bay Terrace Bayside, NY
AMC Alderwood Cinema Lynnwood, WA
AMC Mercado Santa Clara, CA
AMC IMAX Metreon San Francisco, CA
CENT Century 20 Daly City, CA
CNMK Century Sea Tac Mall Federal Way, WA
AMC Alderwood Seattle, WA
AMC Veteran's Expressway Tampa, FL
AMC Streets of Woodfield Chicago, IL
AMC 20 Niles Chicago, IL
AMC Empire 25 New York, NY
AMC Forum 30 Detroit, MI
AMC Fullerton 20 Los Angeles, CA
AMC Studio 30 Houston, TX
AMC Grapevine Mills Dallas/Ft Worth, TX

Unskin (2018)

UNSKIN is a good little short about a story teller at a job interview telling the story of a being coming into the world in order to cause those people he comes into contact to dance off the masks of their existence and become the person they really are.

An odd mix of hopeful and creepy, the face of the being is not something that I would want to meet up with in a dark room, the film is really a fable about the need to be ourselves in order to be happy.

While I really like the film will be determined by how you react to the dance sequences in the film. I like them though I think they may go on a little too long.

Worth a look.

Friday, January 17, 2020

We're Having A Few Technical Difficulties

As you can see I have made some changes to the look of Unseen Films....unfortunately in doing so there are some bugs, some of the lettering of some posts and there are a few other bugs.   We are working to fix the problems...

...actually Bully is working to fix the problem because I'm a little too tired to keep working on it. 

As Bully and I work on fixing the look of the website we ask you to bare with us...and send cookies cause Bully doesn't work for free

Climate Change Parables at the Metrograph

An Overview of Hollywood and International Films Depicting Ecological Disasters with In-Person Appearances by Naomi Klein, Ashley Dawson, and more
“I don’t know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty.”— First Reformed
Beginning February 21, and continuing until Earth Day (April 22) in 2020, Metrograph will present Climate Change Parables, a series of Hollywood and International films that envision the global fallout of climate change. Cinema has been reckoning with the impending environmental collapse for some time and these depictions are more relevant than ever now that our fear of time running out is truly palpable. The movies in Climate Crisis Parables imagine the aftermath of humankind’s recklessness and what might come when our species no longer exists. The program is composed of scripted films rather than documentaries because the existential threat posed to future generations is best explored with speculative forms of storytelling and while these films often strike a grave and cautioning in tone, they are spectacular, even ecstatic, in scope and scale. Climate change experts will introduce the films using their fictional scenarios as entry points to the discussion of real-world issues, anchoring our increasingly surreal daily reality with research and perspective, and highlighting the imperative actions that must be taken right now to reverse our path towards the brink.
Climate Crisis Parables is presented in partnership with Harper’s Magazine, a publication that regularly considers environmental issues and the fate of our planet in essays and reporting by such writers as Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Rebecca Solnit; and Extinction Rebellion Lower East Side Neighborhood Group.
Sunday, February 23
with Author/Activist Naomi Klein In-Person
Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki/1999/133 mins/DCP)
Clashing with a archdemon boar, warrior Ashitaka is stricken with an empowering but ultimately fatal curse, and journeying into the unknown of the Great Forest in search of a cure, meets the fierce titular warrior woman, raised by wolf-gods. Miyazaki’s gorgeously animated, mythic tale about a battle between humans and ancient forest spirits is an epic with an environmental message, justly a phenomenon in Japan on its initial release.
Saturday, February 29
with Author/Activist Ashley Dawson In-Person
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho/2013/126 mins/DCP)
Bong’s sci-fi actioner sets its scene aboard a high-speed train coursing along on a globe-spanning track, carrying the last survivors of an earth rendered uninhabitable, a frozen wasteland following a failed attempt to stop global warming. Boasting an ensemble cast that includes Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, and Tilda Swinton, it’s both a ripping, white-knuckled yarn and a chilling vision of the class-stratified future that might belong to climate change refugees in a pitiless, dog-eat-dog world.

To Be Scheduled, with Guests Announced Soon

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg/2001/146 mins/35mm)
The seemingly disparate sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, who left this science-fiction Pinnochio story unrealized at the time of his death, here achieve an unexpected harmony. Haley Joel Osment plays a robot child abandoned by his adopted parents to the cruel (if astonishingly realized) outside world, in a film that finds Spielberg at his most challenging and most poignant.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog/2009/122 mins/DCP)
One of the worst climate catastrophes in modern memory, the 2005 submergence of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent slow rebuilding, provides the apocalyptic stage for Herzog’s not-really-sequel. With a nothing-left-in-reserve lead performance by Nicolas Cage, a drug-and-gambling-addicted Big Easy cop who pursues his prey through a devastated cityscape, all while barely managing to keep himself together. Surreal and often startlingly funny, this is Herzog in vintage form.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007/117 mins/DCP)
While so many special effects spectacles are lost in time like tears in the rain, Blade Runner remains the template for imagining the neon-wreathed downer of the future, every bit as influential in its vision as was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis over a half century before. Working from a novel by cult writer Philip K. Dick to create a film that would become the gold standard for sci-fi noir, director Scott shares credit here with “visual futurist” Syd Mead’s design concepts and synth pioneer Vangelis’s atmospheric score.

The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch/2019/104 mins/DCP)
Having put his inimitable stamp on the western, chanbara samurai film, vampire movie, and espionage thriller, Jarmusch has found a new genre in need of bending—the all-American zombie flick. When mangled bodies start showing up in a bucolic little town, the walking dead can’t be far behind, and so the local constabulary (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny), katana-wielding morgue attendant Tilda Swinton, and an all-star lineup of local residents have to try to defend themselves from a revening army of ghouls.

The Devil, Probably (Robert Bresson/1977/95 mins/35mm)
As The Devil, Probably begins, we see newspaper reports of a teen found dead by gunshot wound; the film then flashes back to chart the march toward death of this nihilistic, atheistic youth, as he indifferently rails against a corrupt, wretched world. This uncompromising late career masterpiece from Bresson is deeply disturbing yet strangely elating, and one of the greatest works by one of the greatest directors.

First Reformed (Paul Schrader/2018/113 mins/DCP)
The fifth film of Schrader’s so-called “man in a room” series, which includes Taxi Driver (1976) and American Gigolo (1980), First Reformed dives into consuming obsession along with its protagonist, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, extraordinary), the caretaker of a historical upstate New York church who becomes gradually possessed by a horror of forthcoming ecological catastrophe, and fixated on the idea of laying down his life to punish the corporate overlords responsible. Harrowing and, finally, hallowed—a fierce and unforgettable film.

Himizu (Sion Sono/2011/129 mins/DCP)
The aftereffects of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami continue to haunt a Japanese town in Sono’s adaptation of the manga of the same name. Teenager Yuichi, abandoned by his parents, drives inexorably towards an act of violence. This story of a gripping obsession, told with a sensitive attention to character and superb performances from its young leads, touches on the imminent threat of nuclear emergency posed by climate change, as well as the nihilistic disillusionment of youths failed by their parents’ generation.

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan/2014/169 mins/35mm)
Nolan’s outer space epic begins with an agricultural crisis on earth, a blight that will send astronaut Matthew McConaughey on a mission to find another habitable planet for our suddenly endangered species. An unabashedly emotional blockbuster, stirring and surprising. “Like the great space epics of the past, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar distills terrestrial anxieties and aspirations into a potent pop parable, a mirror of the mood down here on earth.”—The New York Times

Melancholia (Lars von Trier/2011/135 mins/35mm)
The possibilities for ecological apocalypse extend beyond the bounds of even our own solar system in Von Trier’s cosmic-view diptych drama, which begins with a wedding party gone awry and ends in the shadow of an incoming extinction-level event. Shot through from beginning to end with a profound feeling for what it is to live in the grips of depression, as Kirsten Dunst’s baleful bride predicts forthcoming catastrophe, telling sister Charlotte Gainsbourg, “The Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it.”

Red Desert  (Michelangelo Antonioni/1964/117 mins/35mm)
Antonioni had never made a color film before embarking on Red Desert, and nobody had made a color film quite like what he came up with. Ending the trilogy that began with L’Avventura Antonioni painted a picture of contemporary sci-fi dystopia with a palette of eye-searing chemical spills, the terrible, beautiful industrial hellscape which persecutes Monica Vitti’s neurasthenic housewife, who takes up with her factory owner husband’s associate, played by Richard Harris. A hypnotic vision of environmental and spiritual catastrophe, inextricably combined.

Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky/1979/163 mins/DCP)
When reference is made in Twin Peaks: The Return to “The Zone,” it seems an awful lot like a homage to Tarkovsky’s stunning, haunted sepia-toned sci-fi masterpiece, in which a scientist and a writer living in a broken-down totalitarian dystopia recruit the help of a “Stalker”—a kind of post-apocalyptic Sherpa—to guide them on a voyage of self-discovery, passing through the bleak, otherworldly Zone, hoping to discover therein a haven that will fulfill their secret desires.

Still Life (Jia Zhangke/2006/111 mins/35mm)
A man (Han Sanming) and a woman (Zhao Tao) search for their respective spouses while the threat of a massive man-made ecological event looms in the background: the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which poses an immediate threat to the town of Fengjie, where both have arrived to meet their spouses. Personal catastrophe echoes destruction on an epic scale in Jia’s justly acclaimed film, which illustrates the terrifying ability of the monolithic Chinese state to permanently alter a landscape, and the impact of such changes on the psychosocial makeup of a city.

Workingman's Death (Michael Glawogger/2005/122 mins/DCP)
Is it possible to make a post-apocalyptic movie set in the present day? Glawogger’s globe-spanning documentary panorama, at any rate, comes awfully close. Vignettes of manual laborers at work reveal a world of grueling effort and Stygian landscapes, including illegal coal mines in the Ukraine, a sulfur mine in Indonesia, a Pakistani shipbreaking ground, and a slaughter yard in Nigeria. A litany of images of backbreaking toil and ecological devastation, suggesting that for many outside of the privileged west, the end of the world is already here.

Broken Barriers (Khavah) (1919) New York Jewish Film Festival

BROKEN BARRIERS is a long thought lost silent film based on the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof. The focus is not so much on the Tevye character but on his daughter Khavah and her suitors.

I am not going to even attempt to compare this film to either the stories or to the show/movie of Fiddler. My working knowledge of of the stories is non-existant and my knowledge of the Fiddler allows me to sing bits of a couple of the songs and hum a few more. Instead I am going to just look at the film.

The film is very much a kin to many of the Yiddish film produced independently and released to audiences such as those in the Lower East Side of New York. Like many of the Yiddish films, it has a tactile feel and connection to the people and places it depicts,. If you didn’t catch the fact that several of the actors are speaking English you would think that this was filmed in Eastern Europe. It is an important example of the type of films that were being turned out in the silent era.

The film itself is a solid little melodrama. The plot follows the trouble caused when Khavah falls for a gentile  boy and the reverberations that ripple outward from that. I suspect that seems quaint to most people these days here in America, but not so long ago the thought of marrying outside of your religion or ethnic group was a major sin. BROKEN BARRIERS shows us what doing so could result in.

Long though lost BROKEN BARRIERS is screening January 19 with a live piano accompaniment and is recommended. For tickets and more information go here.

The Prison Within (2020) Santa Barbara 2020

The Prison Within Trailer from Raw Love Productions on Vimeo.
Prison Within may very well be one of the best films of 2020. The year is still young but this out of nowhere masterpiece is a cage rattler of the right sort.

The film is an examination of what trauma does to us. More specifically it is focused on how the violence and abuse visited upon us turns some to crime and thus spreads the trauma onward. The film focuses on group in San Quentin prison which meets weekly to discuss the pain in the prisoners lives and the pain they have caused and then works to sort it out. We also get to hear from victims and the people running the various programs. The result is a visceral gut punch of the film that lays it all on the table.

This film caught me unaware. I was a typical prison film with some shots of the men talking, associated talking heads and very serious narration. I was expecting a good film that checked all the boxes and then moved on to the next thing. What I got instead was a film that didn’t check the boxes, what it did was checked the box and then explored the box. The men in the circle don’t just say something meaningful before we move on to the next thing, rather they talk at length about their lives and explain what they feel and why. The camera doesn’t cut away we are there and they are talking to us and the others in the room, and the result we are pulled deeper and deeper. What they are telling us hits home and we go from thinking we understand what the point of it all is to deeply and emotionally completely understanding (or as much as we can get from a 90 minute film)

I am absolutely floored. I am so floored that I know I am going to need another pass at this film to truly be able to write about it and discuss it. As it is I can’t say how important it is for you to just go see this film. An absolute must see of the highest order.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Nate Hood on Slay the Dragon (2019) NY Social Justice Film Festival 2020

John Adams, the second president of the United States, once famously wrote a grim diagnosis for the future of democracy in America: “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.” [sic] Watching Barak Goodman’s stomach-churning Slay the Dragon, it’s difficult not to look upon modern America as a land that’s already put the pistol to its head and pulled the trigger.

The film examines project REDMAP, a top-secret gerrymandering program implemented by the Republican Party in the wake of the 2008 Blue Wave that saw the election of Barack Obama and Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate. Described by political writer David Daley as “the most audacious political heist in modern times,” REDMAP targeted with surgical precision individual races in key swing districts in key swing states, ensuring Republicans would gain control of numerous embattled state legislatures in time for the 2010 census where national districting maps would be redrawn…by the states themselves. Using their new collection of legislatures, they hastily gerrymandered these states to oblivion, making it impossible for Democrats to ever win a majority number of state senators, national Senators, or House Representatives even if they got a super-majority of the votes. Once they had this power, Republican officials would never need worry about losing elections again, allowing them to pass sweeping and wildly unpopular legislation breaking unions, repealing environmental regulations, and rescinding tax rates for the wealthy.

The film itself is presented as a police procedural in medias res, exploring precisely how Republicans broke the system, disenfranchised voters, and helped usher in the Trump era while also charting the frantic grassroots movements fighting back, primarily Michigan activist Katie Fahey who founded the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to criminalize gerrymandering in her state. Fahey’s movement started a domino effect which spread to other swing state ballot initiatives which finally climaxed at the Supreme Court. Crushingly, they punting the issue of gerrymandering back into local state courts nine days before Justice Anthony Kennedy—the sole swing voter capable of saving their case from a party line vote—announced his retirement, dooming any hope for judicial accountability.

Slay the Dragon is brilliant, anxiety-inducing filmmaking which will sink your stomach, make you cheer, and stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s bitter yet necessary medicine.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Always in Season (2019) NY Social Justice Film Festival 2020

ALWAYS IN SEASON is a shattering look at lynching in America

Jacqueline Olive’s film is nominally focused on the case of Lennon Lacey a 17 year old African American  who was found hanging from a swing set in North Carolina in 2014. While his death was ruled a suicide there are indications that it may not have been, from his not really having a reason to the fact his grave was desecrated. While the FBI did get involved they found the evidence hopelessly tainted. The result is a a great feeling of unease for many in the community.and in particular  In order to explain why Olive masterfully explores the history of lynching, and the 1946 Moore's Ford Lynchings in Georgia when four people were pulled from their car by a mob and killed, horribly. Olive uses a re-enactment of the killings to explore people's thoughts and feelings to lynching and all things related to it.

Watching the film I was left stunned. Even in this age of Presidentially fueled racial hatred ALWAYS IN SEASON was a stark reminder of just how deep hatred runs and how evil even supposedly good men and women can be. In reading on the film, (I was so stunned watching the film I didn't take notes and put into such a dark place I didn't want to revisit the film to get the information I wanted to have) that the one thing that many people writing on it called it infuriating and noted how it makes you angry. I agree, there is much to be angry about. But also there is a profound sadness that despite claims to be good, many of us really aren't.

ALWAYS IN SEASON floored me. Watching it it left me struggling to find words. There was a sense that no matter what I had to say was meaningless because most of you are just going to glance at my words and move on, which is wrong. What I felt I needed to do was find away to just make you see the film. Yea my words may be nice, but they are no match for the power and importance of Jacqueline Olive's film. It is a vitally important missive about the state of America that we all must see.

Do yourself and your fellow human beings a favor and take the time and see this film

For tickets and more information on the Cinematters: Social Justice Film Festival screening on Sunday go here.

Tribes (2020) Santa Barbara Film Festival 2020

Robbers take over a NYC Subway Car and begin to rob everyone in the car until one of them refuses to rob his people. This sparks a discussion about race and society.

Once you get past that the film is not set set in anything remotely like a NYC subway car this social commentary film is amusing. There are some genuine laughs here as the false divisions of society are broken apart and examined.

Pure polemic the film is simply a discussion between the robbers and the people on the train about tribes and where we all belong. It runs a course that is very close to be being overly preachy however the shortness of the run time keeps it breezy and on point.

Worth a look

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Aulcie (2019) New York Jewish Film Festival 2020

Opening Night Film of the New York Jewish Film Festival is biography of Aulcie Perry who was recruited by the New York Knicks in 1976. Cut before he could play a single game he ended up in Israel where he led the Maccabi Tel Aviv to the European championship the following year. Becoming a superstar things went sideways as drugs, prison and life altered his life.

Bring tissues because this story of a life and one man's efforts to find his estranged daughter will move you. Yes it hits on any number of things we've seen before but at the same time Aulcie's force of personality makes this something special.

And it is special. I was kind of ify at the start figuring this was going to hit all the typical moments and then suddenly I found I was hooked. I was charmed by the man at the center of the film and I was moved by the turns of his life (that final shot had me crying).

I don't know what to say other than this is a super film. Definitely worth your time- assuming you can wrestle one of the stand by tickets when the film opens the NYJFF on Thursday. For more information go here.

Picture of His Life (2019) New York Jewish Film Festival 2020

This portrait of photographer Amos Nachoum is a film you must see on a big screen. A visually awesome, in the truest sense of the word, it follows his quest to shoot polar bears while swimming while at the same time telling us his life story.

To be honest the life story is not as interesting as the photography, yea there are some twists and turns, but the stuff that is going to hang with you, the stuff that you are going to remember are the images that he creates and the stories of what it took to get them. Expect to gasp at the beauty and wonder of the images, especially if you are lucky enough to be seeing this film on a big screen. I think the technical term for what you will feel is "wow".

I really don't know what to say about the film other than go see this film when it plays at the New York Jewish Film Festival. Glorious films like this is why the festival is so important to the film year. NYJFF every years highlights films you probably would miss otherwise and highlights them. I know that sounds like I'm selling the festival and not the film, but I'm not I'm saying it because it explains why the film is so good and why you need to go see it.

A must.

For tickets and more information on the screenings on the 15th and 19th go here.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Wave Film Review - Feat. Justin Long and Donald Faison

Frank (Justin Long) has been searching for his big break at the firm for six years. When the day finally arrives he just wants to get a good nights sleep to prepare for his presentation the next morning. Friend and colleague Jeff (Donald Faison) insists they head out of town to celebrate. The duo runs into trouble when Frank is given a hallucinogen that alters his perception of reality. Their lives will be forever changed in Gille Klabin’s The Wave.
I was blown away by how creative this film is. It’s purposely misleading which I think is a brilliant concept. The movie is filmed in a way where it seems cut and dry but then the action takes over. Once Frank realizes the substance he was given is taking effect is where things really take off. There is a scene where Frank is brushing his teeth and it is shot so flawlessly. There was no disconnect in the first reveal which makes the story that much more believable.
There is so much that goes on in this film that in any other setting I think it would be too much. A film that is this ambitious requires a certain amount of skill, patience, and an eye for detail. The Wave includes all of these and more which is why I was impressed with it. The writing, directing, and acting are all top notch. It was both fascinating and entertaining to watch Frank react to both reality and the world he was seeing due to hallucinations. Those scenes were done in a way where they felt realistic rather than cheesy or over the top. I found myself being somewhat sympathetic to Franks situation. On one hand, you shouldn’t take drugs. Especially from strangers. On the other hand, it’s clear to me that Frank doesn’t exactly make the best decisions. Especially under pressure.
Sheila Vand plays Theresa. Although she’s a secondary character her existence is pretty important to the story. While in his “medicated” state Frank sees Theresa and tells her all about the man he wants to be. It’s clear that the man he is isn’t who he wishes to be. This reveal is something that is relatable to all of us. No matter how ideal our lives may be there is always something we wish we could change. Wish we could do better. I loved how this scene took a movie about an altered reality and turned it into something that is prevalent in the real world. It makes Frank a relatable character which I was very fond of.
Justin Long and Donald Faison have such great on screen chemistry. I love Justin’s ability to become his character so effortlessly. He does a great job at portraying the every day Joe with the 9 - 5 job. That is not something all actors are capable of because it becomes stale over time. He has mastered it in a way where it’s enjoyable in any setting. The Wave is no exception to this. I have yet to see a Justin Long Film that I didn’t like. Donald has played a variety of different characters throughout his career and this is a role I really enjoyed him in.
Overall this film was great. The characters felt so real that I connected with them in a way. This is rare for me and I don’t take this experience lightly. If you’re a fan of Justin Long and or films about altered reality I would definitely give The Wave a watch. I give this movie a 10/10 easily. It was a very enjoyable experience. The film comes out in select theaters and on nationwide VOD on January 17th. I applaud Director Gille Klabin and Writer Carl W. Lucas for their brilliant work and look forward to viewing future projects.

My Hindu Friend (2015)

Final film by Hector Babenco got lost once the director passed away several months after it’s festival premiere. I am not quite sure why other than the fact that no one wanted to touch the film since it is about his original diagnosis for the cancer that would eventually kill him. The fact that it really hasn’t been mentioned since then, at least in the US, is a shame since the film contains another  wonderful Oscar worthy performance by Willem Dafoe as the stricken director.

The film is a good but very deliberate telling of what happened to Babenco when he was diagnosed. It is very much a personal portrait of a man and the struggles he faced trying to cope with what he thought was a death sentence. We are full on inside of the character and Dafoe makes us feel every emotion. It’s a trying experience, in a good way, since we are forced to confront life and death in a very real and tactile while. It is a confrontation that films by filmmakers who aren’t dying really can’t understand or get across. Thankfully Dafoe is up to the task and he pulls us along whether we want to go or not.

As much as I like the film I suspect that some people are not going to like the film. The dark subject matter and the very deliberate pacing may turn them off. The film can be a little slow, but at the same time it is always advancing, always giving us something to feel or ponder. That may not be enough especially if you are looking for physical fireworks because they aren’t here, rather they are emotional with the film quietly building until it bowls us over from unexpected directions.

Hitting theaters ((NY, LA, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, ATL, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago) and VOD platforms on January 17th MY HINDU FRIEND is recommended.