Sunday, November 29, 2020

Werewolf(2018) hits VOD on December 1



A group of children are rescued from a concentration camp in Poland in 1945. Given over to a woman in a big house to keep safe they kids struggle to find food and comeback to humanity. Things become dangerous when they have to deal with a pack of attack dogs let loose and some German and Russian soldiers prowling about.

I'm going to kind of give something away and say that the title is kind of a wrong in that the film is not really about supernatural monsters but the evil inside all of us. I say that because I watched the whole film waiting for it to becomes the film I thought it was instead of just taking it for what it is.

What it is is a solid little war time thriller about the destruction of the human soul created by war.  While formulated to be in the framework of a horror film, it clearly has a great deal more on it's mind with it's exploration of the darkness that lives inside us and can grow there. Yes we are frightened by the dogs and the soldiers but it's the darkness in the kids that really puts the screws to us.

I'm guessing that the film is going to be one that boomerangs back to find favor with horror fans sometime after its initial release. I'm guessing this film, and it's kind of misleading title, will disappoint horror fans to start. I think they will be like me and go "oh man". However I am pretty sure that after careful reflection the film will be seen to be what it really is, a super little war time thriller that wants to do more than thrill.

Very Recommended. WEREWOLF made its International premiere earlier tonight at Fantastic Fest.

Nate Hood talks about Residue (2020)★★★★★


Write about films for too long and you run out of metaphors for dreams. Like a word you turn over and over again in your mouth until it’s just an abstract sound, all the adjectives for dreams have lost their punch for me over the years. Surreal. Lucid. Oneiric. Hypnagogic. What do these words truly mean anymore? Then along comes a film—and more importantly, a filmmaker—that reminds you why these words were once so important to you. Residue is one such film and Merawi Gerima one such filmmaker. 

That he is the son of Sankofa (1993) director Haile Gerima is irrelevant, for his is a voice so utterly unique and personal that it defies easy comparison. Is he Chris Marker by way of Spike Lee? Charles Burnett with an iPhone? A street-smart Jonas Mekas? None of these are sufficient. To watch Residue is to surrender oneself to a totally new, totally original vision. Inspired both by his upbringing in a redlined DC neighborhood and said neighborhood’s savaging at the hands of white gentrifiers, the film is both autobiographical confessional and kaleidoscopic rumination on memory, trauma, and yes, dreams. 

The story: young filmmaker Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) travels from his home in L.A. back to his childhood neighborhood in DC to reconnect with old friends and family to gather material for a film he hopes will “give voice to the voiceless.” He finds instead that he may as well be on Mars: much of the black community has been priced or bought out; the old family homes have been gutted and subdivided for white twentysomething renters; the few remaining stragglers see him as a foreigner and treat him alternatively with aloofness and contempt. 

As Gerima peels back the layers of history and memory, past melds with present as does the imagined with the real. Ghostly specters of adults as children and children as adults appear and vanish like smoke. Characters appear like Resnaisian riddles without introduction or explanation like Blue (Taline Stewart). (Who is she? His childhood girlfriend? Did she come with him from California?) White people are amalgamated into an oppressive presence, shot from afar, from an angle, or not at all. Jeering, unseen cops hunt the streets. Prison cells become forests and kitchens human abattoirs. And at the center of it all a little black boy, now a black man, who can never go home again

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fatman (2020)

 


FATMAN is destined to become a Christmas classic. Yea, its been dropped in and out of theaters before being put on VOD, but trust me, watching it I had the exact same vibe that I had watching A CHRISTMAS STORY way back when- "Why aren't there more people talking about this wonderful film?" Granted  FATMAN is not  like A CHRISTMAS STORY, I mean it has a higher body count, but it is still a wonderful film that is genuinely moving in the right way. It does say a lot about the Christmas spirit and how automatic weapons are a last resort.

Mel Gibson is Chris, aka Santa Claus. Living in the middle of nowhere he is a grumpy old guy who makes toys for his annual run, and occasionally does a side job. He is married to Ruth, an award worthy Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and struggling to make ends meet. Things are so bad the US Government has to subsidize him. However  because there are so few kids deserving of getting gifts his subsidy has been cut and he is forced to take on an order for the US Military. Meanwhile a rich and totally evil child is pissed he got a lump of coal and he hires a hitman, who has issues with Santa, to hunt him down and kill him.

Full disclosure this is not really a comedy. There are funny bits, but it is not a balls to the wall funny film and if you go in looking for that you will be disappointed.

This is not really an action thriller since there isn't a lot of action, it all comes in the final 20 minutes. It is however suspenseful since you don't know how this is going to play out.

This is a film that has it's own rhythms and way of looking at the world. It is in no way cookie cutter or like anything you've seen before and we are are better  for it. Trust me. And if you don't think so now in a year or two when you see it again you'll see I'm right. I know that the fact that this film doesn't fit in any slot is going to annoy any number of people. "What exactly is this film?" they will ask. The answer is it is its own glorious thing that manages to be a lot of different things, none of which check off any ticky boxes in the expected ways.

What this is is a Christmas story  about Santa and his job- and the need to be good and how we have to get over the bad things that happen to us because happiness can't be given to us.

I love that the film allows Chris to be cranky. I mean he is surly. He's been doing the Santa thing for centuries and you can feel the weight on him. Yes he loves his wife, more on that in second, and his friends, but he is really worn down as his business is failing and people aren't believing (they shoot at his sleigh). You can feel the frustration and anger when he is confronted by the military offer.

Mel Gibson gives a towering performance as Chris. He is a broken an who is just trying to get by. Watch his performance as he addresses the elves to tell them that he has to put them to work making fighter jet control panels because he needs the money. This is a man broken by life. Seriously, watch his eyes, and his body language and the small gestures. Gibson isn't acting rather Santa is inhabiting him. You want more proof watch the scene where he finds the files left for him by Ruth to remind him of the reason he is doing what he is doing. Watch the subtle changes as the pictures of the happy children push a button and make him reconnect to life. This is an Oscar worthy performance.


The only thing better than Gibson is Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Ruth. Oh my god does she kick ass. It's not a showy role on the face of it but it is one that you will never forget (she is the one character you will carry away from the film). You completely understand her quite passion for Chris, and you feel the centuries of love when you realize  she truly means that she and Chris have each other's backs. When it's said you think its sweet but then you see it in action and you fully understand, no one fucks with her man. 

The romance of Chris and Ruth is one for the ages. It is one of my top five all time great screen romances, like Nick and Nora. Seriously. As I said you feel the love between them. You completely understand how a look or a touch or a word connects them, or soothes them. Yes, it can be testy between them but you feel the love and understanding of a long married couple bleeding off the screen. Their marriage is a hard fought one of the unconditional that everyone wants.

The villains are vile. Billy, the rich monster child is the sort of sociopath that needs to be locked away, but never will be. He is funny you will laugh at the ridiculous things he does but a he is still scary. Walton Goggin's Skinny Man hitman is chilling. His hate-on for the fatman who couldn't give him the one thing he wanted is frightening. When you stop and look at him you feel the pain of decades bleeding off him, especially in the final section where he has Santa in his sight.

Is the film perfect? No. The Chris stuff is better than the villain stuff. Some of the turns don't fully work, especially when Goggins is getting closer to Santa are a bit careless. However at the same time this is a film about Santa so they got the right part perfect and besides its a holiday movie so you kind of have to be a bit forgiving going in.

Without giving anything away, while I loved the film before it, what made the film a true and absolute classic for me were the final two scenes. One is one of the greatest badass sequences I've ever seen, I was screaming "sequel! sequel!" at the TV, and the other is one of the most hopeful sequences of the year. It all made me feel good.

I love FATMAN.  This is one of my favorite films of 2020 and one of my favorite Christmas films.

Highly recommended for anyone willing to take it for what it is.

(Though be warned this is violent , bloody and foul mouthed at times and bloody so don't assume its good for the kiddies)

Brief thoughts on Sweet Parents (2017) which is out on VOD

 


Will and Gabby have been together and in New York for a decade. They can't seem to get ahead. He is stuck in the kitchens he works in and can't get enough to open his own place, while she is stalled in the art world. When out with friends one suggests that they take up with a sugar daddy and a sugar mama. This sounds like the answer to their troubles but complications arise since everything has a cost.

This is a good heartfelt film, It has solid performances by David Bly and Leah Rudick which suck us in and carry us along. We like them and we can feel their pain and confusion. Their performances have a lived in quality that make me wonder how much of this they have lived. 

Filmed in and around New York the film feels like it's set in real locations. While there are times where I might have quibbled with how something was shot, things looked overly cramped, I forgave it because having lived in New York all my life I know choices were made based on working in tiny locations.

I really liked SWEET PARENTS a great deal. For me it was a nice change from all of the documentaries that have been crossing my desk. 

Worth a look.

Stand(2020) is a Fathom Event December 1

 


I'm really mixed on this film. I mean I'm really mixed. A good story, some great songs and some kick ass performances are lost in a musical that probably should have remained n the stage. 

This cinematic musical is set during the Winnipeg general worker strike of 1919. It focuses on two Ukrainian immigrants, a father and son, who are trying to bring the rest of their family over. The son finds romance with a Jewish suffragette. Her brothers oppose the relationship since immigrants are taking away their jobs. Also in the mix is a refugee from the racial violence in America. Its full of romance, politics and social issues  making for a heady mix.

 When you transfer a musical to the screen you have to do something to make the songs work. You have to create a world where it is believable that people will burst into songs. The best thing to do is mix in a little unreality. Unfortunately STAND never manages that. It is firmly rooted in  reality and you never fully buy the songs suddenly happening. And that's a problem because the film collapses as a result. Had the film been entirely sung it might have worked but only occasional song works against it.

To be honest this would work on the stage on the stage. We buy people singing on stage. We also are more accepting of the musical structure which goes for emotion over reality. (and of the fact that all the clothes look brand new and were never worn). This would be a great stage musical but it's not a very good movie one.

RIngmaster (aka Finale) hits VOD in the UK on November 30

Two part horror film begins with two girls working at a truck stop being watched by something or someone sinister. The second follows what happens when the girls are kidnapped and tortured in some sort of weird "show".

How you react to this well made film will ultimately be determined by the the switch in the story. For me the creepy first half was lost to a by the numbers torture porn second. I am not a fan of the sub-genre unless there is a really good reason for the nastiness.  Here the reason has something to do with voyeurism and  spectatorship, which would be all well and good if that sort of thing hadn't been done a few dozen times before.

While I am not a fan of this sort of thing this is very well done and best for fans of nastiness.
THE RINGMASTER will be released in UK & Ireland on November 30th 2020 and Australia & New Zealand on December 2nd 2020.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Ashes of Time Redux is playing The World of Wong Kar Wai at Lincoln Center

 


This review is of the original cut. REDUX played the New York Film Festival several years ago  and is a rethink of the film that plays slightly better but I realize that I still feel the same way about both versions of the film 

Martial Arts film as spaghetti western.

Wong Kar-Wai makes a martial arts film that is a visual wonder-though its mostly close ups-and a bit hard to decipher because the story is told in what could be generously said to be a fragmented style (and has a great number of close ups). Its has something to do with two friends who meet every year to drink, wine that makes you forget your past, revenge, another swordsman and some other things that I didn't quite pick up. I'm not sure what to make of the film. The dialog is really great, but at the same time walks that knowing sort of edge that makes me wonder what Kar-Wai was up to. Apparently breaking down since in the middle of making this he wandered off to clear his head by making Chungking Express. I liked it as pieces because I can get my hands around the pieces but as a whole I'm not to sure of the plot-if its good-if it means anything.

Kar-Wai has cut the film once more which from reports seems to be close to the original cuts with a few changed shots, some image manipulation and a slight alteration in music. I have no idea if this will improve or detract from the film which some people see as a a masterpiece. Some things I've read have tried to put the film into a context based upon Wong Kar-Wai's other films, implying that if you've seen other films by the same director this film will be easier to digest. Maybe, but I'm not too sure since it plays differently than any of his other films (and I've seen most of them).

I don't know. I'm going to have to ponder this.

In The Mood For Love is playing The WORLD OF WONG KAR WAI at Lincoln Center

Wong Kar Wai's visually stunning romance follows two people as they grow closer and closer as they hash out whether their spouses are having an affair.

Forget it, the film doesn't do what you expect. It doesn't act like you expect, its a film that is ultimately unique and unto itself...its a love story where the lovers really never do anything but talk.

I really like this film. It was my first trip into the realm of Wong Kar Wai and it came at the insistence of Eden who really liked the film. She was right to insist that I see the film since its a film that really helped me break down my expectations about what films should do. I should mention that I had to try to watch this film for the first time on DVD and was annoyed by it's refusal to do anything other than what it was doing.Why aren't these people getting together, why is the film framed the way it is , why is there an occasional insistence on form over content? I didn't know and was fighting it at every turn. Then I talked to Eden who told be to let all my expectations go and just watch the film. Let it be and I would be surprised.

I did and I was.

In it's way this is one of the most romantic films you'll ever see. Why is it that the unrequited or unacted upon romances are the sexiest? My guess would be is that you get to have all of the slow burn and chances to show interest with out all of the smarmy kissy kissy stuff.

For me this is one of those movies where I keep thinking this is the sort of emotion I'd want to feel in my relationship. Its a damn near perfect romance.

In the special features of the Criterion DVD are several deleted scenes, one of which is a sequence which was set many years after the fact where our two near lovers meet again. Its a great sequence, but when it's done you'll be very happy that they left it out of the film. It's not that the sequence is bad, its quite good, it's just that the sequence radically alters everything that happened before and makes a great film an okay one.

As it stands now this is a great film. If you want a real romance with real people give this film a shot, it will amaze you.

The Last (2019)

I saw THE LAST  before it was released. I was asked to give my thoughts and then I was asked not to review it because they were still making plans as to what to do with the release. I put it aside and went on my way and only thought about the film as curio. Recently I had the film come up in a discussion and I realized that with the film officially out in the world  by almost two years I should get my thoughts out of the draft folder.

The film concerns a couple soon to get married. Josh considers himself an Orthodox Jew. His family is different degrees of Jewish. His fiancé Olivia is converting. One day while at the seaside Josh's great grandmother starts talking about the past and the carefully woven fabric of the family's existence is turned to ash.

At this point I am going to go off in an odd direction and discuss the structure of the film before that I think of it as a film. Structured as a very deliberate  series of discussions, writer director Jeff Lipsky has made a film that for the most part feels like a story for the stage. It's not that the film is static, though the longest sequence is essentially a 45 plus minute monologue, rather it is a series of talks that bring us to a certain crisis and then the resolution. Its a structure that many "meaningful" plays use because the structure doesn't really work in the "reality" of film and feels contrived. When most films use it the result is not a film but a polemic.

The film's strength, and part of the problem many people are going to have with the film is the centerpiece 45 minute monologue delivered by Rebecca Schull. It's a seeming single take talk where the matriarch of this Jewish family reveals who she is and what she feels. Its a stunning piece of acting that would break an audience in a theater. And it both brings the film to life with it's tale and delivery and stops the film dead because it is largely static. Give Lipsky points for trying it, but how many will see the film depend upon on how successful they think he was. 

While I most certainly have been haunted by the film I'm not really sure what I think of it. I'm leaning toward thinking it's just okay. The problem for me is that while the story and structure would work on stage, I am not certain it works on the big screen. As I said it does things that cry out for the intimacy of  live theater. Lipsky is trying to make a point (lord knows what it is) and the cinema screen requires a bit more subtly. The need to make his point also hampers the cast since many of the normally great actors give mannered performances. (And I am not so sure that a woman who so easily reveals the horrors of her soul as if it is no big thing would not have had them escape prior to the most inopportune moment- and I'm not sure we need a 45 minute monologue to get there or if it is anything more than a button push)

Ultimately I appreciate what the film is trying to do, I just don't think it actually does it.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The theatrical cut of Wong Kar Wai's GRANDMASTER is playing at The World of Wong Kar Wai at Lincoln Center

This is the review of the cut version GRANDMASTER that played American theaters a few years back

I originally saw the original cut of Wong Kar Wai's THE GRANDMASTER back in May. I was haunted by the film and posted some thoughts on the film (you can read them here).  The Weinstein Organization picked up the film for US release and after making some trims for the International market Wong Kar Wai altered the film further for US release.  Anyone who saw the original cut was flabbergasted. David Ehrich wrote an excellent piece on the differences between the versions which inflamed things farther.(His piece is here)

Several of the Unseen crew saw the film when in played at New York's Museum of the Moving Image and liked the film (though none had seen the original version. So I figured everything was okay. They all suggested that I see the film on the big screen...

Earlier tonight I made a trip to a multiplex and I saw the American cut for myself and my feeling is very mixed.

My reaction to the film is kind of akin to seeing the various versions of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, if you don't know the full version, the shorter one comes across as an interesting mistake with lots and lots of things missing. Like the Leone film watching the American GRANDMASTER you kind of like whats there but you know that there is something missing and wrong about the way the film is done. Its clear that either an idiot put it together or stuff was chopped out.

I'm not going to argue which is the better version, the longer one is better. There is a simply lyric poetry to the longer cut that is completely missing from the shorter one. There is a hell of a lot more going on thematically as well. Or more simply put what the film is about differs depending upon which version you see.

The first thing you notice with the shorter version is that the sound mix is different. How the film sounds is completely different with some sequences losing the sound of the fighting/action and replaced by music, some of which seems different. The mere shift in sound makes the film play differently since we are in a different head space.

In trimming the film of some 25 minutes the look of the film has changed. There seems to be much more slow motion camera work. I haven't checked it but a couple of times sequences I remember as playing out in regular speed now are slowed way down. Where in the full version, while there is a great deal of it, it never over whelmed, here it does.

The second thing you notice is everything is explained in titles. We know are told who people are. We are told when we are. Events are explained, occasionally before we even enter a sequence, which makes the film less a dialog with the audience but more like being spoon fed. The narration in the film has been altered as well continuing the over explanation of everything.

The time frame of the film has been rejiggered. No longer does the film shift through time and space, rather the film tells the story, pretty much in order with the result that events that should move the audience don't.

The biggest change is that the film instead of being focused on the Grandmasters and their notions of martial arts and honor, and related matters, has now been changed into the simple tale of Ip Man and his relationship with Gong Er. Its a changed that removes several characters (Ip's wife disappears after one or two sequences) and it dumbs down Er's character to the point of being unrecognizable. In the original cut there is much more going on than the flirtation and the drive for revenge, there is a need to be the best and to be her father's daughter and successor. Almost all of that is gone. Actually they've altered the film so that there now really is a romance, where there really wasn't before.

Astondingly the Japanese are pretty much gone from the story. A large part of what happens in the long version depends on the Japanese and the war but now they are barely a factor. For all that happens it could be simple rivalry between schools not nations.

Actually what we have in the short version is the story of Ip mashed into the story of Er. Because so much or the original plotting is gone you have whole sections of the film where it's as if we are watching Ip's movie or Er's movie, there is no sense that they are really part of each other's story except for a small section where they meet and fight, the letter exchange (which plays here like a big WTF) and the final part of the film.

The short version is pretty much an arty version of a simple martial arts tale that we've seen any number of times before, namely the rise of a master.

And while the long version is infinitely better than the short-even if it will confuse some with the insistence to be poetic, the short version does kind of work on it's own terms.

There is a reasonably okay biography of Ip Man with in it (thanks in part to the frequent titles and altered voice over).

I do like that we get the years when events transpire. One of the problems with the longer version is that its not always apparent when things are taking place. Since we don't know things play out differently. Watching a couple of scenes in the shorter version (say the ones with Ip Man setting up his school) knowing the years the events take place makes it play differently than not.

The short version is also more or less just a straight forward martial arts film and not a meditation on anything more. All the poetry and much of the lyricism is gone. If you want just the fights then it's great, if you want more then it's not.

I would love to try and work out what the Weinstein's reasoning behind the trims are, I mean beyond the money, because they are frequently capable of giving American audiences things that they shouldn't like like silent movies, but at the same time they wreck Asian cinema with a wild abandon that's frightening. They wreck it and then wonder why people don't go to their versions...

...while The American GRANDMASTER isn't quite the normal Weinstein defacing of an Asian film, I don't think it accurately represents what Wong Kar Wai intended even if he did cut the film.

If you haven't seen the full version odds are you'll like (not love) the short version. If you've seen the full version skip it and move on to something else.

The original cut of Grandmaster is playing WORLD OF WONG KARWAI at Lincoln Center

(A note to start: This piece is my reaction to the original cut of the film. The film was trimmed for international release by Wong Kar Wai and then further trimmed and altered for American release thus removing some 25 minutes from it's original 130 minute run time. I will post when I see the American cut. For those wishing to know the differences I'm going to direct you here for David Ehrlich's excellent piece on the changes)

This isn't going to be a review as such, I'm going to let Eden or some of the others here at Unseen review the film (I'm not sure what I think of it) instead I'm just going to comment on some things that have struck me about the film.

When you first see the film, it's clear that the film is a Wong Kar Wai film. From the first frame to the last. Each image is carefully composed to the point of ridiculousness. Reality never looked this good, ever. This is a beautiful film that you could just play it as a moving work of art.

The trouble is that the film is so gorgeous that all of the tiny shots, flames, burning tobacco, dripping ink take precedence over the main story. I got frustrated by all of the little shots that distracted me from the human element. It wasn't until hours after the film had finished that I got past the small shit.

One of the most frustrating thing about the film is that the film is being billed as a film about the Yip man.... the trouble is that while he is a character in the film, he is not the main character. The main character is in fact the Zhang Ziyi character. She is the daughter of the master of the 64 Hands technique, and it's her journey that drives and shapes the final 100 minutes of the film. As the film stands now Yip man is merely a means into the story and a way of steering things around to the real character.

Watching the film for the first time I was frustrated and annoyed. Why spend ten years, as Kar Wai  had done, trying to make a film about a character only to push him aside? Per haps the change came in the editing which resulted in THE GRAND MASTERS becoming THE GRANDMASTER.

The film is very much like Andre Tarkovsky's ANDRE RUBLEV where the film is nominally about one character when in fact its about something else. Ultimately though unlike ANDRE RUBLEV, the film is ultimately titled correctly, it's just not titled in regard to the person we think it is.

The fights are masterful and in a way even more unreal than most other martial arts films. Think about the impossibly long train that travels behind the combatants in the final fight. There is also no rawness to the combat, it's all poetry as the men and women trading blows are seen to be partaking in the ART part of the martial arts

Some of the film vexes me. The opening battle in the rain is  incredible but what is it and why is it at the start. The fight promises a film that doesn't follow. Additionally the narration promises something that we don't see either, this is never really Yip man's story- even to the point where he sets up an office in order to teach martial arts the sequences have no real narrative point although they do end up acting as a Greek chorus to the main story.

How is the film? Taken on it's own terms and after careful consideration it's actually quite good, You have to get past the film not being a biography, and instead being an examination of philosophy- it's really about  who will be the successor of the Gong clan- and how the differences in philosophy will determine it. Yip man is merely a person outside of the battle. Yes he ends up anointed at one point, but even so  he disappears, and in the course of the film found not to really be the one.

Is the film worth seeing? Yes it is,just go in completely open minded and expect whatever  the film throws at you and not what you may think the film is about

Walter Hill's The Assignment


The original plan was for THE ASSIGNMENT was to make it an exploitation film in the 1970's.That would have probably resulted in a trippy and legendary film looking back forty plus years later.   The problem was director Walter Hill held on to the script and changed it up and finally made it forty years later and promptly fell on his face, never mind a really offensive film.

The film is told in flashback. A defrocked doctor is looking to be released from the mental hospital. She has to explain what happened two years earlier when she was left shot in a room full of dead bodies. In telling her story we learn karma came to call when the hitman she turned into a woman as revenge for killing her brother came back to get even.

Even allowing that the film is a huge ball of bad taste for exploiting the trans community, this film isn't very good.  Yea, the action sequences aren't bad but mostly I spent my time staring at the screen wondering how this bad film happened to good actors.

Actually the thing is that Sigourney Weaver, Tony Schloub, Michelle Rodriguez actually kind of make the film work while you're watching it. I mean that they are so invested in the film that we buy it enough to keep watching. Never mind that none of it makes sense, even in a pulp movie sort of way, we keep watching hoping for some turn that makes us go AH HA. It never comes and we are left with a mess that makes us go "What in the holy hell was that?"

I have no idea.

As a long time fan of Walter Hill I have been always entertained or amused by his work but this one just doesn't work and should be missed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

My Blueberry Nights is playing The World of Wong Kar Wai at Lincoln Center

 

This is a repost of a piece I did for IMDB before Unseen was ever started

Wong Kar-Wai's first English language film. Nora Jones stars as Elizabeth a young woman who walks into Jude Laws Cafe after her boyfriend dumps her. After several nights there eating blueberry pie she heads off on the road where she meets a cop in Memphis and a gambler in Nevada.

A decidedly uneven mix of a movie that doesn't add up to much. Kar-Wai's beautiful camera work produces some great images but his some time use of slow motion is over used to the point you'll want to hit the fast forward so you see something at normal speed. How the film is shot also produces an overly cramped sense. Much of the Jude Law sequence seems to have been shot through the windows of the café and from one angle. The Memphis sequence is like that as well.

The story about relationships rarely springs to life in more than in fits and starts. Its all moments not a whole film. I have no idea why Elizabeth goes traveling other than as an excuse to meet the people we meet. It fragments the film and takes us away from the most interesting thing in the film the chats with Jude Law.

The cast is good with the up and down Natalie Portman in up mode as a gambler who meets Norah Jones (fair at the start but gets better as it goes) in Nevada and travels around with her. Rachel Weisz as the wife of the Memphis cop is far from English herself as a woman with a thick southern accent.

The joy of the film is the music. This has a stunning soundtrack that drives the film when the writing lets everything else drift. I kept going just to hear the music.

The weakest of Kar Wai's films I've seen. There is a good movie in here but it needs to be remade.(I'd love to see the Jude Law bits in a different context)

Brief thoughts on Generation Vinyl (2016) which has hit VOD

 


This is the story of the generation of Czechoslovakian youth who found hope in punk. Trading Western records and going to underground shows they came together to create a revolution that won their freedom from Soviet control.

Okay documentary on the men and women who took punk to heart and found a way to rebel. It's an interesting tale that is similar to the story that Tom Stoppard told in his play Rock and Roll (the play was set roughly a decade earlier and dealt in pat on Syd Barret of Pink Floyd's influence on several characters.) Sadly the telling is a bit too rambling. The problem is that there really isn't a strong thread to link up the excellent segments. The result is the pieces just sort of hang there.

Apologies for the lack of detail but my interest waned after a while and I stopped taking meaningful notes.

Worth a look for those interested in a side story of punk, all others will find their mileage will vary

 

Clover (2020)


Sent to me billed as a crime thriller Clover is really a comedic crime story that isn’t really good. It is so bad it makes the ever wonderful Ron Perlman give his worst performance.

The premise of the film has two brothers running an bar on the short end to the mob boss they borrowed money from. Sent to out on a mission that will clear their debt things go from bad to worse.

The problem with this film is that the cast plays this as if walking around with an attitude is the same as acting. No one ever changes their expression nor shows any sort of range of emotion. The whole cast, Chazz Palmentari excepted wanders around as if they were in a comedy sketch. It’s the actors attitudes that lead me to believe this is a comedy because the script isn’t very funny. Actually the script plays like a thriller but without thrills. Its very funny but for all the wrong reasons.

To be honest if this film had been played as a serious thriller this would have been a nifty little thriller but the above it all performances of the cast just kill this.

This is a turkey of the highest order and one of the worst films of 2020

MexDocs: Recent Mexican Documentaries, December 10 – 16

 A Special Online Festival of Contemporary Mexican Non-Fiction Cinema, Featuring MARICARMEN, RETREAT, WHEN I SHUT MY EYES, and WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BEES?

Presented by Cinema Tropical and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University

Cinema Tropical and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University (CLACS-NYU) are thrilled to announce a special online program of recent Mexican documentaries, titled MexDocs, taking place December 10-16, 2020 on cinematropical.com.  

Featuring a slate of four documentaries that have recently made their rounds of the international festival circuit, the program offers a nuanced perspective on contemporary Mexico by delving into the different social, political, and cultural issues currently at play in the country, with a particular emphasis on narratives of womanhood and indigenous resistance. 

The virtual film series, available to audiences across the U.S., will present Maricarmen by Sergio Morkin, winner of the Audience Award for Mexican Feature-Length Documentary at the Morelia International Film Festival; When I Shut My Eyes (Cuando cierro los ojos) by Sergio Blanco and Michelle Ibaven, winner of the SIGNIS Documentary Feature Award at the Cinélatino Recontres de Toulouse Film Festival; Retreat (Retiro) by Daniela Alatorre, recipient of the Special Mention for a Mexican Feature-Length Documentary at Morelia International Film Festival, and What Happened to the Bees? (¿Qué le pasó a las abejas?) by Adriano Otero and Robin Canul. 

A moving study of life with a disability, Maricarmen follows 52-year-old Maricarmen Graue, a musician, teacher, runner, and writer who, although completely blind, is uncompromising in her self-discipline. The film gives space to the complexities of living with a disability while also providing a meditation on the challenges of life, love, and femininity in general. When I Shut My Eyes probes another sort of isolation—that of native speakers of indigenous languages left adrift in legal proceedings without the assistance of interpreters. The documentary brings Adela and Marcelino, two people serving sentences for crimes they did not commit, to the forefront, and allows them the space to tell the stories that the judges never heard.

Another compassionate investigation of feminine life in contemporary Mexico, Retreat journeys with a grandmother and granddaughter on an annual pilgrimage to a Catholic, women-only retreat. Practicing their faith en masse, the women develop community, explore the contours of their own identities, navigate their independence in a patriarchal society, and learn their own self-worth. A study on both the power of faith and the power of feminine companionship, Retreat is a celebration of female strength gathered in unlikely places. 

Finally, What Happened to the Bees? is a documentary that exposes the deadly effects of regularly used agrochemicals on millions of bees in the Mexican state of Campeche. Profiling a community movement against government authorities and Monsanto, the film explores the ways that the planting of monocultures threatens the health and environment of Mayan beekeeping communities. 

MexDocs: Recent Mexican Documentaries will be streaming online to audience all across the U.S. from December 10 - 16, only at cinematropical.com/mexdocs

Additional support provided by the CUNY Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College, and the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, New York University. 

Cinema Tropical's screening programs are made possible with the support of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. They are also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Full program:

MARICARMEN

(Sergio Morkin, Mexico, 2019, 76 min. In Spanish with English subtitles)

Maricarmen plays the cello, performs with a rock band, and holds a seat in a chamber music orchestra. She also teaches music, writes, and runs marathons. Maricarmen lives alone, and at 52, is completely blind. She copes with her condition by having a biting sense of humor and an unwavering sense of self-discipline; there’s nothing that she can’t do. Operating as both a moving portrait of womanhood and a stripped-back meditation on the very act of living, Maricarmen paints a picture of a woman determined to not be defined by her disability, all while navigating the demands of everyday life, love, and family relationships in contemporary Mexico. 

Premieres Thursday, December 10

Tickets $7 — On Sale on Monday, December 7

WHEN I SHUT MY EYES

(Cuando cierro los ojos, Sergio Blanco and Michelle Ibaven, Mexico, 2019, 63 min. In Mazatec, Mixtec, and Spanish with English subtitles)

Adela and Marcelino share an isolation that is common among many native speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico. Processed without an interpreter before the Mexican justice system, both are serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit: Adela, unjustly incarcerated for nine years for the murder of her brother-in-law, and Marcelino, serving thirty years for a homicide he had no part in. In their respective languages of Mazatec and Mixtec, they finally tell the stories the judges never heard: violence at the hands of corrupt police officers, forced confessions, and the signing of untranslated documents. Movingly illustrated through meditative and symbolic visuals, their two voices meld to express a mutual disorientation, to tell stories of their lands and loved ones, and to demand equal representation in the fight against injustice and exclusions in the legal system. 

Premieres Thursday, December 10

Tickets $7 — On Sale on Monday, December 7

RETREAT

(Retiro, Daniela Alatorre, Mexico, 2019, 70 min. In Spanish with English subtitles)

Marina and Perla, grandmother and granddaughter, join thousands of other women on an annual pilgrimage to a Catholic mountain retreat. Practicing their faith alongside one another, the women gain a sense of community, navigate their independence, and learn to value themselves within a paternalistic society. Following three generations of women both during and after the pilgrimage, Retreat deftly explores the chapters of womanhood from coming of age to motherhood to old age, and the occasions that overlap in between. Daniela Alatorre's captivating debut feature delivers a portrait of female strength by quietly delving into the unexpected places where it’s gathered. 

Premieres Thursday, December 10

Tickets $7 — On Sale on Monday, December 7

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BEES?

(¿Qué le pasó a las abejas?, Adriana Otero and Robin Canul, Mexico, 2019, 67 min. In Spanish and Mayan with English subtitles)

What Happened to the Bees? is a documentary that exposes the deadly effects of regularly used agrochemicals — currently legal in countries like Mexico and the United States — on millions of bees in the Mexican state of Campeche. Following community organizers Gustavo Huchin and Leydi Pech in their fight against government authorities and Monsanto, the film explores the ways in which the planting of monocultures threatens the health and environment of Mayan beekeeping communities in the southeast of the country. More than just protect the bees, they’re fighting to safeguard their land from massive deforestation, groundwater table pollution and climate change. What Happened to the Bees? is a powerful investigation of the overlapping socio-environmental conflicts currently taking place in indigenous Mexican territories. 

Premieres Thursday, December 10

Tickets $7 — On Sale on Monday, December 7

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Wolfwalkers(2020)


Cartoon Saloon hits it out of the park yet again with WOLFWALKERS, the story of Robyn, a young girl in Ireland who befriends Mebh, a young wolfwalker, a person who can leave their body and take the form of a wolf. Mebh is trying to find her mother who went off in her wolf form and hasn't returned. Complications arise because Robyn's father has been tasked by the Lord protector to wipe out all the wolves.

I love the work of Cartoon Saloon. They are consistently turning out films that amaze, delight and pull us in with a weight that no one else attempt with any regularity. In their films there is darkness. The bad guys are really bad. Things don't always end perfectly happy. There is a cost to to victory. When they are done you actually feel like you've been on a trip somewhere and had a real adventure. The best part is even when they seem to lose their ay they always pull it together in the end.

What I love about the studio's work is that while there is a house style, like say Studio Ghibli, it's not so over powering that each film could fit into another of their films. Yes the designs are 2D and Celtic based, but they are not exactly precisely the look every time. Each film has its own design and it's own palette which prevents you from ever saying "which film is this from" (something I've said about Ghibli backgrounds and characters)

One of the things I love about WOLFWALKERS is its use of color. During the opening sequences the colors are "normal as we see life in the town, however they get more and more brilliant as Robyn explores the forest. Things go muted as they return to the town. In the final section of the film  everything is dark, blacks and blues with splashes of fiery reds. It's all perfectly chosen and the colors elevate the fear and suspense. Likewise the amped up colors of the coda brighten our mood before the credits roll.

While I am mixed with the occasional drift into a cartoony style that runs counter to the more rigid background designs, I do love that it does allow for a wider range of facial expressions. In recent years I have rarely  seen 2D animation present such a glorious range of facial expressions. It's kind of like watching an animated silent film with whole volumes of text and subtext revealed in a look or a move. It's all in the artists line work which is masterfully rendered in ways that move you. (and I want to know whose idea it was to allow some of the sketch lines to come through at times. I initially thought it was either a mistake or an odd choice until I realized that the inclusion actually added to the emotion. Don't ask me how, but replaying a couple of shots I realized they wouldn't have been as powerful with out them.)

To be honest the final act of the film is one of the most magnificent things I've seen all year. The final section, probably the last 40 or 45 minutes just is a masterclass and masterpiece of cinematic art. I don't mean just animation but all cinema. The final battles to save everyone who needs saving (sorry I'm not telling) is just WOW. 

The voice cast is magnificent, with Simon McBurney being a freaking terrifying real world baddy. Yea he's Boo! Hiss! but at the same time you feel his evil is really close to us now. Equally good is Sean Bean as Robyn's father. He manages to give a  fully rounded performance as hero, a concerned dad and just a guy who doesn't quite get it. He moves you with just his voice and you realize how good he really is.

The last act also is really tense. Not only has Cartoon Saloon designed it to be oppressive but they also made us understand that there is a cost. People can die. Bad things can happen and not come back. Unlike 99% of all the animated films that come out there is weight and cost for everything that we have felt from the beginning. Things may not be alright and it adds to everything.  I know some parents won't like the darkness, but the world isn't always bright and fluffy. Cartoon Saloon understands that and makes it so that when good things happen they are that much sweeter.

As I said WOLFWALKERS is a masterpiece. 

It is a must see. 

Currently in theaters (if you can go see it there do so), the film was picked up by Apple TV and will be appearing there soon.

The Mystery of DB Cooper (2020) hits HBO tomorrow


Very good look at the mystery of Dan (DB) Cooper who hijacked a plane in 1971 for money and managed to escape by leaping out of the plane with the ransom.

I've seen dozens of films, news stories and discussions on the hijacking since 1971, and this is one of the best. While it is not as detailed as some films on on what happened on the plane, some go into deep discussion of the hijack in great detail, this film scores because it opens up the possibilities of what happened.Intercutting with the flight crew from the plane, recreations along with people who talk think they know who Cooper really was.  There are some really cool stories spun out over the course of the film including details about how the FBI may have bungled things. More importantly the film gives us a really good idea of who Cooper might have been

I had a great deal of fun watching this film. Sitting about ten minutes into the film,I paused it, I got up from my chair and went to get some popcorn. I then came back and curled up to finish the film. What a blast. More importantly I loved it so much that I wanted to watch it all over again.

This is a must see. It's a fantastic historical mystery that may have been solved...perhaps.

Highly recommended.

I don't like The Indestructible Man


Lon Chaney plays a killer who is killed at the stat and then brought back from the dead by a mad scientist. He dispatches the scientist and then heads off on a trail of revenge as an unstoppable killing machine- the resurrection process making him unkillable.

Similar in many ways to MAN MADE MONSTER about an man super charged with electricity, made a decade or so earlier this film has many fans who love its insanity. To them it is a good bad film and some would even argue it it a classic with no sarcasm whats so ever. They have argued that this is a misunderstood film and much better than its reputation.

I on the other hand really dislike the film. Its not so much that we've been here before, more that there is way too much BS there are all sorts of sub plots that fill the run time with endless talking. I don't care. I never did  and despite arguments that the dialog serves a purpose I don't see it- I ust want Chaney going out and killing and being hunted. I mean they got it right in MAN MADE MONSTER and they didn't need a voice over to fill in the blanks.

Frankly this is a long painful hour and I can't recommend it.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Made in Hong Kong Opens 11/27 via Metrograph Ticketed Screenings

Fruit Chan’s first film burst upon the film scene in 1997 and heralded the arrival of a major filmmaker. While he had been working in the Hong Kong industry for years, (the film was shot on film stock he collected along the way) this was his first feature film at the helm. In the year of the hand over it rocked cages and made people sit up and notice Hong Kong culture. It was so well received it ended up as Hong Kong’s entry for the Oscar (though it didn’t get a nomination).

The film follows Autumn Moon a smart young man who acts as a collector for the local gangs. He acts as the protector for the large mentally handicapped Sylvester who is the target of scorn when ever Moon is not around. Moon meets and falls for Ping, the daughter of a woman he is told to collect a debt from. Things begin to go from bad to worse when Sylvester picks up two letters from the body of a young girl who committed suicide by jumping from a tenement rooftop.

At times, rough and jagged , yet always full of life MADE IN HONG KONG is a glorious slice of life. Very much of the time and place in which it was made it is a love letter to all of the people who we really never see in Hong Kong Movies. When the film came out in 1997 there didn’t seem to be any films that really showed what life was life in the tenements where most people lived. I know my knowledge, as far as cinema was concerned, was simply genre films. Anything approaching dramas was hard to come by, even in the back allies of NYC’s Chinatown. That the film traveled across the world and back again in the 23 years since it was made is an indication at how it opened the eyes of people across to the globe who saw for the first time that there was more to the city than gangsters, monsters and martial arts masters.

Watching the film for the first time in a decade or so in order to write up this piece I was kind of kind of taken aback. While the film is very much the work of first time director, at times there is a bit too much going on as if Fruit Chan wasn’t sure he was going to get another shot, the film is also incredibly assured and deeply resonant. Yes the film is set in 1997, and yes it has flourish from the films back then, but the exploration of life, friendship and love still is relevant today as it was back 23 years ago. To be certain Hong Kong itself has changed, especially in the last two years as the Mainland went to war with the city, but the sense of life remains the same. That the film still stands up is a clear indication as to why Fruit Chan is one of the great directors to come out of Hong Kong.

Recommended. MADE IN HONG KONG is being released for the first time theatrically in the US from Metrograph Films in the recent 4K restoration that was done in honor of the films 20th anniversary. It begins a run in NYC’;s Metrograph Virtual Cinema Friday.