Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Slamdance 2019: The Curtain Raiser

Starting Friday and running to the 31st is Slamdance- the kick ass punk rock film festival that really is the best place to see the really cool films before anyone else. Running at the same time and in the same city as its big sister dance, Sun, Slamdance is the place  you go to see the films that will still haunt you a year from now.

That last line is important- Yes Sundance will have most of the films that all the PR people will be flogging and positioning as the big films for the rest of 2019. Yes news coming out of that festival will be star studded and be the films that are full of talk of the next big thing... but  Slamdance you’re going to get the films that stay with you forever.

I am deadly serious on that last point.

Year after year the films at Slamdance are the ones that make you run up to friends and complete strangers and grab them and say “You have to see this film”. This year there is a film called GREAT LAMP which since I saw it a couple of weeks back I have been flogging like mad to my friends. I managed to show it to Nate Hood who yelled at me when it was done- How could I show him a film that rocked his world like that? He was so rocked, in a good way, by the film that he sent me a review for me to run. Yes GREAT LAMP is getting two rave reviews because it’s that good. (Go buy tickets)

Another kick ass filmthat will haunt you is 3- IN THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS. A short film, the third in a series, which is about the aftermath of a sexual assault. It’s a deeply troubling film and easily one of the best films I’ve seen so far for the festival. It will rock your world and make you think and feel. Playing as part of the Episodes section it is highly recommended.

An absolute small gem is DOG IN THE WOODS, which is exactly that. A dog escapes his house and runs into the woods for a night of exploring. It is a visual and aural delight as we see the sensory rich world the dog experiences when away from the dull home life. If you’ve ever had a dog that loves to sniff and smell his way along your walk then this film might clue you in to what he/she experienced. As with many Slamdance films it will forever change how you see the world. Highly recommended.

I also am incredibly high on MEMPHIS '69 about a blues fest in 1969 which will knock your socks off. Its all about the glorious music which will have you moving to the beat.

All of the reviews for Slamdance are embargoed so look for the the goodies that JB and myself have ready for you to drop starting Friday and running through and past the end of the Fest.

For tickets ad more information go here.

Maiden (2018) Sundance 2019

This is a repost of the review that we ran when the film played the Camden International Film Festival in September. 

MAIDEN is one of my favorite films of 2018.

This is the story of Tracy Edwards and the crew of women she put together to compete in the Whitbread Around The World Race. While women had been part of crews, Edwards herself had been one, they were always reduced to being cooks and not sailors. Edwards wanted an al women crew so there was no doubt that they could do it without men.

An amazing story that begins when Edwards happens to meet King Hussein of Jordan on a boat where she was working. When he asked what she would rather be doing she told him about the race. He then convinced her that it was something that she had to do. It was a struggle but Edwards fielded a crew and made the race…and it’s one hell of a tale.

The is the story of a grand adventure told in grand style. As much as I and my fellow critics may bitch about how a documentary is put together, more often than nor not we’ll complain if the film doesn’t do something new or exciting with a story, sometimes if you have a great story and great people telling it then you can just let the story tell itself. In the case of Maiden, director Ale Holmes has a group of characters who are master storytellers and he simply lets them talk. They spin one hell of a tale just by telling what happened. What takes the film to the stratosphere is the fact that the stories are supplemented with footage of the events. It’s amazing and it makes this a must see on the big screen because the shots of the ocean will make you wonder what sort of crazy person would do that.

I don’ know what else to say. I was held on th edge of my seat from start to finish. And when the finish came I was just as misty as the people on screen telling the story simply because I felt like I went too and shared the trip.

Highly highly recommended. It is not only one of my favorite films but easily one of the very best films of  2018 and a must see

White Fang (2018) Animation First 2019

JB saw WHITE FANG at Sundance last year. With the film playing at Animation First in NYC this weekend here is a repost of his review. 

Jack London’s bestselling animal adventure novel has been adapted as Japanese anime, a 1970s Italian franchise starring Franco Nero, a Disney live-action movie, a 1926 Hollywood silent featuring Strongheart the Dog, and a 1946 Soviet version Red Jack probably would have liked best. Clearly, the story’s popularity has never flagged, but the most visually accomplished take now happens to be a Francophone production (subsequently dubbed into English). The Yukon Territory is still a savage environment for London’s titular wolf-dog, but he will adapt and survive in Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Espigares’ White Fang, which screens during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

White Fang grew up under the watchful eye of his mother Kiche, a former sled dog gone wild. The winter has already been hard on the dogs, when an encounter with a lynx leaves Kiche badly injured. Nevertheless, White Fang will nurse her back to sufficient health for her to seek out and rejoin the pack dogs driven by Native trapper Grey Beaver. Although the other dogs resent White Fang’s strength and spirit, he will eventually claim his place as top dog. Unfortunately, he will also attract the unwanted attention of Beauty Smith, a nefarious dog-fighter intent on swindling him away from Grey Beaver.

Smith’s brutal training will mold White Fang into a ferocious fighter, but as we see in the in media res opening, the wolf-dog never develops a taste for fighting. Eventually, he will cross paths again with Weedon Scott, an honest lawman, with whom he had a brief encounter years ago, while he was still just a pup.

In a way, White Fang was like the Dog’s Purpose of 1906, following the wolf-dog as he changes hands and passes through metaphorical lives, except it features animal savagery in place of New Age spirituality. Espigares’ animated feature debut (he won the Oscar for his short, Mr. Hublot) is a manageable ninety minutes, but it feels pretty epic and remains relatively faithful to the source novel. However, the trio of screenwriters, Serge Frydman, Philippe Lioret, and Monique Monfrey water-down the abuse Grey Beaver metes out in the novel. While that might sound like a politically correct decision, it is wise to give younger viewers a respite from London’s harshness.

Espigares’ animation is indeed superb, merging a lush, painterly style with motion-capture technology. His wolves and dogs look scrupulously realistic, but exhibit distinctive personalities. The vibrant landscapes and vistas also evoke N.C. Wyeth’s great James Fenimore Cooper illustrations.

For the English dub, the voice of Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast as the scheming Smith. Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones are fine as Weedon and Maggie Scott, but probably the most distinctive vocal turn comes from Eddie Spears as Grey Beaver.

Espigares and his team have produced a White Fang that is lovely to look at, but is still quite tough minded. They have simplified London’s narrative to a minor extent (sorry One-Eye, maybe next film), but they definitely retained its essence. Enthusiastically recommended for adults and older kids, White Fang screens Sunday at Animation First.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess (2016) Animation First 2019

 With IVAN TSAREVITCH AND THE CHANGING PRINCESS: FOUR ENCHANTING TALES playing at Animation First  this weekend (for tickets go here.) here is a slightly edited repost of the review I ran after the New York International Children's Film Festival ran the film in 2017.  It also includes video of the Q&A Mr Ocelot did following the screening. 

IVAN TSAREVITCH AND THE CHANGING PRINCESS: FOUR ENCHANTING TALES
The first film was from Michel Ocelot. Its four fairy tales that are linked together by actors and director putting them together and performing them.

One story concerned a girl who lived in a cave who was able to tame the monsters that kept her and her people trapped inside. The film is allegory about not letting superstitions and wrong thoughts get in the way of finding happiness.

The second story concerned a a young man who was taught by a sorcerer all his tricks, but there was a catch to the knowledge.

The third story had a young pirate who liked his cat more than anyone and what happens to him.

The final story was the titled story and it's based on a Russian folk tale that Ocelot modified so that the Prince is attempting to cure his father of a fatal disease and involves a princess who changes when a man touches her.

All the stories are told in Ocelot silhouette style of animation. The tales were originally created for Ocelot's earlier TALES OF THE NIGHT but ween't used.

To be honest the tales themselves are very good however since the films are kind of stand alone the linking of them doesn't always work. Still this is a really good film, especially when the stories are being told.

After the film Ocelot spoke to the audience via Skype and he was absolutely charming. He answered all the kids questions and was only cut off when tie ran out.



For tickets to the Animation First Screening go here

Tito and the Birds (2018) plays the Quad beginning Friday

Opening this weekend at the Quad Cinemas in New York TITO AND THE BIRDS is a film that is going to play best for the adults in the audience. That isn't a knock, more that the film which features a super rich fear mongering TV star is going to hit home with those who see the parallels with the current occupant of the White House.

In a fear filled dystopian world not far removed from our own Tito lives alone with his mom. His dad was thrown out when a machine to talk to the birds blew up injuring Tito. As Tito tries to replicate his father machine with the help of friends the world is plunged into chaos as a new plague threatens to infect everyone. Will Tito and his friends be able to stop it?

Looking like almost no other film TITO is a film that looks like an oil painting come to life. While not as detailed as say something like LOVING VINCENT, it uses its minimalist style for some truly breath taking sequences (the flight sequence toward the end or any of the shots of the flocks of birds). This a a film that is an absolute treat for the eyes.

While the film's world where everyone is afraid can be a little dark, the films message about how with other people we will be less afraid is an important one. It is even more important in today's world where Donald Trump is constant flogging the idea that one thing or another or one group or other is coming to kill us. Almost certainly to be lost on younger viewers is the fact that Trump's empty promises mirror those given by the super rich TV star in the film.

TITO AND THE BIRDS is a very good, one of a kind film. While it is probably going to be too intense for younger viewers , older mre thoughtful kids and adults are going to love it.

Recommended.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) Animation First 2019

Michael Ocelot's KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS shook up the animation industry in France and put the director on the map.It is there for justly acting as the opening film for this year's Animation First Festival in New York which will have the director in attendance.

The story begins with the birth of Kirikou, a tiny boy who immediately ends up in the middle of the battle between his village and an evil sorceress who has "eaten" all of the men and turned off the the villages water supply. The boy must use his pluck, luck and skills to stop the sorceress and bring peace once more.

Beloved by many the film it has spawned a couple of sequels, despite the film having a definite ending. Its good to know about the sequels, which are not playing at the fest, which fill in details and other adventures for Kirikou. I mention them up front because if you are like me you are going to be hunting them down soon after you finish this first film.

This film is a great deal of fun. Full of witty remarks, suspense and just great storytelling this is a film that is going to become one of your favorite films, animated or otherwise.This is the sort of kids film that could have changed the thinking of a generation of film goers about what animation could be. Frankly other than the fact that the film has bare breasted women in it I'm surprised that Disney didn't make an effort to either release the film or remake it.

Highly recommended when it opens the Animation First Fest Friday (Ticket here) KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS is a classic of animation and a must see.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Animation First starts Friday

The Second Annual Animation First presented by French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) opens on Friday and runs through next Sunday and it’s a must attended. A glorious collection of (mostly) French animation it has some of the coolest films you’ll see all year.

They are featuring a good number of classic films (KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS and ONLY YESTERDAY) as well as some new ones (FUNAN), the festival is something that will open your eyes to the possibilities of the animated form. It will also delight you to no end.

The festival is honoring the great Michel Ocelot who will be appearing with several of his own films, introducing a favorite feature and some shorts, as well as sitting down for a long talk on Saturday. Ocelot is a glorious speaker and if you love animation you should sit and hear him speak. (I am running a review of his IVAN TSAREVITCH which is running as part of the fest and I’ve linked to a brief talk he did a couple of years back following a screening)

Having seen most of the films screening I really don’t want to say go to something over another because they are all good. The selections are so wide and varied that there is almost certainly something that will delight you. I will however strongly suggest that you do note the age recommendations for the various films and collections. I say that because the Annecy collection, which has some the most incredible animation of the whole fest,  has a couple of shorts that are not for smaller kids.

Trust me you want to go to the festival. It is so good that despite seeing most of the films I am trying to move my schedule around so I can see some of the films again as well as see the Ocelot talk and the SWALLOWS OF KABUL work in progress.

To help you decide what to see we will be running reviews starting tomorrow and continuing through the end of the festival.

Go buy tickets. Better go buy a lot of tickets and indulge your senses. Tickets can be had here.

Spy Today Die Tomorrow (1967) aka Die Slowly You'll Enjoy It More

Messy spy (satire?) film has an Italian millionaire with a love of model trains stealing an atomic bomb and blackmailing the Americans to get it back. They are aided by a German secret agent with a love of the ladies.

Much too long and awfully rambling film never pulls it together. Never mind that decades of spy spoofs have muted it's humor, this almost two hour movie is a chore. While it works in fits and starts mostly it just rambles all over the place before ending.

While not bad as such it isn't anything that is going to hold your attention. This is more the sort of thing that you'd put on if you were sick in bed so you could be kind of entertained as you drifted in and out of sleep.

I'm still trying to know why Lex Barker's character is nicknamed Mr Dynamite since he isn't all that exciting. I wish he was back playing Tarzan.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An Unreasonable Man (2006)

This is a warts and all look at Ralph Nader's career from when he was pushing for auto safety through his Presidential runs. This is an interesting look at the man and his passion to do what he felt was right. He changed the country and the world for the better and made things much more safer for all of us. An uncompromising fellow, Nader my way or the highway stances lost him friends when some of his "raiders" went into politics in the Carter Administration and didn't do what he felt was right. More recently Democrats who needed a scapegoat. blame him for the election and re-election of George W Bush (Which is probably true on some level). Big Business of course hates his guts. Watching the film I still find that I admire the man, however I don't necessarily like him, his pit bull mentality seems to have created the sort of fellow you'd want to punch in the face occasionally just because its probably the only way to make him listen.

For those who want to see who the last four decades of "consumer" issues have played out this is must see TV, for anyone else who simply wants to spend time with a real character are also encouraged to take a look see.

Friday, January 18, 2019

In brief: WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY (2017)

As the Warsaw Ghetto was being destroyed the people inside it collected their stories and buried them in the city. Years later the trove was discovered and we now have a first-hand account of what life was like during the war.

Mixing talking heads with recreations and actors reading the words of the Jews in Poland Who Will Write our History is a respectful portrait of life during war time. And while the film is very informative, is kind of dull. Blame the construction of the film which is standard documentary formula and the reading of the words which tends to be not as passionate as it could have been. Its not bad but it’s not great either. I was engaged because I wanted to hear the stories but not because I was drawn into them.

Worth a look for those who are interested in the subject, for everyone else, not so much.

THE 2019 SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OPENS WITH GALA EVENT, “AN EVENING WITH KATHARINE ROSS”

Ross will perform with The Malibu Coast Silent Film Orchestra
and introduce a special 50th Anniversary screening of
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID


SLO Film Fest also announces brand new Movie Newbie Pass

and plans for a new Festival Lounge and HQ location

San Luis Obispo, CA (January 17, 2019) – The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (March 12-17) has announced that Katharine Ross will perform with The Malibu Coast Silent Film Orchestra on Opening Night to launch the 25th Anniversary edition of the popular film festival. Ross will tell the exciting true story of “Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express,” with the orchestra, prior to participating in a discussion on film and her award-winning career, and introducing a special 50th Anniversary screening of the 1969 classic, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.
SLO Film Fest also announced the creation of the Movie Newbie Pass, designed to serve as a convenient and cost-effective way for the first time film festival audience member to enjoy the films. They will soon open an exciting new indoor Festival Lounge to better serve as the growing film festival’s epicenter and meeting place for filmmakers and passholders to enjoy SLO’s daily events, panels, and parties.

“An Evening with Katharine Ross” will take place on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at the Fremont Theatre, in San Luis Obispo, CA. Presented by BHE Renewables, and sponsored by Justin Vineyards & Winery, New Times, Luna Red, The Krush 92.5, KJUG 98.1, KVEC News Talk 920am, the event was originally scheduled for the fall of 2018 but postponed due to devastating fires in Malibu, CA.

SLO Film Fest Director Wendy Eidson, said, “One of the universally beloved film actors from her signature roles in classics like THE GRADUATE, it will be a thrill and a delight to have Katharine Ross kick off our 25th Anniversary film festival in style with a rare live performance and special introduction to another one of our favorites, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. We’re beyond fortunate that we could reschedule this event after its postponement last Fall, and now it will begin this year’s film festival on a very high note.”

The acclaimed five-piece Malibu Coast Silent Film Orchestra will accompany Ross as she recounts the true story from Margaret K Wetterer’s “Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express,” of Kate Shelley, a fifteen-year-old Iowa teenager who helped avert a train disaster in 1881 and went on to become a national heroine. Based on Mary Kay Shanley’s spoken short story, it was originally written for the Wonder of Words Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. This new version will feature Ross as the story-teller and composer Maria Newman’s original music. The performance will be the orchestra’s fourth visit to San Luis Obispo after impressing audiences at past Festival fundraising events, including Daddy Long Legs and last year’s Silent Shorts event at the Madonna Inn.

After a short intermission, Ross will join composer Maria Newman and Festival Director Wendy Eidson on the Fremont Theatre stage for a conversation about her career and her role in BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, prior to a screening of the digitally restored version of the “Best Picture” Oscar winner that is still considered one of the best Westerns of all time. This timeless classic stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the true-life outlaws in the early 1900’s, and Katharine Ross as the lovely free spirit whose charm bewitched the outlaws…as well as audiences then and now.

VIP ticket holders will also have an opportunity to meet Katharine Ross at an Opening Night reception before the event at Luna Red, located next to the Mission in downtown San Luis Obispo. Luna Red will serve appetizers, wine, and beer, with live music indoors and on the patio (weather permitting) from 5:00-6:30PM. The performance and movie event begins at 7:00PM.

Katharine Ross is an acclaimed, award-winning American film and stage actress who is renowned for her performances in two of the most popular films of the late 1960’s. Ross was cemented forever in the hearts and minds of film fans and from her iconic role of “Elaine Robinson” in Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking film, THE GRADUATE (1967), for which she won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for an Academy Award. Ross also made a significant mark as “Etta Place” in George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), for which she won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress. Additional signature films include; Bryan Forbes’ THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), Stuart Rosenberg’s VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (1976), for which she won a second Golden Globe award, and Richard Kelly’s cult classic DONNIE DARKO (2001).

In 1984, Katharine Ross married actor Sam Elliott. They met in London on Richard Marquand’s horror classic THE LEGACY (1978), and have worked together on several projects since that fateful meeting. They co-wrote and starred in Louis L’Amour’s CONAGHER, co-starred in THE SHADOW RIDERS, MURDER IN TEXAS and most recently in Brett Haley’s THE HERO, released in 2017.

Tickets are available for the party and movie event for $50, as well as individual movie event tickets for $25 ($15 for students). Movie Mogul passes will be accepted for both the party and movie events. Tickets are on sale now at slofilmfest.org.

As plans are made for this year’s edition of the SLO Film Fest, one addition is the introduction of a new Festival Pass for first-time festival goers - The Movie Newbie Pass. It will allow one person to use the pass for four regular festival screenings at the Rock at SLO Brew or the Fremont Theatre. The Movie Newbie Pass can also be used by four people for one screening or any combination that totals four uses. The pass is $40 and is on sale now at slofilmfest.org.

The Movie Newbie Pass is the ideal way for a first-timer to enjoy the festival without making a large time or cash commitment. There are four other festival pass options available, but this is the only pass that can be used by more than two people and is ideal for a movie-going group. Pass holders will be limited to movie choices at the Rock and Fremont Theatres and the pass does not include Red Carpet Events at the Fremont Theatre.

Once again, the Festival will operate a Festival Hospitality Lounge during the Festival week. Located conveniently in the SLO Collection Court Street shopping area in downtown San Luis Obispo (1040 Court Street), the location will be a true epicenter for SLO, as it will also be the home of the Festival Headquarters, which functions as a box office and information outlet, and will be mere blocks from three Festival theatres – the Palm Theatre, Downtown Cinemas and Fremont Theatre.

ABOUT SAN LUIS OBISPO FILM FESTIVAL
Located half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo's laid-back vibe and serene natural beauty is the perfect setting for this highly regarded annual film celebration. Filmmakers rave about the warmth and attentiveness that is so much a part of the SLO Film Fest experience, as does the swelling tide of industry pros and film critics who are fast discovering the Festival's thoughtful audiences and unique programming sensibility. At the SLO Film Fest, "Movies Matter!"

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The 1st IRANIAN FILM FESTIVAL NEW YORK announces Jury & Audience Awards at Closing Night Ceremony!

6-Day Festival dazzles NY audiences 
with daily sold out screenings at the IFC Center!

US Theatrical Premiere Engagement of Festival Hit PIG Announced! Opens Feb 1st at IFC Center!

Encore Screenings of Audience Award Winner I WANT TO DANCE and daring satire SLY announced for Jan. 30th!

The 1st annual Iranian Film Festival New York (IrFFNY) which ran from Jan 10th–15th, ended Tuesday night after a massively successful 6 day run at the IFC Center, with 13 sold out shows, dazzling both NY audiences and critics. The festival, co-founded and co-programmed by Iranian film distributor & Festival Director Armin Miladi and film critic Godfrey Cheshire, highlighted both classic art-house Iranian cinema and cutting-edge films by young Iranian filmmakers.
IFC Center’s Senior Vice President & General Manager, John Vanco started the Closing remarks on Tuesday night along with Miladi and Cheshire who introduced the festival jury which included David Schwartz (former Chief Curator of the Museum of the Moving Image), veteran film programmer Marian Masone (film curator at Art Basel) and filmmaker Ramin Serry (Columbia University film professor). The ecstatic jury remarked their love and excitement for all the films in the festival program, and then each of them announced their selections for the 3 awards. 

The winners are as follows:
The BEST FILM award winner was given to the festival’s Closing Night film,SHEEPLE directed by Hooman Seyedi

A violent action film about criminal gangs that has been compared to Brazil's City Of God as well as the films of Tarantino, SHEEPLE also won the Audience Award this year at Iran's Fajr Film Festival where it was called “the most exciting genre film” by The Hollywood Reporter. The film stars Navid Mohammadzadeh (Best Actor winner, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival) who is considered one the best new actors of Iranian Cinema. In his glowing review of the film in VARIETY, critic Owen Gleiberman called SHEEPLE a “traumatically explosive closing-night selection” and “an Iranian crime-family drama of explosive originality” and added that  Mohammadzadeh is “powerful” and “a fantastic actor”.
The SPECIAL JURYaward was given to 
HENDI & HORMOZ by Abbas Amini

A tale of imperiled young love in coastal Iran that premiered at last year’s Berlinale and recently won Best Film & Best Director prizes at Toronto’s CineIran Film Festival, HENDI & HORMOZ has moved audiences and critics alike, and was singled out as “an early entry in the most beautiful films you’ll see in 2019”.

BEST ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENTaward was given to 
Asghar Yousefinejad’s THE HOME 

A Best Picture prize-winner in Iran that examines the tensions and deceptions in a family as they prepare to bury their just-deceased patriarch, THE HOME has been called a "raw emotional film” and “shot in a simple, unassuming style at times reminiscent of John Cassavetes"

The AUDIENCE AWARD winner was given to 
the controversial comedy-drama I WANT TO DANCE
by veteran Iranian filmmaker & the festival’s Guest of Honor, Bahman Farmanara

Recently released from a four-year ban in Iran, I WANT TO DANCE follows Bahram Farzaneh (played by Reza Kianian), a lonely writer with severe writer’s block who begins to hear rhythmic Persian dance music in his head after an accident, which leads him to be consumed by the irrepressible desire to dance. People think he has gone crazy and this bizarre new behavior creates many problems for him – both with the authorities and his family.  

Additional Announcements about Encore Screenings &
upcoming theatrical release of Mani Haghighi’s PIG at the IFC Center!

Additional announcements made at the Closing Ceremony include the upcoming US theatrical premiere engagement of Mani Haghighi's critically acclaimed twisted dark comedy PIG (Khook), opening Feb 1st at the IFC Center, following two sold-out festival screenings. The film’s North American rights have been acquired by Miladi’s distribution company Daricheh Cinema, and will also have an LA opening immediately following its NY release.
Film critic Richard Brody raved about PIG in his recent review in THE NEW YORKER where he called the film “a standout feature at the Iranian Film Festival New York” and that it deserves to be seen widely."

Making its premiere in competition at last year’s Berlinale, PIG stars Hasan Majuni as Hassan, a blacklisted director who hasn’t been able to make a film in years, forcing him into directing commercials. Hassan is doubly frustrated that his muse, the actress Shiva (played by Leila Hatami) has started to work with other directors. But most galling of all, a serial killer is going about beheading Iran’s finest filmmakers, and their severed heads are being discovered with the word “pig” imprinted on their foreheads… yet Hassan remains unscathed. Feeling like he’s being ignored, Hassan’s bad luck turns to worse when he becomes the prime suspect in this murder case. The hilarity and hijinks that follow are quite unlike anything else in Iranian cinema.

Also, based on popular demand, the IFC Center and IrFFNY announced the decision to add two encore screenings on Wednesday, Jan 30th for Farmanara’s Audience Award winning film I WANT TO DANCE (7pm) and Kamal Tabrizi’s SLY (9:30pm).  

SLY (Märmouz), which recently premiered at the Busan Film Festival, is a daring satire of the Iranian political system, and stars one of Iran’s most acclaimed actors Hamid Behdad (Best Actor, CineIran Film Festival).

Tickets for encore screenings of I WANT TO DANCE and SLY, and for the release of PIG will be available at the IFC Center box office (323 Sixth Avenue) or online at ifccenter.com

Festival director / Co-Founder / Co-Programmer Armin Miladi said: 

I’d like to thank New Yorkers for this huge success in our first year at the Iranian Film Festival NY. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome with all of our 13 screenings selling out, and the positive energy and wonderful feedback we received from the audience. The pressure is now on to deliver and expand for the second year which we’re truly excited about. We’re also so pleased that the festival attracted such great attention from major media outlets and film critics. I’m hoping all this success will lead to the IrFFNY becoming a launching platform for new Iranian Cinema in the USA.” 

Co-Founder / Co-Programmer Godfrey Cheshire said: 
“The sold-out shows and tremendous audience response to our festival show that New York cinephiles are excited to be able to experience the latest developments in Iranian cinema. We look forward to giving them an even bigger edition in 2020.”

About IrFFNY:
IrFFNY is an annual selection of acclaimed and award-winning films from one of the world’s most vital and distinguished national cinemas to New York audiences. The festival aims to unite two strands of Iranian moviemaking – the classic art-house Iranian cinema that is known to cinephiles around the world, and new cutting-edge works that show the adventurousness and daring nature of younger Iranian directors. The classic strand features celebrated names such as Bahman Farmanara (who was at the festival presenting 3 of his films), Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. The first annual IRANIAN FILM FESTIVAL NY took place at the IFC Center from Jan 10th - 15th, 2019. 

IrFFNY is co-founded and co-programmed by film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who has written extensively about Iranian cinema, and Festival Director and film distributor Armin Miladi who distributes Iranian films and runs the annual Iranian Film Festival of Australia, now in its 8th year. The festival is presented under the banner of Miladi’s company Daricheh Cinema.

IrFFNY is an independently organized and nonpolitical event 
presented under the banner of Daricheh Cinema 
and has no financial ties to any government organization inside or outside Iran.

Adult Life Skills (2016)

This is a slightly modified repost of my Tribeca 2016 review of ADULT LIFE SKILLS which is getting a US release tomorrow because Jodi Whittaker is the current Dr Who.

My over riding thought five minutes into ADULT LIFE SKILLS was this is the prototypical Tribeca Film Festival comedy - its a bunch of quirky characters, doing quirky things with a hint of romance and a touch of sadness. It is, as all prototypical Tribeca comedies and many inde films are, straining to be unique. And while it manages to do so in the details, it's very much of a type and like a hundred or more other films that are really good for the 90 minutes they are on, but completely forgettable once they are done.

Don't get me wrong it's not bad but it isn't anything special, largely because it's trying so damn hard.

The plot has Anna trying to get over the death of her twin brother a year and a half before. As she careens to her 30th birthday her mother wants her out of her shed in the back yard, the little kid next door has latched on to her as a surrogate mother and a cute guy she thinks is gay, but actually has the hots for her, has come home to write his novel. There's more including a fascination with penises and mole holes but you get the general idea.

Its well acted and well done technically. If there is a problem its that a good number of the characters don't have much to do. I think part of it is the result of a bit too much not being explained. What exactly happened to the brother for example. I ask because he's always in scuba gear when Anna sees him. And where does Anna work, its some kind of camp but it's not clear.

Trivial I know but at the same time I'd like to know.

If you like comedies and don't mind it slipping out of you mind when it's done give this film a shot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Acceptable Loss (2018)

Tika Sumpter stars as a former National Security adviser to the Vice President (Jamie Lee Curtis) who retires to a small college outside Chicago. Infamous four creating a plan that spawned a new American policy regarding terrorism, she just wants to write her story and be forgotten. However the sins of her past come to call as those in the college are wary of her, a student begins to stalk her and the Vice President is trying to determine whose side she is on.

A slow burn thriller with echos to the run up to the Iraq War AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS  actually is a film with a more serious warning on it's mind:What exactly are acceptable losses? The plan Sumpter's character comes up to make the world safe is not only horrific, but doesn't achieve what it intended. Where does the madness end? Why are the small personal losses more devastating that large faceless ones? More importantly the film shows us what happens when mistakes are made, mistakes we can't take back.

You have to be willing to go with the film for it's first half which reveals the backstory in little bites. There are hints in conversation and flashes of memory come when Sumpter is writing but it isn't until we are about an hour in- just as the film goes into over drive- that we know what happened and why Sumpter is viewed with disdain by so many.

AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS is a thoughtful and timely film that also manages to be a killer thriller. Once the film finally explodes the film shoots to the wind with no one and nothing safe. Once we are belted in the film just goes and doesn't let up as its twists and turns are often unexpected.

Hitting theaters in New York and VOD this Friday and theaters in the rest of the country next week AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS is recommended for anyone wanting a solid political thriller with a brain behind it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2019 Milwaukee Film Festival Dates Announced

2019 Milwaukee Film Festival Dates Announced
Film submissions for the annual event are now being accepted

MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, January 15, 2019 – The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by Associated Bank, will run Thursday, October 17 - Thursday, October 31, 2019. Milwaukee Film’s annual 15-day festival will include feature films, shorts programs, education screenings, post-film conversations, panels, and parties. The event screened more than 300 films and welcomed nearly 80,000 attendees in 2018, making it one of the 10 largest film festivals in the country.

"Last year’s move to later fall dates proved successful, and we are excited to remain at the end of October," states Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director of Milwaukee Film. "Bringing the best of independent cinema to Milwaukee audiences has been a goal since day one and the shift in dates allowed us the opportunity to secure major titles that are now in awards season conversations. We look forward to discovering the best new films and presenting them to our audiences at our festival's eleventh edition."

This announcement comes in conjunction with the opening of the festival’s Call for Entries. Works of all genres, forms, and lengths will be considered. The deadline for all entries is July 1, 2019. Notably, submission is free for all films and, for the fourth consecutive year, the festival will offer to pay for all works screened at the annual event.
The entry form and complete information regarding eligibility for the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival Call for Entries is available at mkefilm.org/for-filmmakers/call-for-entries. Questions about submissions may be directed to entry@mkefilm.org.
About Milwaukee Film
Milwaukee Film is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to entertaining, educating, and engaging our community through cinematic experiences, with a vision to make Milwaukee a center for film culture. Milwaukee Film operates the magnificent Oriental Theatre, a historic cinema palace committed to high-quality and accessible film and education programming. The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival will take place October 17 - October 31, 2019. For more information, or to become a member, visit us online at mkefilm.org.

Facebook: facebook.com/MilwaukeeFilm | Twitter: @mkefilm | Instagram: @mkefilm

About the Milwaukee Film Board of Directors
Milwaukee Film’s independent board is made up of the following members: Chris Abele (Past Board Chair); John P. Bania; Donna Baumgartner; Elizabeth Brenner; Héctor Colón; Karen Ellenbecker; Alexander P. Fraser (Board Chair); Bill Haberman (Past Board Chair); Susan Haise; Katie Heil; Patti Keating Kahn (Board Chair Elect); Tracey L. Klein (Immediate Past Board Chair); Michael G. Klein; Michael J. Koss Jr.; Mary Ann LaBahn; Alexander Lasry; Steve Laughlin (Past Board Chair); Emilia Layden; Michael R. Lovell; Joan Lubar; Marianne Lubar; Mark Mone; Susan Mikulay; Kenneth W. Muth; Bob Pothier; John Ridley; Joseph A. Rock; Ramona Rogers-Windsor; Lacey Sadoff; Dave Stamm; Julia Taylor; John Utz; Kimberly Walker; Emeritus members: Tom Barrett; Jacqueline Strayer

The restored Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) opens in New York Friday at the Metrograph

Based on a play by Niranjan Pal Shiraz tells the story of Shiraz and the love his life the princess Selima. The two had met when Selima was found by Shiraz’s father as a small child, after her caravan was attacked by bandits and she was left for dead. The pair were raised as brother and sister, however after a turn of events Selima ends up sold as a slave to the royal court. She then catches the eye of the prince, later emperor and intrigue occurs.

Shiraz: A Romance From India is probably a film unlike any other you’ve ever seen. Shot on location in India, with an all Indian cast by a German director and a crew that was a mix of Indian and European filmmakers the film it is full of images that put us right in the middle of the action in ways that other films simply can’t. It’s clear we are in real places and seeing real people and not the typical dress up of the filmmakers of Europe or Hollywood. Watching the film I found myself going back through the film a second time, not to watch the drama but simply look at the settings and the faces and the world the film creates.

A soapy melodrama that ends in melancholy, it is not giving anything away to say the film has to do with the building of the Taj Mahal, the story is a tear jerking tale of love that crosses classes. We know this isn’t going to end well for the lovers, though I’m guessing that you won’t see how it’s going to play out. I know I didn’t.

Personally I like the film, but I am not madly passionate about it. I like it more for the technical aspects of the film than the film itself.  Before you close your mind and instantly decide that this means the film isn’t good, understand that in this case it is purely a matter of personal taste. I am not a fan of love stories of this sort (I’m not a fan of say the works of Nicholas Spars for example). Sad love stories don’t speak to me as they do to others. I'm not high on the film because the story is the sort that isn’t my cup of tea.

The love story not being my cup of tea aside, you really should go see this film when it plays on a big screen. The images, mixed with Grammy Award-nominated Anoushka Shankar‘s score make this film that is why we go to the movies- a glorious trip to another world and time.

Shiraz: A Romance of India opens Friday at New York’s Metrograph and is recommended.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What is Democracy? (2018) Opens Wednesday

This exploration of what exactly is democracy and what that means for the way that we govern ourselves is a bracing intellectual exercise that is a frightening explanation of how and why democracy seems to be in decline. It also explains why and how we ended up with Donald Trump (he is a demagogue exactly of the sort that Plato warned us about two thousand years ago).

A heady mix of ideas the film doesn’t just deal with academia but also asks people on the street from all over the world what they think. As a result instead of having a purely American answer to what the concept means we get something bigger and greater that fully embraces the world in general and explains why people strive to have a voice in their government, even if in practice it often looks like we’d rather be ruled over by a benevolent dictator.

Full of trains of thought and ideas that will sit with you for days WHAT IS DEMOCRACY will haunt your thoughts and may even get you to go out and actually try to do something to keep your rights.

This will be one of the best and most important films you'll see in 2019.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Seder-Masochism (2018) NYJFF 2019 (and a repost of Should art be independent of it's creator? The problem of Seder-Masochism and Nina Paley)

This is the original review I wrote for Nina Paley's SEDER-MASOCHISM but never published. I never hit publish because after seeing it I discovered she has personal believes concerning transgender women which I feel run counter to the points she makes in this film. Six weeks after writing this review I ended up writing a long piece about my feelings pondering how are we to see a creator and their work when their life seems to run counter to what they are saying in their art. That piece ran in connection to a festival screening in October (that piece entitled Should art be independent of it's creator? The problem of Seder-Masochism and Nina Paley follows the review). 

I then promptly sat on this review for almost six months not sure of what to do. With the film now playing the New York Jewish Film Festival and no longer wanting to see this review, which I still agree with, in my draft folder, I am posting the review and it's companion piece, quietly and without fanfare.

Because the two pieces both singularly and especially together are very long I am placing them behind a cut tag so as not to overwhelm the from page of Unseen Films

Hanging By A Thread (2013)

Catya Plate is a singular talent. The films she produces are unlike anything else out there.

A while back I reviewed and loved her film MEETING MACGUFFIN. It’s the second part of a trilogy about the recreation of humanity from parts. I loved it so much I pondered about the first film and Ms Plate was nice enough to send HANGING BY A THREAD to me. It took a while for me to see it- I wanted to be sure I could just focus on it and not feel rushed, but I finally watched it.

HANGING is another trip. Setting up the events in the second film it has three characters on a piece of needle point coming to life and deciding to reconstruct the human race from the pelvis, feet and brains that are drifting around. And... there is a dance number.

Less detailed plot wise as the second film, it sets the mood and gets everything going. It’s a wild trip that would probably out surreal/weird even Salvador Dali. Yes, that is a rave.

One of the things that mazes me is is how she manages to animate the things she does. Thereis this one point where we see the underside of the needlepoint and there are all these threads and not only does she aniate them but the threads don't show signs of anyone touching them. Its a amazing since when Willis O'Brin did King Kong you could see ripples in Kong's hair. Plate's work so no sign of an off screen god and it blows me away.

As I said at the top Ms Plate is a singular talent. I can’t wait for the next film.

Ariela on the award winning UNTOUCHABLE (2016) hits VOD and digital platforms January 15

This is a repost of Ariela's review from 2016 of the excellent documentary UNTOUCHABLE which is finally being released on January 15th. This is an updated version of the film that both Ariela and myself saw at Tribeca almost 3 years ago. Director David Fiege has brought the film up today with addition of more material. It is a very important film that demands to be seen and is highly recommended.

UNTOUCHABLE is a documentary that talks about sexual offender laws in the U.S. There are 750,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. What a sexual offender is though is very broadly defined.

This film was a real eye opener. The documentary begins with a story about a girl in Miami (Lauren Book) who was horribly abused by her nanny for 6 years before coming forward. Lauren’s father is Ron Book, who is a multi- millionaire who will do anything to protect his daughter. He winds up helping to pass the toughest sex offender laws in the country. One of the laws was that registered sexual offenders can’t be within 2,500 feet of a school, playground etc. There are a lot of schools and playgrounds in Miami, thus causing many sexual offenders to become homeless, living under a bridge.

Studies show that residency restrictions don’t work. 93% of victims know their abuser. Studies also found that when they followed 10,000 sexual offenders over a 3 year period, 3.5% of them went back to jail for a new sex crime. The others, went back to jail for ridiculous reasons. One man whose story they told in the movie, was 8 minutes late to where he was living, he even called his probation officer, telling him the buses were running late. He got 4 years in jail, just for being 8 minutes late.

There was another story about a girl named Shawna who was a registered sex offender, for having sex with a minor when she was 18. He was a friend whom she was drinking with and who initiated having sex with her. She was registered as a level 3 which she said is a pretty serious rating. She will be on probation for the rest of her life. In 10 years she has had to pay 35k for probation, for polygraphs, for therapy (all of these things are required). She has had 10 jobs, never making more than $10.25 an hour. She has 2 kids and isn’t allowed to be with them in a playground. It was really mind boggling.

This documentary is a must see. It shows all the different sides and perspectives and really makes you think