Thursday, January 17, 2019

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

In Our Heads (2019)

Madison Campione is a filmmaker who needs to be on your radar. She is a filmmaker of great talent and greater promise.

How good is Campione? When I received an email asking if I wanted to see her new film I said yes. How could I not, her previous film REMEMBRANCE was a nifty little thriller that I highly recommend.

IN OUR HEADS is the internal and external behavior of people at a party. We listen to the thoughts of each as they navigate the party and try to connect.

Directing with a sure hand Campione takes an idea that we’ve all probably seen before some other  form and makes it something special. Focusing on a small moment in time she connects us not only to the moment but the greater truth about how we only know what is going on inside us and what we think isn’t always what is so. The result is a lovely little film.

Recommended when the film plays a festival near you.

And please do yourselves a favor and put Madison Campione on your list of directors to watch. Trust me, she is soon going to be springing into the spotlight and you'll want to be able to say you've been following her since the start.

Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story (2018) NYJFF 2019

Portrait of writer Etgar  Keret that mixes interviews, recreations, stories, animation and surreal narrative turns in order to paint a one of a kind picture of the well loved writer.

Told as the story the directors tell the custom agents in Israel about why they are going to the country (the use the would shoot instead of film and it gets messy) they then have to explain what they are doing and why. As they start and stop Keret's stories are told, characters come to live and a good time is has by all.

An early favorite film of 2019, this film delighted me. While I had no idea who Keret was before the film I a loading up on his books not long after. Keret's wild and weird way of seeing the world  some how matches up with mine. Why can't a beautiful girl become a hairy fat man? Why wouldn't people with wings pretend to be angels?

I have nothing but love for this film which made me smile from ear to ear for 68 minutes, which is all one can ask for.

One of the best films of this year's New York Jewish Film Festival, it is highly recommended.

For tickets for the screening on January 14 and 16 go here.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Chasing Portraits (2018) New York Jewish Film Festival 2018

(Once again the New York Jewish Film Festival is responsible for my seeing the first great film of the year)

Chasing Portraits is a portrait of director Elizabeth Rynecki ‘s efforts to find as much of her great grandfather’s (artist Moshe Rynecki ) art which was scattered across Europe in the early days of World War 2. The story is that the art was secreted across Europe in the hope of keeping it safe from the Nazi’s. His family managed to recover around 125 pieces of art while other pieces turned up in museums and collections across the globe. Rynecki documents her efforts to find as much of the art as possible, initially not to reclaim it but simply to make a record of it.

This moving portrait of one woman’s effort to connect with her family history and particularly with a man she never knew had me tearing up. I was moved the first time when she found a memoir from her grandfather that answered many of her questions and gave her the mission to find the art. I was moved again repeatedly as she was moved as she traveled across Poland and saw the "lost"art, some of which for the first time. The connections she made with her great grandfather across time and space was magical.

While the film would seem to be a simple sort of detective story, there is a richness to the emotion and humanity within the film that lifts it up into being something greater and transcending being just a tale of lost art into something more universal.

Highly recommended when it plays at the New York Jewish Film Festival on January 14 and 16.

For tickets and more information go here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

NYAFF Winter Showcase is on sale

For those of you chomping at the bit for the New York Asian Film Festival, they are having a Winter Showcase over the first two weekends in February at the SVA Theaters. The selections are some old favorites, most of which have played the festival previously.

It’s a good selection of films and if you haven’t seen them I suggest you make an effort to go since the tickets are reasonable. Personally I’m passing due to prior commitments.

For the list of films and tickets go here.

First Look Fest 2019: YOUNG SOLITUDE and PUTIN's WITNESSES

What follows are reposts of the short reviews from the Camden Film Festival from September


YOUNG SOLITUDE
Various 17 year olds talk to each other about their lives.
I have no idea what I think of this film. While billed as a documentary the film feels more like a work of fiction, perhaps docufiction as things see to be set up and not natural occurrences. The sense of unreality crashes into the reality for an uneasy partnership.



PUTIN'S WITNESSES
Record of the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. Its an unvarnished look since director Viyali Mansky was there and filmed it all as it happened. We get snide comments from the directors family and we see everyone without their perfect media faces. And it is a lear view about how tyrants gets into power It is an intriguing look behind the carefully controlled Russian media machine

First Look ’19: The Pluto Moment


It is even harder to be an independent filmmaker in China than it is here. Fortunately, Wang Zhun is all about doing things the hard way. He will lead a scouting trip into the Sichuan mountains in search of an authentic performance of a traditional mourning song before his producer can arrange adequate financing. He hasn’t even finished the script, for that matter. Nevertheless, he might just find something to stimulate his creative process, even if he was not looking for it in Zhang Ming’s The Pluto Moment, which screens during this year’s First Look at MoMI.

Wang is famous enough to be married to superstar Gao Li, but not commercial enough for her management to encourage her appearance in his upcoming film. Yet, she is still willing, if he would just finish the script. For inspiration (or procrastination), Wang and his producer Ding Hongmin head off to provincial Sichuan, hoping to record The Tale of Darkness, an epic oral poem that somehow was converted into a funeral dirge. Ding is also hoping to land a sponsorship from one of the county governments through the back-scratching of their fixer, Luo, a modestly corrupt local official. Alas, both song and funding prove elusive.

They have no money and no script, but they still have crew problems when the assistant director Du Chun goes AWOL. Ding immediately suspects Wang has engaged in a smarmy behavior with her. Although there is something between them, it is more complicated and ambiguous than the producer (and everyone else) assumes. Eventually, the skeleton crew decides to follow Luo’s vague leads for legit Tale of Darkness performances at even more remote villages. At this point, Wang’s troubled film becomes the no-budget equivalent of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo or Gilliam’s Man of La Mancha.

In the third act, Pluto takes a sharp turn and a dramatic shift in perspective that you just have to go with, because it really makes the film different and sad and special. Zeng Meihuizi (a.k.a. Chloe Maayan) is remarkably sensitive and sensual as Chun Tai, the widowed innkeeper who hosts Wang Zhun. Wang Xuebing does some of his best work to date as the lost (literally and figuratively) director. It hardly seems like much of an armchair psychiatrist’s stretch to speculate how his own career scandal gave him greater affinity for the professionally marginalized Wang Zhun.

It is a strong ensemble all the way around. Liu Dan is so acerbic and jaundiced as Ding the producer, you have to be charmed by her. Likewise, Yi Ping portrays all of Luo’s pettiness and pomposity in a very human way, without resorting to shtick or bombast. Only Yi Daqian looks like he is reaching as Bai Jinbo, the young actor forced to serve as the production gofer.

Cinematographer Li Jinyang makes the Sichuan mountainside look mysterious and even mystical. Frankly, this is one of the few films that would probably continue to yield more through repeat viewings over time. It is one of the best films about the filmmaking process since Day for Night, which is high praise indeed. Very enthusiastically recommended, The Pluto Moment screens this Sunday (1/13), as part of First Look at MoMI.

Sheeple (2018) Iranian Film Festival New York 2019

Navid Mohammadzadeh gives a stellar performance as the loud off kilter Shahin in Sheeple, a violent, occasionally funny crime film set on the edge of Tehran. It’s a performance which will get under your skin, often annoy you and ultimately kind of break your heart.

Shahin is the brother of a crime lord in Iranian capital city. They exist in the fringe and slums of the city, not in the high rise. Despite being crime lords they are still struggling to get by selling drugs and running scams. At some point a major scandal erupts when Shahin’s hair dresser sister is filmed showing a man her pony tail to a man in a car. Violence and heartache result.

Anyone expecting the typical genteel Iranian drama is going to be shocked. While not as graphic as similar films from around the world, Sheeple is still just as down and dirty. Despite the humor, these are bad people. People are beaten, abused and stabbed. There is a nasty shoot out with the police. Director Houman Seyyedi is not sugar coating the world of these men and women and we as an audience are abused as a result.

One of the thematic threads of the film is the abuse of children. If it’s not outsight abuse the implication of futures as little more than slaves is more than just implied. Kids are around when bad things happen. Shahin’s brother knows the value and valulessness of kids because he has set up an orphanage to act as a training ground for his army of criminals. At the same time he doesn’t really care what happens to them. (And there is a some shots toward the end that will break your heart.)

Sheeple is many things from a thought provoking to a kick in the heart to a great film. One of the truly great films at the First Iranian Film Festival New York and as such It is absolutely a must see.

Sheeple closes the First Iranian Film Festival New York on Tuesday. For tickets and more information go here

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

IFC is running a lot of Oscar contending films starting Friday (HALE COUNTY, OF FATHERS AND SONS, ON HER SHOULDERS, DISTANT OF BARKING DOGS and THE SILENCE OF OTHERS)

To tie into the upcoming Oscar nominations The IFC  Center is running a bunch of the documentaries from the short list starting Friday. Because there are a number of films up coming and because we are running coverage of three festivals this week I'm just going to clump capsules all together with links to the full reviews we previously ran.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING - stunning slice of life film about life in a small town is absolutely one of the best films of 2018. Nate was rapturous about the film and its reflection of life as lived. (this film is also starting a run at NYC's Metrograph Friday as well)

DISTANT OF BARKING DOGS - Life during wartime in Ukraine is a haunting film where war is not quite here abut always within earshot. A masterpiece.

THE SILENCE OF OTHERS is about the quest for justice in Spain when the whole world wants everyone to just for get. I was glued to the screen waiting to see how it would go.

OF FATHERS AND SONS another one of 2018's best films is a look at jihadist families which are eerily like our own. This film will haunt you.

ON HER SHOULDERS portrait on Noble Prize winner Nadia Murad  who is fighting to help her people who have been marked for extermination by Isis because they are not Muslim and can't be forced to convert.

First Look ’19: The Trial


It was like the Court TV and legal reality shows of the 1930s, but none of it was true. The Moscow Show Trials were a propaganda spectacle that had nothing to do with justice (or truth). Prolific documentarian Sergei Loznitsa whittles eleven days of archival footage recordings of the so-called “Industrial Party Trial” down to a one hundred twenty-some minute found footage documentary in The Trial, which screens during this year’s First Look at MoMI.

In late 1930, a group of engineers and economists dubbed “The Wreckers” were put on trial for economic sabotage, scapegoating them for the Soviet Union’s dismal economic performance. Aside from the names and employment history of the accused, not one single truthful word was uttered during the proceeding. It was all a fabrication—every word and every syllable. Yet, the accused duly confessed to the charges leveled against them. Some had surely been worked over by the OGPU (an earlier forerunner of the KGB), whereas others perhaps confessed due to psychological pressure and a perverse sense of loyalty, like Rubashov in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

Even though The Trial only presents events that were deliberately staged for public consumption, it vividly illustrates how the Soviet legal system was designed to crush the spirit of the accused. Frankly, we would have confessed to anything to stop the constant, soul-deadening repetition of charges against the alleged “Industrial Party” members. Yet, that is definitely part of the “Big Lie” strategy employed by the Soviets. It is also rather disconcerting to the pre-approved spontaneous demonstrations against the accused playing out on the streets outside

Rather ominously, The Trial is only too relevant in the modern day and age. Although the Russian Neo-Soviet regime has conducted secret trials of abducted Ukrainian nationals, like filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, the outcome is just as rigged as Moscow Show Trials. It was not pretty, yet in some cases, the ultimate fate of several “Industrial Party Members” remains unknown.

The Trial can be difficult to watch, for both aesthetic and humanistic reasons. However, Loznitsa’s meticulous craftsmanship is quite impressive. Viewers who fight their way through to the finish will glean a deeper understanding the machinery and propaganda of oppressive regimes. Obviously, The Trial is an acutely timely film, in a depressing second-verse-same-as-the-first kind of way, but it is also fascinating to see the images of the early Soviet era echo and reverberate over time. Recommended for hardy, free-thinking cineastes, The Trial screens this Saturday (1/12), as part of First Look at MoMI.

Beyond the Night (2018)

This is one of those films that you should know as little as possible. Nominally the story of a father who is desperate to protect his son when he begins to reveal details relating to a long missing mobsters daughter, there are details which I can’t reveal since it might give away too much. If you just want to see a nifty little thriller filled with great characters and great performances the see Beyond the Night and stop reading now.

However if you want to know more and don’t mind me kind of spoiling a little bit then keep reading...

You still with me?

If you watch Beyond the Night odds are you are not going to know where the film is going. I walked into the film completely unaware of anything other than the bare minimum plot. Because of this and because it is a distance in before the film truly reveals itself I was unprepared for the hints of supernatural doings.

No, wait come back it’s not bad. Trust me. Because writer director Jason Noto has so perfectly crafted his characters and plot the added layer fits in perfectly. We don’t question it, we simply go with it, which is the mark of a really good film. You accept that maybe there is a reason from beyond the grave that the kid knows what he knows. Noto has made a taught thriller which you will walk out of talking about as a good film and not one that takes a turn for the genre.

I kind of admire the PR people handling the film. Choosing not to highlight what maybe going on is a bold move. Many people would highlight that and as a result it could potentially limit its audience instead they are focusing on what is important, which is that this is nifty film worth your time. If they are shying away from mentioning the supernatural, why am I? Because a portion of Unseen’s readership has a yen for the genre. Mentioning it will, hopefully, push some readers towards seeing the film faster.

Opening Friday. Beyond the Night is recommended for anyone wanting to see a really good thriller.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Iranian Film Festival: SLY, I WANT TO DANCE THE HOME and 76 MINUTES 15 SECONDS WITH ABBAS KIAROSTAMI

Starting Thursday, and running to the 15th, at the IFC Center in is the First Iranian Film Festival New York. Because there are so many good films I present some short reviews to help you decide what to see. (Though to be honest they are all good so just buy tickets here)
SLY
A wickedly funny political satire that is nominally a lampoon of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is actually a telling rag on all forms of political opportunism, SLY is a film that will have you laughing even when the jokes sometimes catch in your throat. A none too bright guy who wants to get into Parliament finds every door closed to him because the politicos see him for who he is. However when he accidentally ends up a national hero he finds his dreams coming true. While more concerned with comedy than commentary the film still has a great deal to say about the way politics is conducted on a national level everywhere, particularly how it is more shaped by things other than the good of all. Mostly though the film is just funny as everything doesn’t go as expected. This is one of my favorites of the Iranian Film Festival. (SLY plays January 12)

I WANT TO DANCE
A writer with writer’s block suddenly finds himself hearing music in his head and is unable to resist the urge to dance. This complicates his life as he begins to write again. Solid comedy drama had me smiling from ear to ear at times as our hero tries to navigate his way through society without rocking the boat too much. More complicated than I am making out, I WANT TO DANCE is wonderful little gem of a film that is one of the recommended. (I WANT T DANCE plays January 12)

THE HOME
Raw emotional film about what happens immediately following the death of a patriarch. As the preparations are made for the funeral, the family begins to mourn and a clash of factions heats up. At times as real and raw as what happens when a loved one dies this is a film that drops us into the mix from the first frame and has us move around to the last. If you’ve ever had a love one die where the family and friends were all around this film will echo in your head and heart. A low key stunner. See it. (THE HOME plays January 12)

76 MINUTES 15 SECONDS WITH ABBAS  KIAROSTAMI
This is exactly what the title says it is, it’s time with the great director that was recorded by photographer and friend Seifollah Samadian. A portrait of the man through moments in time the film will delight some and bore others.Kiarostami is seen in a variety of situations, driving, being with friends and colleagues. Its moments in the life he lived. As a result the film doesn’t focus on his films but on his person. Whether you are hooked or not is going to be based entirely on your own preferences. I liked some of it, I was bored by some it. Recommended for fans of the director. (76 MINUTES... plays January 13th)

First Look ’19: Donbass


Many of the so-called separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk region are really Russian military out of uniform. What are the implications for Russian-speakers who chose to support this illegal military operation? Nothing short of the death of civil society and the beginning of their own oppression. That is the inescapable takeaway that comes through loud and clear in Belorussian-born, formerly Russian-based Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass, Ukraine’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which screens as the opening night film of this year’s First Look at MoMI.

Disinformation (the term “fake news” makes it sound trivial) is a major theme running through Donbass. As the film opens, a group of extras are in makeup, awaiting their closeups in a bogus Russian news report about a phony “fascist” bus bombing (torched by the Russian propagandists themselves). It is crude, yet somewhat effective.

Thus, begins a rondo-style film, in which members of the would-be Russian breakaway puppet-state confront their new masters. We see paramilitaries menace the German journalist their commanders are trying to favorably impress. One of the new political wheeler-dealers tries to make a show for the staff and media of a stockpile of supplies supposedly confiscated from the former hospital director, but nobody is buying it (least of all him).

In one of the film’s most potent and stinging sequences, a Russian-inclined small business owner learns what happens when he tries to assert his rights and claim the van appropriated by the separatist paramilitaries. Viewers familiar with Loznitsa’s work will see shades of My Joy in a narrative arc that out as a satire of bureaucracy, but quickly evolves into a blend of Kafkaesque and Orwellian horror. Perhaps the most damning but least overtly political segment chronicles the rowdy marriage ceremony of two ghoulish crude supporters of the new Russian-backed regime. Here we see shades of the grotesque absurdity he previously unleashed in A Gentle Creature.

Yet, frame-for-frame and second-for-second, easily the most horrifying segment dramatizes the public pillorying of a Ukrainian self-defense force volunteer captured by the Russian-controlled separatist gangs. The brutal beatings and humiliations meted down on him are a sickening spectacle, which his tormentors gleefully record on their smart phones. It is a staggering sequence of cinema, anchored by the silent dignity of Valery Antoniuk’s performance as the tortured prisoner.

Yet, the kicker is the wrap-around conclusion that returns to the actors appearing in the propaganda reports. What happens to them makes it bitingly clear those collaborating with the Russians are only sowing the seeds of their own misery. It is a brilliant, bracing finish.

In some ways, Donbass is stylistically akin to Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, but it comes from the other side of the political spectrum and it has much more to say. Granted, the relay-rondo structure inevitably produces a bit of unevenness, but it is frequently razor-sharp, forceful as heck, and relentlessly honest. This is a major cinematic statement from one of the most important filmmakers working today. Very highly recommended, Donbass screens this Friday (1/11) at MoMI, launching First Look 2019.