Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ariela Rubin on House of Hummingbird (2019) Fantasia 2019

This film takes place in 1994 in Seoul. It is a story about a 14 year old girl named Eun-hee. Her family is quite dysfunctional. Both parents are so cold and absent. Her mom seems to be in a daze more than half the time. Her brother is violent towards her, and the parents don’t care. Her sister has somewhat rebelled and isn’t around much. Her teacher calls the kids idiots. Kids in school laugh, and make fun of her. She loves drawing comics. She does have a best friend from a different school. She spends time with her by going to karaoke and roaming around. Eun-hee winds up having a health scare and has to go to the hospital.

Eun-hee is looking for love. She has an on again, off again boyfriend, and then meets a girl who has a crush on her.

Eun-hee doesn’t really have anyone to talk to, until a new understanding teacher arrives. The scenes with the two of them were sweet.

The writer and director wrote this film based on her own experiences of growing up in Seoul in the 90’s.

I enjoyed this sort of coming of age film. The girl who played Eun-hee was sweet, and cute. This film was also sad, it seemed as though nothing could go right for her.

House of Hummingbird is 2 hrs and 18 minutes, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely think it could have been a little shorter. It’s a slow paced film, that really spends time showing the daily life of Eun-hee.

I recommend it!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Nate Hood on The Legend of The Stardust Brothers (1985) Japan Cuts 2019

Gather round, little children, and let me tell you the story of the cult Japanese rock musical that could. In 1985 Macoto Tezka—the son of Osamu Tezuka, affectionately known in Japan as the “God of Manga”—met a young musician and TV actor named Haruo Chicada with a unique problem: he had a movie soundtrack but no movie. Inspired the rock operas of The Who, Chicada released an album entitled “The Legend of the Stardust Brothers” about the rise and fall two rival musicians who join forces, become overnight sensations, and imploded almost as quickly.

Tezka, only 23 years old with a handful of 8mm shorts under his belt, immediately agreed to make Chicada’s missing movie. The result was a breathtaking, senses-assaulting blitzkrieg of low-fi DIY filmmaking equally inspired by Brian De Palma’s camp classic Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and early 80s music videos á la Michael Jackson and the Talking Heads. His two lead actors Shingo Kubota and Kan Takagi could sing, but they couldn’t necessarily act, forcing Tezka to rely heavily on montage and rapid-fire editing to direct around their short-comings. “Even if they couldn’t act, as long as they could express themselves in a unique way,” Tezka explained in an interview with The Japan Times, “I knew I could put something together in the cutting room afterward.” The result feels like something storyboarded by his mangaka father with characters bouncing around a plasticine reality—one moment they might dance up a flight of piano key stairs ripped from a 1930s Hollywood musical, the next get into a Looney Tunes chase sequence where falling down a flight of stairs transforms them into anthropomorphized boulders, and the next cower in a record executive’s office lit and shot like it was in the basement of the Tyrell Corporation’s headquarters in Blade Runner (1982).

Here is a film that indulges in every gaudy excess, every obnoxious fashion trend, and every ridiculous hair style of mid 80s pre-economic bubble Japan, complete with a murderer’s row of cameos of iconic Japanese artists like Lupin the 3rd mangaka Monkey Punch, film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and puroresu legend Akira Maeda. And it bombed. Spectacularly. Largely forgotten until now with an upcoming Blu-ray release courtesy Third Window Films, the film is an irresistible time capsule of mid-80s Japanese weirdness with a soundtrack that still rocks even today.

Rating: 8/10

Nate Hood on Bullet Ballet (1998) Japan Cuts 2019

There’s a haunting scene in Shinya Tsukamoto’s Bullet Ballet where two gangs confront each other in an industrial complex late at night. As they fall upon each other, stabbing and smashing, cutting and clubbing, a faulty light somewhere nearby starts flashing wildly, creating a disorienting strobe effect on the carnage. The source of this flicker is never shown, neither is the reason why it suddenly started malfunctioning. It simply exists as a stylistic underlining of the chaos. It is, to use an overly abused phrase, pure cinema. But then, Tsukamoto’s films have always veered towards the unapologetically expressionistic—like the silent directors of the Weimar Republic, he uses images to reflect interior mental states while completely disregarding realism.

Bullet Ballet, then, sees the gradual self-destruction of a commercial director named Goda (Tsukamoto) after discovering his girlfriend unexpectedly killed herself with a gun. Grief-stricken, he embarks on a back alley odyssey through Tokyo’s gang-infested slums seeking a gun of his own with which to end his life. (American audiences unfamiliar with Japan’s strict gun laws might chortle at this premise, but the reality is that firearms, legal or illegal, are nearly impossible for Japanese civilians to own.) His search for a firearm leads him through a host of con artists and criminals until he finally falls into the orbit of a street gang embroiled in a vicious turf war. But by the time he gets his pistol, he’s firmly off the deep end, his psychological fetishism so advanced that he partakes in savage self-flagellating rituals, beating himself with his gun while burning his arms with burning irons to relieve mental stress. Yet in an unique twist inspired by a real life Japanese phenomenon involving “teamsters”—young people with respectable careers leading double lives as violent criminals during the night—Goda compartmentalizes his psychosis during the day, acting the perfect salaryman while visions of bloodshed haunt his thoughts, swelling and festering until they’re ready to pop.

Like Tsukamoto’s best films—Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tokyo Fist (1995)—Bullet Ballet is both cultural polemic and gruesome Scorsesian criminal Bildungsroman. But stripped of Scorsese’s Catholicism, all Bullet Ballet sees as it looks upon modern Japan is an abattoir of the soul, sticky with blood, caked with gunpowder. Only a lackluster script juggling too many characters and storylines at once keeps it from standing as one of Tsukamoto’s greatest.

Rating: 7/10

Bullet Ballet plays Thursday as part of Japan Cuts celebration of the work and career of  Shinya Tsukamoto.  For more information and tickets go here

BLISS (2019) Fantasia 2019

This is a repost of a review that ran during Tribeca

A painter of some note has stalled on her commissions and has them pulled from her. As the landlord comes calling she retreats into a series of drug fueled parties. After one wild outing she finds herself craving blood.

Alternately brilliant and annoying BLISS is a film that confounded me. While possessing some wonderfully off-kilter and disturbing moments and a great central killer performance by Dora Madison the film would seem to be poised to be a horror classic. However the shrill soundtrack, annoying characters and a sense we've been here before prevents the film from truly flying. Yes the carnage, when it comes is well handled but it takes a while before it comes and we are left to cope with some annoying hipster characters we really don't like doing things we don't care about.

If that sounds like I don't know what I feel about the film you would be right, I don't. The film is really too all over the spectrum to really get a handle on.

Should you see it?  I'm not sure, so I guess you're on your own.

Nate Hood on Shinya Tsukamoto's KILLING (2019) Japan Cuts 2019

Viewers familiar with Shinya Tsukamoto only for his earlier work in transgressive art-house horror and ultra-stylized, hyper-violent social dramas might find his latest film Killing quite the oddity. For one, it’s a chanbara film set in the late Meiji era, a setting Tsukamoto has only utilized once before in his 1999 film Gemini. Secondly, there’s precious little of the frantic pacing and ultra-kinetic editing that made his work so distinctive—there are even moments in this film that could be accurately described as staid and meditative. But the film is no less a product of his fevered mind than his breakout cult hit Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) or his nihilistic manifesto of masculine self-destruction Bullet Ballet (1998).

As with many of his other films, Killing sees a young man whose life is radically disturbed and redefined by a sudden exposure to violence. In this case, the young man is Mokunoshin Tsuzuki, a young ronin lodging with a village of rice farmers. When he’s not helping with the harvest, he’s practicing his swordsmanship with Ichisuke, a young farmer who dreams of transcending his class and becoming a proper samurai like Mokunoshin. However, their peaceful lives are shattered when an older traveling samurai named Jirozaemon Sawamura—played by Tsukamoto himself—comes to recruit the two into his group of fighters sworn to protect the shogun. When a nearby group of thugs roughs up Ichisuke, Jirozaemon takes it as a personal affront to one of his soldiers and slaughters them—all save one who escapes, gathers a new band of outlaws, and murders Ichisuke and his family in their sleep. Honor-bound to avenge his friend’s death, Mokunoshin realizes he’s incapable of killing, setting the stage for a horrific confrontation with the bandits where his future as a samurai will be decided forever.

I’ve read some reviewers complain that the actual swordplay is choreographed and shot almost as an after-thought with jittery shaky-cam coverage obscuring much of the fighting. But that’s the point: Tsukamoto is more interested in the rituals surrounding violence and the psychological aftermath of combat. The result is a decidedly minor key film in his oeuvre that’s nevertheless equally as nihilistic and nasty as anything he’s ever directed, though one can’t help but roll one’s eyes at the sexual violence directed towards Ichisuke’s doomed sister Yu that’s added almost as an afterthought.

Rating: 7/10

Killing plays Wednesday July 24 at the Japan Society's Japan Cuts.  Director Shinya Tsukamoto will be in attendance and will be receiving the festival's Cut Above Award. For more information on the screening (such as the possible release of tickets for the sold out event) go here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Money (2019) Fantasia 2019

Super little thriller played around the US earlier this year and now is playing at Fantasia concerns a young stockbroker who make a deal with a shadowy source called The Ticket for tips. When the regulators come calling The Ticket decides to close up shop and take care of loose ends.

Beautifully acted by some of the best actors in Korea MONEY is a smart little film that grabs you and drags you along. The cast works perfectly with the script so that the technical talk never over whelms the drama. We are invested in what is happening.

How good is MONEY? The fact that the film is being picked up by festivals like Fantasia and NYAFF even after it's run earlier this year is a good indication of a fan base that wants to have this film get the recognition it deserves. I couldn't agree more.

Highly recommended.

Sabu at the New York Asian Film Festival 2019

On June 8th, right before the New York Asian Film Festival’s Sabu double feature I got a chance to sit down with the director one on one and talk to him about his career. This was my third meeting with the director who is one of most favorite filmmakers in the world. The first time was a passing encounter at the Japan Society where I confused him with an autograph request. The second time was interview I tag teamed with Nobu Hosoki of Yahoo Japan when he was here for the NYAFF screening Chasuke’s Journey. This time I had the man to myself and I could ask him anything I wanted.

What follows is pretty much what happened. Since Sabu’s English is not good we spoke through a translator, Kana Hatakeyama who is also a kick ass filmmaker in her own right.

I want to thank Stevie Wong of the New York Asian Film Festival for setting this up. I need to thank Ms Hatakeyama for her excellent translation and mostly I want to thank one of my cinematic heroes, actor, writer and director Sabu for taking the time to speak to a crazy fan boy about his body of work.

Steve: Thank you for taking the time. Please excuse me, I may have to do this from the notes because you've made too many movies.

[laughter]

Steve: I want to begin with the film you're in but only because I was thrilled to see you in it Martin Scorsese's SILENCE. I'm just curious how did that come about? Is Scorsese a fan? Did he come to you?

Sabu: I actually auditioned for this. The auditions were in Tokyo. And right now, I'm living in Okinawa so I couldn't make the auditions in Tokyo, but they asked me to send a video so I had my wife and children help me with the recording, and the lights, and stuff and then I sent them the video.

And he had also watched my films. He really liked MISS ZOMBIE."

Steve: Speaking of MISS ZOMBIE, you mix up genres when you when you make films MISS ZOMBIE was promoted here as a horror film, but it’s more complex than that. Other of your films also defy genre. Do you try to do films that are a certain type of film, or do you just make the film that you want?

Sabu: I'm really not thinking about genre at all when I'm making films. You know, it really depends on the cast I have, my instinct and what I want to be seeing in that moment.

Steve: When you make a film do you come in, "Oh, this is a great idea," or do you just start writing?

Sabu: It's actually really both. You know, sometimes I start with an idea and then I write it, but sometimes as I'm writing the idea comes, becomes more crystallized. But I think a lot of my earlier works were, started more with an idea like with MONDAY, DRIVE  and like, you know, like the memories coming back so I started more with the concept for a lot of the earlier works.

Steve: On the train ride in, I was looking over a list of your films again ad I was wondering if you see your films as connected? 'Cause you could almost say like,MONDAY DRIVE," and THE BLESSING BELL almost tied together. Are they tied together or are they all completely separate entities that stand on their own?

Sabu:  I think early on it was connected you know. Uh, one idea would kind of lead to another idea, but more recently there's been kind of other projects in-between. And I'm finally understanding what it is to make a film. So, my works in the future might be a little bit different in how that manifests.

Steve: When you do a film from a novel as opposed to just writing it, do you attack adapting it differently if it is something based on your novel different than somebody else's novel? Or do just look for what's gonna be the best way to do this? I'm thinking specifically of  CHASUKE'S JOURNEY which you wrote  the novel of and  KANIKOSEN which you didn't.

Sabu:  I think when I'm working based on a novel and if it's not based on my novel, I really do try to not let my sensibility and my style interfere too much. When it's based on other people's work I try to stay as true as I can to the source material.

But there's a movie coming out next year that's also based on a novel. And the people who have seen  have told me it is my movie [laughs] and it's in my style.

Steve: Your films tend to be about the journey of through life either physically or spiritually. You've got the early films like DRIVE, the more recent CHASUSKE'S JOURNEY. And then you, in the middle of these you have KANIKOSEN which is a political film.

Looking at your range of films  it's the one that doesn't fit

What made you make a film that seems so radically different than, um, everything else you've done?

Sabu: With KANIKOSEN, the novel is really popular in Japan. And it was offered to me. And , I was a bit like "Should I be the one doing this?" But I did it. However  I infused a bit too much of comedy into it and so I got into a bit of trouble with the political party. [laughs]

Steve: That's crazy. I think of it as a very political film. I don't understand why there would be a problem with that. Then again I only know the novel by reputation.

Sabu: Well, originally it's a really old story, so I just did a lot of modernizing a bit. So, for example,  the boat that was getting the crabs was a little too chic. Things like that.

Steve: Could you do a film that was a straight drama? Because all of your films have humor. That's one of the things I absolutely love about your films is that, no matter what's happening there's always a sense of, "Yes these are, this is tragedy and yes this is whatever," but you still see the humor of, of things. You know it's heartbreaking as say, "MISS ZOMBIE" is. But there's still ridiculousness to some of it. However I was wondering could you do a film with no humor?

Sabu:  I could work on a serious drama. If I come up with the right idea, maybe. The next film that's being released next year, is also based on a novel but that one is quite serious. Although you might still laugh a little.

Steve: It's the George Bernard Shaw quote, "Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh".

Sabu: Yeah. It makes me really happy that, you'd be viewing it this way, that you can cry but also laugh.

Steve: That's what I love about your films. [Looks at Notes]The one thing I don't think you've done... But could you do say, a period drama? Say a, samurai film or something deep in history.

Sabu: I would really love to. It's just hard because those tend to be more expensive. Um, but if I get theright script, yes. But I actually do have a lot of ideas back from in the day so it's something I would really like to do.

Steve: Well, cool.

Sabu: , I think maybe it might be easier and faster to write a novel. Like a historical period novel. kind of like a CHASUKE'S JOURNEY as opposed to just having a screenplay. In Japan right now I think without  it existing a different medium, it's kind of hard to get made. So that might be the path.

Steve: .How do you feel about  the way people watch films now? Do you have a preference?  Everybody's watching them on phones. Um, you know, a big screen. Would you prefer big screen? .

Sabu: Of course I would rather people see it in theaters 'cause I spent so much time on the sound and color. And so than to have people watch it on such a small screen, that's kind of well, yeah. But you know, I do think it's not bad that it's become more easy, more accessible to watch films.

Steve: Why aren't you in more of your movies?I don't think you're in many of them at all. Is it too hard to act and direct or...?

Sabu: I just...I can't focus. And so I appeared in up until my third film as a director. But since then, I haven't.

Steve:  I thought it was you were more expensive as an actor than a director.

[laughter]

Sabu: Yeah, I was in Silence so I'm not expensive as an actor [laughs] .


Steve: Is there like any dream projects that you have? Is there any film that you'd love to do? That you simply, you know...

Sabu: There's a project I've been wanting to make for a very long time. And I haven't quite got been able to get it made. Although, it might finally go through. But uh, it's a project that I would make in Europe.

The screenplay is all done. Um, I would cast it over there in Europe. It'd probably be in English but you know, we'd shoot somewhere like Berlin or Venice. So that's something that I'd like to make happen.

Steve: That's cool. That's really cool.

Sabu: Good.

Fantasia ’19: Ride Your Wave

This case of young love is so sweet it could put you into a diabetic coma, but since it comes via anime, most of us will be okay with it. Hinako Mukaimizu and Minato Hinageshi are an obscenely cute couple, but their romance will be mixed with tragedy in Masaaki Yuasa’s Ride Your Wave, which had its North American premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Mukaimizu is already a legend on a surf board, but she is uncomfortable navigating life on dry land. In contrast, everything seems to come easily to Hinageshi, the dashing young fireman, except surfing. Both Hinageshi and his junior, Kawamura Wasabi, noticed Mukaimizu from afar, but it is Hinageshi who turns her head. Of course, he was at the right place, at the right time: rescuing her from her burning apartment building, on a fire department cherry-picker.

Things get serious quickly between them, but their happiness will be rudely interrupted by misfortune. Yet, somehow, they maybe find a way to stay together. In fact, there is a bit of a fantastical twist. Meanwhile, Wasabi and Hinageshi’s sister Yoko start playing larger roles in the drama.

Thematically, Ride Your Wave feels like a closer cousin to Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice than Yuasa’s previous films, even including Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Regardless, it packs an emotional haymaker that rivals Your Name. This is definitely the kind of film that will give you the sniffles down the stretch. Yes, it is shamelessly sentimental, but it also lays a lot of character development ground work that pays off big time.

Yuasa’s aquatic motifs give him the opportunity for some delightfully colorful and splashy visuals. His “new adult” characters are also ridiculously attractive, as physical specimens and as sensitive young kids. However, Michiru Oshima’s groovy instrumental soundtrack and Generations from Exile Tribe’s candy-coated J-pop theme song really make the film so lethally effective.

It is refreshing to see a film that is so unabashedly romantic and utterly unapologetic about wearing its emotions on its sleeve. The surf and sun might bring to mind the 1960s Japanese “Sun Tribe” movies for some cineastes, but the earnest characters are a welcome rebuke to the sociopaths of Crazed Fruit and its ilk. This is a wholesome film, just like Mukaimizu (and surfer girls like Gidget and Annette Funicello before her). Highly recommended for fans of Japanese animation and beach movies, Ride Your Wave had its North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia.

Red Snow (2019) Japan Cuts 2019

If you love film, if you love the craft of film, the look of film, the feeling of film or even the very notion of film, then you must go see Red Snow at the Japan Cuts screening on July 23. Containing some of most amazing images and use of color (yea its muted but –wow) you will ever see, it is a film that is an absolute delight for anyone who lives and breathes cinema.

The film is the story of what happens when a decades old murder case is reopened. A reporter comes nosing around looking into what happened when a young boy went missing and people died in a fire. No one was ever really clear as to what happened, and while there was a trial and a conviction no one was fully satisfied. As time passed it was forcibly forgotten and the people connected to the case wanted nothing to do with it. Unfortunately once a locked door is opened what was buried comes out…

A moody brooding thriller it has style to burn. Red Snow isn’t a film so much as a tactile drop into a place that fires up all your sense in ways that almost no film has ever done. Watching the film I was in not only the head space of the film but the physical one as well. Somehow director Sayaka Kai and his cinematographer have done the miraculous and created not so much a film but a sensory record of events. I am in awe of the way this film feels. The opening sequence is one of the most amazing I’ve seen all year as blurry images clear and we are dropped into a claustrophobic place. It has haunted me in the weeks since I saw it.

To be honest I’m not certain that the mystery and plot works all the way to the end. There is a point in the last half hour when, despite the things still being revealed that the film seems to be running more on the mood then the plot, but at the same time there is enough here that we still remain glued to the screen because we need to know how it all is going to end. ( To be honest I need to see again to see how it all plays out totally on its own terms)

My quibbles aside Red Snow is a must for anyone who loves the movies.

The Prey (2018) Fantasia 2019

An undercover agent who is trying to bust a ring of scammers targeting Chinese nationals in Cambodia is arrested in a police raid. Convicted and sent to prison he gets on the wrong side of the warden who tortures him before sending him out to be the prey for rich hunters who pay a fortune so they can hunt humans.

Riff on the classic story Most Dangerous Game, is a solid, enjoyable ,if unremarkable action film. Certain to entertain pretty much every action fan, the film is a series fights that become largely hunter becomes hunted in the final hour.

While I enjoyed the hell out of the film I never quite loved it the way I probably could have or should have. Blame it on the lack of real characters, the odd pacing and some odd twists, say the burning of a stack of bodies on what amounts to little more than a campfire, that prevented me from taking THE PREY deep into my heart.

On the other hand the film does have some kick ass marriages of music and image, the use of songs is truly some of the best I've seen all year, and of course the action sequences are certain to produce frequent audience reactions.

THE PREY played earlier today at Fantasia. It is almost certain to end up on Netflix or another streaming service where if it is highly anyone wanting a really good film for a Saturday night.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

MISS FREELANCE (2019)

I posted this review as part of a piece on the film playing next week in Brooklyn, but this film is too good to be just part of a twofer  so here is a repost of just the review of MISS FREELANCE which has a star making performance by Maddy Murphy and the best work I've seen to date from the incredible Tim Cox (which tells you how good this is)
MISS FREELANCE is a gut punch. Containing a series of sterling performances, it may be the best thing I’ve seen Timothy Cox do by a lot, and it is a soul crushing debut of Maddy Murphy that should put her on the radar of everyone, it is a film that must be seen and experienced.

The film is a series of encounters Murphy has with various men. Most of them pay her for company or sex. She seemingly doesn’t need a normal relationship, or so she tells Tim Cox, giving his best performance, in a heart breaking scene. However since we observe her over the course of the film we realize that might not be the case.

A film of carefully chosen words, silences and old radio shows, MISS FREELANCE is a film that seems simple and straight forward until it’s not. Somewhere about half way in things begin to turn and our hearts melt and break. We realize that we are not in Kansas but the landscape of someone who isn’t being wholly honest to herself. There is more than we first thought and it’s all behind Murphy‘s eyes. I was so shocked at what I was seeing that when I realized what the landscape really was I knew that I would have to watch the film again because I know I missed stuff at the start. The result was even more heartbreaking.

MISS FREELANCE is a small masterpiece. It is a must see. The performances by everyone involved deserve to be studied. More importantly Maddy Murphy needs to be noticed and become a star.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

MISS FREELANCE  plays at Entholigy Film Screenings in Brooklyn on July 25th. Go buy tickets

Fantasia ’19: It Comes

Hereditary’s Ari Aster cannot hold a candle to Tetsuya Nakashima when it comes to portraying extreme human emotions. Technically, this is his first outright horror movie, but aesthetically, it is not so far distant from films like Confessions and Memories of Matsuko. The only thing more intense then the family dysfunction in his latest work is the supernatural horror looming over Nakashima’s It Comes, which had its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Newlyweds Hideki and Kana Tahara look like a picture-book couple, but there was a strange incident from his childhood that continues to haunt his dreams and subconscious. There is a sinister force out there that still “calls out” to him. The birth of his daughter Chisa was a happy event for the couple and their friends, but it might provide an opening for the ominous supernatural power to get its hooks into the nuclear family.

When wild things start happening around him, Tahara reaches out to Kazuhiro Nozaki, an expert on the occult, and his girlfriend, Makoto Higa, a self-taught psychic. However, the uncanny entity is too powerful for her to handle. Much to her chagrin, the Tahara family will need the help of Higa’s arrogant older sister Kotoko, a professional exorcist highly trained in the shamanistic arts. Then you-know-what happens—a lot of it.

It Comes is a heck of a wild ride. It starts on a micro level, but Nakashima quickly takes it macro, staging bigger and more-over-the-top horror movie exorcisms than you have ever seen before. There are also multiple shocking surprises in store for viewers. In fact, we start out assuming it is about one set of characters, but it really turns out to be about an entirely different group of folks. It Comes morphs into a very different film than what you expect, but that makes it genuinely surprising, almost (but not quite) like seeing Hitchcock’s Psycho again for the first time.

Takako Matsu, who rocked Nakashima’s Confessions, commands the screen as Kotoko Higa, portraying a psychic exorcist distinctive enough to rival Lin Shaye in the Insidious franchise. Jun’ichi Okada really sells the film’s extreme madness, convincingly playing Nozaki as the character is dragged sideways through the proverbial wringer. Nana Komatsu and Haru Kuroki, as Makoto and Kana, respectively, also convincingly shift gears multiple times over, completely keeping viewers off balance.

This is a scary film and an insane spectacle. It is also Nakashima’s best film since Confessions, representing a rebound after the comparatively disappointing World of Kanako. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of films like Hereditary, Insidious, and The Conjuring, It Comes premiered in Canada during this year’s Fantasia.

Nate Hood on Demolition Girl (2019) Japan Cuts 2019

The plight of sex workers has always been a constant undercurrent in Japanese cinema, from the outrageous and lurid like Sion Sono’s deconstructionist Roman Porno Antiporno (2016) to the restrained and nuanced like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s family drama Shoplifters (2018). Genta Matsugami’s Demolition Girl is also about a sex worker, but this time it explores a specific fetish industry which has heretofore been largely unexplored in movies: crushing, the smashing of insects and small animals beneath the feet of scantily clad women.

Not that Cocoa—a high schooler trapped in a nowhere town with a widowed gambling addict father and moocher older brother—ever goes that far in her own videos: she restricts herself to flattening old cans, bottles, and plastic toys while dressed in her schoolgirl uniform. Sometimes she might get a little crazier and smush a raw sausage or a birthday cake between her naked toes. But the furthest she’s ever gone was a video where she snuck into her school after-hours and massaged a bunch of balloons with her toes until they popped. If she’s bothered by the thought of perverts getting off on her work, she doesn’t show it. With two deadbeat leeches at home to support, she needs the money. Besides, she reasons, it’s not like she’s getting naked or having sex. But such nuance will ultimately prove irrelevant in Matsugami’s quietly powerful tale of economic desperation, familial strife, and societal ostracism. Cocoa’s dull life is rocked when she’s told by a school advisor that her grades are good enough to get her into a national university where the tuition will be a mere ¥3 million (about $27,600). Realizing this might be her ticket out of her humdrum life, she scrambles to collect as much money as possible. After discovering her father gambled away the ¥1 million her mother saved for her college, she doubles down on her crushing videos to raise the funds needed for entrance fees.

Matsugami is very careful not to condemn or judge Cocoa’s decisions, presenting her as the victim of economic injustice and familial neglect. However, Matsugami overplays himself in the last act by introducing a head-scratching yakuza subplot which sees Cocoa confront a group of murderous gangsters at a junkyard with a pickaxe. Despite making sense in context, this artificial raising of stakes keeps the film from reaching greater heights as an incisive, sympathetic work of humanism.

Rating: 7/10

Demolition Girls will also be screening July 29th as part of Fantasia Fest in Montreal

J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius (2019) Fantasia 2019

I should probably come clean and say that I have been an outlier of the Church of the SubGenius for decades. While I have not been a dues paying card carrying member I have bought the books and drunk the Kool-Aid while looking for Slack in my own way. I say this at the start so that you may better gauge my absolute delight at this joyous little film.

The film is a portrait of the legendary Church of the Subgenius, the half put on, half serious organization that seeks to help people find Slack through the teachings of the great Bob Dobbs. Told by the people behind the church as well as followers, fans and people who were there when things went down the film is a breezy, often extremely funny film about an organization and way of thinking that has quietly influenced the world over the last 40 plus years. (That last line is true since the Church has had fans from across the pop culture spectrum who have integrated church teaching in their art- as the film reveals). The Church which talks of how the conspiracy of normalcy is out to control us is a haven for non-conformists, who frequently and good naturedly, rebel against the Church (as someone says if there wasn’t a schism is the church the church would create one)

I absolutely love this film which no doubt will become a sacred relic to the Church of the SubGenius. It parts the curtain on an organization I have been a fan of ever since I ran across them in the late 70’s or early 80’s. I watched with a big grin on my face the whole time…

…on the other hand I’m going to be very curious how this is going to play to the non-converted. How is this going to play to people who know nothing about the Church? I’m not sure. From a financial stand point I think it matters but ultimately, I think the film is going to be like the Church teachings, either you get it or you don’t. If you get it then the film is for you. If you don’t then it’s your loss.

One of the great films at Fantasia and the year. J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius is highly recommended.

Japan Cuts 2019 Capsules WHOLE, Samurai Shifters, Kamagaski Cauldron War. and And Your Bird Can Sing

WHOLE
Whole is a good small drama that is barely feature length (it’s only45 minutes long).The film is about the meeting of two biracial Japanese men who talk and try to parse out their place in the world. While nicely self-contained and on point part of me wished this film was a little longer. I loved spending time with these characters and wish I had a little bit more time with them.
Recommended

Samurai Shifters
Samurai Shifters made me smile. A modern take on the old feudal idea that the various samurai clans need to be moved around periodically to prevent them from putting down roots and forming a power base, the film follows the story of the guy who is actually put in charge of moving his clan to their new home. Rife with all sorts of dangers he takes on the job and manages to make a go of it, absolutely delighting the audience in the process. High art? Probably not, but damn entertaining which is all we need some time. Highly recommended.

Kamagaski Cauldron
The life in and around the Kamagaski section of Osaka is thrown into a tizzy when a cauldron used for yakuza ceremonies goes missing.

Less raucous comedy then low key human portrait of the various denizens of the neighborhood. A small scale mix of pros and amateurs come together to create an often moving portrait of people living on the edge of society. Deliberately paced and shot more like a documentary (director Leo Sato is a documentarian) this is a one of a kind film. It is a kind of throwback to the inde films of the 70’s and 80’s which breathed and burned with a sense of life and reality big budget productions somehow never captured. A small gem.



And Your Bird Can Sing
The comings and goings of three friends, two guys and a girl whose relationships shift fracture and reform as less serious romance takes more serious turns. Good, if slightly a little too hip, look at the life and times of twenty somethings trying to fumble their way into the future. Three great lead performances assure that we are invested in their lives even when some of the twists and turns end up being exactly what we expect. Worth a look.
And Your Bird Can Sing will also be screening as part of the Fantasia Festival in Montreal

Friday, July 19, 2019

Knives and Skin (2019) Fantasia 2019

With KNIVES AND SKIN playing FANTASIA here is a repost of the review I ran when it played at Tribeca earlier this year.

Misrepresented in the Tribeca to sound like its either a Peyton Place look at a small town or thriller, it is in fact a not very good mystical satire full of dead pan off center humor that will either thrill you or make you run from the theater at the pretentiousness of it all.

The film follows the events that follow the disappearance of a 15 year old high school girl in a town that makes Twin Peaks look normal. As every one rambles on about their own shit they sort of look for the missing girl whose body drifts around the river banks.

Filled with over saturated colors and restrained performances that make Steven Wright seem emotive this is a love it or hate it film. You have to click with the film's humor or this is two very long hours in the theater.

And don't get me wrong this film is supposed to be funny but I and the critics I saw this with weren't certain at first- the write up gives no clue about that. For a good portion of the first five minutes I had no idea if they were serious or not, I mean the dead girl's mother wanders around her house with a big butchers knife simply because she always has a knife with her. I suspected it was all a joke when the soon to be dead girl goes on the fateful date in a band uniform, has glowing glasses and carves a glowing C in a guys head. With knowing stabs at being funny, we think a pregnant woman is having a baby only to discover she is getting oral sex by a man dressed as a clown, the high school logo is a beaver shaped both like breasts and a penis and everyone always wearing some sort of uniform, this film flies its "I'm more clever than you" flag proudly. (No, you're not)

Had they played it straight and not gone for something akin to the Alex Cox of Repo Man making Twin Peaks this might have been something, but the knowing deadpan archness, and not very funny jokes makes it unbearable- especially at minutes under two eternal hours.

Aside from a hauntingly beautiful choral version of Our Lips Are Sealed this is one of the worst films I've seen in 10 years of Tribeca

Boxer's Omen (1983) Fantasia 2019

With BOXER's OMEN playing Fantasia here is a repost of the piece I ran when Unseen FIlms was barely six months old in 2010


Unless you have spent your life watching Asian horror films I doubt you've seen anything like this. This is one of the most mind blowing or mind bending films ever made. You will marvel at the bizarre twists and turns this film takes, not to mention the on-the-cheap monsters, full frontal nudity, and magical confrontations.

The plot has a young Chinese man seeking revenge on a Thai boxer who attacked his brother after a fight and broke his neck. Heading to Thailand, he ends up falling in with a band of monks. They need the young man to help fight an evil wizard who has killed their leader just as he was about to achieve immortality. It seems the monk (who's disembodied spirit keeps appearing to the boxer) and the boxer were twins in a past life and have some sort of connection, so that what happens to one will happen to the other (a spiritual Corsican Brothers sort of thing). The only one who can fight the evil is the boxer, who agrees to become a monk so that he can save the spirit of his twin, and his own life. What follows are a series of would-be gross-out sequences as the boxer fights the evil wizard, takes on the Thai boxer who paralyzed his brother, and so much more.

Wow.

Good looking, but with special effects that are a bit silly (when they aren't employing real animal offal), this is a movie that will make you laugh with (and at) it even as it's bending your mind. This is a one of a kind movie that mixes up a variety of genres into a truly unique blend (you may have seen similar things before, but not all in one movie). It's a serious story but with the presence of mind not to take itself TOO seriously. Clearly it knows the effects are less than stellar, and it uses that to it's advantage by playing those scenes a bit light-hearted, as if to say "we know they're cheap, just go with us". And you will WANT to go with it, since the film's anything-can-happen attitude makes this a one of a kind viewing experience.

See this movie. If you like action films or horror films I'd give this film a try. Those looking for unique cinematic experiences need to put this on their must see list.

Total Performance and Miss Freelance are playing in Brooklyn July 25

Cori is an actress who works for a company that hires actors and actresses out to act as verbal sparring dummies for people who are going to have  to go into difficult situations.However complications arise...

Really good little short score bonus points for taking things into an unexpected and natural direction. I didn't really see how this was going to go with the film, which is often the case but where many short filmmmakers create turns for effect and to be noticed,  writer director Sean Meehan instead makes the flow of the story feel natural.

Bravo.

I really liked this film a great deal and recommend it



MISS FREELANCE is a gut punch. Containing a series of sterling performances, it may be the best thing I’ve seen Timothy Cox do by a lot, and it is a soul crushing debut of Maddy Murphy that should put her on the radar of everyone, it is a film that must be seen and experienced.

The film is a series of encounters Murphy has with various men. Most of them pay her for company or sex. She seemingly doesn’t need a normal relationship, or so she tells Tim Cox, giving his best performance, in a heart breaking scene. However since we observe her over the course of the film we realize that might not be the case.

A film of carefully chosen words, silences and old radio shows, MISS FREELANCE is a film that seems simple and straight forward until it’s not. Somewhere about half way in things begin to turn and our hearts melt and break. We realize that we are not in Kansas but the landscape of someone who isn’t being wholly honest to herself. There is more than we first thought and it’s all behind Murphy‘s eyes. I was so shocked at what I was seeing that when I realized what the landscape really was I knew that I would have to watch the film again because I know I missed stuff at the start. The result was even more heartbreaking.

MISS FREELANCE is a small masterpiece. It is a must see. The performances by everyone involved deserve to be studied. More importantly Maddy Murphy needs to be noticed and become a star.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

MISS FREELANCE and TOTAL CONTROL play at Entholigy Film Screenings in Brooklyn on July 25th. Go buy tickets

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019) Fantasia 2019

Miguel Llansó the mad genius who made CRUMBS, a post-apocalyptic film that haunts me still, is at it again with JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY, a one of a kind masterpiece that only he could have made.

In 2034 Soviet era computer virus with the titled name and controlled by cyber being Joseph Stalin is attempting to take over the world. Two CIA agents have to deep dive into the cyber world in order to stop him.

Wild and crazy and a one of a kind sense of reality JESUS… is a trip. Riffing on other films and refashioning pop culture to its own ends (in the cyber world people’s avatars are famous people, and some characters run about in 1966 Batman and Robin costumes) this film puts us in a headspace that both familiar and totally alien. Like in life everything is not one unique thing but smashed together. What makes this work is that Llanso creates worlds that are truly real. He takes our world and figures out what will be around in however many years. More importantly Llanso never forgets that people are people. There are small details that may or mean nothing, making pizza as a hobby for example, but they give us a hook and a sense that there is more to the characters beyond what they need do in the film.

This film is a masterpiece and Miguel Llansó is a genius. In a world where everyone is making and remaking films that are a dime a dozen Llanso is making things that are unlike anything out there even if they borrow from everywhere….

…and on that note if there is one filmmaker that Llanso is like it would be Quentin Tarantino who shares his love of cultural riffs. However unlike Tarantino Llanso uses the riffs to tell a greater truth. They are not what his film is about, instead they are window dressing and touchstones that are layered into the fabric of his films so that we can better fall under his spell. Because the references and riffs are friendly we are more open to what he wants to tell us. Also because of how they are used they trick us into believing that the world is real because it is like our own.

Make no mistake about it Miguel Llansó is truly one of the greatest filmmakers working anywhere in the world.

JESUS SHOWS THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY is a must at Fantasia or where ever it plays. Even if you don’t like it you need to see it in order to know the work of a director who is doing something amazing.

Here in the Dark (2019) LA Short Fest

World premiering at LA Shorts Fest HERE IN THE DARK is a short film about a couple that has moved into a new apartment. They got it at a good price, however not long after they move in they are told by a neighbor why they got the price they did, a murder had happened in their home. The knowledge results in --- sleep walking and behaving strangely.

Well made little thriller looks great, is nicely acted but is hurt by a script that paces events too slowly to reach the destination. The problem with the script is that it doesn’t give us enough to chew on so we are distracted from figuring out how it’s going to play out. If you’ve seen a similar story, you know where this is going. This probably would have worked in half the run time but 25 minutes is simply too long.

Screening info:
July 18th 9:55 pm, Laemmle NoHo (as part of the L.A. SHORTSFEST programme)