Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dylan Moran - Like, Totally... (2006)

"Why not have a physical afterlife? Just come back as a tenticle and a set of lips, looking for huge lumps of chocolate to fuck." And so goes the brilliant mind of Irish comedian Dylan Moran.

Comedian probably isn't the right word for what Moran does. Like Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Eddie Izzard, and other giants of the industry, Moran doesn't get on stage and tell jokes. He is an "observationalist" of the best kind. He can make us look at things about ourselves and do it in such a way that we find ourselves ourselves. In his show, "Like, Totally...", he manages to compare Jesus to Batman, points out that Arnold Schwarzenegger only became Governor of California because he lifted heavy things, and remarks on British prejudice while stating very comedically that Germany "is a toilet".

While many of the subjects that he touches on (religion, children, travel) are not exactly uncharted territory, it's his takes on them that makes him so compelling to listen to. The fact that he can also so seemingly effortlessly move from one subject to the next, in some sort of cohesive flow, is riveting. By the time he reaches subject F, you find yourself thinking how in the hell did he get here, when just a few minutes ago he was talking about subject A, which is completely unrelated? But in reflecting on it, you realize that A led to B, which in turn begat C, which logically came to D, followed naturally by E, which brings you to which time he's already on to J, and you have to rewind a bit to see how that happened. But it's all worth it.

In the second half of his show, Moran hits upon the subject that produces the most laughter from the & women. The differences, similarities, petty jealousies, and just overall nonsense that comprise the two are fodder for his wit. Again, while not inventing the wheel with the subject matter (it comprised a large chunk of the second half of his Monster DVD as well), the observations on it are so keen and insightful, and FUNNY, that it doesn't seem like a tired old retread, but a fresh, new, exciting look at it.

Moran's deadpan delivery and almost total lack of movement (except to shuffle over to the small table onstage containing a myraid of liquids that he frequently refreshes himself with) don't make for much of a visual presentation, but you find yourself listening so intently to what he has to say that you don't care. And that's precisely the point. As with anyone worth his salt, it's substance over style.

Ross Noble - Fizzy Logic (2007)

"Sorry, I forgot to warn you at the start; if you haven't seen me before, there will be tangents." Along those lines, the secret to Ross Noble's style of comedy isn't what he's telling, but how (and for how long) he tells it. Most of his show is riffing off the top of his head about things he's gleaned from chatting with audience members (in this case, you'll meet Randy Pan, the highly flammable wolf, amongst others). But in the course of these talks, he's reminded of things that have happened to him that he wants to relate to the audience. If you're someone who likes instant gratification in your stories, don't waste your time with Noble. Usually, sometime within an hour or so of beginning a story, Noble will get around to finishing it. But it isn't about the finishing of the story. It's all about the journey Noble's mind takes to get there that is so fascinating to watch.

In "Fizzy Logic", filmed in Canberra, Australia in March 2007, Noble relates...eventually...his run-ins with customs agents in Dubai and New Zealand, his interactions with children in Morocco, and the most dangerous thing about riding a motorcycle thru Australia. His descriptions of the Emu, a large Australian bird, border on genius ("A 6 foot feather-duster with suicidal tendencies" is probably the best). And the 15 minute closing of the show that starts with being hit on the head by a falling owl is a perfect example of the brilliance of Noble's technique. The sequence is completely about the set-up, and the way his mind can adapt and flow and adjust to anything thrown his way. Once again, Noble's body races to keep up with his mind in this show, as he is a very active and animated physical performer throughout the entire performance. A truly compelling performer of insane proportions.

While not as over-stuffed as the "Randomist" DVD package (how could anything possibly be?!?), the "Fizzy Logic" 2 DVD set by no means skimps on extras. The main show, with the encore, approaches 2 & 1/2 hours, there is another commentary track by Noble, along with a documentary of his New Zealand leg of this tour. The second disc contains 6 other shows from the UK portion ot the tour, and a 7th "official bootleg", only viewable by correctly answering a quiz about where the other 6 shows were shot. This is completely worth the asking price, and a fascinating look into the mind of an amazing thinker.

NYAFF 2010- Day 3 Fluff and Rap

The count is my day three, its actually the fifth day, but no matter...

I'm just back from a triple feature and I'm exhausted. I have 9 more days of this. Tomorrow (Wednesday the 30th) is the last of the triple features, I don't know if that's good or bad.

On the plus side I met someone I'm trying to convince to write for Unseen, and hopefully he'll write up some stuff so you don't have to listen to me drone on. (Dave bare with me if you wrote me any emails or anything since noon I haven't seen it since I'm writing this up before I go on autopilot)

As always the Festival is a pleasure and after the first film I was gushing about it to a sweet woman who just wandered off the street. I basically told her its the best programmed festival in New York and that if a film interested her even remotely to try it because odds are she'd like it.

I'll be writing up the films today more fully but for now you may want to know a little something about them:

Soon to be remade romantic comedy about a comic book writer and illustrator Zhang Ziyi who's boyfriend has left her for the actress of the moment. She plots revenge which she acts on with a photographer who has a past with said actress. Wafer thin, utterly forgettable after an hour, this is a very funny wonderful film where Zhang Ziyi just goes for it. Give her points for allowing herself to do pee jokes. I loved this a great deal. Sure its gone from my mind but for the two hours of its running time it made me laugh and smile. (It made me kick out cash to Yes Asia)

8000 Miles and 8000 Miles 2:The Girl Rapppers
Inter-related rap films about the need to make music. I have tons of notes on these films. The first is a diamond in the rough film that seems to be a slice of life with static camera shots that seem to be recording life as it happens. The ending is, in retrospect, very haunting.

The follow up connects as our two heroes from the first film make a pilgrimage to the site of a legendary concert. There they set the fire under a group of women who once lived to rap and who have now reached their late 20's and are being smacked around by life. The women are the focus and the boys from the first film merely Greek Chorus and deus ex machina.

I need a very long post to do the films justice-together they are almost assuredly going on my best of year list or if not high on the find of the year list. Director Yu Irie has made two great little films that will haunt you. The post will be coming when I get the time to really do them justice, not before...they are too good and deserve more than a half assed review.

If you can see them together. (The second film only opened in Japan this weekend)

That's it now bed time for me. I'll be back tomorrow with my day four.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tim Minchin - So Live (Australia 2007)

Aside from the fact that Tim Minchin is a brilliantly gifted lyricist who writes & performs wonderful comedic songs, the biggest key to the success of his material can be summed up in one word...timing. His timing, both comedically and musically, is perfect. He has an uncanny ability to know precisely how long to pause for effect, to know just how many words he can squeeze into a line and still keep the rhythmn of the song, and to know just how long that piano solo should be.

Minchin (an Australian living in London), relies on visual effects for much of his comedy as well. By visual effects, I mean mascara. He wears a large amount of thick eyeliner to accentuate his facial expressions, which is key to the success of his comedy. When you are WATCHING a Tim Minchin performance, you will get much more out of it than just listening to it. That is something you could find yourself doing, as it is music and comedy combined, 2 forms of expression that don't HAVE to have visuals to be successful. You will still find Minchin enjoyable if you do wander around the room doing things while the performance plays, and you'll find yourself singing parts of songs long after the DVD has ended. The chorus to the opening number, "So Fucking Rock", is insanely catchy. But if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded by some great facial expressions that fill some of the on-purpose gaps in the music. And, in reference to the opening number again, a great deal of mime is involved as well, so you'd BETTER be watching, dammit!

Minchin is very funny when singing songs at the piano, but he is capable of being just as funny when standing naked (as in sans piano) center stage and performing, not merely reciting, a poem entitled "Angry (Feet)". His skills as an actor shine thru beautifully in this piece, as well as being a showcase yet again for his impeccable sense of timing. But the bulk of the show, and his true strength, lies when he plays the part of demented cocktail lounge piano player, belting out tunes such as "Inflatable You", "Rock N Roll Nerd", and his self-professed favorite song to perform, "Peace Anthem For Palestine". It is a treat to watch him play piano as well, as he does seem to be remarkably talented on that instrument. And when you take into account the sheer volume of lyrics some of his songs contain, his talent seems to grow exponentially. The first lines alone of "Some People Have It Worse Than I" are, "Well I wake up in the morning at 11:47 and I can't believe I have to face the horror of another fucking day. And the magnificent magnitude of my morning erection merely mocks me like the sun in its optimistic greeting of the day." You try singing that, let alone playing piano as well...

This particular release was an Australian only DVD entitled "So Live" that came out in 2007. It contains most of the better songs and bits from his first 2 shows, "Darkside" and "So Rock", which were released as CD's only. As brilliant and funny and witty and revealing as it is, a slightly more polished version of basically the same show was released in the UK the following year entitled "So Fucking Rock Live". There's really no point to owning both, it's just a matter of which is easier to hunt down. Personally, I would recommend "So Fucking Rock Live", as the little changes do make a difference. It is interesting to compare the 2 to see where Minchin felt things needed improvement, and I find it compelling to see a professional hone his skills and work at his craft, but being a student of comedy I WOULD find that interesting. The rest of you, who just want to enjoy the show, can pick up either version and be quite happy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dylan Moran - Monster (2004)

DB here.

As you know I'm off at the New York Asian Film Festival so I've turned Unseen Films over to Ken Fries, who apparently has sold the blog back to the British. What can I say, I thought he was a friend. I just hope he got a good price for it.

Anyway in order to help me out Ken has programmed a week's worth of comedy from overseas. These are all performances by some really funny gentlemen who you may have seen acting in movies and on TV. These are all performances that are not available in the US, so unless you live in say New York or Chicago or Boston, or travel overseas, you may not have had the chance to experience these guys either live or on DVD. First up is one of the funniest comedians working today, Dylan Moran.

At the beginning of Dylan Moran's Monster DVD, there is footage of an "interview" being shot in his dressing room. Before the "interview" starts, he asks, off camera, "Why do people buy DVD's? Don't they have lives?" Well, yes, but we prefer they be enriched by the witty social commentary of someone such as...well, Dylan Moran.

Moran comes across as a regular guy at a party that is holding court. Since he's holding a microphone in one hand, he has to alternate between holding his glass of wine or a cigarette in the other, but he'd be holding both at the same time at the party sans microphone. One of his better lines in the early part of the program is "Your potential is like your bank's always a lot less than you think it is." But much of his material doesn't come across as...material. His delivery is so seemingly random and natural that it feels like he's just talking to you at that party, making all of this stuff up as the conversation goes along.

He spends the first half of the show tackling the subjects of drinking, children, and the generational gap. He makes keen observations on each, and peppers them with oftentimes bizarre analogies that come so out of left field that he does seem to have just said the first thing he thought of at that moment. It is probably scripted, but again, his delivery and demeanor are so relaxed that it comes across as completely natural, and it makes you really want to hear what he has to say next. It doesn't hurt that the Irishman is just a few months younger than I, so I can completely relate to many of his cultural and psychological references.

The topics attacked after the interval include politics and religion, and don't ask how, but somehow he logically gets to a wonderful portrayal of a French couple shouting at each other in their house in between the aforementioned subjects. It's probably the only moment in the show where he maintains a character for more than just a moment, and it's a bit of a shame, because he does it very well. But as funny as everything has been up until now, it isn't until the topic of conversation turns to men and women that Moran really hits full stride. While the comments on life have been astute up until now, they border on genius in this section...particularly his claim that men are more romantic creatures than women.

The nearly 90 minute show, filmed in Dublin, is well worth getting the DVD for, despite what Moran says about people who do.

DB adds a comment:
There is an "hour" long version of this show that was done for BBC AMERICA floating around out there. It is to be avoided at all costs. Randi, Reg and myself attended the taping, which was a very abbrievated version of the show (it seeemed like a collection of punchlines). The performance, and I use the term loosely, was further chopped down for broadcast by the inclusion of commercials and Moran talking to people in a park not far from the theater where it was filmed. We left the venue wondering what it was that people loved about Moran's stand up, and it wasn't until we saw Monster that we truly became fans.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NYAFF 2010-Day 2 A case for Development Hell

A hot muggy soupy day in NYC. The perfect day to be inside watching a movie...or three.

This is easily the worst film directed by the Pang Brothers. They are a writing directing duo who's work I really love (Recycle is a favorite), but this time out of the box all they brought was technical wizardry. The story of a bunch of martial artists battling the evil Lord Godless (played by Simon Yam in a role I don't think he's happy about) who is trying to take over China. Its all over blown action and visuals (which are about 800 out of 10) but its dramatically barren.

This is based on a comic and an earlier film but isn't a sequel nor a direct remake, at least according to the NYAFF material, however the extras on the DVD call it a sequel. Personally I really don't care because this movie is awful. Where is the crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you need them? The film starts in the middle, has no characters (or performances) of any sort and is possessing the worst dialog in years. One of the worst films of the year (its a bad movie lovers dream-I longed to talk back to it) it will go on my best of year list in terms of the visuals.

Frankly I left early (Buried Land rule was in effect). Which was cool because when I left the theater I met Simon Yam for a second time and he genuinely engaged me for a momentary conversation. (I think he thinks I'm someone I'm not)

The second film is an hour long documentary called Development Hell. It was started as a short film for the cast and crew of Dark October the original version of the current Bodyguards and Assassins but grew as things happened and the production got delayed. The film chronicles the films fits and starts in getting made. The film talks about the film's origins in the producer Peter Chan's father earlier version of the story which for odd reasons was never released in China but was around the world and is currently buried. Thirty years later Peter starts to make his own version and that's when things begin happening (SARS, 9/11, funding problems).

Its a wonderful behind the scenes piece that shows the development of the story, the construction of the set, and the general difficulty of making the film. Its a fantastic explanation of the film and what the filmmakers were trying to do and why. (Frankly I found that seeing the film after seeing the documentary increased my love of Bodyguards because it put everything into perspective.)

If you want to know how good the film is, I would put it as one revision from being one of the best documentaries on film I've ever seen. The film's flaw is that it's been made by people who know the material too well so it just needs a couple of tiny little bits explained, like director Teddy Chen's Purple Storm for it to be perfect

Hiroshi Fukazawa has done a masterful job that really deserves to be seen by anyone who sees Bodyguards and Assassins... unfortunately that isn't likely to happen. Apparently the Chan's (Peter and his father) are unhappy with the film and want it suppressed, especially in this hour long version. The director said it's unlikely this film will ever really get screened or on a DVD because of the opposition to it. (We were shown the very verboten long directors cut)

Why is any one against it? Beats the hell out of me. Frankly I think its a fantastic piece of filmmaking that acts as stunning showcase for the perseverance of everyone involved. I think everyone in the film comes off extremely well. I've been turning the film over in my head since I saw it and in all honestly I don't see any downside.

This is a film that needs to be seen.

(One quick additional thing Development Hell is a very specific documentary that just on the history of the film from the original version to the point where the current version went into production. It doesn't cover the actual production)

After the film Simon Yam came out and introduced Bodyguards and Assassins.

What can I say one of the best films of the year is even better thanks to having seen it before, a huge stellar screen and the tid bits about the story. I reviewed this film back in February and I have little to add but to reiterate you need to see this.

I probably should point out that from the documentary I did learn that the the story is fictional, however events similar to what happens in the movie occurred when Sun Yet Sen was in Los Angeles. Also Sun was never aware of all the martyrs to his cause until many years later. I point this out because the notion of martyrdom is key to the story.

Bodyguards remains one of the best films of the year.

And now off to bed and a day off from the festival to catch up with life chores. Day Three for me is Tuesday so I should be reporting in Wednesday. Until then I leave you in the hands of the one and only Mr Ken Fries.

(This review has been revised to correct the many mistakes made when I wrote this while tired. I think I got them all. )

Capsule Reviews NYAFF 2010 part two

A few more films I've seen on DVD and are more than worth your time. These look to be some of the best films of the Film Festival (and the year). All will get longer reviews down the line. I'm mentioning them now because if you are New York you will have a chance to see all three on the big screen during the festival. If you can't get to the festival all three can be had on DVD from Yes Asia.

At the outset I want to say that this is posibly one of my favorite films of 2010. Its a blast.
Radio talk show host finds out that the young single mom whose story he's been using for his show, is in fact his daughter. Yea this is the sort of thing that Hollywood has been doing for decades, often badly. Here its done to near perfection thanks to a cast that sells it, great comedy and even better music. This is the first film I discovered through this years film festival that is truly great. I will be doing a full review of this down the line, but for now all you need know is that should you have an opening on this Monday the 28th (tomorrow) or on July 7th go see this film, it will make you feel great. (As the film festival said in one of the blurbs on the film- why are we showing a two year old film? Because its damn funny)

Jackie Chan turns in an Oscar worthy performance in his best film in decades. The plot has Chan as a foot soldier who happens upon a wounded enemy general whom he takes possession of, hoping to turn him in for ransom. Along the road they are chased by warlords and the general's own men. While the fights here are absolutely stunning its the characters you'll remember with Chan proving once and for all he's an underrated actor and one of the best character actors out there. Flawed only by a bit of meandering at the start and an occasional odd mixing of humor and seriousness, this is a film that ultimately will move you deeply and give you pause. This is playing July 1 and 3 at the Festival and is worth making the effort to see it. (I would go see it on the big screen but I can't fit the film in)

CASTAWAY ON THE MOON (aka Kim's Island)
Young man deep in debt, with no job and no girl decides to jump into the Han River. He ends up washed up on an island unable to get off. He begins to reinvent his life as a castaway. Meanwhile a house bound woman who hasn't left her room in three years notices him and thinks he's an alien. What transpires is a truly unique film that's about two lost souls finding hope, life and maybe each other. There is no way I can do justice to this film, all I can say is see it if you get the chance. It's a charming little film that is ultimately its own confection. My one piece of advice is don't make up your mind until you get to the end of the film, I wasn't sure I was liking it until an hour in, and even then I thought I had a couple of moments where I questioned it. But in the end I laughed I smiled and I got a tear in my eye. This is playing the Festival on July 4th and 7th and worth trying. (And I may make an effort to go because the director is in attendence)

Kanikosen (2009)

Sabu's brilliant screen version of a 1929 proletariat novel concerns the oppressed crew of a crab canning ship. Forced to work in brutal conditions they dream of escape. When one of their number decides to commit suicide the others decide to join him figuring the next life has to better than this one. It goes wrong and the crew is forced to endure more punishment until a combination of Buddhist teaching and a stay on a Russian cargo ship set things in a different direction.

This is a brilliant film. It's a very political film. Its an intellectually challenging film. It's a very human film. It's a film that seems to improve the more you think about it.

I'm a fan of Sabu. I like that his films take things that we think we know and turn them just enough that we are forced to see things differently. I like that he takes chances, what else do you call a scene that is suppose to be a mass suicide that turns into black comedy as the motion of the ship makes death not an option.(actually suicide, as is any form of escape, is thwarted repeatedly through the film). I like that he assumes that his audience is adult and will be willing to work with him. Things are laid out and while the plot moves along its up to the audience to connect the larger dots and to make the film take on a larger significance.

For most of the film we see only the hell of the canning floor. There is no outside would. If there is anything else it's a fleeting view, more often night or fog obscures the view. It's a hell that approximates the hellish world of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. There is talk of heaven and hell and notions of hell being with in us and where do we choose to live. Are we doomed to live in that hell or can we escape? The answer isn't clear, though there is hope. Sabu is asking us to consider our jobs, our lives and our existences, should we wait for the next life or do we seize the day? I really like this film. Its not necessarily a warm and fuzzy movie, but it will make you feel good, especially if you allow the film to do what its going to do. It's a mannered film at time. Its emotional cold at times and yet I was touched. There is a kindness and a life to it.

Forgive me the film is hard to describe. As with most Sabu films its easy to tell you the plot, but not always to tell you how they operate or how they make you feel. I know that grates on some people. Films for many people have to be a certain way and if they aren't they can't really process them. I like Asian films because they often take you out of the comfort zone. Sabu's film will take you outside of that comfort zone even more. Its not a David Lynch sort of thing, rather its simply an opening up of ones eyes to seeing things in a completely new way. It strikes some as cold and manipulative, and on some level it is, but at the same time it forces one to consider things in ways we haven't before.

Not long after seeing the film I decided thatt this was one of the best films of 2009. Yes it's more a film of the head then the heart, but in making me think, by challenging me to do more than just sit there the film has engaged on so many more levels than most films ever have. When it was over I felt moved, not just emotional but on other levels as well.

If you want to be challenged and to be more than a passive reactor, see this film, it will change the way you think.

Currently out on import DVD


Three films down twenty three to go.

The crowds are nice, the staff friendly there is an ease that I like. But already I'm tired.

I have to get up early tomorrow so this will be a simple recounting of the movies and a few bits.

An over hyped comedy was a pick in every article on the festival as a film to see. I got a ticket for that very reason...because everyone said I should. Amusing to a point film is a convoluted mess of a good many not very bright people doing terrible things to each other. Nominally a comedy I didn't laugh until about 45 minutes in. Its got some great bits (and they are bits) and some characters I''d have liked expanded, but for me it was the sort of movie I would have been watching on the Fast Forward. An hour in, I walked out and went and got something to eat. The people from the festival were kind of shocked, but as I said to them I have three screenings in a row today and 25 more screening over all I don't have time to waste on something that wasn't holding my attention. (Mark this as the first use of the Buried Land Rule: If you're watching a film hoping something will happen to make it better- say some one stepping on a land mine as in the case of Buried Land-leave the theater because odds are it isn't going to happen). In all honesty I would have stayed if the audience had been doing more than sitting silent and only occasionally laughing, since then I could guess that maybe I was missing something.

It took four or five years to be able to play the film festival. The rights owners threatened to sue if they ran it. Only weeks of negotiations from the Chinese Office of Economic Development (or something like that) got them permission for one screening. The print a Canadian one in private hands that hadn't been run in 6 or 8 years was proof the vandals were storming the castle since it hearkened back to the grind houses of old. The film is a great action film, rightly held to be a classic about a team going into Viet Nam after the war to destroy a cache of weapons. Every military and Viet Nam cliche is amped up and turned on its head. Its brutal, ugly, funny and a blast.

Sammo Hung the director was in attendance and was very funny. I have no idea what he was talking about because it was more about listening to a great speaker hold court then what he was saying (besides it'll be on You Tube) I didn't take notes I just took a couple of pictures and smiled a hell of a lot. (The staff LOVED Sammo and the couple of people I spoke with couldn't say enough nice about him)

Actor Simon Yam won a ton of awards for his portrayal of a poor father in Hong Kong in the 1960's. He introduced the film (and shook my hand on the way to the stage). He a was charming and funny and I'd have liked to get him in a moment when he wasn't working the crowd.

The film itself is a memory film of a young boy of his family, specifically his brother, in the later part of 1960's. As the family struggles to get on financially and as the brother struggles to find romance fate deals the family some nasty cards. More melodrama than drama the film is deliberately structured from the point of few of the youngest son which eliminates much of the complexity. Its an okay to good film, but I don't get the awards, even Simon Yam's best actor awards, he's a supporting player at best, though what he does is gangbusters (watch the performance-its not acting its reality).

Then again some people loved the film, since during some scenes the people around me were sobbing uncontrollably and they went crazy when it ended.

There's more but that's all for now I'm off to bed. Its too late and I have an early train.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Capsule Reviews NYAFF 2010 part one

The NYAFF started last night.

I wasn't there. I was elsewhere preparing for my marathon of screenings which, assuming this posts when I wanted it to and I made it to Lincoln Center started just under over an hour ago (I added Crazy Racer to the mix at the last minute because it was picked by all the local papers as one the films to see).

If you were thinking of attending the festival I thought I'd post reviews of some of the good films I've seen already which probably won't be getting fuller reviews.

Takashi Miike's wild live action adaption of a Japanese animated show is the sort of thing that most people think of when they think of non-samurai Japanese films, big loud boisterous and totally out of control. Its the story of a boy, a girl and their robot who fight an evil woman and her henchmen. Its a kid film, of sorts, for adults. It big crazy cartoon made real. Is it the best thing in the world? Not even close, but if you click with it it can be a great deal of fun. Frankly I really didn't like it the first time I saw it, however when I saw it a second time and I took it for the mindless romp it is I had a good time. Worth a look if you're in the mood. (The last screening is July 2 at 1pm)

Six of the best known actresses in Korea are brought together for a cover shoot for Vogue. They talk and interact with the crew and each other before going off to a private dinner. Real meets fake in a film that has the women essentially playing versions of themselves. Its voyeuristic and a bit pointless at the start but at the same time its time with a bunch of really intriguing women. Actually for me the film improves in the second half and the women are left alone (what I wish was that they had just brought the women together for dinner and let them just talk ala It Might Get Loud.) Its not a perfect film, but the film has haunted me since I saw it. Its a weird guilty pleasure of a film that I really need to see again (if for no other reason than I had technical issues when I saw it). The best thing I can say is that depending upon the second viewing I may give this film a longer review. (In answer to the question do you need to know who the women are, not really, it adds to some in jokes, but it isn't necessary) (This screens July 3 and 5)

Sammo Hung stars as a master chef who is set up for disgrace by his nephew. Years later he ends up working for the family that trained his brother (who trained Sammo) to be a master chef. At the same time he is also training a young man to be a great cook. One of the most fun first half hours in any film I've seen this year gives way to a confused plot that joins some really wonderful sequences. The pieces work even if the plot doesn't and the characters manage to hold the film together enough that you really won't mind watching this as a rental (after all you know where its all going pretty much from the first so the lack of plot isn't too much of a hindrance). Trust me the fights and the cooking sequences are really really good, and worth your time. (Its only screening is tonight at 10:15)

Tomorrow in addition to the second Sabu film and perhaps a day one report I'll be doing a second set of capsule reviews of films from DVD. This time it'll be three great films that will be getting bigger reviews after the festival ends. I'm mentioing them because its still early enough that you may want to try and see them at a screening.

Postman Blues (1997)

Sabu, aka Hiroyuki Tanaka, is a Japanese actor who has taken a turn or two in the directors chair. He is a director who is wildly, wildly under appreciated. I mean most people, even Asian film lovers have no idea who he is (as a director) even if they have heard of his films.

Having seen several of his films I can't truly say I'm surprised, since Sabu's films tend to be an odd mix of humor darkness and humanism. He is a man who makes films that are forever heading for somewhere else. They seem to be going to "left field" even if we know the story. Its a wonderful thing because
his quirkiness always manages to surprise us.

A bored postman runs into an old school chum when making his rounds only to discover that he's now a member of the Yakuza (and being watched by the police who take an interest in the postman as a result). Spurred on by his friends tales about living a life where your heart beats fast our hero goes home and opens some of the undelivered mail. He becomes infatuated with a young girl who is dying in a hospital and he goes to meet her, making the acquaintance not only of the girl but a hit-man in the process…

This is a good off kilter comedy that was my first introduction to the films of actor/director Sabu. I've seen him in some of the films that he's acted in but this was the first time I had seen a film he directed. I wasn't sure if the film was a comedy or not so there were times that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be laughing, especially with some of the darker bits. But Sabu does that. He makes films that put you off balance, but in a good way. Certainly this would not have been made in the West where some of the shifts in tone from comedy to something darker are either frowned upon or not handled well.

I really like this film a great deal. For whatever reason I'm keeping the VCD of the film on a shelf in my bed room and I won't put it away. Its not that I watch it often I just like knowing that its there.

Is it a great film, no, the film is a bit too rambling in some sections, but it is very good. This isn't to say the rambling is bad, some of the rambling sections, where our hero listens to some of his "friends" tales, are some of the more enjoyable sections, the trouble is that as much as you like them you still wonder where it's all going.

Certainly it's worth a look for anyone who is tired of the typical comedies, even of the edgier independent sort.

I think this film is only out as an import in the US. This is the case with most of Sabu's films which make it damn near impossible for anyone to get acquainted with this wonderfully unique director.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Adam Resurrected (2009)

Paul Schrader's latest film concerns Adam Stein, a patient in a mental hospital caring for those who suffered during the Holocaust. Adam was once a great comedy performer known through out Germany. Haunted by the past when he had to act as a dog for the Commandant of the camp as well as play violin for the prisoners as they went into the gas chambers, Adam is just trying to get by. He refuses to deal with his past until a small boy who thinks he's a dog shows up at the hospital.

The film is more magical realism than stark reality (Adam has a psychic ability) and is more an allegory of the the struggle of people to survive. It is a Holocaust tale to be sure, but the implications of its themes apply to everyone's life. Are we all not a little mad? Are we all not locked in our own prisons? I'm not sure the film is wholly successful in exploring all of its themes but at the same time it is one huge helping of food for thought.

The real find of the film is Jeff Goldblum. Sure we all knew he is a great actor, but I for one never really knew how great he was. Here he goes through every emotion imaginable. He is funny and touching and heart breaking and human. He becomes Adam Stein, disappearing into the role so completely that you stop thinking its an actor and instead see him as the character. Its a masterful performance that unjustly got overlooked by the Oscars.

If you want to see a fantastic performance in a dark, but hopeful tale, see this film. It will stay with you.

Currently out on DVD

NYAFF starts today. Plus Opening night film Ip Man 2 and some mini reviews

The New York Asian Film Festival starts today.

If you've been reading this blog over the last few weeks you've no doubt seen my posts about the schedule and the tickets going on sale. If you've been reading long enough you'll remember that back in April I did two weeks of films from last year's festival (click on the NYAFF tag in the side bar to see the films from those two weeks of reviews. Reviews for this year carry the NYAFF 2010 tag).

As I've said in an earlier post I will be attending the festival. Actually between June 26th and July 7th I will be attending double or triple features at the festival every day except two. As I said in the last post on the film festival the dance card is 25* films long (one just is part of Japan Cuts). However I have an additional 17* films from the festival and the related sister festival Japan Cuts on DVD. Making 42* films from the two festivals I'm trying to see before all the shouting is over. (I will be trying to see almost every film thats part of the NYAFF with the exception of the two shorts programs, the midnight quartet, Cow and Crazy Racer plus several films that are part of Japan Cuts)

As I did with the Tribeca Film Festival I'll be reporting from the road, giving brief reports of what I'm seeing as I go along. Full reviews will start to appear the week of July 19th beginning with a review of John Woo's Red Cliff which I think is one of the greatest films ever made in the full version that's playing the festival (Its out on DVD now listing as the two part international version, and for my money its the only way to see the film.) Assuming I haven't burned out on cinematic overload and need an extra night off I will be attending the five hour screening on the Fourth of July.

(Two films screening that I've already posted reviews of are IP Man, which is encoring from last year, and Bodyguards and Assassins. To read them you just have to follow the NYAFF 2010 tag in the sidebar)

Actually reviews of the films from the Festivals begin below and continue tomorrow and Sunday when I post some capsule reviews of some of the films I've already seen on DVD. The ones below didn't tickle my fancy enough either to say go or to recommend them at all, but I thought you might want to know about them. The ones tomorrow start the flood of films (lets hope) that are worth your time and you might want to try and score a ticket or two (Sundays films are all getting longer reviews in a few weeks).

To make sure that you, my loyal readers, have something to read while I'm off seeing too many movies I've front loaded a bunch of reviews starting with a weekend of films by the under appreciated Japanese actor and director Sabu. Next week contributor Ken Fries will have control of the website and he'll be doing something a little different (I'll let Ken tell you himself). Then we get some wartime comedies for the 4th of July, some randomly selected films, the first of our reader suggested titles (yes, we do take suggestions) and then a week of films that are extreme guilty pleasures because frankly they aren't really that good but they are fun.

By then I should have healed from the fannie fatigue, the soda shakes and the hot butter burns and will have written up some, if not all of the films I've seen.

I do want to take this time to say that the opening film tonight is IP Man 2. I recently saw this film on an import DVD. The showing tonight is sold out but there might be tickets available for the screening on Sunday. The film picks up after the war as Yip man opens a school and runs afoul of the other martial arts schools in Hong Kong and a crooked Hong Kong police official.

The plot and character make this play more like throw back to the 1970's or 80's martial arts film and its similar in someways to Jet Li's Fearless with its battle between East and West. I like the film, but was disappointed it wasn't as meaty as the first film. On the other hand if you like action this is a must see film with the Sammo Hung staged fight scenes producing two instant classic battles (fish market and table battles) and a few others that are near classic. It would help to see the first film, but honestly you don't need to. (And if you ever want to see how good Simon Yam is watch his three scene near wordless cameo and have your heart broken).

As I said I think you might be able to get tickets for Sunday's screening, which if you like action is a must.

Now, for the record here are some of the other films playing at the film festival that I've seen on DVD since the festival was announced that I wasn't overly crazy about:

Raging Phoenix a Thai martial arts film that I thought had some good, notice I said some, fight sequences, however I found it extremely disappointing and weaker than similar films I saw at about the same time (say the film Coweb).

Merantau is an Indonesian action film that I'm very mixed about. It didn't thrill me for about an hour and then in picked up and became quite good before becoming uneven at the very end. Its too soapy to start and the early action isn't that good (it looks too rehearsed) but it does have an emotional spark to it, but I'd wait for DVD.

Chaw is a Korean horror comedy, stress the comedy, about a giant man eating boar in the countryside (think Jaws in the forest). Its got great characters, funny black humor and some wonderful sequences but like a stew with the best ingredients that somehow goes wrong this film doesn't quite come together. I really like the pieces but for me it didn't work as a whole. On the other hand I've read some glowing reviews.

Dear Doctor is the story of what happens when a well loved doctor goes missing and the police begin to investigate. More drama than mystery this is a slice of life film about how we accept the people in our lives on face value (and how that can be a good thing sometimes and a bad thing at other times). Winner of a couple dozen awards around the world this is a film didn't click with me. Well acted and well made I didn't see what the shouting was about. (Its good enough that I reserve the right to change my opinion upon a second viewing)

That's it for now. Here's to hoping that the run of screenings provides lots of good films and very few of these mini reviews. Other than that I'm off.

Wish me luck I'm going to need it.

*- My math has been faulty and to be honest I'm not sure how many films I'm seeing, I think the total between DVD and the screenings maybe as high as 43, but it doesn't matter, its too many movies.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mary and Max (2009)

Its been weeks since I first saw Mary and Max and I find I've been deeply affected by the film.

Its the story of a little girl who needs to know somethings about America because her friends are telling her all sorts of stories so she writes a letter to a random person in America only to connect with an sweet man with some decided peculiar ways (he's an over weight agoraphobic New Yorker). What happens after that is a series of ups and downs that happen over the course of 20 years.

A unique film its possibly the best animated film from 2009, and its one of the best films of the year. Rarely has a film left me so emotionally moved, certainly there are even fewer that have made me feel this way many days after the fact. I feel as though I'm carrying the characters and emotions around inside me (hell I am the characters)

And in a way I'm at a loss for words. A beautifully animated film with dialog that is witty and wise and wonderful, this is a marvelously made film from the director of Harvey Krumpet.

However its the characters where it shines. All of the characters, even if they are somewhat cliché, are painfully real. We know someone like everyone of them. Your heart goes out to them and is carried by them because they are so real. Its the characters we remember and we return to and who carry the film even as the second half gets messy (it simply is trying to cover too much time and territory in a short amount of time).

A masterpiece.

This film was just released on DVD

(Just remember that just because its animated doesn't mean its for kids, its not)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tales from Earthsea

Now that the rights have disappeared from SyFy the first feature film from the son of Hayao Miyazaki is finally coming to the United States. Never mind that the film has played everywhere else in the world and is out on DVD as an import, it will finally reach screens in the US in August.

The story and has a great "plague" or evil in the land. People are leaving their homes, magic is dying, Dragons which are never seen are found to be fighting. The world is dying. Sparrowhawk a wizard wanders the land trying to find out what is causing all of the problems. He happens upon Aaron who is a prince and who in a dark fit stabbed his father, the king and fled into the night. Sparrowhawk takes Aaron along with him and the pair head off together.

The story is taken from part of the third Earthsea novel and is a grand fantasy. Its a film that bleeds off the edges of the screen. Its a film that you can film the back story floating around. On some level the fact that this is a fragment of a larger story gets in the way, there are times when things aren't wholly explained but at the same time, in retrospect, you really don't need to know everything. we know enough.

Despite the fact that much of the film will remind you of other Ghibli films in its design this film is nothing like the films that preceded it. Ghibli has not done anything so clearly western in style. If it weren't for the Ghibli house style there is nothing-at least when you are listening to the excellent English dub-to make you think that this was done in Europe, and not Japan.

This is a dark little movie at times with lots of flawed characters. Even if they seem okay now there is a sense that age has corrected many of their faults. The closest thing in the Ghibli canon would be some of the darkness of Princess Mononoke. However once you get past the steals from earlier films you'll find that this is its own beast, it is very much like a fantasy novel that is the source of the story.

I've taken some flack from some fans of Studio Ghibili because I have such a high regard for the film. They seem to think its a lesser film because its not by the elder Miyazaki and because it doesn't follow the same well worn paths followed by "the master" and other Ghibli films. I would argue that this is a better film because it doesn't follow what has gone before. Actually the film is similar to what has gone before with the darkness and magic mirroring Princess Mononoke and the sense of Europe feel, in away, of Porcco Russo. Actually its a masterpiece, which some people don't want to acknowledge.

Don't take my word for it just see it.

I've seen this film several times on import DVD and I have loved it every time. You need to see this. Do make an effort to see it on the big screen. The film will take your breath away, the dragons are magical.

Scorpio Nights (1985)

Its rare that movies with a sexual component are both interesting on the human level and interesting on the sexual level. Most directors seem to crank out indifferent stories that are merely excuses for bad soft core sex. Scorpio Nights on the other hand is completely different it has hot encounters and more importantly people you care about.

Set in an apartment house in Manila where no one has any real privacy. The rooms are small and the construction is such that you can often see into your neighbors homes. A young tenant notices the activities of his down stairs neighbors through a hole in the floor. Smitten he watches the nightly routine of the husband coming home, eating dinner and then crawling into bed with his sleeping wife. It isn't long before he's managed to work his way into the heart of the woman below and started a torrid affair.

Well done across the board this is the type of story that could have been over done, instead its all played very real (In an interview the director said that he's been stopped by many people over the years who said that he manged to get the details of their affair right)

Truth be told as steamy as the sex is the really erotic moments are the ones either before the sex or the ones where sex isn't possible. There's a moment where the woman looks up at the ceiling with desire, yearning for her lover, he sees this and pushes his fingers through the holes in the boards. She then reaches for his fingers with an almost unearthly he opens up a small door in the floor and extends his arm... Who needs graphic sex?

Best of all its not sexy because its sex, its sexy because its two real characters who we know and understand. These are two characters who could be us so we're compelled to continue watching. Actually the strength of Scorpio Nights is the interaction of the characters, they are real people with real problems and desires. The story is driven by them instead of driving them.

Lets hope that some one is smart enough to get a really good edition of this out on DVD in English. I had to pick this up as a DVD-R from Shocking Video. Its worth the effort

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

City Without Baseball (2008)

This is one of the films that made me want to start this blog. This is a film that is so different from any sort of film from either China or from America that I can't believe that this film has barely registered anywhere at all. This is a solid film that is unlike almost any other film, even if its about subjects we know well in the US. Its not the best film in the world, but its film that really deserves to be seen.

Looking at my IMDB review I find that it says what I wanted to say so here it is:

Atypical Hong Kong film about a group of die hard baseball players in Hong Kong, a city where no one really plays baseball. It's based upon the players own stories, with the players effectively play themselves with none of their names changed. Its life and love in the big city as the group train for international play.

I picked this up because I was interested in how a baseball movie might be filmed in a place "without baseball". What became clear almost from the start even though this is a "baseball" movie its not about baseball. Yes, we see the guys training but until the final 20 minutes or so we see no games (and even then the games have no one in the stands-clearly these guys are playing for the love of the game). And how we see the games are not even remotely like how we see them in an American movie, its bits of the game with inter-titles about what happened. Its a bit strange, at least to my western eyes. Mostly the film is the stories of the guys, of the women they meet (are confused by), the love they find and lose.and how they give everything else for the game.

In its way its unlike almost any Chinese film I've ever seen and almost any Western film either. The first thing you'll notice is that the film loves the guys in a very erotic way. These are good looking hard bodied guys and they are in various states of undress frequently. There is full frontal male nudity which is is rare in western cinema and something I've never seen in Chinese. cinema at all. While there is no "need" for it, they could have shot it to hide things, its not whole gratuitous in that where we see it is where we'd see it, ie. in the locker room. Is the film specifically homo-erotic, I don't think so, but if you're bothered by naked men filmed as almost gods, I'd stay away.

There are quotes on screen from various sources and occasional narration, well not so much narration but observation from one or more of the characters. The use at times seems random and at other times comments on whats going on. I found the choices always intriguing if not always relevant to what was going on and was always looking forward to the next piece.

The film uses music to great advantage. Clearly the songs being played are of some importance to the story because of how the songs are used. As each song ends the person singing is identified on screen with their birthday and death identified. I wish that the lyrics had been subtitled since its clear that the music is importance. It should be pointed out that even though I can't understand the music, the melody does create a mood.

The performances by a cast of non actors are surprisingly good. Actually there isn't a bad one in the bunch, and if there is any flaw its more in how the characters are drawn rather then how they are performed.

I'm kind of at a loss about what to say about the film or how to describe it. I do like the film. Its a good little film, but much of my admiration for the film comes from it being so completely different then anything that I've run across in a good long while. Here is a film that was made by some filmmakers who wanted to make a movie and make it their way and they have done so with style and originality. Yes, of course the stories of the guys on the team are similar to things you've seen before but at the same time how it all come together isn't, it doesn't do what you expect and thats both refreshing and infuriating. I'm sorry I'm being obtuse about the film but this is a film that really needs to be seen. If you see it I have a feeling you'll know why I'm not being more specific-its a film that should be discovered on its own and not explained (actually the trailer that was included on the DVD made the film seem completely different then what it was. Watching it after the film I was like, that wasn't what I just saw).

Is this a great film? No. But it is a unique one, one that really should be seen by people who love movies with different points of view. Honestly I don't know why this isn't on the festival circuit since this is the sort of "independent film" that everyone clamors for. Its not a story we've seen before, or if it is its different enough in the telling that it makes it worth sitting down again. If nothing else pieces of the film still haunt me, the images of the empty fields, the player standing in the middle of the crowded street, some of the heart break, the nonchalance about"why are you late", because one player threw his phone away.

Is it a great film? No, but it is a good one. Its film that boldly has its own point of view and as messy as it is at times still demands to be seen by anyone who wants to see something that is the cinematic equivalent of the Far Side cartoon where one indistinguishable penguin from all the rest steps up and "sings "I gotta be me".

If you love films that are not completely run of the mill see this movie.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Level (aka the Asylum) (2009)

This week I'm going to post some reviews of some great and near great films that seem to be completely off the charts. These are films that made me want to set up this blog. They are a bunch of films that should have been among the first reviewed but I could never find the right moment to spring them on you. Deciding to do a week where I link them all together seemed like the best idea so that's what I've done. I'm beginning with one of the real finds of 2009. I wanted to post this from the get go but found I couldn't find anything better way to talk about this film other than what I said at IMDB. To that end I'm re-posting my review here with slight modification.

The chance of finding a film like this is the reason I wade into the odd independent films that I seem to suffer through again and again. This is one of those films that makes the pain of bad films worth enduring. This is one of my finds of 2009. Its not really the best of the year but a great surprise that really made me sit up and take notice.

The film concerns Eddie. Eddie is a mid-level gangster who's tied to a chair and is being worked over by some unseen people. The people working him over want to know what the story was with the meth lab that blew up in the woods and why there is a trail of dead bodies every which way to Sunday. Eddie decides that the easiest thing to do is to "level" with his torturers and tell them exactly what happened. He begins telling it one way and then is stopped and told to tell it again from the beginning. What he tells is the bulk of the movie.

Bloody, violent and wickedly funny this is one of the best independent films I've seen in a while. The characters come alive and the dialog is the right sort of smart and funny and scary. Its a small scale film that very alive and breathing. I think the film doubly works because the cast is so good. Everyone sells their part and then some. This is important because as is quickly seen no one is ever on the level and everyone is seen to be trying to twist things their own way even as things get more and more out of control. If you don't believe the characters you won't buy what they are doing and accepting what happens is what this film is all about. Paris Campbell as Eddie is amazing as a man stuck in the middle of simple job that suddenly is going horribly wrong.

I honestly had no idea where this was going at times. Okay yes I kind of knew generally how things might go, but at the same time I had no idea about the details. I didn't know what was going to happen minute to minute because things changed so much. Best of all none of it feels forced. Nothing feels arty. Nothing feels unreal.

I've seen this compared to Reservoir Dogs, which I'm guessing is because of how the story is told, but I don't think that's completely fair since both films work wonderfully on their own. (I could also compare this to another film, which I won't reveal because it might by implication, reveal something that need not be known until the movie reveals it. And yes even that is an unfair comparison) If you can find this film see it. This is the sort of film that I really want to talk about but I can't because I really want people to see and discover for themselves. As I said its not the best film of the year but its a real find. Its the sort of film that will fit nicely into the genre of pulp crime films. I can't recommend this film enough.

I'm not sure about availability of this film since I'm a bit confused by what I see at Amazon and elsewhere. I simply suggest you keep an eye out for it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights (2010)

I caught this documentary on pay per view on cable that was connected to the SXSW film festival. My interest was raised because I loved listening to Jack White talk in It Might Get Loud, the stunning documentary about what happened when White, The Edge from U2 and Jimmy Paige got together to talk and make music.

The film follows the White Stripes (Jack White and his ex wife Meg) as they are finally allowed to tour Canada. Apparently they could never get the okay to tour the country so when they finally arranged a tour, which coincided with the groups ten year anniversary, they went all over the place arranging concerts at night in small places that almost never get concerts, while during the day they played free concerts anywhere they could, from buses to boats in a harbor to community centers to town squares to bowling alleys. The nights are filled with hard driving rock and roll and the days tended to be a bit more acoustic.

To me the films joys are many. I love the acoustic and off beat material that they tended to play during the days. I love watching the Stripes as they have various adventures say firing cannon or talking to village elders (where they share stories and music). I love, as I said earlier, listening to Jack White talk about making music. Here is a man who knows his stuff and can pass on what he knows in a manner that is like listening to the best of teachers in that it creates a desire to learn more. I also love listening to the usually silent Meg White say a few words. The best thing I can say is that the Whites are a fanatstic pair who are worth following as they travel around the great white north.

If there is any weakness in the film, and this is going to annoy some of their fans, its some of the night time concerts. Yes the music is good, however there is a kind of sameness to the driving guitar riffs that pales when compared that everything else the Stripes did on the tour. After watching the various songs performed in bus boat or bowling alley watching yet another piece where the Stripes stand and square off staring at each other makes it all seem anti-climatic, especially after Jack goes into how he likes to challenge himself. DOn't get me wrong, the music is good, its just not as compelling as the rest of the material.

Its a minor flaw. One that could be easily remedied with a fast forward on the DVD or pay perview remote. Yes that is hearesy, but at the same time its just like hitting shuffle on your Ipod.

Recommended to anyone who likes any sort of music, especially if they like to watch extremely gifted preformers do what they do and also talk about the whys and wherefores.

On DVD and playing in festivals.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It Might Get Loud (2009)

What happens when Jack White, The Edge (from U2) and Jimmy page come together to talk and make music.

One of the great films of 2009. A near religious experience about the living nature of music and the people who make it. If you love music, any music, you have to see this film.

Ultimately this is a fake documentary. The three musicians who are brought together to talk about music were brought together purely for this film. The cameras which follow them around, do so simply because it all leads to the moment when the three men come together to play. This doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with it, it just means what it was recording existed, like the paintings in The Mystery of Picasso*, purely for the film.

During the course of the film all three men talk extensively about their careers and their love of music. There is something so wonderful about the way they open up that I became fans of all three men. I especially love Jack White who is an endless font of information.

And then when the men come together its magic. Music and stories pour out of them and the moment when Jimmy Paige begins playing "Whole Lotta Love" and White and the Edge stop doing what they are doing to watch, as awe struck fan boys is worth the price of admission.

This is a film about music as life. Its one of the few films that I've ever felt was alive. Its a living and breathing entity of its own made whole by the music and the men who make it.

This was one of the best films I saw in 2009. Its also one of my favorite documentaries.

If you love music you need to see this film (preferably on a big screen with a great sound system)

Currently out on DVD

(*The Mystery of Picasso is a documentary about Picasso where he created several paintings specifically for the film. He then burned the paintings and they exist only on film)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Begotten (1990)

This is the film that caused of a break between the local art house, myself and my friend Lou. We were not there constantly, but we did go frequently, Lou more than me, to the extent that he had a membership, but the attitude they had toward this film really set us off and the visits to the theater became almost non existent.

The argument, which occurred over several weeks, always came as they made a point of wanting titles to show. "We want to show more than just the usual films" they would say, which was followed by the taking of suggestions. And then people would suggest things they would take notes, but when you'd suggest Begotten they would say, "NO" with a final certainty that only a condemned man hears when asked if the Governor called, seconds before the switch is thrown.

When we finally got to talk to the head of the cinema and asked why they would say that they hated it, that it was "a piece of shit" and they would never play it. They then made it very clear that he and his family were the final arbiter of good taste concerning the theater. My friend and myself got truly fed up at that point since it became clear that love of all film wasn't what the place was about, it was a love of film that they thought was good.

Of course the joke was on them since even though they swore never to run the film, they eventually did some 10 or 15 years later. It was a small victory on mine and Lou's part. (we did debate going to the screening and asked them what took so long for them to run it, but decided against it)

E Elias Merhige's Begotten is a unique film. Its cinematic equivalent of being trapped in someone else's nightmare. In its way its more disturbing than David Lynch's Earaserhead because of the way the film has been shot and there is even less to grasp on to.

Shot is a moody black and white film that has had the contrast messed with, among other things. Its a grainy trip into decaying film and decaying minds that appears to show either gods or demons awakening in some nether world in the next universe over. May not. Its a film that is purely visuals and sound with no real way of grasping what is happening except to force a meaning upon them.

Its a head trip. Its a mind scrambling film that will force you to think about and discuss what you think it means or what was going on even if you don't like it. Other than the art theater managers, I have never ever spoken to anyone who saw the film who could simply say it was good or bad. If they liked it they had to talk about the meaning, if they hated it, they had to say something about why the film was bad. I love that the film forces you to interact with it. You can't just dismiss it or accept it, its a film that requires commentary.

This is out on DVD and worth a look for those who want the brain cells tickled.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sans Soleil (1983)

Chris Marker's travelogue has haunted me since I picked it up on DVD a couple of weeks ago. Its haunted me to the point that I've pretty much stopped watching any other film on DVD and I've just watched this over and over again. I have no idea why, it just has been the film I turn to when nothing else grabs my fancy.

The film is nominally a travelogue. It is Chris Markers footage from primarily Japan and Africa with the letters of photo journalist read by a woman. The trouble is that the footage and the letters turn the film into something else other than a straight forward documentary on what you are seeing and instead it changes into something else. I mean how else to explain the left turns into Hitchcock's Vertigo and several sequences from Iceland and the weird electronic imagery?

Its a film that zips and dips and scoots across your brain in different patterns every time you see it. Its a film that makes odd connections in your brain with each viewing as some things you think were important the last time cease to be and things you didn't catch before now come to the front.

What does it all mean? What is the purpose? You're guess is as good as mine. I've seen this film probably eight times in a very short time but each time its like seeing it for the first time.

I am at a loss to explain any of it.

The film is ultimately a head trip. Sure you can take it on the surface as a travelogue, but on the other hand the film becomes different territory the second time or third time or eighth time through. What does it all mean? That will depend on where you are when you see it this time through.

The ever changing nature of the film is the reason that this is slowly becoming one of my favorite films, I mean I get to visit an old friend and get to learn something new each time I visit.

If you like to have your brain massaged this is a film you really should see...repeatedly.

On DVD in the US from Criterion where its paired with La Jetee, Marker's movie made with stills (which was the source of Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Capsule Reviews 6/16/10

ISLAND OF DOOMED MEN (1940) Peter Lorre stars as a "kind hearted" man who takes convicts and gives them a second chance on his island. What no one knows is that he uses them as slave labor. Its Lorre in one of his most menacing roles. Here Lorre gets to be so sweet and yet so sadistic. Its a wonderful part where he really gets to go to town. The plot is pure pot boiler (there is questions about Lorre's wife being unfaithful) but its the sort of thing that holds your attention and while its not a classic of the first order its one of those titles that you go "hey that was pretty good" when you run across it while looking for something else. Its a classic B movie.

QUIET PLEASE, MURDER (1942) George Saunders is a forger who steals a rare copy of Hamlet and kills a guard in the process. He then begins selling forged copies to various interested parties. Unfortunately one of the parties has ties to the Nazi's and they are not too happy about the forgery. Things blow up when the middle woman begins to play every side against each other and everyone gets locked into the New York Public Library where more murders and a little larceny occurs as the police try to solve the crimes happening around them. Solid cast really sells a solid little crime drama who's sole flaw is that there is simply too much going on in its brief 70 minute running time. This is one of those films you'll want to put on your list of things to watch out for since its a great deal of fun and worth repeated viewings.

MYSTERIOUS MR VALENTINE (1946) Linda Sterling stars in complicated (at least to start) tale of a young woman who gets a blow out while driving home. Walking to get help she stops in a chemical plant. There she startles a chemist moving a body, and is photographed by a jealous wife who thinks here husband is having an affair. Leaving she finds her car outside and driving away she ends up running over a body in the road.(it will make sense when you see it) Blackmail and murder follow as Sterling tries to untangle the web of intrigue she's found herself caught in. Good but overly complicated, especially for a film running only 55 minutes, this is a film that spins out so many plot threads in the first 10 minutes that it races to tie the remaining time. It doesn't do it badly, its just that the intensity of those opening minutes isn't sustained and the rest of the film seems almost too restrained as a result. I like the film, I just wish the film had maintained the sense that anything can happen that it has at the start. This is very much worth a look.

Antichrist (2009)

We're at the midway point of WTF week and I'm going to talk about one of the biggest WTF movies of recent vintage, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. This is a film that marched across the world via film festivals until it hit the 2009 New York Film Festival where a screening had to be stopped because someone in the audience had a medical emergency. Talking to one of the people from the festival while waiting to go into one of my screenings (of a different film) I was told that there were a large number of walk outs, numerous heated arguments and a general feeling that the audience wanted to take a shower.

Yea, its that sort of a film.

Actually its probably unendurable in its graphic and psychic cruelty toward people. I've seen it twice, more or less reluctantly and to be perfectly honest, I never need to see it again.

(The following synopsis may make you queasy- so you may want to skip it)

The plot of the film has a married couple having sex (graphically) one snowy night. While they are engaged their infant falls out a window and falls to his death (graphically). The parents are both over come with grief. The man, a therapist, feels he knows best how best to help his wife and they retreat to a cabin in the woods where a fox talks. The relationship deteriorates and it isn't long before the psychic and emotional violence they have been inflicting on each other amps up to physical violence in ways that involve genitals, power tools, shears and grinding stones (all graphical). It then ends with a real WTF moment.

(End queasy inducing synopsis)

At this point you're probably wondering why I would recommend this film to anyone. Basically because I'm not sure what to make of the film.

I'm not sure if Von Trier is playing a joke on everyone. He loves to play jokes on audiences, to the point I never know if he's just having a goof. Then again many people have said that this was conceived and made at a dark period in his life and that unlike his other films he's very serious about this one. Its a long pained shriek into the heart of god and mankind. Its darkness made light.

Its also damn near unendurable. Its two hours of some of the nastiest emotional cruelty between two people ever put on film. Why would any one want to see people being this nasty to each other? I don't know.

Some people have found great meaning in it all.

I have no idea, but its the sort of movie that I can't dismiss out of hand. And its the fact that I can't dismiss this film is the reason that I'm writing this film up. There just might be something inside the cruelty that shines some sort of light into dark places.

You'll have to figure this one out for yourself. If you have a strong constitution feel free to look into the abyss.

And keep this far away from the kids.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NYAFF 2010/ Japan Cuts- The dance card is set

Ten days until the New York Asian Film Festival starts and I'm set. As it stands now I'm seeing 24 films at screenings that are part of the festival and one more that's part of the sister festival Japan Cuts. I don't think I can physically attend any more films. I also have an additional 17 films on DVD that are part of the two festivals making a total of 42 films.

The only thing left for me is to see if anyone of my friends at work who expressed an interest actually step up and pick up tickets so they can join me for some of the madness.

The NYAFF website has been updated and their twitter account is stirring the pot and letting people know whats selling fastest. If you're interested in going you should probably act sooner than later (They say the first screening of Ip Man 2 has sold out and several others are rapidly running out of seats).

This will probably be my last mention of the festival until it starts. In the next ten days I'm going to get this site set for my time away. I'm also going to continue to watch the films I have on DVD so I can give you some idea what you might want to see.

I'm psyched. Hopefully this will be a real blast.

Screenings: Eastern Condors; Echoes of the Rainbow; Storm Warriors; Bodyguards and Assassins; Development Hell; Sophie's Revenge; 8000 Miles; 8000 Miles 2; Tian An Men; Annyong Yumika; Live Tape; Sawako Decides; Confessions; Little Pond; Secret Reunion; Alien vs Ninja; Mutant Girl Squad; Boys on the Run; Red Cliff; Gallants; Golden Slumber; Symbol; Doman Seman; Blade of Blood; Zero Focus.

DVD: Ip Man; Ip Man 2; Kung Fu Chefs; Raging Phoenix; Chaw; Actresses; Little Big Soldier; Castaway on the Moon; Merantau; Crying out Love in the Center of the World; Dear Doctor; Memories of Matsuko; Nightmare Detective 2; Million Yen Girl; Villon's Wife; Scandal Makers; Yatterman

Artemis 81 (1981)

The film today is one of the more bizarre films I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it twice now and I’m still not sure what to make of it. One person on IMDB called it "Kafka meeting Phillip K Dick", and on some level it’s a dead on assessment.

The plot of the film has a writer getting involved with a chain of coincidences tied to several deaths. Along the way he meets a musician who has ties to darker events and its all connected to two angels battling as to whether or not to wake their mother.

For the first half the film is straight forward thriller with supernatural overtones. The second half of the film becomes something else entirely with events seeming to shift to some sort of totalitarian country.

I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what to make of it. The dialog tends to be discussion of ideas relating to the events, everything has multiple meanings; it references religion, myth, Hitchcock movies, notions of love, the philosophy of life, and probably about seven or eight dozen other ideas. The plot goes off in its own way and you just have to keep up, and even if you keep up you’re still going to be at sea, but in a good way. This is a film you really have to work with.

As I said I’ve seen this three hour film twice and I’m still not close to sorting it all out. I read that this was originally intended to be shown on two nights and not in one three hour block. I’m guessing that the film may play better that way, however both times I’ve seen it on DVD I’ve watched it one sitting (The first time because I wanted to see what happened next and the second time because I figured if I didn’t crash straight through I’d forget something.) I suppose I could watch the film with the commentary track in the hope of having it all explained, but on some level I feel that would be cheating.

This originally ran at Christmas time in 1981 and then kind of fell off the face of the earth. I had read bits here and there that mentioned it over the years but until it was put out on DVD in 2007 the film had been very difficult to see (most things mentioned seeing the film when it originally aired but never again). Difficult to see or not, the film clearly had an impact on those who saw the film since one cannot watch the film and not see its echoes in so many stories, movies and comics that followed it. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that any number of English writers and creators who were old enough to have seen this when it first aired in England raided it and its ideas time and again, either consciously or unconsciously. One need only look at the work of people like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Grant Morrison (and others) to see how the film may have trickled down. From this film sprang some of our current popular culture.

Good bad or indifferent this is a film that stays with you.

If you like head trips and films from which came other films you need to see this.

I need to mention the cast which is very good, with Dan O'Herlihy giving a wonderful turn as an organist and key to the plot. I think on some level he gives one of his best performances here. (Daniel Day Lewis- listed high in the promotional credits for the DVD has one small scene as a library student)

Currently out on DVD in England.