Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Unseen Films Halloween Trick:Decietful Storm (2008)

This is a bonus review of one of the worst films of the 21st century. Its a film that is easily one of the worst films of the last 25 years. I don't want to hurt myself by going back into the painful place that this film put me in so I'm going to repost my IMDB review as a warning to anyone who might see this on the rental shelf:

One of the truly worst films of 2008 (perhaps decade, I won't suggest century) concerns a marriage in trouble. There's all sorts of infidelity and unhappiness that has a nice big moral at the end.

If you're going to preach to me I really wish that you'd do so in a manner that engaged me rather than annoyed me. This is based on an uplifting play that I hope played better on the stage than it does on screen.

Certainly I hope it was better acted then this waste of my time. I think the deceit of the title is the idea that this isn't time you will regret that you'll never ever get back.

Zero out of 10. Consider it 90 minutes badly spent.

Blood Beast Terror (1968)

This Halloween I'm going to turn to one of the master's of British Horror for one of the worst horror films ever made.

Is this the worst film Peter Cushing ever made? He seemed to think so. Of course anything is possible, but I'd have to see the rest of what he's made to see what beats BLOOD BEAST TERROR a not so nifty movie about a giant killer moth.

Yes, a giant killer moth. I can't make this stuff up...I wish I could but I wasn't old enough to be taking the drugs required to make this in 1967.

I picked this up as a USED DVD, I stress USED, or barely used, since I don't know if anyone watched this more than once. Its almost so dull that hospitals could use it instead of gas. Its not entirely bad, but it is dull...

The main problem, and there are many others, is that the makeup is laughable. To say this is a dumb monster is rating it too highly. Think the original Wasp Woman, only worse. Its bad. I was wondering why this wasn't better known until I saw the monster and knew, that was the reason the movie is in the forgotten pile.

Even if the monster was decent there is the problem of the film plodding along at an okay rate for about two thirds of it and then getting stupider stupider as things happen to reach the end that the alleged screenwriter wanted not because they would. Things happen at the start of a scene and then shift in mid-scene, for example the villain is performing a complicated experiment at one point and is interrupted by a knock...Peter Cushing arrives and hero and villain simply go off with all this equipment running as if nothing was being done...

Continuity? Clearly they had no concept of it.

It goes on like that again and again.

Its horrible.

What makes it really bad is that you can see that the actors are trying, the film, except for the monster, looks good, and their is a aire of something that might have been. Unfortunately the good gets lost in the ineptness of the plot, a shit monster and a pace that is slower than the motion of continents.

It's a mess, a real mess.

An Unseen Films Treat:More Good Movies are coming or Advance word on future reviews....

I don't know when I'm going to schedule full reviews but I saw some films over the last couple of days and I just wanted to tell you to keep an eye out for all three. I'm planning on doing full reviews, but since I have the next couple of weeks planned out I'm not sure when I can drop in reviews that will do them justice.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010) stars Andy Lau as the title character who is brought back from prison to solve the phantom flames that are consuming people from the inside out. It seems that someone is trying to kill off the people around the Empress and she's afraid he might be next. Huge sprawling and epic in a way that few films from anywhere in the world are this is basically a simple mystery but with marvelous window dressing. Its action packed and for most of it's running time rather mysterious. Its another hit from director/producer Tsui Hark.

Reign of the Assassins (2010) proves Michelle Yeoh can do anything. This is nominally an action film about assassins trying to get the mummified body of a saint. What it actually is is a romance and character study. Honestly at some point you forget about the get the body plot and just go with it where ever it goes. Its a great film, one of the years best, or if not one of the best one of my favorites.

The Village of Shadows (2010) was the world premiere screening at Lincoln Centers Scary Movies festival. The film is about a bunch of college age friends who head to a town to visit the family home of one of them but things go wrong and something is hunting them. Its a cursed down and the curse goes back centuries. A bloodless film (there is no blood and gore) that creates a nasty tension and holds you in its grip. Its actually more a Grimms Fairy Tale or similar to the work of Guillermo Del Toro which I think is going to throw some people. While not perfect it's a damn fine film and worth seeing. (I think I'll be putting the review for this film up later in the week.)

Two links:

The Story of the wooden planet that was to be the setting of Alien 3 can be found here.

What ever happened to horror?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Clementine (2004)

I picked this film up as an import DVD because it was a Steven Seagal film I had never seen.

What a HUGE mistake that was.

Let's start with a warning: If you're looking to see this for Steven Seagal then rent it or borrow it do not buy it because you will be majorly disappointed. Seagal is on screen for maybe ten minutes if you include all of the shots of him on TV monitors. If you don't count the monitors its a couple of minutes less, and its a not very good fight scene.

The real star of the movie is Dong-jun Lee who is a karate champion who lost in a rigged match (which I think was against Segal, I couldn't be sure). The match occurred as his wife/girlfriend went into labor and gave birth to their daughter. The wife/girlfriend dies on the delivery table and the girl was put into an orphanage from which Lee retrieves her. Years pass and Lee becomes a cop. After he breaks heads while making a bust he is forced to retire from the force and turns to cage fighting to pay off his debts to the people who's heads he broke. He's such a good fighter (yea right) that the mob wants him to fight the world champion Steven Seagal. However in between all of that is a great deal of soap opera as the mother is found not to be dead and wants to get her little girl back (or some such nonsense).

Its awful.

In between hitting the fast forward to get to something interesting and watching badly acted scenes at normal speed I sat there slack jawed at just how incredibly stupid this movie is.

What kind of movie is it? Comedy? Family Drama? Its not really an action film.

What is Seagal doing in this movie? If he did it for a paycheck he got all of the money. My guess is that this was suppose to be a family drama of some sort and somehow Seagal got roped in to doing a days shooting. The producers were happy because they now had a film that they could market as a Steven Seagal flick. Since there is no real release outside of Asia my guess is that anyone looking to release this saw it for what it was and dropped it. Thankfully you will not be seeing this any time soon playing on American TV (or any other TV for that matter.)

Avoid this one. Its just not worth it. Yes, it has a few good moments, hence a 2 out of 10 rating at IMDB, but its just a mess of a movie that's not even good enough to make fun of.

(NB:If you must see Seagal's scenes fast forward to one hour and twenty three minutes in)

Friday, October 29, 2010

War of the Insects (1968)

This is a bad movie and I'm going to try and make this a bland as possible so you don't think there is any reason to see the film. Its actually such a bad movie that I can't understand why the Cinematic Titanic crew is using it for riffing since as funny as the riffs are the underlying movie is unwatchable.

A huge cloud of bees brings down a bomber carrying an atomic bomb over an island near Japan. Some of the crew escapes and makes it to the island where they are killed by the insects. One of the local men is charged with the men's murder. Through a long winding chain of events it transpires the bees are a new species that were being bred by a mad scientist to get revenge on Germany for what happened during World War 2. (There's more but trust me you don't want to know- even with Cinematic Titanic riffing you don't want to know).

This is a disaster of a film is a kin to the horrible eco-films (Last Days of Planet Earth anyone?) that Japan turned out in the 1970's. These were big on having a point but small on any real plot or anything else. Here the film drones on with lots of talk and not much happening. Sure there are two late in the game bee attacks but it doesn't make it worth sitting through the preceding 80 minutes. A dreadful film in the unfun way that only Japanese some science fiction films can be (Time of the Apes anyone?).

I gave this film 2 out of 10 at IMDB because the two plane sequences at either end of the film are screamingly funny for all of the wrong reasons. However I need to point out that they are not a reason to watch this movie in it's entirety. This film is one of the all time stinkers.

It should also be noted that this is one of the films in rotation for the Cinematic Titanic live shows. Frankly this movie is so bad that I wouldn't want to see it again even with the Cinematic Titanic crew picking on it. (A similiar fate is met by another CT choice The Oozing Skull, which is best summed up as it sucks)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Star Quest: The Odyssey (2009)

Really bad, almost home movie like, Star Trek rip off that gives no budget films a bad name.

I've seen several no budget science fiction films over the years and while this one looks reasonably good, its poor in just about every other department. The cast is weak, the story needlessly silly. The action poorly done.

Why was I watching this? I'm had pressed to know. The worst part is the film is a kind of Star Trek rip off. It begins with opening titles in a Star Trek-esque font, continues on through the five minute history lesson that takes us from the dawn of the space age through to the films present and on to a space ship where the uniforms look like they were made by arthritic tailors.

To be honest I really can't say much about the plot because after about 20 minutes I turned my brain off and started to putter around the room waiting for something exciting to happen.

It never does.

Don't make my mistake. This is not even amusing in a good bad sort of way.

Stake Land or we interrupt this week of bad films to talk about a classic

As I start to write this it's almost 1 AM. I'm just in from Lincoln Center and the opening night of their Scary Movies series. I had to leave as the end credits rolled because it is a school night and I have to get up and be at the day job at 9AM.

However because I just saw something that rocked my world I'm pushing my bed time back even farther to write up a film that really blew me, and my friend Stan, away. I do ask for your indulgence since this is going to be one of those ragged posts written in the mad passionate style that has a few mistakes that my editor will freak out over.

The film tonight was Stake Land the latest film from the director of the wonderful Mulberry Street. This time out the rules have changed and we have a film that could very well be a classic.

The plot is a simple road movie. As the film opens there world has been over run with vampires (think zombies). Martin, a teenager, is rescued by Mister when his family is attacked by a vampire as they are getting ready to travel to safety. Martin's family is killed and Mister takes Martin on the road and teaches him how to survive. They are heading north to New Eden, where they are hoping they will be safe (though they are warned in a town they pass through that there is no food there only cannibals). Along the way the pair meet various people and pick up a few including a nun. They also run afoul of The Brotherhood, a Christian cult that thinks the vampires are messengers of god.

This is not a film of jump scares (there are only two), this is instead a film of slowly building dread and fear. Its a feeling that comes from the situations and from the feeling that what is going on isn't going to really end well for anyone. Its a film of characters and situations, not of bogeymen, though there are plenty of those.

Honestly this is a deceptively simple "cliched" story, that is firing on several other levels. Yes it's The Road meets Zombieland, but not funny, as some have said. Actually it's like many other films as well the closet being Phantasm in the relationship between Reggie and Mike. If you watch how Mister and Martin interact it's very much like the heroes of the earlier film.

The other films that this film echoes is the original Night of The Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. In my mind this is actually the third film in the sequence. Forget the Romero films that followed this is the next film in order. It bangs everything that Romero was trying to do in the later films and he does it in such away that it fits into the world created seamlessly. It is easily the equal of those two films.

Actually what we should all do is forget that the film is borrowing and just take it on face value and on that level it kicks serious ass. If you can't forget the film is recycling remember that the Indiana Jones movies are whole cloth steals from the Republic Serials.

Let me not put too fine a point on it this film is a masterpiece and hopefully will become a classic.

A couple of words of warning, though not about the gore or the violence which are perfectly in the R rated realm.

First if you are looking for a neat beginning, ending or answers to everything, forget it. We come in mid story and we go to the perfect ending point. Its not the end of the story for the characters but its the end of the chapter. I would love to see a sequel, but at the same time it would have to go elsewhere. Also any sequel would have to reveal some of the things this film didn't go into, like where do the vampires come from. Things aren't explained, but then there wasn't time, more importantly its not something the characters need to express, they know their world and don't need to rehash it just for us. AsmMartin says in his voice over"Her story is like everyone else's", meaning they all know what is going on. (One of the films strengths is that the character development is in the silences and in the actions and interactions, we don't have words when a look will do.)

Secondly if the film is flawed its that the brotherhood, the nominal "villains" of the piece, are drawn unevenly. In some places they are supposed to be really powerful, but what we see often undercuts that. Its a minor point and only kicks up if you think about it.

As my friend Stan and I bolted when the end credits rolled, I stopped in the darkness to tell Gavin Smith, programmer for the series and the editor of Film Comment, that he made a fantastic choice. Actually I should have asked him was why this wasn't in the New York Film Festival, since this film is proof at how good the programming for the Walter Reade theater is and how disappointing the NYFF was. (but that is another issue all together)

You need to see this film. You need to see it and take it on its own terms and not compare it to anything else. Trust me this film will haunt you. As Stan texted me while we were on our trains going home "This is a film that gets better the more you think about it"

I am remiss in not mentioning names, and I should mention everyone but the two you need to know is director Jim Mickle who has put himself on the map. The other is Nick Damici who wrote the script and stars as Mister. Not only has he written a great film, but he's turned in one hell of a performance. Give him more leads please.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capsule reviews- Two stinkers from Thailand

Today's films are on my replay in hell list. You know when you're in hell fire and there are 9 million channels and only one movie on. Both of today's films are from Thailand, but please don't hold that against the country, they make better films then these would lead you to believe.

I hate this movie.

I hate this movie more than I hate any person. Why? Because I haven't found anyone I hate enough to give my copy of the movie to. Yea its THAT BAD.

The film has something do do with a break up. We watch as a woman mourns the break up of her relationship. There are longing looks. Long shots where nothing happens. Scenes that mean nothing are repeated. Somewhere along the way we get something do do with a dead kid...and ultimately we find out...assuming my tortured memory is right...the break up was actually her death. (sorry I've spoiled it but I just saved you 90 minutes)

One of the dullest least interesting films I've ever seen. NOTHING happens...repeatedly. Its horrible. Its not a mediation is an out and out painful experience. The only thing I can say is that if you like looking at the lead actress while she stands around and does nothing then perhaps you might like this. Then again I suspect not even her mother or her most smitten stalker would make it all the way through this film with out asking out loud if "are the f-ing kidding me?' ten or fifteen times. Avoid it like the plague.

Husband takes his new wife back home to a resort in the jungle. Then nothing much happens for the better part of an hour before we get weird "haunted happenings" all of which are done in a bad style that would make Ed Wood and other "bad" filmmakers look like geniuses. It transpires that years earlier there was a set up deal where the man had scammed a young woman into marriage and out of the resort and when she found out she was killed accidentally. Now years later her spirit wants revenge and shows up to get it. At that point we get some of the stupidest most inept revenge scenes ever put on film. Its awful and so bad as not to be even remotely fun.

I would tell you that the films are out on DVD, but that would be wrong since you might take that knowledge to pick up these pieces of trash and hurt yourself. I can't risk that. Please don't watch either of these films, sure I did, but I have good insurance and they cover stays in mental hospitals. Forget these films. Take it from someone who should be considered to have stuck his hand in the wood chipper so you don't have to.

Zaat (1975)

Several years in the making this film should have stayed on the shelf and unfinished. This is a legendary awful horror film that rightly is near the bottom of the IMDB worst of all time list (lower than even Troll 2). Its a tough haul even for me, a bad movie veteran.

Trust me boys and girls it's the sort of thing that makes you want to put something into your mouth so you don't swallow your tongue.

The film has a mad scientist turning himself into a part man part catfish hybrid and then running amok.

Zaat is one of those ugly nasty movies that has played under any number of titles in order to nail suckers repeatedly. Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran film in their final season using a print titled Blood Waters of Dr Z. It’s a film that I had never seen until May of this year when Turner Classic Movies ran it as part of their late Friday night Underground series. My attention was drawn to it by the long article that they posted on their website which talked about the film and its production

Even though it talked about the film in less than rave terms it over sold the film.

This film is a turkey, or at the very least a mutated catfish (though that’s probably an insult to mutated catfish, and turkeys and any thing that you might you to describe the film other than garbage)

The film begins with a low key narration talking about Sargasso the weed of the sea or something and then goes from there. In the films defense the opening narration is odd enough that it engenders a genuine frisson. The trouble is that after the opening titles we’re left the actual plot of the film and all bets are off.

The plot of the film has a mad scientist turning himself into a weird cross between man and catfish. He then wanders about getting revenge on the people who wronged him. During the scenes with our “hero” we get more of the narration which is a weird internal monologue. During the other scenes we just have poor acting and static camera angles as people discuss what is happening and why.

The piece on Turner Classic talks about scientific accuracy, but I really doubt that that if we could mutate ourselves we’d come up with a look that included zippers and ill fitting stockings. Its an embarrassment and one of the all time worst man in suit costumes. Its ridiculous and you’ll want to laugh; and I‘m sure you’ll laugh but then it kind of becomes sadly pathetic and the disbelief may actually bring a tear to your eye. (If nothing else you’ll wonder how come the work of these inept knuckleheads gets released and your home movies are still sitting on the shelf?)

This film is awful. Its dull and boring and the wrong sort of stupid. It’s a trial to get through. Consider that even allowing for the fact that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is 2 hours with commercial, the episodes run around 95 minutes, which means the show with host segments, commercial bumpers and titles runs the show less time than the uncut film. They must have cut almost half the film out and having looked at the show briefly and while the movie plays better with the riffing its still its a mess

Trust me on this no matter what you think this is a movie to avoid.

Turner has it in rotation and the MST3K version is in one of the box sets. I'd say more but if you're that determined to see the film you can find it yourself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spinning into Butter (2007)

This is day two of our week of horrible films- so bad that even we at Unseen can't find a reason to recomend them. These are the real trash films that should have remained under the stunking cheese and rotten meat cake.

If you ever want to know if I can be offended, and trust me its not an easy thing to do. Sit me down and have me watch this film and have me try not to get up and punch out the filmmakers. I'm not so much offended as disbelieving that anyone could be stupid as the makers of this film are.

Rebecca Gilman's wrongheaded play about racism at a small college is an even more wrongheaded film. This film started out as a well intentioned but misguided play that equated not sitting next to a person of a different race on an empty subway car as racism and it was turned an even more off the mark film. The racism remark came in the middle of what is more or less a twenty minute monologue and was the sort of statement that comes from someone who never rode the New York City subway or knows nothing about personal space. But the play was the play and the film is something else entirely.

The plot has to do with the aftermath of a racial incident and how the rich white head of the college who is suppose to be so liberal maybe isn't, and how political correctness maybe more prejudicial to everyone. I didn't care for the play all that much, which while not bad, managed to over state its position and there by lose its argument. This film version open the play up and manages to do everything wrong from the get go which is the opening credits over a cartoon version of Little Black Sambo. From there the film makes it clear that this film is about "something" and then goes on to hammer home its points like a barbarian with an ax handle in a brawl.

So much is wrong with the basic premise and the movie itself that its hard to pick a point where it's the most wrong. Perhaps its best to first ask the question "How can you even hope to relate to the lead character when she is clearly condescending to everyone?" As much as I didn't care for the play, the one thing that it managed to do was not have you hate the lead character at any point, especially at the start. I mean give the play a few points simply because you don't have questions about her until a good way into the show. Here Sarah Jessica Parker is clearly a twit from her first appearance. I'm guessing its because in opening up the play they trip themselves up.

After a troubled production the film sat on the shelf for a few years and its easy to see why (I mean beyond the fact that the producers apparently didn't pay most of the people connected with the film), the movie isn't much good and its becomes an endurance test to get through.

I'm sure that everyone who made the film has their hearts in the right place, but at the same time, they are like their main character, clueless about how abrasive they are in showing us how wrong the world is. If you haven't guessed it I really hate this film and think you should stay as far way as possible. I'd like to say more bad about the film but doing so will probably just make you want to see the film and frankly that isn't my intention.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creeping Terror (1964)

This week we go in the opposite direction of what this blog is all about. This week we're pointing out films so awful so horrible that they should remain unseen. These are the rabid dogs of the film world, the ones we feel should be shot down where they stand so that the world is safe for film going. These are some of the refuse films that we've had to sit through in order to put a website of lost gems together.

We're gonna start slow and work up to real vitriol during the course of the week. First up Creeping Terror a film about which one can only say a few things, mostly burn the film.

Damn near unwatchable bad film, rightly hailed as one of the worst (as in unwatchable under any circumstances) film, concerns a giant worm like carpet monster with a mouth that looks like genitalia.

Awful in ways that only home movies are this film is one of the worst films of all time and something that even bad movie lovers don't need to experience. I've done so a couple of times and have regretted it every time. Frankly I'd rather chew on tin foil and shave my head with a cheese grater rather than see this again.

As someone who's plumbed the depth of bad movies this really is near the bottom. From the bad music, post dubbed sequences and narration (the soundtrack was lost or never created depending upon the story), poor acting, bad monster suits (one was created which went missing when the producers didn't pay for it so they had to make another which didn't really look like the first), bad acting (yes I know I mentioned acting twice) and tons of mismatched footage(A US rocket is seen to land-it's the monsters ship- but it doesn't match the ship on the ground), this is an inept as they come.

Trust me you don't want to see this, you will not enjoy it in any sort of bad movie MST3K sort of way (even friends and lots of drinks won't help).

Its just awful. Avoid it, and if you don't, don't say I didn't warn you.

For those into self abuse the film is available on DVD.

Red (2010), and from the NYFF: The Hole (2010)

Just wanted to take the time to tell you about a movie that is out in theaters now you should go off and see. I'd also like to take the time to talk about Joe Dante's The Hole which played at the NYFF and which I have yet to write up.

Red is based on Warren Ellis' comic book about retired CIA agents who are put on a hit list for some unknown reason and they end up turning the tables on their pursuers. Of course the bad guys don't have a chance when the good guys are Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Mary Louise Parker. Its a blast. Unfortunately this maybe getting lost in the shuffle of late October releases. If you love action, or the actors, or just a good movie see this. And if any of you ladies reading this think this isn't for you know that there are two great romances in this, with Helen Mirren/Brian Cox one going on the short list of all time great romances. It's wonderful, and so is the movie. Please go see it so that we can get another one. I want to see more of this madness.

Joe Dante's 3D film The Hole hasBold won awards around the world. It's been hailed as one of the best 3D films ever made.

The plot of the film has a family moving into yet another new home. they seem to be running away from something. In the basement the two boys find a trap door thats locked with numerous locks. They of course open it and find a bottomless pit. The opening of the pit releases all sorts of weird happenings and it ends up with one brother having to go into the pit to rescue the other.

I think the 3D in this film is truly amazing. Joe Dante, a living encyclopedia of film, knows his film history and he's taken whats worked in every other 3D film and he uses it to great effect. The film is light and shadow and levels of space stretching back into the screen. Yea it's among the best I've ever seen. It's the best live action 3D that I've seen, only some of the computer animated films are better (and thats because they can control and modify every bit of it.)

Unfortunately the film itself isn't much beyond just being good. Its a plot that has been done before and while there are a few scary moments, or what passes for them, the film feels way too much like a family film for it to be as scary as it should be.In all honesty we feel way too safe. Dante's earlier film films like Gremlins or even Looney Tunes Back in Action never felt like they were kids films. This feels like a kids film that is good for you.

I'm kind of glad I didn't get to talk to Dante at the screening at the NYFF because frankly the first thing I would have asked him would have been why did you make a kids film, instead of just a film. The insistence that the film have a target audience is what sinks it since the cast, the effects and everything else is there.

I like it I didn't love it, and while I have reservations I will say that if you want to see 3D done right see this film.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sea Around Us (1953)

Irwin (Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno/Lost in Space) Allen's Oscar winning look at the ocean and seas. Actually its bases on a book by Rachel Carson. This is a 62 minute look at various sea life.

The film begins with a horrible creation of the world bit that segues into a god awful "This is the sea..." or similar nonsense where we get quick cutting and stentorian speech thats more at home in a exploitation trailer "See man vs shark" that sort of thing over and over again. After about ten minutes of really lousy material the film settles down into footage of sea life.

To be certain by today's standards its nothing special when compared to the numerous Discovery Channel specials, but its still impressive. Some of it it is actual sea footage, some is from aquariums and much of the non-nature footage is staged or borrowed. but it doesn't matter since once the film gets up and running it just neat stuff (though I could have lived with out the man vs shark bit).

Its a good film and worth a shot. I should mention that the film ends with a warning about global warming, which the film says started just before 1900 and which "very shortly" will cause the seas to rise and will flood us all out. Clearly Al Gore is late on the band wagon yet again.

This was just released by the Warner Brothers Archieve Collection and it's so good that I'm going to upgrade my copy from a nostalgia show.

Metropolis on a BIG screen and other things

The Complete Metropolis is playing in Manhattan's Ziegfeld theater until November 4. Thats one of the biggest screens in NYC which makes seeing it there a must. Sure it's going to be on DVD(November 16) and TCM (November 7) but this is the way it was meant to be seen...really BIG. The New York Times had a piece on the film and it can be found here.

AFTERSHOCK, which I reviewed this past Monday is getting a limited US release starting Friday according to IMDB. Keep an eye out in case it plays by you.

This is a link to a piece on footage that was shot in San Francisco days before the earthquake in 1906. The web page tells the story of how a camera was strapped to the front of a trolley and it's trip was filmed, thereby preserving what the city was like before it was destroyed. There is more to the story so you'll want to check the page out and see the film for yourself.

The New York Times on the South Asian International Film festival which is next week can be found here.

There may not be enough animated films for more than 3 Oscar nominations. Read about it here.

A piece on the widescreen films of Akira Kurosawa can be found here.

In December Peter Greenaway brings an installation of DaVinci's Last Supper to NYC. Details can be found here. Its like going to Italy without leaving NYC since the inside and the outside of the chapel are recreated including the sounds.

A list of the best films by genre

USA Today picks the best documentaries ever

Saturday, October 23, 2010

With Byrd at the South Pole (1930)

This weekend we're taking a look at two Oscar winning documentaries from the early days of the Oscars.

Oscar winning documentary on Byrd at the Antarctic and his attempt to be the first to fly over it.

This beautifully shot record of what Byrd had to do to be the first man to fly over the South Pole is the type of film that sucks you in and hold you for its entire running time. If you want to know what it was like to be one of the first people to explore the bottom of the world this is for you. To be certain others were there first Roald Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton were all there first, but Byrd was still there when there were no permanent facilities and a trip to the ice was a years long adventure. This is amazing stuff (even if some of it seems staged). If there is any real flaw its that the flight to the Pole is almost anti-climatic when compared with just trying to survive.

It should noted that the film is mostly silent. Sound film was really just taking off when the expedition was taking off, and even so the sound equipment would never have passed the weight restrictions. What sound there is comes from an introduction by Byrd, sound effects, and some narration during the actual flight.

Recommended. (More so if you've seen the footage of Ernest Shackleton and his ill fated trip since this adds to your knowledge of what it must have been like for them as well)

This film is currently out on DVD and can be had from the usual sources.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tall Guy (1989)

The Tall GuyMost of the movies scripted by Blackadder and Mr. Bean co-creator Richard Curtis—Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually—have become popular in America, cementing our belief that England is populated by lovable, eccentric, floppy-haired hapless would-be lovers and their escapades all set to British pop music of the seventies and eighties. That's why it's surprising that his most recent film The Boat That Rocked apparently got a ten minute release window to two theaters in the United States, and was retitled Pirate Radio apparently in case Americans didn't get the pun.

But also often overlooked on Curtis's resumé is his first film, The Tall Guy (1989)—and that's a shame. Yes, it's much of the same as his other flicks: a lovable, eccentric, floppy-haired hapless would-be lover's escapades set to British pop music of the seventies and eighties. (Never let it be said that Richard Curtis doesn't focus on his strengths.) That aforementioned heighty fella is sad sack Dexter King, played with appropriate pathos by Jeff Goldblum.

The Tall Guy

Goldblum has, I think, a deft comic touch that's let his rise above the material in fairly mediocre films like eighties films Earth Girls Are Easy and Transylvania 6-5000. What can he do given a good script? Well, really shine, as The Tall Guy shows us.

The usual elements of a Richard Curtis film are all in place (if not entirely refined), including the wacky roommate—this time Geraldine James as a cheerful nymphomaniac in a succession of stylish hats.

The Tall Guy

There's the disabled pal (Tim Barlow as a blind man allergic to his guide dog) and longtime Curtis collaborator Rowan Atkinson steals scenes as comedian Ron Anderson, the comedy star boss to Dexter's beleaguered straight man (mirroring, but with definitely more venom, Curtis's own on-stage work and relationship with Atkinson).

The Tall Guy

Like any good Curtis character, Dexter's wistfully looking for love, and he and Curtis, and we luck out when he falls in love with nurse Kate Lemmon (Emma Thompson). Yes, that Emma Thompson.

The Tall Guy

Before the Nancy McPhee wart makeup, before the Branagh-esque Shakespeare movies, before the Oscar for Jane Austen adaptation, Thompson was actually quite an accomplished comedienne , starring alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton, and the members of the Comedy Store (which led to The Young Ones and French and Saunders). She is also devastatingly witty and sexy in this, her first major screen role. Thompson's subsequent work would sharpen her skills, but it's fun to see her play a little broader, a little bigger than her later movies—still dry and sarcastic, bemoaning her fate to be named Kate Lemmon. ("It could have been worse," muses Dexter. "You could have been called Hitler, or Tampon.")

Not just Kate Lemmon but Curtis's other characters are still a wee bit unpolished and unhoned compared to his later films (true, Goldblum can't pull off quite the level of bumbling lovableness Hugh Grant would in Curtis's later movies) and his dialogue and scripting are a little rough. (There's a slapstick sex scene which is actually more painful to watch than either funny or sexy), and there's a long and silly digression into Dexter's success on stage in a musical version of The Elephant Man (called, of course, Elephant!).

The Tall Guy

Not yet here is the empathy and strength of the grand circle of friends Curtis would surround his protagonists with, and the roller-coaster track of love lost and regained (aw, it's a Richard Curtis film, surely I'm not spoiling the plot for you with that) is decidedly less subtle: boy and girl fall in love, boy cheats on girl, boy goes through hell, boy regains girl. The Tall Guy is decidedly good light romantic fun and a head above most of the other romantic comedies of the time, but perhaps its become an Unknown Film because Curtis's later works follow the same pattern but with greater skill and wit. So look at it then not as the epitome of Curtis's career—he's still making films and I hope they'll actually be released in the US this time around—but as a solid beginning to a critically-acclaimed career, writing a decent funny and sexy romp. And not only do we discover what totally excellent musical taste Dexter King has...

The Tall Guy

...but we also get to see Emma Thompson in turquoise and orange pajamas.

The Tall Guy

Who could ask for anything more?

The Tall Guy is available on DVD.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Priceless (2006)

Gold diggers! As vital a part of culture as jazz and the cheeseburger, but gold diggers have never made that leap to trendy popular acceptance. Sure, in 1929 you had Warner Brothers' Gold Diggers of Broadway burning up all the bijous—so popular that, like the Star Wars films, sequels were quickly rushed into production! Gold Diggers of 1933! Gold Diggers of 1935! And...I think you know where I'm going with this...Gold Diggers of 1937! America couldn't get enough of gold diggers!

Gold Diggers of 1930-something

...until the forties, WWII, and austerity. Aside from Walter Huston and Humphrey Bogart, gold diggers were out of fashion. The fifties? No gold diggers. The sixties? Just a dancing troupe for Dean Martin to stumble against. The seventies, eighties, nineties? No gold diggers. I think my point, and I do have one, is that there haven't been many gold diggers in motion pictures over the past fifty years.

Priceless/Hors de prixEnter the French film Priceless (2006), directed by Pierre Salvadori and starring Audrey Tautou (c'mon, you fell in love with her too in Amélie), with comedian Gad Elmaleh in his usual role of the hapless but lovable loser.

Amélie Audrey is Irène, cozying up to rich older men on the French Riviera: in exchange for gifts of expensive dresses, shoes, jewelry and trips, Audrey provides a reciprocal...let's say companionship—the finest that money can buy. She mistakes hotel barman Jean (Elmaleh) for a rich guest and promptly (and drunkly) falls into bed with him...and he in love with her.


A year later, the same happens again, except this time he's found out, and that's where the fun begins.

Except...well, this is a French film, and fun takes a different route and drives a smaller, flashier car on the Continent. Jean leaves his job, pursues Irène down the Riviera, and bankrupts himself to attempt to keep her attention and win her heart. When he runs out of money, he finds he must take up with rich older Madeleine a to keep himself, like Irène, afloat in the sea of wealth.


Irène adopts Jean as her pet project: to teach him how to tease and coax the finest gifts and attention out of his new keeper. Except, of course, Jean has never really stopped loving Irène...

There's a lot of gorgeous location photography in Priceless: lush expansive hotels, bars, and the deep blue of the Mediterranean...


And of course, approximately one million gorgeous, slinky dresses for Irène to show off:


All this is filmed against a backdrop of the glorious haze of yellow tropical sunlight or the deep rich reds and golds of swank hotel interiors, like a vacation poster dream come true. The tropical surroundings gives director Salvadori a chance to frame Audrey Tautou in brilliance like an angel, and it's when we see her in softer, cooler light (dawn on the beach, shivering in a deck chair at dusk) that the halo comes off and we see the girl inside the gold digger.


So: romantic comedy? Sure—Gad Elmaleh plays awkward and socially inept without lapsing into pratfalls or caricature, and Marie-Christine Adam gives a wonderful light touch to the imperious but needy Madeleine, the woman keeping Jean. But ultimately everything spins around Audrey Tautou, and in this Holly Golightly-type role, she's not that other Audrey. Gorgeous, yes, but expressive, moody one moment, bright and perky the next—that's what's called for in this role, and Tautou approaches the character with expression A switching to expression A2. Competent enough, but she's an actress playing an actress, and just as her role as gold digger slips from time to time, so too does Tautou get snagged trying to shift gears smoothly from courtesan to coquette. Perhaps it's Amélie to blame after all: the world fell in love with her eyes in that movie, those big wide eyes with her irises as dark as her pupils, and the rapid pace, Paris scenery, and whimsy of Amélie kept me from realizing at first exactly how much she depends on acting with her eyes to the point where she's three or four flutters away from a Tex Avery cartoon.


In the middle of a particularly lengthy Tautou optical performance, I caught myself wondering how a different actress—say, Virginie Ledoyen, Aure Atika, or Élodie Bouchez—would have portrayed this character. Mentally recasting the movie while your watching it is a little like putting that chair there and this one here on the deck of a ship...pretty harmless, yes, but distracting you from the iceberg—or film— at hand.

Subtract points as well for a pat and unconvincing ending...but really, I'm nitpicking at the fringe of a romantic comedy. It's all done with such a gentle touch that it can be forgiven. Despite coming to Priceless specifically for Audrey Tautou, I found myself enjoying it despite her.

Brainier than Sex and the City and Frenchier than Breakfast at Tiffany's, Priceless comes at the pleasant but distracting price of gazing into Audrey Tautou's big pool eyes, which ain't a bad thing on any day. But I look forward to seeing her someday in a role that calls for sunglasses most of the time to see her stretch chops other than her hyaloid. French Hollywood, it's time for an all-female remake of Reservoir Dogs, non?


(Priceless is available on English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Exorcism (2010)

This is the most recent entry in the fake documentary sweepstakes. It’s a genre that encompasses things like, the mostly excellent The Last Broadcast, the nausea inducing The Blair Witch Project, the mostly good Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity among others. It’s also one of the better films in the genre

The plot off the film follows a minister from the American south who has a big following and who has made a reputation as an exorcist. His feelings is that the idea of possession is nothing more than a form of mental illness and that by putting on a good show he is helping the so called possessed. Deciding to hang it up and move on he picks a random letter from the pile of requests for help and says that he and the film crew will follow the path where ever it takes them. Unfortunately what the minister and the film crew find is nothing that could ever have imagined.

Low key and matter of fact the film is a slowly building film that is low on gore and high on creepy tension. We don’t see everything that happens we often only see the aftermath, with the result that our minds fill in the blanks. It’s a ballsy thing to do in these days of hyped up gore and violence but it works in spades. My skin was crawling as I watched the minister and the film crew try to deal with things that seem to have a rational explanation but really don’t. I liked that the terror was not from jumps and starts but from sounds and images of things that just don’t look right, some of which are fleeting and make you wonder if you saw or heard what you think you did.

In all honesty I was hesitant to see the film. As good as the film looks the fact that one of the writers was Huck Botko, a man who came to my attention through a series of short films called Cooking with Huck Botko, put me off to seeing the film. These little poisoned confections are about Botko making vile things to eat and serving them to unsuspecting friends and family. Its all a set up of course, but its so well done that you really can’t be sure-until you look at the IMDB listing and find actors listed for the short films. I figure Last Exorcism was going to be as tasteless as those films, but surprisingly it’s not. It is however like his nasty little shorts in that very quickly you forget that the film is make believe and you begin to believe that the story is real.

Bravo Mr Botko for messing with my expectations and doing something wonderful.

I know the film has taken some brick bats for not being a typical horror film with monsters and demons and gore, but to me that’s what is so great about this film, its closer to reality than the vast majority of horror films, which are so out there that you wonder why anyone gets scared (A prime example of this unreality is the recent film Devil, about five people in an elevator being hunted by the devil. This rates higher at IMDB than Exorcism? Please. Its over the top). This one stays close to reality, and some of the silliness that a situation like this might create, and is better for it.

I think this is worth a look when it hits DVD.

Robinson in Space

I did not get to see Robinson in Ruins at the New York Film Festival, however I did pick up the earlier films in the series London and this one Robinson in Space.

Robinson in Space is a cinematic essay by Patrick Keiller. It consists of mostly static shots of locations around England while Paul Scofield, narrates the tale of Robinson being hired by an advertising firm to solve "the English problem". What that is is never completely explained but it allows for a discussion of people and places around England and about Robinson, who is a kind of stand in for the director.

Similar to some of the short work of Peter Greenaway (as well as his epic film The Falls), the work of Chris Marker (Sans Soleil), some of the films of Werner Herzog (Wild Blue Yonder) and films like Time and Tide this is part documentary part essay part fiction film that some people are going to love and some people are going to hate.

For some people the problem with this film is going to be that it's little more than a moving slide show with narration. The images are suppose to interact with the narration to form a new story. When it works say Greenaway's Walk Thru H or Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder you come to believe that what you're seeing is real (In the case of Walk Thru H that what you seeing are really maps and in the Yonder that the shots under the ice are an alien world).

For me the film mostly works. Its an intriguing tour of England both past and present that mixes together that forms a travelogue unlike almost anything else out there. For the films 80 minute or so running time I got lost in this tale of England that was trying to get a handle on this unnamed "problem".

To be honest I love this sort of film. Actually I love anything that makes us see things in a new way. The great comedian Jackie Vernon does a bit which is one of the most ingenious bits of theater I've ever seen. Standing by a wall he has a spot light shine on the wall next to him. As he clicks a clicker the light flashes like a slide projector. Vernon then tells us all about his family. Vernon speaks a line and we fill in the images. As the bit goes on and we get more and more sucked in the laughs get bigger since we've created this wonderful world that doesn't exist. It's something that Vernon reminds us of at the very of the piece to usual gales of laughter.

While Robinson in Space never reaches the heights of Jackie Vernon's piece, nor of some of the other films in the narrow genre, it is a very good film. I do recommend it but before you pick it up, do consider if you're going to like the film. I mean its all talk and very little motion.

One review of Robinson in Ruins which follows this film, called it part of a genre that is best suited to film festivals and a small audience that likes this sort of things. I like this sort of thing when done right so I liked this film.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

El Zorro de Jalisco (1941)

I picked this up in the dollar bin because it had Zorro on the title. I have no idea what the English title is since I don't speak Spanish, however I do know this is a good little film.

The plot of the film seems to be a man and a woman meeting on a train as they both head to the same destination. She is a beauty, while he is a good looking but studious looking fellow. Getting ride from the train station they come upon some bad guys chasing a man on horse back. The man is killed and the baddies ride off. It transpires that the man who was shot is the father of the girl and that the bad guys have taken over her land and are running rough shod over the area. Everyone ends up in the hotel in town. When out heroine asks our hero for help he refuses, however it isn't long before he dons a full head mask and rides to the rescue as a later day Zorro.

Not quite action packed but completely entertaining this movie was a great deal of fun. You didn't need words to know what was being said, you only needed to watch what was going on. This is a great example of the power of movies to over come language barriers.

One of the things I liked was that the good guy was someone not to be messed with. There is an early scene when he tries to get the bad guys to leave so they shoot at his feet; he never moves, which tells you just how strong a guy he is. He's a bad dude, no one realizes it.

The action, when it comes, is really good, and a late in the film fight between the real Zorro and a fake Zorro is one of the natiest fights I've seen. I suspect that the two guys really went at it with real furniture because as you watch the blows land they have real effect. The fight also slows down as the two men are seen to be exhausted. Its amazing.

This is a solid little action film that is worth keeping an eye out for when you get to the dollar store.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Aftershock (2010)

Xiaogang Feng's adaption of the novel Zhang Ling by Su Xiaowei is about the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and its aftermath over the next 32 years. It is a film that will kick you in the heart and leave you a ball of mush. Its one of the most powerfully emotional films of the year and even though I don't know at what level I like it I have to put it on my list of the Best Films of 2010 since few film have made me this emotional.

The story begins hours before the earthquake starts. Things are not right and the animals know it. Insects swarm, fish try to flee their tanks. The people are unaware. Late at night the sky goes purple and the earth moves. When its done 250,000 people (maybe more) were dead. The film follows one family, a mother, father and their twin children, a boy and a girl. The earthquake divides the family, father is killed, the children are trapped. Mom has to make a horrific choice that will play out for the next thirty two years. Its not giving anything away to say that the young girl left for dead doesn't die and the course back is the bulk of the movie.

A film of people, the horror of the first 20 minutes comes because what we are watching is the destruction of the lives of real people. When one woman cries out "God you Bastard!" you feel the depth of her pain. The emotion of the next hour and forty odd minutes of screen time and 32 years of movie time works because we have real people on screen. We feel for everyone, mother and son, the lost daughter and her adoptive parents. These are real people and not cyphers or stand ins. Often I wanted to say it was too soap opera but at the same time the choices felt real and right.

The film is also an examination in the changes in China over the decades. What made the mother make the choice she did? Societal attitudes. We watch the gowth of women in Chinese society as attitudes change. We also see how China grows from a closed society to one that is more open so that when the Sichuan earthquake happens in 2008, help from the outside can come in. There is more going on then just soap opera.

I don't want to say too much since the film's power comes from its story and I don't want to tell you too much.

In its way the film is a masterpiece. Like the directors earlier Assembly which I reviewed back on Memorial Day, this is a film that is kind of built backwards with the big "action" at the start and the quiet contemplation afterward. This film is playing in Asia on IMAX screens and I wonder how that is going over since after the first 20 minutes it's all small scale story telling.

You need to see this film. Its a wonderful story of hope and rebirth.

Its out on import DVD and is worth tracking down.

Actually my question is who is responsible for this not getting play at the major film festivals? I suspect that the New York Asian Film festival didn't get it because it opened after that but why isn't it at the New York Film Festival or say Venice or Toronto? Its one of the more emotionally charged films of the year and worth more than the oblivion I fear it maybe resigned to. (Then again word came last week that this is China's official choice for the Oscars, so their is hope)

Search this one out. You may not love it, but I think you'll at least like it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A few notes on film festivals and links

The year marches on and we're still heading toward film festivals.

The South Asian International Film Festival starts October 27 and runs to November 2 here in New York. As it stands now I have one film (Gandu or Asshole) in the cue. I'm trying to see if I can arrange more but its a crazy weekend and my house is going to be haunted so I'm limited in what I can see.

The New York City Horror Film Festival
is running November 10 to 14. I'm going to try and go to some of it. However I've arranged for coverage from someone who is planning on seeing it all. Mr Robert Melville has been to every festival and seen every film which makes him the perfect person to cover the festival. Reports will be forth coming and I can't wait.

Lincoln Center's 4th annual Scary Movies Festival is coming Halloween weekend. This conflicts with the South Asian International Film Festival, but I'm making time to see Stake Land. Its described as The Road meets Zombieland but not funny. Thats all well and good, but for me the selling point was the fact its directed by the same person who directed Mulberry Street, which is one of the best horror films of the last few years. We'll be looking at Mulberry Street on December 6th.

A couple of cool links:

August Ragone over at his blog, The Good The Bad The Godzilla is celebrating Halloween Every Day this month with a classic horror portrait. The pictures and the details can be found here.

A Virtual tour of the Vatican can be found here. It's a graphic intensive tour that allows you to move around as you'd like. I know its not movie related but it's just beautiful and very cool.

An on line collection of Mike Wallace Interviews from the 50's and 60's can be found here. Its a collection of all sorts of people.

Hollywood Jabberwocky

Exterminating Angels (2006)

This is a fictionalized story based on the preparation the director went through making his previous film, Secret Things (which of course you know since you read yesterdays did read yesterday's post?)

The story concerns the director talking to women and auditioning them by having them masturbate or engage in lesbian sex for their on screen role.The women open up to him and during the try outs he finds, at times the women, while clearly enjoying themselves can't always give him what he wants (what ever that is).

I'm not sure what its all about or what the point was but I really enjoyed it both times I've seen it now.

This is a a funny sexy off kilter film with spirits and apparitions wandering through it (where they came from or what they are doing isn't really explained, but at the same time it completely makes sense). As you can tell from the description, and from the warning that this film is full of nudity and one that his is plainly adult viewing. For me the sex and nudity is not what important to the film being adult, it's that there are grown up ideas floating around. There is a wonderful real intelligence behind the camera make this a film I like a great deal. There is a realness of a sort to it all (even with the ghosts) that I don't usually find in a film with frank sexual discussions, though I would love any women to tell me how true the feelings of the women in this film are.

Worth a look for after you put the kids to bed.

Currently out on DVD.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bully and Shelly review Red

Over at Bully's blog Bully and Shelly sit down and give a shot to watching RED. If you remember what happened when they saw Gone with the Wind,you may have some idea what happened. If you want to take a look, and you do, trust me you do, the madness can be found here.

Secret Things (2002)

This weekend a film and a film about the making of the film made by the same director...

Two women who work at a bar decide to use sex to get what they want from life. While they become very successful, things also end up taking a turn or two that they didn't expect.

I liked this very adult movie very much. This is a very sexy movie with some very likable women as the leads. The prospect of using sex as a means to an end is of course a way of life for many people, both male and female, and here we see it in action.

Watching it I was surprised by how the film didn't go in the directions I thought it would and was pleased that it wasn't this dark noirish tale that cover art seemed to imply. Actually as I was watching the film I was struck by how much this film reminded me of Exterminating Angels, another off beat, but in a good way, French film about a director trying to get the right women to perform sexually for a film he was doing. When I checked IMDB after watching Secret Things I found that the director for both films was the same and that the process of making Secret Things was the inspiration for Exterminating Angels.

I can't wait to have a double feature. A great deal of nudity and sexual activity, so keep this away from the kids. Recommended.

(By the way Exterminating Angels is tomorrows film)

Friday, October 15, 2010

La Soufriere (1977)

When word that La Soufriere, a volcano, was about to explode Werner Herzog dropped everything and ran off to try and find the one inhabitant of the small island that didn't leave. Scientists were expecting an explosion of catastrophic proportions and fled themselves. When Herzog and his camera men arrived on the island they were greeted by a eerily silent landscape and a sense of impending doom.

The film that resulted from Herzog's trip is strange viewing experience. As Herzog remarks its as if he were dropped into a science fiction movie where everyone in the world has disappeared but the electric, phones and TVs still worked. Its a place where thousands of snakes fled the rumbling mountain by going into the ocean while the only humans around spend time getting closer to the danger. Its an odd experience as we watch and wait for what we are told is inevitable....

Herzog has made a film of stark beauty that is also deeply disturbing. There is something about it that is not quite right. Of course it has to do with the fact that the film is like real life Waiting for Godot, we are waiting for the end that never comes, despite all the signs. Its an unnerving proposition that messes with your head, but in a good way. Its 30 minutes well spent.

This is currently out in the Werner Herzog Documentary and short film box set from Herzog's web sit but also on a DVD of three short films of Herzog's work.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Werner Herzog looks at what it means to be handicapped

Land of Silence and Darkness (1971)
Story of Fini Straubinger who is "trapped" in her own body being both deaf and blind. Since the condition came on later in life she is able to speak and tells us what its like. We also watch as she goes around helping those like her. Communication is done via touching or writing on the hands. It becomes clear that the people in the film with this condition are trying to live full lives. An amazing film that shows us what its like not to be able to hear or see. Hopeful and yet unnerving-its not a state one really wants to contemplate having-its an important film since we see the world with a different set of eyes. Taking the matter even further Herzog and his crew also show us what its like for people born deaf and blind and how hard it is for them to even learn the basic things we take for granted. Moving. Haunting. Worth a look since it will make you reflect on how we get along.

Handicapped Future (1971)
Werner Herzog co directed film about handicapped children in Germany in 1969. The point of the film is that the Germans don't want anything to do with the kids who are all but locked away. Even the fact that they are building special apartment blocks for the kids and their families is seen as segregation from the rest of society. Its a sad film in that the kids are clearly seen to be no different then normal kids, only with physical handicaps that reduce their mobility. Its a damning indictment of German society at the time especially when in the final minutes the film moves to America where we see a young man who moved to the US to get a college degree. He is a teacher and able to to go where and do what he wants thanks to an understanding society. Its a good film that that only suffers in retrospect since almost 40 years on we don't know how far Germany may or may not have come. (Its also eerie in that watching it it becomes very understandable how some of the Holocaust happened-the German's clearly wanted imperfection locked away.) 6.5 out of 10 because its dated in some ways.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bells from the Deep (1995)

Portrait of superstition and faith in Russia.

Completely neutral Werner Herzog film simply shows the people as they are and lets them speak for themselves. One is a "reincarnation" of Christ speaking of love and brotherly love. Another is a man who plays the bells at a church. We see a faith healer and mystic blessing a couple. We also spend time at a village near a Russian lake. Here is its said that God saved a village from the Mongol Hordes by placing it at the bottom of a lake, where if the conditions are right you can see it through the ice when the lake freezes in the winter.

Non-judgmental to the point that anything approaching a voice over is simply the translation of the words of those we see on screen. Even the "silliness" of the people who live near the lake with their crawling around it from holy site to holy site ceases to be funny when you realize that these people actually believe in what they are telling you. It's a haunting film that makes you wonder about how and what some people believe.

Highly recommended.


Okay what you just read was essentially the post I made for the film at IMDB. in looking for a picture for this post I ran across a piece, I thought it was in Slate but I'm not sure now, which quoted my review and then took me to task for believing the film was serious.

I was bewildered and confused. How did they know what Herzog's intentions were? I was shocked so I watched the film again. Watching the film again I tried to find out why they would think it wasn't serious, I mean beyond the intrinsic silliness (at least to me) of some of the material?

I can't figure it out.

Taking their questions to heart I was faced with a serious question- How can we ever tell what an artist means if there are no clues in the material? Think about it you can't have an instruction sheet with every film, book and painting. To do so would work against the purpose of art.

After much thought and much discussion, I've concluded you can't. Once you put something out you have to allow it to be taken for what it is. If people get it then you've succeeded. If they don't you've failed- or failed as far as what you've intended.

Works of art are like children you can't control them once you send them out the door.

As for Bells From the Deep, I stand by my review. That's how I feel.

I don't know, as of this writing, what Herzog intended, and on some level I don't care. I like the film as I see it. Down the road when I get more distance I'll look to see what Herzog intended, but for now I'll take the film as I first came upon it, completely fresh and on face value with in interpretations from anyone, even the director.

On October 2nd I saw Herzog briefly speak about his films in connection with a screening of Caves of Forgotten Dreams. When asked about whether we can trust what we see in his documentaries he said consider that everything you see has been filtered through him. Every shot choice is his, everything you see was done by him in order to get to what he calls the ecstatic truth which is something we have to work out and fill in for ourselves. We have to be an active participant in the film. If that is the case and since Herzog doesn't seem to be condescending to his subjects then I would say that the film is more or less true at least on an emotional level.

The short list of Foreign Language Oscar choices

Indie Wire posted the list of films that are in the running for best Foreign Language film for the up coming Oscars.

Its an interesting list that has two films from this years New York Film Festival, and Uncle Bonmee and Of Gods and Men. Both films I had on my dance card but missed because of my bad back.

Other films of note are three that screened as part of the New York Asian Film Festival and which were reviewed here at Unseen Films.

Confessions from Japan. This is the nasty little confection about a teacher seeking revenge on her students for killing her child. This destroyed some in the audience, while I and some others admired it more than liked it.

Echoes the Rainbow from Hong Kong. This is about a family in Hong Kong during the 60's. Despite an award winning performance by Simon Yam this film just missed for me.

Aftershock from China is also Monday's film here at Unseen Films. This is the 30 year tale of a family following the earthquake in Tangshan in 1976. The film kicked me to the curb and it's one of the best films of the year.

For those who want to see the full list can follow the link to the post here.

Wings of Hope (2000)

Christmas 1971. A plane full of people crashes into the Amazon Jungle. A massive search is started and the wreckage is found. Despite the best efforts of rescuers no one is found alive and the search is called off. 16 Days later Juliane Koepcke, aged 17 stumbles out of the jungle, the only survivor.

Leave it to Werner Herzog to talk Juliane to go back into the jungle and show us what it was like. Amazing, hypnotic film who's subject haunted Herzog for decades-he was in the airport at the time the plane took off when he was making Aguirre The Wrath of God. Clearly Herzog's obsession is our gain since this is a film that you fall into and watch in a state of wondrous disbelief. Tthe thought of what this young girl went through is mind blowing, even if you take into account that she was raised in the jungle at a scientific station. No matter how you slice it she was ten ways to Sunday lucky. Julianne tells us what happened in a weird detached manner of fact manner that is strangely inviting and yet eerily unemotional. As she says she has wall up that will keep her safe.

Its a wild film of an amazing story, a sibling of Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Aguirre. I kept thinking that someone should turn it into a movie---and then Herzog shows clips from the movie that was made of the story complete with catty commentary by Juliane Koepcke who is standing in the jungle laughing at the silliness of it. I was very amused.

See this film. It will amaze you. Better it will entertain and inform you.

Roger Waters-The Wall (or DB goes slightly off topic)

Okay, technically this isn't a movie but a rock concert, but since the show uses tons of film projections, including the classic animations that were used in the 1980 concerts and the Alan Parker film, I can get away with mentioning the show. Actually most of the show has some form of film background making the show a sort of silent film with a live rock band score.

What I wanted to say was if you ever wanted to see the classic Pink Floyd album presented live and if you can afford the very pricey tickets (even the cheap seats are a chunk of change with Ticketmaster fees) go see the show. Its amazing. Words fail me.

All I can say is go.

If you love the music, odds are you'll love the show...and you'll never get another chance to see the animated Trial on a screen this HUGE (who needs IMAX?)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Werner Herzog- Two Looks at the Man

Today I present two looks at the man himself. One made by himself and another made by others.

Portrait Werner Herzog (1986)
Odd rambling self portrait by Werner Herzog on himself. Mixing brief biographical information with clips from his movies this is more a sketch than a real portrait, and even then its incomplete since he only touches a handful of films and never really gives full biographical details.The problem here is much of this film can be found in other films in other forms, the clips certainly can be seen in other films, but even a chunk of the biographical info can be found in other documentaries about the man (I Am My Films, My Best Friend, Burden of Dreams). The result is a film that is mostly going to be a loss to anyone coming to Herzog and his films with out some form of prior knowledge since the material doesn't have much context. That said anyone who is a fan and who loves his movies are going to be nicely diverted for its brief running time as we get a few bits of information concerning his life and learn of at least one unrealized project, a mountain film that was to be made with Klaus Kinski. Worth a look for fans, but anyone not knowing of Werner Herzog and his back catalog should stay away or risk being lost or worse bored

I AM MY FILMS (1979)
Want to know why I love the films of Werner Herzog (he's possibly my favorite director)? This is the reason. In my film class in high school we were shown this film and several of his films.The result was a life long passion for the man and his movies. The film is an interview done at the time of Stroszek, it has Herzog talking about each film, talking about their creation and what he hoped to achieve. Its the director explaining his films in a way that enlightens on more than just a cinematic level. Herzog not only talks about his films but also his larger ideas about what film is, both fiction and documentary. One of the reasons this film is so powerful is that we get some of the more hypnotic scenes from his films, the decent in Aguirre, The procession from Even Dwarfs Started Small, the volcano that wouldn't blow up, and on and on, all explained by the man himself, all hung out so that their beauty might tempt us to dive deeper into his back catalog. The result is that we get a greater appreciation for what we are seeing in the films he talks about and cinema itself. Its magic. Its the best sort of documentary, the subject in his own words. Its one of the best (filmmaker) portraits I've seen and an interesting companion piece to Herzog's My Best Friend, where Herzog once again talks about his films, though with a bend toward his Klaus Kinski films. This film will help you understand what he is doing better than any other film, article or book. If you love films you need to see this, more so if you love the films of Werner Herzog. Just see this film.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now that the festivals/ conventions are over.... the disappointment and the hope

Sitting home resting. Its been a crazy month or so. Its been film festivals and conventions and movies at home and in theaters, not to mention doctor's offices. Its been a blur, so much so that on one level I never want to see another movie again.

As I decompress I've come up with a few observations that I'd thought I'd share. (This maybe a bit jagged my editor is on a plane home and an I'm posting this before he gives it a once over)

The New York Film Festival

As you may remember the original plan was for me to see most of the films screened during the festival, however I pulled up lame so the number of films that I saw was greatly reduced. On some level I feel like I've failed as a correspondent, on another level I'm not to sure it was as big a tragedy as I think.

In all honesty the Film Festival disappointed me.

Certainly I didn't see nearly the number of films and events as I should have to make a fair decision, but after talking to other people at screenings and reading reviews of the films I missed, I have to come to the conclusion that this years festival is kind of a bust.

The general consensus that I seemed to get was that not many films really stood out. Yes Social Network was lauded, but my viewing of the film leads me to believe its wildly over rated. Actually I'm so disappointed that there is a On Further Review piece scheduled for November.(I'm hoping to see it again). Other films at the Festival seemed to get mixed reactions with films like Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives splitting the audiences into those who fell asleep and those that loved it.

The best film as far as I can piece together was Mike Leigh's Another Year, which had anyone who saw it being rapturous about it. For me this dovetails nicely with the fact that the best thing I saw at the festival was the Mike Leigh talk.

Certainly no film that I know of got the hate that Black Venus seemed to get from the audience. While nothing was thrown at the screen, the death threats and vocal displeasure when it was over(and in the case of the guy next to me all during the film) seems to indicate that who ever picked the film has lost their minds. (and in the five days since I've seen the film I'm turned it over in my head and frankly I can see what it was getting at but on the other hand its a one note look at racism and human nature and loses the ability to be defended because of its wickedly over long running time)

On some level I'm disappointed with the selection committee and I'd like to take them to task. I know this is something that may be cutting me off from future screenings as a member of the press but I think on some level they missed the mark this year. Granted the fact I haven't liked the films this year is a matter of personal taste. However I feel that I can say this because the Festival was advertising it self as presenting the 28 films that were the most important of the year. I don't see it.

On some level the big reveal of Social Network does count for presenting one film that is important. Whether I like it or not and whether the film has problems or not is not the point. The film has gotten people talking which is good. However outside of that what has the festival really done?

I don't know. I think the festival has taken some good, some okay and at least one terrible movie from other festivals and repackaged them as something they are not, namely being of more value than they really are. I don't think the Festival really picked the most important films of the year. In my personal opinion perhaps the only film that they showed that really mattered was Nuremberg, a reconstruction of a lost film on the Nuremberg war crimes trials. No it's not the best film ever. On some level I might even say that it isn't compelling, however as a look back at what we thought of the then recent events, and as view of those events in footage we've never seen before the film is invaluable. Good bad or indifferent it is a film of real value.

What of the rest? I don't know.

I know part of the problem with the festival is that its no longer the only game in town. Not only does it now come after several other film festivals, it is now also competing directly with several festivals in the New York area, for example The Hamptons Film Festival which stole several films I thought would be shoe ins (including Black Swan), and the GSI Film Festival, which seems to have several interesting films on it's slate.

I'd like to give the people picking the films a pass by saying that this was the best of what was available, but at the same time I have to wonder about why some choices were made.

It may be apocryphal but I have heard that Terrence Malik's new film, Tree of Life was offered to the festival a day late, but they refused to look at it. Considering the stature of the director (and this festival loves directors) and the word that has leaked out about it (a film that is a game changer)I'm kind of shocked that an exception wasn't made.

Yes, I know rules are rules, but at the same time they tend to do some questionable things. For example why do they take some director's films seeming with out question? Specifically why must every Godard film that comes out that play the festival? I am not a fan, and while I have not seen the film the word that I got was that it was an interesting mess. One person at one of the Alice Tully screenings I over heard was griping that if it wasn't Godard it would never have played the festival. I kind of a agree especially when you look back and see how many Godard films,many not particularly good, have played the festival when other films have not you have to wonder if some directors have some unfair advantage. The same question goes for Mysteries of Lisbon, which I kind of liked, but I'm not sure it belonged at the festival. Does the fact that the director Raoul Ruiz has had 7 previous films in the festival get called into giving the film a easier in?

I like some directors, say this week's Unseen Films subject Werner Herzog, but while I will take one of his films sight unseen to try it, I will be the first to say that some of his films stink. I could never in good conscious program some of his stinkers in a festival.

I also am highly suspicious of the festival's seeming over reliance on IFC Films releases. Yes, they tend to be good movies, but over the last few years it seems like a large number of films seem to be coming from that company with in weeks of their release to theaters and pay per view. Then again if IFC could program the festival we might actually have had a better festival.

Full disclosure: Why am I upset with the choices this year? Because the festival has been the weakest series of films programmed at Lincoln Center all year. Look at every series that they have programmed and there is a better selection of films than what was at the festival.

Never mind the Asian Film Festival, which they didn't program and which is still the best programmed festival in New York. Forget the Film Comment Summer Meltdown, which may not really have had stuff I wanted to see on a big screen it still had good stuff. One need only see The New Directors New Films and what they ran there to see how badly they misstepped this year. That series was full of great films. Those films mattered. Those films were important- they were not the puffed up self important films of this years New York Film Festival.

Yes there were some good films, but none that sang out that they were great, and even fewer that were truly important.

Yes I'm disappointed, but perhaps they can find the true pulse of film for next year.


I'll be brief. Besides I just did three days of posts.

This is becoming something. I've heard that the film companies have just discovered it and that they will be using it as the use San Diego to market the Christmas big releases and the summer films on DVD.

I know this was a transition year, growing from a small part of the Javitts Center to the whole thing. I've been there every year and this is the first year where the crowds were almost uncomfortable. Its almost too many people. Then again I figured a few things out on Sunday that might have made Saturday easier.

For me the next convention, which I am really looking forward to, will be a make or break year. Will it become too big?

I don't know. I know the problem with the con was that the website wasn't that hot. I know I had problems finding a schedule that was up to date. I found out about some events from the press releases and not the website. I know the lack of maps after day one was a pain in the ass, as was the fact that I found a news print schedule book in the Anime section but not in the comic section. It didn't completely hinder my seeing anything. (I don't want to get into the Artist's Alley map problem from Friday which made finding anyone near impossible)

The real problem was the crowds were so big Saturday that Ken and I couldn't get around. We couldn't get to see the ILM documentary because we simply couldn't move across the Javitts Center fast enough because of the crush of humanity. The lesson here is if you want to see something you will have to plan way in advance...which we learned for Sunday so we got a seat at the Grant Morrison presentation.

I'm kind of hopeful for next year and kind of frightened since I'm left to wonder how crazy will it be? I don't know but I'm willing to find out.

If you must know I think I had more fun at Comicon than the New York Film Festival. There was a sense of heading into a brave new world and really meaning it. The Film Festival this year felt like it made a mistake but they didn't realize it. I think the difference is that Comicon held on to it's sense of wonder, and the NYFF didn't. I think the fact that the NYFF was touting the important films of the year instead of the most fun or enlightening or intriguing or something else, doomed them. Important is boring (and can be ridiculously silly).

You may say that comparing Comicon to the FF is apples to oranges, and on some level you're right, but at the same time I went to both to be entertained and to find something neat. I wanted a positive experience from both. I only really got it from the one with a sense of wonder and a sense of fun.

Yes I will gladly go to both events next year, and yes I will pay to go to both, but in a weird way the one I'm really looking forward to is the over crowded place with too many people in weird costumes.