Monday, February 28, 2011

A few words on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is due to begin it's platformed US release Wednesday in New York and LA. I picked up an import DVD a not long ago because I wasn't sure when the film was actually coming out and I wanted to catch up with films I missed at the new York Film Festival last year. (An aside: A big thank you to Jesse at Diabolik DVD for helping me with the DVD and a steady stream of good conversation.)

The film was the surprise winner at Cannes last year. At this past year's New York Film Festival it was a hot ticket. For those who remember back that far I had tried to attend the press screening but missed it due to the problems with my back which caused me to miss a train and thus the screening. Sitting outside the theater on line for the next film, Certified Copy, we were talking about the film. The word from the people I was sitting with was that people either loved the film or were bored silly by it. When the screening for Boonmee ended and people started to wander out the reaction was pretty much the same, some people were thrilled by it and others appreciated the nap.

I'm really mixed on the film, and because of that I'd say a few words since I'd like you to know what you are getting into if you see great reviews and rush out to see it. My desire to do this comes from talks I had with a couple people in my office have read great reviews and are looking forward to seeing it. I know them and I know their taste and they are going to be bored to tears by the pace and the seeming split between the film as written about and the film as seen. To at least give you a fighting chance I'm reviewing the film. (Left to my own devices I would have taken a pass at reviewing the film at all). What follows is a few straight forward remarks about the film to kind of counterpoint the long flowing words that I've read in the overly glowing reviews from some corners.

The film is about Uncle Boonmee who is slowly dying due to a kidney ailment. His sister in law and his nephew arrive at his remote home and spend some time with him. One night while having dinner his dead wife materializes and his missing son, turned in to a bigfoot like creature, arrives to explain why he's been missing for 6 years.

If the long takes and great silences that proceeded it hadn't already had you leaning one way or another, these turn of events will probably make up your mind about the film for certain. For me it was an odd turn that kept me watching despite reservations. I know other people were like WTF?

A beautifully shot film, this is the sort of film you put on and just have play out as a moving picture. It's just beautiful.

For me the problem is that we have way too much time to look at the pretty pictures. people sit and stare. the camera wanders through the jungle. Occasionally people speak to each other. When the people do speak it's often quite good (if a bit formal). The trouble is that if you don't click into the mind mindset, if you don't like the silence, the long takes and the meaningful conversation this is going to be a long haul. (The film begins with two long almost silent sequence, the first follows a water buffalo that breaks loose and wanders into the jungle, and the other is a car ride where we just watch the country pass by. After the second I was like, Ah so this is what the film is going to be like, and I let the film wash over me.)

As I said I'm mixed about the film. I like what the film is doing (The conversation, the ideas, the photography) but I was bored by how it was done (the meaningful silences, the long takes, the slow pace that promises more than it delivers). To me it's an okay film, but nothing that is worth rushing out to see. I kind of get the feeling that many people who have loved the film are responding to the novelty of a Thai film instead of a truly great film.

I can't guess what your reaction will be, and to that end, I leave the decision to see or not see the film to you. I'd just like you to be more armed than you might not otherwise be. (Me I'd wait for DVD)
(FYI- The Poster is by Iluustrator Chris Ware)

Valhalla Rising (2009)

I've heard this described as a tone poem and I think that's the best way to do so. Its a near dialog-less mediation on man, god, good evil and the afterlife or its just a brutal story of a viking prisoner who escapes his captors only to take up with a band of Christians heading for the Holy Land, however the forces of nature have another plan for them and they end up in what appears to be the New World.

Graphically violent this is a film that works best when it connects with you on a subconscious and visceral level. I find that I don't intellectually get the film or perhaps even like the film, but on a basic instinct beyond words I'm drawn to this films story. I like that it operates on a plane that movies don't usually touch, that of the gut or the pure instinct.

Its a beautiful film that reminds me of Bergman, Tarkovsky and other great masters, but at the same time this is a film that is completely its own unique animal.

I know some people don't like it. I know some say it doesn't make sense and that its reaching for something it never achieves, and to be perfectly honest I can relate to that. But at the same time the film works for me in a way I can't explain.Honestly I can tell you why the film isn't good, but at the same time the film kicks me to the curb and makes me feel something that is beyond good and bad.

Worth a look for anyone who wants a head trip film and doesn't mind graphic violence and spilling viscera.

The Lost Thing (2010)

A wonderful little film that is little only in the sense that it's 15 minutes long. It actually manages to pack much more into that time frame than many pictures 6 times in length. A young boy finds a lost thing that doesn't quite belong in our world, and sets about trying to put it back where it DOES belong. Unfortunately, everyone around seems to be too busy in their own little worlds to recognize the situation. It makes a nice statement about how we as humans can fall too easily into the trap of getting set in our ways, and becoming too involved in the routine that is our day-to-day existence. The Lost Thing in question is a brightly colored...thing...that is in stark contrast to much of the gray and drab surroundings of the world the boy inhabits...which is ours, sadly.

In addition to packing a statement, the film also does not disappoint visually. A computer-animated film, it just won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and you can see why. It is a beautiful artistic achievement, with a quirky style to the human figures, but an amazing level of detail put into the settings, people, buildings, and...things. There isn't anything harried about any of the characters in the film, they just move along at their pace, and it's perfect for the tone of the film. The colors, and some of the unique aspects of visual storytelling utilized (in particular, a multiple "panel" shot towards the end depicting a journey) make this a compelling watch from beginning to end.

The story is based on a book by Shaun Tan, who also co-directed the film. The narration, told from the perspective of the boy, is done by Tim Minchin, who has been reviewed more than once here at Unseen for his own musical comedic stylings. It was actually due to his involvement that we here at Unseen first became of this film. Thankfully, Minchin seems to always be attached to quality projects, and this is definitely one of them. While it is available on DVD from Australia, it would probably be easier to just get it from iTunes, and it is definitely well worth far more than the small price.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rembrandt's J'Accuse (2008)

This is Peter Greenaway's companion piece to his Nightwatching about the painting of Rembrandt's Night Watch. The film is Greenaway on screen, using clips from the film and new footage of the cast of that film, to tell the story of the painting and the mystery it contains.

I have no idea how true the murder plot is, but Greenaway makes a damn good case for it. He argues that Rembrandt arranged the people in the painting to reveal the plot the militia leaders had contrived to kill one of their own. He also used it to expose the hypocrisy of the members as well. He takes us through 34 of some 50 plus points in detail telling us what he thinks it all means. As I said earlier I have no idea if what he says is true, but I'll go with it as a possibility.

What shines in this film is how Greenaway makes you rethink how you look at a painting. We are not used to seeing paintings as the artists and patrons of Rembrandt's day were so we don't see the references that were put there. We also get bits and pieces of history that bring the painting and the time it was painted alive. Its so informative I really wish that someone would turn him loose and let him do a series of film on art and art history.

This is an amazing film.If you're like me you'll want to watch not only this film but also Nightwatching again. After several misfire films Greenaway seems to once more have hit his stride with his two Rembrandt films.

Currently out as a single movie and as a twin pack with Nightwatching.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nightwatching (2007)

Today and tomorrow I'm taking a look at a pair of Peter Greenaway films that tell the same story from both a fictional perspective and a factual perspective. The films are sold separately and together. The best way to see them is together. First up the fiction Nightwatching.
This is Peter Greenaway's story about Rembrandt and the painting of The Nightwatch. Greenaway is convinced that with in the painting is the key to a murder that Rembrandt stumbles upon. As Rembrandt paints his picture his career and his life unravels.

As a huge Greenaway fan I've been disappointed by most of Greenaways films over the last few years. Pillow Book, Eight and a Half Women disappointed me. The Tulse Luper films are much better but too cerebral to fully connect to. In all honesty this is the most alive film and most "emotional" film Greenaway has made in 20 years, since Drowning by Numbers.(Greenaway makes films that are intentionally not going to make you feel, he wants to make you think). This is thanks to two things, first Greenaways best writing of his career. Here is a film where people interact like real people.They talk like real people, even when they break the fourth wall, they are living breathing characters. The other reason this works is because Martin Freeman (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) is so good that he takes Greenaways lines and makes them real. he is of course aided and abetted by the rest of the cast, but ultimately this is a film about Freeman and he makes the most of it.

I really liked this film. When I put the original import DVD in to check to see how it loaded up (the menus and such are in Russian) I suddenly found I was 45 minutes into the film before I knew what was happening. The film is so easy to fall into, it unlike almost anything Greenaway has done before. It just goes, sucking you along because it's a great story.
At the same time it's also very complex and it was clear that I was missing things. Greenaway has managed to pack the film with so many ideas and details that you can't catch them all on the first go through. Several times I realized I missed a reference or a line earlier on... Which means I've seen this a couple of time now trying to catch it all. (However don't worry the drama is the thing here, the ideas just deepen everything)

If you want to see a real life murder mystery this is a must see. Needless to say if you like Greenaway's films its a must see. Its also worth seeing if you just like beautiful movies(it all looks like paintings).

One of the best of Greenaway's films.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A week until the New York International Children's Film Festival Starts

The New York Children's Film Festival starts next Friday with a screening of Mars Need Moms at the Director's guild. I wouldn't bother going since it opens a week or so later, but it's the opening night film so I'm going, Opening Night screenings are a blast.

I should warn you that the tickets for many films are already scarce (Opening Night Tickets are gone) and that even the added screenings (say of A Cat in Paris) have sold out.

If you're looking for things to see I just wanted to say that there are a few gems.

Echoes of the Rainbow which I saw last year at the New York Asian Film Festival isn't bad. I didn't love it, but the film has thrilled (ie. become one of their all time favorites) the many people in my office who I loaned the import DVD. Its the memory tale of a young boy about growing up in Hong Kong in the early 1960's. Actor Simon Yam won numerous awards for his portrayal of the boys father.

Time of Eden is an animated film that was screened in part last year. Its a love story between a human and a robot.. I loved what I saw and I had to see the rest.

Mia and Magoo is one of the most beautiful animated films you're likely to see. This is the premiere of the English language version. Hopefully the voices will do the original French voices justice. As it is it's a wonderful film about a young girl trying to find her dad. How good is it, I've seen it about6 times in the last year.

I just recently got to see Sammy's Adventures: The Secret Passage. The festival is showing it in 3D however I saw it in 2D. It should look great in 3D with the characters swimming out over the audience. The film itself seems more geared toward little kids than the big ones. Its about Sammy trying to find a passage that will allow him to travel around the world. It's set up to provide some great 3D thrills in set marvelous pieces while bludgeoning the audience with an obvious environmental message. I wasn't thrilled with the story, but then again I'm not the intended audience which is the under 10 set. Visually the film does impress at times, and as I said I can only imagine how great this will look in 3D. If you have young ones give it a shot. (For those who should care this is by the same director as Fly Me to the Moon, which was about flies that travel into space on an Apollo mission. It's better on the whole than that film- but much more simplistic)

SOS Pacific (1959)

A plane full of people encounters trouble in flight and is forced down in the Pacific. Thankfully they are near an island or not, since the island is due to have an atom bomb test go off in a very short time and they have no way of letting anyone know that they are there.

It may sound corny and contrived but this film just works from start to finish. Once the film is underway you just are happy to have a film this involving to drag you along for the 90 minutes that this film takes to get to the conclusion. Why this film isn't better known is mystery since it has everything that a mystery should in spades and then some.

The cast is great, including Richard Attenborough who plays one of the screens great slime balls.
Eddie Constantine makes great hero and makes you wonder why he never became a bigger star here in the United States.

Constantine is probably best known for a series of films where he played detective Lemmy Caution. These were huge hits in Europe but remained purely cult material in the US. The Caution character was taken by Jean-Luc Godard who used him to send up the detective genre and science fiction films in Alphaville. The real footnote for this film is that it's probably the only time that Constantine's own voice can be heard speaking in English (all his other films he was dubbed)

Search this film out (I think Amazon is selling Sinister Cinema's version,) you will enjoy it.

Cold Fish (2010) FIlm Comment Selects

It's late, so this will be short. I'm just back in from the first screening at Film Comment Selects of Sion Sono's Cold Fish. It's being advertised as a serial killer film, even by Sushi Typhoon who produced it and will eventually get the film a release in the US, unfortunately that's not really the case.

The plot concerns a weak willed tropical fish store owner who is abused by life. When his daughter is picked up for shop lifting he finds his luck has turned around when another tropical fish store owner helps him convince the manager of the store to let the girl go. The bargain is struck and our hero has essentially made a deal with the devil and he's on the road to Hell.

This is a long rambling film, with a final beyond blood soaked twenty minutes, that is in need of a good editor (which is something one review at Twitch I read earlier today had suggested). Forgive me for saying this but there is no reason for this film to be two and a half hours long, other than to dwell in the depravity. I think there is a great film in all of the rambling instead of just a good, or more likely just an okay one. Don't get me wrong, it's well made, well acted, and often deeply disturbing (if graphic violence and dismemberment bothers you stay away) unfortunately it just sort of rambles about seeming to have been made up on the fly.(then again this is based on a real story).

Siono Sono can make long movies work. His Love Exposure runs over 4 hours yet never bores, this doesn't quite work and it had me checking my watch early on.

I attended the screening with Mondocurry, Shigeko and her friend Luigi. Their general feeling was that this a good film but isn't Sono's best film. I would have to agree. I would add that I need to think about the film since my feelings have changed on the subway and train rides home.

A further review maybe becoming depending upon further review and discussion.


Just an FYI, later today I Saw The Devil, which I saw on Sunday is playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the director attending. The screening is at 7pm and highly recommended. That nasty little confection has helped to color the week. I think it's better than I thought simply because I still feel beaten up. I should add I may attend the screening, or I may not, depending on how I feel later on today about getting abused.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Robbery (1967) FIlm Comment Selects the at home edition

Last night the Film Society of Lincoln Center screened Peter Yates' Robbery. The film was made a year before Yates did Bullitt, the film's high tension documentary style helped Yates get the job across the Atlantic.

The film tells the story of a group of men, lead by Stanley Baker, who put together a plan to rob a mail train over over bank holiday. The film begins with a preliminary heist of some sort. What exactly is going on isn't apparent but it's done so cleverly that you're sucked in, From there we're off and running as Baker tells his men what he's got in mind for them next.

Based in part on the Great Train Robbery several years earlier and told in a documentary style that is rarely used any more, this is very much a you are there affair. We are in the trenches with these guys in away that makes us a near participant (I wonder what our cut is going to be?). If there is any flaw with the documentary style it's that the use of actors like Baker, Frank Finley or any of the recognizable British character actors that fill out the cast, is simply in that their faces are recognizable. Had this been a cast of nobodies this really would have been real.
Actually one of the really neat things about the documentary style used is that this film was shot in real locations. The streets, the houses, the trains all feel real. These are real places. They all feel lived in. This is a fantastic portrait of the real England at the time this was made. In other words this isn't the splashy showy Mod of the big budget movies and the fashion pages but back alleys, dirty warehouses and garages. If you love films that are set in real places you need to see this.

The film is full of several great set pieces that make you sit up and take notice. From the opening robbery, told from up on high, to the resulting car chase, the train robbery itself and the resulting complications, it's just one great sequence after another. One can see how Yates graduated from this to his next film.

I don't know why this film doesn't have a better reputation when it's clear that the film was responsible for later caper films like The Anderson Tapes, The French Connection or even Bullitt.

This is a film that is definitely worth tracking down....

...which if you're in New York City next Wednesday you can do when the film screens for a second time at 1PM...

... or you can do like I did and pick up the DVD as an import from Amazon UK. Just keep in mind that its region coded and PAL. (I would have loved to have seen this on a big screen except that the screenings were not convenient for me, which is why I sat at home and watched it with my dad.)

The Spider (1931)

Edmund Lowe plays the magician Chartrand. During a performance of his show the lights in the theater go out and a man is shot. The police are called. The audience is sequestered. Chartrand must use his tricks in order to find the real killer and not the suspect that the police have chosen.

Forgive me for being a bit vague, but there are one or two twists that giving a more detailed plot description would give away, and in a film like this half the fun is just having the film happen before you.

The film is pretty much set entirely in the theater during and immediately following the performance. Its a hoot as the film moves between the police, Chartrand and his crew and the audience, who are both chopping at the bit to go home and wanting to know what really happened. To be certain there are a couple of logic problems if you take a moment to think about things, but I'm guessing that for most of this 59 minute gem you're going to be simply too carried along by whats going on screen to think (it as after all a cinematic magic trick). Simply put this film is a fun ride and one of the most enjoyable mysteries I've seen.

This is one to find, check Sinsiter Cinema

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Zero Focus (2009)

I was suppose to see this as the last film of my run at the 2010 NYAFF and Japan Cuts but it was the sole Friday film after a solid two plus weeks of films every day so I bailed. I finally caught up with it as an import DVD and realized that if I had any hope of truly enjoying the film it wasn't going to be at the end of a long run of films at a theater I would have had to struggle to get to on time.

Set in 1957 the the film is the story of a young woman who meets the man of her dreams. He is a decade older than her, but there is something about him, perhaps the fact that he is so enigmatic, that she falls head over heels. After returning from their honeymoon he leaves on a business trip, planning on being home in a week. However on the night of his planned return she is left sitting home alone with a finely prepared meal all alone.

After waiting and not getting any answers from anyone she takes it upon herself to head off to where her husband was last seen. Arriving not long after a body was found she is relieved to see it isn't her husband. She then begins to investigate her husbands connections and finds herself connecting with the wife of a manufacturer her husband dealt with, and who some say he had a close relationship.

I don't want to tell you the entire plot, but I will say bodies begin to pile up and things are not as they appear.

The simple description of this film is imagine if Hitchcock was making movies in Japan in the 1960's. Yes I know the film was made in 2010, but the film has the feel and the style of what Hitchcock was doing in the late 50's and early 60's on either side of Psycho. Its a mystery that is looking not only at the central missing person story but is also looking at the society in which the story takes place.

The film looks to have come from say MGM in 1950's. The look of the film, the choice of shots, of music all make you think that this was ripped from the studio back lot.

While the film is most certainly a rippingly good mystery its the world that the film operates in, and comments on that is of interest. As the film starts the war has been over for over ten years. Japan has been slowly coming back to life and indeed Japan is starting to become a financial power. For many what went before is to be tossed aside, its the new that matters. There is a battle between the old japan and what is considered the New Japan raging in society and with in people.

By telling you that I may have given away a little too much to the mystery, but at the same time, it helps to know what was going on in Japan at the time the story takes place. There are some plot points and clues that I missed the first time through simply because I didn't completely understand the history. Don't let me scare you by saying that, you'll be able to follow everything that happens, it just that you won't get the full ramifications until you get to the end and you look back. I'm guessing that this film hasn't found a US distributor since they think the film is too Japanese.

When I first saw this film I didn't think I was going to write this film up for Unseen. I thought it was a good film that was going to bet a passing mention but not a full review. And then over the next few days I found I was telling everyone about the film. Clearly if I was talking about the film I needed to write it up.

This is one to search out. Not currently available in the US it can be found as an import. If you're interested about this you can take a look at Jpdorama who has it at an affordable price. (One word of advise make sure you check the subtitles since many of their DVDs don't have English)

Pattern For Plunder (1963)

Keenan Wynn shows up on the door of several of his old army buddies promising a fortune in lost Nazi gold if only they join him to get it. Crazy as it might sound they join up and before long they are hip deep in intrigue.

What can I say, this is a small scale gem, the sort of film that deserves to be seen. Its perfect proof at how good B- movies could be even as late as the 1960's.

This is a well acted story of post war greed that doesn't want to be anything other than an entertaining evening. There are plot twists and a traitor in their midst and if you put your mind to it you might be able to figure things out, but its so much fun just watching whats going on on screen that it really isn't worth the effort. Why spoil the fun of the mystery by sorting it out way too early?

If you come across this film take the time to watch it since its 90 minutes well spent.

Addendum: This film has a good number of alternate titles so you may want to cross reference with IMDB if you run across a differently titled film that sounds similar.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Forever the Moment (2008) at home with a Korean Cultural Service film

Tonight was the biweekly screening of Korean films at the Tribeca cinemas arranged by the Korean Cultural Service. It was the last of their sports series with a screening of Forever the Moment. Grady from the New York Asian Film Festival called it one of his favorite all time Korean films, adding that it's one of the best sports films ever made. Unfortunately due to circumstance neither Mondocurry nor myself could attend the screening. Which is annoying since I really wanted to see Grady's introduction(and knowing Grady would have been worth any price to see)

Fortunately, I foresaw the possibility and I ordered the DVD weeks ago from Yes Asia. Having the time to see the film but not the ability to see it in Manhattan I sat down, about an hour behind the screening in Manhattan and watched it in my living room.

I hate to say but Grady over sold the film. It's not a bad movie, but It's just not the top of the heap that Grady has made it out to be. Part of the problem is that it's coming after three other very good sports films, all of which have been kind of similar. Say what you will, I like Take Off and Lifting King Kong better.

This is the story of the Korean women's handball team leading up to and in the 2004 Olympics. The story follows an older player who is drafted to run the team and who brings along some of her friends as players. What happens is the the story.

It's your typical sports story of the various characters being brought together and then having to fight to stay together on their way to the big game. While the film doesn't follow the typical American pattern it does kind of follow the patterns set up in the films from the last few weeks.

It's not a bad movie, it's just not the out of the park home run that Grady has been saying it was.

To be perfectly honest I'll see the film again and report back since the film will be divorced of the hype and I can see it for what it is. For now it's a disappointment.

According to the Korean Cultural Service website the next movie is actually NEXT week with an animated film called The Story of Mr Sorry. I know nothing of the film, but it starts a cycle of animated films. In all honesty I probably won't attend since the night before I have a screening at Town Hall, and starting Thursday I'll have four straight days of screenings.

The film that follows Mr Sorry is one I've reviewed here, almost a year ago, Yobi the Five Tailed Fox. The screening is being build as a New York premiere however the film screened several years back as part of the New York International Children's Film Festival. That screens on the 15th and is worth seeing.

For now that's it. I had been hoping to add in some updates on some films and festivals, but it's late and I haven't been able to pull it all together as fast as I wanted. (Though I do want to say that either this weekend or next we'll be starting a new series that Reg is putting together which promises to take things in a slightly different direction, keep an eye out for it)

Now it's bed time, and for me it's a "school" night.

The Intruder (1933)

Moving like the wind and possessing a devil make care attitude this film has everything including gaffes for sharp eyed viewers to find.

Where to start?

The basic plot has a murder at sea occurring during a wicked storm that sinks the ship and strands many of the passengers on a deserted...almost deserted island. There is much much more to it than that, but if I tried to explain the French men, the skeletons, and the other twists you'd probably think I was nuts. (I'm not but the movie makers probably were

This movie just goes. From the moment it starts to the end this movie twists and turns in ways that most three hour epics could only dream about. For its sheer nuttiness and throw everything at the audience attitude this film must be seen because you'll never see another movie like it.

I love this movie because it seems so intent on telling its wild story and having you believe it even as you sit there in complete disbelief. On the fun scale its easily a nine simply because its a decently made piece of madness.

Things to watch out for: The boats off shore after the sinking (they are suppose to be far away from everywhere), andThe factory and houses down the beach from the filming locations (on the deserted island), There are more but I'll leave it to other sharp eyed viewers to spot them.

This is out in several compilation sets and worth picking up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wundkanal and Our Nazi (1984)- FIlm Comment Selects -The at home edition

A few brief words on a pair of simultaneously made films, one a fiction film and one a documentary. Both are playing on February 28th as part of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center. They are billing the films as unavailable on DVD; however they are available from Germany from Edition Filmmuseum in a two DVD set for little bit more than admission to both plus the subway and train fare. I wanted to see them but I had to opt for the stay at home version because of other commitments on the night they are screening.

Wundkanal is about a the kidnapping of a Nazi war criminal, now part of the German Government, by a a group connected to the Red Army Faction (Baader Meinhof). The group interrogates the man about his life and past misdeeds and eventually gets him to confess. The conceit of the film is that the war criminal, is played by one, a man who was finally tried in 1962 and was in prison until 1975.

Our Nazi is a documentary about the making of the film.

To be perfectly honest the films require full reviews but I am not capable of doing that now. I could bang out something now a bit more detailed but that isn't fair simply because having seen both films I now know that I need to see them again. The two feed on each other; seeing one influences the other and seeing the second wants to make you see the first again. I need another four plus hours to go over the films again and I do not have the time to do so before the films screen at Lincoln Center next Monday. Some where in the future, hopefully in the spring, I'll devote two full reviews to the films, but for now let me give you a few thoughts on the two films.

Wundkanal will either strike you as hypnotic or incredibly dull. Its a film that is entirely focused on the man himself, we barely see anyone else. The dialog is mostly question and answers in a variety of languages about the terrible things done in the war and the character's ability to make people kill themselves. It's lots of talk and a drifting camera over the interrogation cell which is full of ephemera.

On some level I was intrigued, but after about a half an hour I started to get bored since it was clear it was very much one thing. I like the idea of the film but I found it kind of dull. Yes, the performance of Alfred Filbert, is amazing. Granted he's essentially playing himself (one of his alias' is his own name), but he's so natural, and in a way he's better than the material. Frankly had I seen this in the theater I would have walked out. Seeing it on DVD made it easier going since I could stop and start it. I should say I found the revelations of the war crimes intriguing but the film's insistence that our hero was also responsible for the death of the leadership of the Baader Meinhof Gang in prison is distracting (It's now known not to be possible and it sets the film too much in a set time and place).

Had I not had the DVD I would left it there and written the film off as an interesting but dull political tract and walked out of the theater before it was done ... and before I saw Our Nazi, which would have been a mistake and a big loss.

I should also point out that my interest in the film was raised by an extra on the DVD, a 33 minute interview with the director Thomas Harlan from 2007 where he talks about the film. To be certain he's a bit full of himself, but at the same time his retelling of what happens in the film puts things in context and it explains what the film is; which is something you don't get when you walk into the film blind. When I was done with this short piece I suddenly realized wait a second I need to see the film again. (Sadly this short piece is NOT being run at Lincoln Center which is a loss.)

After watching the pair of films on the first DVD I started Our Nazi, Robert Kramer's fascinating documentary about the making of Wundkanal. If you want to understand how terrible things happen because the people doing them are so nice no one suspects them, see this film.

This is the treasure of the pair. It's an in your face look at the filmmakers, their actor and the ideas that went into the film. 20 minutes in I was loving this warts and all look at the making of the unique feature. In it's way it's one of the best documentaries on a film I've seen since it's so intimate and so real and so in that space and time that you really feel like you are there. Its a film that enhances the the film it's about because it explains things you may not have gotten the first time out. I certainly appreciate Wundkanal more after seeing this film. As I watched it I realized that I really need to see Wundkanal again. (Grrr)

There is one HUGE problem though with Our Nazi, I suspect that unless you see Wundkanal first, much of what is going on will mean nothing to you. Basically Our Nazi plays out under the assumption that you know what they are talking about, and if you don't you're going to be lost.

Lincoln Center is screening the two films as separate admission features and in all honesty if you see one without the other you're going to be missing something. If you are interested try and see both, and even if you don't like the first film hang around for the second since that will improve the experience-even if you walk out of the first, hang around in the lobby and see the second one.

Are the films worth seeing? For adventurous film goers yes they are. I'm not going to lie and say that seeing them in the theater (especially the first film) is the way to go the first time. However since odds are this maybe your only shot to do so I think it's worth trying. There is going to be a discussion after Our Nazi which really makes me regret not going to see them in the theater, however I should be done with my commitment before that happens and if I'm in the mood, and I don't mind a late night, I think I might try and talk my way into sitting in on it.

Two intriguing films that will be getting further reviews down the line.

(One note about the Edition Filmmuseum DVDs: They are regionless and subtitled in English. However they are PAL not NTSC, so if your DVD player or TV can't play PAL or convert it you may want to pass on the DVDs)

East of Borneo (1931)

This is a really good adventure film that's probably all but forgotten.

The plot is simple. A woman travels into the jungle to find her husband, now a drunken court doctor for a jungle prince. He had left her years before because he thought she was having an affair. What happens when she gets there is the reason to watch.

I won't lie, the first part of this film is slow. Its the trip to the prince's city and other than the chanting of rowers and the sounds of the jungle this is almost silent. Its not terrible since the scenes of jungle wild life and the odd danger is interesting.

But its worth hanging on to the second half, since once the wife arrives its men being men as the prince and the doctor begin a strange game of chess for her. Its here that we get to see the good stuff, which I won't spoil other than to say crocodiles, tons of them. And this was in the day when you didn't fake it, they are there in quantity.

This is jungle thrills of the real variety since you don't know if some one is really going to be dinner.Had these scenes been done today the digital effects would have reduced the tension because you'd know it wasn't real, this is...WOW.

My sole complaint about the last 45 minutes has to do with how some scenes are shot. Today, thanks to better equipment and computers the camera can move more freely, here there are a couple of times I wish the camera moved so we could see some of the spectacle that ends this film better.

Definitely put this on your to see list. Its not perfect and it is dated but its really a good film that deserves to be seen.

I Saw the Devil and other things from Film Comment Selects

I went to today's sneak preview of I Saw the Devil at Film Comment Selects (FCS) at Lincoln Center.

I met Dave, aka Mondocurry and the lovely Shigeko. This was their second trip to this years FCS. They attended Friday's Hobo With a Shotgun. Their reaction was decidedly mixed. If he can find the time he'll try writing up the screening.

On the news front word has come out that a 13 film retrospective of the films of Takashi Miike will be occurring March 16-21st. It's a great selection of films including the New York premiere of 13 Assassins his current movie. I know I'll be at the film. The schedule should be up here shortly. (It's out in print but not yet on line. ) I have all the films on DVD except the new one and recommend them all.

The other big piece of news is that the dates are set for this years New York Asian Film Festival. It will be playing out July 1 through 14. You expect that I'll be there.

Enough with the news the point of this post is to say a few words about Kim Jee-woon's I Saw the Devil.

This little poisoned confection is a lead pipe to the head, the face, the chest and every part of your body. It's a mean nasty and ugly film that aims to upset the serial killer genre. It's a bleak film that leaves you depressed and unsettled. It's little wonder the film had trouble being approved for release in Korea (the film had to be trimmed to get approval and even then word is the authorities weren't happy- and considering the film imagines Korea to be full of serial killers it's not surprising).

The plot of the film has the fiance of a government agent becoming the victim of a serial killer. The agent goes after him, finds him and then lets him go so he can play a deadly game of cat and mouse. It's graphically violent and and as unpleasant as you can imagine, possibly more so.

I felt bruised and battered by the end.

I'm not sure what I think of it. It's extremely well done. Masterfully told... and as I said I have no idea what I think of it. Walking out of the film I thought a great deal of it. Talking to Dave and Shigeko after the film we both found a great deal to admire about it. However sitting on the train my enthusiasm waned. Sure I felt like I was tossed under a truck with a knot in my stomach but I don't know to what end.

Is this a good film? Yes. It undeniably affects you but to what end?

I don't know.

Part of the problem is the film wants very much to destroy the genre, and it almost does, except at one key point it has to use the very cliches it's trying to avoid. It doesn't stay with them long, but it's long enough to dull the edge. Somehow at that moment it becomes the thing it was successfully avoiding being, and somehow becomes less than it was.

Again, it's a very good film, I just don't know if I like it.

I have to think about it. Actually I have to think a great deal about it to the point that I'm considering going to see it again when it screens Friday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the director in attendance. Maybe seeing it again or hearing the director speak will make something click. (Then again I don't know if I want to go there again)

I'll be talking with Dave about this and depending on what we decide a fuller review may follow.

For now just know it's a film recommended for those with strong stomachs who don't mind being deeply disturbed.(and when one character suggests another cover her ears and and eyes, you may want to as well.)

The film opens on March 4th from Magnet releasing (which I suspect will mean it will also show up on Magnolia pay per view)

Proving that some people are gluttons for punishment Dave and I will be returning to Lincoln Center for Sion Sono's Cold Fish, another disturbing trip into serial killer territory. Hopefully this will be lightened up by the at home version of the FCS series with Robbery, Wundkanal and Our Nazi ( all of which are on import DVD) and a trip to the Korean Cultural Service's free screening Forever The Moment on Tuesday.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog posts.

(And apologies to the guy who sat behind me, who didn't like my shifting in my seat with each gruesome turn. Sorry about that, but I've never had any problems with hitting anyone's knees before, then again I've never had someone as tall as you sit behind me)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Year?

It's been a year?

Not only a year, but at least one movie a day everyday for a whole year. Of course if you've been reading with any regularity you know that we've done on average 8 movies a week every week for that year (we missed one day, kind of, because the second day of the two-part Gone With The Wind post, however since there have been so many other films I'm not going to get crazy about it.

The first post started as follows:

A Bare Starting Place: By Way of an Introduction and Mission Statement
If you've found this then you've stumbled upon the first post and place holder (until I fix the place up) for a new film blog.

Yea, I know we don't need another film blog but then again someone has to point out all of the great, or at least good, films that are getting lost and pushed by the way side. Lets face it there are simply too many movies out there and unless its a major release most films are doomed to be lost and forgotten, in other words unseen. Here in the US, the situation is even worse for any film from another part of the world since the number of people watching foreign films is small, and the number of people who are watching anything out of the mainstream is even smaller (dare I say it's probably almost nonexistent?).

What I'm going to try and do here is review films that are worth searching out. Some will be readily available, from say Amazon or another on line retailer, some will have to be tracked down via other means, say Yes Asia or a trip to your local Chinatown or a nostalgia show. Many are going to be films that are so off the beaten track, that even IMDB doesn't record as existing. Two examples are Tree in the Desert and Ghost Town. Tree in the Desert is a really good Chinese film about people planting trees in the desert in the hopes of reclaiming the land. I found it on VCD but can find no other reference to it anywhere. The other is a film called Ghost Town which played the New York Film Festival last year and concerns the inhabitants of an abandoned village in China. The last time I looked neither film appeared to be on IMDB.

And it was off and running from that point as I reviewed the animated NBoldocturna, the Japanese horror film Sweet Home and the aforementioned Ghost Town in rapid succession. (An actual review of Tree in the Desert would have to wait until our six month anniversary).

The next day we began our real-time reviews of film festivals with a visit to the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center to see the Revenge films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who directed our second film Sweet Home. Its a real tell it like it is piece that I kind of cringe about, I call out the programmers and get proved right and wrong. I was right in that the films were written up kind of blindly (what they were is not how they were described) but I was wrong in that Gavin Smith had seen them years before and programmed on a memory of them being good. While I cringe at being so ballsy, I still think I was right to question the descriptions of the films since over the past year I've been going to Lincoln Center a great deal and I find that in almost every series at least one film's description contains some elements of fantasy.

From there we were off and running for a year of ups and down and sideways.

We've been ahead of the curve on any number of films with out championing films like I Love You Phillip Morris, The Korean film Mother, Michael Caine's incredible performance in Harry Brown, the critically acclaimed Last Train Home, and even the soon to be martial arts classic IP Man before most people were aware they even existed. There have been others as well; one just need to browse the side bar month by month to realize how many good films there are out there.

We've had a few missteps. I don't think my MST3K posts during this past Thanksgiving week were very good. (Ken's were fine, but mine were not). There are also a few other clunkers out there, but considering how many reviews we've done I think we've done alright.(For those who care this is the 596th post)

I've also been remiss in writing up some of the titles that have been suggested. Yes, we've done a few- - this weekend's choices are suggested titles -- but there are more on the list that we haven't gotten to. Partly it's the nature of how I put the blog together (it's done as to what strikes my fancy at the moment I'm doing it) and partly other reasons. The other reasons range from not finding a copy of the film suggested to it's too long to get through (Bela Tarr's seven hour Satantango is still sitting on my shelf waiting for a block of time.) to technical problems (for a while my regionless machine was down; and my used copy of Fists in the Pocket crapped out 40 minutes in.). I'm hoping to right the wrong and as always remind you to email us or leave a comment somewhere with films you'd like to see.

I know we haven't been the most technologically advanced blog, but there is a Twitter account and we're in the process of getting a page up on Facebook. We'll be posting details and then links in the sidebar.

The look of the blog is still low key. The point is not be flashy, rather we'd rather let you concentrate on the films themselves rather than the flash of this blog. Still I said six months ago that we'd entertain ideas for a possible change in look once we hit the year mark, so as soon as we get a minute, all of us here at Unseen will be talking it over.

That is of course assuming we get a minute to do so. The year of 2011 is not even two full months old and we've already been hip deep at the film festivals. Weather kept us from the New York Jewish Film Festival, but we've been at all of the Korean Cultural Service screenings, most of The Japan Societies Sabu retrospective, The Town Hall Film Club, The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Kids Fest, we're in the middle of this years Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center (as this posts that's physically where we are) plus we have a steady stream of other festivals, beginning with four solid weekends at the New York International Children's Film Festival which over laps the Lincoln Ceneter French Cinema series, a Takashi Miike restrospective and a Yakuza series. I have no idea when we're going to have time to write up everything we are seeing.

I've got things kind of mapped out into mid-September with lots of blanks to fill in things we find along the way. We will be giving you a movie a day, everyday for at least the foreseeable future ... it just may not be the movie we saw last night.

As another year of this blog begins, we wanted to share what we have planned.

We're trying to get some round table discussions going which will be me and Reg and whoever else wants to join us talking about a film or group of films.

In April, we're going to see if two big projects we've been planning come together. The first is a look at the film work of the artist Moebius. Eden will be taking on the herculean task of looking at most of the films he's worked on. The series is scheduled to run weekends in April and early May (with the exception of Easter) and based upon the discussions I've had with Eden this may be one of the best things we've done at Unseen. (The project may crossover somewhat with Eden's blog Comicsgirl.)

The other project is a series of posts that will examine the creative nature of film and art through a cycle of documentaries which will take over the Wednesday "matinee" slot for a number of weeks well into the summer. We're going to start with some films on a few comic creators and then move on to painters, filmmakers and writers. In connection with that, we hope to be running what will be some interviews with the filmmakers and the subjects of their films. (I know some of this was promised several months ago but we've only recently been able to put some of this together.)

There's more planned, but I don't want to say too much since the way this past year went I'm not sure what we plan will actually happen. Besides sometimes it's best to be surprised.

As I come to the end of this anniversary puff piece I wanted to close out by saying a couple of things.

First off, if you ever get the bright idea that you want to do a blog like this one, check yourself into a mental hospital. The idea of posting a review a day every day will kill you. It's one thing to just post reviews of everything you see, but to actually try and find good films, cover the local film festivals and other related things will make you crazy. I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to start this. Sure it's been fun, but it also means this blog has eaten most of my free time. Thank god I have no personal life to speak of since if I did I wouldn't be able to do this.

Next I want to thank my fellow writers here at Unseen Films, Eden, John, Randi, Reg, Bully, Ken, who signed on early and have been turning out sterling work from the get go. I'd also like to thank Robert aka Frank Grimes, Dave aka Mondocurry, who recently came aboard and have been helping with the film festivals. Without their help in taking up the slack Unseen Films would never have made it this far. I especially want to thank Ken who has become my partner in crime with editing most of my posts, getting us on Twitter, Facebook and most importantly being a sounding board about my ideas, no matter how stupid. I don't think I could have made it this far without him egging me on.

Actually to be fair every one of my fellow writers have been great at egging not only me but everyone else who writes for the blog. I know it was Eden's grand statement "go for it, what's the worst that can happen?" that was single-handedly responsible for our getting recognized as a member of the press. I think we've all been egging each other on with an often too wild abandon. I suspect we've been doing it simply to see what we madness we can come up with that will amuse ourselves. I know that's why I frequently bait Bully and I know that's why Ken is constantly pushing me to do more and do better. We all want to see what we are all capable of simply because it's going to result in something that we want to read or see. That fact that you get to see the craziness is merely a a result of our wanting to share.

Lastly, I want to thank you all for stopping by and reading what we're posting. I know some of you have been here since the start and I want to thank you for being here all along. Others of you are just coming aboard and I want to welcome you as well.

If it wasn't for you all reading I wouldn't be doing this. When I started this I decided that I would do this for a few months and see what happened. I then changed my mind and decided to do this for a year and see what happened. If after a year I was bored or if I was just shouting into the dark I was going to hang it up and move on.

It's been a year and we're still here and I'm working on the posts for the next six months. As I said you've been reading what we post in increasing numbers which is very gratifying. None of us get paid for what we do so the fact that you're reading means a great deal to us.

Thank you.

And now ... it's time to begin out second year ... so sit back, relax and see what we have in store for you...

Saturn 3 (1980)

Today is the first anniversary of Unseen Films. I'll be posting something about that later on today. For now I'm continuing on with a weekend of suggested titles from my little brother who's birthday was yesterday.

On one of the moons of Saturn Kirk Douglas lives in blissful isolation with Farrah Fawcett. Sent to their little paradise is a technician with a new robot that is to be tested. Unfortunately man who arrives is an impostor, he's a mad man who's taken the place of real man and unfortunately he's in control of a ten foot tall robot that as a result of how it's controlled has the mind of the mad man.

This is an odd film. It was the brain child of John Barry, the well known designer best known for designing the look of the early Star Wars and Superman films. If I remember correctly Barry had the idea for several years but was unable to do anything with it. Then the Star Wars happened and everyone jumped to make science fiction films. Barry's dream project was greenlit. Sadly Barry was removed and Stanley Donen stepped in.

The result is decidedly uneven.

From the stories that I read the production was a mess. Donen, who was the lead producer, didn't like what was going on so he stepped in. The film is somehow connected to Sir Lew Grade who lost his shirt with the infamous flops Raise the Titanic and The Legend of the Lone Ranger. Money to fund those money pits may have been pulled from this film to fund those. The script was worked and reworked past the point of working completely.

From most perspectives the film is a mess, and yet I'm recommending it.

Despite not wholly working it is worth taking the time to see. Part of the reason is the incredible set design. The world on Saturn 3 is really cool. Its shiny and flashy and the sort of science fiction world that you'd love to go wandering through. I was so taken my the film when I saw it I tried to figure out how to build something similar in my basement. It never happened because it can't be done in the very limited space I had.

The design of Hector, the robot is really cool. A huge hulking monster with lights for eyes on a stalk and claws for hands, it seems more like a thing from hell rather than something man made. Say what you will I have yet to meet anyone who's seen Hector in action who hasn't been impressed and said he was a reason to see the film.

The story, essentially a version of Adam and Eve and the serpent, isn't bad. There is more than enough drama to keep one interested in what is happening. The real problem is that the film suffers from the feeling that there are sequences missing. In researching this piece I discovered that there is a rumored version of the film that runs some twenty minutes longer than the theatrical release. I don't know how true it is but having seen the film many times since it's release I can easily believe that there is more to this story.

I'm not going to lie to you and say its a great film, but it is a good one. It's one of those films that has been hanging around the fringes of my psyche since I saw it the first time. If a film's quality is measured by how it stays with you then this film is worth seeing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Outland (1981 )

This is a special weekend at Unseen films. Today marks the last day of the first year of our existence. I'll be posting something about that tomorrow as we start out second year.

Today is also a special day because it's the birthday of my youngest brother. Since I wasn't sure what to do for this weekends selections I threw the choices out to him and the main movies for today and tomorrow are his. First up the under appreciated science fiction film Outland.

On a mining colony on one of the moons of the outer planets all would be honky dory except that there have been a sudden rise in strange deaths. People are going berserk and seeing strange things. In a weird way no one cares since profits are up and everyone is getting bonuses. However the marshal on the platform, a reject who's been bounced all over the system smells a rat and summoning up the last ounce of self respect he, along with the aid of one of the doctors on the platform begins to investigate.

One of the most under appreciated films that Sean Connery ever made, this film is a small scale gem. Made at a time when theaters were full of great films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mad Max 2, Excalibur, Clash of the Titans and others, the simple story and grimy setting seemed to turn many people off. I know the film's reputation has increased over the years but at the time the film was considered a bit of a dud.

To me what was perceived as the films flaw is one of the reasons that the film works so well thirty years on, namely the film's science fiction setting doesn't overwhelm the story. There are no fancy guns, limited effects, and nothing overly flashy. Its simply a mining colony moved to space. Their guns are our guns. The shoot outs and chases could be anywhere especially here on earth. It is as described by critics and fans, High Noon in space.

I loved this film from the first time I saw it. Sure the fact that it was a science fiction film got me into theater that first time, but the characters and the realistic action kept me going back again and again to the theater to see it. It was also favorite on cable and on video tape.

The real reason the film works is the characters. Connery's marshal is just the right amount of world weary and cynical. Sure he's been a round the block and dirty, but as the end of his career approaches you can feel his need to finally do the right thing. Frances Sternhagen's doctor is hysterical. She knows what is what but seems intent on doing the right thing anyway. Her final lines about looking forward to how the shit hits the fan in the wake of Connery's challenging of authority makes me laugh every time.

I love this film.

Its one of the great hidden in plain view films from the heyday of science fiction that followed in the wake of Star Wars. You need to see this film, especially if you're like me sick to death of over done computer enhanced science fiction or action films.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Five Minutes Of Heaven (2009)

The final film in week of romance films goes off the board. The film is about the youthful love of violence, of belonging and the need to be the top of the heap, and how a brief act that gives you what you want (the title of the film) will ripple through your life to the day you die.

The BBC has arranged for a former UVF terrorist who spent a great deal of time in jail for a killing he did in his teens to meet the younger brother of the man he shot and killed. The terrorist simply wants closure and to apologize, the brother wants revenge. What happens is the movie.

Punch in your gut film conveys the stupidity of violence and how our need to become the top man may not always be the best thing. Told both in the present beginning with everyone coming to the arranged meeting, the film also flashes back to the past where we see what lead up to the shooting that forever changed the life of both men and everyone in their lives.

The strength of this film is in its ability not to take the well worn road. Nothing happens as you expect it, for example the meeting doesn't happen as planned and what does happen says so much more about the human psyche than any sort of by the number cliche's most viewers are expecting. (I loaned this film to several people at my day job who hated it because it didn't take the expected path). The course of the film is very much like life. (The killing is based on an actual event the events now are not)

This is a unique and very real look at how we deal with the wrongs we have done and had done to ourselves. By the time the film had ended I found myself moved several times, probably more so in that the film doesn't punctuate each moment with swelling music or dramatic flourishes. This is a film where the small moments move you, something as simple as a smile makes you weepy. I recommend this film highly. Its not the best film ever made but it neatly gets its point across in such away that you are forced to reflect and perhaps change.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Film Comment Selects, French Cinema and the Yakuza

Tomorrow the Film Comment Selects starts up at Lincoln Center. It's got a great selection of films including many that are not on DVD in the US. Unseen Films will be at a bunch of the screenings, so look for the reports. If you're in the NYC area and want to see a bunch of films that you may not ever get a chance to see otherwise go. The schedule can be found here.

They've also posted the titles for this years New Directors New Films series at The Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center. I'll be covering this for the blog so reviews will be forth coming. Right now they are only selling complete series subscriptions for members. But General public tickets will be on sale in March. Details at the website.

Also at Lincoln Center is the up coming Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. This is there annual look at current (and not so current) cinema from France. Its a great way to see good films with the directors and actors in attendance. The series doesn't start until the beginning of March, but I thought you'd want to know that the series has gone on sale to as of today. Follow this link for details. (Some films are crossing over with the Brooklyn Academy of Music so you may want to check their website)

Lastly, I wanted to mention that the Japan's Society's retrospective of Yakuza films is on sale. It runs for two weeks next month and includes a several great films. Among them is the New York premiere of Takashi Kitano's Outrage, a blackly funny look at the gangster life which proves their is no honor among thieves and the best way to get ahead is to kill the guy in front of you. I've had the film in the que for a few weeks now as part of Takashi weekend. It's a must see for those with any sort of romanticised view of gangsters. The schedule can be found here.

The Ninth Gate (1999)

An extremely interesting film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp, this is an excellent example of roughly a half-dozen different genres. It covers the spectrum, as it could be considered a murder mystery, a thriller, a crime drama, an action flick, an adventure film, a horror movie, a romance...but definitely not a comedy. From the solemn tones of the opening credits, the somber mood is set in place, and an ominous feeling hangs over the film, and you, for the entire 2 hours and 13 minutes.

Based on the book The Club Dumas, the plot concerns Depp's character of rare book dealer Dean Corso tracking down copies of a book reputed to be able to conjure the devil. From the get-go, Depp's character is portrayed as a man with little to no morals, and much of the film concerns his transformation, however subtle, into something a little different. By no means is this a redemption film, however. Hardly any of the main characters would be considered likeable people if you were to meet them in real life. Corso is in the employ of Boris Balkan, played in a terrific understated sinister manner by Frank Langella. Half of Langella's performance in the film is in voice-over on the phone with the on-screen Depp, and that's when Langella actually delivers his creepiest moments.

There are several quitely played standout performances in this film, including Emmanuelle Seigner as the extremely mysterious Girl, who may be far more than she appears to be. The winner of the over-the-top award in this film would be Lena Olin for her performance as Liana Telfer, but it's what the character calls for, not a negative assessment of her acting. All of the characters weave themselves together quite nicely in a tight and efficient plot that fills every moment with something interesting and intriguing. The settings are also varied and beautiful, with locales ranging from New York to Paris to Madrid to Lisbon.

Remember all the hype that was given to The DaVinci Code a few years ago? All of the best ideas from that were done here seven years earlier, but just replace the pursuit of Christian objects with Satanic ones. It's a thrill ride thru Europe as Depp and Seigner continually encounter dangers of differing levels in pursuit of the 3 existing copies of The Nine Gates Of The Kingdom Of Shadows, and it slowly turns from a job into an obsession. The transformations, as well as most of the performances, are subtle, but compelling enough that it becomes very difficult to turn away. Depp's Corso finds himself being drawn into a world he's not quite sure he really wants to delve into, but after a while, he, and you, are willing to seek more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mystery and Imagination: Dracula (1968)

Denholm Elliot is Dracula.

Okay I'll let you ponder that a few moments.

Denholm Elliot-Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films- plays Dracula. Not just Dracula but a highly sexual one.

Forgive me its hard for me to get my mind around Elliot playing anything other than a nebishy sort of role, but here he is playing Dracula in performance that has a great deal of gravitas and senusality.

The plot of the film, actually an episode of a English TV show, follows loosely the plot of the novel with Dracula coming to England. There are however major changes, with much of the plot focused on Dracula lusting for Lucy (a young and stunning Susan George) and Jonathan Harker essentially becoming the de facto Renfield.

Its shot in a moody black and white that helps great a tension. For me it was so nice to have the over told tale create any sort of chilly feeling. Dracula's rising for the night from his grave is particularly eerie. And for once his teeth, more bat like and monsterous will scare the dickens out of you.

The real story here is Elliot. He cuts an a fine figure as the blood sucker. Fine? Actually he cuts a commanding figure. His first appearence is a quiet stunner, especially for anyone raised on all of the other versions. His appearence is simple, he stands up from a piano, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, his face, adorned with a mustache and goatee quietly calm in the face of a crazed lunatic. There is a quiet strength that is lacking in the force of personality performances of Lugosi, Lee and Langella. To be certain all of those Draculas would give Elliot a run for his money in some areas, but in others, Elliot excels. I think Elliot is the more dangerous of them since his quiet demeanor shows clearly why he would have survived for centuries. His sexuality is also wildly amped up. Sure Lee or Langella have a pin up good look to them, but Elliot has something inside, the sort of thing that deepens ones lust from a simple desire to just bump uglies for a night into something more.

Its amazing.

Actually most of it is. The film has two flaws first is the over the top performance of the usually very good Corin Redgrave as the crazed inmate. The other problem is that the pace of the story excellerates in the final 20 minutes and the film becomes less than the previous hour. While it's not bad, it isn't the truly classic first hour. (And I groaned when the ending seemed to have been borrowed from one of the Christopher Lee films.)

A wonderful find and one I'm going to be loaning out.

(And I need to mention I love the way Van Helsing is portrayed, as a man who knows what is going on and what to do but is also terrified because of what the implications are.)

Currently out on DVD in the UK (with the remaining surviving episodes of the TV series). I picked up my copy from a dealer at a nostalgia show.

Deluge (1933)

This is the film that all of that great footage of the destruction of New York City by tidal wave that you see in any number of B-films from the 1930’s 40’s and 50’s comes from. You know the footage of huge waves driving ships into the buildings of Manhattan. (you can see it here). The full film was believed to have been lost for decades however in the 90’s a print showed up in Italy dubbed into Italian. The footage was subtitled and the film is floating out on VHS and on the collector DVD market.

Ever since the film showed up again I was torn about seeing it. I wanted to see the film because I wanted to see the source from some really great destruction footage, on the other hand I was being told by anyone who saw it that it was a completely awful movie. For some reason I decided to bite the bullet and pick it up.

Surprise this is actually a pretty good movie, certainly it’s more realistic in many way than the many of the modern day films.

The plot has cataclysmic destruction happening across the globe for some unknown reason. People are aware bad things are happening but no one knows why nor can they do anything about it. The first twenty minutes of the film concern the increasing destruction ending with pretty much everything laid waste. After that the film tells the split story of a family broken apart, a father split off from his wife and children; it also tells the story of a swimmer who is taken in by a brutish man who wants her for his own. She escapes and meets the father who is living in a cave. The man is unaware that his wife and children are safe and living in a town that is trying to rebuild itself. How all of the elements come together is the story.

To be certain it’s a melodrama but at the same time its rather adult with people living in sin, implications of rape, murder and other nastiness. It also has one of the most haunting and enigmatic endings I’ve seen in quite awhile. What exactly it means isn’t clear (death or ?)

I like that people are a mix of civilized and beasts. I like how in the wake of the destruction the town reverts to a kind of tribalism-you will be our leader because you are the strongest- and how once the principles of democracy are pointed out they decide to act more civilized and take a vote.

I like that everyone is wounded mentally if not physically. No one is unscathed by what happens. The swimmer has had too many nasty things happen to her and when she finds a good man she wants to hang on to him. He in turn is split between women. No one knows what the right thing is to do.

Best of all the destruction is constantly in evidence. It looks like the town has been wrecked and it stays like that all through the movie. Everyone has to move through the debris. People are haggling over treasures. This is a world in chaos.

It’s also doesn’t end happy. Sure it’s a kind of pseudo-happy ending but there is a cost for everyone. Also we don’t know what the future will hold for anyone. Is the cataclysm over? We don’t know? And its clear from the events that there are some really bad people out there, how will it all turn out in the end, who can say.

It feels like the first part of a story. You want to know what next…

This is a solid piece of film making. Not only is it a great drama but it leaves you uneasy and thinking about what would happen if this actually happened. Certainly I never had those thoughts after Day After Tomorrow or Volcano or any of the other modern disaster films.

The fact that this film got lost amazes me. Its simply too good a movie to think that it would have gotten lost. On the other hand the opening sequences are rather intense and the out look is rather bleak. Perhaps the film's darkness is whats to blame. Whatever the reason this is a film that probably got lost on purpose. (As it is the surviving print is ten minutes shorter than the full 1933 running time)

Definitely worth a look. Anyone who loves movies, and their history really should try and find themselves a copy.

(Someone on IMDB has said that another print has surfaced in France- this time in French. One can hope that if true its a fuller print of the film)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hadewijch (2009)

This was on my short of films to see at the 2009 New York Film Festival but scheduling and a wariness concerning the subject matter made me have to wait until the film surfaced in December as an IFC Films release in theaters and on their pay per view service.

The film, concerning a burning desire to connect with God, may sound like an odd choice for films with a romantic bend, but if you watch the film you'll see that what our heroine feels is very much like a woman yearning for her lover.

The title is the name given to our heroine by the nuns in the convent she is seeking to join. The name is a reference to a 13th century poet. The women in the convent are bewildered by the young girl who refuses to eat, refuses to wear a coat in bad weather, and takes great pains in any attempt to mortify her body. Unsure of how to handle her they ask her to leave, so she returns to her well to do family.

She then goes about her life until the day she meets a nice young man who just happens to be a Muslim. What happens next is partly what you expect and partly not. Mostly its an examination of one's path to God, especially when that God isn't talking.

Actually the film is a meditative examination of how the heart approaches what it yearns, only this time its a connection with God.

A beautiful and beautifully acted film this is a very deliberate meditation on belief. It can be argued that its so deliberate as to be slow, and in all honesty it is. This is a film that is going to take its time in getting where its going.

Its also a film that is going to confound your expectations. Little in the film goes the way you expect it. Our heroine is not your typical person with religious fervor. The Muslim's she meets are not you typical movie Muslims. What happens is not what you think will happen. Its the sort of film that you have to see a second time, not only because its good, but also because odds are you've fought it for a good portion of it so that when you get to the end and it's all played out, you realize that you haven't gotten all you could out of the film simply because you worked hard against it happening.

You're going to need to see this a second a time. I know I do.

Beyond that I don't know what else to say. This is the sort of film that is better to see before reading about since anything I'm going to say is not going to do the film justice.

The best thing I can say is see this if you want an emotional and heady discussion of fervor see this film.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Theory of Flight(1998)

Today is Valentine's day which is the inspiration for a week of romance films. What is actually the subject of the romance is not always the human heart. There will be other things floating around. And even when the matter is interpersonal relations things are going to get a bit off beat. With that in mind we begin with a film that is more or less straight forward the Theory of Flight.

Kenneth Branagh stars as a young man who is a perpetual screw up. Anything he does tends to go horribly wrong. When a stunt involving his dream of human powered flight goes wrong he's hauled into court, again, and as part of sentence he's given community service. Unfortunately for him it involves minding Helena Bonham Carter, playing a young woman with a smart mouth and a degenerative disease that is slowly killing her. Oh yea, Her one goal is to have sex. Saying that things don't go smoothly is an understatement.

My discovery of this film was via trailers that seemed to be on the front of any number of VHS tapes that I was renting about the time this film came out. The film seemed to be everywhere, except at my local video store. Somewhere along the way I tracked down the film put it on and fell in like with it.

Awkward, off beat and decidedly different, the films characters and direction seem to be driving anywhere but towards romance. Sure we can see that Ken and Helena are perfect for each other, but they sure can't. They are so wrapped up in their own garbage too see that their perfect mate is right in front of them... then again neither one is looking for romance, Ken just wants to get his public service over and done with; and Helena just wants to lose her virginity before her illness over takes her. It's so wonderfully a typical that you'll forgive the bumps and dents that keep this from being the perfect romantic film.

Even though it's not perfect its a blast, especially if you're like me who hates by the number romances. Then again what would you expect from the director of two of the recent Bourne films?

This film is apparently not on DVD in the US. However the film is available from overseas if your so inclined. Or if you're like me you can catch it on cables since it seems to be back in rotation. My recently stumbling upon the film is what brought about the post.

Let the Bullets Fly and Shaolin

This is just a quick report on two of the hot films currently playing in Asia. I picked up both of them as DVD's on my trip into Chinatown Saturday. Regrettably both films were in Chinese with no subtitles, which means I'm going to have to watch them again when I can do so with an English translation. For now here's a brief report on two really good films that hopefully will be coming to a theater near you in 2011.

Shaolin is (or is not, I'm not sure) a remake of a 1982 film that brought Jet Li to the attention of the world. Not having seen that film I can't be sure how close the films are. Here we have the story of the Shaolin temple and how it is caught between warring warlord. Andy Lau plays one of the warlords who is forced to seek sanctuary in the temple when one of his underlings plans turn traitorous. Lau eventually joins the monks and tries to find redemption. (I think, as I said I didn't understand a word). As an action film this film really delivers. There are several stunning set pieces that are capped by a climatic battle that was moving even though I didn't understand anything that was being said. Talk about the power of film to reach audiences beyond the language barrier, this is it. I'm not going to lie and say it's a perfect film, it's probably not, since things seem a little too clear cut, but it is an entertaining one, and as I said the action set pieces are fantastic. I'm really looking forward to seeing this again-hopefully on the big screen. (I should mention that Jackie Chan has a small but key role as a cook)

Let the Bullets Fly is the current box office champ across Asia. It's box office power is such that the Wall Street Journal is reporting that is may be the biggest grossing film of Asian origin of all time. For me the draw was Chow Yun Fat. The film also has a cast of some of my favorite actors, none of who's names have ever stuck with me. The plot of the film has something to do with three gangsters manipulating events in and around a town for their own ends. I'd like to be more specific but this time out the lack of English worked against me. I was fine for about 45 minutes until there was an extended dinner conversation, which was the point that I realized I was lost. I hung in there to the end but I knew I had missed way too much. Not understanding the details aside, I had a blast. the set pieces, the opening train piece, the ninja attack, the drumming, and many others are just wonderfully done. What I liked was that the rhythms of the humor is such that even though you don't know what they are saying you still laugh because the actors sell the joke. This is a wonderfully acted film that has performances that engage and move you simply because you buy what they are saying. I am really hoping this plays on a big screen here in the US because it's too good not to be seen. I'm kind of hoping that the NYAFF gets this one because it would be a crowd pleaser.