Sunday, July 31, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato (2010) and a rant on how delays are costing film distributors money

This big screen adaption of the classic anime that is best known in the US as Star Blazers is a great deal of fun for anyone who has ever seen the original series. The film premièred in Japan last December and was recently released on DVD in Japan at the end of June. As of right now the US release is still being negotiated (see below).

The story has the earth in dire peril from an alien invasion. The Gamillas have managed to destroy most of the earth’s forces and are working on poisoning the planet with deadly radiation. With one chance at saving the earth left, and no ships available the once mighty battleship Yamato is pulled up from the bottom of a dried up sea and retrofitted to be able to fly in space. It’s then sent off to Iskandar to get a device which will remove the deadly radiation.

This often visually sumptuous film had the hairs standing up on my arms with how good it all looks. The film is a wonderful recreation of the classic animated series in live action terms. If you loved the old show odds are you’re going to find something to get excited about in this loving tribute to a classic science fiction series.

Any trouble with the film comes in that the film tries to compress a television series which ran for 78 episodes plus had a spin off feature film into roughly two and a half hours long. While the film moves along at a good clip and tells you it’s version of the story, there is a sense, at times, that we are missing something and that we’re not really getting to know the characters. More than once I had the sense that we were marching through events faster than was healthy.

Compression problems aside I really liked this film a great deal and I wasn’t into the film more than a matter of minutes, when I realized that perhaps I should have waited for the eventual US release of the film in order to see this on the big screen.

This is coming to theaters in the US...or so I've been told and so I've read...

To be honest, I’m really annoyed with the people involved with getting this film onto US screens. Most people I know who saw the trailer for the film last year have been waiting rather impatiently for this to arrive. The trouble is I have no idea when this film will ever show up on these shore officially, which means those of us who want to see it have to resort to other means. In my case it means picking up the import DVD, for others it’s going to be a trip to Chinatown or somewhere else to pick up a grey or black market edition of the film.

If you don’t think that’s a problem, think again, as I experienced with several films at this years New York Asian and Tribeca Film Festivals several people I know would not go to see films at the festivals because they already saw them, or owned them on DVD. Why should they pay money to see movies they own on a big screen? The answer is because the experience is different, as I found out with Tsui Hark's Blade and Mr C found out with Reign of Assassins.

In all honesty, every day that the film remains unreleased in the US the audience for the film grows smaller by a couple of people...because many people will not "double dip".

I know that the guys at Subway Cinema had been trying to get the film for the NYAFF this year since it came out. I spoke with people from the festival several times between New Years and the start of the film festival and was told that the negotiations between the Japanese producer and the US distributor were delaying the ability to schedule a screening. Everyone wanted to show it, but until some release deal was struck it was a no go. They finally had to give up when it became clear that they wouldn’t have an answer in time to put the festival schedule together.

I know within my circle of friends the none appearance of the film was one disappointment of this years film festival.

The non-appearance of the film despite an audience for the film highlights a serious problem with getting Asian films seen in the US. Simply put if the core audiences don’t know the films are actually coming they will go through other means to see it, which means that by the time the film actually shows up officially in the US people may not go to see it or won’t buy it in US editions because they have it already. If no one goes or buys the US version a distributor has no reason to import the film.

I understand that Asian films are thought of as having only a small audience (especially outside of the genres-horror and action) but I don’t think that’s really the case. I think the audience is there they just aren't being handled correctly. I think they are simply allowed to wander off and find the films on their own because no one knows the films are actually coming. I think if people knew the films were coming the US audience would seem to grow.

If you want proof that speedy releases help a film succeed one only need look at the films of Jackie Chan. Simply consider that in the case of Jackie Chan’s out put the films that were NOT rereleases of old Asian films did infinitely better than those that were.

I won’t go into the fact that Asian films are often trimmed of some material which annoys most people who want to see the whole film.(I don’t care that John Woo cut his Red Cliff in half, he ruined a classic of cinema. Takashi Miike wounded his 13 Assassins and as for Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2, the entire end of the film was altered to be politically correct.)

I know the ideal solution of simultaneous release of films around the world is impractical; there are too many movies and too few screens. As for DVD releases you can only put out so many at one time. I know that. But at the same time if companies want to see a rise in profits they should make some effort to tell people when they might be seeing films from over seas in a timely fashion. I know I would hold off buying an import if I knew a film was coming here with in a reasonable time frame—or rather with in any time frame.(I wouldn't have bought an import of Jackie Chan's masterpiece Little Big Soldier had I known it was to get a long delayed US release next month)

While I'm ranting I have to applaud China Lion who is striving to do releases of films around the world at the same time as they are hitting screens in Asia (or if not the same time close enough to time and with enough advertising that you know it’s coming). To be certain the films they are releasing have been mixed in quality, but at least they are striving to get films that are more than just action and horror seen.

There is a market for the films, it just has to be nurtured…just ask the NYAFF.

As for Space Battleship Yamato, the film is coming to these shores, but I still don’t know when. If you can wait for the promised theatrical release I suggest you do so. If not the film is out officially on DVD in Japan and I’m sure its starting to show up in dark gray editions in Chinatown. How you see it it your own choice…

(I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it will show up around the time of New York Comicon and Anime Festival. In October- but that’s just a guess---then again the NYFF might snag it as a co-presentation with Subway Cinema)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

KCS for 8/2, NYFF's first film and a few updates

The Korean Cultural Service chugs along with another thriller this Tuesday when they screen Seven Days. The KCS website describes it as follows:

Fans of Lost know her as Sun, but Kim Yun-Jin took home “Best Actress” at the Grand Bell Awards, Korea’s equivalent of the Oscars, for her portrayal of a Type A, stressed-out defense lawyer trying to rescue her kidnapped daughter in SEVEN DAYS. The movie kicks off with her daughter going missing and a kidnapper calling and telling her that she has seven days to get a gangster off death row. The problem: all the evidence points to the guy being as guilty as sin and there’s no way she can win this one. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game that sees the set pieces coming down as hard as an avalanche. A popular hit at the box office, this is the kind of twist-a-minute screenplay that Hollywood used to make, given a jolt of pure Korean adrenaline.

As always the doors are at 6:30 and the film starts at 7. As always it's free.

As the Film Society of Lincoln Center continues their Judy Garland All Singing All Dancing series and gets ready for the Latinbeat series (there is some goodies here so check it out); they are also beginning to stoke the fires for this years New York Film Festival. Aside from announcing that they will be expanding screenings thanks to their new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center They have announced that the opening night film will be Carnage, which was based on the play The God of Carnage by Yesmina Reza. I saw the play on Broadway and it was very good. With the cast thats been assembled (Jodie Foster,Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly) this looks to be a killer film.

John Landis's very funny Burke and Hare has been picked up by IFCFilms and will hit theaters on September 9

I want to mention that the fantastic horror film Stake Land hit DVD and Bluray this week. It's on pay per view and on IFC in Theaters now.

Also hitting DVD is the film Yellowbrickroad which I saw at the NY City Horror Festival in November. It's an uneven film that is a must see if you have a top of the line surround system. If the home version is like what I saw in the theater it will push your system to it's limit.

Troll Hunter is due for release on DVD at the end of August. About the same time as the serial killer film Cold Fish.

Lastly I want to remind you that the creepy film Grave Encounters hits theaters at the end of the month. This was the film I saw and loved at Tribeca.

Arriety The Borrorwer (2010)

This weekend we're going to take a look at a couple of big films from Japan that will be coming soon to American shores. Both are major event films. Both getting releases well after their releases in Japan both in theaters and are now available on DVD as imports. Today's film is the newest feature from Studio Ghibli, Arriety the Borrower, while tomorrows film is the big screen live action version of Space Battleship Yamato aka Star Blazers.

This is the story of Arriety and her family. They are borrowers, small humans who borrow things from big who "borrow" things from big people in order to get by. They think they maybe the only ones of their kind left. When Arriety goes off with her father on her first borrowing trip she runs across a sick human boy who is staying at the house before an operation. Things are complicated when the boy sees her and she and her family have to decide whether to flee or stay.

This is a beautiful film that seems more a doodle then a full movie.It feels like some of the short film sketches that Hayao Miyazaki has turned out over the years where things happen but there isn't much of a story. The reason for that the film seems like it's little more than a couple of sequences that just seem to go on and on and on seeming to fill the time with the lovely visuals. Little really happens, or when it does it's in fits and starts with threads hanging out left and right but not really going anywhere. In all honesty, the one big dramatic turn, Haru's (one of the human beans, ie big people) drive to call in exterminators seems to arise purely to have some sort of real conflict in a film that is decidedly lacking in it.

It's not a bad film but a rather unremarkable one and quite honestly were it not from Studio Ghibli (and co produced by Disney) I don't think it would have ever gotten a (big) release outside of Japan.

Possibly the dullest of the Ghibli canon with none of the peaks and valleys that even the other films I have complained about have had. Nothing stands out outside of the sumptuous look. There is no moments where I teared up or went wow or any sort of reaction other than I wished it did more than looked good... I think kids will be bored and boys, in particular will be squirming...even with the late in the game addition of a borrower named Spiller (who does little other than look mean and get goofy for Arriety).

As is my typical addendum, yes I have seen the film a couple of times before posting this. If you know my feelings for Ghibli films you know it takes me a few tries to decide what I think...

The film was released yesterday in the UK. The film is due for a US release in a dubbed version by Disney (who produced the film) February of 2012. Interestingly the UK dub is different than the US one.(Thank you to Randi for her help in researching this post)

Friday, July 29, 2011

House of Secrets (1936)

Although not perfect, this is a film that cheats its audience in order to have a proper running time, this is still a good film. The basic plot has a man from America going to England because he has inherited a house. Amazingly when he gets there, he finds that there are people there already who threaten him and run him off. With the help of a friend who is a well known detective he tries to get to the bottom of it all and falls in love in the process.

This is a very good old dark house story, or would be if the film were really set in the house. Much of the movie is involved in getting into the house and in wooing the girl.

As I mentioned earlier this is also a movie that can be frustrating since several times characters are about to talk about whats going on when the movie fades to black or cuts to the next scene. Its annoying, for some fatally so, for me I just shrugged and went with it. There is no reason for the fades , other than to annoy the audience since in all but one instance and earlier fade out would have been less maddening.

Should you run across this on late night TV give it a shot. Its a nice way to spend an hour

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird (2009) - screening at the 2011 San Diego Comic Convention

Still image from Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird
Still image from Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird

The screening of GAHAN WILSON: BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD was a wonderful way to end off the 2011 San Diego Comic Convention in my humble opinion! This was the last event on the 5th & final day of the comic con that I attended besides foraging into the abyss of the exhibit floor to pick up the remaining pieces! I should stress that this was MY final event & not THE final event of comic con! BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER musical (Once more with feeling episode) was to be the closing ceremony which my amigos from Team Planet Chocko descended on like hungry vultures, singing & dancing their hearts out!

Getting back to Gahan Wilson, this documentary pays homage to the unique works of this legendary cartoonist & gives a great deal of insight on the nuts and bolts of his psyche which would further explain his method to the madness expressed throughout his artwork! I would describe Gahan as an artist with a punk rock like attitude inflamed with a tai chi state of mind! His cartoons would give us a glimpse of the roots of his frustrations growing up as a kid and his battle with constant paranoia which shows us how horrifying the other side of his reality was. A tough up bringing by his parents would further cement his twisted outlook in life. Gahan Wilson’s illustration style can be described as playful, dark humor filled with monsters, ghouls, & vampires wrapped in contemporary satire! Wilson made it a point through his comics to question authority with no political correctness whatsoever and take no prisoners attitude! He is well known for his cartoons in Playboy, The New Yorker, & National Lampoon. Gahan would also create ecological cartoons filled with satire in order to poke fun on what a horrible joke our environment is becoming due to greed. He would describe himself as a half ass buddhist as he practices tai chi to find peace within himself. Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo Del Toro, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, & Hugh Heffner to name a few, will make a few sentiments describing Mr. Wilson and his contribution towards americana! This documentary would serve as a celebration for a legendary american cartoon artist but most importantly, tells a tale of his struggles within himself that would give birth to his radical creations of sick, twisted, & hellish art which many of us can relate to but could never manifest on paper like Gahan Wilson can! Gahan makes weird seem more normal! You are not alone, sir! The movie would cover the highlights from his first cartoon art sold to Ziff Davis for $7.50 to his current battles of trying to sell his illustrations to the New Yorker with many rejections abound. While this documentary is celebratory in nature, it also invoked a sad feeling in me as well. It really seemed that the film was going to lead me up to the death of the subject because Gahan was talking about how much weirder it was to grow old, much much stranger than he perceived it would be. He also mentioned that most adults let themselves go dead. He told a quick story about a mom & a dad tugging their young child by their side entering the main lobby of Grand Central Station in New York City. The parents were in a rush to get to the gates but the child screamed in amazement while he gazed at the zodiac sky ceiling in the lobby! Gahan Wilson seemed to yearn for that same feeling as that kid in Grand Central Station as opposed to that ho-hum attitude of adults who lost the zing for life! I guess life does come full circle for all of us at some point. But for now, Gahan Wilson is: Born Dead, Still Weird! Lets celebrate this man’s wonderful creations while he is still weird & alive as he ogles upon that zodiac sky at Grand Central Station!

Captured in Chinatown (1935)

Short crime/newspaper story centered in Chinatown. The story concerns two warring Chinese families, the Lings and the Wongs. The daughter of one loves the son of the other. When a marriage is agreed upon a valuable jade necklace is to be passed to the couple as a means of sealing the new friendship. However when news of the wedding and the necklace is published villains plot to steal the necklace.

After an intriguing first ten minutes or so set in Chinatown among the two families, where a large portion of the dialog is spoken in Chinese the focus shifts two two reporters who end up in Chinatown covering the wedding (aided by a dog named Tarzan). From that point on the Chinese are pushed to the background as the Caucasians take center stage as heroes and villains. You'll forgive the lack of details but this film is so short and so breezy that I'd like to leave some mystery for anyone who sees this. Its not a "who done it" more a "when will they catch on". There is murder and intrigue and of course a happy ending for everyone.

This is a decent little movie thats worth watching. If it has any real flaws its that the movie seems to be made up of little sections that you can knock out and put together in variety of different ways. There's the Chinatown stuff, the newspaper stuff, the bad guy stuff, the dog stuff, and a few other plot threads which click together like a puzzle but don't really flow together like a natural story. Its not bad, but its not as good a it should have been.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fighting Mad (1939)

Constable Kelly: I'm thinking of asking for a transfer.
Constable Kelly:Because nothing ever exciting happens any more.

Third film in our Renfrew series begins with two bad guys and a woman they have kidnapped wandering across the border from the US into Canada. They have a stolen 100 grand in a suitcase. They steal the car and house trailer of Benny, a man they meet on the road and drive off. It's at this point the opening exchange occurs moments before Kelly and Renfrew have to chase down the run away trailer with our heroine inside. From there it's typical Renfrew adventures as Renfrew and Kelly have to untangle the mess of stolen cars and stolen money.

This was the toughest of all the Renfrew films to track down. Until Amazon's streaming video I'd only seen it available from a collector on Ebay who was selling it on a DVD with two other Renfrew films. Why it was so difficult to find has eluded me since all of the other films are readily available from places like Sinister or Oldies.

This is one of the best Renfrew films. It's got a great characters, a great sense of place and some thrills that would have made this a great serial had the series gone that way. The songs aren't all that intrusive, and there isn't an over abundance of bad humor. Sure, Benny gets a bit bothersome, but for the most part it all works.

I really like this film. It's got all of the best things you want in a film like this, mainly a high level of action and adventure mixed with a healthy dose of suspense. It's the sort of film that would have had it been the first in the series I had seen, I would have been hooked.

This is a great little film.

House of Danger (1934)

Two friends are returning from the south seas. One comes from a rich family that he ran away from, the other is a self made man. When the boat they are returning on catches fire and explodes The rich man is injured. He sends his friend in his stead to investigate the matters surrounding his fathers death. Trouble ensues as the murderers don't like be investigated and love blooms where it shouldn't.

Solid B thriller is less a mystery then a crime drama since we pretty much know at the outset who the bad guys are, our hero just needs to get the proof. For the most parts things are well done, with only a few odd twists and turns in the plot (I'm not a fan of the ending) to lessen the proceedings. Over all the film is worth seeing especially if you're a fan of the 1930's mysteries.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Secrets of Chinatown (1935)

Let me take a crack at trying to explain the plot of this very complex movie: In and around the Chinatowns of Seattle and Vancouver a dark organization of black robed men is smuggling drugs and worse in from China and elsewhere. If anyone gets to close they are send a coin which spells their doom. As police informants and investigators fall, the commissioner of police is forced to turn to a special investigator with a knack for disguise and a vast knowledge of Eastern ways to help bring an end to the body count. Also in the mix is a young man infatuated with a mysterious young girl (who can appear and disappear into thin air) who is somehow tied to the band of villains.

IMDb lists this as running 62 minutes, the version I saw ran 55, and in either case the running time would be way too short for what is going on the screen. There are so many characters, subplots, locations, and wild ideas (in a good way) that this movie easily could have run two hours and have kept you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The short running time is the problem with this movie because things are not explained, they just happen. Frequently you get the feeling that another scene or two should have been included. I don't think that the missing scenes were filmed, I think they filmed the bare minimum of scenes for you to be able to follow the plot and went with that.

I like this movie a great deal. No, its not completely clear as to whats going on at times, but its clear enough to make you want to see whats going on. In some ways the lack of clarity works for the film since it forces you to pay attention to the action. Besides in the end the film does tell you everything you need to know to enjoy the story, you just have to be patient and wait for the end. Additionally there are enough loose threads that make you get a sense that the film world actually exists somewhere and not just on the screen.

If you've seen a good many low budget mysteries or films from the same period where everything seems to be set bound then you'll want to take a look at this movie. Clearly filmed on location the film makers show us locations that aren't the run of the mill. Sure some of the offices look like normal film sets but the streets, the caves, the temples, the noodle shops are not. Its great that the film makers take what could have been very a "been there and done that" film and spiced up every element and turned it into something unique and worth watching.

Even better is the camera work. I don't ever remember seeing a any 1930's sound film that looked this good and mysterious, certainly not one that was shot on a small budget. I'm certain that some of the effects were achieved by simply choosing to shoot silent and post sync the sound. Its a small thing but the effects are stunning. Look at the murder of the police detective on the street, the high shots in the Chinese temple, or the sequence with the yogi where the drifting smoke seemed to lighten up everything behind it. Amazing, truly amazing. The technical work makes me want to show this to people just so they cam see the camera work (which most will probably not appreciate, but thats okay).

This is a great little film. Its one to search out especially if you want to see what a bunch of clever people can do when they refuse to do things the same old way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

House of Mystery (1934)

This week we're taking a look at five mysteries from the the 1930's. Monday Wednesday and Friday are films with House in the title. Tuesday and Thursday are trips to Chinatown with a couple of mysteries set in the exotic locales of a big city. First up The House of Mystery

Years ago fortune hunter ran a foul of an Indian cult. Now years later he calls together the backers of his trip to try and make amends and to make right what happened.

Or so he says.

Actually there's more going on here than meets the eye, not to mention a potentially murderous gorilla.

This is a very good, completely unremarkable and completely forgettable movie that is probably destined to end up lost in your memory. I know I have a hell of a hard time remembering which movie this is every time I run across it in my movie collection. I have to put it on to see what it is and more times than not I'll leave it on. Its not one that I actively search out to watch, even though I've seen it numerous times.

Should you get the chance, you might want to give it a try, just don't expect to remember it in the morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Films and Film Festivals now through early fall

I was going to write up a piece on the Asian American International Film Festival and and realized that there are a bunch of film festivals coming up.

Taking everything out of Order is the Asian American International Film Festival. This year it Runs from the 10th to the 14th of August and it’s got a couple of really good looking film in its line up. First off is the opening night film Amigo which is the new film from John Sayles. I’d really like to see this but I’m not to sure if I can budget it in (The film is a big to do with a 35 dollar price tag). Not to worry there are other films including The Piano in the Factory which I missed at both the Gold Coast Film Festival and the Stony Brook film festivals; and Aftershockwhich was one of the best films of last year and is guaranteed to reduce you to tears. Do yourself a favor and check the website for a bunch of really cool films.

Lincoln Center is about to start three great series. First up is their Sydney Lumet retrospective is starting this weekend. It’s followed by a an All Singing and All Dancing series of Judy Garland films. Then the film center looks at the best films from Central and South America with Latin Beat. I’m looking forward to this last series since there are a good number of choice films in the mix.

The second half of August is the New York City International Film Festival. To be painfully honest I’m mixed about this festival. Last year this festival looked great, this year I'm not too sure. To be certain if you love short films this is for you with hours of short films every day in several locations, but the features seem to be a mixed bag with several on already on DVD. I’m not sure what we at Unseen will be doing since I’m still trying to make sense of the website. If you’re adventurous give it a try.

BAM is having a weekend of animation this weekend when The Animation Block Party takes over the place for lots of short film screenings. This is a must see since the Block Party tends to pick choice films.

That is followed by some great Hong Kong action films Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Dragon Inn and Ricki-Oh. Yes all three played at the recent NYAFF and these screenings are in conjunction with Subway Cinema. Check out the website for more details.

BAM is also running a look back at Magnolia Films so if you've ever wanted to see Onk Bak, Bronson, The Host or Let the Right One in on the big screen now is your chance.

Film Forum is running a series of Pre-Code films that is a must see. There are too many to mention though they are running Tarzan and his Mate and King Kong on one bill on August 6. Two of the best adventure films ever made on one bill? it's a must see....

I should also mention that Prospect Park in Brooklyn will be running the restored Metropolis with an Orchestra on August 4th at 7PM.

As the summer winds down we are making plans during this quiet time for the fall festival season.

We will be attending the New York Comicon in October. We did it small scale last year with Ken and myself, however this year we're looking to do something on the order of our Tribeca and NYAFF with correspondents all over the place.

I just received preliminary word on this year’s New York Film Festival,so with luck we'll be giving you our full scale treatment on this as well.

And I think we may take another run at the NY Horror Film Festival despite my reservations

There's more of course, with several other film festivals and things like the Linncoln Center Horror series to look forward to, so we at Unseen are going to be busy... Keep reading since there is going to be a good many films coming your way...

Film Noir Double Feature

He Walked by Night (1948)
This is a semi documentary style story about a massive police hunt in Los Angeles for a cop killer. Richard Basehart stars as Roy, an ex- soldier and thief who kills a cop. It’s a you are there style film that goes into the nuts and bolts of the hunt showing how forensics and dogged police work track the killer down. Made during the early heyday of film noir the movie is full of dark shadows and sinister happenings. For the most part the cast blends into a cohesive whole of real people, which lets you know how good the cast is since it’s full of familiar character actors who disappear into their roles. Only Basehart stands out, which is as it should be, since his Roy is definitely a person who doesn’t fit in with the rest of society. I like this film a great deal. It’s not the be and all of either film noirs or the semi-documentary style films that popped up in the late 40’s and early 50’s, but it’s a comfortable one, kind of like a favorite blanket.( It’s allegedly based on a true story, but much changed. The details of which can be found elsewhere on line at Wikipedia or IMDB)

Gun Crazy (1950)
Gun Crazy was one of the first films I ever heard called a cult film. It’s a classic crime drama and the quintessential film noir with the queen of femme fatales. My real interest was peeked by Danny Peary’s first Cult Movie book where there was a still of John Dall and Peggy Cumming standing in the woods at the end of the film and of their own doomed romance. The plot of the film has Dall meeting and falling in love with Cumming, a sweet little girl who works as a sharp shooter in a carnival. They marry but find they aren’t making enough money. Figuring the fastest way to quick riches would be to take it they begin to pull robberies. Unfortunately for Dall, Cumming is more than a little nuts and not only does she get off on the robberies, but also the occasional murder. A bleak dark descent into hell this film is a poisoned little commentary on romance and the things we do for the people we love. Guaranteed to make you think twice about getting involved with anyone, since you never know what our loved ones are really like. A must see…

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Night Train (2009)

Night Train is a rare thing, a really good film that can be considered a real film noir, despite being made in color.

Yes, I’m one of those people who feels that film noir’s should be in black and white. Say what you will there is something about the interplay of light and shadow that is so much better in black and white, at least as far as noir is concerned. Sadly these days most people dislike it and if what I’ve heard is correct you really can’t get film printed in monochrome. Ah well…

My problem with color films that attempt to do noir is that the mood never is there*. Sure they get the tropes of crime, doomed romance and cynicism right, they just don’t get the mood right. The films are too bright, too colorful, even in the night scenes. As I said about the interplay with light and shadow is all wrong.

Night Train on the other hand manages to get it right.

The short version of the plot has several passengers and a conductor on a night train deciding to take the brief case of a deceased passenger. It’s full of diamonds and they figure he won’t need them. To that end they take pains to make it look like he was never on board, but in true noir fashion complications arise both with disposing of the body and with greed.

The cast is great with Danny Glover as the conductor, Steve Zahn as a passenger and Leelee Sobieski as the femme fatale. It’s thanks to their efforts that the film actually works.

Also helping things work is the fact that the film was shot in front of green screens and there is computer manipulation of some of the images. Normally I dislike the unreality that over manipulation creates, but here it works. Here it creates it’s own little world. It breaks down the rule that film noir must (should) be in black and white and proves it wrong, or at least creates an exception.

In all honesty this isn’t a great film, I know when I first saw this film several years ago I liked it but I didn’t hold it in high enough regard to warrant a review here. Then over time I found I was still carrying the film around with me in my head, I still recommended it and I still thought about. Any film that stays with me when other, “better” films have faded is good in my book.

Out on DVD and on cable. It’s worth a look.

* The general exception to the film noir not working in color tends to be the films based on the books of Jim Thompson.(The Grifters or say After Dark My Sweet. However they tend to be closer to the literary noir or a neo noir that the down beat films of the 60’s and 70’s created.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Japan Cuts: An Apology

An apology to Japan Cuts - I won't be coming to the closing night film Into The White Night. I would love to do it, but the 100 plus degree weather with high humidity doesn't make for a nice stroll to the theater. Add in signal problems on the LIRR and its just not happening.

I do want to thank you for a wonderful year. I saw 19 of the 32 films and for the most part they were all a really good bunch with a couple of films that were some of my favorites of the year (Rinco's Restaurant, Last Ronin, Sword of Desperation, Abraxas, Ringing in Their Ears, Vengeance Can Wait... and a few others)

If I can make one small request, do you think you can manage to get some of the manic feel that the cross promotion with the NYAFF brings all through the series? Don't get me wrong I love you guys but we have to thaw some of the members of the audience who are just a tad stogy.

I hate that you're done and we have to wait until next wait... no this isn't the NYAFF you have films all year long.... Okay guys whats next?

Hit and Run (2009)

Driving home drunk a young lady hits a bump in the road and thinking nothing of it continues on her way home. Later that night hearing noises she finds that the bump wasn't nothing, rather it was a man who is now mashed into the grill of her car. Deciding against calling 911 she chooses to finish the guy off and then bury him out in the woods. Unfortunately he's not dead and he's really angry.

Dark film starts off some what by the numbers, but then things slowly turn darker and darker with more than a few twists turning things rather black. The power of the film is not so much from anything in the film so much as from the progression of the story. There is a nice internal logic that keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering where this nightmare is going to go. Worth a look see, though if you're like me don't be surprised if this think hangs around the edges of your mind.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Way too many links

Before we get to the matter of lots of links I need to state that Mr C has posted his winners and losers at the NYAFF over at Planet Chocko. If you're curious what his take is on the festival follow the link to find out. (I should also add that he's off to San Diego Comicon and has promised to report in if he should come across something really good.)

Now on to the business at hand---

While we at Unseen Films have been engaging in cinematic overload enmasse I've been collecting links to various articles across that thing known as the Internet. In order for you to help you kill time before your next film I now present way too many links:

The Asian American International Film Festival is coming up August 10 to the 20th. You can follow the link but I'll have a post on it up in a day or so.

The dangers of over reactive film fans

Hitchcock Cameos

Bill Murray Reads Poetry

Expectations on Pixar

Looking Back at Labyrinth

The first 12 Years of Film Threat on line

Robert Altman's California Split

Movie Posters

Leonard Lopate talks to Tsui Hark about the Star Asia Award and then talks about how the 1970's were a golden age for horror films.

Yet another piece relating to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.

On shooting Dreamchild.

The Chess Match in the Seventh Seal analyzed.

Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life is causing lots of people to walk out. Here's a piece about asking for a refund.

Up N'Atom- weird cartoon from Columbia studios in 1947 that is more like a Tex Avery or Looney Tunes cartoon than it has any right to be.

Hunting Party (2007)

This film is based on a true story of a trio of journalists looking for a war criminal in the former Yugoslavia. The Original group included Jon Krakauer, in the movie we have Terrence Howard and Richard Gere. Where originally it started as a bunch of journalists getting drunk and deciding to go out and find the bad guys, here we have Gere as a washed up TV reporter convincing his old camera man and a network executive (who got the job because of nepotism) that he can get an interview with "the Fox" if they are willing to go along with him. They go and things instantly begin to go side ways as nothing is as it seems and no one believes they aren't with the CIA.

Not to put too fine a point on it I really liked this film a great deal. Its witty and intelligent with lots of likable characters and a real sense of both humor and reality.Its probably three quarters of one of the most enjoyable films of the year (even with the nastiness.) What can I say I'm a sucker for great buddy films and Terrence Howard and Richard Gere have an ease when together that makes you certain that they have been friends for decades. Its magical.

If there is a problem with the film its that the film kind of loses steam toward the end. Somewhere the need for an "ending" kind of gets in the way of things and the film begins to be a bit less...I don't know, fun. Don't get me wrong its still better than many other recent films, but its just disappointing that things have to be "neat". Of course the pre-final credits explanation of whats real and what isn't a scream.

See this movie, thats all I have to say. See it and go with its vibe and I think you'll have a good time.

And forgive me for being spotty about things since I'm trying not to say too much since not knowing what happens is part of the joy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Renfrew of the Royal Mounted On the Great White Trail (1938)

After a week off we continue on with our look ay all the Renfrew of the Royal Mounted films. This week we go On the Great White Trail. (I have no idea if the title is just On The Great WHite Trail or if the the title actually begins with Renfrew..., but I digress.)

While not the best in the series, it's not quite the worst either. The film is a step in the right direction, and quite charming on it's own terms.

The plot of the film has Renfrew escorting a young woman North to find her father. It seems he's gone missing and the Mounties can't reach their man in the same area so they sent Renfrew to accompany the girl. While Renfrew is on the trail it's revealed that the Mountie Renfrew is trying to contact is dead and that the girl's father has gone missing with a large sum of money.The locals believe he killed Mountie and another man. Of course things are not as they seem and Renfrew has his work cut out for him.

A much more straight forward film than the first film in the series, this film at least knows what it's about. The film's first half is closer to a straight out musical comedy with a good number of (actually quite good) songs and what seems to be a never ending series of one liners coming from Renfrew. However once the film's second half arrives things turn more serious as Renfrew sets about trying to unravel what is really going on.

I like the film, but it's not as good as the later ones in the series. Part of it is the uneven tone, part of it is the cheapness of the production (there is an over use of rear screen projections). It's an interesting bridge between the first go at the character and where it would end up a short time later when you got six films in just over under two years.

Definitely worth searching out.

(Of trivial note, this is the first appearance, fleetingly, of Constable Kelly who would become Renfrew's partner in later films.)

The Reaping (2007)

Well I'm shocked-this is a pretty good little thriller.

Hillary Swank is an ex-missionary turned scientist and debunker, she's called into investigate a small town in the deep South where the river has turned red or as some suspect to blood. this is followed in close order by other Biblical plagues. They all seem to to be tied to a young girl living in the woods.

Creepy little movie thats better than many recent Bible thrillers. Here we start off with science and find as time goes on that it can't explain whats going on. well acted with a couple of nice set pieces this is a movie that works mostly by simple visualization, we see a red river, we see flies, we see frogs. except for a plague of locusts and some fire in the sky what we see out side of dreams is all simple effects given weight by the sincerity of the script and the performances. This is a film where the classic idea of its all better in the mind works to great effect with just a small push.

Is it a great film? No, but its a good one. Its the sort of thing you sit and watch on a Saturday night with a big bag of popcorn and a soda. Is it worth paying ten bucks in the theater for? I doubt it but on a rainy Sunday afternoon it may fit the bill on the bargain priced matinée. (Certainly worth a rental) Somewhere between six and seven out of ten.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DB and a few final thoughts on the NYAFF- Plus the Audience award winners

On the day that the Audience Award for the NYAFF were announced I find myself trying to write up some kind of summation for this years festival but I find I can’t come up with anything more than what I said when I sent a thank you to everyone who worked on the festival, namely the festival kicked ass. It’s direct to the point and sums up my feelings.

I had a great time and I’m so happy that the festival has not only gotten better but also managed to control any growing pains. It remains steadfastly about the films and the fans and not about anything else. I say this because earlier this year one of my other favorite festivals of the same age seemed about to morph into something else and possibly even jump the shark. Happily none of that is apparent with Asian Film Festival, it's the same festival we've all loved for years just a little more mature and taller in stature.

Since there is little to say beyond the festival kicked ass, I thought I’d give you a list of my favorite films of the festival, plus my very short list of disappointments (because everyone else is doing the best of lists).

My favorite films of the festival, in no particular order are:

Troubleshooter- a wonderful popcorn movie that does what it does so well that you don’t care you’ve seen variations on the plot before.

Abraxas-Finding your way and finding bliss even if it means playing punk rock when you’re a Buddhist monk. Electric doesn’t begin to describe it.

A Boy and His Samurai-talk about feeling good and being happy. This won the Audience Award for this year (See Below)

Machete Maidens Unleashed- The perfect exploitation film except it’s a damn fine documentary…how’d that happen?

Mr Taps’s Holiday- There were maybe only 25 of us in the shorts screening so almost none of you can understand the feeling of having a bizarre premise of a man with a water tap in his head go from one of the biggest WTF films to one of the most romantic films ever made over the course of 30 minutes. Amazing doesn't describe it.

Ninja Kids
- pure Miike silliness at it’s best

Milocroze: A Love Story- uneven but when it’s on, which is most of the time, it’s as wild and wanton and amazing a film as you’ll ever find.

Ringing in Their Ears-by the time the climatic concert ends you’d be smiling from ear to ear. Joy in easy to take movie form.

Unjust-Sydney Lumet hasn’t died, he’s just gone to Korea. Bleak corruption tale will curl your toes.

Almost on the list, and still fighting for position:

Gantz- both films together tell one hell of a story- but it’s so clunky and seems to be missing some explanation that they just miss being on a favorites list. (This was second on the list of Audience Favorites)

Heaven’s Story-The story haunts me, but it’s a bit too long at almost 5 hours, but the film has been the source of endless debate.(And were this a best of festival list instead of a favorite list it would be on it---It was the fifth favorite film of the festival for audiences)

Sell Out was one of the most cynical movies ever made and one of the funniest. It also has a couple of amazing musical numbers that Broadway would be jealous of.

Punished blew me away when I saw it but it kind of got lost with the weight of everything else. I reserve the right to change this films position based upon a second viewing.(and if you don’t let me I’ll have Anthony Wong beat you up)

13 Assassins was not included above because it’s already a favorite and has only gotten better in the directors cut, but how many times can I gush about a film.(Similarly Reign of Assassins or Detective Dee)

There were a few things that disappointed me this year, chief among them is completely missing every introduction and interview done by Grady. How did I manage that? Sure I talked to Grady in passing a couple of times but there is something about his boundless energy that makes it fun to go to see a movie. There is always next year…and the Korean Cultural Service screenings.

As for movies---

The second half off Karate-Robo Zaborgar was a complete collapse of a great film that made me not want to see it again.

Last Days of the World worked less and less the more I saw it. I’ve seen it multiple times now in an effort to decide what I thought of it and I’ve finally decided it’s a miss, a nice idea poorly done, and losing it’s way after a clever start.

Yellow Sea is a good film that just wasn’t worth the effort I put into see it (There is a long story here and if you knew it you'd understand). It’s too much of the same thing over too long a period of time and it doesn’t hold a candle to the directors earlier film The Chaser. While I do give the film points for the creative use of sharp objects, I can't find the love many people have for the film only the like.

Osamu Tezuka's Buddha didn’t work for me. I wanted to love it but the compression of a story near and dear to me is too great so that it seems like it's all highlights and no emotion.

The two least films of the festival were the shorts Debris and Tunnel which, together made up a half an hour of my life I’ll never get back, and would really love to, I mean there is an episode of Gilligan's Island I haven't seen enough times.

And that ends my thoughts on this years NYAFF. It's been a hell of a year and if I get to bed now I just may have rested enough by the time it all starts up next year...

For those who didn't click on the link above the top five films as voted by audiences are as follows:

1 A Boy and His Samurai
2 The Gantz Films
3 Ocean Heaven
4 Reign of Assassins
5 Heaven's Story

The full list with commentary can be found here.

Sentinel (2006)

Michael Douglas is a secret service agent framed in a plot to kill the President of the US. Kiefer Sutherland is the agent on his tail.

Its not a bad movie its just been there done that with form over content film making. There is no real tension because the actors are in roles they've played a dozen or so times before (Sutherland in 24 each week)so you can pretty much walk them through whats happening.Thats the problem here, its all been done before, better.

The real question is: Do I really need to pay 10 bucks a head to see whats a essentially a big screen TV movie? I think not. As I said its not bad, its just not worth running out to the theater to see. Wait for cable where this movie really belongs.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mondocurry NYAFF Reflection Part 2: FURIOUS FEMME FATALES and other acknowledgements

Having gotten my big TOP 5 list out of the way, I transmit to you one more round of reactions to my favorite film event to write about, the New York Asian Film Festival.

A question about this year’s tenth anniversary blow out, which was even raised by Subway Cinema’s twitter feed, is where were all the women? There were no female guests, and a scarce 3 films (one of which I was not such a fan of) were directed by female directors. Fortunately, there was no lack of girl power on the screen, as women featured prominently in many of this year’s new and old titles, kicking ass and fighting the powers that be.

In honor of that, I’ve come up with the following list to acknowledge those razor sharp female performances. As usual, I feel the need to disclaim that its only based on the movies I watched and prone to glaring omissions (for instance Dragon Inn, a movie I didn’t see during the fest, features Maggie Cheung in an action role!). Following the list is a quick look at some films that I feel deserve special recognition for particular achievements.


1. Asami as Nonoko in HORNY HOUSE OF HORROR

Who is really in control when women are presented as sexual objects for men’s fantasies? In answer to this question is a brilliant scene where men ecstatically ogle girls’ exposed bottoms as if it is the greatest day of their lives. Meanwhile on the other side of a partition, Asami crouches in the crudest of manners, shooting the breeze with her colleagues like it’s just another day of parting the typical male slave to his sexual longing with his money. Of course unbeknownst to the men, they will lose more than just their cash…Asami leads the charge with a portrayal of maniacally energetic sexuality, which climaxes in her violently and bloodily rendering her john sexually powerless. She literally uses sex as a weapon, making the metallic vagina dentata she wields seem to fit like a …not a glove…I’ll leave you to finish that simile on your own.

2. Chiaki Kuriyama as Chigusa and Kou Shibasaki as Mitsuko In BATTLE ROYALE

Eleven years later, Battle Royale is still a shocking vision of kids embroiled in blood spattered violence, not the least of which involves aggression-fueled teenage girls. While Chiaki Kuriyama would go on to international notoriety as the giddy ball and chain swinging right-hand school girl in KILL BILL, Kou Shibasaki’s role as Mitsuko comes from an even darker place. She adapts to the kill or be killed mentality of the program immediately and, with a hunter’s proficiency, eliminates several classmates from the game. Chigusa (Kuriyama) lashes out against a classmate’s lustful obsession and attempt to threaten her into sexual compliance. There are hints that Mitsuko had been dealing with being ostracized from her classmates, forced to grow up too quickly at the hands of abusive father figures (this is explored further in the manga of the same name). They both represent a bloody blast of youthful female rage against elements of a male dominated society.

3. Seo Young-Hee as Bok-Nam in BEDEVILLED

Of all the female protagonists in this year’s movies, Bok-Nam has arguably the biggest cross to bear. She is good hearted and simple and sadly all alone to deal with an isolated existence on a remote island shared with a handful of abusive males and a community of elderly women that turn a blind eye in resentment. When the abuse extends beyond her to her daughter, her mind has nowhere to go but blank. Seo Young-Hee turns in an enthralling performance as an over the edge murder machine with a focus as razor sharp as the scythe she brandishes. One psychosexual scene finds her provocatively seducing her tormentor before exacting a painful revenge that is sure to please audiences looking for hard earned onscreen retribution.

4. Norie Yasui as Lulu/Junko in LOVE AND LOATHING AND LULU AND AYANO

The character of Lulu is perhaps the most complicated and least action-oriented of the list. We meet her as a shy and withdrawn girl with a troubling home environment and a diminished job situation. When opportunity, in the form of a successful porn video casting, arises she transforms herself into a 2-dimensional cliché of a male fantasy to escape from life’s hardships. With support from another strong female role Ayano, whose stress outlet of choice is clubbing away with a baseball bat, Lulu sheds this shallow persona. In a striking final scene, the weary, self-aware, and more alluring than ever Junko (no longer prone to using the moniker Lulu) looks her oppressor in the eye and hits back. Whether she ends up all right or not in the end isn’t important. It’s Norie Yasui’s transgressive portrayal of a girl fighting back that puts her on the list.

5. Pam Grier as various, Marie Lee as Cleopatra Wong, Jeanne Bell as TNT Jackson, and others in MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED

Pam Grier may have faired best in the end, but all of the real life fierce females featured in this Australian documentary on exploitation films made in the Filipino deserve to be acknowledged. Putting storyline exploitation to the side, the film asks if the actual struggles these girls put up with in the rugged jungle as movie set was worth it. Regardless of the answer, these actresses would not give up on dreams of stardom without a fight, sticking it out through the harshest conditions. Whatever the cause, be it the directors’ input or the market’s call for something new to drive up box office sales, there were few onscreen depictions of desperate damsels here. For whatever abuse was dished out by male tormentors, it was given back double in crazy explosions of violence by way of kung fu, machine guns, and of course those weed whacking blades called machetes.


Best Visuals – MILOCRORZE (dir. Yoshimasa Ishibashi)

This movie had hands-down the best look of any of the films in the festival this year. Had it packed the same emotional punch as the films I listed in my Top 5, it would’ve absolutely been my favorite film of the festival.

Best Soundtrack – THE UNJUST (dir. Ryoo Seung-Wan)

I should point out right away that the director’s previous festival hit, CITY OF VIOLENCE, which also screened this year, is another shining example of making excellent use of a film score to enhance a movie’s action. In THE UNJUST, there is a repetitive swirl of strings and drums that perfectly punctuates the dizzying, spiraling grip of panic that closes in around the corrupt protagonists. To get a sense, watch the clip of the far underwatched Subway Cinema trailer for their Korean Sea of Revenge program. The sounds from THE UNJUST comes in like a swarm of pissed off hornets at the 9 second mark and last until the 17 second mark.

Best English as a Second Language Comedy – SELL-OUT (dir. Yeo Joon Han)

This Malaysian movie has nonstop laughs, in English! It keeps up a hilariously absurd dialogue both in spite of and in full recognition of the potential for miscommunication and the unnaturalness of the thrown together English dialects as a lingua franca, often making it the subject of the jokes. The witty crafting of words continues right through to the show tunes ala karaoke box that make up the musical numbers of this stand out bizarre satire. Enjoy the "Money Song" below for a bit of the lyrical genius, subtitled for your convenience!

Best Erotic Moment – LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD (dir. Eiji Uchida)

I may be unnecessarily revealing deeply disturbing scars in the inner recesses of my psychological makeup, but that thing that the guy does with the thing, and then that other thing happens…that was pretty hot!

With much anticipation, I await the excitement that you bring our way next year, New York Asian Film Festival 2012!

Follow me on twitter? @mondocurry

Irreversible (2002)

Because this week I'm exhausted from the NYAFF, I'm reposting five reviews that I previously posted at IMDB. These are the top 5 reviews of films not previously reviewed here that are listed as most helpful by readers of IMDB (of the ones that I've written). They are in order from most helpful down.

First up Gaspar Noe's Irreversible

If movies are suppose to effect the viewer then this movie is king of the hill. From the dis-orienting camera moves that open the film through the violence in the gay bar, the seemingly never ending rape and the films unraveling of the days events in a backwards march I have yet to meet anyone who has not been deeply effected by this movie - if they were brave enough or stupid enough to watch it. (I'm still trying to figure out a local Best Buy displaying a large number of DVD's as if it was the latest Adam Sandler movie)

It is not an easy movie to watch but as an examination of what people are capable and how violence can come from nowhere and from the unexpected its a masterpiece. The backward structure takes what is essentially a dull revenge story and turns it on its ear as we are forced to really examine how things get out of hand very quickly and what people will do when pushed to the limit.

If you want a challenge to your psyche and can brave simply some of the most vicious and nasty screen violence (yes its graphic but much is also implied) then see this movie - preferably with out distraction. But be warned, even if you think you know what this movie is about and what your limits in screen violence is, you still won't be prepared for what a mental hot foot this film is.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tuesday is Thriller night at the Korean Cultural Service

Out of money because of the NYAFF?

Not to worry the Korean Cultural Service is once more running free movies at the Tribeca Cinemas.

This week it's the second of their thrillers Blood Tie. the Korean Cultural Service website describes it as follows:

A blackly comic, ridiculously violent neo-noir, BLOODY TIE is the informer movie as a buddy comedy where the jokes come covered in bruises and blood. Ryoo Seung-Bom plays a crystal meth dealer who wants to move up in the world and so he’s allied himself with a corrupt cop, played by Hwang Jung-Min. Together they’re two bad guys taking down the even worse guys in a movie where no sexual encounter is complete without a vow of vengeance and no friendship comes without a side order of backstabbing and betrayal.

As always doors open at 630 and the screening is at 7.

I'm still not sure if I'll be there since there are some conflicts in my schedule, but if you aren't movied out and aren't going to Japan Cuts, why not give it a shot.

Mondocurry NYAFF Reflection Part 1: TOP FIVE FAVORITE NEW FILMS

It’s that time…time to wrap up thoughts on this year’s extra celebratory New York Asian Film Festival. Not only was it an extremely significant year for the festival as it whooped it up for its tenth anniversary, but personally it was a high point because it marks the first year I officially joined up with Team Unseen to offer my feedback on the course of events. It was at last year’s NYAFF that I met DB and enjoyed some good times over some unique films…which came after a year or so of exchanges through our respective stream of conscious-esque blogs (that starting right around the conclusion of the NYAFF from the year prior to that). That has all lead to me writing directly for Unseen, a move that’s caused me to up my writing game (which I acknowledge is still rather amateurish) and enjoy a sense of community around appreciating films.

Now then, let’s stop sniffling and move the hanky to the side. Here are my Top 5 favorite films from the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival…

BUT FIRST, a disclaimer: this is an EXTREMELY SUBJECTIVE list, which only includes films I have seen and by no means reflects the entire array of films at the festival. To those of you who saw it all, I salute you (and I’m also a little afraid of you!) It is a festival that opens the doors to several unique movie watching paths, which fall under the umbrella of ‘Asian film.’ I definitely wear my preferences on my sleeves and chances are, had I seen more films, they still wouldn’t make it as high up on my list as those that piqued my interest enough for me to grab a ticket. For the most part, I saw what I wanted to see except for The Yellow Sea, which may not have changed my list much as it received some rather ambivalent reactions from my film watching compatriots. Last off, I did not include for consideration a few films in the lineup that I had already seen prior to NYAFF and did not watch again during it. Therefore, monstrously good films like 13 ASSASSINS and DETECTIVE DEE AND THE PHANTOM FLAME were not regarded as candidates, which in a way is fortunate because I don’t envy the task of determining favorites with those monumental movies in the mix.
Now then, THE LIST



It seems strange to put a straight up genre film at the top of the list. But, as a suspense fan, this movie had me riveted from beginning to end. The setup depicting a corrupt and chauvinistic contemporary urban Korea invoked its due outrage. The calm before the storm on a remote island masterfully built up an unsettling feeling of dread, making the explosion of rage in the film’s final act well earned. It was not without its twists: are we supposed to cheer for abused Bok Nam’s path of carnage. The NYC (home to Bernie Goetz NYC as it were) audience certainly felt so. But isn’t she trying to kill the main character? And why isn’t the similarly tormented main character joining in the transgressions? It all comes together in the end to show a difficult coming to terms and a realistic transformation within a still imperfect world. Bedevilled is head and shoulders above the last female character driven Korean thriller that I remember getting a US theater release, THE HOUSEMAID, so here are strong hopes that this will see the inside of some theaters too.


Some films are based around an emotionally moving story. Some are cleverly composed. This movie is both, although it is not 1 but rather 4 (and maybe more than that!) engrossing tales that are told. The music by Japanese DIY success story Shinsei Kamattechan is unique and engaging, and even when it is far from universally appealing, is filled with heart. Meanwhile, they have a bona fide hit that I would challenge anyone with a love of rock music to resist nodding his head to. In lesser hands this would be little more than an indie rock infomercial, but Yu Irie made this a very special multi-faceted film that needs to be experienced to be felt, and is deserving of loads of attention.


I didn’t expect this to go on my favorites list. Was I really going to put it there just because of its novelty of being four and a half hours long? Just because it has the commodity of being seen by a scant few people at its one afternoon screening? No, it is in my top 5 list because it’s four and a half hours long and kept my rapt attention and left me feeling like every part of my body was numb except for my heavily throbbing heart. The time spent lingering on the characters and their relationships makes you feel all the more in tune with the weight of the burdens they bare. It is a story about real life, with birth and death examined in full. Yet, it also weaves an incredible tale whose unlikelihood becomes irrelevant in the face of its masterful telling. Watch it all at once, and if you trail off during parts, be sure to listen to the hauntingly beautiful song over the credits, which actually more or less retells the entire story!


For me, this was all about the noise. I love noise in music. And so does the ne’er do well with a heart of gold retired indie rocker turned monk in the lead role of this subtle drama. His obsession with it comes across as entirely authentic. Noise is a conduit for his rage, despair, confusion, loss, and joy. Its use never comes off in a gimmicky fashion; it is powerful, even as it is wrapped within a narrative that moves to the beat of a quaint small town drama. I found many of the festival’s most heartbreaking and joyous moments on film right in this movie.


This one also surprised me by slipping into my Top 5 list. I think I’m influenced by the fact that a few moments had me genuinely disliking the film when it shifted gears and changed my feelings drastically to ones of deep compassion for the main characters and respect for the film. What a turnaround! It is a thoroughly interesting film to look at, giving occasional glimpses of jagged claustrophobic Tokyo alleys with blistering sounds in the background. Then, there is the world of porn in glorious Technicolor. Scenes sparkle and pop before giving way to the ugly reality behind them. This film deals with some disheartening, yet fascinating, aspects of reality, both within and outside of the realm of the Japanese adult video industry. It is not an easy ride, watching the trials that are in store for the movie’s very sympathetic characters. Its surreal path towards tackling some very serious issues planted it firmly within my favorites of the festival.

It may seem glaringly one sided that 4 of the 5 movies are from Japan. It could be that I got swept up in the tide of strong feelings being evoked by seeing a series of great Japanese movies in succession. Or maybe there is just some bona fide exciting activity going in Japanese film, which is being reflected in the movies screened at this year’s NYAFF (the current Japan Cuts lineup may offer further evidence of this). 2 years ago, the situation was reversed with my favorite movie hailing from Japan, but four excellent films from Korea making up the rest of my top 5.

I also notice my picks lean towards certain genres. All of them, to a pretty big extent, can be considered dramatic and have aspects of real life societal ills being dealt with. They are dark and yet not one of them is without some uplifting or inspiring aspects. Perhaps I was thinking more along the lines of my recent interests rather than taking a well rounded look at the qualities of this year’s films. However, I didn’t always lean towards films of that nature. During previous festivals I delighted in finding the most WTF moments and was excited by the most fantastical visions. Maybe these serious dramas were just made better than those other films? At the very least, I think it’s worth considering the possibility that an exciting movement of sorts is going on that’s putting real life matters in the context of stylized and imaginative onscreen storytelling. I feel it is reflected to some extent in all of the films I put on my list.

On that note, here are a few films that were really close to the top in my heart, but either because of their genre or lack of darkness, were passed over in favor of the five films above. Thank goodness, then, for






These films will likely be acknowledged for something noteworthy in part 2 of my reflection on this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

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Inspector Hornliegh Goes For It (aka Mail train) (1941)

Inspector Hornliegh and Sargent Bingham return in the final outting a war time story that has them chasing after Nazi spies.

The story has the pair going undercover on a military base where they are searching out the source of coded short wave messages. Loose lips sink ships or in this case blow cover, as Bingham's innocent words in an effort to pick up a bar maid ends up with the pair mentioned in enemy dispatches. Thrown off the case they still pursue leads and it isn't long before someone turns up dead.

A slightly more jokey mystery this is a good, if uneven, follow up to the previous Inspector Hornliegh films. The problem with the film is that the film is more jokey than previous entries, with the sequences with Bingham being played too much for laughs. To be certain the laughs are often tinged with tension, but the problem is that the lighter tone works against the mystery making the film feel like it's moving in fits and starts instead of being the blended whole it actually is.

On the other hand the thrills when they come, the final mail train sequence for example, are expertly handled making for one hell of an exciting conclusion.

Taken on its own terms the film is quite good and definitely worth searching out. (I got my copies of today's and yesterday's films from R&B Enterprises.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Japan Cuts: A Liar and A Broken Girl go to The Seaside Motel

I'm all movied out but I bit the bullet and went over to the Japan Society for two of the four films they are running today as part of Japan Cuts.

Waiting on line to get into my first film I was talking to Lee, who's path I've been crossing at various screenings. She was telling me about the previous night's film Three Points, which was three part film about life in three parts of Japan. Lee said that she and no one she spoke with particularly liked the film. She said it was unfocused and didn't seem to have a point. The dislike was seconded by another woman we met inside and by a couple of people I overheard talking before the second film. Star Sora Aoi was there but only appeared briefly since she was surrounded by several bodyguards who hustled her in and out.

When we got into the theater we started a heat argument between a couple of people who had seen the earlier film Love Addiction. One woman said it was 90 minutes of whiny people while a gentleman said there was actually something to the film.

The first film that I saw was Seaside Motel, about a motel in the mountains (far from the sea) and the guests who stay there. The film is based on a "long" manga simply called Motel that is more pulpy with a good deal of sex and violence than the film. The film is told in a disjointed style with our viewing of the events not in the order that everything happens.

We have:
A salesman who is surprised by a call girl arriving at the wrong room.
A business man and his wife are trying to add spark to their relationship.
A gambler and his girl on the run from debt collectors
A man pretending to be rich in order to score with a tall hostess from a club.
We also get to know a couple of nebish cops.

I can't tell you more than that because the structure of the film has most events effecting every other one.

I liked the film but I didn't love it. Lee really liked it as did several people (including a very tall very big gentleman who was laughing and carrying on much to annoyance of several people around him.) To me the film mostly works, but the construction of it all seems to be a little too forced, particular in the semi-down beat endings where life takes it's toll (for example why two people don't end up together is forcing the point, we didn't need a reason)

It was good but it wasn't worth the trip into the city. (Though the director who was in attendance was very happy we were all laughing at it)

The second film was A Liar and a Broken Girl.

This was the first time it was being shown outside of Japan and they couldn't have wished for a worse time for it to screen, namely the week after the abduction and murder of a boy in Brooklyn.

The plot focuses on a young high school student who is a bit strange but is going through life. She is being followed by a young man her own age who has vowed to take care of her. Things are complicated by the fact that some one has kidnapped two young children (the girl) and there is a serial killer slicing up young women (maybe the young man). We also see the abuse suffered by hero and heroine some ten years earlier.

A wicked mixture of cute and blackness the film is a tough nut to crack. Is the film suppose to be light and airy as some of the scenes are or as dark and nasty as the scenes of child abuse and murder are? I don't know, but I find the darkness over takes the light to the point that I was shaking my head at the ending wondering how they could end it so "happily". (and what about the idea of being kidnapped if fun if it's the right people? How about when you consider the flashback sequences?)

This film is dark at times and in some ways it's more disturbing than a film like I Saw the Devil because this is closer to reality. No the film isn't overly bloody, but there are violent moments and the implications of many bits caused people around me to cover their faces.

I am troubled by the film. I don't get how the film can undercut itself by showing us some things in a wacky mode and yet have blackness to another version of the same situation. Which is it?

The director was at the screening and I debated staying but I was too bothered by the film to be able to engage in a rational discussion. Part of it is the film and part of it is the fact that this weeks events in New York kind of stripped the film of a certain amount of leeway.

On the other hand it's just one f-ed up movie. I don't want it in my head.

And it's not that I would have had a problem if it had been lighter or even darker than it is, it's just the splitting the difference in favor of hero and heroine that is troubling since it's like its saying all of this is wrong- unless it's these two people.

I don't know.

It's a good, well acted and well made film, but I'm not sure I ever need to see it again.

And with that I headed home.

Japan Cuts continues to Friday, and I have films a screenings of Vengeance Can Wait and Into the White Night toward the end of the week.

Inspector Hornliegh (1939)

Landlady: If I'd a known that was going to happen I would have cleared him him out straight I would.

Inspector Hornliegh: Well I don't think he had this in mind when he came here.

(Exchange over the first dead body)

First of three films about Inspector Hornliegh (played by Gordon Harker) and his assistant Seargent Bingham (played by Alister Sim). It's a too brief a series that is full of witty lines and clever twists, and had the films been made in the US they might have stretched out for more than the three outings.

In this first film the Inspector is called into to investigate the murder of a lodger who had only taken his room three days earlier. He lived alone and had no visitors that anyone knew of prompting Hornliegh to state "If he lived alone,, had no visitors and there was no murder weapon the murder was a blinking miracle."

The murder weapon turns up shortly there after, as does a motive, a duplicate attache case that mirrors one being used by a high up government official to carry around his notes on the budget. In short order it becomes clear that some one is looking for inside information to make a killing financially. I'll leave you to discover what happens next and whodunnit.

A really neat little mystery the film stands out more for the characters and witty one liners tha the mystery itself. Sure it's fine to watch the mystery unravel but it's way more fun watching Harker and Sim deliver some very droll lines. Frankly I wanted to quote more from the film then I did, but it got to the point where I might as well could have posted the script.

I have no idea why these films aren't better known in the US. I suspect because never were screened as series, the second film was called Mail Train in the US so know one really knew that there was more than one film.

I really like the lot of them. They are on par with some of the best program mysteries from the same period out of Hollywood.

The first film is available at Amazon through one of the studios on demand service. The others are available from collectors. They are worth the effort to track down.

(Tomorrow is another Hornleigh adventure)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Yellow Sea: last screening - NYAFF 2011


The 10th annual NY Asian Film Festival came in whimpering to the theme of love & being horny on the 1st day of screenings to going out with a bang on the Yellow Sea of revenge by the 14th night! Mucho thanks to the guys & gals at Subway Cinema for organizing such a fun event!


THE YELLOW SEA directed by Na Hong-Jin, part of the korean sea of vengeance themed programming was the last screening on this fortnight of NYAFF bliss! Let me highlight a few things from this festive night that made the finale quite unique before going off on a tangent with an abbreviated mr. c monarch note of the film. Trouble would lurk in the projection booth at Walter Reade Theater before the Yellow Sea screening. There were technical difficulties with projecting the subtitles and/or they didn’t have the right format of the film for the showing. The movie seemed to be of the digital projection variety as opposed to traditional film with no subtitles burned onto the image. The director, Na Hong Jin had to use power point with the english text translations on each slide to translate the dialogue for all the scenes in the movie while he tapped on the computer to forward each slide in morse code like rhythm to be in sync with the conversations in real time! The power point slide would be projected onto the digital print of the movie on the bottom of the screen where traditional burned in translations would be! Na Hong Jin did a great job with the subtitles as his timing was impeccable! There were a few instances when the subs were a millisecond or two ahead of the dialogue but better early than late, I suppose! The director told us that he had only one hour to prepare for this debacle! Kudos to Na Hong Jin for rolling with the punches to allow us to watch this film! The 2nd highlight or more accurately, lowlight of the night was the Q&A session after the screening. Some of the questions that were asked by the audience to the director were totally ridiculous & quite embarrassing in my opinion. It definitely made the Q&A awkward & sort of weirded out the night to an otherwise enthusiastic crowd for the screening! The translator also looked confused. Maybe she botched up the translations so we didn't look as bad?! The 1st question/comment posed to Na Hong-Jin from the audience was: I screened this film in China a few months ago & I liked that version better. Do you think an alliance or collaboration with East Asia is important? *WHAT?*
The 2nd question was: How many cars did you smash up on the set? Another bright question: How pertinent was North Korea in relation to the film? *WHAT?* The film had nothing to do with North Korea. It was all about South Korea, China, & the ethnic Koreans living in China. You should of seen the look on the director & translators face! One south asian film student asked: Do you think about the edited portion of the scene before you actually shoot the footage? *WHAT*
The one question that took the golden trophy was (not in these exact words): What is going on with Korea & the epidemic of recent thriller-killer-violent films like the Yellow Sea, I Saw the Devil, The Chaser, and so on! What does that say about Korean society? *STEREOTYPE* It’s called entertainment, buddy!

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about THE YELLOW SEA. The movie had big budget aesthetics written all over it and it seemed to be expertly filmed minus a little bit too much of the shaking camera syndrome & closeup shots to show intensity when under the duress of a life or death action sequence. For fans of ultra violence & blood splatter induced by a hatchet in a thriller setting which crosses over to the horror umbrella, you might find this of interest! For you realism fans, you might start out believing in the dream like Martin Luther King Jr said, but after a few twists & turns here and there, you might start questioning the script. The story starts out great, real grim, dark, & bleak! The setting of the movie takes place in Yanbian, China, a city that is not too far from the borders of north korea. Yanbian would be heavily populated by ethnic Koreans otherwise known as joseonjok who live/work there in hopes for a better opportunity outside of Korea. Our main character, Ku-nam is a cabbie, living day to day with a mah jong gambling habit. He suspects that his wife is cheating on him as she disappears into the arms of South Korea while the grandma takes care of their child. Temptations would soon grab a hold of our furry ethnic Korean friend when a proposal from a raggamuffin gangster type who is very proficient with a hatchet wants to hire him as a hitman to eliminate someone in Seoul. With a big debt on his hand, a runaway wife, and a kid to support, our joseonjok man takes up the offer to murder a professor and bring back his thumb! The only caveat is that he must complete this mission under a strict time limit or else his mother & daughter will be in harms way. The games would soon begin as a rocky boat ride of immigrants from yanbian china to south korea proves to be lethal for some. Things don’t go as planned as Ku-nam entangles with another mafioso when going for the hit. Things from here on out will get the movie realists to shake their heads. Car chases, evading police, eating dog meat off the bone, hatchet hacking, running...lots of running, & some South Korean, Benny Hill style law enforcement will all be a part of this dark thriller-horror-comedy?! The prospects of finding his wife and/or the lover will add fuel to the fire! The crazy hatchet master that hired Ku-Nam will eventually come out from Yanbian-China to play in South Korea! Both of these characters will have more than 9 lives each as death seems to elude them! Realizing that he has been framed, Ku-nam tries to unearth the story as survival & the search for his wife will make a heavy heart. This movie will be a real hit or miss for some. The story takes a bit to build up, but when it does, it gets real suspenseful offering up lots of violence to boot. The instrumental soundtrack to this film is very eery and puts you on edge when the characters start fleeing for their lives or while they are breaking down human parts for portability reasons! The movie is over 2.5 hours long & even with the unbelievable plot, I have to say that I was still engrossed in all the melee! I was completely fascinated by the ethnic Koreans aka joseonjok's that are living in Yanbian, China! I hope to see more movies on this subject!