Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sky Bandits (1940)

The last Renfrew of the Mounties films starring James Newill is a fun Mounties meet sci-fi mix.

The plot concerns a gang of hijackers shooting down gold planes in the great wilds of Canada. Renfrew and his buddy Constable Kelly have been assigned to try and find out what is happening to the planes which are disappearing with no trace. Renfrew's boss suspects that the pilots are stealing the shipments and flying them over the border. Renfrew thinks that something more sinister is transpiring. Renfrew is of course right and soon he has locked horns with the gang of bad guys who have moved from using bullets to bring the planes down, to using a ray that burns out the plane's engine.

This is grand Saturday afternoon style adventure. Nominally a western without the cowboys this film is an action packed romp from start to finish as horses are often used to get from place to place. Actually the western connection is even closer with this being the second remake of Tim McCoys Ghost Patrol (Its also far superior to that earlier film).

This is a great movie with many things going for it.I like that everyone in this film is a character of some sort and manages to make an impression on you as being an individual at some point in the film. The wise cracks are funny. The action is well done. Its also great to see Dwight Frye playing the extremely tightly wound inventor of the engine stopping ray.

If the film has any real flaw is that Renfrew bursts into song about three times too often. The songs actually aren't bad, they are good in a corny sort of way, they just stop the action from moving for the two or three minutes that they are sung. Keep the remote handy and you'll be okay.

Definitely worth a bag of popcorn and an hour of your time

Wrecked (2011)

Wrecked is on an odd movie. It’s the sort of film that isn’t what you expect, and even if you read about the film, it’s not going to be what you expect. It’s the sort of film that sadly is doomed to fall completely between all of the cracks because it’s not really able to be pigeon holed, which is both good and bad.

The premise of the film is simple, a man, played by Adrian Brody comes to consciousness while seated in a car that is sitting at the bottom of a ravine. Obviously there as been an accident, he’s injured and trapped, the man in the back seat is dead and the driver is barely visible in the distance having been ejected from the wreck. What happens, both in reality and in his mind, is the movie.

The lack of dialog and the shifting nature of reality coupled with a story which is not a rousing tale of survival is going to make this film a tough sell. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film with one great card in it’s hand (which I’ll get to), but it’s a film that refuses, utterly and completely to do anything other than go it’s own way. I kept watching it waiting for this to happen or that to happen, but thothing I expected ever did. Even when I thought something would kick it in a certain direction the rug would be pulled out from under me. As for absolute and complete answers- look else where because they aren’t there.

It’s a good unique film- but it’s refusal to be anything other than what it is will make it impossible to sell. I completely understand why it only had a token theatrical release.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, you should because not only is it unique, but also because it has one hell of a performance by Adrian Brody. It’s the sort of film that were it a bigger budget, more mainstream film would put him in the running for an Oscar. Thank god he has one because his turn here proves that his win for the Pianist was not a fluke (As some of my friends have said). It’s that good.

I don’t know if you’ll love Wrecked. I know I don’t but at the same time it’s a film that is good enough and unique enough to make it must see viewing for people who really want to stay out of the mainstream sewer filled with giant robots and bang bang shoot em ups.

On DVD and pay perview on cable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Congratulations to FilmsRruss on the passing the one year mark

I need to point out something that most of you are not aware of.

There is a great little blog that just passed the one year mark called FilmsRruss.

Its a great film blog from the UK that you should be reading. Russ stumbled on to Unseen a ways back and commented which lead me to take a look at his site, and I've been a faithful reader ever since. (Though to be honest I do tend to read the posts in blocks- which is why I'm posting some two weeks late of his actual anniversary)

Yes there is occasional overlap, but mostly Russ goes his own way which is great since I can borrow titles based on his selections. Actually we both come up on stuff independent of each other. Mostly I just groan when I realize he's posting on something I have in the cue- like Cowboys and Aliens which We'll be doing during our Comics and Commentary film series in October.

Truth be told I love when he posts on something I'm doing or have done because I find what he has to say so on target that even when I disagree with him I have to respect what he has to say. Actually I love when he talks about films I haven't seen because I find he's a great way of stumbling on to things I never considered or to move me faster toward seeing something I've been delaying in seeing.

Seriously go read his stuff. I suggest you start with his best of the past year post which is his favorite films from the past year and then you can work your way out from there...just do me a favor and back here when you're done.

Once again Congratulations to a great movie blog on it's one year anniversary.

Attack of the Galactic Monsters

Today and Thursday I'm going to take a look at two fan made films that were on IMDB for a while, but have been taken down. They are films that seem to be of uncertain origin but are basically the work of a fan or fans who only wanted the good parts of some movies.

Attack of the Galactic Monsters is a barely hour long mash up of the Japanese film War in Space mixed with Zone Fighter episodes and other similar stuff brought together to tell the story of an invading bunch of aliens and the earth counter attack.

How is it?

Mind bending, mind numbing, strange, and the work of someone who wants to see monsters, including Godzilla, fight each other as space ships blow up cities. While the monsters are fighting and the ships are attacking the film carries you along in a weird torrent of eye candy from Japan. It's the sort of thing that touched the inner six year old in me who always hated waiting for the attack parts of the Godzilla movies I love so much. This is largely just good parts...

...unfortunately there is an attempt at plot and the sections that deal with said plot drag the film down simply because there is way too much talk for such a slender film. The patch work nature of the construction also leaves huge jagged gaps in the films damaged internal logic.

Truth be told I had a blast watching it, but at the same time I don't need to see it again. I mean the film is really a mess...once was enough.

How can you see this film?

Blind luck. I'm sure you can probably find it on the Internet if you look hard enough.

The trouble with the film is that it's in a weird ass moral place that made me question whether I should even mention the film. Clearly it's copyright violator from the outset, but on the other hand no one is making any money from it other than any collector who might be selling it. From my stand point it's made me track down legitimate copies of it's source material... and the film is out there.

Should you try and find it? For me the question is it worth the effort? If you are inclined to nonsense like giant monsters fighting, and if you happen upon it, give it a shot. I don't know if it's worth really tracking down. I know had I done a search for it instead of just happening upon it I would have been pissed.

The choice is yours- just keep in mind its original source was someones VHS tapes so the quality is all over the place.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dead Men Tell (1941)

I had thought I had consciously seen all of the Charlie Chans that exist. I thought that I had seen Dead Men Tell but hadn't seen the ending because when I had taped it the end was missing. Boy was I shocked to discover that I had no memory of the film what so ever.

The plot of the film has a ship waiting to set off on a treasure hunt. The granddaughter of a pirate was going to use her grandfather's map to recover the 66 million dollar treasure. Sadly the trip was being delayed by some one trying to steal the map.

Charlie Chan comes into the story on a search for his number two son who has chucked college in the hope of stowing away on the trip. Chan meets the old lady who is in charge of the voyage and she imparts some secrets to him. He then uses that info to help him catch her killer after she is frightened to death.

Ship board (and fog shrouded dock) mystery is atypical Chan. More intent to be a real thriller then just a mystery the film is full of dark and shadowy locations. There is also an abundance of great characters (including a nice turn for George Reeves). The sort of film that is a perfect pair for the similar in feel Charlie Chan in The Wax Museum which preceded it.

I really like this film a great deal, and had the film not overly relied on the use of a dumb pirate costume the film would have been among the very best in the entire series (lets face it after the second appearance the suit's use if down right stupid.

Allowing for that this is a great film and worth seeing when ever you get a chance.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

(36) Tai Pei Exchanges (2010)

I love this film.

I've been looking for a special slot to put this in since I saw it and I finally found it. The reason won't mean anything to you, but it does to me which is why I chose to review the film today.

The original post on another blog went as follows:
comedy drama about a coffee shop where you can barter for some of the stuff in the place. A beautiful little film Its a sweet little movie that kind of reminded me of a cousin of the wonderful film Antique about a bakery.

Allowing that I was multitasking late at night I'm going to have to recommend the film with the proviso that I need to see it a second time...which considering the smiles the film gave me isn't a bad thing

A second, third and fourth viewing is also in order. Considering that I saw the film way back on January 9 it's amazing that I remember it when I'm having trouble doing so about some of the "great" films I saw more recently.

Actually one of the things that kept the film alive in my mind was the fact I refused to put the film away. It's been on top of the TV in my room since I saw it and I have refused to move it until I wrote it up for Unseen. Periodically I'll pull the film out and watch some of it and fall under it's spell once more until such time as I had to go off and do something else or get to bed because it's a work night.

The plot of the film has a young woman open up a coffee shop. We watch as she leaves her one job and then begins to put her dream shop together. We then watch as the shop begins to take on nick nacks and the place becomes a place where people can make exchanges, trading various items. We get some man on the street interviews that reflect on whats happening. And we also get stories the stories of the people crossing through the shop, of the people who work there and even some that the various customers tell.It all comes together in a rich tapestry of a film that makes me smile from ear to ear each time I put it on.

As I said at the top, I love this film.

I know I should probably give you details of what happens but why should I ruin the surprise of having a great little film unfold before you...besides the joy of the film is the small moments and great characters that won't translate to the page. Just see this film.

This is a charming film you really need to track down. It would make a wonderful double feature with Rinco's Restaurant which I saw at Japan Cuts back in July.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

To Each His Own Cinema (2007)

For the anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, the organizers asked several dozen of the best directors in the world to make a short film about movies. What they turned in makes up this film.

This film is impossible to really describe accurately other than to say it 34 short (3 to 4 minutes) films about the movies and movie going. Covering a variety of topics from comedy and tragedy to documentary this is the a look at how many famous directors see the cinema.

I saw this on a Chinese DVD, which has 33 of the 34 movie done by various directors (only the Cohen Brothers contribution is missing). Most of the films are good, a couple are not bad rather they illicit a "what was that about" reaction and a few are glorious, explaining why the cinema is something so magical. I'm not sure this really is a film for all film goers since the films can be rather oblique, not to mention the ride is bumpy with a poor film sandwiched between a couple winners (or vice versa). I would love to critique each film, but that is dangerous since the films are so short it may reveal too much. I think the best way to see this film (as suggested by a person on IMDB) is to simply watch each film and wait to see what happens. In most cases the director isn't named until the end so you can simply watch each film without any sort of expectation. Granted some films are obvious as to who made them since the directors appear, but many of the others are not so clear.(I was right about half the time and wrong about half)

Definitely worth a look. This is a must see for anyone deeply passionate about the movies and going to them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jinnah (1997)

Christopher Lee considers it his best role.

The film was made under threats of all sorts (People tried to have Christopher Lee arrested and deported in Pakistan during filming).

The film has never, to my knowledge, gotten a US release, and it's release elsewhere in the world seems to have been spotty. As for a DVD release, well the UK DVD appears to be out of print and as for any other version it's apparently not readily available.

My viewing of the film came after many years of searching. I had heard of the film from Christopher Lee's bio, but could never find it. Only when I read that Leonard Maltin called it a good film did I start looking again, and only managed to get a copy after a couple of well placed phone calls.

The film tells the story of the Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the driving forces for the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan. It's told in a kind of mystical flashback, with Jinnah on his death bed talking to an angel who is to decide where he is to go. With Jinnah's life file lost in cyberspace (they send ill working computers back in time from the future) Jinnah is forced to wander back through his life.

It's not as dumb as it sounds, and other than the first awkward moments in the afterlife the gambit works since it allows us to both see what happened and to allow both a compression of some events and a commentary on others.

The film is an odd mix of emotions, much the way Jinnah has always seemed to me. There is a straightforwardness to it all an almost coldness to how Jinnah carries and conducts himself. And yet there are times when there is deep emotion, The scenes with Jinnah's wife, the scenes of regret and the finale where Jinnah speaks with a little girl on the road all have a kick in them. Sure there is a brave front but there is a depth of feeling underneath.

The performances are quite good.

Christopher Lee is excellent as Jinnah. I can see why he really likes the role. Here is role where he gets to really act. Sure he is rigid and strict, but at the same time he is seething with emotion. All one need to is watch his eyes and you can see the changing emotions filter by. Its a stunning performance and while it probably would never get him an Oscar, it is a performance that is among Lee's best. (For the record I love Lee's gay biker in the film Serial)

Is this one of the best films ever?

No. But it is a damn fine one. How the hell this film has ended up lost to the ages is beyond me. I kind of can believe the talk of the fear of violent protests if the film was shown, but at the same time the film is really so inoffensive as to make me wonder who would be upset by the film.

Definitely a film to keep an eye out for. I have no idea if you'll ever see it, but if you do, be prepared for a great performance by Christopher Lee, it will shake up what you think he can do, especially if you only know him from his genre films.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Last Frankenstien (1991) (Rasuto Frankenstien)

This modern tale of an attempt to build a creature is one of the best "horror" films ever made, even if its not a horror film but something else entirely. Certainly its on my short list of all time great films.

This film was introduced to me by someone who told me "I have this film that probably one of the best films you'll ever see. It will move you and touch you and make you think, but if I told you what it is and told you how its done you will think its the stupidest thing on the face of it and you won't watch it." Intrigued I asked what did he mean, and he said, "Well its a Frankenstein story, with a very goofy sort of edge, but which uses it to its advantage." My ears perked up, and I being a trusting soul took the tape and watched it. I was blown away.

The plot concerns a mad scientist attempting to make a new Adam and Eve in the wake of a suicidal plague that is ravaging the world. Locked up in his lab his experiments go differently then either he or we expect.

Some of it is silly (The bolts in the neck, the wrestling moves...), all of it is touching and thought provoking.

I can not recommend this movie enough. If you are willing to take the film on its terms and allow it to tell its story then I urge you to seek this film out and see it. This is an undiscovered gem that will stay with you forever.

15 out of 10 and then some.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Latinbeat: Little Voices (2010)

The final film for me at this years Latinbeat at Lincoln Center was the animated 3D documentary called Little Voices.

The narration is taken from interviews with several children living in Columbia. The visuals are their stories brought to life via their drawings. This is a kids eye view of war and violence and happiness and families and life in the country. Its an amazing film that manages to show that hope and life go one even in the face of violence.

The animation is amazing. Its done so that it seems like paper cut outs brought to life. At times it seems like origami, at other times its conventional 2D animation and still other times its a mixture of styles and real objects. Its an absolute treat for the eyes and it's a shame that while the screening was well attended it didn't have many, if any of the New York animation people I've seen at other films. Frankly this is the sort of film people need to see because it makes clear that there are more ways to use the medium other than say Pixar computer animation, classic Disney animation or Tim Burton style stop motion.

While I understand why it was animated, it brings us closer to the kids and destroys the distance a typical documentary technique might have created; I'm at a loss as to why the film had to be in 3D. yes the sense of depth is really cool at times, but mostly it doesn't add anything. Also the fact the film is subtitled into English adds to the eye strain as that adds a layer of image that the animators never took into account and sometimes looking at the words and image made me go cross eyed.

The stories told have both darkness and light in them. A father goes missing, several of the kids describe being caught in a battle, one describes the horrors of being forced to be a guerrilla and one is blown up. Its not a wholly happy story...

...and yet there is hope as we see the injured child play soccer, the young girl finds her mother's kiss allows her to sleep despite fear, and there is just the joys of being a kid. It is life in all it's myriad forms.

If there is any flaws the film is devoid of details, such as what is any of the children's names.

While not the best film of the year it is one of the most joyous (if only in that it shows life goes on and can thrive). When the film ended I had a tear in my eye. It was also the only film of the four I saw at Latinbeat where the audience seemed to applaud of it's own accord (some of the others had none or seemed to spark it because the director was there)

This is one to search out. I don't know what the release plans are but do keep an eye out for it.

I should mention that the film is very brief, I think it's under 70 minutes, certainly it's not the 75 minutes advertised. There is nothing wrong with the length, however the shortness of the film may keep it from getting a wide release so do keep an extra careful eye out for it.

Danger Ahead (1940)

We're on the down slide of Renfrew films with only two more left after today.

The plot of this film this time out has a shipment of gold going missing. What we know, and Renfrew has to figure out is that the shipment was high jacked by employees of the trucking company who duped the young man driving the shipment so they could switch the load. They then put acid on the break lines when they knew the drive would take him over a treacherous road.

This time out Renfrew is "helped" by his bosses daughter who is just returned from college where she studied criminology and psychology. No one is particularly thrilled and they wish she would just go into the kitchen and make them a green apple pie.

Breezy crime story moves a long at a fast clip and it's over before you know it. To be certain it plays a little blandly when you watch it with all the other Renfrews (I did a marathon to do this series) but taken on it's own terms good little thriller.

I should warn any feminists who go to see this Renfrew is a HUGE male chauvinist pig. He will make any rational persons skin crawl with his a woman's place is in the kitchen attitude.

NYFF Special Screenings

Tons of great stuff including the newest Paradise Lost film, Oliver Stone and Miyazaki screenings have been announced for the New York Film Festival Special Screenings. Read here for details. I'll say more later when I'm not on company time. Just look because its fantastic stuff.

Breaker Two Nine (199?)

I’m cheating with this one. Well kind of…

The film concerns the CB romance between two physically damaged people who are also emotionally hurt as well. They connect on the radio each night. It’s a will they or won’t they ever get together sort of a story.

It’s a film that almost no has seen or will ever see. It’s a short film that was made on Long Island by a filmmaker named George Guthrie. Guthrie sank every penny he had into the film and then kind of had it go no where. It’s a story that is as old as film itself. It also didn’t help that the film’s subject matter was dated before it ever got out of the box with the mode of communication, cb radios, rapidly declining in popularity and being replaced by the Internet.

I saw the film when I was invited to a rough cut screening which was being held to get money to finish the project. I learned of the film from my friend Lou who worked on the film.

The film, for the most part was a sweet romance between two people trying desperately to connect. It was powered by the music of Melissa Etheridge who allowed several of her songs to be used (to great effect) in the film.

I really liked the film a great deal, except for the one bit of it that was damaging, the opening sequence with the young man’s drunken abusive father. It was horrible. It was badly done and beyond cliché. It was so awful that I considered walking out, but I couldn’t because the film was only half an hour long and I was there at the request of a friend. Once you get past the father the film becomes infititely better going from one star to three and a half.

When I was asked what I thought I told them loved the film but lose the father. Apparently it was advice that several people gave Guthrie who simply ignored it. To him it was criticial to have it.

The film went out as was (he apparently made almost no changes and used to money to buy prints) to several film festivals, some of which screened it, most did not.(Guthrie I’m told marked his print so that he could tell how far it was watched before turning the film off, almost always they never got past the abusive father)

I like the film. It was something that stayed with me in the ten or 15 years since I saw it. If it should ever resurface it’s a film you should give a shot to (just stay past the crappy opening sequence).

And yes the film really exists. Here proof that the film played some where other than on Long Island a listing on a film website.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nemo (1984) (aka Dream One)

It too me several goes to get all the way through this film, but after two or three years I've finally done it. Granted the pace is slow, but this thing is so odd its hard to watch.

The device that gets things moving is that Nemo, his parents having gone off to the opera, asks his butler to tell him a story with all a great many unrelated characters. Before the story is told, Nemo, dressed like Winsor McKay's creation, wanders into to the story. The plot has Nemo, take an elevator to a beach somewhere. There the Nautilus (Captain Nemo) has been beached, a teen boy runs about with a white gorilla (his toy). Alice (from Wonderland) washes ashore and Zorro shows up. Aliens land. Nemo grows into Jason Connery so he can woo Alice...And I'm forgetting a ton of stuff.

The sets and effects are cheap and the performances uneven, but where else do you get to see Harvey Keitel as Zorro?

I have no idea how to describe, never mind rate this film. Its slow and dull at times, but its so off the wall and dream like in its plotting that you continue to watch. Some of it is profound, some of it is stupid.

If you like cinema obscurities search this bad boy out since its never played in the US to the best of knowledge, and other than the bootleg market it probably never will.

I have no idea what to think of this other than the film still dances around my brain even though other better films have been forgotten.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Latinbeat: All of Your Dead Ones plus a few updates

Tonight I went to see All of Your Dead Ones at Latinbeat at Lincoln Center. This is a film that got rightly noticed at the Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals.

The plot has our hero going out to tend to his fields one Sunday morning. Working his way along a fence with a weedwacker he comes to a big hole in the wire and a path way large enough for a truck, leading back into his corn. Following the path he is horrified to discover that in a clearing are fifty bodies stacked in a pile. He makes his way into town but the mayor is too busy with the election, it's election day, to pay attention, and the police are kind of disinterested. However as he's talking to a radio DJ the police decide to see what he's talking about. When they arrive the question becomes not so much who did it, but how can we cover it up.

This is a darkly funny tale that is the sort of thing that makes you squirm as you're laughing. No one seems to care abut what happened except our hero and his family. This is a film that is set in a world where no one really cares about anything other than their own butts, and the lengths that people will go to cover them is both horrifying and amusing.

One of the more telling things, and something that provides some of the biggest laughs, is the enormity of the situation. No one really understands how many people are dead until they see the pile. The number of people dead is the thing that gives the film it's zing as it were. as a writer at Twitch Film said, if it was only one or two people the film would play out as a small personal tragedy, but seeing so many bodies raises the stakes. It makes you wonder just what the hell is going on. Its the punchline to a sick joke...and yet it's not showing us the crimes of some political entity (The mayor instantly calls a neighboring mayor to ask why the other mayor dumped his bodies in this place. The implication is this happens all the time.)

Not long before the film reached it's conclusion I was thinking that, I really liked the film, and that it was more an intellectual film than an emotional one. Yes, there was tension and uneasiness as the events unfolded, I mean how could you not worry about the fate of our hero?

Then something happened. As the film ended, truly ended, just before the curtain call, something happens, an innocuous shot or two and suddenly I was sitting there feeling like I had been gut punched.

What the hell happened?

I'm still not sure, but something did and I stopped caring about the film as an intellectual exercise and instead was pained by the death of the nameless 50... and for anyone who dies in stupid political violence. As the film moved toward the credits I was simply sitting there staring at the screen.

Talk about a kick in the pants.

I suspect that this will be getting a wider release in the US so do keep an eye out for it.

(A technical aside- the subtitles on the print tonight seemed to be incomplete. Somethings were subtitled and somethings weren't. There was also a couple of misspellings, which I hope will be fixed.)


A couple of updates.

God Bless Ozzy Osborne is getting screenings the 24th and 29th as a Fathom Events. If you like Ozzy or Sabbath, go. The film is a blast and one of the highlights of Tribeca.

The flier is out for Lincoln Center for September and October. A couple of quick notes.

Labor Day weekend they are running trilogies. They will be doing The Godfather on the 5th, Back to the Future on the 4th, and Max Max on the 3rd. They will also be doing the Three Colors trilogy of Krzysztof Kieslowski and the Koker Trilogy of Abbas Kiarostami on two days each.

There is a series of Tuesday Weld films, a series of popular Chinese films (some of which played the NYAFF), recent Polish films and they announced that the Scary Movies series runs the Thursday before through Halloween.

They also list the schedule for the Nikkatsu retrospective. It's being done approximately chronologically with the more recent films toward the end (overlapping Comicon, which complicates our going greatly)

It appears Criterion is doing an edition of Godzilla. Depending on what the extras are I may get a third super special edition (to add to the American and BFI ones)

I need to mention that the longest gestating suggested film, Fists in the Pocket has finally been watched and will be reviewed during our week of Criterions in late Fall. (as always you can email us with suggestions- which we will get to- promise- just watch the next couple of weeks and you'll see them starting to appear)

Lastly I've gotten a couple of notes recently asking me to put films on to torrent so they could be downloaded.

The short answer is no.

A longer answer is that even allowing that I was set up to be able to do that, I'm not, recent events concerning people a couple of degrees away from me strongly suggest it's not advisable.

If you want to see something and the sources in the sidebar don't provide the film, either leave a comment asking where to get it or email us and we'll try to help you.

I'm sorry.

Village of Widows(1989)

Saturday marked a year and a half of Unseen Films tossing the titles of films you may never have heard of your way.

Its been a blast. It’s been exhausting. Its been a never ending battle for truth justice and good movies.

Don’t worry I’m not going to churn out one of those long self serving pieces. Rather I’m going to use this as a means of discussing this weeks theme- films that are really really off the beaten path. These are films that you may never find even if you really try to track them down. Okay things like tomorrow’s Nemo you can find as an import, but the others are just off the radar.

As I did last year at about this time I’m going to talk about one of the films that pointed me toward starting this website. Last year was Tree in the Desert, this year is another Chinese film called Village of Widows.

This is set in a village of fishermen wives can't stay with (or sleep with their husbands) because of the dangers of the lifestyle for three years. When women succumbs and sleep with their own or the husbands of others, tragedy often follow...or something like that at least according to the opening narration. The film traces just such a tragic tale.

Beautiful (and I do mean it) looking film that looks more like one of the classics of Russian cinema then a film set in a Chinese fishing village. The plot, a tragic romance came through as muddled due to poor and small English subtitles on the VCD.

Its a good film which I thought was not the sort of thing I needed to revisit when I first saw it. The trouble is this is one of those haunting films that you don't think much of when you first see it, only to find that you can't shake it. It's been several years since I've seen the film and yet some of the images just hang in my memory.

Give the film a couple extra points for hanging around.

Is this a great film? probably not, but it is a haunting film. Frankly this is a film that I've probably thought about more than some of the other better and more memorable films that I've seen and reviewed here at Unseen Films (Case in point any number of this years Tribeca films).

If you can find yourself a copy, I found mine in a VCD dump bin for a dollar, I recommend giving it ago. No it won't be the best thing you ever saw, but it will be something that you remember seeing years after you do.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gospel According to Phillip K DIck (2001)

Rambling chatter about Philip K Dick, best known for the novels that became Minority Report, Blade Runner and Screamers. The chatter is loosely grouped together by subject but it drifts back and forth through many subjects. Its interesting to listen to but a bit tough to watch.

The trouble is that this is nothing more than interviews with people who knew Dick talking, inter-cut with some audio interview footage spiced up with cartoon of Dick at the typewriter. There is almost nothing other than the interviews themselves, no photos, some fleeting shots of printed material and of the outside of Dick's house. There is no narration, no attempt to explain any of the works he wrote or of his life, its simply remembrances that will mean nothing to anyone who has never read any of his books or, more importantly, never heard any of the stories of the man. My Dad who watched this with me was totally bewildered because he didn't know about Dick's life.

If you want an introduction to Philip K Dick and his work go somewhere else, this will put you off him forever. If you already know the man you may want to rent this, and then do something else while listening to it since its a dull thing to watch, but an interesting thing to listen to since the stories told are quite funny assuming you have some context to understand the craziness of them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eldrich Influence:The Life, Vision, and Phenomenon of H.P. Lovecraft (2003)

Very good look at Lovecraft and his influence.Mostly a collection of talking heads this is a lively discussion of most things Lovecraftian.

Its a joy to hear Brian Lumley and Neil Gaiman talk on the various subjects covered, and its clear that both would be great fun to hang out with in a bar and have them go off on various subjects. (I'm curious about the inclusion of Gaiman only in that everyone else who is interviewed has a stylistic connection to Lovecraft and he doesn't.Then a again he's an great interview subject)

If you like the works of Lovecraft this is a must see since its a really good overview of things Lovecraft.

If there are any flaws they are perhaps that they cover a bit too many things, with most things glossed over. Indeed if you aren't at least familiar with the stories you'll have no idea what is being discussed. The other flaw is that the film give too much screen time to the cult of people who use the Mythos as their religion. Its more an "oh please" than anything informative.

If you're a fan or have at least a passing interest in the man and his stories, this is worth a look

(Addendum- Serendipity is at work here. I was not conciously aware that today is Lovecraft's birthday when I programmed this for today. Obviously Cthulu is at work and moving my hand when it comes to scheduling)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Unseen Films notes the passing of two film directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Raul Ruiz.

Two important filmmakers died today.

Raul Ruiz, who's film Mysteries of Lisbon is playing around the country died today from a lung infection. He made 100 films in his 50 year career and was a major force in Chilean and South American film.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has a few words on his passing here.

I'm not sure how to phrase this but the death of Gaultiero Jacopetti at the age of 91 is culturally a bigger loss. Why would a man who only made a handful of films be the bigger cultural loss? Simply because for better or worse he, along with Franco Prosperi changed the way we see the world through the Mondo Cane films.

The two Mondo Cane films (and pretty much everything they did after it) slowly bent how the world is presented in films and on TV. It would be cliche to say that just the name Mondo Cane changed the world by putting the term Mondo into the vocabulary, however it was more than that. Simply put the way that they presented their documentary subjects gritty down and dirty in your face with a weary knowing narration that was both informative but also cutting (of the subject and of it's audience) is how many shows present the world. In a way the Mondo Cane films were like sitting at the computer for 90 minutes and watching random You Tube clips.

If you don't think his films changed the world start with the Mondo Cane movies and then work out to both the explosion of films of similar nature (including Faces of Death) to the similarly titled films and then trace it into culture and you'll see what a mean.

Jacopetti changed the world, not sure for the better or worse but he altered everything that followed.

Oh yea, and he was a damn fine filmmaker as evidenced by his Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom.

The New York Times Obit can be found here.

We are a less richer culture with his passing.

Vampire in Venice (1988)

Christopher Plummer goes to Venice to investigate the last known appearance of Nosferatu during the Carnival of 1786.Plummer seems to think that the vampire is searching for a means to put an end to his torment and actually be dead. He stays with a family who legend says, has the vampire trapped in a tomb in the basement. After a séance "the vampire" appears and then it becomes a question of how do you put the evil back into the box.

Thats a poor description for a very moody, very good rethink of the vampire legend. In theory this is a modern day sequel to Werner Herzog's remake of the FW Murnau's silent original. However other than the fact that Klaus Kinski plays the vampire the films are pretty much separate films. Here the vampire is a force outside of nature, he goes out during the day, religious objects don't affect him and he has powers beyond those of normal vampires. To be honest this film's idea of vampires and their creation is very different than what is considered "normal" vampire lore.

This is a film thats a bit more form over content, but its still weaves a magical spell. Its a very atmospheric haunted Venice story where mood and feeling is all. Its a film designed to make you feel creepy and uneasy and not so much scary in "the jump and scream variety". It helps that the film rethinks what a vampire is. Going back to folklore where things other than a bite on the neck was required to turn someone undead, this film keeps you off balance since you can't be sure what is real with in the film's world.

Adding a great deal to the film are the performances of the excellent cast. Christopher Plummer's vampire hunter is a wonderful man of science who's pronouncements give a weight to the proceedings that would me missing in lesser hands. We believe in whats going on, because he does. Even in the early scenes when there is some doubt as to whats real and what isn't Plummer's intensity keeps things on track. Klaus Kinski as the vampire is a brooding, sad, sexual menace that says very little but wanders through his scenes with a power and intensity lacking in most vampires. Here is an ages old world weary soul who is forced to play peoples stupid games but who really just wants to be loved and most of all to die.

The cinematography of this film is extraordinary. Venice is a character in every shot. You get a sense of place and of dread with every picture. This is one of the most beautiful films I've seen, and its fog shrouded vistas of Venice in the morning deserve to be hung on the wall.

This is an amazing film, more creepy than scary, but one that is none the less haunting. This is a lost treasure for those who can appreciate horror films as being more than just the traditional sort.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gong Tau (2008)

Nasty category three (adults only) horror film about a cop who's life is complicated by some killings that have ties to black magic and which are very much directed at ruining his life.

Bloody, unpleasant and creepy this is one of the better Hong Kong horror films I've seen in the last few months. Give it a couple of extra points for not being about a ghost with long dark hair.It also feels more like a police procedural rather than a horror film for a good portion of it. This is a film that takes the Black Magic films of the 1970's and 80's with centipedes and floating heads and updates them for the current sensibilities.

Then again many of the black magic films were often good and gross, so why mess with them? It doesn't.

I was on edge for a good portion of the film, how can you not be with the nastiness that befalls an infant? Clearly anything is possible. I won't over sell the film by insinuating that its perfect, its not, some of the talking scenes are a bit draggy and the final sequence, which at times is gruesome, maybe goes on a bit too long. Still there is something about the film that makes you sit bolt upright and watch dreading the next nasty turn.

If you like your horror bloody and full of bugs give this film a shot.

Help the small labels who were hurt in the London warehouse fire

Some of you may know that when the Sony warehouse burned during the recent riots in the UK several small DVD labels were hurt as well. A web page was set up so people could try and help keep them going---because lets face it with out these labels some of these films may not be released--- even in the US which doesn't have some of the films officially released here.

If you want to take a look information is here. The major way to help appears to be downloading films, so if you can you may want to.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Murder on the Yukon (1940)

"Probe the wound Constable Kelly"

While on a semi-vacation looking for the source of counterfeit money Renfrew and Kelly discover the body of a miner in a beached canoe. The murderer had set the canoe adrift hoping that it would go over the falls hiding his misdeed, however circumstance conspired against him and soon he, and his ring of counterfeiters have to deal with the mounties looking into the murder.

This is a good solid movie. Granted it isn't much of a mystery since you know who the bad guys are from the outset, but it doesn't really matter much because the point of these films is the action and the smart mouth exchanges between Renfrew and Kelly. These are two friends who pick on each other mercilessly and there verbal sparring is always very witty and several shades cleverer than most dialog you find in these programmers. I've seen all of the Renfrew movies now and it amazes me at how much the two genuinely seem to like and care for each other, even when they are cutting each other down. Its very real.

The films action is very good with several nice fights and couple of chases. Say what you will about the series the fact that the movies take place primarily outdoors in settings you haven't seen a thousand times before is another plus. The lack of studio settings adds a nice edge to the film and makes it seem less by the numbers.

Yes, there are songs but they are not intrusive and are over almost before they start. They are also used as a way for Renfrew to pick on Kelly.

Over all this is a good solid entry in the series and definitely worth checking out if you run across it.

NYFF Mainslate films announced

The main slate of films for this years New York Film Festival have been announced and it looks to be choice.

The link for info for the films at Film Linc is here.

However that isn't detailed unless you click each film individually so I'm cutting and pasting the details on the films as supplied from the NYFF press release below with a couple other bits I lifted so you can consider yourselves in the know.

Opening Night Gala Selection
Director: Roman Polanski
Country: France/Germany/Poland

Centerpiece Gala Selection
Director: Simon Curtis
Country: UK

Special Gala Presentations
Director: David Cronenberg
Country: UK/Canada/Germany

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Country: Spain

Closing Night Gala Selection
Director: Alexander Payne
Country: USA

The 2011 edition of NYFF will also feature a unique blend of programming to complement the main-slate of films, including: the Masterworks programs, additional titles added to the previously announced BEN-HUR, Nicholas Ray’s WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN and Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial, as well as Views from the Avant-Garde, and several special event screenings, all of which will be announced in more detail shortly

Films & Descriptions

Abel Ferrara, 2011, USA, 82min
How would we spend our final hours on Earth? And what does how we choose to die say about how we have chosen to live? In the hands of the inimitable Abel Ferrara (Go Go Tales, NYFF '07), this thought experiment takes on a visceral immediacy. With the planet on the verge of extinction, a New York couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) cycle through moments of anxiety, ecstacy, and torpor. As they sink into the havens of sex and art, and Skype last goodbyes in a Lower East Side apartment filled with screens bearing tidings of doom and salvation, the film becomes one of Ferrara’s most potent and intimate expressions of spiritual crisis. An apocalyptic trance film, 4:44 is also a mournful valentine to Ferrara’s beloved New York: the director’s first fiction feature to be filmed entirely in the city in over a decade, and coming 10 years after the September 11 attacks, a haunting vision of doom in the lower Manhattan skyline.

Michel Hazanavicius, 2011, France, 90min
An honest-to-goodness black-and-white silent picture made by modern French filmmakers in Hollywood, USA, “The Artist” is a spirited, hilarious and moving delight. A sensation in Cannes, Michel Hazanavicius' playful love letter to the movies' early days spins on a variation on an “A Star Is Born”-like relationship between a dashing Douglas Fairbanks-style star (Jean Dujardin, who won the best actor prize in Cannes) whose career wanes with the coming of sound and a dazzling young actress (Berenice Bejo) whose popularity skyrockets at the same time. Meticulously made in the 1.33 aspect ratio with intertitles and a superb score, “The Artist” has great fun with silent film conventions just as it rigorously adheres to them, turning its abundant love for the look and ethos of the 1920s into a treat that will be warmly embraced by movie lovers of every persuasion. With James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman as a definitive cigar-chomping studio boss. A Weinstein Company release.

Roman Polanski, 2011, France/Germany/Poland, 79min
Summoning up the sinister from beneath the veneer of normalcy has always been Roman Polanski's specialty, so it's no surprise that the great director does such a smashing job of putting Yasmina Reza's 2009 Tony-winning play “God of Carnage” on the screen. With the expert cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C. Reilly, Reza's explosively comic X-ray of the anger and venality lying just under the surface of the outwardly civilized behavior of two New York City couples has been fully realized. Returning to the New York Film Festival with a feature for the first time since he presented his debut work, Knife in the Water, at the very first festival in 1963, Polanski pries open the true nature of these characters in something of a companion piece to his previous New York-set film, “Rosemary's Baby.” Although it was filmed in Paris, the Brooklyn locale is as convincingly rendered as are the alternately uproarious and devastating revelations of human nature. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Alice Rohrwacher, 2011, Italy/Switzerland/France, 100min
“Seeing the Spirit is like wearing really cool sunglasses,” according to the instructor of 13-year old Marta’s (Yle Vianello) catechism class. Such observations introduce Marta to the religious climate in the small seaside Calabrian town to which she, her mother and older sister have just moved from Switzerland. Marta is sent to the local church to prepare for her Catholic confirmation and (hopefully) make some new friends. But the religion she finds there is mainly strange: the way it dominates people’s lives is unlike anything she’s ever experienced. Alice Rohrwacher’s extraordinarily impressive debut feature chronicles Martha’s private duel with the Church, carried out under the shadow of the physical changes coursing through her. Rohrwacher is not interested in pointing out heroes and villains, but instead in offering a perceptive look at how the once all-powerful Church has dealt with its waning influence. A Film Movement release.

David Cronenberg, 2011, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada, 99min
David Cronenberg, a filmmaker with a peerless grasp on the mysteries of the mind and the body, turns his attention to a seminal chapter in the founding of psychoanalysis. Adapted from Christopher Hampton’s play A Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method charts the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protégé turned dissenter Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), as it was shaped by the case of Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young Russian Jewish patient of Jung’s. Cronenberg brilliantly dramatizes not just the rivalry and rupture between two pioneers who defined a field but also the birth of their groundbreaking theories of the unconscious and the forces of Eros and Thanatos. Featuring an electrifying trio of lead actors, who turn near-mythic figures into flesh and blood, this is a film of tremendous vigor and ambition, a historical drama that brings ideas to life. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Alexander Payne, 2011, USA, 115min
In his first film since the Oscar-winning Sideways, writer-director Alexander Payne once again proves himself a master of the kind of smart, sharp, deeply felt comedy that was once the hallmark of Billy Wilder and Jean Renoir. Based on the bestselling novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, the heir of a prominent Hawaiian land-owning family whose life is turned upside-down when his wife is critically injured in a boating accident. Accustomed to being “the back-up parent,” King suddenly finds himself center stage in the lives of his two young daughters (excellent newcomers Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), while at the same time being forced to decide the fate of a vast plot of unspoiled land his family has owned since the 1860s. Rooted in Clooney’s beautifully understated performance, Payne’s film is an uncommonly perceptive portrait of marriage, family and community, suffused with humor and tragedy and wrapped in a warm human glow. A Fox Searchlight release.

Joseph Cedar, 2011, Israel, 106min
Thanks to a clerical error, Eliezer Shkolnik, a respected if little-known Talmudic scholar, is informed that he’s won the coveted Israel Prize; in truth, the prize was meant for his son, Uziel, a much more flamboyant, widely-read Talmudist. The authorities ask Uziel to help them rectify the situation, but Uziel argues the case for his father’s deserving the honor; meanwhile, Eliezer plans to use the occasion as an opportunity to intellectually take down his son and the whole generation of a la mode Talmudists. Winner of the prize for Best Screenplay at Cannes, New York born-and-trained Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar has here created the wryest of Jewish comedies, an emotional competition that pits father against son, built around the understanding of sacred texts. Rarely has the weight of a culture’s intellectual past been depicted so forecefully, nor shown to be as vibrant. A Sony Pictures Classic release.

Martin Scorsese, 2011, USA, 208min
Rich in mesmerizing archival footage, Martin Scorsese’s expansive documentary on the Beatles’ lead guitarist—and of one of the greatest musicians of the 1960s and ’70s—traces in detail all aspects of Harrison’s professional and personal life. Friends (Eric Clapton, Eric Idle), family (wives Patti Boyd and Olivia Harrison), and band mates (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) reflect on Harrison’s mid-’60s embrace of Indian mysticism and music, which forever changed the sound of the Fab Four. Harrison’s spirituality also defines his masterful solo work, especially the 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, produced by Phil Spector, another subject interviewed in depth. Until his untimely death in 2001, Harrison remained fiercely committed to his music and other passions (including film producing), earning the admiration of all who were lucky enough to work with him. Courtesy of HBO.

Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011, France/Germany, 108min
In her exceptional third feature, writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children, ND/NF 2010) shows once again her talent for capturing the agony and the ecstasy of adolescence. Besotted teenagers Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and Camille (Lola Créton) struggle, as all couples must, with a painful push-pull dynamic, heightened by the young man’s decision to leave Paris and travel through South America. Over the course of eight years, we watch Camille, initially devastated by her boyfriend’s departure, emerge with new passions, intellectual and otherwise. Touchingly illuminating the indelible imprint that first romance leaves, Hansen-Løve’s film also explores the hard-won satisfaction of leaving the past behind. A Sundance Selects release.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011, Belgium/France, 87min
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the latest film by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne centers on Cyril, a restless 11-year-old boy (terrific newcomer Thomas Doret) placed in a children’s home after being abandoned by his father. Unwilling to face the fact that parents are imperfect people, Cyril runs away to his former apartment block in search of both dad and his abandoned bicycle. Instead, he meets Samantha (the excellent Cécile de France), a kind hairdresser who helps to retrieve his bike and eventually agrees to become his weekend guardian. But literally and figuratively, Cyril isn’t out of the woods just yet. Shooting once more in the Belgian seaport town of Seraing, the Dardennes have created another poetic, universally resonant drama about parents, children and moral responsibility. A Sundance Selects release.

Aki Kaurismäki, 2011, Finland/France/Germany, 103min
The latest deadpan treat from Aki Kaurismäki (The Man Without a Past, NYFF '02) was inspired, the director has said, by his desire to have been born a generation earlier, so that he could have witnessed the Resistance during World War II. Thus Le Havre abounds with sly references to classic Resistance dramas from Port of Shadows to Casablanca as it tells the whimsical tale of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a noted Parisian author now living in self-imposed exile in the titular port city. Dividing most of his time between his neighborhood bar and caring for his bedridden wife (longtime Kaurismaki muse Kati Outinen), Marcel finds himself alive with a new sense of purpose when he comes to the aid of a young African on the run from immigration police and trying to reunite with his mother in London. Beautifully shot in Kaurismaki’s signature shades of muted blue, brown and green, with scene-stealing appearances by French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud and a dog named Laika, Le Havre is a gentle yet profound comedy of friendship, random acts of kindness and small acts of revolution. A Janus Films release.

Julia Loktev, 2011, USA/Germany, 113min
This staggeringly acute examination of the fissures that develop between couples from Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night, ND/NF 2007) proves that even the most wide-open spaces can feel suffocating during romantic discord. Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal), a few months away from their wedding, take a hiking trip in the Caucasus in Georgia, led by tour guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). Nica and Alex appear to be completely in-sync partners, wildly attracted to each other and sharing the same interests. But a split-second decision by Alex proves horrifying to Nica and sets off impenetrable, stony silences. In a film in which so much is communicated nonverbally, Furstenberg and Bernal astoundingly uncover the toxic, erosive effects of disappointment and resentment.

Sean Durkin, 2011, USA, 101min
Sean Durkin’s haunting first feature, about a young woman’s halting attempts to undo the psychic terror of the cult she’s just escaped, heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent. Fleeing a Manson-like Catskills compound at dawn, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, leading an excellent cast) reconnects with her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), a bourgeois New Yorker who takes in her sibling at the Connecticut country house she shares with her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). Lucy remains unaware of exactly what happened to Martha over the past few years—details that Durkin slowly but powerfully unveils in uncanny, disorienting flashbacks. The film’s gorgeous, painterly compositions have the chilling effect of suggesting that even our worst nightmares still retain a seductive allure. A Fox Searchlight release.

Lars von Trier, 2011, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy, 135min
The end of the world—and the collapse of the spirit—has never been depicted as beautifully and wrenchingly as in Melancholia, the latest provocation from Lars von Trier (Antichrist, NYFF '09). The title refers both to a destructive planet “that has been hiding behind the sun” and the crippling depression of new bride Justine (a revelatory Kirsten Dunst, rightful winner of the Best Actress award at Cannes this year), whose mental illness is so severe that she drives away her groom during their disastrous wedding reception. As the extinction of the planet looms ever larger, Justine is desperately tended to by her sister, Claire (an equally magnificent Charlotte Gainsbourg), herself gripped by anxiety over the impending doomsday. Melancholia’s premise may be science fiction, but the feelings of despair it plumbs are the most heart-felt human drama. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Gerardo Naranjo, 2011, Mexico, 113min
One of the most exciting young talents around, the Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo (I'm Gonna Explode, NYFF '08) approaches the hot-button topic of drug violence through the perspective of an unlikely, unwitting heroine: a Tijuana beauty pageant contestant (Stephanie Sigman) who stumbles into the path of ruthless cartel operatives and corrupt officials. Although inspired by a true story, Miss Bala avoids docudrama cliches and tabloid sensationalism, and instead evokes the pervasive climate of fear and confusion that has enveloped daily life in some increasingly lawless pockets of northern Mexico. Using long takes and fluid, precise camera work, Naranjo fashions a highly original thriller: an anguished and harrowing mood piece with an undertow of bleakly absurdist humor and moments of heart-stopping action. A D Squared Pictures release.

Simon Curtis, 2011, UK, 96min
One of the most exciting actresses working today, Michelle Williams accomplishes the near-impossible—portraying Marilyn Monroe as an actual person, not just an easily caricatured icon—in this charming bio-pic centering around the production of Laurence Olivier's film The Prince and the Showgirl. Based on two memoirs by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who worked as an assistant on Olivier’s film, My Week With Marilyn depicts Monroe’s numerous clashes with her imperious, classically trained director (played with great relish by Kenneth Branagh), maddened by his star’s method acting and her ever-present drama coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). Williams captures not only Monroe’s notorious fragility, both on-screen and off-, but also her magical, unclassifiable charisma. A Weinstein Company release.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011, Turkey, 150min
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest begins as a small caravan of cars snakes its way through the nocturnal countryside, looking for where a murdered man was buried. Yet every time the confessed killer points out the grave, the gravediggers come up empty; much of the landscape looks alike, it’s dark out, and anyway the killer claims he was drunk. As the increasingly frustrating investigation wears on, far more is revealed than where the body is buried; through quick looks, furtive gestures and offhand bits of dialogue, Ceylan (Climates, NYFF 2006) reveals in this seemingly pacific Turkish outback a festering world of jealousies and resentments, as the story behind the murder gradually emerges. Impeccably photographed (by Gökhan Tiryaki) and with a stand-out performance by Taner Birsel as a police inspector, this is Ceylan’s most impressive film yet. A Cinema Guild release.

Wim Wenders, 2011, Germany/France/UK, 106min
Here revolutionizing the dance film just as he did the music documentary in Buena Vista Social Club, Wim Wenders began planning this project with legendary choreographer Pina Bausch in the months before her untimely death, selecting the pieces to be filmed and discussing the filmmaking strategy. Impressed by recent innovations in 3D, Wenders decided to experiment with the format for this tribute to Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal; the result sets the standard against which all future uses of 3D to record performance will be measured. Not only are the beauty and sheer exhilaration of the dances and dancers powerfully rendered, but the film also captures the sense of the world that Bausch so brilliantly expressed in all her pieces. Longtime members of the Tanztheater recreate many of their original roles in such seminal works as “Café Müller,” “Le Sacred du Printemps,” and “Kontakthof.” A Sundance Selects release.

Ruben Östlund, 2011, Sweden/Rance/Denmark, 124min
A deliberately provoked racial incident, based on numerous similar real-life transgressions, is played for all it's worth in “Play.” Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund has developed mesmerizing visual strategies based on long takes and fixed camera positions to relate a disturbing tale of how five savvy African immigrant boys in Gothenberg take advantage of the liberal guilt and placating temperament of three local kids to rob them and take them for a ride to unknown destinations. Social, racial and political credos are twisted, pulled inside out and stood on their head by this bracing and confronting work, which will challenge the assumptions of many a viewer. Dazzlingly shot on the new Red 4K camera, “Play” is a considerable achievement both formally and dramatically that poses more questions than it answers as it lays bare attitudes lurking beneath the surface tranquility of Scandinavian life—a peacefulness that, as we have seen of late, can sometimes be tragically shattered.

Nadav Lapid, 2011, Israel/France, 100min
A boldly conceived drama pivoting on the initially unrelated activities of an elite anti-terrorist police unit and some wealthy young anarchists, “Policeman” is a striking first feature from writer-director Nadav Lapid. Provocatively timely in light of recent unrest tied to social and economic inequities in Israel, this is a powerfully physical film in its depiction of the muscular, borderline sensual way the macho cops relate to one another, as well as for the emphatic style with which the opposing societal forces are contrasted and finally pitted against one another. Although the youthful revolutionaries come off as petulant and spoiled, their point about the growing gap between the Israeli haves and have-nots cannot be ignored, even by the policemen sent on a rare mission to engage fellow countrymen rather than Palestinians. A winner of three prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival and a special jury prize at Locarno.

Asghar Farhadi, 2011, Iran, 123min
A critical and audience favorite at this year's Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Golden Bear as well as acting prizes for all four lead performers, A Separation is an Iranian Rashomon of searing family drama that turns into an unexpectedly gripping legal thriller. The film, directed by Asghar Farhadi, begins with married couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) obtaining coveted visas to leave Iran for the United States, where Simin hopes to offer a better future to their 11-year-old daughter. But Nader doesn’t feel comfortable abandoning his elderly, Alzheimer’s-stricken father, and so the couple embark on a trial separation. To help care for the old man, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a pregnant, deeply religious woman who takes the job unbeknownst to her husband (Shahab Hosseini), an out-of-work cobbler. Almost immediately there are complications, culminating in a sudden burst of violence that constantly challenges our own perceptions of who (if anyone) is to blame and what really happened. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Steve McQueen, 2011, UK, 99min
In his much-anticipated encore to his superb first feature, “Hunger,” British artist Steve McQueen reunites with the extraordinary Michael Fassbender in the ferociously sexual drama “Shame.” An explosive portrait of a sex addict walking a tightrope between presentable respectability and the wild side, this incendiary drama captures the anger and the ecstasy of its anti-hero's incessant drive for conquest in contemporary New York, where any woman he meets he believes is ripe for the taking. Madly attractive but with cruelly cold eyes, this compulsive Casanova finds his style cramped by the abrupt arrival of his unstable sister (Cary Mulligan), whose insecurities crack open issues of his own. Daring, stylistically brilliant and erotically charged, McQueen's heady, beautiful and disturbing film seems as determined to leave the viewer unsettled as it will surely serve to further propel Fassbender into the front ranks of contemporary screen actors.

Ulrich Köhler, 2011, Germany/France/Netherlands, 91min
This remarkably assured third feature by the young German director Ulrich Köhler—winner of Best Director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival—transports us to Cameroon, where German doctor Ebbo (Pierre Bokma) and his wife have spent two decades combating an epidemic of sleeping sickness in the local villages. Soon, they will return to Europe and to lives long ago put on hold, and this has created a crisis for Ebbo, who, like Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz, has spent too much time up river to ever come back down. Meanwhile, a young black doctor—a Frenchman born to Congolese parents—travels to Africa to evaluate the efficiency of Ebbo’s program. But when he arrives, nothing goes according to plan, and despite his heritage, he feels very much a stranger in a strange land. Finally, the two subjects of this haunting meditation on Africa’s past and future dovetail—effortlessly, seamlessly—and the cumulative impact is stunning.

Pedro Almodóvar, 2011, Spain, 113min
At “The Cinema Inside Me” program at the 2009 NYFF, Pedro Almodóvar surprised many when he spoke of his great love for American horror and science fiction films—a clue, it turns out, to what he was then just planning. With his new film, Almodóvar ventures headlong into those very genres. Dr. Robert Ledgard (a welcome return for Antonio Banderas) is a world famous plastic surgeon who argues for the development of new, tougher human skin; unbeknownst to others, Dr. Ledgard has been trying to put his theory into practice, keeping a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), imprisoned in his mansion while subjecting her to an increasingly bizarre regime of treatments. Fascinated by the thin layer of appearance that stands between our perception of someone and that person’s inner essence, Almodóvar here addresses that continuing theme in his work in a bold, unsettling exploration of identity. A Sony Pictures Classic release. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Santiago Mitre, 2011, Argentina, 110min
Politics is a game, a seduction, and a vicious cycle in Santiago Mitre’s gripping, fine-tuned debut, the story of Roque (Esteban Lamothe), a university student who falls for a radicalized teacher and organizer (Romina Paula) and soon finds himself entangled with Buenos Aires campus activists, in a world as heated and byzantine as the one inhabited by the student revolutionaries of the mythic 1960s. Anchored by Lamothe’s nuanced, charismatic performance, The Student complicates the classic bildungsroman narrative of education and disillusionment, emphasizing the endless adaptability—or malleability—of its protagonist. An urgent attempt to grapple with the legacy of Peronism in present-day Argentina, the film abounds with telling details and rich local color. But it’s also a truly universal political thriller, one that illuminates the conspiratorial pleasure, the ruthless hustle, and the moral fog of politics as it is practiced.

Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011, Iran, 75min
Accused of collusion against the Iranian regime and currently appealing a prison sentence and a ban from filmmaking, Jafar Panahi (a four-time NYFF veteran with films like Offside and Crimson Gold) collaborated with the documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb on a remarkable day-in-the-life chronicle that, as with many great Iranian films, finds a rich middle ground between fiction and reality. Shot with a digital camera and an iPhone, the movie is almost entirely confined to the director’s apartment, where he discusses his films and an unrealized script, while the outside world imposes itself through phone calls, television news, a few comic interruptions, and the sound of New Year’s fireworks. Far more than the modest home movie it initially seems to be, This Is Not a Film is an act of courage and a statement of political and moral conviction: surprising, radical, and enormously moving.

Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky, 2011, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/USA, 146min
After witnessing a carriage driver whipping his horse, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ran to the scene, threw his arms around the horse and then collapsed; he would spend the next, final ten years of his life in almost total silence. Focusing not on Nietzsche but on the driver and his family, Béla Tarr (Satantango, NYFF 1994) and his longtime collaborator Agnes Hranitzky, working from a screenplay by Tarr and novelist László Krasznhorkai, create a mesmerizing, provocative meditation on the unsettling connectedness of things, in which the resonance of actions and gestures continues long after their actual occurrence. Beautifully photographed (by Fred Kelemen) on the austere, unforgiving Hungarian plain lands, The Turin Horse challenges us to enter into a world just beyond the one we experience daily. Winner of the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. A Cinema Guild release.

Antarctic Journal (2005)

Six men set out to reach the point of inaccessibility in Antarctica. They have 60 days of sun light to travel to the most remote place on the continent by foot, something that has only happened one time before. Along the way they find the journal from a 1922 British expedition that appears to have gone horribly wrong. Soon things begin to mirror the earlier expedition.

This is a frustrating film.

Beautifully made and breathtakingly shot, with New Zealand doubling for the bottom of the world, this is a film that makes you shiver just from looking at each frame. As polar films go this is one of the best looking ones I've ever seen. The performances are all first rate and you sympathize with the men and their plight.

The trouble is that the film's plot doesn't quite work. The mystery of why things go wrong is never fully explained satisfactorily. The film seems to want to blame both the the psychological break down of the men on what happens and at the same time wants to subscribe some form of supernatural explanation. Its possible to to have it both ways with a hint of the supernatural affecting the men, but thats not the case here. (SPOILERS) Here we have the journal which seems to kick off some events that only we see coupling with some things the men experience which are then sort of discounted by the denouncement at the end. Why are we shown hints of monsters that never materialize? I don't have a clue. It reminded me very much of the supernatural war film R-Point which has an ending that seems to come out of left field. In both cases one is left at the end with a film that never delivers on the promise made when the films started. (END SPOILER)

Worth a rental or a visit on cable, but this isn't something thats going to be in your need to see repeatedly collection.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Enter the Devil (1972)

(This review contains potential spoilers)

A man driving in the desert has his tire shot out. He thinks it's just a blow out and when he finds his spare is also flat he decides to walk to get help. Getting picked up by a fast moving pick up truck the man is soon reported missing. What follows is an investigation into the disappearance of the man and the uncovering of a strange cult near the US border with Mexico.

Minor classic and unjustly forgotten horror film seems to have disappeared into the mists of time. I don't ever remember seeing or hearing of this film until I ran across it in the Sinister Cinema catalog. I'm guessing that the film disappeared into the void since it probably had small distribution and was made about the same time as other western set horror films like Race with Devil, Devils Rain and others of that type. It's a shame since the film is actually quite creepy and even scary.

What makes this film work are a couple of key factors, first the visual sense. There is something about the way the shots are composed that creates a good sense of dread. The Film manages to take run of the mill horror film events and turn them into something else. Watch the opening sequence. The idea of a man driving in the desert can be boring. However we are drawn in to the proceedings almost instantly. We are there. As the sequence proceeds and the rock collector is picked up, we already have a sense of unease before he gets into the truck. It helps that we never see the driver and until the truck pulls away, we only fleetingly see the gun that shot out the car tire. We know that the man will not becoming back, a feeling reinforced by the fade to the torch lit procession of robed figures. Its eerie and the film is barely five minutes old.

The second thing that works in favor of the film is that it doesn't behave as most other films of this sort. The cliché's are not really there. Who and what is going on isn't ever really explained, there is no twist ending, characters come and go in ways you don't expect and the film sticks pretty close to reality, we don't get overwhelming supernatural forces at work, its all very real in a way most horror films never are.

You'll forgive the lack of details about the story, but as with most films this is a better film to see than read about.

If you can, see about tracking this film down. Its not readily available and it seems that the only ones carrying it are companies specializing in obscure films (Sinister, Something Weird, etc.). Also be forgiving since any prints out there seem to be scratched.

7 out of 10 on the general scale. 9 out of 10 on the drive in movie meter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

NYFF announces two Galas, the KCS screening is tomorrow and Riff Trax is Wednesday

A couple of quick notes.

Tomorrow is the KCS screening of Dirty Carnival at the Tribeca Cinemas. Its free. Doors open at 630 for the show at 7. Sadly I think time and tide will keep all of the Unseen correspondents away from yet another screening.

The New York Film Festival has Just announced that the new Pedro Almodovar film The Skin I Live In and the new David Cronenberg film A Dangerous Method will both be getting gala screenings. While I’m thrilled at the prospect of being able to see both films, I wince at the notion of a gala screening since it means it will be pricey. (Remember that even assuming that we at Unseen are allowed to attend the Press Screenings we will also be with you in the trenches for some of the screenings and the cost of all the films come out of our own pockets). Festival News should be coming fast and furious over the next week so keep an eye on their website.

Wednesday night the Riff Trax guys are doing a number on Jack the Giant Killer as a Fathom Event. John, Bully and myself will be attending so expect a report.(and if you’re going get tickets soon. Some of the New York Metro area shows have been sold out for a while now)

Splinter (2008)

One of the best horror films I've seen in a while transcends its cliché plot and makes it into something skin crawling. The premise is that a couple goes camping. they get kidnapped by another couple. When they are driving away they hit something in the road, which is still moving even when dead. Fleeing they end up at a gas station when their car over heats, unfortunately the thing from the road is there too.

Creepy, bloody, un-nerving in the way things moving in the wrong way are, this is a small scale film with no explanations and only one desire to make you feel very uneasy. I kept saying "oh thats just wrong" over and over again.

Sure the characters and the situations are clichéd but they spice it up enough to make it interesting. Also working to its advantage is the fact that the film is stripped down as far as you can strip it with no extra characters, no explanations, nothing out side of what is needed to tell the story.

Who needs an army of zombies or chainsaw wielding maniacs? this is a film thats worth a box of popcorn and a bottle of soda... and best of all repeat viewings

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Latinbeat: Marimbas From Hell and The Death of Pinochet

It was a wet and rainy day in New York City with the heavy rain causing some subways and trains to be rerouted. I made it in without too much difficulty, but was slow in going and as such missed the packed to the rafters discussion on Central American Cinema Today which was held before the first film of the day.

This was my first trip to the Latinbeat series which Lincoln Center runs every year. Its a look at some of the up and coming films from Central and South America. There are a bunch of really good looking films this year and going into the series this year I bought tickets for four films and I'm trying to get tickets for a few more.

The first film today was Marimbas From Hell. Billed as a docudrama, the film was set in motion when the director wanted to make a documentary about a marimba player named Don Alfonso. However since Alfonso was being blackmailed and feared that the film might make things worse, the documentary was changed at the last minute into a drama. The story and the plot would be improvised and the people from the documentary would just react to the situations.

The plot of the film has Don Alfonso hooking up with Blacko, one of the founding members of the group the Warriors and one of the people who helped popularize heavy metal in the country. The idea is that they will make classically influenced heavy metal. The group they put together to try and accomplish this is called Marimbas From Hell.

This is an odd awkward film. Sadly much of it doesn't really work. There are long static takes where nothing happens and when things move, they do so in fits and starts. There are lots of shot os people doing nothing and if I never see a man pushing a marimba again it will be too soon. You can feel that the film is being made up on the spot,which is good in someways, but it's bad since there are sequences that just sort of sit there, a visit to a doctors office for example. And as for the end... what happened did they run out of film? It doesn't end it stops.

You can tell the film was filmed with a single camera since the action unfolds usually with a single point of view that never changes. The result is a couple of sequences where things are framed all the way to the left or right with the action taking place largely off screen. It's an odd choice and it doesn't really work.

The best sequences in the film are those with Blacko. Here's a guy who has a real personality and back story (He went from Christian, to Satanist, to Evangelical to an off beat Jewish tinged sect. There is a wonderful documentary sequence on his current church). I would love to see a whole film on him.

Our nominal protagonist, Don Alfonso seems to be a nice guy but he is rather boring. There is only so much talk of blackmail and his marimba before your eyes glaze over.

The third lead, a young man with a huffing problem named Chiqilin, seems to be a guy who needs to be in a movie of his own. However as a character in this film he exists only to make things happen and to fill time.

Its an odd film and to be perfectly honest I can't see it getting much play anywhere outside of the festival circuit. I'd love to see the Blacko sequences again but otherwise I don't need to see this film again.

There was a brief Q&A after the film, but it was abbreviated since the pre film discussion went way over time and because there was another film following close behind. (I think the only things I didn't work into the review was that Don Alfonso is alive and well and living in hiding, They also said that the marimba was not stolen and that whole sequence was created for the film.)

The second film today was The Death of Pinochet about how people reacted when Pinochet died.

I think a better title would be Those Lips and That Eye since the film is often filmed in such ultra close up that all we see are lips and an eye. Even in many of the crowd sequences all we are focused on is someones mouth.

Talk about a fetishistic portrayal. Frankly I haven't seen any erotica that is this fixated on one part of the human anatomy. It's frightening.

My notes from the screening go in part: Lips. Mouth, face. Lips, more lips, teeth, cheek, eye. Lips lips, eye. cheek, moustache, eye, whole person.Lips.... It became a game like when you many whole people do we see? It's so distracting that much was of what was said gets lost in the game.

Think about the opening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but go closer so the lips bleed off the screen.

I know some people want to get away from talking heads... but close ups of mouths is going in the wrong direction.

The film, told in a style that screams Errol Morris, concerns the reactions of various people, mostly Pinochet supporters on the day he died. They tell their story and we watch mostly recreations and staged sequences (the ring of flowers) as they say, mostly that Pinochet was great. Only really one person seems against Pinochet the rest rant about what a great man he was.

Sadly it's very one note. We are get what they feel and felt but it doesn't give any insight. Who are these people and why is Pinochet so important to them? There must be more than he gave me a place to sell my flowers... We get platitudes and curses, Pinochet was great and anyone on the left was a homosexual communist Mother---- . Even those speaking against Pinochet really don't say much beyond he was bad.

I understand that the film is only 70 minutes and is dealing with one moment in time, but at the same time the directors could have actually put things into some sort of context.... Claude Lanzmann's Karski Report is about the same length and manages to put all of World War Two in context.

I didn't stay for any Q&A and left before the credits finished rolling. (And I wasn't the only one there were several walk outs during the film)

A miss.

Hopefully my choices will prove better the next time I return to Latinbeat. I have two more films definitely planned and a few more penciled in.