Friday, September 30, 2011

Anonymous (2011) The New Yorker Festival 2011

John, Bully and I went to the screening of Roland Emmerich's Anonymous at the New Yorker Festival earlier tonight. I'll be brief since John and I are still trying to work out who is going to do the long review.

The short review goes some thing like this:

This is a big beautiful mess of a masterpiece. Its one of my favorite films of the year. Forget any notion of real history, its a complete mess, however as a romantic drama that is infused with history and politics its top notch.

The premise of the film is that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by the Earl of Oxford who handed them over to Ben Johnson who then had them stolen by Shakespeare...As all of that is going on court intrigue is in full swing as there are moves being made to determine who is going to end up on the English throne after Elizabeth.

When this opens in theaters in a month forget the controversy about the history and just go for the drama. Its a blast. Its the sort of thing that's so good it will get you to actually want to see a Shakespeare play or two.

Here is a movie that really has special effects with computer graphics used to create a London of 400 years ago. Its done so seamlessly that you won't know whats real and whats not...and I say that as some one who is awfully good at spotting effects. They deserve an Oscar- which they won't get because something Like Harry Potter or Transformers is more splashy and more easily noticed.

The performances are amazing, and be prepared to be blown away watching Joely Richardson play the younger version of her mother Vanessa Redgrave (Queen Elizabeth). Can they share an Oscar?

After the film there was a talk/debate between Emmerich who basically said he thinks Oxford wrote the plays, but ultimately its a film; while James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar was horrified that anyone thinks Shakespeare didn't write the plays and that people will think this is history.

Emmerich's hey its just a film approach won hands down especially after he said the film is there to get a discussion started (after its done entertaining the audience) and that people should read on the subject and make up their own minds.

On the other hand Shapiro's long rambling opening statement, snippy attitude lost many people around me since he seemed to forget that it's only a movie. actually the point at which he lost about 90% of the audience was when he began to equate the "good guys" with the Nazi's (Hey they are all blue eyed and blond) and the bad guys with the Jews. The implication was that since Roland Emmerich is German he's anti-Semitic. This brought many out loud comments from everyone around me as it was clear Shapiro was going way off base. It was the point at which everyone went against him, and he never recovered, even after making some good points. (As I said he never stopped seeing it as more than just a movie.)

Anyway, this was supposed to be brief, so let me finish up by saying go see this when it comes out. Understand its jagged and imperfect, but its a damn fine drama that will keep you gripped to the final fade out. This is one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

NYFF 2011: We Can't Go Home Again (1976, restored 2011)

In quite possibly the internet's only juxtaposition of Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar) and George Lucas (Howard the Duck and some other films), let's consider two of their lesser-known works: Ray's experimental 1976 We Can't Go Home Again, and, less than a year later, Lucas's modest Star Wars. Despite their releases, both directors have continuously tinkered with their films: Ray was re-editing We Can't Go Home Again when he died in '79; Lucas has just re-released Star Wars and its obscure sequels in several subtlely different versions. Likewise, there's a new version of We Can't Go Home Again for the New York Film Festival and fall 2011 release. Since you can't buy action figures for Nicholas Ray's film ("Girl without Pants!" "Shaggy Guy with Shaveable Beard!"), let's examine that movie, okay?

Nicholas Ray became estranged from the movie industry in the 1960s—alcohol use and flop films helped cement the end of his Hollywood career. In 1971, recommended by his friend Dennis Hopper, Ray took a teaching position in filmmaking at Binghamton University. The project he and his students created over the next two years became We Can't Go Home Again, an exceptionally hallucinatory and highly experimental film over overlapping images, sounds, and character arcs on a variety of film size and stock. It's both unsettling and thought-provoking: an overlapping collage with split-screen images (perhaps influenced by and building on its growing use in the late 1960s in motion pictures like The Thomas Crown Affair, Woodstock, and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls). Figures are heavily polarized both figuratively and literally: as they talk, bicker and confront, the screen breaks into overexposed, out-of-sound-synch images, color burning and flaring up like the tensions of Ray's students, a community that feels at times like a cult.

This is no easy film to watch, but is that the point? Ray captures the furor, anger, and unrest of the times both visually and thematically, even in less experimental scenes. In one of the few full-frame, non-synthetized scenes, a student walks with Ray to a bar, balling his fist and taking swings that don't connect at Ray just out of his vision. "I wanted to see if you were really blind in that eye." We Can't Go Home Again is not a documentary, but it feels more immediate and real than a whole cartload of docs. Confusing, controversial, and challenging, it is a series of punches right at us past our faces: the representation in all its non-linear reality of youth culture of the post-1960s.

Ray's continuing work with the film right through his death has been continued by his wife Susan Ray to result in the current cut. Accompanying this release is Don't Expect Too Much, Susan Ray's directed documentary of the tangled and controversial history of Ray and his final film.

We Can't Go Home Again opens at the New York Film Festival on October 2. Both We Can't Go Home Again and Don't Expect Too Much will air on Turner Classic Movies in late October and will be screened at festivals and art firm houses across the US in late 2011, followed by DVD in 2012.

NYFF 2011: Melancholia (2011)

Lars Von Trier's follow up to Antichrist is an end of the world tale that ultimately doesn't amount to very much owing to to it's fractured nature and incomplete notions.

The film begins with a amazingly beautiful sequence that appears to be magazine ads come to life. They are the sort of thing that we might imagine that Kirsten Dunst's character might have come up in her day job. Never mind they depict the end of her mind and the end of the world, they are truly amazing.

After the world ends we flash back to Part 1 Justine. Which follows the events around Dunst's character, named Justine, on her wedding day. Its supposed to be the happiest day of her life but she swings manically from up to down and back again, always ending up in the pit of a self made hell. Granted it doesn't help that her parents are beasts and some of the others at the wedding are just as bad, she's in hell and she's not coming out.

Part 2 is Claire and it follows Justine's sister Claire as she cares for he depressed sister and obsesses about the possible (and then eventual) end of the world thanks to the newly found planet Melancholia.

What can I say, this is a fragmentary mess of a film. Its more a series of several loosely connected half films joined together to make a less then fulfilling whole. The problem here is that so much is left out. What happened before the wedding? We don't know and it it really hurts the film since there is a feeling of something there we should know, but are never told. In the second half of the film, the part about the end of the world, there is so much that isn't said that when we are told things (say about the planets approach) none of it rings true. Truth be told the end of the world seems more like an after thought than anything since it mostly feels false. (Much like Kiefer Sutherland's character who is pure mouth piece and never real person.)

Kirsten Dunst gives one hell of a fine performance (as does the rest of the cast) the problem is we only know so much of her character and the lack of details make it hard to fully connect with her. This is especially true in the second part of the film where is she basically an negative force waiting for the end of the world and only finding pleasure bathing naked in the light of the approaching engine of doom.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is amazing as well but I wish there had been more to her character than just the histrionics she is often put through.

(Why do I have the feeling that Von Trier had a longer more detailed script and then cut the life out of it for release.)

The film is overly silly at times and I had to bite my lip not to burst in uncontrolled and inappropriate laughter. On some level I wonder if Von Trier isn't playing a joke on the art house crowd by forcing them to sit through an exploitation and of the world tale, ala Roger Corman, but fancied up like a high priced call girl.

Whats the point? I don't know. My first response was that the film was pretentious twaddle, until the final half hour's march to the end kicked in and it seemed like Von Trier got his shit together. This final half hour portends what the film could have, and should have, been, a deeply affecting end of the world story. Sadly its wrecked by the preceding 105 minutes where we get two halves of two semi related films.

Some people walked out on the screening, some people booed. Many people applauded, but outside of the technical achievement I don't know what they saw in the film.

To me its a slightly dishonest film. There is something about it that makes me thing Von Trier is messing with the critics. As much as I have reservation about Antichrist I still feel there is a certain honesty there.

Ultimately I think the film is intellectually empty. It looks good, it has some emotion but I don't think it adds up to much. Had Von Trier just made the film about the end he could have made something glorious, instead he has these pieces that don't quite fit together.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

NYFF 2011: Le Havre (2011)

"Miracles do happen."
"Not in my neighborhood."

It's technically accurate but dangerous to step out of the first film you see at the New York Film Festival and declare it to be the best one you've seen at the festival. Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre struck all the right notes for me to kick off a couple weeks of viewing movies: a beautiful, funny, quirky, heart-breaking and uplifting film with solid arthouse and commercial appeal.

André Wilms is Marcel Marx, a roguish and beleaguered but never defeated shoe shiner in the French port city of Le Havre. He works, he drinks in a bar, he goes home to wife ailing Arletty (Kati Outinen, quietly brilliant) and faithful dog Laika, goes to bed, and the whole routine begins again the next morning. Two events in rapid succession, however, dramatically change the routine: Arletty fails ill and keeps her almost fatal condition secret from Marcel, who during her absence has taken in Idrissa, a runaway boy smuggled into France from Africa.

Marcel's plans to keep the boy hidden from immigration run him afoul of the Javert-esque Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) but draws together his neighborhood in a community scheme to help Idrissa escape to London to meet his mother. Marcel is drawn into an elaborate chain of interlocking complications—from visiting the black boy's grandfather in prison (by claiming he's his albino brother) to patching up the love problems of a neighborhood rock 'n' roller Little Bob (to convince him to put on a benefit concert to fund smuggling Idrissa to the UK).

Le Havre is a quiet and deliberate picture: nothing loud and splashy here except the raucous Little Bob rock concert. Kaurismaki's palette reflects the tone: the rundown corners of Le Havre and Calais are toned in quiet splashes of color, not so much muted as faded. Le Havre, in nearly still-life scenes, sparkles, but very quietly—much like the lives of its wonderful supporting characters.

It's all very light but not light-weight, and any conveniences of plot can easily be forgiven for the discovery of hidden joy in the smallest parts of the run-down community. Le Havre won't capture the following of more splashy and whimsical French imports to the US like Amélie, but it shares its buoyant good cheer and quiet happiness. Miracles do happen, sometimes right in your own neighborhood.

Le Havre opens at the New York Film Festival on October 2, and in limited release in the US on October 21.

NYFF 2011: Mud and Soldiers (1939) (Nikkatsu Centennial)

For anyone I spoke with after the press screening, there was a feeling that a badge of honor for making it through to the end should have been awarded. By sticking it out to the bitter boring end we felt that we won the war and that the film didn't. By sticking to the end we could take the bullet so that you didn't have to.

This film is a grunts eye view of war. Its a RAH RAH look at a group of mostly nameless and faceless soldiers as they invade China and march through the countryside blowing things up and killing an unseen enemy. Onward and upward for the greater glory of Japan.

Mostly this film is marching. Its the soldiers walking and marching and its only broken up by two battle sequences and a few resting sequences. And when I say marching I mean its various shots of the soldiers walking through the country side while the same cadence of their feet is heard- no matter what the weather or the terrain they are crossing. I'm guess-timating that at least 75 to 80 of the films 120 minutes involves people marching.

Before I completely pick on the film let me say that the film was beautifully shot in China. Its a gorgeous film to look at at times with a sense of place that is rare in any film I've ever seen, and not just any particular type of film.The documentary approach the film works was what kept me in my seat instead of giving into my desire to run away into a sunny late summer afternoon.

On the other hand the documentary style of filmmaking works against the film in that we are often so far away from some events that we see little beyond where the static camera is placed.

I do mean static camera. It never moves, with much of the film's sequences being a single shot. The result is that even the rest sequences with the soldiers just sitting around look more like tableaus then then anything. Occasionally we get a pan or a tracking shot but mostly the camera picks a point of view or two and then stays there a while. Yes this gives us a feeling of being there much like a documentary filmmaker would be, but it also removes much of the drama since everyone and everything is reduced to figures in the landscape. (A positive aside I can see where Terrence Malick may have lifted bits for his Thin Red Line).

The story telling is minimal in the extreme. The men are heading for an unknown objective that seems to be always changing. Its marching marching marching marching marching resting marching marching marching.

There is an early battle sequence which results in the films one real dramatic sequence (and later a huge belly laugh) when one of the soldiers is killed. The death is oddly touching as the runner is felled by a snipers bullet. However because the men are moving so fast they will have to bury him. The men are horrified and have to figure out how to cremate him so his family can properly mourn him in Japan. (The belly laugh occurs when during the second battle scene a runner appears amidst the smoke and gunfire to announce that the dead soldier has been promoted. The runner then disappears and the soldier carrying the ashes pulls out the urn to inform his comrade of the good news.)

My problem with the battle sequences is that we never see their conclusion... correction most sequences are like that... but the battle scenes are worse. Men disappear into smoke and fire and next we are told the objective has been taken. A sequence where a wounded mother is singing to her baby before she is shot has a Japanese soldier crawl to the child and try to calm it. He succeeds before he crawls away and it starts crying again, so he crawls toward the child and the sequence ends.

The films sense of space is a mess within the battle sequences, particularly in the second one where the troops attack a barn or farm house where it seems gunfire is coming from. However as they approach the building you realize there are no doors or windows on the side they are attacking, so no one could be shooting at them from that direction. Equally weird is how the troops attack the buildings in whatever direction will make the shot look good with the result that objects in the background move around from shot to shot with in sequence.

It would be pointless to to go into how the soldiers are good and the faceless Chinese are bad (they chain their men to their posts-literally) since this is very much a film from another place and time.

Unless you have some need to see a film for a historical perspective or you MUST see every war film ever made I would take a pass on this film. Its dull and boring and the constant sound of feet marching on cement will lull you to sleep.

A sleeper in the true sense of the word (Zzzzzzzzzz).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NYFF 2011: Andrew Bird:Fever Year (2011)

Billed as a documentary look at musician Andrew Bird as he begins to realize that the constant touring is taking a toll on his life and health (He spent a year running a non-stop fever), the film is actually closer to a concert film with songs punctuated with a way too brief comment or statement by Bird or one of his friends.

How you react to the film will depend on the answers to a few questions:

1. Are you and Andrew Bird Fan?
Do you like his violin playing, whistling, singing, looping and leans toward "wacky" lyrics? If you then this film is for you.

2. Are you looking to actually learn anything about Andrew Bird and his music?
If so then this film isn't for you. I read the festival description and I went in expecting a real documentary that would tell me something, anything, about the man. What I got was, as I said at the top, some smart lines that reveal almost nothing between a large number of songs.

Ultimately its all about the music, which is fine. On the other hand that pretense that this is anything other than a fan film or promotional puff piece...or disguised concert film is just wrong. This isn't what you think of when you think documentary, it isn't informative and only documents the music. I've seen any number of music films this year, from Talahina Sky, to Swell Season to Mama Africa and in every case I walked out feeling I learned something even if I didn't like the movie itself.

In all honesty I don't hate Fever Year, but I really don't know why it exists outside of being something for the fans for Mr Bird. This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with the man or the music, its just that the film never manages to do what good or great concert films do, which is create new fans. If you compare the film (admittedly rather unfairly) to say Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz you have concert films that transcend the artist. They are experiences unto themselves and in both cases those films created new fans for the artists involved, I know I fell in love with subjects of both films.

Fever Year never manages to do that. It never transcends being just a record of the music and of the performance. Unlike Sense or Waltz the film never finds the magic of Andrew Bird in such away that it opens the eyes of the uninitiated. I watched it, I smiled, I tapped my foot, and I kept thinking, "wouldn't have been cheaper just to hand out CDs to people?"

Don't get me wrong its not a bad film, it's just not a special one...unless you're already a fan of Mr Bird.

If you're a fan of Andrew Bird by all means go. If you're not, go get a CD before you plunk down your money.

NYFF 2011: Corpo Celeste (2011)

Corpus Celeste is DOA.

I suspect I'm going to get hate mail for that but this is a film that, assuming you just see it and you don't read anything on it, will make you wonder what in the world anyone saw it in. (And hold that thought I'll come back to it.)

The plot of the film centers around 13 year old Marta who has just moved back to Italy from Switzerland with her mom and older sister. She is at that age where most Catholic kids will make their Confirmation. So we watch as she goes to her religion class and tries to navigate around her family. We also follow Father Mario, the parish priest on the make. He's trying to advance himself by helping certain political candidates, as well as essentially stealing a huge cross from an "abandoned" church in the country. In theory how these two characters and the people around them maneuver drives the story.

If you go into the film blind, with no detailed press notes odds are you're going to be like me and be bored to tears.

Not a whole hell of a lot happens in the first hour as Marta goes to religion class, tries to deal with her mom and sister, and watches some scavengers out the window.

Then about an hour in Marta finds some nearly new born cats (the mother of which was tossed from the church earlier in the film) and they are taken away by Santa, the woman teaching the religion class.Santa gives the cats, which she has put into a plastic bag to the handyman to get rid of. Marta follows the man who takes the cats, and she and we watch as they are bashed on the sidewalk and then tossed in some water (I'm not too sure on details since I was kind of sick at the pointlessness of the sequence- even if the cats weren't really killed in real life).

Marta staggers off as a result of this experience and eventually meets up with Father Mario on a highway, who stops his car when he passes her on the way to pick up the cross. Along the way Father Mario shills for some politicians and Marta gets her period.

The film then staggers on for a bit before the film stops dead and the credits roll. (Seriously, the film just stops on the verge of something)

As I wandered out of the film and on to the train home I couldn't help but wonder what an utterly pointless film it all was. Any points it was making about hypocrisy and faith, growing up, the cruelty of life and questing were obvious and old hat. I couldn't figure out where the glowing reviews from places like Variety were coming from. (Variety spoke of big pays offs and I saw none especially since I thought the film was largely flatlined.)

After I got on the train and I headed home I started to read the press notes. I then started to understand what the film was all about and what director Alice Rohrwacher was going for... and I had a flashback to White White World from Tribeca. For those who don't remember White White World was this two hour time suck that was perfectly awful until you read the press book which explained everything that was going on. I mean everything, the film vastly improved, until you realized that NONE of what was in the press notes was in the film.

Corpo Celeste is a better film but it's also the same; Its a great film if you read the press notes. If you don't its a pretty much pointless film because most of what the director was going for never left the page or her head and made it to the screen.

AT this point I could tell you whats in the press notes but I'm not. I know that may seem not fair, but to tell you is actually unfair. To tell you everything that the director should have shown you is wrong. Films must exist unto themselves. Yes, some films need you to bring something to them, experience, and understand of historic events, you have to bring life and experience with you to the theater not be handed six pages of notes on the way in. You should be able to walk into a film cold and know whats going on, you shouldn't need a cheat sheet to explain what the director and writer failed to do. If a film can't stand on it's own (sequels excluded) then something is really really wrong with it. Tell me the story on film. Make your points on film, if you can't do that get another profession.

Forgive me, this anger isn't completely directed at Alice Rohrwacher the director of Corpo Celeste, rather its at people writing the film up as a masterpiece, since I know they read the notes and had more information than was on the screen, which means the film isn't that good.

Truth be told on a technical level Rohrwacher has made a great looking film. It's a beautiful film, with great images. It also has one of the best performances in any film this year thanks to Yle Vianello as Marta. I should be singing the praises of a young actress who is hopefully going on to big things. Instead I'm stuck talking about a dull film, where cats are killed in order to make the audience wake up or sit up, and which only makes sense if you have the secret code key. That's not what filmmaking is all about.

(In all seriousness I would welcome comments from anyone who sees the film cold- no reading up on it- please tell me what you think of the film since I and the two other people I spoke to immediately following the screening were completely at a loss... And because a week since I saw the film all I remember is the damn dead cats.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NYFF 2011: Tahrir (2011)

A documentary on the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo back in January and February when the people seized control of the square in protest and fought to bring down the government.

This is an immediate, you are there document of what happened in the square over the course of the revolution. It's from the ground level, down amongst the people in the square. If you wanted to know what it was like this will give you a good idea...

...and it will probably bore you after a while. I know it bored me to the point that about an hour in I got up and walked out.

Forgive me, but while the film is an important document about what it was like in the square, it's very close to being little more than watching someone's home video of the events. Saying that maybe sacrilege but it's true. We watch lots of people singing and chanting and talking and fighting... But we get no context of what or when anything is happening. Yes we see the days pass, and yes there is the first title about it being 6 days into the revolution, but other than that we get nothing. Its people and events and that's it with no effort to clarify who anyone is.

Worse many of the events we see are only partial recordings of what was happening, as if the filmmakers came upon something already under way and then they stopped filming when they got dangerous.

My constant thought was what am I watching? Who are these people talking? Some of the people we see again and again but who are they? A name? a name would have been nice.

With a documentary such as this, a documentary where events are only a mere matter of months old and were heavily covered on various news outlets, there has to be more than just footage of the sort we might have seen on a CNN report or an Internet viral clip. There has to be a context; and there never is any just, more and more people.

As a record of what it was like this film will have some interest to future historians but I don't think this will stand any test of time.

I gleaned nothing new and for the first time (and hopefully the last time) at this years New York Film Festival I felt as though I wasted my time.

NYFF 2011: Woman With Red Hair (1979) (Nikkatsu Centennial)

This was the first film screened for the press at this years New York Film Festival. When it was over I heard one of the critics in attendance describe it as follows "If this ever appeared on one of those 1000 films you must see before you die lists, this one would be the last one to see." I kind of can't fault the sentiment. Actually the only way I would ever recommend this film is if one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 spin-offs picked it up.

In The Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films Thomas and Yuko Mihara Weisser give the film three and a half stars and say:

Regarded as one the very best Nikkatsu pink films and it's director Kumashiro's most accomplished movie.... This one was critically acclaimed for the camerawork and the intricate use of color, especially during the provocative rain sequences.

The write up then goes on to praise the acting of stars Junko Miyashita and Renji Ishibashi.

If this is the best, I'd hate to see the worst.

I can agree with the critical acclaim for acting and technical achievements but outside of that this film is dreadful. Even by pink* film standards, this film isn't very good.

A spoiler filled plot synopsis follows, so if you don't want to know skip it.

The film begins with two truck drivers raping the boss's virginal daughter. Three months later as the girl haunts the pair, they pick up a red haired woman at a road side noodle stand. They take her along and she ends up moving in with the older of the two. Its a very violent and sexually charged relationship where the woman lives for nothing but sex. The pair fall in love. In the meantime, and as a minor distraction between the main coupling, the boss's daughter, now expecting, is pursuing the other driver and they become a couple. Drama occurs when the woman drops a pair of panties on the head of the downstairs neighbor, a junkie who screams all night. The junkie then comes upstairs and breaks in and beats the red haired woman up before the junkie is carried off by her boyfriend. Later the woman's husband/boyfriend/ something shows up, beats her up and then leaves. As the younger man and the bosses daughter talk about leaving, he decides he wants to sleep with the red haired woman, so he talks his friend into letting him rape her. Eventually true love finds a way as the young couple run off and the older couple decided to just continue on as always, screwing morning, noon and night.

End spoilers.

This is 75 minutes of sex and often violent misogynistic behavior punctuated some of the loopiest dialog you'll ever hear. The sequence about buying cheap instant noodles is topped by a later sequence about how cheap the market is down the block and how the people in the area don't understand how good they have it... of course both sequences lead into sex. These sequences, as well as much of the rest of the dialog, resulted in loud audience laughter.

I'm not going to lie, the sex is interesting for a very short bit (in the non-violent non-rape sequences) but then it kind of becomes all the same and dull since most of sex in this film is the same monotonous twists and turns over and over again. For me the most interesting thing about the sex scenes were the shifting shadows and added censor blocks that were put in place to block out the pubic hair and other offending bits.

To me the violence against women was extremely unpleasant. The upbeat rockabilly music that opens, and plays through much of the film, didn't prepare me for the ugliness of the opening rape. The later smacks, punches, rape and verbal abuse just made me wonder who the hell is the audience for this film?

Between films I could hear several of the women attending the screening complaining loudly at how nasty and unpleasant the film was. They were shocked and horrified by the film. I say this not as a challenge, simply to warn you that if you don't like that sort of thing stay away.

Actually this a film I can't recommend. If I wasn't intent on reviewing all the films I see at the film festival I never would have written this film up. It simply wasn't worth the effort to even see.

Take a pass on this one. Yea it looks good, and yes it's well acted but the rest of it is really bad and not worth your time and effort.

(*Pink films are essentially softcore sex films. The studios in Japan used to crank them out at such a high rate that many studios didn't care what happened in them so long as there was sex every so many minutes. The result was a great learning ground for directors who could do their thing so long as they had the right amount of sex. This of course resulted in many films where the sex is secondary to the plot as the story just stops for sex before picking up again afterward.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

NYFF 2011: Dreileben Parts 1,2 and 3 (2011)

Much like last years Carlos or the previous years Red Riding Trilogy this is a three part television drama, this time from Germany. The films are running twice, October 1 in a six hour marathon (each 90 minute part has a half hour break between them) or the next week over one part a day over three days.

The answer to whether you should see the films is a complicated one. The short answer is that as seperate films two of the three films are absolutely worth seeing, however as one long film the film is disappointing (It doesn't hang together). I'm mixed as to whether to say it's worth the time to see the films in the theater or if you should wait.

Now That I've revealed my reservations at the start, I suggest you stick with me as I explain (and hopefully manage to keep the press pass) why I'm unsure as to whether I want to recommend this long haul in the movies.

I should also tell you THERE WILL BE SPOILERS so if you don't want to know stop now.

Dreileben is three kind of, sort of related films dealing with what happens in Dreileben when a murderer escapes from the police. Each film is nominally (ultimately barely) related to the other films through the escaped killer and a few cursory characters. The trouble is that each film bends the reality of the central escape story to such a degree that they all would have been better as individual films unconnected to each other.

Part 1: Beats Being Dead
The story is really a doomed romance between Johannes, a young hospital orderly studying to be a doctor and Ana a girl he meets. He has a relationship with the daughter of the chief doctor, but she is away at school. Late one night, after falling asleep by the side of the lake, he meets Ana after she is left stranded by her boyfriend. The pair soon are a couple but the return of the doctor's daughter complicates things.

Coloring this is the background search for Molosch, an escaped criminal. Molosch escaped when Johannes accidentally left a secret door open when he was trying to find a patient that had wandered off. Molosch remains mostly a background figure who only really appears at the end of the film.

The film unto itself is an okay pot boiler. Its the sort of film that Lifetime might buy to fill in a dead spot on it's TV schedule. Its not bad, but nothing you haven't seen before. Actually the only real twist is who Johannes runs off with, it's out of character but really necessary since without it you can't have the ending the first film in the series requires.

The real flaw in this film is the over playing the foreshadowing of doom. You know its going to end badly because of the way the movie is shot and because the completely wrong for a romance, but good for a slasher film, score won't let you forget it.(actually the ending has a couple of illogical jumps of character that Jason Vorhees or Freddy Kruger would love).

Ultimately it's an artificial little story that I really didn't much care for. Frankly, I called John, one of my partners here at Unseen Films, who was going to cover the film, to say that he was right to stay home because it was looking like I had wasted my day coming into to see the films.

Fortunately things improved.

Part 2: Don't Follow Me Around
This part is barely connected to the first film, thanks to the crossing paths of some characters, the central conceit of the escaped killer and the ultimate resolution of everything (Though it throws up a few twists that are never ever mentioned anywhere else in either of the other two films two films). To be perfectly honest had they not forced a connection to the first and third films, and they had just told the central story you'd have potentially one of the best films of the year, but as it stands now with the film's forced connections and several loose ends it sinks the film to the level of a very good drama (I should say that this part is the real reason to see the Dreileben Trilogy)

The film begins when Jo leaves her daughter in the care of her parents and goes to Dreileben to help try and capture the escaped killer. When a hotel reservation is messed up she is forced to stay with her friend Vera and her husband. During the course of the stay Jo and Vera realize that 15 years earlier, just before they had met, they had both been involved with the same man. The main thrust of the film is the dance that the two women and Vera's husband do when old feelings are reawakened....

...meanwhile Jo investigates the shooting of a police officer by another one who claims that he had turned into an animal...

...and in an after thought Jo discovers that Molosch, you remember Molosch (the escaped killer?), was having a pen pal relationship with a porn model,now dead, who has a semi-twin who just happens to be in the village for a carving contest.(Yes that's what happens, but it plays out a bit less stupid then it sounds.)

If you forget all of the police crap, which is easy to do, this is an excellent little drama. The characters are real, the emotions raw and you get the sense that someone behind the story knew of what they spoke. Frankly, I loved the drama and wish they had not had to connect it to anything else.

What is the escaped killer/police stuff doing here? It doesn't belong. It was clearly not wanted by the filmmakers who treat it in an off handed way. I mean there is a killer on the loose, but do we get that? No, we get police corruption. Why? Why not. As for the Molosch bits, mostly its just a figure that's suppose to be him running around, until we get a sudden flash that it's all over. Its a waste of time and it ruins the great story of two friends coming together and finding out about each other.

As I said this section could have and should have been one of the best films of the year but the need to connect it to the other films lessens it.

That said, it's definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Part 3: One Minute to Darkness
This is the story of Molosch from his escape in the hospital until we see what happens to Ana at the end of the first part. Other than those two events which are re-staged here, you can forget everything you learned about Molosch in the previous two films since pretty much none of it has any relationship to the events here.

The plot of the film has Molosch escaping through the secret door and pursued by the police. They are partly lead by a detective who is having inner ear problems. We get scenes of Molosch stealing food and trying to find shelter, along with the police stumbling around. We also have the detective becoming suspicious of what really happened when the girl Molosch was convicted of killing, died.

Shot through with mood, this film is, if you take it on it's own terms, pretty good. Two people I spoke with at the screening had only come in for this film and they liked it as the off kilter thriller it is. When they asked me what I thought I had to say I wasn't all that thrilled with it because it pretty much tosses out everything that went before leaving huge plot holes and loose ends. To be certain the film has tons of loose ends of its own, but they nothing compared to what you get with the films that preceded it.

As a conclusion to a trilogy, even a loosely connected one, this film is weak. As a film on it's own, its a film that is tense and creepy andworth seeing.

For me thats the problem you have three films that work on their own but not together. Seeing the films in one sitting makes it very clear that as good as the pieces are, they don't make a greater whole.

Why the hell did they bother to tie these films together? That's question that has haunted me since I saw the films last week.

What was the point? Yes, there are some connections and some repeated themes but mostly this is three separate and unique films that were ruined by being forcibly connected to each other. Had the films had not been connected you'd have a fair romance, an excellent drama and a very good police thriller. As it is you now have a just okay trilogy of films that collapses under the weight of the inconsistencies they throw up. Had they left it as three stories set in the same town you might have had three must see films instead of one wildly over long behemoth that is probably best seen curled up over a few slow days on your couch.

NYFF 2011: Patience (After Sebald) :Walking the Rings of Saturn

For a moment, forget the film. If you ever get a chance to listen to director Grant Gee talk about his films and the things he loves, do so. He is a truly amazing speaker who gives you tons of information in response to the simplest of questions leaving you wanting to know more. Listening to him speak after the press screening of his film Patience (After Sebald) I wanted to dive back in and watch it all over again. Since Gee is coming to the festival it behooves you to get a ticket for the single screening of Patience on October 2 and see the film and listen to the man speak. (I would go but I'm going to be seeing Miss Bala which screens at the same time)

Coming out of a project to create art that is tied to a sense of place, Patience is a mediation on the book The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald. The book is the story of a walk that Sebald took through the English countryside. Its a meandering tale that isn't so much about the walk but about life in the last half of the 20th century.

The film, a response to the book, is a recreation of the walk (taken in the early 1990's) mixed with passages from the book, discussion of the book and the ideas it kicks up (including a discussion of Peter Greeenaway's Drowning By Numbers and Andre Tarkovsky's Stalker, not to mention history, philosophy and many other things). It's a heady mix that had some people snoozing and others heading for the exit.

I drifted in and out. It wasn't until toward the end of the film that things began to come together and by the time the film ended in a Oh Wow moment I was hooked and wanted to see it again because I suddenly realized what I was seeing.

Garret Gee described the film as kind of like taking a walk while listening to a great pod cast and some good music, where you occasionally take off your head phones to just sort of look around. I think it's an apt description since it wasn't until I began to see the film as a trip of sorts that it clicked for me.

This is an under 90 minute rambling trip through the landscape that WG Sebald created in his book. Its also a trip to the places that he sent the various admirers of the books.

How does someone relate to a piece of art they love? This film investigates it.

It was said that director Garret Gee makes movies based on what he finds on his fanboy shelf, and it shows. This is a film that was made by someone who loves a book very deeply.

I should probably stress a couple of things.

First the film can be nap inducing. I drifted off a couple of times, people around me were nodding at times. On the other hand it's like a very long walk where you sometime drift off and get bored by what you are seeing. It doesn't matter because in the end it pulls it together (wonderfully). It seemed to me that even the people who were drifting came around in the end.

Secondly the film will not tell you everything you want and or need to know about the book or Sebald. Far from it. The film is at best a starting place for investigation about the book and about the author. The film is really more essay then documentary, much like the book, it's less a document about the walk, but rather commentary about other things.

Lastly this is a very special film you really should see. It's a film that will touch you and move you and make you think. Its a film that takes you some place and shows you somethings that look familiar but in the end are revealed to be different then you thought. Its a film as a trip, a film that is somehow more than a film.

Will you like it?

I don't know, but on the other hand its film that certainly isn't going to be your typical (insert type of film) film. Its one of the few films I've seen recently where I can honestly say, if you want something different and potentially wonderful see this film. I don't think you'll waste your time (More so if you see it at the festival with the director in attendance)

(What's it like? kind of, sort of like the Robinson films of Patrick Keiller but crossed with Peter Greenaway...but different)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NYFF 2011:Miyazaki,Chaplin, Tenenbaums, Kurasowa, Stone and Nikkatsu

Tomorrow Unseen Films begins coverage of the New York Film Festivl with two solid weeks of films from the Film Festival. All this week coming up will be a reviews we've seen at some of the press screenings (There are ten reviews Monday to Friday, two a day). The week after that will be a mixture of stuff from both press and public screenings.

However before all of that I'm going to give you a teaser of a few titles that are screening as special events. These are films that we've seen already because they are older titles and are available on home videoor we were lucky enough to see in theaters the first time around.

Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush is funny movie. A classic of screen comedy the New York Film Festival is running the film with a new orchestral score performed live. If you’ve never seen a film with live orchestra I urge you to go see the screening. There is something about a live orchestra playing with a movie that is really special. I’ve seen several films with a live score and it’s altered the way I’ve seen the films. For example I saw Fantasia 2000 with a live orchestra and the experience was so over whelming that I can’t really watch it with the recorded music. If you can spare the ducats and you have the time I suggest you go and give yourself a treat. (On the other hand if you don’t like the Gold Rush, don’t feel obligated to go. I know several people who don’t like the film.)

Speaking of films with a love hate reputation, Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums is screening in an anniversary event. The director and several members of the cast will be appearing with the film to do a panel discussion after the film. I’m really not a fan of the film. I’ve seen it several times at the insistence of friends who tell me that the film is better with each viewing. I find it the same bland experience each time. I’m mentioning the film because the fan base for it is incredibly loyal and the theater will probably be hopping.

Two other anniversary screenings taking place are the ones for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky. I recommend seeing both films on the big screen since they are visual delights that look even better HUGE.

Spirited Away tells the story of Sen who ends up crossing over into the spirit realm with her parents. When her parents eat spirit food they are transformed into pigs and Sen must navigate through the world and find a way to not only turn her parents back into humans but also get home. It’s a marvelous tale that is just great story telling. I prefer the English dub (supervised by Disney’s John Lassiter) to the original Japanese voice track, but anyway you can see it do so.

Castle in the Sky is another grand adventure about a magic crystal hunted by some not very bright air pirates and a floating island in the sky. Its marvelous and a really joy on the big screen. Though I have to be perfectly honest I prefer the French dub of the film which is on the DVD, which I find goes wonderfully with the films European feel. This is another one that you really should see on the big screen.

As you know Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States has been withdrawn from the Festival and replaced by Stone’s Salvador. This is the based on fact story of a journalist, played by James Woods, moving through and covering the events going on in El Salvador in the mid 1980's.

The film came out several months before the much heralded and Oscar winning Platoon and it’s gotten lost to some degree over time. For me, as for many others, Salvador is infinitely better than Platoon. For me it was a the point where I really sat up and took notice of Oliver Stone as a director. The film is gritty, raw, and wonderfully imperfect to the point it feels way more real than almost all of Stone’s later films. I think this is one of the best films that Oliver Stone ever made. I’ve seen the film many many times over the 25 years since it’s release, so as much as I would love to hear what Oliver Stone has to say, I’m taking a pass. On the other hand if you’ve never seen Salvador I highly recommend that you take the time and go see it, especially with the director on hand to discuss the film.

There are a bunch of films running in connection with the Nikkatsu Centennial that are definitely worth seeing. This week I’ll be talking about two films that were screened for the press, and next weekend I’ll be reviewing two films that can be found in the Criterion Eclipse box set of Nikkatsu Noir. However there are a few other films that are worth point out since they are worth seeing on the big screen.

The Burmese Harp is one of the greatest, most moving films you’re ever likely to see. It’s the story of a Japanese soldier and POW who is asked to try and convince some fellow soldiers hiding in a cave that the war is over. They refuse to accept what he has to say and insist on continuing the fight. When a bomb goes off everyone is believed killed. Our hero is not, and though left for dead, he tries to find his way back home. Along the way he becomes horrified that all of the dead bodies that are not being cared for and buried. He then takes it as his mission to bury all of the fallen. Despite a too formal beginning this film is one of the great humanist films ever made. Its been on the short list for review here at Unseen since it’s start, however I have been continually flummoxed when I try to write anything of any length on the film since it puts me somewhere past words. It's one of my most favorite films. Do yourself a favor and just see the film.

Tokyo Drifter is a slam bang action film that influenced dozens of films that followed. It’s a blast. I won’t say more since as it stand s now Mr C is planning on seeing and reviewing the film. Don’t wait for his words, just see it.

Charisma is a billed as a thriller when it's actually something else entirely. Credit director Kurosawa Kiyoshi for making a film about a detective and a tree (don't ask just go with it) that is engrossing and very different then you expect. It’s a good little that's worth seeing. I’m not going into more detail then that because there is a good chance one of us here at Unseen will be doing a full review either closer to the screening or soon afterward.

Cold Fish is Siono Sono’s serial killer tale that we reviewed back in February. It’s a mean and nasty story about a tropical fish salesman who meets and falls under the thrall of a bigger mover and shaker in the fish business. Unfortunately for our “hero”, his buddy also happens to be a serial killer. It’s a nasty little confection that is the last film in the Nikkatsu series and is worth seeing if you like serial killer films. (My only real complaint is I don’t know why its two and a half hours long even after a second viewing on DVD).

For now thats it. Time for bed. The festival coverage starts tomorrow and I have many movies to see. Keep reading because we'll be reporting all along the way.

The League of Frightened Men (1937)

Second Nero Wolfe film in the brief almost series. This time the lead is played by Walter Connolly, however Lionel Stander is still Archie.

This time out Nero Wolfe is contacted by well to do scientist. It appears that long ago back in his college days he was one of ten men who hazed a student by the name of Paul Chapin. The hazing went wrong and Chapin was left crippled. The ten friends took care of Chapin and made sure he finished college and got along. He eventually became a best selling crime author. Now, almost 20 years on it appears that Chapin is killing the men who hurt then helped him over the years. Two men have died and the scientist believes he'll be next. Wolfe refuses to take his case, but when the scientist goes missing he rounds up the remaining friends and offers to keep them safe for a price.

After a great first film this second film sputters and stammers about and it's easy to see why there wasn't a third film. Gone is Edward Arnold who made a wonderful Nero Wolfe, and instead we have the slightly effeminate Walter Connolly who doesn't have the same presence as Arnold. Things are toned down and more jokey. Lionel Standers Archie is more of a buffoon. He's the sort of person that the Arnold Wolfe would never have stood for. The writers at Columbia so altered the Wolfe character so that his love of beer is gone, replaced by hot chocolate (grrr). And as for his love of orchids, there are only two off handed references.

All is not lost since there are two very good reasons to see the film.

First despite some dumbing down of the mystery, the script does have a few really good twists in it. It also has some very witty dialog and snappy comebacks- a few of which I can't relate since they reveal too much of the plot.

Secondly the film has a perfectly cast Eduardo Ciannelli as the crippled suspect, Paul Chapin. Cianelli made a career out of playing over the top mad men. More times then not he made a bad role good through shear force of will.Here however he's given a character equal to his ability. Here is a well written guy with lots of edges and angles. He is clearly up to something, though what that is isn't revealed until the end. He gets to chew the scenery and spit great dialog which makes him so much fun to see. He's so good that he manages to even bring the ineffectual Walter Connolly up to his level during their series of confrontations.

Ultimately this is a good but flawed film. Worth keeping an eye out for it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Meet Nero Wolfe (1936)

Edward Arnold stars as the house bound large framed detective with a passion for beer and orchids.

The story starts when a college dean dies nominally of a heart attack after teeing off on a golf course. We quickly learn that a the death was no accident when a mysterious young man dies while clutching a newspaper story on the dean's death. Unfortunately for the killer the second dead man is the brother of a friend of Nero Wolfe who springs into action...well wanders into action as promises of money periodically appear on the horizon. Aiding Wolfe is his aide de camp Archie Goodwin, who as the film begins is attempting to leave Wolfe's employ so that he can get married.

Amusing 1930's mystery is a good time. No its not perfect, Arnold's Wolfe is often abrasive, and the marriage subplot quickly runs out of steam but the film is otherwise a really good way to spend 75 minutes.

First off you have two great performances from Arnold and Lionel Stander as Goodwin. Next you have an intriguing mystery that or the most part works, certainly it holds your attention as you try to find out who's doing what, especially with several red herrings. Lastly the dialog is crisp and witty. The exchanges are very pithy.and often very funny.

I really like this film and I regret that this never clicked enough to cause a series to appear, though it did spawn a sequel, though with out Arnold as Wolfe. (See tomorrows film)

Worth a look if you can manage to come across a copy. (Check with Brendan at R&B Enterprises)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Class of 1999 (1990)

Class of 1999 is one my ultimate guilty pleasure sci-fi movies. It is incredibly cheesy and so over the top, but I wouldn't have it any other way. After all that is just one of the many things that made 80's action films so great.

In 1982, Director Mark L. Lester released the now underground cult-classic Class of 1984. A nasty crime/thriller about gangs, drugs & violence in a high school environment. Lester followed that up with a few successful directing gigs. And eight years later after the release of Class of '84, it's very loosely based sequel was released. Again directed by Lester but comparing the two is almost unfair.

Class of 1999 takes place in Seattle, Washington where gangs have taken control of the city and it's schools. This is an area so bad that the cops do not dare enter. It makes Compton California look like Candyland. Unlike the first film, Class of 1999 is a full on science fiction/horror. It takes bits and parts from films like The Terminator and Robocop. Mix that with recognizable actors from the 70's, a heavy metal soundtrack and the result is pure b-movie gold.

Bradley Gregg plays Cody Culp, the badboy leader of The Blackhearts gang. After just being released from jail, Cody wants to leave his old life behind. However this does not sit well with the other members of his clique, as well as their rival gang The Razorheads. Back at Kennedy High School the new principal in town Dr. Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell) has taken on a new program to rid all gang violence from his school. Led by Dr. Robert Forrest (Stacy Keach) and his group of android teachers (one of which is Pam Grier) they have been instructed to teach and discipline all those who oppose. Now if you can't see where this plot is going then you need watch more movies. Unbeknownst to Langford, Dr. Forrest's program is severely flawed. The teachers soon become more violent and hostile towards the students, laying waste to them with no remorse. Once Cody's younger brother is disposed of, that gives him all the reason he needs to join back up with his old mates. And in the end, the two gangs must put all their differences aside to stop these evil droids once and for all.

There is not a single moment in this where it should be taken seriously. After all it is a film about cyborgs battling high school kids. If that sounds silly to you then give yourself a gold star because your absolutely right. The acting is hammy, the dialogue is hilarious at times, meanwhile there is plenty of shit being blown up on the screen. There's even a predictable 'boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy must rescue girl from killer robots' subplot thrown in. It's been reported that the original cut of the film was so violent that it was sent to the MPAA ten times before finally receiving an R rating. There was even a direct-to-video sequel years later entitled Class of 1999 II: The Substitute, but that one offers nothing of value.

So if you require a bit of the old ultra-violence in your choice of film, then seek this one out. Grab some popcorn, kick back and enjoy the ridiculousness happening in front of you. It's available on DVD courtesy of Lions Gate.

Spook Chasers (1957)

Another one of the Leo Gorcey-less Bowery Boys films that marked the final seven outings of the series. If it wasn't for Huntz Hall you'd never know this was a Bowery Boys film since other than his mugging it could have been from almost any other series.

Hanging out in Clancy's Cafe, the replacement for Louie's Sweet Shop, the boys help try to calm down Clancy when the doctor comes in because Clancy missed a follow up visit. The doctor advises a rest for Clancy's nerves, but Clancy balks since he realizes it will take all his savings to go away. A real estate agent and his secretary suggest buying a country home, and he does. In typical fashion it turns out to be a wreck of a place.

Deciding to fix the place up things begin to look up when Sach finds a stash of hidden money. Clancy is thrilled and he uses the money to pay off the house. Unfortunately the money belonged to a dead gangster and his cronies were looking for the place. In order to get it back they decide to stage a haunting.

Amusing film is actually quite good as these by the numbers films go. It hits all the jokes and all the right notes as it goes through almost every sort of fake haunting joke you can think of. On it's own terms it actually a fun little film.

If there is any real problem its Huntz Hall who's mugging gets out of control. It's understandable that Allied Artists would push him forward once Leo Gorcey left the series, but at the same time Gorcey kept Hall in line and allowed him someone to play off of. They were two characters and the earlier films could fold around them seamlessly. Alone Hall stands out like a sore thumb against all of the more real characters he was now surrounded by. While the film is good it's clear why the series days were numbered.

Worth seeing if you run across it (the film is in the Turner Classic rotation)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hold that Hypnotist (1957)

One of the final Bowery Boys films when the only one left was Sach.

When Louie died, he was played by Leo Gorcey's dad, the desire to keep making the films went out of Gorcey and some of the others. The studio however soldiered on with Huntz Hall and brought in a few others including a new character named Duke. The films are fine but really are not Bowery Boys films.

The plot has the boys land lady deciding to be regressed to a past life... Wanting to prove the guy a fraud the boys show up at a press conference with the doctor. A challenge is laid down to prove it all as real, however instead of Duke being put under, it's Sach who regresses back to the time of Blackbeard where he ends up with a map of the treasure. Everyone thinks its a joke until they find that what Sach says pans out. Its then a race to re-hypnotize Sach and then find the treasure.

This is a good film that is a little too slow even at an hour. It's an enjoyable time killer either way.The problem is that the film really isn't a Bowery Boys film even if we do get Sach. The boys were a different make up of characters and this, while good is something else entirely.

Still its worth a look if you run across it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Super Inframan (1975)


Due to the success of ULTRAMAN & KAMEN RIDER in Hong Kong, Shaw Brothers Studio came back with a HK phooey kaiju chop of their own, known as SUPER INFRAMAN! Literally translated from the chinese characters as Chinese Superman! I think the marketing folks wanted to name the movie as similiar to Ultraman as possible without stepping on the boundaries! This film is most certainly a fun filled mashup of colorful & evil monsters led by a pretty, but devilish lady princess with a one track mind to invade & destroy earth with the help of her radioactive goons! What stands in their ghoulish ways is a crazy scientist, his research team, & their nuclear bionic creation, a masked chinese heroine blessed with the extraordinary powers of kung fu, a thunder fist, laser beams, a fire bomb, & the ability to grow to an enormous size! For being a 1975 production, the special effects, costumes, and the Skeletor-He Man looking set design was pretty darn good in my opinion! The kung fu fighting was also first rate and flowed really well, thanks to the fighting choreography of the great Tang Chia! If you have ever seen a power ranger episode then you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect with this film! Super Inframan is eons better with a more twisted looking monster cast, crazy FX, cooler costumes, & more fighting! Some of these outrageous monster characters included the mutant drill, fire dragon, plant monster, the crabman that turns into a gi-normous version at will, and the skeletor mount devil soldiers! The evil princess & her henchwoman, the sexy witch eye had costumes that looked like Madonna might have copped’ for one of her world tours with her torpedo breasted inspired self! The chinese superman was played by none other than DANNY LEE! (The Oily Maniac, The Killer, The TeaHouse, Blood Brothers). Though, I’m pretty sure when the masked superman came on the screen, it wasn’t Danny Lee in the costume as I have never seen him kung fu fight like that before! Especially, when Super Inframan is doing backflips on the clouds and does butterfly kicks on the crabman! All would not be well on earth as the Professor and the Chinese Superman look for ways to save society from the mount devil demons! Some cool scenes (there are many) that stood out for me included the boat ride with the monsters & the professor to mount devil, the supersize fight scene, & the He Man like set melee between the mutant drill, skeleton soldiers, the research team, & Super Inframan!

As far as I know, there are two great options available on DVD for SUPER INFRAMAN. One is the hard to get copy of the IVL/Celestial-region 3 variety and the other more readily available, but still excellent quality which includes the english dubbed & subbed soundtracks distributed by Image Entertainment. There is a really neat DVD insert written by Damon Foster & August Ragone on the Image version that explains the background of the cast members, & the inspirations for the movie which will also explain the heavy assist from Japan and their most excellent cinematographer, TADASHI NISHIMOTO aka HO LAN SHAN! HLS was reported as having the most influence on Shaw Brother films and HK Cinema with his technical cine-bravado and ‘art’-look on film! A quote from Foster & Ragone on the IMAGE DVD insert states, "In the 60's, Nishimoto convinced the Shaw Brothers to convert their filmmaking processes to Cinema Scope (christened "Shawscope")." The writeup on the DVD also divulges that Danny Lee’s sidekick in the movie was played by the famed, brucesploitation actor, Huang Kin Lung AKA Bruce Le! No wonder the kicks were of the high flying & entertaining variety in the film! Another shocking revelation (for me at least) from the insert was that BASIL GOGOS (famous artist/illustrator of the "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine) did the international poster art for SUPER INFRAMAN! I've got to hit up BASIL GOGOS with a sketch at the CHILLER THEATRE CONVENTION this year! Whichever version of the film you get, you will not be disappointed with the radioactive crustaceans & powerplant monsters roaming about, waiting to get their scales handed to them by a kung fu demon kicking & backflipping, chinese superman!

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954)

I'm wondering if the producers of this film sued the Addams Family people since there are way too many similarities to be pure coincidence...

When Louie grows tired of having to replace the windows that are being broken by the kids playing baseball in the street, Slip decides to contact the Gravesend family which owns a nearby vacant lot. The family lives out on Long Island so Slip and Sach head out on a dark and stormy night to try and arrange a deal. Arriving at the house they find a family best described as a more homicidal Addams family. As the boys try to arrange a play field, the Gravesend family try to separate their heads from their bodies.

Creaky, but damn funny send up of the haunted house genre complete with vampire, killer ape, deranged robot, werewolf and man eating plant. It’s everything you come to expect from the genre but skewed with the typical Bowery Boys nonsense. For the first half of the film it’s just Sach and Slip running scared, but for the second things get amped up to great effect when Louie and two of the gang go to rescue the boys.

As you can tell by this week of films I’ve been once again watching the films for the first time in decades. The trip through the titles has been a mixed bag. It’s been nostalgic since I used to watch them (or the second half of them) when they were run on Sunday mornings in New York ages ago. They ran on channel 5 and were counter programming to channel 11’s running of the Abbott and Costello films. I tended to prefer the Abbott and Costello films, but I never really understood why. Watching the films now I do understand, they had better films than the Bowery Boys. This isn’t to say I hated the Bowery Boys, I didn’t, I just tended to like the better Bowery Boys films, such as this one.

This is a fun film. Its a good film even if you don’t know the Bowery Boys. Granted it does help if you know the haunted house tropes, but you really don’t. This is just a great low brow throw everything at you comedy.

Definitely worth searching out.

The films are currently in a weird limbo. Apparently they are in the processed of being restored so they are not available on home video except for old VHS tapes of some episodes or from collectors. Some are running on Turner Classics but I’m not sure if this film is one of them. I know this was, part of a syndicated package that ran a few years back and was hosted by John Byner, but I don't know the current status. My advice keep an eye out for it, its fun.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spy Chasers (1955)

This Bowery Boys adventure has the Royal Family of of Truania asking Louie Dombrowski for help in getting back on the throne. It seems Louie's brother is a General the resistance for the exiled Royal Family. Since Louie is involved Sach and Slip get involved as well.

Enjoyable but utterly mindless comedy survives purely on the good will the characters engender. If you've seen one Bowery Boys film you've seen most of them, all that's left really is the details. Here the details are kind of half way thought out which makes things kind of disposable.

Worth a look if you run across it but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947)

This week at Unseen we’re going to take a look at five of the Bowery Boys films.

The Bowery Boys were the final series of films that began with the film Dead End, where the smart ass street kids that populated the street scenes were spun off into their own series. The Dead End Kids split apart and some became the Little Tough Guys. They then reformed as the East Side Kids before they all became the Bowery Boys. The films went from drama, to a mix of drama and comedy to all comedy by the time they were the Bowery Boys.

Over the next five days we’re going to take a random selection of the films.

Sixth of forty eight Bowery Boys films is one of the better films in the series.

Slip’s girlfriend Alice won’t go out with him until he gets a job. Then Sach shows up in the Sweet Shop telling of how he was fired by his detective boss for actually solving a case. He tells Slip that he wasn’t paid for the work he did and the pair, with the gang in tow, go to call on Sach's old boss. The boss is nowhere to be found, so when a client arrives to ask him to look into a missing girl, Slip takes the job and soon the gang is fumbling their way through a complicated case.

This is an amusing film that doesn’t look or feel as cheap and worn as some of the later films in the series. There are tons of people filling out some sequences and the set decorations aren’t sparse. This may not sound like much but when you watch the films in the series out of order (as I’ve done) you realize just how anemic some of the later films really are.

The script here is also pretty good as well. It’s the work of writer director producer Cy Endfield, the man responsible for films such as Zulu and Hell Drivers. It has a reasonably mysterious mystery , good character arcs and some nice mangling of English by Slip.

Its these early films that make it clear why the series went to 48 films and why they are so fondly remembered by those who saw them when they were growing up, simply put when they were firing on all cylinders they were perfect escapist fare.

Currently in rotation on Turner Classic Movies, available on long out of print VHS tapes and supposedly due for DVD release when and if they manage to finish restoring the films.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

NYFF 2011: Sneak Peak: Intimidation (1960) Nikkatsu Centennial

Press screening have started for this years New York Film Festival. As part of the Nikkatsu Centennial they are screening four films for the press, though several others are on DVD if you look.(A hint check back really late next Sunday night).

One of the films screened was Intimidation which is a super little film noir. Running a brief and perfectly timed 64 minutes this film really holds your interest and moves like the wind.

The plot has a well loved and morally upright sub-bank manager moving to the main office after not only marrying the presidents daughter but also doing great things for the bank. Its all a front of course which comes crashing down when he is blackmailed with his misdeeds and forced to try and get 3 million yen in two days. What happens is the film.

Expertly done, except for a final fade out gesture that doesn't ring true, this is one of the most perfectly made noirs you'll see. It may not be the best ever made over all, but it does what it does nicely and gets off. I can't say more than that because the film is so well done that to say more will spoil the surprises.

This is one to see. If you can't manage to get to the film festival screening it was just released as part of the Eclipse Series 28: The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara box set from Criterion.

Yamato (2005)

Huge scale tale of the battleship Yamato and its crew. from 1942 to its sinking. Told in flashback as memories are provoked in a survivor by a woman, the daughter of another survivor, wanting to visit the final resting place on the 60th anniversary of its sinking. This is a story of youthful idealism tinged and changed by the course of war and a culture that celebrates death in battle as something glorious. It examines why men fight and what can we hope to get out of war.

This is a very good and moving film. For all of the clichés (is there a well worn plot device it doesn't have?) it does manage to touch the heart and the head. We really do care about the characters we see up on the screen, and what happens to them, death in a foolish adventure, moves us.

At the same time we get to see the waste that is war and was the Japanese war effort in the final days of World War Two. Its made clear that the fight to the end mentality leaves no room for tomorrow. Its best expressed in a simple scene on the bridge of the ship. One of the officers is asked to explain the difference between chivalry, the Western code of war, and Bushido, the Japanese code. Bushido, he says is preparing for a death with no reward, Chivalry is trying to live a noble life. Its a difference that all of the men can see but which very few ever get the chance to live by. Even the survivors, the old man essentially telling the story, is haunted by the fact that he lived and everyone else died.As the film asks plainly, if we all die, who's going to be around to take advantage of our sacrifices? Its a question that needs to be asked in this age of suicide bombers.

There is a great many other thematic threads running through this film that lift it out of the typical war movie pile.

The cast is top notch. They manage to take what is often a clichéd script and to infuse it with the power of reality. Modern sequences aside, you care for these people and you are moved by what happens to them. The tears that well up in the final modern scenes come from the fact that the cast of the war sections is so good that you carry over the emotion. I wish that the modern sequences had given the actors something to do other than simply push the story into action.

Technically the film is very impressive. The Yamato, is monster of a ship and its plain to see that great care was taken in recreating it. Its a beautiful movie to look at with the entire film having a wonderful sense of place and time. The two battle scenes are graphic in a way that I've never seen in a naval war film (if you don't like blood you may want to look elsewhere.) This is going to be something to rattle the windows with on DVD.

If the film has any real flaw thats its length. The film is about two and a half hours long and to be honest it probably could have been shorter. I was getting fidgety during some of it. Its not that its bad, its just that the film's pace allows you too much time to dwell on some of the by the numbers construction of the plot so you just want the film to get to the next bit (what another tearful goodbye?). It doesn't kill the film, it just makes it hard to truly get lost in the story.

If you like war films, or good movies this is one to keep an eye out for. Just be ready to do a little digging since I'm not sure if this is going to get a regular release outside of Asia.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Hell Night (1992)

By 1992, the endless sequels and holiday slashers that flooded the 80's were long gone. Audiences had grown tired of them and the boxes office numbers reciprocated that. Unfortunately for first time filmmaker Brian Owens, he did not get the memo.

Happy Hell Night is a film that arrived at the dock long after it's ship had sailed. It's the guy that arrives at the party with a Miami Vice Armani jacket but everyone else is wearing flannel listening to Pearl Jam. You get the point. And although it may seem like I'm about to trash the movie that couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is I LOVE IT. I first saw it late night on HBO in the early 90's and it was not released on DVD till 2004. Thank you Anchor Bay.

25 years ago a psychotic priest Zachary Malius murdered a group of youngsters at Winfield College and was locked away in a asylum for all eternity. Flashfoward to present day where a group of fraternity brothers from said college have the perfect plan for their newest pledges on their annual Hell Night (hence the title). They are going to get proof that Malius really exists and is not just some campfire story. Needless to say this turns out to be a huge mistake. Malius escapes from the asylum and what follows is 80 minutes of pure unadultarated fun.

There is no ground being broke here. Happy Hell Night is as cliched as it gets in certain areas. Non-interesting college kids who are only on screen to be killed off? Yep we have that. Actors who will become famous one day and will never acknowledge that they were in this film? Most definitely. Over the top violence, nudity & Ralphie's dad from A Christmas Story?!? Check, check & double check.

Oh but let's not forget the single greatest thing about the movie, Father Zachary MF'N Malius. Had this film been released just years earlier, Malius could have had multiple films under his belt. Forget Freddy Krueger, there could have been Zachary Malius yo-yo's & talking dolls. Maybe I'm getting carried away but this guy is seriously bad ass. Much like Krueger, he even has his own one liners after slaying off his victims. Did I also mention that he speaks in an E.T. like voice? Well it's more of an E.T. with a bad smoking habit sorta sound.

Not going to get into spoilers but the ending feels a bit unsatisfactory. Then again, it's not exactly the Citizen Cane of slasher films. It is, however, a good time and in my opinion one of the more underrated & unknown movies of it's sub-genre. Although similar in name, it bares no connection to the 1981 Linda Blair flick Hell Night.

And for whatever reason, Happy Hell Night was not the only killer priest movie released in '92. Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil follows the story of a priest hell bent on revenge. Ironically both films came from Canada..go figure.

Lorelei:Witch of the Pacific (2005)

I found out about this film when I stumbled across the trailer. It looked spectacular, and when I finally got to see it, found it was.

(I should probably state that this review has spoilers in it, more than I normally reveal)

The plot of this film changes a few things about the history of the Second World War. Just before the defeat of Germany they gave Japan a prototype submarine with an advanced underwater tracking system called Lorelei. The sub, when used, was known as "the witch" by the Americans because of the eerie singing that was heard after each attack. Just after the first atomic bomb is dropped on Japan the sub is put into the hands of a once renegade captain who refused to go along with the suicide missions that the country had begun to use. Desperate times called for desperate measures and he's pressed into service with a crew of so called misfits. Their job is to try and prevent a second bombing of Japan. Once out at sea it becomes clear that the Lorelei system is based on Nazi genetic experiments and has a human at its heart. Things become complicated when the second bomb is dropped on Japan and through a web of circumstances its believed a third one, aimed at Tokyo, maybe on the way.

This is a rousing submarine tale told from the Japanese point of view. I liked how its not about winning the war rather its about the nobility of surviving and working towards a future. The music is rousing and the action sequences are spectacular. This is a great film to just sit down and immerse yourself in.

As much as I liked it, its not perfect. The problems come in two forms.

First there is a heavy reliance on computer generated effects with many of the surface ship sequences, they look almost unfinished or like something from a computer game. If you accept them for what they are you're golden, if not you may end up driven up the wall.

The second problem is that this film is very convoluted when it comes to the plot. This was based on a novel and I kept feeling like I was missing some of the characters back story. On screen it worked because they knew their background, but in the audience I felt like something was missing. The film also suffers because one of the plot points, concerning one of the characters motivations for setting the story in motion isn't spelled out clearly until its almost in retrospect. Since we're not sure of why this was done, we, or rather I, became confused with what some of the other characters were doing. Its not fatal, but it does lead to several minutes of confusion.

I really like this movie a great deal. There is something wonderful about it that I can't put my finger on. I like that its trying to be a bit more than an action film, that it does have a point of view. I like that it draws you in, shakes up your expectations and makes you care about the characters. (and yea, you can sometimes predict whats going to happen, but so what? rarely can you guess everything, even if you get part of it right.)

I heartily recommend it. If you can take it for what it is, namely a flawed alternate history with uneven visual effects you'll enjoy it. If given the chance give it a try. I don't think you'll hate it, even if you don't love it.

8 out of 10 (purely out of frustration from the sense of missing something)