Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers - Producer's Cut (1995)

The fall of 1995 saw the newest tale of everyone's favorite William Shatner masked killer, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The first in the franchise to not officially have the number sequel attached to it. I remember going into the film my expectations were already low, but man this was beyond bad. So many questions were left to answer from the previous Halloween film. Who was the Man in Black? What is the deal with the Thorn Tattoo? What happened to Michael's niece Jamie? While some of these were addressed the Theatrical Cut of Halloween 6 is filled with so many ludicrous plot holes & twists, there is no way to comprehend what is happening. So what exactly went wrong?

The story has it that after several poor test screenings of the original work print, Director Joe Chappelle wanted to add new features to the film. Such things included a different ending, more graphic death scenes and flashy editing. Writer Daniel Farrands agreed that the film needed more but thought along the lines of adding more suspense to make it feel like the first Halloween film. Well Chappelle got his wish and the ending result on screen was a jumbled mess of incoherentness.

Which brings us to the original print, the long sought-after Producer's Cut. A favorite among bootleggers, convention goers and fan boys everywhere. Gone is all of the MTV-style editing that ran so prominent through the entire Theatrical Cut. The musical score of the film is entirely different. The ongoing character of Jamie Lloyd (Played by J.C. Brandy in this installment) was actually given some depth in the Producer's Cut. Her character is used to push the story along, as opposed to being killed off in the opening of the Theatrical. The same can be said about the great Donald Pleasence's character Dr. Loomis. The only actor to appear in every Halloween film to that point (excluding Pt. 3), Dr. Loomis had a much bigger and more important role here. Including the original prologue to the film. Unfortunately due to the untimely passing of Pleasence in February of '95, production had already rushed back into re-filming. Many of Pleasence's scenes were either left on the cutting room floor or rewritten. The new intro for the film came from another regular series character Tommy Doyle (Played by Paul Rudd).

To say that the story in the Producer's Cut runs smoother would be understatement. It's almost unfair at how much better this version is. This is not exclusive to but most notably in the final act of the film.

In the Theatrical, The Man in Black reveals himself to be Dr. Wynn from the first Halloween film. Alas he is the leader of a group known as the 'Cult of Thorn'. They watch over Michael and are able to control him. After a showdown with Tommy and Dr. Loomis, The cult and Michael take Kara & Danny Strode (relatives of Laurie Strode - Jamie Lee Curtis) and young baby Steven to an abandoned sanitarium. Steven is the son of Jamie and though it is never made clear, it is implied that Michael is the father of the child. To add insult to injury it turns out that the Cult of Thorn were just a bunch of wacky doctors. Thus throwing out anything supernatural about them implied earlier in the film. Back at the sanitarium, there are random shots of fetuses in jars and other experimental things that you would never expect to see in a Halloween film. This just adds to the entire 'WTF' factor of the Theatrical Cut. Michael ends up slaughtering the entire group of minions, though Dr. Wynn's fate is never revealed. Tommy & Dr. Loomis are of course there to save the others from peril, and it is Tommy who end's Michael's reign of terror by bludgeoning him to death with a a lead pipe. Everyone escapes from the sanitarium except for Loomis who goes back inside, only to find that Michael's body is gone. Roll credits.

In the Producer's Cut, the supernatural theme of the film stays in tact throughout. After the reveal of Wynn as the Man in Black to Dr. Loomis, Wynn tell him that he is going to pass his duties onto him. Loomis's character is knocked unconscious and dragged off screen. Unlike the other version, the Cult of Thorn are indeed that..a cult. They have cloaks and everything because apparently that's a requirement if your going to be in one. The cult wants to turn Danny Strode into an unstoppable killer just like Michael and to do this they must perform a human sacrifice on Kara. Tommy shows up to save everyone and hold's Wynn at knife point. This is after the official reveal that Michael is the father of young Steven. While Tommy and the others rush to get out of the building, Michael leads the chase behind them. Now why none of this was used in the final cut is a mystery to all. To stop Michael, Tommy lays down some magic runes in a circle that sedate Michael dead in his tracks. There is no beating anyone with a pipe, Michael's lifeless body is left standing in the middle of the circle. Everyone except for Dr. Loomis escape and drive off into the night. Before Loomis heads back inside to see Michael one last time, there is a short scene where Wynn comes across Michael standing admist the runes. Back inside the sanitarium as Loomis approaches Michael's body, which is now laying on the ground, he takes off his mask to reveal it's Dr. Wynn. Wynn grabs Loomis's hand, exchanges some hocus pocus sorta spell, and with that he has passed on his duties as Michael's caretaker. Loomis looks on in horror, as Michael slowly walks away in a black trench coat.

Now I can't say that I'm a fan of the whole magic-thorn-ancient curse plot. But at least the Producer's Cut finishes what was already started. Besides who throws out a film's plot three quarters of a way through. It felt as though the ones responsible for all the changes made in the Theatrical Cut thought no one would notice such things, if they just include more killing and gore.

There has been news and rumors over the years about an official DVD release of the Producer's Cut, but that still has yet to happen. So for now it remains a hot commodity, a staple for anyone that wishes to see what Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was intended to be.

Snow White (Childhood FIlms version) (1955 originally- dubbed US release 1965)

German version of the fairy tale was dubbed into English and released to theaters by Childhood Films a decade later. This was one of a seemingly endless series of Fairy Tale films released for the kiddie matinee crowd in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

This version of Snow White is actually pretty good. Sure the sets are cheap, but the story telling isn't bad and aside from a few hiccups it's actually something I might show my niece.

The plot of the film starts before Snow White is born. Her mother is waiting for arrival. She then pricks her finger so the blood falls on the snow. See it she decides that she'd like a child with hair black like the night, lips red like blood and skin white like the snow. She dies in child birth and the baby, Snow White, is left to be raised by a new Queen who keeps her locked up because of her beauty. When the mirror tells the Queen that Snow White will become more beautiful then her she send the Huntsman out with Snow White with orders to kill her. The Huntsman tells her to flee.

I know I'm just recounting the story as we all know it, but as things go, there are differences such as the Queen trying several times to kill Snow White and failing.(There's a belt and a hair pin before the apple).

I like this version of the story. Its' not the same one we know from Disney, rather it's it's own beast with some nice dark turns.

Of course the film isn't perfect. There are problems, like some cheap sets, Dwarfs that are a mix of kids and little people and some costumes that are over the top.

Mostly if you forgive it's flaws this is an enjoyable 75 minutes or so.

Available in some bargain bins for a couple of bucks.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The next Korean movie night movie is MOSS definitely worth checking out!

I’m not sure if this Monday’s (moved from the usual Tuesday slot to coincide with Halloween!) screening of Korean film, Moss, is considered part of the Korean Cultural Service’s Hidden Gems series, or if it is a one off special in honor of the haunted holiday. It certainly fits the description of the former – a hit movie in its native Korea helmed by blockbuster making director Kang-woo Suk (Public Enemy) with a famous cast, yet slipping way under the radar in this part of the globe. And actually it has little to do with the ghost story and slasher genres typically associated with the season. What you’ll get, though, is a far better movie than any of those genres usually offers. This is one that both DB and I each reacted to individually with ecstatic approval – no long conversations necessary. Here then is my review of the next free Korean movie screening at Tribeca Cinemas: Moss!

What happens when attempts are made to subvert genuine spiritual faithfulness to serve the will of officially sanctioned but corrupt police authority? This question is posed and its answer explored Kang-woo Suk’s satisfying suspense thriller, Moss. It is a surprising film that hearkens back to a time when elaborate but highly entertaining character driven cinematic brain teasers were in their heyday. I was reminded of the experience of seeing films like The Usual Suspects and Seven for the first time. That there will be a twist ending is a given. It’s the amusement of trying to figure out what it will be that drives you to watch on.

The narrative starts out in a sleepy rural town some 30 years in the past, where the local church is having trouble maintaining followers due to a new spiritual leader in town. Yu Mok-Hyeon, The stoic new face in town, makes the former’s doom and gloom seem passé in the face of true joyful devoutness. There must be something amiss. Hands must be forced. At least that’s the rationalization of the first town priest and local law enforcement Cheon Yong-Deok for setting in motion a plan to incarcerate and otherwise cut down this new man of the cloth.

Despite Yong-Deok‘s worst intentions, he just can’t seem to get the job done. Those he enlists to do his dirty work return convinced that Ryu Mok-Hyeon’s path has the mark of a higher authority. The frustrated lawman gives up on his ill intentions and instead sets upon a new path. One that will unite earthly and heavenly authority in the noble cause of saving the souls of those who most need to be saved. At least that’s how it seems…

We jump ahead to the present where Ryu Hae-Kuk, the son of the mysterious priest, arrives at the somewhat less sleepy town to deal with news of his father’s death. After a terse ceremony, he decides that he wants to investigate the cloudy circumstances of his estranged parent’s death. The local townspeople, along with a remarkably and somewhat humorously aged Yong-Deok, just want him to go home. What ensues is an intriguing chess game with greed and power being the opposing forces to a will to uncover the truth.

As the game stretches on, flashbacks to the years in between the first scene and the present shed some light on the backgrounds of some of the village’s shady inhabitants, at least those closest to Yong-Deok, and events that transpired between him and Hae-Kuk’s father. These unhurried scenes are surely the cause of the film’s unusually long running time, but they add much appreciated depth to the story. They serve to show that the road to calm and serenity could be paved with devastating acts. Hae-Kuk‘s pursuit of justice also reveals that these roads are marked with secret passages, hidden basement stashes, and other sinister set pieces that put viewers in an adventurous frame of mind.

Action sequences are used sparingly, but when they occur, they are executed with the just the right amount of explicit detail to chill one’s blood. Painful incisions, scorching fires, and dizzying cliff side chases sharply punctuate the story’s otherwise pleasantly rolling pace.

Performances are amazing. Jung Jae-Young is brilliantly cold blooded and calculating as the village leader in both his younger and elderly incarnations, making a perfect counterbalance to Park Hae-il‘s (The Host) hotheaded Hae-Huk. Hardworking character actor Yu Hae-jin (who should be familiar to fans of the films of Ryu Seung Wan) also makes a welcome appearance as possibly the closest yet most bungling member of Yong-Deok‘s entourage. His exaggerated mannerisms and verbal expressions never fail to bring a scene to life.

The film’s one fault may be the execution of its conclusion, which after a comfortable, lazy pace, seems a bit rushed, forced even. The pieces come together in a way that makes sense, but it’s mostly dialogue driven. I wonder if things could have been resolved in a more powerful way. I’m somewhat torn over Yu Jun-Sang‘s role as a somewhat corrupt district attorney. He no doubt skillfully plays the part. It is the character itself, who goes through changes that may be necessary to bringing about the story’s resolution, which strikes me as something of a compromise. But, perhaps I am unfairly comparing the character to the entirely irredeemable public prosecutor portrayed by Ryu Seung-Beum in The Unjust.

Besides being a pleasingly riveting suspense film that will keep your eyes and mind in motion, Moss is admirable for dealing with several prominent themes in Korean cinema. In addition to questions over the nature of true religious legitimacy, Moss deals with the pitfalls of corruption and the divide between small town and cosmopolitan identity (Hae-Huk’s residence in Seoul is pointedly brought up several times by the village’s inhabitants. This is all done without ever bogging down the story. And yes you have to stay through to the last scene to appreciate all of its twists.

I strongly urge you to duck out of this season’s unusually early onset of cold and away from the throngs of costumed revelers in this year’s Halloween parade to see Moss at Tribeca Cinemas this Monday at 7:00 PM… for FREE!. Tickets are first come first serve. It’s a rare chance to see this crowd pleasing potboiler as it should be seen: on a large screen with a large group of people. And yes, Tribeca Cinemas does have popcorn.

Puss in Boots (Childhood Productions) (Original Release 1955.US dubbed version 1967)

Though much better than yesterdays surreal version of the classic story, this version has it's own problems.

This version of the story has the three sons of a deceased miller dividing the estate,. Each gets 10 golden crowns. The oldest son, gets the mill, the middle one gets a donkey and the youngest gets a cat.

The cat can talk and he helps the youngest son make his fortune and win the hand of a princess, while the older son catches wind of the ploy and tries to take advantage for himself. There is also an evil wizard called Neversober.

Running an hour this is a breezy version that I remember seeing on TV as a kid. It's poverty stricken film that actually isn't bad even if the dubbing is beyond bad. Had this version been longer and not looked so cheap the film might have become a kids classic instead of an oddly timed curio...

...on the other hand the cat suit is really scary. There is something freakish about it that might put off kids in the audience from the get go if it doesn't cause out right nightmares. Freddy Krueger has nothing on this cat.

It's too short to really search out (unless you can find it for a buck) but its something you might want to inflict on your children or at the very least your movie riffing friends.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Scary Movies in New York

On Thursday, FilmLinc’s deFRIGHTful Scary Movies series kicked off its fifth compressed celebration of horror films in the days leading up to Halloween. It is chock full of viewing pleasures for fans of international, new, and classic films in the genre. Things began with little fanfare as no guests were there to introduce or discuss the films. The remaining days of the event promise appearances by directors of both brand new and old films on the schedule.

Thursday’s double feature involved two films that had very little connection between them, save the fact that both of them included disclaimers that no animals were harmed in the production of the films – a claim probably met with skepticism after the gruesomeness depicted onscreen. Here is a look at each.


This Korean film, which was released earlier this year, is a fairly by the numbers haunter involving a restless spirit. Except here, the terror transpires through the conduit of a charming but temperamental kitty cat. The right, or seemingly deserving, people meet untimely ends that are sometimes rather grisly, while the main protagonist must suffer by her being surrounded by these numerous deaths, not to mention the typical horrifying visions of a malformed and permanently scowling child.

Eventually a connection between feline and forlorn ghoul is discovered, adding a sort of logic, albeit a shaky one, to the preceding chain of events.
Part of the problem that makes The Cat wear on a bit past its welcome is that the happenings leading up to the reveal have been seen so many times before, when Asian supernatural thrillers were in their heyday. How many times can a gaunt and shaggy haired being’s appearance -- under the bed, through the keyhole, or what have you – succeed in scaring when it is just going to disappear ‘til later?

In the film’s defense there is a social conscience and a connection to contemporary real life issues, a feature that many Korean films regardless of genre possess. The main character deals with the psychological disorder of claustrophobia, which seems connected to the experience of some kind of past familial abuse. There is also a look at how human greed can have awful effects on the natural world around us. In this case, concern over the market value of a property leads to the large scale decimation of a community of cats. The imagery of so many damaged cats is unsettling, and had this card been played earlier in the film it might’ve had a more chilling effect.

Add to this the performance of Dong-wook Kim in the lead role of So-yeun, who is truly beautiful when terrified, and could not possibly do a better job expressing wide-eyed fright. Plus a scene or two that could rattle all but nerves of steel and the most adorable ending one is likely to find in the history of horror films. This may provide you with a mostly predictable but occasionally novel and mildly scary movie experience in the spirit of the season.


England’s Kill List is an altogether different kind of animal. I don’t just mean that amongst the evening Scary Movies films; this stands apart from any film I’ve seen in recent years. A mean-spirited sharp edged spring trap of a movie, it is sure to divide viewers into devoted fans and scornful critics. In fact, I think its recent run of festival and preview screenings may have already done so. Filmlinc’s Gavin Smith introduced the film, explaining that its inclusion as a horror movie in this year’s lineup was debated in house, and it’s easy to see why. The movie starts off as a drama, with lengthy heated exchanges between ex-soldier, Jay, and his wife. These occur in un-listener friendly colloquial dialect, and center around Jay’s lack of work after what can be inferred to be traumatic experiences in combat. A dinner engagement, low on snappy dialogue and filled with realistic tension, which takes place with one of Jay’s former military colleagues, introduces a dubious solution to the lack of income: the titular Kill List, which will give the two veterans a change to apply their violent trade as professional assassins for a large sum of money.

The story then shifts into a Gonzo-esque road trip. Except, instead of following the exploits of drug fueled truth seekers, we ride along with two tightly wound killers. Their trip takes them, and in effect us, face to face with the nastiest elements of society’s underbelly in seemingly sterile places. As Jay becomes further and further unraveled, he learns there is more to himself than he’d realized. The perspective of the film, while not quite first person, does a damn fine job making the viewer experience and internalize his confusion, shock, and outrage.

The last of these “jobs” involves a cult whose members don fiercely naturalistic masks made of roughly assembled wood pieces – shades of The Wickerman, but involving the upper crust of society as depicted in Eyes Wide Shut. Here are some of the most tense and panic-inducing sequences of the film, as the cult members’ shrill screams are added to the din of an already frantic experimental score and short punching gun shots. These are the sounds that accompany a chase, which winds through a growingly twisting and claustrophobia inducing underground passageway.
The end of the film reveals sinister connections between seemingly disparate elements of the story. Their ties are murky and left open to some amount of interpretation. It is apparent, though, that Kill List is less a story and more of a thoughtfully constructed contraption conceived of by director Ben Wheatley, and its conclusion is nothing short of a mule kick to one’s brain. By this point, many viewers will have probably checked out, saving themselves from the impact of the blow. For those willing to take the plunge and invest themselves in Wheatley’s vision, it will be upsetting.
Many of the sequences along the way are graphically rendered. There are times I resisted the urge to look away, but Kill List pulls no punches, giving brutal reinforcement to the adage that once you watch something, you cannot UNsee it. If you are looking for unsettling film experiences, look forward to this one, as word on the street suggests a February US release.

Scary Movies 5 continues through October 31st with many highlights in its unique line up. For more information check out the Scary Movies website.

Puss in Boots (1961 in it's original version. 1964 in English dubbed version)

It's almost Halloween. Last year at this time we at Unseen Films did a series of films so bad that they should have remained unseen. We called the series Halloween Horrors.

This year we're going in another direction. This year we're taking a look at a bunch of children's films that are sure to bend the mind. Most of these films are originally from Mexico and were badly dubbed into English by K Gordon Murray who turned them loose on an unsuspecting world. The films were shown into the early 1980's at special kiddie matinees where they warped the minds of generations of kids. (I've heard someone say,half jokingly, that the reason the world is the way it is today is because so many kids were damaged by exposure to these films. I have no idea if it's true, but having grown up seeing these on TV I can say that can be more terrifying than Leatherface with a chainsaw, but for entirely different reasons.

I'm bookending the week with weekends where we look at two versions of the same classic tale. This weekend we're looking at Puss in Poots and next weekend we'll look at Hansel and Gretal. In between we'll be warming your mind with some of the most bizarre children's films in the world, literally.

I have no idea what you'll make of the series, but I should warn you that all of the films reviewed will be in story book color.

K Gordon Murray's dubbed version of the film El gato con botas directed by Roberto Rodriguez is a head scratcher. It's a weird collection of strangeness with saraceens,vikings, ogres and assorted strangely costumed people wandering around. It kind of works as a version of the classic story, then again it's often so bizarre and so out there, with one of the worst dubbing jobs you'll ever see that the film is laughably awful just because if technical issues.

The film begins with Randy the shepherd singing as he walks through the woods. Sometimes this involves moving his lips and some times it involves vantrilquism since often his lips never move.

Randy lives in kingdom which is meanced by an ogre and his son. The ogre can change things into other things and he has an army of bad guys, some dressed as sarceen warriors and others as vikings.

Randy meets the princess in the woods as her father and group are bringing another bribe to the ogre. The ogre doesn't like the bribe and instead wants to king to have his daughter marry his son. Never mind they are both about ten, thats what he wants.

Randy lives with his dad and two older brothers. The brothers are bad guys who smoke, gamble and drink while abusing Randy and their dad. When Randy fails to come home during a storm dad goes to find him but has a tree crush him.

Meanwhile Randy runs into Mother TIme who lives in a candy cave. She gives Randy a tiny hat, cape and boots with which to beat the orgre.

When Randy arrives home he finds that his father is dying, however before he can say what randygets as his inheritence they brothers kill him. they then turn Randy out with only the family cat.

As Randy bemoans the loss of everythngthe cat talks and randy nonplussed puts the boots, hat and cape on the cat, who changes from a real cat into a dwarf in a weird cat suit. He then dubs Randy the Marquis of Calaba (I think thats it) and they go off to save the kingdom, win the rincess and get some fish. Along the way they end up with a weird chicken (another dwarf in a suit.)

Strange doesn't begin to describe it. It's just beyond imagining, with several truly awful songs spaced randomly through the whole affair. Who needs drugs?

I can't see the audience this was marketed to in the US actually liking it.I kind of imagine them being bored or frightened since the chicken and cat suits are rather scary (though not as scary as some of the other suits we'll see laterin the week.)

It's mind blowing.

The real mind blowing part is the fact that this film kind of actually works if you're very forgiving. I mean if you can forgive the bad suits and under the bottom of the barrel dubbing the film kind of works as a telling of the story.

Then again when I saw it after a bad day at the office and anything that wasn't work related probably would have looked good.

For those in the mood for a real mind bending experience I recommend trying to see this.

(One thing I never noticed before is how little our hero does and how much the cat does for him.actually the kid does nothing and the cat does it all.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hand of the Devil (aka La Main du Diable) (1943)

This is a quietly creepy tale was produced during the Vichy government in France for a German film company. It's the sort of thing you DON'T want to watch late at night with the lights off because this sucker creeps up on you and smacks you upside the head.

The plot has a a strange man carrying only a small box showing up at an inn in the country. he is behaving strangely, more so when the police appear saying they were chasing a small man with a large trunk. He will not let anyone touch his box, however through a rouse he is called to the phone and the lights go out the box goes missing. Unable to find the box and uncertain what to do he relates his sad tale...which involves the devil...

At first you think you won't get scared. You may not even be certain you'll like the film...but then you're hooked and then things get weird and by that time the chills are moving up and down your back.

Not a film of startling scare rather a film of slow building terror this is a slowly building tale that sneaks up on you....

Its a wonderful little film that I never heard of until I ran across it in the German War Film catalog. What a great find. It scared the crap out of me and had me up watching a comedy film before I could go to bed.

Yes, it's similar to the Monkey's Paw, but at the same time the changes in the plot, the great cast, script and photography sell this to the point that you won't care.

Definitely one to search out.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

Orphan Prussian girl is placed into a an all girl's school by her aunt,struggles to get along with the other girls and to come to terms with her feelings for one of her teachers.

Landmark film is one of the first films to deal with homosexuality openly and in some ways matter of factly (the bonds between some of the girls is clearly romantic and it just sort of is there). The story goes that the German government tried to destroy all copies of the film but failed. According to IMDB the film was banned in the US until Eleanor Roosevelt saw it and had the ban ended. (The film is based on a novel which in turn was based on actual events in the authors life)

I found the film to be good but a bit soapy with some of the pieces a bit too over done, the head mistress is a bit too stern, some of the girlish behavior is a bit too much. It is a good story well told and taken on it's own terms without the mentioning the lesbianism it's a solid little tale. The performances are quite good and on target.

Do I like the film? I do. I think it's a fine little film on it's own terms. However I think that were the film not controversial I wouldn't be taking the time to write the film up since odds are I never would have heard of it.

Since the sexuality is there (one of the first things said to our heroine is an admonishment not to fall in love and the film is full of burning stares) one has to mention it. By today's standards the looks, the stares and the chaste kisses are nothing special. The film is little more than a student in love with a teacher story, except that everyone is a young woman. One has to applaud the the utter matter of factness of it all. Yes it's key to the plot but at the same time it's just taken as a fact of life. I know that had I been gay or lesbian this film would have meant a great deal to me because it makes it clear that this is a part of life.

Worth seeing if you run across it.

The version I saw is a copy of a Janus Films print of some age since the subtitles were white and from the print itself. The print also ran 86 minutes which is about 9 minutes shorter than the complete running time.I don't know if that's from wear of the source print or if that the film was trimmed by someone's hand.

Family Films at Lincoln Center between now and Christmas

This weekend and through early December Lincoln Center is screening some classic family films.

The Witches
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Fabulous Mr Fox
James and the Giant Peach

This is fantastic stuff here and if you've never seen any of them on the big screen you ought to....and leave the kids at home and just go see them yourself...they probably won't appreciate what wonderous things they are.

Details can be found here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SOS EIseberg (1933)

One of the last German US co-productions is a film that apparently is very different in the US and German Versions. I saw the German version and can only hope that the American version is better and more coherent than the German one.

The plot of the film has a a rescue mission consisting of three men, a dog and a dog sled going to Greenland to rescue an explorer who had been lost years before. After finding his diary they send back word that they believe he's alive which prompts his wife, Leni Riefenstahl to fly in and promptly crash her plane. Somewhere along the way some one else flies in and crashes.

With little dialog after a certain point the film is mostly scenes of men and awoman wandering on ice flows, looking stoic as polar bears wander, ice sheets crash and people try to survive. The survival thing makes me curious since much of it seems to involve leaping into frozen water and swimming from ice flow to ice flow. I'm also curious how three men were hoping to survive with just a single dog and dog sled. I'll not go into how arieal acrobatics is the best way to search for someone...If you did anything the characters did in this film you'd be dead in minutes.

To be honest much of this film makes me curious because it makes no sense whats so ever, more so because there is a credit about there being research done. Who did the research Shecky the backward soap dish? And sense of reality of anything other than the images of man in the wilderness isn't there.

One of the films done in the German genre of mountain film where men and women pitted themselves against nature. I only saw one of the films years ago but it didn't impress me much. This one impressed me even less on any level other than the visual. Honestly it it's stunning to look at.

I have the film in the edition put out by German War films, which had no English subtitles, but there is a special edition from Kino that has this version with subtitles along with the American one. Why would anyone think it was worth the effort? Okay yes it looks great but outside of this this film is laugher.

Why am I taking the effort to write up the film? because it's visuals are amazing. There are just some incredible vistas and eye popping images that are worth your time. Get it from Blockbuster or Netflicks, but don't buy it. If you can watch this with friends who can appreciate the beauty while picking on the story all the better.

This is a major head scratcher.

Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns The World? (1932)

Bertolt Brecht's film about the state of Germany and else where at the height of the depression and just before Hitler took power..

Beginning with a young man coming home after being unable to find work. He is abused by his parents who feel he hadn't done enough. He then leaps to his death from one of the windows. As the daughter searches for work the family is evicted and they end up in a tent camp,Kuhle Wampe, where she has a friend who sleeps with her. Complications radiate outward and she eventually moves back to Berlin and joins the youth movement.

Very intellectual in it's construction it is also extremely emotional in effect. We feel for these people.We feel their loss and their hope. We see the world they live in and understand it...

The film itself is an amazing piece of artistry. The film blends a variety techniques and styles to produce just the right effect. There is a marvelous blending of words and music in a variety of montages such as the best years of a young man's life one.

If the film has any real flaw it's that the films drifting into political territory in the last half hour over powers the human story at times. I understand the politics that inspired the film but at the same time it makes the film less likely to force it's audience into action.

Ultimately I do like the film, with my feelings for strongest before the film turns very political to the point I'm disappointed that the human story never comes to even a satisfactory conclusion. Its not fatal, it just makes what was going to be one of my finds of the year into something much more mundane---though very much worth checking out.

Very much worth seeing. Currently out on DVD. I got my copy from German War Films, though the film is available for viewing on a link at IMDB.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Golgotha (1935)

French epic retelling the final week of the life of Jesus from what we now call Palm Sunday onward.

The film is not what you expect when you think of a life of Christ. The film is largely focused on the events transpiring around him. What were the moves that put Christ on the cross? What was the Romans part in all of this? How did the disciples react? We often see pieces of events but not everything from start to finish.

Rarely has a life of Christ felt both so real and so fake (there is an over abundance of rear screen projections at at times). Many of the crowd scenes feel like real people milling about and not staged masses.Look at how life goes on in the temple as Christ goes in, and speaks and over turns the tables and you see people in the background just going on with life and sort of eyeing Jesus and the ruckus he is making out of the corner of their eyes.

The film is intriguing in that Jesus, when he is shown, is more than a scripture spouting figure, which is more or less what he more or less was until the 1970's. Think about it you either got him in the distance or shadow and he rarely spoke and if he did in something like the remake of King of Kings or The Greatest Story Ever Told he was stiff. Here there is a reverence and a bit of other worldliness but at the same time there is emotion and feeling.

Many of the events are viewed from outside. The bit where Jesus offers up his body and his blood is seen from outside the room as Judas pauses to leave on his "traitorous" mission. Actually the film seems to be more concerned with the events outside of the Jesus story. It's almost as if the filmmakers decided to forgo telling the "super human" story and instead tell the human one. Even the moments we glimpse of Jesus are the small moments of humanity- his doubt in the garden and his desire for company in his final moments of freedom so he wakes his friends. Initially the tone is that of a man afraid in the dark and then it changes as betrayal approaches and he sends them off to be safe.

Even the role of Judas is atypical in film in that he is clearly not a bad bad guy or someone with a personal agenda. Judas, looking like a Stanley Kubrick twin, is shown to be a tortured soul who genuinely doesn't know what to make of the madness concerning Jesus. It's never an easy choice, and here it is less so and you can see the confusion on his face.

An amazing film that could never have been made in Hollywood until relatively recently(De Mille's King of Kings excepted). There is simply too much complexity in it's telling. The story is powerfully told with out the verbatim quoting of scripture.

The version I have is from German War Films who did an excellent job of subtitling the film. They said that they are not absolute word for word translation but as something that give understanding they are spot on. I can't recommend this edition enough.

I really liked this version of the story. It's a beautiful film that takes the well known, and dare I say well worn, story and makes it new and fresh and about more than just the man at the center of things. Definitely worth tracking down.

(One small warning- it does help to know the story of the life of Jesus. there was a couple of times when I thought that had I not known the story things would have been lost because of the films insistence on not being in your face with events.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yado Sagashi

Orient Express (1944)

Odds are you never heard of this film which is kind of a pity since based on my viewing of it with out subtitles its quite good. The reason you haven't heard of it is quite understandable, it was made in Germany during the war so it instantly was off limits for decades.

I came across the film because German War Films featured it in one of their emails. German War Films is a company I only recently discovered. They specialize in German war films and from material from the Second World War, however they have long lists of films from Europe the vast majority of which you probably never heard. Many of them come from the 30's and 40's, but not all. If you are a film nut like me they will provide endless amounts of Wow factors as you see a good number of films you never knew existed.(Though not everything is in English)

Orient Express is one of those treasures.

The film concerns what happens on the titled train as it travels through the country side. We have the various characters we might meet in any film including two love birds, several suspicious people and a jazz band. This last bunch is really neat addition since their practicing and jamming drives some of the first half hour of the film as their music underscores whats happening elsewhere.

When one of the love birds accidentally pulls the emergency break in a tunnel the conductors are forced to go compartment by compartment to see who pulled the handle. When they open one door they find a dead body.... At this point the police are summoned and it becomes a quest to find out who did it.

Unfortunately the film is only in German and I couldn't get all the details but I've seen enough similar films that I could follow what was happening with out much trouble. Its your typical murder mystery done up on a grand scale.

I'm not sure what I expected when I put on the film. I know I wasn't expecting something that was going to look as good as the MGM and big Hollywood productions of the period. I know I wasn't expecting something that seemed so frivolous as this. I guess I was expecting some sort of war time story instead I got something that was clearly made to distract the population from the horrors outside the theaters where this would have played.

The cast is great with everyone selling their parts as best they can.

The craft of the film is wonderful. As I said earlier much of the first half hour is underscored by the jazz band and it adds a great deal to the proceedings. I love how the camera moves in and around the train cars and between the characters. Its a wonder to watch and at times you wonder how they did it because the camera seems to be moving through solid walls as it reverses shots in such away that you'll wonder how they could be on a train and do what they are doing. It's movie magic of course, and it's done with cutting and shifting walls but it's so seamless it boggles the mind. The only thing I can compare it to is the Oscar winning Murder on the Orient Express made three decades later.

I also love that the film is very adult in what it's doing. The best example is a late in the film attempt at spying is done by scratching away a poster on a glass in the exact location of a woman's breast in order to create a peep hole. You'd never see that in Hollywood.

I don't know what else to say other than this is a super little mystery that I'm going to have to track down in English. I suggest you do something similar.

If you can understand German or simply want to wing it go to German War Films. (The above picture is from their website)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

So That Happened: New York Comic Con 2011


Comic Con has come and gone, filling me with feelings of fascination and escape. This year saw a new expanded layout, which put gaming tables and an autographing area further from the major booths at the end of a long corridor in the Javitz Center’s north wing. This surely helped the flow of traffic and made room for more booths and bigger displays.

There was plenty to get excited about by way of art (both the flat 2-dimensional and 3D toy variety), books, manga (which I guess could count as comics), and innovative products ranging from lucha libre themed flash drives to vibrantly colored dragon and goblin themed backpacks (Creatures of Delight) to sushi shaped pillows (Stuffed Sushi). A major portion of my time at NYCC was spent thrilling to riotously funny panels devoted to comedy programs on cable outlets Adult Swim and IFC. I’ll give a separate account of how those went down.

The following is a quick glance at some of the noteworthy finds I made during this unreal weekend.

Manga/Japanese printed Matters


The folks at upstart manga publisher Gen have a noble cause. They are assembling unrecognized talent from underground manga scenes and putting their translated work out, omnibus style (like manga serials that are regularly published in Japan) as it happens. Rather than wait for months before a volume’s worth of chapters can be made available, Gen is putting a new chapter of each story they will carry into each new issue of their eponymous publication. Each volume so far has a color themed cover featuring impressionistic and roughly stylized art. The number of stories being serialized has grown from the original four in the first issue, with genres stemming from a diverse range, and story arcs that are far from typical. Gen 1 features a drama about a man in search of a boxer, seemingly to exact revenge for abandoning his family. “VS Aliens” is a fun story that moves breezily along, telling the story of a girl who suspects a beautiful classmate of being an alien. A male classmate is caught in the middle and to make matters more complicated, the object of suspicion herself begins to have doubts over her supposedly earthly origins. Whether it’s a ploy for attention or a real case of visitors from another galaxy remains to be seen. There are also two ancient period based stories, which both incorporate supernatural elements into their narratives.

For more information, visit their website Gen Manga which also has information about signing up for a subscription to access each issue online.


Vertical is probably the publisher of translated Japanese works abroad with the strongest image. They supply readers with an interesting mix of gritty fiction stories, meticulous nonfiction, and edgy manga – including classic and lesser known works by widely acclaimed master Osamu Tezuka. Their Comic Con table is always worth a visit. In the forefront was the first volume of “No Longer Human,” a manga reinterpretation of the autobiographical novel by 19th Century author Osamu Dazai by Usamaru Furuya. This follows Furuya’s standalone manga “Lychee Light Club” which also looks to past figures of Japan’s literary culture for inspiration. “No Longer Human” places Furuya in the narrator’s position, updating the story to a contemporary setting, as he walks a thin line between researching and imagining his subject, Oba. Oba shares the name with the protagonist of the original novel. It is a dark story brimming with self-loathing and feelings of detachment from society. Furuya’s visuals are realistic at times, but take on monstrous exaggerations that mesh perfectly with the dark subject matter he pursues.
I was also able to find out about a future title to look forward to from one of Vertical’s major imports, Koji Suzuki (author of the Ringu triology). At some point we may have a translation of the author’s latest novel, Edge. Further distancing the philosophical writer from the J-horror genre that the movie version of Ringu has caused him to be associated with, this new work sounds like an environmental science fiction thriller, in which natural disasters plague the United States’ west coast; the cause somehow links a frustrated Mother Nature to mankind’s inability to determine the exact numerical value of pi.

Browse Vertical’s arsenal here: Vertical, Inc.


This is a small independent publisher that also focuses on translating literary works from Japan and operates with a sizable social conscience. They sprung up rather suddenly on Sunday with a table covered with copies of their first manga translated into English, “Breathe Deeply.” It is a story that was also promised to stand far outside the realm of mainstream manga stories, which focuses on a love story that unfolds in the midst of medical advances filled with science fiction overtones.

The publisher’s list of releases also includes a classic work of fiction by Osamu Dazai.

Check out their catalogue here: One Peace Books



Magnet, the somewhat edgier little cousin to film distributor Magnolia, had a fun display at this year’s event. It served as a reminder of some of the great Asian films to reach American shores this year, with official, subtitled dvd releases of 13 ASSASSINS (Japan), I SAW THE DEVIL (Korea), and nonstop kick to the head BKO (Thailand) for sale. Posters also harkened the arrival of the new horror film by Ti West, The Innkeepers, a few weeks before it premiere’s at filmlinc’s Scary Movies series. One small request to Magnet – please upgrade the packaging on those dvds…even just a little? I’m all for supporting legitimate companies as opposed to throwing money at bootleggers, but when the product is barely distinguishable from said bootleg, it reduces the incentive. I suppose disc itself may play at a superior quality, but a tad more attention to packaging could go a long way.



I did not find myself in front of as many screens as at last year’s event. I did catch a part of a very raw cut of this feature length production. It seems to be geared towards a very limited audience – it may make that audience laugh heartily, but there is something to be said for entertainment that reaches beyond a small built-in audience. That fan base in question is Dungeons and Dragon players, as the story centers around a regular player who is down on his luck. He tries to turn his luck in the realm of employment and ‘on paper’ dragon battling around in one fowl swoop, by leading his D & D group away from the sway of its oily and controlling dungeon master (Jon Gries), thus proving his leadership skills to a would be employer. Really? I could imagine this being a fun story, but the D & D playing seemed to take itself way too seriously. Other attempts at humor were at the most basic level (guy runs and trips; the fat guy can’t stop eating the food), but the fact that it had something to do with D & D had that built in audience laughing throughout. The villain, again, had something of a presence. Otherwise, concern for reaching a somewhat broader audience may be necessary to move this film towards receiving wider appreciation.

More info here: Unicorn City

The Cult Yard

This is a very welcome aspect of the event, and occupies a corner space that I probably find myself walking around the most. This is where visual arts in the form of books, t-shirts, toys, and traditional wall-mounted posters are on display. Most prominent among these is the Dunnys and miniature figures put out by Kid Robot, among other PVC figure loving companies, and designed by various artists. This form of expression shares much in common with the tenets of street art – relatively cheap to produce, low on deep meaning, high on modernity and reproducibility, making it accessible to the masses, while at the same time highly consumable. Here are a few of this year’s highlights…



Her presence wowed me at last year’s event, and her work still stands as relevant as ever. This year, her booth is set up in the name of her Williamsburg studio/shop Cotton Candy Machine. Having provided a much needed shot in the arm to the rock poster scene, once ruled by guys like Frank Kozik in the 90s, McPherson brings a shimmering, silvery sci-fi fantasy sensibility to posters, books, stickers, and a few PVC figures, which were featured at this year’s event. Her work is populated by characters who silently express volumes. There are scowling little boy vampires, icily distant alien chicks, and boys with holes in their chest, no doubt left by an unachievable love, as bubbly hearts are blown through it. It has been love at first, second, and third sight for me, and I can’t wait to come across the perfect combination of her striking imagery with a contemporary band that I adore listening to, to make reinvigorate some wall space in these parts.

Check out The Cotton Candy Machine


This was a cool pop up stores featuring bright colored t-shirts and stuffed doll representations of spleens, livers, and other beloved and less popular organs. Good fun!




Several striking prints, posters, and paintings were on display here featuring crude art collectives at their most subversive. The range of work here represented Maryland gallery Art Whino. Plenty of amusing recontextualizations were in view. Among them were several roboticized depictions of DC and Marvel superheroes…robiticized, and stripped away of significant amounts of flesh, and looking rather down. There was also a very creepy but amusing rendering of ET holding a chloroformed cloth in one hand to make for a rather more sinister vision of the childhood movie icon.

To get a handle on who draws what, start perusing the images here Art Whino 

York Comic Con brings something a little different every year. If they keep delivering the range of goods and continue to improve their organization, we can look forward to many more years of good times!

Murder on Campus (1933)

A student is killed at the top of a tower on a college campus. No one saw anyone come down from the tower and there was no place for the killer to hide. Charles Starrett plays Bill Bartlett a reporter who just happened to be on the scene of the crime. He's interested in a girl who becomes one of the suspects in the murder.She is working her way through college as a singer in a night club run by a gambler known as Blackie. As more deaths occur the reasons for the murder become less clear, especially as we learn about some of the suspects.

This is one of those movies thats just okay and under normal circumstances you'd turn off the TV and go to bed but because things manage to be just interesting enough you find you're staying up well past your bed time. Don't get me wrong its a good movie, but its nothing special, but once the first body is found and you realize short of flying no one could have killed him you end up pretty much hooked. I sat there trying to go to bed, yawning, and unwilling to turn off the DVD because I had to see how it was done and why (I knew who the killer was the instant the actor/actress appeared on screen). Don't watch this too late or you'll end up up 70 minutes past your bedtime.

Worth a rental, an hour of your time and a bag of popcorn. You won't remember it but you will enjoy it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Shot in the Dark (1935)

While at a party at his college campus Ken Harris gets a call from his dad saying that he's nearby and would like to see him. Ken goes that night to pick up his dad and bring him back to stay in his dorm room. Ken sends his dad up to the room while he parks the car. When Ken arrives at his room he finds that the door is locked and neither his dad nor his roommate will answer the knocks. Ken then crashes for the night in a downstairs friends room. In the morning Ken is awoken by a banging outside. It seems that Ken's roommate has committed suicide by hanging himself out the window. It quickly transpires that what appeared to be suicide was in fact murder and the murderer is still on the prowl.

This is a solid little mystery that unfolds in such away as to keep you glued to the screen wondering whats going to happen next. The investigation, nominally headed by Ken's dad moves along at a good clip and in a logical progression with events, including more murders, coming out of what is revealed in the story. Each clue leads to something else which leads to something else. This is one of the few times that you can feel the source novel actually working well with in the frame work of a 60 minute movie, and where the compression of the story doesn't lead to a moment or two where something seems to come completely out of left field. The film is also unique in that contrary to most mysteries of the period (or mysteries period) the local cops are not buffoons. While they admit that murder is beyond them (the deputy says about all they're used to is speeders) they do make a go of investigating the crime and acquit themselves nicely.

As good as the film is its not perfect. The pacing is a tad slow since the film is has a great deal of talk (though this is not a bad thing). There is one moment where the scenes seem to have been placed out of order with Ken's dad talking about working with the police and in the next scene has a conversation with the police about working with them. The film's main sin is that while we get all of the required information there are times where characters and situations get the short shrift. There are times when I felt we could have known a character more or that perhaps they could have added a scene that lead to something (the discovery of the murder weapon for example).

Still this is a great little flick. Worth a bag of popcorn and some soda on the couch with some friends.(Possibly as part of Murder on Campus which has some of the same cast and also set on a college campus)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered - Vol. 1 (2008)

The life & times of the "Godfather of Gore" as seen through the eyes of his colleagues & peers.

Love him or hate him, if you are a hardcore horror fan then you might be familiar with the work of Lucio Fulci. The director most commonly known for such titles as: Zombie, The Beyond & The City of the Living Dead. His film's reveled in a shocking amount of extreme violence & gore, which resulted in many of them being banned or heavily edited across Europe.

However this was not always the case for Fulci. His career started in the early 60's as a Comedy writer, and by the end of that decade he had moved onto directing Spaghetti Westerns. His big break finally came in 1979, when his undead masterpiece Zombi 2 (later released in the U.S. under Zombie) was released to the world. Distributed as a (un)official sequel to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Fulci had finally found his niche.

By no means is this a typical documentary. If you are looking for a visual look back on Fulci's body of work through clips or photos, then sadly this DVD is not for you. Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered - Vol. 1 is a massive collection of interviews led by it's creator Mike Baronas. Years of filming, traveling to all different countries and talking to over 80 actors/directors/friends that worked with Fulci, this is the ultimate companion piece for the fans.

The DVD menu is broken down into three categories, which gives you the option on who's stories you wish to hear. Peers, Accomplices & Victims are your choices. Each participant in the film is asked the same question, What is your fondest memory of Lucio Fulci?. The interviews range anywhere from 30 seconds to 7 minutes long. A few only have mere words to say in front of the camera, while others go into great detail about their experience with the director. Some go as far as to suggest that he was a nightmare to work with. Regardless Fulci had left an impression whether good or bad with each and every person interviewed. And with over 4 hours of material on the disc, there is a lot to cram in here.

The later part of Fulci's life & career (Mid 80's to early 90's) was marred with various health issues and unsuccessful movie projects. In 1991, he directed what would be his final film and unfortunately just five short years later at the age of 68, Fulci passed away from complications from diabetes.

There is a great deal of sadness when his passing is mentioned, and it's very clear that the man is still very sorely missed. My feeling from watching this is that Fulci was a very complex individual. Someone with a hard outer shell but warmhearted inside. Who would have guessed from the man who wrote & directed scenes like a woman puking up her own guts. Critics often refer to Fulci's work as schlock and while that maybe hard to debate, you can't deny that he has built quite the rabid cult following.

Personally I would have liked to have seen more out of this DVD. As a Fulci fan I enjoyed seeing and hearing from everyone involved in the film, though after 4 hours it can get a little monotonous. Needless to say this one is pretty much strictly for the diehards. Besides, there's always a potential Vol. 2...

For more info check out:

The Cat (1988)

Bank robbery movie from Germany is hailed by some as the best of the genre, while I wouldn't go that far I would have to say its a damn good film worth your time and popcorn.

The basic plot is simple, two guys rob a bank, however it quickly turns into something much more complicated as the police show up and the real brains behind the robbery proves to be outside the bank controlling events.

The film begins and I was struck by the sense that this was going to be a piece of Euro-sleaze, however it wasn't long before the film had grabbed me and pulled me into its web of tension. You're never really sure where this thing is going or what the ultimate plan or outcome is going to be. Its nice to see a movie that completely surprises you from start to finish.

This is a small missed placed gem to try and find(I got mine from Video Search of Miami)

(FYI: The print I saw was titled: Lives of a Cat and was dubbed into English and had Japanese subtitles)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Congratulations Ken, a few last words on the NYFF and Comicon plus links and other things.

There is a bunch of business I need to attend to and instead of giving you a series of small posts I’m going to mash them all together in one larger post.

First and foremost everyone here at Unseen Films wants to wish our very own Ken hearty congratulations on getting engaged. I’m sure both he and the lovely Kat will be very happy.

Despite it being a kind of tradition after a film festival to do a wrap up post I find that I’m at a loss for words when it comes to this years New York Film Festival. It was not a bad experience, frankly I had a blast, but at the same time there really isn’t much to sum up after posting reviews for over 40 films.

Actually there are two things I am taking away from the festival:

First as it’s been the last couple of years the truly exciting stuff is not on the main slate but in the side bars where things like The 99 Unbound, The Ballad of Mott the Hoople and Patience (After Sebald) delighted with their unexpected charm and wonder. These were films that should have gone to the main slate and played the big room. I would like to request that whomever is doing the Special Events be given the Main Slate next year.

The second thing that the Film Festival did, was it very clearly showed why 3D needs to be used sparingly. The joys of 3D were revealed in Wim Wenders marvelous Pina. It was a film that clearly showed when and how to use the effect. At the same time the screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo clearly showed how the effect can even trip up a master filmmaker when the 3D doesn’t have a real point. Yes it’s a great film, and yes the 3D looks great, but the story is sacrificed for the effect in a couple of places. Worse when the film runs without the 3D its going to look awfully strange at times.

For those keeping track of such things the best worst and surprises of the Festival are as follows:

The Ballad of Mott the Hoople
My Week With Marilyn
This is Not a Film
(I should mention that director Jafar Panahi has been sent to prison as his sentence has been upheld)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
A Colt is My Passport
La Havre
Patience (After Sebald)
The middle section of Dreileben

Miss Bala

Susan Orlean's non-discussion of Rin Tin Tin
Mud and Soldiers
Woman with Red Hair
Corpo Celeste
(If you don't read the press notes)

The 99 Unbound
444 Last Day of the Earth
We Can't Go Home Again

As with the NYFF so goes with Comicon. I had a blast there but because of things happening in and around it I can’t fully sum up other than to say I’ll be back next year.

Speaking of next year or leading into next year I want to mention that we're trying to see if we can get a special series on music together. We're still working it out but if it goes it should be close to years end.

Lastly here are a few links I've been collecting

Moving stills

William Friedkin on Comic Book movies

Who Killed 3D?

Fiona Shaw's brain while performing

Keaton and gravity

On the documentary Senna

More decaying theaters

John Carpenter's The Thing from the Monster's point of view.

On the notion of film as dare and the inability to see every film ever made

Stand-in (1937)

Atterbury Dodd is opposed to his New York banker bosses selling off Colossal Studios for only half of what he thinks its worth. Being the first person ever to stand up to the big boss he's sent off to see whats going on with the seemingly failing studio. Once there he finds that the buyer is manipulating the latest Colossal movie into being a turkey so he can buy the studio cheap and turn a profit when he closes it down. Dodd also runs into Miss Plum who will soon becomes Dodd's guide through the madness of film making.

Much of the film is concerned with Dodd dealing with the insanity of film studios while not realizing that he's falling in love with Miss Plum. The last third of the film concerns efforts to turn save the studio and the film.

This is really a Leslie Howard movie. Howard and Joan Blondell, as Miss Plum are a wonderful screen couple and one wishes there was even more time of them together. Although Humphrey Bogart is listed third he's in maybe 20 minutes of this often funny film. He is wonderful in a the role of the previous studio head and producer of the turkey in the making.

The film is filled with funny lines and fleeting appearances, Charles Middleton is a scream; as is a stuntman who refuses to do his stunt for money. This is a funny funny movie especially if you love old movies.

The problem is that the film is at times unfocused. Is it a comedy? A Romance? The sequences with the villain seem to be from another movie. I question why some of the characters are allowed to be so annoying, Potts, the publicity man in particular, is the screen version of fingernails on a blackboard. I'm sure there were people like that in Hollywood, but I never want to meet them.

I also have a problem with the ending which ends too soon for my tastes.

Still this is 90 minutes of great fun, especially if you love old films.

Worth seeking out, possibly even buying

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Capsule Reviews10/19/11 Documentaries

Nice look at the censorship battle between the Smothers Brothers and CBS. The film was done around the time of the Aspen Comedy Festival retrospective on the series which was hosted by Bill Maher. The film takes us from the point where the Brothers are given a chance to have a show (a desperate attempt by CBS to beat powerhouse Bonanza where CBS effectively gave them complete control over the series because they thought it was never going to work) onward through their riding to the top of the ratings and into the battles with the censors and brass who were tired of the boys getting bags full of letters. (CBS didn't want letters of any sort - good or bad). Based upon what we see of the show (and that's the films one flaw there aren't enough clips from the show) it's hard to imagine them being controversial, but they were. This film shows us why the battles happened and how some of them played out. It's a sad story that resulted in a changing of television as we know it since the Smothers Brother show changed comedy as we know it (there would have been no Saturday Night Live with out it and it gave us Rob Riener and Steve Martin amongst others). To many people the battles almost four decades ago may seem inconsequential but they are important to understanding why we watch what we watch today. It's must see viewing especially since this film is so well done.

Film Parade
Film Parade is great little documentary about the history of motion pictures made in the early days of film. It’s narrated by Commodore--- one of the founder of Vitagraph film studio. Starting back in Ancient Egypt where sequential poses were place on temple columns so that it gave the illusion of motion when driving by on a chariot the film charts the course of photography and motion pictures up to the then present. I really liked this film a great deal. As I find with film books from the early days of film, there is a great deal of history that we don’t talk about or know any more. We may talk about how films were made and evolved but for most people its an abstract matter. Here we are looking at the past from the past in a manner that will open the eyes of even the most jaded of film historians. This is one to search out.

World of Tomorrow
World of Tomorrow is a great look at the New York Worlds Fair of 1939-40 and of life before the world exploded into the Second World War. The film is put together via news reels, promotional films and home movies, the majority of which is in color. The film is narrated by Jason Robards who manages to be both informative and the right amount of nostalgic. It’s a great film that shows us how the hope and promise of the Worlds Fair slowly eroded as events in the real world changed our views. (I would love to see this with several of the films I’ve seen on the Worlds Fair from the 1960’s which also opened to great promise and then slowly petered out) Watching the film is akin to stepping into someone’s memories of the events related rather than a straight forward recounting of events. While this may color some of what we are seeing, in a weird way it gives us a greater understanding of events because they put them into a more personal context. I like the dream like quality to it and I’ve drifted off into another time and place each time I see it. To me the film reminds me of Ric Burns excellent film Coney Island which has a similar dream like feel. There are two versions of the film. There is the original version of the film which played in movie theaters and there is a version running just under an hour that played on PBS. I would go for the full version if you can run it down, however I know a couple of people who like the shorter version better since it seems less syrupy to them.

Raining Cats and Frogs (2003)

The first film from Jacques-Rémy Girerd the director of Mia and The Magoo, and who is also one of the producers of The Cat in Paris was Raining Cats and Frogs. Like those earlier two films the film is a visual treat.

The film is set in motion when the frogs deduce that another great deluge is coming and they warn a small boy, named Tom, and his friend. They then tell Tom's adopted father and mother. Eventually everyone, including animals from zoo,the friend's family runs the local zoo, end up in the grandfathers house which acts as a literal house boat. However complications arise when the carnivores tire of eating potatoes every meal and a wounded turtle arrives with plans of her own.

Wonderful family film is charming enough to be the sort of film that adults may treasure more than kids. It’s exactly the sort of film that I have frequently discovered thanks to the New York International Children’s Film Festival… which is how I discovered this when it had a several weekend run at the Festival’s weekend screenings at New York’s IFC Center.

Watching the film I was curious as to why this film isn't well known in the US until some late in the game twists sent the film into rather dark territory with the carnivores staging a take over. It's the sort of thing that I know many American parents might flip out over, with some semi-graphic violence (A bloody bite and some chickens meet a bad end) and some adult language. Still it's nice that the filmmakers treat the audience as if they were adults.

An aside: I find the New York International Children's Film Festival running of this film over say Takashi Miike's Ninja Kids rather troubling. There is this weird rippling effect through their choices of late in that they won't run some films because they might upset parents and yet they will run other films that in many ways are more upsetting.

As some of you know I spoke with one of the organizers after I saw Ninja Kids and he said that he didn't think they could run it because the film had cartoony violence which parents might object to. I then mentioned that the short film Hammerhead had parents freaking out when two women kissed. He shrugged and said they were trying not freak out the parents. Real but cartoon like won't play but animated but realistic will.

Ultimately I think you're going to freak out some parent at some point no matter what you do. I think the trick is going to be how do you freak out the least number of them. I would think you do that by showing good films, after that let the chips fall where they may since I think quality will win over those unhappy with what you're showing.

I'm guessing that there is some seriousness and a moral made it okay to have chickens being roasted with a blow torch, where the silliness of the Ninja Kids!!! coupled with poop and fart jokes worked against it.

Forgive me, I find a good film is a good film regardless. I also have the sense that had I had a child and I walked into Cats and Frogs with it's brightly painted colors and it's being portrayed or looking like a little "kids" film I would have been more upset to find death and destruction then had I wandered into something called Ninja Kids!!! and seen the violence implied by the title.

Thats just me of course.

Getting back to the subject at hand- If you get a chance to see Raining Cats and Frogs I suggest you give it a go. It's a beautiful film with a great story and some witty lines.

(ADDENDUM as those of you know Ninja Kids DID in fact play the NYICFF in 2012 so I stand pleasantly corrected)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NYFF 2011: George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

As you grow, your musical tastes often change like your palate. The joy of tasting olives or a fresh snap peapod is usually an experience of adult, not childhood. Conversely, I find myself craving Space Food Sticks much less now than when I was ten. Musical changes in taste evolve and mature as well, sometimes even within the same band. A Beatles fan at a young age, ask me who my favorite of the Fab Four was before I turned fourteen and I would probably answer with Ringo: goofy, affable, offbeat; the clear star of the movies that introduced me to the Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night, Help, Yellow Submarine). Ask that same question to me as a record-collecting teen and I’d have said Paul McCartney. The 1970s and early ‘80s were good to Paul with cheerful, infectious pop record after record, and really, what was the problem with silly love songs? In my college years, when I considered myself older and more sophisticated, I gravitated towards the rebellion and anger, but ultimately love, of the songs of John Lennon. His death in a year when I was first on my own drew me closely to his music and philosophy and to endless conversations with like-minded fans on the subject of “Yoko: Threat or Menace.”

And now I’m much older and find myself above all a fan of George. No, not producer George Martin (that may yet come in my dotage) but George Harrison. The “hippie” Beatle, the “quiet” one, the fighter trying to get his songs on an album, the humanitarian who pioneered the modern benefit concert, the quiet country gentleman and film producer. He’s been my favorite for quite some time for quite a lot of reasons: his involvement and support of the Monty Python troupe (without him we’d never had had The Life of Brian, one of the most brilliant religious satires of our time); his co-founding of HandMade Films, the studio that brought us more than a fair percentage of my favorite movies of all time (Time Bandits; Mona Lisa; Withnail and I; Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels), his gentle religious and spiritual philosophy that defines my own more than organized religion, and his music: the unmistakable sound of George’s guitar playing is one of the three guitarists I can identify by listening to an unidentified song. His sublime (and, heck, even his substandard) solo work of the 1970s and ‘80s, the back-to-your-roots collaboration of the Traveling Wilburys, his all-too infrequent film cameos. His collaboration with Belinda Carlisle, of all people. The songs that would threaten to fill up my own Desert Island Discs with an all-Harrison playlist: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “Here Comes the Sun.” “All Things Must Pass.” “Give Me Love.” “Love Comes to Everyone.” Heck, for “Blow Away” all by itself.

I’ve now rambled for two long paragraphs without even mentioning George Harrison: Living in the Material World, the documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. You might guess I’ve seen quite a few documentary films on the Beatles and the individuals of the Fab Four. Hyperbole aside, and allowing me my love of Harrison, this is one of the finest Beatles biofilms I’ve seen. You don’t have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy this (but if you are, you’ll likely love it). It’s often all too simple to throw a bunch of interviews, stock footage and still photographs together and call it a documentary, but those never reach the true state of being a film. Scorsese knows how motion pictures tick: the pacing and timing of Living in the Material World is enthralling and driving as much as if it were a fictional story—there are no “slow bits.” If you’ve seen a group of Beatles documentaries, especially The Beatles Anthology, you’ve seen the same footage pop up again and again: here’s the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Here’s the Beatles getting off a plane. Here’s the Beatles meeting Queen Elizabeth I. (Yawn.) But Scorsese has found a treasure trove of footage I’ve never seen, a surprise considering the long media exposure of his subject. There’s lots of compelling interviews. Paul and Ringo appear, of course, but also friends and collaborators from his whole life: Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Ravi Shankar, Klaus Voorman, Astrid Kirchherr, Phil Spector, Jackie Stewart.

Intimate and personal, Living in the Material World takes us inside the private life of Harrison (and he was an intensely private man). Extensive coverage is given to his philosophical and spiritual evolution during the 1960s-70s, featuring fuller and more incisive interviews and examinations of that period of Harrison’s life than I’ve seen on screen. For a biography of one of the most media-covered men of the latter half of the twentieth century, Living in the Material World is surprising in its wealth of new and underused footage. When this comes out on DVD, this is going to be a must-have for all Beatles fans.

It succeeds, though, on the level of being just a wonderfully entertaining film. It’s a filmmaker of the caliber of Martin Scorsese who can take interviews and footage and spin them into a true film, with story beats, subplots, and recurring characters. We know the story will end with George’s death in 2001…and the tears come to my eyes long before the film reaches that point…but Scorsese spins the inevitable masterfully, so that you can’t help but feel more connected to George Harrison than before. Going in as a Harrison fan I felt it was a great celebration; I can imagine this film will inspire the uninitiated or casual fans to a much greater understanding and appreciation.

In my opinion, the finest thing I can think of to say about a biographic documentary is that it inspires you to celebrate the life you’ve just seen on the screen, to revisit and examine the life and work of the subject, and to find new meaning or joy within. So powerful was Scorsese’s film that I came home from the movie and broke out my George Harrison CDs and listened to them all day, and several songs a day since, reminding myself of the happiness, comfort, humor and humanity within them. As I said above: George is my favorite Beatle. Even if he weren’t already, I’m pretty sure he would be now.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World is airing on HBO in two parts throughout October 2011.

The Fat Man (1951)

Based on the radio series based on the works of Dashiell Hammett, The Fat Man tells the story of Brad Runyon who is hired to look into the death of a dentist visiting New York. Why anyone would want to kill him is a mystery, however thing begin to be knocked loose when it’s discovered that the only thing stolen was a set of x-rays. Learning that there was a second set of x-rays back in California Runyon hops a plane and tries to unravel what happened to the subject of the x-rays.

Solid little mystery is a bit slow to start but it picks up steam once it gets to “the left coast”. Playing like a really good pilot episode for a TV series I’m kind of shocked that the film never spawned a sequel since it’s extremely well done. As some one said when I was researching the film, most people forget that William Castle was a great director before he made a name for himself as a the king of schlock promotion and gimmicks (Films like The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts with their novelties such as Ermego and Percepto were all his.)

The reason I think most people will want to see the film is that the man who has teeth people will kill to have is played by Rock Hudson. While Hudson had been in films for four or five years by the time this was made, this was one of the films that set him on the path to stardom. While he is still a little rough around the edges it’s easy to see that he stood out from the rest of the cast.

I liked the film a great deal.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NYFF 2011: Upending (2011)

I've been playing about quite a bit with Icelandic songstress Björk's iPad app Biophilia.

Presenting songs from her album of the same name, Biophilia presents the user (I was about to type "viewer" there, but it's to play with, not simply watch) with a virtual galaxy of constellations and stars. Touch the screen and slide your finger to spin around or zoom into a star system; each super-bright (nova exploding?) star represents a different song containing an experimental interactive touchscreen visualization on microbiology, cosmography, and their mathematical and chemical relations to music.

Watching Upending , a fifty-minute avant-garde film by the OpenEnded Group, reminded me of the Biophilia app. Abstract and highly subjective, Upending presents a series of computer-animated designs that slowly spin, turn, and coalesce into mundane objects of our lives: a chair, rooms, a swing on a tree. More than simply a "what's that going to be?" guessing game, Upending challenges us to perceive the world around us in different ways, from diverse angles. The slow and gradual build and shift from one visual to the other is accompanied by Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2, the celebrated experimental work whose deliberate tempo is made up of a slow beat of about one per second. Giving the images a dreamy and hallucinatory accompaniment, the soundtrack also gives us little explicit or concrete to interpret: whatever we make of it, it's all in our own minds. It's a carefully orchestrated art piece and a proper study of it in the context of other works by the OpenEnded group would likely be a strong study or thesis for an art, film, or music graduate student.

As a film, however, Upending seems misplaced and misdirected, certainly among the other movies of the New York Film Festival. Suggesting it fails for me because it "doesn't have a plot" is crass, but a more accurate and significant opinion may be that the form and presentation actually distanced me from the motion picture. Much of the blame for this can be placed on OpenEnded decision to release this in 3D, which requires the usual dark uncomfortable glasses and puts one more barrier between the viewer and an already-challenging film. I'd describe the 3D effects as no more than "pretty," and Upending's attempts to expose the viewer to a new way of perceiving an old familiar world, even in three dimensions, isn't helped by this rave tech du jour that's been too-overused in only a couple years. Can we blame the technology? Well, in some way. 3D has not yet reached the point where a bright screen image is not substantially dimmed by the glasses. The screen image looked murky and underlit to my admittedly nearsighted eyes; several times I took off the glasses to see if there was anything on the screen because nothing was visible through the glasses.

In MoMA or the Tate Modern, I would stand and watch Upending with interest and, if not comprehension, then at least a fuller idea of what it is trying to do. Oversized, in a movie theater, with newfangled sunglasses on, my only reaction was appreciation of the computer technology used to create the film. Perhaps, like Biophilia, it could have used a few more exploding stars.