Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beckoning SIlence (2007)

A follow up of sorts to Touching the Void. Joe Simpson, the author of the book Touching the Void and one of it's subjects tells the story of Toni Kurz who was the leader of the second expedition to try and climb the North face of the Eiger in the Alps.

The story told in The Beckoning Silence is a tragic one. It’s the story of how one misstep, one mistake took the lives of a team of climbers. It’s a story that resonated with Simpson and got him interested in climbing when he read it when he was fourteen. It rsonated even more more as an adult since it mirrored, in part, what happened to him in Chile when he was cut free by his climbing partner (see Touching the Void which was reviewed earlier today). The story here is all the more dramatic since all of the events were witnessed by tourists in the lodge below the mountain who watched as the events spiraled downward.

Not to give anything away, what happened on the Eiger those fateful days in 1936 was that a team of four climbers attempted to climb the un-climbable north face of the mountain. Getting a leg up on the climb by using a railway hatchway the quartet made rapid progress until they hit a sheer flat rock wall that had to be traversed in order to climb the rest of the way up the mountain. One of them hit upon the only way across the wall and the quartet was on their way…however the removal of the rope they used to make the crossing sealed their fate. What happens next, as weather, the mountain and injury take their toll, is the rest of the story.

While not as good a documentary as Touching the Void this is still a wonderful little mountaineering tale. The story of the doomed climbers is contrasted by Simpson who speaks of his own love of climbing and how the process of writing Touching the Void changed how he feels about the sport. While the film is a retelling of a the ill fated climb, it’s also a surprisingly good essay on what sort of person it takes to climb a mountain, what is the mind set and as reflected on by Joe Simpson what happens when you suddenly find that the passion and the sense of infallibility is gone. It’s a touching revelation that puts a kick in the tail of the film.

Definitely worth searching out. I don’t know if this is available in the US. I got it as an import from Amazon UK.

(Since I mentioned that the film is not as good as Touching the Void, I should explain why. Made for TV the film suffers with a sense of repetition. The same lines of dialog are repeated numerous times as if they simply sewed the breaks for commercials together. After the third or fourth time it’s like we know that move on)

Touching the Void (2004) and What Happens Next...

The story of what happens when two British climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, try to reach the top of the previous unclimbed Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes is one of the most spellbinding films in years. A hybrid of talking heads and re-enactments this movie is one of the best films (on mountain climbing) ever made. You'll forgive me but its hard not to speak in terms like, best, greatest, ect when you talk about this film. I think its all best summed up by the term, "WOW!!!"

I can only imagine what this would be like on a big screen, where the sense of scale would be overwhelming. Not having been able to see this on a big screen I've had to make due with the DVD, which contains an extra called "What happened next..." which is what you'll want to know once the credits start to roll.

Touching the Void is a truly great film.

The only real problem with Touching the Void is that the film ends before the story does. I remember getting to the end of the film and feeling slightly cheated. Yes, I knew everyone lived (it’s not a spoiler since we see them narrating the tale) but what happened after they got off the mountain?

If you’re like me and saw the film on DVD all you have to do is switch over to the extras and see a short piece called What Happen Next.... This little baby is a wonderful explanation of what happened after Void ends. It’s the story of how Simpson walked to help on a broken leg and how he recovered. It covers the controversy surrounding the cutting of the rope and how Yates felt after the fact. It also fills in lots of little details not covered in the main film.

Don’t get me wrong I love Touching the Void, but at the same time I like the extra more. It’s a film that condenses Void down and then moves it forward to the real conclusion of the story. Why the material wasn’t included in the film is kind of lost to me because as I said the story doesn’t end it stops. What happened next ends, wonderfully.

See Touching the Void, and just be sure to see What Happens Next... as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Principles of Life (2009) The 6th Romanian Film Festival in New York

Second of the two films I've seen from this years Romanian Film Festival is a low key slice of life.

The film takes place over roughly 24 hours as a harried father tries to get business done and his family together so they can take a trip to the shore on vacation. Beginning with a trip to a house he's having built, he then heads on to the home of his ex-wife where he is to pick up his teenage son. Of course nothing goes exactly as planned, his son is shagged out after an all night party, his infant son is sick and the day is punctuated by a client of his print shop who is insisting on their brochure being a certain way, despite obvious problems.

The film is a extremely well acted, especially by Vlad Ivanov as out "hero". Its a good looking film that finds humor in situations that many of us find ourselves in these days, constant digressions and frustrations because cellphones make us instantly contactable no matter where we are. The laughs are frequent and small scale thanks to a naturalness to the humor, which come easily from the situations.

I like the film, but I'm not in love with it. The problem for me is that other than being a slice of life I don't see the point. Why are we seeing this? I'm not sure. Even with a final explosion of frustrated violence and the "happy" family in the car, the film doesn't seem to have a point with the pay off being more added on to provide a climax.

Its not a bad film, not by a long shot, I'm just not sure why the film was picked as being something to hold out at a film festival, or rather something to make a special trip to see at a film festival as the only film you were seeing. If you can manage to get to one of the films screening on either side of it on Friday I'd say go for it, but I'm guessing as stand alone you maybe disappointed.

Worth a look when it hits DVD or Netflix.

The Ninth Configuration: The Commentary

William Peter Blatty who wrote and directed The Ninth Configuration makes a comment directed at Leonard Maltin and other film encyclopedias who say that the only official running time for this film is the 118 minute one now on DVD saying that every cut of the film that was made by Blatty himself...They are all his cut. I mention this at the outset since the story of Colonel Kane and the men he is charged with healing was a story that Blatty has wrestled with for many years. It began with a novel, which he partially rewrote. It went through a couple of name changes (Ninth Configuration to Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane and back again.) and finally as a film he cut and recut until he could get it right. There is also a stage version which was finally produced in California in 2010

The film, book and play concern a brilliant psychiatrist named Hudson Kane. He's called into assess and treat a bunch of soldiers who were all top of their game and who suddenly went mad. The military have secreted them away into a castle in the Pacific North West with the intention of trying to find a cure. A major problem becomes clear when everyone realizes that Kane is probably as crazy as everyone else.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. Filled with endlessly quotable dialog and sense that anything can happen (Blatty wasn't a film director so he tells the story in ways that a conventional director would never do (for example the voice overs) and the film is infinitely better for it. There is a massive sense of a brain behind it all and it is one of the most intelligent films ever to come out of Hollywood. Think about it when was the last time you saw a real reasoned discussion of god and existence from Hollywood?

I've taken much of this film to heart and have used it as one of the guides in my life.

Blatty's commentary deepens the understanding of the film. It's a talk that explains not only how the film was made, but what he was getting at, which is something that deepens what is on screen.

The commentary also clarifies the end of the film. There are in fact two endings of the film. Well one but there is two ways as to how we get there, Its a question of where some injuries occur. There is a preferred way, which frankly I'm opposed to. For me the ending Blatty prefers doesn't work in that is kind of negates the previous bar fight sequence (which is where the injury should happen). I prefer the one that Blatty hates because, in context of the film as it exists, it makes more sense.(If Blatty wants to add in one more scene that leads to that he can, but until then it doesn't work)

Yes, I know that was vague but if you haven't seen the film then I want you to be affected by the ending. (And despite recent talk that knowing spoilers doesn't effect enjoyment I've been told by a couple of people they wished they hadn't known how this ends so that's why I'm being vague)

I love this film a great deal and I think the commentary adds a great deal to the film. (Though to be honest about a half an hour to the end it does run out of steam until we get to the ending).

Currently out on DVD this should be easy to find.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Morgen (2010) The 6th Romanian Film Festival in New York

Wednesday night the Romanian Film Festival opens at Lincoln Center.The series runs through December Sixth. I attended some of the press screenings and I'll be letting you know about two of the titles.

Morgen is the Opening Night film and I'll be hard pressed to know why it was chosen as the opening film. This isn't to say that it's a bad film, rather it's simply to say that film is nothing special.

A bone dry comedy, this is the story of Nelu,a supermarket security guard, who lives on a run down farm near the Romanian Hungarian border. His main passion is fishing. One day he meets a Kurdish man who is trying to get to Germany in order to meet his family. The film chronicles the growing bond between the two men as our hero attempts to get his new friend home.

Told in a long single takes (though nothing on the order of Bela Tarr) the film is a series of sequences where life sort of happens.

One of the problems with the film is that sequences seem to run on and on and on. At one point we watch as the two men are sitting on the farm's porch and we see a tractor comes down the road turns down the drive, drives all the way down the drive. It stops, a three line conversation happens before the tractor turns around and drives back up to the street? Did we need to see all of that? Did we need to see the long driving sequences? If this film was tightened up just a bit this might have been a better film.

Another problem with the film is that a great deal isn't explained. Who is the traveler? Is he a Gypsy? An Arab? a Turk? The press notes say he is a Kurd. Really? Its never explained. The really big question that is never explained is why Nelu takes him in. The two men can't communicate yet suddenly they are`together.

The humor in the film is very hit and miss. The scenes involving the various border crossings (As the film opens our hero is prevented from bringing a fish he caught across the border because it's a live and he might have stolen it. It would have been fine had it been dead), the soccer match gone wrong, and some of the stops by the police are laugh getters, but outside of those we get some smiles but no real laughs.

Forgive me, I don't get it. I don't get the love this film has found in some circles. I don't know why this film is an Opening Night Film. I certainly don't understand it's being put up for the Foreign Language Oscar (though that probably explains the Opening position in the festival.) The film reminded me very much of the very much better Le Harve, which is one of the best films of the year in my humble opinion.

I like the film but I don't love it. I'm glad I saw it, but I don't know if it was worth the trip into the city.

If you like very dry humor give it a shot (though you may want to wait for DVD)

Oliver Stone's Alexander:The original Cut- The commentary

Oliver Stone's Alexander has at least three known versions The 0riginal (out on DVD as the Director's Cut), The recut "Theatrical" version (or are they reversed?) and then a "final" cut Revisited. The original cut opened overseas before it was released in the US and it was crucified by many critics. Stone went back to the editing table and recut the film for US release. Several years later Stone revisited the film yet again and made more changes.

Way back when I heard that Stone was going to recut the film and that the original cut may not have been available in the US I purchased a Korean special edition with bells and whistles and extras (really cool insert books and cards). The film also came with a great commentary track that is Stone and Robin Lane Fox who is Fellow at New College at Oxford. He's the one who does most of the talking during the three hour film.

The film itself, in any of the versions, isn't bad. Yes, some pieces are better in some versions and are weaker in others. I'm not going to make comparison since thats not the point of this entry. Just know that the film is a messy film that is nowhere near as bad as some critics would have you believe.

The film is the story of Alexander the Great told in flashback by someone who knew him. It hits all of the high points and gives you a taste of what his life was like.

If you listen to the commentary to the original cut (which is on the US Directors Cut release) you'll be amazed at how much they got right. As Robin Lane Fox comments repeatedly the critics who were claiming that the film is historically inaccurate either don't know their history or are inferring about things and events that we know nothing about.

Honestly listening to the commentary track is a history lesson and then some. Where Stone provides a solo commentary on the first recut of the film, this first time out Stone is eerily silent as he lets Fox talk for pretty much the entire time. You wouldn't believe all that is covered over the three hours. We get not only the history but talk of the hows and whys of the script and we get stories about the shooting of the film.

If you ever wanted to know what goes into compressing a historical event into a manageable film this is the place to go. For example toward the end of Alexander's march into India his troops mutinied wanting to just go home. Actually they mutinied several times and while Stone took heat for not dealing with the multiple mutinies it's pointed out that each mutiny was essentially a replay of the same event until Alexander finally gave in and agreed to go home.

It's also pointed out repeatedly that the film is not supposed to be a historical document, rather it's the telling of a story based on history. It wouldn't be possible to do a fully historically accurate portrait of Alexander simply because there is too much we don't know and there is too much to tell even in three hours.

Oliver Stone is of course no stranger to the historical accuracy controversy. Both his film JFK and Nixon took heavy heat from critics and historians who argued that Stone got it wrong. amazingly Stone fought back by publishing the screenplays for both films in an annotated form. Despite what his detractors have said Stone was extremely accurate in what he wrote giving detailed references to what he did with the material and why. Most importantly Stone argues that both films, like Alexander, are not supposed to be taken as straight history, rather they are stories that use history to get a point across. If you're using films, JFK in particular, as a text book you're going to run into trouble since that was never Stone's intention, rather it was a debate on the issues raised in the story.

I love the commentary on this disc. Its the sort of thing that truly deepens the experience of seeing a film. So many Commentaries are a waste of time with simple recounting of how things were shot and what was going on, and none of it really getting to the meat and potatoes of the issues behind what is being discussed in the film. The commentary for Alexander takes the step, if fills in holes and expands one's understanding and is the sort of thing you'll listen to more than once, even if you don't watch the film.

Ken Russell has died and the world gets a little less fun

I woke up to the news that director, occasional actor and frequent bad boy Ken Russell has died at 84. This is a great loss because when he was serious and actually making a serious film there was no one better.

Russell had always been one of my favorite directors, having made a series of films (Tommy, The Devils, Liztomania, Altered States) that pushed everyone's buttons. While he made a film or two that among the very worst I've seen (Fall of the Louse of Usher anyone?), he managed to make some of my favorites as well (Altered States and The Devils) simply because the films made you stop and think about things in a new way.

He will be missed.

(Reviews of The Devils and a few other Russell films are in the cue so keep an eye out)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Scorpion Thunderbolt (1988)

The final film of our Thanksgiving Turkeys to avoid is yet another film based on a story by AAV Creative Unit...aka Godfrey Ho and associates.

This movie walks that fine line between being "one of the absolutely worst films ever made" and "one of the absolutely worst films ever made, yet somehow entertaining". Its a line it crosses and re-crosses frequently with in its 90 minute running time making for a surreal experience. (And don't get me wrong this movie is BAD, but its occasionally as low as you can go in badness and still be enjoyable in a jaw dropping sort of way.)

The plot of this film has a witch queen sending off a rubber suited monster that's controlled by a guy playing a magic flute, to kill people while the cops try to stop the mayhem. Meanwhile in unrelated footage Richard Harrison runs around trying to look like he's part of the movie after a girl he picks up on the side of the road (after she flashes him her breasts) dies spewing orange ooze after a failed murder attempt during sex.

I wish I was making this up.

Dreadful, this is a movie that will tax even the most jaded bad movie lover. Die hard bad movie fans might, possibly on a masochistic night eat this up most others will be shaking their head wondering what in the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on and how many people actually paid to see it.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ninja Connection (aka Ninja in the Killing FIelds) (1984)

Ninjas in their sanctuary watch as their plans are busted up by the cops. They then decided to take matters in their own hands by going after the cops...or something...

Look this is bad, I mean really bad.

Two minutes in I knew this was yet another Godfrey Ho film, though he used one of his dozens of other names.

You know Ho, or if you don't you should (if only to avoid him). He's the whacked guy who takes good martial arts/Asian movies then shoots wrap around footage that doesn't match.Some times he takes finished films, and cuts them up but many times he takes the left over footage from a busted production and does something with it. Usually this means he re-dubs and re-cuts it beyond all recognition and turns it loose on the unsuspecting world as a "new" film.

Ho made a long line of ninja films with Richard Harrison that barely had Harrison in them. Actually he signed Harrison for what I believe was one film, but he shot so much extra footage he got a half dozen of more films out of it. When Harrison found out, apparently by seeing all these films with his name on them. He screamed bloody murder and then sued Ho who laughed all the way to the bank. Sadly Harrison didn't count on Ho's being so good at this nonsense that he could use the same movie with different wraparounds and call them different movies.

I say this with great loathing but Godfrey Ho is a master of the junk film. I wouldn't care if they were put together with any sort of skill, but they're not, I mean its plain to see the old and new footage do not match in any way. Worse any thing good in the old footage is killed by the really bad new footage. Its so bad its bad and not even remotely fun.

Ninja Connection or Ninja in the Killing Fields or what ever its called this week is like all Godfrey Ho films, its to be avoided, or sent to your worst enemy in the world as an expression of your deepest hatred.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Congratulations John and Randi

For those who don't know Unseen Films writers and all around great people John and Randi got married earlier today.

And there was much rejoicing.....

I was was there and I assure you thy really did take the plunge.

Much love and well wishes from everyone here at Unseen Films.

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1965)

Before we move on to a weekend pair of god awful Godfrey Ho films that finish out the Thanksgiving marathon of films to avoid we take a look at a German version of a classic of American Literature- Uncle Tom's Cabin.

You know you're doomed from the opening credits. Sometimes there is no hope even from the first frame.

Take for example today's film which begins with pictures of what appear to be slaves going through a swamp. This leads to a plantation house burning and more slaves. Finally there are some shots of a river boat at dusk. Over these images are titles read exactly as follows (with several seconds between each line:


presents a HALLMARK Roadshow Attraction

Harriet Beecher Stowe's

Immortal Classic

of American Literature

The Book Abraham Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War

The Eye-Witness Story

of slavery in the Deep South

Uncle Tom's Cabin

We then get a credits role which put outs the names and roles of everyone associated with this major WTF production as we get "Let My People Go" sung by a bunch of slaves.

From there we get a pale version of the novel as we get a great villain in Simon Legree and more or less cardboard cut outs of everyone else. Events whiz by for maximum sleaze (though IMDB says this film got a G rating). We even get a bar room fight and siege of a monastery that looks like they were lifted from a bad spaghetti western.

If the fate of the slaves hinged on this film we'd still have slavery.

I'm forced to ask what were they thinking?

Okay, I saw this dubbed into English, I did not see this in the original German (not that I'd want to) but I can't really imagine line readings that could make the film more over the top and border line offensive. It's so badly dubbed that whats supposed to be tears during the death of little Eva sounds like ruckus laughter.

Who made this film?

Electronic music?

This film is a mind blower.

All I kept thinking as I watched this What the hell were they thinking?

I completely understand that the film is a product of the time it was made in and the place it was made (Americans have a very uneasy relationship with the book and have been loathed to adapt it since the silent days so it figures it was made in Europe) but there had to be a better way then this. I mean is it wrong to expect a film to be not laughable, inoffensive, marginally well made?

I guess it is.

On the other hand to me the source novel was always problematic. It never struck me as very good. To my eyes, back when I read it many many years ago, it seemed to be of interest purely historically for what it inspired rather than for how well it was or wasn't written. It was a historical object and not a work of art. I suppose on some level I shouldn't have expect high art (or even low art) from such a book.

As you can see I really didn't like the film. Outside of a wonderfully evil portrayal by Herbert Lom as Simon Legree, there is nothing to recommend from this film except the wrong sort of laughter and pain at how bad it is.

I know this film has a 5.8 at IMDB but there is no way that can be right. No way.

Avoid this one.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Santo contro los asesinos de otros mundos (1973)

Happy Thanksgiving- todays Turkey is really really bad, and I say that as a bad film fan.

Santo Vs The Blob...

... well...Santo vs a lot of guys under a large rubber sheet.

This is a painfully awful, laughably bad Santo film. It's probably the worst of the lot. Sure some of them are duller (say either Border of Terror or Jinetes del Terror which proves that Santo doesn't work in a western setting) but for unabashed badness this is the worst I've seen.

The plot has something to do with a madman unleashing a space microbe on humanity. The microbe starts off foamy and then turns in to a lumpy brown blob, aka men under a sheet.

After an initial round of attacks Santo is called in and after some discussion is sent to some remote location where he fights gladiator style against several opponents. After beating them he has the blob set on him and he runs around a house chased by said blob, before before escaping out a hidden side door. The blob chases him to an air field where Santo manages to take off before the blob attacks the plane.

That's the first half hour and it's stupid and ludicrous and beyond belief.

The film then stops dead for some sort of a conventional plot before the blob is back in action for the final third.

You'll laugh, you'll cry you'll want to throw the DVD across the room.

What were they thinking?

Okay I've seen a bunch of the Santo movies as well as many others featuring masked wrestlers but few have been as down right bad as this.

Much of the problem is that the blob thing is so awful you can't believe that they actually thought they would get away with showing it. I'm a fan of bad monsters but come on at least there is an attempt on some level to make it look like something other than a tarp with people under it.

Part of the problem, as with many of the later Santo films, is that the plot stops for long periods for wrestling action. Sure it allows you to have a thirty minute movie and stretch it to around 80 but it ends up boring the audience because rarely is it any good (I'm talking where it's just used as filler)

Simply put this movie stinks worse then unwashed wrestling shorts.

While I will keep the DVD to show my friends the bad monster, I won't be showing the whole film to them since outside of a couple of sequences this film isn't even good MST3K material.

Avoid this one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blood Sucking Freaks (1976)

This is a bad movie. It was made to be intentionally bad and if you don’t know that this will be one of the worst viewing experiences of your life. Then again even if you know it the film goes from being a bad bad movie to a good bad movie. When I saw this film for the first time with my brother at a midnight screening we watched the film in silence, both hating the film but not wanting to say anything to each other because we thought the other person was liking the film.

After that the film became a party tape that we’d drag out and inflict on our friends and loved ones with the promise of them seeing a great or unique film. No one really liked it, even if we admired the twisted nature of it all.

The plot of the film has Sardu the great, a magician doing all sorts of nasty things on and off stage to various people. The nature of the on stage antics lead to the films original title The Incredible Torture Show. Its basically a series of gory tortures and rude behavior for “laughs”. (probably the mildest of which is using a bare bottom as a dart board)

Truth be told as much as I’ve co-oped the non sequiteur statement of “elective neurosurgery”, I really hate this film. Its stupid, poorly done, extremely misogynistic and only occasionally remotely fun. In a many ways it’s the embryonic form of what we now call torture porn. It’s a series of nasty things for the edification of the audience, but its so artificial all the life has been sucked out of it.

As a straight film it really sucks rocks.

After suffering through and inflicting the film for years I thought I was done with the film. I thought I was free of ever having to see it again….

…but then someone handed me the special edition DVD (Why? WHY? I don’t know) and in a moment of self abuse I sat down and watched the film with the commentary. I was shocked to learn that the film was made to be bad and as a spoof of artistic pretention and horror films. They wanted it to be bad. They thought it was a satire. It was released as a horror film. It was promoted as a straight film with the result that everyone thought it was a worse film than it was. Most people didn’t get the joke because they didn’t know it was a joke.

Knowing that, my extreme dislike for the film softened. So perhaps the film isn’t THAT bad. Watching it with the commentary I found myself laughing with the film for the first time.

Maybe I thought it wasn’t that bad.

Sometime later I tried it again on it’s own. Stripped of the friendly commentary and left to its own jokey terms I found the film really doesn’t work. While not quite the cesspit I once thought it’s now a less extreme version of a bad bad movie.

Sadly the film is back to being a punch line to a joke.

This is one to avoid

Day of the Dead (2008)

Today in our week of films to avoid we take a look at proof at how bad remakes can be.

In the wake of the successful remake of Dawn of the Dead and the remake of The Crazies comes the very ill advised remake of George Romero's Day of the Dead. This film is so ill as to be gasping it's last breath as it's pulled off life support.

The work of the usually reliable Steve Miner (House, Soul Man, Warlock, Lake Placid, and Halloween H2O) this turd ball is easily the worst film he's done by a long shot. It's also the worst thing that the normally on target Ving Rhames has done. Its a film so bad that I was forced to ask what catastrophic event happened to force Rhames to take part in a poop pile like this.

In three words: THIS FILM SUCKS.

Because of some military accident a small town is quarantined because the dead are coming back to life.Focusing on a young woman in the military from the town (who has returned home as part of the army force) and her friends and family.

Directed by Steve Miner, a man who can make some enjoyable if unremarkable films this is clearly the work of a man on auto pilot and a man who's too long in the TV trenches (Miner has been producing and directing for TV a great deal over the last decade). There is no tension and no passion. The film is put together reasonably well but you can tell no one really cared. A case in point is Ving Rhames, as the head of the military force. For the first time ever he phones in his performance and is such a non-entity that I wasn't even sure it was him.

As a remake of or compared to, the Romero film of the same title, (which is not mentioned anywhere that I could see on screen), this film is beyond bad. It simply takes the idea of the military and zombies and mangles it.

Its awful. Its completely unconnected to any of the Romero originals or remakes and exists purely in its own twisted little world.

This is one to avoid at all costs.

(Lastly, and this is a serious question, are we at the point where any grade "C" actor and actress can be put into a uniform and called soldier? Apparently they can because thats what the cast is. No one in this film looks like they were ever in the military or even on a military base. Maybe its seeing all the soldiers on TV, but no one really looks like a soldier even remotely.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dancing Zoo (2009) The penultimate film in this year's Korean Cultural Service's film series

Dancing Zoo was to be the final film in this year's Korean Cultural Service screenings, but Grady Hendrix surprised everyone by announcing that there will be one more on December 20th. The film id a surprise for now. Its a big name film from sometime between now and 1999 that isn't on home video, or rather has gone out of print. (Your guess is as good as mine as to what it might be).

The film was the least attended screening I've been to. I'm guessing the monsoon was the reason fewer people showed up. I was there, so was Mondocurry, sans the lovely Shigeko, who was figuratively under the weather.

Reaction to the film was mixed. Some people I overheard didn't hate it, but they didn't love it either.

I liked it a great deal and found it a nice continuation of some of the romntic comedies that I saw this week from Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now Series (and which I'll be reviewing in two weeks when the series starts).

The story of the film is that a young man decides to leave home for a while. While saying good bye to his animal friends at the local zoo, via songs, he meets a lovely young girl. She's taken aback by his singing and they become friends. She's a successful singer on the club circuit, who is working alone after a break up with a boyfriend. Deciding to stop going solo she is unable to find anyone to play with her, so she calls him. From there the pair fall in love, fight over the music, break up, go their separate ways, try to get back together and then have to deal with his solo career taking off.

A completely atypical film by western standards, this is a great look at a relationship where the two people in it can only communicate through music or through silence. Words for these two, get in the way. This lack of communication, except through some wonderful songs, may make you crazy. The film feels like there are gaps and that it's disjointed, except that not only are the songs being performed, they are expressing each characters feelings. The music fills the gaps. Its a tricky thing to have done because I'm not sure that some people in the audience, used to typical Hollywood musicals, or even something like Once, got what was going on.

On many levels other than the meet cute and initial round of lovey dovey romance, I don't think the film is at all like any romance you'll ever see out of Hollywood - People say and do things to hurt people, things are not said, we jump through time, and most of all there is a real rawness to the emotion that transcends the Hollywood mainstream stereotype. There is a sequence where the couple is driving into the country in his managers car and they fight because she thinks he's been unfaithful. How the scene plays out is not your typical histrionic scene, rather its a scene where emotions bleed out and exhaust the people involved. The argument is not completely rational it emotional. The result is that you feel as though you're listening in on a private conversation.

I really like this film a great deal. I like that it forces you to work with it. I love that the film feels like its bits of these characters lives on screen and not a film. There is an emotional truth to the characters I can relate to. I see the behaviors in several people I know, including myself.

And then there is the music. Wonderful ballads with words that fill in the gaps and speak to your heart. Even if the rest of the film was terrible, I still would have liked this film for the music and how the images are cut to it. I am going to have to go into some of the Korean shops in New York City and see if I can run it down.

This is a flawed but amazing little film.

If you want to know why the Korean Cultural Service's film series is so spectacular, it's that it brings great little films, like this one, to the attention of an American audience. I was talking to the woman who programs the series tonight before the screening and I was trying to explain how great the film series is and how wonderful it is to have a film series that brings great films to light, more so in that many of the films simply are not available anywhere on home video and would never be seen by anyone without it. As I said to her, the films are so good that they give me pause when they conflict with other film series simply because I know if nothing else a screening at the Korean Cultural Service will be interesting enough to warrant the time and effort it takes for me to train into Manhattan. I may have a screening at say the New York Film Festival, but I can't be sure it's going to be worth my time. Any trip to the Tribeca Cinemas for one of the films is, even if I don't like it, I still get something out of it that makes it worth the trip.

Thank god for the Korean Cultural Service and their bi-weekly screenings.

Now that I'm done digressing I'll say if you get the chance do see Dancing Zoo. And in order to give you a taste I give you a music video from the film...well it's got clips from the film but I don't think it's in the film (though it may be the end credits music)

And remember there is one more screening on December 20th before the series picks up in January.

100 Million BC (2008)

Our week of films to avoid continues with 100 Million BC

Think the worst SyFy Original and make it 10 times worse. This is everything that is wrong with direct to video and made for TV movies. (Then again this was picked up by Syfy after the fact so apparently they can't even pick good finished films)

The alleged plot has a scientist who worked on the Philadelphia Experiment take a team of soldiers through a time machine to 100 million BC where he hopes to rescue friends and family who slipped through time 60 years before. Lots of badly rendered (they look underdone) monsters attack.

Think cheap productions.

Think poor performances except the name actors.

Think really awful special effects.I mean really bad effects that look like they were taken away from the animators before they were done.

This looks more like an amateur production then any sort of paid gig, (which is sad since in the right hands the story might have actually worked). Clearly this was released on video to cash in on 10,000 BC. But did you think about should one really bother to pick up a probable turkey that is made to follow a turkey?

Its films like this that make me sad that Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn't still on the air because it's ripe for being picked on.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lots of great movies this week and next all coming to a theater near you

This week is Thanksgiving and while we're doing a week of bad films as our regular posts that doesn't mean you should have to suffer watching turkeys. To be honest this is the start of the holiday movie season and there are tons of great films coming to a theater near you.

First off there is a ton of great stuff if you're in New York.

Edward Yang is getting a retrospective at Lincoln Center. This will include the first theatrical run of A Brighter Summer Day which I reviewed about two weeks ago. Its a stunning coming of age film that will knock your socks off. As one person at a press screening for another film said "I didn't expect to like it. I went because I had nothing going on that day. But I instantly fell into it and all I can say is its one of the most amazing films I've seen all year". Yes yes it is.

BAM is running 2001 on Thursday and Friday and Tarkovsky's Solaris on Saturday and Sunday. If you've never seen them on a BIG screen it's worth schlepping into Brooklyn.

The New York International Children's Film Festival continues their weekly screenings at the IFC Center with two films with some winners over the next couple of weeks.

This weekend, starting Thursday is one of my favorite all time films ever any where period the end. Nocturna is a Spanish animated film that is beyond wonderful and marvelous. Its the story of a little boy in an orphanage who has to travel across the city late one night to find out why the stars are going out. Its a film that explains what happens at night when we are asleep. You MUST see this film. How great is this film? Its the first film that was ever reviewed here at Unseen Films.

While not as good as Nocturna, Oblivion Island is also one of the early reviews here at Unseen. the film concerns a young girl who travels to the land of discarded items to get something she lost back. There are some magical moments here and it's worth seeing when it runs the first weekend in December.

Mid December through mid January the NYICFF and the IFC Center will be running all of the Ghibli feature films up to 2008 in subtitled and dubbed versions. If you've never seen things like Porco Rosso or Howl's Moving Castle or any of the others on the big screen this is your chance. (For those outside of New York the NYICFF now has the theatrical rights to all of the films and they will be releasing them to theaters around the country)

December 9th at the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan My Beautiful Girl Mari will screen. Another one of my favorite films of all time the chance to see this on a big screen is a treat. Here is more proof that Disney, Pixar and Ghibli are not the only ones cranking out classic animation.

As for those of you around the country the next two weeks brings some heavy hitters to screens near you.

Hugo, A Dangerous Method and My Week With Marilyn and The Artist all open this week. All are worth your time and money to see them.

Next Week we get the good but wildly over rated Shame, with a great performance by Carry Mulligan.Also opening is the off kilter film from Beat Takashi Outrage. Both films aren't all they should and could be but both offer enough that they are worth seeing if they tickle your fancy.

As you can see there is plenty of reason to get out and see a great film.

Don't Worry We'll Think of a Title (1966)

Starting today we’re going to do a week of turkeys for Thanksgiving which is Thursday. Things will run through next weekend and we’ll be looking at a bunch of films you probably should avoid.

First up the poisoned little confection Don’t Worry We’ll Think of a Title.

This awful little film was written by, produced by and stars Morey Amsterdam, best known as one of the supporting players from the Dick Van Dyke Show. He had a long career as a Hollywood gag man and as Borsht Belt Comedian. He was a funny guy who could really sell a joke, especially a bad one. He also could write a very funny joke…whole movies on the other hand were another matter.

Sorry Morey, I’ve now seen several films that you’ve written and none of them are really any good and Don’t Worry We’ll Think of a Title is probably the worst.

Shot at the Desilu studios around the time of the Dick Van Dyke show and starring Amsterdam’s Van Dyke co-stars Rosemarie and Richard Deacon, this film tells the story of a waitress who inherits a bookstore and goes off to run it. She is joined by her two co-workers and the trio fall into a nest of Cold War spies looking for a Soviet spaceman. It’s full of puns and spoofs and really bad, embarrassingly bad jokes. The film also has a ton of cameo’s from Danny Thomas, Carl Reiner, Forrest Tucker, Moe Howard, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies (Not just the actress but the character) and several others.

Regrettably almost none of it works.

The jokes just lay there. I can’t be certain if the writing is what’s wrong or if it’s the direction since a good deal of this is similar to some of the nonsense that Laugh In put on the small screen a year or so later. I’m guessing that it’s the script since where Laugh In was quick cut joke next thing joke next thing joke next thing joke, this film has to continue on past what would have been the black out on TV or in vaudeville. It’s a long series of one liners strung together impossibly with the result the cast and the film strangles on the thing wire holding it all together.

This is awful and 15 minutes in I wanted to shut it off….but I didn’t figuring it can’t get worse…sadly it did.

Yes the cameos work, mostly because they are throw aways.

Not worth your time.

For those wishing to torture themselves or loved ones this is in the Turner Classics rotation

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Serbian Film (2010) A word of warning

I had heard a great deal about this film and it's censorship issues and put it on my list of films to see when I ran across it.

Some times I should just let it all alone...

This is a warning- supposedly it's an allegory about the situation in Serbia and elsewhere in the world as to how we have to sell ourselves to get by; and how we are raped from birth to death - it's really 105 minutes of depravity.

The plot of the film has an out of work porn actor getting sucked back into the business for what will be a high paying artistic film. He is told don't read the fine print of the contract, just read the numbers of what he'll make. For cash he signs the contract and is dropped into hell.

I'm not sure if I should mention the film here at Unseen since it's not very good. If the film didn't provoke a reaction the film would never ever have been picked up by any remotely mainstream company. Frankly, the depravity is all it has going for it. However this film has gotten a US distributor and will be out and about on DVD so I'm going to throw my two cents in and just warn you that this is a tough and brutal film.

This is a graphically violent, sexually perverse film that leaves no perversion undocumented or implied (what ever you're thinking, it's in here). While the film isn't sexually graphic (as in penetration) it goes to places and infers things that most us would rather not think about. If you don't want to be upset don't watch this film. No one and nothing is unviolated.

I have any number of problems with the film on a purely a cinematic level. First the film kind meanders around for much of it not going anywhere as Milos, our hero, tries to decide what he is going to do. Then once he takes the job the film just get weird for weirds sake as we get these arty set ups that are more ludicrous than anything. By the time the film hits the one hour mark and Milos becomes drugged, things just are nonsensical. Its a series of sequences and flash backs of all the terrible things that have happened. It messes with our heads for no really good reason, other than just to up the list of things going on.

Worse we get characters, such as Milos' brother, who make no sense. One minute they do one thing and the next we get something else. I'm not going to go into the details since I'm trying to keep this relatively family friendly. Basically the characters do what ever the director wants and not anything that makes logical sense. Even Milos, who, along with his family, are suppose to be a nice normal family doesn't always seem to be a nice guy (drugging aside).

My biggest beef with the film is that the director is insisting that the film has a right to show the twisted sex and violence because the film has a point of view. Watching the film I couldn't think of one reason for this film to exist except to act as a calling card for the filmmakers. To me it's simply a film that uses what many people would consider offensive subjects to get noticed. They then put it in the wrappings of a film about how we are all abused so that it could take the high ground.

I don't buy a word of it.

I watched the film and then the introduction and the Q&A that's on the DVD I have, and to me it just doesn't stand up. The deep meaning isn't there. I would believe it about as much as I would believe that something like the Big Bird Cage was a heart felt plea about women's rights.

If I sound annoyed and angry it's because some one it peeing on my leg and trying to say it's raining. Seriously, if this film had just burst on the scene as a depraved confection with no pretense of any deeper meaning I probably would have said it was an okay but sick little film. While I will grant that it is (slightly) different than your typical torture porn (there is more going on) once it reached up out of the muck for the brass ring it asked to be held at a higher standard, which it doesn't meet.

Ultimately it's a not very good film that has delusions of grandeur.

(If you want to know why I would even remotely confuse today's and yesterday's film look at the posters and you'll see why.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dancing Zoo- The fInal Korean Cultural Service offering for 2012 is Tuesday at 7PM

No review just yet, but it looks to be an Unseen Films gathering at the Tribeca Cinema when Dancing Zoo screens Tuesday at 7pm.

The Korean Cultural Service describes the film as follows:
It flew under the radar when it was first released, but since then it’s picked up thousands of passionate underground fans. A riff on A Star is Born mixed with a little bit of Once, this is one of the sweetest, saddest movies about two kids with guitars who fall in love ever made. It’s a familiar story for everyone from struggling Williamsburg singer-songwriters, to Seoul’s underground rockers. Joon-Soo and Hee-Jung meet cute when he’s singing a break-up song to a monkey in the zoo, the two fall for each other and decide to take their relationship to the next level: they start a band together. But one gets successful, while the other falls by the wayside, and it’s not clear that any number of power pop duets can keep them together. If you were ever in a band, this one’s for you.

I call it your last chance to get in on one of the best kept cinema secrets in New York. I'm not going to wax poetic about the films that have screened, hell you've read reviews of most of them here. All I'm going to say is that this is one of the best film series in New York. Sure there have been some misses, but I can't say that any film this year hasn't been interesting and worth seeing on some level. Best of all it's all FREE so you're not out anything.

Any film lover in New York should be attending these screenings.

As always the screening is at the Tribeca Cinema. Doors are at 630. Film at 7pm.

(And YES the series will pick up in 2012)

Made in Serbia (2005)

I was confronted by a problem: there were two movies before me with Serbia in the title and I wasn't sure which was the right one. The was A Serbian Film and Made in Serbia. Both had to do with the Serbian porn industry. One was a documentary and one was fiction film. I was pretty sure the one I saw reviewed was A Serbian Film, but in a moment of doubt I blinked and I picked both of them up. After the fact I realized the one I wanted was A Serbian Film. Which left me with the question: What the hell is Made in Serbia?

Made in Serbia is an oddly unforgettable documentary on the Serbian porn industry. It was made by Mladen Djordjevic who is still obsessed with an ex-girlfriend. He was once her bodyguard and then lover before they split. He went off to study film and she went off to Hungary where she started making porn films.

Finding he couldn't forget her he found he became obsessed with porn films from everywhere but Serbia. Serbian porn he was lead to believe was awful and a step above home made. Deciding to change the industry for the better and hoping to see his ex again, he decides to make a porn film of his own in which his ex will star. This film is the result of his deciding to both film his efforts to make the film and his effort to get to know everything he can about the industry.

Sexually graphic but completely unerotic this is a really odd film. Its a weird free form exercise that seems to be as rambling as the directors efforts. Starting with talking to the owners of an adult shop he moves on to talking to THE producer of porn in Serbia, who controls everything pretty much completely. From there we get to meet various actors and actresses who discuss the industry and why they do what they do.

Its a sad but lovable bunch of misfits who all seem like nice people who just happen to make sex films...not that there really are that many home grown productions since Mladen Djordjevic remarks early on that it is possible to watch every Serbian porn film ever made in one night. (The truly sad thing is that the Serbian film industry output for some years was just a single porn film).

I'm very mixed on the film. It's definitely a unique slice of life and a look at barely breathing industry in a barely breathing country, but I have no idea what the point of it all is. Its full of some intriguing characters but in the end, hell before the end I had no idea where it was going or why. Okay yes I know the film is tracking Djordjevic's journey to try and make a film and see his ex-girlfriend again, but I have no idea why is he sharing...

...on the other hand it's a film that kind of hung around with me. There is something about it that won't let me forget it. There is something that makes me want to share it. Its a film that I want to hand over to a few of my fellow movie nut friends who like off Hollywood films and stuff no one else has seen and say "see this"... basically its the sort of film that Unseen Films was started to highlight. As I frequently say the films here aren't always the best, but they are almost always interesting for one reason or another. Made in Serbia isn't the best, but it certainly interesting, in pieces if not in it's entirety.

Ultimately this is an okay little film, that's worth trying, especially if you can scrounge up a rental or a loaner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Shrine (2010) (revised)

Okay, lets get a few things out of the way, the Polish setting seems to have been picked at random and was done so without researching, ie. it takes place in a town with a name that couldn't be in in Poland since the name isn't Polish in pronunciation or spelling. Also if you know Polish the Polish dialog is a mixture of poor to awful (or so I've read).

That said this is a damn creepy film.

The story follows a group of journalists to a small town in Poland which they have linked to a series of disappearances, particularly to the disappearance of a friend. Once there they find not only are they not welcome, but there is some really weird stuff going on, like a tower of non-moving smoke or fog in the forest(with something at its center).

Nominally the sort of thing that you've seen a couple of hundred times before, the film some how manages to take the set up cliches and turn them on their head. Actually what it does is it takes the cliches and uses them against us, stretching out sequences in ways that we expect and then suddenly don't, or turning things side ways(What happens in the fog still makes you jump even though you suspect whats coming). I also give the film points for not taking the easy way out at the end with a gotcha ending.

Watching the film on IFC In Theaters On Demand I found that I wanted to hit the fast forward to get past the creepy parts, I didn't of course, I hung out to the bitter end. I did hit the rewind because I wanted to see somethings a second and third time.

This film creeped me out, there is something about the tone and the mood that just is bothersome.

While I certainly wouldn't call this one of the great horror films of all time, I will say that it's yet another in a growing line of horror films that I saw in 2011 that have bucked the trend and refused to do things by the numbers or simply be a remake of an old title. The result of this seems to be proof that we maybe in a mini-golden age of horror.

Search this one out on NetFlix or IFC on Demand.

Tomorrow at Seven (1933)

A killer known as the Black Ace is on the loose. The Ace leaves a calling card with the time of his victims death on it. The Ace has killed several prominent people and a rich friend of some of the victims, Winters, is looking to put a stop to it. Chester Morris plays a mystery writer putting together a book on the killer. He meets the daughter of Winters on a train on his way to offer what he knows in the hunt for the killer. Not long after that Winters receives a death threat and while in the middle of an air plane flight the flights flicker for a moment and he is killed.

This is an okay film that is ruined by two bumbling cops Dugan and Clancy who push a witty and clever mystery into the realm of silly. Normally I like the work of Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins but here they just come off as being bumbling fools. Its awful, or rather not funny. They take the desire to know more out of the mystery and the laughs out of the comedy. There is no real reason for them to exist except to kill time.If you can divorce them from the rest of the movie this is a good little mystery, something not easy to do.

Worth seeing if you run across it. Not sure its a rental but on late night TV its worth trying

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The tentative schedule for the major film events at Lincoln Center

I got an email from the Film Society from the membership people talking about the up coming series, The Romanian Film Festival and Spanish Cinema Now series (both of which we are covering in some small way with reviews locked and loaded and ready to run closer to time).

Also included is a list of the dates of the major events/series for 2012. This year we covered 9 of them and if all goes well we'll be hip deep into at least that many in 2012.

For those who want to know the list of dates, quoted from the email, is as follows:

The dates have been set for each of our eagerly-anticipated annually-returning series – so mark your calendars now! We look forward to sharing all of this exception programming with you in the New Year! (Please keep in mind that all dates are subject to change.)

New York Jewish Film Festival: January 11-26
Dance on Camera: January 27-31
Film Comment Selects: February 17-March 1
Rendez-vous with French Cinema: March 2-11
New Directors/New Films: March 21-April 1
New York African Film Festival: April 11-17
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema: June 8-14
Human Rights Watch Film Festival: June 15-28
New York Asian Film Festival: June 29-July 12
Latin Beat: August 10-23
New York Film Festival: September 28-October 14
Views from the Avant-Garde: October 5-8
Scary Movies: October 26-31
Spanish Cinema Now: December 7-20

I'm planning my days off already....

Murder at Midnight (1931)

This is a good little thriller from the beginnings of sound. The only real problems it has are due to the era it was made, one when music wasn't a standard part of talkies, so the pace can seem a bit slow.

The plot concerns a murder during an elaborate game of charades. The bullets fired aren't blanks and as a result no one is playing dead. Of course since the game was taking place during a very fancy party everyone is a suspect. A neat twist is that any of the stereotypical scenes of the detective bringing everyone together are at the beginning of the movie, well before the denouncement.

The dialog is witty and the mystery keeps your interest, which is a big plus. I'm reasonably certain that the mystery is played pretty fairly which is nice since many times in B- movies the murderer comes out of left field.

Despite this not listing as available on video, Alpha Video does have it as a double feature with the very short Moonstone, and the pair makes a nice evenings viewing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Secret Column ( AKA The Four Just Men AKA The Secret Four) (1939)

Edgar Wallace sourced story of four regular guys who use their position and power to fight the enemies of England. Its a rip roaring little film about the the four men trying to stop the Nazis from destroying England (Though the Nazi's are never mentioned by name). It begins with what is supposed to be the execution of two men , which is then turned into a clever nick of time rescue. The story then shifts back to England as the quartet struggles to find who is the traitor in the British government.

It was made in the months just prior to the start of the Second World War it shows very clearly where the filmmakers stood- against appeasement and for standing up for something.

It's a a wonderful little film about men who will kill to keep England safe-much to the horror of a woman who stumbles on their work. The idea that some people need killing is one that was very alien to most movie audiences at the time and the notion tinges the film very nicely toward the seriousness that would become film noir in a few short years. The action is good, and the suspense real since it's clear from the outset that good guys do die.

This is one of my finds of the year and a real blast. This is a film that is going to stay in the favorites pile for frequent revisits.

I should note the main villain is Alan Napier,Alfred from the TV show Batman, as a traitorous minister in the employ of the Nazi's (who are never named)

A must see that can be had from Sinister Cinema.

(The source novel was turned into a TV series in 1959 starring Jack Hawkins)

Death from a Distance (1935)

During a lecture at a planetarium one of the people in the audience is killed. The police are called and with the help of, or possibly despite the interference of a female reporter the killer is eventually unmasked.

If nothing else this film has a unique location which is played up a great deal as the film milks it for all its worth. What is worth is plenty since this is a snappy mystery with great dialog and a decent mystery. The acting is good and the cast is made up of troopers who you've probably seen in countless other films.

This is one of those movie that's worth seeking out and worth buying. Alpha Video has put out in a cheap edition and I've be picked up copies for friends who like the really good mysteries.

Keep an eye on Amazon, you won't be disappointed

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Midnight Warning (1932)

Detective Cornish goes to visit his friend Dr Walcott at a swanky hotel. Walcott has found something that Cornish would find interesting, a human ear bone in his fireplace. As Walcott is standing the window he suddenly collapses. Cornish calls for a doctor who arrives and tells Cornish that his friend collapsed from the heat, and that the blood on his forehead was from the fall. Something doesn't seem right and when the pair tries to investigate someone again takes a shot at the good doctor. With that the detective and the doctor are plunged head long into a mystery that the owners don't want them to know anything about.

From the opening minutes this movie grabs you and pulls you in. Just what in the heck is going on here? You have to know, as mystery is added to mystery and layer is piled on layer you really do want to get to the bottom of things. Certainly things take a strange turn or two, but in this case make it even more intriguing. This is a great little thriller.

The question I want to know is why this film isn't better known since its a dynamite way to spend an hour. William "Stage" Boyd makes a great detective and Hooper Atchley as Dr Walcott is simply a great deal of fun. Not only is the mystery really mysterious, you have some truly frightening scenes toward the end as the dead seem not to be so dead after all.These are the sort of thing you'd expect in a horror film not a mystery film, certainly not one that isn't an old dark house. (You may want to keep the lights on during the second half of the film)

See this movie. This is a keeper, and while you may not watch it a lot, it will be one that you hand off to friends that you'd like to turn on to a really good movie. See this movie you will enjoy it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Eyes (1934)

During a masked party Stephen Kester is found dead in the closet of his room, three stab wounds in his back. Suspicion falls on everyone at the party, especially Kester's granddaughter and her fiancée who fled the house after disabling all of the other cars and cutting the phone lines. As the police investigate they are shadowed and helped along by a mystery writer.

Good Long Island based murder mystery novel keeps you guessing until almost the end of the film. Its not until a few knots about motive are untangled that you'll know who did it and why. Its a neatly plotted mystery that I think works better for lifting some of the dialog from the novel since it seems to move the film along at a good clip, even if most of the actions are simply in wide circles around the mansion. The cast is full of B-movie stalwarts who all fill their roles with a good amount doubt as to their possible guilt or innocence. Even nominal lead Charles Starrett as Michael Tracy, the mystery writer, manages to keep you guessing as to whether he did it or not.

A solid and very enjoyable mystery. It maybe light and fluffy but it will entertain you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Empty Beach (1985)

DB here. Reg returns with what he calls an Unsolicited Review. Solicited or not I'm happy to have yet another review from our correspondent from Australia.

Peter Corriss is an Australian university professor who writes Chandlerian detective novels as a side-line. This 1985 effort marks the only attempt so far to turn his books into film.

The first thing to say about this film is that the cinematography is gorgeous and Sydney has never looked better and the art director's emphasis on the colours blue and white serves the sun-drenched daylight scenes very well, and the brightness is actually a very clever idea for a film which is obviously working every film noir trope in the book.

The plot kicks off with Corriss' unashamed Phillip Marlowe analog hero, Cliff Hardy, being hired by Marion Singer, a widow all in white. Her much older, property-developer and businessman husband went out for a day's sailing two years earlier and disappeared at sea. Now she has received an anonymous note saying that the writer has seen him back in Sydney and he's in rough shape. If you know Chandler, it won't surprise you that Hardy discovers that Singer had some very dodgy business interests and a lot of people who wanted him dead, and if you know film noir, you already know who the real villain of the movie is.

And what follows is a war between the script and the art director.

Bryan Brown actually makes a good fist of the Marlowesque Hardy, but almost without exception, (John Wood manages to hold his own as the put-upon police detective-sergeant,) every other acting performance in this film is atrocious. Special mention should go to Ray Barrett who should consider himself lucky that the set-designers weren't using lead-based paint. because his scenery-chewing villainy would surely have given him a lethal dose.

And the plot quickly becomes so byzantine that having watched it about twenty times, I still don't know how the sub-plot involving Leon, the homeless guy connects in.

But it is sumptuous to watch and Brown gets to deliver one of the best introduction lines in cinematic history: "The name's Cliff, you should drop over some time.

The Empty Beach is a deeply flawed movie, but most of those flaws are due to over-ambition.

Here is the video for the theme song which tends to emphasise the noir aspects which I felt didn't work rather than the cinematography which did:

Invasion (1965)

Are you Disappointed that civilization such as ours can still produce destructive people. You're right we are ashamed.

British science fiction tale written by Robert Holmes, who many of you who are long time fans of Dr Who know as a writer and script editor of that show. He was the creator of the Autons and the Sontarans and others. Elements of this film was reused in the Dr Who story Spearhead From Space.

The film begins with a mysterious fog in the the woods. A couple, a man and his mistress run into a strange man who wanders in to road and in front of their car. Panicked he drops his mistress off before taking the strange man to the hospital. As the doctors try to deduce where the man came from (it's clear from the tests they are doing he's not from these here parts),the military investigates what they believe is the landing of a space ship of some sort.

My mentioning of this film coming from one of the writers of Dr Who isn't unintentional, it's very apropos since the film plays like an episode of Who or some similar TV show but aimed at the big screen (we see a nudie book cover at the start and there is some blood). Its a solid little story, even if it has echoes of stories that came before and since. One of the things that I like is that other than a couple of scenes with spaceships, almost everything science fictiony is implied. This isn't a gadget filled film rather it's a film full of characters and ideas.

to be certain it's not the best film ever made, or even the best film of its type, however it's an enjoyable like way to fill 80 minutes on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chun-Yi Hsieh's Braid wins a DGA Student Film Award

I have some fantastic news to report. Chun-Yi Hsieh' film Braid won one of the DGA's Student Film Awards.

You remember Braid don't you?. This was the short film I missed at Tribeca when I walked out on a collection of not very good short films. Unfortunately I walked out on before Braid screened.

I only ended up seeing the film because it's director emailed me to say he thought I should see it. He was right I should have seen it because even now six months on it's still a film that haunts me and is solidly on my list as one of the best films of 2011.

Here is the DGA Press release on the awards.
And here is the Variety piece on the awards.

A huge round of applause from everyone here at Unseen Films for a well deserved award.

For those who want a taste of Braid here is the trailer:

Braid 辮子(Bian Zi) Trailer from Chun-Yi Hsieh 謝駿毅 on Vimeo.

And for those who want more proof for how good the director is here is a lipstick commercial that is posted on his website. Its a commercial but you'll see just how good his eye is:

Lipstick Commercial, 口紅廣告 from Chun-Yi Hsieh 謝駿毅 on Vimeo.

More videos can be found on on his Vimeo channel including the really good documentary Joyce Agape and the short film Toyman (which proved to me that Braid was no fluke)

For all things Chun-Yi Hsieh go to his website here.

Braid also one the Best Student Short Film at the Traverse FIlm Festival in July (I missed that one).

I've had a nice email conversation with Chun-Yi Hsieh since this posted and I wanted to say that he has several future projects in the works including a new short film that is post production and three possible feature projects and a new documentary that are in the planning stages. Basically this means we haven't heard the last of Mr Hsieh yet (thank god).

Gog (1954)

With a scientist that looks like a young Dr Clayton Forester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 this is the sort of science fiction film that they don't make any more. That's a good thing and a bad thing.

Shot in 3D this is the story of a secret government installation buried deep underground that is where they are working on a space station that will carry a deadly light intensifying mirror which will make nuclear weapons obsolete. (Its arranged like the installation in the Andromeda Strain). As the film opens a scientific security agent has been dispatched to do some quiet investigating. Things however instantly get dicey as accidents are revealed to be murder. A high flying jet is believed to be sending radio messages which are controlling the various robotic workers on killing sprees. (The title comes from two of the robots - Gog and Magog)

More mystery than action film with some nice use of depth (if you happen to be seeing this in 3D) this film is alternately exciting and howlingly funny.

The funny parts include the wacky multi-armed robots of the title, the wonderful cold war attitude about an un named enemy seeking to do harm to our efforts to prevent war; and the screamingly naive attitude toward radiation (come on a room is loaded with contamination and it's made safe by a guy walking in wearing a shower curtain).

The good part is that taken on it's own terms this is a good little thriller. Sure the ending is a tad bumpy (the bad guys remain off screen), but it's not entirely happy- there is a tinge of cynicism. In a weird way the film is refreshingly adult with actual scientific ideas (even if out dated and wrong) used as plot points. The film also is weirdly psychic with it's notions of solar power, space stations, robotics and remote control more on target than many similar films made at the time. Credit producer and writer Ivan Tors who made similarly strongly scientific Magnetic Monsters and was responsible for the very cerebral Science Fiction Theater TV series.

High art?

Hell no. But it is enjoyable

Definitely worth checking out out if you run across it, more so if you are lucky enough to see it one of the rare 3D screenings.(I say this because its strangely free of things flying at you. Its the sort of film that had you not know it was shot in 3D you may not have noticed it)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Westfront 1918 (1930)

This is one of those movies that you see and wonder why you haven’t heard of it or seen it before. It’s a film that makes you wonder why the film isn’t hailed as a classic. It’s a masterpiece of cinema and one of the most frightening antiwar films you’ll see.

Westfront 1918 was made in Germany at the same time as All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s a different film than All Quiet in that it’s completely concerned with men who are already in the trenches and who are fighting “the good fight”. Using that term is a misnomer since no fight in this film is good and by the end of it everyone will be dead or screaming in pain or insane.

The film follows a group of soldiers from their spending a ruckus night behind the lines, to their redeployment and time in battle until their ends in one form or another.

This is not a happy film since the film shows us that war is hell and then some. It’s a film that doesn’t shy away from showing the horrors of war including the language of war with the use of occasional profanity. The film is also very adult in it’s depiction of sexuality with very strong implications of sex in a couple of scenes.

The film is a dispassionate viewer relating unfolding events with and icy coolness. There is no commentary only the events. As the men go off to battle more times then not the camera simply stays in the trench looking outward as the men run across no man’s land until they are all cut down or retreat. Even in the trenches, which here are seen to be as dangerous as the battlefield itself, the camera sits back and watches as men are quietly swallowed up by the collapsing walls around them. Its an eerie feeling that feels as if the filmmakers are saying you wanted to know what war is like? This is it.

The dispassion is the films one real flaw since the film at times is almost too disconnected so that we never fully feel some of the losses the way we probably should. I wanted to feel some sort of loss with an individual death, but I was never moved fully, I think because the film, like the soldiers in it is forced to move on to the next objective to remain alive.

On the other hand by the time the film reaches its blood soaked screaming conclusion, where insanity reigns and the living can only take comfort sitting hand in hand with the dead, cages have been rattled. As Ende?! Flashed on the screen I sat in my seat staring at the screen wondering what in the hell I had just seen. This wasn’t Kansas and this sure as hell wasn’t Hollywood.

What was this?

To me the film is probably the most accurate depiction of trench warfare I’ve seen. While I never fought in the trenches, I have studied the First World War and I’ve seen enough film to know that the film knows of what it shows. Its dirty and grimy and damaged and broken and dangerous. There was no hope and no way out. For me the only thing comparable is a documentary. As a fiction film the only film I can compare it to is Raymond Bernard’s White Crosses. While White Crosses may be a bit more polished than West Front 1918, that film depicts the never ending nature of warfare with it’s extended battle scenes that become almost too much to take.

This film is a masterpiece. If the film was ever banned, say by the Nazis, it would be completely understandable since I don’t think anyone who sees this film would ever want to go into battle.

The films running time is listed by IMDB as 97 minutes with the original US release version running 75. Most prints I’ve seen run around 90 minutes. The film doesn’t seem to have a big company US release on DVD, however German War Films has a subtitled copy for sale.