Wednesday, February 29, 2012

18 Years Old and Rising(2011) Rendez-vous with French Cinema

One of the few rules that I made when I started going to press screenings was that if I go to a press screening I would write up anything I saw. This really hasn't been a problem, except when I had too many movies to write up at one time (hello Tribeca and NYFF). Usually I can find something to say say even if it's to say I'm not reviewing it (I refused to review Policeman at last years NYFF).

With 18 Years Old and Rising I've run into a complete lack of words.

To be honest I don't know what to say, except it's not that good.

The plot has Primo trying to get by in his tiny Paris flat. He's studying to pass his exams and trying to make money. He heads home to vote in his first election but crashes heads with his parents so he heads back to Paris. Crashing a party he meets some rich kids, including one he falls for, and another who falls for him.

A movie that works in pieces, all of the individual scenes seem to work on their own, the problem is that scenes together create a bland story, and it forces you to ask yourself who would care about such a bunch of twits?

Seriously I really didn't care much for anyone. Most of the characters are shallow jerks, even Primo who I sided with until he took all the money his parents had given him (and which he swore he had spent on food and other costs) to buy a bottle of wine that was as much as four months rent. At that point I lost all respect for him. We're suppose to root for this guy? I simply stopped caring and wanted Delphine, the girl with the hots for him, to wise up.

The only three characters who are of any interest is Primo's neighbor who is politically active; Delphine, the girl who love Primo (She belongs in another film); and Delphine's father. All three are short changed by the film, with Delphine coming out the worst since she basically pines in the background until the last 20 minutes of the film.

While I smiled and enjoyed pieces, the feeling I had when it was done was "I got up two hours early to see this?"

Yea, I did.(Yea I'm a moron sometimes)

As of this writing I've seen four films at Rendezvous with French Cinema and this is by far the least.

Take a pass.

(For information on the sold out screening at Lincoln Center click here)

My Dear Enemy (2008)-The Japan Society's Love Will Tear Us Apart

Originally I was thinking that with so much going on this week and simply not having time to go back and write up many of the films in theLove Will Tear Us Apart series at the Japan Society, we here at Unseen were going to be reduced to simply trying to review any films we attend. On the other hand I couldn't really let the series go without putting something up, so I rooted around in my DVD collection and pulled out my Region 3 copy of My Dear Enemy which had I hadn't managed to watch before. The film is screening Saturday afternoon at 4:30.

It all begins when a young woman in need of money tracks down the ex-boyfriend to whom she once loaned some money. He's in a betting parlor with some friends. She confronts him, and he agrees, after some talk, to get her the money. The trouble is he's broke, actually worse off than she is, but he assures her he can get the money. She doesn't trust him, so refuses to let him out of her sight...with the result the pair goes off to get the money...mostly from the many women from his past.

You can probably guess how some of this is going to go: She's uptight, while he's a conniver. His free spirited, take it as it comes nature conflicts with her desire to get her money and get out of there. Then again the film isn't what you expect.

A slowly building character study, this film is either going to thrill you or bore you. The whole film is essentially the two ex-lovers driving around trying to get the money.There are no grand emotional climaxes, He begins to crack her stern facade and she begins to see him in a different light, thats about it. The film is very much like a short short story (which is what it's based on), its a brief stay with some characters, not a whole journey.

I like the film but I don't really love it. I like the characters, the guy really reminds me of one of my cousins. I like the set pieces. What I'm not to thrilled with is the fact that the film runs over two hours. Its not that the film has anything wrong with it, rather it's simply that its too long for what it is. I got to the end and was like, that's it? Apparently. As I said, it's a brief stay, we meet up with the characters, travel for a while with them and then go away with things unsaid, unexplained and somethings hanging.

That said, now that I know how the film goes I'm planning on trying it again. I think had I known what the film was, a slice of life, I wouldn't have been expecting something else, say a conventional romance.

Reservations aside, I think if the subject interests you you should definitely give the film a shot. Its got some great characters, lots of witty dialog and a wonderful visual sense. (I especially think it's worth seeing if you're going to any of the other films showing Saturday like Air Doll or Vital.

Details on all screening can be found here.

Margin Call (2011)

Frightening drama about a trader in a brokerage house who discovers that the securities it's selling are worthless. Fired before he could tell anyone, he passes on a flash drive to one of his juniors. Looking at the information his junior discovers whats going on and tells his bosses who realize just how bad things are...

If you want to get a sense of what happened on the last Wall Street crash, this is it. Its a frightening tale of people shifting valueless papers around in the hope of just surviving...

I really liked this film. I missed a press screening back when New Directors New Films screened this as one of it's selections in 2011. Part of it was a bad screening time and part of it was I was afraid it was going to be too technical. I talked to several people at later press screenings and many of them seemed very high on the film. They all said, rightly, that you don't need to know about finance to understand whats happening. As several characters say," tell me as you would a child". Actually it's even simpler than that the whole point is that the brokerage house has less money than the securities are supposed to be worth, if you understand that you're good.

The reason this film works so well is the cast (Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany among others) is top flight. These guys sell the story. Its real easy to beleive them to be both saints and sinners. Amazingly, even as bad as many traders are portrayed in the media, these guys, most of them anyway, come across as not quite as bad as you might think. Honestly I would have jumped to see any film with this cast, but the fact that the story is as good as it is is just a nice bonus.

Is it one of the best films of the year? Probably not, but it is a real nice surprise and a real find. Let me put it this way, I really think that once this gets to cable this will be one of those films I stop to watch every time it's on and I run across it

Definitely worth seeing.

Currently out on DVD

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Le Tableau (aka The Painting) (2011) NYICFF and Rendez-vous with French Cinema

This film is a co-presentation between Lincoln Center's Rendez-vous with French Cinema and The New York International Children's Film Festival and is a real treat.

This is a beautiful animated film about the characters in a painting who have divided themselves into three classes:
The Allduns- who are completely painted.
The Halfies- Who are mostly painted, but not completely
The Sketchies-doodles and drawings from the edges of the painting and are mostly undone.

The Allduns have declared themselves to be the the closest to what the Painter intended simply because they are completely done. They look down upon he other classes, hunting them like animals or using them for slave labor. The Halfies and the Sketchies await the return of the Painter who they hope will finish them and make them equal with the Allduns.

The main plot of the film is a quest that is set in motion when a Halfie and an Alldun's forbidden love is used for a power play. This starts a quest to find the Painter and leads several characters in and out of not only several other paintings but also the real world.

Lovely charming film is sure to make most people smile. Its a real adventure with some heavy overtones (if you want to see them). Its also a film that had many in the screening I attended laughing out loud.

Absolutely great looking the film mixes a variety of visual motifs as the characters shift paintings and worlds. We also get shifts in texture of the characters as they move through the worlds, some time looking more real, and others more like a painting depending upon where they are. Its magical...and probably could not have been achieved had it not been for massive computer assist.

If you are an animation aficionado or if you love art you really must see this film since it will simply blow your mind... It blew mine at times. I'm sitting in a theater full of critics and my jaw was hanging open at what I was seeing. This is real movie magic. I looked around at the people in the theater and they are watching the film, and they are enjoying it but I have no idea if they realize what sort of amazing things the film is doing technically. It looks simple, but the shifts in tone and texture and style is brilliant. It really is. I wanted to stand up and point it out to them, but I thought better of it since it would have been rather rude.

As an adventure and a fable for tolerance the film is excellent. Its a film that shows how ultimately we are all the same...and its just a damn good adventure. Older kids who can read subtitles will really like it. (Though some parents may want to be warned that one of the characters is a topless nude painting.Its not sexy, its just nude. Its like going to a museum)

For me the film has an added bonus of a deeper subtext. The film, if you care to see it is a fantastic discussion of god and religion. The films quest to find the Painter is essentially a quest to find God. The reactions of all of the characters are on some level those of various people in various states of belief (God likes us best, God will come back, I don't know who God is or if he exists but I have to look, God is dead and there is nothing outside of our world). For me the film is wonderful in that it kind of takes the piss out of everyone, since it largely says that no one knows what God's intentions are or how its all suppose to be. (Though a slight spoiler here is that the Painter does show up.)

You don't need the subtext to enjoy it, you just need to see the film and take it on it's own terms to have a wonderful experience.

The film is in connection with Rendez-vous early in March so check their website. The Showing on the 3rd of March is also in connection with the NYICFF which is also showing it on March 25. Check their website for details...And I'm serious do check the websites since the March 4th showing is sold out and so maybe some of the others.

Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick's meditation/tone poem/WTF exercise involving a family, faith, god and the creation of the world. Its a head trip worth trying once.

Nominally the story of family, and one son in particular, who fifty years on is having a crisis of faith and unsure of the meaning of life. Thinking back on his life he ponders the meaning of it all...

...or something. Your guess is as good as mine as to what is going on. I won't direct you by trying to give you my interpretation of whats it's all about. All I'm going to say is that the first hour is an hour long head trip of beautiful image, majestic music and insightful voice over. The second hour is where the plot kind of kicks in and the film begins to wander...though the notion of a plot is kind of subjective since things still are pretty free form.

The stories of the people hating the film are becoming legendary with theaters having to post a no refund policy since usually around twenty minutes in, about the time the dinosaurs show up, people start walking out. I did not walk out, I sat in my living room, in the dark and had a grand old time.

Is it a great film?

Who knows, but it's fun.

Actually this is the sort of film that is so unique, so one of a kind that anyone who loves movies should at least try. I will not say anyone is going to love the film or hate the film, but I will say its a film that will provoke a reaction and get you talking and thinking and feeling, even if it's to change the channel or throw the DVD across the room.

Do yourself a favor and give this film a shot (and give it to at least the dinosaurs).

...but give it a shot on the biggest screen you can find. Trust me this film looks great and the thought of watching it on an I-phone or I-pad makes me blanch.

See this film and see it big.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Smuggler's Songs (2011) Rendezvous with French Cinema

All this week we're going to be running second reviews of films that are playing Lincoln Center's Rendezvous with French Cinema which opens Thursday. Its a great series and you should make an effort to try and see something, though to be honest if you're in NYC you'll have to move fast since some screenings are sold out. Check the Rendezvous website for details about sell outs and about the Rendezvous Near You which is beaming things to theaters around the country.

Lyrically beautiful film about the followers of Louis Mandrin who, in the wake of his execution decide to resume his smugglers ways while publishing a collection of poems/songs telling their fallen leaders story.

Mandrin was a real smuggler who got into a Robin Hood like battle with the French crown over taxes and the treatment of the poorer classes. He was eventually captured and broken on the wheel in 1755. With his death a legend began to spread, which in some way stoked the fires that lead to the Revolution some forty years later.

Director Rabah Amir-Zalmech who plays Belissard, the de facto leader of the smugglers, has fashioned a wonderful tonepoem of a film. Everything about the film is a small pleasure. Each sequence is more or less perfectly constructed little box that works well not only on its own but also as part of the larger film. The opening chase where the wounded Hare (that’s his name not his species) is pursued by three of the Kings Dragoons is a great set piece that sucks you in as it turns the tables on you and introduces you to other characters.

It’s a film that has a feel that harkens back to many of the films that Werner Herzog was turning out in the 1970’s. Think the feel of Hearts of Glass, Kasper Hauser or even to some extent Aguirre and you know what it feels like.

The music is haunting and infectious (I want to track down the music if its available). It also comes from the film. I don’t think there is a time when we hear it when it isn’t being played on screen.

The on screen use of music blends nicely with the very alive and in the moment feel the film has. While we know that the film was scripted, on some level there are moments where the walls come down and the film stops being about the story but out the reality of the characters For example watch as Belissard walks with a donkey and the peddler. The donkey brays and the actors react to it in character and suddenly we are watching real people on screen not actors. Later when the men meet their ladies there is a joy in their coming together and twirl that seems more genuine than any similar sequence in any fiction film I’ve seen.

I should warn you that the film is more a film of emotion and “poetics” (for lack of a better term) than the plot. It’s a film that lets us know the characters, gets us into what they are about rather than sticking 100% to the plot. There is a plot, the characters on the run while attempting to pay tribute to their fallen comrade, but at the same time the sequences trail off, pause for some meditation and to focus on life as lived.

This trailing off is the one flaw of the film since as the film winds down the final two sequences, which are marvelous on their own, don’t add up to a completely satisfying conclusion (I can’t tell you why with out giving the end away so I won’t. And it’s not so much because it will ruin anything, rather I would rather you draw your own conclusions)

My slight reservations aside I want to recommend this film and suggest that you make a try at seeing this when it plays at Rendezvous with French Film. Details can be found here.

Paradjanov:A Requiem (2004)

As you know my interest in Russian cinema goes in all different directions and I picked up one of Kino videos two DVDs of the films of Sergei Paradjanov, The Color of Pomegranates/Paradjanov: A Requiem.

I had seen the directors Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors a film made in a Ukrainian dialect and which was about god and people in very un-Soviet ways. I had to watch it as part of a course on Russian history since it was deemed to be a good representation of what life was like "back then". The film eventually got Paradjanov pitched into jail for among other things "surrealism". Thanks to people like John Updike he got out of prison and went back to making films.

Strange films.

His films after Shadows seem more works of art then straight narrative. Think something like Matthew Barney's Cremaster, but with no bs behind it, Paradjanov believed in what he was doing.

Requiem which is essentially a one hour interview with the director in a hotel room during the Berlin Film Festival in 1998. I wanted to get a background on the man and his films and hoped that the movie would prepare me for the feature he directed that shares the disc.

Having watched it I know a little more than I did before however I did gain a respect and an intense like for the man. He is a genuine artist who wants to make his films his way. He does it for the art. The clips from his films make we wary of his films post Shadows. They are formal and stylized and amateurishly made. There is a genuine passion, but considering this was a man struggling to get anything made its okay.

The trouble is that the clips included seem almost randomly selected and there is no feeling as to why they were chosen or how they relate to what he's talking about. What he talks about is also a problem in that he just talks and bounces all over the place. It is interesting but except for two very brief narrated bits running less than a minute or two there is no background, its simply Paradjanov being Paradjanov, which isn't bad, its just not great.

(One piece I read on Paradjanov said that there were six films made on him right after he died in 1990, this being one of them. The one that everyone seems to agree is the best one to see, and seemingly one of the great documentaries is one subtitled The Last Spring, or some such title. Unfortunately its not currently available anywhere) I doubt that I will search out anything else he's done once I watch Pomegranates, the second film on the disc, but at least I will have come in contact with a genuine character and someone who's views and life will travel on somewhere in my psyche.

Should you see it? If its free, yes, or if you are interested in Russian cinema or interesting, non-run of the mill stuff see it... but don't search it out unless you have a woolly for the films of this director

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nightcap 2/26/12- It all begins Friday

Sunday night and I need to warn you that starting tomorrow night you can expect an influx of additional reviews over the next two months or so. The reason behind it is simple starting Friday a wave of film festivals and film series are going to take center stage to my dance card, so I'll be throwing up reviews all over the place.

Thursday starts Rendezvous with French Cinema. I've gone to four of the press screenings already and I'm going to attend a few more screenings once the series starts in earnest. Tomorrow night I'm going to start running reviews of what I've seen and they'll be an extra review most of the week.

Friday is the Opening Night of the New York International Children's Film Festival. Unseen will be be there for pretty all of the features, the noticable exception is going to be Saalam Dunk which we couldn't fit into the schedule. There is going to be limited coverage of the shorts simple because we can't manage to see them all in the time allowed. This means that look for extra reviews on the weekends as we report back from all of the screenings wee see. (And check back Tuesday for a review of Le Tableau a co-presentation with Rendezvous). I should stress tickets are rapidly running out so get them now.

Also Starting Friday is The Japan Society's series Love Will Tear US Apart which I did a piece on last night.

The list of films for this year’s New Directors New Films has been announced. It’s a great line up and it has those of us Unseen talking about what we’re going to see. We’ll be working that out once the actual schedule is released. Seriously there are some great films here including the much talked about The Raid, about a Swat Team going after a drug lord only to find they’ve been lead into a trap and have to fight their way out. Depending on the date this might end up as an Unseen Films night at the movies… The full list of films can be found here.

Tribeca is coming. If it runs like last year I'll be neck deep in screenings for the festival for the weeks before it starts right on through to the end. You will be buried with coverage for at least the week before, through the festival and probably even afterward. I have this huge hole in my schedule which I hope to fill with reviews and reports from the trenches. I expect my life to collapse and to I'll be reduced to a grunting fool. Actually I'm expecting to have a blast.

I need to also mention that a series of Japanese documentaries are playing the Asia Society. Details can be found here. We've reviewed The Emperors Naked Army Marches On back in 2010. We also have an interest in all of the other titles so, with luck expect reviews.

If you want to know why I have reviews stacked up into August it's because I expect the next two months to devour my brain, soul and body. When I come out on the other end I fully expect not to want see anything again ever or until The Brooklyn Film Festival comes up in early June and The New York Asian Film Festival brings me back to reality at the end of that month. (FYI if you didn't catch it on Twitter the first word on this years festival is that the NYAFF is looking to run some Shaw Brothers films from the 80's)

In a weird way it's cinematic self abuse but it's for a good cause you're education and edification.

Some updates on films we’ve reviewed before.

This is Not a Film has hit movie screens and it’s important that you see the film. Made by directors Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb wile under house arrest, the film is a look at life in Iran as Panhi waits to find out whether he is to go to jail for having made a film the Iranian government didn’t like. The plight of the director, who has gone to prison aside, it’s a masterpiece of a film that blends reality and fiction into what I thought was one of the best films of last year. Go see the film and add your voice to the chorus of people looking for the directors release.

The Assault, an amazing film detailing a French military squad raid on a hijacked plane is going to hit screens soon. I saw the film at Tribeca last year and it blew me away. I saw the trailer when I saw Coriolanus this week and I was told to shut up as I started telling everyone that they had to see the film. Simply put, the film has two of the best action sequences of the past few years- best of all it proves you don’t need hyped up Hollywood tricks to hold an audience riveted to their seats.

Also from Tribeca comes Turn Me On Dammit. This is a sexually frank comedy about some girls coming of age in Norway hits screens March 30th. I loved this film a great deal. It’s a film that is very funny and very human. You really want to see this small little treasure.

I need to clarify something I said in the review of Buster Keaton’s Dough Boys. I had said that Keaton’s sound films could be as good as his silents. I do still believe that is true, but I have to say that the number of really good sound films is not has great as silent ones. The reason I say this is that as I’m working on the next week of Keaton films I’m wading into several collections of Keaton sound shorts and it’s becoming a chore. Right now I’m watching his output at Columbia and they are a mess. Yes, He’s good, and yes the bits are very good, but the films seem to be little more that odd ball variations of Three Stooges material. I’ve seen most of the films found in the Buster Keaton Collection DVD set and I really wouldn’t recommend most of them except to die hard Keaton fans. Yes I’ll be posting a few reviews but that’s more the exception than the rule


Wong Kar Wai's There's Only One Sun (Thank you Eden)

Oscar Films as Info Graphics

An unmade Michael Mann Noir film (Thanks A.L.L)

Romantic comedies remade to star Cthulhu

Before Disney there was animation

All about Hide and Seek by Aminder Dhaliwal

(This week- some random titles-mostly of recent vintage- plus additional reviews from Rendezvous with French Cinema and the New York International Children's Film Festival)

Men From the Gutter (1983)

Marc Walkow, one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival, tweeted about this film a couple of weeks ago asking why he had never heard of it. If he, with all of his vast Asian film knowledge, had never run across it how could I ever hope to know about it? Thank god I follow his tweets otherwise I would have missed one hell of a wild ride.

This Shaw Brothers film concerns several different groups who all collide over the course of the film.

The film opens with an ex-con leaving his house and running into the police. They chase him but he has to kill one of them to get away, making his arrest all the more important. The ex-con and his friends are planning a heist which they hope will get them enough money that they can get the hell out of Hong Kong.

There is a hit man who has come to town to take out some crime bosses. Its not clear why he's in town at first, but it does result in several great action sequences, including one that makes a case for squash as a full contact sport.

There is the crime boss who runs the town and who is wondering who it is that is gunning for him and why.

Lastly we follow the cop who ends up in the middle of all that is going on. He's a no nonsense sort of guy who isn't unwilling to break heads and take names.

How it all comes together is the film - and how it comes together is amazing with several fantastic set pieces as the assassin tries to take out his targets, the ex-con and his friends try to get enough money just to be able to pull off their robbery and the cops try to stop them all. Its an escalating game of violence that ends in a storage facility where things, literally, come crashing down (This last piece alone is worth the effort to track this down).

By the time the film was done around 2AM last night I wanted to put it on again and watch it all over again.

How come I never heard of this? More so since its from Ngai Kai Lam who made, among other excellent films, Riki-Oh:The Story of Ricky.

I'm guessing that the reason this film isn't better known is that the film is it's from the waning days of the Shaw Brothers and as such fell through the cracks. Its also from the time when Tsui Hark and other young guns were coming in and shaking things up in Hong Kong.

I don't know what the situation is with the film having a US release, I picked up a used copy from an Amazon e-seller, it's marked as being region 3, and from the massive release of all of the Shaw Brothers films from a few years back. However I would think there are other editions out there. What ever the case is, if you like action, especially of the Hong Kong variety make the effort to track it down.

Ideally I would love the the New York Asian Film Festival to get their hands on this because I think audiences would go crazy. (Hey you guys listening?) I want to see this with a truly appreciative crowd.

The film is out on DVD and worth the effort to track down...

(One word of warning, the blood used in the film is the only flaw in the film. It's that overly bright red paint that companies used because it looked great in color movies but has no real connection to reality)

The Glass Key (1942 )

Dashiell Hammet's classic tale is the basis of one of my most favorite films of all time, Miller's Crossing. Until recently I had never seen the best known screen version of the tale.

The plot of The Glass Key has a slightly shady political power broker (Brian Donlevy) getting into trouble when the boyfriend of his young sister (Bonita Granville) ends up dead. He was a no good playboy, just happens to be the brother of the girl he is interested in (Veronica Lake). Further complicating matters is the fact that the dead man’s family is very well to do. Its up to Donlevy’s best friend and right hand man (Alan Ladd) to make it all right and find out who the killer is.

This is a very good version of the story, which while quite good on it’s own terms, kind of comes off as weak when compared to other versions of the story. For my money there was a bit more bite to the George Raft version (at least as far as I can remember) and the Cohen’s rethink, Miller’s Crossing is simply put one of my favorite films. I think that the weakness is that the film doesn’t have the grittiness of the other versions. Although considered one of the early film noirs, for my money it doesn’t fit the mold, certainly not like say yesterdays This Gun for Hire. The film is to bright and airy, other than the scenes involving Donlevy’s rival, we’re in big offices and big houses. Most importantly, there isn’t the aire of cynicism that noirs have, the ending is a happy one.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the film, I just don’t quite hold it up to be the great noir classic that some people feel it is (and keep in mind I’m coming in after seeing several other versions of the story.)

Do see the film. It has a great cast, especially Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy and William Bendix, as a thug with a love hate relationship with Ladd. I especially like Bonita Granville as the little sister. She’s not some one I normally like, I find her turns as Nancy Drew annoying, but here she was so good I was shocked to realize it was her.

Definitely worth seeing. This is on DVD and in Turner Classics rotation

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Japan Society's Love Will Tear Us Apart Starts Friday

Friday starts of the Japan Society's Love Will Tear us Apart. Its a series that looks at the bumps in the road of love.

Playing like a greatest hits series from Japan Cuts, The New York Asian Film Festival and the Korean Cultural Service screenings this 16 day series has a large number of winners in it.

Because the series runs counter to several other festivals and series, and because we've already seen many of the films already coverage here at Unseen will be limited. It's not that the films are bad, its just that we've seen many before and even reviewed some here.

Additionally, as with most things at the Japan Society, there is only a single screening for all the films in the series. I love the Japan Society and their film series, I hate that almost always there is only one shot at seeing anything. This one shot approach is what is also keeping us from seeing more than the two or three things we're aiming for.

The series is starting with the US premiere of Shinya Tsukamoto's Kotoko. Tsukamoto is probably best know for the Tetsuo films, but he's an accomplished filmmaker turning in the very good Nightmare Detective films, Snake of June which is also in the series, Gemini, anda few others. His films are always intriguing in the extreme and if it can be arranged one or several of us will take in Kotoko.

What have we seen that we recommend?

Vital,Snake of June, Oasis, Vegatarian, Chaos, In The Realm of the Senses, Dream, Bad Guy, and Time.

If time permits we will try to get some reviews up of some of the films. However I can't promose anything (things are a bit busy right now)

What are we looking to see?

Koyoko, Air Doll, My Dear Enemy, Snakes and Earrings, Tale of Cinema and Villain.

If something tickles your fancy do go.

Details can be found here.

On Further Review:This Gun For Hire (1942)

Classic Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake film concerns a hitman hired to retrieve some papers and clear up some loose ends, who ends up double crossed and on the run. While trying to get the man who set him up.

This is one of the first real film noir films though it's not quite as cynical as many of the later films, the woman in question is not evil, rather she is a force for change for good. The anti-hero likes cats, has a weak spot for kids and is willing not to sell out the country. He's a hitman with a heart of gold.

The film was the first pairing of Ladd and Lake. It was a teaming that would last through seven films. There was something about them that worked, part of which was the fact that they were both the perfect height for each other since Lake was smaller than the very short Ladd.(Notice Ladd was not listed as a star it was Lake and Robert Preston)

The film itself is considered one of the best film noirs out there. Its up there in the pantheon of great crime stories in the eyes of many. While I think it is an entertaining film, I would be hard pressed to say it's a great film. Its a solidly good film that survives as a classic thanks to some nice flourishes.

One of the biggest draw backs to the film is Veronica Lake. At best an okay actress, she has always struck me a an actress who needs the perfect role or else she is exposed as being, what she was, a great looking dame with limited range. Sue me, I think she looks great but once she opens her mouth all bets were off.

The plot kind of thrashes around with Ladd's hitman going after Laird Cregar and his boss who are selling poison gas to the Japanese. Its a weird role with weird twists like Ladd's break down in the train yard where all his pain and suffering comes bleeding out. Its a touching moment, but it belongs elsewhere. I know the film is supposed to be based on a Graham Greene Novel but much of this feels like Hollywood additions for the wartime audience (I know the patriotic reasoning of Lake for Ladd to get a confession had to come from a Hollywood hack).

This isn't to say that the film is bad, it's not. It has some great sequences, Ladd Killing his target and having to deal with a little girl, the loopiness of the villain who insisting that his employees practice with gas masks that he knows will be used to bomb our cities and Cregar trying to cover up who he really is when he's recognized when paying off Ladd with hot money, are all wonderful pieces. The film over all pulls you along since you genuinely want to see how it comes out. The problem is that the greatness of the film is lessened by the march of time which makes some of this funny for all the wrong reasons.

I do like this film, I just don't think its a classic.

Worth seeing, this is out on DVD and in rotation on Turner Classics.

Friday, February 24, 2012

White Night (2009) is Tuesdays film at the Korean Cultural Service free screening.

Tuesday the Korean Cultural Service screening is a really good thriller called (In to the) White Night.(The length of the title depends on the source). It's based on a novel by Keigo Higashino, which was turned into several films and TV series over the years, the latest a Japanese version that closed last years Japan Cuts at the Japan Society.

The film concerns the murder of a recently released ex-con. He was found in a manner that has baffled the police. Unfortunately for one of the cops investigating the murder kicks up memories of a couple of unsolved murders 14 years before, murders the dead man was suspected of committing. The story then connects things to the children of the original murder victims, whose life we see now and in the time since the original murders.

I really liked this film a great deal. There is something very haunting about it. I'm sorry if that critique was a bit bland but this is a film that is very hard to describe and due justice to without giving too much away. I had wondered why most descriptions of the film only ran one or two sentences and I realized that there is no way to simply explain it with out revealing too much. There is so much to it that I completely understand how the story was the basis of a TV serial.

Beginning with an opening sequence which is is among the most arresting you'll see, (trust me I wasn't expecting it and it made me sit bolt upright and go "Hello") the film shifts gears to the twisting story of intertwined murders a decade and a half apart. Its the sort of film that builds as it goes along, which means you can't bail on it or else you're going to miss stuff. Actually sitting at home watching the film my attention wandered for a bit early on and I was cursing myself not long after since I had missed stuff. Thankfully I had my dad there to explain what I had missed. This one of those stories that isn't over until the end, so stick it out.

Actually the perfect way to see this film would be to see it at a theater, at say the Tribeca Cinemas on Tuesday night, where you'll be fully focused on the screen. (I saw the film on VCD, which is apparently the only way outside of going to a theater that you can see it...that is assuming that you can actually find a VCD copy)

Go see this film. Its a nifty little thriller that will hold your attention more than most recent American ones.

As always with these FREE screenings doors are`at 630 and the movie is at 7.

The Next series of films are ROmantic Comedies:

Tuesday, March 13 @ 7pm
The biggest romantic hit of 2010 (grossing only slightly less than Harry Potter and the Proper Noun: Part 1) this big budget romantic comedy won “Best Screenplay” and its star, Lee Min-Jung (Boys Over Flowers) won a truckload of “Best New Actress” awards. Full of irreconcilable differences, beautiful stars and ridiculous, laugh-out-loud plot twists, it’s all about the Cyrano Agency, a matchmaking service that sets up elaborate, Mission Impossible-style scenarios to help their clients win the man (or woman) of their dreams. Now, their 100% success rate is in danger because a sad sack hedge fund manager wants to date a free spirited gal who just happens to be the head of the Cyrano Agency’s ex. Hollywood hasn’t made a movie this frantic and romantic in decades.

Tuesday, March 27 @ 7pm
MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT (New York Premiere, 2009)
Opening at number one, and staying in the box office top ten for nine straight weeks, MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT is the Korean version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Kim Ha-Neul gets dumped by her boyfriend, Kang Ji-Hwan, because she’s never around. Actually, she’s a spy. Three years later, he runs into her again, only now he’s also joined the intelligence service too, albeit in a different department. Now they both have undercover identities they both have to keep hidden and they’ve got secret missions they both have to fulfill, while working out the trauma of their past relationship. Full of high-speed chases and plenty of glossy gunplay, it’s easy to see why a movie this fast on its feet is already slated for a Bollywood remake.

Tuesday, April 10 @ 7pm
PETTY ROMANCE (US Premiere, 2010)
A word-of-mouth hit in 2010, this romance is set in the world of manhwa (Korean comic books), and the couple at the center of the story have chemistry to burn. TV star Lee Seon-Gyun is a struggling manhwa artist who enters a competition with a massive cash prize. To raise his chances of winning, he hires a sex advice columnist, Choi Gang-Heui (star of the breakout hit, My Scary Girl), to write his erotic comic. Little does he know that she plagiarized her column from the Kama Sutra and the Kinsey Report because her ideas about sex are a bit…vague, to put it kindly. PETTY ROMANCE been winning hearts and minds on the film festival circuit for a year and it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Happy Hunting: Headhunters at Film Comment Selects

After a few months of self-imposed confinement  and a run of heavy emotionally draining films, the festival thriller is back!  On Thursday I got myself out and over to the Walter Reade Theater where FilmLinc’s always eclectic Film Comments Selects series was in full swing.  I saw the recent buzz-creating Norwegian suspense thriller HEADHUNTERS and my seat probably has some fresh dents from all the shifting forward and jolting back this potboiler put me through.  

Before the film got under way, loveably impish instigator Gavin Smith quipped about the confusing state of today’s film industry, mentioning the likelihood of Headhunters hitting US theaters but lacking in certainty or if the run would last beyond “10 seconds.”  He also joked that we may see the promising director Morten Tyldum making a movie for Hollywood this summer, and this was a barb I think there is more than a little truth to.  His control over story pacing, riveting sequences, and the ability to keep the strings of a fairly complex tale from getting twisted up in knots will make him a highly sought after commodity.

At the start we enter the world and perspective of corporate recruiter Roger and his materialistically successful lifestyle.  He is upfront with the audience, though, about how it all hangs on a thread.  He is terribly insecure about holding onto the commitment of his picture perfect wife, so he spends money well beyond his means to maintain the home and possessions he thinks his relationship depends on.  To pull this off, he has fashioned himself into a living confidence machine.  By that I mean he exudes it as a business strategy to maintain his high status position and, to be certain, the corporate account that comes with it.  But he also practices the art of the con, gaining people’s trust and then, should the opportunity arrive, unburdening them of valuable artworks and replacing them with forgeries….without their knowledge or consent of course.  With the latter task, he has assistance from a charmingly “countrified” partner who adds a lot of off-color humor to the otherwise austere proceedings.

It’s seemingly business as usual as Roger deftly manipulates the players around him.  A high stakes gallery opening for Roger’s wife, who is conveniently (but conveniently for who?) entrenched in the art world, leads to an encounter with an individual holding too much potential intrigue in the international business scene, namely defense technology, for Roger to ignore.

And from this point, shit goes down figuratively and, during one unforgettable nerve wracking scene, literally.  The rest of the story is best enjoyed without having a clue beforehand, so my lips are sealed.  However, some praiseworthy qualities are worth pointing out.   

Headhunters joins several admirable movie clubs.  One group is cautionary tales of society’s emphasis on financial status and how it brings out the worst in people’s human nature until they do stupid, destructive, and self-destructive things.  The Square and A Simple Plan come first to mind.  But they weren’t nearly as much fun as this!  I would also fit Headhunters in with transformation films in which the protagonist experiences tremendous loss, undergoing change so significant it manifests itself physically as well as mentally.  And absolutely, it is a fine example of films that start out as one thing but turn into something else entirely.  What is notable is that Headhunters does so without losing sight of its central themes.  Yes, it ratchets up the action and violence to an intensity level that takes a backseat to no other exercise in genre pulp to recently come out, yet the emotional issues at the core of Roger’s character are not cast aside.

Technically, director Tyldum is a marvel.  The film has a knack for going down some familiar, but still riveting, genre paths and lurching left just when you think things are going right.
He uses the best methods of horror films, like false scares and jarring sounds to keep audiences firmly on the edges of seats.  There is also a fantastic score that dances about like the best Mancini.  While not a movie that relies on a body count, fatalities that occur do so in gruesome fashion, giving it an air of grave seriousness when it seems to be going over the edge into complete fantasy.  

I’ve said nothing of the setting so far.  There is a jarring intersection between polished, modern cosmopolitan imagery and an all too nearby untamed jagged countryside.  It’s a situation one might readily associate with Scandinavia, and appreciate if a fan of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and other tales from those shores.   

The experience of watching this film at Walter Reade took me back to last year’s Film Comments Selects and the tense and taut moments it was filled with.  Headhunters shares a prominent plot convention with the Korean nonstop runaway revenge train, I Saw The Devil, which was screened during that 2011 lineup.  If you are a fan of that movie, you’ll notice it instantly.  Let’s hope for a few more films with this element that could together round out quite an amazing little film fest!

With a plot that takes on so many twists, there are some who will no doubt revel in trying to find holes or loose ends in it.  I couldn’t find any, nor do I have any desire to look for them.  I am filled too much by the giddy joy of cinema that rushes at you kicking and screaming.

If you happen to be within striking distance of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, Headhunters plays there today at 4:15!  It’s a must-see on the big screen so get yourself there or wait in uncertainty for a US release.

Strange Harvest (1981) and Strage Harvest 1993 (1993)

Linda Moulton Howe's award winning documentaries on the cattle mutilation mystery are a disturbing experience. Looking into a phenomena that seems not to have to logical explanation the film raises way too many questions.

The premise of the film is that something is doing weird things to cattle and live stock across the country and the globe. Sometimes the appearance of the animal carcasses are found after weird light shows which makes the phenomena linked to UFOs and at other times the the bodies are found in weird places like high in trees or jammed under the roots of a tree which makes the explanation of predator attacks hard to accept. There is occasional burn marks on the bodies. In some cases the mutilations appear to have been done cleanly on the cellular level with the cuts being perfectly along lines of cells.

Its a weird event that Moulton Howe presents coldly and coolly.

I first heard of Linda Moulton Howe and her documentaries back in the early 1980's when I used to listen to Elliot Lee Spiegel on WNBC in New York. Spiegel had a show called The Edge of Reality. The show dealt with all sorts of weird stuff much like Coast to Coast AM does today,but instead of going all night he had one hour every Sunday night. Moulton Howe was a semi-frequent guest and she managed to scare the crap out of me about the possibility of weird lights appearing and resulting in part of my body being removed. She was always promoting the documentaries however it was almost another 10 years before I ever managed to get myself a copy of them.

The power of the documentaries is in the straight forward tone Moulton Howe takes. The films, especially the first one, are unsensational looks at the subject. Moulton Howe had been making documentaries for years, mostly on enviormental subjects, and she simply carried over that just the facts style to the subject of weird animal deaths. Its so objective in its reporting that the first Strange Harvest won an Emmy award.

Its kind of hard to approach the subject these days without a wry disbelieving grin thanks to decades of silly Hollywood films, but it's hard not to laugh when you see the real story so seriously presented.

I really like these films a great deal. They are, as I just said the sort of things that take what is for many people a joke, and shows you coldly and coolly why the truth behind the joke is so chilling. Sure it's easy to laugh at something the notion of aliens mutilating cattle, but if you take the time to really look at the real story its much more frightening.

Do yourself a favor and track the films down.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Extraterestrial Archeology

Film version of David Hatcher Childress's book is one of my most loaned out movies. When I first got a copy of this and started talking about it and showing it to friends everyone wanted to see it...over and over and over again. There is something truly mind bending about the film that gets the grey cells going.

The film is essentially an illustrated lecture by Childress showing all of the weird anomalies that can be found on the moon, Mars and other planets in the solar system. What are the source of the weird trucjk tracks on the Moon, how about that weird thing seeming to hoover over the surface of the planet? Like the face on Mars it's all open to interpretation, but I dare you to watch this film and not begin to wonder if we are not alone in the universe.

Is it true? Who the hell knows.

Does it really matter? No it doesn't.

This is simple a great little film that will get your mind going and make you wonder whats going on...or went on since Childress says that some of the strange sites are hundreds or thousands of years old.

I really love the film a great deal and I will occasionally spring it on people who are just a tad skeptical. Usually they will poo poo everything but by the end you can see the resolve crack as the will invariable see something that will make them wonder what they just saw.

I have DVD copy made from my VHS tape. The film now is officially out on DVD from Adventures Unlimited Publishing and can be had from Amazon and elsewhere. I'm told the the film has been updated and contains extras.

Odds are if you pick it up you'll get several viewings out of it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Aldebaran Mystery (2011)

This is a 38 minute long film by artist James Nichols about all of the legends of Nazi UFO technology and possible alien contact. Its all here from the supposed mystic messages obtained by members of the Vrill society straight on to allegations of German bases at the South Pole. If you’ve ever wanted to know everything there was to know about the myths and legends concerning this way out theory this is the film for you. It’s a film that takes all of the bits and pieces found in other films and various books on UFOs and puts them in one place.

I have no idea if any of it is true. Filmmaker Nichols doesn’t know if its true or not, but he does think its one hell of a good story. I do too and I’ve been trying to track down all the bits and pieces I could find on this wacky tale for years and now thanks to Nichols I can stop the mad search because he’s brought all of the various bits and pieces into one place. Its great because now we get a bit more detail to things like the supposed real reason that Admiral Byrd left the South Pole suddenly in 194-, something that had been mentioned in one or two passing lines in a couple of UFO books.

High art its not. Great fun it is.

Also on the DVD is another speculative film by Nichols on the Eisenhower UFO briefing about the alleged story that Ike faked a dental emergency and actually met with aliens. It’s another story of questionable veracity, but a great deal of fun.

Last the set includes an 83 minute talk by Nichols on these two subjects taped at a UFO conference. It’s a bit more rambling than these two films but it does provide a few more interesting tidbits.

Is any of this stuff for real?

Who knows. I don’t really care since they stories are just a great deal of fun.

Devil's Triangle (1974)

Richard Winer's documentary scared the living snot out of me when I saw this in the movies way back when. I saw this in a double feature with the fiction film UFO Target Earth and between the pair of them I didn't sleep for several nights afterward. Watching it in the theater it made me want to crawl under my seat.

To truly enjoy this film you have to turn your brain off and take this for what it is, a ghost story of questionable veracity narrated by the great Vincent Price. It's was scarier than most horror films because "its based on fact" and because Price sells the stories to the nth degree.

I have no idea how true any of it is. Over the years I've heard the stories bandied about so much by people saying the stories are true or false that I don't really believe anyone on either side. Frankly I don't really care. What I do care about is that this film, though dated (the effects are clearly 1970's independent cheap) is great deal of fun. Its creepy and scary, and if you are crazy enough to sit and watch the film with the lights out it's liable to send chills up and down your spine.

Watch it as the cinematic equivalent of a campfire story. Don't try and deduce if the "claw" is real just go with the flow and you'll have a blast.

The current running time is 52 minutes. I remember it being longer than that- and I can't imagine any theater in the 1970's booking a film that ran under an hour. The poster for the film (see above) lists it as having music by King Crimson, I don't know if that's the case now, and I suspect if not the film has been trimmed for rights issues.

Definitely worth seeing if you can run down a copy. I think the film is only out on out of print VHS tapes...though it can be had on the collectors market.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

UFO's Are Real (Which has NOTHING to do with Flying Saucers are Real despite what IMDB says)

This is the best of the many UFO documentaries that cropped up during the 1970's and 80's, before Discovery Channel and home video made it so much easier to get footage of the strange things that maybe flying over head.

Rational and reasoned this film puts out the footage and the photographs with as much information as was known at the time and lets you decide what is what. There is no real hyperbole, just "the facts" as they seemed to known at the time. Actually its more controlled and rational than some of the Discovery Channel shows like UFO Hunters which is good TV but probably not good science.

I really like this film a great deal. Its a shame that it seems to have gone out of print and is only available from sources that charge an arm and a leg for it. I'm reduced to watching my well worn VHS copy now converted to spotty DVD the TV nonsense gets to be too much and I want to see a film on the subject thats rational and well thought out (something even many of the films from the period are not).

This is a must see for anyone interested in the subject. Its one of, if not the best film on the subject. Its a perfect primer on the subject and after seeing it you'll know enough to go on to other films and books on the subject. Its rational and reasoned and nowhere as over the top and silly like we've come to expect.

(IMDB has combined the original UFOs are Real post with the one for called Flying Saucers are real. They are NOT the same film...sadly I think I'm one of only a very few who would even care about that.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

UFO's Whats Going On? (1983)

This week we go in to the realm of strange happenings and parascience with looks at UFOs,cattle mutalations, the Bermuda Triangle and other strange events. First up a documentary from HBO.

HBO documentary from 1983 was in its way a game changer in the field of UFOs. To my mind the film is responsible for all of the out of control nonsense that followed in it's wake. On the other hand the film is a damn fine piece of reporting.

The film is a look at UFOs and in particular what was going on in the Hudson Valley of New York (There was a major flap as UFOs were being seen almost nightly) as well as the first big media revelation of the Roswell crash, the Bentwaters case involving a possible UFO that landed near a military base in England and the possibly related Cash/Landrum case which happened a short time later and left the three people involved poisoned by radiation, which has lead some people to the believe Bentwaters sighting was a military project gone wrong.

For me the film was my real entry point into the world of UFOs. I had always liked the subject but this was the moment when I started to search out books and magazines and radio shows on the subject. This was the point where, for a while I went completely crazy on the subject.

This was the film that made everyone start to really take notice of the subject once again and spin it out in crazy directions. I guess the fact that this was on HBO meant that it was a subject that was at least being taken seriously.

Seeing the film again recently, I have a DVD copy that I made from a VHS tape, I found that the film still holds up really well. It is not a perfect overview of the subject, rather it's a beautiful snap shot of a moment in time in UFO investigation. Its a film that treats its subject with respect and doesn't make any wild claims, only that something is going on and someone should look into it.

This is the film that introduced most people I know to the idea of a UFO crash in Roswell New Mexico. Here is the story before it got blown out of proportion, before the faked alien films, before stories of additional saucers, before various people came out of the woodwork to tell their stories that don't fit into the available evidence. Basically this is the point before things got silly.

If you can find a copy of this film or if you can see it when it runs on an HBO station (amazingly it still gets run now and again) I highly recommend you see it since it will put the subject into proper perspective, and make it a subject that should at least be looked at with some modicum of seriousness.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 2/19/12- Happy Anniversary, Ellery Queen and a few links

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Unseen Films.

Its been a long crazy trip that I never expected to take me or my friends where it has.

While it has devoured a huge chunk of my free time (I'm now pretty much married to it), it has also allowed me to do a good many things I never would have otherwise, and most importantly I’ve made a good number of friends as a result.

First and foremost I have connected on some small way with all of you readers. I can honestly say that I now know people all over the world, some artists, some filmmakers, some readers, some festival programmers, all film lovers. Thanks for reading and suggesting stuff. I love you all.

One of the cool things about the blog is how it has brought me in contact with people who I now consider good friends.

In the case of Robert, aka Frank Grimes, who I’ve known for years casually, it gave us the excuse to hang out, stay connected and talk about mutal interests. It also allowed me to meet his lady the lovely Artemis.

The blog has allowed me to make many connections. I had known Mondocurry on line for a year or so before we met at the NYAFF which I was covering for the blog in it's first summer. After that it’s been all down hill (just kidding). Through him I met the wonderful Shigeko, and after that He introduced me to Mr C, who is now a good friend and frequent contributor. Through Mr C has come Chocko, who looks to be coming on board Unseen as a special correspondent.

This isn’t to short change Reg, John, Bully, Randi, Eden or Ken who are long time friends, only to point out that the blog has been a source of new friendships.

As we look toward another year of films, I’m not going to guess what the next year will bring. I’ve had so many ideas, format changes, a music series and assorted other things that have gone belly up, so I’m not going to promise anything other than a movie a day for the next year. As it stands now I have notes that will take us to September, and lists of films that will keep us going for months beyond that. There are lots of holes, but I have some ideas. The best thing I can say is expect a lot of films you probably never heard of and reporting from a good number of film festivals and film series.

The inevitable question arises: Will we go beyond another year? I don’t know. As much fun as this blog is, it is an incredible amount of work (As I've joked, I am after all, married to it). You crank out roughly 1400 movie reviews in two years and try not to have it take a toll. (Consider how many films we’d have to have seen that we didn’t review). I won’t promise anything because who knows whats going to happen.

After two years all I can say is thanks for coming along.

I do want to say that you will be flooded with reports from Tribeca come April, I was informed this week that they are letting me come back as a member of the press. I can't begin to thank the Tribeca people enough. I had a blast last year and I hope its as much fun this time out of the box.

Moving onward and upward

Next Weekend the Broklyn Academy of Music is hosting The 10th Annual Korean Film Festival. There are some great films here including Moss. It looks like Mr C is going to be attending some of the screenings. If I can arrange trains home I'll be hitting a few as well. Details can be found here.

Moving downward slightly...

I’ve given up on the Columbia Ellery Queen filmss. Made in the late 1930’s and 40’s the series mostly had Ralph Bellamy in the lead role, though a couple of other people such as William Garagin took a stab at the role.

The Bellamy ones, all of which I believe I’ve now, having subjected myself to cinematic torture to go through the remaining ones on Valentines Day, suffer from a comedic tone that obliterates any suspense, and from Bellamy’s performance which is so dull as to make you wonder if he was awake when the films were made and if his Ellery could ever get a door knob to work.

The other films in the series just suffer from being poor B programmers with a tone that doesn’t fit the Ellery Queen, or any mystery character. At times they seem more like bad versions of the later Boston Blackies or some of Columbia’s weakest serials.

Of all the various film series from the 30’s and 40’s that I’ve seen this is the one that has always amazed me that it got past two or three pictures (many series had several films shot in rapid succession before they were ever released). That it ran to nine films boggles my mind. Why did this series go on and on when something like the Nero Wolfe one died?

Normally I’ll hold on to any movie I get on DVD figuring at some point I’ll want to revisit them, but I figure I’ll be watching them enough in hell so there is no reason to waste my life on them.

For my money I’ll stick with Jim Hutton in the 1975 TV series.


Titles in search of a movie.

Drew McWeeney writes an open letter to the human being ever to sit in a theater.

Finally two complete films:

Part One of To The Stars the Hard Way a Russian Science fiction film of odd quality. Part two is linked to.

The complete film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistence.

(This week the paranormal)

Monster and the Ape (1945)

Columbia had one almost never changing rule when they made a serial, there was always going to be 15 chapters. Where universal and Republic mixed it up with any number from 12 to 15, Columbia, with I believe one exception was always 15. The result of this was that inevitably somewhere in the story things begin to happen just to fill space in the later chapters. In the case of something like Chick Carter the excellent story suddenly goes off the rails for the better part of three chapters by repeating things over and over again. In other cases you get some truly nutty twists.

Nutty twists is what The Monster and The Ape is all about. This is a bizarre, often over the top serial that just throws twists and turns out with wild abandon with the result that it’s one of the more enjoyable serial viewing experiences you can have.

Okay let me take a step back. Some serials you watch be because they are good stories, the Dick Tracy, Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, the Flash Gordons; while others you watch because they are just loopy fun. This is a loopy fun sort of serial.

Everything is set in motion when 5 scientists make a functioning robot (the monster of the title). Unfortunately, someone, who’s identity is to remain a mystery, feels slighted and plots revenge using a gorilla (the ape of the title). You can see where this is going can’t you?

I thought you could.

Its off the rails from the get go as the bad guy sends the gorilla out to kill the men he believed wronged him. You'll howl with disbelief at the early scene where the scientist goes to answer a knock at his door and is jumped by the gorilla. It's the sort of moment that defines what follows. If you can go with it you're in for fifteen chapters of fun, if not it's going to be a long haul.

To me this is the sort of innocent fun that's perfect for curling up with on the couch when you need to really get away from all of the world's stresses. I think things are way too serious so I suggest getting yourself a pizza and parking yourself in front of the TV and watching this little baby.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)

Zorro’s Fighting Legion was the first serial I ever purchased. It was on VHS tape and came in a big honking clam shell case from Kartes video. I really wanted it because it was a double tape and ran four hours so I was getting a great deal of material for my money (This was back when the VHS tapes could cost 80 bucks for a single film). I had to save my pennies and one day when the film was put into a clearance bin I picked it up.

I was in heaven since the serial is an absolute blast.

The plot of the serial has Reed Hadley, playing Don Diego Vega, returning home and finding that the local Native Americans, the Yaquis, were being riled up their god Don Del Oro, a man of gold. Del Oro seeks to drive out the white men and return the area to purely Yaqui control. Of course Don Diego knows something is up and he takes up the mantle of Zorro to fight the bad guys and expose their leader, one of the local landowners who is looking to take all of the gold in the area for himself.

Probably the best of the four Republic Zorro Serials this film has everything you could want from a serial made during the heyday of the genre. It has great heroes, a vile masked villain, wonderful stunts and a pace that never lets up. This is serial that just starts and goes. The only thing missing would be cars or planes which, considering this is a period piece isn’t possible. Once you get past the first chapter this baby just goes and many is the late night when I’ve put this one for one or two chapters only to find I’ve gone all the way to the end yet again. (I have to admit that outside of the Flash Gordon serials this is the one I’ve seen the most)

I know you hate serials because they are all the same or too simplistic. That’s not true. There was once a point in time when they weren’t the result of an assembly line; when they actually told you a real story and did more than just move you to the next cliff hanger (which is something many Republic serials did from the 1940’s on). Zorro’s Fighting Legion is actually a three and a half hour action film on the order of our current summer blockbusters. Actually it’s where the cliffhanging stunts of the current blockbusters came from.

I really like this serial a great deal. To me it’s one my old friends that I put on when I want to simply watch something that if familiar like an old t-shirt.

It’s a blast really.

Currently out on DVD, various VOD services and in the Turner Classics rotation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reds (1981)

I’m tired of women in prison movies. Yesterday’s film I think pushed this side of the genre are far as it can go. I’m planning on revisiting the genre with the Pam Grier/Roger Corman films somewhere down the line, but for now I thought we’d take a break and go in a completely different direction.

Warren Beatty’s Reds is a much loved, much maligned film. The film came out at the end of 1981 and won a good number of awards (including several Oscars) but in the intervening 30 years has ridden the waves of critical love and hate to the point that it’s kind of forgotten by most people. I’m not sure what the people who do know what the film is think of it now, but I really like it.

The film is the story of John Reed and his wife/lover/ paramour Louise Bryant in the early days of the 20th century and his time writing what is considered by many people the definitive account of the Russian Revolution, The Ten Days that Shook the World. Inter cut with the story of Reed and Bryant are interview segments with the witnesses, people who lived through the events depicted and in some cases knew the people portrayed in the film. While many critics were up and down about the dramatic parts of the film, the segments with the witnesses were universally praised.

A huge sprawling film, Reds covers a large canvas of historical events while never losing sight of the central romance of Reed and Bryant that is the film's heart. Despite running almost three and a half hours this is a film that is at it’s most basic a small scale human story being told with world shaking events in the background. Its never boring nor draggy it’s a film that simply flies by.

In it’s way it’s the bridge of the old school Hollywood epics to the modern sort of blockbuster since it uses the epic framework and uses it to hang the more modern story telling of the romance. The same year that the film came out we also got the failed epic Heaven's Gate which stayed closer to the typical Hollywood epic structure and collapsed under its bloated weight. Where Michael Cimino told his story large scale because he felt it had to be a four hour spectacular, Beatty uses spectacle and length simply because that is how the true events played out and how they have to be told. It maybe a simple love story with politics mixed in, but there is a great deal to tell.

For my money the weakest part of the film is the placement of the intermission which happens at exactly the wrong point and deflates the momentum of the second half…instead of happening at the emotional high point of the revolution it’s comes a short time later by which time any drive into the second half is gone. I remember seeing the film in the theater for the first time and being giddy as what I thought was the first act closer came and went only to find that once the lights went down for the second half I had to fight to get back into the film. I know watching the film on cable I don’t have that problem since I can just keep going, but on DVD I have to switch discs and its kind of a drag.

I think this is a great under appreciated film simply because it refuses to be anything other than what it is. I think the film has unjustly been put on the track toward oblivion (of a sort) because it didn't win the right awards or have stars who are in vogue now (Dianne Keaton and especially Warren Beatty are not big with today's Audiences.) As for the Oscars, the year it came out were an odd year and seem to be almost a mistake in retrospect. The big winners were Chariots of Fire, a film which confounds people looking back and On Golden Pond which gave Henry Fonda an Oscar not so much for the role but for his career. Other films competing for best picture were Atlantic City, Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you ask critics or film historians who should of won you'll get as many answers as people you ask.

For my money Reds should have won Best Picture (although I do have a weak spot for Chariots of Fire). I genuinely believe that the film deserves a rediscovery, it is very much one of the best films of the 1980's and one of the true last gasps of old school Hollywood filmmaking.

If you've never seen the film, please try it. If you have seen it, especially a long time ago, see it again, I think you'll find it's much better than you remember.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bare Behind Bars (1980)

Okay, hide this one from the kids... more so than all of the others. This is 95 minutes of sex and violence and sex and violence and sex and violence. This is probably the most watchable of the stereotypical genre when reduced to it's basest elements.

Despite doing a whole week of women in prison films I am not a fan of the genre. It has nothing to do with morals or scruples, rather it simply has to do with most of the films aren't very good. There isn't much you can really do with the basic plot of women in prison; it's either a true life social documentary or pure sleaze, and guess which one most of the films are?

Right, the sleazy kind.

That doesn't mean there haven't been some watchable and even good films, for example most of the Roger Corman produced films like Big Bird Cage are fun exploitation films in their own right (I'll be getting to those films at a later time.) And as you have seen the films this week have been of the sleazy variety, and yet on some level they have remained on some level watchable.even enjoyable if you allow yourself to disconnect from the good social graces and mores.

Bare Behind Bars on the other hand is pure trash. Watchable on some levels but pure trash. In it's way its one of the most violent, certainly the most sexually graphic of all of the films this week. Its also the genre reduced to it's most basic. Its a film that has no pretensions, it just is. It also knows enough not push things into ridiculousness beyond what is inherent to the genre.

The plot has the women in a prison rebelling against the cruel brutality. They are beaten and abused both by the staff and each other. They also have sex with the staff and each other. Eventually three women break free and make it to the big city in time for Carnival, but the police are right behind. There isn't more than that except the sex and violence.

Is it good?

It is watchable. As I said its the genre reduced down to it's most basic, something the other film aren't. In a genre that has more films that are so base that you wonder not only who makes these sort of films, but makes you seriously wonder about the audience, this is a film that won't require several showers to clean up after. Its certainly better than the director's Amazon Jail which is pretty unwatchable with it's bad acting, simplistic plot (women are brought to the jungle under false pretext and then sold) and other deficiencies.If you want a film that is in the so bad its bad territory see that film, or don't since you'll only shut it off after five minutes.

I know but is it good...?

Let me put it this way, it's the least of this weeks films and while I have made it all to the end, when doing a second viewing for this piece I did allow it to dissipate into background noise. I would watch any of the other films reviewed first.

Out on uncut and uncensored (ie.hardcore) from Blue Underground and in less graphic other versions from less reliable sources. The choice to watch is your own.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Body Wars (1996)

As part of the Lincoln Center Film Society Family Series this film will be screening this Sunday at 2PM and on the 26th at 11AM. Tickets are 6 bucks and it's worth checking out.

A little kid who lives with his grandfather shrinks himself, with the aid of his teddy bear, in order to go inside his grandfather's body to see whats making him ill. With the help of two "people" he meets on the inside he sets about making his grandfather well.

Sue me I really liked this movie. I have no idea why I should have warmed to this kids film but I did. Perhaps its the design (which is just neat to look at) and the sense that there is something behind the story beyond just being a live action Osmosis Jones for kids. I think it helps that it is very clever a good deal of the time. This is a kids film that just tells its story and so it becomes something more than just a kids film. Its a film adults will like too.

No, its not perfect. I could pick it apart by saying the talking teddy bear oddly done, the real world stuff just misses and the pacing is off, but whats the point? Despite any flaws I still I liked it. Though I do have to admit that in many ways its better in the parts than as a whole.

Definitely worth trying if you run across the film, especially if you are open to good, but not great kids films, with really cool looks to them.(And as I said at the start the film is screening at Lincoln Center the next two weekends. Details are HERE)

Womens Prison Massacre (1983)

A women in prison film unlike any other, its one with a seeming artistic bend. I mean how else do you explain an opening sequence that is a performance piece that’s being put on by the prisoners? The mind boggles.

The film stars Laura Gesmer as Emanuelle, yes that Emanuelle (or at least the one played by Gesmer in 10 other films), a reporter sent to prison on trumped up charges by a corrupt official. Once inside she finds out just how corrupt things are with guards abusing the inmates on the slightest provocation. With in the inmate population things are run by the blonde Albina, a psycho with bulging eyes and an appetite for destruction. To say that she and Emmanuelle don’t get along is an understatement. Things eventually come to a head when four guys on death row make a break and end up taking hostages (this last twist helps keep things interesting).

What sets this film apart from all the others women in prison films is the weird bend the film has. The prison guards are all in suits which seem to be some sort of cultish uniform. They don’t seem to be practical for watching prisoners. Several characters, guards and prisoners, have fabulously coffered hair. Albina’s hair seems more the sort of thing singer Grace Jones would have worn on stage back in the day. The prison seems to be an odd combination of impractical- say the seemingly unbarred windows mixed with the stereotypical, old style old style steel doors to keep people locked up. Its people and places that never would have anything to do with a real prison, I mean look at the sequences with the people outside the prison, they seem to have been shot in an industrial park instead of abeing outside a jail.

Watching the film I kept thinking what were these people thinking?

Then I remembered when the film was made and it weirdly all made sense, it’s a movie from the early 1980’s when filmmakers tried to reinvent things in a disco synthesizer driven style. There are any number of exploitation films from the period that look similar since producers wanted to seem like they were hip and happening and with “today’s” audiences. In most cases the need to be a reflection of early 80’s culture doomed the films from having any real life because they dated badly (not that the producers cared so long as they made money). Womens Prison Massacre strangely has gone beyond dating into some place timeless. This film is its own unique animal. Sure it hits all of typical, sleazy women in prison cliché’s but at the same time it dress them up to make something different, something that doesn’t really require repeated showers after you see it.

Womens Prison Massacre has been hailed by several women in prison aficionados I know as one of the best of the genre, I begrudgingly have to agree that its certainly one of the more watchable. I don’t know if that means the film is great, but I do know that it kept me awake several nights way past my bed time trying to simply see what happens. (I should say that the repeated viewings were the result of simply being too tired to make it to the end and not a need to see it on several nights running. I’d put the film on when I was getting ready for sleep only to find that I was too tired to go on, but I was some how gripped by what I was seeing that I tried to fight to the end only to fall asleep…at which point I’d wake up a hour or so after the film ended. I then would start it over the next night. It took me three nights but I made it to the end.)

If you are a fan of woman in prison films but you are tired of the same old same old T&A and violence course that most films in the genre take you may want to give this film a shot.