Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Appointment with Crime (1946)

Okay British crime drama with William Hartnell as a crook who gets caught in a smash and grab when a gate falls on his wrists. When he gets out of prison he tells his boss he wants money for not saying anything- the boss says no, so Hartnell plots revenge.

This is the first lead role I've seen with Hartnell outside of Doctor Who and it's clear why he was always a character. He's incredibly stiff, which made him perfect for the soldiers and policemen he often played in other films, but not really leading man material.

While the film is good, it kind of just missed for me, the result of the shooting style being more stlized than anythng-tilted cameras people standing in tableaus. There is something there that makes it better than just a typical crime film, but at the same time there is a formality that under cuts it.

Reservations aside, the film is worth at least trying, especially if you only know Hartnell as The Doctor.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tickets are on Sale for the New York City International FIlm Festival

Tickets are on sale for the New York City International Film Festival and the related New York Film Mart.

This is the third year of the Festival which show cases a huge number of films from around the world.

This year the festival has 176 films which are screening in several locations around the city including the Ziegfeld (the opening Night Gala on 8/9), the Abingdon Theaters and Tribeca Cinemas.

The selection is a fantastic mix of features and shorts; documentaries and fiction films. It’s such a good selection that I’m really annoyed since I simply cannot get to more than a smattering of films (the problem being that the films counter program against each other…and some set in stone plans I have.) As of right now I and the Unseen crew currently in New York are trying to work out what we can get to.

I’ll keep you posted as to what we decide on seeing.

For those of you who want to dive in and see some for yourself, details on tickets and the films can be here.

Danger on the Air (1938)

One of the Universal Crime Club films.

The story of what happens at a radio station when a hated sponsor is killed by mysterious means.

Its a good if rambling film that seems to be taking its time in getting where it's going. It's not bad but even running a brief 70 minutes you kind of wish that they'd pick up their pace a bit.

That said the use of a gas a a murder weapon and some intriguing characters-there is one guy who can imitate everyone and when people are afraid to enter the building he does all the voices himself- make this memorable.

It may not be something to search out but it is something you'll want to watch when you do run across it. (then again oldies.com has it for a couple of bucks so it's worth it)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nightcap 7/29/12 Catching up with some major releases (and other things)

Draft two of this week’s Sunday Nightcap is partly what I was going to run last weekend. It's also partly something else.

At this point Japan Cuts is all done and we are looking forward to some quiet time before the fall and crazy time. Yes we are going to be bringing you coverage of Latin Beat at Lincoln Center, perhaps some of The New York City International Film Festival (plans will depend on modifying my schedule to fit the film list) and many upcoming films. I told you that we’ve taken steps to bring you more timely film coverage and it’s happening. This past week’s review of Klown was the tip of that.

Speaking of newer films while I’ve been hip deep in the hoopla of Japan Cuts and NYAFF I’ve been trying to cleanse the palate by seeing some new Hollywood films. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a few:

Beasts of the Southern Wild is easily one of the most over-rated films I’ve seen this year. The story of the inhabitants of a small island below New Orleans is a messy movie. Magical realism or no the film feels like it was stitched together from various clips and sequences the director had. Its all tied together by the narration of Hushpuppie, a young girl living with her dad. I completely failed to see the wonder of the film and much of the apocalyptic end of the world scenario that was promised in the reviews isn’t there.

Project X- A bunch of loser kids throw the most over the top party imaginable managing to cement their reputation and trash the neighborhood in the process. This was lost on me. While I found it funny in spots, I found much of it uncomfortable since the kid at the center of it was more pathetic than likable, with the dorky kid not revealing an inner good person, rather just a sad fellow who’d do anything to fit in.

Not a new one but I did see Undercover Man- George Raft stars a bad guy who joins up with the police to get the goods on a man who killed his friend. A solid little thriller from 1934 (I have other oldies coming in full reviews)

Another not new one was Persona. This is Ingmar Bergman's "masterpiece" about a nurse and her patient who begin to meld together. It helps a bit of you consider it a cinematic poem, it helps but it doesn't make it actually better. This is everything that made most people I knew growing up hate foreign films. Pretentious twaddle is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm seriously thinking of taking it apart in a On Further review post.

Brave- Pixar’s latest was a mixed bag for me and I reserve the right to change my mind. A great cast and a mostly excellent script are weakened by too much silliness, is this a “real” story or a Looney Tunes cartoon? The film also has some moments that seemed to have had back story cut away

Big Miracle- True story of what happens when three whales get trapped in the ice in Alaska. Pretty good family film hits all the cliche points so cleanly you really don't care you know where it's going to go. (I've actually written a full review for a few weeks from now)

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter was a visually good looking film but little else. I’m guessing the compression of the plot to 90 minute of good set pieces left little room for emotional connection to the story. Looks good but I didn’t care.

Ted is a profanity filled episode of the Family Guy stretched to 90 plus minutes. If you like  Family Guy you're going to love this if not, I doubt you will.

The Amazing Spider-Man manages to restart the franchise and not annoy the living piss out of you by going through the spider bite yet again. The film works because of the characters which occasionally allow for sequences that are amongst the most perfect in comic book movie history (Spidey saving the kid in the dangling car? As perfect as these things get). Sure there is too much CGI and rubber, and the whole father quest thing sputters here and there, but its a damn good film and way better than it has any right to be.

That's My Boy is a bad movie. Yea I know Adam Sandler movies are an acquired taste, but at the same time even his worst films have something, some spark. This starts with Sandler's awful Boston accent and gets worse from there.

Ice Age 4...I got tricked into this one. A trusted friend said this was really good. Better than the last one. I walked out about 25 minutes in, I didn't know they were letting non-writers near feature films.

Oliver Stone's Savages is good little crime film. Completely unremarkable but solidly good in a programmed sort of way.

We Have a Pope has a wonderful first half, then the Pope goes walkabout and so does the film. Maybe if they grafted on Saving Grace (a movie with Tom Conti about a Pope locked out of the Vatican) I would have liked it more.

(I have not see Dark Knight Rises, I will not see it for a while, if ever. Why? Because based on what I've read the film has little connection to the character I was raised on.  Add in gaping plot holes and WTF aspects of some of the twists I'm guessing I;ll be screaming at the movie. No one needs to hear me go apoplectic)

There are a few others (like Avengers) and lots of Criterion releases, but I’m saving those for proper reviews.

And Randi has sent me some links for inclusion:

Terry Gilliam's daughter is raiding her dad's archive

Yowa Yowa Camera

Stuff you Otter Know

FIght for Survival (1977)

Over the top WTF martial arts movie that is among the most amazing things you'll see because it's so out there. It doesn't make a lick of sense and frankly you won't care because its just so much fun.

The plot has a girl training in the martial arts going after several stolen volumes of martial arts wisdom. I'm going to leave the plot there because you won't believe me if I told you what was going on- weird training methods, flying fighters, limbs that grow and shrink, weird tests of worthiness...

I saw this and my mouth hung open in complete disbelief... Its one of the weirdest and wildest martial arts films I've ever seen. I think it's got everything you can think of in it but romance and spaceships.

I picked this up in a multi-film DVD set expecting to buzz through most of the films, which is what frequently happens in this 5 buck buys. First movie out of the box I was hooked.

Its so wild I stopped the second film to watch this again.

Wilda, wacky and great fun.

Check your bargain bins and pick this baby up

One of my finds of 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A non-review of Lonely Swallows (2011) Japan Cuts 2012

I’m not going to review Lonely Swallows.

I’d like to but I can’t.

Its not that I haven’t seen it, I have, rather in the form I saw it, the film is a mess. Whether this is the result of the screener I saw the film on or the film itself I’m not sure. I suspect that it’s the largely the technical aspects of the film.

The film is the course of approximately two and a half years in the lives of five Brazilian Japanese, five young adults who live in Japan and have parents or a parent who came to Japan from Brazil in order to earn money in the factories. The kids are kind of adrift since their duel nationality has them as outsiders in the eyes of many Japanese. Indeed they are not required to go to school and many dropout in junior high to work in the factories. When the economic bubble burst in 2008 and 9 they were the first to be let go. The kids feel they belong in Japan, and not where their parent came from since they either left those countries as a children, or they were never there. The film plays out as a kind of universal tale of poverty and migrant workers who don’t really have a place where they feel they belong. Visually the world they in habit here could be anywhere in North or South America since other than everyone speaking Japanese there is no difference.

There are some colorful characters here and some of their stories are often heartbreaking and oddly hopeful, the trouble is that the film is a tough slog. The film seems to have been shot on a variety of different video cameras with the result that some of the hand held camera moves result in weird distortion in the image through much of the early parts of the film. Based on what is said in the film, the film started almost randomly with the filmmakers falling into the Brazilian community and they started to film. This is good because they film has a very much you are their cinema verite feel, but at the same time the feeling more frequently crosses over into feeling like someone’s home movies. Even over the course of the almost 3 years of filming the footage never feels like anything more than assembled home video. Sadly things never get beyond a thrown together feeling. There is a great film here it just needs a different editor to go through all the footage and put it together.

As you can see I have issues with the film technically and it’s organization. But at the same time I fully recognize that the material itself, the stories told in the film are very good and worth hearing. They deserve to be heard and seen, they just need to be seen in a better forum than this, much like a great painting needs a great frame, this a Rembrandt of a story needs something better than a 99 cent store frame.

The biggest problem with the film is the subtitles: They SUCK.

I mean they are an absolute jumble and mess. Its not a translation problem, rather it’s a problem with how they arranged. Much of the film has a commentary/narration that appears only in the subtitles which runs at the same time as the film is translating what the characters are saying.  Even though the narration is in yellow and the dialog is in white the resulting  collision of alternating lines makes it hard to balance what you are reading and seeing since its often like reading two books literally at the same time. Facts and figures mix with talk of regular life. It’s a mess and seems to be an indication of a deep seated problem with the organization of the film since the film which is throwing too much at you from the get go.

There is a good film here, no there is a great film here, it just needs to be restructured and resubtitled... and until that happens I can't in good concious review this film.

(It also needs to do something about at least mentioning the Nikkei laws which were put into place to get rid of the unemployed immigrants by paying them to go home and never come back. )

Unbeaten 28 (1980)

When his father is killed a baby is raised to be a martial artist with the aim of eventually getting revenge.

Wild over the top training sequences fill much of the film as our hero goes through hellish trials before he gets to fight, briefly the man who killed his father and adopted father.

Unevenly dubbed, filled with many of the cliches that wuxia lovers go crazy for (like over the top wire work) this film is an absolute joy. Its exactly the sort of film that everyone makes fun of and yet its also the sort of film that people curl up with. There is simply something wonderful about watching the weirder and weirder tests that our hero has to go through. Teracota robots, floors that make noise, twin warriors? They're all here and more.

Don't look for logic and reason, simply look for some guys fevered dream of a martial arts.

Out on DVD in a variety of packages

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wild World of Ted V Mikels (2008)

Harmless biography and appreciation of Ted V Mikels and his out put of films that is narrated by John Waters.

Mikels is a legendary schlock miester who specialized in films like The Undertaker and His Pals, Corpse Grinders (1 and 2), Astro Zombies, 10 Violent Women among others. Sure his films range from pretty good to utter garbage (most of his recent films fall into that category) but at the same time you have to hand it to the man for continuing to plug away at the age of 81.

Mikels is a jovial man who turned his love of performing into a film career and a house full of beautiful women (Hugh Hefner has nothing on this guy).

This film on the man and his movies is an enjoyable way to spend an hour (the DVD release lists the running time as two hours but I think that includes the deleted scenes). Its full of clips, interviews with the man and his women (including legendary Tura Satana –who really needs a film made about her) who talk about the movies and how they were made.

Heavy its not. Its more a pleasant diversion about a bunch of movies that are likewise a diversion.

Worth a look if the subject interests you.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brat Out Of Hell: The Brat! review, Japan Cuts 2012

the-brat-poster1High atop a building, on the set of a zombie horror movie shoot, a man is shouting at the top of his lungs and threatening to kill himself. Meet Daisuke Baba, a crew member of minimal importance in charge of putting together the ‘making of’ footage for the movie. For the 90 minutes that follow, he will test people’s patience and get on nerves as the antihero/protagonist of Japanese movie The Brat! (The Japanese title is ‘Kusogaki no Kokuhaku’ which translates into ‘The Brat’s Confession’).

The Brat! is one of a few films in this summer’s barrage of Asian movies (brought to us by the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts) with a movie being made within it. And it's one of two Japanese films where said movies within the movies are zombie flicks. Yet, The Brat! is closer in spirit to Hong Kong’s Vulgaria, both firing off a rebel yell of resistance from a young and fired up generation of filmmakers.

Before Daisuke can complete his rooftop rant, he is startled by a zombified actress, Momoko, who’s made her way to the same spot for a break from the filming. After the supporting actress expresses interest in being interviewed by Daisuke, they take turns doing their most guttural zombie moans, as she has asked him to give her tips on improving her performance. This marks the beginning of an awkward relationship between these two minor players on the film set, both of whom need to be regarded carefully before we in the audience presume to know who they are.

Daisuke, with his constant laments, is sure to pull in many a casual reviewer who sees him as rallying figure for those that insist on following one’s artistic dream, and those that are treated unfairly for having less attractive features. These are the focal points of his tirades: that the work being put his way compromises his pursuit of a pure vision and that he is not taken seriously because of his appearance; he seems to wear a permanent scowl no matter his feeling. While his frustrations may reflect some valid challenges to those with less glamorous paths, his constant remarks about these hardships should not necessarily be taken at face value. Add to the picture the fact that he lives at home with his elderly mother in a room adorned with pro wrestling figures and masks, and takes little interest in finding a steady source of income despite his mother’s pleas for him to do so. Even when bestowed with greater responsibility and the chance to take the lead on directing a feature related to the main horror film being made, he shirks this off, or rather uses it as a chance to get closer to Momoko. Daisuke takes a liking to her since the fateful day on the rooftop. His lack of experience being with other women taken along with her outgoing friendliness toward him makes her a potential first girlfriend for the would be director.

With these shortcomings in mind, Daisuke Baba joins a long line of late blooming flawed characters, going back at least to Ignatius from the novel Confederacy of Dunces, and following with more than a passing resemblance to Billy (Vincent Gallo) in Buffalo 66, fellow failure at love in contemporary Japan, Toshiyuki from Boyz on the Run, and rather interestingly he shares some parallels with Swanson, the main character in the Rick Alverson directed, Tim Heidecker starring indie dark horse, The Comedy...to name just a few. What these characters share is that they never uncategorically change or learn a lesson. They are too realistically defective for that. And yet, there is something likeable that surfaces in their character; in some cases it is simply their resolute stubbornness in remaining who they are but it also includes a break, no matter how slight, in their demeanor. A willingness to bend a little if not change altogether, and in the case of Daisuke, it is in his gesture towards another instead of his constant pining in self pity where we find his well-hidden appeal.

In Daisuke’s pursuit of Momoko, we have a refreshing wrinkle in the usual turn of events that finds inadequate boy miraculously getting the perfect girl. While at first seeming very much in control, Momoko turns out to have disturbing traits that rival those of Daisuke. The footage he shot on set, which led to him being charged with a documentary-like side project, honed in on Momoko convulsing horrifyingly in the background of an action scene. With the actress then removing herself from the movie shoot altogether, Daisuke pursues the nature of her malady, at first exploring the possibility of her being haunted by literal demons (encountered perhaps on a haunted movie set) and then facing the existence of figurative ones, manifestations of a very troubled psyche.

This leads to a surprising portrayal of unhinged suffering from Sayaka Tashiro, whose first time(!) this is starring in a feature. Her performance here is raw and unsettling. And of course, Hiroki Konno, who is the brat, is impressive too. Like the far more repellant subject of The Comedy, Daisuke borders on completely irredeemable -- the abuse he hurls at his mother when she refuses to cook for him until he finds a steady job -- while there are moments that embrace such an illogical and abrasive path, they take on an innocence that endears the character to the audience. It is all pulled off with unique quirks and mannerisms.   

If The Brat! is not a film about following through with one’s vision or defying superficial judgments of a person’s merit, then what? Unrealized desire for one, and the many paths it could lead a person down. Unending secret longing, vicious assaults on others both verbally and physically, moving on in a new direction, even suicide...all of these avenues are explored.  Both Daisuke and Momoko encounter the physical manifestations of their desires in the form of the internal movie’s debonair director and its rising starlet. Yet, their sympathetic behavior toward the imperfect pair seems to further raise their ire.  

Amid all this despair and frustration lies the potential to make distant fantasies into a reality, even if it is not in the manner one initially hoped for. Here lies, for Daisuke, a renewed sense of purpose centered not only around himself, but the salvation of another. The tone changes from wallowing to empowering. While not, as it may first seem, about making one’s vision come true, it is about finding out what in fact that vision is.
The conclusion is where this film’s magic trick lies, after a somewhat shaky narrative. It is anything but a smooth ride. What comes is a riveting instance of primal scream therapy between the two main characters, which holds surprisingly little back in a culture that still maintains rituals of distance and restraint.

Pulling off the creation of this kind of offbeat character is an impressive feat for newcomer writer/director Taichi Suzuki. With The Brat! also filled with raw moments about the frustration of filmmaking, he’s created a debut feature that is not always perfect, but makes a bold and not soon forgotten impression.

The Brat! is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts festival, taking place at the Japan Society, Saturday July 28, at 7:00 PM.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Women of the World (1963)

The third film from the makers of Mondo Cane is a look at women around the world.

The print that's part of the Mondo Cane box set is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately it doesn't have the promised Peter Ustinov narration. I should also point out that the subtitles are incomplete and there are moments where the narration is not translated, not a problem if you're watching in English, it is a problem if you are watching in Italian.

The film itself isn't bad. It shows women around the world doing differnet things, focusing mostly on cheese cake stuff. Its not a bad document of women in the early 1960's around the world, but its not one thats really revelant to anything. I'm not certain it ever was.

Watching it I had the feeling of "yes and?". Its not bad, but I couldn't really understand why I was watching it simply because its just women doing things with narration. The pseudo purposes of most mondo movies is gone and only the cheese cake remains.

Its not a bad film, just one thats rather pointless....

Should you get the chance to watch it you can give it a shot. If you're in the right mood it might be a pleasant time killer that may teach you something.Or if not its two hours of eye candy...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Heima (2007)

Next week Sigur Ros is playing the Bandshell in Prospect Park Brooklyn. The concert sold out before I could get tickets, however since its an out door concert and since sound carries I’ll be attending anyway if only to listen.

In order to get in the mood I’m going to talk about Heima, the first concert film by the band.

As many of you know fell in love with Sigur Ros after seeing their second concert film Inni. This is a moody black and white film that records a series of concerts in England.

Heima is the story of what happened when Sigur Ros returned to Iceland after their 2006 world tour. Deciding to give back to the people they decided to tour the country in a series of free concerts in a variety of locations. Intercutting interviews with performances the film follows the group as they go from tiny coffee houses to huge out door concerts, to places in the middle of nowhere, to banquet halls to where ever. The purpose of the film seems to have been to act as the excuse to play in as many different sonically different places while at the same time playing for whom ever shows up.

Blurring the line between straight record and staged performance piece, we get lots of moments that are pure cinema. A marching band wanders through a town then trudges on stage during a song, as the group begins to play their first song nature runs backward as if the band is recharging themselves and the country, a piece near the end starts as a slowly building song with old holiday footage, merging to the group meeting friends before their final performances and the becoming a dance of a growing number of red kites in the sky. By its end your heart and soul will be flying as well.

I love this film. I’ve taken to just putting it on and using it as a prescription for just chilling since there is something about the music and the Icelandic countryside that is nicely calming.

See this film.

Actually pick up the DVD and watch not only the film but also the marvelous second disc which is over two and a half hours of additional music, interviews and events that occurred on the tour. It’s a marvelous film in its own right. (Okay it’s not a film but a collection of clips that are a great deal of fun)

One of my favorite films I’ve seen in 2012

Capsule Documentary (Wide World of Sports/Terror in Mubai/ Still Bill)

Wild World of Sports 40 Years of Glory
10 year old documentary on the legendary TV show is a blast of nostaalgia. I grew up on the show and its great to see so many great clips. Unfortunately as good as the film is, it's way way too brief at 64 minutes. I absolutely loved this but at the same time because it was so short it only really highlights a few high points and everything else (and thats a lot, gets passed over. Worth seeing but I'd rent it.

Terror in Mubai
Very good documentary on the teror attacks in Mubai in 2008. using recordered phone calls and news footage it tells the story of how a few country kids were sent to kill people in a hotel.

I was rightly horrified.

I was also intrigued when a police official said that they broke one of the surviving terrorists by showing him the dead bloated corpses of his compatriots in the morgue. He had been told that anyone who died in a jihad would smell wonderfully and their bodies would glow.

Still Bill
Okay look at Bill Withers.
Full of good music the film just sort of is since outside of the piece on his being honored by a group that helps kids who stutter, there isn't much here, just a nice man who makes music on his terms and has stayed away from the spotlight and the music business for many years now.
It was nice to check in with the man but why did this need to be 90 minutes?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Klown (2010) (aka Klown the Movie)

What would happen if Dogma 95 crashed into say The Hangover (which I still haven't seen but that isn't the point)? What if  Lars von Trier made a road movie but went sit-com-esque?

This wild Danish film, which I first noticed when I saw the poster was in the program book for the New York Asian Film Festival, is much funnier than I ever thought possible. It's also very touching and frequently uncomfortable

Before I get started, if you have kids of an impressionable age don't take them to see this because this is a frank, occasionally graphic film  will make you uncomfortable if they are watching this with you. Trust me on that. There's sex drugs and rock and roll here and littleof it is for kids.

The film has Frank taking his girlfriend's nephew, Bo, on a canoe trip. Frank doesn't really want to but he's just found out his girlfriend is pregnant and he wants to prove he'll be a good dad. While the canoe trip unto itself would have been fine, it was supposed to be a carnal trip with Frank's friend Casper with the idea that they were going to pick up women along the way. Things quickly go down hill as we end up with men being boys and complications that are the result of drugs, alcohol, and lust.

I laughed at the jokes and I laughed at the wrongness of it all. I laughed because what happens is funny and despite many of the bits making me feel uncomfortable. This is very much a film that could never be made by a big US studio, or most of the small ones either simply because the material is handled a bit too frankly for some watchdogs (who I'm sure do similar things away from their office) and because there is full frontal male nudity (which wigs some people out).

If you are an adult and can handle what many would call tasteless comedy (though I would argue it's not so much tasteless but rather more like the way people really behave) feel free to see the film.  All others stay away.

Two New York Documentaries by Richard Sandler

Brave New York
Look at the various people in the East Village and how they and the neighborhood were affected by the building boom in Manhattan. Its an interesting but kind of wearing look at the people and the neighborhood that director Richard Sandler calls home The wearing part of the film comes from his off the cuff shoot from the hip style that Sandler uses. I’m guessing that like Sandler’s Gods of Times Square he wandered around on odd days with his camera and just shot what he ran across. The film is an interesting but really jagged slice of life that I think is going to be of interest more for those from the neighborhood than for any sort of wide audience. The DVD is more of interest when you consider it’s extras are two short documentaries that also give a flavor of the East Village in the “bad” old days (nether of which would be worth seeing on their own)

Gods of Times Square
Dizzying seemingly randomly shot film documenting the various street people, and the street preachers in particular that in habited Times Square before it was Disney-fied. Shot over the 1990’s the film shows the various people who haunted- and in some cases still haunt the area. We have the evangelical preachers, the nuns, the black militants who feel anyone white is a devil, Buddhists, Jews for Jesus and just people on the street. Its a wicked trip back to the end days of the bad old days (kind of). While I find seeing the area in transition interesting (I’ve spent a great deal of time in that part of the city over the last 15 years) I find the film daunting and exhausting. The weird camera angles and ragged editing style wear you down and give you no sense of anything. Interviews run from stray comments to lengthy with no rhyme or reason. Actually the film has no rhyme or reason since there is no sense to time to any of it. We jump back and forth through time with interviews taking place in the same changed spot at differing times. Unless you know the area or the time (the movie posters) you’ll think that Times Square was a hot bed of religious fervor on the order of what you’d get if Jersulselum, Mecca and Rome all mashed together in a Baptist church in the American South during a particularly fervent service. Half an hour in I was done, not because it was bad, rather because it was so jumbled it turned an interesting subject into drek.

Rebirth (Youkame No Semi) Review, Japan Cuts 2012

youkamenosemi poster1While it is perhaps true of all cultures, Western ones seem find it particularly difficult to show or view a conflict in absence of judgment. When something unfortunate happens, there must be a party in the right and one in the wrong, just and unjust. Although, I suppose it’s become increasingly easy to cast negative judgment on all sides of an issue. 

So it goes with the film Rebirth (whose Japanese title, Youkame No Semi, translates to ‘The Cicada’s Eighth Day)...perusing blogs and comments of those who have seen it in Japan (it opened in theaters there in 2011) or a television drama based on the same novel, reactions come down to taking sides: 

‘I couldn’t sympathize with this character at all because what she did was so completely immoral.’ 

‘She shouldn’t have done that, but then the mother was a b----, so she was right to...’ 

Yet despite reactions, this Japanese academy award sweeping film poses quite a challenge to absolute moral judgment with its look at an impulsive criminal act and the course of events that follow.

Rebirth opens in tight courtroom suspense mode and a dour mood.  The defendant, Kiwako, on trial for taking a four month old girl and raising her in secret for 4 years, and Akiyama Etsuko, the child’s mother, make final statements before a judge.  The mother is wrathful. Kiwako is sorrowful, yet firmly unapologetic. An affair with the father, which was ended by him but not on mutual terms, led up to her rash act of kidnapping. After Kiwako is found guilty and the tension of this scene reaches its height, the film moves around through different phases of time to color in the acts leading up to Kiwako’s transgression, as well as her efforts to raise the girl, Akiyama Erina, while at the same time evading capture.

The film takes its time to eventually settle on its other, arguably main focus: a young adult Akiyama Erina, living the life of a detached college student with a part time waitressing job. A woman of a similar age as Erina, introducing herself as a reporter, presents her with a dossier on Kiwako and the the trial, an aspect of Erina’s life that she had apparently not yet been ready or willing to explore.

The events shape up to focus more on the trials of Erina from herein -- an affair with a married man finds her following a similar path to that of Kiwako and also results in an unexpected pregnancy, while her relationship with her parents is strained at best from since she was returned to her natural parents.  And as they do, the flashbacks shift from the point of view of Kiwako to that of Erina as she and the supposed reporter who has an oddly keen interest in her take to the road together to retrace her path in tow with Kiwako and sort out the events of her past.

While the film is often labeled as suspense -- and there are some elements of it, it depicts a rather languid life on the run. As Kiwako sought refuge and support in the newfound task of raising a child, she found herself indoctrinated into a separatist cult (which is also not portrayed as malevolent), and then settling and working in the rustic island community of Shodoshima. In fact, most of the tension occurs early on with the film’s end run focusing on Erina’s emerging recollections, her coming to terms with an unconventional past, and her resolve for the future.

It is a through and through beautifully shot film. The camera captures small portraits of characters’ uneasy frames of mind amidst a scenic backdrop of rural Japan. This is helped in no uncertain terms by the portrayal of these emotionally complex characters by a very accomplished cast, led by Mao Inoue as Erina and Hiromi Nagasaku (who also appeared in a role of great psychic duress in 2010’s Wandering Home, a 2011 Japan Cuts selection) as Kiwako.  Intermixed with a moody score are songs by Jack Johnson and Beach House, giving it a fresh and contemporary feel.

What prevents the film from being an all around great drama goes back to its treatment of immoral acts. I do not find its more neutral portrayal of Kiwako’s kidnapping a sore point, nor the sympathetic portrayal of her as a caring mother figure. Life is not always made up of such simple black and white ways of looking at an issue, nor should characterizations in movies be as such. While the movie does not cast a suggestive dark shadow over characters for their acts, it does not do much to explore the factors surrounding such an incident. A film like A Separation shows society’s role in creating morally ambiguous situations where people are lead into conundrums like this, all the while struggling internally. Kiwako’s motherly instincts make her a sympathetic figure so the fact that she is not shown to at least reflect on the consequences of her actions doesn’t quite add up. We are left with the possibility that she shut such thoughts out of her mind, like someone who blocks out memories in order to cope with a trauma, but that notion is a bit lacking in substance.

Perhaps the story should have been built more firmly around Erina’s perspective. It is her journey that we are building towards in the conclusion after all, which is something that does not have quite a natural fit with the progression of the story from early on. Again, had the story’s construction been focused more consistently, it would have perhaps made a stronger statement...and made more sense to me as a winner of this year’s best film award of the Japanese Academy. It does not compare to the powerful visions of the prior year’s winner Confessions and frontrunner Villain.

Still, Rebirth has an undeniable beauty and weaves a dramatic tale with an intriguing turn of events that will fall upon many a teary eye.

Rebirth is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts festival, taking place at the Japan Society, Tuesday July 24, at 7:00 PM.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mr. C's favorites from NYAFF 2012

The 2012 New York Asian Film Festival ended more than a week ago and I’m finally taking a step back to list my top 5 favorite films of the fest. The highlight of the festival for me had to be the special guests including Choi Min Sik, Donnie Yen, & Chung Chang-Hwa!

First of all, I’m so impressed with Choi Min-Sik’s off/on screen persona. He seemed to be such a genuinely nice guy offering his time to shake everyone’s hand, take photos, & sign autographs. While in interview mode after the screenings, he offered candid, witty, & well thought out - inspirational answers about himself & the film industry. And as far Choi Min-Sik’s movie programming for the festival- wow to FAILAN, CRYING FIST, OLD BOY, & NAMELESS GANGSTER! The range of roles that Choi played in those films truly was awe-inspiring!

Donnie Yen was well - DYNAMIC to say the least! Great job to NYAFF and Subway Cinema for tapping into the resources to get someone like Donnie in the mix! I honestly thought that he was an untouchable!

It was also an honor to hear and see a legendary director that has direct links to the Shaw Brother Studios & Golden Harvest! Chung Chang-Hwa is a dying breed of no-nonsense, old school film pioneers that paved the path for martial art movies as we know it today. Thank you sir!

Well, I can’t wait for the next installment of NYAFF 2013 but in the meantime, the following movies were some of my favorites from NYAFF 2012. These are just the top 5 films that I had the most fun watching! Honorable mentions also go out to MONSTERS CLUB and POTECHI! FAILAN (2001) is not a new movie but was new to me and I think it deserves an honorable shout-out as well!

See you next year -- NYAFF!


TOKYO PLAYBOY CLUB  (Japan) - From the dirty depths and alleyways of shinjuku came this gritty shot in the dark movie that blindsided me into sneaking it to my favorites list from the festival. Without looking or thinking very deeply into the synopsis of the film, I chose to watch this movie just like I might have chosen that horse to win, place, or draw at the Belmont Stakes -- purely based on the name! What I got from TPC was not a pink or softcore porn film as the name might have suggested but instead we were fed with a grimey underworld filled with non glorified yakuza characters mixing in with a bunch of outsider raggamuffin all stars uniting to run a brothel in the Shinjuka district of Tokyo. The outsiders and the Yakuza would blend together like oil and water as tales of darkness with some comedic undertones and implied carnage will keep you itching for the next scene. I’m glad I placed Tokyo Playboy Club to win at this horse race!


VULGARIA (Hong Kong) - definitely lived up to the vulgar title as outlaw Hong Kong director Pan Ho Cheung introduced us to a vile, foul mouthed, & off the wall film about the trials and tribulations of a HK producer of 3rd rate films. The director threw the whole HK film industry under the bus in fun fashion and saluted china with the middle finger of death to censorship!  Vulgaria is a category III rated film with plenty of F-Bombs, talks & insinuations of beastiality, and plenty of fun & witty sex talk with a character nicknamed ‘Popping Candy’.  The story is paper thin but the creativity, outlaw techniques, and odd-ball execution of the film wins my votes!  I think having a fluent ear with cantonese would of been optimal to capture subtle nuances of the slang, play on words, & accentuated accents from some of the characters but through the audience laughter in the theater, most of the film seemed to translate pretty well to the gweilo crowd! Oh and remember to stay till the ending credits. You might or might not see Shaw Brother veteran actress - Susan Shaw being handled for lack of better words!

SCABBARD SAMURAI (Japan) - was a story about a broken down, toothless, soulless, swordless samurai - a wanted fugitive who literally lost his fight to live with an embarrassed young daughter in tow. The Scabbard Samurai is finally captured by the Lord but is sentenced to commit suicide unless he can make the young Prince laugh in 30 days.  The Prince is stricken with depression because of the Queen’s death. It took a while for the story to build but once the viewers saw the desperation and spirit emit out of the swordless samurai through his performances, we all knew he had plenty of heart & honor left in his broken soul. The old man brought a lot of laughs to me as the viewer, but would he make the grief stricken Prince laugh? One thing is for certain, the Scabbard Samurai’s daughter would learn a thing or two from her father. I loved the message that this movie was trying to convey - a message of honor, loyalty, compassion, & sympathy.

NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysia) - is one of those silly films a la Stephen Chow style that I enjoyed a little too much at the festival which left me fiending for Malaysian eats! The premise of the movie is about food and the battle between the various cooking styles that makes Malaysia -- Malaysia.  As a matter of fact, I took the ‘food’ battle as a metaphor for ‘ethnic’ battle which eventually turned the fight into the melding and appreciation of all races that co-exist in Kuala Lumpur. The Iron Chef like cooking duel would pit the chinese vs the chinese with a rice dish as the final product. The dark horse would be the chef that would have the foresight to break out of the traditional chinese mold to use local products and heritage from malaysia including influences from India, the Indigenous Malaysians, & the chinese.  The national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak, often served in street hawker stalls is basically a melting pot of ingredients with flavors of curry, coconut milk, & sambal as the base to add fragrance to this rice dish all wrapped up in a bundle of goodness!  
This feel good movie addresses a lot of racial stereotypes in Kuala Lumpur with comedy as the vehicle of transport. A great quote from the movie compares curries to relationships: Finding a great curry mix is like finding that perfect blend of personalities to form a great relationship!  Besides the fun musical/karaoke numbers in the hip hop, bollywood, & traditional chinese realms - I loved that the film is basically a film ode to Malaysia and all its multicultural influences while throwing in steady hints of social issues as well. To celebrate the different cultures of Malaysia, the movie was filmed in a hodge podge of languages including cantonese (chinese), localized malaysian, Indian, mandarin, & even a little Japanese in the end! The flow and the pure wackiness of the film reminded me of last years entry in the NYAFF - SELLOUT! Look out for subtle references to Eason Chan and Edison Chen in Nasi Lemak 2.0!


NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea) is another film that caught me by surprise especially with Choi Min-Sik’s role as the nameless gangster. We have been accustomed with Choi playing the Alpha male in all or most of the characters that he portrays but in this movie, he gives a dramatic - Al Pacino like performance! Set during a time when Korea declared war on gangs in the 1990s, we first see Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-Sik) enter in a Police Station in handcuffs. Next the story would flashback to a time when Choi Ik would try to explain his role in the underworld to avoid persecution.  Through contacts, brains, plenty of balls, and the endurance of pain along with the gift of gab, Ik-Hyun remains relevant in intense situations! Politicians, gangsters, & persecutors would be in the mix and our nameless gangster would know how to deal with them by any means necessary!  The black comedy, violence, and pure chameleon like personality of Choi Min-Sik’s character has me intrigued to see him in more multi-dimensional projects like this in the future!

Conspiracy of Silence (1994)

A supposedly banned/destroyed film linking a one time Republican fund raiser by the name of Larry King from Nebraska(not the talk show host) to a child sex ring and worse. The film was,I'm told, done for the Discovery Channel and a British TV channel and then bought up by "someone" who destroyed it(or tried to).

I can see why.

This is a trip down the rabbit hole as we start with king and his embezzelment of 40 million dollars from his savings and loan, before we move into allegations he ran child sex ring with ties to powerful republicans and Boys Town. Its a frightening thing to behold as we follow the attorney for a woman making claims of being used for sex and who was convicted of purgery (she was sentenced to 25 years, while King stole 40 million bucks and got 15)

Is it true?

Obviously something happened. There are court documents, and a public record, but how much of it is true beyond that is anyones guess...though I would think a good chunk of it is. There's a moment in it about half way in when you get the feeling that maybe, just maybe this was all made up, until you hear what the Grand Jury investigation found and you sit there slack jawed. seconds later you're hit again with the sentences for everyone involved and realized that there was no justice and something was afoot. (and of course the coda with a washington sex ring bust makes it al the more WTF material.)

Its a head trip into alleged 1980's Republican abuse of power.

If you ever get the chance to see this and want to see a documentary that makes you go Hmmmmmm in both good and bad ways, see this film. (Though be warned its very sexually graphic)

Hara-Kiri:Death of a Samurai and No Man's Zone (Japan Cuts 2012)

Today was supposed to be a double feature at Japan Cuts but things happened and it ended up being a double feature of a different variety

Since the first of the Japan Cuts films was at 315, I realized that if there was an early enough screening I could see Takashi Miike's 3D Hara Kiri. there was an 1105 so I went down to the IFC center and bought myself a ticket.

The story is based on a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi which is also the basis for a classic film from 1962. Things begin when a poor samurai arrives at the home of the local lord asking to be allowed to kill himself in his court yard. Fearing a bluff for money the lord takes the samurai in and tells him the story of another samurai who had come earlier, just such a bluff that went "wrong". The poor samurai persists and then tells his story, which is linked to the first man.

I paid $17.50 to see this at the IFC Center. I say this because that's way too much for a movie under the best of circumstances but for as bad a projection of a film as this it's inexcusable. Early technical glitches aside the screening was so dark that any 3D was all but lost. Yes it worked in a few sequences, and really popped in three sequences with bright flowers and the snowy finale, but the light was so terrible that everything dissolved into the films largely grey palate. It was so bad I watched a chunk of the film with out the glasses on.

How was the film itself?

14 of the longest 2 hours I've ever spent in a movie.

Yes I know that the film is pretty much a soap opera, but it takes forever to get where it's going. I was yawning.

And it's not the story, which is quite good, I think the script is badly put together. What do I mean? There is a cruel turn by one of the Samurai at the Lord's house that seems to imply something deeper than just not liking the suicide bluff. The tale of the long flashback that forms the tale that lead up to the first suicide is truly soap opera, which is fine, but outside of three characters and their pain we don't know anything about their world. Certainly we don't know enough or see enough for the larger issues raised in the final confrontation to resonate as fully as they should.

That said the film has some amazing set pieces, the first act of suicide is quite honestly one of the most horrifying things ever put on screen. People in front of me were curling up in their seat. Also the finale is an amazing piece of samurai action.

At this point I have to state that as good as the end is, it reminded me of Sword of Desperation, a film that played last year at Japan Cuts. That film also dealt with questions of honor, loyalty and revenge, not to mention the larger questions of the samurai system.

It's not a terrible film, but one that didn't seem to benefit from 3D or paying almost 20 bucks to see it.

After the movie I headed out to get lunch and drain my meager savings via the 50% off Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble.

I then headed up to the Japan Society for No Man's Zone.

This is where a problem occurred. Whomever did the scheduling for Japan Cuts for today didn't take into account that you really can't schedule a two hour movie in a two hour slot and then clear and refill the theater in enough time to stay on track. Add intros to the movies plus director appearances and you can see that things went sideways from the start.

The movie was supposed to start at 315, I don't think we were let in until after that and I don't think the movie started after the directors intro until about 345. It was a cock up that lead me to bail on Is Anyone Alive because by my guess-timate it wasn't going to start until after 8 which would mean a midnight arrival at home.

Director Toshi Fujiwara began his pre-film statement by saying he didn't want to say anything about the film. We were to take it as a film on it's own terms without any preconceived notions from him. He said that while filming began some 40 days after the earthquake (he didn't want to get into the rescuers way) the film should not be taken as to how things are right now. He said a year as passed since filming and things have changed.

No Man's Zone is a film record of Fujiwara's trip int to the 20 kilometer no man's zone around the damaged Fukushima power plant. At first it's a travelogue of the devastation left by the earthquake and the tsunami. The film then shifts gears to how people are coping. How are the people displaced or who have suffered losses from the disaster coping. There is a philosophical voice over which mixes with the words of various people who have been affected. We get several extended interviews with people in the zone.

Ultimately it's part of a record of an event that no one ever foresaw happening.

A documentary crossed with meditation or essay, this is a hypnotic and unique film. There is no real finger pointing (though there is a discussion of government mishandling of things-which is partly explained by understanding this is beyond comprehension), there is only the damaged landscape and damaged people. Fujiwara shows them to us and lets us make up our own minds.

I'm still trying to come to terms with what I've seen and what I heard since the commentary is full of food for thought about how we process disasters.

Is it a great film?

I don't think so, I think it's a little too heady to truly touch the heart. However as an exploration of an event it's dynamite.

After the film the director answered a few questions as the audience for the next film was seated.

He said that he is aware that in some form he is exploiting the tragedy. I don't think it sits well with him but at the same time he feels that there has to be a record.

He said that the most asked question about the film was why make it? He replied that the real question should be why not make it.

Samuel from the Japan Society asked him about the use of silences and sound. He said that the silences are there because there are silences where he filmed. No one is around so there is no sound, only the sound of nature which is why it fades into the soundtrack like it does when you're there.

There was also some fleeting words on disaster tourism, which seems to be a growing things not only in Japan but elsewhere in the world.

There was a few more bits but out of context, like much of the narration, they will mean nothing to you. He did say that he is working a follow up which he is financing until he can find backing.

When the movie was done I ran into Hubert from Flixist. We both headed out despite having tickets for a later movie. Both of us were/are exhausted and we both didn't think we could handle a later night than planned.

We then headed home, walking back to Grand Central and subways toward home.

The long run of film festivals is almost over. I have two more Japan Cuts screenings this week and Unseen will be reviewing several other films in the line up as well, so keep reading.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 7/22/12 A long shaggy dog lead up to a simple question and links

Welcome to the newly revised Sunday Nightcap for July 22 6.0.

I say newly revised because until Thursday morning this was going to be long fluff piece on all the things other than the New York Asian Film Festival that had been going on in Unseen-land. It was some quick words on some of the current releases and a few other things…

…and then something happened. Actually what happened was last weekend, and  two phone calls on Wednesday all of which combined to leave me with a great deal to ponder. So much so, that I think that I've changed this five times before this one.

The short version of the story is that last weekend I really began to learn how much Unseen is beginning to creep into people's consciousness. I ran into people on line who were reading us and I met some people from other outlets who commented on what we have been doing.

I also found that  I had hit the wall. This film thing has gotten crazy. As you know it’s been crazy here since late March with heavy coverage of things from Tribeca, KAFFNY, NYAFF and other series. On the train ride home from the Japan Society I started collapse and began to ponder how much longer those of us at Unseen would be able to work a full time day job and do what has been the last four months of almost full time job of film blogging. By the time I got home from the Japan Society I wanted to crawl into a hole and never see another movie.

I was hopeful that I'd get a week to decompress before heading into more Japan Cuts, if not I was going to shoot myself.

Wednesday evening began with a very good hour long conversation with Peter Gutierrez. For those who don’t know, Peter is man of some many talents, with an extraordinary knack writing fantastic  pieces on film, pop culture and literacy, for places like Twitch, Rue Morgue, The Financial Times,and his own Connect the Pop blog which marvelously connects bits and pieces of pop culture and history in unexpected ways. He is also one hell of a nice guy who will be providing an occasional piece down the road (more on that  and proper introduction closer to time).

In the course of talking about Unseen and film in it's many forms, I began to realize that there is a great deal of stuff that I want to do with the site that I hadn’t considered or hadn't approached correctly. Peter was connecting dots in my head that had always been there but we're just sitting in shadow. Over the course of our talk I suddenly found that these little light bulbs were going on as I realized all the things that I wasn’t doing or doing not as a well as I could have. Essentially he asked me the right questions and mentioned things he was interested in doing which got me me thinking about how to grow Unseen.

As I was hanging up the phone with Peter, I got a call from Mondocurry. Having just gotten off the phone with Peter and having dealt with storm lengthened ride home I asked to call him back, which I did about two hours later.

Much of our discussion concerned his trip and some upcoming pieces he was working on for Japan Cuts as well as other films he wanted to write up. Eventually, about the time I started to run out of steam, we started to talk about writing, how Unseen covers events and general Unseen business. Where the previous conversation was theoretical, here was a practical discussion about the growth of the blog and how we’re doing things. It was constructive conversation that was very different than the earlier one that put a great deal of the why and how of what we’re doing in to focus. Mondocurry had some good ideas about how we should be handling things.

By the time I got off the phone with Mondo it was close to midnight. Instead of the monsters coming out, ideas had. As I lay in bed, it was clear that Unseen has reached a point where how we are doing things is going to have to change. Somewhere the little blog that started as something to fill some spare time has grown to the point that it’s become a second full time job and then some. It was once a site no one visited, but now we are starting, to slowly get more and more hits, even to the point that people really know who we are.

Friday night I spent a considerable amount of the the night going back through Unseen and looking to see what you guys and girls are interested in.  Allowing that our first year we were largely off the radar, I've come to the conclusion that you all seem to love our festival coverage, our coverage of newer films, our Asian film reviews and anything that is really off the beaten path. Yes, we get steady visits for other things, but these seem to be the things that you seem to flock to. Of course my putting that together was purely unscientific, but that's what it looks like.

What I'd like to know what you'd like to see here at Unseen? What sort of films work for you? The mission statement for the site is to point out good  movies that aren't being seen, and that isn't going to change, but at the same time  there is wiggle room to cover things you all prefer. Feel free to either email or comment below.

I will say that as we head into the fall festival season look for changes. I’ve taken some steps to get some more timely coverage into the mix beyond the festival selections and the odd new release we stumble into. I’m also working out some moves to make it so that those of us in the trenches are less crushed by the weight of a film a day and all the festival coverage and our real jobs.  The hope is that what we  are writing stays exciting and not mechanical and by rote and has some use for you out there.

Please let us know what you want since I’m still formulating. Still processing. Not only do we do this for us but we do this for you so feel free to share your thoughts.

The last almost two and a half years have been a long strange trip, and from the look of things its going to get stranger and much more fun, so keep reading.

I should point out that over at Twitter I've started to tweet links to a number of our early posts which I'm guessing most people have never seen. Sure some of them are jagged and rough but it's where we started so if you want even more movies to read about follow the twitter feed at @unseenfilms

And now because it’s been a while a few links (mostly from Randi)

Not film related but a warning about why you should never argue in public

They found a copy of the 1927 program to Metropolis

British Comedy Archive

What did Elizabethan English sound like?

Classic TV

Kevin Pollack talks to John Landis audio or video

Old Brooklyn

(About the picture at the top- I was looking for a nightcap picture and found that. If you have a good nightcap picture send it to me and I may use it)

Adventure Double Feature (Sea Ghost/River of Evil)

Sea Ghost AKA U 67(1931)

Alan Hale (Father of the Skipper on Gilligan Island) stars as a Captain of a ship during WW1. When a sub sinks a passenger liner he pauses in his pursuit of the sub to check for survivors. A Naval board of inquiry finds he disobeyed orders and removes him from service. Years later as Captain of his own ship he is hired to recover a safe from the hold of the ship that was sunk and to allow the captain of the sub to be the man who dives. From there we have other complications involving a will, weaselly lawyers, fist fights and other nonsense. A very good very early sound film that makes one wonder why Hale never got more leading roles. A breezy and fast paced 62 minutes this movie is the sort of thing that Hollywood rarely made, especially after the production code was enforced (bare shoulders on a women, hints of lesbianism were among the no no's). I really liked this movie a great deal. Let me be honest its a not a great film, but it was perfect for a very cloudy Sunday afternoon when I was feeling under the weather. It was the perfect distraction from the world and my woes.

River of Evil(1963)
A woman hires a boat captain to take her into the Amazon where her father has gone missing. Along the way the villains end up kidnapping her and its up to the Captain to to rescue her. Very good adventure yarn with some great action, some clever turns and one of the nastiest piranha attacks ever caught on film. I don't care if its just an animal that gets eaten it will make your skin crawl as it goes on and on and on. This is a near perfect rainy day sort of movie. If there is any real flaw its that the print I saw seems to have been trimmed down, probably to fit into slot on TV with commercials. I'm guessing this because the print has a couple of jumps in story that are too egregious to be anything other than intentionally caused. (The film also has the ear marks of being a black and white version of a color movie, which again would lead me to believe that this was once part of some TV package of Euro-films that were sold to local stations) Cut or not this is a film thats worth abag of popcorn and a soda on a rainy afternoon.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

NYAFF 2012 Best Worst and Wrapped up

I’m still decompressing from the Asian Film Festival, and trying to deal with Japan Cuts, Latin Beat and a few other festivals. While I’d like to step away and just move on to the next thing I have to take Mondocurry’s advice and look back sooner than later.

I had been warned that this year’s festival was going to be a transitional one and that things were probably be different than the ten previous. I think that’s a fair call. To me the festival felt different, there was something that the new crew brought to the festival that gave it a different feel than in years past. Its not that it’s bad only that things felt different. (Grady your welcomes were missed)

Probably the biggest difference for me was the fact that all of the films were on the same level quality-wise. There were maybe only 3 films I would consider bad out of the 55 they screened. At the same time there weren’t that many super special “oh my god this is the best film of the year” films. This isn’t a knock only that they managed to program a very consistent festival. I've never seen so many solidly good films in one place. It made it certainty I would like anything they ran but it made reviewing them difficult.

That said-I had a blast.

Yea, I know I always do, but that’s why I think that NYAFF is the best film festival in New York. These guys know how to program a festival with winners and give their audience one hell of a good time.

Were there clunkers? Sure. There were. There were three films this year I really didn’t care for. What were they? I'm glad you asked...

Tormented is a twisted dream/hallucination/haunting about people in bunny suits from the director of the Ju-on films that was such a mess that I can’t believe that the programmers at the festival decided to screen it. Its a feeling I’ve only had maybe two other times at the festival over the previous 10 years. I have no idea why they ran it other than to placate fans of the director.

Zero Man vs the Half Virgin, was for me an unfunny shaggy dog story that took way to long to get to its weak pay off. (On the other hand one woman down the aisle from me was almost on the floor-literally-with laughter)

That I’m putting Golden Slumbers on the list of bad films which bothers me to no end, but I can’t shake the feeling that it does belong here. There is no doubt that the film is a vital and important look at the loss of virtually all of the film history of Cambodia thanks to the Khmer Rouge. It’s a call for film preservation that must be heeded… on the other hand the film is a dull as dirt and so boring that had I not been sitting next to Hubert from Flixist I would have walked out. Worse it doesn’t tell you any of the history of Cambodia so that unless you know it already most of the talk will mean nothing. I understand what it was trying to do but I think it fails almost completely.

On the other hand there were some high points…

First and foremost for me the highest point was meeting and talking to Donnie Yen. Wow, wow and wow.

Deanie Ip in A Simple Life gives one of the best performances you’ll ever see anywhere. Seriously she’s taken home a boat load of awards and she’s deserved everyone. The movie is good, she' incredible

Heavenly Creature, the middle section of Doomsday Book is, not to put too fine a point on it one of the best films of the year. Its also one of the best meditations on what it means to not only be alive but also what it means to be enlightened. It’s a what science fiction is all about.

Asura is also a meditation on what it means to be human, this time via the story of a small boy who has been reduced to a feral existence who is put on the path to humanity by a monk who meets him on the road.

Honey Pupu is mind bending film about things we lose and find. It’s a heady mix of ideas that is so uniquely put together that even if you don’t like it you can’t help but be impressed.

Scabbard Samurai is an amazing film who’s turn at the end makes the film so much more than the one joke film it seems to be.

(Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley is kind of on the list and kind of Honorable Mention since I have been debating how much I like it since I saw it.)

There were other winners- pretty much everything else, but those were the best of the fest.

And now it’s time to finish chilling and get ready for next year…(something I know most of the organizers don’t even want to consider right now…but all of us in the seats are waiting for with baited breath.)

My Question Is it too early to line up now?

Edgar WallaceDouble (Mysterious Magician, Crimson Circle)

Mysterious Magician (Der Hexer)(1964)

German version of the often filmed Edgar Wallace story called the Ringer. I saw another version of this story a few months back titled The Gaunt Stranger, which was a nifty little film. Here we have the story redone as part of the cycle of Wallace films and its been updated to the 1960's. The plot has the criminal known as the Ringer returning to London to get revenge for the death of his sister. the police want the Ringer for long ago crimes and know that he is not one to be trifled with. As the Ringer zeroes in on his target, the police attempt to figure out who the ringer is, he's been too long from London and no one knows who he is, except his wife and she isn't saying. A good version of the story it pales in comparison to the Gaunt Stranger which was so good that even when you figured out what was going on you doubted that you were right. Here things are more amusing than anything else and you're only hope to know who the Ringer is was to see an earlier version. Recommended if you run across it, but not something to search out.

Crimson Circle(1960)

Another in the German Wallace cycle involving multiple murders and blackmail as the result of an execution that went wrong seven years earlier. Good but not great this film never really added up to much more than people moving around trying to figure out who the villain was and to stay far enough on his good side that they didn't end up dead. To be honest while it isn't a bad movie, its quite good, its very generic as these things go, blending so much into the mass of German Wallace films that I started to nod off towards the end. Its not the fault of the film entirely since I am under the weather, but at the same time I kind of allowed my self to drift because I sort of felt I knew where it was going. Worth a look on Late night TV or if you are in an undemanding mood.

Both can be had from Sinister Cinema