Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 2012 New York Film Festival Shorts Programs

This year the New York Film Festival is having two programs of shorts. As with any collections of shorts some are better  than others,and in this case one collection is much better than the other. Actually one is one of the best collections I've ever tun across , the other is wildly uneven.

I've seen  both collections and to give you an idea about whether you might want to go I'm gonna provide a few quick reviews for the films in both collections

SHORTS PROGRAM 1 This is the weakest of the two collections. The six films presented runs from one of the best films of the year to making you ponder why they are bothering to show it. Two are must sees, two are kind of could see and the final two are not worth your time.

Crescendo- A twisty turny story of a young woman in the 17th century who is pregnant and hates her husband.  I can't really say more than that because the film's "reality" (for lack of a better word) keeps shifting. It's not bad, and the twist is cool, but it's nothing all that special.

Up the Valley and Beyond- Russ Meyer meets his future wife. If you like Meyer and his films you'll like the film. If you don't (and I don't) it's annoying.

A Story for the Modlins - Pictures,video tape and other bric a brac found in the garbage in Spain are used to assemble a possible story for the people in the pictures. An amazing film. That is one of the few films in this group that is worth tracking down.

A Brief History of John Baldessari -Brilliant and very funny 6 minute look at the artist. One of the favorite films from 2012. Can Tom Waits narrate the story of my life too?

Saint Pierre- The dull life of a dish washer. Begins nowhere, ends nowhere.

Frank-Etienne- First day on a new job traveling salesman  Gérard Depardieu meets a young lady in a literal shaggy dog story. If it didn't have a big star in the lead this would never have played here.

Shorts 1 plays 10/1 and 10/14

SHORTS PROGRAM 2 An amazingly solid collection of shorts. This is possibly the strongest collection of shorts I've ever run across... the problem is that the films tend to be very heavy and very dark.  If you want 100 minutes of darkness go see this collection. Additionally if you just want 6 short films that are top flight see this collection.

Curfew- Solid dark tinged film about a man who is committing suicide who pauses to watch his niece for his sister. I saw this when it played Tribeca and really liked it. I liked it more on a big screen.

Things I Heard on Wednesdays- Family history crashes into national history through a series of photographs. It's a good little film with just a bit of sadness.

Night Shift- Woman on the night shift at a New Zealand airport ruffles feathers...and ultimately breaks your heart. The ending in crushing.

Zombie- A family copes with a the grandfathers slip into dementia and his efforts to commit suicide in his lucid moments. It's dark comedy that doesn't quite balance the darkness and the humor.

Nothing Can Touch Me - Punch in the gut tale of a high school girl who survives a school shooting, only to have her day get worse. By the time this ended, I was done for the day thanks to the blows this film throws at you (which were compound since  the previous films had softened me up.) As dark and demanding as the film is it's a masterpiece. Simply put one of the best films of any length of the year.

Kavinsky - A young man goes to pick up his date, but first has to get past her father... dark comedy is very funny, And while it's great that the series ends on a humorous note there is some blackness  to the laughs.

Shorts 2 plays 10/4 and 10/14

Objective Burma (1945) New York FIlm Festival 2012

Objective Burma is one of the few World War 2 films that works on its own terms. Yes it’s very much set during the Second World War, but at the same time it transcends time. Its manages to keep it’s rah rah we’re fighting the good fight to a minimum and instead we are granted a gripping tale of men fighting to get home.

The tale has a band of Errol Flynn lead soldiers dropping behind enemy lines in order to take out a radar installation. All goes well they get into the jungle, hit the target and then get the hell out of dodge, heading for the pickup point at nearby landing strip. Unfortunately it’s at that point that things go south real fast. The air strip is not as they had hopped, and they are ambushed by the waiting Japanese soldiers. With no way for help to reach them they are forced to find another place to get picked up. Unfortunately the point is many miles away. What then transpires is a long running battle to safety.

At a time when most films were running about 90 minutes or less Objective Burma runs almost two and a half hours. The additional time is put to good use with the characters being fleshed out to more than just a stereotypical bunch. The extra time also allows for a ratcheting up of the tension. Think about it if you see enough movies you expect things to run a certain amount of time (say 90 minutes) before the end comes. Your body comes to expect that, but here the film continues on past the point we think it should end. We are in new territory which puts us in a new place psychologically.

One of the reasons the film works as well as it does is Errol Flynn gives one of his best performances as the leader of the men on the run. At a time when Flynn could be said to be phoning in some of his performances, he instead gives it his all and the result is an intensity lacking from some of films he was making at the same period. Flynn was very up and down during the war. He very much wanted to be off fighting the Axis, but health concerns sidelined him. However when he felt that what he was doing was making a difference he became focused and turned it on. Flynn felt the war films were important and gave them his all.

On the other hand the film was banned in the UK since the film is based on events that occurred during a British operation in the Pacific. (shades of the recent film U-571 which had Americans stealing an Enigma machine, something the British had done)

This is a great ripping yarn. Yes it’s old school Hollywood (It was filmed at a local arboretum) but you still believe what you’re seeing. This is the sort of great adventure film that is perfect for curling up with on the couch and losing yourself in. It’s a perfect popcorn film.

The fact that we are getting a chance to see the film on a big screen is a rare treat. It’s such a treat that I’m trying to balance my schedule so that I can get a ticket for when it screens Tuesday

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Celluloid Man (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

Probably one of the best films of this years New York Film Festival, is getting only one screening on October 4th so if you love film and film history you must make an effort to see this biography/history of the Indian film industry and the man who is trying to preserve it.

P.K. Nair is the founder of the National Film Archive of India. For decades he scoured the country and the world in an effort to save as much of the cinematic history of India (and the world). Told via interviews with the man and the filmmakers he influenced as well as dozens of clips this is a full 10 course meal and then some. This is everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask... Its a film that will enthrall any lover of world cinema, or just good movies.

This film blew me away. There is so much here, from the life of Nair, to the history of Indian cinema, to extended talks about preservation, not to mention talk about what real passion is, that there is simply too much to describe...

...or take in. When the film was done I felt great at seeing a great movie but I also felt a little sick.I felt like a kid who was locked in a candy store over night who then tried to eat the whole candy store. I say that because this is an almost three hour dip into the films various subjects and it's a tad over whelming.  Seriously I was starting to happily drown about two hours in when I looked at my watch and realized there was an hour to go...I was more than happy to do so, but when it was done I wanted a nap, and not to see another film (this was the second of three films on the day I saw it)

Actually the only real (minor) problem with the film is that the film is a tad unfocused. We bounce from thing to thing and person to person and sometimes it kind of seems to be repeatng itself... And perhaps it does but at the same time there are always shades that weren't there before.

I really loved this film. Its a tresure trove of stories and clips and wonders that any film fan worth their salt would die for.

If you need more proof that that best films at the New York Film Festival are in the sidebars, this is it.

And after thinking about it, the film is not probably one of the best films of the festival, it IS one of the best films at the festival.

Fritz Lang's Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959) New York Film Festival

I’m a naysayer where this film is concerned. The first part of a two part film by Fritz Lang based upon a novel by his ex-wife Thea von Harou. It the second remake of the story which each time out of the box was made into two films (1921 as a silent and 1938 as a sound films)

The plot of the film goes as follows:
An Architect travels to India to build a temple. He saves a young woman from a tiger. Though the young man is promised to the Maharahaja, she and the arcitecht fall in love. The pair is imprisoned but escape into the desert and an uncertain future.

The story is then picked up in the sequel which takes the story to it's conclusion.

For me the film is little more than a pot boiler set in an exotic location. While the film was set in motion so that Lang could at last make his version of the story (Lang was to be the director of the original silent version but was pulled off the production) the film was riddled with broken promises and troubles that, I've heard, left Lang stinging. Things didn’t go the way Lang wanted and he was soured on filmmaking - Lang only made one more movie 1,000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse which on some level I guess he did as a kind of atonement or cleansing of the palate after the unhappiness of this film. (I will say that as much as Lang has altered and embellished the stories of the making of his films, to the extent that he blames others for things that didn’t work, this was a case where circumstances really were against him)

I’ve seen this film and its sequel once in their unedited form and they didn’t float my boat. As I said they are pot boilers and large scale soap operas set in an exotic location. I don't dislike the films but they are decidedly not my cup of tea. They are very much of the time in which they were made (I've seen bits of the 1938 version and that seems a bit more timeless than this does)

If you don’t have the three plus hours to see both films you could always catch the choppy condensation Journey to the Lost City which takes the two films and compresses the two films three hours twenty minutes to a scant hour and a half.

My question is why are they only running half the story? How can you end it on a cliffhanger? They should have run both parts because if you do see this at the festival you will want to see the sequel  The Indian Temple (yes I know I'm not big on the film but even I wanted to see how it all came out when I reached the end.).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Life of Pi (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

It isn't easy to turn such a beloved and award-winning novel as Yann Martel's Life of Pi into a movie, to spark upon the screen what's been acclaimed as the magic, intensity, fear and grace of the book. Ang Lee makes it look beautiful, and the film deceives you into thinking he also makes it look effortless. It's not. There's incredible grace, skill and care behind this lovely, picturesque film, which draws you in like an embrace, so close and intense with its gasp-inducing storms at sea, beautiful sea and jungle photography, and its limber and natural carnival of animals. More than just an adventure or spiritual journey, Life of Pi is a grand argument that film can not only bring a writer's words to the screen but to give them even more vibrant life.

Lee has filled his film with visual wonders. The opening credits unspool against a life action version of the opening of The Lion King: elephants, birds, lizards, snakes, giraffes...and the reflection of a giant tiger in the water. There are miraculous sea-storms of flying fish, deep nights illuminated by phosphorescent jellyfish. A giant whale leaps into the sky, drenching a lifeboat. Ten of thousands of meerkats poke up their heads in unison. A bizarre and wild island glows with poison death. And the sun-burnt, salt-water-crusted face of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and his wide, dark sparkling eyes, take it all in. Sharma excels. With its story of solitude, this is a film that rests of the shoulder of its lead. He's mesmerizing in the title role. This is an amazingly talented and expressive young actor to watch.

Not only visually beautiful, Life of Pi is also spiritually invigorating. Pi's quest for God in nature (and the nature of God) is a fine story from a powerful novel, and in the hands of any merely talented director, would have made a fine movie. Ang Lee uses the nature of film itself to bring us on Pi's odyssey, with inventive scene dissolves from the adult Pi narrating the story—we are never in doubt that he survives, but how?—to the young castaway Pi. Lee tightens and condenses the lengthy (if instructive) Pondicherry sequences of the novel without sacrificing—indeed enhancing—the import of the story. A movie that spends three-quarters of its running time in a lifeboat with two characters (one of them big and fuzzy) and yet captivates both in narrative and visuals.

And it's in 3D. No, don't walk away yet. I'm no snob about 3D (The Avengers was just dandy), but there's seldom a point to it beyond gimmickry and the ability to charge five bucks more for a screening. Trust me: you want to strap on the plastic glasses for this one. Life of Pi suffers none of the usual darkness and fogginess of many recent 3D films. Its bright, sharp images sparkle and show off the technology like a grand World's Fair technological exhibit. Unlike most other recent 3D films, the effect is used dramatically to physically define the space of a twenty-six foot long lifeboat and the separation between Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger marooned with him. They spend much of the movie warily staking off their ends of the boat from each other; Pi jabs a pole at Richard Parker (and at us). The breathtaking underwater sequences, both in Pi's childhood as an adept swimmer and in his tumbles underwater in the Pacific set boat, surface, fish and Pi on different, distinct planes. In Lee's transitions between scenes the background dissolves and recedes physically. Flying fish pummel us straight on even as they batter Pi and the tiger. So find the theater showing it in 3D, and pay the extra bucks. 3D enhances the golden sunset hues, deep blue sea, and the dark gaze of the tiger.

Even Sharma's eyes are big, bright and have depth to them. As a child, his mother tells him the story of Krishna, who opened his mouth to show his mother it contained the universe. Adrift at sea, Pi hallucinates that he sees the universe in the bindi of his young girlfriend in India. When Lee focuses the camera on Sharma, can we see the universe in his eyes? Or is that simply the movie camera? And if we can see the camera, can not we see God...the creator of this universe, Ang well?

This is a film full of both small and grand beauties. Make a promise to yourself now to go see Life of Pi, and be filled with wonder.

Life of Pi opens the 50th New York Film Festival on Friday, September 28; it opens nationally November 21, 2012.

Final Cut- Ladies and Gentleman (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

You have one shot (Monday night) to see this one of a kind riff on the movies when it plays the New York Film Festival. If you love movies and think you can pick out clips from any film you must see this, it will amaze you. Seriously this when the film works, it provides some of my favorite movie moments of the year.

Cut from over450 films Final Cut is a series of sequences brought together to tell a boy meets girl typical love story, complete with infidelity, war and sex (its not for kids). its a marriage of music (culled from movies) and image that will have you wanting to stop the film frequently to figure out where the clip was from, or becoming amazed at how  well the new music makes some movie moments better. (I'll only say Staying Alive and leave you to discover the rest). Since it's so many movies joined with rapid fire cutting you will not want to blink.

As a real movie I'm not sure it adds up to much, some bits are too long, others are too short, but at the same time it's a sweet little confection that will have anyone who loves movies smiling from ear to ear.

I had a blast when it was on, and I want to see it again, despite having some reservations about some of it.

On any level this is one of the must see films of the film festival simply because its a film that is deliriously in love with film.

Go see this movie.

Camille Rewinds (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

Never mind that Francis Ford Coppola did the same thing to Peggy Sue in 1985. Noémie Lvovsky does it to herself, three times over (directing, co-writing, and starring) and sends herself back to 1985, using the tried-and-true time-travel method of overindulging in alcohol on New Year's Eve. Now trying to put right what once went wrong, Camille finds herself...wait, no, that's somebody else.

Camille's gone back to the most important month of her life: she will meet her future husband (who's divorcing her in the present), become pregnant by him with her daughter, and losing her mother to a brain tumor. Given the miracle chance to rewrite her life, Camille passionately but inexpertly insists on a CAT scan for her mother and avoiding falling for Éric, the man she'll marry (Samir Guesmi in a giggle-worthy eighties-puff hairstyle). She of course immediately sets about co-starring in the school play alongside Éric, dating him and kissing him right on schedule with her memories. There's some initial comedy in the physical disconnect of Lvovsky sent back in time: we see her only and always as her 40-year old self, dressed in 80s bright tops and spandex miniskirts, but every character perceives her as 16, though with an advanced adult taste (even for a Frenchwoman) for whiskey and cigarettes. It's more interesting to watch Lvovsky than her co-stars during these moments, though. She's sometimes baffled, sometimes mischievous, always believably earnest.

A pity that she-bops so quickly back to 1985, because Camille Rewinds can't avoid falling into the same traps of so many time-travel narratives, using the fish-back-in-old-water trope as a background to Camille's attempts to reshape the future we've already seen happen. If her script needs polishing and trimming, however, her performance shines through. Lvovsky's intense earnestness is offset by an amazed delight, and when the main story takes a back seat to the slight but charming plot of Camille and her teenage girlfriends, Lvovsky sparkles as adult Camille trying to be more than the teen whose life and body she's re-entered, cautiously re-stepping through a well-tread minefield of her life.

Ultimately the time-travel plot is as fluffy and trippy as its lollipop-colored wardrobe and 80s pop soundtrack, with two dance sequences set to Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" (is Camille's life just a similar one-hit wonder?). Lvovsky invests such intense earnestness in Camille's attempts to prevent the future she's lived through, that she only spends a brief moment considering (and then immediately dismissing) the thought that if she's successful, her daughter will never exist. Her friends' subplots are predictable enough after seeing the characters in 1985 fulfill their unstoppable plot tics in the future. The paradox of knowing the future that might not happen is slight and flimsy, but it's done with a bright and impulsive energy centered on after-hours secret meetings with her teenage BFFs. There's a lot in the small performances that delights even as the script hits predictable cues again and again. A creepy, "do the French really roll with this?" unease at Camille's love relationship with an adult professor balances out against the enthusiastic glee Camille takes in recording her parents' voices talking, singing, laughing on an audiocassette, a souvenir for her future self.

Time After Time, Peggy Sue Got Married and yes, especially Back to the Future did the time travel story better and with more originality, but Camille Rewinds's strengths are in the performances. Go to see it for the late night all-girl gossip-fests by the public pool, for the brief but touching appearances of Yolande Moreau and Michel Vuillermoz as Camille's mother and father, for Noémie Lvovsky fearlessly wriggling her forty-year-old self into a sixteen-year-old's punk-wannabe wardrobe. Her Cyndi Lauper attitude outshines every moment of Smiths angst.

Camille Rewinds makes its North American premiere at the 50th New York Film Festival on Saturday, September 29; subsequent showtimes on October 1, 2, and 10.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The 50th New York Film Festival Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow the New York Film Festival opens with the World Premiere of The Life of Pi. The press screening looks to be a hot ticket, just as the gala screening is, and with luck John will be able to secure a seat and report back on Ang Lee’s latest.

For John, Peter and myself the festival started two weeks ago when they began the press screenings. We’ve been in and out of them, as much as our schedule has permitted in order to bring you word on many of the goodies at this year’s festival, as you've no doubt seen all week.

However despite that we are hopelessly behind. Even with the head start we simply have no chance at covering it all. The Convergence side bar which looks at the state of film now and multiple platforming is not going to be reported on because of personal conflicts. The Filmmaker series might only be touched on if we get a chance to stumble into something. Despite having tickets to well over a dozen of the public screenings we won’t manage to see all of the main slate films. I suspect the only thing we may see completely is the three film Midnight Movie sidebar, simply because it’s only three films

As it stands now we at Unseen are looking to report on around fifty of the titles in one form or another. Since the festival runs for the next 17 days there is going to be a lot of room for additions so keep reading to see what else we get ourselves into. (And keep in mind that other things will be happening during the festival, The Korean Cultural Service will still be screening free films, The New Yorker Festival is happening, MOMA is starting its Film Preservation series and there are regular films being released.)

Before I really get lost at the festival I want to mention a couple of things---

First and foremost you should look to score tickets for Next Fridays screening of Chris Marker’s San Soleil. This is a trippy travelogue that is a regular staple in my movie watching. It’s a film that changes with each viewing. It’s a rare film that always seems new with each viewing. I reviewed the film two years ago (The review is here). I loved it then and I still love it. Sadly I will not be able to see the film, as it should be seen on a big screen since its single screening is at noon, which puts it in the middle of a day of press films. I can’t go but you should. You’ll thank me.

Three Events I want to mention, two of which are sold out, but which you may want to try and pick up a stand by ticket for. I would review the films on their own but they are screening as special events with talks so just reviewing the film is kind of pointless.

Saturday Frank Oz is bringing his preferred cut of Little Shop of Horrors to the Festival. A darker, more down beat film, the film was tinkered with by the studio. I had always heard that Oz’s cut was lost, but apparently not and it’s getting a theatrical screening before it hits DVD in a few weeks. I would make an effort to go since any chance to talk see Mr Oz should be jumped at. On top of that it’s a great film about a boy and his carnivorous plant. I really want to go to this but I have a birthday party to attend and I can’t miss it under penalty of death.

Tuesday the Princess Bride is being screened complete with a cast reunion. If you haven’t seen the film before you must go. If you have you should go as well since it has the cast there. I’m again missing this because I’ll be an another screening. I’m working on getting coverage and if you read a report you know I twisted someone’s arm enough and I managed to score a standby ticket.

On the 14th there is going to be a special screening of Hitchcock’s Marnie. This much maligned film leaves many people flat despite being considered a cult classic. I’m not a particular fan of the film since I find the characters too cold for my liking. The film is notable for starring Sean Connery as a real SOB who blackmails Marnie into marrying him. The reason to go is that the festival is screening it with a lecture on the film. If there is one thing which I have learned over the years is that with rare exception, anytime a film is getting screened with a special talk beforehand you should go. Films you may not have liked before you will find you now like. I really wanted to go see this, but by the time I rejiggered the film, I found that the screening appeared on the list of sell outs. I’m not going to be able to take a chance for a seat, but if you can go.

For now that’s it. Gotta get back into the darkness so I can report back on whats going on. Expect almost total NYFF coverage between now and the 14th so keep checking back.

Schedule for Free-to-the-public NYFF LIVE talks

NYFF LIVE Schedule- all events are FREE:

Saturday, September 29
6:00PM: Apple Store, SoHo
Meet the Filmmaker: Barry Levinson (THE BAY).

7:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: 50 Years of Film Culture with the NYFF Selection Committee: Melissa Anderson, Scott Foundas, Amy Taubin, Todd McCarthy, Wendy Keys, Philip Lopate, David Ansen. (Moderated by James Schamus, CEO, Focus Features)
Sunday, September 30
7:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: Discussion on LIFE OF PI with Tom Rothman (Moderated by Scott Foundas, Associate Director of Programming, FSLC)

8:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: Meet the NYFF Filmmakers, Part 1: Dheeraj Akolkar (LIV AND INGMAR), Alan Berliner (FIRST COUSIN, ONCE REMOVED), Philippe Béziat (BECOMING TRAVIATA), Tom Donahue (CASTING BY), Michael Gochanour (CHARLIE IS MY DARLING), Jeff Kaufman (THE SAVOY KING), Antonio Mendez (HERE AND THERE).

Monday, October 1
7:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: A Conversation with Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner (FRANCES HA)

Tuesday, October 2
7:00PM: Amphitheater
New York Women in Film and Television Panel: The New York State Post Production Tax Credit: Alex Halpern (CEO and Founder, Post Factory) and Yana Collins Lehman (Managing Director, Trevanna Post). The panel will be moderated by Richard Guay.

Wednesday, October 3
7:00PM: Amphitheater
WGA East: The Play's The Thing. Lucy Alibar (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD), Eric Bogosian (SUBURBIA, TALK RADIO) and John Patrick Shanley (DOUBT).

Thursday, October 4
7:00PM: Apple Store, SoHo
Meet the Filmmaker: Lee Daniels (THE PAPERBOY).

Tuesday, October 9
7:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: A Conversation with Sally Potter (GINGER AND ROSA)

8:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: A Conversation with Cristian Mungiu (BEYOND THE HILLS)

Wednesday, October 10
7:00PM: Amphitheater
SAGIndie: Casting & Working With Actors: A Guide for the Perplexed
Tom Donahue, Larry Fessenden, Ry Russo-Young, Michael Sladek, Cindy Tolan.

Thursday, October 11
7:00PM: Apple Store, SoHo
Meet the Filmmaker: Pablo Larrain and Gael Garcia Bernal (NO).

7:00PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: Meet the NYFF Filmmakers, Part 2. Guests to be announced.

Friday, October 12
6:00PM: Apple Store, SoHo
Meet the Filmmaker: Roger Michell (HYDE PARK ON HUDSON).

7:00PM: Amphitheater
A Conversation and book-signing with David Thomson, author of The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. In association with the NYFF Critics Academy.

Saturday, October 13
4:30PM: Amphitheater
NYFF LIVE: A Conversation with Richard Peña (Moderated by Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (2012) New York FIlm Festival 2012

Marina Zenovich is a great interview subject. Listening to her talk about her follow up to 2008's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired I gained a ton of respect for her newest film. She met everyone head on and shot from the hip talking about how she fell into a feature film when Polanski was arrested on a California warrant. Her film was supposed to be a short film with an interview with Polanski on the status of the case in court, but things happened...

...unfortunately the film should have remained a short film because as it stands now this look at Polanski in Swiss custody is too long by half. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad film, it was just too long for a  film where nothing happens for months.


Months. The film goes from a recap of the Polanski case with how the first film was going to be used as evidence to get the warrant rescinded. Then the Swiss told California that Polanski was was coming and arrested him. What followed was months of Polasnki under arrest... and Zenovich details it and the legal wrangling. The resulting film details Polanski's effort to finish editing his film The Ghost Writer, moves by his attorneys in the US and Europe,  how  Polanski's  "victim" Samantha Geimer wants it all to go away and how the press coverage was all consuming. For the most part we never see Polanski, we just have people talking about him.

It's an interesting story, but not at 90 minutes, especially when nothing happens for most of it other than talk..Couldn't this have been done in half the time?

I liked it but I can't understand why what is essentially an addendum to the early film  is getting feature status of it's own. I had hoped for some big revelation, like the first film, but this is more or less a short trying to pass itself off as something else. (I will give the film a pass in that there are several related matters to the story, such as the UBS scandal that the director tried to follow and include but was unable to do so since either  no one would talk to her or things were too complicated for inclusion)

Worth seeing, but if you know the case don't expect anything new here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What genre is Brian DePalma's Passion (2012)? New York Film festival 2012

Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace almost share a kiss in the photo that every reviewer seems to be using

Brian DePalma canceled just as he was going to appear at the press conference at the New York Fillm Festival for his film Passion. I mention this because I really wanted to talk to him. I had one big question to ask him : How am I supposed to take Passion? Is it a comedy or a thriller?

I wanted to ask him the question because if the film is tongue in cheek, its a very funny send up of DePalma's body of work. On the other hand if the film is supposed to be a serious thriller from start to finish then the film is a huge failure.

At this point I need to say that this review is based on not only my viewing of the film,but also with discussion with several other film writers. To say that my discussions of the film has been intriguing is an understatement. Rarely have I simply been able to listen to so many intelligent people talk so deeply about a film. The discussion has been so good that if I can manage it I want to print a round table discussion with some of the people I've talked to because you need to hear the talk it's inspired.

Based on Alain Corneau’s 2010 Love Crime the film tells the story of several women. Noomi Rapace plays a cog in an advertising company working under Rachel McAdams. Rapace does all the work and McAdams takes all the credit. McAdams is a hellish boss who will do anything to get her way and get back to New York from Europe. When Rapace gets screwed over she takes steps to get what she deserves and ends up in a battle with her boss...

I've said too much but there is plenty more where that came from, so not to worry.

What is a worry is the tone of the film which seems to waiver between being serious and a joke. Brilliant line readings are followed by awkward ones. I didn't know whether the film was supposed to be serious or not.

If the film is supposed to be serious then the film is a failure. Simply put as a straight forward thriller the film doesn't work. As I said the line readings are off, the music is frequently over done, there are too many dreams with in dreams, there are arty cinema techniques, a ballet sequence that appears to have been filmed in a closet, and the film has so many twists and chasms of logic that you really can't believe that it's serious, except it's being marketed as such. It's so bad, several "scary" moments brought laughter from the audience.

On the other hand the film shoots so far out into the ridiculous and so far into the insane that it's very easy to imagine that the film is camp. It could very well be an over the top exercise sending up the conventions of the thriller and DePalma's own hand in it. If you know DePalma's earlier films such as Blow Out, Raising Cain and Dress to Kill you'll see the riffs all over the place.

Which is it?

After several long discussions I would side with the comedy aspect. There is too much internal evidence to suggest otherwise. I also don't want to even consider that DePalma would be so out of touch to actually think the film is a straight thriller.

If it is a comedy, I completely understand why people crucified the film in Toronto simple because the film is being marketed and sold as the wrong thing. (Note to DePalma - if you're kidding please let your advertising people know because this film is heading for disaster at the box office since people are taking it the wrong way.)

A fellow Unseen FIlms writer had the best idea, they should show the film at midnight because it plays like midnight movie.

Should you see it?

I have no clue. I have no idea if I should have seen it. Despite writing it up I'm still very mixed on the film. Some of it is so very good, and much of it is so very bad that until I can see it again I refuse to say completely how I feel about the film.

My advice is if you see the film go in and take it completely on it's own terms. Expect nothing in anyway and you may find yourself surprised.

(And for those who are hoping for some kinky sex... it's far from erotic or shocking or even very much in the film.)

The film screens 9/29, 10/6 and 10/11

Barry Levinson's The Bay (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

This found footage film tells the story of what happened in a small Maryland community on July 4,2009 when the town was decimated by waterborne parasites. The story is related to us by a journalist who is giving an interview for a website with much of the footage found in the aftermath of the incident.

How you react to the film will depend on whether you think about it or not. If you begin to pull the film apart then the film will collapse. If you just go with it then it will be a good thrill ride.

My initial reaction to the film was to be carried along by the events depicted in this eco-horror science fiction film. Sure some of it was too perfectly filmed, but for the most part I was just going along with each nightmare scenario as the people begin to blister, get sick and die horribly while the police, hospitals and EMS are taxed to the breaking point.

Yes I was grossed out by the excellent makeup and visual effects which make a very nasty turn of events very real.  Honestly I don't need to see some of the images in this film again. They are images too unpleasant to is much of the you are there footage of a system breaking down from overload on a holiday weekend.

I do need to report that the film has five or six genuine scares and another one or two cheap ass jolts. I have no idea how the other critics will rate the film but a good number of them really did leap out of their seats and scream. If they all don't like the film a  good number are lying since I was there and I heard them scream and jump.

If you see the film just take the film on it's terms, DO NOT THINK ABOUT IT and you'll find it to be one of the better scare machines of the year....

...on the other hand if you start to think about the film, if you think about the plot holes (which are larger than most similar films because this a larger incident) the film will shrink in stature. I'm not going to go into detail, I don't want to wreck the perilously fragile nature of the film before you see it, but be aware that what ever you do don't think of the larger picture (the problem with the film is largely that it's too many people in too large an area).

I would prefer to see the film as better than it is by not thinking about the possible errors. I will say that I am curious what the out takes and deleted scenes show. The world of the film is well done and I get the sense it is thought out, I just find that in thinking of the things that bother me that the errors lie in things we don't know, but because of the construction of the film as it stands may have been detailed but were simply cut out. (Anyone have Barry Levinson's email so I can ask him?)

 I will add that I think on some level that while having made a good film that Barry Levinson is working in a genre that he doesn't fully understand hence it's not as completely satisfying as some of his other work. I suspect that he doesn't know you have to reveal more than you might in a normal film because we are working outside normal experience.

After thinking long and hard about the film, and pondering the conversations I had with three fellow writers I find  that I think the film is worth seeing with it's good bits out weighing the bad. I realized that I really like the film despite the short comings simply because I really want to see it again and I found that I'm talking it up to anyone who likes horror films. Ultimately it maybe flawed but god damn it has some creepy moments.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

Alain Resnais who had a film in the first New York Film festival returns with on in the 50th. This digitally shot film is a love letter to the power of acting and the theater.

The film has a plethora of great French actors (all playing themselves and too many to name)being told that a playwright that they all worked with and love has died. He wants everyone come to his house for the reading of the will. His last request is that he would like all of the actors watch a video of his play Orpheus and decide if it is worth being staged once more. As they watch the film, the actors begin to recite lines and actually perform the play themselves in conjunction with what is on the TV. The walls melt away and we are watching them live the play.

Highly theatrical film, it's based on two plays and is often shot as a play including several very long single takes that show you just how good the actors are. Its a film that is very much a melding of stage and screen in a manner that I've never seen before.
How you react to the film will be determined by to the answer two questions:

First will you by into the conceit of the actors performing the play while watching it? Will you buy into as many as three actors playing the same role as the film drifts in and out of settings? Its more than a bit strange,but if you click with it it will thrill you.

Secondly do you go crazy for great acting? I mean GREAT acting? Alain Resnais has created a love letter to all of the actors in this film, and perhaps actors in general. If you have any love for anyone in the cast you will be in heaven watching them go to town. Best of all they do it without tricks, props or cut aways. This is real movie magic.

As I said to a friend who asked about the film, your mileage will vary. I mean this in all seriousness since the reaction in the audience I was part of went from walk outs, to snoring, to orgasmic raves.

My reaction was initial a broad smile at the mixing of theater and film. It then drifted into complete bliss at watching the cast do their work... and then about the time the play gets to the end of act one the film slipped from being one of the best films of the year to being just a good one. For me the problem is that the conceit, as good as it is, can only carry the film so far. Yes the acting carries it all the way to the end, but some of the shine was off the film.

I do really like the film, but I think I admire it more than I love it.

Ultimately, if you love movies, if you love theater, if you love great acting, if you want to see a singular cinematic experience you must see this film.

It screens at the NYFF 10/2, 10/3 and 10/9

Night and the CIty (1950) New York Film Festival 2012

Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian a small time hustler who always thinks he has all the angles covered, though he never does. Harry thinks he's found away into taking over the professional wrestling world. Unfortunately he's too stupid to see that not only are the odds are against him, his past is also rapidly catching up with him.

Harry Fabian is not an honorable man

Widmark is amazing as loser Fabian, a man forever seeming cocksure of himself until the tables begin to turn and the frightened child inside him comes out. It's a performance that seems to run counter to the typical cool headed heroes (or villains) that he normally played in the later part of his career, and as a result it makes me extremely uncomfortable. I don't like watching a man of stone I admire unravel. The effect is the result of hindsight, but it's still unnerving.

Night and the City is one of the granddaddy of all film noirs. Shot in a moody black and white in the dark back waters of London. It's a London most other films never show us. This is as noirish a setting as you can get. I think it hits every noir cliché (black and white photography, all night in setting, a hero with hubris, bad guys only marginally worse than our hero…) with the exception of a girlfriend who is a real femme fatale, but does so so well that you never realize it...on the other hand this is one of the films that set up the rules for what noir was and is so it never feels like it's aping anything. .

If you've ever wanted to know what a film noir is, see this film.

Hell, if you want to see a grand classic of cinema (that really is a classic) see this film.

This is a must see, especially on a big screen where you can lose yourself in the inky darkness on the big screen.

A treat and then some.

The film gets a single screening at the New York Film Festival Sunday evening at 6:30

Monday, September 24, 2012

Frances Ha (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

Charming comedy about a 27 year old adrift among friends and lovers in New York.

Frances is a dancer living with Sophie her best friend. Francis breaks up with her boyfriend when she refuses to move in with him. She would rather live with  Sophie.  However Sophie wants to move in with another friend in Tribeca. This sends Francis on an odyssey  as she moves from home to home and job to job.

A small scale trifle of a film that produces smile after smile. These are charming people and you will like everyone of them.  You will also have a good time watching them go through there paces.

It's hard to say more than that.

The trouble is that the film isn't that much different than any number of similar small scale comedies. I really do mean that this is like other films, even one that starred Greta Gerwig who played essentially the same character in Lola Versus which played Tribeca earlier this year before getting a brief release. That's not a knock, rather it's more to point out that the film isn't particularly unique over all, other than it's infinitely more entertaining. Seriously this is film where they got it all right.

While I won't gush about the film (even though I heartily recommend it) I will say that the film has several wonderful moments including the use of David Bowie's Modern Love (in a sequence that could fit in Girl Walk//All Day but which is actually a steal from another film) and  the speech of what Frances wants from life and a relationship, which pays off at the end of the film (I teared up).

I really like the film a great deal,and while I don't love it unconditionally  I do think you should see it because rarely do you have this good a time with such great people..

One of my unexpected finds from this years NYFF.

Playing 9/30, 10/4 and 10/10

Snow White (1937) New York Film Festival 2012

If you’ve never seen Disney’s first feature length animated film go see it.

If you’ve never seen it on a big screen go see it...and even if you have you should see it at the New York Film Festival since they are going to show it in the correct aspect ratio.

The film is a visual masterpiece and it changed animation as we know it.

Yes there were other animated features, and yes there were other people taking animation seriously and as a work of art, but Disney’s film altered the way that the vast majority of people the world over saw the art form. Honestly and truly animation could be something more than silliness for 7 or 8 minutes

Sadly Disney’s work was so over powering that very few people in the US could ever hope to compete with him with the Fleischer Studio going down the tubes after Gulliver and Hoppity didn’t do as well as they had hoped.

Go see the film

A confession- outside of the art, this film bores me to death. I find it long and draggy and way too simplistic even by disney’s standards. I think that it’s a beautiful movie but that’s about it

This plays Saturday morning at 10 AM at the New York Film Festival and you owe it to yourself to go.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 9/23/12 NYFF Memories (revised)

This is the final Sunday Nightcap for a while. Partly I'm tired of trying to come up with stuff every week but more importantly coverage of the New York Film Festival is about to amp up with the majority of posts for the next three weeks being related to this years 50th anniversary festival.

Before we wade into this years films- starting with a few reviews of some of the classic films they will be running- I'm going to take a look back at 5 of my favorite memories from the festival in years past.

5- 1991- I finally went to the festival. Up until 1991 I had never managed to go, but this year I had to go. The occasion was the screening of Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books.  Greenaway was a director I had just discovered. With my friend coming along as navigator to the theater I got tickets and went. We were thrilled to death just to be there but we were floored when Peter Greenaway walked out to introduce and talk about the film. I was a film fan who had just discovered the promised land.

4- The 2010- the screening of Black Venus. My back was out and I had spent much of the day watching the five hour long Mysteries of Lisbon  when I wandered into Alice Tully Hall for a three hour film on the life of Sarah Baartman, The Hottentot Venus. It is a god awful, uncomfortable and overlong story of the life and abuse of one person. It resulted in numerous walkouts during the film and angry words from the audience when it was over. Many people around me and in the lobby talked openly about wanting to kill the director. While I had always heard about film riots, I never expected to be in an audience that actually might have done so had the director been stupid enough to step on stage (He sent lead actress Yhima Torres, who gave such a stellar performance no one wanted to abuse her further).

3- 2011- The screening of Mott the Hoople. Why do the sidebar films almost always outshine the main slate? Because you get a a high percentage of films and nights like this.The night was magic, from Ian Hunter waiving to my friend Stan and myself as he passed us as he went into the theater, to the thunderous ovation Hunter got when he entered the actual auditorium, to the even larger round of applause when the film ended this was an amazing night . Rarely does one ever end up in an audience where everyone is in it all together. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was singing and dancing in their seats as one. Unlike most other NYFF screening where many people are there because they have a package or because they think a main slate film is good because it's at the festival everyone was in the theater for the movie and for Hunter. Experiences like this are rare and to be cherished.
2- 2010 - Some one at the Film Society was crazy enough to give me a press pass and let me report on what was going on. Bliss bliss and heaven. It's been all down hill from there. I will always remember when I walked in to pick up my credentials and fearing it was a cruel joke. I will always equally remember the blind terror of walking into to see my first press screening,Olivier Assayas's Carlos. What was I a doing there, I mean this was the New York Freaking Film Festival, a huge to do...  what would anyone discover that I didn't really belong? No one did and after three festivals as a member of the press I'm finally beginning to feel less nervous every time I walk into the Walter Reade. Thank you guys I hope your trust in me has been repaid.

And now my favorite New York Film Festival moment....

1- 1999 - Princess Mononoke - I picked up tickets for Randi and myself to go see Princess Mononoke on the big screen. We figured that this was going to be a big to deal screening since the film, one of the Hiyao Miyazaki's best, was going to be screened with an English vocal track written by Neil Gaiman (one of Randi's favorite authors and someone she kind of knew).

The screening was held at Avery Fisher Hall and it was packed. Because I delayed in getting tickets our seats ended up in the balcony which meant we were at the back of the barn like theater a good distance from the screen and stage.

Before the film, there were various introductions,the voice cast , writer Neil Gaiman and the director Hiyao Miyazaki. Everyone said a few words before heading off the stage... and taking a seat in the side balcony not far from us.

After the film there was no Q&A. Randi had said something about wanting to see Miyazaki and Neil and get an autograph, but then poo pooed the idea since they were so far away and they were no doubt going to be lead away with our chance gone forever.

For some reason I didn't think so and I told her to follow me. We then bolted out the door and around the landing toward where they should have come out, they weren't there so.we then ran down one flight of stairss to the next level only to come out near a huge crowd made up entirely of young Japanese girls who were storming Hiyao Miyazaki as if he were the latest teen idol. Randi and I fought our way to him and got our programs signed... and then I pivoted and thrust my program in front of Neil Gaiman, who seemed to be using the Miyazaki fan mob to make good his escape. (For the record this was the first and only time I ever saw Neil Gaiman not awash in fans since everyone was there for Miyazaki, no one knew who Gaiman was or cared to know except Randi and myself) Neil signed my program and then walked off down the corridor ( For the record I think Randi and I are the only people who ever managed to get a program signed by both Miyazaki and Gaiman)

Randi came out of the Miyazaki crowd, having missed Neil and we followed him around the landing so she could get her program signed by the author.

Around the corner we saw that Neil was in conversation with Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, and the film's American distributor.  Neil's assistant at the time, who knew Randi, called her over and and  they began to talk, while a few feet away Neil continued speaking with Harvey Weinstien about dinner and projects, he was unaware that Randi was a few feet away from him.

Randi got lost in the conversation with the assistant. I was a step or two away since I had no idea who this person was... which was cool because I got to see Neil catch sight of Randi talking to his assistant. He then stopped Weinstein in mid-ramble and told him he had to go talk to some one. He then walked over, tapped Randi on the shoulder and gave her a hug as if she was the most important person in the world. They then talked for a few minutes before Neil said good bye and went off with Harvey and his assistant. (and yes he signed her program)

My favorite New York Film Festival moment? Seeing my best friend be greeted by one of her favorite authors when he decided that she was more important than a studio head.

It really happened, I was there.

Thank you New York Film Festival.

Iron Sky (2011)

Iron Sky is an interesting film for a number of reasons. Long in production, the film was financed in part through the efforts of film fans. It’s a small budget, relatively speaking, movie that looks like they spent a huge mint on it. It’s also one of the more clever science fiction films of recent memory.

The plot of the film has America sending another expedition to the moon in 2016. It’s a shameless PR ploy by a Sarah Palin like president who is trying to milk the fact one of the astronauts is black. After landing on the moon one of the Americans walks toward a rise and is startled to see that below him is a huge mining complex…a Nazi storm trooper steps in front of him, shoots him the head and blows up the space craft, stranding the second astronaut. He is then grabbed by the storm troopers and dragged off to the complex. In the complex the Nazi’s are not only shocked that the intruder is black, but also that they have been found out. Using the intrusion as an excuse they begin to set in motion their long in the works plan of invasion of earth.

I’m not completely sure what I think of the film.

I definitely like the film, but I’m not sure to what degree. Part of the problem is that the film was very much not what I was expecting. Yes it’s Nazi invasion story, but there is something more going on. It’s a wicked send up of Republican politics (and general American nonsense) via Finland. The film riffs numerous classic films including Dr Strangelove, and in a slyly done sequence the infamous frequently parodied sequence from Downfall. But to what end? What is the film really trying to be and be about?

To be honest I'm being overly persnickety since it's rare that we get a film that is as intelligent as this and rarely do we get a science fiction film with as much going on. I suppose that on a certain level my surprise at how good and intelligent the film is made me want it to be even more so.  I shouldn't do that especially when we've ended up with a film as nicely done as Iron Sky.

Worth tracking down.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2009)

Good zombie film from Germany is one that will remain kind of on the fringe of most people’s radar due to its 60 minute running time.

To be honest I had bever heard of the film at all until I sat down to rewatch the film Yellowbrickroad on DVD. I had seen the film at the NYC Horror Festival and wanted to see how that film played on the small screen (not as well since TV strips it of the surround sound and all-encompassing nature of a theater experience- but I'll leave that for an upcoming post). On the front of the DVD was a trailer for this film which impressed the hell out of me and made me want to track Rammock down.

The film is available streaming on line via various sources, I watched it on Amazon’s streaming service. The first thing I noticed was the one hour running time. I kind of groaned when I saw that since I was sure that this meant there was something really wrong with the film, I mean it’s only an hour.

Well it’s only an hour because that s how long it takes to tell the story, which makes its running time perfect.

The film has Michael arriving in Berlin to surprise Gabi, his ex-girlfriend. He’s using the excuse of returning her keys as a means of trying to get back with her. Getting to her apartment he find workman fixing the heating. He tries to get them to say where she is, but they don’t say anything, actually one of them suddenly goes berserk, foaming at the mouth. Michael and Harper, a young worker, get the berserk man out into the hall way and they close the door behind him. The short version of the story is there is some virus tearing through the country turning infected people in to “zombies”.

This is a solid little film that builds some nice claustraphoic tension, people are trapped in their apartments and can’t get out because of the hordes in the streets. It’s a nice addition to the genre which is probably closer to the 28 Days Later films than some of other recent zombie films. The make-up effects are good, as is the gore and blood effects. The use of TV and radio broadcasts is also excellent since it gives us details we could never believably get otherwise.

If there is a flaw it’s Michael pining away for Gabi. Yes we understand you love her and want her safe but at the same time shut up. Yes I know that the one sided romance is what drives our characters but at the same time it doesn’t completely work and lessens an otherwise excellent little film.

Definitely recommended

Friday, September 21, 2012

Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

One of the first, if not the first, screen version of Anthony Hope's classic tale of romance and adventure was a big budget version with Lewis Stone as Rudolf Rassendyll and his Cousin the King of Ruritania and Ramon Navaro as the evil Rupert of Hentzau.

The plot, for those unfamiliar, has Rassendyll vacationing in Ruritania on the eve of the coronation of the king. Because of an ancestor's dalliance years before he has royal blood flowing through his veins. Even more so he is a near spitting image of the soon to be king. When the king is kidnapped by the evil Rupert so that the King's brother can take the throne, Rassendyll is pressed into impersonating his cousin until the king can be rescued. Danger lurks and complications arise as the bad guys try to get rid of Rassendyll and the impostor falls head over heels for the Princess and betrothed to the king.

Huge scale production seems to be the most faithful to the book, as far as I can remember. The good guys are good, the bad guys vile and the romance perfectly heartbreaking. Everyone seems to be playing their parts exactly as I remembered from when I first read the novel all those years ago.

What I like about the film is that the film is very nicely paced. We see more than in other versions. Yes I love the Ronald Coleman version, and I adore the Stewart Granger version (which was filmed using the Coleman script), but they go for the swashbuckling adventure and many characters are lost, mostly the people on Prince Michael's side are brushed aside. Here we get more bad guys than just Rupert. There are other military men helping in the plots. The film also takes time out to let characters and situations grow. The love between the doomed lovers for example feels more real than in other films where it seems more to be a they are in love because they are the stars.

At the same time the film maybe considered slow by today's standards. if you need Michael Bay rapid cuts stay away, you will be asleep by the second reel.If you don't need that get yourself a copy, a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy yourself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tuesday at the Free Korean Movie Night : Home Sweet Home (2011)

I saw the film some time ago and really wasn't all that impressed. Seeing that the film was screening as part of the Korean Cultural Service series I tried it again. (To be honest the reason I watched it a second time is that there is a cadre of film fans who absolutely love this film).

A man leaves his wife and daughter and takes a room in a low rent lodging house in order to hide out from creditors and himself. There he deals with the staff, the other residents and potentially some ghosts (death and the dead seem to hang over the place).

Going for a mood the film creates an atmosphere that is very uneasy and somewhat disturbing. It's a film that some people love, and others, myself included,  are not particularly fond of.  It's not a bad movie, but to be perfectly honest the film is more interested in mood  then telling a compelling story. While I freely admit I didn't like the way the film made me feel (I say that in a good way) I also didn't much see the point of it all.

On the other hand I've read some glowing reviews on line for the film so I can't dismiss the film completely out of hand...

Ultimately I think if you're seeing this for free give it a shot. If you're paying for it...I'd pass..,

... however the movie plays for free Tuesday night in Tribeca and is worth trying.

Doors at 630, movie at 7.

Inside Out (1975)

Enjoyable but wholly unremarkable caper film that stands out solely because of the cast headed by Telly Savalas, Robert Culp and James Mason.

The plot has down on his luck Savalas contacted by James Mason, the commandant at his POW camp during WW2. Mason has recently been told that a cache of Nazi gold is possibly still hidden somewhere in Germany. Savalas decides to help Mason and they recruit Robert Culp to help them. There is of course a twist, the man who knows where the gold is is locked away forever in prison for being one of the Nazi High Command. If they want to find out where it is they have to get him out.

Yes this is another one of the ever growing crime caper sub-genre films of break into prison to get the guy who knows out. As these things go it's as cliched as they come. This one hits all the plot points from disguises to one guy taking the prisoners place to convincing the prisoner it's 30 years earlier. Its not bad, but it does hit all of the typical points a tad too hard.

In it's favor the film does have a nice twist in that once they discover where the gold is they have to then go get it, which is in East Germany.

Absolutely unremarkable and forgettable the film is still an enjoyable little romp of the nostalgic kind. Honestly had I not had memories of seeing this film when I was growing up back when it aired on Cinemax and HBO I never would consider seeing it again, but it has a place in my childhood memories.

Doesn't that mean you shouldn't see it? Hell no, its a fine little film that's worth a bowl of popcorn and a soda. Its just one that you might not want to revisit.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Man Who Stole the Sun (1979)

Leonard Schrader, brother of Paul, wrote this story of a high school science teacher who builds his own atomic bomb which has become legendary in some circles as a "lost" classic.

The plot has a high school teacher kidnapped with his class. In the aftermath he presses forward with his desire to build an atomic bomb. Once he's done he uses the bomb to get what he wants, first he demands that baseball games are televised to their conclusion (Which never happened when the film was made). Later, as the cops struggle to find the teacher, he demands that the Rolling Stones be allowed to play Japan (their drug problems prevented that).

As a lost classic I think its time has passed, which is not to say that the film isn't worth seeing. This is a good little film. Actually as a terrifying look at something the world maybe staring in the face right now. Its a sobering little film. The idea that someone could build a bomb in their kitchen is frightening. Of course the result of doing it will probably turn deadly for the builder, something you see here (and which was left out of the similar and clearly inferior Manhattan Project)

There are two things that are wrong with the movie. First is its over length. The film runs nearly two and a half hours and to be honest its too much. The second thing is that the film is very much of its time. This is best explained by the demands that teacher makes. The demands are the sort of thing that will cause people to look sideways at the plotting. While I understand the point is to make the demands trivial, they're too much in a time warp. The problems are best described as "movie conventions from the late 70's" which manage to date the film (I guessed the year of release just by looking at how the film was made) even though its unnerving when you really think about it.

Flaws aside this is a movie to try and find (good luck since its damn near impossible to get a hold of). Its a disturbing little movie that will leave you uneasy.

Through the Weeping Glass (2011)

I can think of no one better suited to make a film about the Mutter Museum than the Quay Brothers. The twin brothers, best known for their animated films, have a truly unique visual style that is a perfect match for the macabre specimens in the Mutter. Their films are filled with broken and decaying objects, broken dolls and sense of life on the other side. The Mutter is a museum full of medical anomalies and specimens. Preserved bodies, skulls, instruments, books, body casts, swallowed objects and other things, fill the Mutter’s walls and cabinets.

The Quays were given unlimited access to the collection. Their mandate was to make a film about museum in anyway they saw fit. Correctly called a meditation Through the Weeping Glass is designed not to be a catalog of what is in the displays, or even it's history, rather it’s designed to evoke feelings and to get you thinking and pondering life, and, especially, death. When the film ended and I was left sitting in the darkness I found myself pondering a wide variety of things. Now some days later I’m still pondering them.

I have no idea how to describe this film. I’d love to compare it to the work of Peter Greenaway (with whom the brothers have worked)or Joel Peter Witkin, but that’s neither fair nor wholly accurate. The Quays while making a work that could be cousin of these other two artists, have made something truly unique.

I love the film, even though it disturbed me. It made me confront things I didn't want to confront. It made me think about things I didn't want to think about. At the same time the film hypnotized me and drew me in, making me sad that the film's 31 minutes couldn't be stretched.


If you want to see a unique mediation of life and death, and to a small degree on the Mutter itself, track down a copy of this film. A DVD is available from the Mutter itself. I also think the film is going to run as part of the Museum of Modern Arts retrospective of Quay Brother films.

(If you do see the film on DVD watch the making of. Its 30 minutes of the Quay brothers filming, including several sequences that did not make the final cut.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interview with JI Ha-Jean, director of BLOODY FIGHT IN IRON ROCK VALLEY (South Korea)

During the summer, with images from the New York Asian Film Festival still seared into my brain, I hoped to learn more about one of the festival's less heralded yet highly impressionable films BLOODY FIGHT IN IRON ROCK VALLEY. Shot on a shoestring budget, it's a modern take on the classic Western with a main protagonist driven by revenge (reviewed here). I sought out an interview with the South Korean film's newcomer director JI Ha-Jean. He graciously answered my questions via email, giving thorough insight into his vision and the trials of making a low budget action film.

Q: I have come across many independent films from South Korea that are dramas or horror films, but not so many action. Bloody Fight In Iron Rock Valley is a very skillfully made action film. What drew you to making a feature in this genre?

JI Ha-Jean: Personally I love Western and Crime movies. I especially like the directors Sergio Leone and Jean-Pierre Melville, so I made my film with the idea of learning and practicing their cinematographic heritages in mind.

I decided to make this film after reading the book ‘Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player’ by Robert Rodriguez. It’s like the bible of making action films with a micro budget. The reason I chose the Western genre especially is that it suits low budget filmmaking. Following the simple rule, which is ‘a mysterious man visits an isolated village and wipes out all the bad people,’ and shooting well crafted minimal action scenes, I expected the film to come out great even though it was made on a very low budget.

Q: Considering the minimal budget you had to shoot on, were there concessions or improvisations to your plans that you knew you would have to make before shooting started?

JH: The costumes were the hardest part. The extra pieces of clothing are very important for making this kind of movie, in which 17 people die, and most characters get injured or are intensely chased. However, we didn’t have a big enough budget for all the costumes, so most of the characters wore only one outfit until the end of shooting. So I tried to shoot the film in sequential order, but it was difficult. You might have noticed that, repeatedly, characters’ clothes are dirty and later changed to clean; torn and later they look like new. Also, I had to lower my expectations for the blood explosion scenes.  There was only one chance, so even though I was not fully satisfied with it, I had to say OK.

At last, we had to finish the shooting within 25 days, so we were always in a rush. We had to revise lots of scenes in order to shoot the action sequences. Especially for the scene where the character ‘AX’ is killed, it was a very complicated scene using wire action, but we finished it within 3 hours. We had to give up lots of details that were in the original plan.

However, with this restriction, the making of the film had a more frenetic vibe, so I think it is not too bad. 

Ji-haJean2a Q: I’ve read that it took something like 2 months to shoot the movie -- incredibly fast! How did you make that happen?

JH: I will correct you here; it took just 1 month! It was very important for the staff and actors to get along with each other well in order to finish the film in such a short period. The shooting was done using hand-held filming techniques without any lights. We were always on stand-by. 100% of the sound was done in post synchronization. Actors were very well aware of each roll’s characteristics.

There was different theme music for each character, which we made before the shooting. We used it while shooting and it was very helpful for the actors to keep their emotions on the spot.

Also we had very few members on the staff. This was also helped to make things go fast. It’s also written about in Rodriguez’s book. The staff was made up of 7 people on site. We were always shorthanded, but they were professionals in their fields, which accelerated the process. Also, we knew very well know what we were going to do. We pursued what we could, and quickly decided to give up what was impossible at that moment.   

Q: The time and place that the movie is set does not seem clearly defined. It appears like it could be in the present, but not shown in exact detail. Is it meant to be open to interpretation? Did you have a particular time and place in mind?

JH: There is a particular time in the movie. The main character has been released from prison 12 years after 1998, so the background is in 2010.

However, in general I wanted the time to be not defined. In the films of Kurosawa Kiyoshi or Sergio Leone, the era is not clearly defined. So the story in their films has a universal context beyond the particular era.

Korea’s development has been very fast and highly compressed within the last 60 years after the Korean War. There has always been huge demolition and reconstruction in our history, so the tragic story inside ‘Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley’ is quite common in our society. If the background of this movie was not the mining village in Gangwon province, it would have been difficult to blur the time. Because Korea is changing so fast, the old things are vanishing very quickly. However, the mining village of Gangwon province has stayed the same over decades. If we say it is the 1970s, people can still believe it. You could say another main character of this film is ‘space’, so it was very important to establish the atmosphere of the place.

Q: There is a very interesting use of space, for instance, the gang’s base. It seems like it was created using old machinery, other unusual props. How did you give the space the look you wanted?

JH: We didn’t have enough time or budget for designing the setting more. We had to use the location as it was, so we made a big effort while location hunting. The gang’s base is also shot at the location exactly as we found it. There are many abandoned buildings in Gangwon province. So we believed we would be able to find a great spot after checking places carefully.

After confirming the location, we revised the scenario to be suitable for it. I brought pictures of the places home and adapted the scenario and the characters’ moves to the place’s atmosphere.

Q: Several of the actors in the movie, I’m thinking particularly of LEE Moo-Saeng, YUN Sang-Wha, and CHOI Je-un have a very bold/striking look. How did you go about casting and selecting them for the role? Did they agree to work on the movie right away.

JH: I was very lucky with the casting. There are many great actors in the films of Sergio Leone, Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah. In their movies, the actor’s face is the characters itself. I especially like Walter Brennan, Charles Bronson, and Warren Oates.

For the ideas, I tried to find the answers within the actors’ faces. For instance, LEE Moo-saeng, his face is very bold, has a striking appearance and his eyes express quite a gloomy feeling. When I shot extreme close-ups of his eyes, I could see a sad man with a big hurt memory. However, he also looks very strong and restrained.

YUN Sang-hwa looks very violent, but also exhausted from the wrinkles on his face. In the movie, there is only one time his hat is taken off, and that is where he looks the shabbiest. Also, he shows different aspects of his look in the flashback scenes.

CHOI Je-un is a sassy girl working in the gambling house. But she is also a sweet girl, going to her father’s temple every day. Ms. CHOI has a proper look in that aspect. Also she knows how to handle guns very well.

The western genre is very rare in Korean cinema, so most of the actors were intrigued by that. I also persuaded them with my convictions to make a great western film. It helped them to get on board the project.

Q: The movie is notable for action sequences and use of different weapons (a torch, nail gun, shotgun, etc.) Were there any particular influences on directing the action/violence in the movie? Any interesting stories/challenges about doing scenes with that type of equipment?

JH: There are particular muggers who carry out orders of others in Korea. They use those kinds of tools to control people. One day, there was an event that influenced the story of this movie: a mugger blasted fire into a woman’s mouth and damaged her throat.

Korea strictly prohibits guns. This movie is a western, but if the characters were fighting with guns, it would turn into a 100% fantasy movie. No possibility at all. I wanted to have some plausibility in the film, so I decided to work with the tools that these muggers usually use.

I shot double the number of nail-gun scenes that end up appearing in the film. But it made the main character seem too violent, so I deleted half of them.

The last fight between Chul-ki and Ghost Face (Gyee-myeon) is the most important part of the film, so I tried to make the rest of action scenes less violent.

Also, when Chul-ki killed the AX, the fact that he is killed by the amulet which he was always attached to was more important than the manner of killing itself.

I incorporated the back stories into every action scene. Making the audience think of Chul-ki’s sadness was more important than the action itself.

We used a real ax in the film. We couldn’t make the fake ax, so we used a real one, which is very heavy and sharp.

When we shot the scene in which AX tries to kill Chul-ki lying down on the ground using an ax, it could have been a major accident. Mr. LEE refused to shoot the scene anymore because it was too dangerous. He felt threatened.

So the action choreographer make-up director and Mr. LEE tried to make a fake ax midway through shooting. It was made of PVC pipes and Styrofoam, but it looked really good, just like a real one. It looked so real that I was so surprised and felt guilty for the actors because I couldn’t think of making one at the beginning.

As a result, we could make a strong scene using that model. Thanks to their passion and affection for the film, we could get great results.   

Q: The movie tells a very straightforward revenge story, but you also incorporated issues of corruption and greed into it - a developer trying to force people out of their land to build something more profitable. How did you decide to make this part of the story? Was it an issue of particular importance to you?

JH: I think I already gave you the answer to this above. Korea has developed very rapidly, so people these days are living in more prosperous and convenient times. On the other hand, people in this society just keep going without consideration for others who are isolated and ignored.

This movie is fictional, but it also points out some of the problems in this society.
Just 4 years ago, 6 laborers were burned to death during a fight with policemen in Seoul. The labors wanted to keep living in their area, so they fought with the policemen who tried to remove them. However, it caused too much harm. This was a very violent event, but a new building was constructed on the spot where it happened. And people seemed to have forgotten the event very fast.

Gangwon province has such a beautiful landscape and great natural resources underground, so similar things easily happen. The people who have lived there are kicked out, and developing facilities are occupying those places.

I started developing this film with the idea that among these many victims, there might be a personal story about one individual who tries to get revenge. This movie is for entertainment, of course, but I thought that it could gain the sympathy of the audience as long as it is based in reality.

Also, it addresses the eternal theme of the ‘revisionist western’.

Q: The ending has a somewhat serial-like feeling to it? Do you have interest in developing a sequel? If not, what type of project are you interested in taking on next?

JH: You’ve got the idea correctly, but I don’t have a plan for a sequel. When the main character ‘Chul-ki’ disappeared at the end, I hoped he wouldn’t get into any more trouble afterwards.

However, I have a plan for a bigger western movie in the future. The time of the film would be further in the past. The background would be the era when the train railroad was constructed for the first time in Korea. The ‘Mr. No Name’ will appear again and he will fight with a harsher enemy.

The project I am currently working on is a horror film. I will bring forth a great horror film with lots of blood, mixed with action and adventure. Please don’t miss it!

  This interview also appears at The Violent Eye.

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