Thursday, February 28, 2013

Augustine (2012) Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2013

I'm going to state up front I'm going to be bitchy and reveal the end of the film. if you don't want to know keep reading- however note this is a not particularly successful film (hence the bitchiness) with a killer performance by Soko as a young woman prone to seizures.

Okay you've been warned.

The film begins with Augustine, a maid in a fancy house, serving dinner to the family she works for. All is going swimmingly until she has a seizure and pulls the entire meal on top of her as she writhes around the floor. With her right eye seemingly permanently closed she goes with her cousin to see a doctor who diagnosis ovarian hysteria and admits her to the hospital. She attracts the attention of Mr Charcot who is trying to help women with her condition,which allows him to gain attention for his program.

A good looking film, that out side of a stellar performance by Soko as Augustine is one I can't really recommend. Soko some how manages to convulse on cue in such a manner it's truly frightening. During the film all I could think about was how much better David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method would have been with her in the lead. When the first seizure happens at the dinner party I kind of sat up in my seat because it looked a bit too real.

The problem for me comes from the fact that when the film ends I couldn't figure out why I was being told any of it.  Seriously the film is a series of treatments and exhibition between the doctor and patient, that seems to imply in the end that getting laid will cure all your ills. Forgive me but the vast majority of the film is longing looks between the two and then she's cured, she sleeps with him and goes off into the night.

I know I'm reading it wrong but the implication seems to be that it's all sex (I mean she drops when she sees a cute guy at the dinner) and that if she  has sex she'll be fine. (And watch how her seizures change from epileptic in style to sexual once she's with the doctor a while.)

Even allowing for it all being sex, the questions for me are first whats the point? why are we seeing this? I have no clue. And second why so much repetition? Its all variations of the same thing over and over again. Frankly I stopped caring about an hour in and I hung around waiting for a revelation that never came.

Perhaps I missed something,perhaps not. One of the people at the press screening loved the film. I couldn't be bothered.

The film plays the 3rd and 6th if you're interested.

The Red Riding series (2009)

This three part film series based on four books was so successful that they were considering going back and filming the fourth book despite much of it being folded into the third film. The film follows the decade long investigation or lack thereof into a series of child murders and disappearances. The trouble is that the various investigations keep pointing in directions that some people don’t want them to go and highlighting the rampant police corruption which the cops are desperate to hide at all costs.

While it's impossible to simple explainthe polt in a paragraph I'm going to throw out a quick statement about the plot of each part:

1974- is about a reporter who gets information on a number of missing young girls. As he digs deeeper all roads seem to point toward a local developer. Cocky and overly sure of himself he begins to push things into areas he shouldn't...

1980- A squeaky clean detective is sent into the lions den in order to look into the continuing series of murders. The trouble is he's walked into a bed of corruption and egos and no one is to be trusted.

1983-repercussion of events carry on as sins of the fathers are revisited and fall out from past acts play out. Will it be possible for anyone to find any sort of redemption and closure?

To put it another was this grand crime drama that covers 10 years of corruption and miss deeds by the police that allowed a child killer to run rampant because not to do so would show their darkside.
I ran across the films when they turned up a few years back at the New York Film Festival. I had no idea what they were and completely ignored them. I then read the reviews when the series played and regretted not seeing them. I then caught the first two films when the premiered on IFC in Theaters and screamed at the end of the second on since I would have to wait a whole month to see the last part.

TV or films in general rarely get as gripping as this.

The three films are not strictly speaking direct sequels to each other. Each film moves the central plot along but each film follows various side stories along mostly dealing with corruption in the North of England. While not wholly true the films are in fact based on actual events, particularly Yorkshire Ripper and the investigation.

I can’t say enough good about these films. Watching them in sequence is like curling up with a great novel and getting lost for almost six hours. The cast, which includes Sean Bean, Andrew Garfield, Mark Addy and Rebecca Hall come and go throughout the films. Everyone disappears into their roles to the point that you forget they are stars of any sort.

Similar in some ways the film Dreileben which played the NYFF the following year with its three not quite sequel structure, Red Riding scores over that earlier film in that while the films are not technically sequels they do remain consistent with in themselves and what you learn about characters and events carry over in each film making the whole better than the parts. Dreileben essentially throws the central story to the wind in each part and in fact the best bits are the parts that are unique to each other.

As far as crime dramas go Red Riding is top of the heap and a must see for anyone who likes true crime or modern noir.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Coming Soon: Something Like a Phenomenon

Jonathan Chance, a man of many talents and the mind behind the upcoming film Something Like a Phenomenon surprised me a couple days back saying that he had some posters for the film he wanted to share with the Unseen Films readers. Earlier tonight he made good on the promise and sent me the posters you see here.  I really like them both, though truth be told the black one, which seems to hint at the beasties of HP Lovecraft , I find exceptionally cool.
For details on the Something Like a Phenomenon read our Christmas interview with Jonathan Chance.

A Lady in Paris (2012) Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2013

Jeanne Moreau is a bitch on wheels in the charming but prickly and not wholly successful A Lady in Paris.

The plot of the film has Anne Rand (that's the character's name) leaving her home in Estonia to go to Paris to take care or Frida, an Estonian ex-pat who has been living in France for decades. She has been hired by Stephane to watch over Frida who is bitchy and depressed and recently tried to swallow the entire medicine cabinet. Frida instantly starts bullying Anne and a complex game begins to be played by the women who kind of form an uneasy alliance.

I like this film but I'm still mixed about it since ultimately it failed to amount to much for me. Don't get me wrong, the film has some great performances and Paris has rarely looked this lovely but for a couple of reasons the film doesn't fully work.

The first problem is Anne is dumped into the situation after being told almost nothing. Frida is a bitch and there is a reference to her trying to kill herself but that's it, with the result that she stumbles and bumbles through several breakfasts before anyone tells her what she's really doing wrong.

The second problem is there seems to be this whole vast expanse of backstory for most of the characters that is never explained. Frida's misdeeds are revelaed, but what of Anne's story? We can sense more to her than we're told, but she never says a damn thing. As for Stephane we get pieces but not enough, and where did the attraction between him and Anne that one can sense in the final couple of scenes come from? I don't know.

The third problem is that the film hits a bit too many cliched points,for example the arranged tea is obviously going to go south, so why even have it? there are a couple of other moments that every film like this hits so things are not all that surprising.

Lastly the film kind of stops. Its heading in one direction, switches back and stops...and? My over riding feeling when the film was done was...AND?  And you're telling me this story why? I was fine following along, but when the film stopped I still was waiting for a reason to have been told this story.

I do like the film, but I don't know what I was asked to listen to this story.

Playing over the weekend at Lincoln Center, I believe all screenings maybe sold out and you may have to wait on a stand by line.

lambs for lions (2007)

The reason this movie died at the box office is not Tom Cruise. The reason this died at the box office is because its not a movie in any real sense. This is a a polemic on the state of the wars, the country, the politics, the media and all that we consider news and modern American society.

A three part film- Tom Cruise is a senator talking to reporter Meryl Streep about a new push in Afghanistan, Robert Redford is a professor trying to get a student to become engaged, and a platoon in Afghanistan begins Cruise's new push. Its a searing indictment of everyone in this country, on both the left and the right. No one is spared other than the military who are shown to be being throw away because our leaders don't care and because we really don't give a shit. Its a film thats going to really should piss off everyone.(no "one" is to blame, we all are)

As films of ideas go its very thought out and well argued. The problem is that its not very engaging. If you don't turn the film off after ten minutes odds are you'll ponder what you've seen but the trick is going to be willing to stay the course since the film is about whats being said on a level other than a dramatic level. Indeed even the characters, though they are well played and real, are more representational of ideas rather than actual people.(Media (Streep), Government(cruise), our founding fathers (Redford), ourselves (student)). I continued watching the film not because I was deeply engrossed on any level (say as in the early bits of Mind Walk, or My Dinner with Andre, or even-gasp- What the Bleep do we Know), but rather because it was a well thought out position piece that that was polite enough to ask me to consider its points. It isn't screaming left or right its just a piece that kind of takes stock of where we are and lays it out for us to consider. There are no real answers.

Clearly its a big ballsy move to make a "movie" like this and put it out for a public that prefers action to ideas. Its a movie that's road to box office hell has been paved with the films good intentions. Don't get me wrong, I do like the film, I just don't love it. I admire what its doing more than anything. To be honest I don't know if I can recommend the film, certainly I can't see paying 11 bucks a head to see it but on cable this is probably worth a gander, especially if you're willing to let the film say its piece. Ultimately, even though this is very much a movie for now, I think this film will act as guidepost for those in the future who will want to know where we were at this moment in time. I don't know whether that will mean the film is a classic or merely a historical record, thats for future audiences to determine. As for me I'd like something to engage my head and my heart.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

To Consent and Serve: Compliance explores the limits of control (dvd review)

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Compliance begins by filling the screen with an impossible to ignore announcement that it is based on real life events. It is an important message to have implanted in our minds because at some point the ensuing narrative will likely defy our ability to conceive of this as a plausible account.

Things settle on a picture of quaintness. It could be anywhere in smalltown America: wooded areas, spread out houses, and long stretches of open road. A taut and deadly serious conversation is taking place over a hiccup in the management of a fast food establishment’s operation. It would seem trivial, all this talk of pickles and onions; yet a tense orchestrated score of moody woodwinds and clipped cello strokes lends a mismatched sense of urgency to the exchange.   

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A few moments later comes our first glimpse of the fast food restaurant with the central characters gathered together. The view can best be described as dreary, lifeless. One senses the employees have no personal investment in the task at hand other than making ends meet. Shift manager, Sandra, represents the worst criticisms of middle management. She is at the disposal of higher authority, while the employees she supervises beneath do not view her as a strong leader nor take the job all that seriously.

I believe it is with deliberate purpose that director Craig Zobel lands us within the realm of fast food. Several works of critical nonfiction present the industry as a force that guide the way Americans live, acclimating individuals to homogenizing experiences and stripping away critical thought. In a sense it is a form of control.

And control is what Compliance is all about. Many will be instantly reminded of the well known Milgram Experiment from the 1960’s. For those unfamiliar, this was a social experiment in which participants dubbed ‘teachers’ were instructed to guide an unseen participant ‘learner’ through a series of vocabulary memory tests. Unbeknownst to the ‘teachers,’ who were the true subjects of the experiment, the ‘learners’ were fully aware of the experiment’s conditions and only playing a role. The ‘teachers’ were directed to press a button, which they were told would administer an electric shock to the ‘learner,’ when their responses to the activity were incorrect. Scripted responses were used by the planted ‘learners’ to suggest that the shocks caused them great physical discomfort and threats to their safety, yet unwillingness to continue on the part of the teachers’ were met with authoritative statements that the process must be continued.   

The experiment depicted here is not of the controlled sort. It occurs when, amidst the minimum wage malaise described above, Sandra takes a phone call from someone identifying himself as local law enforcement, who alleges complaints of illegal activity on the part of a cashier, Becky. The caller goes on to enlist Sandra in detaining Becky under the auspice of upholding the law.  One command leads to another and soon, what begins as uncomfortable leads into a series of increasingly severe violations. Meanwhile, the true identity of the caller and his unsettling commands are barely questioned. 

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There are many smaller details in play to make Compliance work so well. The cast’s portrayals of average, perhaps even marginalized Americans, are not caricatures, as they could’ve easily become if guided by less deft directorial hands. The minimalist score is a good match for the sparsely budgeted production, but has enough of a punch to keep one on edge throughout.   

As this is a dvd review, I should describe the features that accompany the film. There is not all that much to speak of, though. Deleted scenes and a commentary track would be interesting, but are not included. Content you will find includes a very brief interview with Zobel and two equally short featurettes. There is a lot of overlapping among them, but they do give some insight into the director’s inspiration to tell this story, as well as the thinking behind creating the space in which the drama mostly unfolds.  

While not loaded with extras,  the thought provoking nature of the film itself makes the dvd a worthy acquisition. Repeated viewings are likely to reveal minute details and nuanced conversations that go unnoticed the first time watching. These provide some interesting shading to the characters.

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Compliance poses some fascinating questions to the audience, and multiple viewings will probably lead to even more ways to consider and discuss the film.

Here are a few of my own ponderings that have come to mind after watching it a few times myself:

What patterns are there when looking at each character who interacts with the caller and how they respond to his commands?

What kinds of social power come into play in the exchanges between female characters from varying generations. And does that necessarily play a role in influencing more formal employee employer negotiations of power?

Looking at the caller’s occupation, does this suggest that there are people whose work involves aptitudes, or formal training even, which is in effect conducive to manipulating others?

A complaint about the movie that is likely to arise from some viewers is that the situation is taken far beyond the point of realistic behavior. It is an arguable perspective. I for one don’t know the details of the actual events Zobel’s film is based on, and I would imagine this is a highly dramatized vision.  

I would respond to such grievances with another question: what would be a reasonable extent to which this nightmarish scenario would play out? The answer to that may be more disturbing than we are willing to accept.

Bonus Features:

Behind The Scenes look at Compliance
Interview with Director Craig Zobel
AXS TV: A Look at Compliance
Theatrical Trailer

COMPLIANCE is out on dvd now from Magnolia Home Entertainment.    

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Journal de France (2012) Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2013

Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret look back at Depardon's career as a filmmaker and photographer in a film that will amaze the hell out of you with it's images and mixture of image and music.

The conceit of the film is that Nougaret is in Depardon's basement going through his film cans while he's off traveling around France taking pictures. The film bounces between his footage and his photos as the pair explains what we are seeing. Following his career chronologically the film shows us what happen in Venezuela and Biafra during their civil wars, Prague during the uprising, his time following a French presidential candidate, his time in the Central African Republic, his time with rebels in Chad, his film on news reporters, and his various films on the French Criminal Justice system. We also get to see the meeting of Depardon and Nougaret several decades back.

The film is full of stunning images and marvelous sequences set to music, such as the second one in the film which follows Depardon trying to take a photo of a street. Moving from the sunny street to a road shrouded in fog with a lovely piece of music, the film suddenly grabs you by the throat and you're off traveling the world until the final sequence of clips from everywhere in rapid succession.

On a purely visual level this film MUST be seen on a big screen for fullest effect. there is something about seeing men crossing the desert in a sand storm,or people fighting in South America or even just the French country side on a large scale that just makes you realize what the power of the documentary image can be.

Equally stunning are some of the less visual moments, Nelson Mandela giving a moment of silence or  hearing a mercenary talk about the up coming fight that had to be fought only to next see his dead body to be carried from the field and his friends trying to locate his missing money and possessions or even hearing how the best way to win the presidency is simply not to say or do anything.

There is so much here that when it was done I wanted to ask them to run it again.

Yea I loved the film.

See this film when it runs this weekend at Rendez-vous with French Cinema.

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

Mr Magorium who runs a magical toy store, decides that its time to go. He long ago bought enough shoes to last the rest of his life and now he's on the last pair. As he prepares to go he tells Molly Mahoney, his store manager of his plans and that he is leaving her the store. She's not ready for him to leave since she feels that she should be doing something else, probably her music...

Yea well, I'm a kid at heart and nothing that happens in this movie seems out of the ordinary, stuffed animals move, bouncing balls try to escape and slinkies are occasionally afraid to walk down stairs. Sue me. Filled with aphorisms and wisdom and more than a touch of silliness this is a movie thats going to annoy a great number of people and please others to no end. I'm one of those pleased. There are such moments of magic and wonder that are rare these days in film. Helping to no end is some honest to god CGI and special effects that are truly special. I was touched very deeply. Extremely well written, this has some fantastic dialog, and more than a few magical sequences. I wanted to keep writing down all of the quips and such because there are some really nice things to quote.

Not really perfect, the film suffers from a couple of Hollywood injections. The score is serviceable but no better than a thousand other Hollywood scores. Its does what it does, but it never soars or disappears into the background enough. Indeed the weakness of the score is evident when, in one of the great sequences, Cat Stevens Don't Be Shy (from Harold and Maude) is used to stunning effect. Nothing in the score matches that imported piece of music. The film also was put together by a committee of some sort.Sequences have different feels to them as if different people either directed them or put them together, its not something I can easily explain rather its that certain scenes are filled with genuine magic that matches what seems to be in the script while other scenes play out as if they are just linking pieces together, there is no, or considerably less magic (its the type of thing I'd have to show you while it was going on). Any of the flaws, even in combination, are far from fatal however they do make the difference between a great film that everyone can enjoy, and a good one that less people will click into.

Oddly I don't think this is a kids film. Sure its about a toy store but the themes it deals with, finding oneself, the loss or retention of magic as we grow up, our place in the world and the un-oblique discussion of death and the life lived will all be lost on a young audience. This is not a children's film as such, rather its an adult film that looks like a kids movie. I'm sure kids will love it and the neat toys and sense of wonder, but its the adults, those still struggling with retaining the magic and not growing old while having a life that is lived, that will be moved and touched.

I was moved, my red eyes and overly sniffly nose will attest to that. Your mileage may vary. Mine will be once more around the block and maybe into the ball room (There just has to be away to dodge that really big ball)

Monday, February 25, 2013

ABC's of Death (2012)

26 letters of the alphabet

26 filmmakers

26 differing reactions.

The filmmakers were each given a letter and complete freedom. Some of them took it and pushed the envelope...some took it and crashed and burned.

The short version of the review is that this film is wildly uneven, way too long film that has some really great and classic bits, a couple of shitty pieces, pushes buttons and is probably best seen with a tanked up midnight audience. Its a film with most bits being clever but misstepping on some level but with probably only three or four complete misses and the same number of truly great (as in all time classic- as in you'll be talking about them for years) pieces.

For my money the idea was brilliant. get some of the best and most out there filmmakers working today and give them a letter. The problem is that not all of them can handle the pacing of a short film with Ti West's misfire running a couple of ill spent minutes and a few of the others going on way too long. While there are some real high points and some low points most bits just miss being much more than a gag.

The films are arranged alphabetically and while I won't give away what the plots or words are (the films are too short to ruin) I will say that I loved D, F and Q. I really disliked G,H,K, M and U. I do have to add that L is one of the best films I've seen this year and probably one of the most disturbing things I've seen in a very long while (maybe ever) and while the denouncement of P is probably similarly disturbing, it's long rambling nature makes it more boring than anything else.

While I like the notion that we're only a couple of minutes away from the next thing, I loathe that too many of the films made me want to just jump to the end to see the ending and what the letter stands for. I think the problem is that many of the directors formulated their short film not as films, rather as jokes with a punchline and once you realize that there isn’t a story but a gag, you just want to see the outcome.

If I’m coming across as disliking the film, I’m sorry, I don't dislike it, I'm simply, in retrospect after a couple of viewings, frustrated. It’s simply that the difference between the five or so truly great and classic films and the rest is so great that one can’t help but feel disappointed after coming down from such a glorious highs. In a weird way the problem with the film is not that all the other pieces aren’t good, it’s simply that they don’t live up to the highs which counter-balance everything else.

I would like to congratulate the producers for making a film that is damn near impossible to review. Because the pieces are so short it’s next to impossible to talk about them without wrecking their delicate structure or sucking the life and surprise out of them. Unless you want to be a jerk you can’t go into detail about the films since even a sentence could ruin some of them. Equally difficult is the fact the film has so many pieces that you can’t discuss them all. I know some fans and critics have done so but short of doing a mega piece on the film I can’t see the point of doing so. On the other hand at some point down the road I’d really like to really pull the film apart and discuss it in detail- but once the film has been out and people really have a chance to see it without there being spoilers.

Is the ABC’s of Death worth seeing? Oh hell yea. Assuming you know what you are getting, 26 short films about 26 ways to die, you’re golden, especially if you don’t mind the blood, sex and body parts I recommend the film, preferably with a group of friends or a rowdy audience.

Truth Game (1983)

John Pilger's damning look at the lies and misconceptions behind the nuclear weapons game. Using government documents against the governments the film shows how not only is/was the nuclear weapons game in Europe not aimed at protecting Europe, rather it was set up only to keep America safe, so damage to England or where ever didn't matter.

Once more down the rabbit hole boys and girls...

You would think that the passage of 30 years has hurt the film but in fact other than the technology little has changed . We are still being lied to and still being told double speak.

What is so terrifying about the piece is that Pilger very clearly lays out what happened in Japan when the first bombs were dropped and what will happen in Europe if even the smallest bomb is dropped. He goes into the blast damage, the death rates, what the government wants from us, where they plan on burying the dead, who goes into the shelter and what the rules will be afterward- remember no dissension or subversion.

As if all of that isn't enough Pilger turns the opening of the TV show and movie MASH upside down with the use of the theme song Suicide is Painless used during a sequence on military maneuvers.

This film will rock your world.

Available on You Tube or DVD.

(If it isn't apparent I am in awe of John Pilger. How the hell can he make so many timely documentaries that 30 years or more on are just as timely?)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Night Cap 2/24/13: Catching up with the Oscars plus All Clues, Links and other things

It's been a few weeks since I've done a Nightcap and with the Oscars going down tonight I figured I'd start by filling in the gaps with what I've thought of the two Best Picture nominees I haven't mentioned  up to this point.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of the better films nominated for this year’s best picture Oscar (sorry Dor). Charting the course of a man released from a mental hospital, he had a breakdown after discovering his wife having an affair, the film follows as he tries to find a self promised silver lining. This involves taking up with a young widow and dealing with compulsive Eagles fan father. Nominated for a boat load of Oscars I wouldn’t be surprised if it took home a few.

As much as I like the film my one reservation concerning the film is its advertising. Billed as a feel good romantic comedy, this is a much more complex film dealing with a group of severely damaged people. Everyone is deeply wounded and dealing with dysfunctions on the order of large economy sizes. Yes it’s funny often romantic film, but at the same time its troubling and disturbing since it’s like being dropped into someone else’s family. I, like several other people I know, went into the film expecting a romantic comedy not a drama.

Recommended but go in expecting heaviness as well as laughs.

Surprisingly I really like Lincoln. I say surprisingly because the trailers and TV commercials made it look stodgie and stiff.

I really like Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln who manages to be more than a stiff recreation of the photographs. I’m less enamored of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln who is very good at showing her flakiness but not the reason that Abe stayed with her.

I do like that the film seems completely anti Spielberg. Given a list of directors I don’t think I would ever have guessed he made the film.

I think that for the most part the film is super, the problem for me is that the script by playwright Tony Kushner is effectively a stage play. If you watch the construction of the script you have speeches and pronouncements and characters acting as Greek Chorus. As good as it is, and I do think it’s very good, the trouble is it never completely feels real. I feel like I’m watching a performance and not “life”.

It’s a minor quibble, but at the same time it’s one that makes me place it under the top Oscar contenders for best picture.

The discovery of Michael Little’s All Clues No Solutions was kind of like getting manna from heaven. For someone who is forever looking for the obscure, off beat or things that have fallen by the wayside Little's store proved to be a one stop shop that damn near broke my bank in the first couple of orders I placed. I went nuts and picked up a good number of films one night before bed then placed a second order the next morning…and a third a few days later. The only reason I haven’t ordered more is that I want to go through what I have before I completely bury myself on the next order.

There is a good chance that if you’ve been looking for something for ages that you once saw on VHS or somewhere once but never again, he’ll have it. He also carries a ton of foreign titles that I had been looking for ages. I wanted to try Kiyoshi Kurosowa’s Revenge films once more but I could never find them in on DVD in English- guess what he has them- as well as a ton of other Kurosowa films you probably only read about but never could find.

I’ve loved everything I’ve gotten from him so far.

If you are looking for off the beaten track stuff- and if you read Unseen with any regularity I know you are- check out his website- and don’t worry this is one time where I won’t mind you clicking away from Unseen.

(And just to sweeten the pot, he does have bulk discounts)

As if the last fewdays haven't been enough some reminders from the festival front---

Film Comment Selects is winding down. It has just a few more days left so if you want to see some really good films I'd take a stab at getting over to Lincoln Center.

Thursday starts Rendezvous With French Cinema. across Manhattan and Brooklyn. They are showing a good number of great looking films, however this year our coverage is going to be limited. I simply can not and could not unknot my schedule enough to get to more than a few films. Reviews will start this week
The Japan Society is running Into the Shintoho Mind Warp:Girls, Guns & Ghosts from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film This incredible series is running a bunch of films from Shintoho studios. I have not seen any of these films but their reputation is incredible and I want to see them all. The trouble is that the conflict, like the French Cinema series above, with some of life's other plans.

Speaking of which Friday is the start of the New York International Children's Film Festival. If you want to know what is conflicting with the above series, this is at least for next weekend. Some screenings are sold out some are not, but there is always a wait line in many cases they can squeeze you in.  I'll be there with most of my films coming the first day and the last day. We at Unseen have seen several of the films already and I'll be posting a more detailed listing of films coming up.

Lastly It's still two months away, but we've been invited back to Tribeca so things to be like last year- three solid weeks of coverage.

And now some links

Oliver Stone talking in relation to his Showtime TV series
The legendary Valencia Theater in NYC
PaulWilliams at the Museum of the Moving Image
15 Photos of NYC
Soderbergh in conversation
Star TrekSound Effects
Cinephilia and Beyond
Coming Soon... for pay
The Totoro House

What's up coming at Unseen? A very heavy week of reviews. Not only will the week be filled with some random titles from across the film spectrum, tomorrow night I'm posting my thoughts on the ABC's of Death and after that I'll be unleashing some of my reviews from Rendez-vous with French Cinema. 

Next weekend will be a couple of reviews from my Animation on DVD days and thats followed by all but one of the George Nader Jerry Cotton films which then leads into a week of animated films including my Poppy Hill one. Add into the mix NYICFF reviews plus things we've been seeing at press screenings and you have a busy couple of weeks.

Charade (1963)

Stanley Donnen directed classic seems to have fallen into a kind of disfavor of late. I’m not sure why, actually I am since watching the film in early December I realized that the film is so damn slick the covering slipped off.

The plot of the film has Audrey Hepburn on a ski vacation. She is certain that something is up with her husband and she is contemplating divorce. Heading back to Paris she arrives home to find everything, everything gone from her apartment and no sign of her husband. A police inspector arrives to inform her that her husband has been found dead, having been tossed from a train. After the funeral her life becomes a whirlwind as she is informed by a government official that her husband, along with three other men, stole money from the government during the war. He warns her that they will be hunting her because they “know” she has the money. Complicating matters further is the arrival of the mysterious Cary Grant with whom she had fleetingly flirted with on her ski holiday. As time goes on the question becomes who can she trust?

Moving like the wind this is as close to a perfect a comedic thriller as you can get. You have memorable characters, romantic settings, some nasty deaths (which were graphic for the time) and some of the best dialog you’ll ever here. Everything is note perfect…

…which is the problem, its so perfect that it really isn’t all that real. This is the grand adventure we’d all like to have played exactly right with the result that not only can you see the gears going but you can largely guess what is going to happen next. Okay yes, you may not guess the details, like where the money is secreted, but you’ll see the arc.

Is that a bad thing?

In this case it is not. You have a great cast that includes, James Coburn, Walter Matheau and George Kennedy. You have some of the best dialog outside of the glory days of screwball comedy and you have Paris.

Seeing the film for the first time in a decade or more I realized that is possibly the last pinnacle of old Hollywood. What I mean by this it seems to be one of the last major American films that seemed to echo back to the golden age of Hollywood with Hollywood stars. After this films would continue to change to more real world, on location settings (which Charade has some of) and would be more real and heavily influenced by the British films that were flooding in. Additionally you started to get films like Bonnie and Clyde. While Hollywood would make similar films, none would be this good.

For that reason alone you should see the film—as if the fact it’s a damn fine film isn’t reason enough.

(And avoid The Trouble with Charlie the god awful remake)

And if next weekend couldn't get busier Cine Kink and First Time Fest are also on the radar

As if the next week couldn't get busier with Rendezvous with French Cinema starting Thursday and running across Manhattan, The new series at the Japan Society and  the New York Intentional Children's Film Festival, there are even more things happening cinematically----

First up is CINEKINK, the kinky film festival. This starts on Tuesday and runs through the weekend. As you can guess by the name the festival is not for kids and it covers a wide variety of subjects. I would love to cover it but I simply can't fit it into my schedule which is full of other goodies.  If you have a hankering for some adults only fare go over to the website and pick up some tickets. (And they are showing BETTY PAGE REVEALS ALL which Chocko has seen and recommended to me)

Starting Friday is The First Time Fest which looks great, has people like Martin Scorsese appearing---and which I'm not attending. If you want info here's their press release:







“Stand Alone! Conversations with the Outstanding” Include

Special Presentation of Everado Gout’s
Winner of the Mexican Academy of Film’s Prestigious Ariel Award
For Best First Feature

March 1-4, 2013

Tickets On Sale Now at

CHRISTINE VACHON, FRED SCHNEIDER, SOFIA COPPOLA, TODD SOLONDZ, BARBARA KOPPLE, SCOTT FOUNDAS, JOHN ANDERSON, ERIC KOHN, EMILY RUSSO, JENNY LUMET, and MARTIN SCORSESE have signed on to join the previously announced Darren Aronofsky, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hal Hartley, Peter Saraf, Nancy Savoca and Amy Ryan at First Time Fest.

First Time Fest (FTF) – a celebration of first time filmmakers – is a new and unique film festival taking place in New York City from March 1 through 4, 2013. FTF is set to discover and present the next generation of great cinema artists.

Martin Scorsese will add his illustrious presence and belief in that art of cinema at The Players to present the first John Huston Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema. The inaugural Award will be bestowed on an individual who has made a significant contribution to the art of cinema: Darren Aronofsky.

First Time Fest is dedicated to discovering talented new filmmakers who will go on to fulfill the promise of their extraordinary debut films. John Huston was one of the most prolific and versatile directors in the history of cinema. And with his mesmerizing debut film, Pi – made independently on black-and-white 16mm film – Darren Aronofsky was instantly recognized as a uniquely gifted new talent. His subsequent films: Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan, have more than fulfilled that promise.

Christine Vachon and the B-52s Fred Schneider have joined the fest as two of its five jurors (the entire live audience at each of the 12 competition films will be the 5th juror). Together, the jury and audience will ultimately select a Grand Prize winner, who will be offered theatrical distribution for their film and full international sales representation from the renowned American film distributor, Cinema Libre Studio.

In addition to the Competition Films, FTF will present First Exposure, a series of first films from now prominent filmmakers. Joining the line-up - and attending the fest - are our exciting Opening Night presentation of Sofia Coppola with The Virgin Suicides, Todd Solondz with Welcome to the Dollhouse, Wes Anderson’s (who will not be able to attend) Bottle Rocket, Barbara Kopple with Harlan County, USA, and Melvin Van Peebles with The Story of a Three-Day Pass. Previously announced First Exposure titles and attending filmmakers are PI (Darren Aronofsky), The Maltese Falcon (film will be introduced by William Luhr, author of “The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, director”), Poison (Todd Haynes’ – who will not be able to attend - first film; produced by then first-time feature producer Christine Vachon, who can), Jack Goes Boating (Philip Seymour Hoffman, attending with actress Amy Ryan), The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley), True Love (Nancy Savoca) and Killer's Kiss (Stanley Kubrick’s first).

First Exposure will also include a 60th Anniversary Tribute to Morris Engel’s The Little Fugitive, a cinema vérité classic from 1953 that was shot on Coney Island and has inspired countless filmmakers, from Jean-Luc Godard to the Coen brothers. The tribute will include a panel hosted by film historian Foster Hirsch and Mary Engel, daughter of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin). In addition there will be a Special Presentation of Everardo Gout’s thrillingly over-the-top action thriller DAYS OF GRACE (DĺAS DE GRACIA), which won the Mexican Academy of Film’s prestigious Ariel Award for Best First Feature and was nominated for the Camera d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

First Time Fest will also include a series of panels called “How They Did It,” in which a diverse group of award-winning filmmakers will moderate filmmaking case studies and spotlight some of the most successful and accomplished masters of the industry. Panels will include: Switch Hitters: Actors, Producers, Writers & Others Who Direct; Sell, Baby, Sell: Marketing Independent Films (Emily Russo, Scott Feinstein, Peter Saraf, Monica Brady); From Rock To Score: Contemporary Musicians Who Become Film Composers (John Forte); Show Me the Money (Steven Beer, Duncan Cork); Across The Border: International Filmmakers Come to America; Women and Diversity in Film (Jenny Lumet, Frida Torresblanco); and A Critical Eye: Critics and their Role in Discovering New Filmmakers (Scott Foundas, John Anderson, Eric Kohn, Dana Stevens, Josh Rothkopf). There will also be several “Stand Alone! – Conversations with the Outstanding,” one-on-one interviews with notable cinema artists. Additional participants in these programs will be announced shortly.

First Time Fest is a four-day, multi-faceted event hosted in New York City’s Gramercy Park by the celebrated Players (16 Gramercy Park South), the club founded by Edwin Booth, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent, the oldest and most exclusive arts organization of its kind whose membership includes the greatest stars of stage and screen. Each of First Time Fest’s twelve finalists will receive high-level industry mentorship and a one-year membership to The Players. The Players will be the location for all FTF panels and events as well as the Filmmaker and VIP Lounge. First Time Fest’s screenings will be held at the Loews Village VII on Third Avenue (on 11th St. & 3rd Ave).

COMPETITION FILMS – (please visit web site for film descriptions)

BLUMENTHAL - New York Premiere. USA, 86 minutes. Written and directed by Seth Fisher. With Fisher, Brian Cox, Mark Blum, Laila Robins, Mei Melançon.

HEADFIRST (LA TETE LA PREMIERE) - U.S. Premiere. Belgium/France, 89 minutes. Written and directed by Amélie van Elmbt. With Alice de Lencquesaing, David Murgia, Jacques Doillon.

HORIZON SKY - World Premiere. Belarus, 133 mins. Written and directed by Dmitry Marinin, Andrey Kureychik. With Leonid Pashkovsky, Tatyana Bovkalova, Viktor Rybchinsky, Anna Sirotina.

I LOVE YOU ALL (LOS QUIERO A TODOS) - U.S. Premiere. Argentina, 75 mins. Written, directed, and produced by Luciano Quillici. With Ramiro Aguero, Santiago Gobemori, Diego Jalfen, Valeria Louis, Leticia Mazur, Margarita Molfino, Alan Sabbagh.

JUNCTION - USA, 90 mins. Written and directed by Tony Glazer. With Tom Pelphrey, Neal Bledsoe, Harris Doran, Summer Crockett Moore, Anthony Rapp, David Zayas, Michael O’Keefe

MONGOLIAN BLING - U.S. Premiere. Australia/Mongolia, 90 mins. Documentary, directed by Benj Binks.

SAL - New York Premiere. Chile/Argentina, 112 mins. Written and directed by Diego Rougier. With Fele Martínez, Patricio Contreras, Sergio Hernández, Javiera Contador.

SUBMERGE - World Premiere. Australia, 90 mins. Directed by Sophie O’Connor. With Lily Hall, Christina Hallett, Kevin Dee, Georgia Bolton.

SUMMERTIME - New York Premiere.USA, 90 mins. Written and directed by Max Weissberg. With Lethia Nall, Eric Garcia, Rob Hollander, H.R. Britton, James Eason, Jenny Grace, Olivia Horton, Michele Cesari.

UPRISING – USA/Egypt, 85 mins. Documentary directed by Fredrik Stanton.

URBAN TALE - U.S. Premiere. Israel, 90 mins. Written and directed by Eliav Lilti. With Barak Friedman, Noa Friedman, Esti Yerushalmi, Zohar Shtrauss, Ohad Knoller, Michal Shtamler.

ZIPPER - USA, 77 mins. Documentary directed by Amy Nicholson.

FIRST EXPOSURE FILMS – (please visit web site for film descriptions)

BOTTLE ROCKET - USA, 1996, 91 mins. Speaker TBA. Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Cast: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan.

HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A. – USA, 1976, 103 mins. Barbara Kopple in person. Documentary directed by Barbara Kopple.

JACK GOES BOATING – USA, 2010, 91 mins. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan in person. Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Written by Robert Glaudini. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega.

THE MALTESE FALCON – USA, 1941, 101 mins. Speaker TBA. Written and directed by John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr.

PI – USA, 1998, 83 mins. Speaker TBA. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Cast: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman.

POISON - USA, 1991, 85 mins. Producer Christine Vachon in person. Written and directed by Todd Haynes. Cast: Edith Meeks, Millie White, Buck Smith, Anne Giotta, Lydia Lafleur, Ian Nemser

THE STORY OF A THREE-DAY PASS – USA, 1968, 87 mins. Melvin van Peebles in person. Written and directed by Melvin Van Peebles. Cast: Harry Baird, Pierre Doris, Christian Marin, Nicole Berger

TRUE LOVE – USA, 1989, 84 mins. Nancy Savoca in person. Directed by Nancy Savoca. Written by Nancy Savoca and Richard Guay. Cast: Annabella Sciorra, Ron Eldard, Aida Turturro, Roger Rignack

THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH – USA, 1989, 90 mins. Hal Hartley in person. Written and directed by Hal Hartley. Cast: Adrienne Shelley, Robert John Burke, Edie Falco, Gary Sauer.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES – USA, 1999, 97 mins. Sofia Coppola and cinematographer Ed Lachman in person. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Josh Hartnett, Michael Paré, Danny DeVito

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE – USA, 1996, 88 mins. Todd Solondz in person. Written and directed by Todd Solondz. Cast: Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton III, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina, Eric Mabius

For Tickets, Passes and additional Festival Information - Visit The Festival Website at

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The New York International Children's Film Festival starts Friday

This will be your last full scale reminder until the reviews start flooding in next weekend that the NYICFF is about to start all over Manhattan. The festival starts Friday.

Tickets are selling fast so if you want to go get the tickets now at G-Kids.

I’ll be wading into the festival with stops at the Opening night, short films all day Saturday the 2nd and a triple feature on the final day of the festival. There are also going to be a couple of stops in between. I’d be going to more but I’ve already seen a number of the films: Zarafra, The Painting, Welcome to the Space Show and Up on Poppy Hill.

A word about Poppy Hill (which is selling so well they have to keep adding screenings). As I’ve said I’ve seen it in it’s original Japanese version. I review will be coming in just over a week but I did want to say I loved it. I think it’s one of the best films that have come out of Studio Ghibli in a very long time. It’s a wonderful coming of age/ romance that probably is going to go over the heads of the little ones in the audience since it’s more akin to Ocean Waves or Whisper of the Heart than Kiki, Ponyo or Tortoro. It's a great great film and if you want to see a charming film act now because tickets are going fast. (On the other hand the film is scheduled to open about the same time in theaters)

Lastly I know some of you are wondering about Meet the Small Potatoes. This hour long feature is playing the festival and yet it seems to have just premiered on Disney Junior…. Well here’s the skinny direct from Eric Beckman, you know the guy who throws the T-shirts into the audience at most of the screenings: The version being shown at the NYICFF is a different cut of the film. This is the version of the film that the filmmakers intended. If you are seeing it on Disney you’re not seeing the whole thing. (Randi has seen the Disney version and she has informed me it’s a lot of fun, especially for big people who will get all the references and in jokes)

That's it for now. Expect reviews starting next weekend - now it’s up to you to go buy tickets.

Seven Percent Solution (1976)

Written by Nicholas Meyer who would go on to write and direct Time After Time and Star Trek The Wrath of Khan , this fanciful Sherlock Holmes film has the “true” story of what happened when Sherlock Holmes supposedly died at the hands of Professor Moriarty. The story involves Holmes being brought to Sigmund Freud to deal with his drug addiction, the 7% solution of the title. While Holmes deals with his addiction he’s thrust into a mystery involving a red headed actress who ends up “kidnapped” by a pasha.

This is one of my favorite Holmes films. It’s a film I completely fell in love with and which helped me realize that there was more to Sherlock Holmes than Basil Rathbone.

Actually what sells the film, which isn’t much of a mystery, is the cast. Nicol Williamson is a perfect persnickety Holmes that seems to fore shadow Jeremy Brett. You feel his madness and his love for Watson. Robert Duvall is Watson. Its bit of casting that sounds completely wrong until you see him in action and the choice couldn’t be more right. Alan Arkin is Sigmund Freud who is more the man of action than Holmes. He is witty and athletic and ready to dive into trouble at a moment’s notice. The mind kind of boggles that Arkin was never allowed to become an action hero. Rounding out the cast is Laurence Olivier as the “evil” genius Professor Moriarty and Vanessa Redgrave is the mysterious red haired girl, a kind of thankless role until you realize how much hinges on her and you realize how well she sucks you in.

Even allowing for personal preferences this is one of the best Homes films ever made. It manages to nail down the characters better than almost any other film or show and tell a good story at the same time (most of other films either get the characters right or has a good mystery, but not both).

Track this film down.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Japan Society Presents Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film

I’m late in getting this information to you, I’m sorry. Blogger for some un known reason has refused to allow me to post this information without blowing the formatting all to hell and back. If I was a believing sort of a guy I would claim that the ghosts in this film series are haunting this post, I could of course be wrong.

To be perfectly honest this is one of the years must attend can’t miss series, which I am both not going to attend and I am going to miss. It’s my own fault and I ended up with things running counter to this series and so I can’t make it. I was going to try and get copies of the films but decided against it because I simply do not have the time to watch them films in advance. I’m under time constraints with a few other projects.

What’s exciting is that all of the films are ones that I’ve been reading about for years but which I never had a chance to see. These are, with one exception all supposed to be great great films. The exception is Vampire Bride, which is supposed to be very good, but which is more interesting for the back story of the making of the film than the film itself. (The film was supposedly foisted on the lead actress as punishment for misdeeds in the eyes of the studio. They were hoping to break her, it didn’t happen and the film is more an odd detour in an otherwise respected career, or so I’ve read)

For those who think they might be interested here’s the information on the films.

Born of the fires of dissidence, pioneering Japanese film studio Shintoho was founded in 1947 by employees of the Tokyo-based Toho Company during a strike (Shintoho literally means “New Toho”). The fledgling studio promptly established itself as one of the major film producers of the second golden age of Japanese cinema, specializing in low- to no-budget productions that have become absolute cult classics

Japan Society’s 2013 Globus Film Series Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film offers rare screenings of eight Shintoho films—all New York Premieres and all unavailable on DVD in the U.S.--produced from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. The series launches Wednesday, February 27 with an opening night reception featuring Japanese soul band Neo Maki Blues. Tickets to each screening are $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles.

Often compared with Roger Corman’s exploitation-movie factory, American International Pictures, Shintoho started off in a more orthodox fashion with the holy trinity of Japanese cinema: Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. But it went on to revolutionize and breathe new life into Japanese genre movies, populating it with bizarre ghouls and ghosts, unruly teenagers, vampires, werewolves and curvy girls in bikinis.

Shintoho produced over 500 features during a 14-year period, spanning a wide variety of genres from crime-thriller series to the youth films and exploitation films known as ero-guro (erotic grotesque). Into the Shintoho Mind Warp, is comprised of selections from Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! curated by film critic Mark Schilling for the 2010 Udine Far East Film Festival, and provides a flamboyant sampling of Shintoho's delightfully deranged output, from hard-hitting gangster movies to campy horror chillers and supernatural tales of mystery.

After New York, the series tours North America at Philadelphia’s International House (March 28-30), San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (TBD), and Vancouver’s Pacific Cinematheque (TBD).

Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan)Wednesday, February 27 at 8:00 pm, Opening Night Screening Followed by a Reception1959. Color, blu-ray, 76 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. With Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Katsuko Wakasugi, Shuntaro Emi, Ryuzaburo Nakamura. New York Premiere.This adaption of a kabuki play by Tsuruya Nanboku (1825) is a Japanese Macbeth about a monstrous ambition whose red fruit is murder most foul. A classic of the genre and typically thought of as the best of more than 30 film adaptations, Nobuo Nakagawa's horror masterpiece focuses on the psychology of the characters, particularly the ruthless, cruel, but humanly weak samurai and his abused wife. Nakagawa's characteristic atmospherics are present, particularly his use of color to express the poisoning of the body (sickly greens) and mind (ghastly reds). The film however, is most memorable for the raw force of its emotions, from the shock and desolation of the betrayed wife to the fright and desperation of the doomed husband. The stand-out performance is that of Wakasugi as Iwa, whose shock and dismay as her face dissolves into a blackened, disfigured mass is indelible.

Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (Kaibyo Otama-ga-ike)Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm1960. Color, blu-ray, 75 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoshiro Ishikawa. With Shozaburo Date, Hiroshi Hayashi, Noriko Kitazawa, Namiji Matsuura, Fumiko Miyata, Torahiko Nakamura. New York PremiereIn 1960, Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who had apprenticed under Shintoho harbormaster Nakagawa Nobuo, made his directorial debut with The Ghost Cat of Otama Pond. The story—a young couple caught in a web of ghostly revenge, with a black cat serving as a conduit between the worlds of the living and dead--is familiar from the era's horror films, though the sumptuous production, as well as the use of color, is rare for a film by a Shintoho first-timer. Nakagawa's influence can be seen in everything from the use of otherworldly shades of red and green to the shadowy period atmospherics of the "ghost mansion," supplied by art director Haruyasu Kurosawa, a frequent Nakagawa collaborator. The film's theatricality, from the sets to the performance styles, also echoes Nakagawa in his more Kabuki-esque moods. Ishikawa learned his lessons well--and delivers shocks and chills that would have done his teacher proud.

The Horizon Glitters (Chiheisen ga giragira)Saturday, March 2 at 3:00 pm1960. B&W, blu-ray, 89 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Michiyoshi Doi. With Shigeru Amachi, Masayo Banri, Toru Chiba, Jerry Fujio. New York PremiereMichiyoshi Doi's ultra-rare black comedy (the film is not available in any format world-wide) about a prison break gone horribly wrong is unlike anything else Shintoho was making at the time. Released just before the studio's collapse, The Horizon Glitters is a brilliant one-off made with freedom and energy that verges on the anarchic and echoes the Hollywood movies that influenced Doi's generation of directors. Five convicts end up in the same cell: Ota a.k.a. "Capone" (Jun Tatara), Matsuda a.k.a. "Professor" (Shigeru Amachi), Tsuchiya a.k.a. "Bartender" (Ryuji Oki), Ohira a.k.a. "Irokichi" (Saburo Otsuji) and a drug smuggling sailor known as "Sea Monster" (Harumi Yuzo). With the surly Capone as boss, they maintain a rough harmony--until a new prisoner (Fujio) is tossed into their midst. When 'Mite--short for "Dynamite"--announces that he knows the whereabouts of a large cache of diamonds, escape is in order. Who will meet their fate before they reach the diamonds? What lies at the journey's end? The glitter draws our heroes on--but the horizon keeps receding.

Vampire Bride (Hanayome Kyuketsuma)Saturday, March 2 at 5:15 pm 1960. B&W, blu-ray, 80 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kyotaro Namiki. With Junko Ikeuchi, Hiroko Amakusa, Yasuko Mita, Keiji Takamiya New York PremiereJunko Ikeuchi, who rose to stardom at Shintoho for her pure, fresh-scrubbed image, was cast in Kyotaro Namiki's horror pic Vampire Bride as a sort of punishment by studio boss Mitsugu Okura. She had married against his wishes--and had to suffer the consequences when the marriage failed and she returned to Shintoho. Fujiko, a dance student with a horrific facial scar, seeks help from a sorceress in the mountains, who ultimately transforms her into a powerful monster. After undergoing a ritual that results in her temporary death, she returns to life as a fanged, hairy monster. Not long afterwards, her dance school classmates Kiyoko, a film star, and Eiko, a model, encounter Sayoko, a girl who is the spitting image of the presumed-dead Fujiko. Sayoko, it soon becomes apparent, is not a double, but the original in a new guise. But as much as Sayoko wants to live a normal, peaceful life, she cannot control the monster within her who wants payback against her tormentors.

Flesh Pier (Jotai Sanbashi) Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 pm 1958. B&W, blu-ray,75 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Yoko Mihara, Ken Utsui, Akemi Tsukushi, Teruo Hata . New York PremiereAnother world of illicit pleasures lies beneath the glittering neon surface of Tokyo. Ken Utsui stars as an undercover cop investigating a call-girl ring operating out of a Ginza nightclub, where he is surprised to discover the boss's moll is his long lost love. He also recognizes a fashion model at the club--Haruko (Akemi Tsukushi), whom he knew as a reporter when he was fighting crime in Kobe. The sharp-eyed pianist, Teruo (Teruo Hata) senses something fishy about these two--and relays his suspicions to Rumi, who has Haruko confined in Teruo's room. Ishii filmed his twisty story of evasions and betrayals, set in Japan's sex industry, in the back streets of Akasaka, Ginza and Shinjuku, in a semi-documentary style with an unblinking recognition of its sordidness, together with a winking acknowledgment of its pleasures. This double-jointed approach became his trademark.

Death Row Woman (Onna Shikeishu no Datsugoku)Sunday, March 3 at 5:00 pm1960. B&W, blu-ray, 78 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. With Miyuki Takakura, Hiroshi Hayashi, Fumiko Miyata, Yasuko Mita, Keinosuke Wada. New York PremiereArrested for the murder of her wealthy businessman father, convicted on false evidence and sentenced to death, Kyoko, the heroine of Death Row Woman, is determined to prove her innocence. With the aid of an older convict, she makes a daring escape and reunites with her fiancé. But with the police closing in, can they unmask the real killer in time? There is also a feminist subtext--Kyoko not only objects to her father's choice of husband, but also decides to have her lover's baby minus a marriage certificate. All in all, the film is closer in sensibility to the era's "woman's pictures," whose typical themes were female suffering and sacrifice, than the women-in-prison exploitation pics of the 1970s. At the same time, Death Row Woman provided the template for several of their frequent tropes, from its woman-on-woman brawls to its (mild by later standards) depictions of same-sex desire

Revenge of the Pearl Queen (Onna Shinju-o no Fukushu)Sunday, March 3 at 7:00 pm1956. B&W, blu-ray, 90 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Toshio Shimura. With Michiko Maeda, Ken Utsui, Shigeru Amachi, Saburo Sawai, Susumu Fujita, Tetsuro Tanba. New York PremiereWhen Shintoho's voluptuous new discovery Michiko Maeda undressed for Revenge of the Pearl Queen, offering the first nude scene ever in Japanese cinema history, she hit the screens with a seismic force, and a new star was born. The film's central plot is based on the true story of 19 Japanese men discovered on Anatahan, a tiny island in the Marianas Group, in 1951. Shimura's version begins with a young trading company employee, Kizaki, delivering documents to the company president in Hakone. That night the president is killed and the company safe is robbed. The next day, Kizaki sees his girlfriend, Natsuki (Maeda), and the company managing director, Asanuma (Susumu Fujita), off on a voyage to the U.S., and she ends up falling overboard to escape a would-be rapist. When we next see her, she is on a tropical beach, prostrate with exhaustion, being revived by five male castaways. Diving off the coast, Natsuki discovers enough pearls to make her fortune.

Yellow Line (Osen chitai-Yellow Line)Sunday, March 10 at 4:00 pm, Closing FilmJapan. 1960. B&W, blu-ray, 79 min. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Teruo Yoshida, Yoko Mihara, Teruko Amano, Mako Sanjo. New York PremiereA hitman (Shigeru Amachi) is betrayed by his employer. At Tokyo Station he grabs Emi (Yoko Mihara), a dancer on her way to a new job, to serve as a hostage/cover and hops a train to Kobe. Soon afterward her reporter boyfriend Mayama (Teruo Yoshida) finds Emi's shoe and suspects that she may have walked into a trap set by a Kobe-based prostitution ring. Once in Kobe, Emi scrawls a cry for help in a ¥100 note and slips it to a shoe store employee--but no one notices it until a young office worker, Yumiko (Mako Sanjo), happens to get it in her change. But then Yumiko is kidnapped. The intrepid Mayama soon gathers clues that lead him to the dangerous denizens of the Casbah, the dark sector of Kobe. In this film, more than any in his Shintoho period, Ishii was able to create his own special atmosphere, somewhere on the borderland between dream and reality, where the forbidden and unlawful thrill and threaten in equal measure.

For tickets and further details go here.

Jack Reacher (2012)

Even before Werner Herzog shows up to become one of the most delicious bad guys on film I was hooked on Jack Reacher, the latest  Tom Cruise film. To be perfectly honest I'm mixed on Cruise as a person and an actor. Yes he can be really good, great even, but his persona in the press is of a nut job so I'm really hesitant to see his films. (It also doesn't help that his recent outings such as the Mission Impossible films,  Knight & Day, Valkyrie and Rock of Ages were not all that good)

Here Cruise plays Jack Reacher, ex- military cop and trouble shooter who in an effort to be truly free has no fixed anything.  He simply drifts and collects his muster out pay via wire transfers. The character was created in a series of long running novels (which I haven't read)  and I believe this is based on the third book, One Shot. (It should be note Cruise doesn't look anything like Reacher as described in the novels, a fact that has pissed off fans of the books)

Here Reacher appears in the wake of what appears to be a sniper shooting 5 random people.  Reacher knows the suspect and wants to make sure that if the person did it he is punished. When Reacher arrives he finds the suspect in a coma and that one of the last things he asked for was for Reacher to be contacted. Of course things are not as they seem and Reacher quickly realizes that the suspect didn't do it and he, and the man's attorney have turned over a hornets nest of trouble.

Right for the role or not I loved Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. He's a straight shooting, no nonsense bad ass who is going to do the right thing even if people get hurt (and they do). He's a man of action and few words, though those words are almost always choice.  He is a perfect hero in a really good popcorn film.

For much of the film's running time the film is a super "guilty pleasure sort of a film". Its witty lines, good suspense and great action. neatly packaged together. then about two thirds of the way in the film begins to slip, careful plotting goes out the window and things stop working. Worst of all they end up wasting Werner Herzog (how the hell do you mishandle Werner Herzog?) Its not fatal, but it makes what was shaping up that what was my first real surprise of 2013 (I saw this back in early January) just a really good film.

Disappointing last third aside, I still really like the film, flaws and all. I think this is a super little big budget Hollywood action film and if I am completely truthful I really hope that there is a sequel.

Definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Penance (2012) FIlm Comment Selects

Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to filmmaking after four years with the kick in the ass five part TV drama Penance. The film was run in one block as part of this years Film Comment Selects.

The plot of the film follows the aftermath, some fifteen years after the fact, of the abduction and murder of a ten year old girl. Four of her friends saw the man responsible but the trauma of the event left them unable to say what he looked like. While still children the mother of the slain girl made them promise to either find the killer or perform some form of penance for not preventing the tragedy.

Fifteen years on the girls, now women are haunted in someway by the events and as the mother of the slain girl drifts back into their lives, they are forced to make choices about the men in their lives. The first four parts of the series are four separate but related stories of each of the girls. The final part follows the still grieving mother and dangerous path that she is forced to walk.

Taken as a whole this film is truly a kick in the ass. Its a riveting film that sustains it's almost five hour running time (and trust me no one got up to leave during the marathon screening). Its a story that plays out and builds on each part adding details and shadings as we go. It's the sort of thing that you'll want to see a second or third time when you're done with the first viewing because you're going to pick up things in later parts that affect the earlier ones.

While the film's story holds our attention  the film has two minor problems, first the first girl's story seems to go on forever. It's not bad, but the story of how the girl who lives alone and tries to keep the world away only to find herself falling into a marriage plays like it'sown unconnected movie. In all honesty you could, with minor tweeking have it play as it's own feature film. It's a great piece, but it kind of doesn't add anything to the main thrust relating to the murder 15 years earlier.

The other problem with the film is the plotting in the final part is a bit too neat. I don't want to say too much, since I've decided not to do a full on discussion of the film*, but things tie up too cleanly. What exactly I mean by that I'll leave for you to discover.

Minor flaws aside this is an incredible achievement in filmmaking and story telling.It's a film that anyone who likes shows like The Killing will want to track down. One can hope this gets some sort of US release since this demands to be seen.

*-After seeing the film I was torn between doing a review that was reasonably spoiler free or doing a full on discussion with all the plot twists and details laid out. I opted against the latter for two reasons, first almost none of you will have seen the film series so doing a full on discussion will reveal way too much before you get a chance to see it, thus clouding things when you do.  Secondly there is so much to the film that in order to really to the film justice I'd have to see it again and then tag team with Mondocurry, who was at the screening with me, because there is too much for just one person to discuss.

A purely personal aside- when I say that they ran the film in one super block I mean it. they ran the film straight through with no breaks in four hours and fourty minutes. No intermission, no opening and closing titles (which was promised) 

Sorry Film Society, but four hours and fourty minutes in the seats in the Film Center is too long to ever do again. While I completely understand why you ran it that way, the film has a killer momentum that just carries you  along and its best if you keep going,  the thought of sitting for that length of time in a seat that isn't in the Walter Reade is an unpleasant one.  I loved the film, but the experience made me sell my tickets for the two films that followed since I was too damn sore.