Sunday, March 31, 2013

Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

A dying Kung Fu master sends out his last student in order to track down what happened to the previous five students who were members of the banned Poison Clan. He is to see if they are acting for good and if not he his to stop them The master also wants the student to find another member of the clan who ran off with the clans money which the master wants used for good. The earlier students were all taught in a different style snake, centipede, scorpion, lizard, toad, while the last student was taught a little in each style. All of the students end up in one town looking for the old man with all of the money,and soon everyone is battling to get the money.

Classic martial arts film has a title that even many non-fans know. I've spoken with a couple of casual fans and this seems to be the one film, along with Five Fingers of Death, that sticks in their head. Its a very good movie, though I'm not really sure why this film stays with people when for my money there are other films that are better from the Shaw studio (One Armed Swordsman or the Brave Archer series for example).

This isn't to sell the film short, its not, since the film is structured like a mystery, our hero has no clue who anyone is and the Venoms themselves only know at best who two of the others is. We're given the identity of four but we still have to work out who the fifth really is. The film is also odd in that for a martial arts film, other than a training sequence at the start and the killing of the old man and his family for the money, there is really no action for about 40 or 45 minutes. Its a bold move to do it but it pays off since the plot and the performances hold your attention. (The film is also odd in that its the first martial arts film I think I've ever seen where there are no women. I don't think one has a speaking role and I'm pretty sure that none appear in the background. Its indicative of nothing, its just something that struck me.)

This is a good solid little film that may not live up to the reputation it has in some circles, but is still a really good film to curl up with on your couch.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tideland (2005)

The following is my IMDB review of Tideland. I tried but I  think this the best I can do.

I've seen Tideland and I'll be damned if I know how to describe it.

Probably the best thing I can say is stop reading this review and see the film. Its a unique experience, however its not one that many people are going to warm to rather they'll be upset by it. The odds are you'll probably not like it, but its at least worth trying, especially if you love film. If you want to know a little bit more keep reading, however my words, and probably no words can do the film justice. You just have to see it.

The story of Jeliza-Rose who's father takes her to his boyhood home after her mother overdoses is a pastoral trip into the bizarre. Set on the prairie, in a world like an Andrew Wyeth painting, this is the interior life of a little girl who doesn't understand the world around her, partly because of her age and partly because of the world she grows up in. Its a very bizarre trip thats part fantasy, part comedy, part horror film, part tragedy, part what ever else you can think of. Its unlike any Terry Gilliam movie and like the darker parts of them. Its the realism of Fisher King and the nightmare and flights of fantasy of Brazil mashed together.

Its not for all audiences, or even all Gilliam fans. This is a profoundly disturbing film. Its very straight forward with these tiny flashes of oddness (which get longer as things go on). In its way its possibly one of the scariest movies of the year, not just because of what we see on the screen but also because of how it echoes out to our own lives and how we see the world being just as cockeyed, we are all in our own fantasy worlds.How Jeliza-Rose sees the world is in its way the same way we all do. Its a scary thought.

Forgive me for not being more specific, this is a film that needs to hit you with out expectations and without preconceived notions, so the less you know the better it is.

I liked the film a great deal even though it made me feel really uneasy. Possibly one of the best films of the year, certainly one of the best Terry Gilliam movies, this movie demands to be seen by serious film lovers and those with an open mind.

Friday, March 29, 2013

To Live and Die in LA (1985)

I don’t know if it was this film or Michael Mann’s Manhunter (the original Hannibal Lecter film) that prompted my cousin Anthony to say that it was the last time I picked a movie. It seemed that the combination of the two William Petersen starring films within weeks (months) of each other was simply too much and he wanted to take a long bath and then perhaps, shoot himself.

To Live and Die in LA follows William Petersen’s treasury agent as he, and his new partner John Pankow, chase expert counterfeiter and artist Willem Dafoe. The battle is brutal, ugly and dwells in the dark side of human existence, a fact reinforced by Dafoe’s nihilistic outlook on life.

Actually the film is so much on the dark side that even the good guys are just as bad if not worse than the bad guys. Petersen’s “girlfriend”, played by Darlene Fluegel, is a hooker who is held in check by threats to have her thrown into jail. And just to make sure that no one isn’t covered in shit, when the film ends its revealed that the one character we could like and root for unconditionally is, in fact the biggest bastard of all.

Ain’t life grand?

This is William Friedkin operating as his gritty and grimy best. Coming right before his disappeared film Rampage (which I reviewed way back when), this is Friedkin at the height of his midcareer powers turning out small trips to the cesspool. Its a film with both flash and substance which I suspect lead to a generation or two of directors to steal from it's stylings.

What I find amusing is that the film when the film came out it wasn't highly regarded. I still don't think it is.  But it's still floating around. Its a film that many people almost 30 years on are still aware of when many other films released at about the same time are gone. I know the opinion of some, my cousin for example, has improved.

I really like this film a great deal. Its a gritty violent  look at people on the edge of society. Its a film that at times feels superficial (a complaint in some reviews from 85) but which carries a great deal of weight, to the point that it's ending is a kind of a gut punch. Its a film with enough gravitas that it's still around and still making waves.

This is a film to track down and see.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

I saw Smokey and the Bandit as part of a super bargain double feature with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By the time I had seen the film in a theater I had already seen it numerous times on cable TV. It was a different experience seeing the film on a big screen with an audience that was into it than it was sitting at home on the couch.

The film tells the story of Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed who take a bet from Pat McCormick and Paul Williams to go to Texas to get a tractor trailer of Coors beer and return in 24 or 28 hours. At the time it would be considered bootlegging since Coors couldn’t be sold east of the Mississippi. After they pick up the beer a movie long chase ensues as Sally Field is picked up and Jackie Gleason gives chase.

The height of redneck cinema of the 70’s this is a film that made Hal Needham briefly a hot director, shot Reynolds even farther into the stratosphere (as it short circuited his ability to play serious roles) and made good ol' boys briefly bankable. The film for better or worse changed the cinematic landscape as producers tried to copy it, or copy what they thought was it’s formula. As a cinematic force I’m not sure it was a particularly a good thing. Aside from producing some laughs and really putting Sally Field into the realm of being a bankable actress (something that Sybil helped  with as well) I don’t think the film gave us anything good.

Divorcing the film from its cinematic hell spawn (Stroker Ace, the other Smokey and the Bandit films, the Cannonball Run films, and Megaforce) Smokey and the Bandit is actually a pretty good film. Taking the film on it’s own terms the film is an absolute pleasure. The cinematic equivalent to kicking back with friends and having a beer.

The film works because Reynolds has rarely been as charming and Jackie Gleason is the perfect foil. While they only fleeting share the screen one can’t help but feel the antagonism between the two. Their verbal sparring is sharp and witty and damn funny, even after you’ve heard it literally 100 time before.

The film is essentially an hour plus long chase as Reynolds tries to out run Gleason. Gleason is a bigoted moron with a badge and we enjoy his deflation not so much by the Bandit, but by circumstances. Everything bad that happens to him is the result of him being too stupid not to do it. Reynolds is just the excuse  for him to reveal himself.

Sorry I'm over thinking this film

Simply put this is a great non-taxing film. Its the best film Hal Needam ever did and way better than you think it is.

Give it a shot.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Don’t Let ‘The Happy Poet’ Remain Unseen

I’ll make my plea as straightforward as possible: if you are at all into indie film, and indie comedy in particular, really, really try to see this film. It’s currently playing at the Laemmle Santa Monica in the LA area, and I’m not sure what the release plans are beyond that, but if you need to start a Tugg campaign, bug your local theater owner, or catch The Happy Poet if and when it makes a VOD bow, please just do it. You’ll thank me later.

The reason I’m so effusive? Yes, I sincerely enjoyed Paul Gordon’s film, but I also feel that it has several things possibly going against it from a first-impressions standpoint that I’d like to combat. That and the fact that I noticed it was made back in 2010 and is only now getting a release, well, it makes me feel that The Happy Poet could easily vanish into the indie woodwork, which would be a true shame. So here, counter-intuitively under the banner of my championing the film, are the warning signs that you are to ignore at all costs…

  • The title. It’s both generic and intentionally arty-sounding (I mean, poet?), which gives one pause. But try to get past that. Besides, the one scene where poetry is actually recited is priceless (that’s a testament to the comedic timing of Gordon, who also stars). 
  • The topic. Namely, the vending of organic and “mostly vegetarian” food. Yet this is not a polemic about recommended dietary and planetary patterns of consumption. Hot dogs, in fact, play a key plot point. (And in terms of a story about dealing with an unpredictable public while doling out food, the film is far superior to last year’s Free Samples.)
  • The Austin setting. The Happy Poet never tries to be trendy and hip. The setting is well-observed and used nicely, but you aren't pounded over the head with it. There's only one scene in a music club.
  • The deadpan tone. You might wonder, after the first few minutes, how long Gordon can keep up his disarmingly unvain and lowkey schtick before it gets annoying. But guess what—it never does. That’s how good the script is, and how smart Gordon is as an actor and director. Don’t expect the so-deadpan-it-clouds-all-emotion-approach of mumblecore. This is a comedy, and you’ll be chuckling from the opening scene on. Very, very little here is self-consciously ironic.
  • The “unknown” cast. In other modestly budgeted first features you'll often find a couple of standouts surrounded by, say, friends of the filmmaker or local stage actors making an ill-advised leap to the big screen. In short, the results are decidedly mixed. Not so here. Every performer—from the excellent Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek, and Liz Fisher down to those with one-line parts—are spot-on. This adds to the fun since we never know from which direction it will come.
  • The minimalism. For much of the film the soundtrack consists of a finger playing a single piano note. Sometimes that note changes. Sometimes it’s even joined by other notes. And much of the action takes place in fairly nondescript settings. None of that matters. The emotions are big, and its the characters who are colorful.

Okay, that's enough of a rave: things are starting to get unseemly. And yes, there are a couple of places near the end where the energy flags, and the dramatic resolution itself struck me as a bit extreme, but I forgave The Happy Poet these sorts of things for the smile it kept on my face for pretty much its entire runtime... a smile that regularly erupted into helpless laughter

Emperor of the North Pole (1973)

Bleak tough film stars Lee Marvin as a hobo of the old school. He is looked on with deference by many other hobos. He is annoyed by the attention of Keith Carradine, a young man just starting out in the life. When the evil Ernest Borgnine, a conductor on a freight train pushes things too far (he takes great pride in crippling or killing anyone who hitches a ride on his train), Marvin decides to take him on.

Good movie about life on the road turns great in the final hour or so as Marvin and Borgnine go after each other in one of the most brutal confrontations ever put on film. While not gory or overly bloody the sequence is so intense that it is all you’ll remember from the film. There is something about the two old pros going after each other more or less hand to hand that has a gravitas that most other films can never hope to match.

The problem with the film is that the last part of the film is so good that I find I have no real memory of what leads up to it. Actually the real problem is that the final part of the film is so good that I don’t really pay attention during the first half of the film when it’s on. When the film plays on TV I will click in and out on it for the first half of the film waiting for Marvin to head out for the train ride and then I switch over to watch that.

Yes I know this is the wrong way to watch a film, but at the same time to me that IS the film...and it's one of the finest action set pieces ever put on film.

Definitely a film you want to keep an eye out for. I know it still gets regular play on cable and elsewhere and it's absolutely worth putting on your must see list.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Imitation General (1958)

The Imitation General used to be in heavy rotation on cable many years ago before Turner Classics was the outlet for oldies. This was way back when stations like Cinemax, The Movie Channel and others actually ran a wide array of films including oldies. It was a film that my brother and I would watch every time it came on.

The plot of the film has Glen Ford in full comedic mode as a Sargent trapped behind enemy lines with Red Buttons and a general. When the general is killed at a pivotal moment in the battle Ford, realizing that the death of the general will cause panic, steps in and pretends to be the general. What follows is a comedic battle as Ford must shift identities depending upon his situation so that the guys who know who he is won't rat him out.

Amusing as the best of Hollywood comedies can be, this is a film I really like a great deal. There is this wonderful non-taxing nature of the film that makes it the perfect film to just sit and relax to. Its one of those big budget comedies with big stars that was just trying to be funny and nothing else. It's an attitude that Hollywood would soon begin to lose with the death of JFK, the Vietnam War and the influx of a new generation of serious minded European directors.

Helping to sell the plot is the great cast headed by the wonderful Ford, who is in full on flustered mode. Here's a guy who is simply trying to get himself and his men out of a bad situation but he has to juggle identities and a budding romance. Red Buttons is a blast as Ford's right hand man. Buttons is essentially playing his patented second banana role and he nails it perfectly. The rest of the cast including love interest Taina Elg, a pre-Disney Dean Jones,  and Tige Andrews sell their roles extremely well.

Is it high art, no, but it's damn entertaining.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Putting The Act of Killing: The Director's Cut (2012) on to your radar New Directors New Films 2013

Joshua Oppenheimer's look at the men who committed genocide in Indonesia is a kick in the ass. The audience during Sunday's screening were literally covering their eyes and holding their hands in front of their faces near the end. It's not that there was anything graphic at that moment it's just that there was an emotional gut punch which I think surprised some people.

The film was started by Oppenheimer as a means of recording the stories of the the survivors of the mass killings inflicted on the Communists and undesirables by the rulers of the country. Contrary to most tales of genocide this one was celebrated by the killers. When Oppenheimer found he couldn't film the survivors it was suggested that he film the killers- which he did and then things got weird as he begins to make a family film about mass killing (with musical numbers) with some of them. (yes it gets very strange at times)

An examination of the nature of "evil", the film really looks at how the people who do these bad things are really the same as you and me, they only tell themselves different stories so they can live with the darkness. In looking at these ordinary men Oppenheimer shines a light on how these terrible things keep happening. While it is specifically about what happened in Northern Sumatra, the implications for the rest of the world are apparent (Oppenheimer related how he was filming one man who told stories and posed in a manner similar to the photos that came out of Abu Ghraib)

I'm going to do a fuller review closer to the theatrical release (I want to see the theatrical cut and I want to try and talk to the director), but for now I want to get the film onto your radar. This is a film that really must be seen since you'll find yourself talking about it for hours and days afterward.

To be honest I'm not sure what I think of the film, but it's certainly one of the most important films of the year.

Broadway Melody (1929)

This won the Oscar for Best Picture? Really?

Okay yes the pickings that year, at least asfar as the nominees were concerned was slim, but Best Picture?

All kidding aside the film isn't a bad one, it's just not one of the best.

I recently, finally, saw the film when I was given the Best of Warners 20 film box of musicals to review. I had never seen the film and was intrigued at the prospect. I was also kind of intrigued in how I over the years I completely missed the film. After seeing the film I was kind of content to just scribble notes to that effect for the review until I started to talk about the box set and the film and I began to realize that pretty much no one I knew had any memory of seeing the film. Some people said that maybe perhaps they might have seen it, but they weren't sure... I was then sure I had to write the film up for Unseen.

The plot of the film has Hank and Queenie Mahoney coming to New York to be in the new production by Francis Zanfield. Hank (who I assure you is a woman) is the girlfriend of Eddie Kerns who is a performer in the show. Eddie is bringing the girls to NYC so that they can be in the show and so that he and Hank can finally marry. Complications arise when almost instantly Eddie falls for Queenie, the younger girl and whom he hasn't seen since she was small. Will the couple find true love and will the girls remain in the show despite efforts to get them removed?

Old time musical with a few musical numbers (several of which involve the title tune),  some witty pre-code dialog and situations (we see the girls in their undies several times) and a number of genuine laughs Broadway Melody is an amusing romp of the sort they don't make any more. I mean that in a good way and a bad way.I mean it good in that it's the sort of fun film we think of coming from Hollywood. I mean it in a bad way in that the technical limitations of sound limit some of the camera movements and restrict the set ups. The film feels creaky.

And yet the film is rather refreshingly adult. There are imlications of things going on between adults, Some of the backers are wolves looking to score, there is largely unvieled talk of homosexuality and general bad behavior. I know the enforcement of the Production Code a few years later would put a stop to this, but for now, for this film you actually get show business people who behave like show business people.

For me the interesting thing was seeing how the musical form began to shift toward the big production numbers. Where say the Jazz Singer had songs in context of the real world, here was a film that had that, but also began to shift toward fantasy numbers. Yes the numbers are from the Broadway show they are putting on, but they kind of aren't since two of them are only seen as such in retrospect.

I like the film. And  while I'm still trying to get my head around it being a Best Picture, I'm also trying to get my head around it not being a film that many people have seen, history aside this is an amusing little gem. Do yourself a favor and track this bad boy down and see it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nightcap 3/24/13 Odds & ends and clearing the board

This will probably be one of the last Nightcaps for a while. The madness of Tribeca is about to start (They show so many movies that press screenings run for three weeks before) plus I have to hunker down and do my taxes, plus there are other festivals, plus plus... I have things programed into July  so things will just waltz on here as before. :

First order of business is to speak about some film I've seen over the last few months that I've been considering doing something with.

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D- Easily one of the worst films of the year. I dumbing down of the original film that's full of WTF moments. I was going to include it in the Thanksgiving Turkey series but I can't say much beyond it sucks.

Not quite as bad was A HAUNTED HOUSE a Wayans Brothers send up of the Paranormal Activity films. Its a 15 minute idea stretched past the breaking point and pitched into the sewer.

PARENTAL GUIDENCE has Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents who are watching their grand kids for a week or so... been there and done that sit-com.

LONELIEST PLANET played the NYFF in 2011 and split critics. some found the story of a couple on a pack packing trip a brilliant revelation about relationships. Others called it incredibly dull. I call it one of the dullest films ever made. Nothing much happens and when it does it's less than earth shattering (hell I was way ahead of everyone in it)

HELLGATE is weak horror film with Carey Elwes about a man who's family is killed in a car wreck and who ends up crossing over the line between worlds. Despite some good ideas and some great imagery the film never comes together.

INESCAPABLE has been described as Taken lite. It is like Taken without the action but much less compelling.

The next three were going to be the focus of a piece pondering if  okay bland films are actually worse than bad movies.

GANGSTER SQUAD- Great action is the only reason to see a flat footed film about trying to take down Mickey Cohen. The non-action scenes are just dress up sequences with the actors posing. This isn't a film, it's a tableau of sorts.

PARKER- is an okay film but is so badly paced by Taylor Hackford (who should have done better) it drains all of the excitement out. Parker is ultimately the original version of Jason Statham's Transporter character, but here it just falls flat. I don't hate the film, it just should have been better.

BROKEN CITY- Good but strangely dull film has Mayor Russel Crowe hiring PI Mark Wahlberg (whom Crowe screwed over 7 years earlier) to get the goods on his wife. The trouble is nothing is what it seems, but we know that and the film which goes through the paces of this sort of movie expertly never makes us care. The high point is Jeffrey Wright as the Police Commissioner who proves handily that he's one of the most under appreciated actors ever anywhere.

Surprising I liked PLAYING FOR KEEPS with Gerard Butler as a soccer player dad who hopes to bond with his son and there by win back the boys mother. Sure it goes in some expected directions, but at the same time it does take some different roads and turned out to be damn enjoyable.

While sick with a stomach virus I finally watched the Steve Reeves Sandokan films that Sinister Cinema released a while back. I had them in the pile for ages and figured I needed something "light" to get through a tough time. The films were based on a series of novels written in the later 19th and early 20th century by Emilio Salgari about a pirate turned folk hero.

SANDOKAN THE TIGER OF MOMPRECEM (aka SANDOKAN THE GREAT) (1963) has Sandokan the son of a deposed ruler fighting the evil British who killed his family and took control of the country. Along the way he ends up falling for the niece of the commander of the British outpost. A weird mix of of genres, jungle, colonial,romance and a few others the film is a tad slow, but ends with one hell of a shoot out in the British out post. As silly as it it rousing (just watch how easily people die), it's an amusing film.

SANDOKAN PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (aka PIRATES OF MALAYSIA) (1964) Sandokan finds a man floating in a life boat. He tells the story of the over throw of Raj by the British.  This sets Sandokan off to restore the Raj  to the throne. More action packed film is a tad less silly than the first film,but is best viewed as one where your mind is left at the door.

SANDOKAN STRIKES BACK (1964) Ray Danton takes over for Reeves in an action packed film that has Sandokan finding out he is the rightful ruler of Malaysia and taking steps to get his kingdom back. Danton is an impressive man of action, but he plays things way too seriously. Another turn your brain off film that in the right frame of mind is pretty good.

And now two links via Randi---

Today would have been Ub Iwerks 112th Birthday. Ub was the hand behind the mouse, being a co-creator of some guy named Mickey. He was also the man who figured out how to make Disney's magic real. Someone has posted the truly great documentary, The Man Behind the Mouse on line- and if you click the title you'll be able to see it.
Negative notes to Ridley Scott about Bladerunner. (But didn't exec's want the voice over?)

The random titles continue this week and perhaps a surpsise or two is I can pull them together

The Woodsman (2004)

If you don't want to or can't see a pedophile as anything other than a monster don't bother. Also don't bother if you can't deal with very frank discussions of various sex acts. If you can get past the subject this is a movie that will knock your socks off.

Kevin Bacon is excellent as a man just out of prison who is trying to find a life in the real world, a world that hates him and the crime he committed. Bacon shows us the total conflict that is going on inside a man who did somethings and now is trying to put them behind him, while struggling with temptations anew. For the most part the script is free of a clichéd feeling, though there are a few bumps in the story that seems a tad contrived, as if they wanted to cover every possibility. But the flaws are minor thanks to a cast that is uniformly excellent from top to bottom.

Kudos to everyone involved.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Russia House (1990)

An ex-girlfriend of mine hated the Russia House. To her it was a needlessly complicated film. The opening of the film which shows us events before backing up and then starting over from before we came in and then following onward through what we’ve seen top the end annoyed her. Then again I never could figure out why she loved films and hated others since the love hate relationship was arbitrary.

Anyway I’m digressing and it’s not time to consider failed romances.

Russia House is the story of Barley Blair (Sean Connery), a down on his luck book publisher who is contacted by a Soviet scientist who wants certain information to the west. Barley is recruited by British intelligence to do the job, but complications arrive in the form of a down on her luck mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is acting as the go between Barley and the scientist.

One of my favorite John LeCarre tales is given a sterling film adaption, which while not note perfect in recreating the book on screen (the end is more hopeful than the novel) is a reasonable reflection of it.

For me one of the keys to adapting a book as film is that at some point you have to be able to disengage fans of the book in favor of the current work of art. You can’t be so married to the original that it doesn’t work cinematically. At the same time you need to be able to do things the original couldn’t, such as live on screen. Russia House lives on screen thanks to the two stars. Connery and Pfeiffer are extraordinary and the sense of damaged lives possibly finding love that is created by them sends the film over the top. Yes the physical landscape of “Russia” helps a great deal, but at the same time we wouldn’t buy anything that happens if we didn’t like the main characters and give ourselves over to them. We, I, buy what happens because we buy the performances.

To me this is a great romantic thriller.  It's also a highly intelligent film that is light years beyond the similar stuff Hollywood throws at us. There is weight to the emotions and danger in everyone's action.  This is simply a great great film that has been sadly overlooked.

Search this one out

Friday, March 22, 2013

Color of the Chamelon (2012) New Directors New FIims 2013

After the accidental death of his father in the printing press...

Damn near impossible to describe film has a young man recruited by the Bulgarian secret police to spy on people at his school. When the police decide they don’t want his help he continues to do so anyway creating his own bureau… (I'd say more but it's best you discover the twists and turns on you're own)

To say that the film is weird is an understatement. This is an off kilter walk through a fun house hall of mirrors. Nothing and no one is normal, but they are all so compelling that you simply have to keep watching no matter where it goes.

Adapted by Vladislav Todorov from his own novel this film plays exactly like a work of literature taking its time to twist and turn all over the place. No one it seems is on the level and no one is playing anything straight. There is no one anyone can trust except themselves. It’s also so twisted that ten minutes in I gave up trying to figure anything out or what it meant and just let it wash over me.

You're bookish you're thoughts are borrowed...

As to how close this is what it was like in Bulgaria before the fall of communism your guess is as good as mine, but it’s clear the society was designed by his holiness Franz Kafka with an assist by George Orwell. And while I’m very aware of how absolutely cliché that sounds there is no other way to simply explain what it’s like. Saying the film is weird won’t cut it, you’ll want to know weird how. It’s weird like Kafka but only nine or ten degrees weirder.

The film stays the course of compellingly strangeness for most of its running time before going off the rails about 90 minutes in. There is a point where the film jumps ahead two years to after the fall of communism. At this point the film seems to have morphed into another film all together. We don’t fully know how we got from there to here and the result is jarring. The result is the kind of like getting on a train heading toward Boston and then suddenly finding you’re pulling into Chicago. You’ve made the trip safely and pleasantly but you don’t know how you got there.

I really like it a great deal. It’s so unique and out there it’s impossible to be a lover of the offbeat and weird and not love it. It’s a film that forcibly engages you until it’s very last moment which makes it thrilling.

For me the real joy of the film was listening to my fellow reviewers trying to make sense of the film after the screening. No one could get a handle on the film. No one could make heads or tails of it. One person complained about the ending, some people babbled about the whole thing. Most dismissed it because it didn’t fit their idea of what a film should be. One gentleman went around sing songing about how bad a film it was (and yet I could tell during the film he was laughing at many of the jokes). Any film that confuses and confounds a theater full of critics this badly has to be great.

If you want a film that will challenge you, frustrate, amuse and engage you see this film. I doubt you’ll see another film like it this or any other year.

No one can tell you how to live in happiness...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Emperor Visits Hell (2013) New Directors New Films 2013

This doesn’t resemble a film, so much as a test film for a larger project. Actually what it looks like is a version of a film I submitted in college that almost kept me from getting my BA, but that is another story. It's actually the first time that I ever fell asleep in a festival or press screening (and fell asleep I did, several times during the course of the film)

The film is based on 3 chapters (9,10 and 11) from the Journey to the West in which the whole larger story is set in motion. Here the Emperor is approached by the Dragon King who wants his help in keeping his head with a matter in the heavenly court. The Emperor fails and the Dragon King loses his head. He then haunts the Emperor who dies and goes to hell.

A modern dress minimalist version of the story where some of the story is told via photos and text, this is 15 minutes of screen material padded with an hour of static shots and non-performances. Do we need to watch the calligraphy being done silently for five minutes? No do we need the long ride in the country at night? No. Do we need the news footage of the flood?No. Do they translate any of the on screen calligraphy and text? no.

There is a film here, just not a 70 minute one. I mean the film does work in bits and pieces, the modern dress is a cool idea and the dead pan humor is often very funny, but almost nothing happens.

One of the things I wrote in my notes was the line: This is the sort of film that could set back interest in Chinese films for decades. While it’s not that bad, it is the sort of independent film (from anywhere) that could set back interest in independent film for decades.

Avoid this one

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BLOODY FIGHT IN IRON ROCK VALLEY is the next free movie at the Korean Cultural Service Free Screening

One of the best films of 2012 is playing for Free Tuesday night in Tribeca. Yes Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley is playing as part of the Korean Cultural Service free series and it’s an absolute must see. Easily one of the best westerns of the last 25 years (yes I know the film is set in modern day Korea) this is a film that you’ll want to schlep down to Tribeca to see.

How good is it?

Mondocurry and myself  posted pieces on it which can be found here(mondo)  and here (me). Anyone we know who has seen the film has been blown away by it.

Mondocurry also interviewed the director.

Go see this film.

As always doors at 630, movie at 7

Blue Caprice (2012) New Directors New Films 2013

Based on the Beltway shootings this film follows a young man named Lee who is meet father on the run John in Antigua. John brings Lee to the US. John in showing Lee some attention is the father Lee never knew (John actually literally saves Lee from drowning). As a result Lee willingly follows his father as he spirals down the dark path toward serial murder.

Positing that we can never know or understand why even if we are told the reasons (Lee says as much in one of his very few lines of dialog at the end) the film simply shows the two men wandering around , at first doing nothing but fuming about past wrongs and how women are no good (well John fumes, Lee remains deadly silent throughout-he says almost nothing for the entire film) before they take their act on the road.

This is a good looking film that has some good performances and little else. Confusing silence for deep meanings this is film where nothing much really happens but the director wants you to think it does. Any and all emotion is driven by the over bearing score which tells you exactly what you are supposed to feel. As I’ve said our main character never says a word and remains a complete cypher. John simply talks about all that is wrong with the world. These aren’t characters they are voids. This may be the intention but it makes for far from compelling filmmaking. It’s all one note.  Frankly if the film wasn’t so good technically, thus allowing it to seem better and more important than it is, this film would never have been noticed by anyone. Personally I don’t know why New Directors noticed it because not only isn’t it all that remarkable, and far from deserving of the opening film slot.

I’d take a pass

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Last Friday I spent most of the day sitting in the darkness watching Pam Grier kick ass and take names in three of her classic action films from the 1970's.  How strange it was to be sitting in Lincoln Center watching films that four decades earlier would have been playing 23 blocks south on 42nd Street. I doubt very highly that back in 1973 that either Pam Grier thought she's be honored with a retrospective of her work, nor would Lincoln Center have imagined it would have been holding one.

Eddie Romero directed women in prison film is, as is often said, a female version of the Defiant Ones set in the jungle. the plot has white revolutionary revolutionary Karen Brent chained to black gangster's girl Lee Daniels in a jungle prison. Brent needs to get out so she can get her friends some guns, while Daniels needs to get out to get the money she stole from her "boyfriend" so she can leave the country. When an attempt to break the pair out goes wrong, the girls do get away but they are chained together with police the police and the bad guys after them.

Sleazy grindhouse fair plays more like it was an early film in the jungle prison film cycle rather than the last one (at least as far as Grier was concerned). An ever escalating film that goes from prison film, to escape drama to road comedy (the girls end up dressed as nuns), to buddy film, to straight on action film with a teary ending. Its a low budget B movie that gives it's audience exactly what it came for, T&A and lots of violence.

I had a blast, and as with all of the films reviewed here, it was a very different experience seeing them projected on a BIG screen as opposed to seeing them on TV. It's also very different seeing the films with an audience who was really there for the films and willing to go along with the films flaws.

The film which gave the Lincoln Center series its name, has Grier as Foxy looking to get revenge on Miss Katherine and Steve after they kill her boyfriend a government agent who had tried and failed to bring the pair down (they bribed the grand jury).

Solid grindhouse action film is best taken on it's own terms. Yes, I love the film, but the film is so silly at times, it drifts into camp (Katherine's lustful glances), that it's clear that everyone was in on the joke.  Silliness or not the film is a violent sexy film where Grier asserts herself as a no nonsense, take no prisoners kind of woman. Its a performance and a role that very much helped put Grier into the pantheon of iconic actresses. (Think about it, if Grier had walked away from acting after her run of 1970's exploitation films we'd still be talking about her today simply because she changed how women were perceived)

Its a minor classic.

Pam Grier and Sid Haig, perfect together...

Let me try and explain this simply- an actress (Anitra Ford) is tossed in prison after being carried off by revolutionaries Sid Haig and Pam Grier. While in prison Ford suffers torture and humiliation while trying to talk her way out. Meanwhile figuring the best way to spread the revolution would be to get some women involved, Sid and Pam set in motion to break out the prisoners. While the warden goes crazy an escape is planned.

This is a silly film.  It starts over the top and just keeps going with weird twist upon sleazy twist upon WTF were they thinking twist. It's violent and "sexy" (well it has naked chicks) and just aims for the lowest common denominator...and yet it some how manages to rise above it all and turn into something gloriously loopy.

Seeing the film projected for the first time (They used Jack Hill's personal print which is a longer than release version) was a blast. This was the film where I first noticed Pam Grier (I'm guessing it was a re-release which promoted her being in it) so it was nice to finally get to see the movie my parents wouldn't let me see in the movies in the movies (I have seen the film several times on TV, cable and DVD).

Its a minor classic film that rightly helped Grier become the person she is today.

After the film Pam Grier came out and did a brief Q&A. It was supposed to be longer but they didn't take into account the longer running time. Chocko recorded it and part one is here and part two is here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pam Grier at Lincoln Center in image and video

In lieu of a review, today I thought I'd just post some pictures of Pam Grier at Lincoln Center. The first pictures are from the Q&A that followed The Big Bird Cage. The full  Q&A was shot by Chocko and can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2 (You can't get better since he was sitting right in front Ms Grier)

Chocko went to several of the screenings which I did not attend and recorded their Q&A's. Here is the one for Greased Lightning which was moderated by John Wildman who is head of PR for the Film Society. John worked with Ms Grier during the Jackie Brown press tour and knows what questions to ask.... Part One is here and Part Two is here

Lastly a few pictures from the Conversation with Pam Grier that was held yesterday at Lincoln Center. No one was allowed to record the talk but photos were allowed.(I was told the talk would be available for viewing soon). To say that the talk was a blast is an understatement. Ms Grier spoke the entire time about auditioning for Fort Apache The Bronx, how she got started, put a horse in a Jag, and Fellini & fried chicken. It was only an hour but she could have gone on, and we in the audience would have listened, for many more. (Apologies if the picture quality isn't great, my camera did not like the lighting in the amphitheater at all which is why there aren't more pictures.)

Waiting for Ms Grier to arrive

Lady takes the stage

Staggering to the Fort Apache audition
Hey it was a long way from the hotel to the theater...

Thanks to Chocko for the video, MrC for reminding me what was mentioned and Mondocurry for not killing me at breakfast so I could make the talk yesterday afternoon. (And thanks to Mondo's I-Pod for one hell of a game of hide and seek)

Reviews will return tomorrow with a look at the Pam Grier Grindhouse Triple Feature that started off the whole series.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Peter Greenaway asks is cinema dead? (A nightcap work in progress)

Peter Greenaway
 This is a piece I've been sitting on for a while. It's not a fully formed piece rather its a series of comments made in reaction to a recorded lecture by Peter Greenaway. I've been trying to bang it into a proper essay but I can't get it to work. I'm tired of looking at it so I'm now going to turn it loose and let you ponder it. I may revisit it since I was recently given another Greenaway lecture given  about the same time but twice as long and it may inspire me to run by this material again.

The photos are courtesy of Lou Macaluso and were taken at the Park Avenue Armory when Greenaway's Last Supper was there in December 2010.

In a speech given in Australia not long before the release of Nightwatching Peter Greenaway rails on about the death of cinema. It’s a claim, that he himself will freely admit is a contradiction since he himself is , amongst other things, a filmmaker. The lecture, given at the Perth Documentary Film Conference, was given to me as a bonus disc with a new copy of the Tulse Luper Suitcase films. It’s one of the earliest statements I’ve seen on video of Greenaway’s battle cry of cinema being dead.

I’m not so sure that cinema is dead. To be certain the way we see film is changing. We are going to fewer movies, we are watching more at home, but don’t think anything is dead.

I think Greenaway’s problem is a matter of semantics.

What exactly does he think cinema is? Is he talking about the typical film simple narrative projected on a wall?

As a narrative form it’s something that is constantly evolving. How we see films is forever changing and evolving. We have trans-media which Lincoln Center is constantly exploring with its multi-platform conferences and screenings.

Is the projection of images dead? No.

Greenaway complains how we see a film must change. Change the screen, change the venue, change way the image is delivered. Having seen what he has done to change this I agree. He makes some truly spectacular presentations, but they are highly impractical for anything but a communal or experience outside of the home.

I think Greenaway is arguing that how we experience film outside of the home has to change. However at the same time he has to realize that what he is doing in the museums and armories and other locations will never ever translate except to those singular spaces.


Greenaway talks of the Luper films being cut up and jumbled and all projected at the same time as a sort of VJ experience. Strip away the soundtrack and just use music. While I like the idea of image and music what then becomes the purpose of a narrative film?

His cries of doing away with text are contradiction since any sort of film – short of just shooting random images –are tied to text. Greenaway’s own work are filled with text not only in the dialog and script but within the images which brims with words over images.

Cries of doing away with text are the cries of a painter (Greenaway was trained as one) since painting like most art form as are the creative representation of emotion and ideas.

Yours  truly (left) watches the Last Supper come to life ala Greenaway

Cinema dead?

Not really.

The narrative form is despite Greenaway’s dislike of it is thriving.

His arguments that the screen as we know it is dead may very well be- but the real problem is that the in order to tell stories visually to the masses you have to have some standardizations. Yes you can blow it apart but mostly you need something standard so that the stories and experiences can travel as they must- you want to reach as many people as possible and not just a chosen few.

The ability to display images in a variety of different manner has been around as long as films. Yes with the increase of TV and technology the size and shapes have changed, but Greenaway has to face the same problems that avante garde and art filmmakers have faced over the last 100 or so years- the shifting image sizes and shapes will limit what you are doing- making things too radical will kill the art form not  faster than the limitations of standardization ever will...
Peter Greenaway meets his public (That's my balding head center)