Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Europa Report (2013)

Put this film on my list as one of the big finds of 2013.

I need to begin by saying that this film is not a horror film or monster on the lose film. I say that at the start because the initial trailer I saw for the film made me think this was going to be some grand horror film or science fiction space opera instead of what it is a truly amazing science fiction (with a strong emphasis on SCIENCE) film about a manned trip to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Told in a found footage style that mixes footage from the trip to the distant planet with news footage of the launch on earth plus interview segments of the administrators and ground crew on earth, the film chronicles what happens when we send our first mission out past the moon. It’s a tense compelling story full of suspense thanks to a never ending series of real complications. Things go wrong. Potential disastrous decisions have to be made as the crew ends up isolated (their communications with earth goes down) millions of miles away from home with no hope of rescue. It all plays like the real deal, which is no doubt due to the involvement of NASA who were consulted in pre-production regarding ship design and other matters and who’s photo and visual archives were used to create the look of the film.

Don’t kid yourself the film is incredibly tense. We know at the start that something went wrong, we know that events occurred that no one expected and that the film is a kind of TV news report or special chronicling what happened when we went to Europa. The fact we know it all went sideways keeps us on edge, as does the initial out of order telling which infers that at least some of the crew die. The question is who and how. It also raises the question does anyone get back?

All the questions are answered, though not as you might expect.

The film has a great look to it. The ship feels like a roomier version of the space station but considering that the astronauts are to be in the space for a several years it’s understandable. The film largely matches the types of footage you see from NASA and thanks to some great performances you really believe that this is footage from the ill-fated mission. To me the film looks like something I could see on my TV.

I’m curious how this will play on a big movie screen. I got this on VOD on cable in advance of its theatrical release and it impressed the hell out of me. I suspect that the fact that the film is supposed to be “TV” footage was helped by the fact that I was seeing it on a big screen TV, the conceit of the film being helped along by the location of my viewing.

I loved this movie. Its an intelligent look at what actually happen. It doesn’t talk down to the audience, it doesn’t dumb it down or make it any more spectacular than it actually might be. It simply shows us what might happen when real people and not movie characters go to the stars.

I would be tempted to say that this could be one of the best science fiction films ever made but I need to see the film again. I need to see it for what it is and not as something that blew me away because it confounded my expectations. I will say, that for this lifelong space nut it’s a great film, but for now I’ll leave the hyperbole beyond that to see how time and tide treat the film.

This is a grand true life adventure of the sort we might have one day- see it.

In Brief: Good and Bad films at the Fantasia Film Festival (RITUAL:A PSYCHOMAGIC STORY and KEY OF LIFE)

Wading through the films at a film festival sometimes films don't make much of an impression, sometimes they do but fall by the wayside and sometimes you find that you just don't have a whole hell of a lot to say.  The pair of films I'm going to briefly mention here kind of fell by the wayside and in one case (RITUAL) I don't have a great deal to say. I seriously considered not reviewing the films  and simply moving on to other films but I feel that Unseen Films is a kind of place of record so I want at least say something so there is a record.

KEY OF LIFE from Kenji Uchida deserved a hell of a lot more than I could give it. A wonderful mix of genres (romance,black comedy, gangster, amnesia...) the film follows what happens when a loser goes to a bath house after failing yet again to kill himself. Through circumstances he switches locker keys with the hit man who has slipped on a bar of soap he accidentally dropped and has ended up in the hospital... Wonderfully not what you expect even when you expect something that isn't what you expect.

I saw this film late at night and was much too tired to fully accept the joys of the film. Watching the film I was having a a really good time but at the same time I was well aware that if it wasn't as late as it was I would have enjoyed the film sooo much more than I did... I wasn't going to review the film because I didn't think I could give the film a fair shake but the the next morning I found I was trying to find the film on DVD because I had the over riding desire to see it again with friends.  In my book that's a high recommendation.  The film has finished it's run at Fantasia but I'm hopeful it will be available to anyone who is reading this soon.

RITUAL:A PSYCHOMAGIC STORY is a good looking pile artistic pretention. A 90 minute TV commercial like film it hits every god damn pretentious mark with a fervor that makes me wonder if the directors were putting one over on their audience.

The story of Lia who is in a bad marriage with Viktor who controls her every move. She mentally breaks when he demands she have an abortion to the point eventually ends up in the village where her aunt lives. Its a mystical film with its own logic.

Actually it's just a mess as sequence after sequence made me think I was watching either a perfume or margarine commercial (say what you will the film looks great). I can't tell you how many times I was babbling "Really? Really?" out loud. Billed in the Fantasia summary as a precursor to the return of Alejandro Jodorowsky's own film later in the year because the director is in the film and the film is based in part on some of his psychomagic musings,  the film is a pale shadow of what Jodorowsky would have done with the material.

This is a a perfect example of what is wrong with art film and what happens when people try and ape the style and musings of a director greater than themselves.

One of the least necessary and most disposable films of the year.

In Search of Dracula

The sad thing is that with Christopher Lee narrating and the title sounding like the long running TV show most people seem to have dismissed In Search of Dracula as a dumb little horror film. The reality is that this is an amazing look at Dracula, Vlad Tepes, vampires and verious other legends. Yes the film came out at a time when Sun Classic films like In Search of Noah’s Ark and Beyond and Back were filling theaters, but this was and is so much better than those films- hell I have a shortened version that ran on PBS.

Okay yes this film has Lee traipsing around both Vlad The Impaler and as Dracula in recreation segments that speak of what might have been a stunning horror film had they gone that way, but the real meat of this documentary is a look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it’s roots in myth and legend.

The reason the film works is that the cinematography coupled with Christopher Lee’s serious reading of the narration gives everything a weight that most modern takes on the subject don’t have. Watch this film and then take a look at something similar on the History and it’s bright and airy and kind of vapid. Here it all plays real…and as I inferred at the top the film also plays like a horror film. To me that’s one of the great selling points of the film, that it gets under your skin and makes you wonder what is lurking in the shadows just out of sight.

Can you tell that I really like the film?

Track this bad boy down.

The film was recently released by Alpha home video on DVDR which is a reissue of the old Image edition.- it’s worth the five or so bucks it costs.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Complex at Fantasia Film Festival

For those at Fantasia who haven’t seen Mondocurry has reworked his earlier piece here about the Complex into a full review over at his Violent Eye Report. You can find it here.

Murder by Decree (1979)

The point at which I stopped absolutely loving the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes and went to only liking them was about fifteen minutes into this film. Somewhere in the first fifteen or so minutes of this film (perhaps the peas scene or perhaps the theater scene) when I understood why the Rathbone films are just good films and not great ones., basically over the course of the 14 Rathbone films you never understood why Homes and Watson were friends. If Watson was as big an idiot as he seems in the old movies Holmes would have tossed him out the window. Here in Murder by Decree Holmes and Watson are friends, real friends who take great joy in each other’s company.

Yes Murder by Decree is one of my top five, probably my top two or three Sherlock Holmes films of all time. Yes the mystery, concerning Holmes hunting Jack the Ripper is a good one, yes the cast is great but what makes the film work, even as the mystery occasionally stumbles is the relationship between the two friends. Was there ever a more likable homes and Watson than Christopher Plummer and James Mason? I don’t think so. To me the pair is better than even the one in the Jeremy Brett series since there is more laughter and more comradery between the pair, Holmes laughing at Watson’s displeasure at squooshed peas for example or smiling and saying “well done” when Watson turns anti-royalty sentiment into a cheer.

The plot has Holmes wading into the Ripper murders and finding not a simple mad man but a far reaching scandal involving the Royal family is a good one. It takes all of the theories concerning the killings and weaves them into something that actually works from start to finish. Other films such as Study in Terror, while good, never quite managed to weave reality and fantasy together as well as this film does. Actually this film kind of echoes not so much another Sherlock Homes film but the Hudlin Brother’s adaption of Eddie Campbell’s From Hell. While the stories are both Ripper related and they do vary from one another, they do seem to echo each other in the feeling, sense of place and focus on details.

To me this is one of those curl up on the couch films that makes a rainy night so much more bearable.

Track this one down.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The overly intellectual OXV:THE MANUAL (2013) Fantasia Film Festival 2013 (Released to theaters and on VOD as FREQUENCIES in 2014)

They didn't have me at hello and they lost me when I found out that many of the characters were named for geniuses (Tesla, Einstein, Curie).

Emotionally distant, overly clever "scientific-philosophical romance" concerns Zac a young man with a low frequency who is trying to find a way to make his better so he can be happy and find romance.

Did you ever know a super genius, the kind of guy or girl who could do everything flawlessly but was so walled up and stuck in their head that you had a hard time connecting to them on an emotional level? Did you ever wonder what sort of film they would make? Well look no farther because here it is.

Imagine a flawlessly made film where all of the "emotion" is in the head. Imagine a film where you can relate to everyone in the film intellectually but not emotionally; a film where you can be thrilled that people are having intelligent (if pseudo-scientific) conversations; and then remove pretty much any notion of emotion from the film.

This is a cheese ball romance that an egg head might have made.

Don't get me wrong this isn't a bad movie, it's not everything about it is first rate, the problem is it's so distant that I didn't so much feel like I was outside looking in, I felt like I was down the block in another theater watching SMURFS 2.

Intellectually I'd like to explore the films themes again, but emotionally I'd rather just stare at a wall.

Thank you Fantasia for bringing this attempt at the next pseudo-intellectual science fiction film to light, but next time I'll pass.

The haunting poem of ACROSS THE RIVER (2013) Fantasia FIlm Festival 2013

More tone poem than straight forward horror film ACROSS THE RIVER is a horror film with pretensions that manages to live up to them and generate genuine fright and a haunting sense of unease.

Nominally the story of a biologist setting camera traps and tracking wild animals in the forest, the story expands to include an old man remembering the past and a team of rescuers looking... I won't reveal how they all relate  I'll only say that I felt really uneasy when the story was done.

Paced with a style that many would call slow and with a very deliberate way of going about thing ACROSS THE RIVER is something we see very rarely these days a horror film of lyric almost literary quality. This is a film that works on you head as well as your emotions to create something special. This is a film of mood and emotion not grossness and gore.

Words kind of fail me. I simply can't adequately describe what this film is-poem? meditation? dream? memory?

I want you to rush out and see this when the film plays tomorrow at Fantasia because this is a film that will benefit from being seen on a big screen in the dark where there are no distractions (Honestly if I were able to be in Montreal tomorrow I would be at the screening). And as much as I do want you to see it I want you to take it on it's own terms. Know going in that the film is slow (its slowness is the films one flaw) but also understand that the pacing is such that its there to bring you into the story. We are being told the story this way because it will give us a better sense of being there.

I really like the film a great deal. An while on some level I may admire it more than I like it, I still found it haunted me well after I finished viewing it.

Go see this one.

I'm The Law and Johnny Midnight TV series

A couple weeks ago I was trying to go off the board and watch some stuff that wasn’t part of anything even remotely close to anything I was watching for the blog (aka film festivals) so I instead pulled out some DVDs of some detective shows from the 50’s

I’m the Law stars George Raft a Lieutenant Kirby. Forever dressed in a trench coat wades into various mysteries like a possible murder on the docks, a shop lifting ring or a the murder of an extremely disliked man.

Kirby is played in a manner that’s akin to Joe Friday on Dragnet, but with a tad more emotion and with a bit more street smarts. Kirby isn’t a stick in the mud but he is methodical and has a dogged stick-to-itness. Raft is so good at playing the tough guy that you know he’s in control from the instant he steps into the frame. HE’s the sort of a guy that crooks thing they are putting something over on, but in reality, he’s way ahead of them. He’s been around the block enough to know.

What I like most about the show was that in the 8 episodes (of the 27 made) the mysteries or investigations were finely crafted to actually work with in the 25 minutes of each episode. So many times the half hour crime shows feel rushed with the solution feeling rushed. Here the stories seem to be perfectly self-contained.

Johnny Midnight has Edmund O’Brien as a an actor who turned private eye. Working out of his families theater, the Helen Hayes doubling as the Midnight Theater, O’Brien takes on cases that either are tied to theater people or allow him to use his acting skills to solve.

Less tight than I’m the Law, the series still has some really good mysteries such as the first episode I saw where Midnight has to solve the murder of the woman he loves.

O’Brien and the writing are good, but one kind of wishes that the episodes ran an hour so they really had room to go into more.

On the plus side the film was clearly made in New York and the show is full of street scenes that show times square and the theater district back in the day.

Quibbling aside, I do wish the show ould get an official release so I could see all of the episodes not just the four I have.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Reviews of two short films playing at Fantasia this year

Mark Slutsky's five minute short film is one of the best science fiction films I've ever seen. It's also easily one of the great films of the year.In its brief time span it manages to say more about the human condition and life than almost any other or every other film I've seen. The story concerns people wanting to slow time down. I'll leave it there, except to say I really really want to discuss the implications but its unfair to do so because it's so short I don't want to spoil anything.  Track this one down or go see it when it plays with See You Tomorrow Everyone at Fantasia.

Adam Hall adapted TC Boyle's short story about a middle aged man obsessed with a neighbor. It's an obession sends him down a lonely path. Its a small scale gem of a film that captures the mood and feeling of Boyle's writing - though thanks to the scoring the film is  bit more brooding than Boyle's prose. Its beatifully shot and acted and is currently up on the Harper's website along with the short story and is worth a look (It comes down in September).

Horror Stories (2012) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Anthology horror film begins when a girl kidnapped by a serial killer has to use stories to keep her kidnapper at bay. He wants scary stories, the scarier the better.
DON'T ANSWER THE DOOR concerns some kids home alone at night waiting for their mom. She told them don't let anyone in, then someone comes to the door
ENDLESS FLIGHT has a serial killer lose on a plane in flight
SECRET RECIPE is a twisted tale of what happens when a young woman is about to be married
AMBULANCE ON THE DEATH ZONE has what happens when an ambulance crew takes a patient,  infected with the zombie plague, to the hospital.

Good horror anthology suffers in that some of the stories wander around a bit too much.  Don't Answer the Door simply tries to take things too far by tying in every potential  little plot thread. Death Zone would have been better shorter or longer,the running time simply is the wrong one for this story. The best of the bunch is Endless Flight which fills it's 20 or so minute run time with just the right amount of scares.  This isn't to say the other films are bad, they aren't, it's just that Flight uses it short running time to full effect.

I like the film and when and if it becomes available in the US I will be picking it up for the collection. Probably the best thing I can say is that I'm already looking forward to the sequel...perhaps it will play next years Fantasia.

Saving General Yang (2013) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

This is a review I had half finished, I have an import DVD and was going to review this in January at Chinese New Year (yes I work that far ahead some times), but since the film is playing Monday afternoon at Fantasia I've spruced it up and posted it.

Ronny Yu's SAVING GENERAL YANG is an okay retelling of  the story of the seven sons who follow their father into battle and then have to rescue him after he ends up behind enemy lines. Its chief assets are its large scale (and computer enhanced) battle scenes.

Ronny Yu is a director who is very hit or miss. Yes he did the classic BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR and the very good FEARLESS with Jet Li but he also did the infamous WARRIORS OF VIRTUE about kangaroo warriors (and I won't get into his other American films like FREDDY VS JASON). Here he hits and misses depending upon which moment you're in. While the film is well acted and often spectacular to look at the film is weakened by two things.

First is the over use of computer images. Yes it allows for larger armies and bigger set pieces and some mind blowing images, but at the same time very little of it seems real.  During one battle scene we watch as fake armies fall off a fake cliff. In another digital rocks crash into a compound while the wounded are treated and in a third fake fire goes no where near the army it is supposed to be consuming.

The other more telling problem is there is simply too much going on for a 100 minute movie. The brothers are reduced to being first brother or sixth brother. They don't really have names. Additionally some events are told in short hand. The romance that partly sets events in motion is breezed through. I kept feeling that there was more I should know.

On the other hand  I don't the film exists for the story, I think the film exists for no other reason than it's action sequences and in that realm the film scores huge points. Computer enhancements or not the battle images are incredible and it's easy to understand why so many of them mare used in the trailer. This is film is absolutely worth seeing on a big screen  because I think the bigger the image the better the film will play since you'll care less about the merely adequate script.

Worth a look at Fantasia, otherwise whether you see it should be determined by your love of sword play and the damage it does.

Strangler of the Tower (1966)

This film makes no sense what so ever and in this case it's a good thing since it makes for a film that keeps you watching all the way to the end.  The film begins when a wealthy woman is murdered and Scotland realize that a killer they call the Strangler of the Tower has returned. As with the earlier murders the killer has taken a jeweled necklace. In the process of investigating the murder the police discover that the missing necklace is made from the legendary Parvati emerald which had been cut apart and made into several cursed pieces of jewelry.  As the investigation continues more and more bodies, all seemingly connected to the cursed gems begin to turn up. From there gets weird with strippers, whippings, kidnappings, a masked brotherhood and assorted other strangeness.

Shot in a moody black in white in style that nails the Edgar Wallace series that were all the rage in Germany the film was actually written by Erwin Dietrich who would go onto write films such as Wanda the Wicked Warden which some consider part of the infamous Ilsa series. The film is a grand old mystery about various not so nice people doing terrible things to each other in a truly pulp fiction way- and it's a blast. I mean would anyone take a bunch of hooded baddies seriously any more or even in 1966? Of course not which makes the film wonderfully quaint.

The films flaw is that it makes no sense. I'd love to blame it on the dubbing but seriously this film makes no sense since it's never clear why anyone is doing anything, and even when it is you usually go WTF. I love this film a great deal simply because it's so out there that one can't help but simply go with it.

Available dubbed from Sinister Cinema

Best Laid plans yet again- and early Sunday nightcap

What is it they say about the best laid plans?

My plan of having a few weeks to get my real life in order kind of got blown away when I offered the chance to do some reviews for films playing at Fantasia. I jumped at the chance and I’ve been having a blast watching a whole bunch of films I never expected to be able to see. I’ve been averaging about 3 films a night- which as you can see has resulted in a flood of reviews. As of right now I have stuff programmed to the end of the festival on the 7th. I also have about 17 additional titles to try and cover. I have no idea how many I’m going to get to- but keep reading because more reviews will be coming. You may want to book mark the Fantasia tag so you can jump straight to our coverage. Additionally keep in mind that we banged out reviews of 25 films that played elsewhere so check the pre-festival post for a list of those films and a link to out reviews.
Ultimate Christian Wrestling is still trying to get enough money to finish it and I’m looking to get a t-shirt. Please give what you can to their Kickstarter campaign. Details here.
Tuesday at the KCS thay are running their next music film TURN IT UP TO ELEVEN 2: WILD DAYS details are here.
Speaking of K-pop and music Lincoln Center is running their Sound +Vision series which has some really good music documentaries playing

Additional at the end of the week the Film Society is starting their David Bowie series. Its full of the films in which he starred in, which means it’s a treat with films like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, ZIGGY STARDUST and MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE. They are also showing two new to the US films from the BBC, The first is an hour long adaption of Bertolt Brecht’s BAAL (Yes it’s an hour not two as the promo material says) in which Bowie proves just how good an actor he is. The second is CRACKED ACTOR a documentary shot during the Diamond Dogs tour in LA. It’s a time capsule to a time when Bowie was on the edge of imploding. Filled with great music it’s a must see for fans. I’ll have reviews of both midweek, until then get your tickets here.

And now as is usual some links to round out this post, most thanks to our crack researcher Randi:
Fold shirts in 2 seconds
Moebius  Tron Art
The Original Sky Captain short
Abandoned places
Tex Avery Model Sheets
Luminous Lint (photograph archive)
Mickey's Service Station
Dear Mr Watterson
Time Stretched Dr Who Theme
A Japanese Horror prank
Bully Can't Drive 55
An early David Lynch Interview
4 Minutes of Superman B Roll footage
The Unforgiven remake trailer

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Brief word on the brief Les Gouffres (2012) Fantasia 2013

After several huge caverns are discovered under a forest a woman's husband goes to investigate. While she waits for his return weird things begin to happen...

Running only 62 minutes (The Fantasia description lists a running time of 84 minutes which appears to include a short by the same director screening with this feature) the film is heavy on mood but I don't think it adds up to anything.  Its a great looking, wonderfully acted film where artistic things happen or don't . To be perfectly honest by the time the film ended I really didn't care. I got to a certain point where I disconnected and I tried to see if I could figure out how it was going to end...and damn I may not have gotten the details but I got the final shot.

Even at just over an hour I could have missed this one.

Thanatomorphose (2012) Fantasia 2013

On the slide down to "worse than you can imagine"
Give this film a medal. This is one of the most f-ed up films I've ever seen. Some where past the work of Jörg Buttgereit and David Cronenberg on his darkest body in revolt day (and a few others)  Thanatomorphose is quite simply on the road to a new level of horror endurance test. For those wanting to see a film of horrific transgression and image look no further.

This often visually arresting film concerns Laura who feels empty inside. Her career isn't going anywhere and her boyfriend really only wants violent sex (she carries the bruises of their encounters) things begin to change when she meets someone who seems nice...and because she begins to literally decay while still alive.

A slow carefully measured film (its almost painfully slow in the first 35 minutes) this is a film, that assuming you can take the images and the implications is a kick in the ass. It's a film that will push your buttons and make you wonder where this is going and how much more you're going to take. Sitting at home watching a screener on my computer I was struck by the feeling that I was really happy I wan't seeing this in a theater, in the dark, where escape from the larger than life image was going to be impossible. I had a tough time seeing it small, I can't imagine seeing this big (but I'd like to try).

I'm shocked, horrified and at the same time exhilarated as that dark part of my psyche hasn't been so much  touched as bludgeoned into submission. Some of this film made me ill (that's a compliment). I have no idea if this psychotronic trip into  hell means anything, but I don't care, this is somewhere past meaning into the more important realm of feeling. This film will make you feel something whether you want to or not.

I want to say more about the film's great use of music of differing styles to amp things up, but I think it's best to leave that to you to discover.

One last word of warning- though with a film like this it's redundant- the film, if it isn't plainly clear- not for kids. Yes its its disturbing and incredibly violent, but there is full frontal nudity and more or less graphic sex. Laugh all you want at that but there are people who will be fine with the blood and gore but will be offended by the sex-which in this case is also rather disturbing.

One of my cinematic finds of the year. Thank you Fantasia.

This film plays again at the festival on August 3rd at 1145pm and I can think of no better time soak up it's horrors.

Pirates of the Coast (1960)

Lex Barker stars as a Spanish naval commander Luis Monterey who is arrested and thrown on to a prison ship after pirates seize a ship full of silver he is transporting to Spain. Where the film goes from there is what makes it interesting.

Putting the film on to pass the time during a bout of the flu I was drifting in and out for much of the first 20 minutes as the film went through the typical piratical waters. Then, once Barker is sent off to prison the film suddenly leaps to life as Barker doesn't take the typical course you'd expect, all I say is he becomes a real pirate and leave it at that.

A huge spectacle of the sort they don't make any more this is a neat little film that I suspect the vast majority of you have never heard of. I know the only reason I had any notion of the film existing was because Sinister Cinema put it out on DVD. This is truly one of the films that Unseen Films was started to highlight, neat little films that have fallen off the radar.

Search this one out-it's on DVD from Sinister Cinema and streaming from Amazon

Monkey:Journey to the West at the Lincoln Center Festival

Last night I went to see MONKEY: JOURNEY TO THE WEST at Lincoln Center. This is a huge spectacular adaption of the classic story that was put together by director Chen Shi Zheng, Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett the last two are probably better known for their collaboration on the rock group Gorillaz. The show premiered back in 2007 at the Manchester International Festival festival and has played in several other cities since then.

A mix of theater, animation, dance, Peking Opera, circus and oh wow, the show boasts a huge cast of performers and characters that you usually don’t see on a New York stage, even in Broadway's mega productions.

The show tells the story of the Monkey King, who was born of a stone egg, he was too busy having fun until he realized he was going to die. Set on a quest to find immortality he ran afoul of the gods and the great Buddha who imprisoned him until he was released in order to protect a monk tasked with getting some sacred texts. The source novel is a massive story that has been the source of inspiration in world culture ever since it was written. It’s so massive a story that most artists only seek to tell a small portion of the story when using the characters (even the Shaw Brothers multi film retelling of the story only touched on the highlights of the tale). Here the story is reduced down to nine scenes covering high points of the story:

Scene 1 covers the birth of the monkey king and the realization that he was going to die. A monk names him the Monkey with the realization of emptiness.

Scene 2:  Crystal Palace of the Eastern Sea- The monkey king under the sea where he gets his staff and armor

Scene 3 is the Monkey's invasion of the kingdom of heaven and the peach banquet

Scene 4 is Monkey's battle of wits with the Great Buddha that results in his imprisonment

Scene 5 covers Monkey’s release and meeting up with the monk and the other pilgrims

Scene 6 is The battle with the White Skeleton Demon which results in Monkey being banished when his friends think he’s killed humans

Scene 7 covers the spider women who try to eat the pilgrims but are defeated by a returning Monkey

Scene 8 -is the encounter with Princess Iron Fan

Scene 9 Paradise is where the pilgrims are rewarded for their good deeds.

The telling is kept simple giving the bare minimum to get the story across. (More detail is given in the notes in the Playbill and in the program book which was for sale)

My reaction to the show was largely Oh WOW.

As a spectacle the show is amazing with its wild flying fights, hands of god, giant statues, amazing costumes and acrobatics. It’s really really cool to look at. And trust me you may have seen pictures (here are a good selection of images from the Facebook page) but you still haven’t seen some of the visual delights in the show.

The music is less Eastern sounding then something that Phillip Glass cooked up when he was doing the music for Kundun.

The show is, for the most part a magical theatrical experience, but it’s not perfect.

For me the problems from the show come from three areas.

First the show is in Mandarin with super titles. While under normal circumstances this would be fine, here the show was billed as family event. I saw the show heavily advertised in places like Time Out New York Kids and other family friendly places. I'm good with that but the trouble is that unless a kid can read English or speak Mandarin the dialog, which does move things along, is going to be lost. Additionally some of the Buddhist philosophy that’s mixed is a bit heavy for kids (and some adults)

The second problem is that the breezy reduction of the story. While the reduction down to a series of nine or ten sequences allows for some truly spectacular set pieces, any the detail of what is really going on is lost. How did we get from place to place? Who are these people really?We don't know- we are never told who the horse is. Not a lot is explained and to be perfectly honest had I not been diving into the films based on the story recently (some of the Shaw Brothers films, the original Chinese animated feature Princess Iron Fan and the restored Monkey King:Uproar in Heaven) I would have felt adrift.

Third some of the stunts and acrobatics gets a little tiring. Yes the plate spinning is cool but it goes on and on and on to the point that it seems like the secret of enlightenment is to spin multiple plates at once. Actually some of the repetition makes the show feel like it’s stuck in the mud.

None of the problems are terminal either separately or together, but the do manage to make what should have been a truly great show across the board into a very good show with great moments.

Definitely recommended for the great moments.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bushido Man (2013) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Making it's North American premiere at Fantasia Fest comes BUSHIDO MAN from Takanori Tsujimoto the director of the HARD REVENGE MILLIE films and co director of KILL with Mamoru Oshii. Depending upon you're feeling for those earlier films will determine how you feel about this film.

The plot of the film has the title character reporting to his master about how he has traveled around the country taking on the masters of various styles of battle (kung fu, pole fighting, knife fighting ect) and learning their secrets by eating as they do.

You can probably suspect by that brief description that this film is  essentially a series of fights and meals.Yea, there is something kind of going on beyond that but for the most part that's all there is to this story. While the battles are well done (and are spoofy taking on Jackie Chan, Shaw Brothers, Korean gangster films, cowboy movies, ect)  the rest of the film is largely disposable.

I liked the film but in all honesty I don't love it. I'm sure had I seen this in a theater full of action fans I would have liked this better, but as a movie on its own terms its just okay. If you're seeing it in the theater with a crazed crowd you'll have a blast, if you're not... you may want to take a pass.

Never underestimate little girls or After School Midnighters (HOKAGO MIDDONAITAZU) (2012) at FANTASIA 2013

Monsters are no match for these three ladies
Wickedly funny black as night animated film about three little girls who visit St Claire's Elementary School and trash the soon to be demolished science lab. The spirit of the anatomy model (Sir Kun aka Mr Naked) is pissed (they covered him in grafitti) and he sends out three gangster bunnies (named for Godfather characters) to bring the girls back for punishment. They get the girls to the school but not as expected. What follows is battle of the ghoulies and ghosties vs the little girls.

The ghoulies don't stand a chance.

Actually what follows is a series of tests as the girls are sent to survive the horrors of the night and collect three medals which will allow them to make a wish-hopefully to help the monsters remain in the science lab... They have to surive a challenge in the pool, another in the computer room, and lastly in the music room.

A  mix of cutesy and horrific this film is great deal of fun.Its  clever and funny and it has ideas and zingers that manages to transcend any flaws (some of the computer animation is just okay) simply by being so much damn fun. Full of puns, homages and riffs this is the sort of film I need to see a second time just to make sure I've gotten everything (including some sly commentary about why we know certain things like classical music). Several times during the film I was like, wait...what.. I need to see that again. 

I don't know where to start in listing the films joys,  so I've decided not to, and simply say keep your eyes out (and away from flies) for this wonderful unexpected confection.

Missionary (2013) Fantasia 2013

Praying isn't going to help
A married but recently separated woman  living with her son meets a missionary and begins and affair. Things go south when she ends the affair and goes back to her husband...

This is the sort of film that under normal circumstances I really don't care for. I mean how many variations of this story have we seen before? On the other hand when its done really well, its worth sitting through the bad variations on the theme.

This time out it's done really well...and it's really good.

I have no idea why this works so well. I suspect that its a first rate cast that includes Dawn Olivieri and Kip Pardue manages to find extra traction with a script that manages to take a tired sub genre and turns it into something that looks brand new and shiny. If you're like me you know how this is going to end but you won't care because all of the little details make it the sort of thing that not only won't you mind watching once, but a couple of times as you share it with friends. Frankly I was about half way into the film and all I could think was when was I going to get a chance sit down with my dad and see this or recommend it to people so they could see it.

Yes I liked it.

Yes you should see it when it plays for the final time later today at Fantasia. (And if you can't make it put it on your list for films to keep an eye out for.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Brief: The Grand Heist (2012) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

A literal ice heist...well... its an Ocean's 11 style heist film set in the Joseon-era that has a bookseller getting a band of con men and crooks together in order to steal the most precious commodity in Korea, ice.

Utterly enjoyable romp brought a huge smile to my face and an over riding desire to get the film on DVD so that I can watch it again with my dad.  This film is a real blast that's full of wonderful characters, great set pieces and enough twists to keep you guessing all the way to the end.

While I've been writing up short reviews for the films at Fantasia either in order to be timely or because I don't have a great deal to say, I'm keeping the review for The Grand Heist brief because I don't want to spoil anything for you. Yes its a caper film of the sort we expect nowadays  from Hollywood and elsewhere (heck, I reviewed the English caper film Wasteland earlier this evening) so you know how some of this is going to go-you know there are going to be twists- but at the same time I don't want to spoil the details for you. Yes I know whats the point of reviewing a film if you don't talk about the film, well my attitude is that I shouldn't have to tell you a great deal about some films, just say if its good or bad, and then hope that my enthusiasm carries over.

While the single screening for the film at Fantasia is done I do hope this film travels. I hope it shows up on DVD or netflix or better yet in a movie house near you...or near me cause I want to see this film again.

Wasteland (2012)

Sitting in a police interrogation room a cop asks Harvey to explain how he ended up there bleeding and under arrest. From there hangs the tale which begins with him getting out of a lock up....

This heist/caper film concerns how Harvey, with the help of his friends, plans on getting revenge on the drug dealer who sent him away for a year on drug charges. Told in a low key style the film is pulls back from the flash and show that we've come to expect with most modern films like the Ocean trilogy, Now You See It, The Italian Job, Usual Suspects or any of the other recent caper films. It should be noted that the low key nature of the film is just as much a blind as the flash is and just as twisty to more or less good effect.

I like the film and I watched about 20 minutes completely confused as to what I was actually seeing. Yes it was an accounting of what happened but up until the point where Harvey details bad guy Roper's methods for misdirection I thought I had simply wandered into a typical British look at the underclasses. Once Harvey begins to get on a roll the film springs to life and I was hooked.

Is this a great film? I don't think so. I know that my strong feeling for the film disapated in the hours after I saw it as the plot holes revealed themselves. I do still like it but not as much as I did when I finished it. I do think it is a little too low key for my tastes and at the same time the film in comparison to some of the afore mentioned caper films who hid their flaws (say an overly complicated robbery plot) in speed pales. Here things take a while to unfold which is fine, but the fact that the film needs to use the final 20 minutes to reveal what really happened kind of disappoints (its too much).

As I said I really do like the film but at the same time part of me feels as though I should have loved this more. That said worth a look if you get the chance.


Mama is a creepy little horror film that came and went to some acclaim in theaters.

The film begins with a father carrying off his two daughters in some form of custody fight they. They stumble in to a deserted house in the woods where something lives…

Several years later the fathers brother is still trying to locate the girls. Eventually his trackers find the house and the girls, but all is not right, the girls are very feral- and there is no sign of how they survived for so long on their own. After months of treatment the Uncle and his girlfriend win custody of the girls and all is okay for a while until weird things start happening and it looks like the mysterious Mama has come with the girls.

Dark brooding film had a game cast and style to burn. Managing to be genuinely creepy the film earns its scares and doesn’t simply use shock cuts or loud music to scare you. Things build and small details within frames hint at greater horror. Sometimes chills are created when something just moves the wrong way… At a time when most low budget horror films either look good but have no script or are complete messes Mama comes as a wonderful change of pace. Here’s a horror film that cares about its characters and wants to tell a good story.

Heading the cast is recent Hollywood darling Jessica Chastain as the girlfriend of the girl’s uncle. Tattooed and with short black hair she looks nothing like the red haired cypher she played in Zero Dark Thirty. I know she won numerous awards for that film, but for my money the real performance is here where she seems completely different than in any other film previously.

I really like the film a great deal, and if the film gets a little lost in the last half hour I’m okay with it since when the film ended it left me feeling rather uneasy and somewhat disturbed.

One of the better recent small scale horror films.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Help Fund Ultimate Christian Wrestling (and help get me a new t-shirt)

Okay, with just about two weeks left to their Kickstarter left directors Jae-Ho Chang and Tara Autovino need your help to help finish his film Ultimate Christian Wrestling.

This gem of a film is about a bunch of guys who travel around the south trying to spread the word of Jesus through professional wrestling. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but it’s not. It’s a great portrait of a bunch of guys trying to spread the word of God through something that they like to do. But it's not about the word of God, it's about the guys and their families. The film neither preaches to you, nor does it make fun of its subjects. Rather it’s a loving portrait of a bunch of great guys you'd actually want to hang with.

We at Unseen Films really loved the film a great deal  which is clear since we ran several pieces on the film:

Here’s my review

Mondo had a very long talk with the directors which he cut down to a manageable length. It can be found here (the unedited version is at Mondo’s Violent Eye Report)

And then Mr C chimed in with his own thoughts.

This is a special film that needs to find a wider audience.

For full details on the Kickstarter and to donate go here.

Please go. It’s a sweet little film that deserves to reach a really big audience, help make that happen...

And yes I did kick in some money myself (I'm getting a t-shirt when the film is done)- so please donate - I want my t-shirt.

The Weight (Mooge) (2012) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Tough guys may not dance but the dead do
Opening with a short sequence set in bright and happy New York The Weight quickly upsets the apple cart by telling us that is not where the film is set. Things then switch gears to a drab morgue somewhere in Korea where a hunchback attendant cleans and prepares the bodies that are brought in. As the opening minutes pass a young boy sings at the foot of a coffin, a more bodies are brought in, a hulking man in black leather and full face motorcycle helmet comes in, mourns his mother in a coffin on a table before having sex with a dead woman on the next table… there are flashbacks filling in the back story of the living and the dead and then it gets weirder…

Overly strange film is by turns off putting, disturbing, engaging, distancing and finally disappointing. This is a film about looking for love, one’s true self and transformation (butterflies are a motif and one of the characters is a transsexual) that never seems to know what it is other than really bizarre. I was along for the ride for a bit, became disinterested, was drawn back in only to lose interest again when it seemed to me that the film was more interested in just pushing buttons rather than telling an engaging story. The film feels too artificial and constructed as it keeps trying to one up the weird quotient even as it is trying to tell a kind of touching story of life down among the fallen.

As you can tell the one thing I’ve taken away from the film is that it’s weird. On the weird scale the film is near the top peg, but at the same time that’s all it is. Where are the characters? Where is the heart? I don’t know. I’m of the opinion that director Jeon Kyu-hwan didn’t trust his story and continued to add in weird things in an effort to make the film memorable. Its memorable alright but it’s not really a film I need to see again because there is nothing in it I care about.

Kudos to Fantasia for unearthing a strange film, I just wish it it had more to recommend it beyond it being strange.

In (very) Brief-Doomsdays (2012) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Two friends travel through the Adirondacks breaking into empty, and not so empty, vacation homes while waiting for the end of the world they know will come (we are running out of oil after all). Their travels brings them in contact with various people to whom they tell various stories, some which, like their actions, come back to haunt them...

Amusing film that is billed as a pre-apocalyptic comedy. Actually I'd say it's just a funny inde comedy regardless of the apocalypse.

I really don't have much more to say than that other than I enjoyed it- but regrettably it got lost in the crush of other Fantasia films. Worth seeing when it plays again Sunday night.

Season of the Witch (2011)

Much maligned film has a two crusading knights deserting when their mission calls for slaughtering a town of women and children. Back in Europe the pair is discovered to be deserters and locked up. When the Cardnial discovers who they are he offers them absolution in exchange for taking a "witch" to a distant monastary. They agree and soon they find that they are on a perilous journey.

I'm not sure what displeased critics and audiences when this opened two years ago, but for me this is just a throw back adventure film  with some black magic mixed in. I suspect the reason that people are not particularly happy with the film is that other than the opening and closing there are no big action sequences. I don't know where you'd put them, but I'm guessing the slowish journey bothered them.

The trip didn't bother me and I liked that the film wasn't a big booming film. I think that instead of huge action set pieces we got smaller set pieces that move the story and characters along. I like the kid challenging Pearlman, I also like the bridge crossing. I alike that we are never sure of what the deal is with the witch. I liked that we get a couple of likeable characters in Nick Cage and Ron Pearlman. To be certain, their too hell with the church I only go for god attitude would probably have gotten them killed as heretics, but it brings a much needed world weariness to everything.

High art? Oh hell no, but the perfect thing to watch while curling up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon (which is what I did the week after Tribeca ended)

Very much recommended

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Battery (2012) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Ben and Mickey are traveling across country trying to avoid the zombies. Shaggy haired Ben is tasked with killing the zombies that they run across while Ben just listens to the music in his headphones. You would be hard pressed to understand how they ended up as companions but they are now friends journeying through the backwoods of New England.

Kind of an inde art road movie with zombies about some sort of grand trip to where ever (the promo material relates it to Old Joy, which I haven't seen) where the film is less about the trip than the inter-relationship between the characters. There are long sequences where things transpire in real time, long pauses where nothing much happens and occasional bursts of horror as the zombies attack.

For me this is an over long film that had you removed the zombies wouldn't have been much of anything. I'm sorry but to my eyes this is a film that is too artfully crafted to be much of anything. The buddy film seems at odds with the zombie stuff. While I certainly will agree that should a zombie apocalypse ever happen you'd end up with "buddy film" material, I doubt very much that this is how it would go down. The film also drags thanks to the long extended sequences where they sit in the cars, or houses or where ever.

A large part of why this film didn't work for me is that the world it operates in doesn't seem real. Where is everyone? Why does everything look so neat and clean? Logic and reason dictate that for things to be this far gone it's been awhile but nothing seems weathered, many of the homes seem well kept-despite no one being around- these guys are not the only ones walking around. Very quickly into the film I turned off because there was too much I couldn't accept.

Personally this is another reason why I'm now sick to death of zombies. Given a choice there are other better undead films at Fantasia and you'd be better off seeing those.

Litan (1982)

What is this film and why have I never heard of it?

Jean Pierre Mockey's horror film cum waking nightmare cum god knows what takes a little while to begin to fall together, but when it does it becomes a very strange trip that isn't as silly as it first seems.

The plot of the film has a couple in a small town during a festival. Many people are wearing masks.More are behaving strangely When the aftermath of an accident  puts the couple on the run, things begin to resemble the young woman's dreams.

Michael Little of All Clues No Solutions describes the film as follows:SILENT HILL and THE WICKER MAN meet ALTERED STATES directed by Zulawski or Jakubisko. If you've seen the film you understand that makes a great deal of sense. (All Clues by the way is selling the DVD)

What is going on exactly I'm not sure. I think it has something to do with spirits shifting bodies or coming back from the dead or something. Its not entirely clear. Not that it matters since this is the sort of strange film that will delight those who love head games. Seriously what is this all about? I have no idea but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Nominally a horror film, the film isn;'t scary, rather it's more disturbing and troubling. Like the dream that opens the film the narrative is operating on its own unique way. The logic isn't dream like but something more...odd.The masks and odd behavior that seems silly early on becomes not only acceptable by the end, but seems rather normal.

As I said the film took a little bit to grow on me, but once it did I found it to be a film who's place off the horror film map puzzles me.

Weird film and horror film lovers need to track this down (or just go to All Clues)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Burning Buddha Man (2013) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

I had always heard that Fantasia was the place to see mind altering strange films and now that I’ve seen Burning Buddha Man I can honestly quote the words of Madeline Kahn  in Blazing Saddles“it’s true! it’s true!”

A truly one of a kind film Burning Buddha Man is going to strike many as animated when in fact it’s really a puppet film since it was created by moving cut outs live in front of the camera. There is no animation other than the moving figures. It’s kind of like the 1960’s Marvel Comics cartoons, but with depth.

Sandwiched between two brief sequences of a young woman sitting at a table with the sets before her, is the story of a young woman whose parents are killed when a group of thieves steal the Buddha from their temple. Set on the path of vengeance the woman soon is mixed up with the cult as well as various mythical creatures. Where the film goes is infinitely darker and stranger and weirder than I thought possible (And I'm thankful for it).

With a visual style that reminded me of Junji Ito ( creator of Tomie,Gyo) as well as other horror manga artists, not to mention the work of René Laloux who did Fantastic Planet (aka La Planète sauvage), the film is kind of a trip into hell as all of the characters, human and non-human take on a garish frightening look. Emotion is heightened and everything seems sinister. It’s an un-nerving and a pleasantly unpleasant experience as the look and style of the film puts we viewers into a completely new emotional territory. If we go to monster movies to see and feel terrible things while remaining completely safe this is a film that makes you feel things in spades, rarely has any film ever made me feel this much dread or unease.

Watching the film I was at first put off by the cut out style, but that then switched to admiration as I became aware of the amount of work requires. That was then replaced by completely falling into the film and being carried along. This truly is a film where the power of sound and image creates a true living dream.

A true gem,  this is a must see film. While it isn’t perfect, I doubt you’ve ever seen anything quite like this and for that reason as well as it being a kick ass film you really should see this.

(And will someone please let me know when I can get a copy of this I need to see it again- and show it to lots of people)

Warm Bodies (2013)

Allegorical horror movie about how we have to reconnect to each other in order to be human is also a damn fine romantic comedy. Yea I know it’s a weird mix of genres and subject matter but Warm Bodies manages to pull it off in spades.

Set about eight years into a zombie apocalypse the film follows a zombie who becomes known as R. He’s a zombie with more going on in his head (the film is narrated by R’s internal monolog). One day when he sees the daughter of the leader of one of small group of living human survivors he’s smitten. It’s a feeling that grows when he eats the brain of her boyfriend and gains his memories as well. Going against the norm and opting to keep her safe, he finds that he is changing, dare I say that he’s finds he’s coming back to life? It’s something that many of the dead they come in contact with begin to experience as well…

Subversive film turns the notions of genres on their head in order to create a wonderful one of a kind film. This is a funny and touching film with a dollop of gross out. I honestly can’t think of another film with undead creatures that so firmly operates with in the romance genre. Yes I know it’s also a comedy, but it’s also a horror movie, a science fiction film, a polemic and a few others as well.

The film works not only because the script is so good, but because the performances match it. Yes John Malcovich is his typical loopy self as the head of the living, and as such is a joy, but the real surprise isNicholas Hoult as R and Teresa Palmer as Julie his girlfriend. They what would have been over played roles and instead make them into people you care about.

Even if you don’t like horror films you need to see this because its not really about the horror, instead its about finding life even though you’re dead.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jack Attack (2013) Fantasia Film Festival 2013

Wrong-really wrong- in all the right ways horror film about a boy and his baby sitter who make a jack-o-lantern on Halloween...

I can't say more, it's too short- but this sick twisted film must have made the audience scream when it preceded THE CONJURING at this years Fantasia Film Festival.

Simply put, this poisoned pumpkin seed of a film is absolute proof that great things come in small packages.

Track this one down boys and girls because its a show stopper.


I know it started a couple of days back but Unseen Films will be providing some coverage of the legendary FANTASIA International Film Festival in Montreal. I have been told for years that I need to go to Montreal to be at one of the coolest film festivals on earth, and while that won't be happening this year we have managed to make arrangements to get some coverage over the next two or three weeks.(Next year damn it we'll all go next year) For those of us exhausted from NYAFF and Japan Cuts this is out of the frying pan and into the fire...

Since some of the films have played NYAFF and Tribeca here's a list to our coverage of things we've seen:

BIG BAD WOLVES -My take and Mondo's take
FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY Mondo's take and mine
HELTER SKELTER Mondo's take and mine
WE WILL LIVE AGAIN- My brief take from Tribeca was as follows:  a really creepy look at cryonics. No idea if it's good but any film that has people talking about putting more dry ice on a head so it doesn't thaw is creepy 

Assuming I can get our literal correspondent in Japan to report in I'll have word on SHIELD OF STRAW, and if I can pull it together I'll review SAVING GENERAL YANG

Keep reading because reviews should start appearing in the next day or so.

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

One of the American versions of this film called Screamers was billed with the tag line You will see a man turn inside out. For my money that’s a really cool way to advertise a film, and made me want to see the film asap.

The reality was something else, with Joseph Cotton acting as a Dr Moreau like character turning men into amphibians. He hopes to be able to help people by making it possible to tap into the oceans. The man Cotton is working for wants to use the mutants for his own ends.We see weird things but no one turns inside out- at least in the original cut of the film.

I have no idea what it all means since I don’t think the film makes any real sense. It’s a period tale with lots of underwater fish men running amok on a way off island. With an all star cast (I use the term loosely) acting (I use the term loosely) in an Italian financed film. It’s a great deal of fun if you are into these sort of things, which I am.

Actually I shouldn’t be so snarky since I really like this film a great deal. It’s a creaky gory monster movie that I like to put on now and again at 4 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s a film filled with nostalgia for me, not so much the film itself, rather in that it’s the sort of movie that I grew up watching and which they don’t make any more…basically it’s a mad scientist film on the order of the Blood Island films, which instantly puts it into a warm place in my heart..

When the film played in the US there a good number  snips made and a new opening was shot with Cameron Mitchell and a bunch people ship wrecked on a cave on an island. They are massacred by a bunch of monster men who break into the their cave. It has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but it was an even gorier way to start the film with heads ripped off...and it had scenes of the man turning inside out. (those scenes are not on DVD unless you have the VHS of Screamers)

Yes it’s my kind of base fun.

Weirdly several years…er fifteen years later they made an atrocious sequel called The Fishmen and Their Queen. The original plan was to get a copy of that film and then review the pair together, but Queen is beyond bad. Its one of those awful films that tries even the patience of bad movie lovers. I think my reaction while watching it was repeatedly screaming my eyes my eyes what have done with my eyes. Which is not the reaction you want from your audience.

My advice is where fishmen are concerned you go to the island but ignore the Queen

Both films are out on DVD