Saturday, August 31, 2013

F Paul WIlson's THE KEEP (plus a look at Michael Mann's film)

Way back when the film version of F Paul Wilson’s The Keep came out, writer director Michael Mann said that he felt that if he didn’t make movies he was embarrassed by he wasn’t learning anything as a filmmaker. Considering that the film is never mentioned by him he really must be embarrassed.

Wilson, the writer of the novel really dislikes the film a great deal. To him it was a missed opportunity.

For the 30th anniversary of the novel Wilson wrote the script for what he considers the real film version for The Keep, a graphic novel adaption.

Having read it I think the film that could result from it would be a blast.

Okay yes I know a graphic novel isn’t a film, but trust me if you read Wilson’s work it will remain in your head as a movie ever after.

For those unfamiliar with it, the graphic novel tells the story of a bunch of Nazi’s tear assing through Romania. They come to a small village and decide to bunker down in a strange keep in a small valley. The trouble is that in a quest for what they think is a hidden treasure they unleash an ancient evil. In typical Nazi fashion they bring in a crack bunch of soldiers to fight the evil. and as much as it pains them, they drag a Jewish scholar and his daughter into the mess in the hope of unlocking the ancient writing. What happens from there is a battle of wits as the evil makes a deal with the scholar and the enemy of the evil returns to finish off the thing he locked away.

It’s a scary ghost story where the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

The graphic novel is a wonderful adaption of the novel. Wilson himself admits that he had to make changes to get it to work as a comic, and as a result he kind of understands a small bit of what happened when the film was made. (He still doesn't understand the radical changes like the bad guy going from a human being to a guy in a blue rubber suit). Within the pages of the comic we get great characters and wonderful explanation of what is going on and who everyone is, Things which are missing from the film as it exists.

Wilson says in the graphic novel is the film that he would have made had he been able to do so, and when you read it, which you should, it will play out like a movie. The art by Matthew Dow Smith is very cinematic and you can easily accept that all of the art is story boards for some great lost film.

What I like about the graphic film is that it plays very much like an old Hollywood movie but with sex and violence. The hatred between the two super beings is real. Their show down in and around the keep is much like a swashbuckling affair that Errol Flynn might have had if Basil Rathbone played a centuries old monster. I like that  the characters have a complexity and a frailty that you don't see in most films, let alone horror films (the bad guy is locked up because had he been killed his opposite number would have died, or at least been made mortal.). All of that is missing from the film which is why it fails.

When I finished reading the adaptation I closed the book feeling as if I had just read,seen, one of the best films of the year. Someone , somewhere has got to pick this up and turn it into a film, it's simply just too good not to reach the big screen.

ADDENDUM- Looking at Michaerl Mann's film in light of the graphic novel.

Several months after reading the graphic novel I had a chance to see the film for the first time in probably a decade or more. I know it was the first time that I had seen the film widescreen since I saw it back on opening night (the book was one of my mom’s favorite books so we had to see it when it opened). Putting the DVD in I braced myself for an assault on my good taste…

The reaction to the film now was very mixed. It wasn’t the complete disaster that the film had become in my mind. I know that Wilson’s dislike for the film colored my feelings for the film, as did the words of several friends who have an absolute hate on for the film. To be perfectly honest the films biggest sin is that it feels like it was chopped down by half. There are no real characters, hell there is very little dialog, Who are these people? Who is Galen and the monster? No idea. Who is Ian KcKellan and his daughter? No clue. What are they doing and why? No idea. Nothing is explained, even though there is a real sense that there is a logic and reason and details hovering just off the screen.

I get the feeling that somewhere along the way they cut out all of the exposition and just went with the visuals. They are impressive, if dated, and seeing them, really seeing them for the first time in 20 plus years impressed the hell out of me. For a while the visuals kind of carried things…well until they completely threw out the exposition and completely relied on them. I mean seriously, even I, one of the most lenient guys in the world can’t defend much of the final half hour or that the mysterious artifact that keeps the monster in check is a flashlight.

To be honest there is much to hate about the film, I mean all of the exposition is gone and some of the visual choices, flashlight and 1980’s light show ending do in the good stuff (The sense of place and performances), but if you look at the film, I mean really look at the film this is a case where someone, be it Michael Mann or the studio, just cut the crap out of it to the point of nonsense. It’s worth a look for those who want to see cool set design and don’t mind films that coulda woulda shoulda.

The Wikipedia article on the film lists the many problems with the film from an original run time of three and a half hours to the death of visual effects supervisor. I was at th BAM talk mentioned in the article and Mann did indeed say that a directors cut is no longer possible. You should read the piece yourself since it fills in details. It can be found here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Where do I get many of the movies I review? If you're in NYC tomorrow you can find out

I'm constantly asked where do I find the stuff that appears here at Unseen, well this is where I got a good number of the older off beat titles that have been reviewed here.

I had stumbled upon some of the collectors who sell at this show years ago (in particular Brendon at R&B Enterprises in the sidebar) and I've been going to their shows ever since. Its a great place to get old movies and old TV shows as well as other things you may have been looking for for years.

One thing to keep in mind while several of the collectors appear at every show, many others come and go. I've gone to some shows and found it packed with sellers and other times not so much. If you should go to a show and not find what you're looking for come back the next time since there is a very good chance that someone will show up the next time.

The next show is tomorrow the 31st but there are more shows coming on Sept 28; Oct 12; Nov 23 and Dec 14.

The show is located at the Holiday Inn at 440 West 57th Street. in Manhattan, All the shows  run from 10 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is $3.00 per person. There are also door prizes every hour

If you're in NYC and have the time stop by.

The Men Who Made Ultraman

Just a short piece on THE MEN WHO MADE ULTRAMAN. This neat little film is a blast for anyone who has ever seen and loved the ULTRAMAN TV series (and yes I loved the show as a kid).

The film follows the creation from the show from idea on to its airing and the uncertainty of whether it would be a hit. The film also spends time with the personal life of the shows creator.

For me the story of the shows creation is less interesting than watching the recreation of the visual effects. To me it was really cool watching the effects men create the monsters and the destruction. It was also a bit frightening (and funny) to see when things went wrong. I would have hated to be in any suit that caught fire.

While I lost interest in the show over time, to the point that I never tracked down any of the later series or any of the behind the scenes material when I could afford them, the show has always held a place in my heart. I’m guessing the fact that a film such such as this got made proves that the show still has a soft spot for millions of Japanese as well.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In brief: Our Nixon (2013)

CNN produced documentary is largely made up of home movies shot by the members of the Nixon White House. Much of the footage was seized back in the Watergate days by the Feds and had remained unseen until now. The footage is supplemented with current interviews and news footage from the time.

Wonderful counterpoint to the typical attitude that Nixon was a bad guy. While Nixon's reputation isn't completely rehabilitated, it is softened as we see the man behind the madness. Filled with great moments (the opening credits set to Tracy Ullman's "They Don't Know About Us" is a blast and a half) this is a fantastic look back at a time 40 years ago and is now not even a memory for many people alive today.

The film is hitting theaters tomorrow and is worth a look see if you want a deeper look than at things than you get in the history books. (And if you can't make it to the theater the film has been playing on CNN, that's how I caught it)

A few words on Abigail Harm (2012)

Amanda Plummer stars as the title character, a woman a drift in life. She earns some money by reading to house bound people, however she never really connects and longs to have a companion.After meeting a mysterious man (will Patton) she is told where to go so she can find one. All she need do is take the robe of a certain person and he will remain with her until she gives it back (it mirrors the legend of the Nymph and the Woodcutter). Soon she finds herself with a companion...

Low key fairy tale inspired drama is a tour de force for Plummer and the rest of the cast. The fact that the film is compelling as it is is thanks entirely to the acting chops of all concerned, they all kick serious butt. However the main praise must go to Plummer who's on screen for pretty much every second of the films scant 80 minutes. Her face is all one need to watch as she runs through pretty much every emotion under the sun, dragging us along and making us feel whether we want to or not. Its the sort of quite small scale performance that should get attention come awards season but won't, not because it's bad rather because it's too real and doesn't seem to be acting. This is one of those performances that will haunt you.

The film opens tomorrow at the Quad Cinemas in Manhattan and is worth searching out. Its one of those small scale gems that Unseen Films was started to highlight. Go see it,or at the very least put it on your list of films to track down.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sea Hawk (1924)

Not an early version of the same story as the 1940 Errol Flynn film, this is based upon a novel by Rafael Sabatini who gave the world Scaramouche and the Captain Blood novels (one version does have Errol Flynn).

The film is the story of Oliver Tressilian. A well to do noble he is settled into a life of leisure. Disliked by his half-brother, he is framed for murder and then carried off to sea by scoundrels paid by his brother. Events take rapid turns as the ship Oliver is on is captured by the Spanish, he’s forced to become a galley slave, makes his escape during a sea battle, then becomes a pirate… and on and on.

A mix of romance and adventure, the film scores high points once the film gets away from the intrigue on land and gets Oliver onto the high seas. A rip roaring adventure with sea battles and action the film is truly spectacular and it’s easy to see why Hollywood movies were big to dos back in the 1920’s. Films rarely ever look this BIG.

While I’m not a fan of the soapy nature of some of the plot, and I wish it sprung to life a bit sooner than it does (it’s about 40 minutes in that it goes into overdrive) I still really like the film. It’s a rip roaring adventure of the sort that Hollywood doesn’t make any more, made at a time when it was just perfecting the formula.

Definitely worth seeing, especially if you are willing to be patient at the start. Out from Warner Archive, the film also plays occasionally on Turner Classic

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrmamn’s big screen adaption has been a surprise hit around the world. The HUGE epic retelling of the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale melds old and new in a giddy concoction that is probably one of the best films of 2013, at least on a technical level. On an emotional level I’m not sure what to make of it, since the film seems to be too much of everything.

The story of the film follows Tobey Maguire’s Nick as he moves into a small shack in East Egg in the hope of mingling with the rich and famous. He eventually makes the acquaintance of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DeCaprio) who is fabulously wealthy and who pines for his lost love Daisy. It’s a doomed story of love lost—how money can’t buy happiness and a few other things that your high school English teacher will tell you are locked in the tale.

Big showy film that must have looked amazing in 3D (I saw it in 2D the 3D version being long gone by the time I got around to see it) it is a technical marvel. This is a film that has been made by a director who not only isn’t afraid to show off but has the talent to make the showy elements vital to the story. Lurhman brilliantly manages to use the spectacle to counterpoint the emptiness of the characters’ lives. He also uses it to keep you watching because you want to see the next wonder he is going to pull out of his hat.

The trouble with the film is that as many wonders there are in the film, the story kind of gets lost. Some of the dialog and sequences are a tad arch and mannered (granted intentionally so, due in part to how the story is being told). Nick, a failed writer, is relating the tale years after the fact in a hospital). There is a problem with the pacing, Gatsby doesn’t really appear for almost half an hour and then the film begins to gallop toward its conclusion. Related to this is several bits that are key to some of the themes in the book/film are kind of set up and then discarded until needed late in the game—for example several characters, a certain mechanic and his wife, who will figure into the end of the film disappear. despite that in early films and in the book they are always on the periphery (their home is always passed as characters go to and from the city).

The other problem, or not, is that this is the first telling of the tale where Daisy comes off worst. By saying coming off worst I don’t mean that Carey Mulligan is bad, oh lord no, rather it’s the first time I ever realized how mercenary she is. Sure, she loves Jay, but at the same time she really does love money. It adds to the tragedy, but it also makes me want to smack Gatsby and ask him what he sees in her.

Despite the flaws I am haunted by this film.

Several days later I’m still trying to get my head around what this Gatsby film is. I’m still wrestling with what I feel. I know it’s this monstrous brilliant masterpiece but I don’t know to what degree I like it. Yes I admire it, yes I can wax poetic about huge portions of the film, but at the same time I fell kind of distant.

Ultimately though,, the film is must-see. No one makes films like this. No one except Luhrmann was ballsy enough to try and make something so epic.. its a must-see and, yea, its one of the best films of 2013.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cinema of Resistance: Far From.... Afghanistan(2012) and Vietnam (1967)

As part of the Cinema of Resistance series at Lincoln Center the Film Society s running Far From Vietnam, a 1967 protest film put together by Chris Marker and directed by Alian Resnais, Claude Lelouch, Agnes Varda, Claude Lelouch, Willian Klien and others; and Far From Afghanistan, a similar film with a look at Afghanistan. I got to see the film early and here are my thoughts.
Johnson and McNamara

Far From Vietnam(1967)
Best described as a pure propaganda and a time capsule of a time not so long ago this film is essentially a series of short films by famous directors stitched together to form a long protest piece. While it is an intriguing film at times, it's also not something that I can imagine anyone wanting to see more than once. Its a protest piece for a war long over, and while it has reflections in our middle east entanglements the specifics muffle some of the echoes.

This is  a hard film to describe completely owing to it's fragmentary nature.We get lots of talk of Castro and Che, we see the construction of individual bomb shelters in North Vietnam, Jean-Luc Godard talks about his feelings toward the war, Resnais has directs a fictional piece about a writer talking about whether to write about the war, we see the family of an American man who set himself  on fire in protest for the war and an ex-pat Vietnamese woman in Paris talking about her reaction, we watch a parade in New York and New Yorkers trying to deduce what Napalm is. There is lots of intellectual talk and war footage. It is very much an intellectuals protest against the war. Its like overdosing on Vietnam protest films.

How is is it?

The answer to that question has a couple of different answers which of course depend on how one sees the film 45 years on.

First off it's not really history. The film is a manifesto of protest so it leaves a great deal out. You can't watch it to really learn history I mention this because the film is French and the French were tied up in Vietnam before America. The film only glosses over the French's role in the war and paints the US solely as the bad guy even going back to the late 40's and early 50's. It also doesn't mention the French torment over Algeria that had been raging at roughly the same time and which in some ways mirrored what they were protesting in Vietnam.(Its also been speculated in some circles that the violent French reaction to the American adventure in Indochina was a way of dealing with guilt over Algeria -but I digress)

The film also completely ignores much of the social upheveal that was going on in the US and the world. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements are mentioned but there is no context since the film was made for the audience in 1967 and not for now. There is no context and quite frankly how the war was perceived in actuality requires lots of context- god help you if you don't know the context (though I'm certain anyone interested in seeing the film will be aware of the context)

As history it's simply an artifact of a time gone by. Granted it is of historical importance and a means of getting into a mind set, but it's not straight history. Don't see this film expect to learn all you need to learn. (And since it's not even remotely trying to be fair in its presentation I'm not going to discuss how it paints the Vietnamese and anyone against the war as good, and those for it as knuckle dragging imbeciles.)

As an entertainment it's a tough slog. I made it through because the historian in me wanted to see the what the film was presenting, but some of the film, the intellectual droning on put me near sleep (Godard's piece had my eyes closing). There are some cool bits, the making of the shelters, the look at the social divide in America, Tom Paxton's protest song are wonderful, but there is a great deal of really dated stuff.

If you are interested in the war and the history of protest, not to mention any of the directors involved, by all means see it when the film plays for a week at Lincoln Center starting on the 28th, if not take a pass.

Far From Afghanistan (2012)
Mother and sick daughter.What this has to do with the war is anyone's guess

The one you really should take a pass on is Far From Afghanistan a modern day version of this earlier film. This two plus hour film covers all the bases anyone against the war would hit and does so so unimaginatively you wonder why they bothered.

I'm not going to lie, I walked out 80 minutes in. There was nothing I hadn't seen before and I had no patience to stay to the end. Worse there were several sequences that completely baffled me as to their point and reason for inclusion.

The film is a series of short pieces, some that have a point, some that don't. I'm still not sure what to make of the opening sequence about the girl with the swollen stomach needing blood. Its more something that belongs in a vampire film than a documentary. It's a sequence seems to mean something but never gets around to explaining what it is. This is included in a film about the war why?

The sequence that follows, with the scenes of serene American life with the sounds  and descriptions of the war, is cliche and much too long. Similarly cliche is the bombsite footage cut to Eisenhower's Military Industrial complex speech. The footage of the Afghan freedom fighters from the early 1980's is kind of chilling but putting the kicker of when it was shot at the very end removes any kick from the piece because we are left to ponder what we are watching. Hostory may repeat but at the same time unless there is a context you can't make the connection.

While some pieces work, say the piece on the dangers of girls going to school, they are at best weak versions of a TV news story without a point.

At no time did I connect to anything on after 80 minutes of this nonsense I went home.

I should probably say that the entire time I was watching the film all I could think of was the much better MY AFGHANISTAN which played at the Human Rights Watch Film festival a couple of months back. Given the choice see that instead. That film ill move you and will make you realize how poor this film is.

Sorry Mr Depp The Lone Ranger (2013) failed because you made a poor movie

Blame it on uncertain tone.

Blame it on the need for huge action set pieces

Blame it on the filmmakers not trusting their source material.

Blame it on a lot of things but the new version of The Lone Ranger is a bloated disappointment.

Why couldn't they have just played it straight?

Plot of the film has an elderly Tonto relating the story of the Ranger to a young boy at wild west show. He tells how he met the Ranger on a train that was transporting him and Butch Cavendish to jail. John Reid(The Lone Ranger) is an attorney going to his posting when Cavendish's gang frees him. Tonto is returned to jail and Reid goes off with his brother to get Cavendish. Ambushed the rangers are killed and John is barely left alive. Tonto arrives and revives him. The pair then goes off to get Cavendish and the evil businessman he's working for.

Huge scale film doesn't know if it wants to be serious or send up. Alternating from tongue in cheek comedy to straight on action the film seems to have taken the two scripts and melded them together without a thought of how it would play out on the big screen. I'm sure they thought the jokes, most of which are low humor were funny enough and I'm sure they thought the big action filled the requisite for a summer blockbuster but I'm guessing they never sorted out how the two would work together. Unfortunately the jokes take the edge off the excitement and the set pieces belong in a more serious film.

Actually the set pieces, almost all of which involve trains, are emotionally dead. They are huge hulking affairs with a never ending supply of physical twists and turns. They are so huge that much of the first half hour of the film is taken up by the introduction of Reid and Tonto and the final hour is pretty much just two pieces (or is it really one?) that are tied to rescuing Reid's nephew (and father of the Green Hornet) and sister in law. If your doing your math that leaves roughly an hour where you can slip in a plot, or would if there wasn't a couple of other set pieces in there as well.

Is it any wonder that the film is such a mess or that it has to use silliness and short hand characterization to get it's points across.

To be perfectly honest I'm mostly okay with the revisions. I can live with Reid being a tenderfoot and Tonto being the man of action. I like the spiritual nature of it all. What I can't live with is the slips into buffoonery that Tonto goes into. Is he man of action or fool? The same thing goes for the Reid/Ranger character, which is he? I'm guessing that the filmmakers didn't understand that blandness of the Ranger was his strength,he was a good guy to a fault. They thought he was boring.

For me the film works best when its serious, which isn't often. When the film is serious, even in its mysticism it shows signs of what it could have been a damn good updating and an exciting western. As it stands now it's just a bland film that lurches from thing to thing. Its six action set pieces in search of a plot line.

I can't believe that they spent 250 million dollars on this.

Worth trying but wait for cable or Netflix

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just a couple of links

Tonight I got nothing.

Actually I got two long pieces that are largely done but which I'm not ready to pull the trigger on

To that end I'm going to give just a few links from the ever lovely Randi:

Armand Serrano Lilo and Stitch

STAR WARS FILIBUSTER: Patton Oswalt's Rant Animated

Mike Nelson on Riffing and last Thursday's Starship Troopers

TV game show taxes

Kubrick's Subway Photos

orwell rolls in his grave (2004)

Damning look at the news media and how its take over by big business has allowed the news to become entertainment instead of information. Ultimately this is the story of how its very possible that all of George Orwell's warnings about the control of Truth will come to pass.

Better in many ways than the work of Michael Moore,who appears in this film, this is a very clear very well reasoned look at whats wrong with how we get our information. Taking no side, neither left nor right, this is instead an examination of the corporations that control what we see and hear. News is no longer what will inform us, rather its what will make the shareholders the most money. News is also a means of covering up what is really going on, with made up news stories and dog and pony shows misdirecting the public as to what is going on in Washington. If you don't think that things are in a dangerous position consider the biggest lobbyists are the media corporations themselves. The battle is not left and right its rich and poor and unless you're the top one or two percent of the rich you really don't count.

This is a calm film where we get to see some very knowledgeable people tell us what they know with out the histrionics that have accompanied many recent similar films like Fahrenheit 911, Bush Family Fortunes, Outfoxed, and Uncovered which touched on some of these subjects but did so with a bludgeon and a screaming sense that the sky was falling. It doesn't make a difference if you're a bleeding heart liberal or a conservative this film will rattle your cage because it will very plainly show that its not what you believe that matters but how you can be manipulated to do what the rich want you to do. Class warfare? It is indeed though no one in the media would dare tell you that.

See this movie. It will anger you and it will depress you. But it must be seen simply because it will make you less likely to think that the winner of American Idol or Survivor is the most important news story of the day.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Origin of Aids (2004)

This is a careful step by step look at the probability that AIDS started as a disease in chimps and crossed over man in polio vaccine in the late 1950's in Africa. It begins with a story in Rolling Stone back in the late 80's or early 90's that was crucified in the scientific community not because it wasn't possible, rather because it named the wrong monkeys used and attacked a pillar of the research community and then moves on from there to later investigations on the subject which show very clearly that the race to cure polio may have made us the target of something worse. Using the words of those involved as well as the papers and documentary films from the time this is a chilling look at how science can go really wrong and how scientists will circle the wagons to protect one of their own, even in the face of evidence that something is afoot.

I like the calm and unsensational connecting of the dots that is used to lay out the case keeping everything on a level playing field, even at the end where the film makers say flat out that short of ever coming upon a sample of the drug from that time we will never know if this is a source of the HIV/AIDS virus. However there is enough circumstantial evidence to make you reasonably sure that they have gotten things right. (an interesting note is the quoted exchange of letters between competing scientists where one warns that the other that his vaccine appears to be contaminated with an unknown and here to fore never seen before virus, a warning that was completely dismissed).

See this movie since it will open your mind.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Sequel to the recent restart of the Star Trek franchise is a mixed bag of excellent parts that don't quite hang together. A better description might be this is some small  scale character scenes in between some huge scale action set pieces.

The premise of the film has a John Harrison causing all sorts of trouble for Star Fleet and the Enterprise. He's the new form of an old foe and he's going to get his revenge anyway that he can (echoes of 911).

For me the good time with old friends is less than it should be. The trouble is that instead of character development we have this huge action sequences that swallow up the small moments, and the pieces that should touch us are telegraphed way in advance, hell all one need do is to have watched several of the original films and TV series to know how things are going to go. I want to smack JJ Abrams because where he made the first film a restart and a continuation of the original series/films and thus made something truly wonderful, here he simply riffs on plot points that have gone before with references to tribbles, Harry Mudd, The Wrath of Khan and lord knows how many other episodes and series. In it's way the film is just as bad a Quentin Tarantino film with it's look how many things I can reference that you're never going to know.

While it doesn't make it a bad film, it is quite good, it simply is no where near as great as the previous film. I blame the need to have frequent large scale action sequences like every other big summer action film.

Recommended with the caveat that you know its a kind of dumbing down of the franchise.

(And is anyone else reminded of Nestor from Battle Beyond the stars by the white guys at the beginning?)

An Interview with Lucy Mulloy, Director of UNA NOCHE

Una Noche is the impressive and passionate directorial debut of NYU film school graduate, Lucy Mulloy.  The film centers around 3 Cuban teens who have lived in poverty all their lives and in one night, risk it all to live in freedom.  Una Noche has been screening at various film festivals throughout the year to captivated audiences and will be released in theaters in Miami and New York City on Friday, August 23.  The film is scheduled for a wider release in 10 more cities. Lucy Mulloy took the time out for Unseen Films to talk about her film she wrote and directed, what advice to give female filmmakers and more. 

Could you tell us what inspired you to make Una Noche?
The basic story of Una Noche was inspired by my meeting a young boy on the Malecon (sea front) in Havana. He must have been around 9 or 10 years old. I asked him whether he knew of any stories of young kids who had left on rafts and he started telling me about three teens who planned to leave together one day at dawn. The events that followed were terrifying and horrific and planted the seed for Una Noche although the narrative and characters are very different. I don’t want to tell you too much because it will give away Una Noche’s story! 
        Please tell us what inspired you to become a filmmaker.

I became a filmmaker thanks to my parents… they are both animators and are very inspiring, creative people. They didn’t let us watch TV much, so we had to make our own entertainment, painting, drawing etc. I was always around them when they were working so making movies was the most natural thing to do. My parents would be editing at home or shooting. We were involved in their movies since day one. I didn’t acknowledge it when I was younger, but both myself and my brother, who is also a filmmaker too, are very lucky to have such inspiring parents.
         Your film is a story which takes place in Cuba.  Could you tell us how that came about and did you feel any pressures communicating a story that is so specific to a particular place?

I spent a lot of time in Cuba and the way of life there became familiar to me. It was very important that movie felt real and portrayed the Havana that I was experiencing. It was also crucial to me to represent this voice that I was not hearing anywhere in the media neither inside nor outside Cuba.

I felt liberated creatively in Havana, away from critical eyes. I did not concern myself with what other people might think. Too much concern for how people will perceive your work can be the death of creativity. It becomes crippling when you second-guess what other people might like. In my real life I am probably too concerned with how people may see me, but in my work, I put so much passion and energy into it that it is the one place that I have to be free to make choice with my gut and do exactly what I feel is right with no limits or concern for whether other people like it or not. If I don’t work like that it’s not worth it for me.

Please tell us how you cast your lead actors in the film.
We started casting by following the traditional route to find young talent, through the acting schools and Cuban TV, but people were mainly trained for theatre and we were looking for something subtle. We started street casting. We went to every high school, beach, concert, party, cinema and ice cream parlour with flyers, and we had thousands of people audition. Every weekend we had a line of people going down the high street waiting to try out for Una Noche. Every person who came did an improvisation, and I interviewed everyone. I was also on the look out for additional characters. We had a lot of really talented people come in.

 Javier, who plays Elio, his picture was taken at his school. He stood out in his photo with his collar popped, and his charisma was apparent even in his snap shot. When he came into the audition he froze and did not say a word for what felt like a really long time, but when he eventually got the courage to speak, his improvisation was so good I could not tell if he was acting or serious.

Anailín (Lila) was at the beach with her family when she was asked to audition. When she came in she acted next to Dariel, who had, by this stage, met practically every girl in Havana. I looked at Dariel and both knew without saying anything that she was Lila.

I met Dariel (Raúl) at his school entrance. He was surrounded by a group of girls and I gave him a casting flyer. He was charming and had the air of being a player, which is what I was looking for in his character. After I met him, as I was walking away with the casting assistant, I told her that we had just found Raúl. He came to three auditions and got the part.

The film has been quite successful at film festival screenings.  Could you tell us about your experience touring with the film?
It has been incredible seeing how the story of Una Noche, which is about a specific place and a very particular society, can transcend and be understood in so many places. It brought home to me how emotions are understood in a similar way all over the world. I was so happy to see people from India, Morocco, Russia to France respond to the movie in similar ways, laughing at the same moments and empathizing with the characters’ situations. That was very inspiring.

How is Spike Lee involved with the film?
Spike Lee is my mentor and he has been incredibly supportive of the film from the very beginning. We were awarded the Spike Lee Grant, which went towards production of the film. He was also very helpful during the editing process and gave a lot of very useful advice. Spike is taking the presenting credit on Una Noche, which we are really happy about.

Do you have any advice for young women who are interested in making films?
Film is not easy for young men or women to start out in and I would give them both the same advise, to take each rejection as a stepping-stone to finding the right path. Do not let it get you down. The main thing is to stay passionate, be around good, supportive people, and to discern when something is worth your time and if you feel it is go for it with all your energy and tenacity.

For the young women reading this, maybe we have to make it happen more ourselves at this point in history. The doors are not that easy for us to open, but we are making movies.  Look at Lynn Shelton Dee Rees, Maryam_Keshavarz, Ry Russo-Young, Victoria Mahoney, Lucy Walker, Rebecca Thomas, Daniela Seggiaro, Eleanor Burke, So Yong Kim, Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza, to name a few. We are mainly at the start of our careers with one or a few features to our names, but we are securing funding and making our films on our own terms. Things are changing and there is a new generation of female filmmakers here.

Could you tell us anything about your future projects?
Yes, I am working on a script at the moment set in Rio and New York, which I am very excited about. I cannot wait to get back to working with actors and thinking about shots and editing. That is what I really love and what makes me really happy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

I am an Iron Man Geek. I have hundreds of issues of the comics plus lots of related stuff. I loved the first film, hated, mostly, the second...which brings me to the third film..

Weeks after it was released to theaters I finally got to see the third film. Not that my paltry admission made any difference seeing that the film is already one of the highest grossing films ever. One early summer's day I went to see what all the shouting was about and if it was better than the last film in the series.

First things first, the film is quite good, but I don't think it's great. Its far and away better than the second film, but over all not as good as the first.

The plot, which somehow has remained largely undiscussed, concerns Tony Stark dealing with the fall out of the Avengers film. He's got PTSD bad. Not sleeping for days he tinkers and comes up with weird suit variations. Eventually he gets involved in the machinations of The Mandarin an evil terrorist doing some truly vile things. The Mandarin is some how blowing things up which leaves the shadows of his victims etched into the walls. Theres more but I'll be nice and leave it there.

Better than Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 has a bit of trouble starting, things are a bit unfocused, with bad guy semi off screen while Tony mopes and fiddles. Once Tony is drawn into the action, via a kick ass destruction of his mansion, the film takes off and we get some great action sequences punctuated by one liners and some nice moments between Tony and Pepper.

The problem for me is that the plot is a bit too simple. Yes there are twists and turns, but at the same time, and I say this with a great affection for the genre, it's too much of a comic book. Yes the bad guys are bad but at the same time the whole things feels over inflated... and a bit too obvious, I can't believe that people aren't talking about the twists and turns or even discussing the plot. Most people I know are stating the film is good and leaving it at that. Don't get me wrong, I had a good time but I was hoping for a bit more something.

While I recommend the film with out serious reservation, I'm still hard pressed to fathom why the film has made so much money. If you have any ideas let me know.

DURESORI: THE VOICE OF THE EAST plays for Free Tuesday at the Korean Cultural Services free films in Tribeca

The next free Korean Cultural Service film is Tribeca is Tuesday. The film is the last in the K-pop series. Here’s what their web site says:

North American Premiere!

Based on a true story, Duresori: The Voice of the East is shot in documentary style and tells the story of high school seniors Seul-ki and Ah-reum. Like other teenagers, they’re stressing over upcoming college entrance exams – and even more so when they’re forced to join the school choir in order to fill a remaining requirement. There, their unorthodox instructor blends the principles of classic Western music and traditional Korean song. Though at first they are reluctant to learn, they soon find a love for this exciting blend of music… and are forced to band together when the school cancels their annual summer concert. Will their music survive?

The film will be shown in Korean with English subtitles.

The website is also saying that the film after that is a special screening of SECRETLY GREATLY (2013, 124 min), on September 10th, 2013.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Purge(2013)

The Purge is a dystopian horror film that puts forward an America where crime is nonexistent and that unemployment is near zero. This is thanks to an annual purge , the one night every year when people can do anything and face no consequences. Within a gated community a family waits out the purge in its impenetrable house, however someone shows up looking for help, and somehow the mobs have breached the gates and they want in as well…

This is what amounts to a well-made slasher film with a brain. While the film is largely framed as a hunt and kill film, it also raises some interesting ideas about family and society. Ethan Hawke and the rest of the cast sell things well enough that you do buy into there being more than murder going on as well as fear for their lives and care about what happens.

The problem with the film, and it’s a major problem that pulls the entire film down, is the central premise of the purge. How would one night of murder rape and pillaging make all of the world’s troubles go away? Robbery perhaps, but murders and rape tend to come from anger or disease. You can lessen the crimes but you can’t stop it. The whole concept is too much to accept and would require a whole truck load of explanation to work. Yes I know I’m over thinking things, but at the same time the film is trying to be more than a hack and slash.

This should be a better film but I couldn’t get past the illogic of the central premise and so the whole house of cards collapsed.

Worth a try, but I’d wait for cable.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

After Earth (2013)

After Earth largely tanked in the US. In many ways it was primed for brickbats from the start-I heard that the producers were not screening it for anyone until the last possible moment. It also had a chip on its shoulder because it's director, the M Night Shamalan or as I call him SHamalama dingdong, was the director. Sure it was a work for hire but it was his name attached so people went in with knives drawn.

On the other hand back in June I saw writer Peter David  wax poetic about the film and the mythology of the world with in it. He said it isn't a bad film....

Having seen the film I find that it's not the worst film of the year, that Peter David is right about how the story and the mythology are pretty good, but on the other hand there are a couple of choices that wound the film really badly.

For those who don't know the plot of the film has Jaden Smith being held back from the space rangers because of problems in the field portion of his studies. His dad is a legendary general, he's played by Will Smith, decides to take him along on a trip . However as they are in transit their ship runs into problem. Hoping to reach the nearest planet the ship breaks up and crashes. The only ones left alive are the two Smiths. Will's legs are broken and when it's discovered that the rescue beacon is a good distance away Jaden must fight his fear to go retrieve it if they want to get home

It's a well done film that on the face of it is a pretty good action adventure, but as I said a couple of really bad (acting) choices were taken and it wrecks things.

The first really bad choice is to make Jaden high strung. He's not high strung, he's stretched tight to one the point of being one quarter turn of snapping. There is no question s to why he's not a ranger, he's this close to insane. This might have worked if we saw him at a point where he wasn't twitchy, but all wee see is the twitchy Jaden and it you really can't root for him.

The second bad choice is to make Will a stick in the mud. I mean he's so uptight, he never relaxes even at home. Its no wonder Jaden is neurotic. It would be better if we saw some sign of him relaxed at some point. It would also help if he said something other than a statement of philosophy or barking an order. Yes there are the flashbacks, but they don't help much. Mostly Will is a tough as nails philosophy machine.

Ultimately I kind of liked the film. I know about an hour in, when the set up was long done and we were hip deep in the danger, I was ready for a sequel, something that may or may not happen. I figure with a sequel we'll get past the crap that doesn't work and focus on the stuff that did.

Worth a shot on cable or Netflix

Monday, August 19, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Rethink and restart of Superman gets a great deal right, and even more wrong. For my money it's a major misfire.

The plot of the film has Jor-el sending his only son to earth to escape the ultimate destruction of Krypton which is dying due to over use of the planets resources. Meanwhile General Zod and his men stage a coup, are stopped and are sent off to prion. However they escape and come to earth when Kal-el, aka Clark Kent, sets off a beacon in a Kryptonian scout ship. Clark has been wandering the earth as a migrant worker helping people where he can and disappearing after he is discovered. What follows are endless battles as Superman/Clark fights for us and Zod tries to take over the earth.

While I like the idea of Clark the wanderer I find that the idea of a tortured Clark too contrived. The shift from the Clark Kent/Superman we all know to a brooding moody hero feels much too calculated. I think it was assumed that audiences wouldn't buy the classic superman so they changed him.

The real problem with the film is the shift away from character to big budget action set pieces. Over half this film has to be things blowing up or being destroyed. Not even the Transformer films, which I largely despise, are this bad.I tuned out and turned off. None of it makes a lick of sense with huge gaps in logic filling the places between explosions. Worse many of the sequences seem to have been cribbed from else where- Avatar and numerous video games.

As for the much heralded climatic battle between Zod and Superman- its a bust and intellectually and emotionally wrong. While I would be fine with Superman killing under the right circumstances- I mean how many people die as a result of his destruction?- the situation here is all wrong and there were ways around it. What I don't like is that the broken brains behind this film seem to have constructed this whole mess of a film for that one moment and then failed to get it to work-not the least of which is if Zod is super powered like Clark how could his neck be snapped? (I could go into about six other reasons but I won't bore you with comic geek stuff)

While there is much to love  about this restart (primarily the sequences with Clark and his fathers) and the possibility of more films- the vast majority of this film is best forgotten.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Sunday Nightcap 8/18/13 Short reviews of newer stuff and links

This week I'm going to take a look at some the year's big blockbusters. Yea I know they are hardly unseen films, but at the same time one can't live just by watching small films any more than one could live on big ones. To ease into it I'm going to give word on some (mostly) big releases that generated small reviews.

VEHICLE 17- It may not be the worst film of the year as one person I know has called it but it is one of the dullest- and it's an inaction movie instead of an action one which says something. Paul Walker tales the wrong rental car and ends up framed for some police corruption. While its clever to keep the whole film in the car, it makes for a rather limited sort of film, and since we don't know somethings interest wanes. I've seen better and worse.

KILLING SEASON has DeNiro battling Travolta for survival in and around the woods of DeNiro's mountain home. An allegory about war the film tries way too hard to be about something and ends up about nothing. Outside of the beautiful setting and Travolta's harsh appearance there isn't much to remember.

GROWN UPS 2- is funnier than the first film and better but it's still a a mess since its a series of events ideas without connections.

THE INTERNSHIP- Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson crash Google. I thought I would hate it, but somewhere in the middle of it I kind of fell in like with it and I'm kind of bummed it sank without making much in the way of waves. Thankfully home video is sure to rescue it and turn it into a cult hit. (There is a good chance I'll do a big review down the road)

Roland Emmerich's WHITE HOUSE DOWN should have been better that OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN but it's killed from the outset thanks to a near static first half hour. Yea the action comes hot and heavy for a while, but there are still great swaths where nothing much happens. The talk might have worked but it doesn't move fast enough to hide the flaws. Worse it makes even less sense than the earlier film. It's not a bad film, rather it's one that ain't a great deal of fun. (and it suffers from having punchlines that are in both films)

PAIN & GAIN has thrown me for a loop. Michael Bay did this? Really? The true story of a bunch of knuckleheads who figure the fastest way to make money is through kidnap and murder doesn't seem like comedy material but Bay somehow pulls it off. Understand its black as night, really gruesome and not for kids. I really liked it but I need to see it again before I really write it up.

THE CONJURING is one of the stories from the files of the Warrens, para-psychologists who looked into the Amityville Horror. Despite the feeling that the Warrens are charlatans (they said the Amityville Horror was real even though it was a hoax) the film is genuinely scary. You'll jump, you'll feel uneasy. You'll lose your popcorn.

I have no idea how Brett Easton Ellis is considered anything other than a hack. He’s a one note typist at best that has been rewriting the same bad idea for decades. The fact that he has any sort of creative career I have to chalk up to his ability to schmooze the right people and pay for drinks. He must be one hell of a dinner guest. Still the fact that he makes money gives me hope that one day I’ll be able to make money from what I write… Which brings me to THE CANYONS the film Ellis wrote for Paul Schrader. Its awful. The story of some fringe people in Hollywood in obsessive relationships that turns bloody for no real reason at the end, is a film only it’s filmmaker could love. Its shallow people, who are unlike anyone I’ve ever met, doing shallow things that only bad written fictional people do. Yes Lindsay Lohan is quite good, but she deserves better, but she’s lost in a bad in a bad movie of other peoples making. Avoid this one.

WORLD WAR Z disappoints. Following the start of a zombie apocalypse Brad Pitt and his family end up traveling around the world.  The troubled production has some great action set pieces but at the same time it has almost no real characters only cliche moments used to get the emotion across and link the big moments.  While not a bad film, it isn't anything special. It's also clear proof that HBO was foolish not to have turned the novel into a miniseries since long form television would have been ideal for telling the tale. The one key nagging question that hangs over the film is how did so many people end up dead so fast? I mean Pitt and family seem to be on a family jaunt when all hell breaks loose. How did no one know? It makes no sense. There are more but just that one goes to illustrate the internal problems with the film that take away all the fun.

SMURFS 2  While  not as much fun as the first film it's still a great deal of fun once it gets to Paris. Come on Brendan Gleeson gets turned into duck and the film has Neil Patrick Harris, what more do you need?

And now some links via Randi

Vincent Price on location for MADHOUSE

The disturbing THE HAND

Kristin Kemper's SVA Thesis

Behind Elysium

What should have been the last Indiana Jones film

Pacific Rim art

Hopper's Nighthawks alive in NYC

The end of drive-ins

When the Wind Blows(1986)

Be prepared to have your heart broken.

Somewhere in England-although it could be anywhere, an older couple deals with the threat of an upcoming war and a nuclear bombing. The bombs are in the distance and there is big explosions and fire and destruction just a slow waiting for the inevitable as the couple puts its faith in their government and the pamphlet they’ve been given to help them get through it.

Beautifully animated by Jimmy T. Murakami this is one of the unheralded and most beautifully animated films of the 1980's. I’m guessing that the reason people don’t really talk about the film is simply they don’t want to deal with the sadness that it brings. This is a devastating film that is wickedly bittersweet and sad. I don’t like to go to the place the film takes me to, but at the same time I find that I keep going back to the film again and again simply because the characters are so compelling I keep hoping maybe they won’t end up behind that door. I also keep going back because it’s a damn fine film of the sort you must keep returning to whether you want to or not.

I know that everytime I watch the film I keep wanting to scream at the screen for Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills to do something different, not to trust the hand out, to take real cover, to make a real effort to remain safe, but at the same time I realize that the dangerously stupid mistakes that the couple make are ultimately variations of stupid things I and the rest of us do ourselves in trusting the government and believing that they really know what they are doing.

You should see this film. Partly because it’s a wake up call about what we may one day face ourselves, but mostly you should see it for the beautiful animation and the wonderful performances of Ashcroft and Mills as Hilda and Jim. They breath such life into the characters that it really makes you wonder why there can’t be an Oscar for best vocal performance in an animated film.

One of the most truly under-appreciated animated films you’ll ever run across.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tale of the Fox(made 1930 released in German 1937 In French 1941)

Tale of the Fox is a masterpiece of feature animation. Completed around 1930 the film sat on the shelf for a few years before a German soundtrack was put together before a French one was done a couple of years later. It’s the French dialog track that is out on DVD.

The story is based on the various stories of Renard, the fox, who causes mischief in the animal kingdom until the king has him arrested- but even that doesn’t stop him.

A masterpiece of world cinema, at least on a technical level, this film is truly amazing to look at. How the hell did Ladislas Starevich get the animation to look this good? The fluidity of the motion blows me away and I’m not sure how he did some of the bits. The assault on the Fox’s castle at the end of the film is quite simply a mind blower, yes some bits look animated, but other things don’t and what’s confusing they are often in the same shot.

What’s also mind blowing is that most of the characters are covered in fur and you don’t really get any indication that unseen hands are touching them. Watch Willis Obrien’s work in King Kong and you see his fur rippling as the result of the animators touching Kong’s fur. You have almost none of that here.

As wonderful as the film is technically, the film suffers in one key area- Renard- the fox is a dick. There is no getting around it he really is a slime who’s tricks are more damaging them funny. Yes I know this is variations of the various trickster legends, but at the same I don’t ever remember the stories being this nasty especially since the trickster always tends to deflate pomposity and here it’s the fox trying to abuse everyone. I could live with it if the rest of the characters weren’t so stupid. How could the King no realize sooner there was a jerk in his kingdom?

Reservations aside, this film is definitely worth looking for, especially if you’re a fan of animated films.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002)

Two men are sent to a village in the mountains for re-education during Mao's cultural revolution. Both fall in love with a seamstress in the village to whom they read forbidden books to in stolen moments.

Beautiful, but unevenly paced story about the power of literature and music to change the world and change ourselves. Mostly unremarkable, the film pretty much does what you think it will, and since the film wasn't made by Orwell the ending (or its type) is never really in doubt.

I really enjoyed the interaction between the characters, the exchanges between them seem genuine and real but the plot line isn't gripping, this is a story about literature changing the world not a thriller with mad escapes. Admittedly watching this at 1230 in the morning didn't help my ability to remain focused, however I still think that I probably would have had my attention wander. That said worth a look, but not too late at night in the middle of a movie marathon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Home to Danger (1951)

At some point I have to come up with a way of handling the small scale films that are good enough to note but which really don’t engender a long review.

For example I recently saw the film Home to Danger which was an early one directed by Terrence Fisher. This small scale programmer has a young woman being called back to London after the death of her father. They had been slightly estranged, she wanting to make her own way in the world didn't sit well with her old man. When the will is read she is at first given some jewelry, however in a recently added codicil she was given a house in the country. This sets in motion a a plot to have her killed by a very bad man who was mixed up with the girl’s father.

This is a small scale gem. This is a sweet little thriller that does what it does and gets off. The twists and turns are not really your typical ones and the film moves through them with great skill.

The problem is that outside of telling you that this is a neat little thriller, there isn’t much to say beyond that. This is one to keep an eye out for.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Werner Herzog: Parables of Folly and Madness starts Friday at Lincoln Center

Herzog with Klaus Kinski the master of folly and madness himself
Friday at Lincoln Center starts Werner Herzog: Parables of Folly and Madness.

This is a now increasingly rare chance to see some of Herzog’s films on a big screen in 35mm. While all the films are good the real treats are the screenings of Aguirre and Fitzcaraldo, two huge epic films which gain much by seeing them BIG. The series runs Friday through next Thursday, but you’ll want to camp out on Saturday and especially Sunday when you can overdose on the mania.

For full details, including a multi film discount, go here.

Unstoppable Man (1961)

Sinister Cinema is right, this is an underappreciated gem.

The plot of the film has Lois Maxwell take her nephew for an afternoon of sightseeing in London. Unfortunately her young charge is kidnapped. Unfortunately for the kidnappers the boy’s father is Cameron Mitchell and he’s going to stop at nothing to get the boy back. Mitchell is focused on getting the boy back that he refuses to fully cooperate with the police since he suspects that the boy may end up dead since he saw the bad guys faces.

Tight little film runs just over an hour and really packs a punch. It helps that both the bad guys and Mitchell play no nonsense kind of guys. This sets the two on a collision course full of tension and ending in an explosion of violence. I know I found myself murmuring Yes as Mitchell takes it to the kidnappers.

Mitchell is the kind of dad we all want. A great business man, loving and their for his kids and a bitch on wheels when you mess with his children. I mean we all want a dad who’ll whip out a flame thrower and torch anyone who did us wrong (I have no idea where that came from but it’s a cool way to end the movie).

This is a great great little film. Put it on my list of cinematic finds for the year.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

THE PATIENCE STONE opens tomorrow, go see it.

I saw the PATIENCE STONE back at Tribeca. When I saw the film I liked it. (My original review can be found here) And while I liked it I kind of expected it to end up like most of the 80 or so films I saw at the festival, half remembered two weeks after it's over.

That's not what happened.

What happened was the film haunted me. It stayed around the fringes of my psyche and dared me to forget it. I couldn't forget it and some four months on I'm still thinking about the film.

Actually what I'm thinking about is Golshifteh Farahani, the star of the film. She turns in one of the best performances of the year and maybe a couple of years. If the film works, and it does, its because she grabs you by the throat and makes you feel all of her characters pain and anguish and hope. She is on screen for the entire film and she makes every second count.

The plot of the film for those who don't know concerns a woman in an unnamed country taking care of her catatonic husband. He was injured in a stupid fight, and its left to her to care for him as the country and her neighborhood is engulfed in warfare. With time to kill and not expecting him to really recover she pours out her life to him as if he were the mythical patience stone, which will take all of your sorrow and then break leaving you with a new start.

It may not sound like much, but trust me Golshifteh Farahani makes it worth seeing. This is one of those performances of the ages. Assuming the right people see it look for the film,and Farahani's performance to end up on end of year lists. Sadly the film will not get Oscar notice since it was Afghanistan's entry last year, which means that there will be no Oscars this year. Its a major loss because if there were justice she'd at the very least get a nomination.

The film opens tomorrow in New York and then will be going elsewhere- do yourself a favor and go see it. Trust me this is one you'll want to see before your friends come to tell you about it.

13th Chair (1929)

Most people don’t realize that Bela Lugosi had been making films for over a decade before he got his role as Dracula. To be certain he wasn’t the superstar that he’d become but he was still a force to be reckoned with on screen. Actually not only had Bela been making movies before Dracula, he also was working with Tod Browning, his Dracula director. Two years before Browning had cast Bela Drac he was cast as a detective investigating a murder at a séance in first film version of The 13th Chair.

The 13th Chair tells the story of  EdwardWales, played by Jon Davidson, who brings together a group of people who may have been involved in the murder of his friend. He’s worked it out that he suspects a highly placed woman had done it while dressed in a veiled costume. When everyone is brought together for a séance and the lights go out Wales is killed and Bela’s detective is brought into investigate.

Based on a play the film is very talky, normally this would kill a film but here the talk actually drives the film as the medium explains the cons of séances and thus sets up a great deal of tension because she assures us no trickery was going to be used this time. After the murder occurs Lugosi shows up and essentially takes over the film as he tries to run down a murderer. It’s a tour de force performance that surprisingly didn’t make Lugosi a star. Say what you will its clear even here he had great screen presence.

This is a neat little film. Yes the fact that it’s a stage play adaption limits camera moves but at the same time this isn’t a film that needs to be opened up (though supposedly the 1937 remake is better) For me its entertaining in it’s atypical nature, the staginess actually helps the film and gives a reason for it to unfold as it does.

A neat little confection that is in the Turner classics rotation and worth tracking down.