Monday, September 30, 2013

Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis at the Park Avenue Armory

Sell your kids and go see Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis. Sell them before I sell them so I can go see it again.

As anyone who’s read this blog knows I’m a he Adam Curtis fan. I’ve reviewed almost everything he’s done (see the reviews here) and I find his take on recent history enlightening and infuriating. He’s the sort of filmmaker who assumes you’re not stupid and can keep up with him which makes him an extremely rare bird.

The film cum concert is neither a film nor concert in any real sense. It’s a political provocation and a poke in the eye. It’s a call for the audience to get off its ass and change the world because despite what we are being told change is possible., a better world is possible if only we are willing to find our way home past the guard dogs.

The show as being performed at Park Avenue is a carefully staged managed affair. Let into the venue early we are kept in a small curtained off area, then about fifteen minutes before the start we are let into s bowl shaped arena with screens on every wall except the rear. Once the performance begins the screens are filled with various images and text telling the story of how we went from a world where we dreamed of a hopeful future and now simply try to keep the status quo and manage the danger. Of course this makes for a world were nothing changes and danger lurks everywhere.

Scoring it all and complimenting Curtis’s narration was the music of Massive Attack. Playing largely covers anything from Russian punk songs (which I knew for some unknown reason) to the Archies’s Sugar Sugar to Bela Lugosi is Dead to I don’t know what else. Its an eclectic mix that made for some interesting marriages with the image (The pre-2001 destruction of the world was chilling).

I, and Peter Gutierrez ate it up from the start. I know early on many people had no idea what they were seeing. They seemed confused that it wasn’t a straight on Massive Attack concert. However as things went on they got into it and were soaking in the politics and the music.

As an Adam Curtis film its probably the least thing he’s done, but you can’t say it’s really a film simply because it has to mesh with the music and the dancing. As political poke in the eye it’s a brilliant piece of agit-prop. It’s the sort of thing that made you want to go out and storm the barricades. It also made me want to go back through Curtis’s body of work. It’s a wonderful experience that moves you intellectually and emotionally.

Leaving, once we made it past the barking guard dogs, I found the audience still engaged. People were talking about the performance more than just good and bad, people were trying to work out what they’d just seen. Score one for a filmmaker and music group that have managed to get a whole bunch of people off their asses and to move away from complacency.

The show plays through Friday the 4th at the Park Avenue Armory. If you can score tickets do yourself a favor and go.

Assuming this stays up it will give you a taste of what it's like- though the sound wasn't as deafening as this makes it appear

Costa De Morte (2013) New York FIlm Festival 2013

It begins in a fog and then gets wonderfully clear

Playing as part of the New York Film  Festival's Avant Garde series Costa de Morte is something wonderfully unexpected- a hypnotic journey into a landscape.

A series of long takes of the land and seascapes around the are know as Costa de Morte, the film becomes something akin to standing at a distance and just taking a break to look at the landscape.

The film begins in a fog shrouded forest as we watch some men cutting down trees. The shots here run a very long time and I was afraid that the whole film would be as seemingly static and long as this sequences, however its not long before we are by the sea, in the villages and mountains and despite being at a distance, getting to kow the people. The reason we learn about the people is because mixed with the natural sound we hear the sound of several conversations of what could be the people we are seeing in the image. The result was truly wonderful experience.

How good is the film? Typically with the Avanat Garde films I see people leave the screenings never to return. This time, outside of one gentleman who I knew couldn't stay to the very end, anyone who left hurried out and hurried back. This is a film that kept it's full audience of jaded critics to the bitter end.

If there is anything remotely like a flaw its that the film ends four or five times before actually ending. What I mean by this is that in the final ten minutes or so there are several times where if the film would have ended it would have been perfect. Instead it continued on to another ending and another until when it finally ends it feels as if it's going to continue on. Its a minor flaw but nothing that should stop you from seeing this film.

Playing as program 3A at the festival on several dates beginning Thursday, Costa de Morte is worth making the effort to see on the big screen especially if you are patient.

One of the finds of the festival

Traveling up and down a mountain 12 times with Manakamana (2013) New York Film Festival

Your view for the next two hours

This is going to be brief since you're either going to love this or hate it. For me this should be in a museum or gallery where you can walk in and out not be locked in to 118 minutes of variations of the same thing.

The film are six trips up a mountain to a temple in Nepal and six trips back. The camera is locked so we simply watch the people riding in the car going up. The only variations are the people, whether its up or down, or which side of the cable car (front or back) the camera is.

Thats it.

Well there are the goats in carrier car- the sixth trip up is the goats- four or five goats  are tied so their butts face us as the cable car goes up. The effect is that for nine minutes we have a goat's asses staring up in the face. Did I really need to see the world that way? (In all honesty some people I talked to liked the goats and didn't fixate on their butts but the way they seemed to be looking at the scenery and reacting to the sounds.)

It was at that point I gathered up my stuff and when the next segement was almost done I got up and left. I didn't need to see more.(actually a lot of people left from the second segment on)

I understand why this is at the festival, the film can be hypnotic, and you fall into looking at the country and listening to the sounds, but at the same time it goes nowhere  just round and back again- which is why this should be an installation not a feature film.

If this is your kind of thing- go for it -if not- skip it.

(Addendum- in speaking with several people the day after the press screening I was told that most of the more interesting material is in the second half. Its during the second half where the people coming back from the temple react to the experience and talk about their lives and what they've seen. Everyone I talked to said that the one thing they kind of wished they had done was alternated the up the mountain trips with the down so that you didn't have to wait to see how people reacted to their time on the mountain.  The very positive reaction to the second half was so strong I tried to see if I could wrangle seeing the film again in a public screening but couldn't-I am looking forward to seeing it on DVD)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alan Partridge (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Here at the New York Film Festival it's a day for hostage-taking films: from the sublime (Captain Phillips) to this afternoon's ridiculous: Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge, based on Coogan's long-running radio and television character as a long-running radio and, character. Taking a situation comedy based around a specific character and turning it into a motion picture is always a gamble — see, for instance, Mr. Bean, Borat, or the wide range from hilarious to horrible in the various Saturday Night Live movies. Generally requiring significant world-building behind the character and fleshing out his relationships can be a gamble. Coogan's done much of the heavy lifting, though. The wide variety and range of Alan Partridge's appearances in UK comedy have rounded out what would be a fairly one-note comedy character and for fans of Coogan, much of the back-matter on Partridge's personality and quirks is already well colored in. I'm one of those fans. For a newcomer to Partridge's world, however — which will include most of the United States — he's got some uphill work to entertain and amuse with this very British comedy. Luckily the situations and supporting characters are so well-drawn they create a hilarious world regardless of previous familiarity.

When local radio DJ Partridge's hilariously cowardly contract negotiations go awry, he causes (not inadvertently) the firing of colleague Pat Farrell (the brilliantly cast Colm Meaney, who doesn't get enough film work as far as I'm concerned). Postal Pat (with no black-and-white cat in sight) takes the station and its employees hostage with an ineptly handled shotgun, and he trusts only his mate Alan to handle the negotiations between his demands and the police, unsuspecting Alan's the one who got him into this mess in the first place. Coogan, Meaney, and Tim Key (as a blissfully eager presenter) seize control of the airwaves, airing a bizarre radio show to take their demands to the people.

Alan Partridge's laughs come from a decently balanced blend of wordplay, well-drawn characters, and pratfalls; the extended sequence of Partridge crawling out of a window and losing his pants a worthy successor to the slapstick stunts of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. A lot of the humor consists of Alan Partridge saying something cluelessly outrageous and other characters staring at him in disbelief, but most of the others are even more clueless than he — that bizarre supporting cast of characters from a world straight out of UK sitcoms or Simon Pegg films.

It's perhaps hyperbole after 25 years of his performances to admit that Coogan nails the character perfectly, but he acquits himself well on the big screen in a much longer story. He's quick with a glib quote and a wink, and the fast-paced dialogue ensures that if a joke falls flat, there'll be another one in a few seconds. It's all extremely British. But Coogan's not afraid to sprinkle a small handful of quiet, sad, serious moments and then punctuate them with black comedy. "I brought Molly here, to scatter her ashes. Buried at sea," Pat says. Alan adds: "Like bin Laden." It's a handful of silly, irreverent fun and it will likely make a bajillion dollars in the UK. Here in the United States is another matter. If I had my way this would be on every American critic's "Favorite Cult Film" list for the year.

Alan Partridge premieres at the New York Film Festival 2013, and opens nationally in the US early next year.

Nightcap 9/29/13 How the volume of what you see affects the quality and style of what you write or how A Single Shot got lost at Tribeca and why our NYFF is as it is this year

Hubert Vigilla contemplates how many movies he's seeing and wonders how he'll ever write them up

A couple weeks back when I was doing some prep work for the New York Film Festival I was watching the film A Single Shot for a second time on VOD. I had seen the film back in April at Tribeca and was kind of mixed on it. In the crush of films it just seemed to be part of a very good pack, but part of the pack none the less.

Seeing the film on its own, away from the crush of films- I think at Tribeca it was the third or fourth film I had seen that particular day, the film played better. The performances stood out and the plot, which seemed derivative of other things actually had shading that made it stand out. It was and is a better film than I gave it credit for early on.

I mention this because as we go head in to the crush of the New York Film Festival you should be aware that any press reporting at any festival is going to be affected by the crush of what the reporter is seeing. While NYFF is not Tribeca or some of the other massive film festivals it’s still a huge festival screening sixty plus films. Press screenings at festivals are largely conducted as never ending of daisy chains. Film follows film with only enough time to go to the bathroom and maybe scribble a note in between. You have to hope to have good notes so you can really remember what you’ve seen.

In a massive festival such as Tribeca or Toronto or Fantasia or New York  the films blur together and go grey with only the very good and the very bad standing out. Anything that is in the middle gets blotted out or marginalized often unfairly- A Single Shot for example.

After four years of this I completely understand the rhythms of the festivals. I know it’s going to happen but I press on anyway. If you notice how my detailed reporting gets less and less as say Tribeca goes on you now know why. I will be detailed when I can, but mostly I triage and let you know what’s good or bad. I suspect I could see less films and give more thought, but at the same time, I do want to see as much as I can simply because in many cases I may never get another shot- besides I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything completely wrong. And while in the case of A Single Shot I may have missed the nuances that make it better than good, I am able to go back and re-review the film, I can and will admit that I’ve not given it a fair shake.

With the New York Film Festival we’re going to be reporting on roughly half the films (less the Convergence series and only a couple of  Avant-Garde films). The reason for this is twofold, first our schedules won’t allow for more than we are doing. We all work day jobs and covering things are press screenings require that we take time off to see the films and even in the case of public screenings there is only so much we can afford to do. Secondly this year in an effort to get better coverage I’ve told John and Chocko, let’s just concentrate on the films we want to see. Normally at a festival I try to make Unseen a website of record since you don’t know where films will appear again-however with this year’s NYFF so many films are getting later releases I’ve decided to just try and have a good time. I want pieces that are good writing and not by rote (And that is directed at me rather than my compatriots)

Looking over what I've written so far about the NYFF films I find I'm happy with what I've done. Some of the pieces are quite short- the review for Richard Curtis's ABOUT TIME is a single line (after a couple of paragraphs of explanation) some are a bit more wordy- and in the case of THE WIND RISES its spawned a second piece that may not show up until the festival is done on the state of animation.

However I already see that the crush of what I've seen at the festival and outside it (there are three or four additional new release reviews hitting this week as well) has affected my view of films since AFTERNOON OF THE FAUN and LE WEEK-END got lost in my memory. With FAUN it's not a great loss (a review runs on the 3rd)  but with LE WEEK-END its near catastrophic in that it's a small scale charmer that is best taken on its own terms and not part of a daisy chain or 30 films. In writing the review (which will appear on the 5th) I had to sit quietly and try to clear out the films I had seen following it, the weighty  LAST OF THE UNJUST and THE WIND RISES, before I could write about the film. I hope that an explanation of the wonders of the film will be found in my words when they are finally posted.

Ultimately the point I'm trying to make here is that be aware when reading critics that not only are they human, but that what and how they are seeing very much affects how they feel and write about their experiences.

(A big thank you to Hubert Vigilla of Flixist not only for the company at the screenings but also for letting me use the picture at the top)

Captain Phillips (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Some actors are tremendously selfish. At eight-and-a-half pounds, an Oscar statue...excuse me, an Academy Award® of Merit, to give it is full registered name, can hold up a stack of large books against a wall, and a pair of them will make dandy bookends for all but the most voracious reader. How selfish is Tom Hanks, then, to star in a movie whose titular role puts him right in the running to earn a third one of these naked golden action figure blunt instruments? How many books do you have anyway, Tom?

Captain Phillips is one of two 2013 movies in which Tom Hanks plays a real person based on real events in a motion picture. The other is Saving Mr. Banks, which Hanks as Sgt. Walt Disney storms the beaches of Nazi-occupied France to rescue banker George Banks (David Tomlinson) from the clutches of the evil Cockney Dick van Dyke know, it's possible I haven't watched the trailer on this one yet. In neither of these movies is Hanks playing lovable drawling Woody the Cowboy or brooding historical detective Robert Langdon but the real nautical captain Richard Phillips, whose freight ship Maersk Alabama was hijacked in 2009 by Somali pirates, leading to Captain Phillips being kidnapped and taken on a tense sea voyage towards Somalia where he will surely be killed if the combined forces of the United States Navy Fleet As It Appears on Film™ aren't able to rescue him first. Spoiler warning: Captain Phillips survived to later wrote a book on his ordeal, which was made into this movie by director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum). With the military chops of a Bourne movie but filmed in a quasi-documentary style reminiscent of Greengrass's United 93 and Green Zone, Phillips is an odd mix of a political statement and a Tom Clancy-style adventure that never can quite decide which of the two it wants to be. Smart move, then, to cast Hanks, the ordinary man's ordinary man who does ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances and lives to tell the tale.

Hanks plays it straight throughout. His Phillips is strong-willed and sharp but low-key, about as demonstrative as a Dane on Xanax. Despite the film's thriller-trappings he's no action hero: his reaction to Maersk Alabama's boarding and capture by Somali pirates is to stay calm, play dumb, protect his crew and keep his eyes open. It's the same crew he chewed out a few scenes earlier—a pointed scene that's about as low-key as you would expect a stern Tom Hanks would be, but his crew gets the point immediately: coffee break's over, we're entering dangerous waters. Hanks's restrained, impassive expression (and a not entirely convincing Boston accent) matches the muted colors, the worn machinery and the gritty, grainy dark scenes as his crew hides in the engine room or during the ordeal of being carted off by the pirates in his own ship's lifeboat. Plainly, this is the fella we're rooting for to triumph over those nasty, terribly foreign Somali pirates, even if we can't locate Somalia on a map. It probably has a shore for them to have pirates, right?

That the pirates are plain by Somali-born actors we haven't seen on the screen twenty times before it a benefit; that they play so well off against Hanks is a plus. Gangly, gawky Barkhad Abdi stands out as pirate captain Muse, as chock-full of self-assured arrogance as a cup of coffee is of nuts beans: all bluster and pride as he holds Phillips at gunpoint but susceptible to Phillips's suggestions to surrender when the hijackers are in retreat, worn down and running directly into a US naval cordon. He's balanced in both bulk and demeanor by alpha male Najee (Faysal Ahmed), a badass Jiminy Cricket who goads Muse into situations he doesn't want to be, and skinny teenager Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), eager to prove himself on the disastrous mission but becoming the most sympathetic to the captured Phillips, who wages a war of psychology—his only weapon—against the pirates.

Even in their incredibly primitive pirate boats, the pirates and their portrayers are a force to be reckoned with. They're motivated by greed but also survival. Greengrass gives a token nod to them being forced into this life by a Somali warlord and throws in a few exchanges between them and Phillips on the modern necessity of their lives, but that's about the extent of it. There's little real social commentary here, especially in the second half, which begins to resemble a Tom Clancy adventure with parachuting Navy SEALs, crack sharpshooters, highly-developed bugging devices and all events being video-recorded by naval personnel for future reference (and, in his post-Abu Ghraib age, to keep military personnel on the up-and-up when interrogating prisoners?). For all its real world trappings, it may as well be an episode of Star Trek, with Romulans and the Neutral Zone stepping in for pirates and Somalia. Phillips even has his own Corbomite Maneuver, a Kirk-like bluff playing both sides of a radio exchange between the Maersk Alabama and supposed US military forces. It scares off half of the initial attackers, but unlike Shatner, Hanks plays his Captain straight, just the hint of the wheels of that magnificent Hanks-brain turning around to plan a possible defense. Not like Kirk then, more like Spock: Phillips is impassive and muted, calm under fire and sans cinematic wisecracks, keeping his emotions under wraps until the very last moments of the film. He only goes into a sobbing shock at the end. As do we.

There's no denying Captain Phillips is as compelling, especially during the sea chase sequences. This is a film in which to crank up your pacemaker to keep time, and don't bother with the popcorn; it'll sit in your lap forgotten. But in the hands of a less commercial and action-oriented director, would this have been a film of more political import than tailored entertainment? Would we have gotten more than a head nod to current events? Would we have gone to see a film that goes into more depth about the plight of the Somali people and the economic and political challenges of our times? Well, probably not. But Captain Phillips can't decide which film it wants to be. Is this a product of it being based on a true story? You can't turn this real-life man into Die Hard's John McClane...even if he's defending his ship under siege and uses broken glass to thwart barefoot intruders. There's plenty of cliché of the opposite kind: a captain who's the only one who can see the real danger before it strikes among a crew of competent but casual, familiar lack of discipline on the Maersk Alabama; the triteness of artificial drama in a line like "You'd better get up here, Captain," rather than quick information on the emergency, and the all-flags at full-mast, Anchors Aweigh guest appearance by what pretty much seems like every competent officer and crewperson in the U.S. Navy. All that's lacking is Barack Obama stepping out of a hatch and stating "Well done, gentlemen."

So here's a tip: go to see Captain Phillips for the tremendous performances by Hanks, Abdi and Abdirahman; stay for the crack timing and catch-your-breath action, don't think too much about the political real-world issues at hand until you're at home later, and tune in on March 2, 2014 to see Tom Hanks do his comfortable, familiar, "gosh, who, me?" expression when he's called up to the stage to pick up his third bookend. Anyway, the other actors that will probably be up for Oscar in 2014 could probably get away with sending in a letter that they're sick that day and they can't make it in. Start writing your excuse notes now, guys.

Captain Phillips premieres at the New York Film Festival 2013, and opens nationally on October 11, 2013.

More New York Film Festival Pictures over at Tumblr

I've posted more pictures of Tom Hank and Steve Coogan over at Tumblr. I've also managed to get a picture of the true form of James Franco.

Follow this link to the Tumblr page to see the picture.

And as always to see all our New York Film Festival Coverage click on the NYFF 2013 tag.

What Now? Remind Me (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Waiting for the movie to end
What Now? Remind Me is the chronicle of a year in the life of filmmaker Joaquim Pinto and his husband as he begins a course of treatment to keep his HIV and Hepatitis C under control. Its a chronicle of the effects of the drugs, trips to his farm, speaking engagements for his films, the battles with wild fires and remembrances of friends and his life told in a rambling style.

Where to begin?

Would it be wrong to say that seeing this 2 hour and forty five minute vanity project  about which I don't have a clue? No that's not true I do have one, this movie is too fucking long. I was with the film for about half the running time and then suddenly sometime just before the sex (If you didn't know there is graphic sex in this film. I'm not being a prude here, rather I'm stating  something that the festival people haven't mentioned, which they probably should in light of their warnings about Stranger by the Lake) I disconnected and started to wonder where this was all going.

Essentially what happens is that Pinto begins to lose his ability to hold on to reality or the moment (the drugs force him to have to force himself to do things) the film breaks down. There is no cohesive anything just a series of random events. While I completely understand that the film is suppose to mirror Pinto's state of mind, after a while, and well before its almost three hours are up, the film becomes taxing. Its as if someone ripped the film out of the bin where good films lay and tossed it into the self indulgent crap pile. A fine self portrait becomes self indulgent.

I'm sorry if that offends but it's true and it's earned.  If you look at my notes for the film the brief entries for the first part of the film are glowing admiring how the film explains things, it manipulates images and gives a sense to the illness and the drug effects. However after a certain point the film collapses as events seem to have been tossed on the screen and we get some selfies of Nuno, Pinto's husband, that just don't seem to fit. Why are we looking at this footage that Nuno shot of himself when in theory this is Pinto's story?

Okay yes it's a self portrait, but at the same time while its something I don't mind glancing at I don't need to stare at all of the material that was added to make this so damn long. You wouldn't want to watch your neighbors home movies and even if you did, odds are you wouldn't want to pay money to.

This is one you can probably miss

Why you should not let me near you when you're doing a video review from the New York Film Festival

Over at Flixist Hubert Vigilla and Alec Kubas Meyer are doing 30 second instant reviews of the films at the film festival. This is his take on Captain Philips (his sentiment is my own), and it's proof positive I need to be chained to my seat between films. Hubert gets revenge since I never thought he's post it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The mad genius of James Franco and CHILD OF GOD (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

God bless James Franco. We need more filmmakers like him. We need more people who'll try to do the impossible and go into nasty ugly places and occasionally find humor in them.

CHILD OF GOD is James Franco's adaption of a Cormac McCarthy  novel about Lester Ballard a man who hasn't been right since his mother ran off and he found his father hanging when he was ten. The film begins with Lester's house being sold at auction and his disappearing into the woods. He lives off the land, steals live stock and makes a general nuisance of himself.  Eventually things escalate after he finds the body of a dead girl and finds himself attracted to her.

Probably one of the few films to truly fit the term horror as in horrific, rather than scary, this is a leap into the black void of madness ala Ed Gein and similar crazies.What happens is bleak and black and caused several people to walk out.I suspect that the film's gallows humor, not to mention necrophilia helped drive them away. Franco has described his main character and the film as Deliverance meets Charlie Chaplin and I think it's only slightly off target in that Lester isn't sympathetic like Chaplin, though what happens is often groan inducing funny. Its ridiculous but at the same time its damn scary.

How you react to the film will depend  largely on how you react to Scott Haze as Lester. A weird collection of ticks and looks mixed with an occasionally impossible way of speaking  this is a role that will have Haze either bursting out into the big time or type cast forever as nut jobs. I'm figuring it will be a breakout role since I don't know how many people will be rushing out to see a film about necrophilia. Its a role that Bruno S, the star of several Werner Herzog films, might have taken had Herzog had made the film back in the 1970's. (Actually Herzog was someone I frequently thought of during the film. Despite being darker then Herzog's normal subjects, it shares many themes to his films)

To my mind Franco is a genius. He has managed to make an unpleasant subject likable or as likable as far as someone like Ballard goes. He has also managed to take the mad psycho based on Ed Gein story and forge it into something new and vibrant and alive. Yea we've been here before, but not quite like this.  For me seeing it was an unexpected treat because it didn't do things by rote or how Hollywood, or even many independent producers would dictate it should.

While not for all tastes, nor even most tastes this was one of the unexpected pleasures for this year's New York Film Festival. (It plays tomorrow night and Tuesday at the festival)

(For the record at the press conference Franco said that the two major differences from the book are the fate of   the stuffed animals- its never mentioned in the book; and the removal of the epilogue to the story which Franco said was something that McCarthy had put to underline his themes but didn't add anything to the story.)

Tom Hanks and Steve Coogan at the New York Film Festival

More pictures are coming. I have stuff from the press conferences I've attended, John has some and the elusive Chocko has a ton too. But before the avalanche comes I thought I'd tease you with some pictures from the press conferences yesterday when I snapped a few pictures of Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Paul Greengrass at the CAPTAIN PHILIPS  screening and Steve Coogan at ALAN PARTRIDGE. (Both films are worth seeing when you can)

Tom Hanks laughs as Barkhad Abdi talks about shooting in the boats
Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Paul Greengrass

Steve Coogan talks seriously about comedy and why the Bolsheviks know how to treat royalty
Steve Coogan

ADDENDUM additional photos can be found at out Tumbler page here.

Last of the Unjust (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Filmmaker and subject

Claude Lanzmann's epic look at Benjamin Murmelstein who was the last leader of the Theresienstadt ghetto (the subject of Lanzmann's Last of the Living) is an almost four hour schizophrenic film in desperate need of an editor.

Last of the Unjust is ultimately two films of very different quality. The first is the interviews Lanzmann did with Murmelstein over the course of a week in 1975 for Shoah. During the course of the interviews Murmelstein tells the story of his life under the Nazi's. and his interaction before and during the early days with Adolf Eichmann when he tried to get Jews out of the country, on through the various attempts at resettlement which lead him to Theresienstadt.

The footage is brilliant and thought provoking. It's a stunning look at a man who tried to do right and survive in a time of great moral ambiguity. Things were so ambiguous that after the war Murmelstein was arrested and tried for collaboration but was found not guilty. That didn't stop many Jews calling for him to be dragged to Israel and executed. This footage  is something that you should see since it paints a portrait of a man and the time he lived in beautifully It raises the intriguing question  is it collaboration if by talking to the enemy you can make life better for the people you are leading?

I could watch Murmelstein talk all day long since he was a character in the true sense of the word. Its clear Lanzmann liked him a great deal since through much of the interview segments he is smiling, Also it's clear by the way he interacts with Murmelstein as they sit and walk together. Lanzmann said that he was haunted by the footage for almost 40 years and its easy to see why.

The second film, which is badly put together is new material shot by the director in the present day in the various locations mentioned. Much of the new material involves Lanzmann either commenting on events, reading from Murmelstein's book with no inflection or simply images of places. Its dull as dirt and boring as all hell and needs to be removed. Granted some of it puts the Murmelstein footage in context, but at the same time its badly organized and goes on way past the point of being interesting into endless droning. In all seriousness how many times do we need to hear kaddish? I was nodding off through most of it. I mean I was almost dead asleep.

The new material is so bad I feel sorry for anyone seeing this in a theater and can not recommend you see it that way. Personally if I had to see this again in a theater I'd walk out.

On the other hand if you can see this streaming or on DVD do so since you can zip past the crap that Lanzmann has padded the gold with.

For me the cool part of the film was afterward as I got to be a fly on the wall as John Anderson and several other big name reviewers had a discussion of the questions of moral ambiguity and what Murmelstein knew and when he knew it. They pondered how many people did he save? (the press notes but the number over 120,000)  and other bits of his story.  Anderson knew enough about the subject to question how much was revision is in Murmelstein's story. It was fascinating and the sort of thing that one only gets to experience once in a life time.  It's also a clear indication about how much food for thought is contained in this very uneven package.

If you want food for thought see this film- but do so on DVD.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

My question is if the Coen’s wanted to make a music album with T Bone Burnett they should have just made a CD and not wasted the time making a rambling movie like Inside Llewyn Davis.

The film is the story of Llewyn Davis a folk singer adrift in life. As the film begins he’s finishing up his set. This leads into getting beaten up for heckling a performer the night before. It’s a pattern that will repeat itself over the next week. As Davis wanders through his life we watch as he tries to get money from his record label, tries to find a gig, scams a place to sleep, deals with married friend he may have knocked up, and take a trip to Chicago. There is also a running gag about Lllewyn and a cat that escapes from the first apartment that we see him crash in. During the course of Davis’s week we watch as he ponders his life and ends up exactly where he began.

Now I’m going to talk about the film as if I just walked in off the street and saw the film and not without any reference to what is contained in any material in the press notes. I mention this because this is one of those times where the press notes (which run about 50 pages and read like a novel) fill in a great deal of stuff not on the screen. Just seeing the film we do not get the insight into Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, not do we get an explanation of where the Cohen’s were pulling from- the film has it’s basis in some true stories. Looking at the notes on the train home I had several Ah ha moments where I understood things more---and realized that the film as a film plays very differently than if it’s something that has been explained to you. Since odds are you won’t have the luxury of reading the notes I’m reviewing it just as a film.

As a film, this is pointless exercise. This is a series of encounters Davis has with various people who are largely pissed off at him, or are somehow abused by him. Davis travels all over to New York, to Chicago, almost to Akron and ends up literally where he begins, getting beaten up by someone (the same person as at the start) who didn’t like his smart mouth. Nothing much changes except that Davis becomes less happy with the trouble he’s created. There is no drama, just Davis behaving and reacting badly to the things that happen around him. It’s a road trip to disillusionment for a jerk. It left me going AND…? Why are you showing me this? And it's not so much that I don't know why we are seeing this, but why should be care on a guy who is, out side of his ability to sing, a jerk.

I suspect that on some level that this is the Coens’s attempt at riffing on Waiting for Godot with the film ending where it’s beginning and John Goodman’s jazz man being some weird form of Pozo (a role Goodman played on Broadway). But where Beckett’s play works because it’s set somewhere else, Here the absurdity just seems affected and contrived. (It’s a cousin to the elliptical beginning and ending of After Hours)

As if the And…? ending wasn’t bad enough, the problem for me is that the film drifts in and out of clich√© at several points in the film, most egregiously at the end of the film when Bob Dylan makes an appearance. Why must almost every dramatic film that touches on the folk scene in Greenwich Village always play the Dylan card? Even the documentaries on the subject don't use him as a punchline   I would have been fine had it happened earlier in the film, but he’s trotted out at the end as some form of punctuation

I should say that I don’t hate the film, hell the cast and everything else about the film is first rate, the trouble is that I don’t know what the point of it all is.

Actually I suspect that the film exists to give the directors a reason to make music with T Bone Burnett. When a movie like this results in such good music I can pretty much forgive it anything.

Truthfully it’s a good film, but I really feel bad for anyone paying the big bucks to see this over the weekend at the New York Film Festival. Its worth seeing but I’d wait for December when you can scoot into a theater for a bargain price.

The Wind Rises (aka The Wind is Rising) (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Said to be the final feature film from Hiyao Miyazaki  this is the story of Jiro Horikosh the designer of the Japanese Zero. It is a visual treat, that is over full of ideas and images but ultimately it's really two separate stories that probably should have been kept that way.

Beginning when Jiro was a boy the film traces his life from his first inclining about being a plane designer on through the end of the Second World War. The first half of the film focuses on Jiro growing up and his love of flight. The second is the romance as Jiro romances a young lady who he helped during the time of the 1925 earthquake that scared Japan both physically and psychically.

Where to begin?

This is a visual treat. Mixing reality with fantasy (via dream sequences) this film indulges Miyazaki with a chance to animate planes, trains, boats and cars. There are so many contraptions in this film that there are times when the story seems to exist just so Miyazaki could animate say a ferry or a sailing ship. Having read interviews with Miyazaki I got the sense watching the film that he was smiling broadly was he prepared the various flying and sailing sequences.

While the film largely looks like a Ghibli film (the colors and the character design are all pure Ghibli- which as you know boys and girls means all the women look alike) there are times when the film doesn't, I'm not talking about the use of computer imagery, rather the use of what look like delicate drawings to show Tokyo in ruins or the train wreck or some of the wrecked planes. There is a fine artist at work with in several sequences and I wish that if the film is truly the last from the master animator that he had gone all out and done a whole film in that fine style.

What I love about the film is that it is much darker than almost any other Ghibli film with it's talk of war, scenes of war, death, and destruction. Sure there is fantasy but in no Miyazaki Ghibli film, except Princess Mononoke and the end of Howl's Moving Castle is there this much darkness. Even the romance has the spectre of death hanging over it. Its wonderful that Miyzaki finally moved toward more complex and dark subjects, but why the hell did he wait for the end of his career?

The film's almost devil may care first half gets grounded in the second as Jiro tries to make the great war plane, while falling in love with Noako Its a weird shift in the film that kind of unbalances the film. its not bad, its just so radically different from the first half to the point the momentum kind of stops because the film now has a central narrative thrust that pushes everything aside. Yea the dream sequences are still there- but at the same time they seem out of place with a realistic story. The shift in tone and the various plot threads made for a film that seems to be thematically a jumble despite trying desperately to be about something meaningful.

Also out of place are some weird side threads that go nowhere such as Jiro being hunted by the secret police. We can assume why, but its never spelled out and it ends up dropped almost as soon as it begins. Noako's illness takes some weird turns, especially in the final reel.

Watching the film I was at first confused by talk about how dark the film was, then as things went on I understood why people said it was. I also understood why the cultural references that are in the film- such as the earthquake and what it means to the country were keeping some studios from considering releasing it in the US. (Disney has it and frankly its going to be a hard sell- it ain't Totoro).

I like the film and to be honest I really would like to see it again. I'm also at a loss as to how people will react to the film since it's not typically Disney. I know the Miyazaki fans will love it unconditionally because he did it, but how this is going to play in Peoria where anything not Shrek or Ice Age is a tough sell is beyond me. A difficult challenging animated film that is not the light and airy romance of the images is going to confuse the hell out of most people. Better they are confused by films like this, but at the same time with Miyazaki stepping away will this be adult animations last gasp in the US?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alphaville (1965) New York Film Festival 2013

Starting as part of this year’s New York Film Festival and continuing after the festival The Film Society of Lincoln Center is running a retrospective of the work of that master of the avant garde cinema Jean Luc Godard. One of the titles playing during the festival is restored version of Godard’s Alphaville, which is probably the only Lemmy Caution film that most film fans have seen.

I'm not a Godard fan. I think his time came and went and he was (and is), for the most part, a good film maker who thought he was smarter than he really was. Still he turned out some good movies along the way and this is one of them.

Taking the Lemmy Caution character, played once again by Eddie Constantine, Godard has fashioned an existential or philosophical detective movie about Caution trying to track down a missing scientist in a future world that looks like 1968 Paris. A strange melding of detective films and philosophy this is a movie that is very likely to drive many people up the wall because of Godard's film making style which is filled with seeming non sequiturs and distractions that force you work with the film. Muddying things further is that much of the dialog seems slightly obtuse even when its straight forward because what’s going on visually doesn't quite match up (For example a girl says she'll get the keys for the car and then they get into the back of a limo).

I like the film a great deal (and as frequent readers of Unseen Films know I’m a big fan of the Caution films I've seen) but find the weird asides a bit of chore to get through. If Godard wasn't so intent on making an "art" film he might have turned out a really good straight forward thriller all he had to do was keep the discourse and lose the obtuseness. I love the philosophical discourses that run through the film, some of which are quite enlightening even if they are utter nonsense. The best way I find to watch the film is to concentrate on the story and let the rest wash over you. As a thriller it’s actually really good.

I should also point out that I’m pretty sure that Constantine and Lemmy Caution influenced the Jean Paul Belmondo character in Breathless. If you watch some of the more serious Caution films (of which Godard is a fan), or even the many of the serious Constantine films you see that while lip rub comes from Bogart, the rest of the characters attitude is all Eddie Constantine.

Is this worth seeing? Yes. If you are willing to take this film on its own terms its certainly worth it. It’s also worth it if you've seen and liked any of the other Caution films and want to see what happens when they get turned into an art film.

For those wanting to read Unseen’s reviews of the other Lemmy Caution films go here.

The film is available on DVD from Criterion. However this is a new restoration and is worth seeing on the big screen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


One of the best festival experiences from last year The Korean American Film Festival New York has announced it's dates and films. Yes I am going. yes Unseen will be providing coverage. Yes you should go.

In order to get you thinking about going I present the press release for the festival.

The annual Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY) proudly celebrates its seventh edition as the only artistic program of its kind in New York dedicated to the Korean War and North Korea in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.

"Most Americans know little about the ‘Forgotten War’ even with almost 6 million US soldiers being sent there to Korea,” explains founder Dave Kim. ‘The country only enjoyed two years of freedom after thirty-eight years of Japanese colonial rule. With the start of the Korean War in 1950, Korea became a global battleground for outside communist and capitalist philosophies, further dividing a nation of homogeneous people. It set the tone for all modern wars fought by America, even to this day, where the definition of victory is no longer clear. This year’s KAFFNY program explores how the reverberations of this war are still felt to this day and how they are explored in the medium of film.”

"Five of our main program’s feature-length fiction and documentary films explore the “forgotten history, the continuing impact of the Korean War, and relevant North Korean subject matter,” says artistic director Susie Lim. “Emphasis is being given to intergenerational and multi-perspective dialogue created through the films, recognizing the specific value for deeper critical engagement, dialogue in diverse points of view concerning the history of the Korean War vis √• vis current views of North Korea.”

KAFFNY opens with the unique pairing of critically acclaimed short MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN WAR by Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem with the New York premiere of the feature-length documentary SEEKING HAVEN by Hein S. Seok. Opening night remarks will be made by renowned scholar of Korean history at Columbia University, Charles K. Armstrong.

On Saturday, October 26, KAFFNY presents shorts and features further reflecting on the Korean War and North Korea including the New York premiere of LETTERS OF PYONGYANG by emerging Korean Canadian filmmaker Jason Lee, and the world premiere of FADING AWAY by Christopher H.K. Lee, a seven-part documentary based on rare archival footage and the powerful recollections from a Korean War orphan who fled North Korea to the South as a thirteen year old – in addition to other refugees and former soldiers sharing their memories with sons, daughters and grandchildren. Making its East Coast premiere on closing night is the feature film OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, the first U.S. – North Korean co-production by first-time screenwriter and producer Joon Bai, himself a Korean-American Korean War refugee, and directed by In Hak Jang. This film was entirely shot in North Korea, with a North Korean cast and crew.

Also on Saturday, October 26, KAFFNY pays special tribute to Dong Sin Hahn, the pioneering Korean film curator who co-curated and organized the first U.S. retrospectives of Im Kwon-Taek and Kim Ki-duk at the Museum of Modern Art in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Kim Ki-duk’s ADDRESS UNKNOWN will be screened in honor of her memory, and speaks powerfully to the impact of Korean War.

The annually returning shorts competition highlighting new Korean American and Korean talent includes the US premiere of Byoung-gon Moon’s SAFE, awarded the Palme d'Or this year at Cannes. KAFFNY’s Shorts Incubator program brings together a range of works by more emerging local directors.

KAFFNY’s inaugural Visual Arts section will feature artists working in film, video and new media in a two-part exhibition (October 15 - November 23) at The Sylvia Wald & Po Kim Gallery, a nonprofit organization founded by the Korean American artist Po Kim and his wife, American artist, Sylvia Wald. Opening receptions will take place on October 23 and November 13. A number of artist talks will be scheduled. For further updates regarding the exhibition, please visit and

Originally founded in 2006 as the Korean American Shorts Film Festival New York, KAFFNY has evolved into one of the most prominent and innovative film, music, and art festivals focusing on the Korean Diaspora and Korean-American experience. Each year KAFFNY continues to recognize and support new filmmakers and artists, placing emphasis on the diversity of content, form and perspective in its programming. KAFFNY's slate of works culls together domestic and international feature film premieres as well as a dynamic cross-section of works by established and emerging filmmakers from all over the world. Concurrent with the festival program, KAFFNY further extends the reach and message of its featured artists through discussions and special events.

KAFFNY venue: Village East Cinema (189 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003)
Partnering venues: SBD Gallery (125 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003) and Sylvia Wald & Po Kim Gallery (417 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003)

Please visit for program updates and final schedule

Actually I'm going to cut it off there and ask that you bookmark and click on the above link for details on the films. I would post the list but there is simply so many films that you'll be scrolling down for days just to see them all(okay not days but a long time.)

As I said this is a festival you'll want to attend since it's was one of the joys of last years film going calendar.

More news from the Rocks off Pro Wrestling Film Festival


The first annual Rocks Off Pro Wrestling Film Festival is proud to announce two additional films that will screen as part of our celebration of pro wrestling this November at the Kraine Theater in New York City:

Special NYC Screening!SADERMANIA (2013, Director Adam Gacka)
SATURDAY November 23rd - 11 AM, Doors 10:30 AM
Even if you have a passing casual reflection on the world of professional wrestling, you know who the red & yellow emblazoned Hulk Hogan is. Icon of the 1980s national wrestling explosion, Hogan remains one of the most well known celebrities of his era, parlaying that success into reality TV, feature films and much more. But, despite the hype, the prayers, the training, the vitamins and the larger than life persona he's cultivated, Hulk Hogan is just another mortal man - but one that has inspired countless others with his exploits.

There is perhaps no one in the world more moved than Chris Sader, the world's number one Hulkamaniac. SADERMANIA tells the story of their inspirational tale, as Sader and Hogan relate how they met and developed a bond through mutual struggles and personal loss that each would have faced alone if not for the unlikely friendship that develops between them.

What happens when fan befriends hero? That's the power of SADERMANIA.
To order tickets to the SADERMANIA screening, click here

Time to Get Extreme!
BARBED WIRE CITY (2013, Directors John Philapavage & Kevin Kiernan)
SATURDAY November 23rd - 4 PM Doors 3:30 PM

"The Most Accurate Telling of the ECW Story" - Joey Styles, the voice of Extreme Championship Wrestling

Utilizing a recipe of over the top theatrics, balls to the wall violence and vibrant characterizations so deep they cut to the bone and an audience so passionate they became part of the show, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) exemplified the excess of its era, becoming the punk rock pro wrestling product.

So what happens when a wrestling promotion so steeped in originality sees its concepts poached by larger, international companies with a far wider audience and far deeper pockets? Co-Directors John Philapavage and Kevin Kiernan's critically acclaimed documentary digs deep into the psyche and history of the ECW culture to examine what made it tick, why so many lived and died by the initials and what happened to these hard-living, hard-performing eclectic personalities when ECW ceased to exist.

Often compared to Nirvana's influence on music, ECW changed the professional wrestling landscape as well as the lives of its performers and fans forever. BARBED WIRE CITY took a decade to film and complete in order to provide a final epitaph on the gravestone of the only pro wrestling promotion in history that saw it's audience rescue it from the brink of oblivion...and then resurrect it.

Following Barbed Wire City's screening, Co-Directors John Philapavage & Kevin Kiernan, Strictly ECW Fan campaign leader Tony Lewis and a number of performers from the original ECW will be on hand for a special Q&A discussion on the film and legacy of ECW.
To order tickets to the BARBED WIRE CITY screening, click here
Thursday November 21st - To order tickets for OPENING NIGHT MANIA featuring Colt Cabana & Friends, click here.
Friday November 22nd - To order tickets to the World Premiere screening of Adam Pearce's documentary SEVEN LEVELS OF HATE, click here.
Saturday November 23rd - To order tickets to Cody Knott's NYC debut screening of PRO WRESTLERS VS. ZOMBIES, click here.

The first annual Rocks Off Film Festival will take place the weekend of 11/21-11/23 in New York City at the Kraine Theater. The event will feature a number of special events and screenings including live appearances by Directors and wrestling stars for post-screening Q&As, a special comedy event as $5 Wrestling Presents Colt Cabana & Friends Watch Bad Movies and more - all to celebrate, spotlight and exploit the unique sporting genre known as professional wrestling. All events will be hosted by Kevin Gill, the voice of Juggalo Championship Wrestling. For more on all the events scheduled and complete ticketing information, visit

The Chase (1946) New York Film Festival 2013

When is the New York Film Festival going to go whole hog and do a whole sidebar of film noir? Every year they play a couple, but they never do what they should and just go whole hog. Then again maybe the Film Society of Lincoln Center should just do a week or two of Noir films and really get New York properly moody.

The reason I'm mentioning this is is because between yesterdays The Live by Night and todays The Chase they have a mini noir festival going on.(You can even throw in Try and Get Me for a neat triple bill)

An adaption of Cornell Woolrich's The Black Path of Fear, The Chase stars Robert Cummings as a down on his luck vet who finds a wallet outside a restaurant. Taking out just enough money for a meal he brings the wallet back to it's own and is rewarded with a job as a chauffeur. Little does Cummings know is that his new boss is a psycho gangster who likes to mess with people, he has the ability to drive his car from the back seat and he's keeping his wife prisoner. When his boss's wife asks him to buy two tickets to Havana he does so and sets in motion a series of events involving murder and mayhem.

 Actually what transpires is a series of events that take a turn for the strange after running for two thirds of the running time. Actually they take the sort of turn that may have you scratching your head and wondering what drugs the filmmakers on (in their defense, according to the NYFF website the source novel is even more loopy)

Despite the film getting a brand spanking new restoration I'm kind of hard pressed to see why this film is playing at the New York Film Festival. This isn't to say that the film is bad, it's not, its turn your brain off and go with it sort of a film. Its a classic popcorn film where you're never ever going to guess where this is going until almost the end. The problem, aside from Cumming being a bit too light weight for the lead role, is that things are so out there (I'm still not sure where there is) that you can't fully take much of what happens seriously.  Key to the problems is there isn't enough interplay between Cummings and the wife to make it understandable as to why he would risk his life to take her to Cuba. Watching the film you accept it because not to stops the film in its tracks, but it's still a nagging question.

Still should you have the ability to see this on the big screen on October 9th you may want to consider going. Even with my reservations I'd consider going, except I'm going to see Tim's Vermeer which is screening in the theater next door.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walter (2013)

Walter follows filmmaker Hunter Weeks and his fiance Sarah Hall as they investigate the longevity of several people around the world. The quest was sparked by Weeks knowing Walter Bruenig, who at age 114 was the second oldest person and the oldest man alive at the time the film was made .

Weeks has made a film that is a thought provoking look at growing old and staying connected. The joy of Weeks film is that it shows that it is possible to have a long, I mean really long, life and still be connected to the world. Walter is 114 but he is till chugging along even driving a motorized wheel chair around the nursing home.  Weeks also shows us other people around the world who have reached advanced years and are still finding the strength to get up each morning and be more than merely alive

While the interview segments and talking head segments are really good and bound to put a smile on your face and perhaps a tear in your eye, how you react to the film is ultimately going to depend upon how you react the Weeks and Hall as people. I say this because the while the film is full of charming people Weeks and Hall never really charmed me.  To be honest they got on my nerves.

The framework of the film is the couple relationship (it begins pre-Valentines Day as Weeks is preparing a special meal for Hall before he goes off to film Walter.  Weeks  is talking to the camera and he comes off  sounding  the wrong Oh gee whiz wow which makes him seem a little condescending. I suspect this is the result of being on for the camera, but at the same time it makes him not someone I'd want to spend time with. Hall also doesn't seem fully comfortable in front of the camera and while she's sweet I never connected since she seems to be playing to the camera instead of being herself.

My reservations concerning the filmmakers on screen personas aside,  this is a good look at growing very old

 WALTER will have will be playing at at the IFC Center starting October 4th . There will be a Q&A with the filmmakers.

It will be in L.A. starting October 11th at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. and will also include a Q&A with the filmmakers.

They Live By Night (1948) New York Film Festival 2013

The first time I saw The Live By Night was by accident. Back in the old days of mom and pop video stores one of the ones I frequented used a number system, you told them the number and they gave you the tape. I was asking for one thing and instead I got The Live By Night. Not realizing I had the wrong film until I got home, I watched the tape. At the time the film made no impression on me other than the title stuck in my brain as something I had seen.

When this years New York Film Festival was announced I pulled out one of my Warner Noir sets and gave it another go.

More doomed romance than crime drama the film follows Farley Granger. He's a young kid who breaks out of prison with two other bad guys. When they hide out with oHoward DaSilva's brother Granger meets Cathy ODonnell and the pair fall hopelessly in love. Hoping to score enough cash to get away a few more jobs are pulled. Granger eventually takes off with ODonnell hoping to disappear into wedded bliss, however his one time partners come looking for strong arm him into pulling more jobs- and the karma he sewed by being part of his partners bad moves.

I'll leave others to talk about the films historical significance, its the first film of Nicholas Ray, it has a historic use of  a helicopter and it has a few other notes of importance. For me I'll just talk about the film- This is a bleak black noir that is exactly the sort of poison pill to make you feel hopeless. The world is stacked against us and we are almost better just to go along with the muck and mire. When the film was done I wanted to slit my wrists.

Actually I'm overstating the case. to be honest  the one mitigating factor in the completely hopelessness of the film is that  as nice a guy Granger seems to be, he is ultimately a bad guy.  Sure we never see him kill anyone but he pulls the jobs, he beats up a man in the street, he was in prison for murder (he claims just to have just went along on a robbery that went wrong and didn't run when the cops came). Granger isn't your typical good guy who makes one mistake and has his life go to shit, instead he's a stupid guy who keeps doing the wrong thing over and over again. I'd really feel bad except Granger refuses to get off the road to ruin except when its way too late. Yea he's a sweet guy but he's still kind of deserving of the hell fire he brings down on himself.

While I may not have wanted to slash my wrists at the end I was rather depressed. This is a solid little film noir.

If you like noir, or if you want to know what noir is about and you can make the screening on October 5th I recommend you get a ticket and see this film on the big screen at the Walter Reade.

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Further Review: The Age of Innocence (1993) The New York Film Festival 2013

As part of this year’s New York Film Festival they are showing off a new restoration of Martin Scorsese’s film version of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. I’m kind of wondering at how run down the film could be since the film is only 20 years old.  I'm also a bit confused since I've never considered this one of Scorsese's better films on anything other than a technical level.

For me, a period drama of manners involving  is an interesting minor film in Scorsese’s body of work. For me the recreation of New York in the mid-19th century is much more interesting than the drama which kind of runs out of steam in the final third. I know the problem there is not Scorsese's, its the problem with the source novel, which kind of peters out as well.

The film follows Daniel Day Lewis's Newland Archer, a young attorney who marries Winona Ryder's May. However Newland becomes entranced with Michelle PFeiffer's Countess Ellen Olenska who is May's cousin and on the run from her abusive husband. Love blooms but the social rules seek to destroy the illicit couple.

The first time I saw the film was at a preview several weeks before the film was released. It was one of those screenings where you fill out the reaction cards. My memories of the screening have always been more vivid then those of the movie. I remember that the screening was packed. I remember that going in my friend Lou and I knew what we were seeing (the new Scorsese but nothing more) and had gotten there extra early only to find a huge line already formed. I don't think the majority of the people were expecting a period drama, rather I think they were expecting something a bit more violent. I didn't care.

What do I remember from that screening? I remember the film screened with an intermission for reasons I’m not quite clear on. I also remember Ryder’s performance getting roars of laughter each time she came on screen. I remember a sequence with a window late in the film getting so much laughter that all dialog was obliterated. I saw the film when it came out and they had altered her performance but Ryder still seemed wrong. I remember loving seeing the film on a big screen but not really caring much beyond the visuals.

I've never really warmed to the film any of the times I've seen it, which mostly was whenever I would stumble upon it on cable. When I do stop and watch it I'm trying to see if its better than what I saw at the preview but I never manage to find it so.

Its never been a film that searched out or felt the need to see. For me the plot is contrived and over done. Yes I know it's both a result of the society which spawned the novel and is depicted in it, but at the same time it has always struck me as more silly than gripping (And for the record I am not a fan of Wharton as a writer). I know it's cliche to say but in many ways I think the book is better.

Actually I think the problem with the film is much like what happened in post production. The film, one of the first to highly tout the use of computer generated imagery, was shot in large part on the North Shore of Long Island. There is one shot of Pfeiffer standing out on a pier looking off into the distance. In reading on the film I found out that the shot was done about two miles from my house- not that you'd know it since they removed much of background landscape, added a light house, some ships and then altered the direction of the lighting with the result that very little of it is real.

I'm at a loss  to explain the love some people feel for the film. I suppose its why some people love so many British dramas. I don't hate them, or this movie, I just don't understand the wonder people find in them.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Nightcap: Our NYFF 2013 coverage starts tomorrow

Our New York Film Festival coverage starts tomorrow with a few words on the restoration of Age of Innocence. That is followed by word on They Live By Night, and The Chase some of the noir films playing in the revivals section of the film festival, plus Alphaville which is part of the Godard retrospective that starts during the festival and continues after it. Right now we’re planning on 21 days of festival reports, reviews and general mayhem. (There are also reviews of new releases mixed in)

This year’s festival is a bit more compact and a bit more low key, but then again it’s the New York Film Festival so anything can and will happen. The fun will be seeing what else happens when we least expect it.

As it stands now we should have at least reviews of a bit more than half the films being screened- however there is some arm twisting going on behind the scenes and I’m trying to blackmail some people to get more reviews (you know who you are, you know I have the pictures, you know what to do).

I’m not sure what’s going to pop up when, but I think we’ll have reviews of most if not all of the big films so keep reading…

For those curious reviews are coming of the following films- all reviews-except one- will run before the film ends their run at the festival:
(This review is running after the film screens at the festival - short version - only die hard fans of the director need apply)
(the festival material doesn't mention this but there are graphic sex scenes in this film)
WEEKEND OF THE FAUN:Tanaquil le Clercq

Related  to this is the the fact that Flixist's coverage of the New York Film Festival is being spearheaded by two great friends Alec Kubas-Meyer and Hubert Vigillia.  In addition to doing full reviews they are doing 30 second reviews right after they see the films.  The introductory post was shot by yours truly (I get an end credit) and can be found here.

You will also want to watch the reviews as they go up since the strict 30 second time limit  makes for some hysterical endings. So far they have done The Wind Rises (Alec's take), The Wind Rises (Hubert's take) Child of God and Le Weekend, another 30 are coming- watch them.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a sunshine blonde and a plethora of dumb high school kids decide to have one final weekend blowout at some remote location. What getaway would be complete without insipid dialogue, people moving in slow-motion (like a commercial for the GAP), an indie rock/pop soundtrack, drug use, fornication, etc. No it's not a MTV produced film. It's the long delayed, mostly unseen, horror-thriller All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

During the time this film has been in distribution purgatory, our star of the movie Mandy Lane, played by now known actress Amber Heard, has certainly gone on to bigger things. The same can be said about the director, Jonathan Levine, who had a surprise hit earlier this year with the zom-com Warm Bodies. Whenever you have a film like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which has been collecting dust for the past 6 yrs, it can be almost a blessing in disguise. It's built up such a cult following, something horror fans have been clamoring for, myself includes. Hell, it worked for other long awaited films such as Trick 'r Treat & Cabin in the Woods. Here's the thing, while those two actually lived up to their hype, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane feels as flat as a board. No wonder why it's been shelved for so long, it's just not good folks.

A bunch of horny teenagers take turns trying to get our main character alone, so they can sleep with her. Slowly they start getting picked off by a killer. Yep, that seems to be about it.  It's part slasher movie, part (insert random name of CW network show here), and 100% devoid of...well, everything. What else can I possible say, it's the perfect example of the back story being more compelling than what is on the actual screen. Oh but there is the big final twist at the end, which is just utter nonsense. Not that it had any chance of being some sort of saving grace.

Going back to my previous point, the best thing that has and ever will happen for All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is the fact that it was delayed. Had this been released back when it was originally intended, it would have been long forgotten by now. Something destined for the $5 bin at Walmart. So disappointing.

It's going to be hitting limited theatres in October, and it might garner some attention for fans of Heard, who may or may not be familiar with it's history. Either way, as bad as it may be, I'm just glad the wait is finally over.

The Call (2013)

The Halle Berry film The Call came and went in theaters. It was beaten up by critics who claimed that the film was unbelievable, unrealistic and just plain dumb. Having suffered through several of Berry’s films which made me wonder who was choosing her roles I avoided the film like the plague until it recently hit DVD and I figured I’d try it. I mean I had been suffering through some low budget crap where no one could act, why not at least try a film with a cast of real actors?

The premise of the film is that Berry is a 911 operator who gets a call from a young girl alone in her house when a serial killer breaks in. It all goes horribly wrong and Barre steps away from being an operator. Acting as a teacher she again ends up colliding with the killer when she takes her class into the call center just as a call comes in from a woman who was just thrown into a trunk by the same killer.

This is way better than its reputation would have you believe. Say what you will about the details, the film as a whole is compelling. To be certain what happens in the film isn’t wholly believable, but at the same time it is compelling in the way that most crime shows and really good thrillers are because they get you to suspend enough disbelief that you have to see what happens next.

If the film has any flaws its in the final half hour where Halle takes matters into her own hands. Sure its cathartic for the character, but as a viewer its being asked to suspend too much. It’s the difference between having a guilty pleasure you can revisit and having a good time at a movie but not needing to see it again. I really liked the film but I don’t need to see it a second time.

Worth seeing on cable/netflix